Friday, February 27, 2009

Some Friday Football Free Agent...Nuggets? Let's go with Nuggets

Sorry, couldn't think of another word that started with F...

...Sage is here! Sage is here! START PRINTING THOSE VIKINGS CHAMPIONSHIP T-SHIRTS!!!! Sage is here! Yep, NFL free agency started today and so far the Vikings big move has been to trade a 4th round pick for 31 year old former Houston Texans QB Sage Rosenfels. Put down the celebratory bottle of champaigne and try for a minute to think that maybe, just maybe, there's an outside chance Sage isn't any more of an answer than Gus Freotte was. Or Brooks Bollinger. Or Brad Johnson. Since Brad Childress has been coach we've been looking for a viable option at quarterback, and all we've gotten is a horrible T-Jack and little to nothing to compete against him. While I believe Sage is probably an upgrade over Freotte, I'm not sure how much of an upgrade- and especially when it cost The Purple a fourth rounder.

It's not like Sage is ready to break out in his mid to late 20's. The guy is 31 and was given every opportunity to be The Man in Houston for the past three seasons and didn't get it done. In eight years in the league he's played in just 32 games- an average of 4 a season- and has just 30 TD's to 29 INT's. Yes he has a career QB rating of 81.4, and yes his career completion percentage is a solid 62%, so I suppose there's still a chance of him being a late bloomer, but what was wrong with Jeff Garcia again? Yes Garcia's 39, but as a free agent he would not have cost a draft pick, and in the last two years with the Bucs was 14-11 in 25 regular season starts with a QB rating of 92, 64% completion% and 25 TDs to just 10 picks. Oh and he ran a very similar offense in Tampa to Chilly's "kick ass" offense. I don't get it, but then again, I don't understand why Chilly has stuck with T-Jack this long and has refused to bring in or pursue or draft a viable starter.

...Another one from the "this would make WAY too much sense to happen" file: free agent Bengals WR TJ Houshmandzadeh (championship!) told ESPN yesterday how much he'd love to be in Minnesota playing with Adrian Peterson. Ok sure he's visiting Seattle today and texted a Philadelphia radio station saying basically that "if the Eagles wanted him he'd be in Philly tomorrow", the point is there's a legit #1 wideout avaiable in free agency, and the Vikings have shown zero interest. Z-E-R-O. In the last three years all TJ has done is AVERAGE 98 catches 1,043 yards and 8 TD's. Good thing that's not EXACTLY the type of player the Vikings need to take pressure off both whoever the below-average-need-all-the-help-he-can-get quarterback will be and Bernard Berrian. But nope, so far, zero interest.

...Sliding under the radar a bit in all the free agency talk was the troubling news today out of California that could doom the Vikings future in Minnesota. The City of Industry, a Los Angeles suburb, made the no-brainer decision to approve a proposal for an $800 million stadium that would be entirely paid for by Majestic Real Estate Co. Yeah that's not good. The company can start shopping for an NFL team April 1st, and you'd better believe the NFL won't stand in their way, as they would love to get a franchise back into the country's second largest market. While Minnesota tax payers are absolutely doing the right thing by refusing to pay for a new stadium for billionaire owner Ziggy Wilf, the NFL won't hesitate to let him move the team to a brand new stadium in LA if he makes a good faith effort to get one built in Minnesota. As much as I wouldn't want to see another city lose their team, if you're a Vikings fan and you want The Purple to stay in MInnesota, you'd better start hoping another franchise like Jacksonville, San Diego, New Orleans or somebody else jumps at the offer first, because you know Ziggy WILL move the team if given the opportunity. The clock starts April 1, which for Vikes fans could be the sickest April Fool's Day joke ever.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Junior Comes Home

Unless you're a Mariner fan or grew up in the Pacific Northwest, you don't and probably shouldn't care that Ken Griffey Jr. signed a one year deal with the Mariners yesterday. Heck, considering he's 39, and is coming off a 2008 where he hit .249/.353/.424 with just 18 HR's and an OPS+ of only 101 with well below average defense for a corner outfielder, I probably shouldn't care much either. But I do. I really, really do. I got a big smile on my face when I saw Junior was coming back to Seattle.

To put it in perspective for the Minnesotans, this would be like Kevin Garnett returning in a few years to play his last season or two as a Timberwolf. Actually, that's still not quite right, as the Wolves have never been close to the #1 team in Minnesota, even when KG led them to the Conference Finals against the Lakers. The only comparison would be if Kirby Puckett had played 10 years in Minnesota, then left in his prime (Junior left at the ripe old age of 28) to be closer to home, and then returned to finish his last year or so as a Twin. I wasn't around these parts when Puckett played here, but from everything I've seen and heard and been told, he's the most popular athlete to ever play in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and if I'm wrong, the tell me who was more. Maybe KG after all?).

That was Griffey for Seattle and its fans, and for me he's my favorite athlete of all-time, ahead of Mario Lemieux, Shawn Kemp, Anthony Carter and Barry Sanders. In his first 10 years in Seattle, Junior was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, a true five-tool talent who we're 99.9% sure did it clean. He was the best player in the 1990's (while I'd hear arguments for Barry Bonds or Frank Thomas, Junior was better than both) with the sweetest swing I've ever seen. While a few players hit more bombs than Griffey, nobody has ever looked better doing it. And in the field he was just as fun to watch, with seemingly unlimited range, a cannon arm, and the ability to scale walls to rob home runs like Spiderman.

