Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two sporting dissents

I dissent.

There are two lines of NFL conventional wisdom that do not work.

First, the Brett Favre signing by the Vikings has raised the team to an NFC favorite, Vegas put the odds of the Vikes winning the NFC at 6-1, down from 12-1. Brett Favre has not made the Vikes the best team in the NFC, and the Vikings will not be the conference champs for the first time since Super Bowl XI.

Here's the argument: Favre will have a great running game, and a great defense against the run, and the team only needed a new QB to become a champion.

But that combination of great running game and defense sounds just like the 2007 Steelers (3rd in rush offense, 1st in total defense), who had a QB who threw for 32 TDs with just 11 INT, had a 1300-yard runner, and lost at home in the first round of the playoffs, just like the Vikes did last year. And it sounds like the 2008 Jets, who had a top 10 running offense and a top 10 defense against the run . . . and went 9-7 and watched every playoff game.

The Vikings barely beat the Giants in the final game of the season last year. The Vikes needed to win to make the playoffs, the Giants rested their starters (no Jacobs at all, Eli sat the second half, various lower workloads for the starters on defense and offense). And the best run defense in football (Minnesota) allowed 135 yards on 30 carries to the Giants' #2 and #3 runners and won only because the Jints had missed a field goal earlier in the game. With nothing to play for, the Giants acted as if the game were a preseason matchup, and nearly won.

Minnesota just was not that good last year: the Vikes should have lost to Detroit at home and won by just four in Detroit against the worst team in the past 30 years. They were no match for the Eagles or Titans. The Jets' improvement from 2007-2008 came as much from having a healthy QB as having a healthy QB named Favre -- look at how well the Dolphins did with the 2007 Jets' QB as their signal-caller (unlike Favre, Chad Pennington has never started 75%+ of his team's games and NOT made the playoffs). The Favre factor may enable another win for the Vikes, but they're not in the top three of the conference.

The second strain of conventional wisdom is that the Giants need a #1 receiver to win the Super Bowl. That's rot. The Giants' defense wilted in the last quarter of the season last year because the team lacked defensive end depth. The Giants' offense failed against the Eagles, twice, as much through error and game-planning (Domenik Hixon's dropped TD in the regular season, Coughlin's bad wind decisions in the playoffs) as the absence of a #1 receiver. The Giants lost to the Cowpatties in Dallas because the Cowmanures were desperate for a win (the Giants knew the next weekend's game against Carolina would be for the NFC's #1 seed), and the Giants didn't have Jacobs available. The Burress mess occurred at the worst possible time because the Giants could not reconfigure their offensive game plan against the Eagles as quickly as the Eagles revamped their defense against the Giants. But the fact is that the Giants had two of their best passing days with Burress out of the lineup (against Seattle and at Washington).

The defense was spent at the end of 2008. The team blitzed on 40 of Philly's 46 passing plays in the playoff matchup but only had one sack and few hurries. The Giants had five sacks in games 12-17 of their season. They allowed 28 points to the Panthers, had the Panthers run all over them and won only because Derek Ward went off. Tom Brady won three Super Bowls without a top-end #1 receiver, so did Ben Roethlisberger, so did the Bucs under Gruden. If the defense is healthy and rested, the Giants can go far.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The stopped clock and a Monkling

One of my colleagues who is basically wrong about everything political and social was right last year when he told me just how enormous a difference there is between a child at his first birthday and his second.

The Monkling turned two yesterday. He speaks in phrases and has an extensive vocabulary, not just a random word or sound (when he was 18 months, we laughed at one of the baby books that said he should have about 4-7 words he routinely sasy -- he had more than 30); he walks, instead of just stumbling around and bear-crawling; he no longer falls asleep on dada's head as we walk around the local greenbelt; he has a full little baby mop of hair . . . and he had that a year ago too. Some things don't change too quickly: mama is the greatest thing ever, Nana and Pawpaw are silly people who grab at his toes, dada is the big voiced man who sings silly songs to him and wins all the one-sided tickle-fights, he likes to pretend to be a zombie or a ghost because he knows when he attacks mama or dada he'll get hugged and kissed and tickled. And his hair is out of control.

But now, he likes specific things like Elmo, Thomas (trains, especially Toby), biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig trucks, pine cones that splash when thrown in the pond, testing what floats and what sinks, buses, Pei Wei, Propel water, raspberries, edamame, noodles, rice, almonds, bacon, peas, spicy food, sidewalk chalk, rocks, itsy-bitsy spiders crawling up water spouts, picking acorns, dada singing him to sleep, walking around the nearby greenbelt, the sticks in his aunt's backyard, rubbing his head against the cats' torsos, Boowa/Kwala, watching the garbage pickups each week, zrbrts (Cosby show reference) on his tummy, reading book after book after book with mama during the day, or dada at night.

And he has his momma's eyes.

That's the Monkling in a moment on his second birthday. What he did yesterday was play with his new train set, take two walks with dada, eat turkey and cornbread at Boston Market, have a big nap, drink his weight in Propel and chase the kitties.

The day before, when we held his party after his pregnant mama worked for hours decorating the house, he received the big train set (Imaginarium set with round house -- a good deal: tons of trains, accessories, double track layout, all for 1/2 the price of a Thomas set, and compatible with the Thomas accessories), opened his presents (lotta Thomas's friends and trucks, a backyard slide, more sidewalk chalk), ate his cake (but cried when we were about to cut the Thomas design in the frosting), had his favorite food for lunch (Pei Wei teriyaki chicken, rice, edamame) and fell asleep with dada as dada nodded off in mid-song.

That's my son.