Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bye, Bye Battle Creek

I think I have a problem. It's not a huge problem. In fact, it is probably a good problem. I certainly can't see any problem with this problem I have. Whenever I start something long term, I always love the first iteration of it. I'm a slave to nostalgia. That's why I love obscure, long-past memories of my favorites sports teams (why I can remember random events from the 2008 NFL Season). That's why I love the first season of shows far more than I probably should (The Wire is a classic example). That's why I always love the first stop in trips, and that brings me to today.

Actually, let's go back to a year ago. Almost to the day. On February 25th, 2013, I arrived in Cape Town. I went to myriad amazing places on my Round the World Trip in 2013, but Cape Town remained my favorite. Over time, when asked again and again to explain what made Cape Town so special, I started wondering whether my love of the Western Cape had more to do with me going there first on the trip. There are an array of qualities that make Cape Town amazing, but the fact I went there first, when I was a young, green, traveller, yet to be jaded by different currencies, climates and languages, probably played some role in making it my favorite place.

On February 27th, 2014, I will say goodbye to Battle Creek, Michigan. I've been travelling here weekly since December the 4th. I've experienced countless delays, three flight cancellations, some hellish trips here and back, and the worst winter in the country (and in Battle Creek, Michigan) in decades. I was here when the temperature, before wind chill, reached -11. I used to think temperatures under 0 degrees were a myth, an intangible construct only partially reached when wind was factored in. I realized that naive vision was just that, that temperatures do exist under zero. That real cold exists and it is worse than I would have imagined. Yet, through all that, I grew to enjoy this little hamlet in rural, central Michigan. I'll miss Cereal City. It will forever be the first place I was on client site, and the first home I had outside of the Tri-State Area, or India.

I was born in New Brunswick, lived my formative years in Edison, and then in 1993, my family moved themselves and me to Plainsboro. I still live in that house. I went to college in New York. I've made countless trips back home to India but always stayed with family in Mumbai, Bangalore or Mangalore. The longest time I spent in any one place last year during my Round the World trip was eight days in Melbourne. This was, as odd as it may seem, the longest I've spent on my own in a foreign land (metaphorically, not physically, as Michigan as far as I know, is still in the USA). I came back most weekends, but for four days a week I was a Michigander, a Battle Creek-ian. I grew to accept it, if not enjoy it.

My first night in Battle Creek, after I was made to drive four-and-a-half hours because my flight was diverted last minute to Milwaukee, I went to a place a block down from my client's office, called Griffin's Pub and Grill. I ordered a tall beer. What came was basically a giant container of beer, a glass larger than any I have seen holding that sweet liquid. It cost $5.00. I quickly learned that despite the weather, there are some really good qualities about the midwest.

After two weeks in Michigan, I went back home for two weeks straight for Christmas/New Years. I returned at the height of the polar vortex. That first week in January it hit below zero. Then, below zero became the norm. It became a daily occurance. I woke up, entered my rental car, and saw that glaring temperature reading with a '-' in front of the number. I didn't know those raw temperatures existed. Until that day, I saw the '-3' temperature during the 2007 NFC Championship Game as one of the defining factors of that game, a description that made Green Bay, Wisconsin a magical place that night. That Polar Vortex week, I realized that Battle Creek was just as 'magical'.

Battle Creek is about as nice a midwest town as I could imagine. It's essentially run on cereal corporations and the stores that can run off the people that work at the cereal corporations. Therefore, the town is both doing better than most places in Michigan, and pretty heavily middle class. It's a nice town that espouses all of the Midwest values that have become rather cliche, while still being small and isolated enough for everyone to seemingly know each other. There are too few restaurant options in the town, but the ones that are there have made their mark and are really good.

Arcadia Brewery was its name. My first day in Battle Creek I was a little hesitant to go there as I didn't know how it would look to go to a 'brewery'. My second day there I went to Arcadia, and I fell in love instantly. Not only do they serve their own large collection of beer that they brew in house, but they have good food. Really good food. They have interesting choices, gourmet choices like braised pork belly, seared lamb curry, many gourmet pizzas. It is a true 'gastropub.' Actually, that might be low praise. It is better than most gastropubs. That restuarant, on food alone, could work in New York. However, their limited group of waiters and familial feel wouldn't work in New York. That was distinctly Michigan.

