Monday, January 26, 2015

Pathology of NFL Conspiracies + Super Bowl 49 Pick

That Kitty Purry Half-Time Medley Won't Write Itself

I've long held a belief that the professional sports industries are not really all that different from professional wrestling.  They're both profitable businesses, they both have complex relationships with their talent and in both the winners and losers only matter in regards to establishing a narrative. Hell, you can even bet on pro wrestling if you want.

Turns out, its also a great opinion to put out there if you are trying to start a conversation because you will usually receive a pretty passionate counter argument. Fans of the "real" sports can't even entertain the possibility that they have pledged their loyalty to something that in any way resembles the greasy musclemen of a "fake" sport. If you've started this conversation with someone who is dumb enough (think neck tattoo of their favorite team) or drunk enough (think any new person you meet after midnight) you might just get a lot of unintelligible, spit-soaked yelling which really validates your point. A more nuanced counterpoint typically involves how winning and losing matters economically for the individual clubs, but even that one is a better of a stretch since someone always has to win or lose and as long the narrative is good for the league everyone is a winner.

That's not to say that there aren't some differences that I am willing to concede (forget about the whole scripted part; its not even worth discussing here). For one, the business models are different. There's really only one major player in pro wrestling and they make their gate on the road while other sports have multiple franchises each with their own homes and the revenue generating advantages that come with that. Another difference is the size of each entity. The NFL, MLB, NBA and probably NHL are much larger than the WWE (that only major player), and the coverage of these sports is on a completely different scale. We are at the point now where each region of the country has its own sports network dedicated to the coverage of the big 4 plus whatever else goes on in the area. Not to mention the national sports networks: NFL, MLB, ESPN, FoxSports1, etc. Its not that the WWE doesn't want this level of coverage or interest, it just doesn't have it. Pro wrestling remains a niche form of sports entertainment, like soccer in America. However, while the size and scope of the coverage is a major difference between "real" sports and "fake" sports, the narratives have remained largely the same. 

Nowhere has this been more evident than the 2014-15 NFL season. The most recent and obvious example of this has been the Earth-shattering DeflateGate. At the center of this scandal is the evil New England Patriots with their pretty boy quarterback Tom Brady and their diabolical coach Bill Belichick who allegedly used footballs in the AFC Championship game that were not inflated to NFL specifications. Take a moment if you need to let the anger subside. The reactions this atrocity have run the gambit from those who would want the Patriots to forfeit their Super Bowl birth to those who have called for Brady and Belichick to be taken to the stocks. Its almost as if Tom Brady just won the WWE World Championship after his manager (Belichick) cold-cocked his opponent ("The Charming Underdog" Andrew Luck) with a pair of brass knucks when the ref's back was turned. The NFL in true Vince McMahon fashion has allowed this narrative to develop largely out its hands because it distracts people from things like the uselessness of the Pro Bowl, Roger Goodell's mishandling of the Ray Rice situation and sad reality that former football players are dying off in the same ways as former professional wrestlers.

Another interesting narrative that developed throughout the 2014-15 NFL season was this idea that there was some sort of conspiracy for or against certain teams. The obvious playoff examples fresh in our minds are DeflateGate and the picked up flag in the Dallas-Detroit Wild Card game, but tune into any post-game radio coverage for a losing team in 2014 and you'll heard at least 2 callers alleging some sort of organized malfeasance. To the credit of major media outlets (see, I don't hate on ESPN all the time) and even the local radio shows, they don't give a lot of credence to these wild ideas, but there are more than enough fans who believe there are other forces as work here. 

Obviously, the NFL has no reason to respond to any of these conspiracy theorists. None of these people have any real voice of authority even if they do represent part of the fan base that feels like their team has no shot to win (which is a huge long term problem). If the NFL were to for some reason respond to any of these conspiracies it would immediately lend a shred of credibility to the idea that the games weren't on the level. Also, by not responding, the NFL allows the narrative to grow in a way the distracts from the real issue at hand which is that its referees struggle with understanding the rules and properly applying them. 

The most glaring example of this was the NFL's new, tightened up pass interference rules. These rule changes have well founded reasons (the popularity of Fantasy Football) much like the changes to QB protection (Superstars = $$$) a few years back (which have also had their growing pains). Unlike the rule changes designed to protect players better, the new pass interference rule are much harder to call properly due to the speed of the game. It hasn't the referee's job any easier, but you get very little sympathy when you perform in front of millions of people. And of those millions of people, its pretty easy to find enough of them who look at a couple of bad calls one way or another and view them as some sort conscious effort to keep their team from winning.

Its generally accepted that a belief in conspiracies stems from a feeling of powerlessness over one's situation. Viewed in that light, its pretty easy to understand why some people hold on to the belief that the President of the United States is somehow a secret Muslim, Anti-Christ who is trying to turn this country into a socialist dystopia. I don't agree with any part of that jimmer-jammer, but I can understand why a person might find themselves caught up in it. In such a macro sense I feel that beliefs like that are more of a symptom than a problem, but when conspiracy theories start circulating in professional sports, its a problem for that business.

There's a lot or reasons why people like sports. Its a great past-time. There's an endless amount to discuss. The feelings of comradery and unearned accomplishments (We just won the Super Bowl!!! Really? WE???). And let's not forget out that feeling that as long as your favorite team showed up and suited up, they've at the very least got a chance to win, no matter the odds.

So, what happens to a fan base if they feel like their team can't win a game? How long would we keep tuning in night after night, week after week, year after year if we felt like the Tuscaloosa Turtlenecks had no shot to win because their league didn't think it was good for business? I mean, how many fans do the Washington Generals have? With that model, we'd wind up with a league comprised solely of teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In sports we call it parity, but in nature its called biodiversity. And its the main reason why we call giant dead lizards dinosaurs and not that giant lizard that just took a dump on my front lawn.

