Friday, September 6, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013

The NFL season is underway!  Time to make some predictions.

AFC
As I see it, there is only one "guaranteed" team to make the playoffs in the AFC and that, of course, is the Broncos.  I don't feel great about any other teams, but I do feel like the Patriots, Texans, and Bengals will return to the postseason.  Tom Brady hasn't missed the playoffs since 2002.  I'm not going to predict he'll do so now.  The Texans are a very solid team and happen to play in (presumably) the second weakest division in football.  The Bengals are similar to the Texans.  A very solid team that doesn't seem to have any obvious competition for the division title.  The Ravens did only win 10 games last year.  Now they're without two of their top three receivers from last year and have a lot of new personnel on defense.  I just don't seem them making the playoffs.  The Bengals' only other likely source of competition would come from the Steelers.  Last year I noted that, since Roethlisberger arrived, the Steelers have had a pattern of making the playoffs two years and missing them one.  If that continues, that means it's a playoff year for Pittsburgh.  But part of me also feels like the Steelers are on the verge of decline (similar to how I felt about the Jets two years ago and the Chargers last year).  The difference is that the conference seems pretty weak and the Steelers have something the Jets and Chargers didn't: a coach and quarterback with proven success.  So while I feel like their window is closing, I think the Steelers have at least one more playoff berth in them.  Who gets the final spot?  I picked the Bills last year, but - unless Manuel is a revelation - I don't see them making it.  The Dolphins have some talent, but I don't think they're quite there yet.  I think the last two spots comes down to one of two teams: the Colts or the Chiefs.  The Colts are a strong regression candidate, and I'm betting they do regress.  But they also have a very good (potentially great) quarterback.  Instead of declining by an expected three to four wins, I think Luck may be able to stop the decline at two.  The Chiefs seem to be everyone's "bad team improves to playoff team" this year.  They improved from greatly by going from Cassel and Crennel to Smith and Reid.  They had the number one pick in the draft.  They brought in Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson.  And they're playing a 4th place schedule.  They have four games against the Chargers and Raiders, games against the Browns, Bills, Jaguars, and Titans, and most of their toughest out-of-division games (Cowboys, Giants, Texans, Colts) are at home.  Upgrade at coach, upgrade at quarterback, upgraded talent, and an easy schedule is why I feel the Chiefs make the playoffs.

NFC
The likely teams to return to the playoffs are the Seahawks, Packers, Niners, and Falcons.  The Seahawks and Niners are on two of the most talented teams in football.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers.  The Falcons are talented, but I'm not as high on them as other people seem to be.  I think they'll make the playoffs, but I do think there's a real chance they don't win their division.  For starters, it's hard to win 13 games two years in a row, so they're likely to regress a little.  Second of all, since realignment in 2002, no team has won the NFC South two years in a row.  I think it's possible that Atlanta wins 11 games but loses the tiebreaker.  Picking which team they'd lose to is rather difficult.  On one hand, you have the Saints; a team that has one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is getting the return of Sean Payton.  I predicted the Saints wouldn't make the playoffs last year due to the absence of Payton, so I would think his addition would be pretty helpful.  On the other hand, I liked the Bucs prior to last year; and while they only finished 7-9, they did start out 6-4.  Also noteworthy: of their nine losses, six were by a touchdown or less (and a 7th by 8 points).  They lost nine games and seven of them were by one score.  And now they've added Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson and gotten Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back from injury.  I love their potential, but I can't pick against the quarterback/coach combo of New Orleans, so I'm picking the Saints to make the playoffs.  The NFC East is a crapshoot.  Like the South, I could easily see any of three teams making the playoffs, but I'm going with the Giants.  The Redskins have injury risk surrounding RGIII and they made the playoffs last year.  There's turnover every year and since I don't think it's likely to come from the top four teams, that means it has to be the Redskins.  I can't pick the Cowboys because they seem like habitual underachievers.  That leaves the Giants; another team that also happens to fit my quarterback/coach formula.  Final note, if another NFC North team beats out the Packers or gets a wildcard spot, I think it would be the Bears.  They won 10 games last year and had the 4th best point differential in the NFC.  I love their potential on offense, with some additions to the o-line and the hiring of Marc Trestman, but I have questions about how their defense will respond after thriving off so many takeaways last year and the loss of Lovie Smith.

