Blogger Roundtable: Baseball’s Home Run and Strikeout Revolution

In 2017, Major League Baseball has seen new records established for both the most home runs hit and most strikeouts recorded in a single season. Do you believe this is a positive or a negative for the sport going forward?


Eric Bohrer (’21)
I definitely think that this record setting season is a positive for the sport. Whether it was Giancarlo Stanton hitting a home run in 6 consecutive games, Chris Sale tying the record with 8 consecutive games of 10+ strikeouts, or the Indians’ 22 game win streak, there were undeniably more events than usual this season that drew the interest of less dedicated baseball fans. This record setting season is surely influential in growing the sport’s fan base as it shows the side of excitement to a game that many outsiders refer to as “slow-paced.” Fans love to witness the power game, both on the mound and at the plate, so I believe that fans are incredibly excited to see the spike in both strikeouts and homers.

Matthew Vani (’19)
This is positive for the sport going forward. Everyone loves home runs and the rise of rookie sluggers Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger has been great for the league. Giancarlo Stanton has made the Marlins relevant in September for the first time in over a decade. I believe this trend will continue in future and it will help increase the popularity of the MLB going forward.

Scott Symons (’19)
When was the last time you heard someone say that they think home runs and strikeouts are boring? If you said never, I agree with you. Baseball is known for its rich history as the past time of America, but the simple fact is that many people are growing out of baseball. It is just not exciting or fast enough for them. However, watching home runs tower over fences or pitches whip past batters is in one word, exciting. Excitement is what baseball needs and thus these trends are exciting for baseball.

 
Alexander Flores (’19)
I believe setting new homerun records and strikeout records is a negative for the sport going forward because baseball’s biggest problem is lack of action, and breaking these records signifies a record low in terms of action. Home runs are definitely exciting, but the more that are hit, the less exciting each individual one is. A similar statement can be made about strikeouts. Strikeouts are exciting when a dominant pitcher strikes out ten batters, and you know that pitcher is the best in the game. However, when a mediocre pitcher strikes out ten people, it just seems like hitters are simply bad. What makes it worse is the way hitters are hitting more home runs is they are taking more pitches and swinging for the fences when they get their pitch no matter what the situation is. That means very little is happening on a regular basis. It means fewer great defensive plays, less running on the bases, fewer close plays and less of basically everything. However, as statisticians realize the importance of defense and speed as demonstrated by the Royals, the game should swing back to athleticism. Even more important pitchers will adjust to hitters and start throwing more up in the zone. Pitching still has the advantage in baseball as it always has, and it just needs to make adjustments to the new approach at the plate. These are the conclusions I draw — setting conspiracy theories about the baseballs aside.

Kyle Sargent (’18)
I think it is a general negative. What comes with home runs? More walks and more strikeouts, perhaps the most boring plays in baseball. The most exciting plays are plays with close plays and close tags around the bases.

Trevor Goldstein (’21)
I believe that this is good for the sport. Home runs are obviously the biggest events in a baseball game, so the more the merrier. Seeing players like Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge hit bomb after bomb brings excitement no other popular American sport can match. The casual fan comes to a baseball game for the team, but stays for the home run. Strikeouts also have a positive effect on baseball’s excitement in my opinion. If a batter is going to record an out, would you prefer to see him pop out to center field or hit a groundball to second base? Those events have no potential for excitement. Strikeouts can be caused by an amazing pitch or a bad call that merits some arguing, both of which bring passion to the game. After a strikeout, the pitcher can give a mean fist bump or chit chat the other teams dugout, sparking conflict all around. The evolution that baseball is undergoing seems positive to me.


Below are three interesting studies on a significant factor behind the home run spike: the baseball.

Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman: The Juiced Ball Is Back

Rob Arthur: In MLB’s New Home Run Era, It’s The Baseballs That Are Juicing

Alan Nathan: Fly Ball Carry and the Home Run Surge

Speaker Recap: Rachel Krasnow ’09

Tuesday afternoon, Rachel Krasnow, the Director of Corporate Partnerships for the Los Angeles Kings and AEG, took time out of her day to speak to the Cornell ILR Sports Business Society. She talked about her time at Cornell and how she has gotten into and maneuvered her way around the sports business world.

Rachel graduated from Cornell in 2009 with a major in history, but, as she put it, she really majored in football. By using her hockey coach as a connection, she landed a job with the football team where she spent a lot of time working over her four years. After graduating a semester early, a football coach Rachel had worked with broke out his Rolodex for her and reached out to contacts he had within several NFL organizations. She received job offers from multiple teams but decided that she would work with the Miami Dolphins in Operations and Public Relations.

After a year on the job, Rachel decided to move back to Boston and go back to school at UMass Amherst in pursuit of an MBA/MS in Sports Management. Upon graduation, she went to work with the PGA Tour in Business Development where she had interned the summer prior. While working for the PGA for four years in various roles within Business Development, Krasnow was tasked with finding corporate sponsors and brand management in addition to other tasks. Seeking a change, Rachel accepted a job with the LA Kings as Director of Corporate Partnerships, where she currently works.

In her current role with the LA Kings and AEG, Krasnow is in charge of building brand partnerships and selling naming/sponsorship rights for festivals, venues, and other things of the like. She spoke with a great passion for the sports industry and about how much she enjoys her current job, citing some of the benefits like free tickets for sporting events and other events. After describing her career path, Rachel answered questions from some members of SBS before delivering parting advice about the importance of networking.

Rachel Krasnow is one of many Cornell success stories in the sports industry and we were fortunate enough to hear her story and seek her advice.

The Giants’ Season May Already be Over

The northeastern United States is not just a bustling sprawl of metropolises. It is also a hotbed of intellectual sports nerds. Thus, it’s no surprise that the NFC East gets the most attention of any NFL division. In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys secured the division title and the #1 seed in the NFC with a tandem of rookies operating their backfield. Dallas ran a conservative, game-controlling scheme which relied on a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliot chunk-yardage runs and Dak Prescott underneath completions. With the league’s best offensive line, the Cowboys’ clock-consuming offense was ~almost~ unstoppable. When Prescott and Elliot started, only one team in the league defeated Dallas in the regular season. It was the New York Giants, and they did it twice. As the narrative naturally played out, it was destiny for the Giants to usurp the division title in 2017.

 

The 2016 Giants featured a young ball-hawking secondary and a suffocating pass-rush. The defense finished second in the league in scoring, allowing just under 18 points-per-game. Because of this, the 26th-ranked offense was able to score just enough to thrust the Giants to an 11-5 season. After a loss in the wild card round to Green Bay, there was a significant amount of optimism for the Giants’ chances in 2017 to contend for a Super Bowl. The hype wasn’t on the same level as that of the Oakland Raiders or the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was undoubtedly within the realm of possibility. We all recall 2007 and 2011 when Eli Manning remembered his last name and did literally just enough to win the Lombardi trophy (side note: it’s actually ridiculous that Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls. Like, existence-shattering ridiculous). The Giants were a sexy pick heading into the 2017 regular season because of their excellent (some may say elite) defense and their acceptable offense. What’s become rather apparent in recent weeks, sadly, is that the Giants’ offense is far worse than acceptable. Quite frankly, it’s horrific.

 

The 2017 New York football Giants have had a rough go at just about everything since the 2017 NFL regular season began. Sitting at 0-2 after a 14-point home loss to the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, the G-Men look much less intimidating than what was originally advertised during the offseason. The Giants are traveling to Lincoln Financial Field in Week 3, which has been a house of horrors for New York during the Eli Manning era. Even worse, the Eagles have looked a lot better this year. Carson Wentz appears to be the franchise quarterback in Philly for the foreseeable future. The Eagles won handily in D.C. against the Redskins in Week 1 and lost a road game against the AFC juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs, 27-20. Based on what I’ve seen from the Giants thus far, I’m confident that the Eagles are going to ruin their season this Sunday.