In the mid 90's the Mariners were threatening to leave Seattle for Tampa if they didn't get a new ball park (sound familiar, Twins fans?) but Griffey led the team to an unforgettable trip to the playoffs, Mariners fever swept King County and the next thing we knew ground was being broken for Safeco Field. But by the time the park opened Junior was on his way out of town, shaken by the death of his good friend golfer Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash. Griffey wanted to be closer to family and friends in Florida, and ended up pulling a less-than-classy move by telling the M's he ONLY wanted to go to Cincinnati. At the time, Griffey was on pace to break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, and had a chance to end up as the greatest player ever.

But once he got dealt to the Reds from 2000 until last year, injuries derailed his career, and he was lost in all the hype of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. He returns to Seattle in 2009 as a 39 year old who should really only be used as a DH against right handed pitching (although Junior claims his knee is now 100% healthy, which he says means his power returns and makes him a capable outfielder again. I'm skeptical at best). The M's won't be the worst team in the league again, but they probably won't compete for a pennant either, so I'm not sure it makes much sense to have Junior playing ahead of younger players who need to develop. The chances of him ending his career on a high note with a strong season and perhaps one more shot at the postseason are pretty slim and yet I sit here today giggling at the thought of him hitting his first bomb into the right field seats at Safeco that were built for him. Junior is back where he belongs, to finish his career in Seattle. And just for today, that's all I care about.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Minnesota Timberwolves Post All-Star Break Report

Well here we are post NBA all-star break with no real trade rumors to discuss (in past years there’s been lots and lots of rumors and speculation and then nothing ever happens. This year it’s been a refreshing change to have little to no rumors or speculation and know nothing will happen), so what better time to talk about your Minnesota Timberwolves? After a 110-102 loss to Warshington last night, the T-Pups are 17-35, on pace for about 30 wins and a bottom 10 finish, or right about where we thought they’d be before the season started. And by “we” I mean any person who doesn’t work in the Wolves front office that watches a little bit of basketball.

Yep, before the season started I told you the following, all of which have played out:

Al Jefferson is an all-star- on offense. He is atrocious defensively, and thus far in his career has shown zero ability or desire to play D. If he's going to be your franchise cornerstone (and Glen Taylor locking him up to a long-term extension before the season tells me he is), you MUST compliment him with a Samuel Dalembert-type center or post player that can defend the paint. What you should absolutely positively not do is team him with an equally bad defensive player, no matter how much you think they’ll compliment each other offensively.
Ryan Gomes- probably your best all-around player, but on a good team, he'd be a 6th man.
Craig Smith- your most consistent post player other than Big Al, and on a good team, he'd be 9th or 10th in the rotation.
Bassy Telfair- a backup point guard- on this team, or any other. If he's your starter, you're in trouble.
Corey Brewer- excellent perimeter defender and a real high flyer, but can't dribble or shoot.
Mike Miller- On a championship team he’s a third or fourth option. Great outside shooter (career 41% 3 point) and an excellent defensive rebounder for a 2 guard, but he's not a go-to guy, and he's not a good defender. At all.

Any questions? The Jefferson injury was devastating, as he turned into one of the five best scorers on the block in the L, and was actually showing signs of hope on defense. As a basketball fan, I hope he rebounds fully from the knee injury, but as a big guy you wonder how close to 100% he’ll ever get? Just sad to see one of the few good things the Wolves have done end the season this way. Everything else stated above has been proven correct.

But that’s not to say I know everything. There were a few things to be learned from this first half, as I also said the following:
The jury remains out on Randy Foye and Rashad McCants, and this is a pivotal year for both to prove they deserve new contracts when their rookie deals expire soon.

Once McHale took over as coach and moved Foye to the two, he’s proven to be a legitimate player there, and looks like a #1 or #2 scoring option for years to come. At his size he’s never going to be a great one-on-one defender, but plays the passing lanes well. McCants, on the other hand, stinks and will be on the first bus out of town when the season ends. He could have been packaged with Miller, Jason Collins’ expiring contract, and any one of the Wolves four 1st rounders in the upcoming draft and traded for something worthwhile (do the phones not work in Portland? Does McHale not know Kevin Pritchard’s number out there? Does McHale even have a phone? How can you not make a deal with Portland for one of their many, many, many young players?!?!?!?!), but instead McHale- I MEAN Jim Stack and Freddy Hoiberg- are content on doing absolutely nothing and hoping their flawed team magically will be a playoff contender next year. Good luck with that.

(Actually, hold on. As I type this it looks like the phones at 600 1st Avenue ARE working after all, as Marc Stein is reporting on E!SPN that Minnesota is interested in Chicago PG Kirk Hinrich. It’s probably just smoke and nothing will get done but at least they recognize a need for a real point guard.)

