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The Master and the Mularkeys

[ 193 ] September 14, 2016 |

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The Patriots opened the season without their most valuable player, suspended 4 games for a trivial offense the league has not remotely proved he even committed in a grotesque abuse of arbitrary power. They were missing the best tight end in football. The starting left tackle on an already extremely shaky offensive line was also hurt and inactive.* And, oh, they were on the road against a team that is arguably the best in the NFL. And yet, they won. Granted, they were pretty lucky to win, needed a botched snap on a field goal an NFL kicker should be expected to make, but that’s not the point — that the game within that margin is a triumph in itself. And the game is a reminder of what makes Bill Belichick arguably the greatest post-merger NFL coach. Mays:

Especially with New England’s patchwork offensive line, the Cardinals came into Week 1 holding two distinct advantages: Their solid front four would face another reworked Patriots line featuring second-tier options like Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras, and Marcus Cannon, and cornerback Patrick Peterson would likely smother whichever receiver the Pats were willing to sacrifice to his side. McDaniels responded by taking both matchups out of the equation. New England’s receivers ran routes that were specifically designed to exploit the man coverage that Arizona loves, and a majority of the Patriots’ plays were aimed at rookie cornerback Brandon Williams

By giving his QB quick throws dictated almost entirely by the coverage, McDaniels both simplified Garoppolo’s approach and made any offensive line deficiencies irrelevant. Wideout Julian Edelman’s ability to win early on routes when singled up on cornerbacks is remarkable, and with tight end Rob Gronkowski nursing a left hamstring injury back in Boston, Edelman was the focal point of New England’s passing game. He caught all seven of his targets for 66 yards, and made three grabs for first downs on the Patriots’ opening drive of the game. His value to this offense will probably never get its due given the planet-destroying potency of Brady and Gronk, but it was on full display.

[…]

New England’s approach in Sunday’s game is what we should now expect from the Pats — finding the smallest weaknesses (the presence of Williams at cornerback, first-year starter D.J. Humphries at right tackle, and backup Earl Watford at right guard) and exploiting them in every way possible. New England went on the road against what might be the most talented roster in the league and thoroughly outplayed it. As Belichick has constantly reminded everyone, a stacked roster can only take you so far. The way it’s deployed will always matter most, and as it’s been so often, Belichick and his staff squeezed all it could from the Patriots on the field.

As Tanier observes, another adjustment is that Belichick and McDaniels abandoned their usual uptempo style, limiting the teams to 10 possessions each. Normally, because they hold a substantial talent advantage the Patriots want to reduce the role of luck by increasing the number of possessions; against a rare more talented roster, slowing things down makes sense.

As I’ve mentioned before, Belichick does a lot of things extremely well — he’s a good judge of talent, he’s a very good motivator, and he’s a ruthless master of loyalty in Casey Stengel’s sense (i.e. your loyalty as coach should be to this year’s team and not individual players who contributed to past teams.) But one crucial reason for his remarkable success is how carefully his between-game and in-game planning is tailored to the available personnel and matchups. Sunday night’s game was his latest clinic.

The anti-Belichick of the year is, of course, Mike Mularkey and his EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH. Not only is this a pretty dumb concept to bring to an NFL team in 2016, it’s horribly tailored to his talent. Why on earth would you take Marcus Mariota — a grade A prospect who thrived in Chip Kelly’s uptempto, shotgun offense — and put him mostly under center in a grinding ball control offense? And why would the Titans hire him — particularly given his abysmal record — with Kelly himself available? It’s inexplicable, but this story figures to end something like 3-13.

*Since it came in a dead thread, it should be noted that a regular commenter has seen a Sandra Bullock movie and has an, ah, idiosyncratic explanation for the recent success of the Pats:

The Patriots are a fine team, capable of beating most of the NFL, without Brady. Because they have an excellent offensive line filled with players most fans can’t name.

