Pro football’s most valuable player is announced the night before the Super Bowl, and this season’s award is expected to go to Cam Newton. Let’s hope he does a dab! As we prepare to bid farewell to a football season that had many ridiculous subplots, the most ludicrous has been complaints regarding Newton’s touchdown celebrations.
First, it has been three decades — Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor won in 1986 — since the M.V.P. award has been handed to anyone other than a quarterback or running back. Given by The Associated Press since 1957, the award has gone to 56 quarterbacks and running backs, three gents at all other positions. To rectify this injustice, The Upshot confers the coveted “longest award in sports,” Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back N.F.L. M.V.P. See below for this year’s winner.
Now back to Newton’s revels. Why are they controversial in any respect, let alone an overblown controversy? Touchdowns are fun — players should celebrate!
Here is a shocking insider revelation: It doesn’t matter who wins N.F.L. games. The point of the contests is entertainment, plus shared civic spirit. Players, fans, everybody who likes the scoring team should get up and do a little dance when a touchdown is recorded.
The complaining about Newton’s dances often is just minor stuff like a letter to the editor in addition to insults on social media. One can find practically anything that will offend people on the Internet — type “Tom Brady haters” into Google. An N.F.L. M.V.P. trophy would show that what Newton does on the field, and after touchdowns, is broadly appreciated.
That takes us to the absurdity of the celebration penalty, which is enforced at all levels of football. Newton’s teammate Josh Norman scored a touchdown versus the Buccaneers and was penalized for celebrating. Versus Boise State, Virginia scored a touchdown and was penalized for an end-zone dance. In November an Arizona high school player was flagged for celebration, then ejected, when he briefly pointed to the sky after a touchdown.
Because the celebration penalty is in the rulebook, officials have no choice but to enforce it. So get the penalty out of the rulebook. Overwrought Talmudic distinctions are invoked. Go to the eight-minute mark of this N.F.L. officiating video and learn Norman was flagged because he pretended the football was a horse. If he’d dropped the football, then mimicked an invisible horse, why of course that would have been fine. Who needs such rules? Taunting must be a penalty; celebrating is part of the fun.
Football’s puritanical opposition to the touchdown celebration seems rooted in the illusion that it actually matters who wins the game, thus the contest should be conducted in a somber manner. Sports can be a learning experience for athletes, but for audiences, the games are strictly entertainment. Should Cam Newton score a touchdown in the Super Bowl, here’s hoping he dances up a storm.
In viewing news, bear this in mind: At VI:XXX Eastern on Sunday, teams that return an interception for a touchdown are 12-0 in the Super Bowl. Get a pick-six, win the Super Bowl. It has been pretty much that simple.
Teams that run a fumble back for a touchdown in the Super Bowl are 2-2. But so far in every case, a Super Bowl team that takes an interception to the house stands in confetti and lugs home a trophy.
So if the Broncos or the Panthers return an interception for a touchdown Sunday, confidently turn to your friends and declare that team will win. This statement comes with the Tuesday Morning Quarterback guarantee: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back.
See my Super Bowl preview and prediction below. And last week I promised to reveal an incredible formula that allows anyone to predict N.F.L. outcomes without even knowing who’s playing. It’s below, too.
The T.M.Q. Non-QB Non-RB N.F.L. M.V.P. Several not-quarterbacks not-running backs had remarkable seasons: defensive end J.J. Watt, offensive tackle Greg Robinson, receivers Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, center Russell Bodine, tight ends Tyler Eifert and Rob Gronkowski, guard Richie Incognito, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Earl Thomas among them.
T.M.Q. feels that to wear the mantle of “most valuable,” a player must create a lot of value. Thus my award is restricted to those who reach that Super Bowl thing you might have heard about. Runners-up:
■ Ryan Kalil, center, Carolina. Center is football’s least appreciated position. Kalil has been essential to the Cats’ 22-2 stretch.
■ Ryan Harris, offensive tackle, Denver. Harris was a “street” free agent, unwanted by anyone, when the Broncos signed him to supplant injured star Ryan Clady. Harris ended up having a stellar year.
■ Kurt Coleman, safety, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, linebackers, Carolina. Coleman, let go by three N.F.L. teams, has grown into a star for the Panthers. Kuechly and Davis have been athletic celebrities since high school. Nobody form-tackles better than Kuechly. Nobody shoots gaps better than Davis: Whether he can perform all-out despite a fracture in his forearm is a big Super Bowl question.
