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30 December, 2012

Karma-proof?

  I'm not even sure I should write about this. So, let's just keep it between you and me.
  I think Peyton Manning is Karma-proof.
  There, I said it. Not with a full measure of conviction, but I did say it.

  I was 17 when I first started believing in the power of Rooting with Karma. If you don't know, Karma is the daughter of the great Rooting family parents Uncle Mo and Auntie Mentum. They are cousins of Destiny,  who is known for her work in the world of baseball no-hitters.
   I had begun the practice of decorating the family den with all my Broncos paraphernalia any time they were on national TV (a big deal living in Connecticut at the time).  That year I started making changes when things weren't going well. You probably know the drill. When things are going well for your team, you stay in the same seat, you don't take phone calls, you don't allow family members into the room and those who were there at the start aren't allowed to leave the room. if things are going poorly, you take off hats or shirts with the team logo on them, you move the remote control from the left side of the armchair to the right, whatever it takes. Sometimes your actions only work for a while, other times not at all, but occasionally they go the distance and alter entire games. You also have to take into consideration that thousands of other fans, for your team and the team your playing against, are also trying their own tricks, so there are a lot of Karmatic elements in motion. But when it all goes right (like on my knees, holding hands with my 9-year old as overtime started in the Steelers-Broncos playoff game last year), how sweet it is.

   Among my more memorable Karma moments:

    Game 6 1999 NLCS- The Mets trail the Braves 7-3 in the top of the 7th, down three games to two. John Smoltz comes in in relief and I decide it's a good time to relieve myself. So as I place myself upon the throne, I can't see the TV but I can kind of hear it. Franco doubles. Henderson doubles. Alfonso flies to right. My business is done, but there is a rally underway, so I stay fastened to the potty like Sgt. Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2. Now I am leaning forward, sticking my head out the bathroom door, trying to hear the game better. Olerud single. Piazza homer! You know how hard it is to jump off a toilet with your pants around your ankles? The next two batters made outs and I was finally able to leave the bathroom. Now, in retrospect, maybe I should have stayed in there as the Mets went on to lose 10-9, but I felt like, at least for that inning, I did my duty (and my dooty).

   Super Bowl 32- Before the game had started I banished my wife to the upper level of our condo. No interruptions. Late in the first half Denver is up 17-7 and Green Bay has the ball deep in their own territory. My wife asks if she can come down for a minute. She needs to do something in the kitchen. I acquiesce and down she comes. Well, bing-bam-boom, the Packers march down the field and score right before the half ends. I order my wife back upstairs, where she remains as the Broncos went on to win their first title.

  I know I'm not the only one who believes in this stuff. Last year during the Bears/Broncos game I tweeted that I was moving to the roof to watch the rest of the game when the Broncos were down 10-0. As things started going Denver's way people started imploring me to stay on the roof. There were multiple moments like that last season. With each remarkable comeback it felt like a higher power was involved. Rooting with Karma was a way of life for Broncos fans last year, in large part because we felt like we needed it to win games.

   That brings us to this year and Peyton Manning. The Monday night comeback against San Diego (overcoming a 24-point halftime deficit) was the one game where I recall thinking "Stay where you are, keep doing what you are doing." What I was doing was playing Bejeweled Blitz on my computer, with my feet up on the desk. By the end of the game my back and hands were killing me, but it was worth it.        But during the Broncos 11-game win streak that began that night, Denver has dominated, winning all the games by at least a touchdown. It's been during these last two months that I began to wonder, "Does it really matter what I do?" You non-believers would say "of course it doesn't matter" but for us believers it is a legit question. Peyton Manning plays at such a high level that it seems silly to even try and influence what happens on the field. I admit the Broncos haven't played a great collection of teams during the streak, but even when things were a little shaky I knew Peyton would make the right adjustments and things would be fine. No need to change shirts or seats or children in the room at the half. Just wait for Manning to "Buffalo!" here, "Hurry! Hurry!" there and throw in an "Orange barrel. Re-route!" for good measure and all will be fine.
   It's been odd in that regard. Such a cheering dichotomy from a year ago. It's really rather comforting.
Until the playoffs start. That will be the true test. I can't imagine the Broncos being down in a game and me not wanting to make changes. Move to an new chair? Put on a different jersey? Or will my trust in Peyton overpower my need to tweak Karma? Time will tell. Meanwhile, If Peyton wants to keep on making Karma and her family distant relatives, I'm all for it.

PLAYOFF THOUGHTS:
   The Road to New Orleans goes through Denver. The only team in the AFC field the Broncos didn't face in the regular season? His old team the Colts. They will likely come to Denver if they can win in Baltimore next weekend. In his Colts career, Manning played two playoff games against the Broncos. He put up 90 points, 9 touchdowns and 835 yards on 49-59 passing. It would be nice for Peyton to make the Colts fans feel that same helpless feeling as they are being dissected pass-by-pass.

   The Patriots are the only team that truly scares me. Houston has really been a different team thanks to some key injuries. The Broncos are a much better team since they lost to the Texans in week 3. Cincinnati and Indy will have trouble winning on the road. Baltimore is too inconsistent. The Patriots are great and they know what it takes to win in the playoffs. While Denver's defense has been excellent, and they are playing well at every position, we have not really seen them go against a quality offense since the Saints in week 8. They have also been playing with the lead a lot. Since the Chargers comeback game, they've had the halftime lead in every game but one. The Bengals game was the only  one in the last ten they needed to come from behind in the 4th quarter. It remains to be seen how they will handle a 7-point deficit in the 3rd quarter when they need to get the other team off the field. I'm not sure I completely trust them to get the Patriots O off the field in a big spot.
 
