Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sixers Beat Heat, And Wow, That Was Actually Fun

MC Dub With The Scratch
This just in: winning is more fun than tanking. And when you win with rookies and flotsam, knocking off the widely detested repeat champions... well, um, that was more fun than anyone in town though we were going to have all year. And hey, the Pelicans lost, and the Sixers have their pick from the Jrue Holiday deal, so let them do the tanking instead.

As for actual analysis... this game looked like one of those Nice Try Young Guy games with five minutes left. They had ran out to the big early lead, but the Heat rained down threes in the third quarter, scoring 45 freaking points, with Ray Allen ending it with a 50-footer for funsies. The Heat were on the back end of a back to back, but they were not playing badly. Sure, they could have been better with the ball, but give rookie PG Michael Carter-Williams some credit for getting those, too. The Heat did not, by any means play badly; the Sixers just hit every damned thing.

Beyond MCDub being everyone's new jersey purchase, is there any greater takeaway? Plenty, actually.

> New HC Brett Brown has them trying hard on defense, but that wasn't the most encouraging thing. Rather, it was that the vast majority of shots were either from behind the arc or in the lane. No more two man screens for 20-footers from big men! It's like actual analysis was done or something, or the franchise is suddenly in the hands of people who have won in this century.

> When Evan Turner has one of those occasional good games, it's easy to forget that he's given us a world of evidence that he's not actually, well, good. But since he's usually wet himself against Miami, we'll take what we can get.

> Philly won this game with Thaddeus Young not shooting for a high percentage, which seems six kinds of impossible, really.

> Spencer Hawes hit a big three late, and while I still hate him out there, give the devil his due; that was huge.


> LeBron James looked weak for most of the fourth quarter, without playing major minutes. This won't last, of course, but he might not be the eater of worlds until, say, December.

> The big bucket of cold water: Miami sat Dwyane Wade in this game, mostly because they don't need to go balls-out to win every regular season game, and he's destroyed the Sixers even more than James over the years. Maybe they win this game with Wade in the lineup, and he's probably playing the next time they meet, when James wants to put MC Dub back in his place.

> The Sixers had a half dozen chances to killshot this game late, but couldn't finish in transition, or rebound any number of missed threes.

> If you can see this game on replay or encore, do it. It's so worth it.

> Tony Wroten, Daniel Orten and James Anderson? Actually athletic and useful, and a nice change of pace / dreaming moment that new GM Sam Hinkie has magical powers.

> Could they actually be good? Well, they get the Bulls later this week, and if MC Dub is the best player on the floor again... well, they just beat the freaking defending champions with a roster that wasn't supposed to win more than 15 games this year. Chances are still not good, but...

> The Elephant in the Room, or Your MC Dub Line: 22 points, 7 boards, 12 assists, 1 turnover, 9 steals, one of them in the last minute on James, along with a beastly board with 27.5 left, and the defining opening score steal and finish. That's the most steals ever for a guy making his NBA debut.

Other than make some more free throws and getting the Sixers to upgrade from McDonalds to Chipotle for the post-game free meal, dude was borderline perfect tonight, and the best player on the floor in a game with LeBron Freaking James.

No, seriously.

Call him the Day One favorite for Rookie of the Year, is all I'm saying.

NFL Week 9 Picks: Blind Pig Chowdown

Well, OK, it's a little funny.
Hey, the blind pig stumbled upon some acorns last week! It was exciting and everything, since I ran a perfect slate from 4pm EST to the MNF game, and even felt smart for non-chalk stuff like Oakland over Pittsburgh and the Bengals crushing the Jets. It was like I knew something about the NFL! And if I just do it for two or three more weeks, this year won't be such a complete embarrassment. Unlike, say, being an Eagles fan. But that's why we pick the games; to give us something else to care about when the home and fantasy laundry have become utterly and completely depressing. Wee!

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

CINCINNATI (-2.5) at Miami

Curiously low line here. I get that everyone thinks the Bengals will come back to earth after their 40-point runaway from the Jets, and that the Dolphins got completely screwed by the refs in that Patriots' game. Also, that the Dolphin defense has been exceptional against the pass this year, and that Miami is a different team at home. But they are still terrible at protecting the QB, and the Bengals are scary good at getting to them... and even good secondaries crack against a white-hot QB who suddenly has two great red zone targets in Marvin Jones and A.J. Green. Suddenly, my Bengals in the Super Bowl pick doesn't seem so crazy, does it?

Bengals 27, Dolphins 16

Kansas City at BUFFALO (+3)


Depressingly low line for the home 'dog against the NFL's last unbeaten team, but I'm still going with them. The Chiefs have been winning with smoke and mirrors for a couple of weeks now, and the Orchard Park crowd is one of the best in the NFL for generating lots and lots of noise. The more amazing thing is that Buffalo might be the Chiefs' biggest test yet, in Week Nine. May we all find opportunities in life to be so abundant. If you are looking for more football-ish reasons... well, if Jason Campbell can move the ball against this defense in Arrowhead, why can't Thad Lewis in Buffalo? And how weak does the KC Offense get if RB Jamaal Charles can't go 60 minutes again, like last week?

Bills 26, Chiefs 24

Minnesota at DALLAS (-10)


Squash time for Big Media's Favorite Pretender. Dallas will enjoy nationwide coverage for this laugher against a Vikings team that doesn't seem to understand that Florida has a hammerlock on tanking this year. Other than some kind of secret injury to RB Adrian Peterson, I just don't get what HC Leslie Frazier is doing this year, assuming it's not just prankery. Count on plenty of deep jump balls for WR Dez Bryant to win, some week-after crowing that Bryant was right about everything in last week's sideline tantrum in Detroit, and the future seeds for Terrell Owens 2, Electric Boogaloo. Jerry Jones is the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. Note: I hate this franchise.

Cowboys 34, Vikings 20

Tennessee at ST. LOUIS (+3)


It's Jeff Fisher's Vengeance Game, and if that doesn't excite you, you are a sane human being with the proper state of gravity for a game between two meh-ish teams that seem to have ignored the last 30 years of NFL development. Of the six respective units in this game, the only one that I'm kind of impressed by is the St. Louis defense, who can get after a passer and don't over-pursue to uselessness in the running game. Rams QB Kellen Clemens is a sad specimen, but Titans QB Jake Locker is just a younger, more mobile and less accurate Clemens. While he can have good games from time to time and fool people into thinking that development is happening, that won't be the case in a road dome game for St. Louis fans who will be hoping to let out some baseball frustrations. Also, RB Zac Stacy is the real deal, and will keep Clemens from having to do too much.

Rams 24, Titans 17

NEW ORLEANS (-6) at NY Jets


I hate this line, but I can't shake the idea that in the Battle of Ryans, it's better to take the one that doesn't have the turnover machine at QB, home field and bounce-back theory be damned. Look for New Orleans to run it more than expected, and to conserve TE Jimmy Graham's looks for the red zone, where he continues to be profoundly unfair, despite hideous injuries. But if the weather's bad, I'm going to regret this pick. Hell, who am I kidding, I already regret this pick.

Saints 27, Jets 20

SAN DIEGO (-1) at Washington


The Chargers are coming off the bye, have seen their running game turn around, have developed a solid WR in Keenan Allen and aren't terrible on defense. They face a DC team with QB Bob Griffin looking battered and bad again after a fast-fading effort in Denver, and the secondary is taking on the mantle of historically bad now. DC has also been strangely reluctant to rely on RB Alfred Morris -- HC Mike Shanahan just can't resist boning fantasy honks, it's his one true talent -- and still has a terrible group of targets. When you still give snaps to WR Santana Moss, only five years since he stopped having a pulse, that's not a good sign for your talent evaluation. Also, with no real playoff chance, count on FedEx Field to be its usual graveyard for home crowd enthusiasm. Daniel Snyder is the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. Note: I hate this franchise.

Chargers 31, DC 23

ATLANTA (+7.5) at Carolina


Just a feel pick here, as I'm not ready to give Panthers HC Ron Rivera the faith required to say that he can come off the bye-ish Terrible Night Football time advantage, and put a reeling road Falcons team out of its misery. They should, of course; they have home field, a dominant defense, and the Falcons are crippled at the skill positions. But this is where the Panthers' unfamiliarity with being over .500 and in actual wild-card contention bites them, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan is dangerous in late and close situations. I'm even thinking they pull off the upset, let alone the cover.

Falcons 26, Panthers 24

PHILADELPHIA (+2.5) at Oakland


A regression to the mean pick. Philadelphia will get back QB Nick Foles, who should be healthy enough to plant and be accurate again. This will open up holes for the running and tempo game, so the offense will stop looking like the worst unit in football. On defense, the Eagles have been good against the run all year, and actually pursue mobile QBs relatively well. I also expect QB Terrell Pryor to spend much of his day trying to get WR Denarius Moore the ball, and while that seems like a good idea, it's not as if that tandem is going to single-handedly win a game. I'm seeing a lot of Silver figgies; Oakland seems like a tough place to play, but they get pretty negative pretty quickly if you get an early lead, and I'm counting on HC Chip Kelly to roll out some innovations that take advantage of an overly young and eager Raider defense that will see this game as more opportunity than danger. Finally, this: Kelly is 3-1 on the road this year, with the only loss coming at Denver. He's just better there. Besides, this may be the last chance for a win for a really long time, considering the next few weeks are at Green Bay, then three home games and a bye. Man, that Green Bay game is going to be Denver ugly.