■ The Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back N.F.L. M.V.P. is Von Miller of Denver. For the 2015 season, he was the defender who kept offensive coordinators up at night. An injury prevented Miller from dressing for Denver’s Super Bowl loss to Seattle. If he makes up for that missed opportunity, Carolina could have problems.
Super Bowl Preview. Here’s an element of the Santa Clara Super Bowl that you might not have considered: The pressure seems to be squarely on the Broncos. The Panthers have surely been warned by Coach Ron Rivera, who till now has been involved in two Super Bowls in a 32-year N.F.L. career, that chances to appear in the ultimate game are few and far between. But Carolina’s season already is a success — if the Cats lose, they can still feel good about themselves. Denver’s situation is different.
It’s not just that Peyton Manning is 1-2 as a Super Bowl starter, and that his 13-13 postseason record enfolds the most playoff losses of any N.F.L. quarterback. It’s not just that little brother Eli is 2-0 in the Super Bowl — surely, at the Manning family Thanksgiving table, Eli gets to speak first. How many more Super Bowls can Peyton realistically expect to reach? Should he end the day a 1-3 loser in the Super Bowl and a 13-14 loser in the postseason, there will be a large asterisk on his career.
And it’s not just that the Broncos were blown off the field in the Super Bowl two years ago. It’s not just that Denver has laid more Super Bowl eggs than any other N.F.L. team, losing by 55-10, 43-8, 42-10 and 39-20. It’s that Denver, 2-5 in the ultimate contest, has the most Super Bowl defeats. Should the Broncos pull up short again Sunday, they will have blown the Super Bowl twice in three years, while falling to 2-6 in the finale game.
The Super Bowl pressure differential seems to reflect in the faces of the quarterbacks. Cam Newton is exuberant, joyful; he’s not just a fabulous athlete but a fabulous entertainer, projecting happiness to the crowd. Manning is dour, seeming to wince more often than he smiles. Manning has endured so many bummer postseason postgame news conferences that he must dread the next one. Often, he wears the expression of a child who just broke something valuable but hasn’t told the grown-ups yet.
Thirteen years younger than Manning, Newton is a product of the 7-on-7 generation: In the N.F.L., he’s taken 80 percent of his snaps in shotgun formation. Newton’s effectiveness improved in 2015 as he learned to make most of his throws from the pocket; previously, he scrambled too much.
When Newton does scramble, his Greek-god physique comes into play. Newton is 6-foot-5, 248 pounds, once the size of an offensive tackle. He’s about as big or bigger than all four linebackers who will try to contain him: 6-4, 258-pound DeMarcus Ware; 6-3, 250-pound Von Miller; 6-1, 250-pound Brandon Marshall; and 6-1, 237-pound Danny Trevathan.
Newton has the most size-strength edge over defenders since Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass, who in 1972 rushed for 968 yards in a 14-game season. Douglass played at 6-4, 225 pounds at a time when that was a typical linebacker size. Newton is Douglass plus speed and passing ability.
Some quarterbacks who are effective runners are speed merchants, such as Michael Vick. Some use lightning reflexes: Randall Cunningham and Tyrod Taylor. Some understand how to “leverage” defenders in the race to get out of bounds before being hit: Russell Wilson and Steve Young. A few are big and strong, such as Douglass. Newton has all these qualities, plus throws reasonably well, and has finally learned to “see the field.” He could become football’s Michael Jordan.
Best case for Carolina victory: Pick-six teams are 12-0 in the Super Bowl, and in the regular season and playoffs, the Panthers have returned half a dozen interceptions for touchdowns.
Best case for Denver victory: When defense meets offense, defense almost always wins, and Denver has the league’s top defense.
Disclaimer of the Week. Reader Joel Smith of Austin, Tex., reports that the Motion Picture Association of America disclaimer for the coming movie “Risen” warns of “Biblical violence.” Which differs from violence — how, exactly? The disclaimer on “The Force Awakens” warned of “action violence.” Which differs from violence — how, exactly? The Bryan Cranston version of “Godzilla” warned of “creature violence.” Hollywood wants to glamorize death and destruction while simultaneously pretending what’s being extolled differs from violence. Kevin Polowy offers an inventory of preposterous disclaimers for movies.
Info the N.F.L. Might Not Emphasize. David Mullin of USA Today notes the impact of the Super Bowl on wealth and the homeless. Mullin further reports that last year’s Super Bowl was sold to Arizona politicians as offering $500 million in economic activity but actually yielded $130 million at most, probably less. Ken Belson of The New York Times anticipated that finding before the game was played.
