Monday, September 30, 2013

The Eagles Do The Job

Run, Don't Walk
In wrestling parlance, doing the job is when a guy loses, hopefully while making the victor look as good as humanly possible. Today in Denver, the Eagles did the job. The question is what happens next.

With the Chiefs at 4-0 and dismantling the Giants (a game that many in the Philly area saw, given the overlap of the New York market), there is, of course, some in the region who wonder if the franchise has made the wrong move in shipping out Andy Reid and hiring Chip Kelly. Which, of course, is blatantly and hopelessly unfair: the final two years of unwatchable football in the Reid era are entirely his fault, given the amount of personnel work here, and there are no more than a handful of players from the Reid era that are going to be on this team when they matter again. But sports is not about fairness, it's about results. Today, the Eagles weren't competitive for vast chunks of time, and barely look like they were playing the same game.

All of this, by the way, is for the good. Going from mediocre to great is harder to do than going from terrible to great, and the lasting scar that today's game will leave should keep everything in check if and when there is a feel-good day against the Little Sisters of the Poor, aka the NFC East. (A division that, by the way, is still completely for the taking if they can somehow get road wins against the winless Giants and Bucs in the next two weeks.) But there's no denying that this is a terrible football team right now, including but not limited to:

> A secondary that is giving up a historically awful amount of yards in the air. In the third quarter, they were so gun-shy that Peyton Manning just threw WR screen after WR screen, the most simple pass in the book, with WR DeMaryius Thomas racking up double-digit yardage on a play that should, well, not do that. Deep balls are open, underneath slants made even Alex Smith's conservative game management move the chains on deep downs, and the only way they aren't getting gashed is from RB dump offs and TE work, mostly because opponents are just keeping those players back to block, knowing that they are going to win on the outside.

> Blitz packages that never surprise, and almost never work. Perhaps we will all spend the rest of our days pining for the esoteric imagination of Jim Johnson getting Brian Dawkins free for superhero lunges, but the dynamic work of, say, CB Cary Williams getting to Robert Griffin have completely dried up. When a blitz comes, it comes from a handful of linebacker positions, it gets picked up, and it doesn't do much of, well, anything.

> Special teams deterioration. Again in the Washington game, and even San Diego, special teams were wildly encouraging. Schemes looked better, desire was stronger, and while PR/KR Damaris Johnson has hurt them with mistakes, this looked like it was on the upswing. Today, P Donnie Jones never pinned Denver deep, K Alex Henery missed from distance, the kickoff team failed on a return touchdown, and the punt block team gave up another score on a block. It's a bit much to say Denver wins without taking an offensive snap today. It's also not too far from the truth.

> Red zone execution. I don't know if the personnel are just lacking, if the coaching staff isn't ready to roll out more stuff, or the tight end drops and protection points are just making things more button-down than they should be... but man alive, an offense that just moves the ball between the 30s is just more of the same here. Part of it is the not getting any better loss of WR Jeremy Maclin, and the utter failure of WR Riley Cooper and Jason Avant to take advantage of the opportunity, and part of it just may be what happens when your only good WR (Desean Jackson) is at his worst in the red zone, and the TEs keep dropping balls. It's also more than a little telling that the sieve-tastic defense is making every non-TD trip seem like a defeat.

I guess I'm just looking for more imagination here. The bubble screen disaster against the Redskins should not mean that's off the table. Getting the running game to work in the money area would also be a big plus. Committing to TE development, rather than just feeding the leaky vessel that is Celek, would also be fine and dandy. More of the same, not so much.

> The wear down isn't happening. If you've got a team that's taking big chunks from a defense on the ground, and a QB that frequently breaks backs with escape moves that turns good coverage and pressure into scrambles for first downs, you should get better over the course of a game -- not worse. You should be able to go vanilla in the run game late and just grind people into powder. And that's not happening, and it's not all tempo.

The simple fact of the matter is that the starting Eagle OL isn't up to the task of taking over a game. They can blow open holes and look better than they are when RB LeSean McCoy, who might be playing at a higher level than anyone else in the NFL right now, starts doing his Barry Sanders impersonation. But those big chunks aren't coming for Bryce Brown (admittedly, his style of running to the sideline whenever possible isn't helping) or Chris Polk, and when the team needs to throw it, everything that isn't a speed timing route looks like it's on the edge of fail. Maybe a QB with a quicker release helps hide that better, and more accuracy is always a win, but for a team that's gotten everyone back healthy, they just aren't winning enough of those battles.

Luckily, the schedule gets easier now, with routine Sunday early games and the last-place benefit coming into play. They also play in a terrible division, and the fan base honestly knows how bad the last two years were, and that this is a rebuilding year.

But watching a team with no chance of winning isn't anyone's idea of fun, and the only thing we were really demanding this year was that it would be more fun than last year. So far, it's mostly been more of the same. Which is going to lead to the most dangerous emotion a fan base can feel... disappointment.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Eagles - Broncos Takeaways

Did Not Need To Wear Helmet
> Three and out in 40 seconds is no way to start a game where you probably need to score a metric ton of points to win

> On third and 9 on the first drive for Denver, it's a drag route where no defender is close enough to stop the RAC for a first down, which is to say they looked at the tape from the KC game

> On third and 4 with everyone in the world knowing that QB Peyton Manning does hard counts, DT Fletcher Cox jumps for another back-breaker first down

> Kudos to Manning for staying awake long enough to throw to WR Wes Welker for the first score

> Somehow, Denver was able to overcome that terrible rest deficit

> QB Michael Vick running the ball well early is never a good sign, because it means the WR aren't getting any separation and he's holding the ball too long

> Vick to TE Brent Celek is a nice reminder that the Eagle TEs are supposed to be pass catchers

> There was, I promise, a play in which James Casey did something today

> You can blame Vick for the first wasted timeout if you like, but I prefer to believe that Riley Cooper  is the source of all sings

> Celek's drop inside the five to stop the drive is one of those reasons why he's not going to be a big part of the theoretical next Eagles playoff team

> Just when you think that kickoffs at altitude are pointless, Henery puts one deep and high, but no one on the Eagle STs does their job, and KR Trindon Holiday makes it 14-3 in nine minutes

> On the plus side, that pretty much did what Manning was going to do, but helped the Eagles with time of possession

> It's hard to tell if Vick has no one to go to, or if he just trusts his legs more than his receivers

> WR Desean Jackon converts on third and long, but hyper-extends himself at the end of the play, because we can't have nice things

> I love the hurry up and run it on third and short

> Until the TEs grow up and become reliable, this team really doesn't have enough play makers in the red zone

> Kelly settles for a short field goal on fourth and four, and it's Broncos 14, Eagles 6

> Watching McCoy gulp oxygen is not exactly reassuring

> WR Eric Decker roasted CB Cary Williams, but Manning missed him by just that much

> On third and 6, Welker slipped, and that's a three and out that's an absolute gift

> It's nice to see Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is still helping his teams make bad replay challenges

> On 3rd and 11 outside of figgie range, RB Bryce Brown goes for some distance on a screen where he might have scored if the 15 yard line didn't trip him

> RB Chris Polk with the score as the world's non-Eagle fantasy football owners hurl

> The long review killed any chance of Kelly going for two, not that Fox's people who are paid to do nothing more on this earth than talk about football could point this out, and it's 14-13 Broncos

> WR DeMaryius Thomas got 15 yards on a bubble screen, because that's just how afraid they are of playing him tight

> Manning escaping pressure for a completion just seems unfair at this stage in his career

> Manning made Cox his personal snap count concubine

> RB Knowshon Moreno for the dull knife through weak butter touchdown, and no, DT Cedric Thornton will not be part of the next Eagle playoff team, either

> WR Riley Cooper actually made a catch and first down on a play where Vick didn't get the roughing call that a lesser athlete at QB gets

> So far, the Broncos are blitzing while never covering the RB in the flat, which seems like a pretty bad idea

> Evan Mathis got his money's worth with a hold, as LB Leslie Woodyard gets away with a free head butt on Jackson

> TE Zach Ertz wastes a great effort and throw by Vick, and that's happened a lot so far in his time in the laundry

> Polk on a check down to the 36, and rather than try a 53 yard figgie at altitude or go for it, Kelly took an intentional delay flag that befuddle the Fox announcers, because not wasting a timeout and giving your punter more room to work is just inconceivable

> P Donnie Jones doesn't do his job, and that's a net of 21, more like 16, but a Denver flag makes it more like 26, and, um, woo

> Decker roasts Williams again, and this time Manning's ball is perfect, because, well, why not

