Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

NPR reports on a study from Germany about the stress die-hard sports fans deal with on game day. Gerhard Steinbeck finds that "cardiac emergencies" such as "heart attacks, chest pain and major heart-rhythm disturbances" increase on game days.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blizzard: franchises without direction

When you look at the NFL, you see several franchises that don't seem to have any plan for success.

Look at the Lions: in Matt Millen's seven year tenure, he's hired three different coaches. They've had two different offenses installed, and now appear to be installing a third (how precisely are you supposed to draft and develop personnel when your offensive system is constantly changing?). They haven't had direction.

Look at the Raiders. We shouldn't forget the successes Al Davis has had in the past: from 1967-1985, the Raiders won 10 or more games 11 times (12 or more games seven times) and won three Super Bowls. But in the past six seasons they've had four different head coaches. What's the plan? What's the system? How are they developing a team?

And there are other teams without any sense of direction. From what I can tell, in 2008 Washington will be running its third different offensive system in four years. Other franchises have appeared to have plans, but had those plans unexpectedly disrupted by players and coaches (Atlanta, Miami).

If something isn't working, you can't always try to stick with it; sometimes you have to recognize that the plan isn't working and move to a new plan, changing your coaches, your quarterback, your system, anything. But continuity does matter. Having a plan and giving yourself time to put that plan into action is a good idea. I'm glad Brad Childress was just successful enough in 2007 to merit returning in 2008; the continuity of the system is good for both the veterans and the young nucleus of players. Teams don't generally have a lot of success turning coaches over in one or two years. I think a head coach needs at least three years to show that his direction is leading to championship contention.

Links does a Similarity Score for new quarterbacks in 2007. From what I can tell, this means that Tarvaris Jackson's career will precisely mirror Troy Aikman's. Right? Right?

Adrian Peterson talks at the Super Bowl (Pioneer Press, Star Tribune).

Al Jefferson put up a nice 40-19 in the box score (ESPN).

Outsports does its annual "Super Bowl for the Clueless."

Dave Zirin writes about women's college basketball. I read Zirin because he's addressing a lot of important issues in sports that few other writers address. However, I don't really care for Zirin's writing style (not particularly in this article, but in general). The tone is often very self-righteous: it suggests that everybody whose morals and politics do not precisely match Zirin's is in need of a lecture. He also has a tendency for caustic word choice, which has its place, of course, but generally turns me off. Still, he's always addressing good stuff, so even though the tone irks me, I keep reading (and more importantly, I'm thinking about the issues he's writing about, which is what I think Zirin wants most).

Michael Wilbon had a heart attack but is apparently doing fine (Ballers, Gamers, and Scoundrels).

According to The New York Times, the Mets are getting Johan Santana.

The New York Times also writes about Boston's sports success.

And finally from The New York Times, William C. Rhoden writes about Bill Belichick's relationships with Jim Brown and Bill Russell. Before we can just label Belichick a villain and be done with it, we might consider his work with Brown's "Amer-I-can Foundation, which works with gangs and youth throughout the United States to end violence by boosting self esteem, providing jobs and promoting self-worth and personal responsibility," and "a related Peacemakers initiative."

And finally, an interesting note (that wwtb? is likely writing on later this week): check out the similarity of Eli Manning's stats on the 2007 Giants and Phil Simms' stats on the 1986 champion Giants.

1986 Phil Simms: 55.3%, 3487 yards, 21 touchdowns, 22 interceptions
2007 Eli Manning: 56.1%, 3336 yards, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions

Sunday, January 27, 2008


The Wall Street Journal has a story focusing on all the former Minnesota athletes now starring in Boston, and the general disparity of sports success between Minneapolis and Boston. Writes Jon Weinbach:

"The cities have some similarities. Each is a top 15 U.S. media market, based on television viewers. Both are home to a number of large corporate headquarters, and both ranked in the top 20 U.S. cities in per-capita personal income in 2006, according to the Department of Commerce.

"Yet Boston is leagues ahead in the competitiveness of its sports teams, and the recent exodus of talent has only fueled the pessimism in Minnesota."

In general, a relatively coincidental connection between Minnesota and Boston sports highlights a simple reality: poor management for Minnesota's pro sports organizations.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Liberation Weekend Links

At Epic Carnival, wwtb? compares Steve Young from 1992-1998 to Peyton Manning from 2003-2007. Young really was a spectacular quarterback, deserving of attention in the arguments about the greatest ever.

Cold, Hard Football Facts provides their list of the ten greatest quarterbacks of all-time. #1: Bart Starr. Check out why--there's actually a convincing argument.

CHFF also looks at quarterbacks in history by comparing their passer rating to the league average passer rating.

Adrian Peterson makes the 2007 Outsports NFL All-Hot Team.

Dave Zirin talks about one Super Bowl sponsor's overseas labor practices.

Sports Law Blog has an interesting post on Rick Majerus, basketball coach at a Catholic university, and the St. Louis Archbichop's claim that when Majerus accepts a position with a Catholic university, he can't express opinions "which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic Church." I must admit, as a Christian pacifist I've always found it vexing that Catholics can support political candidates who are pro-death penalty, pro-war, and frequently supportive of policies that hurt the poor, as long as they against abortion. I understand the perspective that one issue can trump all other issues, but I don't think candidates from either major party support a platform that is entirely consistent with authentic Christian ethics (which is why I frequently find religious support or opposition of specific candidates troubling). That's probably not a conversation for this sports blog, though.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tony Gonzalez's Diet

There's an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about vegan and vegetarian diets for athletes. The article doesn't suggest anything conclusive, though:

"There's no evidence a vegan diet can improve an athlete's performance, says David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise at Appalachian State University. His 1988 study of vegetarian runners found they ran as well as their meat-eating rivals but no better. Although the vegetarian athletes in his study also ate eggs and dairy foods, he says, 'there is scientific evidence that veganism, when done right, won't hurt performance.' But, he adds, there is only anecdotal evidence that it can help."

The article focuses primarily on the health impact, though notes that mixed martial arts fighter (or should it be mixed martial artist?) Mac Danzig became a vegan for animal rights reasons.

Why the '90s Cowboys Dynasty Didn't Last Longer

From 1992 through 1995, the Dallas Cowboys went 49-15 in the regular season and 10-1 in the post-season. When they won their third Super Bowl in four seasons in 1995, Troy Aikman was 29, Emmitt Smith was 26, and Michael Irvin was 29.

The Cowboys won one more playoff game in 1996, and haven't won a playoff game since.

What happened? Why couldn't a team with young superstars that was so dominant for four seasons maintain its dominance?

The answer is simple: they failed to continue to add talent through the draft.

The 1992, 1993, and 1995 Super Bowl teams featured many Pro Bowlers that were Dallas draft picks: Troy Aikman ('89), Emmitt Smith ('90), Michael Irvin ('88), Mark Stepnoski ('89), Erik Williams ('91), Russell Maryland ('91), Ken Norton ('88), Larry Allen ('94), and Darren Woodson ('92) were all Cowboy draft picks that made at least one Pro Bowl during a Cowboy Super Bowl season. Dallas built its championship nucleus successfully through the draft.

However, after 1995, the Cowboys generally failed to draft Pro Bowl quality players. 1997 draft pick Dexter Coakley made Pro Bowls in '99, '01, and '03. 1998 draft pick Flozell Adams made Pro Bowls in '03, '04, and '06 (after Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were all gone). No other Cowboy draft picks from 1995 through 2001 made a Pro Bowl while playing for the Cowboys.

Dallas dominated from 1992 through 1995. They were good from 1991-1999, when they made the playoffs eight of nine seasons, but they really only maintained a level of superiority for four seasons. In pro football, it appears hard to maintain dominance with the same nucleus for too much longer than that. The Packers won five championships over a seven year period from 1961 to 1967, largely with the same nucleus. The Steelers won four championships over six years from 1974 to 1979, again largely with the same nucleus. As I discussed previously, the San Francisco 49ers were able to maintain dominance longer (four championships in nine years from '81 to '89, five championships in 14 years from '81 to '94) because they consistently added quality football players through the draft.

The Dallas Cowboys built a dominant team through the draft, but failed to maintain a dominant team through the draft.

