The Best Sports Commentary North of the Mason Dixon...
Brady cements GOAT status with 5th Super Bowl Win
80% of NFL teams would be content with just 20% of Brady’s success
If there was any debate as to who the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time was before Super Bowl 51, that debate is now surely over. As legendary as the names Bradshaw, Montana, and Manning are in football lore, Tom Brady now officially stands above them all after leading his Patriots to an epic comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons, securing his 5th championship title. New England stormed back from a 25-point deficit in the 2nd half which sent the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time ever.
This unforgettable performance places Patriot teams helmed by Brady and coach Bill Belichick with more Super Bowl titles than any other duo in NFL history.
It’s hard to believe, with the way the Falcons played in the first half of the game that it would result in anything other than a victory. Both teams’ offenses looked to be rusty at the start of the game. But in the 2nd quarter, Atlanta’s number one unit kicked into gear and opened up the scoring with 14 unanswered points. NFL MVP Matt Ryan seemed every bit as confident as he did during the regular season. Atlanta was running the ball effectively and gave Ryan the time he needed in the pocket to make his throws. Their young defense was even making plays all over the field, just like they had against in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Right before halftime Robert Alford jumped a quick slant for a pick-6, the first Brady had ever thrown in his playoff career. New England tacked on a field goal before intermission, but was looking nothing like the team that dominated the AFC this year.
Things only got worse for the Patriots after the break. You would think Lady Gaga’s dazzling halftime performance would be enough to wake a team up (*Still don’t understand how they got those Drones to make an American Flag). Although this would not be the case. Matt Ryan threw his second touchdown pass to increase Atlanta’s lead to 28-3 with 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. It was at this point where even the most adamant of Brady supporters must have felt the game was out of reach. Surprisingly, these would be the last points Atlanta scored the entire game. Like he has been doing since the beginning of his career, Tom Brady would go on to prove all his doubters wrong once again.
Seemingly out of nowhere, New England’s offense marched down the field on their next drive and scored a touchdown on a 5-yard James White reception. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Patriots would still find themselves down by 19 points. This did not seem to bother the team at all, which might have something to do with having Mr. Clutch as your quarterback. After putting up another field goal, Alan Branch strip-sacked Matt Ryan at his own 25 yard-line giving the Patriots the ball right back. Within minutes, Brady threw a touchdown pass that cut the lead down to one score.
All the momentum that Atlanta had built up was gone. They were able to make one last push down the field highlighted by Julio Jones’ circus catch. But with a 1st and 10 on New England’s 22-yard line, they outrageously suffered a sack and committed a holding penalty to push them out of scoring range. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn clearly did not learn from his former mentor Pete Carroll when it comes to play-calling at the end of important games. This sequence of errors was curiously similar to the Seattle Seahawks not running the ball with Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line.
With 3:30 remaining in the game the Patriots received the ball at their own 9-yard line. Down 28-20. One final attempt to tie the game. A scenario most fans probably dreamed about when they were kids. Looking back on it, is anyone really surprised about how this drive eventually played out? Tom Brady looked like his signature self again as he led his offense right down the field. He appeared calm and confident as he completed throw after throw against Atlanta’s once impressive defense which had clearly run out of gas. Although he did have a bit of help in the form of Julian Edelman impossibly stealing a deep throw from the hands of three Falcons defenders. Who is David Tyree again?
At last, sitting on the goal line, James White punched in his second touchdown and Brady converted the 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime. For the first time in Super Bowl history, the championship would be decided in sudden death. With fate seemingly to be all on New England’s side, they won the coin toss and received the ball. Then just as he had done moments earlier, Brady moved the ball right down the field with not much standing in his way. The Falcons still have a bright future ahead of them, but the sting of this loss will not go away anytime soon. Ultimately, James White rushed for his third score which triggered the confetti. 34-28 Final. Biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
The feats that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have achieved over the years are unlikely to be replicated anytime soon. In addition to Brady being the winningest quarterback of all time, he is now the author of the greatest Super Bowl game ever played. Not bad for a 6th round pick. There is not much left for him to accomplish in his storied career, but he still plans to terrorize NFL defenses for the next 3-5 seasons. Is it possible for him to top this? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Cubs Win World Championships After 108 Years
Scientific formula of sports curses: (# of Ghosts/80 + Years of suffering/20)
That nasty old Billy Goat finally got over having its feelings hurt. It took over a century, but Chicago Cubs fans may finally boast that their hometown Cubbies are champions of baseball once again. In a pulse-pounding Game 7 that won’t soon be forgotten, Chicago rallied in extra innings to defeat the Cleveland Indians by a score of 8-7. With this victory, the Cubs became the sixth team in World Series history to overcome a 3-1 deficit. At various points in the game it seemed like heartbreak could strike once again, but these Cubs would triumphantly declare that there would be no more waiting till next year.
