Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movie Review: Monsters University

Monsters University was a movie I was really looking forward to seeing and as it was a Christmas present to the kids this week I was able to watch it this morning. 

I wasn't disappointed.  No need to dissect this too much.  It is a very good prequel giving us the background on how Sully and Mike met in college.  Sully is the prototypical jock while Mike is the nerd.  Not exactly a surprise but I wouldn't expect anything less. 

We see that Mike wanted nothing more in life than to be a "scarer" and headed to Monsters U. to fulfill that dream.  He is the guy who is the best book student on the subject while his practical skills are lacking.  At the school he meets Sully in class who thinks he can be the best scarer on his famous family name as well as pure talent.  Of course this puts them on different sides of the academic path.  Through circumstances they must then work together at the end to achieve their goal which is a pretty standard plot for these types of movies.

That doesn't matter as it is the journey you'll enjoy.  It is fun to see these guys in a school setting and meet new characters.  My favorite is the school dean.  I highly recommend this to everyone.  This is probably my favorite animation film/series at the moment.  I recommend everyone with kids to let them watch as kids will enjoy this one as much as the first even without the cute kid from the original film.  If you are an adult and have any interest in animated films you must also give it a look.  I do think you'll like it.  Enjoy!

Board Game Review: Apples to Apples

I won't do reviews of board games that often but I'm nothing if not random.  Every Christmas we get a new game for the kids and us to play.  This year was the game is Apples to Apples.  What has compelled me to write about this game is the simplicity and fun factor. 

It is simple as in you can be playing it in a few minutes and never look back or continue to refer back to instructions. 

The fun is in it's play.  The basics are their is one "judge" per round and pulls a green card which contains an adjective or descriptive phrase.  Everyone else has 7 red cards in their hand which contain a noun - person, place or thing.  The judge tells everyone the word.  Each player then puts a card down that will be read by the judge who will then decide which card goes best with the adjective or phrase.  The fun part is that the judge can use any criteria they want to make that decision.  So the players putting down their noun cards learn to do so depending on what they think the judge will pick.  This means it might be the most outrageous combination.  Maybe the adjective is cuddly and a player puts down the noun card Typhoid Mary.  Sometimes the best choice is completely appropriate - stuffy and republicans.  Again it just depends.  Whoever had the winning card for that round keeps the green card and the overall winner is whoever ends up with the number of green cards set as the target number needed to win.  That can be set as the game states or adjusted to work with the group playing.  

If it at all sounds interesting pick it up.  We had a good mix of adults to kids (youngest 13) and it was great fun.  Again just a little Christmas randomness.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

4th and Inches - Falcons and Bills Lost Seasons

Buffalo is now 5-9 and have been out of contention since, well, when the season started.  I won't say it is a lost year but it has been a tough one.  I didn't even expect a .500 record but I had hopes of a few more positives.  They did beat Carolina and Baltimore within the first four games of the season to go 2-2 but it went down hill from there.  The offense is 24th in points scored while the defense is 18th in points allowed.  Nothing that will scare anyone else in the league. 

Rookie EJ Manuel has started/played 10 games.  He has completed 58% of his passes but with only 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions I'm not sure how good a season it has been.  I am glad to see more touchdowns than interceptions.  He is still young and very raw.  Hopefully he can develop into the franchise quarterback Buffalo hopes him to be.  Fred Jackson (725) and CJ Spiller (745) have split time at running back with both having over 700 yards going into the day. They are both averaging over 4 yards per carry (4.2 and 4.6).  So the running game is doing well.  I prefer having the one go to guy but I'm alright with this especially as they are both playing well.  Just wish we were seeing more scoring results from their productivity but that isn't their fault.  WR Steve Johnson and TE Scott Chandler are once again the big targets for the quarterback. Their stats aren't anything to look at but with Manuel's down year it is understandable.  Buffalo is still lacking that big #2 guy opposite Smith.  Rookie Robert Woods seems like he might be able to be that guy but there are no guarantees.

The defense is playing better with Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams leading a rush that has 49 sacks.  Buffalo is also +1 in the giveaway/takeaway category.  The defensive backs are still not great but the defense has played ok.  The season can't be judged yet.  With a new coach and quarterback we won't really know if this was a building year or not until two years down the road.  I have hope.  I still think the defense needs some upgrades, as does the offensive line and receiving corps. 

Atlanta, at 4-10, are in a worse situation after being one play from the Super Bowl last year.  Injuries have been a huge part of it.  Julio Jones (WR) and Sam Baker (OL) were big losses but other nagging injuries to Stephen Jackson (RB) and Roddy White (WR) among others just compounded the issues with the offense.  The article by Andy Benoit detailing some of the specific problems can be found here.  It is a month old but is still some great insight. While this season is lost the Falcons have next year to look forward to sans Tony Gonzalez.  That is no consolation right now when most everyone thought Atlanta would be right there in the hunt again this year.  My concerns are the fact that the defense is still very bad despite changes in the defensive backfield.  They don't get a good pass rush which puts too much pressure on everyone else on the defense.  Despite the lack of weapons Matt Ryan has also been part of the problem.  Seems like he could have made more plays at least in the games I was able to see.  Again may not have been his fault but thought he could have played better despite the issues. 

I knew Vincent Jackson was good but has been a stud in Tampa Bay considering the lack of quarterback quality there.  He will likely set a career high in receptions this year.  I can only imagine how Phillip Rivers wished he was still in San Diego...It is time for Jason Garrett to go in Dallas.  Last week's killer loss to Green Bay due to poor play calling has to fall to him.  And it isn't like Dallas continues to underperform consistently. If he hadn't been Jerry Jones' personal hire he would have been gone some time ago....Patriots are a team hit hard with injuries but kudos to Billicek and Brady for keeping them in first place and in the hunt for the #1 seed.  It is a testament to both those guys....Detroit is another place where a change in coach is probably warranted.  Too much talent there on both sides of the ball for them not to be sitting on top of their division especially considering the injuries to the starting quarterbacks of Green Bay and Chicago....I like the way Philly is setup.  This team may not be in a championship game this year but Nick Foles looks like he could be the real deal.  Considering the talent already around him that is a very good thing for Philadelphia....Did not see Houston falling apart this year.  I've always been too high on that team but how the heck do they look so bad this year?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: 2013 Topps Football Trading Cards

I've picked up four packs of the basic 2013 Topps football set over the last few months and want to share my thoughts.  First impressions are very good.  I like the basic design as well as the special cards.  The front of the cards have a white boarder with the Topps logo embossed in silver in the upper left hand corner.  At the bottom is a wavy colored decoration in the player's team colors with the team logo in the middle.  Embossed on the appropriate cards are special designations such as All-Pro on the Vince Wilfork card or League MVP and Player of the Year on Adrian Peterson's card.  I enjoy this feature on these cards as well as the other sports.  Fairly simple design and I like it.  Plenty of room for the photo with little distraction.

