Saturday, January 25, 2014

Atlanta Hawks - 23-20 and Third Seed In the East - Surprise or Not?

The Atlanta Hawks are 23-20 and as of tonight the 3rd seed in the Eastern conference.  Before the season I wouldn't say this is too surprising.  I would have said it was surprising if I'd known they would have to play without Al Horford since the 26th of December.  You'll say they are only 7-7 since then.  While true I'd say I would expect them to be 5-9 in that timeframe at best and surely wouldn't expect them to beat Miami during that stretch. 

No matter how they got to this point Atlanta fans have to be happy.  The loss of Horford could have been devastating to a team their lack of big man depth.  Mike Scott and Pero Antic are not very scary and really not that productive except in reserve rolls.  Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague have carried this team.  All the while getting little from anyone else.  Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll will get you a combined 20 points a game which isn't saying anything.  Louis Williams hasn't found his rhythm shooting only 37% total (though 36% from three) while averaging just over nine points a game. 

I'll be happy to see Horford back.  The Hawks really need him anchoring the middle and giving them 18 and 9 a night.  To be honest I'd love to see Atlanta add a scorer (Melo anyone?).  They really don't have anything going at small forward or the shooting guard position.  Someone who could take over a game at either of those spots.  But alas Atlanta really doesn't have anything to give up in a trade so I doubt we'll see any big trades come their way. 

Bottom line is I'm happy where they are at relative to the roster they have.  I know they are not built to contend with Indiana or Miami in the East or any of the many good teams in the West.  Hopefully they can improve themselves in a trade but I won't hold my breath.  Right now I think a first round win would be a big positive for this team.  Just not sure they can do it.  Will be curious to see how the rest of the season shakes out.   

Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle vs Denver

Seattle did a job on the 49ers and go into the Super Bowl with the number one defense and confidence.  I was surprised they beat San Francisco much less how they did it.  It wasn't easy but they took over the second half and put away doubts anyone should have about them as a team.  Their defense is no joke and I don't think it is overrated.  I keep wanting to poke holes in this team but they are for real.  With Marshawn Lynch leading the way the offense can control the ball and wear you down.  Russell Wilson is a young guy I didn't want to like but how can you not?  He is a smart quarterback and how can you not like him when you hear him talk.  Side note.  He sought out Terry Bradshaw and asked him what he needs to do to win the Super Bowl.  Kudos young man.  That is understanding your place and respecting those who went before you.  That aside his receivers won't scare most defenses but again they have made it work.  I think Seattle is poised to upset the Broncos to win their first Super Bowl.

Denver surprised me in how easily they beat the Pats.  No matter how I and everyone else knows the New England offense is lacking any weapons other than Tom Brady, stopping that offense has not been easy for anyone.  Of course the Bronco offense did well too.  They marched up and down the field like they owned the place.  Again the Patriot's defense won't be talked about as one of the all-time best but New England has gotten where it has by coaching to their strengths and exploiting weaknesses.  And it didn't look like Denver had any on Sunday.  The offense  scored at an historic rate this season and while the defense was 22nd in points allowed the team's overall 12.9 points a game positive differential were first in the league.  What that tells us is you had better shut down that offense or it will be a long day.   
This is definitely a tough one.  You have to love the defense, running game and quarterback in Russell Wilson that Seattle brings to the game.  But Denver brings an offense that seems capable of putting up enough points on anyone to win games.  Turnovers will be the key.  Yes, that could probably be said of any team.  But Denver had eight turnovers in their three losses this year.  They had only 21 in the other 13 games.  And with the defense Seattle has they are setup to cause turnovers by sacking Peyton Manning, interceptions or stripping the football from any ball carrier.  Still I think Peyton will figure out a way to score enough points to win this game.  Doesn't mean it will be easy.  Seattle's defense should give him and his receivers fits.  I'm just thinking that given two weeks to prepare that the Broncos will be ready and have some new wrinkles in their offense to offset the coverage.  I won't be surprised by the score unless Seattle wins.  Denver could win by one point or thirty.  It is all on the table.  They get on a roll and Seattle could press to stay close and shoot themselves in the foot in the process.  I'm also thinking the weather shouldn't be as big a factor as some are playing it up to be.  If weather is bad yes it will affect how the game is played but both teams are used to cold weather and will be ready for it. 
I'll be "rooting" for Peyton.  I'd love to see him get that second Super Bowl ring and be the first quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl with two different teams.  Would also love to see Wes Welker win one after coming so close in New England.  There are other on the Broncos as well who I'd like to see win.  That said if Seattle wins I'll be happy for Seattle's fans and the franchise as it would be their only Super Bowl win.  Every franchise and fan base should get the opportunity.  It is a feeling that can't be described.  So while I may be leaning one way I'm just hoping for a good game.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

