Monday, February 29, 2016

One More Reason Why ESPN Is The Worst

Whore Until Proven Virgin
Today in a courtroom, ex-ESPN broadcaster Erin Andrews had to, as part of her civil suit against the criminally negligent hotel that allowed a stalker to get nude footage of her through her motel room keyhole, say exactly what happened in the aftermath of the assault on her privacy.

Which turns out to be that, well, ESPN treated her about as well as her stalker did, when he passed the footage along to the Web for immediate and world-wide sharing of her body. You know, without consent or reimbursement.

ESPN, you see, put conditions on her coming back to work. Because they decided, in their repugnant corporate perfidy, to believe that the whole thing was a work, a ploy for Andrews to get more public attention and Web traffic, as if this was something she was in desperate need of at the time. Because women be crazy, amirite?

I realize that the jock sniffers in Bristol didn't meet a lot of women when they were growing up. Well, perhaps that's less than fair; the meet isn't hard, especially if you've found yourself near money or power, and women who want to work have to learn to navigate all of that. But they sure as hell haven't ever listened to them, or thought about anything as it might seem, through their eyes.

Even the most out-there woman, with a distance between her mind and her body that would border on pathological... would not, as a rule of base intelligence, want to give that up without control or compensation. Everyone who has ever taken a picture knows of the importance of lighting, how even the most flawless can be made to look off in fluorescent glare or unflattering shadow. Even the most brazen would, want, in short, some degree of control over her body, some say in what happens to it.

You know, the same as what any sane man would.

Probably also children.

And yet, ESPN's first impulse was, well, let's not be too hasty here. Andrews might have been getting away with something on you swells, you geniuses, you troglodytes. So they made her take public interviews before letting her work again, and tried to ramrod her into their sister network on "Good Morning America", because hey, why not get some extra ratings juice out of our employee's victimization?

Andrews wound up on "Oprah", and seemed to appreciate the experience, in that Winfrey was, unlike her employer, an actual human being, with a measure of compassion for her plight. (God knows why Winfrey went along with being ESPN's de factor deodorant, though I suppose there was also ratings tied to it. But still.) Having moved on to Fox and getting the top sideline job there, Andrews is now at one of the few lateral moves available to her in sports broadcasting, and she probably has the usual career in front of her, with the typical fruit fly life span. There's very few jobs in this field, and there will always be more where Andrews came from...

But woman alive, how low do you have to be, to show that little support for a co-worker? Let alone, well, a woman who's been victimized?

Shaming people who work at ESPN is, of course, impossible; that's part of the blood oath you sign with Big Mouse. So I'm wondering if it's possible to learn Who raised these people, and maybe get their names and addresses, so we can let them know, in no small lack of detail, what horrible jobs they did raising their sons.

It won't have any lasting impact. Nothing short of a widespread boycott of any and all Worldwide Lemur programming will do that, and maybe a class action lawsuit where we finally get ESPN off of basic cable, and stop having the cable paying public of America subsidize these lovely men.

But you can dream. And, if nothing else, make it very obvious to everyone why this network has been on a long slow ride to obsolescence, with league-direct channels and better humans taking over for them, bit by bit, body by body, scandal by scandal.

What happened to Erin Andrews was a crime. Twice. And the second crime was much worse than the first.

Gerrit Cole's Countdown to Meathead

Cole Cash
Item: Pittsburgh Pirates SP Gerrit Cole. age 25, with an All-Star appearance under his belt, went public with his unhappiness about his $541,000 contract for 2016.

The club has said that they understand his unhappiness, but that they can't do anything, due to the way the contracts are worked. It's also noted that Cole, a former #1 pick, picked up a sizable signing bonus back in the day, so, um, sucksies.

And this is the part of the story where the club's fan base splits into meathead / worried camps, with the former talking about how much money that is to play a children's game. while the latter worry that he's going to sulk, get hurt, or demand a trade.

But what's really at issue here is MLB itself. Remember last year, when Kris Bryant was the best hitter in spring training, but went to the minors anyway, because, um, contracts? And how he came right back on the first available date, then destroyed the National League for the rest of the season?

Well, unfortunately, Chicago wasn't justly penalized for karmic issues on that one, unless you count the fact that they lost in the playoffs, and are still ring-less for a famously long period of time. Pittsburgh might not be so lucky, but on some level, this is worth a class-action lawsuit, honestly.

Major League Baseball is propagating a system where the people who consume the product -- i.e., the ticket-buying public -- are not seeing the best available players for the entirety of the season. While still, of course, paying full freight. If you walked into a bar and were sold top shelf, but got bar grade, that's clear fraud and theft. What the Cubs started at third base before Bryant? Same thing.

In the meantime, a system that's entirely based on tenure, which is being gamed by the wildly profitable franchises, is allowed to persist.  Year after year after year.

And in the meantime, Cole will pitch every fifth day, with the possibility of his next monster pay day exploding because human arms do that, while people who can't fathom the amount of risk / reward that he's going through will bitch about the money he makes now. As if it's not something that's going to have to last him for decades afterward, or that it would come back their way if it were somehow not paid.

Have a great season, Gerrit! Oh, and don't turn on the radio, or read the newspapers, or look at the Internet. For a good long while, really...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stephen Curry, The Man Who Ends Conversations

Not In Picture: The Basket
Tonight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors played, honestly, one of their worst games of the year. Their bigs were crushed routinely, with a 2-to-1 rebounding deficit that you rarely see outside of a college basketball tune-up game. Klay Thompson didn't make his first three until the fourth quarter, and took a good number of them. Draymond Green had some kind of meltdown in the locker room at half time. No Dub benchie played all that well, and their third leading scorer was Andre Iguodala, with 12. They were down double digits in every quarter of the game, and led for less than a minute.

On the other hand, they had Stephen Curry.

OKC played *very* well. Their early defense against the Dubs was as good as I've seen in the NBA this year. Kevin Durant was the best player on the floor for most of the game, and Russell Westbrook applied his new-found Jedi ability to be a point guard first, and a superstar second. They were at home and rested. Golden State was on the final game of a 7-game road trip. Curry went down for half of the third quarter with a rolled ankle.

On the other hand, Curry came back.

The reigning MVP tied the NBA record for made threes in a game with 12 (on 16 attempts, also absurd) and the game-winner is probably going to be the lead highlight of the 2014-15 regular season highlight roll. After rebounding the miss, the Dubs didn't call timeout with 5 seconds left. Instead, they advanced the ball, and Curry simply launched from 32 feet -- at least, that's the official listing, others have it at 38 -- and drained it.

