The Pick Your Cornerstone QB Debate… Sanchez Makes NFL Mark

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

When considering a quarterback to build an NFL franchise around a lot of names come to mind. Names like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, for example. But today I propose a more subtle and often underrated candidate – Mark Sanchez.

While Sanchez may not seem like the obvious choice, he is no doubt one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. He has quietly turned around a less than stellar New York Jets franchise and has shown flashes of brilliance along the way. He has handled the pressures of playing in the New York market under constant media scrutiny with relative ease. Sanchez rises to the occasion in big game situations, and in all likelihood still hasn’t peaked in terms of his maximum ability. What more could a franchise ask for?

People often forget that Mark Sanchez is young. He is currently wrapping up his sophomore season as a professional but has already accomplished some incredible things. In 2007 – two years before Sanchez’s arrival – the Jets were a 4-12 team. They had virtually nowhere to go but up. The next season the team thought it had lucked into an answer for its quarterback issues in landing Brett Favre, but Favre’s brief tenure in the Big Apple was a band-aid for the Jets problems at best. Under Favre the Jets improved to a 9-7 record, but any progress the team experienced was offset by the transition to a new head coach, and then rookie quarterback in Sanchez in 2009.

Sanchez certainly had big shoes to fill in coming in after #4, but he did so in incredible fashion. In his first year as a pro Mark Sanchez led the Jets to another regular season 9-7 record, and then a deep playoff run that took them within one game of the Super Bowl – and that was as a rookie.

This season Sanchez is right back at it again, and he has dispatched both the Colts and the Patriots in the process. It speaks volumes of his composure and talent that Sanchez can not only hang with, but beat the biggest names in the NFL today – a feat he is not supposed to be able to pull off. He has again taken the Jets to within one win of the Super Bowl, and all that stands in his way is the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has only thrown one interception in the playoffs this season and is getting hot at the right time, as evidenced by his three touchdown performance against the Patriots. That is quite an impressive season for a second year guy, especially considering most players struggle in the midst of the dreaded “sophomore slump.”

Sanchez is still making huge stride, too. He was perfect through the first five games of this season throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. While he began to struggle with turnovers during the second half of the season, critics ignored the fact that he continued to win games. From his rookie to his second season he created statistical gains across the board. During the regular season this year Sanchez passed for his first 3,000 yard season and saw his total passing touchdowns outnumber his interceptions. Those are all the hallmarks of progress, and that is something you want to see in a franchise quarterback.

Another great thing about Sanchez is that he is eager to be molded into a better player. Last season when he was criticized for a reckless and awkward sliding ability that was bound to get him hurt, he responded immediately. Instead of getting defensive and making excuses he addressed the issue head on… or rather feet first, the next time. Sanchez worked with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to learn how to slide in a safer, more effective manner. You don’t see that type of humbleness and eagerness in many franchise quarterbacks.

The guy is a great quarterback, and as long as he continues to improve he should see a ring very soon. He’s got the skills and growth a coach wants to see, but most importantly he has the intangibles that make a winner on the biggest stage possible. In a real life fantasy draft, any coach would be lucky to take him first and build a winning program around him.

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The 2010 Biggest Story of the Year Debate… It’s A Favre World After All

January 2, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Happy New Year everybody! I have a lot of wishes for 2011 – some sports-related, some not. My number one wish for 2011, however, is that I am not writing this same post a year from now.

When I was asked to come up with what I thought the number one sports story of 2010 was, I thought about a few different, more positive options: Zenyatta, the San Francisco Giants breaking a title drought, the Chicago Blackhawks breaking a title drought, etc. However, when I thought back to what story bounced around the sports echo chamber more than any other in 2010, one name came to mind: Brett freakin’ Favre.

Believe me, I hate that I’m writing this as much as you are probably sitting there thinking, “that guy is a tool for writing about Brett Favre.” You’re probably sick of hearing about him, and I’m sick of hearing about him. However, he dominated sports news in 2010. What made the 2010 Brett Favre stories a bit more interesting than in past years was the fact that there was more than just the, “will he or won’t he retire” angle. There was the new, albeit seedy story revolving around Brett Favre, his cell phone camera, and the subjects he chose for his photographic efforts. Since this is a family website, I’ll stop the description there. However, for those of us who write for a website like this, where we comment on sports and those who comment on sports, it provided an interesting angle for discussion.

In general, the coverage of Brett Favre before this year was divided between two groups. The first group, a large majority of the coverage, was filled with the journalists who all but deified Favre for his streak of starts, his risk-taking on the field, and his fun-loving appearance around his teammates. The second group, far smaller, was filled with ornery curmudgeons like me who were sick and tired of being bombarded by evangelists from the First Church of Favre. The first group, with a few exceptions, chose to overlook Favre’s acknowledged painkiller addiction and translated their admiration of his on-field exploits to nodding approval of his comportment off the field as well. If they stopped shy of that, they at least celebrated that he “put his demons behind him” and surmised that he may be as solid a guy off the field as he was perceived to be on the field.

