Thursday, December 30, 2010

Miscellaneous Me

I have some miscellaneous resolutions for the new year:

- I resolve to care even less about sports' all-star games than I already do.
- Fans vote for all these guys and fans are (a) dumb and (b) extremely bias.
- The games are terrible to watch.
- Some of the best NFL players of the year (Matt Cassel, Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden) did not make the Pro Bowl.
- There is an NBA all-star ballot and rules of who gets on it rather than every player being eligible. This would be the dumbest award voting on the planet if the MLB Gold Glove voting wasn't so awful.
- The only redeemable thing about the all-star game in any sport is the change made in the NHL where two captains will pick the teams and play against each other. This is fantastic and should be adopted in every single sport.

- I resolve to buy an HD television and come to the 21st century with the rest of you.
- Directv's ability to pause what you're watching in one room and commence in another has to be the most pointless technology ever. Who has that many TVs and is moving around that much while engaged in a show?
- Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd are still working in 2010, and starring in network sitcoms and big budget movies to boot. In 1975-76, (SNL season 1-2) the gambling odds on this would have been terrible yet just a decade ago it would have been off the board.
- Is there another pair of actors who starred in the same show more than 25 years ago and went from entertainment stars to no where to be found and back to prominence again?

- I resolve to watch more NBA basketball and attend at least one Wizards game before the season ends.
- Even with all the talk of contraction, the product is great and the talent level is the best it has been in a long time.
- I am of the belief that having dominant teams and terrible teams is better for a league than having a giant middle class.
- Didn't Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan do the powder stunt (throwing the talcum powder in the air or clapping it between hands at the scorer's table, but making it a semi-exciting spectacle in the process) in pregames before LeBron James even got drafted?
- Is it just me or does any time in any basketball game a referee calls a 3 second violation, the guilty team complains and demands they "call that both ways!"?

- I resolve to be more understanding.
- I hate it when, late in December, someone tells me they’ll see me next year. Yeah I get it, next week is also next year.
- I actually said this to someone and as I was saying it, I just thought how much of a jackass I sounded like.

- I resolve to keep following sports even though things like Brett Favre, Andy Pettitte's text message, Larry Walker's and Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy, and someone thinking Michael Vick should be killed are all headlines during the final few days of 2010.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NFL Fantasy Title

This is it. For most leagues, the NFL fantasy champion will be decided tonight with the Eagles - Vikings game. Perhaps the finals match-up is already over at this point (such as in my league where I am leading by 7 and my opponent has no players left) or maybe the winner won't be decided until the final ticks of the Tuesday night game clock. Either way, it has been an interesting fantasy playoffs.

For the leagues that count week 17 as their title week and this may simply be semi-finals match-ups, good for you, but I will not pander my article to you people. In most leagues, this is it. Next week is the time to start paying attention to that fantasy basketball team you've ignored since the start of December.

There are a handful of interesting fantasy players in this final game of the 2010 fantasy season. In fact, a number of them have already been quite influential in teams making the championship game.

In week 15, fantasy semi-finals games, the three most important players were on the Eagles or Vikings. The Eagles' representative was none other than Michael Vick. He put up nearly 40 fantasy points in the most important match-up to date for his owners. Ever since you (and me) added Vick off the waiver wire back in week two, we have been riding him. He missed a few games mid-season, but for the most part, he has been the league's fantasy MVP, and for a player who wasn't drafted, that is quite amazing. Vick has, by himself, won weeks for his owners and week 15 was just a cherry on top, advancing many an owner to the title game.

Tonight Vick may do the very same thing yet again. Any fantasy player down by a couple dozen with Vick still to go has to have confidence he may get it done. Hell, even someone down by 40 cannot count themselves out. Not with this guy. The only defense against Michael Vick might be Andy Reid. If the coach lets him play the entire game, Vick owners will be feeling good.

However, Michael Vick is not the only quarterback with huge fantasy implications in tonight's game. And I'm not talking about Brett Favre. If Joe Webb plays tonight, he could sway some championship games, as he did last week with semi-finals match-ups.

In week 15, Joe Webb was questionable to start at quarterback for the Vikings. This would have been inconsequential news except for the fact that Joe Webb is wide receiver-eligible in fantasy football. He played some receiver for the Vikings; they moved him back to quarterback; Favre is hurting, Tavaris Jackson is out, so here we are. Or, more accurately, there we were. A player playing quarterback, easily eclipsing 12 points no matter how badly they play, is eligible at wide receiver, a position where only 13 players in the league have averaged over a dozen fantasy points per week. Starting Joe Webb at wide receiver while he starts at quarterback would be a secretly awesome advantage for anyone willing to gamble during their semi-finals match-up.

