Thursday, January 29, 2015

2 comments Gregg Easterbrook Says Special Teams Aren't as Important as Offense or Defense Unless Special Teams Becomes as Important as Offense and Defense

It's almost time for Gregg Easterbrook and TMQ (because they are two separate entities in Gregg's mind) to go into hibernation for the winter, or at least until draft time. So I will enjoy berating Gregg for his weekly contradictions and attempts to mislead his readers while he is still around for me to berate him. Gregg tells us this week that whichever team has a pick-six will win the Super Bowl, unless that team loses the coin toss. One would think the Authentic Games metric would allow Gregg to tell us NOW who will win the Super Bowl, but apparently the metric that predicts the Super Bowl pairing can't predict which team will actually win the Super Bowl. Gregg also takes issues with bottomless pits (irony alert!) and names his non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. I'm kidding of course. He has his readers name the winner of this award and nominates two undrafted players, a 5th round pick and a 2nd round pick in an effort to make sure the winner is undrafted or lowly drafted so he can crow about how undrafted players are the best. It's fun how Gregg skips over highly-drafted offensive and defensive players as the non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. He could include guys like Jamie Collins, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Bruce Irvin, and Earl Thomas, but he wants to nominate two undrafted players and a 5th round pick as his non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. Not that Gregg would ever have an agenda of course.

There's data, there's big data, and then there is slam-dunk data. In the latter category: Teams that return an interception for a touchdown are 12-0 in the Super Bowl. Get a pick-six, win the Super Bowl. It's pretty much that simple.

So both the Patriots and Seahawks need to ignore whatever game plan they have and just try to get a pick-six. Once they do that, they can rest easy knowing they have won the game. It's slam-dunk data.

Teams that run back a fumble for a touchdown in the Super Bowl are 2-2. Teams that run a kick back for a touchdown are 4-6, that winning total diluted by two Super Bowl victors who had both kickoff and interception return touchdowns.

The pick-six rules the Super Bowl.

Again, each team's secondary should jump all routes and do whatever it takes, even if the opposing team gets a touchdown as a result, to get a pick-six.

Why do interception return touchdowns link so tightly with Super Bowl victory when other kinds of return touchdowns don't?

I'm not a smart man, but I'm guessing this is probably a coincidence and not any type of data that is indicative of a trend that actually means something. A pick-six is a big swing in a football game, but there is no reason a team that has a pick-six has won every Super Bowl. I'm not sure there is a causation here.

One answer may be sample size. There have been only 48 -- excuse me, XLVIII -- Super Bowls. Maybe that's not enough to wash out the role of luck in the XII-0 record for pick-six teams.

Right, it's a smaller sample size. I don't know of a way to find this information, but I would bet that teams over the history of the NFL (INCLUDING THE TRIASSIC PERIOD!) who have a pick-six in a game are more likely to win that game. So what we have is a smaller sample size, along with a pick-six making it more likely the team that gets the pick-six will win the game, leading to Super Bowl teams with a pick-six are now 12-0. It's an indicator a team will win a game, but not to the extent the 12-0 record in the Super Bowl shows.

Perhaps this is because high-level quarterback play is needed for Super Bowl success, and an interception returned for a touchdown causes the quarterback to lose confidence in himself -- or his teammates to lose confidence in him.

Or maybe because it's six points scored against a team while they are on offense is a large swing of points and it doesn't have a ton to do with reading the quarterback's mind and knowing if he has lost confidence or not.

Fumble return touchdowns are great, but all players know that being in the right place at the right time for a scoop-and-score is almost entirely chance.

A pick-six is partly chance too. There is skill in causing a fumble, like there is skill in making an interception, but to return it for a touchdown requires a certain amount of luck that there aren't five offensive players directly around the defender who made the interception to where he has a chance to run it back for a touchdown.

Kick return touchdowns are nice, too, but they involve special teams on both sides -- and while special-teams play is important, offense and defense are more important.

Oh. Well then, I guess it's official. Someone should tell Tony Romo or Scott Norwood that special teams aren't that important. I'm sure they probably would think otherwise. I bet the Patriots and their fans think special teams are as important in the Super Bowl as offense and defense, considering they have won two Super Bowls on game-winning kicks. As a Panthers fan, I'm liable to disagree that special teams aren't as important as offense and defense considering John Kasay kicking the ball out of bounds in the Super Bowl undid all the good work that the Panthers' offense did in the fourth quarter. But yeah, special teams isn't as important as offense and defense until it is.

Gregg kills me. Special teams isn't as important as offense or defense until a team screws up on special teams. Then it suddenly becomes as important.

When the quarterback throws an interception run back for touchdown, this may mean the quarterback, the team's leader, just made a huge mistake, or that the opponent's defense is really good. Both are unsettling. Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl, versus Chicago, then lost his next two, versus New Orleans with Indianapolis and versus Seattle with Denver. In both losses Manning threw an interception returned for a touchdown. Both times as the intercepting player scampered down the field, one could feel the air drain from Manning's team.

There was even a measurement on the scoreboard showing how much air was in each team and after Manning threw both interceptions for a touchdown the Air Drain Percentage for the Colts and Broncos increased dramatically. Everyone in the stadium saw the Air Drain Percentage go from 4.32% to 74.3% both times Manning threw a pick-six in the Super Bowl.

While I won't doubt there is a psychological component to a pick-six, part of the reason the pick-six thrown by Manning against the Saints hurt so much is it put the Saints up ahead by more than a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. So it wasn't a matter of air being drained, but a matter of the Colts then being down by more than a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. In the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, the safety on the first play of the game set the tone for the game more than anything else did, at least in my opinion.

Super Bowl XXXV was close until early in the third quarter, when Baltimore's Duane Starks intercepted a Kerry Collins pass and ran it back for a touchdown; the Giants went on to lose 34-7. There are many examples of the interception return touchdown breaking a team's psychology.

It was close, but it was also 10-0 in favor of the Ravens prior to Collins throwing this interception. Then Ron Dixon ran a kick back for a touchdown on the ensuring kickoff, putting the Giants right back in the game where it was "close" again. Then know what happened? Jermaine Lewis of the Ravens ran a kick back for a touchdown, putting the Ravens up 24-7, which really put the game out of reach for the Giants against the Ravens' defense.

Notice how Gregg points out the pick-six broke the Giants in this Super Bowl, but fails to mention the Giants special teams unit that isn't as important as offense or defense put the Giants right back in the game to where it was (in Gregg's own words) a "close" 10 point deficit for the Giants. Then the Ravens ran a kick back for a touchdown, which put the Giants right back down by 17 points. So Gregg points to the pick-six as the psychologically damaging play, but it was really the Jermaine Lewis touchdown on the kickoff that did it, because it put the Giants down by 17 points in the third quarter. The special teams unit that wasn't as important as offense or defense suddenly became as important as offense or defense in the very example Gregg uses to show the damage to a team's psyche that a pick-six can do.

Come Sunday, should Seattle or New England take an interception back for a touchdown, turn to your friends and confidently predict victory for that team. Act like you have access to some incredible Vegas insider service. And if the pick-six team doesn't win, remember this column's ironclad guarantee: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back.

"If I'm right, tell everyone how smart I am and know that the pick-six is a definite indicator of whether a team will win the Super Bowl or not, but if I'm wrong, then it's all a joke anyway and I have no idea what I'm talking about. When I'm right, it's because my conclusion is based on fact, when I'm wrong, it was all a joke anyway so don't take me seriously."

This is the same shit Gregg did with the Authentic Games metric. He wants it both ways. He wants credit for his accurate metric when it's right, but when it's wrong, the metric was only a joke anyway so don't take it so seriously.

In column news, it's time to name the recipient of the coveted "longest award in sports" -- Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back National Football League Most Valuable Player.

As with last year, I nominate, then readers decide. Before you jump to a conclusion spelled "J.J. Watt," remember only players from teams that reach the Super Bowl are eligible -- my logic being if one is to wear the mantle of Most Valuable, one must have created value.

And of course, how could a defensive player who had one of the best individual performances ever by a defensive player have created value for his team? According to Gregg Easterbrook, the answer is that he did not.

The idea a player doesn't create value if his team doesn't make the Super Bowl is ridiculous. Just dumb. It's the same line of thinking that MVP voters in MLB use.

Stats To Ponder No. 1: This season, when New England and Seattle win the coin flip that starts a game, they are 18-2; when losing the flip, they are 10-6. 

Clearly whichever team wins the coin flip will win the game, but what if the team that wins the coin flip gets a pick-six? What if both teams get a pick-six?

Last week, I asked readers for their favorite bottomless pits.

And if there is ever an expert on a bottomless pit, then it's Gregg. Every week TMQ is a bottomless pit of misleading information and facts withheld in order to help prove the point Gregg wants to prove that week.

Mike Turschmann of White Plains, New York, noted that in "300," Leonidas has a bottomless pit in Sparta that he uses to dispose of Persians. If Sparta could build bottomless pits 2,500 years ago, why did Persia rule the ancient world?

Because it's a fictional movie.

Ryan Ottele of Renton, Washington, notes that in "Return of the Jedi," the evil emperor ends up hurled into a bottomless pit that conveniently is about 10 feet from his throne. I know if I ruled the galaxy, I'd want a bottomless pit in my office.

Ryan Ottele of Renton, Washington should probably know that it wasn't a bottomless pit that Emperor Palpatine was thrown into, but the reactor shaft of the Death Star. So he didn't have a bottomless pit hanging around his throne, but he had a reactor shaft for the Death Star near his throne. And the reactor shaft wasn't even bottomless, as can be seen in that video where there is an explosion when Palpatine hits the bottom. So this is just a big fail by Ryan, though it would help if Gregg wouldn't print something as bottomless when it was not indeed bottomless. It would require research to find out if the "bottomless pit" was in fact a bottomless pit and Gregg has no time for silly things like research.

Spencer Ferrero of Los Angeles notes that in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Indy has to leap across a bottomless pit, then is pulled out of an abyss -- the secret temple had one of each! -- by his father.

The secret temple didn't haven abyss, but an abyss was created when the temple started pulling apart, sort of like what happens during an earthquake when the ground separates to create an abyss.

John Yaeger of Minneapolis ‏notes there is an actual bottomless pit in Minnesota.

If Minnesota has a bottomless pit, then why don't they rule the world?

The physics of bottomless pits are never spelled out. How is one built?

I don't know, ask the people in Minnesota.

Where does the stuff go?

Well Gregg, since it's bottomless I think that question sort of answers itself doesn't it?

Why don't bottomless pits have guard rails?

Darth Vader did have to raise the Emperor over a rail before dumping him down the reactor shaft. So...maybe watch the movie or something.

Since the MVP award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back, Tuesday Morning Quarterback confers an MVP for which quarterbacks and running backs are not eligible. Given pass-wacky trends, soon the award may be the Non-QB Non-WR MVP.

Because wide receivers are winning the MVP award all the time now and all. The last time a wide receiver won the MVP award was....oh yeah, never. Anyway, I think I'll worry about it becoming the non-QB non-WR MVP as soon as a wide receiver actually wins the MVP for the first time ever.

Only players from teams that reached the Super Bowl are eligible.

Which is dumb.

Cast your vote nearby. Next week's column will announce the winner.

And of course Gregg has to provide the nominations for his readers to ensure that no highly-drafted glory boy would be named non-QB non-RB MVP or anything like that. So Gregg nominates as many undrafted and lowly drafted players as possible so he can lead his readers in the direction of voting an undrafted player as non-QB non-RB MVP. This achieves the purpose of allowing Gregg to crow about how an undrafted player was voted as the winner, as if he didn't provide nominations that led the voting in that direction in the first place.

New England, offense: Dan Connolly, guard. Undrafted out of lower-division Southeast Missouri State, Connolly is the man who replaced perennial Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. For five seasons, Connolly has started almost every Patriots game. Against Indianapolis, most of the Patriots' rushing yards came up the middle between the guards. Connolly helped open holes a runner could have gone through holding a medicine ball.