Are those who believe and advance NFL conspiracies apart of a crazy minority? Maybe, but crazy's about where you stand. From where I stand it seems kinda crazy to drop $5K on a nosebleed seat for the Super Bowl. It also feels a little crazy to me for a grown man to wear an authentic Ryan Tannehill jersey on a family outing on PRO BOWL Sunday (I don't have picture. It would have been rude. Plus I think that dude's crazy, who knows how he would have reacted). What's not crazy is the possibility that enough people start to believe that their favorite team can't win and they stop watching. Once a sport starts loosing fans its real hard to get them back (just ask the NHL or Boxing or Horse Racing).

On to "The Big Game"

As always playoff lines are taken from and are a mode of accumulated lines.

New England @ Seattle (+1)

This line has already moved around a lot. Locking it in on the Monday before the game is probably not the smartest move betting wise, but I'm after readers and I need to give people time to find this article. If you find this late in the week and the line has shifted dramatically one way other the other comment, email ( or Tweet (@SleazyBones) and I'd be happy to discuss a revised pick with you.

The fact that the line moved around so much is really a testament to how hard of a game this is to call. Any time the line gets within 1 its basically a tossup which feels about right in this situation. Both teams are very good but with their flaws. But both are lead by Super Bowl winning QB's and coaches.

Last year at this time, Seattle came in as a bit of an unknown. Playing their games in the Pacific Northwest they were really only known the resurgence of Pete Carroll, the emergence of Russell Wilson, and that terrible thug from the NFC Championship, Richard Sherman (how dare he be so emotional after making a big play to win a big game. The shame). While it was no secret that the Seahawks were a good team, they had nowhere near the profile or the narrative of the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos. As we all know, the Seahawks got up all in the Broncos and ruined them like the Hipsters are trying to ruin Sriracha.

Now, the Seahawks are no one's surprise team. They are now known for their 'Power of Positive' coach, irrepressibly charming (although not statistically overwhelming) QB, and the Legion of Boom inspired defense. Its also now a well established fact that Marshawn Lynch doesn't like talking to the media. A behavior that went largely unnoticed during his time with the Buffalo Bills (because the 2001-2014 Bills operated like they hoped that no one in LA realized they were still in the NFL).

The Patriots on the other hand have been nobody's mystery team since I ran out of canned peaches and crawled out of my basement just after Y2K. Since Brady and Belichick have taken over, the Patriots have been to 5 Super Bowls, winning 3 and in the playoffs every year minus like 2. Its the type of sustained success that every fan in the NFL would envy. Its also the kind of success that tends to bring out the hater in even the most casual fan. Go ahead and try to get through your Super Bowl party this Sunday without hearing from one of your buddy's wives about how "Those Patriots are cheaters". That's not to belittle women, you'll hear it from a lot of dudes too who like to talk just to make noise.

The sad reality for all these haters is that the Patriots are just plain a well run team with an all time great playing quarterback. Does Belichick go to far sometimes? Maybe, but NFL coaches are very intelligent men who work 80 hour weeks. All they do is look for the tiniest advantage. In some arenas this is celebrated, but when all you do is win people get tired of it and look to tear you down any way they can.

Narratives aside, we are left with 2 very well coached football teams who both have very good QB's. Seattle does have Marshawn Lynch at RB, which would appear to give them an advantage, but New England has been so good at using a 4 RB system that this feels like a push at best. Receiver wise, Patriots have the advantage due only to the presence of Gronk who is an unparalleled player when healthy. I also feel like the O-lines are basically a push. Both are a well coached group of about equal talent. Not a strength for each team, but certainly not a weakness.

The real difference in these 2 offenses is at the QB position. Russell Wilson is good. No doubt about it, but Tom Brady has been there, done that, again and again and again... He also seems to have the kind of fire in him that we haven't really seen in a while. He was so jacked in the Raven's game that I thought Belichick could have put him at middle linebacker if he needed. Brady is a guy who knows how to win and is hell bent on it right now. And for whatever DeflateGate might mean, I'm pretty sure its got Tom good and pissed off.

Defensively, I believe that talent wise Seattle is better across the board. Even after what might have been considered "downish" year for the Seahawks, their D was still the best in the league. What New England might lack in talent compared to Seattle, they more than make up for in scheme and coaching. No one is better than taking away your greatest strength and making you beat them with your weakness.

At this point New England has probably seen the tape from the NFC Championship and will do everything their power to keep Lynch under wraps. They will be happy to make Russell Wilson beat them through the air and if they some how manage 4 picks, there won't be any sort of miracle comeback. Say what you will about Bill Belichick, but he coaches every game to win. Its the only way he operates.

So that's what I think ultimately decides this game. The quarterbacks. Russell Wilson is good, but Brady is still better. For how much longer, I don't know. But I do know that Brady is going to take the field Sunday with the plan and the fire inside to take that game by throat and choke the life out it until he's left standing there holding a bloody esophagus with Belichick behind him already trying to figure out how to win again next season (possibly trying to hide a pair of brass knucks).

Pick: New England (-1)

As always, if you disagree let me know. I'm 7-3 so far this postseason and I've got no plans of slowing down.

To verify my previous picks check out my past playoff columns:

Wild Card Weekend

Divisional Round

Conference Championship

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ways Ruben Amaro Might Blow Up a Papelbon Trade

Throwing a baseball finances this kind of life

Word broke yesterday that the Phillies and the Brewers were close to a trade involving closer Jonathan Papelbon. This is not a post about how Pap might not be worth whatever pittance the Brewers may need to give up or how it makes no sense for the Brewers to add a closer. Pap's a good closer & the Brewers rarely make sense (They do find success in spite of that). No, I'm much more curious about how Ruben Amaro will get in the way of himself and keep another one of Phillies diminishing assets on roster to erode away.

