Saturday, November 30, 2013

The FTT Movie Review: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire

Steals This Movie
I took the Shooter Eldest to this tonight, as she's a fan of the YA book series, and frankly, so am I. (I haven't quite given up reading to her at night, because I'm That Kind Of Dad.) The books are a bit overwrought and overwritten -- the phrase Torture Porn comes to mind -- but the simple conceit of Reality Show Will Get You Killed in a Future Dystopia is so obviously money, I'm just about kicking myself that I didn't come up with it myself.

The first film was a bit of a slog, really; a little too much like an indie movie rather than a blockbuster, and the presence of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role as a phenomenally put-upon girl on the cusp of womanhood was a bit of a stretch, since Lawrence has, well, the hips of a 20-year-old, which she was during the filming of that movie, and kept popping up at distracting moments. I also tend to lose my sense of disbelief when I've seen actors in other roles, and Lawrence's work in the great "Winter's Bone" had locked her into my memory as Not Katniss Everdeen. But the movie was good enough to get us to Film 2, and man alive, it's a great Film 2.

Honestly, there might not be a better cast in a blockbuster trilogy well, ever. (And yes, I know that I just did a great disservice to the Lord of the Ring movies, which I also adore.)  Lawrence is amazing; able to convey the gamut of emotions required without ever lapsing into mawkishness. Woody Harrelson steals just about every scene he's in as the bitter drunken veteran mentor Haymitch, assuming he's not in a scene with Elizabeth Banks as overmatched comic relief, but not quite, peacock Effie Trinket. Donald Sutherland is downright menacing without ever getting his hands dirty, or even raising his voice. You ache for his comeuppance, even when he seems monstrously reasonable, or at the very least, chillingly realistic.

And there's just great actors all over the place, even in tiny roles. Look close and see Paula Malcomson, stupendously great in "Deadwood", as Katniss's mother. Stanley Tucci is making a million choices at once as the borderline manic MC Caesar Flickerman, and he's absolutely aces. Phil Seymour Hoffman is understated and masterful as Gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee, and keeps his cards so close to the vest, it;s as if he's not even acting, or under any kind of stress. Oh, and three more: Jeffrey Wright from "Boardwalk Empire" as Beetee, Amanda Plummer as cohort Wiress, and utter scene-stealer Jena Malone (that's her above: she's going to be working in movies for a real damned long time) as shameless contestant Johanna Mason. The cast is dozens strong, and there isn't a weak hire in the bunch. You find yourself just falling into the story and not minding the time -- nearly 2.5 hours of it -- because there's just great scene after great scene.

Next, the pace. "Fire" drags a bit in book form, because it takes a long time to get back into the arena, and on some level, you just know that's where we have to go. The conceit is too original to move away from it, and Book 2 of a 3-book series always has challenges, since some part of you knows that the protagonist isn't getting offed. But the movie doesn't have these issues, because you're not bogged down in the details, or locked in the increasingly erratic narration of the protagonist. In the movie, non-Katniss scenes can play out and speed up the exposition, rather than stay in stop/start mode. It also helps that the fairly heavy-handed universal nature of author Suzanne Collins' work (equal parts food, fashion, violence and romance, always punctuated by fairly artificial cliffhangers) can be whisked away through the usual truncated nature of movie-making. Some books suffer in the translation to movie, but The Hunger Games, especially since it's so involved in the artifice of media, is not one of those books.

Finally, there's something pretty great about an action movie series where the gender roles aren't just reversed, but downright transmogrified. Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen isn't de-sexualized or made unrecognizable, any more than Josh Hutcherson's Peeta Mellark is turned into weak masculinity through his choices, either. When people are killed in these movies, there is no shouts of victory or athletic achievement; there is, instead, gravity and consequence, as if something terrible and taboo has happened. People aren't indestructible or heroic; they are fallible, desperate, gritty and afflicted. I can't tell you how welcome that is, really. You get to watch a blockbuster series without feeling like you have to check your brain at the door.

In short, this series mirrors the age and culture of current youth, where gender does not limit the kind of person you can be, or the roles you can choose. One of the best and toughest men in the series is Lenny Kravitz rocking metallic eyeliner as the subversive fashion designer Cinna, and he does that with the classic close-mouthed mystery of the best male role models. Seriously, dude is the most bad ass designer ever, because the genius of this series is that badassery is not gender or role specific, and no one is unbelievable, even when they are dressed like fools, or behaving like misanthropes. It's grim and funny, portent and trenchant, and deserves to make the stunning amount of money that it's going to make, because it's actually got ideas behind the eye candy.

And really, can you ask for anything more from a movie, let alone one with a big budget?

Friday, November 29, 2013

The San Francisco Giants Are Asshats

To the right, you see an actual licensed shirt that you can buy from the Giants.

No, really.

You see, the franchise that has a universally admired ballpark, two recent rings, virtual domination over the airways and broadcast rights over one of the most prosperous areas of the country, and a long-standing fairly tenuous hold over the San Jose market, therefore cutting off the A's only obvious move to stay in the area and to avoid scarring their fan base for good...

Has decided to make a few extra bucks being a douchebag via swag, and to give all of their fans an opportunity to join in the fun.

You know who has too much class to do this? The Yankees and Mets. The Cubs and White Sox. The Angels and Dodgers and Padres. The Jets and Giants. The Raiders and Niners. The Knicks and Nets. The Lakers and Clippers. A pretty wide cross-section of sports ownership groups, many of them ran by guys who are not generally known for good decision making.

And then there's the Giants.

You know, the franchise that got its ballpark built on dot-com thievery (Webvan, if anyone remembers it, and the innumerable investors that lost everything from putting stock in that mess) and the era defining steroid cheater. The franchise of people who like a place more than they like the game. The franchise that signs one of the biggest free-agent bust / poison pill contracts ever in Barry Zito, and then watches him bunch all of his good starts into one brief burst in 2012 to get them a second random ring. The franchise that moved from New York, but since it wasn't Brooklyn, no one kept a vigil for them back East. The franchise that has still, despite all of their recent success and 3 to 4X payroll advantage for the past 10 to 15 years, far fewer World Series wins, even if you only want to count the past 40-odd years when both teams were in the area.

Yeah, no one mentions the elephant. Which is why Michael Lewis and Brad Pitt and the best seller lists and Oscar nominations went to a book about them. Which is why they've made the playoffs and won their division far more often, along with developing Hall of Fame talent like Reggie Jackson, Ricky Henderson and Rollie Fingers, and any number of guys who have gotten consideration (Dave Stewart, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco) or will get future votes (Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Jason Giambi, Billy Beane).

But by all means, Giants, sell merch for cheap shade, in a way that no other franchise does, while being exceptional asshats on any number of other fronts. Poke at the very small subset of the Bay area populace that roots for a team that, well, does not impact your revenue in any way, but does live on the less prosperous side of the Bay. And show everyone involved just how much class and decorum you have, despite your higher money and station in your life.

Because that's what you are, and what you do. And it's as plain as the shirt that you sell.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

NFL Week 13 Picks: Putting The 'Tude In Gratitude

Screw You, Word Boy
Feeling a bit down with the holidays coming? I'll confess: I am. Just too much work and stress, too much beating back other factors and not getting enough sleep. The blog money keeps dripping away (alas, such is the way of all e-commerce), the fantasy team hasn't contended from Day One, and the picks have been a source of embarrassment. The real life laundry, while fun and diverting and loads better than the dying years of the Reid Era, is still a case of hope over experience.

But it's the best holiday of the year -- at least until our rapacious capitalism ruins it all in a race to the bottom -- and hope springs eternal. A few perfect weeks, and we get to have Christmas after all. So with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Green Bay at DETROIT (-6.5)

This would have been such a nice game with QB Aaron Rodgers under center, but now, it's just not got the same juice. Detroit can lose to anyone when QB Matthew Stafford is a turnover machine, and Packer QB Matt Flynn does have his vast personal future tied to that shootout game against the Lions a few years ago... but the Packer defense just isn't that good at takeaways, and RB Eddie Lacy looked a little frail at the end of last week's disappointing tie against the Vikings. For once, Detroit Fan has nothing to forget about before eating.

Lions 28, Packers 20

OAKLAND (+7.5) at Dallas

The NFL's annual gift to the Cowboys: a cupcake game with maximum rest potential, at home, to set them up for the stretch drive. But Oakland is a little friskier than most, with an occasionally competent defense, tolerable run game and good work in special teams. Dallas would cover this number if ILB Sean Lee was 100%, but he's not, so look for RB Rashard Jennings to grind up some nice numbers in a close but not quite effort.

Cowboys 27, Raiders 24

PITTSBURGH (+3) at Baltimore

The annual Ode To Old Time Football gets the TNF slot for America's post-stuffing snooze. This series is always a field goal difference of a game, so it just seems cruel that the line is the standard home three. Pitt looks like the better club to me, with the better QB, RB and momentum, so home field be damned. Raven Fan is more into chanting naughty words on a live mic, anyway.