Only a few months after seeing the Cavs fight back from being down 3-1 to end a long championship drought, Cleveland must now deal with being on the losing side of history. Coming into this series, the Indians were viewed as underdogs. But early on they silenced the high-powered Cubs lineup with dominating performances led by ace pitcher Corey Kluber and star relief pitcher Andrew Miller. The formula of great pitching and timely hitting by the Indians would unfortunately not last long enough for manager Terry Francona. Chicago scored a combined twenty runs in games 5-7 after only putting up seven in games 1-4.
As bad as things were looking late into Game 7, the Indians shockingly took momentum back in the bottom of the eighth inning. Down 6-4 with two outs, outfielder Rajai Davis launched a game-tying homerun off of Cubs flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. Had the Cubs lost this game, much of the blame would have been directed at skipper Joe Maddon. Maddon’s questionable use of Chapman late in Game 6 with a large lead clearly had an effect on the Cubs closer. Both velocity and location were uncharacteristically off from the Cuban all-star. Thankfully for Chicago, Chapman wiggled out of the inning and pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth as well.
The series was ultimately decided in extra innings. This would be the fourth time in MLB history that a Game 7 went past nine. Ironically, the last time it happened was in 1997 when these same Indians lost to the Marlins. Chicago found a way to refocus after a short rain delay (Could it be Divine intervention?). They staged a game winning rally in the top of the tenth, ignited by a run-scoring double by postseason legend Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, who was signed in free-agency for these exact types of moments again lived up to his reputation. Of course, the curse of the Billy Goat would not be lifted if not for one final scare. In the bottom of the inning down by two runs, Cleveland once more threatened to tie the game. But pitcher Mike Montgomery secured the final out by forcing a groundout to third base thus catapulting this 2016 Cubs team into baseball folklore.
As we look back on what the Cubs were able to accomplish this year, Theo Epstein will undoubtedly be recognized as the man behind it all. When introduced as president of baseball operations in 2011, Epstein set out to change the culture of this franchise. It was a new and exciting challenge for someone who similarly turned around the Boston Red Sox. “Our players are going to change the culture along with us in the major league clubhouse” Epstein claimed five years ago. “We're going to make building a foundation for sustained success a priority.” It now appears that this foundation is firmly in place. With a young core of players under 30 years old, this team has a real chance become a consistent winner. Now the question is – Can they possibly repeat? Hey I guess history repeats itself sometimes.
NBA Finals: LeBron Delivers to Ohio
80% of Ayesha Curry's Texts Caused 20% of the Series Excitement
20 June 2016
Two years ago, LeBron James announced to the world that he was “coming home.” He would once again task himself with the burden of bringing a championship title to a city that hadn’t seen one in decades. In this announcement, James explained that this would be a long process. That it would take many years to bring a young and unproven Cavaliers team to the top of the league. As it turned out – he greatly underestimated himself.
In what is likely to go down as one of the more thrilling game 7’s in NBA history, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors 93-89 to seal its first NBA title in franchise history. With series MVP James leading the way, Cleveland also became the first team to ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals. It was a historical night. It was a night that saw the defending champions lose a second straight game on its home court. To put that in perspective, the Warriors only lost two games at home during the entire season.
It may be fair to say that nobody saw this coming. Especially not after the Warriors took game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. In order for the Cavs to win the series at that point, they needed to beat the Warriors in three straight games. This is something that had not happened since Steve Kerr took over as Golden State coach before the 2014-15 season. Many fans will look to the game 5 suspension of Draymond Green as a key turning point in the series. Those with tinfoil hats were pointing fingers at the NBA for wanting a more competitive series. But the Cavaliers proved they were the more determined team throughout the final three games – whether Green was on the floor or not.
Nobody appeared more determined than LeBron James, although Stephen Curry was rightfully named league MVP this year while leading his team to an all-time best 73-9 record. LeBron reminded everyone as to why he is viewed as one of the best all-around talents the NBA has ever seen. He had back-to-back 41-point performances in games 5 & 6 and put up a staggering 27-11-11 line in game 7. There was also this incredible block in the final minutes of the series which showed us again how impactful James can be defensively as well.
As great as LeBron was in this series, it would be disrespectful to forget about the influence of his supporting cast. Unlike last year’s finals, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both healthy and playing big minutes for the Cavaliers. Irving specifically stood out as he consistently dazzled the Warriors with his elite ball handling and clutch shot-making. With game 7 tied at 89-89 and 53 seconds remaining, Irving was the one who drained the deciding 3-pointer over Steph Curry to seal the victory for Cleveland.
Speaking of Curry, he and fellow “splash brother” Klay Thompson were notably quiet as Cleveland stormed back in this series. Clearly the Cavaliers made some adjustments to get the ball out of their hands more frequently, but they were both not making the shots we have come to expect from the talented duo. It may be revealed at some point that Curry was playing injured, but I’m sure Golden State will not be making any excuses. They have proven time and time again to have a deep enough roster that can overcome injuries.