   I watched a bunch of old Broncos playoff games this past week. It reminded me just how awesome a home field advantage Mile High Stadium was for the Broncos. Here's hoping we can get back to that level of insanity in the weeks to come.
 

07 December, 2012

Dog Days

My wife's quest for a second dog continues. I told her if we get a boy we'll name it Denver or Bronco. Today she showed me a photo of the one she wants. It's silver and black and pretty ugly, so I said we'll name it Raider.

30 November, 2012

The Face of the Franchise

1962-1965 - Casey Stengel
1967-none
1968-Gil Hodges
1969-1971- Gil Hodges and Tom Seaver
1972-1977- Tom Seaver
1978-Jerry Koosman
1979-1980- Lee Mazzilli
1981-1982-none
1982-1984-Keith Hernandez
1985-1989-Keith Hernandez, Doc Gooden, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry
1990-Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry
1991-1994-Doc Gooden
1995-1997- none
1998-2004-Mike Piazza
2005-2006- Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez
2006-2011-David Wright, Jose Reyes
2012-David Wright

   Those are the faces of the Mets franchise since their inception. Like life itself, no two faces look the same. Some clearly carry more gravitas than others. Stengel was the face of the Yankees that the Mets needed for credibility and humor. Gil Hodges was the the face of the Brooklyn Dodgers the Mets needed for maturity. Mazzilli was box office, Hernandez was business, the '86 group was a core, Piazza and Pedro brought All-World ability and the ability to erase the '90s from our memories, and Wright and Reyes were the future.
  What exactly does signing a "Face of the Franchise" mean? I suppose it means stability. It's a promise of sorts from the team's ownership to it's fan base that it is committed to the future, committed to winning and suggests an understanding from the owners that they know what the fans want, that they appreciate your investment and are investing back.
   A year after losing Jose Reyes without hardly lifting a finger to keep him, the Mets could not let David Wright, the "Face of the Franchise" walk off into free agency after this season. Citi Field would have been a morgue in 2014. Merchandise sales would've provided about as much revenue as a Joe Orsulak bobblehead. So their is "value" in the Mets retaining Wright's services, but at what cost?
   For a franchise that has been under financial wraps for a few years, and is not out of the woods, was retaining Wright worth it? Let's compare Wright to some of his peers.

The Nationals Ryan Zimmeran (their franchise face for quite some time, but now being joined by Strasburg and Harper) signed a $100 million extension through 2019.

The Rays Evan Longoria (their franchise face even when he was in the minors) just tacked 6 years and $100 mil onto his deal at age 27.

  So Wright's money is right on par with some of the best at his position in the game. And since Wright came into the league, he has been among the best there too. He is a career .301 hitter, with a .381 on base, .506 slugging and an .887 ops. In his time in the majors, despite bouts with inconsistency, Wrights name is littered on the lists of the top performers in all the important categories for a 3rd baseman. He's also a Gold Glove caliber defender. On the field, Wright is everything you want a franchise player to be.
   Off the field, Wright has been the Mets Derek Jeter. Never a hint of trouble, does tv commercials, makes all the appearances and rarely rocks the boat. He is popular, handsome, and neutral. The Mets have no problem putting Wright "out there" as their face and Mets fans have no problem embracing him.
   Could the Mets have let Wright walk after next year and use that money, along with the Santana and Bay money that comes off the books, to build a new team around a young, promising pitching staff? Of course they could have, but it wouldn't have gone over well. Replacing Wright is a lot harder than it sounds. According to ESPN's Stats and Info group, only Eddie Matthews, Ron Santo, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, Wade Boggs and Buddy Bell have higher WARs through their age-29 season than Wright. Five of those seven guys are in the Hall of Fame. So financially, it may actually be a sound investment. Lock up one of the rarer pieces in the league and spend elsewhere.
     The Mets were criticized when they signed Carlos Beltran to a 7 year, $119 million dollar deal when he was 28 and by all accounts a better 5-tool player then, than Wright is now. But Beltran wasn't home-grown. He was brought in to be the face of the franchise, Wright was raised to be one, so for most people, although the contracts are similar, this just feels better.
   By getting the Wright thing done, the Mets have done the right thing. They owed it to their fans to keep Wright, to tell us that the money we invest in them isn't going to waste, that there is a hope the club is improving and that one of our literal cornerstones, will be part of that.
   My 10-year old, baseball loving son has been aware of David Wright since he was 6. He knows Wright is an all-star, he knows he's our best player, he wears #5 in little league because that's Wright number. That stuff matters, not just to a fan but to a franchise. It's called having an identity.
   I look at it like this: I took videotaped golf lessons a few years ago, and I thought the benefit would be seeing all the things I did wrong. The real benefit was seeing all the things I did right because it eliminated things I had to worry about. My take away is good? OK, no more worrying about that.
By signing Wright to this deal, the Mets have crossed one thing off their "have to worry about" list and their fans can do the same.
   It's ironic that Wright, a third baseman has become the franchise player for this generation. Third was long a revolving door of mediocrity to the point of absurdity. Every year the Mets announcers gleefully announced player X was the number X player to play that position for the Mets. Don Zimmer, Jim Fregosi, Lenny Randle, the list went on forever. Now their Face of the the Franchise, the man who owns or will own all the team records, is a third baseman. We will grow old together. For many, that puts a smile on our faces.


