Friday, July 26, 2013

Turned Dust Into Gold: San Francisco 49ers Season Preview

2012 Record: 11-4-1

2012 Rankings

Total Offense: 11
Passing Offense: 23
Rushing Offense: 4
Scoring Offense: 11

Total Defense: 3
Passing Defense: 4
Rushing Defense: 4
Scoring Defense: 2


The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league and play a physical brand of football that beats their opponents into oblivion. With Colin Kaepernick taking over the helm at quarterback, most are expecting him to emerge as one of the top QBs in the league. However, the 49ers offense will likely still be run-heavy and Kaepernick only broke 250 passing yards once in the regular season last year. He surpassed that twice during the playoffs, but with Michael Crabtree's injury the only veteran presence at WR is Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham (who is coming off an injury). Second year WR AJ Jenkins and rookie Quinton Patton will be called upon to contribute early in the season.


The 49ers are absolutely loaded at all three levels of the defense. They got an absolute steal in free agency when they signed CB Nnamdi Asomugha to a $1.775 million contract. Asomugha makes one of the best secondaries in the league even better, with the only perceived hole being rookie safety Eric Reid. San Francisco has the best 3-4 linebacking unit in the league with Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. They were a top 5 defense last season and will be a top 5 unit again this season.


The one weakness on this team is at backup quarterback and if Kaepernick gets hurt it could be a long season by the Bay. Other than that, this team is loaded with depth and should be right back in the mix for the NFC crown.


The division got tougher and there are question marks at WR, but this is still one of the best rushing attacks in the league. If you love old-school run-the-ball-and-play-defense football, you have to love the way San Francisco plays. Their defense is good enough to keep them in games until the end. 10-6

Outlaw Pete: Seattle Seahawks Season Preview

2012 Record: 11-5

2012 Rankings

Total Offense: 17
Passing Offense: 27
Rushing Offense: 3
Scoring Offense: 9

Total Defense: 4
Passing Defense: 6
Rushing Defense: 10
Scoring Defense: 1


What a difference a year can make. Last year at this time we were talking about whether or not Matt Flynn could beat out Tavaris Jackson and Russell Wilson for the starting job. As it turns out, Wilson was as good as a rookie in the NFL as he was at Wisconsin. Marshawn Lynch is still a beast and the Seahawks traded a first round pick for WR Percy Harvin (who might need surgery that would make him questionable for part of the season). Harvin gives this offense a weapon with explosive power that it lacked last season. Without Harvin, the receiving corps is decent but not spectacular. 


The Seahawks are absolutely loaded on the defensive side of the ball. They added Cliff Avril to an already dangerous defensive front. On the back end, Seattle boasts the best secondary in the league with Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Antoine Winfield at corner and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety. If the Seahawks have a weakness, it's at outside linebacker, but their safeties are good enough in the middle of the field to cover the deficiency. Seattle will be downright nasty to play against this season and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see them in the top 5 in total defense at the end of the year.


Percy Harvin's injury is a big deal. If he needs season-ending surgery then the Seahawks offense takes on a totally different dynamic. They have the horses in the backfield to be a ground-and-pound team but they lack a receiver with the game-breaking ability to go the distance any time he touches the ball. 


The Seahawks overachieved a bit last season, but are still one of the better teams in the league (even potentially without Harvin). 9-7

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Long Walk Home: St Louis Rams Season Preview

2012 Record: 7-8-1

2012 Rankings

Total Offense: 23
Passing Offense: 18
Rushing Offense: 19
Scoring Offense: 25

Total Defense: 14
Passing Defense: 15
Rushing Defense: 15
Scoring Defense: 14


The 2013 Rams won't be the same old Rams that everyone has been accustomed to seeing the last decade. Gone is workhorse back Steven Jackson with no clear replacement. The Rams will likely take a Running Back-by-committee approach with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy. St Louis finally added an offensive weapon for Sam Bradford in West Virginia star Tavon Austin. The Rams receiving corps was inconsistent last season, and Austin provides the electricity to take it to the house any time he touches the ball. The addition of former first overall pick Jake Long at LT gives the Rams some stability up front and is a drastic improvement on Bradford's blind side.