This is…wow. This is howler almost on a par with saying that the 2015 Broncos were able to overcome their feeble pass rush with an outstanding passing game. The pass-blocking Patriots offensive line has been steadily deteriorating from mediocre to rather terrible. I could point to film analysis, but really that’s breaking a butterfly on a wheel. Nobody with any idea what they’re watching could look at the 2014 or 2015 Patriots and think they had a good — let alone great — pass-blocking line. They have kept winning in spite of their line, not because of it. This is not exactly a secret: I mean, you don’t coax your 68-year-old former offensive line coach out of retirement because the unit is playing well. With an already dubious offensive line missing Solder, the same thing was true Sunday — Arizona got plenty of penetration that Garoppolo was able to overcome using his mobility and quick release to receivers mostly running short routes.

But of course this is the analytical equivalent of Mike Mularkey’s approach to coaching: every square peg has to be jammed into the round hole of “the offensive line is what matters:”

But the worship of quarterbacks is the dumbest thing in sports. Any great quarterback without a good offensive line ends up with Archie Manning’s career, and with good protection, there are a lot of people who can do the job decently even if they can’t measure up to Brady’s level.

[different comment]

Every quarterback that you can ever name as an all-time great had great protection. Every single one.

This is abject nonsense coming and going. On the one hand, you can of course be a great quarterback without even good pass protection. Russell Wilson has been a terrific QB playing behind the worst pass-blocking line in the league. Another contemporary mobile QB, Ben Roethelsberger, will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer although he’s often played behind mediocre or worse lines. But that’s not the only way a QB can overcome weak pass protection. Others — like Brady and Peyton Manning and Marino — can function at a high level with a weak offensive line because they have a quick release and a supernal ability to read the defense.

And on the other hand, the idea that if you have a good offensive line you can just plug pretty much any QB into the offense and be OK is even more absurd. The Cowboys have the consensus best offensive line in the league. When Tony Romo is healthy they get excellent QB play; when they play Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel, they get sub-replacement level QB play. The Browns have had a Hall of Fame left tackle since 2007 and he was joined by a Pro Bowl center from 2009 until last year, and throughout that period they had QB play that ranged from dreadful to ghastly. Give Matt Cassel to the Patriots and he can do OK, but that’s because of Belichick and his staff and the surrounding talent as a whole, not because of the offensive line per se.

To state the obvious, my point is not that offensive line play doesn’t matter. It’s important! The Seahawks are a great team, but even with Wilson their inept pass-blocking leaves them highly vulnerable to teams with effective pass rushers (even if, like the Rams or Dolphins, they don’t really do anything else well.) But the idea that the QB is mostly just a creature of the offensive line is absurd.

And unlike people on the Internet, NFL personnel types know this, which is why they pay left tackles so much money.

Uh, I happen to have NFL personnel types right here, and while they certainly (and correctly) value left tackles highly, they value QBs much more and defensive pass rushers and wideouts more. Again, this isn’t exactly a secret — Brock Osweiler was able to parlay less than a season of not-quite-mediocre play into a salary substantially higher than Tyron Smith’s. I don’t know if Garoppolo will be able to keep playing as well as he did in Week 1, but if he does it certainly won’t be his below-average-at-best that deserves the credit.

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What An Actual Scandal Looks Like

[ 304 ] September 14, 2016 |

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David A. Fahrenthold with some actual journalism here:

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).

[…]

Experts on charity said they had rarely seen anything like it.

“Our common understanding of charity is you give something of yourself to help somebody else. It’s not something that you raise money from one side to spend it on the other,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, the former head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and a professor studying philanthropy at Indiana University.

By that definition, was Trump engaging in charity?

No, Lenkowsky said.

“It’s a deal,” he said, an arrangement worked out for maximum benefit at minimum sacrifice.

However, a Clinton Foundation donor once asked for a favor and was turned down so really Both Sides Do It.

Hell Exists On Earth? Yes. I Won’t Live In It.

[ 101 ] September 13, 2016 |

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“A New York Times columnist has a quickie book that should make a nice decoration to our remainder tables in November. Its bold, provocative, and proactive thesis is that Both Sides Do It Even When One Of The Sides Is Donald J. Trump.” “Can we try to sell a few copies of the thing first?” “Well, we can have an event.” “OK, but we need someone who won’t bring any more knowledge or content to the discussion than the interviewee.” “I’ve got it!”


