Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 12

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week twelve.

What is Roger Goodell doing?

Goodell went from the up-and-comer, making moves and taking sides, to a man who has lost his mind. It started with the crack down on off-the-field incidents. Players were going to pay for making bad choices off the field. Good. I liked it. Suspend Vick. Suspend Vincent Jackson, Roethlisberger, fine. Whether it was failing a substance test, or doing something illegal, Goodell was all about harsh penalties.

Then something happened. Roger got a little power hungry I assume. Rather than go through the proper channels to institute penalties, he just decided to become NFL dictator. During this season, he, almost randomly, decided to institute penalties and fines for rules he just made up. To put it over the top, the dictator then went back and penalized players for the rules he created after they had already played games without them. This would be like a cop pulling a driver over for being left-handed. He suddenly determined it is slightly more dangerous to be a south paw driver since the gear shift is only accessible with a driver's right hand. So the cop pulls a driver over, tells him he just made up this new law and is going to arrest him for it. That's Roger Goodell.

So now we have a power hungry commissioner who suspends harshly and creates rules and punishments before players even know the new rules are in place. He is potentially out of control. So what happens? In Week 12, two players battle Fight Club style on the field, ripping off each others' helmets. Andre Johnson literally pummels Cortland Finnegan in the face repeatedly. And it wasn't like some NBA fights where every punch thrown misses; Johnson was beating him on the ground. What will Roger Goodell do with this baby?

Umm, almost nothing. He fines both players $25,000. Neither was suspended. Wait, whaaa? First of all, the fine was less than players were receiving for hits in-game while play was going on. James Harrison got fined more for a legal hit a few weeks ago. If that wasn't ridiculous enough, neither player was suspended for a single game.

Now, Cortland Finnegan did not deserve a suspension. I agree with that part. He is annoying; he's a dirty player and a pest. But that isn't grounds for a suspension. He ripped off Johnson's helmet, so he was ejected and fined accordingly. The penalty fits the crime. He is an agitator and that was pretty much it.

What about Johnson though? He deserved to be ejected and fined for the same reasons as Finnegan. The difference is the boxing display he put on after the helmets were discarded. He popped Cortland directly in the face at least twice, once while on top of him on the ground. His actions were far worse than any helmet to helmet hit from any point prior in the season. But why was he given no suspension?

Because he is a nice guy.

Okay, now Roger Goodell has me confused. Which is it? Are you a dictator laying down the law, making examples of people, or are you a softy who lowers penalties for the nice guys in the league even if their actions were far worse than allowed? Perhaps Andre Johnson was egged on. Well, in fact, I'm almost sure of it. Perhaps it was all Cortland Finnegan's fault. But, really, that doesn't matter. Andre Johnson should have been suspended for the remainder of the season. If that is too far for a "good guy", then he has to be suspended at least a game minimum. And remember, Johnson has been fined for fighting before, so he isn't a first-time offender in these instances.

The real quagmire in this is the change of heart from Goodell. Just a few weeks ago, he instituted new rules and harsh fines for questionable hits. He then fined players for the rule after they already played games before the rule existed. He claims to support player safety, yet wants a league with two more regular season games each season even though concussions are already piling up at record pace in the 16 game schedule.

Dictator Goodell has me confused. That's for sure. The bottom line is he messed up his most recent royal decree. Andre Johnson should not be taking the field this Thursday. I don't care how nice he is.

Okay, I'll step down from my soapbox now. There is too much else to cover.

Week 12 was host to a flurry of close games and compelling endings, including the Falcons win, Giants comeback, Steelers and Browns victories, and failed rallies by the Eagles and Broncos. But the most exciting finish happened in a 20 point blowout. The Texans-Titans game was the scene of the aforementioned on-field fight, yet the final score was a huge story in and of itself. You see, the Texans shutout the Titans, 20-0.

The Texans, perhaps the worst defense in league history, shutout an opponent. The Texans hadn't allowed fewer than 24 points in ANY game this season! If I had to guess, I'd say Houston's defense was owned in zero fantasy leagues. There is no possible explanation for why an owner would have started Houston unless they play in a 25 team league. None. And yet, they scored 17 fantasy points. Isn't fantasy football great?

For the other side of the fantasy spectrum, here's this week's lineup of 'stars who sucked.'

Quarterback - Philip Rivers. Rivers had a bad statistical game. He threw for just 185 yards and no touchdowns. It was his first and only bad game of the season. No, seriously. Rivers has scored at least 13 fantasy points in every week this season, before week 12, and scored 20+ five times. I hear fantasy MVP nominee in Philip's future.

Running Back - Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson was so bad he doesn't even get to share the limelight with another back. He doesn't deserve it. You can throw Frank Gore or Steven Jackson on here for aesthetics (neither gained even 70 total yards), yet Johnson would only get half the criticism that way. Here was CJ's stat line from Sunday's game, and keep in mind, Tennessee's opponent was the historically bad Houston Texans: 7 carries, 5 rushing yards, 2 receiving yards, no touchdowns. The number one overall fantasy player for 2010 drafts gained 7 total yards from scrimmage and ended with less than 1 fantasy point. I don't even have perspective to put that in it's so bad.

Wide Receiver - Roddy White and Reggie Wayne. Both these men have the initials R.W. Both are on teams who are vying for a playoff spot. Both White and Wayne have a talented QB throwing them the ball, and each had a tough week 12 opponent. Both White and Wayne had pressure to perform being their team's number one threat. Neither stepped up. Roddy and Reggie gained 49 and 42 yards respectively. The only difference: White's team won in a nail-biter, and Wayne's team got blown out. Go figure.

Tight End - Antonio Gates. He's back! Antonio Gates is back! Well, sort of. He played at least. He didn't look back. He didn't even look 50%. Running on two bad feet, he puttered through the game, finishing with a pedestrian 4 fantasy points. Let's hope this is just a stepping stone to getting the real Gates back in fantasy circles because not a single tight end in the entire league gained 100 yards this past weekend.

D/ST - Packers. Green Bay was having a great fantasy season. They had scored in double digits a number of times already, and had the opportunity to come up big against a potential future NFC Championship opponent. Instead, they were just plain ordinary, allowing 20 points, recording 2 sacks and nothing else. As the paragraph about the Texans defense proves, you might as well flip a coin for your fantasy defense heading into the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs, there are some great NFL match-ups next week, a week which is indeed fantasy playoff territory for some leagues. The good crop of games is headlined by the three latest starting games: Falcons-Bucs, Steelers-Ravens, and Jets-Patriots. And with Michael Vick facing the suddenly stout Houston defense on Thursday night, there is no where to turn anymore for easy points. Not in today's NFL.

This has been week twelve's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Miscellaneous Me

- Welcome back Conan. Oh how we've missed you.
- Conan O'Brien's new show on TBS seems the same as his old show. Why did people expect otherwise?
- I don't understand the worry from people about him going head to head in ratings against Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Wasn't he already doing that at NBC?
- Along those same lines, why is there a difference between network talk shows and cable talk shows and the worry people won't be able to find TBS? Really? Can't find a TV station? What year is this?
- Why are there network-appropriate subjects? Why is Conan more "Fox" or "cable" than he was "NBC"? When have you ever not tuned in to something you wanted to watch because of what station it was on?
- CBS televises programs for an 'older' audience, yeah. But if there was a show on CBS I wanted to see, I'd watch CBS. I can't fathom any argument to the contrary.

- Prince Amukamara is the coolest name any Nebraska Cornhusker football player has had since Ndamukong Suh way back in 2009.

- The saying "old wives' tale" seems blatantly offensive yet no one seems to mind.

- I'm glad we are whittling down the non-AQ teams in college football because although everyone loves Boise State and Utah and a Cinderella story, I'd just like to cut the fairy tale and see Auburn play Oregon for the title.
- No offense TCU.

