Sunday, December 25, 2005

Weekend Sports Update

NFL:

Right when I thought I had the AFC playoff picture down pat, the Bengals threw a spanner in the works by deciding to lose to the Bills and squander a first-round bye in the process. I'm sticking with the Bengals to make it to the AFC championship game, upending both the Steelers and the Broncos, but I might change my mind if they lose badly yet again next week.

My NFC picks are looking fairly solid with the exception of Carolina, which will probably end up switching places with Tampa Bay after dropping a home game to the Cowboys. But I'll blame the umps for that one -- an unwarranted "roughing the kicker" penalty was the culprit. (What's the deal with "roughing the kicker" rules anyway? If the kicker is so scared of being mauled, he should just try kicking from further behind the line of scrimmage!)

NBA:

After their manhandling of the Spurs today, the Detroit Pistons should be getting pretty reasonable odds on a 70-win season. Given the state of the rest of the conference, they might even have an outside chance to make it all the way to the NBA finals without dropping a playoff game.

Miami and their long-in-the-tooth coach Pat Riley are in pretty deep trouble. After the humiliation of Friday's home loss to Vince Carter and the nets, one would have expected the "angry" and motivated Shaquille O'Neal, going up against the hated Lakers on national TV, to lead the Heat to a blow-out win. Instead we saw the thin and cold-shooting Lakers, with Kobe Bryant having a terrible second half and with practically no contribution from their bench, nearly pull off a win, denied only by a few unlucky breaks towards the end. Worryingly for Miami, Shaq looked old and immobile as he strugged to score against -- don't laugh -- Kwame Brown. If Shaq's decline is as permanent as it seems to be, this year might be Miami's best shot at winning it all. And if they fall short of the NBA finals, Riley would bear the blame both for assembling a roster that failed to match last year's performance as well as for forcing out a coach who is arguably better than him at this point in their careers.

Cricket:

Sourav Ganguly makes a comeback into the Indian team. It's going to be fun to watch the selection of the playing eleven for the test matches. Given the lunacy gripping Indian cricket circles, I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up as an opener, or if Pathan is drafted in to open. The former option would spell Ganguly's doom -- imagine him facing Shoaib Akhtar with the new ball -- while the latter would be a bad idea for the team as a whole.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

NFL: NFC Playoff Picks + Superbowl Pick

Seeds:

1. Seattle 2. Chicago 3. Carolina 4. NY Giants
WC1. Tampa Bay
WC2. Washington

I'm picking Washington to squeeze into the last wild-card spot, ahead of Minnesota, Atlanta and Dallas.

Wild Card Games:

Tampa Bay over NY Giants: The Giants' dream season comes to an end as Eli Manning is repeatedly pressured by the Tampa Bay rush and a worn-down Tiki Barber has too little left in the tank to carry them. Tampa Bay wins 20-14.

Carolina over Washington: In a game that's a lot closer than anticipated, Carolina squeezes out a 27-24 come-from-behind win, overcoming an early interception from Jake Delhomme. Washington puts up a strong fight but the limitations of their conservative passing game finally catches up to them.

Divisional Playoffs:

Seattle over Tampa Bay: Seattle and Shaun Alexander come storming out of the gate to take an early lead and force Chris Simms throw the ball. The result is a series of fatal mistakes by the Tampa Bay offense, as Seattle blows them out 28-10.

Carolina over Chicago: A team can only go so far with a rookie quarterback and without any offense to speak of. Carolina wins 17-6.

NFC Championship:

Seattle over Carolina: Tight game with strong performances from both offenses. Ultimately, Seattle's running game proves to be the difference as they trot out 27-23 winners.

Superbowl:

Indy over Seattle: Peyton Manning wins the big game, finally. Indy 31-20.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck....Learning the Truth

A few weeks ago, I happened to catch George Clooney's docudrama "Good Night, and Good Luck" purportedly describing CBS television journalist Edward R. Murrow's crusade in bringing down Joe McCarthy in 1954. The movie boasted excellent production values, strong performances from the cast and quite a few powerful scenes involving footage of the real Sen. McCarthy. However, it eventually proved to be a little disappointing due to a curious lack of focus or a strong story arc. Clooney's earlier Confessions of a Dangerous Mind struck me as being a superior effort.

Today, I came across this two-part criticism by Jack Shafer at Slate which casts quite a different light on the historical events underlying the story. If you believe Shafer's account, and there is good reason to believe it, one must raise serious questions about the ethics of Clooney deviating from facts to the extent that he has while continuing to sell the movie as a docudrama. Michael Moore has just lost his party crown.

NFL: AFC Playoff Predictions

The Oakland Raiders have failed to sell out their Sunday game, which means Bay area fans will not only be relieved of the burden of watching them on TV but also get to view some real football instead.

Here are my playoff predictions.

AFC Seeds:
1. Indy 2. Cincinnati 3. Denver 4. New England
WC1. Jacksonville WC2. Pittsburgh

Wild-card Game:

Denver over Pittsburgh: Tight game with Denver winning 23-20 despite a couple of early Jake Plummer interceptions. Ben Roethlisburger throws a game-altering interception in the final minutes and blames it on a broken appendage in the ensuing press conference.