Steelers 24, Ravens 20

JACKSONVILLE (+7) at Cleveland

If you were ever convinced that QB is an overrated position, consider the plight of poor Cleveland, more than ready to take advantage of a down year in the AFC North, but saddled with weak play under center. This week, they get a Jaguar team that's threatening to ruin all of their good tanking work, and prevent them from getting the high pick needed to get off the QB Carousel themselves. I don't like the home team to cover, but they should still win, in a game no one really wants to watch, with the potential for multiple defensive touchdowns.

Browns 23, Jaguars 21

Tennessee at INDIANAPOLIS (-4)

Shove or fold time for the Colts, who've been getting their heads kicked in by the low-rent section of the NFC West for most of the last month. They'll find things to be a little easier against a Titan team that's entirely hit or miss, and more miss in a loud dome.

Colts 31, Titans 24

Bears at VIKINGS (pick 'em)

If you want proof that offense, not defense, is the more consistent year to year attribute for an NFL team, look no further than Chicago. Age and injury have ravaged the once proud Bears, to the point where no-name RBs like Bennie Cunningham are going for triple digits. On the road in Minnesota, against Adrian Peterson trying to take over the rushing lead from Shady McCoy, it could get more than a little poundy.

Vikings 20, Bears 17

Miami at NY Jets (-2.5)

The Fish looked surprisingly resilient last week before spitting the bit at home against a quality Panther team. The Jets fell three kinds of apart on the road in Baltimore, with QB Geno Smith looking Sanchez-esque; he's also the owner of a 1/10 TD to INT ratio in his last few games. So why go with them in this spot? Because their defense will cause more havoc, the cold road game is not a win for Miami, and the Dolphins are also banged up in the running game. It won't be pretty, and it also won't matter at all in the long-term playoff picture, but the home team will get the win.

Jets 20, Dolphins 16

ARIZONA (+3) at Philadelphia

I'd love to go with my laundry here, I really would. And there are reasons; the home field, 10am PST start, coming off the bye week, the turnover-prone Cardinals QB Carson Palmer and the erratic running game. But this defense is for real and the Eagles bend but don't break routine will not work against weapons like WR Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd in the red zone. It also doesn't help that The Cardinal Game has been a source of unending heartbreak over the years. It's been a fun ride, but this isn't a playoff team. And the Cards are.

Cardinals 27, Eagles 23

TAMPA (+9) at Carolina

Big number to cover for a home team that has played almost all of their games close to the vest, against a Buc team that, amazingly, didn't quit on their terrible coach when they had ample opportunity. Carolina just doesn't have enough urgency early in games to run off and hide, and QB Mike Glennon throws a nice deep ball to credible outside threats. Carolina will still win, but a big number is asking too much.

Carolina 27, Bucs 20

NEW ENGLAND (-9) at Houston

Just once, I'd like to see a team that I hate take the pipe and stay down... but that's never going to happen with the Patriots, owners of a miracle win after a massive choke job by the Broncos last week in Foxboro. This week, they go to the worst home-field advantage in the NFL to face a team with an uncertain QB, RBs that are cringe-inducingly injured, and a lame-duck coach that's coming off a seizure. And you thought bye weeks were over. We're really not that far away from the Patriots looking like the AFC's rep in the Super Bowl. Yet freaking again.

Patriots 34, Texans 17

Atlanta at BUFFALO (-3)

Normally I hate the Bills in their Not Really A Home Game in Toronto, but this time I'll make an exception. After 12 weeks of murdering his fantasy owners, RB CJ Spiller looks irrelevantly good again, and a healthy WR Stevie Johnson will make rookie QB EJ Manuel, fresh off his best game of the season, look quite at home against the Falcons. I also expect the road team to have a hard time coming through customs with all of those forks attached to their bodies.

Bills 30, Falcons 16

St Louis at SAN FRANCISCO (-8)

Another big number that I had a hard time swallowing, but the injury to RB Zac Stacy and the activation of WR Michael Crabtree has swayed me. The Niners really aren't what they were a year ago -- QB Colin Kaepernick's disappointing year is proof of that -- but they'll have enough to cover a Rams team that does not travel well, and won't get a third straight game breaking day out of rookie WR Tavon Austin. But man alive, this has got back door cover written all over it.

Niners 27, Rams 17

DENVER (-5) at Kansas City

Make or break game for the Chiefs, owners of a 2-game losing streak and staring down the barrel of a much harder playoff road if they spit the bit for the second time against the Broncos. Denver has issues coming into this one -- injuries at the RB position, QB Peyton Manning doing his old man in wind seasonal fade, the defense failing to cash in on leads -- but they aren't as pressing as what's going on with the Chiefs, who are suddenly bereft of pass rushers. Wrong time of the year for that.

Broncos 31, Chiefs 24

Cincinnati at SAN DIEGO (-1.5)

Cheap home field price for a Charger team that took out the Chiefs on the road last week, don't you think? And against a Cincy team that's without DT Geno Atkins, and has spent much of the year squandering opportunities. I'd like SD a lot better if RB Ryan Matthews wasn't banged up, and if T DJ Fluker hadn't also missed plays last week... but in a battle of flawed but frisky clubs, I'll take the home team. With the better QB.

Chargers 26, Bengals 23

NY GIANTS (NL) at Washington

Which team still cares? I'm thinking it's the Giants, who have the more accomplished coach and defense, and a QB that isn't (a) playing hurt and (b) trying to get his coach ran off. Add in the day of less rest and the general beatdown malaise that DC Un-United showed in their MNF Acquiescence, and I'm thinking this will be a pretty easy cover. Even though the Giants always struggle in this spot. Oh, and why is this still a prime-time game, other than the East having big media markets?

Giants 24, Washington 13

New Orleans at SEATTLE (-5)

Here's something that you won't hear very often outside of the Pacific Northwest: the Seahawks have the better QB in this matchup, and maybe the best in the NFL. But let's get back to how QB Russell Wilson is preferable, not just on age and salary, but also performance, to QB Drew Brees. Wilson throws as good of a deep ball, avoids INTs, does more with lesser weapons and can move the sticks when his line doesn't do the job. Oh, and if you think he's just a scheme guy because of his height, you are wrong, because the angle of his throws prevents knockdowns better than anyone in the league. Wilson is more fumble prone, but he's also still getting better. And in one to three years, you'll be able to say his name as Best In The Game without caveats, because Seattle is going to keep adding weapons.

He's done all of that without serious consideration in the MVP race this year, because Seattle is still a media backwater and home-field only suspect... but in this matchup of NFC heavyweights with the #1 seed on the line, that little piece of estimation is going to get more credence. New Orleans will put up points in this one, and Wilson will seem like more of a game manager, since he's got the better running game to feed. But he gets more done on less throws, and gives his team a better chance to win, while still making big plays when they need them. With WR Percy Harvin doing more each day, this will be more than a little bit of a coming-out party.

Seahawks 34, Saints 24

Last week: 5-9

Season: 73-87-8

Career: 441-459-37

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top 10 reasons why the Eagles named Nick Foles the starter for the rest of the year

Exit, Stage Left
10) Want to ensure that he gets hurt damned near immediately, since that what always happens to the Eagles starting QB

9) Feel that with job security, he's sure to go better than a 16/0 TD to INT ratio

8) It's not as if Michael Vick has much of a case left for the job

7) With Foles in the lineup, Riley Cooper actually gets open and resembles an NFL WR

6) The team was waiting for an hour when Vick was healthy to announce the change

5) Foles just finished November with the highest QB rating in league history, though to be fair, Oakland was incredibly generous in that regard

4) Foles is younger, cheaper, healthier and not despised by an unrelenting portion of the populace

3) There's that relatively simple matter of wanting to win games and stuff

2) Want to spotlight Vick's ability to say the right things while holding a clipboard, which should be his role in the NFL for the next five to ten years

1) Chip Kelly thought good and hard about playing both guys at once, but doesn't want to make the Internet explode

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top 10 early season NBA takeaways

10) The New York teams are a combined 6-20, look incredibly old and dysfunctional, and cost an absurd amount of money

9) Three teams in the entire Eastern Conference have winning records, which is probably one too many

8) San Antonio and Indiana are a combined 26-2, which just goes to show that those irrepressible scamps still think the regular season matters

7) Derrick Rose's latest catastrophic knee injury has doomed the Bulls to a season of trying to overcome superior talent, or, well, the same year they would have had with him

6) Utah and Milwaukee have taken early lead in the Wiggins Tankapalooza, but only Utah seems to have gotten there by design

5) Doc Rivers has used his incredible coaching acumen to guide the Clippers to the same exact place they were a year ago

4) Denver and Memphis have both slid back in the standings after firing their highly regarded coaches, shocking, well, no one

3) Portland has won 11 in a row, proving that all of last year's troubles can be laid at the door of JJ Hickson

2) If the season ended today, Philadelphia would have the 8th seed in the East, and Philly Fan would be completely irate at, once again, being sold something that wasn't what they pitched

1) Depending on the team you root for, 15 to 20% of the regular season has already been played, and we are that much closer to Basketball Heaven On Earth -- also known as a Celtics and Lakers-free playoff year

Monday, November 25, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: The Shame Of Retail Thanksgiving

Are Filled With Terrible People
Not sports, not sorry, read or don't.