Then we all know what happened. The Metrodome roof caved in. Favre got a little longer to rest. The game was moved to a different stadium, and Favre started. Here's the kicker. This was the last game of the week. Anyone who gambled with Joe Webb at wide receiver would have little to no alternate option come game time. Plan backfired and it might have cost you a trip to the championship. But, of course, life is more interesting than even scripted plot could imagine. Favre starts but gets knocked out. Joe Webb owners, albeit a tad late, get their dream scenario and Webb comes in to play quarterback. He goes on to have a terrible real-life game but the plan works out anyhow. He scores a quarterback-measly 12 fantasy points, yet that is good enough for a top 25 wide receiver performance. The Joe Webb gamble paid off for someone somewhere gutsy enough to try it. I'm glad I had Vick to rest on instead.

But Joe Webb was not even the strangest Vikings fantasy story of week 15. He may have come in, mid-game, and carried some owners to the championship game from the wide receiver position, but one of his teammates had an even bigger impact on title match-ups, without even touching the ball.

Adrian Peterson is a top five running back. Even with a tough week 15 opponent in the Bears, Peterson would be started by every player who owned him. What better option would you have? So, the week progresses, some Peterson owners have a bit of a cushion, some may be down a few points, all are eagerly awaiting Monday night's game, the last of the week, with their big time running back still to go. However, come game time, Peterson, with just a simple knee bruise, is labeled inactive. He's not going to play. Fantasy hopes and dreams are crushed before the first whistle is blown.

This very scenario happened in my league. In the other semi-final match-up, (the one I was not a part of) one player was down two points. Just two. He had Adrian Peterson left to go and the other owner had no one. It was almost a slam dunk. Unless Peterson got absolutely shut down, and fumbled a few times, this owner would be title-bound. After all, Peterson had been at least average in 13 of the 14 weeks of the season. The only exception, the only week he scored less than 7 points, was the prior week against the Giants. And that had been with a giant question mark at quarterback in front of him and a tenacious Giants defense. Even so, he still managed 26 yards, which would be good enough to advance his owner this time around.

Game time approaches, the crushing news is reported, and there is no recourse. Unless he had added Toby Gerhart earlier, on a whim, he had no hope to replace Peterson with anyone, even having heard the news before the game kicked off. This was the last game of the week. Peterson had been his last hope.

So it is what it is. He was eliminated and his opponent advanced. (By the way, the saying "it is what it is" has to be the dumbest set of words people routinely speak. It is impossible for something NOT to be what it is. I mean come on! Of course 'it is what it is.' There's no alternative. If it wasn't what it was, it wouldn't be what it is!)

If those week 15 fantasy stories hadn't been enough, the week 16 championship game had its share of big time performances as well.

Week 16 was led by the Chiefs. Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel got back on track against the pitiful Titans. They, along with a number of quarterbacks, pushed many an owner to fantasy glory. Eight different QB's scored at least 20 fantasy points this week. One of those top signal callers was none other than Tim Tebow.

I am on the side of believing Tebow will never be a good starting quarterback. This is still yet to be proven. However, the thing I cannot debate is that he has looked respectable in his first few shots at it. The Broncos announced the change from Kyle Orton before last week's game, and very few fantasy owners took notice. Unless you were desperate, there was no reason to look Tebow's direction. However, after a solid first start, I am sure Tebow was added and started this week, and he delivered. This may be the only title Tebow ever delivers, but we'll take it.

Of course, week 16 was not all happiness and sunshine. As with the week before, there was some fantasy heartache from unexpected places. After being questionable each injury report for pretty much the entire season, fantasy stud Maurice Jones-Drew finally missed a game. Owners who had ridden his performance of 12+ fantasy points in seven of the past eight weeks all the way to the title game, would be forced to look elsewhere for production. At least with Jones-Drew, unlike Peterson the week before, owners were given time to find that replacement.

In an even stranger and more demoralizing turn of events, Peyton Manning screwed over his fantasy owners on a play where he ran the ball. Manning, who has been up and down this season in most people's minds, has actually had a very consistent fantasy season. And this final game was no exception. He scored over 19 points, making it over a dozen fantasy points for Peyton in 13 of his 15 games. But it was the points he did not get that were the story.

Much like Brian Westbrook's famous play from a few years ago, Manning was scampering around the edge on a beautiful bootleg, and had a clear shot at the endzone, but rather than run it in for the score and the six fantasy points, he slid down to run the rest of the clock out and secure a win for his team. Obviously Peyton couldn't care less about six fewer fantasy points, but I am sure there are at least a few owners out there who will lose their fantasy title by less than six points. That's fantasy football for you.

