Sprucing Up…

Today is the day for me to spruce up my clipboard and get a bunch of “small stuff” off of there.  I’ll start with what I think is a somber note.

Bob Costas is leaving NBC after 40 years with the network.  Over the past year or so, his on-air assignments at NBC had been reduced significantly.  During his 40-year tenure at NBC, Costas had been a mainstay in their coverage of MLB, the NFL, college basketball, the Olympics – you get the idea.  He was not assigned to be the anchor for the Winter Games in Korea last year and he was not involved in the post-game commentary for Sunday Night Football in the season that just ended for NBC.  I have exactly no inside information here, but it surely appears to me from afar that this parting of the ways is less than fully amicable.  Would that it were not so…

Bob Costas was and remains an outstanding broadcaster at the game and in the studio.  According to reports, he will continue to do MLB games on MLB Network – and I hope those reports are correct.  Bob Costas teamed with John Smoltz in the booth for a baseball game is an enjoyable experience.

Bonne chance, Bob Costas…

There is a lot of sturm und drang out there today regarding the optimal choice for Kyler Murray’s athletic future.  Should he stick with baseball where he is drafted and signed to a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s that is reportedly worth $5M?  Or, should he parlay his Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma into a career in the NFL?  This topic is pure gold for sports radio and for the “debate shows” on networks like ESPN and/or FS1; the capacity for emoting on the air is most generous.  I will try to “weigh in” here in a more measured way:

  • Yes, Kyler Murray is shorter than the “prototype NFL QB”; he is listed at 5” 11” and 194 lbs.  And my reaction to that is,” So what?”  Consider that Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Michael Vick are all “short guys” while Brock Osweiler is 6’ 8” and Blake Bortles is 6’ 5”.  Size does not matter here – – so long as the other skills are present.  Would anyone prefer Osweiler or Bortles over any of the “short guys” here?
  • The only reason this is even an interesting topic for discussion is that Murray is a QB that could be taken early in the first round of the NFL Draft.  If he were a cornerback or an offensive tackle, there is no discussion.  If he were a QB who looked to be drafted in the 5th round as a developmental project, there is no discussion.
  • The economic issue here is simple.  MLB players – on average – have much longer careers than do NFL players.  However, it might take a baseball players 3-5 years riding buses in the Eastern League to make it to the major leagues where the real earning power begins.  For an NFL QB taken early in the draft, the near-term money is much greater.  Consider Carson Wentz’ contract with the Eagles.  His signing bonus was $17.6M; the total value in the first 4 years is $26.7M; there is a 5th year option held by the Eagles that would pay Wentz north of $20M in his 5th season.

Kyler Murray needs an agent who has the contacts in the NFL to get a realistic assessment of where Murray will be taken in the April draft if he stays in that draft.  If he is a Top 5 or even a Top 15 pick, I think he should play football.  If he is going to be a 3rd round pick, he should bank his $5M from the Oakland A’s and work on his baseball skills.  I don’t think there is a lot to emote about here.

In social news related to the sports world, reports say that Tim Tebow is engaged to the woman who won the Miss Universe pageant in 2017.  If a date has been set, I have not seen it.  However, I do think that the engagement itself is a milestone:

  • Tim Tebow actually completed a pass here.

Do you realize that the NBA regular season is half-over?  The league has staged about 750 games this year; how many did you really care about enough to make them “appointment viewing”?  Forget that criterion, how many did you really care about?  Sometime in early March, the NBA will become interesting as teams bunched around the cut line for the playoffs take every game seriously trying to get into the playoffs while teams comfortably there, jockey for seeding in the playoffs.  Until then … carry on.

There are some interesting things to see in the NBA standings – not interesting enough to get me to follow things closely, mind you – but interesting.  Some teams this year have taken “home court advantage” very seriously:

  • Sixers are 19-4 at home and only 10-12 on the road.
  • Celtics are 15-5 at home and only 10-13 on the road.
  • Hornets are 14-8 at home and only 6-15 on the road.
  • Wizards are 13-8 at home and only 5-18 on the road.
  • Nuggets are 18-4 at home and only 11-10 on the road.
  • Thunder are `14-6 at home and only 12-11 on the road.
  • Blazers are 18-7 at home and only 8-12 on the road.
  • Spurs are 18-6 at home and only 7-14 on the road.
  • T-Wolves are 15-7 at home and only 6-16 on the road.
  • Pelicans are 15-6 at home and 6-17 on the road.
  • Mavs are 16-5 at home and 4-18 on the road.

There you have 11 teams – – 37% of the league – – with highly unbalanced home and away records.  Considering that, there is one team that has a slightly better road record than a home record as of this morning.  You will probably not be gobsmacked to learn that team is the New York Knickerbockers.  They are 4-14 at home and 6-19 on the road.  The Knicks stink no matter where they play – – but they are slightly more odiferous in Madison Square Garden.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times about another wedding proposal related to the sports world:

“A man proposed to his girlfriend when she hit the 16-mile mark while running her first New York City Marathon.

“He would’ve done it at 15, but he wanted her to go the extra mile.”

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

 

 

Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You

Over the last month or so, there were a couple of “incidents” at NFL venues where fans of the home team decided that the home team needed “vociferous negative feedback” regarding their performance on the field.  The level of the fans’ vocal displeasure offended some of the home team players to the point that they lashed out at those fans in their home stadium.

  • DJ Swearinger – with the Skins at the time of these comments – said that local fans who sold their tickets to fans of the opposing team were not worthy to be called Skins’ fans and should not buy season tickets.  [Aside: With game attendance cratering in DC, I am sure the folks in the Skins’ business office were thrilled to hear him say that.]
  • Josh Norman of the Skins said something to the effect that he preferred to play away games because when he is on the visiting team, he expects to be booed.  He stopped short of any expletives to describe the home fans, but he was clearly angry and chastising the home fans.  [Aside:  Imagine how happy he might be if Skins’ fans started referring to FedEx Field as FedUp Field.]
  • In the Ravens/Chargers playoff game in Baltimore, the home fans were vociferously unhappy with Lamar Jackson and his performance for the first 45 minutes of the game and were upset when he – and not Joe Flacco – took the field early in the 4th quarter.  After the game, Ravens OT, Ronnie Stanley, said that as athletes they expect support from their fans all the time.

