March Madness Predictions

19 Mar

You would think I’d learn! Every year I fill out one of these brackets and, without fail, the vast majority of my picks go up in flames by the second round. I must admit that I don’t follow college basketball too closely for several reasons, the most practical of which is that I live in London and so don’t see many games live. I do know – or at least I have a hunch – about the following facts:

1) The Big 10 is by far the best conference in college basketball so I feel reasonably comfortable picking 3 of their teams (Michigan, Indiana and Ohio St) to make the Final Four. I know the Big 10 hasn’t won a title since Michigan State’s 2000 run but don’t you think they’re due?

2) Despite my pronouncement about the supremacy of the Big 10, I still believe Duke will win the tourney. They’ve had their bumps along the way this season, mostly due to star player Ryan Kelly’s injury, but he’s back and unless you’re UNLV from back in the day, it’s always better to have some adversity before the big dance. Their big test will be Louisville but sorry Rick Pitino, your team is going to lose to Coach K yet again (here’s hoping this game is as good as the famous Duke-Kentucky buzzer beater)!

3) I’ve completely ignored Gonzaga because a) I had to google the school to find out it’s in Washington and b) they play in something called the West Coast Conference. I don’t care they’re a #1 seed, Gonzaga has zero track record in this tourney.

4) My bracket will most likely blow up when the upset I’ve failed to predict inevitably happens so when that occurs, forget this post ever happened!

bracket

Ridiculous Sports Quote of the Day

16 Mar cbssports / Getty Images

“It’s disappointing, sure, but I just couldn’t have been prouder of a group of guys than this group here.” – Joe Torre

As a disclaimer I highly respect Torre who skippered the Yankees, my favorite baseball team, to several World  Series wins but – sorry Joe-  USA’s ouster from the World Baseball Classic was disastrous. Baseball is supposedly our national pastime yet the USA has managed to go 10-10 in all-time Classic play and couldn’t even make it out of the second round this year. I understand that Torre has a responsibility to protect his players from criticism, something he regularly did with the Yankees, but Team USA management must realize that other countries take this tournament far more seriously than we do. All you have to do is watch the celebration after Puerto Rico knocked the USA out. To do the manager proud, they should cajole / coerce / bribe the best American starting pitchers to participate because while Dickey and Vogelsong are good, they’re not Verlander, Price or Hamels. If the Latin American and Asian countries put out their A teams, why won’t the USA? Obviously, there’s always concern about injuries from both team and player but given the Domincan Republic has 10 All-Stars on their roster, including fearsome hitters Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Beltre, there’s no way we can ever compete. The question then becomes: what’s the point of even playing?

Westward Ho!

15 Mar goldrush

The two teams vying for the Super Bowl next season will hail from west of the Mississippi. There – I said it! For the first time in recent memory, Vegas is now favoring the 49ers and Seahawks to play for the NFC conference title and while the Patriots will always be a threat in the AFC as long as Belichick and Brady remain together, the Broncos are my pick in that conference. The common theme among these three teams is that each have made significant moves either through Free Agency or trades to bolster already-formidable rosters. Furthermore, and most importantly in this offense-driven era, all have QBs coming off tremendous years although Kaepernick needs to prove he can duplicate his success over a full season.

I’ve already documented the Wes Welker signing (http://wp.me/p1m3T5-5a) which gives Peyton Manning another target along with Demaryius Thomas and Erik Decker. In addition to Welker, Elway has aggressively gone out and signed right guard Louis Vasquez, right cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. The only remaining piece is agreeing to terms with defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who along with Von Miller, anchored the Broncos’ excellent defense (3rd in the league in both pass and rush yards allowed). The Broncos easily won the AFC West last season as the division has been consistently weak; however, this may change with the recent hiring of Andy Reid by the Chiefs and the merciful firing of Norv Turner in San Diego. I still think the Broncos will prevail though and challenge New England for the AFC title.

