You Don’t Want to Read This

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Seriously... go back and read the title again.

Still here?

A few times a year, I have to write an article for me. This is one of those articles. The vast majority of my articles are for you, the reader. (And I have around 2100 articles here: Archive.)

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Something didn't happen more than 500 days ago and it's still making news.

As Boston Globe article states, "... fatigue is setting in here in New England, and the rest of the country is downright comatose. 'Enough is enough,' is all I hear from people on the street." (Are you still doubting this article's title?)

We like to think of the legal system as just and right, but the more I look at it, it seems very flawed. I find this frustrating because it seems easy to fix if we could just get rid of the red tape and use some common sense.

I'm going to write a little bit about football, but that's just necessary background. This transcends football. (I don't say that lightly because I love football.)

If that link above didn't give away by now, I'm writing about DeflateGate... the NFL's accusation that Tom Brady orchestrated a scheme to deflate footballs for some alleged performance enhancement.

As nearly 2 dozen scientists have put together in legal brief the "deflated" footballs are due to the Ideal Gas Law.

How would we feel about the NBA suspending Michael Jordan for 20+ games for defying gravity? At least in that case you could place some kind of direct causation.

Even if you don't believe in the laws of physics, you are looking at a scenario where you are accusing of a person of orchestrating a scheme to take 0.02 PSI out of footballs (by Peter King's math).

This is like convicting Bill Gates on no evidence of creating an elaborate scheme to rob a bank to steal 13 cents.

It seems that, legally-speaking, DeflateGate has become about whether an employer can arbitrarily take a person's paycheck away by being the judge, jury, and executioner. That's an over-simplification, but it's a complex topic that would take more than 2,000 words to explain. (Also, I'm not a lawyer, but that's my understanding from more reading on the topic than anyone should ever do.)

The impacted person of this legal matter (Tom Brady) has no ability to say, "Hey, this is banana pants crazy... can I have a fair trial on the merits of what I'm being accused of?"

That's what I mean about things being "just and right." Everyone seems to be arguing about whether an arbitrator can be obviously biased and whether we can create a subset "system" to deny people of their core legal rights.

And that's probably why the biggest labor union in the US filed a legal brief explaining how the court was wrong and was "lacking in procedural fairness."

I heard a convincing argument on the radio the other day. It was something like, "If you don't side with labor unions you are against America." That's over the top, but there was grain of truth to it.

These amicus briefs are interesting. These are people who aren't involved in the case who are saying, "Hey, you got this wrong."

Scientists and labor unions are on the side of Tom Brady. Anyone else? Yes.

The New England Patriots also filed on the side of Tom Brady. That might seem like common sense to the general population, but this is like Marvel's Civil War. The Patriots are an NFL franchise and the NFL enjoys a monopoly of televised professional football in America. The Patriots can't go anywhere else with their business.

Are there more people going out the way to support this injustice? Yes.

Kenneth Feinberg filed a brief as well. Like you, I've never heard of him. It seems like his the top arbitrator in the nation. His resume includes arbitrating September 11th terrorist attacks, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Zapruder film sale. It seems that Kenneth Feinberg is "kind of a big deal", to borrow a phrase from a friend.

Did anyone else join the party? Yes, 10 law school professors decided to go out their way to side on Brady's behalf.

Science and scientists, labor unions representing hard working Americans, the top expert in arbitration, and the legal experts (10 law school professors) are all on Brady's side.

When I look at the NFL's side, I can't find anyone who isn't paid by the NFL supporting it.

Did the laws of physics fail? Are nearly two dozen scientists wrong? Did the alleged infraction matter when Brady followed it up with an MVP-worthy season? Why did the Patriots cause a rift with the NFL for one player? Why are law professors and an extremely distinguished arbitrator upset about this?

I think I know the answers to these questions. Let's discuss it in the comments. But first, please allow me to bring money into the discussion (this site is about personal finance).

This thing that scientifically never happened has come to an estimated (by ESPN) cost of 22.5 million dollars. That's just legal fees from the lawyers, I don't think it counts the costs to the public of the judicial system (the salaries of the judges, for example).

Imagine how much good we could with 22.5 million dollars! How many hungry people does that feed?

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Posted on June 2, 2016.

Why Is The FBI Investigating Fan Duel and Draft Kings?

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Back in August, Lazy Man gave us a tip - avoid DraftKings and FanDuel.  I won't recap the entirety of his article (I may get paid by the word, but I have scruples.  I'm getting paid for this parenthetical explanation, though.  Jackpot!).  In a nutshell, you create a fantasy team (staying within a "salary cap") and your team competes against millions of other entries.  If your collection of players does really really well, you win money.  Otherwise you lose your entry fee.  Because of the number of competing entries, you have to do amazingly incredibly awesome to cash in.  Having a team that is merely "great" won't be enough.

Gambling or not gambling

There's been  lot of discussion about whether daily fantasy sports (DFS) such as DraftKings and FanDuel are gambling.  It's very clear cut to me.  It's definitely gambling.  Gambling does not always mean a contest of pure chance (slot machines) - gambling can also be a contest with a large element of skill.  Poker and horse racing fit this mold.  Horse racing is unequivocally gambling, but it's clearly not a game of pure chance.  Someone who has expert knowledge is going to do far better (over the long run) betting the horses than I will.  Daily Fantasy Sports is basically betting the horses, but swapping out humans for the horses.

The question of whether DFS should be legal or not is an entirely different question.  Currently, Daily Fantasy Sports are legal in 45 states.

FBI Investigation

Several days ago, the FBI began an investigation into DraftKings and FanDuel.  The event that triggered this was a DraftKings employee winning $350,000 in a contest on competitor FanDuel.  Until recently, employees were banned from competing in contests run by their employers, but not those run by competitors.  They are now banned from competing on contests on competing site.

How much do these employees win?  At a conference last month, the co-founder of DraftKings bragged that some employees made more from contests on other sites than they did from their salaries at DraftKings.  A FanDuel spokesperson recently said that DraftKings employees have won 0.3% of the money the company has awarded in its history.  This might sound like a small number, but bear in mind that there are millions of people playing and that this relatively small group is winning 1 of every $300.

What's the Problem?

These employees are probably winning because they're huge sports fans, right?  Well, not necessarily.  Some of these employees have access to ownership data - they know how many people have selected each player.

How does this help?  Let's look at a completely hypothetical example.  Let's say that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have the exact same salary and are projected to have the exact same value in the coming week.  It's a coin flip.

Let's also say that 100,000 people picked Peyton Manning and 200,000 picked Tom Brady - and as an employee with access to ownership data, you know this.  Why the disparity?  Perhaps non-football reasons that are not obvious to the casual fan.  Peyton's brother Eli threw four interceptions last week and is pulling Peyton down with him.  Meanwhile Giselle was in a popular commercial and Tom got a bit of a boost from that.  These are obviously stupid reasons to pick Tom over Peyton, but subtle things often affect us subconsciously.

Who do you pick?  You pick Peyton.  Why?  Because the projected payoff is exactly the same, but you get a better boost with Peyton.  If Peyton outperforms Tom, you get a boost that you have to share with 100,000 people.  If Tom outperforms Peyton, you get a boost that you have to share with 200,000 people.   Tom helps you less.

If the point isn't clear, perhaps this will help.  You're in a March Madness pool with 20 people.  There are two equally dominant teams - Lazyford and Kosvard.  Since Lazyford's campus is twenty miles away, 16 people have picked them to win.  Which team do you pick in order to maximize your potential payout?  Kosvard, of course.  It's the same basic concept - when the projected cost/reward ratio are the same for teams/players, pick the least popular one.

