Friday, January 30, 2015

A Small Note To The People Who Are Excited About Watching Super Bowl Ads

And The World Is Yours
You people... you wondrous, amazing people. You really should come to my home poker game. It's a lot of fun, and every one at the table isn't any good at the game, really. You could totally win. New folks do all the time.

And I know, it's tempting to jump the gun and watch the ads online, but doesn't that seem to take away the specialness of watching commercials? I know it does for me. I need the suspense of not knowing what an ad is for in the first 90 to 95% of the spot, then getting the payoff, a small half-chuckle that's more charity than chortle, and to forget about it almost instantly, since it had nothing to do with the brand or a good or service that I might be interested in. $3.5 to $4 million for thirty seconds, though! That alone makes these ads IMPORTANT.

Don't let all of those snarky people tell you that you are a special kind of idiot for spending your time watching ads that you will be seeing on other telecasts for, well, the rest of the year. Instead, vote on your favorites! Argue with other people on the Internet (remember, first to go to CAPITAL LETTERS WINS) about it, read columns with letter grades, consider the relative merits and drawbacks of crowd sourced ads, pule that they were not as good as back in the day, and in general, act like people in a 2-day hypnotic trance where they are employed by advertising agencies.

You aren't being taken for an annual ride that proves the ever-lowering standards of the American experience and educational system! No, you're just watching the BESTUS AND MOST IMPORTANT ADS EVER. So watch them hard!

FTT Off-Topic: Inertial Pain

Fake It Till You Make It
(Washing- ton Post) -- Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volks- wagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away.

 Four years ago, my family and I bought a Honda hybrid hatchback. It's done well for us, though it's not been an optimal experience. I had a fender bender at about 10  to 15 mph in it once, and that cost an inordinate amount of money to fix. The mileage hasn't been all that could be hoped, but as the car's on-board electronics tell you exactly how much gas you are spending, it's kind of  a two-way street when the costs get higher. The math for it worked really well in the days of $3.50 gas, not so much now that gas is under $2, but all in all, we do better with a smaller car. We're not big people. (I'm the tallest person in my house, and I'm 5'4".)

Anyway, the most striking thing about the car was how quiet it was. When the gas engine kicks in, you hear it, bur there are strong portions of time when you are coasting or using the electric, and the only noise is wind or your music or the outside world. As a parent, I appreciate quiet, and as someone who had never had a new car before, I just reacted well to it.

I totally get why a truck buyer would not. We are in very different places. But the point is this: sticking with what you know to be right and true and correct in your gut could be setting you up for trouble.

Truck drivers who are listening to this fake engine sound are, of course, going to miss those small tell-tale sounds that a vehicle makes when something is not quite right and getting worse. Now, maybe that does not really matter with modern vehicles, since the Internet of Things and diagnostics might be giving you better hints of trouble than any engine noise ever would, but still.

You're paying for an illusion. That rarely works out. In trucks and elsewhere...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Super Bowl Pick: End Game

NFL 2015 End
There isn't really that much to say about the end of the worst NFL season since the Strike Year, folks. Sure, it seems like a lot, but nothing that has required your time and attention in the last 10+ days. One of the teams has made the event a joke through repeated rules violations, and the other employs a guy who was ran out of the wildly corrupt college game by being, well, wildly corrupt. One of the teams employed a probable mass murderer quite recently; the other is only here thanks to a choke for the ages from their opponent. We would all be holding our nose about this, but being an NFL fan this year meant that you lost your sense of smell, along with your empathy for the pain and suffering of millions of ex-players and abused women and children. At some point, this NFL season became "Breaking Bad", and we all became customers of Mr. White's sky blue meth. Whether we were pathetic addicts or bloodthirsty drug lords is really only a matter of scale.

And the show will go on, probably with the highest ratings on record, because that's just how addicted we are to this bloodsport drug. I haven't really been able to lose myself in the matchup for the entire build-up to this game, or how it's going to be February and wow, no more games for seven months and it's the dead of winter and whatever. None of the usual rhythms and thought patterns have emerged. Instead, I've just come to accept that, like diminished teeth capacity and the race that is earning potential against obligations, that football isn't going to be as good as it once was, and is going to get worse. The game is no longer going to be an escape from the horrors of the real world, a diversion from aging and worry about what we're doing to the planet. Instead, its just going to be a different kind of suck, like an illness you can't shake.

Despite the fact that, at least theoretically, you could just stop watching. I mean, some have, right? I could just stop running a league, blog, and so on, and find other hobbies. Life's short, and there's no reason to keep pouring into a declining system.

Except, well, my friends and family that aren't going to go anywhere. I'm 45, and the last thing I need is *less* things to talk to people about. I don't want to talk to them about what I do for a living, because that's advertising, and they could care less. Talking about golf or poker or parenting or the dog or so on... kind of limited, at least against the vast cosmos of who's going to win and why. Politics? Hell no. Philosophy? Have tried it; it's like showing a dog a card trick, and they change the topic as soon as possible. So, you think the Eagles are really going to try to get Marcus Mariota? It's like a warm bathtub for the mind. Ignore the dirt in the water. It probably came from you anyway.

So, football it is. A software download that will continue to be supported, despite corrupting files, increasing costs, more viruses, less utility. Can't uninstall. All the way down the line. Ring the bell. And pass me the pipe.

And with that... on to the pick!

* * * * *

New England vs. SEATTLE (+2)

The case for New England: If you believe in motivation based on outrage against the media, this is the team for you. For the past week and a half, all they've heard is that they are cheats and scumbags and liars, and that's got to put all kinds of fuel in your tank. Have the best kind of passing attack (i.e., power TE, quick throws) to attack the Seattle secondary, and have been able to exert their will with a running game from time to time. Defense could dominate against a Seattle offense that has sputtered for much of the year and playoffs. WR Brandon LaFell is the body type that tends to hold up against Seattle (think Kelvin Benjamin in the Carolina game). Rob Gronkowski is playing the best football of his life, and could easily be the MVP of this game.

The case against New England: Haven't played against the same level of competition all year, and in last year's SB, that difference was writ large. Offensive line is prone to breakdown, and QB is not mobile. Their best WRs (Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola) are small speed guys, who tend to disappear against Seattle. Commitment to running game comes and goes, and RB corps has been a parade of disposable guys with fumble issues. Relatively easy to scout in the running game, since their backs are single-skill types (run power, run wide, catch). Special teams are relatively ordinary. Defense was surprisingly poor against Baltimore and probably aren't as good as they looked against Indy. Haven't won the big one in a decade, with bad and improbable things happening to them by teams that haven't had the pedigree of this Seahawks club. Could be due for an epic screwing by the increasingly transparent corruption that is NFL Officiating.

The case for Seattle: Best NFL defense in the last 10 years, and maybe 20.  Power running game that eventually just wins. Most mobile QB in the game against a middling pass rush. Could be due for a breakout game in passing, as Russell Wilson doesn't generally look this feeble for long. Team of destiny vibe in play for somehow coming from two scores down, and getting better on defense despite half of the secondary finishing the last game against the best QB in football while compromised by injury. Might be shockingly motivated at the idea that they are the defending champions, from the better conference, and are the betting underdogs. Got away with playing a terrible game for 55 minutes and won anyway to get here.

The case against Seattle: It's hard to imagine that a team with this little in the way of game-breaking talent at WR could win a Super Bowl in this era. Wilson has played some of the worst football of his life in the past few weeks (Carolina wasn't all that good, either). Have had a really hard time sustaining drives in money time, and turnover-prone in the SB is never a good mix. Injuries in the secondary could be much more serious than they are letting on, and if the secondary is just ordinary instead of dominant, they can not win against this opponent, in this setting. Will be facing the second-best defense of the three playoff opponents, and didn't do much against either of the others.

The pick: Honestly, one of the most 50/50 balls I've ever had at this part of the schedule and calendar. If I knew Seahawks CB Richard Sherman and S Earl Thomas were 100%, I'd probably feel confident in taking Seattle, because Thomas could limit Gronk, Sherman would end Edelman, and when the Patriots need to win with LaFelll and Amendola, they don't. If I knew which New England defense was going to show up -- Indy yes, Baltimore hell no -- that would also be one very valuable piece of news.

At the end of the day, I'm not able to shake the idea that the Patriots get here from a weak schedule, and when they are confronted by a real defense, they struggle hard. (And I'm also not certain that it wouldn't have been a better game as, say, Green Bay vs, Baltimore.) So give me Seattle, and the hope that the game will be ugly and boring and a ratings disaster, even though it won't, because if karma ever dictated a money bloodbath for a league and fan base, it's this year, and this league.

