Saturday, February 1, 2014

Breaking Down the Big Game

After two weeks of debate on whether the Super Bowl is actually in New York or New Jersey, if it will snow on February 2, and an array of columns on why Richard Sherman's brash style is good or bad for the NFL, we can finally put the filler pieces aside and get down to football.

Weather


The weather isn't likely to play a big role, as the latest forecast is calling for temperatures in the upper-30s and a slight chance for precipitation. Likewise, two weeks after Richard Sherman's emotional interview on national television after the NFC Championship, he has become a media darling and is very much capitalizing on this opportunity from a marketing standpoint. Fortunately, while Joe Buck and Troy Aikman may bring up these “stories” at some point during Sunday's game, these manufactured talking points shouldn't steal the spotlight from these two teams.

Key Matchup: Denver's O vs. Seattle's D


Despite the two weeks of narratives about Peyton's legacy, writers bemoaning the chilly conditions in the northeast, and a character analysis of Richard Sherman, not enough of the conversation has been about the dynamic matchups that will take place at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Let's start with Peyton Manning who isn't the same quarterback physically as he was three years ago. Four neck surgeries would take their toll on anyone, but he is, without a doubt, the best prepared and most intelligent signal caller that the league has ever seen. Peyton's machine-like precision on offense was most evident in 2013 as he smashed single-season records in passing yards and touchdowns. Those marks were previously held by contemporaries Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Armed with the NFL's best receiving corps, an underrated running back, and a makeshift offensive line, Manning is the slam dunk, unanimous choice for league MVP, orchestrating the #1 offense in Denver.

However, across the line of scrimmage from Peyton on Sunday is the #1 defense in the NFL. Specifically, the Seahawks possess one of the best pass defenses of all-time. With ball-hawking corners, aggressive safeties, and consistently physical play, Seattle is undoubtedly the toughest test Manning has faced all season. The Seahawks aren't likely to change up their defense on Peyton's account either. They've frustrated Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, and others over their first 18 games this season, so Peyton is unlikely to intimidate the group nicknamed the “Legion of Boom.”

While many are looking forward to seeing Peyton challenge the Seattle secondary down the field, that's not the type of quarterback Manning is these days. While his pre-snap intelligence may be getting better with age, it's obvious that the zip on his intermediate and deep passes has waned. He'll look for his opportunities, but especially against the opportunistic Seahawks secondary, the game will be won at the line of scrimmage, before the snap. Manning's manipulation of the linebackers and safeties is vital for Knowshon Moreno and the Denver run game. While the Seattle defensive line is a versatile and deep group, they've been prone to letdowns against the run, including four 100-yard rushers during the regular season. If there are lanes for Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas stand more of a chance for success against Richard Sherman and company.

Despite Russell Wilson's recent struggles, WR Percy Harvin's return to the lineup should lift the Seattle offense. Regardless, the Seahawks' game plan normally centers on their workhorse running back, Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks would love to put up anywhere from 17-27 points and let their defense handle the rest. That means the key is certainly going to be how Denver's O performs against Seattle's D. First half turnovers for the Broncos, struggles to run the ball, and early-game pressure on Peyton would be all ominous signs for Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.

SnapCall with the Audience During the Big Game


Think you can predict where Peyton passes the ball, when Marshawn Lynch unleashes a big run, when the Broncos bring the blitz against Russell Wilson, and other interactive predictions? Tune in 10 minutes before the kickoff on Sunday for SnapCall's coverage of the Big Game. Then compete with friends or in a free-for-all with other SnapCall users and see how your play calling ranks worldwide. Head to the iTunes Store or Google Play to download the free app!

Enjoy your Super Bowl party, the commercials, the halftime show, and get in the game!

Monday, January 27, 2014

3 Reasons Tiger Surpasses Jack

2013: The Comeback


As the end of the PGA season approaches, Tiger Woods finds himself in a familiar place: on top, but still chasing. Through his second place finish at The Barclays on August 25th, Tiger had a 162 point lead on Adam Scott for the FedEx Cup. Tiger will look back on the 2013 season as his most successful since his personal troubles took place, but is the rediscovered form enough?

