Tuesday, January 31


I wanted to follow up on Nick's fine article in favor of what should be, yet oddly isn't, the most natural thing for a sports fan to do: root for one's own favorite team.

I didn't realize at the time that his piece was a point-counterpoint to another article on The Cleveland Fan, namely Demetri Inembolidis' article that comes out semi-in-favor-of losing. I see his angle, but it's just not well-argued, and I want to deflect a few of the points he raises.

Inembolidis opens with the concept that it's impossible for a mediocre team to rise to championship level, that being middle-of-the-pack is "the worst place a rebuilding team can find themselves: Too good to have a shot at the lottery, but not good enough to even think about winning a playoff series."

This is not true. Consider two recent dynasties:

- The Chicago Bulls lost three straight opening-round series in the mid-80's, then broke through with one post-season series win, then reached the conference finals twice, then claimed three straight NBA titles.

- The LA Lakers rolled up 8th-9th-8th conference finishes in the early '90's - the worst place you can be, we're told - then rose to the middle of the conference playoff pack for several years before breaking through with three straight titles of their own.

These 8-7-8 conference finishes and first-round exits were clearly not so disastrous given what followed, so I think it's time to retire this notion that mediocrity can only beget more mediocrity. Part of what we see often in building a champion is getting that early experience, and it usually involves taking those lumps in unwinnable playoff rounds. Even though the #6-era Cavs never claimed the big prize, their surprise visits to the postseason and early forging at the hands of the veteran Pistons helped them in playoff runs down the road. I refuse to believe that these young Cavaliers overachieving and having some playoff struggles wouldn't pay off in the long run.

The author then goes on to argue against bottoming out, correctly pointing out that, "A losing culture is something that is very difficult to exorcise from a team. Those of us who 'want the Cavs to lose games' do not want the Cavs to be in the situation that the Wizards are in." This seems to be the opposite of his general pro-losing thesis, and supportive of the idea that we should be relishing the development of the young Cavaliers and that development manifesting itself as wins.

Inembolidis favors the "Oklahoma City Thunder model," which is to have two more awful years, THEN reach the playoffs as an eight seed, then lose in the first round like OKC did. The Thunder are now a top team, so this series of events has paid dividends. Yet I fail to see how this is a better approach. Why not play it more like Derrick Rose's Bulls, a bunch who everyone agreed were far from contention in Rose's rookie campaign, yet took the Celtics to seven in a thrilling seven-game first-round series? Those same Bulls lost to the Cavs in five the following year and now sit among the NBA's elite just two years later. Those years in the dreaded eight zone dropping first-round series have not stunted their development too much.

My point is that history doesn't back the notion that so-so teams cannot improve steadily and make the leap to contender status without tanking for a couple of years first. It's not that the Oklahoma City Thunder model can't or doesn't work - it's that the Chicago Bulls one does too. His claim that "Getting swept out of the playoffs in the 1st round or getting the 12th pick in the draft every year is guaranteed to not be effective team building" is simply not supported by historical fact. Gotta get those playoff reps.

Inembolidis then moves on to the current Cavaliers roster and deems it insufficient, as currently constructed, to be a top-tier club. No doubt he is correct in this assessment. This team absolutely needs more pieces. Then he moves to an odd claim from recent history that, "the Cavs were destined to lose because LeBron James made the team too good too fast," apparently in the same fashion that San Antonio was destined to lose because Tim Duncan made them too good too fast or how Dwyane Wade's early success in Miami (4th seed first year, 1st seed second year) pretty much sabotaged that franchise (championship third year). OK, I promise, no more counterexamples.

Then Inembolidis goes on the attack:

Nobody actively roots for their favorite team to lose.
Perhaps, but you're kind of advocating just that.

It is a matter of pragmatism
Here's what I see as a pragmatic view: my rooting for or against a team doesn't affect how well they play. May as well have fun with it!

There is a very real problem of the Cavs not being good enough to contend now or in the future and we simply want to change that.
As I've demonstrated, this can and has been changed many times previously without fans having to go through this soul-crushing wanting-the-club-to-lose experience.

As the Herm Edwards crowd would like to make you believe, it doesn’t make us any less of fans.
This sentence needs to be rephrased, but I think I take the meaning. I don't think this fellow is any less of a fan - I just think he's taking a poor approach to supporting a club by not enjoying wins when and as they come. If anything, he's more actively smearing my perspective than the other way around.

We all want the same thing, but it is a matter of having different philosophies of how to get there.
Kind of. It's also a matter of recognizing that there is more than one path.

I am willing to wait a few years like Thunder fans did to get a team that is favored to win their conference instead of having the cheap thrill of simply making it to the playoffs.
Getting kicked around in the first round is not a "cheap thrill" and I resent this potshot. If I wanted cheap thrills from sports, I wouldn't still be a Cleveland fan after 26 title-less years. "Simply making it to the playoffs" is almost always a necessary precursor to teams ultimately hoisting the Larry O'Brien, and those early-round exits are usually more painful than thrilling. And once again, this is a completely false dichotomy he's establishing.

It's the final part where I have the most disagreement:

Nobody is asking the front office or coaching staff to actively try and lose games. That would be transparent and going against the nature of competitive spirit.
Root for the Cavs to win then! Basketball is fun! Slam dunk!

The current NBA system penalizes teams that are kind of good and rewards great teams (by contending for a championship) and very bad teams (by having better lottery odds).
I hope I have provided enough examples to convince everyone that this is not the case.

It would be silly for the Cavs to stubbornly make personnel decisions that do not put the team in the best position to win. The Cavs need to avoid making any trades that will bring an established player that will help them win. They should probably sell high on veterans at the expense of winning games. They need to give the rookies larger roles and extended minutes. They need to consider buying out Antawn Jamison if they cannot trade him at the deadline. If the front office does these things, they will be putting the Cavs in a worse position this year, but it will give the team a brighter future moving forward.
I'm good with all of this. What he's missing here is recognition that the Front Office behavior is not the same as fan behavior. Fandom doesn't need to be the same rational, calculating endeavor that effective sports management does. We're free to pull for our team and enjoy exciting wins like yesterday's 88-87 thriller in Boston without fretting about trades and salary caps. Enjoy the wins, and when the Cavs lose games (and don't worry, they're going to lose a bunch more) take some solace in the knowledge that they've likely improved their draft position, which may help in the future.

Making the playoffs this year is fool’s gold and will stunt the team’s growth and potential.
This did not happen to the '04 Heat and '09 Bulls, for example.

The question is what matters more, winning some games now or winning playoff series in the future.
This is absolutely not the question - this is a straw man. Every fan of every team ever in the universe ever would pick the latter. What I'm saying is: enjoy the games. Enjoy the wins, sparse though they may be. I had an absolute blast during that win over the Heat last March and we still have Kyrie Irving. Watch the games and root for Irving, Varejao, Jamison, Gee, Samuels, and the gang, and if/when they fall short, they'll get some new blood and keep improving.

Go Cavs!

Photo by Michael Dwyer, AP

Friday, January 27

"Just win, baby"

I’ve always been a long-term thinker; it’s just how I’m wired. Cleveland sports are so deeply embedded in my DNA that I probably have John Hart to thank for that.

During my elementary school days I was always thrilled to read news that our beloved Wahoos had inked guys like Lofton, Thome, Ramirez, and Vizquel to long-term deals. Those were sound business decisions and in general it’s probably a good policy to forego instant gratification for a bigger payoff down the road. (There’s definitely a PG-13 joke to be made there, but I have too much journalistic integrity to pull the trigger. You’re welcome.)

