Friday, August 29, 2014

10 NFL Trends for 2014

Everybody Wants One
10) Four NFL teams are led in receiving yardage by tight ends, as it becomes even more obvious that this is the easiest throw on the field, and an ever-increasing number of failed basketball power forwards find football to be a lucrative second career.

9) The rules about hitting the QB greatly reduce the importance of back-up QBs, to the point where teams start to economize at the position with rooks and free agents.

8) The lack of rules about hitting the RB greatly increases the importance of RB committees, to the point where teams start to pull their best backs with any kind of lopsided score.

7) More kickoffs are returned for touchdowns, as fewer reps covering the play due to touchbacks lead to lapsed coverage schemes

6) The Chip Kelly copycattery kicks in hard, as more teams use quick tempo to limit defensive substitutions and make running plays more effective

5) This is the year where some player scores a TD the defense is trying to give up, then confesses that he did it to make his fantasy owners happy

4) For the first time in forever, ratings go down for more than just terrible MNF match-ups, as offense gets to the point of imbalance, and more and more games let you ship 2 to 3 quarters without missing anything too important

3) Home field advantage continues to diminish, as the Niners have none after their move, and the cost metrics of  going to a game moves crowd composition to affluence over location

2) Average game length creeps further toward 3:30 due to increased replay and penalty consultation, along with the fact that no network is interested in hurrying their highest rated program off the air

1) The extra few players on the practice schedule helps deeper / better organizations, as they are more likely to bring in ready to use extras in the event of injury

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Your Really Might Not Be Worthless 2014 NFC Predictions

My Method
Last year's columns predicted, I kid you not, all kinds of great stuff. Peyton Manning as AFC MVP, Pete Carroll as coach of the year, Eddie Lacy as the NFC Rookie of the Year, stay awaus from Cecil Shorts and Stephen Jackson, seven out of 16 playoff teams and the Super Bowl winner, albeit over Cincy instead of Denver. I liked Chicago too much (defensible given the injury issues), but otherwise everything was skittles and beer. And then the season started, and the fantasy team tanked, and the picks were even worse, with a final record of 120-129-10.

This year, the fantasy team seems better, we've got a much better idea of what a Chip Kelly team will look like, and the Super Bowl teams look even better than they did last year. The odds of a repeat champion have rarely been lower, and the really scary thing about Seattle is that they might not have reached their peak yet. It's looking like a chalk year in the conference to me. But there's four months between now and then, and every NFL team is a handful of injuries away from irrelevance.

But, well, you've got to predict, right? Otherwise you can't prove you are smarter than anyone else. When the very act itself proves that you are dumber...

NFC East

Philadelphia 10-6
New York 8-8
Dallas 7-9
Washington 6-10

The Eagles are a better team in a lot of ways than the 2013 edition. The most profound improvement is on special teams, where the coverage teams are going to be dramatically better, but the defensive secondary should also take a step up with Marlon Jenkins and Nolan Carroll. On the down side will be the offense, which is in a transition era at WR, and with an aging OL that isn't going to stay healthy. Overall depth is better, and the team is closer to the Kelly Ideal of hyper-conditioned compliant players with versatility.

The problem is that while they will be better, the schedule is going to make them look worse, and they didn't do enough to close the gap on the conference's top teams. Winning the division isn't enough; you also need to be a top 2 seed, and in a world with Seattle, New Orleans and Green Bay, not having home field advantage is a total non-starter. There will also be regression on turnover luck, better planning from opponents, and real struggles for QB Nick Foles when the world figures out that single press coverage on the wideouts is the only way to go with this kind of explosive running attack. But this is the only good team in the weakest division in football, and they'll repeat as division champs.

Second place will go to New York, where a good defense and some solid overall talent is being counterfeited by terrible QB play and an elderly coach that's coasting off a couple of fluke SB wins. They'll go as far as QB Eli Manning will prevent let them, which really isn't far enough. Third goes to Dallas, who almost have to be better on defense somehow, and will waste some of the best weapons in the game with an offensive line that won't keep their QB clean. DC will bring up the rear with a stars and scrubs roster with not good enough stars, and scrubs that shouldn't be in the NFL. They'll distract everyone by blaming the QB, because that's what terrible organizations do.

NFC North

Green Bay 11-5
Chicago 10-6 *
Detroit 7-9
Minnesota 6-10

The follow of predicting NFL seasons is writ large  in the NFC North, where the division is almost always decided by injuries to the offensive line of Green Bay or Chicago. I'll take Green Bay since their defense has a higher ceiling, and QB Jay Cutler can't seem to stay healthy, but if these conditions reverse, so should the division. As for the Pack, there are additional reasons to take them over the Bears, not including a better home field advantage and more experienced coaching, but it's close.

As for the Bears, there isn't a better WR 1/2 combo, and RB Matt Forte is top shelf as well. But the defense and special teams were terrible last year and might not improve much, and last year's dramatic improvement on the OL might regress. I still think they are going to be a major force in fantasy, if nowhere else. Detroit is trying to instill a new era of discipline and smart play with a new cadaverish-coach (Jim Caldwell, last seen sleep-tanking the Colts to Andrew Luck), but the inmates run this asylum, and aren't going to be here too much longer. Bringing up the rear is Minnesota, who will again prove that you can't win in the NFL without a QB, but will scare the hell out of teams that have to play them. Adrian Peterson is nobody's idea of easy, and Cordarelle Patterson is going to make a lot of noise as well.

NFC South

New Orleans 12-4
Atlanta 10-6
Carolina 8-8
Tampa 5-11

This might be the last best chance for Drew Brees to add a second Super Bowl ring. The running backs are better, the WR corps is deeper, TE Jimmy Graham is healthy, and the defense took a strong step up last year. If they didn't run into turnover trouble, they might have actually taken Seattle out at home, and I really love WR Brandin Cooks. The only trouble is that Brees is 35, has started to show badly in road games, and might not stay healthy. But when they are good, they might be the best team in football. The trick will be to time it for the last six weeks of the year.

Atlanta hit free-fall last year, and while they weren't as good as their record in past years, they weren't as bad last year, either. I'm looking for last gasp years from WR Roddy White and RB Stephen Jackson, a better performance than last year's turnstile OL, and a defense that still can't rush the passer enough to scare good teams. They'll benefit from a surprisingly weak division. Next up will be the very disappointing Panthers, who will demonstrate why defense isn't as consistent from year to year as offense, and will have major issues if QB Cam Newton isn't an MVP candidate... and he's hurt now and has a weak WR corps otherwise, so it's not looking good. Tampa will try to win games by throwing jump balls to huge WRs, and it won't work because that kind of play requires enough time to get the play off.

NFC West

Seattle 13-3
San Francisco 11-5 *
Arizona 7-9
St. Louis 3-13

Last year, this was the best division in football, and this year, it's going to fragment. Seattle is just loaded all over, with a better offensive line, a healthy Percy Harvin, a crazy dangerous Parul Richardson if Harvin isn't available, deeper and more experienced RB work... and that's still the weaker unit to the ridiculously good defense. They aren't as deep as they used to be thanks to free agency, but they are still crazy young, deep and fantastic, and if they get better on the road and stay healthy, they might go undefeated.

San Francisco has all kinds of red flags to them; aging defense, terrible work in pre-season, shakiness about the head coach in the off-season, and a new stadium that will destroy their home field advantage for years to come. (Karmic justice!) I still think they get to the post-season, because QB Colin Kaepernick is a lot better once you give him actual WRs to throw to, and that was the case for the second half of last year, when they were the second-best team in football. If you swapped Kaepernick for Carson Palmer, I'd change the Arizona and San Francisco records, but, um, you can't... and the attempt to overcome Palmer will eventually use up RB Andre Ellington. The defense isn't as young as you'd think, either. St. Louis was going to under-achieve before they lost their QB1,and while the drop from Sam Bradford to Shaun Hill isn't that intense, they still don't have skill players to get it done, especially in this division. Oh, and the home field advantage is horrible.

