Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 NFL Season Predictions in Review

Happy New Year! In honor of the calendar turning towards another year, I'm doing something I do for every sport I watch with intense eyes... a review of my season predictions that will surely make me look stupid! I eat crow so you don't have to. I have some true head-scratchers this season, but also a few picks that will make me at least a little happy. So, let's look back and see what I did wrong (and right).

I correctly predicted 5 of the 8 division champs this season, and those would be the Patriots, Colts, Broncos, Packers and Seahawks. I whiffed pretty badly on the Ravens, Giants and Falcons, who all missed the playoffs. And yes, I also had the Ravens in the Super Bowl, so more crow for me. I predicted the same 6 teams from the AFC playoffs last year would make it this year, and that clearly didn't happen. I predicted 3 of the 6 NFC teams, missing the Giants, Falcons and Bears. 7 of 12 is at least passable, right?

In the overrated department, I pretty severely overrated the 5 teams that missed the playoffs that I thought would make it, and a few others that I now laugh at. Those include Washington (I said 9-7... 3-13) and Minnesota (I said 8-8, 5-10-1) and Bucs (7-9, 4-12). For those underrated teams, obviously teams like the Eagles, Chargers, Panthers, and Chiefs get the nod. But some other notables were the Cardinals (5-11 to 10-6) and Jets (4-12 to 8-8). I got 3 teams records exactly right, and they would be Miami, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

In terms of award picks:

MVP- Peyton Manning (Hmm... I wonder...)
OPOY- Calvin Johnson (Not quite a season worthy of this award, even by his own lofty standards)
DPOY- Luke Kuechly (He'd better win this award or everything I watched was moot this season)
OROY- Giovani Bernard (Had a good season, but Keenan Allen and Eddie Lacy had better ones)
DROY- Ziggy Ansah (Sheldon Richardson is the favorite here)
Coach- Pete Carroll (Had an amazing season with the Seahawks, but this likely goes to Chip Kelly or Andy Reid- ironic isn't it?)

So I ate a lot of crow for some of my picks, and redeemed myself in a few places too. Can't wait for my playoff picks, which are bound to be worse.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Did You See That: The 2013 Year-End Awards

For the last 2 years, I've sent off the year with awards to honor (or dishonor) the accomplishments of many and the failures of many more. And now, for the 3rd year running, I present the Year-End Awards in hope that they will continue to rise in prestige (even though awards don't mean much anymore).

The "George Steinbrenner Award for Ownership Excellence": Vincent Tan and Dan Snyder

Until the Boss finally broke the Yankees hoo-doo in 1996, the stories about his ownership made Yankees fans wonder "why us?" Tan and Snyder have made the fans of their respective clubs have the same thoughts. With his shirt tucked in and sunglasses over his eyes so no one could read his blank expression, Tan has become a symbol of the pitfalls with English football's growing acceptance of foreign ownership, and has made the Bluebirds a sickly red color. Dan Snyder has owned the Washington Redskins for a long time now, but business acumen doesn't always mean a good sports owner, and this season was another that blew up in Dan Snyder's face, as it seems to always happen. His prized QB benched, his prized team name under assault from all angles, and his prized ego thrown into the same approval rating as Congress; it's all gone wrong for Snyder again this season. 2 different continents and leagues, and the same ownership excellence.

The "Rich Kotite Award for Coaching Excellence": Jason Kidd

Fresh off a great NBA career, Mikhail Prokhorov decided to hand the keys to his Ferrari to Jason Kidd, who in this analogy has just passed his driving test. Complete with a roster of aging stars and overpriced veterans that only the Yankees and Redskins could love, Kidd has made a mockery of a franchise that used to only muster 3,000 fans to Brendan Byrne Arena in the past. And the best part: They have no first round picks until the end of the decade! I must assume this Ferrari is one of the F50's that turned out to be massive flops.

The "Narrative is a B****" Award: Tony Romo

He plays "heroic" in a game against Washington that his Cowboys needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive after a collapse for the ages against the Packers that only fanned the flames more... and then it's revealed that he needs season-ending surgery on his back forcing him to miss the Cowboys 3rd straight NFC East Title game. If Kyle Orton does somehow win this game against Philadelphia, Romo will never have to give this award back. It's a perfect size for his mantle, too.

The "M. Night Shymalan Award for 'New Ideas' that are actually tired tropes by now' in Sports": The Boston Red Sox Playoff Beards

Playoff beards were all the rage in Boston this October, as was the phrase "Boston Strong". While the latter was a rallying cry for a city recovering from a horrible tragedy, the former was just something that every hockey fan on the planet laughed at. "Oh wow look at their beards, they're so huge" cried everyone who has not watched a Stanley Cup playoff game in the last 30 yards. And Shea Weber still has you beat Mike Napoli.

The "Chivas Award for absolute incompetence in running a sports franchise": Chivas de Guadalajara and Chivas USA

Giving this award to one of the namesake franchises is bad enough, but for the longest time at least one of them was somewhat competent. The Guadalajara outfit has now become as bad if not worse than the one in LA with approximately 2 fans. Chivas USA's insistence on "returning to their Mexican roots" not only got them lawsuits and a scathing piece on HBO's "Real Sports", it got them this award. Jorge Vergara's reluctance to spend actual money while his main rivals from Mexico City became not only the dominant force in club football, but the saviors of the Mexican National Team has Vergara being criticized from all sides, including me.

The "I can't even think of a namesake for this award honoring boredom": The Detroit Red Wings in 24/7

In a segment of the fantastic HBO Show 24/7, the Detroit Red Wings were eating at a restaurant and talking about their great player in Pavel Datsyuk. Well... it sounded kind of... forced. The Red Wings have been tagged as a boring team, and this segment certainly didn't help matters.

The "Money Can't Buy You Happiness" Award: New York Knicks

James Dolan... That's all that really needs to be said.

And finally:

"The ButtFumble Award for most hilarious moment of the year": Mike Smith and the ButtGoal

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88FwDoxgsao Enjoy the madness for yourself.

So those are the awards for 2013. No one tries to win them, but they should be honored that they're honored at all. I hope no one tries to win them next year.

2013 Week 17 Fantasy Advice

If, by some miracle, you're still playing fantasy football at this point, then this advice will be important to you. If not, my Year-End Awards are coming soon, so look forward to that.

Who to Start:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. DAL: Foles has become one of the league's most consistent QB's over the grind of the season, and in this win or go home game for the NFC East, he'll probably have another huge game since the Cowboys defense might be the worst in the NFL against the pass.

RB Le'Veon Bell (PIT) vs. CLE: The Browns once had a sneaky good fantasy defense at one point in the season, but that ship has sailed. Bell has become a very good fantasy performer at running back, so he could be in for a big game on Sunday.

WR Alshon Jeffrey (CHI) vs. GB: Him and Josh Gordon are the 2 best young receivers in football, and in the NFC North title game, he'll certainly make his mark against a Packers D that will be without Clay Matthews and was pretty bad to begin with.

WR Julian Edelman (BUF) vs. NE: All the way back in Week 1, Edelman had 2 TD's against the Bills. Since the Bills secondary is not really any better than it was then, there's no reason to think Edelman can't do that again.

TE Vernon Davis (SF) vs. ARZ: Despite the goose-egg on the stat sheet last week, he should have a good game on Sunday against Arizona since the Cardinals despite their proficient defense have not defended the Tight End well at all this season.

DEF Tennessee vs. HOU: If the Broncos D can hold this offense to less than 16 points, than the Titans D certainly can.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR: He played pretty well on MNF all things considering, but going up against the Panthers defense won't bode well for him on Sunday. The good news is that this tough season for the Falcons will mercifully be over.

RB Ray Rice (BAL) vs. CIN: He's been a massive disappointment in fantasy land this season, and emblematic of that was his performance against the Bengals in Week 10, when he only had 30 yards rushing. Things don't figure to be any better on Sunday.

WR Anquan Boldin (SF) vs. ARZ: Despite his TE friend being recommended to start, I'd steer clear of Boldin on Sunday because of the Cardinals ferocious pass defense.

WR Hakeem Nicks (NYG) vs. WSH: In the final year of his contract with the Giants, he's been a massive bust for his team and fantasy owners, not scoring a TD all season. His performance has been dropping ever still, so even though the matchup is favorable, he's one to avoid.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. SEA: Another massive fantasy bust here, and his first performance against Seattle gives you a good clue as to how this one will probably go for him: 31 yards.

DEF Kansas City vs. SD: A mixture of starters and backups will be playing in order to keep the Chiefs fresh for the Wild Card, so steer clear of this defense in a game that will probably have massive meaning for the Bolts.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Knile Davis (KC) vs. SD: If Andy Reid gives Jamaal Charles a rest as expected, Davis will get the bulk of the carries meaning he'll see some solid numbers despite the Chargers stoutness against the run.

WR Cordarrelle Paterson (MIN) vs. DET: I don't think he's really a sleeper any more, because every week he does something amazing. The Lions secondary is pretty bad, so another big game for Paterson is on the cards.

TE Andrew Quarless (GB) vs. CHI: He's actually been a great fantasy Tight End of late for the Packers, and with the Bears struggles in every defensive department of late, Quarless could have another big game when it matters most.

Buyer Beware:

Any other Kansas City Chief vs. SD: See above.

Good Luck in Week 17 and have a Happy New Year! Thanks for reading the column every week and keeping me writing them every year since 2009. There will be playoff stuff coming next week!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ownership Owning Up

Sports are big business in today's world, and that should shock absolutely no one. Owners mean more than they ever have before in the sports sphere, and with the money that's on the line why shouldn't they take a more vested interest in their major property? However, recent events in two sports have some wondering what the proper role of owners/chairmen are, and whether they need to face the music after they act. Spoiler: they should.

