Odds and Endings: Week 2

Philadelphia Eagles Coach, Chip Kelly

Philadelphia Eagles Coach, Chip Kelly

 

EVERY WEEK, THE BANNER YEARS WILL LOOK BACK AT NEWSWORTHY EVENTS IN THE NFL AND MAKE PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD FOR THE WEEK AHEAD. ALL ODDS ARE AVERAGED FROM THOSE FOUND ON ESPN.COM.

 

By: Michael Conroy

Remember that little pretentious musing about renewing old addictions that appeared at the beginning of last week’s Odds and Endings entry? Maybe it’s time for an intervention here in Philadelphia, because we definitely just had a bad trip, but there’s no morning-after cocktail like another full slate of early season NFL football. Week three is on the horizon and it’s time for some struggling squads to sober up.

What We Learned…


Tony Romo suffers broken clavicle in 20-10 Dallas victory.

Tony Romo suffers broken clavicle in 20-10 Dallas victory.

The Struggle is Real

Two weeks of the NFL season are in the books, so as one would expect, the playoff stats about 0-2 teams are making the rounds. What no one expected, however is the abundance of championship-hopeful teams that populate the discussion this year.

The Colts, Ravens, Eagles and Saints certainly fared well in many pre-season power rankings. Now they each need back-to-back wins just to climb back to where they started. Statistically, just one or two of these teams will manage a playoff berth. To this point, the Ravens appear to he the most likely to do so, having lost two close games on the road, with Andrew Luck’s Colts a distant second.

Maybe the Pope can tell Philly fans what is going on with the running game because only God knows. The Cowboys are proving themselves to be capable on defense, but the Eagles were humiliated at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. At this point, fans don’t really care why it’s broken anymore. They just want it fixed.

Chip Kelly’s hand-picked team made what can most aptly be described as an attempt at professional football and came up short. They can’t like their chances to right the ship in New York this weekend. More on that in a bit…

Down Goes Romo

The NFC playoff picture changed dramatically, when Tony Romo left “America’s Game of the Week” with a fractured clavicle in the third quarter. Down an elite Quarterback, Wide Receiver and Defensive End, Dallas cruised to a 20-10 win. The Cowboys are good enough to tread water until week 11 unless another NFC East team can get their act together.

Better Days Ahead in Seattle

The Seahawks don’t qualify as a “legitimate” 0-2 panic candidate. Their schedule, thus far, has not been kind. A road game against Aaron Rodgers is an assumed loss for most NFL teams, but the ‘Hawks put up a respectable fight.  Kam Chancellor returns this week to help deliver what’s shaping up to be a pasting of epic proportions. Seattle can rest easy.

None of the aforementioned under-performers have played their way to an Endings declaration, — though the Eagles are pushing it — so let’s move on to a team whose situation is more definitively hopeless.

Endings


J.J. Watt gets pancake blocked against Carolina

J.J. Watt gets pancake blocked against Carolina

Ryan Mallett has completed just 49-percent of his passes this season and the Houston Texans can’t score points. To make matters worse, the defense has taken a step back. While colossal talents like Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt will eventually wrestle success away from the jaws of failure, there’s no reason to believe that alone will make the difference in Houston.

Bill O’Brien needs — like so many flailing NFL coaches — to find his Quarterback. Luckily for him, the Texans’ impotent offense could play their way right into to the selection of a familiar Penn State prospect in the Spring.

Endings to date: Tampa Bay, Houston

Mercifully, week two is over with. It was not kind to Banner Years prognostication, but with more information to work with, expect an improvement over last week’s dismal record of 7-9.

Odds


Jaguars Coach, Gus Bradley

Jaguars Coach, Gus Bradley

Washington (+3.5) @ NY Giants

Washington is quietly ranked #1 in the NFL on Defense. Who knows if that will continue, but two games constitute a valid sample size when there’s only 16 in a season. The Redskins are rushing for a league-leading 171.5 yards per game and allowing just 70.5 to their opponents. Surprisingly, the secondary has been even better. The New York Giants have also fared well against opponents’ running backs, but rank dead last against the pass.

Washington will need to adapt in this game, because they’ve relied on a persistent ground attack to this point. To continue with that strategy against the Giants would be comically illogical. If New York was giving just three points at home, this pick might be more difficult. The Giants beat the Redskins 16-14.

Atlanta (-2) @ Dallas

The Atlanta Falcons still aren’t very talented, but they have a Quarterback and Wide Receiver good enough to put pressure on a barren Cowboys offense. Jerry Jones can spin this however he likes. Dallas just lost the one player they absolutely could not afford to lose. Brandon Weeden won’t bail out the ground game like Tony Romo did. From now until — at least — week 11, Cowboys fans will experience NFL games the way most of us do without a Quarterback: An uphill battle, barefoot, both ways. The Falcons win 24-20.

Jacksonville (+14) @ New England

I have to admit it: I am a Blake Bortles fan. I really am.

For all the talk about tendencies and play-recognition, there’s something to be said about looking the part. Bortles and the Jaguars threw all over the Miami Dolphins in week two. There’s no reason to think they can’t have some success against the Patriots. Let’s be clear though, Tom Brady is a man on a mission right now. The Jaguars will most definitely lose this game, but they won’t do so by more than two touchdowns. Patriots win, 30-20.

Philadelphia @ NY Jets (-2.5)

When the “Dream Team” of 2011 started to fall apart, criticism was rampant, but fans still managed to talk themselves into expecting an Eagles victory by each week’s end. Sometimes in the NFL, when it can’t get any worse, it gets worse anyway. The New York Jets are not the team they are supposed to be. They are competent, efficient and patient on offense and Todd Bowles has the defense playing at an elite level. If the Dallas Cowboys could hold Philadelphia’s head underwater for four quarters, the likes of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Mohammed Wilkerson should have no trouble at all.