> Moreno for a cheap 15, but it's after the whistle, so it's still a first and will jump up Denver's yardage opportunities

> LB Trent Cole with a sack, and wow, that can still happen

> It's nice how Joe Buck lobbies for penalties against the Eagles in inevitable blowouts

> Denver wasted a lot of time and played sloppy at the end of the half, so, um, hey, I guess that's a stop or something

> Broncos HC Jon Fox passes up a 61-yard figgie try, and the first half ends Broncos 21, Eagles 13, with Denver getting the ball to start the second half

> Judging by her performance after halftime, Pam Oliver may still be concussed, which would make her the most interesting sideline reporter ever

> I'm not saying that the Bronco WRs are open, in that term doesn't do justice to a play where the DBs are running away from them while the ball is in flight

> At this point, I'm more surprised when the Eagles don't jump offsides, as opposed to when they do

> CB Bradley Fletcher was called for DPI since Decker didn't catch a ball, and I'd be more offended if the touchdown wasn't inevitable

> DeMaryius Thomas than owned Fletcher for Manning's 450th career touchdown pass, and you can feel free to talk about Loss of Confidence and all that

> McCoy with a little bit of rest is looking Barry Sanders-ish again, not that it will matter

> Consecutive drops against good coverage ends a drive, Jones doesn't do his job, and the only chance of competitive game now is Bronco Boredom

> I'm not saying that the subsequent Denver touchdown drive was easy, but calling WR Screen on every play should not work

> Another three and out on offense might inspire Denver to go into garbage time

> Montee Ball is so far behind in Denver, he doesn't play a down until the Broncos are up by 22

> You've got to hand it to Denver Fan, they still get excited on the sixth touchdown of the day

> I don't really have confidence that any player on this defensive unit is going to be in the league in two years

> Down 42-13, Kelly went for his Andy Reid street cred by throwing every down and exposing his injury-prone QB to a ton of hits

> Just to ensure utter and complete depantsing, the special teams then allowed a punt block for TD

> Down 49-13 with 14 minutes left, the team still goes no huddle, so, um, there's that

> Vick to TE Zach Ertz for 36 yards is a small moment of future hope, but playing zone against the Eagles is just a mistake

> Someone needs to tell Bryce Brown that running to the sideline isn't required on every play

> Henery from 46 misses, so yeah, he's got nothing good to feel about today either

> Manning leaves with 10:42 to go so we can see the Denver JV dominate as well

> At this point, you're just hoping to see any semblance of hope from any defensive player and, um, no

> The only Denver skill player who hasn't looked good this year is Ball

> From 53 yards, K Matt Prater breaks the all-time Bronco regular season scoring record, which, um, wasn't surprising

> Nick Foles in to showcase Polk, who really might be a better RB than Brown

> Foles to WR Jeff Maehl for two straight plays and a score, just to give someone an idea that garbage time productivity matters

> With the Cowboys loss in San Diego, the Eagles and their historically awful pass defense are still somehow a game out of first place in the NFC East

> The idea that next week's game against the Giants in New York in any way matters is proof that the NFL need to go to a non-division format

Top 10 NFL Week Four Takeaways

Wicket Unstuck
10) Under the same principle by which we as a nation remove blameless children from abusive and unsafe households, Maurice Jones-Drew needs to be taken away from the Jaguars

9) Matt Cassell ended the Christian Ponder Era in the Vikings' game against Pittsburgh in London, mostly by inspiring the defense to not fold like a house of cards late

8) Joe Flacco threw five interceptions in a three-point loss at Buffalo, and it only seems like all of those picks happened while the Ravens were in field goal range

7) Your best choice for a fantasy league defense is whoever is playing the Jaguars, but playing your offensive guys against them is problematic, since they will be off the field for back ups in the third quarter

6) Kansas City went to 4-0 behind strong special teams play, patient play-calling to use the running game, and other things done just to irritate the living hell out of Eagle Fan

5) Proving that anything can happen on any given Sunday, the game in London was actually entertaining

4)  Brian Hoyer is now 2-0, because, um, well, I have no reasons as to how Brian Hoyer is 2-0

3) The Giants tried for a long time in today's game and still got blown out, so hopefully they've learned their lesson

2) Tampa learned that it wasn't all Josh Freeman's fault after all, though they are pretty sure he still sucks

1) Seattle came from 14 down on the road in Houston to win a game where they had 15 fewer first downs, just one less turnover, and threw for seven yards in the first half

Top Ten NFL Week 4 Ad Questions

Porking Your Girl
10) How sad do you have to be to buy into the idea that "couch gating" exists?

9) Why doesn't the Nationwide cat burglar just wait a minute for the regular burglars to leave, so she doesn't have to do all of the rhythmic gymnastics?

8) If I drink Bud Light, will I attract complete asshats into my home, gain weight, get a little rat dog and become a hopeless slave to superstition?

7) How, exactly, is spending $10 on chain store pizza not settling?

6) Is State Farm saying that Bear Fan is so clueless that they don't recognize the QB for their most hated rival?

5) How sad does your life have to be to care who stole someone else's fast food?

4) Does drinking Corona cause you to hallucinate about beaches?

3) Is the NFL trying to promote violence against women with their beyond hateful apparel ads?

2) If Chrome did less things, could I get through a normal session without crashing?

1) How much of an unspeakable slut do you have to be to leave your human male boyfriend to go cling to a pig, and how, again, does this help to sell car insurance?

How Money, PEDs and the Hall of Fame Took Out (Another) Potential 300 Game Winner

Next Stop, TBD
Tonight in Houston, in a game that adds another memory to a year filled with all kinds of bittersweet for Yankee Fan, Andy Pettitte ended his career with a complete game win over the Astros. It's his 25th complete game, his 255th win, and ensured that in this, his final season, he would still avoid having a single year in the majors with a losing record.

It's also, well, one more way in which we are maybe never going to see another 300 win career.

It's not that Pettite can't still pitch. He went over 200 innings this year, for the first time since 2008. His ERA was under 4, and since he pitches half of his games in a borderline wind tunnel, that's not nothing. He doesn't strike out many people any more, but the control is still tight, and he's probably forgotten more about pitching than just about anyone else in baseball has ever learned. And while it's hard to imagine that a 41-year-old would stick around for 4-5 years of starts, it's not impossible. (Of course, if you add the post-season wins, he gets up to 274, and he's maybe just 2-3 seasons away.) Pitching 200 innings of league average or better ERA while left-handed, with incomparable post-season experience, gets you a job on just about any team in baseball.

But the first part is the money. Pettitte has made just under $139 million in 18 years as a baseball player, and while he hasn't exactly been an endorsement magnet, it's probably not a stretch to say he's made $150 million over the years. Even under the worst possible tax and investment situations, it's hard to see how he doesn't have more than enough jack for the rest of his days. Another $5 to $10 million isn't going to change those numbers very much.

And the second part is the Hall. Thanks to his past as a confessed PED cheater, there's no obvious path to the Hall for him right now. No admitted PED user has gotten anywhere close to the vote in mark, and Pettitte's not likely to be the first. Maybe the social mores change in the next 5 years, but it's not as if there's been a groundswell of rising support.

Finally, there's this. As good, durable, and honored as Petttite has been, there's no doubt that he's going to be overshadowed, just as he was this year, by Mariano Rivera when the Hall votes. Rivera's the best closer in the history of the game, but some voters aren't going to vote for him in the first year because they don't do that for anyone, let alone a closer. The year after that, Pettite's second year of candidacy might run straight into the teeth of the Derek Jeter ascension, and that's another slam dunkish vote. The first time he's got a run at it alone turns into 2020, his third year, with more of the baseball public aged out from caring that much about pitching wins, and no cachet to his candidacy.

Personally, I'd keep going if I were him. It's not like the life of a baseball player is a terrible one, and technology makes travel a lot less difficult and damaging to family life. Wikipedia has him married to his high school sweetheart with four kids, which means he's lived this way for a long time. More time with the family isn't always the best thing for a stable relationship. This modern era of athletes leaving something on the table doesn't really work for me.

But maybe I'm missing things, and the money and the Hall aren't the deciding factors. Maybe playing without Rivera is just not something he wants to do. Maybe the Yankee locker room isn't a comfortable place for a guy with Pettitte's devoutly Christian beliefs any more. Perhaps he knows, deep in his gut, that he's been doing it with mirrors this year, and wants to control the last memory.

