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Will the Philadelphia Eagles win OVER/UNDER 9.5 games? By University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

The Eagles have been a good model of consistency. Over the past 20 years, they have had just four losing seasons.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Philly managed to secure the NFC East title with a 9-7 record last year. They closed out the regular season with a four-game winning streak to edge the Cowboys atop the division.

Unfortunately, Carson Wentz exited the wildcard playoff game early and the team couldn’t overcome his absence in a 17-9 home loss to the Seahawks.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Carson Wentz needs to be applauded for his 2019 performance.

He had to deal with numerous injuries to his receiving corps and yet, he led the team to a playoff spot and he finished with a career-high in passing yards with 4,039. He threw 27 TD passes versus 7 interceptions, while playing all 16 games for the first time since his rookie season in 2016.

In the season finale, his top targets were Boston Scott, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins, Deontay Burnett and Greg Ward. Outside of Goedert, none is an established starter in the NFL. The Eagles still secured the NFC East title with a 34-17 road win in New York.

Philadelphia selected Jalen Hurts late in the second round of this year’s draft. He transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma for his senior year since Tua Tagovailoa was projected to be the starter. Hurst was actually replacing Kyler Murray who had just been taken as the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft by the Cards.

Hurts did not disappoint in his lone season with the Sooners. He completed 237-of-340 passes (69.7%) with 3,851 passing yards, along with 32 TD passes and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 1,298 yards with 20 TDs on the ground!

His weaknesses are an average accuracy, inconsistent decision-making and a tendency to take off as a runner too often (sometimes when a receiver was open). He is likely to be used as a gadget player by Doug Pederson this year.

Nate Sudfeld will compete for the backup job. He missed the entire 2019 season due to a wrist injury he suffered during preseason. He was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana in the 2016 draft. He has attempted just 25 passes in the NFL in four years, so it’s hard to tell what to expect from him.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Miles Sanders’ rookie season was a resounding success. He led all rookies with 1,327 yards from scrimmage.

He carried a heavier workload as the season went on. During the first eight games, he averaged 8.3 carries per game, as opposed to 14.1 over the last nine contests (including the playoff loss to the Seahawks).

Jordan Howard’s injury at midseason contributed to the increased usage of Sanders in the backfield. With Howard gone to Miami, the sky’s the limit for second-round pick out of Penn State.

Darren Sproles retired and Jay Ajayi was waived. That leaves the door wide open for third-year man Boston Scott. He flashed big time last year and unquestionably passed my eye test. The 5’6’’ back is very explosive.

Scott made a name for himself in Week #17 as he had to step in for Sanders who sprained an ankle in the first quarter against the Giants. Scott went on to rack up 138 total yards and three touchdowns.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

This unit was decimated by injuries last year. DeSean Jackson pretty much played just one game, while Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor missed six and five games, respectively.

Despite playing under his age-32 campaign, Jackson showed he still has field-stretching abilities in his lone meeting last year. He was spectacular with 8 catches for 154 yards and a couple of scores. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season very often in his career though.

Jeffery is another aging receiver coming off a significant injury. He underwent Lisfranc surgery, which requires a long rehab period. He’s questionable for the start of training camp.

Since two outstanding seasons in 2013 and 2014 with the Bears, Jeffery has missed four games per year on average, while showing signs of slowing down on the field as well. His 11.4 yards-per-catch average last year was a career low.

To be honest, I feel like Jeffery’s time in the league is coming to an end soon. Lisfranc injuries can be tricky for wide receivers, and full recovery is even more difficult for guys above 30 years of age.

Nelson Agholor was a younger WR who could have provided adequate depth, but he signed with the Raiders. The former first-rounder has not lived up to expectations, but he was still a decent pass catcher, albeit his drops were a big issue last year. Maybe a change of scenery will help rejuvenate his career.

Philly drafted Jalen Reagor with the #21 pick overall last April. He’s a smallish deep threat who is at his best on straight routes. He was good with contested catches, but will it still be the case in the NFL given his size? That’s a big question mark.

Reagor opened a lot of eyes by scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman with TCU after being a high recruit out of high school. He followed up with a great 72-1061-9 receiving line as a sophomore.

Reagor’s numbers dropped quite a bit as a junior (43-611-5), but you can attribute that to having a freshman QB at the helm. He’s an electrifying player who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

The competition for the number three role is also likely to involve Greg Ward and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. These two guys have had completely different paths before making it to the NFL.

Ward went undrafted before joining the AAF. He eventually was added to the Eagles’ practice squad, and later on promoted to the 53-man roster until a depleted receiving corps forced him onto the field.

Meanwhile, Arcega-Whiteside had more of a “conventional” journey by being drafted in the second-round of the 2019 draft.

Such resumes would suggest Arcega-Whiteside would be the superior wideout, but that’s not what we saw on the field. He only caught 10-of-22 targets for a disappointing 45% catch rate. He was rarely targeted down the stretch, despite the numerous injuries at the position.

On the other hand, Ward filled in admirably late in the season. Over the final four meetings, including the playoff game, he caught 20-of-25 targets (an 80% catch rate). He clearly deserves a shot as a top reserve for the upcoming season.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

The Eagles have a nice duo at the tight end position with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.

Ertz is a true warrior. He hasn’t missed more than two games in each of his first seven season in the league. Last year, he played with two rib fractures one week after lacerating his kidney. Talk about a tough guy.

His numbers are also staggering. His lowest figures in terms of receptions and receiving yards over the past five years are 74 and 816. That’s truly remarkable! Please note that he’ll be turning 30 years old during the season.

Just like Ertz, Goedert is also a former second-rounder. However, he is four years younger. He caught 58 passes for 607 yards and 5 TDs, all career-highs. He was targeted 4 times per game on average before the team’s bye week versus an average of 7.9 for the remainder of the year. Granted, injuries to other targets probably boosted his numbers, but he still developed nice chemistry with Wentz.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

The Eagles have a heck of an offensive line.

You cannot blame Jason Kelce for anything over the past five years. He hasn’t missed any start, while consistently being one of the top centers in the league. As a matter of fact, he was rated as the #1 center in the NFL according to PFF grades last year. He’s now 32 years old.

Left tackle Jason Peters has been just as good as Kelce. He was nominated to nine Pro Bowls in his career and he finished as the number 6 tackle in the league with his 83.4 PFF mark. Unfortunately, the team decided to let the 38-year old hit the free agency market. EDIT: he was re-signed three days ago (this article was written several weeks ago). He is projected to play guard instead of tackle.

Peters will be replaced with 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard. Is he ready to take on the full-time job? It remains to be seen, but it will be difficult to fill Peters’ shoes.

As for Lane Johnson, the right tackle finished as the 3rd-best tackle in the league based on the PFF grading system. He’s been very good throughout his seven-year career; the former #4 overall pick has not disappointed at all!

Brandon Brooks also had a huge 2019 season! He ended the year as the top guard in the NFL with a jaw-dropping 92.9 PFF mark. Much like Lane Johnson, Brooks is another player above 30 years old who’s been reliable his entire career.

Left guard Isaac Seumalo started all 16 games for the first time of his career. He’s the one that received the lowest grades on this OL, but finishing 17th out of 81 guards is nothing to be ashamed of! The former third-round pick from the 2016 draft is not as talented as his colleagues, but you could do worse than having him as one of your starters.

The team lost good depth with the departure of Halapoulivaati Vaitai to Detroit. The 2019 season was clearly his best year; it would have been nice to retain him but he signed a huge contract with the Lions.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

When comparing the upcoming 2020 season with last year, there are some positives and some negatives.

Let’s discuss the negative stuff first. I do expect a downgrade on the offensive line. They played at an extremely high level last year with four guys finishing among the 6 players at their respective position (based on PFF rankings). That’s unlikely to happen again, especially with three linemen aged 30 years or above.

Also, second-year man Andre Dillard has good potential, but it will be difficult to match Jason Peters’ 2019 performance. I do expect a drop-off here.

At quarterback and tight end, the situation remains stable.

At the running back position, losing Jordan Howard to free agency won’t hurt too much with the emergence of electrifying Boston Scott. Also, Miles Sanders is expected to take a leap in his sophomore season.

Finally, how could you not expect better production from the WR group? They were hit by the injury bug a lot last year. Agholor’s departure is a moderate blow; getting DeSean Jackson back is a bonus! Hopefully, speedy rookie Jalen Reagor can provide a spark to an offense that sorely missed game breakers last year.

The Eagles offense scored the 12th-highest number of points last year. My final conclusion, based on the arguments above, is that I expect similar production in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Fletcher Cox is an animal. Plain and simple.

Despite posting his second-lowest sack output of his illustrious eight-year career, he still graded as the 4th-best interior defenders in the NFL based on PFF rankings. On average, he has recorded 6 sacks per year (he only got 3.5 last year)

He has also been very durable; he’s missed just three games out 128. He still has good years to come at age 29.

Tim Jernigan was a decent starter next to Cox, but he clearly wasn’t needed on the team anymore after the Eagles signed stud DT Javon Hargrave. The former Steeler showed steady improvement in each of his first four years in the NFL. His 83.4 PFF mark last year put him in the 8th spot out of 114 DLs.

With Hargrave entering his prime years and Fletcher Cox being a perennial beast, good luck running the ball inside the tackles against the Eagles in 2020.

After playing three years in Indy, Hassan Ridgeway had a below-average season in his first year with the Eagles. He’s more of a rotational player, whom you hope won’t be needed as a starter.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

Brandon Graham is 32 years old, but he refuses to slow down. He led the team with 8.5 sacks last year, and he has averaged six sacks over an eight-year period!

The guy also finds a way to stay on the field. Can you believe he has missed a single game in eight years! He’s been consistently good and remains a force, both against the run and rushing the passer.

Derek Barnett is a former first-rounder coming off a career-high in sacks with 6.5. However, his 2019 PFF grade was the lowest of his three-year stint in the NFL and he finished as the number 83 edge defender out of 107 qualifiers. He’s an “okay” player.

Vinny Curry played 38% of the snaps last year, but it does not appear like he will be back with the team. At the time of writing, he was still a free agent. He did pick up five sacks last year, but teams seem reluctant to sign him because he’ll be playing his age-32 campaign. He actually played pretty well when called upon.

With Curry gone, the team must hope Josh Sweat will elevate his game. The 2018 fourth-round selection posted his first four sacks of his career last year, but his 62.5 overall PFF mark ranked him as the 76th-best edge defender out of 107 guys.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

After playing four years in Buffalo and four years in Philly, Nigel Bradham was cut by the Eagles, mainly for cap reasons. He provided average play at the LB position; he was good in coverage, but he was a liability defending the run.

The team also lost Kamu Grugier-Hill, who signed with the Dolphins. You could characterize him as a decent player, albeit far from being great.

That leaves the team pretty thin at the position.

Nathan Gerry is the lone 2019 starter that is still with the team. He ranked as the 34th-best linebacker out of 89 players. He does not offer much upside, though. It would be stunning to see him crack the top 25 someday.

Can Duke Riley and/or T.J Edwards crack the starting lineup? Neither seem to be an up-and-coming star. Riley was acquired for peanuts prior to last year and he played 35 snaps. As for Edwards, he was an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin that did well in limited time last year. He proved to be stout against the run.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Philly’s back end has been revamped for the upcoming 2020 season.

The Eagles signed one of the best slot corners in the league: Nickell Robey-Coleman. He has received consistently good grades from ProFootballFocus over the past four years. At 5’8’’ he is pretty small, but you couldn’t tell from the quality of his game. He’s a nice addition.

Philly also acquired Darius “Big Play” Slay, who played the first seven years of his career with the Lions. He had a down year in 2019, but I’m not worried he can rebound in a new environment. He’s been covering opponent’s top receivers for a while in this league, and he’s done a good job at it. He has 19 career interceptions.

Ronald Darby’s career has been plagued with injuries recently and he was let go during the offseason. His PFF grade took an enormous drop last year, all the way from a respectable 70.6 in 2018 down to an abysmal 44.8 last year. He signed a one-year deal with the Redskins.

Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox are still on the team, but neither has proven to be an impactful contributor. Both graded as very below-average corners in 2019.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod both played the entire 2019 season. They ranked as the 32nd- and 52nd-best out of a bunch of 87 safeties.

The organization and Jenkins couldn’t agree on a deal, so the Eagles had to let him go after six very successful seasons. He picked off 11 passes during his six-year stint in Philly. He signed with the Saints, with which he spent the first five seasons of his career. Even though he wasn’t getting any younger, his present will be missed.

McLeod’s 2019 PFF grade was the lowest he had obtained over the past five years, but he still did a decent job.

Jalen Mills will be one piece of the puzzle in replacing Jenkins. But let’s face the reality: he has been pretty awful throughout his four-year career, except 2017 where he did better.

Another option will be newly acquired Will Parks, who is coming over from Denver. However, he’s clearly not a long-term solution either. He’s pretty versatile, but he’s a below-average player.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

This unit was upgraded quite a bit during the offseason at two positions, but it also suffered a severe downgrade at a couple others.

First, acquiring Javon Hargrave to team up with Fletcher Cox on the interior of the line was big! At CB, getting Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman will provide much needed help at a position that has caused headaches for years in Philly.

Unfortunately, the defense lost its best safety when Malcolm Jenkins signed with the Saints. Also, even though none of them was a true difference maker, losing linebackers Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill creates a hole.

Since the team acquired some big time players while losing good/average players, I envision a small improvement. In 2019, the Eagles finished in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed per game (15th out of 32 teams). I envision Philly finishing around the #10-#13 spot this year.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small upgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Eagles are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

Here are the results:

Estimated Probability Sportsbook Odds ROI
OVER 9.5 WINS 42.3% FanDuel -105 -17.4%
UNDER 9.5 WINS 57.7% Pinnacle -103 +13.7%
Tip: Bet UNDER 9.5 wins
Return On Investment (ROI): +13.7%
Rank: 19th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -136

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Eagles’ 16 regular season games:

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

I invite you to take a look at my other 31 NFL team previews! Good information if you are involved in fantasy football and/or if you want to be up-to-date on player movement and teams' strengths and weaknesses (for betting purposes)!