So here we are. One game remaining. Perhaps Vick has carried you all this way and you need one more performance to clinch that title. Perhaps Manning or Jones-Drew screwed you out of your title shot. Or just maybe you are again banking on the wide receiver-eligible Joe Webb to bring your team fantasy glory and hoping, with the rest of us, that Brett Favre will not show up to play.

Whatever the case may be, fantasy football is always exciting and always unpredictable. I'm glad I am assured of my 2010 championship, but am also relieved to have navigated such a mine field of question marks and injuries that was this fantasy season. Now how long until MLB opening day?

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Guilty pleasure

The term "guilty pleasure" is often used to refer to things we enjoy but are embarrassed about enjoying. It is something we like that, for some reason, feel we should not like.

The term is rather idiotic. I am going to let Chuck Klosterman take it from here in a piece he wrote for Esquire. The following will be tremendously paraphrased and may not do him justice, yet is all Chuck's.

The only reference to a guilty pleasure that makes sense is a technical one, something that makes you feel good while in the act but makes you feel bad afterwards. Examples of this are drinking five glasses of vodka before work or sleeping with your neighbor's wife. These are guilty pleasures.

However, when people give examples of guilty pleasures, those are not things being referred to. People use the term to describe eating chocolate or liking the movie Road House. Labeling these things as guilty pleasures is insane for two reasons. "It dictates that (a) people should feel bad for liking things they sincerely enjoy, and (b) if these same people were not somehow coerced into watching Road House every time it comes on TBS, they'd just as likely be reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."

There's Chuck's point. People shouldn't feel bad for enjoying something that gives them pleasure especially when they wouldn't be doing something productive otherwise anyway. You're not listening to Britney Spears' new album in place of studying thermodynamics so why feel guilty about it?

I used to consider watching MTV's Real World/Road Rules Challenges a guilty pleasure. I felt like I shouldn't enjoy these shows because they are somewhat dumb. However, Chuck Klosterman has shined a new light on this. I don't watch these challenges to emulate the contestants or to see good acting or even for the promiscuity and rude behavior. I watch them because they bring me joy and excitement and I will no longer feel bad about this.

The most recent Challenge season just wrapped up this week. It was called Cutthroat and lived up to its name. Let me interject by explaining the actual reasons I love these shows. First, I do not watch The Real World. Perhaps oddly enough, I have no interest in that show even though it is the Cheers to the Challenge's Frasier. The Challenges are awesome because they are sports and strategy at their best. Well, not at their best, but at their most entertaining. Each Challenge season pits teams against each other, whether it be teams of one, two, a dozen, whatever. Each season has different rules but the overall theme is always the same. These people are competing against each other in events for prize money.

As the Challenge has progressed, it has been tweaked, not from the producer's side but from the contestants' side. There have been 20 Challenges (they run more than one a year occasionally) and in the beginning, the best players won. Not every event was athletic, but the cream rose to the top. However, as the years went on, the show began to be more about forming alliances and securing votes. The best athletes demanded the most respect, but did not always win, and were sometimes targeted.

I call these folks athletes with no level of sarcasm or irony. The players, especially the men, are monsters. They are huge, athletic, strong, imposing figures. They have to be to compete on what the Challenge has turned into. No more are there eating contests or funny, throw-away events. Cutthroat's final challenge this past Wednesday had the final teams running a half-marathon with checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints were not lines to cross, but rather giant tires to push, bodies to carry, puzzles to solve. Two players were sent to the hospital and only one team finished.

The enjoyment from watching these shows stems from my love of watching people compete, find loopholes in the rules, forming strategy, etc. The team that ended up winning Cutthroat's final and the largest cash prize was not the team who performed the best throughout the season. Instead, it was the team who was able to trim its worst players away before the end and was left with the best group to compete for the top prize. Being conniving is nearly as important as being strong and fast.

It was not one of the best Challenge seasons. Many of the heavy hitters were not competing this time around. There were also some rules in place that seemed a bit quirky to me. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that I find this show tremendously pleasurable to watch and I will no longer feel guilty about that.

As Chuck Klosterman would say, watching this is not my conscious alternative to something better. Were I not watching The Challenge, I would not be "working on logarithms, or studying the liner notes to out-of-print Thelonious Monk records, or searching for factual errors in The Economist. If we weren't watching...we'd probably just be going to the bar earlier."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

(Chuck Klosterman selections come from Esquire and his book Chuck Klosterman IV)
(Image taken from

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 14

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 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 fourteen.

I owe Brad Childress an apology. Every week prior to his firing he would come to the microphone before games and say, "If Brett Favre is healthy, he will play. He gives us the best chance to win." Slightly paraphrased, that was the message. And every week, after seeing Favre throw a terrible late interception and get thrown down with another injury, I would call Brad Childress a liar. How could Favre give the Vikings the best chance to win?? Well, Brad. I'm sorry. You were right. I watched the Vikings play the Giants last night in Detroit and it was clear. You were right. THAT was why Childress kept saying what he said each press conference. Sorry, but now I know.