“Waiting for next year” has long been the mantra of the Cleveland fan. When you’re six years old, that’s no problem whatsoever. After all, very few of us had much perspective or feel for life’s inherent brevity while we were still wearing short pants.
To say that the last few years have been lean for fans on the North Coast isn’t even an understatement – it’s just wrong. The Indians haven’t had a winning season in five years. The Browns are in the same boat, posting a robust winning percentage of .281 during that timeframe. If memory serves, something bad happened to the Cavaliers a couple years ago, but all I can remember is a rage blackout.

Recently, Cleveland has been on the receiving end of countless jokes. Some of them are founded in truth, but as a good friend of mine frequently points out, most people who trash Cleveland haven’t ever visited the city. (Otherwise known as the Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure corollary. Yeah, I’m a dork.)

Regardless, I’m willing to concede that Cleveland’s rough winters and smaller market don’t make it much of a destination for free agents. This is particularly true in the NBA, where players routinely gravitate towards higher-profile cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Cleveland is a great baseball town when the Tribe is competitive, but the state of Major League Baseball leaves smaller markets like C-Town boxing one-handed when it comes to free agency or even retaining their own quality players. In the NFL, free agents are vastly overpriced and the best ones usually never hit the open market.

My somewhat long-winded point is that for each of the Cleveland teams and their respective circumstances, quality drafting and player development is the best (and sometimes only) way to compete consistently. For the last few years, that grim reality has left me – and I know I’m not alone here – hoping to see some of our lousy clubs post inflated loss totals to improve their draft positions and hopefully return to competitiveness more quickly.

As of today I’m tendering my resignation from that club. I just can’t do it anymore.

The 2011-12 Cavaliers have been a big part of this decision. Sure, it would be great if they could add a premier small forward or shooting guard via the NBA lottery, but that possibility doesn’t help me pass the doldrums of winter any more quickly. Sports are meant to be a pleasant distraction and watching the Browns play out their December schedule hoping that they will come up short leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

Obviously we’d all go absolutely crazy if one of our ill-fated teams could somehow win a title. A higher draft pick could help, but teams (especially our teams) whiff on top picks all the time. There are no guarantees.

The fact that we have such an inferiority complex built on years of losing has, frankly, made us all a little too title-centric. Getting to the summit is the goal and if we ever reach that point it will be fantastic, but I’m beginning to believe that the ride is much more important.

For something that we as fans have almost zero control over, it just doesn’t make sense to hope your team is going to lose and take no pleasure in their victories. A few random wins during the regular season probably won’t mean much in the bigger picture of winning a championship, but what they will do is give us some excitement on an otherwise boring Tuesday night in February when there’s a foot and a half of snow on the ground.

I’m going to assume that most people reading this have at least played an organized sport in some form of rec league at some point, and if you haven’t then just bear with me. While it’s great to win league “championships,” the reality is that you often end up on teams that are mediocre or downright awful. You know that there’s little or no chance of being number one, but it’s just fun to compete and take a victory home once in a while.

I’m trying to bring that philosophy to my day-to-day fandom, because making championships the sole impetus for following a team just doesn’t seem like a great investment of my time and sanity anymore. Winning championships is still a big part of following a team, but focusing on rings and trophies can’t trump the simple pleasure of enjoying victories.

There are other arguments I planned on making here; teams rarely go from worst to first overnight, building a winning culture is important, and one player can’t win on his own (not even in basketball), etc. In the end it comes down to the fact that I need to enjoy wins. If I can’t do that, then why invest all this time and emotion?

Although the Tribe certainly has a shot to make the postseason in 2012, it’s likely that Cleveland’s playoff drought will stretch another 2-3 years before a team breaks through. Do you really want to spend all that time hoping the Cavs lose 65 games and that the Indians embarrass themselves badly enough to take a chance on the next Stephen Strasburg? Maybe you can live with that and that’s certainly your prerogative, but because my perspective has shifted (and also because I’ve come this far without hitting my self-imposed quota for Star Wars references), “I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.”

Monday, January 23

Why the Browns should draft RG3

Disclaimer: When I originally thought of the idea to write this post, Griffin was still a long shot to be drafted by the Browns at pick four. Now, it seems he may not even be available then, and if he is it's almost consensus that Cleveland will take him. But bear with me anyway and listen to my thought process on the whole situation.

Coming into the 2011 college football season, I had heard of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. I knew of him from the previous year as being a fun-to-watch, running QB. I watched him in the opening weekend of the season when he dicked all over the vaunted TCU defense in a 50-48 win. At this point I thought, “He’s going to be a very exciting player to watch all season long” - nothing more.

Early in the season, my brother, Joe, said that the Browns should take Griffin in the first round, and I literally laughed in his face. As you know, Joe has an incredible man-crush on Cam Newton, and I guess he was the first to see Cam 2.0 in RG3. Keep in mind, this was well before anyone else was mentioning him as a first-rounder. I, like most people, saw him as more of a mid-round pick that will probably end up playing WR or RB in the pros, if anything.

As Griffin continued to play outstanding football and put up ridiculous numbers throughout the season, he started gaining more and more national media coverage. By the time he was awarded the Heisman Trophy at season’s end, he was legitimately being considered a top-10 pick. I was still skeptical, questioning how his game would translate to the NFL.

Then RG3 went H.A.M. against Washington in the Alamo Bowl - gaining 350 yards of total offense while scoring twice and not turning the ball over once, en route to leading Baylor to 67 points while shattering NCAA record after record. After seeing this performance, I finally started to give him credit, noticing that he was not just a runner, but that he can really throw the ball as well. I now feel that he might be able to develop into a good NFL QB, but I still don’t think he’s worth the #4 pick of the draft...for any team other than the Cleveland Browns.

The reason I’m going against my gut here is simple: what the Browns are doing isn’t working. That much is obvious. We’ve tried to sign veteran QBs - Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Jake Delhomme, and they didn’t work. We’ve tried to draft guys in the late first and second round - Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, and they didn’t work.

It is time to do something different. Go nuts. Take a chance. What’s the worst that could happen? What do we have to lose? We go 3-13 instead of 4-12? Who gives a shit? How many rhetorical questions can I ask in a row? The Cleveland Browns need to switch things up, and Robert Griffin III presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Friday, January 20

NFL Picks: Championship Round

Nick came back to Earth a bit after a 6-0 start, but is still enjoying quite a good playoffs. Is anyone else a bit sad that there are only three football games left?

Last Week
Nick: 2-2
Figgs: 2-2
Joe: 1-3

Nick's $ Picks: 2-2

Nick: 6-2
Figgs: 4-4
Joe: 3-5

Nick's $ Picks: 5-2
Figgs' $ Picks: 2-2

Sunday, 3 pm kickoff

PATRIOTS (-7) vs Ravens
Figgs: ratbirds. I had all intentions of picking the Pats here, then I read Nick's comments. I think he is a lifetime 0-35 when he "chalks it up" or "writes it down" before the game begins. I definitely think (and hope) NE still wins, but I'm okay with picking Balt to keep it within a TD.
Joe: Patriots; For three reasons: 1) The Ravens failed to sack TJ Yates even once. Good luck with Tom Brady. 2) Joe Flacco beat Houston simply by not turning the ball over and letting Yates make the mistakes. His play was awful except for the no picks. That was good enough against a 3rd-string QB that was turnover prone. Good luck with Tom Brady. 3) Cam Cameron either has some kind of beef personally with Ray Rice, or he is simply a moronic play caller. Either way, if Rice doesn't get 20-25 touches, the Rats have no chance in my opinion. All that being said, plus the game being at New England, I like the Pats to cover since Baltimore is simply average on the road this year (4-4).
Nick: Patriots. Baltimore got pushed around on both sides of the ball last week and would have lost had TJ Yates just been mediocre. Now we're putting Joe Flacco on the road, in Foxboro, in a revenge game against an opponent that is going to force the Ravens to play from behind. Flacco can't do it, and this is an easy pick. I'm gloating, and I'm already doing my touchdown dance. ($)