If you are fortunate enough to take Intro Psych or Philosophy, or have been exposed to the following concept, you'll find the start of this little rant to be, well, primary. So be it. The concept of a Prisoner's Dilemma is simple, but it's best explained as a hypothetical. And if I had my way, it would be taught in freaking middle school. Let's move on.

Let's say that you and I, Dear Reader, are both accused and arrested for the same crime, where we acted as partners. (Whether or not we did it isn't germane to the concept.) The authorities have us in separate rooms, and are offering us the same deal. We don't know about what the other person is being told. The deal is this: confess and testify against the other guy, and we'll give you a reduced sentence. If we both said nothing, we'd both walk for lack of evidence. If one gives the other up, they get a year and the other guy gets 10; if both confess, we both get 10. So your dilemma, Prisoner, is that behaving honorably puts you at severe risk, since you can't be certain that the other Prisoner is also going to do the same.

This is, basically, where we all are with shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

Shoppers who go out that day are convinced that the only way to The Best Deals is to shop when they should not shop. Retailers are convinced that if they don't open on the holiday, they are going to lose that business, and eventually their existence, to their competitors. And it's all coming at the expense of not just any holiday, but the one holiday that is supposed to make us feel more or less equal. Turkey is not an expensive meal, and the trimmings can be made for not much money, either. If you've got an oven, a table, and friends and family that aren't truly difficult to be around for a few hours -- honestly, for the cost ballpark of delivery pizza with toppings -- you can and should feel grateful for your existence. For almost a whole day. After all, you're alive, you're fed, you made it to another one, there's football or not on the television, and no one went so broke that they couldn't have a good meal today. All's not so bad with the world, right?

Except now, a subset of the group is eating early and marching grimly off to work, as if it were Just Another Freaking Thursday... only it's The Worst Thursday Ever, since they are exclusively dealing with The Worst Bosses and Shoppers Ever. Except now, some part of that group doesn't even make it to the table in the first place, early or not, because it's not just the meal, but also the travel, and they couldn't get the time off. Except now, even more of those people are working as security, or at all of the various subsidiary stores (gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, etc.) that will open up in the wake of all of the other action.

And sure, the Glibertarian Asshats (I'm being redundant here, all glibertarians are asshats) among us will talk about how everyone involved has a choice to work or not work. Why, if they just worked harder during the year, they would have seniority, or an office job, or savings to just say no to that gig. In other words, Thanksgiving is just for the wealthy, the privileged, and the people who, well, need to be reminded to be thankful for their lives about as much as we need tax cuts for the 1%. (And if you think I'm overreacting to this trend, or that this will never spread to more than retail workers... um, just wait. It's not as if other countries all work on this day, or that more and more jobs aren't going to international competition. And if our firm works on Thanksgiving, that makes you more competitive than the others in your industry, right? Races to the bottom are fun.)

One more thing about this. I grew up in a single parent household, with a mom that usually had to work on Thanksgiving. (She tended bar. Imagine, for a moment, the happiness in a bar that was open on Thanksgiving.) We had the holiday meal on Tuesday most years, and then on the actual holiday, my mom would drop us with my grandparents to have dinner there. Weren't we lucky -- we got Thanksgiving twice! And doesn't your heart break with retroactive sadness and pity for the Shooter Mom, who never complained to her kids about how she was being cheated out of having her own damned holiday, or that she had to feel like a charity case to her parents every year? (Seriously, I know we're not going to agree on this, Dear Reader, but I have the best mom ever. It's not even close.)

But the thing about a Prisoner's Dilemma is that you actually *do* have choices. You can choose to behave honorably no matter what, even if this means that you pay a little more for something later. You can refuse to shop that day. You can not play the game, or recognize the rules as such. You can also tell everyone you know that you won't be doing this, and that if they are, you'd be willing to give them the difference between the sale price for their doohickey and the Black Friday or Stupid Saturday or just freaking online price, just so they won't ruin the holiday for everyone else. Right out of your own damned pocket. Preferably in single bills, to make the shaming longer. And you can give every retailer the growing and pervasive doubt that ruining a holiday to sell stuff at terrible margins for the worst people in America, at the inevitable long-term cost of serious staff turnover for all but the least capable employees, isn't exactly the right thing to do for business.

In short, you can shame people for shopping on Thanksgiving, and ruining it for everyone else.

Because the stores that are doing this are convinced, and possibly rightly so, that everyone is venal, awful, and willing to screw over the working poor just to save a few bucks. Even if they don't really need to save the money.

Because if you go out and shop that night, you are, in fact, venal, awful, and willing to screw over the working poor just to save a few bucks.

You should know this about yourself.

Everyone should know this about you.

Everyone should also tell you that you are venal and awful for doing this, since you seem unaware of the fact.

And if you are, in fact, so poor or desperate as to have to do this...

Well, then we should all feel that sorry for you, really.

And insist that we're not going to accept any gifts from you this year, since you are in such a bad way.

And that in lieu of gifts, we're going to send you canned goods and blankets, to get you through the winter.

And, in the final analysis?

We should be thankful, ever so thankful, eternally thankful...

That We Are Not You.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Top 10 NFL Week 12 Takeaways

Green Bay and Minny Gettin' It On
10) There has never been a bigger year for "should we tank for picks or go for the second wild-card"

9) The Casey Keenum Era ended abruptly, but at least the Texans seem to get this whole Tanking For A QB concept

8) Geno Smith's day in Baltimore made Jets Fan wonder if, just maybe, Matt Sanchez could come back and help

8) Tampa saved Greg Schiano's ability to not coach them into the playoffs next year

7) St. Louis doubled up Chicago, but as everyone else in the NFC North is suddenly terrible, it really didn't matter that much

6) San Diego's shocking win in Kansas City gives Denver the chance to bench their starters in the fantasy playoffs, which will make the guy who was going to win your fantasy league go Full Spazz at the Unfairness Of It All

5) Adrian Peterson seems to take those whispers about how he's on the down side a wee bit personally

4) Cleveland threw for 333 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh, with 96 of those somehow not going to Josh Gordon

3) Green Bay and Minnesota played to a frozen, bitter and pointless tie, perfectly reflecting what life is like in both Wisconsin and Minnesota

2) Carolina won their seventh straight game while still not seeming to be all that good, which makes them perfect for the NFL this year

1) They say ties are like kissing your sister, or as it's known in Wisconsin and Minnesota, kissing

Top 10 NFL Week 12 Ad Questions

10) If I buy gifts from Kay, will I get undue attention from old black guys?

9) Has Subway thought over the idea that eating their food constitutes a bold choice?

8) How long has DirecTV had the ability to make squirrels do their bidding?

7) If I shop at Wal-Mart, do I have to be a gibbering loon, or will I just be turned into one by the act of going to Wal-Mart?

6) There really is no way on God's green earth to restrict Christmas ads from occurring before Thanksgiving now, is there?

5) Has Michelob forgotten that beer is actually a depressant, rather than a sports drink?

4) Does anyone else feel a kind of anti-patriotism when they consider how apt we are to stuff many cheeses inside a pizza crust?

3) Can you use a GoPro camera without getting Jon Gruden audio?

2) Given the startling amount of timewaste involved in playing video games, should the slogan really be "Greatness Awaits"?

1) Are Budweiser drinkers really into hammer-esque foot stomps from women wearing stiletto heels, or is that fetish a side effect?

The Poker Diaries: The Best And Dumbest

At Least Not This Week
Yesterday at the Sit and Go Game, I'm in a game of Pineapple, which is a fun derivative of Hold'Em in which you get three cards, but have to discard one after the flop. It's fun because it's more action than you normally see out of hold'em, but without the full brain busting odds work that comes from Omaha. I'm short-stacked after some previous foolishness, and the way the game works is that as soon as six players are ready, a fresh table starts.

So with my chances low in this game and a new table about to start, I get dealt pocket deuces under the gun, and try to limp with them to a family pot. No such luck, as the button, a pretty loose guy with a big stack, raises 3X, and both blinds call... so while I know I'm behind, I also know that pot odds are suggesting a call. And more importantly, the situation in the overall game is telling me that I'm either going to need a big hit real soon, or I could wind up out of this game and waiting for another table to fill. So I call, and we get a big family pot when others go behind me.