1. "I'm not just going to give my best players away" This is one I'm sure Amaro is running through his head right now. Yes, Papelbon probably is one of the Phillies best players after Cole Hammels and Cliff Lee. But a good closer is a complementary piece. He probably shouldn't be one of the 3 best players on your team.

2. "I'm not going to pay one of my best players to play for some one else" Same idea as above, but the Brewers are reasonable enough to look at their own situation and see that a $13 mil a year closer does not fit into what they are trying to do. But it does make sense to add a bullpen piece to gear up for a 2014 Royals type run & take a shot at the Wild Card. Especially if you can get that closer at $7 mil.

3. "I know the market for RP's is kind of weak, but this guy is one of the best in the biz" Pap may be one of the top closers in the game. He might able to save 50 games a year, but if he is on a team that only wins 70 he's an underutilized asset. 

4. "You can have the player, but I'm keeping the bulldog" Most people don't know the real reason that Papelbon left the Red Sox. During parts of Pap's tenure there, the Boston media's normal drama creation machine had largely stalled. Manny & Pedro were gone, Big Papi was signed to a sufficient contract and Pedroia was funny, but hardly controversial. So they turned on Pap's bulldog. Story after story would surface about the dog's smell and lack of blending in to the clubhouse culture. At one point it was estimated that 75% of all spring training stories were about how that bulldog was undermining Tito's authority. Of course Pap didn't take kindly to this. No one likes having their dog's name dragged through the mud, and when Philly and Ruben showed the interest that they did in his dog, boom. Done deal. Ruben loves that dog and has been known to revoke clubhouse access to any writer that dared questions its presence.

5. "Wait, the Brewers are shooting for the Wild Card? But we're shooting for the Wild Card!" That's right. The Phillies are still here to compete. You thought trading their 35 year old shortstop was the signal of a rebuild? You thought wrong. The lack of moves since then tells us that Amaro is a full go with the guns hes got.

6. "Why should I make the next guys job even easier?" Eventually Ruben's got to see the writing on the wall. Some reports had him pegged on ready to rebuild the Phillies, but any rebuild process would still cost him his job. The Phillies have been in a downward spiral for the last 3 or so years with no signs of turning it around. Even if 2015 represents the bottoming out, they are at least 3 years away from competing again. You tell me how many GM's survive 6 subpar seasons of their own making.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stephen Strasburg Available?!? Not So Fast

Don't Look Directly Into His Eyes

No sooner had the news of Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals agreeing to a 7yr/$210 mil contract did the speculation begin on what will the Nats do with all the extra starting pitching. Rumors have been circulating all winter around Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister, but no one seems to be willing to meet Washington's asking price. But now that the Nationals have 2 bona fide "aces" on their staff, the baseball world have become enthralled with the possibility that wunderkind Stephen Strasburg may now be available for trade.

There aren't very many teams in baseball that would turn their noses up at acquiring a pitcher of Strasburg's ilk. He's entering his age 26 season (prime time for baseball players) without too much mileage on that right arm (he did miss a year for TJ surgery though). Plus we all know about the legend of that triple digit heater. Numbers wise he's solid with a career 128 ERA+, 10.3 K/9 and 2.84 FIP. Strasburg is also coming off of his first 200+ inning season (215) with 242 K's. If he's not an "ace" now then he's certain one in the making.

And although he is represented by Scott Boras (who just netted Scherzer a cool $210 mil), Strasburg is signed for the next 2 years. This year he'll make $7.4 mil in his second to last year of arbitration eligibility. If you figure that David Price (former Cy Young winner) just got a hair under $20 mil in his final year of arbitration, Strasburg figures to wind up in the $15 mil area next year depending on how 2015 goes. Not a terrible price for a 2 year pitcher with his kind of numbers and pedigree.

Its after 2016 that things get a little harry. There's nearly no chance that Strasburg signs any sort of extension before free agency. I don't care is he's traded to the Jesus Christ AllStars and makes half of his starts on the other side of the Pearly Gates, he's going to the highest bidder in 2017. So any team looking to acquire him would need to sacrifice probably 2 of their best top level prospects in order to bring him to town for only 2 years. Billy Beane is the only GM that I can figure that would be willing make that kind of deal and he might just be out of those types of trade chips.

Hypothetically speaking, lets say that Strasburg would be open to an extension in Spring Training of this year. We'll assume that he's playing 2015 at $7.4 mil so any extension would buy out his final arbitration year. So how about a 6 year extension (buying out 1 arbitration year + 5 FA years) at a market rate of $25 mil per year? That sounds about right, a 6yr/$150 mil deal that will take him through his age 32 season. Looking at that number I can tell that there is no way he's taking that deal, but its a hypothetical. I could throw out a billion dollars as a figure, it won't matter here.

So in this fantasy world, a team has just traded a chunk of the quality in their farm system for 7 prime years of one of the most highly regarded starting pitchers in all of baseball. What can they expect? It's an imperfect tool, but according to his top 5 (in order) age 25 comps are as follows:

1. Jim Bouton - Posted 1 ERA+ season above 100 after turning 25 & basically done in MLB at 31yo
2. Mark Prior - Age 25 WAS HIS LAST SEASON
3. Chris Sale - Currently age 25 and probably better than Strasburg right now and lefthanded
4. Tim Lincecum - 2 Cy Young before 25. 2 season of an ERA+ above 100 after 25
5. Rob Emslie - Pitched in the 1880's; little value here, but was done pitching after 26

And rounding out the top are a few more familiar faces:

6. Ron Darling
7. Stan Bahnsen
8. Roy Oswalt
9. Ewell Blackwell
10. Josh Beckett

There are a lot of names of pitchers there who threw awfully hard then just stopped throwing all together. The book is still out on Chris Sale, but I don't doubt that there would be a lot of teams out there wouldn't extend him at the hypothetical numbers I put out there today. Really the only 2 pitchers on that list that might come close to being worth that type of extension would be Oswalt and Beckett assuming the deal expired after their age 32 seasons.