But I do know this. If he needed the money, or thought that 15 to 20 more wins would make the difference, he'd be signed for next year. And maybe the year after that, too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

FTT Off Topic: Breaking Unlikable

Dangerous Hat
Not sports, move on, but very spoiler free.

In my Facebook feed, there's a post from a friend of mine, a writer, and a guy who worked next to me at a job over 15 years ago. As is what happens in this age, we've stayed in tangential touch, and the point I'm bringing up is that, after wading through two seasons of "Breaking Bad" on the advice of others, he's giving up. Just doesn't like it, not because the subject matter is too dark or he doesn't have time for it or can't swing long story arcs, but just because he doesn't care what happens to the characters. Too unlikable.

Now, I don't much care what shows you like or don't like; such is the blessing of age, in that I don't really care if *anyone* likes what I like, or even what they prefer, for the most part. Watch what you want; makes no difference to me. But the reason that's cited? That, I'm going to fire on.

First point: the likability of characters is kind of like whether a song has a good hook in it. It's basic, primal, and seems pretty necessary... but if you can get past that need, a lot more opens up to you. Stuff that wears better on more listens, or challenges you on different levels, and even better, gives you that tingly smug sense of listening harder than other people. It also bears up over time better, since it's not just the hook; think Tom Waits instead of Tom Petty. (Not that there's anything wrong with Petty; it's just that not as many people cover him.)  And no one ever, or, at least, no one ever with a column of note, gave "Arrested Development" grief over how all of those characters were unlikable. Looking at the cultural landscape of things now, it seems more like everyone came around to their way of thinking.

Second point: "Breaking Bad" doesn't work on whether or not you like the characters. It works, and dear Lord in heaven how it does work, when you start wondering what you would do in the same situation. And as you get deeper and deeper into the series, you realize that the great transformation of central character Walter White from mild-mannered loser high school chemistry teacher to staggeringly successful drug kingpin was, well, there all along. Walter was always a monster; it's just that he grew teeth. And that is the fascination, the crux, the nut of it all. It's not that Walter degenerates. It's that all of us don't.

More days than not, I go to the gym. I do it to stay in shape, to make sure that I'm around as long as possible and as able as possible, because I'm too cheap to buy bigger clothes and because I keep a spreadsheet, and not having that spreadsheet filled is more agonizing than the physical pain. And for a long time now, two to three months, I've been stuck at 90 miles a month, 150 / 180 on the machines, 6 sets of 25 crunches on the abs, and 45 pounds on the dumb bells. Fine level, strong level, works out to four hours a week or so of effort, with my brain and my body arguing back and forth. And it's not getting any better, or easier, and I'm 44 years old. It might not ever get better or easier again. But still I go.

More weekends than not, I golf. I don't hit the driver more than 250 at the most, my 5-iron taps out at 150, my wedges are not exact and I don't putt like a champion. Add it all up, and I'm pretty maxed out to break 100, and that's on an easy course. My game has gotten better in the last few months, mostly because with age, I've accepted my limits better, focused more after bad holes, and just try to play bogey golf, rather than delude myself into thinking that I'm any kind of threat to par. It's a fine level, I have fun. But I wish I was better, and if I really want to do damage to myself, I engage in the kind of thinking that says I'll never, say, break 90.

And then there's poker. I've cashed in a casino tournament, done well in cash games, and had some solid streaks at the home game. I can do some things. But the higher maths are not immediate in me, I'm not good at tables that are above my comfort level, and any good player is going to leave with all of my money, assuming I don't run into some big heat hands. It's a fine level. I have fun. You get the point, and the pattern.

Walter White, and to a significant but lesser and consistent echo, just about everyone in the whole "Bad" universe, struggles with this. That's what makes them real, even if the show's plot gets a bit too hyper-charged for reality, and the signature montages play games with the linear passage of time to tell the tale. What generally keeps us in line, as a society, is a quilt of factors: embarrassment, class, religious faith, setting an example to children, and so on, and so on.  But if you add enough heat to the solution, chemistry takes over. Stress causes transformation. For good or for ill.

The monster that is Walter was there as a teacher, when he went through the motions and auto-passed and auto-judged children like Jesse Pinkman. It was there in his remorse-filled fake bacon, his Aztec crap car, his neutral colors and his utter belief that his challenged child and unequal spouse would remember him only for the medical debts that he'd leave behind. It was there in the mean hatred for his old start-up where he wasn't the genius, the true star. And it's been in full flower ever since.

The genius of the show is that we all have these awful impulses, these reptilian thought patterns, these individual impulses where we believe that we are capable of not just acting and deciding for ourselves, but for others. The question is whether we can rise above them, tell ourselves a story that gives us any outs at all, and overcome it in a way that leads to growth.

When the only true, cold, logical and mathematical answer is, well, no. Degrade, deteriorate, decay, and make room for the next.

So, um, yeah, the characters are unlikable. I suppose. But that's also really not the point. What is the point, really, is that any art that can make you think this deeply has value, has merit, has greatness.

And even more than that, the fact that this thing has come through to full fruition, has gone all the way to the close without losing its edge or dulling its impact?

Well, that's a final argument about degrade, decay, et al, too. Because what was made is shining, true, great and, like all worthwhile creative work, immortal in its own way.

And if that's not likable...

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Increasingly Less Special Yankee Elimination Day

Buh Bye
Normally, YED is my second favorite day of the baseball season (beyond only Red Sox Elimination Day), and the source of a fun list of insults. But this year, I have to confess, has been different. It's a rare thing to feel anything close to sympathy for the most spoiled fan base in sports, but there it is, really... the three-fold aging with speed for landmark players Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter, and the certainty that even this franchise isn't getting that lucky again, to have the farm system belch up guys that give them a half-century of uninterrupted production. And of the three, only Rivera is getting the big walk off this year, because he's the only one of the three who is (a) still really good, (b) healthy, and (c) not regarded as a PED pariah.

There's also this: it's not new to see Tampa run them out, and the Rays aren't quite so cute, adorable and penniless any more. Sure, it's still one of the better franchises to root for in the East, what with Boston and New York being two reprehensible options, but the meh people of Tampa has shown over many years to care more about the venue than the product. It's hard to care too much if they win or lose when no one in town seems to, either. And you have to be borderline heartless to root on the advance of age, which is really the only way to look at the end of these guys.

But then... you remember that the franchise got to play relevant baseball games for over 150+ games this year, and the biggest reason why is because they got incredibly lucky for several months with retreads playing about their levels, then danced with the A-Rod devil for the stretch run to finally get some competent work at third base. They might not have made the playoffs, but they certainly didn't get the Waste Year of absolute pointlessness that you saw out of Philadelphia, Anaheim, Chicago and so much more.

The plain and simple fact of Yankee Fandom is that for decades, you have not had to put up with the same experience as anyone else in MLB. If you had a waste contract, along the lines of a Kei Igawa, you just ate it; it did not really restrict the team from making another run or six at the next shiny thing. But that's not the case any more. Last spring, the team was actually outbid for catcher Russell Martin by Pittsburgh, of all teams; not a complete coincidence that the Pirates made the playoffs this year, and the Yankees did not. When the team needed a third baseman this year, they went the discount route with Kevin Youkilis, and when he went down, there was nothing but minor league flotsam to fill the position. The old Yankees would have dealt for someone along the lines of a Hanley Ramirez; the new Yankees kept the contract cap down.

Not, of course, without cost. Attendance was off dramatically this year, and would have been a lot worse without things like bobblehead giveaways (telling, no, that 18K+ people chose to stop watching an elimination game to make sure they got their toy to resell on eBay) and StubHubby discounts. You can't fill the most expensive yard in the majors without a championship contender, and the Yankees aren't just about wins any more.

You know, like every other team in the majors.

But every other team isn't the Yankees. Every other team doesn't have proximity to the most expensive real estate in the country, and the most expensive seats. No other team has a fan base that regards any season without a trophy as not just a failure, but a rip-off. No other fan base is not content to see the best thing in sports (a cadre of young players on the ascent, pushing each other to get better, and overcoming the status quo to achieve immortality), so long as they can buy another trophy with some other franchise's products. From Babe Ruth to Reggie Jackson, from Carl Mays and Red Ruffing to David Cone and Roger Clemens, the Yankees have won with the talent of other teams, cost be damned. Developing young players is for chumps, other than your absolute studs.

So YED is, finally, going to come earlier and earlier. There isn't going to be another Jeter, or Rivera, or Pettite, and the A-Rod / Jason Giambi levels of talent grabs from other franchises are going to stop, too. They have for a while now. They'll spend like a dozen other teams, and contend more years than not... but without any margin for error.

