Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2 Quarterbacks, 2 different paths.

The news, over the weekend, that Johnny Manziel did something stupid (again) followed up on Tuesday by the news that the Cleveland Browns have decided to admit their goof drafting him and cut bait in March when the salary cap is more forgiving was in stark contrast to the news surrounding another quarterback who was controversial coming out of college.

I'm referring to Cam Newton whose trouble these days lies in angering predominantly Caucasian sports writers because he has the temerity to suggest they criticize him, in part, because he is a black quarterback.

Is Cam correct?  I think, to a point, sure he is. Because Tom Brady has been known to gyrate and celebrate and no one bats an eye. Even Johnny Manziel, coming out of college, was roundly praised by the same sports writers for his antics. The problem, as I see it, is that the old guys who cover sports, and write about it, want every QB in the NFL to be a stoic giant in the manner of Peyton, or Montana, or Unitas. There's some 1960's mold that quarterbacks have always been asked to fit into, and Cam doesn't fit that mold.

Cam is street, and he's youth, and he does things that anger the football writing press.

And to that I say.  "Good."

Because the NFL needs it's teams to be more than the Houston Texans, a boring team that pulled off the almost impossible feat of making a boring season of Hard Knocks. They need players and coaches who aren't Bill Belicheck. They need characters, and Cam, whether you like him or not, is a character.

He's also a winning quarterback, which is (in part) why he gets away with it. Manziel went through the same histrionics when he scored, the money sign instead of Superman, the grin. Unfortunately he also is seemingly unable to control his desires (and fists, allegedly against women) off the field. Because of this he will soon find himself out of work and Cam might find himself the MVP of the league, Super Bowl, and Super Bowl champion.

While there are bad choices that led to Manziel's downfall he also had some bad luck as well.  For one, he was drafted by a Cleveland Browns team whose coaching staff seemingly didn't want anything to do with him.  Because of this he languished on the bench and never seemed to develop. Cam meanwhile was drafted by Carolina and it was clear that he was viewed as the face of the franchise going forward.

Such is the standard deviation that life throw at us. Cam had a good support system, Manziel was surrounded by people who are apparently the worst people in the world. Cam had talent around him, Manziel had nothing. Cam had a coach who crafted an offense that matched his style. Manziel had a head coach who shouldn't have been a head coach in the league.

In gambling, you probably call this luck. If you play poker then you know what I mean. I have probably played over 2 Million hands of poker in my lifetime. I have never made a Royal Flush. Not once, never. Not in friendly games, competitive games, video poker, live poker, poker for fun. If Cam Newton had my poker experience he would have over 100 Royal Flushes by now.

But, despite all of that I've still been fairly profitable at poker, just as Manziel could have made the best of his situation and made a career out of the NFL instead of throwing it away. We'll see if he can learn to grind wherever he lands next.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We get exactly what we ask for in local sports talk radio.

Josh Innes is an idiot in an industry almost entirely staffed by idiots.

Because of this, and because he bosses pay and encourage him to be even more idiotic, I'm not really sure why people are up in arms regarding his "racial slur"?

For the three years that Innes plied his trade in Houston, I listened to his show a handful of times. As I've stated many times before "Bro" radio does not interest me.  But I would listen in after a big sports news story to see what people had to say.

First, Innes knows next to nothing about sports.  And I don't mean that in a disparaging manner it's just true.  Innes is the drunk frat kid standing around griping that the team "should throw the ball more".  His shtick in Houston was limited to making disparaging comments about the University of Houston and then acting surprised when the alumni called in and were angry.

Josh Innes is the inevitable result of dumbing down your product.  He also draws huge listener numbers because, on a whole, the entirety of the sports talk market is pretty dumb.

