Monday, October 24, 2016

NFL 2016: Screw It, I loved Seahawks @ Cardinals

The world reacted in very disparate ways to yesterday's 6-6 OT Tie between Arizona and Seattle. It was almost universally negative, seen as an extension of the issues the NFL has had all season: bad play, bad offenses, boring primetime games, and eventually declining ratings. I don't care about any of that. My reaction, and mirrored by a small portion of the NFL populous, was that it was fantastic. It was everything I wanted to see from those two teams. I don't care what anyone says, that was a great, enjoyable game.

Admittedly, the OT madness did ruin the game slightly. Had Catanzaro just hit his field goal, that would've been close to a perfect game. Great defense can be as entertaining as great offense. Maybe everyone doesn't see it that way. But if you claim you do, there is no excuse for not enjoying that game. The defenses were tremendous in every respect. The Seahawks and Cardinals, when they are humming, an incredible to watch on offense. Fast, furious, intense. Both sides were locked in on defense from the start.

Yes, the problems that both teams have on offense, mainly at the OL, exacerbated the problems and made the jobs of the defenses a lot easier. But watching great defense dominate middling offenses can be fun. People decry the number of penalties, particularly the holding penalties on the Seattle and Arizona lineman. That isn't sloppy play. That is dominance by defenses forcing their opposing OLs to hold to survive.

For all the people who complained about that game, I ask then what would a great defensive game look like? I saw many people say how ugly the game was, how boring it was, how it was bad offense and not great defense. No, that is just not correct. If you couldn't enjoy that game, then just admit you find offense boring. The sporting ideal of the NFL should be that a 3-0 game and a 51-48 game are equally exciting - or equally messy. Both feature one side of the ball dominating the other side of the ball. Yes, a perfect game is probably 27-24 or 23-20, or some game where every unit plays decent. But if we aren't getting that, I would take 3-0 as easily as a 51-48. Those are both farces.

Honestly, the best part of the game to me was that it was so unexpected. Sure, a lot of people expected the game to be low scoring, but I didn't know the NFL in 2016 was capable of a 6-6, touchdownless game, that wasn't marred by some horrendous QBing. At the nadir of the Whisenhunt post-Warner years in Arizona, they had a few of these games, but those had Max Hall and John Skelton at QB. This game had Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer.

This whole season has been something of a fresh start for defenses. Aside from New England, and maybe Dallas, the top teams so far in 2016 are all defense focused. Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City. All of these teams are among the best in the league, and all have better defenses than offenses. Scoring is tracking to be down this year. Defenses are slowly climbing back after the NFL paradigm changed following the 2011 lockout. And nothing showed this more thant 6-6 in OT.

Ranking the 20 Best Picture Winner's that I Have Seen

20.) Crash (2005)

Let's just move on. Crash has been so derided that at this point it probably is underrated. It's not a totally horrible movie, but it is definitely in the Bottom-10 or so of Best Picture winners from every list or ranking that I've seen. The movie itself is way too simple and obvious, just pulling racial strings with no real emotional weight. As I said, let's just move on.

19.) Forrest Gump (1994)

Here's a movie that got a lot less critically popular over time. I don't know if it was viewed as a worthy winner at the time, but the fact that it topped some truly great movies that were nominated makes it seem so much worse. It beat out Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, and while I have my quibbles with that second movie, it was definitely better than Forrest Gump. Another overly simplistic, obvious story that somewhat worked because of Hanks' performance.

18.) American Beauty (1999)

My own opinion of American Beauty has really dropped over time. Spacey is fine, but while we've seen small movies before compete seriously for Best Picture nods, this wouldn't shouldn't have really done so. The movie is fine, but boring. The storyline itself was a bit creepy and seemed to never own up to that fact. I liked the movie on first watching, but when you see what real good film can do you get a better understanding of simply good movies.

17) Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Honestly, from this point on forward I would heavily recommend any of these movies. As an Indian myself, the story did touch a few personal strings, and while on the whole I was fine with their depiction of Indian poverty, it was a bit much at times. That said, the quasi-Bollywood aura of the film made a too-good-to-be-true story work. I'm surprised quasi-Bollywood movies haven't done more since, but for a year it worked as a nice entry point to the world's most expansive cinema.

16.) Annie Hall (1977)

I honestly have not seen many Woody Allen films - I mostly don't get his quixotic, off-beat style. I understand his legacy as a comedic genius, and that is probably why I don't see Annie Hall as some groundbreaking movie among the best ever to win the Best Picture award. I find it a perfectly acceptable really good movie. It is one of the better small movies I've seen - especially out of the group that have gained Oscar Love, but I don't think I would rewatch it as the laughs aren't the type that would go over as well a second time.