Something else we’ve learned is that Kevin Love is a damn good rebounder. A rebounding machine, even. One of the top 10 rebounding rates in the league (21.2), I’m going to have to revise my ceiling from “a 6’8 Brad Miller” to “a 6’8 Brad Miller who can board.” Yeah I should probably drop Brad Miller from his comparison entirely. I STILL don’t see how Love works long-term with Jefferson because neither one of them are good defensively, but if he can continue to rebound this well as his minutes increase, you’re looking at nightly double-double (in 2009 he’s averaging 12 points and 10 boards ) with good passing skills. That’s a pretty nice package, and better than I hoped for out of him. Still, when Jefferson returns next year, I’d still rather have a nucleus of Big Al, Foye and OJ Mayo, but instead I’ll just hope the two big guys can figure out the defensive end.

For the rest of the year I’d hope the young guys play a lot and get as much experience as possible. If indeed they do nothing at the deadline, there’ll be plenty of trades available this summer. It’s widely considered a weak draft crop, but luckily for the Wolves it’s deep on point guards. Still, use the lottery pick (hey with the Jefferson injury at least the Clippers won’t be getting their pick this year) on a point guard and try to deal the rest for more talented young players. It’s about the best you can hope for right now, since it’s a foregone conclusion McHale will be back in some capacity next season, and as long as he’s around, whether as the coach, GM, or popcorn seller, he’ll be influential in any and all decisions. So Wolves fans, follow this team as you always have: hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Timberwolves basketball- it's FAAAAAAAANNNNNNTASTIC!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Bad Economy and Professional Sports: A Silver Lining?

Professional sports teams are bloated and living off the fat of its fans. We pay outrageous prices to attend games and pay for brand new stadiums so millionaire players and billionaire owners can become even richer. We pour our hearts, souls, and hard-earned money into our pro teams in hopes that they'll win us a title, and yet we're often rewarded with poor managment (Timberwolves) or owners who either pocket the money instead of spending it on the team (hello Twins!) or spend enough to be competitive but not enough to truly win (Suns owner Robert Sarver is a perfect example).

In the tough economic times we're facing, I don't like the prospects of anybody losing a job. I'm very thankful to have the job I have, and hopefully will have for a long time to come. But it's difficult to look at professional sports in America right now, and NOT see that there could be some very tough times ahead for some franchises and their employees. Relocation, and perhaps even contraction, could be a real possibility by 2010, and again, while I would hate to see people lose their jobs (and by "people" I don't mean the players or greedy owners, but those behind the scenes folks working their tails off to try and make it work), it could be actually be a good thing for sports fans.

One is that leagues that rely heavily on ticket sales could be in for a world of hurt (we're already seeing it in hockey and basketball) which could result in the relocation or contraction of teams. Ok, this actually doesn't favor anybody, but if you're a fan of a team in no danger of losing it's team a better supported or smaller league is a good thing. It would obviously not be good for fans (or employees) of cities that would lose teams, but the reality is that they weren't supporting the team enough to merit keeping it. Putting a team in a stronger market (like the NBA going back to Seattle or the NHL relocating a team in Canada) makes the league stronger, as would contracting a few teams by making the talent pool smaller and deeper, and the league more competitive. The NFL is the one pro sport that should be almost completely immune to this because they make SO much money from their TV contract. While owners won't admit it, published reports say that because of the TV money, NFL franchises basically are in the black before they ever receive one dollar from ticket sales, parking, merchandising or concessions.

The second thing no league, not even the NFL, is immune from is that cities and states will no longer be willing to pay for new stadiums and arenas. This is what I'm most excited about because owners won't be able to hold fans hostage by making threats like "build me a new arena or I'm moving to a city that will!" because there won't be any other cities willing to do it.

Here then is how the economy could effect the pro sports leagues in America (I couldn't even begin to care about how this effects NASCAR or MLS):

Bill Simmons knows some pretty connected people, and while he talked about NBA basketball being in trouble in a few cities, the one that jumped out at me was him hearing that WNBA is all but dead. Again, sad that people lose their jobs but come on, the WNBA has been a charity case for the NBA from day one and has NEVER made money. Ever. Look, it's all well and good to promote women's athletics, but I've never understood trying to force a women's professional league down our throats. High school and college athletics are important for women and should be funded by those institutions so that women have an opportunity to play, just like men's sports like golf or swimming aren't revenue generating sports but should be supported where they can be. But a pro league? Pro leagues should exist only if there are fans who are willing to pay to go watch it. Because fans have not and will not embrace a women's professional basketball league does not mean we're a bunch of sexist bigots, it means women's basketball is boring as hell to watch and there's no way I, or apparently anyone else, could be convinced to pay money to see it. Women's tennis, golf, beach volleyball and figure skating are doing very well because people want to pay to see it. If women complain about not enough support for the WNBA, then maybe more of them should have gone to watch it.

Bill mentioned that there's quiet rumors circulating that the New Orleans Hornets could be gone as soon as next year, and that Sacramento, Memphis, Charlotte and New Jersey could be next. League commish David Stern and every commissioner is going to fight contraction as long as possible, but I do not see four or five relocation spots the NBA could move to. Vegas and Seattle seem like obvious cities to get new teams until you remember neither have arenas the NBA deems suitable, and in this economy there's no way either place would approve tax payer dollars to build a new arena or upgrade their existing ones. I believe St. Louis has a suitable arena and maybe even Vancouver could be brought back into the mix (in defense of my hometown the Grizzlies had horrible ownership and were horribly ran. Actually that hasn't changed at all since they moved to Memphis), but really, that's about it. So if things really are going to get worse before they get better we could see some teams move or fold.