Cheers,

Professor MJ
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[Humans are Hiveminds] Pt 9: Deception

As this is a language of tastes and strands of DNA analog names cannot be written phonetically and are instead replaced with a human name or Earth analog in [brackets].
Span: The diameter of an average [Gaian] = 0.94mm, Kilospan = 0.94m.
Beat: The amount of time it takes an average [Gaian] to move their cilia = 0.064s, kilobeat = 1min 4s.
Work Cycle: 10 kilobeats. Equivalent to around 15 hours on their time scale
Day: Day length on [Gaia] = 28h 16min. Equivalent to around 3 months on their time scale.
Year: Year length on [Gaia] = 224.4 days = 264.3 Earth days.
[First] [Previous] [Next]
Director Townsend combed through the pile of reports in his inbox carefully, most of them were on the drone project. It was a massive stroke of luck that his facility was the one that was closest to where the drones had been captured, some components were going to be shipped to other labs soon, but at the moment his lab had a head start on any research coming out of these things. While his name won’t be on any of the papers, having them come from his lab was still something. Though there was also the risk of the unknown and active cyborg technology getting loose or self-destructing. The higher ups would not be pleased if his lab ruined their only samples.
So far, the physicists were having little luck disassembling the device the drones had been found with. The drone dissection team was having a little more progress, though so far they were mostly just confirming data that had already been gathered from the first crushed drone. The ineffectualness of the comm jammers when the agents were capturing these things was still a worryingly open question.
Oh well, its a bit optimistic to hope we would make much progress on the first day. He thought ruefully. He made his way down to the latest report from the dissection team, noting that there was a considerable pause between it and their last report. He clicked it open and as he read his bushy grey eyebrows rose steadily higher up his forehead. When he finished he sat back and stared at the far wall blankly for a few moments.
…shit it really is aliens. Or at least the things are claiming to be from aliens. Jesus, if they are telling the truth this is an even bigger issue than we thought.
He read the report again and started making calls.
Alison was in the middle of explaining that the phase “we can fix that” can apply to metaphorical concepts like widespread fear when a knock on the lab’s outer door interrupted them. Carl went through the signal blocking pair of doors and had a brief conversation with the person outside. He walked back in looking thoughtful.
“The director just read our report and is sending in some language experts, they should be here in a few hours. He called NASA too and they are wanting more data about the spaceship they’re looking for. I just gave the messenger our updated report about tiny things inside the wasps beingthe aliens, so that might cause some ruckus as well.”
Alison glanced over at the cage. “Did you understand that?” She asked, testing their vocabulary.
“Affirmative. Minor. Highly.” The wasp at the front of the cage replied.
“What did you understand?”
“Read. Arriving. Language. Desire. Information. Vessel. Message. Small. Inside.”
“Yeah that’s pretty scattered. I’ll explain, it was multiple messages. The first was saying other people who have knowledge about languages are coming to help you communicate with us soon. The second was saying people are desiring more information about your vacuum ship, and the third message was that we told our decision maker that you are naturally evolved not made.”
The bug stopped looking around at the ceiling and turned to face her again briefly.
“Understood. Request. Vessel. Information.”
Alison smiled. They are so ADHD. Or maybe they are trying to find escape routes. I’m glad they followed that explanation though regardless.
“How large is your vacuum ship.” She asked, figuring that was a good place to start off.
The bugs paused for a moment before the one up front held out two front legs around a millimeter apart.
“Single. Length. Unit.” It said, gesturing at the two legs with a third limb.
Alison nodded. “Understood. How many standard length units long is your ship?” She asked, as David zoomed in a camera to get a close up shot of the bug’s gesture. They hissed at each other for a moment before the bug replied “Lack. Knowledge. Numbers.”
Alison sighed and began explaining base ten counting systems and the words involved. At this point most of her coworkers had returned to their various jobs examining the dead wasps and let Alison take the lead on the communication attempts, as her original job of studying the “drones’” computers was kind of out the window.
I guess I’m not the worst of us have this job. Given all the behavior and computing capacity tests I was planning I’m probably the closest thing we have to an interrogator at the moment She thought wryly as she finished her short lecture.
“Did you understand that?” She asked.
“Eve! Wake up. It stopped talking.” Frank sent.
Eve jerked out of the light doze she had fallen into. “Huh, what? Oh, yeah falling asleep in front of it during a lecture probably isn’t good.” She said, remembering the long kilobeats she had just spent trying to look like she was paying attention, it had been talking for ages.
“Did anyone follow what it was saying?” She sent sleepily, the last she remembered it was drawing dots and symbols on one of its big glowing screens and saying something about places.
“Yeah, we think those squiggles it was drawing under the clumps of dots are symbols for different numbers. They kind of match some of the symbols we have seen on the phone too, so that’s interesting. Anyway, it seems that it uses a system of displaying number in multiples of ten by grouping symbols next to each other. It’s pretty straight forward, though annoyingly it’s sound language messes things up. As best I can tell, they having different words for each grouping, so you need to learn a new word to say a larger type of number. Why not just say the names of each symbol making up the number?” [Frank] trailed off grumbling.
[Walter] [sighed] and sent over [Frank] “Regardless, we think we know enough to use the symbol numbers at least. I still think we should have just sent them 330 [beeps]. That would have taken way less time.”
“This will be faster in the long run.” [Eve] replied. “…I hope. How complex are the symbol numbers?”
“I think we can show the length in just three symbols, so it’s not that bad.” [Frank] sent. “The vison-based version is actually logical…”
“Alright, we get it, you don’t like the sound version. Let’s just answer the question already.” [Erin] snapped. Nerves were beginning to wear thin after nearly a tenth day stuck in this bare glass room.
“Alright, alright, help me grab the interface tool.”
Alison watched excitedly as the aliens began moving their little stylus on their phone again. They drew a crude 3 and then the radio let out three short tones.
Ah good, checking their work I guess.
“Three, yes.” She replied.
They then drew another 3 next to the first and the radio let out a rapid squeal of beeps.
“Err, I can’t count that fast.” Alison muttered as she played back the signal a few times slower. There were 33 beeps. She grinned.
“Thirty-three, yes.”
The drones then added a zero at the end and Alison rushed to count the slightly slower stream of beeps that the radio spat out.
330, they seem to have gotten it She thought with some relief after she finally finished counting. The bug up front was looking bored again. I really should try and tell them apart better; I might need to add some colored dots on them or something. Oh shit, they might have names, we never introduced ourselves. I’ll have to do that after this.
“Three hundred and thirty, yes.” She replied, putting those thoughts out of her mind for the moment. The bugs carried the stylus away from the screen, thankfully not adding another digit. One of the ones standing near the phone flew onto the screen and pointed at the number.
“Vessel. Unit. Lengths. Numbers.” The radio said, Alison wasn’t sure if it was the alien on the phone or the one up front speaking, they all used the same voice.
“That’s the length of your vacuum ship in the units you showed us?” Alison checked.
“Yes.”
“Huh, so about this big?” She said, spreading her hands a third of a meter apart. “That’s pretty small.”
“You. Large.”
“…fair enough.” Alison said, noting the dimension down.
“Is that the ship you used to travel between stars?”
“Yes.”
How the hell did they go interstellar in something the size of a football? She thought, shaking her head. Something for the actual interrogators to ask.
“You drew the ship as an oval, is that roughly its shape?” She said, looking back up at the wasp in the front of the cage.
“Word. Oval.”
She drew a quick oval on her tablet. “That’s an oval.”
“Vessel.”
“No, I mean the shape, not what its representing.”
“Symbol. Named. Query.”
“Yes, we have names for different symbols.”
“What. Symbol. Mean.”
“It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a type of shape.”
“Understood. Type. Form. Not. Symbol.”
“Err, yes. Anyway, your ship is oval shaped?”
“Not. Flat.”
She sighed and tried gesturing with her hands to outline a 3d ovoid “Like this? A not flat oval?”
The wasps paused and watched her hand motions for a bit before replying. “Yes.”
Alison dropped the charades and grabbed her sketch again, drawing length and width lines around the craft. “Ok, so its three hundred and 30 units long, how wide is it?” She said, waving her stylus from one side of the drawing to the other.
The creatures wrote 104 on their phone. “Unit. Lengths.” The radio finished.
“Ok, what is the ship made of?”
The wasps seemed to struggle for words for a bit before one of the drones grabbed one of the chips of plastic scattered around where they had been sawing on the phone. It gestured towards the fleck. “Minor. Link.”
“Slightly similar? Comparable?”
“Yes.”
Alison wrote down ‘Some sort of polymer.’ She then quickly sketched the scene of the ship between Earth and the Moon. “Anything more you can tell us about the ship’s location?” She asked, pointing to the rather vague drawing.
“No. Ship. Move.”
“But it moves around in this area?”
“Many. Do. Yes.”
“Oh! So there are several here? How many?”
The wasps froze and hissed at each other again briefly. They then wrote 38.
That’s not suspicious at all. Alison thought, noting the pause.
“Are you lying?” She asked, squinting at them.
They flinched. “No. Considered. Found. Negative.”
“Say again?”
The little bug up front twitched with annoyance.
“Considered. Lying. Decided. Not.”
Hmm, I’m not sure if them admitting that makes me trust them more or less Alison thought, making a note of the incident.
“Is there anything else about one of your ships that would help us locate them?”
“No.”
“Ok. I’ll send this to my decision makers now.” She said, stepping out of the lab briefly to feed a paper copy of her report to a scanner outside. This seems kind of over kill given they don’t seem to be classic computers at all, but they could still have some computers on board their little wasp vehicles, or they could just be good hackers. Cyberweapons could still be an issue. Alison mused as she walked back in.
She stood looking at the cage awkwardly for a moment, wondering what to ask next. They look pretty pathetic in there; we need to get an actual habitat or something set up for them if we plan on questioning them for long. Oh right, I still haven’t done introductions. She cleared her throat.
“I am sorry, I haven’t told you my name, I am Alison. Do you have names?”
“Yes. Not. Sound.”
“Your name is Not Sound?”
“No.
Name. Not. Word. Scent. Memory.”
“Oh. So not speakable then?”
“Yes.”
“That is a shame. I would have liked to know them. You are multiple individuals, right?”
The wasp up front tilted its head slightly.
“Query.”
“Different minds.”
“Yes. You. Query.”
“Yes, I am an individual too.”
“You. Many.”
“What do you mean?”
“Many. Small. Life.”
“Oh, cells. Yeah, I have lots of cells. I still only have one mind though.”
“Confirmed. Idea.”
“You were wondering about that? I guess we are pretty alien to you. Are you not made of multiple cells?”
“One. Creature. Yes.”
A biologist would have a million questions right now. Alison bet. “Hey Carl!, I think you’ll like this.” She yelled to her coworker on the other side of the lab room. He glanced up from a scan of one of the wasp’s legs and hurried over.
“What is it?”
“I figured you’d like to know our guests here are unicellular.”
He blinked. “That’s…interesting. It fits what we saw when that one was crawling around. How the heck to they think though?”
“Memory. Chain. Folding.” The radio hissed.
“That isn’t very helpful.” Carl muttered.
Two wasps grabbed their stylus again and drew a triple helix shape. “Memory.” The radio said.
Carl peered closer. “…that looks like the triple stranded DNA analog we found in the wasps’ nerve cells. Interesting, they encode memories into their genome?”
“Word. Genome.”
“Err, data storage for replication.”
“Similar. Type.”
“Fascinating. I really wish I could get a good scan of one of them but that might hurt them. How tolerant of ionizing radiation are you?” Carl asked.
“Word. Ionizing.”
“Rips electrons, small charged matter pieces, from atoms, um, small matter building blocks.”
“Large. Bad.”
The wasp up front opened up its head, and a tiny shimmering ball oozed out. Alison zoomed in with one of the cameras and watched as it formed several limbs and began flicking them around just above itself. Alison frowned with confusion until she noticed the faint shimmering on its body was actually not on its surface at all, it was coming from a faint translucent sphere englobing the creature. The alien was gesturing at it.
“Need. Shield. On. Surface.” The radio hissed. “Star. Power. Hurt. Forget. Insane. Die.”
The creature slid back into its case again and the wasp shuddered back to life.
“…ok, important note, X-rays are off the table.” Carl said worriedly as he jotted down a report on his tablet. “You said you need those shields on the surface, do you normally live under ground?”
“Under. Water.”
“Ah. Do you need those shields when in your flying bodies?” He asked.
“No.”
“How long can you stay in those things?”
“Many. Day.”
“How many?”
“Err, I don’t know? It should be largely indefinite right?” Asked [Frank].
“The life support systems are only rated for around 4 days of total use. Indefinite for most practical purposes, though it wasn’t expected for us to be using them nonstop like this.” [Walter] sent softly.
“At the rate this questioning is going they might actually keep us for that long. Heck, that would only feel like half a tenth day to them. And that’s assuming they are planning on letting us go at all.” [Erin] replied grimly.
“Maybe that would be a good bargaining chip into letting us go? There is no point in keeping us longer if we will just starve.” [Eve] wondered.
“I mean, they could just be planning on killing us when they are done. They might not want us reporting back to the fleet.” [Walter] pointed out.
“Important questions.” [Eve] sent. “Lets ask them quickly.”
The wasps drew a 4 on the tablet, Carl and Alison shared worried looks. “That won’t give us much time at all.” He said.
The radio hissed “Time. Limited. Vessel. Return. Query.”
Alison grimaced. “That depends a lot on how communications with your ships go. If they run away or attack then we won’t be able to send you back. How do you think your people will respond to us contacting them? Or will they contact us soon? They must know you are missing.”
“Decision. Makers. Know. Self. Gone. Long. Time. Think. Dead. Highly.”
“Hmm, will they be willing to talk if we contact them and show them that you are still alive?”
“Possible.”
“What would their reaction likely be?”
“Fear. Curiosity.”
“We can work with the latter. Is their understanding of this language similar to yours?”
“Yes. Same.”
“OK, we might want to improve yours more first so you can act as translators. We wouldn’t want a misunderstanding with them.”
“How. Long.”
“Depends on how fast your translator improves, I’ve already noticed some improvement.”
“Interaction. You. Confirmation. Assists.”
“That’s good, some language teachers should be arriving in a few hours and they should be even better at that.”
“Word. Hours.”
“One 24th of a day.” Alison said, writing the numbers out on her tablet.
“Long. Time.”
“Yeah, your craft running out in a few days is a worrying time constraint. We might have to work out a way of synthesizing the stuff you need. What is it that will run out in 4 days?”
“Food. Machine. Fail.”
“Could you give us a sample of your food?”
“Do we really want to give them the ability to keep us here forever?” [Walter] asked.
“Beats starving to death if the deeper downs do something stupid.” [Erin] replied.
“Maybe we should wait until we know that has happened first. Getting rid of that leverage should be our last resort.”
“Come on [Walter], they are slow, it might take them days to get a synthesizer running. Besides, we could still threaten to kill ourselves if they refuse to let us go.” [Erin] pointed out, gesturing at him with an antenna.
“That’s a bit bright, but fine I get your point.” [Walter] [sighed].
“I guess I’ll give them the sample then.” Said [Frank] “You already have way too much exposure time [Eve].”
“Fine by me.” She replied. “I feel no great need to make myself feel even more exposed again.”
“Yes. Give. Where.”
Alison pointed to the back wall of the cage where the hatches were set and then went into the back room where they were operated. The room was an organized mess of various boxes full of testing materials that had been hastily cobbled together when they had heard about the wasps being caught and sent here this morning. On the near wall was an array of small hatches and the mechanical levers that opened them. She pulled a lever that operated the inner door for the smallest of the four hatches, and waited a few moments until Carl told her a wasp had gone in and out. She then closed the inner door and opened the outer one on the little airlock like chamber. Looking inside she didn’t see anything at first, until she spotted a dark mote of dust sitting in the center of the cubby.
Being careful not to blow it away she scooped it up with the tip of a scalpel and deposited it into a sample vial. She walked back to Carl and passed it to him, he squinted at it confused for a moment.
“I’m pretty sure the little speck in there is the sample they gave us.” Alison said “Or it might be a mote of dust, I can’t really tell.”
“I’ll go check with the microscope.” Carl muttered as he headed back over to his work station. A couple of moments later he yelled over his shoulder “Yeah this was it. It’s actually a tiny plastic bottle, looks like it was made with a bit of the plastic from the phone case. I’m going to need some really good tweezers to get this open.”
Alison left him to his work and turned back to the cage. “After food is there anything else you will need?”
“More. Cage. Swim.”
“Yeah, that box was meant just for a few tests, not long-term habitation. What kind of habitat do you need?”
“An apartment would be nice but somehow I’m guessing they don’t have a standard sized building laying around.” [Frank] muttered.
“A water tank and a plastic block with some holes punched in it shouldn’t be too hard for them to make, and would give us at least some crude “rooms” to relax in out of sight.” [Eve] sent, along with a mental image.
“Hmm, yeah. And if we specified a soft material it wouldn’t be too hard for us to just carve out rooms ourselves. There wouldn’t be any appliances in them or anything, but it beats swimming around an empty tank or just sitting in our craft for tenth days on end.” Another engineer agreed.
“OK, let’s draw this out on the device.”
Alison spent a few minutes copying several sketches for what amounted to tiny fish tank decorations, mostly some minuscule blocks of plastic and wood with various nooks carved into them. Security will probably want to go over all of this to make sure that they couldn’t make anything dangerous out of it but so far it seems pretty innocuous.
“Alright, what water conditions do you need? Do you need salt water?”
“Word. Salt.”
“It’s a mineral made of…ok let me get a periodic table. I figure you guys know about atoms and stuff, right?”
“Matter. Building. Blocks. Yes. Very.”
“Good, let me just give you our words for them then.”
[Walter] and [Erin] watched the giant’s slow lecture with bemusement.
“I’m no chemist but they seem to have a decent grasp of the basics.” [Walter] remarked as the creature above them slowly blinked and one of its fingers continued its gradual progression towards the next label on the chart it was holding.
“It didn’t mention quarks at all so they don’t seem to have gotten that far.” One of the fabricators replied.
“True, though it seems to be trying to keep things short, thank the depths. Its only describing how they categorize different elements and isotopes, that just requires mentioning protons and neutrons.” [Walter] replied. “Also, look at how many elements they have on that chart, they must have some transuranic elements on there. I wonder how they got samples of those; you need to be pretty close to a super nova to get those.”
“They use radioactive materials for power, they can briefly make supernova like conditions.” [Erin] pointed out.
“Lovely thought.” [Walter] sent. That would be an interesting question to talk to the creature (err… Alison) about, but it taking a kilobeat to answer puts a damper on things.
The creature eventually finished explaining the labeling system for the chart it was holding up, and pointed to elements 11 and 17 which it then called “Sodium” and “Chlorine”. It then drew a pair of circles next to each other with a dashed line in between. It labeled one circle 11 and the other 17. It tapped the drawing and said an unknown word, [Walter] figured it probably meant “ionic bond”.
The creature did some more scribbling and then showed two smaller circles with 1’s in them linked to a bigger circle labeled 8. The smaller circles were linked to the bigger one with solid lines. It then drew a copy of that molecule next to the first and showed them being linked together with a dotted line. It then pointed to each type of line and named them.
“Hmm, that’s clearly a pair of water molecule given the elements in them, I think it’s showing us how to draw different bonding types.” [Frank] sent.
The thing began opening its mouth and the team waited a few hundred beats for it to speak. “Provide” “Many-atom” “Types” “In” “Water”
“I think it wants us to list the minerals the tank water will need.” [Eve] sent.
“That makes sense. Ugg, that’s going to take awhile to draw. Let’s get started on it then.” [Erin] grumbled as she flew over to the stylus again. The team spent a few kilobeats listing the components and concentrations of standard hab water.
Alison finished noting down the materials list, it was pretty short, just water with a few trace minerals to keep osmosis in check. She didn’t know enough about fish tanks to know if the oxygen concentration listed was normal or not though.
“OK, this all looks like stuff we can get. I’ll submit a request for this stuff to the director.” She said, walking out of the lab again. While she was waiting for the scanner in the hall to finish, she turned to the bored looking intern sitting nearby.
“Any word about how the director is handling this?” She asked the messenger.
“Nothing worth interrupting you guys.” He said, flicking through the messages on his computer. “Some notices to other departments about requesting equipment to studying that lifting machine, not much progress on that still. Some proposals to try getting your aliens to turn it on for us, though security is vetoing that idea at the moment. The director is in talks with the FBI about moving those things to a different facility, it’s kind of a clusterfuck at the moment. The government doesn’t really know what they want to do with the things.”
Alison let out a breath “Yeah no kidding, I don’t think anyone has a plan for dealing with captive sentient amoebas. I think we might have to return them to their ship soon, their life support will supposedly run out in a few days. Any word on finding their ships?”
“NASA is working on it right now.”
Henry glared at the radar data again for the millionth time before starting slightly as his phone rang with his boss’s number. He worriedly grabbed it.
“Hel-“
“DC called a few minutes ago. They are asking about any signs of small ovoid spacecraft in between the Earth and the Moon. The anomalies you are checking might not be an instrument error after all.” His boss said breathlessly.
Henry blinked. “Umm, how big of a spacecraft are we talking here? The data is showing a football sized body zipping around. Are these some microsats they are trying to locate? There is no way they could have the fuel for the maneuvers this thing would supposedly be pulling.”
“That matches what they described. They asked for 32 cm by 10 cm sized ovoids. The radar signatures you sent me last night are consistent with a rotating ovoid, and accelerating like that definitely rules out a natural body.”
“It also rules out an unnatural body. The blip changed trajectories like crazy, the g’s those maneuvers would produce is absurd. It’s clearly an instrument glitch.”
“On both the radar system and the thermal telescope?” His boss asked pointedly.
Henry sighed. “Fine, if they want to double check it themselves they can be my guest. I’ll send the files over now.”
Director Townsend had been juggling phone calls all afternoon thanks to this alien issue. The linguists and questioners the NSA was sending over were going to arrive any minute now, and there was talk of them leaving with the creatures.
“Yes sir, I realize this is a matter of national security, in fact I would go so far as to say it’s a matter of international security. But we are currently one of the more secure locations to house these creatures, and we need to keep studying them. This is an alien species for crying out loud, the place we need them is in a lab. We don’t even know what they eat yet, we need to do more research on them before we can send them off to some military base.” Townsend said with restrained frustration, this was the third time the NSA director had brought this up.
The man on the other end of the line sighed. “Fine, if there really is that much left to do you can keep them for now, but I will be sending additional security. Finish your work quickly.”
Townsend glared at the phone briefly after the general abruptly hung up. Ugh, at least he was somewhat willing to compromise. He grumbled to himself as his phone immediately began ringing again, it was NASA.
“Director Townsend speaking.” He said urgently.
“Director, this is Bernstein again. We have found several matches for the objects you described. There were several unexplained small objects caught on radar over the last few weeks, and even some thermal images as well. We began a search for more of them an hour ago and we think we found another one. Its in a low elliptical orbit that misses most of our radar stations, though we managed to get a good read on it a few minutes ago. Its albedo is crazy low, its messing with the radar a bit too, but we spotted it with an infrared satellite as well. Its quite a bit warmer than a normal rock should be.”
“Sounds promising. Keep a close eye on it, we might be giving them a call soon.”
He hung up and checked his messages again and saw the interrogators had arrived. Let’s hope they don’t make a mess of things.
(Continues in comments)
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The truth behind Puskás Akadémia FC - How Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán stole a legend, built a stadium in his backyard and guided his team to Europe

