Monday, September 26, 2016

Colin Kaepernick Isnt Entertaining. Good.

Colin Kaeprenick, joined by teammate Eric Reid (Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP)

I highly doubt Colin Kaepernick envisioned sparking any sort of social movement when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Indeed, he recently stated that he didn’t have a desire to kneel indefinitely. And why would he? Certainly it’s exhausting to be such a polarizing lightning rod, especially for someone who has spent his life entertaining millions. But black entertainers (sports or otherwise) have always had a unique relationship with the people they entertain in this country. We could perform on TV and in night clubs long before we were seen as equal in the eyes of the law, or given the same rights to elect public officials.

It’s painful now to watch Amos and Andy or read about Jesse Owens representing his country, with the knowledge that they were coming back to the reality of their home’s inequality. To know that black people were good enough to bring joy into the lives of millions, but in those same homes weren’t viewed as an equal.  Being a black entertainer has meant being a jester for so long that a protest by Kaepernick (or his compatriots) is met with anger and bewilderment.  So when Dabo Swinney proclaims that those that are protesting should, “move to another country” it is (in part) because those voicing dissent aren’t viewed seriously.  Jesters don’t dictate policy.

Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh (who had his own comments regarding the viability of Kaepernick’s protest) were outspoken in their opposition to Kaepernick’s actions, but silent to the police brutality and its effects on the African American community.  These two men have made a career out of young African Americans performing for their benefit.  Every year they go into homes of young black men and claim that they can offer the best experience for them.  But with the disregard for black life for the sake of decorum, how could they be?

The moment has turned into a movement (Bill Streicher USA Today Sports)

Ultimately, this protest is about refusal from a marginalized group to only be a trinket of society; something pretty to entertain without any profound substance to add.  Through that prism, the death threats that Kaepernick has received as a result of kneeling begin to make more sense.  With the understanding that some believe blacks are only good for entertaining, it is only natural that the protestor and the protest are under more scrutiny than the continued deaths of black people at the hands of state actors. Banishment is of course on the table for the problematic ornament—if we aren’t entertaining, what else can we possibly contribute?

The growing movement started by Kaepernick underscores the sentiment that blacks will not silently entertain the masses while real issues and problems that directly affect them go unresolved. Kaepernick’s methodology of protest has been questioned by everyone from Tony La Russa to Trent Dilfer, and while there is plenty of room between the two on the level of vitriol Kaepernick should receive, the overall message is the same “not here, not now”.
If the refrain sounds familiar, it’s because it should.  To quote Swinney’s favorite freedom fighter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” For some there will never be a proper time to fight this injustice. But time is a luxury that couldn’t be afforded to Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, or Keith Lamont Scott.

Professional or amateur, this message resonates in the black community. As HU cheerleaders demonstrated

Real change is needed to combat the way in which the black community is policed. Brutality can take many forms, as is evident by the Dept. of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department. Combine that report of a major American city, and the repetitive nature of the violence, and it’s obvious that there is a systematic issue that should be addressed by important changes; among them, the need for special prosecutors to prosecute police-involved shootings cases instead of district attorneys that have and must maintain a relationship with the police department.
No one wants to see more civilians unnecessarily killed by police officers, but until they are held accountable for their poor decisions that lead to fatalities, the value of black lives will remain less than. But they are still public servants that serve the community.  So when a police union threatens to stop working games affecting the safety of those at the San Francisco stadium, it should outrage everyone.

Kaepernick’s protest has already done more than I could have imagined.  It’s started an actual conversation because it involves one of the nation’s prized commodities—football. And because so many different people from so many different walks of life enjoy football on Sundays, it may actually lead to changed minds and changed policies. In its simplicity, Kaepernick struck at the core of America. To take a knee in football is to, quite literally, let a down pass with no resistance for the betterment of the team. In kneeling before a flag of unfulfilled promise, Kaepernick’s resistance is anything but passive; and may put this country in a much better position once the whistle blows to start the next play.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Carolina Panthers 2016 Preview

No more street clothes for Kelvin Benjamin, how will his team respond to his return?
Carolina Panthers

Previous Season Record: (15-1) 