Thankfully, the excitement of game 7 will overshadow how lackluster the rest of the series was. This was really the only contest in which the two teams were closely matched throughout. Moving forward, it may be very likely that we could see another repeat of this matchup next year. Of course, this is all assuming that LeBron doesn’t activate the opt-out clause in his contract. It won’t be long before the questions start piling up regarding what his next move is. Get ready for that to dominate headlines in the offseason. Word on the street is that there is another NBA team with long title drought playing somewhere in Manhattan. Crazier things have happened, right?*
*Who are we kidding… that will never happen
Is the Healthy Diet Frenzy of Athletes Really a Frenzy at All?
20% change in your dietary intake can affect your health by 80%
We at Think 80 20 are not much of dieters. If we really had to choose between a low-carb diet and a south beach diet, we would definitely choose a cheeseburger and forget the question. But, we couldn’t help but notice Green Bay’s legendary quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, “borrowed” our 80/20 rule and applied it specifically to his all-star dietary habits.
OK, well not entirely true. The 80/20 Pareto Principle was actually derived in 1896 by Vilfredo Pareto. And, akin to our prolific taglines, Rodgers isn’t even using the principle as it was originally intended. Nonetheless, Rodgers’ diet – 80% healthy foods and 20% junk – sounds pretty reasonable. But if you want to be the next Green Bay hall of famer, you’ll likely have to cut that 20% down to zero.
As Rodgers gears up for next season, he is reportedly working closely with fellow quarterback and friend Tom Brady. Brady has been known to be a health nut, and only a few months ago publicly denounced Coca Cola products and Frosted Flakes as “poison.” As if Brady is short on cash, he is now peddling a nutrition manual dubbed “TB12” for a whopping $200! Come on, Brady, the least you could do is relay your nutritional knowledge to those unhealthy New Englanders for a more reasonable fee! Certain news outlets like Men’s Health denounced Brady’s diet as “absolutely absurd,” and specifically calls out his chef and nutritionist as poorly qualified. Other pros such as Miami Dolphins wide receiver Griff Whalen and defensive end Cameron Wake have also gone public with their unique dietary regimens in order to stay in tip top physical condition, which will hopefully allow them to play the game longer.
However, obesity in the US is a growing problem (pun really not intended). And, whether you agree or not, Americans look up to their role models in the NFL and other professional leagues. Promoting healthy diets and proven workout routines should be expected by these figures. The NFL in particular has allocated significant money and attention to mental illness due to physical trauma on the field, and this is another public issue where the League may be able to raise awareness. Both, to better their fans and improve the NFL’s public image.
In some parts of the country, local officials have claimed obesity and poor health is even a greater issue than drug abuse. Dieting is undoubtedly difficult, and the amount of processed food in the US is excessive – especially the packaged food industry attempting to label items as health and nutritional items. Hopefully the celebrity endorsement of dieting and continuous physical activity will trickle down to adolescents throughout the country, and facilitate healthier children and lifestyles. These role models, like Rodgers and Brady, have more influence on a healthier America than they even realize.
“Deflategate” Awakens: Brady Suspension Upheld
Losing Brady for 20% of the season still gives the Patriots an 80% chance of making the playoffs
The long awaited ruling for New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was finally revealed Monday morning in New York. Adding a new twist to what has already been an unusual saga – The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has decided to uphold Brady’s 4-game suspension imposed by the NFL almost exactly a year ago. The ruling, which is a major victory for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, now adds additional intrigue to a story-line which many NFL fans believed to be resolved.
Back in September of 2015, Manhattan Judge Richard Berman had ruled to nullify the NFL’s suspension of Brady while citing “a lack of fairness or due process.” It was at this time Goodell became tasked with making one of the most difficult decisions of his tenure. On one hand, Goodell could have chosen to accept Judge Berman’s ruling and risk setting a dangerous precedent that could affect his authority in the future. Alternatively, he could have chosen to continue the pursuit of punishment for the star QB. This option involved spending millions of dollars in legal fees and a general sense of confusion as to why the NFL would be so determined in tarnishing the legacy of one of its most successful players. As it turned out, Goodell has taken a big step forward in reaffirming his status.
So what happens now? With the 2016 NFL Draft taking place this week, much of the narrative will still be focused on Brady’s situation. As part of the NFL’s original punishment, the Patriots will still have to forfeit their first round draft pick. Although the book is not completely closed on this story, Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association do not have many options left. There is a chance that this case could be brought before the US Supreme Court if a resolution cannot be reached, though highly unlikely. Of all the things we have going on in this country, do we really need Brady’s suspension decision taking up valuable time at the top tiers of our judicial system?