The 2019/2020 season of the Hungary’s National Football League (NB1) – being one of the first leagues to restart play - came to an end on 27 June. If a casual observer (for whatever reason) decides to check out the final standings, he would be not surprised at the first two positions: record-champion Ferencváros defended their title, while regional powerhouse Fehérvár (Videoton) came in second. However, the third place team, Puskás Akadémia FC might seem unusual and one could think that there is a story behind that. Is there a team named after Ferenc Puskás? Did some academy youths make an incredible run for the Europa League qualification? Well, the observer is right, there is a story behind all this, but it’s absolutely not a fun story. It’s a story about how one powerful man’s obsession with football stole a legend, misused state funds and killed the spirit of Hungarian football. (Warning: this is a long story, feel free to scroll down for a tl;dr. Also, I strongly advise checking out the links, those images are worth seeing).
Naturally, political influence in football has been present ever since the dawn of the sport and we know of numerous state leaders who felt confident enough to use their influence to ensure the successful development of their favored clubs – Caucescu’s FC Olt Scornicesti and Erdogan’s Basaksehir are well-known examples of such attempts. However, I fear that very few of the readers are aware of the fact that Puskás Akadémia FC is nothing but Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s grandiose project for establishing his hometown’s club as one of the country’s top teams. Considering that Orbán managed to achieve this goal using state funds in an EU member democracy in the 2000s, one might even say that it might be one of the most impressive attempts of cheating your way through Football Manager in real life. Now that Puskás Akadémia FC escaped the desolate football scene of Hungary and is getting ready for the European takeover, I feel that it’s high time to tell its true story.

Part 1: Part time striker, part time PM

Our story begins in 1999 when the 36-year-old striker Viktor Orbán (recently elected as the country’s Prime Minister) was signed by the sixth-tier side of Felcsút FC residing in rural Fejér County. It might sound surprising that an active politician would consider such a side job, but given that Orbán has been playing competitive low-level football throughout his whole life and has always been known as a keen football enthusiast, people seemed to be okay with his choice for a hobby. Orbán spent most of his childhood in the village of Felcsút (population: 1,800), so it seemed only natural that he would join the team after one of his old-time acquaintances became team president there.
Orbán’s arrival to the club seemed to work like a charm as Felcsút FC immediately earned a promotion to the fifth league. The Prime Minister’s busy program did not allow him to attend every training session and game but Orbán did make an effort to contribute as much as possible on the field – there is a report of a government meeting being postponed as Orbán was unavailable due to attending Felcsút FC’s spring training camp. The 2001/2002 season brought another breakthrough for the side as Felcsút was promoted to the national level of the football pyramid after being crowned the champion of Fejér County. Sadly enough for Orbán, he suffered a defeat on another pitch – his party lost the 2002 election and Orbán was forced to move to an opposition role.
No matter what happened on the political playing field, Orbán would not abandon his club. Just before the 2002 elections, Felcsút was surprisingly appointed as one of the regional youth development centers by the Hungarian FA. Orbán continued contributing on the field as well (he had more spare time after all) but his off-the-field efforts provided much more value for the team as he used his political influence to convince right-wing businessmen that they should definitely get sponsorship deals done with the fourth-division village team.
Club management was able to transform the influx of funds into on-field success: Felcsút FC was promoted to the third division in 2004 and achieved promotion to the second division in 2005. Although these new horizons required a skill level that an aging ex-PM is not likely to possess, Orbán regularly played as a late game sub and even appeared in cup games against actual professional opponents. The now-42-year old Orbán did not want to face the challenge of the second division, so he retired in 2005 – but this did not stop him from temping as an assistant coach when the head coach was sacked in the middle of the 2005-2006 season.
Success on the playing field did not translate to political success: Orbán lost the elections once again in 2006. However, this was only a temporary loss: the ruling party committed blunder after blunder and by early 2007 it became absolutely obvious that Orbán would be able return to power in 2010. Now confident in his political future, Orbán opted for the acceleration of football development in Felcsút – by late 2007 he took over the presidency of the club to take matters in his own hands. Sponsors seeking to gain favor with the soon-to-be PM were swarming Felcsút FC, so the club was able to stand very strong in an era where financial stability was a very rare sight in the Hungarian football scene, accumulating three medals (but no promotion) between 2007 and 2009.
On the other hand, Orbán realized the value of youth development as well, and started a local foundation for this purpose back in 2004 that gathered funds for the establishment a boarding school-like football academy. The academy opened its doors in September 2006 (only the second of such institutions in the country) and Orbán immediately took upon the challenge of finding an appropriate name for the academy.
He went on to visit the now very sick Ferenc Puskás in the hospital to discuss using his name, but as Puskás’ medical situation was deteriorating rapidly, communication attempts were futile. Luckily enough Puskás’ wife (and soon to be widow) was able to act on his incapable husband’s behalf and approved the naming deal in a contract. According to the statement, naming rights were granted without compensation, as “Puskás would have certainly loved what’s happening down in Felcsút”. However, there was much more to the contract: Puskás’ trademark was handed to a sports journalist friend of Orbán (György Szöllősi, also acting communications director of the academy) who promised a hefty annual return for the family (and also a 45% share of the revenue for himself). Ferenc Puskás eventually died on 17 November 2006 and on 26 November 2006 the football academy was named after him: Puskás Academy was born.
Orbán shared his vision of the whole organization after the opening ceremony: “It’s unreasonable to think that Felcsút should have a team in the top division. We should not flatter ourselves, our players and our supporters with this dream. Our long term ambition is the creation of a stable second division team that excels in youth development and provides opportunity for the talents of the future.” Let’s leave that there.

