Tuesday, December 18, 2012

FAABulous: Fantasy Football Pick-ups Week 16

Bad weather? Chicago defense? Neither of these should have stopped you from playing James Jones. (nbcsports.msnbc.com)

FAABulous will recap the week of football activity and point fantasy owners where to spend their hard earned (not really) FAAB or waiver priority. Players will be owned in at most 50% of Yahoo! FFL. This is the one time where mo' money probably wouldn't mean mo' problems.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Well, unless you were facing Russell Wilson or opted to play the Ravens' defense over those hapless Arizona Cardinals.

There are no right answers in the last couple of weeks of the fantasy football season. It seems like there are more pitfalls and traps on the way to that championship than on a course in Mario Kart. And that perception is, in fact reality. Match-up plays and hot streaks are all well and good in Week 4, but when the season is on the line, and you're looking at a match-up between one of your proven studs and a riskier pick - that can be a recipe for disaster.

Waffling on starting certain players is the norm for fantasy sports; especially football. It's why every sports site on the planet has rankings, projected stats, start 'em/sit 'em advice, etc. People have a need to know who to start.

Where these playoff weeks come into picture is that after a long season, you are at max capacity for information on these teams and players. Virtually everyone on your roster has either carried you to victory in some weeks and subsequently no-showed in others. Teams have been good, bad, and everything in between. Combine that with the added pressure of the playoffs, well it's easy for your heard to swirl.

The luckiest of us didn't have too many tough choices. You start Tom Brady, you play Adrian Peterson, or you sit Robert Griffin III. Of course those aren't the choices that get us burned. Those choices are around the WR3 spot or the TE spot, or if we're playing matchmaker with Kickers and D/ST.

In these cases, I always say stick to your guns. Clear your mind, and as you meditate to approach nirvana - in that moment - you select your line-up. Trying to reduce a season's worth of Chris Johnson stats to see if he's a good play this week only to have him be outscored by Danny Woodhead would make you crazy enough, let alone be a huge waste of your time.

It may seem short sighted to go with the "live by the sword, die by the sword" strategy at this point of the year, but you can ask everyone that started Josh Freeman against a horrible New Orleans pass defense over, well, basically anyone - how they feel.

Perhaps there is no better example of over thinking leading to the collapse of a championship run than James Jones. A FAABulous favorite, Jones has stepped up for the Packers all year and he continued that pattern last week nabbing 3 touchdowns and leading all WR in scoring.

But that sounds great, right? Right, it does.

But thanks to some over analyzing and nerves, the current leading touchdown receiver in the NFL was only started in 32% of leagues. How can this be? A guy with 9 TDs going into the game, hardly started in any leagues?

Well, here's the anti-Jones argument. He was facing the Chicago Bears defense in Chicago. The weather was not great. Also, with Jordy Nelson out, Jones could count on some more attention being thrown his way. Furthermore, as a player, Jones had only put up one double digit performance (10 points) in his previous 4 games. Continually, with only 51 receptions on the year, you're basically banking on Jones hauling in a score to be productive. In conclusion, I'll start Sidney Rice over him.

Now, there certainly were reasons to be hesitant in this one-time match-up, but in a standard Yahoo! league with three wide receiver spots, Jones should have been an automatic based on his work all season.

Taking a flier on a Justin Blackmon, Lance Moore, or even T.Y. Hilton type player left you on the short end of the stick.

There's not much roster moving needed for Week 16. You have your squad, and if you're still playing then you should be in good shape. But there are some positions to be weary of (like RGIII's injury and the fact that Terrelle Pryor is now a starting quarterback in the NFL). So I'll make some mentions of deeper adds and match-up plays for kickers and D/ST you should be on the look out for to close out the 2012 season. Same rules apply, though - owned in less that 50% of Yahoo! FFL.

It took until Week 16, but time to shine the FAABulous spotlight on some defense. (newstimes.com)
QB's - Here are some QB picks in case your starter is dinged up or has been shaky.

Guys I'm talking about: RGIII (injury), Matthew Stafford (ATL), Andy Dalton (@PIT), Josh Freeman (STL)

Russell Wilson, SEA (35% owned) SF

We are still doing this? At this point I'd add Wilson so your opponent can't get him.

Sam Bradford, STL (22%) @TB

Bradford has been a top 10 QB over the past 4 weeks. Put up more points than Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning. It would be ideal to have him in a dome, but no one has given up more fantasy points to opposing QB's than the Bucs.

Jake Locker, TEN (17%) @GB

The move for Locker is for a cheap, high floor guy. The weather in Titletown forecasts as sunny, but frigid. Not great passing weather. But for Locker he doesn't turn the ball over, and all he needs is a passing TD to go with his rushing yardage and you have a solid 14 points.

IF YOU'RE DESPERATE AND NEED 30 POINTS

Joe Webb, MIN (0%) @HOU

Here's a picture. Vikings down 30 points, Houston clinched home field, and with their 3rd stringers, here comes Joe Webb. Garbage time can be a beautiful thing.

TE's - There have been a lot of up and down TE's this year. If you have a fringe guy or someone that's been struggling lately, you have to go get someone that will put up points.

Guys I'm talking about: Brandon Myers, Kyle Rudolph, Antonio Gates (bad QB), Vernon Davis, Jermichael Finley, Brent Celek (no shows)

Dennis Pitta, BAL (5%) NYG

Speaking of ups and downs, Pitta looked like a Pro Bowler, then disappeared for the last 8-9 weeks. But he appears to be back on Joe Flacco's limited radar. Take a shot while he's still gravitationally pulling passes to his body.

Lance Kendricks, STL (1%) @TB

What applies to Bradford applies to Kendricks. Tampa has given up the 6th most fantasy points to tight ends this season. With the Bucs tough run defense, another 50+ attempt day for Bradford isn't out of the question. Opportunities abound.

Dallas Clark, TB (25%) STL

Clark hasn't been very productive. Between Doug Martin being an attractive check down option and the big play offense of the Bucs, Clark has been a lost man. The pass attempts will need to be at a high number for Clark to get receptions, but a TD isn't out of the question.

Anthony Fasano, MIA (5%) BUF

Two straight weeks have meant two straight TD's for Fasano. Are him and Ryan Tannehill beginning to click, or is it just a coincidence? Against an average Buffalo secondary, it might be worth trying to find out.

IF YOU'RE DESPERATE AND NEED 30 POINTS

Benjamin Watson, CLE (4%) @DEN

I mentioned the Bucs were good for 6th most points allowed to TE's, well Denver is numero uno. Number 1.  The TE opposing that team is Mr. Watson. If anyone can come out of nowhere and nab you a high point total or leave you with a goose egg it's Watson.

FOR ALL YOU STREAMERS OUT THERE

Made your bread this season by picking and choosing kickers and D/ST. Slow clap for you, potential fantasy champ. You've done it the hard way. Here are a couple streamers I like heading to the final week.

Kickers - 

Olindo Mare, CHI (1%) @ARZ

Robbie Gould was placed on the IR, so Mare is back, and he booted 2 FG's at Green Bay. Like him in a controlled environment in the Midwest desert.

Alex Henery, PHI (17%) WAS

Henery has been sneaky good this year, connecting on 25 of 28 field goal opportunities. But, such is the plight of the place kicker, they can only perform when put in a position to perform. In their previous match-up in Washington, Henery had 8 fantasy points as the Eagles' only scores that game. I'd expect them to put a couple more points on the board, and get Henery some more opportunities.

