Category Archives: Sports

Posts about Rob’s interests in sports.

Random Musings

Greetings all

I’m going to do a quick post of random musings while I’m waiting for the football game to start.

1. First, a couple of touch-ups from the Ray Rice thing. I said then that if it was the case that there was a cover-up, we would find out. Too many people would have to be involved. At the time, I was willing to believe Roger Goodell until I had more evidence.

We have more evidence now. There’s something fishy in Denmark.

2. This was an awful week for the NFL, and I’m going to pile on about the play on the field.

Why does a multi-billion dollar industry not have full-time officials? They need a pool of about 200 officials at any one point. Why are they not willing to pay, say, $200,000 a year to them? That totals less than $40 million per year. Yeah, that’s a lot to most industries but not that much to the NFL.

Especially when it affects their product on the field. Percy Harvin was clearly out-of-bounds, for example. This is an objective call, not a whit of judgment involved. Fortunately, the Seahawks didn’t win. The horse-collar call in the Eagles-Colts game was a missed call, also for a non-subjective reason. The rule specifically says that a horse-collar tackle requires the defender to put his hand inside the jersey. This did not happen. It was a major play in the game and might have allowed the Eagles to have a chance.

Was it a tough call? Absolutely, but without full-time officials I don’t think the NFL is doing everything they can to ensure good officiating. Penny wise, pound foolish.

3. I’m pleased with a number of my prognostications at this point, but it’s only two weeks in. We really don’t know what teams are until about six-eight weeks in the season.

Let’s not anoint or bury any team just yet. To put it in perspective, DeMarco Murray will not rush for 2300 yards like he is currently on pace to do.

4. NFL players have a much tougher life than people realize. People see the salaries but don’t recognize the harm that is done to their bodies. One thing that isn’t recognized is how powerful the personal conduct policy is.

Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson may have lost their careers. Many people are happy about this.

I wonder how many people might be so happy if they had to work with a personal conduct policy themselves? How many people don’t have skeletons in their closets? How many people have *never* done something wrong?

And what are the chances in this media-filled world we get away with our mistakes now? Unless, of course, the mainstream media chooses to ignore the problem.

5. The NFL will weather this and be just fine. This might not even be the worst week in the NFL or worst decision by a commissioner. The ghost of Pete Rozelle might still think the decision to play after the assassination of JFK is worse.

Before someone says that NFL players have it easy and get away with stuff, examine your politicians.

Or actors. Or rock stars. Heck, these people, most of whom claim to be very liberal and progressive, often see their careers improved by their missteps and outrages.

6. I’ve got a longer post down the road about athletes vs. other people in the spotlight. Suffice to say that athletes compared to all the rest are screwed.

That’s it for now, I’m going to turn my attention to the Rams-Cowboys.

Who Knew What And When?

So we have another act in the tragedy that is Ray Rice. I use tragedy because his story might well have been written by Sophocles. He rose to the height of his profession, including a Super Bowl ring. Now, because of his wrath and hubris he has become an outcast.

Initially, his penalty for his actions were laughable. A two-game suspension was simply not enough, but I actually don’t know if Roger Goodell had any right answers with the information that I think he had when he made the decision.

Understand that there were a variety of pressures forcing Goodell to make a decision in the spring. He had to do something when he did rather than waiting for more information.

Understand also that Goodell, according to the New Jersey state prosecutor did not have access to the video inside the elevator. TMZ is trying to prove that he did, but according to New Jersey law if he did Goodell was breaking the law himself.

Understand finally that both Janay and Ray Rice were initially charged with assaulting each other. Yes, Janay’s charge was later dropped and Ray’s was later increased, but up to the release of the video there was always some questions about what actually happened.

Then the legal penalty came down and it was light.

To recap. A situation with lots of questions. A slight legal penalty. No countervailing evidence available at the time.

And let’s not forget that prior to this Ray Rice had had no missteps that we know of. He had shown up to work, worked hard, produced, and was well liked by his co-workers.

Every single one of us, when faced with a situation involving someone we know and like, will tend to think the best of our friend. Based on the evidence available at the time, I’m sure that is what was going through the minds all of the people in the Ravens organization and in the NFL.

We, of course, view this from a more distant lens, but we have to recognize that we probably would have said the same things if we had been in the position of the Ravens management and players back then.

There were other factors as well. Had Goodell placed a more significant penalty upon Rice, such as the six games he has promised to assess on first offenders in the future, he might very well have faced a union, the NFLPA, ready to defend its player.