These sorts of comments and reactions from players have to considered in the moment and not as dogma.  Players need to be emotionally committed to play NFL football; if they are not focused on the game and their preparations for the game, they are not going to last long in the league.  In the context of that emotional bubble they exist in, home fans booing them is a form of cognitive dissonance.  When players react emotionally – and negatively – to such a situation, we need to avoid an equally emotional response to their anger/frustration/whatever.

Having said that, once the adrenaline has subsided and everyone can take a calmer look at the concept of “fan behavior”, I think there are a few guideposts in the landscape that need to be recognized:

  1. Any actions or verbiage by fans that are obscene or racially offensive should never be tolerated.  Those fans should be discovered – with the assistance of real fans – and removed from the premises.  Players, coaches and officials need not hear from or observe those people.
  2. Any actions by fans that presents a danger to a game participant – throwing a rock or a beer bottle – is totally unacceptable and must be called out.

With those sorts of limitations, players need to be very cautions about criticizing fans behavior(s).  The fact of the matter is that NFL players are partners with NFL owners in an enterprise that generates close to $20B in revenue annually.  All that money comes from the fans in terms of their TV viewing leading to ad revenue to ticket sales to jersey sales to …  It does not make a lot of sense to assault, insult or dismiss the source of all that revenue that winds up in the players’ and the owners’ pockets.

The next time you hear about a player going off on this vector heading, resist and rebut any argument that defends the fans’ First Amendment rights to say what the want.  This is NOT a First Amendment issue; the government is not restricting any rights of expression here.  What the player is doing in these sorts of cases is berating the people who are providing him the means to earn a living playing football.  Viewed from that perspective, any such commentary outside any moments of adrenaline rush make exactly no sense at all.

Make no mistake, fan commitment to NFL football – as opposed to any individual player(s) or any less-than-successful team(s) – rings the cash register very loudly.  Consider:

  • In 2015, the Super Bowl produced the largest TV audience in history – 114.4 million viewers.
  • In 2016 the Super Bowl had 112.2 million viewers
  • In 2017, the Super Bowl had 111.9 million viewers
  • In 2018, the Super Bowl had 103,4 million viewers

That level of popularity is what allows networks to charge advertisers seemingly outrageous fees to buy ad time for the game.  According to reports, CBS is virtually sold out of its commercial slots for this year’s game and they are charging $5.2M for a single 30-second slot during the game itself.  Projections say that CBS will pull in more than last year’s record haul by NBC for Super Bowl Sunday which was $414M.  Adweek.com says that over the course of the season, network advertising revenue for all NFL games totaled $3.91B – up about 4% from last year.

The networks take in all that money because advertisers know there are people tuned in to see and hear their sales pitches.  And because those advertisers want to make their pitches to those NFL fans, they pay what the networks charge.  And that allows the NFL to negotiate humongous TV rights deals…  If this sounds like “trickle down economics”, that is because it is “trickle down economics”.  Players need to keep this somewhere in their consciousness when they are tempted to lash out at fans who think they ought to be playing better than they are.

Finally, since I mentioned Josh Norman above, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding another of Norman’s pronouncements:

“Cornerback Josh Norman told reporters, ‘you can kiss my ass goodbye; I’m out’ if he ever wins a Super Bowl.

“If Norman stays with Washington, keep this in mind:  George Blanda – who was 48 during the 1975 season – holds the record for the oldest NFL player.”

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

 

 

The Value Of Coaching Stability…

Since most NFL coaching vacancies have been filled, I think it is interesting to observe the situation that exists in the AFC East.  The Patriots hired Bill Belichick in 2000; he has been “the football guy” in New England since then.  After going 5-11 in his first season with the Pats, his teams have never had a losing season – or even one with a .500 record – to this day.  Moreover, the Pats have had double-digit wins in 16 consecutive seasons.  The organization has been a model of consistency and consistent success.

It is interesting to look at the other three teams in the AFC East from 2000 to the present:

  1. Buffalo Bills:  At the end of the 2000 season, Wade Phillips was fired.  Since then, the Bills have had 9 head coaches – including two interim head coaches who took over when the guy in charge was fired before the season ended.  None of those 9 head coaches since Wade Phillips – including the current incumbent – has posted a winning record.  The Bills have had 10 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Bills’ record has been 127-177.
  2. Miami Dolphins:  In 2000, the Dolphins hired Dave Wannstedt as their head coach; he lasted 3.5 seasons in Miami.  Since then, the Dolphins have hired and fired 8 head coaches and they are one of the teams still in search of a new coach as of this morning.  The Dolphins have had – including interim head coaches – 9 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Dolphins record has been 144-160.
  3. New York Jets:  In 2000, the Jets hired Al Groh as their head coach; he lasted 1 season in NYC.  Since then, the Jets have had 4 head coaches – and just hired the guy the Dolphins just fired.  The Jets have had 5 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Jets record has been 141-163.

The Pats have had one guy in charge for 19 seasons and their record has been 225-79.  The rest of the division has had a total of 24 guys in charge over the last 19 seasons and none of the teams have been able to break even on the field over that period of time.

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com said over the weekend something that I have been preaching for several years now.  He said that NFL GMs on unsuccessful football teams tend to get a pass from the owners for the lack of success while coaches get the axe for on field futility.  You can point to several current examples – Cardinals, Jets, Bucs – but I think the most blatant example is here in Washington where Danny Boy Snyder has run through 8 head coaches over the last 20 years and 2 GMs.  Only one coach in those 2 decades left with a record at .500; that was Marty Schottenheimer who was fired after one season with an 8-8 record; every other coach – including the second coming of Joe Gibbs – left DC with a losing record.

The first Skins GM of this period was Vinnie Cerrato.  Looking back at some of the drafting decisions made in his tenure is comedy gold and he was the architect of some disastrously bad free agent signings too.  He actually had his own radio show on the sports talk station that Snyder owned in this area; he took time to prepare for and do that show while the team was languishing below .500 on the field.  Cerrato lasted about 10 years and was replaced by Bruce Allen who has distinguished himself by continuing the losing record of the team but not making a public spectacle of himself while that is going on.  In fact, he has not spoken to the press in almost 600 days.  D.B. Cooper is easier to find than Bruce Allen.

Here is a link to Jason LaCanfora’s column on CBSSports.com.  I think it is high time we all start to look at the roster-builders for unsuccessful teams when we are handing out blame for why there is a lack of success.