Over the weeks I expanded my range of post-work hangouts. I tried the surprisingly wide array of Battle Creek cuisines, like a surprisingly good and authentic Sushi place, or countless Mexican places, or a really upscale Mediterranean place. Battle Creek's food offerings may not be many, but they are quality.

I'll try to stop writing a guidebook for Battle Creek, but instead just talk about the town. I've never been anywhere in the US apart from the East Coast. There is a certain energy in the East Coast that is apparent even outside New York. It's there in Jersey, in Boston, in DC, in Philly. It isn't there in Michigan, and I can only assume the rest of the Midwest. There's a different mentality. A more true, a more congenial mentality. Everyone's polite, seeing each person as a potential friend. It's just a different lifestyle. I don't know if its better, but it definitely isn't bad.

The main area of Battle Creek, which also happens to house the offices where I worked in, reminds me of Princeton's Nassau Street, a lane of nice shops and restaurants. I stayed at an aparment and then a hotel on what is essentially Battle Creek's Route I, with all the stores you can possibly imagine (24 hour Target, Walmart and Meijer - a grocery store). It kind of felt like home, but also felt like a completely different place.

I might have had a different reaction had I lived outside New Jersey and New York in my life. I wasn't ever outside that environment until now, so everything just felt different. When I got my Starbucks Coffee at Barnes and Noble from the cute barista, it felt different than when I did that exact same thing off of Route 1. Everything was different, but nice. It was a calm environment. It wasn't a big city. It wasn't rushed and it didn't move too fast. Battle Creek did everything right. There might be countless other towns in the midwest that are exactly the same, but I haven't been to them and I wouldn't have gone to them first. I went to Battle Creek first, and I'll miss it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Year Later... Flying is a Little Different

Flight #1 (JFK to JNB - South African Airways - A340-600)

 365 days ago, I started a once-in-a-lifetime journey. I took a flight, the longest flight of my life. It was a 15.5 hour journey aboard South African Airways, from New York JFK to Johannesburg OR Tambo. It was aboard South African Airways beautiful A340-600, the worlds' longest plane.

365 days later, I started a weekly journey. I took a flight, one of the shortest flights of my life. It was a 1.73 hour journey aboard United Airlines, from Newark to Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was aboard a United Airlines Embraer-145, one of the smallest standard commercial aircraft in the world.

365 days ago, I started a journey that I will never repeat. Visiting nine different countries (South Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Singapore, Australia, Japan) over 105 days. 365 days later, I'm doing the last weekly trip that I've had to repeat a lot, vising three different states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan).

365 days ago I started a trip that was a gift from my a Great Dad. This isn't about that trip. I've written thousands upon thousands of words on that trip. No, this is about what I had to do 30 times on that trip, and had to about 25 times in the last three months: take off and land on an airplane. 30 trips in 105 days made me love air travel even more. 24 trips in 90 days made me hate it more than I ever though imaginable. This is a story about how long haul flights make you love this incredible creation that is the airplane, while short haul makes you wish the Wright Brothers never were born.

Ever since I was a kid I loved flying in an airplane. Not flying planes myself, but being a passenger, being in this giant bus thousands of feet above the ground. I loved the little food, the free drinks, the movies (although when I was a kid it was one movie, that started at the same time for everyone). I loved flying, visiting new airports, taking new airlines. I was someone born to do the job I currently have, which is fly each week.

One of the things that I was most excited about for my Round the World Trip was the chance to take 30 flights, take many new airlines (South African, Thai, AirAsia, Singapore, Jetstar, All Nippon). One of my favorite parts was choosing my different mileage segments, getting the flights I wanted, getting three trips on the A380. The best example was when I chose to take the Mumbai => Singapore => Frankfurt => New York way home on Singapore Airlines instead of Mumbai => Newark direct flight.

I'm rethinking all of that now. I've taken 24 flights over the past 90 days. I can count the amount that have taken off on time on one hand. Sure, it was one of the worst winters in memory everywhere in the US outside of California, but it was the worst airline I was flying anywhere in the world outside of American Airlines.