We can all agree that two games is too little. Four games would have earned him criticism that it was either too little or too much. Six games would have put him in conflict with the union. More games and it would have been outright war with the union. Trust me, the presence of the union influenced Goodell’s initial decision downwards.

I’m not a Roger Goodell fan at all, but I have to say I think he was in a no-win situation at the time.

In many ways, the two-game suspension was the *best* possible choice by Goodell. The ensuing criticism and outcry have made everyone, especially the union, more aware of the issue.

Without that light penalty, and the criticism, the NFLPA would have already gotten a restraining order to prevent the Ravens from releasing Rice and the NFL from suspending him indefinitely. I guarantee it given the NFLPA’s history.

Now there are other questions. First, why was the initial legal penalty so light?

I’ve seen people criticize this situation as an example where a professional athlete got off lightly until the end. However, remember that he was a first time offender. Also, Janay had declined to press charges. This was not an easy case to win, and if the prosecutor had lost then Ray Rice would have, indeed, completely gotten away with it. Jury trials are always iffy.

So this was a case of doing what they could, rather than tilt at an uncertain windmill. Prosecutors do this all of the time.

Second, asking when Goodell actually saw the video is a legitimate question. Right now, with the state of New Jersey corroborating his claim, I have no choice to believe the timeline that he has put forth.

Could this be a conspiracy? Sure. But it’s very difficult to conceal a conspiracy that includes all of the people involved in New Jersey and all of the people involved in the NFL side. If there is a conspiracy to hide the fact that Goodell had seen the video prior to yesterday, then TMZ or someone else will find that out.

But right now, it seems much more likely that the NFL did not know. That the Ravens did not know. That the decision Goodell made in the spring was based on evidence not including the video.

There are many reasons to criticize Goodell. I don’t know that this is one of them.

In fact, the one person in all of this that we can and should criticize is Ray Rice himself. What I saw was disgusting, and I’m not willing to watch all of the video. So, please understand that none of this post is a defense of Rice’s actions, merely a commentary on the reality of the position that people were in.

As a side note, I think I’m going to discuss the position of athletes in our society and point out some interesting inconsistencies in how we treat them. But that’s a long blog post in it’s own right.

Now, let’s take a quick glance at the impact of the Ravens release of Rice.

One thing most of you may not know is the structure of player salaries in the NFL. There is no shame in that, as it is insanely complicated because of the salary cap and ways teams try to manipulate that cap.

Why do I bring this up? Well, if any of you out there wish to criticize the Ravens and their handling of this situation I want you to realize that they incurred a severe penalty by cutting Ray Rice.

Ray Rice will count $4.75million against their $133million salary cap in 2014. In other words they have 3.6% less money to spend on players than every other team in 2014. This may not sound like much but it is huge in a league dominated by parity. In 2015, it will be worse, probably something like 7%.

Cap space is more valuable than money to most NFL teams. Nearly every owner would toss $14million away if it would help the team, and while the Ravens will likely go after some of that bonus money, that money is essentially irrelevant to them.

But cap space matters. A cap hit is a direct hit on the ability of a team to put the best players it could out on the field.

That $14million cap hit is huge and could quite easily cost the Ravens a playoff berth.

In fact, one could make the case that a lesser cap hit did just that to the Dallas Cowboys. In 2012 and 2013, the NFL assessed a $5million per year cap penalty  for following the existing rules and not colluding with the other owners. It is entirely possible that this penalty cost the Cowboys two playoff berths, and almost certainly cost them one.

Cap space is everything in the NFL.

So if you’re mad that the Ravens stood up for their friend prior to the release of the video, then you should understand that they have hurt their production on the field and hence their income by releasing him based on the new evidence.

They absolutely made the right decision, of course, but they should be recognized for the cost they paid.

Again, there is a bad guy in all of this and that is Ray Rice. Outside of him are a bunch of people trying to navigate the shoals of this situation as best they can while suffering the consequences of his actions.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.


And They’re Off

Football season is back. The seemingly endless offseason is over. As of this writing, I have -1.70 fantasy points. Thank you Earl Thomas for fumbling. Anyway, here is my quick and dirty assessment of each team and division. If I’m wrong, you can get your money back. Please note, I’m reviewing each team in the order how I think they’ll finish in their division.