Take a look again at the screen shot of where Curry is, and how much time is left on the clock. Every other player in the league would get closer to the hoop. Many would try to find Thompson, who might be able to beat Westbrook to the rack. Maybe you call time, given that you've advanced it to the front court, and 2.8 seconds is plenty of time to get a set play, screens and execution. Instead, he just hoists it.

It's a terrible shot for anyone else in the NBA, but not, it turns out, for Curry... who is now 35 of 52 on shots of 28 to 50 feet this season. Dude is making 67% of his attempts from the part of the floor where no one else in the NBA is likely to even be routinely guarded, which is  statistically better than a 100% diet of all 2-point dunks.

There are, of course, old-school guys who hate what Curry is doing to the game, the same way that old-school guys hated Babe Ruth for hitting home runs instead of bunting, or Wilt Chamberlain for dunking the basketball, instead of laying it in. What they think, of course, does not matter, not that we really need to be rude to people who built the league, made comparatively little, and endured racism that makes today's look like weak tea. But still.

Here's how good Curry is... he made a game with many missed layups, blown free throws, questionable coaching decisions (I'm not sure what it is about Durant and Westbrook that makes a coach forget to swap offense for defense late, or why a team can't move the ball in crunch time), whiffed ref calls and the unbearable ABC/ESPN prime time crew absolutely riveting. My Twitter feed thought this was the game of the year, and I guess it was... only because it was the latest game between these teams, and OKC seems unique in being able to stay close to the Dubs routinely.

What Curry is doing to the game is defying description. We've got a lifetime of knowing what a good shot is, and what it is not... and then there's this guy. We've got a sense of knowing that the best pure shooters in the league are always stand still catch and release guys who aren't also accomplished point guards... and then there's this guy. We know that the best way to get a three point shooter off his game is to make him shoot off the dribble, and Curry might actually be better at that. We know that the further away you are from the rim, the harder it is to make a shot, and yeah, um, maybe not. We know that basketball is a game of bigs, except that Curry is the best player on the planet right now, and just won a road game against a top five opponent playing a borderline "A" game without all that much help.

I'm not sure what else to say about him now, frankly. The Dubs have a lot more than Curry, so he doesn't have to play monster minutes and do this all the time. If this was old-school NBA, when you could beat the crap out of the guy as a strategic measure, it might not work as well. He's in the best moment for his skill set, in a system that's ideal for his gifts. If he were on some struggling .500 level team, he might play and score more, but he wouldn't do so any more efficiently, or be any more fun to watch.

Eventually, there is going to be another shooter in the same realm as Curry. Maybe he slips up, or that his dead eye doesn't hold up over the years. The world is likely filled with kids hoisting from 40 feet now, trying to be the new Steph, and while they are going to make basketball unwatchable for a while, a new crop of distance monsters will arise. Too many ordinary sized humans can be this obsessive, especially when there's this much reward in the long run.

And in the short?

The game will be re-made, in front of our eyes, in fits and starts and with a tremendous amount of old-timer hate...

All of which will be shut down, one make at a time, one win after another.

Super long threes, in a tie game, for the win, off a miss, without a timeout.

Best percentage shot in the Warrior playbook, and allowed them to win a game where they out-rebounded by 31.

Amazing world we're living in, right?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Curious Case Of Evan Mathis, Or God, I Am So Glad I Was Never Large Enough To Play Football

Damn, Mrs. Mathis
So someone put a microphone in front of Evan Mathis, and the ex-Eagle Pro Bowl guard made the unpardonable sin of speaking his truth about Nero Kelly's reign in Philadelphia.

Mathis, whose choice of team (Denver) and play this season (in all likelihood, middling; the Denver running game or pass protection levels weren't the reason that team has a ring) was good enough to get him the trophy lift that people who stay in Philadelphia never get.

Not surprisingly, he feels that Kelly was unable to manage strong personalities, and ran his squad just to avoid the uppity, rather than, well, people who could play. Mathis also buried the offensive play-calling as too vanilla to stay ahead of the NFL curve. That one's obvious to anyone who watched the games *or* looked at the numbers.

Finally, all of this is likely to replicate itself in San Francisco, given that Nero didn't exactly seem like the learning type during his three years doing the same thing over and over again, and cocky middle-aged white guys who make millions of dollars a year don't generally overwhelm you with their learning ability, flexibility, and willingness to get better from their mistakes.

Now, all of this is mostly besides the point, as well as being spot-on accurate. Mathis was right, Kelly was wrong, and finding anyone who argues otherwise (still) requires a good deal of hunting. Or the ability to look back on their prior bloviations. Kelly had a lot of geishes around town.) But I digress.

Rather, I want to bring this back to Mathis. Here's a guy who won the lottery early in life by growing to 6'-5" and 300+ pounds while still keeping footspeed, then doubled down on the win by staying healthy enough in youth, despite playing, well, football, to get the scholarship ride at Alabama.

He was drafted in the third round in the 2005 draft by Carolina, which means some cash... but not a lot, especially when he washed out after three years there. Cincy and Miami followed, and just when it looked like he was destined to be an NFL vagabond, Andy Reid grabbed him, and 3.5 highly profitable years in Philly as a starter and football nerd loved player ensued. Add in the year in Denver, and he's now eked out a 12-year career in a game where the average lifespan is a third of that.

So when you add up the numbers, he's probably taken home $30 million before taxes, agent and lifestyle dings to his wallet. Even if he's only banked a third of that, he's sitting on more money than anyone you likely know, and assuming his brains aren't too trashed by decades of physical abuse, he's got a good long run ahead of him to do what he pleases.

Plus, he's got the eternal satisfaction of knowing he was right, getting to prove it, and having a wife that's hot enough to cosplay as a wrestling valet when he goes to Halloween parties.

Damn, Mrs. Mathis. Well done.

So here's a guy that we safely state has won at football, right?

Well, maybe... but he's still had to ply his trade in five different cities, and uproot his life on multiple occasions. He still gets to be the target of random character assassinations, and to know that Nero's gotten another gig despite his best efforts to ruin his career for no really good reason.

If he comes back to Philly now that Howie Roseman seems to be doing everything short of signing Vince Young to get the band back together, he'll be trashed by the meatheads in the area for a money grab at whatever level he comes in at, and for being too old the moment that someone who lines up against him wins a play.