Sunday 6:30 pm kickoff

49ERS (-2.5) vs Giants
Figgs: Niners. I consider this one basically a coin flip, so I figured I'd go against these other two on both games just for funsies. I've really enjoyed watching SanFran all year, especially last week's thriller in New Orleans. Looking forward to a great game either way.
Joe: Giants. I am very conflicted in this game. My initial instinct was to go Giants, then I thought about switching it, but I am so unsure that I decided to stay with my initial instinct. Alex Smith played his best game as a pro last week in outdueling Drew Brees, but I don't see that happening again. If he does the same thing against Eli, than the 9ers deserve to be in the Super Bowl. I just love the Giants pass rush, though, and I think they will put enough pressure on Smith to avoid that happening. I don't think being on the road ever affects the Giants, and I think Manning will make enough plays against a great 49ers defense to squeak out a close win.
Nick: Giants. The Giants have been rolling the last three weeks and just embarrassed a Packers team that came within a few dropped passes of going 16-0. Oh, and the Giants did it at Lambeau. This should be a close, ugly game, but I'm banking on Alex Smith failing to play two great games in a row, and the Niners failing to force eleventy-billion turnovers for the second week in a row. ($ +3)

Wednesday, January 18

The 2011 Cleveland Browns

I'm sure your first thought upon reading this headline was some variety of the simple question "why"? Or perhaps, "really"?

Yes, I'm really doing this. I'm nothing if not dedicated to my craft. After watching two weekends of quality postseason football (though fewer close games than I would have preferred), I've decided to go back and revisit the Browns' 2011 campaign. I'd like to present a few numbers and then a few impressions of a 4-12 campaign that left the Browns mired in the basement of AFC North and showed that Cleveland still has more questions than answers on the football field right now.

The team numbers
Make no mistake: the Browns earned their 4-12 record. Sure, their pythagorean expected record according to pro-football reference was 5-11, but either way they simply didn't perform on the field. The Browns posted an SRS for the year of -5.4, fourth-worst in the AFC and seventh-worst in the entire NFL. They were 30th of 32 teams in scoring offense with a paltry 13.6 ppg (the Packers led the way with 35 points a contest), topping out at 27 points in a week two victory at Indy. Perhaps surprisingly, their scoring defense (19.2 ppg) was 5th in the NFL. That number was no doubt boosted by the fact that their opponents were invariably leading late in games and had no need to score quick points, but it does indicate that there's at least something there defensively.

The offense was 30th in passing yards and 28th in rushing yards. That's a dynamite combination. Colt McCoy finished the year with a Passer Rating of 75.6 while Seneca Wallace clocked in at 65.4. The oft-injured Peyton Hillis led the club in rushing with 587 yards, but picked up just 3.6 per carry. Greg Little was our top wideout despite all the drops, with 61 catches for 709 yards. This is getting depressing.

The defense was a better unit statistically, but with a huge pass/run skew. The Browns were more effective at pressuring the passer this season, something that translated into allowing the second-fewest passing yards in the NFL this season even with safety TJ Ward inactive for most of the season. Unfortunately, their rush defense ranked 30th; both numbers I think are again indicative of the fact that no one really had to win a shootout against Cleveland this year. Call me pessimistic, but the rush number is more concerning to me than the pass defense is encouraging; a stouter run defense and improvement in our offensive output will no doubt cause a drop in our rank defending the pass. The defensive MVP was D'Qwell Jackson, who recovered from some serious injuries to post a whopping 158 tackles, second-most in the league. His 115 solo tackles were the most in the NFL.

I'm not sure how to best quantify special teams, but you all could see that ours were not nearly as good this year as in recent seasons. Brad Seely must be some sort of magician. The new kickoff rules and perhaps also drops in blocking and his own ability made Josh Cribbs less of a kick return threat, though he did take back a punt, one of his team-high five TD's this year. Brad Maynard was solid all year, averaging 40.5 yards per punt and managing to avoid dropping all but one of them in the end zone. I hate punt touchbacks, and Maynard was an artist at avoiding them. Phil Dawson was typical Awesome Dawson, hitting on 83% of his kicks including an astounding 7/8 from beyond 50 yards. Remarkable.

The thirteen football seasons since the franchise's return to Cleveland have been one extended fiasco - we all know that. They've won less than a third of their games (.326) over that span. The Packers won more games this season than the Browns have in their past three combined. But even with that backdrop of sustained struggle, I think this was the worst Browns season since the club returned to the Forest City.

It's not the worst record-wise; that distinction belongs to the '99 (2-14) and '00 (3-13) teams. But those seasons were expansion years, and you expected to take some lumps early on. The thrill of having a team back was still fresh, and we had the Tim Couch (first) Hail Mary game in '99 to get us back in the win column for the first time in four years. Plus we beat Pittsburgh in each of those two seasons, a big old ray of sunshine.

There were three (!) other 4-12 campaigns; 04, 06, and '08, and those weren't particularly enjoyable either. But those seasons all had some moments:

2004: The Browns beat Baltimore 20-3 on Opening Day (the Browns have started 0-1 in each of the other 12 seasons since the return) and had that crazy 58-48 shootout against Cincy. They also had a 99-yard touchdown play and the comedic stylings of Terry Robiskie.

2006: At least we had the novelty of the Charlie Frye experiment and the crazy DA-led win over the Chiefs.

2008: Another terrible year, but at least there was that 35-14 MNF pasting of the defending champion Giants, which this blogger attended. It was something.

And that's the thing: even our worstest years - and there have been a lot - always had something keeping fans' attention. 2011 did not. It was a season of Pat Shurmur looking absolutely befuddled on the sideline, of the offense always coming up a yard short, of Peyton Hillis turning into a drama queen, of losing division games, of blocked kicks...of rubbish. It was the most desultory season in memory, and I think that's in part because the Browns couldn't manage even one memorable win. Can you believe they were 2-1 at one point? Look at the four wins the Browns managed, and the final records of those opponents:

Colts (2-14)
Dolphins (6-10)
Jaguars (5-11)
Seahawks (7-9)

We eked out wins over four bad teams, none of them really all that exciting. The Miami comeback was nice, and the goal-line stands against the monumentally inept Jags were fun, but those were aimless wins over aimless teams. I'm someone who obviously cares about the long-term outlook of the franchise, but who also relishes wins as and when they come along, and the cupboard was remarkably bare on that front this year.

It's hard to tell where improvement will come from next season. We'll probably be on our 73rd QB in 14 years, Shurmur will seem rudderless again...I don't know. All I can hope for is that, if the Browns do submit yet another disappointing campaign, that they throw in something entertaining here and there along the way.

Tuesday, January 17

Notebook: Warriors 105, Cavs 95

The game in 300 words or less
Admittedly, I was nervous about this game, which couldn’t have been more of a trap game if Admiral Ackbar had said it himself. Back-to-back games for the Cavaliers and their fourth game in six nights; the scheduling essentially turned this into the eighth game of the road trip.

Injuries played a factor for both teams, as the Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Cavs' Anthony Parker were both late scratches. The Cavs caught a major break by dodging Curry, who has been nursing a bum ankle. As for Anthony Parker, you really only miss him when he’s gone.

Parker is ideally suited to a bench role, and he doesn’t stuff the stat sheet. That said, he brings stability to a position where the Cavs are woefully thin, provides a three-point threat, and plays decent defense.

The Warriors are playing four road games in five days (this is number three) and the mileage was clearly starting to accumulate. Neither team really made a move to grab this game, as a second quarter lead for the Warriors became a slim lead for the Cavs in the third quarter. It really wasn’t until David Lee stepped up for 13 in the fourth quarter that one team came out and made a run at winning this game, and by that point the Cavs just didn’t have enough offense to fight back.

