Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MMQB: Choke on it

I could just kiss Brett Favre. "MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK" FOR JULY 16

Peter King returns from vacation with his power rankings. We'll get to the football stuff in a bit.

Toward the end of this week's column, King kind of falls off his rocker sputtering with indignation over, of all damn things, the hot dog eating contest held at Nathan's Famous at Coney Island every Fourth of July:
"We ought to be ashamed in this country when events like hot-dog eating contests gain popularity -- the Coney Island fiasco was actually covered on New York sports-talk radio on my vacation -- instead of inviting revulsion. Stomach-gorging is not a sport, and it is abominable to try to make it one in a country where too many people go to bed hungry every night. ... I mean, what is America coming to?"
Aw, Peter, go wash the sand out of your vagina. First of all, the fucking thing has been going on since 1916. So if this contest proves that America is in the toilet, then we've been floating around down there since before doughboys were huffing mustard(!) gas at the Somme.

Look, I think competitive eating is a ridiculous pursuit, but when you get right down to it, there's not a whole hell of a lot of difference between it and other sports. If you can win Olympic gold by teasing your arm muscles to comical dimensions and lifting heavy objects over your head, why is it so revolting to apply the same training principles to your esophagus, your stomach and, I assume, your turd-maker? These guys can really pack it in, but that doesn't mean they're a bunch of fat fucks. Take a look at Takeru Kobayashi, the Jeff Gordon of competitive eating. Or Joey Chestnut, the current champion and world record holder (66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes). Or Sonya Thomas, the Black Widow. These people are gym rats. They have a hell of a lot more in common with "real" athletes than with the greasy yobs you see stuffed into satin jackets at the World Series of Poker every goddam day on ESPN.

Speaking of which, I almost don't have the heart to tell King that the Nathan's contest wasn't just covered on New York sports-talk radio. It was carried live on ESPN.

If King had said the hot dog-eating contest is a travesty simply because it's low-rent, he wouldn't get any argument from me, but he has to go and play the starving-children card to pump it up to an existential tragedy. It's called opportunity cost, Peter. It's not as if the hot dogs inhaled by Kobayashi et al at Coney Island would have gone to the poor otherwise. And the contestants weren't wiping their asses with wieners. They were eating them, celebrating them. It's no more offensive than a corn-on-the-cob festival or a barbecue festival or any other food-centered event. And a guy who every week goes out of his way to tell us about all the $5 cups of coffee he drinks has got a lot of balls pointing his thick fingers at someone else's complicated relationship with food.

Do people go to bed hungry in America? Yes, but not nearly as many as King's mom made him think there were in order to get him to finish his sweetbreads. The vast majority of this country's poor people are in no danger of starvation. Quite the contrary, their greatest health risk is obesity. Healthful food is expensive -- and all but impossible to find in low-income neighborhoods -- so the poor eat cheap, fattening junk food. Like hot dogs. Irony of ironies.

In the 21st century, as in the 20th, hunger is political. No one starves because there isn't enough food in the world. And sure as hell no one starves because those bastards at Coney Island ate all the hot dogs. The weak starve because the powerful allow it, either because they want them to or because they just don't care. If Peter King has a problem with people going to bed on an empty stomach, the bad guys are not the idiots in porkpie hats at Nathan's Famous on the Fourth of July.

OK, on to the power rankings. Per Down and Distance policy, we won't quibble with the actual rankings. They're supposed to be subjective, after all. We will, however, turn our critical eye to the stated reasoning behind the rankings:

1. Indianapolis. For the Colts to repeat as Super Bowl champions, King writes, coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will have to have "the bext coaching years of their career." Reason: The team lost to free agency both starting cornerbacks, safety Mike Doss, leading tackler LB Cato June, and D-lineman Monte Reagor. Two thoughts: First, if the damage was so severe that Dungy will have to do a better coaching job than he did when he won the Super Bowl, why does King have the Colts as the best team in the league? Second, last year's Colts had by far the worst defense of any Super Bowl winner. They could have scarcely gotten worse on defense, right? So what's so bad about losing these guys, particularly June, who got a lot of tackles, but half of which came after a 7-yard gain? King also notes that the Colts could "easily start 5-0." Two of their first four games are against the Saints (No. 4, according to King's rankings) and the Broncos (No. 6). They may indeed go 5-0, but it won't be easy ... unless these rankings are BS.