The flop, of course, misses my deuces, but without Big Paint in the mix. So I raise, hoping to steal or get a lot of Ace-Miss laydowns... but the loose guy makes it more, and he gets snap-called by the big blind. So I know I'm behind, I know I've got two outs, and I also know that the rest of my stack is not going to get anyone out with a bluff. But I also know that the next table is calling, and that if I had a quarter for every time I've folded a pair on the flop, only to see trips on the turn, I'd have all kinds of money for the laundromat. So, knowing that this is the worst play I've ever made in poker, I shove. It's called... and hey, presto, deuce on the turn.

Honestly, I nearly laughed out loud. Had to hold up because hands were live, but still. The river is a brick, and I wind up getting something like a 5X boost as the three other guys in the hand stare at my trip 2s as if I've just done something illegal.I wound up taking down that game, with A-K winning over A-8, with the 8 coming on the flop, and the K on the river. Which sounds like a nice moment of skill, until you realize that the money came in over two stages. But hey, the river matters, right?

The longer I play, the more I'm amazed that anyone ever wins this game without luck. The difference in skill and quality, at least at our table, gets squashed by the draw all the time. And, well, it's always better to be lucky than good...

Friday, November 22, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: Lies My Brain Tells Me

As always with FTT O-T, not sports and not worried about it; read or skip.

The Scene Of The Lying In Daylight
 Tonight, for the sixth straight day and 173rd of 2013, I ran, for a significant amount of time and distance. And it struck me, as I was doing so, just how much my brain lies to my body while I do this, and how, if I ever really stopped to think about the feasibility of these stories, I'd stop.

These lies include:

> That I run for my family, and that the fitness benefits them. This assumes, of course, that they are down with the 136 hours, and counting, that I've been away from them to run. (Actually, more like 400, since most of my running is at a gym, and involves travel, other exercise, and showering.) Or that I don't run fairly often just for the solitude.

> That I'm getting better at it. I'm really not. There's something wrong with my form, or my body, or my nutrition or sleep patterns or footwear. All I know is that the knees lock and shut me down a lot sooner than the rest of the breakage, and after all this time, running faster than a 10-minute mile is still damned deadly difficult.

> That I might, one day, run a marathon. I've never really been able to go more than 8 or 9 miles at one time, and it's a serious accomplishment to fight off cramping and knees just to get in 6. Normally, I cut it in two parts around a bathroom break or weights if I'm at the gym. And even if I did somehow get the endurance, my pace says I'd be lucky to finish it in 5 or 6 freaking hours.

> That I need to do this in a gym. For the past week or so, with the work load at the day job reaching historic levels and the kids having more activities of their own (we only have one car), I've worked out a 3-mile route through the neighborhood that avoids traffic. I've also been running it at hours that my gym is closed, while being appreciative that my hoodie use hasn't gotten me a George Zimmerman's interest. (I keed, I keed. I mean, I'm also white and small and old.) I could, of course, had been running this route on a daily basis for years now, and saved myself a lot of time, while also making my gym visits all about the lifting, rather than a mix. Then, I'd be further along on those goals, too.

> That I really want to be further along on those goals. I like being strong, but I don't want to really look like I am. Secret Muscle Hobbit is much better than Small Guy With Obvious Issues.

> That I'm doing this because it makes me feel better. It kind of does, in that any exercise is good at sweating the negativity out of a mind. But I could do that and have a cleaner house, too. The bigger reasons why I run is because I want to eat as if I'm still in my 20s, and never have to buy clothes for any reason other than wearout.(We also don't use a clothes dryer, so my clothes don't really wear out.)

> That this is going to make me live longer, and better. Maybe it will, but there is no guarantee, and the simple math and reality is that, at 44, the chance that I'm not already on the back nine is increasingly remote. If I wind up going down early due to something that has nothing to do with fitness, I'm going to feel incredibly cheated. (Also, when my time comes, the narcotic and/or hallucinogenic abuse is going to be exceptional. That's what those are for, right?)

> That I'd still be doing this without a spreadsheet and monthly quotas, or that my daily email reminder with my fitness resolutions isn't a critical part of the equation. Honestly, it's like I'm managing a particularly dimwitted employee here, or working for a ridiculously inflexible and deceptive manager. One more mile, my ass.

> And finally... that this ability to lie your way into fitness isn't, in fact, the single biggest challenge involved in a long-term commitment to fitness. 

I run, because not running is worse. And I'm kind of convinced this is the only reason anyone does.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NFL Week 12 Picks: All Kinds Of Wrong

They Have Sex. A Lot.
This is where I write a paragraph about wot's it all about, and you skim until the asterisks, then delve into the High Larity that is the 2013 NFL picks. And, well, I'd like to provide it... but there is just No Time, and there hasn't been time in a very long time, because the Day Job has turned into the Day And Night And Early Morning Job. It's what happens in Q4 in my business, and I'm counting the days until it's no longer Q4... because, well, it's gotten to the point where a day without a double or triple shift is starting to feel wrong. Which means I'm all kinds of wrong in all kinds of places. And now that I've given you all kinds of confidence about my acumen... on to the picks!

* * * * *

NEW ORLEANS (-9.5) at Atlanta

Float a big number in a road dome game with a Saints team that's Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to road work? Sure, because Atlanta Fan is unmatched in his ability to bail out on a weak year, and Saints Fan is going to own this building. Look for QB Drew Brees to stay clean all night, and for Terrible Night Football to live down to its name. Atlanta can't end this year fast enough, and yes, it's somehow all Steven Jackson's fault. Dude is just death to franchises.

Saints 38, Falcons 20

PITTSBURGH (+1) at Cleveland

The Steelers have been sneaking up a bit recently, with the pass defense in particular alternating good halves with terrible ones. I like them to do the deed this week against a Browns team that just seems random, and without strong work from coach or QB. But honestly, this one is as coin flip as it gets.

Steelers 24, Browns 20

Tampa at DETROIT (-9.5)

On the off chance that you thought this really was going to be the Lions' year, what with Green Bay and Chicago living with back-up QBs and backed-up defenses... well, consider that they have to work with a coach that calls fake field goals from serious distance while up four on the road late. No, seriously. This week, Jim Schwartz isn't the biggest doofus on the field, and Lion Fan tries to delude themselves into thinking that Schwartz doesn't have an even worse ace up his sleeve for the inevitable first-round playoff loss. Besides, there's no way this Bucs team wants Schiano back enough to run off a lot of meaningless save his job wins.

Lions 31, Bucs 17

Minnesota at GREEN BAY (-4.5)

Oddly enough, I've seen almost all of Scott Tolzien's work as the Packer QB, and honestly, he's not all that bad. This week, he gets to show it against a Minnesota team that, on top of their terrible QB situation, is well and truly coming to grips with the fact that RB Adrian Peterson is on the downside of his Hall of Fame career, and that they've more or less wasted it. As if Minnesota winters weren't depressing enough.

Packers 34, Vikings 16

San Diego at KANSAS CITY (-5)

Bit of a small number for a team with one loss and the best home field in the AFC, especially when you consider just how middling of a road team the Chargers have been. At least San Diego is finally starting to prefer Actual RB Ryan Mathews over Gritball Danny Woodhead, though neither is going to do much against a resilient Chiefs defense.

Chiefs 27, Chargers 17

Chicago at ST. LOUIS (pick 'em)

At some point, when you are starting a QB named McNown, you're going to pay for it. The Rams are solid on defense, running with authority with RB Zac Stacy, and might even have woken up the spectacular disappointment that is WR Tayvon Austin. If the Bears can make Brandon Jacobs and Ray Rice look relevant, it's staggering what Stacy could do here, and the Rams' defense has been adept at takeaways this year.

Rams 31, Bears 17

CAROLINA (-4.5) at Miami

I can't figure either of these teams out, so feel free to go the other way on this one. Carolina keeps taking down teams with pedigree (San Francisco, New England) in ways that seem destiny-ish, and the Dolphins shook off the most famous OL meltdown ever to give the Chargers an inexplicable loss last week. I'm going to take the Panthers on talent here, and because this front seven against the NFL's most sacked QB has to play into some kind of wilding.

Panthers 26, Dolphins 13

NY JETS (+4) at Baltimore

The Jets have alternated wins and losses every week this year, so who am I to argue with the pattern? Especially when facing a Ravens team that seems to be spending all of 2013 in an effort to prove that without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, they no longer know how to play football, or have functioning vertebrae. Speaking of Reed, he'll get all kinds of attention from the media for returning home in this game, and he's got enough sense of drama to make a play or two. Gotta say, I'm kind of rooting for him.

Jets 24, Ravens 16

Jacksonville at HOUSTON (-10)

Perhaps Gary Kubiak's health problems have spread to his brain. How else can you explain yanking QB Casey Keenum for Scapegoat Matt Schaub in last week's game, which caused Texan Fan to boo so hard that the home team had to go to a silent count? Oh, and a small point here: I'm officially over on how awful Eagle Fan is, since my team dropped 10 games in a row at home and didn't freak out like those numbnuts. Anyway, Keenum will get the start this week, Jacksonville is terrible, and the Houston defense might outscore them, because JJ Watt's like that. But seriously, Houston Fan, you murder puppies. And probably deserve the Astros.

