Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Week Nine's Annual Epic

Here were go again.   As we approach Brady Manning number sixteen, we look at this week's other games as well -

Panthers over Saints - Last week's New Orleans win was a needed win for the beleaguered Saints, but this week they go on the road to a more-desperate Panthers team that is still smarting to a bitter loss to the Seahawks.

Browns over Buccaneers - There seems no way the Bucs can seize any kind of momentum this season as they travel to a Browns team that has a lot of momentum going for it.

Bengals over Jaguars - The Bengals got back on track by sweeping the Ravens and now get a Jaguars team that's shown some fight but isn't in anyone's league.

Cardinals over Cowboys - The illusion of the almighty Cowboys got stomped, and a former NFC East opponent comes in with a bearing on the conference's #1 seed.

Eagles over Texans - The Texans have been playing better this year but face an Eagles squad smarting from a tough loss.

Chiefs over NY Jets - The Chiefs are in better shape that I thought they'd be at this point of the season and the Jets are in even worse shape than anyone could have imagined.

Chargers over Dolphins
- Miami has shown real improvement this year, but San Diego saw one get away from them and want to get back into the race.

Redskins over Vikings - Minnesota pulled off a shocker last week, but Washington's shocker carries more meaning entering this contest.

49ers over Rams - This is no lay-up pick, for the Niners have real internal issues and the Rams are starting to pick up some fight.

Patriots over Broncos - Amid all the varied analyses, one angle overlooked is that Denver has struggled to close out games - they outlasted Indianapolis, barely escaped Kansas City, barely escaped a very bad Jets squad, and even in scoring 35 against San Diego never looked in complete control of that game.   Moreover their vaunted defensive improvement has been a mere four points per game from 2013.  Meanwhile the Patriots are surging in scoring and in stopping opposing offenses - of 177 points allowed, 74 came in two games.   The issues of O-line and receivers have been rectified and the Patriots' revamped O-line has taken over the line of scrimmage.   The Patriots run defense has been bad (over 1,000 yards, 4.6 yards per carry allowed), but Denver has allowed more touchdowns on the ground (five) than the Patriots (four).   The Broncos on the ground have not been better either - 710 rushing yards to 845 for the Patriots.  

Seahawks over Raiders - The Seahawks enjoy for themselves the closest thing to a second bye week - a free shooting match against the hapless Raiders.

Ravens over Steelers
- The Steelers showcased a level of firepower we can't remember them ever showing before in the win over Indianapolis.   The Ravens, though, can match that firepower and need this win to keep pace in an increasingly torrid AFC North race.

Colts over NY Giants - The Colts come in smarting from the loss in Pittsburgh and get a mediocre Giants team to turn it around against.

We thus await the annual Brady Manning slugfest.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Talladega As Libertarian Metaphor

The GEICO 500 spared us footage of the lizard speaking in Cockney accent by British actor Jake Wood, and we saw some excellent racing, perhaps the best since the Firecracker 400 - hardly shocking given the two plate tracks produce the best racing in NASCAR.   But the Talladega weekend also showcased yet again the absurdity of the rules packages designed specifically for those tracks, and in so doing showcased anew the Libertarian metaphor.

Government meddling is the arch-enemy in the Libertarian analysis, and certainly the history of the world and mythologies constructed in favor of such failures as the New Deal consistently prove correct the mistrust of government that has made the Libertarian movement more popular.   What is witnessed year after year at Talladega and its sister track Daytona in the special rules packages NASCAR has imposed over the last decade and a half merely showcase the Libertarian metaphor at work in a racing context.  

Push-drafting is an old custom in NASCAR, and Richard Petty in the 1970s Dodge Charger days was the art's master.  It went away when the cars changed to "all that plastic" after running chrome bumpers, then NASCAR witnessed the return of push-drafting in the 2000-8 period, then saw the rise of outright two-car superdrafting in 2009 and 2010 - cars now pushed each other literally all the way around, and were passing entire fields of cars in one lap.   It then escalated to an entirely new level in 2011.   Brian France took a personal hatred of the pattern that year, especially after the finish of the 500-miler that October, and his subsequent rules packages were designed to quash it.    That it looked bizarre at first was obvious to all; that there were aspects of it to dislike was also true - specifically that the second-place car would push the leader out into the clear and just stay there instead of pass the leader - but the net result of quashing it cannot by any stretch be considered a better alternative to it.   For the big strength of the superdrafts remains it is the strongest power to pass racing has ever seen.  

Watching the 2014 running of the Diehard 500 and the 250-miler for the Trucks merely illustrated again how the racing at Talladega is very good but where meddling from up top has needlessly suppressed what makes the racing better.   Joe Nemechek and Matt Crafton got blackflagged for push-drafting in the Talladega Truck 250, this after NASCAR got egg on its face over not policing push-drafting in the Busch Series 250 at Daytona in July.   Nemechek salvaged a tenth place in that race and between the penalty and the grossly uneven level of passing in both races, it all showcased the fundamental pitfalls of NASCAR's ideology.