Part 2: No stadium left behind

Orbán became PM once again in April 2010 after a landslide victory that pretty much granted him unlimited power. He chased lots of political agendas but one of his policies was rock solid: he would revive sports (and especially football) that was left to bleed out by the previous governments. The football situation in 2010 was quite dire: while the national team has actually made some progress in the recent years and has reached the 42nd position in the world rankings, football infrastructure was in a catastrophic state. Teams were playing in rusty stadiums built in the communist era, club finances were a mess, youth teams couldn’t find training grounds and the league was plagued by violent fan groups and lackluster attendance figures (3100 average spectators per game in the 2009/2010 season).
Orbán – aided by the FA backed by business actors very interested in making him happy – saw the future in the total rebuild of the football infrastructure. Vast amounts of state development funds were invested into the football construction industry that warmly welcomed corruption, cost escalation and shady procurement deals. In the end, money triumphed: over the last decade, new stadiums sprung out from nothing all over the country, dozens of new academies opened and pitches for youth development appeared on practically every corner. The final piece of the stadium renovation program was the completion of the new national stadium, Puskás Aréna in 2019 (estimated cost: 575 million EUR). Orbán commemorated this historic moment with a celebratory video on his social media that features a majestic shot of Orbán modestly kicking a CGI ball from his office to the new stadium.
Obviously, Orbán understood that infrastructure alone won’t suffice. He believed in the idea that successful clubs are the cornerstone of a strong national side as these clubs would compete in a high quality national league (and in international tournaments) that would require a constant influx of youth players developed by the clubs themselves. However, Orbán was not really keen on sharing the state’s infinite wealth with private club owners who failed to invest in their clubs between 2002 and 2010. The club ownership takeover was not that challenging as previous owners were usually happy to cut their losses, and soon enough most clubs came under Orbán’s influence. Some clubs were integrated deep into Orbán’s reach (Ferencváros and MTK Budapest club presidents are high ranking officials of Orbán’s party) while in other cases, indirect control was deemed sufficient (Diósgyőri VTK was purchased by a businessman as an attempt to display loyalty to Orbán).
Pouring taxpayer money into infrastructure (stadium) projects is relatively easy: after all, we are basically talking about overpriced government construction projects, there’s nothing new there. On the other hand, allocating funds to clubs that should be operating on a competitive market is certainly a tougher nut to crack. The obvious solutions were implemented: the state media massively overpaid for broadcasting rights and the national sports betting agency also pays a hefty sum to the FA, allowing for a redistribution of considerable amounts. However, given that the income side of Hungarian clubs was basically non-existent (match day income is negligible, the failed youth development system does not sell players), an even more radical solution was desperately needed. Also, there was definite interest in the development of a tool that would allow for differentiation between clubs (as in the few remaining non-government affiliated clubs should not receive extra money).
The solution came in 2011: the so-called TAO (“társasági adó” = corporate tax) system was introduced, granting significant tax deductions for companies if they offered a portion of their profits to sports clubs – however, in theory, funds acquired through TAO can be only used for youth development and infrastructure purposes. Soon enough, it became apparent that state authorities were not exactly interested in the enforcement of these restrictions, so some very basic creative accounting measures enabled clubs to use this income for anything they wanted to. Companies were naturally keen on cutting their tax burdens and scoring goodwill with the government, so TAO money immediately skyrocketed. Opportunistic party strongmen used their influence to convince local business groups to invest in the local clubs, enabling for the meteoric rise of multiple unknown provincial teams (Mezőkövesd [pop: 16,000], Kisvárda [pop: 16,000], Balmazújváros [pop: 17,000]) into the first division.
Although it’s not the main subject of this piece, I feel inclined to show you the actual results of Orbán’s grandiose football reform. While we do have our beautiful stadiums, we don’t exactly get them filled – league attendance has stagnated around 3000 spectators per game throughout the whole decade. We couldn’t really move forward with our national team either: Hungary lost 10 positions in the FIFA World Rankings throughout Orbán’s ten years. On the other hand, the level of league has somewhat improved – Videoton and Ferencváros reached the Europa League group stage in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Too bad that the Instat-based top team of 2019/2020 Hungarian league consists of 10 foreigners and only 1 Hungarian: the goalkeeper.

Part 3: Small place, big game!

As seen in the previous chapter, Orbán did have a strong interest in the improvement of the football situation Hungary, but we shouldn’t forget that his deepest interest and true loyalty laid in the wellbeing of Felcsút and its academy. Now that Orbán had limitless means to see to the advancement of his beloved club, he got to work immediately. Orbán handed over formal club management duties to his friend / protégé / middleman / businessman Lőrinc Mészáros in 2010, but no questions would ever arise of who is actually calling the shots.
First of all, no club can exist without a proper stadium. Although in 2011 Orbán explicitly stated that “Felcsút does not need a stadium as stadiums belong to cities”, no one was really surprised in 2012 when the construction of the Felcsút stadium was announced. Orbán was generous enough to donate the lands just in front of his summer home in the village for the project, locating the entrance a mere ten meters away from his residence. Construction works for the stunningly aesthetic 3,800-seater arena (in a village of 1,800 people) started in April 2012 and were completed in April 2014, making Felcsút’s arena the second new stadium of Orbán’s gigantic stadium revival program.
The estimated budget of the construction was 120 million EUR (31,500 EUR / seat) was financed by the Puskás Academy who explicitly stated that they did not use government funds for the project. Technically, this statement is absolutely true as the construction was financed through the TAO money offered by the numerous companies looking for tax deduction and Orbán’s goodwill. However, technically, this means that the country’s budget was decreased by 120 million EUR unrealized tax revenue. Naturally, the gargantuan football stadium looks ridiculously out of place in the small village, but there’s really no other way to ensure that your favorite team’s stadium is within 20 seconds of walking distance from your home.
Obviously, a proper club should also have some glorious history. Felcsút was seriously lagging behind on this matter as though Felcsút FC was founded in 1931, it spent its pre-Orbán history in the uninspiring world of the 5th-7th leagues of the country. Luckily enough, Orbán had already secured Puskás’ naming rights and they were not afraid to use it, so Felcsút FC was renamed to Puskás Academy FC in 2009. The stadium name was a little bit problematic as the Hungarian national stadium in Budapest had sadly had the dibs on Puskás’ name, so they had to settle with Puskás’ Spanish nickname, resulting in the inauguration of the Pancho Arena. But why stop here? Orbán’s sports media strongman György Szöllősi acted upon the contract with Puskás’ widow and transferred all Puskás’ personal memorabilia (medals, jerseys, correspondence) to the most suitable place of all: a remote village in which Puskás never even set foot in.
While the off-field issues were getting resolved, Orbán’s attention shifted to another important area: the actual game of football. Although academy players started to graduate from 2008 on, it very soon became painfully obvious that the academy program couldn’t really maintain even a second division side for now. In 2009, Orbán reached an agreement with nearby Videoton’s owner that effectively transformed Felcsút FC into Videoton’s second team under the name of Videoton – Puskás Akadémia FC. The mutually beneficent agreement would allow Videoton to give valuable playing time to squad players while it could also serve as a skipping step for Puskás Academy’s fresh graduates to a first league team. The collaboration resulted in two mid-table finishes and a bronze medal in the second division in the following three seasons that wasn’t really impressive compared to Felcsút FC’s standalone seasons.
It seemed that the mixture of reserve Videoton players and academy youth was simply not enough for promotion, and although Orbán had assured the public multiple times that his Felcsút project was not aiming for the top flight, very telling changes arose after the 2011/2012 season. Felcsút terminated the Videoton cooperation deal and used the rapidly accumulating TAO funds to recruit experienced players for the now independently operating Puskás Academy FC (PAFC). The new directive worked almost too well: PAFC won its division with a 10 point lead in its first standalone year which meant that they would have to appear in the first league prior to the completion of their brand-new Pancho Arena. Too bad that this glorious result had almost nothing to do with the academy - only two players were academy graduates of the side’s regular starting XI.
Orbán did not let himself bothered with the ridiculousness of an academy team with virtually no academy players being promoted to the first division as he stated that “a marathon runner shouldn’t need to explain why the other runners were much slower than him”. Orbán also displayed a rare burst of modesty as he added that “his team’s right place is not in the first league, and they will soon be overtaken by other, better sides”.
The promotion of PAFC to the first division made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. Supporter groups were united in hatred all along the league and not surprisingly, away fans almost always outnumbered the home side at PAFC’s temporary home at Videoton’s Sóstói Stadium (demolished and rebuilt in its full glory since then). One of the teams, however, possessed an extraordinary degree of anger against PAFC: supporters of Budapest Honvéd – the only Hungarian team in which Ferenc Puskás played – felt especially awkward about the transfer of their club legend’s heritage to Felcsút. Tensions spiked at the PAFC – Honvéd game when home security forced Honvéd supporters to remove the “Puskás” part of their traditional “Puskás – Kispest – Hungary” banner – the team answered the insult with style as they secured a 4-0 victory supported by fans chanting “you can’t buy legends”.
Despite Orbán’s prognosis, other better sides did not rush to overtake his team, so PAFC, now residing in their brand new Pancho Arena, came through with a 14th and a 10th place in their first two seasons. Naturally, conspiracy theories began to formulate, speculating that government-friendly owners would certainly not be motivated to give their best against PAFC. However, as the league size was reduced to 12 for the 2015/2016 season, PAFC found themselves in a dire situation just before the final round: they needed a win and needed rival Vasas to lose against MTK in order to avoid relegation. PAFC’s draw seemed to be unlucky as they faced their arch-enemy Honvéd at home, but Honvéd displayed an absolute lackluster effort – fueling conspiracy theories – and lost the fixture 2 to 1 against a home side featuring four academy players. Vasas, however, did not disappoint, their 2-0 victory resulted in PAFC’s elimination and a very relaxed sigh all over the football community.
PAFC’s relegation seemed to be in accordance with Orbán’s 2013 statement, so public opinion supposed for a while that Orbán’s project came to a halting point and the Academy would go on to actually field academy players in the second division (especially as rostering foreign players was prohibited in the lower leagues). However, if you have read through this point, you know better than to expect Orbán to retreat – obviously, PAFC came back with a bang. With a ballsy move, PAFC didn’t even sell their foreign players, they just loaned them across the league, promising them that they would be able to return next year to the newly promoted team. The promise was kept as PAFC went into another shopping spree of experienced players (easily convincing lots of them to choose the second division instead of the first) and easily won the second league.
Orbán – now aware of his negligence – opted for the doubling the team’s budget, making PAFC the third most well-founded club in the whole country (only coming short to his friend’s Videoton and his party minion’s Ferencváros). With an actual yearly influx from TAO money in the ballpark of 30-40 million EUR, PAFC management had to really work wonders in creative accounting in order to make their money look somewhat legitimate. The books were now full of ridiculous items like:
Naturally, in the country of no consequences, absolutely nothing happened: PAFC went on with its spending and signed 35 foreigners between 2017 and 2020. They did so because they could not hope to field a winning team in the first league consisting of academy players, despite the fact that Puskás Academy has been literally drowning in money since 2007. This seems to somewhat contradict Orbán’s 2013 promise, stating that “Puskás Academy will graduate two or three players to major European leagues each year”. To be fair, there have been players who managed to emerge to Europe (well, exactly two of them: Roland Sallai plays at Freiburg, László Kleinheisler played at Werder Bremen) but most academy graduates don’t even have the slightest the chance to make their own academy’s pro team as it’s full of foreigners and more experienced players drawn for other teams’ programs.
Despite their unlimited funding, PAFC could not put up a top-tier performance in their first two years back in the first division, finishing 6th and 7th in the 12-team league. Many speculated that the lack of support, motivation and even a clear team mission did not allow for chemistry to develop within the multinational and multi-generational locker room. Consistency was also a rare sight on the coaching side: club management was absolutely impatient with coaches who were very easily released after a single bad spell and there were talks of on-field micromanagement request coming from as high as Orbán.
Even so, their breakthrough came dangerously close in 2018 as PAFC performed consistently well in the cup fixtures and managed to reach the final. Their opponent, Újpest played an incredibly fierce game and after a 2-2 draw, they managed to defeat PAFC in the shootout. Football fans sighed in relief throughout the country as ecstatic Újpest supporters verbally teased a visibly upset Orbán in his VIP lounge about his loss.
Obviously, we could only delay the inevitable. While this year’s PAFC side seemed to be more consistent than its predecessors, it seemed that they won’t be able to get close to the podium - they were far behind the obvious league winner duo of Ferencváros and Videoton and were trailing third-place Mezőkövesd 6 points just before the pandemic break. However, both Mezőkövesd and PAFC’s close rivals DVTK and Honvéd fall flat after the restart while PAFC was able to maintain its good form due to its quality roster depth. PAFC overtook Mezőkövesd after the second-to-last round as Mezőkövesd lost to the later relegated Debrecen side. (Mezőkövesd coach Attila Kuttor was fined harshly because of his post-game comments on how the FA wants PAFC to finish third.)
PAFC faced Honvéd in the last round once again, and as Honvéd came up with its usual lackluster effort, PAFC secured an effortless win, confidently claiming the third place. PAFC celebrated their success in a nearly empty stadium, however neither Orbán, nor Mészáros (club owner, Orbán’s protégé, now 4th richest man of Hungary) seemed to worry about that. While Orbán high-fived with his peers in the VIP lounge, Mészáros was given the opportunity to award the bronze medals (and for some reason, a trophy) to the players dressed up in the incredibly cringe worthy T-shirts that say “Small place, big game!”. Big game, indeed: in the 2019/2020 season, foreign players’ share of the teams playing time was 43.6% while academy graduates contributed only 17.9%.
On Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after PAFC’s glorious success, György Szöllősi, now editor-in-chief of Hungary’s only sports newspaper (purchased by Orbán’s affiliates a few years back) published an editorial on the site, stating that “the soccer rebuild in Felcsút became the motor and symbol of the revitalization of sport throughout the whole country”. Well, Szöllősi is exactly right: Felcsút did became a symbol, but a symbol of something entirely different. Felcsút became a symbol of corruption, inefficiency, lies and the colossal waste of money. But, hey, at least we know now: you only need to spend 200 million EUR (total budget of PAFC and its academy in the 2011-2020 period) if you want to have a Europa League team in your backyard. Good to know!