15.) Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

This was not a great movie, it is not one I would rewatch many times. That all said, the movie itself was brilliant in its construction. Taking on a very taboo subject back in the late-70's, showing a marriage splitting up not because of infidelity, or abuse, but just loneliness and sadness. Both Hoffman and Streep were brilliant and they needed to be. If they had lesser talents in those roles the movie would have been too depressive to enjoy. With them at the helm, it made it bearable, thought-provoking.

14.) West Side Story (1961)

Musicals dominated the Best Picture category in the 60's (and there are four of them in total on my list), and they were all really good. To be honest, with Musicals (except for the one I have ranked highest), I care mostly about the musical pieces. I only kind of care about the plot. That was the real failing of Les Miserables, which is a great story with great music, but the movie focused way too much on the story part. I think West Side Story did a little of this as well. The music is good, but wasn't present enough in the movie.

13.) Chicago (2002)

Hey, another musical! Chicago may have had the best staging of any of the musicals to win Best Picture - at least of the one's that I have seen. I really liked the idea to make it almost two separate movies, with an, admittedly weak, story happening in real time, and the songs happening on a stage in an alternate reality. The staging and the music was great. If only they had a more compelling singer as leading man other than Richard Gere it may have been ever higher up in my list.

12.) Titanic (1997)

It's become too easy to criticize James Cameron's movie of largesse, but let's just remember it is still a really good movie. Yes,it is probably too long. Yes, it was trying too hard to be a spectacle, but spectacle is what James Cameron is good at. The FX and staging was unlike anything we have seen. The fact they were able to build in a somewhat compelling relationship storyline is actually pretty impressive. If only James Cameron had a better internal editor and cut 30% of that movie out, it would have been close to perfect.

11.) Argo (2012)

At the time, I was somewhat surprised that Argo won Best Picture. It was a year in which I saw a majority of the other nominees, including Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Django Unchained, Les Mis and Zero Dark Thirty. Looking back, though, Argo probably was the best of these. For what is a movie detailing a real event, it was incredibly suspenseful. Ben Affleck the director is immensely talented, and he was smart enough to let the story and the other characters take over from himself as an actor in this movie. Argo really hit every mark of a fun, suspenseful, historical piece of art.

10.) Gone With the Wind (1939)

I have seen startilingly few of the really old winners, and while there a lot of them on my list (and I plan to do this again when I have seen more of hte old classics), Gone With the Wind is the only one I have, and probably the earliest one I ever will. The movie itself is great. The story is simple, but most movie plots were back in teh day. The movie is way too long, but again that was pretty common back in the day. The performances were great. The story was great. It mixed in slavery and race relations with surprisngly delicate ease for a movei back in the pre-Civil Rights days. I'm excited to watch more old classics, but for now Gone With the Wind set the bar pretty high.

9.) The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Honestly, I feel like I have to defend why it is so low on my list rather than why the movie is still great. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster were both great in their roles, and the plot itself was captivating, but I just don't get why this is seen as such a groundbreaking or memorable film. It is good, it is a joy to watch, but I wouldn't necessarily rewatch it. It was great to get what is conventionally a thriller film to win Best Picture, and it was deserving, but it really won in a weak year.

8.) Spotlight (2015)

It's hard to judge the most recent winner. I may look back five years or ten years from now and think very differently of Spotlight, but I really thought it was absolutely fantastic. For what I would consider a small movie, the plot was still quite complicated, with a lot of moving pieces in terms of the various writers and lawyers and sources and priests, but it never held anyone's hand. It demanded you pay attention, and it rewarded you for that patience with some amazing performances. Every actor in what was a star studded cast was playing the hell out of not always complex material. Finally, it really deftly handled the subject matter without really killing the idea of religion, which I appreciated.

7.) My Fair Lady (1964)

Take a small conventional story about a cockney girl trying to be made into a high-society starlet being taught by a arrogant, high-society man who ends up getting taught valuable lessons himself, combine it with two great actors with great performances, and a great song-list and you get a truly great movie. Many obnoxious people will prefer the stage version that stared Julie Andrews, but what really made the movie great was the set design. They painted a vibrant canvas of high-society London that made the movie come to life in a way that only great film can do.

6.) The Departed (2006)

Let's accept two statements. This is not Martin Scorsese's best movie. Yet it was also a brilliant movie very worth of this award. Having thrice lost the award with a nominated film (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas), this was seen as something of a Lifetime Achievement Award, but The Departed, to me, is still a great movie. The competing double-crosser plot played out brilliantly by Leo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, was spell-binding. Add in great direction and more great performances than I can name, and you get a modern classic. Yes, Goodfellas was better (and was robbed), but let's not let that short-change what a great film The Departed was itself.

5.) No Country for Old Men (2007)

Much like with The Departed, the Coen Brothers finally have a best-picture win to me is something of a Lifetime Achievement Award. I have never seen The English Patient, but the fact that Fargo, to me still the best movie the Coen's have made, did not win will always be a shame. That all said, No Country was fantastic, in many ways a traditional movie with dabs of Coen brilliance rather than their normal skewed approach. The Coen touches were brilliant, but so was all the traditional elements. The suspense, the directing, the simplistic less-is-more performances from Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. Everything was great in what is also a surprisngly rewatchable performance.