The 49ers and Seahawks didn’t even wait until Free Agency to improve their receiving corps which isn’t altogether surprising given their coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll respectively, have a rivalry (some say hatred) that dates back to their Stanford-USC days. Seattle got the upper hand by acquiring dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Vikings for a first round draft pick. At only 24 years old, Harvin will make Seattle’s read option offense dangerous for a long time. Plus, he now has the scrambling, playmaking QB in Russell Wilson that he so sorely lacked in Minnesota (Christian Ponder apparently didn’t do it for Harvin).  Oh, and he returned a Viking franchise record 5 punts for TDs so the special teams got better too! The Seahawks already have the great RB Marshawn Lynch who rushed for over 1,590 yards and a defense that ranked first in points allowed. Assuming Chris Clemons returns from his injury quickly, playing Seattle will be a very difficult task.

Not to be outdone, the 49ers traded an astonishingly low sixth round pick for veteran Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, taking advantage perhaps of Baltimore’s reduced cap space (Joe Flacco’s astronomical contract isn’t doing them any favors). Boldin has had 4 1,000+ yards seasons in his 10 year career as well as a monster playoff run with 16 catches for 276 yards and 3 TDs. Clearly, he will help the 49ers but at 32 years old, this trade didn’t make the splash that Harvin’s did. Plus Randy Moss won’t be around as the second receiver so the 49ers will rely heavily on Boldin and Mario Manningham. On the defensive side, rumors abound that former Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will soon sign with San Francisco for a reduced amount considering his recent swoon. If Asomugha can return to his earlier form with the Raiders though, that would count as a major coup for the 49ers.

The NFC West is a two team race between the 49ers and Seahawks and I predict the latter will get the upper hand. So that’s Seahawks vs. Broncos in the next Super Bowl which, ironically enough, will be played on the East Coast (my hometown MetLife Stadium). My friends at Fantasy Furnace (http://fantasyfurnace.com/) tell me that pre-season begins in 143 days so let the countdown begin!

Welker Goes Over to the Dark Side

14 Mar Al Bello / Getty Images

I know I haven’t posted in awhile (too many distractions to list) but I couldn’t let Wes Welker’s signing with the Broncos go by without comment. I despise the Patriots but even I have to sympathize with their fans because by not matching the relatively frugal 2 year, $12 million offer sheet from the Broncos, the Patriots have essentially decided that Welker was simply an easily expendable product of Belichick’s “system”. Instead, management went out and signed Rams WR Danny Amendola for – get this – 5 years, $31 million (with $10 million guaranteed). The Patriots have a history of being unsentimental when it comes to cutting popular veteran players but Welker is still in his prime. I’m sure this is not what Brady had in mind when he signed a contract worth much less than his market value in order to free up cap space.

Let’s look at this a bit more closely. Welker’s numbers are absolutely astounding as he’s averaged (!) 112 catches over his 6 seasons with the Patriots. Despite a slow start last season, he still led the team with 118 catches for 1,354 yards and 6 TDs. Part of the reason for this of course is that the Patriots have had their fair share of injury problems offensively with both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing several games. Here’s where the Patriots really undervalued Welker: he’s a workhorse who has been able to stay healthy and produce big numbers consistently. Amendola has good stats but he has also missed large chunks of playing time, including almost the entire 2011 season, due to injury. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching years of NFL games, oft-injured players do not magically heal once they change teams.

Clearly, production wasn’t the reason the Patriots let him walk so basically we’ve come down to this: Welker and Belichick can’t stand each other. While the media had fun with Welker’s comment that it was nice to stick it in Belichick’s face after a big game early last season (one outlet actually wondered if Belichick would cut him out of spite), the feud has largely been swept under the rug because of the Patriot’s regular season dominance. I’ve seen enough of Welker to know that his personality is a bit out there so there’s no doubt he’s been storing all the slights, including of course the Patriots’ reluctance to re-sign him, in the back of his mind. Belichick, for his part, can’t stand when players speak out of turn as he’s all about the “team mentality” and spent most of last season freezing Welker out like a petulant child.

