Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get Your Movie On

Super Bowl preview coming next week... I'm taking a bye week.

Since Avatar came out I've thought a lot about movies. Movies are something that unite people around the world. They allow us to escape into a world beyond our imagination. They allow us to have conversations about why certain things happen. They allow us to view the real world in a different light. But I want to get at why. What does it say about us when we allow ourselves to escape our real world so frequently? Are movies merely an art and entertainment, or do they allow us to process thoughts we would never be able to process otherwise? Perhaps they do, or perhaps humans have been conditioned to need constant interaction with some form of media. Whatever way it is, it's how we are... so let's roll with it.

The Ultimate Question:
Every movie has the same premise. It starts with a simple question. What if? The form to which the filmmaker answers this question is what's called a genre. I've listed five... (1) There's drama: what if we push human emotion to the extreme? (2) There's romance: what if an unforeseen series of events leads to two people to meet up?...and they fall in love? (3) There's comedy: what if we make fun of our everyday lives in a way that makes people laugh? (4) There's action: what if we create a hero that represents all that is noble and turn the world against him? (5) And there's sci-fi: what if we push the limits of imagination and create a world where some crazy stuff happens? It's all pretty simple, right? Well, not so much. The best movies all do the same thing. They plant ideas in the viewers head; they start discussions. Those ideas branch out into more ideas and discussions and more ideas and discussions...

Ideas spread ideas
So the inspiration for me to write this particular blog was to explore the types of discussions that stem from movies; especially the movies that have a profound impact on the audience. And if you think I'm just trying to explain why Avatar was totally awe-inspiringly awesome, then you're right on. But I like other movies too. I'll focus on my top-five. Here it is: Avatar, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, The Matrix and Wall-E. What do we learn from these? We learn just how far imagination can take us. We learn what a hero is. But what we discover for ourselves is beyond what we see on the screen. It's the thing that manifests itself inside you. Everyday we see something in our lives that reminds us of an image from a movie. We make a connection. You see a beautiful sunset over the mountains, and you can almost make yourself believe you're on Pandora. But you see images of trash piling up, and you hear about how carbon emissions are destroying the atmosphere, and you think, "aww, crap... we're going to need Wall-E to clean up this mess." But why is it that only movies help in providing this profound response? We feel more connected to the fictional, yet scientifically possible, world of Pandora than we do to the wasteland of Iraq. If you've seen Avatar, and you love it as much as I do, ask yourself whom you understand better: a Na'vi or an Iraqi? I can say that I don't completely understand why an Iraqi thinks or acts the way he does. He has been thought years of warfare and trauma, but I can't identify with that; I don't See like they do. But hey, I can identify with a fictional race of ten-foot tall blue aliens. They plug into their world and appreciate the rhythm of nature. That's what we strive for; the ability to connect with our world in some way and come to some sort of spiritual conclusion to life. That's why Avatar clicks. I can even say kaltxí tsamukan (hello brother). See the difference here? We identify better with movies than we do with other peoples. It's kind of eerie, yet true.

Imagine... Pandora

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NFL Conference Championship PODCAST

This is a momentous podcast. Three people join me (Kieran, Brewster, Sean) as we discuss what went down in last the NFL playoffs last week as well as our predictions for the conference championship games. And who is Tyler Flanagan!?

or click here

Monday, January 18, 2010

What was Supposed to Happen?

How does one of the best weekends the NFL has to offer turn to crap?  Home team domination. Traditionally, the divisional round of the playoffs is a spectacle.  Teams hot off a wild card victory matching up with teams cold off a bye week.  Not so much this year (Jets/Chargers was the only good game, we'll get to that). Consider this column to be an explanation as to why the Cards/Ravens/Cowboys/Chargers lost. Here's what was supposed to happen...