Key Acquisition(s): Paul Soliai

Key Loss(es): Jared Allen, Brad Nortman, Josh Norman

What a year the Panthers put together.  They begin the season without their best wide receiver because of a camp injury, and proceed to have the best offensive season in Carolina Panthers history.  Cam Newton won MVP and was the League’s most dominant offensive weapon.  It all ended in tears in the Super Bowl. There wasn’t much turnover on either side of the ball, this will essentially be the same squad as last season’s.  Kelvin Benjamin will be back, and Ted Ginn Jr. will become the number 2 receiver again.  TE Greg Olsen had a career year, becoming a welcomed security blanket after Benjamin’s injury.  The offensive line made dramatic improvements, particularly at the LT position.  Michael Oher was a dramatic improvement for Cam’s blindside, despite the way the last game played out.  And despite Newton’s star power, this is still a running team—they ranked 1st in rushing touchdowns and 2nd in yards. Look for Cameron Artis-Payne to have a few breakout performances over the course of the season.

New faces in new places, Norman is gone. What will that look like for the Panthers?

This side of the ball had one large change, with the surprising departure of cornerback Josh Norman. The team responded by drafting 3 defensive backs.  Bene Benwikere has been returning from injury most offseason, and will be ready to take on the number one corner responsibilities.  The team added defensive line talent with Olivier Vernon, which will perhaps allow more pressure without the need of blitzing—the team blitzed more last season to makeup for a lack of pass rush, even scooping an elder Allen midway through the season.  With fewer blitzes, the secondary will have more bodies to overcome deficiencies.

Prediction: This team should be good (not 15 win good) but should win the division and be on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, the Super Bowl hangover will affect this team as it has past champion runner-ups.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

AFC South Preview

"If you look closely, you can see the stardust transfer"--Houston, prolly (Rod Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

Houston Texans

Previous Season Record: (9-7)

Key Acquisition(s): Brock Osweiler, Lamar Miller

Key Loss(es): Nate Washington, Rahim Moore, Arian Foster, Brandon Brooks

They got the Super Bowl-winning QB, even if they weren’t the team that he won it with. Osweiler joins an offense that was clearly the slow link on a team with real talent.  Their 30-0 drubbing in the first round of the playoffs was a perfect synopsis of the squad—talented enough to make the playoffs, with the Achilles heel of an offense tripping it up. They were a balanced team—meaning they were equally ineffective running and throwing the ball; they were 28th and 26th in yards per attempt, respectively. With Foster leaving, (and Andre Johnson long gone) it feel s like the guard has completely changed. In their stead, superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins and underrated running back Lamar Miller fill in the remaining of the new trifecta with Osweiler. Their first four draft picks were on the offensive side of the ball, including big-play threat WR Will Fuller.

The defense features one of the most dominant men in the sport, JJ Watt. Watt is struggling with a back injury and is in question to start the season, but coupling him with OLB Whitney Mercilus forms the most dangerous pass-rushing duo east of Denver. Run-stopper Vince Wilfork is as steady as he is big at the nose tackle position, and with JadeVeon Clowney finally able to get a healthy offseason under his belt, this front 7 could be truly frightening; they were ranked 5th in sacks per game, and could easily improve on their pass-rushing capabilities.

Prediction: the defense carried the team to the playoffs last season, and has only gotten better.  I think the Texans will repeat as divisional winners.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Previous Season Record: (5-11)

Key Acquisition(s): Malik Jackson, Chris Ivory, Prince Amukamara,

Key Loss(es):

Welcome to 2016, where the Jags might actually be good. The Jags improved on offense immensely from their 32nd ranking in points per game to 14th ranked in the category.  Blake Bortles, the team’s first round pick in 2014, improved on his disappointing rookie campaign.  He was a more efficient and effective passer, improving on his touchdowns, yards, and QB rating. The WR duo of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns has expedited Bortles’ advancement. Their running game was solid, averaging 4.2 yards per carry—good enough for 15th in the NFL. Between Ivory and TJ Yeldon, the backfield is talented and versatile.

The Allen brothers are a driving force behind this suddenly potent offense (Reinhold matay/USA Today Sports)

The defense didn’t undergo the same dramatic improvement that the offense did last year. The Jags offseason is attempting to rectify that. Jackson was a huge presence for the Super Bowl-winning champions. He was a stalwart nose tackle that created havoc on passing and running plays. Amukamara is a capable (albeit oft-injured) corner. The veteran presence will be appreciated as the Jags got Jalen Ramsay and Myles Jack with their first two picks to add versatility to the secondary and Linebacking units, respectively.  This side of the ball is teeming with talent.