What Does the Future Hold for DFS?

Honestly, I don't know.  While employees of the sites are now banned from playing on competing sites, this really doesn't fix the problem of ownership data being used to optimize lineups.  An employee could simply share (or sell) this data to family and friends, have them play, and take a cut.  If they are smart enough - playing medium-sized games and spreading out the people geographically - they can probably get away with it.

 

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Last updated on October 18, 2015.

Why NFL Franchises Fail

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Editor's Message: If you are a fan of personal finance, I ask that you stick with me and read this article. Yes, it is going to focus on the National Football League (or "American" Football for my foreign readers), but many of the concepts can be translated to running any successful business and/or getting top value for your dollar.

This is also a unique article, because I drafted parts of it as long as a year ago. A lot has happened in that time, and I have very mixed feelings knowing that the the commissioner of the league openly lies. At some parts, you may see that I love the game, but at others, it will be a very different picture. Also, I've gotten into a time-crunch with life events and this article isn't nearly as polished as I hoped it would be.

Tonight the New England Patriots open up the NFL season in defense of their world (well USA) championship. I've been following the Patriots since the sexual harassment of a female reporter "marred" their dreadful performance of a 1-15 season. Even before that... more than 30 years now. That's just what you do when you grow up outside of Boston.

I'm a huge fan of the football in general. I think it is unique amongst the four major sports in America. It is a team game where a weak link can end the season (as explained in the beginning of The Blind Side). You have to do a lot more than piece together a "Big Three" and watch them dominate like in basketball. It is a sport where the strategy is always evolving and each game is a unique chess match that had a week of planning put into it. It isn't like baseball where game strategy is very, very basic. It also has free agency and salary caps ensure that a team can't hold a nucleus very long. Typically a team loses half of its players each year... and usually some very good ones.

Under those circumstances, I'm not sure if I am aware of another franchise that has had more success in the history of sports than the New England Patriots. The Celtics won many titles with Bill Russell, but they were able to hold that nucleus without fear of free agency. The San Antonio Spurs are probably the closest, but again they've done it with a nucleus of a few players.

I've put in countless hours into following football and the Patriots. If you have a life you probably have better things to do. I commend you. At the same time, I feel like I've learned so much that I wanted to give a little back.

So I decided to put together a "guide" for fans to help them understand if their favorite football franchise is moving in the right direction.

There Can Only Be One

Football, like many sports is a zero sum game. When one team wins another team loses. There are only so many wins and losses to be handed around the NFL... not everyone can be 12-4.

Success and failure is relative in zero-sum games. If the competition is terrible, you will be successful even if you are just less terrible. This is an important concept to keep in mind as you read this "guide." Not every franchise is going to perfect in all these areas. When a franchise is extremely successful in one area it can even cover up deficiencies in other areas. Put a few successful areas together and it can take you a long way.

(By the way, did you catch the reference for the title of this section?)

Success Starts at the Top

A franchise will fail if ownership, the general manager, and the coach aren't on the same page. Coach Bill Parcels was famous for saying, "If they want you to cook the meal, they ought to let you buy the groceries." At the time, he was referring to how ownership didn't allow him to draft the players he wanted. He was left trying to coach players who he felt weren't a good fit for his system. That's just asking for trouble.

The Patriots have had the same owner and general manager/coach for the entire millennium thus far. The level of trust there is unparalleled. This continuity allows them to make trades for the future in mind. It allows them to structure contracts for the future. Coach Bill Belichick can make unconventional draft picks without fear that it is going to cost him to lose his job.

This continuity is very important. It leads us to the next point:

Successful Franchises Avoid Buying on Credit

We live in a world where we demand success right away. A new coach feels the pressure to produce positive results immediately. This can lead to trades that may look good today, but hurt you down the road. It's like buying a top of the line suit for a specific job interview on credit. In some world, that may make sense, but if you don't get the job, you are left paying credit card bill for something that's hanging in your closet.

Pressure can cause NFL franchises to buy on credit. They pay interest on that credit. It mortgages their future for success today.

Teams buy on credit when they trade a future draft pick for a player today. They buy on credit when they sign a player to a contract that likely leads to dead money in the salary cap in the future, when that player is no longer on the team.

New coaches aren't the only ones getting pressured to succeed. Two of the most successful franchises in recent years, the Patriots and Broncos, have had pressure to add talent at any cost due to the "closing window" of their aging superstar quarterbacks. The two franchises got into "arms race" with all the moves they were making to get better.

I believe that the Broncos bought on credit for their run and have lost a couple of their best players (Julius Thomas and Terrance Knighton) because of limited salary cap space. The Patriots almost never buy on credit, but they did to sign Darrelle Revis one of the best players in the game. It didn't disrupt the core salary structure of the team and the players they lost were ones they deemed were no longer a good value for their talent.

The turnover of coaches in some unsuccessful franchises has been so extensive that they've been buying on credit for more than a few seasons. Oakland is one franchise that comes to mind. They seem to have been digging themselves out of hole for years now.

The Patriots have been very successful in lending their draft currency to other franchises. I wrote about draft picks as currency back in 2007 and again in 2011. The Patriots traded #28 to the 49ers for their first round pick next year. The worst case scenario was that they'd get #32 then. However, the 49ers weren't very good (as the Patriots suspected) and the pick turned out to be #7.

A #7 pick was very valuable and actually worth more than 2.25 #28 picks (there are mathematical charts for this stuff). Essentially the Patriots got over 125% interest in waiting a year. Patriots fans were very unhappy at the time to not have the asset right away. However, it was a great long-term move for the future success of the franchise.

Successful Franchises Find Diamonds in the Rough

Back in 2007, the Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick for Randy Moss, a superbly talented player. He had been on that Oakland franchise that floundered at the bottom of the standings year after year. He was labeled as a "malcontent", which is natural if you are competitive and go home as a loser each week.

Randy Moss went on to score more touchdowns than any receiver in the history of the game that year. Presumably 30 other teams could have traded a 3rd round pick for Moss, which would have been tremendous value. To be fair to those teams, the Moss-Patriots break-up was ugly, probably what they feared. However, it was quick and the Patriots moved on without missing a beat.

Randy Moss wasn't an isolated case for the Patriots. They routinely found value in other team's cast-offs. They were able to win the 2001 Super Bowl, with a bunch of free agents that that were signed to very small contracts.

No one has played more defensive snaps in the last three years than Rob Ninkovich, who had been bounced around a few teams before becoming a core Patriot.

Last year the Patriots won The Super Bowl on the memorable play by Malcolm Butler, an undrafted free-agent rookie without any other offers. Butler's agent tells the story, "[Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer called] and he said, 'Is Malcolm still available? I can bring in one player in the country for a tryout and I picked Malcolm. I believe Malcolm can play in the NFL.'"

Every NFL team can point to successful diamonds they've mined. I don't know of any way to quantify which ones are more successful than others. I can't say that Patriots found more than other teams, but from my biased view it feels like it. (Though I tip my hat to Seattle on their diamond-finding ability). However, an important ingredient to success is finding value where others don't.

I believe the best way to do that is to have a well-funded scouting department. Just like continuity of management is important, it is important to continuity of scouting, so you are comparing apples to apples year after year.

Successful Franchises Work Hard

This should go without saying, but let's just say it. I love this quote:

"Welcome to the NFL. That will start Thursday. They'll get a big dose of New England Patriots football over the next whatever we've got, six weeks -- however long it is. We'll give them everything we can in heavy doses, try to get them ready for training camp and they'll get even more then... The strong will survive. The other ones will fall off. And we'll keep going...

