Monday, January 18, 2010

Barely Coherent Thoughts On Last Weekend's Games

It's a good thing I'm not a gambler, huh? Those were some poor picks on my part.

I'm most disappointed by Arizona's loss, as you might expect. I really thought they could do better, but half their defense seemed to be injured, and the other half wasn't nearly good enough to stop the Saints. Not sure why they didn't try to run more, especially as the defense fell apart. Keeps Brees off the field, tones down the number of hits Warner takes. Oh well, something for them to keep in mind for next season.

As for the rest, the Jets defense must be even better than I thought. I guess I'll root for them next week. Not that I'm a Jets fan or anything, I'm mostly annoyed with the Colts and their unwillingness to go for the perfect season. I understand they want to keep their best guys healthy, but this is football, a guy can get knocked out at any moment. Remember when the Bengals made the playoffs a few years ago, and Carson Palmer's knee got blown out on his first pass of their first playoff game? The Bengals had managed to keep him upright all season and just like that, he's gone. You can try to protect guys as much as you want, but you never know. Heck, peyton Manning might doze off in a recliner this week, wake up to get a snack, forget to set aside a blanket he's sleeping under, only to trip over it and fracture his pelvis.

OK, that was my grandmother that happened to, and Peyton's hopefully more aware of his surroundings than she is, but there's no telling, so trying to protect them could all be for naught. I think a perfect season is so rare, and so impressive, that if you have the chance, you have to go for it. Then again, I don't have to answer to anyone if that blows up in the team's face.

As for Saints/Vikings, on the one hand, I don't want to root for the Saints, because they knocked Arizona out emphatically, and I tend to hold grudges. On the other hand, you Favre, and I'm not sure I could deal with the hosannas that would be sung for him if he leads this team to a Super Bowl. Certainly Jason Whitlock would never shut up about, and probably use it to call the Packers' GM Ted Thompson a moron for the next 7 years or so. Or until Thompson is shown to have made the right decision, at which point Whitlock will reverse course and pretend he knew Thompson was right all along*. Where was I? Oh yeah, Favre. That's not Favre's fault, but it's still not something I'd be looking forward to having to avoid for several months.

Although, if New Orleans wins, then you have the inevitable stories about the Saints saving New Orleans or something to that effect. I guess I'll root for a Saints/Jets Super Bowl. The Saints, when they're on, are the best offense in the league, and the Jets are the best defense. Immovable object versus irresistible force and all that. Plus, neither of those teams has experienced real playoff success in a long time (or ever, in the Saints' case). I know the Vikings haven't been to a Super Bowl since the 1970s, but that's still better than New Orleans.

* When he still wrote for ESPN, Whitlock penned a column blasting Doug Flutie** and Marty Schottenheimer when they were both in San Diego. He went after Marty for starting Flutie over Brees, and talked about how Marty had made a similar mistake in choosing his QB when he picked Elvis Grbac and let Rich Gannon walk after the '98 season. Except, Whitlock didn't have a problem with that choice back then, going so far as to describe Grbac as a bigger, younger, stronger, faster version of Gannon after the first time Gannon's Raiders played Grbac's Chiefs. But then, five years later, Whitlock's hammering Marty for it, without admitting he was wrong as well? I call bullshit.

** Whitlock's shot at Flutie was that he submarined Rob Johnson's career in Buffalo. See, I thought it was Johnson's inability to stay healthy for more than five minutes that cost him his job. Rob Johnson was the J.D. Drew of NFL QBs. he could be real good when he was on the field, he was just never on the field. Also, if Flutie was the problem in Buffalo, what happened to Rob Johnson in Tampa Bay? Flutie was thousands of miles away, and Jon Gruden was trying to hand the starting job to anyone that wasn't Brad Johnson***, and Rob couldn't even beat out Shaun King. Is that Flutie's fault too, Whitlock?

*** When all Johnson did was QB the team to a Super Bowl. Yeah, their defense deserves most credit, but the run game was 27th in the league, while the passing game was 15th, so the offense fell to Johnson's arm, and all he did was stand in there until the last second, before completing passes and getting leveled.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Looking Ahead To This Weekend's Playoff Games

We can only hope they're more competitive than last week's selection. Well, I'd prefer Arizona win in a blowout, but I'm willing to accept any victory, no matter how narrow. Now, for your amusement, my predictions for the weekend.

I know the Jets are a good running team, and a very good defensive team, while the Chargers are average on defense (and weaker against the run), and more pass-oriented offensively (they run the ball about as well as last year's Cardinals team). I'm going to take the Chargers. I think they can score a couple times early, and while the Jets running attack will control the clock, it won't net enough points, so they'll have to rely more on Mark Sanchez, and I don't think that's a winning formula. Chargers 27, Jets 13.

