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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 Week 2 Fantasy Advice

As the 2014 edition of the Salem Witch Trials continue aiming at Roger Goodell's job (and rightly so), it is quite hard to remind yourself that there is actually football going on. So if you find yourself feeling terrible that you love a league that may indirectly condone domestic abuse, just remember that as a soccer fan I condone modern slavery and corruption out that would make the Sopranos blush by watching the World Cup.  Oh right, wasn't I supposed to talk about fantasy football...

Who to Start:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. CHI: While his passing game is nowhere the quality of what he can do with his feet, he had a solid outing against a porous Dallas secondary last week and with the Bears defense being slightly better and that's being kind, Kaepernick could once again have a massive week.

RB Alfred Morris (WSH) vs. JAX: While last week wasn't a good one for Morris or the entire Washington offense, this game against Jacksonville should fare a little better. Once the D tired, the Jaguars had trouble stopping Sproles and McCoy, and Morris should be able to capitalize on it.

WR Randall Cobb (GB) vs. NYJ: Now while the Jets defense was impressive Sunday against Oakland, it was Oakland. With 10 days to prepare for a Jets secondary minus Dee Milliner, Cobb and Jordy Nelson could both be in for fun afternoons at Lambeau.

WR Michael Floyd (ARZ) vs. NYG: It might be time to say he's the better fantasy wideout of the Floyd-Fitzgerald duo. Certainly seems like the torch has been passed. The Giants secondary was a sieve on Monday night against Detroit, so Floyd could light up the MetLife scoreboards.

TE Zach Ertz (PHI) vs. IND MON: After his big game against the Jaguars, odds are he'll continue his good run into the game against Indianapolis. The Colts were shredded by Julius Thomas, and with Nick Foles appearing to be a little bit more skittish in the pocket, he may look for the safer option more often.

DEF Tampa Bay vs. STL

I can't tell you who will be starting for the Rams at QB, and if that's the case, start the defense they are playing against.

Who to Sit:

QB Tony Romo (DAL) vs. TEN: Despite the fact I don't think the Titans defense is any good, everyone who watched the game against San Francisco saw the decline of a once very solid QB in front of our eyes. He's unstartable at this point, even in 2 QB leagues.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK) vs. HOU: My old friend... it didn't go well for you against the Jets did it? The odds aren't in your favor against Houston either, whose defense was absolutely suffocating against Washington and figures to do the same in the Black Hole.

WR Victor Cruz (NYG) vs. ARZ: As the Giants offense slowly goes completely horizontal, that won't do any wonders for the fantasy numbers at the skill positions for Big Blue. It doesn't help that Arizona's secondary is one of the best in football either.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. BUF: After a nice game against the Patriots despite the odds, he's not a great option this week despite the matchup not striking too much fear in me. Why? He's not a particularly reliable option in any road game recently, only going over 50 yards 2 times in his last 8 games away from Sun Life Stadium.

TE Antonio Gates (SD) vs. SEA: Despite him still being a very reliable option in weeks when he's not playing the Seahawks, this week he's playing the Seahawks. That's not a good sign.

DEF Minnesota vs. NE: Yes their stat line was incredibly impressive, but that was against Shaun Hill and a QB no one has ever heard of before. I may have been living under a rock for a good while, but I think people have heard of this Tom Brady fella before.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jake Locker (TEN) vs. DAL: While I still don't think he's any good whatsoever, he's playing Dallas this week, and if there's any fantasy value I'll post to the wall this year, is start every single player playing against the Dallas defense (yes, even the Rams next week).

RB Terrance West (CLE) vs. NO: With Ben Tate out a fortnight (yes I did just write that, sue me), West will get the bulk of the carries going forward. He broke out against Pittsburgh, and the Saints rush defense was a little more than suspect last week against Atlanta.

TE Larry Donnell (NYG) vs. ARZ: As many of my Giants friends had told me before the season started, they had no clue who the starting Tight End would be. They may know the name Larry Donnell now, and some enterprising fantasy players may know him as well. Even though Arizona's defense is very good overall, they struggle to defend Tight End's, and see MNF as proof positive.

Buyer Beware:

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. CIN: You're more than likely starting him this week if you have him but consider these 2 things: Cincinnati defense was very good last week against Baltimore, and White may be a bit dinged up after that big game against New Orleans. Also, he's not put up great numbers against AFC teams, for what that's worth.

Good Luck in Week 2, and if you have something to say Roger... say it.



Monday, September 8, 2014

What's a Commissioner?

Dictionary.com defines this word as "an official chosen by an athletic association to exercise broad administrative or judicial authority". This is important considering what has recently happened in the NFL and NBA and the PR nightmares that have ensued. These men despite being glorified corporate CEO's according to many have been specifically chosen to exercise "broad administrative or judicial authority", and the recent examples from two leagues have shown just how far this definition has been warped and changed over time. Now as Roger Goodell picks up the pieces from his latest PR nightmare, and Adam Silver continues a Spanish Inquisition against racism from the owners he serves, what is the definition of "commissioner" now anyway?

