Yes, I am entering the weekly opinionated article game. It coincides with the start of the NHL season, and combined with the MLB Playoffs underway and two levels of great football, October to me is the best month for sports. In this and future weekly articles, I will reflect upon the events of the past week, bringing up just about whatever I feel up bringing up. I’ve got a lot this week; chances are low my weekly articles are going to be this long in the future, but lets get to it.
The NHL’s Premiere plan
Let me preface this by saying that I am not much of a fan of globalization. I don’t like it when the NFL has regular season games in London, nor am I receptive of rumors that a future Super Bowl would be hosted in London. Baseball having its season start in Japan in the past may be a big thing for the Japanese, but its hard for baseball fans in America to celebrate baseball’s return as well if games occur very early in the morning. While I understand that globalizing a sport increases its popularity overseas and helps develop interest for hopeful future players for that sport, at the same time it alienates the fans back at the home base. Regular season games hosted overseas obviously takes away a home game for fans of at least one team, time zone differences make things difficult for people at home to watch the games on television and the concept of increased interest overseas is often lost on the American public.
The NHL’s Premiere series, something that has been in place for a few years now, is no different. This season they’ve increased the number of Premieres to three, and the matchups are not ones hardcore hockey fans would be salivating over. I mean, who really wants the first game of the NHL regular season to be between the Minnesota Wild and the Carolina Hurricanes? Understandably, the matchups were actually determined in a manner where each overseas region (which were in Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic) hosted teams with several players from that region. Of course, again the hometown hockey fan is alienated because the matchups aren’t ones that make you say “Wow! I want to watch that!”, though the Phoenix/Boston game was at least between two playoff teams from last season.
One good thing about the Premieres were that, on the East Coast anyway, multiple games started at noon or 3:00 PM, which combined with baseball playoffs made for great sport viewing days. Unfortunately, not every Premiere game is broadcasted nationally (even if you include the NHL Network, which in most cases in only found in premium cable/satellite packages), and people still like to claim they don’t have (or don’t know they have) Versus, the cable network of choice for the NHL still.
Overall though, like most globalization efforts, I’m sure the Premiere series garnered a lot of attention in those European countries, but hardly any attention was paid to it in America and I’m sure Canadian media gave it less attention than, say, the Maple Leafs’ opener.
The Mighty Leafs
Its not often you see the Toronto Maple Leafs start the season 2-0. In fact, its their first such start since 1999, and keep in mind that they were a strong playoff team in the first half of the decade. Phil Kessel, now ready to play a full season, already has two goals and Blackhawk castoff Kris Versteeg already has a goal as well. Jean-Sebastian Giguere has been strong in net early on, and the Leafs have killed all seven penalties they’ve had thus far.
Obviously, trying to project an 82 game season out of just two games is quite silly, and while Montreal and Ottawa were both playoff teams last season, they aren’t that strong and Toronto got them both at home. Still, its some good news fans in Toronto haven’t had in quite some time, and who knows, perhaps Toronto can keep it together long enough to make the playoffs for the first time in the post-lockout era, but they still have a lot of work to do before then.
Struggles of the Mighty
After just 5 weeks of play, there are zero undefeated teams left in the NFL. What’s more, only eight teams have just one loss, and four of those teams have already used up their bye weeks. Combine that with 10 teams with a 3-2 record (including the entire AFC South division), and what you have here is true parity. Well, okay maybe not, what with the Bills, Panthers and 49ers (!) still winless, but one thing is for sure: many highly touted teams are having a lot of struggles early in this season.
The Vikings have been inconsistent on offense. The Cowboys don’t run the ball enough. The Saints are riddled with injuries, especially to their backfield. The Packers have had more injuries to that, which now include their QB Aaron Rodgers. The Colts have had problems with their defense. The Chargers have no idea how to play football on the road. The 49ers have no idea how to play at all.
At the same time, there are many surprising teams in the fold. The Chiefs were the last team to lose thanks to a vastly improved defense and some playmakers on offense and special teams. The Steelers went 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger thanks to their defense and a strong run game. The Jacksonville Jaguars, tied with everyone else in the AFC South, have run the ball well enough to get themselves three wins. Oakland and St. Louis both have two hard-earned victories.
As such, one of the big storylines heading into the rest of the season will be how these surprises and disappointments will continue into November and December. With how the season has played thus far, who can even try to predict which teams will go where?
The Missouri Onside Assault
Both the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs attempted onside kicks to start their games. Both failed, however, and the two teams went on to suffer varying degrees of defeat.
