Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Wages of Winning Do Not Need To Include Amar'e

So the Internet is abuzz with the idea that my Sixers are interested in getting Amar'e Stoudamire from the Knicks, and loading up for a deep playoff run.

And all I can say is... are you all certain that Amar'e is an upgrade now?

We're talking about a guy with an exceptionally checkered medical history here, with microfiber surgery, eye problems, back spasms that kept him out of a playoff games last year... and he's always played big minutes for teams that needed him to be everything. There's a lot of miles on those 29+ year-old tires.

Second is the fact that, well, he might be pretty damned overrated. Sure, he's been a big scorer in his career, but that was in Phoenix, with the best point guard of our generation, in an up-tempo system that meant more of everything. The career 57.8% from the field is nice, but the last two years are at 50.2% and (lookout below!) 42.8%, and it's hard to think that his current 18 games of misery are all about Carmelo Anthony being a bad teammate, and having weak point guards. Carmelo didn't keep Nene Hilario from hitting a lot of shots, and fully half of the Association doesn't have a quality point at this point. You shoot 42.8% from the floor as a big, I don't know that you should start. No matter what name is on the back of your jersey.

But wait, there's less! Amar'e has never been as good of a shot blocker as you'd hope from a big who used to be able to jump through the building,with just 1.4 per game, and 0.7 this year. And he's a black hole who turns it over twice for every assist. Which isn't to say he's completely useless; the man has hands, cares if not without exceptional competence on defense, and you can put him on the court late without too much terror, because he can shoot free throws. The 23/9 in the playoffs shows that he doesn't shrink from the spotlight, and that he gets calls when the game matters. A year ago, he looked like the best free agent grab around, before Mike D'Antoni ran his knees into dust, and then his team blew itself up with the Carmelo trade.

They'd do this trade for Elton Brand, of course, and just sacrifice offense for defense, since everyone else on the roster D's up, and Amar'e probably work to fit in and get along with coach Doug Collins. But you never know, and the Knicks won't move him for Brand. Instead, you'd be looking at Andre Iguodala, who is the simultaneous quality floor and damming ceiling for this organization. They'd appreciate him as soon as they move him, of course, and maybe the idea is that Evan Turner is ready for major minutes... but this team takes its lead from 'Dre, and he is as close to selfless as you get from a guy on the US Olympic team. I'd rather see Turner's minutes come at the expense of the empty scoring calories of Lou Williams, which is all kinds of unfair to a guy who plays as hard and as well as Lou does... but life ain't fair.

The bigger problem, of course, is this: Amar'e might make them better in the short run. But better in the short run isn't going to compete with Miami or Chicago. At their current level, the Sixers get a #3 seed and a probable first round playoff win for the first time in forever... and then lose 4-1, or maybe 4-2, to Miami or Chicago. And with Amar'e for Brand or Iggy, maybe they lose that series 4-2 or 4-3. But they don't win it, because their best players are nowhere close to Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and LeBron James, and when push comes to shove, the team with the best player wins. And until Turner or Jrue Holiday is ready to wrest that title away from Wade or Rose, an upgrade on offense from a fragile big isn't going to help.

So... let's keep the band as is, please, ad enjoy the sweetest of all non-championship sports teams: the young selfless team that's overachieving, rather than a pretender that gets exposed. And it also avoids the very real possibility that Amar'e is in free fall now, and that this year is his true (and sinking) level. Having just spent the last few years slowly but surely getting Brand back from the brink of the worst contract in the Association, I'd prefer the good teammate I know, rather than the one I don't.

And on some level, I'd like to just see Iguodala win a playoff series in town, and the world know that this is the best team in the division, rather than the NE-NY axis of pretense. Let's have our 60% team, our playoff series win, and our noble dream of knocking off the Heat or Bulls. (And who knows, maybe even a really well-timed injury to an opponent. Plenty of those in the Association this year.)

Top 10 reasons why the Eagles retained Juan Castillo

According to rumors on the Web, my football laundry has signed Todd Bowles to limit the damage that Juan Castillo can do to the secondary, but are giving him another chance to show that he's not as smart as Jim Johnson. (Which is a bit of a problem, seeing how Jim is dead.) So what are the real reasons why the Eagles kept the Juanderful One?

10) It takes a special kind of coach to take 3 Pro Bowl level CBs and turn them into a weakness

9) Really loved the confidence that he showed in the club's nickel backs against Larry Fitzgerald in crunch time

8) Convinced that he won't get into a brawl with Jim Washburn this year

7) Thrilled with how the unit was able to gel late in the year against UFL-level QB play

6) Know that Marshawn Lynch ran through a lot of teams this year, so getting clowned by him can just be ignored

5) Don't see matching up well with a Patriot-style attack as a problem, since no one else in the NFL imitates other team's offensive game

4) By the statistics, the unit was better in 2011 than 2010, which is far more important than the five blown fourth quarter leads

3) The fan base really wanted him gone, and as the past seven years since their only Super Bowl appearance shows, the fan base clearly knows so much less than Coach For Life Reid And Friends

2) Finishing 8-8 is fine, so long as you win the last four against four non-playoff teams

1) Keeping him gives the club it's best chance to achieve the perfect season for this ownership, where you win 10 games, host one playoff game, and make sure you don't go deep enough into the playoffs to get anyone paid

Blake Griffin v. Kendrick Perkins

Um, I think the Blake won this one.

Seriously, I don't get that geebly about dunks, but GOOD GOD. This thing just need old-school Joey Styles from ECW audio on it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

At What Point Do I Get To Be An Ex-Fan?

According to the AP, my Oakland A's are "open" to signing Manny Ramirez.

No, seriously.

The owner, Lew Wolff, had suggested the move. The assistant general manager, David Forst, said they were open to it. "I think it would be fun." said Wolff.

Hey, Lew? You know what would be fun? Having a team that gave a damn. Rooting for guys that aren't on the roster with velcro strips on the backs of their uniforms. Having a sense of where the goddamned franchise was going to be next year. Having a general manager who wasn't living off the accomplishments of a decade ago, and a book about it. (Admittedly an excellent book, but still.) Having a single offensive player that you could draft with a straight face in the first 15 rounds of a fantasy league draft. Having the feeling that the team actually had a plan, rather than just muddling around, hoping to catch a decent two months from some no hope veteran, then flipping him to a contender for Quad-A guys.

You know what would not be fun? Watching the final circus stop in ManRam's career, where he probably weighs 50 pounds more than he should, and is at least five years past when he could do a thing offensively, let alone in your offense-crushing park. That would not be fun. Almost as much not fun as watching your current "roster", which is designed to lose as many games as possible while paying as little as possible for the privilege.

Oh, and the other thing that won't be fun? Watching Johnny Gomes, aka the homeless man's version of Manny, getting at-bats that could go to Michael Taylor or Chris Carter. Not that those guys are going to hit worth a damn either, but at least they've got the illusion of youth on their side.

The A's are the single biggest argument for relegation in MLB right now. They are also the single thing about baseball -- that I root for them --that's keeping my enjoyment of the game down.

Seriously, Manny Ramirez. 40 years old, suspended for 50 games due to repeat roid abuse, to a franchise that's going to lose 100-110 games, in front of crowds of 5,000 or less.

Can't we just put this organization in Triple-A already, and promote Newark or Durham or Las Vegas or Portland or Buffalo or any other city where the stadium isn't terrible and the organization is actually interested in winning baseball games?

A small and obvious point about the NFL Pro Bowl

Tonight, I watched one play of the Pro Bowl. It was a fourth and 15 for the NFC, down with 5 minutes left in the game, with the combined score being over 80 points. NFC QB Cam Newton threw a pick to AFC S Eric Weddle, who fumbled the ball on his interception return. Some other defender then picked it up, and took it the rest of the way, with the last 10 yards of it aided by Newton basically saying Ole!

It was the first Pro Bowl played I've watched in, well, something like twenty years or more.

It was one play too many.

Now, back to actual sports that should be watched, rather than fake ones that should be shunned...

Child Abuse

A quick word on something that should be obvious, but seemingly isn't...

Little kids should not be on the Internet. Period. End of sentence. I don't care if your spawn is adorable, if he or she just did the most viral video-y thing ever, or if their very appearance will make anyone watching it melt with joy. Putting them on the Internet is right up there with trotting them out for television appearances as the gateway drug to a future in pole dancing, stand-up comedy and backyard wrestling, in terms of stunting the growth. It's just the wrong idea.

Now, I get that this will seem like a draconian measure. I get that kids are people too, and that many of them want to post their stuff for their friends and family. I also get that it's a free country, and that I don't get to tell other people how to parent.

But then there's the videos, and I'm not going to link them here or even cite a specific one, because that would just fuel the fire. But you've seen them, in the Facebook threads of people that should know better, or on viral video links: little kids who are bawling their eyes and hearts out because their favorite team has taken the pipe.