The biggest stories in the NFL right now are centered in Dallas and Washington... for the wrong reasons. We're not talking about the resurgence of the Miami Dolphins, or the dominance of the Seattle Seahawks, but the gong shows run by Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. When it comes to model franchises in the NFL, you would think of the Steelers, Patriots, Packers, and even the Giants. Do you ever hear a peep from their owners, or do they ever become the focus of a story? No. But in the two aforementioned cities? You hear plenty about Snyder and Jones. That's not a good thing. None of those two owners are often held accountable for what their teams do, especially in Dallas where the owner is also the GM. But even in DC, Dan Snyder sometimes puts his hand into the cookie jar, and then it gets shut with his hand still in it. Snyder does not hold press conferences to answer for what he may or may not be doing, and instead it's his coach and prized QB put in the crosshairs. These two franchises are two glory ones for the NFL, and when they do better, the league does better (no matter what people in New York and Philadelphia tell you). Everyone but the league does well when these teams are circus acts as they are now. When Skip Bayless gets more play than Jerry Jones talking about the Cowboys mess, there's a big problem. So that's the NFL's ownership accountability... but what about this other sport?

The Premier League's managerial carousel spins at such a violent pace, that even people on the periphery start suffering from vertigo. In the last week, two managers have been sacked, and a 3rd is on the verge. Are these all "clubs in crisis"? Probably not. But ridiculously quick managerial turnover makes it seem as such, which is disturbing. In the Midlands, West Brom sacked Steve Clarke after a small losing streak, despite finishing 8th last season and winning at Old Trafford and nearly doing so at Stamford Bridge this season. Yes they are two points above the drop zone at present, but Clarke had done a fantastic job with what he'd been given based on limited transfer spending. And we've heard nothing from the club chairman on why this course of action had been taken, especially considering he'd been given gardening leave (meaning he can't interview for any other job). In North London, Spurs are under pressure based on their transfer spending (even though their net spend is zero), and after 3 humiliating losses the board and chairman Daniel Levy couldn't take any more. You could go through all the records that Andre Villas-Boas had broken for the club, but that wasn't enough to keep him at the club. Was it that he lost the dressing room? Was it his relationship with the chairmen had gone to hell? Who knows, but pieces written in the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph will probably not shed any light on the situation. The only way we'll find out what really went on is if Daniel Levy speaks about what he did, and there's no indication that he will. And recently stories have come out about Cardiff manager Malky Mackay being forced to resign or be sacked by owner Vincent Tan for... no adequately explained reason. So what's the point of tying all of these disparate examples together?

Money certainly plays a role in all of these messes, especially in the soccer examples, but ownership failing to take accountability for their actions in the function of their clubs is part of a disturbing trend. Distant ownership is not always a bad thing, see the example of Jerry Reinsdorf and the dynasty Chicago Bulls of the 1990's for proof positive of that. But when that team broke up, Reinsdorf didn't stand up to the media for why he didn't do something to keep them together, since it seemed that the break up happened too easily and too quickly. These five examples of owners gone AWOL from facing the music should raise alarms as to why this is continuing to happen, especially in soccer. These chairmen never have to respond to the criticism they get from all sides for lack of transfer spending to sacking managers for almost no adequately explained reason, and Jones and Snyder don't ever face the media to explain why their teams are sideshows. The best owners and chairmen in sports are ones that are not visible and don't make themselves bigger than the team, and here the men at the top have done just the opposite.

The call from this keyboard is to simply answer to why the actions that were taken were taken, and not just to stand silent and let the bus roll over everyone else. Fans continue to get frustrated with the way their loyalty and cash have been taken advantage of by ownership that don't treat their teams with respect, instead treating them like play toys. Taking a step in answering the call early and explaining their actions is a good first step in reversing the tide of negative press they all get. 

Fans deserve better than what they get most of the time. Because the money that these owners need to continue to run their teams will soon dry up without the support from the people who shouldn't have stick through their clubs being circus acts.

When owners don't own up, fans are left to wonder why. And type out columns like this to explain why. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Week 16 Fantasy Advice

Hard to believe we're already here, but fantasy championships are upon us. It's now or never, make or break, and every other possible cliche in the book to describe championships. Money and pride are on the line for many, so these picks are the most important of all.

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. OAK: The Raiders defense has been downright abysmal recently, and Philip Rivers should have no trouble picking apart this ghastly secondary time and time again in a very important game for the Chargers.

RB DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. WSH: Even with the "he might not get carries when the Cowboys are up 26" proviso, he is going against the Redskins on Sunday, and Bill Callahan's play-calling has to change after that debacle on Sunday, right?

WR Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. GB: The Packers defense has been pretty bad for most of the season, and Antonio Brown has been a consistently large fantasy player for many weeks now. Don't deviate from that strategy if you have him.

WR Pierre Garcon (WSH) vs. DAL: Speaking of another terrible secondary (seemingly a theme right now), the Cowboys secondary has been unbelievably bad, as has the rest of the Cowboys defense. Garcon saw a good helping of targets in Atlanta, so he should see another good game for Washington.

TE Dennis Pitta (BAL) vs. NE: The Patriots have had some trouble defending Tight Ends recently, so Pitta could be a major target for Joe Flacco on Sunday in another massive game for the Ravens.

DEF Denver vs. Houston: Even though this unit isn't very amazing on paper or on form, the Texans are starting Matt Schaub, which must mean that a pick-6 can't be too far off. And Ben Tate was just put on IR, so that will help.

Who to Sit:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) vs. SEA: His numbers have been taking a hit each of the last few weeks, and they'll probably take another hit once the Cardinals take the field in the snake pit that is CenturyLink Field.

RB Andre Brown (NYG) vs. DET: He might be hard to bench at this point, but consider this: Despite the negative narratives surrounding the Lions defense, they have defended the run well at home of late.

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. SF MON: As the house is brought down on Candlestick Park, the 49ers will obviously be energized to have a big performance. Their pass defense at home is almost suffocating, so Roddy White will likely struggle, even though he's getting healthy.

WR Greg Jennings (MIN) vs. CIN: Even though he had a huge game last Sunday against the Eagles, that was against the Eagles at home. Against the Bengals on the road, he doesn't project to fare nearly as well, since the Bengals might be the best home team in the AFC on both sides of the ball.

TE Coby Fleener (IND) vs. KC: The Chiefs are usually a reliable team when it comes to defending Tight Ends, and they usually are even better at it at home. Fleener's production has seen a steady decline, so it might be wise to bench him on Sunday.

DEF New Orleans vs. CAR: Get the SNF performance by the Saints defense out of your head and think about this: The Saints are a pretty dreadful road team, and the Panthers offense is capable of breaking out in Charlotte. The Saints defense is a risky play.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Kirk Cousins (WSH) vs. DAL: With a historically bad Cowboys secondary as his opposite number, Cousins could have another huge game, especially if he is able to cut down on the turnovers like the rest of the team.

WR Kendall Wright (TEN) vs. JAX: The Jaguars secondary had been playing better of late, but the defense as a whole is banged up right now, so Wright could be a very decent 3rd option in regular leagues, and probably even better in PPR ones.

TE Zach Miller (SEA) vs. ARZ: The Cardinals statistically are the worst team at defending the TE in the NFL, and Miller already had one big game against them in Week 7. He could be in for another big game on Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. BAL: Obviously hard to bench, but keep in mind he has not played well in his career against the Ravens and looked pretty mortal again last Sunday in Miami without a lot of his important weapons. Bench him only if you have a superior option available.

Good Luck in Week 16 and have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013 Week 15 Fantasy Advice

If you're still alive in your fantasy playoffs (I'm not), congrats on surviving one more week. If your league is weird and starts playoffs this week, good luck. The matchups on paper aren't on quite the same plane as last week, and probably won't live up to the craziness, but the fantasy implications are important for everyone, so check below to see what you can do to help yourself win and survive.

Who to Start:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. MIN: It's pretty obvious by this point, isn't it? He's one of the league's hottest QB's, playing against one of the league's most banged up and bad pass defenses. He could have another monster game on Sunday.

RB DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. GB: It's certainly not his fault that the Cowboys are losing games again in December; he's been doing his part. The Packers rush defense has been downright abysmal recently, so Murray could have another massive day.

WR Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. DET MON: Even though his QB has struggled mightily on the road this season, it's kind of hard to avoid this matchup for Smith, who is going up against the Swiss cheese secondary that is the Lions secondary.

WR Alshon Jeffrey (CHI) vs. CLE: A man on a mission, Jeffrey has been one of the breakout stars of the season. Even going up against Joe Haden, one of the best cover corners in football, it will be hard to bench Jeffrey in what will be an amazing individual matchup.

TE Tony Gonzalez (ATL) vs. WSH: I hope he comes back for one more season after this one, because he shouldn't go out on a team that will win at most 4 games. His fantasy matchup against the flaming dumpster fire that is the Washington Redskins is awesome, so he's a must-start.

DEF Carolina vs. NYJ: Ignore what you saw last week, the real Panthers defense will show up on Sunday against the Jets, who have won only once away from home and Geno Smith has been incredibly bad away from the Meadowlands as well.

Who to Sit:

QB Eli Manning (NYG) vs. SEA: Not only do the interceptions scare me in this very important matchup, but the Seahawks usually perform well off a loss, and they are probably going to take out their frustrations on the Giants and Eli on Sunday.

RB Bobby Rainey (TB) vs. SF: He's had 2 good home fantasy performances in a row, but those have been against the Falcons and Bills. His game against the 49ers is likely a lot less favorable, and in fantasy crunch-time, it's not a risk worth taking.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. NE: It's not that this matchup is particularly bad, it's really just the inconsistency Wallace has displayed. He was great for 2 weeks before laying another egg against Pittsburgh. In the fantasy playoffs, consistency is your number one friend, and Wallace has not been that all season.

WR Michael Floyd (ARZ) vs. TEN: He was pretty good for a stretch, but an ankle injury seems to have slowed him up some of late. The Titans matchup isn't as bad as it might look on paper, but injury risks aren't ones worth taking at this point in the season.

TE Heath Miller (PIT) vs. CIN: The consistency aspect once again plays huge here. Miller hasn't been consistent this season, and he's not usually played well against the Bengals in his career, including the first meeting back in September.

DEF St. Louis vs. NO: The fact that they've been a Top 10 fantasy defense all season shows you how bad defenses are now in the NFL. The Saints matchup is, as you would expect, putrid, so starting this unit is not a good idea.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Ryan Tannehill (MIA) vs. NE: He's been decent fantasy-wise the last month, and against decent defenses too. The Patriots matchup is more favorable than any of his others since Week 9, so he could be a decent option if you need one.

