Category Archives: Football

An Outrageously Early Fantasy Football Mock Draft

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting at home, bored, watching an episode of your favorite TV show that you’ve already seen fourteen times this quarantine. And then you hear it…the word “snake”. By association, your dry sports mind jumps to “snake draft”, and then of course that takes you to fantasy football, and obviously that lands you at participating in a 12-team mock draft at 11:47 PM on a Sunday night in the middle of July.

Right?

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Okay, maybe this was particular to me, but the point is that I did a fantasy football mock draft and I think I can impart some wisdom. I was the 9th pick in a 12-team snake draft, and here were the results:

1. Nick Chubb (CLE – RB): I’m a big believer in needing two good running back in fantasy football, and that’s extraordinarily difficult to accomplish if you don’t get one in the first round. The teams ahead of me took wide receivers, so Chubb was the best available at the moment.

2. Chris Godwin (TB – WR): I’m actually surprised he made it this far into the draft. Godwin was one of the breakout stars of last year and that was with a pre-Lasik Jameis. I can only imagine what he’ll do with a quarterback that can see him. If he’s around in the second round, get him. He will be an elite #1 WR this year.

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Why Every NFL Team’s Name is Offensive

So the Washington Redskins are finally changing their team name, which has been a long time coming. It’s probably one of those things where our kids will shockingly ask us someday “wait, there was actually a team called the Redskins?” Although it’s taken them awhile, good on them for finally changing it. Since many people took offense to the Redskins, it got me thinking: how many other NFL team names could be considered offensive? Every single team, if you truly try hard enough.

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Has Any NFL Team Had a String of Three Playoff Losses as Devastating as the Saints’?

Two weeks ago, as most sports fans did, I watched the NFL Draft. Because I was so starved for sports, I actually watched much of Rounds 4 through 7, which I never do. I was desperate for sports. Anyway, at one point in the draft, some of the analysts referenced the New Orleans Saints’ three-consecutive devastating playoff losses. Yes, those losses must have been rough for Saints fans. To put this in perspective, this year’s Saints were legitimate Super Bowl contenders and lost a #3-#6 playoff matchup in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings….and that was probably the least painful loss of the Saints’ three consecutive playoff losses. That tells you something. Of course, when you can name a loss with something as simple as “Missed Passed Interference” or “Robey-Coleman” or something as momentous as “Minnesota Miracle”, you know the loss is bad. This year’s loss was merely “an overtime playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings”, which does not have quite the ring of the others.

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10 Things Everyone Does When Their Team is On the Clock

The NFL Draft is tonight, and you’ve probably been looking forward to this since at least Sunday’s premiere of ‘The Last Dance’. Personally, I’ve been looking forward to it for longer. And as cool as the Jordan documentary has been so far, it’s about the past…not the future. And nothing is more exciting than the future.

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Odell Beckham Jr.: The Second-Most Terrific New York Athlete Ever to Be Traded

Before I address the title of this article, please allow me a bit of preamble.

You might have seen the OBJ trade coming, but I did not.  Yes, there were trade rumors about Beckham at various times over the past two years, but, during this offseason, there was no considerable buzz about such a trade being a legitimate possibility.  Therefore, my brain is still processing the trade.  Do I like this trade or not?  I honestly do not know.

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Coming to Grips with the Rams’ Win over the Saints

There is no worse feeling for the collective of sports fans than the feeling that the wrong team has advanced in the playoffs.  I don’t mean “wrong team” in the “Jaguars over Steelers last year” sense.  Sure, most of us were hoping for a Steelers/Pats AFC Championship game, featuring the two teams most of us thought to be the best in the AFC; but we were happy for the Jaguars for pulling off the upset fair and square.  No, when I say “wrong team”, I mean it in the sense that the wrong team has advanced as a result of something completely beyond the control of the teams in the game.