The back of the basic cards have a white border and have a wavy trim on both sides of the card somewhat similar to the front.  At the top is the card number in black.  Below that is the player's name set on an oval colored in one of the team's primary colors.  Under that is the player's position and team.  Next is the ht, wt, and college with the player's draft position and how acquired on the next line (big plus for me).  The line after that has their birthdate, home and twitter handle.  After that is a small blurb about the player on a primary colored background.  Next are the stats.  These are of course different for each position but I didn't see any major omissions.  Most of the players had all their career stats but for some reason the Peterson card only had last year's stats and his career totals.  Maybe because the card is special?  Don't know but that is as good a guess as any. 
I pulled quite a few of the insert cards to include, but not limited to, Calvin Johnson and Tom Brady "Legends in the Making" cards, teams cards of the Saints and Pats, a Ronde Barber mini, Andre Reed "Gridiron Legend", Wal-Mart Continuity card of E.J. Manuel, and a gold bordered Mark Barron.  I like the Legends in the Making, team and legends cards.  Anything retro works for me of course but the Making cards look nice and I like the team cards which have team leaders and highlights of the season on the back. 
 I highly recommend this set to everyone.  As always the price point on the Topps basic set makes it an easy pickup and these cards look good and have quite a few inserts to keep it interesting.  The most different item about this set for me is the twitter handle on the back of the card.  I'm not the most techie of individuals but I like that.  Looking at the checklist (see links below) there are quite a few cards I'll look to pick up - lots of retired types for me to enjoy.  This is a very solid set - check it out.
Set checklist here.  Pictures of base and variant cards side by side here. 
Official Topps checklist in PDF format here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Review: Panini NBA Hoops 2013-2014 Trading Cards

I picked up a 45 card rack pack of the 2013-2014 Hoops NBA trading cards at Wal-Mart for $4.98.  Besides the base cards I received one blue border and one gold border card (George Hill seen above). 

The front of the cards are appealing visually to me.  The border is white.  At the bottom is the NBA Hoops logo in silver against a background color of the player's team.  The players name is found at the top on a background color which is associated with the player's team.  The team logo is in the upper right on a parquet floor background.  The photos themselves take up the rest of the space.  No issues with pictures with the majority being action shots.  It seems like the majority are pictures of the players at the rim. Not a big issue but seems different.  Some rookies were pictured playing in the summer league or in posed shots.  My only beef would be the lack of the player's position.  Again a nice front which I can't find much fault with. 

The back is a whole other story.  It is vertical in design.  An example is below though it isn't a card I received in my pack.  My first impression was not negative.  The back is completely black and white with Panini's logo in the upper left hand corner with the card's number.  The year of the set and Panini's information is at the bottom of the card.  The player's team logo is centered at the top.  I think it is a bit too large and could have been shrunk to help out the font size.  Below the logo is the player's position, name, a brief snippet on the player and then the player's specifics (Ht, Wt, Birthdate, Drafted - round only, school).  Each section alternates the background color between black and white.  Then come the stats (season, team, g, fg%, ft%, 3pm, rpg, apg, stl, blk, pts, ppg).  Kudos as always for putting all the career stats of a player on the back.  I really enjoy being able to look back at all the years of a player's career.  I would rather see steals and blocks per game as opposed to totals but that isn't a huge point.  What is is the size of the font.  Without lots of squinting I'd never be able to read the back of the cards.  I'm thinking they could have gone horizontal with the design and made the logo smaller to allow for a bigger font.  I'm sure 20 years-olds don't have the same issue as someone my age but it seems this could be done better. 
Good draw in the 45 cards.  I grabbed a Stephen Curry who is a big star in the league today whom I really like.  Other cards of note were the gold bordered George Hill who is also making a big name for himself.  The Dwayne Wade card has a cameo by Tim Duncan.  Andrew Bynum's pic is a good one of him holding his new Cavalier's jersey.  Just looking at that you actually have hope he may play well again someday.  Grabbed a Damian Lillard and George Teague card from each of my favorite teams which is always nice.  The rookie Nerlens Noel card was also a nice pickup.  It is a picture of a staged dunk.  Manu Ginobili's picture is of him slamming one down and is one of the pictures that stood out to me.  I think it might have been against Miami no less.  The Pau Gasol card just made me laugh.  Kind of an awkward position they caught him in.

I struggle on this one as the back really turns me off.  At first I was ok but I just get more irritated the more I try to read anything on the back.  Overall I'll say pick these up with the caveat that the back might be frustrating.  I may put more importance on the back than most.  The fronts are visually appealing and I think most would enjoy as well.  The price is also a win and I'm sure they are available at most retailers. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

Possible spoilers in this review:  I didn't get to see this one in the theaters so I was excited to watch it yesterday on Blu-ray.  I enjoyed the first movie and couldn't get a good feel from the previews on how this movie would play out so I was skeptical.  Boy was I surprised.  They did a great job with this movie. 

From the beginning the crew is setup for failure against their nemesis Khan.  The character is the Khan we all know and "love" but it is a different take/storyline for him.  Again I was leery but I like it.  All the characters get plenty of screen time but I would like to see them fleshed out a little more.  They did a good job setting them up the first film but outside of Kirk we don't get to see much of who they really are.  I know this is a big cast and time doesn't allow so this isn't a gripe just a preference. 

As for the plot it isn't too convoluted and gives you enough twists so that nothing is easy in the crew's world when trying to figure out what to do.  I thought all the tough decisions that had to be made were more of a nod to what makes Star Trek great as opposed to the first movie which was pretty straight forward - there is the bad guy, go get him.  This time the lines are blurred which makes for a much more fun times. 

The movie has plenty of nods to the Star Trek franchise to include Dr. Carol Marcus who joins the crew.  This sets things up for possible future movies.  SPOILER:  I also like that Khan is ultimately kept alive.  He is a great character who can be a foil for a long time to come.  As with the original movie with Khan in it we had the great yell "Khaaaaaaaaan" but this time it is Spock who gets to deliver the line as the roles are reversed and Kirk "dies". 

Another good film everyone who is remotely interested in the franchise should see.  I was not disappointed. 

Rating:  PG-13
Length:  132 minutes
Cost:  $190 million
U.S. Box Office:  $228 million
International Box Office:  $467 million

Movie Review: Thor The Dark World

I was able to see Thor: The Dark World this weekend.  Since it just came out I won't throw out any spoilers in my review.  If you liked the first movie you'll like this one.  Thor The Dark World is not as grounded on earth as was the first movie.  I enjoyed this as I think there are tons of different worlds and different peoples to explore in this "universe".  Natalie Portman's character, Jane, and her relationship with Thor is front and center of the movie but this is not a chick flick.  Plenty of fighty fighty for everyone.   Loki has been one of my favorite characters throughout the first Thor movie as well as in Avengers.  Again he plays a pivotal part in the movie.  Thor, himself, gives us what we have come to expect from his character.  I think Chris Hemsworth does a great job bringing his character to film.  Marvel overall has done a good job adapting Thor to the movie screen, something I thought would be very hard to do.  As with any movie there are minor plot points someone could haggle over but it isn't worth it.  Too much good in this movie not to see it.  I highly recommend it to everyone. 

