Joe-Pinions: Sports

28 Sept 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 3 Results

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 28/09/2010

Almost got completely murdered in Week 3:

New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans:  I got this game WRONG.  The Giants look like they’ve got major problems now.  They seem to have zero composure and discipline, which seems absurd given that head coach Tom Coughlin is reputed to be one of the stricter disciplinarian head coaches in the NFL.  From RB Brandon Jacobs tossing his helmet into the stands in Week 2 to myriad procedural penalties against the Titans (gifting Tennessee useful chunks of field position each time, which plays into the Titans’ strengths), the Giants look to be a team in disarray.  Couple this with the offense looking like it’s out of sync, the Giants could be in for a fall.

Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts:  The Colts performed as expected against a rebuilding Broncos team, so I got this game RIGHT.  Despite the fact they fielded reserves at wide receiver and left tackle for most of the game, the Colts still won by two touchdowns on a hostile field.

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Diego Chargers:  I fully expected a close game, but got it WRONG by picking the Chargers to win.  The Chargers couldn’t generate an effective running game; their special teams unit was likewise anything but special, giving up the winning score on a kickoff return.  Seattle’s home crowd gets credit for once again giving the home team a real advantage and a palpable energy to the Seahawks.  Don’t underestimate the 12th Man when you’re up in Seattle.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers:  The Chiefs served up the 49ers as the main course of their hometown barbecue, and I got this game so horribly WRONG.  Once again, the lack of good execution on offense doomed the Niners.  What’s somewhat discouraging was the defense’s inability to slow the Chiefs down.  Granted, the Chiefs were playing in front of a partisan crowd, and in Kansas City this is always a significant advantage.  But on-field talent also plays a role.  Per many pundits’ estimations, the 49ers are more talented than the Chiefs are at the moment.  So what that means (to me) is that the 49ers are deficient in the coaching ranks.  Head Coach Mike Singletary probably reached the same conclusion, as he dismissed Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye on Monday.  Coach Singletary apparently sees the same problems as I do:  The 49ers desperately need better teaching of technique and execution to take full advantage of the roster’s ever-improving talent.  He promoted quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson to the Offensive Coordinator position to fill the void left by Coach Raye’s dismissal.  49ers fans like me hope Coach Johnson is an improvement, but sadly, it looks like the season’s goal of a return to the playoffs looks like  a very difficult one to achieve now that the team is in a 0-3 hole.

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Speaking of holes, I did 1-3 this week.  Combined with the running total of 3-5 from the first two weeks, I’m sitting on 4-8.  .333 is bordering on excellent in baseball batting averages, but is pathetic in football.

You know, you could play along with me if you wish.  😉 Judging on my form so far, I ought to be easy to beat week in, week out.  If you do want to play along week to week, just post your picks in the same games I choose in the Comments section.  Then we’ll tally up at when I post that week’s results.  The week’s winner gets a shout-out in my next post.

Heck, if a lot of people join in and play, I may offer a prize after the season’s over!  What have you got to lose?

Hope to do better next week!

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26 Sept 2010 – Sad Sports Day

Posted in Football (NFL), Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 26/09/2010

Today’s a sad sports day for me.

In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship hopes took what could be a terminal blow when he was knocked out of the Grand Prix of Singapore by championship leader Mark Webber.  Hamilton had eased ahead of Webber entering Turn 7 when Webber hit him, damaging his left rear suspension.  To compound my personal sorrows, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the race, finishing just in front of Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton’s DNF also damaged my Fantasy F1 prospects, as I had him on my team this week.  Two races in a row he has given me a pittance in points due to crashing out due to accidents, so it looks like it’s going to be almost impossible to climb back onto the top of my Fantasy F1 league standings.

In other sad sports news, my San Francisco 49ers are now 0-3 after getting barbecued in Kansas City.  I didn’t see the whole game, but I saw enough through the magic of live streaming TV to rediscover the 49ers’ biggest problem on offense:  The Niners suffer from wildly inconsistent offensive line play.  The 49ers demonstrate the critical importance of the offensive line.  That’s literally where it all begins.  The O-line creates holes and lanes for the running backs, and give the quarterback protection and time to throw.  When the Niner O-line is dominant (as it was at home against the Saints in Week 2), the offense clicks; when it is being dominated (as they were in Kansas in Week 3), the offense is a huge mess.  Alex Smith is no Joe Montana, but not even Montana could do well playing behind such a porous O-line.