And I understand, really, delighting in the misery of others. I'm from Philadelphia; it is what we do, mostly out of relief from the misery, for once, not coming at us. That's also going to be the only thing that gets me through the upcoming Nightmare Bowl II; the knowledge that either New York Fan or New England Fan is going to be inconsolable.

But a kid?

Look, the Internet is as close to forever as we get in this culture. You have a bad day on it, it gets played for years, and maybe causes real emotional distress. (I'm looking at you, Fat Star Wars Kid.) And sure, maybe a little kid stays relatively anonymous, and is forgotten about in weeks... and maybe not. Because it doesn't exist in a vacuum. It gets picked up at school, in the community, with the neighbors and etc. And it has to -- has to -- impact how they look at that kid, and the feeling that this is a weak-willed individual, or someone who is taking life too seriously, or someone you can upset easily.

When, of course, that's nearly all little kids.

So... don't watch those videos. Don't make them, either. The crime isn't victimless, and the victims don't know better.

And more importantly, don't deserve it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How Can This Be A Throwback Jersey...

when it matches a team (the ABA Memphis Tams) that has absolutely nothing in common with the NBA team it represents?

If the Grizz wants to go with throwback duds, they need to say Vancouver on them. And I'm reasonably certain that Big Country Reeves and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are available. Along with everyone else who ever played for the Vancouver Grizz, seeing how they are living under bridges.

It's as if the Eagles came out dressed as the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. Which, well, I'd be perfectly fine with, seeing how that's the only football team in my town that has won a championship in my lifetime. (And no, arena football is not football.)

But well, if it someone gets anyone in the world to actually buy Memphis NBA swag, then so be it. And by the way, the Memphis Tams were owned by Charlie Finley, of Oakland A's fame. You guessed that, right?

The Orlando Magic Let The Monsters Live

So about a week ago, I had real hope that time had finally ran out on my least favorite basketball team on the planet, your Boston Celtics. They had just lost to the Suns at home, losing Rajon Rondo to injury in the process. They were 5-9, losers of 6 of their last 7, and even their five wins were weak, seeing how they had only beaten terrible teams (Detroit, Washington, New Jersey and Toronto), and were 1-3 on the road, meaning that they had frittered away many of their home games already. They were out of the playoff picture, and competing with teams like Cleveland and New York (i.e., folks with a little more hope in terms of returning players and/or hot rooks) for the last spot.

I had such dreams. A sub .500 Boston team, in-fighting from the Old 3, the entire New England area forgetting all about them in the wake of their football team, hockey club and impending baseball season, and the rare and wonderful sight of an NBA year where I didn't have to watch that laundry at all.

And then... they won a game in Wasington where Paul Pierce came up big late. Well, OK, everyone beats the Wiz; you can't get too worried about that. They still didn't have Rondo, it was going to be oh... Orlando. Who scored a franchise-low 56 points in the first truly encouraging game for Celtic Fan all year, as Rondo-replacement Avery Bradley went full-court on every play on PG Jameer Nelson, and more or less willed his team to win through sheer, unrelenting and tireless effort. Dammit. Then tonight, in the return game in Orlando, the homeown Magic were up and rolling... until Nelson went down with an injury, the big lead got wiped, and the Celtics left town with another big win. They are 8-9 now, very much alive in the #7 seed, in the rear-view window as the most credible divisonal opponent to my Sixers, and absolutely relevant.

They've also found money in Brandon Bass, who gives them a better alternative than Big Baby Davis; only the Celtics win when another team signs away their talent. Bradley has earned burn for the rest of the year, and will keep Rondo fresh later, along with keeping him from coming back too soon and reinjuring himself. The injuries have gotten them to force-feed Mikael Pietrus into longer minutes, and he's doing really good things for them. Chris Wilcox and Marquis Daniels look credible now, so in the blink of a week, they've developed a bench. There's still time for the week to turn ugly with road games in Indy and Cleveland, but they've got That Look about them again. and with a 5-game homestand to start February, things are going to get closer in the East with a quickness, and above .500 soon. They are going to be fine.

Oh, and once they are above .500, and get back Rondo? It's going to go well for them. The sprint schedule aids teams with defensive intensity who caan take advantage of a lack of prior scouting and practice, since their schemes are fairly unique. It's also aiding teams with true home court advantages, and so long as the Celtics are winning and on the rise, they will get that as well.

And to think, we were so close to joy. Orlando, I hope you lose Dwight Howard now, and that you get back as little as New Orleans has for their superstar. You deserve it, for letting these basketball vampires out of the crypt. (And no, I won't consider it even better if my Sixers take them out later, because I'll still be *watching the Celtics.* You never let Dracula out of the coffin. Or the Celtics get into the second half of the year with hope.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seven things I think I know about the 2012 NBA

Thanks to the sprint schedule from the utterly unnecessary lockout, we're already at a point in the season, just one month in, that team records are really starting to matter. Also, some other trends are beginning to emerge. Here's what I'm seeing so far.

7) The East is better than the West.

At the top level, it's Miami and Chicago with Oklahoma City, so that's 2-1 for the East. On the second level, it's Indy, Philly, Orlando and Atlanta against both LA teams, Denver and San Antonio, and as the points below show, young legs win out. On the bottom level, the East just has fewer godawful teams (really, just Charlotte and Washington, and after Michael Jordan's performance in the lockout, I'd like to see the Hornets lose every game until he's dead), while the West makes the world look at Sacramento, Golden State and New Orleans. It's close, really, but pound for pound, I think the East is better. And that's true for the first time in, well, decades.

6) Clippers-Lakers is the league's next great rivalry.

I've seen all of these games courtesy of NBA TV, and they've been riveting in the extreme. The Lakers are much more of a grit and fingernails team under Mike Brown, especially after giving away Lamar Odom and crippling their bench. (Longest streak under 100 points in 20 years for this club, and now 11-8. Not exactly Showtime.) The Clippers are still figuring themselves out, especially with Chris Paul having injury issues, but Caron Butler looks like his old useful self, and having Chauncey Billups land here has been huge. These teams also have some definitive snarl to them, and the Staples crowd marks out huge for these games. I'd love to see them meet in the playoffs. It would be outstanding ball, and lots of it.

5) Home court means a lot more.

Not so much for crowd noise, which is still entirely hit or miss, but from simple fatigue and player management. If you have a team in the middle of back to backs, or a 3 games in 4 nights string, and the opponent doesn't need every game to keep the coach employed... you can win some games in the league now just from the calendar.

4) Old legs are not good legs.

Look at Dallas, Boston and the Lakers, the three most established teams in the Association -- they just don't look good. At all. Neither does Phoenix, who rely on Steve Nash and Grant Hill, otherwise known as 75+ years of basketball player, for a lot. If you don't have youth in your rotation, rather than just your bench, it's going to cost you for playoff position. Fast.

3) Random absences are common.

I've played fantasy hoop for a decade, and I've never had a year in which my guys have missed more games than this one. The only saving grace? That's true of every other team, too. You get the sense that guys are just taking games off without any kind of stigma now, or just as a precaution from management. It's frustrating, but understandable.

2) The officiating has also suffered.

You might not think that a crunched schedule would matter to the zebras, but it does. I've seen a lot more in the way of choppy play, questionable technicals and iffy flagrant calls, along with the usual assortment of erratic standards and all-star exemptions. I try not to call attention to this because it's pretty hack and not something that's very actionable, and it will probably improve in the playoffs. But for now, it's pretty bad.

1) The game is, somehow, even better.

Maybe I'm just viewing the Association through the happy haze that is my Sixers actually having some hope. Maybe I'm just so happy to have some sports in my life that doesn't devolve around the New York / New England circle jerk. Maybe I just love the fact that things have been shaken up a bit, and that young, deep, athletic and starless teams that get turned into hamburger in the playoffs might actually have a chance this time around.

But independent of all that, consider this fact. Basketball is played on six continents. The NBA is the best basketball league in the world, with the greatest coaching, arenas, rules and officiating. I get that many people like college ball, enjoy young people who seem uncorrupted by money, love the ferocity of the crowds and the excitement of the tournament. But I'll say this: if you like college ball but hate the pros, you don't really like basketball. You just like to root for your team.

I watched a truly terrible Wizards team this week in a Sunday matinee against the Celtics. (It was on before the NFL playoff games.) They were playing for a dead coach walking. They were playing in front of a dead crowd, in a lost season, against a team (Boston) that even their fans will admit is not exactly prone to artistry. And yet I was still into it, because John Wall is oddly fascinating (he does everything, but does he do it in a winning way?), Nick Young is a pure shooter that seems like he might have utility in some role and team, even though he's plainly terrible for them... and Paul Pierce still has more basketball IQ and production out of his talents than anyone else in his generation. I could go on, but won't. And when it got to crunch time? It was hard for me to turn away from it to watch Patriots-Ravens. A playoff game that decided the AFC's rep in the Super Bowl, versus the final minutes of a game between two teams that I really don't care about.

It's a great game. I'm sorry if you don't see it. And the further we get away from the lockout, the better it's going to get. Ball don't lie.

