Sunday, December 30, 2007


Forging the perfect season...

The Patriots are 16-0 this morning. If the Redskins and the Browns make the playoffs, they will have accomplished this feat during a season in which they played seven playoff contenders, including four division winners - Indianapolis, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Dallas.

Overall, the winning percentage of the team's opponents is .465. With eight games left among those 12 other opponents, assuming wins by the Jets, Chargers, Browns, and Colts, the best the final winning percentage can be is .474. While .474 isn't going to make anyone say "wow," here's something from ESPN to put what the Patriots did this season into perspective -

The biggest negative on the '72 Dolphins' résumé is the strength, or lack thereof, of their schedule. While it's true that they could only play who was scheduled, it's also true that with an opponents' winning percentage of .396, the Dolphins' schedule was one of the easiest since 1950.

How easy?

Basically, 99 percent of the teams since 1950 had a more difficult season schedule than the 1972 Dolphins. That is a very easy schedule.

Four of the Patriots victories were by four points, or fewer. Only two of those tight victories were against playoff contenders. The team's average margin of victory over the rest of the playoff field is 25.6 points per game.

Additionally, the Patriots defeated the entire NFC East, and AFC North through the course of their season - two of the most physical divisions in the NFL.

Based on what happened during the regular season, one has to assume that the two AFC teams with the best chance of advancing through Foxborough - the Colts and the Jags.

Costly loss -

In a game they didn't need, the Giants lost their starting center, Shaun O'Hara to a knee injury, starting corner Sam Madison to a groin injury, and starting linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Both Mitchell and O'Hara are reported to have each sprained a knee.

All players at key positions on the field.

This is not good for a Giants team heading into a playoff game with a physical Tampa team.

The 300, Patriots Redux...

Tom Brady became the sole number of the 50 touchdown club when he hooked up with Randy Moss on a 65-yard bomb. That means that 300 of the Patriots 589 total points came off the arm of Tom Brady.

Brady's arm has accounted for just under 75 percent of the scoring by the Patriots O. The offense accounted for a total of 402 of the points, special teams another 151 points (one two point conversion), and the defense scored 36 with touchdowns by Randall Gay, Adallius Thomas, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, and Rosevelt Colvin.

Fearful Symmetry...

Just a few final facts to leave you with:

The Patriots started and ended the season in Giants Stadium. The y won both games, scoring exactly 38 points in both contests. In both games Moss caught a touchdown pass of at least 50 yards, and Brady completed at least 76 percent of his passes.

The Patriots top three receivers, Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth, each averaged better than 10 yards per reception in the two games in the Meadowlands - 20 receptions for 254 yards against the Giants, and 16 receptions for 263 yards against the Jets.

Randy Moss is the common denominator between the record setting Vikings offense that got Brian Billick his head coaching position in Baltimore, and the current Patriots offense.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Usual Suspects

As we near playoff time, now is our opportunity to take a gander at this year's AFC contenders through a cinematic eye...and without further ado, in the words of Captain Louis Renault, "Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects..."

Dave Kujan, US Customs - Roger Goodell took Verbal into his office early on. Now the rest of the league is paying.

Roger "Verbal" Kint/Keyser Soze - Who is the Grey Hoodie? He was supposed to be a Jets coach. Some say his father was a Navy man. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him smile or knew anybody that ever survived one of his press conferences, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have played well for the Hoodie. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he could win with no one. And poof. With real talent, just like that, he's gone 15-0.

Picture if you will, the Patriots running game limping along like Verbal until the end of the season when it slowly rights itself.

Does all of this make Kobayashi out of Scott Pioli?

Dean Keaton - The Colts...[after finding Fenster's body] "It's not payback! It's precaution. You won't payback, you wanna run, I don't care! I'm not doing this for Fenster, I'm not doing it for you... I'm doing it for me. I'm gonna finish this thing. This Kobayashi bastard is not gonna stand on me!" This team is the one that is most likely to give the Pats a run for their money in the post season. Keaton was the man with the plan to take it to the big man.

Michael McManus - The Steelers...Mouthy and with an attitude, McManus would just as soon shoot you as listen to anything you have to say
McManus: What am I supposed to do with that?
[McManus throws bag of heroin at Redfoot. Redfoot catches it]
Redfoot the Fence: I don't know, feed it to the gimp. Ease his pain; I don't know what that is.
[Redfoot throws bag at Verbal]
McManus: What do you mean you don't know?
[Keaton lays a hand on McManus]
Keaton: Shut up.
Redfoot the Fence: I don't know. I got thrown this job by some lawyer.
Keaton: Yeah? Who?
Redfoot the Fence: I don't know. Some limey. He's a middleman for someone, OK? He doesn't say, I don't ask.
McManus: You're full of shit.
Redfoot the Fence: Fuck you.
McManus: Fuck you.
Keaton: Listen to me. We want to meet him. OK?
Redfoot the Fence: That's funny. He called me last night, he says he wants to meet you guys.
Keaton: OK. We'll meet him. Good. Do that. No problem. Let's go.
[Keaton turns around, ready to leave. McManus grabs him]
McManus: I don't like it, Dean. I don't like it. Wait a minute. One more thing, tough guy. Any more surprises, and I'm gonna kill you.
Redfoot the Fence: You're such a tough guy, McManus. Do me a favour, right. Get the fuck off my dick.
[Redfoot flicks his cigarette butt at McManus and it lands on McManus's eye]
McManus: Fuck!
[McManus lunges at him in rage and has to be restrained by Keaton]
Redfoot the Fence: Put a leash on that puppy. You know, it's an awful shame about Saul gettin' whacked. Cops'll be looking for the guys who did it. Sooner or later they're gonna come around asking me. You have a sweet night, ladies.

Fred Fenster - The Chargers...Fenster's been there before, and tries to act like he's cleaner than he really is...that's what you get with a team that drafts an admitted steroid user, and a player who is called classy by many, but continues to whine about other teams like a sore loser.
Fenster: You do some time, they never let you go. You know. They treat you like a criminal. I'm not a criminal.
Hockney: You are a criminal.
Fenster: Now why'd you got to go and do that? (I'm) trying to make a point.

Todd Hockney - The Jaguars, the AFC's loose cannon. They'll blow you up if you let them, and they're not going to let anything intimidate them. They've been there and done that.
Interrogation Cop: I can put you in Queens on the night of the hijacking.
Hockney: Really? I live in Queens, did you put that together yourself, Einstein? Got a team of monkeys working around the clock on this?

Random thoughts on tomorrow's game

I'm guessing that if Brady throws at least three touchdown passes tomorrow that the first two will go to Randy Moss so that he can break the record of 22 in a season, currently held by Jerry Rice. The third I would expect will end up in the hands of Troy Brown, so that the team can break a record it currently shares with the 1987 Rams and the 2000 Broncos - 21 different players in a Pats uniform have scored a touchdown this season. If Brown scores one tomorrow, that will make 22. Other candidates include Ryan O'Callaghan who sometimes lines up at tight end down by the goal line, or Junior Seau who lines up at fullback in the same set.

A note, in fairness to Jerry Rice - his 22 touchdowns came in a strike shortened season, over the course of 12 games. All told, that's a 29 touchdown pace. As good as Moss has been this season, he hasn't been that good, and Rice's pace of 1.8 touchdowns per game needs to somehow remain in the record books. If Moss finishes the season with 23, that's 1.4 per game.

The weather tomorrow in the Meadowlands, according to the most recent report, is for low winds, and low 50's during the day. No bad weather on the docket. That clearly favors the Patriots who have the better quarterback and receivers by far of the two teams.

The Giants do have the kind of physical defense that has given the Patriots fits of late. On the flip side, the Giants have lost to each of the top offenses that they have faced - by an average of 10.5 points to Dallas (10, and 11 points respectively), and by 22 to the Packers. Neither of those team's offenses are as potent as the Patriots'.

What are the chances that the Pats pound the ball on the ground a lot, just to see if they can do it against a better defense than either of the last two that the team has faced in the Dolphins and Jets? 50-50? I think the Giants defense is going to come out hard after the pass because of the records, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots come out running, if for no other reason than to slow the Giants vaunted pass rush.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pretender or Contender - NFC style

Who are the legit heirs to the NFC throne? Will we see the Cheeseheads melting in the Arizona sun, or will the West be Won by the Gauchos in Dallas? What are the chances that a Jolly Roger will fly high over the Arizona desert, or that an ocean bird from the Pacific Northwest will migrate to the Cardinals' nest?

One thing to note - with teams like the Seahawks struggling to separate themselves from the lesser teams in the weak Western division until the last couple of weeks, it's hard to completely buy into some of the NFC teams as legitimate contenders.

The contenders...

Dallas Cowboys (13-2) - Quite simply, they are the best the NFC has to offer. The number one NFC offense (second only in the league to the Patriots), and the sixth best NFC defense in regards to opponents scoring (12th overall). If a team can take advantage of the Dallas D, the team can be had. Through their first eight games the team's margin of victory was an average of 15.8 points per game with only three of those victories coming by a margin of less than 17 points. Since the halfway point that average margin of victory has dropped to 8.8 points per game with only one contest in which the margin was larger than 17 points.