4.) Amadeus (1984)

Arguably the best Biopic to ever win The Best Picture, Amadeus remains a stunning movie, in both its brilliant depiction of Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century, it's musical performances of opera and symphony, and of course the plot played so effortlessly by F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, and Tom Hucle as the snivelling, bellowing Mozart. Sure, people will long quibble about its inaccuracies, but the plot itself was one of the best, most honest portrayals of jealousy. Watching Salieri struggle knowing his talents will never match up to someone to whom it comes so effortlessly is just amazing. It really ends up being a quick three hours through Vienna, with almost no wasted moments ending in a climax where Salieri gets to see Mozart's brilliance in action, finally co-create and understand him just as Mozart himself is dying leaving his lasting legacy. Just brilliant.

3.) The Sound of Music (1965)

There may be no better musical movie than than The Sound of Music. It deftly told a story about love in the time of World War II without navigating too far or too far away from the War. The music itself was great. The main characters of Maria and Captain von Trapp were so well developed and played by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I said earlier that with musicals the story is secondary, and while I think that is largely true, The Sound of Music works even if you fast forward past all the songs. The setting also was great, replicating the Austrian Hills with vivid detail for a movie in the 60's. Just a great movie. This ranking may drop if I start watching more of the old classics, but for a movie made 50 years ago, it holds up surprisingly well.

2.) The Godfather Part 2

Let's move past the obvious, my #1 is the first Godfather film. Quick summary of why I prefer the first: I found old Vito a more engaging character than Michael. I liked the relative closeness of the first film, and felt Part 2 had a few too many locations. And personally I always like the original more. Anyway, none of that really matters. The Godfather Part 2 is still one of the best movies I have ever seen. Al Pacino's performance was incredible. Roberto De Niro was perfect as young Vito, so easily encapsulating everything that made Marlon Brando's performance great. Today, people may mock a movie for using such an obvious conciet of parallel timelines, but The Godfather Part 2 perfected it. As I already mentioned, I wasn't a fan of every location, but adding the scenes in Cuba were great. In the end, I just found the first movie 2% better.

1.) The Godfather

In terms of my movie watching career, my life changed the first time I saw The Godfather. It wasn't that long ago (probably 6-7 years), and obviously the movie had been mythologized so much prior to that first viewing. Still, it blew my mind. The performances were so great. The characters, even beyond just the family, were so well rounded. I have never seen a movie without a throwaway scene or line or sentence. Just a perfect film. Despite not even being around for half the movie, if not more, Marlon Brando commanded every scene. Al Pacino was a revelation. Diane Keaton was amazing, as were James Caan and Rovert Duvall. There is no flaw with this movie. Maybe if I was a film student or cinema connoisseur, I would be able to find something. I'm not. It's a brilliant film. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

NHL 2016-17: Preseason Picks

Metro Division

1.) Washington Capitals

The Capitals remain an incredibly deep, talented and balanced team. The balance is important, and is something driven in large part by Barry Trotz. We know the big names, like Ovechkin, Kucherov, Backstrom, Holtby, but those secondary players like Burakovsky or Tom Wilson really make the team tick. It will come down to what they do in the playoffs, and with the current playoff system that will likely mean beating the Penguins, but the Capitals should remain the regular season juggernaut they have been for the past few years.

2.) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will start the season without Crosby, but all reports are that he will return fairly soon. Really grateful for that, because watching him dominate the playoffs and be the best player in the league again was just a joy to watch. The team itself still has major issues on the blue line, and I don't know if their depth lines will be as effective over an 82-game season. They are too talented to fall off too far. It will be also interesting to watch the dnyamic between Murray and MAF play out over a full season as well.

3.) Philadelphia Flyers

There is potential for a lot of upheaval in the Metro division, and I think it starts with the Flyers who are seemingly well ahead of their rebuild. The young defense led by Shayne Gostisbehere and 19-year old Ivan Provorov lead one of the best young defenses in the East. They still have premier talent up front with Giroux, Voracek and Couturier (who is somehow still just 23) to supplement a lineup that has enough depth to hang on. I don't fully trust Steve Mason in goal, but for what has suddenly become a very mediocre division, the Flyers are good enough to retain their playoff spot.

4.) Carolina Hurricanes (WC2)

A lot of 'advancted stats' Hockey guys really like the Hurricanes - and who am I to argue with them. The Hurricanes dominated possession and zone starts with another incredibly young, talented defense led by Noah Hanifan, Brett Pesce, Justin Falk and others. The offense is a little more unsettled, where really interesting young talents (Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask) are joined by a man who had to leave Chicago way too soon. Tuevo Teravainen is incredibly talented but was lost in Chicago. He won't be lost here.