Phil Dawson, CLE (25%) DEN

It's going to be unseasonably warm in Denver with no rain or snow and a light breeze. At high altitude with that breeze at Dawson's back, he should put up good points as his Browns have trouble putting the ball in the end zone.

Defense/Special Teams - 

Indianapolis (6%) @KC

Indy is pretty self-explanatory going against the Chiefs. For all the chaos that has happened to the Chiefs recently, they were already a defeated team, and I see no reason for them to show up against a Colts team heading to the playoffs.

Carolina (10%) OAK

I already mentioned the Pryor situation, and while the Panthers leaky run defense raises some eyebrows against the Raiders, overall they should be fine.

St. Louis (31%) @TB

Backed by two Janoris Jenkins TD's in Week 12, the Rams have actually been the 2nd highest producing fantasy defense in the last 4 weeks behind Seattle. They can pressure the QB and have shown the ability to put up double digit fantasy points. Aside from a hiccup last week, depending on what Josh Freeman shows up, the Rams' defense has a high upside in Week 16.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

FAABulous: Fantasy Football Pick-ups Week 15

You...are welcome for wi..nning you a spot in your lea...gue's playoffs. - Adrian (espn.com)
FAABulous will recap the week of football activity and point fantasy owners where to spend their hard earned (not really) FAAB or waiver priority. Players will be owned in at most 50% of Yahoo! FFL. This is the one time where mo' money probably wouldn't mean mo' problems

There are two things we can confirm after week 14 of the 2012 NFL Season.

1. Adrian Peterson is a man.
2. Fantasy football might be the most unfair game ever conceived.

At this point we should all be entering fantasy playoffs if we aren't there already. The week or two prior to playoffs are almost just as important because in the fickle world of Fantasy Football, most of us are hovering a couple of games over .500 and looking to win out to clinch a spot in the tournament. With so many ponies running down a narrow track, there's going to be bumps, stumbles, and falls down the stretch, but where fantasy football really kicks you in the groin is the monster individual game. To continue my half-hearted horse racing analogy, this would be like there are 2 horses in a pack looking to show, and just when both of them are lined up - nose to nose, hoof to hoof - one of the jockeys hits the other horse in the head with an oversized cartoon mallet - complete with tweety birds - and then straps rocket boosters to his horse and is 10 lengths ahead before you can even react.

See, not the greatest analogy.

Basically that's what happened to teams facing  Adrian Peterson or Seattle defense.

Let's start with Peterson. His performance. That shouldn't be all that surprising as his past 4 games he's rushed for 171, 108, 210, and 154 with 4 TDs. Even if you want to say, it was against the Bears, I'm still not all that shocked. What is continuing to amaze me is that Peterson is doing this coming off of ACL surgery. And not just coming off ACL surgery, but coming back early. As a running back. And he's crushing fantasy leagues everywhere. The much questioned fantasy pick early in the year has now become a bargain. Some one took him with the 10th pick of the 1st Round in my draft and people were iffy about it. Now, he's laughing his way to dead last in our league (well, that's not Adrian's fault).

There has been a lot of oooh's and ahhh's about AD's performance this year, and although the award doesn't have a lot of clout, there is no doubt in my mind he should win Comeback Player of the Year. Look, we're all happy Peyton Manning is back, and looking reasonably like Peyton Manning. Sure he had some doubts, just like Peterson, but the question surrounding Manning was more of whether his nerves would regenerate properly to give his arm the proper strength and if his neck would hold up. If his nerves regenerated fine, then he'd be fine. Multiple doctors gave him clearance to play. It was just a matter of getting back into action.

Peterson said he'd be ready to go Week 1 and people just said he was being optimistic. To this day, doctors still aren't quite sure how he got healthy so fast, and I'm sure other athletes that have had this operation wonder how he is running as hard and as well as he is without holding back. If anything it appears overcoming this injury has strengthened him mentally. He put up 29 fantasy points when his owners needed him. Not that he hadn't all ready done it, but he more than justified their pre-season faith in AD.

Update: Thought this column posted today on Grantland was relevant

While it's a major bummer to go up against Peterson, at least you had hopes of him being contained. I'm sure little time was wasted worrying about the Seattle Seahawks defense. Sure they were at home facing the Cardinals (who after their 4-0 start have quickly morphed into one of the worst teams in a long time - they're so bad I'm openly wondering whether or not Larry Fitzgerald is vastly overrated) and Yahoo! had them projected at 11.62 points. A fair amount, sure, but seemed to be more of a product of the match-up than anything. This defense has only put up double digit fantasy points once in the past 6 weeks.

So when they left the Cardinals pie faced into the grass at CenturyLink Field they took 41 fantasy points with them. 41! That made Seattle DEF the highest scoring "player" in all of week 14. This was an absolute death blow. Anyone with this defense should have been well on their way to winning the week. They scored 2 TDs with 8 turn overs and 3 sacks to complete their shut out of the Red Birds. To work all this way and be kept out of the playoffs thanks to a defense with two soon to be suspended players on it is just unfair. Then again, disappointment and injustice is all part of the fantasy football game.

Let's see who will break some opponents' hearts in playoff football...

Former Heisman winner Mark Ingram isn't worth your money. (sportsnola.com)

Kenny Britt, WR - TEN (49% owned) NYJ

A lot of people have been waiting on Britt to find his form this season after multiple knee surgeries. His 143 yard performance against a hapless Indy defense helped raise some eyebrows, and Britt seems to be clicking with Jake Locker nabbing 2 TDs in his last 3 games. They'll play the Jets on Monday night, and will be a good homerun threat to close out the week.

Montell Owens, RB - JAX (23%) @MIA

M-O, M-O, M-O, M-OOOOOOOO, M-O, M-OOOO. Sounded better when it was TO for Terrell Owens, but he did have the 2nd best individual performance by a Jags running back this year. Miami defense is no joke, but there is room to get some points if Chad Henne can get the pass game working. It's a big if, but if you need an RB (at least an RB out of one's I haven't already talked about) Owens looks to be a valuable add.

DuJuan Harris, RB - GB (0%) @CHI

It has been a troubling season for Green Bay. Their offense just isn't that strong, and it's mainly a result of injuries to the offensive line and wide receivers. Randall Cobb can only do so much. The lack of run game hasn't helped ease the pain of Aaron Rodgers. Harris was respectable in that he scored a TD, but the RB's in Packerland have been a rotating door and Mike McCarthy appears to have no patience to make things work. Harris is a speculative add with the potential to score in Chi-town.

PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED

Mark Ingram, RB - NO (28%) TB

Even when Ingram is given the role of primary back, he can't out fantasy Darren Sproles. He did average 5.2 yards per carry against the Giants last week, but he did not find the end zone. It's hard to tell what the Saints have with Ingram or why he was drafted by them. They don't need or use a conventional running back and never have with Drew Brees' offense. I'm not willing to give up on the former Heisman winner, but he's a no go for fantasy owners.

THE 1%

Dwayne Harris, WR - DAL (0%) PIT

You probably heard the loud groan of Dez Bryant owners' after it was revealed Dez broke/injured a finger in the closing minutes of the Cowboys Bengals game (a couple plays before his 27 yard TD catch). It's being reported that Dez is giving it a go on Sunday as the Cowboys look to make it to the playoffs. While Dez has been one of the best fantasy receivers over the past couple of weeks, it's hard to trust a wide receiver with a broken finger. The risk of ineffectiveness or getting pulled from the game are high, especially against a stout pass defense like Pittsburgh. While people may be running to go get Kevin Ogletree again, I think Harris is a better pick. Harris has been more consistent and garnered more targets recently than Ogletree. We've seen what (little) Ogletree is capable of, so it would make sense for hot seated head coach Jason Garrett to let the second year man from East Carolina have a go.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

FAABulous: Fantasy Football Pick-ups Week 14

Andy Reid's squad is crumbling around him. (sports.yahoo.com)

FAABulous will recap the week of football activity and point fantasy owners where to spend their hard earned (not really) FAAB or waiver priority. Players will be owned in at most 50% of Yahoo! FFL. This is the one time where mo' money probably wouldn't mean mo' problems.

