The 2010 Biggest Story of the Year Debate… Vick Surprises Us All

January 2, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

At the end of a year, it’s human nature for us to take pause and look back. Among other things, I use the time as one year ends and another begins to look back at some of the big sports stories of the past year. Unfortunately, many of them tend to be a little on the negative side. Between ill-advised personal decisions made by Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre to Cam Newton to the concussion-related injuries in the NFL, a lot of things happened in 2010 that brought negative attention to sports. However, I am choosing today to focus on something positive, and that is the comeback story on Michael Vick.

Earlier in the decade, Vick was roaming around on the turf of the Georgia Dome. We all know what happened next, and there’s absolutely no use in rehashing that whole incident.

What truly makes it a great story is the fact that little to nothing was expected of Vick this season. After receiving very little playing time last year in his first year with the Eagles, the team surprisingly picked up his option for the 2010 season, due in part to the fact that the organization decided to trade Donavan McNabb (what a smart move that turned out to be). That left Kevin Kolb in position to be the number one guy in Philly.

Both Vick and Kolb traded injuries during the early part of the season. Who Andy Reid was going to start became a major issue, so much so that we actually did a debate on the quarterback dilemma back in September. Once Vick became healthy, though, he took the job and literally ran with it. He has run with it into contention for an MVP award. Last week it was announced that he was named the starting quarterback for the NFC in the 2011 Pro Bowl.

Why wouldn’t he be? Have you seen what this guy has done? Did you see his mid-season performance against the Redskins? Did you see him direct a miraculous 21 point comeback against the Giants less than two weeks ago? There’s a reason NBC flexed a game involving a matchup against the 5-9 Minnesota Vikings, and that reason is not Joe Webb. That reason is Michael Vick. Even on a Tuesday night, Vick draws viewers.

He’s become the story of the year in the NFL. He’s become a part of one of the most fascinating comeback stories ever in sports. He is my choice as being the top sports story of the year.

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The 2010 Michael Vick for MVP Debate Verdict

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

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How ironic that I am writing about one of the best quarterbacks in football as I watch a Monday Night Football matchup that features two of the worst quarterbacks in football.

The Cardinals and 49ers this season have been a revolving door at the quarterback position, as guys like Matt Leinart, David Carr, Alex Smith, Max Hall, Troy Smith, and Derek Anderson have all at one time or another been tagged as the “starter” for these two franchises. Although it is unlikely that we will hear the names Derek Anderson or Troy Smith brought up in MVP conversations anytime soon, when this season kicked off they probably would have been considered HEAVY favorites over a guy like Michael Vick.

But here we are, week 12 is now in the books, and Michael Vick is performing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

There is no denying the impact he has had on the field for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. His performance has almost assuredly earned him many accolades already – team MVP, Pro Bowl, and as Loyal Homer suggested, Comeback Player of the Year. But league MVP?

Babe Ruthless, despite an obvious dislike for Michael Vick the man, feels that his successes on the field simply cannot be ignored when discussing the players who are worthy of being named the most valuable. Considering some direct comparisons between Vick and his counterpart, Kevin Kolb, it is nearly impossible to deny just how valuable Vick has been to his team.

Both quarterbacks got an opportunity to face the Washington Redskins this season. For his part, Kolb was 22 of 35 for 201 yards, one TD and one pick, while Vick, just six weeks later, went 20 of 28 for 333 yards, four TDs, no INTs, and added another two rushing TDs just for good measure.

Clearly, Vick is a difference-maker on the field.

But the Washington Redskins’ defense is not the barometer by which MVPs are measured, and even as well as Vick has played in each of his appearances this season, Loyal Homer does not want MVP voters to forget that Vick has essentially been a part-time quarterback.

To Loyal Homer’s point, it is hard to overlook the fact that Vick has finished less than 60 percent of the Eagles’ games so far this season. Vick has been outstanding, but guys like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Arian Foster have been equally outstanding (although maybe not as flashy), and have sustained it over a longer period of time than has Vick.

