One line to fool them all – 10.5.15

Sports talk is frequently used as a common language but it’s far from universal. If you’re someone who doesn’t follow or even understand sports, you can find yourself at a disadvantage in common small-talk situations like in an elevator, waiting for a bus, sitting at a bar, or around the proverbial water cooler at work. Even if you are a sports fan, it’s impossible to watch everything and know everything. To help in these situations, we provide lines to use when engaged in a conversation about all of the high profile sporting events of the day, plus explanations of what they mean.

NFL Football

New York Jets 27 vs. Miami Dolphins 14 in London

Line: The Philbin watch is on.

What it means: Joe Philbin is the Miami Dolphins head coach. Although by the time you’re reading this, he could be their former coach. Rumors were flying last week that if the Dolphins lost their game in London against the Jets, the team may fire Philbin. They lost. Fans are watching to see if he gets fired.

New York Giants 24 at Buffalo Bills 10

Line: Live by the Rex, die by the Rex.

What it means: When the Buffalo Bills got off to a hot start this season, new head coach Rex Ryan got a lot of the credit. He’s known for being a defensive mastermind and someone who players absolutely love playing for. His teams are also known for getting a little too amped up, which sometimes — maybe always — leads them into taking too many penalties and making other mistakes. That was the story today in the Bills game against the Giants. In the last two weeks, they’ve taken 31 penalties for 275 yards. Eeek.

Carolina Panthers 37 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Line: Pump the breaks on crowning the undefeated Panthers. Their opponents are a combined 3-12.

What it means: After four wins in the first four games of the season, Panthers fans are feeling pretty good about their team. As they should. But it’s not like they’ve played a very difficult schedule. The four teams they’ve played so far this year have won only three games combined and lost 12. So, perhaps we should wait and see for a few more weeks before we declare the Panthers to be a great team.

Oakland Raiders 20 at Chicago Bears 22

Line: There’s life in Chicago!

What it means: Bears fans weren’t expecting very much from their team this year, but after starting the season with three losses in three weeks, they were nearing a catatonic state. To have been beaten at home by the up-and-coming-but-still-lowly Oakland Raiders might have pushed some Bears fans over the edge. The Bears victory doesn’t suggest any sort of reawakening in Chicago, not even of a salvaging type, but it will provide some momentary solace.

Kansas City Chiefs 21 at Cincinnati Bengals 36

Line: Okay, now I’m convinced — Andy Dalton has turned the corner.

What it means: Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton, has been known for playing well in the regular season and then terribly in the playoffs. That dichotomy is the primary factor in his being dismissed from any conversation about the best quarterbacks, or even the very, very good quarterbacks in the league. He won’t truly get a chance to change his reputation until he wins in the playoffs but his superb play in the first four games of this season, leading his team to an undefeated record, should make some impact.

Houston Texans 21 at Atlanta Falcons 48

Line: This never would have happened if J.J. Watt was alive.

What it means: J.J. Watt, the phenomenal Texans defensive lineman is, of course, alive. But it’s hard to believe that his team allowed 48 points, even to a high-powered offensive team like the Falcons. This game wasn’t even as close as the score suggests. The Texans scored all 21 of their points in the fourth quarter, when the game was already basically over.

Jacksonville Jaguars 13 at Indianapolis Colts 16

Line: 40 year-old Matt Hasselbeck lead the Colts to an overtime victory. There’s hope for us yet!

What it means: Colts fans could have been forgiven for feeling frightened by the prospect of playing a game without their star quarterback Andrew Luck. They shouldn’t have worried. 40 year-old backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who most people probably thought had been out of the league for a handful of years already, started the game and played well enough for the team to win in overtime.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Washington Redskins 23

Line: The whole NFC East is a mess. What a disaster.

What it means: The NFC East with these two teams, the New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys, is the most famous and infamous division in football. With all four teams in major cities (and television markets) they draw the biggest audiences and attract the most attention. That’s why it’s a little funny and maybe a little schadenfreude-esque when the division is bad. This year, all four teams seem bad.

Cleveland Browns 27 at San Diego Chargers 30

Line: God hates Cleveland.

What it means: The Browns are the hard-luck story of the NFL. No matter what they do right, they seem to do something bigger and more important wrong. Today, it was an offside penalty in the last second that gave the Chargers a second chance to kick a game winning field goal after their first attempt missed. That’s real Cleveland Browns football!

Minnesota Vikings 20 at Denver Broncos 23

Line:  These might be the two best defenses in the league.

What it means: Let everyone else talk about offensive stars like Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. You can show yourself to be a true football fan by pointing out that the Vikings defense intercepted Peyton Manning twice and the Broncos defense sacked Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seven (that’s an absurdly high number of sacks) times!

Green Bay Packers 17 at San Francisco 49ers 3

Line: The Packers didn’t do much, but they didn’t need to do very much. The 49ers [your choice of derogatory but not vulgar or bigoted term]!

What it means: The Packers are a truly excellent team. The 49ers are not. There wasn’t much more too this game.

St. Louis Rams 24 at Arizona Cardinals 22

Line: If the Rams could play half as well against everyone else as they do within their division, they’d be a playoff team.

What it means: The Rams have a funny habit of playing much better against the other three teams in their division – the Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers – than anyone else. So far this year, they’re 2-0 against the Seahawks and Cardinals – both of which are more well-regarded than the Rams – and 0-2 against everyone else. It’s a small sample size, but it continues a pattern from previous seasons.

Dallas Cowboys 20 at New Orleans Saints 26

Line: Brandon Weeden looked like Tony Romo but Drew Brees looked like Drew Brees. Advantage, Saints.

What it means: The Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback, Tony Romo, is out for the next month with a broken collarbone. Backup quarterback Brandon Weeden played so well at times in this game that you’d be forgiven for thinking he actually was Tony Romo. Alas for Cowboys fans, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose play this year had so far been below his own standards and who was suffering from a bruised rotator cuff, looked like his old self. This was an exciting game and it went into overtime where a long pass from Brees to running back C.J. Spiller, ended it decisively in favor of the Saints.

One line to fool them all – 9.28.15

Sports talk is frequently used as a common language but it’s far from universal. If you’re someone who doesn’t follow or even understand sports, you can find yourself at a disadvantage in common small-talk situations like in an elevator, waiting for a bus, sitting at a bar, or around the proverbial water cooler at work. Even if you are a sports fan, it’s impossible to watch everything and know everything. To help in these situations, we provide lines to use when engaged in a conversation about all of the high profile sporting events of the day, plus explanations of what they mean.

NFL Football

Cincinnati Bengals 28 at Baltimore Ravens 24

Line: Win the Raven, nevermore.

What it means: The Baltimore Ravens were actually named after Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. This may not completely excuse your mangling of Poe for the purpose of rubbing a little salt in your Baltimore fan friend’s wounds after the Ravens lost their third game in a row, but do it anyway. At 0-3, the playoffs seem like an unlikely possibility at this point for the Ravens, particularly because this most recent loss came at the hands of their divisional opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 3-0.