You mean the guy who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the Patriots' worst offensive linemen? That guy? I'm sure those numbers don't mean anything though and Gregg's visual observation that Connolly was undrafted and plays for a team in the Super Bowl means PFF is wrong.

New England, defense: Rob Ninkovich, linebacker. Kyle Arrington, Darrelle Revis and Jamie Collins have had fine years for the Flying Elvii defense,

But two of them are highly-drafted players, so Gregg can't count them as part of this discussion for fear he won't get to go on a "Undrafted players are so valuable and here's proof" rant.

He has great instincts whether dropping into coverage or rushing the passer, and must be accounted for. Bonus: Ninkovich was let go by New Orleans (twice!) and by Miami.

That is a bonus! Obviously knowing Ninkovich was let go years ago by two NFL teams means his performance on the field in 2014 should be judged in a more positive light. Ninkovich may be a 5th round pick but he's also considered "unwanted" by Gregg.

Seattle, defense: Bobby Wagner, linebacker. On a team of defensive standouts, Wagner is the man who gets it done. Who's most "valuable" is usually hard to measure, but not in this case. Wagner missed a few games because of injury: Seattle was 3-2 without him, 11-2 with him. Offensive coordinators find Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman annoying; Wagner makes them tear their hair out.

Wagner was a second round pick, so he's the only hope to win this award and prevent Gregg talking about how valuable undrafted players are compared to highly-drafted glory boys. You know highly drafted guys like Earl Thomas, who is the catalyst for the Seahawks' defense. Notice that Wagner's draft position is not included in the discussion of how valuable he is.

The Super Bowl may be over at the coin flip, since Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick both like to defer and their teams perform better when deferring.

Deferring is thought to confer a slight tactical advantage since the team that gets the second-half kickoff knows what happened in the first half, what tactics were used and what the scoreboard situation is. Deferring also creates the chance of the back-to-back score -- scoring to end the first half, then scoring again to begin the second half. This can be demoralizing for the opponent.

Unless that opponent then gets a pick-six, in which case they have then demoralized their opponent that got back-to-back scores. The nature of demoralization is very complicated.

New England's performance has been reasonably uniform, a 292-194 margin in the first half then a 265-157 margin after intermission. The Patriots' best quarter is the second. They've outscored opponents by 79 points in the second quarter, which has fourth-quarter tactical dynamics but lacks the drama of the fourth quarter.

I think there are certain times in TMQ that Gregg just starts rambling without totally thinking about what he's rambling about. This may be one of those times.

Since about the middle of 2013, the Seahawks have disdained the blitz -- they brought pressure on five of 65 Green Bay snaps in the NFC Championship Game, much lower than the league average of 20 percent blitzing.

But as I always say, it's not just a matter of the Seahawks deciding they aren't blitzing, it's also a matter of the fact they can get pressure with four pass rushers. Not every team can get pressure with just four rushers, so teams that are able to do this don't have to blitz as much.

Given extra time to prepare, Seattle may try to surprise Brady by offering coverages it hasn't shown on film this season.

Or they may not offer coverages not shown on film this season. It may or may not happen.

When Seattle has the ball, expect a traditionalist approach of run-run-run then play-fake and throw long. In a pass-wacky era, the Seahawks' offense is a throwback. Early three-and-outs that might frustrate other teams don't seem to frustrate the Seattle offense, 

Partially because the Seahawks' offense knows their defense is good enough to not allow points that would put the Seahawks behind by a lot in the game. It's easy to not get frustrated with a three-and-out when you know that your defense won't allow the other team to score a ton of points and the three-and-out won't cause your offense to change the game plan drastically.

New England has been using press corners this season, playing a similar style to Seattle's. Adding Revis made press corners possible for the Patriots. 

Adding Revis allowed the Patriots to change their entire defensive strategy, but he's not in the running for non-QB non-RB MVP because he's a first round pick.

Statistically, by yards, Seattle is superior to New England on offense as well as on defense. Football Outsiders finds the Patriots' special teams better,

Yeah, but special teams aren't as important as offense and defense, so I'm not even sure why Gregg is choosing to discuss special teams at all.

and three of the past five Super Bowls included important special-teams plays by the victors.

Gregg Easterbrook from earlier in the column:

Kick return touchdowns are nice, too, but they involve special teams on both sides -- and while special-teams play is important, offense and defense are more important.

Gregg Easterbrook now:

"One thing that may make a difference in the Super Bowl is special teams. Three of the last five teams to win the Super Bowls had important special teams plays by the team that won. So special teams aren't as important as offense and defense, unless it is as important as offense or defense. It depends on what point needs to be proven at that moment."

The latest New England ethical lapse -- how many times do the Patriots have to let the whole country down? -- means Bill Belichick henceforth will be Bill Belichick* to this column.

Oh God, please don't let this become a "thing" in TMQ. Please.

A Nissan commercial showing a car driving through a pack of evil living snowmen says "do not attempt." If you encounter evil living snowmen, don't drive through them!

I think what the disclaimer means is don't drive your car through a lot of snow because it could damage the car in some way. It's more fun though to be intentionally ignorant and think the disclaimer is about evil snowmen.

The last time Bill Belichick's*

Crap, it's a "thing" that Gregg is going to be doing.

Patriots reached the final contest and also were in hot water was Super Bowl XLII, versus the Giants, the season of Spygate. As punishment for cheating, the football gods denied New England the first 19-0 record in NFL history. Now the Patriots once again have reached the final contest while being in hot water. Will the football gods once again exact vengeance?

They very well could. The football gods have been punishing the Patriots for Spygate so far by only allowing them to reach two Super Bowls since Spygate was uncovered, as well as allowing them to be one of the best teams in the NFL since 2007. It's been a harsh punishment, so I don't see why it would end in this upcoming Super Bowl.

When astronomers are puzzled by unknown high-energy events in the cosmos, TMQ asks: Why assume what we are seeing is natural? Perhaps astronomers are seeing the muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons. 

This from the guy who has a real issue with the use of bottomless pits in a fictional movie. Gregg has no issue with high-energy events in the cosmos possibly being muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons. Of course if a movie tried to set up a scenario where these were muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons then Gregg would make a great effort to point out how unrealistic this and then point out the scientific fallacies which the writers of the movie ignored and should not have.

Belichick* told the packed house. Shocked, shocked! In the famous scene from "Casablanca," the moment after Captain Renault shuts down Rick's cafe because he is shocked, shocked to find out gambling was going on, the croupier walks up, hands the captain cash and says, "Your winnings, sir." Captain Renault takes the cash and says, "Thank you very much." So when Belichick* declared himself shocked about Patriots cheating, a team assistant should have walked up to the podium and said, "Your Super Bowl plane ticket, sir."

I realize Gregg is attempting to be funny, but his example isn't the same as the scenario presented in the movie. In "Casablanca," Captain Renault was handed the very object which proved he should not have been shocked by the gambling. In Gregg's scenario, a Super Bowl ticket isn't the very object which proved Belichick should not have been shocked by the deflating of footballs. If the team assistant had walked up to the podium and said, "Here is the deflated football you ordered" then Gregg's scenario would make sense. Even when making a joke, Gregg just sort of mails it in without worrying about whether the joke makes sense in the context of the real life event he's commenting on.

Newspaper front pages, the lead story of network evening newscasts, 24-7 cable news coverage -- if the Patriots doctored game balls, that's wrong, but why the four-alarm level of coverage?

One reason is simply that football is the king of sports. America is obsessed with this game, down to its minutiae. The NFL has an outsized role in society, and never hesitates to use that outsized role for money and ratings. When the NFL screws up, it's an outsized screwup.

That's the long and short of it. The NFL is very, very popular and any news that happens involving the NFL is big news. It's the main reason the deflating of footballs has led news coverage.

Initially mulling this, I was tempted to say another factor in the reaction is that so many people viscerally dislike Belichick*. But the Saints' bounty scandal and the Ray Rice imbroglio got four-alarm treatment, and neither involved Belichick*.

The fact the Patriots were involved with Spygate a few years ago had something to do with the coverage, but before mulling it too long, just know the reason the deflating of footballs story is so big is because the NFL is so big.

But on reflection I don't think the reaction to PSIcheated is about Belichick*. It's about the assumption that people reach positions of power and privilege -- in sports, business, government, school, Wall Street -- by cheating, and most are never caught.

I'm just glad Gregg is finally getting to the bottom of what this football deflating scandal is really about. Because it certainly can't be about a Hall of Fame-caliber coach and quarterback suspected of cheating for a second time. It can't be that simple. It has to be about society and the idea people in power cheat to get there. There has to be some sort of macro-level to the Patriots deflating footballs, so it can't simply be about how some people believe Belichick and Brady are found to have cheated for the second time and they are about to appear in the Super Bowl (some claim) as a direct result of cheating. That can't be it.

But if there's a fair, open competition and one person ends up with a powerful, highly remunerative position while another ends up with little or nothing, we may prefer to believe the whole thing was fixed. Seeing a powerful, wealthy person caught cheating reinforces this.

Or many people just don't like the idea one team is cheating in order to win games. Or many people don't like the Patriots and can't wait to eviscerate them for getting caught violating NFL rules for a second time.

Postscript No. 3: TMQ regularly reminds -- including in this 2007 column as Spygate started

I find it interesting that Gregg links a column from 2007 and refers to it as when "Spygate started" considering a few years ago he tried to justify his whole "The Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl or had postseason success because of football gods punished them" stance based on Spygate not really having started until AFTER the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants. Gregg wanted to push the start of Spygate to the end of the season to justify his insistence the Patriots had not had postseason success since Spygate occurred. I can't find the exact TMQ, but that was Gregg's position. When called out on this being incorrect, I recall Gregg mealy-mouthed his way around it by saying Spygate didn't start until the Patriots were punished for it. So basically, I find it interesting he acknowledges Spygate started before the 2007 season started, because that wasn't always his position when he had a point he wanted to prove.

Postscript No. 4: Andrew Luck's hand size (pinkie to thumb with fingers spread) is 10 inches, Brady's is 9.4 inches. That's a bigger distinction than it may seem.

This is an excellent example of how Gregg's position on an issue will change depending on what he wants to prove. After most NFL seasons, Gregg writes in TMQ about "hyper specificity" and how there is no difference in a player running a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.48 40-yard dash because both should be rounded to 4.4 or 4.5. All of a sudden, Brady's hand size isn't 9 inches or 10 inches wide. Not at all. Now Gregg embraces hyper specificity and says Brady's hand size is 9.4 inches long. In fact, here is Gregg mocking those who do exactly what he's doing here.

Football is wild for absurd precision. Here, a combine 40-yard dash time is touted as "4.27" seconds, trailing only a record of "4.24" seconds. A player who runs a "4.24" is half of 1 percent faster than a player who runs a "4.27," and would finish a 40-yard dash three inches ahead.

Maryland just raised its state income tax rate to 8.95 percent. It's certainly not 9 percent!

Medicare taxes are rising this year by 0.9 percent for many filers to help finance ObamaCare. It's certainly not a 1 percent increase!

When Gregg has a point to prove, he is allowed to use hyper specificity, but it's outrageous when anyone else dares to say Medicare taxes are rising 0.9 percent rather than 1.0 percent. Gregg's own rules need not apply to himself.

In the aftermath of Green Bay facing four fourth-and-1s in the NFC Championship Game and kicking four times, many readers, including Rebecca Wayne of Bellingham, Washington, noted that as the decisions happened, Fox's on-air announcers seemed to agree. She wrote, "So in hindsight Mike McCarthy was wrong but it wasn't obvious in real time."

In most fourth-and-short situations, on-air personnel for CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC (CBS provides the booth crew for NFL Network broadcasts) express approval when the coach sends out the kicking unit. Announcers tend to assume that if coaches who do nothing all year but study football think kicking on fourth-and-short is the right move, they must be right.

