"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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: CLOSE PICKS AND BRADY-MANNING FOR A FIFTH TIME IN THE PLAYOFFS

New England (13 - 4) 24 @ Denver (13 - 4) 27: Is this the final time we'll see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the two best quarterbacks of their generation, facing off in a playoff game? It certainly feels like it, not because Brady is nearing the end, but more that Manning's physical abilities seem to be diminishing to the point that we can legitimately question whether he can return for another season. Certainly both the Broncos and the Patriots are fully capable of putting playoff caliber teams on the field for years to come. But it's doubtful that future Denver squads will be led by Peyton Manning. Overall, Brady holds a significant edge in wins over Manning. In the playoffs, however, both have won twice on their home fields. In this game, what Denver needs to do to get Manning to his fourth Super Bowl in pretty simple. They can't give Brady time to find TE Rob Gronkowski or WR Julian Edelman open for short passes, like they were able to do last week against Kansas City. On the other side of the ball, the Bronco receivers can't drop passes like they did against the Steelers. For the Patriots, they just have to do what they do, and that is to consistently find a way to move the chains on offense and make Manning sustain long drives, something he hasn't been able to do on a consistent basis. For me, I'm struggling with whether to make this pick with my head, or go with the heart. I'm a long-standing Manning fan, partially because he played for the Colts, the team that preceded the Redskins as my favorite NFL team. I was probably more a John Unitas fan than I was one for the team with which he played, and the same was true of Manning's time in Indianapolis. When he moved on to Denver, my allegiance followed. Now, nearing the end of his illustrious career, his long-time nemesis stands between Manning a a potential career-ending Super Bowl victory. If the Broncos can't get to Brady, his receivers are healthy and the Broncos make a mistake or two, then the Patriots will be headed to Santa Cruz for Super Bowl L. My head says that's more likely than not, but every once in a while things work out the way they're supposed to in sports and that would surely be Peyton Manning getting rewarded with a second Championship, a la John Elway. So the heart it is.

 Arizona (14 - 3) 27 @ Carolina (16 - 1) 31: Is there more pressure when you represent an entire state as opposed to just a city? And in the case of Carolina, it could be that they are carrying the hopes of a couple of states, even though they play in the northern one. Anyway, I digress. Regardless of geographical details, these two teams own the top records in the NFL. They both performed consistently well throughout the season, with the exception of Arizona's abysmal game against the Seahawks to end the regular season. The biggest concern for Panther fans is going to be their inability to hold some big leads late in games. It didn't actually end up costing them any wins, but eventually that can come back to haunt a team. For the other team, Cardinal fans should be concerned about the back-to-back lackluster home performances and now the team needs to find a way to go on the road and get back to the level of play they had during a nine game winning streak that included four victories over playoff teams, the same number the Panthers recorded during the entire season. Overall, these teams are very evenly matched, and the three point spread in Carolina's favor is due only to the home field advantage. As we saw last week, west coast teams heading east can be difficult, but the Seahawks had to be ready to play at 10:00 am PST. With the 5:40 pm start, the Cardinals have the advantage of a more normal kickoff from a body clock perspective. If Arizona can click again on offense and slow down Panther QB Cam Newton, they have a good chance at the win. But there is just something about this Carolina team that seems destined to get to the Super Bowl. Their defense is tenacious and even though Seattle got to within a touchdown last week, it never seemed as if the Panthers were in danger of getting caught. Did they get a little conservative on offense? Sure. Did they have a breakdown or two on special teams? Absolutely. But in the end, are they playing for a spot in the Super Bowl? Yes. Can they take the next step? I think so.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords







Monday, January 18, 2016

A TRIBUTE TO GLENN FREY AND THE EAGLES

For those of us fortunate to come of age in the 1970's, the music of the Eagles was a virtual soundtrack of the decade. Beginning with Take it Easy and ending with Heartache Tonight, the band went through transformations, both in their membership and musical style. But at the core always remained Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Their first studio album was released in 1971 and their last, at least before a recent resurrection, in 1979. Truly, they were a group of the '70's.

One of my first concerts featured the Eagles and the opening act was Linda Ronstadt. Looking back, I had considered it just another rock show, but now I realize how special it was. As I'm writing this I'm listening to the Eagles, and at this very moment it's Take it Easy, and tears are filling my eyes as Glenn Frey recites the lyrics that for all of us are forever embedded in our memories.


