The NFL Doomsday Scenario

Get ready for one the worst years for parity in the NFL in 2010. Some would argue that parity has been on its way out since the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007 and the Lions went 0-16 the very next season. Those franchises are just aberrations though. The New England Patriots were somehow able to convince aging players to take a pay cut in exchange for a very real chance for a Super Bowl ring and the Detroit Lions are just a franchise with a terrible front office year after year. The real attack on parity is behind closed doors being decided by the players union, owners, and Roger Goodell.

The first element of the perfect storm is the recent announcement that the stadium-based revenue-sharing program is in its last year. This does not mean that all revenue-sharing has been abolished. The television moneys will still be distributed among the franchises. The stadium-revenue sharing accounts for just $100 million that is taken from the top 15 teams and give to the bottom 12. This is a small amount, but helped to maintain the opportunity by keeping the balance line for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders from falling into the red.

The second element of this storm is the fact that unless some sort of an agreement reached soon, as Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports, there will be no salary cap for the 2010 season. This means that teams willing to burn through money faster than the Yankees will be free to load their rosters for at least one season.

This second element also introduces an overlooked caveat. There will be no team minimum salary cap. Currently a team must spend a certain amount. This forces teams to stay competitive by nature of demanding that they find talent to sign. Without this guarantee the more fiscally conservative teams in the league might just unload their rosters and try and field a team worthy of playing in Canadian Football League.

In Gary Peterson’s Mercury News column covering the same news he mentions a few teams that might just pilfer their operating budget. The most likely team to buy its pro bowl team that he mentions has to be the Dallas Cowboys.

Owner Jerry Jones freely overspent on the new Cowboys Stadium (yes he received a great deal of financial help from the city of Arlington and the NFL kicked in $150 million, but he still spent a boat load of money on the Death Star). He has the money to spend and is so obsessed with his team he puts Mark Cuban to shame. He has run coaches off the field by his very presence on the sidelines. This man wants to win a Super Bowl at whatever cost.

Other teams he mentions I am not so sure about. He may have overextended the notion that the teams are able to overspend with a willingness to overspend. Being from Chicago, I have to say that the inclusion of the Bears in the same sentence with the Cowboys is ridiculous.

The Chicago Bears may have overspent to keep Brian Urlacher, but that had to be a public relations move. The front office could not “betray” the face of the franchise. Bears fans know the McCaskey’s are cheap and have been sullying the franchise since the original owner and architect George Halas passed in 1983. This front office would rather pocket the money they are saving than say, bring in a big play receiver or sign a decent left tackle to make Cutler the quarterback he could be.

There are a few teams that would over spend though, and that would decimate the parity established over the last decade or so by financial constraints. My fear is that there are far more teams whose owners would rather put together an inferior team to save money. The best future would most likely have most of the teams active in the offseason, but acting as if the salary cap restrictions will return in 2011. Sadly, this is not the last paragraph of this little commentary.

The effect of this attack on parity would do more than just sap the competitiveness of the average league game. An ownership suddenly looking for a little more financial cover could choose to raise the cost of NFL tickets.

This could be done for teams near the red right now or once a team brings in a star to turn things around. Every year tickets prices go up anyway, but suddenly team owners (who are notoriously cheap and hate taking chances with money) might justify an increase with price by blaming the fans desire to actually have a winning team. Then when the team bombs the fans stop coming and a terrible cycle of blame begins.

To me parity, or at least some semblance of financial parity, is what made the NFL so successful in this last decade. While the NBA, NHL, and MLB continue to struggle with finances the NFL has made money with regards to operating and fielding a team, much less of an issue. A league as concerned and conflicted by financial agreements as it is about the championship (the ultimate final product of that league) is one that risks alienating fans.

Preseason NFL Tickets Trick or Treat

Is it too early to use Halloween sayings in September? Well, five pound bags of candy imaginable have been out on the shelves since August so I guess not, especially when that simple turn of phrase so perfectly embodies the NFL preseason. Should fans expect what transpires on the field in the four-game preseason to become any sort of a reality during the long 16-game regular season? Is this a trick or a treat? What are we supposed to expect from these preseason trends?