The prediction: Seahawks 24, Patriots 20

Last week: 1-1

Season to date: 130-131-4

Past SBs: 4-4

Career: 618-630-43

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Super Bowl Media Day Press Conference Inner Monologues

Hiding, Probably
Imagine, if you will, if the most meaningless event in modern America actually had some news content. And all it would take is any of the principals saying what they actually are thinking.

Tom Brady: Of course we've been cheating on the inflation level of the balls. That isn't because we're scummier than everyone else. Everyone in the NFL would stab you in the ear for nickels. It's because we're smarter than everyone else. We play in the AFC East; this isn't a high bar to pass.

And it doesn't matter that you caught us, and it doesn't matter what I might say about it, because you can't take us out of the game, and you aren't going to penalize us a lot for it next year, because we own Goodell. So, um, STFU.

Marshawn Lynch: Do any of you people have any idea how crappy Buffalo was for me, and how much the local media there made my life a living hell? Oh, no, you don't, because you think I came to Seattle and they invented me, and any man could do what I do, even though there hasn't been a power back like me, in, well, forever.

Oh by the way, the money they charge me for fines? I've got more of it than I'll ever need, and I'm not looking to whore myself out for more after I'm done with this game. Which might be any minute now. So, yeah, not going to make life any better for people who don't matter. What are they going to do, write mean things about me that I'm not going to read?

Rob Gronkowski: Hey, that lady who wrote the erotic fiction about me that you all can't stop giggling about? That's flattering and all, but you all shouldn't have. I can pretty much have my way with any man, woman or child in the greater Boston area any time I want, for any number of reasons.

So, if we win this game? I'm going to make an animal of myself. It will be upsetting. It will be unholy. And if we lose? It will be worse. You probably shouldn't be in the same state with me.

Russell Wilson: Man alive, am I glad that all of you people have gone in the tank for all of these sideshows. I've gone through a soul-crushing divorce in the year after winning the Super Bowl, and I'm on the doorstep of a payday that staggers the imagination.

No one's even thinking about that 4-INT crapstorm I unleashed in the NFC Championship Game, or how I needed Mike McCarthy to choke the life out of his team to give us an out. And you wonder why I went all God in the post-game interview? Winning that game was a goddamned miracle.

Bill Belichick: I can't believe I have to sit up here and pretend that we give a rat's ass about the rules. We hired Aaron Hernandez, you mooks. We spied on other team's practices. I'd have my guys stab people n pileups if I thought we could get away with it. Every day of the week.

Look, you think it's easy to get to this game? We don't have a special pipeline for new personnel; we draft and sign free agents the same as everyone else. You want big numbers or nice weather or sane local media or fans? You don't come here. All I can offer you is the promise that I will do everything inhumanly possible to win games, and that I'm the smartest and most ruthless person to walk the planet.

And I'm getting old. Anyone got a kid they want to sell me for organs?

Richard Sherman: You want to know what really motivates me? The fact that if my team loses, every racist cracker in AmeriKKKa is going to think it's Christmas and the Fourth of July all in one. Oh, and that they have wet dreams about pulling on my dreads.

Doesn't matter that they'd all mark out for me if I were on their team, and we were winning. Doesn't matter that I'm making bank from commercials that used to only go to super-safe dudes. Doesn't matter that I finished the last game with one freaking arm, and that if I were a white guy, we would have spent the last two weeks talking about how gritty I am. Oh, and if you think you are getting a straight answer from me about my physical condition now, you are out of your minds. That's only coming out if we lose. I went to Stanford, and I'm the only CB in the league getting endorsement dollars. Keep on thinking I'm stupid.

Roger Goodell: You think anything you numbnuts say bothers me? 30 second spots are selling for more than ever before. The ratings are better than ever. Sure, the game has long-term issues, but I'll be long gone by the time anyone realizes that no one from a family over the poverty line has joined the NFL in a decade.

I don't really give a fart in church about football in Los Angeles, or London, or anywhere else you think the NFL should go. I'm going to have games on every goddamned night of the week, because you marks are just going to keep watching it. There's massive use of Human Growth Hormone -- what, you think we've gotten 350-pound linemen who can run, when 30 years ago the biggest guy in the league was 275, without chemicals? -- and anyone who plays the game as a non-QB for more than five years is going to die decades earlier than they should.

I run a game built on blood. That's why you watch, and that's why it makes so much money. We hide it to get women and kids to watch to pump up the numbers, but if it's not about blood, you wouldn't watch. And you expect me to give a damn about some woman getting smacked around?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Had Locker Room Attendant In The DeflateGate Patsy Pool?

Mmm, Scapegoat
Oh, every one? Yeah, every one.

(ESPN) The NFL has zeroed in on a New England Patriots locker room attendant who allegedly took the AFC Championship Game balls from the officials' locker room to another area on the way to the field, Fox Sports reported, citing sources.

According to Fox Sports, the league has interviewed him and has video.

 * * * * *

So let's review.

1) The most controlling and successful coach in the modern history of the NFL pays no attention to the equipment, and would never hurt the integrity of the game by cheating. In this way, as opposed to other ways.

2) A tremendously cerebral and exacting QB, with a competitive nature that seems to grow more dramatic each year (especially with cameras on him), won't notice when the feel of the football changes, assuming this wasn't something he was, in fact, OK with.

3) A franchise that has cheated before, and gotten a slap on the wrist for it (at least in comparison to, say, the Saints), would never cheat again. Especially with the same ownership and management.

4) The team has a rate of fumble recovery and prevention that borders on statistical impossibility, and hasn't been matched by any other team. They're just better coached and luckier, because God loves them, or something. Has nothing to do with game equipment that's easier for their offensive players to handle, as opposed to what the opposition is playing with.

5) After a week or Story Not Going Away and Patriot personnel engaging in bizarre and damaging press appearances over the issue... mostly because, well, the fact that the damn balls were tampered with is beyond reproach...

6) The entire thing can be boiled down to a single locker room attendant. Presumably acting alone, without ever meeting anyone of substance in the Patriot organization. (Or the CIA, or the Mafia, or the Cubans. We're through the looking glass here, people.)

Now, I get that people are tired of hearing about this. I get that it's a hard burden of proof that ball inflation would have been enough of a factor to swing any event in the AFC so that any other team in 2015 goes to Glendale.

But that's really not the point, and hasn't been all along.

The point is that the dirtiest franchise in the game... has been caught again, and will wind up scapegoating some nobody, paying some fine, and proceeding as if nothing has changed.

 Also, the Bill Cosby Rule is in effect here, folks. Which is to say that when you catch the scumbag doing the scumbag thing, you can pretty much assume this isn't the one and only time it occurred. (And, well, the fumble rates are kind of a smoking gun, right?)

Anyway, back to the real problem with the entire imbroglio.

 New England was caught, and won't be punished in any meaningful way. There's no feasible way to do anything before the game. What will be done after the game will be the firing of some scapegoat attendant.

After all, they are the Patriots, on the short list of NFL Preferred Franchises, lauded by every media organization and telecast on the planet.

What do the facts matter, in the face of all that?

And how dumb are the rest of us, really, to keep watching a league that's run this way?

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Modest Proposal For NFL Players, In Re Fines

For next year. File it away.

I understand that following the lead of Marshawn Lynch seems like an odd thing to do. Hell, many of you may not even like the guy, what with the butthurt that he seems to create among defensive players and the media. But on some level, you have to wonder...

If the NFL is going to superfine the guy for not giving the press enough, and superflag him for hand gestures that might not even be all that deliberate...

Well, what is to keep them from doing it to you?

Nothing, actually. And the noose will just keep tightening, since the fine fees are starting to work like civil forfeiture...

and, well, isn't it time to give the league a little taste of its own medicine?

So here's what I'm proposing. Next pre-season, when anyone on the field does anything good -- first downs, touchdowns, big hits, interceptions, fumble recoveries, etc. -- act like nothing of importance has happened at all. Just hand the ball to the ref, and go back to the huddle.

Trudge, actually, if the game situation allows it. Let this posture be your guide.

Don't congratulate anyone on anything, Don't betray the idea that you enjoy this game at all, that you are interested in performing it, or that anyone, anywhere, should watch it.

For just one week.

See if anyone notices.

Or does anything, you know, for you.

Five minutes after ESPN calls Roger Goodell and finds a new area to drill...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The NBA Has An Alignment Problem

Celtics & Lakers = Lawful Evil
Last night in Golden State, Warriors SG Klay Thompson set an all-time NBA record with 37 points in the third quarter. Thompson didn't score his first basket of the quarter until 2+ minutes had passed, just to put the accomplishment into greater relief, and he didn't even take all that many shots to do it (14 in total). It might have been the single best performance in a game this season, in the midst of a breakout season for a guy who has been one of the bigger reasons why his team has the best record in basketball.

Oh, and Thompson isn't even a starter in the All-Star Game. No lock that he'll make it as a reserve, either.