Philip Rivers, for example, is on pace not only for a career best in passing yards for a season, but realistically could put up an all-time NFL best total for the category, having already thrown for 3,362 yards in only 11 games this season. Vick, meanwhile, comes in more than 1,000 yards fewer than that total at 1,941. There are also four quarterbacks in the NFL currently tied for the league lead with 23 TD passes (Rivers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees). Vick has just slightly more than half of that total with 13.

I’m not one to put a lot of stock in statistics, normally, but differences like that are very difficult to disregard when we are discussing the top performers of an entire season, and so I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer.

I just do not feel that Vick deserves consideration for the MVP award in 2010. His value to the Eagles may be immense, but he simply did not have to sustain his performance over a long enough time to truly be compared with Rivers, Brady, etc.

In baseball this season Kansas City Royals pitcher Bruce Chen posted a batting average of 1.000. In fact, Chen has been carried that 1.000 since 2006. He only had one at bat in 2010, and has a total of only three at bats in the last four years, but over that time his average has been perfect. Does that make him better than Josh Hamilton, who sustained a .359 average over more than 500 at bats?

I do not in any way mean to diminish Vick’s performance, but who is to say that he would have remained at the top of the QB ratings leaderboard (or any statistical leaderboard) if he played the additional games against the Redskins, 49ers, Falcons, and Titans? Who is to say that Vick would not have failed epically between weeks four and seven? We will never know.

When recognizing the league’s most valuable player, there can be no room for speculation. The winner has to have been DEFINITIVELY the best over the entire season, and Michael Vick simply cannot state a definitive case.

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The 2010 Michael Vick for MVP Debate

November 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Since taking over for an injured Kevin Kolb during week one of the season, Michael Vick has stormed back into the spotlight as one of the league’s premier quarterbacks. Entering into yesterday’s matchup against the Chicago Bears, he carried the league’s best quarterback rating at 108.7, and still had not thrown for a single interception all season.

Despite throwing his first interception of the season in a loss against the Bears yesterday, his individual performance over the course of the game remained on par with the rest of his season.

There is little doubt that Vick will be named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad at the end of the season and, assuming he remains healthy, is very likely to lead the Eagles into the post-season as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

But, does he deserve consideration for the league’s MVP award?

While it is true that Vick has been exceptional when on the field, it is important to note that he has not been on the field all that long. He was not the season’s starter for the Eagles, and after leaving the game early in week four with an injury, he did not return to the field until five weeks later.

So, the question for today’s debate is: To this point in the season, does Michael Vick’s performance earn him consideration for the NFL MVP award?

At this point in the season, I think it is safe to assume that the Philadelphia Eagles may have been a good team WITHOUT Michael Vick at starting quarterback, but WITH him they are one of the best teams in the NFL. And, as Babe Ruthless will argue, his presence makes such an impact on the field that he absolutely MUST be considered for the award, regardless of the fact that he missed a couple games due to an injury.

Meanwhile, Loyal Homer will argue that Vick’s performance, albeit outstanding, must be taken in context. Even if he finishes the season healthy he STILL would have missed a full 25 percent of his team’s games this season when players like Philip Rivers, Arian Foster, and Tom Brady have been equally vital to their teams’ success, and they will have played the ENTIRE season to this point.

Can you be the league’s most valuable player when you did not even play the entire season? We are about to find out.

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The 2010 Michael Vick for MVP Debate… Too Quick For Vick

November 28, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Rutless.

I’ve certainly been captivated by Michael Vick’s remarkable return to glory. The whole football-watching nation has, in fact. His game against the New York Giants two Sundays ago drew big ratings. It really is an amazing story, and I commend Vick for paying his debt to society and coming back as a better quarterback than he was in his tenure in Atlanta. I find myself somewhat rooting for the guy, and that’s something I said that I would never do again once he essentially left the Falcons out to dry. But, unlike Babe Ruthless and much of America, I’m not going to say that his performance to this point earns him consideration for the MVP award.