   Based on curiosity, I asked folks on Twitter who the Face of their Franchise was.
Here are some of the results:

Rockies-Tulo
Phillies-Rollins/Utley/Hamels
Giants-Posey
Cubs-none
Indians-none
Nationals-Harper/Strasburg
Twins-Mauer
Dodgers-Kemp
Reds-Phillips/Votto
Cardinals-Molina
Tigers-Verlander
Mariners-King Felix
Jays-Bautista
Yankees-Jeter
Astros-none
Braves-Heyward/McCann
Orioles-Cal Ripken/Adam Jones/Weiters
Red Sox-Ortiz/Pedroia
Pirates-McCutchen
Marlins-Stanton

25 October, 2012

The Bonds Homer

   At the 2002 World Series, there were some fun story lines to follow, not the least of which was "Will Barry Bonds finally have a breakout postseason?" On a lesser level was, "How big of a factor will rookie relief pitcher Francisco Rodirguez be for the Angels?"
   Bonds entered the World Series in good shape (in terms of his hitting, but yes, in terms of his physique as well, but let's not go there.)  He hit .294 with 3 homers in the LDS against Atlanta. He hit .273 with one homer and 10 walks in a five game LCS win over St. Louis.
   K-Rod had fanned 8 Yankees in 5.6 IP in the LDS and 7 Twins in 4.3 IP in the LCS.
   So the baseball world was waiting for the then 4-time MVP and his regular season numbers (.370/46/110) to face this phenom who retired thirteen of the seventeen batters he faced via the strikeout following his call-up in early September.
   The baseball world had to wait one game, as a slug fest in game 2 forced Mike Scoiscia to go to his pen early and often. K-Rod entered in the 6th. After fanning the first two batters he faced, he got Bonds to bounce out to first and retired all nine batters he faced, whiffing four.
   The two would meet again in game 4. It was tied at 3 when Bonds stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 7th, and again Bonds grounded to first. K-Rod now lead the head-to-head two-zip.
   At one point that week on Baseball Tonight, Peter Gammons commented that K-Rod's cut fastball was tough on lefties seeing it for the first time. Before game 6, Bonds saw Gammons on the field and said "You're wrong, (about that fastball) "I just missed it. If he throws it again, I'll hit it farther than the ball I hit off Percival." 
    Bonds would get his chance in the top of the 6th. With the Giants up 3-2 in the series and 3-0 in the game, K-Rod entered in the 5th to try and keep the game close. After getting 2 outs to end he fifth, the next K-Rod v Bonds showdown began the 6th. I was sitting next to Peter Gammons on our Baseball Tonight set, located in left-center field when Bonds hit the ball. He didn't just hit it far, he it F-A-A-A-A-A-A-R-R-R-R-R!!! Like 485 feet far.
   When the inning was over I watched Bonds as he walked out to his position in left field. As he came to a stop in the outfield grass, Bonds was looking up in the direction of our set. Gammons had swung his seat on the set around toward the cameras to write some notes and had his back to the field. Bonds kept looking our way. I finally tapped Gammons on the shoulder and said "Peter, I think Barry Bonds is looking at you."
    Gammons swivelled his seat around and looked in Barry's direction. Bonds pointed out toward where his moon shot traveled as a way saying, "I told you so."
    It wasn't exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot against the Cubs but it was pretty damn cool.

05 October, 2012

Speaking of the Infield Fly Rule...

 Buck Showalter tells the story of a game he managed in the minors where his team hit into a triple play without the defense touching the ball. How did it happen?

   Runners were on 1st and 2nd, none out. On a 3-2 pitch, the runners go. The ball is popped up in the infield so the batter is out because of the infield fly rule. The runner on 2nd goes back toward 2nd base, but the runner on 1st does not and he passes the runner on 2nd, so the runner on 1st is out. The runner on 2nd is then hit in the head by the ball as it falls from the sky. He's out. 3 outs and not a single defender touched the ball.
   Even funnier is Buck explaining how he had to make his nightly call to George Steinbrenner with his report on the game and explain that to Mr. Steinbrenner.

Buck explains it here on BBTN
http://awfulannouncing.blogspot.com/2008/05/buck-showalter-and-story-of-unassisted.html

04 October, 2012

The Greatest Disappoint-Mets

   I'm not going to pretend that the Mets haven't had good or great players come to their team and continue to be great. Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez are obvious cases. I also don't count unproven players like Darling, Cone and Orosco who blossomed as Mets. But ever since Richie Hebner, I've paid close attention to skilled, established players who were good when they got to the Mets and then simply misplaced those skills upon arrival.
   Why Richie Hebner you ask? In 1978 I was 11-years old and the Mets got Hebner in a deal with the Phillies. I remember my dad being kind of excited saying, "This is good pick up. He can hit and field and should be pretty good." The year before as a Phillie, Hebner hit .283 with 17 HR and 71 RBI (decent numbers in the late '70's), so I had good reason to believe my dad. As a Met, Hebner hit .268 with 10 HR and 79 RBI. Not drastically different, but as an 11-year old I expected much more. So for that reason, right or wrong, Hebner has always been my poster boy for this concept.
   With that as the backdrop, here are my biggest disappoint-Mets.