Tavaris Jackson starting wasn't the only story from last night's game. Eli Manning started his 100th consecutive game! He's never missed a start in his entire career! This guy is amazing.

Okay, but seriously, the Giants played the Vikings in Detroit and it wasn't even the craziest weather-related story of the weekend. Sure the game was pushed back a day and relocated because of some insane snow fall, but they still played inside. Somehow the New England Patriots managed to put up 36 more points in a dismantling of the first place Bears while the snow was coming down. The yard lines on the field were not even visible throughout the game. Apparently the Pats didn't need them.

If snowfall isn't your cup of tea, we also had a Jets - Dolphins game in a downpour where a punter was the game's best player. Miami punter Brandon Fields made sure his team won the field position battle. Not only did he average over 56 yards per boot, but he punted 10 times! I have no Elias Sports Bureau at my disposal to study such statistics, but this has to be one of the few times in football history a punter has accumulated over 500 yards of kicks in one game. He constantly switched field position for the Dolphins, allowing them to escape with a victory on a day their offense scored one touchdown and gained 131 total yards. Talk about winning ugly.

In other ugly news, Quentin Tarantino has a new movie coming out. Also, the games in week 14 had a theme to them. For the most part, they were all blowouts or offensively challenged. It was hard to find more than a couple well-played, reasonably high scoring games. Some were the result of the weather. Others were because of injuries to key players (see: Packers, Green Bay) but many more just had NFL players playing poorly. Here's week 14's best of the worst: the stars who sucked.

Quarterback - Aaron Rodgers. The number one fantasy quarterback on the season, by a comfortable margin, could get nothing going up until the moment he was knocked out of the game. He ended with 46 yards passing and a pick before leaving with a concussion. Rodgers killed many fantasy playoff dreams on Sunday, perfectly illustrating the unpredictability of fantasy football.

Running Back - Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. On Sunday, Peterson was ready to go, hoping to be receiving hand-offs from Brett Favre. On Monday, with Tavaris Jackson behind center, the Vikings offense could do nothing. The Giants completely shut down the explosive Peterson, limiting him to 26 total yards. Meanwhile, on Saturday Jamaal Charles signed a brand new five-year $32.5 million contract. On Sunday, he too came up small in a game where his team needed him. The Chiefs ended up getting stomped by their division rival Chargers, lowering their lead to just a single game for the AFC West title. Charles ended with 49 total yards and, like the entire Chiefs roster, was not able to get in the end zone.

Wide Receiver - Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe. Both Johnson and Bowe were casualties of the ugly Sunday we had in week 14. Johnson's Lions scored just 7 points but squeaked out a victory. Bowe's Chiefs, as previously mentioned, were shutout. Johnson fared slightly better than his counterpart, gaining 44 yards receiving and totally 5 fantasy points, while Bowe ended with under 10 yards from scrimmage, netting a dreaded zero for his owners. After being on fire for two months, Dwayne Bowe now has 3 yards gained in his last two games combined.

Tight End - Chris Cooley. Antonio Gates missed yet another game. His fellow NFL tight ends picked up some of the slack. A number of the top guys had nice games. Chris Cooley was not one of them. 22 yards gained in week 14 was Cooley's lowest yardage output of the season. He wasn't even targeted until a large chunk of the game had progressed. The Redskins were relying heavily on a tremendous day from Ryan Torain running the ball, but could have used Cooley to get in the endzone. Instead, they squandered another winnable game.

D/ST - Bears. The Chicago Bears are supposed to be the classic, rough, cold-weather defense. They breathe heavily, showing the cold in the air, yet wear short sleeves and have no fear in their eyes. That Bears team didn't show up to play on Sunday. To be fair, they may have retired a couple decades ago. But this current Bears team had been having a great season up until Tom Brady took the field. They should expect a nice rebound performance next week when they play against Tavaris Jackson and the Vikings, wherever the game ends up being played.

The New England Patriots are the lone team to have clinched a playoff berth. This, along with the many division games still remaining in the final weeks should set up so that all the best players are still trying their hardest in the fantasy playoffs. Perhaps the scheduling tweak worked to prevent resting players, or, more likely, it has just been one of those seasons.

I still don't have a Super Bowl match-up guess I am confident in.

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

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Roger Ebert impression

I am not a licensed movie critic. In fact, I don’t even know if movie critics get licensed or they just spout off long enough that people being to listen to their opinions.