Such a sad sad sports day…

25 Sept 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 3

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 25/09/2010

My picks for NFL regular season Week 3:

New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans

This should be a hard-fought, close game between two tough teams.  Tennessee has a few questions at quarterback; Vince Young looked to have turned a corner, but Jeff Fisher opted to take him out of last week’s contest against the Steelers.  Whether Young was given the hook due to ineffectiveness against the proud and stout Steelers defense or due to Coach Fisher simply wanting to keep his starting quarterback from being beaten to a pulp is debatable.  Which Vince Young will we see against the aggressive New York Giants defense?

On the other side of the ball, the Giants are also searching for some consistency on offense.  The team won its first game against the one-dimensional Carolina Panthers despite three Eli Manning interceptions, then struggled mightily against the Indianapolis Colts.  The Colts are average on defense at best, in my opinion, but they looked great against the Giants.  The Colts took away both the run and the pass from the Giants and won easily.

Who wins this game?  GIANTS have the home field, so they have the advantage.

Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are coming off a virtuoso performance against the New York Giants last week.  Denver is also coming off a victory at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

Both teams are 1-1, and ties in the NFL are rare, so someone’s got to win this game.

Despite being the road team, I can’t see any way the COLTS losing this game.  They have a more accomplished offense, championship-level experience and savvy, and an adequate defense.  In contrast, the Broncos are not exactly a finished product.  They are also hurting emotionally with the recent suicide death of injured reserve WR Kenny McKinley.  There’s always the possibility that the home crowd might sway things the Broncos’ way, as well as Denver’s unpredictability on defense being an asset, but it’s hard to see that being enough to beat one of the NFL’s best teams.

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Diego Chargers

Seattle crashed down to earth in week 2 after handing the 49ers a beating in their first game of the season.  On the road against the Broncos, they couldn’t generate the same kind of momentum on offense that they overwhelmed the Niners with.  Not only that, but the crowd in the stadium was roaring at full throat against them.

San Diego thrashed Jacksonville at home, easing the pain of a week 1 loss against division rival Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chargers’ potent offense is still a work in progress, with rookie RB Ryan Mathews attempting to fill legend LaDainian Tomlinson’s giant cleats in the backfield.  Not only that, but they also are incomplete in the passing game with WR Vincent Jackson continuing his holdout (which will likely see him out of San Diego sooner or later).

The 49ers may have been overcome by the power of Seattle’s famous “12th Man,” but I can’t see a veteran team like the Chargers succumbing the same way.  Unless Norv Turner lays a coaching egg in this game (which he can do from time to time), the CHARGERS will win this game by at least a couple of scores.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Chiefs are one of the early season’s pleasant surprises.  Kansas City is undefeated after two games, beating the Chargers who under-performed against them and leaving Cleveland as the victors in a closely-fought game.

The 49ers are 0-2, but are coming off a mostly superb home Monday Night game against the defending champion New Orleans Saints.  Their own mistakes killed their chances, but despite the turnovers the 49ers really looked great on both offense and defense against the Saints.  In Kansas City they will be fighting against not just the team in red and white, but also against the very loud and hostile home crowd cheering the Chiefs on.  After the disaster in Seattle, I think the 49ers have learned enough from the experience to avoid falling into the same kinds of problems.

I expect the 49ers to win against the over-achieving Chiefs.

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After two weeks, I’m sitting on 3-5.  As the season progresses, making picks should get easier as we see more of the teams and their tendencies.  Hopefully this will translate to better scores as well.

20 Sept 2010 – NFL Pick ’em, Week 2 Results

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 21/09/2010

Here are my results from Week 2:

Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Lions:  I got this game WRONG.  I made the mistake of either 1) underestimating Michael Vick’s capability as a passer, or 2) I overestimated Detroit’s ability to bounce back from their Week 1 loss (when a rules technicality robbed them of a road victory against the Bears).

Chicago Bears @ Dallas Cowboys:  While I’m superbly happy the hated Dallas Cowboys lost, that also means that I got this game WRONG as well.  Chicago made more plays, and Dallas made more mistakes.  That’s a sure-fire equation for a win in the NFL.

St. Louis Rams @ Oakland Raiders:  The Rams are another much-hated team, so I was very happy that I picked them to lose on the road against the perpetually-inept Raiders.  I got this game RIGHT.  I guess the week 2 “Stinkerbowl” had to have one team be just a little bit worse than the other, and for this week it was the Rams.