We've got 31 other teams competing just as hard as we are to do the same things. Yeah, we're going to have to outwork people, out-hustle them and just do a better job. That's what our business is.

Successful Franchises Maximize the Quarterback Position

The importance of the quarterback in football is crucial. He's the leader. He touches the ball on every play. It's become a passing league and they are the ones doing the passing.

There are arguably 5 elite QBs in the NFL (Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, and Luck). Having one of these 5 players is almost a guarantee your franchise is going to win at least 10 of the 16 games and make the playoffs.

After the elite group there is another tier of very good QBs. That tier includes players like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, etc. You could have some losing seasons with these players. However, if a franchise surrounds these players with a good (or great) defense and they get hot at the right time, it can win a Super Bowl with them.

So realistically, the franchises with a top 12 QB are the ones that are successful. That may sound obvious, but it is interesting to note that 20 teams start the season in a difficult position.

There's another level of this when it comes to the salary cap. Because QB is the most important decision, they command the most money on the market. A team putting a lot of money into a QB will naturally have less money to spend on the other players on the team. This gives an enormous advantage to teams with a QB in their rookie contract such as Russell Wilson (until recently) and Andrew Luck.

Taking that point from a Patriots point of view, they are fortunate that Tom Brady doesn't demand top dollar. In fact, Over the Cap says, "Tier 1 [of salary caps] for ESPN is hampered because of Tom Brady’s incredibly ridiculous team friendly contract. It is almost unfair to include that." They also show that his salary cap number is 19th among 22 non-rookie contract QBs, which is an extraordinary value.

These low numbers allow Seattle, Indianapolis, and New England to add a couple of extra stars that other teams simply can't fit into the cap. Seattle is now paying top dollar for Russell Wilson, which may make them have to make tough decisions down the road on some players. Thus far, they've been very, very good at managing the salary cap, a credit to their planning.

If you can't get one of these elite quarterbacks, perhaps the best plan is try to get one who doesn't make mistakes. Alex Smith comes to mind. I believe a strong defensive team with a few other pieces could do very well with him. As a Patriots fan, I would be scared to see him on the Bills. Fortunately for Patriots fans, it seems like Rex Ryan is always going to be cursed with a bottom of the barrel quarterback.

Successful Franchises Build a "Complete" Team

When you think of the Patriots, you probably think about Brady, Belichick, and maybe Gronk. You probably don't think of anyone on defense (unless you are a Patriots fan). Vince Wilfork and Darrelle Revis may have been the most obvious stars, but they aren't with the team any more.

However, the Patriots have used 6 of their last 7 first round draft picks on defensive players. Four of the 6 are highly-ranked veterans. The other two are essentially having their rookie year this year (one was injured last year). It might not seem like it, but the Patriots defense compares to the Ravens and Texans, which is very good.

Patriots fans know that Father Time is undefeated and Tom Brady's skills will lose to him at some point. I believe the Patriots are trying to put together a defense that can compete if Tom Brady's performance becomes more like Joe Flacco's.

The Patriots also happen to have one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL. Typically fans don't think about the position much. Long-time fans of the Patriots know the value of this position as they went from Missin' Sisson to Adam Vinatieri.

Successful Franchises Manage the Salary Cap

I touched on this a bit in the quarterback section. You have to know when you commit to a player and when you can't... and you have to know how long you can. For the most part the Patriots have been very, very good at this*. They've moved on fan favorites such as Lawyer Milloy, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri (before he came back), and more.

In just about every case, Patriots fans went nuts. They screamed that Bill Belichick had finally lost it. Then a funny thing happened. In almost every case, the players vastly under-performed on their new teams. (The exception being Vinatieri, but the Patriots replaced him with an equally good, younger, cheaper model.) Fans reluctantly had to develop an "In Bill We Trust" attitude.

Moving on from such players saved them a lot of salary cap money that could be used to retain younger talent. Sometimes they were able to trade them for additional draft picks.

Draft picks are an important part of managing salary cap. Players on their rookie contracts can be paid less than veterans and often perform as well as some stars. The Patriots like to draft and develop a quarterback to be the back-up, because it is cheaper on the salary cap than many veterans. I'm sure they've done the math and figured that over a 4-year deal they can save somewhere around $8 million in cap space vs. paying the market rate for a veteran. It all adds up.

The Patriots may have reputation for heartless when it comes to player contracts, but this frugality helps them get more their salary cap dollar. That translates to wins.

* This excludes the tight end who is rotting in prison for murdering someone. Whoops.

Successful Franchises Cheat

Just kidding, all NFL Franchises cheat.

Taping Opposing Teams Practices

This never happened and the source, the Boston Herald printed a retraction. Media outlets, specifically ESPN, reported it as truth recently as a few weeks ago. When it was brought to their attention that it never happened they issued an apology to the Patriots past midnight when no one was watching.

Still when reporters report false incidents, a perception is created that the Patriots have a "culture of cheating."

SpyGate

This actually did happen, but here's what it amounts to:

"Spying" is perfectly legal. As John Madden said on live TV, it's common place in the NFL. Jimmy Johnson admitted it as well.

It is exactly like going 66mph in a 65mph zone. It's wrong and you shouldn't do it. Everyone does it anyway. If a police officer wants to target you and let everyone else go 80mph, that's an unfortunate part of life. You may be able to appeal it to neutral judge, but as we've found out with DeflateGate that process doesn't exist in the NFL.

Worse, the NFL doles out punishment without any understandable logic. The Patriots got the equivalent penalty to a life sentence in prison for what was clearly a misdemeanor. The next time you break the speed limit, imagine being thrown in jail for life and having others say, "Well, you shouldn't have committed the crime."

DeflateGate

As Patriot-hater and New York Law School Professor on Robert Blecker points out DeflateGate never happened and the NFL cheated:

If you think it happened, you probably read the media headlines that were generated by the NFL leaking false information to media outlets such as ESPN. When you take the time to read analysis of the Brady's appeal and the Judge Berman's questioning, you'll have a better understanding of what really went on.

Summary of cheating

So we have one event that clearly never happened (taping practices). One event that is widely considered to never have happened (DeflateGate)... and one minor misdemeanor (SpyGate). Lazy people group all three together ignore the real reasons for success above. They then jump to the false conclusion that their team was ripped off.

The Aaron Hernandez and Lisa Olson scandals were a thousand times worse than all of this combined. If you want to attack the Patriots, at least go after real events with real victims suffering real consequences.

Of course if you are going to do that, let's credit the Patriots Vince Wilfork helping pull a car crash victim to safety on the way home from the AFC Championship game. That is a little more meaningful than air pressure in footballs, right?

Final Thoughts

If you got this far, congratulations... this was certainly a long read. I actually had more information in my notes (such as successful franchises don't go "all-in" for a chance to win one Super Bowl), but at some point I simply need to stop writing and publish this thing.

I had hoped to tie in more of life lessons, but since this is the equivalent length of a week's worth of writing, that will also be saved for an update down the road. Maybe some of those lessons are obvious in how I structured the article.

If you are a football fan, good luck to your team this year.

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Posted on September 10, 2015.

The Epic Super Bowl Analysis Guide

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Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. For many, that means some great commercials. For fans of football, it's billed as possibly the closest match-up in the history of Super Bowls.

For fans of two geographic regions, there's a little more on the line. If you look at geographic map of NFL teams there's no franchise close to Seattle. On the other hand, the New England Patriots are the only team named for the geographic region they represent. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that each team represents 5 states, which is interesting.

