August 29, 2009

Ravens No Longer a Fantasy Black Hole

For much of the decade, the Ravens have been a fantasy football black hole. Sure, there were seasons where Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap or Matt Stover have been valuable starters, and the defense scores a lot of points, but in general no one was too concerned about the Ravens' bye week.

With Cam Cameron in his second season as offensive coordinator, the Ravens look primed to finally be a well-rounded team on both sides of the ball.

Full-Time Fantasy Starters

1) Joe Flacco - Many people fear a sophomore slump out of Flacco and Matt Ryan, but if the preseason is any indication Flacco is very comfortable running this offense now. In a continuation from last season, he has an excellent rapport with receiver Derrick Mason. Newcomer Kelley Washington (Bengals, Patriots) has already emerged as a frequent target. Todd Heap is finally healthy (for now). Ray Rice spent much of the offseason working on his receiving skills, and it appears he will be used often. His line tonight against Carolina in two-and-a-half quarters: 23 for 28, 247 yards and a TD. As a little added bonus, he also will take off and run effectively and he caught a pass last season.

2) Ray Rice - The second year running back out of Rutgers has earned the starting spot over Willis McGahee. Both will split carries with LeRon McClain, especially as the season wears on. Rice is still a viable fantasy starting RB though because of his pass-catching skills. He should average about 20 carries a game and 100 yards, but I would not be surprised to see him average 5-7 catches and 50 yards receiving also. In a point-per-catch league, he might be second only to Westbrook. Touchdown vulturing is not a major concern from McGahee, as he and Rice have similar styles, but McClain will steal a few. Also, first-round pick Michael Oher has had little trouble making the move to RT. The Ravens young offensive line (Gaither, Yanda, Matt Birk, Grubbs and Oher) look to be among the league's best.

3) Derrick Mason - Derrick spent much of last season dealing with a very painful injured shoulder. Still, he topped 1000 yards and developed an excellent relationship with Flacco. Mason will not score many touchdowns, but he will rack up a lot of yards and 10-15 yard receptions. In a point-per-catch league, he is a great value to be had in the middle rounds. Some question his commitment after he retired briefly this offseason, but he seems to want to go out with something to keep his ring finger warm.

4) Ravens D/ST - This is pretty much a perennial stalwart. The Ravens D has scored twice this year, and this season has the markings of a defense that could threaten records for points scored. Ed Reed is back, but he has Dawan Landry healthy again in the secondary. The linebacking corps still features Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Jackson. Most importantly, DT Kelly Gregg is healthy again and DT Haloti Ngata is rounding into All-Pro form. The last thing any offense needs is for the Ravens to be able to get pressure only rushing four, but that appears to be the case this season. Matt Stover's departure has no impact on the ST portion of the scoring, but new KR/PRs Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb have been exciting thus far.

A Little Deeper....

5) Todd Heap - The Ravens added LJ Smith this season from the Eagles. Both Heap and LJ Smith are injury prone. If healthy, 600 yards and 6 TDs could be expected from Heap. Unfortunately, you may find yourself cursing his first quarter departure.

6) Willis McGahee - McGahee will probably only get 10 carries per game or so. If you are crunched, he'll still see some red zone touches.

7) Kelley Washington - This is my sleeper for the year. Flacco has gone to Washington frequently this preseason. Washington never made an impact in Cincinnati, but after spending last season with New England he perhaps has picked up a few tricks. With his height, Washington could emerge as a solid third fantasy WR as a #2 for the Ravens.

Not This Year

8) LeRon McClain - He's just too valuable as a blocker to be used as the Ravens used him last year. He'll see a lot of action late in games the Ravens are winning, but he won't be putting up 100 yards this year.

9) Demetrius Williams - I suspect Williams will have trouble finding the field regularly with the addition of Washington.

10) Mark Clayton - See above. Clayton will have a couple big statistical games this year, but nothing with sufficient regularity to justify a start.

Preseason Stats (First team has had four quarters)

Passing - Flacco, 40 for 61, 470 yards, 1 TD, no INTS, 1 sack, no fumbles.

Rushing - Rice, 23 for 83 yards, 1 TD

Mason, 10 for 146 yards
Rice, 12 for 108 yards
Todd Heap, 5 for 46 yards, 1 TD
D. Williams, 7 for 74 yards
Mark Clayton has not played (hamstring)

NFL Orders Do-Overs for Dallas Scoreboard - Why Spike Now?

