Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fraud Of Fairness

Fairness doesn't exist in life and barriers to upward mobility are about individuals, not society.

Do Turks Want Democracy?

Do Turks Want Democracy?

It would seem they - and citizens elsewhere - absolutely do.

Scott Walker’s Political Courage

Scott Walker is improving Wisconsin by defeating the unions - and it’s scaring the pants off them because it exposes their irrelevance.

Obama Consciously Engineering America’s Decline

Obama once again prefers the enemy to us.

What Went Right In Speedweeks

As Speedweeks fades into the past, it's worth remembering what went right. For all the justified criticism NASCAR gets, it's worth cherishing when things go right. And Speedweeks 2014 was indeed an exercise in great racing. So what went right?


The track changed with the rain
- Until the 500 the racing had been defined by one-line racing - the top line was the line to run for the Cup cars, while the bottom was the fast line for the Busch Series and the Trucks. But with the rain, the track changed - the entire top/bottom dichotomy disappeared as the track got grippier. The result was the leaders could stay side by side and it almost didn't matter which line cars ran.

The Trucks forced the top line to move - The Nextera 250 for the Trucks was the classic tale of two halves - the first half was a single-file parade where the only battle was for 11th; after Lap 51 however all hell broke loose as Kyle Busch and Timothy Peters got to the lead and fought it out heading a 20-plus Truck slugfest ultimately won by Busch.
Some striking trivia from this race - Chevrolet is 0-for-lifetime in Daytona's Truck races.

The racers had no choice but to go for the lead
- Drivers in preseason were asked about how hard they're trying and several claimed they were trying as hard as they could. The irony is the rain and threat of its return showed they can try a helluva lot harder; with the drivers racing first for halfway and then for whenever the race might end, the battle for the lead was the most amazing in a Cup race seen in years.

Restrictor plate racing is still superior racing - An overlooked bit of trivia - 2014 was the fourth time in the last seven runnings the Daytona 500 broke 40 official lead changes, and a related fact.........

The best racing is when the draft is more important than handling - This was a Speedweeks where the draft and handling were jostling pretty intensely all week; NASCAR's spoiler changes worked okay here; the bigger spoiler change for the intermediates won't get its first tests until March at Vegas and Fontana; here NASCAR hopes the draft becomes more important.

So it went with Speedweeks 2014.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Daytona 500 Aftermath

What started as a race that looked doomed to Monday resumption instead became the 12 Hours Of The Daytona 500 and one of the more astonishing - and frustrating - races ever seen.   And now the sport will see its aftermath as it packs up and heads to Phoenix.   Some takeaways from Speedweeks 2014 -

Here comes Junior Nation again - Certain fanbases just don't make much sense and don't represent a sport well.   Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans are a fanbase that doesn't do any favors for their sport, let alone the man they adore.   The public controversy they generated over his car number in 2007 remains an embarrassment to racing, and the cheering when he takes the lead - when no particular reaction ever comes when someone else takes the lead - is off-putting.   It certainly isn't Earnhardt Junior's fault, as he doesn't generate much flamboyance; he is what he is, a bit of a quiet individual who interacts well with people.   That he's won again certainly is commendable for him; we just don't need the derangement periodically seen from the fanbase that follows him.

After a promising start, Speedweeks sees the upset that wasn't - It appeared the other marques would push back Chevrolet for a change as Toyotas dominated preliminary events and Fords looked competitive.   But then the form chart came back as Chevrolets won the Busch Series 300 and then the 500, though Regan Smith's photo-finish win counts as an upset for certain.   The 500 became just another Chevrolet show, and worse it was another Rick Hendrick show.   Certain car owners do nothing but drain the life out of a sport, and Rick Hendrick more than anyone has done that over the years in NASCAR.   The sport doesn't need another Rick Hendrick show.

The rookie class' poor start - This is supposed to be the rookie class to actually show something after years of worthless one-year wannabes without any backing.   Instead the sport witnessed rookies who look like rookies - worse, rookies in over their head.   Austin Dillon salvaged ninth but that isn't saying much.   Kyle Larson was abysmal almost from the start.   And there wasn't much positive noise generated by any other rookie in this race. 

Thanks for nothing again - The subplot of the 500 was the media-fed feud between Richard Petty and Danica Patrick.   All Speedweeks had shown was that Petty had been right - yet no one got anything out of it after a pit penalty put Aric Almirola a lap down and then a wreck eliminated him and Patrick.   Patrick hadn't run up front all week and got into a wreck for the second time in eight days; this was supposed to be an upsurge for Almirola with a fresh new crew chief in Trent Owens.   Instead it was another race to nowhere.

Rain helps the aero package - Until the rain, Speedweeks had been defined by one-line racing - either the top line was fast, or the bottom line, never both.   Even with a wild Truck 250 and the photo finish there and in the Busch Series 300, the racing had been defined by one-line running, and NASCAR's ridiculous no-tandem ideology hurt the racing even more.   Then the rain changed the racetrack and made both lanes fast; suddenly between a grippier racetrack and fear that rain would end the race past halfway, the field got the hint and went for the lead - hard.   The result was the best 500 in three years and a huge competitive upsurge over the last two seasons.

The fastest postrace press release during the race - Martin Truex blew up and fell out before the rain, and his postrace press release came while the race hadn't yet been ended. 

And so Speedweeks 2014 is a wrap, Phoenix awaits, and the sport tries to ride momentum - and we hope the upset that wasn't at Daytona finally starts appearing down the season road.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What NASCAR Has To See To Gain Back Credibility

This was initially published February 17; it has been updated

MRN's Dave Moody notes the angry reactions to Austin Dillon's Daytona 500 pole in RCR's renewal of the number 3, a convenient "feel good" story of the kind racing fans stopped trusting long ago. That distrust of the sanctioning body is so prevalent has been well known for some time, and that it has come out with a vengeance after Austin Dillon's pole run is hardly surprising. Moody notes the absurdities of conspiracy-mongering in accusing Dillon's pole run of being manipulated by NASCAR. To add to his point, qualifying produced several surprises - Martin Truex on the front row, a rebound of Roush Fenway Fords coming off a subpar season, promising efforts by Richard Petty's cars - notably the #43 of Aric Almirola, now wrenched by Trent Owens, whose birth father Randy Owens was Richard's brother-in-law and one of his crewmen, struck down by a freak water tank explosion at Talladega in 1975 - and the curious back seat to which the Hendrick and Stewart/Haas cars were shoved almost from the opening of practice.   And to top it off was Denny Hamlin's win in the Busch Clash Saturday night where Chevrolets - normally favored at Daytona - were noticeably left behind by the Fords and Toyotas.

Conspiracy thoughts have long permeated the sport and NASCAR has no one to blame but itself, because it insists on giving itself the most control over the racing perhaps of any sports sanctioning body.   The officiating tower in NASCAR has been given more control than anywhere else over the years, to where it controls when pit road is opened - the rule closing pit road came into being in March 1989 and has steadily seen additional pit restrictions that did not exist, and weren't particularly needed - how fast drivers can enter or exit the pits - leading to nonstop pit speeding violations as dubious as most civilian traffic tickets - and at Daytona and Talladega it controls where cars can and can't race - its yellow line rule has done nothing but lead to numerous dubious calls and non-calls, the most infamous remaining the 2003 Winston 500 win by Dale Junior passing on the apron of Turn Three and the 2008 Diehard 500 win by Tony Stewart when Regan Smith was flagged for his last-lap pass below the line at the stripe, this after Ramsey Poston of NASCAR made comments to the effect that such a pass was in fact legal.