At the end of the day, there is still no concrete proof that Tom Brady had any knowledge of a scheme to purposely alter air pressure levels in those footballs. The longer this process drags on, the worse off everyone involved will seemingly become. For the sake of the game, it may be time for both parties to swallow their egos a bit and reach some sort of agreement. For the fans themselves, I’m sure they would also much rather debate over something else.
Super Bowl 50
80% of football fans only understood 20% of the halftime show
7 February 2016
Who was the first person to say that defense wins championships? Well, whoever it was sure knew what they were talking about... in a contest where the 17-1 Carolina Panthers were heavily favored, it was actually the Denver Broncos who were able to prevail in Super Bowl 50. As they have been doing all season long, Denver leaned on its dominant defense to secure a 24-10 victory and raised the Lombardi trophy for the third time in franchise history. With all the hype surrounding this event due to the Super Bowl celebrating its 50th anniversary, it almost seemed at times like the game itself was just a complementary affair. The action on the field was sloppy and won’t be remembered for any one single play or drive. In all likelihood this Super Bowl will go down in history as how Sheriff Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, was able to ride off into the sunset – a champion once again.
Before the game began, the NFL honored each of its previous Super Bowl MVP’s in a special ceremony, which brought past legends together with current players all onto the same field. In an unsurprising note – both Tom Brady and former Patriot Deion Brach were both mercilessly booed upon introduction. It seems being a local boy isn’t even enough to overcome the notion that the Patriots have officially become the villains of the NFL. After a spirited rendition of the National Anthem by the one and only Lady Gaga, it would be the Panthers who would win the coin toss and elect to put their defense on the field for the opening possession of the game.
The start of the game could not have played out any better for the Broncos. There were many questions leading up to the contest regarding Denver’s ability to move the ball against Carolina’s very athletic and swarming defense. Peyton Manning was able to lead his unit down the field for an impressive 10-play drive, which resulted in a short field goal. Psychologically this was huge for Denver’s confidence and it immediately put pressure on the inexperienced Panthers. It can partially explain the performance of Cam Newton and the entire Panthers offense in the first quarter. With their first possession, Newton made an uncharacteristic overthrow that reminded us of some of the throws earlier in his career. They ended up with a three-and-out. The next time Carolina got the ball actually resulted in a trip to the end zone. But unfortunately for Newton this touchdown was the result of a strip-sack courtesy of standout linebacker Von Miller. Miller was able to rip the ball out of the QB’s hands near the goal line and then celebrated as teammate Malik Jackson hopped on top of the ball for what would actually be Denver’s only touchdown of the game.
As bad as things were for the Panthers in the first quarter, they were able to answer back starting in the second. Newton navigated around Denver’s relentless pass rush and made signature plays with both his arm and legs. After a pair of nice Corey Brown receptions, Jonathan Stewart got Carolina on the board with a 1-yard goal line leap. It was at this point of the game where you could see Carolina making a push for the lead… But as the half went on, they only continued to make things more difficult for themselves. There was the 61-yard punt return (Longest in Super Bowl history) by Jordan Norwood, which produced a field goal to make it 13-7 Denver. Additionally, Mike Tolbert lost a key fumble during the only other drive of the half where Carolina looked like a threat to score. The action before halftime was littered with penalties and punting which resulted in the score remaining the same as the teams headed back to their locker rooms.
We’re not going to get too in depth here with the halftime show, but it went as well as could possibly be expected. Coldplay was still rocking out to the same songs we heard in those IPod commercials 10 years ago. Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were able to bring some real energy to the performance with a choreographed dance-off, although many have since expressed discontent with the Beyoncé ‘protest’ routine. When the teams emerged back onto the field for the second half, Carolina would receive the ball first and attempt to change the tone of the game. Instead what we got more miscues. Normally reliable placekick Graham Gano missed a very makeable 44-yard field goal to further add to Carolinas misery.
As the game wore on, Denver’s defense really started to impose its will. Carolina appeared less willing to run the ball, which allowed the Denver pass rush to gain momentum. Cam Newton threw a huge interception to T.J Ward in the third quarter and never really showed the ability to finish off drives. Even when Carolina’s defense was able to force turnovers, they were not able to capitalize on them. There might have been a game plan to stop the Von Miller-Demarcus Ware combination, but it was nowhere to be found on the field. In the fourth quarter with the score 16-10 and about four minutes left, Carolina possessed the ball at their own 25-yard line to start a potential game winning drive. It would not last very long as Von Miller flew in from his left end spot on a 3rd down and smacked the ball out of Newton’s hand for his second strip-sack of the game. This play not only secured the win for Denver, but also secured Millers status as MVP from the game.