5.) New York Rangers
6.) New York Islanders

Grouping these two together as I see hard times for two playoff stalwarts. I can see the Rangers potentially making it through just because Henrik Lundqvist is just that good, but their aging core is now an aging core without as much depth. They have some interesting youngsters in Mika Zibanejad and Joey Vesey, but neither are premier enough to make up for the losses on that side. For the Islanders, I just have no idea what their plan is, consistently unable to surround John Tavares with good enough young talent and instead opting for older retreads like Andrew Ladd. Just not a fan, and for their sake I hope it doesn't cost them Tavares.

7.) Columbus Blue Jackets
8.) New Jersey Devils

Both of these teams are at the bottom, and while either has a shot to finish out of the bottom-2, the optimism is almost squarely placed on their goalies. Both Sergey Bobrovsky and Corey Schnieder have done great work backstopping awful teams. Both teams have young talent, but all of the young talent is a few years away from really making an impact.

Atlantic Division

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning (HFA)

The Lightning will have some tough decisions to make this upcoming offseason, with tons of guys up for raises, but until then they have the most loaded team in the NHL. They also have some obvious trade chips (Ben Bishop) or guys they can let go without losing too much (Tyler Johnson), but for now the Lightning have no weaknesses. With Stamkos back, and Drouin out of the doghouse, the offense has two 1st-line capable centers around a whole host of talent. And of course there is Hedman. Everything is set up for this team to be a monster.

2.) Montreal Canadiens

I can basically write my reasoning in one sentence: Carey Price is back, and when he played last year they were the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens were on a 115-point pace when Price went down. He is that good. The team around him is definitely worse with Shea Weber replacing PK Subban (which is absolutely a downgrade), but if they get a step-up from Galchenyuk, who has star potential, or anything from Radulov, they can make up for that loss rather easily.

3.) Boston Bruins

The Bruins have an interesting team. The strength has really quickly moved from their defense-first leaning in their peak (this extended to guys like Bergeron or Krejci who were Selke-level forwards) to an offense first group that can make up for glaring deficiencies on their blue-line. Those deficiencies are still there (watching Chara is just sad now), but suddenly these defense-first gnats have an offensive punch. Bergeron and Marchand were revelations as offensive players last year, but they can add to that youngster David Pasternak, or David Backes (who first in really well). And they still have Tuuka Rask. It is a different model than Peak Bruins, but it still is effective.

4.) Florida Panthers (WC1)

The Panthers should be better, but I think this is the natural slight step back after their surprising division win last year. Obviously, losing Huberdeau for an extended period hurts, and you have to imagine Jagr is slightly worse. The young talent is still really startling, with Aleksander Barkov still just 21, and Aaron Ekblad even more scarily just 20, but without Huberdeau there is a hole there. Trusting Luongo in his late 30's is also a risk, and I have to think James Reimer takes over next year.

5.) Ottawa Senators
6.) Detroit Red Wings

I wouldn't be shocked if either of these teams make it. The Senators are extremely top-heavy, but the top of that top-heaviness is the best (at least on offense) defenseman in the NFL in Karlsson who is still just 26. But beyond the young Swede what is this team exactly? So little premier young talent, so many late-20's and early-30's players who at their best were just above average? The Red Wings are a little different, with very few of those players but a lot at both ends of the spectrum. Henrik Zetterberg is markedly slower now, but young players like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou have more than enough speed to make up for it. In the end, I think neither of these teams is strong enough or deep enough in a tough division, but there is enough talent to squeak in if one of my Top-4 falls.

7.) Buffalo Sabres
8.) Toronto Maple Leafs

Both of these teams are a few years away, and are right there to pick up from Detroit, or Montreal (if Price stops being superhuman), or Boston as the next great thing. The Sabres are in a really tough spot without Eichel, but the talent around him is there with Okposo and O'Reilly up front, and Ristalaenen coming up on the blue line. They could be a dominant force in another 2-3 years. Same with Toronto and the next great hope of Auston Matthews. Beyond him though is Mitch Marner, another rookie who may, at least for 2016, be even better. There's lights at the end of these tunnels, and they could be faster approaching than many realize.

Pacific Division

1.) San Jose Sharks

I'm slightly nervous that they just brought all the boys back for another go, as at some point Thornton will get worse (Marleau was already a fringe 2nd/3rd line player at this point), but the new core of Pavelski, Couture, Hertl are in their primes. I like Doonskoi who was a revelation last year, and I really like the low-key pick-up of Mikkel Boedker. The defense is a concern given its age, but the combination of the offense, the superior power-play (just pure ecstasy to watch when they are on) and Martin Jones, who proved himself very capably as a starting goalie, should make them good enough to win what is probably the least top-heavy division.

