Archive for January, 2014

I think you’ve heard it. Heck, I think most of the world has heard it. This Super Bowl, between by far the best offense in the league and by far the best defense is going to be epic. It’s a great clash of styles, RICHARD SHERMAN, PEYTON MANNING, etc. But people aren’t really analysing what’s important: the actual matchups between the receivers in that high powered offense and that shutdown secondary. I’m assuming that the Seahawks will play man-to-man on Denver’s receivers, because “Seattle plays more man-to-man defense than any other NFL team,” according to Mike McLauhglin of the Aspen Times. So let’s take it from the top:

Demaryius Thomas vs. Richard Sherman:
These guys are going to be matched up a lot. Thomas is a 6 foot 3 athletic specimen. He’s fast, he’s big, he’s strong, he runs good routes, and his hands are good. He finished fourth in the league in yards in the regular season and second in touchdowns. His 633 yards after catch were best among receivers, proving his speed. So yeah, Thomas is amazing. But so is Richard Sherman. Sherman, unlike many cornerbacks, has height. He is also 6 foot 3, and, while he is not as fast as Thomas, he is just as physical. He will push Thomas around near the line of scrimmage, and probably will risk getting penalized with a few big hits. For Sherman, the risk of Thomas becoming of unsure of himself of shaken up is worth the cost of a possible 15 yard penalty. Thomas is the ideal red zone target on a fade route because of his size. Sherman, as he emphatically showed against Michael Crabtree, is better than anyone else at defending the fade. He also led the league in interceptions, was near the top in passes defended, and held quarterbacks to a league low 47.3 passer rating when passes were thrown his way. So: who has the edge? I think Sherman does. I think Manning will attempt to take Sherman out of the game, and to do that he might have to sacrifice Thomas’s impact as well. He might just try to make it a 10 on 10 game and just let those two guys duke it out.

Predicted stats for Thomas: 3 catches, 50 yards
Sherman will have 1 penalty called against him

Eric Decker vs. Byron Maxwell:This, unlike the Thomas-Sherman matchup, has not been getting much attention. But it’s just as intriguing. Decker, at 6’3″, is just as tall as Thomas is. He’s also no slouch, although he hasn’t made a huge impact in the playoffs. He finished 12th in football in receiving yards, 11th in catches, 8th in touchdowns, and 9th in catches for first downs. Maxwell, on the other hand, didn’t even start the season as a starting cornerback. That job belonged to Brandon Browner. But Browner was suspended due to drugs, and he was a repeat offender so was suspended for the season. Maxwell just might be better than Browner anyway. He’s another tall corner (6’1″) and he’s also big, weighing 207 pounds. Maxwell is also faster than Decker, and can stay with him on “fly” routes. Maxwell is well equipped to stop Decker, but Decker runs great routes, so he should be able to catch some passes. On the flip side, Decker has been dropping some passes recently, so watch out for a drop or two from him. Oh and by the way, Maxwell has allowed a 47.8 opponent quarterback rating, second only to his teammate.

Predicted stats for Decker: Most targeted Bronco
5 catches, 53 yards

Wes Welker vs. Walter Thurmond:
This is probably the most unpredictable one. Welker has 299 yards receiving TOTAL since the Broncos’ week 9 BYE. Granted, he missed three of those games, but he has averaged just 43 yards receiving in the seven games he has played since the BYE to go along with two touchdowns. He had 555 yards and nine touchdowns in his first eight games. That’s quite a contrast. It’s plausible that Welker will bounce back. He had an extra week to recuperate, and has a lot more big game experience than the other receivers, which might count for something. But I wouldn’t count on it. Walter Thurmond has already started jawing with Welker by saying his hit on Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship Game was “uncalled for“. Thurmond is 5’11” and 190 pounds, so he is smaller than the other cornerbacks, but Welker is also small. He’s 5’9″ and 185 pounds (if that). Thurmond has been exposed (to an extent; no Seahawk cornerback has really been exposed this year) by speedy slot receivers, but Welker isn’t very fast. This seems like another good matchup for the defense.