Emerging as a surprise to most, Denver came away far and wide as the winners of Super Bowl 50 and the true recipients of the Lombardi Trophy. It was a great season for both teams, and whether it is the cause of the Bronco’s experienced captain and unmatched defense or the Panther’s novice Super Bowl squad and Cam cracking under the pressure. With nearly 112 million viewers, this was the third-most-watched TV program in history, skating just below the viewership of two previous Super Bowls. Sadly the commercials were not up to par for such high visibility, and certainly not worth the $5 million per minute going-rate. Peyton will likely call this season his last, and take his second ring with him as he enters the Hall of Fame (though likely as a Colt) – at least now he can be on the same page as little-brother Eli. And looking at the still-impressive Panthers, next year will be an interesting one as the weathered Cam and team head into the following season being a far more experienced team. Ron Rivera will certainly have his work cut out for him in 2016.
Also... did anyone else notice the NFL did not use roman numerals this year?
The NFC Championship Game
24 January 2016
As for the NFC Championship game, the Cam Newton show continued to roll as the Carolina Panthers convincingly defeated the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 49-15. Just like the previous Panthers game against Seattle, they were able to jump off to a huge lead in the 1st quarter and never look back. The play of likely league MVP Newton particularly stood out as he tormented the Cardinals defense time and time again with his dual-threat running and passing attack. As impressive as Newton’s play was, the Panthers defense looked equally dominant. They finished with four interceptions, three recovered fumbles, and held the high-powered Cardinals offense to less than 300 total yards.
From the start of the game Carolina looked like the more determined team. Arizona was only able to get two 1st downs with their first three possessions, having to punt the ball away. Every time Carolina was given the ball in the 1st quarter they were able to put points on the board. The highlighted play being an 86-yard touchdown throw from Newton to Corey Brown. Brown was able to cut under an Arizona safety on a deep post play and when the defender stumbled, he was off to the races. From this point on it looked like smooth sailing for the Panthers, but Arizona started to show signs of life in the 2nd quarter.
After their first possession of the quarter ended with a Carson Palmer fumble, the Cardinals were able to get their first defensive stop of the game. For a unit that was top-five in yards per game during the regular season, one would have predicted it wouldn’t take that long. After this stop, Arizona was able to string together a long 10 play, 78-yard touchdown drive capped off by a David Johnson run. It was at this point where you could feel the tide of the game changing a bit. Momentum appeared to be on Arizona’s side for the first time all night. But all of this energy would be lost following a key special teams blunder.
The main turning point of this game came with about 5 minutes remaining in the 1st half. Carolina was held to a three-and-out and forced to punt the ball back to the Cardinals. Patrick Peterson, arguably Arizona’s best player and star cornerback was back to receive the kick. The punt was a bit short and Peterson overestimated where it would land. While sprinting he attempted to reach back and catch the ball all in one motion, but it bounced off his chest and eventually was recovered by Carolina. This devastating turnover resulted in another Panther touchdown and would make the score 24-7 at halftime.
In the second half of the game, it seemed like Arizona had nothing left. Carolina consistently was able to move the ball down the field and put up points. Carson Palmer was able to lead one nice 80-yard touchdown drive, but it became irrelevant when he proceeded to throw three second half interceptions (one returned for a TD). It will be interesting to see if the 13-year veteran Palmer can ever recover from this poor of a performance during this big of a game moving forward. Arizona will come back next year as a favorite in the NFC West, but will continue to have question marks surrounding the team when it comes to post-season performances.
As it stands, Super Bowl 50 looks to be shaping up as a battle of two dominant defenses. Both Peyton Manning and Cam Newton will have their hands full. The story lines surrounding this game will be nothing short of captivating. You have Manning, the old-guard who’s been through and seen it all playing what may be the last game of his career. He will be going against a team led by a man who many have deemed as the “next-generation” of superstar quarterbacks. Who will come out victorious? We will all be waiting to see come February 7th in San Francisco.
The AFC Championship Game
24 January 2016
In what will probably be considered the better of the two conference championships, the Denver Broncos overcame New England’s daunting Patriots. Peyton Manning showed up to play ball, and that is exactly what he did. His career is nearing the end, and he wanted to go out with a bang starting off with two touchdowns in the first 17 minutes. Both touchdowns were made by tight end Owen Daniels.
What won this game was Denver’s relentless defense, with four sacks and around 20 hits against elite quarterback Tom Brady. Not to mention an early interception, which helped the Broncos take lead in the first half. It is true, Denver is known for playing better at Mile High. The Broncos pass rush applied too much pressure on Brady in his ‘normally comfortable’ pocket, and as coach Bill Belichick said – the Pats didn’t run the ball enough.
The outstanding Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski had not missed an extra point in nine years, and missed only three field goals all season. But when it mattered most, Gostkowski missed a PAT early in the game, which conceivably cost New England the game. Brady had a fantastic 40-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-10 leading to a touchdown, which changed the pace of the game when the Patriots were forced to go for a two-point conversion for a tie.