So the Colts are dead last in rushing the ball, but first in passing. If last week was any indication, the Ravens are good at pressuring the QB and hitting the receivers hard. I think Peyton has more weapons at his disposal than Brady, though. I wonder if Joe Flacco can do anything useful this week. OK, last week he did complete that one 17-yard pass to make a first down, but can he do that more than once? Upside, the Colts are 24th against the run, but if they can jump out to a big lead that won't matter much. More upside for Baltimore: Manning seemed to have a lot of multiple pick games, especially around and after that New England game. That could be the inexperienced receivers he has this year, but it's something the Ravens ought to be able to exploit. If they can stop the Colts early, they can keep pounding the ball, and so what the heck, Ravens 23, Colts 20.

OK, I'm back. Cowboys and Vikings. The Cowboys have looked good the last three weeks of the regular season, and in last week's beating of Philly. The Vikings struggled for a few weeks, starting with stomping Arizona handed them, but seemed to maybe pull themselves together against the Giants. Assuming the Giants didn't just roll over, that is. The Cowboys defense is playing well, but I'd think the Vikings can challenge them a bit more in the run game than the Eagles did. If they're smart, that's what they'll do. It reduces the pressure on Favre, which seemed to work pretty well for Minnesota the first couple months of the season. Other bit of good news for Minnesota is they ranked second on defense against the run. Seeing as the Cowboys have that three-headed monster of Barber, Jones, and Choice, it'd be helpful if the Vikes' D can play up to that ranking. I don't know who I want to win here. I hate Dallas, but I'm not sure I want the Vikings advancing, since that means more talking about Favre. Of course, if the Vikings lose, the talk will be about whether Favre is finally going to retire for real, so maybe it's better to have it be about his actual play on the field. Vikings 30, Cowboys 17.

I want the Cardinals to beat New Orleans. Nothing against the Saints, but the Cardinals are my team. I always want them to win. And I think they can. Won't be easy, but they can do it. New Orleans' defense actually ranks below Arizona's in both run and pass defense, though they're better at forcing turnovers. The Saints are also 6th in rushing offense, which surprised me. I was under the impression their run game was week. So much for that. The good news is, Arizona does have a running game, if they opt to use it. And while Collinsworth told Jim Rome that Warner loves passing against the blitz, and Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to blitz, I think Arizona ought to consider lots of Beanie Wells. Drew Brees can't score if he can't get on the field. I don't expect this to be as high-scoring as last week's game. I know Arizona's defense can play better than that, and Arizona as a whole seems to play better when they can be the underdog, " we get no respect" team, which I think they can do this week. I'm not saying the Saints are overwhelming favorites, but the general consensus seems to be that if Aaron Rodgers could torch Arizona like that on the road, what will Brees do playing at home? Tha being said, I still expect this to be the highest scoring game of the week, and for both QBs to put up good numbers. Cardinals 34, Saints 30.

Now we sit back and see how badly I whiffed on these.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire-Related Blogging

I probably shouldn't, but I need to get back into the swing of things somehow.

OK, Mark McGwire admitted he used steroids and HGH for about a decade, including the year he hit 70 home runs, which was at the time a major league record. I have a hard time believing anyone is surprised by this, as most people seemed to assume he was guilty and just wanted him to cop to it. 'Course, now that he's done that, many of those folks are jumping all over him, because his apology wasn't contrite enough, didn't go far enough, he raped their childhood, he disrespected the game, and so on. Spare me.

It's been my feeling for the last couple of years that I don't care if players use performance enhancers or not. They want to endanger their health to make themselves more money now, then it's their choice. I'm not assuming every player uses, as I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they either fail a drug test, or admit it themselves, but there's no one in the majors who it would surprise me to learn used PEDs*.

As for the stuff about respecting the game and its fans, is it only steroid use that disrespects the fans? Or did Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt (and a whole bunch of other players) disrepect the game by taking greenies? Did Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford disrespect the game by scuffing and otherwise doctoring baseballs? Did the Powers That Be disrespect baseball by not allowing non-whites to play in the majors for decades? If the asnwer is no, then what's so special about steroids that they're the only thing that disrespects the game and its fans. If yes, then has the game ever been respected, at least since the early 1900s? It all starts to sound like those folks who look wistfully back to the 1950s as the good old days, when everything was better, ignoring all the things that were wrong back then.

As for respecting the fans, it's the ballplayer's job to entertain us, correct? To go out there, play hard, and give us a good time. So McGwire takes steroids, he's able to work out more in the offseason, and build up more muscle so that when he hits the ball, he can make it travel farther. And he takes HGH to help himself stay healthy so he can actually be on the field. Isn't that helping him to do a better job entertaining the fans? Is it disrespect because he didn't come out and say back then that hell yeah he was taking steroids so he could get out on the field and hit some dingers?

Dan Shanoff said he was still mad after the admission because back in '98, McGwire demanded our admiration, which is a crock. Wasn't McGwire the one uncomfortable in the spotlight, and it took Sosa's supposed joy to bring Mac out of his shell and get into the spirit of the chase? If you admired McGwire, that was your choice, so go be pissed off at yourself. Seriously, go look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself why you got suckered in, and if you're still ticked, slap yourself.