I don’t watch many movies in the theaters. I still have not seen Avatar. (I know!) I do enjoy movies, but only certain ones, movies that I have a vested interest in. I can’t wait to see The Avengers movie and The Hobbit but those are not released until 2012. I know the plots and already know I enjoy the characters. Thus, those movies will be fun for me whether they are actually “good” or not. Rarely will I want to see a movie just from the trailer. Inception was one of those times. It looked freaking awesome, and it was, plot holes be damned.

The most recent movie I saw in theaters, a movie I had to see, was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One. I am invested in this series. I’ve read every book; I have seen the previous six movies, multiple times. (They have tremendous cable re-watchability.) I am no Roger Ebert, but I’ll give it my best shot. Here is my review of HP 7.1:

The first six movies in the Harry Potter series were solid and entertaining. The casting was tremendous. Even with the passing of the actor who played Dumbledore in the early films and a recast, it still remained great. The children seemed to grow up perfectly, although, for movie purposes, Hermione Granger seemed prettier than I think was intended in the books. The first film hit it on the head. She had wild, unkempt hair and looked kind of frazzled/nerdy. However, as the movies progressed, Hermione looked better and better. I never got that impression in the novels. The real problem occurs when Harry starts to have feelings for Ginny. The book describes Ginny as the most beautiful girl, who all the boys want to be with. However, Hermione in the films is just as pretty, if not more so. It was really the only casting problem in any of the films.

As for the movies themselves, the first two were fun and a bit campy. The main three actors were all children and the movies were children’s movies. Starting with The Prisoner of Azkaban, the movies got better, more adult. There were dark scenes. The actors began to seem like they were playing the characters in the scenes rather than just being in the scenes as the characters, if that makes sense.

The common thread from movies one through six was that they were probably better for people who had never read the books. I cannot possibly know for sure as it is impossible to view a film both ways, but that is the impression I came away with. They moved smoothly through the plot and each ended well as compared to the books. However, readers of the books were always very aware of how much storyline was omitted. There was just too much to cover for it to be any other way, but disappointment was unavoidable. After every movie, I was more concerned with what was left out than what was put in, whereas a viewer who had no novel experience would just enjoy the film for what was shown. And each movie worked well that way.

I cannot say the same for the seventh film. It actually seemed like the exact opposite occurred. The movie was more enjoyable only if you had already read the book. Now this seems counterintuitive. The plot would be known and nothing would come as a surprise having already read The Deathly Hallows. However, because of the way the movie was delivered, the alternative is much worse.

I personally felt like the movie moved too quickly. They jumped from scene to scene, trying to cover as much as they could. There was really no way around this. Even splitting The Deathly Hallows into two films doesn’t solve the problem. It is impossible to translate the feeling of hopelessness and dread into a two hour film. The book was so powerful because, along with all the action, there were the months and months elapsing in between, where the characters were questioning their motives, giving up hope, etc. The movie didn’t have time for that.

As soon as Harry, Ron, and Hermione ended up in London, they broke into the Ministry of Magic. It didn’t take eight weeks to scope out the scene, make plans, steal identities, etc. like in the book. The movie didn’t have time for that.

As soon as Ron left, angry, he came back, sorry. It didn’t take months and months, moving from place to place, knowing it would be impossible for Ron to ever find them again like in the book. The movie didn’t have time for that.

They tried to give us an impression of the time passing, drop dates, and moving the tents each and every scene, but it felt rushed to me. But imagine if you hadn’t read the books. It didn’t feel rushed. It felt worse. It felt like nothing happened.

My dad saw the film and came out of it voicing that exact opinion. He felt like nothing happened. He wasn’t aware of the time frames that were elapsing. He couldn’t have known the beginning scene was taking place in July because all they told us was it was Harry’s birthday. They mentioned it was Christmas time when they arrived in Godric’s Hollow and that was it. The rest would be guess work for someone who had never read the book.

Through the eyes of a newbie to the series, the characters went from place to place, searching for horcruxes, only destroying one, and then the movie came to an end. That was all. They wouldn’t know any of the back-story, the detail you could read in between the actions. The movie went from scene to scene with no explanation.

To a story veteran, the scene in Xenophilius Lovegood’s home was of vital importance. Harry found out what the deathly hallows were and what that meant. He discovered what Voldemort had been searching for and found at the end. Harry discovered why Voldemort had kidnapped an old wand maker and visited an old dark wizard in prison. It was all to obtain the most powerful wand in existence. To someone watching the film, learning for the first time, it was inconsequential. They would not have understood what all the flashes of Harry’s dreams even meant. It was never described who Voldemort went to visit, who he kidnapped for information, what he was searching for. The scene in the Lovegood’s home was simply the telling of a fairy tale and nothing more.

I could go on. The scene in Godric’s Hollow was equally as bare to a person who hadn’t read the book. As was the scene in the Malfoy’s manor. How could any moviegoer know what summoned Dobby the house elf or what Bellatrix was referring to in her bank vault if they hadn’t read the book? It was all nonsensical gibberish. Or even worse, it was all ignored as pointless.

