The State of the NFL

The NFL regular season is more than halfway complete.  Ten weeks have passed which means that everyone has played at least 9 games with a handful of teams having played 10 games.  Plenty can happen in ten weeks!  There are teams that have played way above expectation and teams that have played well below expectation.  There are teams that are right on pace with what they were expected to do.  The same can be said for players.  As always, there are plenty of story lines that have emerged.  How about the endless drama with Ezekiel Elliott or Jerry Jones’s feud with commissioner Goodell?

As the NFL season was starting I wrote an article that mentioned the suspension of Zeke Elliott.  The drama surrounding this suspension has seemed to be never ending.  After all of the back and forth, the suspension is finally being served and it will really hurt the Cowboys season.  They need to stay afloat long enough for him to make it back and hopefully get them into the playoffs.  The Cowboys are a running team and losing your best player can certainly hurt your identity.  This decision has caused more than issues with the performance of the team.  I would like to think that this decision has hurt the relationship of the Cowboy’s owner, Jerry Jones, and the commissioner, Roger Goodell.  It is time for Goodell to get an extension and Jones is fighting it.  Do you think the suspension of Elliott has anything to do with Jones’s feelings for Goodell?  That will take some time to play out!

Earlier in the year I mentioned that the Patriots were off to a tough start.  I also mentioned that I would never count them out.  Well, after ten weeks they are in first place in their division and they look to be the cream of the crop again.  Some other teams in the AFC that look to be real contenders are the Steelers and Chiefs.   Those teams are not really a surprise, however, the Jaguars leading their division is a surprise.  It is also a surprise that the Raiders have played so poorly after the season they had last year.  In the NFC, all four division leaders are surprising in my opinion.  I do not think any of these teams were favored to win their division.  That is why you play the games as anything can happen.

The Eagles seem to be a real surprise this year as is their second year QB, Carson Wentz.  He is tearing up the league and that is one of the main reasons the Eagles are playing so well.  The Rams are also playing extremely well under their very young and first year head coach.  He has transformed them into a really strong unit and the play of second year QB, Jared Goff,  is another reason they are in first place. Injuries in the NFL are very common and depending on who gets injured can make a real difference in a teams season.  The Packers have lost the best QB in football, the Colts are in last place without Luck, and the Texans have lost three in a row after losing their rookie QB.

Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game.  Depending on who is injured and how severe the injury is can make or break a team.  Part of what makes the NFL great is the unpredictability of the sport. A suspension, an injury, and a player performing at a higher or lower level than expected can have a major impact on a team’s season.  I also love the drama involved in an NFL season.  At times you wonder if games are even necessary?  With 6-7 games left, there is plenty of time for the standings to change, and they most likely will when we check back in a couple of months.

 

–Victor Mandalawi

Off with a Bang!

Last week I wrote about the baseball playoffs starting.  I did not have any intention of writing about them again so soon, but after the first round(division series) I felt compelled to.  The division series concluded last night and it was a game filled with drama.  There were four series that took place, two of them were fairly dramatic and two were not. I better mention that my choice to win it all has already lost to my favorite team, the Yankees. I better not pick against them again!

In the A.L. the Red Sox vs Astros series was not nearly as dramatic as the the other A.L. series.  The Astros jumped out to a 2 games to 0 advantage by slugging their way to 8-2 victories in each game.  Boston returned home for game three and was able to win the game easily 10-3.  Game 4 was also in Boston and it was a closer contest with the Astros pulling it out 5-4.  In the end the red hot Astros bats were too much for the Red Sox, such a shame!  The Red Sox have a ton of talent and many feel they have under performed.  The Red Sox must have felt that way as they have already relieved their manager of his duties for next year.

The other series in the A.L included the Yankees and my pick to win it all, the Indians.  The Indians stormed out of the gate and took the first two games.  The second game was a pretty great comeback and had some serious drama.  Many would have figured the Yankees would be done at that point but they showed true heart and fought back to tie the series and then win it on Wednesday.  The Yankees were able to beat the Indians great pitcher, Corey Kluber, twice. The Yankees were able to win the series with their star, Aaron Judge, being historically awful in the series.  This sets up an Astros vs. Yankees match-up for the chance of playing in the World Series.

