The Cheap Seats

Do they serve beer here

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NL Playoff Preview: Wild Card Edition

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Reds – Pirates

This is the National League’s only play-in game this year, which is one behind the AL’s coincidental two game play-in gauntlet, and two years in, I’m still torn on the play-in Wild Card idea.  It’s great theater and it’s added excitement to the race and I’m glad for the four Wild Card teams this year that survived long enough to play just one time for their continued survival — I think both games will be great — but I can’t get around the fact that it seems to do little, if anything, to legitimize the integrity of the greater playoff bracket itself. 

Allow me to play the role of paltry unremarkable buzzkill douche for a paragraph or two while I contemptuously shit all over something that has provided joy and dramatic vitality to millions of fans over the last two seasons:

The playoffs have two basic functions: to entertain its audience and to crown a champion through somewhat balanced competition.  Are you ready to key my car and spray me with bear mace yet?  I’m not sure what percentage of importance the league associates with each of those two functions (but I feel like based on the All Star Game home-field abomination, I have a pretty good idea), but while the play-in game absolutely meets the ‘entertainment’ requirement, to me, it falls way short on providing an environment in which a champion is logically anointed.  It screws up rotations and places a huge advantage on the teams whose pitching staffs will, almost purely by chance, fall on the right guy on Wild Card gamenight.  The play-in game has allowed twice as many markets to be included in the playoff chase and is responsible for generating the economic upswing that comes with having twice as many fan-bases enticed into September attendance, so the game will never go away, but I don’t really believe that after 162 games of competition, a one-game Wild Card playoff followed by a five-game Divisional Series is a better way to weed out the better team than would be a freestanding seven game Divisional Series free of any prerequisite Wild Card playhouse hoops for teams to blindly wish through.  Baseball whittles its contenders to the final four in each league before even beginning its playoffs – Why are teams who have fought into the top four and made the playoff cut after 162 games, and now in some cases 163 games, not granted the benefit of a seven game series once they get there?  162 games, strong games, top-four-team-out-of-thirty games, and your season ends if you run into a couple of bad pitching matchups, matchups that are bad probably because you just had to burn a starter in a weird play-in game two nights before – it seems insane.  The next time Bud and I have tea I will go ahead and give him authorization to implement the Ryan Plan, consisting of no wild-card play-in and a seven game Divisional Series.

So, how about that play-in game tonight?!  Like I said, it’ll be a great, entertaining game, if not undermining to the integrity of the playoffs and completely debilitating for the team that wins, and the rotation-break has fallen in huge favor to the Pirates, which is a big deal for a team still struggling to score a lot of runs.  They’ll catch Johnny Cueto, whose only two starts since June 28th have amounted to twelve combined innings against the Mets and Astros – so basically Johnny Cueto has pitched in zero major league games since June 28th.  On the other side, Francisco Liriano is having a major naysayers-vaporizing season, and the two biggest power threats in Cincinnati’s lineup happen to be lefties, so it was great foresight for the Pirates to plan on slotting their southpaw to start tonight.  Oh wait…

Liriano is finally healthy and is playing as he did in his early phenom days in Minnesota, and he’s just one example of a free agent who has come to Pittsburgh and flourished (the phrase “come to Pittsburgh and flourished” has only ever been stated in sports-related contexts).  I’m picturing Mark Melancon, A.J. Burnett, and Russell Martin sitting around every night, probably drinking a beer and eating some chicken at their lockers to the finger-wagging chagrin of no one, observing wistfully how fantastic life is outside of the AL East. 

The Reds and Pirates have only played each other six times since July 21st, and all six games were in the last ten days – they’re used to each other and probably both are sick of having to spend so much time in Cincinnati/Pittsburgh, so I look for both teams to play really hard for that trip to Los Angeles.  Both rosters, expanded to roughly 9,000 apiece for the playoffs, will power through this game sustained by the fantasy of a concluding dogpile at home plate as each of the 9,000 gleefully sprays champagne in majestic foamy rivulets that fall with dazzling glory upon their delighted teammates in a display that is made either more or less homoerotic, I can never tell, by the triumphantly adorned scuba goggles, shouting “We’re getting out of Pittsburgh!!  We’re going to Disneyland!!!” and so on.

Pittsburgh’s at home, I trust their starter more, their lineup isn’t great but Morneau and Byrd (Byrd coincidentally is 7 for 12 lifetime against Cueto) have both fit in well – in short, Pittsburgh did a really nice job filling the few holes they had at midseason.  They’re just stronger in this one.

The biggest storyline between these two play-in games will probably be the atmospheres in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, both of which feature historically strong fan bases that have been recently (for the Pirates, extensively) starved for success, and both teams finished in the top Wild Card place.  If not for the play-in game, both fan bases would have been awarded a full Divisional Series already.  For the Pirates, the reward for 21 years of suffering and anticipation could be just three hours of fulfillment.  They finished four games better than the Reds.  Nope, I don’t like it.

The Pick:
Pirates 5-4

Filed under MLB baseball Sports playoffs wild card Pittsburgh Pirates cincinatti reds

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Week 4 Predictions: The First of Many Thursday Night Duds Edition

San Francisco at St. Louis (+3.5)

We’ve had a pretty good stretch of Thursday night games to start the season, but here is where the weekly tilt takes its inevitable downward turn toward graceless unmet potential and wasted, foreshortened capability.  Forcing teams to play two football games in four days completely undermines everything the league is telling us about its commitment to player safety, and the only evidence needed to support that point is five minutes of time spent watching any Thursday night game.  The exhaustion is palpable on most players, and the sloppy, awkward, slipshod performance that almost always results from it is not really meant to entertain us, because the clearly drained elements on the field that are supposed to be providing the entertainment are very obviously incapable of playing to their highest standard – far from being provocative and captivating, the games, laden with injury timeouts, lots of punting, and the occasional butt fumble, are often painful to watch.  They’re a blatant money-grab by the NFL, and for Roger Goodell to expound upon his passion for and allegiance toward building a safer game from one side of his mouth while from the other he tells players to go knock each other around for three hours before their bodies are even close to being recovered from the last time they were knocking each other around kind of makes me not want to even watch these games, and the resulting ugliness of the play itself makes me not want to watch them even more.

So how about that game tonight!  For as quickly as everyone has jumped off the Kaepernick bandwagon, watch how many will be back on it tomorrow morning.  The Rams defense hasn’t really shown any ability to defend the pass (23rd in total defense, 24th in pass defense, one interception through three games, and so on), and starting defensive end William Hayes has just been ruled out with a sprained MCL, which obviously limits the pass rush.  The two best receivers the Rams have faced so far this season?  Julio Jones clocked 11 catches from 182 yards and a touchdown and Larry Fitzgerald finished with 8 for 80 yards and two touchdowns of his own – this would seem to indicate a pretty strong likelihood for a big game from Boldin tonight, but both the Falcons and the Cardinals had other threats to draw the Rams’ defense away from those two stars, while the 49ers don’t have anything enticing for the Rams’ secondary to chase around and draw attention away from Boldin other than Vernon Davis, who’s questionable for tonight’s game with a hamstring.  Jason Witten had a big game at tight end against the Rams last week, and the 49ers could obviously use a strong performance from Davis in the same position tonight – even as a decoy to take some of the pressure off of Kaepernick and Boldin, he’d be of great use, so if he can’t go, it’s a big hit for the 49ers.