When Eagles' owner/CEO Jeffrey Lurie said at training camp that another 8-8 year wouldn't be acceptable for Andy Reid and his regime in Philadelphia, he could have never guessed those words would echo so much through the entire season. Those words have made tangible what was once just a whimsical dream of some ill-informed 94WIP caller; the call to fire Andy Reid.

Perhaps Lurie did not think of the implications of making such a statement at the time. Maybe he was optimistic that this Eagles team would finally be the one that gets that Super Bowl crown. A year removed from Vince Young's "Dream Team" nonsense and with a full training camp, they could focus on winning football games. But Lurie, who is more of a behind the scenes owner, let's his football people handle the football stuff, and will generally only address the media at the beginning and end of each season, doesn't seem like the kind of person to say anything off the cuff. When he put his long-time friend in the cross-hairs like that, he meant it, and I wouldn't be surprised if he shared those comments privately with Reid before giving the media and fans the only soundbite they'd need for this season.

Then again, he didn't exactly levy a death sentence to Big Red:

"Again, I am not going to make blanket statements. I really wanted to try to explain to you that 8-8 was unacceptable. Yeah, I guess if two thirds of the team is not playing [then] there are always exceptions. That was a really unacceptable outcome. I just want to reiterate that." - Jeffrey Lurie, August 30, 2012

While that hangs over the dreadful Eagles season, what has resulted, beyond the win-loss record is a complete mess of a team. At any point during the season, blame can be placed on virtually anyone who cashes a check from the Philadelphia Eagles. Early on, it was Reid's fault, then it was Michael Vick's fault, then Juan Castillo the Eagles defense couldn't stop anyone, injuries were mounting, draft picks weren't performing, and now the team is in complete disarray. Not only has Reid's squad failed to live up to expectations for the second straight year, they are going out like the Hindenburg.

This season hasn't just been bad, it's been a systemic failure. Across the board, in every facet of football things have gone wrong, and there is no "One" that will save this team.

The reason Lurie should follow through and relieve Reid of his coaching duties at the end of the season has nothing to do with his record, but more to do with the fact that Reid lorded over every aspect of this football team. He wanted and was placed in a position to have final say on personnel moves and after Joe Banner left last season, had full say on money being handed out in contracts. The system Reid built has collapsed around him.

As we continue towards the end of the season, it's almost been comical the moves that Reid has made to attempt to right the ship or find a quick fix to this ailing team.

Firing Juan Castillo has clearly backfired. The offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator did fairly well considering how ridiculous the first half of this sentence sounds. Reid elected to put his friend in that position, and when the team couldn't stop anyone on defense early in the season, Castillo was the first to go. Since then, under interim coach Todd Bowles, the defense has actually played much worse.

Next, Reid released Jason Babin, who led the Eagles in sacks last year and was a two time Pro Bowl selection. This wasn't terribly shocking as Babin has not been effective at all this year. Plus, removing him from the roster opened up playing time for Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry to see what they could offer the future of the franchise. Babin was also on the way out due to his paycheck and that Reid had finally conceited that the Wide-9 technique that Babin flourishes in (because all you do is rush the QB; run defense is overrated, bro) will also be going bye-bye.

This displeased d-line coach Jim Washburn who was a fan of Babin's and brought in by Reid to implement the Wide-9. Washburn was let go yesterday.

It has been complete chaos. A season filled with bad moves, and dealing with the results of years of mismanagement.

Sprinkle in significant injuries to Jason Peters, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce, and Danny Watkins (meh, but he was a starting O-lineman) - and it's just one big pot of disaster soup.

Normally, this would lead to the inevitable downfall of any NFL head coach. But Andy, in an evil genius sort of way, has turned things into such a clusterfuck and has driven his bus over more people than a blind guy during an elementary school fire drill that with so much collateral damage and rubble to sift through, who can you really blame? Well, the answer is Reid, stupid, but things are in such disarray, if Reid's close friend Jeffrey Lurie can't see the forest for the trees and pin point that Reid was the crux for all of this, then it's not completely crazy that Lurie would let Reid clean house, accept a diminished GM role, which would go to Howie Roseman, and this season would be such a mess that Reid gets a mulligan.

I think that would be a less than likely scenario, but it isn't out of the question.

It would be a failure to not mention that before the season started, Reid endured the death of his son Garrett.  This is not an excuse for a season that's resulted after years of decisions, but still it is something that must weigh heavily on Reid. Garrett was trying to rehabilitate himself and overcome his drug addiction, but ultimately the drugs won out. Reid, Lurie, Roseman and the entire organization handled the situation extremely professionally. So much that this aspect of the season has largely been swept under the rug. Reid nor media nor fans want Garrett to serve as an excuse, but the impact of something like this can galvanize a team or distract it.This isn't the reason for how this season has went, but it is a part.

The thing Eagles fans have to acknowledge that Reid is a well above average NFL head coach. He's gotten a little too much power, and he's gone down a similar path to tarnish his reputation like his mentor Mike Holmgren has, but if Reid is fired and wants to coach next year, a team will hire him.

Whoever is coaching the Eagles next year, it will be a complete overhaul. Virtually a new team. I can't imagine any coach other than Reid keeping his job, and thanks to words written in contracts players like Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha, Trent Cole, along with the other free agents and low hanging fruit on the roster.

Oh, the humanity, indeed.

Playoffs are approaching; if not here already, so let's see if there are some players to save your sinking ship.

Home or away, Russell Wilson has shown he can get you fantasy points. (usatoday.com)
Russell Wilson, QB - SEA (23% owned) ARI

Wilson hasn't been a FAABulous selection yet. Can't believe it. Well, I can because he used to be an average at home, terrible on the road QB. Well, now he's the 37th ranked player in Yahoo! FF and his last two road games at Miami and at Chicago he's put up 20.76 and 26.82 points respectively. Better yet, he gets the Cardinals in Seattle this week. If you're looking for a QB, he's an easy add.

Vick Ballard, RB - IND (37%) TEN

The less than news worthy battle for running back supremacy, Ballard appears to be preferred over Donald Brown. It's always hit or miss whether Ballard will score, but you have to like being able to tie yourself to the Andrew Luck wagon. Two of the last three games are against Houston, but by Week 14, the Texans could be in cruise control.


Tony Scheffler, TE - DET (1%) @GB

FAABulous favorite Ryan Broyles broke his leg and is out for the year. Shame, especially after his Wes Welker comps started flying around. Former FAABulous un-favorite Titus Young is ruining his life somewhere, and it'll be hard to expect much out of new acquisition Mike Thomas. In spite of Brandon Pettigrew being ahead of Scheffler in the pecking order, his sure hands have made him a viable target for Matthew Stafford.


PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED

Greg McElroy, QB - NYJ (0%) @JAX

Come on, cuz. Good to see Mark Sanchez finally get benched during what was the worst game of the year, but the guy is on the hook for $8.5M next year. He's getting the gig back over the 'Bama alum.