Unfortunately, this was the case with the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game.  It is extremely rare for all sports fans to agree on an officiating call, but that is just what happened with Los Angeles and New Orleans.  Everyone knows that the officials should have called either pass interference or unnecessary roughness on Nickell Robey-Coleman, but the officiating crew somehow rendered no penalty.  Meanwhile, a penalty call would have given the Saints a 98% win probability.  In that case, the Saints would have been able to bleed the clock down to 23 seconds or so before giving Will Lutz the chance to kick a game-winning and tie-breaking 21-yard chip-shot field goal.

Of course, the officials missed the penalty call, so the aforementioned scenario did not occur.  The Rams are now heading to the Super Bowl.  As a result, I spent the first several days of last week trying not to think about the Super Bowl.  Just as I have tried to avoid football after devastating Giants playoff losses, I did the same for a few days here because of the Rams/Saints game.  Never in my life have I seen an official’s call so drastically affect a playoff result, and this happened to send essentially the wrong team to the Super Bowl.  Sitcoms and dramas are scripted.  Reality shows are REALLY scripted.  However, sports are not supposed to be scripted at all.  Sports serve as a meritocracy where each team must earn all of its success.  I did not feel that the Rams had earned its trip to the Super Bowl.

Image result for rams super bowl 2019

Fortunately though, as last week wore on, I started coming to grips with having the Rams in the Super Bowl.  I know you might be thinking, “Jesus, it’s just a game, Focker.”  However, if I actually had that type of attitude toward sports; chances are I would not spend hundreds of hours per year watching people I have never met compete against each other on the field.  I certainly would not spend multiple hours per week writing blog entries.  Therefore, I did truly need to come to grips with the Rams being in the Super Bowl, and I was somewhat successful.  My consolation has come from this simple fact: After the missed call, the Rams STILL had to do a whole lot to win the game.

We are all correct when we cite the “98% win probability” number as reason why this missed call should not be treated equally with the multitude of other missed calls in NFL games.  However, many people act like the missed call handed the Rams the win.  That is not the case.  With the non-call, the Saints’ win probability fell to 78%.  After the non-call, my thought was “Let’s hope the Saints hold on to win anyway, so that this call does not matter”, not “Oh my God, the refs just took the Saints’ win and gave it to the Rams!”

After the missed call and Will Lutz’s subsequent go-ahead field goal, the Rams still needed all of the following to happen:

  • Jared Goff needed to lead a last-minute drive into field-goal range in one of the toughest road venues in sports
  • Greg Zeurlein needed to kick a game-tying 48-yard field goal
  • The Rams needed to win the overtime coin toss, since we all know that, if a team has a Hall of Fame quarterback (like Drew Brees), that team will score a TD on the opening possession of OT.
  • Oops, the Rams lost the toss but forced that Hall of Fame QB to throw an interception.
  • The Rams needed to drive to at least the Saints’ 33-yard line so to minimize the risk of a missed FG giving the Saints great field position.
  • Oops, the Rams stalled, and Sean McVay showed enormous spheres by letting Zeurlein kick a 57-yard FG (as I implored McVay to punt), which was good by several yards.

 

I should also note that, if the officials had made the correct call on the disputed play, the Rams would have likely ended up with the ball at their own 25-yard line with 20 seconds to play.  They would have needed to gain 35 yards to set Zeurlein up for a 57-yard game-tying field goal, which he clearly could have made.  Could the Rams have gained those necessary 35 yards on consecutive sideline passes before letting Zeurlein tie the game?  It is not likely, but it is also not impossible.

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Image via The SoBros Network

Anyway, whether that last scenario works for you or not, the fact remains that the refs did not hand the Rams a win.  The refs merely upgraded the Rams’ chances from “long shot” to “unlikely”.  Kudos to the Rams for taking advantage of a slight opportunity.