That, more than anything else, should tell you how good the Western Conference is now, and how much better it is than the East. If you were to split the NBA in two divisions, and promote / relegate the franchises, you'd be hard pressed to put more than a team or two from the East in the top spot. And even those teams would be suspect, since Atlanta has compiled much of its strong record in its own conference.

But let's back up to the All-Star Game.When you get into this, player by player... yeesh.

East: LeBron James, John Wall, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony.
West: Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin,  Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant.

First off, Carmelo and Kobe are just lifetime achievement awards, and at least Bryant's season-ending rotator cuff injury ends that charade. Nothing against what the guy has done for his career, but the current Kobe is a part-time low-percentage gunner with not much in the way of defensive effort... and the fact that this also describes 'Melo is part of the reason why Knick Fan is a synonym for masochist.

Rather, let's discuss Pau. A guy with defense issues who was benched in LA during the ill-fated Dwight Howard era... is not just an All-Star in the East, but a starter. And I get that he's played well for the Bulls, and that maybe this is just name recognition over guys like Marcin Gortat or Al Horford... but man alive. Benchie in the West, A-S Starter in the East. Kevin Durant will come off the bench, but Pau will start. Ye gads.

As for Lowry, I like good stories of veterans who keep getting better at their craft as well as the next guy... but he's light years behind James Harden, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard, which means he's not even making the roster in the West. In the West, the Lowry story is Monta Ellis in Dallas, and that guy is probably not going to the game. This isn't a tilt in the direction of one conference; it's an avalanche.

Oh, and by the way? It's not going to get better any time soon. Andrew Wiggins is going to be the Rookie of the Year; he plays in the West. Thompson keeps getting better. Davis is just coming into his own now. James has lost a lot of explosion this year before recent rest; he's starting down the back nine of his career. DeMarcus Cousins is putting up the best big man numbers in the league, and might not even be a reserve in the West; he's also 24. Russell Westbrook is the most athletic PG in the NBA, and might be better than anyone in a head to head game. He's 26, and terrifying if he stays healthy. The East is going to need some free agent migration, some remarkable draft classes, and the development of a great deal of undercooked / underaged guys to even start to bridge the gap.

All of which leads me to think... why should we have to wait years for that, really? There isn't a Finals matchup now that doesn't look like a sweep... and realigning conferences  is a simple matter of treating things on a North-South continuum, rather than East-West. To wit:

North East: Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly, Washington.
North Central: Chicago, Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Milwaukee.
North West: Portland, Utah, Denver, Golden State, Sacramento
South East: Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Charlotte
South Central: Cleveland, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas
South West: Lakers, Clippers, Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston

(And yeah, life would be so much easier on this if Memphis and OK City were still in Vancouver and Seattle, but so be it. It's not like the current system is without geographic flaws, either.)

So... let's revisit the All-Star Game in my world.

North: Stephen Curry, John Wall, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge.
South: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul.

Better game, right?

Better playoffs, right?

Better next decade, right?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why Deflategate Matters

And undermine the game's integrity
On some level, it's farce. The dominant team of their age, trying to get back to the SB and banish the demons of multiple failures to inferior teams at the final bell... and instead, we're talking about how they might have intentionally cheated in a blowout win at home, in a way that does not seem like it would make a big difference, but, um, well, still.

No, seriously.

Because, well, this *is* the Patriots brand now, and has been for a very long time. Patriot Fan does not want to hear this, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that this is just part of a long-standing pattern of jaw-dropping arrogance. From the tainted Spygate wins to the employment of a likely mass murderer, to the constant gaming of the injured list, and the rife officiating benefits dating back to the Tuck Game. This is a rogue franchise that competes against the rule book as if it were wearing the other team's laundry.

And, well, for what? They were already hosting both games to get to the SB. They were already working against a Ravens team that didn't have a bye, and a Colts club that they had trucked over and over again., with an extra game on their legs. They were at home, touchdown favorites in both games, the clear class of the conference. As the blowout in the conference game showed, they didn't need any extra advantage.

But, well, they did it anyway. It's who they are. It's what they do. Regardless of how it's been caught and punished before, regardless of how it makes them look to the world outside of their protective cocoon, regardless of the message that it sends -- which is, well, if your franchise isn't willing to go to the septic tank, they just aren't as tough / smart / dedicated / whatevs enough to really want to win.

There's a word for that; actually, many words, none of them suitable for a family-friendly blog. But I know this: what's been done in Beliland is far more corrosive and destructive to the long-term health and well-being of the NFL than, well, anything done with Bountygate in New Orleans, by cheap shotters in Detroit, or how Johnny Manziel is said to be Bad Bad Bad for things other than not being, well, good at football.

In another couple of days, no one is going to care or remember about DeflateGate. It's going to go into the rear-view as the media tries to manufacture something out of the steamy turd that is the Pro Bowl, or someone in the sports world does something regrettable. Maybe the NFL burns them for a draft pick, docks them some money, whatevs. It won't matter.

But, well, it should. Because dirty is as dirty does, and the longer you allow it, the more you condone it. Or even tacitly encourage it. For a league that's just been covered in filth for the entire damn year.

And when every team is this bad?

Well, we get that much closer to every game being Sports Entertainment, rather than just DET-DAL and DAL-GB...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Indianapolis vs. New England Playoff Takeaways

Game Footage
> It was nice of Tom Brady to throw a red zone pick in the first half, just to keep suspense in this one for more than a few minutes

> Andrew Luck's ability to throw a tight spiral on his picks shows his innate talent

> Bill Belichick had the Patriots score to go up 17 points before a massive weather system moved in, because he's a coaching genius

> One of these years, the Colts promise to get a defense that can stop the running game in the playoffs

> Josh Cribbs picked a bad time to channel his inner Brown

> Adam Vinateri missed a long figgie to prove he's still, at heart, a Patriot

> LeGarrette Blount was dominant and will go to the Super Bowl as the starting running back, which is just what should happen when you quit on your team a month before the playoffs

> It's almost as if Indy was a paper tiger team that won a terrible division, then beat a team that never wins in the playoffs, only to get de-pantsed on the road against a vastly superior team

> Tom Brady took a dangerous hit throwing deep with a 38-point lead and six minutes left, but avoided Poetic Justice by remaining healthy

> If you watched all for quarters of this game, you are either a masochist or a Patriot fan, and the latter group is also the former, since Phil Simms provided commentary on this game

> Considering how dog-awful this year has been, having a blowout in the AFC Championship Game just seems correct, really

NFL Conference Championship Ad Questions

Corpse Sells Cars
10) Are Chevy truck drivers people who never get sick of hearing the same guitar riff?

9) Why does the depressed chicken family let its kids play with discarded containers?

8) If I get a Nest protect smoke alarm, can I hire terrible babysitters to watch my terrible kids?

7) Has anyone ever put Burger King chicken products on a plate?

6) Are Dr. Pepper drivers stalked by weird dogs?

5) Why are Bank of America shoppers so smug?

4) What questions does Hot Tub Time Machine II answer that were left unanswered by the first epic?

3) Does cutting a piece of paper in half really require power tools?

2) Do Nissan drivers fantasize about crushing snow zombies?

1) Is Joe Strummer's corpse spinning over having the Clash's music sell Cadillac, when we're pretty damned sure that was pretty much 100% not his intention?

Green Bay v. Seattle NFL Playoff Takeaways

Yes, This And The SEA Comeback is Real
> If you took Seattle to cover the spread, you were pretty much done before 4pm EST

> Seattle showed all of its possible weather options today

> The only thing the Seattle pass rush did for most of the first half was jump offsides

> I'm not saying Aaron Rodgers was bored while the Pack built their lead, but dude was freaking yawning

> Seattle did not have a first down for the first 23 minutes of game play and still won, which is all kinds of insane

> If you didn't know which team had the dominant defense before this game, this game would fool you a lot

> Green Bay took a 15 yard penalty for crushing Russell Wilson after a pick, which seems like a good use of 15 yards

> Seattle got away with a late hit on Clay Matthews after a sack, which seems like a poor use of rules

> Saying the fake field goal call for Seattle's first score took stones insults the nature of stones

> Why Green Bay was throwing, up 16 with the rushing game dominant, in a sudden outbreak of driving rain made no sense to no one

> Why Green Bay was throwing late in the game and up 12 with a dominant defense made sense to no one

> Why Green Bay turtled up on an INT return with five minutes left... ah, you know the rest

> Somewhere, Percy Harvin was laughing very, very hard, and then weeping, and then he got bored and smoked some weed

> How Mason Crosby made the tying field goal, with Fox rolling out every possible Figgie Miss Jinx Graphic, we'll never know

> If you just throw it to Jermaine Kearse often enough, it all works out, or something

> There will be a class-action lawsuit from the gamblers of America that the PAT is not tried after winning touchdowns in overtime, seeing how that point would have completed the biggest suckout in gambling history

> We can never doubt Joe Buck again when he says a game is far from over

FTT Off-Topic: Here, Now, Present

Not sports, move on or not.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune and honor to be in attendance at the viewing for a very good friend's mother, who passed away in her '80s due to cancer, following a very difficult recovery from stroke. The viewing was attended by over 100 people, with friends of the deceased dating back to elementary and high school, who had met for lunch routinely for 65 years.