This line of questioning was inspired by a recent Keith Olbermann essay on commissioners, connecting not only to Roger Goodell but also the rumored NHL expansion. Olbermann noted what was said above: that commissioners aren't really commissioners anymore, but corporate CEO's charged with growing their business as much as they can. He simply wants the name to be changed to reflect the new role of a commissioner in today's sports world. This is true, as was his assertion that the original "commissioner" Kennesaw Mt. Landis of baseball was far more wide-reaching in his role back in the 1930's, but the world was wholeheartedly different then. It's wholeheartedly different than it was 10 years ago too. As with everything, the commissioner's role has evolved and it's not a purely sports role anymore. It wasn't with Pete Rozelle when he desperately tried during the 1960's to grow the NFL while competing against the AFL and baseball at the same time. So it's not all about sports anymore, and commissioners now are technically employed by the owners they serve. Except...

Adam Silver in his tenure as NBA head honcho successfully pushed out Donald Sterling thanks to TMZ leaking his disgusting racism in a private conversation (odd how TMZ is the sports moral compass right now *downs gallon of bleach*), and will soon get a second feather in that cap. Harvey Levenson, one of the Hawks controlling partners, self-revealed a racist e-mail he sent to his teams' brass in 2012. By virtue of setting precedent, Adam Silver has in fact become the commissioner Olbermann described in his essay so now the mere uncovering of one in a chain of hundreds of e-mails that had racist undertones has now forced the hand of one of the 126 most powerful men in sports.

So while it took Roger Goodell up until just recently to realize that he's the commissioner and by that he can supersede the CBA his bosses signed with the NFLPA to pass judgment, Adam Silver has exercised it once with an iron fist and has now forced the hand of someone else Big Brother style. George Orwell would be proud. So in this sense the role of the commissioner in sports is not just about growing the business, but also to in fact "exercise broad administrative and judicial authority" along with that. And it's never a case of black or white when it comes to a role as broad and powerful as this one is. But there's a third part to this role that doesn't get talked about nearly enough...

These people are PR gatekeepers. The "successes" of Adam Silver came by circumstance to him, while his predecessor sat on his hands for 25-30 years on the same knowledge that Adam Silver needed about 3 weeks to act upon. Roger Goodell recently indefinitely suspended Ray Rice based on the video that graphically showed Rice knocking out his wife against an elevator bar, and unfortunately he did it because PR dictated he had to. He had already dug his own grave thanks to the first suspension handed out to Rice, and the lack of suspensions handed out to other domestic abusers that played without any sort of negative press, and the other insane suspensions handed out for drug violations, etc. etc. Thanks to public pressure, Goodell had to cover his own behind for PR purposes. He and the Ravens deserve no credit for what they did since it was largely done by circumstance for them due to public pressure when it should have been done immediately. But that's nothing new. Adam Silver despite all the praise essentially did the same thing. Bud Selig's tough stance on steroids and performance-enhancing drugs despite the double standards did the same thing, and the NHL's clever news drops such as burying a concussion lawsuit by announcing a $5.6 billion Canadian TV rights deal is no different. These people are supposed to be masters of PR, and yet their biggest fault is often how poor they are at playing this game.

While the role of commissioner is not what it once was as a pure arbiter of sports to "exercise broad administrative and judicial authority", it is not solely about growing the business. It's about a combination of those things, and how that mixture is spun. Recently, the end product of this entire glutenous mess from all 4 sports has been more often than not terrible. But there is no doubt that it can be improved. Good will isn't a bottomless well flowing with free passes as recent events have shown. As the role of the commissioner has evolved, so should the criticism all these men get on a daily basis. We as a sports populace cannot pigeonhole the role to fit narratives, we must evolve our opinions to meet the situations, just as the commissioners themselves should.

As masters of PR they can change the focus when they want to. They might want to get on that soon.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 NFL Season Predictions

It's time for that annual piece which inevitably I regret everything I put here and end up embarrassed for the entire sports-loving populace with my sham of a prediction set... I would say that if I was really bad at this, but I like to think I'm somewhat decent at predicting the future, at least in the NFL's case. So as a new season turns, it's time to see whether I need to open the review column in January with the first or second sentence.

AFC East: 1. NE 12-4 2. NYJ 9-7 3. MIA 7-9 4. BUF 5-11

The Patriots winning the AFC East? Why it might not even be that special anymore. The Jets have more offensive weapons and a strong enough front 7 to compete for a wild card spot, the Dolphins will flounder once again and Joe Philbin's job may be on the line, while Bills fans continue to wonder what they did with that lucky Blockbuster card of theirs from 1999...

AFC North: 1. BAL 10-6 2. CIN 9-7 3. PIT 8-8 4. CLE 4-12

The Ravens retooled offense should help out a defense that underachieved somewhat last season in order to get them back into the playoffs. While the Bengals may be the most complete team in the division on paper, something about them scares me off... may have to do with Andy Dalton's contract. The Steelers are slowly working their way out of cap hell, but it'll take longer to do so, and the Browns season will be over when Lebron takes the court at the Q again.

