Can The Patriots Actually Go 16-0?

Yes, I know. The Patriots are the NFL’s most obnoxious team, starting off as an underdog in 2001, and becoming a national favorite for beating the big, bad St. Louis Rams. That’s right. Can you imagine the Patriots were 14 point underdogs to the Rams? Since then, the biggest spread is 12 points when the Patriots, well, let’s not talk about that one. Anyways, the Patriots are coming off a 14-2 season in which Tom Brady only lost one game, to Seattle, in which Rob Gronkowski punctured his lung. In the past two seasons, with Dion Lewis active, the Patriots are 17-0. For next season, not only will the Patriots have Dion Lewis back, but they will also have Bills running back Mike Gillislee (who led the league in yards per carry), Brandin Cooks (arguably the fastest receiver in the league) and Stephon Gilmore to play alongside Malcolm Butler. Yes, the Patriots very well could be even better this year than they were last year. Also, it has been revealed that the Patriots have one of the easiest schedules next season.

So, without further adieu, here is a very biased, yet somewhat factual way of convincing myself, and other Patriots fans that they should not only repeat as champions, but not taste the agony of defeat once all of next season. Since they are the Patriots, we’ll start them off 6-0 against the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins because that is only fair. The Patriots, since they won their division last year, will face two other division leaders, the Texans and the Steelers. Since the Patriots play the Texans about as closely as Varsity Teams play Junior Varsity Teams, and this is a home game, we’ll move the Patriots on to 7-0. The Steelers, on the road, are never easy to face, but the Patriots have two corners capable of matching up with anybody on the Steelers, and the Patriots more than handled the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Some may say, “hey, didn’t the Steelers lose Le’veon Bell in that game?”. Yes, they did, but Bell was largely stopped before he exited the game. The Steelers generally beat the Patriots when they have a top defense, which they do not now, and the Patriots will have Gronkowski and Cooks running wild, and we will likely see a few spikes from Gronk and a few arrows shot into the stands by Cooks. So, yes, the Patriots are now 8-0.

In order to not waste your time, we will forget games against the Chargers, Saints, or Panthers, who, as a group, combined to win one more game than the Patriots last year (18-30 combined), while the Patriots only needed 19 games to win 17. Had the Patriots had Brady for their home loss to the Bills last year, it is likely they would have equaled that number by the other three teams. Also, for the game against the Saints, the Patriots will have Brandin Cooks fully motivated to show his old team what they are missing out on. So, yes, the Patriots are now 11-0. This is when things start to get a little more difficult. The Patriots will still have games against the Falcons, Bucs, Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. The Patriots face the Chiefs at home to open up the 2017 NFL Season, and Roger Goodell will be in Gillette Stadium for the first time since DeflateGate. The only sad fan leaving New England will be the sad, temporary Chiefs fan named Roger, who has to give Tom Brady his fifth ring. As for the Buccaneers, they might have Jameis Winston, but they have got nothing on defense to stop this high powered offense, and the hoodie usually does pretty well against young quarterbacks. Speaking of young quarterbacks, Denver still has no idea who they will start at quarterback, and they only scored 3 points against New England last year, when they were at home. While this might be another home game, the Patriots defense has only improved with players like Gilmore and Ealy in the fold, while the offense has gotten even better. Good luck to Denver’s secondary, which might be elite, but they have no way of stopping the two tight end attack, with Dwyane Allen now playing second fiddle to Gronk. Expect the Patriots to score more than 16 points in this one, and expect Denver to score roughly the same. They’re now 14-0.

This now leaves the two toughest games of the year, Oakland and Atlanta. Many football fans were disappointed when Derek Carr’s knee injury stopped the dream matchup between the present, being the Patriots, and the future, the Raiders. Oakland’s offense is loaded with players like Carr, Crabtree and Cooper, but their defense also boasts players like Khalil Mack who could make Tom Brady’s life a living hell. If this game was in Oakland, which the schedule might have you believe, this would be a much tougher call. However, this game is in Mexico, where Tom Brady is basically a god, and you can surprisingly find him on billboards everywhere. Unfortunately for Oakland, I do not think they can beat the Patriots on a neutral field, and I expect New England to play well. Expect Brady and the Patriots to do their homework, and not be thrown off in this high-altitude challenge.

The final matchup involves one team who blew a 25 point lead in the super bowl, and another team that made the best comeback in Super Bowl history. Expect Stephon Gilmore to key in on Julio Jones, and Malcom Butler to shut down Sanu. With this game being at home, the Patriots likely won’t need Brady to throw for 400 yards in the second half to win this one. Yeah, the Patriots are going 16-0, and if I had the money to, I would have already booked my tickets to Minnesota to see Brady get his 6th ring, and tie the Steelers’ FRANCHISE for most Super bowl wins. I guess the next question is if Brady throws for more or less than 56 touchdowns this year. Stay tuned.

 

P.S I know we, as Pat fans, are insufferable, but we’ll be just like the rest of you when Brady retires, in 2035.

 

NFL Spring Cleaning: The 2017 Schedule and Upcoming Draft

“I’m gonna drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, Tracy. I can promise you that.” -Payton Manning, Super Bowl champion.

 


This past Friday the NFL released the 2017 regular season schedule. There are four regular season games being played in London: Ravens-Jaguars Week 3/4 (week subject to change); Saints-Dolphins Week 4; Vikings-Browns Week 7/8 (again, subject to change); and Cardinals-Rams Week 7/8. There will also be one game in Mexico City in Week 11 between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders defeated the Texans in the inaugural Mexico City game last year, which was a huge success for the NFL. At this current rate of growth, the league is going to continue efforts to promote itself internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw NFL games being played in China or Australia within the next decade.

 

With the release of the schedule every year, there’s an inevitable display of anger from fans on social media, proclaiming their team got shafted with too difficult a schedule. By nature of the NFL schedule being only 16 games, it’s very much a reality that some teams will have a substantially more grueling road to the postseason. In fact, there’s a tool that fans can use to observe the strengths and weaknesses associated with each team’s regular season matchups. There’s more variability in the NFL standings from year-to-year than any other major professional sports league. In that regard, it’s expected for fans to get upset when their team has an unfavorable schedule. What is bothersome, however, is that so few people seem to fully grasp the scheduling system the NFL uses. Luckily for you, I am here to provide invigorating football knowledge at a charge of $0/hour.

 

Each NFL team plays 16 total games during the season. This takes place over the course of 17 weeks, which allows for each team to have one bye week. Bye weeks take place from Week 4 to Week 12. It’s advantageous for teams to have their bye week between Weeks 8-12. A bye before Week 7 is premature and defeats the purpose of the bye. The NFL season only gets harder on players and coaches as it progresses into the colder months of November and December. You could argue that players will always welcome a week off, but if you’ve only played 3-5 games before your bye, that leaves you with 10-12 consecutive games to finish the season. Considering the fatigue and injuries that accumulate in the latter half of the season, an excessive stretch like that can create dysfunction both on the field and within a locker room. It’s worth noting that of the 12 postseason teams last year, only four had their bye weeks before Week 8. I’m not saying that the positioning of a team’s bye week is a determinant of their success, but it’s certainly a factor.

 

There are two conferences in the NFL: the NFC and the AFC. Each conference has four divisions, organized by region: North, East, South, and West. Each of the eight divisions has four teams. For example, the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles all reside in the NFC East. Using the Philadelphia Eagles as the guinea pig (because I enjoy the thought of incensed Eagles fans taking up arms on social media when the schedule is released), I can describe the rotation-based cycle that commands the scheduling system.

 

 

The Eagles will play every team in their division twice; once at home and once on the road. Every team does this every season. The divisional part of the schedule develops real rivalries that hold tremendous gravity in players’ and fans’ minds. Such rivalries include Philadelphia-New York Giants, Pittsburgh-Baltimore, Green Bay-Chicago, Seattle-San Francisco, New York Jets-New England. The team with the best regular season record from each division claims the division title and earns an automatic playoff berth, which only increases the intensity of divisional rivalries. Indeed, late-season divisional matchups make for some very tasty broadcasting. Simply, divisional games make up six of the 16 games on an NFL team’s schedule.