- This is a bad year for television dramas. There are none on TV I'm interested in watching.
- The best comedies going right now are Community and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
- Always Sunny is definitely not for everyone.

- I greatly prefer white meat over dark meat.
- That previous sentence would sound much more racist if Thanksgiving didn't just happen.

- Is it just me or does Jake Locker remind you of Jay Cutler?
- All the tangibles, strong arm, mobility, but neither won in college.
- Both could very well be the third QB taken in their respective drafts. (Obviously Cutler already was.)
- I'm still not sure if Locker would be happy with that comparison, or even if I can consider Jay Cutler's NFL career a success or failure either way.

- New Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah is the best impressionist they've had in a decade.
- In many scenes, his impressions are actually too good to make the scene funny. It just sounds like the celebrity talking.

- Jimmy Johnson won his fifth consecutive NASCAR title. Good for him.
- I don't know enough about NASCAR to make any comments other than that.
- I don't know what NASCAR stands for.

- People shouldn't put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving weekend. I am making a stand on this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 11

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week eleven.

Every Tuesday for roughly eight weeks, I had written this article and the Dallas Cowboys had been awful. They took the field each game but didn't really seem to put forth much effort. Then, Wade Phillips was fired. Jason Garrett took over the team, running the offense. Let me interrupt myself for a second. Jason Garrett took over the team, but he had been running the offense the whole season. Nevertheless, with the exact same roster and same lineups, the Cowboys have been utterly explosive these past two weeks. The first game I can attribute to the players stepping up to save their jobs. That seemed likely. If they played terrible again, even with the new coach, Jerry Jones would see the problem lied with the roster makeup. But coming out firing on all cylinders would show the owner that they just needed a new coach to motivate them.

However, after saving their jobs for at least the rest of the season, Dallas came out again on Sunday, against the Lions, and put up 35 more points. If this happens again, if the Cowboys play really well on Thanksgiving against the Saints, there is only one logical explanation. Jason Garrett was sabotaging Wade Phillips to get him fired.

Bill Simmons mentioned this a few weeks ago as one of his crazy conspiracy theories, but all the pieces fit. The same group of players, under the same offensive play caller are suddenly scoring in bunches. Garrett had reason to "tank" his offensive coordinator duties too, because doing so allowed him the chance at being interim head coach. Finishing 2010 strong guarantees him the front running position to be full time coach next season. Once the Cowboys started off so poorly, there was really no reason for Garrett to be good at his job. And he wasn't.

Exit Wade Phillips, enter his replacement Garrett, and suddenly he has a reason to be good at calling offensive plays. This probably did not happen. There is no way to prove it one way or the other. But, from a tactical standpoint, it would make sense. That's all I'm saying.

As for another comeback, that mirrored the Cowboys' season of sorts, the Buffalo Bills made for an interesting afternoon on Sunday. They were down 21 to the Bengals at halftime. The team with the worst record in the league is down 21 at half. Call in the evening reporter; he can write his game recap column now. But wait. The 1-8 Bills roar back, score 35 unanswered points, and themselves win in a landslide. The NFL has become so unpredictable it's crazy.

Perhaps the epitome of unpredictability are the New York Jets. They seem to have the skill of luck this season. Every year there is a team that gets all the breaks. Last year it was the Saints. It doesn't always have to be the eventual Super Bowl winner, but in 2009 it was. Is 2010 the Jets' year to have "it"? It certainly seems that way.

Sunday now made three straight weeks the Jets have won in the final ticks. The two previous games were both overtime victories. But this Texans win might have been the most miraculous out of all of them.

Even though they lead the league in wins, and have a blowout win against the Bills in their resume, the Jets are winning games this year by an average of only 8.8 points. You would expect an 8-2 team to be plowing through people, but that simply is not the case. If you remove that week 4 Bills game, the Jets' other 7 wins are victories by less than a touchdown on average.

To be fair, both their losses were close games, but a first place team living so much on the edge either seems like a recipe for disaster or the makings of the "it" team of 2010. There really isn't another option here.

Speaking of no other options, the Vikings fired Brad Childress and Brett Favre continues to start week after week. I'm sure week 12 will be no exception, yet Favre's inclusion on the 'stars who sucked' lineup for week 11 speaks to how bad Childress had it with a QB who has been terrible/hurt, yet cannot be benched.

Quarterback - Brett Favre. He hasn't been on this team much, but mostly because I don't consider him a star anymore. He has had only two double digit fantasy games all season. Week 11 wasn't any worse than many of the others, but that's saying something. Favre threw for barely over 200 yards, no touchdowns, and tossed his 17th interception on the year. The Vikings are now out of it, their coach is gone, and maybe Favre will just go away after the year. Maybe.

Running Back - Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw's poor outing was really the downfall of the Giants at Philly on Sunday night. He couldn't get anything going, fumbled yet again, and ended with just 24 total yards. Brandon Jacobs was more of a factor in the game, and if Bradshaw cannot stop fumbling, that may become a trend as New York fights for a playoff birth. Gore, much like Bradshaw, had been having a nice season. In fact, week 11 was the first time since the first game of the year that Gore ended with single digit fantasy points. Coming against a porous Bucs run defense made it worse, but Frank should bounce back next week against the lowly Cardinals.

Wide Receiver - Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss. Boldin wasn't much of a factor against the Panthers, but his team did not really need him to be. The Panthers are shaping up as the worst team in the NFL now that the Cowboys have started trying again. Boldin's one point fantasy day speaks to the inconsistency of wide receivers really all season long. One guy who actually has been very consistent is Randy Moss. He has consistently done nothing since 2008. Another game without a single catch is my cue to remove Randy from the status of star wide receiver. He really hasn't performed like a star in a long while, but if you had him on your fantasy team (drafted as your number one receiver most likely) it would have been hard to bench/drop him before. Now that he has settled into the Titans offense and still produces nothing, it's not so hard anymore.

Tight End - Vernon Davis. With Antonio Gates out AGAIN, the rest of the tight ends in the NFL had yet another chance to make up ground on him and failed. There is clearly not a single other reliable tight end in the league. Hopefully Gates is back next week, for the sake of tight end still being a position in fantasy circles come 2011. Davis ended with a zero, but really the bigger issue here is only three tight ends even scored in double digits, two of them were owned in fewer than 5% of leagues, and one goes by the name of Hoomanawanui.

D/ST - Jets. New York's luck this season even shined on the defense this week. They really didn't do much but still escaped with the victory. Allowing 27 points, forcing just one turnover and a single sack, the Jets scored a measly 3 fantasy points. They truly are a better real life defense than fantasy defense. Week 5 was their only double digit scoring week all year long. Although getting 10+ points from your defense is unlikely, a top tier defense should come through big more than once. For some comparison, Pittsburgh has done it five times already and Green Bay already four times.

If you're expecting to make the fantasy playoffs, your lineups should be rounding into shape by now. Hopefully you have a set lineup where you aren't wasting talent on your bench. There are no more byes to plan for and having a talented guy on your bench in the playoffs is really just a waste.

As for the real life playoff picture, I think we have to give it another week at least. Really the only thing to be sure of is the half dozen teams that are not making it.

This has been week eleven's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Show yourself!

You know how in kids' cartoons like X-Men, when there is a shape-shifter, the other characters never know if they're speaking with the real person? Is this really Logan in front of them or just Mystique in disguise? The personality seems a little off but everything else is a perfect double. This analogy is only slightly apt.

The New York Giants are a shape-shifter of sorts. The problem is, rather than just having to wait 22 minutes until the episode is over, we might be forced to wait another three weeks until the real team reveals itself.

You see, it is quite possible the New York Giants are a terrible team masquerading as the best team in the NFC. It is also equally as possible that they are a Super Bowl contender showing the facade of a team that will miss the playoffs.

To try to figure out which is the real Giants squad, let's start with the good.