This space is usually reserved for commentary on sports, but even the Duke - Syracuse basketball game that is muted on the television screen takes a backseat to the passing of one of the truly influential singer-songwriters of our time. The Eagles, along with Jackson Browne and a few others, collectively created a genre of music that even to this day has not really been replicated. From Take it Easy to Desperado to Already Gone to Take it to the Limit to Hotel California and Life in the Fast Lane, they told the story of a generation maturing from young and carefree to one that was assuming responsibility, and not always willingly.

For me, the early college years were difficult, and there were many a night where the only way I could persevere was to put the Eagles albums on the turntable, place headphones on my ears and listen my troubles away. The passing today of Glenn Frey brings back some of those memories and stirs feelings that only music can revive. Perhaps it's because his death brings us closer to realizing our own mortality or it's just the sadness that comes with knowing that another great artist has left us. Whatever it is, it's powerful and it's real and it's worth noting.

As many of you, I will spend this evening listening to the music and voice of Glenn Frey and I will fondly remember what was, miss what could have been and be grateful for what is. God bless and prayers for those that knew and loved Glenn Frey. For now, I'm just going to go back to my youth and just try to take it easy.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords




Saturday, January 16, 2016

NFL DIVISIONAL ROUND PICKS: CAN STEELERS BEAT THE BRONCOS WITHOUT ANTONIO BROWN?

After all four road teams recorded victories in the wild card round, the Pittsburgh Steelers head to Denver this week without the services of Wide Receiver Antonio Brown, who is generally responsible for a significant portion of their offensive production. In addition, they're down two running backs and QB Ben Roethlisberger is still banged up from the Cincinnati game. In Foxboro, New England is hoping to end Kansas City's eleven game winning streak as the Chiefs try to build on the beat down they put on the Texans last week. Carson Palmer, at the age of 36, is still chasing his first playoff victory and to get it, he'll need his Cardinals to outscore a Packers team that suddenly found some offense last week against the Redskins. And after escaping with what can only be described as a lucky win in frigid Minnesota, the Seahawks head to Charlotte to avenge an earlier defeat by the Panthers.

Kansas City (12 - 5) 27 @ New England (12 - 4) 24: The Patriots faltered down the stretch, partially due to injuries to key skill players and the offensive line. Justin Edelman and Rob Gronkowski will play, but neither one is necessarily 100%. The keys to the game will be the Chiefs being able to generate a pass rush against the Pats, forcing Brady to get rid of the ball quickly, and New England pressuring Chiefs QB Alex Smith into making some sloppy plays. The Patriots are 5 point favorites, but I like the momentum the Chiefs have. Their defense is stout and even though they have some guys back, the Patriots are still nursing some injuries. Have the Pats continually found ways to win these games over the years? Absolutely. But not today.

Green Bay (11 - 6) 17 @ Arizona (13 - 3) 30: Until the Cardinals stunk it up against the Seahawks in their regular season finale, most experts agreed that they had the most talented roster in the NFC, if not the entire league. But it was an ugly and uninspired 36 - 6 loss, prompting many to question their earlier assessment. Meanwhile, the Packers feasted on an inexperienced playoff team in Washington and head to the desert with some renewed confidence. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals' personnel hasn't changed from the team that drubbed Green Bay 38 - 8 to cap a nine game winning streak just three weeks ago. Can the Pack change that outcome? Possibly. Will they? Probably not.

Seattle (11 - 6) 20 @  Carolina (15 - 1) 31: In week 6, the Panthers went to Seattle and pulled out a come from behind victory to run their record to 5 - 0. They've only had one loss since, but after falling to 2 - 4 after the loss to Carolina, Seattle is almost as hot, winning nine of eleven to get a chance at revenge. Despite their appearances in the division round and 26 wins between them, these two teams each recorded only four W's against teams with winning records, and two of Seattle's were against the same team, the Vikings. That means the Seahawks only beat three teams with winning records. I think a rested Panthers' defense, led by cornerback Josh Norman and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, will make it difficult for what is probably a tired Seattle offense to make many big plays. On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton has blossomed into an elite quarterback and probably the leader for the MVP. Even though Carolina hasn't traditionally had a big home field advantage, the biggest edge they get this week is that their stadium is almost 3000 miles from Seattle.