This year, however, changed all that. Deadspin.com broke the story about Brett Favre’s alleged “cell phone seduction” of a New York Jets employee, Jenn Sterger, and the story went viral. It became a big enough story where ESPN, Fox, and CBS could not ignore it in their NFL coverage. Most importantly, it forced the sports media off its black and white, BrettFavreisagoodguy narrative.

Most importantly, I think Favre was the sports story of the year not only because of the days and days of ESPN programming he generated, but because I think the evolution of the Favre story this year is emblematic of the transformation that sports journalism, and perhaps all journalism, made this year. People get their information from many different sources now, and perhaps the narrative will be driven by the information consumers now, rather than the information providers.

The question is, what will this evolution do to people’s enjoyment of sports? As the seedy underbelly of sports, and the people involved in it, becomes more common news, will the average fan still feel like forking over hundreds or thousands of dollars for tickets, jerseys, preview magazines, and the like?

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The Ironman Record Debate

October 31, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

Participating in professional sports is obviously physically demanding. World class athletes earn our respect not only for keeping their bodies in tip top physical shape, but also for surviving the grueling toll a season takes on them. Even the best and most heroic athletes, however, prove their mortality when they break down physically with injuries

But, a few men seem to rise above the rest, defying the odds by playing through pain, never missing a game. These improbable few – these supermen – earn the title of Ironman.

Two men exemplify the Ironman ideal like no others – Brett Favre and Cal Ripken, Jr. Each is unquestionably among the most durable and dependable athletes in their respective sports. But which one boasts the more impressive record?

That is the question The Sports Debates takes on in today’s epic debate: Which iconic ironman holds the more impressive record, Brett Favre or Cal Ripken, Jr.?

Optimist Prime will argue that Brett Favre’s record of 291 consecutive starts over an 18-year career is far and away the more impressive record. Playing for 18 years is a feat in and of itself, but to never miss a start – in one of the most physical sports there is – is simply amazing.

Loyal Homer, on the other hand, believes that Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games is more improbable. Baseball is a marathon sport where surviving one season of 162 games is impressive enough, but Ripken’s unmatched ability to adjust and change at the plate and on the field helped him to reach extreme heights.

These arguments need to be as solid and unshakable as the men they represent to be worthy of victory. May the endurance test of your collective intellect begin.

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The Ironman Record Debate… Favre Is Tougher Than Ripken

October 31, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Is Brett Favre tougher than Cal Ripken, Jr.? Is football tougher than baseball? Essentially, that’s what is at the root of this discussion.

I had considered forgoing the text of my debate entirely and directing my readers to the famous George Carlin football vs. baseball routine, but apparently we have some crazy rule where I am not allowed to post a video link in lieu of text. I’m currently formulating a protest to that rule. In the meantime, let there be no doubt that I’m ready to back up my assertion that – announcer hyperbole aside – I believe there is no doubt that Brett Favre’s ironman streak of 291 consecutive games (and counting) is the more impressive streak.

To begin, think about the immense physical toll football takes on the human body. There’s a reason that the average NFL career’s length hovers somewhere around three years – it’s a brutal sport. Furthermore, Favre plays the position of quarterback. The quarterback touches the ball every play and he is the target of the pass rush on every single play. That is significantly different physical stress than having a ball hit at you once an inning and having an at-bat every two to three innings. Over Favre’s eighteen-year career I am quite confident the video montage of people knocking Brett Favre down is significantly longer than the video montage of people who knocked down Cal Ripken, Jr. during his 16-year career.

While I understand the sentimental value attached to Ripken’s record because it broke a seemingly unbreakable record set by a universally revered athlete, I truly believe its backstory clouds people’s judgment as to the substance of that record. I am definitely not saying that Ripken’s record is not worthy of the adulation it has received. It is and, without a doubt I hold Ripken in higher personal and professional esteem than I do Favre. However, while baseball is certainly an athletic endeavor, it is by no means the bone-crushing controlled chaos of playing in the NFL. If you have never done so, watch a football game from field level. For the purposes of this example, it does not matter whether or not it is high school, college, or professional football. The speed and violence of the sport is breathtaking. Now, go watch a baseball game at field level. While the hand-eye coordination of the hitter and the grace of the fielders is certainly something to behold… at very, very few points during a baseball game do you get the visceral feeling of “that’s gotta hurt.”

