Surviving the Watercooler

Surviving the Watercooler after the 2015 NFL Conference Championships

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It’s been too long since I’ve done a Surviving the Watercooler post, but I promise people will be talking about yesterday’s games for more than just next week. If you haven’t read a StW post before, my goal is to help make certain people who don’t follow sports all that closely, or didn’t watch these particular games, are able to keep up with the office gossip and speculation come Tuesday morning. It was nice to have MLK day give me an extra day to get this post up.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts

Quick Primer: This game was pretty awful to watch. There was a slight glimmer of hope for the Colts when they were down 14-0 and intercepted Brady. It was only 17-7 at half time, but then the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first four second half possessions. The 45-7 final score accurately reflects just how one sided this whole affair was. It was the second game of the day and quite the letdown after how exciting the NFC title game was, but more on that in a bit.

Useful Saying: (Insert any one of a hundred ‘beating a dead horse’ jokes)

Response if someone else says that: Haha, I get it! It’s because the team that lost has a mascot that is a horse and the game was a blowout. It’s a joke! I get jokes. It isn’t actually the biggest blowout in AFC championship game history, that would be Buffalo’s 51-3 win over the LA Raiders in 1990. It was still an ugly game though.

Useful Saying: Tom Brady is now without a doubt the GOAT(greatest of all time)

Response if someone else says that: Getting tough to argue against that. Even though this game wasn’t against Peyton Manning, it was still a statement to soundly destroy the team that just beat Manning’s team on their home field. Brady will be the first quarterback to start six superbowls and by himself now has the same number of playoff wins(19) as the entire Philadelphia Eagles franchise.

Useful Saying: Bill Belichick’s status as a Sith Lord is now confirmed. Can you believe he ran up the score like that?

Response if someone else says that: They’re all pro athletes so a 45-7 score in the NFL isn’t quite the same as a 161-2 highschool girl’s basketball game(yes, that also happened last week).[1] I also can’t really criticize Belichick for keeping his foot on the gas pedal by keeping his starters in and going for it on fourth down when the Packers lost precisely because they didn’t do that. Speaking of the Packers…

NFC Championship game: Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers

Quick Primer: Six turnovers in the first half, a fake field goal, a comeback including an onside kick, two lead changes in the last minute and a half, questionable coaching decisions, players staying on the field with one functional arm, and overtime all in one game? What I’m trying to say is that I can’t write a quick primer for this. Anything I type will be woefully inaccurate. The incredibly short version is the Packers jumped out to a 16-0 lead and had a 19-7 lead with five minutes left in the game but still found a way to let the Seahawks take the lead and win in overtime.

Useful Saying: HOLY CRAP WHAT A GAME!

Response if someone else says that: I KNOW RIGHT!?!?

Useful Saying: Seriously, the Seahawks managed to overcome five turnovers, scored 15 points in the last five minutes which needed both a successful onside kick and a two point conversion, had their other points come from a fake field goal that went for a touchdown, and had Sherman out there with an injured elbow and he managed to use just one arm to defend Jordy Nelson. They deserved to win this game.

Response if someone else says that: They certainly deserved the win, BUT it shouldn’t have been within their reach to begin with. The Packers had 4th & 1 from Seattle’s 1 yard line twice in the first quarter and came away with a field goal each time. How you only score 16 points off five turnovers might be a testament to the other team’s defense, but I also think it shows fear on Green Bay’s part. These two teams played the first week of the season and Rodgers didn’t even attempt a pass towards the side of the field Sherman was covering. I think McCarthy(the Head Coach for the Packers) was scared and desperately wanted any points he could get, not thinking about the fact that he has a top five running back who averages 4.6 yards per carry. You don’t let the defending champions continue to think they have a chance in their own building. You need to go for a knockout punch and Green Bay wouldn’t do it. This is also why I mentioned I can’t criticize Belichick for his actions in the other game.

Useful Saying: Well when you put it that way McCarthy should be fired!

Response if someone else says that: Hold up. He’s got a 94-49 record, not counting his 7-6 mark in the playoffs, since taking over in 2006. He has five division titles, seven playoff appearances, and a superbowl title in that time. Do I think he got completely out coached by Pete Carroll again? Yes, but before you talk about replacing him look at another team in the NFC North. Lovie Smith got fired from Chicago after going 81-63(10-6 in the year he was fired) and now that team can best be compared to a dumpster fire…a large dumpster fire…a large dumpster filled with tires and dog hair all of which is on fire. It isn’t like there are a plethora of qualified head coaches looking for jobs right now and if you fire McCarthy I can guarantee you’ll feel awful watching him succeed elsewhere.