AFC East (2013 Finish: Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, Bills)

New England Patriots – It’s hard not to pick the Patriots to win this division, but there are cracks in the armor. They’ve got a goodly amount of defensive talent and depth and I think they’ll stop people. Where I don’t think they have depth is on the offense. I think their offensive line is a huge question mark. I think their wide receivers are nothing more than solid. It’s a truism that if you lose your starting quarterback that you are doomed. This is essentially true of all teams but if Brady goes down I don’t think the Patriots can score and I think they’ll have problems scoring even with him.

Buffalo Bills – This may be a year early but I like what the Bills are doing. If E.J. Manuel can be a solid quarterback, I think they’ll surprise some people. This is a big if, though they have talent around him and an intriguing defense with a good line. I don’t see them winning the division, but in a weak division with no great team they have some interesting possibilities.

Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill has some talent and there are some pieces around him, but the offensive line is weak and will be hammered by all of the other teams in this division. Their secondary is not great. The statistic that has the most correlation to wins is Average Net Yards per Attempt Differential. Basically, the teams that are more efficient throwing compared to their opponent will have the best records. I think Miami won’t be great on offense and will be only alright on defense.

New York Jets – There are a lot of nice pieces here but for some reason the Jets seem to be less than the sum of their parts. Chris Johnson will have a few great games, but won’t be consistent. The same for Geno Smith. Their defensive line is very good, but there are holes in the secondary. They’re going to be inefficient on offense and inefficient on defense. This is a bad recipe.

AFC North (Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, Browns)

Cincinnati Bengals – This team is stacked on offense. They may not have many players at the very top of their position, but they have a lot of good players. Andy Dalton is good, and I think he steps up a little more this year with a number of good players around him including the stellar A.J. Green. They’re solid on both lines, especially defensively. I think they repeat here.

Pittsburgh Steelers – I’m not a huge fan of this team, but I think they will come on later in the season as they are relying upon a number of young players like Ryan Shazier. I think this will pay dividends. Antonio Brown is fantastic, and I would say that if he was not on both of my fantasy teams. This is not a great team, but I can see 9-7 and a wild card berth.

Baltimore Ravens – I have never been a Joe Flacco fan, even though I recognize how well he played in stretch that won them a Super Bowl two years ago. They have pieces on offense and they could be productive and efficient there, but Flacco’s no more consistent than Dalton and Dalton has a better overall offense around him. On defense, don’t be surprised to see the Ravens rack up a lot of sacks but give up a ton of passing yards. Their back seven has holes that good offenses will exploit. They could have a lot of breaks and do better, though of course that’s true of most teams, but I think they take a step back. There’s simply not enough youth on this team to overcome some of the aging.

Cleveland Browns – I can’t pick them higher than last this year, I just can’t. But…., there are more pieces here than most people realize. They have very good to great cornerbacks, and some other nice players on defense. They will hold most teams down, but their offense has real problems. Josh Gordon might be the best wide receiver in the NFL, if he weren’t suspended all year for stupidity. We don’t know when Johnny Manziel will start, but even if he is towards his ceiling, it will take time for him to adjust. The good news is that their offensive line is pretty good. All in all, I want to pick them higher, but questions at the quarterback will be too much this year to overcome. There are signs of progress though.

AFC South (Colts, Titans, Jaguars, Texans)

Tennessee Titans – This division is awful to predict. The Titans will win if they avoid significant injuries, as I think they have almost no depth. They have a lot of good things here though, and Jake Locker is better, when healthy, than most realize. Bishop Sankey will be an upgrade over the current version of Chris Johnson, though I don’t think he’s got that ceiling. Their defense will be much like the Ravens, lots of pressure but also with lots of openings for opposing receivers to take advantage of. Still, I think they eke out a 9-7 division title.

Indianapolis Colts – This is all on Andrew Luck. He’s got some targets, but they have mediocre at best running backs and I’m not a big fan of this offensive line. On defense there are lots of holes. Honestly, I really don’t like this team and I think they are very overrated because of Luck. He’s a great quarterback and that does matter, but there’s just not much else here in my opinion.

Houston Texans – By contrast, this team has a ton but has an awful quarterback situation. They will be good on both lines, and the J.J. Watt / Jadaveon Clowney pairing could be incredible. They’ve got good players at the skill positions, even if Andre Johnson is a step slower. However, they have Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. If he’s average, and that’s a big if, they could win this division with a bit of luck, but it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Jacksonville Jaguars – I see some signs of progress, but they have Chad Henne at quarterback. Not good enough. Oh, they have a decent offensive line and their defensive front has some players, but there’s just not enough here. They are two or three good drafts away and that includes hitting on a quarterback.