Eagles 24, Raiders 23

Tampa at SEATTLE (-18)


Ride the big number for the best home team in the NFL against the open mutiny Bucs, who really should have tossed aside HC Greg Schiano during the bye week. On the road in Seattle, without RB Doug Martin (and no, back up Mike James is not that great), against the best secondary in the NFL and what might also be the best pass rush, with the Seattle offense smarting from that sad winning effort in St. Louis on MNF... well, I think we have a better chance of seeing extensive Tavaris Jackson time in this one than a Buc win, or even cover. I'm kind of amazed that CB Darrelle Revis hasn't invented himself an injury yet, or just told the press that he's not going to take orders to play zone anymore. Then again, Florida is where guys from New York go to when they want to retire, right?

Seahawks 41, Bucs 13

BALTIMORE (-2.5) at Cleveland


My favorite heel squash tradition in the NFL is where the evil ex-Browns come back to Cleveland, endure about 30 minutes of rage and taunts from the Dawg Pound faithful, then set to dismantling whatever weak sauce the home team is playing at QB that day. This week, they'll get to mash Jason Campbell and a motley collection of RBs, and so long as they cover WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron, I like their chances at keeping this score slow and low. On offense, Baltimore will take advantage of the weak secondary DBs to get ahead early, then work on their sputtering running game late. It'll be a lot of grinding figgie drives, and a pretty easy cover. That 3-1 start was a long time ago, Browns Fans...

Ravens 26, Browns 13

PITTSBURGH (+7.5) at New England


Pride and desperation time for the Steelers, who face the weakest 6-2 Patriot team ever. But this is a surprisingly good match up for them, since QB Tom Brady is struggling mightily, and will not hurt anyone with his legs, the way that Terrell Pryor did them last week in Oakland. In one of those games that feels like it's important just because we're familiar with the stars, I like the Pittsburgh defense to continue Brady's nightmare year... and while New England might be able to ugly out a win with their running game, they aren't going to be able to run out and hide and cover a big number. And hey, it's not as if Pittsburgh hasn't come up with a win or two over the years in this series.

Patriots 24, Steelers 20

INDIANAPOLIS (-2.5) at Houston


Not sure why this line is the way it is. Houston's been a wreck for most of the year, doesn't have a particularly good home field advantage ever since they declared blood sport on QB Matt Schaub, and run into a Colts team that keeps shoving regression analysis in our face with quality wins over solid opponents. Maybe they aren't that solid of a road team yet, and maybe the loss of WR Reggie Wayne is going to cause a cascade failure among their target tree... but honestly, they don't have to be that good of a road team to beat the Texans this year. Look for QB Andrew Luck to do them with his legs as well as his arm.

Colts 31, Texans 17

Chicago at GREEN BAY (-11)


Oh, Chicago -- the team that never was due to injury. With an aging but smart defense and QB Jay Cutler in a contract year with a coach that's perfect for him, I really thought they were going to run this division, then get worked in the playoffs by an NFC West team. And they did, until everyone hit the trainer's table. It's hard even to call it bad luck, because this is more or less what happened last year, and what happens when your skill guys take too much punishment, and your o-line just doesn't improve enough from year to year. But that's enough about them.

With a battered defense, this is setting up as one of those games where QB Aaron Rodgers can take his deep shots on second and short, and not have to pull off plays against pressure just to move the sticks. He'll lean on RB Eddie Lacy and James Starks, use any open WR, and eventually take advantage of a short field or two to make this number. And just that quickly, we'll have another weak tea MNF game to turn off early. Won't that be fun?

Packers 34, Bears 20

Last week: 9-4

Year to date: 53-63-4

Career to date: 423-425-4

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Top 10 reasons why Mavs' GM Gersson Rosas resigned after just 3 months

HE'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU! RUN!
10) A man can only watch so many episodes of "Shark Tank" before the lies about how great it is just become soul-crushing

9) Rosas is 35, which made him the youngest employee in the organization

8) Don Nelson's kid turns out to be as spectacularly useless as his father

7) After leaving Houston for Dallas, somehow found a city that was even worse to live in

6) When you are hired to be a GM, but the job is actually just to tell Nelson's Kid and Cuban how smart they are, it's actually kind of easy to quit

5) Now that the ACA is a reality, didn't need the bennies

4) It's just no fun to be an NBA GM this year unless you get to tank

3) By the terms of his Cuban contract, Rosas is already fully vested

2) Discount K-cups in the office coffee maker is just a deal-breaker

1) Woke up this morning and realized that he was employed by Cuban, and could not stop screaming

FTT Off-Topic: Six Days, Thirty Six Miles

How Far I've Run In 2013
I make my living with words. But I make my life with numbers.

Numbers such as the percentage of work that ships on time, or without errors. Numbers for the spreadsheet, months in advance, that point to the bills due, and how I'm doing in making the college savings nut. Numbers about how I'm doing on side ventures, how much mileage I'm getting per gallon, what I weigh, how my fantasy teams are doing and the odds. Most of the things in my life have a scoreboard, and I usually know that score.

One of the bigger numbers in my life, now, is 90. That's the number of miles that I run every month, usually in 6 mile chunks. The idea is to do that every other day, so most weeks I'm there on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday night, then mixing in a weekend session depending on what else is going on. There's just enough leeway and flexibility to let me manage injuries, other commitments, travel and the like... but by the end of the month, I've got to get to 90, and I ave to do it at faster than six miles an hour.

By the way, I'm 44, have only been running for the past 18 months or so, and I suck at running. Well and truly. I can stand some pain and can keep my brain occupied during sessions enough to keep going, but I cramp up something fierce, usually need a bathroom break, have recurring tendinitis, my feet aren't good, and my form is meh at best. I spent my first 25 years grinding out miles on bicycles, and did that for years on a commute to the train station for trips to NYC. I run because it's good for me, and because when you get to 44, you start thinking about doing things to make sure you will be around for your kids... not because I'm good at it, or even because I enjoy it all that much.

Now, October has been tough for gym days. I took a trip to Florida that didn't help matters. I had a basketball draft that took a ton of free time. Work is in its third straight month of flood, and October will set a new production record. And the month was going to end early for me, since Wednesdays are booked for the Shooter Wife (we only have the one car, and that's her night out with her knitting group), and Thursday is Halloween.

So six days ago, I was 36 miles away from getting the monthly number, and knew I had to, well, run for six straight days. Whether they hurt or not, whether I wanted to or not, and, well, no matter what. Because the nature of number like 90 miles a month is that when you break them, you don't get right back to it very easily.

I got it done. I throttled down my speed, took more time in the whirlpool, and by day five, it was actually starting to not suck. Tonight, it even got good; I finished the miles strong, even high-stepping it a bit like a showboating NFL CB or WR going in for six. I hurt tonight as I write this, but no more than normal, and I've earned four days off before I get back to it on Saturday.

Because, well, that's the thing about running, and numbers, and fitness goals. You can think about them all you like, make them big and scary and beyond your ability to manage. Or you can put one foot in front of the other, tell yourself a different story, and repeat until the number is gone.

Two more months and 180 miles to go, along with 15-odd weightlifting sessions.

And then, in 2014...

Well, I'll have to up the numbers. (And yes, my brain really hates my body for rules like that, with cause.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chip Kelly 's Game Mistakes

Yes, Yes You Do
When I left Tampa's Raymond James Stadium 15 days ago, I had seen the Eagles slowly but surely pull away from a home team that was coming off a bye. QB Nick Foles had created a QB controversy, RB LeSean McCoy had done damage to a respected run defense, and WR DeSean Jackson had a 2-TD game against a CB with one of the best reputations in the NFL. The defense hadn't exactly covered itself in roses, but it had held RB Doug Martin down and kept the Bucs from scoring a ton of points. The club seemed to be improving, and the East looked (and remains) terrible. A dream of a 10-win season and first-round home loss with honor was before us. I've had worse times.

Now, the team has lost back to back home games against division rivals, without an offensive touchdown. All three quarterbacks have played, none of them well. McCoy and Jackson are still healthy; other than that, nothing could can be said. The offensive line, presumed in preseason to be the best unit on the team, can't open holes in the running game any more, and the wideouts have utterly disappeared in press coverage. The tight ends, buttressed in free agency and the draft, are afterthoughts. Tempo has disappeared, turnovers have skyrocketed, and the hope that was pouring down like rain after the Washington game, and falling freely again after Tampa, is more or less gone. No one in town seems to think that they can win this week in Oakland, of all places, and if you gave them an over/under of 4.5 wins for the year, I'm thinking most people would take the under. (They are, by the way, 3-5. And still, somehow, in the NFC East race.)