Prediction: I’m drinking the kool-aid, the Jags will compete for a wild card berth.

Indianapolis Colts

Previous Record Last season: (8-8)

Key Acquisition(s): Patrick Robinson, Robert Turbin

Key Loss(es): Jerrell Freeman, Coby Fleener, Dwight Lowery, Matt Hasslebeck

Last season was rough for the offense.  Andrew Luck’s poor play, injury, and subsequent poorer play were crippling for a team built to outscore their opponent. They went from 6th in the NFL in points per game, to last season’s ranking of 24th.  And a once high-powered aerial attack slumped to dead last in yards per attempt. Perhaps the silver lining of the season is that Luck sat back and watched Hasslebeck have success in the offense by getting the ball out quickly, something Luck could benefit from to help avoid future injury.

If Colts' fans never see this again, it'll be too soon

An already poor defense collapsed under the prospect of defending more plays and having less offensive support.  They were equally bad against the pass and run, ranking in the bottom third of the league in yards allowed in both categories. Arguably their two best defenders (Robert Mathis and D’Qwell Jackson) are in their 30s.  So it should come as no surprise that they will be looking for contributions from 2nd round pick, safety TJ Green. He adds to the team’s strongest defensive unit—the secondary. Vonate Davis and Robinson should improve the team’s pass-defending abilities, though they are still bereft of much of a pass rush.

Prediction: There’s something about the way this team is constructed that I don’t like.  They can never run the ball and their talent on defense is pedestrian in lots of places. I think they’ll miss the playoffs again.   

Tennessee Titans

Previous Record Last Season: (3-13)

Key Acquisition(s): Rishard Matthews, Rashad Johnson, Demarco Murray

Key Loss(es): Zach Brown, Dorial Green-Beckham

Marcus Mariotta may have gotten all the headlines last season, but the story of the 2015 Tennessee Titans was written on the defensive side of the ball.  They had a dramatic improvement in their ranking for points allowed per game.  After being passed over for the head coaching job, defensive coordinator Ray Horton asked for his release. Dick LeBeau is a legend and was already on staff last season, so while the guy calling the plays is new, he is already familiar with the personnel.  Any regression on this side of the ball and Titans fans will surely fill misled by management.

Marcus Mariota good enough to win without much receiving help?

The team added one Heisman trophy winner, to go along with the one they have calling plays.  Derrick Henry joins Mariota in the backfield (along with Murray).  It should help improve a run game that was largely lackluster. The term, “exotic smashmouth” has been the talk of Titans camp. So it sounds like the team will look to be provocative…while running the ball down their opponents’ throats.  They’ll need to be adept running the ball, because with the Green-Beckham experiment officially done, there isn’t much explosive talent manning the WR corps (they were in the bottom third in passing yards and yards per attempt for a reason).  As good as Mariota is, he’ll need more dynamic weapons through the air than just Delanie Walker before this team makes the next leap to contender.

Prediction: This might be the best bottom team in the league, in a division that I think will be the most talented and competitive in the League.  That’s as much praise as I can bestow on a team that won’t seriously compete for a playoff spot.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

NFC North Preview

Can Teddy Bridgewater lead the Vikings to back-to-back divisional titles? 

Minnesota Vikings

Previous Season Record: (11-5)

Key Acquisition(s): Michael Griffin, Alex Boone

Key Loss(es): Mike Wallace, Casey Matthews

Any uptick in offense will be directly related to Teddy Bridgewater’s improvement.  The team has expressed a desire for the 3rd year QB to be more aggressive going down the field (they were 31st in passing yards and 25th in yards per attempt). Coming out of the University of Louisville, Bridgewater was lauded for his quick and quality decision-making and accuracy.  His detractors’ loudest cries during the draft came about how small he was and his lack of arm strength.  Offensive coordinator, Norv Turner’s offense is predicated on 7-step drops and deep throws. The deep drops expose the relatively diminutive QB to more/bigger hits. The throws are something that will certainly challenge his skill set.  Will Bridgewater be capable of being the QB they need? Can Adrian Peterson be a legit receiving threat and add a dimension to his game and the offense as a whole? Will LaQuan Treadwell be able to match the production from surprise standout and fellow receiver Stefon Diggs. Despite returning the core of their offensive players, plenty of questions abound for the Minnesota Vikings offense.

