"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

NFL Conference Championship Game Thoughts

A Little Unprepared: Since I had predicted New England playing at Denver and Seattle playing at Green Bay, it took me a bit longer than usual to ponder the potential outcomes of the conference championship games. Conventional wisdom seems to have New England defeating a tired Baltimore team and a tough defensive-minded San Francisco overpowering the Falcons in Atlanta. I agree with one of those. Let' see which one, shall we?

San Francisco Forty-Niners at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons almost let last week's game get away from them, but the important thing is they didn't. They got the playoff monkey off their back and can play looser and with more confidence this week. The Falcons are an incredibly difficult team to beat in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan has great receivers, a strong running game led by Michael Turner and an underrated defense. That place is loud, as I can attest to as a season ticket holder for three years of the Michael Vick era. San Francisco is coming off a game in which Colin Kaepernick shredded a suspect Green Bay defense and the Falcons had trouble stopping Cam Newton in two games this season. But I'm going against the grain here. As good as San Francisco is and as tough as their schedule has been, I can't ignore the fact that the Falcons are 8-1 at home and coming off a win against a team that destroyed the 'Niners near the end of the season. This should be the game of the weekend, it'll probably be close, most likely go down to the wire, but I have to go with the Falcons. Atlanta Falcons 34 San Francisco Forty-Niners 31.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: I know Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio picked the Ravens to win, but with all due respect to him, I just don't see it. The Patriots are playing lights out offensively and will put a lot of pressure on Raven's quarterback Joe Flacco to reproduce what he did last week against the Broncos. Baltimore's offense just hasn't shown me the consistency this season that leads me to believe that will happen. The Ravens defense is a little old, coming off two tough, emotional games and I just think they'll run out of steam in this one. Is it possible new England quarterback Tom Brady can come out a little flat, like he did in last year's game? Certainly. But the Raven's defense isn't nearly as tough this year as it was last season, so Brady won't be facing the same type of pass rush as he did in this game a year ago. And by the way, the Patriots still survived that sub-par Brady outing to advance to the Super Bowl. I've had the Pats just behind Denver the last month, and with the Broncos out, I'll stick with New England. The Ravens lack the consistency to advance. Of course, it would be quite the story if Ray Lewis could work a little magic... New England Patriots 34 Baltimore Ravens 27.

This Week's Musings

To Fitz: I'm dedicating this blog entry to John "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, a friend of mine who died of cancer five years ago last week. Fitz and I shared a passion for life's pleasures, including sports. We played golf on some of the best courses that Arizona and Florida had to offer. From Seattle to Miami, San Diego to Boston and most points in between, we conducted business, discussed life and enjoyed many a baseball game in each other's company. A lifelong Philadelphian, Fitz was a Phillies fan. Unfortunately, he passed away just nine months before their first World Series title since 1980. For Fitz, the world was his playground. I remember one evening during a conference in San Francisco, Fitz suggested that we go across the bay and attend an Oakland A's game, even though he was staying in San Jose because of an early meeting there the next morning. He enticed me and two others to join him by offering to pay for the tickets if we picked up the beer. We decided to take him up on it and rode the BART train from the Embarcadero station to Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. Since it was a Tuesday night in May, attendance was light. To our surprise, it turned out to be $1 night, so all it cost Fitz was $4 for the tickets. The beers were cheap, but nowhere near $1. I never did find out if Fitz knew about the $1 tickets beforehand. He ended up leaving in the seventh inning to cab it back to his hotel in San Jose, but not before spotting the rest of us a last beer on him. I never got to say goodbye to Fitz, as the last time I saw him was at a guys' golf weekend in Phoenix in November of 2006. Although I didn't know it at the time, he had just been diagnosed with the disease that eventually took his life. He never told me, apparently to spare me in some way. I wish I'd known. He passed away fourteen months later. I miss him greatly and certainly wish I could have seen one last game and had one last beer with him.