With yesterday’s loss, the Eagles still remain tied for the lead in the NFC East at 7-4. In games the artist formerly known as Ron Mexico has started, the Eagles are 5-1. That’s just six games out of a possible 11. I’m pulling out my Texas Instruments calculator and telling you that he has only finished less than 55 percent of his team’s games to this point in the season. Looking solely at that statistic, it’s hard for me to put him into the discussion for MVP at this point.

Yesterday also presented arguably the toughest test for Vick. Chicago traditionally proved to be quite the challenge for Vick. I recall the Bears often providing confusing defensive looks for number seven during his time wearing the red and black. I thought yesterday’s game would be a big test for him, and while he threw for over 300 yards he did much of that when the game was out of hand, and he did in fact throw his first interception of the season. It was a big test was because, despite the resurgence, his games had come against Detroit, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Washington, and the New York Giants. A couple of those are playoff-caliber teams, but he needed a chance to go against another top-notch defense. Chicago entered play yesterday third overall in total defense.

Lost amongst the hoopla over Vick’s “feel good story” are outstanding seasons by other players. Yes, believe it or not, other players really are having great seasons. Philip Rivers, whose Chargers got off to yet another horrible start this season, have been on fire all season as he is on pace to set the record for passing yards in a season, and now his team is coming on strong. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are also having outstanding seasons. Manning is playing with receivers who aren’t recognizable to most fantasy football players. Brady is playing with a guy whose last name is Woodhead who has relied on Brady to help Patriot nation quickly fell in love with him.

I think we all appreciate how far Vick has come… except maybe PETA. But no, he hasn’t played enough to warrant MVP consideration just yet. If you want to give him an award, I have absolutely no problem giving him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. But to give him consideration when he won’t play a full season is too much.

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The 2010 Sport You’re Most Thankful For Debate… Hope Springs Eternal in the NFL

November 24, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is without a doubt my favorite holiday (and that is only PARTLY because of the feasting)! Personally, I have been very blessed over the past year, and have much to be thankful for. The list of those things I am thankful for includes all the staples – family, friends, health, and the like… as well as some unique privileges that I am very grateful for, such as sharing this space each day with a group of people who are not only great writers, but who have also become great friends.

What can I say? Things are nice at Casa del Bleacher Fan!

So as I tuck in to a little lot of deep fried turkey (yes, it really is THAT good) with all the fixin’s, let me tell you why I am thankful for the NFL…

First, from a personal standpoint as a fan of Cleveland sports, this was a tough year for basketball and baseball. The Indians decided after about only 15 games that they were going to just mail in the 2010 seasons. And as for basketball, well, I’d rather not talk about it (although I must admit that there is something cathartic in the knowledge that LeBron James isn’t having any fun). But then the Cleveland Browns season started, and it became a wonderful distraction from all the other garbage.

It is not a distraction because the Browns are successful on the field. In fact, they are only 3-7 right now. The reason why the Browns are able to provide a distraction to Cleveland fans is the very same reason why fans across the country should be thankful for the NFL.

Unlike baseball or basketball, where seasons can essentially be scripted before the first actual play ever unfolds, the NFL is the one sport where “Worst-to-First” is not only possible, but it is actually PROBABLE. You see, every season in the NFL is a fresh start for every team. It doesn’t matter that your team only won four or five games last season because, in the NFL, last season is ancient history. THIS season, your team is just as good as last year’s Super Bowl champion.

Take a look at the NFL standings. Of the eight division leaders, four finished last season with losing records (Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle, and Chicago), and NONE of those teams that won the division last season are currently sitting atop the leader board.

Likewise, two of the pre-season favorites to contend for a Super Bowl bid, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, share a combined six wins, while last season’s worst team, the St. Louis Rams, are only one game out of first place.

