Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 MLB Post Season - The Wild Card Round

AMERICAN LEAGUE:  I don't have much time but wanted to touch base on this if even for a quick minute before the wild card games start.  First my teams didn't make it but I'll touch on those topics in another post.  Second I couldn't be happier for the Kansas City Royals.  I've always watched them from afar and, like Pittsburgh, have wanted them to be relevant again.  Hosting the Oakland A's in tonight's wild card game is a good start.  This is a good team.  Not one I'd expect to do much damage in the playoffs past this game but I would still like to see them get a shot at the Angels and have at least one additional playoff game in KC.  Oakland is also a team I like to see do well.  Maybe it is the small market thing.  Actually I know it is.  Still they've had their shot winning their division the last two years only to fall in the first round.  I would definitely root for them if they make it past Kansas City but I'd like to see the Royals move on.  That said I think Oakland wins tonight in a close game.  I like Lester in the playoffs and think that gives Oakland the edge.  Still Kansas City should give them a game of it and a play here or there and they'll be headed to Los Angeles for the next round. 

NATIONAL LEAGUE:  Pittsburgh is another team with a soft spot in my heart.  They are also playing well right now and I think they'll beat San Francisco at home tomorrow night.  This should be another close game but if either wild card game becomes a blowout this would probably be it.  I like the Giants' pitching staff better overall but Pittsburgh has Edison Volquez going and he gives them as good a chance to win as anyone.  Either team will be lucky to make it a series in the next round against Washington but you never know.  You just need to get there and hope you catch a few breaks.  Again, I think Pittsburgh wins this one in a close game. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Maze Runner Movie Review

Yesterday was the daughter's birthday and she wanted to see The Maze Runner.  We found it at a local drive-in theater and went last night.  It was the Skyview Drive-In.  First we really enjoyed the drive-in experience.  Three of us sat outside on lawn chairs with a  radio which we had tuned in to the radio frequency they broadcast the sound through.  Two youngins sat in the truck and used it's radio.  Been a long time since I've been at a drive-in.  Probably 15 years.  Good stuff.

SPOILER ALERT:  To the movie.  I didn't know anything about the movie going in.  My perception was that the movie was geared towards a younger teen crowd.  I'm thinking that I'm pretty close on that thought.  The basics are that boys have been put in the middle of a maze starting three years ago.  A new boy shows up every month.  The boys live in a the center of the maze which has giant walls keeping them in except for when the walls open during the day.  These walls open up to allow the boys access.  The maze itself changes throughout the day and night.  "Maze runners" are those who go out and search the maze trying to discover a way out.  The maze walls close every night and no one who has been stuck in the maze overnight has survived. 

The last boy to arrive (Thomas) doesn't believe in the status quo which is just staying in the center living their days out.  He breaks the rules by going into the maze when he shouldn't.  He is challenged and even blamed for misfortunes that soon fall upon the group.  The last person to join their group is a girl with a note saying she is the last which worries everyone since they need the supplies that arrive with the newcomers to help them live.  After Thomas goes into the maze and kills one of the creatures that live there the door walls to the maze stay open. 

This is the beginning of the end as the creatures that once stayed within the maze attack the area where they live.  Some die, some live and some believe more than ever than Thomas and the girl are at the root of all that is now wrong.  The division leads Thomas and others to go into the maze to an area they believe they can escape through which they eventually do after more encounters with the beasts.  At the end they learn why they were in the maze and are rescued by unknown troops.  After that it is learned that all is not as they thought.  It was all a plan but to what end we don't exactly know yet. 

I've left out many details but that is the gist of it.  I liked the movie and if I was rating it I would give it 6.5 stars out of 10.  I think it is good and it probably will be popular with the crowd it was geared towards.  It is entertaining and I liked the concept.  I did think the ending was a letdown but it has obviously been made with a sequel in mind.  That is just what we tend to see now days.  We don't quite get that satisfying ending we come to expect with stand alone movies.  Still if you were thinking of seeing this movie I suggest you do so. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

4th and Inches...Week 2

Powered by special teams, Buffalo pitched a shutout in the first half and didn't let up in a 29-10 victory over Miami.  Kicker Dan Carpenter hit on five field goals while C.J. Spiller ran back a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.  Sammy Watkins added the other scoring on a touchdown pass from EJ Manuel for the first of his career.  Spiller added 69 yards rushing averaging 5.8 yards per carry while Watkins totaled 117 yards receiving.  The defense had four sacks and an interception while only allowing Miami to convert 5 of 16 third downs.  EJ Manuel played well and didn't throw an interception again helping his team win by minimizing mistakes.  Great win that puts Buffalo in sole possession of first place after two weeks.  Yes it is only two weeks but when was the last time we could say that?  If feels good. 