THE 1%

James Casey, RB - HOU (1%) @NE

Looking ahead to Texans in chill mode, Casey is a player that always seems to be able to get a touchdown when he plays. He has 3 TDs this year in extremely limited play, and while he is more valuable as a TE than a RB, he could come into play during the playoff weeks if you need a phantom TD.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Slobblog: Alma de Average

The Slobs couldn't breakdown the humor defense of our waitress.

Rarely at Slobfest are the Slobs outshined by anyone. In fact, it's probably happened only once at Varalli. Probably not by much of a coincidence, this time at Stephen Starr's Alma de Cuba, the server once again made herself the center of attention. The difference is that while beloved Alicia at Varalli was engaged and basically an honorary member of Slobfest that night, this waitress was a point of confusion.

Only a few of us Slobs would consider ourselves funny in the general sense. Our humor is much more derived from a negative place. So when we do attempt to foll around with our servers it can go well or it can go poorly. At Alma de Cuba, however, it went over...indifferent.

It wasn't supposed to be quite as befuddling a night as it turned out to be. We all gathered at the downstairs bar. The ground floor of AdC is dimly lit with a nice corner bar set up. Further recessed is a more intimate area that appeared to be more of an alternative drinking venue than romantic dining spot. In standard Starr fashion, the place looked nice and invited you to have some cocktails. Along with that an order of the smoked hazelnut guacamole went a long way as we caught up and waited for one Slob to be dropped off by his girlfriend. Seriously, but it was due to a missed train and I'm pretty sure he didn't thank her and pie faced her on his way out of the car. So he gets a slow clap for that.

After having some beers, some sangria, a Dark & Stormy, and a Puesta del Sol, we were all squared and ready to meet our maker.

For the life of me I can't remember the waitress' name, nor can anyone else, so since the menu posts their names, I'm just going to go with...Katelyn. She looked like a Katelyn. Well, she looked like a cross between Rebecca Lobo and Diana Turasi minus a couple of inches.

From the get go our reception from Katelyn was ice cold. She immediately asked us for drinks, and we barely got our orders in before she wandered off to get the beverages. At this point it's fair to say that for the first time, it felt as though Starr was limited by the theme of his restaurant. The Cuban element of his menu left much to be desired regarding drinks. Most of the cocktails were sugary and very sweet; including many versions of a mojito or punch. Those drinks that did look a little more strong were advised as after dinner drinks or digestifs.

After a couple fair to average reviews of the cocktails, we all turned to beer or wine for dinner.

Upon Katelyn's return, we discussed appetizer options. We Slobs were still very much in the game planning stage of dinner. Looking at what some options worked and what didn't. When we asked Katelyn for options, she quickly made several suggestions, to which a Slob let her in about our little Slobfest dinner - as to make sure we had enough food. She certainly took that suggestion and ran with it, "recommending" a ceviche tasting and a couple orders of their Alma sampler, which is basically nothing more than a Marlin taco and some dates (Yum! Dates!)

At this point, some were okay to go along with Katelyn's "recommendations," but right as she was all but placing our orders without asking our preference, we had to shoot some holes in the tires of her $800 appetizer getaway car. After she left in a huff, we decided the best course was to just order up our own options and share if need be. Along with two more orders of the guacamole (it's pretty hard to f-up guacamole).

Several at the table noted there's no way they were missing out on the Berkshire pork belly skewers, while a nibble of Marlin tacos, and some ceviche were in order. There were a couple of misfires with the Chorizo sliders being so-so, and the grilled pulpo leaving much to be desired.

Marlin tacos, bread, and ceviche.
Big winners for the appetizers were certainly the pork belly and the Marlin tacos. The Marlin tacos were presented the best, and looked like a Slobfest appetizer should. We were excited for these dishes and they succeeded in starting the meal off right.

There was a trade for some pork belly skewers for a Chorizo slider, which may not be as bad as Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller deal, but it was close.

As for the pulpo, I mean the places we have been to in the past (Amada and Tinto) certainly made a point of their pulpo, and it could be assumed Alma de Cuba felt the same way about the cephalopod, but nay. The plating of the dish made it seem sparse, and it was.

Katelyn returned, and while we ordered another round of drinks, she kept trying to upsell us on all these different items. Oh, want to add this to your dish, or we have a reserve version of that. It became rather annoying as she attempted to pad her bill by just casually throwing out these other items that none of us wanted. We're experienced eaters here, Katelyn. Tell us what you have, and we'll decide. It was not appreciated that she was upping our dining steaks stakes.

I even overheard her doing it to other tables.

As she was taking orders, we tried to win her over with our personality. We tried being funny, charming, witty, self-deprecating and interesting, but we continued to get rejected as if we were taking a weak lay-up to the hole against her. As a group, we've never not been indulged in our childish antics before by our servers, you know, because they work on tips and are supposed to put up with us!

Desperate for something else to occupy our attention, we realized that next to us sat a mid-20ish Asian couple. They were clearly on some kind of date, but the motivation of each person was unclear. Soon enough, it became apparent that the guy was trying to win this girl over. Needless to say he was unsuccessful. She was not interested in him as anything more than a friend, as evidenced by her cheers of, "To a life long friendship," along with eavesdropping on our conversation and eyeing up a couple Slobs while her date was away at the bathroom.

We felt bad for the guy, but at the same time, he was acting pretty desperate. She could sense it because we all could. Just bail while you can, guy, and definitely split the bill.

Clomping back our way was Katelyn with our entrees. There was some steak, some tuna, and a lot of shrimp and grits. Again for a standard Starr restaurant, there is usually a lot of options, but for AdC, nothing jumped off the menu for any of us. One Slob did ask about the chicken ($22.50), to which she replied with a snarky, "chicken is chicken." So the Slob opted for the shrimp and grits ($26.00). You win again, Katelyn.

In fact, it was the tuna that kind of looked like tuna and the steak that kind of looked like steak. I'm pretty sure that if you paid $28.00 for steak and beans in Cuba, that would cover about a year supply.

At that point, after another round of attempting to banter with Katelyn, one Slob finally just said, "Do you find us remotely amusing?" Katelyn, to her credit admitted to not really paying attention to anything we were saying. We respected the honesty, but again, as a server working on tips and placing food/drink orders, I kind of feel "paying attention" is integral. Anyway, that at least solved a lot of questions for us.

Pork belly skewers.
The food though, was very filling and enjoyable. Many Slobs slowed significantly while working their way through the hearty food. Of course, this didn't stop one Slob from being ripped for ordering a glass of Riesling to go with his meal. There will be no pairing of wine with food at Slobfest.

The Riesling did serve as a spring board into a more sensitive subject matter. Wives and girlfriends and even a step further, babies and engagements! Oh yes, times are continuing to change for the Slobs. While we discussed the intricacies of marriage, timing for engagements, and dragging people down with you; we got into a bit of a detailed discussion on wedding rings. This, was not one of Slobfests finer moments.

There were debates on amount of money spent, carat size, and the like. Of course, when all this commotion was going on, who should decide to intervene but Katelyn! The one discussion that no matter how cold hearted a woman is cannot withstand the lure of wedding talk. When we allowed her to enter our conversation, she was adamant about ring costs being too expensive and not seeing the point. I guess this would be a good time to note that she did have a ring on her wedding finger. It was gold and had a small green emerald in it, so we started to understand 1. her hatred of us and 2. why she thought it's laughable to spend money on a ring. This ring, best case scenario, is a rare jewel that has been in her fiancee's family for generations. Priceless in value both monetarily and sentimentally. Worst case, is that her fiancee found this thing in his dead grandmom's jewelry box and said it was all of those things. Katelyn even suggested getting a CZ and pawning that off. Oh, silly Katelyn. I'm marginally sure you've never dated a woman before. That shit does not fly.

