Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fantasy Golf Preview: The Honda Classic

At one point on Wednesday during a weather delay of the Golf Channel's coverage of the Accenture Match Play, Kelly "The Cheese Fountain" Tilghman (God love her) was killing time as she always does by stringing together as many consecutive overly crafted comments as possible when she signed-off with "Father Time is negotiating with Mother Nature." I don't really have any idea what she was talking about but, running with her concept, Father Time must have just told Mother Nature that her jeans made her butt look fat because it was snowing so hard in Arizona that I thought I was watching a preview of the 2014 Super Bowl (BAM . . . suck on that Goodell). This latest weather intrusion meant that the PGA Tour had to cram 64 matches into four days instead of five which wouldn't have been a problem except that, with the compressed schedule, by the time we looked-up on Thursday, Tiger, Rory and the weekend TV ratings were gone.

Please tell me this is one of
those marketable wise-cracking
Irish guys like Darren Clarke.
I had a feeling there were going to be upsets early this year but I (along with just about everyone else) greatly underestimated that trend. There was a point in the second round when Bubba Watson went to extra holes against Jim Furyk battling to be the only player ranked in the top 10 to make it to the sweet sixteen. At that point, multiple executives at NBC Sports (which was handling most of the weekend coverage) were laying awake at night revising their resumes in their heads and mumbling the names of a potential final four that could have included Shane Lowry, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Tim Clark and Fredrik Jacobson. Can you say Spurs-Nets NBA Finals?

It didn't turn-out to be that bad as we ended-up with a final four that included about half of the best players in the world never to win a major.* In the end it was Matt Kuchar who continued to complete all of his prerequisites by adding a WGC title to the Players Championship he won last year. Based on those credentials, he may currently hold the dubious best player to never win a major title with a slim lead over the likes of Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Adam Scott.** The problem with Kuch is that last year's tie for 3rd at Augusta was his first top five in his last 15 majors so you wonder if that stage may be a bit too big for him like it has been for Donald, Scott and Johnson when they've been close. Remember that he also led the 2010 PGA Championship through two rounds before shooting 73-72 and dropping to a tie for tenth, only to be outdone by Nick Watney who shot 81 on Sunday to drop from a 3 shot lead to a tie for 18th in one of the most underrated collapses in golf history.***

But enough reminiscing. We've got a loaded field this week playing an entertaining course where Rory held-on to win last year despite Tiger's closing round 62. And don't forget about the "Bear Trap" comprised of holes 15-17 (actually you won't be able to forget about it as Dan Hicks will utter the words "Bear Trap" no less than 173 times and, just when his voice is about to give-out, they'll bring Jack Nicklaus into the booth to pound it into the ground. For the FGR's version on how the "Bear Trap" came to be named, click here). My theory is that Rory is still getting used to his new sticks so he gets a slight downgrade in favor of a couple guys who have been playing lights-out lately (if you exclud the Match Play aberration). If you want to hang-on to the big guns for Augusta and beyond, Freddy Jacobson is a solid choice because he's coming off of three straight top 10's and solid finishes at the last four Hondas.
Really no relevance here other than the
fact that I finally watched Ted last week.

The Overall Top Five

1. Charl Schwartzel
2. Justin Rose
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Tiger Woods
5. Fredrik Jacobson

The One and Done Top Five

1. Fredrik Jacobson
2. Graeme McDowell
3. Lee Westwood
4. Keegan Bradley
5. Rickie Fowler

Last Week's Report Card: C

Final Four: Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel and Ian Poulter.

OK, so three of my final four picks got knocked-out in the first round but for the first time all year my own one and done team has a faint pulse as I went with Poulter and he paid-off with a $500,000 4th place finish.*** I actually called McIlroy, Donald and Oosthuizen all being gone by the 3rd round but I didn't foresee the overall magnitude of the bloodbath. I mean how am I supposed to make picks in a golf world where Charles Howell, III goes birdie-birdie on 15 and 16 to closeout Tiger Woods in match play? I need Robin Williams to give me a hug and repeatedly assure me that it's not my fault.


* We forget that Jason Day finished tied for 2nd at the 2011 Masters and 2nd alone at the 2011 U.S. Open. This resulted in SOME people picking him ahead of Rory McIlroy last year in season long formats not knowing that he was basically going to take a year of maternity leave. Who knew there was a guy out there who plays golf for a living who wouldn't tell his wife in the middle of the third week, "honey, I really need to get back to work?" Even guy's featured on Dirty Jobs do that to get the hell out of the house for Chrissake.

"You know it's been twelve years
since I was the subject of a pop
culture reference. Thanks man." 
** Has there ever been a time with this many players who seem due to win a major. You can add the following players: Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood, Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, Steve Stricker and possibly Sergio Garcia in the lifetime non-achievement category. The bummer for those guys is that there are fourteen of them and not all of them are going to get one because there are also 13 major winners still playing well enough to be ranked in the top 30 and a whole new crop of fearless young studs like Russell Henley bursting onto the scene like Parker Stevenson in Stroker Ace. Somewhere, Colin Montgomerie is nodding ruefully.