Texans 26, Jaguars 10

Tennessee at OAKLAND (pick 'em)

For the second time this year, Raider Fan has a shiny new QB to make everything better, but unlike wounded former (?) starter Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin does it with his arm. That makes shiny new RB1 Rashad Jennings viable as all get it, unlike wounder former (?) starter Darren McFadden. Oakland is having a hell of a year for a team that I honestly thought might go winless, and after this week's game against the QB-less Titans (seriously, Ryan Fitzpatrick?), they'll be 5-6 and even still have a playoff hope. (Have you seen the non-Bronco / Chief won-loss records in the AFC this year?)

Raiders 24, Titans 20

Indianapolis at ARIZONA (-1)

Another club I can't figure out, other than to say that teams with erratic offensive lines and surprisingly weak skill players are not to be trusted. The Cards are more than a little beastly on defense, make plays in special teams, and won't have to worry about traveling Colt Fan, because Colt Fan has trouble getting on airplanes without paying for an extra seat. If you combined these clubs, you'd have a 12-win behemoth, because their strengths are just that different. Are you as surprised as I am that these clubs are a combined 13-8, and that Indy could be the #2 seed in the AFC? What a year.

Cardinals 23, Colts 21

DALLAS (+2.5) at NY Giants

Nighty night time for the Giants, who have recovered from that disaster 0-6 start to have delusions of playoff again in the very charitable NFC East. They'll get Dallas off a bye they desperately needed, with WR Miles Austin come again to free up other targets for better things, and a defense that was last seen going into the fetal position against the Saints. They are better than that, in that no one could be worse, and QB Eli Manning has not stopped the turnover machine during Blue's middling tomato can kicking run.

Cowboys 34, Giants 24

DENVER (-2.5) at New England

I know, I know... Bill Belichick never blows back to back games, Peyton Manning turns into Cooper Manning in Foxboro, and the Patriots are going to take advantage of the fact that Jack Del Rio walks the Bronco sideline to smoke and mirror a SNF game. But the more I look at this game, the more I see a Pats' team that still has a 2-game lead and no real enemies in the East, and a Bronco team that isn't going to relax until they sweep the Chiefs.

Broncos 34, Patriots 20

SAN FRANCISCO (-6) at Washington

Are we looking at the End Days of Mike Shanahan? Have to think so, since DC Danny Snyder isn't going to choose him over QB Bob Griffin, and Bob was last seen throwing the Rat under the bus after last week's snooze and snap loss in Philly. This week will see Bob run and run and run some more as the quality Niner front turns the game into an exercise of Hunt and Hurt, while the offense looks like an NFL team against the historically awful DC DB corps. Oh, and Bob? While you are killing your coach, why not take out your team's terrible nickname, too?

Niners 31, Washington 20

Last week: 3-9-3

Season: 66-78-8

Caree: 436-450-37

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We Will Never Stop Arguing About Donovan McNabb

Never, Ever, Ever
So in the wake of Incognito Gate, ex-Eagles OLer Shawn Andrews has decided to come out from the shadows and throw ex-QB Donovan McNabb under the bus as the same kind of Bad Teammate. And I'm fool enough to think about it, especially during a bye week.

Now, Andrews gets to do this, of course: it's a free country, and if he's telling the truth and trying to get us all to a point where NFL locker rooms stop seeming like self-aware episodes of "Oz", well, good. Life is too short for any occupation to shelter sociopaths, let alone create more by glorifying them. And since there's no videotape involved, and that nothing was reported until both men were well and truly done, there's all kinds of Unreliable Narrator action going on here. For all we know, McNabb is a troll, Andrews is suffering from some early onset trauma that's inspiring faulty memories, or, well, both or neither. Heresay is not necessarily true or false.

But the bigger and more obvious point is this: from the moment he was drafted by the franchise to even today, you can whip up a startling amount of foofaraw in Eagle Nation by saying something good or bad about Five. And there's one part about this that is, well, making me call bullsquat. To wit...

Ron Jaworski has the same Super Bowl record as McNabb in the laundry: 0-1. He also played a lot worse than McNabb in his game, and wasn't nearly as good of a player, and if you are looking for pure That Guy Irritates Me On Camera, Jaws spent years proving that MNF can be awful in new ways. I've never heard anyone throw the guy under the bus, despite the fact that he's had local business failures and, well, Did Not Win The Big One.

Randall Cunningham never won a playoff game in the laundry, and yet, you will still have people get wistful at the name. He also was a head case late in his career, only got really good after leaving, and has the same presumably divisive African-American aspect to his game that McNabb does. But since he was part of an era that many fans regard as More Fun (in that defense that hurts people is more fun than offense that just wins more games, at least to some), you don't really hear anyone burying McNabb, either. Hell, every time a QB shrugs off a hit and completes a TD, people in town cite Cunningham v. Carl Banks, assuming, of course, that they are old enough to remember it.

But McNabb? You can still find the occasional person that thinks Terrell Owens Wuz Right, or that McNabb Ruined Andy Reid, or wants to bring up Tie Gate or Puking At The Super Bowl or Losing NFC Championship Games or Low And Incomplete and yada yada yada. The guy is, by leaps and bounds, the best to play the position for the laundry in the past 50 years (Norm Van Brocklin, after all, has a ring), and if you listen to the haters, he's basically the same as Rodney Peete.

And it does no good to point out to even the most Green McNabb Hater that what they are doing here is playing into the worst stereotypes of Negadelphia Fandom, or that this helps to perpetuate the idea that the fanbase is all rayyyyycist and terrible, and that you don't see other fan bases treating their tragic figures this way. They have to keep calling the, um, spade a spade, no matter how long it's been since any of this matters, or how the history that's being re-written here is only of local interest.

These latest allegations, of course, just add more fuel to a fire that will never, ever go out... and if my laundry somehow lucks into a SB trophy (hell, Eli Manning has two and Trent Dilfer has one; anything can happen), there will be an immediate rush to cite whoever took the snaps as Better Than McNabb. There's no helping it any more; it is what it is, and always will be.

Play me out...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top 12 reasons why the Phillies signed Carlos Ruiz

Also, Sadly, Our PED Use
12) Younger catchers smell like Axe body spray and fruit juice

11) Brian McCann might have cost real money and made the Braves' feel like they have enemies

10) Clearly, no aging and beloved played will ever be allowed to leave, because the front office is convinced that aging players sell tickets more than, well, winning ones

9) The back-up plan was AJ Pyrzinski, and friends don't let friends root for AJ Pyrzinski

8) Without Chooch, Roy Halladay would completely go to hell

7) By signing the 10-year organizational vet, they also grant him a limited no-trade clause, which means there's even less protection for the club

6) Lots of older guys get busted for PEDs, come back, then exceed their output, right?

5) After the Marlon Byrd signing, this looks positively astute, given that Ruiz probably actually had other clubs who wanted him

4) GM / Performance Artiste Ruben Amaro Jr. knows that Philly Fan truly hates to buy new jerseys, and respects that

3) Three years for $26 million is what Amaro spends on pool boys, gum, and his spectacular crystal meth habit

2) Without Chooch, the bullpen would completely go to hell

1) Teams that finish 73-89, 17 games out of the division and with the 3rd worst record in the league, clearly just need to bring back all of the vets to get playoff relevant again

Monday, November 18, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: The Shooter Eldest Has A Gymnastics Meet Experience

Four events, five ribbons
Not really sports, but closer than most FTT O-T. Read or not.

We've been taking the eldest to gymnastics classes for years, but due to a combination of circumstances (battles with, and separation from, weak and manipulative coaching that almost led her to quit the sport, a relative lack of interest right away in competing, and a fairly late start), she's never had the team / meet experience of formal competition. With the move to the latest gym, she qualified for the team, and that means six meets with the potential of qualifying for State. This morning was her first.

Being the parent of any 13-year-old girl is, I am sure, the sure-fire cure for a life without drama. I don't go for the cheap misogyny of wishing for boys or saying how much harder they are, because, well, I have no idea. I just have the two that I have. And the thing about gymnastics is that the people who teach it are ex-performers, and ex-gymnasts are, well, dramatic people. So you get all kinds of arcane rules and petty tyrannies, and that's before the actual judging. Plus, well, your kid's drama is amplified by all of the other kid's dramas, and the coaches, and the simple weirdness that is a sport without a very clear scorecard. Add to it the usual prisoner's dilemma / criminal enterprise expense of any organized child's sport, and you get a very conflicted relationship with it from the parent's perspective. I love that my kid is a gymnast, and I love that she's in shape and confident. I don't love the time and expense.