This game would have been difficult for any team, but for a young Cavs team threatening to overachieve it was a sobering reminder of just how much room for improvement remains.

Irving Watch
Kyrie Irving single-handedly makes the Cavs watchable, even on rough nights like this one. Consider that Irving had a little bit of an “off night,” and he still scored 18 points on just 13 shots. Irving had just five assists against six rebounds, and as good as he’s been there will be games like this when he struggles to take care of the basketball.

Overall, it’s tough to be too upset with him. The knock on Irving coming out of Duke was that he wasn’t a true “franchise player” at the point guard position in the mold of a Chris Paul or a Derrick Rose. Those comparisons are unfair and ludicrous at this point in Irving’s career, but I will go so far as to say that he’s much closer to those big name point guards than I thought he would be.

Ultimately, if Kyrie is only what we’ve seen so far, then he’s still a very useful player. But it Kyrie continues improves like most young players do, well, then it’s going to be a fun decade.

Stat of the game

Turnovers: Cavaliers 25, Warriors 12

That’s the story of the game right there. Both teams ended up with similar shooting numbers and the Cavs actually did some nice work on the offensive glass, but that kind of turnover disparity is difficult to overcome. The Cavs aren’t good enough to beat many teams when they turn the ball over 25 times, and we can safely add the Warriors to that list.

No bell cow
I really hate typing the words “this is a night when the Cavs really could have used LeBron James,” because well, that’s true of almost every team every night. However, this was a night when the Cavs needed a guy who could carry the scoring burden and simply will his teammates to victory, especially in the fourth quarter.

Kyrie Irving might develop into the type of player who can score the tough points late in games with consistency, but we can expect this issue to rear its ugly head more than a few times this season. As much as I love the ball movement of Byron Scott’s offense and believe this team has some significant building blocks in place, there will be nights when they simply can’t score enough to win, and for all their flaws the Warriors are a team that can score, and you need to crack 100 to have a good chance to beat them.

Thompson getting sloppy
As excited as we all were about Tristan Thompson a few weeks ago, he’s been a little overshadowed by Kyrie Irving’s development, and rightfully so. However, our other lottery pick has quietly been a pretty consistent contributor and shows serious flashes of athletic ability in almost every game.

For Thompson, this wasn’t one of his better efforts. Thompsons displayed some classic “I’ve come this far, I might as well throw one up” moves on offense, and his game isn’t nearly polished enough for that mindset to work. At least for the time being, Thompson’s role is to clean the glass on both ends and pick up garbage points when they present themselves.

Erden getting comfortable?
Look who decided to have his best game as a Cavalier? That’s right, it’s Lurch, everyone’s favorite Turk!

I wasn’t a huge Semih Erden fan thus far (I mean honestly, who was?), but he showed more tonight that we had seen so far this season. Erden provided some bench scoring, pouring in 14 points in just over 15 minutes, on only 8 shots.

Just like that, it became clear why the Cavs are giving him every opportunity to play his way into a role. Erden clearly has some talent and moves pretty well for a seven-footer, which the Cavs don’t exactly have coming out their ears. Tonight Erden managed to provide some scoring and an inside defensive presence. Ultimately, that’s all the Cavs are looking for; 15 -20 decent minutes off the bench with some rebounding, defense, and 5-10 points. If Erden can become the second center, filling the role that Ryan Hollins never could, he’ll prove to be a steal. Remember, he and Luke Harangody were acquired from the Boston Celtics for just a 2013 second round pick.

Up Next: Friday January 20th, Chicago Bulls, 7:30 pm

Friday, January 13

NFL Picks: Divisional Playoffs

Last weekend, Nick boasted inaccurately that he "always slaughters Wild-Card weekend." A quick check of the historical record (.500 overall the past two seasons, both for all picks and money picks) disproves that claim, but credit where credit is due: Nick crushed this year's postseason opening round, rolling to a 4-0 mark and notching a perfect mark on $ games. Well done! Can the magic continue during the Divisional Round?

That Broncos win was awesome, just wanted to say that again. OK, onto the picks.

Last Week
Nick: 4-0
Figgs: 2-2
Joe: 2-2

Nick's $ Picks: 3-0
Figgs' $ Picks: 2-2

Saturday4:30 pm kickoff

49ERS (+3.5) vs Saints
Figgs: Saints. This was a really tough call for me cause I really like this Niner team and it's on the Bay, but I just don't see anyone slowing down this offense. I've been hoping to see a Saints/Packers rematch in the NFC title game ever since their thriller in Week 1, and I'm counting on getting that wish this weekend. (Side note: You'll notice no '$' this week, as Ohio St, the BCS Championship, and last weekends playoffs games officially sent me to brokeville...until I put more money in my account next season.)
Joe: Saints; Their passing attack should be able to move the ball and produce enough points to win. The 9ers have one of the best run defenses in recent memory, but that doesn't stop what Brees and Sean Payton do best, and that's chuck it. I think San Fran holds the Saints well below their ridiculous 40 point mark, but their offense will not score enough. 27-20, Saints.
Nick: Niners. It's a go-against-the-grain pick, and why not? Everyone wants to write off the Niners, but they have the league's best defense and one of the best special teams units. They will be able to move the ball on a weak Saints defense. They have home field advantage, a week off, and a great coach. Did I mention the Saints are outdoors? This is Saints-Seahawks all over again, but with a much better team. San Fran is the number two seed and they should be insulted to be more than a three-point dog at home. Captain Comeback will have his guys ready to go. ($ +4)

8 pm kickoff

PATRIOTS (-14) vs Tebows
Figgs: Pats. Thank you, Denver, for doing what you did last week. All of us owe you big time. But now let's let the real teams close out these playoffs. NE in a big, big way.
Joe: Broncos!; They can lose by 50 and it won't matter, because they already accomplished everything that I wanted them to in these playoffs. I don't know if the magic can continue this week, but this spread seems way too high. If the Broncos cut out the turnovers that killed them in their 41-23 regular season loss to the Pats, I think they have a shot. That said, I'll take New England to win 31-24, but no way I'm giving that many points.
Nick: Pats. The cinderella story ends here in ugly fashion. A healthy Pittsburgh team easily could've beaten the Broncos by double-digits. Thank the gods they weren't healthy, and let's not forget to mention that they suck. Tom Brady surgically dismantled the Broncos in Denver, and now the Patriots are healthy, rested, and have had extra time to prep. John Elway better bring his bib, because it's going to get messy. ($ -13.5)

Sunday, 1 pm kickoff

RAVENS (-9) vs Texans
Figgs: ratbirds. With shitsburgh already out, I would love to see Baltimore join them at home, but I just don't see it happening. Yates is going to get eaten up by this defense. The Ravens may only need to score 10 to cover this.
Joe: Ravens; I don't know how to read this Houston team without Schaub. I was set to take them to go to the Super Bowl with him, and then completely jumped off the bandwagon without him. I think I went too far the other way. Truth is, they're probably somewhere in the middle. If this game was in Houston, even with Yates, I would call for the upset, but Baltimore has been unbeatable at home this year (8-0). So I'll take the Rats to cover, 24-13.
Nick: Ravens. I hate this being over a touchdown, but if the Texans get down by two scores the game is over. Baltimore is undefeated at home and Houston just won their Super Bowl by winning a home playoff game. ($ -7.5)