How the 49ers won 5 Super Bowls in 14 years

I don't think the Free Agency/Salary Cap Era (FA/SC) really makes it more difficult for great teams to maintain dominance. You will sometimes hear "conventional wisdom" that before the FA/SC, great teams were able to hoard their talented players because there was no salary cap and no free agency. This isn't entirely true: the San Francisco 49ers, for example, won five Super Bowls between 1981 and 1994 not because they hoarded the same players, but because they consistently drafted well and added talent to maintain their dominance.

The 49ers won the Super Bowl for the 1981 season. They won the Super Bowl again for the 1984 season. Look at who they drafted between those championships. In the 1982, 1983, and 1984 drafts, they drafted starters on the 1984 championship team like Bubba Paris (T), Roger Craig (RB), and Riki Ellison (LB). They won the Super Bowl for the 1988 season with starters like '83 draft pick Jesse Sapolu (G), '84 draft pick Guy McIntyre (G), '85 draft pick Jerry Rice (WR), '86 draft pick Tom Rathman (FB), '86 draft pick Charles Haley (DE), '86 draft pick Steve Wallace (T), '86 draft pick John Taylor (WR), '86 draft pick Tim McKyer (CB), '86 draft pick Kevin Fagan (DE), '86 draft pick Don Griffin (CB), '87 draft pick Harris Barton (T), and '86 draft pick Larry Roberts (DE). So after winning a championship in the '84 season, the 49ers won another championship in 1988 with 10 starters that they drafted AFTER 1984 (including 8 Super Bowl starters from the 1986 draft--arguably the most successful draft ever). The 49ers won again in 1989 with a similar nucleus. It took a few years, but in 1994 they won again with more new players like CB Eric Davis ('90), Ricky Watters ('91), Merton Hanks ('91), Dana Stubblefield ('93), Bryant Young ('94), William Floyd ('94), and Lee Woodall ('94).

This isn't even a comprehensive, thorough list: I briefly matched Super Bowl starting lineups with the 49ers' Draft History. But this brief look should show clearly that the 49ers didn't merely hoard their talent to win all those Super Bowls. They consistently added talented players in order to maintain dominance, even before the FA/SC era.

Consider this: 1981 championship team and the 1989 championship team shared just two starters (Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott). In a matter of nine seasons, these two championship squads turned over 20 of 22 starters.

Did the 49ers benefit from lack of salary cap and lack of risk of losing players to free agency? Perhaps. But considering they won four championships in nine years by replacing 20 of 22 starters, I doubt they merely hoarded their talented players. The 1994 team played in the FA/SC era, and added key free agents like Deion Sanders and Ken Norton, Jr., so if you'd like, you can even leave them out of the discussion. But between 1981 and 1989, the 49ers maintained long-term success very similarly to how teams maintain long-term success in the FA/SC era: they consistently added quality players to the roster to replace players who either left the team or saw their skills diminish.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The World Is Ending

That is right folks. I predict the end of the world is just around the corner. How else can you explain the TWolves winning two (yes 2) games in a row?

Crazier yet 2 of their 7 wins have come against the Western Conference leading Phoenix Suns.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blizzard: existential football, playoff quarterbacks, and links

"Existence precedes essence"
In this discussion at Football Outsiders, I came to understand just what it is that bothers me about advanced statistical metrics for sports analysis. The advanced metrics (DVOA, Estimated Wins, etc.) are an attempt to look beyond (or closer than) wins and losses to understand the the quality of a team (or as one commenter calls it, the "intrinsic quality"). That is very useful stuff, and I don't scoff at it. However, this metric is an attempt to get at the "essence" of the team. Because luck does play a role in wins and losses, the advanced stats try to show the actual quality of the team without considering wins and losses (Football Outsiders does this by analyzing every play). This can be useful in making predictions for the future: because of the role of luck in wins and losses, the advanced metric may be a better indicator of future success or failure than wins and losses.

However, the advanced metric is not as useful in appreciating and recognizing past accomplishments of the team (I'm putting any game that is over in the past). Why? Because existence precedes essence: the actions are more important than any intrinsic qualities. For existential freedom, this means that whatever inherent essence or internal qualities I believe I have don't matter: what matters is how I act. It is in actions that I choose freedom, and it is by my actions that I become whatever it is that I am. For a football team, I'd consider "existence" the actual wins and losses. Existence precedes essence: it is pointless to look at the Giants' run to the playoffs and say "the advanced metric shows they are not as good as the teams they beat." Maybe it was luck. Maybe they got on a hot streak. But we must recognize what they have actually done, their actions. Certainly the advanced metric to get at the "essence" of the team is based on their own actions. But you could attempt an advanced metric of my soul to get at my essence, and it's still not going to define me more than my actions.

For Sartre, freedom makes itself real in an action (or as Christ says, by their works you shall know them). So I do, indeed, find it useful to look at the advanced metric, to look closer than wins and losses. However, I'm still primarily going to define teams by their actions, by their existence. The Giants won three straight road games, including two games in a row against 13-3 teams, to earn the NFC Championship. The advanced metric, the search for the Giants' "essence," is pointless in the face of their "existence": by their actions, the Giants are the best team in the NFC.

Some further steps...

A trend is not destiny. A trend is a trend and suggests possibility, but a trend is not destiny.

In a world of hazard, of complex human psychology, of free will, the best team doesn't always win. And that's why we watch.

Playoff Quarterbacks by Era
Let's pick up on Holy Hitter's post on quarterbacks to discuss the best playoff quarterback of each of the last five decades. Now, for obvious reasons, I don't think looking at a quarterback's win-loss record is an entirely fair way to evaluate a QB's playoff performance: it is a team game, and it is teams that win games, playoff games, and championships. But since QB is the most important position in football, QBs often get more credit or blame for playoff performances: it is a significant part of their legacies.

1960s: Bart Starr (9-1, 5 championships)
Pro-football-reference doesn't have all of Starr's playoff stats, but the Packers were 9-1 in the playoffs with Starr as the starter, including his last 9 playoff starts. Starr is, I believe, the first quarterback to start 10 playoff games; before the Super Bowl era, there was usually one or possibly two playoff games each season. So while Sid Luckman led the Bears to four championships in the 1940s, the Bears only played seven playoff games in Luckman's 12 year career.

1970s: Terry Bradshaw (14-5, 4 championships)
First, the obvious notes: the Steelers in the 70s were led by a dominant defense, and Bradshaw had four Hall of Famers around him on offense. Still, Bradshaw was a two-time Super Bowl MVP with 10 multi-touchdown games.

1980s: Joe Montana (16-7, 4 championships)
Meet the greatest playoff quarterback of all-time. He's the playoff leader in games (23), touchdown passes (45), and passing yards (5,772). He was 14-5 as 49ers starter, and in four Super Bowls, he threw 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He's also recognized for game-winning touchdown passes in the closing moments of the 1981 NFC Championship Game and the 1988 Super Bowl.

1990s: Troy Aikman (11-5, 3 championships)
Consider this: during the prime of Aikman's career, he led the Cowboys to wins in 11 of 12 playoff games. During those 12 games, the Cowboys averaged 34 points a game, never scoring fewer than 27 points.

2000s: Tom Brady (so far: 14-2, 3 championships)
I don't want to comment yet: Brady's career is far from over. Clearly, however, he's already in a league with the above mentioned quarterbacks.

You know what I'm sick of?
People complaining about being sick of the overhyped and repetitive stories during these two Super Bowl weeks. At this point, people are already complaining about the overhyped and repetitive stories BEFORE the Conference Championship games even reveal who will play in the Super Bowl.

I have advice for people who tire of all the forced Super Bowl storylines: DON'T READ THEM. DON'T WATCH THEM. Nobody is coming into your home, grabbing you by the hair, and shouting these storylines into your face. Nobody is forcing you to follow any storylines for the next two weeks. IT IS ENTIRELY YOUR CHOICE WHETHER YOU READ OR WATCH ANY SUPER BOWL STORYLINES! Embrace your free will.

To the Minnesota Timberwolves: I wish I knew how to quit you (Timberwolves 109, Warriors 108).

Free Darko on Martin Luther King Day and the NBA.

Signal to Noise reminds us that Martin Luther King was passionately opposed to war.

Cold, Hard Football Facts on the Packer-Giant game: "In a tight game, the Packers’ last four drives went 0, 7, 0 and 2 yards. From the start of the fourth quarter (an INT), Favre was 2-for-8 for 5 yards with two INTs."

NFL Stats finds that cold weather does not lower scoring.