 

Eagles’ 2017 regular season schedule:

 

Looking at the Eagles’ schedule after accounting for their divisional matchups, you’ll see that they’re set to play against six teams from the other NFC divisions. The Eagles will square off against the @Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, @Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, @Los Angeles Rams, and the San Francisco 49ers. Without reading any further, review that list of teams and try to determine if there’s a pattern (hint: there is). Seattle, Arizona, LA, and San Francisco make up the NFC West. The NFL has a cycle of scheduling so that divisions are set up to play each other on a rotating basis. All the teams from the NFC East will play against all the teams from the NFC West in 2017. Last year, the NFC East was matched with the NFC North. In 2018, the NFC East will play against the teams from the NFC South. The cycle will then repeat, so every division within the conference will be scheduled to play the other three divisions once every three years. Along the same lines, if the Eagles play the Arizona Cardinals at home during this East-West cycle, then they will play at Arizona in the 2020 season. In 2023, the game will be in Philly again. Unless the league expands or reorganizes its divisions, it is guaranteed that the Eagles will play every team in the NFC once every three years, and will play each respective team at home or on the road every six years. We’ve now accounted for 10 of the 16 games on an NFL team’s schedule.

 

Along with the divisional rotations within conferences, the same system applies when NFC teams play AFC teams in the regular season. The Eagles, as well as all other NFL teams, will only play four games against teams from the other conference in a given year. Each NFC division is paired to play against an AFC division each season. The Eagles will play against the AFC West in 2017: the Denver Broncos, @Kansas City Chiefs, @Los Angeles Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders. The other teams in the NFC East will also play against these AFC West teams. The Eagles, along with the rest of the NFC East, played against the AFC North last year. In 2015, they played the AFC East. In 2014? The AFC South. It’s the same rotational system that was explained above in regard to the NFC divisions. The Eagles will play each AFC team once every four years. The matchups again alternate on a home-road basis so that the Eagles will only play in Denver every eight years, and the Broncos will only play in Philly every eight years. Now we’ve covered 14 of the 16 regular season games on a team’s schedule.

 

2016 Regular Season Standings:

 

If the NFL uses a rotation of divisions for scheduling purposes, then why are the Eagles playing the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears? These remaining two NFC teams appear to have been chosen at random. The Panthers are from the NFC South, and the Bears are from the NFC North. It’s already been mentioned that the NFC East is playing the NFC West, so it’s understandable that fans become confused with this part of the schedule. The Eagles, who despite Carson Wentz’ best efforts pitifully finished last in the NFC East last season, are playing Carolina and Chicago for that very reason. Carolina finished last in the NFC South in 2016, as did Chicago in the North. The NFC East isn’t scheduled to play against the North or South in 2017, but each team will play against one representative from each of those divisions. The Dallas Cowboys, who are also scheduled to play the NFC West and AFC West, will play the Atlanta Falcons (South) and the Green Bay Packers (North), since those teams won their divisions in 2016. The New York Giants will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South) and the Detroit Lions (North), because those teams finished second in their divisions. This has been extremely technical and, if I’m being honest, I would like to punch myself in the face right now for actually writing a post about this. If you’re still not comfortable with the league-conference-division terminology, here’s a nice explanation from NFL.com.

 

For those who are interested (qualifications!) the NFL also selects certain games each week to broadcast on primetime national television. These games are intended to be the most exciting, dramatic, and meaningful games of each week in the NFL season. The first game of the season will see the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, September 7th on NBC at 8:30PM EST. The rest of the primetime games can be found here, courtesy of USA Today.

 


The 2017 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 27th at 8:00PM EST. After several months of careful evaluation by NFL front offices, teams are reaching the final stages of evaluation before selecting their rookie classes for the upcoming season. DE Myles Garrett from Texas A&M will likely go first or second. The first two rounds of the draft will see several defensive backs and edge-rushers selected, as most of the top talent this year is distributed into those positions. Several teams will beef up their secondaries and pass-rush for the next several years because the defensive talent in this draft is remarkable.

 

On the other side of the ball, the 2017 quarterback class isn’t particularly robust. The top signal-caller prospects this year are Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Mitch Trubinsky from North Carolina. Expect these two guys to be selected in the mid-to-late first round by teams like Cleveland or Washington.

 

The 2017 offensive line class has been called the worst in decades. This is obviously a problem for NFL teams looking to build strength in the trenches, but it also sheds light on a larger league-wide issue. The OL position has deteriorated significantly in the NFL because linemen are not longer taught the traditional repertoire of skills in college. At the collegiate level, when most offenses have abandoned the 5-step drop and instead opt for the shotgun formation, the offensive line doesn’t necessarily need to have the technical pocket-protection technique required in the NFL. When these players (particularly offensive tackles) reach the NFL, they’re unfit to protect their quarterback because they’re now tasked with the burden of blocking the most explosive edge-rushers in the world while their QB is executing a 3 or 5-step drop. The footwork and timing of this skill needs to be learned early in an offensive lineman’s playing days. There’s now a huge disparity between the OL in college versus the professional level, and NFL teams are suffering tremendously from it.

 

Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft, top-10:

 

Next week, I’m going to break down the draft, evaluate which teams picked well, which teams picked poorly, and what the implications of the draft will have on the future of various NFL teams. In one of the most stressful weeks of the year for scouts and general managers, be sure to read up on the drafting needs of your team so that you don’t sound like a fool when you’re talking to your buddies because let’s face it, there’s truly nothing more satisfying than being right.

 

Look forward to NFL Spring Cleaning every Monday morning. As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter, @andysweeps. Take care and enjoy the spring weather.

The Regular Season is Finally Over… So who’s the NBA MVP?

The NBA regular season came to a close last Wednesday, with the only major postseason implications being that the Pacers and Bulls grabbed the 7th and 8th seeds respectively in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Heat just missed out on their second consecutive playoff berth in the post-LeBron Era after an abysmal 11-30 (.268) start to the season thanks to an impressive 30-11 (.732) finish, good for the best in the conference after January 14th and trailing only the Golden State Warriors for the best win percentage in the league for the second half of the season.

But the one story that has been on every NBA fan’s mind this season has remained the same: who will win the league’s most prestigious honor as its Most Valuable Player for the 2016-17 season? For months, there were four candidates in contention: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. While each certainly had their merits that would deem them worthy of the honor, including individual statistics, team success, and advanced statistical analysis of player performance such as Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the consensus that it will come down to Harden vs. Westbrook. There is little doubt that James and Leonard will finish 3rd and 4th, but we are virtually guaranteed to see the pair of explosive Western Conference point guards as winner and runner-up.

What will determine the outcome of the highly-contested race will be the criteria by which the candidates are evaluated. For instance, if “team success,” typically defined as its overall win percentage, is regarded by voters as the most consequential factor, then it would be appropriate for Harden to win given that his Rockets finished the season with a record of 55-27 (.671), while Westbrook’s Thunder finished eight games back at 47-35 (.573). Alternatively, if individual accolades are determined to be the most meaningful component of an MVP’s résumé, then Westbrook should be handed the crown considering that he shattered Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old record of 41 triple-doubles in one season, in the process becoming only the second player in the league history to average a triple-double over the course of the 82-game NBA regular season (after Robertson in 1961-62).

On one hand, if league MVP refers to the most valuable player as it pertains to one’s team, meaning that he not only leads the team to victory but also improves the performance of the teammates around him, then James Harden deserves to win. The 2016-17 Houston Rockets were one of the 10 best offenses in NBA history, and The Beard has led the charge all season after shifting over to the point guard position. Although he may not average a triple-double, his stat line of 29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.1 RPG, and 27.43 PER is nearly as impressive, he leads the league in win-share total (15.0), and generates more points off assists than any other player in the NBA (27.1 per game). In addition to his remarkable offensive prowess, Harden has also been a superior defender than Westbrook this season, contesting 8.2 shots per game to the OKC superstar’s 3.6. Oh, yeah, and he also had 22 triple doubles on the season.

