Monday, July 15, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Can We Keep Things in Perspective?

One of my major issues with the Washington Post sports section, and the Washington sports media in general, is its tendency to overhype the quality of local teams--a premature excitement  or optimism about teams before they've accomplished much at all. I thought of this a couple weeks ago when Jason Reid declared that the Wizards would make the playoffs next season now that they've drafted Otto Porter.  It was prevalent last fall, when Tom Boswell was not just celebrating the Nats' division title, but comparing the Nationals to the Jeter Yankees and the 90s Braves as a juggernaut in the making. (By the way, that's a link to an excerpt of the early print edition column--for some reason, perhaps because Boz thought better of those comparisons late that night, that was changed in the final edition that ended up on the website.) And, of course, there's no team in Washington that gets as much hype as the Redskins, even in years where they're starting Rex Grossman or John Beck at quarterback.

This year, the Redskins, as the NFC East champions last year and with one of the most exciting players in the league leading them, will certainly be deserving of more hype than they have in years. But they certainly have a lot of question marks, from the health of RGIII to the fact that they had a difficult time fixing some of the team's weaknesses in the offseason because of salary cap restraints. That's why I was kind of surprised to see this headline on the Post's Insider blog about the Redskins the other day: In what scenario would the Redskins not win the NFC East?  The article notes that some in New York and Dallas are picking their teams, instead of the Skins, to win the division this season, and then notes with some surprise--it actually uses the word "strange"--that oddsmakers are making the Redskins the second or third choice as NFC East champs. Finally, it asks:

Can you foresee a scenario where Griffin is 100% and uninjured, and one of the other division teams was the favorite? All things being equal, healthwise, could you foresee another division team outplaying these Redskins?
In what scenarios — and of course, the NFL never ceases to amaze with its ability to remain unpredictable — could you foresee the Redskins not repeating as NFC East champions?
In what scenarios could I see the Redskins not repeating as NFC East champions. Gee, the Giants finished one game behind the Redskins last year, won the Super Bowl the year before and still has much of the nucleus of that Super Bowl team--is it really hard to foresee them winning the division? The Cowboys were one drive in the fourth quarter away from tying the Redskins for the division last season--and while I'm not putting my money on it, it's not out of the question that Tony Romo finally puts it all together this year. (OK, maybe that is unrealistic.) And in a league where 4-12 teams one year routinely make the playoffs the next year, would it really be incredibly shocking to see the Eagles, with a new coach, win ten games next year? Yet this article is written from the perspective of Larry Michael, as if anyone who believes the Redskins might not win the division is biased towards one of the other NFC East teams. I thought this was the Washington Post, not

Is this article in the middle of July that big a deal? Probably not. But I would argue that this premature excitement and lack of perspective on the local teams by the city's top newspaper isn't good for D.C. sports teams in the long run. It not only creates unrealistic expectations among fans, but also ends up unneccessaily venerating the general managers and coaches of these teams--because fans are basically being told that the personnel on those teams are so good all the time that it must be the players messing up or not trying hard enough if the team is bad (and not the fact that the players acquired for the team just may not be good enough.) The best example of this is the Nationals, where Mike Rizzo made a couple smart moves (Gio Gonzalez and Wilson Ramos trades), had some draft picks made before he was GM develop, and had a couple free agent signings have good years (LaRoche with his best season in years, Werth playing well enough when he was healthy to make people temporarily forget that his contract is a nightmare). The smartest moves he made, of course, were having a team so bad two years in a row that they were able to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Considering most of his moves this year haven't really worked out, perhaps the proclamations in D.C. last fall that Rizzo was a genius who had built a team that would win division titles for the next decade was a tad premature--maybe he'd just built a good team that had one great regular season and had enough good young players that, with the right future moves and lots of things going right, could do it again in future years. Maybe everyone should calm down about the Redskins, too--just because a team wins seven in a row at the end of one year doesn't mean they're going to cruise through the next season. If we haven't learned that yet in Washington over the last 20 years, we really should.


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