Because that's life on the best paid plantation in the world. You may be right, you may be great, and you may be employed for as long as someone can put up with you... but you'll likely pay for the privilege of speaking your truth, and will also be dropped even faster than they drop everyone else, because of that whole truth telling thing.

Short of a dramatic change in our respective fortunes, I'll never be as wealthy as Mathis, or as famous. I'll likely work until old age and beyond, and while I might eventually get past serious stress about making my nut if a paycheck doesn't hit the account every few weeks, I'm not really counting on it. I have daughters, and they have to get through college and weddings, in all likelihood, and cars and the killing zone that is the youth job market. Even if they somehow become self-sufficient at startlingly young ages, and my wife and I remain employed and healthy and lucky, we are not likely to be too much further than where we are now.

And I wouldn't trade my life for Mathis, not for a second, and not just because I love/need to write more than anything, and the idea that my brain might stop working at any time due to my choice of employment is just repugnant on every level.

Rather, it's this.

I'm employed, currently, and have been so in the past, to tell people true things. To learn from these things, then figure out better ways to do these things, because, well, that's the gig.

I don't need to keep my mouth shut and endure untrue things because it would hurt my manager's feelings. I'm not told to go along with poor practices or decisions because my lack of belief is going to make Tinkerbell die, given my lapse of clapping. I've never had to have my job performance torn apart by mouth breathers on talk radio, had my social media feeds cross-examined for signs of subversion, or live with the knowledge that there were literally thousands of quasi-bloodthirsty men who were trying to take my job at pretty much every hour of the day.

And remember, Mathis is one of the guys that's pretty much won this sucker bet.

Hope Rosemen gets him back cheap!

After all, dude's pretty much just a stopgap now.

As are we all...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Unnatural Confidence of the Warriors

Shooter is a wee bit open
Tonight in Atlanta, Golden State ran off to their usual huge lead. The confetti buckets were firing, the LOL ball movement was at full speed, and Atlanta looked as helpless as, well, every other team in the Association has more or less looked against the Dubs this year. And then everything changed, with Dennis Schroeder and Al Horford both playing nearly their best games of the year, and it got contagious. The home team started making threes, the road team, missing them, and a 23-point lead eventually evaporated. Atlanta took a four point lead in the early part of the fourth quarter as Thabo Sefalosha hit the corner three, and Atlanta's telecast team was openly talking about how this win might turn their whole season around.

Golden State seemed mildly concerned.

But I was probably reading too much into it.

Klay Thompson's answer three stopped the run. Atlanta's benchies ran out of gas. Shaun Livingston did his usual I'm Taller And Disturbingly Good mid-range game. Thompson stuck another three, and Andrew Bogut made block after block on penetration. By the time Stephen Curry made his of course make from the corner just after the five minute mark, Golden State was back up seven, and would never trail again. Another 10-point win, with the won-loss record moving to 50-5 -- just the best in the history of the Association -- and, um, yeah.

With the exception of Kyle Korver, who really looks like he's playing with a fork in his back, Golden State took Atlanta's best shot tonight. Horford went 23-16-6, and even had three steals and five blocks, and it just didn't matter. PGs Jeff Teague and Schroeder combined for 34-3-12, which means they damn near equaled Curry, and it just didn't matter. Mostly because the Dub defense made Paul Milsap disappear, with Draymond Green going 6-14-9 with his usual insane versatility, and, well, Dubs.

With 27 games left in the regular season and the team potentially getting stronger with Anderson Varejao joining the bench, I guess there's still suspense about them getting to 73 wins and setting a new record... but honestly, that's "just" 19-4, a winning percentage of .826, as opposed to their current .909. The Florida 2-step of Miami/Orlando is next, then the suddenly reeling Thunder, before coming back to the Bay Area for Atlanta, OKC, a lay up in Lakerland, then back home for six home games, all of them against borderline or strong lottery teams. It's really possible that they are something like 66-6 before the 3-game road trip to Dallas, San Antonio and Minnesota that's likely the Association's last and best chance to make protecting history a matter of suspense.

Even the freakishly talented Spurs are probably not going to put up much of an effort to stop this. Two of the last four games of the year are a home and home with Popovich's men, and that team has been known to rest for games that the rest of the world wants to consider important. But the more important point is just how many ways this team beats you. Guard Curry one on one, and he ends you. Double him, and a roster of knock down shooters has clean looks all night long. Deny Curry the ball, and Green takes over primary ball handling and racks up a triple-double against your big that can't stay with him. Somehow take these two elements away, and you then get to hope that the reigning three-point champion isn't hitting his inevitably open looks, or that Livingston and the bench mob doesn't run away with the game. And all of that presumes that you're scoring enough against one of the best defensive teams in the league, and a club that's just loaded with long athletes that contest everything. You pretty much have to play perfect, and they pretty much have to be having an off night. Good luck with that as a game plan.

I have no idea how you beat this team, and no one else does, either. If they weren't fantastic to watch, I'd resent them for making so much of the season suspense-free. And you have to think that OKC might get things together, or the Spurs will give them a series, or the recent Clipper comeback late augers something, or the Cavs are freshly energized and dangerous after their coaching game and Kevin Love rehabilitation...

Or maybe this is just one of the best teams in the history of the Association, and what you see with your eyes and the numbers is what's just going to keep happening.

Seven weeks to go. Seven more weeks for teams to try to figure out how to stop the unstoppable, or derail the best season ever. I'm watching because it's historic and beautiful, and because I have no dog in the fight against them. And I can't understand why everyone else isn't watching them, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Suddenly, David Blatt doesn't seem like such a victim

Love Life
Today in Oklahoma City, the Thunder hosted the Cavs. Coming off a bad loss against the Pacers on Friday, most thought that the home team would do well, and probably win. After all, they are from the better conference, were at home, had an earlier loss to motivate them, and the Cavs are supposed to have been in disarray after getting head coach David Blatt ran off for neophyte Tyronn Lue. When talented but brittle point guard Kyrie Irving went off in the first half with a case of stomach flu, compounding an injury to back up PG Mo Williams, you'd really think the home team would be in a good position.

Instead, the Cavs absolutely trucked the Thunder, on national television no less, and made ABC/ESPN wish they had the Pelicans instead, considering Anthony Davis was going thermonuclear for a season-high 59 points in Detroit.

