Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cardinals and Steelers chat with Will

So here's part of a chat that Will and I had yesterday. We were talking fantasy football, and it turned into talking about the Cardinals and Steelers this year and what they have to do to win. We also effectively (in my opinion) disprove the theory that Mike Wallace of the Steelers is going to be some sort of breakout player this year. I hope you enjoy the chat, maybe we'll post them a little more often.

me: I'm not sure that the cards are going to stop throwing the ball anytime soon.
2:26 PM But at the same time, don't you see the offense changing at least a little bit?
  As in a litttle more running?
 William: Well at least when they throw it, its not gonna be deep bombs to Fitz, its gonna be slants etc.
  You obviously havent read my FPL posts.
 me: no, just our blog posts, haha.
 William: I dont know what they will do, but here is what they HAVE to do to stay competitive:
 me: I did read the one that collinsworth quoted though.
2:27 PM William: Run the ball effectively, reduce the number of 3rd an longs and make Leinart a game manager as opposed to putting him in situations where he must win the game - he will not.
  They need to bring that run/pass balance back closer to 40/60 or 50/50
  instead of 30/70, which is right where they've been for a while.
 me: So that translates to run the ball more, give leinart half the field to look at when he passes, and keep the passing game to short outs and hitches. With ALOT of TE mixed in.
 William: YES
2:29 PM me: So how is the TE not the MVP (for the Cardinals)?
  I just look at Kevin Kolb throwing to Brent Celek as the prime example.
 William: The flip side of this, is their D has to be stingy because they won't hang points up like they used to. Having 21 pt first half deficits must be a thing of the past.
  Well - I think you will see greater TE production, but they have so many that they use and none of them have Celek, Witten, or Owens type hands.
2:30 PM me: Right, because noodle armed rainmakers to Fitzgerald aren't going to win ball games.
 William: exactly
 me: Another thing, I don't understand how Mike Wallace is going to be this great sleeper.
2:31 PM He caught alot of long balls because everyone keyed on Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes... with Santonio being the supposed threat for the long ball.
 William: Well he would be, if the womanizer was huckin' the ball.
 me: He just surprised people/teams last year and will probably get more attention this year.
 William: That's true.
  He also wasnt even that productive last year!
  I had him in my league
 me: Now there's no Santonio and he doesn't have triple chin Ben throwing to him for the first 4-6 games
 William: He was OK at best.
2:32 PM me: Right, and with Mendenhall looking GOOD, the Steelers should be able to run more
  and use the pass as more of a change of pace than anything else.
 William: Assuming that the line holds.
 me: Exactly, losing the right tackle means less time in the pocket.
2:33 PM William: Well that, and they need to get back to winning games with defense.
 me: So there, we just talked people out of the big ticket sleeper in fantasy football (Mike Wallace).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Salary Caps

You will probably figure out very quickly that I may or may not be a little long winded in my posts. I guess I go by quantity over quality with the attitude that if I write enough, I'll eventually come to a valid point...

So, all this talk about who will win the LeBron sweepstakes, why the money the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies and Mets throw at players makes baseball too predictable (although, with the Mets and Cubs throwing awful money after bad, they are trying their best to disprove this), hockey players signing very long contracts to spread out the big pay day – to allow more high priced talent to follow - and the looming uncapped NFL season got me thinking about the state of major sports and their salary caps. It’s hard to ignore the differences and the issues that each salary structure brings. There are some that I feel work better than others (I don’t think baseball works, whereas the NFL has been doing a good job for the most part), and I would like to take a look at each of them individually – in a six part column. But wait! Don’t stop reading yet. Four of the entries will be talking about each individual sports league. If there is a league you don’t watch or care about (example: the NBA), simply skip that entry. You won’t miss anything because each of the four “body” entries will be independent of each other.

I will start off with the NBA, to talk about what I think is the most glaring issue at the moment in any major sport (aside from that whole lock-out thing in the NFL that’s coming at us faster than Chris Johnson and his 4.2 speed) – the courtship of King James. Aside from the terrible moniker – that I probably stole from someone – this is a big deal that I think is going to be an even bigger deal to the NBA when all is said and done.  Also, I will wonder aloud to anyone that will listen about why GM’s fall all over themselves to sign bad players to massive contracts that will end up crippling to the team.