With the exit of Rivera, they are just another team.

And it couldn't happen to a nicer fan base.

Top 10 ways Josh Freeman lost the Bucs locker room

Poor Autograph Skills, Too
I know I was a little dubious to the idea that Bucs QB Josh Freeman, having just lost the starting job, had also "lost the locker room", or so says the folks who always speak up when the coach needs air cover for something fairly desperate. But then I heard all of the reasons why...

10) Kept totally and rudely interrupting other people's private conversations with his play-calling

9) His mind control of Lavonte David to give up that 15-yard penalty to lose to the Jets was just wrong

8) Forced the defense to try to cheap shot Eli Manning and the Giants during kneeldowns last year

7) Hasn't done anything to fix the humidity or that ridiculous cannon

6) If it weren't for Christian Ponder, would be the QB for the only winless team in the NFC that wasn't in the East

5) Keeps mocking Dan Orlovsky for that safety play in practice

4) Was under center when they lost 8 of their last 9 games, and many of those games were on a team without a historically inept secondary

3) Just realized he went to Kansas State, which means that his ceiling is Steve Freaking Grogan

2) Wears way too muxh Axe, brah, just way too damn much Axe

1) The entire locker room came to the spontaneous conclusion that after 60 games and a 66 INT to 80 TD ratio, that he just might not be the guy after all

Top 10 reasons why Bud Selig is going to retire after 2014

Bud's Severance Package
10) Wants to give every team the opportunity to give him absolutely nothing

9) As he's going to be 80 years old, is far too young to truly appreciate baseball

8) With PEDs totally out of the game and everything fixed, nothing left for him to do

7) Wants to go out doing something decent and honorable that isn't morally corrupt, like selling cars

6) Hasn't canceled the World Series in a really long time, so the thrill is gone

5) If he stays any longer, might pass Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and just doesn't have the core racism necessary to last that long

4) Wants more time to watch inter-league and international games, since someone has to, really

3) Knows that if he stays in the game long enough, just won't be able to stop himself from putting every team in the playoffs

2) With the Pirates in the playoffs again, knows that the end of the world is coming, and must spend a stunning amount of time atoning for his sins

1) Even his sense of utter impropriety can't handle the $22 million payday any more

Thursday, September 26, 2013

NFL Week 4 Picks: As A Nation, We Can All Agree On One Thing: Thursday Night Football Sucks And Must End

No One Would Miss This At All
As I was watching last week's slopfest in Philly, I tried to remember a good time that I had watching a Thursday night game. After all, these things have been playing for years; it's not a small set of data at this point. And try as I may, there was, well, none. Not a single moment.

The ratings for these games are good, of course. It's the only game in town, America will mark out for NFL in any form or time, and sports are immune to time-shifting. We will be fortunate to avoid, in the long run, doubleheaders on every single night of the week, as increasingly bitter and beleaguered fantasy football players and gamblers (which is to say, gamblers and more gamblers) have their lives ruined, no matter what level of money they play for. Games on Thursday night are the NFL equivalent of holding down a fat diabetic kid and force-feeding him the worst chocolate available.

Yes, I'm bitter. I'm also bitter over things like Seattle calling off the dogs in the third quarter and still not allowing the wide-open back-door cover, or the Raiders failing to take enough opportunity of a plainly bored Denver team to do the same. Tennessee won and pushed the points, my Eagles spit the bit for the 8th straight time at home (can we just play one game on the parking lot where the Vet was, so we can actually have a home-field advantage again?), Buffalo had so many CBs drop that even the freaking Jets resembled a 21st century offense... and on and on and on. Three straight losing weeks are not helping my mood. Neither is the persistent fall flu that I can't shake.

So I'm good and bitter, and then work kicked in with one of those triple shifts that made the exercise of writing this a fourth shift fun time. Let's just get this over with, slam some winners, and cleanse the palate with righteous anger, OK?

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

SAN FRANCISCO (-3) at St. Louis

What a game this would be on Sunday. Two increasingly desperate teams coming off bad losses, the ugly specter of Seattle running away with what was supposed to be a great division, the home dome Rams crowd screaming their fool heads off for a genuinely nasty defense against a road team that might only have one good pass catcher with TE Vernon Davis hobbled.... but none of that is going to happen, because it's on Thursday night, and Thursday night games are where the NFL pees on your back and tells you it's rain.

Give me the Niners in a field goal festival of epic dullness, close enough that you can't turn it off even though you really want to, with the Missouri Dome sounding like the sad little warehouse it is, and half of the crowd wandering off to take the underground moving sidewalk to the casino in the third quarter, slowly feeding quarters into machines that will never, ever, give them back anything. Nothing like being a Rams fan! Or watching the NFL on Thursday night. Someone, anyone, please bash in Roger Goodell's head with a claw hammer. And post it on YouTube. We'll need something to watch after this.

Niners 18, Rams 13

BALTIMORE (-3) at Buffalo


Poor Bills Fan. You had some actual hope of being the frisky second place team in the AFC East this year after that win over Carolin, with QB EJ Manuel combining with WR Stevie Johnson and RB CJ Spiller to give you a mildly intriguing Young Trio vibe... and then you went to Rexland, lost a half dozen defensive players to cholera, mange and scurvy, and watched the previously rushless Ryans sack the QB a dozen times, providing the blueprint on how to crush your team. Namely, send the house at Manuel, because while he's big and can run, he's too mindful of being a Real QB to take the opportunities his legs can give him. The Ravens will eat that up, along with the fact that the Bills secondary is so riddled with injury, they even made Santonio Holmes look spry last week. Sigh.

Ravens 24, Bills 17

CINCINNATI (-4) at Cleveland


Had fun last week, didn't you, Browns Fan? No one expected you to win after Tankest 2013, but the guys on the roster took one look at returning WR Josh Gordon and said Let's Boogie, and by the time the Vikings adapted, it was too late. Oh, wait, did I just say the Vikings adapted? I kill me! No, they just lose.

This week, you get to try that trick again against a real defensive line, and that's going to make a wee bit of difference. As in, damned near total. I'd take the Bengals at 2X the points here, MNF Jinx be damned. (It's also not that big of a road trip for them, really.) Cincy scores on some short turnover fields and rolls.

Bengals 31, Browns 20

CHICAGO (+3) at Detroit


Love, love, love this line. Chicago is a complete team with the ability to overcome mistakes; Detroit is a stars and scrubs outfit with questionable coaching and turnover issues. The Bears know they can put something damn near a hammerlock on the division this week with the Packers on bye, and the league hasn't shown that it can stop the Marc Trestman Offense (hint: it contains linemen who belong in the NFL!) yet. Oh, and this will be yet another game in which the Bears score on defense. That must be fun to root for, really.

Bears 27, Lions 21

NY Giants at KANSAS CITY (-4.5)


OK, New York, I give -- you are just that bad, really. I know there's bound to be a bounce-back game in this collection of slugs, but why do we believe that, really? Maybe HC Tom Coughlin is just starting to check out; at his age, no reason not to. The RB carousel makes no sense, QB Eli Manning has the worst body language this side of Josh Freeman, and the defense shows no evidence of fire or a pass rush. There's no excuse for never being in a game with an 0-3 team where a third of their home crowd is wearing your colors, and that's just what happened to Big Blue. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have extra rest, the absolute knowledge that they need every game to make the Denver contest meaningful later in the year, and all kinds of playmakers on defense. Oh, and HC Andy Reid has also had surprising success against Coughlin over the years, too. Lay the points, lay the wood, and the growing realization that the NFC East is horrible, well, grows.

Chiefs 31, Giants 20

PITTSBURGH (-1) at Minnesota


The Vikings generate no pass rush, might be starting Matt Cassell (Matt Cassell!) at QB, and are going against a veteran defense that usually does well against the run. Why is this a pick'em game? Oh, right, because Pitt lost on MNF, is on the road, and is winless from the weaker conference. On the other hand, the Vikings are starting Matt Cassell, and the game is in London, which means it will also be horrible. If the NFL ever plays a Thursday Night Game in London, I think both teams will score negative points.

Steelers 31, Vikings 17

Arizona at TAMPA BAY (-1)


New QB (Mike Glennon, a game manager with draft pedigree and size, if no actual top-shelf potential) in Tampa, where HC Greg Schiano looks to be in that second year spiral to unemployment. His team is physical but really dumb and undisciplined, and the old QB was so bad, he couldn't put up numbers with a top 10 RB (Doug Martin), WR (Vincent Jackson), and defense that's better than most. All of that goes away this week as they play pinball with Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, and Bucs Fan tries to convince himself that the year is still salvageable, and Josh Freeman was the problem all along. Um, OK then.

