I Predict a Riot

The NFL playoffs are here.  I was thinking about what I should write for my final non-”what did I learn here?” post of the year, and I thought playoff predictions would be perfect.  I’ve done it throughout the year, and I have to make them anyway, so why not?

I’ll give my predictions for each round of the playoffs, along with a score for no good reason.  I’d like to tell you all that I usually do pretty well in my annual playoff pick ‘em, but that would be a lie.

One thing I know will be true, though: these should be some really good games.

AFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

#6 San Diego Chargers at #3 Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are a really good home team, while the Chargers got into the playoffs despite needing about 38 different things to happen.  Yet, for some reason, I sense a Chargers upset here.  Why?  Well, there is a quirky little thing involving the team that plays the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eagles’ home opener: in each of the last three seasons, that team has won the Super Bowl.  That team has also lost to Washington and defeated Dallas and the New York Giants.  Only one team meets that standard in 2013: San Diego.

Chargers 23, Bengals 21

#5 Kansas City Chiefs at #4 Indianapolis Colts – These two met a couple weeks ago, and the Colts cruised.  The Chiefs started the season 9-0, then lost four of the next six.  With their seed locked in before Week 17, they sent their reserves out onto the field and almost (maybe should have) beat the Chargers.  Of course, those guys won’t be playing in this game.

Colts 20, Chiefs 16

NFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

#6 New Orleans Saints at #3 Philadelphia Eagles – Yes, I’m a homer.  But Drew Brees and the Saints really struggle on the road, and this game will be played on a Saturday night with a raucous (read: probably drunk) crowd and temperatures in the 20s.  There may be snow on the ground from a storm earlier in the week.  Just saying.

Eagles 35, Saints 31

#5 San Francisco 49ers at #4 Green Bay Packers – The 49ers went 12-4 this year.  The Packers went 8-7-1.  However, because the Packers won their division, they get to host this game.  That seems unfair, but hey, the Saints won one more game than the Eagles and they have to go on the road as well.  Normally I would look at how good the 49ers are and say it doesn’t matter, but Aaron Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone in Week 17 and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to put Green Bay into the tournament, and if there’s anyone who can swing a game like this, it’s Rodgers.  But he won’t.

49ers 24, Packers 13

AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

#6 San Diego Chargers at #1 Denver Broncos –  I just have one thing to say about this game: the Chargers beat the Broncos a few weeks back.  It won’t happen again.

Broncos 42, Chargers 20

#4 Indianapolis Colts at #2 New England Patriots – These two franchises used to meet in the playoffs all the time, but while Tom Brady still runs the show in New England, it’s Andrew Luck at the helm of the Colts offense.  I want to pick an upset here, but I don’t see it.  Not in what will surely be a night game in Foxboro.

Patriots 28, Colts 20

NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

#5 San Francisco 49ers at #1 Seattle Seahawks – This could be the best game of the entire playoffs.  Divisional rivals that really don’t like each other, they split their two games this season, with each team team winning at home.  The Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the league, maybe even all of sports, and that will be the difference here.  Make sure you watch this one.

Seahawks 17, 49ers 14

#3 Philadelphia Eagles at #2 Carolina Panthers – It’s strength against strength if these two get together, as the Eagles’ dynamic offense battles the Panthers’ stalwart defense.  On the other side of the ball, while Cam Newton is tough to handle, the Panthers have struggled on offense at times, and are hoping Steve Smith returns from a knee injury in time for the game.  If he doesn’t, I don’t think the Panthers will win.  If he does…I still don’t think they win.  Yes, I’m a homer.

Eagles 26, Panthers 17

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#2 New England Patriots at #1 Denver Broncos – Ah, there it is.  Manning vs, Brady, Episode #3,907.  The Patriots seem to be missing all of their key guys, but keep winning.  You expect the shoe to drop at some point, and this is that point.