They are 6-3 right now. They are in a tie for first place in their division. They are only one game out of having the best record in the conference. The Giants have, statistically, the number one total defense in the entire league. Yes, number one. Look it up. To round out the argument for them being a Super Bowl contender, to go along with their top ranked defense, they also have the number two rated offense in the entire NFL. Number one and number two. Can't get much better than that. Throw in the fact that the Giants won five straight games before last week, and they have a good case for being the best NFC team.

However, is that a description of the real Giants or is this? Their most recent game was a thumping at the hands of the disastrously messed up Dallas Cowboys. Because of that loss, there are six other NFC teams with a record the same or better than the Giants right now. To make matters worse, when they play poorly, they play reeeally poorly. The Giants were not close in any of their three losses. All three were blowouts, with the closest one actually being the Cowboys game, a 13 point deficit.

The reason for this is turnovers. The Giants rank in the bottom third in the NFL in turnover differential, a stat that many believe is the most important to any coach. Because of a lack of care for the ball in many games, the Giants actually looked very bad even in some of their wins, namely the Panthers game and the Lions game. To top things off, the Giants are getting injured heading into December, rather than getting healthy. Their best possession receiver, Steve Smith, just went down. They also just lost their starting left tackle, David Diehl, to add to their injured center, the two most important linemen on a roster. Throw in the fact that the Giants still have to play their most deadly NFC East rival, the Eagles, twice in the final seven weeks, and getting into the playoffs seems like a pipe dream at this point.

So, which is it? Who are the real New York Giants? There are two easy answers. The first is, "I have no idea." The second is, "They are somewhere in between." Picking either of those answers would be pretty lazy of me though.

To find out the truth, let's examine the good to see if it's all actually good, and vice versa with the bad.

The Giants have the number one defense and number two offense in the NFL. These are facts. Digging a little deeper however, we see that they are just 14th in the league in points allowed per game, probably a more important stat than yardage allowed. So their defense is perhaps closer to middle of the road than actually number one. Also, the defense has been buoyed by a couple dominating performances that may have skewed the total numbers. This Giants team demolished the Bears and Jay Cutler in week four, and embarrassed the Seahawks in week nine. In those two games, the Giants allowed a combined total of 272 yards from scrimmage and 10 points. That is from both games combined.

The offensive ranking is a little misleading as well. They are still in the top ten in the league in points scored per game, however, they seem to score in bunches, and only score in wins. They are only averaging 14 points per game in their losses, while in their wins they put up 32 points a game. These numbers are going to be far apart for most teams, but the great teams don't get routinely blown out. That is the conclusion to draw from this. The Giants are not managing to keep games close when they're behind.

And yes, the Giants are truly only a game out of first place in the conference, with only three losses. Yet so is half the NFC. So the good stuff isn't all good. What about the bad?

Well, the G-Men did get thumped by the Cowboys, but I actually expected the loss. Rather than seeing the Cowboys as a disaster of a franchise and playing them with Wade Phillips as their coach and with all the players having quit on him, the Giants instead had to face the Cowboys in their first game under Jason Garrett. Thus, Dallas would not only be invigorated under the new leader, but also playing their hearts out to prove it was not the players' fault. The first eight games were Wade Phillips' fault. If they laid another egg in week ten, suddenly Wade gets a pass and people realize this roster is crap and players need to get cut. Instead, they play their best game of the season against a Giants team that, admittedly, looked a little flat, and now the blame gets thrown entirely on Wade because he couldn't motivate these guys like Jason Garrett did. Dallas needed to win last week if only for those players to keep their jobs for the rest of the season.

The injuries are also a concern, but New York has stayed relatively healthy compared to other teams. They lost Mathias Kiwanuka for the year over a month ago, but have other players at his position to cover the loss. The same goes for Steve Smith and David Diehl. Although the replacements may be a shade worse, Mario Manningham and Shawn Andrews are talented players who I have confidence in.

So the bad has some silver linings as well. That means, we are still stuck. Is this a good team or a bad team? In the end, it comes down to match-ups. Everything in the NFL always does. Any team can beat anyone else on any Sunday of the year.

In the Giants' remaining seven games they play Philadelphia twice, Washington twice, home against Jacksonville, at Minnesota and at Green Bay. If we conservatively give the Giants splits against both the Eagles and Redskins, that puts them at 8-5. They would need to win two of the remaining three games to get to 10 wins, the normal playoff threshold. I see that as quite doable, especially since Minnesota's season might be over by this coming Monday. The question then is 10 wins going to be good enough?

To be comfortable, the Giants would need to sweep the Redskins, rather than take a split, and get to 11 wins. That should be good enough for a wild card even if Philly manages to top that. If New York gets in to the playoffs, I am feeling good. For some reason, Eli Manning makes people upset. Giants fans don't like him and opponents don't think he's any good. Well I am one Giants fan who is on Eli's side. I would put him in the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. Come playoff time, I feel confident with Eli under center, no matter who that center happens to be. With a fantastic running game and great pass rush, this team is built for the playoffs. Let's just hope they get in.

(Image taken from nytimes.com)

Friday, November 19, 2010

I wish I had known in high school

People who tell you they do not regret anything in their lives are liars. "If I would have changed anything, I wouldn’t be where I am today, every step mattered." That is the normal argument. That's bull.

You get where you are today because of what type of person you are. Wishing you could go back and not shoplift from that store when you were 14 would not somehow mutate you into a person who didn't learn from mistakes and became a bank robber.

If that is actually the case, and every little thing has vast effect on how my life turns out, I have to be more careful.

Since that is not true, I am free to regret many things that I did in my past. I would change tons of stuff. High school especially could have been so much better if I had known some things I know today.

The first thing I wish I knew in high school was how little high school matters. Everything seemed like a big deal when, really, nothing was a big deal. I am not so much talking about the learning aspect of it. That was important. But that was also the easiest part of high school. Learning/studying/test-taking was a piece of cake. I don’t recall ever failing any single test in my four years. Hell, I don’t think I ever got more than one or two C’s.

The part that didn’t matter but which seemed hard at the time was being a high schooler. Acting how you thought you should act rather than how you wanted to act seemed to be an important high school skill. Talking to girls was a high school skill I never acquired until long past graduation. Making friends was easy, but making good friends was hard. I knew a lot of people (pretty much every single person in my school) but, looking back, wouldn’t consider myself good friends with more than just a few. Even now, I only still communicate with a handful of people I went to high school with.

But my high school regrets go beyond the schoolhouse.

In high school I wish I had known to be more of a Jay-Z guy than a Nas guy. Now, I’m stuck with Illmatic, which is great, but have no old Blueprint CDs and listening to Empire State of Mind feels like hopping on the bandwagon of perhaps the most famous male musician going today.

I wish I had known to not quit playing an instrument myself. Actually, I quit playing the saxophone in middle school technically, so I suppose I wish I had started playing drums or something in high school. It’d be fun to be musically inclined in my life today. Instead, I am forced to take people’s word for it when they tell me if some melody is in perfect harmony. In fact, I don’t even know if that sentence makes sense.

I wish I had ridden a bike around in high school. I wish I had ridden a bike at all; I wish I owned a bike in high school. We weren’t bicycle children. Now, I have no cycle stamina in a situation where I could feasibly ride my bike to work everyday.

Probably the thing I wish I knew the most was who would end up winning the 2001 World Series. Boy would that have saved me a lot of heart ache. If ahead of time I knew about the broken bat single by Luis Gonzalez that would have been excellent. I could still have been pissed, but I wouldn’t have been heart broken. I mean, all those late inning home runs, by Jeter and by Brosius; Byung-Hyun Kim, how could the Yankees lose?

I also wish I had been aware of the New England Patriots’ up-coming title run. Not because that particularly bothered me, but because I could have made a lot of money. That came out of nowhere. The odds would have been tremendous, especially in 2001.