AFC South: 1. IND 11-5 2. JAX 7-9 3. TEN 6-10 4. HOU 5-11

The Colts may have the AFC's best record because of this division and the fact that their schedule overall is a joke. How far they go in the postseason is another question. Jacksonville will improve from last season no matter how many games Blake Bortles plays, while the Titans will finally learn that Jake Locker isn't the answer and the Texans' answer may still be playing in college.

AFC West: 1. DEN 12-4 2. SD 9-7 3. KC 7-9 4. OAK 4-12

The Broncos have maybe this year and next to win a Super Bowl before their cap comes crushing their dreams to bits, and this year may test their mettle effectively because of a brutal schedule. The Chargers surprised last season and may make the playoffs again, but dramatic improvement hasn't been shown. The Chiefs are primed for a big slide, while the Raiders hope Derek Carr doesn't end up like David in more ways than one.

NFC East: 1. PHI 11-5 2. NYG 8-8 3. DAL 6-10 4. WSH 5-11

The Eagles win this division easily because they are the team with the smallest sideshow around them. The Giants' revolves around their inept offense, the Cowboys' revolves around their hilarious lack of defense, and the Washington's revolves around everything that isn't football.

NFC North: 1. GB 11-5 2. CHI 10-6 3. DET 7-9 4. MIN 5-11

The Packers should they stay healthy are a Super Bowl contender again, mainly because their defense has finally improved after years of stagnation. The Bears may end up being a twilight zone team because while their offense is scary good, their defense is equally scary because it's so crappy. The same can be said for the Lions, and while the novelty of the Vikings have outdoor home games excites, Teddy Bridgewater can't because he'll be on the bench for too long.

NFC South: 1. NO 12-4 2. ATL 9-7 3. CAR 7-9 4. TB 7-9

Since no one ever repeats as the NFC South champ, the Saints will win it this year because they didn't a year ago. And it also may have to do with something relating to them possibly being the most balanced team in the league on both sides of the ball, too. The Falcons won't nearly be as bad as they were last year because they are actually healthy now, while the Panthers won't be as good as they were a year ago because they for some reason deliberately got worse (the cap might have something to do with that). The Bucs have LED clocks for uniforms, and still they have no QB because Josh McCown won't be that amazing outside of Mark Trestman's shadow.

NFC West: 1. SF 12-4 2. SEA 11-5 3. ARZ 10-6 4. STL 7-9

Remember when the winner of this division had 7 wins? Neither do I, and apparently neither do any of the teams because they are all loaded. The 49ers will have to battle defensive attrition early, but they should have the horses to do so. The Seahawks will regress slightly because of not only a Super Bowl hangover but some of the key pieces from last year are now somewhere else. Arizona has to be the best team to not make the playoffs in recent times, and they may repeat the feat again, while the Rams have no QB but an insanely good defense, which in this division doesn't bode very well.

AFC Playoffs: 1. NE 2. DEN 3. IND 4. BAL 5. CIN 6. NYJ
NFC Playoffs: 1. SF 2. NO 3. GB 4. PHI 5. SEA 6. CHI

AFC Playoffs:

Wild Card Round: 4. BAL over 5. CIN
                             3. IND over 6. NYJ

Divisional Round:  1. NE over 4. BAL
                             3. IND over 2. DEN

AFC Title Game:  1. NE over 3. IND

NFC Playoffs:

Wild Card Round:   5. SEA over 4. PHI
                               3. GB over 6. CHI

Divisional Round:    1. SF over 5. SEA
                              2. NO over 3. GB

NFC Title Game:   2. NO over 1. SF

Super Bowl: XLIX: New England over New Orleans

Awards:

MVP: Andrew Luck
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews
OROY: Brandin Cooks
DROY: Ryan Shazier
Coach of the Year: Chuck Pagano

So let's see how these hold up...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Week 1 Fantasy Advice

It's baaaaaaaaaaaaack. My sixth (!!!!!!!) year of writing fantasy columns begins with a fascinating Week 1 of false dreams and false hopes since everyone has an equal shot of making the Super Bowl going into this week. Yes, that means my Jacksonville Jaguars have just as good a shot to win it all as the New Orleans Saints do the day I type this. This will all be very different by Sunday at 4, but let me dream for a little bit.

Who to Start:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. DAL: Even though it is incumbent on Kaepernick to improve his passing skills for the 49ers to win the Super Bowl this year, this week will make many wonder if someone had just been hit on the head when they said that. The Cowboys defense this year will end up being an insult to sieves, so anyone going up against him is a must-start. Include Kaepernick here.

RB Zac Stacy (STL) vs. MIN: Even though he has competition in the backfield with Benny Cunningham, with Shaun Hill under center the Rams figure to run the ball more. The Vikings run defense wasn't anything special last year, so Stacy may just have a solid outing on Sunday.