Red Sox Beat Cardinals in 6 Games to Win 2013 World Series

Boston won the 2013 World Series 4 games to 2 over St. Louis.  And Big Papi starred when the majority of Red Sox bats went silent.  The stats can be found here but the highlights for Ortiz are a .688 batting average, 2 homers, 8 ribbies, 8 walks, only 1 strikeout, .760 on base percentage, and 1.188 slugging percentage.  Wow.  He has always been a huge leader on this team and they needed him this series as no other Red Sox player hit above .250 and six players with 13 or more at bats batted under .190.  Considering the zoo the Red Sox were last year when they lost 93 games, to the bombings during the Boston Marathon this year, winning 96 games and taking the championship in six games it has been a heck of a ride.  See the speech heard round the world here when Papi said "This is our f******* city".  I don't doubt he used some colorful language during his dugout pep speeches that got so much attention. 
While Papi will get all the accolades the pitching staff deserves their own praise.  Overall they excelled with a 1.84 ERA while walking only 11.  Jon Lester was marvelous in two starts going 15 1/3 innings and giving up only one run while winning both games.  John Lackey was also very good in his two starts winning one while giving up four earned runs in 14 innings.  Clay Buchholz added another good start and Jake Peavy kept them in the game in his start.  In the bullpen, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Euhara (2 saves), and Brandon Workman gave up zero earned runs in a combined 10 plus innings.  Felix Doubront gave Boston much needed innings in relief of Peavy's and Buchholz's short stints as starters, and did it well registering a 1.93 ERA in 4 2/3 innings.  To me the pitching staff as a whole deserves huge kudos for what they were able to do against a very good St. Louis Cardinals offense.
While the St. Louis offense did have a tough time against Red Sox pitching they actually had their chances but couldn't come up with the timely hits that Boston did.  One thing that stood out about St. Louis was their young pitching.  They seem primed to continue to be a power house in the National League as long as they can figure out the shortstop position and maybe add another bat.  Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, and Joe Kelly all played well and again make the future for the Cardinals look bright. 
Being a Red Sox fan in the St. Louis area this was really fun.  Talking games every morning was a great experience no matter who won.  The Cards fans here show their pride in mass and I take my hat off to them.  I was even able to catch a game with a buddy of mine whose a St. Louis fan.  It was game three so the ending was a heart breaker but I really enjoyed.  It doesn't get much better than that. 
I don't want to forget manager John Farrell.  The team he was handed was no slouch but they weren't picked by anyone not a Red Sox homer to win the World Series.  He made some mistakes in game two but that didn't take him off his game and he made the right lineup changes when needed and kept his team up to the task.  Good job. 
That's all I got.  It was a great World Series with tons of good pitching.  How could you complain?  Well, assuming you aren't a Card's fan.  I've already received my World Series Champs shirt, a World Series shirt and I'm thinking of picking up the beards shirt.  This is awesome.  I'll enjoy for the next few months until spring training starts up.  Great stuff.  GO BOSOX!
The facial thing isn't new but it was really worked well in Boston during their run to the title. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portland Trail Blazers 2013-2014 Preview

Last year Portland had a disappointing season on their way to 33 wins good for 11th in the Western Conference.  They ended the season with a disastrous 13 game losing streak.  Didn't leave anyone much to hang their hat on.  In the offseason they made it a priority to shore up their bench and their defense which were at the heart of the issues last year. 

Damon Lillard was the rookie of the year and deservedly so.  He was not a good defender but his 19 points and 6.5 assists a game were great as he showed he was worthy of a top pick in last year's draft.  His ability to hit the three (36%) is a great attribute which helps stretch the floor.  Mo Williams will be his backup and may look to score before passing but should be a solid backup.

Wesley Matthews will start at the shooting guard.  Matthews is a talent but I want to see more than 14 points per game from him.  He shoots the three at a 39% clip.  Depending on how rookie C.J. McCollum progresses Matthews may not get the minutes he needs to be a big time scorer.  He will have the early part of the season while McCollum recovers from an injury to solidify his spot in the starting lineup.  McCollum should be a nice addition to the team with big upside if the scouting reports are correct. 

Nicolas Batum will play at small forward with new addition Dorrell Wright backing him up.  Batum is making big money ($11M) and I'd like to see him take some of the pressure off Aldridge by scoring more and improving on his 43% shooting.  He is also good from behind the arc shooting 37%.  Wright isn't as good defensively but should be a quality guy off the bench. 

 LaMarcus Aldridge had his normal stellar year of 21 points and 9 rebounds a game while shooting 48%.  He will get, and deserves, the bulk of the minutes at the four.  They don't have much in a backup here.  Aldridge is key to this team but I think if Matthews and Batum can step up their games then he could play a little looser and play even better even if it is at the expense of some stats. 

Robin Lopez was brought in to anchor the center position after J.J. Hickson left after the season.  Lopez won't win defensive player of the year but is a big body who I hope can defend the rim better than the undersized Hickson.  Not sure he can get 10 rebounds a game like J.J. but for now I'm just hoping he can bring some size to the middle.  Would have liked to see a quality backup here who could also play behind Aldridge but this is one position where I think Portland is thin.

I see no reason why this team can't get to 43 wins and a playoff spot.  They'll be fighting for the #8 seed but it is definitely doable.  This may not be the year they make much noise in the playoffs if they can make it but they are on the right track.  Great young talent here and if they can gel this team can be very good.  I hope the additions through the draft and free agency will make a difference on the bench.  Again, no reason this can't be a good team and I expect a winning record come the end of the year. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

NBA Changes Finals Format

The NBA changed the Finals format for a 2-3-2 format to 2-2-1-1-1 this week.  Bill Simmons did a pretty good job of looking at the issues with the 2-3-2 format back in June.  I, for one, have always liked the 2-3-2 for the reason most don't.  It gives an edge, I'd say helps even the home court edge.  I think having the first two games at home is a huge advantage. 

The team that has home court is the better team (record wise) so they should have it.  And if they are the better team then they should win the first two games thus making those three away not near as scary.  Yes that is easier said than done but a championship team should be able to win on the road.  If you are in The Finals then it shouldn't matter.  Simmons' article paints a somewhat different picture but if you can't win wherever the game is maybe you shouldn't be the champs.  This isn't like baseball where a player from your roster can just be dumped from your starting lineup ala American League teams travelling to National League ballparks.  I do understand the other side but I think the teams that complain are those that can't win the championship. 

My NBA viewing started in the late 70's and I can't say this was an issue with me back in the day.  I'll be curious to see how I feel after a Finals or two in the new format.  Definitely not something that'll turn me off from watching but enough that I had to put something down on here.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

2013 World Series: Boston and St. Louis Tied at One

After Boston took game one of the World Series St. Louis wins game two behind another pitching gem from rookie Michael Wacha.  In game one Boston took advantage of some sloppy fielding by the Cards as well as jumping on Adam Wainwright early on their way to a 8-1 win.  This was a great start for the Red Sox.  Their offense, defense, and pitching all looked great.  I thought this gave them an edge going into game two. 
Boy I was wrong.    Michael Wacha continued his great postseason run.  His ERA did go up to 1.00 but earned his fourth postseason win (matches his regular season total) in this, his rookie season.  Amazing.  Other than Papi's homerun the Red Sox really had no answer for the stellar rookie.  Again this guy is a rookie who hasn't even pitched 100 combined regular and postseason innings.  I'll stop gushing now but WOW.  This was my worst case scenario.  The young Cardinal pitchers have forgotten how inexperienced they are and continue pitching well.  I really thought the Boston offense could wear them down with their ability to work the counts.  Didn't happen as Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal just mowed them down. 
Now Boston starter Clay Buchholz says he "may have one more game" in him.  That is not what you want to hear from your expected third starter as he battles a vague "fatigue" issue.  Now his game three start has been pushed back to game four.  Still everyone's confidence level in Buchholz has just sunk to an all-time low.  Greaaaat.  Boston is probably wishing they had another crack at setting their World Series roster...without Buchholz on it.  So Jake Peavy is now the Boston game three starter.  Shaky in three of his last four starts and after being hit hard by Detroit you have to wonder what he'll give them.  I really like Peavy and hope he can channel some of his past National League success in game three.  The Cards throw another youngster in Joe Kelly at the Red Sox so hopefully the offense can learn from game two and give a better showing tomorrow night. 
Game four has Lance Lynn starting for the Cardinals.  He is also doesn't inspire much confidence in his team's fan base.  Both teams have a starter in reserve ready to go if their starters get into trouble early.  Felix Doubrount (Bos) and Shelby Miller know they could be called on early to stem the tide.  This series is no surprise outside of some of the defensive letdowns.  Now that it is in St. Louis, Boston needs to set the tone early in game three and take the advantage.  Knowing they have to face Wainright again in game five, games three and four are critical.  Waino is a tested veteran and I wouldn't count on getting to him two games in a row.  Close series which is anyone's to win and that is all you can ask for.  Well I'll ask for three more Red Sox wins as well...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 World Series: St. Louis Cardinals vs Boston Red Sox

I've watched a ton of Cards games and seen the Red Sox quite a bit.  I won't look at any stats this year.  Just looking at the two teams I give Boston the edge but barely.  I think the key will be the young pitchers of the Cardinals.  Starters Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly and closer Trevor Rosenthal are all young and don't have much regular season experience much less in the post season.  Wacha has excelled so far but I'm not sure how he or any of the three will respond in the World Series.  The Red Sox throw a seasoned staff at St. Louis.  Not saying they are without their issues but I like the starting staff.  The St. Louis bullpen is probably better suited for the series as opposed to their counterparts.  So tight ballgames could be a plus for St. Louis.