But not big enough.  I almost feel bad for Sam Bradford – his already week offensive line is only three days removed from a game in which it gave up six sacks – six sacks!  Bradford was on his ass eight times last week!  And that was at full rest!  What’s going to happen to him when he’s dropping back behind that offensive line when it’s tired and facing a much stronger defense??  He is going to get destroyed, that’s what’s going to happen to him.

Enjoy the hideousness!

The Pick:

Straight: 49ers
vs. Spread: 49ers
49ers 31-14

Season:

Straight: 34-14
vs. Spread: 29-19 (13-3 last week!  Suck it, Vegas)

Filed under nfl Sports football football picks san francisco 49ers st. louis rams roger goodell hypocrite thursday night abomination

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How Good Are They?

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We’re not even a quarter of the way through the NFL season, which seems like a healthy benchmark to make some premature judgments about the trajectory of teams who are only just beginning to hit their stride.  I’m leaving out the two clear favorites, one from each Conference, which are the Broncos and Seahawks, but there’s a huge number of teams whose current record has been influenced by the confluence of one or two weird plays or mistakes, so there’s an especially great opportunity here to make some hastened, sweeping denouncements and flatteries alike, so let’s get to it:

The “Everyone Betray Me!!!” Division

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I wrote at the beginning of the season that I thought this year’s Bucs team would resemble the ’09 and ’10 Jets that were talented enough to drag a mediocre Mark Sanchez to two straight playoffs and, subsequently, AFC Title games.  I didn’t see the Bucs as a contender to win the NFC, but I saw them as at least able to claw their way into the playoffs on a just-good-enough 10-6, but it turns out that Josh Freeman is more capable of destroying a team’s season than I originally gave him credit for.  After their Week 1 abomination in New York, word came out that the Bucs had held a postgame meeting in which Freeman’s captaincy was voted upon and subsequently stripped, and then it came out that the meeting had actually occurred BEFORE the game – before Freeman even went out and laid that Week 1 egg, his team had said “Nope, no, you are not our guy at all.”  AND THEN it turned out that not only was Freeman’s captaincy stripped via a PREGAME vote, but that the VOTE WAS PROBABLY RIGGED BY THEIR HEAD COACH.  Congratulations, Buccaneers, you’ve won this year’s New York Jets Award for Outstanding Display of Turmoil and Incompetence!

Important to note is that despite how badly Freeman has played and despite their 0-3 record, my early estimation that the team would be good enough to overcome his stink has very nearly come through.  They’ve controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, with Doug Martin rebounding after a tough Week 1 (against a Jets D-Line that was probably a little underrated at the start of the season), we know about their talent at wide receiver (even if Josh Freeman apparently still has no idea), and their secondary has shut down two straight solid passing attacks – the strength of the rest of the team is evidenced by the fact that despite Freeman’s seemingly boundless ineptitude, the Bucs are a few stupid penalties away from being at least 2-1, and they outplayed the Patriots for a huge part of the game in their 20 point Week 3 loss, in which Mike Glennon was seen repeatedly warming up on the Bucs’ sideline.

If you happen across a Bucs fan who has just emerged from a four week coma and desperately asks you how Josh Freeman’s season is going so far, just reply “Mike Glennon was seen repeatedly warming up on the sideline…”  That’ll do. 

My preseason feeling that the NFC South would be the best division in football hasn’t changed, which is bad news for an already 0-3 Bucs team that has only gotten one divisional game out of the way.

The Verdict: Doomed


New York Giants

So, how’s the football season going in the State of New York?  In a Week 3 victory over the Bills, the Jets had more penalty yards than the Giants starting quarterback and running back combined had yards from scrimmage.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Wondering whether the Panthers 38-0 drubbing of the Giants, one of the more shocking NFL results in a while, says more about the Panthers or the Giants?  The Panthers lit up the Giants for 38 points, and they’re STILL ranked 32nd, dead last, in the league in passing yards.  Their defense threw a shutout, and they’re still middle-of-the-pack in most defensive categories.  The Panthers lost to the Bills in Week 2.  That should clear things up for you.

The Giants are an absolute disaster, and there really hasn’t been any reason or catalyst behind their rapid decent to utter foulness other than a weak offensive line.  One of the great coaches of all-time, one of the best passing attacks in the league, and a running back generally regarded as one of the most talented, and a passable defense, and the result: 38-0.  0-3. 

I picked the Giants to win the NFC East, mostly for the reasons I just listed, and as Oakland Coliseum-y as their season has been so far, that division is horrendous.  It’s hard to imagine the door closing on the Giants before they’ve amassed 9 or 10 losses, so don’t panic just yet, Giants fans.  Put in some tape of the Redskins and the Eagles and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

The Verdict: Presently Dead, but with serious resurrection-as-zombie potential.

The ‘THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!!!’ Division

Philadelphia Eagles

I had them on the cusp but out of the playoffs at around 8-8, and through three weeks they are on the fast track to that mediocre finish.  I understand that Chip Kelly runs a unique offensive system and that he has the perfect personnel on offense to run that system, but at what point does defensive personnel have to dictate how you run your offense?  The Eagles don’t have the talent on defense to handle the workload that comes with having an offense that gets on and off the field in a hurry, and so far this is killing them.  The numbers paint a pretty clear picture – the Eagles are giving their opponents too many opportunities to score against a defense that isn’t any good:

Eagles Total Defense: 30th
Eagles Defensive Yards/Drive: 29th
Eagles Offensive Time of Possession: 32nd

Not helping matters is that Michael Vick is deteriorating rapidly from “Talented Guy with Enormous Shoulder-Chip” to “Talented Guy Who Can’t Get Out of His Own Way,” which is where we’ve become accustomed to seeing him.  He was smothered by Kansas City’s defense in Week 3, and he must like Andy Reid as much as he says, because he kept giving the ball to Andy’s team like it was a warm bun cake for the new neighbors.

Like the Giants, the Eagles will benefit from being in a weak NFC East, but I don’t see the upside on defense, at quarterback, and on the sideline that the Giants have.

The Verdict: Doomed


Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a team that is old and, with a few exceptions, talentless.  Period.  I know they’re the Steelers, I know they’ve had a lot of success in the last ten years, I know about Antonio Brown and Big Ben, but they’ve done such a good job at keeping their weakening roster, particularly on defense, upright and passable in the last three years that it’s been a sudden shock to many observers to see this team look as bad as it does this year. 

The big issue with the near-complete lack of playmakers on the team (I know, I know, Antonio Brown), and with the front office’s inability to get younger on defense and replace the offensive skill players that they’ve lost, is the annihilation it is going to cause to their star quarterback.  Roethlisberger, who can’t stay healthy as it is, is looking at a season in which the ball will be in his hands more often because they’re going to play from behind a lot/don’t have a running back, which means that your injury-prone leader, who is the only reason that anyone is going to go see the Steelers this year, is going to have a lot of opportunities to be pummeled, and considering the state of their offensive line, he is going to be pummeled a lot of times.  What is the over/under on starts for Big Ben this year?  Give me under 12.