Chip Kelly will make adjustments as the season goes on, but a bad O-line and an ineffectual Quarterback are irreparable deficiencies. The Philadelphia Eagles roster is a mess at the moment, with Kendricks Alonso and now Demarco Murray all nursing injuries. Eagles fans should not let wishful thinking obscure that fact. Todd Bowles drops the Eagles to 0-3 by a score of 27-17.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) @ Houston

Just call this game the “Zombie Bowl.” Neither of these teams is destined for greatness in 2015, but it’s a fun coincidence that the first two teams eliminated this year will immediately play each other. Outside of Houston and Tampa, who really cares about the outcome of this game? Still, 6.5 is a lot of points for either team to give right now. Houston does not cover, winning 27-24.

Pittsburgh (-1) @ St. Louis

The Steelers absolutely dismantled a 49ers team that had shown signs of life against Minnesota. Big Ben can be trusted on the road anywhere and Antonio Brown is absolutely un-coverable at this point. The Rams will have a chance in this game, turning a ferocious pass rush on Pittsburgh’s inconsistent O-line. If St. Louis is going to pull off an upset, they’ll have to do so on the arm of Nick Foles.

Either team could plausibly come up with a win here, but Ben Roethlisberger will be the best player on the field and that usually makes the difference. Steelers send the Rams to 1-2 on the season with a 28-21 victory.

Buffalo (+2.5) @ Miami

On second thought, maybe Buffalo’s defense isn’t so terrifying. Tom Brady was comfortable in Orchard Park, throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. The Bills made this game look much closer than it was, but Rex Ryan’s team never threatened the Patriots. At least Lesean Mccoy can drown his sorrows watching his old racist coach, Chip Kelly flail in Philly.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, struggled mightily against Gus Bradley’s suddenly explosive Jaguars. Ryan Tannehill is no Tom Brady, so the Bills should get back on track in Miami this week. Buffalo wins 24-20.

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) celebrates a hit on St. Louis Rams' Stedman Bailey in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) celebrates a hit on St. Louis Rams’ Stedman Bailey in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Chicago @ Seattle (-15)

The Bears wouldn’t have had much of a chance in this game with Jay Cutler at Quarterback, but with Jimmy Clausen at the helm, Chicago could be a part of something that is the wrong kind of special. Kam Chancellor rejoined the Seahawks after their second consecutive road loss. Perhaps the pro-bowl safety was banking on a slow start away from EnergyLink Field to grease the wheels on contract discussions. Did he always plan on a home opening debut?

Either way, this game will be a festival for the 12th man. People will be watching this game just to see how bad it can get for Chicago. Open wide for those 15 points. Seahawks run away and hide, 38-7

Kansas City (+7) @ Green Bay

Sometimes a pick makes logical sense. Other times, it just “feels” right. In this case, both happen to be true. Kansas City has shown they are capable of controlling the pace of a game. That’s exactly what they need to do against Aaron Rodgers this week. The Packers will most likely be without the services of Eddie Lacy for this game. If an ineffective running game allows the Chiefs’ front seven to get going, Andy Reid could secure himself an impressive road win. Alex Smith dinks and dunks his way to a 27-24 victory.

Other Picks

 Denver @ Detroit (+3), San Francisco @ Arizona (-6.5), Oakland @ Cleveland (-3.5), San Diego (+2.5) @ Minnesota, New Orleans @ Carolina (-3), Indianapolis (-3.5) @ Tennessee, Cincinnati @ Baltimore (-2.5)

Week three kicks off at Metlife Stadium tonight with some sub-par NFC East action… Meh.

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Odds and Endings: Week 1

St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks

Tavon Austin (11) scores a touchdown vs. the Seahawks

 

Every week, The Banner Years will look back at newsworthy events in the NFL and make picks against the spread for the week ahead. All odds are averaged from those found on ESPN.com.

 

By: Michael Conroy

There’s no feeling quite like renewing an old addiction. From the moment your fingers begin to tingle and your eyes go wide, you know the pain that’s waiting on the other side. But you still let it enfold you, because the high really is that good. It’s the sweetest defeat you’ll ever endure.

Maybe I take all of this too seriously, — correction: I definitely take this too seriously — but after indulging in the first NFL Sunday slate of 2015, I felt like I had overdosed. Leave it to the NFL to follow up a tumultuous off-season with one of the most thrilling weeks of action in recent memory.

Sunday, we learned…


Mike Tomlin (left) Bill Belichick (right)

Mike Tomlin (left) Bill Belichick (right)

The Patriots and Steelers Look Great in Hindsight

It’s easy to forget that grand opening salvo between Pittsburgh and New England last Thursday night. The sensory overload that is NFL Redzone may have even pushed the seven-point Patriot victory back into a week of its own. Lost in all of the commotion and a city-wide search for Roger Goodell, however, was the fact that both teams looked comparatively razor sharp.

Tom Brady yada-yada’d a clinical dissection of yet another competent defense and the Pittsburgh Steelers showed their ability to trade punches on the road with the best the NFL has to offer. After a weekend bursting at the seams with procedural penalties, dropped passes and costly clock-management miscues, this game stands out as a probable January preview.

The Buffalo Bills Are Who We Thought They’d Be

That is, a pretty good football team. Sure, they may be deluding themselves thinking Tyrod Taylor can be a viable long-term starter, but if you can hold Andrew Luck scoreless for almost 40 minutes without Marcell Dareus in the lineup, you have a shot against anybody. We always knew that Rex Ryan would have that defense ready to play, but he will need much more from Shady Mccoy if the Bills are going to come out of the crowded AFC East. Either way, you won’t find another defense that is this fun to watch.

Old Saint Nick Takes the Rams to Another Level

Nick Foles rose to prominence the same way most Quarterbacks do in Philadelphia, replacing the starter mid-season, making a statistically historic run to the playoffs and getting traded away to a flailing franchise. Usually, that narrative ends with a Kolb-esque fall from grace leaving everyone to wonder why any General Manager would trade for a backup Eagles signal-caller again. Against Seattle on Sunday, the narrative veered off-course. Nick Foles has officially gone rogue.