We are, talking about "fans" here, and "fan" is short for "fanatic".  If you consider yourself a fan of any team then you have a problem.  It's OK to root for teams, to pull for teams, to want them to win. But as a self-described fan of a team you are admitting that you throw logic to the wind and cheer for them unquestioningly.  Fans are why Bob McNair has been allowed to run the Texans as a profit center rather than a championship contender. It's why players are given a pass for criminal activity and why Greg Hardy is currently playing for the Dallas Cowboys.  Fans exist only to defend the indefensible and provide sports franchises with a steady diet of money.

And it's the fan that Innes was talking to when he called Travis Kelce a "house slave". It was the fan base that he guessed, correctly in most cases I'm sure, was angry at the Eagles for basically firing Andy Reid, and then hiring his protégé 3 years later in what is the ultimate of "Ooops" moves by a team.

To his credit, Innes knew this, and he did exactly what he was paid to do. He said something that has brought his radio show Nationwide attention.  Even his non-apology "apology" is designed to have the ultimate effect:

"I'm the dumbest human being on the planet," Innes said. "I apologize for that, I truly do. I'm an idiot ... I see people are making fun of me across the country, and you should be, because I'm stupid."
Here's the rub:  Innes really doesn't think he's stupid. He knows that what he said was controversial and that it will generate outrage. He also knows that, by writing an apology that basically apologizes for being stupid (and not for making the racist comment FWIW) he can turn the news story away from his racist ramblings, on directly onto himself. In fact, he's becoming the news here.

That's better publicity for Innes than any news scoop or interview could ever become.

Innes isn't sorry that he said those things, nor does he have any remorse for them. In fact, he's probably going to be laughing about it all the way to the bank.  The ONLY way he could face any consequences is if the sponsors of his show get cold feet and start pulling out.  Absent that, he's doing and acting exactly how his bosses expect him to.

And the fans are all buying right into it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

National Football League: Talking About it Until Your Ears Bleed.

Brady vs. Manning.

I'm already sick of it and it's only been a few hours.

On the drive in to work, on sports web-sites and on blogs. It's going to be a non-stop torrent of discussing and cussing over the match-up as ESPN has had their NFL Playoff fantasies fulfilled.

And Denver vs. New England is not even the best game next weekend.

In a way, I'm not as worried about it this year however because I don't spend any time watching ESPN except for live sporting events. I used to watch Sports Center and their NFL preview show but then they started putting Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on and I quit watching.

But for some people, those who's television is constantly tuned to the Worldwide Leader, it's going to be a brutal week.  Granted, they could ignore this by simply changing the channel (and increasingly, more and most people are doing this) but in reality, if you're a sports fan, you're going to hear at least something about the matchup before Sunday arrives.

The game that I'm interested in however is Arizona vs. Carolina. That match-up has a better QB match-up (Palmer vs. Newton) and is going to be, in my opinion, a much better game. 10 years ago Brady vs. Manning deserved some interest but now the bigger matchup is Brady vs. Denver's defense.  Because Manning is now an afterthought on the Broncos.

As we begin the last week of honest to goodness football (don't treat the Stupid Bowl as 'real' football, it's more a showcase for the excess of the league) it's good to see however that the 4 best teams in the NFL have reached the final round.

We get two games on Sunday, and then the Stupid Bowl and then a giant, gaping sports hole opens up in the schedule.  Yes, there will be basketball and so forth which is fine, but the reality is that our Saturdays and Sundays will be a little less fun until the end of August.

Early lines:

New England (-3) @ Denver (O/U 44) - This line opened at New England -2.5 and several sharps were all over it at that price. This caused the books to react fairly quickly and raise it to -3 or, in a few cases, -3.5.  If you got in at -2.5 congratulations, I think that's one of the best bets on the board this week. If you didn't, I'm not sure how long I'd wait if you like New England because I'm thinking the line is only going to move further the Patriots way.  At some point the numbers will switch and Denver will become the play.  I'm thinking that happens somewhere around -5.5.