Is it at least starting to become more apparent how really, really weird it was for the Steelers to let Mike Wallace go without a fight?

The Verdict: Doomed


The Who Are You? Division

Miami Dolphins

Ryan Tannehill, who are you?!  The Dolphins are a team playing in a down division, a division with a stumbling front-runner, that could easily sneak into the playoffs.  They have two big benchmark games coming up at New Orleans and at home against Baltimore, but both are winnable considering how the Dolphins have been gameplanning their offense.  Neither Baltimore nor New Orleans have a scary secondary, and Mike Wallace running 70 yard deep outs to open the middle of the field for Brian Hartline has been a pretty formidable scheme so far for the Dolphins, and Lamar Miller has actually looked solid at running back – remember, this is no longer a league where you need a star back to go far in the playoffs, and Lamar Miller’s numbers so far, if projected out over 16 games, look plenty on par with the James Starks and Ahmad Bradshaw’s of the world.

Donnell Ellerbe and Nolan Carroll are having monster seasons on the defensive side of the ball, but the overall team numbers on both offense and defense leave a lot to be desired.  I don’t think this is a great team, and the carpet could come sweeping out from under them at any moment, BUT: If they split the upcoming Saints/Ravens set, they’ll head into their bye at 4-1 with winnable games still coming against the Bills, Chargers, Bucs, Steelers, Bills again, and Panthers – if they run the table in just those games, that puts them at 10-6.

The Verdict: Alive and Sneaky


Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler, who are you?!  We all saw the defensive performance last night in Pittsburgh, which, thank god for it, if you’re the Bears, because the Steelers were somehow crawling back into the game by the fourth quarter.  The Bears are 3-0 and haven’t looked particularly wonderful in any of their three wins, with the Minnesota game being the ominous one for the Bears.  The Vikings are roaming around in the NFC sewer, and it took a last-second touchdown to beat them in Chicago – this was after the last-second home victory in Week 1 against Cincinnati – and with two still coming against both Detroit and Green Bay and one each against New Orleans, Baltimore, and Dallas, I am going to assume that the Bears are going to fall on the whoopee cushion fairly quickly, here. 

Chicago’s defensive touchdown-performance was great Monday night, but there’s room for a conversation about the ratio of luck/skill that goes into scoring defensive touchdowns, but some other of Chicago’s defensive numbers through three games:

Total Defense: 25th
Pass Defense: 24th (Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger…ahem)

Their current trajectory seems too unsustainable to get overly excited about the 3-0 start.

The Verdict: Steep Decline Forthcoming


Houston Texans

Matt Schaub, who are you?!  This is a 2-1 team that should be 0-3, and the numbers are pretty ugly.  Does Matt Schaub look to anyone like a guy who can win 3-4 straight playoff games?  Also, Arian Foster is sounding more and more like a lunatic every week, and so who is going to feel comfortable sitting him down and telling him that Ben Tate has nearly matched his yards-total in half as many carries and so he’s probably going to have to play some more?  Have fun with that, Gary! 

Four of the Texans’ next five games are against Seattle at home, at San Francisco, at Kansas City, and at home against Indianapolis.  Have fun with that too, Gary!  When you look at their schedule, it really is some fantastic luck that Houston was able to mount those comebacks against the Chargers and Titans, because they could easily be staring down the barrel of 1-7. 

They’ve given up a ton of points, but is it possible, with J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing both healthy, that the Texans defense is actually its biggest weakness?  In short, no.  The Texans are 24th in the league in Points/Game Allowed, which sounds awful, but they’re 2nd in Total Defense, 2nd in Rush Defense, and 9th in Pass Defense, which tells you that the offense is turning the ball over a ton (-3 TO Differential) and punting the ball away to strong opponent field position.

The Verdict: Another Playoff One-and-Done


The Sneaky Contenders

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were my preseason Super Bowl pick, and through three games, they look like as complete a team as there is in football.  Andy Dalton has responded well to added pressure this year, Giovani Bernard has been slotted in at running back to take an increasing share of the load from a lagging Benjarvus Green-Ellis, and the defense has been stellar, led somewhat surprisingly by Vontaze Burfict and Terence Newman, with even a little Pacman Jones sprinkled in (though Pacman was arrested over the weekend, making his status the rest of the way a little unclear – relatedly, whoever took the “under” on 4 games before a Pacman Jones disorderly conduct related incident hit the jackpot for like the eighth year in a row).  Geno Atkins has been basically dormant through three games, but I look for that trend to continue for about as long as it takes for Cleveland to come to town, which incidentally will be this week.

They never should have lost that tough Week 1 game in Chicago and they bullied a weak Pittsburgh team in Week 2, but Week 3 was the showcase game against the Packers.  They went through a stretch in the first half in which they turned the ball over on four straight possessions (remember when I wrote about how disciplined they looked in the preseason?  Dammit), but their defense, despite feeling thoroughly Freeman’d at that point, still played tough, holding Aaron Rodgers to a field goal on three of four straight possessions in which he had a short field.  They sacked Rodgers four times and picked him off twice (and really should have had a couple more), Bernard had his best game on the same day in which he also had his highest percentage of the workload this season, and Andy Dalton only turned the ball over twice, which I’m told is a new record for ginger quarterbacks. 

This is a team that could have buckled after their Week 1 choke-job, but they’ve rebounded extremely well.  The NFC North is way, way down across the board, despite the Ravens big win against Houston this week.  I’m not backing off the Super Bowl pick quite yet.

The Verdict: Contender


Detroit Lions

I love the Lions.  We knew about their talent on offense, but they’ve actually played passable defense through three games against strong offensive opponents.  Their numbers don’t blow you away, but the +3 TO Differential is nice, and their secondary, led by DeAndre Levy and Chris Houston, is having a monster start to the year.  Speaking of monsters, Ndamukong Suh.  Suh, for all his talent, represents everything that could go wrong for this Lions team as the season progresses.  The team still has a reputation as being undisciplined and reckless – led by Suh – and we saw with the Lions last year and with the Bucs through three weeks this year that guys on defense who, in this newly policed NFL, try to be hit-men, will cost their team games.

They have trouble running the ball despite having one of the best-looking offensive lines in football, and I don’t think you can count on Reggie Bush to play 16 games anyway, but some of the wrinkles that they’ve added to their passing game almost make up for their inability to run.  They have two big receivers in Johnson and Burleson, and they run a lot of quick screens and wide receiver slants, impossible routes for corners to cover against a guy like Johnson, to get short yardage over the middle, and this has opened the long plays for both Burleson and Johnson in the same way that a strong running game would.  Remember when Sanchez won all those playoff games and we started to wonder if we overvalued Matthew Stafford as the best quarterback from the 2009 draft class?  Neither do I.  Burleson especially has had a huge impact in the early going, and word came down just now as I am typing this that he was in a car accident this morning and broke his arm, which would be a huge loss for the Lions and a blow for Burleson himself, who’s spent this year rebuilding his stat-sheet. 