The Rams were a middle-of-the-pack defense last year that is looking to make the jump into the elite. They are loaded with talent at all three levels with bookend pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn that both recorded double-digit sacks last year. They might have one of the best 4-3 linebacking units in the league with James Laurinitis anchoring the middle and rookie Alec Ogletree stepping in next to him. The biggest question mark is at safety, but their corners (Courtland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins) are good enough to make things hard on opposing receivers.


Jeff Fisher has done a heck of a job turning this team around. Through a series of trades, they parlayed the #2 overall pick last year (the RGIII pick) into 7 players: Michael Brokers, Jenkins, Pead, Rokevious Watkins, Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, and Stacy. That's quite the haul and almost all of them could contribute significantly this season.


If they didn't play in the NFC West, the Rams might be talked about as having one of the best defenses in the league heading into this season. However, since division rivals Seattle and San Francisco are absolutely loaded on the defensive side of the ball, no one is talking about St. Louis. This team will go as far as their offense will carry them, but there are too many question marks at the skill positions for this team to make the playoffs this year. 8-8

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bruuuuuuce: Arizona Cardinals Season Preview

2012 Record: 5-11

2012 Rankings

Total Offense: 32
Passing Offense: 28
Rushing Offense: 32
Scoring Offense: 31

Total Defense: 12
Passing Defense: 5
Rushing Defense: 28
Scoring Defense: 17


After the Kevin Kolb/John Skelton/Ryan Lindley failed miserably last year, the Cardinals traded for Carson Palmer. While Palmer doesn't have the biggest arm in the league, he is an accurate passer that for the first time since Kurt Warner gives the Cards someone who can actually get Larry Fitzgerald the ball. With Bruce Arians as head coach, the Cards will likely return to their wide-open passing game. Arizona has never been known as a running team, but the addition of Rashard Mendenhall gives them someone who can bounce it to the outside. The addition of Palmer turns one of the 5 worst passing offenses in the league into a viable threat to score with former first round pick Michael Floyd and the speedy Andre Roberts figuring to see the most time on the field.


The Cardinals defensive numbers were slightly skewed because their terrible offense allowed teams to take an early lead and simply milk the clock with the running game. They saw the second most rushing attempts against of any team last season. They brought back tackling machine Karlos Dansby after his brief stint with the Dolphins to help plug up the middle and provide a stopgap at inside linebacker while Daryl Washington serves a 4-game suspension. On paper, the Cards defense has playmakers with Calias Campbell and Darnell Dockett (two of the better 3-4 DEs in the league) up front, Dansby in the middle, safety Yeremiah Bell (one of the best tackling safeties in the league) and emerging shutdown corner Patrick Peterson.


The biggest question mark heading into the season is pass rushers. Bruce Arians' offense isn't going to overwhelm anyone, but Fitz is the best receiver Arians has had to work with and Palmer is a significant upgrade to the Cardinals offense under center. First round pick Jonathan Cooper should provide some stability up front.


It's only fitting that the Cardinals hire Bruce Arians and kick off my Springsteen-themed season previews this year. The Cardinals started last season 4-0 before the wheels fell off the wagon and they finished 1-11 after the calendar turned to October. They should be better this season, but this is still a brutally tough division. 6-10

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Training Camp Primer

The Steelers enter Training Camp this season with more question marks in the lineup than in any year of the past decade. Coming off an 8-8 season where they crumbled down the stretch, going just 2-5 after Ben Roethlisberger was injured against Kansas City. Ben's injury certainly played a role in the collapse, but the  team went just 1-3 after he returned to play. The offense, which was clicking on all cylinders in the beginning of the year and converting third downs at a historical pace, was utterly out of sync in the second half of the year.

The past two years have been difficult for Steelers fans as the salary cap has seen many long-time players part ways with the team. The youth movement is afoot and their success this season will hinge on how well the young players acclimate themselves to significant playing time in the NFL. Over the last two offseasons we have seen the departure of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, Chris Kemoeatu, James Farrior, William Gay (though he came back), Daniel Sepulveda, Mewelde Moore, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, Mike Wallace, Max Starks, Doug Legursky, James Harrison, Keenan Lewis, Willie Colon, and Casey Hampton. The Steelers are more or less right up against the Salary Cap, so don't look for them to sign any big name free agents in the week or so before Training Camp begins.