WR Victor Cruz (NYG) vs. DET MON: Despite the fact that Eli Manning is a scary proposition in fantasy and on the field, it doesn't change the fact that the Lions have no secondary, so Victor Cruz may have an amazing game by default. Cruz is a solid option despite the popular reservations.

WR Cordarelle Paterson (MIN) vs. STL: He's going to have a breakout season this year, as the final 4 weeks of last season proved. The Rams despite their incredibly scary front 7 had trouble defending opposing wideouts last season, so Paterson could have a monster afternoon.

TE Jordan Cameron (CLE) vs. PIT: Minus Josh Gordon, Brian Hoyer is going to need to throw the ball to someone. Jordan Cameron is the most reliable someone on the Browns roster right now. Despite the Steelers defense being improved, Cameron could still have a big game on Sunday.

DEF Philadelphia vs. JAX: Since Chad Henne is starting and not Blake Bortles, the Eagles defense will have a nice cushy opening to the season before facing Andrew Luck next Monday night.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. ARZ MON: He had an amazing resurgence in fantasy and on the field last season, but despite his relatively good value, the matchup against Arizona is not good. The Cardinals defense was quietly one of the best in football last season, and that makes this one a troubling play.

RB Bishop Sankey (TEN) vs. KC: He may end up becoming the starter by the end of the season for the Titans, but as of right now he's not. Even if the Chiefs are primed for a regression by season's end, Sankey won't be able to reap the rewards for that.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. NE: Some may forget that Darrelle Revis is actually a Patriot now, and as we all know that means bad things in fantasy land for the receivers going up against him. First on the rack this season: Mike Wallace.

WR DeSean Jackson (WSH) vs. HOU: In the Eagles offense, Jackson was an amazing prospect. For the Washington Washington's... probably not. Robert Griffin III has struggled in preseason, and Jackson is still learning a new offense. Despite going up against a poor secondary, Jackson won't be one to start this weekend.

TE Eric Ebron (DET) vs. NYG MON: Despite his great measurables, rookie Tight Ends are always scary fantasy plays because it usually takes them longer to bed in with the offense than other ones. He also has to compete with Christian Fauria as well.

DEF Houston vs. WSH: The Texans defense is overrated. The end.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Geno Smith (NYJ) vs. OAK: He now has actual offensive weapons to work with, and his performance last year was better than advertised despite the turnovers. So Smith going up against the 2007 all-pro team on defense in 2014 could be in for a good game.

RB Mark Ingram (NO) vs. ATL: He now looks to be on the top of the Saints depth chart, and despite the fact he has 2 other good backs to compete with, the matchup against Atlanta is surprisingly favorable.

DEF Chicago vs. BUF: Despite the fact that this defense is incredibly scary every other week as a fantasy option, the Bills offense is equally as scary. Maybe not any other week, but this week it might not be a bad play.

Buyer Beware:

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK (!!!!!!!!!)) vs. NYJ: He's a Raider now! I know, I'm surprised too. This matchup against the Jets might make him remember sadly some of the amazing(ly awful) Jaguars offenses he played on recently, with the Jets defense being as good as it is up front.

Good Luck in Week 1 and happy football season!

Monday, September 1, 2014

2014-15 Premier League Transfer Window Recap/Predictions

Since the transfer window hilariously ends after the season starts, I try to hold off on final predictions until the window shuts, which it now has. A record amount of cash has been spent, and big names have come and gone. Now we can finally recount and reflect, and prognosticate. The order is going from worst to first, so that you actually read the whole way through.

20. Burnley

The Premier League newboys made no bones about the fact that they don't spend funny money on players, and while that's a nice philosophy to have, the club has to compete with many clubs that do. So their window, which brought in some lower quality Premier League players like Marvin Sordell, Steven Reid, George Boyd and Matthew Taylor, is not inspiring. They've proven to be tough already at Turf Moor, but they're going to have to find a way to scalp games on the road against relegation rivals and this squad doesn't suggest that they can. It would be a great story if they stayed up, but it's highly unlikely.

19. Crystal Palace

If they were able to keep hold of Tony Pulis, then they would not be down in the bottom 3. His importance to their turnaround last season was nothing short of immense, and had he stayed there would have been a solid platform on which to build. Now Neil Warnock is in charge, and his last spell in the league didn't go so well. The team isn't really that talented, and Pulis got the best out of them. I have my doubts that Warnock can do the same despite the re-introduction of Wilfried Zaha. The squad has quality in spots with players like Joe Ledley, Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and now James McArthur, but their manager was the difference last year, and it will be again, but in the wrong direction this time.

18. QPR

What would deadline day be without Harry Redknapp and his in-car interviews? Apparently not much to Sky Sports since they didn't have one today, but old 'Arry was just as busy as ever. He signed former Spurs players of his in Sandro and Niko Kranjcar, and some quality from Serie A in Edu Vargas and Mauricio Isla earlier in the window. Yes the Rio Ferdinand signing was/is hilarious, but it's a Harry special and who doesn't love those? So why are they here? Glenn Hoddle's 3-5-2, which QPR can't play with this personnel. Their 3 centerbacks are slow and old, and the wingbacks aren't good enough natural defenders. They also lack quality up top behind Austin and Vargas, which is a shame since their midfield is very good. Unfortunately, that won't be good enough to keep them up.