Why? Well, the Thunder aren't looking really good right now, what with Dion Waiters having four points (all of them today) in three games since the All-Star Break. While Steven Adamas and Enes Kanter have their uses, the Thunder are still disturbingly thin if a benchie doesn't bring down a lot of makes, and while Russell Westbrook is a triple-double threat every game out, the best teams in the Association can take that kind of abuse and soldier on. OKC's record against teams with +.500 records is secretly bad, and new head coach Billy Donovan hasn't been able to get the club to go to truly intriguing levels with quality ball movement or next level defensive pressure.

But all of that diminishes what the Cavaliers are right now, which is just scary. Kevin Love has stopped being a one-dimensional three point shooter on offense, and hurt the Thunder early with drawing fouls and moving the ball from the post. He had 29/11/4 today in 37 minutes, and was 11-for-12 from the stripe. With Love's offense becoming multi-dimensional, Tristan Thompson can get back to his comfort zone of dirty work, which he did with 14/14/1 and a block on six shots. Richard Jefferson and Timofey Mozgov did good thinks with their bench minutes, giving the team 26 and 11 on 9 for 12 from the floor, and really owning their minutes against the Thunder benchies.

But more than anything, the switch from Blatt to Lue seems to have pressed the reset button on LeBron James, who went 25/7/11 on 22 shorts, including several of the "OK, forget about winning this game" variety. With Love getting more early touches, James didn't look gassed at any point, and had plenty in the tank to thwart the Thunder's early fourth quarter attempts to make it a game. With Lue's push towards more up-tempo offense, there's less standing around and isolation dribbling, which is to say, there's just the kind of hoop that has always made James unstoppable.

So while the Cavs were roundly criticized for running off their coach when they had the best record in the lEast, the plain and simple is that they look a lot better off for the move, and even more like the clear best team in the conference. They also look like a team that would get worked in the Finals by the Warriors again, but hey, that's what life in the age of empire looks like these days.

There's also this. In the third quarter of this game, Westbrook got loose on the break, crossed over the consensus dirtiest player in the league in backup PG Matthew Dellevedova, and threw down a dunk of startling power and speed. It was the kind of hoop that routinely changes momentum, especially since Dellie had seemed to inspire it with his usual thuggery (he'd get a flagrant later), and the home crowd in OKC is one of the better ones in the Association.

The Cavs just shrugged it off like it was two points and nothing more, because, well, they know they have the best player on the planet (still), and see that kind of thing all the time. By the end of the third, the Cavs were up big, the starters were able to sit for most of the fourth, and Lue was starting to look more and more like Steve Kerr to Mark Jackson, if you catch my drift.

Proving, once again, that coaching in the Association has always been about more than tactics...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Secretly, It's Nick Punto's World

Punti, the plural of Punto
Nick Punto retired today, and you will be forgiven for (a) thinking that already happened, or (b) not knowing who he was.

But his career is educational on a lot of levels, so let's get into it.

Punto was a 14-year MLB veteran who played all over the infield. Having last played in 2014 for the all-in A's, he's now 38, and had the kind of career that you only really see in baseball, where a guy who can do a lot of things winds up filling a pension over six teams. He did that while only playing more than 135 games in a season once, or ever providing all that much tangible value. Punto never hit .300, never had more than four homers in a year, never stole 20 bases or scored 75 runs, and so on, and so on, and yet he just kept getting run. Not even on bad teams, even, with years in his '30s for the Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers, plus he leaves with a ring thanks to 15 playoff games (from a career total of 28) for the 2011 Cards. That's the team that outslugged the Rangers for the crown, though heaven knows that Punto didn't add much to the carnage by going 6 for 35 for the post-season.

So why did he stick around for so long, and make over $23 million, 8.5 of that after he turned 34? Well, the Dodgers are special people, really, and the Twins seemed to think that paying and playing him like a regular would magically make him one, but it's also a testament to what can happen if you just are a decent guy who can do a lot of things. Punto played every position but catcher in his career, and did so to a reasonable degree of proficiency, with most of that time at 2B, 3B and SS. The idea that he DH'd some is low comedy, but things happen in long seasons, and the status of offense in this era of baseball is that a guy with a career OPS of .646 -- evenly split between on-base and slugging, a neat but pointless trick -- can play anywhere. He probably shouldn't, but it's not as if he really looked like he didn't belong.

And his career, more than anything else, is why parents can't really hope for more in life for their athletic boys than a career in baseball. Punto retires in his late 30s, with a long and slow drip of revenue that's probably left him set for life, but without the sudden extreme rush of wealth that destroys so many lives. He was never a big enough star to attract or need a posse, and was never so good as to forget to bank that per diem, dammit. Unlike football players, the chance that he's got a debilitating medical condition isn't a damn near certainty, and unlike basketball players, he's not freakishly sized and having to answer questions about that for the rest of his days. He could likely live anywhere now and do anything, without ever causing anyone to bat an eye at him or his family. He worked for his money, so he doesn't have that lottery winner misery of crippling self-esteem, but he also has to know, on some level, how incredibly lucky he was. Given how many teams employed and paid him, and how many positions he played, he could probably get a bench job, but if not, it's not as if the game used him up and spat him out, or left him wondering What Might Have Been. He's got a ring and 8 figures of lifetime earnings, and you've probably never met a guy in your life who's had it better. Or maybe ever will.

Plus, well, his name is just a fun thing to say. Pooooon toe! Rex Ryan's favorite if you are feeling frisky, the kind of name that's never attached to a superstar. Instead, dude gets to retire three to four decades before everyone else, play golf at Pebble Beach (according to his Twitter feed), and have fans and friends from coast to coast.

Oh, and his wife and kids are beautiful, too. See the evidence above.

So, who's got it better than Nick Punto?

No one, really. No one at all.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Future And Not Future Of Sports, Or The Goggles, They Do Some Things

Well, Not Until You Pay
In my day job as a marketing and advertising pro, I spend a lot of mental cycles on What Happens Next, because being able to predict such things makes the people that do the paying happy. Or just intimidated enough to keep you around. I'm not really sure which, and it doesn't really matter that much. Just keep the checks coming. Papa needs a new pair of everything.

Anyway, this leads me to reading a lot of stuff about the Internet of Things, which is what people call it when lots of stuff is connected to the Internet, and starts communicating with each other. (By the way, with massive, life-threatening security gaps that will feed every reactionary newscast for the next five years. Your older relatives will be more scared of this than they are of a transgender abortionist taking Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court. But I digress.)

