Browsing Posts in Debate

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will not be an easy one for the United States soccer team. The U.S. has been placed into the ‘Group of Death’ with two power houses (Germany and Portugal) and the team that defeated them during the 2010 World Cup (Ghana). The U.S. will bring some veteran leadership in the form of Everton goalie, Tim Howard. Forward Jozy Alitdore of Sunderland will attempt to lead the offensive charge. The U.S. thrives in the counter attack, keying on its midfielders to help push offensive chances. The counter attack may run into a few speed bumps against Germany and Portugal. Both teams rely on strong midfielder play to limit chances and help power the offensive attack. After the jump, I’ll preview each U.S. opponent and present some official picks.

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Less than 72 hours remain in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. I’ve written a scouting report, valuation study, and just some general thoughts.  Overall, I think a six-year, $120 million deal is pretty reasonable. However, two of baseball’s richest teams, the Yankees and Dodgers, as well as new regimes in Arizona and Chicago have also shelled out nine figure offers. When the competition is this fierce, someone is going to pay a premium. Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, has done an excellent job keeping negotiations quiet, so we don’t know where each team stands.

When we compare Tanaka to the entire free agent pitching market, it’s not even close–and Close knows that. Based on age alone, Tanaka is three years younger than the next pitcher (Phil Hughes). Skill-wise, an argument can be made that Tanaka has the best ‘stuff’ among free agent pitchers. This article will show us why we shouldn’t be shocked when Tanaka signs a deal in excess of $140 million.

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Yesterday, we heard rumblings that the Yankees were ‘considering a run‘ at free agent shortstop, Stephen Drew. Drew, who turns 31-years-old in March, was the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. In 124 games, Drew hit 13 HRs, drove in 67 runs, and put up a .253/.333/.443 slash. Defensively, Drew finished second among American League shortstops with a .984 fielding percentage. Drew finished the year with a 3.4 WAR, sixth best among shortstops. After making $9.5 million last season, Drew turned down Boston’s qualifying offer of one-year, $14.1 million, in hopes of securing a multi-year deal. Despite grading out as one of the better shortstops, Drew is having a tough time find suitors. Could the lack of demand for Drew create a market inefficiency that the Yankees can exploit?

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The Brooklyn Nets (37-32) are currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference with only 11 games to go. The Nets are only one game behind the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors for third and fourth place, but will need to fend off the upstart Charlotte Bobcats (34-37) who are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference. 

The Nets had their four-game winning streak snapped on Monday. The Nets blew a 22-point second half and lost 109-104 to the New Orleans Hornets. Despite the loss, the Nets posted an impressive 107-104 overtime win in Dallas on Sunday. The Nets shot 51 percent from the field during their four-game winning streak before shooting just 37 percent in their loss to New Orleans. The Nets were a staggering 10-for-40 from three-point range. 

Brooklyn has defeated Charlotte in nine of their last ten meetings. Charlotte’s lone victory occurred in November at home. Alike Brooklyn, Charlotte is coming off a poor shooting performance. Charlotte dropped a 100-89 home decision to Houston on Monday night. Charlotte made just four of their 21 3-pointers. Their 12 assists were also a season low. Kemba Walker scored 22 points in the loss. Walker has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games.

This is a must win game for both teams and the odds makers expect a very tight contest. Current NBA odds state that this game is essentially a Pick’em. However, I disagree with the line makers on this one. Kemba Walker is starting to play really well and Brooklyn is a paltry 14-21 on the road. The Nets do not have an answer for Al Jefferson inside and I expect a big game from him. Take the home team at a discount for your NBA picks.

My Pick: Charlotte Bobcats -PK

With the Super Bowl just four days away, the Denver Broncos have settled in a slight favorite. Most Super Bowl odds have the Broncos pegged as a 2-point favorite with the over-under set at 47 points. Since a large sum of public money has come in on Denver, books have adjusted their lines and Peyton Manning (+100) has predictable become the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl MVP. The story of the entire season has been Manning and the Denver Broncos. Manning set the single season passing TD record (55), will likely win his fifth(!) MVP award, and is in search of his second Super Bowl ring. If the Broncos walk out of Metlife as Super Bowl champions, Manning will walk away with the MVP award. 

If Seattle can find a way to win, the defense will have a major influence. However, as we’ve seen in past Super Bowls, offensive personnel normally take home the award. Consider Seattle’s QB Russell Wilson (+320) who has flown under the radar. Wilson hasn’t played really well, but will likely need to make several big plays to keep up with Denver. Running the ball will be a priority as Seattle will want to keep Manning on the sidelines. RB Marshawn Lynch (+420) was instrumental in the NFC Championship as he rumbled for 100 yards and a score. Lynch may offer the best value among ‘favorites’ for the award.

Other Denver options include Demaryius Thomas (+2200), Knowshon Moreno (+2500), Eric Decker (+2800), Wes Welker (+3300), and Julius Thomas (+4000). Other Seattle options include the boisterous Richard Sherman (+2800). 

