Monday, January 31, 2011

Why I'm Siding With The Players

With the NBA and the NFL both facing labor disputes and potential work stoppages in 2011, I thought I would take a little time and outline why I'm siding with players. In fact, I'm siding with the players this time, next time and probably every time after that. Here's why:

1) The players won't propose a deal that's bad for ownership

No, you read that correctly, the players won't and can't propose a deal that is bad for ownership. A bad deal for ownership would be one in which their labor costs to the players and other operating costs are so high that they don't make an acceptable profit and consider shutting down the sport for an extended length of time. If this were to happen, the players are basically putting themselves out of business. Since the players are (at least semi) rational, they won't offer a deal that kills the golden goose. Thus, the players have no choice but to agree to a deal that keeps the owners happily in business. Sure, they'll try to push as far into the owners profits as far as possible, but ultimately the players have to present a deal that is good for both sides.

The flip side of this is that the owners don't have to present a deal that is good for both sides. In fact, they want to maximize profits by lowering operating costs as much as possible. As long as their deal would be good enough to keep the talented players from choosing other professions (probably not hard to do since the average American makes somewhere south of $40k), then the owners would be in business and raking in even more cash.

2) The players are what we want to see

The players ARE the game. Watching the world's greatest athletes play the most exciting games at the very highest level is the reason we tune in to professional sports. Want proof of this: How many WNBA games did you watch last year? How many Division III college football games did you watch? How many cricket matches did you watch? I'm guessing the sum of these three question is probably less than five. Now, how many NFL games did you watch? That number is a lot higher, isn't it?

The talent is really the reason we watch professional sports. Without extraordinarily gifted players performing remarkable physical tasks, nobody pays attention. It doesn't matter how good your marketing is, how nice the stadium is or how delicious the hot dogs are, if the players aren't highly skilled nothing else matters. This isn't to say that we don't need the business side of sports to make things operate, we do, but the players are what draw people to the game.

In addition, it's important to note how scarce talented players are. Approximately 400 guys play in the NBA every year. Maybe another 2000 guys play in the NFL each year. That's 2400 people out of roughly 300 million Americans (yes, yes, some of the NBA guys come from overseas, bear with me). That means that roughly 0.0008% of the country is talented enough to play in the NFL or NBA. I don't care what other profession you name, I'm guessing more that 0.0008% of the population can do it.

3) It's a zero sum game

I've heard it a thousand times: "The players are just a bunch of spoiled millionaires who should shut up and be thankful they are getting paid 100 times more than the average school teacher". Ok, that's true, but guess what, the owners are multimillionaires too, and in most cases billionaires. Either way somebody really, really, really rich is going to end up with the money. It makes no sense to tell the players just to be grateful when it essentially makes someone else richer. Both sides are trying to maximize their slice of the revenue, this is capitalism.

4) Ticket prices aren't going anywhere

Another favorite argument is that if the players would accept less money, the owners (who were then facing lower operating costs) would lower ticket prices. This is flat out wrong. Ticket prices are calculated based on what people are willing to pay to walk in the gate. It's based on market research and demand to see the product on the field. Do this thought experiment: If all the player's salaries dropped to $100,000 tomorrow, what would happen to ticket prices? That's right, the ticket prices would stay exactly where they currently are...and the owners would pocket the difference.

5) The owners have an investment, the players have a job

Due to the increasing popularity of American professional sports (both in America and expanding around the world), an NBA or NFL franchise is worth more today than it was ten years ago...approximately 50% more. For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars (the NFL's least valuable franchise), was worth $460 million in 2000 is now worth $725 million. The Oakland Raiders went from $315 million to $758 million over the same ten year period. Even my beloved Cleveland Browns went from $557 million to $1032 million proving that you don't need to win to make money. Even if the owners weren't making any money year to year (and believe me, they are as all but 6 franchises had profits of greater than $10 million in 2009), the act of simply owning the team is returning 50% over ten years. Obviously, past results don't guarantee future returns, but, damn.

The players are another story. The average NFL career is only a few years and when you are done, you're done. Of course there is the NFL pension plan, but that is only for players that played at least three years and you can't get full benefits until the age of 55. While this is a nice benefit that most American workers would probably kill to receive, it doesn't exactly seem to match up with the 50% return on investment the owners are seeing.


Highly skilled players, representing the only real commodity of their sport, presenting a reasonable, win/win offer to ownership that is seeing huge returns on their investments. That is why I'm supporting the players in the upcoming NBA and NFL labor disputes.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Games of the Year - 2010 Eligible List

In what has shockingly become an annual feature, I'll be posting my personal Game of the Year list for 2010 all next week. We'll start with #5 on Monday, and finish off with my #1 game of the year on Friday, February 11th.

As you may remember, the Housington Game of the Year system is a little different from your normal Game of the Year stuff. I don't buy very many new games, but I do generally buy/play a lot. So, my Game of the Year eligible list includes games that I feel like I got into enough to use up their "rookie" status. The list of eligible games is below.