NFC MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Least Valuable Player: Eli Manning
Fantasy MVP: Matt Forte
NFC Coach of the Year: Sean Payton
All-Pro QB: Rodgers, Kaepernick, Cutler
All-Pro RB: Forte, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson
All-Pro WR: Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall
All-Pro TE: Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis
Defensive Player of the Year: Gerald McCoy
NFC Rookie of the Year: Brandin Cooks

Tomorrow, the AFC and the playoff picks. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fantasy Football Gamebreakers

Sleepers and busts populate Blogfrica, so I'm going to do something different here. I'm going to point out the handful of players who will decide your league, for good or ill.


Matthew Stafford. Not only is he going to make or break your investment in Calvin Johnson, he's either going to deliver top 3 value (inevitably, someone in the Brees-Rodgers-Peyton Manning triumvirate will either get hurt or ineffective, just because three sure bets don't all pay off), or be the guy who flamed out in the second half of 2014 and took teams down hard. My money's on the former, but this is an either/or.

Nick Foles. Guaranteed to throw more picks than 2013, but he's still not going too high as everyone seems to be overplaying the regression card. The NFC East is still a collection of powderpuff defenses, and it's possible that Year 2 will be smoother in some regrets. It's also possible that not having DeSean Jackson packs zones tight enough to make him ordinary, and the OL doesn't do as good of a job at keeping him clean. We know he's not beating teams with his legs.

Tony Romo. I'm scared as hell of a guy with a bad OL and recent back surgery, but there's no denying that he's got weapons and a defense that will make scoring 30 points a game a minimum requirement for victory. This could be a pinball game, or it could be a train wreck.

Jay Cutler. Kind of a safer version of Romo, but with two clear WR1 candidates and a top 5 RB behind him. If you owned Bear QB in 2013, you owned the best fantasy QB numbers (yes, even better than St. Peyton, who eased up a bit at the close). It's possible that he does it again, especially if the defense is another sieve, but his injury history isn't encouraging.

Cam Newton. A routine top 5 finisher at his position, due to his de facto status as Carolina's goal-line RB. This year is scary as hell from a health standpoint, and he's without longtime security blanket WR Steve Smith, but maybe new WRs Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin give him better options.


Eddie Lacy. A first round pick and borderline top 5 selection in serpentine drafts, Lacy is aces on talent, young enough to still have ceiling, and tethered to Aaron Rodgers. But he's also injury prone, hasn't always shown exceptional conditioning, and plays for a team with a good enough idea on offense that a committee could spring up, especially in games where they have leads.

Montee Ball. Peyton Manning's RB is always a good idea... but only if he keeps the job. HC John Fox is partial to committees, and Ball showed enough warts in his rookie year (fumble prone, middling pass protection) that a slow start could make his role less than expected. If he keeps it, he could provide 1,500 yards and 15 TDs, because he's good in the passing game, too.

Andre Ellington. Electric talent with a pro coaching staff, but he's never had RB1 workloads before, plus he's got six games against the meat grinding defenses of Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. He'll be available in the second, or even third, tier of RB1 candidates, but how he'll perform, no one really knows.

Arian Foster. A long-time history of top-shelf production, the defense could give him short fields, and his handcuff / rival Ben Tate is gone to Cleveland... but the outlook is terrible with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls, and he's not getting any younger or healthier. I'm staying away, but many will not.

Steven Jackson. He's either going too early based on name recognition, or too late based on everyone liking his handcuff and/or thinking he's completely spent. For now, he's got the RB1 job in a good dome offense, a rebuilt offensive line, and has healthy WRs to keep the sticks moving. I got him for a crazy low price in my auction league, so I'm hoping like hell for over-production, but the chance of total evaporation is not minimal.


Brandon Marshall. The only clear WR1 with a similarly ranked teammate, Marshall has gone from enfant terrible on his third franchise to respected vet. If he keeps the clear alpha dog role, he'll pay off his draft position, but there's a real chance that he gets poached quite a lot by Alshon Jeffery between the 20s, and Martellus Bennett in the red zone.

Randall Cobb. Potentially the NFL's best slot machine, but slot machine has a lot of turnover from year to year, and Cobb's injury history is no longer clean. Jarrett Boykin's work last year also says that if he's not 100%, the team will happily sit and save him for the playoffs, the same way that Seattle did with Percy Harvin. Speaking of...

Percy Harvin. It's not as if Seattle is going to start throwing it all over the yard, not with that defense and running game... but it's not as if the QB is chopped liver either, and when Harvin is right, Seattle might start winning games faster and easier. Especially in head to head leagues, Harvin is going to ruin people, both for and against.

Pierre Garcon / DeSean Jackson. Both guys are going too early for my tastes -- QB Robert Griffin hasn't looked sharp, and the OL has been a train wreck -- but the most likely event here is that DC Unmentionable recovers against the cupcake division defenses, and Griffin finds a favorite. Garcon was only a WR1 last year on volume, and Jackson has always been boom-bust with shaky second halves, so it's a coin flip. One I won't be taking, but someone's going to win and lose this.

Julian Edelman. If you are right to believe in his talent and last year's production, you will receive Welkerish consistency in the yardage totals, and enough TDs to keep you from bitching too much about QB Tom Brady's red zone habits. If you are right to crap on his output, Danny Amendola finally stays healthy and poaches him, Aaron Dobson develops, Brandon LaFell carves out a role, Rob Gronkowski returns to rule the earth, and so on, and so on. Maybe the guy to own here is actually Brady.


Rob Gronkowski. This category has pretty much been Gronk's for years now. I don't ever see him putting together a truly healthy season again, and his coaching staff is going to try to time it for the playoffs. But when he's right, you've got the only guy that can realistically stand up to Jimmy Graham in a head to head battle.

Julian Thomas. Well, hang on... here's the other guy in the triumvirate, and there's profit potential as well as regression. The profit comes from the possibility that the departure of Eric Decker and Welker's recent concussion opens up more touchdown chances for the man. The regression comes from his occasionally sketchy hands, relative youth and inexperience to football, and basic fact that Peyton Manning likes to spread things around and has new guys to acclimate. You won't get him cheap, but he might outperform the slot.

Jordan Reed. The true Unmentionable to own in the second half of 2013 doesn't have to worry about Fred Davis any more, and bad QB play usually creates opportunities for the TE. But he's also got much more competition for catches this year, and history is littered with guys who can't step up to full-season numbers. I like his talent and situation, but this is far from a sure thing.

Kyle Rudolph. Big skills here, and last year's numbers were solid even with terrible QB play... but that terrible QB play actually helped Rudolph in some ways, since every pass for half a year was a checkdown, and he got a ton of targets. This year, the offense has to be more diversified, which could mean fewer targets, but more shots in the red zone. There's also the inevitability of regime change at QB, so no matter what happens with Rudolph this year, he's always going to be in the news.

Charles Clay. Last year's waiver wire second-tier TE1 has battled injuries in training camp, and is a clear target for regression on the TD catches. On the other hand, new OC Bill Lazor is a tempo pusher with TE love, and QB Ryan Tannehill trusts him. He was the team's best short-yardage back in 2013, which isn't going to happen again in 2014.There's a possibility that this all boils down to the same production, but in dramatically different ways. For my money, I think he's got a great chance to be on a lot of winning teams, but regime change and the injuries also means he could flat out disappear, especially if the OL needs him to stay back and block.

Awful Topical Fantasy Football Team Names

These all fit in the 20 character Yahoo team name limits. Share and enjoy!