AFC West (Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders)

Denver Broncos – They’ll score a ton again and they might be better on defense. However, this team is relying on a lot of old players and if the injury bug bites this team might actually finish third in the AFC West. I find it hard to pick against Peyton Manning, who is playing quarterback about as well as anyone ever has, so I’ll leave them here, but I’ll state my reservations.

San Diego Chargers – This offense will also be excellent, though a step down from Denver’s. Philip Rivers has plenty of weapons, and if the line can give him time they will score. On defense, they will have some matchup issues but I think will be adequate. I don’t entirely know why, but I think this team will be better than many people think.

Kansas City Chiefs – I think they take a step back. Much of their success last year was the turnover differential, but that is less of a controllable skill than people realize. If a team relies upon turnovers, they will find that this reliance giveth and taketh. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in NFL history, but Alex Smith is not a great quarterback and there is not much at receiver. This defense is pretty good, but the offense is overrated and they’ll regress a bit.

Oakland Raiders – If they would only commit to a plan, they’ve had some talent go through there. This year they invested in average at best free agents and in some ways will be improved but not enough to beat the other teams in the West. Their quarterback play will be last in the division, and they don’t have enough talent elsewhere to overcome that. Flip the top three teams in this division as you see fit, but leave the Raiders in the cellar.

NFC East (Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Redskins)

Dallas Cowboys – It’s easy for you to say this is a homer pick, and it is true that I might be too close to this team. However, if Tony Romo stays healthy this offense will be incredible. They have one of the top two or three offensive lines in the NFL, Dez Bryant and depth at wide receiver, and a number of other talented weapons at running back and tight end. They will score on anyone and everyone. The question is if they can stop anyone. Their defense last year was historically bad, but that was in part because of a ridiculous number of injuries at the defensive line. People are bemoaning the loss of DeMarcus Ware, but he was a shell of his 2010 self, though Jason Hatcher was a tremendous loss. However, here is what people don’t realize. Their other defensive linemen were awful. Not just mediocre, but awful. For example, if they can get an average player to replace Nick Hayden, and I think they have, they will have offset the loss of Jason Hatcher, Hayden was that bad. He wasn’t the only one. This defensive line will be much closer to average this year, and with that they’ll be reasonable on defense. If they finish around 20th on defense they will go 10-6 at least and frankly I see that happening. Remember, they were 8-8 last year with one of the worst defenses *ever* and there’s improvement on both sides of the ball.

Philadelphia Eagles – I’m putting them here by default because I think both of the other teams in the East are mediocre at best. I’m not sold on Nick Foles, and while I love some of their weapons like LeSean MCoy, there are a bunch of holes. I think this defense will be slightly better than Dallas’s but only slightly as they have a good defensive line but not much else. On offense, they’ll score 26 or so points a game which is good but not elite.

Washington Redskins – RGIII needs to be all that and more on this team for it to step up from 3-13 to more than 6-10 or so. Their offensive line is not good and while they have very good to great receiving targets for him, he’ll have to work to get it to them. On defense, they have some great players if they’re healthy, but lots of bad ones too and on defense especially the weak links are often hard to hide.

New York Giants – This offensive line is going to be bad. They lacked talent and they’ve had injuries. Eli Manning and his running backs are good players, but are not the dynamic players that can overcome a bad line like RGIII. They’ve got pretty good wide receivers, but Eli might not be able to take advantage of them. On defense, they have a pretty good secondary, but I wonder about the rest. This becomes a much better unit if Jason Pierre-Paul returns to form, and I think that will happen, but their linebackers are not good.

NFC North (Packers, Bears, Lions, Vikings)

Green Bay Packers – This is a hard division to call and I can create a scenario for each team to win it. However, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and an offense that will score. When in doubt, go with the best quarterback. Their defense has issues, but will be average or maybe even around 10th in the NFL and with this offense that should win this division.

Minnesota Vikings – Yes, the Vikings, whoever ends up at quarterback. There’s a lot here actually. Cordarrelle Patterson is fantastic and is improving. There’s some guy named Adrian Peterson who is about to decline but I think has two more years in him. Matt Cassel is an average quarterback, but he is at least that and neither Matthew Stafford nor Jay Cutler impress me all that much, even though they’ve got bigger names. I think Mike Zimmer gets this defense to surprise people and it does have some talent. This is my pick of the team that makes every other prognosticator shake their head and ask “where the hell did these guys come from.”

