Two Items From Last Week

In last week’s Mythical Picks, I deferred comment on two NFL news items from last week until today.  The first is the decision by the LA Rams to hire Sean McVay as their new head coach even though he has not quite yet been able to celebrate his 31st birthday.  Some have disparaged that decision based on his age saying he is too young to lead a locker room “full of men”.  While these naysayers may indeed have their ageist comments vindicated in the future, what they are saying is equivalent to someone else saying that Joe Flabeetz is too old and too frail to lead a locker room full of men because good ol’ Joe is 69 years old.  There is one job that comes to mind where McVay’s age is absolutely disqualifying; that job would be President of the United States.  Article II of the US Constitution says very specifically:

“…neither shall any person be eligible to that Office [the Presidency] who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years …”

I understand that the NFL would have all of us believe that being a head coach of an NFL team is a monumental undertaking, but I submit that it is merely a very high-paying job with a lot less job security than lots of other high paying jobs.  If Sean McVay “fails” in LA, it will probably have much more to do with the players he can put on the field than it will with the number of crop cycles he has experienced in his lifetime.

For the record, I think the idea of hiring a young first-time coach is preferable to hiring a “retread”.  Yes, I know all about Bill Belichick as a “retread”.  I also know about lots of other “retreads” hired into the NFL who were not significantly more successful in their second gig as they were in their first gig.

I do not want to leave the impression that I think the Rams or McVay are destined for greatness because of this “bold move” by the Rams.  Perhaps they are; perhaps they are not.  There have been great coaches who have been hired at an early age:

  • John Madden
  • Shula the Elder – aka Don
  • Mike Tomlin.

There have also been stinkbombs hired at an early age:

  • Lane Kiffin
  • Josh McDaniel
  • Raheem Morris
  • Shula the Younger – aka David.

The other topic from last week is the relocation of the San Diego Super Chargers to LA to be co-tenants with the Rams in the new stadium complex being built by Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke.  I am not surprised by the move; the Chargers and the movers and shakers in San Diego have been at odds for at least 10 years over the Chargers “need” for a new stadium.  When a referendum posited as a last and final chance went down to a landslide defeat in November 2016, the die was cast.  Having said all of that, I do not think that the Chargers’ owners wanted to move the franchise to begin with and I doubt that the Chargers would want to be the junior tenants in the LA development project headed up by the Rams.  And that is just the beginning of what I suspect might be a less-than-smart set of decisions by the NFL owners.

Los Angeles had two NFL teams in the past and both of them moved out of town.  Yes, there were “stadium issues” that were involved in the departures then but there were also issues of less-than-robust support for those teams.  For about the last 20 years, the NFL football fans in LA may not have had a team, but here is what they did have:

  • On Sundays, they got to watch on TV the best games of the day from around the league.  LA was not an exclusive market for a team; there was no “home team” that fans saw every week.  Moreover, they got to see three games on Sundays.
  • Now, they will get to see the Rams and the Chargers on Sunday – every Sunday.  The only way they will get to see a Cowboys/Packers game as the “late afternoon” game on Sunday will be if one of the two local teams happens to play on Thursday, Sunday night or Monday.

I do not recall a time in the last 20 years or so when there was a huge outcry from the Joe Sixpacks of LA – or whatever the beautiful-people equivalent of Joe Sixpack may be – begging for a replacement franchise from the NFL.  Now they will have 2 teams and if the support for the Rams in their first year in LA is even a marginal indicator, there are loads of fans in LA who found better things to do with their weekends than going to see the Rams play in the flesh.  Stan Kroenke clearly wanted to move his team to LA and fans seemingly shrugged their shoulders.  Dean Spanos clearly did not want to be part of this enterprise and so what might he expect from those fans?

There is a very interesting twist to the Chargers’ decision to move to LA.  For the next two years, the Chargers will play in a stadium in Carson CA – where the Chargers and Raiders had hoped to build their own joint stadium a year ago – and that stadium was built as a soccer pitch for the LA Galaxy.  It originally had 27,000 seats and has been expanded to 30,000.  The story is that it can take another expansion and get to 40,000 and that is the plan for the Chargers.  For the next two years, the Chargers will play in what is by far the smallest stadium in the NFL.  That implies two things to me:

  1. There is danger ahead for the Chargers.  What happens to the Chargers’ marketing strategy in their new home town if they cannot sell out their stadium-on-training-wheels?
  2. The decision by the Chargers and the acquiescence of the NFL to their residence in a small venue opens a door for the Oakland Raiders to use in stadium negotiations.

Let me explain the second point there.  The Raiders have – reportedly – a financing deal in place for a new stadium in Las Vegas.  The flies in that ointment are that Sheldon Adelson has $650M of his money in the deal and negotiations between Mark Davis and the “Adelson family” have not been progressing well.  To me, it seems to come down to how big a share of team ownership does Adelson want for his stake in the venture.  Maybe I’m wrong…  In any event, the latest reporting by the Las Vegas Review-Journal is that the stadium financing is solid even if Adelson pulls his money out of the deal.  Here is a link to that report:

Sheldon Adelson is indeed “big money” and that means he wields plenty of power.  However, this report says that Goldman Sachs indicates that the deal is solid and Goldman Sachs represents even bigger money than Sheldon Adelson.  If correct, this report is an important element in the Raiders’ attempt to get out of Oakland.

The other fly in the ointment is that the Raiders play in a miserable venue that has needed renovation for more than a decade but they would be forced to stay there for another couple of years until the new Las Vegas playpen could be constructed.  For those 2 years, you can expect that they will not draw well in their stadium/porta-potty.  But the approval of the Chargers to play in a 40,000-seat stadium might allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas immediately if they can find a way to play on the same field that UNLV uses for its home football games.

UNLV plays in Sam Boyd Stadium which has a seating capacity of 36,800 and can expand to 40,000 seats “when called for”.  That sounds like an acceptable temporary home for an NFL team to me if indeed the Chargers’ temporary quarters are acceptable – unless of course some old-time NFL owners want to make Mark Davis squirm and suffer because he is the spawn of their old nemesis, Al Davis.

All of this remains in flux.  I am sure we will revisit all of this.  The only sure losers in all of this are the NFL fans in LA whose TV options will not be significantly constrained as compared to a few years ago.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“To the list of life’s unending mysteries, add this: Why do newspapers, including my own, continually report as news whatever Mel Kiper Jr. guesses about the upcoming NFL Draft?”

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

 

 

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 1/15/17

 

Last week was the final week for NCAA Mythical Picking and I went out on a low note.  I took Alabama – 6.5 points against Clemson and Clemson won the game outright.  The week’s record was 0-1; the final record for Mythical Picks for NCAA games this year was 110-95-0.  That makes two seasons in a row where NCAA Mythical Picks came out over .500 for the year and this year the picks would have been mythically profitable given a wager of the same mount on all 205 games.  Trust me; that does not happen very often…

Last week’s NFL Mythical Picks were mythically profitable.  There were 4 games and I made 5 picks in those games.  The record was 3-2-0; that makes the season record for NFL Mythical Picks 137-91-5.

The “Good Picks” from last week were:

  • Texans – 3.5 against Raiders.  Texans won by 13 points.
  • Seahawks/Lions UNDER 44.  Total score was 32 points.
  • Steelers – 10 against Dolphins.  Steelers won by 18 points.

The “Bad Picks” from last week were:

  • Steelers/Dolphins OVER 45.5.  Total score was only 42 points.
  • Giants +4.5 against Packers.  Giants lost by 25 points.

By now, any regular reader here knows that he/she would have to be might stupid to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this weekend.  How stupid?  Well …

 

He/She would probably think that jumping to a conclusion meant jumping off a cliff.

 

General Comments:

 

One comment about the Alabama/Clemson game in the CFP Final Game…  In the first half, I said to myself that Deshaun Watson was playing poorly enough to convince the Cleveland Browns not to take him first in the NFL Draft in April and I thought that was a good career move on his part.  By the end of the game, I said to myself, I hope the kid likes living on Lake Erie…

In last week’s NFL playoff games, each of the 4 home teams was favored and each of them won and covered handily; the chalk players did very well in the Wild Card round.  Jadeveon Clowney played a dominating game on defense for the Texans in their win over the Raiders.  Clowney’s stats are pedestrian, but if you watched the game you saw that he was a disruptive force for the whole game.  Candidly, the most impressive part of the Texans’ game for the weekend was that Brock Osweiler played totally error-free.  I wonder if the coaching staff went to him after the game and asked him where that kind of quarterbacking had been all year long?  Or maybe the Houston coaches realized that they were playing the Raiders’ defense out there and not a reincarnation of the Steel Curtain…

With a rookie, third-string QB under center, the Raiders went into the offensive analog to the fetal position for just about the entire game.  As they were playing from behind, the Raiders did throw the ball; Connor cook put it in the air 45 times – but rarely did the ball go more than 5 yards downfield until the very end when the game was no longer in doubt.  The Raiders averaged only 2.9 yards per pass attempt in the game; high school teams do better than that.  Making the Raiders job much more difficult than it had to be – and it was going to be very difficult in the best of circumstances – the team was undisciplined and the penalties showed that.