Now, my friend had done a phenomenal amount of work, because that's just the way he is, in helping his mother in her final years. He's the kind of man who inspires greatness from those around him, because he focuses on individual tasks and gets things done, and never asks anyone to work harder than he does. But on some level, and this was hinted at during the service and confirmed later in personal discussions, life was clearly difficult for them. Pushing a parent through an arduous rehab is never easy, especially when the parent in question has been extremely demanding and combative for much of your life.

But, well, my friend is awesome. Instead of learning the lesson that life is unfair and he's been dealt a losing hand from a mother who can never be pleased, he made sure to always have a personal reason and satisfaction for everything he does... because doing things to please someone else, and hoping to be happy from that service, was such a losing proposition. So this is a guy who works for, well, the joy of a job well done, and he's one of the happier and most useful people you could ever hope to meet. Sometimes, the lessons you learn from a parent aren't the ones they intended to teach, but help much more.

Something else that was pretty curious happened during this. I have two daughters, and the younger of the two insisted on going to the viewing. I was concerned that her motives for doing so weren't solid, that something inappropriate might occur, and that she might be scarred by the experience. (The viewing was, well, a viewing.)

It turned out to be the best thing she could have done for me, and one of the best things that anyone has ever done for me.

When you are watching a friend process the passing of his mother, and you are fortunate enough to have your parent as a strong and wonderful current presence in your life... well, the natural human inclination is to think about what this would be like for you. What I would say in this situation, what elements would be part of the presentation, whether I would be able to keep my composure and speak from notes, what role my siblings would play, how my wife and kids would react, and so on, and so on.

In other words, I was not living in the present, which is exactly the wrong thing to do nearly every day, really, let alone on a day when I am showing my support for someone else. For my friend, whose needs are much more important than mine on this day, and the reason why I'm at the viewing in the first place.

My youngest ended all of that, with simple and polite questions, while never being disruptive or impolite, and by telling me later that she didn't want me to go to this alone.

By the way, she's nine.



Anyway... she got me out of my own head, because that's what kids do.

They make you present to the moment.

Which is, well, the only moment we all have.

Friday, January 16, 2015

NFL Championship Game Picks: Philosophy Be Damned

Smarter Money
You are supposed to, at this point in the NFL playoffs, pick against the public. The public! Hah! Those idiots! Why, Vegas is made on the money of just people who don't think and think and over-think things, and casinos and sportsbooks only really make bank on dumb people.

Um, right. Sure.

The smart money, you see, runs away from big spreads of home favorites. That's chalk, dammit, and you get no sexiness on saying that the #1 seeds who are at home might be that way for reasons. If nothing else, some road dog is going to cover the number, if not win outright, and I'm going to be so sorry that I wasn't a smartie smart smart who went against The Public.

Um, OK.

But all of this is, of course, shorthand for actually thinking about and watching The Damned Games, which is Hard and Time-Consuming and clearly for chumps. (Well, they might have a point on that last point. After all, the NFL secretly replaced the refs with WWE guys this year.)

But I'm an all-day chump, folks. I just watch the games, every snap. Then I look at the numbers, and I think hard about it, and I think some more. And if the pick is chalk, I don't much care, because I'm not going after it for any overarching philosophy.

I'm just trying to get the damned picks right.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Green Bay at SEATTLE (-7)

The case for Green Bay
: They have the best QB in the league in Aaron Rodgers, who got better the longer he played last week, which speaks to a guy on the mend from injury, rather than just managing around it. 3-man WR corps of Jordy Nelson, Reggie Cobb and Davonte Allen actually might give the Legion of Boom a run for their money. Defense doesn't scare much, but they can rush the passer reasonably well, and the secondary tends to come up with the picks that present themselves. RB Eddie Lacy gives them a fighting chance at maintaining balance and not putting everything on Rodgers, especially in the red zone.

The case against Green Bay: For all of the good that Rodgers has done in the league, he's not at his best when fighting from underneath, and playing against this defense in this setting is the very definition of fighting from underneath. Could have easily lost last week, at home, to a Dallas team that just plain lost their minds on multiple third and short situations; Seattle will not do them such favors in play calling. Defense is the softest left in the playoffs. Rodgers clearly isn't right, and when he can't run, he can't extend plays, which is where the big breaks happen for the Pack. Pretty weak record when it comes to fighting the big boys, especially under HC Mike McCarthy.

The case for Seattle: Defending champions at home. Defense transcends the current pinball era, especially when it comes to tackling to limit yards after catch. They get the benefit of calls at home, even after the NFL rewrote the book and ruined the game in the off-season to stop them. Patient with a power running attack that keeps them out of wearout quick possessions. Very good special teams, who might come through with a breakthrough play in this one. QB Russell Wilson breaks teams with his legs and gives them a margin for error; he's also deadly on play action. The WR corps gets a lot of grief, but they might be the best unit in the NFL on downfield blocking, which is why those power runs go deep late in the game. HC Pete Carroll doesn't get a lot of cred as a super genius, but he's rarely outcoached.

The case against Seattle: Last week's game against Carolina was closer than the final score, with the Panthers doing much more than expected in the air; there is a possibility that one of these weeks, the Legion of Boom will get exposed. They are penalty-prone, and have problems sustaining drives when negative plays happen. Offensive line is fairly ordinary, with Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch making them look a lot better than they actually are. Rookie speed WR Paul Richardson, who was emerging a bit with Percy Harvin Jettisoned, is done for the year with an injury, eliminating the only real deep threat. Green Bay covers the TE reasonably well, which has been a major part of Seattle's attack in their wins.

The prediction: When it goes badly for the Pack, it goes very badly, especially if Lacy isn't effective. Seattle may be playing as well as last year, and Rodgers being hobbled also gives me no confidence. Look for Seattle to take an early lead on crowd passion, stick with the body shot ground game, and get comfortable late. Boys against men.

Seahawks 34, Packers 20

Indianapolis at NEW ENGLAND (-6.5)

The case for Indianapolis:
Dynamic passing attack with a young but mature, and mobile, QB in Andrew Luck. WR TY Hilton seems to have shaken off the drops issues, and hasn't been defendable for much of 2014. TEs have been productive, which will keep the Pats' best defenders occupied, rather than involved in rushing the QB. Have been good at keeping Luck clean most of the year, and in the playoffs. Running game has been better than advertised; so has the defense, especially the secondary and pass rush. Very good STs, and playing with house money against the Dreaded Overlords.

The case against Indianapolis:
Luck is prone to arm punt turnovers, and until that stops, the Colts just have the feel of a paper tiger. Running game looks like it might unravel against a quality opponent, and turnovers are also a hallmark of this unit. Last team in the playoffs with an extra game on their legs, which never helps. On the road in a venue where the fans may be the most spoiled in sports, but are also reasonably loud. Have been utterly dominated by power running games in the past by this team, and the Pats are well-coached and patient. Won a cake division, then beat a team that hasn't won in the playoffs in decades, before going on the road to beat the perpetually one-and-done Peytons. In short, reasonable chance that they are not very good, and could get exposed.

The case for New England: Survived against their Kryptonite team last week, and that club might be better than this one. Defense got spanked a bit last week, and might bounce back with a better effort against a team that can easily become one-dimensional. Best coach in the game, with offensive innovations that camouflage fungible RBs and a relative lack of effective deep passing. Notorious for getting calls, especially at home.

The case against New England: For a team that's always starting the playoffs with a bye week because they play in the most consistent cakewalk division in sports, they really don't win as much as you might expect, especially in the past decade. CB Darelle Revis picked a bad time to look vulnerable, and if he's just ordinary now for whatever reason, this entire defense could unravel. Were exposed last week by the Ravens, and while the Colts don't have the Ravens' personnel, it's not a good thing to put film like that up for the league to see at this stage in the season. Could be overconfident after last week's escape, and the complete lack of a running game last week is also worrisome.

The prediction: New England has already played their bad game and survived, and the Colts just aren't a tough matchup for them. One of these years, Luck is going to break through and vanquish the Belichicks... but not with these RBs, and this defense, in this setting and in this season.