2.) Los Angeles Kings

People seemed to have really turned on the Kings, the advanced stats old darling, of late and it seems to come down to the idea that Jonathan Quick should only live off of his magical 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run for so long. To some degree that is true. He's never reached those heights and the team isn't really any better around him now than it was then. In Doughty and Kopitar, they have a bonafide #1 D-Man and #1 Center, but the surrounding parts aren't as good at all.

//I wrote this before the Quick injury. If I were to do this now, I would have them out of the playoffs and either the Oilers or Flames in. Despite what I wrote about Quick, I have less faith in Jeff Zatkoff.

3.) Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are a trendy pick to fall out of the playoffs with the change from Bruce Boudreau to Randy Carlyle, but I think there is just too much talent. The fall off the cliff is certainly coming. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are all on the wrong side of 30. The rest of the offense is filled with 15 different 2nd/3rd liners and there is little consistency in their lines. That all said, their collection of blue-liners, with Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen and Despres leading the bunch are too good to fall off that much in a very light division.

4.) Edmonton Oilers
5.) Calgary Flames

I'm putting these two together as they both have really bright futures. I can see a version of the season where two of the three California teams really fall off and both of these two make it. For the Oilers, it comes down to McDavid being a generational talent, which he is, coupling with steps-up from other players on the line-up like Draisatl, Nurse, Eberle, RGH. The defense is still middling, as is the bottom-six, but the Oilers have peak talent. The Flames are similar, with Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett at the top, and a dependable goalie in Elliott. I'm less trusting of their defense, but the Flames definitely have the upside based on their offensive top-line talent and goalie alone.

6.) Arizona Coyotes
7.) Vancouver Canucks

The Coyotes and Canucks are both bad, but their future outlooks couldn't be more different. The Coyotes have patiently stockpiled talent and while I think they are still a couple years away (and a goalie away - let's end Mike Smith, right?) the young talent is startling. There are only a handful of young cores better than Max Domi (21), Lawson Crouse (19), Dylan Strome (19), Anthony Duclair (21) and Jakob Chycrun (18). And add to that Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is still brilliant. In a couple years this team could be a monster. The Canucks? Not so much. Years of going for it while the Sedins are still there have come home to roost for a team devoid of talent, depth or youth. Not a good look.

Central Division

1.) Nashville Predators (HFA)

The Nashville Predators are the league's darling right now, a truly trendy pick. So much so that is my only hesitation. That and a potential dropoff from Pekka Rinne. Outside of those two possibilities, this team is loaded, and PK Subban is the perfect player to add into that mix. The Blue-line is four deep of 1st line defenseman in Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis. The offense, years devoid of premier talent, has loads of it with Neal, Forsberg, Johansen with great depth. There is no weakness to this team, as with Subban they have a PP point guard as well now.

2.) St. Louis Blues

The Blues seem to be on the outside a team in transition, but I think there is a real future for them this year itself. It starts with the beginning of the transformation of the core from the old group (Backes, Steen, Pietrangelo, et. al.) to the next group led by Tarasenko, but supplemented beautifully by Robby Fabbri, Jayden Schwartz, Colton Parayko and whatever they can salvage from Niall Yakupov - a great low-risk signing. A lot of their success will be built on whether Jake Allen can finally take over the reigns as a premier goalie. There's no fall-back option now. It is his team, and like the rest of the young roster, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

3.) Dallas Stars 

For a team that went wire-to-wire as the best team in the division last year, and may have made a serious push for a Conference Title had Tyler Seguin not gotten hurt, a lot of people seem to be sleeping on Dallas. It is easy to deride them for their free-wheeling, offense heavy style as something that won't work in the playoffs, but it works brilliantly in the regular season. Losses on defense and still uncertainty in goal make me knock them back a bit (plus, this is easily the league's best division) but the center of this team is awesome. Benn and Seguin are premier talents. Jason Spezza was freed up as a 2nd-line player last year. Their depth is great with guys like Radek Faksa, Cody Eakin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, and Patrick Sharp are the perfect complement. Yes, their defense is a mess, but it likely won't really matter until the playoffs.

4.) Chicago Blackhawks (WC1)

At the end of the day, it is just impossible to see the Blackhawks missing the playoffs. The warning signs are there, like the continued hemorrhaging of talent, this time with Teravainen and Shaw being added to the list. Their depth is weaker on the surface now than it has ever been. I don't recognize 50% of the names. The top-level players are still there (Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Seabrook), but even the ones who usually were counted on like Marian Hossa may be past their prime. Depth will be a challenge, but with the top-end guys they have and Corey Crawford, no one will want to play them in the playoffs if they can make it in.

5.) Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

It was a tough decision between the Avalanche and the team to come, but I just think the Avs are too talented, and too excited to not be playing for Patrick Roy, to not have a really nice bump this season. The top-end talent of Landeskog, MacKinnon, Barrie are too good, and add to them true youngsters like Mikael Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov and you have the makings of a great core. Understandably, I have questions on Semyon Varlamov, but the talent is here and hopefully the coaching matches up to them.

