Fresh Rushing Game Just One Reason New York Giants Are ’13 Super Bowl Contenders

Once Dez Bryant’s knuckles were ruled out of bounds on this play October 28th, the New York Giants sat comfortably atop the NFC East at 6-2, 2.5 games ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, primed for another playoff appearance. Coming off a Super Bowl championship, it was logical to feel confident the experienced Eli Manning could lead his team through a serious championship push for the second straight year.

Ultimately, it seemed the Giants grew complacent with their game and let their guard down to ultimately miss the playoffs entirely, an utter disappointment for a franchise and fan base expecting more.

But 2013 will be different for Eli & Co. The brightest light at the end of 2012’s depressive tunnel was a renaissance of New York’s running game, one with energy we haven’t seen since Tiki Barber’s pre-Eli days. Journeyman-turned puzzle piece Andre Brown showed fans his brute force capabilities and rookie David Wilson showed us the explosive step Ahmad Bradshaw never offered. Couple this with New York’s weaker schedule and the fresh pressure to avoid a second straight “losing” season, the New York Giants will contend for the Super Bowl in 2013.

An athletic neophyte, Wilson’s agility and 4.40 40-yard dash (video) offer a glimmer of hope Big Blue can represent a game-changing back comparable to a Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, or even Robert Griffin III (According to the New York Times, Wilson has run the 40 in 4.29 seconds). While a long shot, there’s finally enough quickness to evoke a glimmer of hope.

In the last five games of the regular season, Brown recorded five touchdowns on only 35 carries, many in Brandon Jacobs-like short yardage situations. While I couldn’t find the numbers, I don’t remember Brown rushing for a loss many times in those games.

If there’s chemistry, this duo has the potential to propel the Giants to the other end of the rushing spectrum. Both of their ’12 performances qualify for guaranteed rushes in ’13, but this “friendly” competition will add fuel to their respective fires. That extra drive should ultimately bring out the best in one, if not both of the Giants’ running backs.

In its best-case scenario, the Giants’ new-found rushing game will force defenses to allocate more attention on the ground, therefore leading to more open receivers and an even more successful passing game.

*How the Giants won last year’s Super Bowl with the league’s worst rushing numbers is a mystery I will never solve. And while given his fair share of kudos, I feel Eli’s 2011-12 accomplishment is still underrated given that statistic.*

The only other silver-lining of New York’s underachieving season is the motivation it offers for the upcoming campaign. Before this year’s Baltimore Ravens, no team since the 2006 Steelers won a Super Bowl the year after winning a playoff game. While winning is always the ultimate goal, I theorize an underachieving season finale is heavier motivation to win than the fire to repeat. Look at the 2012 Miami Heat.

But while arguments supporting New York’s new rushing game and theories of losing seasons are nice, they’re subjective. Plus, coming into 2012 Wilson and Brown combined for four career rushes. How will they tweak their game to counter defenses’ adjustments? Brown will enter 2013 off a broken fibula and Casper the Friendly Ghost could have blocked better than Wilson. But New York’s 2013 strength of schedule is the most tangible reason the Giants will at least make the playoffs. The scheduling committee gave the Super Bowl champion Giants games against all winners  of the ’11 NFC conferences – Packers, Saints, and 49ers. This year, New York will face a much weaker schedule, one that includes the dreadful AFC West. Take out the 13-3 Broncos and that conference boasted a 13-35 overall record this year (2012 standings).

With fresh assets at hand in 2013, a favorable schedule and a new-found motivation to elude the taste of failure, it will be a season Giants fans should look forward to. I correctly predicted the Giants would not make the playoffs in 2012, but am predicting a serious playoff representation in 2013.

Plus, the Giants have home-field advantage in this year’s Super Bowl whether they play or not. That cherry-on-top motivation may put them over the hump should they hit their stride come December.

If healthy, RGIII will be the best quarterback in the league by 2015

It started with Michael Vick. A revolutionary quarterback who forced defenses to sacrifice a defender for a spy. A quarterback who can turn a broken play into a 20 yard run.

Sounds enticing, but Vick never was a great quarterback, just one that makes magic with his feet. Vick didn’t throw to a 60% completion percentage until his eighth year in the league and probably won’t win a Super Bowl. And we all know about his turnover rate.

But imagine Peyton Manning with Vick’s legs. Picture Aaron Rodgers en route to a game-winning 78-yard touchdown run after his third and fourth options were covered.

