Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Fun Offensive Wrinkle

Bills Offsenive coordnantor  Nate Hackett has come under quite a bit of fire this year (and last for that matter) and mostly it has been justifiable because our offense has sucked. But, check out this cool play the Bills ran Sunday for a score: As described by Gregg Easterbrook in his always entertaining Tuesday Morning Quarterback column:  "Needing to shake up its dormant offense, Buffalo showed a wide-trips formation composed entirely of tight ends. Reaching third-and-goal at the 1, the Bills put six offensive linemen on field, then split 6-6, 330-pound tackle Chris Hairston, who reported eligible, out wide covered by a skinny cornerback. As New England pointed at the wide giant, Buffalo ran up the middle for a touchdown."

Although I was watching the game, I admittedly dosed off during this part of the game...which gives an idea of how exciting the contest (and the Bills offense throughout most of the season) was.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Eight Most Dissapointing Bills Losses in Recent Memory

I've been a Bills fan since 1974 I think, the day my grandmother took a 7-year-old Redskins fan into a western NY clothing store to buy me a football jersey. And do you think they had any Redskins shirts? No. This was the year after O.J. had gone for 2,003 and I came out of there with a brand new, sweet, royal, 32 jersey with Bills across the front. Thanks Grandma?

So, there have been a lot of disappointing Bills losses over the years, starting with that 1974 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And yes, I live in Erie, PA, so any Steelers (or Browns) loss hurts particularly. The Steelers used that '74 plaoff game to launch themselves to four Super Bowl titles in six years, while the Bills, well, two years later we were 2-12, and won one playoff game in the next 14 years. But then we had 1988 - a completely wonderful, kind of a surprise year when were went 12-4 and made the AFC championship game. That year was so satisfying, I'll push the reset button on disappointing losses up to that point. The list that follows is off the top of my head and includes game from 1988 on. (If you need specifics like score and dates, you're not a true Bills fan.)

8. Dallas Monday night loss - This one sucked because we blew it on a lost on-side kick (like the one we couldn't convert yesterday), it was at home, and it was in front of a national audience. On a personal note, I'm a Yankees fan and the Yanks lost a key playoff game to the Indians (remember I'm from Erie) that night - which I had the pleasure of watching simultaneously with the Bills loss.

7. Stevie Johnson's drop in the end zone vs. Steelers: Once again, I'm from Erie.

6. Yesterday's loss vs. Oakland: According to Grantland's Bill Barnwell, Bills only had like a 5% chance of making playoffs heading into the weekend and we still would have had to win at New England. But still, talk about a punch to the gut. So many things went wrong. Oakand, 2-12 coming into the game, ran all over and we couldn't run at all on them. Bills came out flat. It certainly brought to mind that atrocious game vs. Pittsburgh a few years back when we couldn't beat their third string...

5. Miami Playoff game w/ Flutie at QB: From what I remember we had several chances to convert a TD in the fourth quarter but couldn't get it done. Eric Moulds had more than 200 yards receiving and we lost. I also missed the first half of this one because, well, a guy in a Browns t-shirt (remember the Browns had no team at this time) showed up at my house at kickoff to show me how to use the incubator to combat my newborn son's slight case of jaundice. You can't make this shit up!

4. 1989 Browns Playoff Game: Once again the Erie thing.

3. Steelers Playoff Play-in fiasco: There were just so many things wrong with this game - as I said, it was similar to the Oakland game. Let's take the fans, for example. I seem to remember the announcer wondering how the Steelers fans could have let Bills fans get so many tickets for the game - before he was corrected and informed the game was actually in Buffalo - so the reverse was actually true, and even though we were playing for our playoff lives, well there were a lot of Steeler fans there. And we lost. To their third string. And Bledsoe was jettisoned, and J.P. Losman became our starter...One positive note, Steelers fans took pity on us after this one.

2. Giants Super Bowl: Wide right. Gag!

1. Titans - Music City Miracle: Vomit.

So, yesterday's loss was only like the 6th most disappointing Bills loss in the past 25 years. That's not so bad, is it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Say Bears Keep Cutler

So, now that the Bears have benched Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen, there is a lot of talk about the Bears trading Cutler, who still has, I believe, two guaranteed years left on his contract, for like $15M each, so they can't just cut him without killing their salary cap. There has been a lot of talk about Culter landing in Buffalo, and apparently Bills brass would prefer just about anybody to their current QB tandem of Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel. I've watched probably more than 90% of Bills' offensive snaps this year, and I can't say I disagree.

That said, my fear is that Cutler would be another Drew Bledsoe, a past-his-prime veteran that just can't get the Bills over the hump. Then again, the asking price for Cutler, at least initially, would seem to be considerably lower than the first round pick the Bills gave up for Bledsoe 10 years ago or so. Yeah, you still gotta pay him, but, from what I understand, the Bills have room under the cap.

That said, I don't think it will happen, because there is no way the Bears go into next season with Jimmy Clausen as their starting QB. And I don't think they will have a high enough draft pick to get either Winston or Mariotta, the only highly touted QB prospects in the upcoming draft. And the 2015 QB free agent class is not currently looking stellar - as a Bills fan I've thought about all this stuff a lot!

Personally, I think the Bears will fire their coach before they trade Cutler - as decent NFL starting QBs - which Cutler has been in the past mostly - are harder to find than mediocre head coaches. And if they do trade Cutler, it will be to the Jets - well, because they really are the perfect fit for him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Alexander Supertramp on Adventure

Came across this inspirational quote from Christopher McCandless from shortly before he left on his final ill-fated journey to Alaska. If you don't recognize the name, McCandless was the kid they made the movie "Into the Wild" about. He basically graduated from college cum laude, gave away all his possessions and lived like a hobo for a couple years before starving to death in Alaska. His body was found in an abandoned bus that people used for shelter.

Before it was a movie, Into the Wild was a book, written by Jon Krakauer, a writer for Outdoor magazine, who also wrote a well-known account of a disastrous trip to the summit of Mt Everest (of which he was a part), called Into Thin Air. I stumbled across Into the Wild while looking for a biography of Lawrence of Arabia that my friend Stan L. had recommended.

Here's a quote from a letter that McCandless (who had unofficially changed his name to Alex) wrote to a friend of his while he was preparing to embark on the what proved to be the final leg of his journey. "....will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy in life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon..." I think you get the point.



Monday, December 01, 2014

November Bills Update

Just realized I made it through November without a blog post. Maybe this had something to do with the end of the baseball season or just a general malaise regarding the Bills season. If you haven't been following offline, the Bills went 2-2 last month with two sloppy losses followed by two fairly impressive wins. We'll discount the Jets win, because we seem to have the Jets number (and they seem somewhat awful) but yesterday's 26-10 stomping of the Browns was somewhat impressive.

I read somewhere that the Bills allowed the Browns something like 8 yards on seven possessions during one stretch. The game really turned on two TDs scored by the Bills in the 3rd quarter. First, Kyle Orton hit Robert Woods with a long pas that set up our first score and made it 7-3 Bills. Then, on the next play from scrimmage, the irrepressible Jerry Hughes stripped a Browns running back of the ball, picked up the fumble and trotted into the end zone. With the way the Bills defense was playing that was basically all she wrote.

Bills finished with two sacks, two interceptions, and what should have been two fumble recoveries for TDs, if not for a bad call by Jermone Boger's crew on Johnny Manziel's second possession. But anyway.

As great as our D looked, it was somewhat disturbing that the Browns offense actually outgained our offense, and Kyle Orton threw two picks. I was not a huge fan of the change to Orton from E.J. Manuel, but that said, he's definitely been an upgrade. He brings a veteran presence to the field and he certainly seems more savvy that Manuel. That said, he's fairly immobile and really doesn't have the strongest arm. I don't think Manuel makes that throw to Woods that turns the game around yesterday - but it was still more of Woods' great catch than Orton's throw that made the play. That said (again), Orton at least attempted the throw and gave Woods a ball he could catch. I'm not sure Manuel could've/would've done that.