Let's Talk Quarterbacks

Class of 83'
Looking back, people always talk about how great the class of 1983 was for quarterbacks. Well looking back they were dominant. The big "3" Marino, Elway, and Kelly all are in the Hall of Fame. But looking closer they totally dominated the AFC. Taking into consideration the years when at least two of the big three were still in the league (a span from 1983-1998) did you know that one of these quarterbacks represented the AFC in the Superbowl a mind-boggling 10 times(Elway-5, Kelly-4, and Marino-1). Over that span only 6 times was the AFC represented by a quarterback of any other class. That is crazy success. Look even closer at their representation in the AFC Championship:

1997-Elway(W)(Kelly retired after 1996 season)
1998-Elway(W)(Elway retires, Marino goes one more year)

That means 12 out of the 16 years one of the AFC championship teams was led by a QB of the 1983 class. Those three were dominant.

Class of 2004
Now I am unsure if any class will ever compare to the class of '83, but the class of 2004 is having some early success (not as much success as the class of 83). So far here are the stats of the big 3 of 1983 (E.Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger).

Eli Manning-
(1) Conference Championship Appearance [Win], (1) Super Bowl Appearance [TBD]
Philip Rivers- (1) Conference Championship Appearance [Loss]
Ben Roethlisberger- (2) Conference Championship Appearances [Loss/Win], (1) Super Bowl Appearance [Win]

It is very early and well 2 of these QBs are at an extreme disadvantage of playing in the same conference as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the class of 2004 is shaping up to at least be talked about as one of the top drafts of successful QBs.

Tom Brady
I am a huge Tom Brady fan. All he does is win. Until this year he was not the statistical monster that Peyton Manning or Dan Marino were, but he was a successful QB like Joe Montana. Some people would kill me for even making the comparison between Montana and Brady, but folks if Brady wins it all this year with the Pats he will be just as successful as Montana with a chance to pass him in the years to come. (Pacifist Viking might not remember this, but back in the day I remember him praising Tom Brady and calling him the next Joe Montana). But lets look at their playoff success (for this purpose I am not counting Montana's time at Kansas City were he was 2-2 in the playoffs and made one AFC championship game-These will be listed in the years of the seasons not the year of the Super Bowl).

1982- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
1983- Conference Championship Appearance (1-1)
1984- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
1985- Wild Card (0-1)
1986- Division (0-1)
1987- Division (0-1)
1988- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
1989- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
1990- Conference Championship Appearance (1-1)

Total Playoff Accomplishments
Record-(14-5) [16-7 if you include KC]
Super Bowl Appearances- 4 (4-0)
Conference Championship Appearances- 6 (4-2) [7 if you include KC (4-3)]

2001- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
2003- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
2004- Super Bowl Winner (3-0)
2005- Division (1-1)
2006- Conference Championship Appearance (2-1)
2007- Super Bowl Appearance (2-0/TBD)

Total Playoff Accomplishments
Record- (14-2)
Super Bowl Appearances- 4 (3-0/TBD)
Conference Championship Appearances- 5 (4-1)

If Brady wins it this season it will no longer be wrong to call him as good as Joe Montana.


I spent last week defending Eli Manning as a "good" quarterback over at The Sports Flow. I was arguing that Eli Manning gets a bad rap because everyone expects/expected him to be at Peyton's level instantly rather than letting him develop into that realm. He was heaped on expectation that he could not live up to, but fact is Eli Manning is a good quarterback and now he is a Super Bowl appearance QB. His record in the playoffs is now 3-2. He has lead his team to the playoffs every year that he has been the full time starter. Eli Manning is a good and successful QB and now he may not be the statistical monster that Peyton Manning is, but he has had earlier playoff success than his brother did. Peyton's first 3 playoff appearances were one losses, while Eli's third playoff appearance has led to the Super Bowl. [Now I am not saying Eli is as good as Peyton and one must also remember that Peyton has had to contend with Tom Brady and the Patriots most of his career]. Eli Manning is a "good" quarterback and the Giants have to be happy. How much is his success this year to be attributed to Tiki Barber's retirement?

(All statistical information was accessed at pro-football-reference.com_

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On the Couch: Championship Games

Patriots 21, Chargers 12
Giants 23, Packers 20 (overtime)

I feel bad for Packer fan RK

Of course I wanted the Giants to win. But I admit, while watching the game, I did feel bad for RK. I know what the Packers going to the Super Bowl would have meant for him, and instead of unrestrained joy, at the end of the game I felt pity. Sorry about everything.

However, I do have advice for any Packer fan mourning over this loss. Go to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Pay the admission to the Packer Hall of Fame. While there, go to the three Lombardi Trophies there, and just sit in front of them for as long as you need to. It may take a while. But that's what you can do--go look at those Lombardi Trophies your team has already won. Some of us don't even have that comfort.

The New York Giants are going to the Super Bowl, and that should tell us how open the NFC really is. The 10-6 Giants won on the road against two different 13-3 NFC teams. For the season, then, the Cowboys and Packers weren't really that much better than the Giants, and at the end, the Giants were better than both the Packers and the Cowboys. And recalling that in 2006, the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers were 8-8, 9-7, and 8-8, and we can see that in 2007 just about anybody can take the NFC. Including the Vikings.

Plaxico Burress is a wonderful football player.
In the 2005 off-season, I think Holy Hitter and I both wanted the Vikings to sign Plaxico Burress; after trading Randy Moss, it would have been sweet to replace him with a tall, fast playmaker that frequently makes spectacular catches.

On Sunday, Burress ripped apart the Packers with 11 receptions for 154 yards; he frequently looked like the best player on the field. Since joining the Giants, he's averaged 15.4 yards per catch and scored 29 touchdowns. He's really been a good player for them, and he's a very fun player to watch.

Laurence Maroney
In the playoffs, Laurence Maroney is averaging 136.5 yards from scrimmage; Randy Moss is averaging 23 yards from scrimmage. As a Viking fan, I know the impact Moss has on a game whether he's catching passes or not, so I'm not disparaging him. But Maroney has really stepped up as a key offensive player for the Patriots (this is the sort of performance I expected from him when I drafted him in the Hazelweird Fantasy League, but I'm not bitter). He's a good player and it will be interesting to see how he is used for future New England teams.

Great running backs?
Last year, in their first year without Edgerrin James, the Colts won the Super Bowl. This year, in their first year without Tiki Barber, the Giants are going to the Super Bowl. Clearly, a good team can replace the loss of a great running back.

Teams have been led to championships by dominant running backs; Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis, and Marshall Faulk have six Super Bowl rings between them. But each of those running backs had great quarterbacks, too; in their Super Bowl years, Troy Aikman, John Elway, and Kurt Warner were also dominant.

The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who appears to be the next elite running back. But they can't just rely on Peterson to carry them to the Super Bowl: the Vikings must build a passing game that can beat an opponent if they hope to compete for a championship.

Eli Manning
The Giants traded a lot to get #1 draft pick Eli Manning, and just four years later, they're going to the Super Bowl. Eli has certainly had his struggles and faced justifiable criticism, but when you draft a quarterback first overall, you have to be pretty happy if he's your Super Bowl quarterback just four years later, right?

Throwing playoff interceptions is sort of what Brett Favre does.
On Sunday, were you reminded of the 2003 playoffs, when Brett Favre's overtime interception led to Philadelphia's game-winning field goal?

In Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) are getting a ride in the back of a pickup. Neal asks how cold Del thinks it is. The classic Del Griffith responds, deadpan, "One."

I don't really know why FOX's pre-game/halftime show had to be at Lambeau Field. What benefit was there to having those four guys exposed to the bitter cold? Did they add a single relevant insight that they couldn't have provided from a warm studio? Did a single extra viewer tune in because of it?

And I don't blame the announcers for constantly talking about the cold. When it's this cold, you can't think about anything but how cold it is. Now, some people can handle the cold. I've walked home from bars shouting "I'm a viking!" and diving into the snow. But let me tell you something: this weekend, it was freaking freezing. I like the cold, but I always bundle up tight in it: gloves and a stocking cap, thank you very much. I live in this stuff, and I'm horrified when I see football players sleeveless in this weather. I'm even more horrified when I see fans with large portions of skin exposed to the cold: the football players are at least out there running around.

I mean, for those of you living in the warmer regions of the country that haven't experienced a zero degree temperature (with brutal wind chills), I can't even describe it to you. Sometimes you step outside and lose your breath.

