Monday, January 18, 2016

chalk week and NASCAR football

Bokolis banged out a 2-1-1 divisional round- allowing for a push in Steelers-Broncos- bringing the playoffs to 6-2-1.  There is time to brag, but I'm trying to tell you a story.  The story is about how the endings of these games are becoming more like NASCAR (aka the NBA) and professional wrestling, for that matter.

When making fun of both entities, Bokolis uses NASCAR and NBA interchangeably.  In both cases, the contestants go around in circles, essentially doing the same thing two hundred times.  Yet, it's typically only in the last 10 laps/possessions that the outcome gets decided.  In NASCAR, they rig all the cars so they are essentially equal.  Even when someone manages to open up a half-lap lead, a caution flag invariably bunches everybody back up, leading to the proverbial dusty finish...and the ringmasters want it this way.

In the NBA- all forms of basketball, really- it takes the form of a fouling derby, peppered with time being called a half-dozen times.  While Bokolis can understand that the money grubbers want to maximize revenue by getting the viewer to hang in as long as possible, why is there a need for the rest of the game?  If that's the case, each game should be four minutes, each race should be 10 laps.

To boot, NASCAR has created a playoff system to decide its (insert whatever the name of the Winston Cup is these days), which essentially discounts the advantage the top driver(s) has/have accumulated for the sake of late-season drama.  Similarly, the NBA has a four round postseason.

aside- remember that year when Kobe was injured, so the Lakers snuck into the playoffs as one of the bottom seeds?  The NBA ringmaster, figuring this would give the moneymaker a better chance of advancing, changed the rules on the fly to make the first round a best-of-seven.

Now, Bokolis does not support most playoff setups.  I can tolerate playoffs when playing a balanced schedule is impossible, like the NFL.  As it concerns the NBA and NHL, I can accept a split into conferences and having the respective champions meet.  However, I see no reason they can't decide a conference champion by playing a balanced regular season schedule within the conference- 14 teams x 4  games = 56, plus 2 games x 15 non-conference teams = 30 (exhibition) games, for a grand total of 86 games.  In a final matchup of conference champions, there is no need to play the same game seven times...that only works in baseball because a different guy is pitching in each game.

It's bad enough that the NBA and NHL let half the league in the playoffs and play four rounds of best-of-seven.  But, NASCAR- and golf!- have now adopted similar setups to decide their annual champions.  This is even more insulting to the fans' intelligence, as the contestants either decide to play or have to qualify for the events in with they participate.

...reeling it back in...

This weekend's games reminded Bokolis that, too often for my sensibilities, occurrences very late in games are quite divergent from the general tenor of the game seen in the first 95%-97% of the elapsed time.  It is the necessary consequence of a stopped clock and multiple opportunities for the coaching staff to gather the troops, rather than having the players sort it out on the fly.  Just like the playoff systems defeat the purpose of a regular season, the late-game drama insults the viewer for having watched the rest of the game.

It must drive coaches batshit crazy, but Bokolis is looking at it from the point-spread perspective.  I'd like to also point out that this doesn't happen in (world) football, where the clock is always running.  That is for another time.

If you had the Pats or the Panthers, you were comfortable pretty much from the start.  The Patriots did as Bokolis expected and the oddsmakers were nice enough to not have the Pats giving a bigger number.  Instead of the Seahawks wearing down, they fell out of bed, making it close but never threatening.  When Seattle held, down 31-17 with 3 minutes and change remaining, I couldn't figure out why they kept their last time out.  My thinking was that, if Carolina gets the ball again, the game is over, so you may as well use it and save clock.  That was not discussed by the carnival barkers; I guess they wanted to reserve the appearance of surprise should Seattle do the unthinkable.  Also left unsaid was all the little extra holding let go for the sake of making it interesting...hey, when one team spots the other 31 points, there is nothing much to discuss about the game.

As for the others, Bokolis remembers thinking, right about the second play from scrimmage of Packers-Cardinals, what the hell am I into here.  This is likely because the comfort, felt immediately during the earlier game, did not recur in the nightcap.  The same thing happened on Sunday, albeit the discomfort came a little later.  On Saturday, I remembered that I was banking on Carson Palmer- he of the playoff cherry- while Sunday was chicken-armed P.Manning.