4 pm kickoff

PACKERS (-9) vs Giants
Figgs: NYG. I like the Packers to win, but by a TD or less. The Giants have been a hard team to figure out all year, and I feel like I've usually been on the wrong side. They could come out and pull an Eli and shock the world and knock of the defending champs, or they could come out and pull an Eli and lay a total egg and lose by 25.
Joe: Giants; I think it could be a similar shootout to their regular season meeting. I love the Packers, but the GMen seem to perform their best in the playoffs as road dogs. I won't be at all surprised if New York pulls off the outright upset, but I like Green Bay, barely, 34-31.
Nick: Pack. This is a couple of points too high, as Green Bay has issues on their offensive line and in the middle of their defense. That said, the Giants have been remarkably inconsistent, and we just don't know which team will show up in Wisconsin. I'm banking on a rested Green Bay team that can mask some of its inadequacies with home field advantage and two weeks to scheme. We'll see what happens. ($ -7.5)

Thursday, January 12

Monday, January 9

Buckeyes Get Chomped

Well, that season wasn't very fun. Ohio St capped off its worst season in memory by losing to Florida in the Gator Bowl, 24-17. The loss dropped the Buckeyes' record to 6-7, their first seven-loss season since 1897. Yes, over 110 years ago. OSU wasn't entirely outplayed, as the Gators' three touchdowns came on a kickoff return, a blocked punt, and a non-reviewed incomplete pass. The Bucks could never really get their offense going, however, and simply didn't put enough points on the board to avoid a sub-.500 finish.

Game Recap
Ohio St got the first break of the game, when Fla QB John Brantley was hit and seemingly threw an incomplete pass on 3rd and 5 from the OSU 25 on the game's first possession. The play was reviewed, and correctly overruled as a fumble. The break came when the officials gave Ohio St the ball, even though there didn't appear to be a clear recovery. Garrett Goebel did end up with the ball, but the whistle had been blown, several players stopped, and it wasn't until several seconds later that Goebel jumped on it. Nevertheless, Ohio St took over and picked up a few first downs, but the drive stalled and Ben Buchanan's punt went into the endzone for a touchback.

Brantley looked very competent on the next drive, leading the Gators right down the field and throwing a 17-yard TD strike to Deonte Thompson for the first score of the game. The second break (and pretty much everything from here on out) went UF's way this time. Upon replay, it was clear that Thompson never really had possession of the ball, and the play should have been ruled incomplete. The referees never decide to take a second look, and the PAT was good before Luke Fickell was able to plead his case. While Fickell was understandably upset, he didn't seem to handle the situation well, as he could have opted to call a timeout to give the officials an extended chance to take a second look.

Boom Herron took the ball on the first play of the next drive with OSU trailing 7-0, and immediately fumbled. This was another close play, actually was reviewed, but ultimately determined to be the correct call and Florida was given the ball deep in OSU territory. Two plays later, Brantley fumbled for a second time, giving the ball right back to the Buckeyes as the first quarter came to a close.

TE Jake Stoneburner was held out of this game due to an injury, and third-stringer Jeff Heuerman (who?!?) came up with a big 25-yard catch to set up a touchdown pass to DeVier Posey to tie the game. The tie didn't last long, as speedster Andre Debose took the ensuing kick 99 yards to the house (pictured above) to immediately regain Florida's lead. Not only was he untouched, I don't think a Buckeye came within five yards of him. Each team then traded punts, with Ohio St getting the upper hand in the field position, leading to a last-second, 47-yard field goal by Drew Basil to make it 14-10 at halftime.

Ohio St got the ball to begin the second half, but a holding penalty after a couple of first downs hindered the drive and Buchanan was again forced to punt. This time RB Chris Rainey came off the edge and easily blocked it. No white jerseys were to be found as a slew of Gators had the opportunity to scoop the ball and walk into the endzone. I mentioned how I was worried about Rainey's speed and playmaking ability affecting this game, but I was not expecting it to come forth in this type of situation. With the Ohio St offense struggling, Florida's second special teams TD of the afternoon just about sealed this one.

After another Buchanan punt, OSU almost got back into it when Tyler Moeller turned Brantley over for the third time with an interception, but the Bucks gave it right back when Posey fumbled three plays later. Florida had a short field to work with, and added three more points to their lead on a Caleb Sturgis FG to begin the 4th quarter.

On Ohio St's next two, basically do-or-die, possessions, they managed only one first down, that coming off a Florida facemask penalty. With the time all but expired and needing a miracle, Braxton Miller hit Jordan Hall for an 11-yard touchdown. Florida recovered the onside kick attempt and a couple of kneeldowns preserved the 24-17 Bowl victory.

Game Ball
While Ohio St's offense sputtered and special teams self-destructed, the defense played very well. The Buckeyes only gave up 263 yards of total offense while forcing three turnovers. Brantley had a good completion percentage on limited attempts (12/16), but only threw for 132 yards with one touchdown and interception apiece. Similarly, while they didn't completely shut down track star running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, they held them in check to the tune of 71 and 30 yards, respectively (4.4 and 4.3 YPC). The big thing was that they didn't allow the big play that Florida is accustomed to (again, we're talking strictly defense here, as obviously the special teams allowed two HUGE plays). Rainey's longest run was 11 yards and Demps' went for 10, while wildcat extraordinaire Trey Burton was limited to only 4 carries for 23 yards.

Several players deserve consideration, as John Simon was in the backfield often (as always), Jon Hankins made several tackles, and Tyler Moeller had the INT, but LB Etienne Sabino made the biggest impression on me in this game. He was all over the field, making play after play. At one point, he blew by a lineman and made a vicious tackle on Brantley, injuring both players on the play and prompting my friend to text me, "Sab's got a body count going." With Andrew Sweat moving on, Sabino will be called on to be the leader of next year's linebacking corps.
2011 Gameballs: Miller (3), Herron (2), Roby (2), Simon, Sabino

Big Ten
Another year, and another embarrassing Bowl season for the conference the Buckeyes call home. The Big Ten was well-represented, getting 10 teams into a Bowl game this season. The bad part is they finished 4-6. Not a terrible record, but two of the wins came over Western Michigan (to Purdue) and UCLA (Illinois), two teams finishing the year with a combined 13-14 record. Then of course there's that school up north's overtime victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. In typical bitchigan fashion, Va Tech had several missed opportunities throughout the game, as well as a crucial call go against them in OT. can't-tie was just dreadful, completing only 9 of 21 passes and rushing 13 times for 13 yards. His two touchdown tosses were the usual jump balls that somehow the defense never gets, and his interception was an absurdly ugly looking pass.

So really the only good win for the conference came in the Outback Bowl, where Michigan St outlasted Georgia through three overtimes to win 33-30 after trailing 16-0 at halftime. The Big Ten was in four other New Year's Day Bowls, dropping each one. In addition to Ohio St, Penn St was embarrassed by Houston in the Ticket City Bowl, BT newcomer Nebraska was smoked by South Carolina in the Capital One, and Wisconsin put up a fight but couldn't slow down Oregon's ridiculous offense in a 45-38 Rose Bowl loss. In earlier contests, Iowa was stomped by Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl and Northwestern's late push came up short against Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

Farewell, Seniors
While this wasn't Ohio St's strongest senior class ever, at least seven big time players will be moving on (hopefully to the NFL). The biggest loss will be on the offensive line, where three-year starters T Mike Adams, C Mike Brewster, and T J.B. Shugarts are all graduating. These guys will not be easy to replace. Also departing from the offense are the two best players, RB Boom Herron and WR DeVier Posey. The good news is that these two were suspended for the majority of the 2011 season so next year's starters will have had experience; the bad news is that the offense didn't exactly flourish when Herron and Posey were sidelined.

Things look much better on the defensive side of the ball, where only two starters (LB Andrew Sweat and S Tyler Moeller) will graduate. Sweat is a huge loss, but the Buckeyes always reload quickly at the linebacker position.