Of course, then again, how can you lose when you have this going on (picture from the Buffalo News)?

Next up, we are at the Broncos. It's really hard to see us winning that game, but if we get enough pressure on Manning with our front four, who knows? Basically, we need to go at least 3-1 coming home to make the playoffs and we are at Broncos and Patriots, at home vs. Green Bay, and at Oakland, so it's a tall order. Offense probably needs to come alive to make this happen. Not sure it is capable of that.

One final thought is that after the season the Bills should do what the early 80s  Bears did, when they fired their head coach but kept their defensive coordinator - Buddy Ryan (and then hired Mike Ditka as head coach). Now, I'm not so sure Jim Schwartz is Buddy Ryan, and the Bills defense was pretty good last year when Mike Pettine (current Browns head coach) was running it, but it certainly hasn't gotten any worse under Schwartz and we lost arguably our two best defensive players (Kiko Alonso [injury] and Jarius Byrd [free agency]).

I like head coach Doug Marrone's attitude, in that he knows that what the Bills are doing is not good enough, but really, the offense since he got here has pretty much been one misadventure after another. I won't get into details now, but suffice to day if he goes down it's going to be because of the offense, which we all thought was kinda supposed to be his specialty.

Man as a Disruptive Force

From Elizabeth Kolbert's fine book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History: "Before humans emerged on the scene, being large and slow to reproduce was a highly successful strategy, and outsized creatures dominated the planet. Then, in what amounts to a geologic instant, this strategy became a loser's game. And so it remains to today....Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it's not clear that he ever really did."

Which all of course leads to the question of where did man, this agent of change, come from?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Game 7: Bumgarner's Herocis and A Little on Gordon's Stopping at Third

About the only thing left to discuss after last nights win by the Giants in Game 7 is where Madison Bumgarner's World Series heroics put him the pantheon of greatness. Well, he is currently a legend, especially in San Francisco. For the record, he was the winning pitcher in three of the Giants four victories. He threw a complete game shutout in Game 5 and then came back with five scoreless relief innings to close out Game 7. Bumgarner threw 21 innings in all, gave up one earned run, nine hits, and one walk. His WHIP was .476.

So, that's an all-time great performance you say? It certainly is, but somewhat surprisingly to me at least, is that it is not unprecedented. In fact, SI's Cliff Corcoran (with valid reasons) ranks Bumgarner's series only 5th among all-time great World Series pitching performances. And he doesn't even mention Mickey Lolich's 1968 performance, which is the one that immediately came to mind for me - as it was the most recent and both Bumgarner and Lolich are lefties.

Upon further review Bob Gibson may be the best comparison. Gibson's 1967 performance is rated above Bumgarner's, and Gibson, like Bumgarner was great in multiple World Series. He went 7-2 with nine complete games and an ERA below 2. Bumgarner is currently 4-0 in 5 starts (and one memorable relief appearance) with a 0.25 ERA in three World Series. It's certainly good company to be mentioned with Gibson - probably better than Lolich.

It will be interesting to see how Bumgarner bounces back next year after throwing close to 270 innings this year (including last night's outing  [what, was it 70 pitches on 2 days rest?]), after never before topping out at more than 225 innings. The multiple-round postseason would seem to put a bit more variable stress on pitchers than when Gibson and Lolich were pitching - those guys went the distance every game in the Series but topped out at 27 extra innings per year. Bumgarner threw over 50 postseason innings this year.

Although, check this out - Lolich, who is not in the Hall of Fame, threw more than 300 innings four years in a row- topping out at 376 when Billy Martin was his manager in 1971. Of course, somewhere in that stretch he lost it. Let's assume the Giants are going to be smarter with Bumgarner.

Could Gordon have scored?
Other big question that came up last night was could Alex Gordon have scored on his hit in the bottom of the ninth that went past Giants' CF Gregor Blanco? Watching it live, it certainly seemed like a possibility - and with a hobbled Salvador Perez coming up next (not to mention the Royals reputation for aggressive baserunning), it crossed my mind that the Royals should have at least forced Giants to make a play at the plate. However, this article on Deadspin contradicts my theory and explains why Gordon would have been out by a mile.

Somewhere in my mind, I'm still skeptical. I think I need to see the Zapruder film on the play before I render my final judgement.

Great season and great series.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Game 7 Tonight

Royals send Jeremy Guthrie vs. Tim Hudson for the Giants in tonight's pitching match-up. It's a rematch of the Game 3 match-up, which saw the Royals prevail 3-2. I know that score makes it sound like a pitchers' duel, but Game 3 was the game where I saw the most good defensive plays in my life. There were like 20 Web-gem quality plays turned, the majority of them by the Royals. To his credit, Guthrie didn't walk anyone, he made the Giants hit the ball, and they hit him hard, but the Royals fielders kept making plays. Can they duplicate this feat in Game 7? I don't know, but they are regarded as a great fielding team.

I don't recall Hudson pitching very well in Game 3, but his stats don't look horrible. He did give up three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, but only four hits. Of course, that was enough, as the Royals legendary shutdown bullpen took over from there.

Couple variables in place today
  • Top three in Royals bullpen are well rested, so I wouldn't expect Guthrie to have to go more than five, which could be a very good thing. That said, Giants touched up Herrera and Davis in Game 5, and hit Finnegan hard in Game 4, so maybe some of the air of invincibility is gone out from the Royals bullpen - but, it's worth noting that the Royals were behind when Herrera and Davis entered in Game 5, a situation those pitchers are not used to being in, so maybe it affected their mentality. I fully expect them to be tougher if the Royals have the lead in Game 7 (and for Finnegan to be left on the bench - except for maybe to get a lefty batter) when they enter, but the Giants also now know they can be hit and scored on.
  • On the Giants side, the availability of Madison Bumgarner out of the pen would seem to change the dynamics a bit. With him there, when is too early to go to the pen? Do you let Hudson work twice through the order and then pull him - as that is when he got into trouble in Game 3? Of course, you want to stop a full-fledged disaster like the Giants ran into last night in the second inning, when Peavy clearly didn't have it. Royals are a good hitting team up and down the line-up and can put a hurtin' on a bad pitcher. If last night was Game 7, would Bochey have gone to Bumgarner in the second inning? Giants bullpen is also hurt a bit by Petit's looking mortal last night. KC solved him and now his mystique is gone. Such is the drama of a short series.
My prediction is that the Royals will win because of more better hitters and having a better bullpen.

Good luck to both teams.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bills Take Easy Win from Jets

Best thing about yesterday's game - it was over 50 seconds into the fourth quarter when the Bills went up 37-17, thanks mostly to the sixth Jet turnover of the day - and I could go outside and enjoy the rest of a beautiful afternoon  I hate to say that about a game where we stomped somebody and it probably should be a cause for celebration - but it really wasn't that exciting of a game. Most exciting play was the should've-been 89-yard TD pass to rookie sensation Sammy Watkins who decided he was going to start celebrating at the 10-yardline and got tackled from behind.

Some offensive stats from the game:
  • Bills had 12 first downs
  • Bills averaged 2.1 yards per carry on 32 rushing attempts
  • Kyle Orton dropped back to pass 21 times and was sacked 4 times.
  • Kyle Orton also threw 4 TD passes - and two long completions to Watkins
  • Bills had 15 drives, with 12 of them going 4 plays or less, and 7 plays being the longest drive
  • Bills scored 43 points
  • Jets had 6 turnovers, Bills had none
  • Geno Smith threw 3 interceptions on first eight passes, while completing 2 passes to Jets receivers
  • Michael Vick, called on to replace Smith after his atrocious start, fumbled 4 times, losing two of them.