Maureen Dowd in Conversation With Frank Bruni

Maureen Dowd
Author Event (Current Affairs)
Thursday September 15, 2016 7:00 PM Following a discussion with acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Frank Bruni, Ms. Dowd with sign copies of her new book The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics.

If you see a Barnes & Noble flying overhead in Manhattan on Thursday, this is presumably because it levitated in the strength of the sheer vapidity within.

World of Breitbart

[ 319 ] September 13, 2016 |

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on the ridiculous “deplorables” controversy is absolutely devastating:

Hillary Clinton made a claim—half of Donald Trump’s supporters are motivated by some form of bigotry. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it,” she said. “And unfortunately, there are people like that, and he has lifted them up.” Clinton went on to claim that there is another half—people disappointed in the government and economy who are desperate for change. The second part of this claim received very little attention, simply because much of media could not make its way past the first half. The resultant uproar challenges the idea that Breitbart lost.

Indeed, what Breitbart understood, what his spiritual heir Donald Trump has banked on, what Hillary Clinton’s recent pillorying has clarified, is that white grievance, no matter how ill-founded, can never be humiliating nor disqualifying. On the contrary, it is a right to be respected at every level of American society from the beer-hall to the penthouse to the newsroom.

[…]

The media’s criticism of Clinton’s claim has been matched in vehemence only by their allergy to exploring it. “Candidates should not be sociologists,” glibly asserted David Brooks on Meet The Press. I’m not sure why not, but certainly journalists who broadcast their opinions to the nation should have to evince something more than a superficial curiosity. It is easy enough to look into Clinton’s claim and verify it or falsify it. The numbers are all around us. And the story need not end there. A curious journalist might ask what those numbers mean, or even push further, and ask what it means that the ranks of the Democratic Party are not totally free of their own deplorables.

Instead what followed was not journalism but, as Jamelle Bouie accurately dubbed it, “theater criticism.” Fournier and Blake’s revulsion at the thought that some 20 percent of the country, in some fashion, fit into that basket is illustrative. Neither made any apparent attempt to investigate the claim. No polling data appears in either piece and no reasons are given for why the estimate is untrue. It simply can’t be true—even if the data says that it actually is.

To understand how truly bizarre this method of opining is, consider the following: Had polling showed that relatively few Trump supporters believe black people are lazy and criminally-inclined, if only a tiny minority of Trump supporters believed that Muslims should be banned from the country, if birtherism carried no real weight among them, would journalists decline to point this out as they excoriated her? Of course not. But the case against Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” is a triumph of style over substance, of clamorous white grievance over knowable facts.

This is what Andrew Breitbart, and his progeny, ultimately understood. What Shirley Sherrod did or did not do really didn’t matter. White racial grievance enjoys automatic credibility, and even when disproven, it is never disqualifying of its bearers. It is very difficult to imagine, for instance, a 9/11 truther, who happened to be black, becoming even a governor. And yet we live in an era in which the country’s leading birther might well be president. This fact certainly horrifies some of the same journalists who attacked Clinton this weekend. But what they have yet to come to grips with is that Donald Trump is a democratic phenomenon, and that there are actual people—not trolls under a bridge—whom he, and his prejudices against Latinos, Muslims, and blacks, represent.

As is typical, I don’t find the theater criticism remotely convincing even in itself — what persuadable voter is actually going to be influenced by Clinton’s comments? But the focus on determining whether Clinton WON THE DAY as opposed to the veracity of her comments is embarrassing and irresponsible.

The Clinton Rules: It’s True But You Shouldn’t Say It Edition

[ 241 ] September 12, 2016 |

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It strikes me as obvious that Clinton’s much-discussed “deplorables” phrase was a Kinsleyian gaffe — a politician’s statement that gets criticized not because it’s false but because it represents a truth that is supposed to remain hidden. It is well-established that many of Trump’s supporters hold views that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and/or Islamophobic. It is plain that Trump’s candidacy rests on mobilizing supporters with these views. Whether these views are “deplorable” is not an empirical question, but 1)they are and 2)most people (including most of the people attacking Clinton) presumably would agree that such views are deplorable in any context but Hillary Clinton saying it.

