Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 2-1-15

Look, my computer died an unnatural and precipitous death over the past two weeks and I have lost all my records with regard to previous Mythical Picks. All I can say is that the entire season has been disastrously bad and the only way I could possibly “get even” wo0uld be to take a prop bet at about +5000 that a yeti will dash onto the field from the south end and block a punt during the second quarter of the game. That is not gonna happen and so, I am not gonna come close to breaking even for the season.

Anyone who takes any information here and uses it to influence the way he/she decides to wager on the Super Bowl game this Sunday is a demonstrable moron. Instead of being cute here, let me say this directly:

    Do not take my picks seriously.

Bet on the game however you want – just do not get caught up in some random sting operation orchestrated by an overly zealous local prosecutor.

General Comments:

Someone did a study that concluded that Americans will wager $3.8B illegally this year on the Super Bowl game. If accurate, that means approximately $35 will be bet illegally on the game this year than is legally bet on the game in Nevada. Man, those laws to limit betting on sports events – to protect the integrity of the game don’t you know – are really working well…

Speaking of Las Vegas wagering, the Westgate has 350 prop bets on their board for action. Standard ones like the OVER/UNDER for the duration of the National Anthem are there (the target this year is 2 minutes and 1 second) but there are several that might actually be interesting:

    Rushing yards for Tom Brady … The OVER/UNDER line is 1.5 yards and both props are at -110.

    Will there be a safety in the game? Yes is at +500 – even though there has been a safety in the last three Super Bowl games.

    Will the game go to OT? Yes is at +550 – even though there has never been an overtime in the Super Bowl.

    Here is a really interesting one. Which will be greater, the number of made field goals in the Super Bowl or the number of wins by the UNLV football team in the 2015 season? Both sides of the wager are at -110. Do not lose that ticket between now and next December…

This is the 49th Super Bowl. There are only 3 people who have covered all 48 games in the past and are scheduled to be at the game with keyboard underhand at the game this Sunday. Here they are:

    Jerry Green: He is 86 years old and is “semi-retired” from the Detroit News.

    Jeffrey izenberg: He is 84 years old and is a “columnist-emeritus” for the Newark Star-Ledger.

    Dave Klein: He is 74 years old and used to be with the Newark Star-Ledger before leaving to start and run an online site called e-Giants.

The NFL has managed to figure out that the last thing it needs is some kind of issue surrounding the internal pressure of the footballs in the game this Sunday. [Aside: I do admit that I would laugh my ass off if a player fell on a loose fumble and when the pile was unraveled the officials found a completely flattened ball with zero psi as the internal pressure. I would wonder who the director in the truck would dare point the camera towards in that moment.] The way the NFL seeks to mitigate the potential for problems here is that it has assigned the Chicago Bears’ equipment manager, Tony Medlin, as the custodian, major domo and head honcho of the balls to be used in the game. Why Messr. Medlin is more qualified for this position of responsibility than any of the other 30 equipment managers for teams not involved in the game is completely opaque. Nonetheless, it seems that Medlin has taken on the task as an assignment that verifies his commitment to “getting things right”.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I seem to think that he has been selected to be the guy who eats the biggest turd-burger in history if anything goes even slightly wrong with the footballs in the game.

    Memo to Tony Medlin: Go to midnight mass on Saturday night and to 6:00 AM mass on Sunday morning and light candles with the prayer that all goes well with the equipment on Sunday. If it does not, you are going to take more gas than a HUM-V.

By the way, Medlin is a former recipient of the Whitey Zimmerman Award given annually to the NFL Equipment Manager of the Year. I mention that because you can win a lot of bar bets just by asking folks to identify the basis for the Whitey Zimmerman Award…

The Game:

New England – 1 vs. Seattle (48): I see a low scoring game here where neither side dominates the other. I like the Seahawks to repeat as champions and so I will take them plus the point here. I also like the game to stay UNDER. With regard to prop bets, I will take Brady’s rushing total to go OVER 1.5 yards.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle regarding the way Bill Belichick will deal with Deflategate in the future:

“The rest of his life, Belichick will handle inflation jibes the same way he handles all such challenges. He’ll defuse the situation with a charming smile and infectious laughter.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

A Wandering Mind Gathers No …

The sporting world lost three recognizable folks over the last week or so:

    Tommy Mason passed on. He was the first player drafted by the Minnesota Vikings back when they were an expansion team.

    Bill Monbouquette passed on. In addition to his own achievements as a major league pitcher, I recall in the late 60s when he spent some time late in his career in the National League that his name was a tongue-twister for By Saam who did the Phillies’ games then. Saam said his name as “Mon-cue-bet”.

    Ernie Banks passed on. Mr. Cub can now get ready to “play two” in the Celestial Baseball League.

RIP, Tommy Mason, Bill Monbouquette and Ernie Banks…

Given the monstrous weather conditions in the eastern parts of New England this week, here is a suggestion for the folks-in charge there to make chicken salad out of chicken … “you know what”:

    Why not try to pay off the good folks in Alaska and get the Iditarod moved from “Wherever, Alaska” to Wherever-Else Alaska” and have it start this year in Boston. Two laps around a route from Boston to Albany, NY to Portland, ME and back through Boston would come awfully close to the 1000 mile trek for the dogs and the mushers. Why might this be interesting?

    First, it might show the folks at the IOC the organizational skills of the folks in Boston. If those Beantowners can pull off this sporting event on short notice – even though there is no history of any such event in the same general area as is the case with the Olympics – think about what that might mean about those same folks doing something “grand” with almost a decade to prepare.

    Second, the grand prize for the winner of the Iditarod has been a mid-five figure payoff and a pick-up truck for the past several years. With two weeks’ notice, the Boston folks should be able to match that – or double it – without breaking a sweat.