That said, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Big D, and it's going to be a tough, albeit not impossible, task to knock the Cowboys off in their own backyard.

Green Bay Packers (12-3) - The game against the Bears was not exactly reassuring, but I'm willing to give a team as young as the Packers a mulligan. The big problem for Green Bay is that they will have to go through Dallas to get to Arizona, and I'm not convinced that Brett Favre's history in that stadium isn't in his head.

In their earlier match-up this season Favre went away from the game-plan that had the Pack undefeated going into Dallas. If he isn't trying to force the deep ball on every play and hit the homerun, so to speak, then I give the Packers a fair chance at the upset. If Favre makes the unforced errors of the first match-up, then Cheesehead Nation will not be invading the Desert come January.

Washington Redskins (8-7) - I know that Washington is not in yet, but they control their own fate and are playing their best football of the season. I feel uncertain about putting this team here, but the fact is that they are playing smart, disciplined football right now - and they are playing with a purpose - and that makes them dangerous.

Also, they play in what appears to be the toughest division in the NFC, playing against playoff teams and hopefuls in Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota. Half of the 'Skins' games have been against opponents that either are headed to, or still have a chance to head to the playoffs. Sure, they're 2-5 against these teams (with the final match-up against Dallas on the docket for this weekend), but take away the drubbing at the hands of the Patriots, an the average margin of victory for those opponents in those four games is 4.25 points per game. In the last two games, both victories over teams contending for spots (the Giants, and the Vikings), the margin was 11.5 points per game - a 15.75 point swing in favor of the Redskins.

They have a long hard road ahead - assuming they can close out with a win over Dallas and seal their playoff fate, they will have to play three games on the road no matter what due to being the sixth and final entry from the NFC.

The pretenders -

New York Giants (10-5) - They pulled off an emotional victory over a mediocre Buffalo Bills team last week and are on the road next week at Tampa Bay. A lot will be made about Tampa's stifling defense - currently tied for the top rank with the Patriots giving up only 15.9 points per game. I think that, healthy, New York can get by Tampa - and even unhealthy I give them a chance.

New York's biggest liability is Eli Manning - not only do they not know what quarterback they're going to get from game to game, sometimes his Jeckyll and Hyde routine goes quarter to quarter. While I think they might squeak by with one road win, I'm not convinced that a team that hasn't strung together more than two wins in a row for half a season will be able to come away with three straight on the road to get to the big game.

Seattle Seahawks (10-5) - After their opener against Tampa (whom they beat), The only post-season contenders this team has played have been Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They lost to both, to go with losses to Arizona, Carolina, and New Orleans.

Consider the following as the Seahawks will likely be hosting the Redskins next week - Technically, this team has not beaten a single team with a winning record (the Bucs were 0-0 at the time of their game7-8 Eagles. I have no reason to believe that the Seahawks are going to start defeating opponents with winning records now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6) - People are trying to dub this as the sleeper team. They're wrong.

This is the so called sleeper team because of their sterling defense, tied with the Patriots for first in the league, giving up on 15.9 points per game. Let's take a closer look at how that defense has done against quality offenses - the Bucs have faced four potential playoff teams and have gone 1-3 against them, losing to the 11th ranked Seahawks offense, the 3rd ranked Colts O, and the 5th ranked Jaguars offense, winning only against the 19th ranked Redskins.

As a matter of fact, the only offenses in the top 20 that the Bucs beat have been the 10th ranked Saints, 9th ranked Cardinals, and the 19th ranked Skins. The Saints and Cards are both in the bottom third of the league in defense. Otherwise, six of the nine wins that the defense forged its reputation against have had an average offensive ranking of around 26th overall - or against teams averaging only about 16 points per game (this includes two games against the 31st ranked scoring team in the league).

By contrast, the Patriots have beaten four division winners (Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Steelers), and two (likely) wild card entrants (Browns, Redskins). Their wins have come over teams whose offenses rank 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 17th and 19th. The average offensive ranking of the Patriots opponents is about 18th overall, or an average of around 20.7 points per game.

The point here is that the Bucs are holding opponents to 0.1 points per game below their aggregate average against the rest of the league, so in theory a team that averages 27 points per game is probably still going to score about 27 points against the them. Not a great statistic for a team trying to make headway into the post season.

The proverbial monkey wrench...

Minnesota Vikings (8-7) - The Vikings are in if they win and the 'Skins lose. This is not a team I can see going deep into the playoffs. They are a team that can screw up someone else shot at the title. They are physical and tough against the run, and have bruising runners who get into the second level and punish an opponents secondary.

If nothing else, they can make a healthy team unhealthy for their next opponent.


We talk a lot about the numbers that the Patriots are putting up in historical context - but what is the impact in the context of this season? Let's look...

Randy Moss has 21 touchdown receptions, and 21 players from the Patriots have scored at least one touchdown. The Atlanta Falcons as a team have scored 21 touchdowns.

Moss and Wes Welker have combined for 29 touchdowns - more than the Raiders (28), Titans (27), Dolphins (26), Ravens, Bills, Jets, Rams (each with 25), Panthers (24), Chiefs, 49ers (each with 23), and of course the aforementioned Falcons.

Tom Brady's 48 touchdown passes alone are more than the total scored by each of 29 of the remaining 31 teams. The only teams with more touchdowns than Brady has touchdown passes - The Colts with 53, and the Cowboys with 54.

The Patriots have 71 total touchdowns, 17 more than the closest team total - the Cowboys 54. The margin is equal to the total number of touchdowns by LaDanian Tomlinson's 17, the second most touchdowns by one player in the league this season (to Randy Moss's 21).

The touchdown margin of four between Moss and Tomlinson is equivalent to the same number of touchdowns scored each by names like Deion Branch, Shaun Alexander, Correll Buckhalter, Travis Henry, Rudi Johnson, Larry Johnson, and Dennis Northcutt, and more than the three each scored by Warrick Dunn, Joe Jurevicius, Muhsin Muhammad, Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer, and Cadillac Williams.

The teams 551 points scored are more than twice the total number scored by each of the following ten teams the Raiders, Jets, Bills, Ravens, Rams, Dolphins, Panthers, Chiefs, Falcons and 49ers.

The Patriots 15 wins equal the combined win totals of the Dolphins (1), Jets (4), Rams (3), Falcons (3), and Ravens (4).

And one last number to consider - the Patriots average margin of victory (20.8 points per game) is greater than the average offense output for the following 15 teams; Buccaneers (20.7), Redskins (20.5), Bears (20.1), Broncos (19.9), Titans (19.0), Raiders (17.7), Jets (17.0), Ravens (16.5), Rams (16.3), Bills (16.2), Dolphins (16.1), Panthers (15.7), Chiefs (14.4), Falcons (14.3), and 49ers (14.1).

Just some numbers to digest.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

History repeating...

From the league laughingstock to the model of how to build a franchise.

The Patriots aren't the first team to do that. At one time, the San Francisco 49ers were a punchline, the bad joke that the league didn't laugh at, no matter how hard fans of opposing franchises did. After making the playoffs for three straight seasons under Mike Nolan from 1970-1972, the team by The Bay didn't see the playoffs again until 1981 under Bill Walsh. During the time in between San Fran had one winning season (8-6 in 1976).

From 1981 until 1998 the team made the playoffs in all but two years - the strike shortened 1982, and in 1991 when the team still won ten games. Minus the strike season, the Niners averaged 12 wins per season during that 17 season run and won five Super Bowls. Then, under Steve Mariucci, and the constraints of the salary cap, the cracks began to show.

The Patriots were the league laughing-stock even when they were good in the 1980's. They were beset by scandal and stupidity (how many teams saw their star wide-out wrap a car around a telephone poll during half-time of a game in which he was playing? Anyone remember Lisa Olson?). Then (and this is where people often get it wrong) James Busch-Orthwein started the team on the road to respectability when he hired Bill Parcells in 1993.

After Robert Kraft bought the team in 1994, he and the franchise suffered growing pains when he handed the reins over to Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll, often mis-firing in the draft (remember Chris Canty?), until Kraft handed over the operation to Bill Belichick in 2000. Since 2001 the Patriots missed the playoffs only in their 9-7 2002 season. Otherwise the team is going on to their sixth playoff appearance in seven seasons, averaging just over 12 wins per season, and three Super Bowl titles. They are only the fifth team in NFL history to win 15 games in a season, only the second to win 18 regular seasons in a row (incidentally, they were the first to do so), and on the verge of the first 16-0 season in the history of the league.

History repeating, part II Jacksonville - Pats 2001 Redux...

Are this year's Jaguars the 2001 Patriots revisited?

The Jags are lead by their former backup quarterback who essentially took the job from an injured starter. The '01 Pats were 11-5 going into the playoffs, the Jags are currently 11-4. The '01 Pats were 6th overall in offense and in defense, currently the Jaguars are 5th in offense and 6th in defense.

The Patriots entering the playoffs in 2001 weren't viewed as a serious contender for the Super Bowl with the Raiders and Steelers both standing in the way. The Jaguars are being looked at as the team that might be able to do some damage that no one is paying attention to, sitting behind perennial contenders New England and Indianapolis.

