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NFL17 Cherry Picks W14: MIN @ CAR, PHI @ LAR Marquee Week’s Heavy Mettle Jams

9 Dec

It’s the NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings (10-2) versus Southern stalwart the Carolina Panthers (8-4) in the League’s marquee match-up for their Week 14 slate of games, one smothered high with like heavy mettle jams.

More than any other time in the NFL’s long season (September – February), the first week in December traditionally serves up games that will test the mettle of those teams who hold playoff aspirations and Super Bowl dreams. It’s a time that separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the truly wise and tenacious from the occasionally clever, so to speak.

In fact, the largesse creates a playoff field bursting at the seams (12), laden on pretenders diluting the pool, getting invites to the party but only passing glances from Sporting Gods who soon enough send ‘em packing for family trips.

What makes these merry match-ups so important is not just that a win will raise chances of getting a PS-ticket punched, but also for shaping future seeds and just simply toughen-up teams for the championship road that lay ahead.

Vikings @ Panthers

Vikes are a surprise. Starting QB Sam Bradford goes down early on a knee bang as former #1 Bridgewater was still in injury-rehab. Then blossoming rookie run-back Dalvin Cook exits on an ACL tear. With all that gloom opens the door of opportunity. The 6th-year man in Case Keenum, 9-15 with Houston, 8-2 presently (67.5% / 16-5) and sporting a bit of Favresque (you read it hear first), steps in to fill the breach, Murray & McKinnon carry the pigskin capably, local boy Adam Thielen (Minnesota State) is bucking for an All-Pro selection (bigger bucks preferred), defensive specialist Mike Zimmer has the stoppers ranked high (#2 / 2) and Aaron Rodger won’t be back until 2018.

Heavy Mettle Match-Ups

Saints @ Atlanta: Already in the books (ATL). A-Birds got a little D
Raiders @ Chiefs: AFC’s biggest rivalry and in a West up for grabs
Eagles @ LosAngeles: Rams rebound in AZ, Philly loses strong in WA
Hawks @ Jacksonville: Jags slipping as the Seahawks are solidifying
Ravens @ Pittsburgh: AFC’s #2, both clubs climbing to Super seeds

Composite Mettle Match-Ups

Lions @ Bucs: Detroit still has a shot, TB can surprise sometimes
Redskins @ LosAngeles: Chargers are hot but remember W10 (v Jax)
Titans @ Arizona: AZ’s up’d it of late so it’s a good Rd-test for Tenn
Pats @ Miami: Intra-rivals rock and the Fish wanta make statement

Cherry Picks Week 14

Dallas @ Giants: 12.10 CBS 1:00: NewYork
Detroit @ TampaBay: Fox 1:00: Buccaneers
Raiders @ Chiefs: CBS 1:00: KansasCity
Vikings @ Panthers: CBS 1:00: Carolina
Redskins @ LosAngeles: CBS 4:05: DC
Tennessee @ Cardinals: CBS 4:05: Arizona
Eagles @ LosAngeles: Fox 4:25: Philadelphia
Seattle @ Jacksonville: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh: NBC 8:30: Steelers
Patriots @ Dolphins: 12.11 Disney 8:30: Pats

Record: 52 – 40

StevenKeys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; C.Keenum, Vikings, wc.cca, 11.12.17, MD, K.Allison; HeavyMetalViking, Unleased, wc, 2.12.07, Vassil; cherries-ripe, B.Kua, 6.1.08, wc; J.Otto, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 12.8 @ 11:11pE; Copyright © 2017

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NFL17 Cherry Picks W12: Frothy NFC Fast Filling Its Half of Super Bowl 6-Pack

25 Nov

NFL 2017: What a difference (less than) a year can make.

At the ¾ mark of this NFL season (Week 12), it is the NFC flexing its football fortitude, showcasing, as I count ‘em, nine (9) clubs that display a skill-set and team spirit theoretically capable of putting any one of ’em into Super Bowl 52.

The Junior Conference AFC (70), the group that looked loaded with good teams in 2016, are lucky if they can claim five (5) worthy of title-game consideration.

Post-Thanksgiving results, in the National (1920) it’s the Lions, Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, Rams, Saints, Cats, ‘Hawks & Falcons who rate contender status.

In the American it’s the Patriots, Chiefs, Steelers, Jaguars and Tennessee.

But as any sports prognosticator worth his weight in Stove-Top® stuffing knows, contender status will often not amount to a hill o’ giblets (Mmmmm).

Here then is the Super Six-Pack preview, three top squads from each Conference plus one extra-brew that might change the whole buzz. Not all the best records but clubs that look to possess the wisdom and wherewithal to be more than mere contenders and nearly locks to play into the playoffs and then some.