The bright side of this roster turnover is that this year's trip to Latrobe means more than many in the past. There could be upwards of 15 roster spots that are won and lost at St Vincent College over the next month. In addition to the 15 "open" spots there will be plenty of battles for position on the depth chart. As things stand in the middle of July, there are a lot of questions about how the Steelers roster will look on opening day.

As things stand right now, there are 25 players that should be considered a "lock" to make the Opening Day Roster.

Roster Locks (25)

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski
RB: Le'Veon Bell
WR: Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders
TE: Heath Miller*
OT: Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
OG: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro
C: Maurkice Pouncey

DE: Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward
NT: Steve McLendon
OLB: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote
CB: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay
S: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark

* - Heath Miller will likely begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he recovers from his ACL surgery in January. He can stay on the PUP List for up to 6 weeks and he would not count against the 53-man roster during that time.

The next grouping of players are those that "Should" make the team, barring any kind of injury, arrest or suspension.

Should (14)

QB: Landry Jones
RB: Jonathan Dwyer
WR: Marcus Wheaton
TE: Matt Speath, David Paulson
OT/OG: Kelvin Beachum

The Steelers spent a 4th round pick on Landry Jones. The last 4th rounder not to make the 53-man roster was Fred Gibson in 2005, making Jones almost a lock. Dwyer was the Steelers feature back for much of last year and while he will have to prove he still deserves that role in camp, he brings more to the table than Isaac Redman. Wheaton was the Steelers 3rd round pick and is all but a lock as long as he doesn't get injured or arrested. The Steelers signed Spaeth in Free Agency and he will likely be the starting Tight End until Heath returns from injury. David Paulson was a pleasant surprise last season, working his way into the #2 TE role as a rookie. Beachum started 5 games as a rookie last year at RT, but doesn't have the size or the strength to stay there so he will likely be a "swing" lineman that will be the first guy off the bench as a reserve.

OLB: Chris Carter
ILB: Stevenson Sylvester, Sean Spence
CB: Terry Hawthorne
S: Shamarko Thomas

Carter was unimpressive in the playing time he got last year and has ended both of his professional seasons on the Injured Reserve list. That said, he has more experience than anyone else on the roster and should make the team unless he is vastly outplayed by Adrian Robinson. Sean Spence is still recovering from his knee injury and might not play this season. He will likely be on the PUP List and not count against the 53-man roster but will remain with the team. Like Carter, Stevenson Sylvester hasn't been the most impressive player, but he is the most experienced player on the roster to be the top reserve at Inside Linebacker. Hawthorne and Thomas were mid-round draft picks which all but assures their spot on the final roster, though Thomas should have an easier time than Hawthorne who will have to compete with a crowded defensive backfield.

K - Shaun Suisham
P - Drew Butler
LS - Greg Warren

The Steelers will carry an extra kicker (Daniel Hrapmann), punter (Brian Moorman) and long snapper (Luke Ingram) into camp, but Warren has been an institution at long snapper while Suisham had a solid year last season and should not be in danger of losing his roster spot. Butler may get some competition from Moorman in camp, but ultimately I think the Steelers will stick with the younger and cheaper option at punter. Either way you slice it, 3 of the 53 roster spots will be taken by specialists.

At 25 roster locks and with 14 more players that should make the team, that gives the Steelers 39 roster spots that are relatively secure. Depending on where Heath Miller and Sean Spence fall (PUP List, IR, active roster), there will be between 14 and 16 other roster spots that will be up for grabs in training camp.

Battles For Roster Spots

Running Back: Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

Both of these players could wind up on the 53-man roster. The Stephens-Howling signing might have been the most under-looked move of free agency but could pay huge dividends. The former Pitt star is a huge upgrade over Chris Rainey and is capable of returning kicks as well as being a third down/change of pace running back. Redman was a bit disappointing last season when he had the opportunity to claim the role of starting back, and he will be at the center of a battle with Jonathan Dwyer, Le'Veon Bell and Stephens-Howling for the starting role.

Fullback: Will Johnson, David Johnson

David Johnson spent last year on the injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in the preseason. He had been the Steelers H-back in Bruce Arians' offense. Will Johnson is more of a traditional fullback and played well as a lead blocker and one-pass-a-game catcher last season. It's unlikely the Steelers will carry two fullbacks into the season, though if Heath begins the season on the PUP list it is possible that David Johnson will get his roster spot as a third tight end.