Lastly, I should note that one could consider the missed penalty call a lucky moment for the Rams.  Whether we like to admit it or not, many of these nail-biting games come down to luck.  No, luck does not always involve a missed penalty call, but luck could be a bounce of a fumble, a made or missed FG, or a lucky catch.  Just look at the Chiefs/Pats game.  Dee Ford being offsides had nothing to do with what should have been a game-sealing Chiefs interception, but the penalty gave the Pats a second life.  Because of a guy lining up a few inches offsides, a different team is now heading to the Super Bowl.  It happens.  Actually, speaking of the Pats, look at the first Giants/Pats Super Bowl, and look at the Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl.  In both games, the Patriots were victimized in the last minute by incredible catches with elements of luck (David Tyree’s Helmet Catch: combination of skill and luck, Jermaine Kearse having the ball fall in his lap: mainly luck).  In the former case, Eli Manning used Tyree’s catch and several other clutch throws to give the Giants the win over the Pats; in the latter, Malcolm Butler’s interception kept Kearse’s catch from leading the Patriots to defeat.  Of course, for another modern example of luck, we know that the Eagles beat the Bears this postseason by a fraction of an inch on a “double-doink”.

Over the years, we have had many, many NFL teams win playoff games by the slimmest of margins, and those games are always the most bitter of pills for the losers to swallow. Unfortunately for the Saints, they have been eliminated in consecutive seasons by those slim margins in as devastating fashions as possible.  The Saints are not the first deserving-to-be-there team in history to watch the Super Bowl from home, and they will not be the last.  They are not even the only current team feeling that way, as the Chiefs are in the same boat.

The closer the game, the more likely it is that a bad bounce or bad call will greatly swing the result.  Sports can be cruel.  In this case though, the Saints still had a 78% chance of winning after the bad call.  How much does this assuage my initial negative reaction to the game?  I do not know.  If the refs had made the right call, we are probably watching the Saints on Sunday, February 3.  However, I keep telling myself that the Rams did what they had to do to win the game.  I think I have come to grips with the Rams’ victory, and I hope you have too.

Do I Suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?

The date was February 1, 2004, and the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  I sat with 4 friends who were Patriots fans, and I was the sole person rooting for the Panthers.  The Pats had already won the Super Bowl two years prior, and the Panthers had never won one.  The game was exciting, but the Pats won on a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal.

Fast forward a year…

The date was February 6, 2005, and the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots were facing off in the Super Bowl.  Although I strongly dislike the Eagles, I was pulling for them that day.  After all, they had never won a Super Bowl, while the Pats had won two of the past three Super Bowls.  After that day, the Pats had won three of four Super Bowls, and the Eagles had still never won one.

Anyway, most of you readers are probably thinking, “Big effing deal.  Anyone who isn’t a Patriots fan always roots against the Patriots.”

Well, allow me to explain the big deal.  After that Patriots/Eagles Super Bowl, things started to change for me.

The following year, Jake Plummer’s Denver Broncos took care of business against the Patriots in the Divisional Round, and it did not sit well with me.  By that point, I had begun to feel that the Patriots were “supposed” to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl every year.  All of a sudden, I actually found myself feeling bad for Patriots fans who had to experience losing a playoff game for the first time in 7 years.

The year after that; as the Patriots took on the #1-seed 14-2 Chargers in the Divisional Round, I began the game rooting for the Chargers.  However, as the game wore on, I found myself changing to root for the Pats.  When the Pats ultimately pulled off the upset, I was happy.  The next week, when the Pats traveled to Indy for the AFC Championship, I knew that I wanted Peyton Manning to advance to his first Super Bowl….yet, lo and behold, as the Patriots were coughing up a 21-3 lead, I found myself unhappy.  When the Colts won the game, and the Pats walked glumly off the field; I was very disappointed.