As far as sports in my personal high school life, I wish I had known to work harder. I wish I had known how cool it would have been looking back if I was a star of the high school basketball team. It wouldn’t have mattered to anyone but me probably, but who else matters? Instead, I didn’t like it, ending up playing in the town leagues and dominating when I still didn’t really know how to push myself.

In high school, I wish I had gone to more New York Knicks games. Not because I wanted to see them play, but to see the other guys play, the guys who are gone now. There were games when Jordan played at Madison Square Garden while I was in high school; Iverson played there as well, and now he’s off playing in Turkey, most likely ending his American basketball career. Tim Duncan and Kobe played there back when they were young and chipper. A handful of the top 50 players of all time played just an hour or so from my house on numerous occasions and I never took advantage. I went to one Knicks game that I can remember now. I think they played the Pacers, so...yeah.

High school would have been better if I had known about the steroids in baseball. No, it wouldn’t have changed my opinion of Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. And no, I wouldn’t have liked baseball more now or less then. But knowing what era you’re in while you’re watching would have been a real time saver. Now I’m forced to debate whether players like Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Larry Walker were actually good or were just part of the era. Their Hall of Fame numbers are a lot better than some current hall members, but I didn’t watch carefully enough in high school to make judgments now...ya know, if for some reason I had an MLB Hall of Fame vote.

I wish I had started writing a lot more in high school, and then into college. Instead, I just started this blog in 2010, am learning on the fly, and am no closer to becoming a famous baseball writer who is given an MLB Hall of Fame vote.

Maybe by the time the stars of today are eligible, I'll have that vote, and will be able to fairly judge their career performances compared to players of years past. For now, I'll hope the current voters make the right decisions (which they often do not) and look back, wondering what could have been.

(Image taken from trulia.com/diana_santos)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 10

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week ten.

Week ten of the 2010 NFL season was one for the record books, literally. If you watched the Monday night game, you saw this stat: this was the only week in NFL history where 13 different quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards. Cassel, Roethlisberger, Manning, Smith, Brady, Garrard, Vick, Hasselbeck, Kitna, Hill, Anderson, Ryan, and Schaub all ended with over 300 yards passing. Oddly enough, six of those men lost their game, including the top three. Also, four other quarterbacks ended with between 290 and 299 yards passing. And this was on a bye week! Four teams didn't even play games in week 10.

Taking the win or loss out of it, even though Matt Cassel threw for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions, he was not the most impressive QB performance of the weekend. That distinction belongs to Michael Vick. Vick is the only quarterback in league history to have a stat line of 300+ passing yards, 50+ rushing yards, 4+ passing touchdowns, and 2+ rushing touchdowns. The only man ever. He put up 49 fantasy points, securing victory for all of his owners, everyone except me. Yes, I managed to start Vick and still lose, since my opponent notched 174 points for the week, out-pacing my 166. This is why I like fantasy baseball more.

Even with that otherworldly performance, Michael Vick may not even be the fantasy story from that Monday night game. Ryan Torain, a man not owned in all leagues yet widely owned, was the first man I can ever remember to be questioned all week because of injury, seemingly be healthy enough to play, and marked inactive after the inactive lists were submitted and he was marked active. Somewhere between whenever those lists are made official and the coin toss, Torain did enough damage to himself to not see a single snap in the game even though he was active and expected to start. Securing the oddness of this story is that since Washington was playing in the Monday night game, Clinton Portis was officially out, and LeSean McCoy is owned in all leagues, there was only one man that could have even been added to replace the actively inactive Torain, and that was Keiland Williams.

To round out the newsworthy week, the Bills got their first win, the best teams in the league all lost, again, and two more games needed an extra session to decide the winner. Whoever is in charge of good luck charms for the New York Jets should be given a raise. The fact that they managed to win in OT again doesn't bother me, but that the Browns somehow managed to NOT run the clock out and secure the tie is a little boggling to the mind.

Not everyone was as lucky as the Jets this week. Here is week ten's lineup of 'stars who sucked.'

Quarterback - Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning sucked. Perhaps for the first time in his career, not including playoff games. 185 yards and no touchdowns left Peyton with a poor 7 fantasy points and put him nowhere near that list of 13 QBs who caught fire. Of course, unlike six of those aforementioned passers, Manning's team won.

Running Back - Rashard Mendenhall and Michael Turner. Two of the few running backs who are universally owned in fantasy leagues ended with pitiful scores. Neither scored a touchdown and neither topped 60 total yards from scrimmage. However, both faced a top tier opponent. The difference is Mendenhall's Steelers faced what was supposed to be a porous Patriots defense and he only finished with 5 fantasy points. Whereas Turner faced the staunch Ravens D and fared even worse. Let's call this a toss up. They both sucked.

Wide Receiver - Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall. I'm not sure if Wayne's bad day was because of Peyton's or vice versa. Either way, both guys make the 'stars who sucked' lineup. I don't go around placing blame; I just look at results. Brandon Marshall also had some quarterback trouble to deal with. Starter Chad Pennington got hurt on the first drive of the game. Chad Henne, benched starter, came in and also got hurt. Former Chief Tyler Thigpen finished the contest and all through the revolving QB door, Brandon Marshall only managed to haul in three passes. I'd say this was because of the quarterbacks but Marshall hasn't been good in five weeks.

Tight End - Jason Witten. It's funny. Witten made the team last week and I jumped on him because of how bad the Cowboys looked as a whole. Well, this week, the Cowboys thumped the Giants, looked awesome, and Witten was even worse. He ended with a fantasy zero if your league offers no fractional points. This is just another example of why any tight end not named Antonio cannot be trusted.

D/ST - Steelers. Sure, the Redskins were much worse. But, to be fair, they are much worse in real life too. Thus, they are not a 'star' worthy of being placed on the 'stars who sucked' team. The Steelers, on the other hand, were approaching "best defense in the league" territory before the stinker they laid against the Pats. Perhaps Tom Brady was on a level where no team would have been able to stop him, yet totaling zero sacks and zero turnovers, and ending with a negative fantasy score for the week put Pittsburgh owners in quite a hole. I'd feel confident starting them the rest of the season, but mainly just because I'd have to. There is no better replacement.

Some updated advice for any fantasy team owners under .500 right now: go trade for Brook Lopez. He's fantastic and off to a very slow start. Also, he plays basketball. Move on to fantasy basketball, your football season is over.

This has been week ten's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turn up the Heat

As a precursor, albeit an obvious and possibly not necessary precursor, let me say I have no favorite NBA team. I am a basketball fan, but never found allegiance with any city's team. If I rooted for, say, the Kings, I obviously would not want the Miami Heat to succeed; I would be buying my Cousins jersey and trading for Beno Udrih as a nice fantasy sleeper, hoping for the unlikely Sacramento title run.

But since I am an NBA vagabond, I am free to flip and flop my rooting interest with whomever I choose, and the Miami Heat are who I am rooting for.

There are many reasons for this, some tremendously sensible, others very nonsensical.

The first, and perhaps the most important reason is that LeBron and Co. saved the NBA. Not literally of course, but in the mind of viewers.

You see, people don't watch the NBA. I personally don't watch regular season NBA games unless there is some specific reason, like I happen to be in the arena for said match. Otherwise, I can miss the entire NBA regular season and not bat an eye. By "miss" I am referring to not watching any game from start to finish. I follow the standings, follow the players and stats, play fantasy basketball, and the sort, but watching a complete NBA game was always pointless, especially since most regular season games mean nothing in the scheme of the entire season.

Until now, that is.

Now, every Miami Heat regular season game means something. Not necessarily to the Heat themselves, but to their opponents. Everyone gets up to play them. Every Heat game is must-watch entertainment. Even last night's Heat - Celtics game got Paul Pierce all riled up afterwards, leading to a semi-funny tweet that got re-tweeted much too often. But the point is, the Celtics cared about a game in mid-November only because of their opponent.