If I understand the reports correctly, the NFL has determined that a do-over will result if a live football strikes the massive scoreboard in the new Cowboys Stadium. The down will be replayed and the clock will be reset. This leaves me with some questions:

1) Are penalties that occur during the play still enforced?

For example, many "holding" penalties occur "during the kick", resulting in yardage being added or subtracted from the end of the return. Are these penalties ignored if a punted ball strikes the scoreboard? What about personal fouls that occur during the play? Roughing/running into the punter?

2) Is it intentional grounding if a thrown ball strikes the scoreboard?

If not, why spike it prior to crossing midfield? Not only is the clock reset, YOU DON'T LOSE THE DOWN.

3) What if a backwards pass strikes the scoreboard?

This goes with the previous question. If a punt is blocked and a kicking team player manages to get the ball free and clear but 20 yards behind the line, isn't it in the team's best interest for him to throw it at the scoreboard?

Remember that 90 feet, the distance between the bottom of the scoreboard and the field, is only the distance from home plate to first base. While the easiest parts of the scoreboard to hit are between the goal lines and the 20s, where the screens are perpindicular to the sidelines, it can be hit from nearly anywhere on the field.

The NFL needs to address these questions before the season starts. If necessary, they need to create a penalty for intentionally striking the scoreboard, or add it to the list of "unfair acts" already subject to penalty.

Can you think of any other issues?

If you enjoy this level of nerdiness, you might enjoy my other blog, The Law on Campus.

August 26, 2009

Weekly TMQ Rejoinder - AFC Preview

I’m going to try something new this season: I’m going back to reading Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column.  I stopped reading it because I normally can’t make it through the first few items without getting angry and yelling at my computer.  Now, dear reader, I’ll brave the column yet again for your entertainment.

I think I’m smarter than you.

First, this is obviously an entirely derivative endeavor.  I’m reacting to someone else’s work (TMQ) in the style of someone else’s work (Drew Magary’s hilarious weekly takedown of Peter King).  Since Drew is a vastly more talented and funny writer than I am, he took the more difficult target.  As annoying and weird as King is, he doesn’t often throw around loudly defended theories with glaring logical inconsistencies.


Touchdowns are pretty good stuff in football; players who produce touchdowns would seem to have value. Yet of the top 10 active NFL touchdown producers, six (Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Joey Galloway, Tony Gonzalez and Torry Holt) were waived or traded in the offseason, while a seventh (LaDainian Tomlinson) was told to take a pay cut or hit the road … Of course, aging athletes often lose their ability to gain yards and score points -- though something tells me several mentioned in the above paragraphs will end up with more productive 2009 seasons than the younger players who got their roster slots.

Really?  You’re going to lead off your column complaining that some of the career leaders in touchdowns were cut or traded?  Here’s the thing active leaders in statistical categories have in common: they’re old and expensive.

In a salary capped league (and Easterbrook defends the salary cap at every opportunity), successful veterans at the end of their careers will become more expensive than they’re worth.

This is a familiar trope of TMQ - throw out some seemingly odd statistic without thinking through the potential causes or the potential effects a reversal would have.  Is there any way a team with Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Edgerrin James, and Tony Gonzalez could possibly get under the salary cap?  And if they did, wouldn’t they suck due to an awful O-line and defense?


Why do agents advise holdouts? The good agents don't! … The market sets your contract value, not the agent. A good agent can improve a deal's details. But no agent has ever dictated how much a team pays a player, and no agent ever will.

Well, that’s a first, Easterbrook is claiming that the market determines the price of a good, not powerful and greedy white men.  Keep this in mind later when TMQ is polluted with Easterbrook’s odd blend of progressive/utopian dreaming of how the world could be so much better if people weren’t greedy.

As to the merits of his point, it may be a matter of semantics, but certainly agents can have a huge influence on a contract (see Scott Boras).  It’s odd to have the pro-labor Easterbrook claiming that players should accept an offer from the team without hard-line negotiating. 

I think he would feel very differently if this discussion were moved to a different industry, in which case he would be saying that labor unions don’t dictate salaries, they merely influence a deal, and that unions should never strike.  They should just trust the market to set salaries and trust management to offer that market salary. 