I can't remember exactly how I felt back in 1998. There's no denying I felt some excitement about the Chase, since it looked as though I'd get to see a St. Louis Cardinal break baseball's supposedly most hallowed record. Still, that was offset by the fact the team wasn't very good. They won 83 games, but that was largely because their schedule in September pitted them almost entirely against lousy teams like the Expos and Reds. Their rotation was a shambles (Todd Stottlemyre basically carried it on his back up to the All-Star Break), and the bullpen was an even bigger disaster, especially the first four months when Jeff Brantley was closer. The lineup was entirely too focused on power, to the exclusion of speed, for my tastes, as it seemed like everyone was trying to hit home runs like McGwire. The Chase was nice, but it couldn't make up for the Cardinals being bad**.

My dad and I went to one game that year, against the Marlins. We got lucky, as Stottlemyre, the one useful starting pitcher they had at that point, went up against Livan Hernandez, the one useful starting pitcher the Marlins had (this was the year after their first World Series, and subsequent fire sale of all veteran talent). Plus, it's one of the few games Mike Piazza played for Florida, as he was in the process of being traded from the Dodgers to the Mets. It was a game where McGwire hit an estimated 545-foot home run, but more importantly, the Cardinals won behind a complete game from Stottlemyre. I remember my dad and I both being ticked the fans in fron of us were doing the Wave in the 9th, as Stott tried to finish the job, which he did.

That I know for a fact that McGwire was on steroids doesn't take away from the fact I had fun going to the game with my dad, or how hard I rooted for Stottlemyre, or the fact it's the only game I went to that Mike Piazza played in (in one of his 5 games as a Marlin, no less). It's still a good memory. If other people want to destroy their pleasant memories because of what a player did, well that's their call.

I'm sure McGwire confessed now because of his new job as hitting coach for the Cardinals. Does doing it now stave off a media circus at Spring Training, or during the season? Probably not. I imagine sportswriters (annoying wankers) and opposing fans (it's what opposing fans do) will be lining up to take their shots. Does getting this off his chest help McGwire be a better hitting coach? Hell if I know. It might, if only because it won't be weighing on his mind now, and he'll be able to focus on the job at hand.

Should the Cardinals have hired him? I don't know, but I don't have any objections, beyond concerns this will be a distraction for the players. If the team thinks he can help their approach at the plate, and there weren't any better candidates available, then I guess so. It seems wrong to try and turn a blind eye to the whole Steroid Era and its players, like that'll make it go away. It happened, those players are out there, and jsut because they took PEDs doesn't mean they have no insight into the game. Mostly I'm OK with it because I see it as an attempt by LaRussa to rehab the image of an old player of his that he liked. One thing I tend to respect is people who stick by their friends through thick and thin, and I think that's what LaRussa's doing here. That can come back to bite you, and it probably will bite LaRussa, at the very least in terms of his public image, since it'll strengthen the arguments of those who call him a PED enabler, but he seems prepared to take that bullet. Or he thinks he can prove it false with this somehow.

And heck, they (I'm assuming "they" means Catholics) say confession is good for the soul, so if this helps McGwire move forward with his life in general, then great. It would have been better to confess years ago, so it wouldn't have hung over him all this time. Or not do PEDs at all, if using them was going to bother him so much***. But that's how people are. We do things we regret afterwards, but were able to rationalize at the time. I have regrets, you probably do too. Whether they're as important as what McGwire's apparently**** were likely depends on your perspective.

OK, hopefully I've gotten this out of my system, and I'll start talking about the NFL playoffs later in the week. Maybe discuss the Hall of Fame ballot. I know the results came out already, but I mean to go over the ballot and just dicked around too long.

* I used to say there was no one except Jamie Moyer that would surprise me, but thinking about it, PEDs might explain how he's managed to hold together and keep pitching into his mid-40s. Note that I'm not saying he actually does, just that I've reassessed and concluded he wouldn't surprise me, either.

** Which is why I bristled all through that season whenever Sportscenter anchors would imply that while Cub fans were concerned primarily with their team winning, with Sosa's home run totals coming in second, whether the Cards won or not was secondary to the fans, compared to whether Big Mac smashed another one over the fence. I hated that blanket statement, all the more because I probably knew that for some fans, it was true.

*** Like I said, I don't care if the players use PEDs, but they ought to accept the consequences of doing so. I'm thinking more of health concerns, but in this case it also means having scorn heaped upon them by sportswriters and fans. If they don't want to risk dealing with any of that, then they shouldn't take them, and they can risk their performance dipping to the point they lose their job. Which is a lousy way for things to go, but every action produces results, good and bad.

**** I say apparently because you could always argue he doesn't actually regret what he did. I don't have the patience to watch the interview, so I'm not going to judge his sincerity.

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 11, 2010