The Raiders were 12-4 this year and finished a strong second in the AFC West.  They may have difficulty matching that record next year because they will draw a more difficult schedule.  Raider fans have to realize that the team pulled a couple of wins out of their ear this year and if a ball bounces the wrong way in any of those “miracle games” the team could have been 10-6.  Here is the off-season mnemonic for Raider fans – – D&D.  The team needs to upgrade significantly:

  1. Defense – and –
  2. Discipline

The Seahawks beat the Lions 26-6; the winner was never really in doubt; only the margin of victory was in doubt.  I do want to pose a rhetorical question here:

 

Did the Seahawks win this game because they have gotten their act together and are commencing a “playoff run” – – or – – did the Seahawks win this game because the Lions are only marginally a playoff team?

 

The Lions have now lost 4 games in a row; all 4 game were against teams in the playoffs and only 1 of the 4 losses was by single-digits.  I realize that Matthew Stafford injured a finger on his throwing hand and has been battling that injury for a month but still …  With an injured QB, you would think that the Lions would have found ways to run the football but in fact their leading runner gained a total of 34 yards last week on 11 carries.

During the regular season, the Lions won 9 games and had to stage a 4th quarter comeback to achieve 8 of those 9 wins.  Congratulations to them for those performances.  At the same time, it is not all that surprising to see that a team who had to do that saw limited success playing against a team good enough to be in the playoffs – a team that has now won 11 games for the season.  Fourth quarter comebacks over teams like the Bears and the Jags are one thing; falling behind and catching up with the Seahawks is another.

Meanwhile, Seahawks’ RB, Thomas Rawls ran 27 times for 161 and a TD in the game.  Added to that dominating performance was the play of WR, Paul Richardson, who made a couple of circus catches in the game.  Where has he been hiding all season long?

The Steelers were the most impressive team last week; they obliterated the Dolphins 30-12 and dominated the game from the opening kickoff.  In addition to getting 167 yards and 2 TDs from LeVeon Bell, the Steelers gobbled up 3 Dolphins’ turnovers to maintain full control of the situation.  That win was the Steelers’ 8th victory in a row; it avenged an earlier loss to the Dolphins in Miami where Jay Ajayi ran for 200+ yards; last week Ajayi was held to 33 yards on 16 carries.  LeVeon Bell’s 167-yard performance was the 6th time in the last 7 games that he went north of the 100-yard mark in a game; by the way, in that “other game”, he gained 93 yards so it is not exactly that someone “held him down”.

This week, the Steelers go to Kansas City to take on a Chiefs’ defense that ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing defense.  I suspect that the Steelers’ game-plan for this week involves a large helping of LeVeon Bell carrying the ball…

And since I was just talking about a player’s top-shelf performance last weekend, that is a perfect lead-in to a mention of Aaron Rodgers who threw another on of those sorts of things out there for everyone to see against the Giants.  For the first 25 minutes of the game, Rodgers and the Packers did nothing on offense; at the end of the first quarter, the Packers had a total of 7 yards passing; with 3 minutes to play in the second quarter, the Packers had a total of 38 yards passing.  And then, Rodgers & Co. got things rolling…

From that point on – in 32 minutes of football – Rodgers generated 328 yards passing and threw 4 TDs; the Packers had more than 400 yards total offense and did that against a Giants’ defense that had carried the team to the playoffs.  The Giants’ defense had only given up a total of 47 points in the final 4 games of the regular season.

That game was the Packers’ 7th win in a row but it may have been very costly because Jordy Nelson suffered “two cracked ribs” in the game.  His availability – or his absence – will be an important factor in the game this week in Dallas.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Giants’ receivers had a horrible showing last week dropping passes that hit them in both hands – two of them in the end zone – I do not draw a bright line between that performance and the trip that the WRs took to Miami Beach on the Monday before the game to party on a boat.  Odell Beckham, Jr. did not forget how to catch a football on that boat; what happened is that he took that trip on his day off and then he had a terrible game 6 days later.

I would caution you not to fall into the trap of post hoc, propter hoc – which is Latin for “after that, because of that”.  A brief example of why this is not necessarily solid grounds for reasoning:

 

Imagine that I go out into the street in front of my house and stomp my feet, clap my hands and sing The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy from Company C.  More than likely, one of my neighbors would come out and ask me what I am doing.

My reply would be that I was scaring off all of the elephants.

My neighbor would likely then point out that there are no elephants roaming the streets of Northern Virginia.

To which my response would be:  “See, it works!”

 

I am perfectly willing to accept that Odell Beckham, Jr. displays “less than mature behavior” on more than a few occasions and that it would be to his benefit and the Giant’s benefit if he would just “grow up”.  But the Giants did not lose that football game because he and his buds took a day off in South Florida instead of watching film in East Rutherford NJ.  Pile on Beckham all you want for being “childish” but then tell me how that caused Sterling Shepard to drop a TD pass or how it turned Victor Cruz into the invisible man last week.

Rather than take the time here to talk about the Chargers’ impending move to LA and/or the Rams’ hiring of the youngest head coach in NFL history, I will defer that until next week and get down to the meat of the weekend.

 

The Games:

 

All four of the games this weekend are rematches from the regular season.  So, that should make for easy picks, no?  Would that it were so simple…

 

(Sat Late Afternoon) Seattle at Atlanta – 5 (51.5):  The spread opened the week at 3.5 points and has been at this level for much of the week.  The Total Line opened at 49.5 and you can find it as high as 52 at one sportsbook this morning.  This game is offense versus defense.  The Falcons scored 540 points in 16 games this season; that was the highest in the NFL by a wide margin; the second highest scoring team (Saints) scored 469 points.  In terms of scoring defense, the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the NFL allowing only 292 points in 16 games.  When these teams met in October, the Falcons scoring was below their game average for the season and the Seahawks defense gave up more points in that game than they did on average.  The previous meeting was in Seattle so the home field has flipped for this game.  I will not be surprised to see the Falcons score here – so long as the Falcons’ defense can get off the field.  The falcons’ defense ranks 25th in the NFL in yards per game and they are tied with the Niners’ defense (ugh!) for 29th in the NFL in third-down defense; the Falcons have allowed opponents to convert 41.8% of third down tries.  I smell a large dose of Thomas Rawls running the ball in this game.  I’ll take the Seahawks plus the points even on the road.  By the way, here are 2 facts for the game you can keep in mind as you are watching:

  1. Matt Ryan has only won 1 playoff game in his career; that win came against the Seahawks.
  2. Only Dan Marino and Bret Favre have beaten the Seahawks more than once in a playoff game.

 

(Sat Evening) Houston at New England – 15.5 (44.5):  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games.  The spread here opened at 14.5 points and went up to 16.5 points early in the week; then it settled back to this level but you can find it as high as 16 points at 2 sportsbooks this morning.  The Total Line opened at 45.5 and has been at this level most of the week.  In case you are wondering, you can get the Texans at +1,000 on the money line but the books are seriously discouraging bets on the Pats on the money line.  If you want to bet the Pats on the money line, you may be looking at a line that is as high as minus-2,600.  Forget stats here; use the “eyeball test” from games you have watched this season.  Unless someone laces the Gatorade on the Pats’ sideline with Quaaludes, the Pats are going to win this game.  I think they will win big so for purely mythical purposes, I will take the Pats and lay the points.  After all, the Pats beat the Texans 27-0 earlier this year with Jacoby Brissett at QB.  Meaning not the slightest bit of disregard for Jacoby Brissett, Tom Brady will be playing this Saturday evening…

 

(Sun Early Afternoon) Pittsburgh at KC – 1.5 (43.5):  The spread here opened with the Steelers as a 1-point favorite and then flipped as the week went on.  The Total Line opened at 46.5 points; dropped quickly to 44.5 points and has been edging down during the week.  Given the way the Steelers manhandled the Chiefs earlier this year – a 43-14 shellacking in Pittsburgh in early October – bettors must be entranced by Andy Reid’s 16-2 record after a BYE Week.  At one point in that October game the Steelers led 36-0; Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell (first game back from his suspension) had really big days.  I think this game comes down to two words:

Ben … Roethlisberger

He suffered a foot injury very late in the game against the Dolphins last week.  He will play this week and when QBs play with leg injuries, people worry about “limited mobility”.  Roethlisberger plays every game with “limited mobility”; that will not be a problem for him.  However, if he cannot push off his leg/foot to deliver the ball, that could be a significant problem against a ball-hawking Chiefs’ defense.  Two other points about Roethlisberger:

  1. He (and his teammates) are significantly better playing at home as opposed to playing on the road.
  2. He has not been nearly as accurate in his passing as one would normally expect from him as of late.  In December, he threw 6 TDs and 6 INTs; that is far worse than his normal ratio.

I think this game will be close but I do think the Steelers are the better team.  I’ll take the Steelers plus the points here.

