Friday, November 29, 2013

NFL 3rd Quarter: Movers & Shakers - Part two

NFL 3rd Quarter: Movers & Shakers - Part two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-29-13)

[Part one - 12 weeks of Confusion]

I would indeed take Cincinnati over Kansas City. Take a look at the Bengals again. They are undefeated at home and their only two losses since week four came in overtime. Meanwhile, KC has real problems scoring points against any defense other than San Diego. And, more importantly, their two best defensive players just went down: Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Their strength was rushing the passer. Now that whole defense will suffer (as we saw against San Diego!)

The point of my tiers was not to separate playoff teams from non-playoff teams. It was to break the league into talent quadrants. New England is not on par with the top three teams, their win at Denver included. The weather was brutal and I don't trust NE's defense moving forward. Put it this way, there is a bigger gap between Seattle at three and New England at four than there is between the Pats at four and the Ravens at seventeen.

And Green Bay was my hardest rank. Where do you put them? If Rodgers comes back in two weeks, that is the best team in the NFC North and probably a top four team in the conference. Without him, they will miss the playoffs. Sooo, I split the difference.

But enough quibbling about individual differences. The real story here is the leaps some teams made since our halfway rankings.

After eight weeks, we both still had some hope left for the Falcons and our New York teams (I the Giants, you the Jets). Now, we've come to grips with the reality of their respective situations. Indianapolis is also sliding, after deciding that the best way to play football is to spot their opponent a double-digit lead each week. On the flip side, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Pittsburgh seem like legitimate opponents now, whereas four weeks ago they were something closer to a bye week.

The real stories though are Philadelphia and St. Louis. In four weeks, Philadelphia jumped sixteen spots in my rankings and ten spots in your rankings. The Rams jumped eight for me and thirteen for you. Just remarkable the turnaround. I am still not sold on St. Louis doing anything, especially considering their division, but with that running game and pass rush, they are certainly formidable. And the Eagles are an offensive juggernaut with Nick Foles! Do you realize he has a 16:0 touchdown to interception ratio?? And they are first in the league in rushing.

The Chargers are making a run. I'm calling it. And I completely agree on Green Bay. My gut, Rodgers won't be back in time for it to matter.

Who said I've come to grips about my Jets? Yes, yes they have been absolutely awful over the last two weeks, but that was on the road! They are a strong team at home and can make the playoffs finishing 9-7. I realize they have to go 4-1 down the stretch to pull this off, but whoever gets that final playoff spot in the AFC has to accomplish just that. A loss this week will end their season, just like with the Giants last weekend.

My head is spinning with the huge movement in our power rankings. Tampa Bay is now formidable! You can't ignore the Bucs and imagine this; Tampa Bay lost several very close games early in the season. We are talking on fluky penalties and such. They could actually be a playoff team, if luck were on their side and all. But the Eagles and Rams are legit contenders. I don't see how the Rams make the playoffs, with the 49ers, Cardinals and Panthers leading the wildcard pack. But the Eagles have a legit shot at beating Dallas for the division. And I believe Nick Foles' performance this season is enough to cement the success of Chip Kelly and his offense. Its so ironic that Foles dominates while Vick was so hot and cold before getting injured. Dallas has their hands full with the division now.

My biggest surprise after twelve weeks is the Arizona Cardinals. Carson Palmer is back! I had them in the bottom five after four weeks and now look at the Cardinals. Wow. How has the NFC West done it? That division is what I thought the NFC North was, with the Packers and Bears and Lions all looking good through eight weeks. If Arizona overtakes the 49ers for the final NFC wildcard spot, who gets fired?

You're right; I did forget the Cardinals. If they would let Andre Ellington loose a little more and quit giving Rashard Mendenhall carries, who knows how potent they could be. Although I've been consistently higher on them than you were, I have still bumped them from 23rd to 15th to 10th as the season has progressed. 

Of course, you took it too far. The Cardinals are not the seventh best team in the NFL right now. You feeling more confident in them than in San Francisco is ridiculous. However, if the unlikely happens and they do overtake San Fran in the West, something has to change but it's more subtle than a firing. Jim Harbaugh is still one of the most respected coaches in the league. He ain't going anywhere. But I could see the 49ers bringing in a quarterback to challenge Kaepernick for that role next season, as well as bringing in a running back to eventually take over for Frank Gore. Big skill position shake-up if the 49ers finish behind the Cardinals! You heard it here first.