This could be true. What is also true is that most play-by-play guys are older and the analysts tend to be older ex-football players as well. I view going for it on fourth down as a more progressive and more recent trend. Those people, like on-air personnel, that don't have to make the decision and have traditionally favored taking points over going for it on fourth down will think the head coach did the right thing by taking the points. It's why Twitter blows up with negativity when a coach like Mike McCarthy kicks a field goal so close to the end zone. Twitter trends younger and younger people tend to favor the more aggressive and progressive tactics, while the tactic of "take the points" isn't as entrenched in them as it is the older play-by-play guys and analysts. It's my small little theory about why on-air personnel tend to seem more conservative.

It's obvious when athletes make errors -- interceptions are not supposed to happen -- but not obvious when coaches err, thus they receive the benefit of the doubt. Announcers even use the "have to" construction. As in, "It's fourth-and-1, the Screaming Lemurs have to punt."

Again, they favor less aggressive tactics because going for it on fourth down being supported by data stating this is the right strategy is a relatively new thing. It's why baseball announcers also tend to be more conservative and less accepting of newer Sabermetric principles. They call the game based on how they played/grew up around the game, which may be slightly different from how the current game is played in terms of strategy.

Blame-shifting is essential to understanding why so many football coaches opt for the "safe" tactic even if it reduces the odds of winning. Of course every coach wants to win, but that is not necessarily the No. 1 objective in the coach's mind. Avoiding criticism, and thus prolonging job security, may be objective No. 1.

Mike McCarthy just signed a new contract extension that takes him through 2018 and it's probably worth more than the $5 million per year he got in his last contract extension. So why would McCarthy give a shit about job security? If he gets fired, the Packers will be paying him for four seasons that he doesn't even coach the team. Job security isn't objective No. 1. Maybe this blanket criticism is correct for other head coaches, but Gregg can't explain away why McCarthy was conservative against Seattle with this "job security" explanation. It doesn't pass the bullshit test.

Usually coaches are criticized for fourth-down tries -- Belichick* was hammered for going for it in Patriots territory at Indianapolis. McCarthy's situation is a rare case of a coach criticized for doing the "safe" thing.

Probably because it was so egregious. Gregg explains job security is the concern of a coach when he decides not to go for it on fourth down. I don't think that pertains to McCarthy, so I would love to know if Gregg thinks McCarthy is that concerned about avoiding criticism. I can't believe McCarthy would have that thin of skin.

Football aside: Yours truly watched the tape of the fourth-and-1 decisions and was struck by this: All four times Aaron Rodgers trotted off passively, not arguing to go for it. Can anyone believe Brett Favre in this situation would have trotted off passively? This may be emblematic of the difference between the modern analytics-based, emotionally cool approach to sports and old-fashioned passion for athletic battle.

For the love of God, running off the field and throwing a tantrum like a child or questioning the head coach while yelling at him IS NOT LEADERSHIP! It is not. I wish Gregg would get this out of his head. Maybe Favre would trot off passively, maybe he wouldn't. Rodgers was probably thinking about how the Packers left opportunities to score on the field instead of thinking about showing "leadership" by acting like a child and stomping off the field.

Trotting off passively has nothing to do with an analytics-based approach to sports. It has to do with real leaders not questioning their coach publicly or acting like a spoiled brat in cases where that quarterback doesn't agree with the decision of his coach. Is leadership showing fellow teammates that it's okay to question the coach? Is leadership showing fellow teammates that it's okay to act like a spoiled brat? This is not leadership.

Political aside: Hillary Clinton is so far ahead in the early polls that the very size of the lead ought to make her nervous. The Packers thought a 16-0 lead was insurmountable, too.

I'm sure Hillary Clinton knows that being far ahead in an early poll isn't the same thing as the Packers having a 16-0 lead in a football playoff game. If only Gregg knew it.

Next Week: That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.

Actually the Super Bowl takes place this week. Is this an example of Reverse-Creep where Gregg talks about an event occurring next week when it really takes place this week? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

7 comments MMQB Review: Vocabulary Lessons With Peter King Edition

Peter King named the wrong "Goat of the Week" for the third straight week in MMQB. He also detailed how Russell Wilson and the Seahawks pulled off a miracle comeback with the help of the inept Green Bay Packers. Peter was impressed with an airport coffee shop in Detroit (and he was shocked the best airport in the country would be in Detroit...I'm still not sure why this is shocking) where the ladies at the coffee shop took the time to make sure his Highness properly enjoyed his coffee. Peter wishes other coffee shops and service industry workers would take the same time to give personal attention, except for when Peter is waiting in line of course. When Peter is in a long line, he just wants the conversation to stop so he can get his food/coffee/whatever he's ordering. When it's Peter getting the personal attention, he appreciates the customer service. This week's MMQB is "offbeat" according to Peter King. He talks about an officiating comeback story, discusses the Patriots deflating footballs against the Colts, provides an absurd "Fine Fifteen," and condescendingly teaches his readers a new word. Because occasionally Peter lets his elitist attitude toward the idiot "normals" who read MMQB come through just a little bit.

We interrupt the Deflategate hysteria (I do believe that is not an overstatement) to bring you this incredible factoid

It's a fact, not a factoid. Since Peter will be teaching his readers a vocabulary lesson in slightly condescending fashion later in MMQB, I wonder if he needs a lesson in the definition of the world "factoid" himself. A factoid is:  

"A questionable or spurious statement presented as fact, but without supporting evidence." 

The word does have other meanings with the second meaning also indicating a statement isn't factual. The third meaning is the CNN version with means a trivial piece of interesting information. The word mainly means a statement that lacks fact. Peter uses the word a lot in MMQB and I sometimes wonder if he knows the word's main meaning indicates he isn't exactly spitting out facts.

One player out of 106 active Seahawks and Patriots was not healthy enough to practice when the two teams worked out this weekend. That player, starting Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle), still is listed as probable for Super Bowl 49, meaning it’s very likely he’ll play in the biggest game of his young life next Sunday. So, barring someone straining an oblique on the golf course Tuesday afternoon, it is surprising to report in the fifth month of a brutal NFL season that the two teams left standing are ridiculously healthy as they begin final preparations for the game.

See!? An 18 game schedule would absolutely work for the NFL because this season the two Super Bowl teams are very healthy. Roger Goodell thinks that he should just go ahead and ram the 18 game schedule through. It's not like any of the teams who didn't make the Super Bowl are injured or injuries may have helped prevent another NFL team from having a shot at the Super Bowl or anything like that. The Colts didn't need Ahmad Bradshaw and I'm sure the loss of B.J. Raji was no big deal to the Packers. Plus, the Cardinals were just as good without Carson Palmer as they were with him. Why is an 18 game schedule a bad idea.

My point is that an 18 game schedule is still stupid and it sometimes happens the teams that are able to stave off major injuries to key players are the teams that are able to advance in the playoffs.

I dare to defer one of the biggest pre-Super Bowl stories in the 48-year history of the game to page two of the column today. Page one belongs to Bill Vinovich, the Super Bowl referee.

I feel like every Super Bowl there is a story that is one of the biggest pre-Super Bowl stories in the history of the Super Bowl. Whether it is whether Terrell Owens will play or not, if the Patriots can have a perfect season, if the Patriots can get revenge on the Giants for ruining their perfect season, or whether the Steelers can win another Super Bowl. If it's not Peyton Manning trying to secure his legacy by winning another Super Bowl or Jon Gruden getting revenge on the Raiders by defeating them in the Super Bowl, there is always a story that is one of the biggest stories in the history of the Super Bowl.

Vinovich went to work out one day near his southern California home, and when he came home, his back was killing him. “It actually felt like somebody stuck two knives in my back,” Vinovich said from California the other day.

Sort of how many NFL teams feel after having their games officiated by NFL officials.

At the hospital, his blood pressure skyrocketed. The CAT scan stunned the doctors: The descending portion of his aorta had torn off. This “aortic dissection” caused this huge blood vessel to tear and blood to pour through the area.
“They said it was inoperable,” Vinovich said. “I heard them say, ‘The next 48 hours will tell if he’s gonna make it or not.”

Wow, that sounds pretty severe. So at this point, Peter King will either continue with the story or explain to his readers who he seems to think are morons what "...tell if he's gonna make it or not" means. Because that's a phrase Peter apparently thinks his readers aren't smart enough to understand without him condescending a bit and explaining the phrase. Very lofty of him to do.

They meant, The next 48 hours would determine whether Vinovich would live.

Yes Peter, we understand that's what it means when the phrase "if he's gonna make it or not" is used in front of the words "the next 48 hours." I'm sure that Peter would be shocked to learn his readers aren't complete morons, because he insists on treating them that way. Why would you have to explain what this phrase means? It's obvious.

After 11 days in intensive care and a few weeks of in-home rest, Vinovich felt good, and he sent all his medical records to the NFL so he could be cleared to officiate the season. League physician Dr. Jeffrey Borer, whose job it is to clear officials for duty, not only wouldn’t clear Vinovich for the season. “They said they weren’t going to allow me on the field anymore,” Vinovich said. “Ever.”

This is the part where Peter would explain "ever" meant that the NFL wasn't going to allow Vinovich to officiate another NFL game in his lifetime. 

“How long did it take you to come to grips with that?” I asked.

A few years Peter. Then Vinovich evetually came to grips with it, which is why he isn't an NFL official anymore. Great question.

“Never,’’ he said. “I never gave up.”

Obviously he is still officiating NFL games so Vinovich never gave up. The phrase "if he's gonna make it or not" doesn't seem obvious to Peter, so the fact Vinovich didn't come to terms with the NFL not allowing him on the field, and that's why he is still officiating required further explanation as well.

In 2008, he became a regional supervisor, watching and grading officials. He applied for Pereira’s job when Pereira quit after the 2009 season, but Carl Johnson got it. Imagine if Vinovich got that gig; he probably never would have returned to the field. He decided to continue as a supervisor, but to go back to his other officiating love—college basketball.

Vinovich got four thoracic surgeons to write to the NFL in 2010, saying he was healthy enough to officiate a football game. He took the NFL physical and felt great. Borer still said no. Too risky. “It was like pounding your head against a wall,” Vinovich said. “I’ve got all the information. I just couldn’t get through that wall.”

Peter wants to explain that "couldn't get through that wall" meant that the NFL wouldn't allow Vinovich to officiate a football game again. Also, Peter wants his readers to know that football is a sport, but he isn't talking about what's called football in Europe, which is called soccer in the United States, but Peter is talking about American football that's not soccer. Then I'm sure Peter wants to explain America is the country where he resides as a citizen and is often also called the United States of America. Then Peter would explain to his readers there are 50 states in the United States of America.

Six months later he was back on the basketball court, reffing games on the West Coast. Early in 2012 he re-applied to the NFL, with Elefteriades’ blessing. In May 2012, he opened his email one day to find these words from the NFL: You’re approved for the 2012 season. “I obviously started crying,” Vinovich said. “Very, very emotional.”

Peter would like to explain that Vinovich was emotional in a good way, not in a bad way. The emotions were happy emotions.

Vinovich had Baltimore-New England. In the middle of the third quarter, the bizarre New England formation occurred: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui lined up at left tackle, eligible. Running back Shane Vereen reported on the field and said clearly to Vinovich: “I’m reporting INeligible. INeligible.” 

“It obviously caught me off guard,” Vinovich said. “I’m not gonna say what the Ravens should or shouldn’t have done. I mean, the easiest thing [for them] to do would have been to call timeout and let them match up.

Peter wants his readers to know that "off guard" means Vinovich wasn't expecting it. Okay, I'm done now.

And yes, the Ravens maybe should have tried to call a timeout, as nearly everyone suggested they do in this situation. It's like a knee-jerk reaction. The Ravens didn't like what they saw, just call a timeout.

Vinovich is aware that some critics—Harbaugh, for one, who thinks the Ravens weren’t given sufficient time to match up; and also Tony Dungy, who felt the same way—didn’t like New England being able to use that play.