Bucs 27, Cardinals 16

INDIANAPOLIS (-9.5) at Jacksonville


Is it too early to start the Perfect Speculation? The Jags look to be ready for all of those oh so unfortunate season-ending injuries for the handful of players that will be in the NFL in 2 years, and with the exception of DE Jason "Play Every Play As If It Were Your Last, And It's A Deep Drop Pass" Babin, it's going to be one of those rare games where QB Andrew Luck isn't taking a ton of punishment. Jax usually plays this game tight at home, and the Colts are no fans of heat and real grass, but nothing is going to save this collection of Jagoffs from their date with NFL winless history. Even if the Colts are secretly mediocre.

Colts 31, Jaguars 17

SEATTLE (-2.5) at Houston


I really want to go with the Texans as a home dog here, and probably would if I saw 4.5 as the number. Seattle has a history of sleepy road play, and these WRs are not conducive to comebacks.  But at 2.5, I'm just not getting the margin I need to feel good about it, and there's the sinking feeling that the Texans are still a paper tiger team that's about to get punched in the month -- a lot -- by a tankish offensive unit. If rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins has a good game this week against the best secondary in the NFL, he's my early choice for AFC Rookie of the Year. Not counting on it, though.

Seahawks 31, Texans 28

NY JETS (+3.5) at Tennessee


Maybe it's just time to accept that the Jets aren't a laughingstock this year. The defense has played well, the special teams aren't putting it on the ground, and while QB Geno Smith is a turnover machine, he doesn't get enough opportunities to be that, and hence, to break the backs of his teammates. RB Bilal Powell is running away with the lead committee carries, WR Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley aren't playing horrible, and the coaching has ben close to the vest. On the road against a QB that had a good game last week and is due to regress, they get another win.

Jets 24, Titans 17

Philadelphia at DENVER (-11)


The game on the calendar that no one in Eagles Nation thought they were going to win is here, and while I'm not as doom and gloom as many -- they could just get out to an early lead, get lucky on defense, and play up tempo to the point where the short-rest Broncos don't have their usual altitude advantage -- the chance of keeping that up for four quarters, not making mistakes, and converting on the very few opportunities that Denver will give them aren't enough to cover the number. Especially when Broncos QB Peyton Manning makes *good* defenses look like toe jam, let along bad ones, at altitude, losing the time of possession battle.

Broncos 45, Eagles 31

WASHINGTON (-2.5) at Oakland


If Raiders QB Terelle Pryor had made this start, it would be a true toss-up and a mildly entertaining game to watch, albeit one between two teams with no chance at the post-season. Instead, we'll get QB Matt Flynn, and while he'll still do some damage to the Washington defense -- so would you and I, really, and I'm 44 and a hobbit -- it won't be enough to sustain drives or open up enough room for RB Darren McFadden to carry the load. For one week, at least, Robert Griffin keeps those Kirk Cousins fans at bay.

Washington 34, Raiders 20

DALLAS (-1.5) at San Diego


The usual non-home game crowd for the Chargers, who host a Dallas team that played one of their best games in forever last week in curb-stomping the Rams. Here, they'll give up yards but not too many points, and CB Dez Bryant goes off for major numbers. Surprisingly easy, and further proof for the nation's media that the perpetual .500 franchise with one playoff win this century is finally putting it all together for a Super Bowl run. (Dallas Fans are like Charlie Brown with the football, but a lot less likable. PULL THAT BALL BACK, LUCY! PULL IT BACK!)

Cowboys 30, Chargers 20

New England (+2) at ATLANTA


Home dome, night game, against a team that can't really exploit their weak secondary, because they are all out of plus receivers. This looks to me like one of those games where the Falcons get out early and almost spit up the entire lead before finally securing the cover late. No one makes victory taste like defeat like the Falcons!

Falcons 34, Patriots 30

MIAMI at New Orleans (-7)


My upset special of the week. Yes, the Saints are looking good and Miami is no one's idea of a 3-0 team, but the way to beat NO is with constant pressure on the QB -- and the Dolphins are getting that from everyone. QB Ryan Tannenhill is showing breakout signs, the WR tandem isn't hopeless now with Mike Wallace in the mix, and RB Lamar Miller has to keep re-earning his job as if RB Daniel Thomas wasn't a cadaver and a half. I think Miami stays close all night, makes a play on defense, and sneaks out of town with a fairly shocking win, after a week of chalk stompings.

Dolphins 27, Saints 24

Last week: 6-9-1

Year to date: 19-26-3

Career: 689-688-33

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Top 10 reasons why Shaq became a minority owner of the Kings

Oh The Humoranity
10) Thinks this is the only way he can be sure to get on those "Gone Fishin'" photos

9) Helps him fulfill his goal of being professionally involved with every team in the league

8) Wants to help DeMarcus Cousins achieve his full potential as a dominant  big man who doesn't become a flippant and undisciplined vagabond

7) Worried that he was losing his status of Sactown's most hated man

6) Only way to finally put and end to those damned cowbells

5) As soon as anyone said "Shaqremento", the money was in their hands

4) Before we get too crazy about this, there's no dollar amount being announced, so his stake in the team could be Not A Big Deal At all

3) When he calls them the Queens now, it will be reported by the media, which is the only reason why Shaq does anything

2) They were the only people who actually believed that he fits in a Buick

1) Someone finally took his money

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Real Sports Fan Top 10 Bucket List

Not Dying Is The Big One
Baseball season is ending, which means it's time for everyone to wax rhapsodic about the changing of the seasons. Since MLB is the only sport that ends with the same timing as Nature, it just lends itself to all kinds of dime store poetry and awareness of Finality, which is just all kinds of fun when it comes to realizing that there is just a need to get things done soon, dammit. Which is why you get all kinds of happy little lists about what the writer needs to do before they become worm food, and far be it from me to say these desires are wrong. Taking the mound at Fenway or Wrigley, seeing a game at every venue, driving from coast to coast and seeing minor league games or foreign lands... that's all great. Really, it is.

It just doesn't seem, you know, big enough. At least not for me.

I mean, come on -- these are the accomplishments before you are no longer able to make accomplishments. When it comes to sports,I want bigger paydays than just I Went To That Place And Spent Money Like Everyone Else. Instead, give me...

10) Designating a guy for assignment

Imagine, if you will, the pure thrill of calling up Delmon Young's agent -- or better yet, Delmon his own damned self -- and telling him that he will no longer have to come into the office. Will you do it flippantly, or with fake sincerity? Would you draw it out with lots of feedback on how this could have all been avoided, or talk about how wonderful Reading is this time of year, and how you think the local fans will really take to having a former big leaguer in their midst? This could really be a nice money maker for clubs with truly frustrated fan bases.

9) Having the posse

How many of us have had the experience of rolling into some club with a half dozen friends and hangers-on, treating waitstaff and outsiders like garbage, throwing around loose bills like they were fake, and generally acting like your bowel movements don't exist, let alone smell? I think we all want this, really. Especially if we can slight beautiful people while doing it.

8) Ditching the old sweetheart

Remember that girl that broke your heart in so, so many places? Being a big time sports guy means that you get to live well for the best revenge, knowing that while she's trapped underneath some trailer park behemoth or coming up with too many names for too many cats, you'll be on the arm of someone half your age and weight. And on the tee vee to boot, maybe listening with that dopey "eh, whatevs" grin on your face as she talks about her commitment to saving puppies and watching your every game. Guess you picked the wrong horse, Cat Lady...

7) Abusing the media

Why go for the cheap thrill of calling the game for an inning or getting to go on the field, when you can tell your least favorite local sports talk radio or newspaper hack how little they know about anything, or that since they haven't Played The Game, their opinions are not valid? With the decline in fortunes of old school media, I bet you could rent out these guys for less than you'd pay a pizza delivery man, too. Though the dunking tank probably costs extra.

6) Originating a false media rumor

Ever wonder what it's like to have your own lies travel halfway across the world before the truth can put on its pants? Then step on up and cause mindless speculation and personal trauma with your complete fabrication, preferably with a previously untouchable young player. He's going to likely wind up getting traded later anyway, but you can be the first one to pop that cherry, and remind him that his career, and the club's commitment to him, is the result of a cruel calculation. Fun!

5) Having your own false media rumor

Ready to experience the sheer thrill that only pro players can have? Then it's time for you to take the fifteen minutes of infamy that is total strangers expressing interest and/or revulsion about your moment of indiscretion or complete personal shame. After all, few of us can experience the athletic thrill of being A-Rod, but all of us can have people look at us and think about how we believe that we are centaurs and kiss our reflection in the mirror. That's just... special.

