Early Impressions of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Multiplayer

Two weeks after it’s release, and after presaging for a second time this week, it seemed like a good time to post some thoughts on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. This is the 11th (!) game in the series, and the first solo Call of Duty effort from Sledgehammer games. They did co-develop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward though. Those that dubbed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as “Call of Duty: Titanfall” didn’t end up being that far off. More on that soon.

General Thoughts

This game definitely feels like a Call of Duty game. It’s extremely fast paced, and as the trend has been the last few years, the maps get smaller and the engagements get faster and more frequent.

Everything is not perfect though, there are some web established server/netcode issues that seem to cause problems for many players. These issues have been discussed at length, but the gist of it is that it symptomizes itself as a player seeing hit markers on their screen, but not getting a kill, and then the subsequent kill cam showing that the player’s hits never registered. This is a frustrating problem.

The Exo Suits

The big addition to this year’s installment was the Exo Suit. This is where the Titanfall comparisons come from. For the first time, double jumping is possible. As is boosting with thrusters forward, backward and side-to-side. This increases the pace and speed of the game and makes the game more vertical than ever. At first this seemed like it would be a real issue, but it has actually been pretty good so far. No longer can someone who has taken the time to climb way up high simply sit there without incident, as double jumping allows anyone to get anywhere relatively quickly. It will be interesting to see if this will be here to stay with whatever the next game it is or not, but best guess is that at this point most people would be sad to see it go.

The Exo suits also offer an extra ability that can be equipped. Some of these options used to be perks (Ping, faster health regeneration) and there are some totally new things (like cloak and hover). These gimmicks don’t seem to be worth a slot in the “pick 13” system, and although some people use them, it seems like most people opt to go other directions.

Create-A-Class Pick 13

The pick 13 system is based on the system that has been in use in recent games where player’s can opt to build their class in many different ways. For example, players can sacrifice the aforementioned Exo Abilities for a third weapon attachment. This allows players to really get a class to fit their play style.

Most people seem to be opting for assault rifles, either the BAL–27 or AK–12 seem to be the most popular. At the moment, the class of choice for this blog is BAL–27 w/suppressor, quickdraw grip and stock as primary. No secondary, launchers or Exo abilities. Low Profile, Peripherals, Toughness and Blast Suppressor as perks. Then UAV (with support and threat detection), Care Package (with support and double tap) and Remote Turret (with support and sentry) as score streaks.

The interesting thing in this game is the de-emphasis on perks. After Ghosts offered something like 30 perks, there are just 15 here. Many perks (like quickdraw) have been moved to attachments, or (like dead silence) Exo abilities. This makes using three attachments almost a must. As a result of this change, the perks are somewhat disappointing. Outside of the four mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are few others worth using. Lightweight maybe, Flak Jacket in certain game modes, Cold Blooded is good, Blind Eye on occasion or maybe Scavenger if you live a long time frequently. That is just 9 out of 15 that are even worth considering.

The Scorestreaks

There are just 12 score streaks, and as been the case the last couple of games, score streaks continue to be de-emphasized and weakened as to not be game ruining. They have done a good job with this, and because the streaks are based on scoring points, and not just kills it’s much easier for people to earn them while playing objective based games. The other addition is the ability to modify score streaks so that they have additional features, but these also increase the cost. The higher cost streaks (Goliath, Warbird and Paladin) are not enough of sure things to warrant equipping them. As good as the Paladin is, it probably will lead to just a couple of kills in most cases, and since it requires 950 points it is just not worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, the System Hack at 600 points seems to happen a bit too frequently. It will be interesting to see if Sledgehammer tweaks these at all down the road.

The Maps

The maps have been an interesting experience. For the most part there are not any huge maps, and all the maps feel small thanks to the Exo suit making moving around so much faster. No maps jumped out as Strikezone/Dome/Nuketown after the first couple of days, but after two weeks it has become apparent that the maps are very well designed. There don’t seem to be spawn areas that give one team too much of an advantage and most maps don’t have any major bottlenecks. This seems to be because most maps were created with the “three lane design” in mind, which means that there are three different main paths on the map.