Now, two big things from the sports world come with the IoT. The first is the rise of e-sports, which is where people who are not athletes do non-athletic things that mirror real sports thanks to the use of drone or video game technology. Lots of people think that is going to be the next new big thing, and if it is, feel free to just pack your bags and start your new life in Cuba, because the whole hemisphere will have officially circled the drain.

I get why people watch sports. It's something you did as a kid, then you found some other way to enjoy it, like dating or nerdery or gambling or jihad against those rat bastards who root for Dallas in anything. But none of that -- nope, not even the hating of Dallas -- has anything to do with watching other people play video games. If you like this, you are wrong. Period. End of statement. Nothing else. Nope. Moving on to something that actually might make some sense.

And that would be... virtual reality, or VR, becoming part of the sporting mix. Imagine, if you will, getting a headset that lets you see the game from the front row of an NBA court. Maybe for a small fee when you enter the arena, and find out that your seats in the nosebleed section just aren't that much fun. Or for just the fourth quarter, for giving up your name to a credit card company in the concourse, or a car dealership for a test drive. Oh, and the headset allows you to rewind and see the play again if you missed it, a Terminator-style heads up display with all of the nerd statistics you could possibly want, real-time Tweets on things like injury updates, and so on, and so on...

Lots of possibilities, really.

Along with no one being in the arena at all, of course, because the goggles, they do nothing for the post-game traffic jam, the line for the restroom, or being surrounded by meatheads who might be yelling out their favorite statistics from their own goggles.

But honestly, that's what could happen with the Internet of Things, ubiquitous technology, affluent audiences that are good with tech and advanced services, and so on, and so on.

Oh, and since there's real money in all of this?

Going to happen sooner than you think.

As in... a couple of years from now, or sooner.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The biggest dead zone in the sports calendar

Welcome to Philadelphia
So, um, yeah, quiet time here at the old blog.

I could make the usual excuses; swamped at work, busy with family, terrible weather, chores, etc. Normally this is the time of year when I grind out some thinky pieces about the end of the NFL season, where the NBA is at mid-season, maybe even some fun fantasy baseball nonsense. Oh, and poker; sure, poker.

But honestly, I've just been taking the time off and actually catching up on sleep and fitness, along with the aforementioned work stuff. There's only so long that you can go on four or five hours a day of sleep, and tonight is looking like another one of those, before you just can't do what you want, at the level that it needs to be at.

There's also this: watching the Philly area teams in this era has just been a long, hard slog. The Sixers have tanked for years, and while it's not to be in the presence of grown ups with a plan, still. The Eagles have been taking an erratic path to irrelevance for years now, with no playoff wins in the Obama Administration. We don't watch hockey, but even the temptation to tune in for the playoffs has been a Flyer-free zone, and seems likely to be again. The Phillies have been one of the worst franchises in baseball for years, after a period in which they were one of the best. Oh, and they also went from one of the best announcing situations to one of the worst. Not good times.

So. My apologies for not giving words to the batspit insanity that was the All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest, where Aaron Gordon got totally robbed by producing work that was beyond 50, only to have Zach LaVine contribute "ordinary" 50s and eventually outlast him. That was honestly better than any dunk contest has been in a decade or more, which is admittedly dunking on short rims, but still. Gordon got his shoulders and *knees* up to the rim, dunked over a mascot on a spinning hoverboard, and somehow didn't win. Dude. Was. Robbed. The skills contest was also kind of fun, if only to watch the bigs fall over themselves to celebrate a win, and the 3-point contest was more Splash Brother Action, but the idea that the Dunk Contest was actually the best way to end the night was a welcome change of pace. It was so good, it overcome way too much Kevin Hart, and honestly, I've had dental visits that were funnier than Kevin Hart.

As for the Game itself, um, didn't watch. There's only so much Kobe Bryant a man can take, honestly, especially if that man keeps watching the Lakers in the doomed hope that his fantasy picks are going to work out. (Spoiler alert: they won't.) Why the Association has to go into a week-long dead zone around the AS Game, just when my Sixers were teetering on the edge of tolerable, I'll never know. I need my medicine, people. Get the supply going again. Especially when the Dubs give it pharmaceutical grade and beyond.

Baseball? Well, my research materials are finally in the house, so at some point, Research Will Begin and I'll have something to say about another year in which the team I root for (Oakland) and the team my friends root for (Philly) will not be, in any way, relevant. Woo hoo! Gotta love baseball, with its old-school franchise builds, clear evidence that Tanking Works (Houston, Hello!), and ever-increasing amounts of whiteness / lack of exciting offensive players / killjoys sniffing about how high scoring games are for mouth breathers. Good times. My draft's in six weeks, and I'm trying to figure out when I'm going to do my rankings, and if it's even worth it, given the number of Pure Nerds and Trading Whores in my league. (Answer: yes, but only because I've got my hands on some kids at below market rates that the rest of the league hates me for. That, and I don't make trades, because I Barely Haz Time To Wipe Or Spell Check.)

Anyway... more soon, I hope. Read up some of the old stuff -- honestly, we've been writing this blog for way too long, there's no way you've seen all of it -- and click on some ads, assuming you want to continue to encourage this sort of thing. Back soon. Make yourself comfortable.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Put Terrible Owens In The NFL Hall Of Fame

Use This For His Bust
Want to know how to keep people talking about your athletic career years after it is over? Have a bunch of context-free numbers that allows a lot of people who only watch numbers, instead of the games, to pule that you should be in the Hall of Fame.

Because, well, its February, and watching what might be the best team in NBA history involves watching regular season basketball games. And watching hockey is watching hockey, and continuing to watch Super Bowl ads three days after its over is just like eating three day old pizza. That wasn't any good to start with, but I digress.

Which leads to the life and times of Terrible Terrell Owens, destroyer of worlds and multiple franchises, owner of nearly 16K receiving yards, over 150 TDs, a 4-8 playoff record with an 0-4 close, and jerseys from five teams, three of which he more or less destroyed with personal weirdness. It's been five long years since a 37-year-old Owens gimped his way to just under 1K yards for the Bengals, following a nomadic wandering through the CFL and reality television. Since Owens, well, destroyed three franchises rather than just played football, he's got no real constituency for the Hall; if he were to go in, his helmet should have a dollar sign or a microphone on it, really. But in our modern age, a constituency exists for him: fantasy nerds who never cared about whether or not he won a playoff game, since those didn't count for their nerd gambling game!