NASCAR for the last two-plus decades has added to its rulebook and the emphasis has had one overriding theme - giving the officiating tower or the inspection station (sometimes both) more control of the racing.   Having tight regulations that make sense is not a negative, the problem is more and more of these regulations don't make sense.   If NASCAR allowed push-drafting then the 38 lead changes in the Diehard 500 would have perhaps doubled, and allowed more drivers to storm back to the lead instead of be trapped out back; incentivizing going for the lead is the ultimate good in sports and the meddlesome nature of the sanctioning body needlessly suppresses that virtue. 

Would Brad Keselowski have still won the Diehard 500 even if push-drafting was not policed?   Perhaps - Keselowski's 2014 season has been strikingly uneven but his competitive fight is legitimate.   The racing as it was was very exciting - yet it should have been substantially more competitive.  


Another striking blow to the race's competitive ferocity was the points-racing strategy used by several drivers, notably Jeff Gordon, who never contended and finished 26th.   While Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne needed to win and overall raced like it, Keselowski was the only other contender who did so.   Talladega being Talladega the points racing ethos was not as prevalent as it is at other tracks, but it existed nonetheless and shows that NASCAR's Chase format, regardless of changes made to ostensibly make winning more important, still cannot work - a points format that artificially eliminates drivers and does not provide the incentive to win that is advertised is a points format that fundamentally doesn't work.

NASCAR's next elimination round begins at Martinsville next week.   Racing being racing, it is competitively enjoyable, yet still needs a lesson in Libertarianism for NASCAR so that it can be a lot better.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Postscript on Patriots Thursday Night Grinder

The New England Patriots escaped the trap and put up their third straight win, edging the New York Jets 27-25 on a blocked field goal kick on the final play.   The Jets used to be known as the NY Titans, worth mentioning as this game resembled last week's Tennessee Titans win - also on a blocked field goal at the end - over the Jaguars.  

Some takeaways on this Patriots win over the Jets -


Some are bitterly disappointed the Patriots could not rout the now 1-5 Jets the way San Diego did two weeks back, especially when Brady whipped the Patriots to the first touchdown with seemingly absurd ease.   The reality, though, is that the 49-19 Buttfumble win in 2012 has been the anomaly; the Patriots' last four home games against the Jets were wins by an average of just four points, and the point differential in the last three overall Patriot-Jet games - the season split last year plus this game -  is just plus-2 for the Patriots.  

Shoddy third down defense has been a curious commonality for Bill Belichick defenses throughout his tenure as Patriots coach - the Patriots' Superbowl successes came by overcoming shoddy third down defense.   Being beaten at the line on defense was a disturbing pattern during this game.  

Normally I'm not a fan of establishing the run because I've seen too much football where too many downs are wasted by teams trying to run when it's not working.   The Jets were able to run surprisingly well, and I thought the Patriots might have tried running more than they did.

We're now seeing more and more teams attack Darrelle Revis differently - Revis' game is about locking onto a number-one receiver, yet in the first month of the season no opponent had a #1 receiver - and the Jets clearly had none here.   In the Bengals game Revis struggled when AJ Green stopped running routes - reading the routes beforehand is Revis' greatest strength, and it seemed to me Jets pass-catchers had their best success in similar fashion.  

Injury to Dan Connolly and rookie Bryan Stork shuffled the Patriots' offensive line again.   Rookie Jordan Devey has come under fire for poor plays this season.   Overall, though, the line played well, though mistakes still need to be cleaned up.

Danny Amendola has long been under fire for injuries and for Brady not throwing to him - but the fact is Amendola is a genuinely tough player who can take over drives.   His spectacular bail-out-Brady of a touchdown showed this again.  
It also showed that Brady will play poorly but he'll still play clutch.

The Jets players rallied to embattled coach Rex Ryan and much controversy has been expressed this week attacking Jets GM John Idzik and defending Ryan.   The problem, though, remains that Ryan is not a competent coach, and disciplinary issues on-field and poor overall coaching could be spotted here again.   The fact Ryan has failed to develop a good quarterback - while Bill Belichick helped unlock Brady's innate superstar talent, developed Matt Cassel into a capable quarterback, and may well have his star of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo - has been overlooked in the defenses offered of him.

Aaron Dobson was a healthy scratch again and some scuttlebutt I'm hearing is that Belichick is rifling shots across his bow via these benchings and Dobson has refused to notice - suggesting to me he may have an entitlement approach to his job in contrast to the hunger shown by Brian Tyms.  

After several weeks of one-sided football Thursday Night Football has now seen two suspenseful games in a row, an indication that time and patience will produce the kind of quality football people want out of these games.

The end result thus is New England's third win in a row as the rest of Week Seven awaits kickoff.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Week Seven Rolling The Dice

It's Week Seven in the NFL and some teams are rolling seven as others get snake eyes.   We make picks and offer some takes -


Patriots over NY Jets - Joe Benigno went ballistic on WFAN after the Jets blew it against the Broncos.   In subsequent interviews Benigno blames the recent failures on new GM John Idzik Jr. (his dad Idzik Sr. was offensive coordinator for the Jets under Walt Michaels; according to Gerald Eskenazi he would call his players "Galumpkies"), but in reality the blame belongs on Rex Ryan.   He came in as a players coach and the inherent lack of discipline of players coaches has only gotten worse, graphically showcased by the botched timeout of coordinator Marty Morningwig in the Packers game.  Ryan's bluster is no longer working and we now understand why the Ravens wanted nothing to do with him when they were looking to replace Brian Billick after 2007.