It would seem that Foles is content with the lack of weapons in St. Louis. Every time the Seahawks closed the gap on the Rams in the second half, the former future of the Philadelphia Eagles made a big play. Leading the Rams over the defending two-time NFC Champions isn’t a bad way to start the season. It was the biggest win of the week.

Somebody Won the Giants-Cowboys Game

Manning vs. Romo is always just a little disorienting to Eagles fans. On one hand, Tom Coughlin is doing this:

But on the other hand, Tony Romo gets to do this:

Which means Dez Bryant does things like this:

And Skip Bayless goes on national TV and does this: [inappropriate/sexual content removed]

It’s a good thing Bryant won’t be suiting up for the Cowboys this week, or their match-up with the Eagles’ secondary could be a bloodbath. Rumor has it Byron Maxwell and Billy Davis are still down in Atlanta, struggling to locate Julio Jones.

Endings


Jameis Winston (left), Marcus Mariota (right)

Jameis Winston (left), Marcus Mariota (right)

It’s difficult to declare any team’s season over after just one week, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a knack for making difficult things easy. Marcus Mariota was the latest beneficiary of Lovie Smith’s stale defensive scheme, which yielded a 97.4 Rating to opposing Quarterbacks last season. Still, allowing Mariota to throw four touchdowns in one half was a new low for Lovie, whose best years are almost certainly behind him.

Jameis Winston struggled to keep up with the pace of the game despite making some beautiful throws when given a clean pocket. These two rookies might seem light-years apart right now, but it would be foolish to draw any conclusions from a game like that.

It’s clear that the Buccaneers won’t be making any noise in 2015, but Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and Doug Martin look like a strong young core. Going forward, the talent in Tampa can still take something valuable from the season. Their playoff hopes, however, are sunk.

Odds


Dez

Dez Bryant suffers foot injury vs. Giants

Denver (+3) @ Kansas City

Peyton Manning looked positively human against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1. He’s still Peyton Manning, though and it’s been fourteen years since he’s failed to win at least ten games in a season. Arm strength was never his greatest asset and the Kansas City Chiefs still can’t push the ball downfield even with Jeremy Maclin in the lineup. Take Peyton getting points in almost any NFL stadium not called Gillette. Andy Reid’s first-15 net the early lead, but the Broncos win 21-17.

Houston @ Carolina (-3)

The whole world keeps waiting for the Panthers to fold. Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season, Luke Kuechly sustained a concussion in Jacksonville on Sunday and Greg Olsen suddenly can’t get open. So what? Carolina is well coached, aggressive on defense and have a seasoned play-maker at the Quarterback position. Cam Newton went on the road with no weapons, played a responsible game and came back with a win.

Meanwhile, Houston couldn’t make it through 60 minutes of their season before moving on from an “ineffective” Brian Hoyer. Ryan Mallet with no running game won’t scare the Panthers in their home opener even with Watt and Clowney wreaking havoc. This could get ugly, early. Carolina wins 31-10

San Francisco (+6) @ Pittsburgh

The second game of Monday night’s double-header was a chore. Sure, it’s easy to write off the result and say the Vikings just aren’t as good as was presumed, but that’s lazy storytelling. Minnesota has weapons and Teddy Bridgewater is coming into his own. The 49ers have simply gotten back to playing ugly, physical football. While that toughness may not result in a win on the road against the Steelers, it will definitely translate to a closer loss than most are anticipating. Steelers win, 20-17

New England (EVEN) @ Buffalo

What do Bill Belichick and Tom Brady do whenever a small spark threatens to grow into a vibrant flame? They stomp it out, smear it with dirt and spit on the embers. The tyrants have dominated the AFC East by smothering upstarts for more than a decade. Rex Ryan may be prepared for whatever the Patriots are going to throw at his Bills, but that doesn’t mean he can stop it. The New England dynasty isn’t ready to die just yet. They make a statement and rout the Bills, 29-6.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-3.5)

The Bengals certainly aren’t winning any cases in the court of public opinion this week. On the field, however, being a savage pays dividends. They pummeled the Raiders into submission from the opening whistle. It doesn’t matter why Cincinnati played so angry in week 1. What matters is whether or not they can sustain that intensity. San Diego narrowly escaped a loss at the hands of the Lions thanks to late-game heroics from Phillip Rivers, but a similar slow start against a motivated Bengals team could spell disaster. Andy Dalton goes under-appreciated for another week, beating Phillip Rivers 27-20.

Atlanta @ NY Giants (-2)

Matt Ryan is really good. On Monday night, he reminded the football world of that fact. The New York Giants are still reeling after Eli Manning’s game-breaking blunder against the Dallas Cowboys. None of that matters, though, because the NFL makes sense only about 50-percent of the time. The Falcons have never been the same team going on the road. Julio Jones might see triple coverage this week, as Steve Spagnuolo isn’t too proud to make adjustments. The Giants will celebrate every single first down en route to a 27-17 victory.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) evades Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin (98)

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) evades Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin (98)

Dallas (+5) @ Philadelphia

Philadelphia couldn’t have been more confident heading into last week’s game against Atlanta. John Gruden was frothing at the mouth. The stage was set for a Chip Kelly love-fest on ESPN. What Eagles fans received, instead, was a rude awakening. If a Super Bowl is this team’s destination, they have a very long way to go.

Julio Jones will make any team’s secondary look silly, so passing judgement on Byron Maxwell at this point might be a bit premature. What’s really concerning for the Eagles is the play of the Offensive and Defensive lines. Scheme, fitness and culture can’t save a team that’s losing in the trenches. To make matters worse, the Falcons won that battle with arguably the least amount of talent that Philly will see all season.