*** No one remembers it because it was the same year that Dustin Johnson grounded his club in the sand on 18 and missed the playoff proving that "most painful to watch moments in golf history" trump "greatest collapses in golf history" on the historical significance scale. If you really want to be remembered, do both at the same time while also taking your shoes off and standing in a stream for a few minutes a la Jean van de Velde.

**** I had two picks and used the other one on Keegan Bradley. As if to absolutely convince me that I haven't shaken this 2013 curse yet, Bradley came into 18 one down against Marcus Fraser and promptly hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker. Fraser opened the door for him by blowing his second shot way right and then Bradley said "is that the best you got?" and hit a fat pitching wedge that landed in the middle of a desert bush 30 yards short of the green leading to his sixth bogey of the day. After everything Bradley has done for my fantasy golf concerns over the past two seasons, all I could think after that was "et tu, Keegan?"

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fantasy Golf Preview: The Match Play Bracket

It's going to be a light week for the FGR as I'm dealing with one of those times where you drop your guard and go all-in on the right hook just as life is connecting with an uppercut to the jaw. I did, however, find a few minutes to crank-out a match play bracket which features a dream final four made-up of two Ryder Cup all-stars and two guys who've been rock solid lately. It's a shame they couldn't haven't rigged it so Tiger and Poulter were on opposite sides of the bracket because that would have been an epic final but I'm taking the optimistic approach and hoping they at least meet in the semis.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fantasy Golf Preview: Northern Trust

"I have decreed that this year's champion
will be the Saskatchewan Roughriders."
I continue to grind my way through Part II of the Super Bowl Timeline but that of course is forcing me to re-watch the second half of the game which, for Ravens fans, is tantamount to sitting through back-to-back screenings of Caddyshack II. (If you haven't seen it, just trust me, it could be the worst movie ever made). I have to periodically pause it and remind myself that (a) the Ravens actually won and (b) the league can't come take the Lombardi Trophy back just because the Ravens lost the last 29 minutes and 49 seconds of the game* by a score of 25-6. (Then again, with Roger Goodell morphing into a modern day Colonel Walter Kurtz, you never know what kind of crazy shit the league office is going to pull).

Of course this is all just a distraction from the overwhelming pungent and putrid smell currently emanating from the tire fire that is my fantasy golf picks. The bad news is that three of the last four guys at the top of my "One and Done Top Five" have failed to cash a check. The good news is that I think I have found a pattern that is going to bust me out of this funk. The following is the list of players I have had ranked #2 on my "Overall Top Five" lists this season along with how they finished each tournament:

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Brandt Snedeker - 1st
Waste Management Phoenix Open: Nick Watney - T43rd
Farmers Insurance Open: Tiger Woods - 1st
Humana Challenge: Brandt Snedeker - T23rd
Sony Open: Ryan Moore - M/C
Hyundai TOC: Dustin Johnson - 1st

That's three winners out of six events and, if you remove the Ryan Moore pick (which I must have made after snacking on some random wild berries or licking a frog), then I would be five for five on cuts made. Fortunately, I made this week's lists before discovering the trend so that should mean that they are unspoiled by any subconscious desire I might have had to put my lousy first choice in the second slot thereby sabotaging my own cockamamie system.** To further enhance the mojo factor, I am putting the defending champion and arguably the safest pick in the #1 spot and then not picking him in my own league. Take that gambling gods you sons 'a bitches.

The Overall Top Five
No more screwing around.
The game face is on this week.
Hey, the game face is up here.

1. Bill Haas
2. Aaron Baddeley
3. Bubba Watson
4. Phil Mickelson
5. Adam Scott

The One and Done Top Five

1. Bill Haas
2. Aaron Baddeley
3. Bubba Watson
4. Webb Simpson
5. Matt Kuchar

Last Week's Report Card: D-

1. Dustin Johnson - M/C
2. Nick Watney - M/C
3. Hunter Mahan - T16
4. Jason Day - 6th
5. Ryan Palmer - M/C

The lesson we learned last week is that you never pick the guy playing with his new girlfriend's dad, especially when that dad also happens to be the undisputed best player ever at his sport. Gretzky probably spent all three rounds saying things to D.J. like, "you're never going to win a major putting like that" and "nice drive but you're no Tiger Woods." In my defense, as noted above, I did have Brandt Snedeker ranked second in "The Overall Top Five" but I'm holding him out for a major so if you (a) were not holding him out for a major and (b) recognized that my #1 pick has been the kiss of death lately, then I handed you the winner. You're welcome.