The Cardinals get Allen Craig back for the Series but I'm not sure it will be enough.  Their offense is very good and I think they can score against anyone so the Boston pitchers have their work cut out for them.  The Red Sox are great at being patient at the plate and they'll have to be to win the series.  The Boston offense struggled in Detroit and if it weren't for some timely grand slams we would be watching the Tigers host game 1. 

I won't be surprised if every game is very close.  I also won't be surprised if it goes seven games.  I love that this is a rematch of the 2004 World Series.  I think David Ortiz and Yadier Molina are the only players returning from that series.  Seems fitting that the two leaders of their respective teams are here again.  As I live close to St. Louis this has definitely been fun.  I only hope for a good series...well and a Boston championship.  Still no matter what we'll have fun.  Saturday I go to a St. Louis sports card show with a good friend.  Not sure yet if I'll wear one of my Red Sox jerseys.  Cards fans are great but I may wait to see how the series is going before I make that decision.  This is what it is all about.  The best teams from each league, a series that seems destined for close games and guys on both sides you can root for.  I just hope the series lives up to expectations. 

NOTE:  This was supposed to post before the start of game one but the internet was down until now.  GO BOSOX!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z

(Spoiler Alert)  Watched World War Z this afternoon and I really enjoyed the movie.  It stars Brad Pitt as an ex-United Nations inspector.  After the zombie outbreak occurs causing all those bitten by the zombies, his character, Gerry Lane, is able to save his family but gets caught up in the U.N. operation to determine what has caused the outbreak while at the same time trying to find what can stop the zombie outbreak. 

One of the things I really enjoyed was the quick pace.  I also enjoyed the fact that there was little setup.  Seemed like it was only five minutes (might have been 10) and the zombie outbreak occurs.  Lane is able to keep his family safe through the day and night after the attack until his former boss is able to get them to safety aboard the ship where the effort to save the day is being led. 

Lane and special forces start their search in Korea where one of the first zombies is found.  From there his search takes him to Israel where they had fortified Jerusalem against zombies with walls just prior to the outbreak.  Lane learns they had learned of the zombies from a message intercepted from India.  Zombies are able to infiltrate the city and Lane must make a manic getaway aboard an airliner.  When a zombie causes the plane to go down he is able to make his way to a World Health Organization facility to hopefully find a "cure". 

There he takes what he has learned from the U.N., his time in Korea, and what he has seen during attacks he's seen first hand and figures out how to defeat the zombies.  As throughout the movie nothing comes easy but as expected our hero saves the day. 

The movie never lingers too much on one part as the film keeps a nice pace.  The zombies are a different portrayal than what we are used to but help make this movie work.  Their ability to run, jump and be physically crazy make you believe that yes they could make such a huge impact in such a short period of time in spite of the weaponry at our disposal.  Brad Pitt played his character well and he really is the focus of this movie.  While his family get some pretty good face time early on he takes center stage.  I was hooked by the trailers for World War Z and always thought I'd really like the movie.  I wasn't disappointed.  I highly recommend World War Z to anyone who enjoys the genre.  The movie is rated PG-13 and while it would be scary to younger children it isn't the gory fare you may see from other zombie flicks.

Rating:  PG-13
Length:  123 minutes
Cost:  $190 million
U.S. Box Office:  $202 million
International Box Office:  $540 million

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Atlanta Hawks 2013-2014 Preview

Atlanta cruised to a 44 win season last year but I think the season was seen as a disappointment to fans.  After winning 53 games in the 09-10 (and I complained then about not getting past the second round - go figure) the Hawks have seen Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith leave the team for "greener pastures".  I think fans would be more than happy with seeing the second round right now.  I, like many, were ok with all three leaving and still think Danny Ferry made one of the best all-time deals when he was able to move Johnson not to mention getting Utah to take on Williams' deal.  Those guys were good but to some extent limited the team.  While rebuilding may not be the right term, this team is definitely moving in a different direction.  

This team begins and ends with Jeff Teague at the point.  Atlanta matched Milwaukee's offer to Teague and now he must earn the big contract.  Teague is the Hawks' best point guard they've had in years and I'm glad they kept him around.  He won't have to share the ball with Josh Smith this year so he has a great chance at surpassing his 7.2 assists from last year.  Everyone is high on the rookie from Germany Dennis Schroeder who will backup Teague.  I don't know much about him but I'll take quality depth and the point anytime.  Lou Williams will get the bulk of the time at shooting guard.  He got injured last year but everyone is high on him and expects him to be the scorer they need in the backcourt.  He shot 37% from behind the arc and averaged 14 points per game.  First round pick John Jenkins is expected to challenge for big minutes.  He is 6-4 and can shoot the three.  Again it looks like their could be some quality depth at this position. 

Al Horford anchors the center spot once again.  A natural power forward, he is a bit undersized, but you will be hard pressed to find a harder worker which is why he was able to average 17 and 10 last year and make the all-star team.  Paul Millsap was brought in from Utah to fill the power forward role.  This was a great signing.  He is a tough down low and can hit the boards.  He fits well besides Horford on the front line.  Elton Brand was brought in as a free agent and will get minutes at both the 4 and the 5.  He isn't an all-star anymore but I would think he can provide quality minutes off the bench.  Kyle Korver will probably start at small forward.  He can hit the 3 but don't ask for any defense from him.  Still spreading out the defense will help the bigs down low by creating more space.  DeMarre Carroll (another ex-Jazz player) will get minutes as well at this position.  An athletic kid who may be asked to play defense when needed at small forward.

The biggest acquisition may be new coach Mike Budenholzer who comes from San Antonio.  Hopefully he can bring some of his winning ways from the Spurs.  Atlanta definitely needs someone who can take Atlanta to the next level. They've been a team that can make the playoffs.  Now they need to make some noise once they get there.  Coaching will be a big part to that.

I like this team as built especially the depth they have.  Not a knock, but not having Josh Smith handling the ball should help Jeff Teague and the rest of the offense be more comfortable in their rolls.  Jeff Teague must be at least as good as he was last year and be able to involve everyone in the new offensive schemes brought in by Budenholzer.  I won't expect huge strides this year but I think they can win 46 games and hopefully land a number four seed.  Might be asking for a bit too much  but again I like the makeup of this team.  We'll see how all the changes look on the court. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Braves Lose to Dodgers in Division Series - Red Sox Advance to ALCS

Atlanta failed to advance past the first playoff series once again losing three games to one to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Neither pitching nor the offense were good enough to get past the Dodgers whom the Braves had handled in the regular season series five games to two.  The offense only scored 14 runs while mustering one home run and 36 total bases over their four playoff games.  Pitching put up a 5.82 ERA, walked 21, while allowing a .280 batting average in 34 innings.  None of those numbers scream we're gonna win!  No matter how it all played out the bottom line is this will be a disappointing season.  Even with all the injuries this team had to play with they won 96 games and should have been able to compete with anyone in the playoffs.  Yes, they didn't get blown out by the Dodgers, but I just never had the feeling they were on the same level.  Maybe that is just the pessimistic fan always thinking the worst but the offense is inconsistent and while the pitching was very good in the regular season, outside of Craig Kimbrel, I didn't feel we could say this pitcher or that was a guy who'd be big come playoff time.  Hopefully the Braves can get healthy and maybe get the offense on track next year but it will still feel like this year was a loss.

