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.

Sporcle of the Week: Top 5 NBA Scorers by Draft

I’m a sucker for 90s basketball, and this Sporcle delivers. Since 1992 and until 2011, name the top five NBA scorers from their respective draft class.

Make sure you have 15 minutes to kill. I got 55 of 105 but know I could’ve gotten more. One of those “Oh c’mon I knew that” quizzes.

Happy Sporcling!

SPORCLE OF THE WEEK: TOP 5 SCORERS BY DRAFT CLASS

Kobe Bryant’s Class Gives Kevin Durant Scoring Title

In 1941, Boston Red Sox’ Ted Williams went into the final day of baseball’s regular season batting exactly .400. While he could’ve sat out – Boston was 17 games back of the first place Yankees, Williams understood batting .400 wouldn’t mean as much if put himself before the team. Williams went a combined 6-8 in the doubleheader (Game 1 Game 2) – on his way to the .406 batting average we haven’t seen since.

According to this story on ESPN.com, Bryant will sit out in the final game of the season against the Sacramento Kings tonight, forfeiting a chance to take home his third career scoring title. He needed 38 points to beat out Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who played their final game of the regular season last night.

Kobe had the chance to smack ESPN in the face tonight. By scoring 38, he makes an argument he’s the best player in the NBA, not the seventh best according to a preseason rank on NBA on ESPN. Remember, this comes in the same season he had to adjust to a coach not named Phil Jackson and a Scottie Pippen not named Derek Fisher. He has not let his basketball stardom fog his vision of another NBA title – basketball’s ultimate measuring stick.

In today’s story with ESPNLosAngeles, Kobe said, “It’s not a challenge for me to score 38 points, you know? … We know I can go out and score 38 points. The most important thing is sending the right message to the group which is putting a championship above all else. That means rest. That means letting other guys play. That means us getting ready for Sunday (for the playoff opener).”

Yeah…Kobe is exactly right. We do know he can go out and score 38 at whim. He’s the only player in the league that can say that without a backlash of pseudo-news and debate on Twitter. Let me know in the comments if you disagree. LeBron could say it and be truthful, but we love hating LeBron too much to let a comment like that slide.

While Kobe could use father time to school the younger Durant, he didn’t. He showed class. He conveyed he’s not bigger than the game. It was refreshing, and I think it reminded basketball fans how special Kobe is.

When we look back on Kobe’s career, there will be an unofficial asterisk next to Kobe’s amount of scoring titles. In a sports era where asterisks are associated with negativity, this asterisk will reiterate how special Kobe was.

“Yes son, Kobe only won three scoring titles way back when, but he could have had a fourth if he decided to play in the final game of that 2012 season.”

Remember when Jose Reyes voluntarily sat out of last season’s finale to ensure his batting title? Yes he won, but sports fans partner his batting title with, “Yes, but he sat out the last day of the season to ensure he would win,” communicating he put himself before the team.

Rest up Kobe. A third scoring title doesn’t look as impressive as a sixth championship.

Andrew Bynum is Not a Winner

The Lakers are a better team without Andrew Bynum. Their career 1-8 three-point shooting center has a lot of growing up to do.

With 16 seconds left on the shot clock in Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum launched a three pointer from the top of the key. He missed by a mile and was benched about a minute later. (I think he would’ve been benched even if he made the shot.)

But making the blatantly poor decision did not bother me as much as his attitude following it. Listen to Bynum’s body language in Tuesday’s post-game interview:

Subjectively, he sounds nonchalant and conveys a care-free persona.

Objectively, Bynum’s response at the 1:06 mark troubles me. “Why did you shoot the three?”

“I made one last night and wanted to take another one.”

“I” wanted to take another one, so “I” did. Bynum indirectly admitted he is a selfish player at times (at best). Bynum knows he belongs nowhere near that three point line, yet consciously chucked it up anyway.

It shows immaturity and an individualistic mindset. It shows Andrew Bynum’s attitude is detrimental to the Lakers’ locker room. Unfortunately, I believe his decision to shoot the three was a way of saying, “Yanno coach…I really don’t care what you think.”

**In my opinion, the Kobe and the Lakers are fed up with head coach Mike Brown. In his defense, replacing arguably the greatest coach in basketball history plus inheriting a veteran franchise is not an easy task.

Still, Brown will catch a lot of heat. Bynum’s interview begs the question, “Coach, do you have control of the locker room (let alone Andrew Bynum)?” Mike D’Antoni didn’t.