For me, a Boston native, it's in a whole new stratosphere. I'm a huge fan of football and who doesn't like funny commercials?

The Patriots have been my team for years. I was a fan long before the 1990 team that went 1-15 (a 2-point win in week 2 the only positive thing) that was low-lighted by the sexual harassment of a female reporter in the locker room. (That was actually deserving of nationwide criticism unlike SpyGate or DeflateGate.)

Given the above, I consider it a national holiday unlike any other. I like to think that with the commercials, it at least has something for everyone.

For the people interested in the game, I thought I'd provide a lot of analysis and a prediction. I don't think my analysis will be unique in any particular way, but I'll cite sources from quite a few different sites. Quite often big media sites will stick on only showing information from their own authors. I have no skin in the game, so everything is fair.

Position by Position Analysis

I thought I'd start off by analyzing each position overall and giving them a grade from 1-10. Much of this analysis relies on the awesome premium stats from ProFootballFocus. They are a little pricey at $27 a year, but I find it the most valuable resource for looking up a player and seeing what his talent level is. Plus, I like to reward people who do great work.

Secondary

Typically most analysis would start at the quarterbacks, but this is one of the most interesting match-ups due to the extreme talent on both teams.

Seattle: 9 - They have three Pro Bowlers in the secondary, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor. Typically they'd get a perfect 10 score, they are truly that good. However, each of them is playing at less than 100% health. They will all be on the field, but I have to take their grade down a notch to account for the injuries.

New England: 9 - They have Pro-Bowler Darrelle Revis. Their safety, Devin McCourty tends to get snubbed from the Pro-Bowl, but he's good enough to grade better (using PFF) than Seattle's Kam Chancellor and just a little below Earl Thomas. Brandon Browner isn't in the top tier like the previous players at his position, but he was part of Seattle's great secondary last year. I would consider the weak spot to be Patrick Chung, but he's graded extremely well this year also passing Kam Chancellor.

It's strength on strength. If both sides were healthy, I'd give Seattle a slight advantage. They aren't, so I'll call it a draw.

Linebackers

Seattle: 9 - K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin, and Bobby Wagner. Wright and Irvin are rated as the 6th and 11th best outside LB in all of football according to PFF. By the same metric, Wagner is the 5th best inside linebacker in all of football. Consider that there are 32 teams and they typically have two starters in each position. Any of these players would be the best on 80% of the teams.

New England: 9 - Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins aren't household names, but they were rated the #2 and #3 inside linebackers in the league on PFF, putting them ahead of all of Seattle's linebackers. You are right to ask about the third, but I think the Patriots will play a 5-2-4 base defense for much of the game. If captain and Pro Bowler, Jerod Mayo didn't get injured earlier in the season (he's out for the season), this unit would be a 10.

It's another draw, but it's notable that Seattle has three great players here and New England has two. New England has some make-up work to do when we look at the defensive line.

Defensive Line

Seattle: 8.5 - I'm not as familiar with Seattle's defensive line. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are well-known stars. Bennett in particular stands out as Seattle's defense's greatest rated player. Their pass rush will be a key to Seattle being successful. It looks like Seattle rotates a few players who are close to average or even far below average in the case of Tony McDaniel.

Two great players and some fresh legs and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt of an 8 grade. However, given that a pass rush is critical to stopping New England and it's the strength of the two great players, I'm bumping it up to 8.5.

New England: 7.5 - I think the Patriots will use Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, and Alan Branch in this role. On any given play Jones and Ninkovich might be considered linebackers. It's hard to say. I think they'll go with Wilfork, Siliga, and Branch as they clog up a lot of space averaging around 325lbs. We'll get to it later, but stopping Seattle's running game is going to be a focus for the Patriots. These 3 amigos are their best chance at that.

Wilfork, the captain, is rated the 13th best defensive end in the league according to PFF. I would have called him a NT/DT, but go figure. With all the talk of deflated footballs, it might have been missed that helped a car crash victim after the last game. It's understandable that the media would focus on an inconsequential (by all accounts) amount of air some footballs over the safety of another human. (Wait, no it's not.)

Siliga and Branch are closer to average players. They won't be disruptive in rushing the passer, but they play the run well, which is what New England needs most in this game.

Jones and Ninkovich are both very good players. They will be asked to "set the edge" which means not allow Seattle to run outside and move the ball up field. Jones was injured for 7 games in the middle of season, but has come back strong since then. That might be ideal, as he is fresher than most players. If he played the full season, he would have projected to grade better than Devin McCourty above, which makes him a Pro Bowl-level talent. Ninkovich's season was closer to average, but he's typically a small notch below Pro Bowl-level. He is coming off the single best game I've seen graded by PFF.

I'd give them a 7 on talent alone, but I'm bumping it up to 7.5 because they are better against the run, which is critical for this game.

Offensive Line

Seattle: 5 - The players with the top 5 amount of snaps all have negative grades according to PFF. Max Unger, #6, missed a lot of time with injury, but he's the star of the show with great run blocking. The grading all over the offensive line for PFF is filled with red.

New England: 5 - The tackles, Solder and Vollmer are particularly good players. Solder started off badly this season, but he's righted the ship for the most part. Vollmer might be the best RT in the game. The Patriots interior offensive line is more of question mark. That question mark centers on whether rookie Bryan Stork is going to play or not. If he's healthy enough to play the Patriots the offensive line is better. If he's not, the Patriots juggle around few interior position players. That's so much writing and that I'll just say it's probably worth a half point on my 10 point scale. It is worth noting that PFF has Dan Connolly graded so horribly, (really, really bad) it's a bit of a head-scratcher for the captain of the line.

While I'm giving the Patriots a 5, they can often be more than the sum of their parts. They work together well. At other times, such as the last two times the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, a strong 4-man pass rush can take over the whole game.

I'm going to also factor in Tedy Bruschi's Offensive Line Index. Unfortunately, it was last updated in early December. It is less than ideal, but still better than not using anything. That's a decided advantage for Seattle.

What's interesting is that the Bruschi's Index indicates that Seattle is the worst in the league in pass protection. Seattle's game is to run the ball, but if they get forced into a situation where they have to pass, that could be a problem.

At the end of the day, I'm going to call it a draw. I'd say that Unger and Vollmer + Solder balance each other out and no one else seems to be good enough to move the needle.

Running Backs

Seattle: 10 - I thought about giving "Beast Mode" a 9.5, but then I decided that he does everything that Seattle needs and is by almost any account at least a top 3 running back in the league.

New England: 9.5 - Some may say that I'm off my rocker with this one. However, LaGarrette Blount has been even better this year, when he plays. PFF has grades for when he was with the Patriots in the regular season and grades for all his games including playoffs and including games for Pittsburgh. By either measure he scored better per snap than "Beast Mode." It's not just from these two small samplings either. He was great with the Patriots last year.

Seattle gets the edge, because "Beast Mode" has done it a lot longer. I'd give him a bigger edge, but Blount has graded even better in as many snaps as over his last two years.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Seattle: 3.5 - It may seem harsh, but only Doug Baldwin receives a positive grade from PFF. Most expect him to be sacrificed to Revis Island. Even TE Luke Willson receives a negative grade.

New England: 8 - After Tom Brady, Gronk is the highest rated offensive player in the game. He's such a mismatch that teams have to devote more resources to him, which opens up opportunities for others.

I find it inexplicable that Julian Edelman received a negative grade while LaFell earned a positive one. Both were less than 50 yards from being 1,000 yard receivers and each more than a 100 yards than Baldwin, Seattle's best receiver.