 

(Sun Late Afternoon) Green Bay at Dallas – 4.5 (52.5):  The spread opened at 4 points but has been steady at 4.5 points for most of the week.  Stats and the “eyeball test” both say that the Cowboys ought to be able to run the ball and control the clock against the Packers’ run defense.  Stats and the “eyeball test” both say that Aaron Rodgers should have plenty of time to pick out his receivers as he carves up a decent-but-hardly-great Cowboys pass defense.  I think the Cowboys’ will indeed control the clock to the point where the number of possessions will be lower than normal in this game – absent turnovers.  That allows for fewer opportunities to score and so I will take this game to stay UNDER.

 

Finally, let me close this out with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Automobile:  An individual land transport vehicle used mainly to provoke the extension of the human middle finger.”

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

 

 

Throwback Thursday?

On Facebook, they have something called Throwback Thursdays where people post old time pictures of themselves or of the town they grew up in back in the 50s or pics of their parents.  Whatever.  It does not hurt anyone nor does it rip at the fabric of Western Civilization.  So, today I want to do Curmudgeon Central’s rendition of Throwback Thursday.  I have a bunch of stuff and links stored on my clipboard and I’ll go back to them and use them as today’s fodder.  I may not be adorable, but I am adaptable…

If you are a fan of the NFL, you must have noticed by now that players wear pink “stuff” during games in October to support breast cancer awareness because that is the month designated for that activity.  My long-suffering wife lost her mother and her sister to breast cancer; our family knows the ravages of that disease – one which has been called The Emperor of All Maladies.  I do not think, however, that we are alone in being aware of breast cancer; in fact, if any adult in the US is unaware of breast cancer in 2017, I wonder what he or she might be aware of.  Those personal comments lead up to the announcement by the NFL recently that the NFL is going to end “Pink October” and allow each team to pick its own cancer charity to support.  Here is a link to a report on that decision.

The link here contains a statement of explanation by the NFL’s VP for Social Responsibility.  I do not know the person who occupies that position nor do I know any of the people who may have occupied that chair in the past.  I will say that it is an impressive title to put on one’s résumé even if I would need convincing that it was a job that would taxing to one’s energy or intellect.  The benefit to me as a viewer of NFL games in October is that I will not necessarily see players running around with bubble-gum pink towels, shoes and headbands for an entire month.

Just asking, but what might the color be for players to wear if the team decided that its mission for the year was to support some charity involved with colon cancer…?  Cleveland Browns, anyone?

It is painfully obvious to anyone marginally above the level of “casual observer” that the NFL is determined to hype and promote events in its off-season for the purpose of keeping itself “on the newsfeeds” at least 350 days a year.  And, they are doing a great job at that.  Here is the latest wrinkle they have come up with…

  • The NFL Combine is a focal point of attention for fans because it feeds into the NFL Draft which is hyped beyond rationality and that hype is Assimilated by NFL fans because it represents the “hope for the future” for one’s favorite team.   But that is not nearly enough…
  • Fans can now go to the Combine and get “up close and personal” with the athletes as they go through some of the “events” such as the bench press.  Fans will also get to try their own hand at the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump and the standing broad jump.  How exciting that will be …

The NFL will hand out 6,000 “non-transferable tix” that will give fans this improved/additional access.  In addition to being close to the action in some of the events or participating in those same events, fans will be able to be up close and personal in the media area where draft hopefuls address the media and say nothing of consequence.  As if that were not nearly enough, fans can also get their picture taken standing behind the podium used during the draft and the fan can be wearing the uniform of their favorite team.  Roger Goodell will not be there to hug them, so the best they can imagine is that they were a low-round pick.  I will try to contain my joy here…

In case you think I might be making this stuff up, here is a link to the report on espn.com regarding this subject.

The first two items here are feelgood nonsense; they are as important as the letter “g” in lasagna.  This next item might actually be interesting – and if things break correctly it might even be important.  Just before Christmas, espn.com had a story that the NFL acknowledged the start of a spring football league.  This new league will be independent of the NFL; it will operate in April 2017; it will include NFL veterans who are not under contract at that time; it will employ “experienced NFL coaches”.

There will be 4 teams in the league and they will play a total of 6 games during the month of April.  Notice that the games in April will lead up to the NFL Draft and this is a way for teams to look for talent to fill rosters at that point in the calendar beyond what their college scouts have identified.  All of that sounds like a good idea to me – if not one that will provide a financial windfall to the “independent investors who have not ties to the NFL”.

Here is something else that sounds good to me:

  • The NFL will use the games played in this league as part of its development program for NFL officials.

That sort of development program cannot make the officiating in the NFL more controversial than it has been for the past year or two.  It has to help.  Here is something else that the NFL might do in terms of working with this new “Spring League” to improve its own on-field product:

  • Demand that the NFL Rules Committee members sit and watch all of these games and try out new rules that might be employed in the NFL.

The Rules Committee is the body that has given us the set of rules that makes it impossible to distinguish between a catch and an incompletion and to know the difference between offensive and defensive pass interference.  Those folks can use all the help and training they can get.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz bought each his offensive linemen a shotgun for Christmas.

“Luckily for them, Wentz doesn’t operate out of the wildcat formation.”

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

 

Quarterback Conundrums – Part Two

Yesterday, I noted three NFL teams that have a “quarterback conundrum” to ponder in this off-season.  Today, I will highlight three more teams that I think are in the same circumstance.  Let me be clear; I do not mean that these are the only six teams with “quarterback issues” that need to be improved.  There are lots of teams that simply do not have a quality QB on their roster that they can put on the field every Sunday.  That is not a conundrum for those teams; that problem is hardly difficult to identify; it is painfully obvious.

I think the Carolina Panthers have a quarterback question to resolve but it is not a question of who should be playing the position.  Cam Newton is their quarterback and will remain their quarterback.  The issue for the Panthers is how to transform Cam Newton from his statistically erratic performances over the past 4 years into a quarterback who consistently resembles the “good Cam Newton”.

  • He had a really good year in 2013 making it to the Pro Bowl and leading the Panthers to a 12-4 record.
  • Then in the subsequent year, he was not so proficient and the Panthers fell to 5-8-1 in 2014.
  • Last year, Newton was other-worldly leading the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and a place in the Super Bowl.  For the 2015 season, he led the NFL in TD-percentage – the percent of his passes that resulted in a TD (7.1%).  He has never been the most accurate passer in the league, but in 2015 he completed 59.8% of his throws.
  • In 2016, Newton and the Panthers regressed to 5-8-1.  He only completed 52.9% of his pass attempts; to put that in perspective, that ranks 30th in the NFL behind players such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler. For all of the 2016 season he led zero game winning drives or 4th quarter comebacks.  Seriously …

Some commentators have suggested that Cam Newton has become more concerned with his “fashion look” than with his quarterbacking.  I do not read minds; therefore, I will not try to identify cause and effect here.  What is clear to me is that the folks in charge of the Panthers need to figure out what it will take to dampen the oscillations in Cam Newton’s performance from year to year.  The Panthers know who their QB is and will be; they need him to be something like “good Cam Newton” more consistently.

The next quarterback conundrum is one that loads of NFL teams wished they had to resolve.  The New England Patriots have to decide soon what they are going to do with Jimmy Garoppolo.  He started the first two games of the season and was 42 for 59 in those two games (71.1% completions) and gained a respectable 8 yards per pass attempt.  Garoppolo turned 25 in November and will be in the 4th year of his rookie contract for the 2017 season.  If I have the details of his contract right, he will earn about $1.2M next year from the Pats but would then become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2017.

The Pats’ “problem” is that they have this guy named Brady playing QB for them at age 39.  Unlike most 39-year old QBs in the NFL, Tom Brady is still “getting the job done” – – and more.  So, the question for the Pats is how to maximize the value of Jimmy Garoppolo as an asset:

  1. They could try to work out a long-term deal with him before he finds out what the free agent market might pay him.  Then they would have him as their successor QB for that time down the road when Tom Brady decides to ride off into the sunset.
  2. They could trade him to a team that needs a young starting QB – – and there are plenty of those.
  3. They could put a franchise tag – or a transition tag – on him at the end of the 2017 season but that would mean they would be paying their backup QB for 2018 something north of $20M.  That seems like a very expensive way to kick the can down the road…
  4. They could just let him walk.

The 4th option above seems unlikely – – unless the Pats’ coaches think that Jacoby Brissett, who also started 2 games for the Pats this year, is satisfactory as the “heir apparent” to Tom Brady.  Brissett is under contract with the Pats through the 2019 season at bargain-basement prices.  I think the Pats will try for Option 1 above and if that fails they will move to Option 2.  I can imagine a Cleveland Browns’ fan reading this and thinking:

If only the Browns had such a dilemma to resolve…

The last quarterback conundrum I want to discuss is one that has a simple and obvious answer; the only thing that might get in the way of arriving at that simple and obvious answer is ego.  The Skins need to have Kirk Cousins back as their QB.  Period.  Exclamation point!  The reason they must make that happen is painfully simple:

There is no QB available to the Skins who is equal to or better than Kirk Cousins.