I had been critical of previous movies for leaving too much out. But they were clearly stand alone movies. I am critical of The Deathly Hallows Part One for rushing through too much story but for also making a movie that cannot truly be appreciated just by watching it on its own. Perhaps this is the unavoidable fault of making a part one of a two part tale, but I had no problem with the ending. The problems lie during the body of the movie where too much happens too quickly to please the veterans and not enough is explained to appease the rookies.

I am still eagerly awaiting Part Two. I am excited to see how certain scenes turn out, namely the break-in to Gringotts Bank and the final battle at Hogwarts. However, I wish Part One had done a better job of either following the flow of the first six films or deciding to go in the other direction. By toeing the line they seemed to have left both groups slightly disappointed.

(Image taken from

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 13

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 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 thirteen.

Every team has played 75% of their schedule. Only four games remain. An even better question than who the best team is, is who is the most surprising team? Some are surprisingly bad, others surprisingly good but check out the cavalcade of teams up for this debate: the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts and the Oakland Raiders. This is what makes the NFL great/frustrating to follow. The parity is tremendous so every week is a surprise.

Of the happy surprises, the most unlikely, to me, are the Jaguars. This was clearly the worst team in the AFC South as recent as two months ago. Since then, Houston has fizzled, Tennessee has fallen off a cliff, and Indy is succumbing to injuries and a pressing Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, the Jags are playing good football. They've won four of their last five games and really had that Giants game won as well. I still don't see them making the playoffs even though they are in first place heading into week 14. I guess that's the definition of a surprise team. I still can't persuade myself to buy in.

Some people would throw the Kansas City Chiefs on the list of biggest surprises of 2010. I will not. The reason is I saw this coming. I picked the Chiefs to make the playoffs prior to the season. They have a two game lead in the division with four to play and they face San Diego this week. A win on Sunday would all but secure the AFC West crown. Well it would if it wasn't for those pesky Raiders. Who'd have thought the week 17 match-up between the Chiefs and Raiders could decide a division champ?

It's a fun story, especially since both teams are winning old-school style. Neither has a tremendous passing game with the exception of the three weeks Dwayne Bowe turned into Jerry Rice circa 1995.

(That analogy is even funnier because I had to look up Rice's stats and spend a few minutes deciding what year to use. It didn't really matter. I could have picked anything from '86 to '96.)

Yet both the Raiders and Chiefs can run all day. Each team has a pair of backs capable of putting up a big game any week. Kansas City and Oakland rank first and third in the NFL in rushing respectively.

Unfortunately, while the AFC has some fairy tale stories, the biggest surprises in the NFC are most definitely disappointments, led by the Cowboys. Dallas, Minnesota and San Francisco were three guarantees for playoff spots prior to the season. Although at 4-8 the 49ers could still win their division, sadly, I am going to consider them a disaster nonetheless. Disasters are more in my wheelhouse.

Now not every fantasy disaster lines up with a team losing or a bad performance. This is what separates the lineup of 'stars who sucked' from real life. That, and the fact that people seem to care more about ESPN's power rankings than my lists each week. I don't get it.

Quarterback - Eli Manning. Here is a perfect example. The New York Giants thumped the Redskins last weekend. It was an epic blowout. They ran up and down the field. However, or perhaps consequently, Eli had a bad game numbers-wise. He threw for 161 yards and 1 interception; a terrible fantasy performance out of a usually reliable starter. Not what owners were hoping for trying to clinch spots in the fantasy playoffs.

Running Back - Chris Johnson and Ray Rice/Rashard Mendenhall. Rice and Mendenhall faced each other. The Ravens played the Steelers. For the uninformed, both the Ravens and Steelers have great defenses. We're going to split the shame here since neither did well yet neither was expected to do much better against their respective defensive opponents. Chris Johnson is a different story. After the worst game of his career last week and what may have been the worst game ever in NFL history for a player drafted in the first round in fantasy leagues, he was supposed to get a little breather against a porous Jaguars defense. He did not. 67 total yards from scrimmage probably led to another loss for Johnson owners banking on their top guy coming through. I would say you should feel good anyways just by looking at his match-ups in the fantasy playoffs, but after these past two weeks, I've lost my confidence.

Wide Receiver - Dwayne Bowe and Dez Bryant. The aforementioned Bowe ended his streak of Jerry Riceian weeks. He was held without even a catch after scoring 13 touchdowns in his last seven games, with at least one touchdown every week. Dez Bryant was also soaring up the fantasy receivers list before week 13 ended. Rather than just having a poor game, Bryant suffered a broken ankle and will miss the remainder of the year. It's a tough "break" for Bryant owners, no pun intended. Well, actually, I did intend the pun, but I would have said the same thing verbatim if he had not broken a bone and instead ruptured his spleen...Although then I might have said something along the lines of this being tough for Bryant owners to stomach.