MVP
Easy.  Unless Tom Brady wins 12 games with Gronk and Amendola playing less than 20 games combined, Peyton Manning wins the MVP.

Super Bowl
Seahawks versus Broncos.  The other teams just have more question marks.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Optimistic View of Tyreke Evans

Four years ago, Tyreke Evans had a pretty darn good rookie season; one in which he averaged over 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (something done by only Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and LeBron James).  Four years later, people are scoffing at the idea of him making $11 million per year and Kings fans seem to be perfectly fine that he left.  How'd we get here?  The "answer" is that his rookie year was his best year and that his numbers have declined every season.  But are they really as bad as everyone seems to think?

In three of his four seasons, Tyreke has averaged at least 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists.  How many players have averaged those numbers at least three different seasons?  44.  And of those 44, how many have been an All-Star?  41 (which includes 18 Hall-of-Famers and 6 guaranteed future HOFers).  That's a pretty impressive group to be a part of.  Not to mention the fact that Tyreke has done it in only his first four seasons.  Only 15 others accomplished the same thing in their first four years, with only one never becoming an All-Star (Ron Harper).

Of course, one of those years is Tyreke's rookie year.  If you want to assume his rookie year was an aberration, then let's pretend that he only has two years that qualify and expand the requirement from players who accomplished that for three seasons to players who accomplished it for a minimum of two.  That list would grow to 67 players.  Of those 23 additional players, only 6 were never an All-Star (which includes one that may become one - John Wall).  Exclude Evans and Wall (since they still may become All-Stars) and you have 65 players with those stats.  58 of them made an All-Star team (89%).  (It should also be noted that there have been 64 ROY award winners and, excluding Evans and Lillard, only 8 have never gone on to appear in an All-Star game.)

In other words, his statistical performance would seem to indicate that the odds are in his favor that he'll be an All-Star at some point in the future.  Now you may think that Tyreke is just a "good stats, bad team" guy.  That's certainly possible.  But it's also true that his bad team would be just as likely to negatively influence him than it would be to positively affect his stats.  The guy played for a completely dysfunctional organization that employed terrible coaching.  The guy has put up decent numbers, in spite of the poor roster construction, terrible coaching, position changes, and injuries.  Oh, and the guy is still only 23 years old.  Put him on a team that's not dysfunctional, with a coach who understands the value of a rotation, and it's not hard to envision him fulfilling his potential.

This isn't to say that Tyreke is "guaranteed" to be an All-Star or that his contract is completely reasonable.  Because even though he is only 23 years old, that also means that his contract will end while he's still in his prime (so if he does live up to his yearly salary, it may not be until the third or fourth year of the contract).  All I'm saying is that while New Orleans probably overpaid (by a least a little), don't be surprised if the move doesn't backfire.  Don't be surprised if Kings fans eventually regret losing him.  And don't be surprised if, at some point in the future, you see Tyreke Evans with "East" or "West" on his chest.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Hook: Silva out from one. Dana off of one.

The greatest title reign in UFC history has come to an end.  The frustrating part is that it's basically a footnote, because of the way it transpired.  Instead of being able to appreciate the run Silva put together, everyone's talking about the way it ended (and rightfully so, unfortunately).  There seems to be two camps of people: people who think Silva got caught, by being cocky, and people who think he wasn't that interested in winning the fight.  The truth is, no one really knows which one it was.  Me?  I'm in-between.  Originally, I thought it was the former.  After seeing Silva's post-fight interview, I started thinking it was the latter.  But after letting things settle a bit, I think that it may have been a little of both (if I had to guess).

Maybe he was a little tired or stressed and lacking proper motivation.  Maybe he was trying to win and did just make a mistake, and the things he expressed afterward were subconscious feelings that he was just realizing.  The reason I think it may be a little of both is because of his behavior.  He's no stranger to using provocation, but he did so more than usual in this fight.  He wasn't just dropping his hands, something he's done many times before, but he would also act like he was wobbly.  That behavior was even more egregious than what he did against Demian Maia.  And there's no way that he thought Chris Weidman's striking deserved the same lack of respect that he gave Maia's (and then some).