Wide Receiver: Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, Justin Brown, David Gilreath, Derek Moye

Burress and Cotchery are the veterans of the group but both only have one year left on their contracts. Burress could be made expendable by 6th round pick Justin Brown. At 6'3" Brown gives the Steelers a young player with size and speed, and he could win a roster spot if he out-performs Burress in camp. Cotchery's position as the #3 receiver should be relatively secure, though the presence of Marcus Wheaton on the roster means that Cotchery probably isn't in the Steelers long-term plans. Gilreath was one of the preseason stand-outs last year and was added to the active roster late in the season. Moye is a local favorite from Rochester High School and Penn State and at 6'5" factors into the "tall WR" conversation. The Steelers will likely carry 5 receivers into opening day, which means that two of these five will make the team.

Offensive Tackle: Guy Whimper, Joe Long

Offensive Guard: John Malecki, Mike Golic Jr, Justin Cheadle, Nik Embernate

The Steelers won't keep just 6 offensive linemen on their roster. In the past, they have carried 8 into the season and usually dress 7 on gameday. This means that there is an open competition, not just for a spot on the 53-man roster but for a helmet on Sundays. John Malecki has expunged his practice squad eligibility, but his playing time at the end of last season should give him the edge in this race. Guy Whimper has 7 years of NFL experience and started 22 games over the last 3 seasons for Jacksonville. Justin Cheadle and Joe Long were members of the practice squad last season. Golic and Embernate were undrafted free agent signings this year and are both unknowns. This is a wide open competition for two roster spots. Position flexibility will be a huge factor as the Steelers like their reserve linemen to be able to play multiple positions along the line.

Defensive Line: Al Woods, Alameda Ta'amu, Nick Williams

The Steelers will likely keep 6 defensive linemen heading into the season. Since 4 of them are locks to make the roster (McLendon, Keisel, Hood, Heyward), this leaves the other two spots open to competition. Al Woods won the last spot on the line last year and saw a handful of snaps throughout the year. Ta'amu was basically on a redshirt season that he derailed by playing drunk bumper cars on the South Side. Somehow, he's still on the team and has a chance to make the roster as the back-up nose tackle. Nick Williams was a 7th round pick and has the athletic upside to turn into a solid player but is very raw in his game.

Linebacker: Adrian Robinson (OLB), Marshall McFadden (ILB), Vince Williams (ILB)

Robinson made the opening day roster last year after an impressive display in the preseason. He spent last season on the active roster but saw little playing time as the fifth outside linebacker. McFadden was on the practice squad for most of last season, but with Spence's injury there is an opening at inside linebacker. Williams was a 6th round pick this year after an impressive career at Florida State as the captain of their defense. If he plays well in camp, Robinson could beat out Carter for the 4th OLB spot on the depth chart. The 4th ILB spot will likely be an open competition between Williams and McFadden should Spence start the year on IR or the PUP list.

Cornerback: Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian, Ross Ventrone

Brown, Van Dyke and Victorian all saw the field last year due to the Steelers injury-depleted secondary. Brown continued to be a special teams standout but struggled when forced into regular defensive duty. Brown was so bad in the nickel role against San Diego that he was replaced at halftime by Josh Victorian. Van Dyke was a penalty machine on special teams, and was such a liability that Coach Tomlin basically called him out in a press conference. Ventrone, a Chartiers Valley graduate, was signed at the end of last season off the Patriots practice squad. With four corners relatively secure in their roster spots, it is likely only one or two of these guys will make the team.

Safety: Robert Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith

Golden was a surprise addition to the roster last year, winning a spot with his stellar play in training camp. He saw time in a few games towards the end of the year, primarily in a nickel back/slot back role, which is not his forte. Cromartie-Smith has been hovering between the practice squad and the active roster for the last few seasons but hasn't seen any significant time. The drafting of Shamarko Thomas puts the onus on one of these two to make big plays in camp and prove that they belong.

Kick Returner: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Reggie Dunn

Stephens-Howling has averaged 25 yards per return in his career and has taken 3 kickoffs back for touchdowns. In 2010 he led the league in return yards. Given the uncertainty of the last few spots on the 53-man roster, a spot could be won by someone who shows unique abilities as a kick returner. The Steelers have done this in the past with Allen Rossum and Stefan Logan. One guy to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie Reggie Dunn who ran a 4.22 40-yard dash during his Pro Day at Utah. Dunn set an NCAA record in 2012 with 4 kickoff returns for touchdowns.

