Sunday, September 28, 2014

The FGR Week 4 NFL Picks

I spent Saturday watching the American Ryder Cup team and my kids' soccer teams sleepwalk to a series of uninspired defeats. You'd be amazed at the effect this has on your psyche as a parent but hey, at least I didn't lose my shit and go Lou Piniella like the opposing coach who was still yapping after he got run from the field by the ref who told him "you're embarrassing your kids." (I am not making this up). If my read on this clown is correct, he probably felt vindicated because his team won the game as he watched from the nearby playground where he was hiding behind a sliding board (again, not making this up). Not exactly a banner day for those of us who like to think of little league sports as something of a character building experience. Then again, the kids we're coaching are 10 and 11 years old so it's pretty cutthroat.

"You're goddamn right I'm going with
the Raiders and Jags this week!"
(Desperation, thy name is FGR).
And speaking of lackluster and uninspired, let's get some NFL picks on the board for Week 4.

Miami by 4.5 at Oakland: The Pick - Oakland
Chicago by 1 over Green Bay: The Pick - Packers
Houston by 3 over Buffalo: The Pick - Texans
Indianapolis by 7 over Tennessee: The Pick - Colts
Baltimore by 3 over Carolina: The Pick - Ravens
Detroit by 1 at N.Y. Jets: The Pick - Lions
Pittsburgh by 7.5 over Tampa Bay: The Pick - Bucs
San Diego by 13 over Jacksonville: The Pick - Jags
San Francisco by 4.5 over Philadelphia: The Pick - 49ers
Atlanta by 3 at Minnesota: The Pick - Falcons
New Orleans by 3 at Dallas: The Pick - Saints
New England by 3.5 at Kansas City: The Pick - Chiefs

Last Week: 8-8 . . . Season: 18-30.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Ryder Cup Preview: Match-Play Tips

The U.S. team is a longshot to win the Ryder Cup this weekend as they are not at full strength and will face a European team loaded with talent and experience. To make the climb a bit steeper, Captain Tom Watson decided to go with veteran Webb Simpson instead of a guy who has actually played well lately (like Chris Kirk or Ryan Palmer) but hey, how much difference could one suspect captain's pick make right Lanny Wadkins?* That, combined with the absences of Jason Dufner (injured) and Dustin Johnson (leave of absence . . . nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more)** who combined for six points in 2012, is why the Euros are pretty heavy favorites in a competition that is generally considered a toss-up because of all of the inherent variables.

That's the bad news for fans of the U.S. team. The good news is that the Fantasy Golf Report is here to help with ten rarely used match-play tips that could make a one or two hole difference in a match and ultimately bring the Cup back to the states where it hasn't spent any considerable length of time since it boarded the plane for Wales back in 2010. Feel free to use these if you have an important match of your own this weekend and if you don't care about little things like etiquette, your reputation and maintaining friendships.