Halas trophy hopefuls

New Orleans Saints
Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings
Beer binge: Seattle Seahawks

Cats: Sit where they usually do on offense in key categories (#15 ygpg / 17), the oft-concussed defensive leader Kuechly is a concern, now and post-career.

A-Birds: Picked by many to repeat as Halas hoisters, they’re hanging tough but their forte in offense is fickle (#10 / 12). Defense? Seems like not since Claude Humphrey and Tommy Nobis roamed the turf (#10 / 13). Oy vey.

*Hawks: Kamster’s injury exit is a big blow (Sherman’s not so) but Pete Carroll, Russ Wilson and Bobby Wagner together make Seattle a possibility, always.

Lions: I’m not even gonna’ look at their offensive ranks because their defense screams ‘No Super Bowl (#23 / 14).’ Okay, I’m a curious sort (O: #16 / 5 pgpg). There’s a chance, a whiskers chance they get in and make a run.

Pack: Welcome to mediocrity. Rodgers will return, a little older, a little more brittle and maybe just one more hard tackle away from another long exit. Come NFL Draft 2018, Ted should start thinking defense for the first time in his GM tenure, i.e., find men who can tackle, not flex (See; the Hair).

Hunt trophy heavies

New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Hidden bottle: Kansas City Chiefs

Patriots: The name says it all, as long as Brady and Belichick are all in. D had been grading a D- but now its doing its homework and making the honor-roll in all-important papg (point allowed per game): 20.3 (10).

*Pittsburgh: Defense is the strong suit (offense #11 / 13) while BigBen just keeps rolling and Tomlin keeps, like a cat, landing on his feet.

Jacksonville: Newcomers to contendership, post-Tom Coughlin era, it’s tempting to mistrust this team (B.Bortles: 58.4C%, 12t-7i). But they like to tackle (#1 / #1), understand scoring (#8 / 9 papg) and have a promising remainder with four-winables (softer opponents) and just two 50-50s (tougher foes).

KC: I like Andy and Alex but when the Chiefs should’ve been settling scores and making statements they reverted to inconsistency. What’s new, since Hank Stram? But in a weak AFC and a 4 & 2 remaining slate, I’d not be surprised.

Titans: O: #20 / 16, D: #14 / 24. Next.

Bolts: Nice turnaround but too little, too late and too bad for Phil who’s getting on in years (36). And that OT loss to Jax (W10) was a sin, or a sign (?), Mr. Lynn.

Ravens & Bengals: Both conundrum but Harbaugh’s job is safe (He’s always angry, that helps) but Marvin, the nice guy he is, won’t get one more in Cincy. He should finish the season, he’s earned that much (122-109).

NFL17 Cherry Picks Week 12: Slim Pick’ins

Buffalo @ Chiefs: 11.26 CBS 1:00: KansasCity
Carolina @ Jets: Fox 1:00: NewYorkJets
NewOrleans @ Rams: CBS 4:25: LosAngeles
Denver @ Raiders: CBS 4:25: Oakland
Texans @ Ravens: 11.27 Disney 8:30: Baltimore

Record: 43 – 32

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wc.cca, Wikiproject, 2011; Corona-Six-Pack, wc, NLangeDe, 10.28.06; K.Rudolph, ProBowl, wc, 1.27.13, M.Holzworth, USAF; B.Roethlisberger, 9.29.08, wc, Andy; Cherries, Hispalois, Careces-Spain, 7.2.12, wc; WillieWood, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 11.25.17 @ 3:05pE; Copyright © 2017

MLB-WS2017: Sabrmetrics, the Rush to Forgive & Ensconced In Anaheim..of Greater Los Angeles

19 Nov

Hail the Houston Astros, MLB17’s World Series champion.

Last year it was the Chicago Cubs ending the drought of all baseball droughts (1908) in taking the title which’d seemed pretty well in the Cleveland Indians’ grasp (4-3). This year it was a first-time winner, the Astros, who joined the Major club back in 1962 as the Colt .45s and having failed in their one prior Series opportunity in falling to the White Sox in 2005 (4-0), those Pale Hose nabbing their first WS in quite a spell (1917).

The opinion amongst media is that this Astros team is a template for the future MLB. Meaning, a steady, snoozy diet of numbers and more numbers (Zzzzz).

Why the Cubs (2016), Royals (2015), Red Sox (2013) and Giants (2014, 2012, 2010) weren’t touted as such, who knows? It probably has something to do with the fact these present champions are what some are calling a sabrmetric special, aka, analytics. There’s an apropos pun if there ever was one.

Houston operators in manager A.J. Hinch (formerly of the Athletics (See; Moneyball)), GM Jeff Luhnow and club PBO Reid Ryan all relied heavily on statistics, aka, “data,” to shape, guide their roster to the promised land, making the Astros the first sabrheaded organization to grab-hold of that brass ring.

But don’t bet the farm on Houston just yet, no matter how the numbers crunch.