This game started hot and ended hot. With 12 seconds left in the came, Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby intercepted Brady’s conversion attempt, which was then fumbled into a New England possession. As you have now realized, the Patriots onside kick attempt was futile and recovered by Denver.
It was a close game, and it got us riled up in the last few minutes! So the story goes, Denver, say hello to Super Bowl 50 and the beastly Carolina Panthers. This should make for a well-matched and great game…
NFL Week 4: "Football" Returns to London
20% of Brits are 80% pleased with "American Football"... the rest are 100% disgusted
8 October 2015
For the 9th consecutive year, the National Football League (NFL) has scheduled a slate of regular season contests as part of its International Series. This year, London’s Wembley Stadium will host three games. The first leg of the 2015 series kicked off Sunday morning (or afternoon if you happened to be in attendance) when the Miami Dolphins “hosted” the New York Jets. The game was a decidedly one-sided affair, which eventually resulted in the firing of Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Despite the lack of in-game drama, there was a noticeable buzz of enthusiasm from the 80,000+ fans present.
Coming into the matchup with a 1-2 record, one would expect Miami to play with a sense of desperation. Instead, what we saw was a Jets team that thoroughly bested the Dolphins in every aspect of the game. Running back Chris Ivory, healthy after sitting out last week, ran for a career high 166 yards against a Miami front seven which was expected to be considerably improved after the addition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. It doesn’t take much effort to question a team’s game plan when you look at the box score and see that Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow finished with more rushing yards than Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller. By the time the 4th quarter rolled around, the score was 27-7 and it was overtly clear that Miami was not properly prepared or motivated to win. It’s tough to speculate on how exactly coach Philbin lost his team, but ownership clearly felt that a change needed to be made. He would be relieved of his duties following the flight back and replaced by tight ends coach, Dan Campbell.
With the annual return of American Football to London comes renewed speculation on the NFL’s future plans. It’s no secret that Commissioner Roger Goodell is in favor of an eventual permanent team in the United Kingdom. Like any good CEO, Mr. Goodell keeps a constant eye toward increasing the profitability of his company’s brand. He understands that football in the States is already by far the most popular sport and realistically does not have much more room to expand popularity-wise. By focusing on the relatively untapped European market, the NFL undoubtedly has bigger plans in mind.
At the moment there are still a number of obstacles that need to be addressed before a permanent relocation or expansion occurs. Much has been said about the effect a London team would have on the players. Is it really fair to tell a young 20-something year old that he must now relocate himself and/or his family to a foreign country? Sure, plenty of young people voluntarily choose to work overseas, but with the NFL draft – there would be no choice. Having new eligible draftees pull an Eli Manning/John Elway every year because they don’t want to play in England would not be a good look for the league. Also, would the United Kingdom’s notoriously high income tax rate scare away free agents? These are issues that would affect the competitive balance of the NFL.
The good news is that all parties still have plenty of time to figure out the logistics of everything. As long as the NFL keeps selling out Wembley and making money, it can only be a matter of time before the move is made. Last year the Commissioner himself predicted that a permanent London team could be “five or 10 years away.” So hey, Brits, please form an orderly queue and get yourselves ready for some American football.
It’s Opening Night… in Foxborough
80% of football action comes from 20% of the teams
11 September 2015
After nearly seven months, fans sat back and finally watched some football – that is unless you enjoy the pre-season. There was no better game to open with than one that included the ever-so scandalous Patriots. After a series of investigations and finger pointing, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took off to a fantastic start throwing four touchdown passes, to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler. Not Deflategate, the NFL, nor a Judge could hold back Brady from leading his New England team to success in a 28-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With 94 receiving yards, and owning three of Brady’s four touchdown passes, Gronkowski was also in control of Gillette Stadium. The Brady-Gronk duo is a force to be reckoned with, and last night’s game certainly established a precedent for the next 15 games. After running back Dion Lewis made a great catch and fumbled on the one-yard line in the fourth quarter, Gronk swiftly stepped in to recover the ball sealing the Patriots’ victory. Gronk was sure to celebrate with his trademark spike after this touchdown; and if you haven’t already seen it, be sure to watch Fox’s video of Gronkowski spiking objects other than footballs here.
On the Pittsburgh side of the house, they didn’t play poorly at all. The Steelers have a handful of rookie players, and put up a decent fight against the Patriots offense. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton had an impressive sideline play last night, and will surely be a key component to future Steelers wins. However the team’s new kicker Josh Scobee is off to a rough start, missing his first two field goal kicks at the 44 and 46-yard lines. Given, the weather was not ideal, and hopefully the former Jaguar’s kicker can get his act together as the season moves forward.