Chicago Bears – This offense will be pretty good if they can protect Jay Cutler and that’s a question mark. He has lots of good targets, and that’s no doubt. Matt Forte is great and still underrated. However, edge rushers will hurt this team and I think will force Cutler into mistakes. On defense, their linebackers and safeties are nothing to write home about and while they have a good defensive line, it’s not a great one. Note that the big names on the defensive line are not the most productive. Overall, they are an average team and no more.

Detroit Lions – Lots of big passing statistics here, but this is another team that is less than the sum of its parts. Calvin Johnson is still the best receiver in football, and we are living in the golden age of NFL wide receivers right now. But they have problems on both lines, especially from the edges. They might be very good in the middle, but that requires Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to take steps forward that they have not yet shown will happen. This will be a wretched defense and this offense has too many holes to really carry it.

NFC South (Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, Falcons)

New Orleans Saints – Have I already said “When in doubt, go with the quarterback?” Clearly Drew Brees is the best in this division. They have the best tight end in the NFL in Jimmy Graham and an underrated receiving corps. Another offense that will score well, if their offensive line stays moderately healthy. That’s actually a big question mark, and if I felt good about that this would be an easy choice. On defense they’re not bad, but I have questions about Rob Ryan’s scheme. It’s difficult to learn and easy to make mistakes in. Still, I think they are not a great team but do win the division.

Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan has some fantastic targets. They have a line that should give him the time he needs. They need him to be good because Steven Jackson is ancient at 31 for a running back. Don’t be shocked if Devonta Freeman leads this team in rushing. Who? Yeah, Devonta Freeman. On defense, Sean Weatherspoon’s injury is a major loss but they have good corners and it will be hard to be an efficient team passing against them.

Carolina Panthers – I’m not a big fan of this team actually, despite having a very good defense. I’m actually a big fan of Cam Newton, but there are major issues here. First, their defense is top-notch but already had some issues. Will Greg Hardy be gone for six games for domestic violence? It seems likely. They’ve had some other injuries too, and I see a bit of regression here. Note that I say regression from a top three or so defense to a top nine or so defense. Good but not great. On offense, Newton is an amazing talent but their offensive line is in shambles and I’m not sure any of their receivers would make the Cowboys with the exception of first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. However, wide receivers are notoriously slow to adapt to the NFL. This offense will not score much, though Newton will have four or so huge games that inflate their overall statistics.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Oh, if they only had a quarterback. I like their receivers and Doug Martin, if he’s healthy, is fantastic, but I’m not sold on Mike Glennon. Their offensive line is average at best and won’t be something he can rely upon. On defense, they have some great players like Lavonte David but this is not a defense to rely upon either. Overall, they invested in a lot of free agents and that rarely works well, at least the first year. In a tough division, they’ll be last.

NFC West (Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals, Rams)

Seattle Seahawks – The Super Bowl winners are stacked. They have a great quarterback in Russell Wilson and enough options on offense for them to be efficient. They had the best defense in the NFL last year and it was young without any huge changes. None of the things that tend to bring teams to regress to the mean apply to this team yet.

Arizona Cardinals – This team went 10-6 last year and I think it might be better despite losing Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, and Daryl Washington for the year. There’s a goodly amount of depth here. Their offensive line was a major weakness last year, but will probably be better and if they are then Carson Palmer still has some skills. Andre Ellington and Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are top-flight. This team will surprise people.

San Francisco 49ers – Age and regression is happening before us. I think this offense is good, but not as good as people think because I see a lot of regression in Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, and others. The offensive line isn’t as good as it used to be. There’s talent, but this is not an elite offense and there is a perception that they are. On defense, they’ve been hurt with the loss of Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith for nine games. I’m not sold on this defense being elite and in this division I see Arizona stepping forward.

St. Louis Rams – Had Sam Bradford not been hurt I might well have picked them above the 49ers. They have a fantastic defensive line and there are some other pieces, but without Bradford I don’t see them taking that step forward yet, certainly not in the AFC West.