Distrust in the sanctioning body was nowhere close to as pronounced in years past, to where legitimate controversies over the legality of some race wins did not harm the sanctioning body long term.   Among them was the 1973 National 500, where Cale Yarborough's Chevy won but postrace inspection revealed probable violation of engine size; engine builder Robert Yates acknowledged in the Tom Jensen book Cheating that the engine wasn't legal.  The controversy led Bobby Allison to file a lawsuit he soon withdrew after a lengthy meeting with Bill France Jr.   Other controversies have been the 1984 Firecracker 400, which oddly didn't become particularly controversial until the infamous 1995 "The Call" magazine article questioning NASCAR's level of control of the racing.   There were also controversies over the spacer penalty to Mark Martin in 1990 - that one was a controversy defending Martin against NASCAR - and the legality of Junior Johnson's racecar in 1991 after a major engine size penalty in May and a dubious inspection of the car's fuel capacity in October; Larry McReynolds stating he saw the pumps and they showed Junior's car taking in more than the allowed 22 gallons of fuel. 

There is also the lingering bitterness in some fan circles over NASCAR's treatment of Tim Richmond, which may never go away.

NASCAR has begun to make changes to try and win back fans via better racing.   The first test in the Busch Clash was a good start, though by no means a complete start; spoiler changes to improve racing at intermediate tracks still await live-fire competition, though Charlotte testing showed some promise.  

But the goal of reestablishing credibility remains one where NASCAR must act via letting go control of the racing.   Fewer templates, opening up areas of the racetrack for the racers (i.e. no more yellow line rules), liberalizing pit road rules to allow the racers control instead of the officiating tower, and the officiating tower putting the flags away a la NFL referees in playoff games - those are areas NASCAR needs to seriously explore.    And Saturday's Daytona 300 Busch Series race illustrates how far NASCAR has to go between the foolishness of trying to police tandem drafting - it bears repeating that the practice was evolving in 2013 to where, as shown in the Talladega 250 for the Trucks, tandem drafts could pass but didn't just stay together, the second-place vehicle bailed on the leader and passed, while conventional drafts were able to keep up and catch up; it was a perfect mixture of styles that produced 29 lead changes in 250 miles - and the absurd penalty on James Buescher combined with NASCAR's on-air admission to not being able to catch all infractions. 

Fans have justly beein upset with NASCAR over how the Busch Series race developed, and Speedweeks 2014 has seen some very good racing - notably the Clash, the first Twin, and the Nextera 250 Truck race, while the Regan Smith win in the 300 was amazing - but also illustrated that NASCAR has to go further in letting go.

Austin Dillon's pole would not generate the controversy it has if NASCAR ran a tight ship and eliminated conflicts of interest.   If Aric Almirola or Martin Truex or someone less known than the sport's "stars" like Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon wins the 500, that will help weed out conspiracy buffs - and it's worth noting the 500 isn't far removed from the wins by  darkhorses Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne.    Running a tight ship where there isn't conflict of interest and the racers instead of the officiating tower are seen to have the control is the biggest way to weed out the conspiracy mongers.    James Buescher and Regan Smith offered some more proof of this.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The End Of Government

A sobering look at the stubborn denial of economic reality that permeates budget debates - the fact government spending is now eating its young.

Daytona: Denny Hamlin's Busch Bash

The Sprint Unlimited - aka the Busch Clash - ran Saturday night and Denny Hamlin made a statement of statements by winning all three segments.   Being the first live-fire competition of the season, it offered numerous angles to digest.  


A bad day for Chevrolet - Several Hendrick Chevys blew engines during pre-race practice and the bulk of the Chevrolet fleet in the race crashed out.   Dale Junior led late but couldn't hang with the Toyotas or the Penske Fords and then wrecked.  

NASCAR's new restrictor plate aero package produces good, albeit mixed, results - A slight increase in spoiler size made the draft noticeably more effective and the lead changed sixteen times - a major improvement over 2013's package in this same race.   It wasn't as competitive as 2012's thriller, which may be the standard to which such races are compared, and matching that caliber of racing should be NASCAR's goal.   Indeed, what was striking about the racing was how inconsistent it was - the lead was a battle, but in lengthy spots the drivers single-filed it.   The cars looked noticeably looser and sidedrafting was perhaps the story of the race.

Danica in the eye of the storm - Nowadays in NASCAR it's Danica, always Danica.   She teased by running in the top ten in the first segment before gagging back to the back, then she crashed in the Matt Kenseth melee - she charged head-long into the scene, saw a hole, then spun out and got clipped hard by her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse.   It was yet another Danica performance that merely reinforced Richard Petty's point about her low relevance to the racing.

SHR didn't acquit itself, either - Tony Stewart made a great charge early on then got wrecked out with Danica and the curiously quiet Kurt Busch.   Kevin Harvick finished fifth, this like several others after losing the lead draft.    It was an inauspicious start for a team whose internal politics are becoming more of a story amid Gene Haas' moves and statements that seem not to make much sense.

It's obvious who Mister Ford now is - Roger Penske's history is of taking everything from his backer and making sure it's at the expense of others running the same brand, beginning with his McLaren days in road racing and USAC Championship Racing and McLaren's revolutionary M-16 racecar of the 1970s.   When he signed with Ford in 1994 it was to be Ford's designated championship team; curiously it didn't work then, though the race last night indicated right now Penske is the top of the Ford totem pole.   It was also a good rebound for Brad Keselowski following some comments earlier in the week that were quite muted and gave indication he's been muzzled by NASCAR - a bad sign.

And so it went for the Busch Clash of 2014 as the rest of Speedweeks gets cranked up.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Identity Politics Infect NASCAR and the NFL

The biggest story in sports right now before the beginning of Speedweeks at Daytona, and less than two weeks after the Superbowl, is Michael Sam, a defensive lineman looking to enter the NFL Draft. he said in an interview earlier this week that he is homosexual, and it's naturally set off a wave of congradulatory messages from Barack Obama (though Sam's father was naturally troubled by the news) to Robert Kraft, who stated he'd like the Patriots to draft Sam if he can help them win. Sam led the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19).    Some scouting reports, though, paint him as basically a one-trick pony, who struggled at the Senior Bowl against more-NFL-caliber tackles.  

Therein lay what I suspect is the real reason why Sam is making being homosexual an issue.

The standard line "His orientation doesn't matter" has been trucked out to defend him, but the fact he is the one bringing being gay into the discussion indicates it does matter; it paints him as someone to whom being gay is more important than being a football player, and the NFL has already had to deal with a strikingly similar issue in Jonathan Martin, to whom being weaker and whinier than his teammates was more important than football.   When some quotes attributed to unnamed NFL GMs were published, NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith reacted angrilly (calling them "gutless"), an illustration of the utter dishonesty that exists in discussing such issues.

The blunt truth that no one dares state is Sam's lifestyle is wrong.   Homosexuality has no biological reason to exist, and the constant assertions that "you don't choose to be gay" will never ring true no matter what junk science is cited in its defense.    Here is the hypocrisy at work - if Sam had stated that he is a smoker, he would be criticized in the media for it; that homosexuality is not a healthier alternative is ignored because as Michael Graham once wrote, it "doesn't feel right" to criticize on that score.   We tell smokers, "Change."   Why not also say that to gays?  Because it "doesn't feel right?"