Predicted stats for Welker: 3 catches, 20 yards

Julius Thomas vs. Kam Chancellor:
I think this is the matchup the Broncos can, and will try to, exploit. Thomas is an incredibly athlete, and he blossomed this season. He’s 6’5″ and 250 pounds. He had 12 touchdown catches during the season, and has been good in the playoffs. He’s probably the Broncos’ best bet to catch a touchdown. Kam Chancellor is one of the best defensive backs in football. He is a big hitter and is also 6’3″ and 232 pounds. He won’t be able to stop Thomas, but he can slow him down. But if Thomas is matched up one on one with Chancellor with no help over the middle, Thomas will win.

Predicted stats for Thomas: 7 catches, 65 yards, 1 touchdown.

Overall, I see the Broncos receivers catching 18 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown. I consider it a win for the Seahawks.

By the way, I went through the entire Seahawks secondary with the exception of one guy: Earl Thomas. Thomas will provide deep help against any deep routes and also helps to stop the run. He might be the most important player in the Seahawks secondary and is indisputably the quarterback of the defense.


San Antonio Spurs Have Problems

Posted: 01/27/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

If you glance at the San Antonio Spurs roster and record, everything looks like it is ok. They are 33-11, they have the best point differential in the Western Conference, and they are behind just Oklahoma City in the West. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have all stayed healthy, and are all playing well. Duncan is averaging 15 and 10 with 2 blocks per game and a 21.5 PER. Parker is averaging 18 points and 6 assists and is shooting 51% from the field. Ginobili has probably been the most surprising and impressive of the three, averaging 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while playing just 24 minutes per game. Incredibly, he’s right at his career per-36 minute averages: 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists per 36 minutes. The Spurs have also been developing their depth, and eight players are playing more than 20 minutes per game. But there are some underlying problems. One in particular, actually: they can’t beat good teams. After their loss to Miami yesterday, the Spurs moved to 1-10 against the rest of the NBA’s top 7 in terms of record (Indiana, Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio, Portland, Houston, Los Angeles). They are 32-1 against everyone else. That’s amazing. But again, they are just 1-10 against the top teams in basketball. Are the Spurs truly struggling or are they just cruising until the playoffs?

Consider this: Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are all playing significantly more (as in more than a minute more per game) in losses. That isn’t enough to prove that this is a big problem, but it does show that the Spurs aren’t just resting their players as they did last season against the Heat in the game that caused such a big argument (remember, the Spurs nearly beat the Heat with their reserves). They have also given up nearly 110 points per game in their 11 losses. In their 31 wins, they’ve given up under 93 points per game. Normally, when the Spurs are slumbering until the postseason, it’s their offense, and not their defense, that suffers. Gregg Popovich is a great defensive coach, so the 17 point difference between their defensive performances against the elite and their performances against the rest of the NBA seems to be more of an issue than just the Spurs cruising towards the playoffs. The Spurs have also been out rebounded in every single one of their losses. It might be that the loss of Tiago Splitter to injury is just really hurting them, but it really seems like Tim Duncan is alone down low, and he is going to have trouble rebounding in the playoffs if he doesn’t have someone next to him helping him out. The big contenders in the West, from Portland (LaMarcus Aldridge) to Oklahoma City (Serge Ibaka) to Los Angeles (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) to Houston (Dwight Howard) have elite rebounding and scoring big men. The Clippers, in particular, seem like a bad matchup for San Antonio, but the problem is that ALL of them are bad matchups for San Antonio. The Spurs just might not be big enough to be able to win a playoff series against any of those teams. Luckily for them, their performance against the mediocre teams in the NBA ensures that they won’t have to play any of those teams in the first round. A series against a team like Dallas, Pheonix, or even Golden State would be much easier for the Spurs. I could see them sweeping a series against any of those teams. But I don’t think they’d win a series against any of the top teams in the West.

The Spurs are in trouble. Their big three is still playing well, but they aren’t playing enough and don’t have enough support to be able to carry the Spurs against the best teams. It might just be that the Spurs are being the Spurs. They could just be taking it easy until the playoffs. But I think this is a real problem, and the Spurs have eight more games against the top teams (starting tomorrow night against Houston) before the season ends. Hopefully they’ll prove me wrong, but I’m worried.

