Tag Archives: playoffs

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.


#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


#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


#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


#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


#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


#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.)


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!


You Can’t Make the Grade

With the Red Sox win over the Tigers just a couple minutes ago (full disclosure: I started writing after Shane Victorino’s grand slam), the World Series is set.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 series that gave Boston its first title in 86 years.

You know how I feel about the Red Sox, so God willing, the Cardinals will do the deed this time.

Anyway, since I was so brazen as to post my playoff predictions a few weeks ago, let’s see how I did.

WILD CARD GAMES: Nailed ’em both.  The Pirates and Rays were victorious, and neither game was particularly nail-biting.

NL DIVISION SERIES: I could not have been more correct.  As much as I wanted the Pirates to win, I picked the Cardinals in five, and that’s what happened.  The Dodgers also took care of business at home, winning in four games, as I predicted.  Hey, maybe I’m not so bad at this.

AL DIVISION SERIES: “Hey, maybe I’m not so bad at this.” – me, five seconds ago.  Your honor, may I present exhibit A: I had the A’s in four and the Rays in five.  Instead, it was the Tigers in five and the Red Sox in four.  I insist that the A’s were jobbed on that fan interference call in Game 4 that pretty much sucked the momentum out of the dugout, and as such, do not recognize the result of the series as valid.  However, Major League Baseball did, and it’s their playoffs, so really, who am I?

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: I whiffed, so let’s not even bother.  Although I did pick it to go six games.

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: I also picked this one to go six games, and it did.  In addition, I picked Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw to be the MVP of the World Series, and if you watched Game 6 of the NLCS, you could argue that he was.  Unfortunately for Kershaw and the Dodgers, it was his horrible outing that was most valuable to the Cardinals getting to the World Series as they returned to the fall classic for the fourth time in 10 seasons.  That’s impressive.

So there you have it.  I started out on fire, and ended with a whimper.  And that’s actually kind of insulting to whimpers, to be honest.

Pop a Bottle

I know I’m a crotchety old man, but I’m tired of baseball teams celebrating victories that really don’t mean anything.  Like, save it for an important win, you know?

One of the traditions of baseball is the locker room celebration after clinching your division title.  That’s fine; it’s been a long season, more than seven months since you showed up to spring training, and now you’re going to the postseason.  Okay, fine.

Teams also pop the champagne and beer when they win the League Championship Series.  Okay, I can deal.  You usually get a ring when you win a pennant, and you’re still at the very least a champion of something, you know?

Of course, the ultimate celebration is reserved for winning the World Series.  At that point, all bets are off.  Go crazy.  There are no more games to win.  You’re the champions.  Pop pop, everybody.

But now it seems like teams are starting dogpiles in the infield and putting cellophane over the lockers when they win the Division Series.  Or, even worse, the Wild Card Game.  Sure, you won a playoff series, but where did it get you?  It got you into another series.  Does it get you a new banner or flag or wall decal for your stadium that says “2013 Division Series Winners?”  No?  Then catch the final out, shake hands, pack your bags, and go win some more games.

I remember when the Phillies won the NL East on the last day of the 2007 season.  The celebration at the ballpark was bonkers.  The players came back out to the field and were even spraying fans with champagne.  It was okay, because the team hadn’t been to the playoffs in 14 years and had just completed one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history (they had trailed the Mets by 7.5 games with 17 to play).  The Phillies were then promptly swept out of the playoffs in three games.  Oh well.

The following season, they beat the Brewers in the NLDS before beating the Dodgers to move on to the World Series.  I remember commenting that I was impressed with the demeanor of the players after winning the series; they were happy, no doubt, but not satisfied.  There was champagne and beer and all, but everyone knew there was still work to be done.

The fans, on the other hand, filled the streets as soon as the game was over.  Come on folks, act like you’ve been there before.  Even if you haven’t.

I don’t want to harsh anyone’s vibe or anything (if that’s even a thing), but I feel like in order to celebrate like doofuses (because let’s be honest, grown men in baseball uniforms and goggles dumping drinks on each other looks ridiculous), you should first earn something to unveil at the ballpark.  Division titles, pennants, and World Series wins.  That’s it.

(You’re welcome, baseball.)