Preliminary Superbowl Prediction: Please note at this time last year on this blog I was picking Denver to beat Seattle and we remember how well that went. With that said, my early lean is Seattle. I always fear a team that has faced adversity and still pulled it out. A lot will depend on the couple injuries Seattle suffered during the win over the Packers, and I don’t think either team will blow out the other. I want to emphasize this is a lean and there are many good cases to be made for a Patriots superbowl here. As long as it’s a better game than last year I’ll be happy.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

Surviving the Watercooler World Cup 2014

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As with all posts in my ‘Surviving the Watercooler’ series, this post isn’t meant to be a grand preview of this global event. It is simply meant to prepare you for conversations you’re likely to find yourself involved in during this month long event. Just like I mentioned in my March Madness StWC, it’s important to remember that if you’re talking about soccer(yes I’ll be calling it soccer) in America, it is unlikely the person you’re talking to truly has a solid grasp of the historical rivalries present between the nations or appropriate winger strategy to hold a lead late in a match.

I will be focusing on the 2014 world cup, except for this paragraph. The 2022 World Cup has already generated a hooligans’ riot worth of controversy. There is an ongoing bribery and corruption investigation looking into how the world cup was given to a country that has: extremely strict rules about alcohol(including not letting foreignors import it), outdoor temperatures reaching into the 120 degrees, and concerns about the egregious human rights violations present in the country including the over 1,000 migrant workers already estimated to have died in the construction of the world cup facilities.[1]

Brazil has had its share of problems leading up to the world cup as well. Graffiti in many Brazilian cities reads, “Copa pra quem?” translated as, “Who is the cup for?” Spending on the world cup is estimated to be 11.5 billion dollars with 3 billion coming from the taxpayers of the host country.[2] One example of why the people of Brazil are particularly upset is the host site for the US team’s second game. The stadium is in the city of Manaus, cost 270 million dollars to build, and is expected to host a grand total of 4 world cup games.  The city of Manaus also has no local team to fill the stadium afterwards.

Much of the facilities and accommodations built with the money will almost certainly be used for the 2016 summer Olympics which are also set to be hosted in Rio. I would venture the guess that Brazil already hosting the world cup was probably a point in its favor when bidding for the 2016 Olympics. Unfortunately the current set of headlines the 2016 Olympics are getting are largely centered around the bay in which the sailing events will be hosted which is currently filled with, “a deluge of rubbish including floating mattresses, car tyres, submerged sofas, dog carcasses and even human corpses,”[3] That sort of press and Brazil’s promise that they should be able to clean up the bay by 50% doesn’t fill me with Olympic spirit.

The world cup itself starts with 32 teams split into 8 groups. Each team plays the three other teams in its group and is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The top two teams in each group advance to a single elimination tournament. If a team advances to the championship match they will have played seven games. You’ll hear variations of ‘let’s win seven!’ as a rallying cry.

The groups themselves are as follows:

Group A: Brazil(the favorite to win the group), Mexico, Cameroon, and Croatia(least likely to advance)

Group B: Spain(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Chile, Netherlands, and Australia(least likely to advance)

Group C: Colombia(the favorite to win the group), Japan, Ivory Coast, and Greece(least likely to advance)

Group D: Italy(the favorite to win the group just barely), Uruguay, England, and Costa Rica(least likely to advance)

Group E: France(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras(least likely to advance)

Group F: Argentina(almost guaranteed to win the group), Bosnia, Nigeria, and Iran(least likely to advance)

Group G: Germany(the favorite to win the group), Portugal, Ghana, and the US(least likely to advance)

Group H: Belgium(the favorite to win the group), Russia, South Korea, and Algeria(least likely to advance)

Brazil is the favorite to win the whole thing with Argentina and Spain also viewed as strong contenders. The US is currently being given a 5-10% chance of winning the group and a 0.5% chance of winning the entire tournament.