I'm also under no delusion that my kid is going to make this investment one that will have a tangible payoff. The Eldest is strong, determined and a performer, but she's not perfect, and if she decides that she doesn't want to do this any more, well, it's her life, her choice. I'm not going to be one of Those Parents that gives her a guilt trip about finding new obsessions.

So today was going to be, well, fascinating and scary and stressful. If she performed badly, I was going to have to coach her down; if she had issues with the judging or the other contestants or suffered an injury or some other mishap, we're on the hook for full 13-year-old drama. Combine it with an early morning wake up (you had to be at the site by 8am, and it was an hour away, and we are so *not* morning people)... and we suddenly have to work out hair spray and bobbie pins and not get the deluxe performance leotard and equipment messed up and 6+ hours out of the house made me think that the family dog needed to be lodged overnight with my mother, rather than make him stay in house alone all day (he's never really been left alone for that long before)...

And, well, the past three months at the day job have been extraordinarily busy. We keep setting production records and then breaking them, so I've been operating under very little sleep, which is really not the recipe for dealing with Kid's First Meet. But as happens more often than not, it all worked out, because our problems are pretty good ones, really. The dog was ported, a niece with performance experience was called for the hair 411 (a product called Got To Be Glued, which is, I read on the label, wind tunnel tested), we got there on time and The Kid went to work.

First was uneven bars. This is perhaps the hardest apparatus for early performance levels girls, because it taxes upper body strength while adding in the fear factors of speed and altitude. Scores are generally low here, and while my kid is crazy wiry strong, she's also in an odd place in her development, in that she can probably do trickier things than are allowed for her level. So the routine is not where it will be later, and with the competition bars being different from the home gym, it was her weakest event. So the score was a 5.1, better than most, no real failure, but she was doing it better in practice. I was worried she'd get bent about the score, but she seemed pleased with it, at least at first. She's got her moments, especially in public.

The next event was the high balance beam. Again, not a perfect performance -- there was one slip that she more or less fixed so quickly that it looked more like irritation -- and a fairly complicated dismount that she completed. That got her a 6.5, and more or less put to rest the idea that she wasn't going to be pretty good at this whole meet thing.

In a gymnastics meet, all apparatus is being used all the time, but the teams aren't equal size, and the time it takes to get through something -- floor and beam especially -- is also not equal. So there's a fair amount of standing around, and it takes about an hour to get through each event, in which you'll see your kid perform for, at most, two minutes. You get a lot of announcements about what's in the snack area, 50-50 idiot lottery hype, and paid "shout outs" from gymnasts and parents that just make my mind go to all kinds of inappropriate places. Seats are metal folding chairs, which is to say, you're going to be in a lot of pain on many levels. But you suck it up, because, well, the last thing you want to do as a parent is distract your kid when she's trying to do something like this. It's her day, not yours. And you are probably a lot more nervous about it than she is.

Next up was floor, and it is, I'm sure, just about every girl's secret favorite exercise, whether they admit it or not. The amount of personality that's shown in a routine, the body language of whether the gymnast feels like they've done the routine correctly, and the simple addition of music to something that's mostly soft thudding noises... well, it is what it is. The Eldest uses a simple violin piece (there's no lyrics permitted) that is, like her, a little formal and classy, and yet, not without style or confidence. Like the earlier events, she wasn't perfect, but she presented well and probably hit about 90 to 95% of what she's capable of, and for the third straight event, upped her score, this time to a 6.75. And an hour later, after two perfunctory runs through the vault (fastest and highest scoring event, with two attempts), she had logged a 7.5 despite not feeling very happy with what she did, and found herself getting fourth through sixth place ribbons for all four pieces. Of fifteen girls in her age and level, she finished fourth in the all around, and was pleased, but not completely satisfied. Third place and up gets medals, you see. And now she's got a baseline, and a history, and something to measure against. Next meet is next week.

There was one moment, during her floor exercise, when I honestly felt myself tearing up a bit, just by watching her. My wife said to me, while she was on the beam, "When did our kid get hips?" And, well, there is something to that, since gymnast posture and costuming shows your kid in a way you don't normally see her. But the big takeaway is that there is something about watching your kid do something hard, something you could never do, that just puts you to the floor and below. She's getting older, she's changing in front of your eyes, and she's doing stuff that you didn't really know she could do. Especially not in front of a couple of hundred strangers.

I am, of course, immensely proud of her, fascinated by what she's going to do next, and showing this post to her for error checking and to record the feeling of how this all was, the first time she ever did it. It's my version of videotape, and something I hope lasts longer. Because, and this is the hard thing to tell a child and have them believe it while not quite going overboard from it... she amazes me. And probably always will.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Top 10 NFL Week 11 Ad Questions

Eat Badly
10) Why is Santa at FedEx already with his coal, when it's not even Thanks- giving yet, and why are his elves also dicks?

9) If you are shopping on Thanksgiving, doesn't that pretty much prove that you are either desperately poor, an unholy miser, or some other form of complete douchebag?

8) Does anyone really believe that a tablet/laptop hybrid is the key to getting babes?

7) Why is Papa John so concerned about getting a whole slice of pizza, when he clearly can have as much of that crap as he can stomach?

6) Can Best Buy survive the holidays by just marketing to extremely lame people?

5) Is there a bigger indication of the influence of the 1%, and the need for a massive amount of guillotine work, than Christmas luxury automobile commercials?

4) If I don't get DirecTV, will I engage in sado-masochistic relationships with vermin?

3) Why are Subway customers so prone to fisting their sandwiches into camera lenses?

2) Shouldn't the woman running her own stunt person agency invest more in insurance?

1) If I buy anything from Verizon, do I have to deal with horribly irritating IT people?

Top 10 NFL Week 11 Takeaways

>2 Years Away From Scapegoat
10) Oakland beat Houston in Houston with Matt McGloin throwing 3 TDs, but Texan Fan will remain convinced that it's all Matt Schaub's fault

9) Pittsburgh took out Detroit on a classic Ben Roethlisberger Wants To Get Paid day

8) Tampa has back to back wins, proving that head coach Greg Schiano can't even tank right

7) Cincy scored 41 points on a day where their QB threw for 93 yards with 2 picks and they ran it 31 times for 106 yards with no TDs, because Cleveland Is Magic

6) Chicago won at home despite a tornado delay, and perhaps the third weather delay of the year will finally make some climate change deniers reconsider

5) Evil Geno Smith, who looks a lot like Regular Mark Sanchez, showed up today to turn it over four times in a 23-point loss

4) Feel free to disregard the inevitable Cardinals Dark Horse stories, seeing how they will come after a win against those always lovable Jaguars

3) San Diego lost to a Dolphin team without an offensive line, mostly because they insist on using smurfy Danny Woodhead on money downs, rather than a real player

2) The Giants won their fourth straight game and are actually alive in the playoff race after losing their first six, because the NFC East is just that special

1) Seattle clowned the Vikings so badly, Tavaris Jackson played

Eagles - Washington Takeaways

Target acquired
> The Eagles win the toss and defer, because that's just how confident this team is in its defense right now, because 2013 is just wacky like that

> RB Shady McCoy does not react well to DC Fan's banner, and amen to that

> DT Fletcher Cox starts the day with a 15 yard flag, just to remind everyone that NFC East games used to be intense

> RB Alfred Morris with nice yards early, but QB Bob Griffin misfires outside of figgie range

> Washington pays back the 15 yarder for no good reason, but the Green drive stalls outside of figgie range

> LB Najeh Goode keeps making plays, this time a drive-stopping sack

> QB Nick Foles with the big ball to McCoy for 49, and that was just stupid pretty in terms of timing and matchup

> Foles keeps on a trickier version of the Tampa keeper, and it's Green 7, DC 0

> Nice spin and effort at the goal line for Foles, who seems to be taking this whole You Can't Run thing personally

> Three and out on good pressure and damn, that's fun

> Foles for 14 as he continues to prove he can, in fact, run like an NFL player

> Huge throw and run to TE Brent Celek, who does his runaway beer truck impersonation down to the 1

> McCoy makes that sort of thing irrelevant a play later on a carry where he's never touched, and it's 14-0 Green

> Dominant line work there is porny, and maybe this team can win a division on merit after all

> Bob making plays with his legs, and while that's distressing, it's a lot more so when he's making plays with his arms, since that way rarely leads to injury

> Cox has his vengeance on pressure with the turnover in the red zone, and that keeps happening this year

> McCoy's second score reminds us all how much fun it is to give the ball to your best offensive player in the red zone

> Later on in the half, McCoy goes down with a hamstring, because on a day when Green might take the division lead, we still can't have nice things

> Green defense continues to give up yards but not points

> When faced with Chip Kelly and a big lead, Mike Shanahan continues to be patient / loserly

> DE Trent Cole with the sack to put Washington out of field goal range, and damn, ain't it nice when he makes plays