RB Andre Ellington (ARZ) vs. TEN: He was running very well before injuries derailed him somewhat. The Titans are not the best team in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run, so Ellington could have a good day on the ground in Nashville.

TE Cordarrelle Patterson (MIN) vs. PHI: The Eagles defense is particularly bad despite how they've played of late, and Patterson has been used in unique ways by the Vikings offense too. He could have another breakout game Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

QB Carson Palmer (ARZ) vs. TEN: I was saying above that his matchup against the Titans doesn't look as bad on paper as you might think; namely I don't think the Titans secondary is that impressive unless their pass rush connects as it did against the Colts 2 weeks ago. Still, Palmer hasn't been nearly as good away from home as he has in Glendale, so this matchup is tricky.

Good Luck in Week 15!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thoughts on the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw

Finally the long qualification process has ended, and the 7+ month speculation period begins. The teams all now know where they are going and who they are playing, and it has provided us with some tasty matchups, and some ones that are going to be fascinating in equal measure. For those in the know about world soccer, and those who don't know Bosnia from Greece, this is a group preview.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

The hosts obviously have a ton of pressure on them to not only win but win convincingly for a nation that expects so much from its team. They might not be the most talented team in this tournament, but with the backing of the home fans, it clearly spurred them on in the Confederations Cup. When they get out (it's a formality with most host nations), a game against the runner up of Group B awaits, and that's no cakewalk. But they might be the favorite, and deservedly so. Mexico after a horrendous qualifying campaign were handed a favorable group with a Croatia team in turmoil after qualifying issues themselves, and a Cameroon team who haven't been the best of late. Mexico will have trouble if they get out, but the group draw is about as good as they could have hoped for.

Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia

One of the 3 groups of death, soccer fans are served up a treat by watching a rematch of the last World Cup Final in the first game of the group between Spain and Holland. I pray that it's a better game than that final (it won't take much). Holland cruised through qualifying, but I do wonder if they are quite as good as they were in 2010, especially that backline which has some question marks. Chile are a very good side with players like Alexis Sanchez who has come good at Barcelona, and Arturo Vidal who has been amazing this year for Juventus. It's not a formality that both of the European sides advance. Australia are in turmoil, and have been handed a nearly impossible draw to get out of.

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Colombia are making their first World Cup appearance since 1998, and they have a bevy of talented players like Falcao, Rodriguez and others that will make noise. Greece are a stout defensive team that had some issues through qualifying, but are a quality side that will surprise some people. Japan are Asia's best team, but did not put their best foot forward during the Confederations Cup and have issues at keeper that may well keep them out of the knockout stages. Ivory Coast have long been reckoned as one of Africa's best teams, but they've never made it out of the group stages. This is their best chance to do so, and as I type this, I would pick them to get out.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

This for me is the true Group of Death. Uruguay on South American soil are nothing to sneeze at, and despite their qualifying issues they have such a potent strike-force that it probably won't matter. Their back 4 and goalkeeper are problem areas that good teams may be able to exploit, but Suarez, Cavani and Forlan should be able to overcome that. England did not get done any favors here, but they may like their chances against a known quantity in Italy, and a Costa Rica side which will be underrated by everyone. It also makes this group that much more interesting that Uruguay and Italy played to a stand-still last year in the Confederations Cup, and Costa Rica have some quality that will surprise people.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

No one understood why Switzerland were seeded ahead of Holland and Italy for this tournament, and there is a good chance afterwords that those questions will only be spoken louder. France are the class of the group, and if they can get their act together, a deep run in the tournament is not out of the realm of possibility. Ecuador are an interesting side, but probably the weakest of the South American sides, and Honduras could easily be overmatched on this stage as they were in 2010, although they are familiar with Switzerland already.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria

Argentina were handed a nice and favorable draw not only in their group, but to get to the quarters as well. They don't have to trouble, and will play 3 teams that are going to be overmatched against them. The true question is who will finish second. Bosnia have some talented players like Ibisevic and Dzeko, but do they have the depth to compete in this type of tournament? Iran are a bit of an unknown quantity, so it is hard to judge them on their possible matchups, but if past World Cups are any indicator, then they will be in trouble. The Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations and have shown decently against bigger sides, but will they slip again with a golden opportunity to get out of the group?

Group G: Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States

Yeah... it's pretty bad for the Yanks. Not only do they have perennial boogeyman Ghana in the opening game, they get to play both Cristiano Ronaldo and Germany, and have the worst travel schedule of any team in the tournament. BUT... This draw doesn't favor as bad as one might think if they listen to narrative. Ghana are a very good side, the best African team by a fair margin, but if the US can get something out of that one, the game against Portugal is going to be the decider for the United States. I don't personally think Portugal are that amazing behind Ronaldo, and the US might be able to exploit Portuguese weaknesses like both Northern Ireland and Israel did in qualifying. Germany will likely not have that many problems getting out of the group, but do they have the leader to get them forward in the tougher games later?

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Belgium, as everyone's new darling and holder of the Golden Generation mantra, get a nice and favorable draw against a middling team from both Africa and Asia, and a European team that aren't the toughest to break down in the world. They'll be tested as soon as they exit the group stage, but for the meantime they will probably not have any issues getting out. Russia are a decent side, but they don't inspire a ton of confidence, and neither do Algeria and South Korea. Figure both European sides will advance.

Early Group Stage Predictions (In order):

Group A: Brazil, Mexico, Cameroon, Croatia
Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece, Japan
Group D: Uruguay, Italy, England, Costa Rica
Group E: France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran
Group G: Germany, Ghana, USA, Portugal
Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

2013 Week 14 Fantasy Advice

Fantasy playoffs are either beginning now or starting next week. So it's crunch time in fantasy land, which means you need solid picks everywhere. So, more then ever, this column is, as all the others are, gospel.

Who to Start:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. DET: He's been incredibly impressive all season, even if you throw away the no interceptions stat. That streak will end at some point, but Foles' overall streak of great games probably won't against the usually porous Lions defense. This game has the makings of a shootout, and Foles stands to benefit.

RB DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. CHI MON: Things are really starting to break his way, as evidenced by his romp on Thanksgiving. The Bears defense is really struggling right now, especially against the run, so Murray could have another monster outing.

WR Vincent Jackson (TB) vs. BUF: Despite being a disappointment in most respects recently, how could you bench him against Buffalo, who have been awful defending the pass all season?

WR Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. MIN: Inconsistent but effective is the phrase I'd used to describe Smith's recent performances. The Vikings are pretty banged up on the back end, while also being naturally bad at defending the pass, so Smith could have a big game.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. ARZ: He's been such a frustrating fantasy player this season with both amazing highs and crushing lows. He'll probably get closer to the highs this week, on the back of his Week 1 performance against Arizona and the Cardinals general problem in defending TE's.

DEF New England vs. CLE: I have absolutely no idea who will be starting for Cleveland at QB, which is an instant must-start for any fantasy owner of the Pats D.

Who to Sit:

QB Andrew Luck (IND) vs. CIN: Since the bye week, he's been generally pretty bad in terms of stats. Two things are working against him on Sunday: One is that the Bengals defense is almost unbeatable at home, especially against the pass, and the weather forecast doesn't bode well for anyone trying to throw the ball.

RB Ryan Mathews (SD) vs. NYG: His fantasy points have been dropping of late, and it doesn't help that he's going up against a Giants rush defense that has been much better against the run than you might expect.

WR Marques Colston (NO) vs. CAR: His season long slump has meant that he's been one of the biggest fantasy disappointments all season. Now, he gets to go up against the #1 defense in football. Not a great recipe for success.

WR Michael Crabtree (SF) vs. SEA: He looked good last week for someone coming off a devastating injury as he did, but he's still a risky start against a Seattle defense that has been nearly unstoppable all season, especially last week against the potent Saints.

TE Charles Clay (MIA) vs. PIT: He's not been all that bad recently, but he hasn't been good enough to really warrant starting during the fantasy playoffs, especially against the Steelers who are very good at defending the Tight End.

DEF Detroit vs. PHI: That Turkey day game was a misnomer, and everyone knows it.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Whoever starts for Chicago vs. DAL MON: The Cowboys secondary has been easily beaten most of the season, which bodes well for whoever is starting under center on Monday night for the Bears.

RB Bobby Rainey (TB) vs. BUF: He's been quiet since his breakout game against Atlanta, but he's a decent flex option if needed, since Buffalo's defense has been pretty terrible in every facet recently.

WR Harry Douglas (ATL) vs. GB: A PPR standout of late, he might be good in standard leagues this week because of the matchup against Green Bay. The Packers D is a shambles at this stage, and Matt Ryan and Douglas could stand to benefit.

Buyer Beware:

QB's Cam Newton and Drew Brees against each other: They're both having great years, and are both coming off less-than-stellar games last week. Even though the Saints offense is almost unstoppable in the Dome, the Panthers D is very good and has made the 49ers and Patriots look bad this season. Cam Newton is going to be under a different kind of pressure on Sunday Night, so he could also struggle some.

Good Luck in Week 14 and in your fantasy playoffs!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hockey Fan Cannibalism

I support hockey everywhere. I love the sport too much to criticize people for not wanting to see it in some places. Yes, that means I wanted it to work in Atlanta when they were on death's door. I don't seem to understand why there is a sense among a select group, unfortunately mainly Canadian, that always feels the need to laugh and point out when sunbelt teams have bad attendance. Usually it doesn't bother me, since as a Panthers fan I should be well numb to it by now. But tonight, as the Cats played another listless game and some Canadian fans began the now traditional circle up on the carcass of empty seats, I just began to wonder why. Shouldn't we all want hockey to succeed everywhere?

It will inevitably come up in discussion that the NHL shouldn't be in places where the barn is barely half-full like has happened in Phoenix, Florida and Dallas this season when cities like Quebec City have been waiting their turn for nearly 20 years now. And I agree... at least on the latter half of that sentence. Quebec City will soon have another team, and the league will be better (and richer) because of it. Markham may have one too. But it will always be in the best interest for the NHL for markets like Phoenix and Florida to succeed, since at some point you can't expand in Canada any further. The US is still vastly untapped in terms of hockey, and those sunbelt markets still standing are the places where the NHL is probably the most keen to see success.