The Verdict: Almost There and Rising Quickly


Kansas City Chiefs

That’s right, I said it: Three weeks into the season, the Kansas City Chiefs are a sleeper contender.  There was a pretty significant Chiefs bandwagon before the season started, and I was on it, predicting them to get in as a Wild Card, and the bandwagon has grown exponentially through three games.  I wrote about it a little earlier in the week, but the defense has been remarkable, led by Poe and Flowers, and the team is a little bit of a throwback to some of the early-mid 2000s Conference Champions (Ravens, Seahawks, Early-Roethlisberger Steelers) that had a passable quarterback, one or two strong receivers, an All-Pro running back, and a strong defense.  It’s the makeup of the anti-contender of the last 5 years, but they’re making it work.  3-0 and they haven’t even played the Raiders or Chargers once yet.  3-0 and Andy Reid hasn’t drowned in a euphoric stupor at the bottom of a vat of barbecue sauce.  Things are going about as well as they possibly could for Kansas City so far this year.

Still left on their schedule: the aforementioned two each against San Diego and Oakland, plus Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee, the Giants, and Washington.  They could win just seven out of those nine cupcake games and get to ten wins. 

The Verdict: Almost There and Rising Quickly


Next Week on How Good Are They?: Patriots, Falcons, Ravens, Titans, Panthers, and Colts

Filed under nfl sports football detroit lions cincinatti bengals miami dolphins tampa bay buccaneers new york giants Philadelphia Eagles Kansas City Chiefs chicago bears

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Week 3 Predictions: Don’t Make Me Watch Jets vs. Bills Edition

Packers at Bengals (+2.5)
Straight: Bengals  vs. Spread: Bengals  Bengals 24-21

Browns at Vikings (-5.5)
Straight: Vikings  vs. Spread: Vikings  Vikings 28-17

Rams at Cowboys (-3.5)
Straight: Cowboys  vs. Spread: Cowboys  Cowboys 27-20

Lions at Redskins (-1.5)
Straight: Lions  vs. Spread: Lions  Lions 31-24

Chargers at Titans (-3.5)
Straight: Chargers  vs. Spread; Chargers  Chargers 20-17

Bucs at Pats (-7.5)
Straight: Pats  vs. Spread: Pats  Pats 28-10

Cardinals at Saints (-7.5)
Straight: Saints  vs. Spread:  Saints  Saints 31-20

Giants at Panthers (-1.5)
Straight: Giants  vs. Spread: Giants  Giants 27-17

Texans at Ravens (+2.5)
Straight: Ravens  vs. Spread:  Ravens  Ravens 23-17

Falcons at Dolphins (-1.5)
Straight: Falcons  vs. Spread: Falcons  Falcons 31-17

Bills at Jets (-2.5)
Straight: Jets  vs. Spread: Jets  Jets 17-14

Colts at 49ers (-10.5)
Straight: 49ers  vs. Spread Colts  49ers 31-21

Jags at Seahawks (-19.5)
Straight: Seahawks  vs. Spread: Seahawks  Seahawks 38-3

Bears at Steelers (+2.5)
Straight: Bears  vs. Spread: Bears  Bears 24-20

Raiders at Broncos (-14.5)
Straight: Broncos  vs. Spread: Broncos  Broncos 31-14


Season:

Straight: 24-9
vs. Spread: 17-16

Filed under sports nfl picks week 3 football predictions

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Week 3 Predictions: Where’s the Fanatical Hostility? Edition

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Kansas City Chiefs at
Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5)

This game has a much too heavy concentration of warm happy feelings and good cheer for what should be a ruthless, maniacal, nut-kicks-all-around revenge game for Andy Reid.  From Reid’s former players this week: “Andy Reid is a man who will go down in history, in my book, as one of the greatest coaches of all time and one of the greatest men I’ve ever met.”  “Coach Reid is a father figure to me…it’s going to be great to see him back.”  “Excellent person.  I think people don’t really realize how good of a person he really was.”  Reid was jettisoned mere months ago by the team for whom he was its winningest coach, where he began his career by inheriting a 3-13 Ray Rhodes disaster, a team that won its three games by a combined nine points and was shutout three times by a combined 92-0, and two years later he’d spun them to 11-5 and a playoff winner, and we know the story from there.  Can’t I get a modicum of depraved malevolence?!  Just a little bloodlust leaked from anonymous team sources whose identity can be speculated upon by both sides in passive aggressive public jabs??  Come on! 

Reid’s three seasons with Vick as his starter?  10-6, 8-8, 4-12.  Vick on Reid’s departure for Kansas City: “That’s just where our lives took us.”  That’s just where our lives took us?!  Andy Reid is, by all means, one of the nicest, most goodhearted men in football, but is it possible that he can read that line from Vick and not want to jump-kick him in the face?  His Eagles career ended after he assembled one of the most highly-touted talent-conglomerated teams we’ve ever seen, only to have the prematurely-christened “Dream Team” crash and burn under the weight of, in part, Michael Vick giving the ball to the other team too many times, and Vick appears to be under the impression that it was mostly blind fate that has landed Reid on the opposite sideline this week.

You!  You did this, Michael!  It was you!  And now look at what’s going to happen to your beloved Andy.  He’s working in Kansas City – KANSAS CITY!!  LOOK AT HIM!  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO HIM IN A PLACE PAVED WITH PULLED PORK AND BARBECUE SAUCE?!  He’s surrounded by red meat, and Alex Smith is his quarterback – his heart is going to explode somewhere around Week 5, and it’s your fault!!  AHHHH WHY WON’T YOU FIGHT EACH OTHER?!

Since they refuse to make this game about cheap public face-slapping and retribution, it appears that the game will I guess have to be decided by execution on the field.  Last week’s game pointed out the fatal flaw in Chip Kelly’s offensive attack – You can’t run a bunch of plays if the other team has the ball for a long time, and the faster you run your offense, the quicker the ball goes back over to the other team and the more gassed your defense is going to be.  Jamaal Charles can wreck this game for the Eagles simply because he’s going to earn first downs on the ground and keep the clock moving for the Chiefs when they have the ball.  And let’s not forget about how great the Chiefs defense has been through two games – they didn’t give up any points to the Jaguars in Week 1, which I know doesn’t count for anything, but they blew up the loaded Cowboys offense in Week 2.  Dontari Poe is having a great early season at nose tackle, and through two games, Brandon Flowers has 14 tackles, a pick, and two passes defensed at corner.  Flowers, though, is listed as questionable with a knee injury, which would leave Desean Jackson duty to the much less formidable Sean Smith.  Huge advantage for the Eagles if he doesn’t play, but I like the Chiefs in a close one.