This year's list is extensive, as it was my first full year purchasing and playing games from Steam. Their sales are numerous and the discounts are deep. To give you an idea of how much so, I've already got more games in my Steam library that I haven't played than are on the PC list below. I also purchased a PlayStation 3 in 2010, though obviously from the lack of any PS3 games below, you can tell that I haven't really gotten into it yet. Expect that to change in 2011.

GameCube
Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour

PC
And Yet It Moves
Alien Swarm
BattleForge
Borderlands
Braid
Dead Frontier
Dungeons & Dragons Online
Gish
League of Legends
Left 4 Dead 2
Lord of the Rings Online
Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers
Osmos
Puzzle Agent
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale
World of Goo
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Xbox 360
Band Hero
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
Dead Rising 2
Guitar Hero 5
Guitar Hero Smash Hits
Lego Rock Band
Mass Effect
Overlord
Rock Band 3
South Park Ultimate Tower Defense

I'd love to hear your predictions, if you've got any. You've got a week to make your guesses. And I'll tell you what; to make it easier, I'll post a poll over on the sideboard.

Edit: I removed BIT.TRIP.BEAT and Company of Heroes from the list of eligible games. The reality is that I did not play those two games enough for them to have lost their rookie eligibility. I don't expect either to make it into the Top 5 in 2011, but they remain eligible.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NHL All-Star Draft - Team Lidstrom

Eddie and I agreed that we both feel like the Team Lidstrom trio is a little more impressive than the Team Staal trio, but certainly you're not unhappy with either set of superstars. Here's how I arranged my lines:

Forwards

Line 1 - Henrik Sedin, Martin St. Louis, Corey Perry
Line 2 - Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, Paul Stasny
Line 3 - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat
Line 4 - Matt Duchene, Daniel Briere, David Backes

Defense

Pairing 1 - Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara
Pairing 2 - Dan Boyle, Brent Burns
Pairing 3 - Dustin Byfuglien, Erik Karlsson

Goalies

Period 1 - Carey Price
Period 2 - Tim Thomas
Period 3 - Henrik Lundqvist

What Happened During the Draft

Coming in, I had only one plan: get Chara. My feeling was that he was the one guy, even more than Stamkos, who was a cut above the rest of the guys at his position. Had Eddie taken Chara first, I'd have obviously settled on the goal-scorer extraordinaire Stamkos, but I was glad that Chara fell.

Of course, after I saw how the first two picks went for Eddie, I immediately questioned my selection of Chara. I mean, Chara's great, but Stamkos, Ovechkin, and Staal or Kesler creates a pretty impossible matchup for even the best opponents. I had to trust my gut, and hope I had planned correctly.

I had been hoping to get both Sedins, but I didn't pay attention to the fact that Eddie already had two centers when I took Henrik. Had I taken Daniel, maybe I'd have been able to snag Henrik the following round. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered. I'm a big fan of Brad Richards, so I'm okay with how things turned out there.

I really liked the guys in the middle of my draft. Perry, Byfuglien, Toews, Boyle, and Duchene were all guys I had hoped to get. I took Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist a little earlier than I had to, because I didn't want to get backed into having to take Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury can be great, but he can also single-handedly lose games for you.

In the last few picks, I was really just looking for guys to fill out the roster. Havlat's a nice veteran, and Stasny showed during the Olympics that he has the capability to shine on a big stage. David Backes is on my fantasy hockey team, and he's putting up great numbers for me. Also, I heard somewhere that if he got picked last, he'd start knocking heads at the All-Star game. Both Eddie and I agreed that this was reason enough to let him slip to the last pick.

Laying the Lines

Picking the lines was more art than science, in that I didn't really have much in the way of a "valid" reason to partner up certain guys; I just went with my gut mostly.

On the first forwards line, I wanted to make sure I had enough firepower to compete with what would inevitably be a more talented line on the other side. I hear Corey Perry is kind of a bastard to play against, so I like him on that line. Sedin and St. Louis are megastars. I tried to pair up teammates where I could, putting Toews and Kane on one line, Richards and Eriksson on another.

On defense, I tried to make sure that each pairing had at least one rough and tumble type player. That's why Chara, Burns, and Byfuglien are each on different lines (although the idea of putting Chara and Byfuglien on the same line was briefly very appealing). I know you're technically not supposed to "hit" in the All-Star game, but come on. Somebody's gonna get chippy.

I knew I wanted Lundqvist to finish out the game, so he was a no-brainer for the third. I feel like Carey Price is a well-liked player, and certainly exciting, so I chose him to open the game. I put Tim Thomas in the middle to keep the pressure low on him, but also because a good second period can put your team in great shape. And his numbers this year are just phenomenal.

It's a shame that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren't able to participate this year. The only thing I really know is that the Caps and Pens don't like each other, and it would've been interesting to see how that manifested itself in this draft. Though maybe we'll still get some snark between Kris Letang and Ovechkin...