In the N.L. the Dodgers were able to jump out to a 2 game to 0 advantage while at home.  The series then shifted to Arizona and again the Dodgers had no issue with the D-Backs. They closed out the series with a sweep.  The Dodgers look like they have returned to their dominant form from the regular season before their slump near the end of the year.

The final N.L. match-up was the Cubs vs. the Nationals.  The series did not disappoint!  Each game seemed to have drama and heroics.  The Cubs took the first game while the Nationals took the second in our Nation’s Capital.  As the series shifted to Chicago the Cubs took the third game and game four was rained out.  This caused some drama as it would have allowed the Nationals to make some pitching changes that they chose not to.  The game was played the following day and after plenty of scrutiny in the media the Nationals did start one of their stars, Stephen Strasburg.  He was dominant and proved to be worthy of the start.  Game 5 would be back in D.C. and it was a classic!  It was not necessarily a well played game, but it had tons of drama from beginning to end. In the end the Cubs pulled it out and will face the Dodgers in the N.L.C.S.

The Yankees start their series tonight with Houston, hopefully they can jump out to an early series lead by stealing a game in Houston.  The series could end up being a classic but it could also be a dud.  I just can’t pick against the Yankees again, I made that mistake once already.  The Cubs had a long trip to Los Angeles overnight and start tomorrow night.  I am looking forward to this series since it is a re-match of last years NLCS.  The Dodgers have a better team this year and should win the series, but I do not like to pick against defending champs.  Regardless of the outcome, I am sure the baseball will be great to watch.

—Victor Mandalawi

 

The Aftermath of Harvey!

Last week I wrote about Hurricane Harvey. The storm was just about to make landfall as I wrote the article.  Here we are a week later and the news is not good.  The storm ended up being catastrophic! The damage left behind is staggering.  The storm has passed through Texas, but the damage is not done.  There will be issues in Texas for months to come.  The storm is moving north and it is still wreaking havoc on our country.  There will no doubt be a lot of lives that end up being lost as a result of this storm, but you will also see many tremendous stories of bravery and generosity.

As the Governor of Texas states when discussing the recovery efforts, “This will be a multi-year effort”.  That seems to be a honest but very depressing statement.  Many folks are heading back to their homes, some will be worse than others.  Other cities are still in big trouble, as Beaumont is now without running water. The death toll is sitting at roughly 46.  That number will certainly change as time passes and the water recedes.  There have been many stories of heartbreaking loss. This article covers many of the tragic stories of death. Very, very, sad stuff to read.

Even though Harvey is no longer a hurricane, it is still causing issues throughout the country. It is heading north and causing plenty of issues.  As you can see here, plenty of major cities like Nashville, TN are dealing with Harvey now.  Of course the scale is much smaller than the damage down south, it just shows how one storm can effect more than just a coastal region.

Houston claims to be open for business!  I am glad they feel like they are getting back on their feet, however, plenty of other towns are still facing devastation.  As mentioned earlier, Beaumont is out of running water.  Another town, Crosby, is facing a major dilemma as a chemical plant was flooded. There have been a few explosions at the plant so far with more to come.  Can you imagine Alligators in your front yard?  That is another hurdle the citizens will have to face as many have access to a much broader territory because of the flooding. Scary stuff!

The thing I would like to focus on is the countless acts of heroism that emerge.  Here is a nice story about a furniture store owner.  He is losing money by doing these things, but as he mentioned “to hell with profits, lets take care of people”.  How about JJ Watt? He cant physically help save someone, but he is using his celebrity status to raise money for relief aid.  He is at a staggering 13 million with more to come!

Of course the devastation of losing property, loved ones, and your way of life are something I can not relate to at the moment.  I know there will be many more stories of tragedy and heroism to arise.  This is a story that will eventually fade from the mainstream news.  However, this will not fade from the minds and hearts of those effected by this storm.  It is a very sad story and I am grateful that my family is safe and sound.

—Victor Mandalawi

The Judge Renders his Verdict!

On this past Tuesday, the 88th MLB All-Star game was played. It was actually a fun game to watch as it was dominated by pitching and was won in extra innings.  A few fun things happened during the game as well that made it more fun than games in the past.  As fun as the game itself was, I would argue that the festivities from the night before were more fun and memorable. The Home Run Derby was on Monday and it ended up being awesome to watch.  It was set-up from the beginning to be great and it delivered!