As we slowly crept to an end of the entrees, we were all full but not exactly satisfied. Making street food into something fancier is nothing new in the restaurant biz, but where this restaurant failed to hit its mark was not doing enough to make that food stand out as a unique creation. The lack of diversity and creativity brought out all the standard complaints about Starr restaurants; that it's all about the atmosphere and the drinks. Food is secondary. This is, of course, more true for some places than others, but Alma de Cuba certainly seemed to be the flag bearer for this notion.

Even though we were full of starches and seafood, we of course fought through to dessert. Some coffees and cappuccinos had to be had. The dessert menu was enticing (minus the flan), but the desserts too appeared to be put together incorrectly with heavy and rich desserts that made it tough to polish of a meal with. The show stopper dessert was AdC's chocolate cigar. An almond cake shaped like a Cohiba complete with inedible Alma de Cuba cigar gauge and edible match book that lit on fire. It was pretty cool, and very convincing as one Slob saw a picture and totally though there were actual cigars there.

Smoke em if you got em.

The let down of course is that, after a rib sticking meal like that, a cigar would be a great topper. Alas, you had to settle with some version of rich chocolate to stuff into your full belly.

As we settled the bill, the final part of our AdC trip was complete. Why had Katelyn been such lacking any attempt to feign interest in our act? We looked and saw that gratuity for 6 was already included. 20%. Like most places that do this (for 6 people, really?) the service did not live up to the %.

Alma de Cuba was largely disappointing, if only due to the fact that a lot of us had high expectations based on our previous experiences at Starr places. The lack of options on the menu stifled the experience, but the food wasn't poor. We left full of booze and food, and that's never a bad thing. Maybe Ozzie Guillen wasn't all that wrong.

-Slobs Out.

Alma de Cuba
1623 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA
215.988.1799

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

FAABulous: Fantasy Football Pick-ups Week 13


"Hey, you're not Ronnie Hillman!" said Peyton Manning and fantasy owners. (Cannon City Daily Record)

FAABulous will recap the week of football activity and point fantasy owners where to spend their hard earned (not really) FAAB or waiver priority. Players will be owned in at most 50% of Yahoo! FFL. This is the one time where mo' money probably wouldn't mean mo' problems.


Talking about fantasy sports is fun. Playing fantasy sports is fun. When it comes to predicting fantasy sports, that can be not so fun.

What is funny is that as soon as the business side of things comes into play regarding fantasy sports, things take a turn to the ugly. Sure in leagues among friends there's trash talk and the occasional blow up. Public leagues allow the mask of anonymity to allow some to be total jerk-offs, but in general there's just a sense of competition. As soon as someone pronounces themselves an expert or works for a big company like ESPN, then the attitude towards these 'experts' in fantasy change.

Their predictions and rankings become something sacred. Line-ups are set, add/drops are made, and of course FAAB money is spent largely based on these fairy tale prognosticators doing their job and getting that insider info out to the public.

No one tunes into a podcast or reads a fantasy football article to hear about how awesome Tom Brady is, or that A.J. Green is a pretty good wideout. No, these are all obvious and not very astute observations. What draws people in is the mystery. Who is the next big sleeper? Is this back-up running back going to take over the starting job? What do you think this 7th round rookie will do in Week 13?

Those more in-depth opinions are what fantasy experts are out there for, and as a result being an expert and being responsible for making these more difficult calls gets you grilled by the fans 95% of the time. 

"You told me to start Kenny Britt over Brandon LaFell!? Thanks for nothing, moron!" 

That's basically how I see things going. People that do go off on fantasy experts are clearly disappointed in their inability to make their own decision as well as putting a little too much emphasis on an industry where they are anointed experts.

Of course, in a world where everything is listed out or ranked, there would be a site that ranks these rankers. The overall mark equals out to about a D- in school grading terms, so across all experts the hit rate isn't all that definitive. 

I guess now would be a good time to state the obvious. I'm not an expert. I don't claim to be. Could I see myself being one? Yes, but at this point, I'm just a guy that loves sports and writes down some thoughts. My opinion is based on my own skills and probably on par with the next 20-something year old guy bellying up to a bar that serves some great microbrews

With that out of the way, to me, what makes an expert an expert is having a lot of good insights, and getting paid for those insights so he can focus his livelihood around researching, reading, watching games and doing all the things amateur fantasy fans or people that have to work for a living cannot do.

As a result they should be able to dig deeper; to search a little harder and look for the nuances of teams, games and match-ups which is why fans tune in to hear what the experts have to say.

One fact that many people appear to ignore is that the experts on their computer monitor or TV screen aren't necessarily the best at what they do. They're fantasy experts with personality. You need that presence to write interesting and fun columns or carry an hour long fantasy show on Sunday mornings. Unless there's a guy out there who can predict in the low 80% range, then no one is going to sit there and sift through pages of data and info for a guy who hits on 62.1% of his rankings as opposed to 61.1%. 

While fantasy players may not admit it in this new sabermetric world we live in, we still want to be entertained. Sure, it doesn't have to be lame jokes or puns, but interesting writing or an on-air personality is what players value just as much as who is right and who is wrong. If I'm lying then John Paulsen would have almost half a million Twitter followers. This isn't praising guys like Paulsen or shunning guys like Berry, this is just a note that fantasy experts come in different shapes and sizes. They bring different things to the table. But for this game, entertainment is paramount. 

In this game of, let's face it, failing grade fantasy analysis - it's impossible to be right a large percentage of the time. Fantasy experts go off of the same thing that guys like Mike Florio go off of. Information. So when being a fantasy experts basically invites you to accept failure and criticism all the time, I found it particularly rough this past week when an obvious add for Week 12 Ronnie Hillman was set to take over for the injured Willis McGahee and quite frankly looked primed to be a big impact player. Everyone was reporting this, but then hours before the game we were all out foxed. Out John Foxed. The Broncos head coach started the 2009 12th overall pick Knowshon Moreno. Moreno was a former high pick, yes, but injuries combined with a fumbling problem left him inactive for most of the season. So to suddenly see him in the game and starting nonetheless sent shockwaves through fantasy football.

Perhaps a great fantasy expert would have see the writing on the wall, but doing so would only be out of a gut call. There was nothing to suspect Moreno would start or be effective - well, except for Peyton Manning being involved. Sure enough, there were plenty of people freaking out and complaining about their fantasy team being ruined as a result of adding Hillman over Moreno. Again, I'm not expert, but I didn't even pick the right guy and I had two guesses.

Moreno's injury bug doesn't make Hillman an automatic drop, but it does suck for fantasy players and experts alike. Let's not feel bad for Scott Pianowski, Ray Flowers, Ladd Biro, and their ilk because they have awesome gigs, but let's not pretend that they are holding the answers to everything. Like most oracles in this realm, they are here to guide you, not tell you what path to take. 

So let's get nudged in the direction of some free agent pick-ups.


Bottoms up. (NY Daily News)

Knowshon Moreno, RB - DEN (21% owned) TB

Damn you fantasy experts! Damn you! Regardless if Hillman eventually steps in, Moreno has the gig now. He's a bigger back that might be preferred for his pass catching and pass blocking capabilities. After all, it's Peyton that makes this team run on offense.

Daniel Thomas, RB - MIA (26%) NE

Fantasy experts, why didn't you predict the Matt Forte injury and tell me to trade for Michael Bush! Well, Bush is owned in 57% of Yahoo! FFL so he doesn't qualify for this column. Of course though, if you can get him, do it. Bush has been underrated since he broke his leg near the end of his college career in Louisville. He's capable of monster games and sure handed at the goal line.