Dare to dream.

Team Awesome

Eddie’s Team of Awesome

LW: Alex Ovechkin C: Eric Staal RW: Rick Nash
LW: Daniel Sedin C: Steven Stamkos RW:Claude Giroux
LW: Patrick Sharp C: Ryan Kesler RW: Phil Kessel
LW: Patrick Elias C: Anze Kopitar RW: Jeff Skinner

D: Kris Letang D: Duncan Keith
D: Mike Green D: Marc Staal

D: Shea Weber D: Keith Yandle

1st Period G: Cam Ward
2nd Period G: Marc-Andre Fleury
3rd Period G: Jonas Hiller

Going into the draft I was looking for speed and offense. With the lack of hitting in the all-star game I thought the key to victory was to have quick and mobile defensemen that could jump into the offense and stay in front of big, quick and powerful forwards. I think I did a great job doing this by drafting two of the top offensive D-men in Letang and Keith to go along with assistant captain Mike Green.

In addition with the game played in Carolina I wanted to get as many Hurricanes to get the crowd behind Team Awesome. That is another reason why I elected to start Cam Ward. I am looking for a quick start out of the gate with the young players of team Awesome feeding of the energy of the fans. Also a player like Ovechkin loves to impress and play to the crowd. I am looking for him to have a huge presence and affect on the game. Finally as little of an effect it may have on the game I tried to match opposite handed defensemen together. This will allow them to keep pucks in the offensive zone.

The results are this team is Legan... wait for it... dary. Team Fantastic is lame. I hope Backes gets chippy... Nash and Ovi will drop him.

What are your thoughts? Think I overpaid for any player? Think Loui Eriksson is as hot as I do? Think the Sedin twins will drop the gloves?

2011 NHL All-Star Mock Draft

The NHL is making a twist on their All-Star game once again. This year's game hearkens back to schoolyard hockey (which I've never played, but I hear it's wild. You apparently just play hockey for an extended period of time). Two captains, along with two assistant captains per team, go back and forth selecting players until all 36 players have been assigned to a team. It's got the potential to be really fun TV, and I'm hopeful it pans out that way.

This year's teams set up as follows:

Team Staal
Captain - Eric Staal, C, Hurricanes
Assistant Captain - Ryan Kesler, C, Canucks
Assistant Captain - Mike Green, D, Capitals

Team Lidstrom
Captain - Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Red Wings
Assistant Captain - Patrick Kane, RW, Blackhawks
Assistant Captain - Martin St. Louis, RW, Lightning

So, naturally, my brother and I decided to conduct our own mock draft and see how the teams shake up. My brother took control of Team Staal, I took over for Team Lidstrom. We did a coin flip, and Team Staal won the flip, so they drafted first. Here are the results:
  1. Team Staal - Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning
  2. Team Lidstrom - Zdeno Chara, D, Bruins
  3. Team Staal - Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals
  4. Team Lidstrom - Henrik Sedin, C, Canucks
  5. Team Staal - Daniel Sedin, LW, Canucks
  6. Team Lidstrom - Brad Richards, C, Stars
  7. Team Staal - Kris Letang, D, Penguins
  8. Team Lidstrom - Corey Perry, RW, Ducks
  9. Team Staal - Duncan Keith, D, Blackhawks
  10. Team Lidstrom - Dustin Byfuglien, D, Thrashers
  11. Team Staal - Rick Nash, RW, Blue Jackets
  12. Team Lidstrom - Tim Thomas, G, Bruins
  13. Team Staal - Shea Weber, D, Predators
  14. Team Lidstrom - Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers
  15. Team Staal - Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Penguins
  16. Team Lidstrom - Jonathan Toews, C, Blackhawks
  17. Team Staal - Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes
  18. Team Lidstrom - Dan Boyle, D, Sharks
  19. Team Staal - Jonas Hiller, G, Ducks
  20. Team Lidstrom - Carey Price, G, Canadiens
  21. Team Staal - Claude Giroux, RW, Flyers
  22. Team Lidstrom - Matt Duchene, C, Avalanche
  23. Team Staal - Anze Kopitar, C, Kings
  24. Team Lidstrom - Danny Briere, RW, Flyers
  25. Team Staal - Keith Yandle, D, Coyotes
  26. Team Lidstrom - Brent Burns, D, Wild
  27. Team Staal - Marc Staal, D, Rangers
  28. Team Lidstrom - Loui Eriksson, LW, Stars
  29. Team Staal - Patrick Sharp, LW, Blackhawks
  30. Team Lidstrom - Erik Karlsson, D, Senators
  31. Team Staal - Phil Kessel, RW, Maple Leafs
  32. Team Lidstrom - Martin Havlat, RW, Wild
  33. Team Staal - Patrick Elias, LW, Devils
  34. Team Lidstrom - Paul Stasny, C, Avalanche
  35. Team Staal - Jeff Skinner, C, Hurricanes
  36. Team Lidstrom - David Backes, RW, Blues
Eddie and I will set up our lines and post them shortly. Here's hoping the real thing's spectacle plays out well on television.