Somehow with the best running back in the League on their team, the defense is the most effective side of the ball. They gave up the 5th fewest points in the League.  They were a “bend but don’t break” mentality, they didn’t take the ball away much (19th in the NFL), and as a result they were on the field more than nearly any defense in the League (28th). The defense should only improve as 3rd year player, Anthony Barr continues to shine from the linebacker position. 

Chicago Bears

Previous Season Record: (6-10)

Key Acquisition(s): Danny Trevathan, Akeem Hicks,

Key Loss(es): Matt Slauson,  Antrel Rolle , Martellus Bennett

On the one hand, Jay Cutler had one of his most productive seasons under new offensive coordinator Adam Gase.  Unfortunately, Cutler won’t have Martellus Bennett nor Matt Forte as both have moved on in free agency. And Gase took a job with the Dolphins. They’ll need second year WR Kevin White to contribute immediately, after he missed all of last season with an injury. There is major turnover on the line with 3 Offensive lineman moving (Bobby Massie, Manuel Ramirez, Ted Larsen). With so many changes on this side of the ball, it’s hard to predict what the offense will actually look like.

Bears fans are itching to see Kevin White in some regular season action (Chicago Tribune)

John Fox was brought in to help a struggling defense.  They improved from 31st to 20th in points allowed per game.  They most noticeably improved in their pass defense, going 30th in yards surrendered through the air to 4th. The organization has clearly made a conscious effort to spend more, and devote more resources to the defensive side of the ball; after years of investing mainly in the offense. The additions of defensive tackle Akeem Nicks and linebacker Danny Trevathan should solidify a run defense that is still in the bottom third for yards allowed per attempt. And three of the first four picks in the draft were defenders.

Prediction: With Green Bay and the Vikings in this division, I can’t see the Bears making a serious push for a playoff spot.

Green Bay Packers

Previous Season Record: (10-6)

Key Acquisition(s): Jared Cook,

Key Loss(es): BJ Raji, Casey Heyward, James Jones, John Kuhn

The Packers are always a fascinating offseason team.  Rarely does the team acquire free agents of any magnitude (their last likely candidate was Julius Peppers two offseasons ago).  Instead, the Packers choose to draft and keep their players—valuing fit and chemistry as highly as anything else.  This offseason was no different.  Health played a huge role in last season’s narrative.  The Packers lost Jordy Nelson before the season began, and saw their offense sputter—particularly at the end of the season.  They ended in the middle of the pack in terms of points scored per game, but they were nearly last in yards per attempted pass.  Considering Aaron Rodgers’ talent, the more conservative play-calling was a marked change considering the Packers led the League in the stat just the year before. Without Nelson available to command extra defensive help down the field, the Packers wide receivers were exposed as mediocre athletes who couldn’t separate.  Rodgers saw a lot of tight man coverage; leaving the defense with additional players to bracket or blitz. Perhaps the offense’s fate rests on the fate of Nelson.

You don't know what you got 'til it's gone. Will Nelson's return mean a return to dominance? (USA Today)

The Packers struggled against the run last season.  Despite his contribution to the Packers’ most recent Super Bowl win, BJ Raji became expendable at the nose tackle position when the team finished 29th in yards allowed per rushing attempt. With their offense struggling a bit more than usual, the defense was exposed.  In order to keep Rodgers off the field, opposition will run the ball. They’ll need to improve in order to return to the top of the division.
Prediction: I think anytime you have a top 3 QB, you’ve got a fighting chance.  Jared Cook will have a big season as tight End, combine that with Nelson’s return and this team will return to the playoffs—but will fall short of winning the division.  

Detroit Lions

Key Acquisition(s): Marvin Jones, Andre Caldwell

Key Loss(es): Calvin Johnson (retired), Reshean Mathis (retire)

You lose Calvin Johnson from a mediocre offense, and conventional wisdom says that your offense will suffer.  Conventional wisdom…is probably completely right in this regard.  They picked up Caldwell and Jones, and Stafford has talked about multiple guys stepping up, and it actually being tougher on teams because they won’t be able to key on anyone. I’m not going to call him a liar…because I’m not sure if he believes what he is saying or not.  Regardless, they won’t be as good scoring the ball—something that they already struggled with. They allowed 44 sacks (21st in the NFL), so much of their draft was devoted to adding talent on the offensive line.  One thing seems clear, as ambiguous as his career has been, Stafford will certainly show his worth this season.