I love the game of hockey, but hate all the changes made by Gary Bettman since he became commissioner in the early 1990's. The biggest blunder was expanding south of the Mason Dixon line. It's been painfully obvious from the start that people in the South just do not care about hockey, and yet Bettman has refused to admit this. Because the NHL is more dependent on ticket sales than any of the other "Big 4" the teams that haven't been supported well in Nashville, Atlanta, Florida, Carolina, and Phoenix (as well as "northern" locales like Long Island and Columbus) could be doomed. Phoenix will be lucky to survive the season and I can't imagine how they'll be able to afford a team next year. The other places mentioned have had the same or less support, and while Bettman has been able to keep them afloat until now, you have to think he's running out of resources. While the Canadian economy has done ok, the dollar has sunk again, meaning the six Canadian cashcow franchises aren't yielding as much. Bettman will soon be faced with the difficult decision of either relocating teams back to Canada (greater Toronto, Winnipeg, and Quebec City could all support teams right now!!!), or continue to give teams to American cities that don't want them like Houston, Kansas City or Vegas. Still, the writing is on the wall. Or perhaps, even contraction. Again, I'd hate to see good people lose their jobs, but the NHL doesn't have enough talent or interest for 30 teams. If the economy forces them to cut down to 24 or 26, it'd do wonders for the games and for the hardcore fans that have been there all along.

This will be the litmus test for pro leagues. Baseball is still the clear number two sport in America, and was doing VERY well before this year. But not only will the economy hurt the game, the A-Rod and steroid scandal could keep people away too. Maybe fans find the money and turn a blind eye and ear to steroids, but it'll be very interesting to see how the smaller market teams like in Florida, Arizona, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and others fare this season.

Ok so the these guys in LA could be a problem for Vikings fans. But Majestic Real Estate Co's bid to build and finance its own stadium in an LA suburb is still a long way from a reality, and I'm still not convinced LA really wants an NFL team back that badly. While Vikes owner Ziggy Wilf COULD have the leverage to tell Minnesotans to build him a new stadium or the team is gone to LA by 2010, it's still very possible that LA won't be an option. And if LA's not an option, I don't see another city on this continent the Vikings could move to (even San Antonio, where the Alamo Dome is becoming outdated). Ziggy could very well be forced to spend his own billions on a new stadium, and for Vikings fans, and fans of every other team for that matter, that would be a welcome victory. And perhaps, a sign that the times are indeed a changin' for sports fans in this country. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Monday Musings

...Unless you were at the Black Spruce, or somehow avoided the tv and internet all weekend, you've no doubt heard that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids back in 2003. No matter how he tries to spin this, we have irrefutable proof ARod used roids. First off, I was not shocked in the least when I read this. Not to say I had Rogriguez pegged as a user, it's just at this point no name could surprise me or shock me anymore. Ken Griffey Jr is my favorite player of all-time, and while he didn't LOOK like a guy who used or needed roids, I hope we've all learned that it's not about how a guy LOOKS. Juan Rincon used steriods. So did slap-hitting fourth outfielder Alex Sanchez. If it came out tomorrow that Junior used during his career, while I would be saddened, I wouldn't be surprised at all. Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Joe Mauer, David Eckstein. ANY of these guys that played in the 90's and early this decade very well could have used, and I hope the gravity of that is starting to hit home for fans.

The entire era is a fraud, and baseball has no one to blame but itself. The owners needed to get people in the seats after the Lockout of 1994 drove fans away, so they looked the other way when players got huge and homeruns starting rocketing out of parks at record rates. Remember that up until a few years ago, STEROIDS WERE NOT ILLEGAL!!! Yes, the players should share the blame, but technically all of the steroid use wasn't even cheating according to baseball rules. The only reason Rodriguez was caught is because the players were asked to take an anonymous test so that the owners could determine if they needed a steroid policy at all! This evidence was supposed to be destroyed, and only because someone out there decided not to, we get to find out about this.

I really hope baseball fans get fed up and stay away from the game. I LOVE the game of baseball itself, but this is a joke and fans deserve better. And I"m not just talking an apology. Currently MLB doesn't have a test for HGH, and they're not keeping samples so they can go back and check when they finally do develop a test. The only way this gets better, we get some answers, and real change happens is if players and owners have no other choice. They need to start with releasing the other 103 names of the players who also tested positive in 2003. The economy, and this kind of news, could be just the thing to finally make that happen.

...This adds more fuel to talk about the Hall-of-Fame and whether ARod, Clemens, McGwire, Bonds, and others deserve to be elected. Since all of the steroid talk started earlier this decade, baseball scribe Buster Olney has had the opinion that you can't pick and choose who you're putting in because while we think we can tell who DID use, there's no way to tell who didn't. There just isn't. So because guys who did use but don't "look" like steroid users (the Rincon and Sanchez examples again) could get elected, you either need just elect everyone who's deserving regardless of steroid use because, after all, it was legal. Or, no one from this era gets in. I don't think I'm alone in the belief that I think this entire generation should be banned.