Yes, this game was even uglier than last week's win over the Vikings, but maybe not as ugly as the win at the Lions. The Bills are certainly becoming masters as winning ugly, but there were some encouraging signs yesterday"
  • Watkins was a monster once again - only 3 catches, but for 150-plus yards, and should've been two TDs
  • Game plan seemed to work, both offensively an defensively. 
  • Offense wasn't very aggressive, but it was almost like once Bills realized how bad the Jets offensive was against our D, we just packed it in, played conservatively and it worked to the tune of 43 points
  • Defense had some trouble once Vick was inserted - to be fair I doubt they prepared for him - but seemed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime to keep him in the pocket and really render him ineffective after that. Hats off to Jim Schwartz
  • Rex Ryan should probably be fired after his team was embarrassed so badly at home, and I think Bills should take some credit for that.
Bye week next Sunday. Try and do some mid-season evaluation.

In the meantime, enjoy the World Series. Giants lead 3-2, but going to be a challenge to close it out. Going back to KC and starting two pitchers who were fairly ineffective vs. Royals first time around. Should be fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saulting a Past KC Sports Hero

After last night's San Francisco thrashing of the Royals in the opening game of the World Series Dr. D sent to a text asking where the great Amos Otis was when you need him. This launched a bit of a volley of names like Paul Splittorff and Dan Quisenberry who were part of some great Royals teams in the 70s and 80s - before their well-documented 20-plus year playoff drought.

This brought my mind around to other formerly great and someone obscure Kansas City sports stars of the past and one guy in particular, Ed Podolak:

I don't know what else to say about the ex-Chiefs running back that this picture can't. He played for the Chiefs for 9 years, '69-77, so he was there for my coming of age as a football fan. Problem was that while I remember him being regarded as good, I never really thought he was. He best year was probably 1973, one of my favorite years as it's when my sports memories basically start, as Ed had more than 1,100 yards from scrimmage that year and also returned punts. He finished his career with a strong season in 1977, but the problem was that Chiefs mostly sucked from 1973 through 1977, after being a powerhouse early in Podolak's career. So I remember him as like the best (at least the most focal) player on some pretty bad teams. Previous to that he had had a playoff game vs. Miami where he accounted for more than 300 total yards.

But look at him. Is it any wonder that if you Google his name, you get a link to a story titled "Is Ed Podolak the most underappreciated Iowa football icon?" Basically, he's a white halfback who wore number 14 in a day and age when the top halfbacks were the likes of O.J. Simpson, Franco Harris, and Walter Payton - all shifty fast black dudes with cool names who wore numbers in the '30s? Ed Podolak, well, there's this: 

That's right, check out that 'stache. I just want to finish by saying, that like the Iowa football program, Ed, I too, as a youngster ignorant to the nuances of the game, probably underappreciated your abilities on the football field. Nice work and great career.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bills-Vikings Recap; World Series Starts Tonight

Haven't had a chance to post lately. Been caught up with such things as educating my kids on Batman - both the TV Series, which is currently running on IFC and Frank Miller's origins story, trying to finish Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating David and Goliath book, and, of course, my day job.

I did, as usual find time to watch Sunday's game vs. Dr. D's Vikings, which the Bills famously pulled out 17-16 on a last-second TD pass to superstar Sammy Watkins. That TD was preceded by two other incredible completions, one on a 4th-and-20, while the Bills were rushing to get the play off to save time, and the other a 28-yard pass to the half-yard line to UFA Chris Hogan (from his Wikipedia page: "He played college football for one season at Monmouth after graduating from Penn State in 2010 on a lacrosse scholarship.), on the second-to-last play of the game to set up the TD.

Kyle Orton was very good on this last drive-after the Bills offense had struggled most of the game. One difference between Orton and E.J. Manuel is that Orton is much less afraid to take chances. And this certainly results in screw-ups, including a costly interception and fumble vs. the Vikings, but the upside is what happened on that last drive.

This on-target ESPN blog post kind of sums up my feelings about the state of the team right now.

 The win was sort of an inverse of the Lions win from a couple weeks back. While the Lions did a great job giving the Bills the opportunity to win that game, the Bills gave the Vikings every opportunity on Sunday with four costly turnovers. But in the end, I guess the Vikings didn't want the win bad enough - of course it helps to have Sammy Watkins on our side.

For the second out of three games, the rookie wideout dominated play when the Bills had the ball, finishing with 9 catches for 122 yards and two TDs. He did similar work against the Lions - after the Bills mysteriously threw to him only three times against the Patriots two weeks ago. Okay, former all-world corner Darrell Revis was covering Watkins- so maybe the game plan was not so mysterious - but as I had said previously, Stevie always had success vs. Revis, so why were we so scared of him? (Maybe cuz Marrone is only in his second year and Revis played for Tampa last year, so he missed all that Stevie success?)

Biggest pause in the Vikings game had to be our sloppy run defense. Even without the legendary AP, Vikings gashed us for 158 yards on 29 carries, averaging 5.4 a tote. Good thing Teddy Bridewater struggled to throw effectively, especially early on.

Also, World Series starts tonight in KC. Do you realize that the betting underdog has won every series so far in this year's postseason? That means Giants should take the Series.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Patriots Way Smarter than Bills

The Bills have now lost to the Patriots 6 times in a row and 21 out of the last 22 times the two teams have played over the last decade or so. Pretty incredible. Of course, during this time, the Patriots have had one coach and one quarterback. The Bills, by contrast, have had at least four coaches (depending if you count Perry Fewell, who was an interim) and started at least 7 quarterbacks, and probably more.

Here's an interesting article I came across that gives you an idea of why divisional games are often so weird and hard to predict. It's about the Eagles coming up with a method for countering a Giants scheme that the G-Men had come up with for attacking the Eagles inside zone blocking scheme. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that divisional rivals play each other so often that they invest a lot in strategies to beat each other. And the bottom line is that Brady and Belichick are better strategists that whoever the Bills are throwing at them.

Yesterday's game was a prime example. The score at halftime was 13-7, although it should have been 7-7 if not for some horrible in-game strategy by Bills coach Doug Marrone at the end of the half. And the Patriots' 7 was mostly the result of another bad Kyle Orton interception. In the first half, Brady completed 12-of-20 passes for just 88 yards. Our defense was doing really well.

Then, my friend Matt, who I'm watching the game with, utters the fateful worlds, "I wonder what kind of adjustments the Bills will make on halftime." After which, we look at each other and both laugh knowingly. "It's the Patriots who will likely make the proper adjustments," we said almost simultaneously.

Yes, we are both long-time Bills fans and Brady's second-half stats proved how correct we were. 15-of-17 for 273 yards and 3 TDs. Game over. Another loss for the Bills.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bills, and Baseball Champtionship Series Predictions

Quite a bit to catch up on. Had a very busy week at my day job, with a newsletter deadline that I completed earlier in the day. Hurrah!

Okay, so I was wrong on three out of my four Divisional Series predictions, which pretty  much shoots my credibility to hell after I went two-for-two in the Wild Card games. Funny thing about the Wild Card round is that all four of the lower-seeded teams won. Cards-Dodgers was riveting action and I expect the same out of Cards-Giants - two great teams with great fan bases. Orioles-Royals I'm not quite as excited about - although a business colleague/friend of mine from Baltimore called today to let me know one of his best friends, Boog Powell, is throwing out the first pitch in the opener, so that's pretty cool.