Arizona @ Carolina (-3) (O/U 47) - Another line that opened higher (Carolina -4) and then settled in at -3 fairly quickly as sharp money poured in on Arizona at +4.  Believe it or not, I don't think this line is going to move much futher, barring injury, as I think it's just about right.  I think the best value in this game might be on the total which, right now, is incredibly high considering the quality of these two defenses.

I'll have a full breakdown of the games later in the week. Until then, enjoy what little football season you have left. You might start by ignoring sports media this week.

Friday, January 15, 2016

National Football League: Previewing "The Best Week in Playoff Football"

As the NFL playoffs reach "week 2" so to speak we've hit the point where the chaff have been removed and only the wheat remains. The idea behind this being the best week of the playoffs is that you get 4 competitive games between the best 8 teams in football. The teams that are pretenders, who either backed into the playoffs (Bengals) or who got in by winning a weak division (Texans, Washington) lost in the Wild Card round leaving only the teams that should have been there in the first place. This doesn't mean that every team who lost in the first round is terrible (See: Minnesota) only that the best teams received the bye and those remaining actually won their way here.

Ideally, this is supposed to provide us with the matchups of the season. In reality, that's not always the case. (All odds as posted at the Westgate Superbook effective Friday (01/15/2016) 5:15 AM)

Kansas City @ New England (-4.5) (O/U 42)

At one point I thought I saw this line at -7 Patriots but the health concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski have brought some money back the Chiefs way.  When analyzing this game, the tendency is to spend a lot of time talking about Alex Smith vs. Tom "No coffee" Brady. But a better metric is Kansas City's stout defense vs. the chameleon offense of Bill Belicheck. Unless something funny happens, Smith and Brady won't be on the field at the same time.  Without a healthy Gronkowski the Patriot offense is pedestrian. Although they will benefit from having Danny Amendola and Julian Edleman back on the field. The bigger question is whether or not the Chief's pass rush will be able to get to Brady before he gets rid of the ball.  I think they will, with enough frequency to keep the game close, but not to win the game.

Prediction:  Kansas City 17  New England 20

Green Bay @ Arizona (-7) (O/U 49.5)

In the matter of Aaron Rodgers vs. the Cardinal defense I believe the defendant is going to dominate here.  And Carson Palmer and company are going to have too much talent for Green Bay to handle. In all honesty, I don't see this game as being especially close.  That said, if Green Bay is going to win they're going to have to turn the ball over and stop the Cardinal's rushing attack.  Palmer is not a quarterback who does well when he's uncomfortable in the pocket (few do) and he's much better throwing the ball while stationary than when on the move.  Rodgers, on the other hand, does well when improvising and on the move unless he tries to force it into impossible windows when turnovers become a problem.  My feeling is that the Packers are in over their heads here.

Prediction: Green Bay 13  Arizona 38

Seattle @ Carolina (-1) (O/U 44)

In what I think will be one of the better, more physical games of the weekend we get to see the "team that no one in the NFC wants to face in the playoffs" versus the team that had the best regular season. The trendy pick for analysts is the Seahawks. The reasoning for that is three-fold: 1. There is not a lot of trust in Cam Newton. 2. It's hard to beat a team twice in one year.  3. Seattle is viewed as "having been there before" and it's widely viewed that they are among the best teams in football despite their record.  As good as the Seahawks defense is however, the Panthers have had a better year. This is a game where I'm going to run counter to the experts due, in part, to my belief that Cam Newton really is that good, and the Panthers defense, led by Norman and Kuechley is the best overall unit in the league this year.