I'm sure there is a bucket somewhere that can catch all the tears Saint Tony Dungy was crying over the Patriots using this play in a game when the opposing team wasn't properly prepared.

But he also knows on those three plays, the Ravens had at least seven seconds per play to adjust. So he’s sure he made the right call. “I don’t know how else we could have handled that,” he said. “You’re not going to put the umpire over the ball at that point. We told the Ravens the back was ineligible.”

It was a good move by Belichick and I thought sufficient time was given. What do I know though? I'm not Saint Tony Dungy, image rehabber to football stars.

“Has it hit you that you’re doing the Super Bowl,” I asked, “just three years after you didn’t know if you’d ever be allowed on the field again?”

“No,” he said, “and I don’t think it will until I do the coin toss, honestly. I just want to get that over with, because then it’s just football.”

“No one’s coming to see an official officiate,” Vinovich said. “Trust me.”

Karl Hess is amazed that no one is coming to see an official officiate a game.

I thought the Bill Belichick press conference Saturday afternoon was extraordinary. Clearly, he realized his integrity, and that of his organization, was under fire. He wanted to tell the world there was, in his mind, a rational explanation for the decline in pressure in the footballs during the first half of the AFC Championship Game. He wanted to tell the world stridently that he thought his team and his staff did absolutely nothing wrong. He wanted to tell the world he was proud of his players for continually persevering and becoming the best team in the AFC this season, which the Patriots certainly are. It was passionate and moving and very human.


We still don’t know why New England’s footballs were fine before the game, low at halftime (at least 11, according to Chris Mortensen), inflated to the proper level by the officiating crew, and then fine after the game. So that’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk reported Sunday, quoting a league source, that 10 of the New England footballs “may have been closer to one pound below the minimum limit for inflation,” which leads to an important part of the investigation.

(falls asleep reading about the proper inflation of footballs)

A little education this morning, on the parts of this story I think people are missing.

Peter is all about the education in this week's MMQB.

1. The big issue is a six-to-10-minute window of time between when the officials release the ball to the ball boys and the start of the game.

That six- or 10-minute window is key to this investigation. In fact, it’s the biggest key. Did anything untoward happen in that time?

Okay Mr. Football, point to the spot on this doll where the Patriots touched you before the game. Don't be afraid and just show me on the doll where they touched you. No one will be mad at you. Just point.

2. How did the players and teams get such control over the footballs? Why doesn’t the league take control of the football-prep process?

Let’s go back to 2006, to something I wrote just before the start of that season. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, backed by 20 other starting quarterbacks, petitioned the league to allow each team—rather than just the home team—to condition the footballs it would use on offense each week in the way it saw fit.

“Imagine,” Brady told me at the time, “if Derek Jeter were handed a brand-new glove just before the start of every game. Baseball players break in their gloves until they feel perfect to them. It’s ridiculous to [be forced to] play with new footballs. I can tell you there’ve been nights before road games when I have had trouble sleeping because I’m thinking about what kind of footballs I’ll be throwing the next day.”

I get the Derek Jeter comparison or where Brady wants to go with it, but a glove is a personal item that a baseball player uses, so while I get the comparison, I don't think it's apt. It's like if MLB allowed each pitcher to rough the baseball up as he sees fit, because a football is used by every participant in the sport just like a baseball is used by every participant in the sport of baseball. On the other hand (no pun or glove-related reference intended), a glove is a personal item that is only used by one participant. There's the difference in Brady's comparison of a football used by multiple football players to a glove used by one baseball player.

Brady proposed that the visiting team have access to a certain number of the allotted game balls—the number turned out to be 12—so it could prepare them the way it wanted; those balls would be stamped with the visiting team’s name and kept on the visitors’ sideline for use when that team was on offense. The remainder of the balls would be prepared by the hosts to their liking, 12 kept on the sideline for use on their drives and the other dozen in reserve in case bad weather created the need for additional balls. The competition committee approved the plan the next month, and it’s been that way ever since.

I'm sure it gives those who hate the Patriots and want to see Brady/Belichick executed at halftime of the Super Bowl more ammunition knowing that Brady was part of the push to allow each NFL team to provide their own footballs. It's a decade-long conspiracy! And naturally, Manning's involvement meant he would never over or under-inflate a football so that he could throw it better. He's above that.

3. And about Bill Belichick’s or Tom Brady’s legacy and Hall of Fame status …

Too early. Way too early.

There’s just too much that can happen before then, in all ways. Let’s see where this story ends up.

So Peter is saying that neither Belichick or Brady's legacy and/or Hall of Fame candidacy can be judged prior to either of them being eligible for the Hall of Fame? I refuse to believe this should be the case. Let's make a judgment on their legacy and whether either should be in the Hall of Fame right now. It's much more fun that way.

Requiem for a sportswriter.

Paul Needell died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis Saturday. He was 57.

Peter then has four people eulogize Paul Needell in MMQB. I won't cover much of this because it's hard to be snarky about dead people. Except Joe Paterno. Apparently he's free game.

Roger Goodell, former Jets PR intern, current NFL commissioner. “Frankly, it is difficult to speak about it now.

Because Goodell hasn't seen the videotape of Needell's death. Is he dead? Roger Goodell doesn't know because he's not making a snap-judgment based on someone's word that Needell's heart has stopped beating. Bring the tape, then Goodell will say for sure he will speak about Needell's death.

I was a wide-eyed intern, and he taught me a great deal about the media business—a world to which I was admittedly unaccustomed. Most of all, he taught me about respect.

(Goodell suspends Josh Gordon for drinking beer and smoking pot, then gives a two game suspension to Luke Kuechly for murdering an entire family)

The love of his family over the past few years is the greatest testament to Paul Needell. What a special guy. He will be missed.”

Assuming he is dead of course. Goodell still needs the videotape showing Needell as indeed dead and he'll be locked in his office all day so if the information goes to someone else then he isn't responsible for that person's actions and what they do with this tape. A supervisor can't always be responsible for the actions of his employees, unless that supervisor is an NFL coach or any other NFL-affiliated person that isn't Roger Goodell. Those people are responsible for everything their subordinates do.

This comes from Jim Steeg, who for years ran the Super Bowl and big NFL events:
“Back in the seventies, the Dolphins were going to play the Raiders in Oakland. They practiced at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday, and in the locker room Larry Csonka found laying there the Raiders’ game plan for the next day’s game. He gave it to [Dolphins offensive line coach] Monte Clark to give to Don Shula, which Monte did.

“The next day the Dolphins got beat by the Raiders. Csonka went to Monte and asked, ‘How did we lose? We had their game plan.’
“Monte’s response: ‘I gave it to Don and he threw it in the trash. He said, ‘We do not cheat!’ ”

Sure...I bet Don Shula didn't grab that game plan out of the trash. I bet he's just embarrassed he used the game plan and then the Dolphins didn't win the game.

The Fine Fifteen (Or Two) 

A quick list, seeing that only two teams are still alive and very little has changed in the rankings since last Monday.

If you read my MMQB Review every week, then you would know that I have advocated Peter just stop doing the Fine Fifteen every week during the playoffs because not much has changed on a weekly basis and the rankings serve little purpose since many of the teams won't be playing any more games during the season.

So that's fine that Peter isn't doing the Fine Fifteen this week, but why in the hell is he doing the Fine Fifteen with just two teams? He's going to rank them equal to each other because he hasn't made his Super Bowl pick yet. What's the point of this exercise?

T-1. Seattle (14-4).


T-1. New England (14-4).

Sometimes I believe Peter has a contest with himself to see what is the most inconsequential item he can include in MMQB.

“I would not say I’m the Mona Lisa Vito of the football world, as she was in the car-expertise area.’’
—New England coach Bill Belichick, channeling a memory of “My Cousin Vinny’’ during his rather amazing news conference Saturday, during which he said he wasn’t a great expert on the science of pressure in footballs (the way Marisa Tomei, playing the Ms. Vito character, was in identifying the characteristics of different brands of tires in an Alabama courtroom).

Yes, we get it Peter. If someone didn't get the reference in the original quote then the explanation you gave of "My Cousin Vinny" as the film where the reference comes from would then explain that a character in the movie was an expert on cars. If someone really cares enough to find out who played the character then they could use the Google machine to figure it out. What I'm saying is everything doesn't require an explanation.

“The energy is sort of sucked out of you. You do feel deflated … Awwww, shoot. Oh well.”
—Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, describing in a bit of a double-entendre his feelings about the sudden end of the Indianapolis season while being interviewed at the Pro Bowl.

I don't care what anyone says, I think Andrew Luck slipped up intentionally here and then was all "Awww, shucks" after saying it. He meant to do it and you can't convince me otherwise. Well done, Andy Luck, well done. 

“Everybody’s talking about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. When is Robert Kraft going to come up and explain why, if they are found guilty of this, why do these things keep happening in this organization?’’
—Former Carolina GM Marty Hurney, now a talk show host in Charlotte, to Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

While possibly a good point, it's overshadowed by the fact Marty Hurney still wonders if the Patriots taped Panthers practices. It's been a decade, let's try to move on and focus on more important things like Hurney spent $80 million on running backs in a league where the running back is being devalued. I do think Hurney has a point, and not just because I'm one of the last great defenders of Hurney's legacy as the Panthers' GM, but because I would expect another owner to come out and explain why these things happen in his organization. That's probably why Robert Kraft did come out and speak on Monday, while standing by his coach and quarterback.

Ernie Banks, one of the best baseball players of all time, and a man who never had a bad day, died at age 83 Friday night. He was to Chicago what, a generation later, Ripken was to Baltimore and Jeter was to New York, and

what David Eckstein was to Anaheim and St. Louis.

Between 1955 and 1960, my rudimentary knowledge of baseball history would suggest that the four best baseball players were Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks. (Stan Musial would have belonged on the list in 1955, but not by ’59, when he was 38 years old.) Here’s how the power numbers matched up in those six seasons, which were 154-game seasons:

Player, Pos. Games HR RBI MVPs Gold Gloves
Ernie Banks, SS 152.3 41.3 115.5 2 1
Mickey Mantle, OF 148.3 39.3 98.2 2 0
Willie Mays, OF 152.0 35.7 101.8 0 4
Hank Aaron, OF 152.6 34.3 112.3 1 3

Isn’t that a surprise? Prime years for all four players, and Banks with more homers and RBIs than the other three. There’s the Wrigley Field factor, to be sure, but interesting numbers nonetheless.

Isn't it a surprise that Peter's cherry-picked data goes to prove the point that he wanted to prove? Who would have thought that could happen? What a shock.

Mantle was 23-28 years of age during this sample.
Banks was 24-29 years of age during this sample.
Mays was 24-29 years of age during this sample.
Aaron was 20-26 years of age during this sample.

I would argue that neither Mays nor Aaron were in the prime of their careers during the time that Peter has cherry-picked. Both players put up better numbers after 1960 than they did during the time Peter is claiming was the "prime" of their careers. But yes, Banks was a great baseball player, but no, you can't sell me on 1955-1960 being the prime of Mays and Aaron's careers just so you can prove a point you want to prove.

Banks was good late too: At age 39, his 505th career homer came off Tom Seaver, and his 506th and 507th came off Steve Carlton.

Banks was good late in his career. Well, he was good for his age, but from age 32 to the end of his career he was essentially a shortstop who could hit home runs, but didn't get on-base above .320 and couldn't hit above .276. He was still great, but he essentially became a home-running hitting shortstop who was good at fielding as well. It makes him a Hall of Famer obviously, but he definitely peaked during the years Peter cherry-picked and fell off after that.

I love the idea that’s gaining steam in Chicago: The Cubs, as a rightful tribute to Banks, should schedule a single-admission doubleheader once every year. Call it “Let’s Play Two Day.” What do you say, Theo Epstein?

I'm sure Theo Epstein makes scheduling decisions like this for the Cubs.