In the ALCS, I'm taking the Orioles, just because from what I've seen of them this year they have been awesome and I've seen less awesomeness (maybe it just has to do with volume - as the Orioles beat up on the Yankees pretty good) from the Royals. In the NLCS, I like the Cardinals. I really thought the Dodgers had a better squad, but the Cards totally found ways to beat them - who were also being very poorly managed (at least on a strategic level) by Donnie Baseball. Even though the Giants are great at finding ways to win too, I think the Cardinals have more talent  (plus they are great at to find ways to win), so that gives them the advantage.

Now, to the Bills who match up with their nemesis/rival Patriots who are coming off a stomping of Cincinnati. This is actually a pretty good match-up for the Bills, with their strong defensive line against the Patriots relatively weak o-line. Plus, against the Chiefs at least, the Patriots could not stop the run and that is our strong point. That said, they have Tom Brady playing quarterback and we have Kyle Orton.
I really want to pick the Bills in this one, because we're playing at home and are going to have an emotional lift with the new ownership presiding over its first game. Also, the Patriots aside from last week, have kind of sucked this year. That said, the Patriots offense looked really good against the Bengals, with several quick strike throws that - if they are able to complete those against the Bills and our mediocre secondary - will neutralize our rush, and we'll be sunk.

Also, I fully expect Belichick to come up with a defensive scheme that will put the game in Orton's hands, and with Revis set to cover Watkins, that may be a tough order. Then again, Stevie always had success against Revis, why can't Watkins? (Seriously, if you have thoughts on this please let me know and maybe I'll change my pick). I'm going to go for it and pick the Bills by a field goal - go Dan Carpenter!.

Also, the Bills-Pats game is being aired on Fox this week, as part of something called the "cross-flex plan," part of which is designed "to to bring potentially under-distributed games to wider audiences." This is great new for Bills fans in Erie, as WSEE/CBS is carrying the Browns-Steelers game at 1 p.m. (as well they should be based on rooting interests in the area). But, according to this map at least, Erie's Fox 66 will be carrying the Bills-Patriots game. Once again, Hurrah!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Playoff Predictions Update

Well, after call both wild card games right, I sure messed up on my ALDS predictions. Not only did the Tigers and Angels lose, they did so in spectacular fashion, getting swept, setting up an ALCS (championship series) match-up between the Royals and Orioles. that doesn't start until Friday. That will give us the rest of the week to focus on the NLDS series, although the Giants-Nats could be over tonight - going the way I predicted - with Giants up 2-0 and their ace, Madison Bumgarner, on the hill tonight.

Cards-Dodgers played two very tight first games, including Friday's epic opener, a 10-9 win comeback win by the Cards against NL presumptive CY Young award winner and potential MVP Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers came back with a one-run win on Saturday. Tonight we see Dodgers' Korean ace Hyun-jin Ryu (who is third in Dodgers' stacked rotation ) against Cardinals veteran John Lackey. Normally, I'd like Ryu, as he is one of my favorite pitchers, against the ex-Seawolves hurler (yes, Lackey spent part of the 2000 season in Erie, when he was Angels farmhand and we had the Angels Double AA affiliate), but Ryu has been hurt and hasn't pitched effectively in a while, so I really don't know what to expect, except for some more exciting baseball.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Thanks for the Win Lions

The old saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm fairly certain Bills' win today over the Lions was pretty enough for Doug  Marrone and his staff. I'll start out by saying that the Bills defense certainly played beautifully. I mean it gave up one offensive touchdown, 263 net yards, 13 first downs, had six sacks. (NFL.com recap). That said, Lions seemed lost on offense without Calvin Johnson, who was injured and not playing at 100% and then (to the Bills D's credit) got tatooed by Leodis McKelvin and was knocked out of the game completely after one short catch. Also, the Lions kicker, I don't remember his names except that I tweeted @RalphsGrill "Worst Kicker Ever," was 0-for-3 on field goals - and missing the last one put the Bills in field position to enable them to win the game in the final minute/seconds.

On offense, Watkins was a monster with 7 catches for 87 years, several being fairly good grabs with his apparently giant hands. He also, as is typical of his play, seemed to be open quite often. Freddie, was Freddie, with several tough outstanding plays. His will alone helps carry the team. Then there was Orton. To his credit, he wasn't as bad as I feared he would be. He got hit hard several times, but took only two sacks. Mainly he stood in the pocket and looked increasingly comfortable back there as the game went on. He's not prime Brett Favre, but he certainly throws the ball better than E.J. does. That spiral to Goodwin down the sideline to set up our TD and was probably the difference in the game - well, that and the Detroit kicker. Orton also at least gave Watkins a chance to catch several balls, by putting them in the vicinity of his body and letting him snare them.

Was this what Marrone had in mind when he decided to start Orton? Well, I'm sure somewhat, but really the Lions played horribly and allowed us to win. I guess Manuel could have screwed it up, but the win was kind of a gift. That said, Orton and the offense surely looked better in the second half, so maybe there is some hope.

Oh yes, and Dan Carpenter is great. (True story, you can believe it or not, but my kids are witnesses. Before Lions kicker attempted his ill fated final kick, I said, "Bills just won the game. He will miss, Orton will throw one pass to Watkins, we'll call time out and Carpenter will hit a 60-yarder." Almost exactly what happened. So, that was cool....) I did get my pregame prediction wrong and I'll gladly accept the L. Next week at home vs. the Patriots. I'll wait on my pick to see how the Pats fare tonight vs. Bengals.

Friday, October 03, 2014

N.L. Divisoinal Series Predictions

Okay, so neither of my A.L. predictions is off to a good start. We all knew the Orioles had a much better bullpen than the Tigers and that the Royals relievers were better than the Angels, and being a Yankees fan and recalling their great bullpens of the championship years, maybe I should have known better...We will see how these series play out and Kansas City may have been a little lucky yesterday (and luck may be part of their thing), but at this point, in short five game series, KC and Baltimore have obviously moved into the drivers' seats. Of course, it didn't help that the Angels 2-4 hitters, including Trout and Pujols, went 0-for-13, and Josh Hamilton threw up an 0-for a little further down in the order. Obviously still sticking with my original picks (as not to show gutlessness) but my streak of correctness on prognostications is clearly in jeopardy.

As for the N.L. Championship Series - tonight's Wainwright vs. Kershaw match-up promises to be a classic. A bit of an odd start time, at 6:37 p.m. Eastern, but schedule makers are dealing with a full-day of baseball- four playoff games, which could also happen Monday if no one is yet eliminated. This is a potentially delicious occurence, and I have half a mind to plant myself in front of the TV at noon and enjoy it all in high-def and stereo, but that likely won't happen as I do have a day job I need to attend to.

Anyhow, I would at least like to be in front of a TV for the Dodgers-Cardinals game. My pick for that series is the Dodgers, because I think they have a better team. Also, this is the second year of their having basically the same group of guys together and I think they will turn the tables on the Cardinals who have had a bit more turnover since knocking the Dodgers out of last year's playoffs in the NLCS.

On the other side of the bracket, I like the Giants over the Nationals, well, because they are the Giants. The last two times the Giants have been in the playoffs, 2010 and 2012, they have won the World Series. Not sure that is going to happen this year, but I at least think they can get by the Nats, who have tons of talent and had a great regular season, but I'm not sure have the grit of the Giants.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A.L. Divisional Series Picks

Giants sure made me look good yesterday, as the game played out pretty close to what I predicted. Unfortunately, for non-Giants fans, it just wasn't as close as I had expected. The Giants playoff experience shined through-with the whole team looking non-plussed while stomping the Pirates. Just another game for a team that has won two of the past four World Series.