> Taney Grand Dragons
> Tampa Too MRSAy
>  E-Cig Suckers
> Hashtag Hashmarks
> Short Cease Fires
> Insane In Da Ukraine
> Ice Bucketeers
> Rescue Fakeouts
>  Koch Bros Presents
> Joe Ferguson Protest
> Arizona Border Def
> DC Name Change Now

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top 10 Deep Keeper League Players For 2014

Future Stud
First, a quick point. The very best keepers in 2014 are strongly going to resemble the best keepers in 2013. If you've somehow got LeSean McCoy for cheap, he's going to be better than just about everyone else. But he won't come as cheap as these guys. So if your league is deep enough to stash for a gain in 2015... on to the bargain hunting!

10) QB Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

A great story is developing in J-Ville, where second year coach Gus Bradley went 0-8 to start 2013, then went 4-4 down the stretch to become the best team in the AFC South. In pre-season, Bortles has looked like the real deal, getting to second and third progressions, showing arm strength and mobility in the pocket. None of that happens for noob QBs that aren't special. Even better, the Jags' new talent at wideout are actual football players, unlike past years, and the offensive line also resembles football players.

I don't know if he's going to be a top 10 QB -- the defense looks upgraded as well, and Bradley isn't a coach that looks like he's going to dial up 600+ throws a year -- but there's nice steady and boring profit to be made here, especially in 2-QB leagues. And with the teams he'll face in the division, there's going to be some big TD games, too.

9) RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

RB Frank Gore, known early in his career for an inability to stay healthy, has shown remarkable durability late. But it can't last forever, which is why the Niners moved on a RB earlier than most in the draft.

Hyde has the quicks and talent to be an actual three-down back, and if you're still worried about getting cuckolded by the perpetually injured Marcus Lattimore, you are really worrying too much. The only downside here is his division, but there's still quality RB2 / third-round value possible in 2015.

8) TE Jace Amaro, New York Jets

Early drops in camp were an issue, but the recent work has been Ditka-esque, and TEs are a bad QB's best friend. Amaro is going to be the kind of TE that never leaves the field due to his blocking prowess, but he's too good in space and traffic to let them keep him down permanently.

If I were a Jet Fan, I'd live a very sad existence... but Amaro's jersey would be the only one I'd pull the trigger on in 2014.

7) QB Ryan Tannehill, Miami

Ready for Nick Foles II? Then step on down to Miami, where new OC Bill Lazor comes from Philly with the same pace of play ideas that changed the world up north. The division is still pretty easy when it comes to a lack of defensive ferocity, and the WR tandem of Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline is surprisingly peppy. Combine that the quality work of TE Charles Clay, an underwhelming running game, an offensive line that has to be better post-Incognito, and his own reasonable athleticism, and you've got serious profit potential from a QB that won't be drafted outside of 2-QB leagues. A Roethlisbergian ceiling awaits.

6) QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta

Take a look at Ryan's 2013, a reviled year where the bloom went off the rose... to the tune of 4,500 yards and 26 TDs. Now, that's without Roddy White, a banged-up Steven Jackson, widespread turmoil on the offensive line, and all of the turnover from injuries. This year, he has to live without safety blanket TE Tony Gonzalez, but he's also got an O-line again, depth at RB, a healthy White, and a last-place schedule. Oh, and the defense is still terrible, and he still plays half of his games in a dome. There's still ceiling here, and if he gets to it, it's 4,800 yards and 30+ TDs. Remember, you aren't drafting last year's numbers.

5) RB Tre Mason, St. Louis

Ignore the happy talk about how Shaun Hill has similar career numbers to Sam Bradford, or how the Rams are going to trade for Mark Sanchez, or sign Kyle Orton, and salvage their year. They aren't, and Hill isn't going to hold up, and even if they did, the Rams are in such a brutal division that it wouldn't matter. And part of the problem is RB1 Zac Stacy, a plodder who only rose to prominence by a few fluke games late in 2013. The club is aware of what they have here, and that's why they invested in Mason, who will be RB1 in 2015... and with an actual QB (either through the draft or free agency, Bradford's done), a fourth-place schedule, and all kinds of clear field ahead.

4) WR Paul Richardson, Seattle

Absolutely stupid speed here, enough to make even the Seattle secondary look bad in camp. He's got a sharp learning curve ahead with the run blocking and the route running, but if you believe Percy Harvin is going to stay healthy, I've got a bridge to sell you... and by 2015, Marshawn Lynch will have slowed down, and Seattle will be trusting QB Russell Wilson with more throws. Richardson isn't going to need many.

3) WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota

Everybody's favorite dark horse speed merchant is the rare hype machine that will live up to the notices. The reason why is (a) his 2013 numbers were unnaturally depressed due to the coaching staff's insane check-down obsession, and (b) the QB work can't be as bad as it was in 2013, especially with Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings. (I'm not as sold on Bridgewater, because the team is going to be pretty run-centric, but even that helps Patterson, since he gets a few carries.)

2) WR Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

The second rounder has impressed in pre-season and training camp, and the men in front of him are injury-prone (Jeremy Maclin) and overrated (Riley Cooper). The catch rate here is strong, he does good work in the running game as a blocker (important in a Chip Kelly offense; it keeps you on the field), and his QB is accurate. WR1 status by 2015, with the potential for 1,200 yards and 10 scores.

1) RB Bryce Brown, Buffalo

RB1 CJ Spiller can't stay healthy, and is about to get expensive. RB2 Fred Jackson harkens back, which isn't anything a RB should do. And Brown is here, impressing the coaching staff, and going to get RB1 carries in a volume system next year. Stash him for a year, and you might wind up with second round value in 2015.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In this year's news you could not possibly care about...

I need to find and interview this guy
here's the 2014 starting roster in my keeper fantasy league.

  Player TM 2014
QB Tom Brady NE 23
RB1 Montee Ball * DEN 37
RB2 Toby Gerhart JAX 41
WR1 Danny Amendola * NE 13
WR2 Randall Cobb * GB 20
WR3 Victor Cruz NYG 45
FX Kelvin Benjamin CAR 19
TE Julius Thomas DEN 41
DEF Kansas City DEF 2
PK Blair Walsh MIN 1
B1 Matt Ryan ATL 19
B2 Hakeem Nicks IND 2
B3 Terrance West CLE 15
B4 Jeremy Hill CIN 8
B5 Steven Jackson ATL 10
B6 Dwayne Bowe KC 3

Asterisks were keepers, and yes, I know, there was no reason to protect Danny Amendola. Just being stubborn.

Last year's team was such a mess, honestly. I wind up in the middle of the pick on free agent pick ups. The couple of guys who did not work out (Ryan Mathews, Russell Wilson) were too expensive to keep for their production. My best moves were waiver guys, not draft picks. I didn't make any trades to help my club for 2014. It was just that bad, and made me think about tanking 2014 in an attempt to actually compete in 2015.

But, well, football isn't like that. Injuries are too common, game changers show up out of the ether, and the guys that will take a massive jump in value next year will do it from change of addresses. Consider, for instance, Gerhart; he went from undrafted in Minnesota to one of the best available RBs in the draft in Jacksonville.

As for thoughts about this draft, it went about as well as I could expect. Going in, I saw only a handful of elite talents -- Matt Forte, Keenan Allen, Andre Ellington, Julian Thomas and Drew Brees -- so getting Thomas was acceptable, especially for a good chunk less than I was projecting for a guy that I have as the second-best TE in the NFL in 2014. Backing him up with two other players from my top ten (Cruz, Gerhart) made me feel good about how things were going, and I normally don't have that kind of positive vibe in mid-draft.

In the middle moments, I got Brady for a very fair price, then got caught a little in price-protecting Ryan, but it's not as if Brady is an every-week auto-start any more. Plenty of potential there. Getting shares of Benjamin, West and Hill gives me some upside candidates, and Nicks, Jackson and Bowe are all good gambles for the money. Even the positions that I'll likely stream later (defense, kicker) felt good.

Looking at the club now, it's obvious to me that WRs are the likely weak spot, especially if Cobb and Amendola have the same injury issues in 2014. I'm hoping Benjamin uses the void in Carolina for WR depth to his advantage, that Bowe gets his act together or Nicks can take advantage of Andrew Luck.