Atlanta was not as lucky.  Cincinnati's defense held the Falcons to 309 total yards while allowing them to convert only 3 of 12 first downs and forced three turnovers.  Matt Ryan was the sole culprit as he threw three interceptions.  Bad day for him and so went the Falcons.  Atlanta averaged 5+ yards per carry but without watching the game it is hard to say in what context or is it easy to figure out why they didn't run more.  I would like to see how Cincy took Atlanta out of their game.  Ryan was only sacked two times and no quarterback hits.  Hopefully they haven't figured something out the rest of the league can mirror.  Atlanta has Tampa Bay in week three.  Hopefully they can bounce back but with the Bucs looking for their first win they are sure to be tough. 

What a week for finishes.  Kansas City doesn't convert a fourth and goal with just 15 seconds left as they tried to tie the game...  Cleveland wins on a short field goal after starting a drive from their four yard line and the New Orleans' defense blows the coverage to set up the game winning kick...  Tampa Bay isn't able to attempt a game winning field goal with eight seconds left when their receiver is injured and can't get up.  Tampa had no timeouts and the automatic 10 second run off meant the game was over...  The Jets find a way to lose when they nullify a game tying touchdown on 4th down when their sideline called a timeout.  No it wasn't coach Rex Ryan, the only person allowed to call the timeout, but a defensive end who saw the offensive coordinator signaling for a timeout.  And yes they did not convert the subsequent replaying of said 4th down...  Chicago pulled off a great comeback against San Francisco who once again did nothing in the second half.  And the Bears did this behind Jay Cutler who threw for 176 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.  Wow.  Not a line you see from Cutler very often...  Did San Diego take it to Seattle or what?  I'll be curious what San Diego does with this win.  Can they keep the momentum at Buffalo in week three?  I say no.  Sorry Yaj...  What the heck happened to the Lions?  To fall that flat against Carolina is a huge letdown after their great performance in week one...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dodger Card Fun

More cards that came from the collection my friend hooked me up with.  These are some fun Dodger cards I found.  Pitcher Roger McDowell was always good for having fun.  I also enjoyed the Pedro card.  Below is Tommy Lasorda leading his guys during what I assume is spring training.  Below that is Dave Winfield interviewing Darryl Strawberry.  I'm sure I'll find more fun cards as I go through the rest of the cards and will throw them up when I do.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

4th and Inches...Week 1

Buffalo and Atlanta came up with outstanding week 1 overtime wins.  Atlanta needed a late field goal to send it to overtime then capitalized on a Saints' turnover to kick yet another field goal to win the game.  Both field goals were over 50 yards.  While the Saints defense won't be confused with the '85 Bears anytime soon you have to love how the Falcons looked.  Matt Ryan looked more like Dan Marino as he threw for 448 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  I think everyone figured the Falcons offense would be better this year but wow.  The defense though took a beating giving up 34 points and 472 total yards.  As long as they don't do that every week the Falcons could live up to my playoff prediction.  This week Atlanta plays Cincinnati and it will be a great test as their defense is very good.  Great week 1 win and love how the season is starting. 

The Bills pulled off a bona fide upset as they won in overtime against the Chicago Bears.  EJ Manuel was efficient - 16/22, 173 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.  Not great but he didn't turn over the ball too much and kept Buffalo in the game.  The real hero was the running game that averaged 5 yards per carry while racking up a total of 193 yards.  Fred Jackson led the way with 61 yards and it was his long run at the start of overtime that put Buffalo in position to kick the winning field goal.  The defense forced four turnovers to help Buffalo with the impressive win.  I love this.  This is a great start for Buffalo.  A win at home against Miami this week would be even better.  A two and 0 start might really make me believe this team could pull out a .500 record.  Exciting win and I really think me wearing my Thurman Thomas jersey Sunday was the key. 

We had garbage games on TV all day Sunday due to where we live but I received an early Christmas present.  The channels swapped to both the Atlanta and Buffalo games at the conclusion of the early contests.  That was awesome to see the last few minutes of the Atlanta game and the overtime periods for both.  You might call it excitement overload.  Great day for me!

WEEK 1 NOTES:  As good as Denver looked in the first half I'm real disappointed in how they played in the second half..  They need to play two halves or next time they may not be able to fend off their opponent's rally.  Ditto for San Francisco...  New England melted down the second half of their game as Miami took it to them with a key division win early in the season...  Look I know Seattle is good but I expected some sort of hangover after their Super Bowl victory.  That didn't happen and they look just as good as last year...  I really liked how Detroit looked while the Giants look like they'll suffer through another tough year...  Can't believe San Diego lost their game late again.  This seem like a very bad habit that has plagued them for some years now...  Kansas City looked lost or actually like they did down the stretch last year.  I thought their playoff game last year showed promise as they once again put points on the board but they were horrible Sunday. 