Image result for patriots colts 2007

Then, the next year, the you-know-what hit the fan for non-Patriots fans.  Week 1 brought Spygate, and the Pats – armed with new acquisitions Randy Moss and Wes Welker – went on a rampage through their schedule.  Most fans treated the Pats as Public Enemy #1 as the team stormed to an undefeated regular season and set the single-season scoring record.  I, on the other hand, loved everything the Pats did.  I rooted for them all season long, with a few very notable exceptions.  I obviously pulled for the Giants in their thrilling Week 17 loss to the Pats and in their legendary win in Super Bowl XLII, one of the greatest moments of my life.  For most people, the thought of shattering Brady’s and Belichick’s hearts was a dream come true.  For me, I was thrilled to win an incredible Super Bowl, and I loved and still love that the Giants are the team that knocked off the only 18-0 team in league history.  However, I did not get satisfaction from Brady’s and Belichick’s pain.  My joy came completely from the Giants’ amazing accomplishments.

Back to the Pats now…Since that glorious day 11 years ago when David Tyree pressed a football against his helmet, there have been only three games – all against the Giants (including the Giants’ wondrous second Super Bowl win over the Pats) – when I have rooted against the Pats.  While Spygate and then Deflategate have led many to believe that the Pats are the ultimate cheaters, I always find myself saying, “What they are doing worse is no worse than what other teams are doing.”  I have had multiple people bring up the fact that BenJarvus Green-Ellis never ever fumbled with the Pats but fumbled a bunch when he went to Cincinnati.  Obviously the Pats are up to no good, these other people think.  However, I never think the Pats do anything wrong.  Heck, I wrote a really long post last January as I became waaaay too excited about the Patriots’ greatness over the years.  I never think the Pats do anything wrong.

Am I thinking logically?  I have no idea.  It is as if the Patriots kidnapped me during their 2001 Championship season (the one time when most of America was actually rooting for the Pats), and, by 2005, the team had convinced me that everything with the Patriots is a good thing.  By 2007 with Spygate, the Pats had convinced me to defend them at any cost.  As I look back, I wonder, “Do I suffer from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome?”  I rooted against the Pats in consecutive Super Bowls 14 and 15 years ago, but I have defended them and sympathized with them every step of the way – through wins, losses, and scandal after scandal – since then.  I think that is textbook Stockholm Syndrome.

Let us now evaluate whether or not I have fallen prey to this syndrome.  There are three main reasons why I think I have developed such an affinity for the Pats – Routine, Nostalgia, and Respect.  Perhaps I have followed these reasons rationally, or perhaps the Pats have brainwashed me into it.  Here we go…

  • Routine: I do not like change. I am not OCD about scheduling, but I do like to have some consistency in my days and weeks.  I like to run at 5PM; I like to eat Moe’s on Tuesday nights (and sometimes Thursday nights….and sometimes Friday nights too); I like to start listening to Christmas music on November 18; and I like to eat Thin Mints and listen to The Road to El Dorado soundtrack (Elton John) during the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.   Normal stuff.  Therefore, I like to have the Patriots involved with the Divisional Round, AFC Championship, and Super Bowl.  After all, this weekend will be the Pats’ 13th AFC Championship game in 18 seasons, and the team has played in 8 of the past 17 Super Bowls. Seeing Kraft, Belichick, and Brady on those January and February weekends feels just as right as Moe’s and Thin Mints do at their respective times.

 

  • Nostalgia: Maybe it is because I have a good memory, but I am a very nostalgic person. I can get nostalgic about a week ago, so you can imagine how much nostalgia I have for the entirety of the Pats’ run since 2001.  I have discussed the “Routine” issue, and the Pats have been part of my routine for that long.  I watched them win their first Super Bowl while I was a sophomore in college; I watched them go 18-1 and lose to the Giants in my first year as a teacher; I watched a Pats team with Kenbrell Tompkins as its main receiving threat come within one win of the Super Bowl in the year when I first met the venerable BTB editors; and I listened to Bill Belichick’s “Mona Lisa Vito” press conference before going to see American Sniper (and being enamored by both Sienna Miller’s attractiveness and the fact that Todd and Sack from Wedding Crashers were reunited) in the theater.  Therefore, when I watch a Patriots game, I am flooded with nostalgia from my last three years of college, three years working for AvisBudget, and 12 years teaching at Ramsey High School.