Prediction: Seattle 14  Carolina 24

Pittsburgh @ Denver (Off the board)

Injuries and uncertainty have led Vegas big sports books to take this game down, although you still can find some offshore lines laying Denver at -7. The problem is that Pittsburgh doesn't know whether their biggest offensive weapons can be effective, or even play.  Ben Rothlisberger has a sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder. All Pro wide-out Antonio Brown is not going to be in the game, and it's unclear whether or not DeAngelo Williams will be effective. With Denver the health of Peyton Manning is seemingly always an open question, although they do appear to be relatively healthy elsewhere. In games like this I look to the defenses for guidance, and Denver's defense is much better than the Steeler's defense. Pittsburgh, a dirty team who got a pass for their malfeasance last week due to the Burfict Storm, will try to knock Peyton out of the game early so expect at least a couple of roughing the passer penalties.  The biggest problem here is that we don't know whether or not Big Ben will be able to throw the ball well. I think he won't.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 10 Denver 27

These results are fairly chalky I know but I think they would set up the matches we were all hoping for in the Division Championship games:

NFC Championship:  Arizona @ Carolina
AFC Championship:  New England @ Denver

I don't know about you but I feel that to be a pretty solid Championship line-up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

National Football League: Chin up St. Louis. It's never as bleak as it seems.

Last Night the NFL Owner's Club met in Houston and decided to let the Rams leave St. Louis for (supposed) greener pastures in Los Angeles. This fulfills Commissioner Roger Gooddell's desire to return a team to the City of Angels where the NFL has been absent since the Rams and Raiders dumped the city.

Observers are correct, St. Louis never had a chance. The task force they commissioned could have come up with a plan that exceeded every requirement the NFL set forth and they still would have lost the franchise. They could have offered Ram's owner Stan Kroenke his ego's weight in gold and the Rams would still be heading to LA. They would be heading there because the perceived value of the team is going to double almost overnight once they arrive.

Already the other owners inside the club are gushing (as they do) over Kroenke's LA vision. Hyperbole in sports is almost a requirement now, stadium proposals and urban renewal just more rote from a group that's done a masterful job taking advantage of the undeveloped egos of local politicians. While it's easy to demonize the owners, the real problem in this lies with us, and our refusal to view NFL franchises as businesses, and not community property.

The fact is that the Rams (or Raiders, or 49ers, or Texans) are not citizens of the community. They are corporations doing business in a certain city until the next, best offer comes along. That they are a monopoly, supported by the Government is of little concern. They are akin to utilities except that a.) they are not necessary for comfort and b.) they have no obligation to the community.

For example, in Houston Centerpoint Energy runs the power grid. They are a private company who has a monopoly over the operation of the same. They have received subsidies for much of their infrastructure. They are, as such, required to provide service to all neighborhoods, rich and poor. The Houston Texans are the National Football League team conducting operations in Houston. They have no obligation to make their product affordable for all, nor do they have to sell tickets to every area of Houston, or require equal access to their games. They price their tickets based on what they think the market will bear, giving themselves the highest return. They have also received subsidies for their infrastructure (NRG complex).

I mention Houston for two reasons.  One, because I currently live here and two, we've been through this before. When the Oilers left I was sad just like everyone else. But, after a year or two I realized that things weren't as bad as I'd feared they would be.

For one, we were no longer subjected to the NFL's silly television rules. Other than Cowboys' games, we typically got to see the best NFL matchups each and every Sunday afternoon. This went away when the Texans came, as we got stuck with blackout rules and crappy Texans football for the next decade plus.  I wish we could go back to seeing the top games every week now.

The Astros and Rockets also did better, as fans paid more attention to them instead of Houston Football. College football, never a priority in Houston, started to get more attention from the local media, as did NFL news around the nation. The presence of an NFL team in your time is an attention-sucking black hole that you're going to find you're better off without.

Yes, there's going to be a question of who to root for, especially if you're a life-long St. Louis resident who lives and dies with the home town teams.  Trust me on this though, you're going to make it through just fine. You'll eventually find a team to root for and you'll develop a bond with them. It's not as if the Rams were long-time St. Louis residents anyway.

In a way, St. Louis, I wish you would have been brave enough to do what Houston did not. Namely, give the NFL a big municipal middle finger and tell them to have fun in Los Angeles, a city that isn't trying very hard to woo them in the first place.