This will continue to happen all season long I assume, making the Heat the only team that is must-see from November through May. The NBA has stars that people enjoy watching. Durant, Kobe, or Carmelo might affect some television numbers, but unless you're a die hard fan, there's no point in wasting your time watching any other specific team all season. Too many of the games are just pointless.

Besides tuning in to watch the greatest NBA soap since Shaq and Kobe shared a locker room, fans will also be sticking with this team all season to see if they can put "it" together. Putting it together has different connotations depending on who you are referring to. If the Knicks put it together, they have a chance to make the playoffs. Same goes for the Kings. If the Thunder put it all together, they have a chance to make noise in the Western Conference Finals. But if the Miami Heat put it together, they have a chance to win five straight NBA titles. There's the dividing line. There's the greatness factor that Miami brings.

To piggyback on that point, I enjoy rooting for greatness. Unless you root for the opponent, I see no reason to root against a great team. Dynasties, no matter what the media would make you believe, are the best thing a sport can have. People may say they love parity but people watch dynasties. Fans that root for underdogs are really just troublemakers. They would rather see something fall apart than come together.

Everyone loves Cinderella runs by small schools in NCAA March Madness...but only up until the Sweet Sixteen or so. After that, no one wants to watch George Mason or Richmond anymore. We want to see the best two teams play each other.

If college football ever got rid of the BCS, switching to a 12 team playoff, and we had a fluky title game where BYU played Pittsburgh, critics would be calling for a new BCS faster than Marlo turned on Prop Joe.

Underdog runs are fun only up until a point. Do you know how embarrassing it is that the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2006? Do you recall how bad that team was? At least the Giants this season had dominant pitching.

So I would rather see the Miami Heat make the finals than some of these other up-and-comers, just because I would rather my NBA finals be a great product rather than an odd story.

Not saying that the Heat are clearly the best team, because thus far they clearly are not, but when the best team does not win the title, I, as a fan, feel a bit slighted. Was the regular season a waste of my time and energy? Do we really know nothing about this sport if such an upset is possible? I feel more comfortable as a fan, more secure in my sports knowledge, when the best team comes out on top.

This is why I want LeBron to be able to coexist with Dwyane. This is why I want Chris Bosh to not suck and the Heat to find someone to play inside. This is why I want LBJ to switch permanently to point guard or for Mario Chalmers/Carlos Arroyo to catch fire. This is why I want Mike Miller to come back. I want the Heat to be a championship caliber team. I want to have greatness to root for.

I know at least one other person who is on my side with this: David Stern.

(Image taken from nba.com/heat)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 9

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week nine.

We had our first coaching casualty of the season. And the way some of the "bad" teams are playing, it might be the only one for a while. The Bills, Browns, and Lions, three of the worst teams in the NFL by record, are all playing very well even if the win-loss doesn't indicate it. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are not playing well. Hence, they fired their coach. It was long overdue. This team has flat-out quit. They looked so bad on Sunday night, NBC wished they were airing an Outsourced rerun instead of the debacle that was a football game.

It also made the Packers look like Boise State, running up the score when it was really just too much better than their opponent to have the score not get run up. The Packers, through no fault of their own really, embarrassed the Cowboys. Another team running up the score to apparently increase their BCS ranking in the minds of the human polls was the New York Giants. They dismantled Seattle in every phase of the game, even neutralizing Seattle's best weapon: kick returner Leon Washington.

After such AFC dominance for the first half of the season, just in the last couple weeks alone, the Giants, Packers, Saints and Falcons all made cases for the NFC being right up there with the top five from the other conference.

The other story of week nine was overtime. Three games went an extra session, all miraculously really. The Vikings were already filling out the paperwork to fire Brad Childress when they made a dramatic comeback to force OT. The Jets too were down and out until Matthew Stafford got hurt and the Lions gave up a double digit fourth quarter lead. But perhaps the most important overtime victory came out of the AFC West. The Raiders, led by Jacoby Ford's play, forced OT with a buzzer beating field goal and then won the game with another Janikowski field goal. The Chiefs' division lead shrunk very quickly, and with the Chargers strong play recently, that title might not be decided until the last week of the season. Who knew the AFC West would be an exciting race!

What was not exciting in week nine was the play by some of the stars of the NFL. Here's this week's lineup of 'stars who sucked.'

Quarterback - Matt Schaub. By this time, you know him well. He's been the Sports Pinata's starting QB many times in 2010. No wonder the Texans have fallen off. What was supposed to be a stepping stone season for Schaub has turned into a mini disaster. Arian Foster is the only thing keeping the Texans afloat right now. Andre Johnson is banged up, and that has added to Schaub's struggles, but another outing of single digit fantasy points and no touchdowns thrown is just plain bad news.

Running Back - Matt Forte and Thomas Jones. What a day for running backs. None of the top half dozen guys produced poorly. A bunch of byes aided the lack of stars coming up small. Yet Matt Forte did. Saved slightly by a two-point conversion, Forte ended with just 61 total yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns. Against what was supposed to be a weak opponent, Forte didn't take advantage. And neither did Thomas Jones. The two best running offenses were facing each other in the Raiders - Chiefs week nine game. However, only one head of the Chiefs' two-headed running back attack showed up. Jones ended with just 2 fantasy points (32 yards and a fumble) in what was shaping up to be a tremendous season for him. He still may reach 1,000 yards rushing, possibly joining teammate Jamaal Charles in doing so.

Wide Receiver - Miles Austin and Calvin Johnson. You know him, you love him, he's Miles...no, no wait. You only love him if your opponent started him this week. He's been so wildly inconsistent people have started calling him The Weatherman, he is the one and only Miles Austin! Okay, I made up the weatherman nickname, but boy has it been frustrating to own Miles Austin. He was penciled in as a top five receiver for this season and has only lived up to it maybe three weeks all year long. Gaining 1 single fantasy point in week nine seems like a norm now rather than an aberration. Calvin Johnson, fortunately, is still loved in the hearts of his owners. In fact, they probably feel bad for him putting up only 1 fantasy point himself this week. They feel bad because he faced Darrelle Revis. Johnson will be glad the Jets aren't on their schedule again.

Tight End - Jason Witten. Tight End King Antonio Gates was hurt. He did not play in the Chargers' week nine game. Therefore, there was no reliable tight end anywhere in the league. Some sucked, some didn't, but no one could be counted on. One of those tight ends who sucked was Jason Witten. He gained 44 yards. He was also part of what might be the most poorly played game of football in my lifetime. The Cowboys were so bad, so lethargic, so uninterested, let's just say I am very glad my New York Giants are playing them next game.

D/ST - Jets. Can I throw the Cowboys on here again? No, that would just be piling on. Instead, the Jets, who many consider the best defense in football, put together a mediocre outing in a game they could easily have lost. Sure Darrelle Revis shut down the Lions' best player but the rest of the defense totaled two sacks and forced no turnovers, for a measly two fantasy points.

Any fantasy owner under .500 right now should probably be looking towards next season (and read my blog post detailing what steps to take). For everyone else, start whittling down your roster. Solid bench players don't help you come playoff time when there are no more byes to plan around. The ideal team heading into the later weeks is one with tremendous starters and no wasted depth.

This has been week nine's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Amazing boy wizard

This should probably be a John Wall article. He has been electrifying in his first handful of games in the NBA. The 29,13,9 game was outstanding even though it included 8 turnovers. That will happen to a first year point guard. Wall will take his lumps, he’ll shoot 33% from the floor some games, but he’ll be the best thing to happen to Washington basketball since Gilbert was still fun and lovable.

But I digress, because this article is not about John Wall. It is not about basketball, or even sports at all in fact. The nerd inside me is forced to preview part 7.1 of the most popular movie series going today: Harry Potter.

By the numbers, I believe Harry Potter will go down, after these final two films, as technically the most popular movie series of all time. The money grossed is...gross really. I shouldn’t complain though, because I am a fan.