 

  • Respect: I cut my teeth as a sports fan while watching the dominant Devils teams from 1993 forward. The cornerstone of those Devils teams’ successes was that nobody was bigger than the team.  GM Lou Lamoriello had no qualms with letting talented players go if those players were to act selfishly or do anything against team protocol.  Those teams had three Hall of Famers (Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) and possibly a fourth (Patrik Elias), and all of those players put the team above individual goals.

 

It was a delight to watch the Devils ride this disciplined approach to 20 years of dominance, and the 2001-2018 Patriots are the football equivalent of the Devils.  Actually, to be fair, the Pats have outdone the Devils, considering that the Devils 1993-2012 Devils won 3 championships, appeared in 5 Stanley Cup Finals, and appeared in 6 Conference Finals; all numbers that the Patriots have comfortably beaten (using the hockey equivalents).  That said, Brady and Belichick have made an art form out of bringing me-first players to New England and turning them into team players.

Image result for randy moss patriots

Also, just as the Devils received large championship contributions from unheralded players like Jay Pandolfo and Randy McKay, the Pats always make the most of players who are slightly less talented than their peers around the league.  Look back over the past 18 years, and you will see huge contributions from James White, Jabar Gaffney, David Patten, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Legarrette Blount, and (of course) Julian Edelman.  I have always surmised that Belichick’s theory is to use guys who are 5% less talented than most of their peers around the league, because these less-talented players will work 10 times harder on and off the field than the more talented guys without rendering any of the headaches.  (See “Brown Antonio” and “Beckham Jr. Odell”.)

Additionally, while a team can win a Super Bowl in a season in which its players do many choreographed touchdown dances (see “Eagles, Philadelphia”), it remains noteworthy that the Patriots do not take part in such elaborate numbers.  Think of James White and Julian Edelman dominating in the comeback win over Atlanta two years ago, and you do not recall eccentric touchdown celebrations.  I am not anti-celebration, but it is nevertheless refreshing to watch a team whose players direct all of their on-field effort toward winning.

I also have great respect that, in so many years, we wonder if the Pats are done.  We wonder if Brady is too old or if is supporting cast is too weak….but the Pats always find their way to 11 wins.  It is incredibly impressive.  Perhaps I also have a soft spot for Belichick, because his defense was so dominant in the Giants’ Super Bowl XXV win over Buffalo, my first thrilling moment as a sports fan.

Anyway, I have now officially finished detailing the three reasons – routine, nostalgia, and respect – why I pull for the Pats.  I had hoped that this self-evaluation would give me insight into whether I am still rational or am suffering from Patriots Stockholm Syndrome.  Unfortunately, I still do not have an answer, so you will have to judge for yourselves.

All I do know is this: I love Patrick Mahomes.  I loved watching his father pitch for the 1999-2000 Mets; I put $20 on the KC QB to win MVP (at 80:1 odds in August); and watching Mahomes play quarterback is a beautiful, Heavenly experience.  I want the Chiefs to win their first Super Bowl in 49 years, and I want Andy Reid finally to earn his first ring.  This all sounds rational to me now, but why do I sense that I will probably still end up rooting for the Patriots on Sunday?

Do I suffer from “Patriots Stockholm Syndrome”?

Five Thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend – Don’t Worry; Only Three are About Kickers

Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, and I am not here to provide full recaps of the four games.  I would, however, like to cover five thoughts from the weekend.  Yes, most of them deal with kickers.  Let us dive right in.

  • Maybe teams should activate second kickers for playoff games.

 Yes, Seattle did overcome the loss of Sebastian Janikowski by converting the team’s fourth downs and two-point conversions.  However, the Seahawks had no chance at an onside kick and gave the Cowboys good field position on the regular kickoffs.  Furthermore, had Seattle recovered the onside kick in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks would have unlikely been able to attempt a field goal at all, though the team was down by only 2.  This got me to thinking….What is more important, carrying a last depth linebacker or special-teams guy or making sure that an injury does not end your entire kicking game?  While I never like to overreact to the worst-case scenario (which occurred to Seattle), the debate has merit.

