Unsettling Questions For Unsettling Times

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Unsettling Questions For Unsettling Times

These are unsettling times.

Stocks are fluctuating more wildly and unpredictably than Kirstie Alley’s weight.

Rioting in London seems to be as widespread as Doctor Who reruns on BBC America.

There appears to be a new Justin Bieber in our midst.

And right here at home, Wisconsin’s recall elections, while some may argue highlight our nation’s glorious democratic process, in reality only highlight our nation’s inglorious, crippling, and deepening political divide.

Is it any wonder that most of us find ourselves walking around looking as weary and confused as Bruce Jenner trying to make sense of his goofball stepfamily on Keeping up with the Kardashians?

But at least we can all take solace in the escapist world of sports, right?

Not exactly.

Even though restless souls across the nation were somewhatsoothed by the ending of the NFL lockout, the sports world still contains many unsolved mysteries, most of which keep better men than me up way past our bedtimes (well, that and the hope of coming across that Ahh Bra infomerical).

Let’s look at some of the biggest question marks in sports and see how concerned you should be about each confounding conundrum:

1. The Milwaukee Brewers Are For Real. The Brewers are unquestionably the hottest team in baseball, winning 12 out of their last 13, in the process turning what was recently a four-team race in the NL Central into a two-team race between them and their closest rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. (And that one loss? A one-run extra-inning heart breaker to, who else, the Cardinals). Best of all might be the fact that Milwaukee, who throughout the season have traveled about as well as these guys, have won their last four games on the road. Some may nitpick that Milwaukee has gotten a little fat off of playing the likes of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, but all one has to do is look at the example of the until-recently-contending Pittsburgh Pirates to realize that, no matter who you play, it’s not easy to win as the pressure of a pennant race builds. The Pirates lost seven in a row to the same Cubs and equally inept San Diego Padres to fall out of contention in the NL Central.

Though the Brewers have broken hearts before, most recently two years ago when they toyed with contention long enough to make things interesting (they eventually finished two games under but 11 games back of the Cardinals), it would be tough to be too critical of what is happening in Milwaukee these days. The Brewers are the third-best hitting team in the NL. Prince Fielder has broken out of his mini post-All Star slump. Nyjer Morgan continues to impress and is now challenging Ryan Braun for the title of the Brewers most-consistent hitter.

Most importantly, the pitching staff isn’t consistently letting down their offense. Zach Greinke, after a disappointing at best start to the season, has won three straight decisions and has dropped his ERA by more than a point in the last month. The addition of Francisco Rodriguez (nine scoreless appearances out of 11 with Milwaukee) has solidified the Brewers’ middle relief, and the appearances by closer John Axford (30 consecutive saves) have been as consistently satisfying as Regis Philbin’s appearances on David Letterman. (Or anywhere, really. Regis is king.)

What does “for real” mean? If it means a team that will contend for the league pennant, I say the Brewers have proven to be for real. Cause for concern: Minimal.

2. The Eagles Have Surpassed The Packers As The Favorites In The NFC. What the Philadelphia Eagles have done, with signing seemingly most of this year’s available free agents, is awesome.  It’s awesome for football, because it creates another team now everyone can collectively hate (the NFL’s version of the Miami Heat), it’s awesome because it creates a never-ending story that should captivate even the most casual NFL fans and fantasy football players, and it’s awesome because it won’t work.

I’m not suggesting that the Eagles won’t be a good team in 2011. With Michael Vick back, DeSean Jackson  ending his holdout, the free-agent signings of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, and the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles will be a solid team. But a comparison to the 2010-2011 Miami Heat is apt because the 2011 Eagles will be good, but not good enough. There are too many issues of health (Vick) depth (QB and RB) and areas of weakness (offensive line, linebackers).

And for all of their signings, only Asomugha is likely to have the impact of the Patriots’ acquisitions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. Hey, quantity over quality sometimes works in fantasy football, but not in the real deal.

True, the Packers haven’t done much and they’ve lost more big names (Jenkins, Mark Tauscher, Nick Barnett) then they’ve retained (James Jones, Mason Crosby). But surely not everyone has forgotten how good this team looked from about October on last year (OK, throw out that painful 7-3 loss to the Lions). Now add Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back to that mix?

Sorry, Philly. Enjoy that NFC East title, though.  Cause for concern: Trifling.

3. The NBA Lockout Will Result In The Loss Of The Entire 2011-2012 NBA Season. How bad is it for the NBA? Union chief Billy Hunter just revealed that he would bet against a 2011-2012 season .  And he’s one of the more optimistic parties. Meanwhile, more and more players (like Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer) are packing their bags to play overseas. Hope they packed plenty of underwear, because their exile could be a long one. Cause for concern: Hefty.

4. Badgers QB Russell Wilson Won’t Live Up To The Hype. With all of the love thrown North Carolina State transfer Wilson’s way, you would have thought that the Bucky’s performance at the QB position had been holding the Badgers back. Last I remembered, Scott Tolzien (21-5 as a starter) was pretty good. No, the Wilson signing was more a reaction to how bad the Badgers could possibly have been at quarterback with the likes of Jon Budmayr or Curt Phillips. Wilson isn’t just a minor upgrade from those guys, he’s like going from Rick Springfield to Bruce Springsteen. But maybe Human Touch/Lucky Town era Bruce Springsteen: Let’s let him play in a new conference with his new team a little before anointing him the greatest QB ever to wear red. Cause for concern: Moderate.

With apologies to the late Robert Stack, thanks for checking in on these Unsolved Mysteries. It’ll be fascinating to see how they get unraveled in the weeks and months ahead. At least more fascinating than any episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.


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