SPECIAL GUEST POST: 3 Teams That May Overcome Long NFL Odds, Win Division Titles

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville JaguarsEvery season, 32 NFL teams have hopes of winning their division title and then riding that momentum to a Super Bowl championship. Of course, a number of clubs are favorites to win those division titles, partly based on how they had done in the previous season and partly based on their offseason acquisitions, but the secret is discovering underdogs who will overcome long NFL odds and win the title instead.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The AFC South was mediocre last season as three teams were 9-7 or 8-8. However, the Jaguars were out of the race early as they stumbled to a 3-13 record. But they are a team to consider this year as Jacksonville just may overcome +550 odds to win the division title for the first time since 1999. And that winning attitude from the 1990s has returned as then-head coach Tom Coughlin joined the team in the offseason as its executive vice president for football operations. He also serves in the role of general manager as final roster decisions are his. On the field, quarterback and Florida native Blake Bortles is the biggest question mark. Since the defense is expected to be amongst the league’s best, the offense will likely determine how successful Jacksonville will be in 2017.

Los Angeles Chargers

The new-look Chargers are now in Carson, Calif., 115 miles north of San Diego, where they had played since 1961. Will the change re-energize a franchise that struggled through 5-11 and 4-12 seasons the past two campaigns and has one playoff appearance in the last seven years? They are deservedly +600 long shots to win the AFC West considering that the other three teams in the AFC West finished above .500 last season, including two that went 12-4 (Kansas City and Oakland). Long-time assistant coach Anthony Lynn will bring some excitement as he joins the team to start his first non-interim head coaching stint. If the Chargers are to overcome these long odds, quarterback Philip Rivers, who will bring quite a bit of stability to the team as he comes into his 14th season with the Chargers, will have to be at the top of his game.

Washington Redskins

Considering that the Redskins were an above-.500 team in 2016 at 8-7-1, they are receiving slightly longer than expected odds at +400 to win the NFC East title. And this team is going to be hungry after that mark was not good enough for a playoff spot and kept them from advancing to the postseason in back-to-back seasons. As is often the case, the quarterback position is essential to a team looking to win a division title, and it’s no different in the nation’s capital. Although there are question marks surrounding Kirk Cousins’ destination in 2018, he will be with Washington in 2017 and provides a bit of stability heading into the season. Another factor will be how much of an impact drafted defensive players such as cornerback Fabian Moreau, linebacker Ryan Anderson and lineman Jonathan Allen will have as improvement is pivotal on that side of the ball after Washington gave up 378 yards per game in 2016.

I’m going to place my bet on the Chargers. I believe that they are ready for the breakthrough season that they have been pushing towards for the past few years, and a new environment will help that occur while they have enough stability in Rivers and otherwise to create a nice balance.

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Roy Halladay — forever in the hearts of Phillies fans

By Dan McQuade, Deadspin 

My memory is vivid. Okay, it’s only been seven years. But if I close my eyes I can see us sitting there at the bar: Upstairs at Jose Pistola’s, the place that inspired the Dallas Sucks beer, cheering on the Phillies in the first game of the 2010 playoffs. The odds were against us.

I can still smell the beer sloshing around as we celebrated a run in the first inning, the Jack and Coke I spilled on myself when Roy Halladay drove in Carlos Ruiz in the second. The whole bar seemed to shake as Halladay got closer and closer to the no-hitter. The place went wild when Ruiz threw out Brandon Phillips to end the game. I can easily rattle off the friends I watched with: Erica, Art, Mary Ann, Johnny Goodtimes. Wouldn’t be a party in Philadelphia without Johnny Goodtimes.

I used to hang out with Johnny to watch the Phillies a lot, actually. Leaving the stadium on the last day of the season in 2007, we both bought bootleg NL East championship t-shirts that were (1) still wet and (2) had been wrapped around some guy’s leg until right before we bought them. Then we celebrated in the middle of Broad Street. It had been so long since the Phillies had been in the playoffs.

Roy Halladay wasn’t a part of that team. But he was a part of that Phillies run. They won five division titles between 2007 and 2011. Even though the apex of the Phillies’ run, the World Series title, came in the beginning of the run, things seemed to get more fun as they went on. Everyone I knew, even the people who weren’t into baseball, suddenly liked going to Phillies games. All of the games sold out. In 2011, when they won 102 games, the Phillies were a TV show that was on almost every night and was almost always good. It was a great time to be a Phillies fan.

And why not? Everything happened over those five years! They won five division titles, two pennants and a World Series. Ryan Howard drove in hundreds of runs. Chase Utley got hit by more than 100 pitches. Jimmy Rollins had literally the biggest hit in franchise history; the Phillies, who never had the best record in baseball before, did it in back-to-back years. Eric Bruntlett turned an unassisted triple play!