In Russell Wilson’s three seasons as starting quarterback for Seattle—he has started all 55 regular-season and post-season games since being picked in the third round by the Seahawks in 2012—he and his teammates have played 10 games against quarterbacks who have won at least one Super Bowl. The Seahawks are 10-0 in those games.

I know, I know—give credit to the defense for being so dominant and for holding Peyton Manning to 14 points per game and Brees 11 and Rodgers 17. The Seahawks defense has been terrific in the past three years, leading the league in scoring defense in all three seasons. But Wilson has not been just an innocent bystander here.

Peter knows, Peter knows. Point out a big reason that the Seahawks are 10-0 against quarterbacks who have won at least one Super Bowl as being the Seahawks defense, but don't forget that Russell Wilson is a winner and that should count for something too. Sure, the Seahawks defense has put him in good position against these great teams and didn't make him score 30 points to win, but wouldn't it be cool if that part could be ignored?

One more Wilson morsel that will drive the quarterback-wins-is-a-meaningless-stat crowd to drink: Wilson’s 42 victories in his first three NFL seasons, in regular- and postseason games, is six more than any other quarterback in NFL history.

I'm not of the "QB wins are meaningless" crowd, I'm of the "Let's not get carried away and put Russell Wilson in the same class as other elite quarterbacks because it's completely possible he's just a great quarterback who has won a lot of games" crowd. 

New England’s five Super Bowls in the Belichick-Brady Era have been decided by 3, 3, 3, 3, and 4 points.

It's almost like there is a thin line between winning and losing which is why stating Brady needs another Super Bowl victory to cement his legacy is probably a stupid point of view.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

Four hours and 56 minutes. That’s how long the flight was from New York to Phoenix on Sunday morning. That is also how long I had to smell the over-ripe woman in the seat behind me.

Whatever this was, it was five hours of my life I will not remember fondly. Well, I guess I should look on the bright side. It’s an easy, though odoriferous, travel note of the week.

Then realizing he had not talked down to his audience in a few pages, Peter decides that he just used a big word which most of his moronic readers didn't know and can now use at parties. It's his job to use his elitist attitude and well-educated nature to teach his readers big words.

You should look on the bright side too: Now you have a fun word to share with friends, who will be so impressed if you use “odoriferous” instead of simply “stinks.”

Thank you for the vocabulary lesson, Peter. Now that you have used the word "odoriferous" I have learned the word and will impress my friends with this knowledge. Because I, like most of your readers, am not educated enough to already be using that word in a sentence.

Ten Things I Think I Think

3. I think the most stunning bit of news in Rick Gosselin’s always-superb ranking of the 32 NFL special-teams units in the Dallas Morning News was this: Green Bay finished 32nd, and had one of the worst seasons by a kicking unit in some time. In the NFL this season, 61 kicks or punts were blocked—and seven of them happened to the Packers.

What's stunning to me is that the two teams at 31st and 32nd both made the playoffs. That seems...interesting to me that two teams who are so bad at special teams could make the playoffs. Of course, the team that was 31st was Carolina and they were only better than the rest of the crappy teams in the NFC South, as their losing record showed. So they were more of a playoff team by default.

6. I think by the NFL putting all three London games next season (Weeks 4, 7 and 8) at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time, we see the league’s reasoning—and for East Coast fans, I do not mind it at all: There is a real chance to create a fourth Sunday window for a game for FOX (once) and CBS (twice).

I love football, but I really worry that opening a fourth timeslot on Sunday for games isn't in the best interests of the NFL. Of course, I also think putting an NFL team in London (without me knowing how exactly this would work) is a bad idea too. So no one probably cares what I think, because money.

And you know what the teams like about it? All six teams—the Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, Bills, Chiefs and Lions—will be able to return home no later than 4 a.m. local time on Monday, if they so choose. The following week will be a bye week, but the players will be able to be off that week at home if the teams wish, and the coaches will be able to treat the post-London week as if it were a borderline normal post-late-Sunday week entering the bye.

I still don't see how the NFL is going to do games in London on a permanent basis. The logistics of it seems odd to me. If there were a permanent team in London, then every team who plays in London can't go on a bye immediately afterwards playing in London can they?

8. I think it’s just a matter of time before a youth football player crossing the goal line, or a youth basketball player hitting a big shot, or another young athlete doing something great, follows that act with a crotch-grab. Well, they’ll say, I saw my favorite player, Marshawn Lynch do it; I’m following him. Lynch would be so proud, I’m sure.

Peter King is clutching his pearls at the idea of a kid grabbing his crotch like Marshawn Lynch did. Lord have mercy! It's like that scoundrel Randy Moss and how he pretended to moon Lambeau Field after scoring a touchdown a few years ago. What if "the kids" pretended to moon someone after hitting a home run or scoring a touchdown? Good thing Moss is nowhere to be found now and isn't employed as a member of the media. Because that would be embarrassing if there were other examples of professional athletes making gestures that weren't emulated by children and then that athlete ended up working in the same industry as Peter.

9. I think I’ll say one thing to you, Seattle fans, pre-emptively: Don’t tell me I’m a Marshawn Lynch hater.

I'll say one thing to you pre-emptively. It's "preemptively" (oh yeah, the English lesson goes both ways) and if you are talking about Marshawn Lynch still then this point #9 should be up with point #8 and not as it's very own number.

But do not try to defend a man who has something going on in his head that tells him to grab his crotch on national TV after he scores a touchdown. It is demeaning, and you are demeaning yourselves as one of the best groups of fans I’ve encountered in 31 years covering the NFL by defending the indefensible. 

Hey, and if anyone knows anything about defending the defensible then it is Peter King. This is a guy who has been able to defend Roger Goodell in some ways over the past year.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. I bow this morning to the six full-time SI photographers laid off the other day, all of whom I’ve worked with, all of whom take such great pride in their work—Al Tielemans, Bill Frakes, John McDonough, Simon Bruty, David E. Klutho and Robert Beck. A sad day for us.

Maybe there would be more money left over at Sports Illustrated if they had not invested a lot of their money in a micro-NFL site and pay well into six figures for Peter King to run said micro-NFL site. There may be more money left to pay for some full-time photographers if SI wasn't sinking funds into a micro-NFL site.

c. Ichiro a Marlin. Now that’ll take some getting used to.

He was a Yankee before that. That was less weird than Ichiro being a Marlin?

g. Just catching up on the last episodes of “The Newsroom” this season, and it’s the best this show has ever been. By far. Olivia Munn hit a few home runs down the stretch,

Okay, one more time.

What Peter means by "hit a few home runs down the stretch" is that Olivia Munn was very good at playing her role towards the end of the series. She was not playing baseball, but it was a phrase Peter used to point out how good Munn was at the end of "The Newsroom." Peter doesn't need his less haughty fans to get confused, so he needs to explain these things to them.

h. Can’t “The Newsroom” come back? Why is it ending?

Perhaps because it was never that good in the first place and Aaron Sorkin knew that?

i. Ernie Banks’s death reminded me of George Costanza in “The Opposite,” when his life goes up and Elaine’s down. George enters the restaurant, sees his pals and in a cocky voice, sing-songs: “Greetings and salutations. It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame! Let’s play two!”

Yes Peter, everything in life can be brought back around to "Seinfeld." Everything.

j. Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a quarter the other night. That’s got to be one of the great sports feats of recent times. Looks like such a happy guy.

Thanks for the helpful input, Peter. It doesn't sound juvenile at all.

Peter saw a puppy on the road yesterday riding a bike. That's a great feat for him to achieve. The puppy looked happy. His tongue was hanging out. Peter likes puppies.

Good to see different teams winning in the NBA.

It's good see different types of dogs out in public. Peter likes it when he sees different dogs on the street.

k. Thursday: Celtics win by one, 90-89, at Portland. Friday: Celtics win by one, 100-99, at Denver. I know nothing about the NBA, but with all the draft picks they have in the next couple of years, maybe the Danny Ainge/Brad Stevens Celtics are on the right road.

It's Peter's typical, "I know nothing about the topic I will opine on, but here's a conclusion I have reached based on my limited knowledge about this subject and I expect it to be taken somewhat seriously because it's an opinion coming from me" mention in MMQB.

r. Love Phoenix in the winter. I just wish they wouldn’t have sent the Coyotes away this week. Would have loved to have stolen a night with the pucks with Rick Gosselin.

What do you say, Theo Epstein? Is there a way you can get the NHL to build the Coyotes' schedule around the times that Peter will be visiting Phoenix? In fact, make it a doubleheader.

The Adieu Haiku

Welcome to Phoenix!  
And a week of Deflategate.
Really hate that name.

If you hate that name then don't use it. Peter used "deflategate" two other times in this MMQB. Peter has some control over the coverage of the Patriots deflating footballs and what his writers for THE MMQB refer to it as. Sometimes Peter acts like he has no choice about which stories to cover and how to cover them. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

4 comments The Yankees Re-Sign Chase Headley, Which Means New York Sports Media Will Feverishly Start a Third Base Controversy

The Yankees re-signed Chase Headley to a four year $52 million deal. Forgetting to even care about this for half of a second, the New York immediately sets up a Headley-Rodriguez-Cashman battle for who gets to actually play third base during the 2015 season. Sure, no one has actually spoken to A-Rod and he's never actually said he plans on playing third base this season, but that doesn't matter. A-Rod having or not having spoken is irrelevant. What is relevant is the Yankees now have a third baseman and the New York media wants drama around the (lack of a) battle to play third base. If there isn't drama, they will do their damnedest to manufacture some drama. It all starts with Headley being re-signed and Brian Cashman stating Headley is the starting third basemen, while A-Rod is the full-time DH. Here is what Cashman stated:

Cashman confirmed Tuesday that Chase Headley will be the Yankees' starting third baseman after he and the team agreed to a $52 million, four-year contract this week.

"I can't expect Alex to be anything," Cashman said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I've got to think the worst and hope for the best. Even before the suspension, he wasn't the same player at third base on the defensive or offensive side. And that was before the suspension.

"And now he's been out of the game for a year. He's approaching 40 years of age. And just to automatically assume given his circumstances that he'll be able to plug right in, play third as an everyday guy and hold up and be productive, I think that would be dangerous thinking from my perspective, in the seat I'm sitting in."

Welp, the situation is settled then. Brian Cashman states that A-Rod will play sparingly at third base and DH full-time.

"So given all that circumstance, we look forward to him hopefully solidifying himself as a tremendous DH for us, and if he shows he has retained athleticism, then he can play third as a choice when Joe decides to give Headley a rest," Cashman said. "He can compete for Joe's thought process, whether it's Prado swinging over or Alex playing third."

"I don't need to. I've been very consistent with my conversations publicly from October on," he said. "I have not heard from Alex on any of that, and I know he reads all this stuff."

Decision made. A-Rod may not have to like it, but he really has no say in this decision. In fact, A-Rod may hate this decision, but this is the way it is. Rather than accept this as a reality, the New York media (and John Harper and Bill Madden/Mark Feinsand specifically) take Cashman's comments as a challenge to drum up some controversy and get pageviews. The story isn't that the Yankees re-signed Headley, it's about A-Rod being a full-time DH now and HOW IS HE GOING TO HANDLE THIS? HE'S SAID NOTHING SO LET'S JUST ASSUME HE HATES IT.

The title of Feinsand/Madden's column is "Yankees, Chase Headley Agree on Four Year, $52 Million Deal" but any discussion of that is thrown to the end of the column because "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR A-ROD" is what obviously needs to be discussed first. Oh yes, there will be controversy. The New York sports media will make sure of that.

The first sentence is this:

Alex Rodriguez is officially a designated hitter.

Have to get the most important part out of the way immediately.

The Yankees reached an agreement on a four-year deal with Chase Headley worth $52 million, bringing the free-agent third baseman back to the Bronx.
The deal ends any speculation about A-Rod’s role in 2015 and beyond, as general manager Brian Cashman made it clear last month that Headley would be the Bombers’ starting third baseman if he returned.