Lance, Lance, Lance: I have to say that this is the last time I will ever mention Lance Armstrong in one of my blogs or publications. The arrogance with which he conducted himself is truly unfathomable. He allowed esteemed journalists and fellow athletes to defend him, while he was the one masterminding, funding, overseeing and perpetuating a world-class performance enhancing technology conspiracy. In addition, his attempts to circumvent the rules of his sport may have contributed to the cancer from which his recovery and subsequent foundation launched his popularity far beyond his on the road exploits. I vehemently defended him for years based on his lack of testing failures and his fervent denials of any wrongdoing. But I, just like millions of others, were duped by a lying, cheating, manipulative and cruel individual. Shame on him and he certainly deserves whatever comes his way.

Manti Te'o, Why all the Fuss? I think we've truly crossed the line between covering sports and invading personal space in college athletics. So there was a hoax, a kid got conned, some people were cruel and blah, blah, blah. Why should anyone except Te'o himself and the others personally involved really have such an interest in this? He's a college student who fell for a gag. And if for some reason, he didn't fess up to getting duped, give him a break. I don't know about anyone else, but I have far more important issues to deal with. Let's just forget about it and move on.

Two Great Legends Leave Us: To many in St. Louis and Baltimore, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver were still the faces of their respective home town baseball teams. Stan the Man, at age 92, passed away earlier today. Even as great as his accomplishments were, he was reportedly even a better person. He spent all 22 seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, winning seven batting titles and three World Series crowns. There are not one, but two statues of him at Busch Stadium. He was still a regular at Cardinal games and was known even by young fans, quite an accomplishment in this digital age. I'm just old enough to remember seeing Musial at the end of his career, by then just a shadow of the hitter he was in his prime. But what a hitter he was!

And then there was Earl Weaver, the iconic manager of the Baltimore Orioles who took his team to four World Series, winning in 1970. It was his Orioles against whom the Miracle Mets of 1969 completed their amazing feat by winning the World Series. Weaver was known for his feisty arguments with umpires which resulted in 91 ejections during the course of his career. He also has a statue in his honor outside Camden Yards, the Orioles' home stadium. Weaver, who didn't necessarily consider himself a Hall of Famer, nonetheless gained entry into Cooperstown in 1996. Unlike Musial, I have great memories of watching his Orioles teams, especially the early ones with the great pitching staffs and Brooks Robison at third base. Because my parents grew up in Pittsburgh, I was a Pirates fan and followed the 1971 World Series with particular interest. It was the third in a row for the Orioles and also included the debut of the first night game in the Series. For the games during the day, we would listen to the first part with ear buds plugged into small transistor radios and then rush home after school with hopes of catching the last inning or two on television. By 1979, I was in college and the Orioles and Pirates were once again matched in the Series. This time I was in graduate school and was fortunate enough to watch the three games in Pittsburgh live at Three Rivers Stadium, phoning reports back to the campus radio station. We watched as Weaver's Orioles took a commanding three games to one lead, only to have the Willie Stargell-led "We Are Family" Pirates defeat Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor in succession to win the title.

Surprise, Surprise in the NBA: Dare to take a guess on who leads the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA? The Knicks in the East, the Clippers in the West, you say? Try again. Maybe San Antonio in the West, Brooklyn in the East, you surmise? Nope. How about the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma Thunder, last year's NBA Championship finalists? Good choice. And although the Heat aren't exactly on a hot streak, they are coming off a west coast road swing where they went 3 - 2 in their last five games. The Thunder are on a six-game winning streak, the longest active stretch in the league.  Will we be seeing these two teams facing off again this June? I wouldn't bet against it.

In Case You Didn't Notice (and you probably didn't): The NHL began its lockout delayed regular season today. Now you can turn over and go back to sleep.

Monday, January 14, 2013

NFL Playoff Recap

NFL Playoffs! Three incredible comebacks, two in one game, vindication for a coach who made a controversial quarterback change and one game that went pretty much as expected. This weekend is a great example of why the NFL remains so popular. I went 1 - 3 on my picks, but thoroughly enjoyed the games anyway. Let's take them in order.

Baltimore Ravens 38 Denver Broncos 35: I'm not sure what John Fox was thinking in a couple of instances Saturday evening in Denver. The first one was a long field goal attempt as the second quarter was winding down. It was extremely cold, the Broncos were up by a touchdown with the ball on the Ravens 34 yard line and decided to kick a field goal. As they lined up, I told my wife that it could come back to haunt the Broncos if they missed the kick. Well, they did and it did. Instead of pinning the Ravens deep with a punt, going in at the half with a lead and coming out with the ball in the second half, they gave the ball to Baltimore in great field position. The Ravens made them pay. The second one was taking a knee at their own thirty yard line with 31 seconds left in regulation. Really? With Peyton Manning and two time outs left? Ridiculous, but still one of the great games of all time.