The US is guaranteed to play three games though. The first match is against Ghana, will be Monday June 16th 6pm EST, and is a match the US absolutely has to win in order to have a chance of making it out of the group. The second game will be against Portugal Sunday June 22nd 6pm EST, and finally US plays Germany Thursday June 26th 12pm EST. If you want the US to advance you should cheer for Germany to win their first two matches so they are guaranteed to advance and may not play as hard against the US in the final match of group play. It should be noted that an elephant in a German zoo did pick the US to beat Germany in the group stage.[4] The world cup has a long history of prophetic animals, a Brazilian loggerhead turtle is already 1-0.[5]

I’m not going to go through individual players, but if you want some factoids about the big names of the world cup I would recommend this CBS sports piece.[5]. You may also enjoy the Onion’s story on the same topic which includes Christiano Ronaldo’s strength as, “Hair gel slathered all over body allows him to easily slip away from defenders.” [6]

The first match of the world cup has already been played with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1. In the match a foul was called which is causing accusations of referees being paid to give the host country the win. You can see the foul here[7]. I can’t recite too many soccer rules, but I know a flop when I see one. Flopping works particularly well in soccer because each match only has one referee and obviously it’s hard for one person to keep unobstructed views of the entire field during play.

The official reason for sticking to just one ref is that FIFA wants the world cup officiating the same way as any other game in the world. That sounds nice but it isn’t the same as every other game in the world. The whole world is watching and will see what you get wrong. On the plus side, this is the first world cup to use cameras on the goal line for controversial goals, but that is all that is being reviewed.

If you are not into soccer, but have decided to give a match or two a chance because this should be the best soccer the world has to offer, watch one of the first matches of the elimination tournament. Counter intuitively, don’t watch the championship match and judge everything off that. That match has a history of being on the boring side because no coach wants to make a gutsy decision, get it wrong, and be a permanent pariah in the country they’re coaching.

The US really doesn’t have a great chance of making it out of group play, so I’d recommend picking a team that is slightly more likely to make a deep run and follow them. I have a friend with close ties to Belgium, so I’d like to close this post by saying GO RED DEVILS!

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

Surviving the Watercooler Pre March Madness 2014

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The Surviving the Watercooler series has been designed from the start to help people who don’t know a lot about sports get through the chit chat at the office. The thing about March Madness is that every office talks about it and no one knows anything about it. I’m serious, don’t let anyone tell you they have watched enough college basketball that they have insight into New Mexico state’s star player, Coastal Carolina’s zone defense, or the coaching pedigree behind Eastern Kentucky. March Madness is entirely about sounding like you know what you’re talking about and then being less wrong. Remember there are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible outcomes and no one in the history of this tournament has ever gotten it perfect.

Keep that number in mind when people talk about the (digs out his old Dr. Evil impersonation) 1 Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. Warren Buffet has indeed agreed to pay a billion dollars to anyone who can submit a perfect bracket to a specific free to enter website, but remember your odds to win are 1 in over 9 quintillion. It should also be noted that Buffet has stated if anyone really managed to get to the final four with their bracket in tact he will offer a 250 million dollar buyout to the owner of the bracket.

There are a couple things you’re allowed to universally despise when it comes to March Madness and no one will ever question you. Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, and University of North Carolina are all teams who have won way too much in recent memory for anyone to like them. They are the Yankees/Heat/Patriots of college basketball. On a side note they all have blue in their color scheme so if you hear someone spout the weird stat about how you should bet on a team with blue, tell them they need to normalize their data set for dynasties, then call them a lazy statistician and throw a crumpled piece of paper at them. You are also especially encouraged to hate Kentucky’s coach John Calipari.

The NBA has a rule that says you can’t enter the draft until you are one year out of high school. Young prospects go to college for one year and then drop out of school and enter the draft. This is known as the ‘one and done’ strategy. John Calipari has been specifically recruiting for ‘one and done’ talent by promising them that if he can get all the one and dones on one team then their sheer talent will overcome their lack of team chemistry and experience. He won a national title two years ago with this strategy. It’s debatable whether this is literally murdering everything good and decent in the world, but enough people think so that if you bring it up few people will question you on it.

Onto the actual brackets. They are due by noon on Thursday in most offices. Once again you’re not going to pick a perfect one, so I’m simply going to give you a few talking points about each major team and then my final four and eventual champion. I’m serious when I say you can bring in any reason whatsoever for your picks and if you throw in some stats or say a team ‘shows great guard play’ people won’t question you because no one knows what they’re talking about.

 

The Midwest Region

Wichita State is the only undefeated team in college basketball. Their critics say they have had an easy schedule and that is true, but going undefeated isn’t an accident and I expect them to surprise people. Lousiville is the fourth seed in this region and many people consider that an insult because they are the defending champions. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 and will probably play with a chip on their shoulder because of their seed. These two teams will likely play in the sweet 16 and it could be one of the best games of the tournament. If you want to play the contrarian in this bracket you can go with Michigan. They racked up 10 wins against teams ranked in the top 50, and if you play well against the best then you can go far.