While Shane Vereen is running back, he's particularly dangerous as a receiver with 52 receptions. That isn't too far from Doug Baldwin's 68 receptions.

Quarterbacks

Seattle: 7.5 - Russell Wilson is rated 13th just below Ryan Fitzpatrick, which is odd. He's also rated above Joe Flacco, who almost knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs, so there's that. It's not just PFF rating Wilson in that area, ESPN's QBR has him rated 12th.

Wilson is dangerous running the ball and passing on the run.

New England: 9.5 - The real "12" in this game is probably the best quarterback to ever play the game. (Okay, I'm a little biased, but every measure has him up there.) Brady is the 4th rated QB according to PFF and 4th in ESPN's QBR. He should get some MVP votes and he's the highest rated offensive player in the game.

Defensive Recap

Seattle Defense: 26.5 (of 30)
New England Defense: 25.5 (of 30)

Due to Seattle's injuries, it's wash in the secondary. If we pretend that Chandler Jones is linebacker (as he sometimes is) it is a wash there as well. Seattle has a small advantage on the defensive line.

There's a lot of focus on Seattle's Legion of Boom with what they did to Denver's historically good offense last year. It's well-deserved and I couldn't respect them more.

However, the Patriots were very good as well. The Seahawks gave up 15.9 points per game and the Patriots gave up 19.6. Clearly that's not as good, but New England had a more difficult schedule, with 12 of their games coming against the top 16 teams to only 9 of Seattle's. It feels like New England faced better offenses having played Denver, Indy, and even Sand Deigo when they were clicking. Both teams had to play Green Bay, so it's a wash. Seattle got to play the 2nd and 3rd string QBs in Arizona and St. Louis... and SF was worse than both of them. To put it in perspective, the Patriots had to play Miami twice who had a similar offense (in terms of scoring) to the Seahawks.

Many analysts say that defense beats offense and use that as a reason for picking Seattle. I think such analysis might be swayed by Seattle's outstanding performance in last year's Super Bowl in combination with the Patriots having been one of the best offenses over the last several seasons.

When the defenses are this close to equal, it simply isn't that simple.

Offensive Recap

Seattle Offense: 26 (of 40)
New England Offense: 32 (of 40)

Seattle's scoring offense was 10th with 24.6 points per game. New England was 4th with 29.3 points per game... and that would have been higher if they didn't sit Gronk in a meaningless week 17 game (and Brady for half of it).

Seattle doesn't try to hide it. They intend to run the ball. Usually it is with "Beast Mode", but quite often Wilson will do the work. The problem is that their passing game is average at best.

New England's offense can do almost anything. They can passed almost exclusively to beat the Ravens in the divisional game. They put up huge yards on the ground running against the Colts. I've overlooked Special Teams to this point, but the Patriots have won games with that as well... both with blocking and returning kicks.

It's a big advantage to have the best QB, best offensive line, and best receivers. It more than makes up for the slight edge Seattle has at running back.

Keys to the Game

Seattle on Defense

1. The best way to beat the Patriots is to pressure Tom Brady with a 4-man rush, leaving 7 out in coverage. Brady is great when a team blitzes a 5th man. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Seattle's Bennett and Avril are good enough to provide that pressure.

2. Perhaps equally important is to stop the Patriots run. The run shouldn't be decimating like it was against the Colts. Instead, Seattle wants to force the Patriots into being one-dimensional, so that they lose the threat of play-action, which is another area where Brady is magnificent.

3. I'll throw in the obligatory, "stop Gronk." However, the Patriots can win if Seattle over-focuses on Gronk leaving other players open. If stopping Gronk means doubling him with Wright and Chancellor, the Patriots may be happy with what it opens up elsewhere.

Seattle on Offense

This is the biggest mismatch of the game. I don't see how Seattle is going to be effective, though any given Sunday... I'll take a shot with these three:

1. Beast Mode plays the game of his life. We'll cover this when discussing New England's Defense, but Belichick takes away what a team does best. It almost never beats him. He shut down Marshall Faulk in Super Bowl 36 and Lynch is no Faulk. He did that while having to shut down two Hall of Fame quality receivers too. If Beast Mode can beat Belichick, Seattle's odds of winning increase dramatically.

2. Hit some big plays. Seattle knows the Patriots' Browner as he used to be a Seahawk. They know he commits a ton of penalties. They may decide to just throw it deep and hope for either a catch or a penalty. Wilson has been known to connect on some of those deep balls in the past.

3. Use Wilson's legs. The Patriots will try to contain him, but when he's scrambling around almost anything can happen. While we might not see another helmet catch, if some of those plays work out for Seattle, they'll put points on the board.

New England on Defense

1. Stop "Beast Mode." Seattle fans may be thinking, "Good luck." Belichick will focus on it. I see the big three that I mentioned above clogging the middle and Jones and Ninkovich setting the edge. Patrick Chung is PFF's 3rd rated safety at stopping the run with Hightower and Collins the 5th and 6th best inside linebackers against the run. To make matters worse for the Beast, Seattle's wide receivers aren't talented enough to draw attention away from Belichick focusing on him.

As Football Outsiders points out, the Patriots have the best run defense in the league since their week 10 bye. That Football Outsiders article has incredible analysis and is well worth a read.

If there's one team that might be best suited to stop "beast mode", it might be New England.

2. Stop Wilson's scrambling and big plays. The Patriots have faced a QB like Wilson all year. Belichick has stopped Vick when he was in a Falcons' uniform, so he's seen better pure running quarterbacks. The question is how you stop both Wilson and Beast. Fortunately the answer for each of them is devote more people to the line of scrimmage and let your awesome secondary handle Seattle's receivers.

3. Don't get beat by "the catch." The last two Super Bowls were highlighted by nearly impossible catchers. The first the helmet catch by Tyree. The second by the long sideline catching by Manningham. By almost all accounts it is going to be a close game so a play like this could be the difference of whether we are talking about Brady being the best QB of all time or losing three straight Super Bowls. It's insane, because he wasn't on the field for either iconic catch. People magnify a few plays in a Super Bowl to overshadow a whole career with thousands of passes.

New England on Offense

This is the match-up that I think everyone wants to see. It's strength vs. strength. One of the best offense's vs. the best defense. We saw a little of it a couple of weeks ago with Seattle and Green Bay, but this is a neutral field and not an injured Aaron Rodgers. Also Seattle's defense was more or less at full health.

1. Test the injuries. Can you get Blount into the second level to test Thomas' shoulder? Can you run a screen to Edelman to force Sherman to make a tackle with his elbow? Is Kam Chancellor's knee going to slow him down in stopping Gronk.

2. Use the Camelion. The Patriots morph their offense to whatever the defense's weakness is. The only problem is that Seattle doesn't have much unless the key players are more injured than they let on. So how the Patriots change their colors to find something that Seattle doesn't do well. I've read that they aren't great on short passes, which is something that is a Patriots' specialty. Perhaps that works for them.

3. Protect Tom Brady against that 4-man rush. Yes, find some way to stop Bennett.

4. Bring the Attack of the Lilliputians. I have to think that Seattle is going to double Gronk with Wright and Chancellor. They leave Sherman on the same side all the time, so the Patriots can almost pick who they are going to sacrifice. My guess is that they go with LaFell there. That leaves 3 small players... IncrEdelman (or Minitron) to work against Seattle's weaker corner. It leaves Amendola to work against their 4th corner. Vereen is the third option and the Patriots could even option him and go empty backfield.