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Photo via The Seattle Times

  • Coaches should not be able to call timeouts.

It has now been more than ten years since the league changed the rule to allow coaches to call timeouts.  Before that, only players could call timeouts.  I believe that it was an unintended consequence of this rule change that coaches now call timeouts as kickers are kicking game-winning field goals, but all coaches use this tactic.  Sometimes the kicker makes the nullified kick and misses the second (as Cody Parkey did).  Sometimes the opposite happens.  Sometimes, the kicker misses both.  Sometimes, he makes both.  It does not matter – I cannot stand this rule.  If you are a sports fan at all, it does not feel right when the timeout is called as the kicker is striking the football.  You cannot call a timeout mid-free throw or mid-penalty shot.  You should not be able to do it as a kicker approaches a field goal either.  Thus, leave timeouts to the people on the field.  Yes, teams could still ice kickers under my rule change, but at least teams would have to ice the kickers before they boot field-goal attempts that end up not counting.

  • Do not ask kickers what happened when they missed a field goal.

As if it was not tough enough for Cody Parkey to miss a do-or-die playoff field goal, he then had to answer questions from a million media members about how he missed the field goal.  The simple answer is that, when people try to kick an oblong object 43 yards through the air and between two goalposts, even the best people are not perfect.  We all watched Parkey miss the field goal, and we all saw him strike the ball like any field-goal kicker does.  We have all seen kickers miss field goals, and this was another such case.  It happens.  There is no magical explanation.

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Photo via NJ.com

  • It is funny how athletes’ narratives change based on things completely out of their control.

The classic case of this is how Mike Mussina is not considered a “winner” as a Yankee, yet, had Mariano Rivera closed the door on the DBacks in the Bottom of the 9th Inning, Mussina would be considered a “winner”.  The same thing is true right now with Nick Foles.  Look, I love Nick Foles.  I would love Nick Foles to be the Giants’ starting QB next year.  However, he did lead the Eagles to only 16 points on Sunday.  If Cody Parkey’s kick were an inch to the right, we are all talking today about how Carson Wentz would have been able to lead the Eagles to more than 16 points.  Instead, we are discussing Foles’s magic in leading the Eagles on another game-winning drive.  At least Foles did lead a dramatic game-winning drive and lead Philly to more than 10 points.  The most egregious example of my “narrative” point came three years ago with the Blair Walsh Seattle/Minnesota miss.  Seattle won that game because Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal to give the Seahawks a 10-9 win.  People are unfairly treating Parkey’s 43-yard attempt as a chip shot.  It was not.  Blair Walsh’s, however, was a chip shot….and he missed it.  What happened immediately after the game?  The FOX NFL crew (Terry Bradshaw and pals) praised Russell Wilson for doing enough to win.  Yes, I am sure that is exactly what they would have been saying had Walsh made a kick that kickers make 98% of the time to give the Seahawks a 12-10 loss.

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Photo via The Ringer

  • Who foresaw the “Allen Robinson catch/no catch” issue coming? This guy.

Last year, I responded to the Jesse James play by saying that the issue was not that it is wrong to have to complete the catch to the ground.  After all, if a guy is tumbling to the ground, he might take three steps and have the ball pop out.  If that receiver has never actually gained his footing, it seems wrong to call a fumble.  That was the case with Anthony Miller.  We have all seen many plays like this, and we know these passes are incomplete.  With James, however, he clearly planted two feet before diving for the end zone and then having the ball pop out.  We all knew that should have been a touchdown. Therefore, it is a bit arbitrary to decide when receivers must complete the catch to the ground and when they need not.  That is why I proposed last year to leave the catch rule alone but to limit reviews to one minute.  This way, the obvious bad calls are reversed, but we do not end up with ridiculous overturns like with Jesse James.  Furthermore, the Anthony Miller play would have ended up “incomplete” as it should have been.

 

That sums up my key thoughts from Wild-Card Weekend.