Monday, November 25, 2013

NFL 3rd Quarter: 12 weeks of Confusion - Part one

NFL 3rd Quarter: 12 weeks of Confusion - Part one
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-25-13)

Twelve weeks of the NFL season have transpired, with lots of room for confusion. The top five and bottom five are evident, with a slop of mediocrity everywhere else. Its the perfect time for us at Seesaw Sports to update our power rankings. Both leagues have one playoff spot completely up for grabs, but does it even matter? Will that final team be this year's late season Cinderella, or will everyone's preseason picks play out come playoff time? With three quarters of the season complete, our NFL debate rages on.
3rd Quarter Power Rankings:
[Numbers in parentheses equal difference in rank from Todd: i.e (+1) equals one spot higher]

TODD                                DAN

32. Houston                      Houston (0)               
31. Jacksonville                Jacksonville (0)                          
30. Atlanta                         Atlanta (0)             
29. Tampa Bay                  Minnesota (-2)                 
28. Washington                 Tampa Bay (+1)                
27. Minnesota                   Oakland (-3)                          
26. Cleveland                   Cleveland (0)                           
25. Buffalo                        Washington (+3)           
24. Oakland                      New York Giants (-1)                             
23. New York Giants         Buffalo (+2)                                          
22. New York Jets             New York Jets (0)
21. Miami                          Miami (0) 
20. St. Louis                      Tennessee (-1)
19. Tennessee                   Philadelphia (-6)
18. Chicago                       Pittsburgh (-2)
17. Baltimore                      Chicago (+1)
16. Pittsburgh                    Green Bay (-1)    
15. Green Bay                    Detroit (-4)
14. Indianapolis                  St. Louis (+6)         
13. Philadelphia                  Baltimore (+4) 
12. San Diego                     Cincinnati (-7)
11. Detroit                           Dallas (-2)
10. Arizona                         Indianapolis (+4)
9. Dallas                             San Diego (+3)
8. Kansas City                    San Francisco (-1)
7. San Francisco                 Arizona (+3)      
6. Carolina                          Carolina (0)
5. Cincinnati                        New Orleans (-3)
4. New England                   Kansas City (+4)    
3. Seattle                             Denver (-2)
2. New Orleans                   New England (+2)
1. Denver                            Seattle (+2)

Comments from the rankings:

Somehow, as inexplicable as it is, the more games we get as evidence, the harder this list is to make.

Rather than the picture clearing up, it is becoming more muddled. Some teams have made giant leaps in my mind since the season's halfway mark. Others have plummeted just as far. Yet the most evident point here is the tiers that have developed. The top three teams are Tier A, the elites. Then teams four through 18 or 19 are in a large group together. How much really separates Cincinnati at five from Chicago at 18? In my mind, not much.

Tier C is everyone else through Tampa Bay. We have to give Atlanta, Jacksonville and Houston their own fourth tier though, for being just awful. The funny part is, how scary would the Texans or Falcons be next year if they end up with the first pick in the draft? That's the NFL for you!

Things have certainly gotten more confusing, but I believe you are the one who is truly confused. Your tiers are headed in the right direction, but limiting the top to only three teams is stupid. To leave out New England from Tier A, who is getting better each week and just beat Denver, is crazy talk! Tier A is my top five teams. Putting Cincinnati ahead of the Chiefs is equally as ridiculous. But you'll notice I have them way down at twelve. They are barely better than Baltimore at this point.

I don't like putting Dallas at eleven, but I felt no potential division winner should be any lower. Although they are probably worse than the Bengals, Ravens and maybe even the Rams at this point.

If Tier A is my top five, then Tier B is slots six to nine. These two tiers are our playoff teams, our contenders and teams with a shot at making noise in the post season. After this its a wash. I like the four tier system, so Tier C is every team from ten to twenty six. There is not much separating the Browns from the Colts or Cowboys right now. And in Tier D we have our bottom four teams, which should be called Tier P for poop. They stink, are awful, and should be easy wins for any opponent. Right Green Bay? Minnesota and Tampa Bay are probably D+ or C- teams, but who cares. The fun is in my Tier B, which has a modest four teams as compared to your insane fifteen teams.

You can't honestly tell me that Carolina and New England are on par with Green Bay or the Eagles. No way! Unless Aaron Rodgers comes back, both those teams are finishing at 8-8 with the likes of the Jets and Rams (if they are lucky).


Friday, November 22, 2013

"Hair one day, Gone tomorrow" - What ha... happened (November Part two)

"Hair one day, Gone tomorrow" - What ha... happened (November Part two)
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-22-13)

[Part one - "Daddy's Little Girl"]

"What ha... happened," where we scour the internet for a crazy sports photo or GIF and someone must try to explain it. Seesaw Sports asks what ha... happened? Monday: Opening statement. Friday: Rebuttal.

Real photos. Real results. But what in the heck happened?

Ha, backpacks. That's nothing.

I present to you the following:

Photo: I see your backpack and raise you a...

Title: "Hair one day, Gone tomorrow"

Description: There are many forms of hazing in sports. The wearing of girly items is just one such iteration. Costumes are occasionally involved. Duct tape and goal posts have been known to be a part of this. But what is worse than the hair-related hazing? It produces the double-whammy of making said player look like a complete fool, combined with only one possible cure for said foolery. The player has to shave their head completely. Damn!

Here we find some Titans players with a few choice hair cuts.

What ha... happened?

You win, fair and square. Crappy haircut beats backpack.

The rookie's right of passage in the NFL has become no laughing matter thanks to the Miami Dolphins, yet now thanks to you it's once again funny! Phew, I missed the good old fashioned defacing of one's body for camaraderie. There are not nearly enough photos like this. Tim Tebow's head shave comes to mind, but he looked young. These players here are men. These men are apparently rookies, rookies with now butchered hair cuts.