On the other hand, if the MVP award belongs to the player most valuable on a league-wide scale, then it is Russell Westbrook who deserves to win. His stat line of 31.6 PPG, 10.4 APG, and 10.7 RPG speaks for itself, and his PER of 30.70 is the highest in the league by a whopping margin of 3.02 (Kevin Durant hilariously ranks second). Westbrook also holds the NBA record for pace-adjusted triple-doubles according to the Versatility Index, which calculates the “geometric mean of points, rebounds, and assists per 100 possessions”  at 21.5 per game, once again blowing away the competition (Harden’s 2016-17 season ranks second at 18.3, followed by Westbrook’s 2015-16 and 2014-15 campaigns at 18.0 and 17.6 respectively). In addition, Brodie sports a ludicrous usage rate of 41.7% while still maintaining a true shooting percentage of 55.4%, and those numbers only increase when the game is on the line. The final argument on Westbrook’s behalf is the simple fact that the offensive talent around him is inferior to Harden’s squad. For instance, the Thunder minus Westbrook make only 30.9% of their wide-open threes, while a Harden-less Rockets team converts 38.3%.

This year’s MVP race is shaping up to be one of the closest in recent years, and rightfully so. The important thing is that whoever the winner may be, be it Harden or Westbrook, is undoubtedly worthy of the honor, which is certainly the case for both players. What is also noteworthy, however, is that the MVP battle is not the only one in which these two superstars have been pitted against one another, for Harden’s 3rd-seeded Rockets are currently taking on Westbrook’s 6th-seeded Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and hold a 2-0 lead. As for my own picks? I say the Rockets win in 6, but Westbrook gets the last laugh after Houston gets knocked out of the playoffs in the Conference Semifinals by the Spurs in 7 as he caps off his historic season by riding off into the offseason with the MVP trophy by his side.

Premier League Matchday in Review

Those who have not been keeping up with the Premier League in 2016/17 should be kicking themselves as this campaign is set to end in fantastic fashion. The title race is legitimate and all bets are off as every match is critical for squads looking to reach the top four and achieve automatic qualifying spots for next season’s UEFA Champions League. Equally as important is the fight to stay out of the relegation spots in the bottom three. On this day two years ago, Leicester City defeated Swansea to move out of last place in the league and begin their climb out of the relegation zone to remain in the Premier League and shock the world the following season. Here’s how the fixtures played out:

 

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR        4 – 0           BOURNEMOUTH

WATFORD                               1 – 0           SWANSEA CITY

SUNDERLAND                        2 – 2           WEST HAM

STOKE CITY                            3 – 1           HULL CITY

EVERTON                                3 – 1           BURNLEY

CRYSTAL PALACE                  2 – 2           LEICESTER CITY

SOUTHAMPTON                     0 – 3           MANCHESTER CITY

WEST BROMWICH ALBION   0 – 1           LIVERPOOL

MANCHESTER UNITED          2 – 0           CHELSEA

MIDDLESBROUGH                  1 – 2           ARSENAL

 

Key Matches and Storylines:

Tottenham are four points back from the top of the table. I can confirm that this is not a drill. A few weeks ago, the league had seemed all but won by Chelsea, but it now looks as if it may come down to some massive ties at the end of the season. They have won their last 7 in the Premier League, outscoring opponents 22 – 4 across that span. Yet again, the Hotspur were getting their fill of goals including contributions from the main man Harry Kane and the South Korean international Heung-Min Son. The creativity of Christian Eriksen was on display as well as he picked up his 12th assist, good enough for second most in the PL.

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku finds the back of the net again for Everton as he remains in the lead for the Golden Boot this season. The combination of pace, power, and technical ability that Lukaku routinely displays is almost completely unrivaled across the top leagues in Europe. With 24 goals and 6 assists thus far in this campaign, the Everton board of directors have hinted that they would not be willing to let Lukaku go unless they receive an offer in excess of £100 million. If these rumors have any merit to them and if a club were to make an offer, it would break the £89 million record transfer fee that was set just last summer when Paul Pogba left Juventus for Manchester United.

Manchester City are getting major production from the trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero, and the lightning-fast 21-year-old Leroy Sané. These boys seem to all be in sync and some of the skills displayed on counterattacks by Sané are just ridiculous. City really do have one of the most purely talented squads on the planet, but they’ll need to continue putting in good performances to ensure their finish in the top four.

Roberto Firmino scores again for Liverpool as they hold their third place position in the PL. The Reds were put to the test by West Brom’s persistent defensive line but one goal proved to be enough as Tony Pulis’ side has lost some of the offensive fluidity that they showed earlier on in the season.

On Sunday morning Chelsea and Manchester United were set to clash in a vital match for both sides. The Chelsea players were well aware of the 4 – 0 victory for Tottenham the day before, and many expected a strong response from the London club. However, they had likely been preparing for a Manchester United lineup that would include the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Jose Mourinho instead opted for young studs Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard to lead the attacking front line and Chelsea were unconvincing across the board. 2 of Chelsea’s 5 Premier League losses this season have come in their last 4 matches so Antonio Conte will be looking to rally the group and finish atop the table.

In the last fixture of Matchday 33, Arsenal regained their footing after turmoil has surrounded the club in recent weeks. Arsène Wenger finally made structural adjustments to the lineup, switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation and bringing Rob Holding back into the squad after a long drought of Premier League appearances. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also started for the first time as a right wing back, and his tenacity, versatility, and commitment to the club were all apparent in his Man of the Match performance. Although it was not a completely dominant display, the Gunners will look to use this as momentum moving forward. They sit sixth in the table and it looks as if they will need Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil to string together quality performances if they are to snap up a top four spot. Quick reminder: the North London Derby is set for 4/30 at 11:30 EST.

In other news across the league, Xherdan Shaqiri scored another screamer for Stoke City as they leapfrog Leicester into 11th place. The ex-Bayern Munich man made his signature cut onto his left foot before placing a beautiful strike into the top corner from almost 30 yards out.

18th place Swansea City really could have used the 3 points against Watford and they are still struggling to find form. The only Welsh team in the Premier League may be sent down to the Championship next season.

The upcoming week hosts UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, FA Cup semi-finals, and Premier League matches. Today, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich square off as well as Leicester City and Atletico Madrid. Tomorrow’s slate features AS Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, and Juventus. All games kick-off 2:45 EST.

NFL Spring Cleaning: ‘Shawn Lynch, Dean Blandino, and Moderately Infuriating Things

 

At the end of last week, NFL Network reported that Marshawn Lynch was officially coming out of retirement to sign with the Oakland Raiders. This was unexpected by NFL fans, especially due to Lynch’s repeated sentiment since retirement that he doesn’t miss football. Conversely, the former Pro-Bowl tailback ‘Beast Mode’ has been an active positive force in his hometown community located in Oakland. Marshawn’s desire to play again may stem from the Raiders’ impending move to Las Vegas. He’s known to be exceptionally benevolent, especially towards Bay Area inner-city neighborhoods. Perhaps as a final testament to his love for his city of origin, he’s suiting up one last time to give the people of Oakland a lasting memory of him as both a football player and hometown hero.

 

 

Personally, I think it’s nearly impossible to dissect the reasoning behind some of Lynch’s actions and statements. He’s an immensely interesting human being, but his unorthodox and erratic behavior only solidifies that any kind of serious attempt to understand his underlying motives is futile. This is not a bad thing, rest assured. Lynch is one of the most fantastic figures in NFL history. It’s a sound argument to say that anyone who’s familiarized themselves with Marshawn Lynch is completely enamored with his persona. From his infamous interactions with the media, to his coined image and brand “Beast Mode,” to his random appearances in television shows, it’s difficult to determine whether I liked him more as a player or as a person. Nevermind his statistics or his notoriously punishing running style, Marshawn the person has provided us with a degree of entertainment so unusual for an NFL running back, it’s left an indelible mark on the souls of football’s global consumers. There’s something about him that’s so intriguing. On Sundays, you could tune into a Seahawks’ game to see Marshawn mercilessly abuse defenders with ankle-breaking agility and spine-crushing physicality. The following day, you’d see a bit on ESPN revealing something outrageous he said or did in a postgame interview. I have an internal conflict regarding the prospect of personally meeting Marshawn. Half of me wants to approach him and give him a hug because of how awesome he is, while the other half of me is worried my spindly 155-pound frame would crumble into dust particles if I were to get within 10-feet of him. The combination of his bruising rushing attack and his public display of absurdity is what makes Marshawn such a refreshing presence in the sports celebrity landscape. He doesn’t let preconceived notions of the status quo interfere with his desire to be himself. It’s a terrifically admirable trait for a famous athlete to follow this template of selflessness and hilarity.