When you write 10,000 words a week, apparently you don’t have time to think through half the crap you spew.

Ugh, at least Peter King is a likable buffoon instead of a pretentious douchebag.

More next week.

August 23, 2009

NFL Suit to Stop Delaware Sportsbook Hearing Monday - Download the NFL's Complaint

We have copies of the Complaints filed by the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA to stop Delaware from offering state-run sports betting starting this fall. In my city, Baltimore, billboards are already advertising the sportsbook at Dover Downs.

Download the Complaint here. (PDF Format)

At issue is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) passed by Congress in 1993 to ban state-sanctioned betting on professional sports. That law provided an exception for states that ran a sports-betting program or lottery between 1976 and 1990. Four states qualified, including Delaware.

The leagues specifically challenge two aspects of the program:

1) The Delaware Constitution prohibits gambling except for four inapplicable exceptions (games of chance, etc.).

2) The 1976 Delaware sportsbetting operation only involved parlay tickets, not single-game betting. If they didn't offer single-game betting between 1976 and 1990, that type of gambling is not within the PAPSA exception.

Delaware Supreme Court Finds Most of Proposed Betting Constitutional

As for the first issue, the Governor of Delaware requested an advisory opinion from the Delaware Supreme Court. The State wanted to ensure that the sports betting program is constitutional before sinking money and resources into it. They issued their opinion in May (Download the opinion here in PDF Format).

In relevant part, the Delaware Supreme Court determined that some aspects of the system are constitutional. Despite the fact that third-party contractors will implement much of the system, there is sufficient state control within the meaning of the Delaware Constitution. Also, the legislature has not delegated its power to the Lottery Director.

Most importantly for people who fancy themselves good football handicappers, the Supreme Court found that the Delaware Constitution permits games "in which chance is the predominant determining factor." They also found that in parlay games "chance is the predominate factor." Our advertisers would disagree.

As for single-game bets, though, the Delaware Supreme Court refused to issue an opinion, stating:

That said, because we lack the benefit of actual evidence concerning single game bets and the extent to which “the line” introduces chance and causes it to predominate over skill or merely manages the money flow, we cannot opine on the constitutionality of single game bets.

NFL and Other Leagues Sue to Stop State-Run Sportsbook

Fast forward to Monday's hearing before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (which includes Delaware). The NFL moved for a preliminary injunction to stop the Delaware sportsbetting program in the District Court. That court denied the motion, and the NFL appealed, putting the issue before the Third Circuit.

The leagues are seeking an injunction to stop Delaware from unveiling its single game, over-under and parlay sports betting programs this fall.

The first count of the leagues' complaint is that the sports betting violates PAPSA. In relevant part, PAPSA prohibits state-run sports betting except:

A lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme in operation in a State or other governmental entity, to the extent that the scheme was conducted by that State or other governmental entity at any time during [1976 to 1990].

The bolded section is critical. Delaware only ran parlay-based programs in the late 1970's. Now they want to run single-game and over-under betting. How will the Federal District Court interpret "extent"? We'll find out after Monday's hearing.

The second count alleges violations of the Delaware Constitution, as discussed above.
Other Issues
In federal courts, a party must have "standing" to enforce a legal right. Proper standing requires that a party have an injury-in-fact and a recognized cause of action that can be corrected by the courts. Part of the requirement is that the party not have a generalized grievance that affects all citizens. In my view, the PAPSA does not create a cause of action that can be enforced by private entities. Also, I do not believe the leagues can sue to enforce the Delaware Constitution absent a show of actual injury.
I will be curious to see how the NFL and other leagues claim to be injured by sports betting. If anything, I would imagine increased interest in the sports. If they cannot allege an injury, their claims will be dismissed.

What Is at Stake?

Delaware is trying to stake a claim to some of Atlantic City's business. Delaware currently authorizes slot machines (Delaware Park, Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway) and has tried to make Dover Downs a slots and entertainment site. Sportsbetting would almost certainly establish Delaware as the go-to sports gambling destination for so many sports-crazy East Coasters. A short drive from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York? The state is seeing dollar signs.

The leagues just know that sports gambling is a potential headache for them. They cannot really profit on it directly.

Hey, college kids like gambling, right? Check out my other blog, The Law on Campus.