All of this poses the question - Are the Jaguars the best equipped team to topple the dynasty (then it was the Rams thinking they were on their way to a dynasty), or will it come down to the Pats and Colts slugging it out in the Razor for a trip to Arizona?

Merry Chismakwanzuka!

Being a fan of a sports franchise inherently makes it easier on loved ones purchasing holiday gifts. To wit - my wife purchased for me a Richard Seymour jersey. It is the first jersey that I have owned with a currently active player's name on it.

Allow me to explain.

I'm cheap.

I own two Bledsoe jerseys and a Ben Coates jersey, all of which I got on clearance racks for a combined total of less than $45.00. The Bledsoes I bought in a show of support for both the Patriots and the man's career while playing for the fightin' flying Elvii. The Coates jersey was the first that I purchased, just to have a Pats jersey (and I liked the player, even though he had moved on by the time I bought it).

And as much as I like the Seymour jersey, on Saturday night I will be found in my living room wearing the same silver number 11 as I have on 15 other weekends of this season, watching the Pats play the Giants. Why? Because I am just as freakishly superstitious as most fans and athletes.

Throughout high school, as a sprinter for my track team, I wore the same bandanna on my left ankle to every track meet I ran in over the course of the four years I ran. By my senior year, it was little more than a tattered green scrap of cloth, but I continued to wear it.

Back to the gifts...

My wife's parents got me a grey Pats hoodie that feels like it's fleece-lined. It's nicer than most of my winter gear.

Heck, on Sunday, as I was pulling on my ratty Bledsoe jersey, my five-year-old daughter asked for a jersey of her own to wear on "football days." I'm already looking for her for her birthday.

Then, of course, there are the gifts that come from unexpected sources - particularly if you're a New England/Boston fan of at least a particular age...

As I have mentioned before - if I had been sitting in a bar back in 1992 watching that atrocious Pats team, and the current day me had gone back and told 22-year old me that the Patriots would dominate the first decade of the new millennium with three Super Bowl wins, that in 15 years they would be the best team that football had ever seen, and that the Red Sox would have won two World Series, I would have kicked the crap out of me for mocking my pain as a Boston fan.

But how's this for a Christmas present for fans of the Hub's sports franchises -

  • Red Sox 2nd World Series of the decade.
  • 15-0, and on the verge of the best offensive performance in a season by any football team, ever - and with the potential to finish the season with both the number one offense and number one defense.
  • Resurgent Celtics and Bruins franchises that look like they could compete beyond this year.
  • Harvard's Ivy League title in football.
  • Boston College's 10-3 flirtation with a national title, and potential Bowl win in the upcoming game.
  • New England Revolution Eastern Conference champions.
Happy Holidays Hub Fans, know that the nation hates us right now!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Swan song a mostly forgettable tune

The longest tenured Patriot was finally getting in on the act.

Troy Brown would be active.

A career special teams demon, he would be returning punts.

He returned six for 55 yards. A respectable 9.2 yard average, with a physical 28 yard return that brought the ball back to mid-field.

Unfortunately he also had the one that clanged off his face-mask giving the Dolphins the ball back after a sterling series by the defense.

His day fielding punt returns was like the offense's day in microcosm - Laurence Maroney battered the Dolphins for over 150 yards on 14 carries, while Jabar Gaffney hauled in five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The stars, on the other hand, failed to shine - Brady while good, still tossed two picks, and both Wes Welker and Randy Moss dropped passes that would have kept drives alive in the second half when the offense put a big donut on the scoreboard. It was the first time all season the Patriots offense was shut out in a half.

Your prolific offense getting shut down in the second half by the Miami Dolphins is not going to put any sort of fear into the likes of the Colts, or the Jaguars come football's second season.

On the positive side of the ledger -

Wes Welker is one touchdown away from breaking the Patriots' record for receptions in a season, currently held by Brown with 101.

Stephen Gostkowski set a new league record for extra points in a season.

The Patriots broke the record for touchdowns scored in a season with 71 and counting. The previous record was held by the 1984 Dolphins.

The Pats are six points shy of tying the mark for most points by a team.

Randy Moss needs two touchdown receptions to break Jerry Rice's record of 22, and Tom Brady needs two TD passes to break Peyton Manning's record of 49.

The team tied their own record of 18 straight regular season wins, and are poised to break that with a win next week.

And with a current passer rating of 119.7, Manning's season record of 121.1 for a season is within reach (although if Brady makes decisions against the Giants like he did against the Jets and Dolphins, it just isn't happening).

Not to be lost in all this is the fact that the Patriots dominated an opponent on the ground for the second straight week, ringing up 196 yards on 25 carries - a 7.8 yard per carry clip that even against the deficient Dolphins is a good sign heading into the post season. The supposedly run-deficient Patriots entered the game with the 12th ranked running game in the league - not bad for the noted weakness of the offense.

Other thoughts...

Tom Coughlin can't be overwhelmed by the Giants mistake filled win over the Buffalo Bills. His playoff bound team got even more dinged up as it did everything it could in the first half to hand Buffalo this game on a silver platter. If New York plays like this against just about any other playoff contender in the post season they will be one and done.

The Browns had a chance to push Pittsburgh's back against the wall and possibly win the division with a win over the sad-sack Cincinnati Bengals and couldn't seal the deal. Ditto for Green Bay in regards to having a chance at forcing the Cowboys to have to travel to the Frozen Tundra for the conference championship game. Instead Brett Favre and the Pack spit the bit, losing 35-7 to a Bears team that is a shadow of its former self.

Minnesota, also with a chance to seal their place in the playoffs also blew it, dropping a game to the Redskins 32-21. The only teams that came up big in keeping their playoff hopes alive were the Titans who squeaked by the Jets to even their record with the 9-6 Browns (Cleveland holds the tie breakers), and the Redskins who have evened their record with Minnesota at 8-7, but now hold the tie-breaker by virtue of this weekend's victory over the Vikings.

So I was wrong - the Lions will go 7-9, not 6-10. I gotta find me some employers like the Ford family. Evidently anything short of blowing the company to Kingdom Come won't get you fired.

One last thought -

Does anyone out there suppose Miami fans watched that game and thought, "why can't the Dolphins get players like Heath Evans, Wes Welker, Kyle Eckel, and Junior Dumbass GM."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dolphin safe Tuna

With Bill Parcells signing a contract to run football operations for the next four years in Miami, the speculation has already begun as to whether or not he will try to recruit his son-in-law - Scott Pioli.

As Pats fans well know, Pioli is half of the front office tandem along with Bill Belichick that put together the three Super Bowl winners and the current undefeated edition. They are the architects. There are a whole slew of things we're going to find out about Parcells and the Dolphins -

How deeply seated is the grudge against Kraft for not being allowed to "buy his own groceries?" This is going to be answered by how hard he pursues his son-in-law, whom Kraft is unlikely to give permission for Parcells to interview. Considering he's married to Parcells daughter, though, how hard will it be for Parcells to talk to him anyway?

Under NFL rules, Kraft is only obligated to give Parcells permission to speak to Pioli if the position that Parcells wants to offer is a definite promotion - the bottom line is that Pioli would have to have final say on personnel matters. I have a hard time buying that this job isn't about showing everyone that HE can turn the moribund Dolphins around. As such, Kraft will be in his rights to turn Parcells down for an interview request.

We're going to find out if Cam Cameron still has a job.

We're going to find out just how bad the front office has been for the Dolphins for the last decade. Their drafts during that time might have never happened. As I have previously noted - In the six drafts from 1998 to 2003, Miami had 59 choices. It exercised 46 of those picks and used 13 other choices in trades to acquire veteran players. Only Ricky Williams, acquired in a draft day deal as one of those 13 other choices, is on the current Dolphins roster.

Their first round pick last season was an injured kick returner who was projected to still be on the board when they picked again in the second round. Their last coach was an unmitigated disaster who bailed when the going got tough (sound familiar Atlanta fans?).

We're going to find out, and quickly, who on the current roster is not a "Parcells-type" of player.

And we're going to find out who is his coach - who will want to coach in Miami with Parcells breathing down his neck? Will Maurice Carthon get a shot? Mike Singletary?

Finally, the Dolphins will be better, but by how much? We're going to find out if Parcells can really get the job done without Belichick at his side. For his career, The Tuna is under .500 without his one-time right hand man at his side. In nine seasons without Belichick as either a defensive coordinator, or assistant headcoach, Parcells is 67-76 (12-19 with the Giants, 21-27 with the Patriots, and 34-30 with the Cowboys), 2-6 in the playoffs with no conference or Super Bowl Championships, and only two seasons of at least ten wins. Three of the winning seasons came in Dallas where Jerry Jones was "buying the groceries."

Sure, Parcells will be in the front office, and not the sideline, and Parcells made some great choices for the Patriots including Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe, and Willie McGinnest, but he also brought in washed up favorites from the Giants like Myron Guyton.

One last thought - Having worked for the Patriots, and Jets, what are the odds that Parcells goes to the Bills in some capacity when his contract is up with the 'Phins?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Philosophical question(s) for the week...