I don’t know what is going on in Pittsburgh, but it would seem as if the Steelers are trying to raise their public profile.  There is an inordinate amount of drama emanating from that franchise – over and above the drama that has seemed to be the norm under Mike Tomlin’s regime there.  I like Mike Tomlin; he seems like an intelligent man who is far more open and revealing than 99% of his peers.  I also think he is a good coach even though his teams are not always the most disciplined squads.  But the last year or so has been over the top there:

  • The LeVeon Bell contract hassle in the offseason was far too public and the questions about when he might or might not return to the team once the season began were far too numerous.
  • Several offensive linemen basically said they did not care if Bell came back to the team or not.  That is atypical for an NFL team…
  • The running back position was cobbled together with James Connor and others when he got hurt.  The running back position may not have been what it might have been with LeVeon Bell there, but it did not embarrass the team.  So, now that the coach-shuffling season is on, the Steelers decided to fire the running backs coach.  Say what?
  • Antonio Brown is a diva; lots of WRs are divas; lots of very good WRs are divas.  But there have been diva WRs who managed to stay short of getting into open arguments with the star QB and – reportedly – throwing a football at him in practice such that the two needed to be “sent to time outs”.  Evidently, the problem is so fundamental here that the Steelers are exploring a trade for Brown even though it will cost them about $20M in dead cap space next year.
  • In order not to take sides in a dispute where I clearly do not know enough to take sides, it seems perfectly clear to me that Ben Roethlisberger is not demonstrating anything related to leadership skills in this mess – and maybe he is part of the unfolding and public drama in Pittsburgh?

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers need to get all of this tied down and under control.  For the last several years, the only team the Steelers had to worry about were the Ravens; the Browns stunk, and the Bengals always invented new ways to inflict wounds upon themselves.  The Ravens are still a worthy rival AND the Browns now have a young core of very talented players.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this comment about the Antonio Brown situation with regard to his teammates in Pittsburgh:

“Steelers’ star receiver Antonio Brown skipped practice and went incommunicado in the days leading up to the team benching him for the season finale.

“Probably not the fade pattern his coaches had in mind.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/11/19

On January 11, 1973, the MLB owners voted to allow the American League to institute the designated hitter.  Nothing nearly that momentous or long-lasting is going to happen here on January 11, 2019, but it is a Friday.  And that means it is a Football Friday…

College Football Commentary:

College football is over; Clemson won the national championship on the field in a most convincing manner; we shall be seeing several of the Clemson players on Sunday afternoons starting next September.

I would like to make one final comment about college football and it has nothing to do with the CFP.  I think that Pat Fitzgerald – the head coach at Northwestern – does not get nearly the recognition that he deserves for the job he has done with the program there.  If you look at Northwestern’s football fortunes going back to 1978, most of that 40-year period has been bleak at best.  Here are some data regarding the Northwestern coaches over the time span:

  • 1978-1980  Rick Venturi  1-31-1
  • 1981-1985  Dennis Green  10-45
  • 1986-1991  Francis Peay  13-51-2
  • 1992-1998  Gary Barnett  35-45-1
  • 1999-2005  Randy Walker  37-46
  • 2006 – –     Pat Fitzgerald  87-65

Indeed, each coach at Northwestern represented a step up the respectability scale from 1978 to the present but the biggest step of all is the one that happened under Fitzgerald’s watch.

NFL Commentary:

I said in a previous rant that I was rooting for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl because I thought that was THE missing entry on Andy Reid’s résumé and that without a win in the Super Bowl he would be consigned to the “Hall of Very Good Coaches”.  The fact that I said I was rooting for it does not mean that I am going to skew the commentary here about the Chiefs.  In fact, the reason I said I was rooting for this to happen – as opposed to saying that I thought it would happen and that I would be happy when it did – is that I believe the Chiefs’ defense is insufficient to bring that title to KC.

Moreover, there is another Super Bowl matchup that would provide an interesting storyline:

  • If the Saints play the Chargers in the Super Bowl, the opposing QBs would be Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.  They were teammates in San Diego until 2006 when the Chargers let Brees go in free agency – after suffering a major shoulder injury and surgical repair to be sure – and kept Philip Rivers as his replacement.  Brees has been in New Orleans ever since; Rivers has been the starting QB for the Chargers ever since.

Since I mentioned the idea of the Saints going to the Super Bowl, consider this stat I ran across last week:

  • In February 2010, the Saints won the Super Bowl.  In the 2009 season leading up to that game the Saints had a 13-3 record and the three losses were to the Bucs, Cowboys and Panthers.
  • In the 2018 regular season just concluded, the Saints had a 13-3 record and their three losses were to – you guessed it – the Bucs, Cowboys and Panthers.

Cue Rod Serling and the creepy Twilight Zone music…

Three of the four losing QBs in last week’s wildcard round were making their playoff debuts.

  1. Lamar Jackson had a terrible game for the first 50 minutes.  Then he led a mass scramble to make a game of it in the final minutes.  Jackson is very effective with the ball in open space, but he still has lots to learn to be an NFL quarterback. He was sacked seven times, threw an INT, fumbled three times, and lost a fumble in the final minute of the game.
  2. Mitchell Trubisky played well – – but not very well.  He had the Bears in position to win the game until the football gods deemed that Nick Foles be granted a pass into the next round of the playoffs.
  3. Deshaun Watson had a sub-par game.  At least a part of his diminished effectiveness can be attributed to the fact that he was running for his life on more than one occasion and DeAndre Hopkins suffered a shoulder injury in the first half.

By the way, Patrick Mahomes makes his NFL playoff debut with the Chiefs this weekend …

  • John Harbaugh has been the coach of the Ravens for 11 seasons; his teams have made the playoffs 7 times in that span.  The Ravens won 1 Super Bowl game with Harbaugh on the sidelines.  Last week was the first time Harbaugh’s Ravens lost a first round playoff game.
  • Pete Carroll has been the coach of the Seahawks for 9 seasons; his teams have made the playoffs 7 times in that span.  The Seahawks won 1 Super Bowl game with Carroll on the sidelines.  Last week was the first time Carroll’s Seahawks lost a first round playoff game.

Is there an echo in here…?

The Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks came down to something very basic.  Both teams win by running the ball well and playing tough defense.  Last week, the Cowboys ran the ball better than the Seahawks and played better defense too.  The Seahawks averaged 160 yards rushing per game over the 2018 season; last week they could only find 73 yards on 24 carries.  That is 3 yards per carry and that is not good enough – even for a Woody Hayes team.

The Colts advanced over the Texans playing the most complete game of the weekend.  Andrew Luck was surgically effective in the first half and the Texans could not cover TY Hilton.  I am not sure they would have stopped Hilton had he been forced to wear a ball and chain given how open he was on a couple of throws.  The Colts were 9 of 14 on third down conversions.  Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense just smothered the Texans’ offense.  Deshaun Watson has never been – and probably never will be – the same pinpoint-accuracy passer that Andrew Luck is, but Watson underperformed last week.  In the 4th quarter when the Texans had to throw a lot to try to catch up, many of his throws were not nearly where they needed to be.

Before I get to the games this weekend, I believe that I have compiled the following data accurately.  Here are the 12 teams that made the playoffs this year along with the record that each team has against other teams in the playoffs.  Note that teams have different numbers of games against “playoff opponents”.

In the NFC:

  • Saints  3-1
  • Bears  2-1
  • Rams  4-3
  • Cowboys  3-3
  • Eagles  3-3
  • Seahawks  2-4

In the AFC:

  • Pats  4-0
  • Texans  2-3
  • Chargers  2-3
  • Colts  2-3
  • Chiefs  2-4
  • Ravens  1-2

NFL Games This Weekend:

Since the 2011 playoffs, teams getting a first-round BYE have done very well after that week of rest.  Teams coming off the BYE are 21-7 straight up since then.  However, the record of teams coming off a BYE against the spread is much less impressive; those teams are only 12-16 against the spread.  I believe this reflects the betting public’s infatuation with betting favorites combined with the perception that teams getting a BYE must be significantly better than those consigned to play a first-round game.  Those two factors combine to inflate spreads leading to the significant disparity in the records cited here.

(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Indy at KC – 5.5 (56.5):  Andy Reid’s teams built up a mystique in the early part of his coaching career.  His teams won their first 12 games off a BYE Week.  His teams are longer perfect in such situations, but he must have figured out something that works.  And yes, the Chiefs had a BYE last week…  The last time the Chiefs and Colts met in the playoffs was the game where the Chiefs led 38-10 in the 3rd quarter and the Colts managed to rally and win the game 45-44.  That was in the 2013 playoffs; there are not a lot of coaches and players from that game who will participate this weekend.  One thing that the Chiefs must find a way to do is to keep Colts’ RB, Marlon Mack from running amok.  Mack gained 1266 yards this season and averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 12 games.  Last week, he gained 148 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.  The Chiefs run defense is not very good, so they will need to “scheme things up” to find a way to stop Marlon Mack.  Even if they do that, I think this game will still be a struggle; the Colts are more than just “a hot team”; the Colts are very good, AND they are a well-balanced team.  They can run and pass on offense; their defense is much better than is its public image.  Here is a matchup that will be interesting to watch:

  • Patrick Mahomes has thrown 50 TD passes this year.
  • The Colts’ defense has allowed only 21 TD passes this year.

If the Colts’ defense can keep Mahomes from running amok, I think this will be a blowout win for the Colts because I expect the Colts to score north of 30 points in this game.  I am going to call this an offensive shoot-out and take the Colts plus the points and the game to go OVER.  I have got one trend going for me and another going against me here:

  • Indy is 11-4 against the spread in their last 15 games against the Chiefs.
  • Colts/Chiefs have gone UNDER in 6 of their last 8 meetings.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Dallas at Rams – 7 (50):  The last time the Cowboys played in the LA Coliseum, Roger Staubach was their QB.  The year was 1979; here are some events from 1979:

  • Jimmy Carter was the President
  • The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced
  • The Chicago White Sox held “Disco Demolition Night”.

This game has some ties to the past – albeit not as far back as 1979.  Wade Philips was the defensive coordinator and the head coach of the Cowboys from 2007 until the middle of the 2010 season.  This week he will be on the Rams’ sideline as the defensive coordinator trying to figure out how to contain Ezekiel Elliott.  That is the prime objective for the Rams in this game; the Rams run defense is the worst in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per carry; the Rams give up 5.1 yards per carry for the season and the defense will face a significant test here.  The Cowboys are most successful when they run the ball and Ezekiel Elliott is an elite RB.  Last week against a good run defense, Elliott ran for 137 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.  If he does that again here, the Cowboys will control the clock and will probably win the game straight up.  Make no mistake, the Rams’ offense will give the Cowboys’ defense plenty to deal with too.  I think that the Cowboys will contain the Rams and I think that Wade Phillips will find a way to hold Elliott under 100 yards making this a close game.  If I am right, that line is as fat as Haystacks Calhoun (Google is your friend).  I’ll take the Cowboys plus the points.

  • If you are so tempted, the Money Line odds on the Cowboys is +275 this morning…

(Sun 1:00 PM EST) Chargers at New England – 4 (47):  The Chargers lost one “road game” this year; that “road game” was in Los Angeles against the Rams.  When the Chargers have played in any venue – including London – outside LA, the team record is 8-0.  Before you charging to the betting window to get down on the Chargers here, consider these two other stats:

  • The Pats are 8-0 at home this year.  This game is in Foxboro.
  • Tom Brady is 7-0 in games where Philip Rivers has been the opposing QB.

These teams are very evenly matched:

  • Pats scored 436 points this year – – Chargers scored 428 points
  • Pats allowed 325 points this year – – Chargers allowed 329 points

I make this purely a venue cal.  I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.