No need to thank me here; win-win situations are my specialty…

If you can force yourselves to do this, I want you to take your sporting focus off of the Super Bowl for just a moment today and pay attention to what is going to happen tomorrow in the NFL. On Friday of this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell will give the annual “State of the League” address to the assembled scribes and talking-heads. Face the facts here; even Rudolf Nureyev could not dance around the embarrassments of the NFL over the last 12 months gracefully. Goodell is not Nureyev; he will be lucky to dance around them without winding up with is foot in his mouth – or in the orifice at the other end of his alimentary canal.

How has the NFL embarrassed itself in the last year? Let me count the ways [with apologies here to Elizabeth Barrett Browning]:

    Ray Rice
    Adrian Peterson
    Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald as a juxtaposition
    Robert Mueller’s report
    Jim Irsay
    Dean Blandino on the Cowboy’s “Party Bus”
    A bizzare officials’ call to get the Cowboys past the Lions in the playoffs
    An equally bizzare officials’ call to get the Cowboys out of the playoffs
    The Washington franchise name
    Concussion lawsuits
    Player safety juxtaposed with more Thursday Night Football
    Deflated/Underinflated footballs (note a fundamental difference here!)

Standing up there and giving a prepared speech with all that monstrous vomit in the background is not any better than being President and having to give a State of the Union address when times are bad and the “other guys” are in the majority in the audience. It would not surprise me a bit to know – if I could read minds – that what Goodell really wants to do is to build his address to a crescendo and then to drop his pants and moon everyone who is paying rapt attention to the speech. Then he can “leave the building” and live off the approximately $100M he has earned in his tenure as NFL Commish and at the same time, tell the rest of the world to “do this with your that”.

I will not be able to watch the speech live and in color; I will be assisting a family member in the events surrounding a change of venue for a business venture. However, you may be certain that I will watch whatever snippets of the speech are available in the mass media and will be sorry to see that the address did not end with the fullest moon that Arizona ever saw…

Just in case you think that Goodell’s ownership embarrassments end with folks like tone-deaf Danny Boy Snyder or rumblin’, bumblin’ stumblin’ Jim Irsay or two steps ahead of indictment Jimmy Hasalem, perhaps you have not yet heard about the fun and games surrounding Tom Benson, the Saints’ owner.

According to reports, Benson decided to cut his daughter and her two kids out of the ownership of the team when Benson goes to the great used car lot in the sky. Instead, reports say that the Saints’ ownership will pass to his third wife when Benson “assumes ground temperature” so to speak. This seems as if it should not be such a big deal – except for the fact that his daughter and two grandkids have sued him over this action. They claim that he is mentally incompetent, that he has only brief moments of lucidity and that he still thinks that Ronald Reagan is President – or perhaps it is Harry Truman. No matter how this proceeds from here, it will be a PR nightmare for the Saints, the Benson family and the NFL.

Roger Goodell may be looking for someone to introduce Tom Benson to V Stiviano before the year is out…

Finally, if Al Davis were still alive and wanted to poke a stick in Robert Kraft’s eye, Davis might invite Lance Armstrong to join him in an owner’s box at the game and put a bunch of deflated balls in plain view for the TV cameras to see. Sadly, Al Davis will be watching this game from the owner’s box in the cosmos…

But don’t get me wrong,, I love sports………

Media Day Circus

Yesterday, I wrote about MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, being open to rules that would limit “extreme defensive shifts”. I said I knew such ploys existed back to the time of Ted Williams and left it to baseball historians to date it even earlier than that. It could not have been more than an hour and a half later when I received an e-mail from a regular reader in Houston who is a repository of sports stats and history. He reports:

    The shift was used by the Cardinals in the 1946 World Series against Williams who went 5 for 25 in that Series.

    It was used earlier in 1946 against Williams by Indians’ manager Lou Boudreau and when that happened it was known as the “Boudreau Shift”.

    The first use of an “extreme shift” goes back to 1924 when it was used by several teams against the Phillies as a counter to Cy Williams – a left-handed power hitter.

So, the shift was used against Cy Williams and then against Ted Williams… Is this an example of profiling?

Yesterday was Media Day in the march toward Super Bowl Sunday. As usual, it provided far more heat than light. If I may pretend for just a moment that the Super Bowl is mostly a football event around which a circus-like aura has developed – rather than vice-versa – I think the league and the folks who attend Media Day leave a lot to be desired.

Predictably, Marshawn Lynch was “uncooperative” with media questioning. His answer to every question put to him was “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” One report said that he repeated that answer to 29 questions. That behavior leads me to several conclusions:

    Marshawn Lynch is not going to say anything interesting in these sorts of settings and so it is sort of stupid for the folks at Media Day not to realize that asking more questions after four or five identical responses from Lynch.

    The NFLPA – and the NFLPA – negotiated into the CBA a provision that would mandate player appearances at various press events. It seems clear that both sides recognized the benefits to the “NFL brand” if players became better known to the public and so the CBA codified standard media/player/coach interactions wherein players and coaches had to attend. If not, there was a fine for I guess what you would call “breach of contract”. Marshawn Lynch has demonstrated the fecklessness of that mandate.

    The “NFL brand” is not advanced by Lynch’s behavior; and when the “NFL brand” is not advanced, there is likely a deficit to both the league and to the players. The current structured and legalistic framework surrounding media interaction(s) with players and coaches demonstrates the significant limitations of the existing rules.