That's not to say that Strasburg won't take that next step this year and dominate MLB for the next 7 years. Its certainly possible. But there is also a pretty decent history there that says he's just as likely to flame out and be a reliever by the time he's 30. Its an awful lot to spend money wise and prospect wise just to take that chance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

NFL Picks - Conference Championships 2015

So close I can taste it

Can you smell it? No? Not even a little? That's too bad, because right now the aroma of success emanating from my very being is so intoxicating that Old Spice is considering making a permanent part of their product line. "Uncle Bones On Ya'" That's the working title anyway. We're still very early in the process.

Other than occasionally basking in the warm glow of accomplishment, I prefer not to give a terrible amount of thought to things when they go right. I expect them to go right, what more thought does it need? I do however obsess over things when they don't go according to plan. It eats at me. Its like 'How dare things not go exactly like I expected? Who do these people think they are?'

For my current 6-2 playoff run there has been plenty of basking, but those misses gnaw at me still, taking a little piece my self-worth with them. I think I finally found a way to rationalize Carolina over Arizona. In a way, my own hubris got in the way. I over thought it. Third string QB on the road(?) I know better, but Carolina vexed me all year. With the game as close as it was despite everything else I will eventually come to peace with this one. Indy over Denver however...

I understood that Peyton Manning was something other than 100% Peyton Manning. I didn't know he was the roughly 25% Peyton Manning that we witnessed, but I did believe that the rest of the Broncos team would be enough to pick him up. No, apparently for all of Manning's great ability to make everyone around him better, his teammates failed to understand their responsibility in that relationship. Manning needed them for this playoff run and they looked as flat as he did.

The hot question this week has been 'Is Peyton done?' Personally, I'm putting my chips down on that game being his last. His legacy is cemented and there is no way the Broncos are winning the Super Bowl next year with the existing team and him as QB. And now John Fox is out. The Broncos desperately need to retool, especially considering that they just got exposed and having a 39 year old brittle QB with a cap hit of $25 mil is not going to get it done. Go the Colts route. Taking a Manningless year to bottom out and strike gold in the next draft. Its that easy right?

One last thought on Manning. He has been remarkably skilled throughout his career at avoiding sacks taking an average of just under 17 per year (counting in his 2011 year out; the only games he missed in his career BTW). By comparison Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked at a rate of 38 per year over his 11 year career. That's right, Roethisberger gets sacked at a rate TWICE that of Peyton Manning. Point being, that if Manning is this brittle (I know, he's a 38 year old football player. It comes with the territory) without taking the kind of punishment that other QB's are taking he's just not going to be able to compete at the level necessary for the team around him to win. I'm sure Manning is currently doing this calculus. He has made a career out of making the right decisions at the right time, I can't see this time being any different.

On to the Champion Round

All playoffs lines are taken from ESPN and are a mode of accumulated lines.

Green Bay @ Seattle (-7.5)

Both of these teams' Divisional Round games played out more or less the way I thought they would. Seattle controlled the Panther from start to finish, but it wasn't as dominant an effort as I would have like to have seen (nitpicking a nice win over an improved opponent). Green Bay and Dallas played a close, competitive game that should be remembered for more than just the Dez Bryant "catch", and I think it will once we put it in the rear-view mirror and remember that if you are talking about the NFL then it has already won.

I feel like I have a pretty good handle on both of these teams right now. That is probably why I am having such a difficult time trying to wrap my mind around Seattle giving 7.5 to a Packer team who was at one point this season considered among the best in the NFL. The only real knock against the Packers is Aaron Rodgers's injured calf. Otherwise they are a fairly complete team with playoff experience capable of winning games in multiple ways.

In Seattle's corner is that stadium and that crowd. Not to mention an otherworldly defense, a solid running game, and Russell Wilson. Seattle also seems to have a ton of momentum right now which I guess means something, certainly in terms of where Vegas will set a line.

So do all these factors really add up to a 7.5 line in this game? The one thing that Seattle really seemed to struggle with last week against Carolina was once Cam Newton broke the pocket, coverage became jumbled and he was able to find some targets down field. Newton also did a good job of rushing for key yardage when needed (The when needed might be one of Cam's greatest strengths). Rodgers has a similar set of mobility skills when healthy (although Newton's faster), but with that calf injury he will not be able to exploit the Seattle D in the same way. If Rodgers is stuck in the pocket and Seattle is able to keep pressure by only rushing 4 its gonna be a long day for the Pack.

In going over a few numbers one thing really stood out to me. Seattle's D was only on the field for 949 plays (fewest in the league) this year while giving up 1.39 pts per drive. By comparison, the Buffalo Bills who had the only defense to give up less pts per drive (1.37) than the Seahawks were on the field for 1065 plays. That's 7.25 plays per game less for the Seahawks, which is basically doing the same job  in point prevention that the Bills did in one less drive.

This means a couple of things particularly as they relate to the Packers. One is that the Seahawks don't give up a lot of long, sustained drives. While Rodgers has got a big arm, he's going to have to make those throws quickly since he will have a hard time breaking the pocket and extending plays on that bum leg. Two, Seattle's offense does a good job of keeping their defense off the field. Russell Wilson takes good care of the ball, knows when to take his chances (with remarkable accuracy), and rely's on his running attack which is more than capable of controlling a football game. For the record, Green Bay's rushing D is pedestrian at best at 8 ypg lower than league average which is good for 23rd overall.

I've also fallen into this trap before with Green Bay. In the 2013 Divisional Round all signs pointed to the Pack going into San Francisco and quietly dispatching with a young upstart 49ers. Well, the Niners put on a clinic and won that game 45-31 on their way to the Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers in his current state may be enough to keep this game close for a while, but come the 4th quarter the Seattle D and the Seattle crowd will be too much and the immortal words of Shane Falco "The quicksand will set it".