I think I'll compete. But win? Um, no. More on this later.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eagles - Steelers Preseason Takeaways: Ah, Reassuarance

So tonight was the all-important third week of NFL preseason, the one where the starters get more snaps and pretend to care the mostest. It was also the first time this year that the Eagles played watchable football. And if they only played against another team that cared, something meaningful might have been learned!

And with that, on to the takeaways...

> QB Nick Foles looked better tonight than the first two games, because he actually got to work with actual NFL caliber WRs. Getting away from going after CB1 and CB2 with WR5 and WR6 doesn't make any QB look good, especially when the depth guys are greener than grass.

> Foles' TD, a simple double screen to RB LeSean McCoy where the starting OL and WRs laid waste to the Yinzers in front of them, was all kinds of solid, and while Foles keeps putting his receivers in jeopardy (TE Brent Celek seems to live for 15+ yards, eventual helmet loss and a cloud of cartilage damage), he would have had even better numbers with some tougher catch work in traffic. For anyone ready to jump off a cliff over the first two games, this was balm.

> The first half drives were long and crisp, with some of that trademark Chp Kelly niftiness and pace to play-calling. The defense wasn't dominant, but they got off the field without points, and that's the only thing that matters in the NFL now. Third downs were converted, penalties were avoided, the defense got off the field without points after a pick, and all is much, much better in our world.

> CB Nolan Carroll got on the field tonight for the first time, and man alive, does that help. It's not as if he's the best CB3 in the league, but he's a legit CB3, unlike Roc Carmichael or Curtis Marsh.

> RB Darren Sproles was as useful as advertised, and given the Eagles propensity for running plays that operate in space, he might get more carries than expected. Of course, not having Chris Polk healthy is something of a tell. There's plenty to like in back up RB Matthew Tucker and even Kenjon Barker looked good late, but the preseason is filled with fake outs who don't pan out when the game is real.

> Having said all of the good... the Steelers really didn't bring their A game tonight. Lots of flags on the visitors, poor timing with QB Ben Roethlisberger and his young WRs, a defense that didn't do much in terms of any kind of a push, and a game plan that was so vanilla, it was damn near transparent. Pitt might be good, they might be bad, but they showed nothing tonight.

> McCoy had 50 yards and a TD on four touches, but also went off for an x-ray (gahhh!) of his thumb (oh noes!) that proved negative (phew).

> The downfield blocking by the WRs in particular was exemplary, and OT Jason Peters looked to be in mid-season form. Again, the Steeler defense wasn't showing much, but results are results.

> K Alex Henery, on everyone's short list to be replaced after last year's playoff fail, missed another short figgie, and I'm all for that. It's not nice to root for failure, but I just want this guy gone very, very much. How can you be a reasonably high draft pick, have no leg for distance, and already showing hair loss in your mid-20s? The team traded for K Cody Parkey this week, so go, Auburn Rook, go. Not that he did anything tonight, but still, um, he's got to be ahead.

> LB Brandon Graham, perceived to be a cut candidate in some circles, had a nice bull rush and strip to close out the Steelers in the first half. For a team that needs all of the pass rush it can get, that's encouraging.

> QB2 Mark Sanchez continues to look solid, and while the man will never live down Buttfumble, and they aren't going anywhere if he gets a lot of time on the field, that's not the point of QB2. Compared to a lof of the flotsam that's in the league, he's a piece of comparative strength. And anything that keeps Matt Barkley away from meaningful snaps is also a win. Sanchez also got points against the Steeler starters on defense, mostly with Eagle subs.

> Both the first and second team OLs were downright dominant tonight. Now, part of this is the fact that the second team has Lane Johnson on the unit due to his upcoming PED suspension

> Pittsburgh scored a couple of times late to make the final look closer, but for three quarters, this was a beatdown. Breathe, Eagles Nation, breathe. Real games start in a couple of weeks, and we'll have real stuff to worry about.

Mike Carey and the Tipping Point

Good Call
So the news today is the simple and profound revelation that Mike Carey, one of the NFL's most prominent referees and the first African-American to lead a crew at the Super Bowl, declined to officiate the Washington franchise's games since 2006 because of his refusal to be part of their derogatory name.

Carey took his stance privately, and was only outed through an act of journalism, but now that the cat is out of the bag, he's speaking eloquently about his stance, and how even if such a move limited him professionally, treating people with respect was more important. He will now be trolled by an increasingly unhinged and diminishing group of people who feel that the country is going to hell in a handbasket over  its growing uneasiness about calling a football team an absurd and obvious slur. (A small aside: do you know anyone who owns a handbasket? I think my mother in law has them, but I think my mother in law has everything.)

Before we get into the actual working points from this, two small notes. First, that Carey's stance certainly didn't keep him from missing many playoff games. (Waits for rim shot.) Secondly, we all now know the name of a second NFL ref, and Ed Hochuli is really going to have to step up his game to keep up the popularity. Pump some more iron, Ed.

And no matter where you are on this matter -- which is to say if you have already stopped using the term , or will stop using it later, will say that you as well never liked or understood why the name was tolerated, and will not talk about your slow evolution to decent human behavior -- this should be seen by any observer of the obvious as the absolute end game for the name. When the personnel for the league are refusing to work games, and the league isn't terminating them for such a stance, that already tells you that there is sympathy for the point, right? And that if you a Daniel Snyder apologist, that the league is already well on its way to penalizing the team for the name?

Here's what happens next, in case you aren't doing the math: Carey won't be the last person to step away from the PR train wreck. In fact, he's going to inspire others -- many others -- who will also feel that they don't want to endorse the slur. And the future folks won't be nearly so private or discreet about it.

Next, those that remain will be asked why they are OK with the slur. Advertisers will come under increasing fire for supporting the team. Other broadcasters will start to omit the name, along with media. Maybe some outlets will chose to limit coverage, or keep them off prime time television. Minnesota's already taking fire from the caretakers of their temporary yard (the University of Minnesota) about their likely signage and name use for an upcoming home game. Defenders of the indefensible status quo will continue to sound increasingly old, out of touch, and out of step. It's hard to imagine Mike Ditka's "Brownskins" remark sounded good to even Snyder.

This already costs the franchise, and the league, money. That money is theoretical, in that it's the opportunity cost from diminished sales, especially to younger audiences, who are fast to reject racist stuff And it's going to start costing a lot more.

The NFL will tolerate many, many things. Brain injuries, and generations of cover-up about brain injuries. A likely huge amount of PED usage. Scab refs. Franchises holding cities hostage. The dilution of home games to foster international money grabs. PR disasters from payola music events and coddling men who assault women. Performance and injury issues arising from spreading the schedule all over the week, and a sliding scale of what is and is not a penalty, based on the injury and acting skills of the offended party.

But there's one thing that it will not now, and has not ever, tolerated.

And that's losing money.

And the bleed is about to get real messy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top 12 reasons why the NFL is making the Super Bowl halftime show pay to play

What Bats Says
No, seriously.

12) Roger Goodell needs a raise

11) Massive class-action lawsuits from generations of brain-damaged ex-employees don't just pay themselves

10) Sets the important first step of precedent towards getting Paul Allen the opportunity to engage in a full-on Jimi Hendrix wank

9) The gig really is so flush with credibility, paying for it doesn't hurt an artist's reputation at all

8) Every female musician who has played the gig has more or less costumed herself as a pro, so the league just wanted to get in on the fun

7) In the era of digital download, original musicians are just awash in cash, unlike the poor, poor NFL

6) Super Bowl ticket buyers are much more likely to pay more for seats when they know the halftime show has also been gouged

5) Every artist, especially those of African-American or Latino descent, will pay extra to headline the show in Arizona

4) The quality of the acts has been so good, it's intimidated the players, so by making it pay to play, the league will make the teams less nervous

3) The "Super Bowl Bump" is the only reason anyone knows about artists like U2, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Madonna

2) If the acts have to pay to play, maybe they don't have enough money to hire all of those dancers that Middle America finds so fearsome

1) As soon as the acts pay up, the league can cut back on all of that unseemly commercial sponsorship

The Raiders Are Just Trolling People Now, Right?