REVIEW: Lone Survivor Movie

Was able to catch the movie Lone Survivor yesterday here in town.  I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.  The movie follows four Navy Seals on a mission to find a top terrorist leader.  The mission goes awry when goat herders come across the Seal team which must then decide what to do with the civilians.  Their decision has many consequences.  I have a great respect for the special operations community and the Seals are right there as elite members of that group.  I put this movie right there with Black Hawk Down which is one of my all-time favorites.  The movie takes some liberties of course but it doesn't diminish how good it is.  Go see the movie.  Tons of action.  Great view of how folks like the Seals operate.  I think you'll like it. 

Like Black Hawk Down this one is based on a book that chronicles the action in much more detail.  I recommend the book to anyone that enjoyed the movie or likes military history.  The details are amazing and show a whole other side that you can't get watching the movie.  A must read.  In fact I just sent it to my dad for his birthday.  Everyone enjoy!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

2013 NFL Championship Weekend

 Last weekend there were no major surprises.  This sets up a great weekend of games.  Pats @ Broncos and 49ers @ Seahawks.  Probably the four teams most believed to be the top four teams before the season and arguably the four best at the end of the year. 
In Denver Peyton Manning and the Broncos face a Patriots team that while not healthy has still found ways to win.  Denver must also overcome injuries to their defense and offensive line.  This is billed as Manning vs Brady and I wouldn't argue that point.  While it will more than any one man to win, no matter how great a QB, these two deserve all their accolades and we have to be excited to see these two greats square off in the conference's biggest game of the year.  At first glance Denver and their offensive weapons and a good (even though depleted) defense seem to be the better team.  Still New England and Bill Belichick never seem to unprepared for any foe.  The Pat's recent run game resurgence should frighten Denver as much as any of Brady's passes.  Still I'm leaning towards Denver in this one.  They just seem to have too many weapons against a New England defense that will give up yards if not points.  I can't see Denver falling apart in the second half as they did in their first meeting this year.  I'll go with Peyton and the Broncos in a close game which I hope is the classic we are wishing for.
As everyone is saying the San Francisco-Seattle game looks like a typical slugfest.  Two excellent defenses with offenses that feature very good runners and young quarterbacks who can throw and run the ball.  While pretty evenly matched I like the 49ers in this game.  This goes against my normal tendancies.  If a game is evenly matched I like to lean towards the home team.  This time San Francisco appears to be peaking at the right time.  This game should be close but I won't be surprised if one does pull away.  Colin Kaepernick also seems to have the edge at QB.  I think this will give San Francisco the advantage on third downs which will be key.  Again I'll go with San Francisco here but Seattle is sure to give them a good game. 


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Issues

There are definite issues with the voting for the MLB Hall of Fame.  For reasons unknown to even me the Hall of Fame arguments for all sports are a passion for me.  But I love talking about it.  I'm by no means the expert but I value the history of baseball and the players who played the game.  I'm also a stat geek so the numbers that come with baseball is something I enjoy very much.   