As I mentioned previously, depending on how the injury situations for Miller and Spence play out, the Steelers will have between 14 and 16 roster spots open for competition. I identified 28 players that will likely be competing for those spots, so even though I said "the Steelers may keep all of these guys" in most of the sections, the team does not have the roster space to keep all of them. In addition to these roster spots that are open for competition, there are other roster battles that will be decided during camp. The starting lineups seem mostly set in stone (aside from starting Tight End if Heath is out to start the year).

Roster Battles

Starting Running Back: Le'Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

This will be the biggest battle of training camp. After the Steelers Running Back-by-committee approach last season, the team parted ways with Rashard Mendenhall and drafted Le'Veon "The Prescription" Bell in the second round. Dwyer and Redman are similar backs and it is possible that only one of them makes the final roster. Dwyer brings more to the table as a feature runner but Redman has historically been better in short-yardage situations. Bell is likely the long-term answer here, but it's uncertain whether he'll be able to assume the role of starting back right out of camp. Dwyer played last preseason like he had something to prove, and if he plays that way again he will probably be the starting back on opening day.

Starting Tight End: Matt Spaeth, David Paulson

If Heath Miller starts the season on the PUP list, the position of starting tight end will be open for debate. Paulson played well as a rookie last year but he might not be ready to be an every-down player just yet. Spaeth isn't very good, but has experience with the Steelers and is more or less a known commodity for the offense. He provides stability even though there isn't anything that he does incredibly well.

#3 Wide Receiver: Jerricho Cotchery, Marcus Wheaton

The third wide receiver has become a valuable commodity in the NFL. Cotchery is a solid veteran presence and will see playing time and make tough catches over the middle. Wheaton is a rookie with a ton of upside but will have to improve on his route-running and catching the ball away from his body in order to fully grasp the #3 spot on the depth chart. It wouldn't be surprising to see Wheaton in that role by the end of the season, but it's likely that Cotchery will start there in September.

Starting Right Outside Linebacker: Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones

In the past, fans have colloquially referred to the Steelers ROLB position as "designated for the clinically insane." Given the Steelers history of ROLB's from Greg Lloyd to Joey Porter to James Harrison, it's hard to argue with that assessment. Jason Worlids figures to take over the starting role, but he has been mostly underwhelming in the playing time he has received. He led the team in sacks last season with a mere 6, but that likely says more about the injury situation to Harrison and Woodley than Worlids' ability. Jones was the Steelers first round pick and is the starter-in-waiting at the position. It is just a matter of time before Jones, the NCAA's sack leader, claims his spot in the starting lineup.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Definitive Results of D2: The Mighty Ducks

If you grew up in the 90s two of the defining movies of your childhood were the Mighty Ducks and D2: The Mighty Ducks. You could debate all day about which movie was better or the relative merits of a group of kids that couldn't skate a year later beating national teams from around the globe. But rationality and laws of physics aside, there was always something strange about the Ducks/Team USA's trek through the tournament in D2. Was it the seemingly random teams they played? How did Trinidad and Tobago field a hockey team?

At the very beginning of the competition we see this brief image of a standings board:

The real question is: How were hockey powerhouses Finland, Czech Republic and Slovakia excluded?

Since Disney apparently didn't have anyone on their writing staff that knew how a tournament worked, the 10 teams in the competition are separated into two groups of 5. This would seemingly imply that the tournament would start with a Round Robin format (play every team in your group) and the top teams would proceed to the next stage. However, for dramatic effect, we are told that this is a Double Elimination tournament. Under normal conditions, a double elimination tournament would look something like this:

In this instance, teams are merely bracketed and move forward in the competition. There is no Round Robin play amongst teams.

However, given Team USA's first few opponents in D2, we know that there is some type of Round Robin scheduling, at least at the beginning. Given the context clues that we have, we can more or less extrapolate the results of the rest of the tournament. To make things easier, I'm going to break it down into "rounds" of games.

Round 1

We see the scoreboard before the USA's first game shows that 3 games have been played already. Since Trinidad has already played a game (and lost) I am going to assume that the US played their first game in "Round 2" and that each "round" consists of 3 games.