In light of the Mitchell Report and the pending holiday which always invokes, for me, the films of Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life), I am forced to correlate MLB to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...

Is it just me, or does Roger Clemens somehow come off like Senator Joe Payne (the corrupt politician played so well by Claude Rains) right now and after an early round of skepticism from the masses, George Mitchell as the naive but well meaning Jefferson Smith?

Does that make we, the baseball fans, the boys for which Mitchell is trying to build a camp?

The Baseball Writers Association of America, which is looking at this as "The Steroid Era" as justification for enshrining a generation of cheaters, part of the Taylor Machine?

The bloggers who are expressing outrage reporter Diz Moore? (Diz Moore: [into phone] Throw out that last, take this. This is the most titanic battle of modern times. A David without even a slingshot rises to do battle against the mighty Goliath, the Taylor machine, allegedly crooked inside and out. Yeah, and for my money, you can cut out the "allegedly.")

Just some thoughts...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rules violations

Eat it steroid apologists who defend steroid usage by these players with the following argument - well it wasn't banned by baseball at the time. There are a number of reasons that it doesn't matter. Many which I have already addressed. One is that Baseball shouldn't have to make rules regarding substances that are banned by federal law. It should be understood that you can't administer anything to yourself that is banned by federal law without a prescription.

And there's one of the key words. Prescription.

Which brings me to 1971.

It's an important year for baseball.

MLB is within its rights to discipline players for steroids and HGH for the pre-ban time period because of 1971. According to the Mitchell Report a drug policy was written in MLB that prohibits using any prescription medicine without a prescription. From all reports, virtually none of the players named had a prescription from a doctor.

So, based on this 1971 rule, steroid and HGH users were in violation of MLB's rules and regulations.

In 1991, just to be safe, then commissioner Fay Vincent added steroids to the prohibited substance list.

All of the above notwithstanding, I put the following question to the steroid apologists out there - If administering these drugs wasn't really cheating because, as you like to say, it wasn't against baseball's rules (which, apparently it was), then why did the players do all of this in a clandestine manner? Why sneak around? Why deny it when caught if there's nothing wrong with what you're doing?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Excuses

"I did it to recover faster from an injury, not to gain a competitive advantage on the field."

That is the popular excuse being presented by athletes caught using HGH and other performance enhancing substances. "I only used it to recover from (insert injury du jour here)."

This is the excuse that San Diego defensive end Louis Castillo first made popular before the 2005 NFL draft. It is the excuse that Patriots safety Rodney Harrison used (in spite of the fact that records show he initially purchased it during a time that he had no reported injury - no one followed up on that and he offered no additional excuse) when caught, it is the excuse that Andy Pettitte is hiding behind and it is the excuse that former second baseman Fernando Vina.

It is the excuse that any number of athletes I expect will use in the future.

It is a complete crock.

For anyone who thinks it isn't, I put to you the following question - if star player from Team A and star player from Team B suffer identical injuries, and Player A goes through proper (ie: legal and legitimate) physical therapy and rehab to get back on the field and it takes that player five weeks to get back, but Player B uses HGH and is back in three and half weeks, then how is that NOT a competitive advantage?

This smacks of the same argument put forth by Bonds supporters of, "it doesn't help him hit the ball," but, in light of recent studies - they're wrong. There was a recent report stating that HGH appears to improve eyesight. Improved eyesight will help a batter see the ball. The hormone helps muscles rebound faster from workouts - which means that in that tenth straight game, when non-users are fatigued, the user is fresher and more apt to be able to turn on a ball. It helps them get stronger, resulting in balls hit farther, faster.

Make no mistake. None of this is just about "recovering faster." It's all about getting on the field and an unfair competitive advantage.

Just once, I would like to hear one of these athletes say, "I cheated, I was caught and I'm sorry. I have disgraced myself, my team, and my sport. I knew at the time I was doing something wrong, but I want so bad to be the best on the field that it drove me to do something stupid and unforgivable in the context of the sport in which I compete. I wish I could promise that I would not make the same choice had I a chance to do it all over again, but, given my competitive nature, I don't think I can make that promise. I'm sorry."

We'll never hear it. But it really would be nice to hear one of these athletes completely own up to their mistake rather than try to find a way to excuse it that they believe will be palatable to the general public.

Unfortunately, there are many in the general public that are part of the problem - also making excuses for why, when their sports heroes are caught red-handed, we should take their less-than-heartfelt apology at face value. I'd like to thank Lisa at A Red Sox State of Maine for providing a link to the following from the New York Sun -

Corrupt in conception, inept in execution, this is in general a vile report. What decency there is in it comes from, of all people, Andy Pettitte. The ostentatiously religious Pettitte, who deserves and will receive a rousing ovation the next time he takes the mound at Yankee Stadium, will be scorned by many as a hypocrite, but according to the second-hand accounting of this report, he decided to use HGH because he thought it would "speed his recovery and help his team." And what could be nobler than that?
This reporter's defense of Pettitte is that he's "ostentatiously religious." First, I have to question whether or not this reporter knows what the word ostentatious means, or if he's just using big words to try to make people think he's intelligent. Because he comes off as an idiot. Were I Pettitte and truly religious, I would be offended by someone who described me as ostentatiously so.

For people wondering - it means rich and showy: marked by a vulgar display of wealth and success designed to impress people. So this dude is saying that Pettitte is showing religion only to impress people.

But I digress.

His argument (I will leave the whole "noble" thing to Lisa who handled that quite well) is that we should give Pettitte the benefit of the doubt because he's religious and, in essence, religious people would never do bad things. To that I give two names that are just the tip of the iceberg: John J. Geoghan and Ronald H. Paquin.

For those of you unfamiliar with those names, they are both priests - a profession that most would agree has some fairly religious people. These two were part of the Catholic Church's long running conspiracy to conceal child molesters within its clergy. Geoghan died in jail after convicted, Paquin plead guilty to the crime, claiming that he himself was a victim at the hands of a member of the clergy while a boy in Salem.

By reporter Tim Marchman's reasoning, this couldn't be true because these men are religious.

What an idiot.

On a lighter note (pardon the pun) - down to 184 this morning, a total loss of 4.5 pounds.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Signs your team is headed in the wrong direction

  • When ESPN promotes your game, they announce, "watch the Bears led by returner Devin Hester take on..." Let's face it, if the biggest star/most exciting player on the team you root for is the kick/punt returner, your team is in trouble.
  • Matt Millen is the general manager of the team you root for. This needs no further explanation.
  • Your general manager decides, in spite of all the other glaring weaknesses on the team, to let the team's leading wide receiver go in free-agency, and replaces him in the draft with a an injured kick returner that's not projected to be a number one receiver in the league. To make it worse, the GM let's him go to a division rival.
  • Pundits struggle to justify why your team took a third-down back with a top five pick over a defensive end with nine-and-a-half sacks in his second year...and continue to claim that they still would have taken that running back over the defensive end if they re-did the 2006 draft today.
  • The best excuse your defense can come up with for why they lost a game is that the refs were against them. Not that their own coordinator called a time-out, not that they killed themselves with obvious and blatant penalties - no, it has to be the refs' faults.
  • Your franchise quarterback cops a guilty plea to a federal offense, players publicly feud with your new head coach on the sideline, and then said coach bails on the team 13 games into his contract. Quality judgement there by that front office.
  • The best thing that can be said about a team's season is that they got their first win before the Dolphins.
Let's see - that would be, in succession: Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore, Atlanta, and St. Louis. Combined, those teams have a 29-69 record (aided greatly by the Saint's 7-7 record, and overall a rip-roaring .296 winning percentage). Are there other teams with problems? You bet. Are all of these teams heading in the wrong direction? You bet.

On a different note...

Over Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law noted some guy in the press bitching about the way Belichick dressed. If it bother people, fine. Is it Belichick probably thumbing his nose at the deal the NFL has with Reebok? Yeah, it probably is.


Here's the funny thing - my wife was scanning the Patriots on-line store, presumably for a Christmas gift for me. While there, she noted something interesting - the Pats are marketing a Belichick hoodie as well as a Belichick throw. For the hoodie they're charging $75.00 and $45.00 for the throw.

What other team is able to market clothing under the name of the coach? Sure, you'll see the "like the polo worn on the sidelines by Mike Holmgren," or one of the other coaches, but you won't see it listed as "Holmgren Sideline Polo," it will be listed as, "Coach's Sideline Polo."

Welcome to Patriot Nation. It love's its coach.

Texas Toast

No player was hit harder by the release of the Mitchell Report than Roger Clemens. Sure, Barry Bonds is (the only player) mentioned more often in the former senator's report, but let's face it, the damage was done there long ago.

Following the release of the report, the Rocket's lawyer Rusty Hardin issued the following non-denial, “It is very unfair to include Roger’s name in this report. He is left with no meaningful way to combat what he strongly contends are totally false allegations. He has not been charged with anything, he will not be charged with anything and yet he is being tried in the court of public opinion with no recourse. That is totally wrong. There has never been one shred of tangible evidence that he ever used these substances and yet he is being slandered today."