Reach Out

As a native of the area, I’ve supported Philadelphia’s sports teams throughout my life.  However, that’s not to say that I’ve never rooted for other teams.  When I was younger, I thought I wanted to branch out a little and pick my own teams to follow.  In reality, I just followed the teams of players that I liked.  I never stopped liking the Phillies or the Eagles or anyone else; I just also liked other teams.  And while that would be an almost criminal thing to do now, it’s not so bad for an eight-year-old to want to go his own way, you know?

My favorite baseball player was, and still is, Cal Ripken, Jr.  I played shortstop in Little League, just like Cal.  I liked to read; Cal was big on literacy in his community.  He was one of the best players in baseball, and his team was just a couple hours down the road (at night, I could listen to the radio broadcast even this far north), so I became a Baltimore Orioles fan for a while.

The mid-90s were a good time for the Orioles.  The O’s reached a pair of American League Championship Series, but didn’t reach the World Series.  Unfortunately, after that, the team didn’t have a winning record until 2012.  And in a more disappointing development for the team, once I went away to college, I started to drift back to supporting just my hometown teams, which was strange, because I was now able to see every Orioles game on television in Washington, D.C.

Anyway, the Orioles won the Wild Card in 1996 and beat the Cleveland Indians in four games to advance to the ALCS.  Game 1 was scheduled for Wednesday, October 9.  That’s 17 years ago today.

I remember rushing home from school to watch the game (you know, back when midweek playoff games still started in the afternoon).  Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be able to see the end of the game.  My parents were going to a meeting at my school, and my sister and I were too young to stay home alone, so we had to go with them.  I brought my walkman with me (yes, this is a long time ago) so that I could do my homework and listen to the game during the meeting.

I’ve seen the clip what feels like hundreds of times now, so I don’t know whether I saw it live; I was most likely in the car on the way to the meeting when it happened.  It was the bottom of the eighth, and the Orioles led, 4-3.  Derek Jeter, who was just a rookie and not yet “Derak Jeetah,” lofted a high fly ball to right.  Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco waited under it, reached up…and it was gone.  Umpire Richie Garcia signaled for a home run.  Tie game.

Of course, the controversy began immediately.  Jeffrey Maier (who I’ve always referred to by his full name, Jeffrey [deleted]ing Maier), a kid about my own age, reached over the wall and pulled the ball into the stands.  Fan interference; Jeter should have been called out.  I know there was no replay back then, but watching the clip, I can’t imagine how someone as close to the play as  Garcia was could possibly screw it up.  He did, and of course, in the 11th inning, Bernie Williams hit a home run to end it.  I remember sitting in the back of the library, slumping into one of the study carrels, and not doing any more work until I got home.

The Orioles won Game 2, but lost the next three in Baltimore to lose the series.  It’s impossible to say if that blown call cost them a 2-0 lead, or how things would have played out from that point, but regardless, it was a horrendously botched situation that may have cost my favorite player and his team a chance at the World Series.

I’d like to think that I could have gotten over it.  I mean, I was 13.  Sure, it stung, but bad calls happen, and like I said, who knows if the Yankees wouldn’t have won anyway?  There was always next year.

Except this kid was treated like royalty for what he.  To see him get prime seats for the World Series after his mother took him out of school to go to the ALCS game made me sick.  People are ejected from stadiums for interfering with live balls all the time.  Instead, this kid was being feted for interfering with the game and changing the course of baseball history.  Who knows if the “Yankee dynasty” ever happens if they don’t win the 1996 World Series?  It could have been put down before it even started, except that little twerp cheated and was being rewarded for it.

People have their reasons for hating certain teams.  From that point forward, I loathed the New York Yankees, and promised to forever hold Jeffrey Maier’s actions against the franchise.  Even today, a decade after my Orioles fandom began to fizzle out, I would still have a hard time not punching that guy in the nose.

* * *

This story is relevant today because of what happened in Detroit last night.  Two fans reached over a railing and interfered with a ball off the bat of Victor Martinez.  The ball was well above the yellow line on the right field wall, putting it in home run territory.  However, it had not hit the railing yet, or come down in play, or on the yellow line.  We don’t know if Josh Reddick would have caught it.  All we do know is that the fan interference prevented Reddick from having the opportunity to make the play.