* Jacoby Jones covered 108 yards including a broken tackle in 11 seconds. The technical description of that as presented by ESPN Sports Science's John Brenkus is "fast as shit."

** So for this to continue to be effective, I need to somehow make my picks every week with the knowledge that the player I put in the #1 spot is not going to win even though he is the player I think is going to win. This is going to require some serious hypnosis, binge drinking or frog licking.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Super Bowl Timeline: Part I

If 200,000+ people in downtown Baltimore on a cold gray Tuesday afternoon is any indication, we're not quite ready to let this moment pass. Let's keep the party going with a purple stained Super Bowl timeline. We've got Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. Hopefully Nantz has gotten over Tom Brady not making it and the fact that the only time he's going to be calling Ray Lewis' name is at the end of 8 yard runs by Frank Gore. Sorry Jim, but this game is going to be decided by two quarterbacks who no one thought would be here and guys who do the dirty work like Dennis Pitta, Vernon Davis, Dannell Ellerbe and Navorro Bowman. It's the "We're Here . . . Who We Are is Unclear . . . Get Used to it!!!" Super Bowl.

Pregame: It's got to be a good omen when you have a Hall of Fame inductee at the coin toss right? Apparently it is as the Ravens win it, defer their choice to the second half and then immediately bolt for the sideline as referee Jerome Bogar tries to get them back for some more instruction. With that, Bogar sets the Super Bowl record for shortest amount of time it took to lose control of a game.

15:00 - Not the start the Ravens were looking for as Vernon Davis (who is going to be a nightmare for them to cover) makes a 20 yard catch and . . . wait, there's a flag for an illegal formation which becomes a net 25 yard penalty. Jim Harbaugh just snapped one of his molars in half.

Those are the ones. Do
they come in a 40" waist?
13:55 - We just got our first good look at Jim's pants. If there wasn't such a thing as "Mom Khakis" before, then there is now. He will now be known in the FGR as either "J.C. Penney" or "Coldwater Creek." Let's play around with it and see which one sticks.

12:59 - Joe Flacco checks-down to Vontae Leach for 8 yards. Three years ago he would have gotten to his second read and then bailed by drilling a cast member from NCIS: Los Angeles in the second row.

11:52 - The Ravens throw on first down again for a gain of 20. In Cam Cameron's defense, he used to try this same game plan but it often failed where it is clicking under Jim Caldwell. History tells us that is not a coincidence.*

10:47 - Flacco does a great job of avoiding the sack and throwing the ball away. Two months ago that would have been a strip sack scoring opportunity for the 49ers but what we are seeing now is the Flacco who scored on a 38 yard touchdown run in the first game of his NFL career seasoned with five years of experience and criticism. In the words of Vince Vaughn in Swingers, "our baby's all growns up."

10:42 - Another big penalty against the 49ers gives the Ravens a second shot on 3rd down. The Ravens and the 49ers are two of the most penalized teams in the league. So much for clean play being part of the recipe for success.

10:36 - Flacco hits Boldin for a 14 yard touchdown pass that looks strikingly familiar. I just watched it four times and, just like against the Patriots, it's not that Boldin isn't at least partially covered, it's that Flacco puts the ball right where it needs to be and Boldin just tears it out of the sky.

Did I miss the scene in Eyes Wide
where they take their masks
off and start playing quarters?
Commercial Break: The first commercial is for something called Budweiser Black Crown. The stupidity of the commercial is only outweighed by the stupidity of the product. First of all, a Budweiser isn't supposed to be "smooth and distinctive." It's supposed to be served in a giant plastic cup, taste like sandpaper when you start drinking it and then get worse from there. Secondly, I'm pretty sure that if parties with models dancing on long tables actually exist, no one there is drinking beer.

10:30 - Frank Gore gets stuffed on an inside run and we have our first scrap of the night. We're not even five minutes in and this game already has Ron Artest at the Palace potential.

8:15 - Colin Kaepernick runs straight-up the middle for 9 yards on 3rd and 2. That play never would have happened if Ray Lewis was still alive.

6:35 - Gore runs for another first down as the Niners are jamming it right down the Ravens' throats. It's almost enough to make me miss Tony Siragusa.

5:58 - Kaepernick to Davis moves the ball to the 8 yard line. The worst fears of all Ravens fans are being realized on this drive as the Niners are overpowering and out-quicking their defense. Gene Hackman needs to call a timeout and give the "maybe they were right about us!" speech.

4:26 - Kaepernick evades Terrell Suggs like he's not even there but then Ed Reed comes flying out of nowhere to get a shot on him as he releases the pass forcing it high to Crabtree. By my calculation, that's the 173rd big play of Reed's postseason career.

4:22 - Kruuuuuuugggggggeeeeeeer. The guy who will be standing right behind Flacco at the ATM this offseason makes a huge play blowing around the right tackle for the sack. The 49ers had three plays from the 8 yard line and ran it up the middle with Gore and then had Kaepernick drop straight back to pass twice. Man I hope that if the game is on the line in the 4th quarter, they run that same sequence.