Boston on the other hand dealt with Tampa Bay somewhat easily winning their series three games to one.  Boston showed off it's offense and their pitching had a very nice 3.03 ERA.  Boston only hit two homers but their .286 batting average, .390 on base percentage and 26 runs should make all Red Sox fans happy.  The pitchers only gave up 11 walks and allowed a .225 batting average.  I said it before the playoffs and this only enhanced my view - this team is built to win it all.  They have depth in pitching and an offense that no pitcher can rest on.  Detroit may have a better 1-2 punch but I think Boston can start four pitchers who are on par with any team out there.  I, like many, just have a good feeling about this team.  They seem loose and don't get rattled easily.  I'm hoping for eight more wins - sorry Detroit...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Braves and Red Sox Ready for the Playoffs

The Braves enter the playoffs as the #2 seed after posting a 13-14 September.  This is not how you want to play going into the playoffs.  The offense is inconsistent at best and while the pitching has been good they lack an identity.  There is no true ace on this staff and anytime 36 year-old Freddy Garcia has a chance to make your postseason rotation there could be trouble.  Still we have two very good starters at the top of the rotation in Mike Minor and Kris Medlen.  In a postseason series having two very good pitchers can get you to the next round.  Julio Teheran should be the third starter.  Then it would be Garcia or Paul Maholm.  The big question in the bullpen is whether or not Jordan Walden would be available while battling a groin injury. 50 save stud Craig Kimbrel anchors the bullpen and should keep any lead that gets to him safe.  Still the pitching staff with the best ERA should keep them in every game.  Just have to hope the offense puts something up on the board...

The offense is as inconsistent as ever.  MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson are the steadying force of the lineup.  Everyone else has been nothing but streaky.  I'm really hoping they can put some hits together against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers in games one and two of the first round.  It won't be easy but that is how they'll have to win games.  I just don't know if they can do it.  No real secret to the Brave's key to winning.  The offense must step up and do better.  Playing against high caliber teams each night they can't wait for the next game.  I think Atlanta can beat the Dodgers but it seems like it will take a brawl that goes seven games. 

#1 seed Boston comes in with the league's best offense and 13th best pitching staff.  I think Boston has what it takes to win it all.  They are a very balanced team.  Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Bucholz anchor the starting staff which can also throw Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy at you.  The bullpen has holes and the closer role has been unsettled all year.  Boston must have that settled in the first series against the yet to be determined wild card team or it could be a rough postseason.  Koji Euhara seems to have the role for now but we'll see how he does in the postseason in his somewhat new role.

The offense has lots of weapons anchored by David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia but also gets support from the rest of the lineup.  This team should score no matter who they go up against.  Doesn't mean they can't be shut down but they should always feel like they can score and make a comeback if need be. 

Three Major League Stars Play Their Final Season

 Maybe this happens more than I remember but this year we say goodbye to three outstanding major leaguers who retire today.  You have to start with Mariano Rivera.  The all-time leader in saves and a career 2.21 ERA, Rivera is truly one of the all-time greats.  He also retires with 42 postseason saves not to mention a .70 ERA in 141 innings over 96 games.  I'm a self proclaimed Yankee hater but Mariano Rivera is the real deal.  I hated facing him but he is a stud of a player and by all accounts a good guy.  I think all the gifts and accolades he has received are a tribute to that.  Look here to see some of his retirement gifts.  I'll miss Rivera but am very happy to have seen his career no matter how hard it was to watch when he played Boston or Atlanta. 

Todd Helton retires after 17 years with the Colorado Rockies.  Many will say his stats are skewed due to the altitude of Denver but you can't discount the fact that he was the proud face of this team for almost two decades and played up to a high level the majority of his career.  His DUI earlier this year will obviously diminish his reputation some but it shouldn't wipe out what he has done over his career as a player and how he carried himself as a individual.  On the field he will retire with over 2500 hits, 369 homeruns, 1400 RBI's and an outstanding .414 on base percentage (good for 26th all-time).  Helton also had a hand in taking the Rockies to their only World Series appearance after their great regular series run in 2007.

Andy Pettitte will also retire this year after an 18 season career.  Known as a postseason force with 19 wins he was also money in the regular season with 256 wins and 3.85 career while never having a losing season (thanks to yesterday's complete game win over Houston).  His nice guy image has helped him overcome his admitting to taking PED's but it will probably forever come up in conversation with his name.  Still he was a pitcher every team in the league would have loved to have at the top of their rotation year in and year out. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Michigan Wolverines Win Close Gave Over Connecticut

This was not a pretty game for Michigan.  Again.  After coming back late to beat Akron last week the Wolverines had to do the same this week to beat Connecticut.  Michigan was losing this game 21-7 late in the third quarter before rallying for a 24-21 win. Not at all what anyone, a fan or those associated with the team, want to see.

The running game is horrible.  The stats will say the Wolverines averaged 3.7 yards per carry and that running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had 120 carries on 24 yards.  But if not for some long runs in the second half neither of these stats would have been near as pretty.  Devin Gardner didn't shine at quarterback.  13 of 25 for 111 yards and two interceptions.  He also ran 19 times for 59 yards and a touchdown.  The defense was actually pretty good but had to deal with some short field due to turnovers by the offense.

Really nothing was working until the second half.  UCONN finally came back down to earth, the Michigan defense remembered they are bigger and better than the UCONN offense and the offense put up sustained drives which gained points.  I can't say I really though Michigan would win this game until UCONN's last desperate drive to try and recapture the lead before the end of the game.  Michigan now has an off week before playing Minnesota October 5th.  The schedule still favors the Wolverines but if they keep playing teams like this I don't think Big 10 teams will let them come back to win games.  This team has a long way to go to be a very good team no matter their national ranking.  I'm hoping coach Brady Hoke can get this team back on track.  That is a sports cliché but that is what needs to be done.  This is a talented team.  Probably not a top 10 team in the country but they shouldn't be duking it out to the last second in games against teams they should be winning comfortably against. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

4th and Inches...Bills and Falcons Win Their First Game of the Year

Buffalo beat Carolina 24-23 for their first win of the year.  Solid win which they can hopefully build on.  EJ Manuel had a good day throwing for 296 yards while completing 27 of 39 passes.  He added 1 touchdown (last second game winner) and had 1 interception.  The running game averaged 4.5 yards per carry led by CJ Spiller's 6.4 average (103 total).  Stevie Johnson caught 8 balls for 111 yards and that winning touchdown.  And that is what you want to see.  Your stars playing well.  Speaking of, Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks (Bills single game record) to help the defense which had 6 total sacks and 1 interception.  I really wish I could have watched this game.  Watching the score it started slow and then ping ponged back and forth between the teams.  From what I've read it seems the offense and defense played well.  I'm not saying they're playoff ready but it is definitely a game where the team and fans can be happy about the positives.  Buffalo gets the Jets this week in a game they can win.  A victory would really keep the good vibes flowing.  A loss to a bad Jets team will really make us wonder how good we really are. 