However, you have two very winnable divisions in the AFC West and especially the NFC West. Kansas City holds a lead in the former, and although its safer to say San Diego will recover and make a run at the division than to say otherwise, Kansas City has been impressive nonetheless. How often does Peyton Manning not throw a single touchdown pass for an entire game? Its probably hard to find the instances, but Kansas City did just that this past Sunday, and while their defense finally broke when Mike Hart scored a decisive TD to secure a Colts victory, the Chiefs still have a lot to look forward too, and hopefully take advantage of an AFC West that is in massive flux.
The Rams got humbled pretty hard by the Detroit Lions of all teams. What’s more, Mark Clayton, a valuable receiver for Sam Bradford, got hurt and is out for the year. St. Louis has a few bright spots here and there. Steven Jackson is still a force in the backfield. Their defense hadn’t given up more than 16 points before Detroit came along, and Sam Bradford was having a nice rookie season until, again, Detroit showed up.
The NFC West is unquestionably the worst division in the NFL. The 49ers can not find a win at all, the Cardinals are having troubles at QB, though they put up 30 on the Saints without even scoring an offensive TD (the fumble recovery after Max Hall got annihilated doesn’t count as one), and the Seahawks are another one of those “good at home, terrible on the road” teams. With a few things going their way here and there, the Rams could actually make a run for the division – and a playoff spot.
Brett Favre’s Wacky Week
So, this was an odd week for one of the sport media’s favorite players to talk about. After the Vikings give up a third rounder to reunite with Randy Moss, suddenly scandal hits Brett Favre and hits him hard.
Reports from Deadspin (which I won’t be linking to because of indecent photographs of what is supposedly Favre, the likes of which I envy those who have not seen them) are that Favre sent photographs and suggestive text messages to a woman while he was still playing with the Jets back in 2008. Under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, it pretty much implies that if you aren’t morally perfect (or at least make sure nobody gets wind that you aren’t), then you’re gonna get in trouble. Brett Favre has not denied these allegations, and from the way he’s been acting since the news broke out, the story seems to be true.
One thing that stands out here is the bothersome timing. Why did it have to wait a full two years, until Brett Favre’s first game against the Jets for something scandalous which happened when he was a Jet? Why didn’t this happen mere days following the incident, or still much sooner than now? The timing really bothers me here, moreso than that really cheesy 500 TD graphic ESPN flashes for a good few seconds on Monday night which took up half a screen.
What will really be interesting here is what punishment, if any, Favre would receive here. People are comparing this to Ben Roethlisberger’s case in which he was initially suspended for six games before it got reduced to four games after being accused of rape for a second time. However, there is hardly a comparison here. Being accused of rape while not even being officially charged for it is not the same as sending some girl pictures of things some sports writers are better off not seeing. Ben’s was also a second-time offense, as he received no suspension when he was accused of rape the first time a few years ago. Now, if Favre ended up texting some other girl some ‘things’ in a different incident than there may be grounds for suspension, but as a first time offender Favre probably won’t miss any games. Though, if I’m wrong, how odd that after all of these years, after all of those consecutive starts, that such a streak would end not by injury or, tee hee, retirement, but by this.
Recently I looked up how the AL Central has fared in the playoffs since 2002, 2002 being the last time the Twins reached the ALCS (losing to the Angels). The White Sox have been in twice, winning the World Series once and being handled by the Rays another time. The Tigers have been in once, losing in the World Series. The Indians have been in once, losing in the ALCS to Boston after being up 3-1 in that series. The Royals, well, haven’t been in the playoffs during that span.
The Twins, however, have been in the playoffs five times since 2003. They lost in the ALDS to the Yankees in 03, and the same in 04. To shake things up, they got swept by Oakland in 2006, but went back to business as usual by being swept by the Yankees again in 2009 and now 2010.
In the NHL, the San Jose Sharks have now had many straight years of regular season dominance which would only be followed by massive playoff disappointment. In recent years, each disappointment would be followed by cries of change or, more extremely, a blow up of the team and to start from scratch. While the Twins probably shouldn’t need to start over, one has to wonder if a big change needs to happen, that with Ron Gardenhire the Twins can win in a terrible division but never actually do anything in the playoffs. That with Gardenhire the Twins have reached their limit, and that to break this limit the Twins need a new manager. I hear Joe Torre may or may not be available.