Ellis Valentine

   What a talent this guy was. 6'4", 205, 5-tool player with one of the best throwing arms ever. He was 26 when the Mets got him from Montreal for Dan Norman and Jeff Reardon. In Montreal, Valentine averaged .276, 22/75. As a young Mets fan watching Valentine play for the Expos, he was intimidating and impressive. When the Mets got him, I thought we had a superstar for the next ten years. Instead, we got 159 games out of Ellis, with 13 HR, 69 RBI only 10 walks to 76 whiffs and a Jason Bay-like .389 slugging percentage. 
Thanks for coming.


CARLOS BAERGA
   When the Mets got Baerga he was 27, in the prime of his career. A switch-hitting, slick fielding second baseman who seemed like a great pickup. In his eight years in Cleveland, Baerga was a .300 hitter averaged 13 HRs and 70 RBI and slugged .444.
   As a Met, Carlos hit just .193 in his 26 games after coming over in a trade.
  His two full seasons weren't gems either, hitting .254 with 16 HRs and 105 RBI. Sadly, Carlos would not be the worst  second baseman acquired by the Mets from the Indians. 

MO VAUGHN 
  
 Big Mo! Personally, I was excited because Mo and I played basketball, baseball and football against each other in grades 7-9. It was fun to have someone I went head-to-head with playing for my team. Mo arrived from the Angels coming off an entire missed season due to injury, but their was reason for optimism (despite his weight.) In 10 seasons in the American League, Vaughn basically averaged .300/30/100. He was 34 when the Mets got him, but the majority of Mets fans remained optimistic that Vaughn would produce and help a Mets team that was just two seasons removed from a NL pennant. What did we get?  166 games played over two seasons, a .249 average, 29 homers (one of which was a Sunday night moon shot against the Yankees) and 87 RBI. Yuck. The Mo Vaughn Era ended up being more painful than the fastball he drilled me with in 8th grade and the time he sacked me in 9th grade combined. 



Tom Glavine


   This is the God's honest truth. When the Mets signed Glavine I told anyone who would listen, "I bet the Braves let him come to the Mets so he can be a spy and at the worst possible moment, he's going to screw us over. It's gonna be like a WWE heel turn."
   Glavine was 37 when he came to New York, so the expectations bar wasn’t super high, but it wasn’t unreasonable to expect 3 good seasons. Velocity wasn’t his thing, so being older didn’t mean he could no longer get guys out. He had 242 wins under his belt and a couple of Cy Youngs. He was coming off a 3-year stretch in Atlanta where he went 55-27 and a 3.31 ERA. What did he do in N.Y.? 61-56, 3.97 era. On the surface, it doesn't look awful, but it was. His first season he served up a 9-14, 4.52 era stink bomb. If he was a Broadway play he would have been canceled.
   Two more pedestrian seasons (11-14, 13-13) didn’t do anything to restore confidence, but then Glavine found something in '06. Bolstered by a talented team, Glavine went 15-7 and helped the Mets return to October. So after 3 seasons of "I knew I hated this guy! Once a Brave, always a Brave" talk, Mets fans were finally embracing Glavine. It was classic baby face stuff. Then 2007 happened. The Mets were a game-7 win from going to the World Series the year before, but optimism was high that it was a beginning not an end. Glavine posted a 13-8, 4.45 season which was respectable for a 41-year old. I'll give him that. On September 8th of that year, Glavine beat Houston with a 7 inning, 3-hit, 1-run effort to improve to 13-6 and put the Mets 6 games up in the NL East (their lead would grow to 7 games four days later). His next three starts he went 0-1 with a 6.27 era. Uh-oh. Glavine and the rest of his teammates were collapsing. Day-by-day the lead shrunk and it didn't seem like anyone could stop the bleeding. Finally, on the penultimate day of the season, John Maine provided the tourniquet, a brilliant 1-hitter against the Marlins and the Mets entered the last die of the season tied with the Phillies. When I woke up that day it was like Christmas morning. I couldn't wait for the game to start. The thought of 2-3 hours of exciting, nail-biting baseball was overwhelming. I went into work to watch the game in my office so I wouldn't be disturbed. As Glavine took the mound, I had I forgotten my own declaration that Glavine was a Braves spy assigned to rip our hearts out. To be fair, he didn't rip it out, he pulled it out slowly, pitch-by-pitch, piece-by-piece.
   Ramirez-walk, Uggla FC, Hermida single, Cabrera single, Ross double (plus throwing error by Glavine), Jacobs single, Treanor walk, De Aza single, Willis hbp.
.1 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 7 ER.
This ranks right up there with the Redskins 35-point second quarter in the Super Bowl against my Broncos as the biggest turd in the punch bowl fan experience of my life time.


JASON BAY 
  
   By now, I should have known better, right? Bay was a real good player in Pittsburgh, averaging about .280/25/75 in his 6 years there. Then in Boston he played 200 games and hit .274 with 45 homers and 156 RBI. Bay appeared to be the righty slugger they needed to solidify a line-up featuring a maturing Jose Reyes and David Wright. I'll never knock Bay for his hustle. He always goes all out, which is part of the reason concussions have plagued his time in New York. But even before his concussion in Los Angeles, Bay was under-producing. After three seasons, Bay has a .234 average as a Met. The 23 HRs and 124 RBI in 288 games are pretty awful, but the big number is the .369 slugging percentage. This is a guy that slugged .515 in Pittsburgh and .534 in Boston. Since Bay became a Met, of all players who have at least 900 plate appearances, Bay's .369 slugging % is tied for 203rd!! That's worse than Willie Bloomquist, Alberto Callaspo and Ronny Cedeno. Not exactly the '27 Yankees.
   When Bay comes to spring training next year he ought to bring a pet albatross. 