Pick: Seattle (-7.5)

Indianapolis @ New England (-6.5)

I wrote above about how the Broncos failed to show up when Peyton Manning needed them. That's a little unfair to a Colts team that probably played one of its best games of the season at the most important time. I'm not exactly going out on a limb here to say that Andrew Luck is the real deal, but every time I watch this guy play I am just in awe. The throws, the pocket presence, the shear grit to never give in; I just don't think the Colts are going to lose until its in the books.

So what happens when the indomitable will of Andrew Luck wanders into Bill Belichick's house of horrors? Looking at the formation "tricks" he used against the Ravens last week I was brought back to my high school football days (no, it will never be that kind of blog). But high school teams and even college teams will occasionally trot out "garbage formation" with like 4 down linemen to left of the center or tackles split out wide in bunch formations. Its not really all that different from that except the formations that the Patriots used looked more conventional. So, if high school football defenses have formation rules for coverage assignments and gap responsibilities then so do pro teams. Its just that the Ravens were caught so off-guard by these subtle assignment changes that it wreaked all sorts of havoc. And just like that, Belichick put it away and you never saw it again, and we probably won't see it again this week or maybe ever. He simply out coached Harbaugh, and if Belichick caught him, you can damn well believe he would have caught the other 30 coaches in the league too.

Even though I highly doubt we'll see anything like that again this week, I do think that its in the back of the Indy coaching staff's mind. If not that particular 'trick' then what else could be in store? So that little bit of doubt could have the Colts taking time away from their normal game plan to try and be prepared for well... anything.

What's really the impact of that though? (Other than I snuck in a high school football reference) Probably minimal I would imagine. OK, then what will matter in this game?

There's no sense in digging to deep into the numbers for this one. There's only one number that the Patriots care about. Did they score more points than their opponent? Then doesn't really matter how they got there. I would say its roughly the same thing for the Colts.

When I started this post I really felt like that Patriots always played close playoff games. Turns out that other than Super Bowls and Ravens games most Patriot playoff wins during the Belichick/Brady era have been by more than this 6.5 spread. I don't think that the Colts have enough to win this game outright, and I don't see any reason from the 2014 regular season or past Patriot post-seasons as to why this game will be decided by less than a touchdown.

Pick: Patriot (-6.5)

There you have it. At 6-2 so far this post season, I've been a lot more right than wrong. Disagree? There's a comment section below or feel free to crush me on Twitter @SleazyBones.

Thanks for reading.

All stats lifted from

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

NFL Picks Divisional Round 2015

Still Hungry

After a 3-1 Wild Card Weekend I wanted to open this post with a picture of Rocky holding the title. Then I remembered that the opening weekend of the NFL Playoffs is really just child's play. This round frequently features blow outs as the teams can find themselves in some what of a mismatch due to seeding. We were treated with a well played road upset (Ravens over Steelers; picked it), a proper blow out (Colts over Bengals; picked it), and that Dallas/Detroit game (Lions covered; picked it) of which plenty has been written. Finally, there was that slop fest in Carolina (Panthers won by just enough; miss). I hesitate to say that neither team deserved to be in the playoffs, because these gentlemen work very hard and both teams were there, but if you watched that game I'd love to hear why you thought it was a match-up of 2 playoff worthy teams.

So on to the Divisional Round! By far my favorite weekend of the NFL calender. There is Saturday football (#SuperBowlSaturday)!!! The games are almost always competitive as the field has been narrowed to the top 4 in each conference. And back when this weekend fell at the same time as the MLK weekend it was a nonstop party at my house, but we all have to grow up some time.

With the 4 highest seeds having rested and the 4 lowest remaining coming of games, its always a little hard to get a full handle on the Divisional Round. Does home field matter (Vegas sure seems to think so)? Is it better to rest or to play & stay sharp? There's numbers to back up everything, but I only have one number handy. Its the number that tells me that last week's NFL Picks Wild Card Weekend 2014 was my highest viewed post on the blog to date (Football on a baseball blog... I know right?!?). 

So here we go:

(All playoff lines are taken from and are a mode of accumulated lines.)

Saturday, January 10th

Baltimore at New England (-7)

This game being scheduled at 4:30 on Saturday must be a make-up for the Arizona/Carolina game in this time slot last week. That the only reason I can figure as to why the NFL would take one of the weekends' marquee match-ups and put it at a time when many of us are still scrambling to finish household projects so that our SO's aren't quite as pissed that we will be spending the next 28 hours drinking and screaming at the television. Its probably as simple as the NFL computer scheduler had the AFC 1 vs. 4/5/6 game scheduled in that slot since early 2014. I don't know. It doesn't really matter.

What matters is who I am picking and why.

Remember at like week 5 when everyone was wondering if the the Patriot dynasty was really over and if the Bills could possibly win the AFC East? Since then New England has gone on to do New England things and once again find themselves in the top seed of the AFC. They were so comfortable at the end of the season that the Pats were able to throw away their last game against those very same barbarians at the gate, Buffalo Bills.

However, this "Patriot Way" has not always translated into playoff success. Bill Belichick has made a living feasting on the regular season and then taking his chances in the playoffs. This worked a lot better when everyone kept foolishly believing the Pats were a fluke. They have not seen the same kind of playoff success in recent years. Part of its health, part of it is knowing what it takes to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots.

That plan was laid out ever so effectively by the New York Giants in their 2 most recent Super Bowl victories (I hate giving the Giants props). If you can get pressure on Tom Brady with only 4 down lineman and drop 7 into coverage, you too can beat the Patriots. Now, there is slightly more to it, but if you win in the trenches and leave 7 guys to cover 5 its doable. Baltimore has shown they are capable of doing this.

The only wild card in all of this is man-child Rob Gronkowski. For these playoffs he is as healthy as he is ever going to be and will create all sorts of havoc and mismatches for the post Ray Lewis Ravens. He's also a twisted knee away from being carted off the field at any given moment.

