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Friday, January 31, 2014

No winners in Super Bowl XLVIII

Before launching into my Super Bowl XLVIII prediction, I have to make one thing clear:

I am an Oakland Raiders fan.

Perhaps that’s understating things by a factor of about 10,000.  I have been an Oakland Raiders fan since 1968.  Cut me and I bleed Silver & Black™.  Just Win, Baby™.  Commitment to Excellence™.

I mean, just take a look at a sampling from the ’68 Raiders:
  • Pete Banaszak (RB)
  • Fred Biletnikoff (WR)
  • George Blanda (QB)
  • Willie Brown (DB)
  • Billy Cannon[1]
  • Ben Davidson
  • The Mad Bomber, Daryle Lamonica[2]
  • Double Ought, Jim Otto
  • Art Shell (before he was a catatonic coach)
  • Gene Upshaw (before he sold out NFL players)
  • Warren Wells
  • George Atkinson
I started watching football the year before, in 1967.  I grew up in Northern California but was actually a fan of the Rams.  More specifically, I was a fan of Roman Gabriel[3], Jack Snow, Les Josephson, and the greatest defensive front four in history:  Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, and Roger Brown[4].

But while the ’67 Rams (11-1-2) and the ‘68 Raiders (12-2) finished with comparable records, Oakland looked like they were playing a different game.

The Raiders games seemed faster, like the old NFL played on ice skates.  While the pace was quicker – the ’68 Raiders ran 59 more plays over the course of the season (4.2/game) than the ’67 Rams – it was the types of plays that made the game so exciting.

In 1967, the Rams ran the ball 56% of the time (490 passes to 390 runs).  In 1968, in addition to averaging more plays per game, the Raiders passed the ball almost as much as they ran (468 passes to 471 runs).  The ’68 Raiders threw 21% more passes than the ‘67 Rams and even back then, everyone knew that chicks dig the long ball.

Part of this was, of course, due to the style of the AFL but part was Raiders Owner/General Manager/Eventual Destroyer Al Davis’ philosophy.  Davis believed in speed and the “vertical passing game” from the time he joined the Raiders until his death.  Play faster, play deeper, play meaner.

They threw the ball to the running backs.  They were rough and tumble even before the Kenny “The Snake” Stabler and John Madden years[5].  The ’68 Raiders were new, sexy, and news.  The Heidi game was in 1968.  The Raiders finished 12-2 before falling to the eventual Super Bowl III champion Jets in the AFL Championship.

Additionally, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed in 1968.  The Vietnam War escalated in 1968 with the highest number of fatalities (16,899) recorded in a single year.  There were beatings at the Democratic National Convention and Richard Nixon was elected President by a margin of less than 1% of the vote in 1968.

In 1968, the winds of change were everywhere.  The new generation challenged the old.

And the NFL represented the old way.  The AFL represented the new generation.  The Raiders swaggered and gave exactly zero fucks.  They rebelled against the status quo.  They were anti-establishment in an era when the establishment was starting to look like the problem.

And that’s why I fell in love with the Oakland Raiders in 1968.

It was an exciting time to be a football fan.  The AFL brought a new type of football, exciting and different.  Old timers were with the NFL; the cool kids were loyal to the AFL.

So when I say I’m an Oakland Raiders fan, I don’t mean that casually.  I am able to assess the team’s chances objectively but am unable to watch them unemotionally.  They are my team and will be until the day I die.

As a result, there are teams that are either respect-hated or just plain hated by Raider fans.  In the former category are:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers:  Raider-Steeler battles in the early 1970’s were epic and it seemed the Steelers were always in our way of winning it all.  Oh…and Franco trapped it.
  • Miami Dolphins:  Ditto, except for the Franco thing.
  • Kansas City Chiefs:  From the time Al Davis joined the Raiders as an assistant in 1960 until the end of the 1969 season (ending with the AFL Championship game in January 1970), the Raiders and Chiefs split their twenty-two games, with eleven wins a piece.  The two teams represented the AFL in the first two Super Bowls and were true rivals for dominance in the final years of AFL history.
In the latter (pure hate) category are:
  • Dallas Cowboys:  Because Dallas Cowboys.
  • Everyone besides Kansas City who has ever been in the AFC West
The final category includes the San Diego Chargers and the two teams set to battle for the Lombardi Trophy in SB XLVIII, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks joined the NFL in 1976, just before the Raiders won their first Super Bowl[6].  It would be twelve years before the ‘Hawks would win the AFC West and another eleven before they’d do it again.