 

 

In the days since NFL Network’s initial report of Lynch’s agreement with the Raiders, it’s since been found that no formal contract has actually been signed. Marshawn sent out a tweet reaffirming this point. However, its likely that the Raiders are holding off on signing the retired running back until they find agreeable trade terms with the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch is technically still on contract with the Seahawks, meaning that Oakland will have to compensate Seattle if Marshawn indeed decides to come out of retirement. This is merely a logistical front office issue, which likely won’t take long to settle. Look forward to seeing the 30-year old Lynch in black and silver next season before the Raiders pack up for Vegas. Here’s a video of Marshawn telling the entire 2010 Saints’ defense that he is their biological father, and that they are nothing more than paltry children.

 


On Friday, Dean Blandino, the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, decided to resign from the title he’s held since 2013. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Blandino is leaving his current line of duty in May to pursue a broadcasting opportunity. Blandino is 45 years old, and is likely moving on from his current position due to both family reasons and stress-related factors. The VP of Officiating is one of the most public platforms in the NFL. Blandino was tasked with the pleasantry of convincing coaches, owners, and fans that the games are indeed officiated from a fair and objective standpoint. The best way I can explain Blandino’s job is that he’s the little league coach who has to deal with angry parents about their sons not getting enough playing time, except instead of five or six angry parents, it’s millions of outraged and often misinformed football fans condemning the perceived wretchedness of NFL officials when their team loses on Sunday. Blandino sometimes had so many complaints about a particular game or call that he had to speak to a television audience on Monday mornings, reassuring everyone that the same things he said the week prior still hold true. If that sounds like fun to you, I heard there’s a recently opened position.

 

 

Blandino’s resignation is curious because of the various rule changes approved during the annual league owners’ meeting in March, many of them as a result of Blandino’s personal efforts. It was decided this offseason that plays under review would be analyzed by referees via a tablet, rather than under the industrial-sized box hood formerly used. Sidenote: why the hell did that exist all the way up until now? Which company produced those things? Did they sell other products? Or did they specialize solely in making obnoxiously large replay booths? Was there a man in the booth who just stood there idly, patiently awaiting the possibility that the official would come in to have a conversation with him at some point during the game? They should have been out of business by 1994. Anyway, another facet of the rule change included the agreement that all plays under review would ultimately be decided by the officiating command center in New York. Up until now, it was at the discretion of the head official on the field to make the call. With this centralized replay officiating system, controversy over particular calls will theoretically become less prevalent. Blandino has spent several years trying to implement a more universal system of replay review, so it’s a bit odd that he decided to jump ship after he finally achieved this goal. The officiating department is always going through progressive changes to make the game more fluid and palatable for viewers. There will be a tremendous effort to pick up the pieces that Blandino has laid down the last few years, especially considering that much of the current policies are oriented towards Blandino’s preferences. It will be critical to find a new leader who has both on-field experience and the administrative abilities to handle a profession as publicly accosted as the VP of NFL Officiating.

 


Other offseason news:

-Dan Rooney, the longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died at age 84. Rooney was a significant figure in both the NFL and in Pittsburgh. It’s a sad loss for the Steelers’ and NFL community.

-St. Louis has decided to file a lawsuit against the NFL for moving the Rams to Los Angeles. All 32 NFL teams are defendants in the case. It’s nice to see these previously-extorted cities stand up for themselves, at the very least.

-There are theories that the Celeveland Browns have been bad for so long that their fan base is significantly deteriorating. The Browns have two first round daft picks this year, but is that going to make much of a difference for the 2017 campaign? Almost certainly not. It’s critical, however, that they don’t make the same mistakes they’ve committed in the past when drafting twice in the first round.

 

That’s all for this week. Tune in every Monday for NFL Spring Cleaning. There’s going to be a lot to discuss with the upcoming draft! Follow me on twitter, @andysweeps.

 

 

Premier League Review

Premier League Matchday in Review
 
This week in the English Premier League there were a number of important games involving teams at opposite ends of the table. Here’s how the matchups played out:
 
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR           4 – 0           WATFORD
MANCHESTER CITY                 3 – 1           HULL CITY
MIDDLESBROUGH                    0 – 0           BURNLEY
STOKE CITY                              1 – 2           LIVERPOOL
WEST BROMWICH ALBION     0 – 1           SOUTHAMPTON
WEST HAM UNITED                 1 – 0           SWANSEA CITY
AFC BOURNEMOUTH              1 – 3           CHELSEA
SUNDERLAND                          0 – 3           MANCHESTER UNITED
EVERTON                                 4 – 2           LEICESTER CITY
CRYSTAL PALACE                   3 – 0           ARSENAL
 
Key Matches:
 
Following some concern over an injury to Harry Kane, Tottenham are right back on track and look to be the team, if any, to challenge Chelsea for the title. Dele Alli and Heung-min Son continue in excellent form, compiling 27 goals between them.
 
Manchester City get a victory over Hull City which holds their four point lead over Manchester United in fourth place, guaranteeing a Champions League spot for next season. Sergio Aguero with a goal and Raheem Sterling records his seventh assist of the season.
 
After looking very shaky early on in the match, Liverpool ultimately pulled themselves back via Brazilian duo Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. The Reds will need them to hold onto this form with Sadio Mané sidelined with injury for the next two months.
 
Chelsea recover after dropping points to Crystal Palace and the title seems all but theirs as key players continue to impress.
 
Romelu Lukaku is an unstoppable force and Everton are scoring goals again this season. They’ve had a number of players impress in different areas and they’ve looked confident at home in Goodison Park.
 
Arsenal disappoint yet again as the nightmare continues on. The fan base is divided and the future of the club is hazy as uncertainty surrounds Arsène Wenger, Alexis Sánchez, and Mesut Özil.
 
This week we also have UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday and Wednesday. Juventus hosts Barcelona and Dortmund squares off against Monaco tomorrow at 2:45 EST.

2017 Major League Predictions

It’s that time of year again.  Opening Day is quickly approaching and on come the onslaught of predictions that everyone makes.  Very few ever get many predictions correct, but it is always fun to try and see what points you made became realities.  So let’s dig in!

The National League

National League West:  Last year the teams finished from worst to first:  Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants and Dodgers.  The Padres are continuing a rebuild and will not have Kemp this year meaning they will be even worse.  The Diamondbacks should be healthier and better with Pollock, but at best, I see them as a .500 team unless Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker make big steps forward.  The Rockies made some moves in the offseason and looked good in the second half of the year, but injury problems seem to be biting them early and I don’t think they will be able to recover.  I think they will end up with a similar amount of wins as last year, but they have the potential to make big improvements.  The Giants are an even more interesting case because they were good last year with a terrible bullpen.  Melancon was their major addition to fix this problem, but I am not sure it was enough.  Their core has also slowly been disintegrating after losing Linecum, Sandoval, vintage Cain and now Castilla, Romo and Pagan.  I think they would be on the downward trend without adding Melancon, but as is, will have a similar season to last year.  The defending division champions are the Dodgers and no one has made any giant steps to catch them.  In fact, they are the team that should have the most improvements because they had a record-breaking number of injuries last year and should be healthier this year.

Final Prediciton:

  1. Dodgers: 97-65
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

National League Central:  Last year: Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals, Cubs.  The Reds and Brewers are still nowhere near contending.  The Reds no longer have Bruce, so they will still be worse.  The Pirates seem to have lost their way and will be reliant on McCutchen finding his MVP form or maybe Marte and Polanco stepping up their games.  Still, their pitching does not seem to be up to the challenge and I think they will be mired in mediocrity or worse if they trade McCutchen.  The Cardinals should have a better season than last year because they played as sloppily as any Cardinals team in recent memory has played.  They were young and their inexperience showed, but with another year under their collective belt, they should be better.  I even expect them to put some pressure on the Cubs.  I expect a regression from the awesome season the Cubs had last year mostly because of their pitching.  Lester and Lackey are each another year older and Hendricks had a crazy career season last year.  That being said, they still have a great offense and will still be very good even if they do not finish with the best record in the league.