The Evil Empire is Back

Posted: 01/23/2014 by everythingishistory1066 in Uncategorized

In recent years the Yankees have lost their way. Their modus operendi throughout their recent history has been to sign the biggest free agents and spend the most money. They returned to that path this offseason by signing Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury and the top pitching free agent in the market. The addition of Masahairo Tanaka is exactly what the Yankees needed. In total the Bronx Bombers spent over 430 million dollars and jumped back up into luxury tax territory where they truly belong. The Yankees need to be the highest paid team in baseball its just the natural order of things.

The Yankees were in desperate need of a top of the rotaion starter. CC Sabathia is still the ace of this squad. Tanaka will help solidify the Yankees starting rotation. If Yu Darvish is any indication, Tanaka could come in and be effective right away. One of the main problems for them last year was their inability to score runs. Injuries and lack of talent played a major role in thier woes. They had a patch work lineup most nights due to major injuries to Derek Jeter and Mark Texiera. Through out the year they relied on old players like Andruw Jones and Jim Thome to keep them afloat but were unable to keep up. They hit every postition they needed in the offseason. Brian McCann fills a desperate need for a catcher. Ever since Jorge Posada stepped aside the Yankees have been missing an integral part of their lineup at catcher. Speed and a good glove along with decent pop is what Jacoby Ellsbury brings to the table for the Yankees outfield. If Brett Gardner can stay healthy the Yankees will have elite speed at the top of their lineup, perfect for new additions Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to help spark the Yankee offense. Another key to their success will be if Jeter and Texiera can stay healthy and contribute.

All in all, these big four signings have put the Yankees back on the road to a consistent playoff team. Tanaka is only 25 years old and can assume the face of the franchise as the team goes into the future. I would have to assume the Red Sox are still the favorites to take the AL East. These big moves make the Yankees a lock for the playoffs in the least but if all comes together they have the pieces to make a deep run and could make some noise come October. The Yankees are definitely back to being the most hated team in the Major Leagues, right where they belong.

This is part 2 of the “Why is European Soccer so Successful” series, and this time we will look into the relegation system and whether or not it could work in American sports.

For the past few years, the trending topic in terms of American sports has been tanking (losing on purpose). The Colts tanked for Andrew Luck. The Warriors bottomed out so they could keep their protected first round pick and drafted Harrison Barnes. The Nationals may or may not have tanked for Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but the point is that teams are rewarded with a top draft pick for playing badly. And whenever there is a reward for something, teams will work for that reward. There is the obvious reward for winning a championship and playing well, and there is an obvious reward for playing badly and getting a high draft pick. What there isn’t a reward for is being a middle team. And every sport needs its middle teams. What’s happening now, especially in basketball, is that more and more teams are tanking. There could be as many as 8-10 teams who are tanking right now, and, let’s face it, there should be. It’s an effective strategy, because it enables teams to build through the draft, which is the best way to acquire talent. This isn’t just a basketball issue. It might be even more of a problem in football, when there is no draft lottery, so whoever finishes with the worst record is assured the #1 pick, whereas in basketball the worst team is still not likely to get the #1 pick after the lottery. It happened with the Colts and Andrew Luck, and it may have happened this year with the Texans. That’s not to say that football teams go into the season talking about tanking, which I assume happens in basketball. It’s just that, when things start going wrong, there’s no incentive to turn things around. That’s a big problem, and it happens in each of our four major sports. In baseball, the Astros don’t mind being bad. But this is a tricky subject. Teams should be allowed to rebuild. They should be able to take a step back while developing talent. The tanking, though, has gotten out of control. And that’s where the relegation system would help. In World Soccer, nobody tanks, because if they finish among the bottom teams in the league, they will get relegated to the next league down. And that’s really bad, because the team’s players will be unhappy and they’ll lose a lot of revenue. So getting relegated is bad. Wait… teams get punished for playing badly? Go figure. The money thing is still a problem (see Chelsea, Manchester City), but this must-win system puts an emphasis on scouting and, well, winning. You can still rebuild if you want, but you have to face the possibility of relegation. If you aren’t scared by that, then go for it: tank. Heck, if you think your team is good enough, you could even rebuild by playing young players and still stay in the league. A youth movement doesn’t necessarily mean a terrible team. The relegation system works because it underlines the urgency of winning, and also because it keeps things fresh. Each year, new teams are in the top league, and it’s like a breath of fresh air. Often, those teams go straight back down the next year, but at least then a team knows where it stands. And if they stay in the league and succeed, then that’s great. The point is that teams in every league and division have to play well if they want to be profitable, and they have to play well if they want to get good players. Remember, a good team doesn’t have to pay as much for a good player as a mediocre team does. The quality of team is as important to some players as the money (granted, that number is probably pretty low). So now the question is: can this system get implemented in the United States?