17. West Bromwich Albion

Until a Pulis meltdown, Albion were prime candidates to go down. They're still not good by any means, but now there are clearly 3 teams worse than them. Their signings didn't inspire much confidence and they still don't, but adding players like Silvestre Varela, Georgios Samaras and Sebastian Blanco add a little spice to an otherwise dull, predictable squad. Alan Irvine hasn't proven to be as tactically inept as Sheffield Wednesday supporters led me on to believe... yet, at least. They'll need good performances from their somewhat older back 4 throughout the season, and the goals to come from not only record signing Brown Ideye, but also Saido Berahino and the other new signings. If they hold up at the back, they may just squeak it out and stay up.

16. Leicester City

They've already proven to be a scrappy bunch with the draws against Everton and Arsenal, and that was until they signed Esteban Cambiasso. He will provide amazing leadership and grit in the middle of the park, which the Foxes weren't necessarily lacking before, but he'll add to it. Their strength has and will continue to be wide play, and that's already shown itself to be true with players like Mahrez, Knockaert and Albrighton. If they can continue to get goals from Ulloa and a few from their other strikers, they'll have no issue staying up. In that process, the King Power Stadium will be a difficult place to go and take 3 points from. They were, and still are the best of the promoted lot.

15. Aston Villa

Despite their flying start, they'll have a good chunk of bumpy moments. Most of the signings from past windows which had some promise haven't panned out, so a small army of players are now out on loan from Villa Park. The ones they've brought in don't inspire much confidence at all, but the cohesion of the remaining squad will be important to their survival. Mainly, the fact that they haven't sold Ron Vlaar is proof enough that they'll stay up, even with a struggle. Carlos Sanchez and Aly Cissokho aren't bad players, but they're nothing compared to what other clubs around them have done. Paul Lambert will keep them up, but just, and since that's where Villa have been since he took over, where is the progress?

14. Sunderland

The Black Cats won't be in nearly as big a hole as they were a year ago, but the squad still has some obvious deficiencies. The midfield has good grit and toughness with players like Jack Rodwell in tow, and has good creativity in wide areas with players like Ricky Alvarez and Emanuele Giacherrini, but the defense still leaves something to be desired despite the fact they've improved it. Sebastian Coates and Patrick Van Aanholt are good players, but are they amazing by Premier League standards? No. Their issues are going to come up front, with striking issues still prevalent, and exacerbated with no Fabio Borini. The midfield will likely provide enough goals, and their defense will be nowhere near as bad as it was under Paolo Di Canio, but the squad could certainly be better than it is. Maybe we'll even have a Danny Graham sighting at some point this season... but for Sunderland supporters hopefully there isn't.

13. Hull City

Hey big spender... Who knew they'd be so active in securing some quality players on deadline day to add to an already solid squad. Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez, Mo Diame, and even Hatem Ben Arfa are all quality additions to a squad that did lack it at points last season and in the early points of this one. With the lack of major outgoings as well (Boyd and Long being the notables), Hull now find themselves with a very solid backbone that allowed them to take some unusual risks, and they may well pay off. Hull's 3-5-2 has actually worked once in awhile (cough Mr. Van Gaal cough), and the additions will help out since their midfield did need a little more guile in it. Without the Europa League distractions, Hull will likely find themselves well secure in their Premier League status, and further cement themselves in the top flight.

12. Stoke City

The transition from sparker (Pulis) to Sparky has gone pretty well in the Potteries thus far. Now in his second year in charge, Mark Hughes continues to blend the old and the new pretty well, and his squad shows it. There are still Pulis players in there such as Steven N'Zonzi, Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross, but I doubt under Pulis Stoke would have signed 2 players from Barcelona. Also, Mame Diouf has already proven to be a good player up front, and with the likes of Bojan, Peter Odemwinge, Victor Moses and Peter Crouch around him, Stoke do have a pretty formidable attack. Where could they slip up? The defense isn't all that deep, and there is a lack of true creativity in the middle of the park. Also, there is early season hilarious inconsistency, especially in struggling to beat 10 man Hull and Villa at home, yet going to the Etihad and winning. Expect that to continue.

11. Swansea City

What a start to the season for the Swans. 3 wins out of 3, and they looked pretty comfortable in doing so. Despite the exodus of Spanish players, Swansea's style is firmly entrenched, and seeing players like Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge have success has to be good news for England supporters (why hasn't Dyer gotten a call-up yet is beyond me). They've added considerately in spots, like buying Fede Fernandez from Napoli, and getting back Gylfi Sigurdsson who will fit in better at Swansea than he did at Spurs. And they still have Wilfried Bony, and that's crucial. Their other additions are solid, and Garry Monk is starting to come into his own as a manager. They won't continue this torrid pace, but they'll certainly not have the struggle they did a year ago.