Essentially, Hardin called Mitchell's witness against Clemens a liar without ever directly denying any of former trainer Brian McNamee's allegations of steroid use (he never said I didn't do it, he just said McNamee's allegations are false - what? That McNamee administered the steroid injections? That it was those specific steroids? What exactly is false?). Hardin made no indication that he would be filing any sort of legal action against the report (and the last time I checked, Major League Baseball, which has assumed indemnity for any legal action, has very deep pockets).

The biggest problem for Clemens and his legacy arose this weekend when former teammate and long-time friend Andy Pettitte, who was named in McNamee's testimony, lent the report a whopping dose of credibility by copping to the use of HGH - a year after he denied ever using the hormone (his name came up with the Jason Grimsley incident).

While Pettitte's apology was offensive to anyone with half a brain - "If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize...If I have let down people that care about me, I am sorry, but I hope that you will listen to me carefully and understand that two days of perhaps bad judgment should not ruin a lifetime of hard work and dedication." Where's the actual apology there? IF? There are more qualifiers in that statement than they have at the Olympic Trials for Track and Field.

This is tantamount to saying, "I'm not sorry for what I did. I'm sorry I got caught, and I'm sorry YOU'RE offended. But, no, I'm not sorry for what I did."

I think that Dan Graziano from the Newark Star-Ledger (Yankees country by the way) said it best when he put the following to paper -

If he truly felt bad about what he did, why didn't he answer Mitchell's questions as earnestly as he's always answered ours? Every player Mitchell named in the report was presented with an opportunity to see the evidence against him and respond. But the final lines of page 176 say about Pettitte what Mitchell says about almost every other player in the document.

"In order to provide Pettitte with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me," Mitchell writes. "He declined."

Brian McNamee, the personal trainer for Clemens and Pettitte, told Mitchell that Pettitte asked him about HGH during the 2001-02 off-season. McNamee told Mitchell that he discouraged Pettitte from using it, but that Pettitte brought it up again while on the disabled list in 2002 and McNamee flew to Tampa, Fla., where he injected Pettitte with HGH "on two to four occasions."

McNamee also told Mitchell that Pettitte asked him, in 2003, "what he should say if a reporter asked Pettitte whether he ever used performance-enhancing substances. McNamee told him he was free to say what he wanted, but that he should not go out of his way to bring it up. McNamee also asked Pettitte not to mention his name."

Pettitte knew what he was doing was wrong and he sought advice on how to get away with it. And when Mitchell found out, and tried to present him with the evidence, Pettitte ignored him. Only now that he's been caught does he come remotely clean, and he does so in the way of a cornered criminal, angry at his pursuer for catching him. Why should we believe there's not more to the story? What reason do we have to take his word that he's been clean for all but two days of his life?

The wheat from the chaff

After a weekend that saw weather play a significant factor in several games for playoff bound teams, and a whole lot of wild-card eliminations, there are a number of things that can be taken from the games played from Thursday through yesterday. Sorry guys, but tonight's tilt has no bearing on the post-season (unless Chicago somehow upsets Minnesota - which I have a hard time seeing).

Here are some of my thoughts.

The Patriots (contenders) - They played a different type of game yesterday in the bad weather, pounding the Jets and winning the battles in the trenches. This led to a solid running game by the team that included 104 yards on 26 carries (4 yard per carry average) by the often maligned Laurence Maroney.

While good to see them move the ball on the ground, it was done against a moribund Jets rush defense that is currently ranked 30th in the league giving up an average of 141 yards per game. That average lowered with the Patriots 131 net yards from scrimmage yesterday. So, as nice as it was to see the Patriots pound the ball on the ground, they were still below what is average for this team to give up.

I like that Maroney runs hard, but I have to question his vision...or maybe it's just the coaching instructions he receives. I like that he seldom takes negative yards, but he often runs into clogged lanes when there are openings elsewhere. That won't cut it in the post-season against better run defenses than the Pats faced yesterday.

The Colts (contenders) - After struggling mightily after their mid-season loss to the Pats, Indy seems to have collected itself and managed to right the ship, clinching their division and the other AFC bye with their win over the Raiders (the best Jacksonville could do is tie their record, but Indy has the tie-breakers).

This Colts team appears built for bed weather better than team of the past, with a greater reliance on the run - although, it's not as if they lacked quality running backs in the past, it hasn't helped them in bad weather, and the Colts won't be playing in truly bad weather until they possibly rematch against the Patriots at Gillette.

Also, the fact that even depleted the Colts should have destroyed the Raiders should be some cause for concern.

The Jaguars (contenders) - They went to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers their helmets in decidedly un-Jacksonvillian weather. This team could be very dangerous to anyone in the playoffs. If there was one team that could put together three road wins to get to Arizona, these are the guys.

The Steelers (pretenders) - See the Jaguars. Really, unless this team fixes what is ailing them, which seems to be the defense, they might be on the road to Cleveland or San Diego the first weekend of the playoffs, and they're not playing like a team that can win three in a row on the road. Hell, they've only won two of the six road games they have already played. Sure, the final two are against the Rams (3-11), and Ravens (4-10), but they lost on the road to the Jets (3-11), Cardinals (6-8), and Broncos (6-8).

The Chargers (pretenders) - Yes, they are playing better than they did early in the season, and yes they demolished the Lions 51-14, but they still have Norv Turner calling the shots and their only wins against winning teams were at home against Indy after they were beat up by New England, and at Tennessee. With the exception of their win against the Colts, they have lost to every other playoff contender they have faced - New England, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Jacksonville - by an average of 14 points per game.

The Browns (pretenders) - Cleveland is one of the great NFL stories this year. With games left against the Bengals and the 49ers, and the Steelers struggling, the Browns could go from worst to first with the potential of an 11 win season - a far cry from the 4-12 fourth place 2006 campaign (if Romeo Crennel isn't a coach of the year candidate, then I don't know how they're defining the award).

As great a story as this is for Cleveland, the fact remains that the Browns defense is 29th overall, and that doesn't get you far in the playoffs.

I'll deal with the NFC contenders/pretenders later in the week.

Other thoughts on the weekend -

Tony Romo's thumb injury and Terrell Owens suddenly playing like...well Terrell Owens (short arming, giving up on routes, not hustling on turnovers) could cost the Cowboys home-field in the playoffs, and any real hope at a Super Bowl berth.

Speaking of issues from Cowboys/Eagles - Brian Westbrook might have made one of the most heads up plays I have ever seen in the NFL when he decided to forgo the touchdown and sat down at the Cowboys one yard line with just over two minutes to play. The move allowed the Eagles to run out the clock. Had Westbrook run the ball in, the Cowboys would have gotten the ball back at the two minute warning, down by 11 - plenty of time to score and try an on-sides kick. It really was a thing of beauty.

Dick Jauron has done a great job with Buffalo this season, keeping the Bills in the playoff hunt until their loss to the Browns yesterday. Like Crennel, he will be a candidate for coach of the year.

After Brian Billick's spitting the bit against the formerly winless Dolphins, one has to wonder if the Ravens braintrust is regretting that extension they granted to Billick. To not try to punch it in and go for the win on the half-yard line against a team like the Dolphins who haven't stopped anyone all year is just unjustifiable.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made a funny...

A writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette speculated this week that the Patriots might have stolen the Steelers' snap counts, thus accounting for Mike Vrabel getting off the ball pretty much with the snap on just about every offensive play for the Steelers. Stealing the snap count? What, was he in the Steelers huddle when Ben Roethlisberger told the team, "on two?"


The man lines up on the line.

He was told by that organization that he would never be anything better than second string. This couldn't possibly provide any extra motivation for Vrabel. No. It couldn't be that.

I used to tell any of my defensive players that played on the line that they had certain keys to playing the line successfully, and none of it had to do with listening to the quarterback. The first thing that they had to do was look at how the lineman lined up as that would be a key to how the offensive lineman was going to block (pass/run), and the second thing was that they should always have an eye on the ball - the ball movement would be the key to quickly attacking the offense off the snap.

Stealing the counts?

Useless unless a player knows the quarterback's cadence.

This might be one of the larger stretches for an excuse as to why one's hometown team got spanked than I have seen in a long time.

I hate stupidity from reporters. It makes us all look stupid.

Double Standards

The Jets were absolved by any wrong doing by the commissioner's office this past week in regards to their taping at Gillette Stadium last year during the playoffs based on the claim by the Jets that they had permission to film from the mezzanine in the Patriots' home field. I'm puzzled by a number of questions this brings up.

If the Jets employee had permission, what is the proof that was provided to NFL offices? I think, based on the penalties meted out to the Patriots for Belichick's transgressions, the NFL owes that to the Patriot fan base.

If said employee had permission, was he wearing the proper vest and credentials that are issued to...well..credentialled personnel?

Even if the Jets were given permission, is the NFL then saying that team permission supersedes league rules? Consider the following reported by New York Newsday -

NFL rules state "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game." They also say all video for coaching .purposes must be shot from locations "enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead."

Last time I checked, the location the Jets noted that they were filming from was not "enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead." At least it wasn't unless the Jets set up in one of the stadium's snack stands on the mezzanine (assuming there's one with a view of the field).