Kenny Lofton an Astro? I didn't know...

I am by no means the end all for baseball knowledge but do pride myself on what I do know.  I am a sports nerd by heart.  That said I never knew Kenny Lofton was a Houston Astro.  Turns out he was drafted in the 17th round by Houston, played 20 games for them in 1991 and was then traded to Cleveland for Willie Blair and Eddie Taubensee.  Again not a big deal one way or the other but when I came across the cards above in the gigantor lot of cards I got from a buddy I was pretty stunned.  Not by the fact that he played for Houston but by the fact I didn't know.  Enjoy your weekend and I'm sure to come up with more useless information later. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ray Rice Debacle

I won't dwell on this too long.  The Ray Rice video in which he knocks out his then fiancé came out yesterday.  The outrage came from every direction aimed at anyone and everyone involved.  I think Keith Olberman just called for the resignation of the janitor at the hotel where the incident occurred. 

To some point I get it.  Now we see what happened.  Now we know that no matter what his fiancé said after the fact, Ray Rice was to blame.  "Self defense" is not appropriate here.  I think everyone knows that now.  I also agree with what Chris Carter said on Mike and Mike.  This was no surprise.  When we saw the first video months ago of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé from the elevator we knew he had knocked her out.  Whether or not you thought he was acting in self defense we knew he had taken the extreme measure of knocking her out which is a violent act no matter how you think it through.  Also his actions or lack of actions and concern for her after dragging her out of the elevator said much to his state of mind and to me what he thought of what he did.  That told me he didn't care.  I didn't need to see a video of what happened inside the elevator.  That told me all I needed to know.

Yesterday the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice's contract and the NFL suspended him for the season.  Both have taken a ton of heat for not doing more sooner.  They both said they didn't have access to the video.  The majority of people don't seem to believe that.  While the NFL has resources just short of the FBI I would probably fault them for not trying hard enough to get the video.  But even that may be too much criticism.  The NFL has been consistent with letting the legal part of these issues play out.  Once it did Ray Rice had been entered into a diversion program, which upon completion could lead to the charges being expunged.  So to some extent nothing had been done via the legal system.  If I'm commissioner Roger Goodell I'd be saying "Hmmm, they didn't do anything to Ray Rice and they have all the evidence - it couldn't have been that bad, right?".   I'm  not saying that was the right thing to do but if the authorities weren't gong to do anything why would I think the NFL needed to make and example of this guy?  Heck the fiancé was even charged at one point.  Without seeing what happened who knew.  Only now do we know.  I'll eat all my words if the smoking gun is found and the NFL had actually seen the video before yesterday.  It just doesn't make sense that a commissioner whose been harsh in the punishment department since taking office would decide to be lax now of all times unless he didn't believe he had enough to press with a harsher penalty.  It doesn't seem as though many share my thoughts. 

Bottom line is I'm glad the truth is out and the NFL and Baltimore acted swiftly and more appropriately.  I'm still perplexed by the reaction of people yesterday or of the delay in their reaction.  Maybe I get it but something still strikes as me as not right.  Now we must deal with the reaction to the reaction as someone said on the radio.  It will die down soon as we get back to football.  As the local radio guys said today, somewhere Danny Ferry is so happy this story broke yesterday. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Washington Redskins Controversy - Where Do I Stand?

So I'm going through my old sports cards and I run across the one above.  That is John Riggins from the 1991 Pro Lines Portraits set.  First off I don't think you'll find any current Redskins players wearing a Native American headdress.  That would set off a firestorm in a hurry.  So Washington is taking tons of heat for having a name offensive to Native Americans and I want to weigh in on the subject.

I'm a big sports history guy and I'm not a fan of teams changing names.  It doesn't happen often unless a franchise changes cities.  The Washington Bullets changing their name to Wizards due to violence in the cities was the reason the NBA franchise made the move.  I thought then, and still think that was an overreaction.   Other than that instance I'm not familiar with a major pro franchise changing it's name due to controversy or perceived issues with the name itself.  Well, Tampa Bay changing from Devil Rays to Rays might fall into that category but I'm not sure.  Still it is rare.

Back to Washington.  Their name is one you can specifically say is offensive.  Owner Dan Snyder will vehemently disagree with anyone who thinks that.  He said in a recent interview that it means "honor, respect" and that the name was to honor the team's first coach, a Native American, and the logo was designed in conjunction with the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfeet Nation. 

