NFL Pre-Season Predictions 2017

I’ll begin with a brief introduction here for readers who have gotten on this bus in the last year.  This is an annual feature – one where I embarrass myself.  What I am going to do here is to foretell the NFL season in detail; I will:

  1. List coaches on the hot seat and suggest which ones will not be returning for the 2018 season.
  2. Predict the final record for all 32 NFL teams and the conference seedings for the playoffs that start in January 2018.

Not only will these predictions stay up on the website, I will return to them sometime after the season is over and grade myself on the accuracy of these predictions.  In almost every circumstance, the grading process is a humbling experience.

One other thing needs to be mentioned at the outset.  There will surely be at least one case where I think a team will stink and I will assign them a record of 4-12 for the season.  When the results are in and the team has won their division with an 11-5 record, I do not owe the team or the team’s fans an apology.  I did not disrespect the team or the coaching staff; what I did was to make a serious mistake – and I will acknowledge that in the post-mortem after the season.  Very often, fans of teams take it personally when I underestimate the success of their teams and fail to recognize the difference between disrespect and abject error.

With that as prelude let me begin with the NFL coaches I think are on hot seats for 2017.  I will list them in alphabetical order because I have no intention of trying to rank order the hotness of those seats.  I have 10 coaches on my list here and it would not surprise me to find 6 or 7 of them among the ranks of the unemployed next January.

  1. Todd Bowles (Jets):  I hate putting him on this list because I think he is a victim of circumstance.  In his first year with the Jets, Bowles’ team just missed out on a playoff berth on a tie-breaker; then last year, the wheels came off the wagon.  Looking back, the Jets of 2015 were not as good as their record so the expectations for 2016 were overly high; that made the 5-11 record last year seem much worse than it was.  He will need significant improvement over last year’s 5-11 record or the NYC tabloids will crucify him; the problem is that the Jets have gutted their roster and the real outlook for 2017 is that a 5-11 record would be a rosy outcome.  As has happened to Jets’ coaches in the past, there is a lack of talent at the QB position.  After pretending to have a “QB competition” in camp this year, the Jets will go into the season with Josh McCown under center.  In the last 3 NFL seasons, McCown has started 22 games; the team record in those games is 2-20.  Good luck with that…  Given the hounding of the NYC press, Todd Bowles may be the first coach fired this year – and he does not deserve that fate.
  2. Jim Caldwell (Lions):  In December of last season, the Lions appeared to have the NFC North division title in their hip pocket.  The last time the Lions won a division title was in 1993 so things were looking up.  The Lions then proceeded to lose their last 3 games – thereby losing the division title to the Packers – and the team went into the playoffs as a Wildcard.  They went to Seattle and laid an egg out there losing 26-6; it wasn’t really that close.  If the Lions miss the playoffs this year, I think Jim Caldwell will be looking for work elsewhere.
  3. John Fox (Bears):  Before coming to Chicago, Joh Fox won an NFC Championship with the Panthers and an AFC Championship with the Broncos.  His coaching accomplishments are significant.  In Chicago, things have not gone nearly as well.  In his two seasons there, the Bears have a cumulative record of 9-23; last year they were 3-13 and looked every bit as bad as that record indicates.  The team has a significant QB conundrum to resolve – and there may not be a positive choice for 2017 on the roster.  I suspect that this is John Fox’s last year in Chicago.
  4. John Harbaugh (Ravens):  Yes, I know that he won a Super Bowl in Baltimore and that his regular season record with the Ravens is a cumulative 85-59.  However, the NFL is very much a “what-have-you-done-lately league” and in the 4 years since winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens only made the playoffs once and have a cumulative record of 31-33.  It would take a disastrous season for Harbaugh’s seat to get hot enough that he had to leave it, but with Joe Flacco missing most of training camp with a “balky back” and Ryan Mallett as the replacement, “disastrous season” might not be out of the picture.  I mention him here as a long-shot; his seat is merely lukewarm.
  5. Hue Jackson (Browns):  I put him here only because the Browns were miserable last year in his first season and they project to be only marginally better this year.  However, I also expect that the folks running the franchise in Cleveland now recognize the importance of some sort of stability when it comes to rebuilding a football team.  The Browns were 1-15 last year and in some of their losses they were barely competitive.  For 2017, they have to play such that they are not just a scrimmage partner for the opposition.  The Browns BYE Week is in Week 9 this year (November 5th); when NFL teams make an in-season coaching change, they often use the BYE Week to do that.  Now, if the Browns go into the BYE Week with an 0-8 record and three of those losses have been horrible blowouts …
  6. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  This will be Lewis’ 15th season as coach of the Bengals; the franchise he took over was a laughingstock; in the last 14 seasons, Lewis has had the team in the playoffs 7 times.  That is the good news; here is the bad news.  The Bengals have yet to win a playoff game under Lewis.  In 2015, they had the game in their hands and then a total meltdown in focus and discipline cost them their first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis Era.  You would have expected improvement in that area in 2016 and that Lewis would have made it a team objective.  Well, that did not happen and the team finished a dispirited 6-9-1.  One other factor working against him is that he only has 1 year left on his contract.  Ownership in Cincy does not like to pay coaches not to coach …  I think the Bengals have to make the playoffs for him to keep his job – – and if they do not win their first playoff game, they have to lose respectably.
  7. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  This is a longshot guess on my part because O’Brien has been successful with the Texans despite never having a Top 25-QB on this roster.  The Brock Osweiler experiment from last year was a disaster – and that is looking at it optimistically.  This year, he has two young QBs with “lots of potential” which is NFL code-talking for two young QBs “who have not yet accomplished a damned thing.”  This man does not look happy on the sidelines during games even though his teams win more often than they lose.
  8. Chuck Pagano (Colts):  The facts are these.  The Colts play in a not-very-good division and they have not made the playoffs for the last 2 years.  They have a very good QB but they do not protect him and he will start this season basically having no training camp practice sessions as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery brought on by the lack of protection he gets.  I have not figured out how much of the Colts’ failures over the past couple of years is due to Pagano’s coaching and how much is due to the way the roster was built and how much of a role Pagano played in the roster building.  The old GM is gone for this year so the Colts need to show improvement if Pagano is going to stay on as the coach.
  9. Sean Payton (Saints):  Like John Harbaugh, some might ask what Peyton has done for the Saints lately.  They had a great run from 2009 (winning the Super Bowl) to 2013 (making the playoffs each year and winning 11 or more games in each season).  However, the last three seasons have come in at 7-9 with no playoff appearances.  This is another longshot on this list – – but it is not impossible.
  10. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  Last year the team suffered “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome”.  From a record of 15-1, the Panthers descended to an unremarkable 6-10 which earned them a last place finish in the NFC South.  Rivera has been the coach in Carolina for 6 years now; his overall record is 53-42-1 which is pretty good; interestingly, he has only had 2 winning seasons in those 6 years and with that overall record one might have expected more.  There has been plenty of turmoil within the franchise recently with the GM getting fired in June after he oversaw the Draft and the signing of free agents.  Logic would argue for Rivera to stay around to provide some stability but “logic: and “stability” are not always key ingredients in NFL decisions…

Let me go to the individual team records now and I’ll start in the AFC West.  I project that the four teams here will have a total of 36 wins; only the NFC South will have more.

  • Oakland Raiders  12-4:  Derek Carr is back and the highlight reels say he is throwing the ball as well as he was before his broken leg last year.  The Raiders’ offense can scare any defensive coordinator.  The defense is good-not-great and the defensive weakness is stopping the run.  The Raiders open the season on the road against the Titans – a team that wants to run the ball down your throat.  That game should shed a lot of light on the level of improvement in the Raiders’ run defense.  The Raiders’ schedule is back-loaded.  After their BYE Week in Week 10, they host the Pats, Broncos and Giants; then they hit the road to visit the Chiefs and then come home again to host the Cowboys.  I think the Raiders will beat out the Steelers for a playoff bye based on conference record.  When the Raiders win the AFC West, it will be the first time they have done so in 15 seasons.
  • KC Chiefs  10-6:  The Chiefs were good last year and not much has changed in KC so they ought to be good again this year.  The loss of Spencer Ware at RB for the season is certainly not a positive, but it is not disastrous either.  Remember, they lost in the playoffs last year to Pittsburgh never giving up a TD – although they did yield 6 field goals.  The Chiefs will be the top AFC Wildcard Team.
  • LA Chargers  7-9:  There were times last year when the Chargers had so many injuries that I expected to see the guys who run onto the field with the water bottles during timeouts pull up with hamstring injuries.  The football gods wouldn’t do that to the same team two years in a row, would they?  The Chargers offense is OK; the Chargers’ defense needs to improve; that is why Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator.  The most interesting thing about Chargers’ games this year will be to see what the atmosphere is in their new stadium that seats less than 30,000 folks.  And on top of the atmosphere, it will be interesting to see if the Chargers can even sell out so small a venue.
  • Denver Broncos  7-9:  The Broncos’ defense is still a premier unit and will be the source of the team success this year.  On offense, the Broncos have questions at RB and most importantly at QB.  Once again, Paxton Lynch failed to earn the starting QB job over Trevor Siemian who started 14 games last year.  Broncos’ coach Vance Joseph said the decision came down to the fact that Siemian was the more consistent QB in the Exhibition Games.  Does that translate into something like “I wish I had some other option here – – but I don’t.”?  The Broncos went 8-6 with Siemian under center and none of his stats jump out at you and say “Hey, look over here!”  In the John Elway GM Era, the QB position has been questionable.  Some of the Broncos’ acquisitions at QB were Tim Tebow, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.  That is a pretty vanilla bunch surrounding the acquisition of Peyton Manning for one last run at a Super Bowl ring which turned out to be successful.  Still …

Next up I’ll move to the AFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 32 games meaning the four teams will average 8-8 which is pretty much the definition of mediocre.

