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The stupidity of DeflateGate

- January 23rd, 2015

We’ve seen a lot of scandals in the NFL this year, but none compare to how stupid this one that we’re dealing with right now is.

To say that DeflateGate, or DeflateGhazi if you prefer, is stupid is not doing it justice.

The fact that so many people are getting up in arms over the fact that New England deflated some game balls by two PSI is quite frankly ridiculous.

ESPN’s Sports Science did a very good job of looking at the effect of deflating the balls as such and the difference was marginal at best. In fact, it might have even made the balls harder to throw for Tom Brady.

Now, don’t get me wrong – what the Patriots did was cheating and they should be punished. I just don’t think that we should be caring as much as we do.

But to say that the Patriots should lose their first-round pick and that Bill Belichick should be suspended for the 2015 season – as Stephen A. Smith suggested on ESPN’s First Take this week – well that’s just nutty.

New England should be fined a large amount, take away a mid-round pick and, after the investigation, suspended whoever was involved in this mess for four games. Sounds fair, right?

It was cheating, but how much did it really affect the game against Indy?

Brady wasn’t the reason why the Colts were crushed. He actually had one of his poorest games of the season. It was LeGarrette Blount running the ball for 148 yards and three TDs, which wouldn’t have been affected at all.

The Patriots defence clamped down on Andrew Luck too, which wouldn’t have changed if the Pats offence played with deflated balls – obviously.

In fact, if you gave the Colts three points for every deflated ball used, Indy still loses that game by five points. Crazy, eh?

The press conferences aren’t helping have anybody take this situation any more seriously either.

With Belichick and Brady both passing blame and trying to distance themselves from this whole thing, it only really makes them look more guilty. And to put the blame on the ball boys is also pretty shady; as if some minimum-wage worker would alter game balls during the biggest game of the season is simply ridiculous.

And to say that the cold weather made the balls lose air pressure: Then was the 12th ball super-inflated?

The best part of these press conferences is the quotes that come out of them.

When you have a super-serious guy like Belichick or a pretty boy like Brady talking about balls for any length of time, you have to get at least a chuckle out of it.

While the NFL is diving into a huge investigation over this seemingly trivial broken rule, don’t expect anything soon. You also can’t forget who the man at the helm of this investigation is: Roger Goodell.

You have to wonder if the commissioner is milking this minor scandal to take attention away from how bad of a season he has had.

After seeing how poorly he handled the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations, you can’t help but think he’ll botch this as well.

Last week: 1-1

This playoffs: 5-5

This season: 141-111-4

Arsenal shocks the world

- January 20th, 2015

While the headline might be a bit of an exaggeration, it is somewhat true.

Who would’ve believed that a shorthanded Arsenal side would walk into Emirates Stadium and not just take a point off of Manchester City, but actually beat the title-contender?

Arsenal has a nasty habit of choking against the best teams in the league – it’s one of the main reasons why it finishes fourth most seasons.

While this result would be marginally more believable in London, the fact that the Gunners won in Manchester is incredible. It was just the Citizens’ second loss at home this season and third overall. And in the reverse fixture, the two teams fought to a draw.

With youngsters Hector Bellerin and Francois Coquelin starting for the away side, you would’ve thought a team that ended the game with the attacking talent of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic, David Silva and Frank Lampard on the field could’ve been shutout.

Santi Cazorla was the star for the Gunners, taking the spotlight off Alexis Sanchez for at least one week by scoring a penalty and setting up the second goal off a well-placed free kick.

While any loss is a tough to take in the title race, it’s even tougher when you’re trying to make your homefield a fortress.

This will be tough for City to bounce back from and get in the race, but it has the talent to do so.

But then again, we said that the last time they were defending the title against a juggernaut-looking team, and how did that work out?

CHELSEA TOO GOOD

Remember when Chelsea was dominating opponents and looking poised to run away with the Premier League?

Well that looks like it might be the case again.

After a couple of awful games, the Blues found their form in a big way against Swansea.

With a 5-0 victory and City’s loss, Chelsea now has a five point atop the table.

Both Oscar and Diego Costa potted a brace, with most of the work looking fairly easy. If the Blues can play like this every week, they won’t even have to make any additions in the transfer window to take the title easily.