Astros team ERA in WS17, a whopping 4.64.

Astros team BA: .230; OB%: .297; and SLG: .467. Those #s mean the Houston dudes hit poorly throughout but slugged for go-ahead runs in key moments as the Dodgers’ slightly better pitching faltered at the worst possible times (4.45).

Those numbers, the trophy, they suggest one word: Opportunistc. That’s a good trait but not one that’ll bedrock for a dynasty.

— — —

Not too surprising to know that winning a World Series is no guarantee for lifetime employment in the Major League baseball ranks as both former skippers of note, Joe Girardi (NYY 09) and John Farrell (BOS 2013) discovered in being fired post-playoff runs by their respective ball-clubs. John was canned after the Red Sox fell to the Astros in the 2017 ALDS, 3-1, Joe pink-slipped when his Yankees lost to the same Houston club in the ALCS, 4-3.

Not every owner accords that achievement (a WS title) with such an ephemeral appreciation. Some hold it close to their hearts, or so it would appear.

Case in point, billboard billionaire (OutdoorSystems) and Angels’ owner since 2003, Tuscon native Arturo Moreno. The wheeler-dealer seems to hold the view that such achievement should afford a manager his job as long as he wants to continue in the position. Bully for him.

Mike Scioscia completed his 18th year at the helm of the Halos at conclusion of 2017. It was his 2d consecutive sub-.500 finish, in a total of six. In all, Scioscia has compiled a 1570-1346 record (.538), managed seven post-season appearances, one 100-win year (08) and one World Series in 2002, the Angels only Pennant that resulted in a championship win over the Giants, 4-3.

♪♫ And the beat goes on ♪♫.

— — —

Consider how World Series 2017 will NOT be best remembered:

The Astros first MLB title.

It’s fan-friendly watchability: G5 (Astros 13-12) ended at 1:17 AM – EST.

Cries of foul for what appeared an official ball juiced to the threads.

Clay Kershaw finally performing, for one start (G1), anyway, like the pitching great his regular season stats have predicted for years.

No, it won’t be remembered best for any of those.

What World Series 2017 WILL be best remembered for is racism, it’s knowing expression through the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel and its appeasement by Major League baseball’s Cufflink-in-Chief, Commissioner Rob Manfred.

You could say, prejudice got a pass, until spring. Sigh.

The setting: G3 in Houston with the Series knotted-up at 1-1. It’s bottom of the 2d, the Astros’ Gurriel, a 33-year old Cuban in his first full major league season, hit’s a solo shot off of Dodgers’ starter and Japanese native, Yu Darvish (b.1986) who’d been a Texas Ranger (13) through the first-half of 2017.

After all the celebrating, taking his dugout seat and of course seeming in good spirits, Gurriel threw a racist brick at Darvish (Because Yu was thoughtless enough to toss a homer pitch?) in putting fingers to his eyes in childish Western-mimick of an Asian appearance, laughing and thinking himself cute. Not done, he also was overheard spewing the word chinito, meaning Chinese boy.

In Bugs Bunny speak, Yuli is a “maroon.” But he claims to understand this mental state, at least its wrong, so MLB, his ‘mates, Astros’ fans, major and junior media have all rushed to forgive the offender. How wonderful (ugh).

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not suspend YG, not even for one contest in a Series that went seven (I‘d have banned him from entering either stadium for two (2) games). Instead, Rob gave Gurriel a 5-game delayed supension to commence at the start of the 2018 season, assuming he’s still on the team. He turns 34 in June, per his birth certificate.

And with that deferred susp’n which presently amounts to no punishment at all, an awful message was sent to the public: In the rush to forgive and return to calm waters (Darvish took the high road but was in no good position to protest), racism will be tolerated by MLB if the offender “understands” his wrong, claims non-intent and an immediate susp’n in penalty might upset the balance of play when TV ratings ($) are at stake.

And what DIDN’T Baseball’s response do?

It didn’t help Baseball, domestically or internationally. That it was the Dodgers on the receiving end of Gurriel’s racist buffoonery works double damage to the national pastime’s image, the team that in Brooklyn under the Walter O’Malley, Branch Rickey, Mulvey & Smith ownership, rostered Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier (47) and has since been a leader in making the game a showcase of diversity for all races including Hispanic Central America (Fernandomania) and throughout much of the Orient (Nomomania).

It didn’t aid in the fight against racism.

It didn’t help Rob Manfred who is now a symbol of weak leadership, defined forever by his failure to take the bull by the horns.

And it didn’t really help the Astros whose title is now tainted, reminiscent of the Italian national soccer team’s World Cup win in 2006 (Germany).

When deadlocked in the championship match, Marco Materazzi hurled a harsh, family insult to France’s superstar Zinedine Zidane who head butted the offender to the ground. ZZ of course received the red-card (expelled), Italy received the advantage in OT and went on to win the Cup yet left their pride on the field.