But, as I am now inevitably reading, these teams are losing money hand-over-fist and are floor teams dragging the league's bottom line down. Yes, the Panthers are a budget team, and have been for quite some time. They are because they've not only had cheap ownership, but horrible teams and therefore no reason to spend above their means to maintain that. And despite everything one may read, SSE, the Panthers parent company, still makes money every year, and without them they certainly wouldn't. Vinnie Viola has said he is willing to spend to make the Panthers a winner, and unfortunately for Cats fans he came in too late this season for that vision to be implemented. The fact that he was willing to eat half of Kris Versteeg's salary in trading him to Chicago is hopefully a sign of things to come.  But defending the Panthers futility does me nothing except quell my own anger.

I've read about the oft publicized attendance concerns in Ottawa this season, and numerous pieces about ownership's lack of cash. What I've read is concerns about few marquee opponents visiting Kanata such as Montreal and Toronto, and fewer ticket handouts than in past seasons like two-for-one deals. It does hit home since the Panthers (and presumably the Coyotes, Islanders, Stars and Jackets) are all in similar boats. However, I don't see fans of those teams criticizing the empty seats in Canadian Tire Centre like some Sens fans might do in reverse. And there have been empty seats in Calgary and Edmonton at points this year too. Why? These teams (sans the Stars and Coyotes) are all poor. And no matter the market, no one wants to consistently sit and watch a loser. But this is not a condemnation of those markets.

Combine that with the inevitable stories appearing on some hockey blogs about this, and you get a perfect storm of frustration for people like me, a fan of one of these teams. I don't think it does any hockey fan any good to criticize attendance in any city because hockey fans have to stick together on this subject. Maybe it's the Canadian sense of entitlement when it comes to hockey that rubs me the wrong way, or the lack of mentioning the garbage attendance in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston before their recent renaissances, but hockey as a whole is 4th on the continent of North America when it comes to sports. All hockey fans have a duty to build it together, and tearing down cities struggling in the sunbelt does no one any favors despite the glittering allure of Quebec City or Markham.

Canada will always love hockey over everything else, but at some point the game can't grow in Canada anymore. It is those oft laughed at markets in the United States that hold the key to hockey's future, and mocking their current struggles alienates those fans who are doing their best to promote the game where it's not ingrained in the local fabric. There are dedicated groups of fans in Phoenix, Florida and any market of that ilk right now that are fuming at their teams failures, just like in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Why can't we support and prop up their voices, instead of the ones who are going to be heard regardless?

I don't really want to ever have to write about this subject ever again, because it really does make me sad as a hockey fan over everything else that other hockey fans are cannibalizing each other over silly things like attendance. We're all trying to grow this game everywhere and keep it growing, and that means that us as a collective need to not only sympathize but help out those fans whose voices are often garbled.

We're all in this together, and that means you in Canada too. Growing the game doesn't mean killing the places where hockey has all the room in the world to grow, but hasn't ever been given the proper chance and vision.

So the next time you see an empty bowl in Phoenix or Florida: Stop and think. Then ask why before trolling for hits.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2013 Week 13 Fantasy Advice

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As everyone gets ready to stuff their faces with Turkey, or set up tents outside your local Wal-Mart, I'm excited to say I'm thankful for my fantasy team rebounding to have a 6-6 record at this stage after a terrible start. And I'm also thankful for no more bye weeks the rest of the way. All 32 teams are playing every week, which means a full slate of football for everyone. Cheers to that. And in honor of Thanksgiving, enjoy this stuffed column with more recommendations than usual.

Who to Start:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. GB THU: Aside from last week, Stafford has been pretty efficient at home. The Packers defense has been pretty abysmal for most of the season, so Stafford should be able to rebound on the big stage.

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. CIN: On paper, this matchup looks bad for Rivers and the Bolts. But when you look closer, the Bengals have not been nearly as good away from home as they have at home, and injuries have played a role in that. Rivers could have a big game Sunday.

RB Andre Brown (NYG) vs. WSH: It seems the Giants have finally found their consistent running back that they've long needed. His pace should continue against the dreadful Washington rush defense, which gets gashed week after week.

RB Chris Ivory (NYJ) vs. MIA: While the Dolphins defense has been overall solid for most of the season, they have been pretty poor against the run. Ivory will need to have a big game for the Jets to get a win, and he likely will.

WR Josh Gordon (CLE) vs. JAX: Brandon Weeden does scare me, as does the Jags improving pass defense. But even in garbage time, that Gordon performance last week is too hard to look away from.

WR Michael Floyd (ARZ) vs. PHI: He's been on fire recently, torching both the Jaguars and Colts. The Eagles secondary is not very good either, so Floyd could be in line for another big day.

WR Harry Douglas (ATL) vs. BUF: He's not been a like-for-like replacement for Julio Jones, but he's been good enough for fantasy owners. The Bills secondary is pretty bad, and he doesn't have to deal with the Buffalo elements since the game is in Toronto.

TE Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. TB: He's been a consistent target for Cam Newton, as well as a consistent performer for fantasy owners. The Bucs have been a lot better in their 3 game winning streak, but this is the best team they're playing in that stretch.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. MIN: Inconsistent but important, Bennett has been the type of TE that has frustrated everyone playing against him or starting him. He could be due for an off game because of his recent form, but he torched the Vikings in Week 2.

DEF New England vs. HOU: It's amazing how bad the Texans offense is. The Pats aren't the world's best fantasy defense, but they could have a field day against the Texans.

DEF Dallas vs. OAK THU: Matt McGloin is who he is, which means he's not good. Dallas should romp.

Who to Sit:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. BAL THU: Hard to bench him on current form, but he's never played all that well against the Ravens, and Baltimore is a totally different team at home compared to away from it.

QB Mike Glennon (TB) vs. CAR: He's been a fantasy sleeper based on how well he's played for the Bucs, but he's been the beneficiary of some good matchups. Carolina's isn't one that is. He probably will come back down to earth.

RB Pierre Thomas (NO) vs. SEA MON: He's been playing great recently for New Orleans, but that snake-pit in Seattle is going to be hard to continue that success in. They're great against the run, especially in Seattle.

RB Anyone for New England vs. HOU: Based on the case of the fumbles guys like Stevan Ridley had against the Broncos, this doesn't bode well for anyone that screws up against the Texans since they could quickly go in the doghouse.

WR T.Y Hilton (IND) vs. TEN: As the Colts have gone cold, so has Hilton. The Titans defense has been better against the pass of late, including in Week 11, so Hilton is probably one to avoid.

WR Cecil Shorts (JAX) vs. CLE: As he complained about targets in Week 11, he got more of them against Houston, and performed well. But he's going up against Joe Haden this week, and very few receivers get the better of him.

WR Tavon Austin (STL) vs. SF: It's really nice to see him finally emerge as the big play threat the Rams drafted him as. But, his success has been against inferior defenses, and finally the 49ers unit seems to have found their feet again.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. SF: The invisible one for most of the year, he's actually rebounded nicely of late. But if you want to see why he's in this part of the column, see above.

TE Antonio Gates (SD) vs. CIN: He's losing targets to Ladarius Green of late, meaning his fantasy value is going down with it. The matchup against the Bengals isn't totally favorable either.

DEF Kansas City vs. DEN: Injuries + facing Peyton Manning a second time = disaster.

DEF New Orleans vs. SEA MON: They've been awesome for most of the season, but their major struggles have come away from home, and Seattle has made some defenses look silly at CenturyLink before (see 49ers, San Francisco).

4 Super Sleepers:

QB Josh McCown (CHI) vs. MIN: He's been an admirable replacement for Jay Cutler when he's been hurt, and this matchup against the pretty terrible Vikings secondary is favorable for him to have another decently big game.

RB Donald Brown (IND) vs. TEN: As Trent Richardson continues on the train to Bustville, Donald Brown picks up the ashes and plays pretty well. He did so against the Titans in their first meeting, so there is no reason to think that he won't do that again.

WR Kendall Wright (TEN) vs. IND: He's been a PPR star this season, and in other leagues he's starting to figure even more prominently. The Colts secondary has been torched badly since their bye week, so Wright could have another big game.

DEF Miami vs. NYJ: The Jets are usually better at home than they are on the road, but the turnovers from Geno Smith in the last 2 games have been appalling. Because of that, the Dolphins D could be in for a big game.

Buyer Beware:

QB Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. NO MON: Hard to bench him at this point considering how well he's been playing, but the Saints defense is the best one Wilson will have faced on paper since the Cardinals in Week 7. He could be in for some struggles, which might lead some to bench him.

WR Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. PIT THU: No one usually does well on offense when the Steelers and Ravens play each other, and Smith while on good form has never done well against Pittsburgh in his career. Again hard to bench, but one that might need to be considered.

Good Luck in Week 13 and remember that Tryptophan doesn't actually make you sleepy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A 61 Year-Old Going Away Party

There are very few experiences in sports like watching your college team switch conferences. In the past, it was a totally alien feeling that might have only be discussed around the water cooler if there was nothing else to talk about. Now? Another fanbase is talking about this sensation every other day. And on this day, it was Maryland fans going through this. In a fairly empty Byrd Stadium, the Terps tried to honor their ACC past while looking to their B1G future, and it felt incredibly awkward. I imagine this is how a lot of other fanbases have felt recently, but putting pen to paper on these thoughts might codify them for those who will never experience the feeling.

Many fans were given a poster shaped in the number 61, referring to the number of years Maryland played ACC football, complete with ACC moments across the front. Everything from the game when Byrd Stadium hosted the Queen of England in 1957, to the Labor Day game 2 years ago when the world was introduced to "Maryland Pride" was included. Maryland is not a school that has much football history, so I imagine this will feel far weirder when the basketball team has this moment in March. But even then, the people in the stadium didn't really know how to react to some of these moments. When some members of the 1953 National Championship team were introduced, everyone cheered, but it felt like an obligation, not one out of an impulse of nostalgia. Some notable Terps games from seasons past were shown in moments on the scoreboards during commercial breaks, and it felt nice to see them, but nostalgia can only get you so far.