That isn’t to say the maps are perfect, but for the most part they are good, without a lot of separation between the best and worst maps. At this point the top four in some order would be Detroit, Defender, Instinct and Retreat. The bottom four in some order are Terrace, Ascend, Solar and Recovery.

Wrap-Up

So far, it’s Call of Duty. It doesn’t seem as enjoyable as Call of Duty: Ghosts, although that is a minority opinion, but it’s good. The connection/lag issues will hopefully get fixed sooner rather than later, which will help. There are a lot of game modes, and enough balance in the maps that the game should be fun for a while. It remains remarkable that after the 11th iteration this game still sells as well as it does. There is somehow enough to get people coming back each year, for now. Sooner or later though, they need something more fresh than this.

Bizarre Week 12 CFB Lines

Not a full on preview this week since it’s a crappy week, but instead a look at five bizarre gambling lines.

I don’t bet on games. I make my three picks on Twitter each week for fun, and to prove to myself that I should never consider betting on games. My dad always had this mantra that if it seemed to good to be true, it probably was. Which leads me to five games this week that have lines that just seem way off.

LSU (+1) @ Arkansas

Wow. What? LSU is 7–3. Their losses are to Mississippi St., Auburn and Alabama, all top 10 teams. Arkansas is 4–5. Their best win is at Texas Tech or against Northern Illinois! So what gives? If you believe in the Bruce Feldman “Body Blow Theory” © then this makes a little most sense. LSU just had a rough game against Alabama. It’s a perfect letdown situation. Plus Arkansas is coming off a bye. Arkansas is a top 40 team according to Football Outsiders. Still seems crazy.

Mississippi St. (+9) @ Alabama

Mississippi State is #1 in the country. They are 9–0. They have handled every challenge that has come their way. They have beaten Auburn and LSU. They had Tennessee Martin last week, so as close to a bye as you can get. So what gives? Football Outsiders has Alabama as the best team in the country (6th offense, 2nd defense). Mississippi St. is ranked 6th by them, and behind Alabama in both categories. This is a little crazy though. How often is the #1 team getting 9 points, even on the road?

Nebraska (+6.5) @ Wisconsin

Nebraska is rank 16th and is 8–1. Wisconsin has two losses and is ranked 20th. This isn’t just a spread bumped by home field. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a top 25 team. They lost at Michigan St. and their best win is Miami, who is ranked 12th by Football Outsiders, but have come a long way since September. Wisconsin has two losses. One was opening night against LSU (excusable). The other was against Northwestern (inexcusable). Nebraska is coming off a bye week. Football Outsiders has them ranked 14th, and Wisconsin ranked 19th. This one doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Auburn (+2.5) @ Georgia

Auburn is ranked 9th, Georgia is 15th. Both have two losses. Auburn lost at Mississippi St. and to Texas A&M. Both top 25 teams. Georgia lost to South Carolina and Florida, both of whom Football Outsiders has ranked behind Virginia. Georgia’s defense isn’t great, and even with Todd Gurley back Auburn is probably better on both sides of the ball. This line at least makes a little sense factoring in home field, but still seems a little off.

Florida St. (–2.5) @ Miami

On first glance, this is insane. But FSU’s best win is a fading Notre Dame team, or a Clemson team that has come on late. Miami has lost three times. On opening night at a solid Louisville team, on the road against a good Nebraska team (both in September) and a more inexcusable loss at Georgia Tech. But all 6 of their wins have come by at least 10 points, and their last three all by at least 21. They are coming off a bye, and more importantly Football Outsiders have them ranked 12th (10th offense, 18th defense), and would likely be higher without a 64th ranked special teams. FSU is 9–0, but they are ranked only 9th, with the 29th ranked defense.

Wrap-Up

When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I have been picking three games for fun every week and at this moment, those would be Miami, Arkansas and Alabama.

NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat?

There are 32 NFL teams. Each year somewhere between 5–8 coaches lose their jobs. It’s never too soon to start thinking about who is where. Oakland already fired Dennis Allen, and it’s likely five more guys will join him. So who will they be?