I agree, these men must now shave their heads to avoid some sort of awkward Mohawk thing forming atop their bodies. Yet what exactly went down?

This one is a doozy. These Tennessee Titans players made the unfortunate mistake of meeting up with then second year pro Vince Young for a "Pizza Party." Gotcha! Everyone knows that football players love pizza, or any kind of food that is greasy. They arrived at what turned out to be an abandoned class room, expecting pizza. They were greeted by Mr. Young and an electric buzzer. Minutes later and their heads were forever tarnished.

That's what happened. Long live the Titans.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Daddy's Little Girl" - What ha... happened (November Part one)

"Daddy's Little Girl" - What ha... happened (November Part one)
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-18-13)

"What ha... happened," where we scour the internet for a crazy sports photo or GIF and someone must try to explain it. Seesaw Sports asks what ha... happened? Monday: Opening statement. Friday: Rebuttal.

Real photos. Real results. But what in the heck happened?

Aww, how cute.

I present to you the following:

Photo: If that isn't hazing, I don't know what is.

Title: "Daddy's Little Girl"

Description: My mind is running wild with possibility. Is this how they haze the rookies up in Seattle? It is progressive up there after all, where cruel and unusual punishment is not unheard of.

Did his daughter need a bigger bag and he took one for the team? That seems unlikely, but something went down. How did THAT bag end up on this man?

What ha.... happened?

It's funny you should target this photo in the wake of all the Miami Dolphins controversy in the NFL.

Yes, as silly as it sounds, this backpack is DEFINITELY hazing. And it may be banned in the future, at least in the NFL.

The Richie Incognito - Jonathan Martin scandal took so many unexpected twists and turns. One unlikely consequence is probably going to be some sort of crackdown on hazing, no matter how silly the original hazing actually was. Even if wearing a girly backpack or forcing the rookies to carry bat bags and ball buckets seems harmless, it could be a slippery slope. What happened in the Dolphins' locker room may not have even been hazing-related, but some reactive outcome has to come from that. There was too much coverage for nothing to result. So cherish photos like this one, because they may never be allowed to happened again if the professional sports start cracking down.

Friday, November 15, 2013

NCAA College Basketball: Remaking the game - Part two

NCAA College Basketball: Remaking the game - Part two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-15-13)

[Part one - League of Children]

I don't think you quite understand the term "win-win." It is not a win for college basketball that this is happening. Sure, this one season they will have transcendent freshmen all over the nation. But what about next year? This draft class is a once-in-a-decade type deal, maybe even more rare than that. And is this one year in college actually helping the growth of these guys once they turn pro? I haven't seen the statistics but I wonder how much better the one-and-dones have been as compared to the guys who were coming straight from high school years ago. Obviously both groups have huge successes and huge failures but overall, both the NBA and NCAA make us think this is working. I'm not sold.

To your point that college basketball has become a proving ground for future pros, this is both correct and wrong. It is correct factual, in that it is actually happening. It is wrong morally though, in that it should not be happening.

Many have suggested an MLB-type declaration situation to solve this problem. A prospective pro coming out of high school can either enter his name in the draft right away or, if he decides to go to college, he must stay three years. I like this solution on the surface but it wouldn't have saved college basketball. Remember how eight of the top eleven draft picks are incoming college freshmen? Well, with that draft rule in place, all eight of those guys would have entered the 2013 NBA draft. So instead of having one year of them, the NCAA would have gotten none.

The only solution is to go all-out and throw our cards on the table. College basketball is an inferior product; everyone should agree on this, even the staunchest defenders. No one can argue the basketball being played on the court is better at the collegiate level than at the pros. That would be ludicrous. So why not adopt the 'high school or three years' draft rule with a caveat? Anyone entering the NBA draft out of high school plays their first year of basketball in the NBDL, the developmental league. Right now the asset that is the D-League is being wasted. A player dropped down to it is deemed a disaster or a failure. Remove the galling stigma attached to the NBDL by making it a young man's learning league. All the best 18 year olds in the world will be learning on the fly against guys just short of NBA talent. This would be better for them than a year of college. It would also be better for the NBA by avoiding the flood of high schoolers who aren't ready for the professional ranks just yet that occurred when the old draft rules were in place.

But what about college basketball you ask? Well, CBB gets dumbed down because there is no win-win option here. It loses the elite talent that would otherwise play one season. But what it gains is better: players coming who want to be there, want to learn and want to play for a school. It will grow consistency and the overall product on the floor will be better, even if the top level is slightly worse. College basketball is never going to be as exciting or athletic or as powerful as the NBA game; why try to force it?

There is no way to force an NBA level product out of college basketball. There is not nearly enough talent to go around. If there were THAT many NBA level players, we'd have 100 teams in the NBA. So we can safely throw that hope, prayer, ignorant folly out the window. And you're right, improving the NBDL by having draft picks who skip college spend a year there will ultimately hurt the college game. It would also take a huge effort on the part of the NBA to make this work. Can you name me a single D-League player or team? Where are they, who is playing and when do they even play? I have no idea. Talk about a lot of money needed to sell an invisible product. I'm chucking that idea in the trash too. I'm also against forcing three years of college upon someone obviously ready to make millions of dollars. Trashing it!