Daniel Thomas is available though. While he hasn't shoved the other Bush out of his way in Miami, Thomas is starting to come around in Joe Philbin's system. He's got some tough run defenses coming up, but weeks 15 and 16 he faces Jacksonville and Buffalo...who are not.


David Wilson, RB - NYG (15%) @WAS

Hey, remember David? That was all the way back in Week 1, but now Wilson has the opportunity to make his rookie not about if he cried or not after a fumble. Previous Lockration FAABulous pick Andre Brown unfortunately broke his fibula which opens up carries for Wilson behind Ahmad Bradshaw, and allows us all non-Bradshaw owners to player our favorite game of "There's no way Bradshaw can make it through the rest of the year, he has X injuries. Wait, how does he have 19.70 fantasy points? He's not stopping is he? Are we sure he's hurt?" I gotta think of a better title for that one.

Mark Sanchez, QB - NYJ (10%) ARI

Just kidding about Mark. Arizona is 28th in the league for most fantasy points allowed to QB's, but unless you're Fireman Ed, you can't believe in this guy. Although a nice QB to look at for a bench spot is Jake Locker. Since his return from a shoulder injury, the former Huskie has put up 14 and 16 points respectively. Even going against a not quite as good as you remember from the start of the year Texans D, his remaining schedule breaks favorably.

PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED

Cole Beasley, WR - DAL (0%) PHI

This is a half-hearted one, not because I don't think he's necessarily ownable, but the 5'8 Beasley was quite the Thanksgiving treat. As my family and I watched football, we loved seeing this guy fly all over the field for 7 rec 13 tar and 68 yards. With Miles Austin hurting, there's an opportunity for him, but I think the ball will be going other places, especially with DeMarco Murray due back...soon?

THE 1%

Joe Webb, QB - MIN (0%) @GB

You know he's coming. Christian Ponder is struggling and with Minnesota fading they need the sometimes WR-eligible QB to take the field. If the Vikings' fans aren't already in a Colin Kaepernick fueled rage, then I don't know football fans.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FAABulous: Fantasy Football Pick-ups Week 12

Dallas Clark's OT TD capped probably the greatest gambling moment of my life. (Getty)


FAABulous will recap the week of football activity and point fantasy owners where to spend their hard earned (not really) FAAB or waiver priority. Players will be owned in at most 50% of Yahoo! FFL. This is the one time where mo' money probably wouldn't mean mo' problems.

No one likes to hear about gambling wins. Gambling losses are usually much more pleasurable in a schadenfreude kind of way than how someone hit on their 4 team parlay, but I feel I must jot this particular gambling win down in the annals of history so that I can reflect on this when I'm old and gray. What occurred on Sunday might just be the apex of my gambling life.

Anyone that gambles on sports knows the feeling of sitting on your couch staring at all of the games going on and realizing your 3 team parlay is dead and buried. You have about 20 minutes to mull over whether to double down and try to make your money back in the afternoon games, or just cut your losses.

I was pondering this on Sunday probably the same time my younger brother was placing bets for the afternoon games.

We've both gambled on football for a bit. I'm less intense about it than he is. I'll use www.sportsbook.ag, while he has a bookie. I'll usually bet less money than he does, but we do enjoy it and as disturbing as it sounds, it's a good way to stay in touch. We will text or call Sunday morning to discuss games we like and games we don't. Get another perspective on things and see if we come to an agreement on teasers or parlays that could work out for us.

Most of the time we go our own way, but on Sunday we came to an agreement on a 3 team parlay.

Our bet was as follows:

Eagles/Redskins under 45 points
Packers (-3)
Bucs (+1.5); although I think my brother got them as a pick-em

There's nothing Earth shattering about those picks, but how they came to win is what makes this bet perhaps the gambling apex of our lives.

**I'm sure there are real gamblers out there who spend thousands of dollars a week on bets, have won more money than I'll ever see and so on and so forth, but this is for me and my casual betting self. 
The bad news is, that it's never a good thing to realize the moment you hit your apex in anything. By defnition it's all down hill from here. The good news is, with gambling, you can never be exactly sure. The best gambling moment of your life will always be in hindsight, less you win Powerball and collect a couple hundred million dollars. I can sit here right now, and say, yes, that's probably my gambling apex, but I have no idea. There could be a 5 team teaser in my future or...even who knows what kind of gambling options will even be available 10 years from now? This may be a drop in the bucket...at least that's what I have to tell myself to continue gambling and having fun doing it.

That does not apply for your sexual apex. If you're just a regular guy, then I'm pretty sure most of us know exactly when our sexual apex hit. A moment where, yes, it may not get better than this. Like, if you somehow find yourself in bed with Mila Kunis, it's probably time to jump off a high building (John Mayer need not take note of this).

For some the sexual apex is more obscure, or in reality not much of an apex, but a high note. A blip on the fooling around radar. For others it's a thunderous body slam that rocks your world forever. A friend told me that he knows a guy that knows a guy that took a certain famous actresses virginity while they were in high school. They went to prom together and there's photographic evidence of that. Whether they went all the way, well, I'm not cracking open an investigation. But if you're that guy and you got it on with this B-list actress, then where do you go from there? It's not like you're going to meet Kate Upton at the supermarket. For the rest of your life, that will be - without a doubt - your sexual calling card.

Dates may not seem as sweet, the allure of a woman might be limited to the fact that she hasn't starred in movies and TV shows, or let's face it, you may just not nab a better looking chick for the rest of your life.

So the good news is: I've never had sex with an any letter actress and I can still pretend my gambling apex hasn't happened. Go gambling!

Like most things this season, unfortunately, the outcome of the Eagles game was never in doubt. The Skins were on cruise control, and this Eagles offense has put up more than 20 points only 3 times all year. Final score WAS 31 Eagles 6.

However, the other two games looked like lost causes. The Packers had been struggling most of the day against Detroit, and the Bucs were down 10 against the Panthers with 6:00 minutes left.

When Doug Martin fumbled at the goal line with at the end of the 3rd quarter leading to a Panthers TD drive, I'd say things were just about sunk.

On the subsequent Bucs drive, they made a 40 yard field goal courtesy of Connor Barth, making it 21-13 with 4:03 remaining in the game.

My brother and I were both thinking that Cam Newton owed us a pick 6, as he hadn't thrown an INT all game, but that was not in the cards. We did get something positive, which was a punt after the Panthers had run off 3:01 of game time. The legendary Josh Freeman had the ball with 1:02 remaining in the 4th quarter, down 8.

Meanwhile, in Green Bay, the Packers had taken the lead from the Lions. An Aaron Rodgers led 82 yard drive ended in a Randall Cobb floating TD pass (his 7th TD catch of the year, by the way). The next Lions possession was lost on downs and netted -5 yards. The Pack were up with 1:19 left in the 4th quarters.

Back in Tampa, Josh Freeman had no timeouts and needed a TD. What happened next was a 7 play 80 yard TD drive that lasted all of 50 seconds. Freeman's TD pass to Vincent Jackson was a laser between three Carolina defenders.

While Freeman was doing his thing, the Packers had run out the clock the best they could. With 19 seconds left they kicked a field goal to go up 24-20. In real life, this served to force the Lions to have to score a TD, but it was pretty insignificant. How insignificant? I couldn't even find a picture of the field goal kick on ESPN's game wrap. In gambling life, the Packers had covered, and Mason Crosby owed everyone that bet on the Packers as he had missed his previous 2 field goal opportunities that day.