Patriots in the Playoffs
As of right now, the Patriots have won 14 of their last 16 playoff games. That's incredibly impressive. The Steelers won 13 of 15 playoff games from '74-'79, the 90s Cowboys won 10 of 11 from '92-'95, and the 60s Packers won 9 straight from '61 to '67. The Patriots have been in a stunningly dominant playoff stretch, among the best of all-time.

Super Bowl
Really, the Giants and the Patriots have been the most intriguing teams in the league all season. From Michael Strahan skipping training camp and Tiki Barber's book, from adding Randy Moss and getting caught cheating and running up the score while going undefeated, from Coughlin to Belichick to Brady to Manning to Strahan to Harrison to Moss to Burress to Seau, both these teams are full of characters and storylines. I think this will be fun.

Sports Regions and Championships

Boston in this decade is not the first sports region to have a big run of success. Let's look at some others.

New York, 1986-2000: 8 championships in 15 years
86 Mets
86, 90 Giants
94 Rangers
96, 98, 99, 00 Yankees

Pittsburgh 1971-1979: 6 championships in 9 years
74, 75, 78. 79 Steelers
71, 79 Pirates

Chicago 1991-1998: 6 championships in 8 years
91, 92, 93, 96, 97, 98 Bulls

Yes, these championships all came from one franchise; however, remember that six years before this run the Bears won a championship in 1985, and seven years after, the White Sox won a championship in 2005.

Los Angeles 1980-1988: 8 championships in 9 years
80, 82, 85, 87, 88 Lakers
81, 88 Dodgers
83 Raiders

Boston 1957-1976: 15 championships in 20 years
57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 69, 74, 76 Celtics
70, 72 Bruins

New York, 1968-1983: 10 championships 16 years
68 Jets
69 Mets
70, 73 Knicks
77, 78 Yankees
80, 81, 82, 83 Islanders

Wisconsin, 1957-1971: 7 championships in 15 years
57 Braves
61, 62, 65, 66, 67 Packers
71 Bucks

The Lombardi Packers are legendary, and Wisconsin sports fans had those titles framed by a baseball championship and a basketball championship. Folks in Milwaukee had to wait a grand total of three seasons to see their expansion Bucks win a championship with Kareem and Oscar.

Oakland, 1972-1980: 6 championships in 9 years
72, 73, 74 Athletics
75 Warriors
76, 80 Raiders

Oh, to be a sports fan in Oakland in the 70s. From '72 to '74, you see the Athletics win three straight championships. In '75 the Warriors get a surprise title. And then in the '76 season, the Raiders win. So an Oakland team won a championship each year for five straight years, and in a three year period each Oakland franchise won a title.

San Francisco, 1981-1994: 5 championships in 14 years
81, 84, 88, 89, 94 49ers

All these championships came from one team, but just consider this dynasty: in 18 seasons, they made the playoffs 16 times, the NFC Championship game 10 times, and won 5 Super Bowls. In that time they won 22 playoff games. As we're (rightfully) slurping the Patriots, show a little respect for what I believe is the greatest football dynasty.

(Data gathered from baseball-reference, basketball-reference, pro-football-reference, and wikipedia. We can note that hockey fans in some Canadian cities had some great runs too. These runs happen, and these runs come to an end: eventually, Boston teams will lose again, too).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

National Friday League, Conference Championships

What a vexing Championship Conference weekend. Going into this season, I would have assumed I cared about the San Diego Chargers and New York Giants not at all. They're both interesting teams to me for various reasons, but I really had no reason to care whether they succeeded or failed this season. And yet, because they're playing the Randy Moss-led 17-0 Patriots and the border rival Green Bay Packers, I'm going into the penultimate football weekend desperately rooting for the Chargers and Giants. And if either the Chargers and Giants do pull of an upset, they'll always have a place in my heart.

Actually, I've always sort of like Eli Manning for some reason (I think I like that his attitude appears calm and uncaring, and that he like Seinfeld only sweetens the deal), and Plaxico Burress can be one of the most exciting players in the game (he's a deep threat capable of spectacular catches). But I've soured on a lot of the Charger players I used to like because of fantasy football. As Ladanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates haven't been on my team for a few years, I follow most Charger games hoping neither Tomlinson nor Gates score. And now I find myself not quite capable of "rooting" for them. Such is (completely made up fantasy) life.

But I'm not expecting any real joy from football this weekend.

It's not Boston fans in particular.
Though I've complained a lot about the overdose of pleasure Boston sports fans are getting, it's not because I have anything against Boston sports fans in particular (I don't think). It just shatters me to see one city with five championships in one decade (and likely going on six, and we're still waiting to see what the Celtics do in the playoffs). When cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Diego, etc., have gone such a long time with no championships, it disrupts any hope I have for balance in the universe when one city gets so much (and the city with a 16-time NBA champ, remember). Of course, I don't really believe there's justice in this world, and if I were really going to complain about a lack of karmic equality in this universe, I would probably focus on all the atrocities in human history and not even mention sports. But being a sports fan is not entirely rational--my inner sense of justice is disrupted nonetheless.

If this happened for a different region, I think I'd feel the same. Let's talk about "City X" (I was actually going to use a specific example, but I didn't want to make any fans feel jinxed, or make them writhe in horror as I "imagined" they had won all sorts of championships). If City X had a pro football team that won three Super Bowls recently and was currently undefeated, and a pro baseball team that won two World Series recently, and a pro basketball team that had the best record in the NBA, I think I'd resent City X's fans no matter what. Even moreso if City X's teams were succeeding with former Minnesota stars that never brought a title here (not through their own fault). And if's most popular columnist was a City X fan, and got to write columns taking cheapshots at all the teams and players he didn't like, and got to write about how special it was to be a fan in City X, and got to write about just how great City X's teams are, well, that would certainly contribute to the resentment.

Patrick Reusse talks to Wally Hilgenberg. In a world filled with suffering, we look for a redeeming meaning. It appears Hilgenberg has found it. You can also read about him at Viking Update.

Viking fans interested in re-living old memories can check out the Nosebleeds. Lately I've been thinking of a line from The Graduate, when Elaine says to Benjamin, "Do you just hate everything?" Why does that line keep coming into my head. Do you just hate everything?

At Epic Carnival, What was that bang? continues to preview the NFL playoffs by telling us which fans to root for.

Lots of people are looking out for Eli, making sure he gets his Seinfeld (Fanhouse).

The Big Lead notes a lack of diversity at some sports websites.

These are dark sports days, my Minnesota friends. Dark days indeed. Try to make the best of this utterly freezing weekend.

We're on our way to the liberation of our weekends. This weekend there are no Saturday games for the first time in a while, and next weekend we get a practice "non-football weekend" before the Super Bowl. I'm really looking forward to it: football is wonderful, of course, but its presence in life can sometimes feel oppressive. I'm looking forward to liberated weekends, and so should you.

That's just wrong, Green Bay

There's never a just cause to take Seinfeld away from the people.

"Green Bay TV station pulling 'Seinfeld,' Eli's favorite" in Newsday, via Fanhouse.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Do NFL rules really prevent sustained success?
There are those who make the argument we're supposed to be particularly impressed with the Patriots' success this decade, because they're doing it in a league with rules designed to prevent teams from sustaining success. The latest to make this claim is the Boston Herald's Gerry Callahan, who calls the Patriots "A true dynasty in an era that was designed to prevent dynasties" (via Fanhouse).

Look, the NFL has free agency and a salary cap. However, if the rules are designed to prevent teams from sustaining success, the rules are failing. A team with a good front office, a good head coach, and a good quarterback is definitely capable of keeping a long run going. The Patriots are obviously the model of success, and indeed, I would call them a dynasty. But look further at this decade. The Steelers have played in three Conference Championship Games, and the Eagles have played in four. The Colts have won their division five straight years. The Seahawks have won their division four straight years.

The Patriots are, indeed, a dynasty to be respected. But I don't think that we need to respect them more than the 80s/90s 49ers, 70s Steelers, or 60s Packers just because of the era they play in. Indeed, the Patriots have taken advantage of free agency to stock up the team and maintain their long-term success. If you're going to praise the Pats for winning despite free agency, then take away every Pats player that was acquired with the free agency rules, and replace him with whatever players the Pats lost with free agency rules. I'm going to guess the team wouldn't be as good. Today in order to maintain long-term success, teams must not just draft successfully, but they must manage their salary cap and off-season movement successfully. Perhaps far from making it more of a challenge, free agency allows well-run organizations yet another means to build and maintain success. The rules don't prevent long-term success, or dynasties--they're just rules, and good teams are able to use those very rules to their benefit.