The pick: Patriots 31, Colts 23

Last week: 3-1

Season to date: 129-130-4

Career: 617-629-43

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Brief And Obvious Reasons Why Cardale Jones Should Go To The NFL

Got Ya College Experience Here
> If you go now, you are far more likely to go to a good team that will not start you right away. I trust an NFL club to coach him up more than I do a college one, particularly a college one with a dominant running game.

> Jones has a kid already. Cashing in for the relatively high payday now, rather than putting it at risk every week, is what people who aren't independently wealthy already should do.

> Now that the NFL has a scale for draft pick payments, getting the Jamesis Winston early money isn't really the Set For Life moment; Sam Bradford was the last guy to get that deal. Declaring early means you've got more time in the league, and maybe another year of seven to eight figure money. (Honestly, I'm not sure why anyone would want to play for free when they could be paid meaningful money, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of mystery.

> He was QB3 for a reason before, and the competition to just keep the job will be intense. Oh, and repeating is damned deadly difficult, especially for teams with this many highly recruited athletes. There's a reason why teams, even young ones, don't repeat.

> NFL teams draft on potential, much more than performance, especially at QB. The longer that Jones stays at college, the more warts are going to appear, and that's independent of any injury risk. (By the way, injury risk? Really high for a 250-pound mobile QB that does not shy away from contact.)

> Seriously, dude, you've won the lottery. You don't need to buy more tickets to super win the lottery. 

I get how people feel that college is the best years of your life.

I get that playing for your school is supposed to be so much more fun that being a pro, and that the college experience is a priceless and fantastic experience.

The people who say that aren't going to make life-changing money in a handful of years in their '20s.

Which is, well, a pretty damned priceless and fantastic experience in and of itself...

Why Marcus Mariota To The Eagles Doesn't Work

What Was, And Won't Be Again
This topic has, of course, been all over the greater Philadelphia area, as Eagle Fan tries to deal with his lack of playoff anxiety, particularly now that we've all been saved from the nightmare that would be a deep Cowboys playoff run.

And I get why people want the guy, honest, I do. Mariota has prototype size, speed, arm strength and a full understanding of the Chip Kelly offense from his time at Oregon. Kelly presumably likes him, having recruited and started him while holding the college job. And the Eagles don't have anything that looks world-beating at QB, with slow-footed QB1 Nick Foles coming off a shaky year with repeated injury issues, and QB2 Mark Sanchez confirming his level as a not good enough to win turnover machine. (QB3 Matt Barkley didn't beat out Sanchez for the job, so we're pretty sure he's no threat to pull off a Cardale Jones anytime soon.) It's hard to argue the idea that winning the Super Bowl requires a top-flight QB, and if you believe Mariota is the guy, well, fortune favors the bold, and every pick has its price.

But, well, here's why it makes no sense.

1) There has to be a willing trade partner.

If you are the Bucs or Titans, you don't have a QB1 and you've got the pick, with only two QBs of note in this year's draft class. It's hard to see the Bucs not going for the home state Jamesis Winston, and the Titans not taking Mariota. And while both teams have a lot of holes, and might be open to a Bob Griffin-style trade, there are plenty of teams with more to offer than the Eagles sitting at 20.

2) It doesn't address the obvious need.

In 2013, the Eagles had a low turnover offense against a fourth place schedule, and one of the best offenses in the NFL. In 2014, the Eagles had a high turnover offense against a division winning schedule, and one of the best offenses in the NFL. In both seasons, they had injury issues at the QB position. How much different would they be, really, with a mobile rookie QB?

This is a team with one half-decent S, Malcolm Jenkins, who is better against the run. They have a good, but undersized, CB3 in Brandon Boykin, and he might walk in a year to go get paid by a team that lets him be a CB2. The starting corners were a mess, the second S erratic, the MLB is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a major injury. I, can, frankly, think of many more pressing needs than QB.

3) It negates the point of having an innovative offense.

The best team in the NFL last year, and maybe this year, is Seattle. That team is getting solid QB play from a relatively low draft pick in Russell Wilson. Their most likely opponent, New England, has benefitted for over a decade from finding a Hall of Fame QB late in the draft. Green Bay's HOF-bound QB went late in the first and sat for years. Only Indy has followed the tank and take method with Andrew Luck.

The idea beyond hiring an innovative offensive mind, especially when it works with QBs that are not highly regarded, is that you can get elite-level production from the position, without having to pay a premium for it. So your top picks can go for other positions, particularly areas where top-level players are (a) durable, and (b) prone to big differences over average players.

In short: Kelly's scheme has gotten a top offense out of ordinary QBs. It hasn't done that with CB, or LB, and maybe not OL, either.

So, in summation...

> You won't be able to get the guy
> You have other positions with far more urgent issues
> And if your coach is what he's supposed to be, you don't need him.

So... we're going to discuss it until the NFL Draft is over, right?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top 10 NFL Divisional Playoff Ad Questions

And Everywhere Else
10) Why is McDonald's making everyone weep, even more than the people who eat there?

9) Did the headphones manufacturer have to pay Jim Rome to be a guy that athletes can't stand to listen to, or did he volunteer?

8) Seriously now, do I have to be pro-slavery to enjoy owning an Escalade?

7) If I get an iPad, do I need to also get tattoos?

6) Does Pizza Hut have some kid of hatred of pizza crust that needs to be addressed?

5) If the Dodge Brothers believe that driving was some sort of holy experience, and their cars had weird symbols on the ornaments, is there some kind of Illuminati thing going on?

4) Are smartphone data users very animated about shortfall?

3) Do Lexus SUV owners fill their sleds with discordant elements?

2) Has Peyton Manning's losing feeling from the Nationwide ad spread beyond his toes?

1) Does anyone really want to think very hard about the origins of Subway's "chicken"?

Indianapolis - Denver NFL Playoff Takeaways

Denver Today
> Colts QB Andrew Luck seems to have mastered the art of the Arm Punt

> For most of this game, the Broncos 3 out of 4 DBs in the Pro Bowl backfield felt fraudulent

> Colts K Adam Vinateri missed a 44-yarder at altitude early in this game, which was a Big Damned Deal and kept Denver in this one a long time after they should have been put out to pasture

> CJ Anderson's run to convert on fourth down to end the third quarter gave us any kind of drama late, and made Colts HC Chuck Pagano abuse his equipment

> Denver's attempts to cover for their QB's lack of arm strength with a relentless number of 3-yard outs was particularly obvious for much of this game, especially on third downs

> This had the feel of a Succession Game, especially since Broncos QB Peyton Manning seemed to be fading into the history books in front of us

> Speaking of guys who stayed too long, WR Wes Welker dressed in this game

> Thankfully for the vast TV audience, Phil Simms was on hand to do the math that made an 11-point lead a two possession game, rather than a one possession game

> You would think Bronco Fan would be used to this by now

> If this was Manning's last game, he goes out as Best Fantasy QB Ever, in that he bunched all of his goodness into the games that mattered to the nerd gamblers that are the game's driving force now

> Just to add to the Factory of Sadness about this one, it started to rain late in the game, too

> No, the Pats are not losing next week to Indy, and no, it will not be close

> It was kind of nice to see a game that was decided by the players, rather than the refs

Brief and Obvious Points About ReversalGate 2, Or Whatever The Hell Happened In Green Bay Today

Dez Gets Processed
Here we go again...

> Just like last week, there's really no way to argue with a clear conscience that justice was served. Dallas WR Dez Bryant makes a ridiculously good play that should either give Dallas a touchdown or first and goal from the one, and the refs reversed it. The precedent to this (the Calvin Johnson catch in 2010) was terrible, and never fixed.

(By the way, this now puts Dallas in the same place as Oakland on the Tuck Game. Add it to ReversalGate1 and the Fail Mary, and we are really racking up the Screwjobs now, aren't we?)

So if you want to see the intent of a play rewarded -- i.e., the offense won that down, just as the defense won the down last week -- it's the kind of thing that makes you feel stupid for watching, or caring, about the outcome. Because it just seems scripted, or arbitrary, or nonsensical. All of which isn't what you are paying for when you agree to watch sports. (And yes, you are paying for it. A lot, every year, to cable companies, if nothing else.)

> Having said that... the impact isn't really the same, because the rationale behind throwing to the end zone at that moment is idiotic. Dallas has a fourth and two from the Green Bay 32 with a little over four minutes left. They trail by five points. Going for it on fourth down isn't the issue, especially since your kicker has missed earlier in the game. The play call is.

Instead of running it with RB DeMarco Murray (25 carries for 123 yards, only stopped by his coach most of the day) or RB Joseph Randle (2 carries for 15 yards, criminally underused as he usually is, given that he has ability, doesn't fumble, and is rarely singled out by the defense), or working a short pass to TE Jason Witten (6 catches for 71 yards, effective and trusted over many years) or WR Cole Beasley (3 catches for 38 yards, having a solid day on infrequent use)... QB Tony Romo goes for it all.

