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The Conference Championships Trash Talk

Sadly, this is our penultimate weekend of football here at the Wheelhouse. Down to two games, San Francisco versus Seattle and New England versus Denver. And, really, it is fitting, as these were probably the two best teams in their respective conferences when the season started, were throughout, and are now. So, we are where we are supposed to be.

Patriots at Broncos: While the NFC Championship features two new school mobile kids on the block, the AFC features two of the classic, and classiest, traditional pocket passers in NFL history. Any discussion of best ever quarterbacks has Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in it, irrespective of who you put at the top of the list. Personally, I have Joe Montana still at the top and think some older players, to wit Otto Graham and Bart Starr, are given far too short a shrift. But Brady and Manning have earned their spot in the discussion, and this is a real treat to be able to see them face off, yet again, in such an important playoff game.

The Patriots seem to have stabilized on defense, the Broncos seem to still be reeling from the loss of Von Miller. On paper, Denver has a significantly better defense, both against the pass and the rush. But paper doesn’t count for this game, and I think it is a draw on the D side of the ball. On the offensive side, both teams have been known to rely on their quarterbacks too much. But both have recently found, and relied on, their running game. LeGarrette Blount was a monster for the Pats last week, and Knowshon Moreno ate the Pats up earlier this year. You already know about the QB’s; they are a wash. There is one area where there is a difference though. Receivers. Bill Bel and Brady have been geniuses with what they have gotten out of rooks and scrubs, but Denver has serious ballers in Welker, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas. That is a real edge. Then give the coaching edge to Bill Bel….and you end up with a pick em.

49ers at Seahawks: They may be newfangled, but both QB’s in the NFC Championship are superb, and, apparently, evenly matched too. But not so fast. Kaepernick has been rediscovering his groove down the stretch, and Russell Wilson has been looking a little shaky in the confidence (and performance) category. Edge to Kap. Niners also have far better receivers, with Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Crabtee, than do the Squawks. Percy Harvin would have helped level that playing field, but he won’t be playing. Gore and Lynch are both studs, and thus a wash, but the QB and receivers are a huge plus for SF.

The defensive paper actually seems to favor the Niners but, again, toss the paper out the window. Seattle’s defense is bad ass, and they will have the 12th Man noise that comes with their home field. That is an edge. Coaching is a wash between Harbaugh and Carroll, but man do they completely dislike each other. The game is really probably another pick em, to slight favorite for the Niners; however, I am going to take a flyer on the Squawks. I don’t feel good about it, but there you have it.

Penalty Flag Department: Yeah, the hanky has to be thrown on Peyton Manning. Really? Bud Light? Get the fuck out! And, big ups to the Colorado craft brewers for calling him out on it.

Music is by by It’s A Beautiful Day, featuring Pattie Santos and David LaFlamme. A completely killer band out of the 60’s heyday of San Francisco. Shame they never hit it bigger and are mostly forgotten now, because they were really good. And to tie it all together, this song, White Bird, is a song about some melancholy times LaFlamme and his wife spent in Seattle. See, it all ties together for the NFC Championship Game!

The Quarterback With The Golden Gun Trash Talk

For all the yammering about nuclear options and assassination anniversaries and other wild news, this weekend there is only one big bang. The big guns are being positioned on the battlefield.

Brady v. Manning. Manning v. Brady. Mano a mano. Bieber versus Sourface. The battle of the soon to be middle age bulges. Broncos and Pats at the Big Razor in Foxboro. Or is it Foxborough? I am liable to use either one, so watch out. Same joint.

But let’s not dawdle, this is all about The Man With The Golden Gun; i.e. Peyton Manning. Yes yes, I know some lady who won’t send me a rhubarb pie will be along to talk about how Tom Brady is a pron god and Peyton is a sucky face, and all, but here in this post Peyton, and his golden gun, rulz! This careful salting of trash talk aside, the Donkos could easily get Lectric Shaved in the Big Razor. It really is maybe the most compelling game on the NFL season to date.

Despite a bump on the noggin triggering NFL concussion protocols, Wes Welker looks determined to try to give Bill Belichick hell. Ad who can blame him for that? Donks TE Julius Thomas is banged up and “questionable”with a knee strain. But that still leaves Peyton and his Golden Gun with Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Not to mention Knowshon Moreno. Sorry, that beats the Pats Gronk and Riddler. Even if he is healthy, Aqib Talib can’t cover all the Bronco’s threats, ergo advantage Donks. On defense, NEVER count out a Belichick designed scheme; however, on talent the matchup is again not in the Pat’s favor. But Denver is starting to gel with Von Miller starting to settle back in to an already competent group. Bottom line is, the facts favor Denver all the way here, but it is in Foxboro and Pats have been inconsistent lately. Precisely when Belichick and Brady strike. So, it is a pick em, and worthy of all the build up.