There is no denying Owens' talent or productivity, of course; you don't get to those numbers and last 15 years with most people wanting to take your head off without being a world-class talent. And sure, his game really had a lot to do with relatively ineffective force-feeding of targets due to his toxic personality, but hey. 1,078 career catches coming on 1,711 targets, or a 63% catch rate, isn't that bad. He was only around 50% for the last three stat-hogging years of his career. Between the lines, he belongs.

But to explain his career as just numbers, or to feel that these things just overwhelm anything else involving his candidacy, is kind of like insisting that OJ Simpson is historically relevant based on what he did on the field only.

When Owens left San Francisco, it was a hot mess, but one that a career could recover from. The organization was going strongly downhill from the Young / Montana era, and getting out by any means fair or foul was defensible. He went to the Eagles in 2004, had 1200 yards and 14 TDs in 14 games, then came back in the Super Bowl to be the best player in the laundry, despite injury. Had he simply, well, played football from that point on, or never recovered from the injury, he would have owned this media market for the rest of his life. No, seriously; his jersey outsold everyone's, everyone was all-in for him, and the way he clowned the media was fantastic. Fighting with the media is always OK when it's the Philly media.

Instead, he did sit ups in his driveway, destroyed the locker room with clear air turbulence contract demands, then forced his way to a release. Honestly, Andy Reid's coaching career was never the same. Owens replicated the trainwreck with years of more trainwreck, because Dallas. He ended there being more or less hated by both fan bases, which is honestly hard to do, and set the standard for Toxic Wideout for years to come. There's nothing that Dez Bryant is going to do to this franchise that he didn't learn from the Terrible Playbook.

So does he belong in Canton? Sure, fine, whatever, because as soon as he's in, the sooner we can never talk about him again, and honestly, there's nothing else we want, as football fans, than to never talk about Owens again. (Hey, Terrible? This also means I want you to outlive me, so I don't have to deal with the head-popping positive eulogies that will come your way. Eat some kale.) So long as he doesn't pollute America's airwaves by showing up in studios (because there's no team that will ever be so crazy as to hire him to coach), we're all good. Put him in Canton.

Preferably in his own room, that no one else can go into, so it also has room for his ego, and his friends, and the teammates that will be happy for him. It'll also give the nerds somewhere to go, so they don't ruin the building for people who care about who actually won the games.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Eagles Mini The Cooper

Move Along Now
Today, the Eagles did one of the more obvious moves of any NFL team's off-season in releasing WR Riley Cooper. The move saves them several million dollars on the salary cap, and more importantly, lets them not have Riley Cooper on the freaking team any more.

How bad was this guy? Well, to be fair, not the worst WR on the 2015 team; that was Miles Austin. But in terms of starting WRs in the NFL, Cooper was one of the worst. Intermittent hands, not able to get open against press coverage, in there ostensibly for his blocking -- as if that's any reason to start a freaking WR -- and at age 28 and a fifth round pick's pedigree, seriously unlikely to get any better. I suppose he might catch on somewhere in the NFL, because being someone's WR5 after being someone else's WR2 doesn't seem that hard, but if he never plays another down in the NFL, no one will notice.

Cooper's real meaning in the NFL, of course, was the fact that he was still in it after a terrible social media moment... and the fact that ex-coach/GM/disaster Chip "Nero" Kelly kept him around, but couldn't pay Jeremy Maclin or abide DeSean Jackson, pretty much put all of the fuel that anyone ever needed to every conspiracy theory about Kelly's racism. For the record, I don't think Kelly was racist. Arrogant, idiotic, and utterly incapable of dealing with anyone who wasn't a yes man, sure. That just happened to run into more black players than white players, but Evan Mathis getting cut for no good reason, then becoming a Super Bowl winner in Denver while the Eagles started turnstiles at guard, kills off the racism angle, really.

But that overstates the point. What Cooper was, more than anything, was a hot month, perfectly timed, with the general organizational philosophy of trying to lock down emerging talent at below-market rates. If Cooper had been a capable WR2 in the fashion of his sole decent year, the club would have been fine with him being an asshat. But he wasn't that, and Kelly's insistence on continuing to give him snaps, even with college binkie Josh Huff on the bench behind him, and first rounder Nelson Agholor having a whiff of a rookie year, was his stubbornness writ large.

It would have been incredibly easy for the team, and ex-coach, to get rid of Cooper for a very long time. That they didn't, until the minimum number of days after Kelly was excised, is all kinds of telling. It means that they were gutless while Nero was here, and more than happy to hand him yard after yard of rope to hang himself. While still selling tickets at full price, of course. There's a reason why owner Jeffrey Lurie, while generally lauded locally for kicking Kelly to the curb, isn't exactly trusted or beloved.

So what's next? Well, rumor has it that the club is really trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube by getting back wayward QB Nick Foles from the Rams. Maybe this is just gamesmanship with QB Sam Bradford to try to save a few million bucks on his next contract, especially because of Bradford's frankly terrifying injury history... and maybe it's all rumor mill nonsense. But the fact that it can't be just laughed out of the room, tells you just how beyond the pale this front office is.

Giving Kelly the keys was a mistake. So will be trying to undo everything he did, as if time treats football players like normal human beings.

But getting rid of Riley Freaking Cooper?

That's never been a bad idea.

Just a very overdue one.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Top 20 Super Bowl Takeaways

More Interesting Than Game
20) If we learned nothing else from this game, it should be that it wasn't held anywhere close to San Francisco, or interesting

19) Von Miller is a free agent this off-season, and about to install a Scrooge McDuck vault in his basement

18) Ron Rivera punted while down 14 with 2:08 left, because he really wanted to make sure his team was healthy for September

17) Phil Simms buried Cam Newtown for not diving for a fumble late in the game, in ways that only felt unseemly because Phil Simms never buries white QBs for, well, anything

16) Mike Carey blew his only chance to comment on the officiating, which is to say, the sun rose in the east

15) The last time the Super Bowl was this dull, Tony Siragusa got a sideline job for ten years and counting

14) Carolina finished the game 17-2, and without a single WR that you can imagine they'd like to start 2016 with

13) If this game was held in August, you'd have been amazed at how sloppy it was

12) Just think how good Denver's defense would have been if Aqib Talib hadn't had a million penalty yards

11) We all knew Carolina was doomed as soon as Jonathan Stewart scored and didn't give the ball to a kid

10) The MVP relay run with the trophy in the post-game gained more yards than the Denver passing game