As for the Patriots, despite the injuries of recent they appear to have solved their offensive line problems and their offense may now have the two bookend deep threats (in Brandon Lafell and Brian Tyms) it really hasn't had since the Moss-Stallworth-Gaffney period, this to go with a rejuvinated tight end attack with Gronkowski and Tim Wright.

Bills over Vikings - The Bills showed fight in Terry Pegula's first official game as Buffalo Bills owner, and they get a Vikings team that got waxed in Teddy Bridgewater's return under center.  

Ravens over Falcons - The Ravens so far are 1-2 against quality opponents but are fifth in scoring and third in fewest points allowed.   They get a Falcons team that's suddenly shown it isn't as good as advertised with nothing in the way of performance against any kind of decent opponent.

Browns over Jaguars - The Browns may have finally found the combination for which their former AFC Central stablemates are still searching.

Panthers over Packers - On paper this appears to be a mismatch in the Packers' favor, as the Panthers are 17th in scoring and 24th in points allowed.   But paper matches flame out faster - the Packers have feasted on mediocre teams and nearly blew it against the Dolphins last week while the Panthers have rebounded with a huge comeback over the Bears and the mind-blowing tie at Cincinnati.   Aaron Rodgers remains suspect as he's always been when the heat's on while Cam Newton has shown more in the way of clutchness.

Dolphins over Bears
- It's Jay Cutler and he can't sell anyone that he's all that good.   The win over the Falcons doesn't change what he is.   The Dolphins meanwhile appear to be starting to show credible improvement overall, though becoming a playoff contender remains a distant prospect.

Bengals over Colts - The Bengals answered the questions following the Sunday Night Slaughter in Foxboro by putting up 37 points against the Panthers; the gag job by kicker Mike Nugent doesn't change the Bengals staged a needed rebound.   They go to Indianapolis, a team they smashed last season and which is mediocre (again) on defense, but is nonetheless 4-2.

Lions over Saints - Surprisingly the Lions are subpar on offense but very good on defense, and the Saints have been shockingly bad on defense while Drew Brees hasn't been able to stop the bleeding of a 2-3 season so far.  

Seahawks over Rams - The home loss to the Cowboys should drive the Seahawks to take down a Rams team they've owned since the 2004 playoff loss.   The Seahawks are now in must-win territory with Arizona's surge and the 49ers' surge after a slow start.  

Titans over Redskins - The Titans got a needed win last week as their quarterback issue continues.   Charlie Whitehurst is not the long-term answer, but people are naturally frustrated Jake Locker's recovery from his thumb injury has been slower than desired.   I think Locker will be back sooner than what people presently expect.   The Titans meanwhile get a Redskins team that appears in disarray with poor play by Kirk Cousins and what may be struggle by coach Jay Gruden - the scuttlebutt I've heard is he's right now in over his head as an NFL head coach.

Chargers over Chiefs - The Chargers have surged in a big way while the Chiefs have struggled, having beaten only two quality teams (Philly and New England) since signing on Andy Reid.   Alex Smith also remains winless in his career against the Chargers.   Last year's games were epic, especially the Seyi Ajirotutu game in Kansas City, so it's reasonable to expect a points explosion here.

Cowboys over NY Giants - The Giants are 3-3 and go to Dallas where the Cowboys, to everyone's surprise, have surged into contention.   That offense that had surged in three games disappeared entirely last week and it faces a Cowboys squad that's scored at least 30 points in three of their last four contests.   Tony Romo and Eli Manning have five INTs apiece - a shocker for the normally-sloppy Romo.   The Giants run defense meanwhile allowed 698 yards so far while DeMarco Murray has put up more than that by himself.  

Cardinals over Raiders - The Raiders usually play the Chargers tough, so last week's game doesn't indicate some turnaround is beckoning - especially as the Silver And Hack face a surging Arizona team that got Carson Palmer back.

49ers over Broncos - This is where I got back out onto that limb.   The idea of Peyton Manning losing to Jim Harbaugh - his predecessor with the Colts - seems absurd.   But the Niners offense has begun picking up the last few games and the Niners are sixth in fewest points allowed.   The Broncos meanwhile have struggled to seal the deal late in games - outside of the Cardinals game the Broncos haven't been able to put teams away; they've just outlasted them, illustrated by the Aqib Talib pick six against the Jets.   The Broncos season also takes a turn for the worse after this game with a Thursday Nighter against San Diego and then the annual Brady-Manning Bowl at the Patriots.