San Francisco Forty-Niners 45 Green Bay Packers 31: Okay, I truly thought that if this game was a shootout, it would go to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. So I was wrong. Colin Kaepernick was outstanding and his stats were unbelievable. Now Green Bay isn't a great defensive team, but the 'Niners young QB played a terrific game. Now Jim Harbaugh looks like a genius, which in football terms he may very well be. If I'm Atlanta, I need to be figuring out a way to stop this kid. He's big, fast and can throw the ball. RGIII, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Kaepernick and some others are redefining the way the quarterback position is being played in the NFL. Newton gave the Falcons fits this season in both games against the Panthers, leading Carolina to a win in one of them against the team with the best record in the NFC.

Atlanta Falcons 30 Seattle Seahawks 28: For the twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds sunday afternoon in Atlanta, the Seahwks looked like the best team in the league. Unfortunately, the game had thirty seconds left, allowing Matt Ryan and the Falcons time to get a game-winning field goal with eight seconds remaining. It was a scintillating end to the game and the Seahwks' season. Seattle spotted the Falcons a twenty point lead twice and still came back to take the lead with thirty seconds left. I still maintain that Seattle, along with Denver, are the top two teams this season. But like Oregon, you have to win when it matters. So congratulations to Atlanta for finally getting over the playoff game hump and  being rewarded with an opportunity to take on San Francisco for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots 41 Houston Texans 28: This was the one game that went like most people expected. Tom Brady was workmanlike, the Pats were in control from the beginning and the Texans just didn't have enough to compete with New England. The Patriots now gets to host the AFC championship game against the Ravens, a team that has to be a little tired from the last couple of weeks, especially the long game on Saturday. But there is something about the Ravens, so I'll be fascinated to see how they stop the Patriots enough times to stay in the ball game like they did against the Broncos. The Patriots are gunning for their sixth Super Bowl appearance behind Tom Brady. That's an unbelievable run of excellence in the free agency era.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Ramblings

College Football Withdrawal: This is the first official Saturday after the end of the college football season. I'm  filling the time by watching "The Shawshank Redemption" for the 28th time and trying to get interested in a college basketball game between Duke and N.C. State. Of course later, we'll have the NFL playoff games, but I'll be watching them on tape delay following the Arkansas - Vanderbilt basketball game. I'll be there in person to watch and see if Mike Anderson's young team can rebound from an ugly road loss to Texas A&M.

One and Done Ruining College Basketball: I can't stand the one and done rule in college basketball. It's one of the most absurd rules in sports. The rule is that basketball players need to attend college for one season before begin eligible for the NBA draft. Really? One season? What it actually means is that players have to attend classes for one semester to be eligible for the season, then can blow off the second semester, get drafted and leave school. Sure, it worked for Kentucky last season as they caught lightning in a bottle and won the national championship with what amounted to a college dream team. But in the long run, it's a bad rule for college basketball because elite programs can't count on any continuity. Kentucky and North Carolina are having trouble getting started this season, while Duke is undefeated only because Coach K has been able to get upperclassmen to stick around for more than one or two seasons. If a kid is good enough to play in the NBA right out of high school, he should be able to be drafted. The baseball rule works very well and the game is healthy and entertaining, not to mention a great alternative to the minor leagues as a way for players to prepare for the majors. Players can go to the pros after  high school or go to college and stay for three years. In basketball, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard, to name just a few, all went from high school to the pros. The last time I checked, they've had pretty decent careers. Maybe three years doesn't work as well in basketball, so perhaps two seasons would be better. But at least a coach would be able to build a team and the program could benefit from the experience a second season would provide. It's time to rethink the entire situation.