9) Vernon Davis can now retire as a World Champion, or more likely, get cut as one

8) Evan Mathis couldn't play for Chip Kelly, but he can slip on a Super Bowl ring

7) Shockingly, the team that won the Super Bowl turns out to have the best fans in the NFL

6) The most athletic moment in the game might have been when Beyonce recovered from a backwards fall in heels to stay upright

5) Finally, Trent Dilfer has a Super Bowl winning QB performance he can look down on

4) Temple University's own Brandon McManus felt cheated when his 10 points didn't take down the MVP, or make everyone forget about where Bill Cosby went to school

3) Jerry Jones couldn't pay DeMarcus Ware, preferring to have Greg Hardy, which meant that Ware got a ring

2) Peyton Manning showed more footspeed in ducking retirement questions than he did the Panther pass rush

1) This game should serve as proof, not that anyone needed it, that the NFL should not allow CBS to televise games

Win Number 8, Or Why I Enjoy My Sixers Fandom

Strong Oak
Tonight in South Philadelphia, the Sixers took out the Nets, 103-98, for their eighth win of the year, against 43 losses. Brooklyn is a clearly horrible team, and one of the worst franchises in the league, so this wasn't one of the more surprising results in the Association. But it was still an entertaining game, and it made me realize a few things about why, despite the absurd amounts of losing that we've gone through in the past few years, I haven't really minded much of the tanking Process. Let me get into the guts of why on that, and maybe explain this beyond just a level of masochism.

There's all kinds of seasons that a franchise can have. They can have the championship one, which is, of course, extremely rare if you follow just one team, and weren't fortunate enough to pick the right one as a child. There's the contending year, which has its charms, but always ends in some level of disappointment (see Eagles, early Andy Reid era). There's the pointless year, where you never get a sense of up or down, just that there's no real hope, and no real reason to continue watching outside of habit (see Eagles, late Chip Kelly era). There's the down year, where you are on the other side of the peak and nothing seems satisfying, but at least you have your memories and a sense of past gratitude (see Phillies, last 2-3 years). And then there's the rising year, where the team isn't good enough yet, but you feel like it's all leading to something good later.

That's been the Sixers for nearly three years now.

And sure, they keep hitting the reset button and re-tanking, but the plain and simple is that every year, this team gets better in mid-season. When other teams fall off because the grind of the season gets to be too much for them, that's when head coach Brett Brown figures out what he's got from the long collection of not quite ready talent. Motivation is never a problem, because none of these guys take their paycheck for granted. Even the high picks grind, because they know on some level that they have to, lest the blowouts come. The fan base has always been into it, because the locals respect effort more than talent, and the process more than the result. Finally, January and February is when you really *need* the NBA team to be watchable, because there's nothing else, really, to fill your sports hole.

More about the fan base. Philadelphians understand basketball, and the moments of artistry and athleticism, more than any other fan base around. The team has won enough to know what winning looks like, but there's more to hoop than wins. That's why Allen Iverson was our spirit animal. He didn't care about practice, and neither do we. He didn't conserve his energies and skip out on the back end of a back to back; neither do we. He played every game as if it were his last, and a true Philadelphia fan will cheer and boo every game the same way. We don't bring more intensity to a playoff game on a per capita basis. There's just more of us there, and more reason to mark out. Go all in, and we will as well.

So, back to this game. The team was without PG1 Ish Smith, the single biggest reason why they've been a near .500 team with downright danger since Christmas, after the terrible start. Which meant that rookie T.J. McConnell had to take the reins, and execrable back up Kendall Marshall had to get minutes that mattered. Luckily for McConnell, Brooklyn's worst position is point guard, which meant he just had to contend with Donald Sloan and Shane Larkin, and the Sixers owned that matchup. 24-12 after the first, with McConnell doing his best Smith impersonation in getting Nerlens Noel off early. Also helping; Noel was guarded by Brook Lopez, a classic empty calories big man who can make anyone with lateral quickness look offensively capable. Nerlens has got that in spades.

So the team played with the lead most of the night, despite pivotal wing man Robert Covington not being able to do much, and center Jahlil Okafor also not hitting shots. Here's where the game was revelatory. Earlier this season, Okafor's value was entirely on offense, and if his shot wasn't falling, there would be little value to what he did. He also didn't mesh at all with Noel. But tonight, he grinded away on defense, got on the boards, and set the basis for a good all-around night. McConnell deserves some of the credit for that, as he didn't play favorites with his penetration and passing, and the Nets are a team you can torch on the boards; the Sixers won that battle by six, with Okafor's 17 leading the way. But for vast stretches of this game, the two bigs actually worked well together, especially on defense. Oakafor's 10 defensive boards meant that Noel could gamble for his 4 steals and 3 blocks, and that set the tone for 19 Nets turnovers, and a 5-15 night from the arc. There's the core of a very good defensive team here, especially if Oakafor can become a plus on the boards. He also had three blocks tonight, which is more a matter of the Nets being clueless, but still, progress.

What else to like? How they won despite issues. Nic Stauskas, Covington and Isaac Canaan went a combined 5 for 23, and they normally need much better three-point shooting to stay in games, let alone win. They won despite a 17 to 14 assist to turnover ratio, with Marshall's 5 giveaways in twenty minutes showing, yet again, why Smith is so valuable to this club. They won despite the Nets going 23 for 26 from the line. Mostly, they won because they played great defense... and when Brooklyn took the lead late and appeared to be on their way to stealing a game they didn't deserve, they forced turnovers, made shots, and rudely showed the visitors to the door.

Like it was what was supposed to happen, rather than some kind of happy accident or fluke.

Can Noel and Okafor really co-exist? I have no idea, and that's being optimistic, considering that they hadn't for nearly 50 games before this one. Brooklyn's far from a good standard, and the Clippers come to town on Monday. That team has treated the Sixers like the Washington Generals for years now, and even without Blake Griffin, it'll be a strong test, especially if Chris Paul is full power and Smith isn't. After that, the Kings are in town, with revenge for the earlier shocking loss in Sactown, and Boogie Cousins among the best players in the league since the turn of the new year. That's it before the break; all the hoop you get for a good long while, and all of the story that will be revealed to date.

But there's this. Fifty games, in the span of a 19 year old Okafor, is nothing. McConnell looks limited as hell, but he's a rookie, too; there may be more ceiling than expected. There's no rotation player  on this team, honestly, that you can say is on the downside of his career. It's an open question whether some of them (Marshall, JaKarr Sampson) will actually have a career, but that's another matter.