On to prognostications for the A.L. Divisional Series, which begin tonight. I think it is going to be the Tigers over the Orioles and the Angels over the Royals. Basically, I'm going to the well once again and basing my picks on playoff experience. Tigers have been a fixture in the postseason over the past several years and were in the World Series as recently as two years ago vs. the Giants. Royals, well they just ended like a million year playoff drought.

While the Angels haven't been in the playoffs in a couple years, they have Albert Pujos and David Freese playing the corners - two gentlemen who were instrumental in the Cardinals World Championship in 2011 and I fully expect them to set the tone for the team. On top, of that the Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout making his first postseason appearance. Based on what we've seen out of Trout during his first three regular seasons, I have no reason to expect anything less than excellence in this series. Orioles are a great story, play with great fire, but Buck Showalter has never managed a team to a Major League postseason series victory and unfortunately (as I like rooting for the guy), I don't expect that to change this year vs. a Mike Socioscia-led squad that appears to have more horses. Somehow managed to bullocks that bit up.

I will save my N.L. Divisional picks for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Pirates. vs. Giants Prediction

So, maybe last night's Royals-A's game didn't quite play out the way I projected it to, but the bottom line is that I was right on yet another prediction, making me five-for-five since I started doing prognostications this fall. Ned Yost is crazy like a fox and I'll just leave it at that.

As for tonight, even though he finished the season really strong, I really don't see Edinson Volquez being able to stand up well enough against the Giants playoff experience. As much as I hate to say it, I like the other Bay Area team's chances against the homestanding Buccos. However, it should be a fun game, just like last night's.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How did we get here? Kyle Orton Now Bills Starting QB

Here's a timeline of the key events that have led to today's decision by the Bills to bench EJ Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton.
  • April 2011: Bills draft cornerback (now a safety) Aaron Williams one pick ahead of Andy Dalton and two picks ahead of Colin Kapaernick 
  • October 2011: Bills sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to a big contract - $24M in guaranteed money 
  • Nov. 2011: Fitzpatrick starts sucking
  • Sept. 2012: Bills trade for Tavaris Jackson
  • June 2103: Bills cut Tavaris Jackson
  • March 2013: Bills cut Fitzpatrick
  • Early April 2013:  Bills sign QB Kevin Kolb who has a history of concussion problems 
  • April 2013: Bills trade down in draft and then shock everyone by drafting E.J. Manuel from Florida State with the 16th pick in the draft.
  • Early Aug 2013: Kolb slips on a rubber mat while switching fields on during a training camp session  and misses time - enabling Manuel to get a leg up in starting QB competition
  • Late Aug 2013: Surprise! Kolb suffers a concussion and is eventually placed on IR, missing the whole season without ever playing a regular season snap for the Bills. 
  • Late Aug. 2013: Bills sign Matt Leinart who lasts five days and one preseason game before being released. 
  • Late Aug. 2013: Bills trade for Browns back-up Thad Lewis
  • Sept. 2013: By default, Manuel is made the Bills starter. Undrafted rookie FA Jeff Tuel is the back-up. (Yes, somebody apparently thought this was a good plan. For the record, I, for one, did not.)
  • Oct. 2013: With the Bills at 2-2 and beating the Cleveland Browns in a Thursday night game, Manuel gets injured and Tuel basically gives away the game. 
  • Oct. 2013: Thad Lewis is named the Bills starter and they go 1-2 over the next three weeks.
  • Oct. 2013: Bills sign Dennis Dixon 
  • Oct. 2013: Lewis is injured. Tuel gets a start and predictably is terrible as the Bills lose to the Chiefs despite outgaining them 470-210 yards.
  • Nov. 2013: Manuel starts 5 more games and isn't bad, except for a disastrous outing in Tampa Bay where he throws 4 interceptions and no TDs. 
  • Dec. 2013: Thad Lewis closes out the season to allow Manuel's knee to rest
  • July 2014: Bills enter camp with pecking order of Manuel, Lewis, Tuel, and Dixon.
  • July 2014: After appearing in four games in two years for the Cowboys, Kyle Orton is cut. Apparently, Orton had planned on retiring but then realized he would have had to give back some of his signing bonus money. Note: Because he was planning to retire Orton did not participate in Cowboys offseason workouts.
  • Aug. 2014: In an eerily familiar replay of the Lienart debacle, the Bills sign and release Jordon Palmer after a week, including an awful preseason outing, in which he threw three interceptions.
  • Aug. 2014: Bills sign Orton to league's largest back-up contract, release Tuel, and then re-sign Tuel to practice squad
  • Sept. 2014: Manuel gets off to shaky start; Bills at 2-2 name Orton the starter.

Royals, A's Pitching Match-Up: Who's the Big Game Pitcher?

Even though the Yankees aren't in the playoffs, I'm pretty stoked heading into the baseball postseason. I think, I've watched enough ball this year to be at least somewhat familiar with most of the teams that made it, and I think they are 10 very good teams. Indicative of this are a pair of intriguing pitching match-ups with the upcoming wild card games. On Tuesday, you have the A's and Royals squaring off, with Jon Lester for the A's opposing James Shields for the Royals. On Wed., it's Pirates vs. Giants with Edison Volquez for Bucs facing Madison Bumgarner for Giants.

Today let's focus on the Lester Shields match-up. Let's get this out of the way up front: For some reason, James Shields has earned the nickname "Big Game" James, obviously a homage to the great Laker forward James Worthy - who helped his team win like five championships. James Shields' teams have won zero championships, and his postseason numbers aren't even good. He's 2-4 with an ERA near 5 in 5 post season series.

In contrast, Lester, who the A's traded for midway through this year, at least in part for his stellar postseason work with the Red Soft last year, is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 8 series over the course of four years. Okay, so who's the big game pitcher here? Plus, Lester beat cancer.

Both pitchers had very solid, good regular seasons, but based on post-season histories, you'd have to go with Lester heading into tomorrow night's game-at least as far as the pitching match-up goes. But, there's also a lot of other stuff going on. Neither the A's or the Royals finished particularly strong. Especially so for the A's who had like the best record in baseball until they made the trade for Lester, which everyone thought was great - except for the wheels came off their offense, which despite what the stat heads will tell you almost certainly had something to do with giving up force-of-nature Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes. in the trade.

Plus, we've got got A's general manager Billy Beane's famous "My shit don't work in the playoffs" history going against him, although this team in particular seems to have been constructed strictly for a postseason run.

So, here's my prediction: Beane's shit continues to not work in the playoffs and the A's are one and done. I'm not saying Lester is going to pitch bad, but here's the twist I think we'll see - James Shields will actually pitch himself up to his nickname - and thus earn it after-the-fact of it being given to him. Does that make sense? Probably not, but either does baseball half the time.

Good luck to everyone involved in the postseason!

J.J. Watt Wrecks Bills

There's a reason this guy is like one of the highest paid defensive players ever. He murdered the Bills yesterday. He was in the backfield all day, and I think he read he had something like nine quarterback hits. So, Manuel was on his ass a lot yesterday, but not sure that is an excuse for how badly he played. He did of course, throw the 80-yard pick-six to Watt the turned the game around and pretty must cost the Bills the win. That was a great play by Watt, but we all know he does those things, and Manuel kind of lofted it right to him. Of course, Manuel pretty much lofts everything - his lack of a fastball is killing us.

Yesterday, Manuel was 21-of-44 with two costly interceptions. Ex-Bill Ryan Fitzpatrick was any better on the other side, but he didn't need to be, as the Texans defense was pretty much able to secure the win. Then there was that play late in the fourth quarter when the Bills defensive player, linebacker Keith Rivers got the blame from the TV announcers, didn't jump on the Texans WR and it cost the Bills probably two minutes of clock time because the Texans guy was able to roll for a first down. What was that?