By writing "The deal ends any speculation about A-Rod's role in 2015 and beyond..." what is really meant is "This is the role that Brian Cashman says A-Rod will have, but let's speculate what A-Rod thinks about this in order to churn out a few easy stories and perhaps a little controversy will erupt."

“That was something we discussed early on with the Yankees,” said Headley, who will also serve as the Yankees’ backup at first base behind Mark Teixeira. “I view myself as a third baseman and that’s where I feel like I help this team the best. … I think the vast majority of my time will be spent at third base.”

While the vast majority of A-Rod's time will undoubtedly be spent upset that he isn't the Yankees' starting third baseman. At least the media hopes so.

A-Rod sat out last season while serving a 162-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. The Yankees struggled to replace him, using Kelly Johnson, Yangervis Solarte and Zelous Wheeler at the hot corner before acquiring Headley in late July.

To be fair, those three players would have trouble replacing nearly any above average third baseman over a 162 game season.

Headley reportedly had a four-year, $65 million offer on the table, though it was never revealed which team it came from. He declined to get into specifics about any negotiations during a conference call with beat writers on Monday, though he did confirm that he could have made more money had he not signed back in the Bronx.

“The New York offer wasn’t the biggest offer,” Headley said. “We left some money on the table to be where I wanted to be and that was New York.”

Unlike A-Rod who has TWICE taken as much money as he could get on the open market. Chase Headley is a nice guy and future true Yankee. What a guy for turning down this mysterious offer from an unknown team that hasn't been confirmed really did exist and could have been used to get the Yankees to go from a three year offer to a four year offer!

But Headley’s return now shifts Prado back to second base as the full-time starter.


Wait, that's not a narrative that anyone in the New York media really cares about (especially now that he has been traded), mostly because Prado has no issue playing second base and he actually takes the time to talk to the media. A-Rod has not taken the time to talk to the media, which is undoubtedly a source of irritation for them, so they will just imagine what he thinks about being a full-time DH. Of course, if A-Rod had talked to the media through his suspension, some enterprising New York sportswriter would write about how A-Rod is so vain he just can't stand being out of the spotlight for a year and has to put himself into the public eye in order to gain attention.

Whatever happens, there has to be a circus created around this situation. That's where John Harper steps in and sees if there is a way to create drama. Sure, the Yankees had their third base situation figured out before 2015 even began, but that's no fun to cover a team that has their shit together like that. Let's find some sources who will say that A-Rod is NOT going to like that he isn't the everyday third baseman and run a story based entirely on these unnamed sources. Ready? Break!

Brian Cashman can’t make Alex Rodriguez go away but on Monday he spent an awful lot of money on Chase Headley to make it clear he doesn’t want A-Rod playing third base for the Yankees anymore.

That's assuming where he stated specifically that A-Rod isn't playing third base anymore wasn't clear enough. And really, the re-signing of Chase Headley isn't about Chase Headley, but more about what his re-signing means for Alex Rodriguez. The world revolves around A-Rod and the pageviews he provides. Every roster move must be looked at as to how it affects A-Rod, and if there isn't a story to be presented, there's fun in creating a story out of problems that may or may not actually end up existing.

You can understand the GM’s concern; blindly trusting a 39-year-old A-Rod and his two surgically-repaired hips to come back from a year’s PED suspension and play regularly at third would be nothing short of irresponsible.

But that's not going to stop the New York media from drumming up some controversy and trying to act like there is a question of who will play third base for the Yankees.

Nevertheless the signing of Headley may well increase the potential for the type of drama the Yankees were already fearing would accompany A-Rod’s return to baseball.

One of the reasons it "may well increase the potential for the type of drama the Yankees were fearing" is because the media is going to be determined to act as if the question of who plays third base, as well as the question of A-Rod's role, is still very much up in the air. It is not. Of course these sportswriters live for this type of drama because it makes it easier to write a few columns, so they will create tension where there is none at every possible opportunity.

Because, according to a person who has spoken to him "several times" in recent months,

Sources! Unnamed sources who have "spoken to" A-Rod "several times" in recent months. Who knows what the hell that all means, but to John Harper it is plenty of information to build an entire column around and state, "A-Rod doesn't want to be the full-time DH and how far down will A-Rod sink this team when controversy starts over who plays third base?"

A-Rod is determined to reclaim his old position in the infield and wants no part of being a full-time DH.

So for John Harper's readers to believe this statement as true, which makes it a little odd to me that Harper is running with this rumor as much as he is, the reader would have to believe that the person is reputable, is being told the truth by A-Rod, is telling the truth to John Harper without an ulterior motive, and John Harper is relaying the information without any gaps in what was said. This is basically third-hand information. A-Rod told some dude something, that dude told John Harper, and now John Harper tells his readers this information. For the reader to have a clue about whether this is true or not then they have to trust that John Harper trusts the source in believing A-Rod feels this way and isn't afraid to tell others.

I can't imagine A-Rod is thrilled to be a full-time DH, but the decision is made and some third-hand source isn't going to really tell me information I don't think I already know. It's asking a lot for readers to believe that some dude has talked to A-Rod several times in recent months and this is news worth reporting. Since Headley just re-signed with the Yankees I would imagine this mysterious unnamed source hasn't spoken to A-Rod specifically about this given situation, but I guess that doesn't matter to John Harper. Run with it and create drama and a lack of certainty when there is no reason to. Perhaps I'm too jaded about anonymous sources who "know" athletes.

“In his mind, he’s still the third baseman," the person said on Monday. “That was before (Headley was re-signed) today, anyway.

Ah! So this mysterious person hasn't spoken to A-Rod since Headley re-signed? Brian Cashman says A-Rod is the DH, that's his role, and we all move on, right? Maybe the New York media will take A-Rod's side like the Rangers' media took Michael Young's side when he was forced from third base to full-time DH once Adrian Beltre was re-signed? That's how it will work isn't it? A declining position player is being forced to be a full-time DH due to the signing of a younger, hot shot third baseman?

Obviously it isn't going to work the same way, because A-Rod is evil and Michael Young is the white knight forced to play full-time DH against his will for the benefit of the team.

“Based on what he was being told by the Yankees, Alex believed he would get the chance to play third base, and he believes he can do it.

Well, it doesn't matter what A-Rod believes or what he was being told by the Yankees. The message is very clear right now. A-Rod is not playing third base for the Yankees during the 2015 season. Message sent, decision made, we all move on. Except................there is that mysterious source of John Harper's who speaks for A-Rod and gives Harper a chance to create drama in a situation currently devoid of it.

“Whatever (poor) decisions he’s made, he’s still addicted to the game and he says he’s working hard to be ready. He’s said to me, ‘people are going to be surprised,’ meaning he’s convinced he still has game."

Great, this means he can show how much game he has while hitting a baseball as the Yankees' full-time DH. 

That all sounds good but A-Rod had to know the Yankee brass wouldn’t be waiting breathlessly for him to return as some sort of savior.

Contrary to Harper's insistence on drumming up some kind of controversy I think that message was sent to A-Rod when the Yankees spent $13 million per year on a third-baseman.

For another, nobody can reasonably know what to expect from A-Rod, since he’s admitted to a grand jury that he had been using PEDs in recent years.

I don't even understand why the Headley re-signing is about A-Rod. In fact, the Headley re-signing should make A-Rod less of a topic of discussion because his role on the Yankees' team is clear. But that's not good enough for the New York media, they have to continue speculating.

Can he play without the juice — if he actually goes that route?

Who knows? That's why his role on the Yankees' team has been minimized. Does John Harper not understand what the Headley re-signing means? It's pretty clear, yet he has to continue discussing A-Rod, because that's his default setting. When in doubt, vaguely accuse A-Rod of using PED's when he returns and then try to read his mind in order to generate controversy.

The person who speaks to him regularly

So this mysterious source has gone from speaking to A-Rod a few times over the past few months to "a person who speaks to him regularly." I didn't know speaking to someone several times over a several months' span is "speaking regularly." Wow, it sounds like this mysterious source who is a conduit to A-Rod inner-most thoughts is getting closer and closer to A-Rod's inner circle even as Harper writes this column.

Pretty soon Harper will refer to this person as "someone who is basically A-Rod's brother." Of course, to believe anything Harper is writing here the reader has to trust Harper's source and believe this source knows exactly what A-Rod is thinking.

“It’s always been about his head, so it’s hard to say where his head will be, especially now if he thinks the Yankees don’t believe in him. From what he’s told me, they’ve said everything they should say to him. But that doesn’t mean they believe in him."

It's clear the Yankees don't believe A-Rod can be the everyday third baseman. Few teams would spend $52 million over four years on a third baseman if they believe they already have a sufficient third basemen on the roster. I'm loving the amount of speculation in this column. Sure, what A-Rod thinks really doesn't matter and the Yankees are making decisions that don't factor A-Rod in, but this speculation is crucial to creating a story in a situation where there isn't currently a story.

Clearly the Yankees don’t believe he can play third base or they wouldn’t have locked up Headley for four years and $52 million.

Can't get anything past you.

After all, Headley is a very good glove at third but even with the friendly porch at Yankee Stadium he only put up pedestrian numbers with the bat after being traded from the Padres last summer.

Headley hit .262/.371/.398 with six home runs in 224 plate appearances with the Yankees. He had hit .229/.296/.355 with the Padres prior to that. So he put up pedestrian numbers with the Yankees, but his numbers improved from his time with the Padres during the 2014 season.

As long as Headley is healthy, however, the Yankees’ infield defense should be among the best in the American League, as he combines with newcomer Didi Gregorius on the left side, while Martin Prado and Mark Teixeira man the right side.

Yeah, but defense is boring for sportswriters to talk about. Dingerz are really what counts in their mind.

Of course, you can make the case the Yankees would have been better off allocating Headley’s money for starting pitching, since that remains the obvious need for next season, while playing Prado at third and either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela, the two home-grown candidates, at second.

Plus, if that happened then John Harper could continue churning out "Will A-Rod be the Yankees Everyday Third Baseman?" articles over the next few months. That's the real goal here. Now the Yankees have made the decision on who will man third base and it's no fun. So the media will act like a decision has not been made and go on worrying about what A-Rod will think regarding being the full-time DH. For a group of people who seem to hate A-Rod a lot, they sure do love to talk about him, even when he isn't actively playing baseball for the Yankees.

Star power, much like offense, seems to be disappearing in the Bronx. If it weren’t for the $61 million he’s owed, A-Rod would be gone as well.

Let's ask John Harper's A-Rod source, a person who is closer to A-Rod than anyone else in the world, how this would make A-Rod feel.

As it is, the Yankees on Monday essentially told him he doesn’t really need to bring his glove to spring training. Which, from the sound of things, probably means A-Rod will start taking extra ground balls in the coming days and weeks.

You wish this would happen so there is a story to be written. A-Rod may end up playing third base, but the question of A-Rod's role on the 2015 New York Yankees team has been answered and this answer is not dramatic enough for many of those who cover the Yankees. It's best to act like the third base situation hasn't been resolved.

How soon till Tampa?

I have a feeling we will spend most of Spring Training having a non-story thrown down our throats. The first time A-Rod acts like he isn't 100% okay with DH-ing, then it will open the floodgates for more stories about this current non-controversy. I'm sure there is a way to spin that A-Rod's positive approach and flexibility will actually hurt the Yankees in some way.