New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers:  I picked my beloved 49ers to win, so I got this WRONG.  Far too many turnovers meant that, despite a truly superb game otherwise in which they made the Saints look very vulnerable and mortal until Drew Brees led the final drive for enough yardage for the game-clinching field goal, the home team was doomed to be on the unhappy side of the win-loss column.

So, after two weeks out of seventeen, I’ve got a 3-5 score.

I need to do better next weekend!

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The Monday Night Football game may have been a loss for the 49ers, but in my opinion it was as beautiful a game as a defeat can ever be.  For one thing, I thought that the team played hard from start to finish.  That isn’t just an empty platitude; some people tend to pack it up and dial the effort level down when things look bad and a win looks too difficult to get, but this young 49er squad really fought very hard against the reigning champs.  Moreover, I thought that their high effort level demonstrated that, despite their youth, they were not over-awed by playing against the defending champions.

Another positive aspect to the loss was that, despite coming up just short, the 49ers really played a great game in terms of strategy and game planning.  The defensive side of the ball is definitely this team’s strength, and to hold the Saints to 25pts (with 2pts coming from a safety, caused when backup center David Baas messed up the shotgun snap – this type of mistake, by the way, is probably why Bill Walsh NEVER used the shotgun except for a couple of snaps during his entire 49ers career) was quite an accomplishment.  Drew Brees never looked comfortable, and I thought Greg Manusky made a key adjustment in the 2nd half when the Saints never had the chance to use their bread-and-butter play, the screen pass, on high-pressure downs (3rd and long, 2nd and long).  Brees, though, made the key plays down the stretch and found his receivers, and to their credit, the Saints receivers made the key catches in the endgame despite very good coverage by the 49ers.  (It’s that kind of execution that makes you a great football team.

But besides the defense, I thought the offense was also largely worthy of praise.  Frank Gore is still this team’s key offensive player, but it was hugely gratifying to see Alex Smith finally play like a 49er quarterback.  For most of the game, he looked in complete command of the offense like Joe Montana.  When he had adequate protection, which he had for good stretches of the game, you could see him go through his progressions like any good NFL quarterback does.  His passing was accurate, perhaps not to a Steve Young-like level, but most of his throws were right on the button.  He did throw two interceptions, but I think only one was Smith’s fault.  In the first quarter, he threw a pass to Frank Gore (his outlet receiver) in the left flat which was slightly off.  Gore had to stretch to get to the ball, only got one hand on it, and made the ball bounce up into the air, ripe for the Saints to pick it off.  If Smith’s pass was more precise, Gore would have made the easy catch and probably gained a good chunk of yards.  Smith’s second interception was the result of a superb play by Saints ROLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar.  Dunbar disengaged from Joe Staley’s block and tipped Smith’s pass with 13:31 left in the game.  The way I saw it, Dunbar simply made an amazing play to tip Alex Smith’s pass.  Smith did nothing wrong on that play:  He went through his progressions, found WR Michael Crabtree in the left hook zone ready to catch, had a passing lane, and made the throw.  Dunbar just did a better job on that one play by releasing from LT Staley’s block and tipped the pass.  Finally, Alex Smith showed off his excellent athleticism and ran for positive yards much like Jeff Garcia on a scramble.  He displayed good instincts, slid away from pressure, and took what the defense gave him.  I cannot tell you how happy I felt to see a 49er quarterback play the way a 49er quarterback SHOULD play.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, tonight’s game is still a loss, which makes their quest for a playoff berth a little bit more challenging.  To be honest, though, I think the team has every chance to succeed in its quest.  I think the keys to success lie in the coaching staff’s ability to teach the team how to execute, how to play with proper technique, how to finish drives in the end zone, and how to maintain their concentration level from start to finish.  The very best teams always look so precise when they play; the 49ers had stretches during this game when they had this kind of precision (they out-gained the Saints 417-287 yards gained in the game), but they made too many mistakes and turned the ball over four times.  If there’s an undeniable truism in football, it’s that turnovers KILL.  The 49ers demonstrated that quite effectively.

It’s a little strange, too, that the 49ers seemed to make many of their key mistakes when they were in the red zone.  TE Delanie Walker lost a fumble late at the Saints’ 8yd line in the 1st half during a long drive which looked sure to finish in some points for the Niners, and Smith threw his second interception deep in Saints territory as well.