The problem with this is Seattle's other great linebackers, but these 3 amigos have a lot of jitterbug in them. Linebackers usually don't have the agility to keep up.

Prediction

The Patriots are pissed off about the whole DeflateGate thing. When SpyGate happened, they responded with such incredible play that people got mad that they ran up the score. Earlier this year when critics claimed they were a "weak team" after losing big in Kansas City, they responded with an almost perfect game against Cincinnati. They have only lost twice since... an equal battle in Green Bay (the team that should have knocked off Seattle last week) and the last week of the season where they sat their players.

The lesson is that you don't want to make Belichick and Brady angry. It makes the Patriots at least 38% better than they normally are, which is by far the best team this millennium.

And when all other analysis fails, I find that the nationally recognized ones from Rick Gosselin. Add in the Patriots' fire under DeflateGate, and I don't see it ending well for Seattle.

I'll go with Patriots 24-16.

P.S. I expected to tie in more sources when I started, but it took hours to write this. I seriously doubt you are looking to read even more analysis.

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Posted on January 31, 2015.

Did Patriots Scam the NFL with DeflateGate? (And what we can learn from this)

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Yes that title was specifically constructed with my recent Friday scam-investigating articles in mind. Sorry, but I hope you'll forgive me when we get to the learning section.

When I started this website in May of 2006, I wrote:

"You can expect Lazy Man and Money to be about 85% money, 5% technology (hey, I'm a software guy), 2% health, 5% random soapboxing, and 3% "zany"-ness. Maybe we'll up that zany as time goes on."

I'm going to cash in my random soapboxing and zaniness credits with this article. I hope to do it in a way that is educational and fosters critical thinking. From a money perspective, you can't put a price on that. I'd also argue that it is more important than how much air is in a football

I should start with the fact that I grew up in the Boston suburbs and am a Patriots fan to the level that many friends suggested that I name my child Grogan. With that disclosure out in the open, let me say that logic is always my guiding force... that is the closest I can come when people scream, "He's biased!" There is nothing else for me to offer other than asking you to objectively look at the information yourself.

So let's dig in...

What do we know?

We know that there was a complaint about air pressure in the footballs that the Patriots used last week. We know that the NFL is investigating it. We know that they were re-inflated at half time

Is there a competitive advantage to using under-inflated footballs?

That is a smart question to ask, because if there is no advantage it is much ado about nothing.

ESPN's Sport Science is the only resource I know of covering the topic from a scientific point of view. Their analysis (in my opinion) seems to conclude it is a disadvantage as the ball travels slower through the air potentially allowing a defender to get an extra inch in their reach to knock the ball down. Sports are often a game of inches so it shouldn't be discounted.

The video also stresses the point that ball inflation, like everything about the ball, is a matter of personal preference of the quarterbacks.

Is this another of "Beli-cheat's" schemes?

Friends of mine emailed me early on to say that they hope the NFL lays the hammer down hard on the Patriots. Much of America seems to agree from the polls I've seen.

It's interesting to me that most of the discussion initially jumped on Bill Belichick. Some reputable journalists who have covered the Patriots for years (Tom Curran, I'm looking at you), jumped to the conclusion that the Patriots should fire Bill Belichick. (At least that's what I read from multiple sources. I can't find the primary source anymore. Maybe it has been retracted).

Later in the week, former quarterbacks and coaches pointed out that the coach is never involved in the ball preparation routine. Belichick had a press conference that he didn't know anything. Suddenly, people turned their attention to the quarterback, Tom Brady.

It's a good thing we didn't rush to fire Belichick.

What we Learned From Tom Brady's Conference

Everyone expected Tom Brady to fall on the sword... except that it didn't happen. The most telling thing to me that he said that the NFL didn't contact him as part of the investigation. This tells me either one of two things is true:

1. The NFL doesn't think Brady is a prime suspect.
2. Tom Brady told an obvious and easily provable lie and the NFL should immediate call him out on it saying, "Ummm, we talked to Brady on Tuesday. Tom lied in the conference."

When the NFL released its statement, they didn't say #2 happened, so logically I'm going to assume #1 until the NFL tells us otherwise.

Why Is DeflateGate Such a Huge Story?

This is the most puzzling thing for me. Most people say that whether it is an advantage isn't the big deal. The big deal is that it appears that the Patriots might have cheated.

I'm not condoning cheating, but let's treat all teams and players fairly. Many players on the Carolina Panthers used steroids in their 2004 Super Bowl season. We saw first-hand the difference that can make on a baseball field. So there's obvious cheating and a clear advantage, but story headline major news networks.

When Aaron Rodgers tells Phil Simmms that he likes an overflated ball and that the officials may help with it we ignore the he's confessed to cheating and conspiring with officials.

I didn't see the Browns texting scandal make every network.

The Vikings and Panthers were caught red-handed cheating by warming balls on the sidelines earlier this year.

This is the equivalent of giving someone life in prison for going 66 mph in a 65 zone and turning a blind eye to others going 80 mph. I don't see how you can selectively pass judgment and blow it to extreme levels.

What we can learn from this...

Many people didn't like the Tom Brady conference. They didn't get what they wanted and what they were expecting. However if you take a step back, Brady said three things that I thought were pretty smart:

1. Don't deal other people's belief systems
2. Control what you can control
3. Focus on the future

I think #1 was the biggest thing. People are going to believe what they want. You can give them information, but that's it.

I wish I had some kind of great conclusion, but other than asking for people to be logical and rational, I've got nothing.

P.S.

I've learned that "zaniness" is a word due to Firefox's spell checker. Nearly ten years after starting this blog, I can always point to that as something I've learned, right?

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Posted on January 24, 2015.

Olympic Taxes – Politics Gone Crazy

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Once again, Kosmo from The Soap Boxers passed a noteworthy news article my way. This article about taxes of Olympians bordered on the ridiculous on Fox News. The title? "The price of gold: Taking first place in Olympics could cost US stars as much as $10G in taxes."

At first glance it seems like an important article. It would seem to be very, very wrong to tax athletes extra for performing extremely well. However, a brief reading shows that this is making a big deal out of nothing. It seems like the title was created to just to rile people up and get them reading. (I really don't like this tactic as it leads to disappointment and wasted time. I hope people don't come away with that after reading my articles).

Here's what's going on. When Olympians win a medal they get a cash bonus. The United States, correctly considers this earned income like any other earned income and requires that taxes be paid on it. As Kosmo put it in his email to me, "I’m pro-Olympics, but the basic concept here is a cash award. My cash bonuses are taxed, too." (Side Note: Kosmo has a very unnatural obsession with the luge.)

The Fox News article also made the point to bring up the most extreme case where someone like Shaun White who has millions in endorsements would find himself in the top tax bracket and a gold (having the highest cash bonus) would have produced the 10K in taxes. Allow me to counter that with a "So what?" Is the average American supposed to be outraged White has to pay $10,000 of taxes for receiving a $25,000 bonus when he's worth millions and millions? Can't you think of at least 72,391 other things to get more outraged about?

I thought I'd play devil's advocate and bring up the point that they represent the country. I asked whether foreign diplomats get tax exemptions (they do) and noted that our family (due to our active duty military status) receives some tax brakes. So maybe there is something to representing the country? Kosmo wisely shot down my off-the-cuff logic by pointing out that the are employed by the government.

In the end, I had to agree, I can't see any reason why Olympians should get their bonus money tax-free.