One is compelled to remember now that this is a rebuilding year, that no NFL team looks good without a good QB, and that while the offense has been terrible in the last two weeks, the defense has done their best work. (It might be a mirage, of course: Dallas left a lot of opportunities on the table, and no one is confusing this year's Giants with a good team just yet.) But this isn't how Year One of the Chip Kelly Era was supposed to go. The Eagles were supposed to be bad early, improving later as the team got used to the system, with more and more offensive wrinkles added to the mix.

Two games isn't a lot, but eight games is... and the plain and simple fact is that Kelly has already put his name on any number of deeply questionable decisions. Here's the ones that come to mind for me.

1) In the San Diego game, QB Mike Vick is having a big day statistically. The team is driving for a go-ahead score, but a touchdown will make the Chargers have to score seven to win, rather than a field goal, and the defense has been terrible all day. With Vick sidelined for a play to recover from a hit and the team needing to score and run clock, Kelly has ice-cold backup Nick Foles throw a fade route in the end zone. It doesn't work, the Eagles settle for a field goal, and the Chargers win the game in leisure on a final field goal drive.

2) In the Denver game, down 21-13 in the first half, Kelly chooses to punt at altitude, rather than try a 53-yard field goal or go for it on fourth and fairly short. The punt gets little, and Denver more or less runs away with the game from the still-terrible Eagle defense in the second half. So much for the aggressive college coach?

3) Down 10-6 in the Kansas City game with the offense having ripped off a lightning-fast touchdown and the home crowd actually getting into it, Kelly goes for two with a swinging gate formation. It's stopped, and the momentum goes with it.

4) Against Dallas at the end of the first half, Kelly sends K Alex Henery -- remember, the guy he wouldn't give a shot at 53 yards in Denver -- to try a 60-yarder with 9 seconds left. He misses, and Dallas has time and timeouts to score on their own, but amazingly, QB Tony Romo doesn't connect.

5) Having received a gift touchdown from the Giants special teams to get back to 15-7 with 4:11 left, with timeouts still on hand and a defense that had been playing well, especially in the second half... Kelly calls for an overt and short onsides kick. The Giants recover easily, get a first down, and the offense doesn't get the ball back until there's very little time, and very many yards, left. New York closes out the win easily.


6) With the offense actually moving under shaky rookie QB Matt Barkley at the end of the first half in the Giants game, Kelly calls a timeout, rather than keep up the tempo. On first and goal, rather than give McCoy, clearly the best player on the team, a shot at the end zone -- and yes, the team had timeouts in case the rushing attempt didn't work -- he rolls out Barkley, who doesn't sense the rush, tries to make a play, and is sacked and stripped for the disaster turnover.

7) In the opening game and drive, with the offense ripping off yards and DC looking spent, the call is for a bubble screen to Jackson. DC blows up the play, but Vick tries to throw it anyway, and DC gets a gift touchdown off a backwards pass fumble. Rather than, well, give the damned ball to Shady. (Yes, we're now well on Year Three of wondering why McCoy can't get goal line carries.)

Think I'm making too much of in-game decisions? Well, there's this...

The Eagles lost just about every member of their offensive line last year. They also were down McCoy and Jackson and Vick to various injuries, with a defense that was constantly terrible. The special teams were worse. And yet, the offense never failed to score an offensive touchdown.

So either the offensive line is much worse now despite being much healthier, WR Jeremy Maclin was really the linchpin of everything... or Kelly's stuff just isn't working at this level. Or the opposition is just adjusting to it, and he's not.

We have, of course, eight more games to see if this is just a bad stretch, or worse, a bad hire. But if you want to build the case that Kelly's not cut out to win at this level...

Well, he's given you ammunition. Way too much ammunition.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Barkley, Foles Or Vick: The Least Bad Answer

Paging Dennis Dixon
So Michael Vick left today's game with the hamstring pop, as we learned afterward, and while it hardly seems possible that next week's game in Oakland matters for any reason, it's the NFL; every game matters, if only because there aren't many of them. But the simple math of the NFL is this: if you don't have a quality QB, you don't win. And the Eagles don't have any right now.

Start, and hopefully end now, with Vick. It really doesn't matter anymore, because it's not a question of system or the health of the offensive line; it's just him. He can't stay healthy, because the release is too slow, and he's able to make too many plays in extended time, and he's just not big enough. It doesn't matter that he won the job in preseason. It doesn't matter that he's got startling physical gifts, or that he's turned his life around, or that he's got a heart the size of a lion to stand in the fire. If you can't stay healthy, you can't be an NFL QB.

Next, Nick Foles. I'm not a fan. There's a reason why he slipped in his draft, and it goes beyond the slow footspeed. He generally avoids INTs, but that seems like more luck than skill to date. Either he choked under the lights of the Dallas game or he can't function unless he's close to 100% healthy, and in either case, that's really not good news for someone who wants the most important job on the team. Short of two wins against the DOA Bucs, he's winless in the NFL. Maybe it's worth giving him starts once he's cleared from the concussion (oh, by the way, really not a good sign that he hasn't been cleared of the concussion yet) to see if he's good enough to be a back up. Anyone that thinks he's a starter is deluding themselves.

Finally, Matt Barkley. In five quarters of action now against very bad defenses at home, he's produced no points and five turnovers. He looks physically incapable of pulling the ball back and taking yards on the read option. He's got some zip on the ball, but the decision making is questionable at best, with the end of the first half hold until sack/fumble in the red zone being just game-ending. He's utterly killing LeSean McCoy, and McCoy's only the best player on the team by a very wide margin.In all five of those quarters, he's had a defense that's played well on the other side of the ball, giving him chance after chance to get back in the game. He's failed them all. I've watched bad Eagle QB play for most of my life, and he's looking disturbing Hoying-esque to me.

And he probably deserves the job for the rest of the year, as much as to test his coach as to test the player.

This administration performed draft machinations to get Barkley. This administration took a name college QB when more mobile options (Ryan Nassib in particular) were on the board. They seemed to think that they could make something out of him. And they've got eight more games to do it, with a bye week, in a division that no one expects them to contend for any more, despite just being a game back with 8 to play.

I get, by the way, why the team might want to go back to Foles, or maybe even Vick again if he's somehow healthy enough to play. But it would be a mistake, for an organization that needs to get past the fool's gold of Week 1, or the damn fool's gold of the Giants and Bucs' wins. This isn't going to be a quick fix, and the fact that the defense has gotten all the way up to tolerable for the last two weeks should also not be seen as any kind of meaningful development.

Oh, and one more thing? No matter who is under center for this team, they should run the team at the speed tempo, even if that helps them lose games in the short term. Chip Kelly without a speed offense is counter-productive when it comes to development, let alone helps an OL that hasn't been doing enough ever less to do. Not advised. Be who you are, with what you wanted, and give us all the chance to get through the evaluation process with a clear perspective on these guys.

Because the only thing worse than having to draft a QB high next year... will be not knowing if you have to draft a QB high next year. That's the only mission for the last eight games, and it clearly doesn't involve Vick. Or maybe Foles, either...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Lou

Not sports and yada yada. It's my blog and I get to free-lance. Lou Reed passed today at the age of 71, and, well, that just sucks.

I don't know if you know Lou for anything beyond "Walk on the Wilde Side", and given that was a very long time ago, I'm not even sure that you know that song, despite it being an incredibly long-lasting and utterly incomprehensible #1 hit. But there aren't more than a half dozen musicians, ever, that had more of an impact on my life. And if you are willing to listen to the man's catalog, he'll have the same impact on yours.

In the '60s, Reed starts by going to Syracuse University, my school. It didn't have that much of an impact on my decision, but it made the place more bearable, really. I went to the same pizza places that he went to, and felt better about my decision for being there. I got introduced to his music in high school through the writings of Lester Bangs, and wound up getting into the Velvet Underground and his solo work all throughout college. Lou's "Metal Machine Music" is, in no small way, directly related to my first marriage, in that the woman wanted a copy of it, and I had one and had talked to people about it. Something of a clue, that, but I wasn't one for clues in my '20s.

For the past two decades, Lou has been in my tape collection, then my CDs, iPod and Pandora. He's still there, of course, and probably isn't ever leaving. And even if he did leave, he'd still be there in the work of dozens of other bands, all of which share a lineage with the Velvets, or from solo acts that took his trademark confessional / street poet style and built their own work on it. He's there in every band that's not afraid to drone if it serves the lyric, and in every writer who doesn't shy away when first person gets brutal.

What Lou does with lyrics is beyond confessional. He would build these simple structures out of planks, as it were, just unadorned simple words and phrases, never going into cliche, but always reaching in the profound. His signature piece, "Heroin", is simultaneously the best advertisement and worst warning against the use of the drug, and his political work in "New York" somehow resonates decades after the personalities mentioned are long faded from the scene.

Which isn't to say, of course, that he was infallible. Like all musicians, poor choices were mixed in with the solid work over the years. For every "Magic and Loss" and "Set the Twilight Reeling" there was the sad miss of "The Bells" or "The Raven", and he tended to go back to the harrowing well that is "Berlin" or "MMM." The co-project with Metallica was wince-inducing, and there were too many live albums and best ofs and Velvet reunions and Honda and Sony ads to befit a legend.