What Sam is doing here is laying down a gauntlet - he's telling the league "You have an obligation to draft me because I am gay."   In short, his lifestyle is his entitlement to be drafted into the NFL.   And it is implicit in the varied media coverage of this whole issue - one hazards to find negative coverage of Sam anywhere; the premise in all coverage now is that he should be drafted by the fact of him saying he's gay.


The entitlement mentality that is identity politics is also at work in criticisms of Richard Petty for comments belittling Danica Patrick's racing ability - she would win only if "everybody else stayed home."   Petty also noted "If she were a male, nobody would ever know if she showed up at a racetrack."

Having followed racing and thus had to witness Patrick's career, it is impossible to see where Richard Petty is saying anything particularly inaccurate.   In 226 combined NASCAR, ARCA, and Indycar races she has led a shade over 200 total laps entering 2014 and posted just eight top five finishes.   Her one win in Indycars was a split-squad race against a truncated field won on fuel mileage at Motegi.   And she's done this with quality racecars - Rahal Racing, Andretti Autosport, Hendrick/Stewart, etc.   She has gotten a lot to work with and done very little with it.

The blunt truth here again is the fact of her identity - being a woman is her credential to race.   And it's even more blatant with Danica - she famously posed for soft-porn photography to promote herself before joining Indycar. 

Yet if that is stated, the one making the statement is treated as the enemy.   Such is what identity politics entails - suppression of truth.    There's nothing about being gay that's to be proud of, yet Michael Sam clearly is more proud of that than of football; being a woman remains Danica Patrick's credential to race, despite nearly ten years proving she's not entitled to anything.

Obama validates the conservative case against the employer mandate

Obama is using strong-arm tactics on employers to try and save Obamacare - and continues proving the Republicans are the ones who are right.

Obama And The Ignorance Of Research

In his famous beat-down on Bill O'Reilly's show Obama made blatantly false assertions about school vouchers. They showcase his refusal to be truthful about anything.

Corporate Tax Rates Need To Be Cut

Since 1988, US competitors have slashed corporate tax rates by 42%. We’ve raised ours

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hard Questions With Answers For NASCAR 2014


The NASCAR season is close to arriving, so we ask some hard questions of the sanctioning body with what we believe are the answers -


What is with the changes in the points structure?

It's because Brian France is becoming more desperate to make his Chase concept something it simply can never be - a viable championship format for racing.   The concept of artificially locking 10-12 drivers into the points race for the final ten races hasn't worked because the racers can only points-race, and people see through it - it is not a legitimate racing championship, it is nothing but a contrived formula where the champion is not a legitimate one because the championship is decided by nothing but a short run.   Brian France's talk of putting more emphasis on winning is not about making winning mean something - it's yet another contrivance because the emphasis on winning is ONLY in the context of making the Chase.  

France still needs to figure out that "Game 7 Moments" do not happen in racing - they can't.   Racing is about going for the win, period, and letting points fall where they fall covering the entirety of the season - wins in March or June or whenever directly matter in November.    The sport got memorable points battles because the racers didn't particularly race for points - they raced to win races and knew that the entirety of their season mattered.   Instead today what they have to do is points-race, and for the notional chance of making a ridiculous artificial season cut-off.

What of NASCAR's claim that (quoting USA TODAY's Jeff Gluck) its internal research from 2010 shows fans favoring eliminations and a one-race playoff?

NASCAR spin.   That's all it is.  There is no sincere belief anywhere in any playoff format for racing.   The fans want the Chase concept eliminated, period.  

Will aero changes after the two Charlotte tests help make for better racing?

NASCAR's two Charlotte tests (the first before the Diehard 500) led to overdue increases in spoiler size after it was seen that the larger spoiler allowed more in the way of passing - it remains curious, though, that NASCAR apparently tested a roof blade in Charlotte yet has not mandated it despite the device's history of success at improving passing.    The two Charlotte tests appear to have reconfirmed what was seen with the Trucks and Busch Series at Kansas as well as with the Trucks at Homestead this past season - when the draft is more important than handling, passing goes up.    We can hope 2014 will see the draft become relevant more often again as we saw with the Truck Series and Busch Series races at Kansas as well as the Trucks at Homestead.

Drivers say they're racing as hard as they can.   Are they?

No, they're not.   It shows because lead changes are - despite NASCAR spin - scarce.   40 lead changes is supposed to be the norm; breaking 50 lead changes is not supposed to be an exception, and the last non-restrictor plate race to flirt with 50 lead changes was the National 500 at Charlotte in 2000.   That it is in large part racecar-related is true enough; it does not, though, give the drivers as much benefit of the doubt as they seem to want.

The points-racing ethos showed in most graphic form at Talladega in October when the field went single-file for the final 15 laps with no one trying to pass - the mentality of points-racing took over.    Tony Stewart's 2011 championship also illustrates points-racing - he won five of the last ten races yet all he got out of it was a points tie - he traveled more miles for fewer results.    This is where the sport has to get points-racing out entirely - Stewart should by the mere fact of winning five of the last ten races have clinched the title weeks before the season's end.   This is the kind of incentive that makes racers race harder - the only alternative needs to be go for the win; traveling more miles should produce more results.

NASCAR for 2014 has gone further in banning tandem drafting on the restrictor plate tracks.   Is there any validity to opposition to it?

No, there isn't.   The arguments against it dance around the real hatred of it - it looks weird.   Yet this mentality ignores how it has been evolving back toward conventional drafting - shown in the Truck 250 at Talladega last October - and how it remains by far the best power to pass the sport has ever seen and NASCAR can't credibly justify any rule that takes away passing.

NASCAR hired ex-Penske Racing honcho Richard Buck to replace John Darby.   Will he make a difference? 

We can't of course know right now, but the changes that have come of late are a sign of promise. Darby's tenure as Winston Cup director was a failure in that he kept pushing for rules packages that were basically evolution of the failed 5&5 Rule of 1998 - he sought to cut downforce and never produced any success with it; he pushed the Car Of Tomorrow and it failed.    He refused to understand that the draft has to be more important than handling to produce better racing; the other way around never succeeds.

The signing of Gene Stefanyshyn into the sanctioning body appears to have had a positive effect, though more results down the road need to happen.

Will there be substantial schedule changes down the road as rumored with the new NBC TV deal?

There has been debate to that effect but there is no evidence it can happen.    The only tracks whose demographics aren't as strong as advertised are Martinsville and Fontana and Toyota has invested quite a bit in Fontana; if anything we may see Fontana get back its second Winston Cup date because of Toyota's involvement, not to mention NASCAR still seems to believe in the myth of the LA audience.   Martinsville is beloved to perhaps too much a degree given its small size and the overrated quality of its racing, but there is no lobby to get rid of it.    There is talk of adding a road course but that's hype; the road courses are competitively worthless.   Loose talk about going to Eldora is nonsense because that place is strictly bush league.   Don't look for scheduling changes.

What about the new NBC TV deal?

Mike Mulhern put it best in ATHLON SPORTS 2014 NASCAR Preview when he said the biggest story of 2013 was that Brian France got NBC to bid for half the season while getting FOX to stay with the sport through 2024.   The laughable part of the NBC deal is that it was a blind bid and NBC was basically bidding against itself - no one else had any interest, and ESPN and Turner tried to get out of their 2014 deal.   The last time NBC covered the sport it basically got shafted by NASCAR between losing money and then seeing the Chase - ostensibly intended to help the network's faltering ratings - alienate the sport's audience.

It's unlikely that everything the audience hates about how the sport is covered will change given the lack of independent voices involved in covering the sport - NBC's reported on-air talent is basically the usual. 