The issues start when players like Greg Maddux (97%), Nolan Ryan (98%), Tom Seaver (98%), and Hank Aaron (97%) among many, many others who weren't unanimous among voters.  I get that there are rogue guys out there but what sense does it make when 16 voters don't vote for Maddux?  Nine didn't vote for Aaron in '82?  I don't get it. 

That alone tells me something needs to be fixed.  I'm all for folks having a dissenting opinion and vote.  But giving up your vote to a website or not voting for an entire era can't be acceptable.  There are too many writers who are no longer involved day-to-day in covering Major League Baseball and haven't for some time.  This is something the baseball Hall of Fame and the Baseball Writers Association must fix together.  The Hall has given the vote to the writers.  The president of the Hall said, and there is some truth to it, that the writers have gotten it right.  The best of the best have been elected.  Others who have not been elected have had their exploits recognized in a part of Cooperstown but they just don't have a bust.  This includes Pete Rose, Roger Clemons, and Barry Bonds among others.   My personal thought is to pare down the number of voters to those who are actively covering the sport.  Ensure those who are voting deserve the vote.  The league has gone from 20 teams in 1968 to 30 now and it seems as if some voters are still stuck in the 60's. 

The Hall should also consider opening the vote to others.  Baseball writers aren't the only folks smart enough to vote.  We now have some folks like broadcasters who would fit this category.  Not someone like Vin Scully as he is being paid by the Dodgers.  But there are others.  Again there are plenty of people whether online or in a booth who can and would make a great voter.   

Maybe the vote could come down to something akin to how the football Hall of Fame does it.  Once the vote is done put the cream of the crop guys in a room and let them figure it out.  They do it by making their case for the top players and then a final vote is done.  I'm not saying it is perfect but there is definitely to some merit to that way of doing it. 

The argument for individual players is just plain tough.  I do think many players should not have to wait X amount of years to get in.  It just seems that if they are a hall of famer in year seven on the ballot they are a hall of famer in year one they are on the ballot.  Craig Biggio is a guy who shouldn't have to wait.  His career speaks for itself.  Jayson Stark laid out the details for Biggio very well.  But he, like many, don't fit some unknown criteria for many.  They don't have something where it seems maybe these guys should be in on the first ballot.  Personally there are few players not in that I believe should be in or at least get very serious consideration.  They include Biggio, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Alan Trammel, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds.  Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling might also be on my ballot depending on the day.  Again are they are all hall of famers?  I don't know.  These are just those I think should be in or get great consideration.  Google any of them and  the hall of fame and let the discussions begin.  Again the player arguments are probably the hardest.  Jim Rice is one of my favorite players of all-time.  He made it on this 15th and last time on the ballot.  I'm not sure he is a hall of famer.  Am I happy he is in?  Heck yeah. Always makes for a great discussion.      

As fare as the whole steroid era?  I agree with Bob Costas as it shouldn't be ignored.  While it is true some cheated you can't ignore everyone from that timeframe and for those like Clemons and Bonds who were extraordinary players I think you have to put them in.  Should something be said somewhere that they cheated?  Again I think Costas said it right when you say you acknowledge the era for what it was and then vote the players in accordingly. 

I heard someone on the radio say the other day that yes this is only voting on players who play baseball, it is a game.  It is a game when kids play it on the street when they are young.  When this was your career, your job, enshrinement into the Hall of Fame is more than that.  It means money for these guys.  Being able to put HOF behind your signature does something for ya.  Is that the most important thing?  No.  But I put this here to add to the importance.  While baseball is a sport it is also how these guys made their living.  It shouldn't be trivialized by folks who want to "make a statement" by not voting for deserving individuals. 

Here is the link to the historical voting for the Hall of Fame.  What I like about this page is it shows the top 8 in balloting each year, you can click on the year to see the entire ballot for that year and it shows the HOF designation next each player's name who eventually was voted in.    Makes it easy to see that Billy Williams was 13th in voting in 1982 but would eventually be voted in in 1987. 