The Law of Doomsaying. A decade has passed since Al Gore said the world had 10 years to control greenhouse gases or a point of no return would be reached. The scientific evidence of artificial climate change is now overwhelming, so much so that even the hardheaded can see it. But it’s unlikely we’re at a point of no return — or if we are, then why bother to regulate carbon dioxide?
Gore’s statement is a perfect example of Easterbrook’s Law of Doomsaying, which holds: predict calamities no sooner than five years but no later than 10 years hence. This is near enough to sound terrifying, far enough that when 10 years rolls around everyone will have forgotten what you predicted.
Patriots Have Atomic Clock on the Sideline. Overuse of decimal places may create an illusion that statistics are more precise than is meaningful, or even possible. Reader Jeff Horbinski of Chicago reports that his Yahoo weather app for Android listed visibility at “9.998 miles” and notes “that 0.002 of a mile is 10 and a half feet.”
Measuring athletes down to hundredths of seconds might be realistic in track or swimming; is it realistic in the pocket? Leading up to the A.F.C. title contest, ESPN’s “SportsCenter” said Tom Brady releases the ball in an average of “2.13 seconds,” while Fox Sports said “2.17 seconds” per Brady throw, and Comcast SportsNet said “1.94 seconds.” The lowest is one-fifth of a second different from the highest. This is setting aside whether any of the numbers are accurate to the claimed hundredths of seconds.
Actor on the Bridge! Last week, Politico reported that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus are fighting over funding for the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program. In Pentagon corridor warfare, there’s always wrestling regarding who gets the billions. But let’s skip that and have a look-see at Mabus’s profile on Internet Movie Data Base.
IMDb considers the Navy secretary an actor because he has appeared as himself in the Taylor Kitsch-Rihanna sci-fi flick “Battleship,” and on the TNT apocalyptic series “The Last Ship.” In the former, super-advanced space aliens invading the Earth are stopped by a mothballed World War II battlewagon crewed by Kitsch, Rihanna and some geezers; in the latter, a bioengineered virus kills most of humanity as the United States Navy’s sole remaining active ship tries to locate the cure. Perhaps Mabus thinks lending the U.S.N. imprimatur to such big-budget nonsense is good for recruiting. Or maybe he’s trying get his Actors Equity card.
One thing many movies and shows have in common is unrealistic depiction of modern naval technology. In “The Last Ship,” the final U.S. warship, a present-day Burke-class destroyer, battles a present-day Astute-class nuclear submarine that has been commandeered by fanatics who want the world to end. When the sub launches torpedoes, the destroyer zigzags to dodge them. All newly built Western submarines fire homing torpedoes that cannot be dodged. The destroyer on “The Last Ship” never launches its anti-submarine missiles nor employs its anti-submarine helicopter, though the guided missiles and the aircraft work fine when the nemesis sub is not around. Repeatedly the destroyer captain waits nervously for the submarine to get very close. The whole point of Burke-class vessels — one was in the news last week for maneuvers in the South China Sea — is long-range weapons to sink submarines before they can get close enough to fire torpedoes.
On “Madam Secretary,” a present-day U.S. frigate hunts a Russian nuclear submarine that has been commandeered by fanatics. (Shouldn’t someone lock up the submarine keys?) The president and secretary of state stand by anxiously as the frigate drops depth charges that descend slowly, World War II style, missing but making the submarine shake. United States warships haven’t carried depth charges in decades! The frigate would launch specialized homing anti-submarine torpedoes that never miss.
In Praise of Wade. Wade Phillips, who presents a bumbling demeanor but is an admired figure to football insiders, reaches the Super Bowl as Denver’s defensive coordinator. After two college coaching stints, Phillips has been a defensive coach or head coach for the Oilers, the Saints, the Eagles, the Broncos, the Bills, the Falcons, the Chargers, the Cowboys, the Texans and now the Broncos again. Twelve jobs in that span does not make him weird, it makes him normal in the peripatetic realm of football coaching.
Phillips bonus #1: He has held the title “interim head coach” in New Orleans, Atlanta and Houston, and was fired from all three interim positions. Phillips bonus #2: Sixteen years ago, Buffalo fired Phillips despite a 29-19 record and two playoff appearances in his three seasons. The Bills have not had a winning-record coach, nor reached the postseason, since.