So what is the gaffe, exactly? I admire Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing on any subject but electoral politics enormously, but I can’t say this helps me:

So Donald Trump is a “proto-fascist.” We can safely assume that Ehrenreich considers proto-fascism deplorable. But it’s wrong for Hillary Clinton to call the views of some Trump supporters “deplorable”…why? Because we should assume that no significant faction of Trump supporter actually agrees with Trump’s proto-fascist views? I don’t think it’s Clinton who’s being the snob here.

Again, just to pre-empt an all-too-popular move, the fact that many of Trump’s supporters have deplorable views does not mean that liberals should abandon them. Expanding Medicaid in all 50 states would help some bigots. That’s fine! But spare me this idea that it should be taboo to accurately describe the views of Trump’s supporters.

Shape of Earth: Views Still Differ

[ 119 ] September 12, 2016 |

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Shorter Liz Spayd: If you’re catching flak, both sides must be doing it.

…More here.

Is the Forthcoming Netflix Amanda Knox Doc Troofer-Curious?

[ 262 ] September 10, 2016 |

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I don’t know if the Netflix documentary is really troofer-curious or if they’re just pandering to the FOXY KNOXY crowd in its ads, but this Shape of the Earth Views Differ presentation is really misleading:

The second trailer, “Suspect Her,” takes a more doubtful approach to Knox’s claim of innocence, reminding viewers of her cavalier behavior (like doing cartwheels in the police station) while under investigation for Kercher’s murder and—far more damningly—her false accusation of Patrick Lumumba, a local barman who Knox named as the murderer while being interrogated.

Nah nah nah. We’ve been through this before, but the case against Knox is such a farcical shambles that I’m surprised Jill Stein hasn’t called on her to be extradited:

  • Amanda Knox did not kill Meredith Kercher. It is, I suppose, impossible to prove to an absolute certainty that she had nothing to do with the murder, but if the Italian authorities had any actual evidence that she was involved they were too modest to present it.
  • The lurid wank fantasy that was used to convict her the first time was so massively implausible and devoid of supporting evidence that when she was convicted a second time the court abandoned it. Alas, the second, mutually inconsistent theory is also massively implausible and devoid of supporting evidence. In related news, the framers of the United States Constitution turned out to be wrong about a lot of things but the double jeopardy clause really was a sound idea.
  • Knox not acting according to some arbitrary standard of How Accused Criminals Are Supposed to Act is evidence of shit.  When you’re leaning hard on this uselessly tautological line of argument — since there’s no one way that innocent people react when being accused of serious crimes by authorities, there’s always a story you can tell about how the accused is revealing a guilty conscience if you’re determined to reach the conclusion — it’s pretty much dispositive evidence that there’s no real case.
  • The false accusation of Patrick Lumumba might be “damning” of Amanda Knox as a human being — although personally I’m strongly disinclined to judge the actions of someone being accused of a serious crime and interrogated over several days without counsel in a non-native country, and it’s overwhelmingly likely that Knox “accused” Lumymba because the authorities made it clear that’s what they wanted to hear —  but it’s not remotely “damning” evidence that she had anything to do with the murder. It’s evidence that she wanted to stop being accused of the murder and didn’t want to go to prison.
  • It strikes me that you shouldn’t wait until the last sentence to note that someone else has been convicted of the crime, and that there was actually a solid case against him. It’s also important to add for context that the (sound) theory that was used to convict Guede isn’t consistent with either of the ridiculous theories that were used to convict Knox.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are innocent. They are obviously innocent. If the documentary tries to suggest otherwise it’s a travesty, and the Both Sides Do It trailer isn’t encouraging.

…in comments, IB points us to this review, which seems to indicate that despite the trailers the documentary isn’t troofer-curious. I look forward to watching it and reporting back!