I'm a QB of wealth and taste
You are looking live at an actual promotional piece for the Oakland Raiders, in their attempt to, um, sell season tickets.

No, seriously.

Matt Freaking Schaub.

The man whose surname became a synonymous verb for throwing a pick six.

A guy who was pretty much run out on a rail from Houston, a franchise where he was the best QB in franchise history, in that he was the only one who ever experienced any success at all.

They couldn't get rid of him fast enough. Why? Because he's slow, doesn't have a strong arm, and offers you no upside... while also losing the accuracy that prevented him from being a turnover machine.

Every other franchise had the opportunity to go after this guy. No other franchise did.

And the Raiders want their fans to get to know him.

No, seriously.

So, um this...

Is this just a ploy to decrease ticket sales, so that they can move to San Antonio or Las Vegas or Los Angeles or South Green Bay or wherever else is desperate enough for NFL football?

(And yes, the football the Raiders play does count. Same league and stats and everything!)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nothing Soothes Racial Tensions Like Free Tickets To Fake Football

Ready For Some Football?
Unless you've been under a rock for a good line while, you've seen the military police level horror of what's been going on in Ferguson, MO. Before I get into the weeds of who's at fault for the execution of an unarmed black kod, or the long history of similar actions, or how a police department gets to be so overwhelmingly opposite of the racial composition of its citizenry through what is presumed to be a very long pattern of poor hiting practices and/or ...

Well, whoops. Weeds. But here's the St. Louis Rams to make things all better with... free tickets to a game for football players from those area high schools! Well, that's awfully nice.

I guess they are going to have to work out how to keep the kids from selling those seats, though. As nice as it is to treat kids to a game, the fact is that even the cheap seats at a Rams game buy a lot of groceries, and you can't just assume...

Oh, wait. It's a pre-season game. Well, I suppose the Packers are kind of fun... and getting out of town, even if it's just for a few hours, certainly has its advantages.

Just one thing... how are the kids getting to the game?

And just how many white people are going to have to go with them to vouch for their status as non-targets?

FTT Off-Topic: The Running Monologue

Or Athletic
As mentioned before, I run, because not running is worse.

One hundred miles a month, every month, 7 for 7 so far this year, after 90 miles a month last year. Last year's miles were easier, because they had cheating aspects (I'd hang on the treadmill and try to sprint through things, and also count walking). This year has been a grind. I'm not actually very good at running, as I'm (a) short, and (b) a guy that didn't do it until I was in my '40s. So I had to rework my running style to stop being a mid and back foot striker, which was causing major knee problems once I'd run, say, more than three miles at a time. But with toe shoes and diligence, I got through it, and now I'm on pace.

When I run has also changed a lot. It used to be all gym miles, either on a treadmill or track, which meant that it came during prime time hours, and kept me away from family. Now, I tend to run at night, on the roads in my neighborhood, when the traffic is minimal and you can let your mind wander, and the kids are in bed. At least, that's the theory. The reality is often different, because most of the time when I run, it's not a universal decision between my brain and body.

My brain has this spreadsheet, you see. My brain has goals, ambitions, and a desire to spread out the back nine of my life for as long as possible. My body has peeling skin between the toes, bruised heels, battered knees, reflux from eating, threats of diarrhea, and so on, and so on. So what usually happens is a fight to keep running in the first mile or so, and eventually my body shuts the hell up and my brain drifts off to what can fill the bloghole, how I'm going to play the next poker game, who I like in fantasy football, and so on, and so on. Eventually, I finish the course I've laid out for myself, and up to 7 miles of my monthly task is over. Do this 15 to 20 times a month, it's all fine. So long as I'm not cramping or under some form of trauma, the running just happens. With no outward drama. Inside, it's a fight.

The other night had something more intriguing, though. It was colder than usual -- it's been a good summer for that -- and I was out in my usual shorts and t-shirt, because, well, I sweat buckets, and there's no need to pollute more clothes than that. And it took a lot longer than the first mile for the body to settle down and just accept the exercise. It was like I was operating at a different vibration.

And my body, of course, used this in it's latest attempt to get me to stop running.

Maybe you're having a heart attack.

Seriously? That's the best you can come up with. You just had your blood pressure taken during a dental cleaning earlier in the day, and it was 112 over 80. You weigh what you weigh in college. The actual odds of you having a heart attack, while running? Pretty damn small, honestly.

But what if? Would you stop running?

Christ. STFU, will you? Just run.

But what if? Couldn't we just walk until the feeling passes?

We're three miles from home. Walking will take an hour. Running will take a half hour. You really want to be out here for a a full hour

You'd keep running even if we were having a heart attack. Idiot.

Well, fine. Hospital's right over there. Why not just jog on over and tell them you're having a heart attack. Pretty sure they'll check you right out.

Well, um, no.

Why not?

Because, um...

It's be embarrassing as hell to walk into a hospital and claim a heart attack when the only thing that is really happening is you're just a whiny little piece of garbage that doesn't want to run when he's a little bit cold?


Just run.


Thank you.

I hate you.

Right back at you, buddy.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: The Oddfest Comedy Tour comes to... Camden?

The Lineup
Not sports, not an issue. Right?

Tonight, I took the Shooter Wife to see the Oddball tour stop in Camden, the ex-murder capital of America, and the just over the river arena / fairground that can accommodate about 7,000 people under the roof, and another 15K on the lawn. Oddball is a comedy festival where you get about three hours of bang for your buck, with a rotating crop of A-listers at a few dozen dates across the U.S.

Here's the thing about Camden... I lived in the greater Philadelphia area for the first 30 years of my life, and never set foot in it, other than a single day trip to the Aquarium. It's that bad, that scary, that devoid of attraction or purpose. Seeing the show booked for this venue didn't stop us from going, but it did certainly give the experience a certain vibe, one that the comedians definitely picked up on. Local comedians were on the Festival Stage at 5pm, but as that was standing room only, in the bright sun, and not terribly worth it to my ears when I checked it out, we pretty much took a miss on that and just went to our seats.

The MC of the show was Brody Stevens, who is credited on Wikipedia as having a 15-year career of stand-up and acting appearances on a host of shows. He basically served as the warm-up act, a thankless chore in a setting where everyone has come to see the headliners, and a solid percentage of the crowd is bent out of shape that Amy Schumer, originally on the bill, wasn't appearing.

I'd like to be charitable to Stevens, since anyone can have a bad day and I didn't catch his act on the Festival Stage... but man alive, he was horrible. No one on the bill tonight was as funny as Stevens was unfunny, and he wasn't even unfunny in an awkward or challenging way that spoke to some sort of artistic ambition or too smart for the room. Rather, his timing was just scattershot, his jokes lackluster, and his willingness to be combative about a lack of reaction was bomb-tastic. Oh, and if you are going to do crowd work, it would help if you weren't really bad at it.

Brent Morin then took the stage and did a nice 15 minute set, with good energy and the usual acts of self-depreciation; nothing revelatory, but a fine effort to get the Stevens taste out of our minds. Jerrod Carmichael's set was interesting, in that he took a more refined and quieter approach, with nice local references ("This is the murder capital of the U.S." (Someone in the crowd: Woo!) "That's not something you should be happy about...") and command, but you kind of had to strain to understand him from time to time, and that's not a great thing to say in a festival setting. I could see Carmichael being good in a club, and eventually having a following along the lines of Burress. He's pretty talented, but not yet to the point of being truly memorable.

Our third comedian, and the last of the mostly unknowns, was Chris D'Elia. Like Morin, he's on the show "Undateable", and he had more of an upbeat energy, but his central premise (men and women, and the all-encompassing sex drive of the former) isn't exactly winning awards for originality. Still, he was successful in connecting with the growing crowd, and took us to the first true headliner of the night, Hannibal Burress. Who came out in an airbruhsed jumpsuit of his own face. Just, well, because.