10. West Ham United

Finally they bought different types of players! Mauro Zarate, Enner Valencia, Carl Jenkinson, ALEX SONG (!!!!!). West Ham are trying desperately to get out of the old Big Sam stereotypes, even if he insists on starting Carlton Cole alongside Mauro Zarate. Adding Morgan Amalfitano should add a little creative spark to a midfield that was all bite and no bark. The difference between them being garbage and them challenging for Europe will be the players that have been around for awhile stepping their game up, and avoiding cataclysmic disasters like the ones against Spurs and Southampton. They now have the squad to do it, but can Big Sam push the Hammers on further up?

9. Newcastle United

Last summer the question was "why didn't Mike Ashley back Alan Pardew"? He didn't, and after Newcastle's great start they naturally fell off a cliff after Yohan Cabaye was sold. This summer Pardew has been backed with some quality additions such as Remy Cabella, Siem De Jong, Emmanuel Riviere among others, and he's also seen the emergence of a young player like Rolando Aarons who has already made his impact felt. And getting the cancer that was/is Hatem Ben Arfa out of that dressing room can only help. If only Newcastle's back 4 was any good... and their manager... Since those 2 things haven't really changed yet, Newcastle's ceiling is just where it was before, and that has to be frustrating to the St. James' Park faithful.

8. Southampton

So the mass fire-sale that coincided with Mauricio Pochettino heading to London meant that the Saints were in deep trouble right? Guess not. Ronald Koeman has already shown some great things with his style, and now he has players to prove it. He didn't have to sell Morgan Schneiderlin or Jay Rodriguez (yet), and he's brought in quality players like Dusan Tadic, Toby Alderweireld, and Saido Mane (who is sneaky good by the way). The clarion calls from Saints faithful to buy players finally were heard, and Southampton may now have a better squad than they did all of last season, which is hard to imagine. There aren't as many young players involved as before, but the few that are there are still very good and will have an impact. All is looking up roses on the South Coast again after a dreary few months at sea.

7. Everton

Last year was such a fun one at Goodison Park thanks to Roberto Martinez, his tactics, and the way young players developed under his tutelage. This season has started a little different, especially since his defense has been incredibly leaky already, and the business has been less than stellar. Despite the greatness that was spending 28 million pounds to permanently buy Romelu Lukaku, their squad is still thin in other areas, and that will be tested dearly this season with a tough Europa League group ahead of them. The back 4 hasn't really been addressed, and if the issues with Distin/Jagielka continue, then problems could seriously mount. Injuries haven't helped, especially to players like Ross Barkley who added another dimension last season. The success of last season unfortunately looks fleeting.

6. Tottenham

Last season's transfer window was all about the big bucks spent in replacing Gareth Bale, and then laughing at Spurs because only one of the players had a good season. Mauricio Pochettino's job is to get the best out of them (which he has already started to do), and have the club playing a consistent style for once. The first 5 games under his watch have already shown that to be the case. The signings have addressed the need for depth at the back, and they are all very solid and can prove dividends immediately, as Eric Dier already has. Benjamin Stambouli should add the pressing capabilities that Pochettino wants in his midfield 2, and the other defenders are all players with room to improve. Their is a lack of depth at striker, and just a step down in quality of signing compared to the 5 teams above them, but this was a season Spurs needed to build on with a new manager regardless of whether the signings were awesome or not. 6th and a cup run will be enough to tide Spurs fans over, and the signs are already positive.

5. Manchester United

(Insert obligatory United can't play 3-5-2 joke here). So yes, early on the tactical system for Louis Van Gaal hasn't worked, and it will take time for the new players to bed in and understand a vastly different tactical system than those customary in England. So long as Tom Cleverly isn't starting, then United is probably going to be fine. They've spent truckloads of money bringing in quality like with Falcao, Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria, and while their attack now looks frightening once it clicks, the back 4 is still a big question mark especially if the system stays. The thought of Phil Jones in a back 3 is still frightening. It is also hilarious to see players like Anderson and Marouane Fellaini at the club when players like Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa have left, but them's the breaks. It will take Van Gaal some time to bed in the big money new boys, and while many supporters and media folk may not let him, it is imperative that they do. Unfortunately that process will hinder their chances of an immediate return to the Champions League, but the process is what's key this season above all else.

4. Arsenal

Arsenal finishing 4th? What a surprise. Their signings this summer have shown their new financial clout, especially in getting a quality player like Alexis Sanchez and another solid striker in Danny Welbeck, who will help offset the loss of Olivier Giroud. But the main issues for Arsenal still exist, and haven't been addressed. They still have no defensive midfielder of note, and it's already bitten them in their first 3 PL games this season. They have next to no depth along the back 4, with only 6 first-team defenders available, and given Arsenal's injury record that number won't be 6 for long. Those issues are what keep Arsenal from being a title contender, and keep them rooted in 4th. The attack is scary, and the defense is just as scary. Arsenal can't be content with the same old same old every year despite now ending their trophy drought... right?