Match Play Tips

    USA . . . USA . . . USA!!!
  • Early in the match, ask your opponent to tend the flagstick on a 3 foot putt. Then smash it into his shin, say “your hole” and walk off the green.
  • When playing in a fourball match, stand behind your partner’s ball before every tee shot and plumb bob for about ten seconds. Then tell him it’s a cup-out on the left.
  • When playing on greens that are faster than you are accustomed to, put a booger on your ball to take off a little pace. When you make a long putt, ask your opponent to take the ball out of the hole and when he notes that there is a booger on the ball tell him not to take it off because it’s your last one.
  • Yell "FORE!!!!" on every shot your opponent hits no matter where it goes. When he looks at you sideways, shrug your shoulders and say, "safety first right?"
  • Ask your opponent if he likes Mexican food. Regardless of his answer, tell him just the two of you should go out sometime for some Mexican food because your wife hates it and then emphasize that "IT WILL JUST BE THE TWO OF US AND NO ONE ELSE CAN COME . . . UNDERSTAND?!?"
  • When walking down the first fairway, go as fast as you can until your opponent catches-up to you and then slow down, walk directly behind him and sing Mary Had a Little Lamb in Jack Nicklaus’ creepy high-pitched voice. When you get to the green, stop singing and declare, “man, I love that fucking song!"
  • Give your opponent a long putt for birdie on the first hole. After he picks it up, say “that was for bogey right?” When he corrects you, apologize and tell him that you've been a little distracted since the doctor told you it's probably Hepatitis.
  • Walk to the first tee with your jacket on backwards and then address the ball with your back to it while holding the club behind you. After attempting a couple of practice swings, comment that your grip doesn't feel right. Then take the jacket off, turn around and say, “ok, that feels better."
  • On the first tee, inform your opponent that you're terrible with names so you hope it's OK if you just call him "Ricky" all day. Then proceed to announce everything you're about to do and end it with "Ricky." I'm going to cut a five iron here Ricky." "I'm going to putt this instead of chip it because a bad putt is better than a bad chip . . . am I right or am I right Ricky?" "I'm going to lag this putt for bogey because you already made double (pause) . . . Ricky." Note: If your opponent's name is really "Ricky" then substitute "Donny."
  • Tell your opponent he looks just like your uncle who was eaten by a shark. Once per hole, stare at him and say, “it’s uncanny.” 

Oh man . . . I didn't
see that coming.
* In 1995, Captain Lanny Wadkins decided to pick his buddy Curtis Strange for the team despite the fact that Strange would finish 49th on the money list that season and hadn't won a tournament in six years. In Lanny's defense, it's not like he had a lot of other viable options unless you count Billy Mayfair (2nd on the money list with 2 wins in '95), Lee Janzen (3rd on the money list with 3 wins), Jim Gallagher, Jr. (8th on the money list with 2 wins) and Mark O'Meara (10th on the money list with 2 wins). Strange would go 0-3 including a bogey, bogey, bogey finish against Nick Faldo in the singles to lose on 18. The U.S. lost the Cup that year 14.5 to 13.5. So no pressure Webb.   

** The last time Johnson took a "leave of absence," it was because he injured himself while lifting a jet ski. In an unrelated story, I now refer to smoking marijuana as "lifting the jet ski."

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The FGR Thursday Night Pick

I have to take a few more swings at ESPN's handling of the Ray Rice story* before moving on to arguably the most entertaining biennial sports weekend we have (Ryder Cup + NFL + College Football + MLB playoff races).** This morning, Outside the Lines "investigative" reporter Don Van Natta went on Mike & Mike to respond to the comments made by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti at his Monday afternoon press conference. In the space of five minutes, Van Natta asserted that (1) the Ravens failed to adequately investigate the matter at the time they first became aware of it and (2) he is an "investigative reporter" so it is and has been his job to uncover the facts in cases like this. I'm paraphrasing but not about the part where he labeled himself as an "investigative reporter." At this point I will simply offer a definition of hypocrisy which is "the practice of professing standards contrary to one's actual behavior" and move on.  

At no point did Mike Greenberg take a break from blowing smoke up Van Natta's ass for what a great job he did on the Outside the Lines report to ask him why he and his ESPN colleagues failed to break this story before TMZ released the elevator video. It was actually Mike Golic who asked the most relevant question which was "what exactly are the Ravens guilty of?" Van Natta responded that you can't really call it a cover-up (because it wasn't - law enforcement had all of the evidence) and then went on to say that the Ravens were guilty of failing to acknowledge how much they really knew about the brutal nature of the incident immediately after it occurred. In taking that position, he completely ignores the fact that all of the evidence the Ravens were receiving was based on hearsay whether it was from Ray Rice, the New Jersey police or another source.