Trick or Treat: The NFL East

After three weeks of preseason games every team is 1-2. Has the division fallen from the mantle of excellence after just two seasons of being adored?

The answer is simple, of course not, this is a trick. The New York Giants still possess one of the most dangerous front four on the defensive side of the ball and two of the three dreaded running backs (Brandon Jacobs and Ahmed Bradshaw) from last season’s top-rated running game still reside in the backfield. Top rated running backs are hard to find, but quality backups are perhaps the easiest thing to stock up on for the offense.

The Philadelphia Eagles still have one of the most talented rosters in football. Adding Michael Vick may be a distraction at first, but this team has an unquestioned leader in Donovan McNabb on the field and in Andy Reid. Vick will only be a powerful weapon that will confound opposing defensive coordinators that have to come up with answers just incase Vick even approaches the sideline.

The Redskins are still a dangerous team with a dangerous defense. The naysayers will cry out to the heavens that defensive tackles do not travel well. That there have been few defensive tackles that have switched teams and kept up the level of production.

The Cowboys will still dangerous, even without Terrell Owens dropping every pass that does not end with him doing an end zone dance. Romo and the ‘Boys may disappoint in the end, but they will throw some punches early in the season and scare the two frontrunners.

Trick or Treat: The NFC North

After three weeks of preseason football two teams are 3-0 and two teams are 2-1. This is not a trick. This is going to be a treat of a division to watch. The Vikings are better off with Favre than Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson under center. The defense that was so disappointing last season should find that pass rush they thought they had last season with Jared Allen at the right defensive end and the Williams tackles (once they return from their four game suspension to begin the season).

The Packers had a young defense that was somehow inspired by the play of Brett Favre two years ago. Well, Favre should serve as motivation of a different kind as that defense finds its way again and the offense continues to play surprisingly well with Aaron Rodgers leading the way.

The Chicago Bears already look like they are much more dangerous on offense with just a few halves with Jay Cutler as their starting quarterback. They might even post NFL worthy passing numbers and be able to convert on third and long instead of relying on a running back screen to position the punter for the optimal kick this season. The defense should have enough talent and athleticism left for at least one more decent season (even without safety Mike Brown).

The Lions are a trick here. They will be the punching bag for the rest of the division, giving each team at least two wins in division play.

Trick or Treat: The New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints have pummeled the preseason competition, going 3-0, scoring 100 points, and only giving up 28. This is a nasty trick on the people of New Orleans. The Saints fans cannot help but their hopes up after last year’s disappointing season (8-8, last in the division after being favored to win the NFC South).

The trick is that the Saints have beaten up on Pee Wee football competition, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 17-7, the Houston Texans 38-14, and the Oakland Raiders 45-7. Combined these teams are 3-6 and the only team experts think may do something is the Houston Texans, but they are being portrayed as a dark horse candidate. The Saints are a good team with a prolific offense, but the defense is not that good. They will be competitive, but the playoffs are far from a guarantee once they start playing the rest of the teams in their division.

Trick or Treat: The San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers finished the 2009 football season winning five of the last seven games and have won all three preseason games so far. The problem is that they beat the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders by a mere one point each. These are not going to be good teams once the season begins.

Coach Mike Singletary may have done an incredible job last season, but the NFL is littered with stories of coaches who were unable to turn great records after being named coach halfway through the season into continued success. The offense is still looking like it is lacking a quarterback with Shaun Hill managing to out dual Alex Smith so far. Add an unsigned first round draft pick and things are not looking good. This is a trick, but I do not think it will surprise anyone.