In the win/loss column, it is technically just one game. Those who have followed the team long enough, however, know that the front-seven must drastically improve for the Eagles to meet their championship expectations this year. Or maybe it is just one game and we’re all panicking over nothing.

It’s way too early in the season for a “Dallas week,” but the ‘Boys are coming, ready or not. Dez Bryant’s broken foot is Philadelphia’s most valuable asset in this game, because the secondary needs more time to sort things out. If the heralded Eagles front-seven couldn’t produce a consistent pass rush vs. the Falcons’ weak O-line, it’s hard to imagine them having better luck against the best in the business. Expect Billy Davis to bring blitz after blitz, in an effort to protect his vulnerable secondary. Those blitzes must get home early and often or Tony Romo will notch his second division win in as many weeks of this young season. The Eagles should win a tight one, 33-30.

Seattle (+3.5) at Green Bay

Doesn’t it feel like the Packers have played the Seahawks a dozen times in the past three seasons? It’s hard to think of another non-divisional rivalry that’s amassed so much history in such a short amount of time. Aaron Rodgers is still the best player in the world, but he will miss Jordy Nelson more this week than he did against the Bears. The Seahawks won’t start the season 0-2 in the NFC. Seattle wins another chippy prime time classic, 24-23

Other Picks

NY Jets @ Indianapolis (-7) / Baltimore (-6.5) @ Oakland / Miami @ Jacksonville (+6.5) / Tennessee (+1) @ Cleveland / Arizona (-2.5) @ Chicago / Detroit (+3) @ Minnesota / Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-10) St. Louis (-3.5) @ Washington 

Week two of the NFL season kicks off tonight at Arrowhead Stadium. Brace yourselves, more football is coming.

Dragonslayer

Lebron James

Lebron James


By: Michael Conroy

In the NBA, superstars are judged primarily on their ability to do what is expected of them. It’s a defensible criteria, considering just how often the best teams seem to win it all. The most talented athlete in the league is given a golden ticket to June along with a perverse ultimatum: Tread water, or drown. How, then, does that athlete ever find the time to “swim?” This is the quandary that faces all established NBA stars. In a world where everything goes according to plan, being truly remembered requires monumental aberration.

There are moments in a player’s career when their own success becomes that which is unexpected. Lebron James is no stranger to this moment. The home-grown Cleveland hero famously fled to Miami in 2010 to avoid it. Rather than slay the dragon that is NBA convention, James joined Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to become that convention and win his two championships.

One by one, the scrutinized James toppled demons that had stalked him since his first foray into the playoffs. He solved the puzzle of the final two minutes and allegations of inadequacy in all forms fell by the wayside. Now, Cleveland’s prodigal son has returned to the Cavaliers as a grizzled veteran with the tools he hopes can finish the job he started once upon a time.

The Golden State Warriors are one of the most prolific offensive juggernauts in NBA history. Incredibly, the team also led the league in defensive efficiency. They are a running, shooting, fire-breathing favorite to win the NBA Finals. For Lebron James they are the final frontier.

The Cleveland Cavaliers that won 12 consecutive games in January are ancient history. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love nursing injuries, a skeleton crew remains. J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Matthew “Deli” Dellavedova hardly constitute an imposing foursome. Even if Irving and Love can return in a limited capacity for their clash with Golden State, the Eastern Conference will have its most shallow representative since Iverson’s 76ers.

Lebron Dragon 4

A.I. wasn’t nearly the generational talent that Lebron James is. However, at the age of 26, Iverson had accrued far fewer grueling postseason minutes and even he couldn’t triumph in the face of the Kobe-Shaq L.A. Lakers. Make no mistake, the present-day Warriors stand to be every bit as historically dominant as those Lakers. League MVP Steph Curry is averaging over 28 points per game in the playoffs. Scoring like that in the NBA Finals would rank among the series’ all-time greatest performances.

At 30 years of age, Lebron James faces both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity of his professional life. Rarely does a superstar like James come up against a seemingly unbeatable foe. If the self-proclaimed “king” can overcome incredibly long odds and win his third championship in four seasons, his career will become part of a new and very exclusive .discussion. It seems strange that a 4-time league MVP with two championship rings and an Olympic Gold Medal could possibly have more to prove, but those are the stakes.

What is implied when people talk about the “great” ones in the NBA? Is it simply a game of counting rings that determines greatness? More accurately, those mathematical hurdles serve as a baseline. What matters more is a star’s claim. In other words, how and why is he remembered?

Crafting that legacy is more difficult than it sounds. So many factors are out of a player’s control. Level of competition, timing, team mates, coaching and even social issues all play a role.

Lebron’s career has, at the very least, been unique, but not always for the reasons he’d like it to be. In a way, the injuries to Irving and Love might be blessings in disguise. By finding a way to overcome those setbacks and win four of the next seven games, he can rewrite his own history. James can be remembered not as a mercenary, but a hero who did what could not be done; Whose greatest moment came in Cleveland, not Miami.

The Golden State Warriors should win this series with relative ease. They have the deeper, younger, healthier roster by far. Still, if any player is capable of such a massive upset, it’s Lebron James. At least, if he does, it will make a wonderful story.

Life After 1, 6, 11

Draft Lottery

By: Michael Conroy

Just what is so compelling about the NBA Draft Lottery? Is there an untapped audience clamoring to watch athletes decorated with “pseudo-haute couture” attire as they grin and grimace through a hyper-glorified raffle? No, those optics alone can’t be responsible for shutting down a Buffalo Wild Wings at around 6:30 p.m. on an otherwise random Tuesday. Hope, on the other hand, could do that with its eyes closed. After all, only the hopeful could form a community as inexplicably interested as the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase. Last night, that’s exactly what the NBA was selling.

ESPN had the perfect lead-in to its coverage of the Western Conference Finals opener between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The broadcast played like an — albeit shamelessly milked — Old Spice commercial. In a sense, fans were told: “Look at your man, now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But with the first, sixth and eleventh overall picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, he could smell like me.”