Let's just recap my incredible journey of flying on United these past few months:

  • I was diverted mid-flight to Milwaukee because of some mechanical issue (this was on my first flight out to Michigan), making me drive 4.5 hours from Milwaukee to Michigan.
  • I had a flight cancelled because the previous flight had to divert to Chicago and by the time they got to Grand Rapids they had clocked out and couldn't fly the next flight.
  • I was delayed three hours in Grand Rapids for fuck knows what reason
  • I was delayed in Chicago in the plane 1.5 hours because they couldn't get the fuel valve opened
  • I was delayed five hours in Detroit after we all boarded the plane because one of the engines didn't fire. We had the deplane and wait in Detroit five hours for them to send a new plane
  • I had a flight cancelled after we boarded the plane and pushed back from the gate because the plane couldn't get de-iced in time (this was in the blizzard on the Day after the Super Bowl).
  • I had a flight cancelled because Newark decided to cancel it for some reason, and then had my rescheduled flight cancelled after I woke up at 4:45, and then had to sit an hour at 5AM going between United and Delta to get rescheduled.
  • And, oh yeah, I had a flight delayed two hours because THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT OVER-FUCKING-SLEPT

All of these things happened. This also doesn't include about 10 different times my flight was delayed less than two hours but still created an annoyance. I had to endure all of these scenarios. At first, I thought it was because I was flying out of Grand Rapids, a small airport with no departing flight after 7 PM leaving me little alternative options. Alas, I had delays flying out of Detroit and Chicago. I couldn't escape the wrath of United Airlines. I couldn't escape the wrath of the modern American Aviation industry.

On the 30 flights during my Round the World trip, only one was delayed by more than an hour, a flight in India, the one country who's aviation system is almost as bad as America's. 30 flights and none had strange delays. I can use this as evidence of how bad United is, but really it just shows one of the biggest truths of aviation: long-haul is the way to go.

Long Haul flights are the last remaining segment of the aviation world that harks back to the Golden Age of flying. That was the era when flying was, admittedly, for the Super Rich, but was lavish, luxurious. You had beautiful, young stewardesses pampering you with food and drink. You had airlines that valued fanciness over financial gain. It was a different time, but that world is still somewhat evident in long haul flying.

Long Haul flights on International Airlines are still amazing. I love the real Long-Haul ones, the ones over 12 hours, where you can get a decent sleep and still bang out two or three movies, where you can do everything you should be able to do on a flight. Nowadays, all the major airlines across the world have on-demand video on long-haul flights. Have good meals with two or three options. Serve decent alcohol. Do everything you want from a flight. Those are the only flights still worth taking.

I realized this when I took what was pretty much the only flight on United that I enjoyed, the four hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco. For some unknown reason, United chooses to run a B777-200 on this flight, a plane so big it is never used on domestic travel in the US. This plane is mostly used on long-haul international flights. I was lucky enough to get it on a domestic one, and they had Movies On Demand. They had big aisles and nice seats. Of course, we didn't get free food, but it was still pretty good. It was something close to the Thai Airlines flights I took last year (the worst of the four major International Airlines I took). It was the best United to had to offer.

And it all made me feel worse of taking that same old Embraer-145 each Monday. I love flying. I still do. I just booked a mileage trip to Berlin in four weeks and can't wait to experience an actual flight again. Nothing would amke me happier than getting the opportunity to go on a 15.5 hour flight again. Hopefully I will someday. But now I've figured out to do so I need to sit through my fair share of mechaanical failures, weather delays, crews that clock out and oversleep, and random cancellations. A year teaches you a lot, but it really teaches you to enjoy the better versions of things, because the bad versions are unhumanly bad.

I still love flying. No amount of United-caused delays will change that. I'm still astounded at this technology. Last week, I went from sitting in an airport in Grand Rapids to chilling with my friends in Princeton in 200 minutes. That same jouney would have taken two weeks two hundered years ago. It would have taken two days a hundred years ago. Flight is, after the internet, the biggest reason the world is so flat today. Globalization doesn't happen if you can't get from one place in the world to literally anywhere else in less than 24 hours. Being able to fly from one place to another is one of the great Technological advances ever.. I have to tell myself that to sit through the delays. I have to tell myself that to make it past the infuriating parts of flying in the modern era, because I know I can really experience all the technology has to offer when I get the chance I did 365 days ago.

Flights #2 through #29


All Photos credited to the amazing Photographers at

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

See Ya Roy

I don't know why I gravitated towards Roy Oswalt. I first watched him pitch in 2002. At that point I wasn't a real baseball fan apart from some partial interest in the Yankees. I don't know what it was about him. He was short, but at that point I was tall for my age, so it probably wasn't that. My cousin Andy was from Houston, so the prospect of following the team from Houston was interesting. Their stadium was nice and unique. I can't explain it. Call it true love. I hope to experience the same random attraction to someone someday that I can marry. Hopefully I'll be able to explain it more than my love for the Astros.