Vince Coleman
   Like Tom Glavine, Vince Coleman was not a guy I wanted on the Mets. I hated him and I hated the Cardinals. As the Mets and Cardinals fought back and forth for the NL East crown in '85, '86, '87 and '88, Coleman was at the forefront of the rivalry. He seemingly ran at will on the Mets pitchers and Gary Carter, often to the point of embarrassment. Coleman was an astounding 64-67 against the Mets.  In his six years with the Cardinals, Coleman swiped 549 bags, cracking the 100 mark three times. If nothing else, the Mets finally had a legit stolen base threat, the likes of which they barely had previously.  Mookie Wilson had 58 in 1982, which was the club single-season record at that time. 58 stolen bases was seven fewer than Coleman's worst season in St. Louis. 
   In three seasons with the Mets, Coleman never played more than 91 games in a season, limiting his Mets stolen base total to just 99. Along the way he also found time to argue with the coaches, throw a lit firecracker into a crowd at Dodger Stadium and accidentally hit Dwight Gooden with a golf club while swinging it in the clubhouse. In short, he was an underachieving jerk that made me hate him even more. 



ROBBIE ALOMAR 

  This one is the killer. In 2001, at the age of 33, Alomar posted one of the great offensive seasons a second baseman ever recorded.
   .336 batting average, .415 on base, .541 slugging, 113 runs, 100 rbi, 20 HRs, 30 SBs. Just amazing stuff. In his three years in Cleveland, Alomar averaged .323/21/103 with 35 SBs and 120 runs. I was as excited the Mets got him as I have ever been for any acquisition one of my teams has made. I ran around the house pumping my fist. I called friends to brag. It was a great day.
   Then Alomar came to N.Y. and laid an egg the size of Shea Stadium. In his first season he hit .266 with 11 HRs and 53 RBI. He looked completely listless most of the time, rarely showing the electric bat or dazzling defense that made him an eleven time All-Star and ten time Gold Glove winner before coming to the Mets. Mid-way through his second season (.262, 2 HR, 22 RBI in 73 games) the Mets traded him to the White Sox for Andrew Salvo, Edwin Almonte and Royce Ring. 
   The Alomar Era was more depressing than a conversation with Skyler White. 




13 September, 2012

JUMANJI!

   In honor of SportsCenter's 50,000th show today, here is my personal favorite behind the scenes story.
I was producing the 2am show with Craig Kilborn and Larry Beil as the anchors. We were waiting for a college basketball game to end so we could go on the air. During a commercial break in the game, an ad for the Robin Williams movie "Jumanji" came on the air. I got in the ear of both guys and said "One of you should use Jumanji as a dunk call on highlights." Craig thought it was the stupidest thing he had ever heard while Larry thought it was funny and was really excited to use it.
   When the game was over and the show started, it just so happened that Craig had the first highlights in the show, which were hoops highlights. On the very first dunk in the very first highlight, Craig yelled "Jumanji!" He also had the next two highlights and used the catch phrase repeatedly.  Larry couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it.
   In the first commercial break Craig explained that he thought since Larry liked it so much, he would steal it, mostly just because he wanted to mess with Larry. It ended up becoming one of Craig's favorite catch phrases. Apparently Robin Williams liked it to, because a few weeks later Craig got an autographed framed Jumanji movie poster for Robin.

08 September, 2012

Forecasting the Denver Broncos 2012


 Ever since March 20th, the day it was learned Peyton Manning was going to play for the Denver Broncos, there have only been moments when I've allowed myself to really think about it.
   It's kind of like having chocolate cake in the house. Devouring it all at once would be great, but what about tomorrow? So you let yourself have a piece here, a bite there, and prolong the enjoyment. 
   The news itself was fairly stunning. I had come to expect the 49ers would land Manning, so when the story broke, I was so excited I jumped up from my chair and ran a celebration lap around the news room, hands held high in full blown victory mode. Life then settled down and my bites of the Manning cake were spread out over the summer. His first practice at OTA's. His first practice at training camp. His first preseason game. The first time I played the Broncos in Madden '13. All exciting and satisfying moments, but now we are here. Now we are on the precipice of what could be a very fulfilling season. 
   Let's us not forget Broncos fans are coming off one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history. The collection of Tebow-mania wins, topped by the amazing OT playoff win, were as stunning/shocking/exhilarating as anything John Elway ever provided. (I know it sounds blasphemous, but it's true.) So the bar is actually set pretty high for Peyton, based on both his expectations and what this team accomplished last year. So let's do it, game by game, here's how I see the Broncos season playing out.

WEEK 1 VS STEELERS

   This is a tough one as there are a lot of elements in play.
The Steelers are going to be all kinds of fired up for revenge. I mean Barney Ross and his crew in The Expendables 2 type revenge. James Harrison makes a perfect Hale Caesar, by the way. 
   The Broncos are still learning their offense and each other. You don't want to be in "we're still figuring it out" mode when you play Pittsburgh.
   The Steelers are banged up (Harrison and Mendenhall likely out) and depth, especially at altitude, really matters in the first few games of the season. 
   He's Peyton Manning. If you had to bet on one guy to come out and go, "Hey. Remember me? I'm still really freaking good," wouldn't Peyton be the guy? 

