Monthly Archives: October, 2015

Boston Celtics Season Preview 2015-2016

Here is my NBA Season Preview that dropped yesterday right before the first games.

The Celtics’ season finally starts tonight, and I’m more excited for a Celtics season to start since the 2011-2012 Grit and Balls team.  The Celtics will definitely improve from their 40-42 record next year due to their youth, depth, and great coaching, but will this be a 42 or 43 win team like Las Vegas (strangely) predicts, or will the C’s push for a win total in the high 40s or low 50s?

The correct answer is the latter.  The Celtics are gonna win at least 45 games and improve on their 7th seed from last year’s playoffs.  The Celtics are built for the the 2015-2016 regular season, and here are a few reasons why:

  • Their Depth: You’ve heard this one before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  Just look at how many capable NBA players are at each position for the C’s.  At guard, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner (who can also play the 3), and maybe Terry Rozier, James Young, and RJ Hunter all will deserve and receive minutes.  Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, and Turner can handle the forward slots, and the C’s have Amir Johnson, David Lee, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller all pushing for their time.  Yes, that’ll be tough for Future President Brad Stevens to juggle, and there surely will be discontent players with their minutes.  But for how many games the Celtics are gonna win, all of their quality players are tremendous assets.  The NBA’s good teams in 2015-2016 don’t gut it out for each win like they did a few years ago, which means that some wins will fall into the hands of a team that has the depth to compete every night.  Those depth wins exactly why Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens had no issues the potential problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen.  They’re zigging while the rest of the league is zagging.
  • Their Schedule:  The Celtics have 18 back to back games this year, which is in line with the league average of 17.6.  However, they only have a single instance of 4 games in 5 nights, and that comes in mid January against the easily beatable combination of at the Knicks, home for Pacers, home for Suns, and at the Wizards.  Thanks to being in the Eastern Conference, the second half of their back to backs often come against lowly teams.  Two of them come against the Pistons and the 76ers, and the Magic, Hornets, and Timberwolves get a game apiece against the C’s on the back end of back to backs.  Call me crazy, but I think the Celtics and their depth can handle that. (Celticsblog did a great piece on their schedule here, which also includes an image of the schedule in block format.)
  • The Eastern Conference: The East sucks.  End of analysis.
  • The Atlantic Division: Toronto took a step back thanks to Danny Ainge stealing their only guy who was a rebounding and defensive beast.  The 76ers are still tanking.  The Nets are an inevitable injury away from giving the Celtics a top 5 pick in June.  And the Knicks are the Knicks.  The Celtics play 16 games against these teams, and I’d be shocked if they won fewer than 12.  My bet is on 13.  It’s way more feasible to win 50 games when you start out 13 for 16 against your division, isn’t it?
  • Brad Stevens: Stevens is already a top 5 coach in the league judging by what he’s done the past 2 years with rosters on which Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo were supposed to be the best players.  While I’d put Doc Rivers over Stevens as a coach because of the immense respect he garners from players around the league, the only coaches I’d take over Stevens to coach this specific Celtics team, given their versatility and all the players and potential lineups that he has to juggle, would be Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, and maybe Coach Bud.  Stevens will run mental circles around the Randy Wittmans of the Eastern Conference.
  • Marcus Smart: Smart will take a huge leap this year after looking great in Summer League.  His defense is already at an All-Star level after just a season, and Stevens will draw out his best offensive abilities for years to come.  Also, the dude is competitive AF, and I wouldn’t bet against him working maniacally to improve himself day after day.
  • Danny Ainge at the trade deadline: The hope that the Celtics can trade for someone like DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline is most likely a pipe dream, but another trade at the level of Isaiah Thomas would not shock me in the slightest. After playing about 50 games, Stevens will know which combinations work best, so expect Trader Danny to trade off the guys who aren’t getting a ton of minutes.  Jared Sullinger isn’t happy with playing 18 minutes every other game?  Well, package him with James Young, Terry Rozier, and/or one of their 687 1st round picks for a better option.

My best bet is 51 wins for the Celtics.  They have been the most obvious over under bet at either 42.5 or 43.5 all preseason, and for the life of me I can’t figure out who would be the under on that one.  Fivethirtyeight projects the Celtics at 48 wins, but I doubt that any advanced stats metrics knows the wizardry of Brad Stevens. Also, fivethirtyeight can’t take into account the trade that Danny might make at the deadline, and I would imagine that advanced metrics have a harder time predicting some extra wins the Celtics will pick up in late March and early April against teams who have stopped trying 100% either because they have locked up their playoff spot or because they’re tanking.  (The C’s play the Lakers in LA in game 77, and that’s gonna be so much fun to watch the C’s stomp all over their arch rivals in their stadium in front of their 25 diehard fans.)  Yesterday, I predicted that the C’s would get the 5th seed in the East after the Cavs, Bulls, Hawks and Wizards, and the 4th seed would not shock me in the slightest.  There will be a clear top 5 or 6 in the East — with the Heat taking the 6th spot — so the key for the C’s is to somehow gun it hard enough to get the 2 or 3 seed and avoid a team like Washington in the 1st round.  The way that the C’s could have 51 wins and only be a 5 seed, where as the Wizards had 46 wins as the 5 seed last year, is if the East becomes better at the top while remaining absolutely putrid at the bottom of the conference, which i expect to happen.  I see the Hawks, Wizards, and Celtics all between 50 and 53 wins, and the Bulls and Cavs not a ton above them at 55-57 wins.

Make sure to watch and research the combinations that Brad Stevens uses at every part of the game, and most of all, amek sure to track the progress that the Celtics’ young guns are making, especially Marcus Smart.  The best way by far to be an NBA free agent destination and ultimately an NBA champion is to have at least one superstar and 2 stars, which was Danny Ainge’s strategy in pairing Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in 2007.  Smart’s development is the biggest aspect of the Celtics’ fortune going forward, and call me a homer, but I expect him to make a big leap this year.

Go C’s!

NBA Season Preview and Predictions

My Celtics analysis to follow will be a lot more comprehensive, but allow me to rattle off some thoughts about the upcoming NBA season in no particular order, followed by some standings predictions.

First, for more comprehensive analysis about the other 29 teams (aka the “Who Cares” teams), I’d most recommend the Dunc’d On podcast by Nate Duncan.  He offers significant insight into a salary-based way to look at players, and his and his co-hosts’ analysis is incredibly comprehensive.  I also recommend Bill Simmons’ new podcast and Grantland’s Zach Lowe, especially his 35 NBA season predictions column.  But you already knew of those 2 guys.  Actually, this piece that I”m doing is modeled after Lowe’s 35 season predictions column, although these are generally “thoughts” and not just predictions.  Without further ado, here are my thoughts about the upcoming season.

  • Ignore at all costs the talking head media once the Cavs inevitably hit a minor bump in the road.
    The Cavs are going to fall well below their under/over of about 57.5 wins for the season, and ESPN and others will act like it’s a big deal.  Think of mid to late February when there are no more football games going on and the sports media turns exclusively to the NBA and NHL — can’t you picture every Sportscenter for a week leading off with the question, “Should the Cavs be worried???” because they’ve lost 3 out of 5 and LeBron is in a mild shooting slump?  My advice to you is not to listen to it.  The Bruins and Celtics will each be headed for very intriguing trade deadlines (assuming Don Sweeney realizes that his team doesn’t have capable blueliners after the Dougie Hamilton trade — damn it all), so you can find plenty of stuff to follow other than the basic sports media BS that will be out there then.  The Cavs will be fine, they just won’t try their hardest during the regular season.  They’ll still run through the East in the Playoffs, though maybe not as easily as last year.
  • The Warriors will regress somewhat in terms of wins and point differential, but their A-Game will be just as good.
    Look, professional athletes might be maniacally competitive and have a ton of pride in winning, but it’s impossible to ask a contending champ to be as hungry during the regular season as they were last year, at least in 2015-2016.  We have entered a period of NBA basketball in which the smartest teams are the ones who pick and choose their times of effort during the regular season, and the Warriors are not a stupid team.  They won’t repeat their historic +10.1 point differential from last year, because on some nights they just won’t care as much, especially on back-to-back nights.  But they have the same team except for swapping David Lee for Jason Thompson, and that team was and is pretty freaking good.
  • Derrick Rose is probably the biggest X-factor in the league, although expecting him to be 2011 Rose ever again is foolish.Maybe D-Rose will return to form.  Stranger things have happened.  But fans and media still talk about him like he’s the old Derrick Rose, and he talks about himself as if he expects the mega-max contract in 2 years.  I highly doubt it, but that’s still not a horrible spot to be if you’re a Bulls fan.  In the NBA, if you don’t have one of the 3 best players in the league or a super team like the Warriors, you need a LOT of luck to win — a lot more than the average amount of luck that any championship winner has.  And for most teams, there’s not even a path to winning it all that year.  There’s no amount of luck that can take you to the Larry O’Brien trophy.  At least the Bulls have that much.  They can’t win without Rose turning back the clock or Jimmy Butler taking yet another humongous leap, but even if there’s a 5% chance of that happening, that’s at least 4% more than any other non-Cleveland Eastern Conference team has of winning it all.  That’s just the way the NBA is.
  • The Bulls are a trendy pick to make a jump from last year and be the 1 seed and maybe even knock off the Cavs in the playoffs.  Beware of that mindset.Why are people acting like replacing Tom Thibodeau is automatically a huge coaching upgrade?  I’m sure they can improve a little on offense, but Thibs was one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA and definitely a top 10 overall coach.  This isn’t like going from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr.  Thibs was a good coach, so assuming the Bulls will make a leap now that he’s gone seems like a bit of a stretch.
  • Read Zach Lowe’s prediction on Kevin Durant. The more I think about it, the more he’s right.  I think the Thunder will make a deep postseason run at the very least, and if they don’t win it all, he’ll pick up his option or sign a 1 year deal like Lowe says and he, Westbrook, and Ibaka will have 1 final season to chase the ring that they’ve coveted for so long.  That will set up an incredibly interesting summer next season, because, in the offseason where everyone is going to get paid more than they know what to do with, there will be 1 or 2 free agents who decide to take 1 year deals with the Thunder for less money, kelp KD and Russ get a ring, and then cash in the next year.
  • The Los Angeles Clippers will not give a single damn about the regular season.Once the Celtics proved that they could win it all, the Celtics didn’t care about the regular season in 2010, 2011 after Perk was traded, or 2012.  The Clippers beat the Spurs in that first-round heavyweight fight, and now Doc and Paul Pierce will have the same mindset that they did a half decade ago.  Health will be more important than seeding for them.
  • The Houston Rockets will get the 1 seed.

    I guess this is my bold prediction, at least for the top tier of teams.  I have way less confidence in James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Ty Lawson in the playoffs than the regular season, but for the first 82 games, they’ll be beasts.  Ty Lawson will be more motivated than ever, and his presence is underrated, as far as I’m concerned.  Having a legitimate point guard with great speed has to be helpful for the Rockets, and they seem like one of the few Western Conference teams who will take the regular season very seriously.
  • Indiana won’t get a playoff spot, and Milwaukee will keep theirs.Zach Lowe predicted that Miami would get Brooklyn’s spot in the playoffs, and that I agree with.  He said that the only other difference between the 2015 and 2016 playoffs would be Indiana replacing Milwaukee.  That’s where I disagree.  yes, Paul George is back, and yes, Paul George is a beast.  And we all know of Roy Hibbert’s futile play late in the 2014 season.  But he is an awesome defensive center, and Lavoy Allen, Jordan Hill, and something called Shayne Whittington can’t replace him.  And I don’t think that Myles Turner will be ready to make a huge impact in his rookie year.  Larry Bird is a great GM, but I don’t think that a team with George Hill and Monta Ellis as its 2nd and 3rd best players can beat out the Bucks for a final playoff spot, even if Frank Vogel is a great coach.  The Pacers get the dreaded 9 seed.
  • The Wizards’ chances of serious damage in the playoffs will come down to Otto Porter.It’s obvious that John Wall needs to continue to climb and Bradley Beal needs to make another leap and stay healthy, but the Wiz have no chance if that doesn’t happen, anyway.  Whether or not Porter can fill some of Pierce’s role and carve his own role as well will be huge for the Wiz.  I’m still a believer in Porter, and so was Paul Pierce, as evidenced by his awesome interview with Jackie MacMullan.  I see the Wiz taking a step forward that mirrors Porter’s own step forward.
  • The Celtics will win the Atlantic Division and play in the 4-5 series.I swear, this isn’t a homer pick.  You’ll see more of my reasons for believing in this team in my Celtics preview that will drop tomorrow before the first game, but just know that they’re a team that’s lurking.  They’re the most obvious over/under choice either at 42.5 or 43.5, both of which have been floating around casinos.

Finally, here are my predictions for seeding and playoff results:

Eastern Conference:

  1. Cavaliers
  2. Bulls
  3. Hawks
  4. Wizards
  5. Celtics
  6. Heat
  7. Raptors
  8. Bucks
  9. Pacers
  10. Pistons
  11. Hornets
  12. Magic
  13. Nets (Nets will have 5th highest chance of #1 pick.  I want better but I’m keeping my expectations relatively low.)
  14. Knicks
  15. 76ers

Western Conference:

  1. Rockets
  2. Warriors
  3. Thunder
  4. Spurs
  5. Clippers
  6. Grizzlies
  7. Pelicans
  8. Jazz
  9. Kings
  10. Suns
  11. Mavericks (Mavs will get 9th or 10th pick — let’s say 10th, and give the pick to the Celtics)
  12. Trail Blazers
  13. Nuggets
  14. Timberwolves
  15. Lakers  (Not a homer pick… well, maybe a little.)

First Round:

1 Cavs def 8 Bucks in 4 games
2 Bulls def 7 Raptors in 5 games
3 Hawks def 6 Heat in 7 games
4 Wizards def 5 Celtics in 7 games

Yes, that final pick hurts.  if it’s any consolation though, I think the Wiz-C’s series will be just like the Celtics-Bulls series in 2009: An amazing series that the losing team uses to put itself on the map, and within 2 years they were a major free agent destination and had earned the 1 seed.  Celtics will not go down easily, and their arrow will be pointing up even after another 1st round loss.

1 Rockets def 8 Jazz in 6 games
2 Warriors def 7 Pelicans in 5 games
3 Thunder def 6 Grizzlies in 5 games
5 Clippers def 4 Spurs in 6 games

Second Round:

1 Cavs def Wizards in 6 games
2 Bulls def 3 Hawks in 7 games
5 Clippers def 1 Rockets in 6 games
3 Thunder def 2 Warriors in 7 games 
(As you might assume, I expect this to be an amazing series)

Conference Finals:

1 Cavs def 2 Bulls in 5 games
3 Thunder def 5 Clippers in 7 games

NBA Finals:

Cavaliers def Thunder in 7 games, MVP LeBron James

NBA Season MVP: Anthony Davis in a runaway vote

Coach of the year: Gregg Popovich, Voters might finally realize that he deserves it every year

Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns

Celtics All-Stars: None, although Marcus Smart will be considered by some to be a snub.  He’ll make it his 3rd year.

There you have it.  Happy NBA Season.

Chargers Will File for Relocation to Los Angeles

Mike Fabini, who’s been heading the Chargers’ stadium and location issues, said today that the Chargers would file papers in January to relocate to Los Angeles.

The move should come as a surprise to no one, as such a move has been rumored since the dawn of civilization, seemingly.  But there are a few straws that finally broke the camel’s back this time around.

  • First, the Chargers’ fan base sucks.  If that sounds too harsh, remember that Philip Rivers had to go to a silent count against the Steelers 2 weeks ago… AT HOME.  That’s right, a fan base who’s located across the country in the 23rd biggest metro area in the country was louder than the home fans in San Diego.  I’m not gonna shed too many tears for all 37 true Chargers fans on this one.
  • Second, Los Angeles is going for the Olympic bid in 2024 that Boston avoided (We dodged a bullet from a bazooka on that one), and now there is more urgency than ever in the city to have another amazing sports complex like the new stadium in SoCal.  Casey Wasserman, who’s leading the charge to get LA the Olympics, said that the football stadium wasn’t a part of their plan, meaning that the stadium would be an amazing bonus to their plans and might be the factor that pushes LA’s bid over the finish line.
  • The third reason is one that you won’t hear often in the national media.  The NFL and its owners are looking for a new way to make money because they’re running out of ways.  Listen, the last thing that I’m trying to do is say that the NFL is in trouble financially.  The only thing that could stop the NFL is concussion and player safety concern cutting into the number of parents who allow their kids to play football, and those effects won’t be felt for at least two decades.But I’ll always remember the insightful analysis offered by very few (Bill Simmons was the main on that I can remember) during the ridiculous NFL lockout of 2011.  After Gene Upshaw’s death in 2008, the owners felt that they had a chance to take a piece of the pie from the players, and a big reason why they felt they had to take that piece was because they were running out of ways to grow the league.  At that point, the economy was in the toilet and stadiums weren’t filling up each Sunday at anything close to the desired rate.  Streaming sties from Europe were rising in popularity, and the NFL needed another way to increase the size of the owners’ wallets.
    In 2015, the challenges that ESPN faces are somewhat akin to what the NFL faces.  ESPN cut ties with Keith Olbermann, among others, because so many of their viewers and subscribers cut ties with them.  Cord cutters have scared ESPN into some of their recent decisions, and the NFL is up against a similar issue.  While television contracts are on the rise for every sport, there are still only so many ways to make money, especially when younger viewers aren’t paying for a cable hookup or even a television at all and would rather consumer the sport without directly putting money in the NFL’s pocket.  My point isn’t that the NFL isn’t still growing, but that it’s hard to grow at the consistent, fast rate that the NFL owners want it to.

    Combine that with Roger Goodell’s yearly plan to do literally anything, even spend over $5 million to launch a ridiculous lawsuit against the game’s greatest ambassador over an infraction that usually costs a team $25,000, to distract the public from the other horrendous offseason news that always takes place for the NFL.  The NFL wants to keep its crown of being America’s number 1 sport by being a year round sport, and what better way to do that than to have a team move to the 2nd biggest market in the United States?  What an amazing idea — have something positive for the fans to discuss so that you can dominate the offseason instead of something completely embarrassing and reprehensible!!! Who said Roger Goodell couldn’t improve?

These 3 reasons show why the Chargers’ move up the 405 to Los Angeles is finally gonna happen after all this time.  But while the business side of why the Chargers will fire the paperwork is incredibly interesting, it’s an ugly juxtaposition for the NFL and it’s SoCal franchise:  The San Diego Chargers are not all that interesting.  They should have decent cap space this Spring, but only because Antonio Gates and Eric Weddle are free agents and their roster isn’t exactly overflowing with great players who deserve big contracts.  Philip Rivers is just good enough to make them a playoff contender every year but not good enough to take an otherwise decent team to a Super Bowl win.  And nobody on the team is a flashy superstar who will automatically attract a ton of eyeballs, which would be pretty helpful when moving to LA.  I guess Rivers could be on the millions of billboards they have in LA or Melvin Gordon could improve enough over the rest of this season to become much more famous, but the Chargers are a pretty boring team overall.

The one aspect that the Chargers have going for them is that they re-signed Philip Rivers to an extension before the season that keeps him under contract through 2019.  He’ll be able to keep the team at least somewhat interesting, provided that he doesn’t fall off a cliff.  And his presence is incredibly important, because the only thing that the Chargers couldn’t afford when moving to LA would be a team whose season was over before it even started.  Why?  Well, if we know one thing about fans from Los Angeles, it’s that they’re the ultimate fair weather fans.  Giving them a team with a built in excuse for their laid-back fan base to tune out of could set the franchise back for years upon making its move to the City of Angels.  Philip Rivers may never win a Super Bowl with the Chargers, but he’s gonna save the franchise way more than anyone realizes.

Analyzing Football Outsiders’ DVOA Rankings — Week 7

The more I think about it, the more this should be a weekly post from me.  Football Outsiders releases its team efficiency ratings each Tuesday, and I’ve always felt that they’re an awesome way to gauge the season given the website’s success of predictions in the past.

Upon releasing the site’s Week 7 ratings, Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders’ founder, wrote about the top 5 offenses in depth here.  The Patriots ranked 1st by being 32.8% above the average offensive production so far this season, which is a surprise to no one.  The real surprise, though, is that the Bengals are on their heels at 32.3%, which speaks to the prowess of A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and, most importantly, their offensive line.  Andy Dalton is a good quarterback, but he needs protection to flourish.  When searching the DVOA for offensive lines in the league, you’ll notice that the Bengals’ O-Line is 4th in adjusted line yards, 6th in power run ranking, 2nd in stuffed ranking (or, “not getting stuffed ranking”), and 5th in 2nd level rankings.  And that doesn’t include their abilities on pass plays, where they’re ranked 2nd.  Andy Dalton is what he is.  He’s a good but not great quarterback who can flourish with great playmakers and a great offensive line, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.

After Cincy, there is a sizable dropoff to the low 20s in percentage above average, and the Cardinals, Packers, and Steelers round out the top 5 in that zone.  None of these are shockers, although I wasn’t sure if Arizona would be that high.  Pittsburgh should be the best offense in the league besides the Pats when Ben Roethlisberger gets back.  Last year, Green Bay finished as the top offense with a 24.7% DVOA, so I’d expect the Pats to come in around 27% and the Steelers to come in at 25-26% at the end of the season.

Schatz made an interesting point in his piece about how offenses are way more inconsistent both from season to season and from game to game within a season, which is why it’s more important to look at the offensive DVOAs now.  The fact that defenses are more inconsistent throws some cold water on the Broncos, who clock in at the #1 defense with a -31.2% DVOA.  While Football Outsiders’ rankings do adjust for opponent strength, I think even FO would admit that it doesn’t entirely account for the Broncos having played the Ravens, Chiefs, Lions, Vikings, Raiders, and Browns.  Moreover, Peyton Manning’s offense is the worst in the league, as the 32nd ranked Broncos offense has a -27.9% rating, which is almost as horrible as its defense is awesome by the percentages.  The Broncos are the craziest team that I can remember up to this point in the season in terms of the advanced stats… and it’s Peyton Manning’s side of the ball that’s the weak link.  How the mighty have fallen.  Even for fans of Peyton’s biggest rival throughout his career, it’s tough to watch a great one fall that far.  Hopefully he can right the ship just well enough to be fun to watch and finish his career on a high note but not well enough to allow his defense to knock off the Patriots.

The rest of the top 5 defenses are the Jets with -29.4%, and then the Eagles, Cardinals, and Panthers after a huge drop off following the Jets.  A few takeaways here:

  • Any Pats fan who says they’re not worried about the Jets, especially with their defensive line and the Pats’ injured O-Line, is either a moron or a liar.  Or both.
  • The Eagles are number 3?  I thought Chip Kelly’s best side of the ball was offense…?
  • The Cardinals are a damn good team.  The Pats are definitely my pick to play in Santa Clara from the AFC, and I think the Packers are my pick from the NFC right now because their defense is ranked 6th to go along with their 4th ranked offense.  But the Cardinals are right on their heels, and that NFC Championship game is gonna be amazing.
  • The Panthers’ numbers, much like the Broncos, probably don’t reflect their easy schedule as much as the numbers want us to think.

Finally, let’s discuss the Pats.  As I said before, the Pats are the best offensive team in the league by the FO metrics, and they didn’t fall far from the 38.1% mark of last week to the aforementioned 32.8% this week.  Falling over 5% might seem concerning, but it’s not.  As I mentioned with my prediction for where the Pats and Steelers’ DVOAs will wind up at the end of the season, very few teams in league history will finish the season close to 40% better than average, so some regression is expected.  And remember, the game this past weekend included a Pick Six courtesy of Julian Edelman that won’t happen again and an injury to Marcus Cannon during the game.

Defensively, the Pats got a little worst in terms of the overall stats but better in terms of the league rankings.  Their defense dropped from 8.7% above the mean to just 3.7% above the mean, but they moved from 9th to 8th in that category.  Given that they were playing on against a Colts offense that played very well in the 1st half and has a ton of potential, I’m ok with that result.  A realistic but hopeful goal is that the Patriots have a Top 3 ranked offense with a defense that stays in, let’s say, the Top 12 in the league.  Combine that with their 3rd ranked special teams and the overall genius of Belichick, this team should be the favorite to win in Super Bowl.  But you already knew that.

Colts’ Botched Fake Punt Play Shows the Effect of Belichick

Why did Deflategate really happen?  Clearly, it wasn’t because the balls were so underinflated that the Pats were cheating, because there was never actual proof that the balls were too low before the weather took effects.  We know now that the real reason Deflategate happened was because the rest of the league has been convinced since the early part of the last decade that the Patriots constantly cheat.

For all we know, the Pats might bend the rules more than everyone else, I won’t contest that.  But I’m not making that point right now.  The important factor here is that the rest of the NFL has a paranoia about Bill Belichick because of his genius IQ and his success.  And while no off the field fiasco demonstrates that more than Deflategate, no single play in NFL history demonstrates that more than the botched fake punt on Sunday Night.

Chuck Pagano tried to outsmart himself with that play, and he succeeded.  Earlier today, Pat McAfee said that the team practiced that play during the week, but the guy who snapped the ball wasn’t there to practice it during the week with the team.  He didn’t know that he shouldn’t snap the ball if they didn’t get the Pats to jump offsides and if the Pats had more than one guy above the center.  That being said, the Colts were still in an illegal formation, which seems pretty weird when you’ve practiced something multiple times during the week.

You know what a smart coach does when you’re unprepared for a play or when you don’t have the specific personnell needed?  They don’t run the play.  But Chuck Pagano was so far in his own head because he was playing the mighty Bill Belichcik in his franchise’s biggest game since the 2009 Super Bowl vs. the Saints.  As bad of a coach as Chuck Pagano might be, he’s still an overall good football coach by definiteion of the fact that he’s reached the NFL.  A good coach doesn’t make that dumb of a move unless he’s trying too hard to do something else — in this case, to outsmart the smartest guy in the room.

Bill Belichick is so good now that he doesn’t even have to do anything to beat his opponents mentally.  His persona does it for him.

As if we needed another reason to be grateful for the past 15 years.

bill belichick rings

Mike Pettine Has Done Nothing Wrong with Johnny Manziel in the Past

Earlier today, Mike Pettine answered a ton of questions surrounding the most recent indigent with Johnny Manziel. What happened in the situation specifically is still and unknown, and frankly, I haven’t read enough details to comment on it intelligently. My only point – and this will be a short blog, is that I’ve heard some saying that Pettine’s in this case is just another example of the poor way that he’s handled Johnny Manziel’s career, and I couldn’t disagree more. Manziel clearly hasn’t been prepared to play through his year and a half in the league, and Pettine, like every coach, owes it to his team to not throw away a season simply because one guy was drafted really high and is in McDonalds commercials. Manziel has been held accountable in his own locker room judging by seemingly thousands of comments we’ve seen from his teammates, and that’s he most important thing that a coach like Pettine can do when dealing with a knucklehead like Johnny Football.

Patriots Take Care of the Colts… But It’s Still Week 6

Can’t lie, this one was a little bit of a letdown.  We all wanted the Patriots to embarrass the Colts and leave Bob Kravitz’ head at midfield at the end of the game.  Instead, they didn’t even cover the spread of -10, which the majority of Pats fans, myself absolutely included, felt was too low.

That being said, let’s take a step back here and realize the ridiculousness behind what I just said.  The Pats just knocked off the team that we thought was gonna be a top AFC contender before the season and still might be (although I doubt it), and it was on the road and improved the team to 5-0.  It also involved a Pick 6 from Brady that probably will never happen again because Julian Edelman won’t screw up that badly again  So let’s just be happy with the win and not get caught up in all the emotions, because it’s that what Bill Belichick wants us to do?

I can’t help but feel a little bit empty, though.  But maybe it’s for an entirely different reason than “only” beating the Colts by 7 in Indianapolis in the biggest game for their franchise since Super Bowl 44 vs. New Orleans.

No, I feel somewhat unfulfilled after this game because it’s just the regular season, and around these parts, that means so little in 2015.  For the past few years, every game felt more important during the regular season because we were longing for the 4th Lombardi Trophy that had eluded Brady and Belichick.  When you need something that you don’t have, every minor detail feels so much more important than it already is.  And that’s what regular season games are for the Patriots now: Minor details.  Now that we’ve seen that the Pats can get a title post 2004, a game against the Colts in early October can’t feel as important as we want it to unless Bob Kravitz’ head actually did show up on a stake in the middle of the field.

But there is one very important aspect of the game — the injuries for the Pats.  I’ll have a more detailed post about it early in the week once the severity of the ailments are announced, but a battered offensive line against the Jets defense next week is a teeny tiny bit alarming.

Which Teams Are Biggest Threats to Patriots?

The Patriots are the best team in the league, and we all know it.  They’re my pick to win the Super Bowl this year, and I’m guessing that they’re your pick, too.  But if 2005 through 2013 taught us anything, it’s that different teams can get hot for one game and knock off the Pats.

Since it’s impossible not to look ahead as a Pats fan given how they’re doing this season, let’s look ahead and try to determine which teams could give New England the most trouble, either AFC teams in the Divisional or Conference Round of the playoffs or NFC teams in the Super Bowl.

We have to understand the kinds of teams that beat the pats from 05 to 13, also known as the Drought Years.  Here is a list of the teams that knocked off the Pats and their head coaches, as well as their DVOA rankings that season on offense and defense.

2005: Denver Broncos — Head Coach: Mike Shanahan — Offense DVOA Rank — 2. Defense DVOA          Rank: 9 Overall: 2
2006: Indianapolis Colts — Tony Dungy — Offense: 1 — Defense: 25 — Overall: 7
2007 New York Giants — Tom Coughlin — Offense: 18 — Defense: 13 — Overall: 14

2008: Bernard Pollard.  Screw Bernard Pollard.
2009: Baltimore Ravens — John Harbaugh — Offense: 9 — Defense: 4 — Overall: 1
2010: New York Jets — Rex Ryan — Offense: 16 — Defense: 5 — Overall: 6
2011: New York Giants — Tom Coughlin — Offense: 7 — Defense: 19: Overall: 12
2012: Baltimore Ravens — John Harbaugh — Offense: 13 — Defense: 19 — Overall 8
2013: Denver Broncos — John Fox — Offense: 1 — Defense: 15 — Overall: 2

What should stand out first is the two losses to the New York Giants that caused us all severe insomnia countless times right up until Malcolm Butler’s interception.  In the 8 playoff losses that the Pats suffered between beating the Eagles and the Seahawks, there were only 2 teams that beat the Pats ranked in the double digits of overall DVOA.  They were both of the Giants, which backs up the narrative that we’ve always had about those teams: They got hot for a total of 2 months — December and January — in each season, and they rode those hot streaks to 2 agonizing victories (and 2 impossible catches) over the Pats.

After that, though, there isn’t much of a pattern.  The 06 Colts, 11 Giants, and 13 Broncos were all significantly better offensively than defensively, while the 10 Jets were the only ones significantly better on defense according to DVOA itself, but I think it’s fair to include the 2007 Giants in that category given how ferocious their defensive line was by the Super Bowl.  Both the 05 Broncos and the pair of Ravens teams were pretty balanced, especially because they were ranked 8th in special teams DVOA in 2009 and 1st in 2012.  (On another note, I completely forgot how good that 09 Ravens team was.  That has to be one of the all worst 6 seeds for a 3rd seeded team to face.)

Since 2005, we’ve heard the idea that the Pats get shut down in the playoffs when they can’t score against a top quality defense.  New England supposedly has lost in January and February since 2005 in part because their team has been better on offense than defense, while that was the opposite in 2001, 2003, and 2004.  To some degree, that narrative is fair, because the Pats have scored less in their playoff losses than they normally do, and 2014 was the first time that the Pats had an awesome secondary since 2004, and look how that worked out.

But that’s not as true as we’ve heard.  In 2006, they put up 34 when Jabar Gaffney was their number 1 receiver, and they lost because Peyton wore out the overmatched New England defense.  In 2011, the offense did move the ball against the Giants for a good part of the game, with Brady even setting the record for most consecutive completions.  But they only put up 17 in part because of the mediocre Brady throw/Welker drop late in the game and because of Gronk’s injury.  Gronk’s injury, and the injuries to what seemed like half the team, was also a big part of the Pats only scoring 16 points on the Broncos in 2013.  You could say that it’s unfair to include the Gronk injury as a reason that they didn’t score much, but this column is meant to be a sign of what could happen in the future, and we all know that the Pats’ offensive production and Super Bowl chances will take a humongous hit if Gronk suffers another season ending injury.

There is, however, an unequivocal theme that great defensive lines can beat the Pats in the playoffs, but the correlation only holds strong for the pass rushers specifically.  The Giants’ 2 teams, Ravens’ 2 teams, and Jets all showed that getting pressure on Brady is the best way to knock New England out of the postseason.  Whether it be Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Calvin Pace, or Shaun Ellis, great pass rushers are Brady’s kryptonite in the playoffs.  But don’t confuse great pass rushers with great run stoppers or a great secondary.  The Pats beat the Ravens last January with 8 — count them, EIGHT — rushing yards all game, and they beat the Seahawks when their lead running back had 40 yards on 14 carries.  Antowain Smith was no threat to anybody in 2003, and neither was Laurence Maroney in the historical 2007 season.  Except for when they’re playing the mental midget Colts and their swiss cheese run defense, the Pats have never won a playoff game by simply running all over the opposition.  With regards to the secondary, remember that Tom Brady just torched one of the best secondaries of all time for 328 yards on 37-50 attempts and with 5 drives that made it to the red zone.  And the MVP of the first 3 quarters of the game was not Brady, Gronk, Russell Wilson, Chris Matthews, or anyone in the Seattle secondary.  It was Michael Bennett, who was having one of the best games that I’ve ever seen a pass rusher play until Brady and McDaniels finally wore him down with over 70 plays from scrimmage and almost 34 minutes of possession.

Beyond that, the teams that have beaten the Pats have been able to do what they were best at the whole year.  The 06 Colts and 13 Broncos, Peyton’s 2 teams, were the best offensive teams in the league and put up 38 and 26 points, respectively, on the Pats.  (The Broncos only went 2-4 on red zone trips and clearly should have done better, indicating that their offense was way more potent that day than 26 points suggests.)  The 10 Jets were exactly the kind of defense that the organization wanted when they hired Rex.  Outside of those teams, the 07 and 11 Giants got hot and had a great pass rush like I said before, and the other teams were just that damn good.  The 05 Broncos and 09 Ravens were incredibly balanced and ranked 2 and 1 in DVOA, respectively.  And the 2012 Ravens had the ability to play above themselves in January, and they had the one intangible that very few teams have when coming into Foxboro in the playoffs but every team needs: Balls.  The Ravens weren’t afraid to come into the House that Brady Built and take on the Pats, and they proved it with an incredibly 2nd half.

So how does that relate to this year?  Well, first, anyone who’s writing off the Broncos because of Peyton’s arm strength is a moron.  They have maybe the best pass rushing combination in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, and Aqib Talib and Chris Harris will be there to collect any rushed throws that Brady makes because of the pass rush.  With Nate Solder out for the season, we have to be very worried about another great pass rush taking the Brady Bunch down.

I’m not worried in the slightest about the Colts, because, as we’re gonna see this Sunday, they don’t have the balls that they’ll need to beat the Pats, and their front 7 can’t do anything against New England.  The Ravens doesn’t worry me much anymore, because the Joe Flacco – Torrey Smith combination was awesome against the Pats and Terrell Suggs is out.  (Then again, they won’t make the playoffs anyway after starting 1-4.)  The Steelers worry me because Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown could easily repeat what the 06 Colts or 13 Broncos did with their amazing offenses.  The Bengals also worry me with their 2nd ranked offense and 14th ranked defense.  I was very worried about the Chiefs before Jamaal Charles went down and they fell to 1-4, because Justin Houson and Tamba Hali could eat Brady and his injured O-Line alive.  Finally, the Jets definitely concern me, and any Pats fan who says they don’t is lying.  Their defense is ranked 2nd right now, and their pass rushers are exactly what Brady doesn’t need, so let’s pray that they miss the playoffs like the good old Jets that they are.  After that, nobody scares me in the AFC, so let’s hope that the 4 seed Colts knock off the 5 seed Steelers and the 6 seed Bills/Chargers defeat the 3 seed Bengals/Broncos.

In the NFC, obviously the Packers are scary because Aaron Rodgers could take advantage of the Pats’ weak cornerbacks, and people don’t realize that their defense is actually rated better than their offense, 4th on defense vs. 5th on offense.  The Cardinals probably worry me the most, though, because both their offense and defense are ranked 3rd and they’re coached by a guy who can actually manage the clock and his challenge clafs in the same league as Belichick, unlike Mike McCarthy.  The Seahawks could definitely beat the Pats, as their biggest weakness for the first quarter and a half of Super Bowl 49 was getting open against a Patriots secondary group that no longer exists.  But they don’t scare me like the Cardinals or Packers, at least not until Marshawn Lynch or their O-Line looks anything remotely like what they looked like the past 2 years.  The Panthers don’t scare me much, and I doubt they will make the Super Bowl.  The Rams would scare me, but they also won’t make the Super Bowl.  Finally, with the NFC East, the Eagles aren’t much of a threat, because Chip Kelly is trying to be the new Bill Belichick, but Bill Belichick is the real Bill Belichick.  The Cowboys, if healthy, are actually pretty frightening, because of the Greg Hardy addition and their offensive potential.  And the Giants don’t worry me like 2007 or 2011 because their pass rush is horrendous now, but Odell Beckham Jr. could go off.  Belichick is a genius at taking away a team’s number 1 option, but they’re the Giants, so they’re the only team who could finish outside the top 10 in DVOA (excluding injuries) and still have a legitimate chance at beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl, because, ya know, they’re the Giants.

What Should the Blackhawks do with Patrick Kane?

Finally, opening night of the NHL season is tomorrow.  As a Bruins fan, I’m happy to watch something other than that embarrassment of a season last year that was filled with turmoil and apparently locker room dysfunction.  But as an NHL fan, there’s a far bigger issue.

The Blackhawks raise their championship banner tomorrow night against the Rangers for the 3rd time in 6 years.  And their superstar, Patrick Kane, is in the midst of a rape case.

Even though you probably know all about Kane (especially considering he won the Conn Smythe in the year the Blackhawks beat the Bruins — damn it all), let’s point out the context here.  Kane is probably the most marketable American hockey player alive.  He plays for the best team in the league, he’s good looking, he has no problem being in front of the camera, and he’s absolutely electrifying on the ice.  Many times, I’ve told friends who don’t like hockey that if I was trying to get them into watching hockey, I’d show them a Patrick Kane highlight video.  And if you don’t think he’s the most marketable American in the league, watch this commercial from the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Notice who’s the only men’s hockey player in the commercial.

Now, the details of the case.  In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 2, Kane allegedly followed a woman into a room in his house and raped her.  The victim did what so many (incorrectly) say that all rape victims should do: She found her friend, left, called a family member on the way to the hospital, submitted to a rape kit, and reported the incident to law enforcement without waiting hours, days, weeks, or years.

There is no reason to believe that she is lying, and Kane also has not been arrested.  The accuser’s lawyer did have to withdraw from the case because of what the Erie County DA called an “elaborate hoax” by the accuser’s mother, as she said that an empty rape kit bag showed up on her doorstep.  While that details is definitely concerning and something to watch, it shouldn’t be an indictment on the accuser’s credibility, because it has no direct connection to her account of what happened or the rape kit itself, which was always in safe hands and never was the subject of any tampering.

The debate revolves around whether or not Patrick Kane should be playing.  I’ve read two very interesting opinions that Kane should be taken off the ice by Eliza Eaton-Stern of The Other Half Sports and Katie Klabusich of RH Reality Check.  Both acknowledge that the Blackhawks are in a difficult spot and that there is no perfect solution, but both say that Kane shouldn’t play for the Hawks to start the season.

i understand that thought process, but ultimately, it’s unrealistic and impossible.  Both women make the case that it’s important to believe the survivor, and they’re absolutely right.  By the same token, both women say that “innocent until proven guilty” is a legal standard and not a cultural requirement.  And they’re absolutely right again.  I do believe the survivor, despite what my opinion is on Kane playing or not.  Around 92% of rape accusers are telling the truth, and this one has done nothing to suggest that she’s lying.

Here’s where I start to disagree.  I’ve heard the argument that “If you treat Kane as innocent until proven guilty by not suspending him, then you’re saying that the victim is lying until she’s proven not to be lying, because the only way that he’s innocent is if she’s lying.”  There are two reasons that I disagree here.  First, those who do great work to try and raise awareness about rape culture are very quick to point out that rape victims often are telling the truth about what happened to them even if they’re off on some of the details, whether that’s due to alcohol, drugs they were slipped, or just sheer trauma.  So it is possible that the victim is telling the truth about Kane but Kane still didn’t do exactly what we think.  I realize that that’s a very small chance in this case, and I don’t think that’s what happened.  All I’m trying to prove is that the idea of “She’s either lying and he’s innocent or she’s telling the truth and he’s guilty of exactly what we think” isn’t necessarily true.  This isn’t an either/or, a complete binary scenario.

Secondly, even if you throw out the idea that there could be some grey area because you think that the Blackhawks have to take a stand one way or the other, it’s important to note that I am not a proponent of believing that Kane is innocent until proven guilty.  The standard that I’m using is this: Concern, but no concrete final judgment until proven guilty — or at least arrested.

Taking Kane off the ice because he’s under investigation isn’t the right call because the investigation is ongoing and because he hasn’t been arrested.  We don’t know anything, and we can’t pretend that we do, no matter how much a case like this makes our stomachs turn.  And even if you hate what I’m saying right now, there’s one final point to demonstrate that Kane can’t be suspended, and it’s by far the most important point.

As I referenced earlier, Klabusich says in her column, “I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.”

What she, Eaton-Stern, and so many others forget in this case is that suspending a player is absolutely a legal matter.  Suspending a player means stripping him of his right to earn a living, and any organization has to have great cause in order to do that, much less an organization that has a collective bargaining agreement with their employees.

When I see an opinion that supports any sports league exercising its power to do just about anything they want, I question whether or not the person is coming to that opinion from a narrow-minded perspective in that specific situation.  Last year, I can’t tell you how many times I heard or saw someone say or write that the NFL should suspend Ray Rice for longer than 6 games because “They’re a private enterprise; they can do whatever they want.”  Umm… no.  The one thing that I’ll say to defend Roger Goodell (I know, I’m defending Roger Goodell, wow) is that Goodell’s naysayers during the Ray Rice case often used bad pieces of evidence to hate on him.  He obviously handled the Rice case, as well as every other domestic violence incident that came before it, horrendously, but I found it interesting that the same fans who wanted Rice suspended forever and a day are some of the same fans who still rip on Goodell for losing that battle in court to Ray Rice, when a judge said that Rice should be reinstated and the the league overstepped its bounds by not reinstating him well after the 7th game of the season.  That demonstrates a pretty hypocritical and narrow-minded way of thinking on the part of the fans.

Back to the present.  I don’t see how fans can simply say “Suspend Patrick Kane even if he hasn’t been arrested” in the aftermath of all that’s happened in the past few years when sports and legality cross paths.  The NFL, the league who owns its players’ union the most, has lost battles in the cases of the Saints bounty scandal, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and now Tom Brady.  Think about that last one especially.  If the NFL can’t suspend Brady for something that has nothing to do with the actual court system —  and that the CBA said they had the legal right do so — because the judge says they overstepped their bounds, how in the world could the NHL or Blackhawks suspend Patrick Kane when he hasn’t even been arrested?  Rice and Peterson beat their suspensions, and that was when there was a video of Rice punching out his wife and a full admission from Peterson.

When you suspend a player in sports, that is a legal matter.  While the Blackhawks and the NHL should believe the survivor and be very concerned about what happened to Kane to the point of investigating it thoroughly, they can’t take him off the ice.  At least not until he’s arrested.  In her column, Klabusich also states, “If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.”  Again, I have to disagree.  Suspending a guy is a definite legal matter, and frankly, the players’ union in any league would be stupid to agree to rules that permit the league to suspend a player without being arrested and when he’s only under investigation at the moment.

But that obviously isn’t enough, and even I know it.  As much as I think the argument that athletes have to be role models is overrated, to some extent, I have to admit that it’s true.  And sports players, teams, and organizations do represent inportant societal messages.  It clearly doesn’t send a good message that a man who possibly, and maybe even likely, raped a woman is playing in front of 20,000 people in person every other night.

Therefore, the NHL and the Hawks need to take EA Sports’ lead.  EA sports made the 1000000000% correct decision to take Kane off the cover of NHL 16.  When someone like Kane is on the cover of such an important cultural item in the hockey world like NHL 16, that crosses the line from him being an employee and player to a cultural icon, role model, and prominent example of our society’s behavior.

While Kane is under investigation, he shouldn’t be the latter, only the former — at least as much as that juxtaposition is possible.  The Blackhawks and NHL should stop selling his jersey on the official team and league sites and in the official pro shop.  He also shouldn’t have a prominent role in public team events or anything like that, and I’d even take him out of any official team calendars or those 5 second clips they show in December where the guys say something like, “Hi, this is Patrick Kane.  I want to wish everyone in the Chicago area a very safe and happy holiday season.”  He should be gone from all that.

Hopefully, my solution would send the message that Kane should not be promoted or beloved culturally while such a serious investigation is ongoing.  It’s important to realize this while also realizing that the NHL or Blackhawks shouldn’t (and importantly) can’t suspend Patrick Kane, because suspending him is a legal matter and he hasn’t even been arrested.

You might disagree, and I can completely understand why.  Let me know in the comment section of the blog or on Twitter.  The only thing that I ask is that you don’t criticize me for not having the perfect solution to this ugly issue, because there is no perfect solution.  Most importantly though, let’s all hope that whatever happened, that the accuser isn’t traumatized with whatever happened for the rest of her life, and let’s hope that we get some clarity in this case.

Raffi Torres Suspended 41 Games

Today, the NHL suspended professional scumbag Raffi Torres for half the season after he delievered yet another headshot, this time to Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

I couldn’t love this move anymore than I already do.  As the league said in the video, it’s only been 15 games played since Torres was last suspended.  Point blank, he’s nothing more than a cheapshot artist, and there’s no reason to give him anything less than the harshest realistic penalty.

Torres has been suspended, fined, or warned 9 times, which is simply too much.  If he’s not getting the point, and he’s clearly not, then you have to give him a drastic punishment, which is the only prayer that he’ll eventually learn his lesson.

Ono another note, this suspension is yet another reason that we are so lucky that the Bruins won in 2011.  That Canucks team was so aggravating that a loss to them would have hurt that much more.  They were by no means the 2013 Blackhawks, who you can respect even after losing to them in heartbreaking fashion. It was a team full of whining, flopping, cheapshotting (that’s definitely a word) wimps that we would have hated seeing raise the cup.