What we know: In Group A, Iceland and Germany have wins while Italy and Trinidad have losses. In Group B, Russia has a win and Sweden has a loss.

What we can assume: The tournament schedule does not include crossing over between groups until later in the tournament (because if it did the US would have played someone from Group B in their first game rather than Trinidad Tobago).

What we can guess: To balance out the number of games, let's say that Canada beat Denmark in Round 1 with the US and France having "byes."

Group A: Iceland (1-0), Germany (1-0), USA (0-0), Italy (0-1), Trinidad (0-1)
Group B: Russia (1-0), Canada (0-0), France (0-0), Denmark (0-0), Sweden (0-1)

Round 2

What we know: The US beats Trinidad in their opening game, eliminating Trinidad from the tournament. Italy does not lose because they play the US in the next game.

What we can assume: With 3 games in each "round," Round 2 would consist of 1 game from Group A and two games from Group B.

What we can guess: Two games in Group B occur. Since we know Russia and Canada survive until the end of the tournament, we can guess that they didn't lose. We'll give Russia a bye and Canada a win over France and Sweden a win over Denmark.

Group A: Iceland (1-0), USA (1-0), Germany (1-0), Italy (0-1), Trinidad (0-2)
Group B: Russia (1-0), Canada (1-0), Sweden (1-1), France (0-1), Denmark (0-1)

Round 3

What we know: The US beats Italy and Goldberg makes a joke about meatballs. Italy is eliminated.

What we can assume: Round 3 features 2 games from Group A. Since Trinidad has already been eliminated, the only other possible game would be Iceland against Germany. We know Iceland is undefeated when they play the US, so Iceland knocks off Germany.

What we can guess: One game in Group B has to be part of Round 3. Since Russia did not play in Round 2 they play here in Round 3. To make things easy, let's say they beat Denmark, eliminating them from the competition.

Group A: Iceland (2-0), USA (2-0), Germany (1-1), Italy (0-2), Trinidad (0-2)
Group B: Russia (2-0), Canada (1-0), Sweden (1-1), France (0-1), Denmark (0-2)

Round 4

What we know: Iceland embarrasses Team USA.


What we can assume: Just as the top two teams in Group A meet in Round 4, the top teams in Group B meet as well. Since we know Russia loses to the US in the round before the Championship, the safe assumption is that Canada prevails here.

What we can guess: With Denmark eliminated, the only other remaining teams in Group B are Sweden and France. Sweden takes care of business and eliminates the French.

Group A: Iceland (3-0), USA (2-1), Germany (1-1), Italy (0-2), Trinidad (0-2)
Group B:  Canada (2-0), Russia (2-1), Sweden (2-1), France (0-2), Denmark (0-2)

Round 5

What we know: Gordon Bombay is too busy wallowing in his own tears to show up to coach against Germany. He shows up halfway through the third period and the Flying V carries the US to victory. Germany is eliminated.

What we can assume: Russia played Sweden already and since we are not crossing over between groups yet, we can assume that Canada beat Sweden, eliminating the Swedes from the tournament

What we can guess: With four teams remaining in the tournament, the tournament organizers match up the top teams in each group against the second place teams from the opposite group in the next round. The secret hope is that both Canada and Iceland will win, setting up an essential best-of-three between undefeateds Canada and Iceland for the Championship.

Group A: Iceland (3-0), USA (3-1), Germany (1-2), Italy (0-2), Trinidad (0-2)
Group B:  Canada (3-0), Russia (2-1), Sweden (2-2), France (0-2), Denmark (0-2)

Round 6 (Quarter-Finals)

What we know: Gordon Bombay gets the team back to business. Luis Mendoza knocks over a bunch of pop cans in practice. We don't actually see either of these games but are shown the following newspaper clippings:

What we can assume: The sub-header to the US article was "Marx Bros? No, Bash Bros!" As corny as that is, Portman and Reed apparently imposed their will physically over the Canadians. Whoever wrote the article on the Russia-Iceland game was probably fired the next day. Seriously, look at the text again:

What we can guess: Much to the chagrin of the tournament organizers, all four teams still remain. Iceland has played the US and Russia, leaving their obvious opponent for the next round as Canada. The good news is that this becomes a de facto single-elimination bracket since each of the four remaining teams have one loss.