Let me just start by saying that this would take a long time. It’s not going to happen immediately, and there are all kinds of scheduling and financial headaches. But let’s take it sport by sport:

In some ways, this makes the most sense. There are hundreds of teams in the minor leagues and even more independent teams. Why don’t you make the minor leagues lower divisions of baseball and implement the promotion/relegation system? Again, this would take a long time, and I understand the problems. Clearly, a team needs a place to develop its players, and this would make minor league teams independent. Teams could still have farm systems, or how about introducing loans, which are also key in European soccer? What I mean is that teams could loan out players who aren’t playing or need experience and could get them back at the end of the season. This serves two purposes: it allows younger players on good teams (for example, the best prospects in baseball right now would fall in this category) to get experience playing baseball that matters. Right now, the minor leagues don’t really matter. Sure, the players have personal incentive, but who cares about team success? Well in this scenario, it would matter a great deal. Minor league teams would also have the hope of promotion and the threat of relegation, so would need productive players. So the second purpose of loans would be that the lower income teams (minor league teams right now) would be able to field teams with players they wouldn’t normally be able to afford. And who knows, maybe those players could lead their teams to promotion. And then the teams would get more revenue, and would be able to spend more on players. It would be an all-around healthy system where the only rewards come from winning. Wouldn’t teams eventually build relationships between each other? If a lower team has a good relationship with a MLB team, for example, they’ll be more likely to get players on loan from that team. Again, it’s a healthy system. One that has holes and would take time, for sure, but one with potential.

This one’s tougher. There aren’t hundreds of good professional basketball teams in America like there are in baseball. The difference between the NBA and the Developmental League is probably bigger than the difference between the MLB and AAA. So this is really tricky, and I honestly don’t know how to solve it. First of all, the NBA could easily add two teams (probably in Seattle and in Las Vegas) to the NBA and then could make two simple 16 team leagues. This is probably too far fetched and probably wouldn’t be approved. But what if as many as 10 teams were added in America and Canada? It’s plausible, and then there could be two twenty team leagues. The thing is, I don’t think that would improve the league. It would probably make it worse. So I don’t think the relegation system would work in basketball. But how about some sort of pre determined draft order to limit tanking? Here is what Grantland came up with (I’m conjuring this from memory, so it might not be 100% correct). The NBA could plausibly sort the 30 team league into 10 groups of three teams. The draft would work like this: every year, a different group would have the top three picks. For example:
Year 1:
Group 1- Picks 1-3
Group 2- Picks 4-6
Group 3- Picks 7-9
Group 4- Picks 10-12
Group 5- Picks 13-15
Group 6- Picks 16-18
Group 7- Picks 19-21
Group 8- Picks 22-24
Group 9- Picks 25-27
Group 10- Picks 28-30

Then the next year, things would rotate. Over the course of 10 years, each group of three would have every single slot of three possible. And the order of the three teams in a group would be determined by record. So if the Heat, Hawks, and 76ers were in group 1 this year, the 76ers would have the #1 pick, but the Heat, one of the best teams in basketball, would still have the #3. That’s a good way to limit tanking because teams know where in the draft they’ll be picking before the season, and a difference of two picks won’t lead to tanking. This would also be good because it wouldn’t affect the game of basketball at all, which is at an all time high right now. There would be no separate league, and there would be no relegation or promotion. We’re just searching for ways to eliminate tanking.

Hockey:Of the four major sports, this one seems the easiest. Since there is so much hockey in Europe, and since the quality of play is not far off from the NHL, why not combine the leagues and form a hierarchy like in World soccer? I know that Russian teams probably wouldn’t be enthralled with playing with the American teams, but I bet they would if there was enough money involved. This isn’t as necessary because tanking isn’t a big part of hockey. I think that most teams genuinely want to win, because in general the drafts are less clear cut and more value can be found later in the draft. So again, this isn’t necessary. So scrap that original thought. How about having tournaments like they do in Europe? I mean a large tournament with both NHL teams and European teams. It could be played over the course of the year. That would be pretty epic, right? Again, not all of these leagues need to overthrow their whole system, but adding a international tournament in hockey would be very fun.