  • Tennessee Titans  11-5:  I think the Titans’ time has come.  Marcus Mariotta has a dominant running game that will allow him to pick and choose when to throw as opposed to having to wing it 50 times a game.  Mariotta may not be an All-Pro; but in this division, there is not a lot of QB competition if indeed Andrew Luck is still not able to throw a football in anger with only a week or so to go until kickoff.  The Titans’ defense is nothing to write home about but that strong run game will help that unit also.  The schedule maker gave the Titans an easy glide path to the playoffs this year.  Their last 3 games of the season are at the Niners and then home to host the Rams and the Jags.
  • Houston Texans  9-7:  Of course the Texans will go 9-7; that is what they have done under Bill O’Brien in each of his 3 seasons at the helm.  Last year, the Texans made the playoffs even though they gave up 49 more points than they scored; let’s just say that is atypical.  Tom Savage has been named as the Week 1 starter; I suspect we will see Deshaun Watson in that role before Thanksgiving.  The Texans’ defense was excellent last year and should be even better this year with the return of JJ Watt although the loss of CB, AJ Bouye, and S, Quinton Demps, to free agency creates a challenge for the defense.  The worst part of the schedule for the Texans is a 3-game stretch at the Patriots and then home to host the Titans and the Chiefs.  That rough patch is followed by a visit from the Browns and then a BYE Week.  The Texans will be the second AFC Wildcard Team.
  • Indy Colts   6-10:  This projection assumes that it will be a while into the regular season before Andrew Luck is ready to play QB the way Andrew Luck is capable of playing QB.  If that does not happen this year and the Colts have to embark on the start of the Scott Tolzein Era, this might be a generous projection.  Fans in Indy have to hope that the Scott Tolzein Era is mercifully brief.  The Colts seemed to recognize their shortcomings during the NFL Draft this year.  With their first four picks, the Colts took 3 defensive players and an offensive lineman.  The running back listed first on the depth chart at the moment is Frank Gore.  I love Frank Gore’s drive and dedication; on the other hand, he is 34 years old.  That is not the usual recipe for a solid run game to support your QB …
  • Jax Jaguars  6-10:  This prediction is another one that could be wildly optimistic.  I am basing this on the continued solid play by the defensive unit.  Were it not for those guys, this team would struggle to win 2 games.  If you believe the reports coming from the Jags’ training camp, Blake Bortles and Chad Henne were in a neck-and-neck race to see who would be the starting QB.  That is a sad state of affairs.  Things got so loose after the 2nd Exhibition Game that the owner of the Jags said he would be open to bringing Colin Kaepernick onto the roster if his “football people” said they needed him.  Then time went by and the “football people” made no such entreaty.  The Jags begin the season with 3 difficult games – at the Texans and then home against the Titans and Ravens.  The Jags close out the season with a challenging 4-game stretch – home versus the Seahawks and the Texans followed by two on the road at the Niners and at the Titans.  Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had this to say about the QB situation in Jax:

Everybody I talk to keeps saying that if Blake Bortles struggles again this season, he will be done as the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In other words, I guess you could say that this is a Make-or-Blake season.”

The next stop will be the AFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 31 games.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers  12-4:  The Steelers have a ton of talent on offense.  Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown and Martavious Bryant to throw the ball to on the outside.  The Steelers do not have a great tight end on the roster but Jesse James and Vance McDonald will not embarrass the team.  Big Ben can also hand the ball to LeVeon Bell – once Bell decides that he will show up and play a season of football for something in the neighborhood of $12M.  If it takes Bell a moment to “get his sea legs”, the Steelers have Knile Davis on the team to be the lead back.  The Steelers’ defense for 2017 may not be equal to the Steel Curtain guys from 40 years ago, but the Steelers’ defense is better than merely present and the signing last week of Joe Haden from the Browns should help the defense a lot.  I think the Steelers will lose out on a bye week in the playoffs to the Raiders based on conference records.
  • Baltimore Ravens  8-8:  This prediction is based on Joe Flacco being able to play like Joe Flacco has shown he can play for most of the games this season.  He has not played in any Exhibition Games and has been treated with kid gloves in training camp due to a “balky back”.  His backup is Ryan Mallett.  You can decry Flacco all you want about how he is not an “elite QB”; none of that matters here; he is many rungs of the ladder higher than Ryan Mallett.  And if you want to get really frightened, the other QB on the roster during training camp was Thad Lewis.  The Ravens’ offense was anemic last year and the loss of Steve Smith Sr. on the field and on the sideline will not help that situation or help Joe Flacco be highly productive.  The Ravens’ defense will keep them in plenty of games but that unit needs help from the offfense.  The Ravens have three tough road games on the schedule – – at the Raiders, at the Packers and at the Steelers.
  • Cincy Bengals  7-9:  The Bengals offense looks solid if – and this is a big IF – the OL improves significantly over last year’s performance.  Andy Dalton needs more time/better protection than he got last year; if he gets protection, he will be able to get the ball to AJ Green, Tyler Eifert and some talented running backs.  If opposing defenses can force Dalton to scramble and throw on the run, the Bengals will struggle.  The defense has not changed a lot from last year and the presence of Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones on that unit always provides the potential for a meltdown.  Burfict will serve a 3-game suspension; if that is enforced at the start of this season AND later he contributes to some other Bengals’ misfortunes with more on-field meltdowns, the team may struggle to reach my predicted record.  I suspect this will be the end of the line for Marvin Lewis in Cincy and I am sad to say that.  Marvin Lewis appears to be a very good person when he is on TV as well as a good football coach.
  • Cleveland Browns  4-12:  If I am right on this projection, that means the Browns will improve their win total by 300% over last year.  The thing that will be the measure of the Browns this year is their competitiveness; last year, too many opponents had a stroll down a primrose path when they played the Browns.  The schedule maker chose to throw this team into the deep end right away.  They open the season hosting the Steelers; then they have two road games at the Ravens and Colts followed by a home game against the Bengals.  That’s right; three of the first four games are division games.  Later in the season they have a string of games that is daunting.  From late November to mid-December the Browns face the Bengals and Chargers on the road followed by home games against the Packers and Ravens.  In Week 16, the NFL schedule maker gives us the Browns and the Bears in Chicago.  If that is a “blizzard game”, it might be fun to watch just for comedic value; other than that …

To wrap up the AFC, here are my predictions for the AFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – tying it with the NFC West as the weakest overall division in the NFL.

  • New England Patriots  13-3:  No, the Pats will not be undefeated in 2017.  They will have the best regular season record in the conference and in the league; they are the defending Super Bowl champion and they may have a better overall roster this year than they did last year.  The training camp injury to Julian Edelman does not help them a bit, but there are still plenty of weapons on that offensive unit.  One of these years, we will witness Tom Brady’s performance decline significantly.  As they say in the NFL, Father Time has never missed a tackle.  However, I do not think that 2017 will be that year – and oh, by the way, I believe that the Pats have THE best backup QB in the league on the bench in Jimmy Garoppolo.  If you are a Patriot-hater, I think this will not be a good year for you.  I have the Pats with home field advantage throughout the playoffs in 2017.  [As of this morning, the odds on the Pats winning the AFC East yet again stand at -1000 or -1050 at various Internet sportsbooks.  Those folks think that outcome is a “mortal lock”.]
  • Miami Dolphins  8-8:  Let me say something sort of outrageous here.  If Jay Cutler has a really good year in Miami – meaning he still has plenty of gas in the tank at age 34 – that might be a factor in whether John Fox keeps his job in Chicago because the Bears got little if anything out of Cutler in the John Fox Era.  The Dolphins made the playoffs last year and then proceeded to lay an egg against the Steelers in a Wildcard round game.  I do not think they will get to the playoffs this year.  The schedule maker seemed to stick pins in a Miami Dolphins bobblehead in the offseason.  They have road games in LA against the Chargers, in Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina and KC in addition to their customary road games against their division opponents.  Oh, and one of their home games will be in London.  That is tough sledding …  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian Pilot had this to say about Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami:

Miami signed Jay Cutler. Apparently ownership was impressed by all the passes he completed to Dolphin cornerbacks when he played for Chicago.”