Baseball Hall of Fame is a Mess: What if they gave a party and no one showed up? Well, that's pretty much what we have with baseball Hall of Fame voting. Because of the uncertainty created by Major League Baseball's hypocritical handling of the steroid issue, we have several worthy players who didn't receive enough votes to get into the Hall of Fame. So let's see: there was no testing, MLB turned a blind eye to the use of performance enhancing drugs and even encouraged them by using the exploits of obvious users to further the popularity of the game, and then threw them all under the bus by releasing testing results that were intended to be private. Don't get me wrong: I don't necessarily agree with the use of PED's in sports. But as a league, you're either for them or against them. If you're for them, let it be. If you're against them, then take serious measures to try to limit or eliminate their use. MLB is trying to play it halfway, much like a base runner caught between first and second on a fly ball. They created this mess, so they deserve what they're getting. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were all-time greats prior to their use of PED's. Players like Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza never had anything more than rumors to link them to any wrongdoing. They all deserve to get in, but self-righteous voters, many of whom I would presume have some checkered background as well, have made an arbitrary decision to leave them out. As far as I'm concerned, MLB has succeeded in undermining the very credibility of the entire Hall of Fame. Nice job, Bud Selig!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Weekend Ponderings

NFL Playoffs:

Now We're Getting Serious: Cincinnati, Minnesota and Indianapolis, all wild card teams, are out of the way. Seattle, my second seed, is still alive with a comeback win over the Redskins. (I'll get to the RGIII controversy a little later.) So now we get down to the nitty gritty. Denver, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta now enter the game. Home field generally makes a difference in the NFL and it probably will this time as well. But there's at least one game where I think the visitor will prevail.

Baltimore at Denver: The Ravens used a lot of emotion to overcome the surprising Colts last week. However, they face a much tougher task this week as they travel to Denver to take on a Broncos team that has won eleven games in a row. Most of the talk is about the Peyton Manning-led offense, but Denver also led the AFC in fewest points allowed. The Ravens offense is not clicking on all cylinders, the Broncos are at home and Baltimore's aging defense will be stretched by the Broncos. I'd be very suprised to see Baltimore challenge in this one.  Denver 27 Baltimore 17

Green Bay at San Francisco: The 'Niners are at home, they're second in the league in scoring defense and are averaging almost 25 points a game. That's a potent playoff combination. So what's the issue? San Francisco in a slam dunk, right? Well, maybe not so fast. There is a guy on the other side of the ball that may have something to say about that. His name is Aaron Rodgers and he's only one of the top three, maybe the best, quarterback in the league.  He has a Super Bowl ring and is playing at a high level. His counterpart, Colin Kaepernick, is starting his first playoff game for a team that everyone had on their short list for a Super Bowl appearance this season. This should be the game of the weekend. If it comes down to a late drive, who do you like better? I'll take Rodgers. Green Bay 28 San Francisco 27

Seattle at Atlanta: I have the Seahawks ranked second in the league. They came back and stuffed the Redskins last week. The've won six games in a row. They lead the league in scoring defense. Russell Wison makes very few mistakes. They rush the ball well and have big, strong defensive backs. This is a very good football team that matches up extremely well against the Falcons. Atlanta would have been far more fortunate had the 'Skins pulled the upset last week. Instead, it looks like their playoff frustration will continue.
Seattle 24 Atlanta 21

Houston at New England: Let's see, it hasn't been that long ago that the Texans rolled into Gillette Stadium and limped out, 42-14 victims of the Patriots. That game was in the regular season. Now the stakes ratchet up considerably, and I just don't believe the Texans have what it takes to change the outcome very much. Okay, maybe it will be closer than twenty-eight points. But these are still the same two teams, same stadium...same result.  New England 31 Houston 20

RGIII: As a Redskin fan, the results of Sunday's game were disappointing, to say the least. Not just the loss of course, but the injury to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. There was a lot of finger pointing early in the week about who was responsible for RGIII still being in the game, when he should have come out, etc. I felt that Cousins would have given Washington a better chance in the second half, especially when it became apparent RGIII really couldn't run due to his knee. The play that sealed the game, however, had little to do with his injury. It was a bad snap by the long snapper. Now we have to hope the young phenom will be able to recover to the point where he'll be able to continue what has begun as a very promising career.