The 88th All-Star Game ended in 10 innings after Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in top of the 10th inning, that homer earned him the MVP award.  Andrew Miller of the Indians entered the game in the bottom of the inning and that was it.  He shut the NL team down and the game was over.  During the game something happened that would not normally happen during a game.  Nelson Cruz stepped up to the plate and asked the opposing catcher to take a picture of himself and the umpire, “Cowboy” Joe West.  That seems to a fun moment that baseball is not really known for based on all of their unwritten rules.

As fun as the game was the derby was much better.  In years past the derby has started to get stale. They have tweaked the format a few times and I think this time they got it right.  They have 8 contestants that are put into a bracket, so they compete against each other, not just a total number of homers. They were also given 4 minutes to hit as many homers as possible, with one timeout given during the round.  If they hit 2 balls over 450 feet, they were given a 30 second bonus.  This format really seemed to help or maybe it was the contestants?

The Yankees had two players in Sanchez and Judge while the home stadium Marlins had two contestants in Stanton and Bour.  The other 4 contestants were Bellinger, Sano, Moustakas, and Blackmon.  Last year Stanton put on a show and it seemed destined that he would meet up with Judge.  That did not happen as Sanchez beat Stanton to advance.  Bellinger and Sano advanced as well. That left the match-up between  Bour and Judge, Bour came out of the gates on fire and smashed the 4th highest total ever in a round at the derby with 22.  That was not good news for Judge, pretty tough to overcome.  Well, he did not disappoint!  Judge came out and hit 23 homers to win his first round match-up.  Judge ended up winning the whole contest by beating Bellinger in the finals.  The manner in which Judge hit the homers was quite the sight!  He was hitting massive bomb after massive bomb.  Check out this article to get a pretty decent idea of what he was doing.

As mentioned before, the derby had grown stale.  I think after this performance by not just Judge but the whole group it is back. I certainly will be watching again next year!  The combination of the new format and the massive homers being hit has me hooked and waiting for next year.  Apparently, I was not the only person watching either.  I am happy for MLB but more happy for Judge.  What a performance!

—Victor Mandalawi

Independence Day!

Independence Day is just a few days away.  Our Nation’s Independence was declared on July 4th, 1776. Lately there has been some rumblings that the date should be in question.  Maybe the date should be July 2, maybe even a month later.  Regardless of those rumblings, I do not see the date being changed.  It is too etched into American Society to just change it.  Independence Day has meaning because it was clearly the birth of our great nation.  It is celebrated in many ways like parades, family cook-outs, fireworks displays, and many more.  How do you celebrate?

Independence Day should be a great for all.  In the purest form it is a day to celebrate the birth of our great nation.  On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Independence but July 4th is when the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted.  Throughout the years the day has been celebrated in many ways all across the country.  The National celebration is held in Washington DC, our capital.  It is considered the greatest fireworks show in the country.

I have celebrated in many ways over the years.  However, the celebration always includes family and friends.  You can start the day with a local parade and then I always end up at a cook-out enjoying food and drink.  The night would not be complete without a firework display of some sort.  Usually, you have the staples for food.  Someone has a grill and you get plenty of hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs, etc.  All of the sides are pretty standard as well like potato salads, macaroni salads, corn on the cob, etc.  The meal would not be complete without a patriotic beverage like this! As always, drink responsibly, for more reasons than one!  You can be certain that plenty of desserts will show up, hopefully some that look like this!

In my opinion, the night is not complete without some sort of firework display.  Whether that be a professional show that you attend or something you and your crazy buddies set-up(remember the drinking point from earlier).  I have always loved fireworks, I became hooked as a kid and still love them to this day as an adult.  I spent many years putting on a show for family and friends.  I always figured it was a nice gesture and that if anyone took pleasure like I did, it was a win-win.  There was always a “close call” though and in recent years I have decided to stop with the display.  Maybe I am getting soft in my old age?  I just do not want to be responsible for myself or someone else to get hurt because of a firework show gone bad.