  • Buffalo Bills  4-12:  I feel sorry for Tyrod Taylor.  Even if he improves a lot over last year, it may be hard to notice given who he has to throw the ball to.  The Bills shipped Sammy Watkins out of town and traded for Jordan Matthews who promptly broke his sternum in practice.  The Bills also signed free agent Anquan Boldin who stayed in training camp for a week or so and then retired.  Other wide receivers on the depth chart include Andre Holmes [No, he is not Sherlock’s younger brother.], Zay Jones and Brandon Tate.  In reality, none of those players will inflict insomnia on any defensive coordinators around the NFL.  LeSean McCoy is still there as a competent running back; if McCoy has to miss any significant playing time this year, the Bills’ offense might be listed as “moribund”.  Rookie coach Sean McDermott will take his lumps this year.
  • NY Jets  2-14:  No; just as the Pats will not go 16-0, the Jets will not go 0-16.  There are too many winnable games on the schedule even for a team with a gutted roster that seems to be tanking so they can draft one of the many promising QBs coming out of college this year.  Instead of focusing on the question, “Will the Jets go winless in 2017?”, I think the more appropriate question is “Will the Jets equal the 1-15 record they posted in 1996 under Richie Kotite?”  The Jets play the Browns on October 8 in Week 5; that may be the nadir of the NFL season.  Jets’ fans will need to vent their spleen by December 3rd because the Jets play 3 of their last 4 games on the road.  Maybe the schedule maker took pity on the Jets’ fans and kept them out of the cold weather this year with such a bad team on the field…  The NY Jets will be “on the clock” for the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as of January 1, 2018.  Unfortunately for Todd Bowles, he will not be participating in that draft preparation.  By the way, I am not the only one to think that the Jets/Browns game in Week 5 will be a “snoozer”; here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Yawning is contagious, University of Nottingham researchers have confirmed.

Which probably explains why pundits are predicting 70,000 open mouths in the stands at next month’s Jets-Browns game.”

To summarize the AFC:

  1. Patriots – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  2. Raiders – First round bye beating out Steelers on conference record
  3. Steelers – Home field for the Wildcard round
  4. Titans – Home field for the Wildcard round
  5. Chiefs – First Wildcard team
  6. Texans – Second Wildcard team

Now I will move over to the NFC and begin with the NFC West.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 27 games – making it tied with the AFC East as the weakest division in the NFL.

  • Seattle Seahawks  11-5:  The defensive backfield for the Legion of Boom is starting to get up there in years and watching how Darrele Revis’ play fell off a cliff last year makes one pause for a moment here.  Richard Sherman is 29; Kam Chancellor is 29; Earl Thomas (back from injury to the delight of Seahawks’ fans) is 28 and Jeremy Lane is 27.  Their experience and savvy will make up for any “age issues” this year but it is an issue to keep in mind.  Another plus for the Seahawks is that Russell Wilson had to battle foot/leg injuries for much of last year but he seems to be fully recovered from all that.  The schedule maker did the Seahawks no favors this year.  In the first 7 weeks, the Seahawks have 4 road games against the Packers, Titans, Rams and Giants.  [There is a BYE Week in there between the Rams and Giants.]  On Christmas Eve, they will be in Dallas to play the Cowboys.  The Seahawks will win the division comfortably.  I have them in a 3-way tie-breaker situation with the Falcons and the Packers to see which two of them will get playoff byes.  These three teams play each other this year so the tie-breaker situation could get very interesting.
  • Arizona Cardinals  8-8:  I am just not sold on the Cardinals.  Running back, David Johnson, is a top-shelf player and Larry Fitzgerald is the kind of role model you would want to hold up in front of your kids if they were athletic.  But when I consider the rest of the team, I am lukewarm at best.  Last year, the Cards were 7-8-1; basically, this is the same team the Cards put on the field last year, so I don’t see much of anything different happening at the end of this year.  On the positive side, this could be the last year for both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald and perhaps the two “old pros” can make the rest of the team play a lot better than they really are.  It could happen…
  • LA Rams  5-11:  The Rams will play in a bigger stadium than the Chargers and will draw bigger crowds but they will not win as many games as the Chargers will win.  The Rams have a new coach in Sean McVay who is just outside the age range for a “teen idol”.  The Rams have a really good defense – – assuming that DT Aaron Donald ever shows up in football shape ready to play to his capability.  In addition, they have a very good running back in Todd Gurley.  What they also have is a humongous question mark at the QB position.  Jared Goff looked terrible last year in all those times when he did not look bewildered.  Sean McVay is there to prove to Rams’ fans and the rest of the NFL that Goff as a #1 overall pick is able to bear that burden.  The jury is out – – but Jared Goff has to play better than he did last year because last year he could barely play dead.
  • SF 49ers  3-13:  This is a step up from last year’s walk in the wilderness.  The roster last year was awful; I guess it is a tad better this year but still not nearly good enough.  The presence of Kyle Shanahan is supposed to convey some degree of competence on the QB position; that is Shanahan’s calling card in the coaching game.  He does not have a lot to work with.  Brian Hoyer is nominally the starter with Matt Barkley as the backup.  Those two guys saw a lot of action in Chicago last year and fans there saw a lot of ugly action as a result.  Also on the depth chart is rookie CJ Beathard from Iowa who could be this year’s version of Dak Prescott or this year’s version of Spergon Wynn.  NaVorro Bowman will make his presence felt from his MLB position on defense and maybe rookie Reuben Foster will be a top-shelf linebacker too.  Other than that, the defense is not much to write home about.

I’ll just move along here to the NFC South.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 37 games making this the toughest division in the NFL for 2018.

  • Atlanta Falcons  11-5:  The Falcons will suffer the “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome” and that is why they are going to lose 5 games this season.  The team is extremely talented; Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones is scary by itself but the Falcons have plenty of other pass catchers to take the pressure off the Ryan/Jones connection and they have a solid running game.  They lost the Super Bowl on a boneheaded bit of play-calling and because the Falcons’ defense was totally gassed for the final 6 or 7 minutes of the game.  It will not require much of an uptick on defense to take care of that little problem.  The rematch with the Patriots will be in Foxboro on October 22; it is probably worthwhile circling that date on your calendar.  The Falcons take on the Cowboys at home in Week 10 and that game could be a preview of an NFC playoff encounter.
  • Tampa Bay Bucs  10-6:  Jameis Winston takes his next step down the path to NFL stardom here.  The off-season acquisition of DeSean Jackson will help the Bucs offense a lot.  Jackson is not a high-volume pass-catcher; he averaged less than 4 catches per game last year.  However, what he does is to get the ball downfield; he led the NFL in average yards per catch (17.9 yards per catch).  With his speed, he will make opposing defenses play the whole field and that will open up a lot of targets and catches for his companion wide-out, Mike Evans.  Doug Martin and Jacquiz Rodgers provide more than competent running back skills.  The Bucs defense needs to improve and Jameis Winston needs to cut down on his INTs this year.  I see the Bucs in the playoffs as the NFC’s first Wildcard team.
  • New Orleans Saints  8-8:  I’ve seen the movie before.  The Saints’ offense will move the ball and score lots of points; then the Saints’ defense will go out on the field and allow the opponent to move the ball and also score lots of points.  Sometimes the Saints will win and sometimes they will lose.  Hence, my predicted record.  The Saints’ 5 games in December include 4 division games including the Falcons twice with a visit from the NY Jets in the middle of those 4 games.
  • Carolina Panthers  8-8:  Cam Newton is still recovering from shoulder surgery and while the Panthers have a reasonable backup in Derek Anderson, the Panthers will not survive without Cam Newton playing near his level of competence.  The Panthers already had a good corps of running backs and then they added Christian Mc Caffrey in the draft.  The Panthers’ defense is quite good with solid players at most of the positions.  Nevertheless, they have to have the Cam Newton of the 2015 season on the field this year and not the Cam Newton of 2016.  That is the bottom line…

Next up is the NFC North.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 30 games in the 2017 NFL season.