Here's the thing with that play: what happens if it works? Bryant scores, Dallas goes for a 2-point conversion given the time and condition of the game, and leads on the road, 29-26 or 27-26, with four minutes left. The Pack has just gone 80 yards in 8 plays to take the lead in the first place -- and the drive before that was 7 plays for 90 yards for another touchdown. So even if your low percentage, super gutsy gambling fourth down play works... you've given the MVP of the league all the time in the world to come back and tie it up, or win, in regulation. Against your suspect defense that hasn't gotten a stop in a really long time.

If it's my team, I run it there; maybe with a bit of misdirection, or from a 3-WR set, but I run it. I probably make it. I then run it some more, and given how I'm getting 5 yards a pop on the ground, maybe I grind out the clock and make Green Bay use up their timeouts while scoring my go-ahead touchdown. I put the game on more plays by my best unit. Because I'm not, well, an idiot.

> Had the Dallas defense made any stops after the reversal, the game isn't over. Green Bay converts on 3rd and 3 to WR Davonte Adams for 26 on missed tackling with 2:24 left; if they had gotten off the field there, you force a punt before the 2-minute warning and still have two timeouts to work with. Had you stopped WR Randall Cobb on the 3rd and 11 from the Dallas 38, you make the Packers think about a very long field goal, or an unsatisfying punt, and you still have Bryant and the strong chance of get-even DPI calls on a final drive. Instead, Cobb gets clear, Rodgers makes the throw, and the game is over. Basically, the Dallas coaching and defense wasn't good enough to win this game.

They were robbed, but they also lost it on their own merits. It's what usually happens after Screwjobs.

> Garrett's poor decisions weren't limited to just the fourth quarter. With a 3rd and 1 from the Packer 27 and 40 seconds left to go in the first half, he calls for pass instead of run, which fails. (By the way, Dallas converted on an unusual number of short third downs by running it much of the rest of the game. No, seriously.) After a missed field goal that didn't count due to a false start, Garrett compounds the problem by trying the figgie again, this time from 50. K Dan Bailey misses that one as well, and Green Bay takes over at their own 40 yard line with 29 seconds to go, and three timeouts. Rodgers manages to get his team in range, Packers K Mason Crosby connects, and the game is 14-10 Dallas at the half, rather than, well, 17-7, or even 14-7. Dallas lost this game by five points. Going pass instead of run on third and one, or maybe punting after the missed 45-yard figgie and flag, costs them three to six points. Kind of important points.

> I don't think either Screwjob will matter very much for this year, because neither of these teams (or, for that matter, Detroit) was going to win in Seattle, especially with the way that team is playing defense right now. But what these games have done, and in a year where the League has just been in a constant state of PR crisis, is put the integrity of the games into doubt.

This won't matter in the here and now of Ratings; the NFL is beyond bulletproof in terms of Appointment Live TV, and the demographic groups that spend and need to be found by advertisers aren't ditching the heroin-level addiction in this lifetime.

But young'uns and teens, who are dealing with an entire year of You Are Stupid For Watching This, with no end in sight?

Well, they are still in the realm of being able to change lifetime viewing habits.

And nothing about what's been going on, for a long time now, should make them want to stay.

Dallas v. Green Bay Playoff Takeaways

That's Porny
> Seriously, Dallas Fans, it must be awful to lose a game on an utterly bogus officiating call

> Dallas wasn't as fortunate to avoid a short field in the first quarter. after recovering the strip of QB Tony Romo by Packers DE Julius Peppers, as they might have imagined

> The Pack's first drive, with strong running and blocking all across the field and a masterful third down red zone touchdown conversion, was porny

> Dallas' first score was set up by a ticky tack DPI penalty, because we've secretly replaced the refs with Folgers crystals / scabs

> Calling a game in January that's played in 30 degree weather an Ice Bowl should finally convince every meathead out there that (a) Fox hires idiots, and (b) there might be something to this global warming stuff

> For a field that looks as bad as Green Bay's usually looks, play doesn't seem to be too impacted

> DeMarco Murray's third quarter fumble, caused by Peppers, was game changing, given the size of the hole and the time of the game

> Down 8, KR/WR Randall Cobb fumbles a kickoff, but Green Bay recovers to keep it a game, and yeah, that was another killshot opportunity that Dallas missed

> Rodgers' last TD of the day might have been one of the best of his career; just an utter laser in the red zone, perfectly placed, on a had to have it third down

> The NFL in 2014 is saving all of us a lot of time by letting us just watch, and talk about, the single screwjob play that decides the game, rather than all of those other boring plays

> Randall Cobb was very, very naughty for celebrating on the field when he made the third-down catch that ended it, and deserved penalty and censure

> As big and awful as the Bryant flag was, Dallas didn't make any defensive stops of substance in the second half, and Murray's fumble was an utter killer

> Even if Bryant's catch is stands, Dallas has a 2 or 3 point lead on the road against Rodgers, so, um, not exactly a lead pipe cinch to win, seeing how the defense failed to stop Green Bay and get the ball back for the rest of the game

> Somehow, this was all Tony Romo's fault

> Just like in the Ravens game, going for the end zone with a ton of time left on the clock resulted in a game-ending turnover

The Sixers Win Again, And More Than A Game

Dance Dance Revolution
Tonight in South Philly, the Sixers went for their third win in four games, and back to back wins after a last-second road win against Brooklyn. They were going against Indy, 15-23 coming into the game, playing their fifth game in seven nights, four of which were on the road. In other words, a team that was ripe for the picking, especially with the Sixers' crazy youth, athleticism, and devil may care attitude going against the world-weary grinding nature of the probably aren't going to make the playoffs Pacers.

And, well, that's what happened, with the Sixers getting a stop at the buzzer to win 93-92, which takes their record up to 7-29, pretty much insuring that (a) they aren't going to finish the year with the worst record in NBA history, and (b) they aren't even very likely to have the worst record in the NBA this year. Hell, they are already up to third worst, past New York and Minnesota, with the next tier of stank being the Lakers, Jazz, Magic and Celtics, and with the C's shipping Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo out of town, I don't doubt that they are going to pass a few more clubs, maybe even soon.

This is, of course, a mixed bag for Sixer fans, who have been on board with the teardown, while still taking what enjoyment they can from the talent that's here. And, well, the talent that's here is starting to get adorable. PG2 Tony Wroten, possibly the next to leave if you believe the rumors that the Clippers want him and will pay a reasonable price for a guy who came here for next to nothing, was particularly crazy tonight, finishing with 20-4-9, and the fact that he went 6 for 17 with 4 turnovers doesn't really tell you how he played. Rather, it was the fourth quarter, with the Sixers starting to get some distance and Wroten making speed plays against tired legs, when the young man decided that a 5-point lead with 5 minutes to play was as close to an All-Star Game as he was going to get, so it was time for Globetrottery.

Wroten stole the ball from Pacer PG2/3 Donald Sloan, and found himself in the open court with high-flying wing rookie KJ McDaniels trailing. McD, for those of you who haven't seen him play, is a highlight film guy, with blocks, dunks, threes and very little else connecting his game. Wroten then decided, with a filled house and the sense that Indy was just too tired to mind more than a little clowning, to toss it off the backboard so that McDaniels could throw it down. You can see it here.

It was the kind of play you do with two minutes left and a 20-point lead, not five and seven, but its not as if the Sixers are ever going to have that situation, so Let Tony Be Tony. Not surprisingly, the Pacers soon brought back their starters, and with power forward David West having his best game of the year, they whittled the game back down to single possession status.

But the Sixers didn't fold their tent in the face of veteran adversity. In the last two minutes of the game, there were five consecutive lead changes. West got a board and scored on a jump hook to make it 88-87. Wroten went to the rack, because that's something he can seemingly do at will, for good or ill, and got another one to go. The teams traded misses, then Pacers C Roy Hibbert got an o-board and lay up. Big Shot Bob Covington put the Sixers back up with a circus runner after getting chased off a three. West went baseline and got the jumper to go, then blocked Covington in the lane, only to see it go to Sixers PG Michael Carter-Williams, who snaked in a layup for the lead again, this time with 9.9 to go. On the Pacers final possession, they had to settle for a highly contested jumper from West due to top line defensive pressure, and when it stayed out, it was Dance Party time in Philly, as the cheerleaders took the floor and several Sixers shook along with them.

Will it continue? Not at all. Atlanta, best in the East and hot enough to even handle the West, are next on the calendar, and they are likely to rule from the three point arc and have more than enough margin to cover the plucky upstarts. But the encouraging thing is just how many guys are buying into playing the kind of defense that this kind of team can play -- hyper-athletic and all over the floor. Against Hibbert and West, a powerful and crafty pair of bigs that are the kind of players that used to turn them into mulch, they blocked a dozen shots, a season high against Indy. The turnovers and missed free throws are going to stay, but I've seen Sixer teams that were less entertaining. Many, actually.