Let’s kill two birds with one stone and combine the “NFL Europe” movement with the relegation thing. This would probably be the longer term thing, because right now there just aren’t enough good football players to make that many more good teams. For this to happen, football would have to start getting bigger all around Europe, which it is starting to do. Eventually, some athletes who were originally intent on playing soccer would start playing football, and there would be more good players. NFL Europe would start succeeding. That’s when it could be integrated with the NFL. The travel schedules would be hectic, and teams would need to go on long road trips. But it could work, and it would also eliminate tanking.

All in all, it would be hard for the relegation system to be implemented in America. Really hard. But there are also other methods to eliminate tanking, like the rigid draft system that was proposed by some Grantland writer (Zach Lowe, I think) for basketball. There are probably other ways to eliminate tanking, and I’d love to hear them. The main goal is to incentivize teams to win, and relegating teams is just one way of doing it. Europe got something right.

Tanaka to the Yankees

Posted: 01/22/2014 by everythingishistory1066 in Baseball

News broke this morning that Japanese Ace Masahairo Tanaka is officially joining the New York Yankees. He signed a 7 year 155 million dollar contract and can opt out after 4 years if he so desires. This move comes as no surprise. The new Yankees starting rotation will be formidable. Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda could potentially be one of the most solid starting 3 in the American League. Add Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and a whole year without the A-Rod distractions and the Yankees could retake the AL East. Watch out folks the Yanks are on the rise.

NBA Power Rankings- Halfway Mark

Posted: 01/21/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

Believe it or not, we are now roughly half way through the NBA season. It’s shocking, as it really feels that the season just started. But here we are, so it’s time for another power rankings.

Last ranking is in parentheses.


1. Indiana Pacers, 33-7 (3): It seems pretty clear that when it comes to playoff time, there are going to be four teams that are going to be heavily favored to make the Conference Finals. Indiana and Miami in the East, and Oklahoma City and San Antonio in the West. It seems boring, but it’s probably true. With that being said, it feels right to have those four at the top of the rankings and the Pacers #1. The Pacers have, quite simply, been the best team in basketball this year. They have the best record, they have the best defense, and they easily have the best point differential. They are 21-1 at home, which should encourage them, as they’ll have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. If they win at home, they’ll win the title. Their latest streak of five wins has included victories over Golden State and over the Clippers. It’s just ho-hum for Indiana. People were getting ahead of themselves when they said Paul George was as good as LeBron James, but he is a bonafide superstar. The Pacers are one of the few teams with an established lineup. Everyone knows their role. George Hill, for example, shot the ball 11.5 times per game last year. Now, with the emergence of Lance Stephenson, he has willingly shot the ball three times fewer per game. That’s a tough thing for a professional to do, but he did it. If Danny Granger stays happy in his scorer-off-the-bench role, the Pacers should be the favorite to win it all.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder, 31-10 (5): Kevin Durant is absolutely incredible. He has almost single-handedly carried the Thunder to 31 wins, and he just does whatever is needed. You need him to score 50 against the Warriors? He’ll do it. You need him to distribute the ball against the Kings? He’ll do that too. In 10 games in January, he is averaging 36 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He’s shooting 51% from the field and taking 13 free throws per game while making them at a 89% rate. It’s just outstanding. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka has 20+ points in three straight games for the first time in his career. They just need Russell Westbrook to get fully healthy and then they’ll be favored in the West.

3. San Antonio Spurs, 32-9 (4): The Spurs just keep it going. They have a variety of contributors, and are cruising (effectively) towards the playoffs. The only critique would be this: they are 0-5 against other 30 win teams (Indiana, OKC, and Portland). But as long as they keep up their .888 win percentage against everyone else, that’ll be the only critique.

4. Miami Heat, 29-12 (1): Yes, they have struggled of late. Yes, they are only 4 losses away from their total number of losses last season. And yes, Dwyane Wade is missing a quarter of their games. LeBron James has been critiqued for cruising and has admitted that he’s jealous of Kevin Durant. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole aren’t effective point guards and one might be traded. Ray Allen is over the hill. Chris Bosh doesn’t rebound enough. Shane Battier has been ineffective. Udonis Haslem is averaging 3 points per game. All of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. The Heat would still win in a high-stakes game against any team besides the three ahead them. Even if it were played today. It’s as simple as that, and the Heat are still 29-12, which is the fifth best record in the NBA.