I did not say Kirk Cousins is the best QB in the NFL; he is not.  There are 32 starting QBs in the NFL; if I rank order them, Cousins is somewhere between 9th and 12th on the list and the gap between 9-12 on the list and 19-22 on the list is a canyon not a rift.  The Skins were a playoff team in 2015 and missed the playoffs by a hair in 2016.  They should assure that they do not take a step backward at the QB position in this off-season.

Some have argued that the failure of the Skins to beat the Giants in Week 17 of this year shows that Cousins is not worth the “big bucks”.  Next time you hear that, ask the person who makes that point a simple question:

  • What did Kirk Cousins do in that game that rendered the Skins rushing game impotent to the point that it gained the grand total of 38 yards for the entire game?

The problem for the Skins and Cousins is money and ego.  Last year, Cousins played under the franchise tag and made $20M (round numbers).  The reason he played under those conditions is that the Skins and Cousins could not arrive at a long-term deal; reports say that the Skins “low-balled” him with a $14M per year offer and reluctantly raised that to $16M per year but would not go higher for a long-term basis and were reportedly “stingy” with the amount of the contract that would be guaranteed.  Whether those reports are accurate, the fact is that Cousins made $20M for one year’s work in 2016 and is looking potentially at free agency once again.

Here are some scenarios:

  • Skins can apply the franchise tag once again.  This year, it will be worth $24M for a single year and will make Cousins a potential free agent in 2018.  The reason the cost of the tag goes up is that the CBA requires a team to give a franchise player a 20% raise for the second time they get a franchise tag.
  • That is only a short-term solution because the CBA has another provision about mandatory pay raises.  Should the Skins use the franchise tag in 2017 and then think they will do the same again in 2018, the mandatory pay raise would be 40%.  That means, Kirk Cousins would earn $34M (round numbers) in 2018.  There comes a point where that pay ladder is not sustainable.

The Skins need a long-term deal with Cousins but it seems as if he feels a bit “disrespected” by the team based on last year’s fruitless negotiations.  As this year’s negotiations get under way, both Cousins and the Skins contract negotiating team will need to check a little bit of their egos at the door.  Here is a stylized way to arrive at an impasse in these negotiations:

 

“Kirk Cousins”:  You didn’t think I was worth more than $16M per year last year but you paid me $20M instead.  Now you can pay me $24M for a year or you can come up with a pay scale that makes it worth my while to take anything less than $24M.  Oh, and by the way, in the next off-season when you will owe me $34M for a year as your QB, we can start the negotiating process at that level…

“Skins’ negotiator”:  You played well in 2017 and we really do want you to be our QB for the long-term in Washington.  However, we need to be pragmatic here; we missed the playoffs with you as the QB.  That fact shows that we were not “low-balling you” last year; it shows that we valued you fairly and appropriately.

 

If the Skins and Kirk Cousins wind up with nothing more than a second franchise tag for 2017, I think you will be able to chalk that up to the intervention of ego(s).

Finally, here is an NFL statistical observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Steelers kicker Chris Boswell was randomly chosen to take a drug test after his record performance against the Bengals last Sunday, making it a 7-for-7 day.

“As in, 6 for 6 on field goals and 1 for 1 on hitting the specimen cup.”

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

Quarterback Conundrums – Part One

There are 8 NFL teams that still have games to play; the other 75% of the league is in “planning mode” assessing how they can improve over the course of the next season or two such that they will be one of the 8 teams still doing “game planning” in mid-January 2018 or 2019.  Some teams are looking for new coaches/GMs to figure out how to make that happen; other teams are analyzing their rosters and the rosters of other teams in their divisions.  The NFL is not like a string of popcorn stands on the boardwalk down by the Jersey seashore; all the NFL teams are still open for business in mid-January.

In terms of NFL success and failure, quarterbacks often get too much credit and simultaneously take too much blame for success or failure.  Nonetheless, no one who watches the NFL – even casually – would argue that having a very good QB on your roster makes it more likely that your team can succeed.  And with that sort of mindset, I would like to pose a few questions here that might just be front-and-center in the minds of a few “personnel people” in NFL Front Offices.

Carson Palmer has played 13 seasons in the NFL; he just turned 37 years old two weeks ago.  In 2015, Palmer was selected for the Pro Bowl; he led the NFL in yards per pass attempted and in QB Rating.  In 2016, his yards per pass attempt dropped a bit over 18% and his QBR indicates that he was ever so slightly above average.  Maybe that would be OK if he were playing for the Lake Woebegone Cardinals – but he plays for the Arizona Cardinals.  So, here is the question:

  • With his salary cap number north of $22M (I am not a “capologist” so I am loath to be specific with a number here), is he worth it?

The folks who are in charge in Arizona need to come to a conclusion about the 2016 version of Carson Palmer vis á vis the 2015 version of Carson Palmer.  Surely, there are multiple factors involved in his statistical decline and in the team’s lesser performance over the past two seasons but the fundamental question is how much gas does he have left in the tank.  I do not know the answer to that question; I suspect that the Cardinals’ braintrust does not yet know the answer to that question; I do think that the Cardinals’ braintrust needs to figure that out – and figure that out correctly – over the next two months.

Brock Osweiler will earn $19M to play QB for the Texans next year and I believe he will count for $19M of the team’s salary cap.  (Remember, I am not a “capologist”.)  That money is guaranteed so the team will incur the cost even if Osweiler never plays a down.  The Texans made the playoffs based on a strong defense and a chronically weak division.  So, here is the question:

  • That recipe for success may work again next year – but if something were to change and the Texans need to beef up the offensive production, is Brock Osweiler going to be the guy to provide the “beefing up”?

Financially, the Texans are on the hook for the 2017 season; however, what might be their assessments/plans for the team in 2018 and 2019 when Osweiler’s contract will cost the Texans $20-21M per year.  This season, he threw 14 TDs and 16 INTs just to highlight why the Texans need to pay attention here…

The Vikes have multiple questions to analyze.  The first is the health and potential availability of Teddy Bridgewater.  If he can play – some folks have said his freak injury might be career ending – he is an ever-loving bargain as a starting QB because he is still on his rookie contract.  In 2017, his salary will be in the neighborhood of only $2.2M; obviously, if he can play, the Vikes will want to keep him around.  And then there is Sam Bradford…

Sam Bradford is cursed with having been the first overall pick in the draft in his coming out year.  He is 29 years old so he has plenty of tread on the tires; in 2016 he led the NFL in percentage completion (70.1%) which looks good until you also see that he averaged only 7.0 yards per pass attempt.  Remember above, I pointed out that Carson Palmer’s years per attempt had dropped 18% from 2015 to 2016; well, even at that reduced level of production, Palmer averaged more than Bradford.  In 2017, Sam Bradford’s contract calls for him to earn $18M.  He is due a $4M roster bonus in March 13 and payment of that bonus guarantees a $14M salary for the 16-game NFL season in 2017.  So here is the multi-level question:

  1. Is Teddy Bridgewater going to be able to play at anything near his previous level in 2017?
  2. If so, do the Vikes think they are enough of a contender to want to keep an expensive backup on hand in case of another injury to Bridgewater?
  3. If not, are they satisfied to go through 2017 with Sam Bradford at the helm?

Make no mistake, the Vikes have another difficult choice to deal with in this offseason that may have peripheral impact on their QB decision.  Adrian Peterson missed 13 games in 2016; back in 2014 he missed 15 games; in between those two unproductive seasons here is what he did in 2015:

  • Led the NFL in rushing attempts (327)
  • Led the NFL in yards gained (1427)
  • Led the NFL in rushing TDs (11)
  • Led the NFL in yards per game (92.8)

Adrian Peterson’s contract for 2017 calls for him to make $18M and the Vikes have to exercise an option to keep him on their roster at that salary by February 5 – which is 26 days from today.  I think the folks who run the Vikes have a lot of homework to do over the next 4-8 weeks…

There are three other teams that will need to make some decisions about their quarterback situation but I will save that discussion until tomorrow.  Until then, here is a very cogent observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Forbes has named Scarlett Johansson the top grossing star of 2016.

“Only because cameras weren’t there to catch Vince Wilfork’s towel fall off in the sauna.”

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

 

 

Reinventing College Football

 

Before I even get started here, let me make something crystal clear:

 

THIS AIN’T NEVER GONNA HAPPEN!

 

There is more than too much inertia and “history” built into the current incarnation of college football to assure that this sort of restructuring would be out of the question.  Nevertheless, just as a flight of fancy come with me on a gedankenexperiment where we reinvent – or reimagine if you prefer – college football.  What I want to do is to wave my magic wand and freeze college football as it exists today and then reinvent it.  I am not talking about the game; I do not want to invent a game where there is no tackling or where there is no such thing as pass interference.  I want to reinvent the way the game is structured/organized.