So while things seem pretty bleak right now St. Louis let me remind you that it's not too long until pitchers and catchers report. If you're bound and determined to get NFL football back, in a Billion dollar stadium.  Maybe we can work out a deal over the Texans?

We'll talk.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

College Football: Playoff: Great Championship Game, Meh Format

Some thoughts following Alabama's 45-40 win over Clemson which clinched the Tide a National Championship and ignited the Saban vs. Bryant debate over which coach is the G.O.A.T.

1. Getting this out of the way, Saban's resume > Bryant's resume. For many reasons. First, it's much harder to win consistently in today's limited-scholarship, practice, early-exit environment. 2. The gap between the halves and have-nots is narrower. 3. You don't get to keep your players for 4 to 5 years, if they're any good they are heading to the pros. Which guy is the "better" coach?  I have no idea. But I do know that Saban's list of accomplishments is pretty staggering all things considered.

2. So much for defense. I honestly thought this game would be safely under. For all of the hype about Henry and Watson I thought most of the talent on the field would be trying to prevent scoring. Wrong. Alabama suddenly discovered that OJ Howard was on their team and Clemson found a walk-on target in Renfrow.  And yes, Henry and Watson are very, very good at the game of tackle football.

3. I'm still underwhelmed by ESPN's 'mega-cast' gimmick. I flipped around, but I always defaulted back to the main broadcast. "ESPN Voices" is just dumb, the homer broadcast is mainly just sideline interviews, the "coaches tape" broadcast has some merit as does the "command center" view which provides the radio call of Mike Terico (ESPN's strongest play by play guy). The Finebaum film room is just stupid.  All of this could be redeemed however by including a "BrentCast" which had Brent Musberger and a couple of Vegas Handicappers calling the game. Now THAT would be the broadcast I would watch.

4. Balance in broadcasting is needed, badly. I get that ESPN has forked over a lot of money to run the SEC Network, but when they're in the finals game having an entire channel devoted exclusively to them winning upsets the balance. The ACC needed a homer network as much as the SEC did. Maybe even more.

5. The "S-E-C" Chant is still the worst. Congratulations Aggie and Gator. You've just celebrated a team that beat the socks off of you advancing to the National Championship.  All the SEC chant is right now is a desperate attempt for schools that contribute little to the National picture partaking in a vain attempt to act as if they accomplished something. Note: You didn't hear 'Bama fans chanting SEC did you?  Nope, they were too busy Rolling Tide all the way to a championship.

6. Speaking of that, about this "SEC" dominance. No one can doubt that the conference has won a LOT of championships. Or that, this year, they appear to have been one of the better conferences in the land, probably even the best.  But, if you look at the record, almost all of this success is related to two things: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.  Meyer is now coaching in the B1G and Saban is rumored to be on his way out almost every year.  Once those two guys are gone......

7. This year, the College Football Playoff Worked. Sorta. The Semi-finals were awful but they produced a stellar championship game. Critics of playoff expansion note that this year is 'proof' the system works.  Except, it's not. This year was actually proof that the B(C)S would work from time to time. Not that the CFP worked. If anything, the blowouts and uninteresting games that we saw in the Semi-finals was proof the system needs tweaking.  The Championship Game was a matchup of the two best teams in football, but the Football Four was probably not the best 4 teams.  That's a problem.

8. At some point, we need to drop the charade. Last night a LOT of money was made by College Football, and it's associated hangers-on, in the name of amateur athletics. It's time to quit pretending that these guys are normal, everyday students who just happen to play football and get serious about the issue of player compensation.

9. College Football TV coverage is in desperate need of diversity. Fox, CBS and NBC really need to pick it up and get involved. The ESPN almost-monopoly is not helping in terms of either good analysis or broadcasts.

And finally......

10. The house ALWAYS wins. No matter what some might say, and there were undoubtedly many who won money last night, the edge is always, always, always with the house.  Always.

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