Tag Archives: sports

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!

Advertisements

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.

I Need a Doctor

So Roy Halladay retired today.

Halladay only spent four seasons with the Phillies, and two of those seasons were abbreviated/bad.  However, he represented a complete and total era-change in the history of the franchise, and it’s one from which I don’t think there’s any turning back.

In the summer of 2009, the defending world champions were looking to bolster their rotation.  Halladay was the big piece on the trade market, but the Phillies wouldn’t part with what the Toronto Blue Jays wanted, so they instead acquired the next-best thing, Cliff Lee, from the Cleveland Indians.

I couldn’t believe it; here was one of the more historically moribund franchises in all of sports going after the top two pitchers available on the trade market.  And, based on what the Blue Jays were asking for and the Indians accepted, for a fleeting moment you thought that maybe the Phillies could acquire both guys.  My, how things had changed.

In December of 2009, after Lee helped carry them to a second consecutive National League pennant, he was traded to Seattle.  In his place, the Phillies finally acquired Halladay, parting with assets that at the time seemed valuable, but now appear to be pennies on the dollar (catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud is likely to be the New York Mets’ starting catcher next year, but other than that, no one else has done anything of note).

When he was introduced, Halladay made it clear that if he was to leave Toronto, it would be in an effort to pitch in the postseason and win a World Series.  And if he was going to do that, he wanted to do it here.

The sound you heard right around this time four years ago was my head exploding.

After all these years, arguably the best pitcher in the game at the time wanted to play for my team?!?  My, how things had really changed.

In 2010, Halladay was magnificent.  He threw a perfect game in May, and then, in his first-ever postseason start, nearly duplicated the feat, instead settling for a one-walk no-hitter.  Halladay won the 2010 NL Cy Young Award, but the Phillies ultimately lost in the NLCS.

Who could have possibly imagined that it would be the high-water mark for the Phillies run of success?  At the time, none of us.  And we certainly weren’t thinking about it in 2011, when the Phillies signed Lee as a free agent, teaming him with Halladay and Cole Hamels to form a triumvirate of aces.  In July, when three aces weren’t enough, the Phillies traded for Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt.  WHO IS THIS FRANCHISE?!?

Of course, that season ended with disappointment in the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Ryan Howard grounded out to first to end Game 5, ending the season on his knees just outside the batter’s box, his Achilles tendon ruptured.  He still hasn’t been the same since.

And neither was Halladay.  His velocity was down a bit in 2012, and a back strain in May put him on the shelf for a while and seemed to explain the less than Halladay-esque performance.  After a mediocre finish to the season, and an absolutely disastrous start to 2013, Halladay had surgery to clean up his shoulder.  Reports indicated that his shoulder felt better than it had in years after the procedure, but in reality, back problems and thousands of innings had caught up to the burly righthander known as “Doc.”

Speculation abounded as to whether or not the Phillies would try to re-sign him on a one-year deal to see what was left in the tank.  In the end, it was the Blue Jays who tendered Halladay a contract: the ceremonial one-day variety that has become customary for players who want to retire as a member of a specific team.

The Doctor was out.

I’ve seen some criticism from Philadelphia fans, insulted that Halladay retired as a Blue Jay.  Those people should have their internet taken away from them.  The man spent a dozen years in the organization; as many highlights as he had here in Philadelphia, the Blue Jays organization literally made him the pitcher we all coveted.  It was only right that Halladay go out the way he came in.

But as a nod to his time here, which he referred to as “the icing on the cake,” sitting on the table during his press conference alongside a Blue Jays cap and his newly-retired #32 Blue Jays jersey was a red Phillies cap.

Roy Halladay didn’t owe us anything.  But over four years, he gave us everything.  As a baseball fan, I consider myself lucky to have been able to watch him pitch, and to do so in person for my favorite team.

Godspeed, Doc.

Hold the Line

Wow.  How bad were the Miami Dolphins last night?  The Dolphins rushed for two yards in their loss to the dreadful Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That’s not two hundred yards.  Two yards.  As in six feet.  As in if you simply fall over at the line of scrimmage, you’ve gained two yards.  Incredible.

What causes putrid rushing performances like that?  Generally, poor offensive line play.  And, as you no doubt know by now, the Dolphins’ line has been decimated by the losses of Richie Incognito (suspension) and Jonathan Martin (allegedly bullied).

(I say allegedly because, as we’ve seen, we have no idea what’s actually going on down there.)