There is a real challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA here; and frankly, I am not sure that either side is up to the challenge. They need to modify these rules and regulations using common sense and good will as the framework for the new – and badly needed – reworked regulations. These two sides have tried the “one-size-fits-all” model and it clearly does not work. Here we have Marshawn Lynch at one end of the spectrum and in the recent past we had players like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco who never saw a camera they did not like. One size does not fit all. Adults ought to be able to recognize that. And so, the challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA also represents a test to see if there is any real adult supervision in either organization.

One more question about Media Day if I may:

    Given the juvenile sort of “look-at-me” behaviors on display (a man wearing a barrel and a black cowboy hat for example) and given the stupid and irrelevant questions asked by the people in attendance (what is Bill Belichick’s favorite puppet?) and given the spectacle of players dancing with “reporters”, who asks for a press credential to this mess and is denied one?

Honestly, the ghost of King Henry VIII – who would not know a damned thing about the NFL or American football – would be hard pressed to pose the dumbest question of the day. Moreover, do not get me started on the folks who paid $28.50 a piece to sit in the stands and watch goofs interview players and coaches. Next thing you know, those folks will pony up cash money to sit in an amphitheater and watch players and coaches eat a team meal. It’s just sad…

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times did not attend Media Day to come up with this observation but it could have been a line of questioning had he chosen to attend:

“Super Bowl injury update: Patriots QB Tom Brady (hurt feelings), probable.”

According to a report in the SF Chronicle, after Boston was selected by the USOC as the US city to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, Boston mayor, Marty Walsh signed an agreement with the USOC that bans City of Boston employees from making negative comments about the Olympic Games, the USOC or the process(es) involved in securing the games for Boston. Negative comments here are ones that might “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage” the Olympic Games, the USOC and/or the IOC. As you might imagine, there are folks involved with organizations such as the ACLU who do not think that agreement is a very good idea…

All I can say is that it is a good thing I do not work for the City of Boston…

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News looked upon this agreement between the Boston mayor and the USOC from a different perspective:

“The mayor of Boston has signed an agreement banning city employees from speaking negatively about the Olympics.

“However, … sources say the agreement indicates it’s just fine to say any horrible thing they want about the Celtics.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Deflategate Is A Conspiracy Theory

I have a new computer but still none of my old documents and information. I would guess there is a 10% chance that I will ever see any of that old info. So, here I go, starting from scratch.

You cannot possibly be any more tired of hearing about “Deflategate” than I am. Since I do not know what happened, I am not going to pretend that I do. What I would like to say here is that there are lessons for all of us when we are faced with stories of this kind and I would like to use the current “debate” to illustrate.

Here is one sure way to tell if a story is really about a conspiracy theory and not just the events that triggered the story. In a conspiracy theory, the absence of evidence about some aspect of the story becomes proof of the conspiracy itself. Because Tom Brady did not say some specific thing at his news conference or because the NFL has not made the referee and other officials publicly available becomes part of the “proof” of a conspiracy. Not exactly Aristotelian-level logic there.

    When someone says – as a talking head on ESPN or as a caller to a sports radio show – that such-and-such MUST have happened, there is an immediate follow-up question that has to happen. The question is:

      OK, if you are CERTAIN that such-and-such happened, then how did the perpetrators effect it?

    The answer to that question has to be just as certain as the first assertion plus there has to be good objective evidence for how it all came about. Certainty is a very robust stance and when someone claims to KNOW what HAD TO HAPPEN, that person had also be ready to provide some specifics when facing follow-up questions.

ESPN New York reports that the Yankees are

“devising legal arguments so Alex Rodriguez won’t be able to collect any of the bonuses he is owed per the $30 million ‘milestone home run’ marketing agreement he signed in 2007”.

As I understand the contract, A-Rod can collect $6M each time he gets to a milestone along the way to the all-time home run record. The nearest of those milestones comes if he hits 6 more and ties Willie Mays for #4 on the all-time list. You can read the entire report here. Frankly, I think this makes it look as if the Yankees are sinking to A-Rod’s level. He and they signed a contract; neither side coerced the other to agree to the terms.

The new Commissioner of Baseball said that he is open to ideas for rules changes that would prevent teams from using “extreme defensive shifts”. I am not trying to nit-pick here, but this is not enough of a big deal that it qualifies as something the new Commish should jump to as soon as he takes office. I have no idea when “extreme defensive shifts” started in baseball, but I recall seeing teams use what was called the “Ted Williams Shift” back in the 1950s. Perhaps that was the origin of shifting; perhaps it goes back a lot further than that; I will leave that to baseball historians. I guess one could argue that by limiting defensive shifts the amount of scoring would increase in baseball. The problem with that simplistic view is that if nothing else materially changes, increased scoring will necessarily have to increase the length of games and the games are already long enough thank you very much.

Personally, I think the best way to defeat an “extreme shift” is for left-handed hitters to learn to lay down a solid bunt that will end up in the vicinity of where a third baseman would normally play. It would not take a jillion of those events to convince managers to put players in more “normal defensive positions”. I do not want to jump all over the new Commish and draw any wide-ranging negative conclusions about him from this one early statement. So, I will chalk this one up to him trying to do something to keep MLB in the sports conversation while the majority of the focus in the US is on the impending Super Bowl game.

One other thing about MLB is interesting at this moment. The folks who are in charge of MLB have named a new Chairman of the MLB Finance Committee. Normally, that would be no big deal but in this case the new Chairman is Fred Wilpon – the owner of the NY Mets. Recall that Wilpon was a “major investor” with Bernie Madoff and basically lost his shirt in that Ponzi scheme. I recall reading one estimate that he might have been into the investment club to the tune of $300M. Assume that number is the right order of magnitude and then realize that this guy is now in charge of the MLB Finance Committee… What could possibly go wrong?