New Orleans Saints 22 at Carolina Panthers 27

Line: The Saints almost did it without Brees, but they didn’t quite have enough.

What it means: The New Orleans Saints were one of several teams facing an 0-3 start and one of a few teams playing without their starting quarterback. Virtually no one expected them to be able to play competitively with the Carolina Panthers, much less win, but they were surprisingly good. In the end, the Panthers, with their start quarterback Cam Newton who played extremely well, were too much for the Saints to contend with.

Oakland Raiders 27 at Cleveland Browns 20

Line: Let’s hold up on the parade for the Raiders – their wins have come against the 0-3 Ravens and 1-2 Browns.

What it means: Oakland Raiders fans and unaffiliated football observers might get excited by the Raiders first two-game win streak in more than three seasons. Although it’s never wrong to celebrate, it might be wrong to conclude that the Raiders are a good football team, because their two wins have come against teams that seem not to be very good themselves. With the pitiful Chicago Bears coming up for the Raiders next week, it might be another couple weeks before we find out more about how good the Raiders actually are.

Atlanta Falcons 39 at Dallas Cowboys 28

Line: Don’t think the lesson is that the Cowboys can score with Weeden. The lesson is that the Falcons can’t stop anyone.

What it means: After losing starting quarterback Tony Romo, to a broken collarbone last week, the Dallas Cowboys have been forced to go with backup quarterback Brandon Weeden this week and for the forceable future. Without Romo (and star wide receiver Dez Bryant) many feared the Cowboys wouldn’t have enough skill on offense to play competitively. Some Cowboys fans might be comforted by having watched the team score 28 points in today’s losing effort, but I think that’s more of a reflection of how bad the Falcons defense is than anything about the Cowboys offense with Weeden.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9 at Houston Texans 19

Line: Neither of these teams is going anywhere this season but the Bucs are traveling nowhere faster.

What it means: In honor of Yogi Berra, who died this week, that’s my best Berra-esque comment about this game. The Buccaneers are worse than the Texans but both teams are bad enough that casual fans can stop paying them any attention.

San Diego Chargers 14 at Minnesota Vikings 31

Line: I wonder how much of the Charger’s issue this year is Los Angeles hanging over their heads?

What it means: The San Diego Chargers are one of a few teams that are rumored to be candidates for relocation to Los Angeles after this season. A move could be distracting to any team, but particularly one whose veteran quarterback has vocally opposed the move in the press. Connecting the team’s slow start to the relocation issue is not obvious, so get some football knowledge points by suggesting its possibility.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at New England Patriots 51

Line: The way the Patriots are playing, bye week can’t come soon enough for the rest of the league.

What it means: During an NFL season, each team gets one week off. That week, called a bye week, is next week for the New England Patriots. This will come as a relief to the other teams in the league, because the Patriots have been unbelievably good so far this year, winning their first three games easily and scoring 119 points (which is a lot!)

Philadelphia Eagles 24 at New York Jets 17

Line: This game is the classic lesson about jumping to conclusions after the first two weeks.

What it means: Coming into this game, the Philadelphia Eagles were 0-2 and people were already talking about firing the coach. The New York Jets were 2-0 and some of their fans might have quietly Googled this year’s Super Bowl, just to see where it was… just in case. After today’s game, both sides are quietly moderating their early conclusions about their teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers 12 at St. Louis Rams 6

Line: What’s the latest on Big Ben’s knee?

What it means: The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (nicknamed Big Ben after because of his stature and the existence of the British clock, Big Ben), to a knee injury during this game. The injury happened when a defensive player tripped and slid into Roethlisberger’s legs. There was immediate speculation that Roethlisberger could have a serious injury, which might force him to miss the rest of the season. Although the next round of rumors was more positive, we won’t know for sure until the results of the inevitable MRI are leaked/shared tomorrow.

Indianapolis Colts 35 at Tennessee Titans 33

Line:  Eh. I’m not impressed. Win or not, needing heroics to beat the Titans does not show the Colts in a positive light.

What it means: The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the biggest disappointments so far this year. They avoided a 0-3 start by beating the Tennessee Titans, but if quarterback Andrew Luck and the rest of his team want to restore confidence of their being a clear playoff team, they’ll have to beat a stronger team than the Titans. As disheartening as this weekend’s loss must be for the Titans, this season is all about the development of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, and he continued his promising start in this game.

San Francisco 49ers 7 at Arizona Cardinals 47

Line: We have our answer now, the 49ers are terrible.

What it means: The San Francisco 49ers were expected to be awful this year. Then they won their first game in convincing fashion. That confused most people’s ideas about what kind of team they were going to be this year. Even after a loss last week, people weren’t sure. Now, they are. The 49ers are bad, bad, bad.

Buffalo Bills 41 at Miami Dolphins 14

Line: Is there a more disappointing free agent signing than Ndamukong Suh?

What it means: Coming off a promising season last year, the Miami Dolphins made one of the biggest splashes during the offseason by agreeing to a contract with Ndamukong Suh, the controversial but undeniably talented defensive lineman. So far this season, he’s been a bust in Miami. The Dolphins can’t seem to stop anyone on defense, certainly not the Bills today.

Chicago Bears 0 at Seattle Seahawks 26

Line: Oh well. I was cracking up when it was 3-0 halfway through the second quarter, but eventually all good things must come to an end.

What it means: Unless you are a Seattle Seahawks fan, the prospect of a 0-2 Chicago Bears team, playing without their starting quarterback and best wide receiver, coming into Seattle and defeating the desperate 0-2 Seahawks was a hysterically funny one. The Seahawks are a brash bunch whose success over the past few seasons has engendered a lot of envy, so the longer it seemed possible they would fall to 0-3 at the hands of the hapless Bears, the funnier it was.

Denver Broncos 24 at Detroit Lions 12

Line: It may not be pretty, but so far it’s working for the Broncos.

What it means: The Denver Broncos may be the most criticized 3-0 team ever. The problem so far has been that their legendary but ancient quarterback, Peyton Manning, has not looked half as good as he has for the entirety of his career. Despite much hemming and hawing about his age and health, my theory is that this has more to do with he and his new coach, Gary Kubiak, feeling each other out. In this game, the Broncos played most of their offensive plays from a formation called the pistol, which was new to both Manning and Kubiak. As the result shows, their experimentation seems to be leading somewhere good.

One line to fool them all – 9.21.15

Sports talk is frequently used as a common language but it’s far from universal. If you’re someone who doesn’t follow or even understand sports, you can find yourself at a disadvantage in common small-talk situations like in an elevator, waiting for a bus, sitting at a bar, or around the proverbial water cooler at work. Even if you are a sports fan, it’s impossible to watch everything and know everything. To help in these situations, we provide lines to use when engaged in a conversation about all of the high profile sporting events of the day, plus explanations of what they mean.

NFL Football

New England Patriots 40 at Buffalo Bills 32


What it means: That Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who wasn’t particularly memorable as a quarterback in college, and who was the backup quarterback in Baltimore for his entire career until this year, has played much better than expected so far this year. In this game, he helped the Bills score three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Despite losing to their rivals in this game, Bills fans are pretty pumped about Taylor.