Top 10 reasons why the NFL extended Roger Goodell

10) Want to make sure he's there for the next lockout

9) Only way to keep the league safe from Pac Man Jones' shenanigans in the long run

8) There was nothing else happening today, and there's always the possibility that some other sport might actually get coverage

7) Love what he's done to eliminate defense and kickoffs in our lifetime

6) The Patriots told them to do it

5) Impressed by his ability to keep getting the NFL Plus markets into the Super Bowl

4) The $1 salary he took during the lockout impressed the owners very much, since none of them have cared about salary in decades either

3) Afraid that if they didn't extend him, he'd fine them for some infinitesimal uniform violation

2) His willingness to shaft the retired and concussed appeals to their sense of decency and trust

1) Has a collection of photographs, videos, audio files, animal husbandry tools and personal mementos that redefine the phrase "criminally actionable evidence"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Top 10 reasons why the Wizards fired Flip Saunders

10) Realized this morning that they were employing Flip Saunders

9) He was failing to get defense and ball-sharing from selfless players like Nick Young, Andray Blatch and JaVale McGee

8) Going 2-15 is a solid two wins off the pace that their high standards demand

7) When you have the opportunity to hire a Randy Wittman, it really doesn't matter who you have to whack to do it

6) Only way to prevent Saunders' suicide was to prevent him from watching any more of this team

5) After previous stops in Minnesota and Detroit, Saunders could never get comfortable with the small-town media spotlight and limited dining options of the District

4) Unlike every surviving Wizard fan. not ready to tank the year

3) Didn't approve of him benching McGee for the only Wizard play that anyone will remember in the 2011-12 season

2) Wanted him to be more of a disciplinarian, which was hard for him, seeing how he really stopped giving a damn in the second half of the opening game

1) Both of the Wizards fans asked the club to make the move

Top 10 reasons why Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers

10) The Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Angels already have big money first basemen

9) Gives him the opportunity to ruin dad's legacy, for good or ill

8) Only way to ensure that he never has to face Justin Verlander

7) After so many years in Milwaukee, thinks Detroit is a comparative cosmopolitan metropolis

6) Wants to be part of a 1-2 punch with Miguel Cabrera, on a near-lock division winner, and still be utterly ignored by the national media

5) Convinced that Comerica Park can't hold him, or has a secret fetish for cat statues

4) Always wanted his own city, and at Detroit's current real estate prices, he can afford it

3) Just can't stand Packer Fan, so going to their only credible division rival was the natural choice

2) Told that there were some really good vegetarian restaurants in town, along with a great number of other lies

1) Um, they paid him a staggering amount of money

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A fan base that deserves so much more

So tonight I fired up NBA TV after a late workout, as part of my Emerging Sanity Boycott of the World Wide Lemur. The Association's channel gave me the Golden State Warriors at home against the Memphis Grizzlies, and one more look into a franchise that might abuse a fan base more than any other.

Here's what happened in this game: the Warriors led from 2-0 into the wee minutes of the game. They held a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter. And then they pissed it all away with 9 turnovers (9!) in the final stanza, with all of those turnovers leading to 16 fast break points for the road team, and a disquieting loss in a season filled with them. This year's Warrior club is, like so many, driven by high usage guards. Tonight's goat was Monta Ellis, who fired up a corner three against Marc Gasol, rather than find a number of open shooters at the arc, but you could also lay it on Stephen Curry, who can't talk about rust when your decision making in the fourth is this poor. Memphis shot 37% from the floor in the first half. They don't have Zach Randolph, aka their best player. They didn't play worth a damn for about 40 minutes tonight. And they won anyway, because that's just what happens when you play the Warriors.

But that's really not the thing to note about this game. Rather, I'd like to speak about Warrior Fan, who might be the best fan base in the Association that has gotten the very least for their money. With seconds left to go and the Warriors needing miracles after a disaster quarter, they were still there, hissing the Grizz, riding the refs, praying for misses. On a Monday night, against a team with no cachet.

Year after year, they show up and fill the stadium. Year after year, they buy into the high draft pick, the new coach, the hope that this could be the year that they finally learn how to finish, or have a bench, or stay healthy. Year after year and game after game, they show up and give their team volume, energy and heart. And year after year, they get hosed.

You can keep Celtic Fan, who deserted the team in the bad '90s when the team was Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker seeing who could be more selfish. Laker Fan is seemingly ready to toss his tickets over for the new look Clippers. Detroit Basketball used to be fierce, but isn't anymore. Philly has never been a pro hoop town. Indiana and Sacramento used to be incredibly tough places to play, but not so much any more. There are only two fan bases, really, that come whether the team is good or bad, and mark out for pro hoop more than any other game. That's New York and Oakland. And maybe that's why the ownership has been so bad, since it's not as if they have to put a good product on the court to get paid.

Anyway... the ownership is new. They've got legitimate injury woes, seemingly all on the guys with size. Even good new coaches -- and no, I'm not giving that status to Cookie Monster Marc Jackson yet -- can struggle for a year or two, until their defensive concepts and rotations take hold. If Curry can somehow shake the injury bug, and if Ellis can ever get to the point of making his teammates better rather than just get theirs, maybe there's hope. Heaven knows that the fan base believes. And I'd really like to see them rewarded for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

80 Giants - Niners Takeaways

Just an epic game, so we're going long...

80) Jim Harbaugh really enjoys hitting QB Alex Smith on the shoulder pads, almost as much as Fox enjoys televising it

79) The first quarter block by Joe Staley on Jason Pierre-Paul was all kinds of manly, and got the Niners their initial first down

78) I bet the over on the number of times that Joe Buck discussed the coldness and wetness, and got paid off easily

77) It didn't take long for Giants Fan to scream "Crooooze", but they didn't sound as loud as they did in Green Bay

76) Troy Aikmann told us that when the running game isn't working and the Niners are getting no pass rush anyway, the Giants have to keep running it anyway for some reason

75) The first time the Niners got pressure on QB Eli Manning was the first third down they defended, which isn't exactly a coincidence

74) Fox really enjoys turning up the volume on their telecasts coming out of commercial

73) TE Vernon Davis was clearly saving himself for the post-season, and enjoys 15 yard pedestals

72) S Antrel Rolle might want to start talking less in pre-game, especially when he's chasing guys into the end zone

71) Ed Hochuli enjoys mic time, but might not have the tongue skills for it

70) The overhead cameras clearly needed wipers and defoggers

69) RB Brandon Jacobs continues to be a tremendously overrated short yardage option

68) The Giants missed a golden opportunity on a badly executed reverse, as Osi Umenyiora whiffed on the fumble recovery, and that kind of play hasn't happened to Blue for months

67) The ball that Smith nearly had picked at the end of the first quarter looked Tebow-esque

66) Rain in HD is nearly as much fun as snow

65) The 36-yard connection to Cruz might be as far as Manning can throw it in these conditions

64) This postseason is the best that Eli has ever played, and it's really not close to second place

63) The throw to Bear Pascoe for the score shows Eli will use anyone in the passing game, regardless of the snicker value of the player's name

62) You have to be impressed by the Niners' ability to turn the rain off while on offense

61) Davis was flagged for 15 yards on a play where the Niners had beef over an OL getting his helmet removed

60) At this point in their careers, Smith might have more straight line speed than RB Frank Gore

59) The Giants didn't jump on a fourth and 2, because that play never works (unless you need to clinch a game against the Eagles)

58) New York seemed oddly fixated on Travis Beckham, considering how many better options they had in the passing game

57) The Harbaugh family really doesn't go for aggression before halftime

56) Cruz bailed out his QB repeatedly in the two-minute drill

55)) Watching Eli's little dance before taking a delay of game penalty looked familiar to me, in that I've potty-trained daughters

54) It really is a treat to watch a defense where the first player to touch the runner tackles him

53) The Pierre-Paul sack made Buck achieve orgasm, which is to say, Buck reacted the way he usually does

52) Smith is clearly athletic enough to not get late hit flags

51) The Aaron Ross penalty for a first down was basically the equivalent of a defensive turnover, and clearly energized the Niners

50) Justin Tuck was fortunate to not give up another first down on a 50/50 running into / roughing the passer flag

49) For a team with conservative play calling and no WRs, the Niners have some quick-strike capability, at least as long as you let Davis run clear

48) You will be shocked to discover this, but when Eli has to deal with pressure, he's a remarkably less effective QB

47) Aikmann's rooting for the Giants started to get pretty blatant, even by the usual Fox standards

46) The Niner defense was not called for a brutal hit on a defenseless defender

45) Chris Canty gave the Niners 15 yards for something silly, which is to say, he gave them their biggest offensive play that wasn't a touchdown to Davis

44) The Niners held a lead in the fourth quarter despite going 0-for-8 on third down, which is downright hard to do

43) Harbaugh took an intentional delay penalty to give P Andy Lee the change to use his full leg and pin the Giants deep... only to watch him chunk it to just the 20-yard-line anyway