Next, I’ll talk about the NFL, and it’s issues that will be addressed by a lockout in the near future. I know it’s not for sure that there will be a lockout, but I don’t see how it can be avoided since neither side has blinked and it seems like the owners want waaaaay to much. Big issues include how many teams want nothing to do with high draft picks (large investment in an unproven commodity), how do you pay for new stadiums that owners demand seemingly much too often, and how do you keep both sides happy with incentive laden contracts that sometimes cause both players and staff (coaches, GM’s, trainers, etc.) to make decisions that don’t necessarily help the team - all in the name of making/saving money.

The MLB. Most of you are probably rolling your eyes and praying that I don’t spend the whole time talking about the Red Sox and Yankees (since I’m sure most baseball fans would rather watch an endless loop of Royals vs. Pirates with Paris Hilton as the commentator than read one more thing about the Yankees and Red Sox), but hear me out. Baseball, unlike the other three major sporting leagues, allows the rich to stay rich instead of completely sharing revenue. This unfortunately leads to runaway trains like the Yankees since America loves a winner and there are much to many fair-weather fans and front-runners (don’t believe me? How many Cowboys/Steelers, Yankees/Red Sox, Lakers/Celtics, and Red Wings/Penguins fans do you know? I know more than a few, and these people are sick in the head). I’d like to talk about how baseball could actually be fairer than the other leagues since it allows the owners to spend as much as they want to create a winner, but since not all cities and fan-bases are created equal, this is near impossible.

Finally, I’ll take a look at hockey. A sport that only recently found their way out of a lock-out and is still trying to dig their way out of being more than just a quirky sideshow. This could be done simply by allowing ESPN to absorb them like they do every other sporting even worth watching – and some that aren’t – but that’s a story for another day. The real problem seen in the NHL is the length of contracts. High priced players are signed by teams to exceedingly long contracts in order to spread out the GDP of a second world country that’s being paid to them as much as possible in order to lessen the hit to the salary cap in any given year. This is a new development that will be interesting in about five years to see what it does to the league. Will it be like the NBA where teams are looking to dump terrible contract and collect expiring ones, or will it work out with the majority of players keeping their skills up enough to marginally justify their price tag?

In the end, I hope to at least begin a discussion by pointing out some interesting, frustrating, and great aspects about each of the major four sports leagues and their finances.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

America and Hot Dogs

“Sure, I’ve been called a xenophobe, but the truth is, I’m not. I honestly just feel that America’s the best country and all the other countries aren’t as good. That used to be called patriotism.” – Kenny Powers

Our founding fathers prepared the soil on which this dream called freedom was cultivated. To paraphrase the Constitution, here are a couple of the building blocks of America:
  1. Freedom
  2. Being sweet
  3. Kicking ass
  4. Overeating

Sure, the US is the fattest country in the world. Who cares? We LOVE food. We love food so much that we honor our nation’s independence with a contest of who can consume the most hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Then, after we are through watching human greatness personified, we turn to our very own grills, consume copious amounts of a domestic beer (Im told that nothing is more American than a Blue Ribbon winner), and then watch things explode.

BOOM! Welcome to America, land of the free!

According to Wikipedia, the only truly accredited source of human intelligence, The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has occurred almost annually since 1916. “According to legend, on July 4, 1916 four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic.” Imagine that. Just prior to World War I, four men from less superior lands adopted the way of OUR land and expressed their love for this fair country by gorging themselves on processed meat products.

Unfortunately, not all great ideas are appreciated in their time and this event trickled into relative obscurity until one Independence day, when a man by the name of Takeru Kobayashi doubled the previous world record by eating 50 hot dogs and buns. Slight problem here: only Americans win American contests on Independence Day. That’s non-negotiable. Kobayashi had a vice grip on the Mustard Belt for six long years. But in 2007, a true American hero by the name of Joseph Christian “Jaws” Chestnut emerged from relative obscurity to consume 66 hot dogs and buns, shock the world and restore American glory. The Mustard Belt was once again rested safely on US soil!

As with World War II, the Japanese struck first, but ultimately found out that the pimp hand of Uncle Sam is oh so strong.

