Vol. II, Issue 1
Happy 2015, Fidelity fans! Who wants to wait for a Monday Review when you can have a Weekend Preview? Stuff just got real.
Let’s start with the NFL games, jump into the NBA for a quick minute, and make a big finish with the Oregon-Ohio State Championship!
Panthers (+10.5) at Seahawks
We’ll start with the sleeper of the bunch. The Panthers suck, and the Seahawks aren’t great. Although both teams are hot (Carolina’s won five straight and Seahawks have won nine of ten, with a lone loss against my mighty Chiefs), neither offense is worth watching. The defenses are great: during their win streaks, the Panthers allowed only 12 points/game and the Seahawks have allowed only 6.5 points over the last six games! So this one will be the sort of boring, low scoring game that Fidelity Sports is all about—but doesn’t care to actually watch.
Seahawks 13, Panthers 3
Ravens (+7.0) at Patriots
Forget Peyton vs the Colts; forget the Cowboys/Packers 100-point bonanza; forget the Panthers/Seahawks stinker… The single most exciting game of the NFL Playoffs in 2014-15 is in Foxboro. My third-favorite current QB (after Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers) and the greatest postseason QB since Joe Montana is primed for a huge game, and I’m not talking about Tom “Uggz” Brady. I’m talkin’ ‘bout:
That’s right. The $120 Million Man, the Hero of Delaware, the Game Manager Extraordinaire: Joseph B. Flacco. Let’s look at Flacco’s career regular season stats, pro-rated to a 16-game season.
10.5-5.5 record, 3648 yards, 21 TD, 13 INT ratio, 84.8 QB rating
OK, so they’re pretty average. But now, Fidelity faithful, look at Mr Flacco’s playoff stats over the last four postseasons (Jan 2012-15)—also pro-rated to a 16-game season (you know, for perspective).
14-2 record, 4286 yards, 39 TD, 2 INT, 110.7 QB rating
Holy smokes, Flacco! So, here’s where this puts us: the Patriots are the most complete team in the NFL right now, but Flacco is Montana 2.0, and are you going to pick against Joe Jr. in January?
My pick is still the Patriots, but it’s the most tentative of the lot. The Ravens cover the spread, and maybe win. I don’t know. If I hadn’t picked a Packers/Patriots Super Bowl all season long, I might go with my heart/gut over my head. But for the sake of, you know, fidelity, I’ll stick with my Pats-will-win-the-AFC-if-the-Chiefs-don’t pick.
Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (Overtime)
Cowboys (+5.5) at Packers
The three best offensive players of 2014 will be on the field for this one.
Aaron Rodgers: 4381 yards, 38 TD, 5 INT, 112.2 rating
Tony Romo: 3705 yards, 34 TD, 9 INT, 113.2 rating
DeMarco Murray: 1845 rush yards, 416 rec yards, 13 total TD
With both defenses about average (and that’s a stretch for the ‘Boys), this one has shootout written all over it. But given that the temperature in Green Bay (where the Packers were 8-0 this year), Wisconsin should be about -15 degrees, I’m thinking it won’t be the weekend’s 100-point bonanza.
Packers 38, Cowboys 24
Colts (+7.0) at Broncos
Ah, here’s our 100-point bonanza, even if it is in the Rocky Mountains (even an extra mile high, they’re still not as cold as Wisconsin—sick!).
Broncos 56, Colts 45
To be clear, the offensive bonanza I’m predicting doesn’t mean either team is especially good. I think both would lose to the Patriots or Ravens by two TD’s or more. But the defenses are the only thing weaker than the running games here, so while this one will be far more fun to watch than Carolina/Seattle, the Fidelity Factor will be in the D+ range here.
The big plot line here is no surprise: Peyton vs The Team That Cut Him. This is magnified by Peydey’s poor second half. In the final nine games of the season, Manning averaged only 280 yards/game, had only 17 TD to 12 INT, managed a rating of about 90, and the Broncos went 6-3. Not terrible numbers, but this is what you’d expect from a Jay Cutler or a Carson Palmer. That’s right. I just made those comparisons.
Another (potential) plot line here: this could be Peyton’s last playoff game. I’m not saying it will be, but it could be. If the Colts win, are we sure the Broncos win 10 games next year and make the playoffs with an average running game, average defense, and a slumping 39-year old Manning? I’m putting them at 9-7 next year. Imagine this: Manning loses his last playoff game at home, versus The Team That Cut Him, doesn’t even make the playoffs in his final season, and finishes with exactly one Super Bowl win. Talk about limping across the finish line. I’m not saying it will happen. But it could. And if it does, I won’t be the only one making Cutler/Palmer comparisons.
