Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Hall of Fame running back, Marshall Faulk of the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams as part of SAP’s innovative Player Comparison tool for fantasy football. SAP partnered with the NFL to develop a tool that helps fantasy players make real time lineup decisions. The Player Comparison tool is the only fantasy research tool that provides comparisons featuring five unique performance indicators, enables full user customization, allows for pre-set expert logic based on NFL.com Fantasy Expert, and is integrated into NFL.com Fantasy Football. Marshall, who tirelessly watches and analyzes game tape, is SAP’s official spokesman for the tool.This week, SAP has a display on ‘Super Bowl Blvd.’ in Manhattan that allows fans to experiment with the tool. 

Marshall sat down with myself and a few other sports writers to discuss his career and the Super Bowl. The interview is summarized after the jump.

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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). 

Just a few days ago, the Big Apple’s two basketball franchises faced each other, with the Nets defeating the Knicks 103-80. It was a case of sweet revenge for the Knicks, who has lost badly in the first cross-town rivalry in December.

However, apart from local bragging rights, little attention was paid to the two results. Both teams are sub .500 and the Knicks, in particular, are off the pace when it comes to looking at the post-season. Few people who bet on NBA would argue that this rivalry is one for the ages; the contest needs some spice added to make it worth fans’ time.

Well, first off, it would help if both teams were better. They may share a division and a city but the game itself is not going to draw more interest until both teams are playing better basketball.

Big-name players are always going to be a draw in any NBA rivalry, and the Knicks have one of those in Carmelo Anthony, but is less clear who his counterpart would be within the Nets organisation. Yes, they have both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce but both of those are too far beyond their prime to be considered a direct match for Anthony. The Nets need to find a marquee player to really make that head-to-head work and prove a talking point between the two teams.

What would spark a real contest and rivalry between the two teams would be a playoff series – regular season games are fine but there is nothing to spark the fans’ interest like a seven-game competitive post-season series. These two last met back in 2004 and, since then, the two teams have had problems, with none of them making the post-season let alone both of them. However, in the future, a real post-season head-to-head should spark major interest in New York and fuel the rivalry.

Last, but not least, wouldn’t it be fun to see the two franchises going toe-to-toe over a big name signing? Further spice can be added to that confrontation if the player they are fighting over plays (or has played) for one of the franchises previously. In the present, we might have to wait a couple of seasons before we have such a situation. As things stand, both franchises are focused on slashing their payrolls, not poaching the other team’s overpriced players. Fans may have to wait until the following summer of 2015 for a major bidding war between the teams.

This Knicks-Nets match-up has the potential to be a great rivalry; sometimes, it just takes a spark to ignite such competition. It may take a few years, but fans of NBA betting know that any one of the above sparks could well light a fire that could rage for years. 

 

2014 Additions   2014 Depatures
Pos. Player AAV 2014 WAR   Pos. Player AAV 2013 WAR
C Brian McCann $17.0 3.9   C Chris Stewart $1.3 0.3
2B Brian Roberts $2.0 0.7   2B Robinson Cano $15.0 6.0
3B  Kelly Johnson $2.4 1.4   3B  Alex Rodriguez $26.0 0.5
OF Jacoby Ellsbury $21.9 3.8   OF Curtis Granderson $15.0 1.4
OF Carlos Beltran $15.0 1.9   OF Vernon Wells $13.0 -0.8
SP2 Masahiro Tanaka $22.1 4.0   SP2 Andy Pettitte $12.0 3.2
SP5 Michael Pineda $0.6 0.6   SP5 Phil Hughes $6.0 1.3
CL David Robertson $5.3 0.9   CL Mariano Rivera $10.0 1.5
TOL   $86.2 17.2   TOL   $98.3 13.4

Things are looking up.

After years of scouting and months of speculation, the Yankees got their man and signed Masahiro Tanaka to a lucrative seven-year, $155 million contract. The Yankees will also pay Tanaka’s JPL team $20 million as a posting fee. I’ve modeled out a bunch of scenarios and his contract fell between my guess of six-years, $149 million and seven-years, $163 million. In my analysis, I did not quantify the value of an opt-out, which may have the tipping point in contract negotiations. Lost in the hoopla of the contract length and size is a clause that allows Tanaka to opt out after his fourth season and test free agency again at Age 29. As we’ve seen with other young aces, teams are more willing to include an opt-out clause in order to secure their services. We’ll walk through past contracts and review whether the Yankees were smart to include this incentive.

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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. 

I’ve written a lot of articles about Masahiro Tanaka. Scouting report, here. First season projection, here. Tanaka’s deadline to sign with a MLB team is Friday, January 24th at 5:00 PM. Yesterday, we learned that ‘at least five teams have submitted formal offers, nearly all of them worth more than $100 million over six years.’  Based on Japanese reports, which haven’t been totally reliable, those five teams were the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, and White Sox. Tanaka gave teams a ‘self-imposed’ deadline of January 16th to submit offers. 

On the surface, giving at least $100 million to pitcher who has never thrown a MLB pitch is insane. However, as we’ve seen with most free agent contracts so far, teams are flush with cash and ready to spend big on impact players. Tanaka, who is only 25-years-old and was dominant last season in JPL play, is the type of player MLB teams won’t shy away from. I’ll walk through a valuation exercise to give you an idea of what teams are expecting and some comps to consider.

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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

Yesterday, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz released his decision that A-Rod’s suspension for violating MLB’s collective bargaining agreement for using banned substances should be reduced from 211 games to 162 games. A-Rod will miss the entire 2014 season, including the playoffs, but under the CBA, nothing will prevent him from showing up to Spring Training. A-Rod will seek an injunction in Federal Court, but the odds of his case being heard are ‘very slim‘. A-Rod will not collect his $26 million salary and the Yankees can essentially coin it as ‘found money’ for other free agents or trades.

It remains to be seen whether the Steinbrenner family will rid themselves of A-Rod by cutting him and eating the three year, $64 million remaining on the deal. Baseball contracts are fully guaranteed, so the Yankees will have to pay out $64 million. This is decision is a topic for another article, but in the context of the 2014 season, the Yankees have $155 million committed to players and will likely pay out another $13-$15 million in arbitration. We’ll get into specifics after the jump, but as sit stands, the Yankees have another $26 million at their disposal and an even bigger gap at third base.

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