I love your ingenuity, your willingness to change and find a new model that can potentially elevate both the NBA and college basketball. But I think you're avoiding the obvious. If a player wants to be in college, stay in college, and play for his school for two, three, four years, there is absolutely nothing stopping him. These elite freshman don't have to enter the draft after one year of college basketball. They are choosing to. They have a choice. And you know why all eight of them will most likely make the choice to leave, because all of us in the public and the media would consider them stupid to say in college. Take your money when its on the table. Don't risk injury. Blah, blah, blah. They would get lambasted for going back. Andrew Luck practically did, but because college football is held in such high regard and there is less money in the NFL draft now, it wasn't deemed such a bad decision.

I agree, having the freshman earn their stripes against NBA bench players is better for their careers than playing in college. But the glaringly obvious truth you've missed is that college basketball has changed. The whole reason you want to 'fix' things is because you can remember a time when it was great. When players played in college and rivalries were real and school spirit meant something. That era is dead. Money and a booming NBA killed it. Accept this fact and move on.... Are you good now? Tears all dry? Cool, now we can have a real debate.

NCAA basketball can be improved. The quality of play has been reasonably consistent over the last ten years. The best coaches have excellent teams and the superstar players stand out when they exist. They are the anomaly. We have at the very most, ten of them sprinkled over fifty or more schools every year. Remove them from this equation. I think the biggest thing holding back the college game is a lack of scoring. They've made strides to address this, but more should/can be done. The best parts of March Madness are when a game gets tight down the stretch, with under two minutes to play. Those games are often 60 to 55 or something ridiculous like that. You get your 70 and 80 point games, but do you see the problem? NBA games are 90 and 100 point affairs. Scoring 80 or less is a fire-able offense. I think some rule changes are in order! Good thing the NCAA already made some. I smell debate.

Let's first address the changes made heading into this college basketball season. You're the perfect man for this job. Did the NCAA do enough with the current changes? I realize we have yet to see the full results, but they only did tweaking as far as I'm concerned; was it enough? I want to increase scoring and remove the annoyance of two minutes at the end of a game taking nearly thirty minutes of my time. Cut that down to ten or fifteen and I'm good. And I'm not talking small changes like shortening the shot clock. That's a good start, but we need BIG game changers. What about adding a line at NBA three point range that would count for four points? Or removing time outs in the first half entirely, except for injury. Light a fire under college basketball.

Your complete dismissal of my D-League idea is very pigheaded of you. My idea solves the one problem you touched on. No one knows anything about the NBDL or follows it in the least. This will change instantly if all the best NBA rookies play there. Every season, half a dozen or so D-League guys get called up to the majors. Now, people will follow the progress of their team's top rookie as well as hear about/watch some other potential rotation players that might be on the way as well. The only downside to this is logistically; the NBDL is not setup like minor league baseball. NBA teams do not all have D-League affiliations...yet.

Your defense of the current rule is also disappointing. You stood by it claiming these guys have a choice; they don't have to leave after one year. That statement is obviously true, but the top players do not have a choice when they want one: coming out of high school. At that point, their control in the matter is squished, as they are not allowed to enter the NBA draft even if they want to and are ready to. So why not actually give them the choice when they graduate from high school? Either enter the NBA or go to college with the intent on staying for a few years and learning. There's your choice.

But since you killed off old college basketball, I am glad you brought up the rule "changes." Changes is in quotes because the biggest alteration wasn't really a change to any rule, just an emphasis on enforcing an old rule correctly. No more hand checking or arm bars or two hands on an offensive player. No more slowing down offensive player movement and progress. No more wild running through the lane in basketball, the equivalent to running a gauntlet machine in football practice. This was obviously smart and necessary. It will increase scoring in two distinct ways: more free throws while guys get used to the whistles and better shots on offense since ball handlers can't get checked and held as much.

However, the NCAA did absolutely nothing to help that last two minutes business you mentioned. This is the real killer of all basketball games to be honest, pro included. And there is really no simple fix; anything would be drastic. You could get rid of some of the timeouts available, but that would change the entire coaching philosophy of final possession basketball. You could penalize intentional fouls more harshly, but this would almost completely remove the possibility of late-game comebacks. I think the only change that could even occur would just be a simple shortening of timeouts. Make them all 30 seconds, or even 20 seconds. Or allow a timeout to be used as an advance of the ball to mid-court, like in the NBA, but have there be no stoppage of time at all. These are just small nuanced switches that could be implemented. As sad as it sounds, I see no feasible move that could fix the problem without changing the sport.

I know people would be up in arms, but how would you feel about limiting (or eliminating) timeouts near the end of games? It would reduce a coach's usefulness almost to zero and force the players themselves to make calls and adjustments in the final seconds. It would make things more interesting I assume, but interesting can be both good and bad.