But they were the upstarts, the pesky team from up north[7] with guys like Steve Largent (or, as we called him, the poor man’s Fred Biletnikoff) and that wacky southpaw QB, Jim Zorn.  Later came Bo Jackson’s 91-yard run into the Seattle tunnel and Bo shutting Brian Bosworth up by trucking him in a 1987 Monday Night Football game.

So the Seahawks were rivals only in the sense that they were a pain in the ass.  But they were in the AFC West so it was a given that they were to be despised.  They were like a little brother.  We usually were fond of them but every once in a while they would puff up and show no respect.  So, yeah…screw them.

The Chargers and Broncos are hated at a deeper, more visceral level.  They have historically been impediments to the Raiders reaching and advancing in the playoffs.

But no team is hated like the Denver Donkeys.  The Mike Shanahan years were the worst.  After the acrimonious break-up of Shanahan and the Raiders in 1989, Shanahan joined the Broncos (offensive assistant), 49ers (offensive coordinator), and Broncos again (head coach).  In the first seven years as Denver’s head coach (from 1995-2001), the Broncos went 12-2 against the Raiders, with an overall 21-11 record over the Silver & Black under Shanahan from ’95-‘08.

I hate the Denver Broncos.  I hate them like they killed my puppy.  Or screwed my wife.  Or screwed my puppy.

You get the idea.

So I had to ask myself how I could provide an objective assessment of SB XLVIII and pick a winner.

I like Peyton Manning.  He’s been a class act, showing respect for the game and fellow players/teams since he came out of high school.  His return from four neck surgeries is indeed inspirational (or stupid, depending on your perspective).  And his faux United Way commercial and dance bit on Saturday Night Live remain the standards by which athlete hosts will forever be measured (apologies to Derek Jeter’s Taco Hole).

I like the way Seattle plays.  It’s team first (with the occasional exception of Richard “Look at Me!” Sherman), hard-nosed defense, and a freak of a running back who doesn’t want to talk about himself.

John Fox came back from a heart attack.  The Seahawks apparently are battling the first recorded case of mass Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in history.

The Broncos set offensive records and the Seahawks defense is nasty.

Seattle opened as 2 point favorites with the Broncos moving to -1 within 20 minutes before settling in at 2.5 point favorites by Monday (and where they remain).

Experts are split almost down the middle.  Half pick Denver, half Seattle.

So who will be the winner?

Denver will run the ball and Seattle will throw it more than most expect.  Someone unexpected will play a key role in the outcome of the game.  A quarterback will win the MVP.  There will be no (exposed) breasts during the halftime show.

But the bottom line is that neither team will be the winner.  They’re the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.  Neither will ever be winners in my book.  I am an Oakland Raiders fan and cannot bring myself to choose either the pitiable Seattle Little Brothers or the Rocky Mountain Dipshits, with or without Peyton Manning.

So I pick neither.  Bet your money or not.  Pick one side or the other.  I don’t care because the Raiders are sitting at home.  Which is where I’ll be Sunday at 6:30 pm ET, feasting on food that’s horrible for me but that tastes good.

So I guess I’ll be rooting for buffalo chicken dip and sausage balls.

And Tums.

[1] I bet you forgot Billy Cannon was a Raider, didn’t you?  Ostensibly a “running” back with the Raiders, Cannon was the predecessor of the Marshall Faulk-type back.  In 1968, he had zero rushing attempts but 6 TDs.  He redefined in my mind how the “running” back could be used.  At 6’1” and 215 pounds, he reportedly ran a 4.12 40-yard dash in high school, a classic Al Davis-type.  Plus he was an outlaw, spending 2 ½ years in Federal Prison later in his life.  A legendary, if little remembered, Raider.

[2] Second in the AFL in in 1968 with 25 TDs, behind John Hadl’s 27.  Add George Blanda’s 6 and the Raiders led the league with 31 TD passes.  Fun football to watch.

[3]  In whose honor I wore #18 throughout my playing career.

[4] Yes, this group was better than the Rosey Grier version of the Fearsome Foursome.

[5] Stabler was drafted by the Raiders out of Alabama in 1968 but didn’t join the team until 1970.  1968 was Madden’s last year as linebackers coach before starting his legendary head coaching career in 1969.

[6] Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 behind Willie Brown’s iconic 75-yard interception return for TD.

[7] Full disclosure:  I was born in Tacoma, Washington, a scant 30 miles down the Puget Sound from Seattle.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Writers Don't Surf!

Writers are faced with seemingly innumerable distractions, life stuff that comes between the ideas blowing across the barren wasteland of our minds and the words that somehow magically appear on our computer screens.

But the single greatest impediment to this successful thought transfer is the Internet.

This is a documented fact.  I know because I just documented it.  And it may even be true (though that’s not likely).