Burress has a special on Netflix (Comedy Central), and was famously named by Louis C.K. as his favorite working stand-up a few months ago. He combines a certain political edge (Burress is black, heavy-set, and a hip-hop fan) with great fits of fancy, and he's got a relaxed delivery to go with outstanding timing. While the acoustics did him no favors, and his closing comedic rap with ballerina accompaniment didn't really do much for me, he's a flat out stud, and his 25+ minutes passed way too quickly. Keep an eye on him, he's going to a growing presence and influence on American stand up. Most memorable riff: an extended list of all the things that a fixer fan could do for him, rather than have someone killed. (I told you Camden had an impact on the performers.)

We passed the intermission doing what we could to avoid contact highs from hipsters with vape pens and uber-potent stank weed, avoiding the money vape at the usually overpriced concessions with overly long lines, passing on mawkish tributes to Robin Williams, and staying away from DJ Trauma keeping the crowd engaged with Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond. Ouch. Stevens then came out to do some of the exact same jokes he had done just two hours ago -- borderline troll behavior,  really -- before bringing up Sarah Silverman.

Silverman gets, IMO, too much grief for not working in enough new material, and for not being, well, Schumer. Tonight, she did 25 minutes I've never heard before, and while it occasionally verged on the ground of throwing politically correct meat to trained dogs, the vast majority of it was just fearless and great.  She did some light crowdwork in support of a single joke that seemed to take her longer than expected, and seems to be working away from her "Jesus Is Magic" era persona, which is a good sign for future output, I think. I suspect that being on this tour, in the presence of so many grinders, is a good thing for her, and she's as adorable as ever. There's the core of a great new hour here. Most memorable riff: how sperm cells show a sense of smell, which makes them life, and the counseling and invasive medical procedure men should undergo before electing to abort said cells through the act of masturbation. You've never seen so many men wince as one...

For sheer joke machine firepower, I'm not sure you get better than Dave Attell. The long-time club comic and Comedy Central mainstay did a masterful half hour that was as blue as you could imagine or hope for, and some audio problems (loud popping noises, likely from speaker issues, but hey, it's Camden, maybe it was gunfire) just inspired him to riff harder and better. His workrate is amazing, and his writing is just airtight; it's almost like a modern Rodney Dangerfield, only quicker. I was a fan before this set, despite the sense that I wouldn't like his crowd (super-boozy porn enthusiasts), and I'm a bigger fan now. He could have easily done another hour without losing anyone, and some people actually got up and left after he was done, I guess because they just didn't want to hear anyone after him. Most memorable riff: how to make girl on girl porn.

Finally, the tour closer and linchpin: Louis C.K. The biggest draw in alternative comedy did not disappoint, delivering a great set of truth that showed his gifts of pacing, imagination, originality and pivoting from point to point without ever showing a moment of strain or artifice. At his best, Louie makes stand-up look effortless, or like the most natural thing in the world for a grown man and father of two to be doing. Even when he's mining territory that other comedians work (say, how technology makes bad decisions much more powerful), he generates deep and serious laughs for how that would manifest, and the success of his past few years hasn't changed his commitment or focus to the craft of stand up. Most memorable riff: the anxiety of parents toward the sexual maturation of their kid.

As you might expect from stand up, the set ended somewhat abruptly, and the crowd fled like cockroaches with the lights turned on as soon as Stephens got back on the mic to hype, yet again, his involvement with the final episode of "Chelsea Lately." No, seriously. Brody Stephens is just the worst.

All in all, a great night, despite the lack of Schumer, the stunted nature of hearing so many different voices in such a relatively short period of time, and the presence of such disparate elements of terrible (Stephens, the DJ work), good (the first hour stand-ups) and spectacular (Burress, Silverman, Attell and C.K.). If you have a chance to go see the tour when it comes to your town, by all means, do. It's just that good , and really worth your time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The End Of Football

Buh Bye
So I try, honestly I do try, not to pay too much attention to preseason football. It's almost always a weak indicator when it comes to regular season work, and much of what you see isn't of real concern. Over-reacting to fake football leads a man to sports talk radio, and that's a slippery slope to mouth breahing, lunkheadness and a truly crippling lack of personal style. But in tonight's game, what I saw was just too terrible to escape comment.

Now, the 42-35 final score should give you some clue as to why the game was terrible, but hey, high scoring games can be fun, right? Well, not so fast. This game wasn't high-scoring due to unstoppable offense, or even comically bad defense. Rather, it was high scoring due to officiating. Constant, unrelenting, unwatchable officiating.

The Eagles and the Patriots are not great rivals. They just had a thoroughly placid week of practice that ended with CB Cary Williams making nice over his act of unfortunate truth telling. Neither team is known for bone-crushing defense, pronounced nastiness, or back-ups who are trying to make the club through unrelenting thuggery.

So the NFL went for an extra umpire in tonight's crew, and pretty much threw a flag every other play. The final numbers say 21 flags for 169 yards on both teams, but that's just the ones that were accepted. In the first half, with the starters on the field, it seemed like there were flags on the field on every other play... and it just gets to the point of pointlessness. Stop the run on first, sack the QB on second, get flagged for a 5-yard defensive holding play, away from the play, for the bailout first down for the offense. Repeatedly. If the offense doesn't score under these conditions, it's only because they've turned it over. And somehow didn't draw a flag before doing it.

Where this all leads you to is a certain sense of apathy, and the true End Of Football. I actually napped during the game, partly because I'm old and worn down, and partly because the game was, even in the words of the Eagle homers who were trying to hype future preseason telecasts, unwatchable. I know that doesn't sound particularly bad, but trust me, it is, and was. If you just saw the highlights, you might think this a football game, and maybe even a compelling one. It wasn't.

Oh, and to the people who say this is all fine, that things will go back to normal once the games start for real... um, if that's the case, why practice with this standard?

Some pun about how to pronounce a tween girls' name goes here

Pitch Like Pedro
Today at the Little League World Series, Philadelphia's Mo'Ne Davis threw a 2-hit shutout, walking none, striking out eight, while being female. The video is nice, and not just because she's got some heat and movement, but also because she just plain looks like a pitcher.

This, of course gets all kinds of sports media attention because it's novel and interesting, but there's a bigger point to take away, and that's this: of all of the team sports in which men play, baseball provides the lowest barrier to entry. It's not all that hard to imagine a woman who can be left-handed and throw 90 miles an hour with some amount of control, and if and when that happens, she'll have a job. Immediately, and maybe even if she only throws 80, because baseball has lots of game time to fill, and a very large number of seats as well.

Now, this wouldn't be all sunshine and puppies: baseball players can be some of the biggest meatheads on the planet, and our prototypical Jacquilene Robinson would have to suffer through the internship of high school, college and minor league ball, all of which works like a sluice to wipe out many outlier candidates. We'd also have to shake off various cultural stigma and issues if and when the Distaff Hurler takes a line drive up the middle, since violence against women remains a (not nearly rigid enough) taboo.

But all things yield to money, getting outs is getting outs, and the simple fact of the matter is that if MLB is losing out of elite athletes to the NBA and NFL and soccer (and, well, they are)... this is where the line gets crossed. Not place kicker or punter (too much of a risk on a tackle), not QB (the hits are rare but brutal), not hoop (even, say, a three-point shooting specialist or power player is just under too much pressure on defense), not the other football (well, OK, maybe goalie).

And yes, I'm ignoring hockey, where goalie has already been broached in the minors, but ignoring hockey is fun.

So, Ms. Davis? Stay loose and focused on the prize. In ten years or so, you could do something that no one's been able to do for a very long time.

And that would be... make people who aren't currently paying attention to baseball, well, do that...