 

The Giants’ offensive line has been much worse in the first two games of 2017 compared to last season. In 2016, New York’s O-line ranked 2nd in pass-protection, allowing just 22 sacks for an adjusted sack rate of 3.9%. After two games in 2017, the Giants rank 26th in pass-protection. They’ve already allowed eight sacks and have given up an adjusted sack rate of 10.1%. This is really, really bad. There are certainly teams in the NFL that can subsist with a subpar offensive line. A team that succeeds despite poor line play usually has a quarterback who is mobile enough to avoid pressure (think Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers), or has the receiving personnel and scheme to get the ball out quickly before taking a sack (Tom Brady). Eli Manning is the literal opposite of mobile, and his receiving corps is not suited for the short-yardage passing game.

 

Eli Manning’s style of play is outdated in the modern NFL. If you look historically at Eli’s tape, you won’t see much of the scrambling improvisation that Aaron Rodgers is so adept at. Manning’s style is reliant on feeling pressure in the pocket, moving his feet accordingly, and then finding the open receiver. That obviously takes time, which has become a scarce commodity for the Giants this season. When 280-pound humans who get paid millions of dollars to envelop opposing quarterbacks are already in Eli’s face before he has time to make his reads, he doesn’t have much of a chance to do anything. If Eli says “yolo” (I’m so sorry everyone, please forgive me) and decides to run, he’s playing with fire; a hot inferno of certain death, to be perfectly honest. What’s more? Eli is 36 years old. Quarterbacks in their late 30s become a lot more susceptible to demoralizing hits. A cold outdoor road game in November or December spells trouble for slow, aging QBs. Deterioration can happen really quickly for a quarterback, and taking big hits later in their career doesn’t provide any sort of relief in that respect. Behind the current offensive line, Eli is in for a long, sack-riddled season. Giants fans should be highly concerned for his health down the stretch if the protection doesn’t improve.

 

The Giants’ passing scheme is also largely responsible for the offensive woes during the first two games. Despite the bad offensive line play, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and head coach Ben McAdoo haven’t shied away from the downfield bombs that made Odell Beckham Jr. a household name. Their star receivers, Beckham and Brandon Marshall, continue to run double moves and break down the sideline or the middle of the field. Marshall and Beckham have thrived in this league because of their ability to put a defensive back on ice skates with longer-developing routes, but this quickly becomes a futile endeavor when the quarterback has minimal time to make his reads and find open targets downfield. It would make the lives of the offensive line and Eli much easier if the Giants trended towards shorter underneath throws against zone defense. Much like the Cowboys in 2016 and the Patriots since 2012, the Giants could rely on finding open receivers 6-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. The good news is they have Sterling Shepard, who has developed into a valuable slot target in his 2016 rookie campaign. The bad news is that Shepard only has nine receptions and 67 yards after two games. If the Giants rely on Shepard and others in the underneath passing game, YAC (Yards After Catch) will skyrocket, and time of possession should sway in their favor. A passing scheme oriented towards shorter routes also alleviates the unit from its deep-ball failures, puts less pressure on the quarterback, and allows for the offensive line to shorten the hold their blocks. When you have a transcendent talent like Odell Beckham, it’s understandably difficult to not shoot for the homerun ball. However, establishing the short passing game wears the defense down due to its clock-eating abilities. Defenses would likely have to start playing more press in response, which then in turn opens up the downfield throws as the secondary becomes fatigued later in games.

 

While it’s obviously not too late for the Giants to turn their season around, there’s an appropriate degree of panic swirling about the NFL. New York travels to Philadelphia in Week 3. Along with the fact that the Giants haven’t been very successful in Philly in recent years, the Eagles have also shown signs of being a legitimate force in the NFC. Carson Wentz is coming into his own after an up-and-down rookie season. Even more worrisome for the Giants is the Eagles’ defensive line. A lot of fans aren’t aware, but the Philadelphia D-Line is terrifying. It sports names such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, and Vinny Curry. This spells nothing but trouble for the Giants’ poor offensive line play. Look to see how Eli handles the pressure early on, and if New York switches to a shorter passing game in response to their weaknesses. If the Giants continue to display incompetence on the offensive side of the ball, they’ll drop to 0-3 and their season will be ruined at the hands of their most hated rival. Such is the struggle for teams as volatile as the New York Giants.

 

 

 

 

The 2017 NFL Season Preview and Predictions: The NFC

Here’s a link to the best postgame interview of all time. Can’t wait.

On Saturday afternoon, all 32 NFL teams announced their 53-man rosters heading into Week 1 of the regular season. In accordance with new league rules, every team had to pare their rosters down from 90 to 53 in a single day. This created an absolute frenzy of transactions and acquisitions, which turned twitter into a grime-fest carnival of football talk for about 40 hours. For those who participated and followed along, you know how much fun this weekend was. Good job, NFL. One gold star for you.

It’s now time for teams to reallocate their focus towards the ultimate challenge: winning a Super Bowl. This pinnacle of football achievement begins with a strong Week 1 outing. The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC heavyweight showdown on Thursday night at 8:30pm ET. Other notable games during opening weekend include Seahawks at Packers, Raiders at Titans, and Giants at Cowboys. Week 1 is immensely important for fledgling organizations who envision themselves on the periphery of a potential playoff berth. The momentum to be secured with an opening day win is undeniably important, especially for a team whose division is occupied by a New England or a Pittsburgh. However, the purpose of this article is not to provide keys to victory for every matchup this weekend. Rather, it’s important for fans to understand that the NFL is the most volatile professional sports league on a season-by-season basis. A lot of things have changed since the conclusion of 2016, and it’s wise to expect a healthy amount of postseason turnover. It’s the same story every year; many teams who found themselves playing in January of last season will not be making a playoff appearance in 2017. Conversely, it’s time to familiarize ourselves with the breakout potential of some NFL franchises. The inherent uncertainty within each NFL season is daunting and can promulgate underlying blood pressure complications, of which I am a victim. The caveat, of course, is the next five months will feature NFL football every Sunday. Giddyup, friends. The ride starts now.

 

NFC East

The NFC East is the most intimidating division in the league. You have the Dallas Cowboys coming off a 13-3 season in which a tandem of rookies, QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliot, carried the Dallas offense to the #1 seed in the conference. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Elliot is currently appealing a six-game suspension for a domestic violence charge. Talking heads around the sports world have tried to argue that Dallas will be fine without Elliot because of their superior offensive line. This is a lazy assumption. First and foremost, the 2017 offensive line features much less star power than last year’s unit. Starting right tackle Doug Free retired in the offseason, and left guard Ronald Leary signed with the Broncos. Because Elliot is appealing the suspension, he’ll be on the field at least until his appeal has been ruled upon. The common narrative about the Dallas running game, that any running back could be effective behind the line, is a huge reach. Ezekiel Elliot isn’t a role player. The Cowboys drafted him in the first round for a very distinct purpose: pound the rock. Elliot provides the Cowboys with a dynamic weapon coming out of the backfield on an every-down basis. He’s tough and isn’t afraid to run it right into the defense’s teeth, yet he’s also smooth enough to break long touchdowns. He has a remarkable knack for finding the hole at the line of scrimmage, so much so that often times nobody will touch him until he’s gotten well into the second level. Don’t believe me? Ask an NFL middle linebacker how much better they’d feel if they didn’t have to worry about a bell cow back like Elliot for an entire game. The guy had 1,600 yards and five yards per carry. I think he’s maybe kinda good.

The team who accounted for two of the Cowboys’ losses, the New York Giants, seemingly have all the pieces to usurp the division title from Dallas. The Giants have arguably the best secondary in the NFL. They added veteran WR Brandon Marshall, who’s approaching the end of his career but still adds the intangible value of a seasoned veteran. It will be intriguing to see how the relationship between Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall unfolds. Both WRs are known for their big personalities (read: Wide Receivers), and they’ll both be hauling in passes from a much-less-big personality and postseason harbinger of death, Eli Manning. The Giants have an enormous issue on the offensive line, which is even more troubling when you remember that Eli Manning runs a slower 40′ than most toddlers and has the mobility of an 85-year-old from Kansas watching Fox News. If Eli can be given time to throw, the Giants should be competitive in every game they play. Their defense will keep them in the game when their offense is struggling. That being said, I don’t see the Giants as the Super Bowl contender they’ve been made out to be.