Roy Oswalt retired yesterday. It didn't make big news. Not only wasn't he not the best pitcher to retire this offseason, he wasn't eve the best 'Roy' to retire. Still, Oswalt retires an underrated pitcher that was really good for a solid 10 years. He won't be missed by too many, but he'll be missed by me. My favorite MLB player of my time being a baseball fan retired. He's the first of my favorites to retire, and it all ended so quickly.

I was there watching when he won 20 games in 2004 and 2005. I was there when he pitched dominantly in September year after year. I was there when he pitched two games in the 2005 NLCS, both on the road in St. Louis, both following Astros losses, and won both, giving up one run in seven innings each time out against a scary offensive lineup. I was there when he won World Series MVP and Drayton McClane gifted him with a giant Caterpillar tractor, which he seemed as excited to get as a trip to the World Series.

Roy Oswalt was a really good pitcher for a long time. From 2001-2010, he was probably the 3rd best pitcher in baseball, but was always overshadowed. First, it was Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson dominating 2001-2004. Then it was Johan Santana dominating 2005-2007. Finally, it was Halladay, Felix and Lincecum in 2008-2010. Still, other than Halladay and to some degree Johan, those guys came and went. Oswalt stayed. He opened 2001 by going 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 170 ERA+ in his rookie seasn. He ended it going 13-13 with a 2.76 ERA and 145 ERA+ in 2010.

Roy Oswalt was a great pitcher. He threw a fastball between 90-95 that he was never afraid to leave up. In his prime, he followed that up with a dominant, 65-mph curveball that froze people. Later in his career, he developed a really nice changeup. He mixed pitches well, hit his spot well, never walked too many guys, and kept the Astros in games. Even as the team deteriorated from 2006-2009, Oswalt gave the Stros a chance each 5th day. There is not more you can ask from a pitcher.

I'll never get to watch him pitch again, but now I don't have to worry about him pitching for the most random of teams. I don't have to worry about him lowering his career numbers even more. I can treasure the memories of just how good he was at times. He was absolutely dominant in September (so good that it led Bill James to name him the best 'big-game' regular season pitcher ever. That's probably an overstatement, but he was a major reason why the Astros went from 56-60 to 92-70 in 2004 (a 36-10 finish), and 15-30 to 89-73 (a 74-43 finish) in 2005.

Roy Oswalt's defining game will always be Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS. Game 5 of the NLCS could have ended up as one of the most famous baseball playoff games of all time. To reset, with the Astros leading the series 3-1 and playing at home, Lance Berkman hit a home run to give the Astros a 4-2 lead in the 6th inning. Come the 9th inning, Brad Lidge entered the game. He was off of 1.5 seasons as the league's best closer. He quickly struck out the first two batters, but then David Eckstein got a nibbler single. Jim Edmonds drew a walk. And then Albert Pujols hit a home run that still hasn't landed. The Juicebox (Minute Maid Park) went from delirous before Eckstein batted, to cautious optimism when Pujols came up to the plate, to abject disaster and haunting silence after Pujols launched that home run.

It could have been crushing. The Astros blew a 3-2 lead in the series to the Cardnals the year before, losing Game 7 in St. Louis despite leading in the 7th inning. They could have clinched in their park, but instead they had to return to St. Louis. The Astros could easily have been ruined, but they had their trump card, they had Roy Oswalt.

There's a common baseball saying that 'momentum is your next day's starting pitcher.' It was never as true than this game. In the bottom of the 1st inning, Roy Oswalt faced Albert Pujols. He got him to two strikes, and then threw a fastball high and in. Pujols awkwardly swung, with the swing coupling with his scaring off the ball causing Albert to fall to his knees and strike out. The game was basically over then. Roy Oswalt was not losing that game.

Roy Oswalt left an impression on Houston that will never go away. He was our ace. He and Lance Berkman were the people that valiantly carried the legacy of the post-Bagwell and Biggio Astros. The Astros never really played all that well in those days aside from a random 86-win season in 2008, but they always played like they were on a playoff caliber team.

Roy Oswalt will never pitch again, but I still have the memories. I still have that Game 6. I still ahve the weird memory of his brilliant performance in Game 2 of the 2010 NLCS when he was on the Phillies. I'll have the memory of him signing a below-market extension at 29 in 2006 and never leaving open any chance he would voluntarily sign with anyone but the Astros. By Roy, I'll always treasure the memories.