 

[Aside:  If Vice President Al Gore could presume to “reinvent the government” 20 years ago, I think I can presume to reinvent college football.  And, by the way, the non-implementation of my ideas here will have about the same lasting effect on college football as Vice President Gore’s actions had on the government.]

 

The top tier of college football in 2016 had 128 teams in what they call FBS or what I call Division 1-A.  That is the perfect number for my reinvention idea.  So, pour yourself a cup of coffee and put on your thinking cap while you take a trip in my fantasy world for a moment.  It just might be more interesting than a stroll down memory lane…

I want to break up the 128 Division 1-A teams into two equal parts.  Let me call these parts the “Big Boys Category” and the “Little Boys Category”.  I want to put 64 teams in each of the two categories and then I want to break each of the categories into 4 conferences of 16 teams each and each conference into 2 divisions of 8 teams each.  The Big Boys Category would consist of:

  • The SEC Teams (14 teams)
  • The Big 10 Teams (14 Teams)
  • The PAC-12 Teams (12 teams)
  • The Big 12 (10 teams) – – plus – –
  • The “14 Best Teams” from the other Conferences

The Little Boys Category would consist of the “other 64 teams”…

Now I want to divide those teams into 4 conferences and I will do that on a geographical basis.  The 14 teams that I added to this category from the “other existing conferences” would go into the existing structure on the basis of best geographical fit only because there has to be some sort of criterion here to avoid a ton of tsouris along the path leading to the assignments.

The Little Boys Category will be divided up into 4 conferences of 16 teams also and I would do my best to make this as geographically consistent as possible.  I am not focusing on the Little Boys category here nearly as much as the Big Boys Category but that will change later on…

In the new 16-team conferences in both Categories, there will be NO interconference play in the regular season.  An 11-game regular season schedule will consist of 7 games for each team in one’s division plus 4 games against teams in the other division of the same conference rotating the inter-division schedule every year.  In each conference, the two division winners will have a playoff to determine the conference winner.

The 4 conference winners in the Big Boys Category will get automatic berths in an 8-team CFP that will happen in January.  The other 4 teams in that CFP bracket will be selected by either a committee or a set of computers or a “college football czar” – makes no difference to me – and the winner of that 8-team tournament will be the College Football National Champion for the year.

I can hear lots of mumbling at this point with regard to “So, what’s the big deal here?” or “All he wants to do is change the composition of the conferences.”  As Lee Corso would say:

“Not so fast, my friend …”

You see, I want to do the same thing in the “Little Boys Category” but I want the playoffs there to have some sort of meaning or gravitas.  In fact, I think my idea here would make the Little Boys Playoff bracket almost as interesting as the one for the Big Boys.

What I want to do here is to steal the concept of relegation from the British soccer leagues.  Here is the deal:

  • The 4 finalists in the Little Boys Playoff Tournament will be promoted to the Big Boys category for the next season.
  • Geography will be the primary determinant for which team goes to which Big Boys Conference but in the case where that is not a clear choice, the team that finished higher in the Little Boys Playoff would get to choose where they will go.
  • To make room for them, there would also be a selection process – don’t care who does it or how – to determine which 4 teams from the Big Boys Category get relegated.  The easiest would be to relegate the worst team in each of the 4 conferences and then add the best 4 teams from the lower category.  Since college football never does anything in the easiest way, I am sure no one would like do it that way…

My reinvention of college football has pluses and minuses; I will be the first to acknowledge that.  Let me do the pluses first:

  1. Teams will play much more balanced schedules if they have to play all of their games “in conference”.  Every game will matter as much as every other game.  Athletic directors will not go out searching for a glorified scrimmage game against Comatose State because there will be no place on the schedule to put such a waste of time.
  2. Bowl games at the end of the season will be a lot more interesting because of the lack of interconference play.  There will be an element of inter-conference rivalry that develops and there will be a curiosity factor to see how conferences fare against one another.
  3. The big money will be with the Big Boys Category and so there will be a significant monetary incentive to win and to stay in the Big Boys Category.  Relegation will be more than just an affront to alums; relegation will be a good swift kick in the wallet.  A late season head-to-head game between two teams that are both 1-8 will be meaningful to each team – and particularly meaningful to each coach and athletic director.
  4. The Little Boys Category teams that do very well in a season can get to spend the next season trying to establish themselves in the Big Boys Category where the big money is.  That makes the Little Boys Playoff Tournament very important to the teams and the coaches – – and that will make that playoff into something that fans might be interested in.

The posers at the NCAA will not be able to complain that too many of their student-athletes will play too many games under my phantasmagorical new system.  Most teams will play only 11 games plus a bowl game (perhaps).  The best teams will play 11 regular season games plus 2 games in a conference tournament plus as many as 3 games in a CFP-like tournament for a maximum of 16 games.  In the current rendition of college football the two best teams play a 15-game schedule.  My idea is NOT a huge expansion of an already over-exposed sport.

Please note that I have refrained from including here one of my pet ideas from NCAA Mythical Picks.  Please note that the decision(s) on relegation will not be made on the basis of an on-field tournament where the losing team has to play on to see if it will be relegated or not.  My imaginary SHOE Tournament from Mythical Picks is fun for me to imagine; it would never work in reality.

I can hear screams of upset already over the idea of relegation because that relegation would potentially interrupt/destroy longstanding rivalries.  There is no “schedule flexibility” in my scheme so if one party to the annual “Big Deal Game” sucks wind for a year, they may indeed have to forego next year’s “Big Deal Game”.  You know what?  Life will go on…

I would be open to the idea of extending the relegation/promotion opportunities to the teams that finish in the Top 4 of the Division 1-AA national tournament that already exists.  The reason I would not mandate it from the start is that it is not clear to me that all of the schools in Division 1-AA would want to try to grow their football program into one that might continue to exist at the Division 1-A level.  For example, Ivy League teams would probably not want to do that and I really do not know how the folks at this year’s four finalist schools in the Division 1-AA tournament would feel about “being promoted” to the Little Boys Category of Division 1-A.  For the record, this year’s finalists are:

  • Eastern Washington
  • James Madison
  • North Dakota St.
  • Youngstown St.

By the same token, I would not presume to extend the relegation/promotion concept down from Division 1-AA to Division II or from Division II to Division III.  I know that sort of thing happens in the British soccer leagues and that is the model for my idea.  I just don’t know if it is a good idea to implement this all the way up and down the ladder here in American football.

Earlier on, I said that I really did not care how various selections would be made in this reinvented system.  Actually, that is not completely correct.  I do care that the humans involved in the decision making are people who can and will spend the time to pay attention to what they are doing.  A committee composed of athletic directors and coaches and journalists is not going to be satisfactory for a simple reason:

  • Those folks have other full-time jobs and commitments that preclude them from spending 40-50 hours per week doing nothing but focusing on the tasks at hand such as adding 4 at-large teams to the Big Boys Category CFP and/or picking the 4 worst teams in the Big Boys Category to relegate.  That is not a job done by simply reading stat compilations; the selectors need to take the time to watch the candidate teams and make decisions based on the “Eyeball Test” as well as the “Statistical Test”.

Oh, by the way, that same statement would eliminate a totally computer based selection process.  Computers are not yet to the point where they might perform any sort of “Eyeball Test”.

I made a passing reference above to a “college football czar”.  I doubt that I would have difficulty convincing you that finding an acceptable person to assume that position would be impossible.  However, I will offer a nominee for the job.

 

Larry Culpepper – the Dr. Pepper stadium vendor.  After all, he invented the College Football Playoff, right?

 

That completes your tour of my fantasy world for the reinvented game of college football.  It will never come to pass, but I had fun contemplating it.  And now, let me go and adjust my meds …

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

 

 

Mythical Picks – NFL And NCAA CFP – Weekend Of 1/8/17

 

Last week was a boring week of mythical picking.  For the semi-finals of the CFP, the two Mythical Picks were 1-1-0. Not very exciting to say the least.  That took the season record for NCAA Mythical Picks to 110-94-0 with one game left to play where I might make as many as two picks.  It is going to be a “mythically profitable year” for NCAA Mythical Picks.

In the NFL, the mythical picks were just a tad less wonderful.  I made 16 selections and the record for the week was 7-9-0.  Certainly, that is not laudable; but it takes the NFL Mythical picks into the playoffs with a season record standing at a most comfortable 134-89-5.

The Coin Flip Protocol continued to be hot, Hot, HOT last week.  I used the coin flip to make 3 selections and the coin went 2-1-0 for the week bringing the coin’s record for the year to a surprisingly positive 19-12-2.

The Best Picks from last week were:

  • Vikes -5 against Bears.  Vikes won by 18 points.
  • Clemson +3 against Ohio St.  Clemson won the game outright 31-0.

The Worst Picks from last week were:

  • Texans – 3 against Titans.  Texans lost the game outright.
  • Skins – 7 against Giants.  Skins lost the game outright.
  • Rams +6.5 against Cards.  Rams lost by 38 points.