The biggest thing is that this team is more and more looking like they are giving us a rising year. And unlike past years, they aren't likely to pull the chutes on cohesiveness and trade rotation pieces for second round picks, or cash in draft assets for chips later.

They are what they are, for the next 30 games. An increasingly entertaining team that is going to be better and vastly more watchable than they were earlier in the year. Who won't leave us ignoring the games until the Draft. And who might trade in the rising year for the contending year, as soon as next October.

Not too many teams can promise you more, really. Especially in this town....

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Super Bowl Pick: Exit, Stage Beatdown

Say Omaha Again, I Dare You
Walking off into the sunset a winner. It’s the dream of every athlete, but the number of times it actually happens is, well, almost never. Part of this is the very nature of athletics, where getting old gracefully rarely happens, and star players in particular have trouble managing the decline.

But the bigger part of the issue is that just being a winner is damned deadly difficult. Only one of 32 NFL teams hoist a trophy every ear, which means that just by the numbers, you start with about a 3% chance of being on the right team.

Then there's the added difficulty of being healthy enough to make that walk, which takes out a few dozen more candidates for the forever stroll. So if you want to go out on top, the only way to be sure... is to just go out whenever you win one. Sure, you might leave a decade of monster billing on the table, and become known as football's biggest non-Detroit enigma, but what's more important, really -- leaving on your own weirdly non-lucrative terms, or making a sports writer happy by writing his Not Game lede?

Which brings us to Peyton Manning. He can do something historic in what everyone is presuming to be his final NFL game. Any number of people are ready for this, as he's the second favorite to win the Super Bowl MVP. He can also decide, after six months of not getting hurt and his arm feeling fine, that another $20 million would go down like a few dozen commercials. Especially with no more than a dozen NFL teams that feel really, really good about their QB1 situation, and the rules getting to the point where being an old and slow white QB has never been safer.

Now, for the record? It seems really obvious that Manning is going to leave after this. That's what the rumors have all been saying, but what they aren't saying is that one of the bigger reasons for him to leave is that the Panthers are going to beat him silly. Kind of like how the Seahawks did two years ago, because the NFC is (shh!) wildly better than the AFC now, and the Panthers did most of the heavy lifting for winning this game by not choking away their lead in their first playoff game against Seattle. (Speaking of Seattle, jeez, Russell Wilson, why didn't you retire after your SB win? Leave on your own teams, man.)

So enjoy your walk, Peyton. It just might look more like this. 

 And with that... on to the very, very obvious pick!

* * * * * 

CAROLINA (-5.5) at Denver 

 The case for Carolina: 17-1 in the superior conference. Have the clear MVP in QB Cam Newton, who is fully healthy and playing at the highest level of his career. RB Jonathan Stewart has been top notch since returning from injury. TE Gregg Olsen is among the best in the game, and routinely gets open despite being the clear top choice of his QB. WR TBD Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. aren't great, but they have speed to burn and get past the defense enough for Newton to do serious damage, especially on plays where the QB extends time with his mobility. Defensive front seven is the best in football this year by a wide margin, and the pass rush has been ferocious in the post-season. No real issues on special teams or coaching to slow them down, either.

The case against: Secondary is vulnerable outside of world-class CB Josh Norman. LB Thomas Davis broke his arm in the conference championship and is trying to play anyway; if he is not able to go or play well, that is a major problem, especially since Denver’s passing game is so much about short crossing routes and YAC. No one on the roster has been on this kind of stage before. They've done bad things with a lead in a bunch of games this year, and could easily give up the back door cover or more, especially if the pass rush loses steam late. The pass rush has lost steam late.

The case for Denver: Defensive secondary is the best in football this year by a wide margin. Patient play calling that doesn't turn the ball over. QB Peyton Manning is one of the smartest QBs who has ever played the game, and routinely makes a defense jump offsides, or audibles to the right play based on a pre-snap read. WR Emmanual Sanders and DeMaryius Thomas have the physical gifts to change games, and the deeper reserve WRs made a ton of plays in the win against NE. TE Owen Daniels is a reliable target for Manning, and can gash a defense. Run game has looked better in recent weeks, and the special teams have been very good, especially K Brandon McManus. Manning actually ran around a little in his last game, and might be as healthy as can be hoped at this stage of the year, and in his career.

The case against: Offense has to play at a near perfect level now to succeed. Offensive line is just not that good, and Manning’s speed to release to camouflage that, and ability to make all of the throws, is long gone. RB Ronnie Hillman isn't big enough, RB CJ Anderson isn't fast enough, and both tend to put the ball on the ground at the worst possible time. Thomas is either playing with an injury, or is secretly a decade older than his birth certificate. Defense was utterly brilliant against New England, and still needed questionable game management, home field advantage and the skin of their teeth to get to this game. Won't have a decimated offensive line and a stationary QB to go after in this game, either.

The pick: Can Denver win this game? Sure. NFL games are decided on turnovers, and Newton hasn't always been great on that score. Manning with rest and the knowledge that it's all over after this game might be truly dangerous, especially if Thomas can somehow shake off what he's been doing for the past four months. The Denver DBs have the potential to throw a shutout at the Carolina WRs, and the game could easily turn on a single possession or special teams play. If we played this game 100 times on a perfect computer simulation, Denver wins a lot of games.

But what's possible is not what's probable, and every Super Bowl doesn't have to be close or compelling. I'm not sure I've seen a QB play better than Newton in this season, and I’ve watched football since the 1970s. Especially when you consider what he's working with at wideout. Unlike New England, Carolina will bring a realistic running game threat to the game, and string together enough drives to bring that defense to exhaustion. I don't see the same thing being true for the Broncos... and historically, teams that fall behind in this game don't come back, and it gets ugly.

Kind of like what happened to Manning when he was in much better shape, with a much better offense, on this stage two years ago.

The score: Panthers 34, Broncos 20. 

 As a bonus, here is how I would go on six different prop bets.

Over/under -- Over, 45.5

More sacks -- Carolina, 6/5

MVP, Chalk bet: Cam Newton, 8/11

MVP Longshot: Luke Kuchley, 18/1

Over/under, "Omaha" calls -- Over, 7.5

Cam Newton total TDs -- Over, 2.5

* * * * * 

Last week: 2-0 

Season: 141-117-4 

Past SBs: 4-5 

Career: 759-749-49

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