2. New England. "Maybe the interior run defense is better than it played at Indy in the second half." A typical King sentence. Last year's Patriots had the No. 5 rush defense in the NFL and the No. 2 scoring defense, so, yes, "maybe" they shouldn't be judged solely on their performance in one half of one game against the eventual Super Bowl champions. Just maybe. Further, King says that with the addition of free agent wideouts Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, "Tom Brady can finally outscore people." Because if there's one knock on the Patriots, it's that while they were going 50-14 over four years, they weren't outscoring anybody.

3. San Diego. "Best depth, 1 to 53 on the roster, in the NFL." Quite possibly true, but isn't King going to at least mention that the ghost of Norv Turner haunts this franchise? A couple years' worth of Norv, and Chargers fans will be begging for Marty Schottenheimer to come back and lose a couple playoff games.

4. New Orleans. "The Saints scored 30 or more points six times in November and December last year. I expect 10 of those days this year." But, Pete, the Saints only play nine games in November and December this year!

5. Chicago. To King's credit, he appears to understand what power rankings are supposed to do: rate teams by how strong they are, not by "who will win the most games because of their schedule." Thus, King says the Bears, rather than the Saints, will probably have the best record in the NFC because the NFC North is full of fairies. Then he goes and ruins the good vibes by saying: "I've had enough of the e-mails defending (Rex) Grossman. Those don't mean anything, Bearaholics. The way a QB plays matters." That's, um, kind of like saying, "Power rankings don't mean anything. The way the teams play matters." What a useless thing to write. Of course performance is the ultimate determinant of ability. But seeing as how the season hasn't started and all, we're pretty much stuck with e-mails and words and ideas and stuff. You could go ahead and explain why the e-mailers are wrong, but why bother when you can instead remind us that e-mails don't win football games? Or somthing.

6. Denver. "I think that the loss of the late Darrent Williams is a bigger blow in a football sense than the addition of Dre Bly." When you parse this sentence, it doesn't make any sense. So, the trade that brought two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Bly to the Broncos was a "blow" to the team, but not as severe a blow as the death of Williams?

7. Baltimore. I agree with King when he writes: "We were all so quick to write off the Ravens." Then he says: "Last year, in a tougher division than Indy's, Baltimore compiled a better record than the Colts." Here are the other teams in the Ravens' division, with their records last year: Bengals (8-8), Steelers (8-8), Browns (4-12). Here are the other teams in the Colts' division: Jaguars (8-8), Titans (8-8), Texans (6-10). Plus, the Colts played five out-of-division games against playoff teams; the Ravens played three. And the worst team on the Colts' schedule was the Redskins at 5-11, while the Ravens played the Raiders (2-14), the Buccaneers (4-12), and the Browns (4-12) twice. Look, it's OK to say the Ravens had a great year. It's even OK to assert that they were a better team than the Colts. But don't pretend like the schedule was Indy's big buddy.

8. Philadelphia. "The equation here is very, very simple. If Donovan McNabb plays 16 games, the Eagles are a factor in the playoffs." Well, gee. McNabb didn't play 16 games last year, and the Eagles were still a factor in the playoffs. Jeff Garcia, you say? McNabb didn't play 16 games in 2002, either, and the Eagles were a factor in the playoffs. The backup quarterback that year? A.J. Feeley. The backup this year? A.J. Feeley.

9. Seattle. "Seattle was outscored last year. Isn't that shocking? It is to me." My latest mainstream media annoyance is what I call "inclusive ignorance." That's when a writer either assumes that his audience is as ignorant as he is, or tries to convince them that they are. Here, King is practicing inclusive ignorance. The Seahawks made the playoffs only because they finished 9-7 in an awful division. Fans will remember them getting humiliated by the Bears 37-6 and the dreadful Vikings 31-13. So, no, I don't find it shocking that Seattle was outscored by 6 points last year.

10. St. Louis. "You know the Rams will score. They always do." Last year the Rams were No. 10 in scoring. The Patriots -- you know, the ones who can't outscore people -- were No. 7. No. 10 is still pretty good, but the Greatest Show on Turf folded up its tent a long time ago. Conventional wisdom never dies, alas.