Pass rush in today's NFL
Dr. Z makes the argument that a few of the playoff losers thus far failed because they failed to put pressure on the quarterback. It makes sense: a team with a good passing game (a smart quarterback and competent receivers) can shred a defense with easy short passes if the defense gives the quarterback time to throw. And if you aren't getting a pass rush with your front four, you can't just wait and hope they eventually get there: Dr Z says you have to spend time "figuring out blitz packages, rush schemes, exotics, mixers, crazies, something, anything, to stop the march of the offense, the 'slow burn,' as coaches call it."

And I agree. If you sit back, an offense with a good passing attack will slowly and methodically take you down the field and beat you. If you do something, anything, to rush the quarterback, to make him move, to make him hurry passes, to get him rattled, you have a chance. You might give up a big play--but you also give yourself a chance to get a stop.

Sacks are great, but the point is to pressure the quarterback, regardless of whether you actually tackle him in the backfield. Knocking him down, making him throw it away, making him hurry a throw--those are victories too. As Ohm Youngmisuk of the NY Daily News notes of last week's Giant victory over the Cowboys, "The Giants sacked Romo twice and hit him eight times. In the fourth quarter, Romo was just 6-for-15 for 81 yards as he spent most of the final drive scrambling and trying to make something happen."

For the road teams to pull off upsets this weekend, they must rush the quarterback. It's going to be a tough task, as both Brett Favre and Tom Brady are pretty adept at avoiding a pass rush and hitting their throws. But both the Giants and Chargers are capable of a pass rush (the Giants were #1 in the regular season with 53 sacks, the Chargers 5th with 42), and while they'll have to do more to beat their opponents than just get a pass rush, that will be a key.

Tortured Sports Cities
The Big Lead (here and here) and the Big Picture (here) have been discussing the most tortured fanbases (just a note: it's not terribly relevant to call the Twin Cities an "expansion" city regarding its NFL team: the Vikings started playing in 1961, making them just one year younger than the storied Dallas Cowboys and all the original AFL teams).

The cities with the longest championship droughts (San Diego, Buffalo, Cleveland) obviously deserve the most commiseration. Philadelphia hasn't had a pro title since 1983, and they've got four pro sports teams. Seattle has no championships since 1979. Minnesota should be noted, too--just two championships since the Lakers moved, and none of our teams have even reached the championship round since 1991. Washington's drought is as long as Minnesota's.

San Diego, Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington--we reach our hands to you in brotherhood (or sisterhood, as the case may be).

Other Links
Stop Mike Lupica says "They oughta just contract the Wolves, and have the Sonics move there. Minnesota fans get something young and fun to root for (Durant and Green), which is what the plan was, and the franchise that McHale ruined gets destroyed once and for all." I don't even object.

Complete Sports says this year's UCLA basketball team is better than last year's team.

Dave Zirin writes about Dennis Brutus, a South African opponent of Apartheid that turned down entry into South Africa's Sports Hall of Fame.

Former Viking Wally Hilgenberg has ALS (Daily Norseman). Thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Beyond Shinders

A new store, "Beyond Shinders," has taken over the location of the old Maplewood Shinders. "Beyond Shinders" sells the same sort of thing the old Shinders sold, including sports cards and memorabilia.

The sports card selection is thin right now. There are a lot of the (higher priced) hobby packs and boxes, which is good. But the single card selection is very weak.

Furthermore, my favorite feature of the old Shinders isn't there. Shinders had boxes of individually cased single cards sitting out for the customer to peruse. Most of the "specials" cards were 29 cents or 49 cents. You could spend as much time as you want looking through cards by hand, and then you could get several good cards that you want for just a few dollars. It was a joyful feature. Hopefully, Beyond Shinders is eventually able to bring back this feature.

The selection is thin now, but it's just starting, so it's encouraging. I don't think anything will ever be like the Golden Age of Shinders, but there's now a place to get a variety of hobby packs and boxes and single sports cards.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Massive Playoff Blizzard

2004's first-round quarterbacks
The top three quarterbacks selected in the 2004 NFL draft (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger) have each enjoyed team success. It's up to you how much you want to credit the QBs themselves, but each team has now made multiple playoff appearances, and each team has made an appearance in the Conference Championship Game, with its respective QB as starter. The other first-round QB, J.P Losman, has been mediocre (though he hasn't had as good a team around him, either).

Check out Dr. Z's all-pro team. There isn't a professional football writer that understands football history better or pays more attention to the technical details and actual performances of players.

Cold Hard Football Facts looks at the best statistical seasons before the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. As I've said before, it also irks me that so many pundits talk about the "all-time" greats while pretending that football started sometime between 1958 and 1970.

Free Darko has inadvertently provided me with a face for Nastasya Filippovna of The Idiot.

As you probably knew by now, Vikings Kevin Williams and Steve Hutchinson were AP All-Pros (Star Tribune).

At Epic Carnival, DMtShooter gives the top 12 signs that you are becoming an old and cranky blogger."

The Nosebleeds comments on Derek Anderson's likely return to Cleveland. Perhaps your Browns could trade Brady Quinn to the Vikings? Then my soul would be complete.

Viking defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who has interviewed for the Head Coach job in Miami, and who has been linked to Indianapolis (Daily Norseman, Fanhouse), talks about what he'd like to be able to do in Minnesota (Pioneer Press).

Vikings War Cry looks at the areas in which Tarvaris Jackson must improve.

The Timberwolves suck so bad it hurts me to think of them. At this point, I look forward to NBA Box Scores just to see Dwight Howard's numbers. And now Howard makes his debut on network television (Sports Media Watch).

Randy Moss, Wide Receivers, Recognition, Awards
The Starting Five talks about Randy Moss--why he deserved to be Offensive Player of the Year this year, and why he wasn't. While Moss has certainly made his mistake, I've always thought the "character" issues were overblown. And he is arguably the best wide receiver of the past ten years. Look at the numbers for, in my opinion, the top four wide receivers of the past decade:

Marvin Harrison (since '96): 1,042 receptions, 13,944 yards, 124 TDs

Terrell Owens
(since '96): 882 receptions, 13,070 yards, 129 TDs

Torry Holt (since '99): 805 receptions, 11,864 yards, 71 TDs

Randy Moss (since '98): 774 receptions, 12,193 yards, 124 TDs

Of course, Moss never qualified for MVP, which is the "Best QB or RB on a Playoff Team" award. Just look at the history of the AP NFL MVP--a whole lot of quarterbacks and running backs. If Jerry Rice didn't win MVP when he set the touchdown reception record in 1987, or the receiving yards record in 1995, or, frankly, in any of the six seasons he had 1,483 receiving yards or more, or any of the eight seasons he had 13 or more receiving TDs, no WR is ever going to win NFL MVP.

By the way, look closely at the wikipedia entry for AP NFL MVP and at note #2: there may be shenanigans going on with the wikipedia entry, but according to this Jim Brown was the first three-time AP MVP.

At this point, should I just hope for the most possible sports fan misery, banking on either a karmic reversal or some sort of utilitarian "return to the mean"?
Let me quickly sum up the weekend's football:

The team I hate the most, the Green Bay Packers, won their playoff game easily, and now must win a home game against a 10-6 team it beat badly in the regular season, instead of a road game against a 13-3 team it lost to in the regular season.

The team whose success I begrudge the most (because they have my one-time favorite player Randy Moss, because they've won three Super Bowls this decade, because they're undefeated, because Boston sports fans are getting everything right now), the New England Patriots, won their playoff game, and now must beat San Diego to advance to the Super Bowl, a much easier matchup for them than Indianapolis.

The Colts, starring my favorite non-Viking player, Peyton Manning, lost their playoff game.

You may notice that I do a lot of whining on this blog. While my feelings about sports often bleed into my general mood, worldview, and ideas, I can assure you I'm not nearly so depressed with my actual life as I am with my sports fan life.

Joe Montana
I (and you) often hear Joe Montana identified as the greatest quarterback of all-time. When I look at his regular season stats, I see a spectacular quarterback, though I don't see precisely what makes him the greatest quarterback ever to play the game.

But on Saturday FOX pointed out that Brett Favre is second all-time in playoff games for a quarterback, playoff TD passes, and playoff passing yards. He's second, of course, to Joe Montana.