Friday, January 23, 2015

6 comments Flaming Hot Takes on Deflated Balls and the New England Patriots

I have a history of hating the Patriots. They have been too good at football over the last decade and a half and they beat my favorite team in the Super Bowl, which did not please me. I almost got in a fight with three Patriots fans in Charleston, South Carolina in the early 2000's because I insisted Tom Brady wasn't as good as he's given credit for while arguing with them and waiting in line for a hot dog from a street vendor at 2:30am. I was very inebriated AND wrong, which are two states of being that go hand-in-hand well. I'm still not a huge fan of them, partly because of their famous fans (Hey, Bill Simmons!), but I get over it and I'm more impressed by their long-term excellence at this point. So it turns out they deflated footballs against the Colts (at least during the first half) in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. They then used regular footballs in the second half and buried the Colts. It seems like they played better without the deflated footballs. Either way, this is not legal and they are being killed by the general public. By "the general public" I mean "sportswriters with hot takes." I'm not going to defend cheating and I do believe the Patriots will be and should be punished in some way, but it's never enough with the media for the Patriots to get punished, something VERY SEVERE must be done. Sportswriters say this is the ABSOLUTE TURNING POINT AND HERE'S SOMETHING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION THAT'S BEING WRITTEN BY ME RIGHT NOW SO PAY ATTENTION. That's how hot takes happen.

Again, I'm not going to defend cheating, and once they figure out who deflated the balls then the punishment needs to be handed down, but these draconian hot takes just make me laugh. I can still agree the Patriots were in the wrong while also laughing at those who react strongly to the Patriots being in the wrong. They'll be punished, it's just a matter of when and how badly. It's fun to discuss sportswriters freaking out over the integrity of the game being ruined. I love a good disaster.

I'll start with Gregg Doyel, who spent most of the week up to the AFC Championship Game getting in contrived and immature fights with the New England media as a way of getting the word out there that he now works for the "Indy Star" and furthering his burgeoning brand/app/whatever. There's no such thing as bad press and Doyel got some press for getting in pissing contests with the New England media. So of course he jumps on the story of the Patriots deflating footballs.

Here's the thing about DeflateGate, this silly idea that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts:

It's not silly.

It's the Patriots.

Gregg seems to use this reasoning a lot. It's not whether Gil Hodges should be in the baseball Hall of Fame or not, it's that he is Gil Hodges and that's why he should be in the Hall of Fame. The state of existing is the only reasoning Gregg needs.

Lots of people will forever believe the Patriots cheated the Colts on Sunday. Why? Because it's the Patriots.

Insightful. It needed to be mentioned twice apparently that the Patriots are the Patriots. I feel prepared to move on now.

Either you are, or you are not, willing to cheat.

And Belichick is. The NFL found him guilty of – even responsible for – the Spygate scandal during the 2007 season.

And yet, Belichick managed to escape the death penalty. How could that be?

With very few exceptions, people can be divided into various either/or categories: Employed or unemployed. Smoker or nonsmoker.

Cheater or not a cheater.

Yes, with very few exceptions there are no shades of gray. It's one extreme or another. This is EXACTLY how life works. No areas for maneuvering between two extremes. Welcome to the Gregg Doyel reality, now have a seat on the couch or chair, but don't even think about putting your feet on the loveseat because it doesn't exist in his reality. There's a couch or a chair. Choose one.

Indiana knows about this. The Hoosiers hired Kelvin Sampson in 2007, shortly after he had been busted for NCAA recruiting violations involving impermissible phone calls at Oklahoma. The idea in Bloomington, surely, was this: No way he'd do it again.

Since coming to work for the "Indy Star" Gregg has also been doing a lot of this "I'm an Indian/Indianaite/Indianan like you and here is an example specific to Indiana" stuff.

He did it again.


Cheaters cheat. It's what they do.

Now then, is that a definitive statement that Bill Belichick or the Patriots cheated the Colts on Sunday? Nope. It is not.

Yes, it is a definitive statement. Cheater or not a cheater. Belichick has been proven to be a cheater so that's what he is. Remember, "divided into either/or categories" that's how it all works?

But it's a definitive statement that his past history of cheating makes this allegation – which is ludicrous and absurd and really, really, hard to believe – not so ludicrous. Not so absurd.

Specifically if you are still a little butt hurt that you talked trash all the way up to the AFC Championship Game about how the Colts would win and then they got their ass kicked. It makes it easier to believe the allegations are not absurd in this instance.

Butt hurt or not butt hurt. That is the question. Choose one. 

This sort of thing has happened before. Deflating a football is a thing, thanks to Lane Kiffin's 2012 USC Trojans, who were fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12 for deflating footballs against Oregon. Kiffin denied it. A team equipment manager was fired. Was the equipment manager acting on his own? Well sure, that's possible.

Just like it's possible the Patriots are utterly and completely innocent of the allegation against them now, that they deflated one or more footballs on the sideline after NFL officials had examined them before kickoff.

Maybe Lane Kiffin did it. Bill Belichick is close to Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin is Nick Saban's offensive coordinator and Lane Kiffin has deflated balls before. Where was Lane Kiffin on Sunday evening?

First, any idea how easy it is to deflate a football?

No Gregg, I have no idea how to deflate a football. It sounds like a complicated procedure.

It requires one little needle. That's it. Hold the ball, jab the needle, listen for the hiss. Take the needle out.

Take the needle out or don't take the needle out. One or the other.

Second, any idea how awkward it feels to write this story from here, in Indianapolis, as if deflated balls might be the reason this city's team lost on Sunday? The footballs aren't the reason. That game wasn't about the Deflatriots. It was about the Patriots. They're better than the Colts, so much better than lots of us – the line starts right here – had given them credit for. The Patriots were tougher, more skilled, more poised and more innovative. In hindsight the Colts had no chance.

Nice way to bring the story of the Patriots deflating footballs back to you, while also linking your old hot takes. Really the deflating of footballs was about Gregg Doyel more than anything.

Third: What if?

Great point. It gives me a lot to think about.

What if the NFL finds that the Patriots were in fact using a football that was deflated below regulation levels? Maybe the NFL won't be able to determine when or how it happened.

What then?

Obviously Belichick will have to be stripped of his hoodie and forced to work slave labor in the mines of whatever country has the most dangerous mines to work in.

Maybe then Belichick will get the black lung after a day or two of working in the mines and he'll die. Because that's what Belichick deserves, to die.

I'm kidding of course. Doyel's suggestion isn't this extreme, but is equally as stupid.

I'll tell you what should happen: The Patriots should be removed from the Super Bowl. Which means the Colts should be going to Glendale.

An Indianapolis writer thinks the Colts deserve to go to the Super Bowl. Homer or not a homer? Choose one and there is no gray area.

Someone on the Patriots deflated those footballs, but I'm not sure that was the difference in the game nor does a satisfactory punishment seem to be to allow an unworthy team to be in the Super Bowl.

Will this happen? Of course not, which is why I'm mentioning it way down the story – it has to be said somewhere – but not starting this column with that idea. Because it's a preposterous idea, not worthy of the headline. The NFL would never, ever remove the Patriots from the Super Bowl, even if it does find they were using illegal footballs.

Nice troll job, Gregg. Here's how this troll job worked.

-Gregg says what SHOULD happen.

-Gregg says this won't happen.

-Gregg says his own idea of what should happen is so preposterous it doesn't deserve being mentioned in the headline.

-But again, the preposterous idea of what should happen wasn't so crazy or unworthy that Gregg doesn't think it shouldn't happen.

It's a nice way of coming up with a crazy punishment and then not standing by it.

Cheating can't be tolerated. Simple as that. A team can't use an under-inflated football, get caught, and then be allowed to play its next game – a game it reached by winning the one with the deflated football – as if nothing happened.

Cheating can't be tolerated. I can agree with that. But I thought sending the Colts to the Super Bowl was an unworthy idea that didn't merit a mention. Now all of a sudden it's the idea Gregg is building the end of this column around.

Contradictory or not contradictory. Choose one and there is no gray area.

Not a fine, not a docking of draft picks, not even a lifetime suspension of Belichick, though I would support all three, if the Patriots are found guilty of cheating. Sorry -- left out a word. If the Patriots are found guilty of cheating … again.

So the preposterous idea that won't happen and doesn't seem worthy of a headline is the best punishment for the Patriots in Gregg Doyel's opinion. I wonder if he understands how stupid this sounds.

Meantime, allow the system to run its course. The Patriots are innocent until proven guilty. They deserve that.

Even if lots of us have made up our minds already.

Because the Patriots deserve that, too.

(Bengoodfella burns himself closing the article because the hot take is still simmering)

Now Bob Kravitz chimes in with his own hot take about what should happen to the Patriots.

If the NFL deems that the Patriots doctored the footballs to the team's advantage in Sunday's game, one of two things must happen:

Indianapolis writers are all about there being two options. Obviously the two options here are:

1. Death penalty

2. Life imprisonment without parole

If Patriots owner Robert Kraft has an ounce of integrity, he will fire Bill Belichick immediately for toying with the integrity of the game for the second time in his otherwise magnificent career — the first issue being the SpyGate fiasco that earned Belichick and the team fines and a forfeited first-round draft choice.

Okay, that could happen. It sounds sort of dramatic though.

If Roger Goodell has an ounce of integrity,

We could stop here. The answer to this is known already. If it helps the NFL, Goodell does it. If it hurts the NFL, Goodell Jedi-waves it away.

and he's not spending all his time going to pre-game soirees at Kraft's mansion, he will not only fine Belichick and take away draft choices, but suspend the head coach for the upcoming Super Bowl.

Does this sound excessive?

The whole "ounce of integrity" thing sounds a bit dramatic.

It is very hard for me to believe — no, it's impossible for me to believe — that this was one large, cosmic accident. A deflated football, and we're talking about two pounds worth of deflation,

Yes, but not a real two pounds of deflation. A typical football weighs less than a pound. Otherwise quarterbacks would be slinging just short of the equivalent of two newborn babies around the field in the form of a football. So two pounds of air isn't two pounds like most people think of pounds. It's noticeable, but not to the extent Bob Kravitz paints it as being. The Colts-Patriots officials touched the football after every play and managed to not notice the ball was semi-deflated.

It's very hard for me to believe that some rogue ball boy, acting on his or her own, unilaterally decided to use a pressure gauge to independently take some of the air out of the ball.

There's only one way this could happen, and that's with Belichick's full knowledge and approval.

Nope, it could also happen with the approval of Josh McDaniels without Belichick knowing. Think Jon Gruden knew that Brad Johnson took air out of the football during the 2003 Super Bowl? Maybe, maybe not.

Go ahead and chalk it all up as sour grapes on the part of the Colts, who would have lost badly had they used a beach ball, a hockey puck or a badminton shuttlecock. But, the Colts noticed something odd about the football when D'Qwell Jackson intercepted Tom Brady. Jackson himself told me he didn't notice anything strange, but, then, the Colts want to distance themselves from this thing as much as they can.

So D'Qwell Jackson did or didn't notice something strange? Kravitz says Jackson noticed something strange, but Jackson claims he didn't notice something strange. Of course, Kravitz assumes Jackson is lying in order to show his ounce of integrity in protecting the very same cheaters that Kravitz claims lack integrity for covering up the use of deflated footballs. Jackson is either lying or he isn't.

General Manager Ryan Grigson walked over to the Colts public relations spot and took a phone call, and seemed quite perturbed. This was very unusual for a general manager who spends his time quietly watching the game from the press box.

Was this investigation inspired by the Colts? I have no doubt that it was.

So if Jackson is lying about noticing something strange, what does that say about his integrity? Or does he have integrity by staying out of his whole thing? What if Tom Brady is lying about noticing whether the football was deflated or not? Is he staying out of it or lacking an ounce of integrity?

This was cheating — pure and simple.

And either Kraft or Goodell have to do something very dramatic to make it clear that this kind of nonsense will not be tolerated.

If it was anybody but Belichick, if it was a coach who has no history of attempting to circumvent the rules, it would be worth a fine and maybe a draft choice.

See the penalty of deflating footballs isn't such a big deal, but because it's Bill Belichick it becomes a much bigger deal. Because as sportswriters love to point out, sports doesn't deal with innocent before guilty, but apparently sports does have an off-the-books "three strikes" or "repeat offender" rule that should be used for Belichick's latest transgression.

And here, too, is the shame of it: Belichick doesn't need to cheat. His team is that much better than anyone else, save the Seattle Seahawks. We'll find out more about that next Sunday.