Trick or Treat: The Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are 3-0 and are averaging a mere 16 and change in the preseason. Still, this team is for real. They made the playoffs last season in a deep AFC East and ushered in the year of the Wildcat. While the Wildcat will likely not be nearly as effective as last season and with Chad Pennington still having a noodle arm with really one option (Ted Ginn, Jr.) to throw to, this team still has a punishing defense and an edict to prove that they have a right to compete in the East, Tom Brady or no Tom Brady.

Trick or Treat: The San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers are 1-2 and trailing the Oakland Raiders in the preseason standings in the AFC West. This is all a trick though. The Chargers are going to win the division simply because the competition is about to lose their starting quarterback and go back to square one (Kansas City Chiefs), really just a parade of headcases in pads (Oakland Raiders), or alienated a franchise quarterback in preference of a system (Denver Broncos).

San Diego is still a threat in the playoffs because a) they might end up playing the Indianapolis Colts again (they have their number in the postseason) and b) they still have an amazing collection of stars. Phillip Rivers is still a superb quarterback, LaDainian Tomlinson is still an effective running back, Antonio Gates is still a mad scientist’s creation at tight end, and Shawn Merriman is still a beast at middle linebacker. The talent is all there and if the team remains healthy they should have an easy road to a first round bye.

NFL Tickets

Why Does the Midwest Suck at Sports?

New Years Day kicked off 2009 with a familiar tradition, a Big Ten team showing up a lame duck to the Rose Bowl. This time it was Penn State lost badly to USC by a score of 38-24. The halftime score was 31-7, so the final score really did Penn State more justice than they really deserve. The chatter was that this was the game that would decide whether the Big Ten was a major joke or a major conference. At 1-5 so far, with one game left the Big Ten is officially an invalid of a conference.

I look at this and then think back over the past few years and have come up with a question I think needs to be answered.. Does the Midwest just suck at sports?

Just a little while ago the Big Ten basketball teams lost their 10th ACC-Big Ten challenge. They came close at 6-5 overall, but lost ever high profile game. The futility of the Midwest is simply staggering. It goes from college to the pros as well.

The NFC North is touted for its old school Midwest tradition, but has little to show for it. The Green Bay Packers were terrible, the Detroit Lions went 0-16, and the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears had a playoff chase that was almost as bad the AFC West. Really both teams suffer from the same problems.

They both have no quarterback (Kyle Orton is not the answer), the have no decent wide receivers (Bernard Berrian and Devon Hester? Please), and both have defenses that have outdated expectations (the Monsters of the Midway and the Purple People Eaters are nicknames that are decades old and no longer apply).

The AFC teams are no better. Only the Indianapolis Colts have playoff tickets for fans that might last beyond the first round.

In the NBA in the 21st century the Midwest has suffered along with the Eastern Conference as the Leastern Conference. The Detroit Pistons won it all in 2004, but that was thanks more to the discord between Kobe and Shaq than the lauded tea play of the Pistons. There is hope with LeBron James, but all signs point to him playing in New York as of 2010.

Then, there is baseball. The Chicago Cubs had a great summer, but Cubs tickets only went as far as the first round before the Los Angeles Dodgers swept them. Over in the American League, the Central division was similar to the NFC North. It was supposed to be one of the more competitive divisions, but ended with a whimper. The Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins had multiple losing streaks as tie ran out in the pennant race.

I simply want to know why sports are so bad in these states. Is the love for beer, cheese, and encased meats? Is it that these teams have such devoted fans that owners and administrators see no reason to try and actually put out a truly competitive team capable of winning it all? Or is it part of the cycle of sports dominance that simply has every major sport suffering at the same time? I do not know, but I wish I had the answer as every one of my teams drives me to drown my sorrows with whiskey and PBR.

NFL Playoff Picture Becoming Foggy

This week in the NFL is almost over all that remains is a game between the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles, who really have no shot at making the playoffs at this point. After 15 games I am more confused than ever and completely perplexed by the last remaining division races and the teams clawing at each other for the final wild card spots.