Final Prediction:

  1. Cubs: 96-66
  2. Cardinals
  3. Pirates
  4. Brewers
  5. Reds

National League East:  Last year:  Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals.  The Phillies are somewhere between terrible and bad.  The best case scenario for them is probably 75 wins, but hey, at least Ryan Howard’s contract is done.  I expect the Braves to be competitive for a large part of the season.  They were reenergized by the addition of Kemp last year and they added some veteran pitchers, so they may be in the wildcard or divisional race for a while until they inevitably fall out of it.  The Marlins, unfortunately, have been tragically set back by the death of Jose Fernandez.  Even before his passing, they had trouble with starting pitching and now they have a lot of question marks despite having two cornerstones on offense in Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.  I would be surprised if they finished above .500.  The Mets and Nationals are the two most volatile good teams in baseball.  The Mets may have matched the Dodgers in terms of impact injuries last season, and the Nationals seem to be completely different from one season to the next.  The Mets hope that their starting pitching is healthy for the regular season, but it is more important that they be ready for the playoffs because their offense showed that, when healthy, it can carry the team to 87 wins.  The Nationals are going to need to hope that Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy can buck the every-other-year trend that has been going on.  A bounce back season from Harper should help, but honestly, Turner and Murphy are still question marks.  They each did it for a year or less.  Can they repeat?  I go with the Mets over the Nationals ultimately because the Nationals have more problems with their bullpen and unproven closer.

Final Prediction:

  1. Mets: 94-68
  2. Nationals
  3. Braves
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

National League Wildcards

  1. Cardinals: 90-72
  2. Giants vs. Nationals at 87-95:  Scherzer outduels Bumgarner: 1-0 Nationals win.

National League Wildcard Game (Nationals @ Cardinals)

Cardinals come back against the Nationals bullpen:  Cardinals win 3-2.

Divisional Series

Mets @ Cubs:  Mets win 3-1 due to two strong pitching performances from Noah Syndergaard.

Cardinals @ Dodgers: Kershaw gets revenge in a 3-2 series win.

Mets @ Dodgers: 4-0.  Mets dominate behind offensive surge from Lucas Duda.

 Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
MVP:  Yoenis Cespedes

The American League

American League West: Last year: Athletics, Angels, Astros, Mariners, Rangers.  There is not much to report on with the Athletics, so short of another miracle rebuild from Billy Beane, they will finish in last again.  The Angels had an interesting season last year because they had a really bad record, but were only outscored by 10 runs.  However, their pitching still is not very good and they rely too much on Trout and an aging Pujols.  At best, they will finish .500.  The Astros, Mariners and Rangers could finish in any order 1, 2 and 3.  The Astros showed their inexperience and youth last year, and they suffered from a down year from Keuchel.  They are going to be hoping for a bounce back from him and that experience will make them better, but their pitching is still shaky.  I still really like their lineup and the additions of Beltran, who they took from the Rangers, and McCann.  The Mariners seem to be stuck in the “just-missed-the-playoffs” zone with a win total somewhere in the 80s, but I think the addition of Segura might push them closer to that goal.  I still see them finishing in second.  The Rangers are a team I expect to take a step back.  They won a lot of close games that could have gone either way, and their pitching does not seem to be there.  Cole Hamels appears to be on the decline, and Yu Darvish is inconsistent and frequently injured.  The loss of Beltran will also hurt.

Final Prediciton:
Astros:  95 – 67
Mariners
Rangers
Angels
Athletics

American League Central:  Last year: Twins, White Sox, Royals, Tigers, Indians.  The Twins will probably be better this year because they can’t be as bad as they were last year.  Can they?  The White Sox should be worse.  I expect them to slowly trade away all there players throughout the season as they enter a true rebuild.  Ultimately, they will have upwards of 90 losses.  The Royals are an interesting case.  They still have too many players who play too hard to be terrible, but they could trade a couple of those players.  I expect them to have a win total in the 80s and be around where they finished last year.  The Tigers are on the decline, and at best will win a wild card, but they could also bottom out and finish below .500.  They are relying on older players staying healthy and last year’s rookie of the year, Michael Fulmer, having an even better season.  I don’t see it.  The Indians are far and away the best team in the American League and could even be the best team in all of baseball.  Adding Encarnacion was big, and if their rotation could stay healthy, then they have a very complete team that rivals the Cubs with an even better bullpen.  This division should not be even close, but that is why we play the games.

Final Prediciton:
Indians: 101-61
Royals
Tigers
Twins
White Sox

American League East:  Last year:  Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox.  The Rays are stuck in sub-par play.  Hopefully, Archer can have a rebound season and they will have a couple of surprise youngsters.  At best, they will finish around .500.  The Yankees may have a surprisingly good offense, but their pitching is a mess behind Tanaka who is closer to a second starter on a good team than an ace.  They will finish right around .500.  The Orioles are always overlooked and always perform above expectations because they always have a good bullpen and a great lineup.  Nothing should change this year except there should be some regression from their rivals.  The Blue Jays will miss Encarnacion who was the final piece to a great lineup.  Now they have a good lineup and will be relying on their pitchers like Stroman and Sanchez to keep them near the top of the division.  I expect a regression to being close to a .500 team.  The Red Sox are being set up to be baseball’s biggest disappointment.  When they traded for Sale, some said that they had the best rotation and lineup in the American League.  I never loved their rotation.  I like Sale, but don’t trust Porcello whose success fluctuates from year to year and Price who had a bad year last year.  Now Price is hurt and so is Pomeranz, who was a solid 4th starter.  People also underestimate the impact of losing David Ortiz who was at the heart of that lineup.

Final Prediction:
Orioles: 91-71
Blue Jays
Red Sox
Yankees
Rays

Wild Cards
Mariners: 87-75
Rangers: 86-76

American League Wildcard Game (Rangers @ Mariners)

Mariners tee off of Rangers pitching:  Mariners win 11-5.

American League Divisional Round:

Orioles @ Astros:  Orioles win 3-2 by winning battle of the bullpens

Mariners @ Indians:  Indians win 3-0 by over powering Mariners

American League Championship Series (Orioles @ Indians):

Indians win 4-1 with strong starting pitching performances.

Cy Young:  Carlos Carrasco
MVP:  Carlos Correa

World Series (Mets @ Indians)
This World Series features two-like teams with great rotations and a lot of power.  The Mets have the slightly better rotation, but the Indians have the better line-up and much better bullpen. Ultimately, the Mets will have to rely on all their starters going 7 or 8 inning and that will be too much to ask for for four games.

Indians win the World Series in 7 games.

World Series MVP:  Francisco Lindor

NFL Spring Cleaning: Tony Romo, Richard Sherman, Ben Roethlisberger

From pure definition alone, I am an adult. I spend a considerable amount of my free time reading and learning about large humans who are paid handsome sums of cash to run into each other at full speed. This morning I drank about 50 ounces of coffee before 11:00am. Donald Trump is the president of the United States for the next four years. The Seattle Mariners are 1-6. This is Earth, the only place any human has ever called home. You and I and every other person is experiencing the world completely differently. I think that’s pretty cool.

 

Last week, I discussed the many hypothetical situations in which Tony Romo could find himself playing for an NFL team next season. Conveniently, less than 24 hours after I published my thoughts, NFL.com reported that Tony Romo was going to retire from professional football. Romo would be released by Dallas shortly thereafter with plans to join CBS as the leading NFL broadcast analyst alongside Jim Nantz.

 

Tony Romo is thirty-six years old and played a total of 14 seasons in the National Football League. When he announced his retirement on Tuesday, the reaction from the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the league was palpable. Jerry Jones, owner, general manager, and full-time hype man of the Cowboys, made a public statement in regard to Romo’s retriement. “Tony has been a wonderful representative of the Cowboys organization for 14 years, and he left everything he had on the field. He will leave us with many great memories and a legacy of being, truly, one of the greatest players in Cowboys history. We are thrilled for him and his family that he will be able to continue working as a professional in the game he so dearly loves.” Dallas head coach Jason Garrett also had words on the now-retired quarterback, stating, “That relentless spirit that Tony plays with is contagious. He makes his teammates better. He makes his coaches better. He makes his team better. He has grown so much as a player and as a person over the course of his career and has made a significant impact on the lives of so many. I consider myself fortunate to be at the top of that list. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work with Tony Romo, one of the greatest players in Dallas Cowboys history.” Additionally, there were hundreds of tweets last week from players and celebrities commending Romo on his fantastic career. Jason Witten, Dallas’ veteran #1 tight end, posted a sentimental essay on Twitter where he eloquently detailed his experience playing with Romo. It’s clear that, with the retrospect of his retirement, Romo was one of the most beloved and respected players in the entire NFL.