Similar runs of success have happened before. But for once it was happening to the Phillies. The Phillies! The whole city had Phillies fever, if only for a few years. Maybe you went to all the games and cheered in person. Maybe you hung out at a bar with your friends. Maybe you invited people over your house to scream at the TV. Or maybe you sat on Twitter, joking about it with strangers who somehow became your friends. Maybe it inspired you to become a baseball writer.

Roy Halladay was a big part of that for a few seasons. It helped that he was exactly what a lot of people want their athletes to be: Laser-focused, hard-working, and a hell of a guy. He was a star on and off the field. There’s a reason everyone in baseball was effusive in their praise after his death.

The Phillies’ history is littered with losses. There have only been limited moments of success. The Phillies, as such, trot out their past legends all the time. They drag out anyone who had any amount of success who was associated with the the team at one time. Greg Luzinski runs a BBQ stand at the stadium. John Kruk and Mike Schmidt are only the latest in a long line of ex-Phillies who have been color commentators.

This could be kind of embarrassing, and I once thought it was. But I’ve changed my mind. It allows fans who didn’t get to experience past success to share in it. I feel like I watched Tug McGraw pitch; he left the Phillies years before I was born. I never saw Steve Carlton. I only remember seeing Mike Schmidt’s crappy final season. But through the Phillies’ constant need to remind everyone of their successful years in the late 70s and early 80s—and my parents, who did things like get me Dick Allen’s number for my tee ball team—I know these guys.

It’s going to be the same way with the Phillies’ run from 2007 to 2011. Next year will be a decade since the World Series win. Then it will be time for the anniversaries of other big events, like Halladay’s perfect game. The players will come back and be honored. Maybe the team will build statues. The Phillies fever of the recent past is gone now. But Phillies fans will be able to experience it again, just for a little bit, through these anniversaries. And people who were too young to live through it will get a taste.

It’s unfathomable that Halladay won’t be back for these events. He was only 40, with a wife and two kids, just at the start of the rest of his life. He should’ve been coming back, year after year, taking photos and signing autographs and just waving to the fans he entertained so much during his short time in Philly.

But he won’t. This will hurt the fans like me, the ones who lived through his glorious run in Philly, but it will be worse for the ones who never got to see him play. They’ll grow to love Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, just as I’ve grown to love Dick Allen and Mike Schmidt and Robin Roberts, but they won’t have the chance to do so with Halladay. It’s a shame, because he would have been their favorite.

This article was originally published on Deadspin.

And The Ballgame Is Over!*

The Boston Red Sox have just won the 2013 World Series. While I’m slightly disappointed that the Cardinals (and Beltran) couldn’t get it done to push this to a Game 7, I’m most disappointed that the 2013 MLB season is now officially over. I sink into a strange depression-like state between November and late February that is only remedied by the start of spring training. 

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From 1918 to 2013 RED SOX WIN!

fenway 1918By Paul Mahaney

The Boston Red Sox of 2013 did what no other Red Sox team had done since 1918…win it all at home. Boston strong is reality.

From the mess to best, from worst to first the Red Sox and the resiliency of the city of Boston and their beloved team is apparent to all.

The Boston marathon bombing re-united a city which may never have been divided. All the bombing actually did was demonstrate just how passionate the people of Boston are about each other.

The team showed that they were rallied by a city so passionate that the two—team and fans—are one. This city will party, no doubt.

The St Louis Cardinals are a great baseball organization with a very fine manager and marvelous fans, but it became obvious from game three on that they were not going to overcome Boston.

There was an urgency to jettison the Bobby Valentine era once and forever by a determined Red Sox team anxious to win its third title in ten years.

Under the calming influence of new manager John Farrell the Red Sox dominated game six and erased some very painful memories from the last couple of years.

David Ortiz came alive at the right time and the rest as they say is history. Now all that remains is to say, wait till next year.

Have a great off-season everyone and congratulations Boston!

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What a Wonderfully Strange Game

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The game of baseball is universal, and possesses a broad appeal. It is enjoyed and followed by the masses for a variety of reasons. The current World Series has reminded me of yet another reason to enjoy this great game. The fact that literally anything can happen at any given moment, most likely when you least expect it, creates palpable excitement. Also, when watching or attending a ballgame, there is always the possibility of seeing something that has never happened before. This possibility, more than any other sport, contributes to the mysticism of baseball. Read the rest of this entry

“Get Your Program, Get Your Program Here!”

2013

By Paul Mahaney

The 2013 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St Louis Cardinals is knotted up at one apiece and resuming in St Louis tonight.

Going to the series should be a memorable experience and as history demands you may want something to remind you of the trip. That is where a World Series Program makes a great gift.

In years gone by it was even more significant, because video tape or DVD remembrances’ of the series were not as readily available.