Regardless of whether or not his behavior during the fight was born of cockiness or some level of disinterest, it took away from Weidman's victory.  That wasn't a fight that proved Weidman was better.  It proved that Silva shouldn't behave that way ever again.  If they do a rematch, I hope it's because Silva wants to have one and not because Dana convinces him to do one ($).  Because if this fight happens again, Weidman needs to fight a clearly motivated Silva.  That way if he wins, we can all give him the proper respect he would indisputably deserve.  But unless that happens, it will be hard to take this victory without a grain of salt.  No one knows what was in Silva's head, but we may get some indication in the near future.  If he doesn't demand a rematch, doesn't that prove that he wasn't 100% dedicated to keeping the title?

Whatever happens next needs to be Silva's choosing.  If he fights Weidman again, it needs to be because he really wants the belt back.  If he wants a new challenge other than Middleweight?  Well then it sucks for Weidman that he wouldn't get to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's better than Silva.  But at least if Silva were to vacate the division, we could actually be headed down a path that ends with him facing Jon Jones.  So something good should come of this.  We'll either get a Silva-Weidman rematch that puts all doubt to rest, or we could be starting down the path to an amazing Light Heavyweight title fight.  A fight that I would still be very interested in seeing, because - as crazy as it was against Weidman - would he really try that "gameplan" with Jones?  If there was ever going to be one non-Heavyweight in the world that Anderson Silva wouldn't drop his hands against, it would be Jon Jones.  It's the one fight that would (or at least should) guarantee a completely motivated Silva.  And now that he doesn't hold the title, he's technically free to move up.  So maybe Silva losing didn't end the prospect of a Jones fight.  Maybe it made it more likely.  Because, like I wrote on Saturday, I don't think a super fight would've ever happened (Silva-GSP or Silva-Jones).

If it was going to, it would've been done by now.  Back in the summer of 2009, right after Silva destroyed Forrest Griffin, I wanted to see a Silva-GSP super fight.  Obviously it never came together.  And why not?  Was it because their schedule's weren't lined up?  Nope.  They fought two weeks apart.  Was it because they both had deserving contenders waiting in the wings?  Not really.  GSP's next fight was against Dan Hardy and Silva's was against Demian Maia.  Does anyone really believe that the UFC would let Hardy and Maia stand in the way of what could have been one of the biggest fights of all-time, had they really wanted to make that fight happen? 

Even if the UFC believed Hardy and Maia were deserving contenders, it's not like they haven't bypassed deserving contenders - in order to set up big-money fights - before.  For example, Nick Diaz (coming off a loss) getting a title shot over Johny Hendricks.  Chael Sonnen was a Middleweight coming off a loss.  He got a title shot, because there were no better options, right?  Like say, Anderson Silva?  It's a super fight that Dana White supposedly wanted to happen.  So why didn't it happen?  That's right, Silva was taking time off and Jones had to film TUF with, and then fight, Sonnen.  The fight that Dana claims he wanted to happen didn't happen because Silva was taking time off and Jones was fighting Sonnen?  Yep.  Dana totally wanted this fight to happen.  And it was going to happen.  Unless of course vacation and an undeserving Middleweight got in the way.  But other than that, this fight was totally going to happen.

While it sucks to see the greatest title reign in UFC history come to an end, at least Dana White no longer has to pretend to want to set up super fights.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pipe Dream Fight

Months ago, I wrote about what I thought was the biggest dream fight the UFC could make: Anderson Silva versus Jon Jones.  Well, what was once a dream may soon be a reality.  According to Dana White, if Silva gets past Chris Weidman tonight, we could see him fight Jones.  There's only one problem; I think it's bs.  I don't think Dana has any true intention of setting up this fight.  Why?  Because I think setting up the fight could have negative repercussions that the UFC doesn't want to deal with.  For starters, I think it's possible that the fight would be too hyped.  I believe Silva-Jones is the biggest fight that the UFC could put on.  The problem becomes where do you go from there?  After Jones fights Silva, it's possible that it would be difficult to drum up interest in future Jones fights (at least the ones immediately following it).  Let's say Jones beat Silva, how then is the UFC supposed to successfully market Jones versus, say, Glover Teixeira or a rematch with Machida?  The problem with a super fight is that it makes everything else seem less special by comparison.  Maybe the UFC thinks that would be the case.