Epilogue: What's in the future?

As there is no foreseeable chance for political change to happen Hungary (Orbán effortlessly secured qualified majority in 2014 and 2018, and is projected to do so in 2022 as well), PAFC’s future seems to be as bright as it gets. Although consensus opinion now seems to assume that Orbán does not intend to interfere with the Ferencváros – Videoton hegemony, we can never be really sure about the exact limits of his greed. One could also argue that entering the European theater serves as a prime opportunity for making splashy transfers who could be the cornerstones of a side challenging the league title.
However, as all political systems are deemed to fall, eventually Orbán’s regime will come apart. Whoever will take upon the helm after Orbán, they will certainly begin with cutting back on the one item on Orbán’s agenda that never had popular support: limitless football spending. Puskás Academy, having next to zero market revenue, will not be able to survive without the state’s life support, so the club will fold very shortly. The abandoned, rotting stadium in Felcsút will serve as a memento of a powerful man who could not understand the true spirit of football.
But let’s get back to present day, as we have more pressing issues coming up soon: PAFC will play their first European match in the First qualifying round of the Europa League on 27 August. We don’t have a date for the draw yet, but soon enough, a team unaware of the whole situation will be selected to face the beast. I hope that maybe one of their players does some research and maybe reads this very article for inspiration. I hope that the supporters of this club get in touch with Honvéd fans who would be eager to provide them with some tips on appropriate chants. I hope that other teams gets drawn as the home team so Orbán wouldn’t get the pleasure of walking to his stadium for an international match. But most importantly, I very much hope that this team obliterates PAFC and wipes them off the face of the earth. 5-0 will suffice, thank you.
And if this team fails to do that, we don’t have to worry yet. Due to our shitty league coefficient, PAFC would need to win four fixtures in a row. And that – if there’s any justice in this world – is a thing that can’t, that won’t happen. Ball don’t lie – if I may say.
TL,DR
Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán redirected some 200 million EUR of taxpayer money over 10 years to fuel his ambition of raising a competitive football team in his hometown of 1,800 people. He built a 3,800-seater stadium in his backyard, expropriated football legend Ferenc Puskás’ trademarks and heritage and built up a football league where almost all clubs are owned by his trustees. His team, Puskás Akadémia FC was originally intended to be a development ground for youth players graduating from Orbán’s football academy, but eventually the team became more and more result-orianted. Finally, a roster full of foreign and non-academy players came through and finished third in the league, releasing this abomination of a team to the European football theatre. Please, knock them out asap!
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I Read It So You Don't Have To: Secrets of the Southern Belle (by Phaedra Parks)

I hope the past few days have been restful and rejuvenating for you all, but -- as I'm sure you must have learned by this point -- the journey to personal betterment is an eternal endeavor. We haven't got a moment to waste, so let's bid adieu to the sunny serenity of the California coast and settle in down South with Real Housewives of Atlanta's Phaedra Parks, as she descends from her ivory porch swing and illuminates the esoteric in Secrets of the Southern Belle: How to Be Nice, Work Hard, Look Pretty, Have Fun, and Never Have an Off Moment.
True to the title's descriptive and straightforward sentiments, Phaedra begins the book with a concise synthesis of the worldview she hopes to present:
I believe every woman should be a Southern Belle or minimally aspire to being more ladylike, charming, and intelligent, because we should all be treated well.
As she continues, we get our first glimpse of the deep well of compassion that underlies Phaedra's mission to improve the lives of those around her.
Honestly, I sometimes feel sorry for women of northern persuasion. There they are rushing around in their baggy, drab clothes, doing everything for themselves and looking like they just rolled out of bed. They don't seem to understand there's a better way.
Thankfully, I no longer have to count myself among that witless horde. I feel like, until this fateful moment, I have been living like one of those people from the black-and-white "before" footage of an infomercial -- haphazardly bumbling through the most menial of daily tasks with no way of knowing how much brighter my world could be. Phaedra has freed me from Plato's Cave, and I have no choice but to follow her instruction and strive to shape myself in her image.
A true Southern Belle is known -- first and foremost -- for her fundamental kindness and compassion towards others, so it is only appropriate that the book's first section is succinctly titled, "Be Nice." However, even this simple directive has been trampled by the corrupting influence of the modern world. As Phaedra laments,
Unfortunately, as we see more migration from other parts of the world, we also see an increase of poor manners and rude behavior.
She elaborates, providing specific examples of the personal injuries incurred as a result of these unmannered interlopers.
I find it particularly odd in business, when the salespeople or tellers don't speak or thank you for your patronage. Don't they realize that without customers they would not have a job?
I, too, find it offensive when minimum-wage workers have the nerve to act like actual human beings rather than automatons at the mercy of my personal whims, and I appreciate that Phaedra is bold enough to ask the question that has undoubtedly been on the tip of our collective tongue. Yet somehow, she still remains humble enough to freely admit where she has room to learn; here, she lets the reader in on "something I've never quite understood about non-southerners:"
They're suspicious of basic southern warmth because they're worried it's insincere. But at the same time, they will tell you the most inappropriate things! They tell you stuff about their health that you don't want to know. They launch into crazy stories about their terrible childhoods and how misunderstood they are. They complain about what happened long ago, and they fret openly about the future. Then they tell you what they paid for things and you want to crawl under the table.
Frankly, that's not very attractive.
What is attractive, then, you may ask? Effusive compliments, for one thing -- "I don't know why some people are so concerned with being sincere, when being nice is so much more effective." We also learn to "never contradict anyone, even if you know they are wrong." Phaedra illustrates this particular lesson with the following example:
If someone tells you that your taxes are due on April 30 instead of April 15, you look puzzled and say, "Goodness, I had no idea. Did they change the date?"
And what happens after that? Either the person says yes and you're forced to play along with whatever bizarre delusion and/or power-play your companion is currently indulging, or they say no and you say -- what? "Right, of course, I knew that the whole time!" Or, "Gotcha! It's April 15th, you incompetent fraud!" Or maybe, "I don't even know what taxes are -- money is for menfolk!" I just can't imagine any of those scenarios playing out with less discomfort than a simple correction, but after four years living in New England, I can only assume that's just northern negativity clouding my vision.
We are next presented with a list of "compliments that come in handy," a few of which I've transcribed below for immediate incorporation into your own phrasal repertoire.
What an interesting way to think about it. (Good for a point on which you disagree with someone.)

You thought of every little detail; I love a meticulous lady!

Wow! That is so original. I would never have put it together like that. (In this South this might mean, "I hate it," but in a polite way.)
Boss Babe is out -- Meticulous Lady is in! Phaedra reminds us to keep health concerns -- "especially female issues" -- far from polite conversation, then shifts gears to a much-needed lesson in verbal comportment. It's not just their "attractive regional accents" that distinguish Southern Belles from their less-attractive northern counterparts; they also devote great attention to evoking grace through their cadence and tone.
Sometimes northern women can sound awfully abrupt. It's just a habit they have, poor things.
If you'd like to take your place amongst esteemed gentility, however, I urge you to change your ways! For one thing, when speaking, "slip in something affectionate so that a very harsh reality doesn't come across as rude or abrupt." For example, see how much unpleasant confrontation is avoided with the following turn of phrase:
Darling, don't you know you're too smart and pretty to be the town drunk?
Silly girl, haven't you heard? Addiction is for ugly people! You should also feel free to use these compliments liberally throughout conversation -- "You don't have to mean it, you know." As an example:
If you can tell that someone has put a lot of effort into a particular aspect of her outfit, just draw attention to it. Sparkly stars-and-stripes high heels could be terribly tacky, but you bet they're supposed to be noticed, so go ahead and do it. "Those are certainly patriotic shoes!"
Let me take a crack at it -- This book certainly has a lot of words in it! Writing a book is such an impressive achievement -- I'm sure it feels so rewarding to finally see it In print! And I love the way you occasionally use infinity signs as bullet points -- it's so evocative! I think I'm getting the hang of this!
"Another southern difference?" As Phaedra informs us, "we try not to make direct requests. It just sounds so forward and frankly unpleasant if someone comes right out and says what they want from you." Phaedra's Starbucks barista must really despise her -- If it isn't too much trouble, could I bother you for something to drink? No, anything's fine -- I wouldn't want to impose.
Almost like a modern-day Rosetta Stone, the next passage introduces us to the nuanced connotations that pervade a true Belle's vocabulary. For example, Phaedra tells the reader that "if I tell someone 'Goodness, you must have spent all day on your hair. I am so impressed!' it really means I hate it." Before I manage to convey how impressed I am by the book before me, I read on to learn that "when you're discussing a homely girl, you generally say, 'She's so smart!' The general thought is you can't be both ugly and dumb. God wouldn't be that cruel." Please excuse me while I take a few hours to re-analyze every compliment I've ever been given in my entire life.
Now that that's done, here are a few more translations to help you decipher the Belles in your life.
Belle-Speak: She's a nurse-in-training.
Unvarnished Truth: She dates only old men.

Belle-Speak: She's a butter face.
Unvarnished Truth: Everything looks good but her face.