One last baseball item… The Nats’ acquisition of Max Scherzer took a starting rotation that was as good as any in baseball and made it clearly the best starting rotation in baseball. The Nats now have 6 quality starting pitchers; most teams do not have three. Nevertheless, I do not think this acquisition will scratch the itch for Nats’ fans. Consider:

    The Nats have had the best team in the NL East by a wide margin for the last two years. They waltzed into the playoffs.

    In the playoffs, they have laid eggs and they have been ostrich-sized eggs.

    Nats’ fans – many of whom are bandwagon-hopping front runners – want to see the team in the World Series.

    A six-man starting rotation is not of great use in a playoff scenario.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Admin Note

My old computer is dead. It served me well; it was time for it to go to the Great Internet In The Sky.

Two problems however:

    1. I lost access to all of my historical records and to the clipboard I kept for things to write about. That will make pickings slim for the next several weeks.

    2. I lost all of my e-mail contacts. Some readers have been on an e-mail list to get notifications of recently posted rants on the website. That list is gone because all of the e-mail addresses themselves are gone.

Here is my solution to Problem #2:

    Any reader who wants e-mail notification of newly posted rants needs to send me a request to be put on the list. Send requests to sportscurmudgeon@Verizon.net

Catching Up…

Catching up on a variety of issues since I was last “on the air”…

Doug Marrone opted out of his job as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. There was a clause in his contract that said he could do that and be paid $4M this year anyway in the event the team was sold. After Ralph Wilson died last year, the Bills were indeed sold. Early in the NFL coach-shuffling season, Marrone was supposedly on the inside track to take over as the head coach of the Jets but the bloom came off that rose pretty quickly. Earlier this week, Marrone signed on as the OL coach for the Jaguars. That is what you might call a huge step down in the football coaching hierarchy.

I read an item somewhere – and did not record where so I cannot cite it – that if Stephan Curry actually wins the NBA MVP Award this year, he will be the first player for the Warrior franchise to do that since – – –

    Wilt Chamberlain in the 1959-60 season when the Golden State Warriors were the Philadelphia Warriors.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot spoke about all of the “insight” we will be exposed to from draft analysts and those devising mock NFL drafts over the next three months. He pointed out that we should take all of that with a grain of salt and remember the serious debates that flew around just 3 years ago with regard to the merits of taking RG3 ahead of Andrew Luck. Indeed, you should heed that warning and also recall from a bit further back in NFL Draft history:

    More than a few analysts thought Ryan Leaf was a better QB prospect than Peyton Manning and recommended taking Leaf as the #1 overall pick.

    Many analysts scoffed at the Texans taking Mario Williams first and passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young.

The draft is an art and not a science…

Bob Arum says that Manny Pacquaio has agreed to terms for a fight with Floyd Mayweather. Even if this fight were to happen in the near future, it is at least 3 years later than it should have been and maybe 5 years later. This was the fight everyone wanted to see somewhere around 2010…

Today’s Washington Post – in the Business Section no less – has a short note about football wagering. Here are some of the numbers:

    The estimate for the amount of money Americans will bet illegally on the Super Bowl this year is $3.8 Billion.

    Last year, Nevada’s sportsbooks handled $119.4M in legal wagers on the Denver/Seattle Super Bowl game. [Aside: The books won $19.7M from Super Bowl wagers last year.]

    Remember the magnitudes of these numbers the next time someone tries to argue that sports betting will ruin sports in the US. Even when only one state in the US can take bets on single games, there are multiple billions of dollars wagered on games. The “cause of ruination” has been there for decades and remains there today.

I do enjoy watching college basketball. I prefer it immensely to watching NBA basketball. However, even as a fan of college basketball, I have to admit that it is hugely over-exposed on television. Let me use today’s Washington Post once again to make my point:

    Tonight on my cable channels, there will be 3 men’s college games on the air. That may not sound like too many, but here are two of the offerings:

      Manhattan at Quinnipiac
      Valparaiso at Green Bay

    Tomorrow on my cable channels there will be 36 men’s college games on the air. You may be sure that many of them will be replayed in case I might have thought to do something other than tune in.

    On Sunday, my cable channels will show 14 men’s college basketball games.

    Mix in 19 women’s college basketball games over that same 3-day period and you have evidence of over-exposure on television.

Tony Verna passed away on Jan 18. Verna was the person who introduced instant replay to sports on television. He was the director for the Army/Navy game on CBS in 1963 where he ran the first instant replay ever shown. I wonder if he realized in the moment the impact that event would have on televised sports. The practice got the name “instant replay” from the second game where it was used. That was in the Cotton Bowl on Jan 1, 1964; Pat Summerall was announcing the game and used the words “instant replay” in that game. Obviously, the name stuck…

Rest in peace, Tony Verna.

Finally, the NFL fined Marshawn Lynch for an obscene gesture – he grabbed his crotch after scoring a TD in the 4th quarter against the Packers last week. That brought to mind a comment by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald after Phillies’ pitcher Jonathan Papelbon did the same thing a couple of months ago:

“The Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for a vulgar crotch grab. He claimed he was just adjusting his cup. Uh-huh. And the guy giving you the middle finger was just inspecting his digit.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mindless Musings Today…

I doubt that many folks would argue that the NFL has evolved its rules over the past 20 years to infuse offense and scoring into the game. I think this is an overall perspective to keep in mind as you look at whom six NFL teams just hired to be their new head coach. There were seven jobs open; five of those jobs went to “defense guys” and the job still open is rumored to be held open to await the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks after the Super Bowl game. Gary Kubiak took over the job in Denver and he is definitely an “offense guy”, but consider the others:

    Todd Bowles
    Jack Del Rio
    John Fox
    Dan Quinn – reports are he will get the job in Atlanta in 2 weeks
    Rex Ryan
    Jim Tomsula

In a year when about 20% of the teams in the league decided to change coaches, those owners/GMs went overwhelmingly for new coaches with a “defensive pedigree. Yes, it is a small sample size; yes, there is absolutely no indication that this “trend” will continue into next year’s NFL hiring and firing season; I stipulate all of that. Nevertheless, I wonder… On the assumption – dangerous I know – that rational/analytical thought went into the hiring processes, perhaps the thinking went something like this:

    Given the way the rules are written and enforced and given that colleges are turning out more great offensive players these days, maybe our offense can “take care of itself”. What might give us an edge these days is to put someone in charge who will emphasize defense so that we can make it just a bit more difficult for “the other guys” to light up the scoreboard.