(Sun 4:40 PM EST) Philly at New Orleans – 8 (51):  These two teams met on this field in mid-November and the Saints won in a romp 48-7.  That is probably part of the explanation for the spread expanding from 7 points on Monday morning to this level today – – and there are two Internet sports books that have the game as high as 9.5 points this morning.  That was clearly the Eagles’ nadir for the season – particularly for the defense.  The Eagles’ defensive unit has played quite well for the last month and so it will be incumbent on those folks to do something different and hold the Saints’ offense in check.  One thing that might help the defense accomplish that end would be for the Eagles’ running game to wake up and give those defensive players a bit of a blow between Saints’ possessions.  To say that the Eagles’ run game was immaterial last week against the Bears would pay it a compliment.  The Eagles ran the ball for 42 yards on 23 carries; that sort of performance don’t feed the bulldog.  Nick Foles pulled another rabbit out of the hat in the final 4 minutes of last week’s game.  Pulling rabbits out of hats is easy – – as long as you have put a rabbit in there ahead of time.  I have no idea if he brought a rabbit – or even a rabbit’s foot – with him on this trip to New Orleans.  I think the Saints will win this game, but I’ll take the Eagles plus more than a TD’s worth of points and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Finally, consider these comments from two sportswriters about Saints’ all-purpose player, Taysom Hill:

“Former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill has rushed for a touchdown, completed a pass, caught a pass, returned a kick, blocked a punt and made a tackle on special teams.

“Is there any doubt he’ll someday own the Saints?”  [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

And …

“The Saints’ Taysom Hill, in the first 13 games this season, has completed a pass, a pass reception, a touchdown, a kickoff return, a blocked punt and a special teams’ tackle to his credit.

“We sense a Swiss Army Knife endorsement in the future.”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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

 

 

NFL Coaching Hires So Far…

I am an old, fat guy.  In terms of physical appearance and charm, I reside right there at the same point on the scale as Shrek.  I have not descended to the depths of Jabba the Hut – – but I appear to be trending in that direction.  This is not something that keeps me awake at night; I live by the simple self-awareness of Popeye the Sailor:

“I yam what I yam…”

However, my age and my “charm level” does give me standing to be highly offended by the early coaching hiring decisions in the NFL.  Two of the early hires appear to me to be “underqualified, young pretty boys”.  Rather than use my life status as a way to feign outrage at the blatant ageism and grotesque-ism on display here, I will simply tell you why I was really surprised by the decisions to hire Matt LaFleur in Green Bay and Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona.

  1. Matt LaFleur was the Skins’ QB coach when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator.  His pupils at the time included RG3, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy; the Skins enjoyed little success during that period and none of his student QBs have shown greatness to date.  He spent 2 years with the Falcons as their QB coach when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator there.  They went to a Super Bowl, but it would be a stretch to say that LaFleur was the instrument of a career emergence for Matt Ryan in Atlanta.  Please note that when Shanahan took off from the Falcons to take over the Niners, he did not take LaFleur with him.  Last year, LaFleur got a promotion to be the offensive coordinator for the Titans and worked with Marcus Mariota there.  Let’s just say that the Titans’ offense scared just about no one in the NFL; I could make a case that Mariota regressed slightly last year, but I am willing to attribute that to having a new offensive system that he had to learn.  And now, Matt LaFleur is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
  2. Kliff Kingsbury was the head coach at Texas Tech – his alma mater by the way – from 2013 until last month when he was fired.  Prior to that, he had been an offensive coordinator at University of Houston and Texas A&M.  His overall head coaching record in college is 35-40 despite coaching the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech.  Last year, Texas Tech was 5-8 and three of those wins came over Lamar, E. Washington and Kansas.  And now, Kliff Kingsbury is the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Maybe one of these guys is the “next Sean McVay” or maybe he is even the “next Bill Walsh” in terms of offensive innovation.  If that is the case, I will tip my hat to them and say that GMs in Green Bay and Arizona were brilliant in seeing whatever it was that they saw because there is nothing tangible on the curriculum vitae of either of these guys to say that he should be one of the first guys off the board in the hiring frenzy season for the NFL.

But they do look good and presentable when dressed up for a press conference…

Enough of my faux aggrievement…  There is an NFL coach who ought to be at least miffed by yesterday’s events.  Gregg Williams got his walking papers from the Browns when the team selected Freddie Kitchens as their new head coach.  Kitchens was the Browns’ offensive coordinator last year whose role with the team expanded when Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired in mid-season.  Williams’ role with the team similarly expanded then; Williams took over as the interim head coach and the Browns went 5-3 with Williams in that role.

  • Quick Quiz:  Who is the last Cleveland Browns’ head coach to leave the job with a winning record before Gregg Williams?  Answer below…

It is impossible from the outside to know all of what changed for the Browns once Haley and Jackson were gone but it would seem that both Kitchens and Williams had something going for them that was absent before the mid-season firings.  If this were a year ago and Jimmy Haslam were overseeing the hiring process, I would be skeptical about the choice; Haslam has yet to make a cogent personnel move since buying the Browns in 2012.  However, all reports say that Browns’ GM John Dorsey made this call and Dorsey is highly respected as a “football guy”.  Therefore, I will sit back and wait to see how all this pans out.  The Browns have plenty of young talent on the roster; they should be a playoff contender next year.

The selection of Kitchens as the guy to take over the tiller here combined with the immediate dismissal of Williams from the team leaves a little room for speculation about the relationship between Kitchens, Williams and Dorsey.  You would think that the strong close to the season would motivate the team to “keep the band together”.  That is not happening in Cleveland…

  • Quiz answer:  Marty Schottenheimer was the last Browns’ coach to leave the job with a winning record.  From 1984 through 1988, Schottenheimer’s Browns were 44-27.

Many NFL coaches are animated on the sidelines.  Some take it to extremes like Jerry Glanville or Pete Carroll or Bill Cowher.  However, there are some who are very restrained in their sideline demeanor; I have referred to them in the past as the “Easter Island Statue” coaches.  Tom Landry and Bill Walsh were almost aloof on the sidelines most of the time; Norv Turner often looked halfway between “bored” and “amused” on the sidelines; Jim Caldwell looked as if someone had just awakened him from a nap in his recliner; Todd Bowles’ change of expression from “outrage” to “euphoria” would be hard to detect.

And that leads me to wonder who will be the next “Easter Island Statue” coach in the NF for next year.  Ron Rivera?  Andy Reid?

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago:

“Michael Vick advised the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson to ‘proceed with caution’ when it comes to:

  • “a) running too much as an NFL quarterback
  • “b) choosing his off-the-field activities.”

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

 

 

Conspiracy Theory Of The Week …

Five years ago, the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans; the game was between the Ravens and the Niners; you should remember that game as the one where the lights went out in the third quarter for about half an hour.  The Ravens led comfortably before the lights went out but the Niners rallied once the lights came back on and made a game of it down to the final possession.  After that game, Ray Lewis – and probably some others – advanced the conspiracy theory that the league had engineered the power outage because the league wanted the Niners to win the game.  In the intervening years, I recall one time when Terrell Suggs made a similar allusion.