3. Liverpool

At first I was skeptical about their spending spree in replacing Luis Suarez, but the early signs have been positive. Despite the fact that Steven Gerrard is a holding midfielder for Brenden Rodgers and that is a disaster waiting to happen, the other signings have been effective thus far. Mario Balotelli provides a solid complement to Daniel Sturridge, and the fullback signings have already proven to be great thus far. Dejan Lovren improves their centerback corps, and the other players are young ones that can and will improve under a great manager. The lack of a holding midfielder and top class goalkeeper are still issues, and the extra fixtures will put this newly enlarged squad under the microscope, but if there's any manager that can pull this off it would be Brenden Rodgers. While the title seems a bit out of their grasp, it should be fun to watch Liverpool play again.

2. Manchester City

The defending champions looked every bit like ones in their first 2 games. In their 3rd? Not so much. That being said they've already done great business adding to an already impressively deep squad, especially with Fernado who looks to be a coup for 12 million pounds. The midfield is still strong in spots and creative in others, and with Stevan Jovetic looking to have improved dramatically, City can now expect goals from 3 very talented forwards. Even though the squad looks thin in some spots overall, they are still incredibly deep and will make a run in every competition they are in. A goal for this season has to be improving their Champions League lot, which may be hard in a brutal group, but Manuel Pellegrini should be able to pull it off. But one team is still a touch better, and they were a year ago aside from one thing...

1. Chelsea

Jose Mourinho spent all of last season trying to convince everyone Chelsea couldn't win the title, and in the end he was right, even though he shouldn't have been. Already we've seen one of his points proven, and that's with Diego Costa being a relative coup already. Their forward line is better now too with Torres and Eto'o gone for Costa and Loic Remy, and in adding Cesc Fabregas they've made an already stacked midfield even more ridiculous. There is quality everywhere, and the 6 goal outburst against Everton shows what they are capable of. They need to win trophies this season, and the early signs are that they will be favored to do so at every turn.

So these are the predictions, and hopefully they go better than last year. And hopefully Jose Mourinho doesn't respond to this with more mindgames... don't think I could take any more than he dished out last season.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Viva los (Insert future-NHL team nickname here)!

Unless your head was in the desert sand this week, rumors started to fly that Las Vegas was in line to get a NHL team either via relocation or expansion in the next handful of years. For most sports, Vegas is a toxic waste dump (for the obvious reasons) and one that should not be tread on. But once one league takes the plunge and dips their toe into the 100 foot pool that are professional sports in Sin City, it figures that others will follow, right? I'm not Ladbrokes, but I'm not going to be the one taking a punt with those odds.

Sports in Las Vegas have a checkered history, even if they are all mainly minor league flops and the Haley's Comet of college hoops in UNLV. Why go to see the Las Vegas 51's play the Memphis Redbirds when the Wynn is down the street? Or, why go see the Las Vegas Wranglers (when they existed) when Siegfried and Roy are far more interesting entertainment (and that's not saying much)? Sure minor league and college sports are totally different animals to the big fish in the pond, but Vegas as Vegas isn't changing any time soon. As much as us looney's that are sports fans may not want to admit, sports are entertainment that compete for your dollar with everything else on offer, and in Vegas that's exacerbated even further. Then there's the potential fanbase... does one exist for a Vegas team when the population is mainly transient, and tourist based? If the casual Canadian hockey fan is going to get on South Florida and Phoenix for having garbage attendance based on the appearance of snowbirds and tourists, then Vegas would be the coup de grace for those folks, even if the building was filled every night. And there's that little gambling thing too...

Why would the NHL want be the first to test the waters of professional sports in Las Vegas? If hockey can't work in Phoenix and Miami (allegedly), why would it work in Vegas? It has a chance. For one, no one who casually bets on sports has any clue how to bet on hockey. I'm 21 and I've known how lines and the O/U have worked for at least 10 years, and that's a bad thing considering how much the NFL publicly discourages it (I never even watched Jimmy the Greek). If a gambling dummy like me can figure it out, anyone can. Basketball, and to an extent baseball are the same way. As every casual football fan knows how to take the Broncos and the points, no casual hockey can explain to me the hockey gambling parlance, if there is one to speak of. So the gambling fears for the NHL suits might be less prevalent then those for messrs Goodell, Manfred or Silver. And, as Vegas has always loved its novelties, hockey in Las Vegas has a history of being that. There was an outdoor preseason game played in Vegas in September of 1991 that might be the most hilarious game of hockey ever played, and just ask the grasshoppers who got frozen into the ice about that. As a show, a Vegas hockey team would at least fit the bill.