They are young, fit, work like dogs, and are starting to really attract a crowd for the way they play. It's a long way from good, but not far away at all from fun. And against an increasing number of opponents, they are going to be a handful.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Carolina v. Seattle NFL Playoff Takeaways

> Seahawks S Kam Chancellor vaulted the line on back to back field goal attempts, blocking the second play, in a ridiculous display of athleticism, only to be shafted by the refs for no good reason at all

> Despite the fact that this game had way fewer points than Ravens-Patriots, it was still exciting and fun to watch, honest NFL, please don't take away all of the teams that can play defense

> In this game, like in the earlier one, the announcers referenced the Dallas Screwjob ref moment, just to make Detroit Fan even more bitter

> Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch struggled for much of the game, then had the One Ridiculous Play that opened up the floodgates

> Panthers QB Cam Newton made good on his pre-game threat to go after Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, with predictably mixed results

> Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was 8 for 8 tonight on third down with 3 TDs, which isn't exactly hurting his Next Contract payday

> Newton's stiff arm is, like his size and running ability, unfair to even really good DBs

> Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin brought his "A" game hands to this one, and seems to only play well when he's got a challenge / can rack up numbers in garbage time

> Chancellor's INT and TD return in the fourth quarter in the red zone ended most drama, betting or otherwise

> Fox showed uncommon discipline to wait until the fourth quarter to start full-on Green Bay - Dallas hype

> It's a wee bit telling that Seattle won and covered the spread while Carolina actually played very well

Baltimore v. New England Playoff Takeways

Pretty Clean Pocket for Edelman
> If the Ravens recover either first half Patriot fumble, they don't blow the early 14-point lead, or, in all likelihood, the later 14-point lead

> It was fun to hear Patriot Fan scream about the refs on a day when they could not rush the passer or run the ball, despite being at home and with a bye

> The older Tom Brady gets, the more emo he gets in the playoffs

> The quality and duration of the tongue bath that Cris Collingsworth and Al Michaels gave to Roger Goodell in this game was NC-17

> John Harbaugh took a 15-yard flag when he went on the field to yell at the ref, because he's not employed by Dallas to play WR

> Why QB Joe Flacco chose to go for the go-ahead score into double coverage, throwing a season-ending pick, while down 4 with 1:30 left, no one will ever know

> No, seriously, even if that play works, the Patriots have 90 seconds and two timeouts to come back and tie or win the game, and you've been mauling them in the running game, it makes no sense at all, you stupid, stupid mook...

> Just to prove that he still throws a better deep ball than Julian Edelman on his picture perfect trick play to Danny Amendola, Tom Brady connected with Brandon LaFell from deep for the go-ahead score

> NBC's relief at finally having a close game to broadcast was palpable

> The Legend of Revis Island took a pretty big hit today, and the next team that signs him to the big Nnamdi Asmoguha Memorial Contract is going to regret it

> Despite everything that happened in this game, it still came down to the fact that Baltimore couldn't generate, or win without. a dominant pass rush against a makeshift offensive line

> There's no way that the Broncos or Colts will give New England a bigger fight next week, so yeah, the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl

Roy Tarpley Is Dead

Man Could Fly
Roy Tarpley died today at the age of 50, and on some level, it's amazing that he made it that far. He passed in a Dallas area hospital, with some unconfirmed reports putting the cause of death as liver failure, but honestly, it really doesn't matter what took him out. There was only one person that ever hurt Roy Tarpley, and that was, well, Roy Tarpley.

There is, of course, a very real chance that many people who are reading this have no idea who he was. Tarp was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 1987-88, when his freakish for the era power forward skills gave a good not great Dallas Mavericks team just enough spice to make life far too interesting for the powers in the West. He could finish from far away, handle and pass like a guard for outlet work, cover ground like a raptor, and his hands -- always a critical part of any rebounder -- were among the best in the league. He could just tip boards to a place where only he could get the ball, and make defenders have to cover him all over the floor. Hell of a finisher, too; you'll see some of that in the clip at the end of this post.

With Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Mark Aguirre, Sam Perkins and a young Detlef Schrempf, the Mavs filled arenas and had any number of clever low post options. Tarp was the rebounding monster of his era, pulling down one nearly every two minutes, with active hands for blocks and steals, and top-end defensive numbers. He just knew where the ball was going before it went there, even as a young player, and while he was never his team's top option on offense, he was always able to score in the high teens, mostly off misses. Combine that with his 6'-11" wingspan and prototype athleticism, and he was just all kinds of great to watch.

He was also my first piece of fantasy sports poison. Every nerd better has a guy like this; the tease that you can't get away from, the guy you keep re-drafting or protecting even after he burns you, maybe over and over again. The guy you own out of the league, just because you can't stand the idea of someone else taking your payoff after you finally declare the cost to be well and truly sunk. Basically, the fantasy sports equivalent of the old woman at the slot machine, staring death at anyone who comes to "her" machine, even after she's spent all of her money on it. That was Tarp for me, as well as for the Mavs. And on some level, he still is.

Tarpley's problem was drugs. Lots and lots and lots of drugs, three strikes worth of drugs, DUIs and knee injuries and alcohol and an ever-decreasing rate of return... and still, at every step down the ladder, production. In '90-'91, probably high and definitely physically compromised, it was 20.4 / 11.0 in five games, before the whistle blew. In '94-'95, after four years away from the league and gimping around as a broken down bench guy, it was 12.6 / 8.2. He went from 67% at the line as a rook to 89% in his fifth year, and 83.6% in his final. There was always such an awareness on the court, and such a ridiculous lack of it, well, off.

I never was even able to be mad at him for his failings. I just kept hoping he'd somehow turn it around. Well, no. Sometimes, the demons win.

The final point about Tarpley that I'll make is this. It's a little bit roundabout, but so it goes.

Several centuries ago, it was socially acceptable to chastise sailors for, well, being sailors. They were clearly sinners and of weak moral fiber, and as they wasted away with various debilitating diseases and poor hygiene, it became a vicious cycle of damnation. Swear like a sailor, filthy sailors, never let your daughter near one, etc. Just look at them: they are clearly wanton, licentious, drunken, etc., etc.

And well, many were. But that wasn't why they were in such poor shape.

What was really happening, of course, was scurvy, a horrific medical problem that happens when a human body is deprived of even trace elements of Vitamin C for significant periods of time. The people at the time had no idea that scurvy could be so easily avoided, or that the afflicted were blameless in the matter. It's easy to look at those who would blame people who had scurvy as, well, cruel and heartless and ignorant, because, well, they were.

Now, consider the modern treatment of people with chronic emotional issues, like depression, social anxities, addiction. And how, perhaps, future generations may see those who judge the afflicted.

Roy Tarpley only played in 304 NBA games in his career, 177 in his first two years. Had he managed to avoid his demons and the injuries, he could have been a Hall of Fame player; even marginal improvement over where he was at age 23 would have made him a perennial All-Pro.

Instead, he's a mostly forgotten tragic figure from over two decades ago, a cautionary tale that might have been avoided with modern ideas about rehab, both chemical and surgical.

But he deserves to be remembered for more than wasted potential. He was also one hell of a player. Rest well, Tarp. Rest well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

NFL Divisional Playoff Picks: Now We're Betting On Wrestling

Actual UK Betting Odds On WWE
There are places in this world where you can place bets on the outcome of pro wrestling events. And sure, that's more of a feature of the fact that the British will bet on anything, and allow it... but it also speaks to how we need to throw some coin around on the outcome of anything, even when the games seem, well, fixed. But after last week's games, honestly, I don't have too much stomach for it. As part of the unprecedented NFL Season That Just Needs To End ASAP, even gambling has lost its appeal, what with the unprecedented gifts to Dallas... well, we've said plenty about that already. But the other games were also rife with weirdness, from the always comical Defensive Holding whenever we feel like it, whether it had any impact on the play... and honestly, 5 yards and a first in any down and distance is just maddening. I have people in my social feed who tell me that their kids don't want to watch the games anymore from the refwork, and how I long for that ability.

You can't watch a game and just forget about the refs anymore, the same as you can't watch a game and just forget about the brain damage, the stadium robberies, the Rice / Peterson / McDonald / Hardy / Next Name Up Goes Here imbroglios... and, yeah, I know, I know, we're all watching the game anyway. Might as well pick 'em. See if we're in line with the show's writers.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

BALTIMORE (+7) at New England

The case for Baltimore:
Past success against New England, and even on the road, with two wins here in the last five seconds, and a last-second defeat in the lone Patriot win. Dominant defensive front seven, with a secondary that's playing its best ball lately, and if you don't have to blitz to get QB pressure, guarding the Patriots' rather ordinary group of receivers seems a lot more possible. QB Joe Flacco plays better in the playoffs, and RB Justin Forsett gives them a credible 3-down threat to go with RB Bernard Pierce. WR Steve Smith Sr. had a solid game last week and a history of clutch performances. WR Torrey Smith is a DPI magnet and true deep threat. P Sam Koch and K Justin Tucker head up one of the better STs in the playoffs.