What were they supposed to do? Call a press conference and announce that Ray Rice had punched his fiancee in the face knocking her unconscious despite the fact that they could not verify that version of the story? If they're wrong, they open themselves up to a defamation suit and destroy the credibility of management in the eyes of the players. You may say that those concerns should be secondary to adequately punishing Rice for what he did and you would be right but, before you can do that, you have to know, with near certainty, what actually occurred and that did not happen until the elevator video was released. (I dealt with whether the Ravens should have seen that video here). And in the end, Rice has been punished as severely as possible by the team (he was cut) and the league (suspended indefinitely) so I'm not exactly sure what Van Natta and his brethren are pushing for at this point. I assume they want to see someone fired in which case we have a name for what they are doing. It's called a "witch hunt."

And with that, I'm done with this topic. It's time to lighten-up and get back to the FGR business of doling-out bad gambling advice and 25 year old movie recommendations. With that being said, I'm 3-0 on the Thursday night picks so I got that going for me . . .
Washington by 3 over N.Y. Giants: The Pick - Redskins

"Go team with the name that
purports to celebrate Native
Americans . . . or something."
A Reskins fan walked into my office yesterday beaming with pride and using the words "Super Bowl" with a straight face despite the fact that they had just lost to go 1-2 with their only win coming over arguably the worst team in the league (outside of Tampa). But that's why we love them right? Unbridled optimism in the face of glaring mediocrity and blind loyalty to their brand (cue up the South Park commercial). Lucky for them this week they're actually facing a team more mediocre than they are and the game is at home where their rabidly misguided fans will be hoping against hope at full volume. That plus some steady play from Kirk Cousins should be enough to make the difference.

* You may have noticed by now that I have a hard time letting things go. I have yet to figure-out whether it's a gift or a curse but I'm leaning towards the latter.

** By the way, the Kansas City Royals are involved and they haven't made the playoffs since 1985. To put that in perspective, here are some movies from that year: Back to the Future (the first one), Spies Like Us, Fletch (big year for Chevy Chase), Better Off Dead and Weird Science ("how about a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray"). So if you're a Red Sox fan and you're dabbling with the notion of not being an asshole for a few weeks, root for the Royals. You'll be amazed at how it makes you feel.  

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The FGR Week 3 NFL Picks

I'm afraid the NFL picks are going to get short shrift again this week as I blew all of my creative capital on the Bloviating Half-People effort. (And I'm not backing-off one word of that in light of the "new" evidence revealed in the ESPN Outside the Lines report . . . what a freakin' witch hunt). In an effort to generate some positive karma this Sunday and maybe bust me out of this epic funk, I'm going to swim a little more than the equivalent of three football fields (or roughly 1/36th of what Diana Nyad did) in a river to raise money for cancer research. Actually, I already raised the money so now it's just a matter of finishing the swim so I don't look like a jack-ass . . . or more of a jack-ass as the case may be.    

Diana Nyad isn't really FGR material
but fortunately, Ms. Upton was nice
enough to step-in on her behalf.
Buffalo by 2.5 over San Diego: The Pick - Chargers
Dallas by 1 at St. Louis: The Pick - Cowboys
Philadelphia by 6.5 over Washington: The Pick - Eagles
Houston by 2 over N.Y. Giants: The Pick - Giants
New Orleans by 10 over Minnesota: The Pick - Saints
Cincinnati by 7 over Tennessee: The Pick - Bengals
Baltimore by 1.5 over Cleveland: The Pick - Ravens
Detroit by 2.5 over Green Bay: The Pick - Packers
Indianapolis by 7 over Jacksonville: The Pick - Colts
New England by 14 over Oakland: The Pick - Patriots
San Francisco by 3 at Arizona: The Pick - 49ers
Seattle by 5 over Denver: The Pick - Seahawks
Miami by 4 over Kansas City: a The Pick - Dolphins
Carolina by 3.5 over Pittsburgh: The Pick - Panthers 
N.Y. Jets by 3 over Chicago: The Pick - Bears

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bloviating Half-People

ESPN offers a product called ESPN Insider which it markets thusly: "Only ESPN Insider gives you access to the exclusive analysis and insights, latest rumors, breaking recruiting news, blah blah freakin' blah." (I added that last part). The theory behind the name "Insider" is presumably that ESPN employs people who, thanks to their connections, resources, past occupations, etc., have access to information the rest of us don't like trade rumors, scouting reports and injury news. It's just like inside information for stock market investors except that (a) it's for sports, (b) it's legal and (c) it's relatively useless.