Congress Should End the Tax Deductibility of Athletic Donations. The invaluable Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 2015, donors gave $1.2 billion to collegiate sports, football being the primary beneficiary. Nearly all gifts to college athletics are deductible, and so it seems likely that donors gave about $850 million out of pocket while taxpayers supplied the other $350 million. The $350 million is a huge hidden transfer from average taxpayers to the money arms race in college football.
Donations to the educational part of colleges and universities ought to be deductible, since these institutions serve an important public purpose. N.C.A.A. sports serve no public purpose. It’s an outrage that donations to make football facilities more luxurious are underwritten by average people who can’t afford to attend the games.
Not only should Congress end the federal-tax deductibility of donations for college athletics, but states should also end the state deductibility. But in many states, lawmakers seem more concerned with free football tickets for themselves.
Clapping Claptrap. Why is there so much clapping on football sidelines? At the pro, college and high school levels, coaches and their assistants clap constantly, as if this is supposed to fire up players. Coaches clap after bad plays as well as good ones. During the Baltimore-Cleveland “Monday Night Football” contest, Browns Coach Mike Pettine clapped vigorously after his team lost yardage on a critical third-and-1. Players can hear the crowd roar, but can’t possibly hear — much less care about — coaches clapping. Why this custom?
“Nature Abhors a Vacuum” Makes No Sense. There Is Far More Vacuum Than Anything Else. Last week’s column noted that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away” is a memorable line — and also makes no sense. I asked readers for other oft-quoted epigrams that make no sense.
John Frainetti of Calgary, Alberta, suggested, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Dilan Esper of Los Angeles proposed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Many readers, including Geaux Meaux of Oklahoma City, suggested, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
Belichick Was Right, the Plays Just Didn’t Work. This column contends that the reason N.F.L. coaches send in the kicker on fourth-and-short, though there’s usually a strong statistical argument for going for it — The Upshot’s 4th Down Bot makes that argument live during games — is to avoid criticism.
Twice in the A.F.C. title contest, Bill Belichick had the Patriots go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter in the Denver red zone. Both attempts were stopped. Belichick said afterward that the scoreboard and clock dictated trying for a touchdown rather than taking a field goal, and it’s hard to argue with his logic. (Check the fourth quarter of the play-by-play.) Later it turned out that had New England kicked field goals in both these situations, the Flying Elvii could have kicked a third field goal with 17 seconds left to win. But one can act only on the information that is known at the time, and had field goals been kicked, this might have altered the endgame in a way that prevented New England from reaching a kick-to-win situation with seconds remaining.
At any rate, what happened afterward? The sports world, including commentators on the league’s house channel, NFL Network, castigated Belichick for going for it. Because he’s the league’s most secure head coach, Belichick ignores sportsyak. But most N.F.L. coaches are ever on the hot seat, and would have sent in the place-kicker to avoid criticism.
How to Forecast N.F.L. Winners Without Knowing Who’s Playing. Experts spend hours breaking down film in order to predict N.F.L. outcomes. Las Vegas insider services promise super-secret information for a fee. Tuesday Morning Quarterback will tell you how to predict an N.F.L. outcome without even knowing who’s playing.
Use this simple formula: Best Record Wins, or if Records Equal, Home Team Wins. I’ve tracked this metric for a decade, and in that time it has outperformed The Experts in all but one season.
My standard for The Experts is the picks published by ESPN.com, forecasts that come from guys who do nothing year-round but football. Last season the formula went 191-75-1, or 72 percent correct. The best ESPN predictor, the former Pro Bowl linebacker Tom Jackson, called 183 outcomes correctly — none too shabby, but not as good as my generic off-price formula.
With one contest remaining this season, the formula is 173-93, or 65 percent correct. The best ESPN predictor is Chris Mortensen, at 170-96. He’s close to the performance of my formula; many ESPN experts are not: Mike Ditka is 157-109, Mike Golic is 156-110. Eric Allen, at 151-115, barely has bested simply endlessly picking the home team, which this season would have resulted in a 144-122 record.
Why do knowledgeable football specialists make so many wrong predictions? Because they waste time thinking about coming games. In my system, you never pore over stat sheets, review tendencies, check injury updates or use your brain at all. You just plug matchups into a public-key formula: Best Record Wins, or if Records Equal, Home Team Wins.
So don’t bother pondering who will win the Super Bowl: My off-price generic metric says the Carolina Panthers. I’ll forecast Carolina 20, Denver 17, because 20-17 is the most common N.F.L. final score, happening 248 times in league annals. Even if I’m wrong and Denver prevails, the formula has already outdone The Experts.
Next Week. That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.
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