The South Region

Florida is the top seed in the whole tournament and almost everyone expects them to win their region with ease. UCLA could give them a run because that team has been hot recently. The only other team of real note here is Syracuse. They are a team that started the year incredibly strong but have just crumbled down the stretch. I don’t have them even making it to the round of 16.

The West Region

This is a good bracket for upsets because I don’t see a real clear leader here. Arizona has the one seed in the region, but I think they’ll lose to Oklahoma State. They have a player named Marcus Smart who could really put that team on his back and carry them proudly to a loss against Wisconsin. During the season the badgers have beaten Florida, Michigan, and Michigan State. Remember when I praised Michigan for beating top talent? Well Wisconsin beat Michigan and the overall number one seed in the tournament. I’m riding the badgers in the west.

The East Region

Most people will tell you that the east region is going to be the toughest to get out of. Virginia has a stifling defense but very little offense. Traditionally teams like that look great during the regular season but don’t manage to make it too far in the tournament, you need to be able to score to win. I have Virginia losing to Michigan State who are the current trendy national title pick. They got several players back from injury and are playing at full strength for one of the first times this season so people think a strong run is in their future, and their coach Tom Izzo has plenty of big game experience. I do think Michigan State wins the region, but Iowa State will give them a tough game. One final note in this region. I’m picking Harvard to beat Cincinnati. I mention it because it is a 12 seed beating a 5 seed. The field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and in that time their have been 35 cases of a 12 beating 5. No one has a great explanation, but it happens. I’m picking Harvard as my 12 because they pulled a solid upset last year. The important thing though is to pick at least one 12 and talk about the 12-5 rule.

To recap, my final four is Wisconsin, Wichita St, Michigan St, and Florida. My national title game is Florida beating Wichita St. Is it sexy to pick the overall one seed to win? Nope, but that Florida team has few if any weaknesses and they deserve their seed. I think Wichita State’s magic will finally run out in heartbreaking fashion on the biggest stage.

I recommend everyone fill out a bracket just because it’s fun. There’s that great moment every year when there’s a big upset in the works and everyone stops cheering for their own bracket and just wants the little guy to pull it out. It’s a national past time to talk about how your bracket got ruined, but that billion dollars was almost yours. Have fun with it. Pick some upsets. Pick a team because of their mascot. Pick against a team because an ex went there. No one has a winning method so whatever you say, if you say it with confidence, your office will be impressed even if the office pool goes to the guy who played it safe and picked Florida.

As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

Surviving the Watercooler after the Super Bowl 48

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The post I made breaking down the two conference championship games for easy Monday morning work place discussion is my most viewed post and I received several compliments on it. It seems only natural I follow it up with a similar overview of the 48th super bowl.

Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos

Quick Primer: All in all this was an incredibly boring game. Seattle took the lead on a mistake by Denver on the first play of the game and never looked back. By half time announcers were trying to give the viewers a reason to stay, and by the fourth quarter you could practically hear TVs clicking to different channels all over the country. Seattle’s won all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. It was such a lopsided game, I’m certain you’ll hear conspiracy theories over the next week about Denver throwing the game on purpose. Seattle 43 Denver 8.

Useful Saying: “The old cliche about defense winning championships is proven once again”

Response if someone else says that: “This was the first time the league’s top ranked defense(Seattle) faced the league’s top ranked offense(Denver) in the super bowl. In games the number one defense plays in the super bowl, that team is now 10-1. It’s tough to argue with that success”

Useful Saying: “Payton Manning just can’t win in the postseason”

Response if someone else says that: “Tough to blame Payton for this one. He completed 34/49 passes. The issue was the offensive line. Seattle was in Payton’s face the whole game and tipped balls at the line of scrimmage were obviously responsible for the interception returned for the touchdown and the failed 4th down attempt at the end of the first half. Did Payton have a great game? Absolutely not, especially considering people were saying that if he won this game he’d cement his legacy as one of the top five QBs of all time. Did Payton lose the game for his team? Also Absolutely not, this was systemic failure at every level of the game for the Broncos.”

Not Actually Useful Saying But Something You’ll Hear: “Seattle could really have a dynasty on their hands here”

Response if someone else says that: “Settle down. They’ve won one title. Their rookie quarterback has a tiny contract and will rightfully demand to get paid much more when that expires. There is no way Seattle can stay under the salary cap and keep all of the skill position players on defense that make up this championship unit. They had a narrow window to win a championship in and they pulled it off. Full credit should go to them for that, but we’re looking at a team that managed to pick up great players cheaply and that won’t last.”