I made this a separate post from my previous post because this shouldn't take anything from those guys who are elected.  This is more complicated than it should be and these discussions should happen but the playes who get in deserve their moment.  Shame on those who publicize giving away their vote on the day which should be long to the inductees.  Players like Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher ever, should be in.  What does not voting for them prove?  Ok.  I'm done.  Good news.  Announcement for the NFL Hall of Fame is just around the corner so I'll get to talk on the subject once again.  I can't wait!

Baseball Hall of Fame - Maddux, Glavine and Thomas Oh My!

Great week for baseball as three of the greats were elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.  Greg Maddux, Tom Maddux and Frank Thomas will join the legends in Cooperstown come this July.  I wouldn't even begin to argue against any of these picks.  As a Braves fan I'm so excited to see Maddux, Glavine and manager Bobby Cox go in together.  The only thing better would have been to see John Smoltz go in as well.  Joining them is one of the great hitters of his era in Frank Thomas. 

Maddux was a slam dunk.  I have to say, and I don't think there is any bias here, he is the greatest pitcher I've ever seen in their prime.  And I got to see a lot of him.  It was awesome.  His command was amazing.  He always seemed in control and did not shake easy.  There are tons of antidotes that will show you there is another side to him you don't expect.  Yes he is a guy who knows pitching inside and out but he also has a sense of humor as well as being a quirky type of guy.  Oh and he is one of the best sports golfers there is.  Ranked 67th I think? 

His numbers ooze hall of fame.  355 wins (8th all-time).  Four straight Cy Youngs in the 90's.  Eighteen gold gloves.  ERA leader 4 times/top 5 ten times.  Top 10 in WHIP 10 times (led four times).  3,371 strikeouts good for 10th all-time.  Sub three ERA in 9 seasons.  3.16 career ERA.  A 2.09 ERA in 5 World Series starts.  You could go on and on.  Just a great pitcher.  Enough said. 

Tom Glavine is a guy who was drafted in the 4th round of the 1984 NHL draft ahead of greats like Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille even though he had told teams he was committed to playing baseball.  Glavine is a self admitted man crush of mine.  He's in the top 5 of my favorite baseball players all-time.  There was just something about how he handled himself on and off the field.  I'm so excited he goes into the hall of fame as a first ballot guy.  There was just a little talk of him maybe not making on this, his first time on the ballot so I am very happy to seem him go in with slam dunk 91.9% election percentage. 

His numbers don't lie.  2 Cy Youngs.  Top 3 in the Cy Young voting 6 times.  305 wins.  5 20 win seasons.    11 times he was in the top 9 of wins.  8 times he was in the top 8 of ERA.  He average 33 starts and 215 innings for his career.  Wow.  He is mister consistent to me.  His pitches were gonna be right there on the edges of the plate every day frustrating hitters even though they knew where the pitches were going.  His career highlight has to be game six of the 1995 World Series when he won the first and only championship for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta.  He did it in style with eight innings of one hit ball and for that was named the World Series MVP.  Glavine had a 2.06 ERA in eight World Series starts.  It may be due more to how pitchers are handled today but Glavine could well be one of the last 300 game winners we see in a long time.  That speaks to just how good he was.  Again his consistency in taking the ball every time he was asked to and his greatness was exactly what makes him a perfect Hall of Fame selection.   

I was actually surprised to see Thomas make it on his first time on the ballot.  That isn't a knock against him but because voters are so tough I thought he would fall short.  Two time MVP.  Career .301 average, .419 on base percentage (20th all-time), .555 slugging percentage (22nd all-time), 2,468 hits, 521 homeruns (18th all-time), 1,667 walks (10th all-time).  I do wish he had not been quite so injury prone.  His numbers would have been HUGE.  I always enjoyed Thomas' big smile.  He just looked like someone who enjoyed the game.  Of course it helps when you are spraying balls all over the field while you are doing it. 