The Eagles and the Redskins are the dark-horse candidates for the NFC East title. The Eagles are seemingly on the right path. The secondary is young, inexperienced and thus prone to mistakes, but their defensive line is truly terrifying and should be able to bolster the secondary to a higher level. They are riding on the back of 2nd-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who at times looked like a viable franchise signal-caller last year. He’s going to need to be more accurate with the deep-ball this year to take Philly to the postseason. He has a shiny new potential star receiver Alshon Jeffery, who came from Chicago during the offseason. I expect Wentz’s play to be much more refined this year, and with Doug Pederson earning his keep as head coach, Eagles fans have a lot to be excited about in the future. The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are trending downward. Kirk Cousins is regarded around the league as being much better than what he’s given credit for by his own organization (Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder called him “Kurt” something like 12 times during a press conference, in which Snyder was addressing his decision to place the franchise tag on Cousins instead of offering a long-term deal- Yikes). Cousins is a top-14 QB in this league, as he’s proved the last two seasons, yet there’s always a bit of uncertainty with him. For example, if I asked you how comfortable you’d feel with Cousins in the 4th quarter, down by a touchdown, I think I’d be able to guess your general sentiment. The Redskins are built to lose in the NFC East. They rely heavily on Cousins to throw multiple touchdowns every Sunday, and then pray their well-below-average defense (28th in YPG in 2016) doesn’t surrender the points back. The rest of the division sports mean defenses that can keep the game close from start to finish. I’m selling on the Redskins this year for that very reason. The rest of the division is going to scratch and claw their way through the regular season, which owes respect to tough and physical defenses. I have the Cowboys as repeat champions, but they’ll have to overcome their Giants problem.

End of season prediction: 1. Dallas (10-6) 2. New York (9-7) (uh-oh) 3. Philadelphia (9-7) 4. Washington (6-10)

 

NFC South

I bet some of you read my first sentence in the NFC East section and thought, “No. The NFC South is the best division. You’re dumb Andrew, and you probably like orange Starbursts the most.” Something you may already know about my assessment of modern NFL teams is that I place more value on a dominant defense than a high-powered offense. The NFC South features four gunslingers that can engorge themselves on secondaries with World War I style artillery barrages. A quintessential Saints at Falcons matchup usually includes multiple Drew Brees/Matt Ryan touchdown passes, with combined total yardage approaching the 1,000 mark as if it were a Pac-12 Saturday night game. The division will be the most closely contested, but I don’t necessarily believe it’s the best the NFL has to offer.

The Atlanta Falcons are coming off of the most humiliating choke-job in NFL history, where they squandered a 28-3 third quarter lead in Super Bowl 51 to the Patriots. I’m not going to beat this to death because the Falcons are still a very good football team. If you take a look around that offense, it’s staggering. Julio Jones has the ability to rip off a 250-yard, 3-TD game any given Sunday. Mohamed Sanu would likely be a WR1 on most offenses. Davonta Freeman just signed a long-term contract and has been a steady source of production coming out of the backfield. Tevin Coleman had a bit of an anomalous season last year and will struggle to produce the same degree of success this year, but is still a great alternative at RB when Freeman needs a rest. Taylor Gabriel is the shifty hybrid WR/RB that’s become a highly coveted asset in the NFL. The only real difference between this year’s Falcons and last year’s NFC-winning squad is the new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. There’s no reason to believe that the Falcons will be worse this year, save for those who buy the Super Bowl hangover narrative. Behind defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn, I’m confident that Atlanta will come out of the gate strong in 2017.

Carolina is the team in the NFC South everyone is eager to see in 2017. To provide an easy argument against my prediction for the Falcons, the Panthers went through a bleak 2016 campaign in which every facet of the team’s performance and results spelled “Super Bowl Hangover.” Carolina went 15-1 and lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos, then proceeded to slap down a pathetic last-place 6-10 effort in 2016. There’s no real ambiguity here. Carolina had no business finishing at 6-10. Their roster has talent everywhere on offense and defense. Their quarterback won the MVP in 2015. Some have argued that Cam Newton’s once-impossible 2015 quandary of dominance has since been solved by NFL defenses. The Panthers have publicly admonished Newton for trying to do too much with the ball. By always wanting to improvise and break off a scramble-turned-60-yard run like he did in college, Newton exposes himself to an unsustainable rate of hits. This adds up over a quarterback’s career, and it’s generally an ominous sign of future deterioration. Further, the Panthers fired their general manager a week before the preseason began, which makes fans wonder if the franchise has issues of dysfunction at the front-office level. This year is the biggest season yet for Cam and the Panthers. With rookie RB Christian McCaffrey showing promise early in training camp, I think this team is ready to put 2016 behind them. I’m buying on the Carolina Panthers in 2017, and I think they ultimately win the division.

The Saints and the Buccaneers are in a troublesome predicament, much like the Eagles and Redskins in the NFC East. The fact of the matter is both teams are close to being good enough to earn a wild card playoff berth, but the teams in their division are going to be a severe impediment to that goal. Tampa, much like every other team in the South, has a more than noteworthy offense. For those of you who’ve been tuning in to Hard Knocks on HBO, you know that Jameis Winston has the intangible assets of a true leader in this league. In his first two seasons, the former #1 overall pick has shown signs of NFL superstardom at his peaks, and disoriented confusion at his troughs. Jameis has the talent to lead Tampa Bay to a playoff appearance for the first time since 2007. He has the potential to be a serious force in this league for a very long time. His problems now are the same as they’ve been his entire career. Jameis needs to limit his bad decisions. In a sense, you could say that for any quarterback who’s on the precipice of becoming great. For Jameis, however, there’s too much at his disposal for him to struggle through an interception-laden 2017. His offensive weapons are even more terrifying now that he has Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. When not tending to the aerial attack, Doug Martin provides the much-needed offensive versatility the NFC South has featured the last couple seasons. The Bucs’ offense will be just as exciting as any in this division, so long as Jameis can control the game and take care of the football.

The Saints are one of the NFL’s strangest teams. It’s rare to be in a position in which you have a future HOF quarterback and a potential HOF head coach, yet the team struggles to break even. The Saints were 7-9 last year and featured much of the same kinds of things you’ve come to expect out of New Orleans. Drew Brees was in god-mode all season, torching opposing defenses for plentiful yards and touchdowns. Their new star WR Michael Thomas is entering his 2nd year and is expected to pick up right where he left off. The Saints’ offense doesn’t need to be deliberated over too much, because it’s, well, pretty good. The defense is a different story. The Saints’ secondary was awful last year, ranking last in several metrics. Obviously, it was a point of concern heading into this year’s draft. The Saints took CB Marshon Lattimore and FS Marcus Williams to bolster the unit, but they’re still rookies. It’s rare for defensive backs to make a smooth transition in their first season because playing defensive back in the NFL, cornerback in particular, is probably the second-hardest position to excel at behind quarterback. The Saints are relying on rookies to carry their defense, and they’re going to have to face three of the most explosive offenses in the league, twice. That doesn’t sound very fun. I like the Saints and they’re definitely fun to watch, but I simply don’t see how they make it out of this division in one piece. It’s going to be another year of ‘meh’ in New Orleans.