Before I expend another byte of memory on this rant, I have not seen a shred of anything that could even masquerade as evidence for this hypothesis nor can I conjure up a rational sequence in my mind that would suggest to me that the NFL might have cared who won that game.  But I mention it here because Russell Okung, starting OT for the LA Chargers, has asserted this week that the NFL is conspiring against the Chargers.

Okung has advanced his theory even further than I remember Lewis or Suggs taking their hypotheses; Okung called out Roger Goodell specifically by name as a part of the conspiracy.  Let me give you the rough outline of Okung’s hypothesis:

  • The Chargers’ home stadium for this year – awaiting the completion of the new stadium for the Rams and the Chargers in LA – is a 30,000-seat soccer stadium.  In terms of revenue generation and in terms of a visual comparison to the other 31 home venues, the Chargers’ Stub Hub Center comes up short.  According to Okung, the league has no problem with the Chargers making it to the Super Bowl this year – but the league is going to make them do it on the road.
  • In last week’s win over the Raiders and in the game three weeks ago against the Ravens the Chargers were in a position to win the game but in each case a holding call (against Okung in each case) nullified a run for a first down giving the Ravens chances in the two games for a victory.  Three weeks ago, that chance materialized; last week it did not.  The Chargers’ loss three weeks ago kept them from winning the AFC West and gaining the top seed in the AFC playoffs.  The holding call last week gave the Ravens a chance to eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs – but a lost fumble on the Ravens’ final possession kept the Chargers’ hopes alive.

The fact that the Chargers were not eliminated last week would seem to put the lie to the conspiracy theory here because the Chargers can still host a home game in these playoffs in that itsy-bitsy stadium.  Here is how:

  1. Colts (6th seed) beat the Chiefs (1st seed) in KC this weekend – – AND – –
  2. Chargers (5th seed) beat the Pats (2nd seed) in Foxboro this weekend.

In that event, the Chargers would be the higher seeded team for the AFC Championship and would play at home in the Stub Hub Center.

So … IF Roger Goodell and the NFL poohbahs are so hard-over on keeping the Chargers from hosting a playoff game that they would begin to exercise their plot in Week 16 of the regular season, why would they leave themselves open to the possibility of having the Chargers be the home team next week?  IF this is such a big deal, why did not these conspirators make sure that the Chargers were “one and done” in these playoffs?

Oh, I get it now…  The NFL was even more interested in getting even with the Ravens last week for beating the Niners in the Super Bowl five years ago when the “power outage ploy” was unsuccessful.  How does that song go?

“I can see clearly now …”

Moving on …

Low probability events happen every day; sometimes they happen in the sports world.  Remember the Buster Douglas win over Mike Tyson; remember the “Miracle on Ice”; remember NC State beating “Phi Slamma Jamma”.  Last weekend, there was another highly improbable sports result but this one was far more subtle.  Adam Schefter pointed it out in a Tweet:

“Bears were +2 in turnovers Sunday vs. Eagles. Home teams that were +2 in the playoffs the past 40 years were 112-4.”

In case the battery on your phone is low and you cannot use the calculator there, that means that 97% of time when the home team won the turnover battle by a margin of 2 turnovers, that home team won the game.

Now, put yourself in the mindset of a rabid sports fan in Chicago.  In a pure flight of fancy, imagine that you have a choice that cannot be overruled by any power in the known universe.  Lake Michigan has been frozen over but the ice has begun to break and there is open water out there with ice floes afloat.  You – in your omnipotence – can launch one and only one naked person onto an ice floe into the open waters of Lake Michigan consigning that person to a slow death by hypothermia.  Would you pick:

  1. Cody Parkey – – OR – –
  2. Steve Bartman?

Just asking…

Finally, since I began today talking about conspiracy theories, let me close with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Conspiracy Theorist:  Someone whom you indulged when they would go on a tirade about how the Air Force has a space alien hidden in a bunker somewhere – and to whom you gave polite audience as they maintained that the CIA killed JFK, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon – but who finally, totally and irrevocably lost you when they started talking about how humanity is actually a race of freaking lizard people.”

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

Congratulations To Clemson – CFP Champions

Well, I surely did not see that coming.  I expected Clemson/Alabama to be a close game down to the final quarter and I expected both defenses to lead the way.  The only thing I got right in that assessment was the Clemson defense taking care of its business to the nines.  The total yardage for Alabama and Clemson was almost a dead heat (difference was 52 yards) but the last time Clemson allowed a score was on the first play of the second quarter.

Congratulations to Clemson.  That is the first team ever to finish a college football season with a 15-0 record.

Bob Molinaro had this comment about last night’s CFP championship game in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“In case you missed it, the College Football Playoff committee members’ No. 5,7 and 8 teams – Georgia, Michigan, Central Florida – all lost their bowl games to lower rated teams.

“Luckily, they got Nos. 1 and 2 right.”

However, it does seem as if they got No. 1 and No. 2 in obverse order.

And, Brad Dickson posted this Tweet prior to the CFP championship game:

“Monday night Alabama plays Clemson for the national championship the same time the Andy Griffith Show is on MeTV. I plan to watch Andy Griffith because it feels like less of a rerun.”

Indeed, Alabama and Clemson have met before in the CFP tournament, but last night’s game was anything but a “rerun”.

Last month, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they were abandoning their search/plans for a new stadium.  The Rays have been plagued with poor attendance for years; the last time they averaged more than 20,000 fans per game was in 2010.  Here are attendance data for Rays’ home games over the past 3 seasons:

  • 2016:  15,879 per game – total attendance = 1.29 million
  • 2017:  15,477 per game – total attendance = 1.25 million
  • 2018:  14,259 per game – total attendance = 1.15 million

The Rays have played – and will continue to play – their home games in Tropicana Field and the team announced earlier this week that they will be making some changes in the stadium.  They are going to reduce the seating capacity yet again – – this time to give the fans a more intimate experience.  Before I get to the rhetorical gas surrounding this matter, allow me to give you an overview of the history of Tropicana Field and its seating capacity:

  • When the Rays played their first game there in 1998, the seating capacity was 45,369.
  • Between 1999 and 2010, seating capacity was reduced 6 times such that in 2010 the place would hold 36,973.
  • Two more seating capacity reductions between 2010 and 2018 meant the Rays played in a facility last year that would seat 31,042.
  • Over the two decades the Rays have played in Tropicana Field, the facility has shrunk by 32%.