"Damn you Ed Reed
and your unorthodox
zone blitz gambit!"
3:55 - They just showed Ed Reed jogging to the locker room which alarms everyone but Ravens fans who see this at least once per game. No one really knows what he does while he's in there but I'm pretty sure he plays on-line chess against Garry Kasparov while the offense is on the field so he doesn't get bored.

3:43 - Flacco drops from the 22 yard line all the way back to the 8 and then lobs an out pass to the 30 which is caught by Dennis Pitta. That throw was either really gutsy or really stupid but, considering the run that Flacco is on right now, we've got to go with gutsy right?

2:20 - Hey look, Ed Reed is back. Just a warning to the fans of his new team, you will have no idea what Ed is going to do or say next and I'm not sure he does either. Just go with it.

1:23 - The 49ers go with an all-out blitz on 3rd and 7 forcing Flacco to roll right and throw it away off his back foot. I literally say "damn" while the ball is in the air because I thought they had some momentum there but . . . HOLY CRAP . . . Boldin catches it for a 31 yard gain. That was absurd. At some point this season, someone for the Ravens clearly made the observation that throwing to Boldin when he is single-covered is always an option because one of two things is going to happen: (a) he's going to catch it or (b) he is going to perform some medieval act on the defensive back to make sure it's not intercepted.

0:17 - Phil Simms points-out that Chris Culliver commits a blatant illegal contact penalty on Torrey Smith that is not called. Keep that in mind for later. In an unrelated story, all of Culliver's teammates call him "Psycho."

0:12 - Flacco looks like the old Flacco as he somehow fails to sense that there is about a ton of humanity closing in around him and he gets swallowed-up by the defense. It was nice of the old Flacco to stop-by but hey . . . look at the time.

2nd Quarter

15:00 - The sack takes the Ravens out of field goal range so super reliable punter, Sam Koch, comes in and promptly boots it one yard deep in the end zone for a net of 22 yards. Based on their post-season performances, it would appear that Flacco and Koch visited a witch doctor and had some sort of karmic cross-transplant performed.

14:44 - Too much time for Kaepernick and he throws a strike to Vernon Davis for 29 yards. Davis is killing the Ravens. How funny would it be if the Ravens lost because a Maryland Terrapin became the first tight end to win Super Bowl MVP? Ha ha fuckin' ha.

14:00 - Davis again for another first down and more shoving. We are on a collision course with a significant fracas at this point. If this were a high school game, the refs would be pulling the teams together and telling everyone to chill (and then the Harbaughs would both tell their players, "screw that . . . keep hitting!").

12:40 - Another first down after two runs up the middle. The 49ers are doing whatever they want on offense. At this point, I almost want them to score so the defense can get off the field.

11:53 - Bam! Huge break for the Ravens as LeMichael James puts it on the carpet. I'd be very wary about having Oregon players in major roles during a big game because they've never won one in college. In a related story, the over/under on the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia is two brutal years.

Commercial Break: Doritos is trying too hard.
Wait for it, wait for it . . . and then
when the second guy tries to sell
the goat . . . don't you love it?

10:50 - Bernard Pierce gets a first down on three runs. It will be interesting to see how Ray Rice handles being a third down back next year. Just kidding Ray (sort of).

9:09 - Wow . . . an Ed Dickson sighting. I take back what I said about players from Oregon. Always good to hear from the guy taken 44 picks ahead of Dennis Pitta in the 2010 draft (and 25 picks ahead of Jimmy Graham . . . ugh, please pass the ball-peen hammer).

8:03 - Dickson again down to the 8 yard line plus a face mask penalty on Donte Whitner. They don't show it but I assume that J.C. Penney is having a tantrum over that call. Speaking of which, here is a previously unreleased video of the 49ers coach driving to the game with his family.

7:10 - Flacco goes with the hard play action fake (which I much prefer over his half-assed play action fake) and then throws a dart to Dennis Pitta for the score. Speaking of the 2010 draft, Pitta went seventy-two picks after Rob Gronkowski and one pick after Aaron Hernandez . . . in case you were wondering.

Commercial Break: I'm pretty sure that a list of people who still eat Cheese Whiz and a list of people who still watch Survivor would look pretty similar.

7:00 - Kaepernick just changed the play at the line of scrimmage and then threw a perfect strike to Ed Reed. I'm guessing that Coldwater Creek will kindly inform him that he would have preferred the original play.

