Friday, January 20, 2012

01/20 (NFL Final Four) Quickie

Let's get right to it: The Pats will beat the Ravens and the 49ers will beat the Giants.

Now that the Quickie Jinx is in effect, let's dig in:

*Obviously, I'm not rooting for the Patriots -- admiration for Bill Belichick aside -- and as weak as the Pats' D might be, I can't see the Ravens keeping up with Brady and the triple-threat of Welker-Gronk-Hernandez. Then again, there's always 2009 to look to for inspiration.

*I've come around on these 49ers -- by far the most likeable team left in the field (and perhaps, in hindsight, the most likeable team in the entire league this season), if only for the combination of storylines of Jim Harbaugh's brilliant rookie year and Alex Smith's validation.

Both games should be fun (if impossible to match last week's Saints-49ers game), and it feels like the only one of the four possible outcomes that would have fans grumbling is a Ravens-Giants Super Bowl repeat. (It really shouldn't, because a Super Bowl title for Lewis and Reed to end their careers would be thrilling, and it's fascinating to think that the Giants could have the weakest regular season of any NFL champ in history.)


-- Dan

Thursday, January 19, 2012

01/19 (Wizards!) Quickie

As a lifelong Wizards fan, there are only a handful of great moments I can point to. Signing Bernard King was a fun one. Trading for Chris Webber was a great one. (Trading him away for Mitch Richmond, not so much.) Signing Gilbert Arenas (before things went... y'know.)

Two summers ago, when the Wizards won the John Wall Lottery, that was the closest thing I had ever experienced to the ecstasy of a championship with this team, which otherwise had given me so much frustration over the years -- no year more than this one, when the "rebuild" seemed like a vacant foreclosure.

This season, the Wizards started with one win in their first baker's dozen of games -- by far the worst record in the NBA, but even worse, the Wiz gave the worst effort in the NBA. Andray Blatche is the worst. JaVale McGee is a knucklehead. Nick Young and Jordan Crawford shoot way too much. John Wall's body language suggested he was serving time.

Last night, the Thunder -- the model of how a winning team is built from the ground up and an odds-on favorite to win the West (if not an NBA championship) -- came to town and I fully expected Oklahoma City to teach the Wizards a brutal lesson. After all, if the Timberwolves can shellack the Wiz by 20, the Thunder should be able to double that up, easy.

I scored a ticket to the game with a buddy; the seats were phenomenal. We settled in to watch the massacre. And yet... the Wiz kind of hung in there. They made the usual bone-headed mistakes and missed the usual litany of forced jumpshots -- but the rebounding was solid and the defense was relatively intense.

They kept it close at the half, then in the third quarter. Along the way, I noted that it's a moral victory even for the team to make it a game with the Thunder, even if they ended up losing. But as the Wiz took a tenuous lead, I shifted from the thrill of moral victory to realizing that when (not if) the Wiz lost this lead and this game, it would be the worst loss of them all.

With 90 seconds to go, the crowd got on its feet to will the Wizards to hang on to that lead, even as the Thunder seemed primed to come back, take the game to OT and claim the victory they clearly figured two hours earlier would be in the bag. It was the closest thing the 2011-2012 Wizards would get to a playoff atmosphere -- this felt like the team's championship, if they could just eke it out.

When Kevin Durant's desperate 3 to tie with a second to play rimmed out -- and I'll bet that 90% of the arena figured it was going to drop right in (I sure did) -- the Wiz claimed the most unlikely victory of the NBA season.

And a fan base that had been beaten down over the past dozen or so games by a team that seemed hapless and helpless got that flicker of joy that every other team's fans seem to get on a more regular basis (and certainly the playoff and Finals contenders get constantly).

Woefully low expectations are typically a huge problem -- they indicate that your team is going to be horrible. But in this case, it allowed for the thrill -- the genuine glee and surprise -- of watching the worst team in the league (your team) beat one of the best.

It was enough to keep me happy as a fan for the long losing season ahead.


*Yu Darvish signs with the Rangers: When he ends up being something in between solid and spectacular, it will be an entirely reasonable signing. (It's unlikely Texas also makes a play for Prince Fielder, but I'd rather spend $150M on Prince than $100+ on Josh Hamilton.)

*"The Streak" ends: Trinity's 252-match squash winning streak -- the greatest streak in the history of college sports -- was snapped last night by rival Yale. Worth going back to read the New York Times Magazine profile of the team from last February.

*Parenting: This is a pretty good recap of solid parenting techniques, via Deadspin's Drew Magary.