Texans over Steelers - The Steelers are 3-3 as are the Texans, yet they couldn't be more different - the Texans are beginning to surge forward while the Steelers remain stuck in mediocrity and with more voices clamoring for the firing of coordinator Todd Haley.   The problems go beyond the infamously hotheaded Haley, though - the Steelers have not been able to build an offensive line and their defense has faltered; the draft magic of the past doesn't appear to be there now.  

And so it goes entering Talladega weekend.

Looking To The Diehard 500

NASCAR's Chase enters Talladega weekend and the prospect of better racing than what we've seen is a very good one.   There is also however the issue of what went down in the garage area after the National 500 between the Keselowski-Hamlin crash and subsequent brouhaha in the garage area.   There has already been quite the reaction to these incidents and Darrell Waltrip for one has expressed the hope that NASCAR doesn't fine any of the participants involved because it ostensibly brings some positive attention to the sport; Kevin Harvick said afterward that NASCAR "loves it."  

I don't.   And I'm not sure that many others do.

Keselowski has become a loose cannon this season, and the Winston 500 incident - downright Ernie Irvan-esque - merely hangs over his head entering the Diehard 500.   The others involved hardly qualify as professionals either, especially Denny Hamlin, a longstanding punk both on and off the track.  

It was just continuation of a long-standing and underappreciated problem in NASCAR - the fact so many of its stars are unprofessional.   Some weeks back the NY Times did a piece attacking NASCAR with one of the writers calling Tony Stewart "the sport's resident hothead."   More recently Good Morning America did a derisive and pathetically misleading account of the postrace brouhaha. That the piece made the incident out to be worse than it actually was is typical of Good Morning America and of ex-SportsCenter washout Robin Roberts, among the dumbest broadcasters the networks have seen in years.   Attacking Keselowski and company for acting in completely unprofessional manner is nonetheless legitimate.  

Unprofessionalism isn't exactly new in NASCAR - one need recall 1991 and the plethora of idiocy for much of that season between Ernie Irvan, Ricky Rudd, and others, notably at the Southeastern 500 at Bristol, the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro, the Winston 500 at Talladega, and the Summer 500 at Pocono.   The shame of it is that season saw two outstanding races - the Michigan 400 won by Davey Allison and the Diehard 500 won by Earnhardt - that were for the most part cleanly contested.  

The best result for NASCAR from the Diehard 500 - apart from an enormous number of lead changes, an expectation despite the sanctioning body's long-standing over-officiating of restrictor plate races - is a darkhorse stealing the win, especially if it's a driver who was in the Chase but already knocked out.


A stunning graphic says it all about what the Chase format has done -

Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin only have to finish between 15th and 24th to advance to NASCAR's next Chase round. 

Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano are unlikely to do much because they already advanced to the next elimination round, and it shows that NASCAR has merely created a new form of points racing instead of leaving drivers no alternative but to go for the win.   For all the hype that the Chase format's pressure is somehow reflected in the Charlotte mess, the reality is the opposite, and it shows anew the unworkability of a playoff format for racing.  


The Truck Series returns as well and the over-officiating by NASCAR hurt the racing at Daytona, though it turned out exciting in any event; chances are it will lead to a lot of frustration at Talladega as well, as 2013's running was a truly amazing battle with nonstop push-drafting, something sorely missed in all the series right now.  

The Curb Motorsports and Thorson Toyotas appear to be the hot shoes for the Talladega 250, though Kyle Busch's machines are certainly proven products.   One does wonder why Milka "Milk Dud" Duno is entered, though.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Week Six Forecasts

Week Six of the NFL season awaits Monday Night Football and it has seen a plethora of eye-popping moments.   Eight takeaways from this week -


The Patriots are not the fading dynasty - One of the Buffalo papers did a pregame piece suggesting the Patriots were a fading dynasty.   The Patriots instead showcased they're in a transition period where they keep winning.   Despite having to put struggling rookie Jordan Devey into the offensive line's lineup, the Patriots once again handled the Bills' much-hyped defensive line, while Tom Brady's deep bomb returned.   The first bomb was a touchdown for Brian Tyms, who'd been Jimmy Garoppolo's go-to guy in preseason and had shown more than enough to take him seriously - as well as indicate the offense is being built with Garoppolo down the road in mind as well as with Brady in mind.

The Steelers are becoming irrelevant in the AFC North - They're not the same old Browns, and the Steelers once again prove they're not the same Steelers, which means the AFC North is now a three-way race and the Steelers have fallen out of it.   The Browns are now making legitimate noise, the Ravens continue to showcase an explosiveness on offense not seen since Anthony Wright's late-2003 points eruption (scoring 31 or more points in four of Baltimore's last six games that year), and the Bengals get the tie to stop the bleeding of the massacre in Foxboro, though Mike Nugent's clutchness comes into question after his awful shank-job of a kick.  

The Cowboys - for now - look like the real deal - Beating the Seahawks in Seattle is the eye-opener of the weekend and DeMarco Murray is making a case for league MVP.   We shouldn't be fooled by this, though, given Tony Romo's inevitable display of ineptitude.   It's all made the NFC East a two-way fight between the Eagles and Cowboys, though the Giants may still get something going.