Part one of the seventh Harry Potter tale, the Deathly Hallows, comes out in roughly two weeks. Part two will come out in 2011. Where will the book be divided? What story arcs will be in the first film, and which are saved for the second? Will the movie stay completely chronological or will they mix and match for the best viewing experience? What will be different about the ending of the book (that doesn’t really lend itself to be in the movie at all)? These are just some of the questions I am pondering prior to the movie’s release.

I have a friend who plans on waiting to see the first film until right before the second film is released. The idea being to not punish yourself by sitting through half a story. It’s like watching a television drama and waiting each week for the next episode. It is much more satisfying to watch a couple per week on DVD or on demand. The story just carries itself better that way.

However, a plan to wait six or seven months to see HP 7.1 will, obviously, fail miserably. It is quite possible to wait on seeing a movie, sure. I still have never seen Avatar. However, the difference is, I never wanted to see Avatar. And then it got to the point where I deliberately did not want to see it just because. But with Harry Potter, you want to see it. You just don’t want to wait so long for part two.

Isn’t it quite odd that a movie can be this popular, create this much buzz (the Harry Potter series as a whole) but everyone already knows how it ends. Does this conundrum exist in any other line of entertainment? Would the best rated sporting events be ones where all the fans already know who wins? Would a TV show become popular if the first episode aired was the series finale? Would people even read books if they knew how the story and characters all developed beforehand? The answer is no. But with movies, it’s just different.

So many of the most popular movies ever are derived from books, which implies that at least a majority of viewers already know how it will end. This is an odd fact. Of course little details change from one form of media to the other. However, the story often remains exactly the same. Before seeing Gone With the Wind, people already knew Rhett Butler wouldn’t give a damn because they read it in Margaret Mitchell’s book. Before seeing The Godfather, people already knew Vito was going to get shot because they read it in Mario Puzo’s book.

Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may not perhaps be remembered as one of the five greatest films of all time like those two examples, the analogy remains the same. People already know Harry “wins.” So why all the excitement?

I don’t know the answer. I have no idea why movies can be so popular adapting plot and characters from other media. It may be as simple as people like following characters they know and will put up with knowing how a story ends just to enjoy the journey of getting there.

That’s how I feel at least. I can’t wait to see the scene in Gringotts Bank. I already know the three friends escape with the horcrux, but I am still excited. I can’t wait to see how the film portrays Xenophilius Lovegood. I already know he’s a kook but I am still excited. And finding the hallows, and visiting Harry’s hometown, and the battle at Hogwarts...We know how it all turns out, but I am still excited.

I guess that’s the power of a great story or great characters. Even if we know their beginning, middle and end, we still want to go along with them as they travel it. I, for one, will not be waiting to see the Deathly Hallows part one. Why put off my own enjoyment any longer than necessary? It’s not like it’ll ruin the ending for me.

(Image taken from the-leaky-cauldron.org)

Friday, November 5, 2010

There's always next year

Do you suffer from depression, anxiety, and constant nausea? Are you always tense or stressed? Is your fantasy football team 2-6 heading into week nine? If so, it might be time to look towards next year.

As an aside, if you do not play in fantasy keeper leagues, go ahead and ignore the rest of this column. Also, grow up. One year fantasy leagues are for children with no attention span and no follow through.

The key for owners who are out of the playoff chase with six weeks still remaining in the fantasy regular season is to put together a powerhouse starting lineup. Your bench is completely pointless. If you have some nice bench pieces, some fringe starters who could be valuable to an owner on the cusp of the playoffs, look to make some deals. Hanging on to such a player is a waste of resources. The goal should be, of course depending on your league settings, to form the best group of keepers possible. If your league allows three keepers, try to form the very best three man lineup.

Others might try to argue this is poor sportsmanship. Forming a three player team and using fill-in scraps to complete the rest of your lineup does not give your team the best chance to win each week. Obviously. But screw them. If the playoffs are out of the question, winning each week is not in the best interest of your team. Preparing for next season as best you can is what a smart owner would do. Throwing out a starting lineup that includes Jon Kitna and Julius Jones may not win over the hearts of your fellow leaguemates, but that is nothing to concern yourself with. As long as you fill out your lineup, you have done your job. Don’t start anyone on a bye, ever. Don’t start someone who is pronounced out before Sunday either. That is just common sense. But the rest is up to you.

So how do you go about creating a team of keepers and scraps? The first step is to find your tradable pieces. Players who are performing admirably but might be due to decline by next year are perfect targets. Players such as Reggie Wayne or Thomas Jones are guys who still put up solid point totals each week but may not be great anchors for a 2011 roster.

The next step is to find other teams in playoff contention with needs. If there is a team in fifth place with running backs on a bye in week nine and ten, and you happen to have a Steve Smith on your roster, make an offer. Specific players that you get in return are not what should concern you. You cannot try to target an individual. The key is to concentrate your team’s talent. Trade Steve Smith and one of your running backs for someone like Hakeem Nicks or Brandon Marshall. Don’t be afraid to simply throw away that running back that your team would technically need to win this week but does you no good down the road. Instead, securing an upgrade at wide receiver is the only outcome you are looking to gain. The other owner, in this case, would only suffer a slight downgrade at receiver and would also get a nice fill-in for weeks to come.

If there are no opponents with obvious needs in the coming weeks, that makes your job a bit harder, but not impossible. Look to take advantage of discrepancies in player value, rather than simply trading for talent upgrades.

Is your quarterback a great value or just living up to expectations? Even players like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are not outperforming their value this season. Thus, trading them away for a better value is not out of the question. Would you rather have Brees for $45 next year or Mike Vick for $2? Vick’s 2011 home may be up in the air, but his performance this season most assuredly gives him a starting role come next season. Don’t be afraid to trade straight up for value, even if the player swap is slightly unfair. The same could be said for dealing one of the top backs straight up for Arian Foster or Ahmad Bradshaw. You lose talent but gain value, and value is more important to you when planning for next season.

The last step is to fill out your remaining roster with players who all have potential to help you. Using a bench spot for Brett Favre does you no good. You would be much better off using that same spot for Max Hall or Kevin Kolb. It is quite possible neither man starts another game the entire season, yet the potential of being a full starter in 2011 is the only thing you’re concerned about. Other players of this same ilk to target include Darren Sproles and Jerome Harrison. We’ve seen them do it before, they just aren’t being given the opportunity this year for whatever reason.

One often overlooked group of players to target for rosters are the injured. Add Ryan Grant. Why not? He’ll be Green Bay’s starting running back next season.

In the end, an ideal lineup for your 2-6 squad may look something like this:

QB – Mike Vick
RB – Ahmad Bradshaw
RB – Darren Sproles
RB – Cadillac Williams
WR – Brandon Marshall
WR – Kevin Walter
WR – Arrelious Benn
TE – Bo Scaife

Sure, most of your roster is complete crap. However, starting next year with Vick, Bradshaw, and Marshall is tremendous. Who cares what the rest of your team looks like? You probably will end the season 3-11 and you should be delighted. Also, as a bonus, you have something to root for. Perhaps Darren Sproles becomes the go-to back in San Diego next year after Ryan Mathews had such a poor first season. If something like that happens, your team immediately has pieces that a playoff-chasing team could not afford to wait for.

In the end, of course it is a disappointment to have such a bad record. Everyone wants to at least make the playoffs, giving themselves a chance at glory, no matter how slim the odds are. Being eliminated mid-season is embarrassing. That's why you must do everything in your power to make sure it does not happen again next season.

Fantasy football is the biggest crap shoot out of all fantasy sports. Winning is so often based on injuries and match-ups. This does not mean you shouldn't try to swing those odds in your favor come next August. Take your 3-11 season on the chin but be prepared to win it all in 2011...or 2012 depending on the lockout.