Tennessee Titans 14 at Cleveland Browns 28

Line: I guess Mariota isn’t the next coming of Marino.

What it means: Marcus Mariota is the rookie quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. Last week, he was nearly perfect, passing for four touchdowns and no interceptions. This had Titans fans thinking they might have a new all-time great to root for, someone like the beloved Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marion, who played for the Dolphins in the 1980s and early 1990s. The story was different for Mariota and the Titans this weekend as they lost to the unremarkable Cleveland Browns.

Houston Texans 17 at Carolina Panthers 24

Line: In a game between two teams built on defense, go with the team that has a quarterback.

What it means: The Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers are both examples of a relatively rare type of team in the NFL – those that emphasize defense more than offense. The biggest difference between the two teams is that the Panthers have an extremely talented and well established quarterback in Cam Newton, and the Texans have already switched between seemingly equally bad options at starting quarterback and this is only Week Two of the NFL season.

Arizona Cardinals 48 at Chicago Bears 23

Line: They are who we thought they were! And we didn’t let them off the hook.

What it means: This refers to a legendary rant from former Cardinals coach, Dennis Green, after his team lost to a Bears team. He had felt that the then undefeated Bears were beatable and his team was well on their way to proving him right before messing everything up and losing the game. This game was the polar opposite. Everyone thought the Bears were going to be terrible this year. Then they played reasonably well in a Week One loss. Not to worry, the Cardinals traveled to Chicago this weekend and showed everyone that they were right in dismissing the Bears.

San Diego Chargers 19 at Cincinnati Bengals 24

Line: Wake me up when Dalton does this in the playoffs.

What it means: Andy Dalton, the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, has a reputation for winning during the regular season but losing during the playoffs because… well… that’s all he’s done so far in his career. In his four years as the Bengals quarterback, he’s won an average of 10 games per season (that’s very good) but lost in the first round of the playoffs each year. Even though past events don’t predict future results, it’s hard not to feel slightly bored by the Bengals consistently disappointing seasons.

Detroit Lions 16 at Minnesota Vikings 26

Line: I have no idea what happened in Week One, but the Vikings look good.

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings were many people’s pick to be the young, up-and-coming team this year. Then they went into San Francisco for their first game and played horribly. This week, they looked just like the team many people thought they would be.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 at New Orleans Saints 19

Line: It really looks like it’s over in New Orleans, doesn’t it.

What it means: Starting the season after Hurricane Katrina, quarterback Drew Brees, coach Sean Peyton, and the whole Saints franchise have had a magical decade. Behind a prolific offense, they won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. After two straight losses to start this season, including this weekend’s dreadful loss versus divisional opponent Tampa Bay, who themselves were coming off an embarrassing loss, Saints fans have to be worried that their run has come to an end.

Atlanta Falcons 24 at New York Giants 20

Line: Ooooph. I can’t wait to see the New York Post’s headline after this one.

What it means: For the second week in a row, the New York Giants lost a game that they seemed to have comfortably won. This time, they were up 20-10 over the Falcons in the fourth quarter. The New York Post enjoys nothing more than when a New York team loses in ignominious fashion so that they can make fun of them, usually with a giant (get it) bad pun on their back page.

San Francisco 49ers 18 at Pittsburgh Steelers 43

Line: I wouldn’t take too much from this game. The 49ers were on short rest and had to fly east for an early game while the Steelers had 10 days to prepare.

What it means: There are a few scheduling quirks that people who follow football think are significant to the outcome of games. Nearly every one of them was present in this game and they were all slanted against the 49ers. Since the 49ers played last Monday night, they had one fewer day to prepare for this game than is normally the case. The Steelers, on the other hand, having played the previous Thursday, had an extra three days. Lastly, people believe that west coast teams have trouble playing on the east coast when the game begins at 1 p.m. because the players’ internal clocks still think it’s 10 a.m. – time for pancakes, not football.

St. Louis Rams 10 at Washington Redskins 24

Line: Classic let-down by the Rams after their big Week One victory over the Seahawks.

What it means: Despite football being a job, people still think that football teams are driven by emotion roughly the way high-school sports teams are. Win a big and emotional game in one week, like the St. Louis Rams against the Seattle Seahawks last week, and people expect to see an emotional let-down, often accompanied by a loss in the following week. The fact that the Rams lost this week to a team most people feel they should have beaten lends credence to that line of thought.

Baltimore Ravens 33 at Oakland Raiders 37

Line: I think the Cowboys vs. Eagles game went through some kind of worm-hole and came out in Oakland. With different teams.

What it means: Everyone, including Las Vegas bookmakers, expected the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles to be an exciting, high-scoring game. Instead, that game was relatively boring and ugly while this game, which most people thought was going to be a pedestrian Ravens win, turned into the best game of the day.

Dallas Cowboys 20 at Philadelphia Eagles 10

Line: I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I feel bad for Cowboys fans.

What it means: The Dallas Cowboys have won both their games so far this year, but things are distinctly gloomy for their fans. Their star wide receiver broke a bone in his foot during their first game and their quarterback broke his collar bone in this one. It’s hard to imagine they’ll win many of their next eight games or so, while their two best offensive players are out.

Seattle Seahawks 17 at Green Bay Packers 27

Line: I’m glad Green Bay got some small measure of revenge.

What it means: The Green Bay Packers played the Seattle Seahawks in last year’s NFC Championship. Win, and they would have gone to the Super Bowl. They were winning for most of the game but then collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost in heart-breaking fashion. Winning this game was a small measure of revenge for the Packers. It will make them feel better but not good.

One line to fool them all – 9.14.15

Sports talk is frequently used as a common language but it’s far from universal. If you’re someone who doesn’t follow or even understand sports, you can find yourself at a disadvantage in common small-talk situations like in an elevator, waiting for a bus, sitting at a bar, or around the proverbial water cooler at work. Even if you are a sports fan, it’s impossible to watch everything and know everything. To help in these situations, we provide lines to use when engaged in a conversation about all of the high profile sporting events of the day, plus explanations of what they mean.

U.S. Open Tennis

Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in four sets

Line: Roger Federer may be the best ever but Djokovic is just too good.

What it means: This seemingly confusing statement makes sense because of the two players’ relative ages. Federer, who is now 34, is thought to be one of the greatest players ever. He holds records for being ranked number one in the world for almost six years consecutively, and for winning 17 Grand Slam (the important four tournaments) titles. Djokovic, on the other hand, is just 28, firmly in his tennis prime. Although he’s not (yet?) thought of as a player with the type or extent of greatness that Federer is, given the disparity in age, he is demonstrably stronger than Federer now. He’s won the past three Grand Slam finals that the two have met in.

NFL Football

Kansas City Chiefs 27 at Houston Texans 20

Line: So maybe Alex Smith just didn’t have good receivers.