The Broncos are showing they can't seal the deal - The Broncos loafed on a lead against the NY Jets and needed a dumb throw by Geno Smith - turned into a pick six by Aqib Talib - to win 31-17, this after racing to a lead but not putting the Jets away.   It was the exact same pattern shown against the Colts and Chiefs, and it's cropped up again.   It bodes ill going forward with San Diego and New England - both surging - looming in a few weeks.


The Colts are still tops in the AFC South - They did, however, get a scare from a Houston team clawing its way back to competitive legitimacy.   Any threat from the Titans or Jaguars appears gone as the Jaguars still try to get a win while the Titans struggle through quarterback issues.

The NFC North stays mediocre - The Packers pulled off the win at Miami and had a fight on their hands to get it - even to using a fake spike throw in the final seconds.   The Lions meanwhile manhandled the slumping Vikings and the Bears got the win over a Falcons team that's not what we thought they were.   Nowhere do any of these teams exhibit the kind of muscle needed to take the next step.

The Panthers begin pulling away in the NFC South - The Bucs were ripped to shreds so fast the audience at Raymond James Stadium left by halftime and didn't come back.   The Falcons have begun to falter again, and the Saints go through their bye week wondering what happened to their season.   The Panthers got the ultimate head-scratcher of a tie game at Cincinnati, but a tie is better than a loss and it's helping them inch away in the division.

The Jets need to clean house - yet again - Rex Ryan has proven he should not have been hired to begin with as the Jets prove themselves dysfunctional and incapable of getting it right.   The attempt in some quarters to shift blame to John Idzik is pathetic because the collapse of the Jets was visible to all even when the Jets made the playoffs in Ryan's first two seasons - the lack of discipline, the fact the offense had to be dumbed down for Mark Sanchez, and the inability to take any next step.   It's the same old Jets, and that there is talk of drafting Jameis Winston because of the need for a Name shows people STILL won't get it.   The Jets need to build a program, they need to stop falling in love with Names, and they need to stop caring about what the back page says. 

So it goes as we await Monday Night's mayhem involving the NFC West.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Check Six In Week Six

The NFL enters Week Six and some nitty gritty is starting to be sorted out, and the coming fifteen games certainly can have a say in what gets sorted out going forward.   My picks have been quite bad of late, so we'll try again this week -


Colts over Texans  - The Texans have already surpassed 2013's dismal record but face a Colts team rejuvinated after a slow start.   Arian Foster's recent bitching about Thursday Night games is the attitude of losers and the Texans aren't ready to take the next step yet.   Bill O'Brien nonetheless has them going forward.

Patriots over Bills - The Bills presently hold the tiebreaker in the AFC East and got a shocking win at Detroit with "new" quarterback Kyle Orton.   They've shown overall improvement but still haven't given reason to think they've begun planting a workable program.   The Patriots meanwhile proved a point to universal doubt last week and now look to build on it for what has been a rivalry chockablock with exciting games the last five years - though I'm not sold Kyle Orton can put up enough offense to make this game that good.

Ravens over Buccaneers - The Ravens got stepped on by a usual suspect in Indianapolis last week; they won't face as good a foe in the Bucs this week.   The Bucs nonetheless are showing legitimate fight.

Browns over Steelers - The Browns are doing some headhunting on defense and have one of the most amazing comeback wins they've ever seen to build on going forward.   The Steelers are no longer what they were and the Browns want to bleed them.

Panthers over Bengals - The Panthers have a pretty inspiring comeback win to their credit going into Cincinnati after embarrassing Jay Cutler's Bears last week.   The Bengals come off as awful a shellacking as seen in awhile (the irony is this week they get the runner-up from Superbowl XXXVIII) and while they're still a legitimate division contender they're facing a Panthers squad that's proving doubters wrong.

Broncos over NY Jets - Believe it or not the Broncos may not win the AFC West.   The Jets can certainly testify to Denver's #1 threat in the division, and they come home with the worst possible scenario going forward - their ostensible quarterback of the future looks to be a dead duck, plus the last time Rex Ryan did anything to handle Peyton Manning was 2010.

Lions over Vikings - Teddy Bridgewater may play this week against the Lions, who are coming off a bitter loss to a disgraced ex-coach and a washout of a starter.  If Bridgewater plays the Vikings may prove my pick wrong.

Packers over Dolphins - The Dolphins come off their post-London bye week in better shape than expected, with some fight shown from Ryan Tannehill.   The Packers appear to be the stronger team, particularly given they've scored 38 more points than Miami so far, but I can see a scenario where the Dolphins pull off the upset given the mediocrity of the NFC North in general and Aaron Rodgers in particular.

Titans over Jaguars - Right now I'm thinking Jake Locker plays, as his thumb injury from the Browns game (coming after whacking a Browns defender's helmet) appears to be in better shape than expected.   The issue with the Titans the last few weeks has been poor quarterback play - Locker went into the Browns game to prove a point and was doing so quite well and Charlie Whitehurst proved not to be the answer.   Defensively the Titans certainly have issues, especially against the run.   Overall, though, they're still a legitimately talented team.  The Jaguars come in with a worse defense and fewer points scored - and by the way they haven't won a game, even though I like the direction they're going in.