In fact, my dear friend[1] Chuck Wendig even included Freedom Internet Blocking Productivity Software as NUMBER ONE on his “Ten More Gifts for Writers (2013 Edition).”

Some blame Al Gore.  Others blame Bill Jobs or Steve Gates or one of those other computer-box dudes.

Personally, I blame Bush.  Vannevar Bush.  But that’s another story for another time.

Photo credit: MIT Technology Review

The point is that the Internet gets in the way of writing.

So I’ve come up with a solution.

Mind you, this is not an original solution.  Untold numbers of writers have already used this gimmick as blog fodder.  And by “untold,” I mean “a lot and I’m too lazy to get a real number”

It’s been said that if you do something for twenty-one consecutive days, it becomes a habit.  So theoretically, avoiding the Internet for three weeks would break me of getting sucked down the vortex of dancing bunnies and @KingBach’s Vines.

But, yeah…no.  That’s not gonna happen.  I’m a writer, not a hippy.

I do, however, believe that one week is possible and might create a third of a habit.  And as anyone who’s ever gotten a halfsie over a slutty nun costume can attest, a third of a habit can be pretty cool.

So as a means of becoming a more effective and efficient professional writer-type dude, I will spend the next seven days wholly and completely disconnected from the Internet.

I know what you’re saying.  “But Smokey Joe, how can you live without being connected for a full week?”  “How will you ever be able to research the veracity of the stories about Al Capone visiting Johnson City, TN?”  “How will you know the point spread of the NFL conference championship games?”  “How will we know if you’re a lying, cheating fink?”

To these people I say this:  Shut up[2].

Instead, I will read words on paper, write more words on other paper, and not bet on this week’s NFL Conference Championship games[3].

So wish me luck, faithful readers (thanks, Mom), as I launch out on my 2014 Freedom From the Internet-a-palooza For One Week Tour: Revenge of My Library.

Smokey Joe

LEGAL NOTICE:  I hereby reserve the right to violate this implicit contract between readers of this blog (again, thanks Mom) and the author in the event I come up with a really witty Tweet about farts.

[1] By “dear friend” I mean I met Chuck once at the 2012 Crossroads Writers Conference and I follow him on Twitter (@ChuckWendig).  I’m pretty sure he has no idea who I am.

[2] Translation:  I have no idea.

[3] Take the Broncos -5.5 and the Niners +3.5.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Back on top of the Mountain

And there you have it.

The 2013 NCAA Division I FBS National Champion Florida State University Seminoles:

And so now I put the college topics to bed and turn my attention to the NFL playoff betting lines for the next few weeks.

I'll also be bringing Seven 7hings back this winter but other writing projects await.  And I have miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

2013 was the Year of Upheaval.  2014 is the Year of Simplicity.  Thank God.


Love, peace, & chicken grease,
Smokey Joe

Monday, January 6, 2014

Not even close: FSU will decimate Auburn

As the college football season winds to a close, I’d be remiss were I not to point out my brilliant analyses over the course of this year.

It started with my brilliant analysis on Oct 3, proclaiming that Maryland would be able to run at will against the Seminoles.

Next, I’m still waiting for Jimbo or someone from his staff to call me, thanking me for the letter I wrote to Stanford on Nov 6, asking them to kindly remove Oregon from the picture.  I get it...he’s been busy.  But after tonight, the clock is running.

Then came my Nov 9 nod to Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Calrissian and this nugget about FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston:

“On the other hand, with Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater throwing out tepid numbers on Thursday and Friday, respectively, this could be a chance to showcase Jameis Winston and bolster his Heisman candidacy.”

Finally, I wrapped things up by simultaneously acknowledging and avoiding Winston’s legal troubles, all while showing off my really fabulous shoes.

And now it comes down to this:  The Florida State Seminoles versus the Legacy of Supremacy of the Southeastern, I mean, Auburn Tigers for the National Championship of College Football of the World Forever and Ever Amen.

(Or, to quote the famously insolent Duane Thomas in an attempt to put the magnitude of tonight's game in perspective, "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?")

But after all the hype, criminal non-charges, fantastic finishes, and crazy Bama Broads  (not even really that crazy, by Bama Broad standards), it really comes down to one thing:


And while dimwitted talking heads and sports Penmonkeys© (Copyright 2014, Chuck Wendig) are picking Auburn to make themselves look prescient (to wit[less]: here, here, and here), no one has done college football better this year than Florida State.

Of course there have been previous years when the undefeated, “best” team failed to produce in the big game but this Seminole team has the players, leaders, and most of all the game to close this year out with Jimbo and Jameis holding the crystal football.

Side note:  “Jimbo and Jameis” sounds like a vaguely racist buddy story from the 19th Century.  Or a bitchin’ name for a band.