Should people buy ESPN's claim that it will still devote quality coverage to NASCAR in this, the last year of its TV deal?

No.   ESPN short-shrifted hockey once it got outbid by NBC and was never that beneficial to NASCAR to start with; Brock Yates noted back in 1987 that ESPN's lowball approach did little to improve the appeal of racing to people and the fact is steadily lost coverage to upstart TNN and networks involved with Ken Squier's company showed this.    Keep in mind ESPN tried to give up the 2014 season.

Is 2014 a lull year for NASCAR as USA TODAY'S Nate Ryan writes?

No.   Ryan's piece in USA TODAY'S NASCAR preview release lists "lull" periods in - 2000, when NASCAR dropped track-by-track TV deals for centralized deals - 2006, when NBC quit - and even 2007, when ESPN returned.    The piece in effect blames the outgoing networks for short-shrifting promotion of the sport in those periods, but that's just the self-serving spin of NASCAR.   The reality is the period from the start of 2000 onward has been a net negative for the sport and the fault lies entirely with NASCAR.    "In 2005 the sport reached its most recent zenith with record crowds and TV ratings following the second edition of the Chase.......captured by charismatric Tony Stewart," writes Ryan.   Funny, what is remembered about 2005 is that the Chase was put into effect because ratings and crowds had begun declining in 2003 and the decline began to accelerate with implemetation of the Chase format.  

"NASCAR ended (2013) without much momentum."   Ryan blames it on the Kyle Larson crash at Daytona - an event forgotten right away once it became clear there were no serious injuries and the fencing issue was solely about a fixable crossover gate, not anything fundamentally wrong with the fencing - on Johnson's sixth title lacking indelible moments - as though any of Johnson's titles had even one such moment - other off-track fiascos such as Michael Waltrip Racing's dirty pool at Richmond - a legitimate issue - and the injuries and/or poor showing of Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and Tony Stewart, a gross overselling of their popularity.

2014 may be a "lull" year only because NASCAR still can't get it right, not because it is losing two TV partners.

Chevrolet has basically monopolized the sport since 1976.   Will that ever change?

Unfortuneately the answer seems an emphatic No.   Ford has clearly cut its NASCAR spending and there is some concern it may pull out entirely as Dodge has.   Only Chevy and Toyota are spending serious money in the sport and it's almost an open secret how NASCAR's hierarchy doesn't want a non-Chevrolet brand to dominate the sport, though to be fair under Billy France Ford won six manufacturer titles 1992-2002 and the sport was healthier for it.   Dodge had an opportunity to return to the sport with Petty and possibly Childress, but of course it didn't develop; there is literally no sign Honda or any other marque have any NASCAR interest.   And last season Toyota shot itself in the foot with the fiasco of its engine program.  This isn't good for racing.

Will Jimmie Johnson win a seventh Winston Cup title?

Realistically it's impossible to see any scenario where he doesn't.   He is Chevrolet's designated champion and was made such when former Chevy racing boss Herb Fishel in effect put him into stock cars in the latter 1990s.   Hendrick Motorsports has virtually all of its life been Chevy's designated championship team - at the direct expense of others running the brand, hence the Childress-Earnhardt-Petree engineering alliance following a similar Pontiac teams alliance in the 1990s - and there was no possibility Fishel would ever allow a team like Morgan-McClure or a non-Chevy organization to sign Johnson.   And the Chase format has basically been a Jimmie Johnson show.   So the championship is becoming less and less revelant.

Is Johnson's dominance good for the sport?

Not really.   He is so widely disliked and the sport's attendances and TV ratings have dropped so much that it is impossible for the sport to be deriving any positives from his success.   The comparison has long been made with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and their periods of dominance - except Petty for his entire career was racing against two generations of Hall Of Famers while Earnhardt was also racing many a Hall Of Famer (Tim Richmond, Davey Allison, etc).    Moreover, Petty and Earnhardt's eras saw lengthy periods where they were not winning championships, plus Earnhardt won the most races in a season only twice (1987 and 1990) - the nickname Dominator was pretty laughable when Underachiever was more appropriate.  

Nowhere did Petty or Earnhardt so dominate an era as to turn people off, though they certainly had seasons where they crushed opposition early and often.   Johnson's dominance has been smothering to where it has helped smother a lot of life out of the sport.    There hasn't been any kind of rivalry - challenges by Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth were stillborn for the most part and the artificiality of the Chase has further neutered any kind of rivalry.  

Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever become even close to that level of winner?

That he's won just twice with Hendrick Motorsports and is seeing his crew chief bolt for NBC indicates that since it hasn't happened by now it's not going to happen.   Junior is reminiscent of Bill Elliott in that he won because of a technology gimmick - aero work in the transmission tunnel of DEI cars - and once everyone else figured out what he was doing he disappeared.   Though by all accounts he's someone who breaks the present NASCAR mold - see the Ricky Craven piece below - it hasn't made him a winner despite being in an ideal situation.

Does Winston Cup now have a Rookie Of The Year battle that's legitimate?

Doubtful.   Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are the rookies getting the most media love, yet overlooked is that neither showed much to believe in in a Busch Series that may be at its weakest competitive point in decades - Dillon won the championship yet failed to win a race in the Busch Series in 2013 and had fewer top-fives and fewer laps led than runner-up Sam Hornish (himself a driver out of his element in stock cars).   Larson finished eighth in points without a win and with just 107 laps led - all in a series where only fifteen drivers ran all the races, just four series regulars won even one race, and only Regan Smith won more than one (winning twice).   The lack of money invested into the series by NASCAR is an open secret (as it is with the Trucks and other lower touring series)

Morevover, it would seem that the technology arms race has made it harder rather than easier for young talent to go anywhere.   The last seven seasons have failed to produce a top rookie who has actually done much - Juan Montoya is now gone after two fruitless road course wins while Joey Logano continues to stumble along with Penske despite three wins - and last year's rookie Ricky Stenhouse looked pedestrian in the ex-Matt Kenseth #17.   And drivers who are getting rides look more and more like F1 rejects who can work with engineers.  The flow of short track talent graduating to national touring series no longer looks like it is happening.

Former driver now analyst Ricky Craven has said the sport needs to roll on driver personalities, citing Ernie Irvan in the 1990s as someone who "challenged the status quo."   Is he right?

No.   Citing Ernie Irvan undercuts his argument because Irvan was a driver who didn't challenge the status quo; he wrecked a lot of cars, wrecked a lot of fields, and despite winning races never established any serious popularity until Robert Yates signed him to replace the late Davey Allison - and then after himself nearly dying and then coming back late in 1995 he very quickly wore out his welcome (see the 1996 Delaware 500 fiasco and the bigger embarrassment of his wife getting into a nightclub fracas and then him plowing blind and stupid into a stopped racecar at the ill-fated 1997 Texas 500 weekend).   His final injuries that ended his career were what finally established some level of humility in him to where people could take him seriously as a person.  

The sad truth is it is hard to find any driver who can genuinely establish any reason to root for him.   Craven's piece (in ATHLON SPORTS' 2014 preview) also cites Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch as examples of "that kind of personality," except all they have for personality is the same baggage Ernie Irvan had - they're idiots on and off the track, and they don't give any reason to care about them other than they win races.  

The sport needs a wholesale change in attitudes as well as a lot more in the way of lead changes.   Getting 50 lead change races back will help attract the audience first.

Will Stewart-Haas Racing get back on top?