But maybe the weirdest moment was during halftime when the Maryland Band performed. Fittingly, they lined up in the shape of the ACC logo at one point during the performance, and then went to the shape of the B1G's new logo. The stadium had thinned out from an already sparse crowd that started the game, but those that saw it didn't really know how to react. Laugh? Cry? Both? Most if not all Maryland fans have memories solely in the ACC, so going to a new conference is certainly going to bring culture shock. Going from complaining about Carolina refs to Michigan refs is going to be weird the first few times one of the drunk stragglers in the student section at Comcast Center says it.

But what this day really cemented for me, someone with no attachment to Maryland athletics aside from this season and last, is that no one really has come to grips yet with Maryland switching conferences. Sure, the football schedules up until 2019 have been released, and Terps fans are already wondering what trips to Madison will be like compared to trips to Raleigh or Winston-Salem. Implicitly, every Maryland fan has already accepted what the future holds. But today told me that no one, including the athletics staff themselves, have really begun to come to grips with what is coming next fall. Maybe it won't be until Maryland fans get to October and see Ohio State coming on the schedule instead of Clemson that people will accept the B1G as the new home of Terrapins everywhere. But today, it didn't feel like anyone was ready to accept the future yet.

Drunk on nostalgia, everyone watched as Maryland coughed up another win at home, making it 3 straight losses at home. No matter what happens against NC State, or in the bowl game, Maryland will always be an ACC team, until the realization that they aren't hits home.

And for the 32K people in the stands, and probably to the people making the game happen, it hasn't yet. Nor will it any time soon.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2013 Week 12 Fantasy Advice

We're about a week away from Thanksgiving now, which means the NFL season is getting more and more interesting. Whether interesting to you is watching dumpster fires, or watching the Broncos on Sunday Night Football every week, the interesting factor is certainly increasing by the week. This is also the last week for bye weeks, huzzah!


Who to Start:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. TB: The Bucs have won 2 in a row, which seems weird considering their talent level. Despite possessing the best cover corner in football, the Bucs secondary has been awful. This bodes well for Matt Stafford, who needs a big week for the Lions on the rebound after a bad loss in Pittsburgh.

RB Zac Stacy (STL) vs. CHI: The carousel of Rams running backs continues to spin, and Stacy has come on top, especially with the Rams QB situation boosting his stock. The Bears surprisingly have been pretty poor against the run this season, so Stacy is a good start.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. IND: He's not been that consistent this season, but he had a solid game against the Jaguars Sunday, so a rebound could be in the offing. The Colts secondary has been oft torched this season, so he could have another solid outing.

WR Victor Cruz (NYG) vs. DAL: With a win, the Giants would be 1 game out of 1st place in the NFC East. Amazing, right? They haven't been particularly amazing in any game, but they've done enough to win. The Cowboys secondary has been pretty bad all year, so Cruz could have a big game in the biggest game of the year in the NFC East so far.

TE Vernon Davis (SF) vs. WSH MON: He's been great recently for the 49ers despite their overall slump, but going against Washington should help him see a rebound. The Redskins have been bad at most things on defense, but they've been especially bad at defending the Tight End. Davis could have a nice game.

DEF Baltimore vs. NYJ: The Jets have been one week on, and then one week off all season. They were off last week, so they should be on this week, right? Well... they've been garbage away from home aside from the game against Atlanta, and the Ravens are now desperate for a win.

Who to Sit:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. KC: Of late he's been solid but unspectacular, and that doesn't bode well going into the snake pit that is Arrowhead Stadium. He's also not had the best of success in his career against the Chiefs either, throwing a pick in 5 consecutive games against them.

RB Trent Richardson (IND) vs. CLE: I think Cleveland won this trade. Richardson has been just terrible for fantasy owners of late, and it doesn't help that he's going up against a very underrated Cardinals rush defense on Sunday.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. CAR: I hope everyone saw how good the Panthers were on Monday Night, because that's what they're like every week. Wallace has been pretty awful with the Dolphins, and the Panthers are pretty likely to put the clamps on him.

WR Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. CLE: He's been red-hot of late, and that is usually must start criteria. But, he's going up against Joe Haden, who totally shut down A.J Green last Sunday. Watch out if you're starting Antonio Brown.

TE Timmy Wright (TB) vs. DET: I'm asking myself who this is as I type this as well. After some big games back a few weeks ago, his production has taken a bit of a nosedive of late. The Lions haven't been good at many things on defense, but they've held Tight Ends in check.

DEF New England vs. DEN: Do I need to explain this one?

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Case Keenum (HOU) vs. JAX: Despite getting benched last week, he's been good in every game he's played so far, but not good enough to win. The Jaguars pass defense has been getting better, so this is a riskier pick than you might think, but a good bye week option regardless.

RB Rashad Jennings (OAK) vs. TEN: Remember when he was supposed to be a pretty decent option in Jacksonville? That never happened, but he's been great the last 3 weeks. The Titans have had their struggles defending the run this season, so another big game for Jennings could be coming.

WR Kendall Wright (TEN) vs. OAK: QB issues have kept him completely under the fantasy radar this season, but going up against the Raiders patchwork secondary might put him back on it, at least briefly.

Buyer Beware:

QB Robert Griffin III (WSH) vs. SF MON: Unnecessary comment analysis aside, Griffin has just not been the same QB this season. Whether it has been defenses figuring out how to defend the read-option exclusive offense (yes), or he's still a bit tentative because of his injury in the playoffs in January. The 49ers have been losing lately, but their defense hasn't been why. He's a risky start on MNF.

Good Luck in Week 12!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013 Week 11 Fantasy Advice

After all of the craziness of Week 10, fantasy playoffs loom closer now. With all of the major injuries affecting most teams now, you'll have to find some new faces to play impact roles this weekend. Luckily, I'm here to provide those for you.

Byes: STL, DAL

Who to Start:

QB Russell Wilson (SEA) vs. MIN: He has been not playing quite up to his torrid pace from earlier in the season, but he'll probably find it again against the absolutely awful Minnesota secondary. The challenge to stop Wilson on the road is even harder.

RB Ray Rice (BAL) vs. CHI: Even though he's been a massive bust for most of the season, the Bears have had trouble defending the run of late, so it's honestly hard to bench Rice even when his fantasy numbers have been poor this season.

WR Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. DET: He's a PPR dynamo, but for non-PPR leagues he's a great option this week too. He's been Big Ben's favorite target recently, and the Lions secondary isn't exactly a juggernaut now, is it?

WR Riley Cooper (PHI) vs. WSH: The Redskins secondary is pretty terrible, and Riley Cooper has seen a massive increase in targets since Nick Foles has taken over at QB, so it's logical to expect Cooper to have another big game on Sunday.

TE Antonio Gates (SD) vs. MIA: Even though the Chargers are on a little mini-skid right now, Gates has been playing pretty well. The Dolphins are a flaming trainwreck as has been well publicized, but even then Gates has been good enough to challenge teams better than the Dolphins, so he could be a good option for Sunday.

DEF Arizona vs. JAX: Despite Jacksonville's first win, the Jaguars offense was pretty poor. Arizona's defense is far better than Tennessee's, so they could have a field day in Jacksonville.

Who to Sit:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. CAR MON: While he rebounded very well against the Steelers, he now gets to go up against the red-hot Carolina Panthers and their impressive secondary. With an imposing atmosphere ahead of him, it will be a tough game for Brady to put up good numbers in.

RB CJ Spiller (BUF) vs. NYJ: He's been on and off all season in terms of fantasy numbers, but going up against the Jets stiff run defense means he'll probably be off this week.

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. TB: He's still gimpy from those injuries he has suffered, and he's going up against Darrelle Revis on Sunday. That is not a good combination.

WR Anquan Boldin (SF) vs. NO: The Saints pass defense has been mistakenly identified as porous by many, and because of that Boldin might be starting in some leagues on Sunday. He probably shouldn't be though, since the Saints secondary is pretty good.

TE John Carlson (MIN) vs. SEA: After Kyle Rudolph went off injured, Carlson had to pick up the slack for Minnesota. He's going to have some trouble against the Seahawks for the obvious reasons too.

DEF Pittsburgh vs. DET: They're no longer an elite defense and when they go up against pretty decent offenses they struggle mightily. Detroit is pretty decent.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Case Keenum (HOU) vs. OAK: He's been really good despite the fact that his team hasn't been, and with the Raiders having a pretty terrible secondary, Keenum could have another big game.

RB Andre Ellington (ARZ) vs. JAX: He's not really a backup, and he's a far more dynamic player out of the backfield than Rashard Mendenhall. The Jaguars can't really defend anything well despite their performance last week, so Ellington could have a monster game.

DEF New York Giants vs. GB: Scott Tolzein, everybody.

Buyer Beware:

DEF Kansas City vs. DEN: Yes, they've been the best defense in football all season. Yet, this is Denver, and Kansas City hasn't faced a team with a remotely powerful offense all season. Peyton Manning might be gimpy, but he'll still put this unit up to a stern test.

Good Luck in Week 11!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Maybe the Harris Poll Meant more than I Thought it Did

As I was watching my Florida Panthers put out another listless effort, and two bizarre MLS playoff ties, I was trying to keep an eye on what might have been college football's biggest Thursday ever. 2 Top 10 showdowns, both with possible national title implications. Once again, what looked like surefire BCS chaos in its final hurrah should all of Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State finish unbeaten is now quelled thanks to Stanford beating the Ducks... again. But the fact that this game meant so much, when there is still a month left to go in the season with plenty of twists and turns still to come, is what makes the BCS great, despite its thousands of flaws. And for that, I'll sort of miss it.

Maybe it's a little like Stockholm Syndrome in an obtuse way, since the BCS has kidnapped us ever since 1998 by looking at ridiculous formulas and permutations in order to figure out what 2 teams will play for the Crystal Trophy, and now that we're freed from the trap some of us might be in fact missing our captors. There is such pressure on everyone to win and only win when only two tickets are on the line. And that drama has captivated many to turn their eyes to college football. It's not every year that there is major controversy like there was in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and others, but that draws us in to the intense pressure of those moments. You never know how a team will respond when a trip to the national championship game is on the line, as Oregon once again proved.