That said, did it really matter? Bills were putting together a nice drive near end, until Manuel threw a jump ball in the wrong spot and it was game over. I said earlier in the season, we kind of know what Manuel is. He's a big guy who can throw long floaters - and seems like a good dude. Question remains, is that enough to win in the NFL? Didn't look like it yesterday. Maybe he will get better - or maybe he doesn't have the tools. Marrone seems to have faith in him.

Next week we are at the Lions. Don't know a lot about the Lions, except that they have strong defensive line. This should be enough to stop the Bills run game and send us to our third loss in a row.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finally, Bills-Chargers Review and Jeter

Sorry, got caught up on a road trip for work, to Birmingham, AL, and then some work-related writing and never got around to updating the blog with my weekly Bills review and update. Well, here it is: Bills sucked. Chargers tromped (yes, that's a word) them. I'll skip the details, but it was pretty much exactly how I projected it to play out. Bills secondary was overmatched by Rivers, and Manuel, well was just overmatched.

Coming out of the game, however, there is one question I'd like to see answered: Are the Bills that bad (the game was not as close as the 22-10 final indicated)? Or are the Chargers that good (they were after all coming off a victory over the World Champion Seahawks.) From the Bills' perspective I expect a lot to be answered this Sunday in Houston. Like the Bills, the Texans are 2-1 and coming off a bad loss. Of course the Texans are playing at home and have J.J. Watt. Then again, they also have Ryan Fitzpatrick.

I was really hoping this was going to be the week in which the Bills got some measure of revenge on Fitz for taking all that money from us and then mostly proceeding to stink - while actually playing pretty good before the contract. But that plan has been foiled I think by Fitzpatrick stinking up the joint last week vs. the Giants. Now the Texans truly know how bad he can be and will certainly take the game out of his hands. As a result, I think the Texans will win. And yes, I still think the Bills are headed for 5-11. Maybe a win this week will change my mind, but I've made my prediction and fully expect to go 4-0 on the season.

As for Jeter last night, that was remarkable. The way it ended reminded me of a Broadway play and the fact that the game was staged in New York made it seem all the more surreal. Congrats on a great career Mr. Jeter.

Oh yes, and how about ESPN suspending one of my favorite writers Bill Simmons for calling Roger Goodell a liar? What's up with that? Sounds like ESPN is pandering to, and being intimidated by the NFL - which is of course what Goodell wants it to. He's nothing but a bully and now ESPN has fallen prey to his tactics. I hope Simmons quits and starts his own gig.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ray Rice vs. Adrian Peterson

The fundamental difference in the two cases (as I see it):

If a year ago, you asked Ray Rice if knocking out his fiancee in an elevator was wrong, he would say, yes, it would be. If you asked A.P. if giving his kid a (albeit severer) "whuppin'" was wrong, he would have likely said "no."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Legend and Legacy of Cookie Gilchrist

 Goes something like this - Cookie was an oversized personality. According to his obit (he died in 2011), "When he was playing in the Canadian Football League in the 1950s, Gilchrist owned a company that installed industrial lighting and trumpeted it with trucks emblazoned “Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.”

Cookie also:
  • Was listed at 6'3", 250 lbs, and barely wore any pads when he played
  • Played fullback and kicker in this rookie season for the Bills and reportedly wanted to be paid two players' salaries because of this.
  • Also played on defense (as well as his two aforementioned positions) while playing in Canada. 
  • Was the first 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history and ran for more than 950 yards four years in a row
  • Reportedly took tons of speed when he played
  • Showered during halftime of games
  • In a division clinching win over the Patriots in 1964, he ran over a Patriots safety, then walked up to a defensive end and said "You're next." Every Bill in a 1964 highlight video I saw seems to recount this story.
Did Gilchrist like playing in Buffalo? I'm not sure. He reportedly compared it to slavery. He had been very happily playing for Toronto in the CFL, in a city he loved (apparently for its lack of racial prejudice), when the Bills purchased his contract. He clashed with Bills coach Lou Saban and was even kicked off the team once for insubordination (refusing to enter a game) but the players begged, and he apologized, and Cookie was let back on the team. However, at the end of 1964, the Bills traded him to the Broncos. It didn't help that he was known to bellyache about his salary, which turns out to have been pretty prophetic, seeing how the Bills were recently sold for $1.4B dollars - so Cookie in retrospect, was probably worth significantly more (in the long run) than he was being paid at the time. After all, he was one of the pillars on which the AFL was built.

Think about it. AFL owners each invested a  $25,000 franchise fee, plus expenses, to create teams that are now (some 50-plus years later) all apparently worth well over $1B. That's a great ROI.. And yes, television helped, but the players still had to put on a show, and Cookie was instrumental in that show.

I mean, how many leagues have since tried to emulate what the AFL did and force a merger with a more established league to gain all the benefits (including television contracts) associated with it? I think the AFL was by far the most successful at this - although the ABA and WHL certainly had some success - but football is football and I don't think any of the AFL franchises folded, like they did in those other rival leagues. There have even been two failed football leagues, the WFL and the USFL since the AFL-NFL merger.

Yes, Wilson took some risks and ponied up significant cash - he even loaned money to help keep other franchises afloat, so he deserves his returns, I guess. But, remember, guys like Cookie helped establish the AFL as a viable competitor to the NFL, which eventually forced the merger. According to one retrospective, "Cornerback Booker Edgerson, a former Bills teammate, said Gilchrist was 'just as good and maybe even better' than Jim Brown. 'He and Jim had the same outstanding abilities to play the game.’"

And Cookie had no easy row to hoe. After starring in high school in the Pittsburgh area, Cookie was reportedly told by Paul Brown to skip college and try out for the Browns. Unfortunately, 18-year-olds were not allowed to play in the NFL at the time (apparently this fact had escaped Brown) so Cookie was sent away with his college eligibility burned. That is how he ended up in Canada for several years prior to his being "bought"  by the Bills.

Gilchrist is somewhat notorious for being excluded from the Bills' Wall of Fame, apparently over his frequent contract disputes. But, based on the recent sale price of the Bills, I'm here to say Cookie was right! He clearly deserved more money, and now that the team has been sold from the ownership which had the dispute with him, please give the man his due honor! Ring him up!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Bills Win -Prognostications on Target

First of all I want to apologize to Dr. D, all Vikings fan, and perhaps to anyone associated with the Minnesota professional football club for my comment/prediction related to the Vikings stomping the Rams in Week 1. I merely said, "Of course, it is the Vikings, so I am sure you are holding your breath until some sort of disaster strikes. " Which was promptly followed by Adrian Peterson being suspended for child abuse and the Vikings getting stomped by the Patriots - who, in the Vikings defense I guess, were coming off a loss and apparently rarely lose immediately again after such an outcome. Either way, it was a bad day for the Vikes, and I feel I may have knowingly jinxed them in the same way I jinxed the Yankees last night by repeatedly saying how bad Kelly Johnson was, while at the same time telling my kids he would certainly turn around and do something to help the Orioles - which he indeed did with a walk-off double.

To further enhance my prognostic credibility, I will remind you that I correctly called the Dolphins a good match-up for the Bills, which they certainly seemed to be in an easy 29-10 win for the Buffaloes yesterday. We seem to have the 'Fins number and have now posted three wins in a row over them, including two relatively dominant home performances - and we really don't dominate games that often.

The one revelation yesterday for me was the sparkling play of Sammy Watkins. Don't get me wrong, I knew Watkins had the potential to be good - which is why I wasn't totally against the Bills seemingly ridiculous decision to pay a king's ransom to move up and draft him this year. From my standpoint, he was only one of a handful of for-sure impact players available, and the Bills weren't going to get one at number 9 - where they sat before maneuvering with the Browns to get to number 4, giving up next year's first round choice in the process. The only misgiving I had was that Watkins would be wasted because of QB E.J. Manuel's inability to throw.