I said at least seven, because two big-time decisions loom this off-season. DL John Simon is the only Buckeye with enough talent to leave Columbus early for the NFL, but I have not heard if he is leaning one way or the other. For all I know he already announced he is coming back. The other concerns Simon's fellow lineman Nathan Williams. Williams is a senior, but missed the entire '11 season. Again, I haven't heard anything on whether he will be redshirted or not or even if he is eligible to be. Williams came into the season with more promise than Simon, and we all know how well Simon played. So if they can both come back, opposing QB's will be doing a lot of running for their lives as these two will be constantly wreaking havoc.

Without hearing much from the experts, Adams, Posey, Brewster, Sweat, and Herron (in that order) could all be decent prospects in my opinion. Posey will be hurt by basically not having a senior season, but I could see him and Adams being 2nd or 3rd round picks. I hope they all make it to the pros, and wish them all luck at the next level - as long as they don't play for Pittsburgh (damnit, Cameron Heyward).

Looking Ahead
I am so over talking any more about this season. It was bad enough to live through it once. Next season, Ohio St has a lot to look forward to (a new coach in Urban Meyer, Brax's continued development), but unfortunately cannot compete for a Big Ten Championship or play in a Bowl game. While the second part of that statement really sucks, it still won't stop me from intensely rooting for the Bucks each and every week.

The defense was good in 2011, but expect it to be back at the very top of the nation next year, especially if Simon and/or Williams return. Jon Hankins, Garrett Goebel, and Adam Bellamy are all very talented and will be back on the line - if you add Simon and Williams to that it just doesn't seem fair for other teams. Not to mention two of the top DL high schoolers committed to OSU.

The linebackers will miss Sweat, but Sabino and Storm Klein should be ready to take the reigns. The secondary will be just loaded with talent and experience but also inconsistency. Due to injuries and suspensions, corners Travis Howard, Bradley Roby, and Dominic Clarke and safeties C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Orhian Johnson all saw significant minutes this season and all showed lots of promise at times. At other times, they all looked like nothing more than backups.

Offensively, everything revolves around QB Braxton Miller. Brax had some great moments this year, but certainly looked like a freshman. His job will get harder next year, as I mentioned three very reliable linemen are gone. Someone will also need to step up as a go-to receiver. Philly Brown, Devin Smith, and Verlon Reed will have the first crack at it.

Boom Herron has played his last game in the Scarlet and Gray, but running back is the position I'm least worried about. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde are fine backs, while not particularly flashy. I have no idea what happened with Jaamal Berry this season and why he never saw the field, but he could be back in the mix next season as well as Rod Smith, a promising back who couldn't crack the rotation with so many quality guys on the depth chart. Super fullback Zach Boren also returns for his final season.

As I said, not playing in a Bowl really blows, but it might give the season a "we have nothing to lose" kind of feel to it, similar to what USC did this year. Add that to having Urban Meyer at the helm and Braxton Miller running the offense, we should be in for an exciting 2012 campaign.


Friday, January 6

NFL Picks: Wild-Card Weekend

Congratulations once again to Joe, who claimed the FCF picks title in his first season of analyzing the matchups. Note that the final scores are only 255 games and not the correct 256 - we didn't get in picks for the Thursday Week 1 kickoff game. Our players might get a shot to run that one back, though, since Green Bay - New Orleans might well be an NFC playoff tilt here shortly.

But now it's time for the NFL's glorious second season and for all of us at FCF to throw our full support behind the great Tim Tebow. WHY DON'T YOU GO HOME, PITTSBURGH??? YOU CAN'T BEAT DENVER!!!

Last Week
Figgs: 7-8-1
Nick: 6-9-1
Joe: 5-10-1

Figgs' $ Picks: 1-0-1

Final Standings
Joe: 132-112-11
Nick: 120-124-11
Figgs: 117-127-11

Figgs' $ Picks: 22-25-2
Nick's $ Picks: 36-29-5

4:30 pm kickoff

TEXANS (-3) vs Bengals
Figgs: Bengals. Like Joe said, just can't justify picking Yates in a playoff game. Still not a huge fan of Cinncy, and I'm sure they'll get smoked in the next round, but A.J. Green and co. willl have enough to get by this battered Texan team. ($)
Joe: Bengals; They have a very good defense and Andy Dalton and AJ Green were a fantastic pair of draft picks (at least one Ohio team can get the draft right). Also, (unlike Nick when it comes to admitting he was wrong about the Falcons being good) I will admit I was wrong on this team for most of this season. I'll take the Bungles for these reasons, and because I simply don't feel comfortable taking either TJ Yates or the dreadful Jake Delhomme.
Nick: Texans. Houston is balanced, at home, and that place will be loud. ($)
Andy: Man, do I ever want to see Jake Delhomme in a playoff game this year.

8 pm kickoff

SAINTS (-10.5) vs Lions
Figgs: Saints. Lot of points, but those numbers that Andy gave us are staggering. And to Andy's point, I was going to bet on the game either way, just wasn't sure if I wanted to lay that many points. After a quick debate with myself, I went in the direction of Brees. ($)
Joe: Saints; A lot of points, but this is the worst possible matchup for an exciting Lions team to get. I would have picked them to win outright against the Giants or Falcons, but this is a game I can see the Saints winning like 45-28. I'll swallow the points here and watch New Orleans "Brees" into the next round. (I'll be here all night, folks.)
Nick: Saints. ($ -10)
Andy: New Orleans AVERAGED more than 43 points per game at home this season. Is that even something you can comprehend? Seriously: 30, 40, 62 (!), 27, 39, 31, 45, 45. The MOST points the Browns scored at home in a game this season: 17. Are we sure this is even the same game?

Also, as of me writing this, Figgs has the "$" next to his name but has not entered a pick. Awesome.

1 pm kickoff

GIANTS (-3) vs Falcons
Figgs: ATL. C'mon, was there any doubt. I don't like the Giants' inconsistency, I do like the Dirty Birds. ($)
Joe: Falcons; I really like the Giants and a lot of their players, but they have been way too inconsistent for me to feel comfortable picking them. ATL, on the other hand, is the model of consistency. Give me Ryan, White and the dirty birds to get the outright win on the road. (Since I nailed the exact score of the Saints game, I decided to add score predictions to the Sunday games as well). 23-21 Falcons
Nick: Giants in a late switch. Everyone's picking the Falcons here and just ignoring that this is an obvious pick for the Giants. Playoff home game giving only the standard three points, outdoors, with the Giants playing pretty well the last four weeks. I'm not going to over think it or get cute, this a classic "take the home team and don't look back" game. ($)
Andy: The conventional wisdom last week was that Dallas would complete their late-season fade, and that the Giants pass rush would cause all sorts of trouble for Tony Romo. Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right. Has anyone ever seen Jerry Jones NOT wearing a suit?

4 pm kickoff

BRONCOS (+9) vs steelers
Figgs: Broncos. Fuck you, pittsburgh. I will be fully rooting for Tebow for the first time ever. ($)
Joe: Broncos; I don't see any realistic way the Broncos pull off this win, but everything Timmy T has done this year has been beyond realistic, so I'm saying there's a chance. Taking emotion out of it, however, (which is impossible to do when the Steelers are involved), I seriously think Denver will keep it within the point spread. Ryan Clark will be missed more than people will give him credit for, and the Donks defense should keep this to a low scoring game. I too will be Tebowing on Sunday hoping they do more than keep it close though. Come on Denver! (14-6 douchers).
Nick: Donks. Yup.
Andy: I will be Tebowing all day long if the Broncos can somehow topple the steelers in this one. Can we PLEASE not have another goddamn Baltimore-Pittsburgh AFC Championship game?