  • Green Bay Packers  11-5:  In recent seasons, the Packers have started slowly and hit their stride later in the season.  This year they open at home against the Seahawks and then travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons in Week 2.  If my projections are correct, they cannot afford to start 0-2 because that would make them lose out on the tie-breaker that I believe will come to pass among those three teams.  However, even if they do start 0-2, I do not think there is reason for the Cheeseheads to panic; the Packers are the class of this division and should coast to the division title and the playoffs.  In an atypical move, the Packers dipped into the free agent market earlier this week signing Ahmed Brooks – late of the Niners – to play linebacker; that cannot hurt this team.  By the way, the schedule maker did the Packers no favors toward the end of the season either; they will be on the road for four of their final six games.
  • Minnesota Vikings  9-7:  The Vikings will field a tough defense once again in 2017 and their offense will be pretty much plain vanilla.  Normally, that sort of overview would lead to a break-even record but the Vikes play in a division with two very weak teams meaning they get four division games that are perfectly winnable.  The schedule maker has also given the Vikes games against the Browns and the Rams; those are also perfectly winnable.  On that basis, I think the Vikes will squeeze themselves above .500 for the season but will not be involved in the playoffs.
  • Detroit Lions  6-10:  The Lions looked like division winners last year and then threw up on their shoes losing the last three games of the year and the division title to the Packers.  They did make the playoffs as a Wildcard team but lost badly to the Seahawks in the first round.  In building their division lead, the Lions won lots of games by very close margins of victory and seemed to have the power to pull rabbits out of hats.  In fact, they came from behind in the 4th quarter in each of their first 7 wins of the season.  The Lions record last year was 9-7; had they gone 3-4 in those 7 games where they trailed in the 4th quarter, their record would have been 6-10.  Big difference …  That sort of football-fortune tends to even out over time and that is not a good omen for the Lions in 2017.  The Lions would benefit from a strong performance by RB, Ameer Abdullah this year.  Overall, I do not think this season will save Jim Caldwell’s job.
  • Chicago Bears  4-12:  The Bears were terrible last year; in the offseason they off-loaded all three QBs on their roster and replaced them with Mike Glennon (on an expensive contract), Mitchell Trubisky (a rookie the team traded up to draft early in the first round) and Mark Sanchez (yes, that Mark Sanchez).  Under the most benign circumstances, you would expect the Bears to take a few games to get all the pieces working together properly.  That is where the schedule maker did the Bears no favors.  Here is how the Bears’ schedule plays out for the first 6 weeks – – home against the Falcons, at the Bucs, home against the Steelers, at the Packers, home against the Vikes, at the Ravens.  The Bears will be underdogs in all 6 of those games and will likely be underdogs in the next two games just prior to the BYE Week.  If the Bears are 0-8 at the BYE Week, it would not surprise me to see John Fox lose his job right there.  The schedule gets a bit easier in the second half with winnable games against the Browns, Niners and Lions (twice) on the dance card.

The last division up for attention is the NFC East.  I project that the four teams here will win a total of 36 games this season meaning that this division like the AFC West is only one game behind the NFC South in terms of total wins.

  • Dallas Cowboys  10-6:  This projection assumes that Ezekiel Elliott serves at least a 4-game suspension from the NFL.  At the moment, his “sentence” is for 6 games and is “up on appeal”.  This projection also accounts for defensive coordinators spending a lot of time during the offseason analyzing whatever weaknesses may exist in Dak Prescott’s game and exploiting some of them this season.  Notwithstanding all of the above, the core of the Cowboys’ offense remains intact; the outstanding OL is still there and Jason Witten is still there to catch the ball and move the chains.  The challenge for the Cowboys in 2017 is a continuation of their challenge from 2016; can the defense play anywhere near the level of competency as the offense?  You will get to see a lot of the Cowboys on TV this year.  They will be on in prime time 5 times; they will be on the “late Sunday afternoon game” 9 times.  The Cowboys draw ratings on TV and all the networks want to show you the Dallas Cowboys.
  • NY Giants  10-6:  The Giants made the playoffs last year mainly due to an efficient and effective defense.  The 2017 squad will field mostly the same defense but the Giants have added some offensive weapons in the offseason – notably Brandon Marshall to play WR opposite Odell Beckham, Jr.  The running game is still suspect but I expect that Eli Manning will have a big year throwing the ball.  The Giants open the season on the road against the Cowboys and they play 4 of their first 6 games on the road; in December, the Giants have 2 road games – – at Oakland and at Arizona where they traditionally struggle.
  • Philadelphia Eagles  9-7:  It appears that the Eagles’ defense has come to a point where it can reassert itself after a couple of seasons where it went AWOL.  The challenge for the team is to continue to develop QB, Carson Wentz, after a promising rookie season.  The Eagles made major changes to their receiving corps over the summer adding Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith and the Eagles can present a diversified running game with LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnell Pumphrey.  The Eagles start the season at the Skins, at the Chiefs and home against the Giants; the final three games will be at the Giants, home against the Raiders and Cowboys.  Those 6 games at the start and end of the season will decide how well – or how poorly – the Eagles do this year.
  • Washington Redskins  7-9:  Football coaches love to talk about getting rid of distractions.  Well, the Skins have a distraction built into the core of the team for this year and that distraction is the “Kirk Cousins Contract Conundrum”.  If you don’t know what that is, you should not have read this far into an NFL prediction piece for the 2017 season.  In the offseason, the Skins lost two prominent WRs in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon; they replaced them with Terrelle Pryor.  I am a big fan of Terrelle Pryor, but I wonder if he can replace the production of both departed WRs.  The Skins’ defense last year was just plain bad; they have a new defensive coordinator and plenty of new personnel in the front seven.  They almost have to be improved over last year – but that is a low standard for this unit to have to meet.  The Skins’ schedule from the end of October until mid-December is daunting.  They face a seven-game stretch starting with a visit by the Cowboys, then a trip to the Seahawks followed by a home game against the Vikes, a road trip to play the Saints, the Giants at home on Thanksgiving and ending with road games against the Cowboys and the Chargers.

The playoff picture in the NFC according to my projections will be a muddled mess.  So here is my prognostication:

  • The Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions on tie-breakers over the Giants.
  • The Giants will be in the playoffs as a Wildcard team
  • The other three division winners (Falcons, Packers and Seahawks) will have the same record and I think the Seahawks will be “odd-team out” in terms of playoff byes.

Therefore, my overall NFC Playoff prediction looks like this:

  1. Packers – Home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  [True confession here – I make this prediction because I like to watch winter games in Green Bay where everyone is freezing their butts off more than I like watching winter games in a dome like Atlanta.]
  2. Falcons – First round bye in the playoffs
  3. Seahawks – Home field advantage in the Wildcard round
  4. Cowboys – In the playoffs as the NFC East champ
  5. Giants – First Wildcard team from the NFC
  6. Bucs – Second Wildcard team from the NFC.

I’ll check back with you – and with these readings of goat entrails – sometime early next year.  We shall see then how close I came to being right – – or how far off the mark I could be.

Finally, to conclude on a light note, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“According to a website’s survey, 54.2 percent of Jacksonville fans would sit on a hornet’s nest to win a Super Bowl. Which could produce an oh-so-rare Jaguars standing ovation.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………

 

 

NFL Stuff Before The Season Starts …

The appeal filed by Ezekiel Elliott regarding his 6-game suspension by the NFL is still pending as I write this.  I want to make an observation about this matter before any decision is rendered here and before whatever decision is rendered here is appealed in some other venue.

  • Elliott is suspended 6-games because the NFL set that level of suspension as the standard for involvement in domestic abuse/violence situations.
  • The extant CBA gave the league the power to set that standard and it gave the commissioner the power to be sheriff, judge, jury and executioner in such cases.

Let me be clear.  Domestic violence is intolerable; it should be punished in the judicial system but often the victim can be motivated not to cooperate with prosecutors.  That is a societal problem that is beyond the scope of the NFL.  After the black eye the NFL inflicted on itself with the leniency shown in the “Ray Rice Affair”, they moved to set this stiff penalty and to put it in place.  We can argue if 6 games are too much or too little; once we settle that argument we can decide exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Here is the problem at the moment:

  • Adam Schefter – a highly respected reporter with a ton of NFL connections – indicated that there was the possibility that Elliott’s suspension could be reduced from 6 games to something less than that.

I have a problem with that even though I have exactly no idea whatsoever if Elliott did what he is purported to have done.  Here is the deal:

  1. If he did what is alleged – and since this is not a legal proceeding, the standard does not have to be the same as would prevail in a courtroom – then Elliott needs to sit out 6 games.
  2. If he did not do what is alleged – and the standards are not those of a courtroom in that case either – then he needs to sit out 0 games.
  3. The thing about “zero tolerance policies” is that they are like the power button on your computer.  It is either “ON” or it is “OFF”.  There is no setting akin to “HALF-ON” or “SORTA-OFF”.

If the arbitrator hearing the case – or Roger Goodell subsequent to whatever his findings may be – decides to concoct a way to “split the difference” here, I think that would be a travesty.  If the NFL is convinced that he did it; he should sit for 6 games and there should be no temptation at all to increase that number due to other circumstances.  If the NFL is not convinced that he did it, he should start the season at RB for the Cowboys.  That’s it…

With the real NFL games about to happen, let me share a couple of streaks that exist in the NFL that may or may not be extended in 2017.  Before I start, remember that here in Curmudgeon Central we focus on negative records and streaks of futility.  I am not going to talk about the extension of the Patriots domination of the AFC East other than to mention that the odds on the Pats winning that division title as of this morning are 1 to 10.

