The Kansas City Chiefs were a fun, scrappy team to watch in 2013. Under new head coach Andy Reid, his Kool-Aid wall busting ways, and a shiny new quarterback in Alex Smith, there was suddenly life in KC after only two wins the year before. And following nine straight wins to start the season there was hope for something far more than just franchise rejuvenation, however false it may have been with the five backup quarterbacks Chiefs pass rushers were able to chew up.

The source of that life was a west coast offense that didn’t ask Smith to do much, putting games almost entirely in the hands of Jamaal Charles who shattered his previous career touchdown high of eight while scoring 19 times. He also set career highs in total yards (1,980), receptions (70), and receiving yards (693).

He did all that on 329 touches, while the Chiefs averaged only 208.8 passing yards per game (24th) and 6.5 per attempt (27th). That formula for offensive success which ran through Charles with gashing runs and short passes needs a strong and stable offensive line to be successful.

That may not exist in Kansas City anymore, which is why the Chiefs are a leading drop-off candidate.

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Hillsborough Memorial - 25th Anniversary

Last night, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series aired Daniel Gordon’s long-anticipated two hour documentary Hillsborough. The film documents the 1989 stadium disaster in Sheffield during Liverpool’s FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest, and the efforts by the South Yorkshire Police—with an assist from the Sun newspaper—to paint what was essentially a deadly failure in crowd control as the tragic result of hooliganism.

Thought the story is not new, rarely has the moral of Hillsborough been made so clear. Hillsborough is not about football, nor is it about the place of Hillsborough in the ritualism of Liverpool fandom. These are elements of the story, but they’re not at its core. Gordon wisely focuses his lens elsewhere.

Hillsborough here is about the overwhelming, exhausting burden injustice places on the shoulders of ordinary families. It is about the parents, children and siblings of 96 victims traveling on buses to countless inquests and inquiries, carrying on in the face of the South Yorkshire Police who took blood alcohol samples from dead children even as they kept them from their parents’ final touch, constables who thought nothing of altering countless police statements to suit their ends, newspapers which printed police lies verbatim, politicians who made off-hand jokes about the death of just under one hundred people.

It is about the tendency of power to preserve itself, even at the cost of victimizing the very people that power is intended to serve.

It is fascinating to read the reactions from younger fans of football clubs of all stripes on sites like Reddit, beginning to comprehend that “Justice for the 96″ is more than a Kopite chant. It is a battle cry for all fans of the sport, and a warning for anyone who still comforts themselves with the belief that something like this could not happen again. Try and catch this doc when and if you can…

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox

One prevailing mythology regarding the 2013 Boston Red Sox runs along the lines of “everything went right.” It is true that they hit on a high number of their free agent signings and received bounce-back seasons from John Lackey and others, but the injury bug bit the Sox as hard as anyone last season.

Of their position players, only Dustin Pedroia managed to play in 150 games or more, even though he did so with a ligament injury in this thumb, a wound that required off-season surgery.

The Red Sox battled injuries like any other team last year. They benefited from role players stepping up in the absence of the starters, getting off to a hot start and never missing a beat.

The 2014 Red Sox aren’t off to quite as hot a start and their ability to rely on depth players is about to be tested once again, as they’re dealing with injuries in bunches while kicking off their title defense.

Yesterday it was Mike Napoli who joined the ranks of the walking wounded. The Sox slugging first baseman dislocated a finger sliding into second base, though he isn’t expected to hit the disabled list. Closer Koji Uehara received a similar piece of news over the weekend as his shoulder tightness is not thought to be serious.

Pedroia played much of last year in pain and now it appears he’ll do the same in 2014, battling a wrist injury and requiring a cortisone shot to avoid the DL. The injuries are relatively minor, but when added together they test the Red Sox championship calibre depth at multiple positions.

Even with Napoli on the shelf for a few days, it forces Mike Carp into an everyday role at first base. Carp is a valuable member of the Sox bench corps as he can play multiple positions and represents a good bench bat at the ready. Carp even played a few innings at third base the other night, as Will Middlebrooks is on the DL and his replacement, Ryan Roberts, is not a viable option on an everyday basis.

With Pedroia ailing and the Middlebrooks out, the Sox rely on defense-first bit players like Jonathan Herrera and waiver-wire claims like Roberts to paper over their problems. On a short term basis it can work, but over 162 games?