The case against Baltimore: As with all road teams this weekend, facing a team coming off a bye, with a serious home field advantage; that alone puts them about a touchdown behind. Offense can sputter against quality defenses, especially if the rather ordinary running game isn't firing. Offensive line isn't a strength, and Flacco can throw the dig a bigger hole INT with the best of them. As with most defenses that punch you in the mouth / play with emotion, can really deflate if the opposition has early success, and don't usually get the better of the refs.

The case for New England:
Annihilated the Ravens in Week 16 last year; when they scheme and play well, they can run away from this team in a hurry. Deep RB corps allows them to play the hot hand, especially in short yardage. Dominant offense in the red zone, with TE Rob Gronkowski and QB Tom Brady combining ESP with size to border on unfair. Best coached team in the NFL for the better part of a decade and counting. Best defense in years, especially in the secondary.

The case against New England: They do not really have a deep burner to exploit the Ravens biggest weakness, which is coverage against deep throws; the best among the WR crew is Brandon LaFell, who isn't all that great when 100%, and currently isn't. The constant RB carousel hides the fact that none of their people are all that good. Generally win when the short passing game generates YAC, which is the best thing that Baltimore prevents. Might be a bit of a paper tiger, given the usual cotton-soft nature of winning the AFC LEast, and also might not be playing their best ball of the season, given how much they struggled against the Jets and Bills in the late weeks of the year.

The prediction: Football is rarely as simple as people make it out to be, but this game is the exception to the rule. If Baltimore can get pressure on QB Tom Brady, they'll stay close and cover the spread, and maybe even win. If they don't, New England will score enough to make the Ravens take too many chances and turn the ball over. I think Mssrs. Suggs, Dumervil and McPhee get there often enough to make things close. But not, alas, with enough leeway to get past the inevitable referee fix moment. There's no way we're not getting Brady-Manning next week, folks. Too much money in it.

Patriots 24, Ravens 20

Carolina at SEATTLE (-10.5)

The case for Carolina:
Playing their best ball of the year by leaps and bounds. Their game travels, with strong defense and a running game helping to take the starch out of opposing crowds. At 8-8-1 and still playing football with just 7 other teams, absolutely playing with house money and no pressure. If there's a team that could open with an onside kick and/or fake punt tricksiness, it's this one. Seattle has struggled against strong defenses. TE Gregg Olsen, their best receiving threat, might be able to deliver a big game, and a patient running attack can wear the fast but small Seattle defense out. QB Cam Newton can change the game with his legs.

The case against Carolina: Just, well, not that good, as befitting an 8-8-1 team from the NFL's worst division. WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Jericho Cotchery are no match for the Seattle DBs; long downs and distance are going to be impossible without acts of officiating, and those generally don't happen to Seattle at home. Mediocre STs could come into play here, and once you commit turnovers against this defense, that's when the wilding starts. Newton isn't accurate enough to take constant safe small chunks to sustain long drives.

The case for Seattle: Home with a bye, in the toughest home field in the NFL. Defending Super Bowl champions, playing their best ball of the year. Strongest power running game in the NFL, and patient enough to keep at it. QB Russell Wilson is the best mobile QB in the league, in that he gets big chunks of yards with his legs, rarely takes a big hit, and extends plays downfield. Best defense in the league for several years running, with speed rushers and the ability to blitz due to the best in class secondary.

The case against Seattle: Ordinary offensive line and below ordinary WR corps, not that this is dramatically different from last year. Defense isn't quite up to last year's levels, especially if you are physical, patient, and make no mistakes. That describes Carolina on a very good day.

The prediction: Close until it isn't, and then it will get ugly. I can't see Carolina scoring more than 17 points under any circumstance, or possessing the ball for long enough to avoid getting Marshawn Lynch-ed. Add in the inevitable late pick and/or defensive score, and we'll get to the cover.

Seattle 31, Carolina 17

DALLAS (+5.5) at Green Bay

The case for Dallas: Refs and league may be fully invested in them going all the way. Strong power running game should be able to move the sticks against this defense. TE Jason Witten is resurgent, and WR Dez Bryant has no good matchup on the Green Bay defense, even independent of his all-powerful referee changing skills. Strong STs, and the defense isn't too bad against the running game. Undefeated on the road this year. WR Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley have been effective, and QB Tony Romo has had his best year as a pro.

The case against Dallas: Should not have won last week's game, for reasons that the NFL has spent much of the week cataloging at length. Might receive a ton of payback calls just to show all of us that the games aren't fixed after all. (Insert the eye roll here.) Defensive secondary has no good matchups for either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. Offensive line was tossed around last week at home, and might have trouble against imaginative blitzes and crowd noise on the road.

The case for Green Bay: At home, off a bye, playing in brutal cold: this all works well for the Pack. Could put up 40 points or more against this defense in this setting. Defense has been better against the run since shifting LB Clay Matthews inside, which means more of this game will come down to Romo. Historically, that doesn't work out well for Dallas.

The case against Green Bay: QB Aaron Rodgers is not 100%, and might not have played at all if the game was last week. If he's unable to go four quarters, Green Bay loses all margin for error. Defense really isn't all that great, and could spend a considerable amount of time not getting off the field and/or keeping Dallas in the game, especially if the refs go holding / DPI happy.

The prediction: After last week's unprecedented screw job of the shafted Lions, it's impossible to have much faith in any outcome involving Dallas... but the job here is to pick games, and the most likely event is a close game that pleases the media and keeps the monster TV ratings. That points to Dallas covering the spread, and if you really want to think about finding an ice floe, going all the way to the Super Bowl to face New England in my Perfect Storm of Football Hate. For now, I'll just try to talk myself into the fact that Green Bay has fans, too.

Green Bay 34, Dallas 30

Indianapolis at DENVER (-7)

The case for Indy:
Pinball offense potential, with QB Andrew Luck able to make any throw and move the chains with his legs. Playing with house money, given Luck's age and the road setting. Luck showed uncommon patience last week with underneath throws, which he might have to go to again this week. TE Cody Fleener could be a strong plus matchup here, given injuries to Denver's LBs. WR T.Y. Hilton has been dynamic and effective on deep balls, and Luck's got an arm that can get it to him all over the field. K Adam Vinateri has been replaced by a cyborg with a titanium foot.

The case against Indy: Ordinary defense, especially on the road. Hilton is prone to drops. Worst RBs in the playoffs due to injury and the continued existence of Trent Richardson; rookie Dan "Boom" Herron is also fumble-prone. Pass rush is intermittent at best, coaching has not covered itself in glory recently. Secondary WRs are either old and fading (Reggie Wayne), middle-aged and fading (Hakeem Nicks), or young and erratic (Donte Moncrief). Strong sense that they are 1-3 years away; might not have the urgency required to come up with a road win.

The case for Denver: Home, bye, altitude. TE Julian Thomas might finally be healthy after the bye week for his ankle problem, which could solve a lot of  red zone issues. RB CJ Anderson has been Denver's best back this year, and should be fresh after the bye. The Colts can be had by this running game. Strong secondary with a good pass rush could force turnovers. Indy has no one to match up with WR DeMaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. If QB Peyton Manning is right, he could go for big numbers here.

The case against Denver: Manning hasn't looked right for six weeks, and might be hiding an injury. If he plays poorly, this is suddenly and shockingly an ordinary offense, especially as the OL has never been as good as Manning's fast release has made them look. Julian Thomas hasn't been the same since the ankle problem. HC Jon Fox has blown games like this one before, and so has Manning. Even when they were going good earlier this year, had a hard time holding leads, and have gone to a conservative running game that limits their presumed explosiveness. Manning's playoff record is downright abysmal, and given his age, declining arm strength and the setting, he really could crap the bed here.

The prediction: I don't like either of these teams to win next week, no matter what the matchup is, so the pick is more a matter of weakness. I'll take Denver to cover without an awful lot of confidence, only because I think the Colts are going to throw it a ton, and hence be more prone to turning it over. If the weather isn't good, it also hurts the home dome team more. Finally, note how much the Colts struggled in the red zone at home last week, against a defense that doesn't rush the passer well. Expect Vinateri to get too much work this week, and for it to catch up to them.

Broncos 28, Colts 19

Last week: 1-3

Year to date: 126-129-4

Career: 614-628-43

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