  1. Longest streak without a winning season:  That “honor” belongs to the LA Rams and the last time they finished above .500 was in 2003.  From 1999 to 2003, the Rams were “The Greatest Show On Turf”.  In the 13 seasons since 2003, their record is 68-139-1.  I think this streak will continue through the 2017 season…
  2. Longest streak without winning a division: Technically, this “honor” belongs to the Cleveland Browns whose last division championship was in 1989.  There is a mitigating circumstance here, however; remember that the Cleveland Browns did not exist for 3 seasons in the time between 1989 and now.  Therefore, I think there are two teams worthy of mention here.  The Detroit Lions’ last division championship was in 1993.  The Browns futility will indeed continue through the 2017 season.  The Lions came close last year losing the division title on a tie-breaker; however, I do not think they will win the NFC North this year.
  3. Longest streak without making the playoffs:  Surprising to me, neither the Browns nor the Lions hold down this “honor”.  The team with the most severe playoff drought is the Buffalo Bills whose last playoff appearance was in 1999.  I doubt the Bills will make the playoffs in 2017.
  4. Longest streak without a playoff victory:  The infamy here belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals whose last playoff win came in 1991.  I thought the Browns also owned this record but the Browns won a playoff game in 1994 in the time Bill Belichick was the coach there.  The Bengals have been in the playoffs 7 times in the last 14 seasons under Marvin Lewis – and they have been “one-and-done” all 7 times.  I do not like the Bengals’ chances of making the playoffs this year let alone winning a playoff game, but they have a better chance of doing that than any of the teams mentioned above have of breaking their streaks of shame.
  5. Longest streak since the last Super Bowl appearance:  Four NFL franchises share this “distinction” because all four of them have never been in a Super Bowl game.  Those teams are the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.  As of this morning, the Texans are 10-1 to win the AFC Championship and that is the best of the lot here.  Odds for the Jags to make the Super Bowl are 40-1; odds for the Browns to get there are 125-1; odds for the Lions to represent the NFC in the game are 30-1.  These streaks look to continue on …

Finally, when the Tampa Bay Bucs cut placekicker Roberto Aguayo – someone they traded up to select in the second round of the draft, Mike Bianchi had this comment in the Orlando Sentinel:

“Even guys in my fantasy league know not to draft a kicker in the second round.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………

 

 

RIP Rollie Massimino

Rollie Massimino died yesterday at age 82.  He was the coach at Villanova when Villanova  upset top-ranked Georgetown (one of the Patrick Ewing teams) in the NCAA basketball tournament final game.  It was one of the great upsets in March Madness history.

RIP Rollie Massimino.

I have been writing these rants since 2001; this is the first time that I have referenced the Hamilton TigerCats three times in a week.  In fact, if I were sufficiently motivated to check, I am pretty sure that I have never referenced them even twice in a single week before.  But here we go…

After hiring Art Briles and then firing him less than half a day after hiring him, the Hamilton TigerCats are in the news again.  According to reports, the coaches and at least some of the “upper level execs” associated with the team worked out Johnny Manziel in Buffalo a week or so ago.  In a way, I actually get this;

  • The TigerCats are 0-8 and are not much more than an afterthought in the CFL this year.
  • They score about 20 points per game and in CFL games that is not nearly enough.
  • Art Briles is a coach whose reputation is made on offense.
  • Johnny Manziel is a mobile QB who – in a former existence – made things happen on offense.

Having said all that, the Hamilton TigerCats got it right twice.  The PR hit the team took from hiring Art Briles would not likely ever be paid off.  The “workout in Buffalo” was sufficiently questionable to get everyone there to the point where they just did not want to be under the microscope that will focus on wherever Johnny Manziel next tries to play football.  Good for them…

Just a suggestion here for the TigerCats:

  • Open the wallet and think about signing Colin Kaepernick.
  • He ought to thrive on the larger field of the CFL.
  • His protest has to do with events in the US and not in Canada.
  • He needs a job; you obviously need offensive firepower…

Since I mentioned Buffalo in relation to the putative “Manziel workout”, let me offer a comment about the Buffalo Bills.  They are cleaning house out there in northwestern NY state almost to the same extent that the Jets have cleansed their roster in southeastern NY state.  As a franchise, the Bills are as much a “sad-sack” as are the Jets.  Consider:

  1. The last time the Bills participated in a playoff game was in January 2000.  They lost that game to the Tennessee Titans.
  2. Since that game the Bills’ cumulative record is 112-161.
  3. In the intervening years, there have been exactly 2 seasons where the Bills’ regular season record was over .500.

I mention all this because the Bills have a highly talented defensive lineman on the roster named Marcell Dareus; in the morass of mediocrity-at-best, Dareus stands out like a corncob in a lettuce patch.  The problem is that Marcell Dareus is also a stand-out when it comes to “off-the-field issues”.

  • In his career, he has been arrested twice.
  • In his career, he has been suspended by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy.
  • Despite all of that, the Bills recognizing his physical talents signed him to a contract worth $96M over a 6-year stretch.  That deal still has 5 years to go…

Recently, the Bills sent Dareus back to training camp prior to an Exhibition game for “disciplinary reasons”.  I understand that his contract extension was done by a “previous administration” in Buffalo, but still…  If you give a defensive lineman that kind of money and tenure, you should expect some “leadership” from him too and given his previous behaviors – both in his collegiate years and his time in the NFL – one must wonder how he was supposed to become a “leader” once that kind of money was dangled in front of his face.  In microcosm, this is why the Bills have been without any participation in the playoffs for so long.  And looking at the roster they have going into the 2017 season, that playoff drought looks like it will be continuing for a while…

Another defensive tackle in the NFL also got a recent contract extension but seems to have reacted to that event more positively.  Linval Joseph of the Vikings (a really good DT and one who is comparable in skill to Marcell Dareus) recently signed a 4-year contract extension worth $50M.  After that signing, someone saw Joseph arrive at the Vikings practice facility in his pickup truck and asked him if he was going to spend some of his signing bonus money on a flashy car – – like a $200K Maserati.  Here is how Joseph responded:

“Why get one — I can’t fit in it.”

I really like pragmatists …

Finally, leave it to Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times to figure out what caused a record in MLB to be broken:

“Yankee slugger Aaron Judge broke the major league record by striking out in 33 straight games.

“That’s what he gets for changing his breakfast menu from Wheaties to Special K.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

RIP Jud Heathcote …

Former Michigan State basketball head coach, Jud Heathcote, died at the age of 90 yesterday.  He won the national championship in 1979 when the final game was “Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird”.  Heathcote took over at Michigan State in 1976 and stayed through 1995 where he turned over the reins to a long-time assistant named Tom Izzo who remains the coach at Michigan State today.

Rest in peace, Jud Heathcote.

The hiring of Art Briles by the Hamilton TigerCats of the CFL lasted about 24 hours.  In an announcement yesterday, the team owner and team CEO said that they had terminated Briles and that they had not realized how intensely negatively his hiring would be viewed by fans and social media.  It also appears that CFL Commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, played a part in this “U-turn” of thinking.  If so, I would have to give Ambrosie high marks for initiative and action.  It would appear that he saw something that he believed was going to be detrimental to his league and he took action.  That would indicate to me that he is not going to be a potted plant in the corner of the room as the CFL Commissioner.

Art Briles is an interesting test case for the concept of “second chances”.  Remember, Briles has not been charged with any criminal acts let alone been convicted of criminal acts.  Partly because of that situation, there are still facts about the sordid mess at Baylor under his watch that are unknown; hearing only one side of a partial story is hardly a firm foundation on which to draw conclusions.  What we do know is that there were more than a few instances of sexual assaults perpetrated by Baylor football players on students at that school and that Briles did not put a stop to it.  He may have even gone so far as to act to try to cover up the actions of his players.  Whatever happened there, it was bad and there is no way to sugar-coat that.

So, the question now is this:

  • Does Art Briles have the opportunity to get a “second chance”?

Remember, Art Briles is 61 years old; if he is going to have that opportunity, it will necessarily have to happen in what will seem like an awfully brief time after his messy departure from Baylor.  I cannot imagine him getting a job with an NCAA school any time soon; I suspect there would be more than a tad of outrage if a high school hired him as its football coach; given the tenuous stances that the NFL has taken on matters related to “assaults on women” (sexual and non-sexual), I doubt that any team’s PR folks would be happy to have to explain that hiring.  Now, it would appear as if the CFL is closed off too.

I said above that there are still facts of the Baylor mess that remain in doubt – one of which is just how many sexual assaults we are talking about here.  Let’s assume that there was a half-dozen such events for the sake of argument.  [Aside: One victim claims that more than 50 women had been raped and some of them had been gang-raped.  I do not know the number; I find the idea of a “half-dozen rapes” to be horrific.]

Perhaps, Art Briles had the opportunity for a ”second chance” and squandered that opportunity when the second of those alleged sexual assaults came to his attention and he did not take action to prevent a third occurrence.  Or maybe when the third came to his attention and …

I surely do not feel sorry for Art Briles this morning and I think the CFL and the Hamilton TigerCats acted in the best interests of that league and that franchise.  At the same time, I think that Art Briles may be an example of someone who is just not going to get a chance at redemption and that is an unusual – not unique but unusual – circumstance in our society.