And the best part? The drama is nowhere near over. Alabama has games against LSU and Auburn left, and there's no telling what could happen if they fall. Ohio State and Baylor are waiting in the wings in case one of them slips up. And what if all of them lose, like what happened in 2007? Everything goes out the window. While the college football playoff will certainly provide drama of its own, and certainly better football, sometimes the weight of the computer formulas are stronger than the thoughts of Tyrone Willingham and Condi Rice.

At some point in the future, we'll look back on the BCS and probably laugh at this hilariously perverse method of getting 2 teams into the national championship game. But in that same gulp of air, we'll all probably fondly remember the drama of days past when standings changed daily and when 1 loss could KO a team's chances on the spot. In the new playoff, 1 loss might prove to be fatal, but not likely as much as it would have in the BCS system, and there's going to be a little of that lunacy that I miss.

Roy Kramer is probably off somewhere in retirement cackling as he looks at the madness he's created and the roller-coaster he's put college football on ever since 1998. And for that Mr. Kramer, as your baby slowly goes the way of the dodo bird, I have to say thanks.

For all of the amazing faults and lapses in judgment, and for all of the controversies, it did provide college football with an intense amount of drama and pressure, the likes of which it may never see again.

Maybe the Harris Poll meant more than I thought it did.

(h/t to Chris Low of ESPN.com for writing a similar piece where some of the information in this column came from. Read it here: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/9944422/why-miss-chaos-bcs-season)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 Week 10 Fantasy Advice

The 2013 NFL season has been the most incredibly bizarre season that I've ever seen in my time following the NFL, and it seems with every week it gets weirder and weirder. Even taking out the messes in Miami and Tampa, more major injuries have been suffered every week, and it gets even crazier. Luckily though, this column stays the same every single week.

Byes: CLE, KC, NYJ, NE

Who to Start:

QB Philip Rivers (SD) vs. DEN: This has the makings of an intense shootout with plenty of points to be scored. Rivers didn't have his best effort in Washington, but the Denver secondary can be had (just see the Jacksonville game), so Rivers is a very nice start this weekend.

RB Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. JAX: Chris Johnson has returned to form... kind of! Well at least he finally made his owners happy last Sunday with his performance against the Rams. The Jaguars rush defense has been pretty bad this season everywhere, so Johnson could have another big game.

WR Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. BUF: Even though the Steelers are a disaster in most respects, Brown has been an amazing PPR league receiver. The Bills secondary has been torched often this season, so Brown could have a nice day.

WR Alshon Jeffrey (CHI) vs. DET: No matter who the QB will be, Jeffrey has put up big numbers of late. It's incredibly impressive, and very good news for the Bears. The Lions secondary has never been a strong suit, so Jeffrey could have another huge game.

TE Jason Witten (DAL) vs. NO: Solid if unspectacular for most of the season, Witten has been dependable but never amazing. That could change on Sunday night at the Superdome with the makings of a shootout in the works.

DEF New York Giants vs. OAK: Even though they've been pretty bad for most of the season, the Raiders offense has really hit the skids recently. Traveling out East and playing early doesn't bode all that well for the Raiders offense, which means the Giants D could be a good start.

Who to Sit:

QB Andy Dalton (CIN) vs. BAL: Debates as to whether he's the answer for the Bengals going forward are not important now. What is is that he's not looked good away from home, and the Ravens D has been far more solid in their barn then away from it. Dalton could be in some trouble.

RB Ben Tate (HOU) vs. ARZ: With a bad matchup and broken ribs, Tate is one to avoid on Sunday even if Arian Foster can't go against the Cardinals.

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. SF: He's been falling off in terms of fantasy performances of late, and the matchup on Sunday in San Francisco is not a favorable one. Smith could have a decent day, but probably not an amazing one.

WR Steve Johnson (BUF) vs. PIT: Even though the defense for the Steelers has been really bad away from home, it's been solid at home. With E.J Manuel returning, it does make Johnson a bit more palatable, but not enough to keep him anywhere but the bench.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. IND: One good game does not a fantasy season make, especially when it happened in Week 1. The Colts have defended the Tight End very well this season, so that doesn't mean many good things for Cook.

DEF Chicago vs. DET: This defense is a shadow of its former self. It doesn't help that the Lions are coming into town with a very high powered offense.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jake Locker (TEN) vs. JAX: I'm not sold on him even as a fantasy QB going forward, but this week he's got a great matchup against Jacksonville's young and inexperienced secondary.

RB Mike James (TB) vs. MIA MON: After his big game in Seattle, it's conceivable that he could have another good game against the Dolphins, who have struggled to defend the run at points this season.

WR Golden Tate (SEA) vs. ATL: Still no Percy Harvin, so that means Tate is the big target for Russell Wilson against the Falcons. So he should have a big game since the Falcons secondary has been quite poor for most of the year.

Buyer Beware:

WR Anquan Boldin (SF) vs. CAR: With Michael Crabtree on the mend and coming back soon, Boldin will see his targets gradually drop. In the meantime, he might struggle against the criminally underrated Panthers secondary.

Good Luck in Week 10!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013 Week 9 Fantasy Advice

As the calendar turns to November, the football gets more and more intense, yet the week-by-week slate continues to get worse. Somehow Week 9's slate is worse than Week 8's. But you have to take what you can get, so time to analyze Week 9, which hopefully will be made better by the clocks turning back one hour.


Who to Start:

QB Tony Romo (DAL) vs. MIN: Somehow these losses will end up being his fault, even though he's played some of his best football ever. The Vikings defense didn't get a stop last week against the Packers, and Romo has been throwing the ball across the yard despite the losing 3 out of 5. The Vikings can't stop anyone, so Romo should have a big day.

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. CHI MON: Have the Packers finally found that consistent running game? Seems like it. The Bears rush defense has been struggling mightily of late, so Lacy could be a major benefactor of this.

WR Keenan Allen (SD) vs. WSH: Allen was on a serious tear before the Chargers bye week, and the Redskins secondary shouldn't provide much resistance if current form is any indicator. Since this one could end up being a shootout, Allen is a good start.

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. ATL: The Falcons secondary has been exposed as having little depth this season due to departures and injuries, and it has shown recently. In the biggest game for the Panthers maybe in 5 years, Steve Smith will need to perform, and he probably will.

TE Jordan Reed (WSH) vs. SD: He's not really a sleeper anymore based on the amount of targets he's now getting. The Chargers defense isn't amazing, so Reed could be a nice spot starter for a week if you need him.

DEF Kansas City vs. BUF: Due to the fact that we have absolutely no clue who is going to start for the Bills at QB, the Chiefs defense should be a must start this week. But their form has dipped, especially last week. That won't matter.

Who to Sit:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. PIT: It hurts me to do this, but Brady is now a possible fantasy bench warmer since his numbers have hit the tank this season. The Steelers pass defense has been very good this year despite the record, and that combo doesn't bode well for Brady, who may or may not be injured.

RB Trent Richardson (IND) vs. HOU: I guess the spoiler of "he's not really all that good" was a bit too much for some to handle. He certainly hasn't lived up to the billing of his trade, and the Texans rush defense has been solid all season. This is not a great matchup.

WR Marques Colston (NO) vs. NYJ: He's been nearly invisible on the stat sheet for the last couple of weeks, and going into this game against the Jets who are for some reason better in odd numbered weeks than even ones, this could continue. The Jets defense is also pretty good, for the record.

WR Steve Johnson (BUF) vs. KC: The Chiefs are good at defending the pass, but the real reason why he's here is the QB situation is too much of an unknown to put him in your starting lineup despite the bye weeks.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. TEN: He did very well in Week 1, and quite poorly in every other week. Kellen Clemmens hasn't look good at all since he had to take over for Sam Bradford, so the risk in starting him is just too great.

DEF Chicago vs. GB: The injuries have ravaged this unit, and despite the injuries on the other side of the ledger, the Bears defense is a bit of a worry this week at Lambeau, on the grounds of 45 points last time out in Washington.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Terrelle Pryor (OAK) vs. PHI: That run last week against the Steelers was scintillating, and the Eagles defense is quite an entertaining matchup for him now. He could well lead the Raiders to a big win, and .500 this weekend.

WR Denarius Moore (OAK) vs. PHI: On the same wavelength, Moore might be in for a huge game against an Eagles defense that has been shredded against the pass recently, despite them playing a little better away from home.

DEF Indianapolis vs. HOU: Case Keenum isn't the worlds best QB, so the Colts D could end up having a nice day at the office.

Buyer Beware:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. CAR: It's not that the recent struggles for the Falcons are solely on Ryan, but he's certainly not helped them get out of this ditch. The Panthers defense has been incredibly good the last 3 weeks when they've dominated the Vikings, Rams, and Bucs, and with the Falcons offense struggling too, Ryan could be in for a bad day.

Good Luck in Week 9!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Week 8 Fantasy Advice

Injuries are starting to play a much larger role in the season, and with QB's and impact players going down hard and fast, it's becoming a challenge to keep up. Thankfully, I'm here to help (yes it sounds pompous but since my fantasy team is 2-5 I have to stroke my ego somewhere).


Who to Start:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. DAL: Sure the Cowboys defense was impressive last week in Philadelphia, but Matt Stafford is no Nick Foles. They've surrendered 14 TD passes so far this season, and that bodes quite well for Stafford.

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. MIN: It looks like the Packers have finally found a consistent running back in Lacy, and with all of the injuries to their wideouts and tight ends, it couldn't come at a better time. The Vikings are not good at stopping the run, so Lacy figures to have a big game Sunday night.

WR Marques Colston (NO) vs. BUF: The Bills secondary has been pretty much a sieve all season, and that doesn't make going up against Drew Brees and the Saints any easier to stomach. He has struggled this season, but he should be able to break that duck against Buffalo.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. ATL: He's been in the fantasy mothballs for quite some time due to his QB situation, but he might see some light against the Falcons, whose secondary has been often hit hard this season. Odd to say, he's a good bye week option.

TE Heath Miller (PIT) vs. OAK: As the Steelers work their way back up the standings, Miller is seeing more targets from Ben Roethlisberger. Even though the matchup isn't amazing, Miller could have another good day for owners in PPR leagues.

DEF Cincinnati vs. NYJ: Geno Smith has had an up and down rookie season, and most of the downs this season have happened away from MetLife Stadium. The Bengals have been nigh on unbeatable at home this season, so their D could have a big day.