   I expect this game to be a grind and think the Broncos grind out a 20-17 win.  (1-0)

WEEK 2 AT ATLANTA

   Denver doesn't play a lot of games at Atlanta. I'll always remember the first Elway vs Dan Reeves game they played there with Elway and Shannon Sharpe hooking up for a 65-yard "screw you for messing with my career" score on their 4th play of the game. 
   On paper, this should be a memorable game with two good quarterbacks facing off, but it could be two running backs who have the greatest impact. The Falcons Michael Turner has averaged 5.3 yards per carry against Denver in 6 games. Knowshon Moreno will be returning to the town of his collegiate glory. I've enjoyed the Knowshon Moreno Era about as much as I enjoy fire ant bites, but perhaps this is the game Knowshon finally breaks out.
But I doubt it.

    Even good teams struggle on the road. This one feels like a small step back and a 27-17 loss.  (1-1)

WEEK 3 TEXANS

   Elway's old clipboard carrying pal, Gary Kubiak, brings his Houston Texans to town. The same Houston Texans team that Peyton Manning is 16-2 against in his career with 42 Td's and only 8 picks. Unfortunately, this isn't "that" Houston Texans team. Most of those games featured the expansion Texans and the Super Bowl caliber Colts. This is the Super Bowl caliber Texans coming to town. Denver couldn't stop the run last year and Kubiak's teams run. And when they are done running, they have a deadly play-action attack. I just don't think the Broncos can slow them down.

   Texans win this one in a wild west shootout, 31-28. (1-2)

WEEK 4 RAIDERS

   Former Broncos coach Dennis Allen comes to town with the Silver and Black Holding Attack. 
   If the replacement refs are still working this week, I'm setting the over/under on penalties called at 23.5. Oakland shattered the mark for most penalties in a season last year. They had more whistles blown on them than the SEC guys on Wall Street.
After a few tough losses, this is where Peyton and friends start to hit their stride.

   Broncos 34  Raiders 12 Refs 25   (2-2)

WEEK 5 AT NEW ENGLAND (stride broken)

   45-10. That was the score in the playoffs last year. Is Peyton Manning worth 35 points? No.
The one possible scenario for a win is the same as last year, run the ball, run the clock, convert third downs. Obviously Manning gives you a better chance to move the sticks than Tebow does, but it's still not looking good.
  Is the Broncos defense better equipped to play the Patriots? No. DJ Williams will still be missing. The Broncos linebackers in general are not great in coverage and were throttled by the Pats Wonder Twins duo of tight ends last year. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady exposed Denver's defensive faults like Gronk exposed himself in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue. I don't see that changing. 

   The naked truth is the Patriots are taking this one 35-21.  (2-3)

WEEK 6 AT SAN DIEGO

   This is Monday nighter, so Denver gets an extra day to recover from their east coast travel and it's our first taste of the Manning-Rivers rivalry. It's also our first look at Eddie Royal: San Diego Charger. This is a bit of a crusher. I'm a big Eddie Royal fan, in large part because he reminds me so much of my all-time favorite Bronco, Rick Upchurch, who once dated Condoleeza Rice, but I digress. Royal is also great in Madden, which ups the love quotient. Royal was also really good against the Chargers. In his rookie season he had a TD and a game-winning 2-point conversion in a 39-38 thriller.  The following year on a Monday Night, he had a kick return and a punt return for TDs. Even Upchurch never did that. So, a big part of me will be terrified every time the Broncos kick to Royal on this Monday night. It's been a big year for the Royals (The Jubilee, the Olympics, Prince Harry's Vegas vacation). I'd hate to think the Broncos are going to spend as much time staring at Royal's butt as the rest of the world has spent staring at Pippa's. 

   But, I feel good about this one, Broncos win 23-17. (3-3)

WEEK 7 BYE

WEEK 8 SAINTS

   This is a big one. Peyton vs his dad's team. Joe Vitt will be back for the Saints, but more importantly, D.J. Williams should be back for the Broncos and like any good D.J., he'll be laying the hits. Manning is 2-2 against the Saints, but has a QB rating of 116.3 against them with 11 TDs and only 4 picks. John Fox has familiarity with New Orleans from his days in Carolina. Jack Del Rio saw the Saints in the pre-season AND the regular season last year, so he should be well versed in what New Orleans likes to do. 

   It's going to be a big night for Peyton, Broncos win 42-28.  (4-3)

WEEK 9 AT CINCINNATI 

   The Broncos are 18-8 all-time against the Bengals. The last time they went to Cincy, Gus Johnson and every Broncos fan went nuts. Do you remember this.... ?

   You know who's back on the Broncos this year? That's right, Brandon Stokley! 
   I've got a tip for you, Broncos win this one 12-7. (5-3)

WEEK 10 AT CAROLINA 
   
   The return of John Fox! Probably not how CBS will sell it. They'll get bogged down in the Peyton Manning/Cam Newton angles, but whatever.  
    The real storyline may be how well the Broncos athletes on defense, Miller, Dumerville, Williams and Bailey go about containing Cam Newton. 

    Something tells me Cam is a little too slippery and the Panthers sneak out a win, 24-21. (5-4) 

WEEK 11 SAN DIEGO 

   There's a good chance San Diego comes in hot, winners of 3 straight after playing at Cleveland, home for KC and at Tampa Bay. But this will be their 3rd road game in four weeks and 5th in 7 weeks. Plus, I broke out the Doppler 9000 and I am predicting snow on 11/18/2012 in Denver. 
  