I claim exactly no proficiency in mind reading; so, I am not saying that represents any actual thinking on the part of owners/GMs. Nevertheless, I wonder…

I mentioned above that colleges are producing plenty of offensive players these days. Actually, college football seems to have morphed into a different game from NFL football; college football is almost like a track and field competition where the sprinters wear helmets. Teams recruit speed and put the fastest guys on offense; defenses do not have enough players with superior speed to stay with all of the guys that opposing offenses can put into formations play after play. The ball goes back and forth on the field like a tennis match.

Please note that I am not complaining here. I enjoy college football a lot but my observation stands. Consider the semi-final games in the College Football Playoff; nominally, those games paired off the 4 best teams in the country. If my addition is correct, here is the offensive output from those two games (Ohio St/Alabama and Oregon/Florida State):

    Total Offense by the 4 teams was greater than 2000 yards
    Total First Downs by the 4 teams equaled 102
    Total Score by the 4 teams equaled 155 points

It would seem to me that the “nominal 4 best teams in the country” had a significant imbalance on their rosters in favor of offense, big plays and quick scores.

Switching to the NBA, there are reports that Sixers’ rookie, Joel Embiid, has not been as conscientious as one might want in terms of his rehab and conditioning as he recovers from surgery. Embiid was the #3 guy taken in the draft last year and scouts projected him as a dominant big man in the NBA; however, he needed back surgery… The Sixers tanked last season waiting for Nerlins Noel to rehab his reconstructed knee; Noel is playing this year. This year the Sixers continue their tanking awaiting Embiid. Now the story goes that Embiid weighs 300 lbs (50 more than his playing weight last year at Kansas) and that he has had some issues with the “strength and conditioning guys” associated with the Sixers.

There are several points I want to make about these reports – again assuming that they are accurate:

    Lower body injuries (ankles, knees, back) seem to be more debilitating to “big guys” than they are to smaller players. If indeed Embiid weighs 300 lbs, that means he is putting more stress on the bones and joints that keep him upright and allow him to move than a guy who weighs only 200 lbs. That situation might retard the rehab process from skeletal surgery.

    If the above is valid, it becomes critically important when drafting/signing a “big guy” who may need to do some rehab work to determine as best one can the degree of commitment that guy has to himself in the context of being an excellent player.

    The entire “tanking strategy” in the NBA depends in large part on the success that the “tanking teams” have in selecting franchise players in the draft. However, I am beginning to wonder about the equivalence of “top draft pick” with “franchise player”.

College basketball has become a “one-and-done” proposition with regard to the top draft picks. What that means is that NBA teams with picks in the “Top 5” are selecting kids who may not yet be 20 years old as franchise saviors. Many of these players have never had to play against others with comparable – or even superior – talent and skills. Most of them are not nearly ready physically to turn around a franchise. And that does not even begin to take account of the maturation level to deal with being a professional athlete on a bad team.

The “tanking strategy” sounds simple and obvious. It can fire up a fanbase and it makes for juicy hyperbole on sports radio programs. However, if there is no LeBron James or Anthony Davis at the top of the draft, what a team picking down around #5 in that same draft is doing is closing their eyes and hoping for the best from their selection.

Please do not interpret the above as wistful nostalgia for the days when college basketball players went to school and stayed 4 years before going to the NBA. That is not what I am advocating or contemplating. What I am saying is that if a team were going to adopt a “tanking strategy”, it would have had a better chance at success under the “old college basketball environment” than it does under the current conditions.

Oh, and by the way, is anyone looking forward to the next confrontation between the Knicks and the Timberwolves this year…?

Finally, a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about former Purdue basketball coach, Gene Keady:

“Gene Keady, former Purdue men’s basketball coach, confessed that for years he paid a hairdresser $600 per week to dye his hair, add extensions and whip the whole mess into a comb-over. That’s like Quasimodo getting silicone injections to plump his hump.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Super Bowl Silliness Time

For the next two weeks, sports reporting will be a mélange of predictable stuff. There will be far too much made of preparations for the Super Bowl; any and all Twitter pronouncements from each and every hominid associated with either team will be parsed and analyzed even more than a State of the Union address; people will actually impute some importance into “Media Day” next week. Frankly, none of that matters even a little bit. I am going to try to refrain from commentary on the upcoming Super Bowl game all the way to a week from Friday when I will offer up my Mythical Picks for the game itself.

I say at the outset that I am unlikely to be successful in this attempted abstinence simply because someone somewhere will do something sufficiently outrageous that I will not be able to resist the temptation to recount it here. However, the fact that my computer will have to go into “computer hospital” for a “system purge” might work to my benefit here by keeping me off the air for a short time…

One of the outcomes of last weekend’s games determining the Pats/Seahawks matchup is a story that the NFL is investigating the Pats for using “deflated footballs” in the Colts’ game. The rules state that the home team has to provide balls that are inflated to an internal pressure of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. According to reports, an official had a ball removed from the game and it was “weighed”. Supposedly, that triggered the investigation.