I admire your D-League idea, but do we really follow players in baseball through the minors? Really? We keep track of the absolute top prospects when they are close to being called up, but we don't follow their performance, only the date in which they will make their major league debut. And how many minor league games are televised? If the idea is to showcase the rookies, we need to be able to watch them. And we need to care about the teams they play for. This is by no means impossible, just a larger mountain than I was prepared to climb.

On the flip side, I'm all for any rule change that can speed up the dreaded thirty minutes of thirty seconds of play at the end of games. If eliminating, or limiting, time outs accomplishes this, then hell yes! I honestly believe that for regular season college basketball to be interesting to the national public, something drastic must be done. March Madness has held its own, thanks to gambling, but its by no means safe. Change the damn sport. Without top level talent, year in and year out, its going to die anyways.

Monday, November 11, 2013

NCAA College Basketball: League of Children - Part one

NCAA College Basketball: League of Children - Part one
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-11-13)

The college basketball season tipped off just a few days ago. Early season games are being played between ranked teams and November records seem to mean more than ever before. In fact, tomorrow #1 Kentucky faces #2 Michigan State and #4 Duke plays #5 Kansas. Not bad for the first week of the season.

But that is not the story for the start of the year. The story is related to this:

1. Andrew Wiggins
2. Julius Randle
3. Dante Exum
4. Jabari Parker
5. Marcus Smart
6. Joel Embiid
7. Aaron Gordon
8. Andrew Harrison
9. James Young
10. Dario Saric
11. Wayne Selden

Those are the projected top eleven picks in the 2014 NBA Draft according to ESPN draft expert Chad Ford. Nevermind the fact that six of them play for either Kansas or Kentucky. That isn't the story either. (...Well, it kind of is.) Of those eleven men, the BEST eleven pro prospects mind you, only one had played a single second of college basketball prior to this week, and that is Marcus Smart (who is a returning sophomore). The other 10 of 11 prospects are either freshmen or from overseas.

Let's let that sink in for a second.

Need more time?

We good? Okay.

So eight of the best eleven prospects in the world (according to ESPN's Chad Ford) are freshmen who had never played any collegiate basketball before. Two come from overseas and one lone man, who plays his basketball at Oklahoma State, is the only elite prospect with any kind of college experience. This is fascinating; it is unbelievable; it is uncanny and, to be honest, rather embarrassing.

Now I realize many have talked about the famed 2014 draft as possibly the best ever. People were looking ahead and realized this potential a year ago. Truth is, this might be the best that some of these guys ever look. It's possible at least a couple flame out as freshmen and their NBA stock drops a bit, or they return to school (HAHA, yeah right!). But taking this early mock draft at face value, the bottom line is this: the landscape of college basketball is kind of a joke.

Take a look again at those games being played on Tuesday. Kentucky is #1 in the country. Arguably their five best players are all freshmen. Kansas is #5, led by a couple freshmen, and even the Duke Blue Devils have a freshman as their best player. (Hell is freezing over, sell all your stock, buy that fancy car you've always wanted.) So not only are nearly all the top NBA guys freshmen, but many of the top teams are littered with players who will be leaving after just one season. This happens every year, but not like THIS.

Putting the specific 2013-2014 freshmen class aside, doesn't something need to change here for the product that is college basketball? Fix it my brother. Fix the sport.

I need more time! Thinking.... thinking.... okay I concede. What's happened to college basketball?

Let me get my annoyed ranting out of the way first, because this NCAA season is both stupid and amazing. Personally, I find college basketball to be down right exciting, especially during tournament time. The holiday tournaments are usually top notch and competition for the top 25 is fierce. Yet the best eleven players are freshmen, unknowns, children with ridiculous amounts of talent and little game tape. I'm calling them children, not because of age, but because of their basketball experience. You need time with a top notch coach (collegiate level or higher) and a competition level rivaling your own to gain the intangibles needed for the NBA. Sure, you can compete and score, but you're still a kid until you've put a couple seasons under your belt.

So we now enter this NCAA basketball season full well knowing that Kansas and Kentucky are odds on favorites to be in the Final Four, if not the title game. Why? Because they own six of the top eleven players and everybody knows you only need one transcendent guy to run the table. They are all freshmen. Seriously! How did college basketball get itself in this position? What has cornered the sport into this inescapable situation? The NBA did this. Its popularity growth, especially overseas, has made college basketball inconsequential. Everyone wants to watch the best players, but they want to see them in a Knicks or Suns uniform (teams picked randomly, most people would probably not pick either of those teams). They want to see the best play the best, in the NBA, not the best clobber other inferior players until they run home crying. This is not actually a problem. Let that sink in.

The best thing about NCAA basketball has always been March Madness. That hasn't changed and knowing your team's best player will only compete in the tournament one time makes every game that much more special. Ultimately the one and done, with freshmen dominating the college game year after year, is great for the sport of basketball overall. It hurts the college game slightly, while boosting the NBA in incredible ways. I'm actually excited to see these eleven players play, knowing they will represent the top eleven in the NBA draft next year.

The NBA is becoming more synonymous with college basketball and vice versa. The college game is the proving ground, more so than ever before, with only a single season to show your worth. College sports is about the team name and logo on the front of the jersey, not on the back. So fans of a university will be excited no matter what. What drives a sport is the casual fan, the guys who want to watch for the top tier talent. And college basketball is going to have a ton of that this season. I say win, win.