Monday, February 10, 2014


I was in Cairns, Australia, when I first read the news about Jason Collins coming out. He hasn't played in an NBA game since and likely will not again. This isn't because he is gay, or at least I believe it isn't because he is gay. It is more that he is old at a position that does not age well. Still, Jason Collins coming out made news. He was an active player during that season. It was the closest any major US sport has come to having an openly gay, active player.

Ten months later, Michael Sam is doubling down. He will, unless this country is far more backwards than even a bible-thumper would think, become the first active openly gay player in a major US sport. He will suit up this September. He will take the field. He will make history. And, we have eight months before that happens. Less than a week after hte 2013 NFL Season ended, we were given the biggest storyline heading into 2014. And I can't wait to see how this all plays out.

I totally agree that Michael Sam is an incredibly courageous, brave person. Sooner or later there was going to be a trailblazer, but he decided to step up to the plate and make it happen. His life will never be the same. Ever. He will always be known as the first openly gay athlete in a major US sport. That said, in the current societal landscape, this was a pretty brilliant, calculated decision.

The greatest positive for Sam is that he gets to live freely. He doesn't have to worry about getting outed. He doesn't have to worry about getting caught. He can live the way he wants to as a proud, fulfilled gay man. The other advantage is that he's basically ensured that he will be remembered long after his NFL career ends. Truthfully, there is a chance he does nothing in the pros. Before this news broke he was a tweener, likely to be a 3-5th round pick. Those guys wash up all the time. There are a handful of players picked in those rounds each year that won't make it to year 2 in the NFL. Sam could be one of those guys. But he's ensured he won't.

First, this places immense pressure on the team who drafts him to keep him. His career won't be externally judged as that of a normal 3rd-5th round pick. If he's unceremoniously cut, questions will be asked. If he's traded, questions will be asked. If he doesn't see on-field action questions will be asked. Secondly, even if he washes out, which is probably far more likely than everyone will admit, he will be famous. Yes, it helps when the guy who breaks Baseball's color barrier is as good as Jackie Robinson, but even if he wasn't a HOF-level player he would be famous. Michael Sam will be that person.

The other side of this is how the NFL will react. The immediate reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Many current NFL players tweeted their support. Most GMs/Owners/Coaches that were asked said that his sexual orientation did not matter in their evaluation of Michael Sam, and that they would welcome him. A few said that the media distraction might hurt his draftability. Almost none said they wouldn't want him on their team because he is gay. Sooner or later one Orthodox Christian in the NFL will make some sort of anti-Homosexuality statement, but it hasn't happened yet. And there lies the best part of Michael Sam's story: this is the right time.

One day earlier Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Federal Government will be extending rights to same-sex couples in Federal cases. It's more of a nominal change as it will effect very few same-sex couples but it was a landmark decision. The general populous is heavily in favor of same-sex rights. There will be outspoken anti-gay people in the NFL, but the large majority will be fine with Michael Sam. The country, despite what the news may tell you, is pretty much firmly in the pro-gay-rights camp at this point. Michael Sam will get a lot of external attention, but chances are he will be welcomed with open arms by most of his NFL teammates, and that is a good thing, for both Michael Sam and America as a whole.

About a month ago, a nasty, weird, internet rumor caught fire for a day or two that Aaron Rodgers was gay. The 'proof' was allegedly a stream of tweets by Rodgers' assistant that seemed 'more than friendly'. It was quickly shot down by Rodgers and left the Football National Conversation pretty quickly, but I'm sure a lot of the LGBT community wanted it to be true. Imagine if the first active openly gay athelete was the best player in his sport. Aaron Rodgers, a young, handsome man, is incredibly good at football. Statistically, he is having the greatest start to a career of any QB. He's the league's most marketable player who is not over 35 (Brady, Manning). He would have been the best possible first openly gay athlete.

Just imagine if that player was someone of Rodgers caliber? There would be no questions of 'Will he be accepted in the locker room?' or 'Will he cause friction in the locker room?'. If it was the best player in the league, the answer to those questions would be obvious. Instead, it is a player who hasn't yet played a down of professional sports. It is a player who easily could be out of the league in 20 months. Still, it is a giant step for gay rights in this country. Major Team Sports was really one of the last frontiers for the LGBT community to cross. Now they have. Michael Sam will be drafted. He will play. He will make a lasting impact on the sports landscape that will never really end.