Notwithstanding the fact that both the NCAA and NFL Mythical Picks will end the season in “Mythically Profitable Territory”, one would need to be extraordinarily dumb to conclude that there is any great insight or expertise that went into these selections.  No one – and I mean NOBODY – should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real football game this weekend.  Here is how extraordinarily dumb one would need to be to do that:

 

You probably think that a person without common sense (scents) is a woman who wears $2000 per ounce perfume.

 

General Comments:

 

Regarding NCAA football, I think that the Selection Committee for the CFP this year demonstrated that their votes/selections had as much to do with football pedigree as it had to do with selecting the teams that were playing the best football at the end of the season.  Let me try to explain what I mean without weasel-wording any of it:

  • Ohio St. was in the playoffs only because it was Ohio St. and Ohio St. has a long tradition of being an elite football team.  They did not win their division within their conference; they were not eligible to play for their conference championship; their “signature wins” included one that happened in September.  They were not the team in the Big 10 playing the best football in November/December.  That team would be Penn State.
  • Washington should not have been in the CFP based on the fact that USC dominated them late in the season.  Yes, USC lost 3 games last year but those were early in the year and by the end of the season the “eyeball test” would have told almost anyone that USC was the best team in the PAC-12.  But the Selection Committee did not apply the “eyeball test” and gave us Washington.

Do NOT infer here that I think Ohio St and/or Washington is a bad football team; they are not.  However, they are not as good in December/January of this season as are Penn St/USC and the CFP Selection Committee just plain blew it.  Washington lost to Alabama 24-7.  I took Washington +14 points in last week’s Mythical Picks; but at halftime with the Huskies trailing by only 10 points, I knew that Alabama would have to be shut out in the second half for me to “cash in” that mythical pick.  Washington was simply outclassed and it was painfully obvious for all of the second half.

Yes, I know that Alabama dominated USC back in September; the thing is that was in September and this is December/January.  USC is a significantly better team now that it was then.  If the Selection Committee had bothered to pay attention to games on the field, I would have expected them to see that clear and present status.  They simply did not.

Ohio St. was depantsed by Clemson.  Even a rabid Ohio St. fan or alum had to recognize somewhere in the second quarter that this was going to be an embarrassing time for the Buckeyes. They did not belong in that game on that big a stage.  If the Big 10 team with Ohio St’s résumé had been Indiana – only one loss but not the division winner in the conference – there is no way on Planet Earth that Indiana would have been in the CFP semi-finals.

One last thing…  I am NOT implying that either USC or Penn St. would have beaten Alabama or Clemson.  I am not implying – I am saying it directly – that USC and Penn St. would have put on a better show than Washington or Clemson put on.

On to NFL commentary …

I have grown tired of NFL coaches and commentators saying that a team underachieved because they suffered an injury to their starting QB.  Sure, that is a big deal; no team wants that to happen.  Nevertheless, such a happenstance is not a one-way ticket to the NFL boneyard.  It is not uncommon for a team to have to fill in for a starting QB for 4 games in a season and in that circumstance, let me point out how one team managed to muddle through such a situation this year:

  • The New England Patriots started 3 – not 2 but 3 – different QBs this year; two of those starters had never started an NFL game in the past.  The Pats managed to survive to the tune of a regular season record of 14-2.  They will not play this week as they sit at home and get ready to host the lowest-seeded team to survive the AFC wild card round this weekend.

Oh, let me give you another example…  There is a team that lost its starter in one of the meaningless exhibition games back in the summer and had to start a rookie QB who was taken in the 4th round of last year’s draft.  That team was surely doomed … except that the Dallas Cowboys finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and will have home-field advantage in every NFC playoff game that they play in this year.

Quarterbacks are extremely important; bad quarterbacking can – and usually does – relegate a team to second-rate or even third-rate status.  However, it is not a certainty and commentators should stop giving teams that “easy way out” to explain underachievement…

Oh, while I am at it, can we agree for at least a moment to stop calling it “underachievement” and call it – more accurately – “failure to perform”?

The last week of the regular season should have been designated as “Backup QB Matt Week”.  Consider these starting QBs who were backups for their teams:

  • Matt Barkley – Bears
  • Matt Cassel – Titans
  • Matt McGloin – Raiders
  • Matt Moore – Dolphins

The Bills started a backup QB (EJ Manuel) too last week – and then sat him down to let their third-string guy (Cardale Jones) get some time on the field.  The Bills lost handily to the Jets 30-10 and the play of that QB tandem must bear some of the responsibility for the loss.  Combined, that duo produced this stat line:

  • 15 for 31 for 182 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs

No one would mistake that sort of production with the descriptor “a key ingredient for winning football”.  However, I want to describe one play in the game here simply to suggest that the rest of the Bills’ team may not have been ”fully engaged” in the game.

  • Leading 23-3, the Jets lined up to kick off to the Bills.  The kick bounced along into the end zone where the Bills just stood over it and watched it come to rest in their end zone.  They watched as Jets’ special teamer, Doug Middleton, fell on the ball for a Jets’ TD making the score 30-3.
  • You can file this event under “bad coaching” or under “lack of concentration” or even under “not giving a rat’s ass about the game”.  You cannot, however, pin this blunder on “bad quarterbacking”.

That meaningless Bills/Jets game also leads to the observation that Darrelle Revis can no longer play cornerback.  It is not that he is no longer a “shut-down corner” or that receivers on his side of the field are out on “Revis Island”; Darrelle Revis cannot play the position anymore; Father Time has caught up with him.  He is probably smart enough to make a transition to safety and play there if he wants to, but if he insists on being a cornerback and being paid like a top-flight cornerback, his career may be over.

When Niners’ owner/operator, Jed York, addressed the media to announce/explain/justify the firings of Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly, he said:

“I just think it’s time for us to re-establish a championship culture…”

Would that it were as simple to do that as it is to say that…  As the Niners proceed in their coaching/GM search, here is an interesting view from the outside.  The Niners won 2 games all last year – both against the Rams who are also sniffing around and looking for a new coach.  The inescapable conclusion here is that the Niners were 0-14 against the rest of the league and it is 100% certain that the Niners will have to play 14 games against the “rest of the league” next year and the year after that and …

The Raiders lost more than their final game of the season last week.  Their backup QB, Matt McGloin, had to leave the game with an injury to his left shoulder – his non-throwing shoulder – and did not fully participate in practice on Wednesday this week.  His availability for this week’s playoff game is up in the air.  The Raiders needed this game to keep alive the hope of getting the #1 seed in the AFC and they needed this game to assure that they would hold onto the #2 seed in the AFC.  They lost out on both of those positionings too.  And one way that they lost those seedings was because they lost any connection they may have had to “Pride and Poise”.  In a game they needed to win and playing with a backup QB, consider this:

  • Total offense in the first half = 50 yards
  • Penalty yards assessed in the first half = 90 yards

Granted, the Raiders’ QBs did not cover themselves in glory last week, but the Raiders lost as a team in Denver…

Amid the uncertainty regarding QB availability for the Raiders in their upcoming playoff game this week, the team went out and signed Garrett Gilbert.  He was a 6th round pick by the Rams in 2014 and has never thrown a pass in the NFL.  However, he does have a Super Bowl ring; he was on the Pats’ practice squad in 2014 when the Pats beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  Gilbert was on the Raiders’ practice squad in 2015 so he, presumably, has some familiarity with the offense.  Other than that, I have no rays of sunshine to pump up the butts of Raiders’ fans for this weekend…

 

The Games:

 

NCAA:

 

(Mon Nite) Clemson vs. Alabama – 6.5 (51):  Last week, I said that this year’s Clemson team plays up to or down to the level of its opponent and that is why I took them with 3 points against Ohio State.  The Tigers won the game in a walk.  Once again, Clemson will face a very good opponent and I fully expect Clemson to play well and to play hard.  I just think, however, that Alabama is the better team on the field and I do not think that the absence of Lane Kiffin calling plays for Bama is such a big deal.  I’ll take Alabama to win and cover.

 

NFL:

 

(Sat Afternoon) Oakland at Houston – 3.5 (37):  The oddsmakers are looking at this game as if it will be a 3-yards-and-a-cloud -of-dust throwback to the old Woody Hayes/Bo Schembechler college games.  Indeed, no matter how you might do a mix-and-match of the possible QBs in this game, you come up with a faceoff between “Who’s He?” and “Who’s That?”  These teams met earlier this year in Mexico City and the Raiders won by a TD then.  That was before Derek Carr’s leg broke…  Let me be very clear here:

  1. I have no faith in either Brock Osweiler or Tom Savage as dominant players.
  2. I have no faith in any of the 3 available Raiders’ QBs as dominant players.
  3. I have no faith in the Raiders’ defense – other than the Texans’ offensive ineptitude.
  4. I have minimal faith in the Texans’ defense – given the likely Raiders’ offensive ineptitude.

With exactly no conviction, I will take the Texans and lay the points here simply because they are less likely to go through a team meltdown as the Raiders have done a couple of times this year.