Astros won the Series. I don’t know how much Gurriel’s presence shaped the result. He did contribute. Exactly how much of a factor his presence in all games 4 thru 7 had is neither here nor there, for justice, doing the right thing, shouldn’t balance on whether the wrongdoer is a star player or off-the-bench reserve.

But as disturbing as Gurriel’s goof and Manfred’s knee-buckle was how the Astros rallied around their teammate, acting as if his friendly clubhouse persona absolved each of them from holding the Cuban to a standard of decency and he to any sort of symbolic sacrifice in Series time lost.

So much progress yet still a ways to go. I’m hopeful Yuri helps us get there.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: can-of-corn; YuriGurriel, wc.cca, 7.23.17, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.8m; MikeScioscia, 12.9.15, A.PardavilaIII, wc.cca, MLB-WinterMeet, 5.2m; RobManfred, wc.cca, 7.15.14, wc.cca, fanfest, A.PardavilaIII, 3.5m; Y.Gurriel, 7.23.17, wc.cca, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.2m;
Posted: 11.18.17 @ 8:28pE, edit 11.19; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Cherry Picks W10: It’s Elementary, Watson, Poise’n-In-the-Pocket Is the Cure

9 Nov

It’d be easy for Houston Texans to get gloomy about the Deshaun Watson injury, an ACL tear that occurred in practice after their W9 nail-bitter loss in Seattle.

But it’s not all doom. There is reason for hope.

The fine young field general in-the-making might actually come out the whole, long ordeal a wiser, better quarterback. Really.

The anterior cruciate ligament spans the knee. It’s tear will result from a sudden, hard twist of that joint as the foot is well grounded or caught in the turf. The knee bears weight better than it turns, as this common athletic injury attests.

Things were looking rather promising for the Texans (3-3) and their rookie starter who took to the NFL like a duck to water (61.8%, 19t-8i, 8.3 ypc), fresh off a national championship at Clemson. One complaint: The Gainesville, Georgia native is flash, a run-QB who’s a strong tendency to rabbit under pressure, a habit that carried him to many a football victory from grade school to his Carolina college but won‘t fly for long with the big boys of the pro circuit.

The glass-half-full observer can look to the Arizona Cardinals’ veteran running back Adrian Peterson as example of how a player can recover and return to top form even after an ACL tear, operation and rehabilitation.

Adrian, who, in 2017 began his first NFL season in a color other than purple after signing with Saints, only to be cut after W4, then picked up by Arizona after all-purpose David Johnson went out with a dislocated wrist, suffered his ACL tear in 2014 opener. He was back on the field in 2015, miraculously winning the NFL rushing crown with the 3rd highest season run total in his long career (07).

In 2016 Peterson suffered his 2d ACL tear on the other knee. While it’s still early and Father-Time will someday catch up to All-day, he looks to be fashioning a second miracle comeback in the Sunset State. In three games Adrian has run 74 times for 314y on a 4.2 ypc. Pretty spiffy stuff for a 2-time ACL rehabber.

The glass-half-empty set will cite Peterson’s running style (less lateral plant than run-QB Watson) and the sad case of former aspiring signal-caller Rob Griffin as examples of how the ACL rupture can change things for the worse.

RG3, as he was tagged by the junior media, took the Heisman at Baylor even as he had suffered an ACL tear in his sophomore year and was selected #2 overall in the NFL12 draft. And before DW, Griffin too would take the NFL by storm.

Entering week 14 play against Baltimore, the later-to-be-named ROY and Pro-Bowler, had led the Redskins offense to a 6-6 record. Then it happened, another knee bang. Not a tear this time but a sprain of the LCL that would mark the beginning of the end for Griffin’s professional game. He would sit out W15 but return to action to lead Washington to the Wild Card game but again tear his ACL in the loss to Seattle. There were no more high points for Robert whose last season was with Cleveland in 2016, cut short by a broken shoulder-bone.

Both the Peterson and Griffin cases point to two conclusions: 1) Modern medicine, for those who can afford it, will work wonders in orthopedic injury, and 2) every medical case is somewhat unique in its prognosis, treatment and recovery. Cost is the same, all of it high, but outcomes are hard to predict.

On return to the playing field, Watson will need to make quick adjustments: Changes in his mental approach to the game.

First off, he must ditch the flash form of quarterback play (3-3, 36r – 269y) and learn for the first time in his career, pocket poise, finding the tenacity to take the hits behind-the-line as they come and where he’ll have more means to handle the blows. Why: 1) rabbit will expose his knees to greater risk of injury downfield where funny footing is more likely and defender hits can be more damaging, and 2) poise’n-in-the-pocket will force Deshaun into RIF, ‘reading is fundamental.’ The best field generals in the pro-ranks are read proficient.