So if you want to know what unknown quarterback is rocketing up NFL teams' draft boards in April, then you better be an ESPN Insider to gain the benefit of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay's insight. If you find yourself wondering where your favorite NBA team fits into the league's hierarchy after all of the off-season transactions, then ESPN Insider is the place to go. And if you want to know what really happened in the casino elevator between Ray Rice and his fiancee back in February, then ESPN Insider is there for you . . . just as soon as TMZ releases the videotape.

Wait what? How did that happen? What in the hell have Sal, Mort and Schefty been doing for the last six months? Where were Jeremy Schapp, Ed Werder and Bob Holtzman? Shelley Smith? John Clayton? Anyone? If this crew had been working at the Washington Post in the early 70's, the Watergate would still be just another random D.C. office building and we'd have missed-out on three years of jokes about Gerald Ford playing too much football without a helmet. (Yes, we used to joke about the president having football related concussions. Sorry).

Bloviating Half-People in their natural habitat.
When the videotape was released, ESPN did exactly what any news outlet would do after such a gross miscarriage of journalism. It had its cadre of bloviating half-people* take to the airwaves, website, Twitter and every other form of communication known to man and immediately start shredding the NFL and the Ravens for failing to do their jobs. As counterintuitive as that may seem, there really wasn't a group of people more qualified to identify gross incompetence at that point. Takes one to know one right?

What followed was hour upon hour of speculation because, after having blown the original story, a new one needed to be manufactured based on the questions of who knew what and when did they know it? There was still a Woodward and Bernstein moment out there and dammit, someone had to pay for the delayed justice that was meted out to Ray Rice even though he has not played a game since the incident occurred and he may never play another.** You see it's not really about justice anymore, it's about justice per the shifting moral codes of the bloviating half-people who really have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to criminal investigations, dealing with employees or, for that matter, having a job that amounts to anything more than watching other people do their jobs and then talking or writing about it. We know this to be true because so often their comments are prefaced with a disclaimer like, "I'm not a lawyer" or "I'm not sure how this process works" or "what we should probably do is get someone in here who deals with these issues everyday" and then they blindly opine anyway.

This approach to the Ray Rice story has grinded my gears more than most because I am a lawyer (the corporate type) and I do know how this process works and I deal with these issues everyday. I don't work with professional athletes but let's just say that 95% of my fellow employees are men who wear hard hats and not all of them sing in the church choir on Sunday. The company for which I work has enough employees to stock fourteen full NFL rosters so my sample size is roughly the same as about half of the players in the league at any given time. We deal with what I would call a Ray Rice level situation about once or twice a year but that is the extreme. When you have that many people bumping into the world on a daily basis, there are issues every week. For the purpose of this discussion, however, let's stick to how a major situation would be handled. Here's how it generally goes down:

1. You receive notice of the incident and your first priority is to make sure that the situation is defused. In Ray Rice's case, it occurred in the off-season and the legal authorities were involved from the outset so there wasn't much the Ravens or the NFL could do as far as initial damage control and, by damage control, I don't mean covering-up the story because not everything is a cover-up despite what we've been led to believe. By damage control, I mean getting in touch with Rice to make sure he doesn't do or say something to make the situation worse which is in everyone's best interest at that point except of course for the media.

Blovius Maximus
2. You start gathering as much information as possible - first by bringing Rice in and having him tell his story. Remember that Rice is the only one the Ravens have any control over in this situation and even that is limited by the terms of his contract, the collective bargaining agreement and the law. At this stage, you start formulating an idea of how you are going to handle this mess based on the evidence you have which amounts to a one-sided account from your employee and whatever information New Jersey law enforcement has provided which won't be much, if anything at all. You can ask for it all day but they have no obligation or incentive to give it to you.