Safe

22 guys are safe at this point:

  • Bill Belichick, NE – Five straight division titles. Missed the playoffs once since 2002. 7–2 this year.
  • Doug Marrone, BUF – 2nd season. 5–4 after 6–10 last year. Would have to lose out to be at risk.
  • John Harbaugh, BAL – Made playoffs in first five seasons. Won Super Bowl two seasons ago. 6 wins already; 6–10 wouldn’t even be enough.
  • Mike Pettine, CLE – First year.
  • Bill O’Brien, HOU – First year.
  • Chuck Pagano, IND – Third year. About to make playoffs for third time.
  • Gus Bradley, JAX – Year two. Not doing well, but expectations are low.
  • Ken Whisenhunt, TEN – First year.
  • John Fox, DEN – Three for three in playoff appearances. One Super Bowl trip.
  • Mike McCoy, SD – Year two. Playoffs last year.
  • Andy Reid, KC – Year two. Playoffs last year.
  • Tom Coughlin, NYG – One one playoff appearance in last five seasons. But two rings. Probably goes on on his own terms.
  • Chip Kelly, PHI – Year two. Looks like a 2nd straight playoff appearance.
  • Jay Gruden, WAS – First year.
  • Jim Caldwell, DET – First year.
  • Mike Zimmer, MIN – First year.
  • Mike McCarthy, GB – Five straight playoffs plus a Super Bowl ring.
  • Sean Payton, NO – Four straight playoffs plus a Super Bowl ring.
  • Lovie Smith, TB – First year
  • Pete Carroll, SEA – Just won a Super Bowl
  • Bruce Arians, ARI – 2nd year. 8–1.
  • Jeff Fisher, STL – Only in year three. Lots of injuries. Probably gets more time.

Good as Gone

Rex Ryan, NYJ

Rex Ryan deserves a lot of credit for lasting this long. He really banked a lot of credit by making the playoffs those first two seasons. He is 0 for 3 since and is currently 1–8. The Jets are really bad. Ryan could immediately get re-hired, but at worst he’s unlikely only out of a job one year.

Mike Smith, ATL

Smith went to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons including a trip to the NFC title game. But injuries derailed this team last season, and they are currently 3–6. Smith probably has to get to 8 wins to keep his job. Otherwise, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has to start thinking about not wasting the primes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Too Close to Call

There are three more coaches still out there to get fired. It will come from this list of 7 name, from least likely to most likely.

Joe Philbin, MIA

Philbin somehow entered the season on a warm seat despite improving from 7–9 to 8–8 last season. Miami is currently 5–3. 8–8 almost surely keeps his job and Miami’s defense is one of the best in the league. If this team finished 2–6 though, he would probably be gone.

Mike Tomlin, PIT

The fact that teams would line-up to hire Tomlin means he probably isn’t going anywhere. But after two 8–8 seasons without the playoffs things can get restless. Tomlin is 5–3 in the playoffs and has two trips to the Super Bowl (one ring). Pittsburgh is 6–4. He probably get’s at least another year unless they lose out.

Marvin Lewis, CIN

He has been coaching the Bengals since before the forward pass was legalized1. He has a winning record, and has made the playoffs in three straight seasons. But he is 0–5 lifetime in the playoffs. The Bengals are 5–3–1 in the leagues’s deepest division, and could miss the playoffs even with 9 wins. This is a team with tons of talent that lost both coordinators in the offseason. So Lewis is probably safe.

Jason Garrett, DAL

Garrett has never made the playoffs or had a full “winning” season, but he has gone 8–8 for three years. Dallas started 6–1 and are now 7–3. After that start raised expectations, missing the playoffs would be catastrophic. It would also likely mean having finished 4–5. Hard to see Jerry Jones letting that slide.

Marc Trestman, CHI

Only in his second season, but the Bears have been horrible. Even though the defense has been ravaged by injuries there is too much talent on offense for this team to be so middle of the road. It’s unlikely a coach gets fired after two seasons, especially with traditionally tight fisted owners, but the Bears window with this offense is going to close fast, so it might be time to try something else. Seven wins probably saves his job though.