I'm going out a limb here and saying you disagree. Yell at me some more and I'll give you your 'fix.'

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sports Injuries: NFL Upside down & Changing expectations - Part two

Sports Injuries: NFL Upside down & Changing expectations - Part two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-8-13)

[Part one - When stars fall]

I was all ready to call this a coincidence, this rash of high profile NFL injuries in 2013. Then Aaron Rodgers went down on Monday Night Football. Sure, there are a ton of injuries every year in the NFL, but adding Rodgers' name to this season's list has pushed things off a cliff. Wow! Everything is working out for the underdog teams this season. I'm calling it now: Chiefs vs. Jets in the AFC Championship and Lions vs. Panthers in the NFC. Now THAT would be something.

Anyways, on the injury front itself, I think all of the injuries do mean something. But it has little to do with the game being played. There was a time when injuries were glorified, exciting and fun to watch. I'd say as recently as the late nineties when Madden football let you "knock a guy's head off", we as fans loved this stuff. A home plate collision in baseball was wonderful. It was the peak of in game excitement. In the NBA, two men crashing to the court brought cheers to the crowd. None of this is true any more. We don't want our stars, let alone any player, getting injured. No one should ever fall to the court, home plate collisions are feared, and anytime there's a big hit or a quarterback sack in the NFL, we are left holding our breath to see if the man can stand back up under his own free will. Sports fans have changed and now, left with nearly the same sport to watch, we don't enjoy things like we once did. Fantasy sports is just a small part of this change. Our society has moved dramatically away from violence and aggressive behavior being tolerated. We still enjoy it, when we know its fake. But sports are real life and no one wants to see anyone get hurt.

You mentioned putting numbers to the injuries. Can you please do this? If I start a Kickstarter fund to raise 2K bucks, is that enough to fund you over a month's worth of work? I SO want this information. ESPN has been keeping injury reports for some time now, so you can correlate that to team success based upon when stars fall. And then jump to the next season and see what transpired. This would revolutionize sports betting for the upcoming season. You'd know exactly which teams, that presumably sucked like the Red Sox did the year before, were bound to have a great year simply based on lack of injury. I actually see a board game in this information's future as well. You can draft a team of stars and then "injure" players on your opponent's team. Using real life wins and losses, you can reshape history!

Getting a bit further off topic, why are there no fun sports based board games? The closest we ever got were those silly trivia games that are impossible to play with a non sports fan. Fantasy sports is pick up a play. Can't we get a monopoly style game where everyone is an NFL General Manager or something. Come on Matel.

I thought you laughed and mocked me for my Carolina Panthers NFC pick back in our 2013 predictions. Now who looks stupid?

You are right about the wussification of the American public though. 'JACKED UP' used to be a weekly segment on NFL studio shows, where commentators gleefully cheered at players receiving concussions. (Not literally but essentially.) There used to be a button in Madden video games called the 'hit stick' which was used to jack people up. I actually cannot confirm whether this still exists, as I have not bought an edition of Madden in a long while, but I feel like it probably does not. And now, every time anyone sees a big hit, you are exactly right, the first reaction is in concern for the decapitated and whether or not the play deserved to be penalized.

Very few, if any hits are ever celebrated nowadays. It seems awkward to do so. So I will patiently await my $2,000 grant to research the injury epidemic and make everyone aware of my findings in the near future. Until then, we will be forced to watch a Monday Night Football game between the legendary Packers and Bears where the starting quarterback battle is between Seneca Wallace and Josh McCown.

Also, this is 2013. What's a board game?

I've come around on the Panthers. I always believed Cam Newton had it in him, but Carolina is playing defense and former contenders are dropping like flies. Also, its now 2013 and I'm all about Thursday Night and Sunday Night Football. What's this Monday Night Football you speak of? Kidding, kidding.

Board games are contraptions made of card board, processed trees, that consume hours of your life. They require you to have at least three to five friends or subservient family members and always lead to argument and unnecessary bragging. They are analogous to the play ground in middle school, yet everyone starts on even ground and the smart / lucky person wins. Strength is removed from the equation.

To wrap things up on the sports injury front, there is only one thing I know for certain. All of the major professional sports are getting safer and we are going to still feel, year after year, that there are a TON of injuries to our favorite players. This is the deal. The players make it when they continue to play a sport past their early twenties when their bodies no longer recover the same way. And we the fans make this deal when we decide to devote heart and soul, sweat and tears, to our team's success during the season.

Unless sports become a virtual endeavor with no actual, physical competition, there will be injuries and lots of them. From a fantasy sports perspective, this frickin sucks. Its bad enough to lose a fantasy football matchup by a fraction of a point (I've lost two weeks this year by 0.2 points). But when your star player is injured, or worse, they are playing through a minor injury that simply hampers his or her production, your team is pretty much screwed. They have spray on band aids now. I want spray on bone and ligament healing. Thank you science.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sports Injuries: When stars fall - Part one

Sports Injuries: When stars fall - Part one
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-4-13)

The Red Sox made an interesting improvement this season, going from last in their division to first and a World Series title. Remarkable? Not really. Last year's team shouldn't have been that bad; it really just came down to injuries. Injuries!