After months of speculation, the Super Bowl is set. The Denver Broncos handily beat the New England Patriots, 26-18 in the AFC Championship game. Peyton Manning led the way by throwing for 400 yards and 2 TDs. The Seattle Seahawks rallied to top the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17. Running back Marshawn Lynch grinded down San Franicsco tough Front 7 enroute to 109 yards and a touchdown. 

Prior to the championship games, most sports books installed the NFC as a one-point favorite against the AFC. After the Seahawks secured their victory against the 49ers, the Seahawks opened as one-point favorites against the Broncos. However, after Richard Sherman’s infamous post-game rant and the public sentiment behind Peyton Manning, heavy money came in on the Broncos and pushed the line up 2.5 or 3 points. Nearly 66 percent of bets have come in the Broncos, which puts the Super Bowl odds squarely in their favor. The Seahawks’ biggest strength is their home field advantage, something they won’t have in the Super Bowl. If Denver gets out to 10+ point lead, the Seahawks may have tough time recovering. Seattle offense, which is led by quarterback Russell Wilson, is not built to overcome massive deficits. The Seahawks want to feed Marshawn Lynch the ball and if he gets more than 20-25 carries, the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl. Denver’s defense played very well against the Patriots and if they can carry that over, they’ll be awfully hard to beat.

Ultimately, I believe weather conditions will make the difference in the game. If game conditions are rainy or snowy, Seattle will have a massive advantage. Seattle will be able to ride Marshawn Lynch and get the ball to Percy Harvin in space. If we get a nearly perfect day, Denver’s offense shouldn’t have any issues. Watching the Seattle secondary square off against Denver’s receivers will be a real treat. 

Expanded instant replay has been officially approved for the 2014 season. The protocol is a work in progress, but it can be summed up in the following steps:

  • To determine whether to challenge a play, managers will be permitted to communicate with a video specialist in the Clubhouse, who has access to the same video available to the Replay Officials. No video equipment will be available in the dugout;
  • Managers must verbally notify the Crew Chief in a ‘timely manner’ and indicate which portion of the play he’s challenging;
  • Once the replay review is invoked, the Crew Chief will signal to the official scorer that the play is under review;
  • The Crew Chief will have a designated communication area near home plate where they have hard-wired headset connected to the ‘Replay Command Center’ in New York;
  • MLB Umps will be staffed as ‘Replay Officials’ at the Replay Command Center which is located in New York City;
  • The Replay Command Center will have direct access to the video from most cameras in the ballpark in real-time;
  • If the Replay Official overturns a call, he must use his best judgement to determine where to place runner if the play was called correctly;
  • The field umpires will not have access to the video feed and cannot protest the Replay Official’s decision;
  • The home team can’t show replays on their scoreboard, which is a little weird. 

Alike most replay rules in the NFL, there are a few caveats:

  • Managers receive two challenges per game, but they lose the second challenge if the first one is unsuccessful;
  • Starting in the 7th inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call; 
  • Home runs calls that are currently subject to instant replay review will continue to be reviewed at the Crew Chief’s discretion. Managers can request that umpires review a home run call, but managers cannot challenge home run calls. 

Here is a full list of reviewable plays:

  • Home runs;
  • Ground rule doubles;
  • Fan interference;
  • Stadium boundary calls (e.g. fielder into stands, ball into stands);
  • Force play (except the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play);
  • Tag play (including steals and pickoffs);
  • Fair/foul in outfield only;
  • Trap play in outfield;
  • Batter hit by pitch;
  • Timing play (whether a runner scores before a third out);
  • Touching a base (requires appeal);
  • Passing runners;
  • Record keeping (Ball-strike count to batter, outs, score, and substitutions)

MV Comments: Overall, I like the first set of rules. People are going to complain that the ‘neighborhood’ play at second during a double play isn’t reviewable. Robinson Cano abused this rule and I’m sure many other 2Bs and SS do it. I’m interested to see how quickly the verdict can be delivered from the Replay Command Center. Will it take them five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes? Which stall tactics will teams use to make sure their video specialist has enough time to review the play? I’m kind of bummed managers won’t have red flags like they do in the NFL. It’d be cool seeing that fly out of the dugout.

Seeing the ump’s interpretation of ‘timely manner’ will be interesting. For example, say a third out is incorrectly called (the outfielder trapped the line drive) and the teams switch. The video specialist reviews the play and tells the manager to challenge the call. While the video specialist is reviewing the play, the team switch and the pitcher begins warming up. Do all players stop what they’re doing when a play is challenged? Should the pitcher start throwing? It may be a little odd seeing the team switch again once the play is correctly changed. It may lead to a prolonged game, but the umps are getting the calls right. 

The Replay Command Center is a really smart thing. It’s something I think the NFL should adopt to help speed up the game. FOX has Mike Pereira that pretty much does this during telecasts. No reason why the NFL can’t have their own set of officials that do this in a central location.

This new system is a work in progress and no one is expecting perfection in Year 1. Baseball owes it to the teams and fans to get calls right. It may make games a little longer and it’ll be interesting to see which umps are more prone to replays following the 7th inning. Good job by the owners, umpire association, and players’ association to get this in place. 