As a former laboratory scientist, may I say that weighing a football that has been out in the elements for half a game would not be the way to determine if the internal pressure was in the proper range. Let me do a back of the envelope calculation here:

    If we assume that the football valves did not leak meaning that all the air pumped into the balls in the locker room before the game remained in the balls during the game, then the Ideal Gas Law says that the internal pressure will vary inversely with the Kelvin temperature. Assume the average ball provided to the game officials had an internal pressure of 13 psi the moment they handed the ball to the official.

    If the indoor temperature at the time of inflation was 70 degrees Farenheit, that is a Kelvin temperature of 294.2 degrees. If the temperature outdoors during the game was 45 degrees and the ball equilibrated to that temperature over an hour or so outdoors, that corresponds to a Kelvin temperature of 280.3 degrees.

    Under those conditions, a ball that “started out” at 13.0 psi would register an internal pressure of 12.38 psi meaning that any ball inflated indoors prior to the game between 12.5 and 13.0 psi would be “underinflated” – notice the difference between “underinflated” and “deflated” here – once the ball cooled down.

    Weighing the balls – assuming no leakage – would determine if enough air was in the ball except for the variables of wetness and other things like dirt that might be on the outside of the ball after half a game outdoors that was not on the ball as it was inflated.

    Conclusion: There are a ton of variables here.

Another NFL story got a small mention in the Pats/Colts game on Sunday night. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were happy to tell viewers that CBS and the NFL agreed to continue Thursday Night Football next year and that CBS would carry the first games of the year while NFL Network would do the ones later in the season. Since Nantz and Simms work for CBS, they were announcing good news from their perspective. They will get to do more games; CBS will get 8 highly rated bits of programming for its Thursday nights; CBS will draw about 12-12.5 million sets of eyeballs to their telecasts; the NFL will continue to enjoy that revenue stream as advertisers pay for time on these telecasts. Fans will tune in.

Nonetheless, before we all join hands, sit in a circle around a campfire and sing Cumbayah, let me reflect for a moment on the Thursday Night Football experience. Yes, there have been some good games but many of the games – particularly the ones that are later in the season – have been snoozers. As injuries pile-up during the season, it becomes more and more difficult for a team to play on Sunday and turn around to play again on Thursday night. The NFL has a series of initiatives within their rules aimed at “player safety” and it is difficult to imagine that too many folks would be in favor of “player hazard”. However, that surely seems to be what Thursday Night Football represents as it is currently structured.

Let me reiterate a suggestion I had for TNF previously:

    Extend the regular season to 18 weeks – but do not add any games beyond 16.

    All teams playing on Thursday will have a bye week the week before their Thursday game and every team will have their “normal bye week”.

    The league and the networks get more revenue by televising an extra week of games.

    The players get more time to heal .

One other detail about the continuation of Thursday Night Football for the upcoming 2015 season is that the contract between CBS, the NFL and NFL Network reportedly gives the NFL the option to extend this arrangement into 2016. I think there is only a vanishingly small chance that the NFL will consider even for a moment the possibility of shutting down this portion of its revenue stream.

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle. After Jim Harbaugh and the Niners “mutually agreed to go in different directions”, Niners’ GM Trent Baalke held an optimistic news conference:

“Trent Baalke says, ‘This isn’t a rebuilding situation; this is a reloading situation.’ Please, someone tell Aldon Smith this is just a figure of speech!”

Burt don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Super Bowl Teams Are Set…

The participants in this year’s Super Bowl game are set; the two conference championship games that led to this matchup could not have been more different. The Seahawks/Packers game was full of errors and turnovers; it went to overtime after a furious Seahawks’ rally to come from 15 points down in the final 5 minutes. The Patriots/Colts game was an example of one team dominating the other team and the outcome was not seriously in doubt even at halftime.

After dominating the first half of the game, the Pats only led by 10 when they got the ball to start the 3rd quarter. However, the first possession of that 3rd quarter announced to just about everyone not contractually tied to the Colts’ organization that the game was over. The domination was on offense and on defense.

The Seahawks played about as badly as they could on offense in the first half against the Packers. Russell Wilson had a QB Rating of ZERO for the first half of the game just to give you an idea of what I mean by “badly”. I thought the Seahawks might have generated some momentum when – down 16-0 – they intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass with about 8 minutes to play in the second quarter. Actually, it turned out to be a false alarm; all that happened was the Packers getting an interception in the end zone with 2 minutes left in the half.

The second half of that game was almost a mirror image of the first half. The Packers were inefficient and the Seahawks made everything work – including a fake field goal and two TDs plus a 2-point conversion in the final 5 minutes of the game.

I believe the turning point in the game came back in the first half when the Packers had the ball twice with “goal to go” and settled for field goals both times.

Prior to the game, there was some drama regarding some gold shoes that Marshawn Lynch hoped to wear for the game. According to reports, there was something improper about the shoes/cleats and the NFL said he could not wear them. Lynch said he was going to do so and would pay whatever fine came from the league. Then – according reports – the word came down that if he entered the game with the “illegal shoes” the Seahawks would be penalized on the first play and if he were in for a second play with the “illegal shoes”, he would be ejected from the game. I have no idea what this is about; but clearly, Marshawn Lynch and the NFL are not on the same page when it comes to things such as game attire and participation in press-related events.