Even though I implied previously that Fox News is just creating headlines for attention, it does seem like a politician backs the idea of creating a special exemption for athletes. The article states:

On Tuesday, Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold re-introduced legislation -- the "Tax Exemptions for American Medalists (TEAM) Act" – that would exempt U.S. Olympic athletes from paying taxes on the medals and the accompanying money.

"This needless tax illustrates how complicated and burdensome our tax code has become," he said. “We need a fairer system for all, and eliminating this unnecessary tax burden on our athletes is a good way to start.”

It seems to me that Farenthold is suggesting with this legislation that they should make the tax code even more complex... adding a special exemption to the existing tax code for Olympic athletes. He then takes it a step further and suggests that this is somehow a fairer system. I fail to see how it is fair to give people with physical skills a tax-break, while other talented people such as Bob Costas covering the games wouldn't get one.

I can't follow the logic there. Fox News should have challenged Farenthold to explain his logic.

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Last updated on August 12, 2014.

The Journey vs. The Destination

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Today's post is going to be a little different. When I started this blog I thought I'd right about money 80% of the time, technology 15%, and sports 5%. No one likes to be one-dimensional and it can get boring quickly. This is going to be one of those articles that sports-related, but hopefully you'll be able to extrapolate it to life, the universe, and everything.

Last night, my favorite team, the New England Patriots engaged in what many considered one of the best football games of the year. The only thing marring it was the referees' call and non-call that generated huge amounts of controversy. The referee saw the Carolina player interfering with the Patriots' player and threw a flag on the last play. This would give the Patriots one more chance from the 1 yard line to try to win it. However, after talking with the other referees it was judged that the Patriots player couldn't have caught the ball and thus it wasn't a penalty. The referees picked up the flag and explained that there was no penalty and ran off the field.

(I'm biased, but it seems every ex-referee who analyzes current referee calls determined that it was a textbook example of pass interference. After reading the rules myself, it says "the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players." The fact that analysts are debating it today leads me to believe that it was anything but "clearly." For example, if it's possible that the Patriots' player could have put his foot and knocked the ball into his hands for a legal catch, it should be deemed "catchable.")

The game was a great journey with a bad destination. It got me thinking today, why not just enjoy that journey? Truth be told, as a Patriots fan over the last 9 years, it's a concept that I've embraced. Many Patriots fans judge success by the number of championships won. No one is going to get upset with winning a championship, but I'm starting to see things in a different way. It's become very clear to me that many, many football games end in a way that one inch in one play could completely change the outcome. Last night's game was an example where any number of plays could have been the difference in the game. If you get that bad bounce in the Super Bowl and don't win the championship, does that mean the team was any less great? Maybe one team was better on that day. Maybe they were the beneficiary of that inch. I don't think that should be the difference between immortality and irrelevance. Thus I choose to measure success by the journey... am I happy with that particular Sunday's destination (i.e. a win) more often than not? With the Patriots I am, regardless of whether the players get to wear rings at the end of the season.

The game last night has been analyzed about a thousand different ways. One thing that I often see coming is the theory that the controversial play didn't cost the Patriots, they had lost the game on their own accord through a series of mistakes earlier in the game (a fumble, letting cray legs Cam Newton run around on them on 3rd down, etc.). The problem with this reasoning is that it works for both teams. Imagine if the Patriots player clearly committed offensive pass interference and caught the winning touchdown on that controversial play. The same analysts would be saying that the play didn't lose the Panthers the game, but it was the fact that they allowed the Patriots to move the ball nearly 400 yards and get 28 first downs. Or perhaps they'd say that the Panthers deserved to lose because Cam Newton has to do better than pass for around 200 yards at home against a team missing 6 defensive starters.

In effect the analysts saying that the Patriots lost the game before the last play lose sight of the fact that the last play completely dictates the story they tell. A few weeks earlier the Patriots won in almost an identical comeback in the last minute and every media outlet was shout how great Tom Brady is from the rooftops. There was no story about how the Patriots had lost the game in the previous plays, because they didn't lose the game.

It's strange how sometimes journalists rewrite the journey to fit the destination... especially when that destination could have easily been flipped in the entirely opposite direction. I want to give them a Mike Ditka "Stop it!" I wish they'd just stick to the story that it was a very evenly matched pair of teams on this night. One had to win and one had to lose. Hundreds of different things along the way could have won or lost the game for each team. However, at the end of the game it came down to the referees' judgment of what a player was capable of doing if he wasn't being interfered with... and their inability to realize that it would be textbook holding at a minimum, which doesn't rely on the ball being catchable.

To tie this back around to money, let's look at lottery winners. These people essentially skip to the financial destination without the journey. For most of them, such a dramatic move makes their lives a mess and studies show that they aren't any happier than the rest of us.

It makes me think that without the journey the destination is often meaningless. So put me down as being a "journey" kind of guy (and definitely not the band). However, if you are a "destination" person, you could have skipped all the paragraphs about sports in the middle and jumped here from the first paragraph. If you did, then you already know the secret is 42, right?

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Posted on November 19, 2013.

Why Sports Matter

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In the later half of April, I wrote about The Longest Week. As a Bostonian, I felt the need to write about the Boston Marathon bombings, even if it was just for my own piece of mind. It's the kind of event that I simply couldn't ignore and though it's not related to personal finance, I hoped you'd understand. At least one awesome commenter, Patty got it, and wrote a few paragraphs that 99.99% of bloggers dream to receive and never do. I hope you'll understand with today's post as well.

If you aren't from Boston, I don't know how to explain the Boston bombings. I'd imagine it's probably how you felt about the United States after 9/11 (assuming you are a US reader)... except that it's one step more local... closer to "home." I can't remember Americans having more pride in their country after 9/11. It was the same way in Boston throughout New England.

If there's one thing that Bostonians rally around it's the Red Sox. For 86 years, the team failed its goal to win the World Series, despite coming agonizingly close many times. My father was born 25 years after they last won in 1918 and died 15 years before they'd win again - a (short) lifetime of never seeing the Red Sox win a World Series. Maybe it's because misery loves company, but everyone loves the team. I see grandmothers and their granddaughters wearing Red Sox shirts and hats... even when they aren't competitive (which, except for last year has been rare). Whenever anyone asks me what they need to see in Boston, my first answer is always: "Fenway Park for a Red Sox game."

However, this year's Red Sox team couldn't possibly be the pick-up the region needed. Last year, they were one of the worst teams in baseball. For the first time in a decade they couldn't sell out the diminutive Fenway Park. Their stars all had problems. David Ortiz was too old and coming off an injury. Dustin Pedroia injured his hand at the beginning of the season. Their best pitcher, Buchholz, can never stay healthy a whole season. They lost two closers early on. Local scribes were writing, "It’s hard to get excited about these Red Sox" and "... But here’s the reality, people: The 2013 Red Sox might be really bad. Worse, they might be really boring."

A strange thing happened on the journey to last place. The Red Sox won... game after game. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Red Sox were getting clutch hits and walk off wins. As any sabermetrics (baseball stat nerd) will tell you, there's no such thing as being clutch and it all evens out over time. Except it never evened out for the Red Sox this year.

Not only did they win, but they did it with heart. Jonny Gomes looked like an idiot wearing a battle helmet, until you read the story of soldier to gave it to him, calling him the most patriotic player he's met.

After the bombings the team took it upon themselves to try to give people a little break from the everyday realities. There are marathon runners who lost half their leg. However, you can see why sports matters in their face, when they walk onto the grass at Fenway Park or throw out the first pitch. I can't count how many news stories I saw about players visiting the bombing victims at the hospital.

This is why sports matters.