In his rookie season, the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III averaged fewer interceptions per pass than every other starting quarterback (five int. in 258 attempts; 1.3%) and threw to a 65.6% completion rate. For their careers, Manning sits at 65.2% and Rodgers at 65.7%.

Griffin’s numbers
Vick’s numbers
Peyton’s numbers
Rodgers’ numbers

In his seven full seasons as a starter, Vick eclipsed RGIII’s 2012 total of 3200 passing yards only once (2011) and only twice rushed for more yards than Griffin’s 2012 tally of 815.

But it was Griffin’s 4.41 dash in the ’12 combine that foreshadowed his dazzling ground work during the regular season. Like Vick, Griffin can break out for 13 fantasy points on one play (below). Unlike Vick, it seems Griffin can protect the football and throw accurately.

If Griffin can somehow extract enough passing potential to work up to Manning or Rodgers’ level, then his edge in the footrace department would put him at a separate level of any quarterback in NFL history.

Before we get gung-ho, we must acknowledge health when evaluating RGIII’s style of play. If he wants to remain in the league, he needs to become a pass-first quarterback who can dive into the arsenal if needed, not the other way around.

Picture this scenario – it happened week 13 against the New York Giants.

Redskins up a point with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have the ball and the Giants have two timeouts.

In this situation most offenses run the ball to eat up clock. The defense knows, so late-game situations such as these usually result in a three-and-out and a punt with two minutes or so left.

But with RGIII you don’t hand the ball off, you run the option. The defense now has to worry about a separate threat with a proportion of attention on each. What is usually a gimme three-and-out is now a mind game between Griffin and the defense.

In that game, the Giants couldn’t stop the combination of Griffin and rookie running back Alfred Morris, the Redskins ran out the clock, and took a must-win away from the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Griffin’s unique late-game threat will lead to more wins such as these.

Take this likeable fella and evaluate his numbers. In four years compare his passing numbers the elite ones and his running numbers to Vick’s. If he keeps pace with those guys like he did this season, you could be watching the greatest quarterback of all time.

But let’s get that knee back in order first.

NFL Players: Goodell, there’s only one way to get us on board with your rule changes

This week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed his interest in taking kickoffs out of football.

By doing so, he extracts the most dangerous play in the game, where full-speed collisions render concussions expected and commonplace.

While there are those for and against it, the players overwhelmingly dislike the idea, with the mindset, “Don’t change the game we love.”

This discussion comes both during a sensitive time when parents are questioning football’s safety and a year after Goodell moved the kickoff up five yards to induce more touchbacks.

But football is a violent sport played by violent people who don’t stress the long term risks the sport proposes. From a players’ perspective, Goodell is easy to gang up on because he never played the game.

“He doesn’t know how we feel.”

That’s where you hit your roadblock.

In order to get on board with a serious change to the game, the players need anecdotal evidence from former, prominent players of the tangible dangers of football.

Players like Jim McMahon, who’s 15 years in the league have left him with a fraction of the brain function he once possessed.

He talked about his short term memory in this interview with ESPN.

“That’s when the anger comes out. You dumbass, what are you doing, why (did you come) in this room?” he’ll ask himself. McMahon, along with “hundreds” of other players, are suing the NFL for concealing information about the long-term effect of concussions.

While I’m sure McMahon would have suggestions for his 22-year old self, the “McMahon’s” of today just want to play football, giving little attention to long-term risk.

But if in 20 years we see a 47-year old Adrian Peterson hunched back, limping, and talking about his day-to-day dependence, or Jerry Rice pleading with players to run out of bounds more often, you will see a change in mindset.

You need to relate to the players.

Unfortunately, the commissioner has very limited credibility because he lacked a playing career, but if the fathers of the NFL come out and declare the objective dangers of the game, you may see a drastic change to football.

I suggest a mad dash to the ball to start the game. We can learn a lot from the XFL…

There is a 0% chance the Yankees win tonight… which is why they will

They don’t hit, they don’t move runners over, their captain and best player right now is out for the year, their closer is not with them, and they still have to win four of their next five games, three of which would be in Detroit, two of which are against the league’s best starting pitcher.

Aside for a freak four-run ninth inning in game one, the Bronx Bombers have not scored in their last 21 other innings.