With Manchester City coming to Stamford Bridge at the end of the month, that game sets up as a potential title decider – although we have said that already this season and the Blues coughed up that lead.

As for the Swans, they looked particularly out of sync, failing to keep possession and giving the ball away cheaply, leading to a couple of the Chelsea goals.

The Welsh side also made the questionable decision to play Gylfi Sigurdsson in a deeper role, where he failed to make an impact on the game. The Iceland playmaker has been excellent in attack this season, which make this move even more questionable. It was also a damning look into the team’s future without Wilfried Bony – who is at the African Cup of Nations and has been sold to City.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Burnley keeps potting goals, now having scored nine times in its past four games, but couldn’t stop Crystal Palace’s comeback. After going up two in just 16 minutes, you would’ve thought the Clarets would clamp down on Alan Pardew’s new side. Not the case. Plenty of questions will be rightfully asked about Sam Dyche’s tactics as Burnley now sits just a point out of the relegation zone … Another game, another stupid defensive mistake for Southampton. For a side that is so good at defending, it sure makes a lot of mistakes. The Saints were really lucky that it didn’t cost them any points against Newcastle … Eljero Elia scores a brace in his debut, proving again that Southampton is just as good as scouting in the transfer market as it is at scouting youth talent … Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen was somehow called offside while in his own half, robbing the defender of a goal against Sunderland. I don’t know how in the world that the linesman blew that one … Jermain Defoe played an impressive 75 minutes during his Sunderland debut, but failed to keep his lauded streak alive – he failed to score. Defoe had scored a goal in each of his previous debuts, including with Toronto FC last year.

THE LAST WORD

What was Kevin Miralles thinking?

When the Belgian refused to give the ball up to Leighton Baines for a penalty attempt against West Brom on Monday, it was perhaps a sign of bigger problems with Everton.

Miralles missed the penalty, hitting the base of the post – and, really, the keeper would’ve likely stopped the chance if it was going on target.

The Toffees haven’t won in eight games in all competitions and aren’t looking likely to make a return to Europe next season.

Something needs to be shaken up at Goodison Park, where Roberto Martinez’s seat is getting hotter by the day.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

Who’s the worst QB left? + Championship picks

- January 17th, 2015

Probably the biggest piece of evidence that the NFL is a league ruled by passers is that of the final four teams remaining, each has a superstar quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are all among the elite pivots in the league and all likely to be among your top-5 list if you were drawing one up.

Really, who would you even consider the weakest of that quartet?

Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and is poised to be named the MVP of the 2014 season.

Brady is a future hall of famer who caught fire after a rough start to the season. He also has more playoff wins than any QB.

Wilson won the Super Bowl last year and has been lights out down the stretch. He’s more of a weapon running the ball, but that just makes him all the more dangerous overall.

All that Luck did was lead the league in touchdowns and would’ve led in yards if he wasn’t rested late in the season.

If I had to choose, I’d say the order would be Rodgers-Luck-Brady-Wilson – which makes the funniest thing about that the bottom two guys are both favoured this week and will probably be facing off in the Super Bowl.

But the real message here is that the days of getting to the Super Bowl with Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer are over. If you don’t have an elite quarterback, you’re playing with one arm tied behind your back.

The lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPs.

SEATTLE -7.5 over Green Bay

Against a team with an average defence and a struggling pass rush, Rodgers is going to have a good game. Against one of the best defences of all time that will pressure him and force Rodgers to move on his ailing calf, he’s going to struggle. This Seahawks team beat up on the Pack on opening day and I don’t think that Mike McCarthy is a good enough of a coach to come up with a better gameplan this time around. Green Bay didn’t do a good job of stopping DeMarco Murray last week and will have an equally tough time with Marshawn Lynch this week.

NEW ENGLAND -6.5 over Indianapolis

Every time that Luck has played the Pats, the game has ended in a rout. What are the odds that changes? The Colts running game is a travesty, with Dan (Boom) Herron leading a rather ineffective attack. It has gotten so bad for Trent Richardson that he was deactivated for last week’s game. While Luck can put this offence on his back, it won’t be enough against a team keying solely on him. The Pats won’t need their tricks to win this week and can actually use their running game – which was non-existent against Baltimore – to great advantage this week. After all, Jonas Gray did have his monster game against the Colts earlier this season.

Chelsea noses ahead of City

- January 12th, 2015

Another week, another change at the top of the table.