So now, in the span of 4 minutes of NFL game time, our bet had gone from dead to very much alive. The Eagles/Skins and the Packers were in the books. The Bucs had just made an improbably drive, but still needed the two point conversion to force overtime. Freeman dropped back and found his best friend (and now, probably mine) Jackson on a slant for the conversion. We were going to overtime.

The Bucs got the ball first, which under the new rules, doesn't mean a whole lot, unless you score a TD. They were again on their own 20 with 80 yards of grass to go. Huh, some deja vu for Josh.

He had his timeouts now and could utilize Martin as a result. The Panthers were reeling and after some big Martin runs, Freeman was able to ice the cake with a 15 yard pass to Dallas Clark. Touchdown! Bucs win! Our parlay wins!

From losing hope for a day to having a complete turnaround in about 8 minutes of NFL game time with all of those games going on simultaneously was crazy, crazy, crazy. My life gambling bar is set pretty high. I'll probably never put $10,000 on black or be in a high stakes baccarat game like James Bond, so I guess the goal now is to somehow top this one.

I have a feeling I'll fall short a good amount of times.

Onto some adds for Week 12. As playoffs near, injuries have been a big part of the narrative last week as well as this one. However, this week, some bigger fantasy impact players took a tumble. As I've mentioned most times this season, just because a back-up gets the starting job, it's not a reason to jump all over him. There are always good back-up and just back-ups.

I'm a very important person! (philly.com)

Bryce Brown, RB - PHI (5% owned) CAR

Bryce Brown is a rookie running back for Philadelphia. Something else you may know about him is that he was taken in the 7th round. You might even know he ran a 4.37 40 at the combine. Here's something you may not know, coming out of college, he was ranked higher than Trent Richardson and Matt Barkley which makes sense because he was the top recruit in all of high school football his Senior year. So yeah, he was a big deal back in the day. To say he has the pedigree would be an overstatement. He transferred to Kansas St. after a year at Tennessee, then had a multitude of issues that completely derailed his once promising career. With LeSean McCoy getting a concussion late Sunday, there's no reason the Eagles should bring him back Monday against Carolina, and they should probably sit McCoy longer than that.

Brown has yet to prove himself above the high school level and will be running behind a horrible offensive line, but against a weak defense. Monday Night seems like an interesting time for Brown to shine and let people know who he is.

Lance Ball, RB - DEN (2%) @KC

Another injury knocked Willis McGahee out for most likely the rest of the season with an MCL tear. The play here is Ronnie Hillman, but I profiled him back in Week 4 as an add, so for the sake of repeating myself, Lance Ball is the other option in Denver. With Denver's offense the way it is and Philadelphia likely plugging McCoy back as soon as he's healthy, Hillman is the big free agent this week.

Justin Blackmon, WR - JAX (27%) TEN

Blackmon was late arriving to the 2012 rookie bonanza, but he kicked in the door and made sure people took notice. It's interesting what will happen when a wide receiver has a quarterback that actually throws the football and takes chances. Some of Blackmon's biggest plays, including an overturned TD catch due to a holding penalty were jump balls that Chad Henne threw up there for him. Blackmon was a high pick for a reason. He has the physicality that can set him apart from a big possession receiver.

With his titanic 236 yds 1 TD performance, the stock will be high for Blackmon, but that game against the Texans was just screwy. With Henne keeping the job I like Blackmon a bit more moving forward, but I won't expect any repeat performances.

Julian Edelman, WR - NE (4%) @NYJ

The biggest injury of the weekend was Rob Gronkowski breaking his forearm. The TD machine was injured on the 59th point of the game. An extra point. Grand.

There will obviously be a redistribution of looks in New England, but with Aaron Hernandez finally due back from his high ankle sprain, the Pats may not lose much of a step. One player that has come on recently has been Edelman. he had a big week last week and unless the Pats have a lot of confidence in Visanthe Schancoe, any leftovers could be Edelman's for the taking.


PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED

Jalon Parmalee, RB - JAX (6%) TEN

We've been here with Rashad Jennings and we're still here looking to replace Maurice Jones-Drew. Parmalee isn't the answer just like Jennings wasn't. Only if you're desperate should you add Parmalee.


THE 1%

Shane Vereen, RB - NE (6%) @NYJ

A better RB option would be Vereen. The offensive benefits are clear, and Bill Belichick has shown that although Stevan Ridley is the starter, there's still room for Vereen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Looking for a Fight: UFC 154 Part II

There's been an air of happiness and calmness to GSP leading up to Saturday night. (Getty)
If you missed it, Part I of this two part Looking for a Fight looked at the return of GSP. Part II will look ahead to the action Saturday night.

During the open workouts to the media Georges St-Pierre sat in the ring, legs crossed, and a smile on his face.

During the press conference, in a stylish suit, GSP fielded answers wearing that same smile and even when continually deflecting questions about the seemingly set in stone super-fight against Anderson Silva should GSP win, he smoothly side steps the question like a slow overhand right.

This is what you'd expect out of 6-time defending welterweight champion. Maybe not what you'd expect out of a 6-time defending welterweight champion coming off of major knee surgery and not competing inside the Octagon for 19 months.

But as surprising as it was finding out GSP had "lost the fire" that drove him to be champion, the picture become clear that something has changed in the champ while he was rehabbing.

Looking to test out the rewards of his rehab on Saturday night is interim champion Carlos Condit. For a guy with a belt around his waist and a 14-1 record over the same time GSP was carving out his 170 lb legacy, you'd think he'd be able to nab some headlines himself, but Condit won't go out of his way to be a part of a tale he can frankly, only ruin.

When Condit's not fighting, this is basically what is going on in his head. (facebook.com)
A win for Condit Saturday night would destroy Silva v. GSP, would crush the Canadian audience in attendance at Bell Centre as well as the larger GSP fan base watching live on PPV, and depending on how he won could cast a significant doubt in GSP as to whether he may even want to continue fighting.

The last potential outcome of a Condit win may be a little far fetched, but it's unfair to cast all these negative aspersions on the interim champ for a couple of reasons. First, Condit is a great fighters and person. To say there's hardly been any trash talk leading up to this fight is an overstatement. There's been none I've heard except each fighter say they expect to win and expect to finish the fight and make it exciting. That's headlining a fight talk 101. There's no doubt Condit would be a great ambassador for the UFC as champion. He might lack some of the marketing flair GSP has, but the guy works hard, comes from a great family, and puts on exciting fights. The more fans get to see Condit as an individual fighter and not the guy trying to beat GSP, the more they'll come around.

Second, losing to Condit wouldn't be all that surprising even if GSP was healthy. If you look at GSP's last several fights, there hasn't been a fighter with championship pedigree that is excellent in every facet of mixed martial arts. Sure there's BJ Penn, but 170 lb BJ is different from 155 BJ. I'd say the last true test he had with a fighter as all-around dangerous as Condit was Matt Hughes in 2007. Sure each fighter brought a different challenge that posed a threat to GSP, but Condit is able to bring a lot of different things to the table making it more difficult for GSP to adjust and attack a weakness. Of course on top of that, he's also dealing with his knee and ring rust and those pesky butterflies. I'm not buying GSP as a 3-to-1 favorite like Vegas does just because that line undermines the level of fighter Condit is.

Condit has been in championship fights before and hasn't fizzled in them. There seems very little that can shake either of these guys, less it's each others fists or shin bones.