Cardinals vs. Saints
The real playoff Cardinals were going to go to New Orleans and play a competitive game. Kurt Warner was going to show us once again that we underestimate him, and he was going to torch the Saints defense. The Saints were going to struggle to find their groove after what essentially was two straight bye weeks (many of the Saints' starters didn't play in week 17). This game was supposed to be a copy of the Ravens/Patriots game last weekend after Tim Hightower took the first play from scrimmage 70 yards for a touchdown. Whoa! The Cards have a running game now! Nope. Discounting the initial play, the Cards massed 31 rushing yards. Not the balanced attack that can keep defenses guessing. So what did happen was Reggie Bush. Bush seemingly found his potential all in one play. His 46-yard touchdown was vintage college style Reggie Bush. He broke the ankles of the defenders by going laterally, then sprinted past their mangled bodies into the endzone. What did happen was a Saints offense running more efficiently than a Prius. Over 50% on third downs, a balanced passing and running attack (32 pass attempts, 247 yards; 34 rush attempts, 171 yards) and zero turnovers.

Ravens vs. Colts
The Ravens were going to dominate with a punishing run game, and an equally punishing defense. Ray Rice was going to chew out the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field. And Manning was going to continue his trend of losing after a bye. What did happen was a classically boring Colts win. No one part of the game stood out. No one play stood out. Indy just had more points at the end. As fans we left the Saturday portion of round two wanting more. Our football fix was not filled. Sunday had to be better. It was... by default.

Cowboys vs. Vikings
The Cowboys were going to prove that they are not the same playoff chokers that they have proven to be the past 14 years. Their defense was going to continue on it's dominating stretch, and Tony Romo was going to take care of the ball. Then Brett Favre to Sidney Rice happened. Turnover. BAM! Turnover. BAM! Game over.

Jets vs. Chargers
Okay here we go.  I put everything I had behind the Chargers. Regrettably, I jumped on their playoff bandwagon, again, and was proven wrong, again. At what point in the game did either team look really good? The Jets were relatively solid on defense the entire game, and their offense put the ball in the endzone when they had the opportunity. But I am convinced that missing a field goal costs a team more than just three points. It's a big momentum swing toward the defending team. The Jets gained confidence knowing that they stopped the Chargers on third down. They gain momentum when Nate Kaeding missed his first field goal. The Chargers psyche is shaken to the point where they press too hard; they get nervous. The Jets ate this up.
But here's what was supposed to happen. The Chargers, on an 11 game winning streak, finally click in the playoffs and kick out the upstart Jets. Why should the Jets be taken so seriously when they've barely beaten anybody. The Bengals were a fringe playoff team; the Colts gave up in their week 16 game. Needless to say, do you think if the Jets win at Indy, there will be conversation about how Indy should have played their starters to the end and put the Jets away for good. We've seen it before: a team rests it's starters against a team fighting for the playoffs, and ends up getting beaten by that same team in the playoffs. It happened to Cincy.  When you have a chance to knock your opponent out, you do it. Underdog's thrive on this.

Wal-Mart is always hiring, Nate.

Round Two picks: 1-3. Playoffs: 4-4

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Put Your Dukes Up, it's Round Two!

Competitive banter is in the air as I invite Kieran and our old friend Brewster back on to the podcast.  We break down each NFL divisional round match up, as well as that big, formerly lovable teddy bear known as Mark McGwire.

or click here

What a goofball...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Analyzing the wild card winner's chances of making a run...

We have learned from past that wild card weekends cannot be overlooked. Nearly every year we see the a Super Bowl bound team come from the wild card round.  This can be simply attributed to the fact that some teams find their groove in playoff victory.  The bye-week teams are resting their bodies, but their in-game football minds can fade.  Playing every weekend allows teams to stay sharp at the most important time of the season.  But hey, there's a reason the one and two seeds are in the position they are in.  They have proven through the regular season that they are solid teams that should be able to cope with a week off and potential loss of an in-game edge.  But which teams gained the needed momentum to top a bye-week seed with a road victory?  Let's look at each wild card winner to find out who might be able to make a late, upsetting run to the Super Bowl.