Roll Tide: Big and Fast vs. Big and Slow. Speed was the big difference in this game. As much as I respect what Notre Dame accomplished this season, the Oregon Ducks really should have been playing in the national championship game. It was obvious all year that they were one of the top two teams in the nation and I will welcome the four team playoff system so one close loss to a very good team won't eliminate an otherwise deserving squad from getting their shot at the championship. My congratulations to Alabama for dismantling the Irish. I would just have preferred to see a more competitive match-up!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

NFL Season Ending Rankings

Here Come the Playoffs: Several teams had an opportunity to improve their positions for the playoffs. Some succeeded, some didn't. Particularly notable was the way the Texans dropped the last two games to lose home field advantage in the AFC, the last one to what will be a very dangerous Indianapolis team. The Ravens lost for the third time in their last four games to limp in with the number four seed, finally getting a home game but having to play the aforementioned Colts. The Green Bay Packers failed to capitalize on a chance to gain a first round bye, instead losing to the Vikings to set up a rematch in the first round of the playoffs. In the big game of the weekend, the Redskins defeated the Cowboys, sending the 'Skins to a home game in the first round of the playoffs and the Cowboys to the golf course.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (Last week: NR): The Bengals ended the season with seven wins in their last eight games, including a season-ending victory against the Ravens, to make the playoffs. This is a very dangerous team that has a chance to upset the struggling Texans in Houston. Defensively, Cincinnati is tough and doesn't tend to give up many big plays. Houston is going to have to get ready to play a game that didn't look  necessary a couple of weeks ago.

9. Washington Redskins (10-6) (9): The Redskins held their spot by defeating the Cowboys in a winner take all match-up Sunday night. That's the good news. The bad news is they have to play what is probably the most underrated team in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks. RGIII will have his work cut out for him against an opportunistic defense, while the 'Skins defense will need to contain rookie Russell Wilson. The only advantage Washington has will be that Seattle will be traveling to the east coast for the game.

8. Houston Texans (12-4) (6): The Texans are reeling after ending the season with losses in three of their last four games, scoring a total of thirty-six points in the games they lost. It was almost a foregone conclusion a month ago that the Houston would have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now they have to defeat a tough Bengals team to keep their season alive.

7. Green Bay Packers (11-5) (5): The Packers blew a great chance to get a bye and home field for the divisional playoff round. Now they need to defeat the Vikings in the rematch to earn a trip to San Francisco. They should have the edge, playing a January night game at Lambeau field. But the defense needs to do a better job of containing Adrian Peterson if Green Bay is going to avoid a second consecutive home playoff loss.

6. Indianapolis (11-5) (8): Andrew Luck has led the Colts to five wins in their last six games as they roll into Baltimore to take on the struggling Ravens. There is little doubt that this team is the story of the season in the NFL. Just a year after going 3-13 and letting Peyton Manning go to the Denver Broncos, the Colts have gone 11-5 and just barely missed out on winning the AFC South.  In addition, they overcame losing their head coach to leukemia treatments. This is a tough team that may very well end up meeting Manning's Broncos in the second round.

5. San Francisco Forty-Niners (11-4-1) (7): Even though the 'Niners have stumbled a bit since benching Alex Smith, they still held off the Seahawks and gained the second seed in the playoffs. With Atlanta's recent playoff difficulties, the 'Niners may be a win away from hosting the NFC championship game. I like this team a lot.

4. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (4): Even with a meaningless loss last week, the Falcons are still a good team and probably just need one win to get the playoff monkey off their back. The only problem is that it may very well be against the Seattle Seahawks. If I'm a Falcons fan, I'm really rooting for the Vikings against the Packers.

3. New England Patriots (12-4) (3): It's hard to believe it, but the Patriots are running a little bit below the radar. With a bye week to prepare for the playoffs, I sure wouldn't be counting out the Belichick - Brady machine. I can't wait for the AFC playoffs. There are a number of truly good teams in the AFC.

2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (2): Pete Carroll has a terrific team, probably the most dangerous one in the playoffs outside of the Broncos. Great rookie QB, a defense that won't give in and a lot of confidence. So let's see, ranked second heading to the playoffs. Am I predicting a Seahawk appearance in the Super Bowl?

1. Denver Broncos (13-3) (1): Peyton Manning, good running game, strong defense, home field in the playoffs. What more can I say? Can we see another big Brady-Manning game that decides who goes to the Super Bowl? I hope so!