6.) Minnesota Wild
7.) Winnipeg Jets

The Wild have one thing going for them: Bruce Boudreau. He has never missed the playoffs in his coaching career. Apart from him, there is little else to think they are good enough to make it. They bet big on Parise and Suter and it hasn't truly worked. The Jets have bet big on their youth and they got their generational talent in Patrick Laine. We can't expect him to do too much in year 1 but his future is as bright as Winnipeg is cold.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

Metro Division

(M1) Washington over (WC1) Florida in 5
(M3) Philadelphia over (M2) Pittsburgh in 7

(M1) Washington over (M3) Philadelphia in 6

Atlantic Division

(A1) Tampa Bay over (WC2) Carolina in 5
(A2) Montreal over (A3) Boston in 7

(A1) Tampa Bay over (A2) Montreal in 6

Eastern Conference Final; (A1) Tampa Bay over (M1) Washington in 7

Western Conference Playoffs

Pacific Division

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P1) San Jose Sharks in 6

(P2) Los Angeles Kings over (P3) Anaheim Ducks in 6

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P2) Los Angeles Kings in 6

Central Division

(C1) Nashville Predators over (WC2) Colorado Avalanche in 5
(C3) Dallas Stars over (C2) St. Louis Blues in 6

(C1) Nashville Predators over (C3) Dallas Stars in 7

Western Conference FInal: (C1) Nashville Predators over (WC1) Chicago Blackhawks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals: (A1) Tampa Bay over (C1) Nashville in 7

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Good and Bad Reasons Why the NFL's Ratings Are Down

The drop in TV ratings has become a large story. It was hard to get too worked-up about it the first week, one that featured a Manning-less Super Bowl rematch, and a Brady-less SNF game. But consistently ratings have been down all year (oddly, the one data-point for a rise was the Wee 3 TNF game between New England and Houston). Many reasons have been thrown. Some good, some bad; some enlightening, some infuriating. Here now are my thoughts on 5 bad reasons that I've heard on why the ratings are slipping, and five one's that might just be true and worth examining more.

The NFL Ratings are not down because of....

5.) Domestic Violence Issues

To be fair, not many people have brought this one up. Domestic Violence Issues dominated the 2014 season, which saw ratings go down slightly for 2013. That was the year the Ray Rice scandal happened, where Adrian Peterson missed 15 games, where the 'Commissioner's List' became a thing. It was a dark time for the NFL. It alienated a lot of women fans. A lot of NFL fans had to do some soul searching. And yet ratings went up in 2015 from 2014. There is no evidence to think there is some great delayed effect that is only showing up now.

4.) Poor play caused by lack of practice time

I'll get to another poor play issue in that I do think is impacting ratings, but I don't buy that general sloppiness is to blame. The game has been fairly sloppy for years, and while practice time in pads is less now than before, the overall nature of the game has been pretty steady. Teams are passing more, overall offensive levels are consistent with the last 3-4 years at this point. Defenses are about as good as they've been post lockout, and there are probably more dominant defenses now than there were in the immediate years following the lockout. Honestly, I have found the average game this year to be more well played than the last couple.

3.) Poor play caused by bad / younger players

This became a popular one when a study by a writer on The Ringer highlighted that the league as a whole is getting younger following the new rookie-wage scale rules - that when rookies are less expensive there will be more of them, and that these rookies are not as good as the guys who's job they are taking. I find this to be a really bad reason to explain even why play is worse, forget about any impact it would have on ratings. Tell me what players saw their careers cut short because they were too old & expensive and were replaced by a younger, cheaper player. Also, it is hard to say this is making play worse while also commending the teams who have used this to build great teams (Seattle, mostly). Players have retired early not because they were pushed out or became too expensive. I can't think of one example where this happened to a player that was important enough to actually impact ratings.

2.) The Game is simply less popular and this is the beginning of the end

There is some truth to this, and overall the NFL should be worrying, but I highlight doubt the NFL suddenly became 10% less popular overnight. Nothing structurally has changed in the game or the demographics in the past year. Sports are generally declining as ALL TV VIEWING IS DECLINING, but there is something more to the drop of the NFL ratings than just saying the sport has peaked. It will peak at some point, but it will likely be more gradual than a sudden 10% drop like we are seeing this year. Maybe 1% of the 10% drop is explained by the popularity of the league peaking, but no way is it a primary driving factor.

1.) Thursday Night Football

And now let's get to the worst reason. It is not Thursday Night Football. It never has been. Thursday Night Football started in 2006. It became a full-season affair in 2012. I guarantee you it has been a positive influence for the NFL. Not only has it made the league a ton of money as having a separate package to sell, but it for the most part, has elevated games that would be lost in the maw of Sunday 1PM timeslots. I am pretty sure more people are watching each Thursday Night Game than they would have been watching that same game if it was on Sunday along with 6-7 other games. I slightly get the complaints that it was a show of the NFL's expanding greed to shove its product onto another night, but for the most part Thursday's were not aligned with another sport (at least until NBA on TNT Thursday's start in November), and if that was an issue, it would have cropped up a lot earlier given we are now in Year 11 of Thursday Night Football, Year 6 of having it through the regular season, and Year 3 of having it on Network TV.