Herein lies my problem with this - the Jets admitted filming. They publicly admitted filming from a location from which they are not allowed to film. The NFL essentially said, "that's okay because (you said) you got permission." To me, this is like a team going into a game, and then repeatedly committing personal fouls with the referees letting the team get away with it, because the team committing the fouls told the refs they had been given permission by the other team to commit said fouls.

The NFL either has to mete out discipline evenly for this, or the league needs to revisit the rule.

But this uneven application brings me to a baseball point.

As I have noted before, there are a number of baseball writers, including ESPN's Buster Olney, who say that they will continue to vote for the likes of Mark MacGwire, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens for entry into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The excuse put forth by these writers is, "well, it's just the era they played in, and these were the best in that era."

These are the same people that want to keep Pete Rose as a pariah "in the best interests in baseball." The same people that keep Jim Rice out of the Hall because, in some eyes, his numbers aren't good enough - in spite of the fact that, without steroids, he has considerably better numbers than MacGwire in every offensive category except for homeruns. And, possibly most importantly, these are the same people who won't vote Jose Canseco in due to his steroid use.

The hypocrisy of the BBWA is palpable in the Hall of Fame voting.

There are even those writers, and many fans that like to point out that baseball in many of those years had no rule against steroid use. This is, I think, the most laughable justification. Possession and use of steroids without a prescription is a federal crime. The argument that baseball had no rule governing it is akin to employees of an Edward Jones Financial franchise flouting the federal laws enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), because Edward Jones corporate had no written policies dictating the same as the SEC.

In the case of the Edward Jones employee, that person would first lose his or her job, and then that person would go to jail for violation of federal law. Baseball players appeal to an arbitrator and keep their jobs in spite of violating federal statute. Nice double standard.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tank McNamara was for Pats fans today...

Paradise Lost

Nobody got off lightly yesterday.

There were questions as to whether or not Mitchell would avoid implicating the Red Sox due to the fact he is part of the Sox ownership group.

The Red Sox team name came up 37 times in the Mitchell Report. That's once every 11 pages.

Current or ex-Red Sox on the list?

Manny Alexander
Jose Canseco
Roger Clemens
Paxton Crawford
Brendan Donnelly
Chris Donnels
Eric Gagne
Jeremy Giambi
Mike Lansing
Josias Manzanillo
Kent Mercker
Mike Stanton
Mo Vaughn
Steve Woodard

Mitchell, by his own admission, has put together an incomplete list. There are 14 players on this list that wore a Sox uniform (Yankees fans, stuff the "where are all the Red Sox names" accusation - they're right here).

Let's address Clemens one last time, because he is the only sure candidate for the Hall. There are many writers saying that they now won't vote for him, others saying that they will because he was a hall of famer before the 'roids started in 1998. Assuming that it was 1998, and not 1996, as I suspect, when he shared a field with Jose Canseco, then this is what his numbers look like pre-1998 -

203-118, 2882 strikeouts, 3.09 ERA, and a 2-3 postseason record.

There are those that argue that Curt Schilling will only get in based on his post-season performance because he doesn't have enough regular season wins. So, if Schilling's 216 wins isn't enough, how could Clemens be a Hall-of-Famer before the rumors of steroid use?

If you adjust for when I think he started, which was the 1996 season, then he only has 172 wins.

No. Clemens was not a Hall of Fame pitcher before the rumors of juicing. He was very good. But he was and is not "the best right-handed pitcher ever," which some baseball pundits have called him over the last couple of years. That distinction still belongs to Nolan Ryan.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


As I stated in my last post - the names listed there were rumored to be in the Mitchell report. Many of those did not appear in the report - such as Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek. This, however, should not be seen as absolving players that are not on the list.

To the contrary, Mitchell even alludes to the fact that it is not a complete list. It is merely a compilation of the names that came up in the course of his investigation.

There is no relief today in major league baseball.

Some will say this only opens up Pandora's Box, and that the sins that afflict baseball can never be put back in that box. They are wrong.

As much as it pains me to say it - Jose Canseco opened the box. George Mitchell just started digging into the box's dark and fetid corners. The crud he came up with has presented the fans and the Baseball Writer's Association of America with ways to rationalize away putting their favorite player into the Hall of Fame.

Bonds had Hall of Fame numbers before he started doing it.

Clemens had three Cy Young's before 1996.

Everybody else was doing it, so it remained a level playing field.

Me? As much as I have enjoyed watching many of these players, I think as a journalist and a fan, we need to take a stand. No one from this era gets in. Going forward, no one gets in who is unwilling to submit to regular blood and urine testing.

Remember, the Hall is a private organization and it's by-laws have nothing to do with MLB. And one of the most important dictates how voting is supposed to work states, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Integrity, sportsmanship, and character are three of the key terms here.

Don't tell me that these players didn't know that it was illegal. Why else did they inject in the shadows? Why else do they avoid owning up to it? They keep it secret because they know it was wrong, that it lacked character, integrity, or sportsmanship.

Let's not rationalize away this by just calling it the Steroid Era, and putting in the best players from this era. Yes, a lot of players juiced, but not all of them did. It might even have been most of them. But the assumption has to be made that this created an uneven playing field.

Keep Bonds out. Keep McGwire out. Keep Clemens out. Keep Palmiero out.

Sure, record their records for posterity's sake. Record their numbers because they are, for better or worse, part of history. But don't enshrine them.

They haven't lived up to the standard dictated by the Hall. And it would be an insult to those who did.

Shining a light in the shadows

There are going to be many who will question the validity of the Mitchell Report due to his Red Sox links. Others will question the validity of the witnesses testifying to former Senator Mitchell.

There are a host of questions that can be asked in regards to the report. Regardless of the questions that can be asked, at the very least, it begs a closer look at each of the players named and their career statistics.

Like with any medication or drug, the impact of these "treatments" that the players underwent will vary greatly. Some people named might be innocent, some are likely as guilty as sin. And before I get some steroid apologist who likes to bring up the "well it wasn't against the rules in baseball," argument, one of the key points, made by George Mitchell as he presented the report is, "for more than a decade there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances by Major League Baseball players in violation of federal law..."

Mitchell does not absolve MLB in this. He does say that the report identified "some of the players," who indulged.

"Each of the thirty clubs have had" a player or players involved in this drug culture, said Mitchell.

Among the players rumored to be on the list that have spent some time with the Red Sox are Roger Clemens (whom I think started use before leaving the Red Sox), Dante Bichette, Wil Cordero, Johnny Damon, Carl Everett, Rich Garces, Eric Gagne, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeremy Giambi, Trot Nixon, Jose Offerman, Julian Tavarez, and Jason Varitek. So much for him slanting the report away from the Sox.

I've speculated as much in regards to Garciaparra, and have to admit I have questions as to how Jorge Posada who not only hit .061 points higher than his career average this past season, but has had his only season hitting over .287 (.336) at the age of 35, might not be on this list.

As for Clemens...

Clemens reportedly was taking winstrol in 1998, and approached his trainer at the beginning of 1998 with questions about a bottle of steroids already in his possession. Personally, I believe he was first introduced to the steroid subculture as early as 1996, when he shared a Red Sox clubhouse with Jose Canseco, and pitched over 200 innings for the first time since 1992.

As for some of the other proof - evidently, according to Mitchell, they have shipping records, other eyewitness accounts, phone records, and other evidence. This is going to come down hard on a number of players.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What it's really all about

Let's face it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are no innocent teams out there - and anyone who thinks their team is doing everything above board is incredibly naive. This weekend the Jets will face the Patriots for the fifth time since Mangini left New England to take over the team in The Swamp.

In light of a recent story revealing Mangini and the holier than thou Jets fans as a hypocritical finger pointers, I think the following picture is truly illustrative of this weekend, particularly in the eyes of those who are neither Pats nor Jets fans (with thanks to my wife)...

Speaking of finger pointers...

I think Mike Ditka has lost a lot of credibility in his fight to get the NFL to pay out more money in benefits to NFL veterans.

According to a report in USA Today, Ditka is in the process of dissolving the charity he established three years ago, Hall of Fame Assistance Trust. In spite of raising over $1.3 million in funds during that time, the charity distributed only $57,000.00 to ex-players in need.

The organization spent $715,000.00 on three charity golf events during that time, including $65,000.00 in appearance fees to get celebrities out to the tournaments. Somehow, in spite of being a charity, Ditka and his organization were unable to convince $65,000.00 worth of celebrities to write off their appearance fees.

For someone who has been as vocal a critic of the NFL in regards to this issue, that's one hell of a way to put one's money where their mouth is.

And this from a New York paper...




It has been confirmed that the Jets were taping in Gillette last season. The Jets claimed they were doing so with the permission of the league and the Patriots.

The league has no knowledge of the incident, or at least it has been reported that the league was unaware of it.

The Patriots removed the Jets employee from the stadium. Interesting definition of "permission" the Jets must have.

The line from Newsday - "Tuesday night the Jets admitted that they did videotape the game and their employee was confronted, but said they had permission from the Patriots to film from that location."

Once again, I ask, if they had permission to film from there, then why was the Jets employee removed?