That really tain't where
you want your head.
6:55 - Oh boy now we've got a developing situation. On the freeze frame, I count 19 players, 5 officials and John Harbaugh in a full-blown scrum. (Fortunately, Harbaugh avoids a "Van Gundy" and stays on his feet). Oh wait, there were six officials. I missed the one that Cary Williams shoved out of the screen. He's really taking his non-ejection gracefully, jumping around and dropping f-bombs. I'd be running to hide behind the bench like a guy who just blew past a cop tries to hide in traffic (at least, as a non-speeder, that's what I assume guys do after blowing past cops).

4:30 - Flacco is doing what he has done all season. Taking a turnover and marching right down the field to make the other team pay. I'm not sure he's made a bad throw since the pick six at the end of the first half against the Broncos in Week 15. Can we revisit the Matt Ryan v. Joe Flacco debate when we get a chance?

3:17 - Boldin just dropped a pass that was right in his hands. In a related story, Jamarcus Russell somewhere just asked the waitress for a gluten-free menu. Two things you are not likely to see (the sign of a good joke is one you have to explain right?).

3:12 - A weak fade pass leads to 4th and 9. 17-3 is going to look pretty good going into halftime. Sweet Jesus they just tried a fake by having their kicker run to Patrick Willis' side of the field and came-up a yard short. You've got to believe that play was hatched about twelve years ago when John Harbaugh was a special teams coach and thought, "if I ever make it to the Super Bowl as a head coach, you know what I'm going to do?"

Commercial Break: That was the supposedly offensive Volskwagon ad with the white guy from Minnesota doing the Rastafarian accent? I'm sorry but wasn't the point of the ad that everyone loves the Rasta outlook or did I misinterpret that? It reminds me of a classic Nick Depalo line. "I love the way Italians are portrayed on the Sopranos. If you want to complain about the way Italians are portrayed on TV,  let's start with the Olive Garden commercials."

2:31 - Cary Williams had Kaepernick picked-off and dropped it. Randy Moss gave up on that play some time during the National Anthem.

"See . . . I told you they had the
best marinara sauce in Topeka."
2:11 - Every time Jacoby Jones bobbles a punt, I am that much more thankful that he caught that pass against the Broncos and this is one of those times. If he had hands, he could be . . . um . . . Randy Moss?

2:03 - Torrey Smith just climbed over Culliver's back trying to make a catch. Culliver tells him to get that "sweet stuff" outta here.

1:45 - Right on cue Jacoby Jones catches a Flacco bomb, jukes one defender and then outraces Culliver into the endzone. The only person having a worse week than Culliver is the guy in charge of the Superdome power supply, only he doesn't know it yet.

Commercial Break: Does the guy who wrote Cocoon get paid every time old people act crazy in a commercial?

1:15 - The 49ers have another drive going when Haloti Ngata gives them a free 15 yards by hammering Kaepernick way after the ball is gone. This strategy works against Tom Brady but Kaepernick is a different breed. I'm afraid it might just be pissing him off.

0:52 - Kaepernick throws ANOTHER great mid-range ball. This one is caught by Delaney Walker at the 17 yard line. Nantz comments that he's got one of the strongest arms he's ever seen and I can't disagree. Two guys with rifles attached to their shoulders in this game. Meanwhile, Alex Smith is glazing his right bicep with deer antler juice.

0:21 - They just showed the replay of J.C. Penney on the sideline having a caniption fit over the call that Walker was touched down on the previous play . . . which he clearly was. (As much as I wanted it to be "Coldwater Creek," "J.C. Penney" just has a better ring to it).

0:12 - The Ravens string-out Kaepernick's roll-out attempt and force a field goal. Nantz points out that 21-6 is the same score that the Colts came back from to beat the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. I guess he's got to do something to get the Downton Abbey fans back for the second half. Jerk.

(To be continued).


* Consider the career paths of Jim Caldwell and Cam Cameron. Caldwell was Tony Dungy's longtime assistant, won a Super Bowl in that role, inherited a team with Peyton Manning, got back to the Super Bowl as a head coach and then won another ring as the offensive coordinator of the Ravens.

No one wants to buy your
game plan here Camy.
Meanwhile, Cam Cameron spent five years watching the Chargers gag away title chances under Marty Schottenheimer, finally got his head coaching gig with the Miami Dolphins and went 1-15 starting (with the likes of John Beck and Cleo Lemon at quarterback) before being fired, was hired as offensive coordinator of the Ravens, should have won a ring last year but didn't and then was fired with three games left in what would end-up being a Super Bowl winning season. Ouch.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fantasy Golf Preview: The AT&T Pebble Beach

We'll get to the Super Bowl after I've had time to go back and re-watch it without the sensation that I've just been dropped out of a helicopter into the top of a tornado after drinking for five hours (five and a half if you include the blackout). It's a unique form of torture watching your favorite team get outscored 25-6 over the last 29+ minutes of the Super Bowl and still win. The closest experience I can compare it to is crossing the line at the end of a marathon. A brief moment of elation followed by a barely audible request for an IV and a gurney.*

I kept expecting to hear the
theme song from CHiPs.
Prior to that joyful** Super Bowl experience, I was treated to Phil Mickelson justifying my use of a first round pick*** on him by cruising to the Waste Management Phoenix Open title. In the process, Phil proved that he's still the man when it comes to somehow bringing a course to its knees and wasting shots all over the place at the same time. First there was the putt left short on his 17th hole during the epic first round and then there was the cruel horseshoe on his 18th. On Friday, he put the PGA Tour 36 hole record into play before hitting into the water on 18 and making double. All the while he maintained a comfortable lead while repeatedly giving the crowd a thumbs-up like we were back in 1982 or whenever the hell we all actually used to do that.