—- If everything goes right—-

5. Portland Trailblazers, 31-10 (6): The Trailblazers are just a good basketball team. They are not quite on the same tier as the top four, but their record is indisputably fantastic. They should have two all-stars, so the “No star power” argument should be discredited. What they need is another big man, and Omer Asik would fit perfectly. Could they trade a rookie lottery pick (C.J. McCollum) and a pick for Asik? If they can, they’ll edge into the first tier.

6. Los Angeles Clippers, 29-14 (7): The Clippers have surprisingly held up well without Chris Paul. They are 7-2 without Paul. The catalyst’s? Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the much maligned big men. Griffin is averaging 25 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and most importantly 74% free throw shooting in January. Jordan hasn’t had the same free throw success (44% in January), but he’s been a beast, averaging 12 points, 15 rebounds, and more than 3 blocks per game. This team can win a championship if.. everything goes right.

7. Golden State Warriors, 26-17 (2): They’ve come back down to earth a little bit, losing four of their last seven, but they should remain in this second tier. They are still playing well, and their losses came against a then-streaking Nuggets team, a still-streaking Nets team, and two of the elites: Indiana and Oklahoma City. They are legit.

8. Houston Rockets, 28-15 (9): The Rockets have now won seven of their last nine games thanks to terrific play from James Harden, Dwight Howard, and most surprisingly, Terrence Jones. Jones is averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds and January, and he might negate the Rockets most glaring need: a stretch four to pair with Howard. Jones can’t shoot threes, but that’s why Chandler Parsons is playing a jaw-dropping 42 minutes per game this month. Really, the Rockets should still trade Omer Asik for a shooter because Parsons can’t sustain a 42 minute per game pace. But right now, it’s working.

—- Middle of the West—-

9. Dallas Mavericks, 25-18 (10): It’s basically same old, same old for the Mavericks, who continue to play at playoff level. But they are an older team and they’re not leaving themselves much breathing room right now. They are no playoff lock.

10. Phoenix Suns, 23-17 (8): They are going through a little dip right now, but I think it’s just that: a small blip on the radar of the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 season. The Suns miss Eric Bledsoe, and it’s showing in their play. Bledsoe remains out indefinitely, which is bad for the Suns’ playoff hopes, but as long as he returns fairly soon, the Suns will stay in the playoff race.

11. Memphis Grizzlies, 20-20 (16): I said that the Grizzlies needed to go on a winning streak or two, and that’s what they are doing now. Since the return of Marc Gasol they are 3-1, and they are 10-5 since falling a season-low five games under .500. Right now, it looks like the Grizzlies, who are three games out of the playoffs now, will make a continued push. They have experience, so it would be foolish to doubt them. It looks like they are rolling right now, and I bet the top teams in the West would hope to avoid a team that has Mike Conley playing at an allstar level (18 points (a career high by more than three points), 6 assists, 1.5 steals per game) and Zach Randolph quietly averaging a double double. This is a dangerous team, especially with Gasol back. Also, don’t sleep on newly acquired Courtney Lee. Lee has been inserted into the starting lineup with Tony Allen injured and is averaging 15 points per game in his seven game Grizzly career. He also does something that the Grizzlies desperately need: he hits 3s, which has been the achilles heel for years.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves, 19-21 (11): We’re at the end of the “Cut the T-Wolves Some Slack” campaign. Yes, they have a great point differential, but we are at the halfway point and they are below .500. Something has to change. It seems like Ricky Rubio is hurting the team more than he is helping it. He can’t shoot, he can’t get to the line, and the defense can react and double Kevin Love. It’s unfortunate, and this is the last time I’ll cut them any slack. Love, by the way, is slumping in January, with 21 points per game (four down from his average) and 42% from the field (46% on the season). He seems a little bit tired out, and that’s understandable: he carries the offense.