While Mathis leaving isn’t the same as Johnson, he was one of the few bright spots for a largely unremarkable defense.  They were as middling against the run (20th in the league in yards allowed per rush) as they were against the pass (21st in the league in yards allowed per pass).

Prediction: This team is still finding its legs after one of the best players to ever play his position abruptly retired. At least they have experience with this sort of thing, right? No playoffs for the Lions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

AFC West Preview

Derek Carr & Kahlil Mack will be the stars of the division

Kansas City Chiefs

Last Season Record:  (11-5)

Key Acquisition(s): Rod Streater

Key Loss(es): Sean Smith, Chase Daniel, Donald Stephenson

The KC Chiefs had one of the most interesting regular seasons you’ll see in the NFL.  They started out the season 1-5, then came thundering back to win 10 straight games. Most closely responsible for the turnaround was the defensive effort the Chiefs received. After giving up 30+ points in three of their first four games, the team never surrendered more than 22 for the remaining of the season.  They’ll miss Sean Smith, a rangy corner that was one of the better guys at his position last season.  They’ll still have Eric Berry (who was franchised this offseason) will have to lead that secondary—which includes the defensive player of the year Marcus Peters.  On the front end, the Chiefs still have Tamba Hali…but fellow pass rusher Justin Houston could very well miss the entire season with injury and will start on the PUP list.  The defense was 3rd in points allowed per game, with two major components missing how will they respond?

What will Jamaal Charles give them off his second ACL injury? David E. Klutho (Sports Illustrated)

Somehow the team lost its most potent weapon and managed to succeed.  Jamaal Charles was recently removed from the PUP list and can resume full participation in practice.  They replaced Charles with Knile Davis, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware. QB Alex Smith was his usual self, right on his KC averages in terms of TDs, INTs, and yards per attempted pass. The Chiefs (even without their starting runner for the majority of the season), were 29th in pass attempts per game, 30th in yards, and 26th in total pass TDs.  Smith is who he is, a steady (KC had the least INTs of any team) captain on a talented team.

Prediction: There’s no reason to think this team won’t be good again.  Defense and running (they were 6th in yards and first in rushing TDs) travels well; their defense won’t be quite as good so I predict they will compete for a wildcard berth in what will be an extremely competitive division in football.

Denver Broncos

Last Season Record: (12-4) Super Bowl Winner

Key Acquisition(s): Russell Okung, Donald Stephenson, Mark Sanchez

Key Loss(es): Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning (retire)

I didn’t get an appreciation for exactly good the defense was until the QB play became deplorable. At every level of the defense the Broncos sported extreme talent.  But as with any successful team, it was difficult to keep personnel.  Jackson (defensive tackle) and Trevathan (linebacker) are gone and corner Aqib Talib is recovering from…uh…something. Von Miller will have to be just as dominant as he was last season to create the requisite havoc for the opposition. Without major contributors, can this defense be good enough to supplement a changing and, perhaps, diminished offense?

Can Sanchez manage this team well enough to return to the postseason? 

The drama surrounding the team (other than the Miller holdout) was the complete overhaul of the quarterback position. Manning retired, and it was thought that Osweiler (after having some starts last season) would come into camp as the starter.  A game of Free Agent Chicken resulted in Osweiler departing and Sanchez coming in.  Trevor Siemean will compete as well.  Both will be keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch, who the Broncos took in the first round of the draft. 

Prediction: The defense won’t be as good, there are real question marks about who will head the offense.  I hope the Broncos fans enjoyed the Super Bowl run last year, because they won’t make the playoffs this season.

San Diego Chargers

Last Season record: (4-12)

Key Acquisition(s):  Travis Benjamin, Brandon Mebane

Key Loss(es): Eric Weddle, Malcolm Floyd, LaDarius Green

Not a lot of reason to smile from Philip Rivers

Last season was a disappointment on a large scale.  With a potential looming move to LA, it felt like the Chargers were going to say goodbye to San Diego on a sour note. The team never came together and puttered to a 4 win season, easily the worst wins total of Philip Rivers’ career. Rivers still put together a solid season even with the losses, he simply didn’t have the weapons at his disposal necessary to win.  It was a bit surprising that the Chargers let promising TE Green go, as Antonio Gates enters the winter of his career. Floyd is retiring, so they will need a big season out of Benjamin—it’ll be interesting to see if he was held back in the tumultuous conditions of Cleveland.