Not seeing it.   Danica Patrick proved to be a drag there like she's been everywhere else she's raced.   Kurt Busch did better with Furniture Row's team than expected, yet it was still a mediocre team that made the Chase solely because no one else could do anything to stop him.   Kevin Harvick ultimately shot himself out of RCR despite winning there last season.   And Tony Stewart has begun to look more worn down.    Plus there remains scuttlebutt that Stewart and Gene Haas aren't on the same page, perhaps shown by the story Gene Haas wants to own an F1 team - why we don't understand.

What will happen to Michael Waltrip's team?

The story is they were in financial trouble before the Richmond fiasco and have had to cut back to two cars thanks to NAPA leaving - I'm still baffled that whole deal in 2001 went to Waltrip instead of Ron Hornaday, a superior spokesman for the company then and now.   If Toyota still believes in that group they will win races.  

Will we see any dark horse team win a race in 2014?

That 2013 saw David Ragan's Front Row team and Jamie McMurray's Ganassi-SABCO team win - not to mention the preposterous shocker of Brian Vickers' New Hampshire win with Waltrip - is a sign the thrill isn't entirely gone.   That Richard Petty's team got what appears to be a better-than-expected extention from Smithfield Foods is a good sign for them; perhaps finally Richard's #43 can win again.


And so we await Daytona Speedweeks.

Four Words To Kill The ACA

George Will noticed the four words that are helping stop the lawlessness of the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

It's Brady, Not Manning

This post was initially published on January 15, 2014; it has been updated.

The debate over Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning has never really ended but it has intensified with the Broncos' 2013 AFC Championship win over Brady and the Patriots.   And with the passage of time I'm noticing more and more defenses of Manning as somehow the better quarterback.
The problem is the objective reality showcased by the Superbowl - Brady is the superior quarterback.

Let's look at the reasons why, here and below -


HEAD TO HEAD RECORD - Brady is 10-5 against Manning entering 2014, and the way they've played in these matchups has showcased that Brady is the better quarterback.   Manning infamously has been absymal in bad-weather games where Brady has thrived.  These matchups have also showcased a larger weakness of Manning that has invariably gotten to him in his playoff career in general - indecision and panic.   It was surprising Manning didn't fall into that trap this most recent game.

PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE - Brady has eighteen playoff wins to Manning's eleven and Manning's twelve losses have showcased his inability to handle playoff football - he has consistently showcased indecision, panic, and lack of command of the offense -

1999 vs. Tennessee Titans - only 19 completions in 42 passes; fails to convert fourth-down attempt in final five minutes.

2002 @ NY Jets - two interceptions, limited to 137 yards.

2003-4 @ Patriots - combined five interceptions, just 17 points generated in two games.

2005 vs. Steelers - failure on fourth down in final minutes.

2007 vs. Chargers - two interceptions, two fourth-down failures in final three minutes.

2008 @ Chargers - up 17-14 fails twice on third-down attempts in final six minutes; Chargers tie game, win in overtime.

2009 Superbowl XLIV vs. New Orleans Saints - late interception-return touchdown; fails on fourth down at Saints 5 in final minute.

2012 vs. Baltimore Ravens - throws interception in overtime; Ravens win at start of second OT, 38-35.

Superbowl 48 vs. Seattle Seahawks - Two interceptions, another fourth-down failure, utterly incapable of establishing any offensive flow - in contrast Russell Wilson put up the drives that put up points and controlled the game.

What is striking is how overlooked is the angle of his clutch failures on third and fourth down in his playoff losses.   Also overlooked is the underrated key to football - favorability of the matchups.  Of Manning's eleven playoff wins, seven have come against cupcake (for Manning) matchups - Kansas City, Denver, Baltimore, and the Rex Grossman-led Chicago Bears; he has owned the Chiefs, the Ravens, and the Broncos, and it makes his overtime gag job against the Ravens in 2012 all the worse.  Even his playoff win over the Chargers showed him losing the turnover battle, while his previous two playoff games saw him throw three interceptions.

RELEVANCE TO THE ROSTER - A myth that has been gaining steam is that Manning has suffered because of poor defenses on his clubs.   Rodney Harrison has made that argument and it is a bizarre one.   The fact is Manning has had multiple first-round draft choices for teammates (Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark notably) and in 1998 inherited an offense already poised for becoming very good, with Marvin Harrison, Marcus Pollard, and Marshall Faulk before his trade to the Rams.   Manning was surrounded by top-round talent where Brady was put into a club undergoing a top-to-bottom changeover, and his career has been defined by near-constant turnover on the offense. 

This pattern was repeated when Manning joined the Broncos, a point made amid the increasingly bogus Larry Fitzgerald lobbying campaign by Boston-area media.

Reexamining his playoff failures above should disabuse the notion that Manning was hamstrung by an inferior supporting cast, and the concurrant myth should also be addressed - that Brady benefitted from a great defense.   It is a myth that was being pushed at the time, even though the actual games showed more often that Brady had to rescue the defense, from 2001 onward -

2001 vs. Chargers - defense fails to hold a lead; Patriots trail 26-16, Brady leads comeback win.

2001 vs. Colts - Brady gives defense 38 points to be able to front-run to a 38-17 win despite being shredded for 484 yards of Indianapolis offense.

2001 vs. Saints - Brady throws four touchdowns; defense front-runs to 34-17 win.

2001 vs. Raiders - Defense fails to prevent 13-3 Raiders lead in fourth quarter; Brady leads three scoring drives to win 16-13 in OT.

Superbowl XXXVI vs. Rams - Brady gives defense 17-3 lead; defense gashed for tying touchdowns in final minutes; Brady authors first walkoff scoring drive in Superbowl history.

Of course it's been ongoing; in 2003 Steve McNair's Titans hammered the Patriots defense for 30 points while Brady and the offense wound up winning in a game where the lead changed hands seven times; at Miami the Dolphins, tied 13-13, bullied their way through the defense to the Patriots 18 but the late field goal try was blocked; they blasted to the 18 in overtime and missed the FGA, before Brady finally won it on his 82-yard touchdown bomb; the defense got gashed and the Patriots trailed 26-23; Brady got the ball back and drove to the winning touchdown with 30 seconds to go; a Keystone Kops performance put the second-year Houston Texans up 20-13 before Brady nailed the tying touchdown, this before another Viantieri field goal with one minute left in overtime won it; the same Colts who'd put up 484 yards against the Patriots two years earlier shredded the Patriots for 34 points before a heroic goalline stand won it 38-34.

Come the playoffs, New England's 17-14 playoff win over Steve McNair's Titans came on a dropped Drew Bennett bomb from McNair that Bennett nearly caught despite being surrounded by Patriots defenders; one hesitates to give the Patriots defense as much credit as they've gotten.   Then came Manning and his patented playoff choke job against the same defense he'd destroyed earlier that year.   And two weeks later in Superbowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers the Patriots vaunted defense was - again - utterly destroyed, this time by Jake Delhomme, and it was Brady who led the offense to the 32-29 win.

And it's continued, as shown in these examples -

2006 @ Chargers - Defense fails to prevent 21-13 Chargers lead; Brady throws tying touchdown, then leads winning FG drive with 49-yard bomb to Reche Caldwell; Patriots win 24-21.

Superbowl XLII vs. NY Giants - down 10-7 throws go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 to go; defense then collapses on the most infamous fluke pass play in football history.

2010 vs. Ravens - Defense fails to contain Ravens, Brady leads comeback from 20-10 gap to win in OT 23-20.