Jim Harbaugh, SF

This seems almost unimaginable. Harbaugh is in year four. He has been to three NFC title games, and one Super Bowl. Any team would kill for a coach that good that fast. And yet the rumors of lockeroom antics won’t die. And currently at 5–4 the playoffs are far from a lock. If the rumors are true about the way the team is being managed, and the 49ers miss the playoffs they may cut him loose. This situation is too unpredictable though.

Ron Rivera, CAR

Rivera was on the hotseat last season after a slow start. But he finished 12–4 and made the playoffs. The Panthers have taken a step back and at 3–6–1 don’t look good. Short of going 6–0 from here on out they will probably miss the playoffs. 4–2 is probably enough to cost him his job. So it doesn’t look good

Predictions

Rex Ryan and Mike Smith get the axe, joining Dennis Allen. Carolina doesn’t bounce back and Ron Rivera gets the boot. Dallas totally implodes and misses the playoffs. Bye-bye Jason Garrett. The Bears finish 5–11 and the Marc Trestman Experiment comes to an end.

  1. Rough estimate []

2014 College Football Playoff Hierarchy: Take 2

Back with another edition of the College Football Playoff Hierarchy. It’s true that the official rankings have been released twice now, but those are based on where teams are right now, not projecting the playoff when the season ends. Why would anyone care who would be in the playoffs if the season ended today? It’s one thing in a sport like baseball where there are 162 games and one single game isn’t guaranteed to make an impact. But when it comes to college football, the circumstances are different.

Instead, the best way to understand what is going on is just keep the cheatsheet below handy. One-loss Notre Dame was neglectfully left off of the first list a couple of weeks ago. Anything that is no longer possible is crossed off.

Who Possible Teams
1 Undefeated SEC champion Mississippi St.
2 Undefeated Florida St. FSU
3 1-loss SEC champion Mississippi St., Alabama/Auburn
4 Undefeated Notre Dame NONE
5 Undefeated Baylor NONE
6 1-loss Pac 12 champ Oregon, Arizona St.
7 1-loss Big Ten champ Michigan St./Ohio St./Nebraska
8 1-loss Notre Dame Notre Dame
9 2-loss SEC champ 7 teams
10 1-loss SEC at-large Mississippi St., Alabama/Auburn
11 1-loss Big 12 champ Baylor, Kansas St., TCU
12 2-loss Pac 12 champ 5 teams
13 1-loss ACC champ Florida St., Duke
14 1-loss Pac 12 at-large NONE
15 2-loss Big Ten champ 6 teams
16 2-loss Big 12 champ 4 teams
17 1-loss Big Ten at-large NONE
18 3-loss SEC champ 9 teams
19 Undefeated Marshall Marshall

Re-Watching The Wire

The Wire is considered by many to be one of the best television shows of the century. It is on pedestal with The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and perhaps Mad Men in that regard. It is definitely the least well-known of those four though, and doesn’t get as much nostalgia it seems. Then there is the discussion of how to measure a television show’s (or a movie’s for that matter) greatness. Is it all based on a new fresh viewing, or does it take multiple passes? Is it reasonable to expect TV series to be viewed multiple times? It certainly seems more true that in the past, but it still is an incredible time commitment. Re-watching The Wire though, in the same vein as re-watching The Sopranos is a great way to truly realize it’s greatness.

Unlike the other great shows of the generation, The Wire is more an ensemble cast than one with a main star. Although Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) feels like the main character, he seems to carry that position in the thinnest way possible. Instead this show is comprised of an incredibly deep cast of characters that all seem to get their day in the sun at some point.

The show takes place in Baltimore, and focuses on the police department, and an on-again-off-again major crimes unit. All five of the seasons revolve around the drug trade in Baltimore, although season season offers a different spin/angle on it. Many of the story arcs, and characters, have a slow burn to them, and some of the payoffs take entire seasons to show up. This kind of storytelling is what makes shows like this, and The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad so great. It is not just the great moments within an episode, but the great storytelling along the way. Three great characters in the show introduce the world to Michael B. Jordan (Vince from Friday Night Lights), Michael K. Williams (Chalky from Boardwalk Empire) and Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). But the list of solid supporting characters is too massive to list here.