Now, compare that parity to the NFL’s college counterpart. In the NCAA ranks, a team must not only win games to be successful, it has to also convince voters. So a team like Boise State, which has not been beaten since December of 2008, could still miss out not only on the national championship game, but may not even get a BCS invitation if TCU also continues to win games.

Or compare it to a sport like Major League Baseball, or the NBA, where championships can be bought and sold like commodities on the free agency market.

But as the countdown to the 2010 NFL season continued over the summer, who could have guessed that Michael Vick would be the most exciting quarterback in the league, that the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks would be leading divisions, or that the head coaches for two different pre-season Super Bowl contenders would be unemployed before Thanksgiving?

The NFL system provides a proving ground where all 32 teams enter the fray on truly equal ground. With each season comes the mystery of the unknown. As each season plays out we are treated to a rollercoaster of surprises, excitement, and drama that is unparalleled in the fan experience for any other sport. Every fan can enter a fresh season with legitimate hope that, “This will be the year.” There is no subjectivity, and wins are the only currency that can buy a team a shot at the championship.

So, from a jaded, beaten, and broken down Cleveland sports fan, I say “THANK YOU” to the NFL! With each new game and each new season you give every fan, regardless of the team they follow, a reason to tune in and watch. That is an accomplishment no other sport can duplicate.

Thank you, NFL, for giving me hope!

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate… Iggles Must Bear Down

November 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

It should come as no big surprise to the TSD faithful that Babe Ruthless is not the biggest fan of college football. While NCAA football may be the tantalizing main course for other writers here at The Sports Debates, college football is usually just lumpy mashed potatoes to me.

So while this holiday weekend provides a virtual cornucopia of mouth watering college matchups – such as the intense border battles between schools like Michigan and Ohio state and the deep-seated state rivalries between schools like Auburn and Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina, Florida and Florida State, and Georgia and Georgia Tech – the amateur action leaves me wanting for seconds on my fill of football.

But, I have no fear. The NFL delivers its own smorgasbord of marquee matchups and dramatic storylines to fill the awkward silent moments while you await the departure of your house guests. Storylines such as the well timed return of Vincent Jackson to an underachieving San Diego Charger offense, and the highly publicized war of words between T.O. and Darrelle Revis. It’s enough for any with gridiron glutton.

But far and away the game that packs the most punch this Thanksgiving weekend is the NFC showdown between the NFC East leading Eagles (7-3) and the NFC North leading Bears (7-3).

This matchup figures to be a classic case of the unstoppable force colliding with the immovable object. Philadelphia is playing ridiculously well with Michael Vick under center, but the team faces, quite possibly, its biggest challenge against one of the league’s best defenses in Chicago.

By all appearances the Eagles offense seems to be unstoppable. The Eagles have posted the second most points in the NFL this season with 284 points, just five points fewer than the league leader New England’s 289. But, if Vick had been starting the entire season, it is possible the Eagles would be at the top. Keep in mind the short-lived Kevin Kolb era had Vick pulling down sideline duty with a clipboard in hand. But now Philly has found its groove with a dynamic offense that has been running wild with #7 as the full time signal caller. Many certainly doubted the legitimacy of Vick’s ability to bounce back after his time away from the game – myself included. But he has bounced back… in a big way. Look no further than the absolute humiliation of the man who brought Vick to the Eagles, Donovan McNabb, when the Redskins were drubbed 59-28. Make no second guesses about Vick’s Eagles, they are a force.

Still if any team figures to slow down these juggernauts it’s the Daaaaaaaaa Bears (I always wanted to write that). Chicago has earned its reputation once again as the dominant defensive powerhouse in the league. This season the Bears have held opponents to a measly 146 points, tied for best in the NFL with division rival Green Bay. Even more amazing is the fact that the Bears have secured the top spot in the competitive NFC North, to say nothing of posting the same win-loss record as Philly, all while ranking among the bottom third of the league in average points per game as well as rushing and passing. I do not intend to celebrate offensive ineptitude. I mean to call attention to just how awesome the defense truly is, and the scary thing is it seems to be getting better. Since adding phenom defensive end Julius Peppers this off-season the Bears have become much more dangerous on defense. The most recent shutout performance against the Dolphins indicates that Peppers and company are heating up at the right time.