Manuel didn't look great throwing the ball yesterday, and clearly missed an open Watkins on what should have been a TD in the first half, but Manuel was good enough, and he managed to connect with Watkins 8 times for 118 yards and a TD. And Watkins looked like he was open on almost every play as the game went along. He made it look easy - and that kind of stuff helps.

True test of how good the Bills are will be coming up at home Sunday vs. Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who are coming off a win over the World Champion Seahawks. Bills have the advantage of being in the Eastern time zone vs. a West Coast team, but I don't like a veteran heady QB like Rivers against the Bills relatively inexperienced secondary - although Corey Graham was great (he's not inexperienced) for the second week in a row vs. Miami. And although Bills did mostly shutdown Dolphins TE Charles Clay (7 catches, for a mere 31 yards), which was a nice change -maybe having LB Nigel Bradham back after 1 game suspension helped with that -  I'm a little wary (to say the least) about Kellen Winslow - I mean Antonio Gates - who burned the Seahawks for the 3 TDs yesterday.

So, Bills are playing at home, but as the weather should be nice, I'm not sure how much that will help. I'm not saying I know a whole lot about the Chargers, but have seen them play at least a couple times in last few years, and unfortunately, I like them to knock the Bills from the ranks of the unbeaten next Sunday. But, I'll still be cheering for Bills and hoping I get this prognostication wrong!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What 1973 Was Like

So, one of the running themes for this blog (at least a little while back) was my affinity for the year 1973, which is when my memory pretty much dates back to. I turned six that year and I remember O.J. rushing for 2,000 yards, the A's winning the World Series, Watergate, Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, and probably more. I really enjoyed the U.S. version of the TV series, Life on Mars, for example, which involved the main character being transported back to some version of 1973 - when he was also a little kid, but in this version he is also an adult.

Anyhow, something I wonder about is how my vision of the world and life has been shaped by coming of age in that seminal (for me at least) year. Well, here's an honest-to-God quote I came across in a book I am reading about the early-to-mid 1970s Texas Rangers baseball team. "The so-called hippie attitude was reaching its zenith in 1973 and, although the lens on my retrospective processes might be a trifle blurred, it seemed then tat almost everyone tended to agree that life was too short and therefore should be enjoyed to the maximum extent." (The author goes on to contrast that to the 90's attitude of fear and today says wellness is considered on par with godliness.)

I'm not sure, but I think that might say a lot about why I live life like I do.



Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Vikings Knock Off Rams, 34-6

The Minnesota Vikings got off to a good start on Sunday, defeating the St. Louis Rams by a score of 34-6. Head coach Mike Zimmer racked up his first win and Matt Cassel turned in a solid performance, going 17 of 25 for 170 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Cassel completed 68 percent of his passes for a near 7-yard average per attempt. He had a 113.8 quarterback rating. Former Packer wide-out Greg Jennings had six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson continues to look good for the Vikes. He lined up in the backfield and ran 67 yards for a touchdown. He led the team with 102 rushing yards. The Vikings totalled 186 rushing yards, with Adrian Peterson running for 75 yards. On defense, the Vikings had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and another that led directly to their first touchdown. Minnesota also had five sacks. Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, and Tom Johnson all played well on defense. Next up for the Vikes: New England.

Ray Rice, Donald Sterling & The Power of Video

I was at a conference last week where one of the topics was auto-understanding of video - and how we can use info captured from video to help complete transactions. For example, let's say you have something wrong with your car and instead of taking it to the mechanic, you are able to open up your hood, take a video of everything running, and have some sort of auto-analysis done that can determine what you need to do. You are then directed to Web sites where you can order the parts....This may be somewhat far fetched - but actual real world use cases include automatically analyzing face taken on video at airports for matches against dangerous persons databases.

The reason that transaction part of the equation is important is because I was at a document management conference, which mainly discusses better handling the documents used in transactions. It's my view that as smartphones and their cameras continue to improve, we will begin to rely more on their abilities, instead of documents, to complete transactions. Typing text into an app is one thing, but being able to take a picture or video and submit that is even easier and more powerful.

Why is that? Video is more powerful than words in today's society. Let's take the cases of Ray Rice and Donald Sterling. From this ESPN story on the Rice incident: "The source said that Rice admitted to the Ravens from the start that he was guilty of striking Janay and, for the most part, accurately described what they eventually saw on the video. But the brutality of the assault when seen on the security video made a different impression."

So, here's the deal:
  • Story comes out about Rice beating up girlfriend/fiancee. 
  • Rice gets suspended for two games.
  • People get up in arms and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stiffens NFL's domestic abuse policy
  • But nothing more happens to Rice
  • Video comes out showing what Rice admitted to
  • Rice's team (Baltimore Ravens) terminate his contract and league suspends him indefinitely
In my opinion this is very similar to what happened with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, when the tape came out with him making all those racist comments to his ex-girlfriend. As far back as 2006, Bomani Jones wrote this article for ESPN's now defunct Page 2, entitled "Sterling's Racism Should be News." Yet, in spite of this, big name athletes and Coach Doc Rivers signed with the Clippers. Then, they acted all surprised when the audio recording (sorry, no one uses tape anymore, do they?) came out this spring. Apparently, nobody in the mass market pays attention to print anymore!

Which brings me back to my point about multi-media being so much more powerful than text. Armed with today's and tomorrow smartphone and other computing equipment, I fully expect the upcoming generation to marginalize textual communication in favor of multi-media stuff. Although, quick quips and meta data will keep text alive as a complementary form of communication!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Bills Take Down Bears in OT

The Buffalo Bills pulled off what, to most experts at least, seemed like an improbably win yesterday in Chicago - on the opening Sunday of the NFL season. The Buffalo squad won 23-20 in OT, with the highlight of the game being this wonderful Fred Jackson stiff arm of overwhelmed Bears' white safety dude. That play set up the game winning field goal.

Otherwise, the Bills primarily took advantage of Bears mistakes - three turnovers to be specific, and a solid running attack - as well as some timely EJ Manuel completions to stay close. Defense wasn't bad, but it clearly missed The Legend in the middle of the field - especially on shorter pass plays. Manuel's accuracy seemed like a problem again, although he did complete 16-of-22 passes. To their credit - his receivers, in particular Mike Williams and Robert Woods that I can remember, made a couple of key leaping catches to keep drives alive. Manuel is a big dude and has decent pocket presence, but he seems to float the ball out there too much. I think he might not have confidence in his accuracy, so he is trying to aim the ball a bit too much. Luckily, it seems his receivers seem to have adjusted to high floaters, although Sammy Watkins was disturbingly quiet.

I don't know what this win means for the rest of the season. My first instinct says that the Bills will still go 5-11 and this was an early desperate win by a desperate team. I mean they had to be motivated by all the bad press they have been getting about the preseason and then, of course, you had the shouting match and the f-bombs exchanged between Head Coach Doug Marrone and some members of the Bills front office in practice last week leading up to the game. This kind of turmoil/tension can sometimes be a good thing and if used correctly can lead to an "us against the world/nobody believes in us" mentality that is great for fueling the fire of a football team.

Of course, I'm not sure how long using this type of motivation can last, especially, when you consider how little depth the Bills have. So, while it was a nice start, I'm not sure that level of play is sustainable. Plus, the Bears were a good match-up, with their suspect run defense, and Cutler's reputation for making untimely (Fitzpartick-esque) mistakes - which were both on display Sunday. (That, and the Bears didn't seem to be taking the Bills too seriously, as evidenced by Brandon Marshall's laughing after his early fumble.)