...I felt the same level of shock when I heard the Twins don't want to pay Joe Crede $7 million a year despite not just needing a third baseman, but also needing a decent free agent signing to prove to fans that they didn't just pay for a new stadium for the Pohlad family so they could pocket the profits and sit on the money. So far...looks like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in the Pohlad family.

...If the Vikings are serious about making a Super Bowl run next year, it looks like 2 of the 3 missing pieces can be had: we're SOL on a new head coach, but a better QB and a #1 receiver WILL be available. The price could be steep for both, but for a team with cap room that's built to win NOW, this is the offseason to act or they could risk missing their window of opportunity. Assuming Tom Brady is healthy to start the season, Matt Cassell can be had in trade. Reading the stories coming out of Philly the last couple of weeks, it looks like Donovan McNabb could be had too, and for less than it would cost to get Cassell. For a #1 wide receiver, Anquan Boldin wants out in Arizona, and he'd be the PERFECT compliment to Bernard Berrian- or maybe that's the other way around, Berrian would be the perfect compliment to Boldin. If it cost a first rounder to get Boldin, it would be worth it for me. guy I want absolutely, positively no part of is Terrell Owens. Two of the most plugged in people in football, Adam Schefter of the NFL Network and Peter King of SI, believe Owens will definitely be cut before training camp. I don't care that he wouldn't cost the Vikes a draft pick, I don't care if you could somehow GUARANTEE me a Super Bowl if he signed in Minnesota, I do not want Owens in purple. He's been with three different teams, hasn't won a Super Bowl with any of them, and it has ended badly in all three places. Thanks but no thanks.

...For those ready to crown the LA Lakers NBA champs after impressive road wins over Boston and Cleveland last, I ask you this: how short is your memory?!?!? Without Andrew Bynum this is the same LAkers team that dominated the regular season last year, dominated the WEstern Conference in the playoffs...and then got dominated against a much tougher Boston teams in the Finals. Nothing has changed. With Bynum, the Lakers ARE the team to beat because he gives them the toughness and size inside, which is the only thing they're lacking. But without him (and let's be honest, with Bynum's injury history there's no guarantee he's healthy for a long playoff run), they're still not tough enough to beat Boston or Cleveland in the Finals. And that's IF they can get by the Spurs first, who once again are rounding into form at just the right time.

...As a matter of fact, the NBA playoffs are this simple: if Bynum's healthy, the Lakers beat the Cavs in 6. If he's not healthy, the Cavs beat the Spurs in 6.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Secret to Success for Our "Surprise" NFL Playoff Teams

As a psych major I can tell you right now that unless you plan on getting a doctorate, don't get a psych degree. I'm telling my future children that I will pay for their education if they do two things: go to a state school, and get either a business or IT degree. If they want one of those namby-pamby fine arts degrees, or if they to attend one of those high-felutin private schools, they're on their own. They're also not allowed to drive my car until they turn 18... or maybe ever, depending on the gender of my children. If my boy is a typical high school boy who, like me and most of my friends did when we were in high school, lives by the moto "drive fast, take chances," then he's probably never driving my car. Then again, if he drives with his hands at "10 and 2" and always obeys the speed limit, that would make me a lot more worried. If I have a girl, it is 100% certain she will do one of two things while driving: talk on her cell phone or text to her friends. Hell by the time my kids are old enough to drive (and this is assuming the Mayan calendar, and the Conservatives who believe Obama is the anti-Christ, are wrong and there will still be a world when my kids are old enough to drive) they will probably have invented a demonic device that will allow high school girls to both talk AND text at the same time. Good lord shoot me now!

Instead I will buy them their first car, which will be either a 1983 Chevy Impala, or a 1988 Volvo station wagon (I just realized both of these vehicles either have been owned or are currently owned by my friend Josh. Just another example of how wise a man he is). Both are very safe, very slow cars that I know will keep my kids safe (honestly either of those vehicles could get t-boned by a dump truck and knocked into an on-coming semi and that MIGHT only dent the front fender), and it will also keep my own car free from accidents. If they don't like it they can take the bus or walk (As you can tell, as someone who has zero children of my own, I'm obviously an expert on parenting. If you need any more tips or advice, all you have to do is ask. Really, it's no trouble at all. You're welcome).

What was I talking about again? Oh right, something about being a psych major, and while this probably wasn't the best college choice, one of the reasons I chose it is because I'm always fascinated with not just what happened, but the WHY and HOW it happened. Is that a psych thing, or just a people-in-general thing? Whatever. So when it comes to the NFL, I want to know if the sky is really falling, if indeed it's a free-for-all parity-fest where anybody can beat anybody and there's no rhyme or reason to anything that happens?

Well, looking back at our 12 playoff teams from 2008, I can tell you to rest assured that there IS order to the chaos and a method to the madness. My favorite thing now at the beginning of each season is try and predict who the playoff teams are going to be by using the "6 in 6 out" theory (every season there's six teams from the season before who make the playoffs again, and the other six spots are taken by teams that did not make the playoffs the season before), and that there can't be more than 2 repeat division winners. Looking back at my predictions for 2008, I just didn't see any way that we'd only have 2 repeat division winners and that only 3 teams total would make it back to the playoffs. New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and San Diego all won their divisions in 2007, and looked on paper to be the four best teams in not just the AFC, but probably the league. And the two wild card teams from 2007, Jacksonville and Tennessee, both looked pretty strong as well.