Today’s Fraud From Our Benevolent Financial Overlords

[ 127 ] September 9, 2016 |

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Wells Fargo edition:

In 2015, the city of Los Angeles sued Wells Fargo WFC -0.96% for unethical customer conduct, accusing the bank of secretly opening unauthorized accounts that then accrued bogus fees. One year later, Wells is paying for this behavior: the bank announced Thursday that it has reached settlements with city and federal officials totaling nearly $200 million.

Wells Fargo said Thursday that it has reached agreements with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Los Angeles attorney office over allegations that it, among other improper activities, opened deposit accounts and transferred funds without customers’ consent. The bank will pay a total of $185 million in fines, plus another $5 million in what it is calling “customer remediation.”

A consent decree released by the CFPB Thursday reveals the lengths to which thousands of Wells employees went in order to meet sales quotas. The CFPB investigation determined that, going back to “at least” 2011, Wells opened deposit accounts for existing customers without their knowledge or consent and proceeded to transfer money to those accounts from their other accounts; submitted credit card applications in customers’ names, also without their knowledge or consent; enrolled people in online banking services they did not ask for, in some cases using email addresses that the customers themselves did not create; and ordered and activated debit cards — and PIN numbers — using consumers’ information without their knowledge or approval.

I would point out that Republicans strongly opposed the creation of the CFPB, attempted to stop if from being staffed, and it wouldn’t exist had Romney won, but I wouldn’t want to unfairly demonize any Republican who isn’t literally Donald Trump.

How Is Scab Teaching At LIU Going?

[ 197 ] September 9, 2016 |

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About as well as you’d expect:

Hundreds of Long Island University students walked out of their classes at noon on Thursday to protest the administration’s continued lockout of their professors, a move they say has compromised their education and the rights of students and teachers alike. Many said that classes—taught by an interim staff—were as disorganized this morning as they had been on Wednesday, the first day of the semester.

“We aren’t planning to go back to class at all until our professors are back,” said Sharda Mohammed, 18, a sophomore studying philosophy. “Today I walked into my English class and the guy gave us a syllabus and told us we could leave. He couldn’t even pronounce the names of the books.”

“They are charging us full tuition for this, and they’re not teaching us,” she added. “I was in class for five minutes today.”

Gina Pacifico, a 19-year-old sophomore from Queens, said she had a two-hour organic chemistry lecture in which the instructor left after an unproductive 40 minutes. “He didn’t teach,” Pacifico said. The business school seemed to be less affected by the lockout. Business major Gabriel Torres, 27, said his business classes were “fine, so far.” While Shelleyanne Esquilin, 17, said her professor was running between rooms, essentially trying to teach two classes at once.

Headhunting

[ 233 ] September 9, 2016 |

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Opening day showed both the exciting and ugly sides of the NFL. The Broncos were able to come back against the Panthers in large measure because of the injuries they were able to inflict on the other teams QB. What’s worse is that between inept officiating and strange quirks in NFL rules, the Broncos were penalized a net of zero yards for multiple illegal hits that changed the course of the game, injured the most important player on the opposing team, and could well affect Carolina’s season going forward:

The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers tonight, 21-20, in a thrilling game that was marred by serial headhunting from the fearsome Broncos defense. Cam Newton led the Panthers to a 17-7 halftime lead with 111 passing yards, a rushing touchdown, and a passing touchdown. After the break, he only went 7-for-16 with a pick and 83 yards. This is because the Broncos got to him and mashed his face in every chance they got.

Newton looked good until early in the third quarter, when DeMarcus Ware got around the edge and sacked him straight into Von Miller. Newton hobbled to the sideline with an apparent right ankle injury, and he was a step slower after returning to the game. The replay also shows that Miller smashed his face into Newton’s and clearly jarred him with the hit. Later in the game, Brandon Marshall flew in on a defenseless Newton and went straight at his mouth. No penalty was called.