I like the Pats to win this game, but the Ravens won't go quietly. They outplayed the Steelers on the road and have no fear of the Patriots or Foxborough. This game will be close though.

Pick: Baltimore (+7)

Carolina at Seattle (-10.5)

I really don't want to crap on the Cardinals. I think Bruce Arians should be the NFL coach of the year, and for 2/3 of this season the Cardinals were one of the best teams in football. Its just real tough to win with a QB you had already cut once this season.

Yet, the Panthers let that game stay close. If not for 2 red zone turnovers by a 3rd string QB, not only would the Cards have covered, they may well have won that game. Let me say this another way: Arizona had less than 100 yards in a playoff game on the road, and still had a very real shot to win. Sorry Cam, I got nothing but love for ya, but the Panthers are not a good football team in 2014.

You know who is a good football team in 2014? The Seattle Seahawks. They overcame the early season hiccups associated with long playoff runs the season before and the distractions that come with winning the Super Bowl to rip off 6 straight wins to finish the season. In the process they went from playoff bubble team to the number 1 seed in the NFC. They have a strong in conference record and are damn near unbeatable at home.

The numbers just don't add up here. 10 & 1/2 is a huge spread for a playoff game against a team that was 6.5 point favorites the week before, but Seattle might win by 20+. Sorry Tommy K.

Pick: Seattle (-10.5)

Sunday, January 11th

Dallas at Green Bay (-6)

There were questions about the Packers at the start of the season. Then Aaron Rodgers got all Aaron Rodgery on us and the Pack were back at the top. However, while Rodgers was getting pumped up with Hans & Frans (egh, even I feel like a hack making that joke...) the Bills stole a victory from Green Bay in Buffalo without scoring an offensive TD. On top of that, the loss cost the Packers the number 1 seed.

Dallas however, is playing like a team of destiny. Something I openly questioned last week. They did survive the somehow difficult task of a home playoff game and are now on the road for the rest of their season (however long it lasts) where they were an improbable 8-0 on the season. Try to figure that one out. The "House That Jerry Built" is somehow harder for the Cowboys to win at than the cramped, characterless visitor locker rooms throughout the NFL. Its like the Cowboys collectively enjoyed getting away from home so much that the idea of playing in places like Philly, NYC (New Jersey) & Washington somehow seemed appealing.

After what I am now calling "The Debacle in Dallas" I'm not convinced that the refs are on the Cowboys side (I still need more evidence), but I am convinced that fate is on their side. Outside of crackpot conspiracies of which the new pass interference interpretations have spawned many of this season, fate is the only way to explain the Cowboys run of success (hows that for a flip-flop?). Couple that with questions I have about the Packers (which are purely in my head) and Dallas's love of getting away from their families I see only one logical conclusion.

Pick: Dallas (+6)

Indianapolis at Denver (-7)

If this game was in Indy, the story line would be Manning vs. the Colts. But its not, so the story is Manning vs. Luck. Now, that's a pretty appealing story line if you're not concerned with the remaining players on both teams. That's were this game will be decided.

In terms of a game changing QBs, Luck may be well on his way to passing Manning and may have done so already. I'm not honestly sure that 2014 Peyton could have carried these Colts this far. Although, the AFC South was so bad this year I suppose it would have been possible. Fortunately for Peyton, the 2014 Broncos are not the 2014 Colts. They are a much better team from a somewhat better (if inconsistent) division. Its really not even fair that Andrew Luck has to work as hard as he does to carry to Colts wherever they go.

The Broncos D has toughened up from last year and will have no problems smacking the Colts around. 2014 Peyton Manning is definitely up to the task of guiding this Broncos team through a home win over the 1 dimensional 1 player Colts team. There's not that much more to say.

Pick: Denver (-7)

There it is. 3-1 last week. I'm either on a destiny like roll paralleled only by the family hating Dallas Cowboys, or I'll come crashing back down to Earth & back to my slightly above .500 average. Don't like my picks, there's a comment board below. Let's hear why.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hall of Likability - Class of 2015

I like Mike

Nothing gets a baseball nerds blood boiling like a good (or contentious) Hall of Fame debate. Its what I imagine went on at Comic Con after they announced that The Mouse bought Star Wars and the guy who made Lost was tasked with resurrecting the franchise. I'm sure some people loved it like the 2nd coming of Jesus, while others were so despondent that their tears fogged up the visors of their storm trooper helmets. The rest just shrugged and went back to developing at app to facilitate furry hook-ups.

Everyone who follows baseball has some sort of opinion about The Hall and they usually get pretty worked up defending it. I give Buster Onley a lot of credit for basically saying he didn't know what to do about it and voiced that the only way he could by obtaining (you know, other than by speaking about it as widely respected baseball writer). Considering the remarkable amount of distance I have from this process I don't have a particularly strong opinion. However, this distance does allow for me to look at the whole picture. And this whole picture shows me that we don't have a Baseball Hall of Fame, but we have a Baseball Hall of Likability.

The baseball writer is in general on odd creature. So in love with a sport that requires such athleticism and an incredibly specific skill set, but kept in the shadows of its true shining grace by the shear draw of the genetic lottery. This feels ever so much more unfortunate when finally granted inner observer's access to the kingdom, only to find out that some those gifted with the skills and ability take their very existence for granted. The baseball writer sees the blessed pass by without displaying the reverence to the privilege and responsibility of playing the game. And it burns them up inside.

That's why you will hear ad nauseam about playing the game the right way. As if their is a wrong way to throw a no hitter or drop 4 bombs in an afternoon. Every aspect of baseball is incredibly hard to do, and it seems like there is an expectation that when you accomplish it you should be humble about it. Part of that is probably correct in the spirit of good sportsmanship, but what happens when a player in an 0-16 stretch or just got shelled to a tune of 6 ER over 3 innings. On the field, most players hold it together one way or another, with some notable exceptions. However, its in the locker room, in front of the baseball writers that the true personalities come out.