Separately, the Steelers are pretty pissed about the headset issues occurring Thursday evening. Doubtful this would lead to any competitive issues on the field, which Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier admitted after the game, especially if the problem was across the board. According to Patriots coach Bill Belichick the headset communication affected both teams, but the NFL did take responsibility for the technical malfunction. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects to file a complaint with the League – and the last thing anyone wants is another NFL scandal… involving the Patriots.
So there we have it, Thursday Night Football is on par for an interesting season and is sure to bring excitement to the field.
One man absent from the season opener was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, subject to punitive chants of “Where is Roger?” from Gillette fans. Was this simply out of spite for Judge Berman’s overturn of Brady’s sentence? We’ll save NFL politics for another day.
NHL Salary Caps & The Blackhawks
Can the Blackhawks sacrifice 20% of their team in order to maintain an 80% chance of continued success?
So the saying goes, “There is no harder championship in professional sports to win than the Stanley Cup.” Four grueling rounds, each a best-of-seven series – immediately to commence after a marathon 82 game season. Only the most well conditioned and battle tested teams need apply. Each season, 30 General Managers aspire to produce the ideal combination of players, all in pursuit of the ultimate goal. There are many obstacles that can alter a team’s chances of reaching this goal: bad trades, underperforming free agents, etc. Let’s say your superstar winger decides that he is feeling homesick. (Sorry Devils fans) The possibilities are endless…
Most notably, NHL executives must be dedicated to effective salary cap management. It has become vital to have flexibility when making important roster decisions. Player personnel departments are continuously evaluating how their players will fit under the salary cap. Knowing when to make a long-term commitment and when to release an athlete can make all the difference in forming a championship team.
When looking at instances of successful franchises in recent memory, there is no better example than the Chicago Blackhawks. Coming off their third cup victory in six seasons, the Blackhawks find themselves in a very enviable position. Having core forwards Jonathan Towes, 27 and Patrick Kane, 26 to go along with defensive stalwarts Duncan Keith, 32 and Brent Seabrook, 30 – Chicago has established itself as an annual contender, and is arguably the most popular team in the NHL. Hey, even Commissioner Gary Bettman has trumpeted the Hawks as a modern day ‘dynasty.’
Although it may seem like nothing but sunshine and rainbows in Chicago, there is a bit of stormy weather approaching in the near future… A salary cap storm. Beginning this year the identical eight-year, $82 million contracts that Toews and Kane signed before last season will kick in. With the 2015-16 NHL salary cap set at $71.4 million, these two players alone will account for what is nearly 30% of the Blackhawks entire salary. To put that in perspective, the combined salaries of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars (a similarly talented young duo) will combine for only about 15% of their team’s salary this season.
Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman knew this gloomy day would arrive eventually. The roster moves he has made over the past year-plus reflect the realities of the ever-present salary cap crunch. You could see the writing on the wall before this most recent championship campaign even began. Bowman knew he did not have enough room to sign defenseman Nick Leddy to a long-term extension. Instead he chose to trade Leddy to the New York Islanders for futures, rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency. The recent trades of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, both key contributors in last year’s playoff run, had to be made for the same reasons.
Making these kinds of sacrifices is not a foreign idea to the Blackhawks. Shortly after winning the Cup in 2010, it became evident that Chicago would not be able to re-sign core players Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd (Traded to Atlanta/Winnipeg). They would also allow Annti Niemi, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Campbell to eventually move on to different cities. While they would have preferred to hang on to these guys back then, you know what? It didn’t ruin them, and they kept winning. Newcomers like Corey Crawford and Andrew Shaw were able to step up and fill that void.
In order for this team to continue its winning ways, the Blackhawks are going to have to allocate their limited resources towards newcomers who can potentially replace lost production. Can a guy like Trevor Daley replace what was lost with Johnny Oduya? Will Teuvo Teravainen continue to develop into a solid pro? Only time will tell. Whiffing on draft picks is not an option, and Stan Bowman is not out of the woods yet. With Brent Seabrook due a raise soon, will he be become another cap casualty or can the Hawks find a way to keep him? It is not going to be easy, but if the past has shown us anything… It may not be wise to count the Blackhawks out anytime soon.
The 80/20 Rule for the NBA Draft
80% of basketball talent is in the top 20% of the draft
Of the major professional sports, no sport has a greater disparity of individual player performance than the NBA. As the NBA Draft approaches and rebuilding franchises attempt to reverse their fortunes this offseason, drafting a future star is on everyone’s mind. The opportunity is tremendous. In basketball, an individual player can contribute more to a team’s success than an individual player in any other sport. Five players from each team compete on offense and defense. The discrepancy of player performance heightens the importance of all personnel decisions, and there is no greater showcase of talent acquisition than the NBA Draft.