Not having a personal show has taken some of the fun out of the day for me, but all I have to do is realize that my love of fireworks is not what the day is all about.  You should celebrate the freedom that you have and realize what a great nation we do live in even though there are problems.  No nation is perfect and I would like to think ours is clearly the best!  Ultimately, the day is a success because as always you spend quality time with family and friends!

 

—Victor Mandalawi

What a Wild Night!

The NBA Draft was held last night, if you did not already know.  If you are not a fan of the NBA I would argue that their draft is still very entertaining.  Even more so than the NFL draft.  I think that is for a few reasons.  One of the reasons is because the teams seem to make a flurry of trades leading up to and during the draft.  Another reason is because you most likely know the players more than football players.  I also think that the players chosen can have more of an impact for their teams in most instances than other sports.

Let’s talk about the trades leading up to the draft and during the draft. You can view this trade tracker from the NBA.  I am not sure why, but the NBA seems to have more dramatic trades than any other sport.  Most of the time these trades happen on draft day or leading up to draft day.  The Celtics held the #1 pick in the draft and they traded that pick to the Sixers for a pick 2 spots lower and a future first round pick.  The Celtics may have gotten the guy they wanted all along?  If so, they got their guy and another pick.  Seems smart?  I think so, especially given that the number one pick they help was from a trade a few years ago with Brooklyn.  What if this new future pick turns out to be a number 1?  The Hawks traded away Dwight Howard and a pick for little in return.  On paper the Hornets are the winner of the trade, but I am sure the Hawks have their reasons.  There was also another really major trade.  The Bulls traded one of the better players in the league, Jimmy Butler, for 2 young and promising players and they also swapped first round picks.  Jimmy Butler is a great player, so what they received for him might not have been enough.

There was a record number of Freshman taken in the first round last night, with a total of 16.  You read that right, 16!  Only 2 seniors were taken in the draft last night, the last 2 picks of the first round by the way.  That seems to be the trend that teams are getting younger and younger. It is harder to scout a player that only plays one year vs. a player that plays 3-4 years.  So many times teams might be drafting on potential upside.  I would think that will cause more “busts” and more “gems” after these kids develop more in the future.  Some of these kids will step onto the court and help their teams right away.  However, some will take a few years to develop and they may not even be on the same team when they are done developing.

The NBA draft is only 2 rounds and is done in one night, but it sure packs a punch.  The sheer number of trades is hard to even follow, unless they are big trades that really seem to make a difference. I also think that since the draft is only 60 picks, there will be decent players that are not even drafted.  They can go on to the D-League or play overseas and make a nice living.  Really what the NBA draft can do is offer hope to fans, or maybe even something different if you believe in these grades.  However, I think grading teenagers is pointless because the amount of develop left is still very large.

 

—Victor Mandalawi

 

What is Pastafarianism?

Have you ever heard of Pastafarianism? Either have I, until very recently.  While browsing article at CNN today I came across an article that mentions it.  I will be touching on it later, but it just seems concerning how that is news.  This topic was sandwiched around the following topics: a Secret Service article, a travel ban article, an article about the spelling bee, an article about a donation from a former racist, and an article about the divorce of a former teacher/student relationship.  You can argue that all of those are legitimate newsworthy stories, except for the Pastafarian article.  However, maybe at times slipping in a somewhat humorous story is good for people reading the news.  Let’s take a deeper look into Pastafarianism.

Pastafarianism would be the study, practice, and teaching of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  That’s right, one more time, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!  Clearly this has to be a joke, right?  According to the website, the organization has been secret for hundreds of years and has just now come into the mainstream.  They claim to be widely recognized as a legitimate religion, mostly by Christians because of the realization that “our God has larger balls than theirs”.  Yep, you read that right!  Check out the website for plenty more to read and you can also browse some of their photos and the ministry work.  It may even give you a laugh.

What has made this newsworthy? Back to the story on CNN about an Arizona man wearing a strainer for his identification photo. Normally you are not able to wear anything on your head for identification photos.  Sometimes, exceptions are allowed for religious purposes.  The man spent a couple of years trying at various locations and finally he was allowed to take his photo with a strainer on his head.  The photo is pretty funny to say the least.  Some would argue that is against the safety of of our citizens, or that this will open the floodgates for others to try these type of gimmicks.  Others could argue that as weird and goofy as it seems, what makes anyone’s religion more believable or realistic than this?  Who are we to say what a person can and can’t worship?  It was noted that Sean Corbett might have his ID voided for wearing his head gear.  If that happens, Corbett vows to wage a legal battle.