THE PICK:

Straight: Chiefs
vs. Spread: Chiefs

Chiefs 27-24

Season:

Straight: 23-9
vs. Spread: 16-16

Filed under nfl football picks football predictions andy reid philadelphia eagles kansas city chiefs Sports barbecue sauce michael vick

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Week 2 Predictions: No Time for Supporting Evidence Edition

Rams at Falcons (-7.5)
Straight: Falcons  vs. Spread Falcons  Falcons 31-17

Panthers at Bills (+2.5)
Straight: Panthers  vs. Spread: Panthers  Panthers 24-17

Vikings at Bears (-6.5)
Straight: Bears  vs. Spread: Vikings  Bears 24-21

Browns at Ravens (-6.5)
Straight: Ravens  vs. Spread: Ravens  Ravens 37-14

Cowboys at Chiefs (-2.5)
Straight: Chiefs  vs. Spread: Chiefs  Chiefs 27-17

Redskins at Packers (-7.5)
Straight: Packers  vs. Spread: Redskins  Packers 27-20

Titans at Texans (-9.5)
Straight: Texans  vs. Spread: Texans  Texans 34-24

Dolphins at Colts (-3.5)
Straight: Colts  vs. Spread: Dolphins  Colts 17-14

Chargers at Eagles (-7.5)
Straight: Eagles  vs. Spread: Eagles  Eagles 31-14

Lions at Cardinals (+.5)
Straight: Lions  vs. Spread: Lions  Lions 27-13

Saints at Bucs (+3.5)
Straight: Saints  vs. Spread: Saints  Saints 31-17

Broncos at Giants (+5.5)
Straight: Broncos  vs. Spread: Giants  Broncos 37-34

Jags at Raiders (-6.5)
Straight: Raiders  vs. Spread: Raiders  Raiders 21-3

49ers at Seahawks (-2.5)
Straight: Seahawks  vs. Spread: Seahawks  Seahawks 27-24

Steelers at Bengals (-7.5)
Straight: Bengals  vs. Spread: Bengals  Bengals 27-10


Season so far:
Straight: 12-5
vs. Spread: 10-7

Filed under nfl football football picks week 2 Sports

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Week 2 Predictions: Butt Fumble Rivalry Renewed Edition

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Jets at
Patriots (-12.5)

Geno!  GEENNOOOO!!!  I’m all in!  Screw the buzzkilling naysayers who keep pointing out to me on the street, as I sprint past them in my green body-paint while making airplane sounds, which is how I have conducted all transportation this week, that if Sanchez had turned the ball over the way Geno did there would this week be a complete disregard of the victory for the sake of full-on Sanchez castigation; that Tampa’s offense was the epitome of ineptitude for the entirety of the game’s sixty minutes, including the Vincent Jackson play that set up the would-be winning field goal, because that play on its own included three or four of the worst defensive catastrophes in all of week one, and the Jets offense still couldn’t outscore them without the help of a borderline personal foul call that maybe wouldn’t have even been made had it happened on the opposite sideline; and that the Jets had absolutely no running game to speak of and suddenly even Shonn Greene (SHONN EFFING GREENE!) looks like an upgrade over the Wednesday-Night-Bread-Truck-Drivers’-Beer-League backs that are currently carrying the ball.

Back off!  You couldn’t just let me have these three days of glory before the inevitable crashing-back-to-earth Patriots game?!  “Butt fumble” is not a relevant point, you jerks!  The crux of all conversations had by every Jets fan with a non-Jets fan re: their Week 1 victory:

“Their defensive line looked pretty solid—“
“Butt fumble.”

“There were a couple of plays where Geno did this weird thing where when people weren’t open, he threw the ball away instead of forcing it to one of his quadruple-covered JV-level receivers, which I had kind of forgotten was even a legal play—“
“Butt fumble.”

“That punter of theirs sure looked formidable—“
“Butt fumble.”

I like Mark Sanchez – I think he took too heavy a share of the blame for last year’s disaster because he did not have anyone to throw the ball to/hand the ball to/with the fragility of his psyche already being public record his front office went ahead and signed one of the most popular athletes in the world to do nothing but spend the entire season lurking behind him (the Sanchez-Tebow thing could take up 5,000 words on its own, but Sanchez’s ownership basically threw him to the wolves for no other legitimate reason than to sell a few extra tickets, and Woody Johnson, a corporate heir who has provided us with enough evidence that he has no idea how to run a football team to fill another 5,000 words, continues to take dubious shots at Sanchez, even long after his own Tebow move proved utterly idiotic) – but I’m starting to feel like he needs to immediately take his stink to the injured reserve simply so that I can have fewer than 900 conversations per week that include the phrase “butt fumble.”  We need to somehow heal the wound opened last thanksgiving by Brandon Moore’s buttocks, and I don’t think the recovery can begin until the ties between Sanchez and the Jets are finally, at great cost for a mostly undeserving Mark Sanchez, severed.

This line is egregious, but as a Jets fan, even though the Patriots are without Amendola, Vereen, and Gronkowski, I have the scars of too many unlikely humiliations to think that the Jets roster as it currently stands, even against this diminished version of the Patriots, will be able to pull this game out.  Steven Ridley plays for Bill Belichick and was therefore benched after his fumble early in their game against the Bills, which sort of made us forget that he’s a guy who ran for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and Tom Brady won’t be able to score 35 points with the receivers he’ll have on the field with him Thursday night, but to beat this Jets offense, he won’t have to.  To cover this spread, though, they’d probably have to put up at least 27 points, and I don’t think they have the fuel in the tank to do that on a short week and with their most impactful players sidelined.  I’ll be interested to see how the Jets defensive line, the team’s strongest asset, performs against the O-Line of the Patriots.  If the Jets try to get after Brady, I think a lot of pressure falls on Edelman and backup tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui (is that an alias?) to do their best pretend Welker/Gronkowski big-play-safety-valve impressions – if Edelman and the tight ends crack, the Jets have a small chance, but I don’t think it happens.

The Pick:

Straight: Patriots
vs. Spread: Jets

Season:

Straight: 11-5
vs. Spread: 9-7

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Week 1 Predictions: Setting Myself Up for Failure Edition

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As a Jets fan, I have been under the impression that teams that are featured on Hard Knocks are contractually obligated to portray themselves as an unmitigated freak-show disaster, so I was a little stupefied when I watched the Bengals this year and saw a focused, physical, talented team actually somewhat in control of themselves and with hardly any segments in which they appeared to be attempting to camouflage themselves as a failed underground circus act.  Did anyone tell Rex that this was an option??

The Bengals were my early pick to go to the Super Bowl from the AFC, and when I heard that they were going to be on Hard Knocks, I prepared myself to ditch that pick completely and also to find anyone who had heard me make the pick and beat them into amnesia, but they surprisingly, and probably to the chagrin of the producers, portrayed themselves as, for the most part, remarkably focused and disciplined, and James Harrison might officially be the oldest man that I’ve ever been mortally afraid of.

The NFC is a little tougher to prognosticate, with the 49ers lacking in weapons at wide receiver and with a quarterback who has a 90% chance of at some point getting injured, the Seahawks with a defensive roster that is one by one getting suspended for PEDs (to the inexplicable outrage of no one) and a quarterback of their own who seems ripe to take a step backward, and with the Falcons and Saints having no defense whatsoever. 