Division Winners
AFC: Patriots, Bengals, Titans, Broncos
NFC: Dallas, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle

Pittsburgh, San Diego
NFC: Arizona, Atlanta

I don’t see anyone beating Seattle right now, but it could happen. It’s very difficult to repeat and every team is one or two injuries from seeing their season implode. Nevertheless, at this point, with what we see, I think the 12th Man gets to celebrate another banner. The Seahawks are deep, good in all phases, young and yet experienced, and they’re comfortable in the system. They will have some regression next year, I think, but not yet.

Now, to make some qualifications. Injuries will happen. We know this, though of course we can’t predict them. I’m looking at my predictions and though I picked 5 new playoff teams I think I’m too conservative. One of the Patriots, Packers, and Broncos will have bad things happen and will be out of the playoffs completely. History tells us that the Super Bowl loser will be that team, which does not bode well for Denver but as long as Peyton is healthy that is a playoff team.

We’ll see. The Seahawks started with a convincing win over the Packers, who made too many mistakes to beat a great team.

In any case, 255 regular season games to go. I’m so ready.

Go, Media Go!!!! Michael Sam Edition

So the Dallas Cowboys signed Michael Sam. If you’ve been under a rock in 2014 you might not know that Sam will be the first person to start his NFL career as an openly gay man.

He’s not the first gay player in the NFL, not by a long shot, but he’s the first the media has been allowed to latch onto. This is a much bigger media story than an NFL story, frankly, as it’s been over 40 years since Vince Lombardi said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t care about anything about a player, only whether he can play or not.”

Several ex-players have come out after their career, and their experience in the locker room has generally reflected the same attitude from their peers. At the NFL level especially, it’s a business, and a good player helps everyone make money and a mediocre player costs money. If teammates think a player can help their team win more playoff games, then even a Michael Vick becomes acceptable.

The problem with the comparisons of Michael Sam to pioneers such as Jackie Robinson is that Sam is at best an average NFL player. Yeah, I know the SEC is the best conference in college football and that Sam was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. However, while college production is important, but does not necessarily translate to the NFL. Tim Tebow is a perfect example.

Let’s look at Sam as an NFL prospect first. Here’s his spider chart:

A spider chart graphs a player in comparison to all of the other players at his position in a given draft class in terms of where in the percentile he falls. To make things easier, the amount which he is superior to his peers is highlighted in gray. A big area means he’s got a lot of measurable physical superiority to his peers. A small area means he does not. You’ll note that Sam’s is small, in fact one of the smallest gray areas I’ve seen on spider charts.

He was a very good college player, but his physical traits are far less than average. This is a problem when everyone else is faster and stronger and quicker and bigger than you are used to.

This spider chart is why I told people not to be surprised if he’s not drafted at all, and if he is, it will be late.

Unfortunately for Sam he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Why is that unfortunate? Well, it’s because the Rams are deep at his position. He really never had a chance to make their roster because he’s simply not good enough compared to the rest of the players at his position on the Rams.

But the Cowboys are a different story. They were shallow there to begin with, and their primary guy, DeMarcus Lawrence, broke his foot in training camp.

Sam is too small at 261lbs and too slow at 4.91 40-time to really fit the Cowboys scheme, but there’s always a place for an extra pass-rusher on third and long.

So, at the cost of nothing but a practice squad place, the Cowboys are going to kick his tires. He has shown skill at getting to the QB, and it is a *skill*, but he may simply not have the physical tools to succeed at this level. We’ll find out.

At this cost, he’s worth a shot, but it’s still a long one.

Fortunately for the media, they’ll have something to write about whether he succeeds or fails.

And hey, it’s all about the media, right?

A New Season

Tonight is the final night of the NFL preseason, and next Thursday the lights come on for real.

There’s a certain Schrodinger’s Cat-ness about the start of every sports season, but it especially true for football and the NFL in particular. By this, I mean that no one actually knows what will happen in the upcoming season. Right now, it’s a cat in a box.

I said that the NFL is more so than other sports, and two reasons are the small sample size and schedule strength.

The NFL plays 16 games. That’s it. The difference between the playoffs and a Super Bowl win or a losing season can be miniscule. An inch or less at the right or wrong time. A freak snow storm.  Rain. Fog. A poorly wiped down football. I can give examples of each of these things changing the result of a game, and each game is 6.25% of a season, not to mention luck in the single-game elimination format of the playoffs.

Luck plays more of a part in the NFL than in any other team sport. Take, for example, David Tyree’s catch in the first of two Super Bowl victories by the New York Giants over the New England Patriots. A desperation heave and a catch that just barely missed touching the ground, but it was enough to give the Giants a chance that they ultimately took advantage of.