That's were the Hall of Likability comes into play. Making the BBWA the St. Peter of the Hall of Fame is like letting your 4 year old pick the dinner menu. They're gonna pick candy every time. Steroids & PED's just gave the baseball writers the excuse that they need to keep out the guys they didn't like. Player that were jerks (Bonds, Clemens) or the guys who they feel like just flat out betrayed them (Sosa, McGuire, Palmiero). In the writers' defense it can't be easy to look at the long relationships they have had with the players they had been covering for years and then have those same players lie to their faces. But that doesn't change the responsibility with which they have been entrusted.

What about Ty Cobb? Oh that nasty old racist from baseball's "Golden Era"? The same Ty Cobb who as a career OPS+ of 168 and who still ranks as the 20th greatest hitter of all time? Numbers like those won't keep you out of any where despite how cantankerous you are towards people. And the racist part, well that didn't mean a whole lot at his induction in 1936 as MLB was still an all white league. As much as that sort of behavior might have his head on a pike now-a-days, it sure isn't enough to create some sort of retro clause to remove him from the HOF. But with the Hall of Likability things like, "He may have cheated" (gasp!) or "He lied about cheating" (oh, the horror!!) or "He gambled" (won't some one please think of the children!!!) are enough to keep out the players the baseball writers don't like.

So then there's Mike Piazza. He's got HOF numbers any way you cut it. He wasn't anything better than an average defensive catcher throughout his career, but man could he rake. He was also never bad enough behind the plate (until the end) to consider moving him out of an offensively depressed position. What a story too. Drafted in the 62nd round (pick 1390 to be exact) during the '88 draft as a favor (or so the legend goes), and he goes on to a (probable) Hall of Fame career. Nobody does that. Its hard enough to get a 1st round pick to be an All Star. Piazza was also by most accounts a nice guy, a good interview and a team leader. Did he take steroids? I don't know. I've heard stories, but I've heard stories about Bonds, Clemens, Sosa & McGuire too (None were ever suspended BTW).

Major  League Baseball has shown no interest in stepping in to break the BBWA's chicken wing choke hold on the Hall of Likability. They don't really want to go to bat over PED's and I can hardly blame them. The game was (possibly) saved by it in the '90's and checks were cashed long ago. No sense in digging up that dead horse to beat it again (its only gonna stink worse). They will just let the writers fight it out. Its at a stage where no publicity on this particular issue is bad publicity. I mean its been nearly 1/2 of MLBNetwork's programming for the last week.

If the Hall of Fame is a museum, it should be treated as such. Of course we want to highlight the great players above the others, but with this level of documentation available choosing a selective history does no one any good. It just ignores a large part of our history. And those who ignore history are... well, you know.

In the end, debate will always be a part of loving baseball. Even in today's numbers revolution, there is still an endless amount to talk and to write about. It even seems as though the Hall of Fame debate is perfectly timed every year to get us from the Winter Meetings through the holidays and on to Spring Training, when not a lot else is happening. Maybe that's way it should be. An awful lot got written and discussed in the last 3 weeks (and weeks to come) when not a lot of baseball actually happened.

Monday, January 5, 2015


Don't let you child grow up like this

I was going to start this post with the same old shtick about the Hot Stove being in a lull, but its 2015. Its time to grow up & recognize that the pilot light is out, and AJ Preller may have taken his matches & gone home. Aside from the Scherzer/Shields watch and maybe one final blockbuster out there, the collective baseball world is just holding its breath waiting to get worked into a fury over the 2015 Hall of Fame Class (my thoughts on that later in the week).

In the meantime I thought I would introduce all of you to a cause near and dear to my heart: #3HourBaseball. And before you ask, its not a cause in 2015 if it doesn't have a hashtag. Its just a fact. Get over it. 

So what is #3HourBaseball? Quite simply its the belief that every baseball game should aim to be played in 3 hours or less. It should be something that any one who is a fan of the game should be able to get behind. 

I'm not going to get into the specifics of how it can be accomplished. MLB is obviously aware of pace of play issues as evidenced by the things that they say and experimentation with the Arizona Fall League. Although, I will just throw in that I'm a big time fan of a pitch clock. 

Instead, I would rather talk about the importance of the baseball experience. The way I look at it there are 2 different ways to experience a baseball game. Both have their charms and limitations, and both are affected by #3HourBaseball.

In Person

There is no experience quite like attending a professional baseball game in person. There's a reason that baseball is played in Miller Park and football is played at Lambeau Field. The word park elicits thoughts of a local, outdoor, open area with multiple attractions and ways to fill your time. Sure there is a baseball game going on, but how much fun is it to walk a park and see the different food vendor or grass seating or the Monster Seats? Each teams' park is so unique to its city and its itself that Yankees playing the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium is an entirely different experience from watching those same 2 teams play at Fenway. Football, basketball, hockey, and soccer (its 2015, its here) simply can't offer this sort of experience.

For the in person experience, I think that the teams might be happy if the games last 5 hours. More time in the stadium equals more revenue. Its pretty simple math. But even with 82 home games a year how much of that in stadium revenue makes up a teams total take on the season?

At Home

This is the experience that for many of us is the most familiar. It comfortable. Its convenient. Its inexpensive. You don't need a designated driver. From home I can usually catch parts of 150+ games a year, even if its tough to get in 1 whole game start to finish. It definitely gives me enough fodder to fills the pages of this blog.

It is for the 'at home' experience that #3HourBaseball is the most important. While it can be hard enough to find 3 whole hours for a full baseball game, investing 3 hours & 45 minutes feels like a chore. Especially on a Wednesday night in July. And if it feels that way for someone who is a big enough baseball fan to write about it on the internet then how does it feel to other people?