—-Candidates for the #3 Seed—

13. Chicago Bulls, 20-20 (20): Chicago is full of 20 this week, and it’s all thanks to Tom Thibodeau. The coach didn’t care for the Luol Deng trade, so he decided to thwart the organization’s plan to tank. That’s my theory, at least, and with a coach like Thibs, it seems credible. As long as he coaches like this, the Bulls will keep winning (they are 8-2 in their last 10).

14. Toronto Raptors, 20-20 (15): The Raptors continue to play solid basketball, if not at the level they were playing a few weeks ago. Kyle Lowry, the point guard, should be an all-star. He’s averaging 17-4-7 on the season and also shoots 41% from three point range and 81% from the free throw line. That’s an all-star line, and he’s also helped DeMar DeRozan find more open shots. DeRozan is a score-only shooting guard, so he’d better score a lot, and he is; 21 points per game is just what the doctor ordered.

15. Brooklyn Nets, 17-22 (18): Here come the Nets. They are really hitting their stride now, and they should take over the division lead from Toronto soon. Their recent wins have been really impressive. Here’s their last eight games: 95-93 @OKC, 89-82 vs CLE, 91-86 vs ATL, 102-98 vs GSW, 104-95 vs MIA, 96-80 @TOR, 127-110 @ATL, 103-80 @NYK. The only loss was at Toronto. That’s an impressive stretch, and it feels like KG and Paul Pierce are finally clicking with their new teammates. Imagine how they would be playing with Brook Lopez.

16. Atlanta Hawks, 21-19 (14): The Hawks remain in the #3 position despite the loss of their best player, Al Horford. It just seems like they can’t keep playing this well. They just don’t have the talent. It’s Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap and then basically nothing else. It’s crazy that they just knocked off the Heat, and it’s crazy that they are still 21-19.

17. Washington Wizards, 20-20 (17): The Wizards have been playing better recently, and probably have more talent than any of the teams directly above them (with the exception of the Nets). John Wall is a likely all-star, Bradley Beal is a good scorer, and Marcin Gortat has been really good down low. And yet they are still just .500 and have a negative point differential.

—- Stuck —-

18. Denver Nuggets, 20-20 (13): Let me put it frankly: the Nuggets are not going to be a playoff team. Memphis and Minnesota are probably better teams than they are, and neither of them are in the playoffs right now. The roster just isn’t talented enough.

19. New York Knicks, 15-26 (21): And just when we thought they were good again, they lost a stinker to the Nets as the culmination of a painful four game losing streak. I thought that they had turned things around, but maybe not. They really need to start winning now, or they could miss the playoffs. Remember, they don’t have their first round pick next year.

20. Cleveland Cavaliers, 15-26 (26): The Cavaliers are kind of in the same boat as the Knicks. They have a lot of talent, with Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao as the best players. You could do a lot worse, and many teams who are playing better basketball than they are have worse rosters. Maybe they just are destined to be a sad franchise. I really feel bad for Cavaliers fans. The reason for the big bump up is that Deng is fitting in well and they have been slightly better recently.

21. Charlotte Bobcats, 18-25 (19): The Bobcats remain in the playoff mix. They play good defense, and are generally very boring to watch. They need another big piece, which is why they should probably try not to make the playoffs this year.

22. Detroit Pistons, 17-24 (22): They are another team with talent, and they are another under performing team. Something has to change. They can trade Greg Monroe, or they can bench Josh Smith. Heck, I don’t care what they do, as long as it makes some sense. But what they are doing right now isn’t working.

— Tanking–

For the first time, I am fully confident that the bottom eight teams are tanking. They aren’t playing well, and they don’t plan on it. This is just a rough order:

23. Sacramento Kings, 14-25 (23)
24. New Orleans Pelicans, 16-24 (12)

25. Utah Jazz, 14-28 (28)
26. Boston Celtics, 14-28 (24)
27. Los Angeles Lakers, 16-26 (25)
28. Philadelphia 76ers, 13-28 (29)
29. Orlando Magic, 11-30 (27)
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 7-33 (30)