> P Sav Rocca with a bad punt and a worse face, and no, don't miss him either

> Terry Bradshaw flies remote control planes before the halftime highlights, because it's not as if he actually prepares for anything

> Foles to Brown, then DJ, and just as he's looking awesome, misses Avant on an open center route

> LB Brian Orakpo with a sack on Foles that was weak work by RT Lane Johnson

> 3rd and 15 is a give up run, and Shanahan makes the Eagles punt for no real good reason

> Eagle Fan does not know how to deal with no reason to boo at the half

> Washington leads in time of possession by 10:53 at the half while having 97 less yards and 2 less first downs, and who the hell cares

> McCoy back on the sideline to start the second half is a good sign, and coming on to the field is a better one

> Foles keeps making plays with his legs and not making huge mistakes

> Ertz with a bad drop of what should be a first down, negating a great job by the line, then redeems himself on third

> Foles to Cooper for a big gain, but it comes back on an odd flag on LT Jason Peters; Washington got away with a face mask on Foles on the play

> Avant gets lucky on a tipped ball and is just short on third; Kelly pretty much has to go here, and does

> Tempo isn't great on the play call, but Brown gets it anyway from the shotgun run

> Foles to DJ on the rare snap from center, and that just looked all kinds of nifty

> Kelly clearly enjoys calling plays against thus defense

> Foles to McCoy in the flat for a chunk plus a horse collar, and we're goal to go

> Foles to Cooper, who is stopped at the half yard line to the fury of his way too lucky fantasy owners

> Cooper might have scored, but why bother challenging that when you can just quick snap it to McCoy and score anyway

> With 25 minutes left, it's Green 24, Visitors 0, and man alive, this is downright crisp

> 13 plays, 80 yards, and 5+ minutes -- downright conservative, really

> I'm not prepared to see this team with a pass rush and good coverage

> Down 24, Washington keeps running it, and I enjoy having the best coach in the division

> Griffin to some WR named Nick Williams to move the sticks

> The fourth sack of the day is the second for Cole, and that's a coverage job along with determination by the old man

> Second down is an overthrow that could have been picked, and third down is Helu going down hard, fumbling, and no conversion

> DE Vinny Curry got away with a borderline cheap shot

> If I didn't know better, I'd think my laundry has a home field advantage again

> This was the point of the game that I lost HD, because the game was too dull for Fox

> Three and out as the coverage team goes into full Kelly fellation

> Washington's STs are just awful, but they fall on the fumble to keep this game in some sort of drama

> Griffin to WR Pierre Garcon on an easy cross, and yes, perhaps DC would be better off throwing down this much

> Green with a 2-man rush and actual great coverage, and that's kind of funsies, too

> Big penetration from the DL on a stretch play is downright porny

> Third and long is high to WR Santana Moss, and that's just weak from Bob

> Another three and out with speed from the offense, and that's disturbing

> Tipped ball by Goode on a screen, and Cox thinks he's got his first pick, but there's no way that's going to be upheld

> Running plays while down 24 and letting the clock run out on the third quarter is just everything you need to know about how much Shanahan believed in his team today

> On third and 2, Griffin keeps on a read option that just seems Tebow-esque in its ability to get the QB hurt

> I'm not prepared to live in a world with good LBs wearing my laundry

> Fourth down is incomplete on a weak throw by Bob, and that was just sad for him

> First really bad play of the day for the defense gives DC a score, as FB Dorell Young makes two men miss on a scramble ball and goes for 65, and that was 2012-esque

> Two-point conversion makes it 24-8 and so not over

> McCoy for nine on the spin move, and that's just Sanders-esque

> On third and six, Foles goes across the field to Cooper to move the sticks, and that was pretty big, actually

> Clock mode now, and this is always funny, if only because of how much the offense seems to hate just standing there

> Foles keeps it for 10 on the truly well done read option

> The next one, not so much

> McCoy loses a bunch on another play that was kind of Sanders-esque, but not in a good way

> Third and 13 has Cooper covered, and lucky not to be picked

> With 8:37 left, still a game, somehow

> Cole out with a concussion, which is just wrong since he's finally having a good game

> Griffin takes one of those hits that give the read option a really bad name

> Young with the first down from the pistol as full clock runs again

> WR Aldrick Robinson with a great catch and better OPI for the 45-yard strike, and you've got to be kidding me

> Green timeout to try to recover and stop a way too important 2-point conversion

> Washington in the same position, and Griffin keeps to make it 24-16 with 5:57 left

> Modified deep onside kick, and it's all on the offense to keep this from Huge Fear

> Foles for five on the keep, offense in long mode, McCoy for two, and it's a huge third down

> Third and 3 is a huge effort by Foles to stretch for the first and please snap the ball already and take that generous spot

> There's the challenge and I hate my life as an Eagle Fan

> Fourth and punting and so much for avoiding Big Fear

> I'd so love a fake punt and first down here, but Kelly runs clock instead and Jones destroys one for 70 yards -- nice

> Terrible play by the Washington STs again there

> Crowd into it again, but defense needs to do work

> Griffin to Garcon for nine and, um, nope

> Helu for a first down, clock running

> Cole returns because concussions don't matter right now

> Miss by Bob, then a tip from Goode

> Third and 10 is huge, and it's Bob to Moss for a first down on, who else, CB Cary Williams

> Way too easy for such a big down

> DC with one timeout left

> Bob has Moss deep, but can't keep it in bounds; Williams bites and whiffs on the double move

> Garcon called for a personal foul on Williams, and that's 15 useful yards right now, ridiculous play by the WR

> Two minute warning as Bob misses Garcon, who is triple covered

> 3rd and 25 is a have to have killlshot for the defense, and it's a first down to Moss and I'm ready to throw stuff

> Garcon deep with Chung, no PI called either way, phew

> This clock is not moving at all

> Boykin should have had a TAInt to end this, but it's just a knockdown

> Third and 10 is have to have, and Cox gets Griffin down... but it's a hold "prior to the pass" when there is no freaking pass and I have no words

> No idea how that gets called, and DC with the gift first and clock stop

> Helu for 5, gets out of bounds, 13 plays and counting on the drive

> Garcon for the first and out of bounds as CB Rock Carmichael misses the knockdown

> Bob misses an open Robinson in the end zone as a blitz utterly fails

> Final timeout called on a nine yard play to Garcon

> Bob with a terrible unforced error throwaway that Boykin gets in the end zone, and dear Lord in Heaven, that was an escape

> I guess he's trying to avoid the grounding call there. but, um, wow

> That's the first win at home in 413 days, and they now are the Shakiest Division Leader Ever after Week 11

Friday, November 15, 2013

Top 11 Takeaways from Richie Incognito's Legal Challenge Against The Dolphins

11) In a shocking devel- opment, Incognito is going to draw this out and make it ugly

10) Incognito feels that the Dolphins had no right to suspend him, seeing how they knew what he was when they married him

9) Seeing how the suit is filed in Florida, it's not as if he can't find a jury of his peers

8) Now that Walter White is dead, Saul Goodman has the time to take the case

7) It's not as if he's going to mess up his next NFL job

6) Like every NFL player, pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, especially now that the extortion money has dried up

5) Clearly needs something to feel good about and fast, otherwise he's going to act out

4) Needs the money to pay for psychological treatment for the condition that isn't in any way related to his current lack of employment

3) Incognito feels that if he wins this case, Fox pretty much has to give him Tony Siragusa's job

2) Given how this is America, and Incognito is what he is, the real shocking development is how this had not been filed weeks ago

1) The NFLPA didn't want to support Incognito's case, but then he told them he'd s--- in their f------ mouths and kill their families

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NFL Week 11 Picks: The Championship Of Now

As If We Have Time For Captions
So there are six weeks left in the NFL season, and while we know who is really bad and isn't going to the playoffs, there's really much less in the way of knowing who is actually going good. Right now, your top 4 seeds are Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City and New England... and I can tell all kinds of easy stories about half of those teams, especially on the AFC side, being one and done in the playoffs. If you believe in point differential, there are five dominant clubs (Seattle, New Orleans, Carolina, Kansas City and Denver), and I just made most of the people reading this say huh, really, Carolina? No matter how good a team looks, or how dominant they can look while pounding on a tomato can, everyone's just an injury or two away from a ruined year. And this is the time of the year when guys usually start dropping like flies.

It makes a man wonder, honestly, if there will ever be a true rebuilding effort again, especially with more and more young QBs being pro-ready from advanced college systems. After the triumvirate of Andrew Luck, Bob Griffin and Russell Wilson, no one wants to put up with a year or two of waiting/growth, and the idea of apprenticing with a clipboard is downright adorable in its naivete. There is no reason for Ram Fan to wonder about the future with Sam Bradford, or Viking Fan with Christian Ponder, or Dolphin Fan with Ryan Tannenhill, or Browns Fan with Brandon Weeden, or Jaguar Fan with Blaine Gabbert, or Titan Fan with Jake Locker. It's all over for all of them; they will be replaced and remanded, never to get the Serious Shot at the big chair again. And maybe it's not fair, and maybe someone would have had a quality career had he just gotten another 6 to 10 games with an extra weapon or lineman...