2011 vs. Dolphins and Bills - Defense falls behind 17-0 vs. Miami, Brady leads 27-24 comeback win; defense gashed for 21-0 first-quarter lead, Brady erupts to 49 unanswered points.

2011 vs. Ravens - defense gives up 16-13 lead; Brady leads go-ahead touchdown drive.

2012 at Bills - Defense unable to prevent Buffalo from racing to 21-7 lead in third quarter; Brady erupts by leading offense to outscore Buffalo 38-7 for the 52-28 win.

The blunt reality is Brady and the offense have been the reason for New England's success, while the playoff failures of Indianapolis and Denver rest on poor play by Manning.  

THE 2013 COMEBACK WIN - This is the game that forever defeats the notion of Peyton Manning as somehow the better quarterback, for it displayed everything showcasing otherwise - winds and bitter cold, with Brady elevating his game (his touchdowns came into the winds) and Manning's game regressing; Manning having the stronger supporting cast with Brady in the middle of another reconstruction of the offense; Manning unable to move the ball when the game's full outcome came onto the line.   Of course the Wes Welker gaffe on a late overtime Patriots punt was a key play and wound up finishing off that game,  but even with that it merely provided the finish touch to what the game showcased - given the chance to win in overtime, Manning couldn't move the ball.   Even with the first half explosion and a game-tying touchdown late, Manning was clearly weaker in a cold-weather game.  

SUPERBOWL PERFORMANCE - In two losses to the Giants Brady put the Patriots into the lead in the second half.   In his two Superbowl losses Manning blew a late lead then threw an interception and failed on fourth down, all against the Saints.   Against the Seahawks Manning was in over his head from the opening series and never got anything going.

For all the efforts to give Peyton the edge over Brady, they ultimately do not work.   Because Brady has succeeded in circumstances where Manning has not.  

Autopsy On Peyton's War

Superbowl 48 has come and gone - the Seahawks winning 43-8 - and its story was told on the opening snap - the safety for the Seahawks was the fatal wound from which the Broncos couldn't recover.   The subsequent game was the worst disaster seen since the 49ers - delicious irony being an NFC West team - hung 55 on now-GM John Elway's Broncos in Superbowl 24.    And the opening snap signalled the Broncos were in over their heads.

There is quite a bit to break down in this game.   What stood out and what stands out going forward -


Peyton Manning flames out under playoff pressure yet again
- Two interceptions and utter confusion in the face of Seattle's defense once again came in a playoff game.   That Manning even got to the Superbowl is surprising in and of itself; the reality remains his twelve playoff losses - the definining characteristic of Peyton's career.   The fact of being in a playoff game inevitably gets to Peyton; it took longer than normal this season but it happened like clockwork again, and it was even uglier than usual when it did happen. 

Pete Carroll is a better NFL coach than anyone thought
- There was a minor brouhaha during the week when some media noticed the front-office structure of the Patriots when Carroll was coach, and how Carroll basically had no say in personnel.   It is worth focusing on because it showed why Carroll did not succeed there - the front office structure was divided and not working together because it lacked a leader.   The structure was put in place because of the failures (and refusal to commit to any kind of lengthy plan) of Bill Parcells as Patriots coach his first three years there.  That it was not successful showed in that Bill Belichick got the control Carroll was denied there.   His success in Seattle as his own boss shows Carroll is one of the best NFL coaches out there.  

Russell Wilson outplayed Manning
- People will once again look at the volume stats and say Wilson merely managed the game, citing the disparity in yardage.   The mistake is always made of falling in love with Volume Stats.   The facts are Wilson led the offense efficiently; he made plays Manning was not able to make; he moved the chains; he controlled the ball much better than Peyton's offense did.   In short, the moment was too big for Manning yet again and wasn't for Wilson.

There was no indictment or endorsement of a certain philosophy of roster construction or scheme - Before the game a piece criticized the Patriots by comparing their defensive mindset and personnel approach with Carroll's and the premise of the piece is wrong - the Patriots' philosophy is successful. Pete Carroll's construction of the Seahawks defense has unquestionably been successful, but it revolves around scheme as much as Belichick's.   The difference right now is the Seahawks have managed to be a harder-hitting team - that isn't an failure of talent or scheme because whatever weaknesses the Patriots have are not weaknesses of philosophy or personnel - injuries were a bigger issue than scheme or roster philosophy.     Belichick and Carroll are showing their philsophy - at heart one that emphasizes Value and controlling the line of scrimmage - is not that different.

Preseason matters
- The Broncos played the Seahawks in the preseason and Peyton Manning could not hang with the Hawks.   That was the first sign Seattle was for real and the Broncos were in trouble.  

The Seahawks now try to buck the trend - The 2005 Patriots were the last Superbowl champ to win an ensuing playoff game - since then Pittsburgh twice (2006 and 2009), Indianapolis (2007), the New York Giants twice (2008 and 2012), New Orleans (2010), Green Bay (2011), and Baltimore (2013) followed up the Superbowl by failing to win a playoff game - with four of them not even making the playoffs as defending champs.    And the Seahawks face a hungry NFC West in 2014 as well.

The Seahawks quietly vindicated over the Packers
- The 2012 touchdown over the Packers has been something of a cloud over the Seahawks head, even though they were right; now they have a championship and are a far better team than Green Bay, which comes to Seattle in 2014; I'd love to see the Seahawks treat the Packers and their media humpers for the liars they've been since that controversial catch.

So the 2013 season has ended - with 2014 preparations already being drawn up by 30 other teams stewing for a shot at Denver and Seattle down the road.

NFL Premature 2014 Preview

This piece has been edited since its original publication

The 2013 NFL season has reached the Superbowl, but already there is much to look forward to for 2014 for a lot of teams.   A premature preview is presented - subject to revision of course -


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - Still the top dog in the AFC, the Patriots have shown both growth in a rebuilding roster as well as needs for 2014.   Tom Brady is showing no signs of slowing down as he authored some of his greatest feats of quarterbacking ever.   The injury to Rob Gronkowski has caused a lot of angst and criticism, but the growth of other receivers in Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce plus the elevation of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to legitimate weapon status bodes well.   Largely overlooked has been growth as a player in Michael Hoomanuwanui.    It isn't that reinforcement isn't needed, as the Patriots do need bookend deep threats, something they've lacked since the Moss-Stallworth-Gaffney period, but it is not an unsolvable issue.

Criticism the Patriots abandon the run too early is deeply flawed, not least because of their late-season onslaught on the ground before the AFC Championship Game, a surge that was strikingly effective, but overall the late-season wins over the Ravens, Bills, and the playoff rout of the Colts are a rarity in Patriots history under Belichick where the run actually meant something to winning the game.   Fumbles and attitudinal issues for Stevan Ridley will likely stifle his development as a player while LeGarrette Blount took over the running game going forward.

Coaching and playcalling has come under fire, and areas of overcoaching have surfaced with Devin McCourty and also possibly with Ridley, not to mention several games where players seemed confused and scared of the coaches.   But overall issues are correctable, and when issues of playcalling are cited, it is telling that critics do not name viable alternatives to the present staff under Belichick - i.e. an ostensibly better offensive coordinator than Josh McDaniels; it is also telling that claims the Patriots need to take away Bill Belichick's personnel control and hire a "real" GM do not elicit viable candidates - nor is elicited credible arguments in favor of other teams' GMs.