11. New York Jets. "The AFC East will be the best division in football this year, and it's going to be very tough for New York to go 10-6 again." For once, King's own numbers bear him out! Here are the eight divisions, with their average team ranking:
AFC East 211192313.75
AFC South115182715.25
AFC West 36262815.75
NFC East 814212416.75
AFC North712173217.00
NFC South416202917.25
NFC West 910223017.75
NFC North513253118.50
However, the biggest reason the the Jets won 10 games last year was that their non-divisional schedule was loaded with cupcakes. It won't be this year, and that's why 10-6 will be harder to reach.

12. Pittsburgh. Hey, No. 12 seems about right to me. Still, I can't help but be annoyed by this passage:
New coach Mike Tomlin won't be Mr. Popular with his players; he's scheduled 15 two-a-day practices, which I'm guessing is the most of any team in the league. But you know what I like? Tomlin doesn't care. The players have to adjust to him, not the other way around.
Someone ring up Bill Cowher down in North Carolina and tell him that Mike Tomlin has decided that the problem with the Steelers is they're a bunch of pussies who have been coddled for too long. And that King agrees with him.

13. Detroit. You may think King is a fucking loony, and I may think King is a fucking loony, but remember, we're not going to argue with his rankings. Just read these words: "Some year I'll pick the Lions to do something good and actually be right about the prediction. This is the year they make a quantum leap." Keep this in mind when you get to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 30. Oh, and a "quantum leap," as defined in physics, is neither a large leap nor a necessarily positive one. It's just a change.

14. Dallas. King is probably right when he says: "The Cowboys are a team on the precipice." But then he explains: "They could dominate if Tony Romo is a B-plus quarterback, and they could be .500 if he stumbles. I'm betting it's somewhere between." So if the options are in a range between 8-8 and, say, 13-3 ... how exactly is that "on the precipice"? Going from 9-7 to 8-8 would not be not a positive move, but it's wouldn't be a collapse, either.

15. Tennessee. "Nick Harper helps at a corner, but he's in essence a trade for Pacman Jones -- and not an upgrade, even though Harper's good." Wha-? His abilities aside, Harper wasn't a trade for Pacman. He's a substitute. The Titans didn't let Pac go with the idea of replacing him with Harper. Pac was kicked out of football, forcing the Titans to make do on the free agent market.

16. Carolina. "When you've got Steve Smith on your team, you'd be a fool to run it 58 percent of the time." This doesn't make any sense. A great receiver gets maybe 15 passes thrown to him per game. A typical team runs 60 or so plays per game. What if you don't have anyone else to throw the ball to? Yes, the Panthers are getting Dwayne Jarrett, but King didn't say "When you've got Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett on your team ..."

17. Cincinnati. King calls them average, which they are. Then again, for the Bengals, three 8-8 seasons in four years is like a fucking dynasty. King is also to be praised for skipping the Bengals-in-prison jokes.

18. Jacksonville. King has them as average, too, which they are. Problem is, back when he was talking about the Colts, he included the average Jaguars (and the average Panthers) as part of a "punching-bag four-pack" (WTF?) of games that Indy will have to face toward midseason. If you're going to put a team in the bottom half of the league, you shouldn't then hold them up as a tougher opponent than Nos. 4 and 6.

19. Miami. Remember the draft, when to everyone's astonishment the Dolphins, desperately needing a quarterback, picked glorified punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. in the first round instead of poster boy QB Brady Quinn? Here's King's take: "If Brady Quinn turns out to be very good, the Ginn pick is a dud, almost no matter how good he is. If Quinn turns out to be Tim Couch, Ginn could look like Gale Sayers." What the hell does that even mean? Gale Sayers was a great talent, period. Either Ginn is a great talent, or he isn't. Either Ginn looks like Sayers, or he doesn't. If Quinn turns out to be great, Ginn may look bad in comparison to Quinn. If Quinn turns out to be a lousy quarterback, that has no bearing whatsoever on whether Ginn compares favorably to Sayers. Think! Of course, King could mean that Ginn will have some good seasons, then have his career ended by knee injuries. Or that his roomie will die of cancer.

20. Atlanta. "Bobby Petrino is a really good coach, a tough and smart football guy who I believe won't let the Michael Vick circus overwhelm his team." I know nothing about Petrino, but college coaches don't have the best track record at dealing with discipline problems on the NFL level. Besides, Vick's relationship with the owner has undermined every coach he's had. That's what will determine whether the Falcons run off and join the circus. Woof.