Some QBs use their top physical skills in arm strength, accuracy and mobility behind the line to find time to read the defense and find gaps. Others use their fluid-intellect and 20/20 vision to make-up for lesser physical traits. Run-QB is typically weak on defensive vocabulary and in every NFL case so far has failed to make the adjustment. It’s like learning a whole new language as an adult: Very difficult. The best hope: Complete commitment and immersion.

In the long run the poise’n pro-style is the better way of NFL quarterbacking, affording a longer career for the player, happier fans in point totals & wins and then more hardware for everyone involved, MVPs and rings (See; Brady, Big-Ben, Rodgers). And as flash QB will keep dominating in the college ranks on its great success by Heismans, CFP titles and perpetuation of coaching-lite, the disconnect between the pro and amateur QB styles with remain.

But maybe most important of the mental adjustments will be that Deshaun regains his former confidence. This holds true for his coaching staff as well, that they too find confidence again in their former QB. And they must keep in mind that Peterson didn’t have to learn a new language as will their man Watson.

NFL17 Cherry Picks Week 10

Seattle @ Arizona: 11.9 NBC 8:25: Hawks
Packers @ Chicago: 11.12 Fox 1:00: Bears
Los Angeles Bolts @ Jags: CBS 1:00: LA
New Orleans @ Buffalo: Fox 1:00: Saints
NewYorkJets @ Buccaneers: CBS 1:00: TB
Vikings @ Washington: Fox 1:00: Redskins
Cincinnati @ Tennessee: Fox 1:00: Cincy
Cowboys @ Atlanta: Fox 4:25: Falcons
New York @ SanFrancisco: Fox 4:25: NYG
Miami @ Carolina: 11.13 Disney 8:30: Cats

Record: 38 – 27

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; D.Watson, wc.cca, 1.10.16, Atlanta-Falcons; A.Peterson, wc, 1.28.12, Arvee5.0; R.Griffin, wc, L.Boyd, M.Green, USMC – NYC, 4.26.12; cherries, B.Kua, 6.1.08; J.Otto, TCG, 1970
Posted: 11.9.17 @ 3:20pE; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Cherry Picks W9: It’s Paradise Found For Gridiron Leg-Men In London Town

4 Nov

NFL London Games is proving a Paradise for those players rostered to leg the ball, whether it be field-goals, kickoffs or punting the pigskin (cowhide) to opponents in an act of sportsmanship on their own failure to fashion a score.

That last bit is on slim chance a reader new to North American football (China, GreatBritain, Mexico, etc.), just happens to read my post and could use a little insight into just exactly how the gridiron game works and why (I’m still cricket-challenged). And that’s a chance slimmer than the one the Cleveland Browns presently hold (0-8) for winning the 2018 Lamar Hunt trophy (+ SB52 ticket to Minneapolis 2.2.17). But you do what you can.

In this age of massive passing stats, still highly-valued run-games (See; Ezekiel Elliott), sieve-like defense (prevent) and corresponding scoreboard tilt, kickers in football have generally been treated by most fans as chopped liver: Not a salivator but good for the mind and body.

One man’s punter whipping-boy can be another’s perfect athlete. That’s the case for NFL kickers when they sail off USA shore to the other side of the pond.

Here’s what the Browns injury-sidelined, perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas had to say in observation of the Twickenham Stadium crowd while in attendance of last Sunday’s Pond East contest (and loss) against the Vikings, with Wembley Stadium serving as the other NFL London venue:

“The English sure seem to enjoy the kicking plays, the biggest applause seem to be these punts (USAToday – sports, 10.30.17 (@ JoeThomas73 on Twitter))!”

In actuality, this would be more of a return to paradise than a first find, as the kicking game was, in football’s early years, one of its most valued aspects.

Names like Pat O’Dea (UW 1898-99 (CFHOF 62)) and Jim Thorpe (Carlisle 1910-12 (CFHOF 51)) made national headlines with their famous footwork, long before Walter Camp turned the forward pass into a gridiron strategy staple.

The English (rugby) and the Mexican (fútbol – soccor) can teach us Yankees a new perspective, a broader appreciation for all the aspects of our own game. Because as every NFL fan knows, the kicking game, with all its memorable moments both good and bad can, when you least expect it, prove decisive.

And that’s the way we want to keep it. ¡Sí cómo no!