Re-watching the The Wire shows off a great “bingeability” to this show. With all the characters and moving parts this show was probably different to track in real-time, especially before the days of weekly episode recaps online. One of the great ways that David Simon approached making this show was to give each season it’s own focus, while still tying that focus to the main story arc involving drugs. Season 1 focuses on the drug dealing at the housing projects. Season 2 focuses on the port of Baltimore. Season 3 focuses heavily on politics. Season 4 is on public schools. Season 5 is media, and more specifically newspapers.

Season 2 was never well received because it deters from what appears to be the main storyline, but ever future season is the same. There is a new set of characters front and center, still with ties to the established gang of drug dealers. Even in season 4 (largely considered to be the best) the drug story is told greatly through the lens of the school system. In retrospect season 2 gets a raw deal because even though it’s a weak link in the first four seasons of the show1, it’s not like it’s season 2 of Friday Night Lights, an absolute mess that should be left out upon future viewings. It’s like the 5th Chicago Bulls championship. It wasn’t the 72-win season, it wasn’t Jordan’s final year with the game winner, it was a season that most people kind of forget about in Jordan lore. But the team won 69 games and an NBA championship, so when held up against 99% of individual team’s NBA seasons in history, it’s still historically great. Season 2 of The Wire is on a similar plane. It’s compared to the rest of the seasons of the show, but the reality is that season 2 of The Wire is still better than almost every show’s current season.

The way each season’s backdrop seamlessly introduces new characters makes the show flow particularly well, and could have given the show a way to run for many years, but it was likely just a bit before it’s time.

Overall the show doesn’t not have many weak points. Just when it looked like things are getting a bit stale, along comes the spectacular child acting of season 4, or up pops Omar again and again. The technology aspect of things feels incredibly dated since season 1 revolves around payphones and beepers, but watching how the gangs stay one step ahead with new methods is a nice touch.

David Simon has never been shy about thoughts on politics and skewed agendas, so there is likely a group of people that would be rubbed the wrong way by this show. And these kind of things stand out much more upon re-watching. The political horse trading that goes on in and around the police department is frustrating at times, but it likely depicts something of a reality that most people chose to ignore.

The bottom line though, is that this is 60 hours of quality television. It is well written, and well-acted and this becomes more apparent than ever upon a second viewing. Unfortunately this show isn’t aging well, and 10 years from now it might be impossible to watch with where technology is headed. Until then though, it’s a masterpiece.

  1. Most everyone would agree season 5 was the weakest []

The End of Boardwalk Empire

HBO’s Boardwalk Empire ended it’s run (and it’s 5th season) earlier this week. It came onto the scene in 2010 packed with star talent both in front of and behind the camera. Martin Scorsese directed the pilot and was listed as an Executive Producer on the show, as was Mark Wahlberg. The showrunner/creator/writer was Terence Winter, who had been a writer on The Sopranos. He wrote 25 episodes of the hit HBO mafia drama, including a couple of the most remembered episodes (Pine Barrens1 and Long Term Parking2). Boardwalk Empire starred longtime character actor Steve Buscemi, as well as recognizable talents like Michael Shannon and Michael K. Williams.

It came in with big names, a specific time period (1920s prohibition), a monster budget, a full boardwalk set and HBO guiding it. It should have been a smash hit. It was Mad Men meets The Sopranos. But when it was all said and done, it was merely “good” instead of “great”.

There are definitely a few items that contributed to preventing its greatness. Part of the issue was undoubtedly that Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) wasn’t as charismatic as Tony Soprano or Don Draper. And as talented as Buscemi is, it was often side characters like Chalky White (Williams) or Richard Harrow who were far more interesting. The real-life criminals and lawmen that were interweaved with the story made it especially great, but some parts of the Charlie Luciano and Al Capone stories were so good that at times it felt like that would have been the better show. Buscemi is no doubt talented, and it seems like he should be able to carry a show on his own, so perhaps the material is to blame, but something never felt right with him.