(Image taken from libertylive.org)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gimmicky NFL Power Rankings

We are midway through the 2010 NFL season. I still have no definitive idea who is going to win the Super Bowl. However, through eight weeks is the best time to reexamine our rankings and see where everyone stands.

The last time I did this was in August, before the season had started. Simply based off of off-season moves and hype, you can tell I was way off on a lot of teams. However, I actually nailed a few on the head (patting myself on the back).

As stated previously, power rankings need a gimmick to tie itself together. Just listing teams is horribly boring to read as well as write. In this edition, the teams will be separated into tiers with a description for each group. In addition, next to each team I will write how much they've moved since August. It's kind of fun. Well, for you hopefully; kind of embarrassing for me.

Tier One: The Elite
This group is the cream of the crop. They also all happen to be AFC teams. That is just the way the cards fell this season. The top five teams in the league are all from the American Football Conference.

1) Baltimore Ravens (+7) I had them in the top ten to start the year, but right now I feel they are the best team in the league. With Ed Reed finally returning, their defense should be as strong as ever. Their offense has actually been a bit disappointing thus far, with both Joe Flacco and Ray Rice being inconsistent. This only adds to my feeling they are the best team. Once the offense hits their mark, this team will be hard to beat.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers (+24) Definitely the largest gainers since the preseason, the Steelers were everything I was not expecting. Their defense just shrugged off last year's debacle and are the best in the league. And their offense just kept on trucking without Roethlisberger. They didn't even really need him. I thought they would struggle mightily, start 1-3 or even 0-4 and not be able to recover. Instead, they blew through the opening part of their schedule, behind Rashard Mendenhall, and with Ben back, they are a Super Bowl contender.

3) New England Patriots (+7) Also in my previous top ten, this team is better than I expected. The offense seems to have settled into a groove since trading Randy Moss. The defense is bending but not breaking. Offense can win in this league nowadays, and the Pats are a perfect example of that.

4) Indianapolis Colts (-1) Peyton Manning is just plain outstanding. His team is falling apart around him and it doesn't matter. Continually winning games with no one at wide receiver, 2010 has now seen him do it with no one at running back and no one at tight end as well. If they get a lead and their defense can rush the passer, this team is unbeatable.

5) New York Jets (+1) Similarly to the Colts, they are right in line with what was expected coming into the season. Sanchez has again been sporadic but the running game has been so good it hasn't mattered. The rumors of LaDainian Tomlinson's death were greatly exaggerated. And everyone knows about the stout defense.

Tier Two: The NFC Elite
Clearly a step behind the AFC's best, the next tier are the best the NFC has to offer.

6) Atlanta Falcons (+11) Probably the best team in the NFC, the Falcons have been solid everywhere and great when playing at home. Roddy White is putting in a bid to win offensive player of the year. It's hard to say they are a favorite to win the Super Bowl, but they obviously have a great chance to get there with all five teams ahead of them from the other conference.

7) New York Giants (+2) People were all over the board on this team coming into the year. In fact, this was still the case just a few weeks ago. They have rattled off dominating performances since then however. And now, with the great pass rush on defense and Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks on offense, this team is looking like a NFC winning favorite. How cool would a Jets-Giants Super Bowl be by the way? Much better than that crappy baseball Subway Series a decade ago.

8) New Orleans Saints (-7) They are still the defending champs. Beating Pittsburgh last week is also a good sign. However, Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are both still out of commission. Their offense has struggled with a lack of a running game. Not many people realize how well they ran the ball last season on their way to the title. Also factoring into their drop in the standings is the fact that their defense is not forcing turnovers at as great a clip as a year ago.

9) Green Bay Packers (-7) The Saints aren't the only title contender who caught the injury bug early. Losing Ryan Grant seemingly crippled the offense. Injuries all across the rest of their roster have made it hard to overcome that loss. They shutout the Jets a week ago and if their offense can get rolling, this may still be the best team in the conference.

Tier Three: Whatever's a step below Elite
This group is comprised of teams who are very good, just probably not title-contending good. They are frisky. They can go on the road and beat one of the top nine any week. However, making the Super Bowl might be just out of reach for whatever reason.

10) Tennessee Titans (+6) Chris Johnson hasn't even torn up the league yet and this team is very good. If he breaks off a number of tremendous games to round out the season, they could easily win the AFC South over the Colts. However, I don't see Vince Young or Kerry Collins winning multiple playoff games. I just don't.

11) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+19) Boy do they not suck. I expected them to be awful back in August. Instead, Josh Freeman is a comeback quarterback, already with a number of fourth quarter game-winning drives. Their running game may have finally found a leader as well, in LeGarrette Blount. They may not make the playoffs, being in a very competitive division with the Saints and Falcons, but they sure have made an impression.

12) Kansas City Chiefs (-1) For new readers, the minus one may surprise you. However, we at the Sports Pinata had the Chiefs pegged as a playoff team back in August. I expected them to finish with around 10 wins and get in. Now it looks like they may even exceed that, and with San Diego playing so badly, they could take home the AFC West crown. Their running game is unparalleled right now. With the way their schedule shakes out, that might be all they need to make it to the playoffs.

13) Philadelphia Eagles (+8) Mike Vick has been such a pleasant surprise and he is back. He will start the Eagles' next game. With Vick behind center for the rest of the way, they may very well be a NFC title contender. The problem is that is no sure thing. Andy Reid may go back to Kevin Kolb at some point, Vick may get hurt again. There is just too much in question to back this team with any more confidence.

14) Miami Dolphins (+4) They are about what we thought they'd be. They are a tough team to beat, especially when you are hosting them. They will create problems for the Jets and Patriots of the world coming down the stretch.

15) Houston Texans (-3) That fast start got people carried away. Arian Foster has been really good. Matt Schaub has not. Andre Johnson has been hurt. DeMeco Ryans is on IR. Mario Williams has taken a step back from last season. Could they make a run at the AFC South title? Sure. Will they? Umm, no.

Tier Four: Don't totally suck
Everyone here is either playing really well (above their heads) or has talent but isn't living up to it. None of them totally suck. But, on the other hand, no one here is putting fear in opponent's eyes come playoff time.

16) Oakland Raiders (+8) How 'bout them Raiders? They are putting up points faster than the '99 Rams. And they're doing it with a quarterback who is so much worse than people expected. Jason Campbell was supposed to be a huge step forward from JaMarcus Russell. Instead, Raiders fans are just waiting for the immortal Bruce Gradkowski to return from injury. Either way, with a tremendous running game from Run DMC and Michael Bush, this team is someone to watch out for. Winning their division is within reason.

17) St. Louis Rams (+15) A feel-good story almost as impressive as the Buccaneers. This team was supposed to be terrible. Instead, they are not bad. They can win at home. They can compete with teams. Sam Bradford is already a solid quarterback, perhaps the best in his division (almost by default) in just his first year playing. Being in the NFC West, this team could easily make the playoffs because someone has to be division champ.

18) San Diego Chargers (-11) In almost a mirror image of the Raiders, this team could also take home the AFC West crown, but it would be relief rather than surprise and elation. Every year under Norv Turner they come out flat even with a very talented team. Phillip Rivers is a great QB. Antonio Gates is far and away the best tight end in football. Injuries to the wide receivers and the Ryan Mathews bust factor have led to the slow start, but they might not have time to catch the Chiefs this year.

19) Washington Redskins (0) We know about the McNabb questions. We know Clinton Portis is still injured. We know their receivers are older than Father Time. We also knew all of this coming into the year. Hence they are still ranked 19th.

20) Seattle Seahawks (+8) If they can somehow get home field advantage in the playoffs, watch out. I don't see it happening, but they could easily win their division and outside of that, who knows? At home they are a force to be reckoned with. Give Pete Carroll credit for that. On the road they stink, but so do lots of teams.

21) Detroit Lions (+6) Matthew Stafford is back. That fact is enough to make opponents weary of the Lions for the rest of the season. They can put points on the board. A year or two from now they might even be an NFC North favorite.