Pop by Quickish today to keep up with the best takes on the biggest topics.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

01/17 (Moving On) Quickie

Unless your team was knocked out, I think most fans are entirely satisfied with the NFL's conference-championship match-ups, particularly given the thrilling way we got to an NFC final.

Let's do a quick ranking of the four possible Super Bowls:
(1) Patriots-49ers. Great O, great D, two best coaches in football.
(2) Patriots-Giants. Rematch of the greatest Super Bowl upset ever.
(3) Ravens-49ers. The "Harbaugh Brothers" Bowl.
(4) Ravens-Giants. 50% off your Northeast Corridor Amtrak ticket?

I like the idea that it feels like the outcomes are fairly predictable -- Pats and 49ers, right? -- but if last week reminded us of anything, it's that predictable outcomes are there to be imploded.


*Happy 70th birthday, Muhammad Ali. I think that if I had the chance to meet any athlete in the world, it would be Ali. What: You thought I'd say...

*Tim Tebow: More underminey rhetoric from John Elway, tabbing Tebow as the Broncos' "starting QB heading into training camp," making him the only QB among playoff teams (and more than half the non-playoff teams) to not be the clear-cut Week 1 starter.

Would it have been so bad if Elway had said "Tim is our Week 1 starter." Like anyone is going to hold Elway to it if something goes horribly awry in training camp. The worst part -- for everyone, including Elway -- is that most media took his qualified support as "Tebow is the starter next year!"

Let's all remember: If Tebow had lost his first game as a starter in Week 7, he would have been benched. Same with a loss in Week 9, Week 10 and Week 11 (and probably Weeks 12 or 13).

What continues to mystify me is that Elway and Fox seem scared to do what they want to do -- cut or trade Tebow -- because of what they presume would be a public outcry. They are waiting for him to fail on the field to give them the more air cover, even though they don't really believe in him as their long-term starting QB. Can you imagine Bill Belichick giving a crap what the fans or media have to say about how he runs his team?

*NBA on MLK Day: Good things happen for the Lakers when Kobe passes up the final contested shot to find an open teammate. Do we say the same thing if Derek Fisher misses that game-winning 3? Maybe not. But Fisher was a sub-20 percent 3-point shooter this season, but canned that one when he was wide open, thanks to the attention Kobe drew. One to grow on....

*Dwight Howard Watch: He's willing to play for the Clippers. Too bad the Clippers don't have anything reasonable to offer the Magic, except... would you trade Blake Griffin for Dwight Howard? Blake is a lot younger (and cheaper); Howard is even more elite. The question is: Is Chris Paul + Blake Griffin better than Chris Paul + Dwight Howard? I don't think so. In that case, I'd make the deal. (Obviously, the Magic would be THRILLED for that deal.) Then again, I'm one of the folks who thinks that the Heat would be better with Wade + Bosh + Howard than Wade + Bosh + LeBron. (Sigh: Think the Magic would take my Wizards' JaVale McGee for Howard? I'll take Dwight as a half-season rental at this point.)

*College Hoops: Did Kansas expose Baylor? Or did the Bears simply run into another elite team, playing at home, with a bit of pressure built up from being one of the handful of remaining unbeatens left in the country? I would like to see the rematch in the Big 12 Tournament. Meanwhile: KU's Tyshawn Taylor was the big scorer, but Thomas Robinson is outstanding.

Be sure to check out Quickish to catch up on what you might have missed yesterday and throughout the day today. Thanks for the continued support!

-- D.S.

Monday, January 16, 2012

01/16 (Giants, Wow) Quickie

Hey, don't miss Quickish's NFL stream this morning, with some smart takes on yesterday's games.

The Packers were a great story this season -- a mini-dynasty (or standard version) in the making. The Giants waltzing into Lambeau and throttling them is an even better story, the kind of you-kind-of-hope-it-will-happen-but-don't-expect-it-to-happen result that makes sports fun. (As compared to, say, Tom Brady's evisceration of Tebow and the Broncos on Saturday night, which was -- lamentably -- entirely predictable and without much of any shade of doubt.)

It instantly lines up right behind the Super Bowl win over the Pats as the greatest game of Eli Manning's career -- one in which he is settling nicely into just enough consistency and signature wins to wonder whether it's unreasonable to think both Mannings are future Hall of Famers.

And it triggers a "hot hand" theory about these Giants that immediately gets the pundits talking about 2007 (but really -- per Grantland's Barnwell -- looks more like Green Bay's run from last year, most notably for the the road shellacking delivered to a seemingly superior No. 1 seed.)