One last thing to keep in mind is the violence that sometimes exists in the game plans in the NFL. I suspect it is exceedingly rare for a baseball team to sit down publicly within the team, or privately within a few players, and say, “Our best chance to win today is if we take out player X.” However, contrast that with some of the interviews given by NFL players after their careers are over and you’ll hear disclosures like, “We were trying to take player X out.” It would be naïve to think that targeted violence, while not overtly accepted in the NFL, does not creep into a game plan or a player’s thought process. It would also be naïve to think that a player of Favre’s stature and longevity has not been targeted in that manner from time to time.

With all due respect to Cal Ripken, Jr., Brett Favre wins the ironman award. His longevity in one of America’s toughest sports is nothing short of remarkable.

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The Ironman Record Debate… Ripken Is The Real Iron Man

October 31, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

With Brett Favre’s streak coming into the forefront the past few weeks due to his ineffective play and off-the-field indiscretions, it’s brought to the spotlight a discussion centered around two separate ironman streaks, Favre’s ongoing consecutive starts streak that extended to 292 consecutive starts or Cal Ripken, Jr.’s mind-boggling 2,632 consecutive games played streak. Babe Ruthless has asked Optimist Prime and I to debate the merits of both so he can determine which one is more impressive. While there’s no doubting that Favre’s streak is truly amazing, I believe it is Ripken who holds the more extraordinary streak.

Optimist Prime writes about how physical the game of football is. That goes without saying. But I think there is a lot to be said for going through the daily grind of a 162 game season for over 16 consecutive seasons. During this stretch Ripken, Jr. also played 8,243 consecutive innings. Just process that for a minute! That’s amazing. As for the daily grind of a season… you often hear about the dog days of summer. During the streak, the Orioles only made the playoffs three times. You know what that leads to? A lot of meaningless games during those so-called “dog days of summer.” It would have been very easy for Ripken to ask for a day off in late August when the Orioles were suffering through a 100-loss season, such as the one they suffered in 1988.They were double digits games behind first place, and remember, those were the days when there was no wild card to chase. Just imagine the mental grind. Yet, day after day, season after season, the Baltimore Orioles manager had one guarantee in his lineup –that he could pencil in number eight.

Obviously, the schedule is much different for a baseball player, and that works to Ripken’s advantage in this particular debate. Favre, while playing the more physical sport, has a week to let his body recover from any injury. Ripken, Jr. has a game the following day. Playing 162 games over a six month period averages out to 27 games a month. Favre had all week to study the game plan and get ready for the next opponent. Ripken, Jr.’s time for preparation for that night’s pitcher came on game day. Recovery and rehab from being hit by a 98 MPH fastball the night before in the ribs was a day. (And folks, if you think you could do that, try standing in the box with a 70 MPH “heater” coming at you… I did as a 14-year old and that bad boy hurt when it stung my ribs! Trust me, there’s no way you think you can swing a bat or make a throw across the diamond after getting plunked.)

Tom Brady, who plays the same position as Favre, marveled at Ripken, Jr.’s streak. And so do I. Most baseball players don’t even come close to touching 2,632 games played, much less consecutively. It’s even more amazing when you consider the longest active streak belongs to Matt Kemp, who has played in a WEAK 204 consecutive games. Better step it up Mr. Kemp. You’re only 2,428 games behind. I mean, seriously, 204 is barely over a full season. That speaks to the endurance of Ripken and, with apologies to Robert Downey, Jr. and Favre, it shows why Cal Ripken, Jr. truly is the real IRON MAN!

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The Time To Panic Debate Verdict

October 18, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

The Dallas Cowboys are 1-4 and are a full two games back from even climbing out of the NFC East cellar, let alone contending for a playoff spot. They have a lousy rushing offense, averaging only 95 yards per game, and join Miami and Buffalo as the three teams in the NFL to score only one rushing touchdown on the season.

But at least they are not the Minnesota Vikings.

I can appreciate the fact that the Vikings have a better record than the Cowboys, and that the Vikings actually BEAT the Cowboys last Sunday. But if we are talking about identifying the team that is in most need of a panic-driven overhaul, I have to agree with Loyal Homer that it is indeed the Vikings.

I will agree with Babe Ruthless’ sentiment that coaching in Dallas is a real issue. As a head coach, Wade Phillips has never accomplished remarkable things, even though he has been blessed with remarkable talent. He has instead inherited great teams, and accomplished only the average with them.

He has coached players like John Elway, Shannon Sharpe, Steve Atwater, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and most recently guys like Terrell Owens, and Tony Romo. He has led teams like the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys on to a career record of 82-58 (VERY respectable) during the regular season, but his playoff record is a horrible 1-5.

For as much as Wade Phillips should be replaced in Dallas, though, there is a difference between needing a coaching change and needing an overhaul.

The Dallas Cowboys, struggling though they may be this season, are just a few mistakes and special teams plays away from being 4-1, or even 5-0.