Another issue was that the show moved a bit slow at times. Well most of the storylines almost always paid off, there were so many characters (much like Game of Thrones) that sometimes the best stories took entire seasons to pay off while time was spent on smaller, less interesting stuff. Whereas a show like Breaking Bad might almost be too intense to binge watch all at once, Boardwalk Empire always seemed like it would be much more enjoyable in a House of Cards-style marathon.

Despite all of that, the 56 episodes were an enjoyable experience. There were plenty of great characters, and the tie-ins to historical events made it even more fun. Viewers certainly spent time on Wikipedia learning more about the historical figures that showed up3. The show essentially showed the rise and fall of a gangster, and did a great job of depicting the mostly bad that went along with it.

The last season was solid, and the flashback scenes were great. Not only were the actors picked just perfect to represent their grown-up counterparts, but they did an excellent job of showing how the Nucky Thompson character (right down to the nickname Nucky) got to be the person he was. The decision to only make 8 episodes made some parts of the story feel rushed, but ultimately Nucky’s story felt like it had closure beyond the ultimate closure. The return of Tommy Darmody, and his subsequent murder of Nucky was spoiled for some people in the weeks leading up the finale as smart people started to figure out that is who the mystery teenager was. But it was a fitting ending to a story that most people had figured long ago would end with Nucky’s demise.

The show is entertaining enough that it should be somewhat re-watchable, but it’s hard to pinpoint specific episodes that super memorable. All of the all-time great dramas of the last decade, with the possible exception of The Wire, have individual episodes that are always re-watchable. Like The Wire, Boardwalk Empire seems like one of those shows that needs the sum of it’s parts to be appreciated again and again, and that is definitely going to hamper it’s ability to be in the same conversation as those other shows down the road.

But one positive is that Terence Winter has shown in two different places that he knows how to make quality television. And although David Simon disappointed some4 with his first post-Wire dalliance, Winter hopefully won’t.

  1. The one where Paulie and Chris lose the Russian in the woods []
  2. Where Adrianna is killed []
  3. I know I did []
  4. Not me []

The Apple Pay/CurrentC Battle Is Still A Ways Away

The geek world has been fired up this week about the decision from a group of high-profile retailers (Walmart, CVS, Best Buy, Rite-Aid and others) to disable NFC payments (including Apple Pay) from their store registers. This decision would appear to be fueled by the fact that all of these retailers are working on an alternative product called CurrentC.

It’s hard to fault retailers for taking this action. If they are hoping to release an alternative product (and CurrentC is an alternative since it doesn’t use NFC) then it’s best not to let people get used to better alternatives first. And there is no doubt that Apple Pay, Google Wallet and other NFC-driven payment systems are much better for consumers. Much (digital) ink has already been spilled about the downfalls of CurrentC, so there is no reason to rehash all of them other than to say that the multiple steps involved will likely scare off many people, and the direct access to a bank account required will scare off a bunch more.

The problem with CurrentC is the execution, not the the concept. The concept is essentially to replace the debit card with an app. It’s not a credit card replacement though, which is why the decision to block NFC devices is so curious. In order to use something like CurrentC, a person would have to have the funds in their account at the time. The problem is that a lot of younger people use credit cards all the time, even if they pay them off every month. They offer protection that direct bank account access doesn’t. And if a credit card account is compromised, it’s much less painful for a consumer than getting a new bank account would be.

Unfortunately it sounds like the main reason retailers want to push CurrentC is so that they can remove credit card companies from the equation. These credit card companies charge fees for transactions that the retailers have to pay. But handing over bank account information to retailers, especially ones like Target, who already proved they can’t protect data, won’t be something most people are willing to do.

But all of this conversation is way ahead of the game. Even Apple Pay isn’t really real at the moment. It’s only available on the iPhone 6/6+, and it’s not accepted everywhere. There doesn’t seem to be people talking about Google Wallet all the time so presumably that isn’t all that widely used yet either. Credit Cards aren’t accepted everywhere still. And certain credit cards (like Discover and American Express) aren’t accepted even at places that take Visa and Mastercard. And because this is tied to a phone, that has to be working and charged, this is far from a safe enough solution for consumers to be relying on for more than just sporadic payments.