Belle-Speak: Hope he's got money.
Unvarnished Truth: He's unattractive and pays for affection.
The second one is not even really a euphemism so much as Phaedra trying to demonstrate her knowledge of hip modern slang, but I digress. We transition into advice for conversation starters -- "don't throw them complicated or controversial subjects like politics, animal rights, or local zoning." Truly, I can't tell you how many times I've been approached at a party with an opener about municipal ordinances, and it just kills the mood like nothing else. Worried about how you'll ever find something to talk about under these restrictions?
Don't worry about sounding interesting. "Interesting" is an overrated notion. Just fill the empty air.
That…explains a lot, actually.
Our next lesson is in reference to dinner parties -- "don't make a fuss, unless you're complimenting the cook." In case you're confused as to how this guidance should be interpreted, Phaedra clarifies with some examples -- "'Is there meat in here? I'm a vegetarian' is the wrong kind of fuss." Since I typically ask this question while flailing my arms wildly and making intermittent whooping noises, I completely understand how it could be disruptive amongst refined company. Although I'm starting to get a bit nervous that I won't be able to keep track of these seemingly countless rules, Phaedra's next assurance puts my mind at ease: "If all else fails, remember the secret weapon of the Southern Belle is delicate helplessness."
In the next passage, we learn that, "if there's any characteristic that defines a Southern Belle, it's her habit of firing off little notes on any occasion." Just as with verbal compliments, these notes require little to no basis in factual reality -- "obviously it's perfectly all right to exaggerate." But while truthfulness is more or less dispensable, your choice of writing implement could have grave repercussions. As Phaedra exhorts, "Never, ever write a letter in pencil. You might as well not bother at all." Within the realm of pens, however, "blue and black are perfectly acceptable, even if they do lack panache."
We return once again to the topic of appropriate subjects for conversation, and are cautioned against asking anyone their age. Of course, wild speculation is encouraged, "as long as you're out of earshot." In the next tip, Phaedra declares: "Don't discuss the cost of anything. Any discussion of cost is just in poor taste." I just can't help picture how much of a nightmare this woman must be at a fast-food drive-through. Our final instruction?
Don't discuss hair color. Men always pretend they don't dye their hair, so you just have to go with it.
At first glance, this seems reasonable enough, especially in the context of the social graces espoused by the book so far. However, Phaedra's attempt at further explanation quickly begins to careen off-course.
For women, it's a little bit more complicated because you have the question of whether the drapes match the carpet, so to speak. And I do know some who dye the carpet to match -- that was the big thing in high school. Now with all this weird waxing, you don't have to do as much dyeing, but that's another thing you don't talk about either!
Let's see if I've got this straight: I should always believe a man about his purported hair color no matter what, but if a woman tries to lie about hers, she'll get caught…because I will inevitably be forced to confront the realities of her pubic hair? An intimate partner, sure, but I just can't imagine this situation arises with enough frequency to merit even the few lines its given in this text. And honestly, at this point, I don't even think I want to know what Phaedra means by "weird waxing."
This section of the book concludes with a final catalog of "the 'She did what?' mistakes." The list starts off strong with "wearing white to another woman's wedding." However, by the time we end on the most unimaginable of atrocities -- "drinking beer from a bottle" -- I'm beginning to wonder if this list was actually supposed to have been titled "things the sexy homewrecker does in a bro-country music video."
The following section is titled, "Work Hard," and I am immediately inspired to do exactly so by the implicit challenge thrown down in Phaedra's opening lines, in which she coquettishly asks, "Who always delivers a presentation on time, with the printed materials perfectly written and proofread?" I'm usually quite good at taming my most pedantic impulses, but contrarian passions I never knew I had are foaming at the mouth to find an upcoming typo and self-righteously call her bluff. Although perhaps I should find a more feminine way to phrase that; as Phaedra cautions, "we don't like to think of ourselves as driven, because that sounds so neurotic and unpleasant."
We next learn that "you cannot be a Southern Belle unless you understand what it is to be ladylike." But unfortunately, it is all too easy to be caught up in the ways of the world and lose sight of this primary calling.
A lot of women today enjoy being the feisty, brassy, foul-mouthed kind of gal who drinks with men and shows a lot of flesh. They think it's cool.
Phaedra continues and reflects that, "I've heard the argument that this is progress, from the feminist point of view, but I don't necessarily agree." I can never remember -- which wave of feminism was the one with all the feisty gals? But clearly, their agenda has gone too far! How, in contrast, does a delicate Southern Belle behave?
She looks as if she's heard of sex, probably has had sex, but has no plans to have sex with anybody in the immediate surroundings.
I'm not sure exactly how to convey this highly specific sentiment in any other way than purchasing a t-shirt custom-printed with the phrase, "I have heard of sex, have probably had sex, but have no plans to have sex with anybody in the immediate surroundings," so I hope that approach will suffice for now. Phaedra follows up by cautioning us that,
A lady never puts in the shop window what isn't for sale.
Personally, I like to think of myself as more of a museum than a gift shop, but to each their own! We next learn more about the delicate balance a Southern Belle must achieve in order to maintain her esteemed position. For example, while "she doesn't cuss and doesn't talk dirty," frigidity is similarly unbecoming -- "if somebody tells a good dirty joke in her vicinity, she'll laugh." I'm barely a third of the way through this book, and I'm already exhausted at the prospect of having to remember all of these hyper-specific edicts. It's no surprise that the Southern Belle has to remain consistently vigilant; as Phaedra intones, "coming from a Pentecostal family, I hate to see a woman down more than two drinks." It seems to me like the simplest way to avoid such emotional turmoil would be to simply refrain from compulsively tallying the beverage intake of strangers, but I soon learn there are far more perilous hazards lurking around every corner. Phaedra shares her personal strategy for avoiding the very implication of incivility in the following excerpt:
I don't ever go to the bar at a party; I think that just looks terrible. If I must have a glass of wine or crave a fruity adult libation, I'll ask a nearby man to procure it for me.
Sir! Procure me a fruity adult libation -- tout de suite! But I would hate to diminish the male gender by implying that they're only good for the acquisition of potables; no -- men can be leveraged in an increasingly broad array of day-to-day tasks. As Phaedra shares:
I have friends who have never in their lives pumped gas for their own cars. They will ask a complete stranger to do it for them. One of my besties from New Orleans will flag down a man, give him her credit card, and have him pump and pay for her gas.
Honestly, I can't help but wonder if this might actually be some kind of avantgarde performance art, in the tradition of Marina Abramović's Rhythm 0. Because the idea that this gambit has never gone horribly, horribly awry truly strains credulity. As I read on, however, I learn that my current train of thinking is sorely misguided.
Sometimes when I'm at a grocery store the fellow bagging the groceries will ask if he can take them out to my car. Why would you say no to this? But sometimes women do. And I look at them and sigh and think, "Poor thing. She has a lot to learn."
Thankfully for my personal development, the next chapter — titled "A Crash Course in Being (Selectively) Helpless" — promises exactly the sort of content that I so desperately need to understand. As Phaedra explains, a Southern Belle is "never intimidating, because some things she just can't do on her own." She goes on to offer concrete examples of how to incorporate this ethos into your life on beginner, intermediate, and expert levels.
Experts: assume help will arrive. Flat tire? Pull over to the curb, and don't sweat it. Can't figure out which wrench to buy at Home Depot? Or how to program your DVR? This is what former boyfriends and other gentlemen are for. Believe me, the age of chivalry is not dead.
Rent due? Don't sweat it -- a gallant gentleman likely already has a check in the mail. House burning to the ground around you? You should know a Belle doesn't walk down the hallway on her own two feet! Bear attack? I'm sure a male bear is just around the corner, ready to jump in and defend your honor!
Without a hint of irony, we transition to Phaedra's advice for the workplace. We learn that the quintessential gentlewoman is savvy, competent, and always at the top of her game. For instance, at her workplace, "she figures out how to work the coffee machine and the copy machine." With that kind of go-getting attitude, the Southern Belle will be bound for the C-suite in no time! Provided, of course,
She never does that thing I hear of in the North sometimes of telling you how little she paid for something. Why would you brag about bargains?
I can't hear the phrase that thing I hear of in the North in anything other than the voice of Tinsley's mother, Dale. Except she would probably use it in reference to something like "giving compliments to your daughter" or "weight gain." Regardless, a more appropriate question at this juncture might be, "Are you sure this book was proofread quite as judiciously as you claimed?" As I scan the page, my eyes happen upon the line:
10 percent for tithing, if your religion encourages tithing, which mines [sic] does.
Of course, it would be entirely uncouth for me to brag about my typographical superiority in this context, so now seems as good a time as any to exercise some of my newly acquired techniques. Oh, Phaedra -- bless her heart! I suppose we can't all be detail-oriented, can we? It must be nice to be so casual and carefree when you express yourself!
Without further ado, however, we move along to our next lesson -- "People don't know when you're hungry, because they can't hear your stomach growling, but they definitely know when you're homeless." To be honest, the more I think about this statement , the less sense it makes to me (people…can hear your stomach growling?). Luckily, with the jam-packed schedule of a Southern Belle, I simply don't have time to dwell on the issue for a moment longer!
Our next tutorial? "If you have one fabulous pair of shoes, you will wear them to church. It is the very least you can do for Jesus." As we all know, Jesus appreciates sweet kicks, so he loves nothing more than to see you rock the newest styles when you drop by on Sunday. And besides -- the higher the heel, the closer to heaven! Phaedra summarizes the Southern Belle's can-do attitude with the line: "We all may not be sitting around big ugly Formica boardroom tables, but we get things done." As someone who has only ever attended meetings held around moderately sized tables, I find this to be a validating sentiment.
When it comes to extracurricular pursuits, "beauty pageants are important." However, "as much as she loves performing, the Belle will not take to the stage: some of those theater people are just too peculiar, bless their hearts." Honestly, Phaedra and I come down on the same side on this one. But I will have to heartily disagree with her next passage -- with respect to traditions of stepping within Black Greek Life -- in which she states,
The traditionally white organizations don't have anything comparable.
Um, excuse me? Have you never seen this iconic video?! However, Phaedra does reassure us that she's far from ignorant in the ways of the world. As she states, "I have read about hookup culture and known a few easy women." Of course, easy men don't exist -- or at least, that's what I've read in all the most prominent textbooks regarding hookup culture. But don't mistake Phaedra's awareness for acceptance -- "that doesn't mean I like any of it." However, this sentiment is belied just a few paragraphs later, when our author recalls:
I offended the mother of one of my best friends once by booking some exotic entertainment at this friend's birthday party. My friend loved the anatomically exceptional dancer, but her mother was livid.
I'm sure that it was only your friend who loved the "anatomically exceptional" dancer, and I assume this must have been one of your aforementioned token "easy" friends, besides. A Southern Belle, in contrast, is interested in serious, long-term relationships. And for this purpose, "it would be much better to marry a young man that you can train. I have always said that I would rather be a babysitter than a geriatric nurse." Yet even these kinds of discrepancies seem trivial in comparison to the boundless passions of eternal love. As Phaedra shares,
I want Apollo and me to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, so I try to overlook momentary annoyances.
That aged well. Bless her heart.
We're soon treated to a cheeky list of "what her husband doesn't know," which echoes several key themes from earlier in the book -- most notably in its bizarre fixation with pubic grooming.
He doesn't know what her true hair color is, because the curtains always match the carpet.

He doesn't know how often she waxes, or exactly what waxing entails.

He doesn't know that she has her own credit card, her own savings account, and a safe-deposit box.
I've got to say, that last one hits just a little bit different with hindsight. Always timely, however, are Phaedra's views on the importance of the homemaking arts. In this evocative passage, she describes the primal horror of an encounter with a woman tainted by an unimaginable curse:
A nice lady from another part of the country recently confessed to me that she doesn't know how to do any crafts. In fact, she said, she gets all nervous and antsy in crafts stores, because they're so full of things she doesn't understand. I laughed like I thought she was joking, but really, I felt bad for her. Imagine not knowing how to make all those cute objects that brighten up lives in the South! I shudder to think what the inside of her house looks like!
With that fable still ringing in my ears, we transition to the next section of the book: "Look Pretty." Phaedra reflects, "I am always shocked when I leave the South and encounter the enormous number of women who don't seem to understand how their clothes should fit." Now feels like an appropriate time to draw attention to the book's back cover, in which an open-mouthed Phaedra swivels her torso in such a way as to create a bulging protuberance across one half of her chest. In awe of her commitment to inclusivity, I now realize this could only have been an intentional choice to make herself seem more approachable to us northern oafs, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Phaedra goes on to inform us that, "personally, I prefer skirts and dresses over pants." However, although "high-waisted pants and pants with visible hem cuffs are quite elegant and ladylike," one should take care never to forget that "minimalism and menswear looks are just puzzling and not appealing to a Belle." I, too, must admit that I find menswear looks puzzling -- a girl? in boy clothes? I just can't make heads or tails of it! And this is far from the only contemporary fad that baffles the true Southern Belle. As Phaedra continues:
I've never understood the appeal of the natural look. It's so easy to improve your appearance; why wouldn't you take advantage of the many beauty aids available to you?
In a frankly unexpected dig against the ceramic arts, Phaedra notes that "unless you are a professional potter (and I don't think Southern Belles generally are), your nails need to be clean and filed." More generally, your physical proportions should remain mild and inobtrusive:
Ever since voluminous behinds became fashionable, I often see these lumpy, huge derrieres on women with legs as thin as a chicken's, and I think God would never put a rump roast on toothpicks, so why did you do that?
That's why I always caution my friends to pair their butt implants with a battery of leg implants, in order to really round out the overall contour of the body and mimic that structurally stable, God-given look. After all, as Phaedra quips: "'Knowledge is power' -- that's my motto." But this knowledge doesn’t come without a price; being as world-wise as Phaedra often requires direct confrontation with the atrocities of today's world. As she recounts, for example: "I was astonished to find out that not every woman possesses a lint roller." It's truly a tragedy to learn how the other half lives!
We are next informed that, "you have to have your ears pierced, but only one hole in each ear." The consequences for an infraction of this critical edict are left unvoiced, from which I can only assume that they are swift and merciless. Any self-respecting Southern Belle has a taste for the finer things in life, and Phaedra is no exception. As she remarks:
I love diamonds; I'd have a diamond duvet if I could afford it.
Because I am less fiscally endowed, I have had to settle for stuffing my duvet with assorted Swarovski crystals, at least for the time being. However, I'm eager to upgrade -- I can only imagine that the extra hardness of the diamonds will add a satisfying acupuncture affect to my nighttime regimen!
Phaedra moves on to fashion advice, and cautions the well-heeled Belle to remain conservative in her fashion choices. But don't worry -- there is a time and a place to let loose and express your more artistic side. Or, as Phaedra says, "something a little funky or ethnic may even be appropriate from time to time." To further illustrate this principle, she explains: "If I were going out West, for example, I might wear some turquoise bracelets."
But some things are a bridge too far! Any woman with a modicum of dignity would know never to be caught dead in "polar fleece," "a naughty-nurse costume," or "footed pajamas." We are also encouraged to carry around a hand fan -- "the elegant way to stay cool" -- as well as a "small leather-bound notebook for jotting down inspirations." I lose my train of thought for a moment, caught up in a daydream about the ingenious wonderings that must be contained within Phaedra's hallowed journal. But I'm brought back to reality by a declaration of "what's not in my purse," beginning with the stern pronouncement: "any kind of contraband substance."
Our pilgrimage to polite society continues with a comprehensive exploration of the monogram's social gravitas. As Phaedra intones, "I've even seen cars with a very discreet monogram on the driver's door." But with light must come darkness, and the next chapter bravely confronts an issue many others would fear to face: "Looking Like a Tramp" ("There, I came right out and said it," Phaedra breathlessly gasps below the harsh text of the passage's title). She gathers herself together and courageously reports, "some women look downright sleazy."
Alas -- even more tragically -- couture catastrophes are not restricted to those of legal majority. Phaedra heroically pulls back the curtain on a nationwide epidemic of wardrobe misconduct being perpetrated against society's most vulnerable:
I saw a picture not long ago of some hippies or hipsters or whatever you call them from some remote city. The parents looked the way you'd expect them to look, a little bit bedraggled, but the worst thing was they had this adorable little baby all done up in a black onesie. And as far as I could tell, it wasn't even Halloween!
How to combat this terrifying trend? Phaedra offers words of wisdom: "Little Southern Belles always look sweet and appropriately girlish." Specifically, we are encouraged to incorporate design elements like "tasteful, conservative rickrack." By way of further explanation, she clarifies that, "what they don't do is dress like Lady Gaga in dresses made of butchers' best cuts of beef." I'm disappointed to learn that my idea for an Etsy store selling bespoke meat-based children's clothing might be a nonstarter, but I suppose I appreciate our author giving it to me straight.
Another childcare commandment?
No costumes outside the house. Of course every little girl loves to play dress-up. But I truly dislike seeing Snow White or a fairy princess trailing along behind her mother at the Piggly Wiggly.
As she sits in her living room, most likely waiting for a man to come to her aid for some reason or another, Phaedra is struck by a sharp, blazing pain. As the flash of blinding torment subsides, she catches her breath and shakes her head wearily -- another costumed child has gone into a grocery store. Forgive their guardians, for they know not the harm their actions have caused to our author's delicate and genteel sensibilities.
But it does us no good to dwell on the darker side of life! Rather, we'll move right along into the book's final section, "Have Fun." However, this does not seem to be exactly the same kind of "fun" colloquially mentioned in mainstream circles. Rather, the Southern Belle defines fun with the principle, "everybody needs to know that you made an effort." For example, "if you're pouring punch into paper cups for a gaggle of seven-year-olds, put a spring of mint in it." My previous experiences in the general vicinity of children lead me to believe that at least 75% of the seven-year-olds in this group would respond to this elegant enhancement by dumping the punch out on the ground because it has a gross plant in it. Maybe that's part of the fun?
No analysis of Southern culture would be complete without a discussion of that most hallowed of pastimes -- college football. And although "only a really unusual woman watches football alone," it is imperative that a Southern Belle attend the social events associated with the on-season. What's more, she should take care to do with impeccable style. As Phaedra laments:
Sometimes I see pictures of women in store-bought football jerseys and I feel sorry. A store-bought jersey does nothing to flatter the feminine body.
As for the game itself, minimal understanding is required -- "Naturally a Belle knows how much men enjoy telling her things, so she isn't shy about asking questions." True to her generous spirit, however, Phaedra nevertheless provides a basic primer in the rudiments of the sport:
Basically each team is trying to get the ball through the tall H-shaped goalposts at the end of the field. […] The problem is that the ball can look awfully little from pretty much anywhere in the stands. There's no shame in watching the video replay to see what really just happened.
As a final tip, Phaedra suggests that "belles whose husbands have season tickets might even invest in matching linens and china." Our next unit of instruction concerns the arrival of a newborn bundle of joy; as we learn, "the birth of a baby is a big deal in a southern family." It's so interesting to learn all of these unique cultural details! I don't know if I've ever heard of another culture that places such importance on birth -- I'd love to get an anthropologist's take! There are also strict guidelines to which one must adhere regarding the naming of a debutante-in-training:
A Southern Belle's name:
-- is obviously feminine.
-- is two syllables or more (names like Ann or Joan seem abrupt, like so many Yankees).
-- is a real name, not a geographic feature like Sierra.
-- means something. Preferably something nice.
Once born and appropriately christened, children should be painstakingly shielded from the contaminating influences of the world at large. Phaedra explains that "pop culture is full of children behaving disrespectfully." Without the slightest suggestion of self-reflection, she goes on to declare that "besides, we think TV characters are basically tacky."
Phaedra reiterates a few of the courtship commandments mentioned previously, most concisely in the adage, "Belles don't date losers." And, as any suitor worth his salt should know, "a date with a Belle is no time for a boy to experiment with 'alternative' clothes or grooming either." Instead, a Southern Gentleman takes care to keep his language clean from distasteful or offensive language -- "For instance, why say 'liquor' when you can say 'adult refreshment'?"
As we near the end of the book, it seems only fitting that we take a few pages to cover the traditions and rituals associated with life coming to a close. Buttressed by her extensive knowledge of mortuary science, Phaedra instructs us:
Postmortem is no time to experiment with cosmetics. No one wants their sweet aunt Gertrude looking like some ashy Jezebel when she meets Jesus.
The passage concludes with the brassy observation, "we don't usually cremate in the South; we figure if we wanted to burn we'd just live recklessly and go to hell."
Before the book closes in earnest, Phaedra shares a few of her special, meticulously developed recipes. The most evocative of her culinary optimizations is a recipe for sweet tea, in which she thoughtfully informs us, "sweetness can be personalized by adding more water or ice to the tea."
The book's final pages contain an instrument designed to measure the effect of the preceding 252 pages on one's essential courtesies, charmingly titled "The Belle-O-Meter Quiz." As Phaedra explains:
So, ladies, how are you doing? I'm sure you've all been very attentive to my suggestions and are amazed by the results. You're probably totally used to a steady diet of compliments and flirtation and invitations. But here's a little quiz in case you feel the need to measure how far you've come.
If you'd like to take the full quiz, you can do so here. But if your busy Belle schedule doesn't permit you to devote that much time to something so self-indulgent, a few example questions are provided below:
Your routine greeting when you meet a new person is:
a. A surly glare.
b. "Hi."
c. "Well, hello! How are you today?"