Jonah Keri did a great job of detailing this recently in a piece for Grantland. Here is his table that pushed the point home:

Player:                                                                             Games Played        WAR
Jacoby Ellsbury (2012) 741.4
Jacoby Ellsbury (2013)1345.8

David Ortiz (2012)902.9
David Ortiz (2013)1373.8

Dustin Pedroia (2012)1414.4
Dustin Pedroia (2013)1605.4

John Lackey (2012)00.0
John Lackey (2013)293.2

The column on the left is Games Played and the column on the right is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). As you can see, from just four players, the Sox gained roughly 10 wins from one season to the next. This factors in none of the moves they made or improvements in other players, call-ups, whatever. A full 10 wins came from just these four guys staying healthy.

It is a rather remarkable discovery in my opinion. But what it really does is make the Red Sox story even less interesting. They were bad in 2012 because their best guys all got hurt. They were great in 2013 because their best guys all stayed healthy. As Yankee fans, we can relate.

This question goes way beyond baseball or the Red Sox. Are injuries ruining the fun of professional sports? It does not seem that concussions are lessening in the NFL; just last year, the NBA was demolished by major injuries to major stars. And we can see here what a small number of injuries in baseball can do to a contender. This has probably always been the case, but it seems much more stark these days.

I'm deeply fascinated by the idea that a team could turn itself around so dramatically from one season to the next, simply by staying healthy. But in the grand fasion of debate, I disagree with your argument. The Red Sox may have gained ten wins this season, but they had a new manager, a new bullpen and most importantly, a killer new closer. It wasn't just the injuries. But ten wins is ten wins and as more QBs drop like flies each week in the NFL, this is a great topic to rip to shreds.

I'd be nice if life was as simple as you paint it. But I actually think there are far fewer sports injuries now than in the past. Medicine is better, training is better and players know how to care for themselves a lot better. What's caused us to be so damn aware of every little thing is three fold. First, if there are less injuries then we will know a lot more about the ones that do exist. Second, every little bump and bruise is taken way more seriously with the million dollar contracts these men hold. And third, fantasy sports makes us care a heck of a lot about the health of our star players. Now that I laid that out there, the real issue is how a single injury to your team's star can actually ruin a season.

No one really notices if your team's star stays healthy. Tom Brady is playing, dominating, and all is well in the world. But the one year he got knocked out, well damn did we take notice. The team still did well, but all the what ifs start creeping into play. This year in the NFL I can rattle off at least four or five teams that lost their QB and are worse for it. I can also name at least one, my beloved NY Jets, who are better off in the long run because they lost a QB. Sorry Mark, but better to move on now with a season of hope, then later with a season like Jacksonville is having. How are they actually that bad? I don't get it. Its like the players are afraid of crossing the end zone, much like a child who doesn't want to step on the cracks in the sidewalk.

So what are we really talking about here? Its not just injuries, but its knee and shoulder injuries. Nothing else seems to matter much. The NFL is so worried about protecting the head. Its definitely important, don't get me wrong. But this has to be evidence towards them actually caring about player safety, right? Because protecting the knees and shoulders goes much farther towards not having a star out for the season. In Sam Bradford's case, he just shouldn't have skipped out of bounds.... too soon?

I agree with your three basic premises. We do know more about every injury because of coverage and the fantasy sports element for sure. And I think your second point was the most important. We hear about EVERYTHING; perhaps 60% of these same level injuries did not even make news 15 years ago. That is absolutely plausible and may even be a higher percentage.

The star injuries is what seems most alarming though. The 2012-2013 NBA season was a whirlwind of All-Stars going down for long stretches; Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, etc. And already in the NFL season, just halfway through mind you, here is an incomplete list of impactful guys out:

Julio Jones, Dennis Pitta, EJ Manuel, Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs, Leon Hall, Geno Atkins, Brian Hoyer, Champ Bailey, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Reggie Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Malcom Floyd, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford, Carl Nicks.

Not only is that list just the most famous names, it doesn't even include guys who've missed over a month and are now back, like Jake Locker, or played some and have been periodically out, like Roddy White or Mike Vick. All those guys are already out or on IR officially. And this is week 9.

It can't just be a coincidence, can it? Or just simple mathematics of playing time? I realize the better players will usually play more minutes and thus have a higher likelihood of getting hurt, but to have such a rash of severe injuries to important players seems so fluky it must mean something. I just don't know what that 'something' is.