I saw enough in this game to make me believe the 49ers’ season isn’t lost yet despite the 0-2 start.  The pieces for a good season are there; I think it’s a matter of just putting the puzzle together.

18 Sept 2010 – NFL Pick ’em Game, Week 2

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 18/09/2010

One week down, sixteen to go in the NFL regular season.

Without further delay, here are my picks for Week 2:

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Detroit Lions

Kevin Kolb is out with concussion-related symptoms, so Michael Vick takes his place as Philadelphia’s starter.  Despite being a danger to opposing defenses with his uncanny ability to make plays with his legs, Vick is still deficient as a passer.  Expect Detroit to crowd the line of scrimmage with bodies to force Vick to beat them with the pass, as well as assigning a linebacker to spy on Vick in case he threatens to break containment.

I see the LIONS winning at home.

Chicago Bears @ Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have lots of problems with their offensive line on the field, as well as chronic problems with their coaching staff (how Wade Phillips continues to be a viable head coaching candidate baffles me).  Funnily enough, you can say pretty much the same thing about Chicago.

COWBOYS, then, win at home.

St. Louis Rams @ Oakland Raiders

These two teams share a couple of things in common:  They both used to call Los Angeles home, and they are both in desperately bad shape as NFL franchises go.  The Rams have been cellar dwellers for the last couple of years, and no team has lost as many games as the Raiders have for the last seven or so years.

In this week’s “Stinkerbowl,” the RAIDERS have fewer excuses to lose at home.

New Orleans Saints @ San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers lost in embarrassing fashion last week up in Seattle.  Although I predicted the Niners to lose, I didn’t expect them to get crushed.

I’ve looked at as much footage as I can find of the Niners up in Seattle, and it looks to me that they lost not due to inferior strategy.  Rather, they lost because they simply didn’t execute.  That’s somewhat expected when one plays on the road, but the degree of deficiency that the 49ers displayed against the Seahawks was discouraging, to be honest.

Will the 49ers clean things up sufficiently against the visiting defending Super Bowl champions?  I think the San Francisco crowd will give the home team a boost and allow the Niners to compete.  In fact, I’ll make it a clean sweep and pick the 49ers to win at home.

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After one week, my score currently stands at 2-2.

Will picking all the home teams be to my advantage, or will it be to my detriment?

We’ll find out after the end of Monday Night Football!

12 Sept 2010 – txtmstrjoe’s Pick ’em, Wk 1 Results

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 12/09/2010

Per my most recent post, I’ll be playing a week-by-week NFL pick ’em game involving three random games and the San Francisco 49ers game on each week’s schedule.

Here’s how I did in Week 1, 2010:

Atlanta Falcons @ Pittsburgh Steelers:  Got this one WRONG.  I underestimated the effect that a healthy Troy Polamalu could have in a given game.  He and his mates on the stout Steelers defense kept the Falcons’ offense from the endzone and limited Atlanta’s scoring to three field goals.  Then, in overtime, Rashard Mendenhall made me eat crow by scoring the winning touchdown on a 50yd carry.

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans:  I got this game RIGHT.  The Texans exposed one of the Colts’ few weaknesses, namely, the lack of a dependable running game.  Houston simply proved they were the much more physical team in this contest, with halfback Arian Foster pounding out 231yds rushing and 3TDs.

Cleveland Browns @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Got this game WRONG.  As in my Fantasy F1 league (more on that later), I should have listened to my gut and gone with my instinctive choices instead of trying unconventional tactics.  The home team made more of the critical plays, including two touchdown passes by quarterback Josh Freeman.  In contrast, Jake Delhomme played like Jake Delhomme today and threw two interceptions during the second half.  (You can ask my brother-in-law about the Browns and how he and I differ in our appraisals of this team.  He thought, or hoped, Jake Delhomme would return to his halcyon days as the Carolina Panthers’ QB from a few years back.  I don’t see it myself…)

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks:  Sadly, I got this game RIGHT.  If there was one game I wanted to get wrong this weekend, it was this one.  I didn’t see this game, and at this point I haven’t yet read about it, but the score says it all (31-6).  The Seahawks took full advantage of being at home; I have a feeling that they also had the element of surprise in their favor since they have a new coaching staff.  Sometimes in football all you need is to throw something unexpected at your opponent, to create confusion and indecision.  Hesitation kills in pro football.