21. New York Giants. Blah blah blah John Mara namedrop blah blah. Then King sets up another of his legion of straw men: "I don't buy that the subtraction of Tiki Barber will take away a nettlesome critic of (coach Tom) Coughlin and make the locker room all happy and united again. I still see a team with everyone not pulling in the same direction." Pete, no one is buying it. The Giants haven't been pulling in the same direction since the 1970s, and even then they were all pulling the wrong way.

22. San Francisco. Eh.

23. Buffalo. King says they could go 3-3 in their division, the AFC East, the "best division in football this year." If so, then why only No. 23?

24. Washington. "I agonized over this one, because I think the Redskins are moving in the right direction." It's not clear what he's saying. Did he agonize because he has them so low? Or because he has them so high? Last year the Redskins were 5-11, the fifth-worst record in the NFL. He has them here eight spots from the bottom. That's the right direction, I guess.

25. Green Bay. King opines that "something just doesn't smell right" in Green Bay. "Maybe it's the loss of the Lambeau mystique; Green Bay was 3-5 at home last year." The Lambeau mystique is a myth. The Packers won a lot of games at home in the 1990s. Good teams do that. Back in the 1970s and '80s, they lost a lot of home games. Bad teams do that. The Packers are bad again. And their quarterback is old. That smell? Ben-Gay.

26. Kansas City. I agree with the ranking, but King attributes it to the possibility that Larry Johnson will hold out and to the Chiefs' inexperience at quarterback. More likely explanations: The team is older than dirt, and Will Shields just retired.

27. Houston. King says Matt Schaub will be just fine, and if the Texans suck, it'll be Ahman Green's fault. Nice.

28. Oakland. King provides a list of things that have to happen for the Raiders to make even "marginal improvement": Warren Sapp has to play like he's not 34 years old. Lane Kiffin has to coach like he's not 32 years old. JaMarcus Russell has to be ready to play by midseason(!). No. 28 seems awful optimistic, then.

29. Tampa Bay. Once again, I agree with the ranking but am annoyed by the commentary. "To be in year six of the Gruden Era and not have a quarterback of the future ... in sight is frightening." But Jon Gruden has never believed in the concept of a "quarterback of the future." The guy likes 'em old and all-but-used-up, and he always has (Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia). With Gruden, isn't it pretty much understood that you won't be getting a QB of the future? Also, the way King calls it "year six of the Gruden Era" makes it sound like the team has been in a rebuilding mode for six years. They won the Super Bowl, for criminy. Everyone knows you get at least a two-year grace period after a Super Bowl victory, and the Bucs won the NFC South in 2005. Has Gruden fucked over Chris Simms? Yes, but we knew he would.

30. Arizona. "If I had a quarter for every time I heard, 'This is the year the Cardinals finally make that leap to respectability,' I'd be Warren Buffett." According to King, the reason the Cardinals (5-11 in '06) will suck this year is that they have not lived up to expectations in years past. And yet King puts (3-13) Detroit at No. 13 without irony. As I started reading the rankings, I had thought that King would be high on Arizona -- if only because they'd hired Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm away from the Steelers, and King and his ilk pop a tent in their pants whenever the Steel Curtain comes up. But then I read the part back at No. 12 about how the Steelers had gotten so soft the past few years that only a pound-me-in-the-ass training camp can rescue them. Good to know! Does Brett Favre know that King has a new girlfriend?

31. Minnesota. "If Brad Childress makes an NFL quarterback out of Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota will have a chance to be good. That's a big if, and I don't think the upside is very high there." I fail to see how the second-to-worst team in the NFL can have "a chance to be good" if one player performs at an average level.

32. Cleveland. I have no idea what makes the Browns any worse than the Raiders, by King's reckoning.


Peter can read: The second "Factoid Of the Week That May Interest Only Me" is this: "Five parking spaces in the basement of a condominium development on West 17th Street in Manhattan are for sale ... for $225,000 each. There is a waiting list for the spaces." The story was on the front page of The New York Times last week, so it's safe to say this factoid interests more people than King. He's the only one, however, who's pretending that he's the only one who finds it outrageous. Which it isn't. It's supply and demand.

Peter is well-connected: "I saw (Keyshawn Johnson) last week in Los Angeles ... "; "Speaking of Californians whom I saw last week ... ";

Total number of quotes of the week: 2.

Total number of things King thinks he thinks: 23. Total number unrelated to football before he gets to his "non-football-related thoughts": 1 (David Beckham won't save soccer in America! A thought so original that even America's least-talented sports columnist is all over it.)

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