Thursday, January 5

Life's a Brees

New Orleans QB Drew Brees set the single-season passing record in 2011, throwing for 5476 yards and easily eclipsing Dan Marino's 1984 mark of 5084. Ordinarily, this accomplishment would be highly celebrated, but I've found that this one has come with more caveats than kudos. "Of course someone broke the record," people are saying - the NFL's modern rules make it much easier to pass for a lot of yards. Marino had to do it at a time when more hitting of receivers and quarterbacks was allowed, while today's lax rules have resulted in a proliferation of 4000+ yard passers. Brees' "record" thus isn't nearly as impressive as Marino's. It's a sham. On this topic, Bill Simmons writes:

Was it right that I didn't get excited about Drew Brees' new passing yards record? It reminds me of Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double, or any of the Bonds/McGwire home run records; it's impossible to separate the era from the accomplishment itself. When Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984, you were allowed to (a) pummel the QB every chance you had, (b) dive at the QB's knees as he was throwing the ball, (c) crush any receiver coming over the middle, and (d) jam receivers at the line by any means necessary, even if you had to use a crowbar or a chainsaw. It was impossible to throw for 5,000 yards back then. Only two other 1984 QBs cracked 4,000 yards (Neil Lomax and Phil Simms); nobody else cracked 3,800 yards; and only five guys even attempted 500+ passes (Marino's 564 was the highest). In 2011? Ten QBs will crack 4,000 yards; six will crack 4,500 yards; two (including Tom Brady) will crack 5,000 yards. Heading into Week 17, ten 2011 QBs have already thrown more than 500+ passes, with Brees leading the way with 622. It's a totally different game. Heading forward, we're going to see multiple QBs throw for 5,000 yards every season … right?

All of this is true...except that it's not.

The key misstatement that Simmons makes is that, "it's impossible to separate the era from the accomplishment itself." This is quite simply not true - the league and individual statistics are so readily available that there's no excuse for making a statement like this. Baseball has taken it further, with numbers like WAR and Win Shares that translate across eras. There's a little more heavy lifting to be done in football, but it's very much possible to consider various achievements with respect to their eras. Consider Robertson's triple-double that Simmons cites; I've seen articles explaining how, once you adjust for posessions per game, LeBron's numbers far exceed the Big O's. That's an inverse situation from Brees/Marino, because it's actually gotten more difficult, but the point is that you can readily make that comparison with available information. And Bonds and McGwire did steroids - I have no idea what he's trying to gain there.

Yes, the rules have made passing easier in today's NFL than it was 27 years ago (except, apparently, if you're the Cleveland Browns), and it's fair to discount Brees' gaudy numbers somewhat on that basis. But have those casually dismissing his achievement (and, for that matter, the stellar season of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers) bothered to actually look at the numbers? This is the kind of lazy non-analysis typically performed by people who can't be bothered to look up or understand an OPS+ - I'm dismayed to see this insidious mode of thinking has made its way into football as well.
First, a quick comparison across eras:

League Average Passer Rating: 73.2
League Average YPG passing: 205.9

League Average Passer Rating: 82.5
League Average YPG passing: 229.7

Again, I'm not disputing that teams have become more adept and efficient at piling on passing yards - they clearly have based on these figures, and the rule changes have no doubt aided that transition. I am saying, though, that you need to make a baseline comparison before just sloughing off a guy who threw for over 350 yards a game. I mean, what if Brees threw for 100000 yards this year? Would it still not be a significant accomplishment? Is Marinos's record always going to be the height of quarterbacking, no matter what, because of these rule changes that took place? Of course not - a shrewd analyst compares across eras and evaluates from that standpoint. Knowing the differences between seasons, let's compare our elite passers to that season's averages:

Marino Passer Rating: 108.7 (+35.5)
Marino YPG passing: 317.8 (+111.9)

Brees Passer Rating: 110.6 (+28.1)
Brees YPG passing: 342.3 (+112.6)

Rodgers Passer Rating: 122.5 (+40)
Rodgers YPG passing: 309.5 (+79.8)

The pro-Marino argument typically rests on how much better he was than any other QB when he set his mark, and indeed he exceeded the league-average YPG by just under 112 yards a contest. That's a lot. Drew Brees, slacker that he was, playing in today's wildly inflated conditions, only managed...just over 112 YPG more than league-average. Inasmuch as the record in question was for passing yardage, this seems the most relevant number, no? I mean, if Brees passed for exactly 5085 yards, then we'd write a different story, but since he outpaced his league by basically the same number as Dynamic Dan, can we maybe give the guy a little bit of credit for passing for 400 more yards than anyone ever?

Rodgers may not have amassed the same yardage (in part because he sat Week 16 while Matt Flynn shredded the Detroit defense for over 500 yards), but his season also compares favorably to Marino's epic '84 campaign. Again, the whole Marino case rests on differences between eras, on how much better his numbers were than his peers', and his advantage of 35.5 Passer Rating points over the NFL average is indeed remarkable. Well, Rodgers' edge was 40, and his yardage disadvantage with respect to Brees and Marino probably has something to do with the Packers firebombing teams week in and week out and running late to seal wins.

The point of this piece isn't to knock Marino - I've liked Marino since I sported a #13 Dolphins jersey as a kid. In fact, I basically feel the same way about Brees now as I did Marino in the '80's. I don't have a horse in this race, other than gaining proper understanding. I actually think Marino's combination of yardage and efficiency, relative to the competition, actually gives his season a slight edge over the NFC's top two gunslingers. The point I'm making is that Brees' accomplishment is impressive after one actually accounts numerically for the differences between 1984 and 2011, instead of simply citing those differences and declaring Marino the unimpeachable best.

Tuesday, January 3

The Downtown Report: 2011 in Cleveland Sports

That was tough.

By "that," I mean the past 12 months of sports for those of us who support the three Cleveland pro teams and the Ohio State Buckeyes. As I wrote a month ago, this past 365 was the worst collectively for our clubs in the past 25 years with the exception of 1991, a year that 2011 paralleled quite closely. I'm not looking forward to 2031 one bit.

But just because doesn't mean we didn't claim a whole lot of championship hardware doesn't mean we didn't have our share of fun moments in 2011. OK, maybe not the Browns. But generally speaking, a 47-year pro championship drought hardens you to the realities of losing and helps you develop a skill for finding joy in smaller victories. We've got a long way to go before we turn into those steeler fans who can't deal with a team that *only* wins 11 games in a season.

Let's look back on some of the good times we managed to eke out in 2011 and look ahead to a better 2012.

The Indians finished 2011 wth an 80-82 mark, second place in the AL Central but a whopping 15 games back of first-place Detroit. But as far as mediocre seasons go, this was one heck of a fun campaign. The Tribe stormed out of the gate, peaking at a stunning 30-15 before falling back to earth and eventually being overtaken by the Tigers (but not the White Sox - ha!) Cleveland was in the division hunt until late August, certainly more than most expected from the young Wahoos.

As I wrote back in October, the Indians' 2011 was filled with magic moments. I'd encourage you to read that article and see if you don't get a little wintertime Tribe fever. Think about the big wins:
- The early sweep of Boston
- The 14-game home winning streak
- The sweep of Detroit with three straight come-from-behind wins including Carlos Santana's iconic grand slam
- Hafner's walk-off home run against Seattle and walk-off Slam against Toronto
- Sweeping Pittsburgh
- Walk-offs from rookies Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis
- LaPorta salvaging Tribe Weekend with a walk-off
- A July 4 win over the Yankees
- Santana walking off again for victory #80.

Lots of memorable moments for a season that ended up pretty close to .500. It's hard to tell what to expect from the 2012 bunch, but as presently constructed I don't see them besting that mark by much. Masterson and Jimenez should anchor the top of the rotation, but how effective can Carmona, Lowe, Tomlin, and the rest be? Will the Bullpen Mafia maintain their high level of play and avoid the bullpen volatility that seems to strike the Indians every other year? Can they fill their hole at 1st base and get enough production from the lineup? Can Sizemore and Hafner stay healthy?