Keepsakes and mementos of baseball’s biggest event have become something of a treasure of its glorious past, and no doubt this year’s program will be no different.

However with the proliferation of DVD collections of recent World Series contest making the experience more relivable, the World Series Program has become more of an antique for baseball enthusiast.

Some of the covers of these collectables of the past were gems well worth squirreling away for posterity, and thank goodness baseball and their fans did just that.

Although we won’t be able to view every program some merit attention for a variety of reasons.1903_cover_small
Our trip down memory lane begins with the very first World Series Program proclaiming the battle between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903. Read the rest of this entry

Beltran Stuns Fans, Players, and the Bullpen Cop

When Jerry Seinfeld joined Gary, Keith and Ron in the SNY broadcast booth in mid-September he made a wonderful point – “I do not understand why outfield walls are not padded in such a way that we don’t risk a guy’s entire career for the sake of a couch cushion. I mean, what is the point? We know they’re  gonna hit these walls. We’re paying these guys zillions of dollars, maybe it would be in our best interest to make sure they hit the wall and continue their careers.”

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Really, St. Louis? Really?

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Audible sigh.

So, the Cardinals are back in the World Series. Again.

By my count, that makes four World Series appearances in the past 10 seasons. The Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox in 2004, and then beat Detroit in 2006. This was after winning the N.L. Central with a record of 83-78. Really? In 2011, St. Louis took down the Rangers in seven games, and now, two years later, they are back again.

Since the 2000 season, the Cardinals have made 10 playoff appearances. Yes, that is correct. St. Louis has only stayed home for the playoffs four times in the past 14 seasons. Read the rest of this entry

Survivor 2013

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By Paul Mahaney

In this game your torches represent life. When they are put out you will be asked to leave the game.

Gee that means that the Houston Astros never made it to the island for the 2013 season of “Survivor- Major League Baseball”, maybe they didn’t even get a torch? Read the rest of this entry

Don’t Ruffle My Cardinal Feathers, LA

As most of you probably know, I live in Los Angeles. If you didn’t know that, I live in Los Angeles. At different times during the year I’m surrounded by Lakers and/or Clippers fans, Kings fans, Angels fans, and Dodgers fans. Even though the Kings season has begun it seems like people have forgotten about hockey all together so that they can support the Dodgers.

Dodgers fans are great. Some fans followed them to LA from their days in Brooklyn, others have just become involved this season. Regardless of how long you’ve been a fan, it’s fun to be in LA right now. Well, it would be a lot more fun if I were a Dodgers fan.

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One Swing of the Bat

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Well, there is some drama for you.

Game 2 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers was essentially over. The Tigers had already taken Game 1, and were enjoying a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning of Game 2, about to go up 2-0 in the best of seven series. They would also be returning home with Justin Verlander on the mound for Game 3. Detroit was in a very enviable position, to put it mildly. However, this scenario did not play out, and the series is now tied one game apiece and is very much in doubt. Read the rest of this entry

I Spent a Year in Oakland One Week: Scenes from another Early October Exit

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The A’s and their loud and loyal fans couldn’t match Justin Verlander or break the Curse of Game 5

This time last week I was a ball of energy and nerves. I was unable to sleep, excited, anxious, sending wild text messages to A’s friends around the country asking how they felt and then reassured that my condition that day wasn’t unique. I had looked forward to October 4,2013 for so long and had already planned the day out so precisely in my mind that I feel into a slight anxiety attack when my fiancé and I arrived slightly late to the game and my imaginary plans went south. When the series itself began my concerns over parking and metal detectors took a back seat to a hopeful, joyous, exciting, confusing and ultimately heartbreaking week of baseball. Read the rest of this entry

Postseason and Dodger Blues

One of my favorite things about the post season is watching as a team celebrate a series win.  I love that the TV network has a camera on each player and each dugout, and after the initial pile-on on the field, we are able to watch every reaction of celebration (and of demise). But as the Dodgers clinched an NLCS spot on Monday and the Red Sox clinched an ALCS spot on Tuesday, I found myself a bit angry.

Don’t get me wrong – I was pulling for both of those teams, but I live for Game 5 (in the division series). The players might live for October, but I live for the overwhelming panic in a do-or-die game for both teams. (I thought I might feel differently if either the Mets or Orioles were in it, but remembered that the Mets last postseason went to a game 7 [2006 NLCS] and the Orioles last postseason went to a game 5 [2012 ALDS].) More so, I start to get a little depressed as the end looms. What will I do for the next months? Football doesn’t take up nearly as much time.

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A Cubbie Postmortem

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Expectations were tempered for the 2013 Chicago Cubs. Of course, expectations are frequently lowered on the North Side as a defense mechanism and coping device. There was good reason for this lack of confidence, and many losses were predicted. However, once these losses begin to occur and you become exposed to the reality of the final tally, it is a bit sobering.

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