If your gentleman friend brought you a corsage to wear on a date you would:
a. Put it in the refrigerator. Nobody wears corsages nowadays!
b. Pin it to your coat collar and check your coat.
c. Pin it in an unusual spot like your waist or behind your ear, after extracting one little blossom to put in his lapel.
The answer key informs us that answering mostly C's means that "you are a genuine Southern Belle." As Phaedra goes on to suggest, "maybe it's time to share your new skills with a friend and pass along this book. I hope it's been helpful to you." As a book hoarder of the highest order, I will have to skip that suggestion, but I am nevertheless thankful to move one step closer to self-actualization with the help of another Real Housewife. Until next time!
Upcoming plans in comment below!
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Will the Green Bay Packers win OVER/UNDER 9 games? By University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

Matt LaFleur’s first season as Green Bay’s head coach has to be considered a success. He led the team to a 13-3 record, which secured the NFC North title.

The Packers held off the Seahawks to a 28-23 home win in the first round of the playoffs, but were ousted by the Niners in a brutal 37-20 thumping (a game in which the Packers dugged themselves into an early 27-0 hole).

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Aaron Rodgers will be entering his 16th NFL season. He had another excellent year with a 26-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio and over 4,000 passing yards. He finished as the 7th-best QB in the league according to PFF ratings.

At 36 years old, he is likely to have a few good years left. After all, Drew Brees and Tom Brady posted nice statistics in their late thirties.

Rodgers has been very durable throughout his career, but he’s not invincible either. Tim Boyle was the backup plan last year, and the team needed to upgrade the position while starting to think about the post-Rodgers era.

Still, drafting Jordan Love was the most questionable and talked-about pick in this year’s draft. People expected the Packers to go with a veteran backup QB. Rodgers has mentioned several times he wants to play in his forties; he can still offer a good five years of solid play in the frozen tundra.

Love has possesses great size, throws with velocity and he’s very mobile. The main knock on him is the decision-making and inconsistency.

As a sophomore, he threw 32 TD passes versus 6 interceptions. He regressed a lot last year by posting a mediocre 20:17 TD:INT mark. Granted, his surrounding cast was very weak and he had to go through a coaching change.

Love can throw from many different arm angles; he reminds people of Patrick Mahomes in this regard. He can throw a fastball or a soft touch pass.

Quick note: he almost quit football when he was 14 years old after his dad committed suicide. However, he knew his dad would want him to keep playing, so he did just that.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

Aaron Jones is a top running back in this league. Along with Jamaal Williams, they form a lethal duo.

Including the playoffs, Jones ended up scoring 23 touchdowns in 18 games. His 19 regular season scores were the second most in Packers history. His numbers have increased in each of his first three years as a pro. He is also excellent as a pass catcher.

Despite playing in the shadow of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams still finished as the 17th-best RB based on PFF rankings. He does not seem like a lead back, but he’s a perfect change-of-pace guy. Much like Jones, he can do some damage as a receiver as well.

Williams has been a steady performer thus far in his career. He has rushed for 450-550 yards in each of his three seasons, while catching a minimum of 25 balls. He has 15 total TDs over this three-year span.

If you thought GM Brian Gutekunst made a strange move by drafting QB Jordan Love in the first round, he doubled down with another head scratcher in the 2nd round when he took A.J. Dillon.

Message to Mr. Gutekunst: Aaron Rodgers needed pass catchers, not a third running back! I really don’t get this pick either. I’m not saying Dillon won’t be good in the NFL; only time will tell. However, it clearly wasn’t a position of need for the Packers.

Dillon is a power back who rarely breaks off huge runs. He racked up big numbers in three seasons in Boston College. He’s unlikely to become a three-down starter, especially since he’s not a good pass catcher. He will likely be used sporadically as a rookie.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

Davante Adams is one of the best at his position. He had a streak of three straight seasons with at least 10 TD receptions snapped last year, but he still caught 83 passes for 997 yards in 12 games (he missed four games because of a toe injury).

Outside of Adams, all pass catchers appeared lost on the field. None of them developed a good chemistry with Rodgers.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a huge disappointment last year. He showed promise as a rookie with over 500 receiving yards. Here’s a jaw-dropping statistic: after Week #7, MVS did not get more than 19 receiving yards in any meeting. That’s awful.

One of the guys benefiting from Valdes-Scantling’s poor play was Jake Kumerow. He got more playing time than expected, but still only caught 12 passes. He is closing in on 30 years of age and is limited as an athlete, so he’s not a long-term answer for sure.

Allen Lazard was also thrown into action far more than expected. He finished second in terms of receiving yards for Green Bay, but let’s face the reality: the undrafted guy remains more of a #3 or #4 WR for any team.

Geronimo Allison was another bust last year. His top performance over the last 12 games (including the playoffs) was a meager 33 receiving yards. He left for another NFC North team, the Detroit Lions.

In other words, the #2 role is wide open. The team hopes newly acquired Devin Funchess can step into that role. The former second rounder had his best season in 2017 with the Panthers with a 63-840-8 stat line. He signed with the Colts last year, but played just one game before breaking a collarbone. He will be 26 years old this season and provides an interesting prospect for the Packers.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

We’re not done talking about 2019 busts. Jimmy Graham was one of them. He clearly looks washed. He received the lowest grades of his 10-year career, and deservedly so. The Packers released him and he signed a few days later with the Bears (a horrible mind-boggling two-year, $16 million contract).

Marcedes Lewis received surprisingly good marks from PFF. If you look into the numbers, the good grade occurred mainly because of efficient run and pass blocking. He’s not much of a pass catcher and he will be 36 years old when the season begins.

Robert Tonyan will also be in the mix, but the guy that has the best chance to break out as a receiver in 2020 only caught three passes last year (all in the playoffs): Jace Sternberger. Taken in the third round of the 2019 draft, Sternberger was a threat at Texas A&M in college. He missed most of the regular season because of injuries, but the door is wide open with Graham’s departure.

We might also see third-round rookie Josiah Deguara. He has a great motor and plays extremely hard. He’s undersized as a tight end, though.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

The Packers had a pretty solid offensive line in 2019. All five starters managed to play at least 84% of the offensive snaps. And they all finished above-average according to PFF ratings!

The bad news, however, is the Bryan Bulaga left for the Chargers. Despite turning over 30 years old, he still played at a high level.

The Packers decided to replace him by signing Rick Wagner, formerly of the Lions. Wagner’s PFF grades from 2016 to 2018 were as follows: 74.0, 75.2 and 71.4. Last year, his play deteriorated a lot and he was tagged with a 59.0 grade. He finished as the #61 tackle among 81 guys.

I like the fact that the team is returning four out of five guys, but replacing Bulaga with Wagner has to be viewed as a downgrade.

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The Packers offense finished in the middle of the pack in points scored per game. Barring major injuries, I expect about the same production in 2020.

The QB and RB situations remain the same.

Adding Funchess is not a huge move, but it won’t hurt. The team clearly needs someone to step up opposite of Davante Adams. At tight end, losing Jimmy Graham means close to nothing since he was so ineffective. Sternberger might bring a nice contribution, but we can hardly expect him to be a game-breaker.

Finally, the OL will take a dip with the loss of Bulaga. I don’t believe Rick Wagner can do better than him.

All in all, I view the additions/departures as a slight negative for Green Bay, but having so many starters returning to the lineup for a second straight season is always a good thing in the NFL. For these reasons, I expect a similar output as 2019 from this unit.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Stable

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

Kenny Clark had a fantastic season! He is one of the best interior rushers in the NFL. He recorded six sacks for the second straight year, and PFF ranked him as the 13th-best interior linemen out of 114 qualifiers.

The same nice comments cannot be made about Dean Lowry. He had the worst season of his four-year career as a pro. He did not post a single sack and wasn’t great against the run either.

Reserve Tyler Lancaster is only there to provide some depth. He isn’t particularly good in any aspect of the game.

The team did not make any move regarding this position during the offseason.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

During the last offseason, the Packers acquired two Smiths: Za’Darius and Preston. They burst onto the scene and got 13.5 and 12 sacks, respectively.

Obviously, both received high marks for their pass rushing abilities, but Preston finished as an average linebacker overall because of mediocre run defense and poor coverage.

Kyler Fackrell was a huge disappointment in 2019. After racking up 10.5 sacks in 2018, he only got one in 2019! He signed a one-year deal with the Giants.

First-round pick Rashan Gary wasn’t necessarily impressive during his rookie season. He played 23% of the snaps, while obtaining two sacks but very pedestrian marks from PFF (an overall 55.8 grade, which is near the bottom among edge defenders).

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Green Bay lost its leader in tackles from the past three years, Blake Martinez. After starting 61 of the last 64 Packers games, Martinez decided to join the New York Giants. He had the second-most tackles in the league last year, but don’t be misled by that number. Martinez still finished slight below-average (52nd out of 89 LBs) because of poor play against the run.

The Packers also lost some depth at the position when B.J. Goodson left for Cleveland.

Green Bay picked up a linebacker from the Browns roster: Christian Kirksey. He was picked in the 3rd round of the 2014 before being involved in all 16 games from his first four seasons in the NFL. However, he has been plagued with injuries over the most recent two years; he played 7 games in 2018 and only 2 games in 2019.

He is also capable of racking up tackles, as shown by his 2016 and 2017 seasons where he obtained 146 and 138. His PFF grades during his first four seasons varied between 61.9 and 69.3. Just to give you a rough idea, a 65.0 rating would have been good for 29th place out of 89 LBs.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Jaire Alexander has done the job as the #1 corner. He has obtained 72.4 and 71.2 marks from PFF during his first two seasons, which is well-above average. He’s so-so defending the run, but his coverage skills are very good.

The number two corner, Kevin King had five interceptions last year after getting just one over his first two years as a pro. He did show some improvement after two rocky years. He finished 2019 as a middle-of-the-pack corner.

Tramon Williams played 74% of the snaps and had a surprisingly good season despite his age. He will be 37 when the 2020 season begins. He is currently a free agent and it remains to be seen if the Packers bring him back or not.

In summary, Alexander and King are both pretty young and could still be improving, but Tramon Williams provided quality play and it’s uncertain if someone else can pick up the slack.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage were the top two guys here.

Along with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, the Adrian Amos was another excellent signing by the Packers during the 2019 offseason. Amos had been a reliable guy in Chicago for four seasons, and he continued to excel in the frozen tundra.

After being selected as the #21 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Darnell Savage did show some flashes as a rookie last year. He finished as the #47 safety among 87 qualifiers, which is very satisfying for a rookie. He earned nice marks in coverage (77.4), but horrible ones against the run (37.7).