And then we look at Joe Montana's playoff stats. He's 16-7 as a playoff starter, with 5,772 playoff passing yards and 45 playoff TD passes. In the Super Bowl, he's 4-0 as a starter with 11 TD passes and 0 INTs.

And then we know why a spectacular regular season quarterback becomes the G.O.A.T.: his playoff legacy. He is, arguably, the greatest playoff quarterback of all-time. And that makes him, arguably, the greatest quarterback of all-time.

And that's why these playoffs mean so much to quarterbacks. It's why while I still believe Peyton Manning is the best quarterback, many, many people will choose Tom Brady. Players at other positions don't get that sort of evaluation--for their historical legacies, quarterbacks need to perform well in the playoffs and be on winning teams.

Three more football games
Just three more games, then we can sort of move on with our lives for a bit. Take walks on Sunday afternoon. Read (books, Jerry). Watch some movies. Climb out of the muck at look at civilization.

Addendum: re-tread coaches in the 2007 playoffs
7 of the 12 2007 playoff coaches are not coaching their first team: Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden, Tom Coughlin, Norv Turner, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, and Wade Phillips had each coached elsewhere before coaching their teams to the playoffs this year. Similarly, 3 of the remaining 4 teams are coached by a "re-tread" coach. And 5 of the last 6 Super Bowls were won by a "re-tread" coach (Belichick, Gruden, Dungy). Sometimes people fail their first time around; sometimes people find themselves in bad situations and perform much better when they get in another situation. We can't just assume a coach is a blockhead if he doesn't win a Super Bowl with his first team.

Addendum: Again, no parity
The 2007 playoff field can also help us again question the myth of NFL parity. Many of the 2007 playoff teams have been in the playoffs multiple times in recent years.

Indianapolis (8 of 9 years, 6 straight years)
New England (10 of 14 years, 6 of 7 years, 5 straight years)
Seattle (5 straight years)
Pittsburgh (11 of 16 years, 5 of 7 years)
Green Bay (11 of 15 years)
New York (3 straight years)
San Diego (3 of 4 years)
Tampa Bay (7 of 11 years, 2 of 3 years)
Washington (2 of 3 years)
Jacksonville (2 of 3 years)
Tennessee Titans (5 of 9 years)
Dallas (11 of 17 years, 3 of 5 years, 2 straight years)

Even at the bottom end, none of the teams are precisely new to the playoffs (the Titans had the longest drought, missing in '04, '05, and '06). At the top end, these are teams that have been able to maintain success for 5-15 years. In the NFL, franchises can build teams to compete over an extended period of time.

Stick a fork in me Jerry: I'm done.

Excepting any weekend involving a Viking loss, this is the most disappointing football weekend I can remember. I went into the weekend rooting against Green Bay and New England and for Indianapolis. Oh that this too too solid 2007 season would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

Go Cowboys (not because I care about Dallas or New York, but because I'd rather see the Packers play the NFC championship game on the road at Dallas than at home against the Giants).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gather ye rosebuds

If you spend your whole day waiting for football, and then watching football, and then the teams you want to win lose, it feels like an entirely lost day. "Hey, PV, what did you do today?" "Hmm, I spent about six hours feeling empty and disappointed."

I feel like Jerry when George asked him if he ever felt like he got a haircut when he didn't. What is this? What are we doing? Our lives? What are we doing with our lives?

But that's for anybody rooting for the Seahawks and/or Jaguars (or rooting against the Packers and/or Patriots). If you were rooting for either the Packers or the Patriots, you probably feel like today was a really fulfilling day.

Just one of the realities of sports fandom: we give up our free will, tying our joy and misery to entities completely out of our control.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Holy Hitter hates the third person?

Holy Hitter does not like it when people or entities refer to themselves in the third person. Some do it at an attempt of humor (see PFT and his whole "some internet hack" schtick) while others do it as some sign of accomplishment. What is the third person usage suppose to show some type of objectivity, sort of like stepping outside oneself?

Okay, to be honest this post was just a rant. A cathartic exercise to rid myself of the rage I feel every time I read Mike Florio's posts on PFT referring to himself as "some internet hack."

If anyone reads this and feels so moved, please pass that news on to him. I can get over the Emmitt Smith/Tiki Barber jabs, on the one hand Emmitt gets to be the butt of jokes because of his lack of vocabulary and correct usage while on the other hand Tiki gets ripped on for "flaunting" a vast vocabulary that Florio reads as someone trying to over-validate his intelligence. Plain and simple I am finding more and more that Florio annoys the living daylights out of me, but man it is so hard not to read PFT because of their ability to break news before others. I wish, oh how I wish I had the will power to never again visit

But I don't so I have to cleanse myself of the rage with a post like this. I apologize.

National Friday League, divisional round

I don't usually do actual predictions (because I'm an idiot), but I'll break form and give it a whirl.

The top two seeds in each conference this season appear vastly superior to their competition. However, historically the top four seeded teams don't usually all advance to the conference championship games. Since 1990 (when 12 teams started making the playoffs), it happened in 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2004--five times in 17 seasons. Without being precise, it's fair to say it happens once every few years. While it (surprisingly?) doesn't usually happen, it does happen, so it shouldn't be surprising if it does. Given that it has been a few years since it last happened, and given that the top two teams in each conference really do look a lot better than their opponents, it's reasonable to predict that all four home teams will win this weekend.

I'll look at each matchup just a bit beyond the wins and losses, but certainly not into the realm of mathematical analysis. We'll take a quick look at each team to see where they ranked in points scored and points allowed to see who really has the best chance of scoring an upset. I've got no precedent that this is even a reasonable way to look at games.

Seahawks (9th in scoring, 6th in points allowed) v. Packers (4th in scoring, 6th in points allowed)
The Packers and Seahawks allowed the exact same number of points in the regular season, but the Packers scored precisely 2.63 points per game more than the Seahawks. Hmm. Without accounting for strength of schedule, the Packers are 2.63 points per game better than the Seahawks. Throw in what is typically regarded as a three-point home field advantage, and the Packers and Seahawks could play each other to within one score. Such a game could go either way. If the Seahawk defense plays as well this week as it did last week (completely shutting down the running game, putting pressure on the quarterback) Seattle is capable of an upset. I think the key is the pass rush: Brett Favre can throw playoff interceptions in bunches, but the key is to hit him, to make him feel uncomfortable, to make him feel like he has to make plays. If he's allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket, he can dissect any defense. Which I assume Mike Holmgren and the Seattle coaching staff knows.

Hey, is that a limb? Well, it's just sort of hanging there on a tree: as long as I'm climbing this tree, I might as well check out how sturdy that limb is.

Seahawks 24, Packers 14

Jaguars (6th in scoring, 10th in points allowed) v. Patriots (1st in scoring, 4th in points allowed)
The Jaguars are top ten in scoring offense and defense, but just. The Patriots are the #1 scoring team in the league and a sturdy 4th in points allowed. The Jaguars looked weak in pass defense last week against Pittsburgh (three interceptions in the first half, but they gave up a lot of yards in the second half allowing Pittsburgh back into the game).

I can conceive of a Jaguar victory, but Jacksonville would have to play a perfect game. How often do perfect games occur?

By the way, in Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Nastasya Filippovna writes that "Perfection cannot be loved, perfection can only be looked at as perfection." That's how I feel about the undefeated Patriots (of course, she then notes that she does love the person she just described as perfect, so maybe she really is mad and her opinions need not be taken into account when discussing a 21st century football team).

Patriots 31, Jaguars 16

Chargers (5th in scoring, 5th in points allowed) v. Colts (3rd in scoring, 1st in points allowed)
The Chargers are a sturdy 5th in both scoring offense and scoring defense. But to go on the road and play the team with the top scoring defense, that's particularly good against the pass? It will take a really unpredictable and consistent pass rush against Peyton Manning for the Chargers to beat the Colts, and I just don't think they have it.

This can be a close game that the Chargers can pull off. The Colts are incredible offensively and defensively, but the Chargers obviously have talent on both sides of the ball to rank 5th in points scored and allowed. They could make it a game.

But I don't think they will. The rankings suggest a possible upset, but I have trouble picking against either Peyton Manning or a #1 defense.