Phil's near record setting performance came after he clunked it around Torrey Pines (never breaking 70 and finishing tied for 51st) which of course led me to leave him out of my overall top five so my rocky start continues. To break out of this funk, I am going total chalk this week with Dustin Johnson who, other than a shaky final round at the 2010 U.S. Open,**** absolutely owns Pebble Beach. If my recent slump makes you want to employ the Costanza Method and do the opposite of Dustin Johnson, then go with Joe Ogilvie who is kind of a little guy, went to Duke and probably wouldn't have a shot at Paulina Gretzky unless he won the Masters (and even then, the odds might be longer than him winning the Masters in the first place).

The Overall Top Five
I don't see any reason not to pick D.J. this
week. He's healthy, playing well and there
are no distractions that I'm aware of. Right?

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Brandt Snedeker
3. Nick Watney
4. Phil Mickelson
5. Hunter Mahan

The One and Done Top Five

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Nick Watney
3. Hunter Mahan
4. Jason Day
5. Ryan Palmer

Last Week's Report Card: C-

1. Rickie Fowler - M/C
2. Nick Watney - T43rd
3. Bubba Watson - 15th
4. Bo Van Pelt - T16th
5. Ben Crane - T11th

It's still not time to panic but a deck chair did just slowly slide by and the ship seems to be riding a little low in the stern. My one and done team has now gone three weeks without a pick making it to the weekend as Rickie Fowler continued a recent trend that has gone - cut, w/d, cut so, if the pattern continues, look for Dustin Johnson to withdraw due to another jet skiing incident that doesn't actually involve him riding a jet ski. When you pick D.J. at Pebble Beach, one of two things is going to happen: (a) he shows-up and gets your season back on track or (b) he bombs at a tournament where he has always delivered in the past leaving you to dry your eyes and say, "maybe next year." (Please tell me I wasn't the only one mesmerized by the So God Made a Farmer commercial). 


We're going to party
like Avon Barksdale
after an early parole.
* I've completed two marathons and in neither one did I come close to beating my pre-race target time. That means that the prospect of running a third one hangs over me like a vulture perched above my bed but after finishing the second one I spent about two minutes hugging a lamppost repeating "there ain't gonna be no rematch . . . there ain't gonna be no rematch . . ."

** Is it "joyful" or "joyous?" Where's Dean Wormer's wife when you need her?

*** Now that the Ravens season has finally ended with them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, I'm going to have time to write the fantasy golf draft recap which has been on hold during the Ravens' magical run which ended on Sunday at the Super Bowl . . . which, in case you didn't hear, the Ravens won.

**** He shot an 82 so "shaky" might not do it justice. How about "capricious?" "Volatile?" "Brain dead?"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Super Bowl Preview

This preview has been a serious struggle. Part of the problem is that it's hard to think clearly about a topic like the Super Bowl when you're being inundated with the stories about it on a daily basis. But the bigger issue is that it's impossible to objectively handicap a Super Bowl in which your favorite team is a participant. You might as well ask me to give you an honest assessment of the Fantasy Golf Report. Sure it sucks sometimes (and frankly, this feels like it could be one of those times) but I need to believe it's at least usually good and fortunately I have the support of the FGW (speaking of objective) and the random barroom friend or acquaintance who's had a enough beers to become openly complimentary.*

"MA!!! . . . THE MEATLOAF . . .
Being a Ravens fan is much the same. Sure they're going to get blown-out on the road in Houston and eek-out a 9-6 win in Kansas City** every now and then but, for the most part, when the season has been on the line the last two years like the home game against the Giants or the second halves against the Broncos and the Patriots, the Ravens have delivered. The Super Bowl, however, is not some regular season home game against a reeling Giants team, a playoff game against a rookie quarterback or, for that matter, a road playoff game that no one expects you to win. Joe Flacco and the Ravens aren't sneaking-up on anybody this week, especially not the team led by the maniacal little brother of their own head coach.***

My week long search for a writing angle has led me to this. In an effort to offset my lack of objectivity, I'm going to go through the opinions of the 12 out of 23 ESPN "experts" who picked the 49ers to win and see if I can debunk the basis for each of their predictions. I figure that if I can do that with a semi-straight face, then I can justify my Ravens pick. Most of the "expert" opinions are based on the theory that, over the course of nine games, Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick have revolutionized football beyond anything accomplished by the likes of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, Don Coryell and Dan Fouts or Rich Kotite and Ken O'Brien. Forgive me if I'm a little skeptical in light of the small sample size and the fact that the last good defense the 49ers played held them to 13 points. Then again, I'm no "expert" so let's hear what they have to say.