Other pro jobs worth working are Cowboys at Gents. Shockingly, as lemon faced sucky as Eli and the Giants have been, if they beat the ‘Boys, they will pull even with Philadelphia and Dallas in the loss column (hey, Skins ain’t gonna beat the Niners). That is just stupid enough to mean it WILL happen, Eli and the Giants make a move. I’ll be hoping for a third win in a row for the Bucs against the Lions, but won’t hold my breath on that. Jets at Ravens could be a bruiser. Lastly, the real barnburner of the week may be Colts at the Cards in the Big Toaster. Colts are 7-3, but seemingly not invincible lately, and the Cards 6-4, but very tough at home. This really has the makings of a superb game. My better instincts say Colts, but gonna go with the heart here and take Spidey Fitzgerald and the Cards.

Turns out that not ALL football this weekend involves Manning and Brady. No, there are student athletes playing ball as well. BCS busters Northern Illinois and University of Central Florida have both already won solidly. Which is very cool. A lot of people will say Texas A+M at LSU in baton rouge is the big game. They may be right. Johnny Football is playing for the Heisman, and has a chip on his shoulder. He will play like it and down the Tigers in a huge win.

But the biggest game in these here parts is the ASU Sun Devils versus the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. Huge game, and I thought about going. Probably should have done so. Both teams are 8-2, but the Devils have only one conference loss so far to the Bruins’ two. Simple enough: Devils win, they almost certainly go to the Pac-12 conference championship game, lose and they almost certainly do not. Big stakes. ASU is hard to figure out this year; sometimes they look really good, sometimes not so much and only lucky. Hard to read. Honestly, they outplayed Notre Dame, and should have won that game and been 9-1 now. but they did not. Still not sure they are that good though. This game will tell whether they belong or not.

There you have it. Roll this joint people.

Tom Brady et. al v. The National Football League Stay Decision

Just a quick post because, well, we are sometimes a football blog here at Emptywheel you know, and we have football news! The NFL draft starts tomorrow night, so one and all can come back and yammer about the draft and who your team did or didn’t draft. But, more importantly right this moment is the decision just entered by Judge Susan Nelson of Minnesota District Court to deny the stay of her decision on Monday lifting the lockout imposed by the owners collectively acting as the National Football League.

Judge Nelson hit on, and reinforced, many of the points made in her 80 page decision entered Monday, but today’s order is a nice compact 20 pages and I thought it worth taking a look at.

Here is the full 20 page order denying the NFL’s stay request.

After noting that the NFL bogusly attempted to use a self serving low burden for getting their stay entered, Nelson clobbered them again:

But this Court need not address this matter further because even under the lenient standard that the NFL proposes, the League still is not entitled to a stay pending appeal. Even if a lesser showing on the merits is permissible, the NFL would have to compensate for that lower showing with a strong showing of irreparable harm to it pending the appeal (and, more precisely, a strong showing of its harm compared to what a stay would inflict on the Players).

Here, the NFL has shown no such injury resulting from or in any way related to this Court’s Order, which, importantly, only enjoins the lockout. The NFL argues that it will suffer irreversible injury and irreparable harm–not because the lockout has been lifted–but by the potential signing of contracts between owners and players in a free- agency market. (Doc. No. 103, at 11-12 (claiming that “the Order in this case may entail the start of a free-agent signing period in the NFL–a period in which any structure or set of rules, even an agreement among the member clubs on the number of games that should make up a season, is subject to antitrust challenge ”).) That argument is based on the incorrect premise that this Court’s Order somehow enjoined the restraints on player free agency alleged to violate the antitrust laws in the Brady Plaintiffs’ Complaint.

Ouch. Well, okay, how about the Leagues other points? Judge Nelson didn’t like those either:

Moreover, as the Brady Plaintiffs point out, a stay of the injunction and a continuation of the lockout would inflict financial harm upon the League, which stands to lose approximately $1 billion before a single game is even cancelled. (Doc. No. 111 (Decl. of Richard A. Berthelsen) ¶ 3, Ex. B.) As to the notion that, without a lockout, the “competitive balance” of the NFL will be jeopardized, Plaintiffs counter that in 2010, the last season covered by the expired CBA and White Stipulation and Settlement Agreement (“SSA”), the League operated without a salary cap and there was no harm identified to competitive balance, as perhaps best exemplified by the fact that two small market teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, played in the Super Bowl. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Further, the League’s own advanced planning belies the likelihood of any descent into chaos such as they now envision, absent the imposition of a stay. On April 13, 2011 – during the lockout – the NFL announced the complete pre-season schedule for 2011, and released the regular season schedule one week later.