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Brief And Obvious Point About Rob Manfred Becoming MLB's New Commish

Hangs Out With Undesirables
Manfred could, honestly, re-enact scenes from "Game of Thrones" in his office, on camera, without special effects.

He could make the National League adopt the Designated Hitter while abolishing it in the American.

He could make pointless international circus games more prevalent and mid-week, in a bid to torture test players into seeing what baseball is like when played by the sleep deprived.

He could wreak terrible vengeance on Boston for daring to oppose his ascent, at least temporarily.

He could, in short, do everything within his power to further trash a sport that is taking the express train to somnambulism and age-out, whose World Series is dependent on populous regions making it to get ratings that aren't an active embarrassment.

And he'd still exemplify the following things that Bud Selig could not.

Things like hope. The potential that every new wrinkle doesn't have to suck. That we might, at some point, start to rein in the pointless inter-league schedule, the This Time It's Stupid All-Star Game, or the continuing squeeze on small markets and teams that haven't successfully extorted a pleasure palace out of the local rubes to play their games.

Rob Manfred has been Bud Selig's right hand man for a long time. He's very likely to keep doing the dumb things that Selig would do, and maybe he'll just me a borderline puppet.

And then again, he might not.

And for MLB fans, "he might not" is about all the hope that anyone can muster right about now...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Russell Wilson Has Issues

One of these men need to be sacked
File this under the heading of "No One Should Ever Like Anyone, Or Try To Help..."

Seattle QB Russell Wilson has an off-season charity where he goes out on a big limb to try to alleviate the problem of childhood hunger. Pretty safe cause, right? One you should be able to pitch on any channel without getting dragged into snark and stupidity?

Ah, but then there's Fox. Who, I'm pretty sure, would come out against oxygen if it were commonly known that their political opponents enjoyed it. Here's Neil Cavuto, deciding that anyone who doesn't want kids to go hungry must have a political axe to grind with Michelle Obama. Quotes...

"Well, Russell, what are we doing wrong then as a nation though with this urging them to eat healthy or set up these school lunch programs where they're urged to eat healthy. I mean, Michelle Obama's trying. Many argue that she's getting to be too much of a food police mommy," Cavuto said. "Be that as it may, whatever she's doing isn't working and I'm wondering what you're doing that is working. What's the difference?"

Um, Neil? Childhood hunger and school lunches, while related, aren't quite the same thing. And kids who are hungry don't choose to not eat rather than eat healthy. Also, um, Wilson is African-American. You think he's going to throw Michelle Obama under the bus?

"Well, the first lady, I have so much respect for her. I was able to meet her and the President, obviously, you know when we went to the Super Bowl, we won the Super Bowl and got to go to the White House," Wilson said. "You know, I think at the end of the day, you know the kids, it's tough to eat healthy. You know, I remember when I was a little kid I was always struggling trying to eat healthy." [...]
"Really? That was never my problem, Russell. I guess you have some issues," Cavuto said.
 Gosh, Neil! If only the world-class two-sport Super Bowl QB winning athlete was good enough to eat as well as you. He might have made something of his life!

FTT Off-Topic: Beaker Has Edge

One perfect minute that you can't front on. Enjoy.

Pass Any Interference

Learn To Love This
I'm making the usual annual mistake of watching pre-season football, folks, and it's really not encouraging. Forget the meaningless of the games, the specter of injury, or the awfulness of the actual telecasts; the real problem is the way the games are being called.

When you watched NFL football in 2013, did you ever think these thoughts:

1) There just wasn't enough pass interference called against the defense

2) We really need to do something to encourage WRs to lobby for more PI calls

3) There just wasn't enough offense

4) How Seattle played defense was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and must be stopped

5) Referees aren't deciding enough games.

Zero for five for you, too?

Well, I guess I shouldn't be looking a gift horse in the mouth, seeing how I root for a team (the Eagles) that usually don't get close enough to the WR for interference to be an issue. And maybe this is all just a one-week aberration, a fake-out to uppity CBs (heh heh) to remind everyone just who signs the checks around here, and this is all just going to go away, like 33-yard PATs and much of the guys getting second half reps.

But, um, what if not so much?

I don't mean to overstate the case here, but Week 1 of the preseason was borderline unwatchable. Flags were everywhere. Calls came late. Bad offense was bailed out repeatedly, and long down and distances weren't any kind of hazard, since all you really needed to do was take a dive near a DB and reap the benefits for your soccer-esque malfeasance. It's not even going to be good for the league's top constituency -- nerdy nitty gamblers, aka fantasy players -- since drawing PI yards doesn't show up in the allmighty stats, and just puts everything in the hands of the RB TD vultures.

Finally, there's this. Doesn't there have to be a year, even if only for regression or bad PR for the casual viewers, where the NFL's popularity actually goes down?

And wouldn't it be nice if that year were to coincide with a year in which scoring points is cheapened yet again?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: August Is the Cruelest Month

What Is It Good For
Not sports, not sorry, read or don't. This is going to get random.

You can pretty much tell the age of your peer group not by whether they are posting about Robin Williams in your social feed, but what Robin Williams project is mentioned. Friends of mine are going with "Mork and Mindy", because that defined their childhood. Others are adding "Mrs. Doubtfire" moments, or maybe "Good Will Hunting," or "Good Morning, Vietnam." No one's citing his stand-up, because stand up is just too ephemeral to quote a single line, and Williams was too single-note and cocaine-driven to really make what he was originally best at to be the driving point now. And in the next day or say, one assumes, the younger trolls who only knew him when the shtick had gotten a little tired will write about his end, and, well, that's not pretty now, and won't be pretty later. You don't go out by your own hand, without a debilitating illness, and not get some scorn tossed on the memory.

For my money, Williams was a stylist and primal force who overwhelmed projects with his energy and vision, and wound up doing the same thing a lot. It was a thing that a lot of people loved, but it's also something that probably fed his demons; the man battled various forms of addiction over the decades, and kept him from doing the work that he probably respected more. (There was a remarkably downcast and humble podcast interview with Marc Maron a few years ago that makes this more than a potshot theory, but it is what it is.) And he died at 63, an apparent suicide with sordid details, at a time when he was still working a lot. Expect sadness for the better part of a week about it.

Actual real news is Gaza and Ebola and Sad Politics and the constant threat of economic scares, and of course every news network trades in fear to pump the ratings, but still.

And then there's the actual sports that are supposed to take your mind off such things, and instead it's all about how Greg Oden hit his woman and some MMA guy hit his woman and yes, there's going to be more to that Tony Stewart story...

Personally? I tore the skin on my hand (again) while golfing yesterday, which has now happened the last two times out and has made the back nine painful in ways that were beyond the ordinary. I've got a chipped tooth and a dentist that won't return calls, a car with a persistent electrical issue, a puppy that's teething, a fantasy draft prep that's not doing itself, and unexpected money issues and unexpected expenses that make the former worse. 

And, so, well, one question... when do things not suck? And can I just turtle up and sleep until that happens? (Answer: no. Gahhh.)

 Maybe this weekend, when I've got tickets to the Philly area Oddfest tour stop, and get to see Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, Aziz Ansari, Hannibal Burress and others. Maybe a week from Friday, the next time my home poker game crew meets up. Maybe in a week and a half, when the football draft is over, and I'll delude myself into liking my team. Maybe in a month, when I make a road trip to Indy to add another town on the list of places where I've seen my Eagles play with the Shooter Mom.

But today? Today is about people dying too soon, and people behaving badly, and the toy department getting invaded by sadness and fatigue and depression.

Some days are just like that. Especially Mondays in August.

And I miss Lou Reed, and my dog, who died six weeks ago, and it still hurts.

Tough season. Random sadness, just piling on top of each other, making everything go too slow.

