Few things betray Roger Goodell’s unquenchable thirst for power like the NFL’s efforts to be a constant fixture in the sports calendar. It’s not enough that football dominates Sundays (and Mondays, and now Thursdays) between September and February. Now it wants March (free agency) and April (a four-day, prime-time broadcast NFL draft), too. For all of the league’s efforts, though, May is still a lull in the churn of NFL news. Post-draft headlines are reserved for rookie contract signings and mandatory minicamps — not exactly Darrelle Revis trade chatter.
Last week, tossed in with talk of outdated NCAA rules and Nick Fairley’s craziness was a seemingly simple news bit about Sean Lee and Dez Bryant being "ready to go" for the Cowboys in 2013. The headline was a reminder (not about Bryant, really, who had his best season as a pro and played in all 16 games) that even though most of the official transactions are done for the offseason, there’s one area left where some teams are set to quietly improve — the back-from-injury, de facto free agent.
"Did they get a fair price for Rickey Henderson? It's kind of like if you're an art collector and you have the Mona Lisa, what's a fair price for it? The idea in building a championship team is to acquire players like Rickey Henderson. It's a sad day when you have to give one away."
Bill James wrote that about the Oakland A's after they traded Henderson to the Yankees before the 1985 season. As the Jets and Buccaneers negotiated terms for a possible Darrelle Revis deal for weeks (almost entirely through leaks from "unnamed sources" in New York newspapers), I kept coming back to that paragraph from James. I don't know whether this trade will end up being what any of the parties involved hope it will be. I just know that it's depressing to have something as wonderful as Darrelle Revis and then give it away for some unknown quantity. It's just too difficult to get another Darrelle Revis.
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The most fitting game of the 2012 Buccaneers season came in Week 2. Tampa Bay was visiting MetLife Stadium, where the Eli-era Giants have been known to give one or two away over the years, and it looked to be happening again. Early in the second half, the Bucs’ lead grew to 14 with a Connor Barth field goal, and the margin stayed that way until the final minute of the third quarter. That’s about when the wheels came off.
Eli Manning put together 21 unanswered points in less than 12 minutes, and when Tampa Bay did manage to tie things back up late, it took him less than 90 seconds to reclaim the lead and seal the win. There were games further down the schedule that better showed the promise for many of the young Bucs (Doug Martin had only 66 yards against New York), but none was a better way to understand their biggest shortcoming. Tampa Bay’s pass defense was a horror show.
According to a list published by Forbes last summer, the New York Mets — crippled by a Ponzi scheme, castrated by incompetent ownership, and eviscerated by Little Brother Syndrome — are the 49th most valuable franchise in professional sports. This is remarkable and not at all surprising. The Mets are located in (the outer reaches) of the largest city in the country. They own their lavish new stadium. They charge $17 for a lobster roll at said ballpark. And despite their bungling reputation, the team has a rich history as a Major League expansion team made good. Two titles in 50 years — you could do worse. Ask a Padres fan. Forbes estimates the team's value at $719 million, a number that would easily roll past the $800 million mark, among the Atlanta Falcons, the Chicago Cubs, and the McLaren racing group — elite company — if they could only pull themselves from the depths of financial ruin. Last year, the team lopped $52 million from its 2011 payroll. They're down another $9 million this year to $84 million, which includes $19.3 million in dead money buried in the corpses of Jason Bay and Bobby Bonilla. And speaking of dead outfielders
It's good to check in with the league's most relevant team statistics about once every four weeks. Four weeks isn't enough to dramatically shift things, but it's enough to see some change from (season) quarter to quarter and actually get a macro-level view into how teams and players are performing and changing. Of course, I haven't gone back and done this since Week 8, so today's look at the numbers is actually going to be with six weeks of gametime in the books. Are the Broncos still treating loose footballs like they're banana peels in Mario Kart? And have the Dolphins continued to press opposing field goal kickers into missed opportunities? Let's see what the numbers say. (Much of the data in this piece comes courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.)