A dominating victory over the Bengals shows that the Jets didn't just waltz into the playoffs to get beaten in the first round.  Had the playoffs been held in November, I bet the Bengals would have looked a lot better, but they were just another team that didn't enter the playoffs on a high note.  Mark Sanchez surprisingly played a lot better than his USC counterpart Carson Palmer.  Darrelle Revis, not so surprisingly, dominated Chad Ochocinco. The Jets are a worthy foe for the Chargers next week.  The premier match up will obviously be the Chargers offense versus the Jets Defense.  Unlike the Bengals, the Chargers have a deep receiving corp that will prove much harder for the Jets to suppress.  We saw a number of teams jump out to big leads in the wild card round.  The Chargers can score points in bunches, while the Jets have to meticulously rush the ball down the field.  If these teams play ten times, I would say the Jets would win three.  The Jets have to control the pace of the game, then they'll have a chance. Another note: can NBC snag some better announcers for the non-showcase game? Tom Hammond sounded like he was at gunpoint, and would get shot if his decibel level got too high.


Another dominating victory over the Eagles. Tony Romo no longer looks afraid to be in a game being played in December or January. The defense looks hungry.  The team isn't distracted by off field issues that have plagued them in the past.  Honestly, is this the quietest the Cowboys have entered the post season in recent memory.  Trying to figure out the 'Boys is usually like taming a wild animal, but this year they seem to have their stuff together.  A solid defense, a dangerous running attack and a confident quarterback.  Sounds like a playoff team poised to make some noise.  Which brings up next week's match up with the Vikings.  Both teams have a similar pedigree: scary defense, good running attack, veteran QB. On paper these teams look similar.  But the hot hand belongs to the Cowboys.  Although the Vikings are playing at home, I refuse to believe that homefield advantage matters much in the NFL anymore.  Perhaps it matters when the Detroit Lions travel to Minnesota, but not a veteran squad like Dallas.  But watch out, Jared Allen (above) is cah-razy!

The Ravens are one of those teams that sneaks up to you.  They're old school. We glorify the pass happy teams, yet overlook the in-your-face, running teams. The Ravens are dangerous because they have nothing to lose.  Did you see Joe Flacco's stat line in a victory against the Patriots? 4-for-10, 34 yards, 1 int, and a 10.0 QB rating.  Atrocious! But look who's in the second round. The Joe Flacco lead Baltimore Ravens everybody! They sported a 5:1 run to pass ratio against the Pats. In the 2010 NFL, that is unheard of. Up next is the Indianapolis Colts. Indy, notorious for early playoff exits, has to defeat it's kryptonite in order to advance. The book on defeating the Colts: keep the ball away from Manning, and own time of possession. Granted this doesn't always work, (see week 2; Colts at Dolphins, Dolphins held the ball for over 45 minutes and lost) but it is the prevailing strategy nonetheless.  I say the Ravens win this match up four times out of ten.

Uht-oh! They're back!  Find me a better wild card game than the Cards/Packers thrilling 51-45 overtime game. Offensive showcases don't happen every day. That was special. I can't find a reason as to why the Cardinals are a good playoff team. The fact is, however, that they mosey though the regular season, then collectively decide to turn it up in the playoffs.  There are teams historically that you can say are playoff winners and losers (Notable winners: Ravens, Jets, Panthers, Eagles, Steelers.  Notable losers: Jaguars, Broncos, Chiefs, Dolphins. I'm probably missing some, but you get the idea); meaning they always 'seem' to advance, no matter what their record   It took the Cardinals a long time to become a playoff franchise.  Maybe they're just one of those playoff winners, but they were just late to the party. They're an average running team and have a pourous defense.  But they have a proven winner in Kurt Warner.  Next week's match up at New Orleans may prove to be another offensive explosion.  Do not bet against Warner!

Don't be surprised if any of these teams advance. Momentum is a silly thing this time of year. Watch out for Ray Ray.

Wild Card picks: 3-1; Overall 58-39-2

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wild Card Weekend of Fun

It is time for another podcast.  In this week's edition, Kieran and I discuss each wild card game in the NFL this weekend, as well as our favorites for Super Bowl XLIV.

or click here

Last week's picks: 6-8-2; Overall 55-38-2

Picks from the podcast:
Jets over BENGALS.  This  is most likely going to be a sloppy, defensively dominated game.  Jets win because their defense is a little better.  I don't like either team to win, but I like the Jets to not lose (make sense?).