Joining these three are three great managers.  Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.  This is one of the greatest groups going into the Hall in a long time.  Wish I could be there.  I know it will be a great weekend. 

No matter what I've said or not said the careers of these players say it all.  Go to their individual baseball reference pages to see the whole story - Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 NFL Playoffs - Wild Card Weekend

My season preview (here) didn't exactly match up with how the playoffs have come out but I won't complain.  In the NFC I had Atlanta as opposed to Carolina in  and missed on Houston and Baltimore in the AFC where San Diego and Kansas City made it instead.  So not great but not too bad.  Oh, and in my preview I picked Denver over San Francisco in the Super Bowl.  Still a matchup that can come to fruition.

Now that we know the matchups I want to have my say.  I can't argue with the two top seeds, Denver and Seattle, meeting in the Super Bowl.  I'd give the win to Denver.  That said Peyton will probably have to get past Tom Brady which is something he has always had problems doing.  Seattle will have to get past teams, whoever it may be, that can beat them on any given Sunday.  But I get ahead of myself...

KC @ Indy - I love the Kansas City story but I think it ends here in a tough game.  Even if Indy handled them easily in the regular season the Chiefs should make this a tough game though the Colts will probably win by a touchdown.  Indy has played well as of late and the Chiefs have been struggling.  That isn't the end all but I'm just not convinced the Chiefs have enough going for them right now to win.   

New Orleans @ Philly - Philly has it all going right now.  They are hot thanks to their impressive new quarterback in Nick Foles.  This team had all kinds of talent before Foles stepped up.  Now they seem to have the whole package though the defense could be their one weakness.  New Orleans doesn't play well away from the bayou and will now have to play in frigid temperatures.  The Saints has the offense to win this game but I'm not convinced it will translate in the cold.  At least not enough to keep up with Philly's offense.  If this is played in New Orleans I'd probably think differently.  I'll take the Eagles to win. 

San Diego @ Cincy - Cincinnati should win this somewhat easily but I doubt it will quite go that way.  Still I think they win.  San Diego played well enough to get into the playoffs but I don't think they can win.  The Bengals are also very good at home and I don't think Andy Dalton will throw four interceptions this week which is what it will probably take for the Chargers to win. 

San Fran @ Green Bay - Hard game for me to pick.  With Aaron Rogers back Green Bay is a team that can win against anyone.  They don't seem to play well against the 49ers for some reason - yeah the very good defense might be why.  I'm thinking that in the cold Rogers and the Packers will win this game though it should be very close.  Their defense is banged up and will have issues shutting down the 49ers.  I also keep thinking Kaepernick will have that one playoff game where he isn't up to the pressure.  This might be it. 

On a non-analytical note.  I have no rooting interest this year as no team of mine (Atlanta, Buffalo) nor my wife's (Chicago, Pittsburgh) are in the playoffs.  Doesn't matter because I'm one of those fans always excited about football and the playoffs are the pinnacle of that.  I always find someone to root for.  This year is tough.  I normally like to see teams who haven't won before or underdogs win it all.  To that end, a SD/Cincy-Seattle, SD/Cincy-Carolina Super Bowl would work for me.  Kansas City is a team I would love to win one.  They have been a tough luck team for a long time.  Then there are those players I would root for.  As an admitted Tom Brady man crush guy I would love for him to win his 4th Super Bowl and enter that elite quarterback club with four victories.  I also like Peyton Manning, I mean who doesn't, and would love to see him win his 2nd.  Phillip Rivers, Wes Welker and coach Andy Reid would also fall into this category.  So it gets complicated for me.  There are very few scenarios that will disappoint me.  I'll let the first round play out and maybe I can latch on to a team then.  Right now it is just too wide open.  Hopefully we'll have an exciting playoffs and a great outdoor Super Bowl.  I'm excited!