42) The Niners' DL really started to anticipate the snap late, and Eli really never adjusted

41) The HD slo-mo of Manning getting sacked with 11:30 left was kind of pornographic, not that I'm complaining too much

40) Kyle Williams' muffed punt should have been a Giants touchdown, as well as a play that the PR never gets near

39) The idea that who goes to the Super Bowl in the NFC depended on the availability of Ted Ginn Jr. boggles the mind, really

38) Manning to Manningham for the go-ahead score was the WR's first catch of the day, the biggest catch of his life, and more or less perfect

37) Williams nearly redeemed himself with a big kickoff returner, which was a nice reminder to the NFL that kickoff returns that aren't touchbacks are kind of fun

36) The Giant defense clearly has an issue with mobile QBs

35) The 49er line blocking on the 18-yard run by Kendall Hunter was pancake-riffic, and made the Giants' defense look like it needed a standing 8-count

34) Smith's low ball fake with six minutes left was downright goofy

33) 54 minutes without a third down conversion and tied in a conference championship game just does not compute

32) It would have been nice to have this David Akers last year

31) The three and out by the Niners was downright beastly, but the Giants 3 and out came with a big yardage sack, so it was more beastly

30) Lee's first really good punt of the day came when the Niners really needed it

29) You'd never guess we were in a pass-wacky age from the way these defenses played late in the game

28) The Giants were clearly bailed out by the non-fumble call on Bradshaw, and yes, that's the biggest New York media market conspiracy call of the game

27) The back to back 3-and-outs when the Giants had a chance to win in regulation won't do much for Eli's candidacy for Elite QB Status

26) Shawn Weatherford equalled Lee for the Punter Es Muy Macho side bet

25) I'm told that Michael Crabtree played in this game, but it's hard to see the evidence

24) The Niner 3-and-out that took 20 seconds off the clock will also not do much for Smith's candidacy for Isn't Just A Game Manager With One Legendary Day status

23) Manning to Bradshaw for the big gain showed courage and touch befitting of Elite status

22) Manning to Bradshaw for the small gain showed mobility and awareness that's better than his brother

21) Credit where due: the coverage on the third down throw to Cruz that could have ended the game was spectacular

20) No matter what the situation, Smith is ready to settle for a check down

19) Tuck got away with a helmet to helmet hit on Smith with 4 seconds left that could have made things a little more interesting

18) As if New England needed any more breaks this year, they'll play a team that had to go to extra time in the last game

17) At some point, Akers might not have enough energy to get a touchback, but that might not be until Monday

16) At the start of overtime, for the second time today, the Niner DBs prevented each other from making a big pick

15) Why NY is throwing to a guy who did not have a catch in the regular season on an overtime third down is beyond me

14) Watching both of these QBs blow opportunities to end the game was like watching a heads up poker game where the small blind always folds

13) Encroachment against the defense with 10:15 left in overtime is another one of those Hmm Media Market moments, and inspired Ahman Brooks to nearly remove Eli's arm

12) Justin Smith finally got into the sack parade at a pretty important time

11) Seriously, Kyle Williams should just go live in a leper colony with Billy Cundiff

10) Redskin Fan is kind of sick over the fact that Devin Thomas is finally helping a team win games

9) The nation's gamblers who had NY -3 desperately wanted Bradshaw to score the clinching touchdown, rather than settle for the figgie

8) The idea that a game as good as this one had to end over a muffed punt was nearly as unsatisfying as the earlier missed field goal

7) Icing the kicker doesn't make much sense when the offense is taking a delay of game

6) Eli knew the play clock better than Coughlin, which is funny in retrospect

5) Never in the history of humanity have so many people been so happy to go to Indianapolis in February

4) Weatherford and Tynes coped with a low snap, which makes him heroic, or at least, more clutch than Tony Romo

3) Niner Fan can console themselves with the fact that, well, they can go right back to doubting Smith again

2) All in all, not a very good day for the Harbaugh family

1) We have achieved Nightmare, just as you knew we would

Top 10 NFL Conference Championship Ad Questions

10) Are NFL fans really interested in paying to see a 3-D movie featuring a pro wrestler than can manipulate his tits?

9) If you are taking investment advice from someone wearing a diaper, isn't that a cry for help?

8) Will drinking Dr. Pepper cause me to reduce my existence to a single noun?

7) Is driving a Ford such a soul-deadening experience that likening it to a computer is considered a compliment?

6) Couldn't Taylor come up with a name for their clubs that people might be able to say without giggling like 12-year-olds?

5) Why are car manufacturers making new vans, when the old windowless ones are the only ones that the core creepy guy demographic wants?

4) Since the R2 unit will save your life many times over and be one of the galaxy's biggest heroes, shouldn't you choose it over a cell phone?

3) Can't the stolen tiger mascot eat the annoying cell phone users, just once?

2) If I buy a Cadillac, do I have to drive it backwards?

1) Isn't Peyton Manning too small and not athletic enough to be believable as a ref?

50 Ravens - Patriots Takeaways

50) Both teams went three and out on their opening draft, proving that both teams will lose

49) On DT Vince Wilfork's first quarter sack, every Ravens receiver was open, which didn't exactly inspire confidence in QB Joe Flacco's abilities

48) When the Patriots change formations, it's really interesting to Phil Simms, because he's rarely watched football

47) The Patriots went to no-huddle, because it allowed them to get more snaps for Julian Edelman, and as this game showed, it's all about him

46) Bernard Pollard's pick was wiped out by a flag, on the off chance that you didn't think NE was going to get questionable calls

45) Watching Brady get sacked never gets old, or sadly, common

44) Nothing makes analysts happier than when the QB completes a lot of passes to different receivers, since it shows how smart and team-oriented they are, and prevents any of those uppity WRS from getting hero numbers

43) The first three Ravens' possessions all started at the 20 yard line without a return play, because life is just better with constant touchbacks

42) Baltimore had as many first downs in the first 10+ minutes as Houston, New Orleans, Green Bay and Denver combined

41) Lardarius Webb's pick was one of the best catches you'll ever see by a DB

40) Flacco's rollout throw to WR Torrey Smith showed that, yes, the Patriots' secondary is still bad

39) Jim Harbaugh called for a chip shot figgie rather than go for it on fourth and 1, proving that he doesn't have the guts to lose in an unconventional way

38) The Patriots' answering touchdown was done almost entirely with the running game, which would never happen if the Ray Lewis that the media fellates were still alive

37) Ray Rice used his super Smurf powers to convert a red zone first down that was worth four points

36) You could have made some real coin with the idea that the first TD to a TE would go to Dennis Pitta

35) In the first half, Flacco was the best QB on the field, and it wasn't even close

34) The missed connection to Smith on the deep ball late in the second quarter was one of those mistakes you can't make as a road team and win

33) NE kept getting pressure with 3-man rushes, which really should not happen

32) Ed Dickson's failure to convert a catchable 3rd and 2 cost the Ravens at least 3 points, and was one of those yada yada

31) NE took a knee with a minute left and two timeouts, which showed more respect for the Ravens' defense than was warranted

30) Chad Ochocinco was inactive for this game due to personal reasons, as if the professional ones weren't good enough

29) On third and long, Baltimore was still too intimidated by Brady's ability against blitzes to bring extra people

28) When Brady and Lewis talk trash after a play, it's not taunting, because both players are very, very famous

27) Aaron Hernandez exposed S Bernard Pollard on a red-zone first down, recalling the days when he was the #1 TE

26) On third and two from the seven, NE ran Ben Jarvus Gree-Ellis off tackle and settled for the figgie

25) The Ravens' first kickoff runback was so unexpected, it causes a brawl

24) When things get chippy, as they inevitably do in games like this, it's always hard to tell if the announcers are excited or ashamed

23) Lee Evans was clearly saving his numbers for the games that matter

22) It's not helmet to helmet if you hit a TE, even if the TE is white

21) Smith's screen for a touchdown was the Ravens' first lead of the game, and sign that this was going to go the distance in drama

20) Danny Woodhead stopped being plucky and lovable when he coughed up the third quarter kickoff

19) Flacco actually looks fleet of foot against this defense

18) Baltimore isn't good at covering kicks, which isn't a winning sign for their future defense

17) Simms praised Baltimore for disguising a blitz on a play that went for big yards

16) Rob Gronkowski's ankle bent in a way that all kinds of gross

15) Any team that faces the Patriots should employ Pollard just for the hope of gruesome and important injury

14) Baltimore fell asleep on the possibility of a QB sneak for a TD one play after nearly giving up a QB sneak for a TD

13) Given his proficiency at an advanced age, maybe Ricky Williams' opinions on marijuana smoking should be given more credence

12) The fullback position is dying, but no one has told Vonta Leach

11) CBS praised Flacco's poise late in the game as he made handoffs, one play before a crushing INT

10) CB Jimmy Smith's pick on the next play was better than the Webb pick, and as big of a play as you can get

9) The next time the Ravens are on the cusp of tying a playoff game with three minutes left, they might think about blocking Wilfork

8) While Green-Ellis may have never fumbled, going backwards on the snap before the two minute drill wasn't a big help either

7) On the third and four that was had to have, NE went empty backfield and gave Brady time, but S Ed Reed made a perfect play to deny Hernandez, in a quiet moment of perfection

6) P Zoltan Meskow's kick to Webb was pretty awful, but the coverage prevented a big play

5) Pitta failing to get out of bounds should have killed any chance of Baltimore winning this in regulation, but Anquan Boldin had other ideas

4) Perhaps putting Edelman on Boldin in crunch time might not have been the best idea

3) Evans was half a second away from winning this game for Baltimore

2) Moore got away with DPI a play after breaking up the Evans catch

1) Billy Cundiff's tombstone can be written in advance, and given that he works in Baltimore, that might happen quickly

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Only in a home game

A Poker Diary that's not so much about poker? Yeah, like that ever happens.