In the end though, Welker gets the last laugh as he signs with the Patriots’ nemesis, Peyton Manning, who is totally laughing right now. The Broncos receiving corps is downright loaded as Welker joins Demaryius Thomas and Erik Decker to complement their strong defense (leaving aside last season’s playoff game against the Ravens). While some critics point out, somewhat justifiably, that Welker’s success is mostly due to Brady, Manning is not exactly a downgrade at QB! Plus, Welker has all the motivation he needs to have another outstanding season.

I can’t wait to see how this all plays out – how many more days until training camp again?

Parcells’ Hall of Fame exclusion

11 Feb

I’m completely in denial that the NFL season is over so I decided to continue the Giants-Patriots theme by lamenting Bill Parcells’ Canton snub. Parcells’ proteges are of course Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick who have a combined 5 Super Bowl wins as head coaches between them so his coaching legacy alone should push him over the edge. As anyone who followed the Giants during his tenure knows, Parcells was never a warm and fuzzy guy. However, he resurrected the franchise, winning 2 titles along the way – one with a back-up QB – and gaining the reputation as the best motivator in the NFL (a little known fact is that the Gatorade shower after a big win originated when a Giants player wanted to get revenge on Parcells for being so hard on him in practice.) Just ask the Bears or Colts how difficult it is to win, let alone go deep into the playoffs, without their starting QB!

With the passage of time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the disappointing end of his career as a Dolphins executive along with his “journeyman” travels hurt his HOF chances. However, Parcells is also the only coach in NFL history to take four different teams to the playoffs (Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys). Aside from his success with the G-men, Parcells’s legacy includes an AFC Championship (Patriots), AFC title game (Jets) after the team had gone 1-15 the previous year and making the Cowboys relevant again (with Romo underachieving even back then).   So, Parcells didn’t simply wander aimlessly from team to team but had a big part in laying the groundwork for future success.

I’m disappointed that the 44 HOF voters – whoever they are as the process is shrouded in as much secrecy as when a new Pope is elected – couldn’t see what seemingly everyone else in the industry does: Parcells deserves to be elected. I only hope they come to their senses at the next vote!

Parcells and LT - love that old school Giants sweater!

My Super Bowl thoughts

9 Feb

It’s been almost a week since the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI and I’m still a bit shell-shocked (in a good way) at the result. Not because I thought New York couldn’t win despite being underdogs – a role they seem to relish – but rather how the game unfolded. In a testament to just how strange I found the Super Bowl, I wasn’t even surprised at the sight of Tom Coughlin hugging rapper Flava Flav (seriously, who let him onto the field?) afterwards. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

- Let’s start with the fact that the two week build-up to the big game is overkill. I understand why the NFL does this but even I as a huge Giants fan was sick of having every angle dissected over and over. There were definitely inspirational stories such as Giants LB Mark Herzlich who beat cancer and the Patriots dedicating their season to owner Robert Kraft’s late wife Myra. However, the game is almost anti-climatic after every NFL analyst, former player and/or intern is asked for their prediction.  

- The Giants have been recipients of some dubious officiating during their playoff run, most notably in the Packers game. I still can’t believe Bill Leavy (the same official who admitted blowing calls in the 2006 Super Bowl by the way) didn’t overturn the ruling on the field that Greg Jennings was down by contact when video evidence clearly showed he lost the ball before hitting the ground.  So you could understand my surprise that the refs had the guts to call a safety on the Golden Boy, Tom Brady, on the Patriots’ first offensive possession no less. That, not necessarily the Wes Welker drop,  influenced the end of the game.