They lost to the Redskins without giving up an offensive touchdown (a fumble returned for a touchdown was the difference for Washington). An excessive celebration penalty late in the game against the Tennessee Titans set up a game-winning score for Chris Johnson. If not for a 95 yard kickoff return by Percy Harvin the Cowboys would have potentially put away the Vikings.

Realistically, the Cowboys are still just a few plays away from finding themselves right back in contention. Felix Jones is getting better every week, and the combination of Tony Romo and Miles Austin is one of the most exciting and talented passing duos in the entire league. They are a potent offense that can put points on the board, and despite their record, have a defense that has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game.

That does not sound to me like a team in need of an overhaul.

By comparison, the Minnesota Vikings are in a very bad state right now. The main reason for that is because they have mortgaged their entire future on this one season. As Loyal Homer points out, there is no tomorrow for the Vikings. This is it.

In fairness, we knew they were going all-in this season before it even began when they sacrificed any value they could have realized from training camp by patiently waiting for Brett Favre to make a decision on whether or not he would return one more time. But then they lost their top receiver, Sidney Rice, to a hip injury (and are HOPING to get him back by mid-season) and Percy Harvin, has been battling migraines all season long.

Then, when Favre did make the decision to come back for one last chance at glory, it became evident very quickly that he was not going to repeat the magic of his 2009 campaign.

Last season he had a career best passer rating of 107.2. This season he is on course for a career worst with a rating of 72.1 (only his 1995 season in Green Bay was worse, at 70.9).

Last season marked the ninth time in his career that he was able to pass for more than 30 touchdowns. This season he has tossed only six touchdowns in five games, which could have him on pace to match his career low of only 18 touchdowns in a season.

Last season Favre set a career low with only seven interceptions all season. This season he already has seven interceptions and still has 11 games left to be played.

It just doesn’t seem like Favre wants to be on the field any more. Injuries are now clearly taking their toll, and the resurgent allegations of inappropriate texting provide nothing more than another distraction that the ailing Favre doesn’t need.

But as Loyal Homer brings up, the Vikings HAVE to stick with Favre, because after him is no one else. Tarvaris Jackson has instilled confidence in no one, and I didn’t even know who Joe Webb was until this debate came along.

Sure, the Vikings brought in Randy Moss, who still has big-play potential every time the ball is snapped. But let’s be honest, a Favre-to-Moss passing combination does not NEARLY have the punch it would have ten years ago. Even if Moss can capture some magic at the receiving end of Favre’s arm, the Vikings have made it clear that they have no immediate plans to keep Moss around after the season draws to a close.

Dallas still has a lot of young talent at the core of their roster. Dallas has proven that, despite a poor showing in the standings, they are capable of performing very well week in and week out. The Vikings, on the other hand, have cashed in all their chips for this last roll of the dice, and so far, the gamble has not paid off.

So panic, purple people. Today may seem bleak, but if this win over the Cowboys does not help to turn things around quickly, tomorrow can always be worse!

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The Time To Panic Debate

October 17, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

As NFL training camps opened a few months ago, and people were looking ahead at the regular season schedule, many pegged yesterday’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings as one of the more important games of the season.

Both teams were returning after having won division championships in 2009, and both came into the 2010 season expecting not only a shot at the playoffs, but each team had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

Now that week six is in the books, it appears that we could not have been more wrong.

Rather than battling in a race for the Lombardi Trophy these teams are instead battling for the first pick in the 2011 draft. Today, the Dallas Cowboys sit at a pathetic 1-4, while the Minnesota Vikings are at a not much more impressive 2-3, by virtue only of a victory over Cowboys yesterday afternoon.

Here is the most frustrating thing for fans of both franchises – both teams have a great deal of talent on their rosters.

Minnesota’s offense features the NFL’s top running back in Adrian Peterson, and his talents are complemented with two future Hall of Famers in Randy Moss and Brett Favre, as well as younger superstars like Visanthe Shiancoe, and Percy Harvin.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Miles Austin have had no problems in moving the ball this season, despite the team’s record, as they had the second highest yards per game average in the NFL (421.5) entering yesterday’s game, behind only the San Diego Chargers.

On the defensive side, both teams came into the matchup boasting one of the ten stingiest squads in terms of yards allowed each weekend, and Minnesota’s 16.8 points allowed per game average was the seventh best in the league.

Consider the pre-season aspirations and talent levels on each roster, then look at the current state of their franchises. Now let’s debate: Which team has more reason to panic, the Minnesota Vikings or the Dallas Cowboys?

As a side note to Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer, who will be arguing today for the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, respectively, I have used the word “panic” in my debate topic for today. I don’t just want to know which team has been the most disappointing, or has the least chance at still making a playoff run. I am talking about a full-on, “women and children first,” “the sky is falling,” “Armageddon is upon us” type panic.

The little red emergency phone in Roger Goodell’s office is ringing, is it Jerry Jones or Zygi Wilf in hysterical tears on the other end?

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