3. You've probably gathered 90% of the evidence that you're going to get and the clock is ticking so you have to make a call. At this point, and I cannot stress this enough, the character and past performance of the employee in question is a major factor for a couple of reasons: (a) One of the byproducts of being a good person/employee is that you earn the benefit of the doubt when your character is called into question (note that you only get to play this card once); and (b) If you have any kind of teamwork oriented culture in your company, your first instinct is to back those employees who have demonstrated through performance, work ethic and their treatment of others that they are worthy of your support. Ray Rice had a history of being above and beyond a good citizen and a great teammate so I am fairly confident that the Ravens were inclined to treat this as a one time incident*** and stand behind him while he weathered the storm that he brought upon himself.    

4. You adjust your position based on newly discovered evidence but that does not mean that you continue to diligently investigate the matter and that's where the half-people have been shooting airballs for the better part of a week. Employers like the Baltimore Ravens investigate matters like the Rice incident to the fullest extent possible by considering all of the evidence within their reach. They do not, however, have subpoena power or any other magic wand to obtain all of the evidence they may want to see. Then they make a decision and move on unless something else is revealed to them. Should the NFL have done more to investigate considering it employs personnel who specialize in that line of work and part of its job is to protect the image of the league? Yes. Should the Ravens have done it? Maybe, but remember that the primary objective of the Ravens is to win football games (and of course make money) and to do that successfully, they needed to close the books on the Rice case and let the NFL and the legal system handle it. They weren't abdicating responsibility. They were putting it where it belonged, in the hands of the league and the New Jersey courts.

What people who pontificate for a living either forget or don't understand is that the primary objective of any business that sells goods, services and/or entertainment is not to make sure it is employing people cut from the highest moral fiber. The goal is to employ the people most qualified to produce those goods, services and/or entertainment. Look at it this way. If you need someone to fix the brakes on your Buick or hit the side of the right building with a wrecking ball, do you want the above average guy who pays his taxes on time and volunteers at the senior center every weekend or do you want the expert who happens to be late on his child support payments and was arrested for assault last year? Sometimes the choices just aren't that clear and you might have to veer from the righteous path to get the most qualified person for the job (see, for example, current on-air sports personalities such as Michael Irvin (drug possession), Charles Barkley (DUI) and Ray Lewis (obstruction of justice)).

"Please fire me and put
me out of my misery."
So to the half-people at ESPN and others of its ilk (I'm just picking on ESPN because it was one of their discussions on the matter that set me off), please spare us the moral outrage about how the Rice matter was handled and, while you're at it, stop calling for a new policy to be instituted every time someone slips through the cracks of the current policy. Do you know when the NFL punishment structure turned into a total joke? It was when they started trying to match the length suspensions to specific infractions instead of applying common sense and dealing with them on a case by case basis. That, plus Roger Goodell's seemingly complete detachment from reality**** is how Josh Gordon gets a season long suspension for smoking weed while Ray Rice only gets two games for knocking-out his fiancee and Greg Hardy suited-up for the Panthers in week one.

At the risk of sounding like Colonel Jessup, it must be nice to live in a world where the only way you can screw-up is to say something so offensive into a microphone that you offend an entire segment of society. Beyond that, you can pretty much say whatever you want whether it's right or wrong, accurate or not because ultimately it's just going to be bulldozed under another pile of opinions and that's fine when you're talking about Alabama's quarterback situation or whether the Orioles have enough starting pitching to win the World Series. But let's try to be a little more measured and prudent when talking about matters like domestic violence, child abuse and when misconduct rises to a level that a person's livelihood should be taken away. And while you're trying to save the world from all of the bad people with your microphones, please don't fool yourselves into thinking that you're helping. Talk is cheap when the stakes are this high and if talk is all you have to offer, then I think we're good. Thanks.      