But all of that, of course, fades in the face of his best work, and his pairings with Robert Quine (also no longer with us) that speak strongest to me. Such as "Rock and Roll", which I first heard on a graveyard free-form radio show in the middle of the night in high school.



From there, take a spin with a song that should have never, ever been used to sell video games, seeing how it comes from the most harrowing album ever. (Seriously, if you can listen to "Berlin" without getting destroyed on some level... you aren't listening.)



Next, well, "Heroin." I've heard it too many times to give it the power it deserves, but that's my problem, not the song's.



Lou wasn't always devastating. This one never fails to make me smile. And it's a great dirty guitar riff. "I got statistics, I got stats."



Next, the song people should be listening to on the the news of his passing, because it might be the best thing ever said about the end of life.



There are dozens of others, but these are my five today. Pass through the fire to the light.

P.S. Forgot one; probably his best work with Quine.



Look me in the eye, indeed.

Top Ten NFL Week 8 Ad Questions

All kinds of fantasy
10) Couldn't Bud Light pick a more realistic fan base and food product than Eagle Fan, first place, and quinoa?

9) Does Pizza Hut always get their ideas for new, um, food from complete asshats?

8) Why does Coors Light require retrieval by people with no sense of direction?

7) Does shopping at Lowe's inspire hallucinations?

6) Is one of the side effects of Eliquis milquetoast sons who cheer on your sad jumper?

5) Does sponsoring the NFL give Papa John's the ability to enter any television set, and if so, can we give him MRSA?

4) If I drink Corona, will I become obsessed with where water meets dirt?

3) Why is Liz Lemon's awful ex wrecking so much stuff, and why should this make me buy insurance?

2) Does Domino's have nothing better to advertise than their web site, and how bad they are at answering the phone?

1) Given how many times that the ad is shown, is there any way that we can get the grill-class asshats out of the State Farm ads?

Eagles - Giants Takeaways

Waste Of A Good Dumpster
> LB Mychal Kendricks with a burst and stop on a running play sets up third and long...

> CB Brandon Boykin wins the battle to get WR Jernelle Jurnigan down, and that's a three and out

> Terrible punt by the Giants Steve Weatherford gives the Eagles good field position, and you understand why HC Tom Coughlin still fears PR DeSean Jackson

> The Eagle tempo hasn't been spectacular recently, and two plays for four yards doesn't help much

> On third and six with a surprisingly good pocket, QB Michael Vick throws a bad pick that TE Brent Celek never sees; at least Blue makes things better by taking a group celebration penalty to ruin field position

> It's always disappointing to hear "Cruuuiiiissseeee" at what is supposed to be a home game

> On third and 2, WR Hakeem Nicks makes a solid catch on CB Brandon Fletcher, but he really doesn't get any separation any more

> RB Michael Cox shows that there are holes to be had against this run defense if you have vision, not that he usually does

> On second and 1 from the Eagle 39, Manning has all day to WR Victor Cruz, and that was way too easy

> CB Cary Williams with a nice stop on Nicks on the WR screen to set up 3rd and 10

> Manning throws it out of the end zone as Nicks pules for a thoroughly ridiculous DPI; I'd love for WR Puling to get flagged for unsportsmanlike, just once

> K Josh Brown connects from 40, and he's going to do that a lot today

> Vick with utterly awful awareness for the sack and fumble from CB Antrell Rolle, and no, he's not right

> That's another three and out, a lot of boos for the first quarter, and we're closing in on the fifth straight quarter of really bad offense

> Giants STs almost give the gift of the year on a punt, but it stays theirs

> Manning to TE Brandon Myers for kitteny soft deep ball, and RB Peyton Hillis buried his blitzer

> LB Trent Cole actually had a hurry in this one, so tell the kids

> On third and 3, Cruz is open on the slant but can't keep his feet, and that's a gift drive stop

> Brown connects again from 44, and it's 6-0 Blue while feeling a lot worse

> McCoy runs 10 yards to get nothing, and he's been doing that a lot lately

> TE James Casey with an actual catch and play, and that's a first down and everything for the FA bust

> Vick gets one of those 10 seconds after the play ends grounding calls that are just ridiculous

> On 3rd and 23, RB Bryce Brown runs to the sidelines and deserves every ounce of the venom directed by the crowd

> You would never know that the Eagles have faced poor statistical defenses in the last two weeks

> After two middling runs, that's the end of the first quarter, and more of the hope that the offense will stop, well, sucking

> On third and 5 with a chance at a three and out and no points, it's Manning to Cruz for a big rollout and win, and that's just depressingly good by the QB

> Hillis through a big hole, and this is starting to look all kinds of quitty

> On third and 3 with the chance to avoid giving up a touchdown, it's Manning to Jurnigan on the slant that's always open, with no real pass rush

> Blue is getting all kinds of push by just, well, running straight ahead

> WR Rueben Randle with the unforced error on a cross

> Nicks continues his touchdown-free year in the back corner

> On third and goal from the 11, Manning ducks a blitzer but can't find his receiver in bounds for another unforced error

> Fox can't tell us who's hurt for the Eagles on the play, because that might involve the passing of information (it's Cary Williams from an eye poke)

> Blue takes an illegal snap penalty, which is new for everyone, really; Brown makes from 33 anyway, and it's 9-0 Blue

> McCoy makes a man miss and converts on third and short, and that's almost helpful

> McCoy crushed on the counter as Vick doesn't look in anyway threatening to the Giant ends

> C Jason Kelcie nearly disasters a snap, but Vick covered it for his only good play of the day

> Blue flinches to make it 3rd and 5, but TE Zach Ertz doesn't get separation or make a play, and that's another stop

> The last two games really isn't doing much for the idea that Kelly's offense can win in the NFL

> Manning to FB John Conner, who is embarrassingly open for a first

> 193 to 27 in yards at the 24 minute mark is making me wonder if there's some way I can stop watching football

> On third and 1, Manning from a spread offense to Nicks for the first, and why they don't just run it there, I have no idea

> Manning to Cruz for the winning DPI call, and that's all kinds of bull compared to what's been called in the game up to now

> Kendricks with a nice stop on Hillis to force a third and long at the edge of field goal range

> Manning avoids a sack from Boykin to save FG range, and that's a three point play

> Brown from 46, and he barely makes it to make it 12-0 Blue

> Matt Barkley in at the 2:24 mark, and hoo boy, here we go

> Barkley fumbles a snap, but gets it to Celek for yards, then backs it up for a first down

> Barkley to Jackson for the long and good out, and that's even competent

> Barkley misses an open DJ on a free play on offisdes, but picks up 15 for a weak late hit from DE Matthias Kiwanuka

> Ertz can't catch a hot cross for a big missed opportunity, but the touch on that was non-existent

> Wheel route to McCoy gets a flag on LB Jon Beason for another first, and Blue looks a little wobbly on defense now

> DJ for a nice little gain on a bubble screen for eight, and hmm

> McCoy dances the sidelines for another first, and this almost resembles fun

> Barkley to WR Jason Avant for a goal to go, and why Kelly takes timeout here, I don't know

> Barkley with a disaster play and fumble, and no, I wasn't surprised, having watched Eagle football for the past few years

> You could have, um, given the ball to McCoy there after so many consecutive passes, without a timeout

> That's four drives and four turnovers for Barkley, and honestly, a TD makes this an actual game and everything, since Green gets the ball to start the second half

> On 3rd and 6, the defense can't get Hillis on the ground, so ends any chance for points

> Green is booed off the field, with cause, en route to their 10th straight home loss

> KR Damaris Jackson had an actual return to start the second half, maybe the first of he year

> McCoy and Jackson for a first down with actual crisp offense

> Kelcie with an offsides, which should never happen

> McCoy with two more good runs, and Brown gets the last yard to recover from the flag with three runs

> DJ nearly fumbles at the end of a good bubble, but it gets out of bounds

> McCoy returns on third and 2 and gets it easily; nice tempo now

> Shady makes a man miss in the backfield for another nice gain, but he can't do it on second down, with Barkley just not taking the edge at all

> On third and five, Barkley holds it forever for the sack, then Kelly goes for it on 4th and 9, rather than try a 50-yarder; Barkley misses Avant and yeesh

> That was the first drive in Barkley's career that didn't end in a turnover

> Cruz got savaged by Fletcher on a play that wasn't a penalty but will be a fine

> S Nate Allen with a nice stop on Nicks, and that's a three and out when the team desperately needed it

> Great punt by Weatherford to make things difficult for Green as Cruz leaves for the probable concussion

> Three runs and out for Green as Barkley just makes the read option a joke

> P Donnie Jones bombs one for effort, but short of Blue mistakes, this one's over

> Manning gets a grounding on a rush by LB Connor Barwin, and why these flags always take a committee now, I have no idea

> Batted ball by Barwin on the next play as actual evidence of crowd noise enters the stadium

> Second straight three and out for the defense, who, just like last week, deserves better

> Weatherford destroys a punt that Jackson can't field, and that's another huge play for the Blue punter

> WR Riley Cooper with a catch, which is one of those things we have to notice, really