Do Bynum’s seven-foot frame and above average basketball skills eclipse the negative baggage his attitude elicits? Yes, the Lakers won two championships with him, but as he gains seniority, will Bynum’s pro/con baggage tilt in the opposite direction? I think within a year or two it will. What is his “negative attitude ceiling?” It doesn’t help he can’t stay healthy.

The Lakers’ biggest win would have been to trade Bynum in a package deal for Orlando’s Dwight Howard, but that’s a rant for another day.

“Intangibles” is the most underrated stat in sports. We drown ourselves in numbers, but give me a stat for locker room presence. Does this individual catalyze or retard the team’s progress?

It’s the one stat the sports world is missing, but at least now I know where Bynum ranges in the category.

Top 10 NBA Player Commercials

I found this great list on Buzzfeed.com of the top 10 commercials featuring NBA players.

Personally, I think they missed this one below. It was the NBA’s opening promo to the 2011-12 NBA season on Christmas Day. How long did this take to edit?

LeBron…This is Why You Will Never Be Michael Jordan

LeBron James is the most athletic, talented, and arguably strongest pound-for-pound player in the league today. He has the gall to take, and hit, circus-clutch shots like this (skip to 2:54)…and this (skip to :45), yet under 24 seconds in the final period, he’s a consistent no-show.

LeBron James is the “The fans’ pressure greatly affects me” poster-child. And we  love it. We fans know we have the collective ability to greatly affect arguably the most powerful character in the NBA.

That’s why it’s so much fun to hate LeBron James – because it works.

*For the record, I do feel bad for LeBron. All he wants is to be loved… it’s just not working out for him.

Dear LeBron,
Here’s a list of your PR moves that made me cringe:

7/8/10 The Decision, & “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach”
How you interpret this: I’m benefiting a charity. This is a great PR move.
How the fans do: “My talents?!” ugh…and yes LeBron, you are the center of attention. I know that’s what you want. Thanks for making yourself bigger than the game.

11/30/11 – Tossing out free T-shirts at an Ohio St. basketball game
How you interpret this: I still love you guys. I’ll never forget where I came from!
How the fans do: It’s like Benedict Arnold giving out free burgers & dogs on Independence Day.

10/11/11 – Tweeting to ESPN’s John Clayton asking when NFL teams can sign free agents.
How you interpret this: The NBA is locked out, but I’m a football fan like the rest of ya!
How the fans do: Why are you worrying about football?! Don’t you care the NBA canceled the first two weeks of the season yesterday?

2/17/12 – Announcing you wouldn’t rule out going back to Cleveland
How you interpret this: I was loved in Cleveland, maybe THAT’S my key to being loved again.
How we do: LeBron… ugh just don’t say anything.

The interesting theme here is (I feel) LeBron truly thinks these aforementioned slip-ups would result in a more positive public image. However, LeBron has dug himself a PR hole so deep he can’t escape with a few pseudo-events or actions. To improve his image, he must at least play a major role in a Heat championship, and multiple times – a feat immensely difficult. I’ll talk about this more later.

And why, LeBron, do you make your twitter handle @KingJames? It comes off as self-centered to the average fan – especially the ones who love hating you.

On a random note, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Eli Manning, and Albert Pujols don’t really tweet. Do the winners naturally avoid twitter? Do great ones recognize social media as a distraction? A concentration retarder? Let me know in the comments.

Fans try to affect all superstars. The difference is the truly great ones either ignore or thrive off the hate. What happens when Kobe, Reggie, Jeter, Eli, Michael, and any other big time winners get hated on?

Kobe Bryant – He was blacklisted after his sexual assault case in 2003. Today, he’s arguably the closest player to Michael Jordan. Kobe claims he has had not rivals in his career, and I think he’s right.

Reggie Miller – No championships, but if you don’t think there was a direct correlation between pressure and performance, watch ESPN’s documentary Winning Time: Reggie vs. The New York Knicks.

Derek Jeter – Five-time World Series Champion in America’s biggest market. Non-Yankees fans have been trying to hate Jeter for 17 years, yet he continues to show he is unaffected.

Eli Manning – The biggest reason why the Gotham Giants have won their two most recent Super Bowls. Okay, you can argue defense carried them in 2007, but not in 2011.