Here it is, though, with absolutely no supporting data for any season-long prediction because it is already running close to kickoff:

AFC

Division Winners:
Patriots
Bengals
Broncos
Texans

Wild Card:
Chiefs
Ravens

 

NFC

Division Winners:
Giants
Packers
49ers
Saints

Wild Card:

Bucs
Seahawks

 

Super Bowl:
Bengals over 49ers

 

THE PICKS:

Atlanta Falcons at
New Orleans Saints (-2.5)

The NFC South is by far the best division in football this year, I think better from top to bottom than the NFC West, and this is as tough a game to pick as there is in Week 1.  The Saints aren’t the best team in football, but right now, to me, they’re the scariest opponent in football, especially at the onset of the season.  Who wants to play Drew Brees now that he has his coach back?  This team is whole again, and they’re pissed off.  Brees threw for roughly nine trillion yards last year without his coach; the signs point to this being a huge season for this offense, even by its lofty standards. 

I think the Falcons bandwagon is counting too much on Steven Jackson having a lot left in the tank, which is kind of baffling to me.  We see this every year — the drop-off in production at the running back position is enormous after age 30, so I don’t really buy Jackson as the savior alternative to Michael Turner that he’s being made out to be.  Star running backs disappear off the face of the earth faster and in greater frequency than any player at any position in any other American sport (I’m looking at you, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, Jamaal Anderson, Ricky Watters, Thomas Jones, the aforementioned Michael Turner, Steve Slaton, and so on, and that’s just in the last ten years), and it’s tough for me to figure out, considering the number of carries he’s had to take in the last five years, why people don’t foresee Steven Jackson falling among the ranks of the forgotten.

The long-term fate of both of these teams will likely be decided by their defenses, neither of which can stop anyone ever, but New Orleans is going to be scary early this season.  We just saw what an angry Peyton Manning did against a slightly above average defense on Thursday night; this is going to be an angry Brees-Payton combination Sunday afternoon against a pitiful Falcon defense, and it could be ugly.

The Pick:

Straight: Saints
vs. Spread: Saints

Saints 44-27

 

New England Patriots at
Buffalo Bills (+6.5)

This spread could not possibly be high enough.  6.5??  Really?!  I will take 40 more than that, please.  More interesting than betting on this game would be betting whether or not Bill Bellichick owns a mug with an “EJ Manuel’s Tears” monogram on the side of it that he drinks from every morning during the three minutes of necessary gameplanning for the Bills. 

The bright side for Buffalo is that EJ Manuel is, in fact, ready to play, and that they won’t have to start Jeff Tuel (pronounced “tool”) in his stead.  I know it sounds odd that the “bright side” for the Bills is that they get to play Tom Brady with their unproven and probably, thanks in part to Russell Wilson, massively overrated rookie quarterback, but their alternative was starting a guy named Tool whose college record was an impressively futile 4-22.  Opening with the Bills takes a huge amount of pressure off of a Patriots team with a weak defense and an offense in which 60% of its foundation is hurt/murdered someone.

The Pick:  

Straight: Patriots
Spread: Patriots

Patriots 198-negative 3 (point deduction arising in the second quarter when Stevie Johnson hides on the wrong sideline and nonchalantly pretends to be a Patriot)

 

Cincinnati Bengals at
Chicago Bears (-3.5)

How are the Bears favored in this game??  This has to be the week’s biggest sucker bet; it is completely inexplicable.  I’m not even going to bring Jay Cutler into this, because I am among the 4% of Americans who like Jay Cutler – I think he’s too easily written off as a bum; he’s not a bum, he’s an above average quarterback who has had exactly one playmaking receiver in his career and he’s on his ass after half of his drop-backs because he also rarely has an offensive line – but the Bears are quickly becoming a sewer.  They fired their coach after a ten-win season, unceremoniously dumped and belittled their franchise icon, and they have a quarterback who will be crucified every Monday morning, regardless of how well he actually performs.  This is a franchise that could easily go from “Super Bowl Runner Up” to “Jets” in a ten-year span.  Absolutely remarkable.

The Pick:

Straight: Bengals
vs. Spread: Bengals

Bengals 27-13

 

Oakland Raiders at
Indianapolis Colts (-6.5)

Do you get the feeling that there has never been a more perfect pairing of franchise and stadium than the Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum?  The Raiders almost have to renew their lease on O Co.  They are the septic tank to the Coliseum’s faulty sewage drains.  They complete each other.  I admit that I’m a little bitter – Oakland is the one team capable of thwarting the Jets’ effort to go Downey for Clowney — who could possibly go downey further than the Raiders?? – and my only shining light for this season is that the Jets will either get the first pick and nab Clowney so that I can enjoy the five minutes of optimistic glory before his career ignites in shambles due to being a Jet, or Rex flies to Tallahassee and kidnaps Jameis Winston, dyes his hair and makes him grow a goatee and changes his name to something like McSeamus Hogbother and forces him to start Week 2, so that I can enjoy the five minutes of optimistic glory before his career ignites in shambles due to being a Jet.

And remember that game where Matt Flynn scored nine trillion points and then leveraged those sixty magnificent minutes into fifteen million dollars?  He is once again a backup, unable to beat out Tyrod Taylor (TYROD TAYLOR!) for the starting job.  Matt Flynn is the perfect Oakland Raider.  The Raiders shall henceforth on this space be known as the Oakland Matt Flynns.

The Pick:

Straight: Colts
vs. Spread: Colts

Colts 31-6

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at
New York Jets (+1.5)

This is another line that seems way too tight to me.  I’m unreasonably bullish on the Buccaneers this year; they have a ton of talent on offense and their secondary is hugely upgraded, with the wild card again being Josh Freeman, who, if he’d been unlucky enough to be drafted into the New York market, would be selling timeshares in Boca by now.  He at least has enough in the tank to outscore this Jets team by a field goal, and even more likely is that Darrelle Revis takes some of the pressure off of his quarterback by catching more touchdown passes from Geno Smith than does anyone in a Jets uniform.

Does this year’s Bucs team remind anyone else of the Jets teams of 2009 and 2010, when a first-and-second year Mark Sanchez was dragged to two straight AFC Championship games by an elite running game and solid defense?  The Bucs are bordering on having enough talent to account for Freeman’s floundering (Freeman’s Floundering is also the name of the fishing boat that Josh Freeman will be operating two years from now).

The Pick:

Straight: Bucs
vs. Spread: Bucs

Bucs 24-13

 

Green Bay Packers at
San Francisco 49ers (-4.5)

Please know how difficult it is for me to prevent myself from making a Swiss cheese joke about the Packers’ defense, but I’m going to try to exert some self-control, here.  The constant squawking from AJ Hawk (see what I did there?) et al about the frequency with which they will pummel Colin Kaepernick is a little ludicrous considering how awful they are as a unit at tackling people, as is the claim that they had no idea who Kaepernick even was before last year’s playoff game, considering how often they saw the back of his jersey. 

Considering the state of the Packers’ offensive line, I think the conversation should be reversed – Aaron Rodgers is going to be on his ass a lot of times in this one. 