Rollercoaster Tycoon

As a lot of you probably know, I spend a lot of time playing computer games. As some of you don't know, I also like Disney World a lot. And pretty much every time I go to Disney World, I come home and start playing Roller Coaster Tycoon again.

This year, I actually didn't start playing right away. I got back into World of Warcraft, and played some NHL '09, and even revived MLB Front Office Manager and League of Legends. But when the huge storm hit on Wednesday and we lost internet, I lost my two big computer game time sinks (WoW and LoL). Roller Coaster Tycoon was the inevitable beneficiary.

This blog post is for RCT fans. Here's some of my own discoveries, for your edification:
  • The first thing you should do when you start a level is go to your research screen and do the following: bump research up to maximum, disable Ride Improvements and Scenery and Theming, disable roller coasters if you already have the Steel Roller Coaster (see below), and disable shops and stalls if you've already got the following: any food, any drink, information kiosk, bathroom.
  • The Steel Roller Coaster's pre-made track called Shuttle Loop is a great money-maker. It's cheap to build, takes up a small area on your map, and doesn't require you to try to work out the intricacies of banking turns and minimizing nausea. There are other small tracks in the other versions of the Steel Roller Coaster. I recommend them as well.
  • Go Karts has the highest potential excitement of any ride. Seriously. It seems like as long as you don't have too many level straightaways, the excitement just goes up and up with each block of track you add.
  • People like the Log Flume more than the excitement level would make you think they do. It's inexplicable, but it's true.
  • Charging admission to the park rather than for each individual ride is almost always the best way to go. It keeps your rides popular, and I think you make more money anyways. You can also still charge a small price for roller coasters and other similar rides.
  • The desert parks are the best, because you don't usually have many trees to get around, and you don't have to worry about whether or not you should let your handymen get distracted by mowing the grass (answer: you should not let them).
What about you guys? Got any of your own advice? Post it in the comments.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Disney World 2011

This year's Disney World trip was great, despite the fact that I was under the weather for the duration of the trip. My mom, my youngest brother Kevin, and I took Amtrak's AutoTrain. It was interesting enough that I'll devote a separate post to it, but for here, we'll say that it got us down there, and I didn't get much sleep in either direction.

My other brother Eddie and his wife Rachel came with the three of us, creating our own little Party of Five...except without Neve Campbell...or Matthew Fox...okay, it's nothing like that show, it was just a reference to the number of people.

Our accommodations were at Old Key West. It was a very nice, very quiet area, with a restaurant, a couple pools, and We got a three bedroom villa, which was big, but lacked a little on community areas. Also, the seating wasn't particularly comfortable, but hey, you're in Disney World. Get off your ass and go do stuff.

The one big disappointment on this trip was that several of my favorite rides were closed for refurbishment/repairs: Star Tours, Kali River Rapids, and my favorite ride, Splash Mountain. Lesson learned, though. Next time, we'll be planning our trip on short notice, and making sure that the important rides are open.

I went on a couple new rides, including finally trying out Space Mountain. Now, I apparently misspoke about the ride. I told Rachel that I thought Space Mountain was the fastest ride at Disney World; I wasn't even close. Space Mountain tops out at 28 miles per hour. I have no idea where I got it in my head that it was the fastest.

As I did last year, I'll give you ratings on the rides I went on for the first time:

Maelstrom Adventure Cruise (Epcot) (3/5)
This is an attraction in the Norwegian portion of Epcot. It's basically a short boat ride with a couple of tiny drops. I think if Splash Mountain wasn't closed, this would've gotten two stars, but it was closed, so three stars.

Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom) (4/5)
It may not be as fast as I thought, but it's definitely fun. My only qualm with it is that the ride is perhaps TOO dark. Still, it's a fun ride with a lot of twists and turns. I'm glad I finally checked it out.

Yep, that's it. Just two new rides for me. But I've got big plans for my next trip to Lake Buena Vista. First, Splash Mountain will be open the next time I head down there, and I'll be getting my fill of it. Second, it sounds like Star Tours is getting a dramatic overhaul that includes incorporating 3D video; that should be a lot of fun. I also want to go on the Silly Safari in Magic Kingdom; I wanted to go this year, but it closes at night. So, next time.

Who's in?

2011 NFL Playoffs - Conference Championships

Anybody can get 3/4 right; it's one pick off of a coin flip's chance. The conference championships are, I think, the hardest round to pick. You've got two games, and you really only get credit if you get both right. At least with the Super Bowl you just have the one game, and lots of people get it wrong. And you can always explain away a miscalculation: "Oh, well if so-and-so hadn't gotten hurt," or "I don't know why the coach changed them from what they'd done all season." But conference championships? It's win or go home for predictors, too.