 

(Sat Evening) Detroit at Seattle – 8 (44):  The spread here opened at 4 points and shot up to this level very quickly.  The Lions come roaring into this game on a 3-game losing streak.  Now, they have to play outdoors – something they do not do well – and they have to play in Seattle – where opponents tend to struggle.  The Seahawks are not exactly on a roll here either.  In their last 3 games, they have beaten the Rams (Whoop-di-damned-do!), lost to the Cards (ugh) and then beat the Niners by 2 points (ugh, again).  Everyone talks about the injury to Earl Thomas and its effect on the defense.  I think the injury to Tyler Lockett is also important because it affects the Seahawks’ return game and the passing offense.  I see a defense dominated game here so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

 

(Sun Early Afternoon) Miami at Pittsburgh – 10 (45.5):  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games.  With that out of the way, these teams played each other earlier this year (in Miami) and the Dolphins won that game in a walk.  Ben Roethlisberger limped his way through about half the game and that had something to do with the outcome to be sure; last I saw, he is no longer limping.  The Steelers rested Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown last week so they should be ready to welcome the warm-weather Dolphins to January-in-Pittsburgh-weather.  Saturday night the low is forecast to be 11 degrees and on Sunday it will warm up all the way to 18 degrees with 15 mph winds.  The Dolphins are a much improved team this year and had a 9-game win streak at one point in the season.  However, the Dolphins schedule was not exactly a killer.  I think the Steelers are much the better team here.  I like the Steelers to win and cover at home and I like the game to go OVER.

 

(Sun Late Afternoon) Giants at Green Bay – 4.5 (44.5):  This is the best NFL game of the weekend.  When the Packers were 4-6, Aaron Rodgers said that the team would “run the table” and make the playoffs – – and then the Packers did exactly that.  The Giants fielded a defense this year that kept them in games even when the offense – how to put this politely? – sputtered.  The last two times the Giants had a playoff date in Lambeau Field, the Giants not only won the game there, they went on to win the Super Bowl later in the playoffs.  The Packers’ secondary has so many injuries that the players on the field may be calling each other by number instead of by name.  Meanwhile, the Giants’ secondary – as a unit – is probably the best defensive backfield in the league this year.  This looks like a balanced game:

  • Red hot QB playing really well against a top-shelf defensive unit.
  • “Sputtering” offense against a significantly depleted defense.

Not surprisingly, it will be cold in the late afternoon in Green Bay with temps dropping into the single digits as the game proceeds.  I think this will be a low-scoring game so I’ll take the Giants plus the points.

 

Finally, here is how The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm defines Spam:

“Spam:  Pork shoulder meat, ham, and gelatinous ooze in a can.  Is America a great country or what?

“Spam:  Unsolicited e-mail.  Proof of the existence of something even more heinous than the product it is named after.”

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

 

 

A Group Of 5 Football Tournament? No Thanks…

 

According to recent reports, some folks have begun to think that there ought to be a playoff bracket in college football for the so-called “Group of 5” schools.  In case you don’t know who the Group of 5 schools are, they are the schools that make up the 5 Division 1-A conferences that play – for the most part – minor league college football.  Here are the Group of 5 conferences in alphabetical order:

  • American Athletic Conference
  • Conference USA
  • Mid-American Conference (The MAC)
  • Mountain West Conference
  • Sun Belt Conference.

And probably because it is ever so proper to be “inclusive” in one’s thinking these days, the idea of this minor-league college football playoff would also be open to independent teams which this year would include:

  • Army
  • Brigham Young
  • UMass

This is such a bad idea; let me count the ways.  First, outside the highly provincial micropolises of the schools in these conferences, let me break some news to these folks here:

  1. There is a huge wave of indifference regarding just about everything involving football in each and every one of conferences.
  2. Every once in a while, a school such as Boise St. or W. Michigan (this year) captures enough non-local interest such that people wonder if those guys at that one school in that year year might actually be able to play with the “big boys”.  Often, that lone school from those 5 conferences can do that – – but no one else in those conferences can.  These conferences are where “Homecoming Game Opponents” are found…

That first reason that this is a bad idea leads directly to the second reason this is a bad idea.  If no one really cares and there is only one team in that Group of 5 every once in a while that can “play with the big boys”, then no one will pay attention to a tournament.  Oh, there will be faux attention paid just so the schools at the “kiddies’ table” get enough of the faux attention to stay at the kiddies’ table and be happy that they are there.  This playoff idea is like planting the seeds of an environment wherein the Group of 5 teams become a permanent underclass in the football hierarchy but they cannot complain because they have their tournament to focus attention on themselves.

Division 1-AA has a tournament.  Other than times when a player like Randy Moss comes from that tournament or when Carson Wentz becomes the overall #2 pick in the NFL Draft, does the Division 1-AA tournament create any goosebumps for anyone outside the school communities of the teams involved?  I’ll pose the same question about the Division II and the Division III national playoffs:

 

If you are reading this rant here, you must have some basic level of interest in sports and so you are the perfect audience to respond to this question, “Do you care even a little bit who wins or who is “snubbed” by not being invited to the Division II and/or the Division III football tournament brackets?”

 

Some say that this tournament idea can bring money to the Group of 5 schools that will give them the chance to “graduate” and compete with the “big boys”.  That is nonsense.  The amount of money that the CFP brings into the conferences involved in the top tier of Division 1-A football will dwarf the pittances that the Group of 5 tournament might draw in one’s wildest imagination.  Second, this will soon become the “Miss Congeniality” Prize for the smaller programs and will almost immediately take any and all of them out of consideration for participation in one of the bigger New Year’s Day Bowl Games – where there is real money involved.  I am confident that if I were to say awake for 72 consecutive hours I could come up with a worse idea for the Group of 5 teams.  I am not about to do that; I am, however, going to say that they better not get what they seem to be wishing for.

About 35 years ago, I was the President of the PTA for my sons’ elementary school.  Yes, I did that for an entire year and did not commit sufficient mayhem or physical violence that I was arrested and/or charged with some sort of violation of the law.  One of the debates ongoing at that time in our county was the extent to which classes in the school system should be offered in various languages.  Foreign languages were never my favorite courses in school and I am only proficient in two languages:

  1. English – and –
  2. Profane.

As my year-in-the-box progressed, there was a suggestion by a group of parents that the school system offer algebra taught in their culturally native language.  That is where I got off the train.  I asked for – and was granted – a time slot where I could address the school board and whatever other local politicians may have been in attendance at this open meeting.  Here is a paraphrase of what I told the school board that evening:

 

I hope you realize what you might actually be doing if you were to consider the idea of teaching algebra to high school students in something other than English.  What you would be doing is to lay the foundation for those students to become a permanent underclass in the US.  Like it or not, the fact of the matter is that the language of the generic economy and society here in Virginia – and in almost all of the US – is English.  Being bilingual – or even multi-lingual – is an asset for students, but they also have to know English to succeed – or to have an equal shot at success.  You can teach them lots of courses in lots of languages, but if you try to pretend that mathematics is something they can only learn in their “culturally native language” you are consigning these students to second-class citizenship.

[Aside: The Chair of the School Board happened a black woman.  She reacted to my closing statement.]  If I were an evil person and my intention was to consign a subset of the population to the status of “permanent underclass”, the first thing I would do would be to give them as poor an education as I could and to fill their time in school with things that will not be useful to them in the economy and the society that they will have to try to succeed in.  For a while, this country did that with slaves in the South until most of us figured out that was not the way to go.  If you pay more attention to feelings than you do to reality and your responsibilities as overseers of education, you will start down that path again.  Don’t do it.

 

Change the issue from teaching algebra in something other than English to high school students in the US to the idea of a minor-league football playoff and the outcome is similar.  If the Group of 5 wants to be sure they are never taken seriously and have a permanent seat at the kiddies’ table of college football, then this idea for their playoff is a great way to head on down that road.  No one is going to travel a thousand miles to see that championship game in person and precious few are going to tune on TV.  Imagine the burning interest in the game leading up to that championship contest.  This is an idea whose time has not yet come and is not going to come…

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News regarding one of already existing minor bowl games that would compete with a “Group of 5 Tournament” for attention:

“The Foster Farms Bowl was sparsely attended. Utah doesn’t really move the meter in Northern California, while Indiana doesn’t even move the meter in Indiana.

“Hint to bowl officials: Next year, please offer free Foster Farms chicken nuggets to every fan in attendance. Proposed slogan: ‘Come for the nuggets, stay for the football.’”

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

 

 

Idealism, Pragmatism And Simplistic Reasoning

In a previous rant, I said that I agreed with the decisions made by Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey to sit out second-tier bowl games and focus on getting ready to be drafted into the NFL.  I characterized it as an economic decision made by the players in response to the economic decisions by the schools and networks and cities to have so many less-than-important college football bowl games.  I stand by those remarks.  Now I want to add to them…

Another way to look at decision making is to consider the dichotomy often presented by idealism and pragmatism.  Ideally, I can wish for the non-existence of world hunger; pragmatically, there are too many people living in areas where growing food is nigh on to impossible.  Taking the life-and-death element out of my example, McCaffrey and Fournette had a similar dichotomy to resolve.  Ideally, they would have been with their teammates – their comrades-in-arms so to speak – for one final attempt at winning for dear old alma mater.  Pragmatically, they risked serious injury which might cost them millions of dollars as a pro football player – or even the chance ever to become a pro football player.  They chose pragmatism.  Once again, I agree with their decision.  Moreover, Christian McCaffrey can look to one of his comrades-in-arms for affirmation.