The Sox are an aging team that handled last year’s adversity with great performances from part time players. In the early days of 2014, essential contributors like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Carp aren’t producing as they did. Given the careful workload of Grady Sizemore and the limited role or David Ortiz, any failings on the part of these fill-ins will create huge holes in the lineup.

The Red Sox are in fine shape, all things being equal. Sizemore looks great and the Sox are keeping pace in the tightly-packed AL East. The same talent that won 97 games and a World Series title remains in place, one year older and a little worse for wear but still a championship squad when evaluated objectively.

The Sox have the talent but they will put their industry-leading health professionals to the test with their wizened bunch. Can the Sox keep their talented core on the field long enough to mount a spirited title defense? Though they deserve the benefit of the doubt, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that their nagging injuries might cascade all season long.


Western Conference Predictions can be found here.

Columbus (4) vs. Pittsburgh (1)

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5

Why: This series is just ripe for overthinking, isn’t it? Columbus has been very good at times this season, and the Penguins are typically overrated. Their d-corps looks questionable at times. Marc-Andre Fleury has been a nightmare in recent playoffs to the point where he’s needed to see a sports psychologist. The Islanders pushed the Penguins pretty hard in the first round last season…the Islanders!

But c’mon now.

Pittsburgh tallied 109 points this season despite losing over 500 man-games to injury, and that speaks volumes about the coaching. The team is getting healthy at the right time, while the Blue Jackets are looking to start the series without Nathan Horton, R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. In Pittsburgh. The big three of Malkin, Crosby and Neal will all be in the lineup, as will Kris Letang, who’s played three games since his stroke, tallying three points and eight shots in an average of over 24 minutes a night. That Penguins powerplay is a force.

Columbus’ best hope is that Sergei Bobrovsky significantly out-performs Marc-Andre Fleury, but even if that happens I don’t see much of an upset shot here. I get it, it’s the playoffs, and anything can happen yada yada yada, but I just can’t make it work in my head.

Philadelphia (3) vs. New York Rangers (2)

Prediction: New York Rangers in 6

Why: I think the Rangers have the edge by a hair at nearly every position.

* Henrik Lundqvist or Steve Mason, who do you want in your net?

* While the difference isn’t that significant, I like a top-four of McDonagh, Girardi, Staal and Stralman over Coburn, MacDonald, Streit and Timonen.

* I think the Rangers have more game-breakers (Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and more) than Philly (Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek…Brayden Schenn?).

* The Rangers have better possession numbers.

I feel like the Rags took awhile to figure out how to play under Alain Vigneault, and now that they seem to have it, the ex-Canucks coach will have his team well-prepared for playoffs. This is Craig Berube’s first kick at the can leading the Flyers into the post-season, so I don’t really know what to expect there.

It’s not that I expect this to be a walk or anything – a Philly win would hardly be jaw-dropping. I just think Rangers have a slight edge in a lot of categories.

Detroit (4) vs. Boston (1)

Prediction: Boston in 6

Why: This was a bummer draw for both teams. The Red Wings “aren’t” an eight-seed, the way the Kings “weren’t” when they won the Cup. Sure, they technically are, but they’re better than their spot in the standings, partially because of injuries. And now, the Bruins get a tough draw, while the Wings, a team who could probably take down five other teams in the East, get the toughest matchup in hockey.

The Bruins are just too battle-tested to believe there’s any reason they’ll get upset. Yes, they have some young, unproven guys in the lineup, but the bulk of that roster is the epitome of “been there, done that.” They play hard, they play “the right way” (which is to say they know not to cheat positionally), and they wear teams down.

I like what the Wings are doing, but as things currently stand, the Bruins still The Bruins.

Montreal (3) vs. Tampa Bay (2)

Prediction: Montreal in 7

Why: This series is a virtual coin toss, but if Anders Lindback is between the pipes for Tampa staring across the ice at Carey Price, there’s reason to believe the Habs might have a leg up.

The Canadiens really needed another “game-breaker” in my mind, and the acquisition of Thomas Vanek gave them that. On their back-end, P.K. Subban strikes me as another guy from the game-breaker mold who seems unfazed by big moments, and could make the difference in a close series.