Chargers over Raiders - The story has come out that the NFL will deploy two teams into Los Angeles around 2015, this even as no new stadium has even begun legitimate planning or construction; the Chargers are ostensibly one of the teams to be deployed there, even though their audience is in San Diego and there isn't any plausibility that San Diego will let the team go.   The Raiders meanwhile appear to have a new stadium deal in the works.   It won't help them beat anyone right now.

Falcons over Bears - Neither team played like playoff contenders last week.  The difference here is the Falcons offense is still good and the Bears offense is mediocre.

Seahawks over Cowboys - The Cowboys are 4-1 right now and have already reached 800 rushing yards with five touchdowns.   But it's Tony Romo and it's a Seahawks team at home that is top five in offense, top nine in defense, and has stuffed the run all season.   Will the real Tony Romo please stand up where his career was first defined.

Cardinals over Redskins - Since the shootout loss at Philly the Redskins have plummeted with just 31 points scored the last two games and Kirk Cousins officially winless as a starter (the Jacksonville win is listed as belonging to Griffen III).   The Redskins blitz that led to a huge Marshawn Lynch catch and run near the end of Monday Night Football right now personifies the inability of the Skins to win.  

Eagles over NY Giants - The Eagles are 4-1 and lead the league in points scored, but surprisingly they're not stopping anyone. Eagles-Giants games have always been vicious affairs and the Eagles have consistently found a way to win.  The Giants nonetheless come in having won three straight and scored 105 points in those wins.  

49ers over Rams
- Anemic on both sides of the ball, the Rams slog forward having to play a quarterback who's in over his head.   They host a 49ers team where scuttlebutt about dysfunction with the coach and front office won't go away and where Colin Kaepernick hasn't yet shown the growth as a quarterback expected of him.  

So that's that heading for Week Six.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Week Five Postscript: In Foxboro Doomsday Can Wait

So the New England Patriots were dead, right?

Bill Belichick can't build quality rosters.   He can't draft good players.   He sells out the good players he does get.  He cheats everyone he does business with out of something.   And goddammit Tom Brady has had enough of it; his window requires the Patriots go all out to surround him with weapons. 

So Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Tedy Bruschi, and the other media types now have egg of their face because they ripped the Patriots and their analysis was totally off-base (and Shalise Manza Young in particular gets exposed as a fraud for the phony Aaron Dobson story). It's what one gets for refusing to see the facts.

Quick takes come from Week Five -

The Patriots show that patience is a winning virtue - The 41-14 massacre in Kansas City was inaccurately seen by outsiders as a fatal blow, exposure of a weak organization incapable of recovery, requiring panic moves to stop the bleeding.   The Patriots naturally knew better.   They stuck with the program and the improvement in the offensive line that got curiously overlooked last week was out in force on Sunday night.  Tom Brady also corrected his failing of the season by engaging eight different receivers - Tim Wright and Rob Gronkowski exploded to 185 yards and two touchdown catches and Aaron Dobson, the source of the stupidity of Shalise Manza Young, had a 16-yard catch.  

The Patriots stuck with it and proved a point.

The AFC North is not as good as advertised - Cincy once again came up small in a big game while Baltimore once again failed against Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh clawed out a win but it was anything but a hopeful sign going forward.   The chatter about the weakness of the AFC East needs to reexamine some of the other divisions in the league.

The Titans face a bad first impression and a worse deja vu - People who want to rip Jake Locker as incapable of avoiding injury make the mistake of thinking players who get seriously injured a lot are in some way doing it to themselves.   The players who warrant criticism for injury are people like Tony Eason or the present-day Boston Red Sox who look for excuses not to return from injury.  Locker is not one of those people (neither is Danny Amendola for that matter) and it makes Tennessee's 29-28 implosion against the Browns all the more sickening.  Locker wanted to come out and prove a point after two poor performances on his part and was on his way to doing so before he whacked the helmet of a Browns defender (the Browns were doing some serious headhunting in this game) who was literally in his face.   Clearly this was a legitimate injury, where what got him benched for Charlie Whitehurst last week smelled of coach Ken Whisenhunt wanting an excuse to put in Whitehurst, who seems his guy where Locker is Mike Munchak's guy.  

What resulted against the Browns was the worst of everything - Whitehurst unleashed two excellent touchdowns for a 28-3 lead, then could do nothing to stop the bleeding as the Browns fought back with 26 unanswered points.   Making it worse for the Titans was the defense got an interception, at least one Brian Hoyer touchdown was a busted play and a desperation heave that worked, and all Whitehurst needed was converting a 4th and 1 late in the game.  

When we add it all up, Whitehurst played a lot better than he did against Indianapolis - yet did not do what was needed to actually win the game.   For the Titans it's a bad repeat of last year's collapse under Ryan Fitzpatrick and also continuation of a very bad first impression of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach.  Not only have the Titans suffered four straight losses, but the fight that was a hallmark of the team last year curiously hasn't resurfaced yet, and the Titans roster is as talented as any in the NFL.