Colts 27, Chargers 10

Giants (14th in scoring, 17th in points allowed) v. Cowboys (2nd in scoring, 13th in points allowed)
Are the Giants really supposed to be here? Mediocre according to scoring offense and scoring defense? Every other team playing this weekend is in the top-6 in at least one category, and six of them are in the top-10 in both categories. The Giants appear vastly inferior to the rest of the current playoff field.

But here's the thing: while the Cowboys are the #2 scoring offense, they're also a pretty mediocre 13th in points allowed. That means if the Giants play well offensively, they are capable of moving the ball and scoring points. Furthermore, Terrell Owens was a key playmaker for that #2 scoring offense, and he's dealing with an injury (it's questionable whether he'll play or how effective he'll be if he does play). Now, the last time Terrell Owens had injury questions going into a playoff game, he had 9 receptions for 122 yards in the Super Bowl, so I'm certainly not counting on his ineffectiveness.

The rankings tell me the Giants are mediocre and should get run off the field by the Cowboys (who scored 45 and 31 points in their two regular season victories over the Giants). But then I think of Terrell Owens ineffective due to injury, and Romo needing to keep his poise with underneath routes, and then I remember Tony Romo sitting on the field in Seattle after bumbling the snap on a potentially game-winning field goal...

And I can see New York pulling the upset.

The Giants need to do two things to win. First, get a pass rush on Tony Romo to make him make mistakes (which he does, throwing 19 interceptions this season). The Giants can do this because they have two very good defensive ends, Michael Strahan and a guy whose name I've never bothered learning to spell (OK, his name is Osi Umenyiora). Second, the Giants must establish a running game to keep pressure (both in the form of a pass rush and in the demand that he complete a lot of long passes on 3rd down) off Eli Manning (which the Giants can do, ranking 4th in rushing yards and 4th in rushing yards per attempt this season).

And I think they'll do it.

Giants 24, Cowboys 21

Now I'm finally on record for my horrible ability at predicting games. You can all come back on Monday to laugh at me. Ha, you'll all say.

Playoff teams and their fans

At Epic Carnival, What was that bang? once again tells you who to root for based on the suffering of a team's fanbase. A highlight: "The national media often portrays Packer fans very glowingly: they're the small-town heroes, a fun-loving bunch that's loyal to their community owned team no matter what. As a Viking fan, I see Packer fans a little like you probably see Yankee fans: obnoxious bullies that always get what they want."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Divisional Playoffs: The Difference Makers

So this is a quick post looking at the playoff matchups this weekend while highlighting the "difference-maker" for each team. I believe that if the "difference-maker" has a big game then more than likely that team will win the game. That is no guarantee of course.

Seattle vs. Green Bay
I think Green Bay will win this game but here are the difference makers.
Green Bay-Ryan Grant
Simply put if Grant has a good game that should allow Favre to take command of the game and do what he does best.
Seattle-Patrick Kearney
If he gets into Brett Favre's face and puts on severe pressure then Green Bay could be challenged in this game.

New York vs. Dallas
I'm going with Dallas on this one, but don't count out Miracle Eli.
Dallas-Marion Barber/Julius Jones
Both of the RBs of Dallas will need to establish the run and force the Giants to account for the run so that pressure is light on Romo and he can go through his progressions.
New York-Eli Manning
This game could go New York's way if Eli the stud shows up, but if Eli the dud comes to the game well you can count New York out. Perhaps no team is so dependent upon the performance of their QB or lack of performance like the Giants of New York.

San Diego vs. Indianapolis
I really think Indy should walk away with this game, but well I can never count out San Diego.
Indianapolis-Dallas Clark
I really think Dallas Clark is going to have to win the battle over the linebackers and secondary guys he faces. But they have Peyton Manning so it might not matter.
San Diego-Philip Rivers
Last time these two teams met, Peyton Manning self-destructed and Indy still should have won the game. This time in order for San Diego to win, Rivers is going to have to bring his A game and connect with his WRs and LT.

Jacksonville vs. New England
This game is the one I am looking forward to the most this weekend. I am hoping it is a true battle.
New England-Wes Welker
We all know New England is going to pass, and we all know there are going to be bombs to Moss. However, the key to this matchup will be how well Welker is able to attack the middle of that defense and move the chains.
Jacksonville-Maurice Jones-Drew
We all know Fred Taylor has had a spectacular season, but MJD is the key to this weeks matchup. Not so much for his role in the running offense, but rather in his role as kick returner and receiving back. If MJD gives Jacksonville consistent good field position and then gets 1-3 good pass receptions of 10+yards then Jacksonville very well could give the Patriots their first "L" of the season.

So there you have it. Those are my highlights of this weekend's games. What do you think? Other ideas about who the difference makers are? Shout them out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Math Folks Preview the Divisional Round

Here are some trends, comparisons, and probabilities for this weekend's football games. tries to find comparable matchups in recent years to find probability for each game's outcome.

The Football Professor examines each team's trends for the season to assess where each team is headed this weekend.

NFL Stats uses a model based on team efficiency to give probability for this weekend.

The math isn't all, of course: human beings are not "sprigs on a barrel organ." But analysis that relies on interpretation of objective data is always useful in discussing football games.

Blizzard: I just can't handle another Packer championship

Let's make one thing clear before we start: if the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl, I'm going to have a complete sports nervous breakdown. If the Vikings' biggest rival wins its 13th championship before the Vikings win one, I'm just not going to be able to take it, and I'm going to go into a tailspin of sports despair that can't even be conceived of until it is experienced. I don't know what will happen, but it will be filled with dread and loathing. You may never hear from me again--I may disavow all association with sports. I may go into my basement and sit cross-legged reading Paradise Lost over and over again until September. I might not eat again for days. I might put all my football cards into a Magic Bullet. I just really don't know.

When Dr. Z does his final power rankings, he notes the record he predicted for each team in the preseason. Every writer should do that. Here is my preseason preview. looks at the "It's hard to beat a team three times in one season" myth.

Cold, Hard Football Facts
provides links and reviews of a lot of football analysis sites. When I get a little time to check them out, they'll probably be in the blogroll soon.

I'm going to be honest: at this point I loathe the Timberwolves. Whenever they enter my mind, an dull, empty, sick feeling enters my soul. Jordi at Epic Carnival looks closer.

A few days ago there was some discussion about exploitation of college athletes. For those interested, Allen Sack's book looks like a good examination of the issue (you also might read Sack's article at Inside Higher Ed on Notre Dame football, with an intriguing proposal for academic requirements for athletes). I, however, don't read books about sports anymore. It should be obvious to anybody that I spend too much time reading about sports on the internet already, and since there are so many classics of world literature I haven't read yet, I prefer to devote my heavy reading time to spiritually invigorating classics. I follow sports for fun--I read for the edification of my soul.

The Ragnarok has been looking at offseason possibilities for the Vikings. Wide receiver must be the top offseason priority for the Vikings; via The Ragnarok, Football's Future lists the top free agent wide receivers. My top two choices are D.J. Hackett (upside!) and Devery Henderson (a speed guy that can stretch the field and might actually catch it when he gets down there). Slim pickings, but each (or both!) would make the Vikings a much better team.

Ladies... tries to convince you to fall in love with Braylon Edwards. They note that "he pledged $1 million in scholarship money for 100 needy eighth-grade students in Cleveland." Sounds like a good guy. Plus he's a terrific football player. If the Vikings knew then what they know now, they would have traded every pick they had in 2005 for Cleveland's 3rd pick.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Here's something nobody should possibly care about:

Whether or not an MVP is a unanimous choice.

Honestly, who gives a shit? It's an award that is voted on, so it's already subjective. Who really cares whether a player gets all the votes, all but one of the votes, or even just a majority of the votes? Years later people will look back and see who won the friggin' MVP, and they're not going to really give a shit that the player wasn't the unanimous MVP. He was the MVP. That's it. As far as MVPs go, that's what matters.

So if you're complaining because Tom Brady was MVP but not unanimous MVP, [insert some sort of insult here].

Counter-revolutionary Activity

The Hazelweird Fantasy Football League is currently discussing transforming into a Keeper League. I am firmly opposed to this move (keeper leagues are a bourgeois fantasy).

So, faithful readers, share your experiences and opinions Keeper Leagues and Non-keeper Leagues. What's good and what's bad about keeper leagues? What's good and what's bad about non-keeper leagues?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On the Road

On my way home Saturday from my in-laws I was listening to the Washington vs. Seattle game when I kept hearing over and over again one commercial.