As it turns out, the AFC did get four teams back in instead of three, but it did only have two repeat division winners (Pittsburgh and by the miracles of miracles, San Diego), while the Teetahns got back in by winning the South and the Colts made it back as a wild card. Yet because the NFC only had ONE repeat playoff team (the Giants), we ended up with seven new playoff teams, which was more than I expected.

Was this predictable? Could we have seen any of this coming? Of the 12 playoff teams, a whopping EIGHT of them were not picked by Vegas (in their preseason over/unders) to win at least nine games (which has always been the expected minimum to make the playoffs): Tennessee (Vegas had them for only 8 wins- they got 13), Baltimore (Vegas 6- actual 12), Miami (Vegas 5.5- they won 11!!!), Carolina (Vegas 7.5- won 12), Atlanta (Vegas 4.5- won 11), Minnesota (Vegas 8.5- won 10), Philadelphia (Vegas 8.5- won 9 with an inexplicable tie with the Bungles), and of course Arizona (Vegas 7.5- won 9 in the worst division in the history of the universe). Do these eight teams "surprise" teams have anything in common?

Well honestly, no, all eight of them do not. But if you throw out Philly (a unique style because of Bryan Westbrook and how little and ineffectively they run the ball), and Arizona because, and stop me if I've mentioned this before, THEY WERE 6-0 AGAINST THEIR HORRIBLE GAWD AWFUL DIVISION AND JUST 3-7 AGAINST REAL COMPETITION!?!?!?!?!?!, then the remaining six "surprise" playoff teams certainly do have something in common: they all took as much pressure as possible off of their quarterback with a strong running game and defense.

All six were in the top 12 in rushing offense in the NFL.

All six were in the top 12 in scoring defense in the NFL.

All six were in the top NINE for least amount of pass attempts.

Five of the six were in the top nine for least interceptions thrown (Vikings fans, want to take a wild guess which one wasn't even close to being in that group?).

It's a pretty basic formula, but it also proved to be extremely effective for six different playoff teams. Run the ball well, stop people, and ask your quarterback to do as little as possible. It's a strategy made famous by the Baltimore Ravens in their Super Bowl year of 2003, and less famously by the Pittsburgh Steelers for Ben Roethlis-fatburger's five year career (since 2004, the Steelers have finished 32nd-or last, 32nd, 14th, 31st, and 17th in pass attempts. Roethlisberger is a good QB who is now a certain hall-of-famer because he won his second Super Bowl, but I still find it laughable that he's considered a top 5 QB in the league right now when he's asked to do far less with far more talent around him than anybody else in the conversation). Run the ball, stop the other team, and hope your QB doesn't screw up when he has to do something.

Finally, while this is a recipe for success in MAKING the playoffs, it is not a successful strategy for WINNING in the playoffs. While it makes it harder still to predict playoff outcomes, it is nice to know quarterbacking still counts a LOT when things matter the most. None of our six teams made the Super Bowl, and only one (the Ravens) made the conference finals because they finally played teams who were good enough to expose their quarterbacks.

So store this one away in your memory for when August rolls around and we're trying to figure out who the "6 in 6 out" teams are going to be: who looks like they can run the ball and can consistently stop the other team, and we won't worry about how good their quarterback is until January.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

White Guys: I Love Them and I Hate Them

So the Super Bowl is over, and so is football. For eight loooooonnnnnnggggg months. Saturdays and Sundays just are not the same without college and pro football to watch, and so now it's trying to figure out to fill that time. I know that I SHOULD like college basketball better than the NBA, yet I've tried to follow the Gophers and college hoops in general, and I've struggled.

For one thing, the Big 10 is BORING. It just is. There are no stars in the conference, and haven't been for a long time. There's some quality teams this year, and I'm glad the Gophs are one of them, but there's nobody who I'm excited to see. And nationally, unless you like to watch Tyler Hansbrough do his white Karl Malone imitation (wait, if Karl Malone is one of the whitest black men ever, then I suppose he's just doing his Karl Malone imitation) it's the same deal. Which player are you giving up time on your nice little Saturday (maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond. I don't know if we'll have time) to watch? I do enjoy Steph Curry bombing threes from everywhere, but he plays for Davidson so they're never on. I couldn't even tell you three other guys who I think will be All-Americans this year. There's really only two other things I can tell you for sure about college hoops: one is Duke has a lot of white guys and I continue to hate that team more than any other in any other sport.

My Duke hatred is nothing new, and to be honest, I can't explain why. I'm a white kid from Canada who loves Steve Nash, and STILL have a fasination with Gonzaga and all of their 3-point bombing whitey's that I can't quite explain. Saturday I passed up a top 10 Big East matchup (by the way, how crazy is the Big East? As Bill Walton would say, it's a HORRIBLE football conference, but man it's just insane how good it is for basketball. It would be like if USC, Texas, and Oklahoma joined the SEC for football) to watch Gonzaga vs. San Diego. And I loved every minute of it.