Atlanta cruised to a big lead early but, as has been a bad habit, let the Rams come back to make it close.  Injuries were big in this game.  Five starters were out of the lineup by halftime including Stephen Jackson, LB Sean Wetherspoon, and CB Asante Samuel.  DE Jonathan Massaquoi tore his achilles and is now out for the year.  Jackson won't play this week against Miami.  There were positives including the play of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones who had to pick up the slack with Roddey White being nicked up and was a non-factor.  Jones is a stud who I think is definitely the top receiver on this team.  With Jackson going out after scoring his first touchdown as a Falcon the running game fell apart.  Atlanta ran the ball for a total of 36 yards with an average under 3 yards per carry. Again the offense couldn't put the Rams away until late.  Injuries probably hurt but this offense is good enough and the defense didn't help allowing 21 second half points.  Miami is undefeated and this should be a good test for both teams.  Players get hurt and the really good teams find ways to keep winning.  I'm afraid this will be a let down game.  Still it was good to get that first victory and Atlanta is still poised to be one of the best teams in the league.

I'm not saying the Bears or Jay Cutler are for real but they are winning and that is what matters.  They could throw a monkey wrench in someone's playoff hopes if they continue to play well...The Redskins look done.  Their offense has been average at best and the defense didn't show up against the Packers.  After last year this is a huge step back.  They can still get it together but I'm think any realistic thoughts of making the playoffs are done....Saw quite a bit of the Chargers game and was very happy to see them pull off the upset.  The offense did well and the defense held when they had to.  It was a fun game and showed the Eagles they aren't all that quite yet...There was no excuse for the play of the 49ers.  It was horrible.  They've given Seattle the mental edge at the moment and now must play from behind in the division.  Missed opportunity to send a message that they are the team to beat in the division and the NFC. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

4th and Inches...Week 1 Falcons and Bills Lose Close Games

I know many have bemoaned how week one was full of sloppy play but I thought it was a good week.  Maybe not for my teams but it was still a good week and I just loved having football back!

Atlanta took a tough loss to the Saints.  The Falcons were in it until the end.  As good as Stephen Jackson looked his dropped touchdown catch was a negative ending to his day.  In fact he was removed for the next play of the game which was the last offensive play of the game for Atlanta.  Not that he was the only one with a key miscue.  Julio Jones fumbled a pass early in the second quarter leading to a Saints touchdown.   The offense wasn't bad but just didn't put enough points on the board while not converting key third downs.  The Saints' defense looked much better than the league worse effort they put on the field last year.  I wouldn't have believed Atlanta would only put up 17 points in this game.  The defense surprised me too. In a good way.  Considering the lack of upgrades in the off season and the Saints offense, specifically the 35 minutes of time of possession, I thought the Saints would put up more points.  Maybe game two against St. Louis will yield more positive results but overall it was just disappointing. 

Buffalo was also in the game until the end losing to the Patriots on a last minute field goal.  Yes New England isn't the New England of years past but Brady didn't look great against the Bills defense.  Always reason to cheer.  The Buffalo offense, led by rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel was good.  Specifically he ended up with a quarterback rating of 105.5 while throwing no interceptions and the running game averaged four yards per carry.  I still don't think the Bills have the very good receiver they need opposite Stevie Johnson to really make the receiving corps dangerous.  Overall a good game for Buffalo but very, very disappointing to lose this game when they had their chances to win.  Buffalo is at home against Carolina this week and I think they can win this game.  Here's to hoping for the first win of the year. 

I live in the St. Louis area so I hear quite about the Rams on the radio and always like to comment on them.  I must admit they looked good this week in their win over Arizona who also looked good with Carson Palmer at QB.  I was very skeptical going into week 1 but they really did play well.  The game against Atlanta this week in Atlanta should be a better test for them.  If Sam Bradford and his receivers can have more days close to what we saw Sunday then there is no reason to believe St. Louis can't have an above .500 record this year in a very tough NFC West. 

Peyton Manning looked awesome and I think he was still smarting from the loss to the Ravens in last year's playoffs.  And I sure wish I had him on my fantasy team - oh wait I DID!...I keep believing Phillip Rivers will be the Rivers of old but like everyone else I'm left disappointed.  I know he might not have the best weapons around him but his fourth quarter against the Houston Texans just makes you shake your head...Can the Steelers feel much worse after that horrible week one performance?...Reggie Bush really could be "The Man" in Detroit.  He just seems a good fit there...Speaking of, Philly's offense seems to fit Chip Kelly's new scheme really well.  I do wish folks would get off the whole "revolutionary" thing.  It is just a hurry up offense.  Don't get me wrong.  I like it and picked them to win their division but if Washington doesn't turn over the ball three straight times to start the game I'm not sure their offense looks quite as good...The Bears were a pleasant surprise in their win against Cincy.  The Bengals on the other hand have to wonder what happened.  Picked by many to win their division this was a huge loss since everyone else in the division also lost week one. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

2013 NFL Season Preview

Wanted to weigh in on the upcoming season before it kicks off Thursday with Baltimore and Denver.  Speaking of - I'd be irritated too if the NFL put up a banner on my stadium of the opposing team's quarterback.  Now is it the worst thing the NFL will do this season?  No.  But it doesn't seem like the right thing to do.  Nothing too deep tonight but I love doing predictions and this is my chance to show off.  Well at least I looked pretty good last year which was a first.  See my 2012 predictions here.

Philadelphia winning the division is my big surprise as I take them to win the East.  I like the idea of their new offensive scheme and it seems Vick and the weapons he has are a perfect fit.  That means I think the rest of the East has to underperform or take a step back which is what I'm expecting.  Green Bay should win their division assuming they don't have any major setbacks.  I don't have the Vikings in the playoffs.  Peterson won't be able to carry them like he did last year.  Atlanta and New Orleans will make the playoffs from the South with Falcons winning the division in a close battle.   49ers and Seattle go from the West.  San Fran is stacked having talent all over the place.  The 49ers should return to the Super Bowl assuming Kaepernick doesn't have a major fall off in performance from last year. 

I like Flacco and the Ravens but I'm expecting them to drop to the wild card after losing many of their key players to include the iffy trade of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a 6th round pick.  I know this was a salary dump but you can't tell me no other team in the NFL would give Baltimore a 5th round pick for a receiver of his caliber.  Shady.  So I see Cincy taking the division but it will be close.  I just like that team and think their defense will carry them to the title.  New England will be its powerful self but I think they'll falter again in the playoffs as it is doubtful their defense will be much if any better.  I love Indy and Andrew Luck but I think they'll have a drop from last years total of 11 wins but I really don't see anyone challenging them for the final playoff spot.  KC?  Too much to ask for.  Pittsburgh?  Don't think they have the defense to make it.  Denver should win their division though with the suspensions they've had on their defense means they probably won't reach 13 wins.  Still they are the team to beat in the AFC and I don't think anyone will come playoff time. 

I really want to put Atlanta in the Super Bowl but I'm afraid their defense just won't hold up against the best teams and showed major issues against the young mobile quarterbacks.  I also want to jump on the Kansas City bandwagon but a nine or even eight game turnaround seems like way too much to ask for.  I could see them getting to .500 this year but no more.  Denver is too much and I expect a better year from San Diego. 

Bottom line: Denver wins the Super Bowl.  They were one bonehead play away from advancing to the AFC Championship last year and the addition of Wes Welker will only make them better.  They did lose their starting center for the year.  This could be much more of an issue than I want to believe.  We'll see.  The defense needs to be as good as last year and things should be theory. 