This is certain to be a brutal clash of epic proportions. One that should make even the worst Thanksgiving experiences a distant memory even if just for a few hours.

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The Publicly Grading Officials Debate VERDICT

October 14, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Today’s debate is not about whether leagues should grade officials, but whether those grades should be public knowledge.

This is an extremely important issue in sports because there is a great deal at stake. On the one hand, if publically grading officials encourages them to perform better then it would improve the overall quality of the sports we love so much, but if it does not have this effect than it could serve to seriously undercut the authority of officials.

Bleacher Fan based his argument off of the need for increased accountability through transparency in the way leagues evaluate officials. He believes that officials are afforded the ability to hide behind a wall of anonymity when it comes to corrective efforts meant to redress poor officiating. He finds this to be hypocritical considering the high profile nature of every other aspect of sports. He pointed out that the actions taken against players, coaches, and team management for poor performance is usually very public, yet the league’s efforts to correct problematic officiating remain highly secretive.

This point was definitely not lost on me. Sports fans are very aware of league actions taken against players and owners alike, but officials remain a different story. We all know about the not-so-private war between NBA commissioner David Stern and Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban. We all know about the leagues dealings with player with problematic players, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick. But no one seems to know which officials, if any, are getting their butts handed to them behind closed doors. Bleacher Fan believes that this cloak in dagger approach cannot lead to anything good.

Bleacher Fan acknowledges the human aspect of the sports. He admits that no one is perfect, but that because we know that no one is perfect leagues should be more open about telling the public what officials grades are and what the leagues are doing to improve the lowest achievers.

Loyal Homer, however, states those grades should remain a secret. He challenges the logic behind releasing private evaluations to a public that is already highly critical of the job officials are doing in the first place. As Loyal Homer explains in his argument, public evaluations would only serve to further undermine the authority of officials.

He made a strong point for his argument when he aptly pointed out that evaluations are not intended for the purpose of establishing worst-to-first ranking of officials, but rather to specify the areas where each official needs to demonstrate professional growth. The goal behind assessing the job officials are doing is to encourage improvement, not to invalidate their authority, which very well could be the result of releasing performance evaluations. Loyal Homer stood firm in his belief that the mere fact that performance evaluations and the incorporation of assistive technologies (i.e. replay) exists to help officials is enough to ensure their validity and reliability as an arbitrator of the rules.

Loyal Homer’s argument raises concerns over the potential dangers of labeling officials due to their performance review grade. If publicized, referee and umpire ratings would be akin to restaurants sanitation grades. Can you imagine the grumbling and second guessing that would surround the calls of an umpire with a “C” rating (the equivalent of a sketchy IHOP)? Regardless of the accuracy, there would be those who would second-guess them solely on the basis of their performance grade. Similarly, in the mind of the public it would not matter whether the official met the minimum competencies established by the league because any official with a less than perfect score would be perceived to be doing a bad job.

Ultimately it was this comparison that made my decision. In the real world, not all workers deserve perfect performance reviews. If they did there would be a lot more Fortune 500 companies out there. The truth is that there are excellent, above average, average, below average, and poor employees in virtually every industry, including professional sports. Some officials are better than others, but publically acknowledging that fact and then highlighting the underachievers would only serve to create a distracting spectacle. Publically grading officials would do nothing to help them improve. Do you really think Jim Joyce would have tried harder to call Armando Galaragga’s near perfect game if he knew his evaluation would be in the media at the end of the year? I honestly think when an official screws up, the media usually covers it sufficiently. Ultimately it is because there is nothing gained but controversy and the undermining of authority by publically grading officials that I award this victory to Loyal Homer. Bleacher Fan can throw the red flag all he wants to, this is one call that is final.

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