So I'm in the deep stack tournament at my routine home game last night. I catch Ace-King off-suit in late position, and I'm a little scared of running a coin flip with it, so I just call the min raise, rather than push. One of my regulars, a player who's one of our steadier and more dangerous guys, makes the call. The flop gives me an ace, no flush and no straight draws. I make a half the pot sized bet, and get my regular as the only caller. The turn is another seeming blank, so I raise the bet steadily, hoping to squeeze him out of the hand... and he shoves. For something like 95% of my stack.

Well, damn. Time to think this one out. I ask for a count, and determine the size of the hole I'm about to go down into. There's a lot in the pot already, and if I call and lose, I'd be down to a 5K stack that will leave me crippled, since the starting stacks are 20K. So the question really comes down to whether or not he also has an ace, and might have caught two pair, or if he's got trips... or air. Air is a possibility. A knockout would make me the chip leader at my table. Think, think, think...

And then my kids enter the room, to say good night and get a quick hug. And they are, of course, adorable in their pajamas, and cheerful and oblivious to the timing, and unphased by the 20-odd people in the room. I am not, of course, going to chastise them in public for coming down at this key moment; they are oblivious, and I want them to stay that way. So I return the hug, but tell them they've got to go... and since they are 6 and 11 and that way, they both need multiple hugs and want to perform in public. My table, of course, is laughing or expressing sympathy to me for the timing of the visit, and out of the corner of my eye, I see my opponent has pulled his hoodie tight and put his head down.


Laughing? No... Seems like... he's got a hand. And feels a tinge of consciousness over taking all of my chips with the move that will seem like a bluff. I don't like my ace now; I don't like it one bit.

I fold the hand face up, and he's kind enough to show me trip 2s, which means I was drawing stone cold dead, since an ace on the river that gives me trips would give him a boat. For 95% of my stack. And sure, I might have folded the hand anyway, but still.

Now, if I could just bring my kids, in pajamas, to the casino floor for key decision moments like this. (Ok, no. And by writing this, I've also blown their effectiveness for my next game. The things I do for my readers...)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top 10 reasons why Santonio Holmes is staying in New York

According to Jets' owner Woody Johnson, Quitter / WR Holmes will be back for the 2012 season. As always, FTT has the inside reasons behind a questionable decision. (Beyond the obvious point that they agree with him about the QB...)

10) As always in this town, it's more about the back page tabloids than actual football

9) The other WRs are actually worse than a guy giving no effort

8) Don't want to make things too easy on embattled QB Mark Sanchez

7) Can't admit that they lost the trade with the Steelers that brought him here

6) Somehow think that Holmes' ability to perform in close and late game excuses everything else

5) Can't possibly figure out how they'd replace 51 catches for 654 yards

4) Believe that leadership is all about carrying jewelry from being part of a championship team, years and years ago

3) Treasures the man's ability to somehow keep the club in the public eye, even with the Giants still alive

2) If they let go of every overrated guy who has been a distraction and given up on the team, wouldn't have enough players to practice, or have a coach

3) $7.5 million per year just doesn't go as far as it used to

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Conference Championship Picks: Random Acts Of Gambling

So I was talking about football with the guy who finished second in my points league, who is also loving life and football because his 49ers are in the final 4 after 10+ years in the wilderness. To him, this is a golden age of football, where his team came through with a could not be denied win against a very dangerous Saints team, and he feels like he's got the world figured out.

I couldn't be further away from his position, of course.

To me, the year almost can't end fast enough. I find myself having to fight to remain awake and interested during games, and this has been true for *months*. My roto team stunk, my laundry hurt me bad, and worst of all... the game changed. For the worse.

I don't mean to rain on Niner and Raven Fan's parade... but their teams won last week because the ball bounced the right way on a handful of plays. (You've heard of these plays. They are called turnovers.) Giant Fan is living the second once-in-a-lifetime run in the past five years, which more or less makes my Eagle Fan blood boil with envy. It also doesn't hurt that where I live is middle ground between Philly and New York, so when Blue goes on a run, the car flags sprout like mushrooms. The Patriots might still be in the situation where they have not yet beaten a good team this year. And you'd have to say they are overwhelming favorites to win it all again.

You understand how I've had better times watching football.

But that, of course, doesn't matter at all to the pure business of picking games and making money. And there is money to be made here, folks. Money from embracing the inevitable, money from looking into the abyss and laughing, money from knowing that what the world and the league wants, the world and the league will get.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

BALTIMORE at New England (-9)

The case for Baltimore: They are 13-4 for a reason. They've got a defense that has smacked New England around before. They can make plays in special teams. They have the best RB left in the playoffs in Ray Rice. They won't struggle nearly as badly on offense this week, because the NE DL isn't half as good as Houston's. They've won on the road in the playoffs before. The secondary is highly opportunistic, and has a prayer of covering the tight ends. They aren't afraid. Last week could have been more about rust than anything else. They come into this game with relatively low expectations, and a clear "No One Believes In Us" vibe that's real. Can always play that last playoff game in Foxborough playoff tape for inspiration.

The case against Baltimore: If you take away Rice, the offense is pretty terrible. QB Joe Flacco was awful last week. Play-calling gets away from Rice way too easily. The pass rush is more rumor and reputation than reality. The secondary gambles and can be beaten. The coaching tends toward bravado and gambling. The team loses composure easily in the face of home-field officiating. They employ an ancient kicker, which makes long field goals an adventure. WRs don't get separation, and the TEs don't make enough plays. No one believes in them for cause. If not for Houston being down to a QB that will never start another NFL game again, they'd be home.

The case for New England: Just look unstoppable on offense right now. Employ the only coach left with multiple rings and the courage to use his best personnel regardless of convention (witness the TE running game). Defense finally looks competent. Home field at this level is pretty huge. Have the only QB left in the tournament that can pretty much win a game by himself. Ducked a karma bullet when TE Aaron Hernandez, concussed while taking a red zone carry in the fourth quarter of last week's Denver blowout, recovered quickly enough to make this game. Receive more than a few calls per game that makes you wonder if the NFL is invested in their success. Have been here before, but not for so long that there is any danger of complacency. Have generally handled Baltimore... except, of course, for that last playoff game against them.

The case against New England: Due to playing the NFC East and their own division, they haven't played a team with a winning record since Week 9 (!)... and that was a loss to the Giants, following another loss to the Steelers. So, unbelievably, they do not have a win this year against a team with a winning record. This kind of team -- all offense, dependent on passing, with a suspect defense -- has historically fallen apart under playoff pressure. The win last week against Denver was their first playoff victory in years and years. The WRs are nothing special, and the RBs are hit and miss. Brady can be handled with a strong internal pass rush, as he doesn't generally have the footspeed to prolong plays like he used to. He's also had fumble issues this year.

The pick: Baltimore to cover, but not to win. The line is about a field goal too high for me to feel good about, and the Ravens are going to be able to run the ball and keep the chains moving with the screen game. But they won't avoid big penalties, late turnovers, and won't be able to keep the Patriots under 30. But at least it will be a game.

New England 31, Baltimore 24

NEW YORK at San Francisco (-3)

The case for New York: Arguably the hottest team in the league right now. The best set of WRs left in the tournament. Won convincingly on the road against the #1 seed last week. Getting huge push from the DL, with DE Jason Pierre Paul becoming the dominant force at his position. The secondary has gotten better with health, and the LBs aren't making the big mistakes that were killing them earlier in the year. Special teams aren't making mistakes. QB Eli Manning is playing, by far, the best ball of his life. RB Ahmad Bradshaw can make plays, and RB Brandon Jacobs can put away leads. They've been here before, and have played their best playoff football on the road.

The case against New York: Running game can struggle, and ball security can be a problem. The WRs are historically prone to drops, though you'd never guess it from the past month. They don't get that much out of the TE, and the OL can struggle, especially with speed rushers. The defense can lose containment on mobile QBs, and they've struggled against pass-catching TEs this year. At some point, they've got to start losing 50-50 fumble recoveries, and it's hard to imagine that the defensive unit that was killing them for 3/4ths of the year won't re-emerge. Special teams are pretty ordinary.