Last big issue from yesterday's game (aside from the notable instances of atrocious officiating): Did the combination of the first-round bye plus taking off Week 17 hurt the Packers? Obviously, it's hard to say, and you'd like to think pros playing at a high level can manage that kind of tapering -- on the other hand, it's impossible to ignore, and I think that, at the very least, any team that far in the lead in Week 17 will at least play its starters for a half. (The far more intriguing idea is that playing in the bye week sharpened the Giants enough to pull the upset -- the Patriots and Ravens and 49ers are a counter to that, obviously, but qualitatively, it sure seems compelling.)

Looking ahead to next week: The Giants may have momentum and mojo, but I feel like Jim Harbaugh eats other teams' mo and mojo for a mid-day snack -- just look at what he did with the Saints' mojo. Now, the Giants' defense is far more dangerous than the Saints' D. Then again, the Giants' offense isn't nearly as tough to stop as Brees & Co. Harbaugh has proven himself to be the NFC's best coach (and perhaps the NFL's best coach... and perhaps the current best head football coach in the world, regardless of level), and the Niners' confidence is off the charts. Then again, that's what we all thought about the Packers.

I don't mean to dismiss or ignore the Ravens' win over the Texans. It was entirely expected (if not as decisive as folks would have liked to see). I think the conventional wisdom will be that the Pats will throttle them in Foxboro next weekend -- that's a mistake, obviously; the Ravens are far more set up to upend the Pats than the Broncos were. (Best thing I read about the Ravens' win was from the Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg.)

As for Houston, they should be thrilled by finally making it to the playoff field, and feel comfortable that if they can keep Matt Schaub healthy, they are a contender to advance one more round to the AFC title game. (Then again, ratcheted expectations -- without a whole lot of breathing room -- are typically a route to being disappointed.)

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.: SB Nation's Bomani Jones tweeted out a link to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and it's always worth it to re-read.

-- D.S.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday 01/15 (Very) Quickie

Let's lead with Tebow, because it's disingenuous for the media to spend a week making him THE story, then dismiss it because he fell short (even way short) of beating the No. 1 team in the AFC (and perhaps the NFL) rested and playing at home and led by a combination of the best coach and best QB of the generation. (Enough caveats?)

It's pretty simple, actually: There wasn't a result last night -- nail-biter or blowout or anything in between -- that would take away from what has, by all accounts, been a phenomenal season for Tebow and the Broncos: From expectations of a handful of wins (even fewer when Tebow took over the starting QB role) to a division title and Wild Card Weekend win over the defending conference champs. It was a successful year, relative to almost any other team in the league -- and a wildly successful one relative to the Broncos' own expectations for Tebow and the team in '11.

Yes, it was a blowout -- a humiliation. No, it wasn't unexpected. The Patriots are a juggernaut and I'm curious to see the team that can handle them -- of the remaining teams in the field, it seems like the 49ers have the best shot. Anyway...

What next for Tebow? The biggest risk to Tebow's future with the Broncos in '12 and beyond isn't Tebow -- it's John Fox, who was so vastly overrated this season that it masked just how overmatched he was when he veered slightly (let alone wildly) from the orthodoxies of offense that he is most comfortable with. Let's be clear: Tebow may have shown enough to merit a year of starting and the team may be fully behind him, but Fox is not. If it was up to Fox and he had his choice between coaching up Tebow and the team's scheme and inserting a mediocre veteran, he would pick the veteran. We know this because he already did -- in August, with Kyle Orton and with disastrous results. That -- and not the coach of the Tebow campaign -- is the real Fox.

That's more than enough about that (for now). Let's focus on Tom Brady's excellence and the ridiculous schematic advantage Bill Belichick enjoys with his pair of superlative tight ends -- Gronkowski and Hernandez, either one of whom could be a Top 5 TE when featured on a more conventional team, but when teamed (and teamed with Brady), become the most unstoppable force in football. The most surprising thing of last night's game was the way that the Pats defense came to play. That worked against the Broncos and should hold up against the Ravens-Texans winner (OK: the Ravens), but it's hard to know if it'll work against, say, the Packers.

Last note: It's a shame that the Tebow/Brady nightcap will take a bit of the glitter from the 49ers win over the Saints, which was one of the most exciting playoff games in NFL history. What a win for the 49ers, what a win for Jim Harbaugh (not just arguably the best coach in the NFL, but the best coach at any level in football) and what a win for Alex Smith, who has gone from maligned to playoff hero. Smith's ascension is an even more impressive story than Brady's big night (and certainly more than Tebow and the Broncos falling short).

-- D.S.