 

Believe it or not, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will square off for the 15th time this Sunday afternoon in Denver. Brady’s teams have bested Manning straight up in 10 of the first 14 match-ups, but are 7-5-2 against the spread. Brady and Manning squared off earlier this season in one of the more bizarre games in recent memory. Facing a 24-0 deficit in the third quarter, Brady (with a little help from the wind), put on an absolute clinic and led the Patriots to a stunning 34-31 overtime victory in Foxboro. Brady accounted for 344 passing yards and 3 TDs as he led the comeback effort. Wide receiver Julian Edelman accounted for 110 yards and 2 TDs. 

Unfortunately for Denver, one of its better cornerbacks, Chris Harris Jr., will not be available to help slow down Brady. Harris tore his ACL in the third quarter against the Chargers and will miss the remainder of the season. Denver held onto a comfortable 17-0 lead before Harris departed and San Diego began to mount a comeback. Expect New England to study Denver’s formations following Harris’ departure and exploit that weakness early and often. 

Expect New England to continue leaning on RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount has become the story of the playoffs after ripping off 166 yards and 4 TDs last weekend against the Colts. I fully expect Brady to feed his 250-pound RB early and often to keep Manning and Co. off the field. 

Denver opened as a six point favorite on most sportsbooks, but that number has been bet down to 4.5 points. Current Super Bowl odds have Seattle listed as the largest favorite, but Denver is a close second.  Temperatures in Denver are expected to be in the mid-40s with no chance of rain. These weather conditions are ideal for Manning’s passing attack and I expect him to put up a big performance. A lot of people are betting on New England and I can understand why. They looked dominant last weekend and they know how beat Peyton Manning led teams. However, Manning needs this game in the worst game possible. Manning detractors are out in full force and a loss on Sunday would give them more ammo. I think Denver gets out to an early, sizable lead and coasts to an easy victory. Watch out for Wes Welker. I fully expect him to have a huge game against his former squad.

Prediction: Denver 38 New England 20

The NFC’s divisional round will start in Seattle as the Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints. In Week 13, these two teams squared off on Monday Night Football in Seattle. Seattle dominated from start to finish and buried New Orleans, 34-7. Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw for 310 yards and 3 TDs in arguably his most impressive performance of the season. Seattle limited QB Drew Brees to just 147 yards and 1 TD and TE Jimmy Graham to 42 yards and 1 TD. New Orleans’ seven points are the lowest output by a Sean Payton team. Seattle easily covered the 6.5 point spread and many backers are expecting a similar outcome this weekend.

Soon after New Orleans’ victory over Philadelphia, Seattle opened as an eight point home favorite. Seattle has been a very popular super bowl pick and the odds have been in their favor since the regular season. Marshawn Lynch was used sparingly in his team’s Week 13 win, but Lynch had a memorable playoff performance against New Orleans three years ago. Expect both teams to make adjustments as both Lynch and Brees should exceed their Week 13 yardage output. Seattle has some of the most passionate fans in football and is still the favorite to represent the NFC in this year’s New York Super Bowl. I think Seattle wins this week, but New Orleans will cover the spread.

Prediction: Seattle 24 New Orleans 17

The NFL Playoffs begin Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis when the Colts host the Kansas City Chiefs. Wildcard weekend is filled with some interesting match-ups that include New Orleans at Philadelphia, San Diego at Cincinnati, and San Francisco at Green Bay. Winners from these games will take on the Top 2 teams in each conference, which include the heavily favored Seattle Seahawks (13-3) and Denver Broncos (13-3). The Seahawks enter the playoffs as (+180) odds to win the Super Bowl while the Broncos enter the playoffs as (+260) odds to win the Super Bowl.

While these two teams are given the best odds to win the Super Bowl, we have to look a little deeper for value. Here are two teams that provide bettors with a decent value:

  1. San Francisco 49ers (+500): Last year’s NFC Champions open this weekend in Green Bay, but currently have the third best odds to win the Super Bowl. The 49ers have won six games in a row and have shown the ability to get hot and run through opponents. In addition, San Francisco is one of only two playoff teams to beat Seattle this season. San Francisco will probably have to go to Seattle and win to make it to the Super Bowl. If they do, their odds will drastically increase.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (+2000): This is purely a gut call. The odds are extremely slim, but the Chiefs have the shown the ability to win on the road. Alex Smith should be able to effectively manage the game and feed Jamaal Charles early and often. A win by Kansas City will likely set-up a third match-up against the Denver Broncos. The old adage is: It’s nearly impossible to beat one team three times in one season. Denver already has two wins over Kansas City. Getting that third win in its biggest game of the year will be a tall order. If Kansas City can knock off Denver, it’ll have a great chance to make the Super Bowl.

Each week, super bowl picks and odds will change to reflect game results. I like Seattle to win the Super Bowl, but I wouldn’t mind hedging that bet with a San Francisco Super Bowl bet. I fully expect this match-up to happen in two weeks with the winner heading to the Super Bowl. In the AFC, it’s hard not to like the Denver bet with the Kansas City hedge with the same rationale as Seattle-San Francisco.