That commercial was a blast against the "greedy" Big Ten Network that is trying to take away college basketball from me. Literally folks they are trying to take "college basketball" away from me, not worthless non-marquee Big Ten games but the whole of "college basketball." The commercial though reassured me that "my" cable company would continue to bring me great basketball matchups along with ESPN/ABC and they would also once again be bringing me March Madness.

Well thank goodness, "my" cable company cares about me so much to bring me those games. Really folks, do the NFL and Big Ten Networks and Cable TV really think the consumers are so dumb? Well yes, and from some of the comments I have read on articles they are right. People are crying about the BTN and NFLN greed and how they just want to suck more money out of consumers. Well to an extent they are right, but folks cmon both parties in these stand-offs are looking to maximize profit. Welcome to capitalism and trying to maximize the bottom line. Cable companies don't want to pay a per-subscriber rate to the networks to carry them on basic tier packages not because they care about "you" the consumer, but rather because they don't want to absorb the cost to carry the network. In order to continue their profit margin they would either have to pass the cost on to all subscribers by raising their already ridiculous rates or they would have to absorb the cost. Both of those would more than likely drop their profit margins. Plain and simple. The "Networks" don't want to be put on a "sports-tier" package because they don't want cable companies to be able to maximize profits off their brand without adequate compensation because of the fear of cable slapping "unwanted" sports networks in the package at a higher rate off of the draw created by the "Networks" brand. It is easy to see that their isn't necessarily a bad-guy or good-guy in the argument. There are two parties trying to maximize profits and that is what this is about. No one party is right, no one party is wrong.

However, guess what Mr. or Mrs Consumer, you do have to suffer if you really want to see said games. It sucks for you, but welcome to capitalism at its best. If you want to see the brand, you have to pay for it. That is life, it sucks but that is life.

Now I have thought of a possible solution to the whole situation (I am guessing one that one of the parties in this dispute had to at least suggest). Why not offer said networks as a single channel add-on (ala-carte style) to the basic cable package. That way the "Network" knows that another company is not capitalizing on their brand without adequate compensation and cable companies don't have to absorb costs across a demographic that might not even be interested in said "Networks." What do you think folks? The NFL Network wants, I believe about $.65-$1.00 per subscriber. Why not meet in the middle, cable offers the channel ala-carte for say $1.50 per month while paying the NFL Network $1.00. Yeah the NFL doesn't maximize profit and obviously neither does Cable, but guess what they both win because they satisfy the consumer.

Just thoughts. I personally don't have much invested in the debate since I have DirecTv and have both networks already. We will see what the future holds.

In other news, I read one article on the net (I can't find the site currently) that stated cable-companies pay $3 per subscriber for ESPN. Now if I were a cable-consumer not interested in sports that would make me mad, but do you think Cable companies would dare take on ESPN? No way, especially now that ABC owns the entity and can use major leverage against cable companies. Captalism folks, Capitalism!

Wild Card Wonderment: Sunday

Giants 24, Buccaneers 14

The Giants now go to play the Cowboys, who beat them twice in the regular season. Is "it's hard to beat a team three times in one season" just a meaningless cliche? We all remember the Vikings, swept by the Packers in 2004, going into Lambeau Field and winning convincingly. The Giants can win.

Chargers 17, Titans 6

If the Chargers would have lost this game, I would have invited Charger fans to come be fans of the Vikings or something. The Chargers have averaged 11.5 wins per year the last four seasons, and this is their first playoff win in that time. Philip Rivers really stepped up, hitting his wide receivers downfield. Now the Chargers go to get their ass kicked by the Colts.

A little blizzardy goodness

At some point this weekend, while watching and thinking about playoff football, I realized that at a gut level, I have no confidence in Tarvaris Jackson. I thought about how the Vikes lost two overtime games this year (that each featured offensive turnovers in overtime that helped the opponent), and how those games going differently could have put the Vikes in the playoffs--and then I pictured Tarvaris Jackson in a road playoff game throwing interceptions. I realize that when Jackson drops back, I don't have confidence that a good play is going to happen, and I am terrified that something bad is going to happen. Of course that all can change in the future if Jackson becomes a consistently accurate quarterback that makes good decisions. But right now, at a completely irrational gut reaction, I just don't believe in him.

The Pioneer Press has an interesting article on how the Vikings can appeal to free agents. In the article, here's what Ben Leber has to say: "I think we're going to be one of the most dangerous teams out there, and that's no exaggeration [...] You look at the way we climbed the charts at the end of the season, and what we have playmaker wise, on offense and defense, and I really think this team is a shoo-in for the playoffs." Leber should become a Viking blogger: he talks crazy like us.

The Pioneer Press also notes some of the potentially available free agents the Vikings can pursue. I just scrolled down to look at the free agent wide receivers, and felt a dull emptiness in my soul.

Cold, Hard Football Facts has a lot of articles about this weekend's playoff games already.

Enjoy your week, suckers.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Wild Card Wonderment: Saturday

Seattle 35, Washington 14

But for a brief stretch in the late third/early fourth quarter, the Seahawk defense looked very good. They stuffed the run, put pressure on the quarterback, and played good coverage. There are a lot of solid performers on that defense, and they just might be able to go into Green Bay next week and make it a ballgame (the Seahawks under Holmgren have yet to be blown out of a playoff game). I see a solid defensive line, a solid linebacker corps, and a solid secondary--a lot of different players made noticeably good plays (like Marcus Trufant, Lofa Tatupu, and Julian Peterson).

D.J. Hackett: on Friday, I wrote that the Vikings should prioritize D. J. Hackett (who I believe will be a free agent). Today he had 6 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, looking like just the sort of playmaker wide receiver the Vikes could use.

Matt Hasselbeck: Hasselbeck is now 4-4 as a playoff starter. While Hasselbeck hasn't really been recognized as an elite quarterback, do you realize that he could end up in the Hall of Fame? IF Hasselbeck wins a Super Bowl before he retires, we'll look back and see a QB that had a lot of solid, productive seasons for a consistently winning team, that got his team to a couple of Super Bowls and won one. I think a Super Bowl win is what it will take for Hasselbeck to be a HOFer, but he's 32 and it's possible. He's got the sort of numbers that get a Super Bowl winning QB into the Hall, but not a non-Super Bowl winning QB (compare him to Troy Aikman).

Mike Holmgren: I have trouble not seeing Holmgren as a Hall of Fame coach: three Super Bowls with two teams, a Super Bowl win, 12 years in the playoffs and 14 winning seasons. But each year, the further he takes the Seahawks, the further he strengthens his legacy.

Jacksonville 31, Pittsburgh 29

After watching Jacksonville's lousy pass offense and (at least in the second half) lousy pass defense, it's hard not to believe they're about to go get shit-stomped by the Patriots. They'll have to play a near perfect game in New England to walk out with a victory. I can envision it: a strong pass rush like they had tonight, some opportunistic turnovers, defensive backs willing to rough up Randy Moss, some long special teams returns, a consistent running game to keep possession of the ball. But it's going to need to be perfect.

Gutsy decision/call by David Garrard to run on 4th and 2. As I watched, I thought about how I had no confidence in Jacksonville to pick up the first down (because I completely considered it a passing down). Then Garrard takes off on essentially the game-winning play.

I find Al Michaels annoying, and I have for a long time. He makes me enjoy games less.

Maurice Jones-Drew is good: I watched him at UCLA, and I wouldn't have imagined he'd be such a dynamic pro. When you want him run, he looks slow: his low, squat body makes it look like he's not quick. And yet in the open field, defenders have a tough time getting a clean hit on him (hence a 96 yard kickoff return and a 43 yard touchdown reception).

Rashean Mathis is good: I always like watching interception returns for touchdowns (except when they're against the Vikings).

Ben Roethlisberger
: Roethlisberger is 25, and tonight was his seventh playoff start (his team has won five of them). He's had good numbers (63.2% career passer, a 32 TD season this year), and he's had a lot of team success. If he continues to even put up solid numbers on a team that's consistently in the playoffs, he's likely to be a Hall of Famer. Of course, he's also going to need to not suck in the playoffs. He played very well in helping bring the Steelers back, but his four turnovers ultimately killed the Steelers.

Hines Ward: in a pass happy era, Hines Ward certainly doesn't have the cumulative numbers for a Hall of Fame wide receiver. But he's played in a run-first offense, and on a good team (tonight was his eleventh playoff game, and he's been a Super Bowl MVP). He's a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, but he's probably going to get consideration.