Chris Carter: 31-27 . . . "Kaepernick is going to run the ball a lot."***

Yeah but Kaepernick's really fast. It's
not like RG, III runs a 4.53. What?
4.38? Really? . . .  Never mind.
Good. Let him try. Anyone who has watched the Ravens during the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed era will tell you that it's the traditional drop-back passers with great accuracy that beat them (Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Phillip Rivers are the three primary Raven killers). The Ravens played against two of the best running quarterbacks in the league this year in Michael Vick and Robert Griffin, III and the combined for 68 yards on 17 carries with no touchdowns. Oh yeah, Vick barely made it out of the game in one piece . . . and RG, III didn't.

Trent Dilfer: 31-23 . . . "As conflicted as I am having to pick between two of my former teams ... both move the ball. The pistol allows the Niners to punch it in, while the Ravens are stuck kicking field goals."

Dilfer is one of the best analysts in the game but I have no idea where this theory came from. In their three playoff games, the Ravens have averaged 30 points on 12 touchdowns and 2 field goals. 11 of those touchdowns were scored by 6 different offensive players. I know this offense can't compare to the scoring machine he led to the title back in 2001 but come on Trent, give them a little credit.

Mike Ditka: 28-24 . . . "I like what Jim [Harbaugh] has done and how he's built the team. If the 49ers do not get a pass rush, they will be in trouble, but they have found a way to get it done all season."

Hey Mike, speaking of getting it done "all season," did you see any of the Seattle game in Week 16 where the 49ers got drubbed 42-13? Or how about the St. Louis game where they lost 16-13 in Week 13? You know what the Seahawks and the Rams have in common, they both play very physical defense . . . the Seahawks with a big hard hitting secondary and the Rams with a strong pass rush. The Ravens currently have both.

Herm Edwards: 27-24 . . . "The 49ers have too many options on offense that present problems for the Ravens. Even though Colin Kaepernick is young, sometimes being naive in a game like this is a good thing."

"But I was still only
on my first option."
Everyone was making that same statement two weeks ago about the Patriots. The "too many options on offense" argument makes little sense to me because (a) this isn't basketball where everyone touches the ball on the same play and (b) a strong pass rush limits a quarterback to at most two options. Again, show me the good defense that this offense has dominated. If you have Super Bowl aspirations and you're playing the Packers who just got torched by Christian Ponder for 37 points in week 17, you better score 45. And the Falcons defense doesn't scare anybody.

Getting back to the Patriots, the line on that game was 9.5 with an over/under of 51.5 meaning that Vegas foresaw a 31-21 Patriots' win. Then the Patriots put up 13 points and got shut-out in the second half so stop telling me that the Ravens defense is going to be overwhelmed when they just made the highest scoring team in the league look lost. That's ridiculous. 
Merril Hodge: 21-20 . . . "The core of the 49ers, the offensive and defensive lines, is the best in football. Colin Kaepernick has brought focus to their offense, but it's because they are so good in the trenches."

This is the one that does have me concerned because the 49ers offensive line is mammoth. However, if you're going to go with a one ton offensive line, then you have to be sacrificing some quickness which means gaps in pass protection. Obviously you can make-up for that by having a quarterback as athletic as Kaepernick but the Ravens are going bring an elite pass rusher from each side and get hands in his face. At least they better.  

Chris Mortensen: 24-17 . . . "Colin Kaepernick's composure has been the biggest surprise for me this postseason, and I don't think he's going to lose it on the NFL's biggest stage."

Neither do I but you can keep your composure and still lose. Andrew Luck never lost his composure against the Ravens in the first round and the Colts scored 9 points.

Jerry Rice: 24-17 . . . "The Niners will have a better defense, and Colin Kaepernick bringing so many different formations to the offense will present match-up problems for the Ravens."

Talk about a lack of objectivity. I think Rice's comment about the defense is the biggest misconception about this game and its based primarily on the fact that the 49ers had the second ranked scoring defense in the league (17.1 points per game) during the regular season. That stat can easily be attributed to the fact that they played almost half their games against some of the worst offenses in the league including the Cardinals (twice), Jets, Bills, Dolphins and the Bears with Jason Campbell at quarterback. They allowed an average of 6.5 points per game against the likes of Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb. Talk about padding your stats. I'm much more interested in how their defense has performed in the playoffs where they have given-up 24 points each to the offenses of the Packers and Falcons (the Packers also scored on a pick 6). It would have been more in the Falcons game if Matty Ice hadn't predictably melted in the second half.