And they’re an hour away from Justin Verlander – the league leader in innings pitched and holder of the 100 mph eighth-inning fastball.

If the Yankees don’t defeat the reigning MVP and Cy Young award winner, they’ll have to win four games in a row, something they won’t do.

No one expects the Yankees to win tonight. I don’t. What life have they shown? Every inning, every at-bat, every pitch plays like a broken record – home run or strikeout.

No one expects you to win – it’s Detroit’s game to lose. Alex Rodriguez is 3-23 this postseason. He has recorded five hits over the last two postseasons, the same amount as Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter.

Nick Swisher is a mind-boggling 1-35 in his postseason career with runners in scoring position. At least he shows the decency to hit consistently.

Unlike Robinson Cano. His sexy 24-39 (.615) run to end the season foreshadowed his corpselike 2-32 and record-breaking 0-26 this postseason.

You can’t predict baseball. That’s why I predict the Yankees will win tonight.

There’s no pressure. To put in perspective how bad the Yankees are, analyze that. In a must win game, New York’s lack of everything has rendered them at the doorstep of death, but ultimate peace.

No stress, no expectation of victory.

“I don’t set goals, because if you never set goals, you’ll never be disappointed”
– Vince Vaughn from Dodgeball. I’m paraphrasing.

Common sense suggests postseason pressure has tangibly affected the Yankees, but statistics will prove it.

Curtis Granderson’s lifetime batting average is .262 with a standard deviation of .062 over nine years. If you’re unfamiliar with stats, a value outside two “standard deviations” of the mean is officially labeled “unusual.”

Granderson’s 2-26 this postseason (.115) is less than two standard deviations (less than .138) away from his lifetime average (.262 – .062 – .062 = .138) meaning there is something different about his 2-26.

But Corey you’re looking at an almost nominal sample size compared to a whole career. That’s unfair.

Fair argument, but look at Robinson Cano – lifetime .308 hitter, standard deviation .061 over eight years.

His 2-32 (.063) this postseason is over four standard deviations away from his lifetime average. There is just under a one in 15,787 chance that this stretch is strictly coincidental.

Again, small sample size, but when Swisher, Rodriguez, Granderson, and Cano are all hitting “unusually,” there is a significant contributing factor.

Baseball is too weird. There’s too much going for Detroit. Everything points to a Tigers victory.

It’s why the Yankees will win tonight.

Sporcle of the Week – Vol. 1

I’m experimenting with a Sporcle of the Week segment starting now.

If you’ve never played at Sporcle.com, it’s incredibly addicting. Random brief quizzes from state capitals, to word ladders, to sports trivia, etc. Essentially, if it qualifies for a Jeopardy category, it’s on Sporcle.

Starting this week I’m going to search for a fun, fair quiz and see if you can all beat my high score, which you won’t be able to do.

WEEK ONE: SPORTS SPELLING BEE
ex. The Patriots’ coach is Bill _______

I got 16 of 22.

Playing games 1 and 2 on the road is an advantage

I have a friend that works in New York City, and two days a week he has to deal with this one higher-up who he can’t stand. It makes his day miserable and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Put yourself in this situation – perhaps it’s very easy, would you rather deal with that person on Monday and Tuesday, or Wednesday and Thursday?

Abstractly, that’s the question you can pose to the remaining eight teams in the MLB postseason.

Because MLB adopted an additional wild card game after the 2012 schedule had been released, headquarters was forced to squish an extra day of baseball into a month-long period originally designed for one less game.

To make room, the team with home-field advantage in the division series will play games three, four, and five at home instead of the conventional sandwich setup of games one, two, and five at home. This takes out the second potential off-day of travel.

The first three years of the division series (1995-97) originally featured this “2-3” setup, but switched to “2-2-1” in 1998 to give the team with the better record a better chance to jump ahead in the series, arguing, “Give the best team the best chance to win.”

But I believe starting on the road is more advantageous for the “better” team. Team “Home-Field Advantage,” (referred to as “team HFA” for the rest of this post) can relax knowing one road win is the goal.

And if they lose both, you’re still coming back home for the rest of the series.

This happened in 1995. Don Mattingly and the Yankees faced Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the best of five, ’95 ALDS. With that original 2-3 format, the Yankees won games one and two at home before Seattle rallied for three straight wins Northwest. So losses in games one and two is not suicide.