Some of the questions will probably resolve themselves positively and others negatively, so I see the Indians probably treading water in 2012. Even if that is the case, let's hope that campaign is filled with as many special moments as this one was.

Back in January, I wrote that, "Nothing about the Browns' Pat Shurmur hire makes me especially optimistic," and I wish I hadn't been so right. Just prior to the season, I wrote a scathing assessment of the Browns in an email to a steeler fan buddy of mine. Let's take a look at how I did:

The Browns are going to suck this year.

The only reason they seem like they might be OK is they have a weak schedule, but as I wrote on the blog recently, strength of schedule is pretty much a mirage in the NFL. Last year we opened with KC and TB and those looked like easy W's and then both of them ended up winning 10 games, including one each against the Browns of course.
I stand by this. Teams that looked like potential W's, like Oakland, Tennessee, Cincy, San Fran, and Houston, all turned out to be playoff-caliber teams, and clubs we expected to be tough outs like Pittsburgh and Baltimore turned out to be exactly that. The four teams we did beat have a combined winning percentage of .313, which is terrible.

We hired our head coach Pat Shurmur mostly because our team President used to coach with his uncle Fritz. His biggest accomplishment: O-coordinator on a team that's won 8 games in the past 2 years.
The opening remark there is a glib overstatement, of course, but the nepotism angle didn't sit well with me then or now. Shurmur's work this year has been universally panned, as he's basically looked befuddled and lost all year and shown no indication of above-average leadership. There'll be at least another year for Paddy to prove my concerns unfounded, but signs are not good.

McCoy has some promise, but he's still green and will probably make tons of mistakes, like any young QB with no weapons, running game, or protection.
I wouldn't change one word of this, though I failed to anticipate he'd miss three games after a cheap shot from a player who deliberately violates league rules in an effort to deliver concussions to opponents.

Hillis is guaranteed to be hurt by midseason. He runs too hard and the Browns give him the ball too much. He also has giant arms and fumbles too much. He's a total one-year wonder - anyone who took him in fantasy should be regretting it. Unfortunately we have no other decent backs, and we got rid of our excellent fullback Vickers too.
Um...could I have gotten this any more right?

Joe Thomas' signing was monumentally stupid; he was below-average last year and is probably on the decline, so we lock him up for the most money of any lineman for seven years. We'll do the same for Hillis, I'm sure. Steinbach is hurt. I have no idea who we will fill out the line with. McCoy will be running for his life all year.
Mostly right, though I was too hard on the Thomas signing. I do think we overpaid for #73, but he is a solid, dependable player. My misgivings about the line were well grounded.

Tight end is actually a strength. WR is pathetic though; unheralded rookie Greg Little is probably our #1. Don't expect many points from Cleveland this year.
Check, check, check.

Kick return was a strength for us, and now the NFL effectively banned kick returns. Our punter tore his achilles in training camp and will miss all year. Phil Dawson is awesome at least.
The rule change didn't take as big of a bite out of KR's as I thought, but Josh Cribbs hasn't been as electrifying in years past. Reggie Hodges' injury was worrisome, but Brad Maynard filled in nicely. I can't say enough good things about a punter who committed all of one touchback this year, and that on a weird bounce on a 63-yard kick into the wind. Phil Dawson is, indeed, awesome.

Our D will suck like it does every year. We switched to a 4-3 and don't have the personnel at all for it on the line or behind it. No depth whatsoever, and only two competent d-backs.
D was a little better than I anticipated, although they allow 150 ypg on the ground, 30th in the NFL. Taylor and Sheard were nice additions to the line, and D'Qwell Jackson had a remarkable bounceback campaign. But beyond #52 the 'backers are not strong, and the lack of depth in the secondary was correct and hurt by TJ Ward's absence.

Lucky to win 6 this year.
And......not lucky.

A preview of 2012 is a fairly futile exercise at this point, as we don't know who will be under center or how the draft will shake out. But you'll be able to knock me over with a feather if they improve the talent (and coaching) enough to get above .500 next year.

Where do I even start?

The basketball team had a fantastic season, cruising to a 32-2 mark and claiming their second straight Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. They reached the Sweet Sixteen before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Regional semis. Still, another banner year for the Buckeye hoopsters, who are currently ranked #2 in the nation.

Then there's the football program. Things started great with a thrilling Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas, then all hell broke loose. The suspensions. The departure of Jim Tressel. The self-imposed sanctions. The NCAA-imposed additional sanctions. The guy from Cleveland Strikes Back sending about 10000 psychotic anti-Luke Fickell hate tweets. It was a strange year.

It was, of course, a disappointing year, given the lofty expectations and recent track record of the Buckeye football program, as OSU went just 6-7, posted a losing record in conference play (only the sixth such season in the past 67 campaigns), dropped seven for the first time since '97 (1897), and lost to a school up north for the first time since 2003.

Yet even with all the turmoil and with a young team including freshman QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes pulled off a couple of signature victories. First was a 17-7 win in Champaign against then-#16-ranked Illinois, right on the heels of the soul-crushing loss in Lincoln. Notably, OSU claimed the Illibuck by completing precisely one pass.

Then there was the thrilling 33-29 win over #12 Wisconsin, puncutated by Miller's amazing 40-yard go-ahead TD strike to Devin Smith. If nothing else (and there wasn't much), that play made the whole 2011 season of Buckeye football worth it.

Figgs has expertly laid out what the near future holds for Ohio State athletics, so I'll defer to his wisdom there. I will say that optimism is high headed into the New Year for both the hoops and gridiron squads. The basketballers are loaded and should make some noise in the NCAA tournament, while the football team will benefit from Braxton Miller's development and the addition of a top-flight coach in Urban Meyer.

The first year for the Cleveland Cavaliers after the departure of their former star player was rocky. Real rocky. Not as rocky as Kelly Dwyer's comical 12-win prediction, but 19-63 is a hard row to hoe. I'll admit it right here: I forgot how long their NBA-record winning streak was and had to look it up. Do you remember how many in a row they dropped?


Yep, it was that many, and that string followed a win that snapped a run of 10 straight losses, meaning the Cavaliers actually had a period where they lost 36 of 37 games. They went four months without winning a road game. Unbelievable.

But weirdly, the 2010-11 season was kinda fun. There were some really memorable games, as I documented in my season recap. Don't believe me? Check it out:
- The season-opening win of the defending East Champion Celtics
- Mo Williams nailing a game-winning J right in Brandon Jennings' face
- The 126-119 overtime win over the Clips that finally snapped the streak, legitimately one of the greatest sporting events I've ever attended. The atmosphere was amazing.
- Toppling the Lakers at the Q in February.
- Handling the Knicks at home in an FCF-attended contest

And, of course, easily the greatest moment of the season, the cathartic 102-90 whipping of the villainous Miami Heat. Warm and fuzzy, all around. Thinking of that game still makes me smile.

There were still the Playoffs to enjoy, and the Dallas Mavericks did everyone in America a solid by denying the Heat a championship by notching a six-game Finals win. Couple that with the Cavaliers nabbing Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson in the Draft. Compared to where Cleveland basketball was in February, the laughingstock of the league with a vitriolically-despised rival on track to win it all, things improved dramatically.

And now that the lockout has ended, we have the new-look 2011-12 Cavaliers on the floor. Expectations are low, and I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the club. This season is really about Irving and Thompson, and seeing if one or two other guys emerge as potential contributors. They'll very likely be a lottery team again, and that's alright, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the action and bask in the wins when they do happen.

And hate on the Heat, can't forget that.

Thanks for reading anything any of us at FCF wrote in 2011, and here's to a prosperous new year in Ohio sports.