Who to Sit:

QB Alex Smith (KC) vs. CLE: Despite the fact that Kansas City likely won't have much trouble with the Browns, the Cleveland defense has been solid this season. Smith of course hasn't set the fantasy world on fire, so a bad matchup on paper doesn't figure well for him.

RB Zac Stacy (STL) vs. SEA MON: In the ever turning Rams RB carousel, Stacy seems to be the one in front this week. He figures to see more carries because Kellen Clemens is starting, but the Seahawks defense is just as stout against the run as they are against the pass.

WR Kenbrell Thompkins (NE) vs. MIA: While the Dolphins have been sliding in the standings, it's not been because of their defense. Thompkins hasn't had great fantasy days in either of his last 2 games, and with Amendola and Gronkowski getting healthy, he might figure even less on Sunday against a good Dolphins secondary.

WR Stevie Johnson (BUF) vs. NO: Aside from the obvious QB argument, Johnson's matchup on Sunday is not a favorable one. The Saints defense, especially their secondary, has been much improved this season, and they'll likely feast on Thad Lewis.

TE Brent Celek (PHI) vs. NYG: Oscillating between start and sit every week is the fantasy existence of Brent Celek, it seems. Mike Vick being back might help his case a little, but his success against the Giants recently has been limited. Despite the favorable matchup on paper, it doesn't look good for Celek on Sunday.

DEF Dallas vs. DET: Despite everything you could say about the Cowboys defense, they've been pretty solid from a fantasy perspective this season. But against the Lions and their high-flying offense, that probably won't continue.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Knowshon Moreno (DEN) vs. WSH: Despite the Broncos not really settling on a consistent #1 running back choice, Moreno has emerged this season. Not only is the matchup favorable against Washington, he seems to be getting the bulk of the goal-line carries. Why is he a sleeper then? The Denver offense is unpredictable in how they'll score every week.

WR Harry Douglas (ATL) vs. ARZ: Without Julio Jones and Roddy White, he stepped up big against the Bucs last week. With White still gimpy, and Steven Jackson's status in question, Douglas again will be the focal point of the Falcons offense.

QB Chad Henne (JAX) vs. SF: I know what you all just said when you first read that name. "HUH?" Yes the Jaguars will likely get blown out. But that means garbage time yards are coming, and there's no one better in the league at grabbing garbage time yards than Chad Henne. Maybe he'll even throw a TD this week...

Buyer Beware:

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. TB THU: Now while the Bucs defense looks good on paper, in practice it's been awful. Steve Smith is on a roll right now. So why is he here? He's never had all that much success against Tampa, and at some point the Bucs have to let Darrelle Revis play man coverage, right?

Good luck in Week 8!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 Week 7 Fantasy Advice

Byes: NO, OAK

Who to Start:

QB Andrew Luck (IND) vs. DEN: While Denver does get Von Miller back for this game and that will help a poor pass defense somewhat, the Broncos are still one of the worst teams in the NFL defending the pass. Andrew Luck should impress this week, despite proving everyone (including me) wrong on Monday night.

RB Eddie Lacy (GB) vs. CLE: Even though the Packers aren't regarded as having a great rushing offense, they might need to with all of the injuries to their receiving corps. The Browns are starting to struggle against the run, so this is a good time to start Lacy.

WR Keenan Allen (SD) vs. JAX: He broke onto the scene for the Chargers on Monday night with his huge game against the Colts, and success should follow against the Jags, whose pass defense has been picked apart by almost everyone this season.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. BUF: While his start to the season has been a massive disappointment, the Bills secondary has been struggling this season, especially away from home, so this is a good time to put him back in your starting lineups.

TE Martellus Bennett (CHI) vs. WSH: The Redskins defense, as has been publicized often, has been pretty bad this season, and they have struggled to defend opposing tight ends too. So Bennett, who is one of the more underrated tight ends at this point, should have a good day.

DEF Baltimore vs. PIT: In this game that might well set football back a few years, the Ravens and Steelers struggling offenses will go up against each other. The Steelers offense has been pretty awful this year, and going up against the Ravens won't make life much better.

Who to Sit:

QB Sam Bradford (STL) vs. CAR: He's had 2 consecutive good starts in a row against Jacksonville and Houston, but that streak is likely to end against a Carolina defense that is sneaky good and has been putting opposing QB's under pressure all year.

RB Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. SF: At this rate, it might well just be in your best interest to leave Johnson on the bench for every game going forward. He's been pretty poor this year, and the 49ers rush defense is still one of the best in football. It's in your best interest to bench him at this point.

WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) vs. SEA THU: Remember when we thought that Carson Palmer would help get Fitz back to his old form? Well, that hasn't quite happened. Not only is he dealing with a bum hamstring, he's going up against the Seahawks and Richard Sherman. 

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. HOU: Yes Houston is really bad, but their defense hasn't been the biggest problem. Kansas City is also 26th in the league throwing the ball, so Bowe going up against a strong Texans secondary isn't favorable for him.

TE Joseph Fauria (DET) vs. CIN: He's scored some big TD's in the past few weeks, but with Calvin Johnson getting healthy again, he will see his targets diminish. His success will probably go down as a result.

DEF Indianapolis vs. DEN: They've been better than expected, but it's Denver. Come on guys.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Nick Foles (PHI) vs. DAL: His play has made the decision between him and Mike Vick tough on Chip Kelly. It also helps that the Dallas defense can be had pretty easily in the secondary, and he won't have to face DeMarcus Ware either. 

RB Brandon Jacobs (NYG) vs. MIN MON: Sure, he's dinged up, and Peyton Hillis is now in the fold. But the Vikings are awful against the run, and he sure looked good last Thursday night. 

TE Coby Fleener (IND) vs. DEN: In the place of Dwayne Allen he's been pretty solid all year, if not somewhat inconsistent. The Broncos struggle against everyone defending the pass, so Fleener could have a big game.

Buyer Beware:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. TB: He'll be without Julio Jones, and be with a less than 100 percent healthy Roddy White against a Tampa defense that still has good personnel despite as a unit being pretty bad. He's a risky play on Sunday.

Good Luck in Week 7!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Week 6 Fantasy Advice

As the days get shorter and colder, the NFL picture starts to become clearer. Everyone finally has an idea of who is good, who is bad, and what to expect going forward. Surprises still happen of course, but at least now we have somewhat of a clue as to how the games might progress going forward.

Byes: ATL, MIA

Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. MIN: No Rodney Harrison, the Panthers shouldn't bench him, and neither should fantasy owners this week. Despite his struggles last week, the Vikings secondary is pretty atrocious, and Newton could exploit that.

RB Alfred Morris (WSH) vs. DAL: He ripped the Cowboys twice in 2012, and with the Cowboys rush defense being pretty unsavory this season, he could certainly do that again Sunday Night. His rib injury doesn't appear to be holding him back, either.

WR Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. GB: He's emerging as one of the better receivers in the league, despite having almost no help around him. The Packers secondary has been torched often, especially on the road, so Smith could have another big time outing.

WR Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. SD MON: He and T.Y Hilton both could be in for monster days against a San Diego secondary that has been beat up pretty badly often this season, even last week against Terrelle Pryor.

TE Julius Thomas (DEN) vs. JAX: Everyone's favorite new waiver wire gem has himself an amazing matchup this week against Jacksonville... not even just for the obvious reasons. The Jaguars cannot defend Tight Ends at all, so he should feast on Sunday.

DEF San Francisco vs. ARZ: Yeah all those concenrs about the 49ers defense have been pretty unfounded, haven't they? They've rebounded quite nicely since the start of the season, and the Cardinals mainly hapless offense is going to pose few problems.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. CLE: Even though I don't think the Browns will win this game, I do think their defense will keep them in it, especially their secondary. Matt Stafford is turnover prone, so the Browns defense could prey on that.

RB Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. SEA: He's in a fantasy wasteland by this point, and aside from that flukey TD last Sunday, he was pedestrian at best. The Seahawks are usually stout against the run, especially at home, so this matchup doesn't bode well for Johnson.

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. OAK: Huh? Aren't the Raiders pretty awful and the Chiefs pretty awesome? Yes, but Bowe has never had much success against the Raiders in his career, and if there's one player they'll try to take out of the game early, it's Bowe.

WR Tavon Austin (STL) vs. HOU: He's been a large disappointment both for Rams fans and in fantasy land, and going up against the Texans stout secondary next won't make for any easier outings.

TE Jermaine Gresham (CIN) vs. BUF: His 2012 success has seemingly gone away quick due to teams being able to take him out of games and Tyler Eifert getting more targets. The Bills are tough against Tight Ends so Gresham could be in for a long day.

DEF New England vs. NO: At some point the injuries have to take their toll, don't they? They probably will against a very good, resurgent New Orleans offense.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. NYG THU: Jay Cutler is turnover prone, but the Giants defense has been a literal sieve this season, and on a short week the home team usually has an advantage. He could have a monster game.

RB Bilal Powell (NYJ) vs. PIT: I'm averse to recommending any of the Jets running backs because each could lose carries to each other quick. But Powell is the steadiest of the 3, and the Steelers rush defense has been pretty bad this season.

DEF Cincinnati vs. BUF: Thad Lewis. Enough said.

Buyer Beware:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. ARZ: Yep, he's here again. And there's good reason. The Cardinals defense has been impressive this season, and Kaepernick's numbers have tumbled consistently. Todd Bowles' unit has been better than advertised, so if you have a better option, it might not hurt to slide Kaep down a notch for a week.

Good Luck in Week 6!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Capital Clubs with Capital Controversies

The debate about the use of the name "Washington Redskins" rages with NFL fans, politicians, and activist groups all wanting to have their voices heard. It's an issue that touches deep with many in this country and has become a flashpoint for the issue of Native American nicknames for professional, college, and even high school sports teams. But this type of debate is not exclusive to just the US, or the NFL. Over in England, fans of the club Tottenham Hotspur are now under fire for the use of the word "yid" to describe their fanbase, due to the words' negative and anti-Semitic origins. It has become the flashpoint debate of a larger one surrounding racism, homophobia, and antisemitism in football grounds. While these debates and controversies might seem disparate and irrelevant to each other, they've never been compared and analyzed together in a sports context to possibly find a solution that's mutually beneficial. While I don't personally feel qualified to talk about the issues on a religious and race level, on a sports level there is a discourse to be had about why these debates have been intensifying, despite existing on their own without public incident for long periods of time. Can comparisons be drawn, and can there be a solution in the gray area of both seemingly distant controversies?