So let's win. Or go home.

NFC Championship Game

#6 Green Bay Packers at #2 Chicago Bears

Pretty much every year, I've tried to convince myself that there's a way to predict the Packers will go to the Super Bowl. I always talk myself out of it, but this year's team is better than any has been since Favre was in town. As I talked about last week, the defense has caught up with one of the league's most potent offenses to create maybe the best team in football. Yes, better than the Patriots, or the Steelers, or the Falcons.

Meanwhile, the Bears seem to yet be winning games with smoke and mirrors. They took a quick lead on the Seahawks, then seemed to think the game was over in the fourth quarter (which it mostly was, but still), when they gave up three touchdowns to Matt Hasselbeck in garbage time. Did they need to hammer down on Seattle at that point? No. But I think it says something about your team when you close out the other guys.

The biggest concern here is that it was the defense that seemed to lose focus. The defense is the only reason the Bears have come this far. They sport the fourth-best points defense and ninth-best yardage defense in football, which is good, because they have the third-worst yardage offense at 289.4 yards per game. That puts them behind such offensive juggernauts as the Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams, and Miami Dolphins.

In the end, I think things will bear out as expected, and Green Bay will be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl. I don't think home-field or weather or "fate" will stop these Packers from playing in Dallas. And honestly, I don't think it'll be close.

Prediction: Packers 42, Bears 20

AFC Championship Game

#6 New York Jets at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers

As some of you know, I really don't like the Steelers. It's not an assessment of their talent, as you saw me pick them to beat the Ravens last week in a nail-biter (which it was). And as I've said, I think Troy Polamalu is one of the few guys in football you simply can't overrate. But having to deal with out-of-town Pittsburgh fans, between the Penguins and Steelers, it gets obnoxious.

(Conspicuously absent are any mentions of the Pirates by Maryland's "Pittsburgh" fans; hey, Neil Walker is a nice story!)

What you might not know, however, is that I actually like the Jets. I worked in a liquor store back in 2001, and we had one of those candy machines that sold miniature football helmets for fifty cents. One of our customers bought a couple, and he didn't want the Jets helmet, so he offered to me. I've had a little Jets helmet at my desk either at home or at work ever since. I embraced the Jerricho Cotchery years (to my own demise). I cheered on Curtis Martin's end-of-career revival. And I've always had a soft spot for Chad Pennington.

And now this new group is, I think, even more likable. Rex Ryan seems like the kind of coach who can get guys to go to battle for him, and his willingness to be the focal point of trash talk and controversy is refreshing. Darrelle Revis is one of the elite players in football today (another guy like Polamalu, who is simply as good as advertised), and Mark Sanchez, while young and unpolished, is an exciting quarterback to watch when his confidence is up.

That's what makes it so hard to pick the Steelers, but it's what I've got to do. I think the Pittsburgh offense is too good at spreading the ball around to be stifled by Revis and the rest of a very good defense. And the Pittsburgh defense is going to make sure that the Jets' running game is stuffed, forcing Sanchez to win the game. He's good, and he's growing, but I don't think he's ready for that yet. Should be a good game, though.

Prediction: Steelers 26, Jets 21

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 NFL Playoffs - Divisional Weekend

I won't spout off too much about my performance last week, but it was pretty good: three out of four correct, and I really wanted to pick the Seahawks. Let's get to this week's matchups.

NFC Playoffs

#6 Green Bay Packers at #1 Atlanta Falcons

I love this game. I'm a big fan of Aaron Rodgers, and you may remember that I've been supportive of Matt Ryan since day one. In addition to those elite quarterbacks, you've got maybe the best wide receiver in football on one side (Roddy White), and maybe the best linebacker in football on the other (Clay Matthews). At 8:00 Saturday night, all hell is going to break loose.

So who'll win? That's a tough call. The Packers lost 20-17 in Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend on a Matt Bryant field goal with 9 seconds left. I expect this game to be just as hard fought as the first, and it'll likely come down to last-minute heroics by one side or the other. I think I'll go with the Packers, though. The defense showed what it could do against the Eagles last week, and I expect them to be up to the task again.

Prediction: Packers 28, Falcons 25

#4 Seattle Seahawks at #2 Chicago Bears

Leave it to the NFL to create a situation where the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks could make it to the Super Bowl. Last week's game put them up against a team without two starting RBs. This week finds them facing a quarterback whose up and down year has found him on the wrong side of a TD/INT ratio five times this season. Furthermore, the Seahawks actually beat Chicago in week 6.

That said, the Bears won seven of their last nine games to finish the season, and Jay Cutler seemed to hit a bit of a stride, posting QB ratings above 100 four times in weeks 12-17. The hope in Chicago is that Matt Forte's lightened load this year (thanks to free agent acquisition Chester Taylor) will leave him with fresh legs for these playoffs. I like the Bears to end the dream for Seattle.