Championship Game Predictions

Posted: 01/19/2014 by levcohen in Football

I’m sorry we all wasted our time. If you had wanted to just fast forward to the whole season and start now, you wouldn’t have missed much. The final four, first the first time in years, are truly the four best teams in football: San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and New England. Those were the four favorites going into the season, and they are the four teams left. In a way, that isn’t fun. No matter what happens today, I don’t think there will be a major surprise, because all four of these teams are so good and multifaceted. Denver could blow out New England and nobody would be shocked, or New England could outright win and nobody would be surprised. Seattle could cruise to a win at home, or San Francisco could finally figure out how to win in Seattle. But in another way, finally having the top four facing off is refreshing for fans. You can talk about parity all you want, but this is the way it is supposed to be. Watching teams be so successful in the regular season and then dropping out early in the playoffs stinks, and it makes team talent and regular season success mute. Instead, it’s about who gets hot at the right time. This year, finally, the most talented teams, all of whom won at least 12 regular season games are all still here. Both #1 seeds are left, one #2, and one #5 who was only a #5 because they were in the same division as the #1.
As for the matchups themselves, you couldn’t ask for them any juicier. On one side there is Manning-Brady, the most intriguing individual rivalry perhaps in NFL history. On the other side there is 49ers-Seahawks, by far the biggest rivalry in football today. It should be good.

New England Patriots (13-4, 9-8) at Denver Broncos (14-3, 11-6):
Line: Broncos favored by 4.5
Over/under: 57
My prediction: Broncos- 27, Patriots- 24.. Everything I have read has questioned this line, saying it should be closer to three. The fact that I’m on the same page with so many other people is worrisome, and it doesn’t usually work out well for me. But I’m going to trust my gut with this one. It’s the marquee quarterback match-up here, but I don’t think that’s the key part of this game. Both QBs are going to put up stats and both will be effective. This game really comes down to three things: The first is the running game. The Patriots have ran the ball extremely effectively recently with LaGarrette Blount, but the Broncos run defense has been pretty stout, unlike the Colts defense that is one of the worst in the NFL and that Blount ran over last week. The Broncos destroyed New England on the ground when these two teams first played in New England, as they ran for nearly 300 yards as a team including more than 200 from Knowshon Moreno. The Patriots run defense has improved slightly since then, and stopping Moreno and Montee Ball is vital. The second key is the turnover game. Their first meeting was a tale of two half, and that was almost entirely about the turnovers. The Patriots turned it over in the first half and went down 24-0, and then the Broncos turned it over in the second half and blew the game. The Patriots (mainly Steven Ridley) have had a lot of fumbling issues this season, and they need to hold on to the ball. The third key is field position. The Broncos kicking game has given up a lot of field position this year thanks to a lackluster cover team. Luckily, they are in the thin air at home today and Matt Prater should be able to kick it through the back of the endzone for touchbacks. But if he doesn’t, the field position game could inch New England’s way.

In the end. I’m picking the Broncos because of all the weapons they have. Moreno, Ball, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker. The Patriots won’t be able to stop them all. It’s just too many weapons.

Patriots cover

San Francisco 49ers (14-4, 12-5-1) at Seattle Seahawks (14-3, 11-6):
Line: Seahawks favored by 4
Over/under: 40
My prediction: 49ers- 20, Seahawks- 17.. I’m deliberately hedging by bets in each of the two games today. I’m picking the favorite to win but the road team to cover. That’s how close I think these games are. I’ve been surprised by the number of people that have picked the Patriots and/or 49ers. I think people are trending more toward the road team in these games, and while I think there is some merit to that (both road teams won last year), I wouldn’t feel great about picking against Seattle at home. It’s actually kind of sad that it’s gotten to that point for Seattle. People who pick the Seahawks don’t talk about their quality, they talk about their home field advantage. And that’s because the 49ers right now are pretty clearly the better football team. The Seahawks pass defense is incredible, and it’s historic. But the rest of their team, outside of Marshawn Lynch, has been more good than great. The 49ers seem to be catching fire at the right time. They have gotten healthy, and Colin Kaepernick has been electric. I think it comes down to the 49ers offensive play calling. Both defenses are going to show up. I think that’s inevitable. But the 49ers of the past few years have been famously daring in terms of their playoff play calling. That was one of the reasons that they made the decision to go with Kaepernick over Alex Smith in the middle of last season. They destroyed the Packers last season using the read option. But this year, they haven’t been as daring as they were previously. Could they have been holding back until this game? We will see, and I think that will be the difference in the game. So yeah, I’ve changed my mind over the course of the post. Forget that about hedging my bets. 49ers win.

49ers cover