With Manchester City looking toothless in attack against Everton and only mustering a draw, Chelsea surged ahead with a win over Newcastle.

The Citizens are a team in flux right now. With Yaya Toure gone for the African Cup of Nations and their bevy of strikers returning to fitness, expect to see some different looks for the next few weeks.

That sort of inconsistency doesn’t bode well for a team that seemed really well put together and on a hot run leading up to this game. With Arsenal on the horizon, it’s not like things are getting easier, either.

As for Chelsea, this team is rock solid when it’s on its game.

Even with Newcastle getting more chances than the title contenders, the Blues didn’t back down or fold up shop. Jose Mourinho was incredibly vocal on the sidelines and, while I’m sure he’s happy with the three points, he can’t be thrilled about how the game went about.

But it’s the results that matter and at the end of the season, it doesn’t matter how you won the games, it’s just that you did – or in City’s case, didn’t.

UNITED THEY FALL

With chance to move closer to second place after City’s stumble and an opportunity to bump Southampton down the table, Manchester United fell flat against the Saints.

There was some questionable management from Louis Van Gaal, who didn’t even put Radamel Falcao on the bench for the game, despite the fact that the Colombian goal-scorer is 100% fit.

LVG could’ve really used him too, with Robin van Persie going off with an ankle injury.

While there’s always rumours about the Red Devils going in for big-name players in the transfer window, perhaps it should look at some better physios and trainers to keep the current squad on the field.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Lazar Markovic is finally starting to look like a key piece for Liverpool. He scored against Sunderland and hit the bar with amazing volley attempt. With Adam Lallana out for a month, Markovic should see his playing time increase and maybe earn a spot in the starting XI to stay … Tony Pulis picked up his first win with West Brom thanks to the scorching-hot Saido Berahino. The least surprising part of the game was the Baggies keeping a clean sheet. If there’s one thing that Pulis will beat into that side, it’s defensive sturdiness … Arsenal is a different team when Laurent Koscielny plays. With the French centre back in the lineup, the Gunners keep a clean sheet more than 50% of the time. He’ll need to stay healthy with Mathieu Debuchy injured once again … Alexis Sanchez’s brace brings him up to 12 goals and seven assists this season. If he keeps playing like this, Barca might want to try to bring him back.

TRANSFER TALK

With the transfer window open, the rumour mill has spun into high gear. The European press is notorious for unfounded reports, but there is always a kernel or two of truth in the fog. Here’s some of the tidbits I’ve found interesting so far.

-Liverpool is losing out on some players it could really use, first with Victor Valdes heading to Manchester United and then Xherdan Shaqiri bound for Inter Milan. Both players were linked to the Reds, but can you blame them for picking greener pastures?

-Valdes is a pretty good insurance policy for David De Gea at Manchester United. If the current No. 1 decides to leave after his contract is out, Valdes could be an easy fill-in.

-Manchester City has created another logjam at striker after clearing out a bit of deadweight in the summer. The $50-million transfer of Wilfired Bony raises a couple of eyebrows, especially with Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic all getting close to 100%. You have to wonder if this means it’s the end of the line for Dzeko or if Jovetic could go out on loan.

-Let’s make one thing clear: Lionel Messi won’t leave Barcelona, especially not now. Barca would sooner fire its manager – is reportedly at loggerheads with Messi – before letting the global sensation walk. While there are a couple of clubs that could actually afford his enormous buyout, it wouldn’t make sense for Barca to sell him. Remember, the Spanish giants aren’t allowed to buy any players during this window or in the summer, so they couldn’t even cash in on the enormous fee Messi would command. So don’t expect this move of massive proportions to happen.

THE LAST WORD

This might not surprise you, but FIFA got something really wrong.

During their annual awards show, FIFA honours its team of the year, a starting XI of the best players from the past year.

Somehow, David Luiz got on this list.

This comes after Luiz fell out of favour at Chelsea and wasn’t seeing much playing time last season, was sold during the summer for a laughably large sum of money and is now with PSG atop Ligue 1 – which is a step below the EPL and La Liga. Oh, he was also part of that Brazil squad that lost 7-1 to Germany at the World Cup and didn’t even take bronze.

How was Luiz one of the four best defenders in the world, exactly?