The Bucs are better, but not a winner - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed fight and put up a lot of points in New Orleans, and in the process showed the Saints are not as good as a lot of people thought they were.   Even so the Bucs couldn't play enough to actually win the game - the sack for a safety was an especially bad sign.

The Jets are still the Jets - Not only did they get shut out 31-0 they benched Geno Smith and put in Michael Vick - and Vick immediately showed there's nothing left in the tank.   So the Jets have no quarterback - and this is why they're still the Jets.

Jay Cutler is still Jay Cutler - Jay Cutler raced the Bears to a 14-point lead - and threw a late interception.   It's what he is - a volume stats pig who cannot win when it matters.

The Chiefs crash to Earth while the Niners have life - Twenty years ago was the Montana-Young Bowl won by Joe Montana's Chiefs, and this time around the Niners were the team to win.  The win is doubly impressive given the scuttlebutt that continues to the effect that Jim Harbaugh's outfit is falling apart and Harbaugh himself is on the way out. 

Denver closes out a game - The Broncos had struggled early this season to close out games - this time they closed out the Cardinals and made a point to do so.

The NY Giants off and running - The "new" Giants offense can now be said to be clicking.

The Eagles keep winning despite struggle - The Eagles offense stalled badly in San Francisco and Philly had its hands full against an underpowered Rams team.

And so it goes awaiting Monday Night.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Week Five's Coming Chaos

It's been awhile since a Monday Night Football game's analysis has lasted as long as it has, but the Patriots loss to the Chiefs brought out a wave of angry analysis attacking Bill Belichick et al and a widespread sense of loss of faith in the organization, shown in a Shalise Manza Young report claiming receiver Aaron Dobson was benched for what amounted to insubordination - a piece immediately disputed not by the Patriots but by writer Steve Balestrieri; the Patriots themselves then made a point of rebutting the Manza Young piece - unusual of them but a telling act to making sure outside noise is dealt with.   The rebuttal then led to some media analysis that more properly reviewed Dobson, noting his continuing recovery from foot surgery.

It would seem Manza Young and others fooled themselves by making massive assumptions based on little information and assuming the worst about the team.

With all that, Thursday Night Football saw an ugly 42-10 Packers rout of the punchless (and all but quarterback-less) Vikings.   We nonetheless have more games to go this week - and yours truly hoping to rebound from a hideously bad week of picks -


Lions over Bills - Kyle Orton has replaced E.J. Manuel and that's a dismal sign that the Bills are once again making a panic move instead of riding out the storm.   Manuel's play hasn't been all that good but Orton is no improvement.

Ravens over Colts - This is my first out-on-a-limb pick of the week, for the Colts have owned the Ravens since the Ravens started.   But the Ravens offense is looking potent and Andrew Luck has yet to have the winning effect against the Ravens that Peyton had.

Titans over Browns - Continuing out on that limb, the Titans come in 1-3 with a bad first impression of Ken Whisenhunt and after the ugly one-game Charlie Whitehurst experiment at Indianapolis.  They host a 1-2 Browns squad that's a lot better than that record.   Jake Locker will start against the Browns; that he played poorly in his two losses is obvious, but he also has shown he can improve.  

Panthers over Bears - Two 2-2 teams clash with both coming off awful losses.   Jay Cutler is a proven stats whore who doesn't win when it matters, so take Cam Newton here.

Jaguars over Steelers - This is an upset pick of mine, as the Jaguars are 0-4 yet have shown some improvement while the Steelers have shown once again to be the inconsistent flailer whose loss to an overrated Bucs team coupled with mediocre play over all is a bad sign going forward.

Saints over Buccaneers - The Bucs have shown improvement and the Saints are a baffling 1-3.   Drew Brees is the better quarterback by far here; go with him to start turning New Orleans' season around.

NY Giants over Falcons - The Falcons have faced two road games and have lost both by a combined score of 65-38.   It won't get better against a rested Giants squad that is now starting to get its new offense going - and big.

Eagles over Rams - The Eagles shockingly stumbled at San Francisco - I'm not seeing them doing that again against a Rams team looking more and more hopeless.

Texans over Cowboys - The Wade Phillips Oiler Bowl sees two surprisingly good squads.   Don't buy the hype for Tony Romo, though Houston's run defense hasn't been all that stout (allowing 5 yards per carry so far) and the ground game is where the Cowboys are right now hitting stride.

Cardinals over Broncos - Remember that limb above?  I'm back on it here.   The Cards offense hasn't put up volume stats but it has executed, while the defense is presently second in fewest points allowed.   The Broncos come in 2-1 and with a mediocre effort at closing out games, this despite the game-tying comeback against the Seahawks.  That it's Peyton Manning is the ace the Broncos hope to play.

Chiefs over 49ers - Don't believe that Colin Kaepernick or the Niners are on a rebound; they have shown some legitimate cracks to doubt they can carry through a run.   The Chiefs have rebounded from a poor start and are flying high.  