 

 

Romo’s success throughout his career is often misunderstood by fans and haters alike. Romo signed with Dallas in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University. In his first two seasons, the only real game action Romo experienced was holding kicks as the backup quarterback. On October 23rd of 2006, Cowboys’ starter Drew Bledsoe was benched and Romo was given the reigns over the Dallas offense. From that point forward, Romo was the certified starter and face of the franchise in Dallas. He was known for being exceptionally composed in the fourth quarter, where he mounted 30 game-winning drives during his career, the most in Dallas Cowboys’ history. While he was undoubtedly an elite passer for the majority of his NFL tenure, his reputation was plagued by his subpar track record in critical games, including the postseason. In six total playoff games, Romo went 2-4 and never advanced further the NFC Divisional round. Many of these late season blunders were in due in large part to Romo’s poor performances down the stretch. Simply put, the Dallas Cowboys played in many season-defining games between 2006 and 2014, and lost most of them in embarrassing fashion. Whether Romo is at fault for these painful failures is a subjective matter, but his passing statistics in elimination games are much worse than his regular season output. Despite Romo being mostly successful as the starter in Dallas, his reputation for “choking” in big games will forever impede upon his otherwise illustrious legacy in the minds of football fans.

 

 

During the last few weeks, there was a strong expectation that the Cowboys would release Tony Romo in order to allow him to pursue opportunities elsewhere in the league. The most popular prediction was for Romo to land with the Houston Texans, with other less-credible rumors that he would end up signing with Denver or even the New York Jets. Ultimately, Romo decided that he was done playing football for now, and wanted to pursue other options in the industry. Romo finished his career with the Cowboys as the franchise leader in total yards (34,183) and touchdowns (248). He was selected to the Pro-Bowl four times. It will forever remain to be seen if Romo was capable of taking the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title. He experienced a multitude of injuries during his 14-year career, but his health took a significant downturn in recent years. In 2015 and 2016, Romo played in five total games. He dealt with two collarbone fractures and a spine fracture, which undoubtedly contributed to his eventual decision to hang up his cleats. In the modern days of the NFL, players have become more conscious than ever about their long term health. It’s probably fair to say that football isn’t very good for your body, and when you’re approaching 40 with a family of your own, the bigger picture has to be considered much more seriously. On a positive note, CBS television audiences will no longer have the displeasure of listening to Phil Simms spew his stream of consciousness for three hours during NFL games. Personally, I think Romo will be a great addition to the pool of broadcasters that cover NFL games.

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As he’s done so many times during his career, Richard Sherman is dominating NFL headlines, this time in regard to trade rumors. During the last couple weeks, there have been more than just whispers about the 3x All-Pro cornerback potentially being traded away from the only team he’s played for in his six-year career. The only thing different about this particular development is that Sherman isn’t the one talking up a storm. Instead, the Seattle Seahawks’ front office and coaching staff have shown an uncanny level of openness on the situation.

 

Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll stated in an interview last week with The Seattle Times, “We have always had to be open to every suggestion that comes along. There have been some teams that have called, and so we have talked about it.” On Brock and Salk, a local sports talk radio show in Seattle, Seahawks’ general manager John Schneider commented on the subject. “What you’ve seen lately in the news is real. That’s on both sides. It’s just open communication. He knows what’s going on. We know what’s going on. I don’t know if anything would ever happen. But like I tell people all the time, 98 percent of the deals that we’re involved with, we don’t follow through with. But at least we’ve opened that door, gone down the road and seen what’s behind door A or door B.”

 

 

What makes this situation even more interesting is Sherman’s attitude towards the rumors. Sherman sent a text to Albert Breer from MMQB on Thursday, saying “Very little chance it happens, but both sides are listening. I honestly don’t have much more to say about it than what I’ve already said. We have a great relationship. There is a lot of love and respect. There is no bad blood.” Sherman’s response became even more interesting when Adam Schefter said on SportsCenter Friday morning, “It’s been my understanding all along that Richard Sherman was the one who initiated this.” With this context in mind, it’s difficult to speculate why Sherman would want to dip his feet into the trade market. Sherman is a complex person, as can be seen through his many openly controversial statements during his career. I’m not sure if I completely buy Schefter’s stance that Sherman wants to be traded, but I’m also not discounting it as a possibility. Ambiguity at its finest. You’re welcome.

 

The reasons for trading a player like Sherman have to be of the utmost gravity to the Seahawks. As mentioned earlier, Sherman has earned a reputation for being loud and outspoken both on and off the field. His interview with Erin Andrews after the 2013 NFC Championship catapulted him into the upper echelon of NFL superstardom, where he stated his defensive infallibility while simultaenously expressed his distaste for San Francisco and their mediocre #1 receiver, Michael Crabtree. The Seahawks organization, under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, has been notably lenient in its policy towards its players and the way they express themselves. The team has had several star players with iconic personalities, such as Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, and, obviously, Richard Sherman. Despite this, it seems that Sherman may have overstepped his boundaries during the 2016 campaign. In an October victory against the Atlanta Falcons, Sherman got in a heated sideline argument with Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Kris Richard and safety Kam Chancellor. In December, Sherman again erupted on the sideline where he aggressively informed Darrell Bevell that he did not enjoy his goal line play-calling (remember Super Bowl XLIX? PTSD is some shit, let me tell you). Shortly after this confrontation, Sherman declared that he would no longer speak to the media for the remainder of the season, which inevitably left a sour taste in the mouths of many local Seattle journalists. It’s undeniable, then, that Sherman’s behavior last season is a factor in the recent trade talk.

 

Aside from his personality, there are other reasons why Seattle would want to part ways with its All-Pro cornerback. Sherman signed a huge contract in 2014 and is scheduled to make $13.63 million in 2017, and $13.2 million in 2018. The Seahawks have recently been struggling with a dilemma that plagues many successful teams. They have been forced to pay their marquee players in the form of cap-consuming contracts throughout the last four seasons. In the NFL, it’s of the utmost importance for teams to find the right balance between star players and young talent. If a team finds itself caught up in too many large contracts, they consequently won’t have enough cap room to sign young talent to the roster. The Seahawks are in a current state where they need to get younger at several key positions, including cornerback. Sherman’s contract eats a significant percentage of the Seahawks’ total payroll. For the right price, Seattle would likely be willing to ship their star defensive back. It’s been rumored that the ‘Hawks would only relinquish Sherman for a top-tier player and a high draft pick. With the depth at cornerback in this year’s draft, however, it’s unlikely that Seattle will find an acceptable deal for Sherman. There simply aren’t many scenarios in which a team could afford Richard Sherman. Further, even if there was a team that has the assets to acquire him, it’s a completely different question as to whether they would want to absorb the cap-hit that Sherman’s contract would induce.

 

Richard Sherman has been selected to four Pro-Bowls since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011. He has been an All-Pro three times, and has probably been the best press cornerback in the NFL since he started his career. His tall, spindly frame allows for him to shut down an entire side of the field. It will remain to be seen if Sherman is traded, but if anything more of this situation comes about, it’s likely going to occur in the days immediately preceding the draft. Here is a graphic that SportsCenter showed last week, which I thought was telling of Sherman’s success in Seattle.

 

 

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This past weekend, Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced he would return for another season over Twitter, where he tweeted, “Informed the team I am looking forward to 14th season. Steeler Nation will get my absolute best! -Ben.” This information comes as a relief to the Steelers organization, after Roethlisberger made some ominous statements at the end of last season, including his thoughts on potentially retiring.