I am not in any place to say that The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real, fake, or ridiculous.  I would imagine that it will go to the court system just like everything else in our society.  The religion is recognized in New Zealand and the Netherlands.  Who knows, maybe the U.S. is next?  As for this being news, I am not sure if it really is, but it certainly can maybe put a smile on a face leading into a weekend!

–Victor Mandalawi

Halfway to a Champ!

Approximately one month ago I wrote about the start of the NBA playoffs.  At this time, we are almost halfway through the playoffs.  3 of the 4 semifinal participants are set and possibly after tonight all 4 will be set.  So far there have not been any real surprises or major upsets.  A best of 7 series is really designed for the better team to win.  Occasionally, you can have a really bad match-up against a team and the lower seeded team can beat you.  However, when you get to the semifinal round, I think any team can win. Your team has to be pretty good to get that far.  Just because there have not been any upsets does not mean there have been great stories to follow.

In the first round series with the Bulls and Celtics, the 8th seeded Bulls won the first two games of the series on the road.  In most series that would be considered a commanding lead.  The Bulls point guard, Rajon Rondo, was injured in Game 2 and had to sit out the rest of the series.  He is not alone in thinking that if he did not get hurt, the Bulls would have continued to win and most likely win the series. After he went out the Bulls did not come close to winning another game and the higher seeded team prevailed.  The Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both won their series in a sweep, no surprise there.  The higher seeded Wizards and Raptors also advanced in the Eastern Conference.  The Western Conference had the Rockets and Spurs advance as well.  There was one minor upset in the West.  The Utah Jazz beat the Clippers in a game 7.  Ending the Clippers season and bringing up an interesting summer for them, but that is a topic for another day!

The second round has had a little more drama and suspense.  It was again no surprise that the Cavs and Warriors advanced, but maybe a little that they swept their series again.  When you sweep a team, you can give your team a much needed rest at this time of the year.  I am sure both teams will enjoy their rest.  The other 2 series had a little more drama.  The Spurs are playing the Rockets and the series would have been very competitive.  The Spurs then managed to lose their point guard for the season, a big blow for sure.  I would not have been surprised if they ended up losing the series because of that, but they went the other way. They were more than competitive with the Rockets and they were even able to close out the Rockets with another major injury keeping Leonard out.  The Celtics are in a tight series with the Wizards.  They could end it tonight with a win, if not, they will have to play a game 7 in Boston on Monday. I would count on it as each home team has won.

It seems that we are still on track for the collision course we are all looking for!  It would be the third straight  time the Cavs and Warriors meet in the Finals, with this one breaking the tie.  It is yet to be seen if anyone can knock them off in the semi-finals.  The Spurs have major injury concerns and are a heavy underdog, but I would never count out a Popovich coached team.  I do not think the Cavs will be challenged in their next series.  LeBron is rolling and will be a tough out.  We should have a winner in another month!

Down to Four!

There are four teams remaining in the Men’s NCAA basketball Tournament.  They are usually referred to as the “Final Four”.  64 teams entered the tourney and only 4 remain.  60 games have been played and only 3 remain.  As I have mentioned in the last two posts, there is plenty of drama and there are plenty of story lines to follow.  That has not changed with only 4 teams remaining.  There are 2 #1 seeds left, a #3, and a #7.  It is not surprising that a number 1 seed makes it, but it might shock a few this time around.  Lets take a look at each team that is left.

We can start with the least surprising team, North Carolina.  They were the #1 seed in the South bracket.  Winning was not surprising, but the drama in the game against Kentucky was “edge of your seat” stuff.  North Carolina held a decent lead in the final minutes, but Kentucky managed to hit a few 3 pointers to close the gap and the final 3 pointer tied the game with roughly 7 seconds left.  North Carolina did not call a timeout and they dribbled right up the court and dished for a wide open jump shot…It went in with .3 seconds left and the game was all but over.  By the way, the next morning, this happened.  Sometimes it is easy to forget they are student athletes, good for him!