NFL17 Cherry Picks W9

Cincy @ Jaguars: 11.5 CBS 1:00: Jackson
LosAngeles @ NewYork: Fox 1:00: Giants
Atlanta @ Carolina: Fox 1:00: F-Birds
Baltimore @ Tennessee: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Arizona @ SanFrancisco: Fox 4:05: 49ers
KansasCity @ Cowboys: CBS 4:25: Dallas
Raiders @ Dolphins: NBC 8:30: Oakland
Detroit @ Packers: 11.6 Disney 8:30: Lions

Record: 34 – 23

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; mini-skirted-legs, wc.cca, S/E-England, 1972, IXIA; J.Thomas, D.Whitner, E.Drost, 4.14.15, wc; Cherries-ripe, wc, 6.24.07, Chirak; mini-skirted-lady, wc, 8.5.70, PiccadillyCircus, JaneArt
Posted: 11.3.17 @ 11:29pE; Copyright © 2017

MLB17 Chin-Music: Dodgers Drought Ends As Cubs Quench-Quest Begins Anew

24 Oct

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs NLCS proved something beyond the fact the best National League ball-club in MLB17 calls Chavez Ravine their home. It also proved that the post-season is a whole ‘nother ball-game where ANYTHING can happen and often does.

— — —

The post-script on the defending champ Chicago Cubs 2017 has seen them take the first step in starting another Championship drought, one they surely hope won’t come close to their last (1908 – 2016) which spanned five wars, nineteen Presidents and fifteen Ken Burns PBS series. Monopoly’s definitely in vogue.

If you exclude the Bruins first six (6) MLB championships in the calculation (1876, 80-2, 85-6), termed ‘pennants’ by the sabrheaded scribbler set who are about as sporting as a DMV clerk late for lunch, and start figuring from the World Series opener in 1903, the Northsiders averaged about one fall classic every two years the first decade (1906-08, 10), every four (4) up to the end of WW2 (1918, 29, 32, 35, 38, 45).

It is post-War when the Cubs really began to thirst for a Series return, about seventy (70) years having elapsed before last season’s true pennant (When a team goes as far as it can go in the competition (1876 – 1902, pre-playoff League titles), THAT’S a championship!).

— — —

Ironic now in that NLCS opponents Chicago and Los Angeles played the series almost in complete opposite of their late season forms.

The Dodgers are playing like champions now, yet crawled to the regular season finish line, winning their West division by going 17-24 (1-16 from 8.16 – 9.11) down the stretch and bobbling a good opportunity post-Home Run Derby (87 – 34) to best the Bruins 1906 wins mark of 116 (104).

The Cubs meanwhile had been playing like anything but defending champs, standing under .500 on July 9th (43 – 45). But they found their rhythm and played with seriousness the rest of the way, finishing a respectable 92 – 70 to take the Central division flag and hold out good hope of winning the franchise their second set of back-to-back World Series championships (1907-08).

All of it pointing to the fact that once the playoffs begin, anything can happen and pre-playoff predictions are mostly filler for the 15,000 corporate junior journalist sport blogs that monopolize the intenet landscape.

The post-season is an Athletes in Wonderland where expections are like that grinning Cheshire cat, here one day, gone the next. The best clubs give kitty the boot to take charge and make destiny their own.

The Cubs future still looks to be a bright one, having most of the players, the manager and Cufflink crew to contend again. And even were the Dodgers to take this Series, there’s no National League club that looks all that imposing. Junior Circuit’s not exactly bursting at the seams with juggernauts, either.

Los Angeles ended their own World Series drought in making it back to the fall classic for the first time since 1988. And as so often happens, the topsy turvy nature of post-season play had Tommy Lasorda’s underdog team up-ending the muscle-bound Bash Brothers from Oakland, 4-1, emotionally spurred by legendary limping pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson who seemed to hold Roy Hobbs “Wonderboy” in his hands in homering late to win G1 and set the title tone.

— — —

The Dodgers ended their Pennant drought by easily dispatching with Chicago, 4-1, but can Los Angeles quench their thirst for another cup o’ championship bubbly (10), or will the spirited American League flag-wavers the Astros bring home their first World Series trophy that opens Tuesday nite in Houston “♫ where you better walk right (H.D. Stanton) ♫?”

Both clubs are spirited and driven by sense of community.

The Astros are “Houston Strong,” bearing a uniform patch in honor of the vicitms and devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, while the Dodgers have recently retired, long-time broadcaster Vin Scully, the above mentioned Kirk Gibson and the mission to reclaim the hearts of America’s largest metropolis (See; Angels, Rams & Chargers) as their mindful motivations.

Both managers in Dave Roberts (LAD) and A.J. Hinch (HOU) are fairly new at their respective helms, in their mid-40s and of like player pedigree. Hinch, however, has been indoctrinated into the sabrmetric school of thought (uniformed in Oakland for three seasons) while Roberts is more out of the baseball academy mold, i.e., enough with the numbers already, oy vey.

Both teams hit, field and pitch on most occasions, hence, the Pennants, but it is stalwart moundsmen in the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Astros wily veteran Verlander who will set the tone, be the bellwethers and ultimately decide the outcome, each likely to get two (2) starts if it goes seven.