Not if Gregg Doyel has his way.

Let's be honest about this: If the balls were properly inflated this past Sunday, the Patriots would have won…um…45-7. The footballs had little or nothing to do with the outcome. The Pats simply ran over the Colts. They out-coached them and out-played them. Badly.

Which is why it would be stupid to remove the Patriots from the Super Bowl.

Winning without honor, without integrity, is not winning. (Unless you're a myopic Patriots fan).

I can agree that winning without integrity isn't winning. To deflate a football against the rules is to lack integrity. I can't figure out how much integrity it really shows is lacking. The Patriots didn't win because they deflated the football. That much is agreed upon. Is deflating the football lack as much integrity as a baseball groundskeeper who landscapes the foul lines to favor the home team's hitters (such as helping the ball stay in play on bunts, etc)? Is deflating the football lack as much integrity as the Minnesota Twins starting fans behind home plate when the home team is at-bat? If Clayton Kershaw was found to have scuffed a baseball during a playoff game and the Dodgers went on to win the series, should Kershaw not be allowed to play in the next series when the Dodgers advance? Should the Dodgers even advance to the next series because they had a player cheat in the previous playoff series? I don't know the answers to these questions, so that's why it is hard for me to jump on the "LOOK AT THE LACK OF INTEGRITY!" train because I have no idea how deflating a football equates to other equal or non-equal minor changes that are legal or not legal in other sports. Does it lack integrity that Boise State's uniforms blend in with their playing surface, thereby giving the team a slight advantage at home?

It was instructive to spend early-morning Wednesday on a couple of Boston radio shows. They wanted to know if Aaron Rodgers should be penalized for admittedly over-inflating footballs. (Not if they're within the prescribed PSI). One wanted to know if Pete Carroll should be fired because so many Seahawks have been popped for using performance-enhancing drugs. One moron even rolled out the Nixonian “well everybody cheats'' argument, which inspired blind laughter on my part. All deflections from the issue at hand.

They are deflections, but also legitimate questions that need to be asked. If Seahawks players were busted for PED's, doesn't that lack integrity too? Why shouldn't Pete Carroll pay for this transgression? If a head coach knows the football his team is using was partially deflated, then wouldn't that same coach know his players are using PED's? Maybe.

Kraft needs to do the right thing. Goodell needs to do the right thing. Belichick should not be coaching in the Super Bowl, or worse.

Or worse. What's worse than not coaching in the Super Bowl? Should the Patriots be forced to trade Tom Brady? Perhaps the Patriots should be stripped of all draft picks until Bill Belichick is publicly drawn and quartered. Bob Kravitz knows deflating the footballs had no impact on the Colts-Patriots game and there is really no precedent in the NFL for deflating footballs, but one thing is for sure. The response must be severe, swift, and be "the right thing" even though few people even know what the fuck that is.

Chris Chase chimes in with his own hot take about how the Patriots should be disqualified from playing in the Super Bowl.

Cheat on a test in school? You fail, no questions asked.

Really? No questions asked? No questions like, "How did you cheat?," "Was anyone else cheating?," nothing like that?

Cheat on your taxes, the IRS will find you. It won’t be pretty.

They may not find you. I've seen plenty of people who cheat in minor ways on their taxes who have never been caught or audited.

The New England Patriots cheated in the AFC championship. As such, the team should be disqualified from the Super Bowl.

(The hot take sizzles on the ground)

Deflating 11 of 12 balls in Sunday’s game, as has been reported by ESPN, is a major violation and something that had a great affect on the game.

Apparently it has a 30+ point effect, even though the Patriots only used the deflated footballs during the first half.

Given the number of deflated balls, it’s almost impossible this was accident, meaning that someone in the New England organization willfully tampered with the rules to give his team an advantage.

Not exactly. Given that nearly all of the footballs were inflated to the wrong pressure it could show this was an accident. If the gauge measuring the pressure in the ball was in error or the person pumping up the balls had the wrong pressure (by accident) then it was a consistent error. If the footballs were all at different pressures with only half of the footballs at the wrong pressure then I could see how the rules have been tampered with. 11 of the 12 footballs being at the wrong level could speak to a consistent error in measuring the pressure. Of course I don't believe this happened, but a consistent error like this could show malfeasance or possibly just a basic error that caused the balls to be improperly inflated.

Of course, it’s not realistic to disqualify New England from the Super Bowl.

Why do the sportswriters who first suggest banning New England from the Super Bowl follow it up with "That's not realistic"? Stop suggesting this solution if the solution isn't realistic.

But, again, they should.

But, again, it's not realistic. But, again, they should. You know, if it weren't unrealistic. But, again, they still should. Though it is unrealistic. It's probably a good penalty. Even though it is unrealistic. Still, the NFL should ban the Patriots from the Super Bowl. It's just not realistic to do this. But, again, it should happen. If only it were realistic. Which it isn't. Though it should be.

The defenders of New England have been even more laughable than they were during the videotape controversy of 2007. “It doesn’t even help that much!” Sure it doesn’t. That’s why they were doing it. Of course it helps. Deflating gave Brady an easier grip on the ball (at least in the first half; there’s question about whether the balls were re-inflated at half time when it was 17-7).

I'm not a defender of New England. I simply know it was an advantage that didn't seem to show up too much on the scoreboard in the first half as compared to the Patriots performance in the second half without the deflated footballs. New England re-inflated the balls at halftime and began to destroy the Colts from that point on...with re-inflated footballs. I have no idea how much a deflated football affected this game and I don't know if anyone else has this answer either.

If it’s found out that Bill Belichick knew anything about this, even after the fact, Draconian sanctions are the only way to go...If Sean Payton gets suspended for an entire year because of Bountygate, Belichick deserves at least the same thing. He affected the sanctity of the game and fairness of one of the three biggest battles of the year.

I would disagree with this. I think intentionally injuring opposing players is worse than deflating footballs. I know deflating footballs involves the whole "integrity of the game" thing, but intentionally injuring opposing players is causing physical harm outside of the game being played. I think that's worse.

Draft picks should be taken away, not for one year, but for two or three, because the Pats are always picking toward the end of the first round anyway. Or take away some salary cap space, like the league unjustly did to the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.

Yes, the NFL should choose to take away salary cap space in the same injust way they did it to the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.

But I’ll happily blame the Patriots for being skeezy once again. I’ll blame Belichick because, as Goodell said about Payton during Bountygate, the head coach is supposed to know what’s going on with his team.

Oh, so you are going to use Roger Goodell's words as it pertains to knowing exactly what a supervisor's knowledge concerning his underlings actions should be? Okay then.

I’ll blame Tom Brady who clearly knew the balls were deflated but is getting off scot-free in this controversy because he’s the Golden Boy and is handsome and is married to a supermodel. (It’s amazing how no one criticizes Brady. He’s just as guilty as the others.) But there’s blame for others too.

How about the Patriots' center who handled the football on every play? How about the officials who handle the football after every play? The officials are there to enforce the rules and since deflating footballs by two or three pounds is just SO FUCKING NOTICEABLE one would wonder why the officials didn't notice.

But in the here and now, if the report is true, the New England Patriots should be hit hard. But they won’t and the Pats legacy will grow even more.

This will not deflate the Pats legacy.

With a Super Bowl win in two Sundays, people will be inclined to say Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time. But at what?

The greatest coach at football. I can't wait for Belichick to be up for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. The NFL gets it's very own asterisked PED user when Belichick comes up for enshrinement.

Mark Kiszla is also prepared to blame Tom Brady and wonders why nothing ever sticks to him. Kiszla says Brady is like Barry Bonds. Yep, those words were written.

As I was writing this post, I found these words from Boomer Esiason. It doesn't excuse what the Patriots did or didn't do, but it shows there is more than the "It's just like the Patriots to stretch the rules" narrative that is being pushed. It seems other quarterbacks had an issue with the integrity of the game, including Saint Peyton Manning, who wanted to be allowed to scuff up the football. I'm sure he never scuffed it up without permission though.

Tom Brady is too good to be true. At age 37, the sexy quarterback of the New England Patriots looks cool, whether wearing a championship ring on his finger or Uggs on his feet. He married a supermodel straight from the pages of the Victoria's Secret catalogue. And his hair is perfect.

Not really. In his long hair phase, it was pretty disgusting. 

Too good to be true. Isn't that what we once believed about Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong?

Deflating footballs is now equivalent to using PED's, slandering others when they choose to call you out on using PED's, and cheating on your wife. Got it. At least Kiszla comes out swinging and throwing his hot takes around. I'd be disappointed otherwise. 

In a league ruled by quarterbacks, made filthy rich by quarterbacks and personified by quarterbacks, Brady is the undisputed king. Oh, Peyton Manning might sing about chicken parm in a television commercial. It's Brady, however, who owns three Super Bowl rings. He's the No. 1 quarterback of his NFL-crazy generation.

Every generation is QB-crazy. It's the most publicized position in the NFL, which explains why fans are QB-crazy. 

Before any knucklehead calls for disqualification of New England from the Super Bowl tournament because the Pats played with squeezably soft footballs inflated significantly below the league requirements, let's make it clear the Colts, the Broncos or anybody else weren't going to win in Gillette Stadium on a rainy evening in January.

Because that's unrealistic. Though it should happen. But, again, it is unrealistic. Still, it should happen. 

But as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, the social media conscience of the Denver locker room, declared on Twitter: "If the footballs were deflated by that amount, it's definitely cheating. Harder to fumble, easier to catch, and helps you throw further."

Who would benefit the most from the deflated footballs?


As well as Blount and the Patriots' receivers. They would all benefit the most. Though I would also add that if the football is easier to catch then the opposing team's secondary should find it easier to intercept a pass, right? Maybe D'Qwell Jackson made the interception because the ball was deflated so much. 

Long on the record with his affinity for throwing with an underinflated football, Brady tossed three touchdown passes against Indy in wet conditions where having a firm grip on a slippery pigskin definitely could have helped him.

Peyton Manning is on record as liking a scuffed ball. If the Broncos ended up using a scuffed ball, does that mean Manning did it? 

But let me humbly ask: If suspected cheaters in baseball are treated with such disdain in Hall of Fame balloting and Armstrong fell so hard from grace for the same transgressions committed by so many cyclists in a tainted sport, then why is there not more outrage about the Patriots?

Oh dear God. Because using a deflated football is the same thing as using performance enhancing drugs? The are equivalent misdeeds? That's really what Mark Kiszla is claiming? This seems like a pretty tenuous comparison to me. 

Because cheaters never win. Or so are we were taught in elementary school.

It's not the truth that hurts. It's the shrapnel from the shattered myth that makes us bleed.

I have known for years that cheaters do win. No shattered myth here. 

Not all forms of cheating are created equal. But, in his heart, maybe, just maybe, Brady isn't all that different from Barry Bonds.

Yes, maybe Tom Brady is exactly like Barry Bonds. Really there is no difference in these two athletes. It's like Kiszla has a hot takes handbook with key words in it and he found the name "Barry Bonds" in the book, so he felt like adding Bonds' name to this column for maximum hot sports take result.

Maybe Tom Brady is more like Bernie Madoff. Brady asks for his fans to buy into him as a clean-cut guy who plays the game "the right way" but he's really taking the fans investment in him and then selling that investment to Satan himself, while continuing to ask for more investment in him as a football player and person, all while putting on a public face of being an angel. This public face of an angel tricks his investors into thinking Brady is doing something with their investment of love and fandom that he really isn't doing. At the end of the day, the fans have nothing to show for their investment in Brady, while he rides off into the sunset with Super Bowl trophies, MVP trophies, and his name as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Tom Brady is Bernie Madoff. 

Tom Brady you are a PED user who ran Ponzi Scheme so evil, which affected the outcome of the AFC Championship Game in such an obvious way, that even the officials who touched the football after every offensive play didn't know you were obviously taking the air out of the football. Go train for the upcoming baseball season with Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and may the fates deal with you as they see fit.