The NFL Ratings ARE down because of.....

5.) Concussion Fears are impacting fans

Again, the concussion issue is nothing new. The first year I remember a significant discussion on concussions in the NFL was in 2009. There have been serious concussion-related incidents and media outcry probably since 2011 or so. While again, it is hard to look to concussions as a factor when the ratings rose on the whole since 2009, but I do think there are a few reasons that make 2016 a bit different. The largest is this was the first year that saw good players retire citing concussions as a reason. Whether it was Calvin Johnson, or Patrick Willis, or even Marshawn Lynch, there were multiple guys walking away at young ages saying that this played into their thinking. Now, some of the drop can be just losing these players (will talk about this one shortly), but the other is the more high profile players that admit concussion fears got them to leave the league, the more fans will do the same.

4.) General Apathy to Sports

If we look back two months ago, we had a similar sporting event that saw serious declines in ratings. The 2016 Rio Olympics were down double-digits from the 2012 London Olympics. There was also a lot of negative press and headlines surrounding that, but when you couple that drop with record lows for baseball playoffs, overall bad ratings for NBA playoffs (rescued by Cavs/Warriors in the finals), then it becomes a little more understandable. This past year we've seen some truly bad signs for sports across the board. Cord-cutting is becoming a larger factor, and while the impact of cord-cutting and DVR-ing (and Torrent-ing, etc.) has been impacted scripted TV for years, maybe there was a general delayed impact on sports that is only now being felt.

3.) Bad Matchups so far / misalignment with markets and good teams

So many times the headline for the bad ratings will be that a game this year was down 10-15% off of the same game last year in that time-slot that week. For instance, the Patriots-Cardinals Week 1 SNF game was down double-digits from last year's Week 1 SNF game between the Giants and Cowboys. With this the first thing people will do is compare the matchup, but more than that compare the market. The best teams heading into the season were Denver, Carolina, Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Seattle. For now let's limit it to just those seven. In that group we have two teams with either large home markets (New England), or giant national followings (Pittsburgh). Then you have some of the league's smaller markets: Denver, the Carolinas, Cincinati, Seattle. When you have the best teams coming from small markets, well then they'll be on primetime more and the ratings go down. The complement to this is when the world complained that the same large-market teams were on primetime games for years. Well, if they scheduled NFC East games, while sprinkling in New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Houston each week people would rightfully call the NFL out for ratings grabbing.

2.) Loss of premier talent, especially at QB

Here's to me the largest football-related reason. If you think the games are worse, it isn't because there are too many young players (at least not directly that), or that teams are practicing yet, it is that the players making up the most marketable position in the league are changing fast. For a good 15 yeras, the NFL was carried, at a high level, by Manning and Brady. These two guys were good for 8-10 National Games a year that would be huge ratings (and 5-6 more 4:30 late-afternoon games as well). For the first four weeks of the season, the league saw what life was like without either one. Denver's ratings tanked. New England's were OK, but they still were angry at the league and knew Brady was coming back. Add to that the loss of Tony Romo, the relative average-ness of Drew Brees, and you get a situation where the top QBs aren't huge names yet. Maybe in 5 years, a league led by Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz can be a ratings giant, but right now losing Peyton Manning hurts ratings - especially when Denver will play three primetime games in six weeks. Losing Brady for four games hurts. Losing Romo hurts the Dallas rating. Beyond that are the host of other guys who retired, and it is pretty easy to draw that line.

1.) The Election

At this point, even the NFL has adopted this line - and in a way I am glad because it is easy to test. We can actually see what ratings are like after the election and if they go up. Obviously, the election happens every four years, but not like this. Never has an election dominated the media lanscape like this, with one candidate so polarizing, so capable of drawing the TV and News attention to drown out everything else. I have to imagine cable news ratings are way up, as is any sort of news, or the comedy shows that cover the election. People that I know as sports-writers / sports-bloggers tweet about the election basically as much as they tweet about football. Even on Sunday, the election becomes a draw, whether it is watching the morning interview shows, or catching up on DVR-ed episodes of The Daily Show, or catching up on the life events you missed during the week when the election mattered above all. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the ratings don't go up when the election ends, but for right now this seems like the clear best explanation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Baseball Magic - The Giants and Cubs Do It All

I've seen many playoff baseball games in my life. I've seen many of them that were great for one reason or another - some games that are indelibly stuck in my mind. I started watching baseball ardently in around 2004-05, and there have been a handful of truly transcendant games. Mind you, not all of them were well played, but they were all dramatic, exhilerating, tactical, dynamic and heart-attackingly tense. There was the 18-inning game between the Astros and Braves in 2005 NLDS, or the Game 7 between the Cardinals and Mets in the 2006 NLCS, or the ridiculous collapse that was the 2012 Nationals losing to the Cardinals, or the equally ridiculous collapse that was the 2014 A's losing to Kansas City. And of course the drama and intrigue and bat-flip-to-end-all-bat-flips of Game 5 Toronto against Texas last year.