Broncos 34, Patriots 24

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#3 Philadelphia Eagles at #1 Seattle Seahawks – I know the Seahawks don’t lose at home.  Except they did, just last Sunday, to the Arizona Cardinals.  And that’s with Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions.  How do you pick a guy off four times and lose?  Nick Foles won’t throw four interceptions.  And the Eagles also have LeSean McCoy, who led the league in rushing yards.  Add in that the Seahawks have a weakened offensive line, and don’t really have a healthy playmaking receiver to capitalize on the Eagles’ weak pass defense…it doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Seahawks 23, Eagles 20 (OT)

(I’m a homer, but I also know how to hedge my bets.)

SUPER BOWL XLVIII

Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks – It’s going to be cold in New York, er, New Jersey, on Super Bowl Sunday.  That might be a factor.  It might not.  Look, I don’t know, and I don’t know why you’re still reading this after I tried to talk you into the Eagles winning in Seattle.

Broncos 27, Seahawks 13

Enjoy the playoffs!

I’ve Been Shattered

I’ve made no secret at all about my dislike of mixed martial arts.  As far as I’m concerned, MMA is nothing more than human cockfighting.

Do I hold such disdain for boxing?  No.  Am I a fan?  Oh God, no.  But to me, it seems different in some way.  A lot of boxers – seemingly more and more these days – die as a result of their injuries in the ring, and this is hideously awful and depressing, but the substance of the competition itself still somehow seems different.  I wouldn’t want anyone close to me to take part in either of them, that’s for sure.

Now that I think about it, I think part of the difference for me is the fan reaction.  MMA fans seem to have more of a bloodlust than boxing fans.  That brings me to the point of this post: Anderson Silva’s now ubiquitous broken leg from last night’s UFC 8429 (or whatever).

I haven’t seen footage of the injury, and I won’t.  I have no desire to.  What I did see was everyone’s reaction to it, at least via social media: shock and surprise, followed by lamenting over the possible end of Silva’s career.

Last thing first: hey, it sucks when one of your favorite athletes hangs them up, especially when it’s not on his terms.  I get that, but, well, here’s the thing about that first thing…you’re shocked and surprised that a guy engaged in a fight got seriously injured.

HELLO.  THAT’S THE POINT.

Nobody gets into “The Octagon” thinking, “hey, I’d like to just roll around and hope the judges call it a draw.”  No!  They want to win, and the best way to do that is to knock your opponent out cold, or put him or her in such excruciating pain that they beg for the fight to end.  Hurting the other guy is the main objective of professional televised mixed martial arts.

Moreover, whether you’ll admit it or not…that’s why you watch.  People watch auto racing for the crashes.  They watch someone walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon because the guy might fall.  And they watch MMA to see if one of the guys will grotesquely injure or disfigure the other.

It’s sick, and I don’t like it.  And part of me doesn’t even understand why anyone else would.

You’ll Never Learn

A while back I called out Mazda for showing a complete lack of perspective in one of their commercials.

They did it again, and this time the offense was even more egregious than calling a professional daredevil a “courageous thinker.”

They compared themselves to Bruce Lee, Frank Lloyd Wright…and Jackie Robinson.  Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

I wish I were kidding.

I went to the movies last night for the first time in a while to see Anchorman 2.  I don’t think I’ll write about it because…well, I mean, it is what it is.  But this, I can’t let go.

Mazda fancies itself as an innovative company.  Okay.  That’s fine.  But you have to know what you’re innovating here, and that’s cars.  Yes, they are important in today’s society, but literally every single car company in the world is also doing research and innovating new technologies.  It’s the only way for them to stay relevant.

To put together a longer-than-average commercial that takes itself super seriously with the intent of airing it before freaking Anchorman 2 is preposterous in and of itself, but to put yourself up there with those people?  Come on.  Is there anyone at this company who sees these things before they air?  Or at the ad agency?  Anyone?  Anywhere?

Mazda will never have the cultural significance of Bruce Lee.  They will never change the auto industry the way Frank Lloyd Wright changed architecture.  And they will never come close to even being in the same solar system of the significance and importance of Jackie Robinson.

On a positive note, even a ridiculous ad like this will make people talk about your company, and there is the old adage that any publicity is good publicity.  At the same time, if there is anyone out there that thinks this is a good ad – hey, I’ll even take anyone who doesn’t think it’s a ridiculously preposterous ad – please, stand up and be counted.