New England over Jacksonville: New England lives to fight another day with a hard-fought 17-10 win in the snow. David Garrard's mobility is negated by the cold weather and playoff inexperience as Jacksonville succumbs despite a strong defensive performance.

First Round:

Indy over New England: Indy wins 34-20 as the New England defense gets shredded by Peyton Manning and company. Tom Brady attempts to author a single-handed comeback but is let down by his porous defence as Indy controls the clock after going up early.

Cincinnati over Denver: Cincinnati wins 31-27 behind a strong playoff debut by Carson Palmer. Denver gets down early, and mounts a furious comeback in the fourth quarter before running out of time.

AFC Championship Game:

Indy over Cincinnati: The shoot-out that everyone anticipates materializes, with Indy trotting out 38-31 winners, thanks to a crucial third-down sack by Dwight Freeney with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

Given that the NFC is a nightmare of mediocrity, I'm waiting to see the results of tonight's games before committing to my playoff seeding.

UPDATE: Fixed typos in spelling Cincinnati! You live and learn.

Friday, December 16, 2005

On The Ganguly Controversy

The latest controversy doing the rounds in cricketing circles is the unceremonious dumping of Sourav Ganguly, despite a reasonably good performance in the second test at Delhi. Former cricketers cried foul as did some Board higher-ups as well. And, in reporting completely devoid of irony, multiple news sources reported on the storm raised in political circles over Ganguly's axing without pausing to ponder for one moment why the protesters happened to hail from the state of Bengal.

In purely cricketing terms, there is hardly a need to justify dropping Ganguly. Yuvraj Singh has clearly shown that he is a superior batsman and fielder. Ganguly might have made a case for himself as a superior player of spin a year ago, but he now seems as much at sea against spin as Yuvraj usually is. One could also argue that, given Ganguly's selection as a batting "all-rounder", he hasn't really delivered on the bowling end of the bargain either. The crazy ravings of the former cricketers about not changing a winning combination appear to forget the inconvenient fact that one of Yuvraj and Ganguly needed to be dropped in any case.

The only legitimate objection one may raise is with the manner in which Ganguly has been treated. At the very least, he deserved to be informed in person of the decision and given the opportunity to bow out gracefully. However, rants of fury at selectorial misconduct are best reserved for the now-ousted selectors who chose him in the test team in the first place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Random NBA Notes

It has been a rather interesting NBA season thus far. A surprisingly large number of close games. The Warriors winning for a change. Steve Nash proving that a white guy can really deserve to be the MVP, no really. Pat Riley demonstrating the fine art of backstabbing and setting himself up for a big fall. Shaq making Jerry Buss look smart. Flip Saunders proving how overrated Larry Brown was, and how underrated Rick Carlisle was.

And some things, of course, have remained the same. Lousy referees. Grant Hill on injured reserve. Criticism of Kobe for keeping a mediocre Lakers team at .500 in the competitive West. Praise of Iverson for keeping an underperforming 76ers team below .500 in the lousy Atlantic (now renamed Titanic) division. Ron Artest being Ron Artest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Curious Case of Cory Maye

The blog world is aflame with the story of Cory Maye, a black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death for shooting a white police officer who broke into his home with a no-knock warrant. Crooked Timber has the details.

While the specifics of the case pose many problems -- a black man convicted by a predominantly white Mississippi jury for the death of a young, white cop who happens to be the son of the police chief just doesn't reek of fairness, especially when you consider that the search warrant was issued to nail Maye's neighbor, not Maye himself -- there is a larger question at play here: do no-knock warrants make any sense at all?

It seems to me that any armed person awakened in the middle of the night by an intruder would be tempted to shoot in self-defence. And, at least in America, being armed and shooting in self-defence are both considered perfectly reasonable. How, then, is a cop who enters a home without knocking supposed to protect himself? I suppose he could shout "Police!" but that eliminates the surprise element and, furthermore, opens the door to any smart burglar to use the same tactics to avoid getting shot. My conclusion: no-knock warrants should be outlawed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I had the opportunity to watch the latest installment of Harry Potter this weekend. I went in with high expectations given the high praise the movie received from critics and the quality trajectory that the series had been on to date. Alas, what a disappointment "Goblet of Fire" turned out to be! Granted, the movie is even darker than its predecessors in its subject matter, but it seriously lacks in the shades-of-gray department. Not only is the story cliched and formulaic (should I be blaming J. K. Rowling for this?), but the character treatments are so ridiculously poor that calling them one-dimensional would be an undeserved compliment.

The story revolves around the Tri-Wizard competition in which young wizards square off in a competition that is half treasure hunt and half Circus Maximus. Surprise, surprise, Harry Potter ends up taking part despite being under-age. He has to contend with competition from Russia and France besides an in-house rival as well. Is the Russian an all-brawn Adonis? Check. Is the French lass dainty and the first to lose? Check. Is the in-house guy a lovable loser who can be counted on not to win? Check.

All in all, a giant step backward from Alfonso Cuaron's rather excellent "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban".

Bucking Football Convention

The New York Times has an article today on Mike Leach, the maverick Texas Tech football coach who appears to manufacture offense out of whole cloth. In a sport as old as football, it is exceedingly hard to innovate on strategy to a point where the game dynamics change completely. Leach appears to have done exactly that with his refreshing approach; it's a pity that more people aren't paying attention.