What is definitely not a coincidence is certain teams, like the Kansas City Chiefs, have remained rather healthy thus far, leading to their unexpected success. I believe if the numbers were plotted, the amount of surprise teams has more to do with injuries, or lack thereof, than people realize. If you want to have a jump on a surprise playoff pick for next baseball season, just scour through the data and see which team lost the most games from their top level talent. That would have pointed us towards a Boston comeback this season for sure.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NFL 2nd Quarter: Playoffs! In or Out - Part two

NFL 2nd Quarter: Playoffs! In or Out - Part two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (11-1-13)

[Part one - The 8 game story (Power Rankings)]

After that Seattle performance on Monday night, I would certainly consider moving the Seahawks below those AFC squads you mentioned. Their offense looked pitiful and relying on the return of Percy Harvin to change that seems shortsighted. However, I would also bump St. Louis up a few spots. Their defensive line is terrifying, like Super Bowl New York Giants level terrifying. It is sad that Bradford is gone; I would have liked to see how good this team could have been.

Perhaps we will touch on this more in our injury discussion next week, but with Bradford, Cutler, and even the Brian Hoyer injury changing the entire ceiling of a team, it is disappointing that so much depends on the health of just one man. Now I more clearly understand why announcers always freak out at quarterbacks when they don't slide correctly or don't scamper out of bounds. I guess you could throw Buffalo and Tennessee in that group as well.

But as for our second half NFL outlook, as you mentioned, the top seems set. We both like Denver, KC, New England, Indy and Cincinnati in the AFC with little competition for those five spots. The NFC, in my mind, is also just as set for the top five with New Orleans, Seattle, San Fran, Green Bay and Detroit. With the Jay Cutler injury and the guys going down on that Chicago defense, they are out and I believe the only NFC playoff spot still up for grabs is the NFC East division winner. Obviously Dallas has the head start there, but I am not willing to rule out Washington or even the Giants quite yet.

You have Green Bay, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas all lumped together. Who do you have making the playoffs out of those? Obviously you feel stronger about Dallas taking the East, so where are your NFC wild cards? I like Carolina even more than you but to me, they are just the odd team out this season.

And who gets that last spot in the AFC? It is pretty wide open. You like the AFC East teams A LOT more than I do. Did you not watch any games this past Sunday? Specifically the Jets and Bills games? They were bloodbaths. Last weekend soured me to that whole division, even New England being an elite playoff squad. I don't know how you can claim the Jets or Dolphins would beat the Redskins or Falcons or even Browns when everyone is playing well. You're backing horses on the decline. The Wild Card front runners have to be either San Diego, Baltimore or Tennessee at this point.

It certainly is pretty glaring this season, how a single injury can derail a team. But this is nothing new. Its why the NFL mantra over the past five plus years has been to make it to Thanksgiving above .500 and get lucky down the stretch. This plays a huge factor into my power rankings. The teams that have already found their bad luck won't be competing much come weeks 15 to 17.

We agree that only one AFC playoff spot is readily available. I'm still not sold completely on the Bengals. They are one Jay Cutler like injury away from being on the outside, looking in. Sure, sure, they blew the Jets off the field on Sunday, but their offense is AJ Green heavy and needs Dalton to throw it to him. I'm worried. That final spot is anyone's to have at this point. I do like both Miami and the Jets a lot, mainly because their defenses are strong. Both teams are excellent when good and down right unwatchable when bad. They need to find consistency over the next month, or they will get beat out by the likes of San Diego. I'm pretty low on the Browns and Ravens. I just don't see much fire on a consistent basis. And Tennessee just doesn't scare me. If I had to pick one team to grab the final spot as of today, I'd take San Diego. But the Jets are a close second. They have the most penalties in the league. You clean up that mess and watch out.

In the NFC things got shakier on Monday night. But only slightly. Much like the Jets on Sunday, Seattle chose not to show up for the game. Unlike the Jets, they are actually a dominant team good enough to win in spite of themselves. We agree on the top five in the conference, but I disagree with you on the NFC East. Did you watch Dallas play Detroit? Sure, the Cowboys find lots of ways to lose games on a consistent basis. But they are a damn good team on offense, much better than those other 'teams' in the east division. Not to put down your Giants, but the hole they find themselves in is too deep. Its not happening. So where does that leave us? I actually think, with how Seattle performed on Monday night, the wildcard spots are going to be a dog fight. Don't count out Chicago, their defense puts up too many points. The Bears will be fighting with Green Bay and Detroit for the division. Throw Seattle and Carolina in there and we have ourselves some real drama. I do think Carolina falls short and Detroit actually takes the division from Green Bay and the Bears. Who's in? Green Bay and Seattle, as expected. Just don't rule out some week 17, edge of your seat matchups just yet.

The season thus far has surprised me pleasantly. Teams I wanted to be better, like Detroit and Carolina and the Jets, are actually showing signs of actual power. And teams I plainly don't care for, like the Eagles and Buffalo Bills, are wallowing in a sea of self pity. Thank you NFL.

Maybe you're right about me being too hard on Dallas. But I get a bit of a feeling about them that you had about Carolina. They just seem to lose late. And until they are mathematically eliminated, I will never count out the Giants. They are the most unpredictable team in football, and have been for close to a decade now. Anytime they are counted on, they fail; and anytime they are counted out, they surprise. So I'm not ready to give the NFC East to Dallas, even if they are the most talented team in that division.

I am with you though on savoring the sweet failure of Philadelphia. It tastes good.

Tastes good like Pumpkin beer. Very very good.