The current announcement says that starting in 2019, Tropicana Field will have 25,000 seats.  If the Rays miraculously managed to sell out every seat in the stadium for every home game in some future season, they would only draw 2,025,000 fans.  In 2018, twenty teams in MLB surpassed that attendance mark.  What this downsizing means is that the Rays are consigning themselves to the bottom third of the MLB attendance scale.  The team lease on the stadium runs through 2027.  I shall not be surprised to hear from Rays’ ownership about their measly attendance figures starting sometime around 2024…

Here is what the team will do in this round of renovations/downsizing:

  • The upper deck will be closed and new “premium seating” will be added to the lower deck in left field.
  • There will be changes made to exits and entrances to the stadium to make those processes more convenient.  [Aside:  If attendance continues to drop, they will not need to worry about easy access and egress from the facility.]
  • The current artificial turf on the field will be replaced by a new artificial turf that will supposedly be more durable than the current turf because there are lots of other events (concerts and the like) held in the stadium.
  • Lighting will be replaced with LED bulbs that will reduce energy consumption while adding more light to the facility.

Here is what Matt Silverman – president of the Tampa Bay Rays – told MLB.com about these moves:

“These renovations mark our continued commitment to providing a first-rate fan experience at Tropicana Field.  Together, in concert with the reduction in seating capacity, these investments will help create a more intimate, entertaining and appealing experience for our fans.”

If someone were to set the OVER/UNDER line for Rays average attendance in 2019 – in the new “more intimate, entertaining and appealing” stadium – at 15,000, which way would you go?

Finally, Dwight Perry had this to say in the Seattle Times recently:

“The first 12 games of the World Chess Championship between Norway’s Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana of the U.S. produced zero wins and 12 draws.

“‘Hey, trying coming up with your own shtick next time,’ said Major League Soccer.”

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

 

 

Off On A Football Tangent Today …

There was a play in the Eagles/Bears game yesterday that demonstrates a hole in the new NFL rule on “what is a catch”.  If you recall, the Bears completed a pass; the receiver had the ball and took several steps before he was stripped of the ball before he was down.  The ball sat on the field; no one recovered it – – AND – – the back judge came running up to the place where the receiver was on the ground signaling an incomplete pass.  I could not hear it, but presumably he was also blowing his whistle to signal the end of the play and the need to stop the clock on the pass he had just ruled was incomplete.

No one made a clear recovery of that ball lying there on the field around the 10-yardline.  Of course not; everyone in the vicinity saw the official signal an incomplete pass; there is no reason to try to “recover” an incomplete pass.  The problem with the rule as written or as interpreted is this:

  • Since the replay showed a legal catch followed by a fumble – and not an incomplete pass as called – and since there was no “clear recovery” of the fumble demonstrated by the replay, there was no way to allow the reality of the fumble to determined what to do with the next play.  Therefore, the call on the field – despite being clearly demonstrated as incorrect – had to stand.

The NFL Competition Committee must have this as Item #1 on its agenda for its meeting later this year…

Last week, I pointed out that reports about the demise of NFL popularity may be a tad premature.  Ratings are up, and NFL football dominated the sports viewing calendar for 2018.  If you watch games on the weekends, you know the feeling of being bombarded by ads at every stoppage of play and you also must have determined that there is a rhythm and flow to which ad goes in which slot in the games.  Here is a tally of the most frequent advertisers on 2018 NFL games; the ones listed as the Top 5 in terms of frequency should be no surprise; the order may surprise you but not the advertisers:

  • Number 1:  Geico
  • Number 2:  Verizon
  • Number 3:  Pizza Hut
  • Number 4:  Burger King
  • Number 5:  Bud Light  [Dilly!  Dilly!]

Actually, I was surprised by one thing about this “Top 5”.  I would have thought that there were more ads for Progressive Insurance than there were for Pizza Hut – – but the data say I would have been incorrect in that assumption.  In addition, total ad revenue generated by all the ads on NFL regular season games was up a little over 3% for 2018 as compared to the 2017 regular season.

Last week, adweek.com reported that Super Bowl advertising slots are bringing in something “north of $5 million” for a 30-second spot during the game.  If that price holds true, CBS will join NBC from last year’s telecast going over $500M for total advertising revenue for the day.  The game itself should draw about $350M for 30-second slots and the other $150M or so will come from pre-game and post-game slots.

The Raiders – I don’t know if it is proper to identify them as the Oakland Raiders any more since they may play their home games in Fargo, ND next year for all we know – hired Mike Mayock to be their GM about a week ago.  Mayock has been a TV analyst and “draft guru” for several networks over the past decade or so.  He replaces Reggie McKenzie who had been the Raiders’ GM for almost 6 years until he was fired in early December of last year.  Recognizing that the NFL – like many other professional sporting leagues – is a copycat league”, here is something to ponder:

  • If Mayock is highly successful in building a competitive roster for the Raiders, which team will be the one to jump in and make a pre-emptive offer to Mel Kiper, Jr. to be its GM?

The week after the NFL concludes its season with Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, there will still be professional football to watch – – if your cable package includes CBS Sports Network.  The Alliance of American Football will commence then.  Next year, there will presumably be two pro leagues cooking in the springtime assuming that the AAF survives and that XFL 2.0 comes into existence.  And – believe it or not – there is a third new football enterprise that could become a reality.

About a month ago, Ricky Williams announced something called the Freedom Football League.  Williams said that he was joined by Terrell Owens, Simeon Rice and 50 former players as stakeholders in this enterprise.  Here is part of William’s announcement:

“It’s a new spring football league, and it’s for the fans and it’s by the players. It all started with a bunch of guys sitting around a table, talking about the good old days and realizing ‘you know? We have a lot of experience. We’ve been there before, we know how to do it, what if we started a league and really made it about developing young men?'”