Division Winners:  Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco
Wild Cards:  New Orleans, Seattle

Division Winners:  New England, Cincinnati, Houston, Denver
Wild Cards:  Baltimore, Indy

Super Bowl:  Denver over San Francisco

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Buffalo Bills 2013 Preview

Undrafted rookie QB Jeff Tuel
Yes the picture to the left should be E.J. Manuel the rookie quarterback who is out for the rest of the preseason with an injury.  It isn't even quarterback Kevin Kolb, former Cardinals QB, who may have to retire after sustaining a major cuncussion.  So this is how this post starts out.  Talking about the most important position on the team and the top two candidates to start are injured.  Game 1 is being turned over to undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel.  Who?  Luckily Yahoo sheds some light on Mr. Tuel here.  Yes Manuel should be back for game 2 but this isn't looking too good.  Maybe Tuel can channel some Kurt Warner.  That worked out pretty good for the Rams. 

KEY ADDITIONS: ILB Kiko Alonso (2nd round, Oregon), K Dustin Hopkins (6th round, Florida State), RE Jerry Hughes (from Colts), QB Kevin Kolb (from Cardinals), LB Manny Lawson (from Bengals), QB E.J. Manuel (1st Round, Florida State), WR Robert Woods (2nd round, USC)

KEY DEPARTURES: LB Nick Barnett (to Redskins), QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (to Titans), G Andy Levitre (to Titans), LB Kelvin Sheppard (to Colts), S George Wilson (to Titans) (courtesy Fox News)

E.J. Manuel was the big surprise of the NFL draft after being the first quarterback drafted.  Buffalo is counting on him to be the franchise quarterback of the future.  Geno Smith was the easy draft pick.  At least if they picked Geno and he didn't work out everyone would understand.  Picking Manuel puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved, especially new coach Doug Marrone who makes the transition from college.  I know Manuel has looked good in the preseason but I'm thinking it could be a long year. 

Buffalo does have running back C.J. Spiller who had a breakout year in 2012 and receiver Stevie Johnson to help ease the transition on offense.  Hopefully receiver Robert Woods (USC) can help out as a rookie wideout and he share time with receiver David Nelson and tight end Scott Chandler to provide targets for the quarterbacks .  Buffalo needs to take all the pressure they can off their young quarterbacks but the offensive line isn't going to scare anyone and these young QB's may be on the run quite a bit. 

The defense lost safety George Wilson to the Titans and Mario Williams didn't exactly live up to his big contract.  I'm not saying he is a bust.  I think it was a great move but now the team is switching to a 3-4 defense so I'm not exactly how Williams will fit in.  The team added some youth on defense through the draft and free agency but nobody that will be pushing for defensive player of the year.  The defensive backfield may still be a positive even with the loss of Wilson.  They still have standout rookie Stephon Gilmore, Jarius Byrd, and Leodis McKelvin anchoring the pass coverage.  Of course if the front seven can't get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks or contain the running game it will all be for not.

I'm thinking five wins for this team.  There is a lot of transition going on here and unless Manuel plays like the big three rookie QBs from last year it will not be an easy one.  I just don't know.  There are some weapons on offense but how will Emanuel play?   Will the offensive line give him time to develop?  That was key to RGIII, Wilson, and Kaepernick being able to develop and prosper.  The defense can be better than average but how will the transition to the 3-4 go?  Many things have to go right for this to be a successful season and my definition of that would be seven wins.  Maybe I'm too pessimistic but I just don't see it all jelling this quickly.  I do have hope for the next few years.  Give the coaching staff some time to develop the young talent and anything is possible.  For now, as always, Bills fans can only stay strong and have hope. 

Awesome link from Buzzfeed.  I will warn Bills fans that it will probably make you cry...
32 Reason Being a Buffalo Bills Fan is More Painful Than Childbirth

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Braves Lost Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward is out 4-6 weeks after having surgery for a broken jaw suffered against the Mets on 21 August.  This is a huge blow.  While Heyward isn't having a great year overall he had responded well to being moved to the leadoff spot.  He was batting .348 in August with a .419 on base percentage and was key to Atlanta extending it's lead to 15 games in the National League East.  He'll miss most of the rest of the season.  I'd rather have him playing but for now I'll hope he will be ready to go in the playoffs. 

This injury is not good news for the Braves whose offense isn't the most potent and the Braves as a whole have dealt with a ton of injuries this year.  His defense and veteran leadership are also a big piece of this team.  Six Braves have been lost for the season to include key pitchers Tim Hudson, Eric O'Flaherty and Johnny Venters.  Now the Braves also must deal with an injury to starter Brandon Beachy.  He had only five starts after returning from injury and now he may be out again for an extended timeframe. 

Atlanta is a good team and their record shows it.  Still they need to catch a break with all these injuries or it may all be for not come playoff time.  I can only hope the rest of the lineup can step up and fill the void.  The Braves have lost three in a row to the Cardinals scoring a total a five runs in those three games.  I'm not panicking but definitely fatigued at seeing all these injuries. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Atlanta Falcons 2013 Preview

After last year's disappointing loss in the NFC Championship this year Falcons fans are looking at this as the year Atlanta goes all the way.  Will it really happen that way?  I hope so but it rarely works out that way for all involved.  New Orleans will have their coach back and many are looking to Cam Newton and the Panthers to have a bounce back year so this could go either way. 

In 2012 Atlanta went 13-3, won their first playoff game with Matt Ryan in a squeaker over Seattle and then lost by mere yards to the San Francisco 49ers.  Great year for this team though the defense was iffy in the bend but don't break mold - gave up lots of yards and plays but held the league to the fifth lowest total points scored.  While the end was disappointing it was a heck of a ride.  Hard to get that close and not wonder "what if?".

The offseason saw a few changes as noted below (came from Sports Illustrated Falcons preview).
Signed RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora; drafted CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, DE Malliciah Goodman, TE Levine Toilolo
Subtractions:RB Michael Turner, OT Tyson Clabo, C Todd McClure, DE John Abraham, DT Vance Walker, CB Brent Grimes, CB Dunta Robinson, S Chris Hope

Running back was a need and they got better with Stephen Jackson.  With his age and the yards on his body this is a short term fix but he is better than Michael Turner who gave us some great years but had nothing left.  CB Michael Trufant who was drafted in the first round is also a player expected to step right in and upgrade his position.  After that the Falcons lost key members of the offensive line (Clabo, McClue) how their replacements fair may be key the entire Falcons' season.  Matt Ryan got a big extension which was huge for the future of the franchise.  Hopefully he is up to the pressure that comes with a big contract. 

The defense is crap shoot.  I would have liked to have seen a few more key additions to the line.  DE John Abraham is gone with Osi Umenyiora replacing him.  Is that better or worse?  No one knows yet.  The defense wasn't great already and the lack of a pass rush won't help the young secondary.  For now if they can sustain what they did last year it will be a plus but as we saw in the playoffs they were very weak against the young mobile quarterbacks. 

So with all that said and, oh yeah, Tony Gonzalez back there is no reason not to be optimistic.  Atlanta should compete with any team in the NFC.  Still the NFC is very strong this year so  we'll need some things to break the Falcons' way.  Maybe the defense surprises us and Ryan improves on his good year from last year.  Everyone will be disappointed if Atlanta isn't in the Championship game again this year.  That is where I'll put them while I think they only win 11 (maybe even 10) games with a schedule heavy with very good quarterbacks (I'm hoping for a sophomore slump for some of those young quarterbacks around the league).  That means they'll need to win two playoff games just to get to the NFC Championship.  I think that is their lot in life this year.  Doesn't mean they can't.  They have the offense and the defense just has to keep limiting the scoring of their opponents.  Should be a very interesting year and I can't wait for September 8th when the season starts at New Orleans. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Movie Review: Easy Rider

I've never seen this movie and thought it was something I should watch.  I like older movies and this one is a classic by some standards.  I will warn you now there are spoilers in this review.  Yes I know the movie is from 1969 but not everyone has seen it.  Here are the particulars:

Stars:  Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper
1969 - Directed by Hopper
Written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern
Third highest grossing movie of 1969
Easy Rider IMDB Link    Easy Rider Wikipedia Link

The movie is nothing more than the characters played by Fonda and Hopper, Wyatt and Billy respectively, selling some dope and taking a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  Not too complicated.  Of course there are adventures along the way.  First up is a rancher who helps them out when Wyatt's motorcycle breaks down.  Here we get to see the main characters eat a meal with the rancher and his family.  Next up is a hippie who needs a ride to his commune.  Once there they socialize a little to include some skinny dipping. 

