Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

The Flyers are 8-10-1 through 19 games, standing on the
outside of the postseason picture looking in, and many observers are wondering if
this is even a good team. Our own Tim Panaccio questioned earlier this week whether or not they
can get it done
as currently constructed, and as
of Friday the Daily News’ Sam Donnellon has already concluded that nope, they
can’t, thanks for playing.

It’s fairly obvious to anybody this team is not where they
want to be yet, and not just in the standings. They’re still prone to sluggish
starts, still a pitiful 4-8 on the road, still not winning enough faceoffs,
still allowing 3.05 goals per game despite the fact that Ilya Bryzgalov has
been one of their best players so far.

In short, they haven’t had the look of a club that could put
together a Stanley Cup run, and there isn’t much room to debate that. Having said that, you might want to consider at least pumping the brakes ever so gently, because the worst
appears to be over for the Flyers, at least in terms of the schedule.

The Flyers have played an absolutely brutal slate unlike any
other in the NHL up to this point. For starters, they’ve been in 19 games
already, the highest total in the league. For comparison’s sake, only three teams were
even at 18 after Thursday night, and half the league is sitting at 16 or less. 19 contests
in 34 days would take a toll on any hockey team.

And how did they get to 19? Six, count ‘em, six
back-to-backs. Everybody has them in a condensed schedule, but how many played
six in a month? As if that weren’t enough, every last one of them has
involved travel, which ought to come as no surprise given the Flyers have played 12 on
the road compared to seven at the Wells Fargo Center.

The degree of difficulty in Philadelphia’s schedule so far
has been enormous bordering on insane – but finally that’s all about to change.

Things are finally going to get back to some sense of
normalcy for the Flyers from here on out. 12 of the next 17 tilts are at home,
with only one back-to-back between now and March 30. Things are going
to quiet down so much at one point in fact, there is actually a stretch of five consecutive days
off in mid-March, which should theoretically help the guys recharge their
batteries before heading into the final stretch.

Further complicating the first portion of their schedule
were several key absences, some longer than others. Danny Briere, Wayne
Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, and Sean Couturier have all missed games
at one time or another, and although bumps and bruises are par for the course,
the Flyers have also been without Scott Hartnell and Andrej Meszaros almost the
whole way.

Both Hartnell and Meszaros are expected back within the next
couple weeks, and while Matt Read replaces them on the injured list (six weeks to torn rib cage muscle – ouch) with more sure to follow, it will be good to get back a key component of the top line and
some defensive reinforcement. Hartsy could provide an especially big
boost now that Claude Giroux seems to have found a comfort zone with Jakub
Voracek, and Meszaros certainly can’t make their blue-line depth any worse.

Do a friendlier schedule plus a couple players returning to
the lineup equal the Flyers' season turning around? Does it correct or even mask
every single one of their flaws? No, and no. They still need to go out and win
games, and do so with a patchwork defense and a headcase in net.

Before we go and rule them out as contenders though, maybe
we should see what the rest of the season brings now that the Flyers finally have a
chance to catch their breath and recuperate a little.

They've made some strides in recent weeks, climbing toward the top 10 in scoring and power-play conversion rate, and the all-around effort has been more consistent over the past three games. Plus, all of the injuries have helped them to identify quality young players in their system who could find themselves pressed into critical roles down the road – guys like Tye McGinn and Harry Zolnierczyk.

After beginning the season 2-6, the Flyers have since gone on to post a 6-4-1 record in their last 11 in spite of everything. Given the circumstances, another assessment might conclude they are actually a team that's trending up.

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Sixers acquire, merge two leading eSport companies

Sixers acquire, merge two leading eSport companies

The Sixers on Monday acquired controlling stake in Team Dignitas and Team Apex, two eSport companies.

The companies will be combining under the Team Dignitas banner. The Sixers become the first North American sports franchise to acquire an eSports team and intend to manage the day-to-day operations of Team Dignitas.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to leverage the infrastructure, resources and experience of the Sixers organization to support these exciting teams as they continue to compete at the highest levels across multiple games," Sixers managing general partner Josh Harris said in a statement. "We see our entrance into eSports as a natural extension of our expanding interests in traditional sports and entertainment and are confident that our involvement will accelerate the already rapid pace of growth in eSports as a whole.”

Team Dignitas and Team Apex have created games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite.

NFC East Week 3: Eagles sit alone atop the division

usat-beckham-norman.jpg
USA Today Sports

NFC East Week 3: Eagles sit alone atop the division

Washington reverses course, Dak just wants to be Carson, and OBJ is getting knocked out by kicking equipment. The Eagles sit atop the NFC East heading into the bye week; let’s see if any of the objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.

Washington

What Happened: Jay Gruden’s squad took a defibrillator to their season, coming back from a 21-to-9 deficit to beat the Giants in New York by a final score of 29-27.

The game was billed as a rematch between Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr., who went WWE on each other in last season’s Giants-Panthers match. And yet, to the surprise of no one, the two didn’t end up lighting each other on fire on the 50-yard line. Shocker, really, I know. Apparently, the refs didn’t even let them bring their flame-throwers in the building.

It was an odd game, featuring 19 penalties, 7 field goals, and zero Kirk Cousins interceptions. Perhaps not coincidentally, Washington found success offensively when they took the ball out of Cousins’ hands; their final drive for the go-ahead score featured eight running plays. This may be a sign of things to come, as Washington’s offense had been ridiculously pass-focused the previous 11 quarters this season.

The most impressive player on Washington’s roster, meanwhile, was kicker Dustin Hopkins, who went 5-for-5 on field goals for the day. There’s only so much excitement a fanbase can get when the best player is the kicker. Like finding out your favorite bar started serving hot cocoa. Neat!