Prediction: Bears 27, Seahawks 13

AFC Playoffs

#5 Baltimore Ravens at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers

I'd like to give you a long explanation about this game. I'd like to feel justified telling you that it's a bitter divisional rivalry that will likely only get nastier. But the reality is, I made my pick a while ago on this one, based on a simple rule:

Unless it's the Patriots, the Steelers don't lose games with a healthy Troy Polamalu. There are some other great safeties in the league; hell, there's another in this game. But no defensive player has a greater impact on the outcome of games than Polamalu. He's playing (he's listed as questionable, but come on, he's playing), so I'm taking Pittsburgh. Should be a mean game, though, if you're into that sort of thing.

Prediction: Steelers 30, Ravens 20

#6 New York Jets at #1 New England Patriots

So, this is kind of the other matchup that everyone was hoping to see in these playoffs. The Jets and Patriots clearly do not like each other, from the top of the organizations all the way down. Those kinds of sentiments often make for entertaining pregame drama, but once the ball gets kicked off, it's all about football.

Lucky for us viewers, both of these teams play interesting football. There's plenty of talent on both sides of the ball for both teams, on and off the field. I'm going to go with the Patriots, though, for two reasons. First, the Patriots' most talented player is at quarterback, the best possible position to have an advantage. Second, the Jets seem to be really concerned with the Patriots right now. I understand that it's a rivalry, and that you have strong feelings, but I feel like it's better to channel that aggression into your game-planning and execution. It feels like the Patriots are doing that a lot better than New York.

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 9

Almost Guilty Until Proven Guilty

The chatter on Facebook/Twitter/the blogosphere has been pretty uniform today: Auburn had better enjoy their title while it lasts. There appears to be a consensus that the NCAA will eventually find additional information that will be enough to declare him to have acted improperly, and that Auburn will have to vacate their title victory from last night.

I find that unlikely. First off, an investigation was conducted and completed. Cam Newton was declared ineligible for a couple hours, then, after Auburn filled out the proper paperwork, was reinstated. The end result was that the NCAA investigated cleared Newton to play.

The reasoning I've heard is that, with regards to a parent or third party requesting illegal benefits, there are three circumstances for which a player can be suspended:
  1. The parent or third party accepts benefits.
  2. The parent or third party asks for benefits with the player's knowledge.
  3. The parent or third party asks for benefits, then the player attends the solicited school, regardless of whether or not the player knew.
Apparently the information here has indicated that none of those three situations occurred. My understanding is that Cam Newton's father and some other guy tried to get money from Mississippi State in exchange for sending Newton there to play. Mississippi State didn't pay, and Newton went to Auburn. The only circumstance under which Newton would be ineligible would be if he knew that his dad asked for this money, and proving that someone knew something is nearly impossible (see Barry Bonds).

Do I think something improper went down that actually involved Cam Newton? It's possible. I operate under the assumption that pretty much every star college athlete gets some kind of improper benefit or preferential treatment. There's too much money in college sports, and the elite players are too valuable to their schools not to get some kind of extra cheese on their pizzas. But based on everything we've heard, Newton was okay to play, and Auburn was fine to play him.

If new information comes out, then the NCAA will react to that as necessary. But right now, I don't see things going that way. So I extend my congratulations to Auburn on the national title they deserved to win in 2004.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Fitness Challenge

For those of you interested, I've started a fitness challenge with my cousin. It's basically a head-to-head competition between us, a Biggest Loser grudge match. If you want more details, or want to follow the action, you can go to the link below:

http://psychotronvsgargantuar.blogspot.com/

I'm Psychotron, obviously.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

MARSHAWN LYNCH?

I'm not going to say I predicted the Seahawks to win, because as you read just below, I didn't. I told you it was going to be a game, and that's honestly as much as I could've told you and felt comfortable doing. I wanted to pick the Seahawks, but who in their right mind would've? Nobody.

And most of all, nobody could've told you that this would happen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 NFL Playoffs - Wild Card Weekend Preview

Wild Card Weekend always offers some of the most exciting football of the whole playoffs, and I'm not just saying that because that seems to be the only time the Redskins have shown up recently. The elite teams aren't involved, and everybody has a shot in every game.

You're 7-9 Seattle, going up against the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints? Well, Drew Brees had a career high 22 interceptions this year, and New Orleans is now missing their top two threats on the ground, with Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas going on injured reserve. Everybody's got a chance to come out of this weekend a winner. And while for some that just means the opportunity to get steamrolled in the second round, it's a playoff win nonetheless, a currency that's often used to justify keeping a head coach (or the lack of which is used to justify firing a head coach).

So let's look at the games!

NFC Playoffs

#5 New Orleans Saints (11-5) at #4 Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

As I said, Brees' season was much less close to perfect than he has been in previous seasons. And the losses of Thomas and Ivory aren't inconsequential; Reggie Bush is dynamic, but he's less effective when he has to be the focal point of the running game. And Seattle is a tough place to play.