I have no doubt that there was no malice in naming the franchise Redskins.  Many will point to that and again say it pays respect to Native Americans.  I've gone back and forth on this.  The sports guy in me wants Washington to keep their name and I dug in my heels when this issue first started to gain traction.  I finally took a step back and just looked at the name.  While I don't know the specific history of the term I do believe the term, at it's core, is derogatory.  To that end, and to the detriment of my sport's self, I think Washington should change their name.  There is no reason a team or anyone should hide behind history to allow themselves to get away with this. 

Now are the Redskins the only team with a team name that falls into this category?  No.  Look here to see a list of other teams pro and amateur that have names that can be offensive.  Other good articles look at the subject.  This one has a timeline up to present day looking at offensive names.  One last article looks at different names and breaks them down.  Obviously there is plenty of reading material on the subject.  I don't think Dan Snyder will change the name anytime soon.  As commissioner Roger Goodell has stated, Dan Snyder owns the name which he acquired when he bought the franchise.  Goodell's passive stance alone provides Snyder time.  While congress, activists, and even other owners can apply pressure, the NFL is the only one with the oomph to make Dan Snyder make the change.  I'm actually surprised with the NFL's passive approach to the argument.  Of course it could open up a can of worms and drag the Chiefs into the conversation as well as start the ball rolling in other pro leagues.  It won't be pretty. 

Communities that have grown up with these team mascots have zero ill will towards Native Americans and don't think their communities should suffer due to others reading "too much" into a name.  I get it.  I was there and I'm not sure how far it will go.  I do hope communities can do the right thing when they should and I don't think that means a change is necessary in every case.  They should be looked at individually. 

I am wrong though.  Those with the most pull in this are the fans.  If enough would stand up and boycott the team, Washington would be forced to change or go under.  That is a pipe dream.  Too many fans are loyal and getting that many people on the same page of any argument is tough.  Still money holds the most sway in any argument.   

Thursday, September 4, 2014

4th and Inches: 2014 NFL Season to Come

How can you not like Raider fans?
The new season is upon us and as always I like to throw out my thoughts.  I've already done my previews of the Bills and Falcons so I'll concentrate on the rest of the league.  First my picks:

AFC:  NE, Cincy, Indy Den  Wild Card:  KC, SD
NFC:  Philly, GB, NO, Sea    Wild Card:  SF, Atl

Super Bowl:  Denver vs New Orleans    Winner:  Denver

You could only be disappointed by the Broncos' performance in the Super Bowl last year.  Still I think they are the best team in the AFC.  New England is the only team I believe can challenge them but I think they fall short again.  Indy isn't quite ready to contend for the conference crown but I love Andrew Luck and think they could be the next best thing.  Cincy, KC and San Diego round out my playoff teams but none have what it takes to challenge for a Super Bowl appearance. 

In the NFC you have four top teams with Green Bay, New Orleans Seattle and San Francisco being the cream of the crop.  Seattle and that defense could very well go to their second straight Super Bowl but as it so rarely happens I'm placing my bet on the field, or rather New Orleans to be specific.  I just think Drew Brees can get New Orleans back to the Super Bowl in their second year removed from "Bounty Gate".  While Seattle will be good I don't see their defense having the same kind of year and while Russell Wilson is good he can't carry this team.  Also not sure Marshawn Lynch will be the running stud of years past to take pressure off him.  Green Bay would be the other team I can see at the top of the NFC.  Aaron Rogers may be the best overall quarterback in the league but I'm not sold on the Packer defense.  Doesn't help that Green Bay's starting center is out and they must start a rookie.  San Francisco has way too much drama around it and probably takes a step back.  Philly and Atlanta will be good stories but aren't contenders. 

Mike and Mike of ESPN morning radio show fame mentioned that a minimum of four new teams make the playoffs each year with I think a total of eight new teams making it one year.  That is amazing and pertinent because I have zero AFC playoff teams changing from last year and only one NFC team making it back after missing out last year.  So the odds are I'm wrong.  No shocker there but I really didn't see anyone else in the AFC challenging except maybe Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  The NFC is more wide open so who knows how the wild card plays out there. 

