ESPN's Bottom Line - Version 2.0

Friday, January 28, 2011

All Star Weekend for NFL and NHL

It's All Star weekend!  The NFL and the NHL are having their All Star celebrations this weekend and for such a similar event, these two organizations could not approach it any differently.  Despite a generally poor reception by NFL fans, due to the sloppy play and poor effort, the Pro Bowl hasn't changed anything in the last few decades.  Meanwhile, the NHL has tweaked their All Star game format almost every year.  As discussed previously here, the NHL will be holding a playground style choose 'em up tonight and it's generated a ton of buzz.

While I don't doubt that the Pro Bowl game will get higher ratings and generally be far more profitable for the League than the NHL's version, I think the NFL might be smart to look at innovating their All Star weekend.  The NHL has done things like play the two conferences against one another, they've played North America vs. the World and when niether of those worked they did what was maybe the most obvious yet often overlooked thing by letting 2 Captains choose their teams playground style.  For a league that has been struggling over the past decade, finding new ways to attract even the most casual fans is essential.  Hopefully this game sparks some interest in those marginal fans and will inspire them to keep an eye on the League through the rest of the season.

The NFL on the other hand has had enormous success and yet they have a horribly boring All Star game.  It's a meaningless game played by guys who are really only trying not to get hurt.  What makes Football such an exciting game is the passion and intensity of that it must be played with to succeed but when the players don't really care about winning the game is incredibly boring.  It could even be argued that players are disincentivized to play well during the game.  Imagine that you are the New England Patriots Matt Light and your lined up at Left Tackle next to fellow New England Patriot Logan Mankins during the game on Sunday.  What is to stop you from "accidentally" missing your block on DeMarcus Ware so he can go untouched on his way to destroying your sworn AFC enemy Peyton Manning?  Yes I realize that it probably won't happen that way, (Ware won't be trying hard because he probably cares even less than the Pats O-Linemen) but it's possible right?  My point is that clearly something has to change here.

Options to amend the Pro-Bowl
  • Captains draft teams - How much fun would it be to watch Mike Vick and Philip Rivers choose their teams player by player?  What are the odds that Rivers chooses either Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson first overall, 100% or 110%?
  • Coaches draft teams - Similar to the players drafting but watching Mike Smith and Bill Bellichick pick teams would be incredibly interesting just to see who around the league they value greater and even what positions they find most crucial.  Bellichick would absolutely pick Matt Ryan first overall if he had the chance.  What a jerk.  
  • Scrap the game and just have skills competitions -   There could be a Dunk competition, a 40 yard dash, a Cross-Fit workout competition, Sumo wrestling, American Gladiator style events, even the standard skills challenges we see for College and High School players these days.  Hold one event per position group and the winner of which would get a substantial monetary award and earn a point for their squad.  The team with the most points at the end wins and they share some monetary award.
  • Allow fans to vote on crucial plays -  Maybe for every 3rd down in the 2nd Quarter, fans can go online have vote on one of 4 play options in instant polls which the team would then have to run. That might not be the best execution of this but you get my point.  We have to have this technology by now too.
  • Play East vs. West - This could be based on College or Hometown but it would be a slightly more interesting way to divvy up the teams.

Well that's about all that I can think of.  Put whatever ideas you have in the comments, I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys can come up with.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Breaking News: Jeff Fisher is Out in Tennessee. Rumors Fly of Fisher as Defensive Coordinator in Philly

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated reported today that Jeff Fisher, the Tennessee Titans and longest tenured Head Coach in the NFL, is going to be released on Friday after 17 years with the team.  The Oilers and Titans are 142 -140 under his tenure.  The Oilers.  Fisher was the Head Coach back when the organization was still the Houston Oilers.  Despite only 6 seasons with sub .500 records the Titans were never very serious contenders having only appeared in the Super Bowl once and the AFC Championship twice.  Although reports even a few weeks ago had the Titans siding with Jeff Fischer rather than QB Vince Young over their spate, it seems things have changed and Fisher is now the one on the outs.  

What all of this means is that Philadelphia Eagles fans are going to go crazy talking about Fisher joining the Eagles as their Defensive Coordinator.  Fisher was actually the Eagles DC for 2 years under Buddy Ryan in the late 80's.  The Titans former Defensive Line coach who was very close with Fisher is now the Eagles Defensive Line coach and well there aren't really many other reasons.  However, it would make sense if Fisher is seriously just looking to take a break from the Head Coaching stress and trying to earn a Super Bowl ring out of it.  The Eagles look like they are a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders and Fisher could certainly help them along.

Although I doubt that he really wants to join a team and play second fiddle to Andy Reid, crazier things have certainly happened.  As an Eagle fan myself, I admit that it was the very first thing that I thought of when I heard the news.  However, I don't see it happening.  