Which brings us back to the ebullient GSP. He's just been walking around with a vibe about him that makes you feel like he hasn't left, and that there's nothing wrong or different at all. From my memories of GSP pre-Jake Shields/Josh Koscheck/Dan Hardy there was a focus that bordered on nervousness to put on a big show and finish the fight. Continue that downward spiral he says he was on of just beating an opponent and moving on to the next one. This time, removed of those pressures as people are more focused on his knee and more importantly, happy having him back and fighting; GSP doesn't need to overthink things and feel burdened with anything other than the fight. I think that's something he hasn't felt in a while and it shows.

BREAKDOWN

Speaking of butterflies, I haven't had any for a UFC main event in quite some time. I like both fighters a whole lot, and it's hard not to let my superior fandom of GSP and my curiosity in seeing if Silva v. GSP would actually happen cloud my judgment for thinking about Saturday night.

In a UFC fight, things can go either way in the blink of an eye, but when I try to be objective, I see more paths to victory for GSP than Condit.

While both fighters come out and execute a game plan as well as any fighter in the UFC stable, I've seen GSP do it time and time again. His physical tools along with an almost systematic breaking down of his opponents has been successful time and time again to the point where GSP has had his way with many opponents.

Condit executed a great game plan against Nick Diaz that was smart and safe, but it's when he is a more aggressive fighter that he is at his best. Condit has a strategy, but his ability to throw a diverse striking set against his opponents is what can give him an advantage against GSP, who will most likely be starting slowly - as he usually does and to get comfortable back in the Octagon.

So if Condit goes aggressive, which most people say he will, how does he attack his opponents? He will throw kicks and combos to close space and get in striking distance. The problem with that against GSP is due to GSP's karate background he is much more comfortable further away from his opponents (a la Lyoto Machida) than a fighter with either a more traditional Muay thai or boxing striking background. This means Condit will most likely have to find a way in other than kicks because at that distance GSP can easily see them coming and take Condit to the mat.

If Condit comes in with punches, then GSP can keep him at bay with his jab and movement. The observation at that point is how will GSP counter strike Condit to enforce his game plan? No one could possibly know what that plan is other than it won't be a kick boxing match. He judo toss Condit until he taps or throw up spinning pile drivers like it's Streets of Fury or something. I'm a believer that this fire GSP has found will equate to a more dangerous fighter.

I'm not overly concerned about subs by either fighter. Both have adequate BJJ skills, but more importantly their ability to avoid submissions is world class. When GSP takes Condit down, Condit is dangerous off his back, but GSP is too good to be caught in something; less he gasses late in the fight.

I expect both fighters to come out, not slow, but with a strategy they look to implement. Condit will have a more aggressive strategy, but I expect GSP to be ready and ride that through the first round; settling down both fighters for round 2.

This will be my favorite for fight of the night as I expect a see saw affair in the toughest fight for either opponent. If the fight ends early it'll be a Condit win as I'm not sure GSP can finish Condit. So with that said, I'm saying split decision victory for GSP. Welcome back.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Looking for a Fight: UFC 154 Part I

It's no coincidence that GSP's return is also the return of the big main event. (ufc.com)

It's been 19 months since Georges St-Pierre stepped into the Octagon. A small span of time in the grand scheme of the UFC, but leading up to UFC 154 Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, it's a wonder that the UFC survived without him.

As per usual, the UFC landscape has changed over the past year and a half, but it's clear that the impact of it's biggest star (sorry, Jon Jones, fans hate you a bit too much to wrestle that title from GSP) and biggest draw can still sculpt valleys and mountains like a great glacier, cutting to the heart of what makes the UFC so great and what fans pine for during every pay per view. The best of the best putting on a show. Fighters that masterfully blend all aspects of martial arts into a dominant and awe inspiring performance.

In what has been mostly an injury riddled and disappointing year for the UFC, GSP is shining a very bright light as 2012 comes to a close. So far he's been able to provide an intriguing comeback story (complete with "I've go my fire back" quotes!), set up a great fight between himself and interim champion Carlos Condit that can and is single-handily carrying a pay per view that will easily surpass 600K buys, starred in one of the most entertaining UFC Primetimes in a long time, led to rumors of an Anderson Silva v. GSP mega-fight at Cowboys Stadium and everything that goes along with that (mainly will Anderson enter the ring should GSP win on Saturday to what beach will Anderson be sipping mai thais on during his "vacation"...even though we all know his posturing is just free publicity for his movie with Steven Seagal).

So for Part I of this two part Looking for a Fight, let's focus on GSP, because basically there isn't a person in the fight world right now that can't do anything but that. Sorry, Carlos, I'll get to you soon.

The surprising story line that emerged from GSP's rehab process isn't that his rehab was tough, that he faced some self-doubt; as these are all things that I'm sure most top level athletes will go through, but rather that GSP frankly has stated that in his last couple of title defenses he was a much more dour GSP. He became engulfed by the business side of fighting, viewing each match-up as a chore rather than a chance to compete. This makes everything about being a fighter more arduous. Training, strict dieting, sparring, the aches, the pains, and knowing that every morning you wake up, you'll be going to sleep maybe a little better but a lot more frustrated.

I found an interesting take on this part of the process (training and the day to day grind as opposed to the actual fight itself) in Grantland's piece yesterday about Rembert Browne's trip to NFL HQ to visit the set of NFL Red Zone. The always seeming caffeinated host of Red Zone Scott Hanson (he doesn't drink coffee!) mentioned this:
Deion and Sapp and all those guys will tell you, when they played, you didn't need to pay them for Sunday. You pay them to come to practice every day and do film work and all that other stuff that was kind of drudgery. Game day they would do for free. This is the fun stuff.
That's it right there.

When athletes or a person with a seemingly glamorous position say they'd do this for free, they probably would. The this being playing on Sunday, acting in a movie, or whatever. The payment part comes from the droll of training and mentally preparing and sitting in a trailer memorizing lines. That mundane stuff is where payment is owed. Getting to go out there and perform your craft, to put it on display, that's the payoff for all that work.

GSP had lost even that. There was no payoff for him. It was just knock one down and move onto the next one. And knowing what we know about GSP, it wouldn't be a big leap to suggest that being one of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet, being the undisputed welterweight champ, to take on each day with those kinds of expectations and pressures, sure that along with the business side of things could squelch any man's flame.

The knee injury is what freed GSP of these burdens. It broke him from his routine of train, press conference, fight, win, train, press conference, fight, win - and gave him that always powerful "perspective on things."

Due to that injury, he had to deal with the possibility that he'd never be the same guy again. That he'd lose even a portion of that athleticism that made him such an elite fighter against all types of opponents. His agility and explosiveness allowed him to implement his game plan with expert precision in order to become a truly dominant mixed martial artist.

Also, as he witnessed from afar, the UFC trucks along. An interim title was set up between Condit and Nick Diaz. Coincidentally, it was Diaz who essentially took the title shot back from Condit after Diaz trash talked his way to GSP and certainly made Georges show some fire.

Training for that fight is when he tore his ACL, and sent him down a different path with new challenges.

For the first time since he entered the Octagon in 2002, there was no clear path for him. He was either focused on winning fights, getting to the title and defending the title. Now, he was in some kind of champion limbo. Not quite fighting for the championship, but not quite fighting to win it back. He had to prove to himself that he wanted to get back in the cage. He had to prove to himself that he still has the drive and fire to be not one of the greats, but the greatest fighter at 170.

When GSP comes out of the tunnel with his customary karate gi on Saturday night, he would have proven to himself he found those things in his year and a half journey back to the UFC. Internally he knows. That fire is burning bright and his butterflies are flying in formation. Now, he'll be out to prove to everyone else that the best GSP possible is back, and he'll do it in one of the toughest fights of his career.

Tomorrow in Part II, the fight breakdown...