I'm really curious to see how Tampa Bay does.  I like the pickup of quarterback Josh McCown who was the best available passer available.  Getting Lovie Smith as the coach is also a huge plus for this team that has talent and I think they can win nine games if things break their way some.  I've always liked Carson Palmer as a quarterback and there are stats showing he was one of the top tier quarterbacks the last seven weeks of the 2013 season.  I'll be curious to see if he and Arizona can build on some of the momentum from their good season last year.  San Diego could win ten games if their defense improves and they tried using the draft and free agency to make it a better unit.  Phillip Rivers played great last year and if he can do the same as last year there is no reason they can't be even better. I liked Jacksonville's bold pick of Blake Bortles early in the draft.  I'm sure he'll get significant playing time this year and I can't wait to see how he does. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Atlanta Falcons Season Preview

The 2013 Atlanta Falcons finished the year 4-12 after injuries, including starting receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, decimated the team.  The only good news was the high draft pick the Falcons landed that turned into offensive tackle Jake Matthews.  This was a team that averaged 12 wins the three previous season so I do think the talent is here for this team to be in the playoffs once again.  Whether or not they can compete with the big boys of the NFC is still to be seen.

Atlanta must first keep quarterback Matt Ryan on his feet.  Their 44 sacks allowed were 10th worst in the league.  The fact Matt Ryan was able to throw for 4,515 yards and complete 67% of his passes seems amazing given that fact and his two primary receivers were either off the field or hampered by lingering injuries for the bulk of the year.  First round Jake Matthews should help solidify the line but the loss of starting left tackle Sam Baker may offset some of that gain.  They did make another key move in adding Jon Asamoah via free agency.  Hopefully it will be enough.  Receiver Harry Douglas is a quality number three option and played very will when filling in for Jones or White.  At running back I'm very worried.  Stephen Jackson is one year older after having the worst year of his career.  He missed four games due to injury and wasn't effective when he was on the field.  Backup Jacquizz Rogers didn't show anything that makes me think he is the heir apparent in the backfield.  Some are high on rookie Devonta Freeman from Florida State.  I think that is a lot to ask of a rookie back.  Add to that the retirement of hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and the offense isn't in the clear yet.  And no there isn't a passing tight end waiting in the wings.  Still this team should be able to score some points.  I just hope the line can hold and we aren't talking about a Matt Ryan injury at some point. 
The defensive line was helped in the offseason via the draft in hopes of shoring up the run defense (31st in yards allowed).  Hopefully the moves work.  If teams continue to run over the defense it may not matter how good the rest of the team is.  The linebackers didn't get much help but if healthy they have to be better than last year.  Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford give the Falcons decent cornerbacks in the secondary.  The safety position is in flux after Thomas DeCoud left for Carolina.  William Moore leaves some veteran presence back deep but who will play opposite him isn't settled.  They reached in the third round of the draft for safety Dezmen Southward and signed Dwight Lowry who was waived by the Jaguars.  A lot of question marks here.  Good health will help some but rookies will need to play well and others will need to improve on previous years performances for the defense to make any headway.  A lot to ask for. 

Atlanta has it's work cut out for it.  The offense should be better this year (20th in points last year) which will be good. New kick return Devin Hester should also help with providing improved field position.  I think the defense will be where the Falcons struggle the most.  No matter how much they score I think the defense will keep opposing teams in the game.  Even with Carolina, New Orleans and what should be an improved Tampa Bay team in the same division Atlanta can get back to the playoffs.  But again it will hinge on the offense and staying healthy.  That is asking much but that is what we fans do.  In the end I think Atlanta gets nine wins and will be in the hunt for the final wild card spot.

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Introduction to Fantasy Sports

The NFL network had a story on the beginnings of fantasy football back in the 60's in Oakland.  It got me to thinking.  In a previous post I mentioned my first foray into fantasy sports was in the 90's with the help of Yaj.  But I had forgotten that sometime between 1987 and 1989 I had participated in a fantasy basketball league.  Since it was some 25+ years ago please bear with me.  I believe I found the league advertised in one of the basketball magazines I was reading at the time which would have been Hoop magazine or the Basketball digest.

This was a national deal in which you paid an entry fee, received your team in the mail and then set your lineup for the week.  This was done either by mail or phone.  Same thing was done for picking up players.  The guy running the league had a certain time of the week in which we could call in to make player moves or provide him trade info.  Speaking of.  To make trades you could called the other owners.  Considering how things are done nowadays it really seems pretty crazy but I loved it.  We received standings weekly with team and maybe player stats.  I do remember trying everything I could to get Dominique Wilkins from one of the other owners but never could pry him away.  I don't remember winning the league or exactly where I stood in the standings but something in the back of my brain is telling me I didn't do very well.     

I think I only did it one year but I've been hooked on fantasy sports ever since.  I think if I'd been around in the 60's I'd found a way to do fantasy sports.  Not that it would have been hard...well maybe it was a lot more work back then but if it was doable I'd done it.  Just thought I'd share my first fantasy sports experience while it was "fresh" in my mind and the peak fantasy season (football) is upon us.