So while the decision by retailers to not accept Apple Pay is stupid, and the implementation of CurrentC is even stupider, none of this really matters yet. This technology has to become more mainstream (at least a year, probably two) before it’s more than a bunch of people living on the cutting edge getting riled up for nothing. The market will dictate everything, there just isn’t a market yet.

Houston Injury Fitting for Bears

My dad taught high school math for 35+ years, every time he finished grading a stack of papers he would hop up and do a little strut, a little dance, and then spike his red pen to the ground. That is made up of course because it’s downright ridiculous. Of course football players make plays that are literally their job and follow them up with stupid celebrations. Twice this year those celebrations have ended someone’s season.

The most recent was Chicago Bear Lamarr Houston, who was celebrating a sack on a 2nd string QB when his team was down 25 points in the 4th quarter. This is the same Houston who told certain Bear fans to “eat dirt” about a month back. That is definitely what a guy on a 5-year $35 million contract should say when his team, with Super Bowl hopes is 2–3, and winless at home. It is even better to say that when you are new to the team/city. And nothing is a better cherry on top than the fact that the “savior” of the defensive line has one sack through 8 games.

It was a fitting end to a terrible Bears game. A game that is smack dab in the middle of a terrible season. It’s safe to say the Marc Trestman era is a failure. The offense has regressed from last season. The defense is worse than advertised, but at least injuries are partially to blame. This team looks poorly coached and out of control. Nothing makes that more apparent than stupidness like what Houston did this past Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker probably won’t survive the season. Someone has to take the fall for this disaster. While it seems painfully obvious Marc Trestman isn’t the guy, it’s too soon to cut that cord. I have said from day one though, there was a reason that he was in the CFL for the last decade. Jay Cutler isn’t going anywhere, and despite what most Bears fans think, he isn’t solely to blame. And with this much talent on offense, it’s clear there is a systemic problem.

For now though, this team continues to be an embarrassment. And as if the record the Bears set for most points allowed in a half in team history wasn’t enough, Houston had to go and do that. Bear down indeed.

The Playoff Committee ‘Getting it Right’

The College Football Playoff Committee is, for some reason, going to release it’s first set of rankings next week. This makes little sense since it is literally a “no win” situation.

They will get angry comments and criticism from people who disagree, and even if they “get it right” what will the rankings represent? The classic scenario of “if the playoff was today”, which is silly. The season is barely half over, and the two of the top three teams not only reside in the same division, but will play each other before the season is over. And newsflash for Mississippians (or anyone in the SEC): two teams from the same division will almost certainly not make the playoff. It’s not impossible, but it would take a lot of conference champions with 2-losses to make it a reality.

But no matter what the rankings are next week, or in December, the question everyone will continues to ask is, “did they get it right?” What exactly this means is anyone’s guess. Since the goal of the playoff committee is to pick four teams and rank them in order to form a bracket of sorts, most people think getting it “right or wrong” is just about getting the “right” four teams in. This is almost always going to be a conversation about the fourth team in and the the first team out, but will sometimes include the 3rd team in and the 2nd team out. But why is that the only part that matters?

If the #3 seed team wins the championship, didn’t the committee get it wrong? In fact if it’s not #1 over #2 in the championship game, didn’t they technically “get it wrong”? If the #4 seed wins, will the arguments be that the #5 team who got snubbed deserves to be champion?

The bottom line is that a one game playoff is very arbritary. So many factors go into one team beating another. Skill and strategy definitely play a role, but so does luck. When the small sample size of 12 (or 13) games is used to pick four teams to play eachother, and when these teams have played vastly different schedules, guessing who the four “best” teams are is nearly impossible.