4) Appear on television to discuss sports with no qualifications whatsoever

Do you long to share your opinions and mastery of cliches with braying jackassery on a major media network? Well, of course you do: that's the American dream. It gets even better when you can do it with people who have actually done the job or studied at length. Just remember, the camera subtracts fifteen IQ points. And gets you really third-rate tail!

One For Each Fist
3) Lord of the Ring(s)

You know what's better than winning a title? Watching other people win a title and gravy training on their run, and having the same supposed reward as everyone else. Adam Morrison has two times infinity the number of championship rings as Charles Barkley, which means that he's got one in each fist for all of eternity. Or until he gets tired of that feeling and hocks it on eBay. Either way, that's a beautiful bucket moment.

2) Legacy Liability

For true immortality, nothing beats naming a team. The knowledge that your term is going to live on in merchandise, scoreboards and game accounts is the ultimate passdown, and if you can somehow get your poison pill of casual racism, homoerotic double-entendre or historical inanity -- I'm looking at you, lakes and subway avoiders of Los Angeles, musical groups of Utah and NFL Team That Shall Not Be Named -- that's even better.

1) The Big Payoff

The dirty little secret of your team finally winning a championship is that it's far more of a relief, especially if your club hasn't been there during your lifetime, than it is a moment of joy. But you know what lasts for a good long while? A big honking hunk of cash, preferably from some breathtaking bet or parlay. Plus, you'd get the unspeakable karmic bad-assery of finally getting your money back, in spades, from the team that's been leeching it away from you.

So that's my Bucket List. And the real plus of it is since so much of it is pretty much unobtainable or impossible. I get to live forever, possibly with my conscious in a robot avatar, trying to knock these all down. Bonus: immortality!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Phillies made Ryne Sandberg their permanent manager

I Haz Job N Stuff
10) His 18-16 record since taking the job is exactly the kind of performance that this franchise has been about for the past few years

9) Locking up a guy for many years independent of performance is kind of their raison d'etre

8) He's inspiring Chase Utley to be secretly great again

7) Carlos Ruiz says he'll take less money to come back if Sandberg gets the job, because Carlos can not stand change

6) Has incredible ideas on personnel, mostly centering around the idea that playing Darin Ruf is good, and playing Delmon Young is bad

5) Cody Asche's progress in not kicking the ball around can't just be regressing to his true defensive ability

4) Is making great strides towards delivering all of his media interviews in a thick country accent

3) Under his teachings, Cliff Lee has become really, really good

2) It amuses GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to pretend that he's making moves for a 2014 season where he actually has a job in baseball

1) Someone in town might as well be happy with something the Phillies do this year

Sunday, September 22, 2013

NFL Week 3 Top 10 Takeaways

This Is For Washington Fan
10) Brian Hoyer, with just a small assist from Josh Gordon, ended the Brandon Weeden Era

9) Looking on the bright side, the Giants ran 10 plays in the first half that gained yards, weren't sacked on 76% of their snaps, and the game wasn't totally out of reach until the second half

9) Dallas out-gained the Rams by 292-18 in the first half, so, um, I guess the NFC East might have a mildly competent team after all

8) If you need an announcing team to tell you the rules of replay challenges a few dozen times a game, as if you have never watched football before or spend the telecast gobbling roofies, Dan Dierdorf is your man

7) The Patriots led the Bucs by 17 in the fourth quarter despite utterly identical team stats, because they are just that good at cheating

6) Ed Reed's Vengeance was somewhat lacking

5) Charger Fan is so relieved that he's got a brand new coach to choke away leads

4) During the time that you were reading this, the Jets were flagged for three more penalties

3) Green Bay is 1-2 after blowing a 16-point lead in Cincy, in a game that was more of an opera than a contest

2) Trent Richardson went from Cleveland to Indy, and took the Browns' offensive output with him

1) Detroit won in Washington for the first time ever, in 22 games in the District, dropping the defending division champions to 0-3 and all but ensuring that the NFL will let them keep their odious nickname for another year, since they won't be in the playoffs

Top Ten NFL Week 3 Ad Questions

MONSTERS KILL WITH FIRE
10) Why does the Gap think that giving the spawn of Billy Joel work will make anyone want to buy clothes from them?

9) Are Verizon users getting irradiated by their angelic chorus emitting phones?

8) Can't Colin Kaepernick afford his own terrible fast food?

7) Is there something about being a Lowe's customer that makes you assault your friends with ice cold water?

6) If I buy a Toyota, do I have to engage in group dance?

5) Are the people who invest with Ameritrade doomed to spending their entire lives at work in a single eternal shift?

4) Do Samsung Smart TV buyers become horrifying sedentary shut-ins?

3) Are Honda minivan owners beset by talking garbage?

2) Does taking Viagra cause side effect hallucinations where I am the last man alive, and have to live out my days tending to machinery in a monochrome hellscape?

1) Is there any local, state or federal agency or police force that can stop DirecTV users from ruining the property value of our homes?

The Poker Diaries: Welcome To The Illness

There Is No Cure
The less said about the tournament in last night's home game, the better for me, as I might have had the worst performance in 5 years. (I semi-bluffed on a draw into multiple made hands for a rebuy, then caught a cooler hand of trip queens with a king kicker against trip queens with an ace kicker. Not advisable.) But that kind of thing happens, and you kind of know the night is not going your way after you don't call in the big blind with crap cards against multiple raisers, then see it flop a boat... several times. Oh, and I was fighting off some bug that made me cough and sneeze, and have a sports injury that makes coughing and sneezing painful in a way that it should never be painful. Let's just move on.

In the cash game, we had the son of one of my regulars, a guy who i in his first few months of play at the tables. He hasn't cashed in the tournament before, and is a quiet kid... and then the deck starts hitting him like a bag of hammers. I paid him off big in Omaha when he caught a bigger boat (Kings over Jacks vs. Kings over Nines) on the river, and it just kept coming, for the better part of two hours.

The funny part about this was the reaction of the guys who kept giving this kid their money. There was none of the momentary ill will and irritation that usually greets such things; instead, just kind of dazed amazement, and eventually, rueful observations of how we were, in all likelihood, setting him up for a lifetime of chasing this first and great feeling. Because, well, we've all had it: that game where the deck catches us perfect, where the cooler hands are happening to everyone but us, when the goods always get called out and the bluffs are missed.

When the smoke cleared and we cashed out, it was the biggest payday in the history of the game, and more than 2X of the usual top winner. And if the kid was truly smart, he'd play smash and grab, and never return. But he will come back, of course, because that's not how humans are wired...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Well, No One Said This Eagle Season Was Going To Be Easy

Won't Be The Last One
As I look out on the Eagle feeds in my Twitter account, and think about the second straight home loss against a thoroughly beatable AFC West team...

And think about how, with just some cleaner ball, they could be 3-0 with a nice long period of time to spring something epic on Denver...

Well, I suppose I'm supposed to be more annoyed by the fact that they really are 1-2. After all, Andy Reid was supposed to go down, and go down hard, for the last two years of football atrocities, and the earlier 12 years of Not Quite Satisfaction...

But, well, most people in town don't really have that much ill will for Reid. We just didn't want to see him coach our team any more, because while he's the best coach in the history of the franchise, he's not actually good enough to win a Super Bowl, and at the very least, really was not getting any better. While the media geisha work on Andy's Wunnerfulness is just all kinds of grating in the way that being told a falsehood over and over again is maddening... that's not on Reid. The applause for him tonight was genuine. We feel bad that he wasn't better. Moving on.

As for the actual team, the flaws are starting to show, but that's actually all OK. Michael Vick is not, it turns out, going to have a late-career renaissance and be better and healthier than he's ever been. Having a team with only one credible WR, and a bunch of other guys who can just block and be tall, isn't going to get you past a team with a CB who can work on DeSean Jackson. (By the way, it's not fatal that DJ isn't the best WR in the NFL. You can win without that.) Also, the offensive line is a lot better at run than pass blocking, and the special teams are not suddenly and irrevocably better.

Here's what I was kind of actually worried about: this team playing clean enough, and benefiting from a weak end of year schedule, to win a poor division with 9 or 10 wins, then get curbed stomped in a home playoff game against the Niner-Seahawk-Bears-Packers grouping. Then their draft picks would be middling, they'd extend older guys that helped them win those games, and the rebuilding would be half-assed.