For whatever his reasons, Lynch prefers not to deal with the press. He has been fined a reported $100K for not doing so and he complies to avoid fines/suspensions by participating without actually participating. His most recent press event had him answer every question by saying “I’m thankful.” Seemingly, the reporters who attend these events enjoy poking Lynch and making him persist in the environment he so clearly dislikes. Here is some unsolicited advice for Marshawn Lynch:

    The sooner they want to leave; the sooner the press event is over. Ergo, go out and buy yourself a clarinet or a saxophone. Do not take lessons but bring the instrument with you to the press events. Give a one-word answer if you wish – or say something like, “Here is what Benny Goodman would have to say about that – and launch into a screech-laden series of notes on the instrument. My guess is that the scribes will catch on to the fact that they are going to listen to atonal noise pretty quickly and you can get on with your life expeditiously.

    Just a thought…

Richard Sherman, who is the publicity antithesis of Marshawn Lynch, obviously hurt his elbow in the fourth quarter of that game. It appeared to me that Kam Chancellor hit Sherman’s arm along with a ball carrier in making a tackle. Sherman played with one-arm from that point on and the Packers never really exploited the fact that he was injured on the field. After the game, Sherman said uncharacteristically briefly that he “hurt something in my elbow” and that he was definitely going to play in the Super Bowl even before knowing the nature or extent of the injury.

Odds on the Super Bowl opened with the Seahawks as 2.5-point favorites but after about an hour of wagering the line sagged to “Pick ‘em” at the Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas. Early odds at various Internet sportsbooks have lines where the Seahawks are 2-point favorites and others where the Pats are 1-point favorites. By Wednesday or Thursday of this week, there will be enough money on the books that the line will settle down wherever it is going to be. What the line tells me now is that the betting public sees this game as a contest between the best NFC team and the best AFC team and that they should put on an exciting game. I surely hope that is more than wishful thinking…

The constant theme of “the NFL putting a team in Los Angeles” continues to simmer with recent news that the Rams’ owner has some land in Los Angeles and has plans to build his own stadium there in which, of course, the Rams would play. I think there are several pertinent points here:

    1. Los Angeles has seen three NFL franchises leave town and take up residence elsewhere. All three of those teams – Chargers, Raiders, Rams – went to places where they now have “stadium issues”. All three went to new venues that were markedly smaller than LA and all have been gone for more than a few years. They left town because LA facilities were not good plus the fact that fan support there was far less than one would expect from a city of that size.

    2. There seems to be little if any “fan clamor” for an NFL team to return to the city – let alone two teams as many suggest will be the case if a top-shelf stadium emerges in the city.

    3. If an NFL team actually goes to LA, the league will lose a significant leverage piece when it comes to shaking down politicians in smaller cities for stadium construction and improvements. Imagine if the Raiders went back to LA – just to pick a team. The NFL is not going to have nearly the same level of “threat” to hold over the city fathers in places like St. Louis or Jax or Tampa if the new “threat” is for the team to pick up and move to Oakland.

Finally, to the point of moving an NFL team to LA, let me close by giving you an evaluation of Los Angeles by “The Bard of Baltimore”, H. L. Mencken. Just a foreshadowing, his assessment would not coincide with the one put forth by the LA Chamber of Commerce.

“If Los Angeles is not the one authentic rectum of civilization, then I am no anatomist. Any time you want to go out again and burn it down, count me in.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/18/15

First, I need to review last week’s less-than-wonderful Mythical Picks. I made 5 picks on NFL playoff games and 4 of them were wrong. The only correct pick was taking the Colts +7 against the Broncos. I came within a replay of having a real shot at my money-line pick of the Cowboys but such are the vagaries of wagering. Anyway, the 1-4-0 record for last week brings the season total to an embarrassingly bad 117-150-5.

For the College Football Playoff game, I had Oregon +8 right and the OVER/UNDER pick wrong.

Clearly, no one in an even semi-rational state of mind would look at those numbers and conclude that this was the place to go if you want cogent information regarding how to pick sides in NFL football games. Yes, I acknowledge that one could have come out ahead for the year if one had simply done the obverse of the picks here. However, that seems too perverse a strategy to consider seriously.

Ergo, please do not use any information here as the basis for making a wager on one of the two NFL playoff games this weekend. If you did that, you would force me – in an attempt to be polite – to say this to you:

    Maybe you are not stupid. Maybe you are just unlucky every time you think.

General Comments:

NFL coaching change season has hit high gear. Rumors abound that John Fox is about to get the head coaching job in Chicago and other rumors link Gary Kubiak to Fox’s previous job in Denver. Kubiak had said just a few days ago that he was going to stay in Baltimore as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator – but those reporting the rumors point out that his statements came before the “Denver possibility”.

The Niners have their new coach. Jim Tomsula had been the Niners’ offensive line coach for all of the Jim Harbaugh regime and even several years prior to that. In fact, he was the Niners’ interim head coach for a game at the end of the Mike Singletary era. Several interesting things come from this Niners’ decision:

    It puts to rest the “insider news” that Kyle Shanahan had the inside track on the job.

    By “staying in house” with the hire, it gives some credence to the stories that the clash between Harbaugh and owner, Jed York, was one of management style.

    Tomsula worked under defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. That means Tomsula leapfrogged his immediate supervisor and it would be no surprise to see Fangio seek other employment.

    Offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, has already left the Niners to take the offensive coordinator job in Buffalo under Rex Ryan meaning that the first order of business for Tomsula is to create a coaching staff in SF.

The Raiders have their new coach. Reports are that the decision came down to a choice between interim coach, Tony Sparano, and Broncos’ defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. The Raiders chose Del Rio. I like this decision by the Raiders for several reasons:

    Del Rio has been a head coach before and was able to get the Jaguars into the playoffs twice. Granted, his coaching record is a couple of games under .500, but consider that he was in Jax when he generated that record. It is not as if the Jags have been a powerhouse since he left.