Prediction: 1. Carolina (11-5) 2. Atlanta (10-6) 3. Tampa Bay (8-8) 4. New Orleans (6-10)

 

NFC West

The NFC West has gone through a pretty dramatic upheaval since its dominance in the first-half of the decade. The 49ers underwent a not-so-quiet organizational purge from 2014 to 2017. In what was likely the worst ever handling of a premier head football coach, the niners fired Jim Harbaugh after 2014 and watched him walk right up to Ann Arbor where he has since been, wait for it…. a very good football coach. Nice job, Jed York. The next item on the 49ers agenda of football malpractice was to hire Jim Tomsula, under whom San Francisco posted a meaty 5-11 record in 2015. Tomsula, out. Bring in Chip Kelly! Oh, oh no. Oh no no no no no. Bad Chip! No! Outside! San Fran went 2-14 last year with a roster that very well could’ve lost to Alabama on a neutral field. The 49ers fired Kelly after the season, and made it a 2-for-1 by also excising General Manager Trent Baalke from the organization. The disaster that has transpired on the west side of the Bay (except not really because they play in Santa Clara now) has lead the 49ers down a path where there’s only one option. Rebuild. The niners hired Jon Lynch as their new general manager, who’s long been a broadcaster but has zero NFL front office experience. Honestly, I liked the hiring of Lynch, and my original thoughts were only further supported by the 49ers draft choices. They picked DL Solomon Thomas out of Stanford with the 3rd pick, and LB Reuben Foster with the 31st pick. They continued on the defensive path by selecting CB Ahkello Witherspoon out of Colorado in the third round. I thought it was really smart to focus on grabbing defensive talent in the first stages of the rebuild. It provides an aura of toughness, an attitude of being the underdog, that has often been the impetus of successful future franchises. Notably, the 49ers are starting Brian Hoyer at QB in 2017. That definitely does not point to victory, but the future is what matters here. If the 49ers get one of the top-three picks in the 2018 draft, they’re almost certainly going to select one of the promising quarterbacks coming out of college next year. Such choices include Josh Rosen out of UCLA, Sam Darnold from USC, Josh Allen from Wyoming, or even Luke Falk from Washington State. Next year’s draft has a lot of the fabled ‘franchise-QB’ type players. With new head coach and QB guru Kyle Shanahan coming from Atlanta, be on the lookout for draft implications this year in San Francisco. They’re young, rebuilding, and are probably going to get one of the best quarterbacks in the draft. That spells trouble for the NFC in 2021-onward.

The Los Angeles Rams continue to be the island of misfit toys in the NFC. It is nothing short of outrageous that this team hasn’t put together a playoff run in the last 12 years. A virtual revolving door of talent has been the theme for the Rams since they last went to the postseason. If you know me personally, and you’ve ever heard me talk about the Rams, you understand my unmitigated disgust with the product this team has put onto the field each year. I watched “All or Nothing” this offseason, where viewers got a firsthand look into the annual disaster that is the LA Rams. Look, I would never hope for someone to lose their job. I’ve said a lot of not-so-nice things about Jeff Fischer since he burst onto the NFC West scene. I’m sure he’s a good person, and I know players like playing for him. But the truth of the matter is, where he excels in motivating his players, he has serious limitations in play-calling and situational football. His teams were an erratic torrent of talent and physicality mixed with disarray and sloppiness. That, my friends, is the sign of a bad head coach. The Rams this year are almost entirely reliant on Jared Goff to carry them to a respectable record. Rookie head coach Sean McVay has supposedly initiated a complete restructuring of the offense, which should allow Goff to make better decisions, while simultaneously awakening Todd Gurley from his 2016 slumber. The Rams’ offense really could not be much worse than it was in 2016, but it remains to be seen if Goff is anywhere close to the worth of draft capital that the Rams traded to get him. With star DT Aaron Donald holding out for a better contract (he deserves one), the defense will be worse than it was a year ago, which is certainly not good at all.

The way things are looking, it appears that Bruce Arians will have one final chance in Arizona to wrangle the Cardinals to glory. QB Carson Palmer is 37 years young, and it’s no secret that he’s had injury problems the last few years. Palmer can still play at a high level, but one would think that if Palmer goes down mid-season in 2017, Arizona’s postseason dreams will be crushed. Such are the tribulations of relying on an aging NFL QB. Larry Fitzgerald isn’t so young either, which hasn’t ever slowed him down but quite obviously will become an issue sooner than later. It’s not all bad news for Arizona; they have a premier running back in David Johnson, who is a legitimately superior weapon in both running the ball and lining up as a receiver, hauling in passes. The defense has been upgraded, with rookie safety Budda Baker and Pro-Bowler Tyrann Mathieu. They lost Calais Campbell to free agency, but they still have two premier pass-rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Robert Nkemdiche, a 2016 first-rounder, has recovered from his ankle issues last season and is looking to inflict mayhem on the interior of the line of scrimmage. I wouldn’t sleep on the Cardinals. There isn’t a ton that’s changed since they won the division in 2015 with a 13-3 mark and eventually lost to Carolina in the NFCCG. While the primary narrative with Arizona is that they’re too old at key positions, they also have a healthy surplus of youthful talent ready to take back the division title. I’m wary of Palmer’s health in the 2nd half of the season, but if he stays on the field, this team has a lot to aspire to.

We’ve gotten to a point where everybody knows what they’re getting with Seattle. The Seahawks have made it to the postseason five straight years; 6 appearances in the last seven; four division titles; two conference championship titles; a Lombardi Trophy. They have been a formidable staple in the NFC’s geopolitical landscape for a long time, despite slipping a little in 2015 and 2016. Seattle had an especially peculiar 2016 campaign. There were moments where they looked like the best team in the league, when they won in Foxborough against the Patriots in week 10. There were the moments where they looked offensively inept and defensively porous, like their blowout loss to Green Bay in week 14. The offensive line was horrible throughout the season and it remains to be seen if it’ll be much better this year. However, 2017 is shaping up to be very prosperous for this Seattle team. FS Earl Thomas has returned from his broken leg and apparently has been even stronger in camp than his former self. Russell Wilson, who spent all of 2016 nursing injuries to both of his legs, has gone through an intensive fitness reboot and has supposedly lost weight while simultaneously increasing his strength. SS Kam Chancellor, CB Richard Sherman, MLB Bobby Wagner, OLB KJ Wright, DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, and DL Frank Clark are all returning (holy). You’d think that this team would have enough to make another Super Bowl run with those names alone. Hold on there, sport. John Schneider’s in town, and he’s wheeling and dealing like Robert Griffin III in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. Seahawks’ general manager John Schneider took a fat old check to the bank this weekend and traded fledgling WR Jermaine Kearse and a 2nd round pick for the Jets’ Pro-Bowl DT Sheldon Richardson. The addition of Richardson makes the Seahawks’ defense nothing short of a nightmare for opposing offenses. A couple weeks ago, we were all wondering if the Seahawks would have to rely on the offense to win close games. There’s no doubting it now, the Legion of Boom is going to have at least one more shot at a Super Bowl title, which would all but cement this Seahawks team into the exclusive ring of super-dynasties.

Prediction: 1. Seattle (12-4) 2. Arizona (9-7) 3. Los Angeles (5-11) 4. San Francisco (3-13)

 

NFC North

The Green Bay Packers are going to win the NFC North. Don’t feed me any “wait but the Lions…” bullshit. You know it; I know it; we ALL know it. Rodgers is coming off a season in which the Packers were 4-6 after ten games. Fans and commentators alike began to question if Rodgers was actually a good quarterback. These preposterous deliberations were soon hushed, when the not-so-average QB unleashed his prophetic visions of the Packers “running the table.” Curiously, Green Bay proceeded to run the table. Weird, right? They stole the division title from Detroit (lol) and defeated #1 seed Dallas in an absurd divisional round game, only to be put down by the invincible-unless-they’re-winning-by-25 Atlanta Falcons in the NFCCG. This year, Green Bay looks to pick up right where they left off. Rodgers is still in his prime and has a core of receivers who mesh well with him. My only criticism of Rodgers is that he’s reluctant to take chances that could potentially result in an interception. Many fans commend Rodgers for his low interception rate, which is fair, but it’s also a result of his desire to throw it away instead of taking chances. If Rodgers were to indulge himself with more risk, I think he’s talented enough to benefit even if his interception rate climbs a little. The usual suspect WRs are still in Green Bay, and I don’t expect the offense to lose a step in 2017. On defense, the Packers drafted CB Kevin King out of Washington in the 2nd round. King adds a long, athletic and physical presence in the secondary, which has been of crucial necessity for recent Green Bay teams. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also returns, further beefing up the oft-suboptimal Green Bay secondary. Ultimately I think Green Bay cruises through their divisional schedule and finishes tied with the Seahawks for best record in the NFC. This team has as good a chance as any to win the Super Bowl.