Just think, all of the “stink” emanating from Sixers GM, Sam Hinkie’s controversial tanking strategy in recent years could finally be abating. Watching James Harden square off against Steph Curry, respectively the third and seventh overall selections in 2009, the future of a team with the potential draft capital of the 76ers seemed undeniably bright. Landing just one of their two conditional picks would increase the odds of drafting a difference-maker exponentially. It was an enticing scenario, but one that ultimately eluded the Sixers faithful.

In reality, Philadelphia’s Utopian outcome was never very likely. Still, it’s difficult not to view last night’s haul as a slight disappointment. The third overall selection in the draft is hardly a pittance for any NBA team, but landing outside of the top 2 could prove problematic for the Sixers in the long run.

Russel

Both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are favored to be the top pick, but D’Angelo Russell could be a target for the Lakers at #2. What, then, will Hinkie do if Los Angeles goes off script on draft night? Nerlens Noel flourished in the second half of last season and last year’s third overall selection, Joel Embiid is poised for a breakout rookie* campaign in 2015. The selection of Okafor or Towns would undoubtedly force out one of the other Sixers’ center prospects.

Of course, Sam Hinkie tends to view all players as assets, so the idea of taking Jahlil Okafor may be slightly more tenable. Regardless, if the 76ers are truly building something, wouldn’t it be better if the blocks fit together?

It’s true that the Philadelphia 76ers are playing the long game and their fans have clearly bought in, but just because people are patient, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re buying tickets. It’s always easier to suffer the journey when you can make out the destination in the distance.

Two superstars clashed on a national stage last night. The 7-minute lottery extravaganza was fun, but James Harden and Stephen Curry were the main event. The pair represent the highest rated offensive prospects drafted in the past decade. Third on that list could be a 76er next month. A good Point-Guard in the NBA makes his entire team better. D’Angelo Russell could facilitate the offensive growth of Philadelphia’s young roster through crucial developmental years. He may have been Hinkie’s pick at #1 overall.

In the end, it might come down to which Center the Lakers favor and whether the Timberwolves take him first. That might just cost the Sixers their chance at Russell. Los Angeles could even leverage their superior positioning to gain assets from Philadelphia. As it stands, Philly will be hoping once again just over a month from now. Perhaps those dreams won’t be dashed.

The Juice and the Squeeze

image

Sam Bradford, Quarterback

By: Justin Salmasi

Sam Bradford’s career up to this point has been a roller coaster ride. Coming out of Oklahoma University as one of the highest graded college quarterback prospects in recent history, Bradford  hit the ground running. He broke multiple rookie records and almost led his inept Rams squad to the playoffs. Since then, Bradford’s career has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency. In many cases, he was surrounded by a less than stellar supporting cast, but nevertheless, Bradford began trending downward and was all but written off as a bust in the minds of Ram’s fans and coaches alike.

In fact, when the Eagles traded Nick Foles and a second round pick for the former first overall pick, I thought Chip had officially lost his mind. Why would he trade a proven QB who we at least believe is in “good-not-great” territory for a QB that the St Louis Rams deemed unfit to lead their impotent franchise? Why should Eagles fans feel confident about Sam Bradford?

Never Had Talent Around Him

It’s easy, and irresponsible, to say that a great QB should make his entire team better. While cases have been made in some outliers (Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc.), most quarterbacks need at least some talent around them in order to reach their potential. The Rams fielded below average pass protection consistently over the course of Bradford’s tenure. Most of that time, if Bradford wasn’t being sacked, he had roughly three seconds to find his target before getting pummeled anyway by the opposing defense. When he was afforded time, he was normally on the money with his throws. Even those efforts were futile, because the Ram’s receiving corps also led the league in drop percentage with 13% and frequently abandoned their routes. In short, the line was useless and his receivers rarely bailed him out.

Chip Kelly never ceases to amaze me. Just when I thought he rid our offense of any talent, Bradford may be working with the most complete offense this team has had since Chip took over. DeMarco Murray, Bradford’s former college roommate and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, is a workhorse tailback that will take much of the pressure off much like his days with Stephen Jackson. Additionally, the new receiving corps Chip has assembled is predicated on route running and getting open in space. While Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews may lack elite top-end speed, they were both 100+ catch possession receivers in college that rely heavily on fundamentals and physicality. They both have high motors and will push each other to be the #1 option, which will only make things easier for Bradford. While the Eagles offensive line isn’t getting any younger, they are laughably better than any unit Bradford worked with in St Louis.

Never Had a System that Catered to his Talents

While Bradford ran both Pro Style and Spread offenses during his time at OU, he particularly dominated when running the latter. Bradford doesn’t like to hold onto the ball. He has the ability to throw long, but would rather find the open receiver and move the chains. This was evident when Bradford played in St. Louis, where most of his success came in their 2-minute no huddle offense. When Pat Shurmer was the offensive coordinator during his rookie season, he realized this and called his plays accordingly. Bradford showed tremendous efficiency, which ultimately led him to winning Rookie of the Year. Since Shurmer’s departure, the Rams traditional Pro Style offense has not complimented Bradford.