Stanford QB, Keller Chryst tore up his knee in the Sun Bowl game.  Stop 10 people randomly on the street and ask them to answer the following questions without resorting to Google on their cell phones:

  1. Where is the Sun Bowl game played?  [El Paso, TX]
  2. Who won the Sun Bowl last year?  [Washington St. beat Miami (FL)]
  3. What team has been to the Sun Bowl the most times?  [Texas Tech]

Your random person will not know these answers indicating to you that the Sun Bowl – old as it may be – is not a critically important fixture on the landscape of college football.  Keller Chryst – like Christian McCaffrey – aspires to play in the NFL; he suffered a significant injury in a meaningless contest.  Give me pragmatism every time…

Reasoning one’s way through a set of circumstances to arrive at a conclusion or a decision is something adults do all the time.  Some decisions are easy; it is a bad idea to take your life savings plus your kids’ college funds and lay the total on the line for one spin of the roulette wheel.  One’s reasoning faculties need not be honed to a fine edge for that one.  Simplistic reasoning – the kind that often leads to baffling decisions – abounds in the human experience and there is probably no place where it exists and flourishes to a greater degree than in sports radio “discussions”.  What continues to amaze me is the degree of simplistic reasoning that seems to exist and flourish in the upper echelons of NFL franchises.

A team needs to pep up its offense so the idea is to fire the current coach despite whatever circumstances have led to the feeling of displeasure with team performance lately and go out and hire an “offensive guru”.  That sounds so simple – and indeed it is simplistic as evidenced by the fact that sometimes it works (Adam Gase in Miami) and sometimes it does not (Chip Kelly in SF).  The obverse is also true; hiring a “defensive guru” sometimes works (Dan Quinn in Atlanta) and sometimes does not (Rex Ryan in Buffalo).  I mentioned earlier this week that the Bills’ opening was the least desirable one for coaching candidates due to the QB situation there and the franchise location itself.  I would like to add to the reasons that the Bills’ job is not a job for hot prospects to salivate over.

According to reports this week, the firing of Rex Ryan and the search for a new coach in Buffalo will be more than a tad unusual.  In a press conference this week, the Bills’ GM – who is presumably staying on with the team – told his audience that he had not been part of the discussion between the owner and Ryan that led to Ryan’s firing with one week to play in the season.  Doug Whaley said he was “not privy to the details” from the Bills’ owner, Terry Pegula, regarding the reason that Ryan was fired.  When asked if he agreed with the decision or not, Whaley responded, “I haven’t even thought about it.”  Seriously?  Not once over the past couple of weeks?  Haven’t you spoken with the owner even once over that period of time?

Right after the firing was announced, owner, Pegula, said that GM, Whaley, would conduct the search for a new coach – – which is pretty much standard procedure when a GM stays on after a coach has been let go.  This week, Whaley left that up in the air saying that Pegula would make the final decision on the new coach.  Maybe that is only a nuance in the sense that the owner signs all the checks and therefore indeed makes all the final decisions.  However, there was another troubling comment from Whaley.  He also said that details such as who would have control over the makeup of the 53-man roster would be part of the search process and the final negotiations with the new coach.  Can that possibly mean that the coaching search will start out with no firm organizational concept for how the team will function outside the lines on Sundays?  If so, WOW!

Do not misinterpret; I am not surprised that Rex Ryan got fired in Buffalo nor do I think his firing was a bad idea.  Ryan took over a team that was 9-7 with a dominating defense that appeared poised to be in the playoffs on the strength of that defense.  In 2014, the Bills led the NFL in sacks and were 4th in the league in points allowed.  In two years under Ryan, the defense has sagged significantly to the point where it is 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.  I doubt that any coach on the planet could have won 10 or 11 games with this Bills’ team.  I wonder if the owner and/or the GM recognize the significance and/or the scope of the shortcomings there.

The only thing that can make simplistic reasoning worse than it is intrinsically would be to add three elements to it:

  1. Ignorance of the basics of the field in which reasoning and decisions must exist.
  2. Ignorance of one’s own fundamental ignorance therein.
  3. Impatience.

Purely reading reports on this matter and having exactly no direct insight here, I smell some of each of these elements in the air in Buffalo.  Or, maybe someone just passed gas…

Finally, Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald several weeks ago:

“Tickets went on sale this week for sailing’s 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda. God I hope I’m not too late!!”

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

 

 

A Nomadic Tuesday …

Let me lead off today by saying that I do not enjoy nor do I follow closely MMA as a sport.  I recognize and acknowledge that the participants in that sport are dedicated athletes and that other folks are avid consumers of the sport.  I am not.

Having said that, I wonder if the time has come for Ronda Rousey to back down as the “face of women’s MMA fighting”.  As I said, I do not follow MMA closely so I could easily have missed some happenings along the way here but here is the “timeline” I see:

  • Rousey uses her judo skills (Olympic medalist there) to dominate women’s MMA opponents.  She garners the image of the “baddest woman on the planet” except she is also interested in doing photo shoots and movies and other “girly things”.
  • She wins an MMA championship and is booked to defend it and she is KO’ed by a woman who then proceeds to lose her next fight.
  • After a period of time “incommunicado”, Rousey resurfaces and is booked to fight a current MMA champion.  She lasts less than a minute in that fight and “goes to Coventry” once again.

People are now debating/analyzing what is her future in the sport and what her legacy might be.  May I suggest the following:

  • Her legacy is that her early dominance in the sport raised the level of attention to women’s MMA bouts to the point where people cared as much about them as they did to men’s MMA bouts.
  • Her last two defeats – neither of which was a “squeaker” – indicates that she needs to retire from the sport before she gets hurt in some sort of permanent fashion.  I actually watched her recent loss on YouTube where she was totally dominated for 48 seconds before the fight was over.   She could not have caught any more punches had her face been magnet and her opponent were wearing iron gloves.
  • In the past, I have characterized MMA promotions as being the same as pro ‘rassling except the blood is real and the punches actually land.  It is the last part of that description that – I believe – makes it really good idea for Ronda Rousey to retire from the sport and go on to “future endeavors”.

MMA as a sport does not need to have one of its competitors killed on “live TV” in one of their pay-per-view events.  This happened to boxing on several occasions on TV and you may notice that there is precious little boxing on TV any more.  Ronda Rousey in the fight I just watched was like a javelin catcher; she was a significant injury waiting to happen.

Switching gears …  Last week, I happened to be grazing through the channels on my cable package and happened across the Sixers/Nuggets game in Denver.  I stopped to look for a while just because I wanted to see how bad the Sixers were this year – – as compared to how bad they have been for the past several years.  I have to admit that I was surprised to see that the Sixers played like an NBA team.

  • Joel Embiid is the real deal.  He can score inside; he can shoot from the outside; he can rebound and his defense – more than just his shot blocking – is good.
  • Nerlens Noel can play defense but is an offensive liability.
  • Jahlil Okafur did not play while I was watching.
  • Dario Saric will be a player in the NBA for a long time; he is only 22 now.
  • What the Sixers do not have is quality point guards – or even one quality point guard.  If they had a more balanced roster, this team might actually win 25 games in a season.  Trust the process…

If you had told me before the college football season started and the pairings were announced that any team in the country would score 49 points on the USC defense, I would have wondered:

  1. How did Texas Tech get paired against USC with Tech’s 5-7 regular season record?
  2. Did USC score 80 points on the Tech defense – –  or 90?

Well, last night in the Rose Bowl – the granddaddy of them all as Keith Jackson was wont to remind us all – Penn State’s offense did a number on the USC defense.  USC was a 7.5 point favorite in the game and the Total Line was 59.5.  Anyone betting the UNDER could have torn up their tickets in the third quarter; anyone betting the chalk knew this game was a goner.

I have been saying for much of the season in various Mythical Picks commentaries that Penn State RB, Saquon Barkely, is a special player.  I hope you got to see some of his runs against a very good USC defense last night; this kid can play!  I have also been very impressed with USC freshman QB, Sam Darnold, and he was the architect of the USC victory last night.  USC won the game on a last second field goal ending a game that was as entertaining and interesting as any bowl game so far this year.

Finally, the NCAA permits college athletes to accept “gift packages” from the organizers of bowl games as a thank you for their participation.  Here is a comment on that reality by Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Gift packages from bowls vary, though usually they include excellent swag for the participants. But this year’s national championship game might feature the most enigmatic.

“The description says players will be presented with an ‘iconic gift.’

“Won’t they be surprised when they open those Regis Philbin Christmas CDs?”

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