The Patriots can shore up the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, but the way the offensive line in particular took over the line of scrimmage in December and beyond has been eye-opening.  Criticism of the Patriots defense is flawed because it's largely based on a mythical, revisionist history view of the 2001-4 Patriots defense, a defense that contrary to myth was carried by the Patriots offense (see all three Superbowl wins plus the playoff wins against Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Diego twice, and even Tennessee and Baltimore).

MIAMI DOLPHINS - Finally a legitimate divisional rival to the Patriots may be ascending as the Dolphins ended a seven-game losing skid to the Patriots and showcased genuine growth amid a media firestorm over offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.    Coach Joe Philbin was seen in some quarters as a weak dolt based on portrayal on the HARD KNOCKS series on the Dolphins, but in reality he has shown toughness and ability to handle the NFL.

An area the Dolphins need to address is the passing attack, which has been good but not great and which showed its weaknesses in the loss to the Jets; if the Dolphins can get Ryan Tannehill a couple of bookend deep threat receivers his growth as a quarterback can only improve further.  

BUFFALO BILLS - The surest sign establishing the run does not contribute to winning - the Buffalo Bills broke 2,000 rushing yards in 2013 and yet had a losing record to show for it.   The first year of new coach Doug Marrone was bound to be rough given the utter reconstruction project that is the Bills, but losing quarterback E.J. Manuel for several games made it worse.    The Bills really haven't done much well, though having a positive turnover differential late in the season is a start.  

The high number of sacks allowed mandates shoring up the offensive line in a major way, while the mediocre number of points scored shows the need for growth out of Manuel.   That potential, though, appears to be there and bound to come out with more reps.

NEW YORK JETS - It is a head-scratcher that Rex Ryan is still there, for his act wore thin years before this and showcased why he has been a failure as a coach - bluster, empowering of players (best showcased by the serial insubordination of Santonio Holmes), and thinking he understood the game better than  he does has led Ryan down to a path where his team shows little in the way of discipline, doesn't play well, is in the bottom third in points, points allowed, and turnover differential, and shows nothing in the way of upside.   The run game has been strong, but again the run is irrelevant to winning.    The drafting of Geno Smith became an issue at the time and Smith's erratic rookie season - highlighted by Son Of Buttfumble against the Titans - has shown a disturbing lack of upside, to where one wonders if the Jets go for another quarterback in 2014.


- The Colts won the AFC South title again - the eighth time they've won the division crown and ninth division crown in the last fifteen years including their final years in the AFC East.   Defensively the Colts showed they can take the ball away, going to the season finale in the top ten in turnover differential.   But a curious thing happened - after beating the Seahawks the Colts became inconsistent - wildly so with hideous losses to the Rams and Cardinals.   The loss of Reggie Wayne wound up hurting the Colts to an absurd level, and showcased the need to shore up the receiving corps.    Andrew Luck continues what looks to be a wealthy career in Indianapolis.

TENNESSEE TITANS - Firing Mike Munchak and hiring Ken Whisenhunt doesn't change that one reason alone explains why the Titans collapsed after a 3-1 start - quarterback instability.   Jake Locker's injuries left the Titans saddled with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the veteran quarterback spent the season putting up numbers and actually playing well - yet never sealing the deal.    The Titans overall have shown more fight than many championship teams and defensively rank at the top in stopping passing touchdowns.   The game against the Cardinals showcased the Titans season graphically, as they fell behind 34-17 in the final five minutes, but roared back and tied the game; Fitzpatrick was then intercepted in overtime, leading to the winning Cards field goal.  

Keeping Jake Locker - and keeping him upright - should be priorities for the Titans; they already added to their backup QB position by signing ex-Raiders practice squader Tyler Wilson.   The fight the team shows means that Whisenhunt must to harness it; there remains huge promise for the Titans and Whisenhunt's coaching history is overall a good one, having gone to a Superbowl and coached one of the wildest playoff wins in history with the Cardinals.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - When it appeared the Jaguars would win the Suck For Johnny (Manziel) sweepstakes they started winning.   It showed new coach Gus Bradley has begun a turnaround for the moribund Jacksonville team, but it also showed how much they need a quarterback of the future.   The Blaine Gabbert experiment is dead, in ruins thanks to Gabbert's nonexistent football IQ, bad mechanics, and zero pocket competence (this of course is hindsight, but it ought to be asked what the Jaguars thought they saw in Gabbert when they drafted him).   One also wonders what will become of Maurice Jones-Drew, who has been the face of the team for awhile now.  

If the Jags do get a quarterback they have shown they have something to work with.

HOUSTON TEXANS - So will Johnny Football be drafted by the Texans?   That's a big question as the Texans aggressively sought - and acquired - former Patriots coordinator Bill O'Brien as their head coach following an utter collapse of a season after winning the first two games of the season.   Though the severity of the collapse was surprising, the reality that Matt Schaub was not as good as people thought he was had been well known long before.  The dysfunction in the coaching staff also proved worse than could be discerned before.   Like Tennessee, Houston has genuine talent to win with, so turning the program around is not as difficult as it may look, especially as one can have confidence Bill O'Brien can handle head coaching in the NFL.


- Suddenly the Steelers that were consistent title contenders don't exist.  Instead Pittsburgh is saddled with an 8-8 football team exuding dysfunction and radically inconsistent play.   Though some media reports claim offensive coordinator Todd Haley is silencing his critics, the results indicate he's merely proving them right, as the Steelers are a mediocre or worse team since he joined it.   Poor play from Ben Roethlisberger certainly has also been a cause, and the Steelers once again showed inability to build an offensive line.   The O-line will again be an offseason priority, but also worth considering is the future of Troy Polamalu, who remains an inconsistent and decidedly undisciplined defensive back.

BALTIMORE RAVENS - There is a program in place, but a subpar 2013 came after the Ravens began gathering playoff momentum in the second half; it wound up not mattering as the Ravens were crushed in the final two games.   Offense remains a problem despite some clutch play from Joe Flacco, who is also still prone to panic throws and interceptions; his poor play in the 41-7 loss to New England was particularly graphic in showcasing quarterbacking weaknesses such as poor reads and lack of employment of checkdowns.   The run game also regressed in 2013 and it's obvious there is need for help for Ray Rice - assuming he's still there after he got caught red-handed brutalizing his wife.   The approach of blowing up the roster to overpay Flacco may haunt the Ravens down the road.

CINCINNATI BENGALS - They haven't looked this good since the Esiason era, but is this as good as they will get?   One wonders given criticism of coach Marvin Lewis and team owner Mike Brown, by most accounts little more than a figurative crook as an owner.   That Marvin Lewis has lasted as long as he has - and gotten the Bengals to start modernizing their football operations department - is remarkable and certainly counts for something, though the signing of Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator was a huge boost for the team - one has to see whether his leaving for the Redskins will be a blow to Cincinnati.   Talent-wise the Bengals have a lot going for them, though there remain doubts around the league about Andy Dalton as a quarterback, especially after his atrocious playoff game against San Diego and subsequent fit of buck-passing in the postgame presser.  

CLEVELAND BROWNS - Just when it seemed for the first time perhaps since being reborn the Browns had an aura of a program being put in place, the ugly loss to the Steelers led to a fit thrown by embattled team owner Jim Haslam and the firing of new coach Rob Chudzinski.  The stats and the results say they're still the Same Old Browns; the games themselves, though, showed some real progress as a team.   Quarterback instability is the biggest issue right now as it is with other struggling teams, but the Browns put up good efforts pretty much all season; getting the quarterback position straightened out is the priority outside of the controversy over the head coach - a bad sign for the Browns as they've become a team good coaches want to avoid.