What it means: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been criticized throughout his career for being unable or unwilling to throw the ball down the field. Last year he didn’t throw a single touchdown to a wide receiver all year. He still hasn’t, but he already looks more comfortable with throwing it downfield, perhaps because he has much more talented players to throw the ball to.

Indianapolis Colts 14 at Buffalo Bills 27

Line: The Colts won’t win until they can compete physically.

What it means: Of course, it’s silly to claim any professional football team isn’t physical but the Colts have lost their last two games (last year in the playoffs against New England and this game) because they couldn’t keep a more physical team from pushing them around.

Green Bay Packers 31 at Chicago Bears 23

Line: Did you see what Matt Forte said at the press conference? LOL.

What it means: The Bears were a giant disaster last year and, after their loss today, their star running back Matt Forte had this to say:

As reasonable as this might seem, it comes off as unintentional humor in a culture that believes there’s no other goal but winning.

Carolina Panthers 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 9

Line: Who needs offense when you’re playing the Jaguars?

What it means: The biggest concern for the Panthers this year is their lack of quality wide receivers for quarterback Cam Newton to aim for. Today’s game didn’t lesson that concern, but since the Panthers were playing one of the weaker teams in the league, the Jacksonville Jaguars, they were still able to win.

Cleveland Browns 10 at New York Jets 31

Line: Johnny Football didn’t look half bad!

What it means: “Johnny Football” is the nickname of Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel was a popular figure when he played in college but has not been a success so far in the NFL. He wasn’t supposed to play in this game but after the starting quarterback, Josh McCown, left with an injury, he was forced into action. He played decently despite the large loss.

Miami Dolphins 17 at Washington Redskins 10

Line: The Dolphins won, but I think I’d be more optimistic if I were a Redskins fan.

What it means: How happy you are as a fan is all about expectations. Dolphins fans thought their team was going to take a leap from good to great this year. Redskins fans thought their team might not win a game. They didn’t win this one, but they played much better than expected.

Seattle Seahawks 31 at St. Louis Rams 34

Line: The Seahawks finally gave the ball to Beastmode and they still lost.

What it means: Last season, the Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl when a pass near the goal-line was intercepted by the New England Patriots. Many people felt they should have handed the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch, nicknamed “Beastmode” and one of the best in the league. In this game, facing a must-have fourth down in overtime, they did just that – hand the ball to Lynch – and he couldn’t get the first down.

Detroit Lions 28 at San Diego Chargers 33

Line: Classic Lions, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

What it means: The Detroit Lions were winning 28 to 3 in this game before everything went wrong for them and everything went right for the Chargers. Unfortunately for Lions fans, this type of monumental collapse is not uncommon. The Lions have been known as an immature team for so long that some of their players have gotten old without ever shaking that label.

New Orleans Saints 19 at Arizona Cardinals  31

Line: The Cardinals are great, I just don’t think Palmer can last the season and I can’t believe they still don’t have a reasonable backup. What a waste of surrounding talent.

What it means: The Arizona Cardinals are both very good and very lovable. Their Achilles heel is that their starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, is slightly old and slightly injury prone and their offensive system requires him to get hit over and over and over again. Combine that with their not having a good enough backup and their seasons tend to get torpedoed by injury. It’s fun to root for them early in the season though, before the injuries pile up.

Cincinnati Bengals 33 at Oakland Raiders 13

Line: And just like that, all the positivity around the Raiders is gone. Same old Raiders.

What it means: The Oakland Raiders have been bad for most of the past 15 years. Their fans were hoping that they had improved this year, particularly because of their promising second year quarterback, Derek Carr. But by halftime of the first game, Carr was gone because of an injury, and the Raiders were being beaten badly.

Baltimore Ravens 13 at Denver Broncos 19

Line: Don’t be surprised, this is the new Broncos.

What it means: For the past few seasons, ever since quarterback Peyton Manning came to the Broncos, they’ve been a team that was built around offense. They scored a lot of points. This year, they’re likely to win more games like this one – low-scoring, closely contested contests. It may take casual fans some time to adjust, so you can sound really in-the-know by pointing it out.

Tennessee Titans 42 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14

Line: Good riddance. I would be happy if every game Jameis Winston played went like this.

What it means: This game was billed as a matchup of the two top rookie quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota for Tennessee, who was picked second overall in this year’s NFL draft, and Jameis Winston, who was picked first. Partially because Winston is so obviously not a good person, Mariota has been cast as the good one in the nascent rivalry. Well, everything went right for Good in this game and everything went wrong for Evil.

New York Giants 26 at Dallas Cowboys 27

Line: More dramatic than good.

What it means: The Sunday Night Football game is always one of the highest rated football games of the weekend and for this one, the NFL schedulers picked two of the highest profile teams to play each other. The game came in first place in our NFL Forecast. It eventually was worth it, as the Cowboys came from behind to score a touchdown with less than 15 seconds left that won them the game, but despite the game’s exciting ending, it was played sloppily by both teams throughout.

Need to Know Sports: May 7, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports


Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 7, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

DEFLATEGATE RETURNS: Remember that big bruh-ha-ha before the Super Bowl about how the New England Patriots may or may not have (but probably did) illegally deflate the footballs they were playing offense with in their AFC Championship game against the New England Colts? Well the official NFL investigation finally published their findings yesterday. After three months and 243 pages, the NFL’s conclusion is pretty much what we started out with. The Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady in particular, “more probably than not” broke the rules by intentionally deflating footballs. While some of the reaction to this release has been a condemnation of Brady and the Patriots as cheaters, even more of it has been making fun of the NFL for being the type of overly officious organization that needs a 243 page report created over three months to confirm the obvious. The next step will be the NFL deciding how to punish Brady and the team. That will generate another big offseason football story soon. If you want to read the whole report (and apparently there are some very funny txt message conversations in it) you can find its full text here.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – Things evened up in the NBA Playoffs last night. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who had lost Game One of their series against the Chicago Bulls, beat the Bulls 106-91 to even up the series 1-1. The Houston Rockets had the same scenario against the Los Angeles Clippers and came away with the same result, winning 115-109. This sends both series to the lower seeded home court for Games Three and Four with the series tied 1-1.

National Hockey League – The Montreal Canadiens 2-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are now up 3-0 in the series and are only one win away from advancing. The Canadiens are one loss away from being swept. Hockey is the one sport where coming back in the playoffs from down 3-0 is actually somewhat common — maybe it happens once every two years — but it still seems like the Canadiens would need a miracle to stay alive. In the other Eastern Conference series, the Washington Capitals took a three games to one lead against the New York Rangers after beating them 2-1 in a game that featured a rare playoff fight.

MLB Baseball – It’s a mixed bag for the New York Yankees this year. They’re in first place, which most people did not expect to happen, but one of their important pitchers, C.C. Sabathia has yet to win a game. He’ll have to wait another week or so after pitching last night against the Toronto Blue Jays and taking the loss in a 5-1 game.