Theoretically, this makes the Philadelphia Eagles and Sam Bradford a match made in heaven. In addition to reuniting with Pat Shurmer, who’s now the Eagles offensive coordinator, Bradford will be running Chip Kelly’s exclusively no-huddle, up-tempo offense. His targets will be running in space and getting open quickly, putting Bradford’s decisiveness to good use. What would otherwise resemble “game-managing” in a traditional offense could become elite level efficiency in Philadelphia. Factor all of this in along with Bradford’s highly touted mobility in the pocket, and this offense may be rolling better than ever in 2015.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

The only thing stopping Sam Bradford from career highs this season statistically speaking, is another freak injury. While that has proven to be a worthwhile concern, recent history has proven that athletes can bounce back from multiple ACL injuries. Also, while Bradford frequently uses his mobility to his advantage in the pocket, he is by no means a running quarterback. An ACL tear to Bradford is not the same as an ACL tear to Colin Kaepernick. He is a pure passer that has athletic ability to occasionally scamper for extra yardage, but his game does not rely on this. Also, as weird as it sounds, Chip makes a great point when he says that the Eagles were lucky that Bradford got injured again. Had that not happened, the Eagles would have had very little chance of acquiring him, as he was playing at his highest level as a pro before the setback. While that may sound a little optimistic, the reasoning is defensible and it doesn’t hurt to look at the proverbial glass as being half-full, especially if you’re an Eagles fan…

Chip Kelly sufficiently tore down “Andy’s Philadelphia Eagles” and rebuilt the team his way. Whether this will be a better team than what was fielded in 2013 remains to be seen. The only certainty is that Sam Bradford has never been in a better situation in his professional career. He now will play in an offensive system that fits his abilities. On top of that, he finally has the protection and pass-catching weapons that he has long yearned for. There’s a reason why Sam Bradford was the top overall pick and the Eagles’ highest graded QB coming out of the draft since Peyton Manning. 2015 might be the year that he finally lives up to the hype.

Off-season in Philadelphia Pt. 3

Alabama Safety, Landon Collins

Alabama Safety, Landon Collins

By: Justin Salmasi

Chip Kelly and the Eagles have hit the ground running this off-season. Though I advocated for trust in this coach’s unorthodox decisions, even I was shocked when Nick Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. Nevertheless, the splash signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have reinforced some of that trust in Kelly. Now that there is an idea of where this team is headed, it’s important for fans to remain grounded. Chip Kelly is clearly a fan of Game of Thrones, considering the decisions he’s made, so it’s important not to get overly attached to any player. However, assuming this is the core group that Chip plans to move forward with, there are still many pieces that need to be added before Week 1.

Veteran Receiver

While signing a receiver with some mileage can be risky, it can prove to be invaluable for a quarterback like Sam Bradford, who is looking to rebuild his confidence. Jordan Matthews finished his rookie campaign red hot, but it’s important to acknowledge that he had the pleasure of being the second option behind Jeremy Maclin. Now that defenses are aware of Matthews’ ability, and Jeremy Maclin has departed, it would be wise to pair him with a legitimate threat and take the pressure off. Following his 2014 season, Pro Football Focus graded Riley Cooper (the current #2 threat to Matthews) as the worst starting wide receiver in the league. If Sam Bradford is to succeed, he’s going to need more options. A reasonably priced Michael Crabtree could be the missing piece to keeping this offense rolling in 2015.

Offensive Line

Chip Kelly has emphasized that he will not be “mortgaging his team” to land Marcus Mariota. If that is indeed the case, the Eagles’ offensive line needs to be addressed as soon as possible. There is still a void that must be filled after releasing Todd Herremans. Tobin and Gardner showed flashes last season, but fans will need to have more assurance that Sam “Mr. Glass” Bradford will have optimal protection when running Chip’s QB-centric offense. Justin Blalock is a decent stop-gap option for the upcoming season, along with other aging free agents that may accept an economically feasible contract. Ultimately, the Eagles should look to the draft to address the guard position.

Safety

Chip has made some serious moves this off-season. The signing of Byron Maxwell drastically improved the cornerback situation. While not nearly as exciting, the acquisition of Walter Thurmond is an unquestionable upgrade as well. However, Chip cannot stop there. Now that the team has officially given up on the Nate Allen experiment, the free safety position is vacant. While this may be a stretch, the Eagles’ best case scenario in this draft would be to target former Alabama safety Landon Collins. Since Malcolm Jenkins has the ability to play either safety position, this pickup could solidify the secondary for the foreseeable future. Forget Marcus Mariota, Collins is a player the Eagles might make a move for.

Ever since the start of Free Agency, Chip Kelly has been doing everything in his power to build the Philadelphia Eagles his way. While we saw many Philadelphia stars depart, Fans should look at this situation with a “glass-half-full” attitude. On paper, the Eagles defense has vastly improved and should only get better in the draft. Setting aside the eccentricity of his moves, thus far, Chip Kelly is finding ways to address the needs of his team. If new faces can help this offense produce the way it always has, the Philadelphia Eagles will be a more complete team in 2015. Hopefully our hearts can make it until then.

It’s Still Shady in Philadelphia

Demarco Murray, new Philadelphia Eagles running back

Demarco Murray, new Philadelphia Eagles running back

By: Michael Conroy

Somehow, someway the Philadelphia Eagles always manage to keep us on our toes. Yesterday, The franchise made just their latest in what is becoming a long line of splash moves, inking former Cowboys running back, — and defending rushing champ — Demarco Murray to a 5-year, $42 million contract with upwards of $20 million guaranteed. Whether or not his signing is a responsible appropriation of resources is, at this point, irrelevant. Murray is now an Eagle, focused — like the rest of us — on bringing that elusive first championship to Philadelphia.

There’s no question that Demarco Murray is a talented runner. What’s less certain, however, is how well that talent will make the transition into Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. We looked to the tape for some answers.

Due to their difference in physical stature, you may be under the impression that Murray and Lesean Mccoy have little in common. In reality, they’re running style is nearly identical. The former Cowboy did most of his damage running outside of the tackles, from a traditional “I-Formation,” in 2014.

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For the sake of comparison, we can take a look at a play the Eagles ran quite often last season. It’s about as close as Chip Kelly’s playcalling came to that of Jason Garrett. One key difference you’ll notice between the two systems is that the Eagles almost never use a fullback. This is important as Demarco Murray frequently used the blocking of Tyler Clutts to set up his larger gains. Still, the Eagles frequently bring tight-ends into the backfield in a fullback role.