Chargers over NY Jets - The Jets have become the Jets again, while the Chargers have shown more firepower so far this year.

Patriots over Bengals - A lot of people have lost faith that the Patriots can rebound from last week, but the issues the Patriots have are correctable issues.  The slaughter of the defense last week may see some semblance of a continuation given how strong the Bengals offense has been, but the Patriots do get Brandon Browner back and given the shock of last week I'm doubting the defense will be caught as unawares as last week.   The offensive line (the universal discussion point entering last week's game) showed improvement despite the loss, as did Brady in terms of engaging more receivers into the offense.  That the Bengals beat the Patriots last time they met remains on everyone's mind in Foxboro - and should drive them not to allow a repeat.

Seahawks over Redskins - Last week's meltdown by Kirk Cousins was as surprising - and ugly - as we've seen in years.   The Seahawks continue to play at elite level, though I think Cousins and company put up more of a fight here given it's the defending champs coming to FedEx Field.

So we thus await Week Five.

Obama’s Hypocrisy on Civilian Casualties

Liberalism has always been a fool about "civilian casualties."

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Why The Belichick Critics Are Wrong

The 41-14 Patriots loss to the Chiefs has set off an insane campaign of criticism of coach/GM Bill Belichick led by ESPN analysts Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, and Tedy Bruschi and echoed throughout talk radio.   It is an avalanche not seen since the absurd recent smear campaign against Roger Goodell.

The Patriots critics, though, are wrong.

1 - The myth is pushed that the Patriots should not have traded guard Logan Mankins, because he ostensibly would help stabilize a struggling offensive line right now.  The problem is Mankins is one of the most overrated linemen in the league, shown by the Patriots' 10-1 record without him in the 2010-12 period, the eleven sacks he allowed in 2013, and his mediocre play with the Bucs, whose line shows zero improvement with him.  

The Patriots line has begun playing better entering Week Five and will certainly improve down the road.

2 - Another myth is that Belichick did not provide weapons for Brady (an argument examined by Matt Chatham) The fact is that Brady has more than adequate receivers to throw to but he has not read the field properly or engaged other receivers into the offense - he has thrown to Julian Edelman far too often, and periodically by ignoring wide open alternatives such as James Develin.   He finally started engaging Brandon Lafell in the Kansas City game and Lafell produced as a result.  

Danny Amendola is singled out for criticism lately, with the added criticism that the Patriots should not have let go of Wes Welker.   The facts are Amendola in his time with the Patriots took over two game-winning drives (vs. Buffalo and Cleveland) where with Denver Welker is not thrown to when the game is on the line.   Amendola's skill set is not just better than Welker's - it is superior. 

The reality is Brady needs to do what he's done throughout his career - engage the other receivers into the offense and make it work.  Amendola, Tim Wright, Lafell, James Develin, etc. all need Brady to work with them and make them part of the offense.

3 - Belichick is attacked for his roster construction philosophy, yet the criticism is refuted by the sustained success of Belichick's program - a claim that cannot be made of the more slapdash and inconsistent efforts of the Green Bay Packers, the NY Giants, or even the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens, programs more consistently strong than others.   Roster construction must never fall in love with Names, else they end up like the Colts in 2011 or the Ravens in 2013 - or such perennial also-rans as the NY Jets and the Oakland Raiders.

4 - The lack of Superbowl success since 2004 testifies to the old Buffalo Bills talking point - it really is that hard to win Superbowls.   The Pittsburgh Steelers won two since then and have now all but fallen off the NFL map.   The Colts, NY Giants, Saints, Packers, and Ravens have all won since then and have seen heavy turmoil in their rosters.   Time awaits how the Seahawks handle success.   The Patriots program keeps them in contention without having to blow anything up.

The Belichick era revolutionized NFL championship construction, and the present struggles are no sign of any failure of the program that cannot be corrected.

UPDATE: - Also worth addressing is the related criticism of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and his playcalling, for the recent firing of former OC Charlie Weis from the Kansas Jayhawks has led to fan demand that McDaniels be fired and replaced by Weis.   Once again reality gets in the way of fan frustration.   McDaniels' playcalling in 2006-8 and 2012-13 was exemplary and more innovative than that of Weis.   Weis is best known for trick plays his own players knew were stupid ("I guess Charlie's gone crazy again," Brady said before a trick play in New England's October 2001 victory at Indianapolis) and which backfired to a disturbing extent (a David Patten interception against the NY Jets in 2003 and an awful turnover at Arizona in 2004 that nearly got Deion Branch smashed out of the season stand out there).  Weis also was ready to take the ball out of Brady's hand and play for overtime in Superbowl XXXVI in the final minute.  

Weis' coaching career has been defined by incompetence and full-of-himself bluster at every stop - Notre Dame, the Chiefs (where his playcalling was taken away during a playoff game), the Florida Gators, and the Jayhawks.   Nowhere did Weis display anything close to coaching competence.

What it shows is the Patriots won in spite of him, not because he was anything. 

Secret Service Holds Women To Lower Standards Than Men

It's the same thing in the Army etc.