Jim Caldwell has only further proven that Indianapolis is a steaming pile of excrement during his tenure with the Lions. In three seasons, Caldwell has taken Detroit to two playoff appearances. The Lions lost badly in the wild card round to Seattle a season ago, but there’s a lot for this team to be hopeful about. QB Matt Stafford signed a contract last week that made him the highest paid player in the NFL. Stafford was pumping out hundreds of yards on a weekly basis during the middle of 2016, until he hurt his finger in week 14. Before the finger injury, the Lions were 9-4. After the injury: 0-4. It’s easy to write off Stafford and the Lions, especially after their dismal final four weeks of the season, but I believe that Stafford carries an otherwise-abysmal Detroit. If you want to point fingers, leave Stafford out of it. The Lions have been more-or-less an atrocious franchise since they were conceived. Not a lot has changed, except they have a good QB and head coach. The rest of the team, however, is bad. Bad=not good. The defensive line is a shell of its former self from the earlier half of the decade. The secondary was ranked 18th by Pro Football Focus last year. The receiving corps is now in desperate need for a true WR1, since Calvin Johnson retired a year ago and Golden Tate can only do so much with his repertoire of skills. Last season was fun for Detroit, but I think the Lions are going to struggle mightily this year.

Minnesota is going to continue to uphold its reputation as a tough, physical run-first defensive-minded team. The Vikings underwent a series of devastating injuries in 2016, including their former starting QB Teddy Bridgewater. With their hands tied behind their backs, the Vikings traded with Philadelphia to bring in QB Sam Bradford. Forced to learn the playbook in a matter of days, Bradford wasn’t given much freedom in the Minnesota system last year. The team rarely threw downfield more than 10-15 yards, which resulted in an artificially high QBR for Bradford due to very few incompletions or mistakes. The team drafted Dalvin Cook out of Florida State. They also have RB Latavius Murray, who showed promise at times with the Raiders. Everything about the way this team is built suggests they are going to be run-heavy. Bradford has TE Kyle Rudolph and promising young WRs in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, which provides ample play-action potential after the Vikings have established the run. The offensive line still undoubtedly has question marks. On defense, Minnesota’s star power consists of CB Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, and Anthony Barr. This unit quietly finished 3rd in the league in YPG last year. I expect Minnesota to compete with the Packers for the North title, but I think their offensive stagnation will render them just short of a playoff berth.

After Jay Cutler went down for the season last year, Matt Barkley was tasked with stepping into a ~difficult~ situation in Chicago. After last season ended much the same way most Chicago seasons end nowadays, and with the Cutler era officially over, the Bears decided it was time to select their FUTURE FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK. Chicago traded up in the draft to pick North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, which was a little bit strange since they had just broken the bank to sign long-time backup QB Mike Glennon. Chicago head coach John Fox has said that Glennon will be the starter Week 1, although I’d be willing to bet literally everyone else wants to see Trubisky get the keys (myself included). The Chicago roster isn’t as bad as the usual narrative would suggest, but there’s certainly many areas of concern going into 2017. Aside from breakout RB Jordan Howard, the offense has no real threat to opposing defenses. On the flip-side, the Chicago defense is one of the youngest in the league. The inexperience and lack of continuity are going to be an enormous hurdle for the Bears if they want to build anything meaningful this year. The story to watch in Chicago is how long Mike Glennon holds onto the starting quarterback position, and if Mitch Trubisky does eventually start, how does he handle the stress of playing against NFL defenses. Other than that, I don’t expect much out of the windy city this year.

Prediction: 1. Green Bay (12-4) 2. Minnesota (8-8) 3. Detroit (7-9) 4. Chicago (4-12)

NFC Playoff Seeding:

  1. Green Bay (12-4)
  2. Seattle (12-4)
  3. Carolina (11-5)
  4. Dallas (10-6)
  5. Atlanta (10-6)
  6. New York (9-7) haha not worried.

 

 

A Team Held For Ransom: The Tale of the Seattle Supersonics

 

 

The modern climate of professional sports ownership exists as a realm in which capitalization and maximizing revenues has become the pinnacle of achievement. This is the case for the vast majority of American businesses. However, there is a sensitive caveat to this reality when the world of sports is involved. Indeed, every professional sports franchise carries the weight of not only its business, but also its geographical culture and fan base. Such is the case with the sale and relocation of the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics in 2008, when the team moved to Oklahoma City, thereby deserting an entire region both physically and emotionally. In the years since the Sonics became the Thunder, there’s been a large degree of speculation coming from both sides of the argument. On one hand, there are those with limited access to facts surrounding the events that took place preceding the relocation agreement. Such individuals might claim that Seattle didn’t value the Sonics, or that there wasn’t much effort to keep them in Seattle. In reality, the shadiness that manifested itself on an organization-wide level during the early and mid-2000s is the true explanation for why the Supersonics abandoned ship. By examining the business decisions by the Sonics’ ownership, as well as several statements made by NBA commissioner David Stern and many City of Seattle officials, it’s quite clear that the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City was out of the fans’ control during the entire process. Several years of poor ownership led to a series of irresponsible decisions, which ultimately resulted in an exploitation and betrayal of the Supersonics fan base, rendering any attempt to keep the team in Seattle utterly impossible. This is the story of how the Supersonics were stolen from Seattle.

 

The demise of the Supersonics began in the early 2000s, when Howard Schultz bought the team from Barry Ackerley.[1] Prior to the transaction, the team was showing signs of fatigue and was falling from its former glory of the mid-‘90s. As revenues slowly declined, Sonics’ owner Barry Ackerley decided to sell the franchise to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on January 11th, 2001.[2] “One of our biggest considerations was that the Sonics stay in Seattle,” Ackerley stated in a press conference. “We are leaving the team and fans in good hands.”[3] Schultz was, and still is, one of the most powerful corporate figures in the city of Seattle. Having built his coffee empire in the 1980s, Schultz was as much of a public figure as many of the star athletes. However, Schultz’ business prowess proved to be his Achilles heel when trying to run a professional sports team. Schultz viewed his ownership of the team in the same manner that he viewed his coffee business. In 2005, Schultz said about his ownership of the Supersonics, “Since my experience has been based on 25 years of building and leading a company [Starbucks], I’ll stick with what I know.”[4] Because of his inability to remove himself from the operations of the team, several Sonics players developed soured perceptions of Schultz.[5] There were questions surrounding his resolve to see the team succeed, and criticisms of his childish antics as he essentially became disinterested with his now struggling NBA franchise. Frank Hughes, a columnist for ESPN, compared Schultz to Jude Law’s character in the film “A Talented Mr. Ripley,” stating:

 

That, in a nutshell, is Howard Schultz, an entrepreneur whose romantic attention was focused exclusively on his basketball team for about a year. Then things didn’t quite go the way he envisioned, he got bored and discouraged, and he decided that he wanted out (regardless of the impact on people’s lives).[6]

Schultz, who was initially quite invested in seeing the Supersonics succeed, quickly began to tally his losses in the public relations sphere. When it became clear that the Sonics were approaching an inevitable rebuilding phase, Schultz diverted his attention from the team’s struggles and instead made it his goal to maximize the revenues he could accumulate.