Champions League Soccer – The dream matchup between Barcelona and Bayern Munich lived up to expectations in some ways and not in others. It was an exciting game, full of incredible skill. Where it fell down was in creating a suspenseful second game between the two teams — after Barcelona scored three goals in the last 25 minutes of the game, to win the game 3-0, there seems to be almost no doubt about which team will advance to the finals this year.

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: There’s no rest for these teams who just played last night. It’s hard to tell who that will help. Will the Lightning, up 3-0, benefit from Montreal not having time to regroup? Or will the Canadiens use the strength desperation gives them to overcome a fatigued Lightning?

Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Wild are also facing elimination tonight, down 3-0 to the Blackhawks. Losing in four straight games to the hated Blackhawks would be a sorry way for the Wild to end their year. I’m hoping they can pull out a victory tonight for their fans at home.

NBA Basketball

No playoff action tonight. Weird. The NBA does sneaky stuff with their playoff schedule to get their best games on during the weekend.

MLB Baseball

Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals, 1:45 p.m. ET on regional cable: Believe it or not, despite their being 11 games on the MLB schedule today, this is the only one between two winning teams. It’s a traditional rivalry too, although it’s hard to have a real rivalry when one team (the Cardinals) has a history of success and the other (the Cubs) hasn’t won a world series in over 100 years. Cubs fans had high hopes this Spring that this would be the team to break the streak of losing and it still could be, but not if the Cardinals, who have a league leading 20 wins, continue to play so well.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

It’s hard to believe the story of Mike Burke who went from college football player to soldier to spy to hollywood consultant, back to spy, to the circus (really) to television before finally becoming the president of the New York Yankees. Read this editorial written by a Rutgers senior, Joe Rivera, who argues for the return of the college’s crew program to Varsity status. Barry Bonds became one of the biggest villains in sports by taking performance enhancing drugs and annoying teammates and journalists alike with his arrogance but this is actually a pretty nice post-career profile about his newfound passion of cycling and the support he gives to a women’s professional team.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Sponchia.

Need to Know Sports: May 6, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports


Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 6, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories


There’s really no giant headline today beyond yesterday’s games and today’s too. There is this, but it’s not a giant, blockbuster story:

ISIAH THOMAS BACK IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN: Isaiah Thomas was an all-star NBA player before he was a terrible, terrible coach and general manager for the New York Knicks. He was fired in 2008 amid reports of his sexual harassment of women who worked for him that were later confirmed when he was found guilty in a lawsuit. Yesterday news broke that James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks and their WNBA counterpart, the New York Liberty, wants to hire Thomas back, this time as President of the Liberty. This seems almost spit-takingly insane to me, as it does to many people. Forget that he was a disaster working for the Knicks before, he also seems uniquely unqualified to run the operations for a women’s sports team given his well-established history as someone who has sexually harassed female employees. Kate Fagan and Jane McManus wrote a point-counter-point article on ESPN that will tell you more about this story.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – The Washington Wizards played Game Two of their series against the Atlanta Hawks without their point guard and best player, John Wall. It showed. The Hawks beat the Wizards 106-90 to tie the series at one game apiece. The number one overall seed in the NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game, 97-90 to the Memphis Grizzlies. At times it’s seemed like the Warriors path to the title was becoming more and more frictionless, but last night was a bump in the path. How big remains to be seen.

National Hockey League – Oh, Minnesota Wild. I want you to be good, so badly. You’re the closest thing the United States has to a Canadian style, hockey means everything state and yet your NHL team just cannot beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Last night, the Hawks beat the Wild 1-0 to take a virtually impenetrable 3-0 lead in the series. The Calgary Flames beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime to keep their dream and the dream of having a Canadian Stanley Cup winner alive. The series is now 2-1 in favor of the Ducks but that’s a lot better than 3-0.

MLB Baseball – 41 year-old Bartolo Colon remains amazing for the New York Mets. He pitched 7 and 2/3 innings last night and only allowed a single run. The Mets were able to score three and only let in one more after Colon left the game. That’s all the ingredients necessary for a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Champions League Soccer – I wrote in yesterday’s post that Real Madrid was probably feeling lucky having drawn Juventus as their semifinal opponent instead of Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Well, I guess ‘be careful what you wish for’ is the lesson to be learned after Juventus beat Real Madrid 2-1.

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET on USA: Down 2-0 in the series, having lost both of the first two games in Montreal, the Canadiens and the whole province of Quebec will be in mourning if their team cannot find a way to win this game.

New York Rangers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Rangers have played eight games in the playoffs so far and every single one of them has been decided by a single goal. That’s a hard way to win and it’s starting to show. They’re down two games to one against the Capitals.

NBA Basketball

Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET on TNT: The Bulls sauntered into Cleveland and won the first game of the series. The Cavaliers may be in trouble, but they’ve got basketball’s best trump card, LeBron James. I’d be surprised if LeBron didn’t score over 35 points tonight. The question is — will it be enough?

Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT: The Clippers are another road team that won the first game of their playoff series. Winning the first game on the road pretty much turns the second game into as close to a nice-to-have as you can get in the playoffs.

MLB Baseball

New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays, 7 p.m. ET on regional cable: Baseball believes it has a speed problem — it’s games are too slow. If you agree, this would be a good game for you to watch. The Blue Jays pitcher who’s pitching in this game, Mark Buehrle is amazingly quick. He pitches, gets the ball back from the catcher, and pitches again. It’s great.

Champions League Soccer

Bayern Munich at Barcelona, 2:45 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1: This is a massive soccer game. The game involves two of the most scintillatingly beautiful and talent laden soccer teams in the world. The plot revolves around Bayern Munich manager, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola was a long-time Barcelona player and later an extremely successful Barcelona manager. He’s a winner wherever he goes but the question is, which team has more Pep in them? His old team or his new team?

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

Talk about a busman’s holiday, retired baseball player Kyle Farnsworth has resurfaced playing on the defensive line of semi-pro football team in Orlando, Florida. If you’ve got half an hour on a train, bus, or plane, read this moving and deeply confusing ESPN article by Wright Thompson about legendary baseball player, Ted Williams’ daughter, Claudia Williams, and the difficult emotional and physical legacy she lives with. From Sarah Lyall comes the New York Times tale of a 1965 high school football game that continued on despite a school building burning to the ground just a few dozen yards from the field and the photo that made it famous. Ken Dryden, a great former NHL goalie and contemporary author, writes an article about Carey Price, the man who currently plays goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, Dryden’s old position.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Eduardo Davad.

Need to Know Sports: May 5, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports


Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 5, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

CHICAGO TAKES GAME ONE FROM CLEVELAND: The most intriguing game on yesterday’s sports lineup was Game One of the NBA series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. That these teams would meet in the playoffs has seem fated since the day LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland and fans have been anticipating it ever since. The plot became even more compelling when the Cavaliers lost two key players: Kevin Love to a shoulder injury which required surgery and J.R. Smith to a suspension. This focused the narrative even closer on LeBron James and whether his personal brilliance would be enough to carry his team past the Bulls. For one night at least, the answer was no, as the Bulls beat the Cavaliers 99-92.