Oh and fellow Eagles fans, this does also effect the trade market for Kevin Kolb if Vince Young stays in Tennessee.  That's one more QB needy team and one less trade target who can step in and start immediately.

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Book Championship Series: Go Long! by Jerry Rice

 Let me just start by saying that Moneyball is fantastic.  Personally I love the NFL Draft so reading about the baseball draft and Billy Beane exploiting the inefficiencies in the market for players was very exciting.  Michael Lewis is a fantastic writer and he has really conveyed what the mood was like in the clubhouse during those years with the Oakland A's.  If you like Baseball, team building, advanced statistics prevailing over common knowledge then you will love this book.  I particularly enjoyed learning about all the different and actually useful baseball statistics being used today such as On Base Percentage and Defense Independent Pitching Statistic that make far more sense than things like Batting Average and Earned Run Average.

After finishing Moneyball last week I decided to jump right into Go Long! by Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice has been my favorite football player ever since I knew what football was.  While growing up I played football for 13 years and I was always a Tight End or Wide Receiver because I liked catching passes like Rice.  Of course I also wore #80 whenever I had the ability to choose my own number.  Jerry was a guy that I admired for his incredible ability to make really difficult plays look effortless, his unbelievable production, and his staunch focus on being a positive role-model.  There hasn't been a player since to combine those attributes as well as Rice did.  

Well you can imagine that when I saw his book for sale at the local Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago I snatched it right up.  On sale too!  This book gives a great inside perspective on why Jerry is such a driven individual.  It is also a great example of why people who are not professional writers need them to help write autobiographies.  Don't get me wrong, I loved reading every detail of this book but some of the passages really didn't make any sense and it almost seemed like this book is actually targeted to younger kids.  Jerry harps on morals and gives life lessons to the reader repeatedly.  He is also highly critical of teammates, like Steve Young, for no apparent reason.  

He devoted almost a third of the book to his experience in Dancing with the Stars which was disappointing to me because he is a football player not a dancer.  I guess it makes sense because the book was written shortly after the show ended but come on.  The guy is possibly the greatest football player of all time and one third of his autobiography is about the 6 months that he danced on a reality show?  Although I was generally disappointed by the book, I'm still a huge Jerry Rice fan and would absolutely read another autobiography if he decides to write a more comprehensive one.

Go Long! is only about 150 pages of 3rd grade level reading, so I finished it over the weekend.  Next up is Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer.  

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Injury Report: Jay Cutler's Feelings. Should Chicago Trade Cutler?

Jay Cutler might have sprained his MCL during their loss to the Packers last weekend but the more serious injury was to his feelings.  An MCL sprain can take 2-3 weeks to heal but Cutler may never get over the pain all of his peers' comments had on his psyche.  When Asante Samuel is calling you out for missing time due to "injury" I can only imagine how awful you must feel.

Sure it's fun to poke fun at Jay Cutler because he always looks so sour and mopey.  He might as well be the anti Tim Tebow.  But an MCL injury means that your knee is highly unstable, so when he would step into his throws, he couldn't plant with his left leg like he should have.  Not that he was having a lot of success early in the game but this injury more or less guaranteed errant passes on top of the fact that he was risking serious injury to the already damaged and unstable knee.  So maybe it was a good move for him to come out of the game even though he never appeared to be seriously hurt.
What most people found troubling was his complete detachment from the rest of the team after he came out.  He basically just sat there on the sidelines with his hood up and stared off into space as though this game and a chance at making the Super Bowl meant nothing to him.  Cutler was continuously shown day dreaming while sitting next to 3rd string QB Caleb Hanie who was going over plays when the Packers had the ball.  Rather than helping Hanie with advice or telling him about what the defense was doing it certainly looked like Cutler was completely indifferent.  Granted that might be his normal face but he wasn't even interacting with Hanie at all.

The question now isn't whether he was injured or not but rather, what kind of a team leader is he.  There have always been doubts regarding Cutler's leadership ability but it was pretty clear that this guy is not a great leader.  We see tremendous leadership out of the top flight QBs and it just might be their leadership that makes them great, not things like arm strength.  Guys like Brady, Manning, Brees, Roethlisberger have all demonstrated their burning desire to win but when Cutler mopes around on the sidelines like he isn't even part of the team you have to question whether or not he has it.  Unless the Bears have seen it in practice I think they should think about trading him if they don't think that he can get you that Super Bowl ring.  After such a successful season, he does huge trade value right now despite all this.

Cutler is super excited when he was traded to Chicago

There are a ton of teams who would love to have Cutler's problems at the QB postion.  Maybe he isn't a top tier QB but he could be a great veteran guy to have while a young team searches for the next star QB of the future.  How about a San Francisco or Washington?  I think both Chicago and Washington should consider trading McNabb and Cutler straight up.  Why not?  Yes Cutler has more upside at this point and both organizations/QBs would have been better if they had any WRs to throw to but a change might do everyone some good here.  Even though Bears GM Jerry Angelo and Head Coach Lovie Smith came out in Cutler's defense this morning, I can't believe that they don't have some doubts as to whether or not this guy can pull it together and get them a ring.  

Proof that he is capable of positive emotion

The NFL is a business and the best at this business are the ones that understand value.  Jay Cutler has great value right now and if they Bear's don't think he has what it takes to win the Super Bowl there is no sense in letting him lead your team to hopeless seasons while his value decreases.  I'm not saying they will or even that they should, but I have to think that they'll consider the possibility of trading Cutler over the next few weeks.  Or maybe they could just get him a few guys to block and then a few others for him to pass the ball to.  That would probably help too.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Packers vs. Steelers in Super Bowl XLV

Yesterday the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers solidified their place in Super Bowl XLV with wins over the Bears and the Jets respectively.  Now both teams will have 13 days to heal up, game plan, and focus for a chance to be champions of this NFL season.  It's going to be a great game between two of the most storied franchises, with great QBs at the helm, and tough aggressive defenses.  There is going to be plenty of analysis, breakdown, and predictions to come in the next 2 weeks so stay tuned.


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Sunday, January 23, 2011

AFC Championship Preview: Jets vs. Steelers

Bart Scott leads the Jets' Defense now and he CAN'T WAIT to get reacquainted with Ben Roethlisberger

Today's late game is the AFC Championship between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Both teams feature punishing defenses and big name QBs with a lot to prove.  No other team has embraced and played in the image of their coach this season quite like the NY Jets have with coach Rex Ryan, they are loud and they demand respect.  The Steelers meanwhile played the first quarter of the season (going 3-1) without QB Ben Roethlisberger who was suspended to begin the year.  Each team has looked both dominant and easily beatable at times throughout the year but they have to play like the former today to get to the Super Bowl.

Roethlisberger has played great this year but it hasn't been easy playing behind possibly the most injured Offensive Line in the league.  At one point last week they had their season opening 4th and 5th string offensive tackles in the game. Ben led the Steelers to a 12-4 record along with winning their division despite getting routinely knocked around.  Second year WR Mike Wallace had a breakout season proving that his deep speed could get him open against almost anyone in the league.  Wallace has had at least a 40 yard catch in half of their regular season games to go with his 10 TDs this year.  He will have possibly the toughest matchup today when he'll face one of NY's great Cornerback tandem, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.  Much has been made about this matchup and the question of who will face Wallace this weekend already.  Will it be Cromartie who has the better top end speed or Revis who has been the best CB in the NFL over the last few years?  If Wallace is nullified by their presence this game is going to come down to WR Hines Ward and RB Rashard Mendenhall.  Both of whom will still be in for a tough challenge as the Jets' defense ranked 6th against the pass and 3rd against the run this year.

The Jets offense is led by second year QB Mark Sanchez.  Although Sanchez has looked much better over the past few games, he really struggled at points this season.  Mark has a tendency to overthrow his targets at the beginning of games but fortunately he's had that great defense to hold other teams within reach.  New York's offense has a plethora of playmaking options for Sanchez to deliver the ball to.  He has star WRs in Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery who are accompanied by Tight End Dustin Keller.  Out of the backfield the great RB LaDanian Tomlinson has looked like his old self lately and Sanchez's fellow second year man, Shonn Greene has finally started to show over the past few games why the Jets traded up to get him.  They'll be facing a fearsome Pittsburgh defense today led by last years' defensive MVP James Harrison and the ubiquitous Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers were #1 in the league against the run this year so look for a lot of Tomlinson catching screen passes out of the backfield much like the Ravens tried to do last week with Ray Rice.  This game could come down to Sanchez being accurate with his passes.  The Jets' WRs have the edge on Pittsburgh's Corners but not by much.  The ability of Polamalu and the rest of their linebackers to drop back into coverage means that Sanchez is going to have very little room for error this afternoon.

In my opinion today comes down to Sanchez's accuracy and Pittsburgh's Offensive Line keeping pressure off of Big Ben.  If those guys can be successful their team will stand a much greater chance of winning today's battle and getting to the Super Bowl.  At this point, I don't trust Sanchez to be able to make the clutch throws that he is going to need to make today.  He has showed flashes of being a great QB throughout the year and has often done so at the most critical times in a game (right at the end) so we could be in for a fantastic finish.  I just think that the Steelers are going to make him pay for any of the early in the game mistakes he's been prone to.  Steelers win today 24-20.

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