And then cash your check from Mazda, because clearly you must work for them.

I’m Packing Up My Game

The Dallas Cowboys announced that Tony Romo had back surgery this morning and will not play in the season finale on Sunday night, nor any playoff games should the Cowboys win.  This ended four days’ worth of speculation on whether or not he would suit up for the de facto division title game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

There has been a narrative over the past few years that Romo is not a good quarterback, that he chokes in the clutch.  While there are plenty of examples of games where he has had an opportunity to come through for the Cowboys and the team lost, the fact of the matter is that this narrative is hideously unfair to Romo.

The most recent example is the loss to Green Bay nearly two weeks ago.  The Cowboys blew a 26-3 lead, but the only thing that fans point out – goaded on by the media, too – is that Romo threw an interception to effectively end the game.  You know what?  Take a look at any football game ever: there is a really good chance that, minus a few kneeldowns, it’s going to end on an interception.  When you’re trying to score in a short period of time, passing is the way to go, and you don’t often have the time to be picky.  That’s a recipe for a turnover for anyone, not just Tony Romo.  And yet, none of that even comes into play if your defense can hold on to a 23-point lead in the second half.

On Sunday, a clearly gimpy Romo led his team to the winning score.  “Oh, that’s just one time!” people said.  And yet, according to ESPN’s Stats and Info Twitter feed (a very good follow, by the way), Peyton Manning has the most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2006 with 25.  Tied for second?  Tony Romo!  Over the last eight years, only one man has led his team to victory late in the game more often than Romo.

Of course, the losses stick out more than the wins.  Part of that is the prominence of the Cowboys in the national spotlight: success and failures alike are magnified when you play for “America’s Team.”  But keep this in mind as well: the reason that Romo has had so many opportunities to lead game-winning drives – and game-losing drives, as it were – is because the Cowboys play a lot of close games.  That’s not just Romo’s fault.  That’s on the player personnel people, the coaching staffs, and the other 52 guys on the roster.  The Cowboys simply haven’t been very good over the last eight years.

As an Eagles fan, I obviously hope that the Cowboys lose on Sunday night.  As someone who is tired of the constant bashing of Tony Romo, I hope they do so embarrassingly in his absence.

It’s Like This and Like That and Like This

Christmas is over.  Time to rant.

This has bothered me all year.  Maybe even longer.  This is so dumb.  This needs to stop.

What?  I told you.  This.

I cannot STAND when someone chooses to share something that someone else has posted on social media, specifically Twitter, and just writes, “This.”  As if to say, “this is something I enjoyed/agree with/want you to see or read.”  But instead, they just write, “This.”

Guess what?  You don’t have to do that!  I know you like it.  You know how?  I have ESP.  No, actually, I know you like it because you shared it.  If you share a link without explicitly saying that you find it vile or disgusting or awful, then your endorsement is implied.  You don’t even need to say, “I liked this,” but you can.  You most certainly do not need to write “this.”

Yes, this.  That.  What you just shared.  I get it.

Of course, there is always to possibility that someone would agree with me and share this post prefaced with a “This.”  And to that I say…well played.

I Don’t Ask a Lot for Christmas

I wrote last night about how I gave my family their Christmas gifts in a return to our old custom.  I’ve written about Christmas trees and shopping and the weather and moving the holiday back a month just to suit my own (completely reasonable and correct and you should totally agree with them) tastes.

Christmastime is about a lot of things.  It’s about the birth of Jesus, and as such is one of the holiest days of the year for Catholics.  It’s about Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen.  It’s about giving gifts to our loved ones.  It’s about cooking, and enjoying, a big dinner with family and friends.  It’s about falling asleep after that big dinner.  It’s about snow.  It’s about radio stations playing holiday music non-stop for the entire month of December.