> Brown destroyed by DE Justin Tuck as Barkley seems incapable of pulling the ball back for any reason whatsoever

> Barkley to Jackson, who doesn't take the right line to move the sticks, and that's a three and out

> It's getting harder and harder to see how this isn't actually a terrible offense

> Jones with his worst punt of the day, just to make sure no one feels good about their game

> On third and one, toss sweep to RB Michael Cox, who barely gets it, but it says something about where Coughlin thinks this game is

> Cruz returns, and that's three quarters of why are we watching this

> Eli starts the fourth looking particularly aggrieved on personnel movement before a motion flag

> Manning takes a delay flag, just to remind everyone that Blue isn't very good, either

> Nicks can't get the feet down in the end zone, yet again

> Third and seven is stopped, and if you have Josh Brown in fantasy, you are the only happy person watching this game

> I guess it's still a game at 15-0, but um, it's not

> Barkley with yet another lack of awareness sack

> Johnson got a catch, which is another of those depressingly rare events

> On third and four from mid-field, missed assignment, destroyed QB, and a concession punt

> Jones makes the, um, strategy even worse with a middling kick

> On 3rd and 5, Cruz for the slant and conversion, nice courage after the earlier injury

> On third and 5, Boykinw with the break up on a throw to Nicks, and that was nice

> Avant gets called for a push off rather than convert a fourth down, and yeah, that's this team

> On 4th and 20, check down and yeah, you can start freely streaming defenses against Green in fantasy

> A Manning sack by DT Fletcher Cos with 4:20 left counts as, I guess, the defensive highlight

> An unreal mistake on STs, with Weatherford not kicking the ball out of the end zone, and it's suddenly 15-7

> Kelly doesn't go for two, because he doesn't want to, um, ruin the momentum

> Eagle Fan actually sings the theme song after that, because, well, why not

> Kelly goes for an onside kick, which doesn't work at all, and, um, I have no idea why he did that

> On third and 2 with a killshot in front of them, the Giants take another delay penalty, just to make sure everyone knows they aren't any good, either

> It's a shame either team has to win this game

> On 3rd and 7, Manning finds Myers, who gets away with OPI to end this

> Barkley showed all kinds of arm in the third Eagle turnover of the day

> The Giants are now 2-6, and just need Dallas to fall apart to still be alive in the awful East

> I'm trying to remain optimistic about the Kelly Era... but it's getting lonely on this bandwagon

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NBA 2013 Predictions: The All Or Nothing Association

Simple Game, Really
Ever play poker for free, where you can't actually win or lose any money at all? It's a breathtakingly pointless exercise, even though you sometimes have to do it, say, if you want to teach the game to kids. (By the way, teach your kids how to play poker. Massive benefit in showing how math has real-world application, and why paying attention is important.) But if you are playing for no money with people who ostensibly know how to play, it quickly becomes unreality, because everyone just shoves their stack in the middle and hopes for the best.

That's kind of what is going to happen in the NBA this year.

There are teams that haven't been in the playoffs who desperately want to be back, even if it means just being a speed bump for a top seed. That would include Washington, Cleveland, Charlotte and Detroit in the East, and New Orleans, Sacramento, the Lakers and Minnesota in the West. There are teams that look like they are trying to lose so many games, they can just forfeit in March and April and save on travel costs. That would be Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Milwaukee in the East, and Phoenix and Utah in the West. There are mediocre squads that are loading up for a rent a pennant (Brooklyn and Dallas), and others that seem to have lost the fastball and are lining up for a controlled descent (Denver, Memphis, Portland). But when you close all the doors, bolt all the windows and look seriously, what's really going on is that the league is stratifying into a clear top tier, a much less settled second level of pretenders, and then over half the league wondering if it should start punting games as soon as possible to prevent the rush.

This, but the way, is A Big Problem. NBA fantasy honks are pretty rare, and attending a game is not a wonderful experience if you are not a swell; there are going to be untold number of franchises where the fan base will support the decision to tank, but not go to the games. And with Miami the clear favorite to win its third straight championship (and, um, go to the Finals for the fourth straight time), there's also going to be lots of folks just taking a miss on the year. It's the dark side of memorable dynasties; a rationing of interest for non-blessed teams.

But that's not to say the year isn't going to be a blast. For perhaps the first time in the history of the NBA, you can win a championship without a dominant big man, or even a generational talent at point guard. There are so many ways to build a contending franchise now, with talent coming in from all six continents that have people in them, that it's just fascinating to watch, especially when you get to the playoffs. But the playoffs are actually foretold, quite effectively actually, by the deeply slandered regular season. Which starts Tuesday. So let's get to some predictions.

Atlantic

Brooklyn 53-29
New York 48-34
Toronto 32-50
Boston 24-58
Philadelphia 12-70

Brooklyn becomes the new Boston -- slow, methodical, good on defense, with repugnant fans and just plain difficult to watch -- but with the effectiveness brought on by a bench and the idea that the fourth and fifth guys on the floor at any time are going to be quality. Rookie head coach Jason Kidd will have issues in the playoffs, but not now. New York will not react well to becoming the second-place team in town, nor to watching post-paid J.R. Smith go back to poor habits. The real issue with this team is the simple fact that until they amnesty Amar'e Stoudemire, they just don't fit. Toronto has athletes to spare, but no one plays defense, and there's no one on the rostet that can get Late and Close shots to go, or foul whistles to be blown. Boston has too much of a home-court and young talent to tank effectively, and will find someone from the Jared Sullinger / Kelly Olynyk combo to give them an effective scoring big. Philly is clearly the worst team in the league, but will still win more than the league record of games (9) because the East is loaded with other bad clubs, and the schedule has too many opportunities for a team that tries to sneak in a win or two every ten. Besides, I think they'll try on defense, and good things happen when you try.

Central

Chicago 60-22
Indiana 51-31
Cleveland 44-38
Detroit 41-41
Milwaukee 20-62

Meet the new best team in the East -- but only if they are healthy. When the Bulls run out Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, they may have the best 2-way 5-man lineup in the Association, and that goes with the second-best coach. Combine that with the bright and shining star that is an avenging Rose, and you get a team that is going to tear up the league, let alone the division. Indiana's time has come and gone, with last year's not good enough tight rotation becoming a hodge-podge of parts with Luis Scola and Danny Granger joining the band. Sometimes, more is less. Cleveland will run and fun their way into a low playoff seed (perhaps with LeBron and Co. coming to town to sweep them! wouldn't that be fun!), but the bigs aren't stable or experienced enough to go further in 2013. Detroit is better with Josh Smith and (shh!) Chauncey Billups, but not to the point of relevance, and between Josh Smith and Andre Drummond, you are going to see Hack A Piston at the end of any close game. Milwaukee lost their starting back court of talented but troubled ball hogs, and replaced it with a back court of less talented and less troubled ball hogs. Progress!

Southeast

Miami 56-26
Washington 48-34
Orlando 34-48
Charlotte 34-48
Atlanta 25-57

The seeds of the Miami playoff defeat will be sown in the regular season, where the combination of frontcourt issues (Chris Anderson is older than you think, and won't give them the same level they had last year), questionable depth (really, they are relying on Michael Beasley for anything, and won't miss Mike Miller?), age (Shane Battier and, shh, Dwyane Wade) and the lassitude brought on by multiple Game Seven suckouts will create strain and extra minutes for LeBron James and Chris Bosh. They'll still be hell on wheels on defense, and it's not as if James will stop being the best player in the world, but there are cracks here, and they are getting wider. Washington will actually give them trouble from time to time, especially now that Marcin Gortat has been emancipated from Phoenix, allowing Nene to move to power forward and some ungainly slob to go to ground. If Otto Porter can get over his health issues and give them the all-around player they need at the 3, the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal will do the rest. Fun times and  maybe even a home seed in the playoffs await. Orlando and Charlotte will both win more games than expected with their new additions (Victor Oladipo and Al Jefferson) providing value, while Atlanta will pull the chutes after a slow start and deal Al Horford for lottery balls.

Playoffs

First round: Chicago over Detroit, Miami over Cleveland, Brooklyn over New York, Washington over Indiana

Second round: Chicago over Washington, Miami over Brooklyn

Conference finals: Chicago over Miami

Northwest

Oklahoma City 54-28
Denver 45-37
Minnesota 44-36
Portland 35-47
Utah 22-62

OKC will struggle without Russell Westbrook at the start, but it's actually going to be the best thing for them in the long run, as it will force them to develop Reggie Jackson and rookie center Steven Adams, who will emerge over sluggish Kendrick Perkins to give the team their most effective frontcourt combination and third guard of the bench. Denver is nowhere near the threat they appeared to be last year, but so long as they have altitude, Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried, they are a playoff club, and if Danilo Gallinari can make it back in time, maybe even a little dangerous. Minnesota needs Ricky Rubio to shoot better and Kevin Love to stay healthy; they'll get the latter, but not the former, and be more fun to watch than actually good. Portland continues to exist as every NBA GM's object lesson of why tank or shove is the only way, and Utah will try to win games in front of the NBA's secretly meanest fan base without, well, front-line talent. With a point guard (rookie Trey Burke) who doesn't look ready for the Association, and no front-court depth. Good luck with all of that.