But for the record, I’m still officially predicting one last 400-yard, 5-TD win from PeyMan. But I’m also officially predicting ONE LAST such game.
NBA Mid-Season Review
Let’s kick it over the NBA, the world’s greatest professional league.
We’re just shy of The League’s midway point, and since most of my readers are still coming around to pro hoops, let me give you a definitive mid-season review.
The Best Team: Golden State Warriors
The League’s top ten teams with current wins projected to 82 games.
1. Golden State (70)
2. Portland (64)
3. Memphis (58)
4. San Antonio (48)
5. Oklahoma City (39)
T-6. Dallas & Houston (57)
8. LA Clippers (55)
9. Chicago (57—in the East)
10. Atlanta (63—East)
Where’s Cleveland? They’re the NBA’s 15th best team at the moment (after Toronto, DC, Phoenix, New Orleans). Things are so bad that new coach David Blatt is on the hot seat in less than three months into his first season, Kevin Love may be playing his first and last season in CLE, and the Cavs just made two mid-season (that’s quite rare) trades. They gave up Dion Waiters, a promising 23-year old guard and two future first-round picks to add veteran bench players JR Smith (a ten-year vet with a career average of 42% shooting), Timofey Mozgov (career averages 6.4/4.9) and Iman Shumpert (a currently-injured career 8-point scorer). Why would they do that?! Only if they know this is their best chance to make the NBA Finals (which it is—especially if they lose Love) and their only true post player is out for the season (which he is—Anderson Varejao). They’re basically Reverse-Tanking.
My take on LeBron? I like the guy, I really do. But his body is breaking down faster than Peyton’s. It’s easy to still think of him as a young guy (after all, he’s only 30), but he’s played more games than Magic Johnson and is only a handful short of Larry Bird. Add all the Olympics and FIBA summer games, and he’s basically a 35-year old. My guess is that he is still a top-five player through next season, and can, like MJ after his first retirement, can alter his game to remain in the game for a year or two past that. But without question, he’s closer to retirement than he is to seeing a third NBA ring.
The Best Player: ???
As a result of LeBron’s age/slump, and for the first time in The League’s last few decades, there’s no clear Best Player. Post-LBJ, who takes over? Kevin Durant is the Heir, but can we really say that he became the NBA’s greatest during an injury–plagued season? But who does that leave? Chris Paul is looking past his prime also; Kevin Love is laying a season-long egg in Cleveland; Steph Curry and Anthony Davis are making compelling cases, it’s just too soon. Here’s your Best-in-the-NBA starting five.
G: Russell Westbrook, OKC, 26.3 pts/ 5.6 reb / 6.9 ast; 29.4 Player Efficiency Rating
G: James Harden, Hou, 26.8/5.8/6.7; 26.3 PER
F: Kevin Durant, OKC, 24.5/6.3/24.5; 28.2 PER
F: LeBron James, Cle, 25.2/5.3/7.6; 25.1 PER
F/C: Anthony Davis, NO, 23.9/10.5/1.6; 31.1 PER
Second team: Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Boogie Cousins, Damian Lillard
Third team: Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol
Davis holds the highest PER in The League thanks to being its best defender (he leads the NBA in combined blocks + steals by a landslide). Remember my 2013 prediction: by the 2015 Playoffs, Kevin Durant takes over as the NBA’s Best, and in 2019, the title goes to…
The Best Rookie: Dante Exum
Sure, others (Andre Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, KJ McDaniels) have better stats, and Jabari Parker would have easily won this award if he didn’t lose the season to injury. But the NBA’s youngest player, Utah’s 19-year old Australian phenom point guard Dante Exum, is also its future star. Just check out Per 48 Minute stat line: 13.0/3.6/4.9 ast; 7.9 PER. OK, so there’s no way to make that sound impressive, and there are probably 20 rookies with better stats. But I know talent when I see it. HE WILL BE THE NBA’S BEST BY 2019!!! Trust me.
My mid-season predictions are basically unchanged.
West Finals: San Antonio over Golden State, 4-2
East Finals: Chicago over Toronto, 4-1
NBA Finals: San Antonio over Chicago, 4-2
Oregon vs Ohio State
Last but not least, the first-ever CFB Playoff comes down to two 13-1 teams: the Oregon Ducks and the Ohio State Buckeyes. You know the story: Oregon has the best college QB of all time, and Ohio State’s on their third this year. Oregon has the better offense; Ohio St has the better defense.
My take? I’m a big Defense-first guy (when it comes to football) but there’s just no way you can talk me into the Ducks losing this game. As long as Mariota’s on the game all four quarters, Oregon’s going to win. The official Fidelity Sports pick?
Oregon 45, Ohio State 31
Until next time, sports fans: peace be with you.