* I don't know what to call the people ESPN puts on television because they're not really reporters, journalists or announcers so I'm just going to call them what they look and sound like most of the time as they sit behind desks shouting into microphones. . . bloviating half-people (bloviate: to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way). Man I miss the old ESPN that had some dignity and self-respect.

** Please do not interpret this as a defense of Ray Rice because there is no defense for what he did. The fact that anyone tried to conjure one up is beyond me.

*** To the best of my knowledge, we have no evidence that this was not a one time incident despite much speculation to the contrary. Again, I am not defending Rice who is getting what he deserves by way of suspension and public scorn but let's stick to the facts.

**** In addition to words and actions, another way to evaluate a person in a position of authority is to look at whether he or she is able to surround himself/herself with smart people and then listen to them. I get the sense that Goodell either doesn't listen to anyone or he has surrounded himself with people who think just like he does which is dangerous because it only serves to strengthen your convictions about making the wrong decision.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The FGR Thursday Night Pick

Ice skating, proofreading and making small talk. These are the only things I can think of off the top of my head that I am worse at than picking golfers and football teams right now. At 4:30 last Sunday, I was 0-8 for the day. I redeemed myself a little with the Texans and the Chiefs but then took two more hits on the night games bringing my record for the week to 3-13 and my record for the season to 10-22. After picking the Ravens over the Steelers to get back to 8-9, I wrote, "we can build on that." Who knew I was building a straw hut in the middle of tornado alley?

Atlanta by 6.5 over Tampa Bay: The Pick - Falcons

Wait, did I just lay 6.5 with
the Falcons' sieve defense?
OK, let's really think about this one and see if I can at least maintain my perfect Thursday night record (baby steps). The Falcons came back to beat the Saints in week one and then lost to the Bengals on the road and there is no shame in that. Meanwhile, the Bucs lost at home to the Panthers who were without Cam Newton and then lost at home to the Rams who were being quarterbacked by a 25 year old journeyman who had to walk-on at Southern Miss in 2007 and then was drafted in the 31st round in 2012 . . . by the Red Sox (he was not picked in the NFL draft). In the 2014 version of the NFL, all of that positive mojo for the Falcons should have BUCS BUCS BUCS flashing in my head but I just don't think they have enough offense. (If you've been paying attention, that should be a signal to start your Bucs in fantasy football).

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

The FGR's Week 2 NFL Picks

We're going to handle the NFL picks a bit differently this year. Some weeks there will be written nuggets to go along with each game but other weeks are going to be devoted to more substantial writing so the individual game analysis (to the extent you can all it "analysis") is going to suffer. This is going to be one of those weeks because I have a few things that I need to get off my chest about the Ray Rice situation. Look for that in the near future but, in the meantime, here are this week's picks. I actually recovered a bit from last Sunday's blood bath with a sweep on Monday and a Thursday night winner so I currently stand at 8-9. We can build on that.

Some key elements of the old format will
remain intact. I'm not dead inside (yet).
Carolina by 2.5 over Detroit: The Pick - Lions
Buffalo Pick 'em v. Miami: The Pick - Dolphins
Washington by 6 over Jacksonville: The Pick - Jaguars
Tennessee by 3.5 over Dallas: The Pick - Titans
Arizona by 2.5 at N.Y. Giants: The Pick - Giants
New England by 6 at Minnesota: The Pick - Vikings
New Orleans by 6.5 at Cleveland: The Pick - Saints
Cincinnati by 5.5 over Atlanta: The Pick - Falcons
Tampa Bay by 6 over St. Louis: The Pick - Bucs
Seattle by 6 at San Diego: The Pick - Seahawks
Houston by 3 at Oakland: The Pick - Texans
Green Bay by 8.5 over N.Y. Jets: The Pick - Packers
Denver by 12 over Kansas City: The Pick - Chiefs
San Francisco by 6.5 over Chicago: The Pick - 49ers
Indianapolis by 3 over Philadelphia: The Pick - Colts

Last Week's Record: 7-9