Tight End - Tony Gonzalez. Tight ends around the league must have heard my calls. Week 13 was a tight end fantasy bonanza. Six scored in double digits, including Vernon Davis and Ben Watson who both gained over 100 yards receiving. Of course nine of the 12 most highly owned tight ends scored fewer than 6 points. Baby steps. Gonzalez was obviously one of the nine and he's owned in nearly 100% of leagues. I put him here to hope that he's not being valued any higher than any of the other tight ends not named Antonio. Don't keep a second tight end on your roster to play the match-ups for any reason. Roster spots could be used more wisely.

D/ST - Jets. Boy did the Patriots stick it to their division rival. The Jets allowed a whopping 45 points on Monday night, most certainly netting negative fantasy points in leagues that allow it. They had been showing some signs of weakness recently with all the last second victories but I didn't expect a drubbing like this. The game was 17-0 by the time the first quarter rolled to a close.

With the exception of the Jets-Patriots game, the other big match-ups actually did live up to the hype. The Steelers-Ravens game was a defensive struggle all game, turned by a Troy Polamalu sack/forced fumble late in the game. The Falcons-Bucs game was also an even match until Atlanta was able to open the flood gates, scoring 14 straight fourth quarter points on their way to victory.

The week 14 games are made up of a bunch more division battles but perhaps the most interesting games are between non-division foes. The Raiders and Patriots will both be on the road against division leaders while the Rams will be playing the Saints in New Orleans. Nothing comes easy in the last quarter of the NFL season.

This had been week thirteen's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

Monday, December 6, 2010

ACC Champions

Another year, another title. Not that I'm complaining, but did you expect anything different?

2010, Virginia Tech's fourth ACC title since joining the conference seven years ago, did get off to a rocky start. However, the goals never changed and the outcome remained the same. Every Hokie football season is about winning the conference championship and making the BCS Orange Bowl. And that is exactly where we're at. The journey getting there was just a bit more roundabout than normal.

It started, as everyone knows, at 0-2. Two losses to Boise State. Well, not really, but kind of. VT lost to Boise the first game of the season, in a shootout. Both teams scored in the 30s with the Hokies falling just short. Then, just five days later, VT had another game against the James Madison we-are-obviously-going-to-overlook-this-FCS-team Dukes. Well, they obviously overlooked the Dukes. Or, they were too worn out from their week one opponent to be up for a game five days later. Or they just got outplayed. Anyone who watched the game will agree with me that it was most likely one of the first two. Nevertheless, a loss is a loss. Virginia Tech was 0-2 and out of the top 25.

Perhaps I was delusional. Perhaps I was simply not as spontaneously worrisome as some of my fellow former Hokies. But I was still feeling okay about the season. Obviously disappointed about the losses, it was still the case that we hadn't played a conference game yet. Our goal was still within reach. The first two games really hadn't effected that.

Let me interrupt myself to explain. Many non-Hokies might think, because of our preseason ranking, that our season goal may have been to make the BCS title game. This would be slightly wrong. Our pipe dream is always to make the title game. A preseason top 10 ranking was a good starting point for that. However, Virginia Tech is never, really, a national title contender. Not in my mind. We are good. We are always good. Seven straight years of 10+ wins proves that. But we are not in that top tier.

Everyone knows the top tier. It's comprised of SEC and Big 12 schools for the most part. It's the group of teams that really has a legitimate shot at making the title game each and every season based on talent, recruiting, schedule strength and impressions in the minds of the pollsters. This group is malleable. It is even slightly cyclical. Florida State and Miami used to be members of the tier, back in the 90's. Notre Dame was too. USC may be falling out because of penalties, but they'll be back. The point is however, that VT has never been up 'there.' Every so often we get a top 5 ranking but it doesn't last.

Like many other schools around the nation, our goal each season is to win our conference. Winning the ACC and receiving that automatic BCS bowl game berth signifies a successful year. From that point, winning the Orange Bowl would put the cherry on top, but the ACC title is our Super Bowl ring.

Okay, so where was I? Ah yes, 0-2. From that point, rallied by the coaching staff and the veteran players, this team decided they agreed with me. No one actually contacted me about this or desired my input, but it was obvious Tyrod Taylor and I were on the same page. Those first two games didn't matter. Let's get back on track for conference play. From that point on, including notching two out-of-conference wins, the Hokies never lost again in 2010. They swept through the remaining schedule, going undefeated in ACC conference play, a feat that hadn't been done this century.