27 years ago, Doug Williams became the first black QB to win a Super Bowl (and until now, the only). Russell Wilson just became the 2nd. I didn't read one column about this fact, about Wilson being a black QB. If anything, him being a short QB was more noteworthy. That is the ultimate sign of progress. Four of the five most highly-touted QBs under 25 are black (Newton, Kaepernick, RGIII, Wilson, with Luck being the exception). Today, Michael Sam is the biggest name in the country. Hopefully, 27 years from now, when a player comes out before the draft, no questions are asked. People will judge him on his height, weight, arm-length, a 40 time, and that is all. It could happen. It will happen, and it started with Michael Sam.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

2013 NFL Playoffs: Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

Super Bowl XLVIII

(A1) Denver Broncos (15-3)  vs.  (N1) Seattle Seahawks (15-3)

FOX - 6:30  |  DEN -2.5

State of the Teams: The Broncos and Seahawks were the best teams in the AFC and NFC entering the season, the best teams in the AFC and NFC during the season, and now they're meeting in the Super Bowl. This doesn't happen. In 2009, both #1 seeds made it to the Super Bowl, but they weren't trendy favorites before the season. Both these two teams have fought all year to get the haunting memory of an awful Division Round loss a year ago, and they've done it by being better than they were in 2012. The Seahawks have the NFL's best defense, the 7th best since 1989 as per Football Outsiders' DVOA. The Broncos have the 6th best offense since 1989 as per Football Outsiders' DVOA, although I think that underrates the Broncos. They are historically good at what they do, and them playing each other is something that never happens. It will be special, and thankfully the weather seems to be cooperating.

The Broncos definitely enter less healthy than Seattle. Lost in the talk of the brave Patriots making it so far without some of their best players, the Broncos lost their 2nd best player on offense early in the season (Ryan Clady), and played now 11 games without their best defensive player, who happens to be one of the five best defensive players in the NFL coming into this season. They lost their 2nd best corner two weeks ago and replaced him well. Champ Bailey gets healthier each week and he'll has to to replace Harris well. There are some constants. Obviously, Peyton is fully recovered from his midseason ankle injury, which looking back probably had a bigger impact than people realized. His skill position players are fully healthy. The Broncos rush defense has been good all year long, despite shuffling different players around. The Broncos know what they do well. The Seahawks are very healthy, but their problems weren't really rectified when they got healthier. The O-Line is healthy, but is still quite terrible. Percy Harvin is back, but he might get hurt at any moment. Both teams are ready, and I can't wait to see them square off.

The Matchup: Denver Offense vs. Seattle Defense

This is the Marquee matchup that everyone wants to talk about. They were both by far the best units in the NFL this season. There are matchups all over the field to talk about. The Seahawks pass defense is great against everyone. They're top-3 against #1 WRs, TEs and RBs. Where they relatively struggle is against #2 WRs and Slot receivers. Denver can capitalize there. Eric Decker will be big, but the huge wild card can be Wes Welker. He hasn't really had a giant game since coming to Denver and this could be a perfect moment for him to have a memorable game. Welker had big games in both his previous Super Bowls. Welker could also be a key in the red zone. Both teams are staggeringly good in the red zone. This matchup definitely decidees who wins this battle. A trusted formula for winning this game is for hte Seahawks to limit the Broncos to field goals. Wes Welker has been used as a red zone target far more in his one year in Denver than any of his seasons in New England. He has to be in this game because scoring TDs outside in the red zone is kind of impossible against Seattle.

The other matchup is if the Seahawks can get to Peyton. Manning wasn't touched against New England. Despite what people may think, the Patriots have a pretty good pass rush, and Manning read them perfectly getting the ball out quickly each time. Seattle literally has to do better, but the chances of them doing what the Giants did to New England in Super Bowl XLII is unlikely. Another little mismatch that can turn Denver's way is in the playoffs they've become more of a ball-control offense, something Manning's Colts did in 2006. The Broncos have run just 8 drives in their first two games (because of this, they've actually scored more points per drive in the playoffs than the regular season). They have a chance of doing that again. The Broncos punt fewer than any team in the NFL, and went three-and-out fewer than any team besides San Diego. The Seahawks defense is relatively average at doing this. They're only 7th in forcing punts. They're more likely to give up field goals or force turnovers. Not a bad thing, certainly, but the Broncos can shorten this game.