Holiday Fun

2013 Thanksgiving Weekend Parade
 The holidays are always fun.  We, like many families, have our own fun traditions we prescribe to.  Some have been around forever or have come into play as things have changed in our lives.  Not all our children live at home so that also affects how we do things. 

Thanksgiving we had all but one of our children at the house.  She is off at college and couldn't make it in.  The wife loves to cook and usually does so for an army (I am a big leftover fan so that is a good thing).  In fact this was the first year I can remember that we didn't have a 20+ pound turkey.  We always put cranberry sauce on the table but nobody eats it thus becoming humor fodder for the family.  The kids did the shopping at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving as they do every year.  Living in a small town our Wal-Mart is not the same zoo other Wal-Marts are.  The small town in which we now live also has a holiday parade and 5K the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The parade, and 5K, runs in front of our house and we invite anyone and everyone to sit on our large front porch to watch with us.  We've had as many as 12 or as few as 2 with us.  The wife also makes a nice warm soup and other goodies to feed everyone.  This year my running fanatic boss and her son came to town and we ran the 5K which is the first time I've been able to do so.  It was a great Thanksgiving. 

2013 Christmas
With three of our five youngins living out of town it is almost impossible to get everyone here at the same time.  To that end we did Christmas three separate times.  Just adds to making the holiday special.  The wife cooks homemade pizza on Christmas Eve every year.  This year our 60 year old stove decided to quit that day.  Great timing...  We didn't sweat it and ordered pizza for delivery.  For Christmas Eve everyone opens gifts from Mrs. Clause which surprisingly are always funny sleep pants, shirts and socks or slippers.  Yes, we are that family.  We take the picture of everyone in their "jammies" and it is shared with family and friends and becomes part of the next year's Christmas card.  I had friends texting me on Christmas in anticipation of this year's pic.  Fun stuff.  Christmas Eve night a few other gifts are opened which normally contain movies and a family game.  At some point the kids are banished to their rooms and me and the wife, I mean Santa, get to putting out the gifts.  Milk and cookies for Santa are also put out and of course are half drank/eaten when we get up Christmas morning.  When it comes to opening the gifts someone plays Santa and hands out all the gifts.  We then go around the room letting everyone open one until they are all opened.  After that the kids seem to go their own way and things quiet down until Christmas dinner is ready.  This year Santa was good to me.  I received a 7th Gen iPod Nano to replace my broken Zune, the Stryper CD Soldiers Under Command, the book The Breaks of the Game which chronicles the 1979 Portland Trail Blazers, the Company of Heroes PC game, NCAA Football 2014 PS3 video game  and the awesomeness that is the "I Survived Sharknado" shirt.   Pretty nice haul.  Again a great time which we all enjoyed so very much.

New Years hasn't had any hard set traditions.  The last few years the wife and I have used this as a chance to get away from the house for a bit.  This has meant just going to a hotel and enjoying  some time together.  Two years ago we stayed in town at one of the smaller hotels.  We do enjoy adult beverages but the hotel was within walking distance of anything we could want which allowed us to do as we please.  One thing we look for are marathons on TV.  SyFy plays Twilight Zone on New Years eve and New Years day each year.  We've watched that two of the last three years.  Last year we got stuck on Locked Up Abroad.  We can be pretty random sometimes.  This year we searched out a small hotel in one of the small Illinois towns.  We did find a great looking Route 66 type hotel but it had no vacancies.  We ended up in an old hotel but it was in a bigger town than what we had hoped.  Still we had a very good time. 

Blow up fruit cake our youngest gave us with a Christmas card.  We always have a real fruit cake which everyone takes a bite of and then talks about how bad it tasted.  I know, we are bad about making fun of food. 
So while our holiday traditions are not ground breaking they are ours.  We have such a good time and it is all about memories as a family.  That is something my wife has instilled in me.  It is about looking back and remembering all the great times.  I hope everyone out there had as good a time as we did.