But, well, the last two games showed that's not going to happen. It just turns out that Washington is terrible, and Vick and the OL isn't good enough, and Riley Cooper is really bad (seriously, play another guy already), and turnover-prone players don't stop being turnover-prone just because the tempo is better. Also, that their conditioning is where it should be yet. If the current OL starters can't take advantage of defensive players that have given up 200 yards on the ground to provide a cleaner pocket for the QB, they need to either become more fit or become ex-Eagles.

That doesn't mean that Kelly can't win in the NFL, or that his innovations aren't valid. They are going to be in a lot of games (note: not Denver in 10 days), they are going to find out about a large number of guys (one of the benefits of that tempo game; more snaps is more snaps), and they are going to burn off a huge number of guys from the Reid Era that just aren't good enough to compete with good teams. They are infinitely more watchable, even when they are dropping the ball all over the yard like tonight, then the last two years of Veteran Tire Fire and This Time It'll Work.

The trick will be patience and faith. If we're not going to the playoffs, everyone and their brother will be howling for Nick Foles or Matt Barkley, but it doesn't send the right message to just play the young guy to the rest of the roster. Kelly made Vinny Curry inactive in the first two games despite a strong preseason; tonight, he gave him snaps and the man produced. When you make personnel decisions on money or age, rather than performance, you lose the locker room, and when that kind of thing happens, you also lose in free agency. (And yes, the Eagles need to win in free agency. When you have a multi-year whiff draft to recover from, and things like Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett releases where other teams have first and second round draft picks, you aren't going to get back to a top tier on just the draft.)

So, stiff upper lip, Eagles fans. That rebuild that we thought we might be able to skip in Game One is here, and it's going to take a while. Your team isn't always going to look like this, and whether or not they win 1 to 8 games this year doesn't really amount to much in the long run.

And remember, it's still better than last year. So much better.

Eagles - Chiefs Takeaways: Well, That Was A Hot Mess

Thanks For All The Gifts, Chip
> NFLN found the only Chiefs bar in South Philadelphia, which is in no way irritating, or indicative of a network that has no idea of the size of the relative media markets

> Michael Irvin was stunned that Eagle Fan cheered Andy Reid, because Michael Irvin is an asshat

> The Skank In Tight Clothing Singing An Awful And Awkward Song is, in fact, required by law before any prime time NFL game

> Good God Almighty,  the back-handedness of the media's comments about Philly Fan is borderline unbelievable

> NFLN tells us Andy Reid is such a disciplined person, he felt no emotion about returning to town, without mentioning, um, the performance of his teams in the past few years, his weight, or his family history

> To welcome Reid back, the Eagles special teams covered the opening kick as if he still coached them

> The defense actually got a three and out, which might be the mos surprising thing that's happened this year

> PR Damaris Johnson muffs a fair catch at his own 8, and yeah, that should never, ever happen

> It was nice to see Reid still resorting to stupid gimmick plays with lesser personnel in the red zone

> S Nate Allen actually got a sack that mattered, albeit ten seconds after the ball was snapped

> Somehow, the Eagle special teams didn't give the Chiefs a turnover on their made field goal, and it's 3-0 Chiefs

> Johnson was let back on the field to return the kickoff, and was hit nearly hard enough to satisfy Eagle Fan

> The TAInt on Vick was a poor decision, worse throw and disastrous result, and for the second straight week, the Eagles are down 10-0 at home in the first quarter

> Vick is the best QB on the roster, but that's now twice in three games where he makes a huge mistake to give the other team a defensive touchdown in the first quarter

> NFLN talked about how sloppy the first four minutes were for Philadelphia, as if this doesn't happen more or less every time that teams play on Thursday night

> WR Riley Cooper doesn't make a play on third and long, which is to say, he remains Riley Cooper

> Reid tried to use Chip Kelly's tempo on third and short, but RB Jamal Charles failed for another defensive stop

> Exceptional Sarcasm Cheer for Johnson on the fair catch there

> Vick goes for 60 yards, and the offense snaps it again so fast, we can't see the replay, which is just awesome

> Vick to WR Jason Avant for the score was a perfect ball from a QB that knew he was about to get crushed

> This offense really is Scary Great Or Cover Your Eyes bad

>  Kelly got too clever with a swinging gate two-point conversion attempt, and it's Chiefs 10, Eagles 6, and Wackiness 0

> I'm not sure how that play is supposed to work, what with the long snap to a guy who doesn't have enough people to block for him

> CB Bradley Fletcher coming back makes this defense look almost NFL level

> DE Vinny Curry got on the field and in the face of the QB, two things that we really hope to see more of

> On 3rd and 15 when you get pressure on the QB, you shouldn't give up the first down on a dump off pass, even with a blatant and uncalled clipping

> QB Alex Smith with an empty backfield does not exactly fill me with terror, and having him sprint to a side of the field makes things even more comfy

> McCoy's patience in the hole is great, and so is the blocking to give him that time, because this line is a *lot* better at run blocking than pass blocking right now

> Vick for 24 more looks almost easy, which is, of course, the cue for another inexplicable turnover, this one all on C Jason Kelce

> Three turnovers in the first 14 minutes is a really special tribute to the Reid Era

> NFLN buried the Eagle defense for a couple of missed tackles on Charles, kind of forgetting how they gave up just three points on three possessions so far tonight, against terrible field position and turnovers

> Kelly took a holding penalty to try to get the Chiefs out of field goal position, rather than take a fourth down, which says something about his level of fear of Smith

> If the Eagles got this much pressure last week, this game would be between two not very good unbeaten teams

> K Ryan Succop missed from 51 on a kick that would have probably been good from 45, so Kelly's penalty take and the play of the defense saves three points there

> McCoy's getting really good at getting the ball back to the refs with alacrity

> DE Tamba Ali made LT Jason Peters look bad for a drive-ending sack, which really doesn't happen all that often

> The third down slant to WR Donnie Avery for 51 yards is the kind of play that should get coaches fired

> On third and goal, Reid went empty backfield and tried to force-feed WR Chad Hall, which is to say, I don't miss Andy Reid at all

> Succop's make from 31 makes it 13-6 Chiefs in a game where they really could be up by a lot

> McCoy's ability to make three yards out of nothing is positively Sanders-esque

> Ali whiffed on Vick where he was clearly just going for the turnover, and Vick obliged with another awful pick a play later

> I think we've all understood by now that throwing to Cooper is never a good idea

> I'm starting to wonder if Donovan McNabb invoked a Gypsy curse on this franchise for constant INTs on being traded

> DT Fletcher Cox was faster than Smith, and made #1 pick Eric Fisher look bad

> How you give up massive third and longs on underneath crossing routes to Donnie Freaking Avery is beyond understanding

> Charles made LB Mychal Kendricks look bad, but to be fair, he does that to a lot of guys

> With 3:15 left in the half, Reid finally went for old time's sake and called an inexplicable timeout

> LB Connor Barwin could have had a TAInt off pressure from Curry

> Succop's third attempt of the half, and second make, gives the Chiefs another 10-point lead

> McCoy going down at the two minute mark, at the tail end of yet another great run, is just about the worst thing that could happen... and then he got up and ran off, even though he went to the locker room

> Vick's just not getting rid of the ball with any speed in this game, which is kind of the whole point of Kelly's offense

> When you aren't winning the battles at any point on the offensive line against a team that you've gashed for a lot of running yards, that's all kinds of troubling

> Avery and Smith ran the Reid speed offense to perfection by getting tackled in bounds, then having the classic waste five seconds before spike play to boot, costing KC another figgie chance

> Smith is such a game manager, he doesn't even throw picks on Hail Mary jump balls int he end zone

> No McCoy to start the second half, and another terrible snap from Kelce, gahhh

> Vick to Avant to get out of the hole, and for once, the mistake was on KC, tacking on another 15

> McCoy to the sidelines and looking determined, which is all kinds of manly

> Evan Mathis with a false start, and now every man on the OL has made a mistake

> Berry's second pick of the night shouldn't be one, and finally wasn't

> Third and one, gimmick run to Charles, and it's as if the Eagle defense was expecting that kind of crap call or something

> McCoy for 30, and it's a shame he's not healthy

> Cooper finally got a catch as CB Shawn Smith made sure to sit down on the field, rather than go three feet to the sidelines

> Cooper with a clueless motion penalty on third and nine, as he had no idea what the play was, or when

> Vick's the only QB in the league to throw terrible INTs on free plays

> For a run first offense, they get away from that far too easily in the red zone