What It Means: The lungs may be pumping, but the body may be lost. The victory in New Jersey came at a significant cost for Washington; DeAngelo Hall suffered his annual season-ending injury, the offensive line needed three back-ups on the final drive, and so many guys in the D.C. secondary went down that safety Will Blackmon had to finish the game playing the slot. 

And if you think this team is just starting to come together, think again. Chris Baker (he of Nick Foles crushing fame) was seen yelling at his defensive coordinator. Vernon Davis (who is, yes, still playing football) was making play-call requests like he was talking to the DJ at a bar-mitzvah. And Hall, who is likely out for the season, had to call a players-only meeting before the game even started. This team has more cracks in it than SpaceX’s recycled rockets

(Side bar: who has the money to send themselves into space, but then opts for the discounted spaceship? It’s gotta be Dan Snyder, right?)

What’s Next: The Cleveland Browns at home, so okay, yes, Washington should be able to get back to .500 next week. But if (when) they do, let’s not completely forget that they only won this game because of gross incompetence on the Giants end: a turnaround in Washington is about as likely as global warming being caused by zebra farts. It’s so unlikely, it’s not even worth exploring. Also, it’s gross.

New York Giants

What Happened: The Giants fell into old habits, choking away a fourth quarter lead like this was 2015. The loss was assisted by 11 penalties (5 personal fouls) for 128 yards and 3 turnovers (including, as it always seems to, a pair of Eli Manning interceptions in the fourth quarter). It was the kind of totally-dysfunctional defeat that makes you wanna fire the head coach and hire a disciplinarian like Tom Coughlin.

OBJ was statistically terrific (seven receptions for 121 yards), but it didn’t matter in the end. He is now the fastest player to 3,000 yards receiving, which he did in an impressive 30 games. The Giants, meanwhile, are 12-18 in those 30 games, which gives him a lower winning percentage than Kevin Kolb. Or Brett Myers. Or Mo Cheeks, as a coach!

Looking for positive news? Slot receiver Sterling Shepard looks legit. The rookie wide-out had five catches for 73 yards, including an impressive touchdown across the middle. His continued development will likely result in Victor Cruz’s home eventually being up for sale.

Oh, and lastly, if you had predicted that Giants center Weston Richburg would become the first player ejected for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, please DM me your lottery numbers immediately.

What It Means: New York is now 2-1, but it’ll feel about as bad as 2-1 can feel. Like throwing up on the beach; it’s not ideal but could certainly be a lot worse.

But like throwing up on the beach, things could get really bad, really quickly, depending on what happens next. Big Blue let a very winnable game slip through their fingers, and lost it in a fashion that will have pundits comparing this squad to the one from last year. THAT team made a fourth-quarter lead feel about as safe as Tesla’s auto-pilot. The Giants need to do everything in their power not to be THAT team.

Beckham, meanwhile, continues his quest to become the most dislikable receiver in the NFC East (an award Dez Bryant has held tighter than he holds touchdown passes). The guy had the audacity to question why the refs gave him a warning before the game about fighting. That’s like a puppy getting upset you covered the living room floor in newspaper. You think we’re gonna just let you come in here and pee everywhere again? Fool me once, pup. 

Even the equipment thinks this guy’s a jerk, a fact proven by this video of Beckham getting smacked in the face with a kicking net. PUT HIM IN THE CONCUSSION PROTOCOL, ROGER! 

What’s Next: Monday Night Football against the Sam Bradford-led Minnesota Vikings. The Giants will likely be underdogs heading out to Minnesota, which is an odd thing to say about any team going up against Bradford.

Dallas Cowboys

What Happened: Remember a week ago when the Birds made mincemeat out of the Bears on Monday Night Football? That’s essentially what the Cowboys did Sunday night to Chicago. Ezekiel Elliot had his biggest game so far, getting over a hundred yards rushing for the first time in his young career, and Dak Prescott threw his first touchdown pass, to Dez Bryant. Dallas led 24-7 at halftime and walked out with a 31-17 victory that didn’t even feel that close.

Like fellow rookie Carson Wentz, Prescott has yet to throw an interception. And like Wentz, Prescott found beating the Bears an easy task. Their stats are freakishly similar, actually: Wentz has thrown 66 completions, completing 64.7%, for 769 yards. Prescott has also thrown 66 completions, completing 66.7%, for 767 yards. It makes the match-up between Dallas and Philly on October 30th all the more intriguing… assuming Prescott isn’t benched for 52-year-old Tony Romo by then.

In other news, Bryant appeared to injure his knee at one point, but returned, and that was about as much drama as Dallas faced on Sunday. Yawn. 

What It Means: Every win in the NFL is a tough-win, the other team gets paid too, blah-blah-blah. The Cowboys swam in the Eagles wake on this one. Chicago was coming off a humiliating Monday night whipping, traveling to Dallas on a short week, and playing without their starting quarterback (a detriment no matter how uninspiring as that QB may be). Let’s not confuse the Cowboys opponent with the ‘85 Bears… or even the ‘05 version. 

Sure, Dallas has now doubled the number of Romo-less victories they had last season. Sure, they’ll feel better at 2-1 than the Giants probably do. But anyone who had held out doubts about the Iggles after Week 2 needs to allocate those same doubts for ‘dem Boys.

Meanwhile, the better Prescott plays, the more controversy Romo’s return will eventually stir-up. Playing your back-up quarterback should be like visiting the dentist; it’s great when everything goes well, but if you’re already thinking of going back right when you leave, something probably went wrong. 

What’s Next: Chip Kelly! The Cowboys head out to San Francisco to face Blaine Gabbert (groan) and the 49ers who are averaging an unsurprising 26:45 in the time of possession department, which is about 26 minutes higher than expected. Why not spend your bye week being nostalgic as The Chippah runs the same four plays over and over till your head explodes?