I can give you a long list of plays that were just as close even closer. The Immaculate Reception. The Catch. Wide Right. The Music City Miracle.

Statisticians have proven that in games decided by less than one score, which in the NFL is 8 points, the records and quality of the teams involved are irrelevant. The 13-3 Seahawks beat the 2-14 Texans 23-20 in overtime in 2013. This game was decided on a few plays here or there that could quite easily have gone the other way. We know the Seahawks won now because the cat has been released from the box, but when the two teams went out to the overtime coin flip the odds were 50-50 as to which team would win.

Part of this is that the actual qualitative difference between the best teams in the NFL and the worst teams is actually very small. In college, of course, this is not true, and high school football even less so.

Because the talent difference is so small, injuries can make an extraordinary impact. Sometimes, a team suffers a huge number of injuries and their year is just gone. Sometimes, a single injury, such as the one that knocked Tom Brady out for the year a while ago can end a season. With one exception, injuries are actually a function more of luck than anything else. The exception is age. Older players get hurt more than younger ones, so if you see a team relying on veterans do not be surprised if they have more injuries than a younger team.

Another aspect of luck involves the schedule. The NFL has 32 teams. Clearly, there’s no way in a 16-game season a team can play all the others, especially since each team plays the three other teams in its division twice.

The NFL actually has an intricate schedule that is essentially laid out in perpetuity. Each team plays six games in its division, four games against another division in the NFC, four games against another division in the AFC, and then two games against teams who finished at the same spot in their respective divisions (2013 3rd place team in one division will play two games against teams that finished 3rd in their division as well). The other divisions and extra games rotate each year.

Yet not every division is created equal. For example, AFC South had the unfortunate luck to play the NFC West in 2013. The NFC West was loaded, with records of 13-3, 12-4, 10-6, and 7-9. By contrast, the NFC North in 2013 was very weak, and that gave the AFC North an advantage.

Probably every year there is at least one team that plays better than some others but because of their challenging schedule they don’t even make the playoffs. Arizona, who went 10-6 in 2013 but 8-7-1 Green Bay and 9-7 San Diego made the playoffs instead of them. Bad luck for the Cardinals that they played in the best division in football in 2013.

If you pay attention to football prognosticators, the smart ones will reference schedule strength. However, because of the fluid nature of the NFL no one really knows who will be strong in the upcoming year. The NFL currently admits 12 teams to the playoffs each year. On average, 5.7 of those teams did not make the playoffs the year before.

Yes, you read that right. Half of the playoff teams are different each year, and they are not necessarily the weaker of the playoff teams.

The easy safe route is to predict a team that was bad in one year will be bad and a team that was good will be good. Hence, most of your big name prognosticators will fall into this trap. If you see a prognostication that has nearly all of the previous season’s playoff teams returning recognize that either the author was lazy, doesn’t know the facts, doesn’t care, or some combination of these.

But the facts show this to be a lie. Some teams will have long stretches of excellence or failure. The New England Patriots are an example. However, they are the exception no the rule.

This makes prognostication even harder. If schedule strength matters, and it does, how can one predict it when we know that half of the playoff teams won’t be there? And hence, how can one predict which teams will benefit and which will suffer?

One can’t.

Wyrd will have her say.

Yet, despite knowing all of this, it remains irresistible that we must make our best guesses at what the upcoming year will hold. In this, I am no different.

So, next week, either Wednesday or Thursday. I will release my bold predictions and team capsules for each team. I’m sure you are all waiting with bated breath.

I’ll give you two hints. One, I will pick somewhere between 4 and 8 new playoff teams. Two, the Seahawks will not be one of the teams that I predict to fall out of the playoffs. Obviously, they were good enough to win last year, and not in a flukey manner, but just as importantly they are one of the younger teams in the league.

In fact, history tells us that Seattle is more likely to win a couple more Super Bowls in the next few years than to miss the playoffs because of that youth. The other teams that have won Super Bowls with about their age profile were the 1974 Steelers, 1981 49ers, and 1992 Cowboys, all of whom became dynasties. If you want the statistical breakdown, look here:

In any case, come back in a week and see what I think will happen in the 2014 NFL season.




USA-Algeria 1st Half

Well, I’m going to live blog USA-Algeria here.

Things are fairly clear if the US wins this match, as they will definitely advance. If they draw, they might advance, if England loses or draws and does not score more than 2 goals more than the US did.