Luiz stands alongside Phillip Lahm, Sergio Ramos and Thiago Silva – another Brazilian whose inclusion is a bit questionable.

It’s not like there were plenty of deserving candidates. Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, David Alaba, Diego Godin and even Marcelo could’ve gotten the call.

There were some other choices in the XI that raised a couple of eyebrows, like Andre Iniesta and Arjen Robben, but they were far more justified than Luiz.

Of course, this is an organization that did vote to host a World Cup in a place where you can barely go outside in the summer, so this shouldn’t be THAT surprising.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

The Cowboys deserved to beat Detroit

- January 10th, 2015

Let’s talk about the refs in the Cowboys-Lions game.

They were terrible. But while everyone is concentrating on the picked up flag for pass interference, there was a lot more to it than that.

Several calls weren’t made for both teams, with some holds missed on the Cowboys in the fourth quarter and the league even calling Dallas to tell them that the refs missed a whopping eight calls against the Lions earlier in the game.

It was a disaster all around.

But you can’t say that the Lions would have won the game if not for that single picked-up flag.

On that play, there were several fouls.

-Brandon Pettigrew facemasked Anthony Hitchens for several yards to get separation. That’s either a facemask of offensive PI.

-Hitchens held on Pettigrew’s jersey while being facemasked, which is a bit understandable considering he probably didn’t want to be dragged by his neck downfield.

-Hitchens made some contact with Pettigrew while the ball was in the air, which could’ve been called pass interference.

Hitchens was face-guarding Pettigrew on the pass, which actually isn’t a penalty.

-Dez Bryant came on the field without his helmet on, which should’ve been 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

What would that all add up to? A replay of third down if everything was called.

And when you recall this occurred with more than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, you can’t say that it was game over for Detroit after this.

Coach Jim Caldwell could’ve went for it on fourth-and-one – and probably made it. That could’ve won Detroit the game.

The Lions could’ve also used some better playcalling than just using short passes on their final drive.

The moral of the story is that if your offence can only put up six points in the final three quarters against an average defence, you don’t deserve to win.

And if you want to give anyone grief about picked up flags, Detroit fans, just remember that the league picked up its figurative flag and let Ndamukong Suh play in a game after being suspended for stepping on Aaron Rodgers’ ankle. Saying that your feet were cold is no excuse for attempting to injure anybody.

As for the division round picks, the lines are from Vegas and the home teams are in CAPs.

NEW ENGLAND -7 over Baltimore

Many will bring up that the Ravens have an outstanding playoff record, especially against the Patriots. I’ll bring up that they’ve never faced the Pats in the playoffs with Rob Gronkowski at 100%. While Baltimore will be fired up for this game, don’t you think that the Pats will be as well? This could be a close one, but with Bill Belichick fully prepared to defend the Ravens deep passing games – and the PI calls that come with it – New England should advance to the AFC final.

SEATTLE -10.5 over Carolina

The Panthers have secretly been one of the hottest teams in football for the past month and a bit. It’s a shame that the Seahawks have been even hotter for even longer. While the Cats also play the Hawks very tight and this should be a very defensive game, those past two matchups took place in Carolina. A visit to the Pacific Northwest will be much different.

GREEN BAY -6 over Dallas

As I said up top, the Cowboys may have deserved to beat the Lions, but that game really could have gone either way. Against an offence as good as the Packers, Dallas may not stand a chance. While the Boys are undefeated on the road, the Pack are undefeated at Lambeau, which carries a bit more weight in my mind. Whenever a warm-weather or dome team is forced to play in negative temperatures, you can expect them to be a little bit of uncomfortable. Granted, Aaron Rodgers is hobbled by a tear in his calf and a strain, but considering the Cowboys’ pass rush isn’t anything special, he may not have to move to make plays.

DENVER over -7 over Indianapolis

This seems to be the one upset that everyone is going with, which is why it’s most likely the Broncos pull it out. Peyton Manning hasn’t looked right the past few games, but now he has had a week off to sort out what ails him. The Colts, quite simply, aren’t that good of a team. Their running game isn’t that good with Boom Herron leading the way and if Aqib Talib can limit T.Y. Hilton’s impact, Indy could be in real trouble. C.J. Anderson’s emergence gives the Broncos a great option in the running game and should be the difference against Indy.

Last week: 3-1

Playoffs: 3-1

Season: 141-111-4