Heh. Hilariously, the League also had the temerity to claim that the players (you know their opponents who do NOT want a stay) would be harmed without a stay. Judge Nelson didn’t think much of that either:

Any such argument fails to acknowledge this Court’s ruling. The lockout plainly raises issues of harm beyond those that are compensable by damages. This Court addressed, at substantial length, the irreparable injuries that the Players are presently incurring, and have been incurring, since the League locked them out on March 12, 2011. This Court came to that conclusion based on the extensive affidavit evidence submitted by the Brady Plaintiffs. The NFL offered little, if any, evidence to directly rebut the Players’ affidavits, either in response to the motion for a preliminary injunction, or here. Moreover, the NFL’s argument assumes the Eighth Circuit will rule before the season begins. In the absence of a motion seeking an expedited appeal, that seems unlikely.

Accordingly, the balance of equities tilts indisputably in favor of the Brady Plaintiffs. A stay would re-impose on the Players precisely the irreparable harm that this Court found the NFL’s lockout to be likely inflicting on them since March 12.

After again noting that the NFL is premising their stay request by substantially arguing irreparable harm on issues that were not even in front of the court, much less elements of Monday’s decision from which they could appeal, the court concluded by telling the NFL that their argument that “public interest” would be served by letting the league trample the players is complete horse manure (and it is):

The NFL has had ample opportunity to serve and promote the public interest in encouraging the collective bargaining process in the past, but in this present context, there is no such process to encourage. As this Court suggested in its Order, there is no public interest in permitting the NFL to continue to enjoy the benefits and protections of labor law–antitrust immunity and the right to lock out the Players–without the Players being able to enjoy their corresponding rights of collective bargaining and the right to strike.

In contrast stands the public interest in the enforcement of the Sherman Act and the public interest in a professional football season. These are actual, “live” interests, and they favor the denial of a stay of this Court’s Order.

Well, okay then. That is a pretty thorough butt whipping laid down by Judge Nelson. Now the league will seek an accelerated appeal and emergency stay in the 8th Circuit. The 8th has a reputation for being pretty business friendly, so the NFL will find it a much more friendly forum. That said, it is far from clear the NFL will get their stay; Judge Nelson left quite a record supporting her decision, and it is pretty compelling. The 8th Circuit will have to do some fancy footwork to overcome what Nelson has ordered here. The 8th may be generally fairly business friendly, but it is a good bet they are football fans too; I would not be shocked if they surprised the pundits and also declined the stay application.

Bye Week Trashtalk: The Mystery of Brady’s Boot

I guess I’m not yet ready to go more than a week without trashtalk. Besides, this whole Tom Brady and his boot thing is getting so ridiculous that I had to post on it.

You see, I’m beginning to believe the whole thing is a plot, cooked up by Bill Belichick, to seriously fuck with the press and possibly even the Giants pre-game planning. What better plot than to send your hot quarterback Brady (speaking of which, see this BoGlo photo collection, which includes some of the boot pictures) down to visit his hot girlfriend Gisele in the press capital of the world which also just happens to be your Super Bowl opponent’s city? Send him down in a walking cast, and it’s just guaranteed to be photographed by the paparazzi. Then, the press wants to talk about nothing so much as whether or not Tom Brady is hurt and therefore will throw as badly in the Super Bowl as he did in the AFC Championships, ignoring all the other details of the game. And Belichick won’t be forced to admit to the Giants that it’s all a big trick until just four days before the game (though seriously, if Coughlin isn’t assuming that Brady will start and do some damage, he’s not so bright).

And what better way to minimize Bye Week stress on the rest of the team than by ensuring the only questions they’ll have to answer pertain to Brady’s Boot.

Running back Kevin Faulk has worn a boot in the past, and attracted little notice. “Because I’m not Tom Brady, I guess,” Faulk said.

Linebacker Adalius Thomas said: “I don’t know anything about a boot, a cup or a shoe. Or slippers. I don’t know. His slippers cost more than my shoes.”

Fullback Heath Evans vowed to don a boot “and see if you follow me around.”

[snip]

“Every channel I turned to, there it was,” Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “Focused on the boot. I focused on the flowers.”

"Are you worried about the Giants’ pass rush, Matt Light?"

"What I’m really worried about, Boomer, is whether Brady will find a Patriots silver boot in time for the game."

So what do you think? Has Belichick taken his crafty ways off of the field to play the press, going so far as to excuse Brady from practice or hide him somewhere? Or are the Giants going to be facing Matt Read more