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Post-snap, all of the action immediately flows to the left. You can even see second-level Cowboys players beginning to lean. It looks as if two or three lanes have already opened wide.

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This is the same play, believe it or not. Sanchez quickly spins and makes a delayed handoff to Mccoy, countering the aggressive movement of the Dallas defense. Here is where things get interesting. Mccoy knows where this play is designed to go, but he cuts back. He sees a linebacker coming up to meet him in the hole that’s been created. This is where a true “North-South” runner might put his head down and get that four yards his team has already blocked for.

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Instead, Mccoy makes a drastic cutback and gets skinny between two of his guards. By and large, these risky cutbacks and shifty maneuvers are what made Lesean “Shady” Mccoy a star in the first place. The cannot be said for the downhill “workhorse” back, Demarco Murray…or can it?

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Here, we see an almost identical play being run by the Dallas Cowboys with no fullback in the backfield and the quarterback taking the snap under-center.

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Romo takes the snap and starts to his right. A deliberate step from Murray really sells the second-level Eagles defenders that this play is headed toward the right side of the field.

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Instead, Demarco Murray cuts back to the left, away from the action where a gaping hole seems to be opening. Again, this is where a true one-cut north-south runner would head up behind tight-end James Hanna, netting a sizeable gain.

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Much like Lesean Mccoy, Demarco Murray hesitates. He has a clear path to a positive play, but he wants more. Murray allows his trailing blocker to get out in front and seal off the Philadelphia defender.

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In down-right Shady-esque fashion, Murray gets skinny between his blockers and squeezes through, into the second-level of the Eagles’ defense.

This is just one comparison between the two running backs, but it certainly appears that Demarco Murray is a far more comparable back to Lesean Mccoy than many believe. There is, however, one area where one might think Demarco Murray must be an upgrade over Lesean Mccoy. That is in the dreaded redzone.

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Situations such as the one pictured above have plagued the Eagles for the better part of a decade. At times it seems laughable that those final 2-3 yards would be so maddeningly difficult to pick up. Surely, a back as big and strong as Demarco Murray will be able to remedy this situation, right?

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Here, Murray takes the ball from Romo, sprinting towards the goal line with just over five yards to gain. Granted, the goal line is muddled as it’s likely to be in any NFL game, but all the same, the Dallas o-line has created enough room for their running back to head up the middle like a battering ram and push his way to 6 points.

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Instead, Murray decides against a down-hill approach. He exhibits familiar finesse tendencies, cutting back and seeking out less contested running space. Because this was a game against the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and because they desperately needed this win, of course he found that space and scored. Still, it’s easy to recall instances in 2014 when this finesse approach cost the Philadelphia Eagles dearly. This isn’t to say that this style hasn’t been effective for both Mccoy and Murray,, but that — stylistically — the two aren’t far apart.

It’s easy to make an assumption based on height and weight, that Chip Kelly acquired a more powerful running back in Demarco Murray; one that might better fit his fast-paced system. But even if Murray is the more powerful back, he certainly doesn’t run like it. In reality, the former Cowboy is a shifty runner who prefers to do his damage outside the numbers. Fortunately, for the Eagles, he’s pretty damn good at it.

We’ll certainly become more familiar with Demarco Murray in the coming years. If he can remain healthy, his role in Chip Kelly’s offense will be vital. Just don’t expect Murray to be someone he is not.

No, But Seriously…

Rams GM, Les Snead (center), Jeff Fisher (right)

Rams GM, Les Snead (center), Jeff Fisher (right)

By: Michael Conroy

Earlier this week, we addressed concerns that Chip Kelly, the new world power in Philadelphia sports, was behaving erratically. These concerns have since been validated.

When the news broke yesterday that the Eagles were parting ways with Nick Foles in exchange for Sam Bradford, the only logical conclusion most of us could come to was that this was all part of some grand plan to land Marcus Mariota. That’s because the trade, at best, represented poor asset management and at worst, a total front office fleecing. Sam Bradford will make more money, next season, than Tom Brady. Foles will make south of $1 million and by all accounts has played better than Bradford in his NFL career. That’s leaving out the fact that the former Rams QB has had multiple ACL injuries in recent years.

The only way the trade made sense was if the details, yet to be confirmed, included a swap of 2015 1st rounders between Philadelphia and St. Louis. This would put Kelly within striking distance of his franchise quarterback.

We were still trying to discern some purpose for the move when a second shoe dropped. Not only had the Philadelphia Eagles agreed to absorb an obscene cap hit to downgrade at the most important position in sports, they had to part with a major asset in their 2016 2nd round pick — an asset that most certainly would be needed in any move for Mariota — to get the dreadful deal done. No 1st round swap was announced, no bolstering of trade assets, nothing to bridge the colossal gap in value exchanged between the teams.

It is not a matter of opinion that the Philadelphia Eagles have a markedly less talented roster today than they did just 14 days ago. The specter of an imminent follow-up move was all fans had to hope for. It’s telling that media members were still waiting with baited breath for that next step; the other piece to this puzzle that would usher logic back into the conversation.

In his press conference today, Chip Kelly made it clear that no such move was forthcoming. Speaking on the subject of the #2 quarterback in the draft, Chip stated that he “would never mortgage the future” for a player like Marcus Mariota.

With this move, the coach has argued — against all available evidence — that Sam Bradford is a much a better player than Nick Foles; a position that almost no vocal parties shared before 4:00 pm, Tuesday.

What’s happened here in town is making waves that reach much further than the limits of the greater Philadelphia area. Reports have surfaced that free agents — Frank Gore among them — are wary of committing to Kelly and the capricious atmosphere he’s created. If top free agents have balked as is being reported now, the movement of players like Lesean Mccoy and Jeremy Maclin makes even less sense.

At this point, the draft is pivotal. The picks that the Eagles still possess are their only means of replenishing the assets that have been squandered this off-season.