> Vick was lucky to avoid another back-breaking INT on a red zone throw to Celek

> K Alex Henery connects to make it 16-9

> This really isn't the right time for the special teams to make KR Quinton Demps look like he's actually good

> If Vinny Curry is inactive again this year, we riot

> Back to back sacks is downright porny, and the subsequent incompletion and declined hold was also tasty

> Kelly might have been tempted to take that hold, the defense was playing so well

> Again, almost like people, Eagle Fans have cute kids

> Vick to DJ for the nice big fly was pretty, and seemingly available at any time, against any opponent

> Vick hit a Chief in the head on third and 12, then Henery misses from 47, and that's one more for the file of Sloppy Missed Opportunities

> Allen finally found an NFL player he can dominate -- perpetual tease Dexter McCluster

> Avery for yet another first down, as S Patrick Chung whiffs

> On third and four, Smith to bearded freak TE Sean McGrath for a back-breaker to start the fourth

> It took Reid 45 minutes of game time to remember that he had Charles, and the Eagles aren't good at stopping the run, and it's Chiefs 23, Eagles 9

> Vick misses Celek by an awful lot, then it's Peters with a false start when McCoy was off to the races... gahhhh

> Vick converted a third and long, prompting another phantom cramp from the Chiefs

> Avant with a great tip catch, and it's snapped before review

> McCoy then takes it for 41 and the score, and that was all kinds of fun, not the least of which because the blur offense prevented us from seeing if Avant really caught the earlier ball

> This might be the first offense in NFL history that should run it in two minute drills

> McCluster really isn't a good NFL player, as the following kickoff "return" proved

> S Earl Wolff with the nice takedown on Charles on a screen

> LB Brandon Graham with the sack was nice to see

> On third and long and all the momentum in the world if you make a play, it's Allen not stopping the throw to Avery, of course

> Charles limped off after a helmet lead, which might be important

> The defense picked a really bad time to remind us why they aren't very good

> On third and 2 at midfield with everything on the line, Reid calls a timeout, which was all kinds of flashbacky

> The kill play is, of course, an ineffectual blitz for an easy throw and catch first down

> The Eagles then went to run blitzes, which is to say, the Chiefs won the game by running the ball

> On third and five to end it, Smith finally misses one, as CB Cary Williams had WR AJ Jenkins tight

> Succop for yet another figgie makes it a 10-point game again with 3:21 left

> False start, "Everybody but the center" will be the defining moment of this game

> Kelly went for it on fourth and 20, which was the right move at least

> Unlike Reid's teams, the defense didn't quit late, and made a fourth down stop to make thie final score close

> Vick got caught from behind on yet another bad moment from Lane Johnson, and that's the obligatory Vick's Hurt moment of the game

> It's also Yet Another Turnover, and if you want to start the Nick Foles Should Start Bandwagon, feel free, though you really should wait until they get slaughtered in Denver first

> The Chiefs doused Reid with Gatorade, because, well, why not

> There is no doubt to the fact now that Washington is really, spectacularly, jaw-droppingly, bad

> I'm taking the Shooter Mom to the Tampa game in three weeks, which I'd like to apologize for now, in advance

> Losing by 10 when you turn it over 5 times and allow 6 sacks is kind of amazing, really

> Can anything stop, and does anyone enjoy, Thursday night games?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Defense of the Oakland Coliseum

Smells Like Red Sox Fans In Here
The story in the papers and elsewhere today is about recurring sewage issues at the Oakland Coliseum. The Coliseum is the only dual football/baseball facility still in operation, and a place that the likely returning AL West champions have been trying to get away from for the better part of this century. And this has led to any number of Man, That Place Is A Hole comments, and if you want to compare it to all of the places that have been opened in the past 20 years, you are probably right.

But here's the thing about the Coliseum, from someone who has been there close to a hundred times: it's as good as a stadium *needs* to be, and my favorite place to see a game.

Why? Well, the first part is that my team plays there. If your team doesn't play at the yard you love, I would wonder why you like architecture more than your team, but yeah, the place setting in baseball does matter. The second part is the access. Taking BART to an A's game is nearly as good as taking the subway to see a game in New York, but actually nicer, since BART is basically a top-tier regional rail system, clean, quiet and reliable. So much nicer than traffic and parking, really, and the older I get, the less I want to drive, especially in traffic, and shell out something close to my ticket price for parking.

Next, there's the money and policies. I haven't been to a game at the Coliseum since leaving in 2006, but you used to be able to pack a clear backpack with your own food, sit between the first and third base bags in the thoroughly acceptable third level, grab something from the vendors, hit the kid's area, take the train home... and spend $40-50. For two people, not one. Try to do that for anything outside of a minor league team now. You're lucky to spend that on just the single ticket, or parking.

The Coliseum's charms go further. For fireworks games, you can get down on the field with a beach blanket, lie down and look up for an utterly fantastic experience. (Did that at least a half dozen times.) The concessions were reasonably priced, fairly varied, and not so chic-chic as to make you feel like you need silverware and linen. The team put up pitch counts and radar gun readings, along with OPS and everything else, years before other teams did. The view lines are steep enough so that obstructed view seating is rare, assuming you stay out of the Mount Davis addition. (By the way, old-time A's fans claim that ruined the place. They probably aren't wrong.) And despite the multi-sport nature of the place, it's quirky, what with the 3X foul ball area.

Finally, there's the actual fans. If you hate to watch baseball surrounded by people who couldn't care less about who wins, so long as they are in the place to be seen... the Coliseum is for you. If you like to see old timers who haven't been priced out, families with kids marking out for some intern in an elephant costume, guys drumming without irony or hipsterism, the occasional laugh out loud chant (my favorite still remains "Mike, We Know You're Not Gay" to Mike Piazza, which is downright post-modern in its trollery)... and a fan base of 10-20K that can sound like 40K when they need to...

Well, run, don't walk, to the Coliseum.

And when they actually get all of their crowd together and sell the place out, it's everything you'd want in a baseball game. California weather, minor league expense, and the most lovable franchise in the bigs, because no one on the roster has enough time and money to become a problem yet.

In an ideal world, we'd never allow local governments to bid against each other to give corporate welfare projects, and state governments would be more like California, who tell teams to build their own yard or shut up already. (Seriously. Mostly because no team ever wants to leave California.) Real fans would go to 10 games a year, rather than 4. Corporate and pretty people wouldn't be there for those other 6. Relegation would kill off cities from building yards for billionaires. Enhanced television rights payments would go to players, who will spend it in a far more entertaining way than the owners anyway.

I'm not blind to the Coliseum's flaws. If you really want to pay for a premium experience, this isn't the yard for you. Getting people to take in a game last minute is a lot harder than, say, if you have extra seats for Pac Bell. If you are bringing a noob to the game, they'll never want to go back to the Coliseum after seeing the shiny newer place. The lower price does bring in more knuckleheads, and I don't doubt that the place has gone downhill in the last six years. There's really nowhere to go after the game, and if the crowds are light, that BART platform can feel unsafe. Most of the yards that were less fun to go to for a neutral observer (in my experience, Montreal, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, Riverfront in Cincy, old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland) are gone now. If I weren't an A's fan, I wouldn't see the need to visit the place, if money was no object.

But money is always an object.

I'll also never be able to put this toothpaste back in the tube, and the fact that I want it there just says I'm old. But baseball would be in a better place, especially when it comes to long-term sustainability and replacing old fans with new ones, if we had more places like the Coliseum. Not less.

Though, hopefully, with fewer sewage issues.

Top 10 reasons why the Browns traded Trent Richardson

Don't Keep This Guy
10) Jim Brown never liked him, just like every other running back in the team's history

9) New GM and coach felt betrayed after spending a first round pick on him in their fantasy draft

8) Getting a first round pick from a likely playoff team is totally worth the #3 pick in the 2011 draft

7) Know now, like everyone else who watches the NFL, that they can lose 12 games this year with or without him

6) The current guys who are going to get fired aren't the same guys who got drafted Richardson, which is how rebuilding "works"

5) Want to give the current QBs on the roster as much of an opportunity as possible to show that they should have the job in 2014 by eliminating all RBs from the roster

4) After watching Eddie Lacy go down, convinced that only Alabama RBs are overrated coming out of college

3) Could not sit idly by while Donald Brown continued to draw an NFL paycheck

2) Richardson did not impress new OC Norv Turner, who never makes jaw-dropping mistakes in personnel

1) Wanted to set the new modern NFL record for Fastest Tank Job, and to give themselves the inside track to drafting Andrew Wiggins (shh, don't tell them)

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