Even more so, I think the problem they don't want to deal with is that either Silva or Jones would have to lose.  If Silva were to lose, they'd now be faced with having a champion coming off a loss; and no longer being able to tout Silva being undefeated in the octagon.  If Jones were to lose, his drawing power would take a small hit.  And if it was for the title, does that mean Silva would hold two titles?  Or would he vacate the Middleweight title?  Right now the UFC has two dominant champions that they can market.  That goes away with a super fight.

This isn't to say that I think the fight shouldn't happen.  It's just the reasons I think the UFC doesn't want it to happen.  Just to be sure, I really hope Silva wins tonight.  Because if he loses, the UFC obviously has an out for not pairing him with Jones.  But if he wins, I'll be interested to see what "reason" Dana comes up with for why the fight won't come together.

Silva versus Jones may be the obvious dream fight.  Unfortunately, I think it's just a pipe dream.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On they Contrary: Hernandez case not an example for rookies

I haven't felt the need to write about the Aaron Hernandez situation, because I didn't think there was anything worth saying.  At least nothing that probably hasn't been said on talk radio, or written by columnists, that will be regurgitated ad nauseum.  That was until I came across Alex Marvez's piece "Hernandez an example for rookies".  Here's how he starts it:

"The NFL Rookie Symposium features guest speakers who try to help young players avoid the pitfalls that derailed their own pro careers.

This year the most powerful message was delivered from almost 700 miles away.

Aaron Hernandez attended the same symposium in 2010 after being drafted by the New England Patriots. Clearly, he didn’t take what was preached to heart."

That's absurd.  Hernandez is accused of first-degree murder.  This isn't a case of wrong place, wrong time.  It's not like he was hanging out at a club with a bad group of friends and things escalated, and now he's accused of assault or something.  He's accused of driving someone to an industrial park to kill him; which may or may not be associated to previous murders he possibly committed.  Does Alex Marvez really think a four-day symposium is the difference between upstanding citizen and murderer?

Apparently so, because he had this to say near the end:

"The NFL knows the symposium itself isn’t a cure-all for the off-field problems that some players can find themselves in. But if it can prevent another situation like the one Hernandez finds himself in, staging the event is well worth it for an image-conscious league."

It can't cure all of the off-field problems, but it can prevent murder?  How can something be impactful enough to prevent first-degree murder, but not enough to prevent less serious issues?

I'm sorry, but I don't agree with the notion that what Aaron Hernandez is accused of doing could have been prevented by him listening at a symposium.  I'm not going to pretend to know what events transpired that could lead to Hernandez (possibly) committing first-degree murder, but I'm guessing they were more serious, and would require more intervention, than a NFL rookie symposium could provide.

I don't know what makes less sense, that he thinks a symposium could've prevented Aaron Hernandez's situation or that he thinks a similar situation will need to be prevented in the future.

Friday, June 28, 2013

NBA Finals Review

It's been a week since the Heat won the title, and I'm stilled pretty bummed.  Not because of the team that won, but because the series ended.  Going into the Finals, I was excited about Duncan-LeBron and the two best teams in the league squaring off.  All three delivered.  It was great to see the Tim Duncan of 10 years ago.  He started out a little slow, but he picked it up the last four games; especially the last two, where he averaged 27 points and 14.5 rebounds.  As we're nearing the end of Duncan's career, it was great to see the Tim Duncan of old, instead of just old Tim Duncan.

Similar to Duncan, LeBron also started out slow and picked it up in the last four games (where he averaged 31.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 9.8 rebounds).  The end of game six and game seven were especially impressive, when LeBron made it perfectly clear that he's the best player in the world and it's not even close.  But while he's clearly the best player, he can still not be the most consistently dominant.  His start to the series resembled his 2011 Finals performance and he ended the series resembling his 2012 Finals performance.  It was quite bizarre.  People can say that the chatter about LeBron's mentality can stop now, but if the Spurs had made FTs in game 6 and the Heat lose the title, wouldn't everyone be talking about LeBron not showing up?  Luckily for the Heat, the best player in the world did show up, but he almost showed up too late.