Yet, there are no such cries. Pretty much everyone agrees that the Twins are a model franchise: they do this, that, and this correct and they do everything ‘the right way’ from scouting to drafting to finances and all of these other things. While that all may be true, years of being absolutely worthless in the playoffs have to take a toll on a team. Sure, this season the Twins went into the playoffs without a healthy Joe Nathan or Justin Morneau, but they had those in 2009 and it was the same result. What more can this current rendition of the Minnesota Twins do? After awhile, doesn’t beating out the constantly disappointing Tigers and White Sox for division titles not do it anymore?
Philadelphia Pitchies and the San Francisco Giant, uh, pitchers
The Phillies are looking scary good after easily handling what was one of the best offenses in the NL in Cincinnati. Roy Halladay threw baseball’s second ever postseason no-hitter, Roy Oswalt was servicable, and Cole Hamels pitched a gem of a shutout himself on the road. The Giants, on the other hand, aren’t short on pitching themselves. Tim Lincecum is on fire right now, and Matt Cain can be just as dominant at times. Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner also had excellent starts on the road for the Giants. The Phillies have more pop in their bat than the Braves do, and the Giants aren’t really known for hitting, but expect a lot of low scoring pitching duels in their upcoming NLCS.
Farewell to a Great
Following that Game 4 loss to San Francisco, the fans and the Giants gave Braves manager Bobby Cox a final sendoff as the long time manager had managed his final game of baseball.
Cox and his Braves are best known for having won 14 straight division titles during the 90s and early 2000s, all of which cumulated in only one World Series title but multiple other World Series berths. With a pitching trio in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz the Braves dominated the National League for many years.
With their departures the Braves faded for a time, but this season many of their pieces both young and old came together and went on one strong run midway through the season which held together despite injury after injury and the Braves edged out for a Wild Card spot. Though more injuries and errors combined to end Atlanta’s playoff run, it was still a great ending to one of the great managerial runs any of us will likely ever see.
The Heisman Favorite Shuffle
One thing that is bothering me about this college football season is the constant shuffling of Heisman favorites just because they have one bad or even mediocre game. Jake Locker is a favorite going into the season, he has a bad game, suddenly its all about Andrew Luck. He struggles, now its about Denard Robinson. He threw three interceptions, so now its Mark Ingrim’s time, but wait he struggled too so now lets look at this kid from Nebraska, surely he won’t have even the tiniest of slip ups the rest of the way!
Its just a bunch of nonsense which exists because people can’t wait until even late October to actually bring the subject up. We’ll know who the Heisman favorite is when most of the games have been played, right now people are just making themselves look like indecisive oafs with all of this flip flopping.
Boise State and the SEC
So, Alabama lost on Saturday. The only teams left unbeaten in SEC are Lucky State University (LSU) and Auburn, who still have games against each other and Alabama on the schedule. Its very likely that your SEC Champion will have one loss, and its very possible for that champions to have two losses depending on how the SEC East turns out.
Meanwhile, Boise State is now in cruise mode in the WAC, having beat an underperforming Virginia Tech and Oregon State as their out of conference challenges. Nevada has made a name for themselves, though, and a game between Boise State and Nevada in Nevada may well decide not just the WAC but also the BCS now looms large.
Lets say. for the sake of argument, there is only two unbeaten teams left and Boise State is one of them after an impressive win at Nevada. The other is from a BCS conference such as the Big Ten or Pac Ten. However, the SEC Champion is a one-loss Alabama, Auburn, LSU or even South Carolina. Does Boise State get in ahead of any of them? They probably should, but even Alabama? Would voters give Alabama an edge based on their preseason ranking? These are the kind of nonsense scenarios that make up the BCS that people so hate, and while I think Boise State has gotten a bit full of itself, who’s going to stop them? Nevada maybe? The SEC certainly hopes so.
Quick News and Notes
Admittedly I don’t follow the NBA as well as I do the other leagues but I am aware of some things that happen in regards to it.
-The Heat are without Dwayne Wade for a couple of weeks due to a strained hamstring. Lucky for them its the preseason but still I am not looking forward to the overcoverage they are going to get once the regular season begins.
-Allen Iverson, after rumors of him playing in China fell flat, may very well end up playing in Turkey this season. A hard fall for someone who was once one of the NBA’s best shooters, but no NBA team dares to touch him now.
-FC Barcelona, a spanish team related to a soccer club of the same name, beat the NBA Champion Lakers last week, albeit one that is banged up probably apathetic to this whole preseason thing. Still, probably shouldn’t losing to european clubs there, NBA champion Lakers
A lengthy article this week, don’t expect future articles to be this long. Until next week…