THE FLOYD MAYWEATHER VS. MANNY PACQUIAO STORIES ARE ROLLING IN: Despite the pedestrian nature of the fight itself, the atmosphere around the fight and the stories that have sprung from it are quite enjoyable to read. This isn’t surprising. Most of my fondness for boxing comes from having read about it, not actually witnessed it. Maybe that’s the secret to enjoying this brutal sport — don’t watch it, read about it. If you do choose to do that, here are three stories to read: Eric Nusbaum’s Vice Article in which he concludes from having seen the fight first-hand, that it was “only the Fight of the Century until they got in the ring.” Bryan Curtis of Grantland asks, “Has there ever been a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event that made everyone feel worse than Mayweather-Pacquiao?” Grantland also sent writer Rafe Bartholomew to watch the fight, not in Vegas, but in the Philippines where Pacquiao is a congressperson and the country’s biggest celebrity.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – As covered above, the Chicago Bulls beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-92. The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Houston Rockets 117-101 in Game One of their series last night. This was despite playing without their point guard and arguably their best player, Chris Paul. Line: Sometimes missing an important player for one game can provide a spark. It’s missing him for the second and third games that’s more difficult. When will Chris Paul be back?

National Hockey League – The Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers, 1-0 in another one of these low-scoring playoff games that’s becoming the norm this year. This puts the Capitals up 2-1 in the series. Line: “Game one (when the Capitals scored a goal with less than two seconds left to win the game) was a killer. It just feels like the Caps have the upper hand.”

International Men’s Ice Hockey – USA/Russia – Do you believe in mild surprises? That’s what happened today as the USA beat Russia 4-2. Russia never led the game but they were coming on in the third period and it felt like if they had had another 20 minutes, they might have caught up. It’s just the group round of the tournament, so these teams may meet again. Line: “This US team is an interesting mix of veteran NHL players and up and coming college or junior players. They’re fun to watch and root for!

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Chicago Blackhawks at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: This is it for the Wild. Okay, it’s not really it, it. If they lost this one, they wouldn’t be eliminated from the playoffs, but they might as well be because they’d be down 3-0 to the team that’s knocked them out of the playoffs in both of the last two years.

Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames, 9:30 p.m. ET on USA: The Flames are in the exact same position as the Wild. Lose and they’ll be down 3-0. Win and they’re right back in the series.

NBA Basketball

Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks, 8 p.m. ET on TNT: The Wizards shocked the Hawks by winning Game One of this series in Atlanta. They’ve now won five games in a row and haven’t lost in the playoffs. The Hawks, brilliant in the regular season, have been anything but that in the playoffs so far. Is this the night the Hawks recapture their mojo? We’ll see.

Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT: The big story of this game will be whether Grizzlies point guard, Mike Conley Jr. can play. If he does, he’ll be playing with a mask to protect his broken face. Some players have seemed to take power from these masks, so much so that at least one player, Rip Hamilton, wore his mask for the rest of his career.

MLB Baseball

Baltimore Orioles at New York Mets, 7 p.m. ET on regional cable: Is the bloom starting to fall off the rose that has been the Mets early in the baseball season? They’re still in first place of their division but they’ve lost five of their last six games. They’ll be trusting 41 year-old Bartolo Colon with the start against the Orioles.

Champions League Soccer

Real Madrid at Juventus, 2:45 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1: In the draw to choose opponents for the Champions League semifinals, three of the remaining four teams, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid were probably all hoping to play Juventus. It’s no big insult to the italian team but they’re just a tiny cut below the other semifinalists. Real got the lucky draw but today we’ll get our first chance to see just how lucky it was. Juventus is no joke and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pull an upset today on home soil.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

If you’re looking for a little rage this morning, read Jane McManus‘ jaw-dropping and yet totally expected column about how shoddy NFL teams’ vetting process for draftees is… still, even after last season’s Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson fiascos. Meanwhile, somewhere in Pennsylvania, a sporting goods store is offering $10 insurance on any Eagles jersey they sell. If the player gets traded or cut, you can get another jersey for 50% of the normal cost. It’s a bad deal, but good commentary on the hyper-active Eagles’ offseason. Aaron Gordon of Vice Sports did a highly unscientific (and slightly tipsy) analysis of the words used by NFL draft analysts/commentators during the draft. Surprise, surprise, there’s a revealing racial bias. Check out this interview with one of the people behind the documentary, Bounce. It made me want to see it, what about you?

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo of Bert and Earnie by See-ming Lee.

Need to Know Sports: May 4, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports


Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 4, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

THIS PAST SATURDAY WAS A SUPER SPORTS DAY: Two days later, the sports world will still be buzzing about Saturday, one of the biggest days of sports in recent memory. The highlights of the day were the Kentucky Derby, Game Seven between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, and the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Although some people, The Big Lead’s Ty Duffy among them, might argue that Saturday wasn’t all that exciting, most fans will be gleefully talking today about where they were, what they watched, and who with.

The Kentucky Derby was exciting but not surprising. The favorite, American Pharaoh, won the race. While everyone loves an long-shot winner, having the favorite come through like this gives horse racing fans hope for the elusive Triple Crown winner, something that we haven’t seen since Affirmed won all three relevant races in 1978.

Game Seven between the Spurs and the Clippers lived up to its billing, 100%. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who saw that game on Saturday won’t simply be gushing in praise for both teams and for the show they put on. I was disappointed that the Spurs lost. It may mean the end of an amazing era of basketball in San Antonio, but they did win the championship last year, so it’s not like they have many regrets.

The boxing match was overshadowed by its controversies. I would expect that most people who dropped $100 to purchase the fight on pay-per-view will be disappointed. Due to technical difficulties on the part of cable providers in actually getting the pay-per-view feeds to the people who bought them, the fight didn’t start until almost midnight, ET. This must have been infuriating to people whose feeds weren’t working and deeply annoying to everyone else. The fight itself went pretty much as most reasonable people thought it would. Neither boxer was able to knock the other over or out and after the full twelve rounds, Floyd Mayweather won in a unanimous decision.

You may have noticed that I left the NFL draft out of my list of highlights. Rounds 4-7 were on Saturday too. I’m sure lots of important stuff happened, but only hardcore NFL fans were paying attention, and no one can accurately make sense of which teams improved the most.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – The Washington Wizards won their game against the Atlanta Hawks, 104-98. The Hawks came out of the gate fast — scoring 37 points in the first quarterb — but then things got progressively worse for them as the game went on. This was Game One of the second round playoff series between the two teams. Atlanta was the better regular season team but they struggled to defeat the eighth seeded Brooklyn Nets in the first round while the Wizards were busy sweeping the Toronto Raptors. The Wizards have still not lost a game in the playoffs this year but they did suffer what seem to be minor injuries to several important players in this one. Like the Wizards, the Golden State Warriors also remain undefeated in the playoffs after their 101-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. This was also Game One of their series. The result is not unexpected, the Warriors are the #1 seed in the West and the Grizzlies are still missing their starting point guard, Mike Conley Jr. Conley has not played since he broke bones in his face during the first round, although he did warm up for this game. That’s a good sign for Grizzlies fans.