The week started off with the Chicago Bears defeating the New Orleans Saints to keep pressure on the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. I do not know how the Bears won on Thursday without any passing defense in the second half and without any means by which to move the ball forward. Really it was a pitiful win, but a win nonetheless.

The Viking responded by ravaging the Cardinals defense in a 35-14 game. Adrian Peterson was amazing with 165 yards and the Arizona had such awful pass coverage that Tavaris Jackson threw four touchdowns.

Minnesota should win the North based on talent and team play, but their last two games are far more difficult than Chicago’s. The Vikings play the Falcons, a team just as desperate for a win, and the Giants. The Giants that will show up in Week 17 will probably have Brandon Jacobs and the fact that they will be playing for home field advantage in the NFC playoff picture gives them motivation despite their clinching of the division.

The Bears get a revenge game against the Green Bay Packers. Avenging the 37-3 loss is enough reason to play, but add in a possible playoff spot and Chicago might have enough reason to go out destroy the Pack and then run all over the Houston Texans.

The other division without a clear winner is the AFC East. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots are each 9-5. Each team won this week and the games on each team’s schedule little to help pick a winner. The Pats have the Cards and the Bills and the Jets and Dolphins have creampuffs before they meet each other in the last game of the season.

I do not know who should win or who will win. This is the division to watch and might actually inspire me to watch the terrible NFL coverage on CBS these last two weeks.

Elsewhere, the NFC wild card has come down to the Dallas Cowboys, Tamp Bay Bucs, and Atlanta Falcons. Right now the Falcons are the odd man out, but with two weeks left, a feud still brewing in Dallas and the Bucs offense relying on a 38-year-old quarterback, the young, fun Falcons could easily be in the playoffs.

One wild card spot has been all but decided. The Indianapolis Colts have played far from the pretty offensive game that had become their staple but with 10 wins they should get one of the wild card spots.

That leaves whoever does not win in the AFC East and the Baltimore Ravens competing for one spot. My guess is that Joe Flacco continues his descent back to the rookie world and the second place in the East gets the last spot. Flacco has had two abysmal games in a row and I do not think he has enough experience to bounce back from that kind of funk yet.

I may be utterly lost when it comes to the NFL Playoffs this season, but I that kind of competition is what drives the sale of NFL tickets and is really making me wish I did not live in a cold weather city.

Chicago Wins City of the Year, Then Goes Bankrupt, id Denied, and gets Arrested

Yesterday, after being named the city of the year by GQ Chicago was dealt several blows that might demand the national magazine rescind its proclamation. The editors chose the city because it had been the political home to the president elect and has experienced a comeback as the backdrop for major movies, but Monday a trifecta of blows quickly kicked out the pedestal and let the city wallow in the muddy waters at the bottom of the giant hole where the Chicago Spire, an architectural abomination that brought the city’s skyline back to the national conscious, was supposed to stand.

First the Chicago Tribune announced it would be going bankrupt. The move saved the newspaper from its massive debt, giving the media outlet a chance to operate without the pressure from creditors. However, despite the financial sense the declaration might make, it is a blow to the paper’s respectability. It is kind of like when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt split or when Britney Spears chose to break up with Justin Timberlake. It is going to take a while for the newspaper to get through these dark times and have its reputation repaired.

Second, the Cubs diabetic, leg-less third baseman from the 1960s, was again denied a place in Cooperstown. Ron Santo played on the same field as Hall of Fame players Ernie Bank, Billy Williams, and Ferguson Jenkins has been trying to get in since the 1980, but has been the victim of rule changes and a lack of support.

While Santo did not reach the typical milestones, such as 3,000 hits or 500 home runs, at the time of his retirement few third basemen had even collected 2,500 hits or hit 400 homeruns. His 342 homeruns, nine all-star selection, and five Gold Gloves have proven not enough to convince members of his worthiness. His denial is the latest blow to the Chicago Cubs after a second consecutive first round loss in the playoffs. I think the Cubs fate and the Santo Hall of Fame escapade are somehow intertwined, and will continue to haunt the fans in Chicago until the sports gods stop thinking that a fan crying into an Oldstyle is hysterical.