It’s about all of those things, because it’s about whatever you want it to be.  That’s true for any holiday, really, but I feel like Christmas really drives that home more than the others.  Maybe it’s because it’s so close to the end of the year; in one week, everyone will be starting fresh (despite the demarcation of one year compared to the next being completely arbitrary), so it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the year that’s coming to a close.  Maybe it’s the religious significance of it.  Maybe it’s the (usually) colder weather that makes people prefer to be inside by the fire, sharing stories and warm beverages.  Maybe it’s the music.  And yes, maybe it’s even the fact that it’s by far the most commercialized holiday on the calendar, with ads appearing sometime around Labor Day, that gets Christmas into our collective conscience as something to look forward to, something to be celebrated.

No matter how much you enjoy Christmas, make sure to take a moment and smile today.  It could be at a joke your uncle has told every year since you can remember, or at a gift you received, or one you gave.  Try to appreciate how lucky you are to have people around you who care for and about you, and that you get to spend time with them.  And if you’re away from your family, or alone, then smile because hey, at least someone is thinking of you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tradition, Tradition!

I wrote yesterday about my family’s traditional “Christmas is in two or three days so we should probably get a tree” outing.  We have some other traditions as well that personally make Christmas Eve a bigger deal to me than Christmas.

For starters, there’s the tree.  I remember when I was young I would wake up and go downstairs on Christmas Eve morning to find my mom working on getting the tree standing and secure.  By early afternoon she already had the lights on, and my sister and I would begin hanging ornaments on it not long after that.  Nowadays, things seem to get started later, and it’s often not until well after dinner that we decorate it; today, however, things got started early and there are already lights and ornaments and even some tinsel on the tree.

Speaking of dinner, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the “seven fishes” is another thing that we kinda, sorta do.  We always eat seafood, but not usually any actual fish; nor are there seven of them.  We have crab cakes, along with shrimp and clam chowder.  This year, we added tuna for my dad and scallops for…well, everyone, but at my persuasive insistence.  That makes five pseudo-fishes; next year, I’m aiming to add two more.

This year’s dinner was a little more stressful for me than usual.  Instead of picking up the food we ordered from the seafood shop,* I’ll be in the kitchen making the crab cakes.  I had made them a couple times earlier in the year and people liked them, so I offered.  They turned out reasonably well, so that made me happy.  Well, relieved more than anything.  I did NOT want to ruin Christmas Eve dinner.

*Tangent: my mom always orders it for a 4:45 p.m. pickup.  The store closes at 5:00.  This often makes for a ridiculously unnecessary race against the clock to make sure we get there before they close.

We always visit my grandfather on Christmas Eve.  Usually it’s at night, after dinner, but today I pushed for an early afternoon visit.  See, my sister and I used to give our parents their presents on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get back to that this year.  My hope was that the whole family would do it, because our gift exchange has gotten later and later over the past few years.  I figured this was as good a time as any to corral that bronco and walk it back to the stable.  It was a half-success; we gave our parents and our aunt their gifts, but my mother hasn’t wrapped ours.  I’m sure we’ll get them by Memorial Day.

As if there was room for any more traditions, I’ve started taking an annual trip to the bookstore.  It started out a few years ago when I was looking for a last-minute gift for my dad.  I ended up walking out with a book for him and three for me.  Now, it’s usually just the last place I go when I have last-minute shopping to do, and I almost always leave with at least three or four books that I then proceed to blow through over the next two months.  I don’t read that often anymore, but when I do, it’s at a prolific pace.

This year, however, the bookstore trip was a one-off journey.  My shopping was finished, so it was simply a run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon book binge.  It did, however, serve the alternate purpose that made the previous trips so cherished: it always allows me the opportunity to get away from the family for a little bit.  I know, the holidays are about spending time with each other, but when you have hectic days such as Christmas Eve, you sometimes need to make sure you get the right dosage.

I’m a creature of habit and routine.  I feel like tradition falls under that umbrella, so it’s something I’ve been very adamant about over the years.  If I have my own family someday, and my wife and kids want to put up the Christmas tree a little early, I might cave.  If I have to miss Christmas Eve dinner because we’re out of town visiting her family, I won’t be happy, about it, but sometimes you have to make compromises.

Just make sure there’s a Barnes & Noble nearby.  Daddy needs to go shopping.