- Peyton Manning shocked the world by reaching the Superbowl; he then proved anew his fundamental failure as an elite quaterback by one of the worst playoff performances in his history of playoff failure.   He also showed anew an inability to handle cold weather with the second-half meltdown in Foxboro, plus he enters his 17th season in 2014 and one has to wonder if he can sustain his effort, especially given his subpar playoff record.    There are also questions about head coach John Fox - whose team was woefully unprepared for the Superbowl from the blown opening snap - and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, whose defenses were dismal all season.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - A former Philadelphia Eagles coach, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback - those are the keys to Chiefs successes past and present.   The one issue the Chiefs need to address down the road is quarterback, for Alex Smith's superb 2013 nonetheless showed his limits as well.   The Chiefs also need to strengthen their receiving corps given the woeful lack of depth on display in 2013.   They may not be the 2003 Chiefs, but they're damned close to it, even to where their backups played superbly in the season finale against San Diego; nonetheless losing five of the last seven and collapsing from a 38-10 playoff lead augur for needed change.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Some downright uninspiring play almost cost the Chargers a playoff shot before they authored an impressive win over Denver and then a preposterous overtime win over the Chiefs, and kept running by downing the Bengals before falling to the Broncos.   The season nonetheless raises questions about Philip Rivers' long-term viability though it also showcases genuine potential down the road.   Overall it was a good start for new coach Mike McCoy and a positive sign for down the road; issues on defense seem correctable and addressing the receiving corps is also a need given another lack of depth in this area.

OAKLAND RAIDERS - It is a complete reconstruction of a franchise and while it was understood it would take a lot of time, one wonders just how much effort is needed for a moribund franchise showing nothing in the way of improvement anywhere.   Terrell Pryor turned out to be subpar at best, while Matt McGloin was a decent surprise but nothing more.   Given how deep a hole this team is in, suffice it to say we won't see relevance from the Raiders for years to come even as they escape from dead-money jail in 2014.


- How bizarre is the NFL?   Consider the NY Giants, a club that's won two Superbowls in the last ten seasons, yet has made the playoffs only five times in that span and went one and out in those other three playoff runs - not to mention a career-long habit of second-half collapses under Tom Coughlin.   2013 was different in that the real collapse hit at the start of the season, yet November-December remained mediocre or worse for the Giants as they've been for virtually the entirety of Coughlin's stay in New York.

One wonders why Coughlin is still there given the consistent mediocrity or worse that has defined his coaching career.  

WASHINGTON REDSKINS - Robert Griffin III is ostensibly the franchise of the franchise.   Yet amid the trainwreck of a feud between Mike Shanahan and Daniel Snyder is one inescapable fact - Griffin III isn't very good.   A quarterback who is as dependent on running as Griffin III is doesn't last as such; he either becomes a pocket passer or he gets overpowered.   It's why Michael Vick's career is finished and why Griffin III will be too if he doesn't work to become a real quarterback.   Whoever succeeds Shanahan in DC may wind up regretting the job given the seeming impossibility of working for Dan Snyder.

DALLAS COWBOYS - Another year, another failure by Tony Romo, and another season proving that Jerry Jones is not qualified to be a GM.   One wonders what has to happen before Jones finally faces he's not qualified to be GM and needs to hire a real GM plus empower his coach to run the team.   One also wonders when they stop babying Dez Bryant and instead make him grow up.  

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Chip Kelly and Nick Foles are looking more and more like the homerun combination in the NFC.   A few seasons are still needed to see if this is sustainable.   But right now there seems no need beyond reps and some reinforcement on both sides of the ball for this combination.


- Cam Newton's growth as a quarterback has been a sight to behold as the Panthers marched into the playoffs on the tenth anniversary of the club's greatest season.   One does wonder about his receivers, as Steve Smith's injury against New Orleans showcased the need to increase depth in the pass catchers for the Panthers.   Every other part of their game seems in fine working order.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - The team was bound to improve simply with Sean Payton's return from league-imposed exile.   But a 3-5 road record is unsettling and though they pulled off their first ever road playoff win, they finally ran out of gas in ugly fashion in the playoffs.   Perhaps this was a season where reaclimation with Payton was in order before the Saints can become a true playoff contender again.

ATLANTA FALCONS - To disintegrate out of the gate was surprising and yet it also renewed questions about Matt Ryan, questions normally reserved for his poor playoff performances.   One wonders if shoring up the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will be enough to allow Ryan to become a true contender.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -  Quarterback.   Nowhere else is any explanation needed for why the Bucs collapsed.   Unable to reach 3,000 passing yards as a team illustrates where it all went wrong.   Josh Freeman's lackadaisical approach cost him his job and cost the team big time.  Hiring Lovie Smith is an improvement over what the Bucs had the previous five years, but his limts as a coach showed in Chicago.   That the Bucs entered the season finale 4th in the league in turnover differential is a positive to build on for 2014. 


- They won the division title almost by a miracle, and Aaron Rodgers' return as starter (against the Bears) was one of the wildest games of Week 17.   That he's put up massive numbers is true enough; that he's inconsistent as a quarterback is also true; that their defense is a joke is also obvious.    The Packers should have had their eyes opened by Matt Flynn's back-to-back comeback wins, and the need to shore up the rest of the roster is also clear.

CHICAGO BEARS - So in the end nothing changed.   Jay Cutler couldn't win a clutch game and the Bears enter the offseason nowhere close to title contention.   One wonders at what point the Bears figure out Jay Cutler is worthless as a quarterback because his numbers are empty.  

DETROIT LIONS -   The talent level with the Lions is obvious, though criticism of Matthew Stafford has begun; the term coach killer has begun to be used, but I'm nowhere close to making that assumption about Stafford.   His play definitely needs to improve.   But one has to wonder about new coach Jim Caldwell, who flamed out fast with Indianapolis. 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Should the Vikings have won a lot more than they did?  Watching how they played the answer is Yes.   Offensively they're good; it would seem a last-place defense requires some serious reconstruction.   The Vikings do need to reinforce the offense as well and draw workload off Adrian Peterson.  


- The drug suspensions that have hit the Seahawks have gone overlooked as they've stormed to 13-3 with a top-2 defense and top-8 offense.   Yet those drug suspensions may come back to haunt the Seahawks as they suggest Pete Carroll's longstanding weaknesses in accountability and discipline may be resurfacing.   Rolling through the 2013 championship showed the Seahawks have never been as powerful as they are now, and Russell Wilson showed can elevate his game more.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS - Solid on both sides of the ball, the Niners nonetheless may wonder if Colin Kaepernick is as much of the long-term answer as people thought he was.   Two two-game dips marred the season and a shaky performance against Atlanta may have been a red flag; a clutch win over the Cardinals iced the playoffs but also suggest the Niners need to strengthen their offense.

ARIZONA CARDINALS - That the Cards darn near made the playoffs is a great sign for a team with a long history of incompetence and insincerity.   Carson Palmer, though, isn't the long-term answer; the Cards may think about trading up to draft a quarterback, for the rest of their program is actually scary good - be afraid of the Cardinals in 2014.

ST. LOUIS RAMS - Again close but no cigar.   The Rams have questions about Sam Bradford and also their overall offense, though Zac Stacy and Kellen Clemens were nice surprises.    Nonetheless the passing game was only in the 3,000 yards range and the Rams have no choice but to address that.

And so the work for 2014 is already beginning.

Rumors of al Qaeda’s Demise

Barack Obama has spent five years claiming victory against Al Qaida - while refusing to actually fight against it.