The Pick:

Straight: 49ers
vs. Spread: Packers

49ers 27-24

 

Philadelphia Eagles at
Washington Redskins (-4.5)

For the third straight year, the Eagles go into the season as the league’s biggest enigma, with Chip Kelly being the latest wrinkle thrown into a conglomerate of exciting talent that remains strikingly unreliable.  In the short-term, I think you could throw them in with the Saints as being a scary, early-season shoulder-chipped team with a ton of incentive to knock teams around and with the firepower to actually back it up. In the long-term, when I think about Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense and the exponential rise in offensive plays that come with it, my reflexive reaction is that this will mean more chances for Michael Vick to either get hurt or do something stupid with the football or both. 

I actually cautiously like the Eagles in this game because I think there’s a talent-gap that favors the Eagles that will be difficult for the Redskins to gameplan for because no one’s really faced Chip Kelly’s NFL offense before, but neither defense is strong and Vick and Griffin both have a lot to prove at the season’s onset.  This is one that could be chaos from snap one.

The Pick:

Straight: Eagles
vs. Spread: Eagles

Eagles 31-27

 

Games I care less about:

Miami at Cleveland (+.5)
Straight: Cleveland  vs. Spread: Cleveland  Cleveland 24-21

Minnesota at Detroit (-3.5)
Straight: Detroit  vs. Spread: Detroit  Detroit 27-17

Tennessee at Pittsburgh (-6.5)
Straight: Pittsburgh  vs. Spread: Pittsburgh  Pittsburgh 31-14

Kansas City at Jacksonville (+2.5)
Straight: Kansas City  vs. Spread: Kansas City  Kansas City 24-10

Seattle at Carolina (+2.5)
Straight: Seattle  vs. Spread: Seattle  Seattle 31-24

Arizona at St. Louis (-5.5)
Straight: Arizona  vs. Spread: Arizona  Arizona 24-17

New York at Dallas (-2.5)
Straight:  Dallas  vs. Spread:  Dallas  Dallas 28-24

Houston at San Diego (+2.5)
Straight: Houston  vs. Spread: Houston  Houston 34-13

Season so far:
Straight: 1-0
vs. Spread: 0-1

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Week 1 Predictions: Opening Night Edition

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Baltimore Ravens at
Denver Broncos (-7.5)

Straight Pick: Broncos
vs. Spread: Ravens cover

The excitement for opening night will hopefully be enough to carry me through the weekly stink of Faith Hill’s horrific musical introduction whose every note fills me with rage and whose purpose is indiscernible.  Those brave souls who still have access to their visual and auditory senses after the opening abomination will be treated to what should be a great first game.  The hype around the Broncos is a little mysterious to me — we know the offense is stellar, but there’s a pretty glaring lack of playmakers on defense, at least for the first six weeks.  Champ Bailey is hurt, Von Miller is in a cocaine timeout, and due to a weird combination of fax machine-illiteracy and inability to tell time, Elvis Dumervil is now a Baltimore Raven and will right away be lining up across from Peyton Manning in Week 1 with a pretty significant chip on his shoulder.

The difference in this one will be that Peyton Manning’s shoulder-chip will be three times the size of anyone else’s.  This already had the potential to be a big-time “fuck you” game for Peyton Manning, and then the NFL went ahead and put a giant Joe Flacco banner right outside of Mile High.  The only way Peyton Manning could go into this game more ticked off would be if someone snuck into his house and stuck a Tom Brady fathead in his living room and then took his girlfriend out to dinner while wearing an Andrew Luck jersey.  

The Ravens will put up points because Denver won’t have a pass rush and their secondary is shaky, but the Broncos wide receiver triad of Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Demaryius Thomas is going to run roughshod on a weak Raven secondary.  The Ravens will put pressure on Peyton with Ngata, Canty, and Suggs, but Wes Welker is the ultimate pass-rush destroyer.  Every time the blitz gets in Peyton’s face, he’ll toss a cheap 3 yard dump-off to Welker in the flat, and 30 yards later the camera will cut to a shot of Ray Lewis weeping on his couch.

Broncos 31-27

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Lightning Rod

I am horrified by what I am about to do.  It will bring shame upon myself, my family, and everything that I have ever stood for/loved.  When I look back from some future decrepitness, slumped over and drooling in a roadside ditch, abandoned by everyone dear to me and ridiculed by passing children and nibbled upon by the occasional squirrel, whom I am too weak and degraded to shrug off, I will recognize this very moment as the onset of my soul’s decay.  

I am going to defend Alex Rodriguez.

Turn away.  Don’t look at me.  I didn’t think that, on the scale of indignities endeavored upon in my lifetime, I would never stoop lower than the three-way tie for rock-bottom between the time I ate an entire pizza by myself and then stood in front of the Pizza Hut holding the box up to my stomach so that people could see how enormous the size of the pizza was compared to the actual capacity of my torso so that the exact magnitude of my feat could be adequately realized, the time I celebrated Beyonce’s birthday by stuffing a couple of pillows down my pants and singing “If I Were a Boy” in the activities room of my Nana’s nursing home, and being a Jets fan, but now I’ve gone plummeting through that once-sturdy floor of disgrace.  It’s dirty work, and it’ll leave me forever changed, but it has to be done.

Full disclosure: A-Rod is my second-most-hated athlete of all-time behind Roger Clemens.  I’m a Red Sox fan.  No one remembers better than me the Varitek shove, the ball slap and subsequent indignant hands in the air “Who me?” stance on second base, the yelping in Toronto to try to disrupt a catch as he ran by on the base-path.  I still look back with remarkable fondness upon last year’s postseason benchings.  But I can defend him against the recent torrent of hyperbolic finger-wagging because my desire to karate kick him in the nuts weirdly does not leave me incapable of rational thought.

Bud Selig and his cronies have done an awful job hiding their orgasmic driveling glee at finally having ensnared A-Rod in their lately-cast net of belated castigation, and they’re savoring the opportunity to inflict constant and at times dubious body-blows on their prize catch.  I’m not sure I really buy the idea that baseball still wants A-Rod to take a deal and slink away into suspended inconsequence; on the contrary, I don’t think there was anyone happier than Bud Selig when A-Rod decided to appeal his suspension.  It’s allowed him to drag this signature victory out a few months longer, and he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity.  Does anyone think there’s anything discernible left from the charred remains of the A-Rod voodoo mannequin that Bud’s been hiding under his desk for the last five years?  As a follow-up question, during the construction of said A-Rod voodoo dummy, was Buddy sifting through drug tests to collect the vital samples of blood and urine that would give the dummy its mystical powers?  How much of baseball’s drug testing policy was enacted as a shadowy ruse to justify the collection of A-Rod’s bodily fluids for the sake of eventually destroying him with magic??  

I have no idea what Bud Selig was doing when he sent a midnight letter to Matt Lauer offering to revoke the confidentiality clause in the Joint Drug Agreement to allow the MLB to publicly reveal the evidence that it has against A-Rod, knowing that Lauer was going to spring it on A-Rod’s lawyer without warning or a chance to even look at the thing.  If his case is so strong, and I believe that it is, he has no reason to keep taking these shots other than to cheaply demean his victim.