The most brutal hit, however, came courtesy of Darian Stewart, who flew into Cam’s brain as Shaq Barrett took him down by the ankles. Since Cam’s feeble throw didn’t clear the line of scrimmage, Stewart’s personal foul was offset and the hit was essentially free.

[…]

When officials let the Broncos get away with that first hit, they set the game on slippery ground, as the Broncos were then incentivized to continue going at Newton’s dome. Newton managed to make all manner of plays when his offensive line afforded him sufficient time, so the Broncos set out to make the most of any chance they got. Unfortunately, this turned into repeat attempts to turn Cam Newton’s brain into jelly. If they were trying to knock him out of the game, they almost succeeded.

But at least no footballs were deflated, so there’s nothing that warrants a suspension or anything.

[PC]:

Here’s the NFL’s explanation for why Newton wasn’t taken out of the game to be evaluated for a possible concussion:

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport obtained an explanation from a league spokesman about the situation:

“There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth. During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play. They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player.”

Given the NFL’s emphasis on improving player safety, the situation surrounding Newton could lead to further inquiry, including questions about how consultants can conclude from video that Newton didn’t suffer a concussion without medical personnel speaking directly to the player during the game.

OK then.

Seriously, they’re still barely pretending to care.

NFL 2016

[ 156 ] September 8, 2016 |

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NFC EAST 1. Um, if you’re one of those hardcore types who just has to bet…NYG? 2. WAS 3. DAL 4. PHI I’ll start with the division I have no idea what to do with; I really don’t like any of these teams. The Giants have a passing game, and their defense should be better. On the other hand, the offensive line seems like a shambles, and attempts to rebuild defenses with expensive non-elite free agents don’t have a great track record. Also, as many Giant fans seem to be noticing, it’s really time for some #Realtalk about Steve Spagnolo. The last 5 defenses he’s been involved with as a defensive coordinator or head coach have ranked 30th, 32nd, 21st, 19th, and 31st in DVOA. He’s like the boring version of Rob Ryan. And even the 2007-2008 defenses he’s still milking a career out of were pretty unimpressive (13th and 8th in DVOA) given that he had multiple All Pro-to-Hall of Fame pass rushers to work with. He deserves his share of the credit for the Super Bowl Win over the 2007 Pats, but at this point I’m not sure continuing to employ him as a DC makes any more sense than starting David Tyree at wideout would. The Redskins could definitely repeat, but I remain somewhat skeptical about Cousins, who will need the o-line and his skill players to stay healthy to be a effective again since he’s unusually vulnerable to pressure. The addition of Norman will help the defense, but most signs point to regression and I can’t really disagree. The Romo injury is devastating to the Cowboys — Prescott is an interesting prospect but he seems pretty unlikely to be quality starter is a rookie, and backing him up is the Sanchize. It’s tempting to think that the o-line and Bryant and Elliot et al. are so good they can make anyone look good, but to this argument I have 4 words: “Brandon Weeden Matt Cassel.” Plus their defense is pretty bad. But, really, I’d give roughly equal odds to any of these three teams. In Philadelphia, Roseman has done an admirable job of cleaning up Chip Kelly’s worst misses, but for 2016 he’s made an already weak roster even worse. Even if he had had a full training camp, it’s pretty hard to see Wentz jumping from the FCS to quality NFL starter throwing to a fourth-rate receiving corps under a rookie coach.

NFC WEST 1. SEA 2. ARI (*) 3. STL LA 4. SF This stars-and-scrubs division is much easier. Basically, if Palmer is healthy and performs well, Arizona is the best team. But at 36 with his erratic and injury-prone history — I’ll lean very slightly to Seattle despite grave concerns about the Seahawk offensive line. These are two of the best 5 teams in football if they’re remotely healthy. The Rams are starting Case Keenum at QB and recycling Jeff Fisher to see if he can achieve his 40th non-winning season in a row — welcome back to the NFL, Los Angeles! The one interesting question about the 40ers — could Chip do anything with Kaepernick? — will apparently not be answered in the opening weeks or perhaps ever. It’s also not obvious how Kelly’s uptempo system will work to the advantage of a team that will have less talent than virtually every team it plays.