The case for San Francisco: Home field is huge for them. Playing with house money, since even they probably didn't expect to be here, and especially not at home. TE Vernon Davis is a real matchup problem for the Giants. The running game is patient and productive, especially in the short yardage situations that the Giants have dominated in their two playoff wins. QB Alex Smith made some legitimately great plays last week, and really does seem to have turned a career corner. The defense is the best left in the tournament by a wide margin, and absolutely ends the opponent in the running game, especially in the red zone. Unlike most road games, the fan base is engaged and affluent enough to prevent the 15-33% Road Fan composition that routinely helps the Giants and other huge market teams. Beat this team in the regular season, in a game that most dismissed at the time, but was proven on the merits later. Have K David Akers, who is having the year of his life, and P Andy Lee, who is the best guy working who is not named Shane Lechler.

The case against San Francisco: Needed a shootout ending and some borderline miracles to win a home game against an opponent that was turning the ball over constantly. The offense can disappear for quarters at a time. Smith can take bad sacks trying to prolong plays, and has years of bad memories threatening to come up again if they fall behind. The WRs are some of the worst in the league, and clearly the worst unit of any team left in the playoffs. Coaching has never been here before, and might be a little too full of themselves after things like that Smith bootleg for the score; it would not shock me at all if they outsmart themselves and come in with gadget plays, onside kicks, and other rigamarole that compromises field position and ball security. Just because they survived one shootout does not mean they will survive another.

The pick: My seond-worst nightmare Super Bowl (behind only Dallas-New England) happens again, as the Giants stay close in the first half, take a lead in the third, and put it away late. That is, of course, if the Niners avoid turnovers... and if they don't, it'll get ugly. Either way, New York covers, and I spend the next two weeks watching the NBA. A lot.

New York 24, San Francisco 16

Last week: 1-3

Year to date: 135-119-8

Career: 540-524-25

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

70 Years Old, And Still Unbelievable

This blog does not concern itself much with boxing, of course. That sport has long since had its day, and while there's probably something to be said for the relative kindness of that sport towards its practitioners, as opposed to the human cockfight UFC stuff, it's not as if I regret the current crop of NFL tight ends and NBA power forwards, which is to say where the great heavyweight champions have gone.

It's also very, very true that boxing works best in the memory, rather than the reality. The reality is that you are lucky to see one good fight a year, and that the reason why people still love the old fighters is that there hasn't really been as nearly as good of a fight since. While other sports have advanced and exploded with advanced training, better diets, and (of course) drug use, boxing is still about styles making fights; if the combatants are not suited, it's going to look like a train wreck. Ali's, of course, rarely did, and never did in the memory. That's the reason why the cognoscenti went for him.

The public, of course, was buying something entirely different. And it's amazing to me how many people claim to love him now, as opposed to how many people well and truly hated him then. When I was a child, growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I didn't know a single person that rooted for Ali. Maybe that was part of the regional affection for Joe Frazier, but most of it was just people responding to Ali's heel wrestler schtick, which seems almost comical today that people well and truly bought into it.

The greatest of all time turned 70 years old today, having outlived Joe Frazier, bobbed and weaved past Parkinson's (to date), and floated out of the public eye through the careful massage from his handlers and his adoring media. The world has changed more in his lifetime than seems possible. There is no wartime draft to avoid to demonize him in the eyes of more than half of America. There is an appreciation of showmanship that's borderline unhealthy. His sport lies in perhaps irreparable disrepair, and might never recover a tenth of its former luster.

But when you watch him work the room, or an entire nation in "When We Were Kings"... it's all real, live, current and forever.

No matter what you feel about him, you will give me this: there will never be another like him.

And really, is there a better compliment that you can give to a man?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 10 reasons why Jeff Fisher chose St. Louis over Miami

10) Does not want to feel self-conscious about his late middle age spread or lack of manscaping

9) After so many years in the AFC, really wanted to go to some actual cities on his road games

8) Knows that a defense-first .500 record will get him deified in St. Louis and canned in three years in Miami

7) Now that Tony LaRussa has left town, he's the sexiest man in town

6) At 53, isn't quite right for 4pm dinner buffets or STDs, and in Miami, there's no middle ground

5) Has been told the team's secret plan to move back to Los Angeles

4) Can't pass up the chance to join the long line of guys who wasted Steven Jackson's career

3) After years of facing that white-hot media spotlight in Nashville, thinks he can handle the bright lights of St. Louis

2) Prefers the potential of Sam Bradford to be a career disappointment to the certainty of Matt Moore's career disappointment

1) Making the playoffs in the NFC West just might be a wee bit easier than the AFC East

Sunday, January 15, 2012

50 Giants - Packers Takeaways

50) Wasting a timeout one minute in, with 14 seconds left on the clock, does not speak to winning road work, but when you leave WRs wide open on third and 8, it probably won't matter

49) The "Cruz" chant shows that many Packer Fans took the money and stayed home, but New York money probably covers your mortgage for a year in Green Bay, so who are we to judge

48 Randall Cobb's fumble on the ensuing kickoff was such a blown call, Mike McCarty didn't want to have to actually drop the red flag

47) The Giants got away with a 15-yard flag for a shot on Jermichael Finley, proving that a defenseless receiver is dependent on the size of the offensive player

46) Rodgers missed a wide-open Greg Jennings to settle for a long field goal, which feels like a turnover when you have the Green Bay defense

45) The Hakeem Nicks touchdown demonstrates, yet again, how bad tackling has become all over the league... but the protection and route were also excellent

44) I don't normally go for conspiracy theories against New York teams, but that Greg Jennings non-fumble ruling was pretty whine-worthy

43) Green Bay tried an onside kick, mostly to limit the Giants' time of possession and punish America, which has mostly stopped paying attention to kickoffs now that they are touchback-riffic

42) Why Eli threw to Devin Thomas on third down when he had Nicks, Cruz and Manningham is beyond me

41) It's really almost unfair that Rodgers has mobility and moves on scrambles, given his other gifts, and the keeper blown shotgun draw shows that he might be faster than James Starks

40) Joe Buck segued from a man facing death to "Napoleon Dynamite" in a sequence that defied parody

39) I'm not saying that Eli had time to eat lunch in the pocket on the second quarter out to Cruz, but there was catering and a wine list

38) AJ Hawk is lucky that Eli flinched, or his helmet would have been rung up for a 15 yard penalty and fine

37) If you are ever convinced that Eli is an Elite QB, consider the hits he takes without roughing the passer flags

36) Eli's only pick, to Morgan Burnett, was a clear mistake under pressure from the Giants QB, but given where they were on the field and the down and distance, not all that meaningful

35) The John Kuhn fumble might end those chants for the day, and was a heck of a time for him to break his fumble cherry

34) Nicks absolutely abused Sam Shields to set up first and goal, because that's what #1 WRs do

33) Kickers in the postseason are now 2-0 when they can hit the crossbar on kickoffs

32) It's more or less impossible to sack Rodgers now without a belt celebration

31) Fox felt it necessary to show an A/B face shot of Tom Coughlin to demonstrate relative cold

30) Green Bay let Ahmed Bradshaw run 40 yards, 25 of it from side to side, rather than stop a last second scoring opportunity

29) The Hail Mary touchdown to Nicks at the end of the half was fairly easy, considering how the WR was open all along, and had no one in front of him to alter the line of sight

28) The third and five to Donald Driver for a first, where Rodgers made a blown assignment miss and then hit the WR between three guys, was otherworldly

27) Jennings could not have been more open in the end zone on the Osi Umenyiora's strip play, but that's just what happens when the Giants go on postseason runs

26) At some point, we have to recognize the reality that the Giants' defense bears little resemblance to the guys who played for the first 14.5 weeks, and that it coincides with improving health

25) If you want to beat the Packers, hit them hard enough so that the drops become common

24) Starks made back to back plays that showed great feet for a big man, or why he's got tons more upside than Grant

23) Jennings didn't make the catch on a perfect ball in the end zone for drop #7, and one that cost the Packers four points

22) No one throws away a ball with more disgust than Eli Manning

21) It's good that Joe Buck called out when the Packers blitz, since there's no other way to know that it's happening

20) Rodgers reaches for first downs better than any of the Packer RBs

19) If you want to stop the Pack passing game, taking away Jordy Nelson is the first priority

18) In the post-mortem of Green Bay's loss, the consecutive plays where Rodgers and Finley could not connect, followed by the fourth down sack, will loom large indeed

17) The Giants got their initial first down of the second half with 11:30 left in the game -- no, seriously

16) The Ryan Grant fumble should be the last play he makes as a Packer

15) The Giants really missed an opportunity by waiting to score, rather than just throwing a touchdown right away to Mario Manningham

14) Umenyiora got called for a 15-yard bailout flag that Buck called huge, as if the Pack was coming back from 17 down with 6 minutes left in a game where they got their heads kicked in