Our hero has since defended the crown two consecutive years in a row, including an epic “Eat off” overtime victory in 2008 and a new world record of 68 hot dogs and buns in 2009. With Kobayashi holding out of the competition for contractual reasons (aka whining like KOBE–yashi), you can put another tally in the win column for the Red, White, and Blue.

So tomorrow, grab an ice cold American beer and allow yourself an hour to bask in the glory of the Stars and Stripes as you witness a young man push himself to the limit and perform the kind of overeating that puts Oprah and Kirstie Alley to shame.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Quick Shout Out

This is a new blog that Ray and I are launching. It's still in the experimental phase.

Follow us on twitter @twosportsjerks.

Also, if you use Google Reader or an RSS reader, subscribe there as well.

I promise that all of the entries will not be this long and will likely have more jokes.

NBA Finals Preview

Much to my personal dismay, the NBA Finals will be another installment of Lakers vs Celtics. The rematch of the 1976 NBA Finals will have to wait, as the Suns’ all-time record in the Western Conference Finals has fallen to 2-7 (0-3 under Nash, 1-5 in my lifetime, 1-3 that I can remember). This time around, Kobe exacted his revenge for the “me-first” implosion that LA experienced in the desert during Game 7 of the 2006 opening round (completing a 3-1 comeback by the Suns). In the process, he let everyone on Planet Orange (and planet Earth) know who is really “king” of the NBA. Given that his ego can’t even be pulled by a Mack truck, I am sure that revenge for a small first round loss to Phoenix is significantly lower on his priority list than avenging the 2008 Finals defeat at the hands of these very Celtics (with the exception of a couple of role players, these teams both return the same nuclei of starters). I have picked a couple (of many) possible factors that may or may not lead to a repeat of 2008 (Boston in 6 if you don’t remember).

Home Court Advantage

Remember that the Finals are structured 2-3-2, which puts a lot of pressure on the home team to start strong and hold serve. A lot of emphasis will be placed in the coming days on the following statement: The Lakers have not lost a playoff game this year at the Staples Center and are 28-3 in their last 31 home playoff games. In contrast, the Celtics have only lost three two road games in this playoffs (throw out Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals - the officiating was so unfathomably lopsided that Tim Donaghy sat at home and smiled as his name spewed forth from the mouth of every Boston fan). On the other side of the coin, the Celtics have performed sufficiently but not remarkably well at home and the Lakers have let a couple of games slip away on the road this post season. I could play a numbers game and compare regular season records, but I deem this to be only moderately relevant considering that the Celtics were admittedly coasting and they play in a significantly easier conference. Ultimately, why not just rely on empirical evidence? Of late, neither team has been visibly phased by opposing crowds and both squads have gotten quality wins in increasingly hostile environments. Each of these teams has the experience, composure, and talent to win when it counts, regardless of the location.

Advantage: Push


A lot is made of these two teams defensively and rightfully so. The buzzword “length” is used to describe the Lakers’ frontcourt so much that it’s almost a cop out way to describe this team. The Lakers do a great job protecting the paint, preventing penetration by guards and getting their hands (which are attached to their long arms) into passing lanes. This wreaks havoc on guards who make their living by getting into the painted area (like Nash & Rondo). By limiting access to the lane, opponents are forced to opt for longer shots, which are in turn easier for LA to contest since they aren’t as far out of position in the first place. There is a reason why teams shoot a league low three point percentage against LA and it is independent of how many ways Ron Artest can bleach the word “defense” into his hair.

The Celtics defense can be summed up in one word, physical. The C’s style is about as close as you can get in today’s NBA to the late 80’s and mid 90’s, when flagrant fouls were rarely, if ever called and “no easy buckets” meant using everything short of a Tanya Harding style crow-bar beat down to crack players hard enough that they would think twice before entering the paint again. They bump every player coming off of a screen, shove anyone cutting off of the ball, and seize all opportunities to let the other team know that nothing will be easy or free. It’s a style that frustrates opponents and their fans alike. Seriously, watch how much Pau cries when Perkins and Garnett start elbowing him in the chest. Part of that is not his fault, it’s his European ancestry. But the other part is that he, like many in the league, prefers to avoid unnecessary contact. The Celtics embrace it.

Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers have the tools to play a bit more physical. Artest is one of the most physical small forwards in the NBA. Pau and Odom can man up if they choose, but it’s not their preferred style. It’s not how they’re wired. The Celtics want to play as physical as David Stern and Stu Jackson will let them because that’s how they dictate tempo. The Celtics, like the Spurs of the early 2000’s and the bruisers of the 80’s, are built to win 80-76 games – to grind it out. The only thing Lamar wants to grind is Khloe Kardashian.

Advantage: Celtics

The Superstars

After Kobe had his knee drained prior to Game 1 of the WCF, he scored 36+ points in 4 of the 6 games. But for LA fans, his point total isn’t the most encouraging part of his play this post season. Old Kobe was preoccupied with “getting his.” New Kobe understands that he can have it both ways. He looks to get his team involved early and then takes over the game when necessary. His biggest flaw right now is his teammates: when they don’t show up, LA doesn’t win. In Game 4 of the WCF, Kobe dropped in 38 points on 15-22 shooting (6-9 from 3) with 10 assists…in a loss. The Suns forced him to get others involved and nobody answered the bell. Inconsistency is the main concern for this team. The other part of the Lakers trio is the Bynum and Gasol duo. One problem: Bynum is more likely to be spotted on the side of a milk carton than contributing in a big game. Gasol is a bona fide all-star who, as Doug Collins will tell you once a quarter, is the best all-around center in the NBA.

The Celtics’ now rely on Rajon Rondo to control their offense and he hasn’t let them down yet. By default, this makes him their most important superstar although Pierce usually handles the bulk of the scoring burden and Garnett takes care of the post duties. And then there is my personal favorite player on this team, Ray Allen, who reminds everyone at least once a series that he is one of the best pure shooters the league has seen. While these players do a great job sharing the load, it is unclear to me who is charged to take over in crunch time. Who do they defer to? Sure at one point in their careers each of these players could win games by themselves, but these days the responsibility falls to whoever is willing to accept it. Maybe this works to their advantage by making it harder to game plan against them. Or maybe I am undervaluing the fact that they have numerous capable players. So far this strategy has worked, but it remains to be seen what will happen when they play a truly contested series.

At certain points in time I would have taken any of the Celtics’ superstars on my team. I, like most people, see those names and associate them with the player from 2005. When it comes down to it, this battle is closer than you may think. But I’ll take the insanely competitive, consistent superstar that controls every facet of a game and can get points against any defense when it matters most. In the 2008 Finals that player was Paul Pierce, in the 2010 Finals it’s Kobe Byrant.

Advantage: Lakers

The Verdict

I could probably go on for a much longer in regards to the styles of these two teams. It’s unclear to me at this time whether or not it would be useful, or if anyone still reading would care for that matter. So, given that this is the first installment and I want to keep whatever good will that I have intact, I will wrap it up with this.

Basketball is a team game – it always has been. Playoff basketball is about consistency and the ability of a team to assert their will and dictate the way that the game is played. The Celtics have handled every challenge to date and are certainly capable of winning this series. But, in glimpses the Lakers have looked unbeatable. Kobe has elevated his game to a level that is rarely seen in professional sports and there is every reason to believe that the rest of the Lakers will answer the challenge he has issued. If I wasn’t busy agonizing over the Suns’ helplessness, I would have embraced Kobe’s Game 6 as one of the better “no effing way we are losing this game” performances of recent past. Seriously, there are few players ever who could hit the kinds of contested shots that he does routinely in crunch time. One of them wore number 23 and another wore 33 and neither of them are steeping onto the court on Thursday.

It is well documented that Kobe has a serial obsession with how he is perceived both on and off of the court. He is acutely aware of how a second title as the alpha dog will impact his legacy. He is eager to cast a shadow on his selfish past and prove that he is a changed player – a motivator, a facilitator, and an all-time great scorer. As much as I hate his cockiness and that new piranha face that he makes after a big bucket, I have a feeling that the Lakers will emerge as the best team under is *cough* leadership. The new Kobe, the one who understands the concept of team, will hoist a fifth Larry Obrien trophy and Kobe haters such as myself, will have nothing left to do but hang our heads in defeat.

Lakers in 6