Third, the first Chicagoan to become the Governor of Illinois since James Thompson was arrested on charges of corruption. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of attempting to solicit financial benefit from the replacement of President-Elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, numerous other financial schemes, and political maneuvering in the denial of state assistance to aid the sale of Wrigley Field to punish members of the Tribune editorial board that were critical of Obama. This may come as news nationally, but locally the entire state of Illinois has been angry with the man and still wonder how he won his re-election bid.

Basically, to put the story in John Hughes terms, Chicago decided to throw a party after winning the award, trashed their parents house, spent all the money on the credit card that was to be used for emergencies, and got turned down by the girl of their dreams all one night after being named valedictorian and being given a full scholarship to Harvard.

Well, at least the city still has the Bears…err…the Bulls…err…the Blackhawks…to look forward to? I give up.

This was a very bad Monday and only worsened the city’s image despite its successful attempts to make the city greener and bring back theater, with Wicked and Jersey Boys undeniable hits. Leave it to Chicago politics and the Cubs to ruin a good thing.

I’ll Take My Turducken with a Side of Sports Please

The Holiday Season is about to begin, my dad has already reported that the enclosure has been set up in my uncle’s backyard and three-plus cases of beer have been purchased to celebrate the best day of all, Turkey Day.

I love Turkey Day for many reasons, one is the mere fact that my dad’s side is obsessed with the day from a purely food point of view. We celebrate with three turkeys. That is correct. I said three turkeys. We are going to have a deep fried turkey, a grilled turkey, and, the best of all, a turducken. Yes, the golden calf of our gluttonous holiday is a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck (which we also cook with a chorizo stuffing inside).

I am not sure how the bird itself is made. I think it is a secret kept by some secret order in the depths of Cajun country. I am pretty sure it has been deemed blasphemous by the Pope and several priests have been excommunicated for indulging such a creation that so defies God’s will. I don’t care though, simply look at this cross section of goodness and tell me it does not make your insides pine for its deliciousness.

The Cross Section of Goodness


Apart from the physical gorging that commences on this Thursday, the other reason I love Thanksgiving is the beginning of the best part of the sports season.

The real sports season begins after the last Thursday in November. It is far too cold in Chicago to go out and enjoy nature, so I get the perfect excuse to watch the last few weeks of the NFL. Every week intriguing match ups and do-or-die games keep me glued to the couch. This season, the New York Giants are riding high and my Chicago Bears are fighting for the lone playoff berth the NFC North will receive.

I will spend the last weeks of bearable weather inside watching as much action on FOX, CBS, and ESPN as possible. It does not even have to be a team I like or obsess about. I will watch any game with meaning.

In addition to the NFL, college football has wound down and the controversy and anger over the BCS expressed by fans and sports writers has subsided as we all wait to watch the bowl games. Will the Crimson Tide win out and become the last undefeated school from a major conference to remain? Will they lose to Texas? Who will be deemed the champion of the college football season?

After football, basketball gets to become my new obsession. The NBA season is in full effect and there is plenty of coverage on TNT, TBS, ESPN, and the local stations to watch. I get see if the Lakers and the Celtics seasons will bring them back to another fateful meeting in the championship.

On the college front, I get to watch kids play their hearts out; knowing that most will not make it to the professional courts. The ultimate is, of course, the tournament. March Madness is perhaps the pinnacle of my sports obsessed life. The best example of competition and compassion takes up three weeks as teams play every game with the knowledge that one faltering move will be their last for the season and perhaps the last for their college career.

Thanksgiving may be a time for family to come together and express their gratitude for everything they have- their family, their health, and much, much more. I too take part in this American tradition and gleefully welcome the insatiable American experience that follows- our nearly religious coveting of all things sports, our expression of devotion to our favorite teams, and our ravenous need to see best of the best compete. So, Happy Holidays and let the games begin.

Happy Thanksgiving