The other big news this morning is the mega-contract signed by Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.  It is a 5-year extension worth $135M with a $50M signing bonus and a total of $92M guaranteed.  That is the biggest contract with the most guaranteed money in NFL history and some Detroit Lions’ fans have freaked out over it.  As if on cue, the negative stats generated by Matthew Stafford hit the Internet almost as soon as the contract details and his passing stats were publicized.  I will list the negatives here only to demonstrate the depth of the angst of some Lions’ fans:

  • Stafford’s teams are 0-3 in playoff games.
  • Stafford’s teams have only won 1 road game against teams that finished the season with a winning record.  [Someone had to do a lot of digging to come up with that one.]
  • Stafford’s teams are only 5-46 against teams that finished the season with a winning record.  [That might explain the lack of success in the playoffs where opponents almost always will have a winning record.  No?]

With all the outrage out there on the table, I think signing Stafford up for a 5-year extension was a good thing for the Lions.  Stafford is not the best QB in the NFL; he will be the highest paid QB in the NFL – until the next mega-contract gets announced – but he is better than about 20 other starting QBs in the league and he is only 29 years old.  The Lions had three options:

  1. Sign Stafford up – and the going rate for franchise QBs these days is lots of money per year and lots of money guaranteed in the deal.
  2. Lose Stafford after this season and draft a new QB and develop him – and simultaneously pray the guy you draft is not the second coming of Joey Harrington.
  3. Sign an experienced NFL QB in free agency – but not one that will cost $27M per year with $92M guaranteed.  [Translation:  That means shopping in the aisle that has folks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer and Matt Schaub on the shelves.  This is the Jets/Browns/Rams model…]

The first option is clearly expensive and by comparison with some other top shelf NFL QBs the first option means the Lions “overpaid”, but isn’t it really the most sensible thing for the team to have done?

Even more interesting is the possible impact this contract could have on upcoming QB contracts and contract extensions.  I have not had the time to look at every starting QB’s contract situation but here are ones that I know will be coming up soon:

  • Drew Brees:  His contract is up at the end of the 2017 season; he has won a Super Bowl; he has thrown for 5,000+ yards 5 times going into the 2017 season.  On the other hand, he will be 39 years old once NFL free agency begins.  It will be interesting to see the “time-adjusted value” of his stats and accomplishments.
  • Kirk Cousins:  He makes about $24M this year on his second franchise tag.  He will get a contract that is in the same neighborhood as Matthew Stafford’s and that is a far cry from the low-ball offers he has gotten from the Skins in the last two years.
  • Matt Ryan:  His contract is up at the end of the 2018 season; when that happens, he will be 33 years old as he potentially becomes a free agent.

Finally, on the subject of NFL QBs, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is accused of using a machine to stamp his autographs. That’s terrible! Back in my day, star QBs had the decency to have the team trainer hand-forge their signature.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………

 

 

I Don’t Get It …

Riddle me this, Batman…  Almost 10 years ago, DeMaurice Smith was elected/selected to be the Executive Director of the NFLPA.  In that role, he was the point man for the union as they negotiated the CBA with the NFL that remains in force until today.  It is scheduled to expire in 2021 and it will be incumbent on both sides to negotiate a new agreement.

Recently, DeMaurice Smith said that a “work-stoppage” was inevitable for the NFL in 2021.  With 3 full seasons left to play, he is telling the world that the current deal as bounded by the current CBA is sufficiently deficient that it will take a work-stoppage to get it corrected.  At this point in the process, “work-stoppage” can mean a strike by the players or a lockout by the owners.  Whichever flavor the putative “2021 work-stoppage” comes in, DeMaurice Smith says it is inevitable.

So …

  • If I am an NFL player represented by the NFLPA and led into CBA negotiations by DeMaurice Smith, why should I have any confidence that he can get me a deal in the next CBA that is significantly better than the one he got me back in 2011 and agreed to let it be in effect for 10 years?

The players have some legitimate issues that they want to see reflected in the new CBA; I understand that and I support them in some of their pursuits.  However, at least some of those same legitimate issues existed back in 2010/2011 when this CBA was negotiated and the NFLPA reps essentially jettisoned them in favor of taking a bigger bite of the revenue pie.  If a significant majority of the 1700 or so NFL players really believe that there are problems in the CBA worth striking for, then that same significant majority ought to think the NFLPA needs someone else at the table doing the negotiating.

Last weekend, MLB had “Players Weekend” and allowed players to put various nicknames/messages on their uniforms.  This is a MAJOR departure for MLB; remember when Ted Turner owned the Braves and WTBS Channel 17 in Atlanta and he got one of his pitchers to wear a uniform with “Channel 17” emblazoned on the back.  The Commish himself got involved in that and put a halt to it.

Here are some of the uniform names that I particularly liked:

  • King Felix – Seattle Mariners’ pitcher Felix Hernandez.  This has been his name in Seattle for at least a decade; putting it on a uniform was an acknowledgement of reality – or royalty in the eyes of Seattle fans.
  • Miller Time – Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Andrew Miller.  This sobriquet has been attached to this player for quite a while now; once again, the uniform was an acknowledgement of reality.
  • Digger – Oakland A’s pitcher Kendall Graveman.  Interesting play on words here…
  • Toddfather – Yankees infielder Todd Frazier.  Another interesting play on words but I would have been just as happy if Frazier had worn a uniform with the words “Down Goes…”

My favorite “alternative uniform” from Players Weekend had to be:

  • Corey’s Brother – worn by Mariners’ third-baseman, Kyle Seager.

Last week, there was a small kerfuffle caused by some websites publishing naked photos of Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn who used to be “a couple”.  Vonn thought this was an outrageous invasion of privacy and lawyers representing her threatened lawsuits if the websites did not take the photos down.  These pronouncements were accompanied by the usual homages to privacy and the sorts of things that might resonate with common folk.  Let me make two comments about this matter and let me be clear that I have not seen nor have I tried to see the naked photos in question:

  1. When an “Olympic class athlete” and the “world’s greatest golfer” are linked romantically and they acknowledge that status, there will ALWAYS be more scrutiny on them than there might be on any two random schlubs who are ‘in a relationship”.  That comes with the territory of being “celebrity athletes”.
  2. The foolproof way to assure that naked pictures of yourself never make it to the Internet is to assure that there are no naked pictures of yourself in the first place.

Art Briles has a new job coaching football.  After his unseemly exit from Baylor where even he admits that some bad stuff went down while he was in charge, Briles found a job as the new Assistant Head Coach for Offense for the Hamilton TigerCats in the CFL.  The head coach there is June Jones who has known Briles and coached against him for a while.

Most folks acknowledge that Briles has a creative and fertile mind when it comes to offensive football.  The TigerCats can use his help; as of today, their record is 0-8 and they have scored 51 fewer points than any other team in the CFL.

Even if only half of the things I have read about the way he and his staff dealt with allegations of sexual assault at Baylor are true, I do not believe that Art Briles belongs in the coaching business with any team associated with a school or a college.  Those reports indicate to me that he cannot be a person that can be relied on to teach 19 or 20-year-old males how to be young men on one hand and constructive members of society at the same time.  Frankly, I am glad to see that he has a job as a coach in pro football because – if he can establish himself as a successful coach at that level – it will keep him from trying to be a college/high school coach; and I think that is a good thing.

Finally, speaking of coaching hires, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald.  You may think it is simplistic – – or you may conclude that this is a statement of inevitability:

“The 49ers’ Katie Sowers has become the NFL’s first openly gay coach. Given the job security of that profession, she’ll also be the NFL’s first openly gay coach to be fired.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Backup Quarterbacks

I spent a bit of time over the weekend pulling stuff together for my annual Pre-Season NFL analysis and predictions for every team in the league.  That magnum opus will appear either Friday of this week or Monday of next week.  However, in going through my notes and the schedules for the teams, the QB situation for some of the contending teams kept coming to mind.  That got me to looking at the team depth charts and at team rosters so I could see who the backup QBs might be around the league.

And as happens more frequently than I would prefer to admit, my mind started wandering as I looked at the various backup QBs and I decided that I would categorize them here.  Do not worry, I am not dumb enough to put them in a rank order so that people can argue over whom I put at #15 in the league as opposed to whom I put at #19.  Rather, what I am going to try to do is to aggregate these backup QBs into General Categories and then list the players in each category alphabetically.  In a few cases I will have a comment about the QB situation for a team based on the backup listed here.