So, after one week, I’m sitting at 2-2.  Batting .500 is awesome in baseball, but it’s distinctly average in pro football.

Oh, by the way, regarding my Fantasy F1 results for this weekend, I got killed when Lewis Hamilton broke his McLaren’s right front suspension by hitting Felipe Massa’s left rear.  I also had a feeling that Jenson Button would have been a good pickup for this week, but decided to take Adrian Sutil (who dropped to last place with an out-of-sequence pit stop early in the race and eventually finished in P16, one lap down from the leaders) and Nico Hülkenberg instead.  I was banking on Sutil’s Force India performing well on Monza’s long straights and to benefit from the Mercedes Benz engine’s power advantage, but going against my instincts (and my better judgment) blew up in my face.  Thankfully Hülkenberg finished in P7 to cushion the negative impact of my risky strategy for Monza.

The final five races should be very exciting!

11 Sept 2010 – txtmstrjoe’s NFL Pick ’em, Wk 1

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 11/09/2010

Although I play in one Fantasy F1 league (thanks to my best friend Rick, who got me hooked last year), I’ve never played in any Fantasy Football (NFL) leagues.  I don’t gamble on sports, I don’t put money on results or points spreads or anything like that.  Not even my participation in the Fantasy F1 league counts, since Rick has so generously subsidized my participation for the last couple of years (he’s paid handsomely in his line of work, so he can afford it).

But I’d like to do something akin to gambling on football this upcoming season in this blog.  Just for fun and for the laughs (and, actually, a desire to see if I’ve done my own analyses of the teams and players and match-ups well), I’ll be lining up four games every week for the next seventeen weeks, trying to guess the outcome of the games during the NFL regular season.  Other than for my own amusement and to see how many outcomes of the games I can guess correctly, this will be just a rather pointless yet still hopefully fun exercise.

One of the games will always be the San Francisco 49ers game for that week, except for their bye week, during which I’ll pick another game.  But the three other games will be selections I’ll make based on whatever tickles my fancy.

A perfect “score” for the regular season would be getting all four games for all seventeen weeks, which means sixty eight games’ outcomes guessed correctly.

So, here are this week’s games, a brief analysis and some comments, and the picks:

Atlanta Falcons @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger will be serving the first game of his four-game suspension, so the Steelers will have largely untested third-year Dennis Dixon at quarterback.  This will likely mean that they will lean heavily on their ground game, but can Rashard Mendenhall and the O-line generate enough offense to keep up with the Falcons’ offense?

I’m picking the Falcons for this game.

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans

It’s hard to pick against the Colts with its high-powered offense, but they’ll be going up against a team that I believe is on the cusp of exploding into the elite level.  QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson look like they are the next great QB+WR combo in the NFL.  The Texans’ defense is still a work in progress, but it boasts one of the best rushing DEs in the league, Mario Williams.  Lastly, the Texans are playing at home.

The Texans, then, in a close victory at home.

Cleveland Browns @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This week has a few games that look like absolute stinkers, and this is one of them.  I expect both of these teams to finish at the bottom of their respective divisions.  Neither team looks particularly good on offense or defense, so the game will either be a full-on shoot-out highlighting both teams’ incompetence on defense, or a dreary low-scoring affair that shows both teams’ ineptitude on offense.

In a battle of squads in rebuilding mode, I’m going against my natural inclination here and pick the Browns for the win on the road.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

The Niners go up to Seattle to face Pete Carroll’s new-look Seahawks, who look to be San Francisco’s closest rival for NFC West supremacy.  This will be a very tough test for the 49ers.  Though QB Alex Smith looked much-improved during the preseason, the fact remains that that was just the preseason.  How will he do during the true heat of regular season battle?  His offensive line is also a little suspect, with two rookies in G Mike Iupati and T Anthony Davis starting their very first games in the NFL in one of the noisiest venues in the league.  Coach Carroll, a coach with a healthy reputation for being a defensive wizard, will look to attack the rookies.  Finally, I feel that the 49ers secondary is a little suspect.  A questionable defensive sub-group swings the advantage towards the home team

I have the Seahawks winning at home in a close game.

So, there you have it.

We’ll see on Sunday night how well these picks go.

Care to play along with me and see how well you pick these same games?  Just state your picks in the Comments section, and at the end of the season, we’ll see who has the best score.

9 Sept 2010 – Are You Ready For Some Football?

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 09/09/2010

The 2010-2011 NFL season opens tonight in New Orleans, home of the defending Super Bowl champions Saints.  The Saints are doing battle against the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game.