Now this is where MLB will want to get behind the #3HourBaseball movement. I know they are already aware, but with all the big TV contracts getting handed out for "Un-DVRable" content MLB needs to make sure that their product is something that people want to continue to watch. Otherwise these contracts will dry up. I can promise TV networks hours of daily content of me walking my dogs, but if no one wants to see it...

I am also of the mind that a baseball game played in 3 hours or less usually a crisply played, entertaining one. Pitchers pitch, hitters swing, & fielders field. Mound conferences are kept to a minimum and a 2 pitch reliever makes up his mind in under 15 seconds. I am all kinds of happy when a 7:00 game is done by 10:00. It just makes me feel good about the last 3 hours I spent and I'd like to see more of it.

So there it is. The solutions are already out there. Baseball is already moving in the right direction, but they are a slow moving lot. You don't have a league over 100 years old if you don't take your time. They just have to be nudged a little. Its 2015. Its time to grow up.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The A-Rod Files - Chapter 1

Most people know that Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 Major League Baseball season. What people don't know is how A-Rod spent his year away from baseball. These are the A-Rod Files.

Monday - January 20th, 2014

10:45 AM

Some would call it a vintage clock. Bud Selig brought with him to the commissioner's office in New York. It wasn't anything more than a mass produced all plastic job from the old County Stadium gift shop, but its original Brewers logo of a barrel chested man swinging a bat over the state of Wisconsin reminded Bud of home. Each time he looked at the clock, Bud would give himself an informal countdown to retirement.

He glanced up from some paperwork to check the clock again, but this time there was no countdown. His 10 o'clock was late. He'd half expected this, but no one likes getting stood up. A familiar feeling started in Bud's chest and burned all the way down to his feet. It was a combination of frustration and exasperation.

His phone rang. Bud hit the speakerphone, "Mr. Selig, Mr. Rodriguez is here."

Bud eased back in his chair, clasped his hands in front of his mouth as if to pray and took a deep breath.

"Mr. Selig?"

"Yes, Jordan" Bud sighed, "Tell him I will be with him shortly."

"Yes Mr. Selig"

Bud leaned forward, rubbed his palms on his temples. He then slid them across the sides of his head and down to the back of his neck. Nearly a week early an arbitrator had reduced the suspension that he, Bud Selig, Commissioner of Major League Baseball had handed down based on a mountain of evidence that Alex Rodriguez had used PED's throughout a large part of his career. Selig had originally punished Rodriguez with a 211 game ban that was ultimately reduced after appeal to the entire 2014 season. Selig recognized that original suspension was a bit of a reach and had come to accept that a season long ban was probably fair considering all aspects of the situation.

Bud looked at his Brewers clock. It was 10:55. The normal feeling of nostalgia and comfort associated with the clock were replaced with that feeling only A-Rod brought. Part of him wanted to keep Rodriguez waiting to remind him of the value of people's time, but Bud had dealt with him enough to know that the message would not get through. It never did. Bud bit the bullet and phoned Jordan.

Alex bounced in through the door with a huge smile on his face. Out of habit, Selig stood up and moved from behind his desk to greet him. By the time Selig caught himself realizing that a man an hour late did not deserve such a greeting, it was too late. To sit back done would look foolish and indecisive.

"Alex, you're almost an hour late."

"I know Bud" Alex bounded in and stuck out his hand.

Reluctantly, Selig extended his. He knew what was coming. Alex grabbed Selig's hand, shifted it to a clutch and pulled him in close for a one-armed bro hug. There was little Selig could do at that point. A-Rod was half his age and twice his size.

Fortunately it was quick. It always was with A-Rod. Pulling away he said "I was having a late breakfast in Chinatown. Man, they got everything down there. I almost couldn't decide. I must've gone to like 4 or 5 places until I was full".

A-Rod promptly dropped himself into one of the two chairs across from Selig's side of the desk.

It wasn't even an apology, Bud thought to himself. as he made his way to his chair. "Alex, you asked for this meeting. No agents. No lawyers. Your request. I didn't have to do this you know."

"I know" A-Rod chirped. He always had a lot of energy "I appreciate it Bud. I really do."

In person Alex seemed genuine, but Selig knew there was always something else.

They sat in silence for a moment. Bud waited for Alex to go on, but he didn't.

Why is he even here, Bud thought to himself. A-Rod just sat there with a grin on his face.


"Yeah Bud?"

"Why are you here?"

"I'm here for whatever you need me for Bud."

Selig shot back "Alex, you're suspended."

"I know Bud. Suspended. You don't want me playing any baseball this year. So what it is that you want me to do?"

"Alex" Selig measured his words "I don't WANT you to do anything. The ONLY thing I can tell you is that you can't play in any regular season or post season games in 2014. The Yankees will tell you how much they want you around otherwise. Beyond that, there is nothing officially that I can tell you."

"Nothing official" A-Rod winked at Selig "I hear ya' Bud. You can't 'officially' tell me what to do." A-Rod had put up his index and ring fingers on both hands to air-quote 'officially'.


"Alex, I don't understand what you're getting at"

"Bud, why would you suspend the greatest player in MLB history if you didn't need me for something else? Something greater. Well, you've got me for 1 year. Lets do some great things".

"Alex" Bud replied firmly "I don't know where you go that from, but that's that not why I suspended you. I suspended you bec-"

A-Rod cut in "Bud, I know the 'reasons'" again with the air-quotes. "But you and I both know what this is all about. You need me. And I want you to know that I am here for you."

"Alex" Selig's firmness was weakening

A-Rod interrupted again by standing up and said "Bud don't say anything else. Its pretty clever, I've got to admit. Pretty clever."

Selig tried to speak but the words wouldn't form. His eyes just followed A-Rod across the his office.

A-Rod stopped a few feet from the door and turned around "I know you can't say a lot here" A-Rod pointed his finger around the corners of the office. "They're listening" he mouthed. "We'll be in touch".

And just like that A-Rod bounded out the door with the same zip with which he had entered.