 

The most critical area of concern for the Supersonics’ fate was the condition of their home facility, Key Arena. Formerly known as the Seattle Center Coliseum, Key Arena was opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It became the Supersonics’ home in 1967, and was rebuilt in 1994 to increase its capacity and improve its modernity.[7] There was national praise for the ingenuity of the reconstruction. An article from the Washington Post in 1995 described the arena’s commendable funding strategy by using team revenues, as opposed to public tax dollars:

 

And the arena was a bargain. Worth well over $130 million, only about $74 million remains to be paid off— and all of it will be covered by arena revenues, the Sonics and the city proudly note.[8]

 

When ‘the Key’ re-opened for the 1995 season opener, NBA commissioner David Stern was in attendance to witness the newly renovated facility in action. Stern, ironically, had nothing but great things to say about Key Arena. In a sideline interview with ESPN reporter Mitch Levy, Stern stated on a nationally televised broadcast:

 

“They got a beautiful building. It’s intimate, the sight lines are great, the decorations are terrific. I think Seattle should be very proud of what’s going on here tonight.”[9]

 

The league’s favorability of Key Arena, however, would take a turn in the early ‘00s. Several teams from the four major American sports leagues were getting new, state-of-the-art facilities with upscale restaurants and spacious pavilions for ticket-holders. This was true in Seattle as well. In the late ‘90s, the Kingdome, a large domed stadium a half-mile south of downtown, shared by the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners, was quickly becoming obsolete. Both teams threatened to relocate if they weren’t given new, separate and modern facilities.[10] The City of Seattle implemented a public-bond tax program to fund the Safeco Field and Qwest Field projects for the Mariners and Seahawks, respectively. Safeco Field cost the public approximately $340 million in taxes, while the Mariners paid $126 million.[11] Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) cost the public $300 million, while owner Paul Allen paid $130 million.[12] Both facilities were built and ready for use by 2001. Safeco and Qwest were huge successes due to their luxurious amenities, providing a unique viewing experience for fans. Unfortunately, the funding programs of the new downtown facilities spelled trouble for the Supersonics in the mid-2000s. Howard Schultz, having realized the team was struggling to draw crowds, decided that the best way for the Sonics to improve revenues was to build a new facility.[13] Schultz believed that his corporate background would be enough to win a similar deal to the Mariners’ and Seahawks’, but the City had different plans. Seattle’s citizens were unhappy with the amount of public support that the Safeco and Qwest projects required. The city legislature passed Initiative-91 in 2006, which required that any publicly subsidized professional sports venues within the city of Seattle were to provide equal or greater returns to the public.[14] When Schultz, accompanied by team president Wally Walker, approached the city council with the proposition of a $220 million publicly funded sports facility in 2005, the council emphatically declined. It became clear that the NBA had vested interest in the issue when commissioner David Stern, who only ten years prior had publicly praised Key Arena, expressed his concerns for the state of the venue. The Associated Press reported in February of 2006:

 

NBA commissioner David Stern asked Washington state lawmakers Thursday for tax money to renovate the Seattle Supersonics’ arena, saying there could be consequences if the state doesn’t act. “A substantial amount has been done for the baseball and football teams. I’m here personally to find out whether the same is being considered fairly for the NBA,” Stern said at a legislative hearing, flanked by principal owner Howard Schultz and team president Wally Walker.[15]

 

Schultz and his ownership group became incensed that they were unable to formulate a deal with the city and state legislatures in 2006. After his attempt failed, Schultz threatened to sell or relocate the franchise. When Schultz believed he had exhausted all his options, he engaged in a transaction that was, for all intents and purposes, the proverbial death sentence of the Supersonics’ tenure in Seattle.

 

In July of 2006, Howard Schultz sold the Seattle Supersonics to Professional Basketball Club, L.L.C. PBC was an organization owned by Clayton Bennett and Aubrey McClendon, two Oklahoma City businessmen who made their fortunes in the oil industry. The Seattle Times reported the details of the sale:

 

Following through on their threats, Schultz and 57 other owners sold the Sonics — which they bought for $200 million in 2001 — and the Storm to a group of Oklahoma City investors. Sale price: $350 million. The deal was announced three months after council members scoffed at Schultz’s $18.3 million pledge for KeyArena renovations. Schultz said his ownership group never got “the kind of respect” it deserved from city officials.[16]

The decision by Schultz to sell the franchise to Clay Bennett was, in essence, the first major red flag to the city of Seattle that the Supersonics may be on their way out. The problem in 2006 was the fact that very few people regarded Schultz’ threats as serious. To make matters even bleaker, Clay Bennett’s background raised concern for Seattleites. Bennett had played a large role in hosting the New Orleans Hornets in 2005, when they temporarily played in Oklahoma City during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It was also known that Bennett and David Stern had a close business relationship, and had discussed a potential league expansion to Oklahoma City in the early 2000s.[17] In a 2008 excerpt from the New York Times, the Hornets’ owner George Shinn sheds light on the relationship between Bennett and Stern that he experienced prior to the team’s tenure in Oklahoma City:

 

“I was getting calls from around the country, Vegas and on and on, and David threw out Oklahoma City,” Shinn says. “And I said: ‘David, I don’t think I want to go there. I’ve never even been there, and it doesn’t sound like — do they even have an arena?’ But David’s got a way of recommending that sort of pushes you.”[18]

 

It was clear in 2005 that Bennett and Stern were uncomfortably close with one another, which undoubtedly contributed to Bennett’s ability to purchase and relocate the Supersonics. After the Hornets returned to New Orleans for the 2006 season, Bennett became hell-bent on acquiring an NBA team as a permanent tenant for Oklahoma City’s Ford Center. In a statement to the press in February of 2006, Bennett said of acquiring a team for OKC:

 

“We are acutely interested and very focused on bringing a team to Oklahoma City. It’s a tricky spot to be in because you don’t want to overstep your boundaries … but the Sonics, yes, are a possibility and a team that would do well not just here, but I’m sure anywhere that they played. If the Hornets go back to New Orleans, I expect we’ll get a franchise. There haven’t been any promises made, but there’s been a lot of congratulations offered to us.”[19]

 

In light of Bennett’s background and publicly expressed desire for an NBA team in Oklahoma City, it became fairly obvious to all parties, including the fans, that the new ownership group had no real intentions of keeping the Supersonics in Seattle. Howard Schultz had engaged in a cowardly business transaction out of spite for the city council, which left the team in the hands of someone with both personal interest, and David Stern’s support, in relocating the franchise. The fans, having been stabbed in the back, felt as though they were watching the team slip through their fingers. When Schultz sold the team to Bennett, there was little that the fan base could tangibly do to prevent an ultimate relocation decision.

Bennett may have had his sights set on Oklahoma City from the day he purchased the Supersonics, but there were still significant hurdles for him to clear. For one, Bennett signed a contract upon purchasing the Supersonics that included a “Good Faith” clause, which required that Bennett were to make a sincere effort to keep the team in Seattle before considering relocation options. Bennett manipulated this clause with disturbing ease. In August of 2006, just one month after purchasing the team, Bennett’s ownership partner Aubrey McClendon made a statement to an Oklahoma City news outlet, stating “We didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here.”[20] At this point McClendon had verbally broken the good faith clause, yet was given a mere slap on the wrist in the form of a $250,000 fine by the NBA.[21] Later in 2006, Bennett made a laughable arena proposal to keep true to the good faith clause, which included a ludicrous $500 million in public tax dollars. The city and state legislatures, in keeping consistent with Initiative-91, rejected the proposal by reasoning that a $500 million public subsidy for an arena would not provide equal or greater returns to the public.[22] This outrageous proposal was enough for Bennett to claim he had remained true to his contract of purchase, and marred the Supersonics’ future to be somewhere other than Seattle.

 

Despite claims by both the league and the ownership group that the city of Seattle didn’t value the Supersonics, there was significant public backlash against the ominous developments. “Save Our Sonics,” an organization that actively made efforts to keep the Sonics in Seattle, directly targeted David Stern as the perpetrator for the Sonics’ imminent relocation. In 2007, the Seattle Times reported that the group had been handing out flyers at Key Arena with Stern’s phone number printed blatantly, encouraging fans to call the commissioner.

 

As the Sonics tipped off their 41st season, about five volunteers circled KeyArena’s exterior and concourse handing out the commissioner’s number (it’s 212-407-8300, by the way), asking people to let Stern know they want to keep the team for another 41 seasons.[23]

 

 

Fans of the team held numerous rallies and protests in front of Key Arena during the 2007-2008 Supersonics regular season. Unfortunately, as seen throughout the entire decade, the fans had very minimal power to affect the league and ownership’s intentions. In September of 2007, Clay Bennett told the press that if a new arena weren’t a possibility, he would take the case to the NBA’s relocation committee to work his way out of the Supersonics’ lease in Seattle.[24] Additionally, Bennett made a palpable effort to limit local media coverage of the team during the ’07-’08 season, which thoroughly detached the team from the fans.[25] In April of 2008, the Seattle Times released an email transaction from 2007 between Bennett, McClendon, and Tom Ward:

 

“Is there any way to move here [Oklahoma City] for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?” Ward wrote. Bennett replied: “I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!” Ward: “That’s the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here [in Oklahoma City] next year.” McClendon: “Me too, thanks Clay!”[26]

 

The leaked emails were nothing short of a slap-in-the-face to Sonics fans. If the new owners of the team had blatant intentions to move the franchise from the very beginning, how were the local fans of the team going to take action in any kind of meaningful way? Again, it’s clear that there was essentially nothing the fans could do to prevent relocation.