I think this reaction from New York Newsday's response page sums it up best -

"So, the JETS catch the PATS videotaping and inform the league. The PATS catch the JETS and don't tell anyone, just remove the guy? If that's the case, it really makes Mangini seem low. Was it the game we won? Maybe that's the reason we won 10 last year and stink this year. After ratting on the PATS, the JETS stopped also.
"It just gets better. "

-Frank, East Brunswick, NJ.
East Brunswick, NJ

Killing chances

I don't blame Bobby Petrino for wanting to get out of Dodge.

He was put in a no win situation. He was initially expected to win with (statistically) among the worst quarterbacks in the league. He was told to build his offense around Michael Vick. Weeks after taking over the team, the Falcons traded back-up and potential starting quarterback Matt Schaub to the Texans. Then the dogfighting scandal hit, and Vick was done.

Sitting on a rudderless team with petulant stars like DeAngelo Hall, all Petrino could do, if lucky, was tread water. If this team failed to win a single game, enough went wrong around the team that Petrino could have been held blameless.

Even with the limited tools at his disposal, he still managed to eke three wins out of the Falcons.

Regardless of all of the above, Petrino has just succeded in killing any chances for college coaches to move to the pro-ranks anytime in the near future.

Recent history will play big in the heads of the NFL's general managers as they search for their next head coach, and the combined 18-27 NFL records of Petrino and Nick Saban (15-17) will serve as a big warning beacon. The bigger warning beacon, however, will be how the two coaches unceremoniously left after denying interest in college coaching openings.

An interesting aside - the denial games both Petrino and Saban played with their NFL jobs are not common to NFL coaching job changes. As a matter of fact, the only instances in the NFL that I can think of in which this happened are with these two coaching changes.

Right now this is happening all over college football, where a coach signs a contract to work for a school, and leaves before even a year passes in the contract year. Sometimes it's been within weeks.

Saban and Petrino brought it to the ranks of the NFL. And the GM's aren't going to forget that anytime soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cheating and fan hypocrisy

With the Patriots due to play the 3-10 New York Jets on Sunday, a lot is going to resurface in regards to Camera-gate, Tape-gate, Spy-gate, or whatever you want to call it. In the wake of every game, some fan of some team puts their foot in their mouth and wants to yell about the Patriots as cheaters.

I have not denied that the Pats were caught doing something they weren't supposed to be doing, nor would I. The irony of it is that the problem was that they were filming from the sideline. If they had done it from the coaches' booth, it wouldn't have been considered cheating (a stupid loophole, but a loophole none the less).

I would, however, point out to the Eagles fans, Steelers fans, Rams fans, and other groups that complain that the Patriots championships deserve an asterisk that, while the league frowned on the practice, the sideline camera wasn't officially outlawed by the NFL until this season. The Pats kept doing it. They got caught in the first half of the first quarter of the first game of the season.

They were nailed with an unprecedented punishment.

So it goes.

For those fans who want to continue this holier than thou farce, I give you the following -

2006-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers - in the spring, one of the team's game-day sideline doctors was fingered by a federal investigation into illegal distribution of HGh by one of Florida's anti-aging clinics. Despite claims by the doctor that the hormone was used for elderly patients, the Steelers dismissed the doctor. Considering he purchased through illegal channels, his claims come off as somewhat disingenuous.

2007 New York Jets - Accused of emulating the snap count on defense in a game against the Baltimore Ravens, a personal foul that should have resulted in at least one, if not multiple personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct, had the officiating crew noticed.

1998-2007 Indianapolis Colts - Repeatedly accused by opponents, including the Steelers, Jaguars, and Patriots (among others), of piping in crowd noise. In spite of the fact that the NFL absolved the team of wrong-doing in the most recent incident, rumors abound that a stadium employee has acknowledged the team's cheating.

2007 Washington Redskins - Multiple Redskins fans have blogged this season that the Skins are piping crowd noise into FedEx field. The claims are being made by people who claim to be attending the games and sitting under the speakers.

2007 Green Bay Packers - Still currently under investigation by the NFL for reports of defensive players offering "bounties." League rules prohibit teams and players "from offering or accepting bonuses to a player for his or his team's performance against a particular team, a particular opposing player or players, or a particular group of an opposing team."

2007 Dallas Cowboys - In mid-November a trainer from Plano, TX plead guilty to possession of illegal steroids. The man provided federal investigators names of FORMER and CURRENT Cowboys whom he claims to have supplied with performance enhancing drugs.

2007 New York Giants - Have faced recent allegations that certain coaching decisions have been dictated by the Las Vegas point spread. Granted, this is speculation based on Big Blue's recent game against the Bears, however, if the Vegas point spread is indeed dictating coaching decisions and proof can be found to back this allegation, this could be a bigger scandal than the NBA ref incident.

Those are just the ones that hit the fan in the last twelve months - but are the fans of the following clubs ready to give up NFC Championships, AFC Championships, and even Super Bowl wins for the following?

1997 San Francisco 49ers - According to ESPN, "Carmen Policy made secret side deals with Young and three other players to clear out some cap room for the team. This, too, crossed the boundaries, and it came to the attention of the NFL Management Council, an ownership committee.
"After hearing Policy's protestations of innocence, Jerry Jones reportedly asked fellow committee members, 'How many of us believe what he said?'
"The 49ers eventually reached a settlement with the league, which docked the club two draft picks and assessed fines against Policy and general manager Dwight Clark."

1996-1998 Denver Broncos - Found to be in violation of multiple salary cap issues, were fined $950,000.00 and a third round draft pick in the third round of the 2005 draft by the less strict Paul Tagliabue. During that same time period, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was caught filming (gasp! Not filming!) a Chargers practice...during the week...from a hill overlooking San Diego's practice facility.

1999 DenverBroncos/1998 Miami Dolphins - According to an article at ESPN..."In an interview published in the September 1999 issue of Muscular Development magazine, Conte said BALCO had 'provided testing and consultation for over 250 NFL players, including the entire Denver Broncos Super Bowl championship team, as well the entire Miami Dolphins team.'
"A Broncos spokesman told the Chronicle that the team was never a client of BALCO's and that any players who used the company did so on their own. Dolphins strength and conditioning coach John Gamble said that in 1998 Conte tested all of the Dolphins players for mineral deficiencies and that he subsequently sent supplements to counteract those deficiencies. Gamble said, though, that he did not believe Conte was paid for his services."

That's eleven teams (including the Pats) over the course of the last decade against which serious allegations were made, or were outright caught. Eight within the last year alone. And that was just based on a cursory search on a handful of teams.

I didn't include recent allegations by Shawn Merriman that Jeff Fischer "ordered a hit," this past weekend for three reasons - one; the blocks he's complaining about were clean and legal. Two; he's a whiner. Three; he was nailed for steroid use and hasn't exactly been the force he was since getting nailed.

I am by no means condoning what the Patriots coaching staff did earlier this season. To the contrary, I think it was mind-bogglingly stupid and unnecessary. They got caught, they got punished - and they should have been punished.

My point here is different.

My point is that the sanctimonious fans of other teams need to get off their high horse. I have no problem with those fans screaming about the Pats cheating, as long as those fans are acknowledging that their own team isn't a group of saints either...well, except of course for the Saints fans...but you get what I mean.

There is no such thing as an innocent team, there are only the ones that haven't been caught yet - and if you don't believe that with millions of dollars on the line in coaching contracts, player contract, endorsement deals, and various bonuses are going to prompt the most competitive people in our society to cheat, then you are truly among the most naive in society. Remember, part of the idea behind cheating is to not get caught.

For those who scream, "what does this teach the children," it teaches them that professional sports is a cold, hard business in which winning is the bottom line. If these people are using professional athletes as roll models for their children, well they're just morons.

Cheating in professional sports is a long standing tradition - from Ty Cobb sharpening his spikes and sliding with his feet high in order to cleat an opponent's shins, to Todd Bertuzzi's ordered hit on ice, to NASCAR pit crews making alterations to cars that violate NASCAR's rules, every sport, every team has a dark side to it's history that it doesn't want to see dredged into the light.

The White Sox have, arguably, the darkest story in all professional sports being the centerpiece of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Rumors abound that the 1970's Steelers, one of the most dominant teams in the NFL during the Super Bowl Era, were practically pioneers in the use of steroids (note, I did say rumors, although at least one Steelers lineman from the 1979 team came forward in 2000 to talk about his steroid use). Baseball Hall-of-Famer Gaylord Perry admitted to throwing the spitball. In 1963 the NFL suspended Packer Paul Hornung and Lion Alex Karras for gambling.

If you have a big problem with cheating, then give up on professional sports. If you want to believe that what each of these teams is doing creates an uneven playing field (which all of this is intended to do), then maybe it's time for you to walk away from the games. If you're looking for a villain because you need a bad guy - that's fine too, but admit, at least to yourself that's what you're doing. But don't pretend that there's a team out there that isn't doing everything it can in order to get an edge.

On another note -

The weighing in - 185, down 3.5 from my start weight last week.

Vick sentenced to 23 months

Michael Vick has been sentenced to almost two years in prison and three years of probation for his roll in the dog-fighting ring. Considering that the co-defendants received 18 and 21 months respectively, the court evidently found Vick to have greater culpability in regards to the crimes involved.