The problem, of course, is that the team that plays home games in Seattle is the Seahawks. They beat the Rams in a playoff-type game last week, and I think that's all they've got in them. I do think they'll keep it close, and the Saints won't be able to put the hammer down without a strong running game, but New Orleans should pull it out.

Prediction: Saints 24, Seahawks 14

#6 Green Bay Packers at #3 Philadelphia Eagles

Coming into the season, the Packers seemed like the logical choice for the NFC champions. Their offense was clicking on all cylinders, and while Kurt Warner and the Cardinals gashed them in last year's playoffs, we saw the makings of a potent defense. The defense was right on, with Clay Matthews leading them to top five finishes in both points and yards allowed. And the offense is still good, putting up 24 points a game. Their only real weakness is a lack of a consistent running game, precipitated by the loss of Ryan Grant early in the season.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have been the toast of the league, and Michael Vick will deservedly garner MVP consideration. Their defense isn't as stout as the Packers', but their offense is well-balanced...or so it seems. Remember that a good portion of the Eagles' run production is from Vick himself on scrambles. That's good, but it doesn't work as a late game clock-eating face-pounding running game. I think, like pretty much everyone else, it'll come down to Green Bay's defense, and how they're able to counter Vick's dynamic abilities. I expect them to be up to the task.

Prediction: Packers 38, Eagles 24

AFC Playoffs

#6 New York Jets at #3 Indianapolis Colts

Maybe the coolest thing about this matchup is that the Jets, on top of trying to get to the Super Bowl, really do have something to prove against the Colts. Last year, the Jets ended the Colts' perfect season...after the Colts pulled half their starters. Then, in the AFC title game, the Colts proved to be the better team. This is the Jets' chance to show that they've grown, specifically Mark Sanchez, who's shown he at least has the capacity for great games. Will they show it?

I think so, yes. This Colts team is much more susceptible to bad games than last year's was, and they went down to the wire just to get into the playoffs. As the saying goes, these aren't your father's Colts. This is a chance for Rex Ryan and the Jets to put their money where their loud mouths are, and Ryan seems like the kind of guy who can legitimately make a difference on the field. There aren't a lot of coaches like that; my money's on the one who is.

Prediction: Jets 26, Colts 21

#5 Baltimore Ravens at #4 Kansas City Chiefs

Initially, I thought this would be the toughest game to predict. Both the Ravens and the Chiefs have dynamic offensive players, as well as noteworthy holes. But when you look at actual game day performance, it's not close.

The Ravens have four losses this year by an average of four points. Three of their four losses were to eventual #1 or #2 seeds in these playoffs (New England, Pittsburgh, Atlanta). The Chiefs, meanwhile, went 2-2 against playoff teams from 2009, and lost to pretty much every team that showed some semblance of an offense against them. I expect the Ravens, who didn't play a bad game all year, to show up to play, and to put an end to Kansas City's dream season.

Prediction: Ravens 40, Chiefs 17

See you in a few days, when I have to explain how the Ravens let Jamaal Charles beat them, and what I was thinking when I said the Packers could stop Vick.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dead Rising 2 Review - Part Two

As a precursor to my upcoming 2010 Game of the Year blog posts, I'd like to offer you part two of my three-part review of Dead Rising 2 and its complementary titles (prologue and epilogue). This portion of the review will cover the actual full-size Dead Rising 2 game.

The story is similar to the original: you're a guy who was present for a zombie outbreak in a contained area (this time, it's several malls and casinos, along with an outdoor plaza area). In DR2, you've got the added pressure of caring for your daughter, who's been bitten, and is essentially a zombie time bomb waiting to go off. While taking care of your other main missions and countless side missions (mostly involving rescuing other survivors from their inevitable demises), you've also got to scrounge up doses of Zombrex, the drug that keeps your daughter from having a change in appetite.

The story is a little deeper than the original, but unfortunately (at least in my opinion), it seems a little light on the "good guys." There's one big twist in the story that I won't ruin for you, but you'll likely be able to see it coming a mile away, despite the fact that it really does come out of nowhere.

It should be noted that this sequel shows very high fidelity to the original Dead Rising. The gameplay, the "working against the clock" system, the sense of humor, and the expansive, secret-filled world all hearken back to the cult classic. And it's absolutely safe to say that if you enjoyed the original, you're going to love Dead Rising 2. That said, though, if you weren't a big fan of the original, it's tough to see you doing a 180 on the series with this title.