While the Lightning still have the incredible Steven Stamkos, who you may have heard of, they rely offensively on depth scoring from a couple smaller, younger players (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat). I don’t think that’s an outright terrible thing, but to step into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in The Centre Bell as rookies, you’d expect that maybe they’d be a bit distracted for awhile. They’ll be keyed on as point-getters by Montreal, which should make things harder too.

Every game they played this year was close. I expect the same from this series.


It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which losing six games in a row could be positive, but with the Toronto Maple Leafs currently stuck in a four-way tie for the two Wild Card playoff entries, the half dozen straight defeats that led the team to this point seem especially horrific.

On Tuesday night, Toronto suffered its most recent failure, losing 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf struggled mightily throughout the game, not unfairly tagged as a primary accomplice to his team being outshot 49-25.

It was a bad day at the office, and as a result, the defenseman opted out of his obligation to speak to the media following the loss. This, to the many pundits who weighed in following Phaneuf’s no-show, represented an atrocious lack of leadership, and partly explained Toronto’s recent struggles.

Things came to a head on Wednesday when Phaneuf phoned in to a local sports talk radio show to explain himself, after one of the hosts ranted about the player’s notable absence following his poor performance.

To be completely honest with you, I was emotional about the game. I didn’t want to let my emotions get the best of me. I feel bad about not being available. At that point in time, I was disappointed in the way that I played and I was emotional after the game. That’s why I did not talk.

As sports fans, we grow to accept the flawed “conventional wisdom” force fed to us by years of following our favorite players and teams through newspapers, television and radio.

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As some of you may be aware, I recently started a new gig here at theScore that sees me write/talk about the NBA as a whole on a full-time basis, so while I won’t be able to provide RaptorBlog posts and general Raptors commentary with nearly the same regularity, I hope you’ll continue to read/listen along with me this season (You can read my season preview here and my predictions here).

As for the Raptors, what I’m going to try to do is take some time every weekend to post my wide ranging thoughts on the week that was in Raps Land, in a similar fashion to how I usually wrote my “Thoughts On the Game” posts. Again, I’m hoping you’ll stop by on weekends to get the little bit of Raptors ranting I’m still able to do on a regular basis.

Other than, most of my Raptors thoughts and observations can be found through twitter, where I’m prone to my fair share of passionate Raps-related tirades.

As for the coming season, I’m predicting a 40-42 season for Toronto that results in a No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, though if Cathal Kelly’s Toronto Star report proves correct, Masai Ujiri and MLSE may blow things up before such a mediocre finish is allowed to fully take rot.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s source indicates a 45-day deadline for the Raptors, which would take us to December 13. The Raps play Philadelphia in the 21st game of the season that night, and I’ve got them as a 10-11 (7-14 worst case scenario, 12-9 best case scenario) team at that point, so the question is really what will Ujiri find acceptable to continue with, and what’s his line in the sand of ‘we can’t go on like this’?

I also feel like with the Honeymoon period that exists between Raptors fans and Ujiri, he wouldn’t have lost any support had he decided to blow things up as soon as he got here to put this team in a better position to properly take a strategic step backwards this season, so I don’t quite understand the point of now reportedly setting a hard deadline on whether to tank or not if that’s they’ve wanted all along.

In any event, a Raptors season opener wouldn’t feel quite right without at least a little drama (last year it was DeRozan’s extension), so let’s get this intriguing season of questions under way, shall we?

I know Stripes and Drake are ready…are you?


For the first time ever in a UFC video game, EA Sports’ upcoming UFC title will feature playable female characters, headlined by UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and top bantamweight contender Miesha Tate.

“This is a great moment for videogames and for Mixed Martial Arts,” said Dean Richards, General Manager, EA SPORTS UFC. “In our commitment to delivering the most realistic fighting experience ever achieved, we wanted to represent the full spectrum of talent and diversity of all the fighters in the sport, including women who have become an undeniable force to be reckoned with.”

Programming note: Fin.


I’m not one for long goodbyes, but as previously mentioned in our last show, TBJ and theScore are going in separate directions, meaning this post marks the end of our tenure here.

Thank you to theScore for the opportunity to make something that shows just how much fun the NBA can be. And thank you most of all to anyone who’s listened, watched, read, commented, emailed or in any other way been even a small part of TBJ over the past three years. It has been awesome.

Please follow all of our Twitter accounts to see what the future holds. We’re very excited for our next step, you will be too and the season starts soon, so don’t worry too much.

Bye for now.