13) It's clear that Joe Philbin's son being alive was the only thing that led the Packer WRs from dropping a million balls

12) Regardless of the weekend's results, I'd rather start a franchise with Rodgers or Brees than any other player in the NFL

11) Rodgers to Driver for a touchdown was poor awareness from Boley, and the Packers QB finding the one WR that didn't have drop issues today

10) Cruz's biggest play of the day was recovering the onside kick with 4:45 left, and the last missed Packer opportunity

9) Buck chastised Green Bay for the onside kick, because he doesn't remember the last two times the defense was on the field, or just how bad the Giants had made them look for most of the game

8) You can pretty much stick a fork in Charles Woodson now, as that clinching third down pass to Cruz showed

7) Bradshaw for 24 was a moment when BJ Raji tried more for the ball than the man, which is to say, when the Packer defense was more about prayer than anything else

6) Jacobs' official role on this team seems to be touchdown runs when the game is no longer in doubt

5) Deon Grant's pick for the defense's fourth takeaway of the day gave Giant Fan the ability to be heard clearly amidst the otherwise deserted Lambeau stands

4) It's clear now that the Packers' home-field playoff advantage is a distant memory

3) Independent of the drops and turnovers, New York was the much better team today, which is what happens when you win by 17 on the road

2) We got to see Coughlin and Jacobs smile at the end of the telecast, which might be the first time that either man has been televised doing that

1) There are three weeks and counting from Patriots-Giants II, and if you'd like to stop watching the NFL now rather than go through that again, I completely understand

Top 10 NFL Divisional Playoff Sunday Ad Questions

10) Do I have to roll my car to get attention from a Nationwide rep?

9) Are Honda buyers all about to go through life-shattering changes?

8) What do we, as Americans, have to do to stop further sequels to the discount double check ads?

7) Can I shop at Office Max without being accosted by damn dirty apes?

6) Why are the fast food eaters with explosive obesity in Subway's universe all outdoors and active?

5) How often do the elderly ping-pong grifters get to hustle for fast food, and why don't they play for money instead?

4) If I sign up for Verizon internet access, will I have to talk to my sexual predator neighbors?

3) Has anyone ever actually been made fun of in a business meeting for using a pen?

2) If you retire to chip golf balls into your pool, isn't that an iron-clad sign of senility?

1) Are Jeep drivers required to go places in winter that do not have roads, and if so, why?

50 Texans - Ravens Takeaways

50) If I could pay extra for a telecast that did not have player pre-game hype routines, I'd do it in a heartbeat

49) The game started with one of those things called a kickoff runback, which I'm told used to be an exciting and common play in football

48) The Jacoby Jones fumble that set up the go-ahead Ravens' touchdown was one of those mistakes, in a weekend filled with them, that a road team just can't make

47) When your game plan is Foster run, Foster screen, Andre Johnson crossing route, you aren't exactly killing them with deception

46) CBS covered the Joe Flacco "controversy" about his lack of respect might have been a distraction, but that implies that anyone respects Flacco enough to listen to his interviews in the first place

45) The Yates pick by Ladarius Webb showed that he only wants to throw to Johnson, which would become something of a trend, really

44) Flacco to Anquan Boldin for the touchdown was ho-hum perfect

43) It's very important for us to consider Yates' age on third down, since that's the only down it comes into play

42) On the had to stop them red zone down, the Ravens rushed three and were never in any danger of giving up the score

41) So long as Houston scores field goals instead of touchdowns, they will hear a strong number of cliches that no football fan with a functioning cerebellum needs to hear

40) Baltimore Fan likes to play dress up, CBS likes to televise them, and we need to know what the wind was like days before the game started

39) Houston is so uninteresting, the slightly askew hair of Connor Barwin counts as big color

38) Flacco answered his critics by doing his very best Trent Dilfer imitation

37) Foster's dance down the sideline was so good, John Harbaugh needed to challenge it and see it again

36) The size of the holes in obvious run situations in the second quarter is making me think the Patriots are going to have a good time next week

35) Foster's catch of Yates' panicky screen was unreal, and worth at least four points

34) The fact that Foster ran for a score on a goal-line give after a timeout tells you all you need to know about the Texans' ability to run the ball, and the Ravens' ability to stop it

33) Every time someone scores against the Ravens, we are required by law to film Ray Lewis stomping off in a huff

32) Ricky Williams is still alive and capable of running for four yards

31) The national television audience was mystified by this offensive innovation called a "running play"

30) Boldin's catch on a fly route showed that you can still be a highly regarded NFL WR without getting any separation at all

29) Considering that they are on the road and facing an experienced QB, there's a very real chance that the Texans have a better defense than the Ravens

28) The JJ Watt sack was worth at leas three points, and showed one of the reasons why Flacco doesn't get much respect, seeing how he wasn't aware enough of that fact

27) The real bottom line of this first half is that neither of these QBs is good enough to win on the road in New England

26) If you need a QB to wait long enough to get sacked, Flacco is your man

25) I'm not sure that there's a worse punt returner in the NFL than Jacoby Jones

24) Foster became the first RB ever to run for 100 yards against the Ravens, which would be more impressive if the Ravens had been in existence for a long time

23) Giving the ball to Ray Rice tends to work better when you don't always do it on the same downs, in the same places, with the same lack of blocking

22) You know your offense is stagnant when a 14-yard screen on 3rd-and-19 gets the media mouth job

21) To Dan Dierdorf, a hot read slant off a blitz that hits the WR in the hands is a bad throw

20) Rackers missed a 50-yard figgie in the most humiliating way possible

19) The Lee Evans catch reminded Ravens Fans that Evans was on the team

18) While I'd like to chastise the Ravens for the lack of originality in a dive play to Rice on fourth and goal, that was also a huge play by the defense

17) The unit that deserves to advance more than any other is the Houston defense

16) It's hard to overstate the value of Foster to this team, especially considering that they barely used Ben Tate today at all

15) Screen passes when your offensive line hasn't given up a sack and is running the ball well speaks to Kubiak's genius

14) Judging by Webb's second pick of the day, it's not clear that Yates has the ability to see color

13) Flacco became "slippery" in the pocket after the first 54 minutes of being very sticky

12) The Ravens had no penalties or turnovers, home field advantage, and were opposing a special teams and QB that couldn't avoid giveaways, and were still in an absolute dogfight

11) CBS was able to find a crying Texans fan, which is always important in the wee minutes

10) Houston calling a timeout inspired two incompletions and a spectacular amount of time on the clock for Houston

9) Had Harbaugh kicked the field goal from the 1, Cundiff's 44-yard figgie with 2:52 left would have iced the game

8) If there is anything more predictable than post-whistle shoving at a Ravens game, I haven't seen it

7) I understand Terrell Suggs played in this game, but it's just a rumor

6) Ed Reed at the two minute mark for the clinching pick was a terrible play by Yates, but good God in heaven, give it up for the man's sense of place and timing

5) There's no way the Texans lose this game if they had Matt Scahaub, and maybe even Matt Leinart

4) The Texans' defense stopping the Ravens again to give their offense one last shot was downright manly

3) I'm reasonably certain that we've just watched the last start of Yates' NFL career

2) Reed had to be carried off after the final meaningful play of the game, on the off chance that Ravens Fan might have felt good about the win and non-cover

1) You will all forgive New England Fan for planning their Super Bowl trip

Saturday, January 14, 2012

40 (Days In The Desert Of) Broncos - Patriots Takeaways

40) The TE draw is a play we are going to see a lot more of in the near future, seeing how TEs now rule the earth

39) It took 110 seconds for me to seriously regret that Denver to cover bet

38) Wes Welker looked like he was auditioning for his own video game avatar after his first quarter touchdown catch

37) Tim Tebow scrambled for 13 yards and made his first good play of a day a quarter earlier than he did against Pittsburgh

36) Willis McGahee looked spry and healthy, two things he generally isn't

35) The Tebow fumble and New England recovery was another sign that Jebus wasn't watching this game

34) You'd never know, from the first half of the first quarter of this game, that the Denver defense was the strength of this team

33) Rob Gronkowski has unfair hands for a man his size

32) If not for the Quincy Carter pick of Tom Brady to give the Broncos a short field, this would have been over even faster than it was

31) Demaryius Thomas converted a third down in the red zone, which is to say he's still the only real WR threat on this team

30) Joe Mays dropped a fairly easy pick opportunity, which would have been pretty damn huge

29) Zoltan Mesko is so good at pinning opponents inside the 20, he doesn't need coverage teams

28) There's a reason why the option hasn't ever worked at the pro level

27) There's conservative, there's John Fox conservative, and then there's John Fox conservative with a shaky QB on the road into the wind

26) Gronkowski got away with a clear push off on his Brady's third TD, not that anyone has ever called the Patriots on that at home

25) Tebow's subsequent three and out was punctuated by a Focus on the Family ad, in case you had forgotten that he was brought to us by Jebus