While the discussion over hazing and locker room dynamics is the obvious – and necessary – result of this situation, everyone seems to be ignoring the football effect of Martin’s departure and Incognito’s banishment.  Which is fine; there are obviously bigger issues in play here, but the reality is, however unfortunate it is, the end result of the Dolphins’ season will have a longer-lasting effect on people than the Martin-Incognito affair.

The football effect is that Miami is missing forty percent of its starting offensive line.  There is a reason that the backups are the backups: they’re not as good as the starters.  But now the backups are the starters, which means…well, it means you rush for two yards on national television.

Somehow, the 1-8 Buccaneers and the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t the biggest embarrassments in their own state.  Professional football in Florida is a mess.

Don’t worry, Sunshine Staters; at least you have Florida State.

I Tighten My Belt ‘fore I Beg For Help

Early in this NBA season, one of the “things” that has cropped up, courtesy of an idea germinated on Reddit, endorsed by Grantland, and put into easy-to-follow visual form on its own website is the mythical NBA Regular Season Championship Belt.

Basically, it works like a wrestling or boxing championship belt.  You start with last season’s winner of the NBA Finals – in this case, the Miami Heat – and the belt is on the line in every game.  If the holder wins, they retain.  If the challenger wins, they are the new champion.

This season, the Heat successfully defended the title against the Chicago Bulls on opening night, but 24 hours later, the previously-assumed-to-be-tanking Philadelphia 76ers upset the champions and stole the belt, which they then successfully defended twice before getting steamrolled by the Golden State Warriors.

The San Antonio Spurs took out the Warriors on November 8, and then humiliated the New York Knicks yesterday before they brought the belt back to Philadelphia tonight.

Suffice to say, the Spurs are still the champs.

Regular seasons are long, and in leagues such as the NBA and NHL, where over half the league makes the playoffs, the season can sometimes seem like it doesn’t mean much.  This was started as a fun thing to keep track of during the season, and folks have gone back and tracked the belt back through the 2000-01 season.

And it certainly is a fun thing, but of course, I have a problem.  See, it’s the “Regular Season Championship Belt.”  So why, then, should last season’s playoff champ start out with it?  Why not the team that held it when the previous season ended?  On April 7, the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers and took the RSCB.  The Clippers then won their next five games to close out the season as the champs.  So why, then, should the Heat inherit the title the following year?

You could argue that the Clippers lost it to the Grizzlies in the playoffs, who lost it to the Spurs, who then lost it to the Heat, and that’s how Miami got it.  However, I will point once again to the “regular season” portion of the name and say no.

So, if the Clippers retained the belt, who would have it now?  Well, the Clippers would have handed it back to the Lakers on opening night, who then would have lost it to the Warriors a day later.  Golden State would have held it for just one day themselves, as they lost to the Clippers.  Imagine that; the Clippers would have lost and regained the belt within 48 hours.  Drama!

From there, the belt would have passed to the Orlando Magic and then the Boston Celtics, who would still currently hold the belt after beating the Magic again tonight.

Actually, you know what?  Forget it.  I’d rather have the Spurs holding the belt than the Celtics.  Forget I said anything.

The Clock Strikes Twelve

Well, there goes 82-0.

The Sixers got shellacked tonight, lowering their record to 3-1.  But hey, it was fun while it lasted!

I wrote the other night about how the Sixers’ win over Miami would ultimately mean nothing, and that they would hit reality over the weekend in Washington or against Chicago.  I was wrong about that, as the young Sixers came from behind both nights to come away with wins against the Wizards and Bulls.  The Bulls win was particularly impressive, as the Sixers trailed by 15 at halftime before charging back in the fourth quarter.

Tonight, though, the Golden State Warriors came to town, led by sniper Stephen Curry and former Sixer Andre Iguodala, and put an end to the home team’s perfect start to the campaign.  I watched part of the game at a bar/restaurant, and you could tell early on that things would not go well for the Sixers.  Curry ended up with a triple double in only three quarters, while Iguodala shot the lights out from long range and scored 32 points.  The group I was watching with speculated on whether or not the deficit would reach 40; we immediately agreed that it would, but it ultimately didn’t.  Yay?

There’s been a stat quoted a number of times in the past couple days that says that even a team that finishes with a .300 winning percentage (roughly 24-25 wins in an NBA season) will win three games in a row over the course of a season nearly half the time.  It’s just not that often that that run happens in the first three games and includes two of the best teams in the league.