Weddle was a stalwart of that team and defense.  His departure wasn’t a surprise given his age, but it does mark the end of an era.  They were one of the worst against the run last season, so enter in Mebane—a talented nose tackle to sure up a defense that gave up 30th most yards per rush attempt. If they don’t sure up the run defense, it’ll be another dismal season.

Prediction: No playoffs again for the Chargers. They were bad last season, and they’ll be bad again this season.  It really feels like Rivers is doomed to waste the rest of his HoF talent with a ineffectual team.

Oakland Raiders

Last Season’s Record: (7-9)

Key Acquisition(s): Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson

Key Loss(es):   Rod Streater, Charles Woodson (retired), Justin Tuck (retired)

Derek Carr continues to make large improvements from year to year. They were 31st in points per game and 32nd in yards two seasons ago, and last season were 17th and 24th respectively.  Another year should see Carr improve, especially as he builds chemistry with WR Amari Cooper. Running back LaTavius Murray is the presumed starter (coming off his first 1,000 yard season), but keep an eye on 5th round selection DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech who is making waves leading up to the regular season. They’ll need to improve running the ball, because the team was in the bottom third in terms of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.  According to Pro Football Focus (people who pay close attention to offensive line play) the Raiders could have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season.  Another year under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave (one that saw the Raiders make franchise history with the first season that had a 4,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, 1,000 yard receiver) will likely see an improvement on this side of the ball.

As much promise as the offense holds, the defense is the more star-studded side of the ball. Kahlil Mack continues to prove he’s one of the best pass rushers in the League. They’ve added Irvin to bolster the attack and 2nd round pick Jihad Ward is flashing signs of real promise that he will contribute in his first season. The secondary lost Charles Woodson and his experience, and has replaced him with Reggie Nelson and 1st round pick Karl Joseph at the safety positions.  2013 draft pick DJ Hayden looks like he’ll make an impact alongside David Amerson, to totally revamp the lagging secondary.  If they can get Aldon Smith back (he will have an opportunity to apply for reinstatement in November), then this defense can be the best in the League.

Prediction: The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West. There isn’t a ton of players with winning experience on the team with Tuck and Woodson departing, but there’s just too much talent for me to go anywhere else for this pick.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Perfect Strangers

Winning or abject embarrassment. Those are the only options #GoodLuck

So a weird thing keeps happening on America’s romp to the gold medal in men’s basketball.  These cats keep teetering on the edge of losing. After the Australia game that was a spirited competition throughout, the big test for the team looked to be over (at least for pool play).  Instead, the ten point margin of victory (a bit misleading given the closeness of the majority of the contest) has proven to be their largest in the past three games. Since then, they’ve beaten Serbia and France by three points apiece.

Obviously the international basketball landscape has changed a ton since the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. The NBA employs a large contingent of people from other continents, so the days of the USA jersey making opponents faint like Scarlett O’Hara at the BET awards are done. Instead, the US team has faced two or more current/former NBA players in four of the team’s five opening games (get it together, Venezuela).

The USA program was supposed to be radically different as well.  Following the Assault in Athens (best I could do, there should be some sort of alliteration for that squad) the entire domestic basketball landscape was altered to foster more internationally-friendly basketball teams that are more adept at playing together.  This team is a bit of a throwback.  Despite having multiple wings and interchangeable players, there are few traditional point guards (Kyle Lowry is the most experienced in this regard, and if you saw him in the playoffs…yea).  Moreover, due to some late-ish scratches, the team isn’t as talented as recent ones, hasn’t played as much together at all.

Perhaps even more interesting than the rocky road the US team is currently traversing, the underscoring of the importance of chemistry—and the contrast of on-court vs off-court chemistry.  Anyone that has seen the Snapchat or social media of the team members (look at me not making a Draymond Green joke), can see that they get along.  But on court they still look like talented players from disparate teams.  If this team does end up losing it’ll be because of a lack of communication on the defensive end (watching one play after another get beaten on backdoor cuts, or simple pick and roll defense getting cut to ribbons has been rough) or offensively going 1-on-5.

