Are 49ers best team in NFL? No, and who cares?

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Are 49ers best team in NFL? No, and who cares?

So because we are inveterate list makers and list-takers, this mornings question is an easy one. Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the National Football League, right here, right now?And the two-part answer will surely warm your soul. No, and who gives a damn?Lets start with the second one first, though, because the first answer infuriates fans far more.Who gives a damn is simple, because its Week 12, and nobody pays off in the middle of a race unless all the other competitors die. Not even bicycle racing.One of the great evils of the 21st century is the week-to-week football power rating, an offshoot of the equally pernicious weekly college polls, because while they create some valuable time-wasting arguments over alcohol-based fortifiers, they are quite frankly dispositive of nothing except mans ability to get liquored up and yell at equally plankfaced strangers. I think it is a gift from the Celts.Thats one of the great evils of football in general. Two many days between games, and a growing need to yammer on about it between those days. Whos the best team now? Whos going to be best in an hour? What about Wednesday? Its endless, and pointless, all at the same time.(And yes, this little rantlet contributes to that evil because, hey, a girls gotta work.)That covered, here is why the 49ers are not the best team in the NFL, despite their 8-2-1 record, and despite their sound beatings over the slightly overvalued Chicago Bears and hot-until-yesterday New Orleans Saints.RECAP: Maiocco's Instant Replay -- 49ers 31, Saints 21
And it isnt the Houston Texans or Atlanta Falcons or Baltimore Ravens that say so, but the New York Giants.Oh, the 49ers have done a very bold thing, demoting a successful quarterback at the height of his statistical powers. Colin Kaepernick has enhanced his image as the greatest gift from western Nevada since the Comstock Lode (Google it, kids; its good exercise for your rubbery brains), and while his raw numbers arent as good as Alex Smiths and his rookie-ness remains evident, the fact that the 49ers have not fallen off as a result of the switch is noteworthy.They are still a run-the-ball team, and a defend-you-until-you-cry team, which makes the Kaepernick development more a sidebar to the greater truth than the change that turns good into great. But it shows Jim Harbaughs mad scientist side, and our constant amusement with the solar flares inside his head also kills hours between games.MAIOCCO: 49ers' defense gets the best of Brees
But heres why they arent as good as the Giants, and why that matters more than their being better than the Falcons, Texans or Ravens.The Giants, when they play as they did Sunday night, remind us that it isnt about being empirically best, but being the best matchup at the best time. They slightly outplayed the 49ers in last years NFC championship game (and dont hand me Kyle Williams any more; look at the box score), and they dominated them in Week 6 this year.In other words, when they arent in one of their periodic fits, the Giants have the 49ers number at least until further notice and proven otherwise. And when they play as they did against the Packers, they show that they are still those Giants.Now the 49ers dont currently have to play the Giants, and may miss them entirely. They may also miss the Falcons, and there is no reason to plan for the Texans, Ravens, Patriots or any other AFC team yet.But for the moment, standard professional wrestling rules still apply. To be the king, you have to beat the king, and the 49ers havent done that yet. Niner fans can make all the Well, they havent faced the wrath of Kaepernick yet arguments they like, because they have to fill tavern time too (I know this; Ive seen them drink). But the 49ers arent about Kaepernick yet, any more than they were about Smith. They are still a team whose truest strengths are elsewhere, and until those strengths can be shown to trump the Giants strengths . . . well, thats that.In short, if you have to pick a side in this argument, go with Who gives a damn? Youre on safer logical ground, and the other barflies will leave you alone. And that is a victory of a special kind.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

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AP

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.
 

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.