   Broncos sweep the Chargers. They win this one in the snow, 14-3.  (6-4)

WEEK 12 AT KANSAS CITY 

   It looked like a tough game when the schedule came out. It's always tough in K.C. and always a little tougher in late November. But fortune has smiled on the Broncos as Matt Cassel will be out for this game, injured two weeks earlier in a game against Pittsburgh. (I can predict more than just the weather!) That means none other than Brady Quinn will be at the helm for this one!! The same Brady Quinn who couldn't get snaps in front of Tim Tebow in Denver. Oh, snap! 

    Broncos win this one, 17-0.   (7-4)

WEEK 13 TAMPA BAY 

   Thanks schedule makers, thank you for sending Tampa Bay to Denver on December 2nd. With their previous four games at Oakland, home SD, at Carolina and home Atlanta, the only chill the Bucs players will have felt up until this point of the season is the ice packs on their bodies after every game. Couple that with the fact they just aren't very good and they'll be in full blown check-out mode, this looks good for the Ponies. 

   Broncos 27 Tampa Bay 6 (as in Fahrenheit, not Celsius)  (8-4)

WEEK 14 AT OAKLAND 

   Always hard for one team to sweep the other, right? Well, since 2000, Denver has done it 4 times, and Oakland has done it to Denver twice. So it's not impossible. Did you know Peyton Manning has only played at Oakland twice in his career? He won both times, including a 31-26 win in the second to last regular season game he played for the Colts. Still, I never feel good about a visit to Oakland. It's kind of like going for a physical. You are nervous going in, you get held a lot and in the end you probably are going to take it up the ass. 

   The Raiders poke and prod their way to a turn your head and cough victory, 24-20. (8-5)

WEEK 15 AT BALTIMORE 

   I just started watching The Wire this year, so it would be easy to make all kinds of references to Omar, Stringer, McNulty and the rest, but that would be too cutesy and there is nothing cute about playing the Ravens this year or pretty much any other year.
   It's encouraging to know that Manning is 6-2 lifetime against Baltimore with a QB rating over 100 and a TD/Int ratio of 6/2 in 8 games, but it's not that encouraging. 
   Manning vs Lewis is going to have a Rocky/Apollo after his Clubber Lang fight feel too it. Two war horses throwing blows one last time, and enjoying every second of it.
"Boy, you really move good for an older guy." 
"You don't want any of this." 
"Maybe I'm in here with the wrong guy."  
   Unless the Broncos have Herc and Carver eavesdropping on the Ravens play callers (sorry, couldn't resist), I don't like Denver's chances. 

   Ravens win it not at the wire, but going away, 30-14. (8-6)

WEEK 16 CLEVELAND 

   The Broncos are 18-5 all-time vs Cleveland. You may recall this win...

   and then there was this one... 

   On top of that, Peyton Manning is 5-0 against the Browns (despite just 2 TDs and 6 picks). 
So now that Cleveland has already gouged their eyes out, lets just jump to the end. 

   Broncos 40 Browns 7  (9-6)

WEEK 17 KANSAS CITY 

   Matt Cassel is back and he's not going to take it anymore! ....
.....
.....
   OK, I'm done giggling now. Did you know Von Miller's linebacker coach in college coached former Chief great Derrick Thomas? Did you know Von Miller said this at the Senior Bowl in 2011 " I can never ever be like Derrick Thomas and I can never play like Derrick Thomas. But he played with a fanatical effort, a relentless effort. And that's what I can do. That's what I try to do - to play with that same attitude." Did you know Derrick Thomas holds the NFL record for sacks in a game with 7? Can you guess where I'm going with this?
   Miller is going to sack Cassel 8 times in this game.

   The Broncos win it 27-13. They finish 10-6 and win the AFC West.  

Read more here: http://blogs.sacbee.com/49ers/archives/2011/02/von-miller-want.html#storylink=cpy

03 September, 2012

One more way to enjoy your Sundays.

  If you are like me and don't play fantasy football, alternative options are always fun. So I offer for your amusement a picks league that I have been doing for 27 years. Here's how it works.

Each week you are scheduled to play someone else in the league. You pick all the games against the spread. You must double-down on one game, making it worth two wins or two losses. Total points for the MNF game is the tiebreaker.
The person with the better record gets a win, the other person gets a loss. Pretty simple.

As the season moves on a person's overall picks record is the tiebreaker for seeding purposes.
For example:
John  8-4    59-40
Jeff    8-4    57-42

John has a better overall pick record, so he is higher in the standings.

Week 17 of the regular season is the first week of the playoffs. Your league commissioner must pick the 5 most competitive (aka important) games to be your "playoff" games. In my league of 26 teams, the top 12 teams make the playoffs with seeds 1-4 getting a bye. Seeds 5-8 have have "home field advantage" against 9-12, meaning if a matchup ends in a tie, the higher seed advances. This advantage lasts for three rounds, until just 2 players are left. The conference title games and the Super Bowl count as one "week" with the final 2 players picking all three of those games, but using their double down just once, meaning they can use it on a conference title game or save it for the Super Bowl. We never let the two finalists know where they stand after the conference title games so their SB pick isn't swayed by that knowledge.

For fun, you can also incorporate a suicide pool into your league as well as weekly best record pool, with the winner being whoever has the best picks record in each week. Like a skins game in golf, there can be carryovers. If John and Jeff both have the best record at 12-4 in week one,  it carries over to the next week with everyone eligible to claim the doubled prize.

That's it. It's lots of fun and a nice alternative for non-fantasy and fantasy players alike.