Pittsburgh (11 - 6) 23 @ Denver (12 - 4) 27: The Broncos are one of the unlikeliest and least dominant conference front runners in a long time. They have an awesome defense, but Peyton Manning looks, well, how can I say it? He looks like a 38 year old guy trying to play what is probably the most important position in professional team sports. He led Denver to a big win against the Chargers to end the season, but he only threw the ball for 69 yards. When these teams last met in week 15, a balanced Denver attack had them in the lead after three quarters, before a Steeler comeback secured the game in a must win situation for Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and a pair for scores, but he won't be in Denver Sunday night. A more troubling stat for the Steelers is the 24 yards they were held to on the ground by the Broncos defense. With Brown out at receiver, running backs Bell and Williams on the sideline and Big Ben nursing an injured shoulder, it doesn't look good for Pittsburgh. I've been saying for weeks that if the Steelers got into the playoffs they would be dangerous, but not this group. Too many injuries and a rested Peyton Manning for Denver point to a win for the home team and hope for one last season of glory for their fabled QB.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier" is due out on  January 18.





Wednesday, January 13, 2016

HUE JACKSON TAKES NFL'S CLEVELAND BROWNS HEAD COACHING JOB: DOES HE KNOW SOMETHING WE DON'T?

2 - 14, 3 - 13, 7 - 9, 9 - 7 (lost to the Steelers in the wild card round in their only playoff appearance in this run), 5 - 11, 4 - 12, 10 - 6, 4 - 12, 5 - 11, 5 - 11, 4 - 12, 5 - 11, 4 - 12, 7 - 9, 3 - 13...In case you haven't guessed it, those are the records of the Cleveland Browns since they regained the franchise that was taken to Baltimore by Art Modell following the 1995 NFL season. That's thirteen double digit loss seasons out of the last seventeen, in a league that's designed to promote parity. Are you kidding me? How bad can an organization get? Why, when opportunities exist in San Francisco with five Super Bowl titles, including an appearance with their current starting QB, and with the New York Giants, winners of four titles, two of which came with much of their current roster, would former Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson take the Cleveland head coaching job? The QB situation is a circus, the front office is a train wreck and the team is in total disarray.

Jackson is now the Browns' ninth coach since 1999. That's triple the number that Pittsburgh has employed since 1969. Butch Davis is the top of the heap, winning a whopping 41% of his games at the helm. The NBA has the 76ers and the NFL is stuck with the Browns. Talk about perpetual ineptitude, these guys would have passed on Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck and anyone else that might have been able to help in resurrecting this crappy franchise. Why the fans still show up to watch this team is a mystery to me. And now Hue Jackson, with opportunities still available in San Francisco and New York, chose a job that will be his for maybe two years if he's fortunate. Of course, the last head coaching job he accepted was with the Oakland Raiders, so maybe he's just a glutton for punishment. He lasted one season where he went 8 - 8, not a bad record in the other city by the bay. He has no chance for that kind of result in the next couple of years with the Browns.

Cleveland needs a quarterback, and party boy Johnny Football isn't the answer. The problem is there is unlikely to be a franchise signal caller in this draft. So why did Jackson take on this almost hopeless reclamation project? Maybe owner Jimmy Haslam sold Jackson on the changes he's made in the front office, much like the displays at his truck stops that funded his purchase of the Browns. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty skeptical about Haslam's chances of putting a winning football team in Cleveland. Just ask Jerry Jones how it's worked out for him in Dallas since the advent of free agency. Ditto Daniel Snyder in the nation's capital and Arthur Blank in Atlanta, despite what amounts to unlimited funds. Maybe they should consult the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the Maras in New York and Robert Kraft in New England about hiring good football people, then getting out of the way and letting them do their job. The last time I checked, they've won eight of the last fifteen Super Bowls.

I wish Hue Jackson much success, even if there is probably a greater chance that I won the $1.5 Billion Power Ball drawing tonight. Some organizations are toxic, and unfortunately for football fans in Cleveland, the Browns are one of those. You can't fire the owner. Just ask me, I'm a Redskins fan.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier" is due out in January.




LEAVING ST. LOUIS: NFL APPROVES RAMS' MOVE BACK TO LOS ANGELES

The NFL owners, by a vote of 30 - 2, approved the move of the St. Louis Rams back to their former Los Angeles home. After playing next season in the storied L.A. Coliseum, they will begin play in 2017 in a new stadium complex in Inglewood, near the site of the old Los Angeles Forum. Rams' owner Stan Kroenke will be part of a group that will spend over $1.5 billion, coincidentally the same amount as the record Power Ball jackpot for tonight's drawing, to build the stadium. In addition, Mr. Kroenke will also pay the league a $550 million relocation fee that will be shared by the other 31 owners. Do I care?