Despite the pandemonium of the NBA draft, few picks will be successful. Each year there will be the disappointment of Kwame (1) passing over Pau in 2001, Darko (3) over Melo, Bosh, and Wade in 2003, or the Vince-anity of picking Olowakandi (1) above Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, or a hometown star in Paul Pierce. Injuries may have derailed the career of Greg Oden (1), denying him the future of Kevin Durant and serviceable stars such as Al Horford or Joakim Noah. Other miscues may be due to a lack of surrounding talent to appropriately judge the skills of a player like Adam Morrison (3).
But should the Draft be looked at as a harbinger of future glory? Of the 166 players inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, 14 have been 1st Overall Selections. In the last 35 years, 13 of Hall of Fame inductees were drafted 1-10 overall in their draft class, of which 10 were selected in the first three picks of the draft, painting a much different picture than the hype the sports media places surrounding an annual event. It is true that 1st overall selections have been the most likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, while 2nd and 3rd picks follow closely in their path. But the attention given to Draft when the talent pool is suspect seems never to waiver. Few draft classes have the quality provided in 1984: Olajuwon, Jordan, Barkley, and Stockton, arguably the best draft class of all time; 1996 which landed heir apparent in Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and future all-stars in Abdur-Raheem, Marbury, Walker, Stojakovic, O’Neal, or Zydrunas Ilgauskas; or the most recent star studded draft of 2003 which produced current stars in James, Anthony, Wade, Bosh.
Of the 166 players inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame, 14 were No. 1 overall selections.
Why 80% of the Western Conference is Better than all but 20% of the Eastern Conference
Michael Jordan was so good he made 80% of the West better than all but the top 20% of the East
With less than a month until the All-Star break the Brooklyn Nets are sitting pretty; despite the fact that the team’s owner is looking to sell the team, while also avoiding a spot on a US Treasury sanctions list. The Barclays Center is home to both the 2015 Dunk Contest and to a team with a one game lead for the 8th and final playoff in the Eastern Conference. In most major American sports, gaining a playoff spot assumes a team possesses certain, above average, quality. Unfortunately the Nets are seven games under .500 and 2-8 in their last ten. Meanwhile the 8th seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, my beloved Phoenix Suns, are seven games above .500. The 11th seed in the West has a better record than the Nets and would easily make the playoffs in the East if the season ended today. Last season, the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs after winning 48 games, good enough for a third-place tie in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, this competitive disparity made me angry and, like most pointless sports conundrums, it now must be rationalized.
The East has not only performed poorly for the past few seasons, the Eastern Conference has consistently struggled for over a decade. Since the 2001 – 2002 season, the 8th Seed in the West has averaged 47 wins per season, while the East’s worst playoff-seed has averaged just over 39 wins. In case you forgot, 41 wins means you break even. There is a seven and a half win disparity between 4-Seeds over the same period (47-54.8), in favor of the Western Conference.
However, there is parity at the top with One-seeds in both leagues averaging just under 60 wins per season since 2002.* Despite this, in the decade and a half since Jordan retired, the West leads the East in the NBA finals 11-5.
How can this obvious disproportion be explained? There are large markets teams in New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Toronto. These cities should have no problem, in terms of financial resources or livability, to attract top talent. Teams in the East outspend teams in the West, with four of the five highest team payrolls being in the East. If the financial resources are equal, then the theory explaining this discrepancy should be intangible. Besides, for those of us who hate metrics, it’s more fun this way. The East has never recovered from the Jordan Era.
Michael Jordan decimated the Eastern Conference into submission for 10 years. Jordan’s Bulls were so dominant, teams lost an incentive to compete. At the same time, Jordan faced a gauntlet of challengers from the West, where no team was able to sustain success. During the Jordan Era, only the Bulls, Knicks and Magic** won the Eastern Conference between 1991 and 1998. Meanwhile, franchises in Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio developed energized fan bases and consistency in the front office. Houston was the only team to win titles, but was unable to sustain a continued hegemony within the conference.
Jordan was so dominant that Orlando, with a young Shaq easily won the conference; reminiscent of a young LeBron carrying Cleveland to the finals in 2007. Inversely, the competitive parity in the Western Conference has led to the creation of successful franchises, which were developed organically, through the draft and shrewd free-agency maneuvers. Aside from the Pistons, title-teams from the East (Boston and Miami) have been created exclusively through high-profile free-agency moves.
LeBron is once again pushing an entire conference into submission. With LeBron in control of the road to the finals, teams in Charlotte, DC, Atlanta, and Indiana can’t seem to muster the front-office fortitude the sustain success.
The race to the bottom has proven that the only way to win the East is to spend big (not working in Brooklyn) or draft high (failed in Cleveland). If the King, now on another super-team in North-East Ohio, continues to control the road the finals, this trend may continue until [God willing]Steve Balmer is the NBA commissioner.
*All season win-totals exclude the 2011 – 2012 Lockout season
**It’s hard to imagine a bigger asterisk next to a conference title