National Hockey League – Montreal Canadiens fans are understandably devastated after their team lost 6-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was the second of two games in Montreal to start the best-four-out-of-seven game series and the Lightning won them both. That doesn’t bode well for the Canadiens’ chances of advancing. A lot of words will be written, French (and English) will be spoken, and angst will be felt before Game Three on Wednesday. Nothing is settled yet in the series between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks but it sure feels like it is. After two straight victories by the Blackhawks, one last night by the score of 4-1, and with the knowledge that this would be the third straight year the Blackhawks would knock the Wild out of the playoffs… there’s a sense of tragic inevitability growing. As bad as it looks for the Wild, it looks even worse for the Calgary Flames. They lost their second game against the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 last night. Add that to their 6-1 loss in the first game and it just doesn’t feel good. One of these teams, the Wild or the Flames will probably at least rally to make a fight out of their series, because that’s what often happens in hockey, but it’s hard to imagine this morning.

Major League Baseball – “You score six, we’ll score six.” That’s more or less what the Cleveland Indians said to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. The Blue Jays must have been feeling good after a fourth inning when they scored six runs. That feeling soured just a few minutes later when they gave up six in the fifth. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

New York Rangers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: These teams look so even after their first two games that I’d be surprised if this series didn’t go the full seven games. If hockey were a card game, both these teams would have one wild card each. The Rangers wild card is their goalie, Henrik Lundquist, and the Capitals’ is a scoring winger, Alexander Ovechkin. Even the wild cards cancel out. This series is going seven.

NBA Basketball

Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET on TNT: Before the season started, these teams and their fans suspected that the other would be the biggest obstacle to winning the East and getting to the NBA Finals. Six months later, they seem to be right, even if they are meeting in the Eastern Conference semifinals instead of the finals. All eyes will be on Cleveland to see how they adjust to the loss of Kevin Love, out for the playoffs with an injury, and J.R. Smith, suspended for two games.

Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT: It feels like the Clippers just won the championship — that’s how big their series against the San Antonio Spurs seemed. Actually, they just won a first round series, and their challenge in the second round may be even bigger. The Rockets team is built around James Harden, one of the savviest players in the league. Harden will drive to the basket over and over and over again, forcing the Clippers to stop him (unlikely) foul him (unwise) or concede entirely (not going to happen.) It should be a fascinating series but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clippers can’t emotionally get up for the first game tonight.

International Men’s Ice Hockey

USA vs. Russia, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The last time these two national teams played was the 2014 Olympics in Russia. Although both teams left that tournament disappointed, the game they played against each other was one to remember. The U.S. won in overtime as T.J. Oshie became briefly a household name for his shoot-out prowess. This time it’s the lesser known International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) World Championship in Prague.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

The USA beat Jamaica in a 4 x 100 relay for the first time since 2007. It’s actually almost creepy to watch video of Usain Bolt losing a race, but it’s possible his teammates had him starting so far back that even he couldn’t catch up. Farther North, in Montreal, some hockey/tech crazed person has programmed his living room to freak out when the Canadiens score a goal. Unfortunately the Canadiens haven’t been scoring a lot of goals lately. In fact, no one in hockey has, a fact that Jack Todd wrote about in the Montreal Gazette. Verne Gagne died at 89. Gagne was one of the most famous professional wrestlers. His career spanned four decades, from the 40s to the 80s. Read the New York Times obituary.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo of Two Rhesus Macaques at Blijdorp Zoo, Rotterdam (Netherlands) by Jinterwas.

Need to Know Sports: May 1, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports


Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 1, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DRAFT: The biggest story of the first round of this year’s NFL draft was that there wasn’t much of a story. People were expecting all sorts of surprise picks and trades. Really though, nothing all that surprising happened. Jameis Winston was picked first by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite having been accused but not charged with sexual assault in an intolerably sloppy and corrupt investigation. The other high profile quarterback, Marcus Mariota was picked by the team with the second pick of the draft, the Tennessee Titans although there are still faint rumors that he could be moved to the Philadelphia Eagles to be reunited with his college coach Chip Kelly before the season. Football fans will pretend not to be upset about everything happening so mundanely, but deep down, they’ll be disappointed.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER HIRE BILLY DONOVAN: The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the most high profile teams in the NBA, thanks to the prodigious talent of their two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They were certainly the most high profile team with a job opening at head coach. Last night they announced that they would be bringing in one of the top ten most high profile college head coaches, Billy Donovan to be their new coach. In retrospect, this seems like an obvious move. Donovan has been very high profile himself, winning two straight national championships in 2006 and 2007, but his teams have struggled recently an his school remains one where football is more important than basketball.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – Well, I guess the Chicago Bulls really didn’t want to be the first NBA team to ever lose a series which they started by winning the first three games. As if to make a point, they won Game Six against the Milwaukee Bucks 120-66. That’s not a typo. So long Bucks, say the Bulls, who are on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. Power forward Blake Griffin was virtually unstoppable last night, scoring 26 points and powering his Los Angeles Clippers to a 102-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs. That puts the series even at three games apiece and sends it back to Los Angeles for the deciding seventh game. Whether a basketball fan favors the Spurs or the Clippers, she will probably agree with you if you say that it’s a shame either of these teams will get eliminated in the first round.

National Hockey League – Everyone, and I mean, everyone — fans, coaches, announcers, the people selling popcorn and beer, even the players — thought the game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers was going to overtime tied one to one. Everyone, that is, except for Alexander Ovechkin who passed the puck to Capitals teammate Joel Ward who scored with 1.3 seconds left in the game. That was the dramatic end to the Capitals 2-1 win. In the first game of their second round series, the Anaheim Ducks absolutely clobbered the Calgary Flames 6-1. That type of score is rare in hockey, especially in the playoffs. People will tend to say that there’s no carryover from game to game — that the second game’s result won’t be affected at all by how Game One went but I always have a sneaking suspicion that I’d rather have my team lose 6-1 than 3-2 in overtime. Losing big is a calamity but it’s not nearly as angsty as losing on a bad bounce, call, or play in a close game.

Major League Baseball – The Washington Nationals unlikely comeback win against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday seems to have rattled something loose in the team’s psyche. Since then, they’ve been scoring a lot and not letting up very many runs. Tonight they beat the New York Mets 8-2.

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens, 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Lightning are still basically catching their breath from beating Detroit in Game Seven of their series two nights ago. The Canadiens have been breathing sighs of relief for a few days after first going up three games to zero and then losing two games in a row against the Ottawa Senators before finally winning in Game Six. Everything resets in the second round though, so we’ll see what happens.

Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: Whoever said that nothing breeds contempt like familiarity had never watched hockey. They were on to something though, because there’s truly nothing like the contempt built up by familiarity in hockey. This is the third straight year that these two teams from the Central division have played each other in the playoffs. Expect the blood to begin boiling by the second period of this game and not stop until one of the teams is eliminated.