Finally, the thing I was most looking forward to was the high level of basketball that would be played.  And this series did not come up short.  It started out exciting, with a great game one.  And while the next four games were blowouts, the alternating displays of dominance showed how evenly matched these teams were;  which perfectly set the stage for the final two games.  The first five games were all entertaining for their own reasons, but the last two games were basketball at its best.  Game six was one of the craziest, most exciting games I've ever seen.  Game seven was predicted to be sloppy, and while it started out that way, it turned out to be good.  These teams were just too good to play bad basketball for 48 minutes in an all-or-nothing game.  It was a great end to a great series.

The only negatives to the series were that someone had to lose and that the series had to end.  It sucked to see Duncan come up short, but it sucked more that this series is over.  Every year, there's talk about the format of the Finals being 2-3-2.  This year, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that it wasn't 2-2-2-2-1-1-1.  There have been other NBA Finals that were more satisfying from a rooting interests standpoint, but from a quality of basketball standpoint, this one was the most satisfying.  Too bad it had to end.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NBA Finals Preview

The NBA Finals kick off tonight and I'm not as excited as I should be.  The reason for this is because I've been rooting against this matchup happening.  Not directly, but indirectly.  As I've mentioned before, the Warriors were the most fun team to follow this year.  So naturally, I rooted for them against the Spurs.  Once the they were eliminated, I invested my rooting interests in the Grizzlies.  I've been a fan of them ever since their amazing 2011 playoff run, and I love Z-Bo and Gasol.  I really wanted to see a Miami-Memphis Finals.  It would've been a great clash of styles; the Grizzlies using the old school lineup, featuring two bigs, against Miami's new school small-ball lineup.  Which style won out would've been extremely fascinating to watch.  But the Spurs squashed that possibility too.

Then a new interesting team materialized in the form of the Pacers.  The emergence of Hibbert, Stephenson and especially George was fun to watch.  I was actually interested in the possibility of a Spurs-Pacers Finals.  I think it could've been fun to have two small-market, non-star driven teams in the Finals.  Last year when I previewed the Finals possibilities, I said that Thunder-Pacers would've been the greatest college basketball ever played (similar style and atmosphere, but way better execution).  But I actually think that would've been more the case this year, had the Spurs and Pacers squared off (yet something tells me the pro-college, anti-NBA basketball fans wouldn't have tuned in, even though it would've delivered everything they claim to love).

So my tempered excitement is more the result of Golden State, Memphis and Indiana being eliminated than it is the actual matchup of Miami and San Antonio.  But instead of focusing on what teams aren't playing, I need to focus on the teams that are playing; because the actual matchup of Miami and San Antonio is worth getting excited about.

Six years ago, LeBron met the Spurs in the Finals.  A Finals that would turn out to be the lowest rated one of all-time.  Looking back, it makes perfect sense.  Because it wasn't a culmination; it was an impetus.  The impetus of the Spurs transitioning from Tim Duncan to Tony Parker and of LeBron becoming LeBron.  Parker would win the Finals MVP and eventually take control of the team and LeBron (after the first in a series of failures) would fully realize his potential as the best player in the world and finally be surrounded by a great supporting cast.  The 2007 series wasn't a culmination.  This series is the culmination.

And even though Tony Parker may be the key cog for the Spurs now, that doesn't mean Tim Duncan is merely a supporting member.  Which means it's still exciting that we're getting to see the best player of the last generation (Duncan) square off against the best player of the current generation (LeBron).  Something that hasn't happened in over 20 years, when Jordan squared off with Magic.  Jordan vs. Magic was also the last time that two top 10 players of all-time met in the Finals, prior to Duncan-LeBron.

We're not just getting two top 10, generational players squaring off, we're also getting arguably the two best teams in the league doing battle.  Teams with outstanding ball movement, defense and shooting.  The Heat have been the best team in the league all year, but the Spurs will provide a very interesting challenge for them; as they're a team that can go big or small, without compromising the strength of their team.

Regardless of the outcome, we're going to see something historic (Duncan and Pop winning titles 14 years apart or LeBron taking another step toward becoming a top 5 player of all-time).  But most of all, we should see some really great basketball.