    Defense is his thing. When he was in Jax, the Jags played solid defense and when he became the defensive coordinator in Denver, the defense improved. Granted that the Raiders have been a hot mess in all phases of the game for the past several years, but their defense has been particularly poor in recent years.

    Mike Smith – late of the head-coaching job in Atlanta – was Del Rio’s defensive coordinator in Jax and Smith is still unemployed. Perhaps…?

    This is a safe and sound move by the Raiders and that is what they need about now. Mark Davis has been in charge since Al Davis went to the Celestial Owners’ Meeting a few years ago and Reggie McKenzie has been the guy in charge of football there. Over that 3-year span, the Raiders have gone 11-37. The Raiders need credibility and stability not flash and sizzle. Jack Del Rio fits that model.

    It is not as if Del Rio should be expected to take the Raiders back to the Super Bowl in the next year or two. I said above that the team is a hot mess and the last time they had a winning record was in 2002 when they went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Bucs.

In the past, I have designated individuals for something I call the Just Go Away Club. Membership is granted in this club for folks who make repeated outrageous statements/claims. I am putting down a marker here; Ray Lewis is only one more goofy remark away from membership in that club.

Recall that Ray Lewis claimed that the NFL “arranged for” the lights to go out in the Superdome during the Super Bowl game there to stop the Ravens’ momentum because the league wanted the Niners to be able to keep up with the Ravens. Let me just call that Strike One.

Now, Lewis has claimed that the “Tuck Rule” is only reason we know who Tom Brady is. Here is what Lewis said to Stephan A. Smith on Smith’s ESPN Radio program:

“Listen, not to go all totally out of conscious, but just think about this, Stephen A., honest to God … when we — the first time we created something called a tuck rule, it’s the only reason we know — I’m just being honest! — the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule! There’s no such thing as a tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out your hand, whether it’s going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it’s coming out, that’s a freaking fumble! But guess what we created? We created a freaking tuck rule!”

OK, so Ray Lewis does not like the tuck rule; that would not get him into the Just Go Away Club because lots of folks do not like that rule. However, even if you put a little credence in his rambling statement here, you have to ask yourself if perhaps you might have heard of Tom Brady outside the realm of the tuck rule because of his two other Super Bowl wins and his two other Super Bowl appearances and his performance in the year when the Pats went through the regular season undefeated. Lewis’ statement to Stephen A. Smith is Strike Two.

Reports say that the Ravens have settled with Ray Rice over his arbitration filing regarding how much money they owe him in the aftermath of the bungling of his suspension by the NFL. Rice claimed the Ravens owed him $3.5M because that is what he would have made when the Ravens cut him but ultimately his suspension was overturned. Normally, when cases of this type settle, the terms of the settlement are closed. We will probably never know what kind of money changed hands here – and frankly, it is not anyone’s concern outside of the parties to this dispute – but we do know that one more loose end from the Ray Rice Affair has been taken care of.

John Mara, owner of the NY Giants, told WFAN in NYC that he thinks the NFL needs to talk some more about the “Calvin Johnson Rule”. [Aside: Should it now be called the “Johnson-Bryant Rule”?] Mara is part of the Competition Committee, which is the body of owners and coaches that recommends changes in the rules to the league – and to the NFLPA – for adoption. He also said in that interview on WFAN that he has always been opposed to using replay to review pass interference calls but that he is warming to that idea.

Mara is one of the influential owners in the league. He is like the old radio/TV ads for the brokerage house, E.F. Hutton:

    When Mara talks, people listen…

The Games:

(Sunday 3:00PM EST) Green Bay vs. Seattle – 7.5 (46.5): If you want to watch two hot QBs, this is the game for you. Consider what these guys did last week:

    Aaron Rodgers finished the game against the Cowboys by completing his last ten consecutive throws averaging 16.3 yards per attempt.

    Russell Wilson’s performance on third downs against the Panthers was similarly perfect. On third down, Wilson was 8 for 8 for 199 yards and 3 TDs.

Oh, by the way, Rodgers and Wilson have the highest QB Rating in NFL history in playoff games lest you think that they just had a one-time good performance last week…

Neither team is “backing into this game”. The Seahawks have won 7 in a row and the Packers have won 8 of their last 9 games. One “issue” for the Packers is that they gave up 5 yards per carry last week to the Cowboys. The Packers’ defense will need to do better than that to stay in this game. Here is Fact Not Worth Remembering #25697:

    When the Seahawks beat the Panthers last week, it was the first time a defending Super Bowl champion had won a playoff game since 2005.

I think the Seahawks home field advantage will be too much for the Packers to overcome. I really wish that half-point hook was not hanging there on the spread but I will take the Seahawks to win and cover despite the hook. I also like the game to go OVER.

(Sunday 6:45PM EST) Indy vs. New England – 6.5 (54): Overall last week, the Colts played a better game in beating the Broncos than the Pats did in beating the Ravens. The Pats’ defense gave up 4 TD passes last week and the Colts passing game is better than chopped liver. ON the other hand, the Pats’ performance last week sort of put to bed the idea that a team needs a “balanced offense” in order to be successful. Last week, the Ravens stuffed the Pats’ running game; the Pats’ response was simple and direct. The last running play they called came with 1:13 left to play in the second quarter. They never even tried to run the ball in the second half and that was the game in which the Pats overcame two 14-point deficits to win. Against the Colts, the Pats will probably try to keep CB Vontae Davis, away from the play and try to force safety, LaRon Landry into coverages because Davis is a top-shelf cover corner and Landry is only even money to be able to cover a refrigerator. I like the Pats to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

P.S. My computer is acting up again and I may need to be off the air next week until I can get it fixed or even replaced.