Seven reasons why I worried about laying five points with Minnesota at home against the Bucs tonight
1. Christian Ponder's last four games since a seemed-to-be-a-breakout effort against the 49ers: five touchdowns, seven turnovers, under 7.5 yards per pass attempt, 19,521 times a Vikings fan muttered the words "Wait a second, are we really OK long-term with Christian Ponder?"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Ryan Vogelsong struck out a career-high nine batters through seven dominant innings as the Giants beat the Cardinals 6-1 to force a deciding Game 7 in the NLCS. Vogelsong's name literally means "birdsong" in German, which is kinda funny when you consider they were playing the Cardinals. But it's less funny when you learn that "Vogelsong" is a German euphemism for killing birds with poisoned food pellets. Ugh, Germany. Ugh. That's just classic you.
In celebration of the NFL's release of the all-22 and end-zone film for the 2012 season, each week we'll be bringing you the best in offensive- and defensive-line play. For the winners of last week's Trenchie's, click here.
The John Hannah Award for General Road Grading
New York Giants offensive line
My only takeaway from the Kevin Gilbride–Jim Harbaugh media dust-up last week is that Kevin Gilbride is a manipulative genius. See, Kevin Gilbride’s been doin’ this for a while. In the old days, coaches didn’t take shots at each other through reporters. They just took shots at each other. So when Gilbride came out and said that Justin Smith is the league’s most notorious defensive holder, it was clearly with a purpose. That purpose seems to have been achieved. The Giants’ 149 rushing yards on Sunday were the most given up in the Harbaugh era, and they were largely a result of avoiding the byproduct of Smith’s mildly illegal skill.
With 20 quarters in the books for 26 of the league's 32 teams, now seems like a good time to take a quick look back at the first five weeks of the year and start seeing which clubs have been enjoying notably good or bad times in those hidden factors that help determine success. Some of the statistics and concepts I'll mention are mostly random and subject to dramatic regression toward the mean over the course of a larger sample, while others might be harbingers of impending success over the remainder of the season. I'll try to make that clear as we go along. Let's start with one of the more beguiling and meaningful measures of success out there: fumble recovery rates!
Although you would be forgiven for forgetting, there were actually brief moments of football that snuck between the blown calls and "bullshit" chants that seemed to dominate this past weekend of NFL action. Some of that football inspired very interesting coaching decisions, and while the best and worst of those decisions normally come up in the "Thank You for Not Coaching" section in the Monday column, there were so many decisions worth discussing this week that it's going to serve as the basis for this edition of the newly named Tuesday column, "Fourth and Short." (Thanks to reader Josh Dixon for giving us a better name than "The NFL Thing We Used to Call 'Fabs and Flops.'")
You Know Nothing of Our Work
About seven days ago, right around when Baltimore finished cleaning up the Bengals, it seemed like we knew a few things after Week 1. The Ravens were good — maybe very good. The Patriots were the Patriots, but with the type of defense they hadn’t fielded in almost a decade. Atlanta’s offense looked ready to break out, and the Jets’ offense looked better than all of us expected (that includes the Jets). The Cowboys got over their Giant hump. No one wants to play San Francisco, ever. That’s why it’s always nice to get to Week 2. It’s that yearly reminder — “Oh, that’s right, we know nothing.”
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A referee was pulled from the Panthers-Saints game when his Facebook profile revealed that he was a Saints fan, and Cam Newton's 324 yards of total offense led the Panthers to a 35-27 win. The referee in question was assigned instead to Monday night's Broncos-Falcons game, though NFL lawyers are checking whether that would violate a restraining order issued three years ago when he bit Matt Ryan's leg at a charity event.
On Tuesdays last year, we here at the Triangle brought you the most-named column in football, "The Fabulous and the Flops," in an attempt to reveal some of the numbers flying beneath the radar about each NFL game from the previous week. This year, we're shifting things around; instead of a little blurb or two on every single game from the previous weekend, our focus will move to deeper analysis of a few selected games each week. The hope is that you'll gain some insight into what actually happened on the field that you wouldn't get from a highlight package or game recap, aided by a mix of statistics and game tape (including that vaunted All-22 film). The hope is also that we'll come up with a wordier name than "The Fabulous and the Flops".
This week, we're going to start in New Orleans, where Robert Griffin III torched the Saints as part of a stunning Redskins upset. You've seen that slant to Pierre Garcon a million times by now, but what did the Redskins change about their offense to fit RG3? And what does it tell us about how the Redskins — and Saints — might look going forward?