The Broncos running game is also better than most people believe. The Broncos rank 10th in DVOA in rush offense, which matches up well with the Seahawks 8th-ranked by DVOA rush defense. The Seahawks rush defense has been far more variable, though. Take their two games against the Rams. The first time, they gave up over 200 yards in a game they probably should have lost. The 2nd meeting in Week 17, they allowed less than one yard-per-carry. The Seahawks will probably play to stop the pass, so running lanes might be there for the Broncos. Manning has showed this year that he will check to the run each time, as shown by his game in New England this year. Knowshon Moreno will be key to pick up short 3rd downs because picking those up with the pass is a little precarious against Seattle.

The Matchup: Seattle Offense vs. Denver Defense

No one is talking about this matchup, but it is the one that will probably decide what type of game it becomes. The most likely scenario is the Denver Offense scores between 20-27 points. The key will be how well the Seahawks offense plays, against a banged-up but resourceful defense. Look, the Broncos defense is injured beyond belief. Putting aside Von Miller's suspension, the Broncos are missing five of their Week 1 key contributors (Miller, Wolfe, Vickerson, Harris, Moore). Now, some have been replaced pretty capably (Adams for Moore, Bailey for Harris), but depth is a real concern if they have any more injuries. What the Broncos do well, and have done well throughout the season is stop the run. They were a Top-10 run defense when Miller was suspended. They were a Top-10 run defense when Miller came back, and they stayed that way after he got hurt again. They ended the season ranked 9th by DVOA in rush defense, which aligns well to the #7 by DVOA rush offense for Seattle. The Broncos just played a team with a power running game, with a good rush-blocking O-Line, and a large battering ram of a running back. That team was better at running the ball than Seattle and entered off a 200+ yard 6 rush TD performance. They shut that team down cold. The Seahawks were one of just two teams to run the all more than they passed, and they need the run to win games. This is not a great matchup for them.

The main storyline with the Seahawks pass offense will probably be how their league-worst pass protection holds up. The Seahawks gave up more sacks per play than any team in the NFL. They got their starters on the O-Line back later in teh season and continued to play poorly. Wilson was rushed all the time by both New Orleans and San Francisco. Now, the Broncos don't have nearly the pass rush of either of those two teams, but they're able to manufacture pressure. Shaun Phillips has had a really nice season. Inside (where the real weakness of the Seahawks line lies), Malik Jackson has done a nice job rushing from the interior. He and PotRoast Knighton have to win their matchups and ush Wilson back, something more important against a shorter QB like Russell Wilson. His game has definitely dropped off in recent weeks, but some of that is the O-Line. Still, the offense is a little simple. It works because Wilson is really accurate downfield. If he has time, he can take advantage of the poor Broncos safeties. Deep passes are there to be made against the Broncos. What the Broncos do well on defense is cover #2 receivers, which should be big against a team with two top receivers but little else. Percy Harvin could play a factor, but I find it hard to believe someone who's basically played 1.25 games out of 18 will do much in this game. He has no rhythm, and I'm sure the Broncos will key on him when he's in the game early just like the Saints did.

The Pick: This is really tough. These teams are so evenly matched and so well matched. Their strengths will match up against each other. Their weaknesses will match up against each other. There's no easy area where one team has a distinct advantage going up against the opposing unit. Picking with my head is useless since these teams are about as close as any two could be. One point I would make his Seattle's defense has a very high variance. When they're on, they're near untouchable. When they're off, there merely good, which is probably enough to swing this game. Denver is more consistent. What's killed them in their losses are turnovers. That could obviously swing the game but it is hard to ever predict turnovers. The game is so close. My heart tells me Denver. This is just their year. They've even gotten great weather in thier playoff games. 60 degrees against New England, and now mid-30's with little wind for the Super Bowl. Both top units are great, but the Broncos are historically great. They can run the ball better than people think. They can exploit the depth of the Seahawks corner-back group. They can run when the Seahawks let them run. The other side includes probably the worst aspect of any of these teams, the Seahawks O-Line. Their o-line is not good. They can be taken advantage of, and I think they do to some degree. I could very easily be wrong. I hope I am not. I'll just say I am far, far, far less confident about this pick than any Super Bowl pick I've made since I started this blog (despite getting the Steelers/ Packers game very wrong). I just hope that if Peyton Manning loses to a Top-10 defense of the past 20 years in a cold-weather Super Bowl, dumb people in the media don't call Peyton Manning a choker.

Broncos 27  Seahawks 20  (DEN -2.5)

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.