 

“Take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health and family and things like that, just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season,” was the quote given by Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh was thoroughly annihilated in the AFC Championship game against New England. This open-ended flirtation with possible retirement came as a surprise to most NFL fans. However, it doesn’t take too much football knowledge to see that the Steelers have been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis the last few years. The Pittsburgh offense has been outrageously potent in recent seasons, which has led many to believe that they are perennial title contenders. Conversely, It seems that Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to get its act together from an organizational standpoint. Steeler players, including several stars, have been getting suspended for banned substances at a perplexing consistency. Mike Tomlin, a good head coach, hasn’t necessarily been the most professional during his career. In a futile attempt to be discrete, Tomlin literally walked onto the field of play and attempted to trip Ravens’ Jacoby Jones during a kickoff return in 2013. In addition to all of this, the Steelers have been notably inconsistent despite their superior talent on the offensive side of the ball. Their entire passing offense is predicated on the deep home run threat. When that doesn’t work, Big Ben bears the brunt of the offensive lapse by having to stand up in the pocket for far too long, absorbing crushing hits by defensive pass rushers. Roethlisberger has been injured many times in his career because of the faults with this offensive philosophy. When the deep ball isn’t working, the other team can control the clock, which renders Pittsburgh’s offense helpless. The result comes in the form of ugly blowouts and unnecessary injuries. Don’t be fooled; these realities contributed largely to Roethlisberger’s frustration during the end of the season last year.

 

 

Roethlisberger has had one of the best careers of any quarterback in NFL history. He’s won two Super Bowl titles in his thirteen seasons. His 301 touchdown passes are ninth all-time, and his 46,814 passing yards rank 10th. In 14 games in 2016, Big Ben hurled for 3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns, and finished with a completion percentage of 64.4% and a 95.4 passer rating. Ben is still able to perform at an elite level, which I fully expect to continue in 2017. The questions surrounding his long term health, as well as his level of tolerance for Pittsburgh’s antics as an organization, are going to be of critical importance in Roethlisberger’s remaining playing days.

 

Thanks for reading, and remember to follow me on Twitter if you haven’t done so already, @andysweeps.

 

NFL Spring Cleaning: Viva La Oakland, Celebrations, and Other Good Stuff for Your Brain

When the month of April rolls around, it seems that everyone takes on a fresh, elevated mood. Major League Baseball’s opening day was yesterday, the NCAA championship game between Gonzaga and North Carolina is scheduled for a 9:20 EST tip-off tonight, and the NBA playoffs will be upon us in less than two weeks. This time of the year marks a very real transitional period for sports fans to reorient their minds towards the excitement of the spring and summer months. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to catch up on NFL news that leaks through the cracks of the mainstream sports cycle during these warm, brighter days.

 

The NFL’s annual league meetings took place last week in Phoenix Arizona, where team owners discussed the issues that confront the most lucrative professional sports league in the entire world. The most noteworthy topic of these discussions was the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas, Nevada. With a vote of 31-1, league owners approved the Raiders’ relocation from the Bay Area to Sin City (Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross was the only one to vote against the relocation).

 

The details of the Raiders’ relocation process are as follows. For the past several years, teams in Oakland have significantly struggled to generate revenues competitive with their respective league standards. The Warriors recently decided to leave behind their Oakland-based home, Oracle Arena, for greener pastures across the Bay. The Raiders, aside from their 1982-1994 stint in Los Angeles, have played their home games in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum since its 1966 conception. For all but two of those years, they have shared the Coliseum with the Oakland Athletics, who relocated from Kansas City in 1968. For the past several years, the Raiders and A’s have been hard-pressed to create a new stadium deal with the city of Oakland. I can’t speak for myself because I’ve never been there, but from what I’ve heard and read, the Oakland Coliseum is a decrepit cesspool of grime and has been for many years. In light of this, when the Bay Area-rival San Francisco 49ers moved to their state-of-the-art Levi’s Stadium in 2014, the Raiders knew something had to change quickly.

 

If you’ve paid attention to league news throughout the last three years, you know that the Raiders have been dipping their feet into the relocation waters for a considerable period of time. After efforts to publicly fund a new local stadium proved to be null, the Raiders turned elsewhere for hope. Las Vegas has been particularly aggressive the last several years in pursuing professional sports franchises. Only a couple months ago the NHL agreed to grant Vegas an expansion team, the Golden Knights, who will begin playing there in the fall of 2017. By adding two and two together, the Raiders were able to find and agree on a stadium deal in Vegas that promised the construction of a new, fully functional stadium by the 2020 season. The Raiders’ lease in Oakland expires in 2018, meaning they will likely continue to play in the Coliseum for the coming season. What’s not guaranteed, however, is if lifelong Raiders fans will abandon the team or not, potentially leaving the Coliseum empty on Sundays during the 2017 season. Based upon prior instances of relocation, it wouldn’t be surprising if the newly isolated Raiders fans lost all interest in the team.

 

What happened with the Raiders is an unfortunate side effect of the business atmosphere that professional sports are grounded in. This is not a new ordeal in the modern structure of the industry. If you look back on the last decade, there are similar cases in which team owners failed to accrue public funding from local taxpayers and subsequently abandoned the city for the promise of a “better” future elsewhere. In 2008, the city of Seattle was essentially stripped naked and humiliated by a deep-pocketed businessman named Clay Bennett, who, very shortly after purchasing the SuperSonics, made immensely unrealistic demands of the public for funding a new arena. Bennett knew locals would never agree to such ridiculous requests. When public funding initiatives failed miserably in Seattle, Bennett moved the locally-beloved and fabled team to the sprawling market oasis of, yes, Oklahoma City (Bennett’s hometown). More recently, the San Diego Chargers pulled the trigger and decided to relocate to Los Angeles, just as the former St. Louis Rams had done so the year prior. All these moves, including the Raiders’, have instilled a sentiment of sadness and abandonment in the fans of the original teams. Relocations in professional sports are a troubling reality in today’s landscape. It seems that competition to generate revenue, both on a team and league level, never stops accelerating. With some of the wealthiest business-minded individuals in the world at the helm of the operation, it’s not difficult to discern why teams are constantly moving to new stadiums and cities. The challenging gray area is the effect on fans, who are undoubtedly emotional stakeholders in their teams. This leads down a path where a critical discussion must take place. At what point does the disconnect between business decision-making and public entertainment become too disjointed? Sports have become more commercialized than ever, and growth isn’t tapering. While this usually improves the product on the court or field, the consequences are often absorbed by fans to an unjustifiable degree.

 

While the Raiders’ relocation was the most important subject voted upon by owners last week, several other items of interest were discussed in Phoenix. Roger Goodell claimed that he wanted to allow for players to express themselves more on the field through celebrations. Ever since the Terrell Owens era, NFL touchdown celebrations have been on the decline in both frequency and quality. League rules and disciplinary fines have impeded upon the celebration culture, but it appears that there could be a shift in the opposite direction very shortly. The truth of the matter is that all fans want to see players on their favorite teams celebrate after scoring touchdowns. When Doug Baldwin squatted in the end zone during Super Bowl 49 and pretended to expel poop in the form a just previously-scored football, as if it were the largest turd in league history, I felt a sensation of elatement so profound I wanted to cry. The league’s problem with celebrations is that players who can sell their own brands and personas are more likely to become famous. Frankly, the league does not want to promote its superstars like the NBA does. The NFL harnesses revenue from selling its own brand, “the shield,” rather than relying on individual personalities to produce cash flows. Because the turnover rate for the average NFL player is less than four years, it’s risky to sell the likeness of players who aren’t franchise quarterbacks. If money is being made on athletes who are forced out of work before their 26th birthday, then the league has a serious problem. Moreover, money that’s going to players’ brands and clothing lines is money missed out on by the league.

 

The league meetings resulted in a vote in favor of banning the field goal leaping block freak athlete thing that teams have experimented with in recent years. The play is fun to watch if done successfully, but it usually fails in either a penalty or poor execution and embarrassment. Further, there’s just no way that jumping over a tandem of enormous humans that want to put you on your ass is safe in any way. It was inevitable that this play was going to be banned, but thankfully we’ve been blessed with the likes of Kam Chancellor to provide lasting memories of it.