Growing up the first Final Four I remember was 1988 when Rumeal Robinson lead Michigan to a National Title over Seton Hall and Sean Higgins (you know what's crazy? I didn't look any of that up. Seriously), which was right when I first started loving Michigan (I was like 8 or 9)thanks to my cousin Kristi, who went to college right down the road in Spring Arbor and sent me all of this Michigan stuff. Anyway, even at that early age, I gravitated towards UNLV and then the Fab 5, and always, always, ALWAYS hated Duke. Always. Which again is weird because I'm really white and middle class and I like guys who hustle and bomb threes, yet I've always hated Duke. My most hated Dukies of all-time are Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Danny Ferry, Wojo, and Cherokee Parks. Notice something? They are all unathletic white guys who hustle! And I hate them!!

It's one of those personal contradictions I just can't explain, because honestly, if I could get everyone of Gonzaga's games, I'd watch them. Adam Morrison is one of my favorite college players of all time, and some of my favorite Zags are Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, and Richie Frahm, who are, of course, all unathletic white guys who hustle and bomb threes. As I said, I do not understand how I differentiate between the two, but I know I love Gonzaga and I hate Duke.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, how to fill the football void. Unless Gonzaga's going to be on TV a lot, I don't see myself watching much college hoops until March Madness. I've tried not to pay attention to the Wolves and have tried not to care and have tried to get attached or spend time thinking about them...and yet you're going to get a Wolves mid-season report and trade scenario posts very soon. WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF EVERY TIME?!?!?!??

Thankfully February is a short month which includes my birthday, which means baseball will be starting before we'll know it, and I can start watching the Mariners from afar, and making the same complaints I make every year about the Twins while Twins fans who just paid for a brand new stadium fawn over them while they take their money and don't invest it in the team. What have the Twins needed for decades? A MIDDLE OF THE ORDER BAT!!!!!!!!!!! And Manny, Adam Dunn, Bob Abreu and others are just SITTING THERE!!!!!!!!! But are the Twins going to make an offer? Are they going to make a trade? Nope. Of course not. Because they're the Little Engine That Could that runs on Twins' fans positivity and hope and jelly beans and rainbows instead of spending money and running the team like you're the 14th largest media market in the freaking country!?!?!?!?!? Drives me f$&%ing CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!

On second thought maybe I can wait a little longer for baseball to start.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Super Super Bowl

I have to admit, I'm starting to come around on this whole parity thing. No really, I am. There's not even a snippy, sarcastic barb coming about. I am- well for the Super Bowl anyway. For all the things parity takes away from us, like true greatness, having the regular season actually mean something, and some order to things, it does give us much better Super Bowls than the previous Dyansty Era did. That was the thing I always conveniently forgot to mention as I was whining about 9-7 teams winning horrible divisions and ending up in the Super Bowl- the 49ers/Redskins/Cowboys era in the mid 80's to late 90's gave us some awfully one-sided Super Bowls. But this whole parity-era stuff has been great. Watching the game with the future Mrs. at Le Casa De Jermo with Jermo and Mrs. Jermo, I felt like Maximus had stormed in after the game was over and yelled "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!?" and then threw his sword at my head. And I had to admit, I WAS entertained.

In fact, I was so entertained by last night's game, I'm actually blogging about it. I know, the miracle of miracles. Where to even begin with a game like that?

...Well here's one place: Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes owes me, and anyone else who owned him in fantasy football this year, a formal, written, heart-felt apology. Why? Because THAT was the guy I thought I was drafting or keeping for fantasy football. The guy who made all the big, spectacular plays and looked like one of the best receivers in the league last night? Yeah that's the guy I thought I was getting, and I waited...and waited...and waited...and then got knocked out of the playoffs...and THEN in the Super Bowl he steps up. So thanks Santonio. Thanks for nothing. You can send your apology here to the blog or can mail it to me in the form of a Chipotle gift card- or an actual Chipotle burrito. It's the least you can do for losing me a fantasy football title this year when you quite clearly had it in you but decided not to show up when I needed you most.

...I don't know if Kurt Warner is a hall-of-famer or not, but he's been damn good in the Super Bowl. He's played in three Super Bowls, and he has the three highest yardage totals in history. Not too shabby. I can't believe he'd even consider retiring right now. Is he, or is he not, one of the five best QB's in the league right now (Brees, Manning-if you even have to ask which one your punishment is to rewatch each and every one of the Super Bowl commercials again. Honest to god, advertising people of America, how hard is it to entertain us? You know what, this deserves it's own section- Brady, and I suppose you'd have to put Roethlesberger now as the other four)? He most certainly is. The only reason I can think of for retiring is because his wife has gone through an incredible transformation from this to this. Can't say I'd blame him for wanting to spend more time with her.

...Was I the only person watching who didn't know Pittsburgh linebacker David Harrison was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year? Or that I'd really never heard of the guy before that game? I loved when Al Michaels made some mention of how "the nation already knows so much about him." Um, no Al, we don't. Or at least I didn't. His 100 yard interception for a TD was definitely amazing, and the refs absolutely got the call right in saying he made it into the end zone. And as for his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, where some people were saying he should get kicked out of the game for it- HE GOT HIT IN THE NUTS!!! Seriously, whoever the Cardinals player was got up, and brought his forearm with him right up into Harrison's wedding tackle, his twig and berries, his...well you get the idea. I'd be throwing punches at a guy if he pulled that crap too.