NFC NORTH: 1. GB 2. MIN. 3. DET. 4. CHI The injury to Bridgewater makes this division as easy to pick as the East is difficult. My views on Bradford are on the record; he is not a championship quality QB and a bad QB and a great running back equals a below-average offense. I think the Lions might weather the loss of Megatron a little better than might be expected and they were better than their record showed last year, but even a wildcard is a stretch. I don’t think Chicago has the defense yet, but any order in which the non-Green Bay teams finished here wouldn’t surprise me.

NFC SOUTH: 1. CAR 2. TB(*) 3. NO 4. ATL The Panthers will win fewer games this year but they remain the best team in the division, and getting Benjamin back will more than make up for the loss of Norman. I see Winston and the Bucs as the team most likely to step into the void created by the injury to Bridgewater in a conference that doesn’t have a lot of serious Super Bowl contenders. Brees is still great and still doesn’t have the defense to win. Hiring Dan Quinn seems to be one of those classic Peter Principle coordinator deals where the hiring hurt both the incoming and departing teams; guys like that rarely turn it around in the second year.

AFC EAST 1. NE 2. BUF 3. NYJ 4. MIA There are definite vulnerabilities for the death star — not only is Brady going to miss 4 games he’s at an age where rapid decline is possible (although he was so good last year I wouldn’t be unduly concerned in 2016.) Maybe Scarnecchia can save the o-line and maybe he can’t, and the Pats might struggle to have even a minimally competent running game. But it’s still enormously difficult to see them not winning the division. You can sorta make a case for the Bills — they appear to have a QB, and between the talent on the roster and Ryan’s track record as a defensive coach there’s room for a huge improvement. But subjectively I’m not wild about the team — hiring his legendarily incompetent brother is Ryan’s latest step toward self-parody, and the defensive front 7 is already riddled with injuries and suspensions, and the teams only threatening receiver is also fragile and inconsistent. I would much rather have Bowles as a head coach, but you have to expect Fitzpatrick to regress and the Jets’ opening schedule is brutal. I would expect the Dolphines to keep Dolphining.

AFC WEST 1. KC 2. DEN(*) 3. OAK 4. SD
We’ve been through this — the Broncos have a great defense, but barring another extraordinary run of luck that’s not going to take what by all appearances is quarterbacking that will struggle to be replacement level that’s not going to get them home field in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them finish last in an improving division with a couple of defensive injuries.

AFC NORTH 1. PIT 2. BAL (*) 3. CIN 4. CLE The Steelers will again have an excellent offense, and the defense should be good enough. The Ravens and Bengals should both be wildcard contenders. As the liberal blogosphere’s preeminent Marvin Lewis apoligist I fear they may have missed their best shot last year, but they could win the division. The Browns appear headed in the right direction, with a front office that made shrewd moves and a good head coaching hire (that might hurt the Bengals as well,) but they certainly will be terrible in 2016.

AFC SOUTH 1. IND 2. JAX, I guess? 3. HOU 4. TEN Looks like another win by default for the Colts, although it’s time for Andrew Luck to take a step forward (the most accomplished QB from his draft class, as of now, is Russell Wilson.) I don’t like any of the remaining three teams at all. The Titans seem to be elaborately trolling Oregon fans, taking Mariotta and then somehow replacing Everybody Beats the Whis with a substantially worse coach — a guy who didn’t deserve< a second shot getting a third -- running an anachronistic under-center GROUND AND POUND offense. Between the Jags and Texans meh; I'll give a nod to the former because while I'm not a big Bortles fan better him than Osweiler.

Can Social Media Pushback Effectively Counter Journalistic Malpractice?

[ 184 ] September 8, 2016 |

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As Paul observed below, in his half an hour of tossing 20-mile-an-hour softballs at Donald Trump that notably contrasted with his treatment of Hillary Clinton’s HIGHLY TROUBLING emails Matt Lauer showed that he is to journalism what Southern Comfort is to bourbon. At least his ineptitude is being noted fairly widely:

It was a high-stakes political moment, far from the chummier confines of the “Today” show and, for Matt Lauer, NBC’s stalwart of the morning, a chance to prove his broadcasting mettle on the presidential stage.