Back on the road they join a parade while driving through a small town.  This gets them put in jail where they meet lawyer George Hansen who is played by Jack Nicholson.  While he had been around for some time and this was a supporting role, this movie was considered by some as his breakout role.  Once getting out of jail, the three continue the trek together to New Orleans.  The locals and the police don't take a shine to the three when they stop for a meal in a small town in Louisiana.  They quickly leave town but are attacked in the middle of the night while camped.  George Hansen dies at this point and Wyatt and Billy continue on.

They make it to New Orleans and head to a local house of prostitution recommended to them by Hansen.  There they and two prostitutes take some acid given to them by hippie they took to the commune.  They are now at a local cemetery where the acid trip begins.  In true 60's style the filming style takes you along for the ride. 

Once done in New Orleans Wyatt and Billy head out for Florida.  While on the road two locals end up killing the pair for no good reason.  And the there the movie ends.

You may think I left out quite a bit of detail.  That is true but again this movie was pretty straight forward and I probably didn't get the finer details as to provide much better insight.  A road trip with plenty of marijuana and some adventure. That was it.  I did like the movie.  I was pretty naïve going in actually thinking it revolved around a motorcycle gang.  Wyatt is the very laid back hippie type while Billy is the always hyped up character.  The movie flows fairly well if not aimlessly.  The dialogue is also pretty shallow.  That said Easy Rider was critically acclaimed and boasted a pretty good soundtrack.   Best of all it gave us the classic "Captain America" bike Peter Fonda rode throughout the movie which is pretty sweet.  I know this all doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement but again I liked it.  If you at all like movies from the time, have an interest in the counterculture of the period or are just curious you have to pick this movie up. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mark Cuban Defends Alex Rodriguez

Mark Cuban "defended" Alex Rodriguez in an appearance on Jay Leno.  The story can be seen here.  First Mark Cuban has an axe to grind against Major League Baseball (MLB) because he has always thought MLB has kept him from owning a major league team.  That said I'm on board with the criticism. 

I'll be the first to tell you I have steroids/PED fatigue.  I'm so tired of hearing about it on the radio, on every sports show, and online.  I'm also not a fan of Alex Rodriguez.  Like many I just don't find him that likable though I can't really put my finger on why.  He has admitted to using steroids.  That automatically puts him into a category of players fans will dislike - unless you are Andy Pettite (and Jason Giambi to some extent) who seems to get a free pass on the issue.  Still none of these players will be talked about without PEDs coming up in the conversation and none will sniff entry into the baseball hall of fame.

To the punishment itself, a 211 game suspension.  As Cuban has said there is a process in place.  First time offenders get a 50 game ban.  Yes, Ryan Braun got 65 games but I think that was a bit self serving.  He was going to get a minimum 50 games, the Milwaukee Brewers were out of contention and he was dealing with a wrist injury.  It served him best to just take the 65 games and move on without a fight.  Probably the right decision for him.  A-Rod has admitted use in the past but it wasn't during a time when MLB could punish him under the labor agreement.  So is this sour grapes on the part of MLB?  Those famous unnamed sources say there is other evidence of A-Rod obstructing the investigation.  Would that be like Melky Cabrera creating his own website to throw off investigators?  He only got 50 games.  Hmmmm.  It also leaves the door open for some to argue the big, bad Yankees have influenced MLB while trying to keep Rodriguez from ever playing for them again. 

Without seeing the other evidence which is supposedly very damning it is hard to make a complete argument.  But for now I'm on the side of A-Rod.  Unless he went to some great extent to avoid being caught that involves other illegal activities, I think MLB may have bitten off more than it can handle.  I may be proven wrong but we'll know at some point.  MLB should have given A-Rod 50 games and called it a day thus saying not even the biggest in our sport are immune.  No he isn't the player he used to be but he is getting paid like he is.  Now the entire affair will be talked about to death for what most think will be another 3-4 months.  Does MLB really want to be dealing with this when everyone should be concentrating on the playoffs?  This is a fail for everyone.  No one will win with fans being the ultimate victim. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Disney to Make New Star Wars Trilogy

 It has been a while since Disney announced they will produce a new Star Wars trilogy as well separate spin off films.  I'm a huge Star Wars geek who reads the books, some comic books, the official magazine and try to stay up on the "universe" as best I can so I have to say something.  "Universe"?  The new characters, worlds and other Star Wars creations that have come from the books, games, comics, and TV shows is called the Star Wars expanded universe.  I like to stay up on what is happening even if I don't get a chance to read and see it all.  I was eight when the first Star Wars movie came out so the original trilogy was huge for me growing up.  I can't tell you how many action figures I had, and still have. 

Bottom line is I'm excited.  I love the idea of more Star Wars.  The first six movies gave us great stories and characters.  I can only expect the same with the new movies.  Some are scared we'll get more movies along the lines of episodes I-III.  I am not scared for two reasons.  First I am among the few who don't cringe when episodes I-III are talked about.  Were they great?  No.  Were they horrible?  No.  They were somewhere in between.  Didn't mean we didn't get some great characters and finally got the back story of how we got to the most awesome opening scene of A New Hope.  The other is Disney should do a good job of ensuring fans and movie goers are satisfied. I've heard way too much grumpiness about how Disney won't be able to give Star Wars it's proper due.  I guess none of those folks saw The Avengers.  So I won't worry. 

What will the story be?  There is already a huge universe full of stories from which they can pull.  One rumor is they will do a trilogy based on the Legacy of the Force series in which Han and Leia's son Jacen goes to the dark side.  Details on the series can be found here.  Who knows.  It is out now that Han, Leia and Luke will be back in some capacity.  I think that is great.  They play a huge roll in the Legacy series as well as the expanded universe as a whole and I would think they would play small rolls as support characters of the overall plot.  I am not picky though.  There are so many different ways the writers can go it is crazy.  It may also be a completely new story arc that hasn't been touched before.  I think it will be hard to disappoint me no matter which way they go. 

There is an element out there leery of any new story and whether or not it will change what has already been created in the expanded universe.  Lucasfilm did an awesome job of keeping all the different Star Wars properties cohesive ensuring they didn't contradict each other.  This was a massive task and Star Wars fans are very protective of.  I quantify that.  There are rabid Star Wars fans who aren't familiar with the expanded universe.  They don't read the books, watch The Clone Wars TV series or otherwise pay attention to spin off properties.  Some are fanatical about one or the other.  There are new fans who are more familiar with episode I-III and the new properties.  Fans also vary in age from those my age (40's and 50's) and those who are were introduced to Star Wars through The Clone Wars, toys and other newer properties.  It is a very diverse fan base so all these different fans will have their different ideas of what a new Star Wars trilogy should be and not all of them will be happy.     

No matter what happens there will be drama among hardcore Star Wars fans.  It is something I wish didn't exist but it will be there.  Star Wars fans are passionate if nothing else.  I'm sure you have this with any property (see Harry Potter) that has a rabid fan base.  Again, I'm excited and will be excited no matter what happens.  Just to have the buzz about a new film and all the fun that will come from having another Star wars movie will be good enough for me as long as the move isn't a total bust.  Disney, don't let me down...