Eagles over COWBOYS.  Last time the Cowboys swept an opponent in the regular season, then met that team in the playoffs? 2007; Cowboys lost to the Giants on their way to the Super Bowl.

Ravens over PATRIOTS.  The Ravens might be the biggest underachievers this season.  I look for them to vindicate themselves as contenders and give some trouble for the Colts next week.

CARDINALS over Packers.  As good as the Packers have looked lately, I'm not going to pick against Kurt Warner in the playoffs.  He proved to many people wrong last year, and may continue to do the same.

Notice a theme? All these teams fly.  Birds and planes baby!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Week 17- Bad Attitudes

The League:
It's the final week of the regular season, and it is clear that what we knew about the NFL one month ago is no longer relevant.  The best teams entering December were clearly the Colts, Saints and Vikings.  The Colts' leadership is in question.  Why did Jim Caldwell wait until week 16, in a game halfway through the third quarter (in a game his team was winning) to finally make a real coaching decision.  Peyton Manning runs that team, and Caldwell had to know he would stir up some controversy.  The best teams in the playoffs are the ones that are the quietest.  Heard anything in the news about the Eagles or Chargers lately?  The Saints offense, once perceived as unstoppable, is sputtering to a halt.  After a blistering 13-0 start to the season, New Orleans has lost two games in a row (both at home).  The Cowboys loss was excusable, Dallas needed that game desperately.  But blowing a 17-0 lead to Tampa Bay? Really?  Not to mention they had that game won pending a last minute field goal from their idiot kicker.  Nope... shanked again.  And how are the Saints combating this recent trend of losing?  Sitting the starters for the finale, of course!  One bye week isn't enough, apparently they need two to be as rusty as possible for a divisional playoff showdown.  The Vikings have cruised to the NFC North title behind a fairly easy schedule (.423 opponent winning percentage in 2009; 2nd easiest).  But when put to the test in December, the Vikings have potentially fumbled their way out of a bye week in the first round.  But this year was supposed to be Brett Favre's year, right!?  2009 was Favre's year, not 2010.  Happy New Year Brett.

But my most favorite thing about the end of the season is that coaches finally have the guts to do what they really want.  Why not burn as many bridges as possible en route to another late season swoon?  Broncos coach Josh McDaniels doesn't care about the contract status of receiver Brandon Marshall or tight end Tony Scheffler, that's not his business.  But the two players apparently have been complaining about their injuries, so McDaniels believes that the best option is to sit them.  While I believe most fans are okay with a coach sitting a player due to injury, I know that most fans are not okay with that coach personally calling that player out in a press conference.  The aura of McDaniels is fading for Broncos fans.  Is his best option really to call out his best offensive player before a must-win game? Probably not.  Nonetheless, the team is in position for a winning season and possibly playoffs; something completely unexpected before the season started.  And whatever happened to the Broncos throwbacks?  I have noticed many of the other old AFL teams wearing their throwbacks much more often than the Broncos have.  Am I blinded by their beauty, or am I one of the few who actually likes the yellow-ish puke/ dirt brown colors?

Week 17 picks:
Home teams are in caps

Colts (+8) over BILLS
PANTHERS (-7) over Saints
Jaguars (+1) over BROWNS
Eagles (+3) over Cowboys
Bears (-3) over LIONS
TEXANS (-7) over Patriots
DOLPHINS (+3) over Steelers
Giants (+8) over VIKINGS
Bengals (+9.5) over JETS
49ers (-7.5) over RAMS
Falcons (-2.5) over BUCCANEERS
Packers (+3) over CARDINALS
BRONCOS (-10) over Chiefs
RAIDERS (+10.5) over Ravens
CHARGERS (-3) over Redskins
Titans (-6) over SEAHAWKS

So... if these picks hold, then the Broncos are going to the playoffs baby!