At the end of the day, not really. Unless Kroenke can substantially improve his team's on the field performance, it's pretty much irrelevant from a national perspective. I feel badly for the fans that have stayed loyal to a team that with the exception of the greatest show on turf that resulted in a couple of Super Bowl appearances and one victory, that hasn't really been all that competitive since 1991. The Rams' move was not sudden at all and has been the source of a lot of speculation over the past several months. It's no secret that Kroenke has wanted an updated stadium and despite efforts by the community to make that a reality, the potential development situation in L.A. just proved to be too attractive for St. Louis to compete with.

There are several questions that will probably forever go unanswered. If Kroenke was willing to fork over at least $2.0 billion to make the move, why not spend maybe half that much and fund a stadium in St. Louis? Considering the dismal record of the team, why is there so much outcry about them leaving, except that fans won't get to see what real football teams play like when the visiting teams repeatedly bash the Rams? And finally, given that this is now the second owner in twenty-eight years to leave the city, is St. Louis really a strong football city, especially considering the success of the baseball Cardinals?

There are some aspects of this move that are attractive to me. First, I am a strong opponent of publicly financed stadiums for a business that pays its employees millions of dollars and has yet to produce a positive business case for communities to raise taxes and spend enormous sums of money to appease rich owners. This deal, as far as I understand, is being financed with private funds. So beyond the slap in the face for St. Louis, they'll probably be better off financially than to have been held hostage by Kroenke. Secondly, it will actually put all of the teams in the NFC West in, believe it or not, the west. I know St. Louis is west of the Mississippi, but it's crazy for them to make the trips they need to in order to play divisional games. The next step is to have a serious discussion about math and geography with the Big Ten, Big Twelve and Sun Belt conferences. I guess the same could be said for Dallas, but I don't see the Cowboys changing divisions anytime soon, even if it would make sense to see one more round of realignment for geographic reasons. Thirdly, it's been a bit absurd that the second largest market in the nation has been without a football team for so long. There is a unique amount of glitz and glamour associated with the L.A. scene that has been missing from the league for a couple of decades. And lastly, it gives San Diego and Oakland another year to work out deals to stay where they are. And even though I'm not that upset with the Rams' leaving St. Louis, I don't like to see too many fan bases, especially loyal ones like the Raiders have, disenfranchised by rich owners.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier" is due out in January.




Thursday, January 7, 2016

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE NFL AND COLLEGE FOOTBALL TUNNEL

As the football season winds down, even as the NFL playoffs kick off, I'm forced to consider what lies beyond February 7 and the end of the Super Bowl. Apparently, there are other sports to consider, ones that I've chosen to ignore while watching 10 - 15 college games a week and five or six NFL games on top of that. Add two or three radio shows a week, a couple of blog posts and a full time job, and well, it's easy to see why the NBA, college basketball, the NHL and Major League Baseball are forced to take a back seat. But now, we're down to a single college football game and eleven NFL clashes left until the clock strikes twelve and I'm turned into a football Cinderella, exchanging my gridiron laden commentary for more pedestrian, at least in my opinion, prose.

Sure, we can talk about how the Philadelphia 76ers are an embarrassment to not just the NBA, but to all of professional sports. Or maybe a discussion of Kobe Bryant's final season is in order, and along with it speculation about his place in NBA history. And what about the start the Warriors have had to the season and whether a record 73 wins are possible for a jump-shooting, tenacious team that won it all last year? Meanwhile, the King somehow flies under the NBA radar, quietly guiding a finally healthy Cavalier squad to the third best record in the league, despite routinely resting Lebron and Kevin Love, still trying to get in game shape after surgery prompted by a shoulder injury in the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. Let's not forget the Spurs, just a year and a half removed from a title, with the ageless Tim Duncan keeping them within reach of Golden State.

Or what about the glut of college basketball action, much of it meaningless in the face of the monster that the NCAA tournament has become? Do regular season games really matter? Can the 68th seed in in March Madness really compete for the title? And how much has the one and done era hurt all levels of the game, from the NBA, to college and all the way down to the high school junior varsity programs.