A few last notes I don’t have clever phrasing for:

-Seattle’s coach Pete Carroll becomes the third person to ever win a college and pro football championship as a coach.

-Malcolm Smith is only the third linebacker in NFL history to win a super bowl MVP. It is rare to see it go to a defensive player at all, but if any group deserved it, this one did.

-The Broncos do have the record for worst loss in super bowl history when they lost 55-10 to the 49ers in 1990. For a while during this game it looked like they might break that.

This is the way the NFL season ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

I will have one more NFL blog post because I want to address these recent talks about the NFL’s non profit status and, even though I’m several months late, weigh in on the name ‘Redskins’. Stay tuned for those, but for now questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

Surviving the Watercooler after the 2014 NFL Conference Championships

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Sports talk is a staple of our culture. It’s a common ground that causes enough passion to generate hours worth of conversation while not quite drumming up the instant animosity that religion and politics do.  The problem is that not everyone has the borderline obsession with sports that I do. In the interest of helping people who have healthier obsessions survive workplace discussions tomorrow, and to help me justify the amount I pay attention to football, here are some phrases everyone can use tomorrow.

 

New England Patriots vs. the Denver Broncos

Quick Primer: Two teams quarterbacked by future hall of famers. The ‘who is better’ debate between Manning and Brady has been going on for the better part of the last 10 years. In this round the Denver Broncos and Manning won with Manning playing fantastically, but getting a lot of help from his defense that shutdown Brady. Honestly this game was less of a contest than the score would indicate. Final score Broncos 26 Patriots 16

Useful Saying: “Looks like Manning finally has the playoff monkey off his back”

Response if someone else says that: “Yes, but Manning has to watch out because if he viewed Brady as his superbowl then he might come out flat next week.”

Useful Saying: “The Patriots only lost because they got bit by the injury bug more than any other team in the NFL”

Response if someone else says that: “Poor Tom Brady is going to have go sleep with his three superbowl rins, supermodel wife, and pile of money? Unlucky is not the word”

Useful Saying: “Who would have thought the Manning/Brady bowl was going to be so boring?”

Response if someone else says that: “Yeah, caught me off guard too”

 

San Francisco 49ers vs Seattle Seahawks

Quick Primer:  Two division rivals who hate each other. The coaches coached against each other in college and hate each other. The fans live close together and hate each other. The wide receivers and the defenses trash talked each other in the press over this last week. This was an instant classic of a game that people will talk about for years. Final Score Seattle 23 San Francisco 17

WARNING: There was an injury in this game that was absolutely brutal. It’s the sort of injury that caused me to physically recoil from the TV. If you are squeamish about watching a knee get bent in at an extreme angle and somebody asks if you want to see the video, say no. It was shown multiple times from multiple angles in HD during the game. Both teams jumped up and started shouting for the trainers immediately. It was bad.

Useful Saying: “The refs really screwed the 49ers in this game. The roughing the kicker call, the non reviewable fumble, the unsportsmanlike conduct that ended the half, just awful officiating.”

Response if someone else says that: “True(they really did), but the refs didn’t cause the 49ers QB to turn the ball over three times, that was the Seattle defense.”

Useful Saying: “Seriously, how badly did the refs screw the 49ers in this game?”

Response if someone else says that: “Ok, they did. Getting the refs full time positions could really improve the officiating errors we now notice because of the HD cameras and closeups. But to be fair, the roughing the kicker call was the only one of the calls that really impacted the game. The non reviewable fumble became fumble the next play. The unsportsmanlike call at the end of the half didn’t really impact much because there were only 20 seconds left and the 49ers took a knee instead of going for a low percentage hail mary. The 49ers got some bad calls, but they had plenty of opportunities to take the refs out of the equation.”

Useful Saying: “What was up with the crazy guy in the post game interview?”

Response if someone else says that: “It was a weird interview, but the guy is going to the superbowl, just made the play of his career, and at least it wasn’t the same generic ‘we gave it 110%’ interview we’ve seen hundreds of times. That said, he should probably take it down a notch because he creeped out all of America.”

 

Preliminary Superbowl Prediction: The defense that completely bottled up Brady will do the same to the still inexperienced Wilson. Manning will struggle early against the Legion of Boom(the nickname for the Seattle defense), but after some halftime adjustments he’ll lead the Broncos to a comeback victory.

As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.