But to quote Andre Romelle Young, back to the lecture at hand…

It’s no secret that Auburn (and their deluded supporters) have relied on the running game all season. Led by Tre Mason who ran for more than 1,600 yards this year, averaging 173.6 yards per game over his last five games (including 304 against Missouri in the SEC Championship tilt) and 22 TDs, Auburn was the nation’s no. 1 ranked rushing offense, averaging an outrageous 335.7 yards per game, a ridiculous 6.46 yards for each of their 676 carries.

But it wasn’t all about He, Himself, and Him (De La Soul/Maseo reference).  In addition to Mason, the Tigers had three other backs top 600 yards, led by junior quarterback Nick Marshall with 1,023.

The flip side is that the Auburn passing “attack” is something of an oxymoron.  The Tigers attempted only 258 passes on the season (less than 28% of the team’s plays from scrimmage) and ranked no. 107 in the FBS with fewer than 170 passing yards per game.

Some might call the Auburn offensive attack “old school,” relying on the run over the pass.  Others might call it imbalanced, with a 72-28% split run/pass.  But it has carried them to the final BCS Championship game so there’s that.

Defensively, Auburn ranked 62nd nationally, allowing 163.2 rushing yards per game.  They were 38th in scoring defense, allowing 24.0 points per game.

The bad news is that this is the good news.

Against the pass, Auburn was terrible, allowing 260.2 yards per game, “good” for a national ranking of 102.

Which brings us to the Florida State Seminoles…

Despite my dire—and, as it turns out, premature—predictions that the Noles couldn’t stop the run, Florida State ranked 13th in rush defense, allowing just 116.5 yards per game.  They proved that stopping the run was as easy as pi(e), allowing just 3.14 yards per carry for the season.

More importantly, whereas Auburn scored an astounding 46 TDs on the ground (as opposed to just 18 through the air…seven more than Florida which is irrelevant but still fun to rub in the faces of Gator fans), Florida State allowed just 5, fewest in the FBS and second only to North Carolina A&T’s 4 in all of Division I.

So all of this seem to point to an unstoppable force/immovable object Auburn rushing attack tonight.  They want to run and do it well.  The Noles stop the run well.  And while this might seem to be pretty much of a wash in relation to the game’s outcome, I think Auburn will be somewhat successful controlling the clock and moving the ball on the ground (somewhere around 190-200 yards).

Unfortunately there are no other arrows in the War Eagle quiver:
  • Auburn ranked 102 in passing yards allowed with 260.2 ypg.  The Noles passing attack was good for 14th nationwide at 322.0.
  • Auburn ranked 8th in scoring at just over 40 ppg.  The Noles were #1 in scoring defense, allowing just 10.7 ppg.
  • The Tigers ranked 38th in scoring defense, allowing 24 ppg.  Florida State was the #1 scoring team in FBS at 53.0 ppg.
  • Auburn was ranked 107th in passing yards per game with 169.8.  Florida State was the #1 pass defense, allowing just 152 ypg.

In other words, the numbers don’t look good for the Sawgrass boys in Pasadena tonight.

One other statistic of interest, though perhaps only to me.  Both teams were exceptional in the Red Zone, with Florida State finishing best in the nation and Auburn #8.  In 57 trips inside their opponents 20, the Tigers scored 36 rushing TDs and 6 passing TDs, for a RZ TD rate of 73.7%.  Overall, they scored on 51 of their 57 chances for a red zone scoring percentage of 89.5%.

The Noles, on the other hand, were out of this world.  On 69 trips (21% more trips than Auburn), Florida State scored 34 rushing TDs and 21 passing, for a RZ TD rate of 79.7%.  Overall, they scored on 67 of 69 trips for a red zone scoring percentage of 97.1.

Both numbers are incredible.  Kudos to both squads for getting through the door once they made it to the front porch.

OK…on to predictions for tonight’s game.

We have a “Team of Destiny” (Auburn) versus a team with statistical density (FSU).

But let’s not complicate this.  Aside from the numbers, the eyeball test gives you what you need.  Auburn had not one but two miracle finishes to make it this far.  Props to them but Florida State’s closest margin of victory this year has been two TDs (way back in September at Boston College).  Other than the BC game, Florida State’s average margin of victory has been 44.7 points per game, outscoring the 12 opponents (other than BC) 641-105.

In other words, they’re really, really good at football.

Tonight the Noles are laying 10.5 points to Auburn, with an over/under of 68.

Don’t listen to the hairspray/wide tie crowd from Bristol.  This one won’t be close.

Lay the 10.5 and take the under.

Final score:  Florida State 49, Auburn 17.