Pacific

LA Clippers 58-24
Golden State 56-26
LA Lakers 44-38
Sacramento 30-52
Phoenix 28-54

Ready to hear how good Doc Rivers is as a coach? You will, all year long, as he guides this loaded Clipper club to another good regular season that won't end well in the playoffs. As always with this team, it's all about how healthy (and for how long) Chris Paul is, and if they can get anything near to the rebounding and defense that they should out of freakishly overrated power forward Blake Griffin. Oh, and it would also be nice if center DeAndre Jordan got his free throws to be better than a coin flip. But on the plus side, JJ Redick is going to help them a lot, and so will Darren Collison at third guard and Antwan Jamison at bench PF. Yes, Jamison is all kinds of spent, but at least he's not Lamar Odom, and Rivers might also get something out of Byron Mullens, too. But it won't matter later. Nipping at their heels all year will be the Warriors, who need to go from darling to dominant without losing that Splash Brother identity. Kobe Bryant and a going out on his terms Steve Nash will force the Lakers back into the playoff picture for no good reason, while Sacramento will be a tough game with a lot of close losses from being too young to finish. Phoenix is tanking and should lose more than 54 games, but the backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, combined with a good home court and worse luck, will get them a few too many wins for prime lottery.

Southwest

San Antonio 55-27
Houston 48-34
Memphis 46-36
Dallas 45-37
New Orleans 38-44

The only division in basketball without a tanking team, and all kinds of meat grinder. San Antonio will rely more on Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter than last year, but this club still goes as far as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan will lead them, and that's a lot, really. If Danny Green can effectively supplant Manu Ginobili as the missing piece, a Finals return is not out of the question. Houston is going to be everyone's darling with Dwight Howard, but he's not that much better than Omer Asik. The real growth here is James Harden getting even better, and Patrick Beverly getting Jeremy Lin out of the starting lineup. Memphis could slide farther than third without HC Lionel Hollins, but the defensive ball pressure and unique big man rotation will keep them from going too far too quickly. Dallas has sneaky powers with Dirk Nowitzki looking back online, but the rent-a-roster routine that they do while trying to stay perpetually available to be spurned by A-list free agents isn't helping, and Monta Ellis has never been close to a playoff winning team for cause. New Orleans shoved to get Jrue Holiday to go with Anthony Davis, and maybe I'm giving them short shrift... but they are still relying on Eric Gordon's glass ankles and a front court with journeymen at center and power forward. Ryan Anderson is useful against some teams, and a defensive sieve against others. I just don't see it gelling here.

Playoffs

First round: LA Clippers over Denver, San Antonio over Dallas, Oklahoma City over Memphis, Golden State over Houston

Second round: LA Clippers over Golden State, Oklahoma City over San Antonio

Conference Finals: Oklahoma City over LA Clippers

Finals: Chicago over Oklahoma City

All NBA First Team: Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Tim Duncan

Second Team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Dirk Nowitzki

Third Team: John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers

Most Improved: Eric Bledsoe

Sixth Man: Reggie Jackson

Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

MVP: LeBron James

Season starts Tuesday. Let's get tanking!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Rams called Brett Favre

Has His Own Hat
10) Well, he does have more of a future than Kellen Clemens

9) Feel he'd be a great mentor to Sam Bradford, in that Bradford has really struggled with the whole Media Whoredom aspect of being an NFL QB

8) It's Jeff Fisher's best joke yet on Vince Young

7) Want to do the entire NFL fan base a solid by getting Favre killed

6) Hey, it still makes more sense than calling Tim Tebow

5) Kurt Warner has filed a restraining order

4) Got the memo from the NFL that it's their turn to try to employ him

3) Easiest way to remind everyone that St. Louis still has an NFL team

2) Wanted to make you feel even worse about watching their upcoming Monday night squash job against the Seahawks

1) It's been a solid six months since Favre got to tell everyone about how good of a father and grandfather he is now, and how much of a piece of crap he was for making enough money to more or less make sure that they never want for anything ever again

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Week 8 NFL Picks: Turning Tide Or Setting Sun

Subject To Interpretation
Here's what an era of Rebuilding Year / Not Enough Good Fantasy League Keepers and Good Grief, Every Point Spread Game Is Going Wrong brings you... middling weeks that feel like Progress. My fantasy team had a nice little week and surged all the way up to, um, 10th. Out of 12. My real-life laundry got curb-stomped at home by an indifferent Dallas team, but at least the defense is looking mediocre rather than god-awful. We also got past the idea that you might one day feel good about Nick Foles being your QB. That may not seem like progress to you, but it kind of does to me, actually. There's something about looking like Napoleon Dynamite that tells me that you are never going to win playoff games, really.

So I'm actually strangely encouraged coming into this week. I mean, we were almost at .500 for the picks. My guys are on the upswing, with Ryan Matthews doing his annual Not Entirely Useless tease. (Two straight 100-yard games, and actual blitz pick up. Now, if he could just kneecap Danny Trollhead, we might have something.) My laundry might actually win a home game this week for the first time since the NFL was paying replacement refs, Mitt Romney was a presidential candidate regretting that 47% remark, and America was falling in meh with a little movie called "Pi." What an innocent age!

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

CAROLINA (-6) at Tampa Bay

This Tampa losing streak is starting to get serious, folks. On Terrible Night Football, I'm looking for the Panther running game to eventually break through the increasingly depressed Buc front, while WR Steve Smith finds space in front of what is presumed to be a national audience. Tampa will also see what a world in which QB Mike Glennon doesn't have the threat of RB Doug Martin to give him a credible play-action fake. That world is not going to be pretty.

Panthers 24, Bucs 13

Dallas at DETROIT (-3)


Wow, was Dallas ready to take the pipe last week. Dispirited and mistake-filed on offense, just kind of there on defense, but with the gift of an imploding Foles to make their road game for the division lead a winner. This week, I think they play better and get a worse result, as WR Calvin Johnson and the home dome crowd wins the game for the not going away Lions. Oh, and this team having a big TE to make plays is starting to get a bit unfair, really. 8-8 is so winning the East.

Lions 31, Cowboys 24

CLEVELAND (+7.5) at Kansas City


The second straight suicide pool mission for the Browns, who were right there with a cover with honor last week in Green Bay, before giving up even that late. The Browns might actually qualify as the best team that the Chiefs have played this year, who are suddenly left as the only undefeated team left in the NFL. I can't tell you how annoying it will be for Eagle Fan to watch Andy Reid go 18-0 this year and win a Super Bowl. Also, it was a little telling that they almost fell to the Texans starting a third-stringer at QB last week.

Chiefs 24, Browns 20

Miami at NEW ENGLAND (-7)


Seems a little high to me, but after last week's stagger loss in New York, and with TE Rob Gronkowski knocking off some rust, it looks like the time for QB Tom Brady to stop being average. If they get 40 snaps out of WR Danny Amendola before he breaks again, maybe that also helps the Patriots look like themselves. Think they regret that Wes Welker bum rush yet?

Patriots 27, Dolphins 17

Buffalo at NEW ORLEANS (-12)


There are reasons to think that the Bills can cover this number, but they tend to go away when you play QB Thad Lewis and get very little out of fantasy league murderer CJ Spiller. I may not have been right about very much this year, but staying away from Spiller was a huge win. Look for QB Drew Brees to make the Bills look bad on defense, which you can do with the secondary WRs and screen game.

Saints 34, Bills 16

NY Giants at PHILADELPHIA (-6)


I loathe this point spread. Seriously, why on Earth is a team with the longest losing streak in home games in franchise history carrying six points against anyone? Because the Giants are just that anyone, really; short week, on the road, playing for very little, the recipient of a gift win against an equally awful team with a beyond clueless game plan. As for the Eagles, QB Michael Vick might only be 80% with the hamstring and if he doesn't finish this game, we're going to watch rookie QB Matt Barkley threaten to take any remaining faith in the franchise's draft prowess and toss it in an open dumpster. With so many iffy factors, I'm putting my faith in RB Shady McCoy, who does better with Vick in the lineup, and the suddenly tolerable Eagle defense. Still, yeesh. Six points? I object. Just not strongly enough.

Eagles 31, Giants 24

San Francisco at JACKSONVILLE (+17)


You are going to laugh, but I actually feel sneaky good about the Jags this week. Second straight home game, versus a second straight road one for the Niners. WR Justin Blackmon is beasting, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew has had moments recently. The Niner defense has, for the record, had more trouble with RBs in the last month than you might think, and it's not as if the Niners are coming into this game primed for a fight. Between the possibility of a back-door cover or the front-door all-day tussle against a West Coast team playing at 10am PST, I think the Jags lose with honor.

Niners 24, Jaguars 16

NY Jets at CINCINNATI (-7)


We're on the every other week schedule with Jets QB Geno Smith, who has been everything that the Jets could have hoped for. But this week, he goes on the road against a solid front and quality secondary (though they are a little banged up). Cincy has sparked up their offense recently with QB Andy Dalton going on a bit of a hot streak, and while that's not likely to continue too much against the Jets, I like him to make fewer mistakes than Smith, and for the Bengals to prevent the late back door cover.