Then there were the two recent incredible World Series Games, the Giants World Series clincher against the Royals in 2014, where Madison Bumgarner on two days rest came and pitched five scoreless innings, and the game-tying run was stranded on third base in the 9th inning. And finally then there is probably the most insane game I have ever seen, one that gives me the chills just thinking about it, when the Cardinals staved off elimination in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

Well, we can add last night's game to this list. It isn't as good or memorable as the World Series games, and a lot of its long-term impact will depend on who ends up winning the series, but for a single game, for a single night, that was pure brilliance. The Cubs who's talent is as high as their history of not winning the world series is long, fighting to fend off the one team that seems to imbibe October baseball. It would have felt right if the Gillaspie triple ended up being the winning runs. It would have felt righter had the Cubs won after MVP-to-be Kris Bryant hit a home run that made it over by an inch to tie the game, showing how 2016 is different than 2003 and all the failures of past Cubs' postseasons. But it felt rightest for the Giants to show their mettle, the Cubs to battle back, and then the Giants to show it all over again. That was truly perfect.

There were so many small occurrences in that game that add up to an unforgettable night of baseball. From Jake Arrietta hitting a home run off of Playoff Greek God Madison Bumgarner. If anything would lead you to believe the Cubs were truly a team of destiny, it was not only them scoring on Madison Bumgarner, but their pitcher hitting a three-run HR off of him. But like the Giants do, they picked up a few runs to get back in the game.

Of course, then the true brilliance of playoff baseball was shown, from strange umpiring (How was the out call not overturned when Anthony Rizzo was so obviously off of the base), to odd managerial decisions, like Joe Maddon asking Aroldis Chapman to get six outs for a save. Of course, that wasn't so much odd as it was unexpected - but it made some sense. After Hunter Pence, who is scary enough to go to your electric closer, comes three lefties which Chapman should eat up. So of course, he strikes out Pence, and doesn't get any of the lefties out.

Nothing exemplifies the Giants more than Connor Gillaspie right now, the man who's 3-run HR in the top of the 9th ousted the Mets, and now the man who hit a triple against Chapman, banging the first 100+ MPH pitch he has ever seen 420 feet on a rope. The Giants resiliency has always been best shown by their secondary players. The men who won the MVPs for the 2010 & 2012 NLCS and World Series were Cody Ross ('10 NLCS), Edgar Renteria ('10 World Series), Marco Scutaro ('12 NLCS) and Pablo Sandoval ('12 World Series). Bumgarner wholly dominated the 2014 run, but even then they got Travis Ishikawa to hit a walk off home run to win the NLCS in Game 5.

Of course these Giants are not those Giants. These Giants are similar to the 2014 team, with a balanced offense that doesn't strike out but doesn't hit for power. But on defense, other than having Bumgarner on both teams, the 2016 team actually has other starting pitchers, but they don't have a bullpen. So many parts changed between the 2010 Giants and 2014 Giants - Buster Posey was the ONLY position player to start for all three teams, but the bullpen didn't. Four men played on all three of those teams: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. Only Romo is left healthy, and he was the guy who gave up the lead.

The Cubs are battling 100 years of despair, but also now high expectations built off of a year of absolute brilliance, of having the best offense in the NL, the best starting pitching in the NL, where Jake Arrietta was probably the 3rd best pitcher this year, and by far the best defense. All three were on display in this series, including the defense who saved the game in the bottom of the 9th with an incredible catch to rob Buster Posey of what would have been a game winning double into the cavernous right field. The Cubs have expectations, they have a clear path. It is all there for them, but those Giants are still alive.

There are so many positive aspects to the Giants odd little dnyasty they have put together, from showing the world why baseball has it best from metering out both regular season dominance and postseason brilliance (I mean, everyone realizes the Giants were not the best team in any of their World Series years), to introducing the world to three Hall of Fame talents in Bumgarner, Posey and Bruce Bochy. But the best has to be what it has done for that franchise. The atmosphere at AT&T Park is always so electric and pulsating. October baseball in San Francisco has become an indelible image of these past six years of baseball.

Even if the Giants lose, they won't really lose. They are not that good of a team, they have legitimate holes on their team, and are playing a team that has better hitting, pitching and defense. Even if they lose, they have reminded that the Giants will fight to the end, and still have some October Magic, from Bumgarner's shutout in the Wild Card Game, to the heroism of Connor Gillaspie, and to the magic they provided the baseball world last night. If they win? Just give them the ring already. And the fact the team they are playing is teh Cubs? That was magical.

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.