Not including any punitive measures by NFL offices, Vick will be unable to return to the NFL before October of 2009. I would guess there will be a suspension imposed that will not be allowed to serve concurrently with his jail time. As Vick is the first active player to be convicted and sentenced to jail time, my guess would be that the suspension will be indefinite, to be revisited at the beginning of each season, pending Vick's behavior while serving his probation.

I'm still not convinced we will ever see him under center in an NFL uniform again.

And considering he got nailed for using pot while awaiting sentencing, I'm not convinced he can remain clean for three years of probation.

The Jets are next

I usually don't guarantee victories. It's not my way. Not that I haven't done it before, but as a former player and coach (high school/semi-pro), I know that too much can go wrong on the field.

Next week the Patriots will win, and it won't even be close.

I just want to throw out these numbers - numbers I have mentioned before...

72 - It's the most points scored in a game by one team (Redskins over NY Giants, Nov 27, 1966. Final, 72-41).

64 - That was the most scored by a team (Philadelphia over Cincinnati, Nov. 6, 1934) in a shut-out victory.

5 - The number of touchdown passes that Brady needs to break Peyton Manning's record. I would not be surprised if he broke the record against the Jets.

7 - The most touchdowns thrown by a quarterback in a game, shared by Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, YA Tittle, and Joe Kapp. The last time was in 1969 by Joe Kapp. This Sunday may very well be the first time since then.

4 - The number of touchdown receptions that Randy Moss needs to pass Jerry Rice for the most in a season.

Those are just some of the numbers that I think will become relevant this Sunday. At 4:00 Sunday afternoon, several of those records are going to fall - and it will be at the hands of the Jets. Make no mistake that this is going to happen, and Belichick will make sure that it happens against the Jets.

This isn't going to be a game. It's going to be a clinic - and Belichick is going to show Eric Mangini how little he knows.

Eat it, Anthony Smith

"People keep asking me if we're ready for the Patriots, they should be asking if they're ready for us...We got our swagger back on defense. We're playing great ball, and they're playing great on the offensive side too, so I think we've got a real good chance to win the game. We will win the game...Yeah, I can guarantee a win." - Steelers safety Anthony Smith, December 5, 2007

"Never heard of him." - Rodney Harrison, December 6, 2007.

"You know, I think Rodney put it the best, so I'll just leave it at that. But we've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you." - Bill Belichick, postgame press conference December 9, 2007. Final score, 34 - 13.

For those that believe that Smith's comments fell on deaf ears, consider the following -

The Patriots burned Smith deep three times, twice for touchdowns - one by Randy Moss and one by Jabar Gaffney. The third time was a pass to Gaffney deep in the middle. Smith tried to lay a knock-out hit on Gaffney, bounced off him, and Gaffney picked up another six yards after the hit.

The Patriots picked on Smith. Period.

Way to walk the walk there.

Pyrrhic defense -

The 1972 Dolphins do a lot of moaning about being the only team with an undefeated season. Make no mistake, it is, at best, Pyrrhic.

Sure, they spent an undefeated season in 1972 against one of the weakest schedules of any team in the Super Bowl Era. Their streak of regular season wins started with the opening day of 1972 and ended in the second game of 1973, giving them a streak of 15 regular season wins, and a total of 18 (including post season).

The Pats have now beaten the 'Phins regular season run twice in the Brady era with 18 and 16 game regular season winning streaks, giving the Patriots first and second in terms of longest winning streaks in league history. The 18 game streak was part of a 21-game-including-Super-Bowl-win winning streak.

The longest winning streak the 'Phins had subsequent to 1972 was the 10-game streak in 1973. The Dolphins never again came close to matching that record. If the Pats win their final three (against the 3-10 Jets, the 0-13 Dolphins, and the 9-4 Giants), the Patriots will set a new record for consecutive wins in a season with 19. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, then they will be two games shy of tying their own record of 21 consecutive including the post season.

Somebody needs to tell former Dolphins running back Mercury Morris that the Patriots have been in his neighborhood - twice. But, with three Super Bowl rings during the era, they live in a nicer one.

Vick-tim of his own stupidity -

Michael Vick will be sentenced today. The news leaking out of Virginia is that prosecutors don't believe that Vick has been very forthcoming in his so called cooperation with authorities. If that's the case, and the prosecution is expected to call two witnesses to rebut Vick's allocution today, Vick could end up serving the maximum possible sentence.

As part of any plea deal, the guilty party is expected to detail his/her part in a crime. If the judge determines that the party who has taken the plea has not been straight with the State, then the judge can reject the terms of the plea and impose any sentence that fits sentencing guidelines in relation to the crime.

Vick could easily get the full five years. If that happens, I will go on record now - Michael Vick has taken his last NFL snap.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Recent history and selective memory...

It's what the pundits have in backing their arguments.

Those arguing that the Steelers will end the Patriots perfect season this weekend, present the following thoughts - the Steelers are physical like the Ravens and Eagles, but better than either; the Pats are vulnerable against the run, and Steelers tailback Willie Parker is second in the league in rushing; the Pats offense has been in a slump the last two weeks while being pressured by these physical defenses; the Steelers defensive scheme is meant to cause confusion and will cause problems for the struggling Pats offense.

Let's look at each argument -

The Steelers are better than either the Ravens or Eagles. That's a fact. It is also a fact that they are physical with their linemen, but, as I mentioned in a previous post, not great with press coverage from their corners.

Yes, the Pats have struggled against the run this season - particularly as of late. However, as good as Parker has been, he put up 87 yards and a 3.1 per rush average against the defense deficient Bengals, 81/3.4 and two fumbles against Miami, and 52/2.5 against the Jets. Those teams are respectively 23rd, 32nd, and 29th against the run. That would be Parker's last three games - a total of 220 yards and an average of three yards per rush. Not exactly numbers that blow you away.

During the Patriots' offensive slump, they have averaged 29 points per game. The rest of the league is averaging 21.1 points per game. Wow. Twenty-nine points per game are gonna lose you a lot of games...really. On top of that, the last three games haven't exactly been sterling for the Steelers either. Yes they won two out of three, but, as previously noted, they played the Jets, Dolphins, and Bengals - losing to the Jets by two, and barely getting a three point win (at home, mind you) against Miami...horrible, horrible Miami.

As for the shock and awe of the Steelers zone-blitzing defensive attack...I seem to remember that the Patriots lit them up in the playoffs with lesser talent than they now have on offense. And correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time I checked, current defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was running the defense that got lit up then.

Before Steelers fans get up in arms, I'm not guaranteeing a Patriots win, but I am pointing out that the arguments are weak as to why they will end the streak. It could very well happen - the Pats have looked vulnerable recently, but no more so than the Steelers.

House of cards...

Until the Patriots beat Dallas and Indy, the comment was, "who have they really beat so far?"

It was almost the mantra of New England's critics.

Now the Steelers are supposed to give the Patriots a run for their money. They have the number one defense in the league. Number one against the pass, number one against the run.

Like the Eagles and the Ravens, they play a physical brand of football - they want to push the opponents around at the line of scrimmage, and make receivers pay after the catch.

Unlike the Ravens and the Eagles, they play a zone blitzing scheme, because their corners are not great cover corners, but are good in space. If they play up on the line and try to get physical with the Pats receivers and whiff, then you're talking about a lot of targets running free for Tom Brady all day. But that's not really what I want to address.

What I want to address is, who have the Steelers forged their defensive ranking against?

They have wins against only two winning teams - the Browns and the Seahawks. The Seahawks only have a winning record because they play in the doormat division, the NFC West. The pass-happy Browns gave the Steelers everything they could handle - even with ineffective play from their quarterback.

Of the twelve games, only four opponents, the Browns, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Bengals have an offense in the top half of the league - fourth, ninth, twelfth, and seventh respectively. Of the ten total opponents, five are ranked 25th or worse in total offense. The average offensive ranking of the Steelers opponents through to this weekend's game? other words, the Steelers have pretty much made their reputation against losing teams with an average of the 19th ranked offenses in the league.

All three of the Steelers losses have come on the road - Cardinals (9th in offense), Broncos (19th), and Jets (24th). Their sole road win was against the Browns (now ranked fourth) in the season opener when the Browns had Charlie Frye at quarterback. They nearly dropped the rematch at Heinz Field.

The Patriots offense has already faced five of the defenses in the top half of the league, including the third ranked Colts D. New England has beaten those teams by an average of 19.2 points - including the three-point games against Indy and Philadelphia (12th overall). Overall, the average ranking of the 11 defenses faced by the Pats is 18.7, only marginally better than the 18.8 for offenses faced by Pittsburgh.

One of the big differences, however, is that of the teams Pittsburgh faced, only the Seahawks and Browns are close to locks for the playoffs. The Cardinals and Bills are fighting for wild card positioning. The Pats have cut their offensive teeth against the division leading Chargers, Colts, and Cowboys as well as wild card hopefuls Cleveland and Washington.

What does all of this mean?

Absolutely jack, if the teams don't come out and play the way they need to. However, if the rest of the season is any indication, the Steelers have had trouble coming out and playing the way they need to when on the road.