Bengals 26, Jets 17

Pittsburgh at OAKLAND (+2.5)


With two straight wins after a disaster start, Yinzer Fan is starting to hope about relevant football in cold weather, and a trip to 2-4 Oakland certainly looks like a place where they can get closer. But the Raiders are coming off a bye, have home field, and with QB Terrell Pryor, they've got a guy that can move the chains even if the Steelers defend the starting play. With the room and spy work that he demands, RB Darren McFadden could get loose and do damage. On the other side of the field, I'm not seeing QB Ben Roethlisberger getting enough time and space to put up big numbers... or enough support in the run game, either.

Raiders 24, Steelers 20

Washington at DENVER (-13)


A big number to cover against a suddenly resurgent Bob Griffin, with a Bronco team coming off their first loss? Well, sure... but the DC secondary may be the worst that the Broncos will face this year, and it's hard to see how the Bronco defense won't come back with a little starch after that loss. But make no mistake about this; if DC somehow wins this game, they will win the NFC East. Going away.

Broncos 41, Washington 24

Atlanta at ARIZONA (-2.5)


All credit to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who put up numbers last week without either of his starting WRs... but at home is one thing, and on the road is quite another. The Cardinals defense is secretly frisky, too. Arizona QB Carson Palmer has been a turnover machine, but even those take a day off once in a while, and RB Andre Ellington looks like he's going to get loose against the soft Falcon defense.

Cardinals 26, Falcons 20

GREEN BAY (-10) at Minnesota


Have you ever seen a worse offensive game plan than what Vikings HC Leslie Frazier did in that terrible MNF game? On the road in NY, with a QB (Josh Freeman) making his first start after being in town for less than two weeks, with the best RB on the planet... he throws it. And throws it, and throws it, and throws it, despite the utter lack of success in doing that, and a game that was never really out of reach. I can't explain it, other than to wonder if he was trolling the national audience.

Anyway, the Pack aren't in a great position of power to cover a big number. The WRs are hurt, so is TE Jermichael Finley and prominent members of the defense, and they've historically had trouble in this spot. But the Vikings are just so moribund right now, and QB Aaron Rodgers needs this to stay in front in the NFC North. He'll cover this number late, with the running game salting it away.

Packers 27, Vikings 13

SEATTLE (-11) at St. Louis


The benefit of being an emerging team for Seattle is that your road games start showing up in prime time, when the time zone shift is less of an issue and the young and carefree players on your roster are less likely to take an opponent lying down. In St. Louis against a Rams team that is reduced to the immortal Kellen Clemens, with more and more weapons coming back online, this game looks like a runaway to me. If you gave me a passing yardage over/under of 200 yards for St. Louis, I'm taking the under.

Seahawks 34, Rams 13

Last week: 7-8

Year to date: 44-59-4

Career to date: 414-421-4

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The World Series Pick: St. Louis In Six And (Proportionally) Few Care

Unless you sell ads
First, let's get the commerce out of the way, seeing how I'm 5-1 in predicting series to date, and you might actually think that my opinion has some actual worth. Give me St. Louis despite the lack of home field advantage, since they are better in the rotation and defense, and these things matter more when the games are tight. I also think Michael Wacha has got the stuff to put up zeroes in Fenway, that Boston isn't going to get the continued monster late game homers that made the series with Detroit winnable, and that the series is going to go long. Give me the Cards in six, maybe even seven, with Wacha and Wainwright getting it done for them.

Here's the most iron-clad prediction of all: America, by an overwhelming majority, isn't going to watch it.

Why? Well, because baseball has two fan bases now: the regular season mercenary nit gamblers of fantasy, and the regional bases for the main. Since there isn't anything close to a dynasty now, and fantasy sports have made hating fan bases much more likely than hating players, there isn't nearly the same juice to root against a team. So if you aren't rooting for one of these clubs, you aren't watching the games and rooting for the other side.

And, well, there are a lot of Red Sox and Cardinals fans, but an awful lot more who aren't. Trust me, Red Sox and Cardinal Fan, the Cub and Yankee audience stopped watching baseball a long time ago, and will not watch a minute more of it in 2013. If your team loses, they'll be a little happy and relieved; if your team wins, a little bent, but we are a distracted nation with an ever-shrinking attention span, and relief from outcomes that do not make us happy is just a Netflix queue, on-demand DVR, or burst of Web video away. As soon as your series is over, they'll start the clock for spring training as if 2013 never happened. The only people who are going to be bitter about your win are, well, the fans of the other team in this series. And neither of you care about them, since you only ever run into those guys once every five to ten years, when you both find each other in a Series again.

Next, there's the schedule. Game Four of the Series runs against Packers-Vikings on SNF, and as meh of a matchup as that is with Josh Freeman hurting the grass with footballs, it's still going to get 3X the rating of even a potential season-ending baseball game. Game 5 runs against Seahawks-Rams on MNF, and Seattle is getting a ton of interest now as the seeming favorite to go to the Super Bowl in the NFC. Game Seven is Thursday, and would run against Bengals at Dolphins on Terrible Night Football. Even that game, assuming the series goes that long, is probably going to outdraw baseball. Even on the freaking NFL Network.

That's because football is not just king in America, but also Ace, Queen, Jack and every other card in the deck. Baseball might still be the best game to actually watch at the venue, and if the team you are emotionally invested in makes it, it will take over your time, same as always. But the game has no casual fans any more. All of those people have fantasy football teams now, and many more ways to entertain themselves than Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and all of the other olds who want to pretend that baseball is the same as it ever was. It's not, especially if you are under 35. (And if you really want to hurt MLB Fan, compare their game's numbers to the WWE... or that, short of the Dodgers beating the Cardinals, this was far and away their best hope for "big" ratings. A Tampa-Oakland series, they might have shown on FX, rather than Fox...)

Oh, and if you think I'm overstating this? Last week's MNF game was between the 0-6 Giants and the 1-5 Vikings. The game was, somehow, even worse to watch. And 15 million people tuned into it. Yeesh.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Better Safe Than Good

Yeah, Less Of This Please
So the not terribly surprising, but downright disappointing news today out of Sixer Camp... #1 pick, and bounty from the Jrue Holiday trade, Nerlens Noel is likely to be held out for the entire 2013-14 season as he recovers from knee surgery.

It is, of course, the smart move to make. The Sixers are in full tank mode for the 2014 draft, and are a strong candidate to set a new NBA record for futility as hey collect lottery tickets. When you don't have enough reasonable NBA level players to field a starting five -- seriously, no one know who the shooting guard is going to be here, and there's copious amounts of Spencer Hawes and Eric Turner on hand -- you are going to be spectacularly bad.

Had Noel come back quickly this year, he might have sold a few tickets, and much more importantly, gotten his feet wet with the pro game. His offensive game is still rudimentary at best, and it would have been nice to have him get out the rookie shakes when the only thing at stake is getting enough wins to the worst team ever.

Of course, it doesn't really help that this is the franchise that just traded for a big man that didn't ever play for them, thanks to a knee issue...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fantasy Basketball: Top 10 Undevalued and Overrated

Dirk's Revenge
In which I try to regift my prep work from my draft into useful nuggets of goodness. As always, take with a shaker of salt.

Top 10 Undervalued

1) Dirk Nowitzki
. This year has got a lot of Forgot About Dirk about it, as he's been all kinds of solid with the poor health fading in the distance, and has had all kinds of rest with the lack of playoffs in 2012-13. He's also going to love having Jose Calderon feed him, and after watching Dwight Howard play Mark Cuban like a rube, knows that any good free agent help is going to have to see him back at full effectiveness to avoid a late career of meh. And from a fantasy standpoint, you have to love a high percentage guy at PF/C, with threes, and high minutes. Look for a Tim Duncan-ish bounce back to All-NBA levels of production.

2) Kyrie Irving. This is the year he stays healthy, because this is the year where Cleveland goes to the playoffs. Coincidence? Anthony Bennett in the mix in the front court means one more pair of legs running with him, and Jarrett Jack in the backcourt also means that he's got a more effective running mate than coltish Dion Waiters. The only way this fails is if Andrew Bynum actually comes back and starts dominating the ball in a slow down game, but betting against Bynum would have made you a lot of money for a while now. This is your starter in the East at PG, and the trigger man for the conference's breakout team.

3) Andre Iguodala. In pre-season, has looked like a perfect fit in the Dub attack. While the offense is never getting back to the high teens level in scoring -- he's simply not good enough from the free throw line anymore, and it looks like it's a permanent yips problem to me -- the defense is going to be nice. Going from Denver to Golden State might be the only possible way to increase your tempo, too. He'll be on a lot of winning fantasy teams, where he'll give them another point guard, but with board and FG percentage.

4) Larry Sanders. Last year's breakout defensive stud still has some edges to his game and room to grow, but all of that is going to happen. He'll hurt you at the free throw line, but not terribly, since he doesn't get there very often. Also, he's not going to get whistled for as many ticky-tack fouls as last year, nor come off the floor for the now-departed Samuel Dalembert. With minutes comes growth, and Milwaukee knows they need him to get past the 8th seed and stuffed treadmill.