NBA Basketball

Atlanta Hawks at Brooklyn Nets, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN: This is Game Six of the seven game series between the Hawks and the Nets and still no one has won a game on the other team’s home court. Brooklyn will need to keep that streak running or else they will be eliminated from the playoffs. With two or three of their key players suffering from nagging injuries, the Hawks will be determined to end the series tonight and earn themselves a few days of rest instead of playing another game on Sunday.

International Men’s Ice Hockey

USA vs. Finland, 10:15 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: Huh? What’s this? International hockey? Aren’t the NHL playoffs going on? They are, but so is the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) World Championship in Prague. This hockey won’t be as good as the Olympics or the Stanley Cup but it won’t be bad by any means. Many of the best players from eliminated professional teams have made their way over to Europe to play for their countries. The United States team should be favored in this game, but not by much. Finland is a surprisingly powerful international men’s ice hockey force.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

Read Aaron Gordon‘s illuminating article in Vice Sports about how ESPN’s seemingly biggest failure ever is actually the foundation for their domination of the sports mobile space. Browse around Ken Belson’s New York Times survey of the 1990 NFL draft class and marvel at the wide range of life outcomes even among NFL first round draftees. Talking about retired NFL players, I loved learning about former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier from Sam Gardner’s Fox Sports article. Bleier was an active NFL player before he was drafted into the Army. Sent to Vietnam, Bleir was shot and wounded by a grenade in a single incident. After returning home, the Steelers kept him on an Injured Reserve as a courtesy, never expecting him to make it back to the league. He did. Great story. Travel from real guns to circus cannons in this fascinating article about human cannonballs by Robbie Gonzalez on io9. Take a deep breath and then plug your bithdate into Reuben Fischer-Baum’s interactive “How many pro athletes are younger than you” tool on Deadspin.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Hebi65.

Need to Know Sports: April 30, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

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Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: April 30, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DRAFT TONIGHT: The National Football League’s premiere offseason event, the NFL draft begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The 32 NFL teams in the league take turns choosing players roughly in the reverse order of last year’s standings. Only the first round of the draft takes place tonight, so just the first 32 picks. This year’s draft is marred by the fact that the person who almost definitely will be picked first is almost definitely a rapist. I wrote in great length about this yesterday and the post was quite popular. I wouldn’t say it went viral, but it had a slight sniffle.

BASEBALL GAME IN BALTIMORE PLAYED IN EMPTY STADIUM: Due to the continuing protests in Baltimore, Major League Baseball made the strange decision to go ahead with the game between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles but not to invite any fans. This was the first time in the 145 year history of the league that a game had been played with no fans. Whatever MLB’s thought process was in choosing to deal with the situation this way, the spectacle of a game in an empty stadium received a lot of attention. Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun suggested that the game served as notice that things have not returned to normal in the city yet but that life must go on. and disagreed about the financial implications of the game, with Fortune suggesting that the Orioles “don’t stand to lose much money” and Breitbart arguing that the “surreal ghost town game” was a harbinger of bad economic times to come for businesses in the city. Finally, there were those like Ann Killion of SFGate that suggested the game was “a symptom of damaged society.”

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – The Atlanta Hawks won 107-97 over the Brooklyn Nets. This continues the pattern of the home team in this series winning every game. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter and the Nets were never able to actually catch up, despite many surges that saw them tantalizingly close. The next game, Game Six of the series, will be in Brooklyn on Friday night. The Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers from the playoffs last night by beating them 99-93. The Trail Blazers season has seemed doomed for the past couple months, ever since an important player on their team blew his Achilles heel. The Grizzlies will now get a few days to rest up and heal their own wounds before the next round.

National Hockey League – The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in a 2-0 game. This result is not surprising. Really only a giant blow-out would have been surprising in a series between such evenly matched teams. With this game, the first round of the NHL playoffs has ended. No rest for the wicked (or the hockey fan) though, the second round starts tonight for teams that won their first round series. The Red Wings enter an offseason of uncertainty, with the possible loss of their long-time coach, Mike Babcock.

Major League Baseball – Boston sports fans do nothing better than freak out, which is why this Red Sox season has been right in their wheel-house. Nothing for them to freak out about today though, after their team handled the Toronto Blue Jays easily, 4-1. 

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The second round of the playoffs begins tonight with this game. The Capitals are coming off a breakthrough Game Seven victory over the New York Islanders. The Rangers have been waiting around a few days since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins to see who they would play. The Capitals best player is Alexander Ovechkin, the game’s best pure scorer. The Rangers best player is Henrik Lundquist, one of hockey’s best goalies. So, this is set up to be an exciting series.

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Western Conference gets its first second round game with this matchup. It’s hard to imagine a larger contrast between these two franchises. There’s the obvious things, like Canada vs. the United States, cold weather vs. hot weather, but the teams themselves are also quite oppositional. The Flames are an attractive bunch to casual fans. They’re young, largely unknown, and overachieving. The Ducks have been very, very good for a long time but rarely win. That’s a recipe for casual fan boredom. Let’s pull for the Flames, shall we?

NBA Basketball

Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks, 7 p.m. ET on TNT: The Bucks were down 3-0 in this series but have won the last two games to push the Bulls into an uncomfortable Game Six. If the Bulls lose this one, they’ll be stepping into an extremely high pressure situation in Game Seven. No NBA team has ever lost a series once they claimed a 3-0 game lead.

Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT: For the first time, this series, which has been the best series in the first round, could come to an end based on the outcome of a single game. The Clippers travel to San Antonio down 3-2, knowing that a loss will send them packing for the summer. Some teams might be complacent in Game Six, knowing they could lose the game and still win the series, but the Spurs are too wise and well coached to fall into that trap. Expect them to come out firing on all cylinders.

MLB Baseball

Washington Nationals at New York Mets, 7 p.m. ET on regional cable: This is a true through-the-looking-glass game. The Washington Nationals came into the season with championship hopes (or even expectations) while the Mets fans were hoping their team would just be half-decent. Both teams have defied their expectations. The Nationals have been mediocre at times and terrible at times, while the Mets’ success is the story of the year. Even the pitchers are polar opposites. The Nationals pitcher, Stephen Strasburg was drafted number one overall while the Mets Jacob DeGrom was a ninth round selection.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

GoDaddy, the shameless advertising machine that also sells internet domains and related services announced that it would no longer be sponsoring NASCAR. This could mean bad things for the sport or just business as usual. Hard to say. The day after an unfortunate tweet reminiscent of The Godfather’s famous horse’s head scene, the social media manager of the Houston Rockets has been fired. 75% of sports fans will think this is a ridiculously outsized punishment for a minor infringement. If you’re looking for footbally things to say about the NFL draft in addition to the major cultural story covered in our top stories section, I like’s idea that the success of the Philadelphia Eagles draft as orchestrated by coach and GM Chip Kelly will be a referendum on combining those two positions. There’s also an excellent article on MMQB by a potential draftee’s mother about what it’s like to be a football mom. To end with a chuckle, read either of these two sports related xkcd comics.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Sponchia.