In the end, while this Sixers team won’t be historically bad, they aren’t going to be good.  They have four NBA-caliber players on the team, and three of them could be traded during the season.  Things will get worse, but maybe not as bad as we thought.

Which isn’t good, because have you seen the Celtics?

Lots of teams are going to be bad this season.  The Sixers will be among them.  It was fun while it lasted, and to see glimpses of the future – i.e., Michael Carter-Williams – will certainly help the fans get through what might be a fairly moribund season.

Come draft night, when the Sixers are hopefully drafting in the top three, we’ll always have MCW’s opening night near quadruple-double, and Spencer Hawes’ game-icing jumper against the Bulls.

Even if he’s playing for someone else by then.

Keep a Little Bit of Pride

Five years ago today, the Phillies held their World Series parade.  Here are 2,000 words about it.

Just kidding.  No, seriously, I’m not…don’t close the…come back!

I am going to write about a major happening in the sports world, though.  Last night, a franchise with a long and storied history of both success and non-success knocked off one of the top franchises of this era in front of its home fans.

That’s right, I’m talking about your Philadelphia 76ers, who took down the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, 114-110, on Wednesday night.  Normally, a season-opening win over the Heat would be a good thing, but instead, all I can think is, “hey, guys…you’re doing it wrong.”

The Sixers stripped the roster and traded away the face of the franchise, point guard Jrue Holiday, on draft night in June.  They ended up with two first-rounders in Nerlens Noel – who fell to sixth after being projected as the top pick – and Michael Carter-Williams, and New Orleans’ first round pick next season.  This signaled to everyone that the Sixers were actually looking towards the 2014 Draft, which is going to be one of the deepest in the last 30 years.

At the top of the draft class is the “Maple Jordan,” Andrew Wiggins.  A native of Canada, Wiggins will play at the University of Kansas this season and almost assuredly enter the draft after that.  While there are other blue-chip players likely to be available – Julius Randle of Kentucky and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, to name two – Wiggins will be the first pick should he choose to enter the draft.

In the NBA, there is no fate worse than sustained mediocrity, which is something the Sixers have excelled at in recent years.  No better than seventh or eighth in the conference, but never one of the league’s worst teams, the Sixers are neither contenders nor bottom-feeders.  Unfortunately, the path to the former often requires you to be the latter.

By gutting your roster, filling it with young players, and amassing high picks in future drafts, you set your team up to lose a ton of games.  You’re not going out there trying to lose, but you really aren’t concerned with trying to build a roster that will win a lot, either.  This sort of tanking has been commonplace in the NBA, and the thought of “Riggin’ for Wiggins” is certainly appealing to a lot of fans.

Believe it or not, count me among them.

Like I said, being a middle of the pack team in the NBA essentially sentences you to a lifetime of being a middle of the pack team.  You have to bottom out and build your team through the draft, and the best way to do that is with lottery picks.  You don’t get lottery picks when you reach the playoffs, so it follows that in order to be better than everyone else, you first need to be worse than as many teams as you can.

So while I think tanking games is rather unsportsmanlike, and have the utmost respect for competitors who play hard for the entire game and the entire season even when the ultimate result is a foregone conclusion, I am firmly in the camp supporting Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and his rebuilding efforts.  You have to crawl before you can walk, and in the NBA, you need to fall before you can crawl.

When I saw the score throughout the game (I was at quizzo and was only able to see score updates on the bottom of a screen showing a different game), I was legitimately annoyed.  Like, really?  Are they so bad that they can’t even lose properly?

But the truth is that, even though they came out and punched the Heat in the mouth and went up something like 19-0 in the first quarter, this win is not indicative of how their season will go.  As presently constructed, the Sixers will still lose 55 games.  Maybe even 60.  Maybe even more.  They will have a top pick in next year’s draft, and if the Pelicans struggle, maybe even two in the top 10.

So for one night, let’s let them have their big surprise win.  And trust me, this was a big surprise.  It’s like a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament taking down a 2-seed.  It happens – more and more frequently in recent years – but it’s still a real big deal when it does.  The underdog is the biggest story in the country for two days, but you know what usually happens in the next round?  That upstart 15-seed gets dismantled by a 7- or 10-seed, and just as quickly as everyone had to look up where East Louisiana Valley Tech was, the sports world moves on as if it never happened.

Our plucky 15-seed took down the favored Heat.  All right.  Now they have a game in Washington tomorrow before a home game against Chicago the following night.

For the Cinderella Sixers, midnight is coming real fast.