A-Rod is caught.  He’s done.  It remains to be seen if he’ll recoup the remainder of his absurd contract from the Yankees, but once he begins serving his suspension, he will never play professional baseball again.  Bud Selig has won, and he still keeps stooping to A-Rod’s level, he keeps flinging these meaningless public nut-kicks that will do nothing to help him put the slugger away for good when the slugger is already as good as put away, will do nothing to strengthen his already-strong case or give him an upper hand in the arena of public opinion.  How could A-Rod’s public perception possibly get any lower?  He’s bottomed out, and Bud Selig only risks rallying people around his victim if he keeps trying to wear him down to a little squeaking nub.  

In the sports world, we call those squeaking nubs “underdogs,” and we fucking love them.  

We’re one more pie-to-the-face from remembering that hundreds of other players have done steroids, that baseball was complicit in their decades-long use, that Ryan Braun called a urine-collector an anti-Semite and a fraud before being caught himself and then he waited a month to give us a scripted halfhearted written ‘apology.’  Writers are calling A-Rod the Whitey Bulger of baseball.  What?!  Settle down, everyone!  How many people has A-Rod murdered, exactly?  How is his role in the steroid era different than the league that refused to establish a structure of discipline against its users, the hundreds of players who made the practice so regular that coming generations of players probably stood no chance of competing at the new level that steroids created if they hadn’t decided themselves to use, and the writers who all missed or ignored the story?  We’re disproportionately crushing him mostly because we don’t like him, and we expect that to make us better than he is.  It’s nuts.  God, I hate that I’m saying all this.

We haven’t just made this about one sport.  We’ve made this about one PERSON.  Are we insane?  Forget about speculation, we don’t even care about the dozens of athletes in other sports who have already been caught using PEDs.  We still consider Shaun Merriman one of the greatest linebackers of his generation.  Roughly the entire Seahawks defense was suspended just this past offseason for violations of the NFL’s drug policy, and there’s apparently not a Whitey Bulger among them.  A-Rod’s biggest mistake is that he wasn’t a tight end.

Let’s talk a little bit about the other sports, the ones in which I guess it’s OK to use steroids, the ones whose league offices we allow to treat the issue the same way baseball was treating it twenty years ago.  The NBA has among the weakest drug testing policies of any sports organization in the world — a player gets randomly tested up to four times during the regular season, and can’t be tested any more after that.  Once a player gets that fourth test, he knows he’s good for the rest of the regular season.  He can put as many deer antlers into his body as he wants, and he knows there will be no consequence.  If a player gets all four of his tests out of the way by December, he can spend the rest of the season bathing in the cream and the clear, and somehow we remain confident that NBA players are clean.  We don’t waste any time worrying if Lebron developed that stupendous crab dribble with a little something extra.  We don’t even consider the crab dribble itself to be a form of PED, which still seems weird to me.

Of the four major sports, basketball has the smallest total team size and the fewest number of competitors on the playing surface at any given time, which means that on average, an individual basketball player is responsible for a greater percentage of his team’s success or failure, and can potentially make a more significant economic impact by himself, than can an individual athlete in any other sport.  This is how basketball has become the most star-driven of American sports.  Does anyone really think that it’s a coincidence that the sport with the most riding on each individual player also has by far the weakest drug testing policy?  The NBA is protecting its players from suspension and scrutiny because the NBA has the most to lose if its stars start getting the A-Rod treatment.  Why do we give the NBA a pass on this?

David Stern will shrug and give you a condescending grin and tell you that his players would have no conceivable use for PEDs.  He’s giving us that serpent-smile because he knows we’re going to let him get away with feeding us that inexplicable bullshit.  We never call the NBA on their ludicrous stance that professional basketball players wouldn’t benefit from PEDs.

Some of the documented promotional stuff tied to HGH use: It promotes the synthesis of protein, which allows, among other things, for the growth and recovery of muscle tissue, It promotes the speedy metabolism of body-fat, which can increase energy and encourage the long-term maintenance of lean muscle mass, it makes for quicker cardiac recovery.

And so on.  Which one of those things wouldn’t be useful to an NBA player?  Which one of those wouldn’t help make an average basketball player great?  Why wouldn’t a center want to bulk up?  Why wouldn’t a guard dope his blood for a cardiac advantage?  The answer to all of the above is that they WOULD.  They ABSOLUTELY WOULD do all of those things.  I don’t know if they are, but why do we act like it’s irrational and perplexing to think it’s happening?  Why do we shrug off scientific and logical reasoning to placate David Stern?

I don’t know that it’s even worth charting the outrageous and tough-to-reason apathy we feel toward steroid use in football.  I think the argument could easily be made that steroid use has a greater benefit in the game of football, where brute strength doesn’t necessarily have to be paired with exceptional hand-eye coordination in order to achieve superlative results, than in any other sport, and while the NFL’s drug testing policy is weak, with no reliable test for HGH approved for use by the league and with a gutless clause that forbids the public from knowing what a player has tested positive for, we’ve still caught a significant number of stars using and there’s room for speculation with plenty of others, but those cases are usually either ignored or quickly forgotten about.

In the end, this discussion becomes about the reasons for which steroid use in baseball is perceived with greater fury than it is in other sports.  I don’t buy that it’s because baseball fans and writers care more about the game’s history and records than do fans of other sports — that argument is too simple and overused and it’s fraught with contradictions that can’t be reconciled; it would mean that fans of baseball aren’t also fans of other sports, and not only did Adrian Peterson just come back from an injury 4 months sooner than anyone ever had, but he then had the second best season of any running back in history, and he wasn’t met with nearly the same scrutiny that, say, Chris Davis is enduring for the season he’s having with the Orioles, so I don’t buy that powerfully revered records in other sports can’t be challenged or diluted by PED use, just that, again, the challenge to those records is for some reason more amplified in baseball.

I think that in the end, it comes down to the fact that as fans, even given everything we know about how deeply the integrity of the competition we watch every day has been compromised, we still don’t want to think of our entire sports landscape as being polluted by PEDs.  The horse has already left the gate for baseball; there’s nothing we can do to clean that slate.  No amount of irrational blind-eye-turning will keep us from wondering about and scrutinizing baseball players for steroid use, but we still have hope for the other sports.  Basketball has avoided a major steroids scandal, so we can reasonably ignore the warning signs because we still, at heart, genuinely want to — baseball is different because the scandal has already been brought to us.  We’re not going to go out of our way to look for a similar one in other sports because we don’t to go through again what we had to go through in the mid 2000s with the Mitchell Report and the congressional hearings and the bizarre 60 Minutes interviews.  Remember, what makes it so outrageous for us to decry A-Rod now is that we welcomed steroid use just ten years ago; we didn’t go out of our way to notice the clear bogusness of the 1998 Home Run chase, we didn’t ask questions when numbers and once-mediocre careers continued to inexplicably inflate.  Jose Canseco and George Mitchell had to force-feed us the proof before we acknowledged there was a problem.

So until someone shakes us out of our trance of doe-eyed innocence, A-Rod could always just try out for the Bobcats.

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