Group A: Iceland (3-1), USA (4-1), Germany (1-2), Italy (0-2), Trinidad (0-2)
Group B:  Canada (3-1), Russia (3-1), Sweden (2-2), France (0-2), Denmark (0-2)

Round 7 (Semi-Finals)

What we know: Russ Tyler's knucklepuck knocks off Russia and sends the USA to the Championship against Iceland.

What we can assume: Iceland beat Canada in the other "semi-final."

What we can guess: 15-year old Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo is scarred for life after getting embarrassed by Gunner Stahl.

Round 8 (Championship)

What we know: The United States, through a bizarre sequence of NBA-style plays, uniform changes and illegal goalie swaps, ties Iceland in the closing seconds and sends the game to an automatic shootout. Gunner Stahl completely blows the effectiveness of the triple-deke by pulling up and taking a slapshot.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

WPIAL Top 10 Dynasties of the Last Decade

Recently Karlo Zovko of ranked the Top 10 WPIAL Dynasties of the last decade. He heavily promoted his post on Twitter in an attempt to drum up interest in the topic.

Of course, there was only one clear choice for the top spot.
There were some detractors out there that didn't think the Bears would actually land the top spot.
Thankfully, Karlo's Viking-tinted glasses didn't fog his perception in the choice of the top team on his list. However, his homerism popped up with Central Catholic landing in the second spot of his list. His logic was partially based on the fact that they play in Quad-A, the biggest classification.

While it is true that Quad-A tends to be the most difficult classification, this should not detract from what other teams have done. A "dynasty" should be judged on what you did against the opponents in front of you. Karlo's analysis often focuses on what teams "seem" to do (ie "[Gateway] seems to get down to Heinz or make it to a semi-final game every year"). But when we look at the data from the last 10 years, the Gators have reached the semi-finals 5 times in the past decade. Their 4 championship game appearances are impressive, but does this qualify them as one of the Top 10 "Dynasties" of the last decade?

Simply looking at playoff data from the last 10 years, there are 118 teams that have appeared in the playoffs. Of those, 37 have never won a playoff game. Carmichaels (0-9), Chartiers-Houston (0-8) and Belle Vernon (0-7) have the most appearances without a playoff win. Of the 81 remaining teams, 22 have a playoff winning percentage of 60% or greater. Given that the inherent nature of a "dynasty" is something that is sustained over time, we can rule out 3 more schools (Central Valley, South Park, Duquesne) that have appeared in less than half of the playoffs in the last decade.

If values are assigned to each playoff victory, we can eliminate the "class bias" of ranking Quad-A teams higher simply because they play in a more difficult classification and empirically rank the remaining 19 teams based on their playoff success. I decided to award 1 point for a playoff appearance, 2 points for a first round win, 4 points for a quarterfinal win, 8 points for a semi-final win and 16 points for a Championship. Based on this scoring system, I tallied the number of "Prestige Points" for each of the schools.

1. Clairton

9 Playoff Appearances
31-3 Record
6 Championships
215 Prestige Points

It should be no surprise that Bout Dat Nation appears at the top of the rankings. The Bears have won more Championships than any other team over the last decade (6) and have won 5 straight Class A crowns. In the last decade, Clairton missed the playoffs only once and made it at least to the Semi-finals in every playoff appearance. They have 7 appearances on the Heinz Field grass, going 6-1 in title games.

2. Aliquippa

10 Playoff Appearances
28-6 Record
4 Championships
180 Prestige Points

The Quips edged out AAA-powerhouse TJ for the second spot thanks to their 7 appearances at Heinz Field. Aliquippa has won 4 championships in their 7 title games and have made the trip to Heinz Field in each of the last 5 seasons.

3. Thomas Jefferson

10 Playoff Appearances
29-6 Record
4 Championships
178 Prestige Points

The Jaguars have been a fixture of the AAA playoffs over the last decade, They reached the Semi-finals in every year except 2011 as part of a string of 13 consecutive years (1998-2010) where they won 4 titles and appeared at Heinz Field 6 times. TJ's 29 playoff wins are second only to Clairton over the last decade, but they were edged out for the second spot by Aliquippa's 7 title game appearances. Between the two, it's really splitting hairs as both have been dominant in their respective classifications.