Since the early 2000s, the only debate surrounding Tiger's supremacy is whether he could eclipse Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. Woods fell short in each of his four attempts in 2013, but stands just four short  of “the Golden Bear” for the most sought after record in golf.

Recently, conventional wisdom from analysts and fans alike say that Tiger has little chance to pass Jack, even though he seemed like a lock for the top spot just five years ago.

As Senator Moynihan was know to say, "everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."

So let's break it down. Here's why Tiger will not only win four more majors, but will also stand alone atop the record books:


1. Time


The man is only 37 years old.

Jack Nicklaus kicked off his magical run with a playoff victory over Arnold Palmer, clinching the 1962 U.S. Open. His last major triumph came, fittingly, at Augusta National in 1986, giving the Golden Bear his record-setting sixth green jacket. His victories stretched over a 24-year span, ending when Nicklaus was 46 years old.

Winning the 1997 tournament by a ludicrous 12 strokes, Woods marked one of the greatest Masters' performances of all time. Tiger continued that torrid pace for the next decade, notching all of his 14 major victories between 1997 and 2008. Even counting Woods' five-year drought since then, his span only reaches 16 years.

So, simple math can tell us that Tiger has at least eight solid golf years to catch Nicklaus. You could also say that he has nine remaining years in terms of age. Either way, with four majors per year, that realistically gives El Tigre between 32 and 36 more chances to capture five more major titles. If Tiger can't win 14% of his majors, who can?

Sure, you could argue that Tiger will be cut short due to injury. You could also argue that he could play until he's 50. The point is, with all things even, the marathon is far from over.


2. Momentum


Casual fans dismiss Tiger's 2013 season as a failure, as he wasn't able to land that elusive 15th major victory for the fifth straight year.

However, real golf fans know the truth. The 2013 version of Tiger Woods was as dominant as he's been since the early 2000s.

Woods won five tournaments in 2013, which is largely why he sat atop the FedEx cup rankings. Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, and Brandt Snedeker are the only other golfers in 2013 to win multiple tournaments...each only won two.

Is it a coincidence that Woods is once again ranked #1 in the world, after plummeting as far as #58 after his hiatus from professional golf in 2010? No, it's just Tiger being Tiger.

In addition, Woods had two top 10 finishes in the four majors this season, including fourth place at the Masters, and sixth place at The Open Championship at Muirfield.

In fact, since March, Tiger has only finished outside the top 10 three times.


3. The Putter


As we know, when Tiger dominated the field week in and week out, his most reliable club was the putter. Woods was always devastating on the green, allowing him to get out to monstrous leads on Saturday, and coast to victory in his red shirt come Sunday afternoon.

For all the golfers out there, you know that putting and confidence are directly linked. After his divorce, and countless scandals, Tiger's confidence seemed shattered, and so did his trusty old friend, the flat-stick. During the troubles, no one was expecting a fist pump on the 18th green. Instead, he was happy just to put it close and two-putt his way to a paycheck.

Not anymore.

A quick check of the total putting stats on the PGA tour website will show Tiger exactly where he's supposed to be: number one.

Still not convinced? As the old infomercials once said, “but wait there’s more!”

Woods finished sixth overall in putting average and second in birdie or better conversion percentage. Even more incredibly, he only three-putted 25 times all year.

In his worst years, there still no doubt that Tiger Woods hit some of the best approach shots the sport had ever seen. Now, if he's keeping the greens under control, it's only a matter of time before we start seeing some of those good old fashioned runaway victories again.

Really though, we don't have to convince you. The word has already come down from the top. At this years' Honda Classic, Jack Nicklaus told ESPN, “I still think he'll break my record. Tiger's talent, at 37...it's not that old. I won four after that. They were spread out. It wasn't that difficult. I don't think for Tiger to get four or five more – or six or seven – is that big a stretch.”

All in all, it seems that Tiger's biggest image problem is that he’s being compared to Tiger of 2000. Of course it's unrealistic to think that he will ever get back to that form. He won't, but he doesn't need to. Woods doesn't need 14 more majors. He doesn't need 13 more majors, or 12. He only needs five, and for all of the reasons stated, Tiger is back in the hunt.

Be sure to tune into SnapCall as the golf season winds up. We're sure you have your own opinions to weigh in on this debate, and we want to hear them!