But hey, if you think they’ll lose you can get some good odds on all the other teams in the tournament. Because what’s more American than finding a way to make money in a tough situation?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Why You Hating? NFL Edition

We get this matchup at least twice this year, tell me God isn't a sports fan

Think about the person you really don’t like; not the barista that routinely fouls up your name, or the co-worker that laughs at all their own jokes, I’m talking about that person you really can’t stand.  Is it your boss that passed you up for that promotion you deserve? Is it the jerk who hit your car and didn’t even leave a note? Whoever it is, you more than likely seethe whenever you see or think of them.  Sadly, your life doesn’t allow for you to physically assault that person free from repercussion.
That is, unless you’re a football player.
With the 2016 NFL season nearly upon us, it seems like an apt time to get personal. These entities will have more than a passing animosity towards one another.

RGIII vs Washington

No one outside of Dallas will be pulling harder against the football team in the Nation’s capital than RG3.  He may not have been the easiest guy to get along with at his former place of employment, but there definitively seemed to be two sets of rules for how he was treated vs how his successor has been. Watching Washington crash and burn (especially due to poor QB play) will certainly inspire some thinly-veiled, shade-filled meme about perseverance.
There's no real caption needed here. (Getty Images)

And don’t you dare think that guys in that building (particularly ones that made the decision to move on from RG3) aren’t hoping Griffin talks and plays his way out of the good graces of the fans of Believeland.  Remember, Kirk Cousins got franchised—meaning he is only under contract for a year. So a bad season out of the new incumbent starter could mean that a) the team would fail to make the postseason and b) the team would have to get back into the QB market. Both would mean that head coach Jay Gruden could replace Griffin as the most hated Washingtonian, and chopping block resident.

Philadelphia vs Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly came into town like a conquering hero.

And left with the Philly folk trailing him with pitchforks.

His time in Philly gave Kelly plenty of reason to be angry via @JClarkCSN

In his three years in Philly, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin all left or were traded (remember, Kelly fought to get personnel power added to his position). Additionally he brought in Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell (both of whom were jettisoned soon after Kelly’s departure. Somehow the mess he made in Philly didn’t deter another squad from scooping him up, as the 49ers made sure the coach wouldn’t be unemployed for more than a few weeks.   If he has success in San Francisco while Philly is still rebuild from Kelly’s mistakes, the public vitriol will exceed Donovan McNabb levels.

Chip Kelly allegedly didn’t like people in Philly while he was there. You KNOW he wants to watch the people who fired him struggle as mightily as possible. Plus his success at a franchise that has had so much talent walk out recently would mean that it was his former venue that held most of the fault, and not him. Essentially setting up the most , “It’s not me, it’s actually you” sentiment since Spanglish.

Mario Williams vs Rex Ryan

There’s no way to have a post about NFL beef and not mention Rex Ryan once.  When these two got together last season, the general consensus was that Ryan would be able to get the most out of the former Pro Bowler. Instead the Bills fans were treated to Williams’ least effective year as an NFL player, and some surprising criticisms of Ryan’s defensive schemes. Now Williams is in Miami and will get the opportunity to go against a Ryan-coached team.  It’ll be interesting to see a personally invested Williams against a guy that has never been shy about expressing himself; about Williams or anything else.
Finding an angry picture of Rex Ryan was super easy (USATSI)

It’s Rex Ryan. If you don’t think the 50 cent of NFL coaches enjoys a good scrap, you haven’t been paying attention.  I’m sure their October 23rd meeting will be good for a few soundbytes, if not a few big plays.

Josh Norman vs Odell Beckham Jr.

It looked like the lone meeting between the cornerback and wide receiver would have to be enough for burgeoning rivalry. God and Free Agency felt differently, and now we can look forward to two meetings a year between the starting DB for Washington and the number one WR for the Giants. We all remember the first time these two got together, I’m sure both will play hypeman and talent in their upcoming rematches.

Both Norman and Beckham have had plenty to say since their original matchup. For what it’s worth, Beckham got off easy the last time they played, launching himself like a missile at Norman’s head was dangerous and could have resulted in catastrophic injuries or worse.  Let’s hope that their future confrontations will be spirited, but much safer.