So determining whether or not the playoff committee get’s it “right” or “wrong” is mostly about personal goals for the playoff. If it’s about determining who the “best” team in college football is this season, then the playoff isn’t the answer. If it’s about rewarding four teams for a high level of play all season, then the playoff get’s closer. If it’s about creating three fun/exciting games, at the end of which one get team get’s a special trophy, that seems more accurate. Getting it right should only be measured in the quality/competitiveness of the three games, and not based on who some people think is “actually” the 4th best team.

Victor Martinez and the White Sox

The White Sox struggled in 2014, and looking ahead to 2015 there are a lot of questions1. Adam Dunn is thankfully done as the primary DH for the Chicago White Sox, and although he ranged from terrible to bad during his time with the team, they still must replace him at DH.

There have already been rumors about Victor Martinez being a target of the White Sox, and the best way to take this in might be a straight facepalm.

There are two ways to look at the potential of this signing, it’s either Jim Thome or Adam Dunn. The last two late-in-their-career veterans that the White Sox acquired to play DH had different levels of success.

Both guys spent three seasons and change with the White Sox so it’s really easy to compare them.

HR Slash OPS+ bWAR
Thome 134 .265/.391/.542 138 12.1
Dunn 106 .201/.321/.410 99 –1.5

Dunn was so much worse than it seemed, if that’s possible. Even just factoring in offensive bWAR, he was at a putrid 1.4 for his entire time with the team. His best season was definitely 2013 when he hit 41 home runs and posted a 115 wRC+, which his essentially runs per plate appearance, factoring in AL or NL and which parks a guy played in. It’s based on a scale where 100 is average. To put the number into perspective, in 2014 Andrew McCutchen led MLB with 168. Ironically Adam Eaton had exactly 115 in 2014, good enough for 58th in MLB. Thome’s worst season with the Sox for wRC+ was 122.

Victor Martinez will be 36 on Opening Day, so the Thome comparisons are fair. The biggest cause for concern is that Martinez is coming off of not only the best season of his career, but the best season of his career by a lot. Check out these stats comparing his previous career high to the new ones he created in 2014.

When HR K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Prev 25 8.6% .210 .330 .391 .505 .375 130
2014 32 6.5% .230 .335 .409 .565 .411 166

That is a lot of career bests to set in your age 35 season. Martinez is talented, and unlike Dunn or Thome he doesn’t strike out very much (career mark is 10.4% compared to 24.7% for Thome and 28.6% for Dunn). But both of those guys also walk a lot more. Bats slow down as players age, and guy who don’t walk a ton will have a tougher time when they lose bat speed. Martinez is also just wrapping up a 4-year contract worth $50M (about $12.5M per year). The problem finding comparables is that Martinez is almost exclusively a DH at this point.

He could play some 1B in a pinch (like Thome could), but no one wants to count on that. David Ortiz is about to finish up a 2-year $26M deal, Nelson Cruz got $8M, and Kendry Morales got $12M. There are not a ton of comparable guys. Morales, and Billy Butler are the only other DH-ish guy out there in free agency this winter. Besides the Tigers and White Sox, presumably Kansas City, Baltimore, New York and Seattle will at least kick the tires on him. It will likely take an average salary of at least the $12.5M he just made, and at least two years, but more likely three or four (maybe with an option or two mixed in).

So should the White Sox go for it? Martinez is good, and on a two-year deal, even at $15M/year, it’s probably worth it, but Martinez will almost certainly get more elsewhere. The Sox pitching is too much of a disaster right now to think they will be serious contenders next year, especially since Kansas City has emerged as a real team. Detroit will still be good next year, and Cleveland has some unrealized potential as well. In other words, the White Sox are still two years away at best, and banking on Martinez being this good in two years is a bit of gamble. The White Sox are far better off signing a low(er) cost veteran or two, and seeing what they have already in house and then deciding what to invest in if/when they have a more complete team.

Martinez might have another great season. He might have two. He won’t have four though. And he isn’t the kind of guy who is going to fill the park on his own. If the White Sox spent unconditionally like Boston or New York it would make more sense. As both the Thome and Dunn signings show though, signing an aging DH isn’t the automatic solution, and this team is more than a tweak or two away right now.

  1. More on this at some point in a future post []