First, some context is needed as to how the individual stories have progressed. The Redskins were originally named the Braves when they were based in Boston, and their first owner George Preston Marshall simply wanted to have some of Boston's baseball success carry over to his football team. They started playing at Braves Field with the same name as their baseball brethren, who weren't named after any Native Americans at all. They were named after street operatives of the early 20th century New York City political machine Tammany Hall, as the owners were NYC businessman whose money was made off of the machine. When the football team moved crosstown to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, Marshall combined the name of the Red Sox and Braves to form "Redskins", because he couldn't keep the Braves name at a rival park. So there was no racial intent in this name; just an easy way to change names to make money. If there was any racial intent, at the time it was (unfortunately) socially acceptable, so it went unnoticed. The name carried with the franchise when they later moved to Washington, and has stuck since.

The name "yid" has origins in the roots of Jewish culture, and comes essentially from the same root word that "Jew" comes from. In later context, the word in Yiddish meant as something akin to "chap" or "mate", with no explicit religious emphasis. One could say that the religious context was implied because the only people speaking Yiddish were Jews, but that's besides the point. Post World War II, the word was used by Jewish authors to illustrate either Antisemitism, or jokes Jews made among themselves. In a Tottenham context, in the early days of the club, a number of Jewish immigrants could easily get tickets to go from East to North London, where the club is located, and in order to better assimilate, they went to matches and became supporters as Jews in other parts of London did with clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea. The word was originally used as an insult from supporters of other clubs based on the religion of some fans, but gradually the word became accepted and used as a badge of pride by Spurs supporters, without the religious context. 

So to sum up those 2 paragraphs of exposition: The names, despite possible racist and antisemitic origins, have become badges of pride for the respective fanbases. They remain steadfast in their support of using the names in light of the controversies the respective sports as a whole are beginning to come to grips with, and in a sports context, they believe the words are not insulting. Are you beginning to see how the situations hit similar plot beats?

Sure there are differences, such as the fact that the Redskins name is an official nickname of the Washington team and "yid" is more a colloquial term, as well as the issue with Native American nicknames has been more logo based than name based, but they are similar enough that comparing them yields interesting conclusions. 

As a Tottenham supporter myself, I don't personally use the word "yid", because I've never found it appealing to say, when there are other chants that Spurs supporters use that I like more. However, I can fully understand why other Spurs fans use it, and use it as a term of endearment for themselves and players alike due to its roots in club history. I can also understand why many, including some Jewish Spurs supporters, would want the word to not be used even in a positive context, because of the antisemitic connotations.

Likewise, as someone who currently goes to school outside of Washington D.C., I can understand why some fans of the Washington Redskins would be angered by others trying to force a team name change, when they mean no racism. And I can also fully understand why activist groups, politicians, and Native Americans would want the name removed because of the racist connotations and history of other name changes. 

But ask yourself this:

So when Redskins fans collectively sing "Hail to the Redskins" after the team scores a touchdown, are they all racists for saying the name? In a similar vein, are all Tottenham supporters who chant "yid" or "yiddo" to players after they score all anti-Semites? Certainly not, because to many of these people, the names have absolutely no context in racism or antisemitism, since they've never been taught that the name has another meaning, for better or for worse. In a non-sports context, calling a Native American a "Redskin" and a Jew a "yid" would be grounds for prosecution for a hate crime, but in a sports context the words have completely different meanings, and no one is usually prosecuted for it (until recently in England). Since the English language has no official governing body, words can have their meanings changed and warped without warning, so what might have been considered offensive in the past can gain an entirely new meaning, and in a new era of political correctness and sensitivity to hate speech, the old contexts can be brought back up. 

When the issues of Native American nicknames in American sports are put up to the microscope, the Redskins name is not the only one left. The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves (see above), the Florida State Seminoles (despite Seminole nation blessing), the Illinois Fighting Illini, and many many others are still around, but the battle is being waged on a larger scale dealing solely with the Redskins name, as is the current flashpoint. Are all these other names going to go away if the Redskins name does? Likewise, the antisemitism in football grounds doesn't stop with Tottenham fans saying "yid" as a positive term. It comes from groups of other supporters making hissing noises and making jokes about the Holocaust when their team plays Spurs, and there are documented instances of that. Can that be eradicated if Spurs fans stop chanting "yid"? 

The activists calling for the elimination of these 2 words have good intentions for sure, but are fighting a battle that goes much deeper only on a surface level. Racist sports team nicknames don't stop with the Redskins, but since that is the most public name of the ones left with the NFL's popularity, that is the battle being fought. With Tottenham, and football in general, antisemitism doesn't stop at the elimination of the word "yid", since some fans of other clubs will still chant antisemitic things towards Tottenham supporters because of the club's history and origins. Fighting an issue that has a lot of gray areas in a black-and-white context, along with fighting an issue with deep roots on a superficial level will not change anything or address what the real issues are here (just ask the North Dakota Fighting Sioux). Finally, looking at each name individually puts the situation in a vacuum, which doesn't help in finding a solution to the real problem at all; it's more like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. 

Are we eventually going to see the elimination of the words "Redskin" and "yid" from a sports context? Yes, since public pressure is eventually going to become too suffocating. Will the eliminating of those 2 words change anything in terms of the major underlying issues with the 2 words' existence at all? Probably not. Not every Redskin fan is a racist against Native Americans, as not all Tottenham fans who call themselves "yids" are antisemites. But trying to sweep everything all out at once on both sides of the pond really doesn't address why we are having these debates at all, and the words' eradication only scratches the surface on a much larger underlying problem that no one has yet been willing to even attempt to tackle effectively.

I'm not racist, nor antisemitic. I just want to tackle the deeper issues, not just flashpoints based on narratives. Good natured Redskins and Spurs supporters would want nothing less than that. But as long as other Native American names and logos still exist, and some fans of other clubs chant jokes about the Holocaust towards Spurs fans, then eliminating the two words has changed nothing, except inciting anger. Good natured intent only goes so far, especially when casting the affected parties as the instigators when they might not be. 

We all want to eliminate racism and antisemitism from sports, but eliminating 2 specific words can't do that, no matter the fight. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2013 Week 5 Fantasy Advice

In 2010 we saw Tuesday Night Football. In 2012 we saw Wednesday Night Football. There was a Friday game in 2009 too. And so in 2013, we now have Monday Morning football with the Chargers-Raiders game getting moved to the third shift Sunday night. If any of you stay up for that game and you're not a fan of either team, you are a stronger person than I am.


Who to Start:

QB Eli Manning (NYG) vs. PHI: Sure he turns the ball over a ton, but this week he's playing the Eagles, who are a sieve defensively. Even Alex Smith had a good day against them. If there's any game for Eli Manning to bounce back with, it has to be this one.

RB DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. DEN: I guess one of the advantages in having a record pace setting offense is that your defensive struggles do get hidden, and the Broncos have certainly had some. Now while Denver might be #1 against the run, it's because they're blowing teams out so fast. Expect a heavy dose of Murray for the Cowboys if they want to win.

WR DeSean Jackson (PHI) vs. NYG: This game is pretty much going to be an old west shootout, so Jackson figures to be in the picture to reap some rewards from that. Despite his recent struggles against the Giants (Miracle in the Meadowlands part deux aside), he should be in for a big game Sunday.

WR Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. DET: Speaking of a shootout, this Packers vs. Lions game will likely be one too. He has great career numbers against the Lions, and they can be exploited in the secondary. Plus, there's the whole "Detroit hasn't won in Green Bay since 1991" thing too.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. JAX: After his Week 1 outburst, he's been relatively quiet since. That should change against the Jags, who of their many problems have some serious issues defending Tight Ends. Cook should get back on track on Sunday.

DEF Carolina vs. ARZ: Carolina's front 7 is criminally underrated, and as the Cards trade away offensive lineman, the matchup gets even tastier. The turnover prone QB plus sketchy offensive line is always a good formula for a fantasy defense.

Who to Sit:

QB Joe Flacco (BAL) vs. MIA: Despite his offensive line getting help with Eugene Monroe coming in, Flacco's 5 INT's against a patchwork Bills secondary have to be a red flag. The Dolphins secondary was exposed by Drew Brees, but then again everyone's is. They should rebound, which hurts Flacco.

RB Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. KC: He's really struggled this season, and going up against the very, very solid Chiefs defense probably won't help matters. He might see more carries because of Ryan Fitzpatrick starting, but the yards aren't going to come easy.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. BAL: Time to sound the bust alarm? Not yet, but he's been nearly invisible for the first 4 games. After the Ravens got torched in Week 1, they've been much better since then. This is a risky play.

WR Steve Johnson (BUF) vs. CLE THU: He had negative fantasy points in some leagues last week, and going up against Joe Haden won't change his fortunes all that much. Cleveland has been pretty stout defensively at home, and with the primetime buzz it won't help Stevie Johnson's case any.

TE Zach Miller (SEA) vs. IND: 2 TD's on 2 catches isn't a recipe for success 2 weeks later, and that's what happened to Zach Miller. The Colts D is pretty stout against Tight Ends, so starting him is another risky play.

DEF Dallas vs. DEN: Who are they playing?

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Terrelle Pryor (OAK) vs. SD: If he's healthy, he could be an interesting bye week play (if you actually need it). The Chargers secondary is banged up and has been torched already this season, so it's quite conceivable that it happens again.

TE Coby Fleener (IND) vs. SEA: A sleeper against the Seahawks? Yep, and it's because Fleener has really stepped up in Dwayne Allen's absence. The Seahawks have had some trouble defending Tight Ends away from Seattle, so he could be an interesting play.

DEF St. Louis vs. JAX: Blaine Gabbert. Need I say more?

Buyer Beware:

QB Colin Kaepernick (SF) vs. HOU: The problems for the Texans have been on offense, not defense. With that, and the problems Kaepernick has been having at points this season, this matchup is a possibly tricky one.

Good Luck in Week 5!