The first General Category should be called Not So Good/Big Step Down From Starter:

  1. Trevone Boykin – Seattle
  2. Matt Cassell – Tennessee
  3. Brett Hundley – Green Bay [Packer fans never want to see him on a Sunday.]
  4. Ryan Mallett – Baltimore
  5. EJ Manuel – Raiders [JaMarcus Russell in better athletic condition]
  6. Kellen Moore – Dallas
  7. Jake Ruddock (maybe Brad Kaaya?) – Detroit
  8. Matt Schaub – Atlanta [His train left the station about 2 years ago.]
  9. Geno Smith – Giants [Sigh …]
  10. Scott Tolzein – Indy

Please note that of the ten QBs and teams listed here, at least six of them are serious playoff contenders.  Those hopes would take a significant hit if the starting QB had to miss a long stretch of games during the season – or worse at the end of the season.  All those people who gathered to demonstrate outside NFL HQs last week “demanding” that a team sign Colin Kaepernick and end his “blackballing” need to keep an eye on the 6 or 7 contending teams on this list for a serious injury to the staring QB.  These teams want to make a run and they would be candidates to sign Kaepernick – – for football reasons not for societal reasons – – if the injury bug bites them badly.

The second General Category should be called Good Enough Not To Be An Embarrassment – Presumably.

  1. Derek Anderson – Carolina [Not spectacular but steady.]
  2. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Tampa Bay [Journeyman with lots of experience.]
  3. Nick Foles – Philly
  4. Landry Jones – Pittsburgh
  5. Colt McCoy – Washington
  6. Matt Moore – Miami [Played well until playoff game last year.]
  7. Drew Stanton – Arizona [Has a winning record as a starter.]

None of these seven backup QBs is a serious threat to unseat the starter in town but all of them have demonstrated in the past that they can come off the bench for a couple of weeks and avoid a team meltdown.

My third General Category should be called Who Knows If This Guy Can Play?

  1. CJ Beathard – SF
  2. Paxton Lynch – Denver [Once again behind Trevor Siemian.}
  3. Patrick Mahomes – KC
  4. Sean Mannion – LA Rams
  5. Nathan Peterman – Buffalo
  6. Mitchell Trubisky – Chicago [Bears fans pray this guy can play well.]
  7. Deshaun Watson – Houston [May be the starter by Thanksgiving?]

Please note that of the seven backup QBs on this list, five are rookies and one – Sean Manion – has only seen the field for parts of 2 games going into his third year in the league.  Maybe this category should have been called the “Leap Of Faith” category?

My fourth General Category should be called At Least this Guy Has Been Around for A While…

  1. Kellen Clemens – LA Chargers [Eleven seasons; 21 starts]
  2. Chase Daniel – New Orleans [Seven seasons; 78 pass attempts; 56 games]
  3. Chad Henne – Jax [Eight seasons; 18-35 as a starter.]

It is worth noting that Chad Henne may not belong on this list at all because he may beat out Blake Bortles for the starting job in Jax because Bortles has been underwhelming in Exhibition Games so far.  If that turns out to be the case and I had to figure out where to put Blake Bortles in my General Categories, it would be in the next one…

My fourth General Category – the one where Blake Bortles would go if he winds up as the backup in Jax should be called Oh My, This Guy Had A Bad Year Last Year

  1. Case Keenum – Minnesota
  2. Cody Kessler[Not the reason the Browns were 1-15 last year, but …]

My fifth General Category has only one entry and exists only because I could not really find another place for this so I’ll call it It Just Does Not Matter

  1. Christian Hackenberg/Bryce Petty – Jets

Unless this NFL season is nothing more than a Walt Disney sort of plot where the Jets are the football equivalent of The Bad News Bears, then the reality is that the Jets are already out of contention for the playoffs and the season will not start for two more weeks.  It does not matter which of these guys is the backup or if one of them is the starter

My sixth and final General Category should be called The Best Backup QB Situations For 2017.

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo – New England [The best backup QB this year – period.]
  2. AJ McCarron – Cincy [The next best backup QB this year – period.]

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle recently.  I like his thinking here:

“The hottest race in the NFL this year might be between the Jets and the 49ers: Sucking for Sam, or Diving for Darnold — USC quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets probably have the edge, but watch the fun if both teams hit the midpoint 0-8.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………

 

 

Just Bouncing Around …

Earlier this week, I posed some sports-world questions that fans would seek answers to in the coming months.  Obviously, several had to do with the outcome of the MLB season.  Today, I want to present potentially interesting story lines for the rest of the MLB season.  The reason to do that is that half of the division races are over already and will provide no drama at all.  Do you realize that the Giants have been eliminated from the NF West race and have been for more than a week?  And August still has a week left in it…  So, consider these storylines:

  • NL West:  Can the Dodgers win 117 games and set an MLB record?  Will both NL wildcard teams come from this division?
  • NL Central:  Can the Cubs make the playoffs to defend their championship this year?  Even though Joey Votto plays for a bad team, will he get attention as a serious candidate for MVP?
  • NL East:  Could the Nats win this division if they sent their entire squad down to Triple A and brought up the Triple A guys to finish out this season?
  • AL West:  Can the Mariners make it as a wildcard team marking the first time they have been in the playoffs since 2001?  By the way, that was the year they set the MLB record for wins in a season at 116 games.
  • AL Central:  Are the Indians primed for another World Series appearance?  Are the Tigers in total freefall?
  • AL East:  Where has Rafael Devers been all year?  Can Aaron Judge return to his pre-All-Star Game form?  Can the last-place Blue Jays rally to be a wildcard team?

Those questions ought to hold your attention for a while…

According to a report at ESPN.com, starting in 2018, MLB will have a “universal code of conduct for fans who attend games”.  This matter became an issue that got the attention of owners after the incident in Boston involving Adam Jones being the recipient of racial slurs from fans.  Evidently, the owners have been discussing this code of conduct at their regular meetings since last May.

Unlike the silly move by ESPN I wrote about yesterday that reeks of political correctness, the MLB owners need to be sure that attendance at MLB games is an enjoyable experience for fans.  “Enjoyable experience” cannot be defined exactly for every fan in every situation but it must contain the elements of safety/security and freedom from obnoxious behaviors.  At the moment, all 30 MLB clubs have some form of a fan code of conduct; the idea here is to take the best elements of those 30 different codes and to make them into one that can apply to all the ballparks.

According to various reports, the NFL owners and Roger Goodell are closing in on a contract extension for The Commish through the end of the 2024 season.  With all the controversy that accompanies most of his actions/decisions and the fact that the NFLPA is talking about a work stoppage 3 years in advance of the end of the current CBA, one might wonder how he keeps his job – let alone gets a contract extension.  Here is why…

As I have tried to point out many times before, Roger Goodell’s job is to grow the NFL.  He has done that very well; and by so doing, he has made the owners a ton of money.  Forbes rates the Dallas Cowboys franchise to be worth $4.2B.  For that reason, the owners have to like the job he has done.  [Aside:  He has also made the players a ton of money too.  Remember that approximately half of the NFL’s national revenue goes back to the players in terms of salaries; it is that increased revenue that has mandated the increased salary cap figures for all the teams.]

The NFL is the 800-lb gorilla of entertainment in the US.  The NFL provides NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and NFL Network with each network’s highest rated TV broadcast and has done so for several years now.  That is why the networks pay the rights’ fees they do for NFL games.

Roger Goodell performs another important function for the owners.  There are times when the league is the target of outrage and derision from fans or the media or the NFLPA; Goodell takes those hits for the owners and does it in a way where he does not lash out at those who are throwing rocks at him or at the league.  To be sure, Goodell’s role as the league disciplinarian will be a point of contention in the upcoming CBA negotiations, but I suspect that the NFLPA would want changes in those clauses of the CBA no matter who The Commish is at the time.

To be sure, the NFL has some serious issues facing it.  Roger Goodell is not the source of these problems so the owners cannot “blame him” for them.  Their question should be if they believe he is capable of charting a course for the league that will resolve those problems.  For example:

  1. CTE:  Some folks say this is an existential issue for the NFL.  I think that is overblown but I also think that anyone who would brush it aside as a trivial nit is a nitwit.
  2. “Cord-cutting”:  The NFL revenue juggernaut is driven by television rights’ fees.  People are now in the process of watching television differently from the ways they have done it in the past.  The NFL will need to adapt how it presents its product to the public in a new environment without losing revenue in the process.
  3. Social-justice causes:  The very nature of these causes creates tension and adversarial positions among the populace.  As more players and/or coaches take up such causes, the NFL could find itself in the position of walking a fine line to avoid alienating fanbase members on both sides of such issues.
  4. The next CBA negotiations:  With 3 years left on the current CBA, there are already noises about a “work-stoppage” and the current head of the NFLPA has said that it does not matter to him if the league is in existence 20 years from now.  His focus is clearly on bettering the lot of the current players and all else is secondary.

The last point on that list deserves a bit more examination.  The NFLPA needs to assure that the NFL continues to exist.  If the NFL were to “go out of business”, what would happen to all those CTE payments that have been promised to former players and where would they come from for the current players who develop symptoms 15 years from now?  The same goes with the health insurance benefits that the players get; many of them would pay huge premiums for health insurance on the “open market” because of injuries sustained playing football.  That sort of short-sightedness might be dismissed as nothing but rhetoric; all I can say is that it had better be.