The consensus afterward was not kind.

Charged with overseeing a live prime-time forum with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton — widely seen as a dry run of sorts for the coming presidential debates — Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.

Granted 30 minutes with each candidate, who appeared back-to-back at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Mr. Lauer devoted about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton to questions about her use of a private email server, then seemed to rush through subsequent queries about weighty topics like domestic terror attacks.

When an Army veteran in the audience asked Mrs. Clinton to describe her plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Lauer interjected before the candidate could begin her reply.

“As briefly as you can,” he said, one of several moments where the anchor spoke over Mrs. Clinton to remind her that their time was running short.

Mr. Trump stormed onstage in his familiar motor-mouth style, often talking over Mr. Lauer and declining to directly answer many of his questions. At times, Mr. Lauer — who has conducted fewer adversarial interviews with Mr. Trump than his colleagues on NBC’s political desk — appeared flummoxed by his subject’s linguistic feints.

Drawing particular ire was the moment when Mr. Trump asserted, with his usual confidence: “I was totally against the war in Iraq.”

In fact, Mr. Trump initially said he supported the war, a point that Mrs. Clinton had raised earlier in the evening, citing an interview that Mr. Trump had given to Howard Stern. But Mr. Lauer left the assertion unchallenged, zipping along to his next question about Mr. Trump’s professed tendency to “say things that you later regret.”

Journalists and longtime political observers pounced. “How in the hell does Lauer not factcheck Trump lying about Iraq? This is embarrassingly bad,” wrote Tommy Vietor, a former aide to President Obama. Glenn Kessler, the chief fact checker at The Washington Post, posted a link to NBC’s check of Mr. Trump’s claim and wrote: “@MLauer should have been prepared to do this.”

“Lauer interrupted Clinton’s answers repeatedly to move on. Not once for Trump,” Norman Ornstein, the political commentator, wrote in a Twitter message, adding: “Tough to be a woman running for president.”

When the media relentlessly and often dishonestly went after Gore in 2000 — which Krugman noted recently — the contemporary social media insfrastructure was not on place, meaning much less opportunity to push back against Connolly, Seeyle, Dowd, Rich et al. Another difference is that while we can argue about whether the coverage of Trump has been commensurate to his sheer level of corruption and unpreparedness, the media generally hasn’t rolled over for Trump they way they did for Bush; Lauer has been more the exception. At worst, the narrative of 2016 will be Both Sides Do It. Which is outrageous in itself, but probably not as damaging as Only Al Gore Does It in 2000.

…and even more brutal Times review of Lauer, which is vaguely encouraging:

The NBC presidential forum on Wednesday night in Manhattan brought together the candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump to try to determine who has the strength, preparation and presence of mind to lead during a time of crisis.

It sure wasn’t Matt Lauer.

In an event aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid, the “Today” host was lost at sea. Seemingly unprepared on military and foreign policy specifics, he performed like a soldier sent on a mission without ammunition, beginning with a disorganized offensive, ending in a humiliating retreat.

[…]

Like Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has had a few controversies related to the military. You might recall him feuding with a Gold Star family, or mocking Senator John McCain for being captured in Vietnam, or likening his prep-school attendance to military experience.

Mr. Lauer evidently didn’t recall any of that. He kicked off by asking Mr. Trump what in his life had prepared him to be president, the kind of whiffle ball job-interview question you ask the boss’s nephew you know you have to hire anyway.

Mr. Lauer did press the Republican candidate on his claims of a “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State and his repeated praise of Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, leading Mr. Trump to cite the Russian authoritarian’s poll numbers and compare him favorably with President Obama.

In general, though, Mr. Lauer’s questioning of Mr. Trump was like watching one student quiz another to prep for a test neither had done the reading for. The host asked soft open-ended questions that invited the candidate to answer with word clouds.

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