- A related note is that I’m still shocked by how sloppily the Patriots started the game. Despite having one of the worst defenses in the league and less offensive weapons than normal, New England got to the Super Bowl by overachieving e.g. being well prepared. Not only was Brady at fault for that safety but the Patriots were called for 12 men on the field negating a critical fumble recovery. Karma, by the way, played a huge role in this game as the Giants managed to recover all their fumbles which almost never happens!

- The first half went by faster than any other game in recent memory which is astounding for the Super Bowl, a game that typically drags. Perhaps that was due to Tom Brady’s efficiency in bringing the Patriots down the field for a TD, completing a Super Bowl record 16 consecutive passes.

- The half time show, which despite being better than average, was still disappointing as Madonna simply lip-synced her way through her greatest hits. British rapper M.I.A. flipped America the bird which got some people riled up but really who cares! I was more taken by how uncomfortable she looked doing the dance moves.

- The second half went almost entirely the Patriots’ way until of course they were trying to ice the game. Despite being up at the time, 17-15, it felt like New England was the more nervous team. You could almost feel the air deflating from their team when Brady and Welker failed to connect for a critical first down. Who’s at fault? Most analysts seem to blame Welker and while he certainly should’ve made the catch, I’m sure Brady would also like to have thrown the ball better.

- This set up Manning’s late game heroics and the strangest TD in Super Bowl history. Bradshaw went into the End Zone like my 5 year old daughter would have, butt first and off balance.  Belichick absolutely made the right call by letting the Giants score but the defense let Bradshaw off the hook for not going down sooner. Although for a running back accustomed to fighting for every yard, the parting of the Red Seas must’ve seemed like a dream come true at the time. It must be noted that Manning looked cool as ice – he takes over for Elway as the QB who I’d want at the end of a big game in a two minute drill. Plus, that Manningam play will go down in Super Bowl lore as one of the best throws ever.

- Here’s where the safety becomes critical as the Patriots now were forced to drive the length of the field for a TD rather than simply get to field goal range. By this point, that was asking too much of Brady because I think the Justin Tuck sack affected his shoulder more than was reported. Despite the hurt, he did manage to execute a perfect Hail Mary at the end of regulation which – thankfully- fell short of Gronkowski’s reach. Notice how I haven’t really spoken of The Gronk? That’s because his ankle made him a non-factor although he managed to move around just fine during the after party (just saying Patriots fans!) 

- After the game, talk of Belichick and Brady’s diminished legacy almost overshadowed Manning’s clutch performance (again) which made him Super Bowl MVP. For the record, that tandem will still go down as one of the best of all time. In a “what have you done for me lately” world, they’re being judged for losing the last two Super Bowls. That doesn’t take away from the first three people! As for Manning, it should be a capital offense now to ask whether he’s an elite QB.

- Finally, my favorite post-Super Bowl story is Gisele’s foul mouthed tirade against the hecklers who dared say that Manning owns her husband (which he does by the way). I don’t have a problem with Gisele defending Brady but she probably shouldn’t have criticized his teammates. This will most certainly garner her Yoko One status in Boston which I’m not sad about as this is the same woman who said that childbirth was a relaxing experience!

Will the Giants repeat next season? Probably not as it’s incredibly difficult to do but boy did I enjoy the ride!!