Will Redmond will be back as the number three safety. He’s not starter material for sure.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

Most of the starters are returning in 2020. That’s the good news.

The team lost their leader in tackles, Blake Martinez, as well as pass rusher Kyler Fackrell and CB Tramon Williams.

The only acquisition worth of note is Christian Kirksey. Him not having played very much during the last two seasons brings some question marks.

The Packers defense struggled against the run last year, and there’s no reason to believe that will change in 2020. Green Bay still finished 9th in points allowed, which was a very acceptable result.

Unfortunately, a decrease in effectiveness is expected and I predict this unit will end 2020 as a middle-of-pack defense (12th – 19th in points allowed).

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Green Bay Packers are expected to win 9 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:

Here are the results (excluding the simulated years where the Pack won exactly 9 games, since in those cases your bet would have tied):

Estimated Probability Sportsbook Odds ROI
OVER 9 WINS 51.4% bwin +115 +10.5%
UNDER 9 WINS 48.6% Heritage Sports +100 -2.8%
Tip: Bet OVER 9 wins
Return On Investment (ROI): +10.5%
Rank: 25th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -106

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Packers’ 16 regular season games:
HOME: -6 vs ATL, -10 vs CAR, -4.5 vs CHI, -6.5 vs DET, -11.5 vs JAX, -3 vs MIN, -2.5 vs PHI, -3.5 vs TEN.
ROAD: 0 @ CHI, -2 @ DET, 0 @ HOU, +2.5 @ IND, +3 @ MIN, +5.5 @ NO, +6.5 @ SF, +2.5 @ TB.

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

TOMORROW: I'll talk about the team whose ROI is the 24th-highest in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers!

Did you like this write-up? If so, comment below! I'd like to know YOUR opinion on what to expect from the Packers' 2020 season!

Professor MJ
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Will the Minnesota Vikings win OVER/UNDER 8.5 games? By University Stats Prof!

1. Introduction

The 2019 season had mitigated success for the Vikings. They secured the #6 seed in the NFC before pulling a huge upset win in overtime in New Orleans. The offense completely stalled the following week in San Francisco, though.

The franchise has not gone through a losing season in five years. Head coach Mike Zimmer has really done a good job.

Can the team take a forward leap and make it further into the playoffs? The team has not made it to the Super Bowl since 1976.

2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)

Kirk Cousins has received more criticism than praise since signing a huge contract with the Vikings a couple of years ago. Yet, the team posted an 18-13-1 record and Cousins has thrown 56 TD passes versus 16 interceptions. His completion rate has been excellent over those two years: 69.7% (among the best of his career).

The reprimand concerned more the lack of playoff wins than the level of play itself. He cleared a hurdle by leading his team to a big playoff upset in New Orleans last season, thanks to a 4-year TD pass to Kyle Rudolph in overtime.

However, he followed it up with a horrific performance in San Francisco. Don’t be misled by his 21-of-29 passes completed during the game. Minnesota flirted with the postseason record for fewest first downs in a game; they only got 7 and totaled 147 yards of offense.

Still, based on PFF grades, 2019 was Cousins’ best career season. He ranked as the #6 QB in the league with an 84.1 mark.

Sean Mannion will once again back up Cousins. He’s clearly not the best #2 quarterback in the league. Cousins has been extremely durable throughout his career, and the Vikes hope it stays that way.

2.2 Running Backs (RBs)

In my 2019 NFC North preview, I mentioned how I believed Dalvin Cook was one of the most underrated players in the league. He had only rushed for 354 and 615 yards in his first two seasons, but he had passed my eye test. I knew that, barring injuries, he would breakout as one of the top backs in the league.

He did enjoy a nice 2020 season with 1,135 rushing yards and 519 receiving yards, while racking up 13 touchdowns.

Two things raise some concerns about him, though. First, his lengthy injury history. He seems to get nicked up often.

Secondly, his play tailed off quite a bit towards the end of the season. During the first eight games of the season, he rushed 156 times for 823 yards, which was good for a lofty 5.3 average. However, over his final six meetings (including the playoffs) he carried the ball 84 times for 256 yards, a meager 3.0 average.

After being selected in the 3rd round of the draft out of Boise State, Alexander Mattison showed promise in his first year as a pro. He had 100 rushing attempts for 462 yards, a nice 4.6 yards-per-carry average. It will be interesting to see if he can carry the load if Cook goes down.

2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)

The Vikings had one of the most talented WR duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They caught 113 and 102 passes, respectively, during the 2018 season. Those figures regressed to 30 and 63 last year. Thielen only played 10 games, but he was still on pace for just 48 receptions.

What was the problem? In 2018, Minnesota had the 6th-highest number of passing attempts. In 2019, that rank dropped to 30th !

That being said, the team traded Diggs to Buffalo. He expressed frustration with Cousins and they didn’t seem to be on the same page.

In order to compensate for that loss, GM Rick Spielman signed Tajae Sharpe, formerly of the Titans. He will fight for the #2 role opposite Thielen. The former fifth-rounder posted decent numbers in his first three years in the league. He used to be a starter, but his playing time got cut after Tennessee drafted A.J. Brown and signed Adam Humphries. Sharpe seems to be destined to be a #2 or #3 receiver in the NFL.

The team also has high hopes for first-round rookie Justin Jefferson. He was very productive at LSU and he ranked second in 15+ yard receptions over the last two seasons (only Jerry Jeudy beat him). He wasn’t spectacular as an outside target, but he had a monster season playing in the slot last year. He’s great with contested catches and has a good shot to become an immediate starter.

Bisi Johnson took advantage of Chad Beebe’s injury to grab the number three role last year. The 7th round rookie posted a 31-294-3 stat line, which was “okay”, but he seems like a long shot to become a true starter.

The team finally pulled the plug on the failed Laquon Treadwell experiment. He’s been nothing short of a disappointment since being the #23 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He signed a contract with the Falcons in the offseason.

2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)

The Kyle Rudolph – Irv Smith combo is very solid.

Both guys played all 16 games with Rudolph recording slightly better numbers. He hauled in 39 passes for 367 yards and 6 TDs, while Smith’s numbers were 36-311-2.

Rudolph made some highlight reel catches, his most important one being the game-winning TD catch in overtime in New Orleans. Smith is expected to expand his role in the offense with one year of experience under his belt and Diggs off the team. He showed very nice potential despite the Vikings relying very often on the running game.

2.5 Offensive Line (OL)

This unit allowed the sixth-fewest sacks in the league, but that wasn’t necessarily a great accomplishment given the offense ran the ball so often.

Overall, this is an average, or slightly above-average, offensive line. Here is a rundown of each starter’s PFF rankings:

Bradbury and O’Neill were the youngest guys as first- and second-year players. It’s worth noting that O’Neill definitely improved the quality of his play from year one to year two.

Riley Reiff was a candidate for release considering his big contract, which is not in sync with his on-field performance. He’s clearly not among the top left tackles in the league.

After an atrocious 2018 season, Pat Elflein did better last year. He is in his mid-twenties and should remain an adequate starter (albeit, not a great one).

Josh Kline was let go by the Vikings, possibly because of cap reasons and the fact he was now on the wrong side of 30. Still, this is a bit of a surprising move given the team’s lack of depth.

2019 fourth-round pick Dru Samia or career journeyman Dakota Dozier will be fighting for Kline’s spot.

The Vikings selected a late riser in the second round of this year’s draft: Ezra Cleveland. He played over 95% of the snaps in three years with Boise State. He is mobile and very athletic. He seems like Riley Reiff’s heir apparent (who seems likely to be released next offseason).

2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE

The starting lineup remains fairly intact with 9-of-11 starters returning.

The QB, RB and TE positions should provide similar production in 2020.

The WR position took a hit with the loss of Stefon Diggs, a very dangerous playmaker. He was among the best in contested catches. Acquiring a borderline starter like Tajae Sharpe won’t be enough to replace him. Let’s hope rookie Justin Jefferson can have an impact right away.

On the offensive line, Bradbury and O’Neill may take a leap given their young age. However, Josh Kline leaving the team is hardly good news.

Accordingly, I expect Minnesota’s offense to fall a little bit.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski left the team to take over as Cleveland’s head coach, but the system will remain the same under new OC Gary Kubiak. The latter oversaw the offense from the coaches box last year, so the transition shouldn’t be too difficult.

Last year, the Vikings offense scored the eight-most points in the league, and I predict this year’s ranking to lie between the 10th and 16th spot.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Small downgrade

3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown

3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)

The best interior defender for the Vikings was clearly Linval Joseph. Unfortunately, the cash-strapped Vikings had to release him.

A few days later, Minnesota signed Michael Pierce. The former Raven performed at a very similar level as Joseph, but he is four years younger. The run-stuffing nose tackle’s acquisition has to be viewed as a bit of a positive for the Vikings defense.

The other guys seeing time on the interior of the defensive line aren’t very good. Both Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson finished way below-average according to the PFF grading system.

3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)

The Vikings had one of the most fearsome DE duo with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. They racked up 14.5 and 8 sacks, respectively.

Casual fans probably know who Danielle Hunter is. But they don’t realize how good he is; he doesn’t get enough credit, possibly due to playing in a smaller market.

If you look at the numbers, he’s been a beast. Did you know he became the youngest player in NFL history to reach the 50-sack mark? He picked up 14.5 sacks in each of the past two years, and he has averaged 10.9 over his five-year career. The former LSU player was a steal in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft!

Everson Griffen is getting older at 32 years old. At the time of writing, he has yet to sign with a team. He is very likely to find a suitor, but all signs point towards him leaving Minnesota. That will leave a void for sure.

Griffen has averaged 8.8 sacks during the last eight seasons. He has spent his entire 10-year career with the Vikings and has missed very few games. He’s a true warrior.

So, who will take Griffen’s spot? Stephen Weatherly was a key reserve for the team last year, but he left for Carolina. Is Ifeadi Odenigbo ready to pick up the slack? He came out of nowhere to record seven sacks last year!

After being chosen in the 7th round of the 2017 draft, Odenigbo barely played any snaps in his first two seasons. I seriously doubt he can be the long-term answer and I believe last year’s seven sacks were an outlier.

3.3 Linebackers (LBs)

Eric Kendricks had one of the most improbable seasons last year. His PFF marks had varied between 59 and 69 since entering the league five years ago. Then, he earned a jaw-dropping 90.1 grade in 2019, which put him as the second-best linebacker in the entire league. He didn’t do much as a pass rusher, but he was great defending the run and covering people.

Anthony Barr had a subpar year and finished as a below-average LB according to ProFootballFocus. He’s been a steady producer, but his grades have been all over the place during his six-year career. He received his second-lowest mark in 2019.

Eric Wilson has been a reserve player since joining the league in 2017. He’ll likely have a similar role in the upcoming season. He did show adequate skills last year.

3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)

Wow, a lot of shuffling has taken place with Minnesota’s secondary during the offseason.

Both 2019 starters, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, are gone to other teams. And their primary slot corner, Mackensie Alexander, also signed with another squad. Ouch.

Waynes never played at the level of a #11 overall pick, but he yielded steady play during his five-year stint with the Vikings. His PFF grades have been very consistent year-over-year, and he repeatedly finished slightly above-average among all CBs. He’s the guy the team will miss the most.

Let’s face the reality: Xavier Rhodes was one of the worst corners in the league last year. His play took a big hit in 2018, and things got even worse in 2019. He really needed a chance of scenery; perhaps joining the Colts will rejuvenate his career.

As for Mackensie Alexander, I feel like the team should have tried harder to keep him. His first two seasons were difficult after getting drafted in the 2nd round out of Clemson, but his last couple of years were much more promising. He could have rendered some valuable services to a team that had just lost its two starters.

The door is now wide open for 2018 first-rounder Mike Hughes. The jury is still out on whether he can assume a starting role in the NFL, but I guess we’ll find out very soon.

The Vikings decided to address the glaring hole at the position by selecting Jeff Gladney with the 31st overall pick in this year’s draft. Gladney is a sound tackler and a good blitzer too.

He was a four-year starter out of TCU, where he was one of just two players with at least 15 passes defended in each of the past two years. However, he has a lengthy injury history.

3.5 Safeties (S)

Harrison Smith is a perennial All-Pro safety. He’s been racking up tackles and interceptions throughout his eight-year tenure in the NFL. Averaging close to 3 picks per season over such a long span is impressive.

Talk about defying the odds. Anthony Harris went undrafted five years ago. Fast-forward to today, and he’s received 89.0 and 91.1 grades from PFF the last two seasons. He finished as the top safety in the NFL out of 87 qualifiers.

In other words, the Vikings may have the best safety duo in the NFL. The only bad news is they lost depth when both Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse left via free agency.

2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE

Replacing Linval Joseph with Michael Pierce is a small gain for this Vikings defense, in my opinion. That’s about it for the good news for this unit.

Stud pass rusher Everson Griffen seems destined to leave the team, and one of their main backups, Stephen Weatherly signed with the Panthers.

At linebacker, I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but Kendricks is very unlikely to match his 2019 performance. He had been an average LB for four years; I doubt the switch suddenly went on and that he will keep being a top 5 linebacker in the NFL.

Last year’s top three CBs are gone, as well as two backups at the safety position. As of now, the team hasn’t signed any free agent to replace them. This is not a surprise, considering the bad cap situation the team is in. They drafted a few guys, including Jeff Gladney late in the first round, but their impact remains to be seen.

Many new faces on defense, plus a drop in talent invariably equals a big downgrade. The team allowed the fifth-fewest points in the league last year; they’ll be lucky if they finish above-average in 2020.

Final call (2020 vs 2019): Big downgrade

4. Regular Season Wins

According to sportsbooks, the Minnesota Vikings are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?

I'll answer this question via two different methods.

4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction

I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Vikings' 16 games):

OVER 8.5 WINS

UNDER 8.5 WINS

Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins

4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads

Here is the methodology I used here:

Here are the results:

OVER 8.5 WINS

UNDER 8.5 WINS

Tip: Bet OVER 8.5 wins

Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Vikings’ 16 regular season games:

Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.

Tomorrow I'll preview the Dallas Cowboys!

Professor MJ
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