The rules explicitly state that “…should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’’s interference.”  The debate seems to be over whether or not the interference “plainly” prevented Reddick from making the catch.  It’s hard to say; Reddick surely believes he would have caught it, and reasonable people disagree.  However, the fans clearly reached out to the “playing field side” of the fence, and they prevented a fielder from making an attempt on a live ball.

That needs to be an out.  At worst, a double.  I cannot agree with any interpretation that awards a home run on a ball that never actually left the field of play, even if it was due to outside interference.  Those guys inserted themselves into the game, and their team benefited (the home run tied the game, and the Tigers went on to win and tie the series).  That can’t happen.

Of course, we can make all the rules we want, but eventually something will land in a gray area.  The only thing we can control, as fans, is our actions.  Seriously, stop reaching over the fence.  No one paid to watch you make a catch, and those of us watching at home absolutely hate you for doing it.

Trust me, Jeffrey.

We’re Goin’ Down, Down in an Earlier Round

Playoffs are stupid.

I mean, if you’re a fan of whatever sport, then the playoffs are the best thing going.  Like the MLB postseason, for instance.  Every at bat is so meaningful; any pitch can change the fortunes of either team.

And honestly, that doesn’t make sense.

I started feeling this way when I started following the Premier League in earnest.  There are 20 teams in the league; each team plays every other team home and away for a total of 38 matches.

That’s it.  After 38 matches, the team with the most points is the champion.  No playoffs, no series, no tournament.  Just a season.

Then, in 2010 and 2011, my favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, was the “best team in baseball” at the end of the season, meaning that over the course of 162 games, nobody won more than the Phillies.

(For those of you who didn’t grow up watching the Phillies, you might not understand how incomprehensible this is.  The first professional sports franchise to reach 10,000 all-time losses, the Phillies had some pretty lean years between the mid-90s and the mid-2000s.  To see them have the best record in baseball not once but twice, and having it not happen in a dream but in real life, blew my mind.)

It would follow that there should be some sort of reward, right?  You did the best over the course of the season, so you should be the champion, right?  No, we have three rounds of playoffs, and in each of those years, the Phillies came up short of the World Series.  To be fair, they’d made it in each of the two years prior, so really, I’m not complaining.

Watching my team do so well for six months, and have it all end in a week, kind of grated on me.  Maybe I was spoiled; after all, the barren wasteland of Philadelphia baseball had turned into the home of the five-time division champions, two-time league champions, and 2008 World Series champions.  We always want more, though, and while I was grateful for the success the team had achieved, I felt like I’d been cheated by the system a little bit.

The feeling had been nagging at me for a while, and that stretch sealed it for me: playoffs are a terrible way to decide a champion.  “Sample size” is often quoted as a reason to ignore statistics or to at the very least take them with a grain of salt.  It’s why simulations and prediction models are run thousands of times, not just once.  Why, then, should we decide a champion based on a sample size that is no greater than 12.3% of the length of the regular season?

(Quick stats: the most playoff games a World Series champion can play is 20; they play 162 in the regular season.  In the NBA and NHL, there is a maximum of 28 playoff games compared to 82 regular season games, which equates to 34.1%.  NFL champions may play up to four playoff games, compared to 16 regular season games, which is 25%.)

This comes to mind every year, especially in October.  The Boston Red Sox were one of two teams with the most wins in baseball this year.  They currently hold a 2-1 lead in their divisional series.  The other team with 97 wins was the St. Louis Cardinals, who got seven and a third hitless innings from a 22-year-old rookie to stay alive in their divisional series.

Just think: if the Pittsburgh Pirates had strung together a couple hits somewhere in that game, one of the teams with the best record in baseball might have gone home after a measly four playoff games.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves won just one fewer game than the Cardinals and Red Sox.  The Braves jumped out to a 12-1 start in April and cruised to a division title, and yet thanks to a hanging curve ball to Juan Uribe in the bottom of the eighth inning last night (side note: Uribe hit a pennant-winning home run to beat the Phillies in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS, so I hate him forever) that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a series win over the Braves, Atlanta is going home after those same four measly games.

If the Braves had won 12 out of 13 at the end of the season, they’d be World Series champions.  Instead, they did it at the beginning, and it was all for naught.