 

In March of 2008, Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer made a commendable offer to the city and state legislatures, offering an arena proposal that would only include $150 million in public tax dollars, with the other $150 million coming directly out of Balmer’s pocket.[27] Protestors gathered in front of the Capitol in Olympia, demanding that there be a vote on the proposal. Frank Chopp, Washington State’s Speaker of the House, who had historically been adamant about his disdain for any form of public subsidization of professional sports facilities, declared that there would be no vote on Balmer’s proposal.[28] This all but sealed the Sonics’ fate.

 

In a final, albeit fruitless attempt to keep the Sonics from relocating, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, who had previously been silent on the issue, decided that he wouldn’t mind being reelected to office in the coming election year. Therefore, in order to earn the public’s favorability, Nickels decided to sue Clay Bennett in late-2007 for violating the Supersonics’ lease. The hearing would be scheduled for June of 2008. There was a storm of questions surrounding Nickels’ sincerity, considering that he hadn’t expressed any opinion on the matter until 2007. Prior to the 2008 hearing, Bennett had predictably won the vote at the NBA’s relocation council, with a tally of 29-1 in favor of moving the franchise to Oklahoma City (Mark Cuban was the only owner who voted against relocation). If Greg Nickels were to lose the 2008 lawsuit, the team would move to Oklahoma City for the ’08-’09 season and would stay there indefinitely. Nickels’ only line of defense in the case was the fact that the Supersonics’ lease in Seattle didn’t expire until 2010. Despite Nickels’ efforts, Bennett’s attorneys were steadfast in their arguments against him. They claimed that the Sonics’ lease had become economically dysfunctional and that there was no solution other than to relocate the franchise. Bennett’s witnesses testified that the Sonics didn’t promote economic activity for the city. From an outsider’s perspective, Bennett’s group made quick work of Nickels during the hearings in 2008.[29] Although it became painfully clear that the lawsuit was futile, the people of Seattle still had hope that their city would fight to the end. In what was one of the most gutless acts in the entire process, Greg Nickels announced prior to the conclusion of the hearings that the city had accepted a severance package from Clay Bennett for a meager $75 million, in which the Sonics were to move to Oklahoma City immediately, whereupon they would be renamed the “Thunder.”

 

Bennett announced that the settlement calls for a payment of $45 million immediately, and would include another $30 million paid to Seattle in 2013 if the state legislature in Washington authorizes at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena by the end of 2009 and Seattle doesn’t obtain an NBA franchise of its own within the next five years.[30]

 

In a mere stroke of a pen, a 41-year legacy of tradition and culture was usurped from Seattle for a 75 million dollar check. The Sonics were gone, and the fans had literally nothing to show for it.

 

The downfall of the Seattle Supersonics was a nightmare for the city of Seattle and the team’s fan base. Throughout the entire process of business transactions and league influence, there was an unjustifiable lack of power from the fans of the team. This brings forth an important question in the world of sports. If the fans provide the revenues and culture associated with a professional franchise, how can it be fair to disregard them entirely when making decisions to increase profits? It is a crime against society that loyal fan bases, often with a rich tradition that weaves inseparably into the history of the city, is completely extorted and exploited to the extent of powerlessness in these transactions. The Supersonics departed Seattle on July 2nd, 2008. Since then, there has been an enormous upheaval of public disappointment regarding this tragedy. Aside from the occasional “I’m sorry” from national media, there has been nothing done to correct this injustice. Learning from the case of the Supersonics, there needs to be a critical dialogue about the commercialization of sports, and the corruption that can manifest from it. Are enormous profits worth the alienation of entire regions? In 2008, Seattle’s population of one million was defeated. The victor, per usual, was money.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] “Paid in Full: Schultz Buys Sonics from Ackerley for $200M.” Sports Business Daily, January 12, 2001.

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] Sonicsgate. Directed by Jason Reid. Performed by Clay Bennett and Howard Schultz. Bellevue, WA. October 9, 2009.

 

[4] Jayda Evans. “2005-2006 Sonics: Whose Team is This?” The Seattle Times, November 1, 2005.

 

[5] Sonicsgate, Jason Reid.

 

[6] Frank Hughes. “Why Schultz tuned out and sold out the Sonics.” ESPN. July 21, 2006. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

[7] “KeyArena.” Wikipedia. May 06, 2017. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

[8] “AROUND THE NBA.” 1995. The Washington Post (1974-Current File), Oct 29, 1.

 

[9] David Stern Interview with Mitch Levy. Key Arena, Seattle, WA, United States: Supersonics PPV Broadcast, 1995. Transcript.

 

[10] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[11] “Finance.” Finance – Seattle Public Facilities District. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

[12] “Stadium Facts.” CenturyLink Field. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

[13] Ron Judd. “Let’s remember who got Sonics in this crunch.” The Seattle Times, November 4, 2007. Accessed May 6, 2017.

 

[14] Seattle Times Staff. “Horsefeathers: The legacy of I-91.” The Seattle Times, November 13, 2006.

 

[15] Associated Press. “Stern asks lawmakers for Key Arena renovations.” ESPN. February 23, 2006. Accessed May 06, 2017. http://www.espn.com/nba/news/story?id=2342493.

 

[16] Jim Brunner and Bob Young. “Why Seattle is Losing the Sonics and Storm in 10 Easy Steps.” The Seattle Times, November 14, 2006.

 

[17] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[18] Bruce Schoenfield. “Where The Thunder Comes Dribbling Down the Plain.” New York Times Magazine, October 24, 2008.

 

[19] Percy Allen. “Sonics Could Find a Suitor in Oklahoma.” The Seattle Times, February 8, 2006.

 

[20] Percy Allen. “Sonics co-owner McClendon fined $250K.” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2007.

 

[21] Ibid.

 

[22] Percy Allen. “An Interview with Clay Bennett, Owner of the Sonics.” The Seattle Times, May 20, 2007.

 

[23] Jayda Evans. “Mr. Stern, We Have Your Number.” The Seattle Times, November 2, 2007.

 

[24] Mike Bianchi. “Orlando Magic’s ownership shines compared to demands made by Supersonics’ owners.” The Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2007.

 

[25] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[26] Jim Brunner. “E-Mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle.” The Seattle Times, April 10, 2008.

 

[27] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid.

 

[28] Brian Robinson. “The Sonics Left Because of Frank Chopp.” Sonics Rising. April 15, 2013.

 

[29] Sonicsgate. Jason Reid

 

[30] Associated Press. “SuperSonics, Seattle reach last-minute settlement.” ESPN. July 03, 2008.

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

 

Allen, Percy. “An Interview with Clay Bennett, Owner of the Sonics.” The Seattle Times, May 20, 2007.

 

Allen, Percy. “Sonics Could Find a Suitor in Oklahoma.” The Seattle Times, February 8, 2006.

 

Allen, Percy. “Sonics co-owner McClendon fined $250K.” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2007.

 

“AROUND THE NBA.” 1995. The Washington Post (1974-Current File), Oct 29, 1.

 

Associated Press. “Stern asks lawmakers for Key Arena renovations.” ESPN. February 23, 2006.

 

Associated Press. “SuperSonics, Seattle reach last-minute settlement.” ESPN. July 03, 2008.

 

Bianchi, Mike. “Orlando Magic’s ownership shines compared to demands made by Supersonics’ owners.” The Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2007.