Not sure that being nicknamed
"Ice" is necessarily good for your
long term career prospects.
Meanwhile, the Ravens defense is coming-off a stretch of seven and a half quarters on the road where they held the two highest scoring teams in the league to a total of 20 points (the Broncos also had a kick return touchdown to start the second half). The combined stat line for Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady against the Ravens in the playoffs is 3 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Is anyone paying attention to the fact that the Colt game was the first time Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bernard Pollard played together this season? Or that maybe it took a few games to adjust after losing Pro Bowl cornerback Lardarius Webb? Sheesh.

Adam Schefter: 17-14 . . . "Two throwback teams playing a throwback game in which two undrafted free-agent kickers, David Akers and Justin Tucker, could decide the world championship."

Schefty predicts a 3 point game and then picks the team with the kicker who missed 13 field goals in the regular season and a huge 38 yarder against the Falcons over the team with the kicker who missed only 3 field goals in the regular season and made a 47 yarder off a frozen field to beat the Broncos in overtime. I think there was some Absinthe involved with that pick.  

Trey Wingo: 27-21 . . . "Kaepernick is the reason the 49ers will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers with an NFL-best six Lombardi trophies."

There is nothing there that we haven't covered already and every part of that statement makes me want to puke so let's move on.****

Mark Schlereth: 28-27 . . . "Offensively, Colin Kaepernick -- the dual threat and read-option -- will be too much."

Too much of anything
is never good.
Now we've just dispensed with analysis and gone with random generalizations. Too much what? Too much mayonnaise? Too much cowbell? (I'm starting to get a bit punchy. Time to wrap this up).

Hannah Storm: 28-21 . . . "Nobody's been able to disarm the pistol offense yet. Colin Kaepernick is king of New Orleans."

Nobody since Seattle way back in week 16 that is. But in the three games since that one, against spotty defenses it's true, nobody's been able to disarm the pistol offense so I guess it's unstoppable. 

Marcellus Wiley: 40-19 . . . "Colin Kaepernick and his decision-making can't be stopped. Try and stop him, Frank Gore runs up the score."

OK. Now I'm getting weary. That final score is just stupid and so is the comment that a person's "decision-making" can't be stopped. I'm pretty sure that the only way you can stop someone's "decision-making" is by knocking them unconscious and, as much as I want the Ravens to win this game, I'm not willing to go that far (at least not in writing). And Frank Gore runs up the score? You mean the same Frank Gore who, before he played the sieve run defenses of the Packers and the Falcons in the playoffs, hadn't gained over 100 yards in a game since week 7. Bring it. 

In the end, you can throw all of that analysis out the window because this game is going to be decided by about five big plays. A Flacco to Torrey Smith bomb, a LeMichael James run (maybe the guy who scares me the most), a Jacoby Jones return, a Vernon Davis catch and run up the seam or an Ed Reed pick six. When I look at these two teams, I just see more Ravens who can make that impact play. I also agree with the simple take of Suzy Kolber who picked the Ravens: "Lightning in a bottle season." From your lips to Ray Lew . . . I mean God's ears Suzy.

I drew a 7 and a 1 in the Super Bowl square poll so the prediction is:

Ravens - 27 . . . Niners - 21 which means it's time to START WEARING PURPLE, WEARING PURPLE . . .


* My favorite is,"I love it but to be honest, I really only look at the pictures and read the captions" which is pretty much like telling a woman that she's beautiful with a view of nothing but her ass.

** I was watching Real Sports on HBO and they replayed a feature that Andrea Kramer had done two years ago during a Harbaugh family trip to Gettysburg (complete with the requisite shots of John and Jim looking out over the battlefield discussing military strategy). Jim tells Andrea that, next to his wife, his dad and his brother are his best friends (but he stops short of saying they are his only friends). John tells the story of Jim calling him from his driveway at 6:00 a.m. when he was working as a low-level assistant for the Raiders. As the story goes, Jim told John that he woke-up in his car and he didn't know whether he had just come home from work or was on his way to work. The camera cut-away just in time to miss Andrea Kramer rolling her eyes.

*** These are not excerpts. This is what each expert put out there to support his or her pick - ESPN Expert Picks. They've added more since I started writing this but I had to cut it off so I could post this piece and start drink . . . go to church.

Kate Upton. Game changer.
**** Trey Wingo also dropped this line the other day on the radio, "the key is 20 points . . . when the 49ers have held opponents to 20 points or less, they are 8-1." That could be the most useless statistic ever considering that the Ravens are 8-0 this season in games where they held their opponent to 20 points or less. This is what's called the Low Scoring Opponent Theory which states that, if your opponent has a low score, your chances of winning are increased. I think about seven chapters of Moneyball are devoted to this.