We're told that nice guys finish last. We're told that nothing is perfect. We're told that fairy tales don't come true. Sometimes "they" are wrong.

I suppose I should write about money related, so here goes. The other day, I had a David Ortiz game jersey with the 2013 World Series in my hands. It was $115. I don't think I had ever wanted a piece of clothing more. (Of course I already own this Serenity T-Shirt.) That's a lot of money for a shirt, and whenever I spend that much money, I like to think about it a bit. Maybe I'll think about it long enough for Santa to bring it.

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Posted on November 4, 2013.

Lazy Man’s 2013 Super Bowl Review

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The Super Bowl and the weekend is over... I'm not going to let it go that easy. It's always been my stance that with the exception of Independence Day, there isn't one day that unites America more than the Super Bowl. Even people that don't like football tune in to see the half-time show and the commercials. The people who decide what's a national holiday should just get together and make Super Bowl Sunday official... complete with the following Monday off.

Watching this Super Bowl was a little different for me. Hanscom Air Force Base was a big event so we went there. I don't know if ever been to a party where the people are too generous, but this was such an occasion. Everyone in attendance, probably 125 people, had to have walked away with a raffle prize. We walked away with this specialty brownie pan and a slightly different brand of this giant cupcake pan.

There was so much free food that they urged people to take some home afterward. We've got meatballs for a few days. The beer? It was $10 for a 16 ounce cup that gave you all you can drink access to the keg... just go pour your own from the tap. While pouring mine, I relived a few college weekends by closing my eyes and think pretending I was in a dank basement with a radio playing Everclear's Santa Monica. It was about the same quality beer too. I'm not one to be a beer connoisseur, so the light and refreshing domestic stuff worked for me, especially with everything else going on.

The Super Bowl got things started off right with kids from Sandy Hook Elementary singing with Jennifer Hudson. My wife was quick to remind me that there's a connection of gun violence between them. As we'll cover a little later, I'm a big sap for things like this. It's good for the kids and it looks good for the NFL. While on the topic of looking good, I know that Subway celebrated 15 years of Jared last night, but Hudson has gotten and stayed in shape for a long time now.

The National Anthem started and everyone on the base stood and was silent. I wonder how many places outside of military bases had that happen. I went to a movie on the base a month ago and they played the National Anthem before the movie with the same reaction. It was a great of respect. A lot has been said about Alicia Keys' rendition being too slow and I have to agree. It seemed like she was purposely trying to draw it out as long as possible. Also, was that an extra line at the end? You are Alicia not Francis Scott.

Let's move on to the best commercials. As I mentioned before I'm a little bit of a sap. While I can appreciate a funny commercial as much as anyone else, the ones that really speak to me are going to get my attention. With that in mind the best commercial was the Budweiser Clydesdales:

Like most people, I've never raised a horse. However, I'm in year four of raising a dog now and we went through a lot of the same things in the video. Last month, we took Jake to a local dog park, only to find that it wasn't fenced in. We've only let him be off a leash in public a couple of times and it always makes us a little nervous. He'll chase a squirrel across a highway without thinking twice. My wife dropped Jake and me off while she parked the new car and was to come with our baby. Jake played with the other dogs for about 20 minutes and then got bored and started running towards the parking lot... the one place in the acres of forest that presented the most danger.

Of course his four legs are faster than my two, so he easily got by me and no one else seemed to care that this dog was running unattended. Suddenly he picked up speed as he made a dash for the parking lot, stretching the distance between us from 2 football fields to 3. He continued to the parking lot and straight into my wife's car. She couldn't find a place in the far parking lot and was circling to find a spot in the near one. It's not exactly like the commercial, but it felt the same.

It was a tough call for top spot between that commercial and this Jeep, Whole Again, one:

It's one thing to watch a commercial like that. It's another to watch it on a military base where it could apply to dozens of the people there.

Is it any surprise that I had Subaru split their charitable donation between the ASPCA and the USO when I bought my car?

Finally this farmer one got to me:

It was long and it was good. I know it's not what you'd expect from "Lazy Man." I have great respect for the un-Lazy.

A lot of people thought that the half-time show was really well done. I thought it was okay. It hit my expectations considering that most of it was dancing in front of a video screen. Nothing stood out to impress me like the 88,000 Chinese people drumming (or whatever it was) for the Olympic opening ceremony. I would have settled for some kind of flip, I've seen a mid-50's Steven Tyler do it, so why not Beyonce?

While on the topic of the half-time show, here's a random statistic that you may find interesting. Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss noted that of 22 assistant and head coaching positions open this offseason, three new minorities added to the coaching pipeline. With Hudson, Keyes, and Beyonce, the NFL had the same number of minority singers for the Super Bowl. Seems like too little diversity in either.

The power outage certainly brought some excitement to the game. I was stuck wondering why they were keeping the focus on the announcers and the game when they had little to report. If it were me, I would have cut to some commercials. I know the commercial time slots were well planned in advance, but CBS should have taken some contingency commercials for such situations (or even overtime). Lazy Man and Money will start the bidding at $100 for a slot that comes up to unforeseen circumstances. I'm a few companies will outbid me by a few hundred thousand dollars, but that could have been all profit for CBS.

As for the game itself, if you stuck around past the power outage it got really good. However, for the second consecutive time, it ended with the team I had an affiliation with losing. I have a lot of disappointed friends back in San Francisco. The important thing to remember is that 31 teams are going to be less-than-pleased with how the season ends... and the draft is only a couple away.

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Posted on February 4, 2013.

Super Bowl Sunday Reading and Predictions

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With the game starting in a few hours, I thought I'd take advantage of United States biggest non-official holiday and pen type a few words from a Bostonian's perspective (even if I do live in San Francisco now).

I read just about every article that has been written about the Patriots in the last week. Of the 6 articles, I narrowed the best down to these 6... 3 on Tom Brady, one on Bill Belichick, and one on Bob and Myra Kraft. If that last one doesn't bring the emotions, the last one on Marcus Cannon beating cancer earlier this year to contribute should:

  • Tom Brady - As Advertised - Why he has the perfect life.
  • Tom Brady - What You Don't Know - Here's what I didn't even know about him. And again, I read just about everything about him.
  • Tom Brady - The Computer - He's not just good due to his physical abilities, it is the mental game.
  • Bill Belichick - Inside his Head - Many love to hate Belichick, because his media interviews are curt and a league requirement. However, it's just his way of rebelling against the NFL
  • Bob and Myra Kraft - The inspiration that makes the Patriots tick this season. Powerful stuff about how the Patriots saved the football season despite the heavy heart of his wife's death just days before. It's one of those things where football is just a game, but it can become more than a game.
  • Marcus Cannon Beats Cancer - Tough break for Marcus being the #2 inspiration. Any year other than the Myra Kraft it would be a top story.

It's prediction time. I mentioned before that I've read everything, and if you asked me on Saturday, I'd say that the Patriots had about a 60 chance of winning and that Vegas probably has it right with them as 3 point favorites. However, I just read that an unnamed Patriots official said that their practices were 10 times better than Super Bowl 42. When the Patriots get a good practice in (and make note of it) they have historically demolished their opponent. It was the day of the playoff game against the Bronco's when Ochocinco let it out that Tom Brady was possessed that week - unlike anything he's seen in his 10-year-ish career. The Patriots won easily and Brady set records. I'm getting the same vibe from this report. I think the Patriots win this by 2 touchdowns now.

It's a bold call from a homer, but that's how I feel.

(Usually I'd include personal finance links in this area, but for this special occasion we'll stick with the above links.)

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Last updated on February 7, 2012.

 
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