...Cards safety Adrian Wilson running over holder/punter Mitch Berger on the field goal attempt in the first half was the coolest and yet dumbest play of the game. Coolest because who doesn't love to see a punter get roughed up like that? It's fantastic. I think all punters and kickers should have to wear one-bar face masks and the number double zero. Or maybe just regular zero. And for entertainment value they should be fair game on each and every play for the entire play. Roughing the kicker and punter penalities only encourage kickers to act MORE like the soccer players they truly are with all the flopping and acting to draw penalties. If we just made it legal to kick the crap out of them on each and every play, it would make them tougher, and also make me much more excited to see kickers and punters on the field. I'm not sayin' I'm just sayin'.

...Where was I? Oh yeah, well as fun as that play was to watch, that was a bonehead play of Wilson to keep going like that into Berger. You HAVE to know better. If Pittsburgh scores a TD there it's probably ballgame and Wilson wears the Goat Horns. Instead, he and his mates made a YUGE defensive stand to keep it close.

...I was definitely impressed with Arizona's defense last night. The first two Pittsburgh series they were doing their best matador impression as the Steelers marched down the field. But after that, the settled in and looked pretty good. Dockett, Dansby and Wilson were studly, and the Rogers-Cromartie kid made some good plays at corner, although some of them, especially the deep pass he broke up in the end zone, were to save his a** because he got burnt. But still, for a rookie who was basically put on an island with Holmes all night, he did ok.

...Look, as much as I try to act like one, I'm NOT a football genius. A shock to you, I know. So it's probably more complicated than I can understand, but there's two things I didn't understand about the Cardinals offensive gameplan last night: 1)WHY did it take them so damn long to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball, and why didn't they use the no-huddle earlier- like as in the first series of the game? Why? First Fitzgerald. I understand that if the Steelers are working so hard to take him out of the game and it's leaving Boldin and Breaston open, you go to the other two guys. That's fine and good if you're getting big gains from the other players, but the Cards weren't. I do understand Warner's biggest strength is hitting guys in stride so they can catch and run. This is what made his Rams teams so good was his ability to give Holt and Bruce and others the ball in the perfect spot so they could catch and run. But other than the Fitzgerald 64 yard TD (that was his best throw of the night), the short passes were not resulting in YAC. Instead, it looked like he was running the Brad Childress offense, as he didn't throw the ball more than 10 yards in the air for most of the game, and his receivers were getting tackled as soon as they caught it. Boldin averaged 10 yards a catch. Breaston 11.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Pittsburgh was dropping their safeties 20-25 yards to take away the deep ball, then sending different blitzes while dropping their linebackers 5-10 yards to take away the short stuff. So why the hell then aren't you throwing slants and post routes OVER the linebackers? Shouldn't there have been at least a 10 yard bubble behind them? Fitzgerald and Boldin are both freaking huge, and they excel at catching the ball in traffic, so WHY didn't that ever happen? Instead they seemed content to dink and dunk Chilly-style to guys not named Fitzgerald for far too long.

And secondly then, where was the no-huddle all game? Gee let's see here, you have one of the best- or maybe THE best- passing attack in the NFL, including a quarterback who is really good at running a no-huddle and hurry-up. Everyone in the building knows you can't run (the chances of the Cards taking a RB in the first round of April's draft should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 110% Either Knowshon Moreno or LeSean McCoy), and yet not only do you try to run far too much, but you don't use the no-huddle until you absolutely have to in the fourth quarter? And what happens, you march down the field. Had the Cards done that from the beginning, it could have been a very different outcome.

...Mike Tomlin has to be the coolest coach on the planet. He's also the second former Viking D-coordinator to leave and win a Super Bowl. Here's hoping the third time is NOT a charm, and the Wilfs are smart enough to fire Chilly after next year and promote current D-coordinator to head coach.

...There's probably more I'm forgetting, but let's finish with the Super Bowl commercials. Equal parts not entertaining, and bad. Is this what happens when all three of our big American breweries are owned by international companies? Do the new owners of Budweiser, Miller, and Coors need to be told that the SUper Bowl is kind of a big deal, and that we count on them for our commercial entertainment? Do they not know this in South Africa and Europe and wherever else? Are they spending most of their time on advertising to the Cricket world championships or soccer or rugby? Budweiser at least got the memo to pay for ads, but the quality was wanting. We get it, the Clydsedales and Dalmation are cute and adorable and you're totally and shamelessly playing to all the females watching. The "Drinkability" Bud Light ads are more annoying the the Subway "Five. Five Dollar. Five Dollar Footlooooonnnngs" (I hope you have that song in your head the rest of the day now) and the Geico Cavemen commercials combined. Please stop them. Miller decided all they needed was a one second High Life ad where their guy yells "HIGH LIFE!" While that was funny, and I suppose memorable, it would have been better to have more of those throughout the game or maybe, just maybe, have an entire 30 second commercial. And Coors didn't even bother showing up. But then again, who drinks Coors anyway? Exactly. So they weren't missed at all anyway.

...So that's it for another football season. It's now eight LOOOOOOONNNNNGGGGGGG months off. That should be enough time for me to get comfortable with the idea of me being comfortable with the idea of parity maybe, kinda, sorta being a good thing. We'll see how long it lasts.