Fans can officially stop waiting for some grand plan to materialize and make sense of this situation. All they can do is sift through the wreckage.

For the Ends

mariota

Marcus Mariota

By: Michael Conroy

Chip Kelly is under siege. Talking heads are spinning. The Philadelphia Eagles are absolutely falling apart.

If you were worried all of the big moves had wrapped up ahead of the new league year, you can now relax. Unless, of course, you are an Eagles fan. In which case, you should head over to grandma’s medicine cabinet and find yourself some coping mechanisms immediately.

The St. Louis Rams have traded Sam Bradford and unknown assets to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Nick Foles and… some more unknown assets. Obviously, this is a fluid situation as the deal hasn’t even been announced, but multiple media outlets have indicated that this trade will happen.

At this point, the details of the trade are inconsequential. Chip Kelly has now thrown his cards on the table and made a hefty wager of the Philadelphia Eagles’ present, past and future. Forget about the defense, about the running back, and receivers. None of it matters anymore. If, when the dust settles from this demolition, the Eagles don’t have Marcus Mariota on the roster, they are sunk.

The team has absolutely purged their roster of talent and leadership. Free agency has been a quiet disaster to this point. There’s no room left for caution. The Philadelphia Eagles no longer want Marcus Mariota. They need him. Those who have supported Chip Kelly to this point may still back him, but even the most entrenched in their positions have to feel uneasy today. If this extraordinary gamble doesn’t pay off, Kelly will become the most vilified figure in the history of Philadelphia sports.

Ironically, the only cool head in Philly right now might be the teetering head coach. After all, this entire process has been orchestrated by Kelly.

We’ve been anticipating this gambit for months and we’ve finally arrived at the point of no return: The Philadelphia Eagles are officially Mariota-or-bust.

The Dialectic: The Devils Ruin Everything

Broad Street Hockey: Flyers sink

Broad Street Hockey: Flyers sink

This is a direct personal response to an article, hosted elsewhere on the internet. Multiple citations are available throughout this post. We recommend you read the original article as well.

Response By: Michael Conroy

It’s becoming clear that the Philadelphia Flyers won’t be a participant in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This comes as only the slightest of surprises, being that it would have taken a miracle to overcome the team’s ugly start to the year. The guys over at Broad Street Hockey seem to agree, following a dreadful weekend for the orange and black that was capped by what always feels like an inevitable loss to the New Jersey Devils.

This particular article was written by Kurt R., Associate Editor at BSH. You can contact him @Kurt_BSH on twitter.

The article begins as many Flyers articles must, admitting that the team played well for most of the contest. Keith Kinkaid was only the latest un-touted young goalie to shine against Philadelphia.

It’s a scenario we’ve all become familiar with at this point. What is it about bright orange that provokes goalies to stand on their heads? At this point, Craig Berube might as well have his players skate by the opposing net shouting “You can do this, we believe in you!” I’d be curious to see if the number bear that out but I’ll probably just wait for someone else to do the analytical work. I’ll be sure to use their results though, just as soon as they get off of their lazy ass and post them.

The next key point in Kurt’s post deals with a particularly brutal stretch of hockey, — yet another staple of the modern “bullies” —  specifically spanning from “the 9:26 mark of the second period all the way to the 2:17 mark of the third period, the Flyers failed to send a single shot attempt towards the New Jersey net”.

Yikes. Look, we all know how stifling the Devils’ defense has proven over the years — especially for the Flyers — but Kurt’s not alone in thinking this level of performance is “inexcusable” at the professional level. Scratch, claw, bite, maybe cheat your way to some chances if you have to. Because, this weekend, they very much did have to.

Perhaps the most poignant observation that Kurt R. came away with from Sunday’s game pertains to Mark Streit, the Flyers’ top pairing defensemen:

Mark Streit played what was quite possibly the worst game he’s ever played in a Flyers uniform. Even beyond his possession numbers being the worst on the team, he was right in the middle of three different Devils goals, with the one shown above being the most egregious of the bunch. He looked totally out of sorts all game and couldn’t control the puck on his stick at all. He didn’t play for the final 6:29 of the game with the team down by three. Is that Craig Berube resting him or benching him?

Kurt isn’t kidding. The play that ultimately sealed the game was just agonizing to watch. The Flyers won the faceoff in the offensive zone and looked to be setting up a shot, but Streit absolutely whiffed on the puck the way I whiffed at the plate in little league (I was terrible, let’s move on). This resulted in a 2-on-0. Yes, you read that right. If ever there were a play that sums up the problem with evaluating goalie play in Philly over the past 10 years, this was it.

Speaking of goalie play, Steve Mason certainly wasn’t stellar in his second of back-to-back outings. Kurt admits as much, saying that “while it’s impossible to pin the game on Mason himself, it certainly wasn’t his finest performance,” and even the most ardent Mason supporters can agree with that “five goals on 21 shots against isn’t good no matter how you slice it.”

It was a rough weekend for the Philadelphia Flyers, but a few players represented bright spots. Kurt R. singled out Ryan White for his hand in the only two Philadelphia goals of the day as well as the 2nd and 3rd line defensive pairings.

Ryan White has been a bright spot for me all season. I’ll never understand how the gap in talent can seem so small at times between the stars and average joes in the NHL. t’s a modern sports phenomenon. It may also be a problem for the league. I’ve been complaining for years that the talent pool in the NHL may actually be too deep. But, that’s a problem for another time.

Right now, all that matters is that the Philadelphia Flyers are in dire straits. At least, they were before this devastating weekend of hockey. Ideally, this dialectic series will include my disagreement with what I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, but I found myself in lock-step with Kurt R. and Broad Street Hockey in this article (and if I agree with everything you’ve argued, you know that you’ve done just a brilliant job).

There are many points I didn’t get to in this post, so I highly recommend you head on over to Broadstreethockey.com and check it out.