Rob Tringali for ESPN.com

My (small) connection to Bill Belichick

24 Jan

As a New York Giants fan who basked in the glory of their last Super Bowl win against the Patriots which ended the latter’s quest for a record-setting 19-0 season, it’s hard for me to admit any affinity towards Bill Belichick. There’s Spy Gate where the Patriots organization was accused of filming opposing teams’ practice, Belichick’s notoriously less-than-rosy demeanor, and his ridiculous bitterness towards former assistant Eric Mangini. The last particularly gets to me because Mangini (’94) is, like yours truly (’97), a graduate of Wesleyan University.  My years there provided many fond memories but rooting for Wesleyan’s athletic teams doesn’t have the same cache as say being at Michigan’s 100,000+ seat football stadium for a game against Ohio State. As a Division III school, Wesleyan is more known for its academic prowess but despite the odds, Belichick(’84) and Mangini both managed to be successful in the NFL (not to mention that Jed Hoyer ’96  is currently the Cubs’ GM). There’s a great article originally published in 2004 by the New York Times when the Patriots were in the midst of their mini dynasty about how important Belichick’s economics degree was to him, even in his current profession (read here: PRO FOOTBALL; For Belichick, An Economy Of Thought – New York Times) However, I still can’t shake how poorly he treated his understudy simply for being hired as the New York Jets head coach. Didn’t OC Bill O’Brien just leave the Patriots – during the playoffs no less – to lead Penn St? I’m naturally drawn to the underdog story of a Wesleyan graduate becoming one of the greatest coaches in NFL history (I will never deny that) but his actions have put me off so much that I have no split interests whatsoever. Go Giants!!

Wesleyan Athletics

The Giants are going to the Super Bowl!

23 Jan

On November 22, I wrote a post entitled “Another Giants collapse?” (http://wp.me/p1m3T5-4d) which lamented the implosion of the team’s playoff chances after a dispiriting loss to the Eagles. And I quote “While I am optimistic by nature, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost 4 out of their remaining 6 to miss the playoffs. Again.” All I can say is that at least I was on the Eli Manning bandwagon much earlier than everyone else (http://wp.me/p1m3T5-49)! Obviously, the Giants pulled it together and beat the Cowboys twice to earn the NFC East division crown but honestly who would’ve predicted this Super Bowl? The answer is the entire Giants team which didn’t descend into Jets-style anarchy and for that, I will give Tom Coughlin all the credit in the world. He and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell were on the hot seat almost constantly but the team didn’t fold. Sports Illustrated had an interesting stat which neatly sums up the Giants season: no team that has reached the Super Bowl has ever been outscored during the regular season. That’s how bad their defense was, especially in soul crushing losses to the Redskins (twice!), Seahawks, Saints and Eagles. And yet the Giants, rather than the Packers, Saints or 49ers (arguably much better teams), are NFC Champions.

The comparisons between this team and the 2007 version are inevitable especially as they both entered the playoffs as Wild Cards and had to win on the road to get to the Super Bowl. Not to mention Lawrence Tynes’ clutch performances, kicking the winning field goal in OT of both NFC Championship games. However, in my opinion, the similarities should end there because while the ’07 team relied on the running game and defense, the current team is all about the Big 3 – Hicks, Manningham and Cruz. Brandon Jacobs had monster seasons in ’07 and ’08, running for over 1,000 yards but this year, he and Ahmad Bradshaw combined barely surpassed 1,000 yards. Plaxico Burress, David Tyree and Amani Toomer were Manning’s WR back in ’07 but I don’t think they compare to the ones currently on the roster. Plus, there’s Manning who after this season should never be asked whether he is an elite QB. Although the Giants defense has gotten its act together in the playoffs, that corps was plagued by injuries and the secondary couldn’t cover anybody.

To beat the Patriots though, the Giants cannot commit the dumb penalties they took against the 49ers (face masks and unnecessary roughness is unacceptable at this stage) plus they must win the turnover battle again. Brady will certainly have more throwing TDs than he did yesterday against the tough Ravens defense but if the line pressures him into mistakes,  Manning and the offense are more than able to capitalize. As long as it’s close in the 4th quarter, I expect some of Manning’s late game magic to appear, this time in the stadium his brother built – what a perfect ending that would be to a wild season!!

Jamie Squire / Getty Images

 

The stylish Dwyane Wade

6 Jan

Forgive me for my foray into fashion, a topic usually reserved for my other blog (lifestylebygoldie.com) but I couldn’t help myself while watching the Heat-Pacers game the other night. As the game turned into a blow-out by halftime, I was pleasantly distracted by the sight of Dwayne Wade, who is nursing a foot injury, on the bench. Obviously, I know about his skill level but there he was in a beautiful gray three piece pinstripe suit with what looked like a corsage/brooch pinned onto his lapel. Admittedly I don’t follow men’s fashion but is this the start of a new trend? Similar to Jay-Z’s evolution, it seems like “ballers” have moved on from baggy jeans and baseball hats to full on GQ style. After doing some internet searching (all in the name of research), I found some more of Wade’s fashion statements…enjoy!