22) Minnesota Vikings (-17) Obviously disappointing from where they were expected to be prior to the season. Enough has been said about them though. I'm moving on.

Tier Five: Definitely suck
Some may have better records than others. Some may be showing more promise than early in the season. Some may be improving, some declining. The common thread is they all definitely suck.

23) Chicago Bears (-8) Cutler and Mike Martz was a match made in hell. Throw in an offensive line that cannot block a soul and this team's hopes for making the playoffs are getting slimmer by the minute. If they do get it, they might be the worst playoff team in recent memory.

24) Jacksonville Jaguars (-2) They have had some impressive performances. I'm not counting their win at Dallas on that list though. Maurice Jones-Drew has been disappointing. The offense as a whole is nothing that can be relied upon. This is the worst team in the AFC South by far, even if their record doesn't indicate so.

25) Arizona Cardinals (-2) As evidenced by the Bears, just because you totally suck, doesn't mean you can't make the playoffs. The Cards may very well win their division. That speaks more for their division than it does for the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald is writing angry letters to Kurt Warner on a daily basis at this point.

26) San Francisco 49ers (-12) Everyone's favorite sleeper back in August has done what "everyone's favorite sleeper" does every year: let everyone down. They stink.

27) Cincinnati Bengals (-14) Carson Palmer got very bad very fast, even faster than expected. Give Terrell Owens credit, he has had a nice season. Most of the rest of the team has not.

28) Denver Broncos (-2) Injuries held them back to start the year. Talent and coaching has held them back since.

29) Cleveland Browns (0) Peyton Hillis may be a diamond in the rough for the Browns to hang their hat on. The running game has kept them in a lot of contests. The quarterback position has led them to their ranking of 29th however.

30) Buffalo Bills (+1) Does everyone agree this is the best 0-7 team ever? They challenged and played tough in nearly every game, giving a scare to opponents who may have taken them lightly. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least capable. Questions along the offensive line and on defense prevent them from being good, but they'll get a few wins somewhere along the line.

31) Carolina Panthers (-11) There were questions coming into the season. However, this running game was supposed to be great. Instead, it has been awful. DeAngelo Williams was pedestrian up until he got hurt. Jonathan Stewart was bad as a backup and was bad in his first start of the season. Letting the running game carry them through the season has put them where they are today.

Tier Six: The Dallas Cowboys
This tier is comprised of the Dallas Cowboys.

32) Dallas Cowboys (-28) It's not even that they are bad. They are bad, but it's more than that. It's not even how disappointing they've been being loaded with talent. They have been so disappointing because they are loaded with talent, but it's more than that. It's that they have apparently just quit on the (coach) season. Wade Phillips should be fired obviously. That seems like the only thing that might spark them to try the rest of the way.

In an interesting turn of events, could this be the most talented team ever to receive the number one overall draft pick? Come draft time next April, it will be interesting to see what happens. I am (almost) positive they won't draft a quarterback with the top pick, yet the top player will be a quarterback. I can already see a big trade formulating as I type. Cleveland, Carolina, someone will need to trade up and take an Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallet of the world. There are too many top QBs in next year's draft to not have the Dallas number one pick be exciting as hell.

Also, adding a top pick to this Dallas roster would be tremendous. They should be Super Bowl favorites next year. Just imagine if the Super Bowl was being played in Dallas. That would have been awesome.

(Same image used as previous Power Rankings post)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 8

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week eight.

Half way through the season and it is clear who the top teams are now. Obviously the Steelers and Jets are the best two teams in the league...What's that? You say they both lost to NFC opponents last week? Errmmm, uhh, okay. Let me start over.

Half way through the season and it is clear we still have no idea who the top teams are. It was supposedly the Steelers and Jets, yet they both lost last weekend, to NFC teams no less. Perhaps this is a sign the Packers and Saints are more in line with what we expected coming into the year, but who knows. The team that may have jumped the most from week eight is the Giants, and they had a bye.

The only thing we know for sure is the Cowboys stink. Making the Jaguars look that good is quite an accomplishment. Speaking of Jacksonville, the oddest season by any player may be from a Jaguar at this point. Tight end Mercedes Lewis is having a nice statistical season, on the surface. He already has seven touchdown receptions, good for second among tight ends, trailing only the peerless Antonio Gates. However, Lewis only has 25 total catches on the year. He's only gaining 40 yards a game. He has been downright bad, unless the Jags are in the redzone. Then his 6-6 frame comes in handy. At Mercedes Lewis' touchdown catching pace, league receptions leader Roddy White would be over 15 touchdowns on the season. Instead, he has five.

Not everyone is having a great season like White or a "lucky" season like Lewis though. Here is week eight's lineup of 'stars who sucked.'

Quarterback - Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has been consistently good all year, up until he had to face the New York Jets' defense. His team came away with the victory, but fantasy owners don't care about that. The Packers did not record a touchdown in the game and Rodgers ended with only 170 yards passing. Seven fantasy points is a poor week for even a starting running back, but getting that from your number one QB is almost a death sentence.

Running Back - Steven Jackson and Jahvid Best. A lot of the top runners were on their bye in week eight including Ray Rice, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy, and Ahmad Bradshaw. I wouldn't necessarily include Jahvid Best on a list of stars, not yet at least, but the pickings were slim. Of course when you compare Best to his other rookie running back counterparts, he already is a star. C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews have been so worthless from a fantasy perspective that Best fits his name. Gaining 79 yards from scrimmage in week eight isn't terrible, but the competition was tough. Steven Jackson was a little worse than Jahvid and we expected him, even with the injury, to be a lot better. This was only his second week getting single digit fantasy points all season, so we'll have to give him a pass and expect things to be back to normal after the Rams' bye.

Wide Receiver - Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Fitting, right? Well maybe 'fitting' isn't the correct word. Expected, right? The week Moss throws up a stinker, quits on a few more passes, and mouths off afterwards is the week he's finally cut. I am sure some team will claim him off waivers and try to make use of him, but I wouldn't feel confident the rest of the season if he's your best fantasy receiver. As for his New England 'replacement', the guy to pick up the slack after he was dealt, Wes Welker gained just 24 yards on Sunday. After a poor game the week before as well, Welker has not done much since Moss' departure.

Tight End - Zach Miller. Perhaps Vernon Davis is thought of as more of a star at the tight end position, and Davis certainly had a bad game, but I thought Miller was making strides. It is too early to dismiss this notion, especially since he was banged up coming into the game and was on crutches afterwards, but Zach Miller was on his way to the second tier of tight ends. He had double digit fantasy points in four of his last five games. Even with the quarterback uncertainly in Oakland, he was getting the job done. However, week eight was a step back, gaining just 8 yards. If he manages to get healthy, he might be a top three tight end by the end of the season.

D/ST - Vikings. Oh Minnesota. You had so much promise coming into the season. That defense was supposed to be top notch. Now, you're even allowing people to run all over you. That hasn't happened in years, ever since Pat and Kevin Williams teamed up to form the best defensive tackle tandem in the NFL. It appears as though the Vikings have gone the way of the 2010 Cowboys and 2010 Chargers however: a talented defense who was expected to be near the top in fantasy circles and has just not been good. They didn't force any turnovers, did not even record a sack against the Patriots. Negative fantasy points from a top ten defense is bad news. They play Arizona next week and I'm not sure I would even start them. If I had to, I wouldn't feel good about it.

Coming later this week will be the Sports Pinata's updated Gimmicky NFL Power Rankings. Boy, was I off on a lot of teams, not that I expected anything less. Predicting the NFL standings prior to the season is a bigger gamble than letting Brett Favre borrow your cell phone. Of course, I will continue to brag about the Chiefs all the way until they somehow lose the division title in week 17. But for now, Chiefs are in first place!

This has been week eight's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)