Big storylines:
Can the US score first
Can Algeria score at all
How will a back 4 that has not played together work for the US
How will Algeria adjust to the need to attack

1st And we’re off with an early run by Algeria.

1st Mediocre cross on nice early run

4th Nice run by Algeria, who has been slightly more aggressive thus far

6th Wow, defensive mistake and the US is lucky to have an Algerian shot hit off the post, really nice feed but mostly because the defense did not work together

7th And the US counter-attack from Gomez is dangerous

9th Dempsey is high with a free kick and I wonder how they are adjusting to the special World Cup ball

9th Another opening and mistake on the back line

10th Long but ineffective run by Altidore against nice collapsing defense from Algeria

11th Corner well-earned by Algeria

12th Early well-earned yellow card from cynical tackle by Algerian, Altidore had a lot of space, though it was deep in the US end

13th Bad header for Edu gave up a worthless shot to Algeria

15th Nice stretch of possession with a fairly decent cross but a nice play by the Algerian keeper

15th Another long, errant shot from Algeria

16th Bleah, mediocre pass in US end gave easy possession to Algeria, but they squandered it, got it back, but the shot was blocked and the US has a nice counter

17th Nice attack and aggressive attempt by Gomez

18th Donovan has a nice opportunity that he boots high, might have been wiser to slide it to his left for a wide open Dempsey in the box

19th Mediocre free kick by Algeria leading to an American attack

19th Algeria defends the box really really well, in part by allowing some space on the wings and the midfield portion of their side

20th A great great flurry but the US ending in a disallowed goal which looks to be a bad call… great work by Bradley and great US persistence

22nd Altidore is very nifty at times

23rd England leading against Slovenia, bad news there

23rd Replay of the disallowed goal and it was clearly not offsides. If the US does not advance, there’s going to be some justified screaming, and they just mentioned about the referee not being in place… I wonder if their replays can show where he was 🙂

24th Great defense by the US this time

26th Dempsey is down

27th Nice little attack by Algeria

29th US has a long stretch of possession but cannot convert that to an opportunity

30th Corner to Algeria and the rebound gave Altidore a slim chance but Algeria shut that down quickly

31st Really nice work on the right side by Algeria provided a solid opportunity

33rd Cherundolo with a great cross, but nothing out of it, in part because of Donovan’s whiff of the rebound

34th Nice work in the midfield, but the crowding of Algeria deep stopped the attack

35th Really nice defense by Bocanegra, though shoddy defense elsewhere gave Algeria a opportunity

35th Great great counter-attack leading to a magnificent opportunity and a what looked at first glance to be an amazing save against a beautiful opportunity by Dempsey

36th Another missed opportunity with an open net for Altidore as he and Donovan get in each other’s way, provided by really nice work at the edge of the box

38th Nice attack by Matmoor of Algeria, who has created some dangerous chances

40th Another close offsides call, this time in the US’s favor

41st Long cross from Cherundolo, I think he needed to be more aggressive to gather the pass to him, which took a moment to get to him slowing the attack

42nd Good defense by Algeria stopped a beautiful attack by the US

42nd Odd little knuckler by Dempsey almost caused some problems

43rd Algerian counter-attack provides a decent opportunity for Ziani

44th Bradley and Donovan are making some intricate and nifty and productive moves at the top of the box

45th Nice work from Edu but the attack fizzled

ET Wow, really nice cross from Algeria to end the half

The US played a really nice half but could not finish. It was a fairly open game, showing off much of the beauty of soccer. Only one tetchy moment and it earned an early yellow card.

Right now Algeria is dangerous on counters, but only had one or two build-up attacks that I recall. The US, on the other hand, is really doing nice work in the Algerian half. Now they just need a bit of good fortune.

That one is looooong gone

I once had a job that was a terrible fit. Those nine months of being a round peg in a square hole were ended when they fired me because I had been to a science-fiction convention and LucasFilm required all employees of printers putting out Episode I posters to sign that they were not involved in any science fiction fandom. It was a convenient excuse for both parties to move on, really.

However, during that time I was able to listen to a lot of baseball online. At one point, you could listen to every radio feed for free and I got a chance to listen to quite a few famous announcers I really hadn’t listened to before.

Including Ernie Harwell, who passed away yesterday.

I had a lot to say about him, actually, as a guy who loves baseball. However, Joe Posnanski wrote something better than I ever could, and I encourage you to read it here: