NFL Quick Hits – Sept 30, 2012

Another topsy turvy week in the NFL is finished and a lot of strange things seems to be happening.  The Cover Corner will now attempt to make sense of the ongoing bizarre season:

The Vikes lead the NFL’s toughest division – This is a genuine shocker, but Christian Ponder (one of the smartest players in the NFL) is playing well and leading a strong team through the first four games.  They have wins over the 49ers and Lions in consecutive weeks, both of which were great teams last season.  If the Vikes can maintain their pace and get to ten or eleven wins, they will easily cruise into the postseason.

The 49ers are back – After taking a week off against the Vikings, the team came back strongly and annihilated the New York Jets (a surprisingly easy task these days).  Welcome back to Super Bowl contention boys, and way to go getting it back together.  The Jets on the other hand are falling apart and a pedestrian day by Mark Sanchez (13 of 29 for 103 yards and a pick) does not help.  This is a team in deep, deep trouble especially with the loss of top wideout Santonio Holmes.

The Texans roll on – Another week, another Houston victory.  This is a team flying under the radar, but flying very high.  From top to bottom, the Texans may be the deepest team in the NFL and they are making it look easy as they rolled over the Titans.

Vintage Peyton – The elder Manning was a gunslinger today against the Raiders and managed to go 30 – 38 for 338 yards and 3 tds.  Can we ever really count this guy out?

Do not sleep on the Cards or the Pack – The Cards, as of this writing, have made a ridiculous comeback and have now tied the upstart Fins.  The Pack lead New Orleans by 1 in a game that has seen a resurgence of both Aaron Rodgers (4 tds today) and Drew Brees (who has thrown for 400 yards).  Unreal.

The Seahawks deserved to lose today – Some sort of balance for the league and the Hawks?  Their controversial win on Monday was one of the most despicable things I have ever seen.  At no point did Golden Tate have possession of the ball.  At no point did he not commit pass interference.  How the replay officials missed this is disgusting.  So, they lost today…good.

 

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Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – The Decision…again

The Decision: As the NBA season draws nearer, this Miami fan felt it was time for (yet another) look at the controversial “decision” which brought together the 2012 NBA Champion Miami Heat.  Maybe you agree and most likely you do not, but please enjoy yet another look at one of the defining moments in NBA history.

In hindsight and over time The Decision will ultimately be viewed with more detached humor than it is now.  A couple of things to get out of the way first off:

1)      It was monumentally stupid to put the biggest free agency moment, well, ever on national television – Or was it?  This may turn out to be one of those sneaky intelligent decisions that end up making putting a network farther ahead of their competition.  ESPN took a calculated risk involving one of the most popular athletes of all time, most likely figuring there was no chance at all he was going anywhere but Cleveland.  Who would possibly have the balls to go on television and destroy his hometown team?  I believe ESPN had no idea what LeBron was going to do, and had they any inclination they would have hyped the show even more.  Again the whole thing was a monumentally fucking stupid idea.

2)      Not even charitable donations could save this thing – Whether or not you genuinely believe LeBron thought the charitable aspects of the show would save his legacy (he probably realized pretty quickly that they did not) the show was still a bad idea of ridiculous proportions.

Many people have speculated about the show, and LeBron’s honesty through the whole process.  Whether or not Mavrick Carter talked LeBron into the whole thing is ultimately irrelevant.  We have to deal with “The Decision” because it happened and in writing this book it is impossible to ignore the ramifications.  This was one of the biggest and most significant moments in the history of the NBA and glossing over the ugliness is impossible.

Are the conspiracy theorists right?  LeBron claims he woke up that very morning not entirely sure what he was going to do.  Again, we can either view this as truth or as a fiction meant to protect and slightly repair his shattered image.  The other opinion is much more devious and somewhat sinister: Dwyane Wade, James and Chris Bosh colluded during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, deciding to team up in Miami in 2010.

To buy this theory you have to believe that all three players only signed three year deals intending to go to Miami upon their competition.  Why you may ask, would they not simply go to Miami immediately?  All three were under contract at the time.  Of course this also requires the believer to imagine the absolute worst of Dwyane Wade.  Is he the kind of guy who would go into Free Agent meetings with teams like Chicago, Cleveland and New York in order to get information for mastermind Pat Reilly to use in his meetings with LeBron and Bosh?

It is sort of hard to believe the three players would collude so blatantly unless you believe Wade to be a villain of the magnitude of Keyzer Soze.  Then the three players had to stick to the plan and not change their mind due to sentimentality or a better offer elsewhere – because, remember they each could have made more money by going elsewhere, or staying where they were.  Honestly, if you were told the only guy who would come away with a max contract in the Summer of 2010 would be Joe Johnson I am pretty sure you would laugh hysterically and struggle to stop for some time.  This is exactly what happened and this alone raises additional suspicion.

LeBron’s mysterious performance against the Celtics in the 2010 Playoffs also bears further examination.  The team was on their way to the Conference Finals when they suddenly fell apart spectacularly.  One player who was truly awful?  Delonte West: which of course led to the rumors (potentially started by Mavrick Carter on Wade’s orders???) he had slept with LeBron James mother, the entire team knew and LBJ found out during the series.  Why this would come out at the most important part of the season is beyond me, but there you go.  If it happens to be true though, holy shit – and for some reason it is borderline believable due to the fact that Delonte West is completely insane.  How insane?  He was arrested during this same season for having a guitar case full of handguns, a shotgun, a crossbow, and possibly three dead Thai hookers? (I made one of those things up…I think?)

So the chances LeBron, Bosh and Wade colluded to join a team together and managed to follow through on this aforementioned collusion seems very, very unlikely.  NBA players struggle to hold themselves together day to day and are not well known for sticking with any kind of plan (ahem, Dwight Howard), can you possibly imagine them being able to plan for three years in advance?

Not a chance – none at all.

Thus, despite the sheer ridiculous delivery system of “The Decision” we cannot lose sight of the fact this was LeBron’s decision and he had the right to make it.  The man was a free agent and, as such, had the right to any choice he so desired.  Instead of sticking with the team that had him on the path to immortality, LeBron decided to try and genuinely build something with two friends of his…in Miami…

So there seems to be a possibility that Miami might be slightly better than Cleveland from what I understand.  Is it possible that the best basketball player in the world simply wanted to go to a much better place to live?  Keep in mind and do not lose sight of the fact he is not yet twenty-eight years old – no disrespect to the people or city of Cleveland, but where would you rather be if you had hundreds of millions of dollars?  Does this not seem like a much more logical idea for why LeBron chose to go to Miami?

When the choice was made and he moved to Miami, LeBron was clear about one thing: he wanted to win.  Everything was going to be about securing the ultimate prize.  Suddenly it seemed as if everything had changed in the world of selfish NBA players and everyone wanted to join a “super team”.  It became the thing to try and do for quite some time in NBA Superstar circles.  After Amare Stoudemire signed with the Knicks, Carmelo instantly began discussing joining the Knicks with Chris Paul in order to create a Superteam of their own.  Dwight Howard transformed himself from fun loving, Shaun Kemp-esque, lovable Shaq wannabe into the most despicable man in the NBA attempting to get from Orlando to Brooklyn or LA.

Yet at the end of the day it was all about winning, as if this current generation of players suddenly realized winning the title was more important that their individual stats or awards.  There was a small gap of time where the hyper competitive generation (think Kobe, Garnett and Duncan) gave way to Generation Next (Bron, Wade, Melo, Paul) who suddenly seemed at risk of going titleless.  For some reason, none of them (with the exception of Wade…and Darko) were able to break through and win the elusive ring.  LeBron had a shot, Howard had a shot as well, but Chris Paul or Melo simply have not.

They had come up in a different NBA era, one where all the players were friends not enemies going all the way back to the AAU circuit.  It was becoming a major new world and for the first time in a long time, the league took a genuine evolutionary step forward.  Whether or not this is a good thing remains to be seen.

However you view the Decision it needs to be understood as a milestone moment that changed and shaped the NBA going forward.  No one had a chance to win it seemed, without a cast of characters straight out of a made up video game lineup.  Even Kobe has moved to creating a “Super Team” by first attempting to add Chris Paul and then successfully adding Dwight Howard to the Lakers.  Then of course there is the earlier Big Three precedent set by the Celtics in their 2008 Title year, which seems to receive less and less attention as the hatred towards newer teams with superstars – Miami, LA – grows.

LeBron’s choice had a dramatic influence on the next generation (KD, Westbrook, Rose) for whom winning is seemingly everything and who found themselves on teams tailor made for contending.  There is little question that OKC and Chicago will eventually get their chances at the title and may even win one or two.  After all, it was inconceivable that LeBron or Bosh would ever go throughout their entire careers – playing together – without winning a Championship.  It is just as inconceivable that players of Rose or Durant’s capabilities will go without a ring as well.  Time will tell for them, but again, they found themselves on contenders built through the draft and smart acquisitions.  LeBron never had that chance as he had to carry the load, again and again.  Cleveland tried to put players around him, but perhaps he needed that change of scenary.  Needed to play outside Ohio and experience the world in a fresh and exciting way.

The Decision changed the NBA and it radically changed LeBron’s life in many different ways.  Going forward, his free agent move irreconcilably impacts the future of the league.  In a sick, and possibly perverse way, we should celebrate what he has done while continuing to condemn the delivery system.  If Kobe wins another ring, or Dwight Howard snags one or Melo manages to get over the hump they should all call LeBron and thank him for their ultimate title salvation.

Maybe one day the fans will thank him too, but maybe they will not.

After all, it was a really dumb idea to go on national television and kill basketball in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.

NFL Quick Hits – Sept 23, 2012

Week 3 of the NFL season is almost int he books and again we have seen a rash of upsets and unexpected outcomes. Here are some thoughts:

The Saints are 0-3, this is hugely unexpected – Before the season began, many people (myself included) expected the Saints to have a comeback season in which they destroyed everyone. The team was clearly mad, angry as hell and desperate to prove themselves to the rest of the league. Now, three weeks in, it all appears to be for naught. This is a team with a rudder and this season should show just how important and valuable Sean Payton is as a coach. The loss to KC this week was one they should not have sustained, but the Chiefs played for OT and managed to eke out a win. There is a good chance this will be a very rough season for Saints fans.

Three OT games make for high drama – The Lions, Jets and Chiefs all clawed their way back into their respective games and two out of three managed to come away with a win. Exciting football on a day when defense was virtually not in existance league wide. The Titans should be commended for their offensive explosion, especially when it all came from Jake Locker. Chris Johnson is proving to be incredibly useless.

The Vikes beat the 9ers – So much for my dreams of an undefeated season and unstoppable march to the Super Bowl. The team can still make noise in the postseason and get all the way through, but they are going to have to prove they can stand up to physical teams that are determined to run the ball.

Tough day for the Rooks – Second year QB’s Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert (okay, not so much Gabbert who got a lot of help from MJD) outduelled rooks Andrew Luck and RGIII, though both played phenomenal games. The Colts simply could not hang on to get the win and the Redskins attempted a furious comeback that fell short. All in all though a great time for young QB’s in the league.

The Cards are for real – As of this writing, the Cards are leading the mighty Eagles 24-6 and things are not looking good for Vick’s crew. They are looking good though, for Mr. Kevin Kolb and the miracle Cards. This is a surprisingly good team that has a genuinely good chance to make some noise in a suddenly deep division. Amazing. Truly amazing. Another week already come and gone and the Cards still undefeated. They are also not simply beating up on subpar teams: they have taken on the Pats and Eagles. Impressive.

So much for the Bears Drama – After more than a week of swirling rumors and drama the team calmly dispatches the Rams with clinical efficiency.

Did that field goal go through?- I must have watched the final shot of the Ravens / Pats game six or seven times and I am not sure.  The ball either squeaked through or went over the top of the upright.  Each angle they showed (never from the back) was unclear.  There was absolutely no definitive proof that the ball went through.  At the very least it should have been reviewed.  Bad day for the replacements.

Epic Fail

When Matt Barkley declared on December 23, 2011 that he was coming back to win a National Championship with the USC Trojans I sent the following message to at least seven people:

Christmas just came early!  Barkley stays at USC!  National Champs 2013.

And for nearly seven months that was exactly where USC was: National Champs to be, with presumptive Heisman Winner Matt Barkley strutting about like the team was ready to accept the trophies at any point.

No one said anything about the horrendus lack of depth the team had – particularly on the lines on either side of the ball.  Last season there was little doubt that USC was the 2nd or perhaps even best team in the Pac-12.  Due to sanctions placed upon the team because of things that happened years ago, the team was unable to compete for the national championship or participate in any Bowls.  Now, those sanctions have come back again – the lack of scholarships has finally caught up with USC.

The offensive line was so bad they could not have blocked Miley Cyrus.

Now, USC has to go through the rest of the year and win everything to get into the Rose Bowl.

Matt Barkley meanwhile, joins the long list of quarterbacks who came back for their senior season and failed…epically.  In fact: has it ever worked out for anyone?  Going all the way back, this is a semi-complete list:

Peyton Manning – lost to Florida, did not win the National Title and lost the Heisman to the only defensive player to ever win the Award (Charles Woodson).

Sam Bradford – Injured his shoulder immediately, but was still the number one pick.

Matt Leinart – Beaten and humiliated on national television by Vince “no longer in the league” Young.  Teammate Reggie Bush had to give back his Heisman for seemingly no reason.

Andrew Luck – The greatest QB prospect in years should have won the Heisman and the National Championship but came away with neither.  RGIII got the Heisman and Nick Saban stole another title.

Long story short: if you are going to be a top pick in the NFL do not bother coming back for your senior season.  Now, how can I pin this latest USC failure on Vince Young?

Quick Hits – Sept 17, 2012

Week 2 already in the books…some thoughts on what transpired:

Nobody looks “Super”…except for San Fran – The 49ers have now beaten two playoff teams in convincing fashion, and most importantly, Alex Smith has looked under control and excellent.  Coming in to the season it was clear their defense was going to be incredible, and it has been as advertised.  The offense has been a revelation: the recieving core is much stronger and they are unafraid to take chances down the field.  It is also nice to be bookended by one of the best running backs in the league, Frank Gore.  The Niners are here to stay and look like they are built to win in January.

Eli Manning steps up – After three awful interceptions, Manning returned to throw for 510 yards and lead the Giants to victory.  A troubling factor though: the secondary for the GMen are horrible.  Tampa went up and down on them and they simply could not stop anybody.

The NFC West is no longer a joke – The Seahawks, Rams and Cards all won yesterday and the magic of Kevin Kolb (can Kolbmania be far behind?) continues.  Given this conference was an afterthought for a long period it is nice to see them making a return to glory.

Mike Vick gets it done – In a game the Eagles should have lost, Vick managed to lead them to victory again despite losing the turnover battle, badly.  Vick is a gamer, and it is time that we recognize that even though they are winning ugly, they are winning.

Good Luck – This week it was Andrew Luck’s turn to play well and win his first game as the quarterback of the Colts.  Good for him to get one, and play turnover free ball.

New Orleans is in trouble – The team is simply off.  Totally off.  Brees has not looked sharp; they have looked completely out of sync on offense and defense.  Very troubling for all those who picked them to make it to the playoffs…(myself included).

NFL Quick Hits – Sept 9, 2012

After seven long months, Week One is in the books and already the the league seems topsy turvy.  Here are the quick hits:

Luck and RG3 look impressive – In week 1, RG3 had to take on the high rated Saints at the Superdome while Luck got to open in Chicago.  Two incredibly tough places to play.  Only one came away with a victory – the Heisman Trophy Winner.  RG3 looked very, very good in his debut.  His throws were on the mark – including a perfect precision touchdown and he finished with over 300 yards (as did Luck).  A great win for RG3 and a great performance for Luck.  A new era dawns.

The Jets put all the talk behind them – All the Jets did today was win big at Buffalo (a game some were picking them to lose) and all Sanchez did was toss 3 tds.  As for the backup – Tebow ran 5 times for 11 yards.

Texans, Patriots and Falcons win big – Three favorites took on their challengers and won big.  The Texans got contributions from all their major players (and the D did not miss Mario Williams all that much); the Pats picked up right where they left off last year with Brady finding the plethora of tight ends; the Falcons made sure to get Julio Jones involved early and kept him involved all game long (6 for 108 and 2 tds).  Three big opening statements from three contenders.

AP opens strong – Despite knee surgery after Week 16 last year, Peterson came back strong to open the season.  The guy is almost LeBron-like in his physical fitness (he is a freak of nature) and proved it with a 17 carry 84 yard 2 td day.  For AP there was no question of playing in Week 1 and he backed it up.  Truly remarkable return to form from the best running back in the NFL.

San Fran and Green Bay slug it out – In a potential preview of the NFC Championship game, the 49ers jumped out to an early lead and then managed to hold on 30-22.  Big victory for the 9ers and one that showcased the return of Randy Moss and featured a 63 yard field goal.  Once again the D stepped up for Frisco and their Super Bowl hopes rides on the right arm of Alex Smith.

My Life as a Chelsea Fan – Sept 6, 2012

The 2012 / 2013 Premier League season has already hit the first international break.  We are three games in and it is way past time to complete overvalue my team, as they currently sit at the top of the table.  Chelsea made some pretty incredible moves in the offseason and none has paid bigger dividends then that of Eden Hazard.

Hazard has had – even with RVP floating out for Man U – the biggest impact.  He has rejuvenated the career of Fernando Torres and has, seemingly (we are three games in) secured Chelsea’s future for years to come.  The team is firing on all cylinders at a time when both United and City have stumbled coming out of the gate.  For City there seems to be a slight title hangover and a small case of the “disease of more”, while United is still struggling to gel and Wayne Rooney really does not seem interested in playing all that much.

Chelsea though, is firing.  The team is playing well, and they are playing hard and they are finding ways to win the tough games.  Torres is rediscovering what it means to score goals and Hazard has given the team a dimension they previously lacked.  Defensively the team looks slow at times (looking at you Captain, Leader, Legend) but got younger through the transfer window.  Gary Cahill has come into his own and is playing with real confidence.  Ashley Cole continues to be one of the best left backs in the game and Petr Cech continues to be the best keeper in the game.

It may be time to break up this dynasty because if the season ended right this moment, I would be pretty satisfied with the 2012/2013 Blues.

NFL Preview

The NFL – which could not pack more games into a given week if they tried – starts tomorrow!  Back to months and months of titanic clashes between giants of sport.  Here are The Cover Corner’s predictions:

NFC Playoff Teams – Dallas, Philly, Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Fran

NFC Championship – Green Bay (thanks to an angry perfomance by Aaron Rodgers who plays at an incredibly high level this season) vs. Philly (ditto Mike Vick)

NFC Champ – The Eagles (teams with high expectations one year often do better the following year when the pressure has been taken off.  Vick stays relatively healthy and leads the Eagles to the Big Game)

AFC Playoff Teams – Denver, New England, Houston, San Diego, KC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincy

NFC Championship – New England vs. Baltimore

NFC Champ – New England (Brady and co will play very well, and you can never, ever turn your back on a Belichek system)

Super Bowl – In a track meet, New England wins the title.

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, GB

Offensive Player – Aaron Rodgers, GB

Defensive Player – Patrick Willis, SF

Offensive Rookie – Andrew Luck, Indy

Defensive Rookie – Bruce Irwin, Seattle