The other issue about the upcoming CBA negotiations is the willingness of the players to be talking about a “work-stoppage” already.  I am old enough to remember the last time the players walked out; the NFL responded with “replacement players” and those games were painful to watch.  Even when the “real players” returned, it was clear that some of them had not maintained themselves in “football shape”; it was not a fun season.  Fans also witnessed the infamous “replacement refs” in 2012.  No one wants to see “replacements” – – call them the junior varsity – – on display again.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News from a while back:

“Mike Gundy, the Oklahoma State football coach who made himself famous with his ‘I’m a man! I’m 40!’ rant turns 50 on Aug. 12.

“Gundy’s new slogan: ‘I’m AARP-eligible! I’m 50!’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Political Correctness Run Amok

Let me use the word “debate” here in a very broad sense.  There has been a debate recently about sportswriters, sports commentators and pro athletes speaking out on social and political issues.  The extremes on the two sides of this debate are:

  1. Sports people should stay in their lane and leave social issues and politics to people who study that for a living.
  2. Everyone has a right to speak out on whatever issues are important to them and a responsibility to use whatever platform is available to make things better.

The reason you will not read any socio-political stuff here is because I think you came here for a different reason and need not be a captive audience for my personal views on subjects like that.  However, from commentaries about sports that I have done over the years, any long-term reader knows by now that I think politically correct speech is useless silliness.  And that is why I wonder how ESPN – the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports – got itself caught up in an extremely silly action that boils down to politically correct speech.  I am sure you have read about it already so I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version here:

  • ESPN will broadcast the UVa/William and Mary football game in a couple of weeks.  The game will be in Charlottesville, VA where there were violent demonstrations/counter-demonstrations only a week or so ago.
  • One set of demonstrators was opposed to taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee in the town.  The ESPN announcer assigned to the game in Charlottesville is named Robert Lee.
  • ESPN decided to move him and his broadcast partner to another game that weekend coming from Youngstown, OH.  Then they issued a press release to explain that they made the change and why they did so.
  • Here is part of how ESPN explained their decision:

“In that moment, it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”

Excuse me, but the only reason this is a topic of conversation is because you announced that you were doing this!

Yes, they did it because the announcer is named Robert Lee and the statue in Charlottesville that is now controversial is in honor of Robert E. Lee.  The fact that announcer Robert Lee is of Asian heritage/extraction and Robert E. Lee most certainly was not seems not to have occurred to the ESPN mavens.  The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports did not advance the argument that sports guys belong in the social issues business.

This was a humongous over-reaction on the part of ESPN in the first place; then ESPN doubled-down and announced to the world that they had made a silly decision.  Whatever…  For the record:

  1. Announcer Robert Lee is cool with the decision.  HOW-EVAH, [/Stephen A. Smith] imagine the complex outrage that would have emerged if he had played the “race card” here.
  2. Bob Ley who must be one of the longest-tenured on-air people at ESPN will still be the host of Outside the Lines – – unless they do a story from Charlottesville in the next couple of weeks and then the ESPN mavens will have something else to worry about.

The other big sports news from yesterday was the trade between the Cavaliers and the Celtics.  The Cavaliers get Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, a prospect named Ante Zizic and the unprotected first round draft pick from the Brooklyn Nets.  That first round pick is the treasure here because the Nets will stink in spades next year and will have loads of ping-pong balls in the hopper for the Draft Lottery.  Crowder is a good defensive wing player and Thomas will provide scoring in support of LeBron James.  Frankly, I am surprised that the Cavs got as much as this from the Celtics since Kyrie Irving had been publicly demanding a trade.

The trade might help both teams.  However, I do not think that this trade moves either the Cavaliers or the Celtics any closer to beating out the golden State Warriors than they were a week ago.  The Celtics now have a premier scoring threat; Irving is 25 years old and has already been an All-Star.  The Cavaliers add a defensive player on the wing – something they lacked last year – and that first round pick might turn out to be the overall #1 pick next year.  Might that top-flight pick entice LeBron James to stay in Cleveland beyond next season?  Probably not – – but it will provide Cleveland with a leg up on the rebuilding process if he leaves.

The thing that bothers me about this trade – and makes me wonder if Cleveland is done dealing – is that they also signed Derrick Rose in the offseason.  Frankly, I do not see how Rose and Thomas can play to each other’s strengths; it would seem to me that each of them dominates the ball in order to be effective and that would mean that one of them would be less-than-fully-effective if they were on the court together.

Finally, since I started today with commentary about silliness from ESPN, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, about ESPN’s flagship program – SportsCenter.

“The last time I watched ‘SportsCenter’, Keith Olbermann was still in a good mood.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Not The End Of Times…

In the time leading up to Monday’s total eclipse of the sun observable here in North America, there were seers and doomsayers asserting that this was the beginning of the end.  The apocalypse was right around the corner and it was the eclipse that was going to signal its beginning; the eclipse was an evil omen.

Well, it would appear as if the Earth is going to continue its routine journey around the sun notwithstanding the fact that the moon “got in the way” for a few hours for a small fraction of the planetary surface.  Since no one would think of coming here to get information about the end of times or about human history being erased, I guess the only thing to do now is to proclaim that we can – and should – look forward to things in the sports cosmos that will happen because the Earth continues to exist.  For example:

  • College football begins in a couple of weeks.
  • The NFL’s real season begins right after Labor Day.
  • The NBA regular season will begin in about 8 weeks even though most folks know already that the NBA regular season is nothing more than six months of tedium.

Before any of those things come to fruition, we will have to endure the happening and the aftermath of the Mayweather/McGregor money-grab – err, fight.  The hype and promotion for this thing has been about the same as the build-up to a “championship clash” in pro ‘rassling.  The only thing that seems to be missing is the stipulation that the loser of this fight will permanently retire from any of the combat sports.  Let me insert here some commentary from two sportswriters regarding this spectacle:

“Mayweather-McGregor: Ready, set, hype!: Only five more days until unbeaten boxer Floyd Mayweather and UFC star Conor McGregor will be in a Vegas ring this coming Saturday. Mayweather is heavily favored, but, with both men so unlikeable and such idiots in the buildup, can we please fix this thing so they simultaneously knock each other out?”  [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]

And …

“Anything goes: If the participants and promoters have gone this far to create the vulgar cash-grab and all-around circus that is the Aug. 26 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Condor McGregor, who’s to say it won’t be fixed in some form or fashion? Rigging the fight wouldn’t violate principles of sports integrity. This one has none going in.”  [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]

Please note that both of these sportswriters used the word “fix” in their commentary and – quite frankly – I am not offended by that at all.  There is so much potential money to be made here that it would not surprise me to have this event end in such a way that people clamor for more to “set the record straight”.  Moreover, I will not be shocked to see this fight end in such a way that someone books another boxer against another MMA fighter somewhere down the line.  I will read about this fight; I might – I said MIGHT – watch some part of it on YouTube after the fact.  There is just about nothing on the planet that would get me to watch the fight live – and in living color.

Since I am positively looking beyond this concocted confrontation, what might I hope to witness in the upcoming months in the world of sports?  Well …

  • Can the LA Dodgers win 117 games this year to break the MLB record for wins in a season?  With 39 games to play, the Dodgers need to win 29 of them to get to 117 wins.  That would mean playing close to .750 baseball down the stretch and that is unlikely.
  • Can the Dodgers win a World Series for the first time since 1988?  They are well-positioned to do so.
  • Can the Cleveland Indians win a World Series for the first time since 1948 – and only the third World Series championship in franchise history?  The Indians came close last year taking the Cubs to the seventh game of the Series; can 2017 be THE year?
  • Will the 2017 season see another NFL team (the Jets) go winless for the season?  This will not come easily for the Jets despite their scorched Earth roster moves of the offseason.  They have two games against the Bills, one against the Jags, one against the Browns and one against the Rams.  Those represent 5 “winnable” games; it will be difficult for them to lose them all.

In yesterday’s rant, I said that I would only put the Olympic Games in countries with solid and resilient economies.  A reader chastised me in an e-mail saying that South Africa put on a perfectly acceptable World Cup tournament in 2010 and that the World Cup is comparably complicated to the Olympics.  I have 3 things to say about that:

  1. The World Cup is not nearly as complex.  A country only needs one sort of facility for the whole thing; that is not nearly true for the Olympics.  The athletes are professionals and need not be housed in a concocted space like an “Olympic Village”.
  2. The World Cup athletes and teams come from only 32 countries – – to expand to 48 sometime soon – – and not from more than 100 countries.
  3. If you would like to see a Summer Olympics in South Africa, please consider that the powers-that-be there could not find ways to control vuvuzelas in the World Cup.  Is that the accompaniment you want to hear for all the competitions and at the Opening/Closing ceremonies?  I don’t think so …

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding the results of Tiger Woods’ blood test after his DUI arrest:

“Put him down for a 5

“Golf icon Tiger Woods had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC in his system when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Jupiter, Fla., in May, according to a toxicology report released Monday.

“In other words, a solid four over par.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………