However, I would like to address a few of the concerns I've heard from friends regarding the original game, and how they've been (somewhat) addressed in the sequel.
  • The bosses are too difficult. While the bosses are still a challenge, your potential arsenal of created weapons helps to counter this. The knife gloves are a particular favorite of mine.
  • The survivors are idiots. It wasn't until I played Dead Rising 2 that I realized just how bad the AI was in the original. Nobody in this game has anything remotely close to the death wish that half of the survivors had in the original, and the ones who can wield weapons are still pretty handy with a 12 gauge.
  • GOD DAMN CONVICTS AND THE GOD DAMN JEEP FUCKING FUCK! I won't lie to you; there is a similar game mechanic in the sequel, where the central area is patrolled by psychopaths. However, this situation doesn't come up until much later in the game, when you've had time to develop your levels/skills/weaponry. They're still a pain, but they're easier to navigate around this time.
As far as how the game itself plays, I do have two complaints. First, the achievement structure is pretty outrageous. There are several achievements that don't show dedication or skill, but simply a willingness to give up a few weekends and bury yourself in the minutiae of the game. I'm not saying I won't get them eventually, I'm just saying it's crazy. Second, unless they're in the hands of survivors, guns are still pretty useless. It wouldn't seem so unreasonable except when you tape two chainsaws to the ends of a kayak paddle to mow through wave after wave of zombies. Maybe at least a bump in the power of the guns would've been warranted.

Overall, I was very happy with my Dead Rising 2 experience. I definitely see myself getting back into it at some point (after I finish up some of the 25 or so games I bought off Steam over the past 20 days), mostly to get into the cooperative mode. I played it briefly with a complete stranger, and it was fun, but I'm hoping to convince someone (cough, Tommy, cough) to spring for a copy of the game the next time it goes on sale, and join me for long-term zombie mashing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dave Steckel is not a dirty player.

I've watched the clip a few dozen times, and I can't believe that there are still people out there who think that Dave Steckel was head-hunting Sidney Crosby on Saturday's Winter Classic matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A friend referred me to this article that talks about how the Penguins, and Crosby specifically, come across as whiners for their reaction to the hit. I read the article, and it starts off on the right foot. However, it seemed to get off on a tangent about how Crosby got away with a slash earlier in the period (he did), and about how if he's going to play hockey, he has to expect to get hit (he does).

To me, that's not the most important point. If you watch the clip (at the top of that article), you can actually see Steckel angle his shoulder to get around Crosby to try to get up ice. Crosby was watching the puck go behind him, and had no idea where his path on the ice was taking him. It took him directly into the path of Steckel. If it had taken him into a net, would the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review be talking about how the nets should be made of a plastic polymer instead of metal, because he clanked his head on it?

Please. When you're on the ice, you're responsible for where you send your body. If you weren't, people could just lead with their heads and draw penalties and suspensions for their opposition. Remember this classic Simpsons clip? Do any of us think he's not responsible for eating that pie?

The most frustrating part of the Tribune-Review's article is the hint at retribution by Brooks Orpik at the end. The whole Penguins squad seemed to rally behind Crosby's assessment of the hit, and that's okay. I get standing behind your guy. And I get Crosby's reaction; to him, it was a blindside hit in a chippy game, and he's the one who actually got hurt. But at some point, logic has to prevail, doesn't it? Don't you have to look at the clip and say, "Gee, that doesn't look as sinister as it felt"?

That's my biggest problem with Crosby's reaction. As perhaps the league's biggest star and his team's captain, he sets the tone for his team. He needs to be bigger than revenge, bigger than calling Steckel a dirty player when he's clearly not. He needs to corral his team, not let them chirp to local media about it being a cheap shot. And his own response to the media needs to be, "Hockey is a physical game. I got hit, I'm over it. We're looking forward to our next game, and you can bet your ass we'll be ready for our next game against the Caps."

Of course, if 5'11" Crosby wants to tangle with 6'5" Steckel, I imagine the big fella would oblige.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sorry About That

For the four of you who kept on top of this blog week-to-week, I apologize for hanging you out to dry from early November through today. It was a combination of despair for the Redskins, disappointment in the Wizards, and the end of baseball season that got me out of a sports mindset for a while. Then, when the Capitals went on that extended losing streak, I though our window had closed, and we would be a bad sports town again.

We might still be a bad sports town, but the Caps have bounced back enough to give us something to cheer for, and now that the Redskins' season is thankfully over, we can turn our attention to hockey and baseball and fantasy baseball, things that have an innate ability to make me happy. I'm not going to make any promises or anything, but my goal for this year is to offer you at least one blog post every week. I don't know if I'll be going back to the Redskins Report Card; the wounds are so deep. But I liked the Twi-Night Doubleheader feature, and I'll be looking to bring that back. Any input on it or any other stuff you'd like me to write about is appreciated.



The Year of the Blog

So after writing and re-reading my last blog post, I feel like I ought to be able to put interesting content up here and on my other blog with some regularity. I get distracted, or disillusioned, or bored sometimes, but I bet I can focus myself long enough to post content at least once or twice a week.

As a result, one of my "resolutions" this year will be to make at least one blog post every week. If you're one of those people who sees me regularly (and let's face it, if you're not, you're probably not reading this), hold me to it. Say, "Hey Joe, where's that blog post? Been a quiet week so far." I'll need your help to keep me honest.

Thanks in advance. :)

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...