I could point to dozens of examples across all different sports, but I won’t.  The fact is that when you decide a champion in a short series, or in a tournament, you devalue the entire season that led up to it.  And if the value of the regular season is diminished, why bother with it in the first place?

The Phillies were the best team in baseball in 2010.  They repeated the feat in 2011.  The Washington Nationals were in the same boat in 2012.  Unfortunately, someone else got hot in October, so it didn’t matter.  And that’s not right.

(That being said, go Pirates!)

October Road

October is here, which means the MLB playoffs will be getting underway later tonight.

Well, kind of.  I still don’t know how I feel about the one-game Wild Card round.  Baseball, more than any other sport, can be affected by the random things that cause a far superior team to lose to an inferior one.  Even the winningest teams of all-time, the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins apiece), only won 76 and 72 percent, respectively, of their games.  There is a reason that the baseball postseason has always been conducted via series.

However, the four wild card teams playing the next two nights already got t-shirts and sprayed champagne and everything, so I guess they’re officially in.

Anyway, here are my picks for the playoffs.  They’re guaranteed to be correct, except when they’re not.

NL WILD CARD GAME: Francisco Liriano has been lights out at home for the Pirates, and lefties have struggled against him all year.  The Reds are lefty-heavy, and Johnny Cueto hasn’t exactly been very good in his playoff career.  He’s also coming off a season that he missed much of due to injury.  I’m going with the Pirates.

AL WILD CARD GAME: The Indians will throw Danny Salazar tomorrow night.  I picked him up for a couple fantasy baseball spot starts (I WON MY LEAGUE!  I WON MY LEAGUE!) late this season, and he always posted a bunch of strikeouts, but never went deep into the game.  The Rays counter with Alex Cobb, who’s been pitching well of late.  I like me some Rays.

NL DIVISION SERIES: I’ll be honest; I want the Pirates to win.  They haven’t had a winning season since I was in third grade.  Come on.  But the Cardinals are going to be tough.  I think it’s a fairly even series (Pittsburgh won 10 of 19 during the regular season), but having Game 5 at home will be the difference.  On the other side, I know the Braves beat up the Phillies the last weekend of the season, but I’m not buying what they’re selling.  Give me Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke over Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, and give me the Cardinals in 5 and the Dodgers in 4.

AL DIVISION SERIES: I feel like I pick the A’s to win every time they make the playoffs, and they reward me by bowing out immediately.  But Detroit…I mean, I know it was meaningless, but the Tigers just got swept by the Marlins.  That is not the right kind of momentum to have entering the postseason.  I’m going to take a risk with the other series, too; the Red Sox had the best record in the American League, and took 12 of 19 from Tampa Bay, but the Rays are set to have David Price pitch two games in Fenway Park.  He won consecutive starts there earlier this season, and if there’s anyone on the Tampa Bay roster that can handle the moment in a decisive game in that environment, it’s Price.  I’m taking the Rays in 5 and the A’s in 4.

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: The Cardinals have a potent offense, outscoring the rest of the National League by nearly a hundred runs this season.  But I tend to side with pitching, and while St. Louis has Adam Wainwright, he can only pitch two or three games in the series.  Kershaw and Greinke can handle five.  I think it only goes six.  Dodgers in 6 (MVP: Yasiel Puig).

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: There are like four people outside of the respective Bay areas that would watch this series, but I am one of them.  Oakland and Tampa Bay have the 26th- and 27th-highest payrolls in baseball, and one of them will make the World Series.  Even though my team is among the top few in payroll, I like seeing these sorts of teams succeed.  This is an even riskier pick, since they could lose tomorrow and submarine the whole ordeal, but I will take the Rays in 6 (MVP: Evan Longoria).

WORLD SERIES: Another bi-coastal showdown.  A great pitching matchup.  I would certainly enjoy this series, even if no one else would.  For some reason, people are hesitant to acknowledge that he is the best pitcher in baseball, but this year, Kershaw will raise the World Series MVP trophy as his Dodgers earn a ring for manager Don Mattingly.  Dodgers in 6 (MVP: Clayton Kershaw).

So there you have it.  I can’t wait to amend these on Thursday.  And next week.