Play me out, Lou.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top 10 Takeaways From NFL Preseason Week One

I Just Broke The Internets
10) This experiment with Very Long Extra Points required everyone to watch and think about kickers for more time than before, and as such, has to be considered a failure

9) If the NFL is really serious about calling this many flags on this many plays, we can safely state that Roger Goodell Must Be Killed

8) If the NFL is really going to allow on-field advertising as seen in the Ravens-Niners game, we can safely state that Roger Goodell Must Be Killed In A Particularly Long And Horrifying Fashion, Preferably While Simulcast Online, So That We Can Hear And Relive Every Second Of His Richly Justified Demise, Over And Over And Over Again

7) For the 25th straight year, RBs who are 5 to 15% smaller or shorter than the norm achieved Invisibility Powers in the minds of NFL color commentators

6) If your laundry played well, it shows how great of a year they are going to have, and if they played badly, it meas nothing, because in the preseason, all teams are above average

5) Michael Sam and Johnny Manziel made headlines, because it's pretty much impossible for them not to make headlines

4) The Harbaugh who coaches Baltimore beat the Harbaugh that coaches San Francisco yet again, because his Mom liked him best

3) In the NFL's longest-running preseason tradition, Jets Fan strongly preferred the work of QB2, and is totally ready to throw QB1 under the bus

2) The guy who out-thinks himself in your fantasy league, whose draft board never looks anything like any other owner, paid way too much attention to all of these games (whistles past graveyard)

1) Every other sports fan in America told their friends how happy they were to have football back, as if preseason is actually football, or that between free agency, the draft, and assorted silliness, it ever really goes away

What People Are Missing About Kevin Love Coming To The Cavs

No, just business associates
Let's just call this for what it is: LeBron James is now the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers. There is nothing all that wrong with this: it's kind of what happens in the NBA. But it's not exactly an optimal role for a player, since every player is going to go all-in on every hand, because, um, it's not like they've got a three to five year plan in place for long-term viability. But let's put that aside for now.

With the de factor announcement of the Andrew Wiggins / Anthony Bennett trade to Minnesota for the final year of Love's current deal, and the likely resigning of the power forward to a long-term deal afterward, most metrics are looking at Cleveland as the new lockdown choice for the finalist in the East. And, well, I'm not sure they are wrong, because the plain and simple fact of the matter is that any team in the East that has LeBron James on it, assuming he's healthy and not dead from fatigue, is a better than even money bet to win three playoff series in the East in 2014.

And no, I'm not being facetious in this, in any way. Who else do you like? Chicago, dependent on a point guard that can't stay healthy and an old imported power forward who is likely to get his ears worn out by his new defense-first coach for the entire regular season? Miami, going without James, depending on Dwyane Wade to somehow not be old and beaten down? Indy, who got their hearts ripped out in the playoffs, lost their best player to injury, and their insane but talented defensive stopper to free agency? Toronto or Washington or Charlotte, destined for regression as young players get too fill of themselves, and the depth gets exposed? Brooklyn or New York, with more money than sense or talent? The East will be better this year, but only because the benefits of tanking are so less tangible, and everyone but Philly will try to win games again. Anyway, moving on.

But the bigger issue isn't Love, or how he's soft inside and gives back points on defense while racking up rebounding numbers that mask his inefficiencies, or a continuous back and forth over how a guy with those numbers can somehow miss the playoffs for six full years, regardless of how inept his GMs were. The problem that I have with the Cavs are the other three starters.

Start with center Anderson Vareajo, who might be the most important player on the roster on defense. Sideshow Anderson is 31, the closest thing on the roster to a good defensive player that isn't James, and a man who hasn't played a full slate of games since 2008-09. He's played 146 out of the last 312 games for this team. Expecting him to hold up now, just because James is in town and the Cavs are relevant again, requires a fair amount of optimism.

Next, it's point guard Kyrie Irving. Neither James nor Love has played with a ball-dominant point guard before, and whether or not they'll play with one this year is the biggest question about this club. I'm not a fan of Irving's game -- to my eye, he's never made a teammate better, which makes him a pretty interesting teammate for Love. The single most important thing a PG can do on a James team is hit wide-open threes and contain your man on defense; that's so not Irving's game. I'd honestly feel better about this team with a relative no-name like Patrick Beverly at the 1, but maybe the thought process here is that Irving can take enough of the load on offense to limit James' minutes in the regular season. But it's not the offense, or the regular season, that concerns me the most about Irving.

Rather, it's on defense, where Irving has clearly conserved his energies up to now. For a guy who is as quick as he is, who gets as many minutes as anyone might want, to be so ordinary on steal numbers (1.5 a game, and that's been consistent) as a 6-2 PG is a red flag. (It's not like he's stopping anyone who takes him the in the paint, either.) And even if you want to wave those off, there are also the injuries: he's missed 20% of Cleveland's games in the first three years of his career. You know, when PGs are relatively spry.

Final point: who's the last starter on this team? If it's Dion Waiters, the third-year high pick from Syracuse who has had issues co-habituating with Irving, I don't know what he brings to the table, other than another guy with major defensive problems, and a guy who will provide empty regular season calories as a guy who finishes transition looks from James. If it's Mike Miller, I don't see how he stays healthy. If it's James Jones or Ray Allen, that's the same as Miller, and I guess you just ride the hot or healthy hand all year long. Notice, by the way, that none of these guys are lockdown defenders. It seems lacking, if not for the East, then at least, for the Finals.. and if the fifth starter is a problem, the bench is one, too.

I get why GM James would rather have Love than Bennett or Wiggins in his attempt for Ring #3, and the first in forever for Cleveland. I also see how this can all work. Irving might be the kind of guy who just needs better teammates (the All Star Games he's played in gives Cavs Fan hope here), and Love should blossom, especially if James plays down low more and sets him up from distance all year long. Maybe James can inspire defense, or erase enough mistakes with chasedown blocks to get more in the way of hustle and steals from the guards. Maybe the new coach, David Blatt, brings something to the table that will help to get definition and utility out of the benchies.

Or maybe James will carry a team to 60+ wins and three playoff series wins in the still weak East, rack up another 3,700+ minutes on legs and knees that have already logged just under 40K minutes in nine seasons, at age 30...

And maybe he finally gets hurt. And maybe it won't work against a deeper and relentless efficient Spurs team. Or a Thunder squad with its own sense of extreme urgency and jaw-dropping athleticism. Or maybe even some emerging power like a Clippers team without a cancer at owner, a Warriors squad that could be dangerous as well as entertaining with finally healthy bigs and a coach who would not rather be preaching on street corners, or a Rockets or Blazers squad that unexpectedly gels and improves...

Having made this deal, the Cavs are clearly the team to beat in the East.

But they are not now, and may never be... the team to beat in the NBA.

Because as good as LeBron James is, and as good as he might make Kevin Love...

Those are just two players, on a team with many more question marks than you should ever expect to see from a championship contender.

And even if it all works out...

Um, when's the last time a thrown together club wins in their first year together?

(Answer: Boston, in 2008-09. The last year a team fortified itself with a star power forward that was traded away from Minnesota. Courage, Cavs Fan!)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Brief And Obvious Point About Tony Stewart

Do Not Click
Driving into someone with any kind of intention is assault.

Regardless of context.

Assault that leads to injury is a criminal offense. And assault that leads to death is homicide.

Regardless of context.

People who appear to have committed homicide, whether or not they are famous, whether or not they are wealthy, whether or not they express remorse or have a good PR staff, and whether or not they have done good works in charity or anything else...

May escape incarceration in our remarkably inequitable system of justice.

But they will not, and can not, escape public scorn, shame, commercial leper status, and all of the other ways that justice is now dispensed, in an era where athletes need to be liked, along with successful.

I have no idea if Stewart will be charged or exonerated.

(I do know that if you willingly watch the video of the last few seconds of a man's life, knowing what you are going to watch in advance, and you don't have to for work or as a part of a jury situation, there may be something wrong with you. Or will be later.)

But I do know that his career is effectively over, and like OJ Simpson before him, it's only a matter of time before he finds himself in a jail cell.

It's not justice.

It's just what happens.

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