That said, next Sunday at home vs. the Dolphins doesn't seem like such a bad mach up either. My buddy Mike, who is a huge Dolphins fan, stopped by later in the afternoon to get a scouting report on the Bills. He said the Dolphins pass rush and running game dominated in their win over the Pats. For whatever reason, I'm not overly worried about the pass rush, although reportedly (even aside from Mike's opinion), it's pretty good. For some reason, I think Manual's size and calmness in the pocket will neutralize it's advantage. And I think our D-line backed up by Brandon Spikes is solid enough that we will hold up okay vs. the run. And if we can pressure Tannehill close to how we did last year...Also, our secondary, led by a solid game from free agent pick-up Corey Graham, looked pretty solid on Sunday.

So, maybe we can pick-up a second win, as long as we can run the ball with our trio of strong backs - Jackson, CJ Spiller, and new guy  Dennis Dixon. And that would put the Bills at 2-0, which would be a nice start and maybe bring me some more optimism. But, we will see.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Montero for Pineda Saga Continues

(Remember the '80s pseudo metal band SAGA and their hit song [Tonight I'm] On the Loose?) Anyhow, the whole Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade that the Yankees made with the Mariners a couple years ago, continues to play out with unexpected and bizarre consequences for everyone involved. Pineda, after missing all of last year with an arm injury (after reporting to camp overweight) has come on strong recently for the Yankees, but only after suffering a back injury which followed a suspension due to his reliance on pine-tar in cold weather games.

Despite Pineda's problems, it still looks like the Yankees got the better end of the deal, as Montero, a once ballyhooed power hitting prospect, has struggled mightily for the Mariners. Coincidentally, he also seems to have weight problems, which apparently led to a recent confrontation with a scout, involving Single A baseball and an ice cream sandwich.

Stories like this make you wonder if both these teams didn't realize these guys had issues before trading them and were laughing about sticking someone else with their problem. Well, the joke's on who now?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Amazing Night at the Uht

Yes, it was the last buck night of the season, and yes, we got pretty drunk, and no I didn't spend a lot of money to get pretty drunk, so that was all good. And it was beautiful out, and we watched the last 5 innings from the first row directly behind home plate...and the Seawolves, after giving up 7 runs in the top of the first inning, yes, Bowie's first nine hitters all reached base, the Seawolves came back to win 10-7. Amazing game.

Couple of notes:
  • Erie starter Wilsen Palacios got his 9th win of the season, despite giving up 7 earned runs in the first. He threw 101 pitches and came out after the fifth, by which time the Seawolves had scored 9 earned runs off the Bowie starter.
  • Dean Green and Stephen Moya, Erie's two best hitters, went a combined 7 for nine, with Moya mashing 3 doubles, and Green hitting a home run. Both are lefties. Moya now has 102 RBI in 127 games. Seems like a likely Sept. call up for the Tigers. His downside seems to be 152 strikeouts and only 20 walks. Not sure how that will play in the major leagues.
Oh, yes and Jim Kelly is being critical of the Bills quarterback play, and I really couldn't agree with him more. He echoes my thoughts the EJ is a bright and nice guy, and everyone seems to like him, but on the field, he is just not (yet?) getting the job done. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some Sympathy for O.J.

I know the man is a killer and all, and currently serving time for attempted armed robbery, but hear me out. (Also, if we can have a Stones' song called Sympathy for the Devil, can't we have a little sympathy for a man who is a human being - albeit a very flawed one, but therefore cannot possibly as completely evil as the devil?)

Anyhow, here's the O.J. legend has I understand it: He grew up in San Francisco and ran with a pretty rough crowd as a kid. After a childhood bout with Rickets that led some doctor to tell him he would always be handicapped, he grew into a physical stud and was a star running back in high school. His grades weren't great so he went to a junior college in Los Angeles, where he starred and made JC All-American. He was offered a scholarship to USC - one of the prime national football programs in the heart of Los Angeles, where once again he starred. So, now he's getting national attention, hobnobbing with movie and TV stars in LA, starting to dabble in acting - life is good.

Then he gets drafted by the Buffalo Bills. As you may know I'm a Bills fan, but was this really fair? I mean to take a guy from San Francisco, who went to college in LA and place him in Buffalo - on a terrible team - to start his career. No wonder he went crazy. In no other career but pro sports do you not get to pick the city you want to live and work in after going to college. Would OJ have been happier if he could have played for the LA Rams and stayed near Hollywood and acted part time? Absolutely.

I remember my grandfather, who lived in Dunkirk NY (down the road from Buffalo about a half hour or so) saying OJ couldn't wait to get out of Buffalo when the season ended and back to CA. At the time, (I was like 7) I thought he was a jerk. But now, having been around a bit, I can totally understand. Buffalo is nothing like Southern CA or San Fran. No wonder OJ wanted to get home.

And he was drafted in 1969, which is only a few years after the legendary Bills back Cookie Gilchrist had been complaining about racial prejudice in Buffalo after having played for several years in Toronto. And, as I said, the team stunk. Luckily Lou Saban, who had coached to Bills to some titles in the Gilchrist era, came back to town, recognized OJ's talent and built a team around him. So, from a career standpoint, OJ ended up having success, was loved in Buffalo, and even found time to do some acting in the offseason. But I'm sure this all put a good deal of stress on him that could have been alleviated if NFL rules had just allowed him to stay on the West Coast. I'm not saying all this made him a murderer, but I'm sure it didn't help....On the other hand, maybe if he had stayed in CA with all the crazies, he would have flipped sooner!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wild at Heart

So, last night, I watched the first part of this really entertaining film called Wild at Heart. This film was recommended to me way back when I was still in college I think. It came out in 1990, so this was certainly plausible. For whatever reason, I never had occasion to watch it, but saw it was being included on some cable channel as part of a Nicholas Cage retrospective, which was kind of fascinating in itself.

First off, Wild at Heart is directed by David Lynch. I have never really watched too much David Lynch, but his work is always being praised by people whose opinions I respect, including the great Charles Bukowksi, so it was probably time I gave something of his a full-fledged try. And Wild at Heart was definitely worth it. A lot of good energy, sex, music, sexual energy, sensual energies, one liners, style, etc. And Nick Cage really does a great job personifying all this.

Which brings me back to my thoughts on a Nick Cage retrospective. Valley Girl, which came out in 1983, was also part of that retrospective. That was Cage's first major role and turned into a cult classic, which we, as high schoolers at the time, loved. I'm sure I saw it more than once. I watched the second half of it the other night and it seemed kind of stupid, but Cage is certainly the strongest player in the movie.

Move forward seven years to Wild at Heart and he is really still bringing it, with the help of David Lynch of course. By that time he had also made Raising Arizona with the Coen Brothers, not to mention being the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola. So, Cage certainly had the opportunity to learn from some top notch and innovative directors.

He made some other mildly interesting flicks in the early 1990s, before really hitting a home run with the role of the drunk lead in Leaving Las Vegas, for which I believe he won the Best Actor Academy Award. As far as I'm concerned, it's been all downhill for him since. I think I've seen him in three entertaining movies since: Adaptation, Con Air, and Gone in 60 Seconds, but while they were all fun movies, Cage didn't have same energy be brought to his early flicks. What happened to it? Probably life just wore him down. I know he had a highly publicized bankruptcy and was said just to be making movies just to pay his bills for awhile. Cage's bankruptcy was always a bit confusing, because, as often happens in these cases I guess, you find yourself wondering how somebody that could be so good at something like acting (which you are assuming, perhaps incorrectly takes some intellectual ability) be so bad a managing their money.

Anyhow, I guess I'll just enjoy the rest of Wild at Heart and stop wondering about what happened to Nick Cage. At least he gave us a few good movies, which is more than most people can say.