Then there is speculation surrounding the health of Tiger Woods, and whether we'll ever see him play, much less win, again. At almost 40 years old, can he recover once again from injuries to regain the form that made him the most dominant player in golf history? Can the budding rivalry of a new big three between Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day stand the test of time, or will it fizzle out as the big money and intense attention diminish their desire and drive? We can speculate about whether Dustin Johnson will ever be able to hold onto the lead in a major championship and finally get that monkey off his back. Or now that Jordan Spieth has emerged as the next big thing, is Jack Nicklaus' major title total of 18 in jeopardy of being eclipsed, now that Tiger is apparently out of the running?

Don't look now, but the team leading in points in the NHL right now is the Washington Capitals, never Stanley Cup champions with only one Finals appearance in their history. Can Alex Ovechkin finally lead them to that promised land, or will some multiple overtime loss again derail the dreams of a long-suffering franchise and fan base?

After two consecutive World Series appearances, the most recent resulting in a championship, is this the start of a Kansas City Royal dynasty, led by a crop of young, talented players developed in a first rate farm system? Or will injuries and big contracts blunt the promise of greater things to come?

Well, come to think of it, maybe February 8 won't be such a bad day after all!

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties" is due out in January.






Wednesday, January 6, 2016

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME HYPE, HIPOCRISY AND HELPLESSNESS

Major League Baseball's leading hit producer and home run hitter are not in the Hall of Fame. One for gambling on baseball following their playing career, the other for suspected but yet unproven PED use. Ken Griffey, Jr. fell three votes shy of unanimous selection, despite playing much of his storied career in the steroid era. Mike Piazza, another PED era player, was also elected to the Hall. How does this make any sense? It's easy to speculate that some players clearly used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs during their careers. What isn't clear is how many participated in the practice, because Major League Baseball chose not to include drug testing in its collective bargaining agreement with the players following the 1994 strike shortened season. While commissioner Bud Selig celebrated the home run battle between Mark McGwuire and Sammy Sosa, other more talented players watched as two supposedly juiced athletes eclipsed their numbers with no negative ramifications. Forced to keep pace, they took PED's that were not against the rules of their sport, only to be villified after the fact. It's like catching a driver on radar doing 70 miles per hour when the speed limit is 75, only to come back later and give them a ticket after lowering it to 60.

Pete Rose clearly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for his playing career. His ban from baseball following his conviction and later admission to gambling on baseball as a manager for the Cincinnati Reds is justified and I have no problem with that. But to leave him out of the Hall is just ridiculous. Gambling didn't make him the all-time hits leader. He did that through sheer determination and passion for the game. Barry Bonds, had he left the game prior to even being suspected of PED use would have been a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer. He demonstrated a unique combination of power, speed and defensive prowess. He set standards for hitting for average, stolen bases, home run production and play in the field that will not likely be bettered by today's or tomorrow's players. Griffey is a great guy, always open to interviewers, a player that grew up with the game, following in the footsteps of his father. I'm convinced that the main reason Griffey is in and Bonds is out is because Bonds was a cantankerous and caustic player, difficult to interview and even more difficult to like. Is that any rationale to deny a player induction into the Hall of Fame? Ty Cobb was evil, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle drunks, Sandy Koufax quit, Gaylord Perry cheated in a number of ways, yet all are in the Hall.

How is it that we can be so sure that John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Braig Biggio, Griffey, Piazza and the other Hall inductees from the steroid era weren't juiced? There was no testing. No proof that any player did or didn't use. Just because there was no outward appearance of PED use doesn't mean there wasn't. I'm not insinuating that any of these players were guilty of steroid use, rather my point is that it's impossible for the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to make  arbitrary decisions on a player's worthiness based on speculation and assumption. Who are they to pass judgement? I feel that they should vote for the players that were the best in their era and let history decide what legacy they leave behind. Changes in the rules, length of the season, height of the mound, stadium sizes, interpretation of the strike zone, the introduction of the designated hitter, the decreased role of the starting pitcher and yes, the use of performance enhancing drugs continually differentiate eras and make it impossible to compare statistics of players who played in other times and under different circumstances.

I congratulate Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza on their impending induction into a great and exclusive group of players. I only wish there were a few more very deserving inductees joining them this summer.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords. The third installment, "Offsetting Penalties" is due out in January.