Both Cy-clones have had their 2d season struggles and hope to etch better legacy onto all the hardware they’ve accumulated by-way of this October classic.

Verlander’s presently pitching in another stratosphere this post-season but in his two WS appearances, versus St.Louis (06) and then SF (12), he’s a combined 0-3 and an ERA (8.49) about as high as that aforementioned atmospheric layer.

Kershaw, though 2-0 this PS, still posts a 4.40 ERA on 17 game starts with a 6-7 W-L mark, both in opposite of stellar regular stats in .692 W%, 2.36 ERA and what managers-fans-&-mates always love, a spiffy 4-to-1 S/O-to-BB ratio.

Another player I plan to watch is Dodgers’ late-season pickup from the Metropolitans, veteran and former Verlander teammate in Detroit (WS 06), fleet of foot outfielder Curtis Granderson. Curtis has seen his best days as a Tiger and then Bronx Bomber but still plays strong, like a late-career Kenny Loften.

In his two World Series, the first with Justin versus the Cards in 2006, 2d with the Mets versus Kansas City, he, like Verlander, showed his youth in the earlier Classic (.095 / 1r) but had impact in the later, knocking in five (5) RBI, three (3) and six (6) runs (.250) in the losing effort against the champion Royals.

On that basis, and because I want to wrap this up, I’m tabbing LA in seven.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: LA-Dodgers-logo, wc.cca; C.Kershaw, wc, ArturoPardavilaIII, 5.20.15; C.Bellinger, wc, 9.21.17, Peetlesnumber1; Cheshire-Cat, AliceInWonderland, JohnTenniel, 1889, wc; D.Roberts, wc, 12.7.15, A.PardavilaIII; Canned-corn
Posted: 10.24.17 @ 1:13aE, edit @ 4:15p; Copyright © 2017

NFL17 Cherry Picks W7: Minus Rodgers, Packer-Backers Brace For Future Shock

21 Oct

For the Green Bay Packers and their frothy fandom, NFL 2017 has poured them a big brimming beverage of Future Shock to imbibe. Drink up, blessed ones.

But the title of their novel state reads different than the 1970 best-seller: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Football Without a Great Quarterback Under Center. It should fly off the shelves. Sure, Steve.

— — —

Future Shock was a non-ficition write penned by New Yorker Alvin Toffler (1928 – 2016). It was a well-received prediction on how change, through technologies and their profit-seeking managers, will become a constant in the lives of every person on the planet. It’s a prediction that’s proved fairly accurate.

Now the Pack are faced with the toughest change any team, any not sporting a defensive leader the likes of Bobby Wagner or Luke Kuechly, will face in a season: The loss of their offensive field general in Aaron Rodgers. A difference here: Most changes today are designed to optimize profits. This one wasn’t designed and definately won’t spur gains as Rodgers happens to be that rare, well-decorated four-star variety commander (five-star: Baugh, Graham, Clark, Layne, Van Brocklin, Starr, Namath, Griese, Jurgensen, Staubach, Unitas, Bradshaw, Montana, Brady, Aikman, Favre, Roethlisberger, Mannings).

— — —

The green & yellow stand at 4-2 in this still fairly early yet angstful NFL season, thank you, knee-jerks, tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North. The 2-time MVP Rodgers sustained a 2nd collarbone break in 3+ seasons (13) early in last week’s road contest versus the Vikings who currently hold the tie-breaker.

But this time the injury is a bit more troubling for Rodgers.

The Chico, California born and Cal-Berkely educated Rodgers is 3-years older than when he had the last CB-fracture, expecting then the heal process to be slightly slower and maybe less certain. The body ages, skin gets thinner and bones more brittle. We can slow the process, but it still ages. Worse is that the injury this time fissures on his better half, his right, throwing side.

The surgery is complete and it’s postulated the 2010 Super Bowl winner and Kaepernick fan will miss the rest of the 2017 season. But don’t be surprised if he makes a return before the regular slate finishes. That would be fine timing for GB because his Packers team will no doubt still be in the thick of it, having only to compete in the typically sad-sack North Division (1960s). That is, if his backup in 2d-year man out of UCLA (5R-2015), Brett Hundley (2g / 56C% / 1t-3i), can muster enough offense to help his team take 3-4 victories and make Rodgers’ task (making the post-season) that less daunting.

In 2013, Rodgers went down in W9 (v CHI). Under Matt Flynn the Packers played to 2-5-1. Upon Aaron’s return W17 versus those Bears, GB won the game to make the playoffs at 8-7-1 where they lost a nail-bitter at home to none other than the Harbaugh 49ers (20-23) and Kaepernick who, as he always did to GB in the post-season, passed poor (16-30) but ran wild (98y) to victory.