The in-arena experience at a Vegas "Gamblers" game would be fun, too. Would they (the high rollers in the box seats that is) be rooting for Vegas, the visitors, or on how many goals were scored to cover the over/under? And would the people in the proletariat seats be rooting for Vegas or the visitors, especially if they are there on vacation coincidentally at the same time as their team having a road game there? The rink would have a "sellout" every night, but would it be like a United Center or Bell Centre sellout? The answer is pretty clear.

So I've spent most of this article rehashing claims about why pro sports in Las Vegas can't work that have holes in them the size of craps tables. But there's one reason why the NHL might be just the league to make it happen in spite of all of the consistent obstacles.

The NHL has done very little in Gary Bettman's time as commissioner to create buzz. Hockey is a distant 4th out of 4 in the US among the major sports, and odds are soccer is going to pass it soon. The product on the ice is as good as ever, profits are soaring through the roof and the league is as stable as it has been maybe ever. This league is the most likely to take the plunge not only for the buzz, but because they are the most capable of dealing with the fallout if it fails. The NFL can never go to Las Vegas when the siren songs of London and Los Angeles are still playing, let alone having a team there, the NBA needs to get a team back in Seattle before Vegas is even sniffed, and MLB has to get kids back into the game before trying to get 51 year old Johnny Roller into it some more. If the NHL has a fail-safe ready in case it fails (which is highly possible), why shouldn't the NHL walk the uncharted road?

Only two suggestions for you Mr. Bettman if Vegas does have a team by the league's 100th anniversary: One is that Brent Musberger becomes the local TV play-by-play guy, and two, please keep Rick Tocchet as far away from this team as possible. For our own sake.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What does Alabama have against the Vancouver Canucks?

If you've taken a dive down the internet's endless rabbit hole recently, you would have noticed that sports hate maps have popped up. Thanks to the geniuses from the Reddit subfeeds for every sport, we now have maps for all of the major sports in this country, and they've uncovered some interesting things. Here are my personal favorites:

NFL: 

1. In Kentucky and Tennessee, apparently there is a lot of hatred for the Houston Texans. This is fascinating because not only did latter state steal Houston's first team and didn't even show the common courtesy to give them their silly name back, now they're hating the new team on top of that! And it's not like the teams have had any moments of true hatred... aside from Cortland Finnegan attacking Andre Johnson with his helmet. Well now that both teams are bad, they can share in their mutual loathing of the Colts who are light years better. 

2. It's nice to know that most of the South hates the New Orleans Saints, which proved to me that Falcons fans had something to hate aside from Bobby Petrino. At least the Saints fans reciprocated by hating the Falcons in equal measure. 

3. Yes apparently Giants and Jets fans can unite on one thing: The Pats suck. 

4. Philly fans clearly had a stronger influence in Pennsylvania because the Cowboys are the most hated team in that state instead of the Ravens. The rest of the AFC North thanks them, because Ohio, West Virginia and even Maryland hate the Steelers most of all. 

5. Internationally, the Pats are most hated almost everywhere as expected, but the Ravens are apparently the most disliked in Europe. I guess they have stronger stances against domestic abuse than most people in the league office. 

NBA:

1. Everyone either hates the Heat or the Lakers except for a few outliers: I can get why folks from the Volunteer State dislike the Clippers because of the playoff encounters with the Grizzlies, but with Mississippi and Louisiana joining in, apparently there are more Grizzlies fans than I thought. Or the Hornet/Pelicans are still bitter about Chris Paul. Nice touch from the folks from Washington State in hating the OKC Thunder. 

MLB:

1. Everyone hates the Yankees! What a shocker. 

2. People from Arkansas I guess really dislike the Cubs. This is bizarre, because even the people from Missouri don't dislike the Cubs as much as they dislike the Cardinals, which is even weirder. Do Royals fans really have that much say? 

3. In Canada's Northwest Territories, there is a substantial amount of Padre hatred. Must be San Diego's weather. In Newfoundland, they don't hate anyone which is a great sign. Hatred is bad, kids.

NHL:

1. If you thought everyone in the world hates the Yankees, apparently everyone in the world hates the Bruins too. Even Florida's cadre of retirees hates the Bruins too. I'd have picked the Canadiens because their fans are none too nice when they crudely invade BB&T Center, but my vote didn't swing anything.

2. The Ottawa Senators are hated in Wyoming. I hope this is a sample size issue, or maybe it's where Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson planned their Ottawa escape route. Maybe Eugene Melnyk's hidden money stash is there and he just won't bring it across the border to Canada. I should be careful though, or some Ukrainian hackers are going to take down my blog. 

3. Why does Africa hate the Winnipeg Jets? What did they ever do to you Zimbabwe? I have only one theory: All of the old unused Atlanta Thrashers jerseys and merchandise were sent to Africa and the kids who received them were mad that they got stuff from a team that no longer exists. I assumed they liked their "New York Rangers 2014 Stanley Cup Champions" gear more.

So students of the world, according to these maps all of these things are true: You probably hate the Boston Bruins, New York Yankees, Miami Heat, and a NFL team of your choosing. We can find world peace based on this colossal agreement of the many races and creeds.

Call the UN, I have an idea...