 

Brunner, Jim, and Bob Young. “Why Seattle is Losing the Sonics and Storm in 10 Easy Steps.” The Seattle Times, November 14, 2006.

 

Brunner, Jim. “E-Mails reveal Sonics owners intended to bolt from Seattle.” The Seattle Times, April 10, 2008.

 

David Stern Interview with Mitch Levy. Key Arena, Seattle, WA, United States: Supersonics PPV Broadcast, 1995. Transcript.

 

Evans, Jayda. “Mr. Stern, We Have Your Number.” The Seattle Times, November 2, 2007.

 

Evans, Jayda. “2005-2006 Sonics: Whose Team is This?” The Seattle Times, November 1, 2005.

 

Hughes, Frank. “Why Schultz tuned out and sold out the Sonics.” ESPN. July 21, 2006.

 

Judd, Ron. “Let’s remember who got Sonics in this crunch.” The Seattle Times, November 4, 2007.

 

“Paid in Full: Schultz Buys Sonics from Ackerley for $200M.” Sports Business Daily, January 12, 2001.

 

Seattle Times Staff. “Horsefeathers: The legacy of I-91.” The Seattle Times, November 13, 2006.

 

Schoenfield, Bruce. “Where The Thunder Comes Dribbling Down the Plain.” New York Times Magazine, October 24, 2008.

 

Secondary Sources

 

“Finance.” Finance – Seattle Public Facilities District. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

“KeyArena.” Wikipedia. May 06, 2017. Accessed May 01, 2017.

 

Robinson, Brian. “The Sonics Left Because of Frank Chopp.” Sonics Rising. April 15, 2013.

 

Sonicsgate. Directed by Jason Reid. Performed by Clay Bennett and Howard Schultz. Bellevue, WA. October 9, 2009.

 

“Stadium Facts.” CenturyLink Field. Accessed May 06, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Spring Cleaning: The Baggage of Drafting a Quarterback

In this tweet, NFL Network shows the Patriots’ formation for the final play of Super Bowl LI. They highlight each player, showing which round they were drafted, to emphasize the diversity of the draft-round discrepancy present on the Patriots. They fail to include one player in this graphic. This player is Tom Brady, who was drafted in the sixth round and would have only contributed to the meaning of the graphic. So, maybe the NFL completely forgot to include him. I wouldn’t buy that for a second, but I suppose it’s possible. It’s much more likely, however, that the NFL has a newfound level of contempt for Brady after the “deflategate” lawsuit. The league literally spent millions of dollars in an attempt to bring Brady down for an equipment infraction. I think it’s interesting then to observe the discrete, behind-the-scenes politics of the NFL. They’re an enormous business. Don’t let yourself believe they don’t have bad blood with certain people. Just an interesting thought.


This weekend the 2017 NFL draft unfolded in Philadelphia where all 32 NFL teams added new talent to their rosters. As expected, there was a clear strength at the cornerback and safety positions this year. The first round included many of the big names at defensive back, including Marshon Lattimore, Tre’Davious White, Jamal Adams, and several others. The surprising theme of this draft was the evident desperation for a quarterback by several teams. The quarterback class this year, as I alluded to in last week’s article, isn’t exactly robust based on projections. In what appeared to be a complete rejection of draft analysts’ predictions, many front offices proverbially bit the bullet to acquire a new signal caller in this year’s draft.

 

The first round had the San Francisco 49ers positioned to draft the second overall pick. Before their selection, the Chicago Bears traded up one spot to grab the second pick. The amount of assets the Bears forked over in exchange for the #2 pick is staggering. Chicago surrendered their 3rd round pick (No. 67 overall), their 4th round pick (No. 111 overall), and their 2018 third round pick. While San Francisco was able to acquire several picks by simply moving down one spot, Chicago was able to claim North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky as the future of their franchise.

 

Chicago has had a far from ideal situation at the quarterback position for a considerable length of time. After Rex Grossman proved to be far from competent in the 2000s, Chicago traded for Jay Cutler in 2009. Cutler, who was supposed to resurrect Chicago to its former NFL glory, proved to be an 8-8 kind of guy at best. For years, Bears fans had to watch Cutler sulk around the field, hurling ill-advised passes in every direction, and being humiliated at the hands of Green Bay any time there was a glimmer of hope for a postseason appearance. Chicago released Cutler from his lucrative contract this offseason and signed NFL journeyman Mike Glennon. Glennon had very little success in Tampa Bay, but that can mainly be attributed to the fact that he wasn’t given much playing time. He’s a poor starter and an apt backup. Either way, Glennon is not going to provide the Bears any kind of long term solution at QB. It was inevitable, then, that Chicago would draft a quarterback within the next few years. It wasn’t expected, however, for them to trade away several mid-round draft picks so they could select Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was projected to be taken in the mid-to-late first round. There were a lot of questions regarding his NFL-readiness, and he only started one season for North Carolina.

 

The trade up by Chicago shows a lot about the state of the franchise. Their willingness to trade away so many valuable assets leads me to believe that Chicago is extremely desperate to put together a respectable season. Head coach John Fox is likely going to lose his job if the team doesn’t perform well next year. They’ve been a legitimately bad team for a while, and their instability at QB has soured the fans’ perception of how functional the organization actually is. If Trubisky ends up being a quality franchise quarterback, then the move will be worth it. However, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an upside in giving away so many picks in such a deep draft. The Bears could have beefed up their defense with those lost picks, but are now instead banking on the hopes that they found their next franchise QB.

 

The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to get the No. 10 overall pick from the Buffalo Bills. In order to do this, Kansas City gave up the No. 27 and No. 91 overall picks. With the upgrade, the Chiefs selected Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. I found this move to be peculiar, especially for a well-run organization like Kansas City. The Chiefs have a talented roster and they’re capable of making a deep playoff run. This year they needed to fill holes at linebacker and defensive back in order to make a push towards the Super Bowl title they’ve been coveting during the Andy Reid era. By selecting one of the many big name defensive prospects at No. 27, I think there would be a real chance for Kansas City to win a championship. Their window is very much open. Selecting a quarterback to play as Alex Smith’s backup for the upcoming year was too conservative for my taste. Smith will likely be on his way out within the next year or two, but there simply was no need to expend so many resources for a quarterback who had a 13-19 record in college. I would think that Kansas City has a lot of pressure to “win now,” but from this decision it appears that they’re looking to the future. I don’t agree with this move, but, as with Chicago, if Mahomes proves to be a long term solution at QB, the trade will be worth the lost draft picks.

 

The Houston Texans, in true Houston Texans fashion, traded their No. 25 overall pick and their 2018 first round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the No. 12 pick in this year’s draft. After trading up, it was inevitable that the Texans were going to take Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. Two QBs had already been selected, and it was common knowledge that Houston had no solution at quarterback for the upcoming season. They traded Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, ironically, earlier this offseason. When Tony Romo retired in April, it became mission-critical for Houston to find a quarterback. The issue for Houston has been much of the same for the last five years. They’ve built a formidable team with talent all over the field, especially on defense. They’ve been on the brink of a 13-3 kind of season for an exhausting number of seasons. The only thing holding them back is the instability at the quarterback position. Matt Schaub fell off the face of the Earth after a dreadful 2013 campaign. 2014 and 2015 were defined by a revolving door of less-than-ideal signal callers, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden. Yikes. The Texans were desperate, and acted accordingly in this year’s draft by going after Deshaun Watson. There’s a lot of varying opinions on Watson’s ability to convert to the professional level, but with his tremendous success at Clemson, I don’t think Houston had much of a choice other than to draft him. I believe that while Houston expended two first round picks in order to grab Watson, their trade-up made the most sense given the current state of the franchise. There’s now a lot of pressure on head coach Bill O’Brien to put together a deep playoff run. Given the rising trajectory of the other AFC South teams, Houston needs to be sharp this season for that to happen. A lot of that responsibility is now nestled on the shoulders and helmet of their new rookie quarterback.

 


Keep those eyes peeled for NFL Spring Cleaning, every Monday morning! Follow me on Twitter if you haven’t already, @andysweeps. Cheers.

 

 

 

 

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.” -Peyton 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.