5) Thaddeus Young. Someone's got to score for the tanking Sixers, and Thad's going to have any number of opportunities at the rim from misses, and more happily, passes from point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Any close game, he's not coming out, and he's too good of a soldier to not try, or get dealt. The Sixers are going to be a secret little treasure trove of fantasy goodness from trying to get more tempo in their games this year, and from not having anything close to a professional bench. Oh, and they're all going to hustle and sell out on defense, because the new regime isn't going to give minutes to anyone who isn't trying. (Lavoy Allen, report to Wilmington...)

6) Derrick Favors. Unlike fellow frontcourt mate Enes Kanter or the hyped Gordon Hayward, Favors has actual game and hops, and won't get exposed on defense with more minutes. My only worry here is foul trouble, and his game is pretty heady for a young guy. Potential for very strong defense and board numbers here, and it's not as if the Jazz have anyone else to take minutes off him. Expect a ton of athletic minutes in a featured role. That way lies profit.

7) Ricky Rubio. A bit of a feel play here, as the percentages are still cover your eyes awful from time to time, and I get the feeling that he's always going to be more fun to watch than to own. But the plain and simple of the Wolves is that Kevin Love isn't going to have a waste year again, they've got better management now, and more of those Woo! passes are going to get converted. Also, he's just going to get more minutes, since he'll be further past the injuries, and the Wolves are highly interested in ending that playoff drought.

8) DeMarcus Cousins. Every year in the NBA, a guy who was formerly known more for being a head case turns it around and becomes the star that everyone was hoping for. This year, that's Boogie Cousins, who will benefit from the settling impact of the Maloof Goofs not being involved in the Kings any more, along with a far more competitive backcourt situation of guys that will get him the rock and not brick a billion balls. It also doesn't hurt that one-trick charging pony Tyreke Evans is gone, actual point guard Greivis Vasquez is here, and Ben McLemore will keep Jimmer Fredette from getting on the floor. Things are looking up for the Kings.

9) Eric Bledsoe. Looking for an under the radar fun club to fill up your late night NBA League Pass nights? Look no further than Phoenix, where Bledsoe combines with Goran Dragic to form a wildly fun backcourt of speed and craft, where the littles penetrate and the bigs make threes. (Speaking of such things, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris are going to be good candidates for deep leagues.) Bledsoe is going to give you one of those 15/5/5 lines with defense and threes that's the backbone of championship teams, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he breaks out puts more than a few monster games on the board. Phoenix is also going to be one of those perfect fantasy teams -- speed, no defense, no bench -- that you're going to want to get a part of, both for and against. Dig in.

10) Victor Oladipo. My pick for Rookie of the Year, not because he's the best player, but because he's in the best situation. Oladipo has insane athleticism for a point guard, mostly because he isn't one, but the Magic are going to want to try to force him into that role to get the aging and smurfy Jameer Nelson off the floor. Which means more minutes and the ball in his hands, and a host of opponents that he can muscle into defensive goodness. On the offensive end of the court, he'll have Nicola Vucevic to pad his assist totals, Arron Afflalo back to make some threes, Tobias Harris to run with, and a rebuilding team bench to make sure that he stays on the floor too often. Counting stats abound.

Top 10 Overvalued

1) Deron Williams.
Every year, people overpay for the Net guard in the hope that with more talent around him, everything is going to snap back to the good times, when he was a top-tier option. Hell, I did last year, too. But the plain and simple is that he's never getting back to full health, point guard is a terrible place to be limited athletically, and noobs Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are going to dominate the ball in half court and slow the game down. When your best option to get out in the open court and run is 33-year-old Andrei Kirilenko, you are not going to rack up big-time assist numbers.

2) Josh Smith. Do you want to buy in to the glorified hustle forward who just cashed in on a huge free agent contract to go to a new team that expects instant playoff goodness despite mismatched talent and weak backcourt play? Me neither. I look for No J Smoove to lapse back into bad habits of thinking he can shoot 3s, then alternate between trying too much and not trying enough as not a point guard Brandon Jennings jacks up more ill-advised shots. Unless you are in his posse and enjoying that new contract, stay away.

3) Dwyane Wade. Let's say, for fun, that he's healthy, even though he isn't. Let's also say that the Heat aren't going to explore bench options while winning their usual 60 to 65 games, and that they won't be primarily locked down into making sure that everyone is healthy for the Threepeat Assault. And finally, let's say that point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole won't take more of a role this year, or that they won't give burn to Michael Beasley in an attempt to get some value out of that troubled asset. Roll that all together, and what do you get? A multi-cat shooting guard who will shoot over 50% from the floor, and give you 21/5/5 with great defense numbers... for about 60 to 65 games, with increasing shakiness from the FT line, and next to no threes. Which means you'll have to make up those bombs from somewhere else. Oh, and if you play in head to head leagues with an April championship on the line, enjoy him sitting out on the bench to make sure he's rested for the playoffs. When your best case scenario is a massive roster complication that's not good enough to win with, you don't want to see what the worst does to you. Let someone else make this mistake, unless he's still out there after the first 50 picks come off the board. Or maybe 60.

4) Dwight Howard. I know what you are saying; it's a bounce-back year. Even last year, the worst in his professional career, he gave you a ton of boards, blocks, scoring and FG%. You don't have to like him; hell, no one does, and this is a fake squad. All of which is fine, if you someone can manage the tire fire FT%, don't believe that the moodiness or injuries will return, or aren't concerned that he doesn't really fit in with the rest of the run and fun Rockets now that he's older. I can see going for Howard if he's giving you 25 points, 14 boards, 1.5 steals and 3.0 blocks a game... but he's not. It's more like 18/12/1/2.5, and there are any number of guys with lesser names that will get you close to that without murdering you at the line. There's a reason why this guy doesn't show up on championship rosters, both in real life and fake.

5) Russell Westbrook. If you are in a keeper league and can get him for low money due to the injury, that's awesome. You will be a monster in 2014. But for redraft leagues or if your league mates are still in love with his talent, this season isn't going to be profitable. Assuming that the comeback is fast and trouble-free -- never a good assumption to make, and one that fantasy guys do all the time -- he's still going to see fewer minutes in the future, because OKC is going to be paranoid about making sure he's right for the playoffs. Also, back-up Reggie Jackson is actually good and will give them more time and cushion, and the club is also going to want to see about other bench options. The Thunder won a ton of regular season games; they are going to care more about playoff wins now. That doesn't mean 40 minutes a game for Russell any more.

6) Eric Gordon. Is anyone still convinced that he's going to be special, or that the Clippers didn't win that Chris Paul trade hands over fists? I was never really in love with his game -- too empty calories for me -- and that was before injuries robbed him of any margin for error. Now that the Pelicans have shiny new toys in Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday in town, along with a very strong need to make the playoffs and avoid having that draft night trade with Philly blow up in their faces, they are going to be far less patient with shoot your way out of it efforts. Let someone else take the new Allen Houston.

7) JR Smith. Do you want the career knucklehead in Manhattan in the post-paid year, with calming influence Jason Kidd long gone? I certainly don't, and even in his good soldier mode, he's a black hole on assists and prone to stinkburger nights that kill you in head to head. On a club where Amar'e Stoudemire isn't going to take looming obsolescence lying down, Ray Felton isn't getting any younger, and the whole franchise is about to enter Free Agent Melo Drama... danger, Will Robinson. Oh, and you've also got those games against the Nets for possible fights and suspensions. Let someone else buy into this circus.

8) Zach Randolph. Do you know that Zebo is secretly old, and has been in the NBA since the Jail Blazers were a thing? Also, that Memphis just ran the only coach that had actual results, has a stable of other bigs who aren't limited to below the rim old man craftiness, and that he's horrible on defensive counting numbers? It was a great late career story while it lasted, but Randolph is going to become a role player pretty soon, and it should happen on someone else's roster.

9) David West. Is this any way to treat a free agent that takes a hometown discount? West resigned with the Pacers to fill out his post-peak years, only to see them bring in Luis Scola from Phoenix -- in other words, a vet who is incredibly similar to him -- as well as the return of small forward and former big man on campus Danny Granger. There's no way that he sees the minutes and touches that he did when he was a sneaky good source of points, boards and defense while not hurting you at the line. What might be good for the real team isn't good for your fake one. Unless you are in a deep league, West is no better than free agent fodder now.

10) Jeremy Lin. Everyone's favorite novelty act vagabond point guard is sure to benefit from Dwight Howard coming to town, right? Well, sure... if the Rockets slow it down and he can play a pick and roll game with him, and have the center erase his gambling mistakes and inability to stop speed guards on the perimeter. But I think the Rockets limit Howard's minutes for all kinds of reasons, then remember how much more dynamic they were with beasty back-up Patrick Beverly in there. Or to just let James Harden go alpha dog and dominate the ball, and bring in someone else with more D and 3 potential than Lin. When your top end is 12/3/6, and point guards are plentiful, Linsanity is an easy mental problem to dodge.

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