4. Central Catholic

10 Playoff Appearances
23-7 Record
3 Championships
130 Prestige Points

Karlo's homer bias put Central Catholic at #2 on his list, above two teams that had more titles. However, even based on the empirical data, the Vikings still belong in the Top 4 and as the best Quad-A squad. Central has made the playoffs each of the last 10 years and made it at least to the quarterfinals every time. They have 3 WPIAL titles to their name though they haven't been to Heinz Field since 2007.

5. Rochester

10 Playoff Appearances
24-9 Record
1 Championship
118 Prestige Points

The Rams did not appear on Karlo's list but they make the Top 5 here based on their 10 playoff appearances where they reached the quarterfinals each season, the Semi-finals 8 times and Heinz Field 5 times. As bad luck would have it, the Rams faced Clairton in 4 of their 5 championship appearances and are the only team in the last decade to best Clairton on Heinz Field grass. Since 2008 the Rams have a 53-8 overall record with only 3 losses coming in conference play (2 to Sto-Rox). Four of those losses were to Clairton in the playoffs.

6. North Allegheny

9 Playoff Appearances
18-6 Record
3 Championships
115 Prestige Points

The three-time defending Quad-A Champions have had a wealth of success since Art Walker has taken the helm. The Tigers only missed the playoffs once in the last decade and have reached at least the quarterfinals in each of the last 7 years. One could easily make the argument that they belong in the Top 5 of these rankings based solely on their 3 Championships, but Rochester's 5 Heinz Field appearances and 8 Semi-finals gave them an advantage over the Tigers (3 and 5 respectively).

7. Jeanette

9 Playoff Appearances
18-7 Record
2 Championships
109 Prestige Points

The Jayhawks were ranked behind Woodland Hills in Karlo's rankings but when you look at the data as a whole it is hard to see why. Both teams appeared at Heinz Field 4 times in the last decade with Jeanette raising the trophy twice (thanks to Terrelle Pryor) and the Wolverines winning only once. Jeanette also has 6 Semi-finals appearances to the Wolverines 4 and while Woody High has had more success recently, this does not diminish the success Jeanette has had over the past decade.

8. Woodland Hills

10 Playoff Appearances
16-9 Record
1 Championship
88 Prestige Points

The Wolverines edge out Upper St Clair for the 8th spot in the rankings thanks to their 4 appearances at Heinz Field. Woodland Hills has taken the non-traditional route to the title game the past few seasons, coming from the #7 seed in 2012 and 2010. Woody High has made the playoffs each of the last 10 years but haven't been as dominant as the turn-of-the-century teams that won 3 titles in 4 years from 1999 to 2002.

9. Upper St Clair

10 Playoff Appearances
17-9 Record
1 Championship
86 Prestige Points

Jim Render is a coaching legend and the Panthers have performed well under his tenure. They have made the playoffs each of the last 10 years and have reached the Semi-finals 5 times. The Panthers have taken home one title in 3 appearances at Heinz Field and have been consistently at the top of the Quad-A South Conference.

10. West Allegheny

9 Playoff Appearances
14-7 Record
2 Championships
85 Prestige Points

The Indians make the last spot thanks to their two WPIAL Championships. Coach Bob Palko has built a program that doesn't overwhelm teams on a game-to-game basis but consistently puts out playoff contenders (9 appearances in the last decade) in the brutally tough Parkway Conference. West Allegheny has 4 Semi-Finals appearances and won both of their trips to Heinz Field, giving them the advantage over Gateway (who is 0-4 at Heinz) for the last spot in the Top 10. As one of only 7 schools with multiple titles in the last decade, it's hard to argue against their inclusion in the Top 10.

The Others

Greensburg Central Catholic (82 Prestige Points)

GCC has 10 playoff appearances and 1 Championship in the last decade. They have been boom-or-bust with 3 trips to Heinz Field but also 4 first-round knockouts.

Gateway (82 Prestige Points)

Springdale (78 Prestige Points)

The Dynamos have beat Clairton not once but twice in the playoffs in the last decade. Both wins have come in the Semi-finals and one trip to Heinz resulted in a Championship.

It's Almost That Time Again

The Steelers head to Training Camp in two weeks. That means it's time to fire up the old blog and get back to it.

In case you were wondering where I was all summer, I was a little busy with the newest member of the family n'at.