Any new signal-caller, especially in Green Bay where expectations run higher than the cholesteral count of a tailgating, beer-guzzling, cheese-inhaling, bratwurst hound on game-day, can use some serious help from his backfield. Maybe ‘use’ isn’t the right word: desperately needs the help of his backfield mates. Brett might have that in Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones.

Montgomery looked somewhat promising last season: On 77 attempts he scored 3 TDs with a spiffy 5.9 YPC. That average has come down in 2017 (3.2) but the Stanford man has only carried the pigskin around 10 times per contest. Some guys need regualr action to get it rolling and Ty may be one of those guys.

Rookie Jones (2017 – 5R – TX-EP) had a great game in Dallas where he gained 125 (6.8) and scored a touchdown (45-215y / 4.8 / 2t). But of couse, Aaron’s largely an unknown at this point in time. And promising is promising.

— — —

Since the early 1990s, the Green Bay Packers roadway to the championship has been one paved mostly with easy victories, MVP awards, a plethora of All-Pro selections, more Super Bowl trips than most NFL clubs (3) and lots o’ lots o’ friendly national press coverage for the green & yellow gang.

It began in 1991 with the arrival of one crafty General Manager in Ron Wolf (HOF15), he of the Oakland Raiders chamipionship ways. Wolf would secure the key components to Green Bay’s long-awaited post-Lombardi revival.

In 1992 Wolf persuaded 49ers assistant Mike Holmgren to take up residence in a place that’d become a graveyard for coaches ever since the Great One’s departure following the Pack’s victory over AFL Raiders in SB2 (68).

Then he pulled off the master-stroke, the deal that proved linchpin to the whole Green Bay renaissance and his eventual election to Canton when he snatched a rookie bench-warmer quarterback / party-animal with a rocket arm named Brett “Mississippi” Favre from Atlanta’s roster for one 1st-round draft pick.

In 1993, shoring up the Packers’ defense became Wolf’s focus as he enticed Philadelphia Eagles free-agent sack-master Reggie White to “boldly go where (fewer of his black race had been going) before,” Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After that group had won two NFC titles, Wolf retired and the torch was passed to Ted Thompson (2005) who “boldly (went) where no man had gone before” in drafting a 1R QB (Rodgers) to replace a still vibrant, iron-willed, Wisconsin demi-god in Favre, and show the future Hall-of-Famer the proverbial door.

— — —

In this run of success, Green Bay has returned to the Super Bowl three times, won an arm-load of NFC North trophies and muscled their way into becoming a Thanksgiving regular along with traditionals Detroit & Dallas. And while it’s fallen short of the Walsh – Seifert string and Cowboys title tally of the 90s, you wouldn’t know it by the cock-sure confidence most ‘Backers exude from every pore, every minute, everyday since the rebirth began.

But “the times they are a-changin.’”

The first collarbone crack heard ‘round Wisconsin in 2013 sidelined the master matriculator in W9 and the Packers nose-dove (0-3-1). Expect something similar this time around. It’s just a taste of something they haven’t had to stomach since the days of Lindy Infante‘s final campaign: mediocrity.

In fact, there’s a whole generation of Packerland folk who’ve never know the despair most the rest of NFL fandom experience with a certain regularity, who’ve never had their faith tested, week in, week out, year after year.

A great QB is a god-send. His ability to read D (fluid intellect), implement a plan, take hits in the pocket while possessing an innate ability to move the ball, all add up to wins and may mask what is otherwise an uninspired team.

Someday the Packers will be slumming, blue bloods without a great signal-caller, without even be a ‘can’t miss’ college draftee in their sights (See; 1970s-80s). But in the not-to-distant future, Mr. Rodgers will return and will win many more games. So if you’re a Packer-backer, just “relax.” Know that both of those futures will come to fruition and that a little humility goes a long way in preparation.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 7

Ravens @ Vikes: 10.22 CBS 1:00: Baltimore
Saints @ Green Bay: Fox 1:00: New Orleans
New York Jets @ Miami: Fox 1:00: Dolphins
Panthers @ Chicago: CBS 1:00: Bears
Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams: Fox 1:00: AZ
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Colts
Dallas @ San Francisco: Fox 4:05: Cowboys
Bengals @ Pittsburgh: CBS 4:25: Cincinnati
Seahawks @ New York Giants: CBS 4:25: Seattle
Falcons @ New England: NBC 8:30: Atlanta
Redskins @ Eagles: 10.23 Disney 8:30: DC

Record: 22 – 15

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; A.Rodgers, 12.30.12, Minneapolis, wc.cca, JoeBielawa, E.Griffen; Rodgers, M.Morbeck, wc,12.27.09, LambeauField; B.Favre, Dugan, wc,11.15.09, MN-NationalGuard; cherries, Hispalois, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain, wc; Jim-Otto, 1970, TCG
Posted: 10.20.17 @ 10:47pE; Copyright © 2017