24) Phil Simms likes 3rd and 20 draws when you are down 14 points on the road against an offense that has turned your team to cheese, since big plays and defensive penalties never happen

23) Deion Branch got away with a clear push off on Brady's fourth TD, not that anyone has ever called the Patriots on that at home

22) Simms and Jim Nance actually got around to discussing this push-off only ten minutes after it happened

21) When the Bronco wideouts drop catchable balls, this Bronco team is truly hosed

20) Simms praised the Patriot defense, ranked 31st in football, for unforced drop errors by the offense

19) Contrary to the evidence shown in this game, Denver actually rushed the passer at times this year

18) I'll be honest with you, I missed good chunks of this game to napping, putting Christmas decorations away, reading my kids to sleep and other aspects of ordinary life that had far more drama than this

17) The Broncos' idea of a hurry-up offense is to ask the RB to try to get out of bounds

16) In a few years, we'll look back on this game as the ending of a hard to believe fad

15) I'd like to personally thank the Patriots for showing the world that when God abandons you, He does it with a vengeance

14) Tebow runs backward into sacks more often than any QB in NFL history

13) Denver kicked a field goal with 17 minutes left and down by 35 points, so that they could get it to four scores

12) Up huge and against a team with no history of personal animosity, the Patriots left in all of their starters, ran a no-huddle offense, passed 2/3rds of the time, called QB sneaks with Brady, and all but dared the gods of karma to strike them down with knee injuries

11) Clearly, God is more interested in punishing those heathens in Pittsburgh than the virtuous, pious, humble and kind citizens of Massachusetts

10) Simms excused the Patriots for running up the score with front-line starters taking big hits as evidence that they just cared more about playing the game, which is to say, he excused their evil as a sign of their stupidity

9) Down 45-10 with 8 minutes left, Lance Ball absolutely destroyed a CB on a downfield run by Thomas, which is one of those He Gives A Crap moments that you just have to feel kindly toward, if you are a Bronco Fan that somehow watched this long without putting your head in an oven

8) Tebow reacts as badly to failure when down by 32 points as he does any other time

7) It's such a shame that Aaron Hernandez got hurt, but concussions are just going to happen when you play the game to win... by using your #2 TE on a goal line carry while up 32 points in the fourth quarter

6) Brady's quick kick with three minutes left prompted a massive brawl, which is going to make for a very awkward post-game prayer huddle

5) Realistically, this game could have gone to kneeldowns at halftime

4) Brady and Bill Belichick now have the most postseason wins of any coach and QB tandem in NFL history, which just goes to show you that there's always a downside to crushing the dreams of religious zealots

3) With a minute left, Jim Nantz cautioned all of the Tebow haters to watch themselves, since he's clearly going to rise again

2) Brady left the field without talking to Tebow, since Brady only associates with football players / his touch would have burned him

1) It's the first Patriots playoff win since 2007, so the Massholes are about to go from insufferable to Beyond Insufferable

Top 10 NFL Divisional Saturday Ad Questions

10) How does a crazed black man having his head explode ensure that my armpits won't smell?

9) Does Nastia Liukin's relative contributions to the Subway commercial show that girls can't be trusted to make sandwiches?

8) How do lions and bears know to work together to terrify lardy Carnival cruise travelers?

7) Isn't the fact that Domino's chefs want you to jump rope with their cheese something of a tell?

6) If I buy an Audi, will I start eating snow from tire tread tracks?

5) Does anyone really need a beer that's just for banquets?

4) Are Volkswagen buyers fatherhood-created eunuchs?

3) Does Denis Leary really need a microphone, or have to tell us what Motor Trend means?

2) Do I need to abuse hallucinogenics to use FedEx now?

1) How does little kids reciting John 3:16 help drive donations to an organization that tries to pray the gay away?

50 NFC Divisional Playoff: Niners-Saints Takeaways

50) Count "Wow, I'm glad the Fox 3-man team with Tony Siragusa is doing this game" as another sentence that has never been heard in English

49) The hit on Pierre Thomas and subsequent fumble more of less changed the entire game and season

48) It's only helmet to helmet if the offensive player is a QB or WR

47) That's the Vernon Davis that I overpaid for in fantasy football, and in other news, I hate Vernon Davis

46) If you want a game to get away from you, fumbling the kickoff after giving up a touchdown is pretty solid

45) Down 17-0 after 17 minutes, Darren Sproles was initially ruled a fumble and overturned, which was one of those game-saving calls

44) Saints Fan is getting pretty tired of losing as a favorite on the road to the NFC West champion

43) Jimmy Graham recovered from an early injury to catch Brees' first touchdown of the game, absorbed a head hit, and spiked with earthbound anger to make it a game

42) Just in case we couldn't guess that 62 degrees, sunny and no wind is good weather, Siragusa confirmed it

41) The Saints forcing a three and out on the next possession didn't exactly keep Niner Fan from fearing the big comeback

40) Adrian Arrington is so inexperienced as a Saints WR, he didn't even know to over-demonstrate what down it was after a big drive-sustaining catch

39) The Niners have the kind of defense that makes you wonder if Sproles will survive the game

38) The Brees to Colston touchdown was absolute perfection, and one of those plays that makes a defense feel futile

37) Siragusa praised the Saints' DL for tipping a ball that they didn't actually tip

36) On consecutive plays, Michael Crabtree proved he's no Darius Heyward-Bey

35) The arm punt pick "tackle" by Devery Henderson on Terrell Brown wa a 25-yard play

34) Andy Lee has had better halfs, and that's meaningful when you operate with as little margin for the error as the Niners do

33) Both teams furiously gave up chances to score before the end of the half, just to ensure that a close final score could be traced back to these moments of regret

32) The Niners had a +4 turnover half at home, and only led by 3 at the half, which was noted by every single broadcaster covering the game

31) Malcolm Jenkins made a perfect pass defense and a sack to force a punt, proving once more that Smith doesn't have much in the way of elusiveness

30) As good as Sproles looked last week, that's as bad as he looked this week, and that fumbled punt was just a killer

29) Siragusa praised Brees for knowing where Sproles was on a screen pass, as if the play required telepathy, rather than a knowledge of the play book

28) The Niners chose to try an end around, followed by a backwards RB lateral to the QB, rather than try to, well, run the damn ball when the running game was working

27) Carlos Rogers made a perfect play on a deep ball to Arrington, which meant that, in this era of football, he was lucky to avoid DPI

26) On second thought, perhaps Niner Fan does remember how to cheer loud after all

25) The Saints receivers either got separation off the line or not at all, and throwing at Rogers really didn't make a lot of sense

24) Ted Ginn Jr. was called for an obvious pick on a play that was also probably intentional grounding, then fell down as if he was shot

23) The next play was the exact same flag, which isn't a sequence you should see at the high school level, let alone the NFL

22) The Saints clearly missed Thomas in this game, as Chris Ivory just isn't the same caliber of RB

21) Colston has the numbers and look of a #1WR, but true #1s make the seam route not-touchdown pass early in the fourth

20) John Kasey hit a 48-yard figgie, which is the longest in Saints' postseason history, which kind of tells you that their postseason history is not extensive

19) Patrick Robinson dropped a gift INT that would have provided 40+ yards of field position

18) After 49 minutes, a defensive line should not dominate the way the Niners did against a team that throws as much as the Saints

17) You really can't play DE a lot better than Justin Smith did in this game

16) When the Niners finally gave Gore a carry, he went for 42 and a near game-ending gallop

15) The Gore deflection catch was one more instance of how the bounces were going the Niners' way

14) Had this David Akers kicked for the Eagles last year, he'd still be in town, and the Packers might not be defending champions

13) When you stop the Saints from going deep, they are a lot less terrifying

12) You'd never know, from Brees' body language and line calls, that he had gotten the crap beaten out of him today

11) On third and one, the Saints ran Sproles into the middle and got it, mostly because they didn't spend forever in setting up the play

10) With just one play, Sproles nearly redeemed his whole damn day

9) Seriously, words can't express how much Vernon Davis killed me this year, and then he has a game like this

8) Harbaugh is such a genius, he had 12 men in the huddle in crunch time, just to set the Saints up for that crazy good Smith bootleg touchdown run

7) Had Smith pulled a Brian Westbrook at the 2, this game would have ended with a lot less drama

6) The Jimmy Graham touchdown was all kinds of crazy manly, and one more proof, not that you needed it, that TEs now rule the earth

5) The throw from Smith to Davis for the game-winning score reminded me, seriously, of Steve Young to Terrell Owens to beat the Packers, with the exception that Davis remained conscious

4) Having this many lead changes in the last five minutes of a game can't be good for the heart

3) This game was so good, I almost didn't mind blowing my bet and having Davis rub in his awful year in my face

2) With this performance, Smith can go back to sucking for 2-3 years and still keep the starting job

1) If the Niners have to go on the road next week, they are losing (unless, of course, they have a ridiculous edge in turnovers again)

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