For some teams and their fans, this is the best time of year, right before the first kickoff.  Why?  At this point, everyone is undefeated.  For most of the teams and their fans, this is the only time when they can enjoy such a status.  There’s a certain prestige from being able to claim you’re undefeated which seems better than enumerating the actual number of wins the team has.

Of course, as ex-head coach Herman Edwards famously exhorted, “You play to win the game.”  The bottom line is, everyone plays so that they can hopefully be the team to win the final game of the season.  Only two teams out of thirty two will have a chance to be in that final game, and only one can win.

So, as we are on the threshold of the brand new season, what are your thoughts?

Here are mine:

  • Brett Favre is still the league’s biggest and most shameful prima donna.  His antics during this year’s preseason – basically reprising his pathetic “I’m retired/I’m not retired” shenanigans from the last few years – has only served to further lower my esteem for the man, if that were actually possible.  If I had to assign a numerical figure for my enthusiasm and respect for Favre, it would be somewhere close to -9 million.
  • In my opinion, the teams that have a window of opportunity (to win the Super Bowl) starting to truly open up include (these are teams that are poised to join the elite level whose performance should be trending upwards):  Baltimore Ravens; Green Bay Packers; Houston Texans; Atlanta Falcons.
  • Here are teams with the window of opportunity fully opened (elite or near-elite teams whose performance can only stay level or dip):  Indianapolis Colts; New England Patriots; Cincinnati Bengals; New Orleans Saints; Minnesota Vikings; Dallas Cowboys.
  • Now, the teams whose window of opportunity had been wide open but is definitely and inexorably closing:  San Diego Chargers; Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Teams that can be a surprise contender if more things go right than go wrong for them:  San Francisco 49ers; Kansas City Chiefs; Seattle Seahawks.
  • Absolutely no-hopers this year:   St. Louis Rams; Jacksonville Jaguars; Cleveland Browns; Buffalo Bills; Denver Broncos; Chicago Bears; Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As a 49ers fan, I’m filled with excitement and hope for this year.  For the first time since both Jeff Garcia and Steve Mariucci were on the team as the starting quarterback and head coach, respectively, I feel quite good about the upcoming season.  Based on what I’ve seen of Alex Smith during the preseason as well as the sheer aura and charisma of head coach Mike Singletary, it looks like the 49ers finally have an offense that can complement the team’s very good defense.  Smith seems to have really improved his fundamentals, his physical mechanics; in particular, I’m quite impressed with his much more precise footwork.  In his younger years, he looked like he was always stepping on ice, never sure about how or where to step, even on the most basic dropbacks.  Perhaps as a consequence of the clear hard work he’s put in, his teammates all have rallied around him and sung his praises.  To a man, the 49ers all appear to be firmly behind Alex Smith.

My secret fear, of course, is that all I’ve seen of Alex Smith and the 49ers (what little of it, I must admit; I don’t live in the Bay Area and don’t get to watch my beloved 49ers as much as I’d prefer) is an illusion, maybe even a form of wish-fulfillment on my part.  I hope my fears are misplaced.  

I would be very happy if the 49ers win the NFC West division, and quite disappointed if they don’t.  The NFC West is pathetically weak this year; if the Niners fail to win the division this year, I fear they may never win it ever under the current regime.  That would be a shame, since I’m finally back to a good comfort level and trust level with Mike Singletary and Jed York at the controls, the way I never was with the horrid Dennis Erickson and the even worse Mike Nolan as the head coach.

8 Sept 2010 – When Are Rules Not Rules?

Posted in Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 08/09/2010

In the world of the FIA, when are rules not rules?

It’s not a trick question with a clever answer, a part of a game played for amusement.

The answer, of course, is:  The FIA’s regulations become null and void when Ferrari is involved.

After hearing about the verdict (or rather, the lack of one) levied against Ferrari for a clear case of the use of illegal team orders influencing the outcome of the German Grand Prix in late July, that is the only conclusion someone who is not biased for (or against) Ferrari can make.  On the other hand, if you are pro-Ferrari, you would be prone to celebrate what had happened at the World Motor Sports Council (as my cousin did on Facebook, saying “Score 1 for Ferrari team orders.”).