But, well, there's thing fair about pro football, and there isn't another position on the field where you get to be below league average for very long and keep the gig, regardless of when you were drafted, or what you did in college. This isn't baseball, where the lefty starting pitcher figures it all out in year four and has a ten-year career with many trips to the All Star Game and playoffs. In year four, you've either made the playoffs or you've made the bench.

So there's six weeks left to go, any number of teams that could turn the switch, and top teams that either aren't playing to earlier levels (Denver), have injury and road issues (Seattle), and might be just taking advantage of an easy schedule (Kansas City, Carolina, New England). Plenty of time left to do something big with the year, really. But not, alas, with the won-loss record. Despite being on the money side twice in the last three weeks.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

INDIANAPOLIS (-3) at Tennessee

Wow, what an epic turdburger the Colts cooked up last week in St. Louis. From the opening turnover TAInt to the big yardage and red zone mistakes done all damned day by QB Andrew Luck, this was just a year's worth of bad all rolled up into one game. They single-handedly made WR Tayvon Austin professionally relevant, might have convinced Ram Fan that RB Zac Stacy is the real deal, and that hope may not be misplaced despite a a clear void at the QB position.

This week, they go play the suddenly schizo Titans, who are employing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to remind everyone why teams should not employ Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Colts are missing WR Reggie Wayne something fierce, but in a classic see-saw game, give me Luck to run away from the pass rush often enough to cover the number.

Colts 26, Titans 20

NY JETS (pick'em) at Buffalo

Is Bills QB EJ Manuel still hurt? He certainly played like it last week against the usually pliant Steelers, and RB CJ Spiller has been straight up murdering anyone with an interest in his career all year. Combine this with the recurring injury woes of WR1 Stevie Johnson, and this is just looking like one of those games where the Bills will only score with a short field, and won't get to 250 yards of total offense for the day. It's not as if the Jets are going to be a lot better, and if QB Geno Smith is in a giving mood, they could still blow this spot... but it's not as if the Bills are airtight on turnovers, either. We should flex this game to Thursday to make sure it's horrible.

Jets 20, Bills 13

Baltimore at CHICAGO (-3)

I give up, Baltimore. RB Ray Rice is moving like a dead man, your defense is gutless, you have one good WR and your QB will ride off his hot playoff month for the next decade. And yet you still win last week after your secondary decides to defend a Hail Mary as if everyone was on offense. This week, they go to Chicago to play the surprised Bears, who are still wondering how they didn't get past the Lions at home, with an early lead and a late comeback. They should win easily, even though this defense is so secretly beaten up, even Rice might show a pulse.

Bears 24, Ravens 16

CLEVELAND (+5.5) at Cincinnati

I should probably stay with the Bengals here and the home field, rather than ride the whipsaw, but this number just seems too high to me. There really weren't many worse players for any NFL team to lose than DT Geno Atkins, and while they've been getting good efforts so far, I just don't think it's going to last. Or, at the very least, cover. Plus, CB Joe Haden is good enough to make WR AJ Green less than utterly dominant, and that's not a good sign for the Bengal offense at all.

Bengals 24, Browns 20

Washington at PHILADELPHIA (-3.5)

The Eagles' home losing streak has to end sometime, right? Let's see it happen against a DC club that is just historically bad in the secondary, and man alive, is that not what you want to be against WR DeSean Jackson after two weeks when he hasn't been WR1. The defense has been doing good work in the red zone especially, getting a little lucky in special teams (kickers can miss against my laundry -- who knew?), and clearly aren't phased by the time of possession problem just yet. (Oh, and a small note to everyone who wants to talk about that... can we count, instead, the number of plays that a team runs? Because defending two plays in 30 seconds seems like it would be a lot harder on a defense than defending one.)

For extra fun, when DC has the ball, watch to see who gets WR Pierre Garcon, AKA their only NFL-caliber end. If I'm HC Chip Kelly, I send CB Brandon Boykin at him, but the money and rep says he'll go with CB Cary Williams. I'd rather win games than pay off a rep. And I think he wants a home win enough to make that move, and a host of others; after de-pantsing Mike Shanhan in Week One, he's going to know he's got to come up with something new to do it again.

Eagles 34, Washington 20

DETROIT (-2.5) at Pittsburgh

Not getting this line at all. Detroit is trying to lock down a better division than the one the Steelers are playing in, and have the best WR of their generation to go with a defense that has talent, it not discipline. Pittsburgh is ducking questions about their QB wanting to move on, and their secondary being too old to say with a plus passing game. I get that Heinz Field is a tough place to play and that the Lions aren't all that good, but they'll have enough to handle Yinz City.

Lions 27, Steelers 20

ATLANTA (-1) at Tampa

The Bucs Got Their Win! The Bucs Got Their Win! At home, on a Monday, against a team that dropped 40% of their starting OL to asshattery. This week, they host a Falcons team that just won't stop disappointing, mostly because they were never as good as they looked before, and now all of the good offensive players are hurt. Ah, but that's the rub, in that Tamps is done to 4th string RB, stiff rookie QB, and one good WR. This will be the football equivalent of cleaning a median, but eventually, Falcons QB Matt Ryan will help them pull away.

Falcons 27, Bucs 16

ARIZONA (-7) at Jacksonville

The Jags Got Their Win! The Jags Got Their Win! And, um, who the hell cares. Because they did it with fluky plays on defense, short fields for scores, and a lackluster running game that tells me that they aren't going to do that again any time soon. Arizona has a strong running game whenever they don't bother with RB Rashard Mendenhall, enough weapons in the passing game to convert in the red zone, and the good fortune to be playing a terrible team that's no longer desperate to win a game. Won't be pretty.

Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17

Oakland at HOUSTON (-7)

Hate the big number here, but QB Terrell Pryor playing gimpy is all kinds of trouble for a limited Raider offense, and QB Casey Keenum is going to do some things int he deep game. Oh, and Texans HC Gary Kubiak is coming back to coach this game, and that kind of Coach Aint' Dead mojo is usually worth 10 points or more in hustle plays.

Texans 31, Raiders 20

SAN DIEGO (-1) at Miami

Honestly, this isn't a moral thing, but I may not pick Miami to cover the spread in any game in the rest of their Go Away Schedule. Everybody knows the coach is DOA, that the organization is going to razed to the ground, and that they'll be lucky to escape deposition as soon as IncognitoGate gets in front of a jury. Even if the Dolphins were well coached -- and no, they are not -- they would not be able to focus past the train wreck. Look for the Chargers to start out running the ball, and for once, keep doing it.

Chargers 27, Dolphins 17

San Francisco at NEW ORLEANS (-3)

How many teams do the Saints have to stomp a mudhole into at home to convince you? I'm sold after nearly 2/3 of a thousand yards on offense, and the shocking development that RB Mark Ingram might not be completely useless. As for the Niners, the defense isn't as good as people think, and this offense is secretly sad. The Saints are starting to look like a #1 seed to me.

Saints 27, Niners 17

GREEN BAY (+5.5) at NY Giants

Big game for the Pack, who need to get a win to avoid sliding out of the playoff picture, and the Giants ares still hanging out at the periphery of a playoff race. But QB Eli Manning is still throwing TAInts, the Pack will be able to run the ball and move the sticks more than you might expect, and this number just strikes me as too big. Just like last week against the Raiders.

Giants 24, Packers 20

Minnesota at SEATTLE (-12)

WR Percy Harvin comes back just in time to see his old laundry, as if the Seahawks needed a fresh weapon to take care of this sad Viking club. Look for QB Tavaris Jackson to get garbage time, and the Seahawks to look like a top seed. It's not as if this is hard to do against the Vikes.

Seahawks 34, Vikings 10

KANSAS CITY (+8) at Denver

Just too big of a number. Yes, the Chiefs are paper tigers; yes, this offense doesn't have any plays of over 15 yards in them, especially with WR Dwayne Bowe coming off a pot arrest. But this is still Andy Reid off a bye, against a Broncos team that could not get off the field last week against the middling Charger running game, with QB Peyton Manning possibly hampered by injury. The way the Chiefs year is going, Manning will come up lame on the first snap from center.

Broncos 28, Chiefs 24

NEW ENGLAND (+1.5) at Carolina

If the coaches were swapped, I'd be happy with the Panthers +10... but, well, they aren't, and this game just has Belichick Mojo all over it, especially coming off a bye. HC Ron Rivera just inspires such, um, confidence. (And the fact that it took them all day to put away a Niner offense that was bereft of weapons and clue last week is also not a great sign.) Look for the Patriots to move the chains early in the passing game, and late on the ground.

Patriots 27, Panthers 24

Last week: 8-6

Year: 63-69-5

Career: 433-441-4

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