Despite the referees nullifying an interception return for a touchdown by calling an inconsequential foul on a defensive lineman being held and Palmer trying to throw the ball to Packers defenders, the Cardinals managed to get the game to a push.  After having given Aaron Rodgers a bit more time by trying to get cute, they had him 4th & 20, dropping back into his own end zone and Bokolis, knowing fully well that they'd never call it, trying for a safety by looking for holding in the line.  Whether you chalk it up to Rodgers' brilliance or a defensive breakdown, he completed a 60-yard pass.

Everybody now had to double-time it up to the line.  Logic dictates they would- as per the above rant, a relatively recent allowance in the rules- spike the ball to kill the clock.  Instead, likely with the coach(es) chirping in his ear, Rodgers calls a play, going so far as to change the formation.  This took, I don't know, about 10-12 seconds longer than a clock play, but it seemed like forever, especially with a running clock.

Ironically, they didn't wait one more second so the tight end could re-set, resulting in a penalty.  The two announcers offered that this penalty would also result in a forced 10-second runoff- a wrinkle added as a consequence of teams cynically taking penalties to stop the clock.  The announcers, likely advised so, explained that the runoff didn't apply because the imfraction wasn't one that would blow the play (and clock) dead.  Bokolis can't lambast them, for the NFL has more (ever-changing) rules than Soviet Communism.

Because Rodgers had already pulled off a hail mary in the regular season- irrespective of the result there, the throw itself was marvelous- the Cardinals figured that they'd blitz and make him uncomfortable.  That left them more vulnerable in coverage but, even with some uncalled cattle roping going on in the line, they essentially ended up with Rodgers heaving into double-coverage.  The Cardinals CB was camped under the throw, but neither he nor his help boxed out, allowing the receiver to get position, in position to wreck the push, as it turns out.

After posting the predictions, Bokolis spent time with people who listened to me crow about laying 6.5* because I got in early, yet made me more comfortable on the Panthers and less comfortable with the Broncos.  The prevailing thinking on the latter was that a blowout seemed too obvious, that some freakish stuff was sure to occur.  My paranoia kicked in, and I added that the biggest problem would be it turning out that Roethlisberger would have more heat on his throws than P.Manning.

* - this was noted in the post, but, for these purposes, we'll call it a push.  The line ran to 7.5 and settled on 7.  I can't say that I hit the middle, but there were surely people who did.  The bookies definitely took a beating on this one.

Since Bokolis can't fast-forward to the good parts, upon watching the two QBs operate at diminished capacity, I took a nap that took me into the 3rd quarter.  My outlook didn't change with my re-emergence.  With Denver down by 4 points, I'm thinking that the best I can do is a push- and for that field goal has to come first, as the touchdown has to come late enough so that they'd go for two.

The Steelers playing with a third-string running back finally jumped up and bit them in the ass with the fumble.  To boot, the Broncos finally came up with a brilliant drive, yielding the necessary TD and conversion to get the game to 7.  The Steelers turned the ball over to Denver in scoring territory.  The resulting field goal was unwelcome, not because I had 6.5, but because a 10-point lead brings the backdoor cover into play.

While Bokolis was assessing how many shots the Steelers would get at the end zone, they trotted out the field goal kicker to get the 3 before the 7.  The thinking was to save enough time to get a viable shot at the end zone, should they recover an onsides kick.  At that point, scoring the TD first would've amounted to a Pyrrhic victory, as it would've likely burned through the clock.  I was totally fine with that, of course.  But I'd've even been fine with getting back to a push.

In the end, for all the chirping about this being wide open, the top two seeded sides will play for the conference championships.  A quirk was that each game was decided by a touchdown, even if the sudden death aspect of overtime meant that the Cardinals' margin of victory was six rather than seven.  Along those lines, both conference championships are currently 3-point spreads.  Bokolis is already rather certain about the picks, but we'll both have to survive the week.

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