My cousin’s rhetoric, whether or not delivered tongue-in-cheek, nevertheless expresses the truth of the situation that unfolded at Hockenheim during the German Grand Prix.  As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…”

Here’s my big problem with how things went down:  The WMSC basically agreed with Ferrari’s defense that it (Ferrari) did not violate the regulation (Article 39.1) prohibiting the use of team orders during a Formula One race, but still upheld the original stewards’ post-race decision that the team did violate the rule.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the FIA contradicting itself regarding the issue.  Ferrari cannot simultaneously be found guilty AND innocent of the violation it was accused of.  And yet that, in essence, is what the WMSC’s decision says by agreeing with Ferrari’s defense.

If an adjudicating body (which is what the WSMC ostensibly is) is in danger of even just appearing to be anything less than conclusive regarding any matter over which it presides, then it risks losing credibility in the eyes of a critical audience.  Insofar as I’m concerned, it’s very difficult to take seriously anything that the FIA does when it comes to controversies involving Ferrari.  This is an opinion that takes into consideration the controversies that ensued in this year’s European and British Grands Prix, where through simple bad luck Ferrari got victimized by circumstances and had the boom lowered on them by correct application of the regulations.

It’s very difficult to accept the WSMC’s decision regarding the events in Hockenheim considering what we, the audience, saw and heard during the race broadcast.  The radio communication from Fernando Alonso to the Ferrari pit was an obvious statement of his frustration with finding himself behind Felipe Massa.  Ferrari’s response was to have Massa’s chief engineer (and great friend) Rob Smedley radio to Felipe that Alonso was faster than he was.  The damning piece of evidence insofar as I’m concerned is Massa’s response to the radio communications.  He didn’t radio back to Smedley (if he did, my broadcast didn’t air his response), but what he did on the race track was far more eloquent than anything anybody could say:  Massa ceded position to Alonso at the EXIT of a hairpin.

Actions speak louder than words.  Anybody who knows anything about motor racing knows that unless the car has a problem affecting its performance exiting a very slow corner, or unless the driver deliberately decides to compromise his position on the track, it’s virtually impossible for a car leading another car to get overtaken.  Why?  The guy in front is in complete control of the corner; he decides for anybody else following him when, where, and how much to accelerate out of the corner.

Here’s a look at how the change in position occurred (at 00:56 on the video clip):

Based solely on the letter of what was said (or, rather, what viewers heard on their television broadcasts) in the various communications between Ferrari and its two drivers at Hockenheim, it’s possible to absolve Ferrari.  However, communications are never just about what is literally said; it would be naive to believe that communications exist only on a literal plane.  Coded radio communications undoubtedly exist in Formula One, so that is one very easy way to circumvent the letter of the regulations.  Not only that, but they also serve to obfuscate a team’s radio communications from their competitors.

I mean, listen to Rob Smedley’s transmission.  Pay attention not just to what he is saying, but how he speaks:

Smedley:  OK.  (pause) So… (short pause) Fernando is (short pause) faster (short pause) than (short pause) you.  (longer pause)  Can you confirm you understood that message?

I don’t know if Massa issued a reply via a radio, but it was unnecessary.  By allowing Alonso past at the exit of the slowest corner of the circuit, even though Alonso was nowhere near him on the entry of the corner, says so much more than any words could.

After Alonso assumed the lead of the race, Smedley made another call to Massa (02:18 on the video clip):

Smedley:  OK, mate.  Good lad.  Just stick with him now.  Sorry.

I think Ferrari and the FIA owe Formula One’s fans an apology.  Sadly, only Rob Smedley is on record for expressing any kind of remorse (whether he said sorry to Massa for being the one to issue the coded order to cede position to Alonso, or he said sorry for not being quick enough to keep the lead, is known only to him, though I strongly suspect that he probably meant it as an apology for issuing the order) over the incident at Hockenheim.

Once again, the FIA missed out on an easy opportunity to demonstrate some integrity when Ferrari, its favorite son, was on the dock for a clearcut rules violation.

8 Sept 2010 – Ferrari Escape Further Sanctions

Posted in Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 08/09/2010

According to multiple sources (including Autosport.com, Eurosport via Yahoo!Sport UK & Ireland, and Reuters), Ferrari is set to escape further sanctions for their alleged use of illegal team orders in this year’s German Grand Prix.  The World Motor Sports Council upheld the original penalty of a $100,000 fine but apparently did not find that Ferrari was guilty of any worse or further violations of the regulations.

I will share my comments on this issue later when I have time.

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