Another number one seed to make the Final Four are the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It should not be a surprise that a number one seed makes it, but it is considering I am discussing the “mid-major” powerhouse.  This is their first trip after having plenty of really solid teams and opportunities in the past.  Gonzaga advanced to the final 4 by winning a close game against West Virginia and then blowing out Xavier.  Quite frankly, it should not be a surprise they are here. They have only lost one game all year and they rose to the #1 ranking in the country at one point this season.  There is no reason they can’t win it all.

The number 3 seed Oregon Ducks advanced to the final four by squeaking past the Michigan Wolverines and then handling a really good Kansas team.  They had some really outstanding efforts by Dorsey and Bell.  Bell was a one man wrecking crew in the paint.  Oregon had a great regular season and could or should have been seeded higher.  However, one of their better players was injured in the conference tournament.  Most thought that would really hurt their chances of doing any damage in the tourney.  It looks like “most” people were wrong.  They have a good shot at winning it all.

Finally, our last team in the Final Four is the South Carolina Gamecocks.  This is their first trip to the Final Four and they certainly earned it.  They knocked off Baylor and Florida to get in.  Not too mention they beat Duke earlier in the tourney.  They play an extremely physical brand of basketball with outstanding defense.  Many would argue they have taken on the personality of their coach, Frank Martin.  He is about as intense as it gets!  They certainly have a shot to win it all if they continue to play like they have.

So there are three games remaining, I know there are favorites to win each game.  However, I would not be surprised is any one of the 4 teams came out on top.  It takes a ton of hard work to get here and just a little more to win it all.  There is only one winner and by late Monday, we will know who it is.  By the way, 25 years ago today a guy named Jordan hit this shot to win it all for North Carolina.

 

–Victor Mandalawi

Sweet Sixteen!

Last week I wrote about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  The first round was played on Thursday and Friday. The second round was played on Saturday and Sunday.  I thought there would be major upsets and plenty of stories to come from the tournament.  Trust me, it is not hard to predict upsets and story lines.  They happen every year.  I wanted to touch on the upsets and what teams are still left.  I also wanted to see if any good stories would appear.

Sixteen teams are left standing after the first 2 rounds.  The NCAA takes a couple of days off before the 3rd and 4th rounds commence.  After this weekend, we will have four teams left standing. You will always have a few surprises and this year is no different.  The East region has lost the top 2 teams in the region.  The West region has an 11 seed that advanced.  The Midwest has a 7 seed that advanced and the South region is “chalk”.  Chalk is a term that means the top seeds have all advanced, like they should have based on their seeds. Even though 3 of the regions have upsets, I do not think they are that major.  The upset in the West region is courtesy of the 11 seed Xavier.  Seems like a “Cinderella”, but they were ranked preseason #7 in the country so some people thought they would be good this year.  They have had some injuries and they seem to have figured out how to play without their injured players.  The 7 seed in the Midwest region is seen as an upset, but that team is Michigan.  They finished the regular season on a roll, were in a minor plane crash, and won the Big Ten tournament. They carried that momentum over to the tourney.  I do not think they are Cinderella because they are not a small school with no expectations.  The East region lost #1 Villanova and #2 Duke.  Villanova lost to a very accomplished Wisconsin team. Duke lost to South Carolina.  In my opinion that is the closest team to a Cinderella that the tourney has left, even though their seed does not say that.

A few of the stories that have emerged are entertaining.  Here is a great one from the Gonzaga team.  I love the nicknames they got, “Shrek and Donkey”.  It is a great read and can give you a glimpse of what “Donkey” has had to deal with 5,000 miles from home. I have already mentioned the plane crash that the Michigan Wolverines survived.  A major story to me is the remaining match-ups.  We will have games this weekend that include two major programs in Kentucky and UCLA.  Xavier and Arizona playing each other is putting the coaches against each other.  Chris Mack was an assistant for Miller at Xavier and when Miller left, Mack got the job.  That will be a tough game for those two.  How about this, UCLA will have to beat Kentucky and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four!  That is brutal.

Regardless of the team you cheer for, you will be able to find a game that is interesting in the next few days.  If you are not able to, you are not a fan of college basketball.  Also, you should watch or pay attention just so you can follow your bracket.  I know you filled one out!

–Victor Mandalawi