Michael Jordan

LeBron has made some big mistakes in his NBA career – only some aforementioned, but his biggest mistake is one he has yet to overcome – not being himself. He wants to be Michael Jordan so badly. Choosing #23 for the first seven years of his career was LeBron’s inaugural mistake.

It showed weakness. It immediately conveyed he wanted to follow in Michael’s footsteps, not pave his own legacy.

Michael takes the final shot. He didn’t care what you thought. Reggie wanted Knicks fans to hate him – and what happened the last time he played at the Garden? Knicks fans serenaded him with respect – chanting “Reggie! Reggie!” as he left the floor. Barring a crazy steroid scandal or anything unforeseen, Derek Jeter will be cheered in his final game at Fenway Park. I guarantee it.

Fans aren’t dumb. We know who the star players are. Fans judge a player not just by physical ability, but reaction to immense pressure. LeBron has failed to show he can handle the latter.

LeBron, in your best-case-scenario form, here’s how you can become loved again:

1) Fail in Miami. Not on purpose, but if you win even one championship here then leave for Cleveland, it conveys, “Okay, I got one – I’m ready to help you guys now.” Because that’s a slap in the face.

2) Opt Out and Return to Cleveland – Prove to the fans in Cleveland you’ll give up what you went to Miami for – a shortcut to an NBA Title. That will convey, “It doesn’t mean anything if I don’t win it in Cleveland.”

3) Lead Cleveland to an NBA Title

Be The King.

But right now, where’s the killer instinct LeBron? If you don’t have it… that’s okay. Honestly. If you can’t be Michael Jordan it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person nor are you a bad basketball player. If you win in Miami congratulations – that takes hard work. However, you will never be Michael if you win in Miami. You’ll never get back Cleveland’s respect, and you can keep your twitter handle @KingJames because it won’t mean anything.

The King? I have a new one…Dwyane’s Prince.

Jeremy Lin is For Real – Because He’s Smart


Jeremy Lin
is the mortar to Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire’s bricks.

Look at Lin’s obese point total the last four games – 25, 28, 23, 38. He’s shooting 58% from the field, and the Knicks have won all four of those games.

However, his physical game doesn’t impress me as much as mental game. As his shot efficiency indicates, Jeremy Lin makes smart decisions. He plays defense, he takes the open shot, he finds the open teammate, he gets to the free throw line.

Compare those numbers to Carmelo Anthony’s his last four full games:

Points – 25, 26, 26, 11
FG% – 44%
Knicks win/loss – (2-2)

(Yes, those two losses came against Boston and Chicago, but Lin’s dominance against the Lakers allows the juxtaposition.)

In today’s sports world, teams buy this false notion:
The more star players, The more wins, The more Championships

Dear New York Yankees, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, & Philadelphia Eagles,
It doesn’t work like that.

Jeremy Lin is a special player. Midway through the fourth quarter yesterday, Lin hit a long two right in (I think) Pau Gasol’s face, then two possessions later hit an open three from the corner. The crowd was nuts.

The next play is a Jeremy Lin fast break. He goes up strong, and when everyone expects a hard foul and two Lin free throws, he hands it off to Billy Walker for the uncontested layup.

Without any proof, Carmelo Anthony, Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert, Billy Walker, and almost everyone else on the Knicks (and league for that matter) would go up strong that next play – maybe get the And1, and get the crowd even MORE into it.

But that pass did it for me. It proved will always make the smart play, unaffected by outside forces. With Lin calling the shots, the team will stay focused and won’t get lost in the heat of the moment, which has been a huge hole in the Knicks game since they acquired Anthony.

Fans are obsessed with points, home runs, touchdowns… but not equally important aspects like assists, base hits, and blocking. Even if Lin doesn’t average twenty points per game this season (he won’t), his game translates into winning basketball. It seems to me Lin would be okay with averaging five points and eleven assists per game. Contrarily, point guards like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury would not, and it’s why they never won an NBA Championship.

Jeremy Lin is not the most athletic player on the Knicks. He doesn’t have the best shot, he’s not the strongest, and he turns the ball over. But sports teams need to learn championships require the perfect mix drink of talent, not five shots of Tequila.

The Jason Kidds, the David Freases, the Derek Jeters. It’s the player that brings something different to the table and doesn’t look for attention. You can argue the Knicks are a better team without their two best players. Right now they are, but Carmelo and Stoudemire will make the Knicks better…

….so long as they play Jeremy Lin’s game.