All photos by the Miami Herald except the last from the Associated Press

The aforementioned corsage

Channeling Kanye West

Look at the color coordination!

 

Attending the Kentucky Derby in seersucker and fedora (with no irony mind you!)

Musings on NCAA football

8 Dec

I’ll start this post off with a disclaimer: As a graduate of D-III school Wesleyan (which has inexplicably produced two NFL head coaches – Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini – and one MLB GM – Jed Hoyer – but that’s a story for another day), I’m not a huge follower of college football.  I will also admit ignorance about the BCS, a system which commentators and school officials outside the SEC seem to despise without offering a viable alternative.  However, I did watch more games on TV this season than ever and while the “Game of the Century – LSU vs. Alabama” was a bust, many have been thoroughly entertaining like Oklahoma St.’s 2OT loss to Iowa St which knocked them out of the Championship Game. With this increased exposure I feel the need to share my thoughts so here goes…

1) I understand that the BCS correctly identified the top 2 teams in the country in LSU and Alabama but realistically who outside the Southeast wants to watch this game? While I’m not going to argue with Alabama finishing in front of #4 Stanford despite the fact that the latter’s one loss came against a Top 10 team (Oregon), I personally believe that some sort of playoff system should be implemented to put an end to the constant second-guessing. In any event, I only hope that the Championship Game is not a field goal slugfest like the first match-up!

2) Andrew Luck, Stanford’s QB, is NOT projected to win the Heisman Trophy this Saturday in New York which to me represents such a remarkable turn of events that I’m almost rendered speechless. There was so much made of his decision to stay in college for one more season that anything short of a National Championship is now a failure. Forget that he led a PAC-12 school known for its academic rigor to the still-prestigious Fiesta Bowl, threw for 35 TDs and over 3,100 yards and is guaranteed to be the #1 pick in the upcoming draft; Baylor’s QB, Robert Griffin III (who??) clearly deserves the award because he’s fun to watch and he beat Texas (which has an 0-4 record against Top 25 teams by the way). This makes absolutely no sense to me but Luck can console himself with thoughts of a very large contract coming his direction! Now if  he could only get Archie Manning to stop giving his input on the Colts’ QB situation…

3) Can someone explain to me why Virginia Tech, which got blown out by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, was given a BCS at-large bowl bid? They are now playing in the Sugar Bowl instead of (the more deserving) Kansas St or Arkansas, two teams which face each other in the Cotton Bowl (apparently not a BCS bowl which I only figured out now.)

4) Along the same lines, how embarrassing is it that UCLA – which had just fired its coach for getting demolished by USC the previous week – played Oregon for the Pac 12 title? If that wasn’t enough, the team actually received a waiver to accept a bowl bid. Are you kidding me? Why does a team with a 6-7 record and no head coach deserve to go to a bowl? The mind boggles…

5) Finally, I just read a very confusing article about the Big East’s expansion next year to include Boise St., Houston, SMU, San Diego St, and Central Florida.  I haven’t studied geography in awhile and currently live outside the U.S. but am I correct in pointing out that Idaho, Texas and California are very far from the East Coast? Apparently, these teams have worked out some convoluted agreement that this is solely for football purposes (e.g. ability to make money from TV contracts) as their other sports programs will play in other conferences like the Mountain West and Conference USA. You understand my confusion right? Do conferences even matter anymore as the constant realignment has realistically rendered them pointless. Come 2014 when these teams are allowed to opt out of the Big East, I bet they form their own conference just out of spite!

The BCS trophy goes to an SEC team...again

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