Imagine this scenario:

In the 2-2-1 format, say the Yankees sneak into the playoffs with an 87-75 record and play the 103-59 Texas Rangers in the ALDS. With games one and two on the road, New York’s goal is to win just one of those two games, maybe get lucky, and hope to clinch at home.

On the flip side, Texas, by default, needs to win both home games to maintain home-field advantage. In baseball,  momentum changes with the next day’s starting pitcher – winning two straight can be a daunting task.

Probability coupled with a general guesstimation will tell you the better team will win both games only about 30-35% of the time, meaning the “wrong” team will have home-field advantage by game three 65-70% of the time.

So is it an advantage?

This year’s 2-3 setup takes loads of pressure off team HFA. Take the example a few paragraphs up, but now imagine the 2-3. Texas’ goal is to win just one game in New York, forcing the Yankees to win a best-of-three in the Lone Star State.

Essentially, the 2-2-1 setup puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the team with the best record.

If you disagree, here’s an article that argues why I’m completely wrong.

The argument above is if team HFA loses the first two games on the road, then the “wrong” team has stolen momentum and is in a prime position to advance.

“Well, then you should have won one of those first two games on the road. Maybe you’re not the better team,” is my answer to that.

With the 2-3, you take out one less day of travel. One less day of expensive flights and travel coordination. In a potential New York/Oakland matchup, you have a chance to adjust to the time difference and don’t get thrust back on a plane after a single night in a California hotel.

With today’s substantial emphasis on finance, you can use that money elsewhere.

Every time I’ve had a team with home-field advantage in the playoffs, “I” feel forced to win both those games, but with the HFA-Yankees going to Baltimore for the first two, I was more relaxed knowing one win out of the next two is the goal.

If the fans feel that way, then so does the organization.

Mr. Selig, I like this playoff setup. Tell the guy who wrote the article above he’s wrong, and punish him by returning to the format you originally drew up.

Flopping is Good for the NBA

Dwyane Wade’s superhuman right arm mauls Chris Paul to the floor. What strength!

When I was good at basketball way back in middle school I remember my opponent charging down the lane. I was ready for the contact and when he reached me, I flopped. He stopped in time, but the trailing ref gave me the call.

You know the feeling when you tease your little sibling and they retaliate, but they get in trouble, not you?

— Or for the less fortunate, remember the feeling your older sibling got when it was vice-versa?

I felt I deserved the reward because I outsmarted the referee.

Starting this season, the NBA is looking to issue fines or other penalties for “flopping.” In layman’s terms, if I force you to fall over, okay, but don’t pretend the Hulk threw you from the three-point line to the elbow.

I get it, but I’m not a fan of these penalties. Flopping is part of the game.
(Here’s my favorite flop of all time. Skip to :20)

If 5-5, 135 lb. Earl Boykins is charging into the lane, and there’s 6-11, 240 lb. Dwight Howard ready to take the charge, is it flopping if Howard falls over to get the call? Boykins could hit Howard at 10 miles an hour and he may not budge.

**I was curious about this, so my inner nerd did the math: Essentially, if an equal-weight human barreled into Howard at just under six mph, he would probably fall, but you get the point.

Where’s the line drawn?

Howard will want to “flop” to convey the contact denotes a foul, but when should he get fined for doing so?

I think the league is going to have a lot on their plate if this rule is added to the game. Professional players who have sold fouls their whole life now need to change a deeply embedded basketball mindset, forcing them to think, not react.

I would be mad if I’m Dwyane Wade. Flopping is an art, and he’s good at it.

I feel this should be Wade’s stance on flopping: “I’m going to flop. If I get the call, great, if not, then my defender has extra room to work with.”

Why not tell the refs to swallow their whistle more often?

Watch a mid-90s contest between the Bulls and Miami Heat, or Knicks and Pacers. There was much more contact and what I think was a better game.

Granted, with the violence byproduct and today’s emphasis on safety, we won’t see that style of basketball anytime soon. But watch Scottie Pippen and Charles Oakley fight for rebounds and tell me you’re not entertained. I digress.

If the NBA implements penalties, I would hope all flops be reviewed following the game, similar to how the NFL treats illegal hits. I don’t think a majority of fans want a flop to count as a technical foul.

I can’t officially make the argument “These new rules are bad for the NBA” because the flopping rules are still being tweaked, but if the NBA implements a flop-free game, it will cause more problems than it solves.