 

Since the new league year began, there’s been ongoing dialogue about several big names on the transaction and free agent markets. Tony Romo, perhaps the league’s biggest name being discussed this offseason, is still signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones is still attempting to find compensation in a trade for the Cowboys former starter, but nothing has materialized yet. Romo is entering the fourth year of his 6-year, $108-million contract with $55 million guaranteed. With Dak Prescott as the surefire Dallas starter for next season, it’s extremely unlikely that the Cowboys will keep Romo around with such a generous contract. Given the current circumstances of the league, it’s near-certain that Romo will either be playing for the Houston Texans or the Denver Broncos in the 2017 season. Whether his contract will remain as cap-consuming as it is currently, or if it will be restructured with a new team, remains to be determined.

 

Adrian Peterson, who’s now a 32-year old running back, has been searching across the league for an agreeable contract. While Peterson has been one of the more productive backs in the history of the sport, running backs in the modern game don’t usually fare well in the league after surpassing age thirty. Peterson was far from his old self in 2016, ranking 257th in yards-per-carry with 1.9. Peterson has met with some notable organizations, including the New England Patriots over the weekend. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising if Peterson were to sign with the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Patriots have put on a clinic in free agency during Belichick’s tenure as head coach. They’re known to sign talented veteran players coming off a down year from their previous teams, and it’s worked in their favor at an inordinate rate. It remains to be seen if Peterson will play in 2017, or how productive he’ll be on the field.

 

Colin Kaepernick, who has had one of the strangest NFL careers in recent history, has opted out of his deal with the San Francisco 49ers to become a free agent. While Kaepernick actually played at a respectable level last year, the proverbial baggage he comes with has proven to be a taboo for front offices around the league. Everyone remembers Kaep’s controversial gesture in which he kneeled during the national anthem, but now it seems that teams are thinking of other ways to keep the 29-year old out of work. It’s been rumored that Kaepernick’s vegan diet has somehow turned into a point of concern for teams around the league, and the starting-caliber QB remains to be signed. It would be downright shameful if a talent like Kaepernick was forced to put his career on hold because of something as trivial as his diet, or an issue he feels passionately about.

 

In terms of things to look forward to, the 2017 NFL Draft begins on April 27. Free Agency is still in full force, and the league has said they hope to release the 2017 regular season schedule before the end on the month.

 

That’s it for this week on NFL Spring Cleaning. Be sure to follow me on twitter, @andysweeps, for piping hot takes about important sports things.

Blogger Roundtable: 2017 NCAA Final Four

This year’s edition of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament has once again provided thrills and heartbreaking defeats for the student-athletes, coaches, and fans. Two no. 1 seeds, UNC and Gonzaga, have made it far enough to Phoenix, Arizona, to compete in the Final Four and claim the championship. The Final Four is rounded as such:

  • No. 7 South Carolina (East Region)
  • No. 1 Gonzaga (West Region)
  • No. 3 Oregon (Midwest Region)
  • No. 1 UNC (South Region)

We gathered the blog’s contributors together and asked them this question:

Which NCAA Tournament Final Four team will win the championship?

Let’s see what they had to say:


Samuel Tannenbaum ’19

North Carolina win will the NCAA Tournament. In a classic case of having the championship slip from their hands the year prior (2013-14 San Antonio Spurs, 2014-15 Kansas City Royals) they come back with an intensity this year that no other team can match.

Ken Pomeroy has North Carolina ranked as the third best team in the country, but their experience at this stage in the tournament is unrivaled. This is UNC’s twentieth Final Four appearance and head coach Roy William’s ninth appearance. These are Gonzaga and South Carolina’s first Final Four appearances EVER, and Oregon’s first since they won it all in 1939.

Justin Jackson is a special player who can be the leader on this team’s concluding run to the championship. Seeing his draft stock rightfully rise, he has scored 18.2 points per game this season along with 4.7 rebounds. Since the tournament started, he’s averaged almost 20 points and over six rebounds per game. These numbers are what UNC needs out of their best player to take them over Oregon and either Gonzaga or South Carolina.

The combination of North Carolina’s drive to redeem themselves from the heartbreaking loss in last year’s final, their experience deep in the tournament, and their best player Justin Jackson, is why I believe UNC will win this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Colby Wyatt ’20

My pick to win it all is the Oregon Ducks. Do I think they’re the most talented team? No. But I’ve been a Ducks fan my whole life, so I’ve really gotten behind this team and believe they have what it takes to pull it off.

After Chris Boucher went down in the Pac-12 tourney, a lot of people counted the Ducks out, but they have definitely shown their resiliency. Dillon Brooks might be the best player left in the tourney, he’s one of the best there is at creating good shots. Tyler Dorsey, aka “Mr. March,” has completely taken over in the tourney, riding high with 20+ points in all four games thus far. He can hit shots from just about anywhere on the court, which makes him a dangerous piece on this Oregon team. Jordan Bell plays a lot bigger than his 6’9” frame and he showed that against Kansas. He’s tough on the boards and on D, which can give the Ducks a chance.

The backcourt combination of Ennis, Benson, and Pritchard isn’t fantastic, but they’ve each had opportunities to impact games and will continue to do so against UNC. The Ducks severely lack size and depth, which could hurt them against a team in UNC that has both, but their phenomenal guard-play and the excellence of Jordan Bell give them a good shot to continue their roll and win the whole thing.

Kelvin Mills ’19

North Carolina will win the championship. With their 20th Final Four appearance and a return trip to redeem their heartbreak from last year’s tournament final, I will go with the redemption thread.

Oregon has made an impressive run without their team’s season-leading shot blocker. Yet, I do not believe any team can lose their leading shot blocker in the season and replace him with the school’s all-time leader in blocks. Dillon Brooks has been a dominant force all season long as well as Tyler Dorsey who has netted 20 points or more since the start of the Pac-12 tournament. Given their momentum, I believe UNC has more talent and drive this season to get past Oregon despite the West Coast advantage the Ducks may have.

As for Gonzaga and the Gamecocks, this is a first for both teams in the Final Four. South Carolina has had a magical run this tournament considering their flat performance and subsequent elimination in the Quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. Sindarius Thornwell has been a man among boys, and Frank Martin has highlighted what I believe is an under-appreciated coaching job. Despite that, Gonzaga and their lone loss while being out West in friendly confines should get past the Gamecocks. With a UNC and Gonzaga championship showdown, I believe UNC on their second consecutive trip to the title game will come out victorious with their loaded roster which has had their ups and downs throughout the year.

Andrew Broom ’19

As most sports fans know, it can be frustrating trying to predict results of the NCAA Tournament. My bracket was doing well until the sweet sixteen, the round in which all but one of my Final Four teams were eliminated.

I believe that Gonzaga will defeat South Carolina. The Gamecocks have had an admirable cinderella run, and it’s been clear throughout the tournament that they are much better than their 7-seed ranking. However, Gonzaga is an extremely well-coached squad that operates with overbearing efficiency. Led by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and center Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga will put an emotionally-exhausted South Carolina team to rest.

On the other side of the bracket, Oregon is squaring off against North Carolina. The Ducks have played with a lot of grit this March, and they are highly talented (thanks to Phil Knight’s athletic endowments). Despite this, I’m looking for the Tar Heels to move onto the championship in a very close game, sending Oregon and their gazillion uniform combinations back to Eugene. As for the championship game on Monday, I think a Gonzaga-UNC matchup would be hotly contested throughout. While Gonzaga is an excellent team, I’m leaning towards a North Carolina victory. For those who have forgotten, they were in this position no less than one year ago. The combination of prime time experience, elite player talent, and the urgency to redeem themselves after a heartbreaking loss to Villanova in the title game a year ago, will uniquely contribute to a high-powered UNC team with its vision fixed on winning the championship.

Verdict: North Carolina.

Spencer Ferraiz ‘20

The North Carolina Tar Heels will win the NCAA Tournament. I believe this to be true as they are led by an experienced coach, Roy Williams, who has more experience in the Final Four than the other three coaches combined, not to mention two championships.

As well as an edge in the coaching aspect, the Tar Heels are at an advantage by their explosive offense led by Justin Jackson, who has surprised many this tournament. The Tar Heels will win against Oregon in a high scoring and exciting game that will give them the momentum to win the championship.


Well, there you have it. That’s a 4-1 tally for the Tar Heels, so if they blow that, then that’s worse than the Warriors and Cleveland baseball team.