31 August, 2012

The Madden Community

  For those who are in my Madden community on PSN (or in the XBox one started by Twitter user @BDMcWilliams), a quick explanation of how it works for those who are unsure. When you go on-line and enter the community, click on the member list under MY COMMUNITY and anyone who is online has a green light next to their name. You can challenge any of those people to a community game. The settings for those games is All-Madden. You can also select PLAY NOW under Head to Head and it will search for anyone who is also searching for a game and pair you up. Lastly, feel free to go on the message board and put something like "Game anyone?" to try and hook up with someone.
   Have fun and enjoy the Tool Free games.

28 August, 2012

Madden 13 Review

 I did the podcast with Bill Simmons today (see the post below) but wasn't able to get to everything, so here are some thoughts on Madden '13.


   Props to game play designers like Larry Reichart and his crew for really upgrading the realism of the game. Last year was great, but this version really is improved. 
Also a shout out to Stephen Gibbs and Zach Farley who put together the Madden Strategy guide. There's a ton of great info in there and great tips for each team that can help you win. 
Check them out at http://www.maddentips.com/

   As for the game, make sure to watch the opening Ray Lewis monologue when the game begins. It's like LT's speech in Any Given Sunday. "When a man looks back on his life, he should be proud of all of it..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNm6NBhj0sQ

ISSUES:

As I mentioned in the podcast, the fantasy draft for on-line franchise play is gone. 
If you play in an on-line league, this is a crusher. One of the best parts of that process was putting your team together, out-scouting your fellow owners and finding the real value players and watching them grow. Now you have to be a team and work with them. In other words, you go into Connected Career Mode as a coach and you still play the game the regular way, but you have to start with an actual team roster. I'm not sure how free agency works in this mode. It would be fun if there came a time when our league got together for "free agency day" and we battled it out for the best free agents. 
   There are fake Twitter accounts in this mode, so you see guys like Mark Schelreth and Adam Schefter tweeting about developments in the league, which is kind of cool. 
  In CCM retired players can come back, so there may be hope for Bill to play with Steve Grogan some day. 
  You can also choose to be a player, rather than a coach, and just take part in the plays that involve you. Kind of like Road to the Show in MLB the Show. In your CCM leagues, one guy can be a QB of the Steelers, the other guy could be the Raiders coach and the league goes on like normal.  In short, the game designer, Josh Looman, is really trying to make it the first true sports rpg.
  One part of CCM that I really like is the practice mode. As you go through each week as a coach, you have the option to run a practice. There are dozens of challenges each week that vary in their points value. IE, you are down 14 points at the start of the 4th quarter, come back and win and you get 500 points. These points are used to improve your team or can be used in scouting college kids. It's a great way to really work on your schemes and game plans and get value for your time spent.

   When you play afternoon games, shadows can be problematic. When the sun is behind a team, the shadows block out the jerseys and on kick returns and long passes it's tough to identify which team players down the field are on.  

AWESOME:
   The infinity engine is really good. Basically it puts physics, momentum and reaction to contact into the game. The bodies move in life-like ways. Running backs progress can be impeded by their lineman. Players can make trip tackles. DB's vaporing through your receiver to pick off passes now get called for pass interference. The only down side is after the whistle players tend to fall over each other and flop around. It looks like a Rudy Fernandez highlight film. Overall, this is a huge improvement. 

KR has it's juice back. It's back to where it was a few years ago where kicks can get past the 20 more often then not and the really good returners are weapons. 

Total control passing- There are 25 new trajectories on passes and over 400 new catch animations plus total control passing allows you to throw the ball to space. This makes it  much easier to throw balls over defenders and into space. You can lead guys much better. Receivers catching along the sidelines do it better. The "moon ball" pass to the flats is gone. 
Also, receivers can't catch the pass if they're not ready, so throwing it when a guys not looking is almost always incomplete. This comes into play with RBs out of the backfield on blitz plays. You'll see a lot of passes bouncing off the back of helmets. Again, more realistic.

You can abort a play-action pass if you see pressure. Also on play-action, it doesn't take as long to develop and your RB's chip before going out on their patterns. You don't see a lot of PA passes with 4 or 5 receiving options, and that is no longer the case in the game. 

User control catching is much improved. When you take control of the receiver, he doesn't run off his routes and your chances of pulling a pass are much better.

Read + React defense system. Players can only make plays on balls they see. The magical linebacker who jumped and swatted a pass that his back was turned to is gone. Between this and the new passing trajectories, passing is a whole lot more enjoyable. 

Disguise coverages. Even in zone a DB will go in motion with a receiver and defenders adjust their coverages on the vacated side of the ball. This really puts an emphasis on reading coverages and makes the game much more of a chess match. It also lessens the chance of a LB covering Calvin Johnson (which would never happen. Hey, more realistic!)

You can also commit to runs or passes before the snap. This is really helpful against the previously unstoppable QB sneak on 3rd and inches. 

EA mic'd up the QB's and were able to get authentic cadences from Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Tim Tebow. So when you audible with these guys, you hear their voice. Pretty cool. It also sounds like they recorded actual stadium crowds for some of the noise. After touchdowns you can hear some great random screams and stuff. 

   Oh, I almost forgot. With legends mode in CCM I can be a rookie John Elway and play his career. That is awesome. 

   Every year I wonder how they can make the game better. Every year the people at EA find a way to do it. If spending the money on the new game is a tough call and you feel like you're not really missing out on anything, no one can blame you. But I will say Madden '13 represents the largest increase in year-to-year improvement the game has presented in quite some time. I just wish they had found a way to keep the fantasy draft for on-line league play.