It was thanks to the veteran leadership; it was the talented offense; it was mostly the fact that VT knew their goal was still alive.

In the end, this team was a juggernaut. Starting off slow perhaps just fueled their fire. Everyone then thought of them as a lost cause, not worth following anymore. The VT defense was not as sharp or as talented as years past. It finished outside the top dozen defenses in the nation for the first time in years. But the slack was picked up by forcing turnovers and by the offense.

This team scored 30+ points nine times this season. During the 11 consecutive victories to end the year, they average 38 points a game, and remember, nine of those were conference battles. The offense was, dare I say, dynamic, for the first time since number 7 left early for the NFL.

The team was led by senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He won conference player of the year. In the ACC title game, you could see why. He played one of his best games of his career on Saturday against the Seminoles. I have never been the biggest Taylor fan. I have always thought of him has widely overrated. He was good, but not great. I guess he fit VT well then. T-Mobile, as he was affectionately called as a freshman, could always run. Boy could he run. He is the school's all-time leading rushing quarterback. Yes, ahead of Michael Vick. But his passing skills never did anything for me. The problem was always I wasn't sure if it was really his fault.

I don't know enough intricate details about the offense to know if the lack of big-time passing plays in the past had been the fault of Taylor getting antsy in the pocket, the receivers running poor routes, or the play calling being poor. Any of the three was possible. As Tyrod developed, he began to seem more comfortable behind center yet the big passing numbers didn't come. Even this year, he is a tremendously efficient passer, yet didn't accumulate big yardage. Too often he would sit behind his blockers waiting and waiting, then run. Could he not find open receivers? Did he not have confidence to make tough throws? Were the receivers not good enough to create separation? Were the plays being called not creative enough to confuse a defense? What was it? I still don't know. I just always had the thought in my mind that a stand-out QB wouldn't let this happen. If Tyrod was excellent, those throws would get made and completed. Instead, he tucked it under and ran. It was probably the smart play, but to me it meant Taylor was a very good quarterback but nothing more.

Aiding Taylor in the Virginia Tech backfield this year was a textbook three-headed monster at running back. Ryan Williams was the incumbent, the star, the all-around best. Darren Evans was the bruiser, the former leader returning from injury. David Wilson was the spastic speedster, the new guy trying to earn carries. With all three healthy, the offensive coordinator didn't really know where to turn. Early on in the season it seemed to be more of a hindrance than an advantage. No one could get into the flow of a game. Then Ryan Williams got hurt. This may have turned the season around. He got hurt early on in the Hokies' third game. They were 0-2 at this point if you recall. From that point forward, even once Williams returned, the offense seemed to flow more smoothly. Darren Evans got his chance to re-acclimate himself to the team he couldn't help in 2009. David Wilson got the opening he needed to be given more carries and show what he could do.

The final season tallies show all four guys, including Tyrod Taylor, carried the ball over 100 times. All four men scored at least five rushing touchdowns, led by Evan's 11. And all four backs averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry. Whether they really needed Williams to get hurt to figure out everyone's role or not will be left unanswered. The fact is, it worked out.

An embarrassment of riches at the running back position, helped by the super-efficient season of Tyrod Taylor, turned VT into an offensive powerhouse for the first time in a long time, and led them to the season they had.

Now some people will wonder 'what could have been.' They will say, often in a mocking tone, "Just imagine if they hadn't lost to JMU!" Well, allow me to save you the time of wondering: it wouldn't have mattered. In fact, neither the JMU game or Boise State game mattered. Allow me to explain.

Virginia Tech went 11-2. They finished 13th in the final BCS rankings. They are going to play in the BCS Orange Bowl.

Let's say they had still lost to Boise but rebounded to beat JMU as most expected they would. They would have finished 12-1. They might have reached the top five in the BCS rankings, most likely finishing between 4th and 7th. They would have been placed in the BCS Orange Bowl.

Okay so what if, somehow, they BEAT Boise State but lost to JMU. Perhaps they took the Dukes too lightly after a huge victory. They would, again, have been 12-1. With a bad loss, they would have finished anywhere from 7th to 11th in the final BCS tally and been awarded a trip to the BCS Orange Bowl.

Now wait, what if they had gone undefeated? What if they got away with a victory in that first game against Boise AND went on to throttle the FCS' JMU Dukes? They would have finished with a record of 13-0. Unbelievable. They would have finished 3rd in the BCS rankings and, you guessed it, been playing in the BCS Orange Bowl.

In the end, those first two losses meant nothing. They made for a fun story, a nice redemption season by the Hokies. But they really didn't matter. Virginia Tech still accomplished its goal, the same goal we have every season: to win the conference championship.

Now beating Stanford would be a nice cherry on our sundae.

(Image taken from