The FFL will start with 10 teams and will get its players from “…those defecting from the NFL, graduating college or high school or playing in international or alternative professional football leagues.”  Based on an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Williams indicates that the FFL will have social objectives as well as athletic and economic objectives:

“When I grew up watching football, I really wanted to be like Jim Brown, not because of what he did on a field, but because he could take that platform and have a voice. And so, when I got to the NFL expecting that to be the case, anytime a big social issue came up we were told: ‘Be quiet … It’s a distraction.’ And so really [we’re] changing the conversation.”

Based on what I know now, I have no way to anticipate what the league will look like or where it will be located.  Obviously, that means I have no way to assess its potential viability.  If it really “about developing young men”, I wish it great success; if this is merely a football version of the “AND 1 basketball exhibition tour”, then I hope it dries up and blows away.

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

“A 46-year old Irish woman who claims she’s married to a 300-year old pirate called Jack now says she wants to divorce him.

“As for Jack, he reportedly ran off with Mantei T’eo’s girlfriend.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/4/19

Today is the first Friday of the New Year and I shall acknowledge that fact with the first Football Friday of the New Year.  And so, without further ado…

College Football Commentary:

Bob Molinaro made an important – and interesting – observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot this week

“Bottom line: Secondary market ticket prices for Monday’s title game in Santa Clara, Calif., are plummeting. There may even be a few empty seats at Levi’s Stadium when Alabama and Clemson take the field. With two Southern teams playing out West, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Many partisans just can’t afford the trek. The relative lack of interest in tickets among the general public is a reminder that college football passions burn hottest in the South. Alabama and Clemson meeting for the fourth year in a row sends the same signal.”

The important part of that comment is the phrase “… college football passions burn hottest in the South.”  That is not a knock on the sport; it is simply a recognition of reality.  If the Alabama/Clemson game were to be played in Atlanta or Charlotte or New Orleans – or even Miami – there would not be an empty seat in the stadium and there would be as many standing room tickets sold as the local fire marshal would allow.

College Football Championship Game:

(Mon. Nite) Clemson vs Alabama – 5 (59.5) Game is in Santa Clara, CA:  The spread opened at 7 points and the Total Line opened at 62.5 points.  Early money went to Clemson and the UNDER but the line has been steady for about the last 48 hours.  If Alabama wins here, it would be the 6th national championship for that team under the tutelage of Nick Saban.  Bear Bryant also won 6 national championships at Alabama and Bryant is still a revered figure in that part of the world 35 years after his death.  [Aside:  If Alabama wins, it will be Nick Saban’s 7th overall national championship; he also won one at LSU about 15 years ago.]  Both teams will face the best defense they have seen all year.  I expect a close game, so I’ll take Clemson plus the points.  I would prefer not to pick the Total Line here.  I am confident that this will not be a “Big-12 kind of game” where the loser might score in the high-forties.  Other than that…

NFL Commentary:

There has been a line of thinking out there for the past several years that football is a sport on the wane and that the NFL lost a lot of popularity from the way it treated Colin Kaepernick.  I have no interest in worrying about that narrative because I have thought that most of the rhetoric was overblown to begin with.  Now there is some interesting data for the “football nay-sayers” to explain.

Sportsmediawatch.com had a report this week containing the following information:

  1. Regarding television audiences in the US, 80% of the top-rated sports programs in 2018 were NFL games.  [Remember, 2018 also had the Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.]
  2. The Eagles/Patriots Super Bowl game had fewer viewers in 2018 than in 2017 but it still drew 103.4 million viewers.  The next highest sports program – also an NFL playoff game – had only 44.1 million viewers.
  3. The top 7 TV audiences were for NFL games; the program in 8th place was the Alabama/Georgia CFP Championship Game.
  4. Overall, NFL ratings were up 5% in 2018 as compared to 2017.  Football is not dead.

If you want to browse through the data to find out where a specific event may have been on the TV ratings list, here is a link to the report:

NFL Games:

There are 4 games this weekend as the top two seeds in both conferences get a BYE Week to rest up and prepare to host games next weekend.

(Sat 4:30PM EST) Indy at Houston – 1 (48): Way back at the start of this season, I said that the Colts’ fortunes would depend on the health of Andrew Luck’s shoulder.  Indeed they have, and his shoulder is just fine.  I would imagine that Andrew Luck and JJ Watt would be the top contenders for Comeback Player of the Year and they will be going at one another in this game.  These two teams are about as evenly matched as that 1-point spread would indicate.  Consider:

  • Texans are 11-5 – – Colts are 10-6.
  • Both teams were 6-2 at home
  • Both teams were 4-2 in the AFC South Division
  • Texans point differential is +86 – – Colts’ point differential is +89.
  • Texans’ defense is ranked 12th in the NFL – – Colts’ defense is ranked 11th in the NFL
  • Texans are 11-2 in their last 13 games – – Colts are 10-1 in their last 11 games.

Call this a Two Peas In A Pod Game…

The biggest difference here is the way the teams protect the QB.  The Colts’ OL has been very good this year; Andrew Luck has not been beaten within an inch of his life.  On the other hand, the Texans’ OL has given up 62 sacks and Deshaun Watson has avoided plenty of other sacks just by running for his life.  Another interesting thing to watch for in this game is how much help DeAndre Hopkins gets from the rest of the Texans’ WR corps that has seen two good wideouts go down to injury this season.  If one of the Texans’ ‘new guys” does not make the Colts’ secondary acknowledge the presence, Hopkins will be double-teamed all day.  Purely a venue call here; I’ll take the Texans and lay the point.

Here is a trend that I will be going against with that pick:

  • Road team is 7-1-2 against the spread in the last 10 meetings between these teams.

(Sat 8:15PM EST) Seattle at Dallas – 2.5 (43):  The spread opened the week at 1-point and has risen slowly but steadily all week long.  Both teams win using the same formula.  When they run the ball successfully and play solid defense, they win.  The Cowboys have the better running back in Ezekiel Elliott; the Seahawks have the better QB in Russell Wilson.  The Seahawks beat the Cowboys earlier this year but that was before the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper and presented something more than a token passing threat.  Just a hunch, but I like the Seahawks plus the points here – – even though the Cowboys are very good at home (7-1 this year) and the Seahawks are mediocre on the road (4-4 this year).

Here are two conflicting trends at work for the Cowboys:

  • Cowboys are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 games.
  • Cowboys are 3-11 against the spread in their last 11 playoff games.

(Sun 1:00 PM EST) Chargers at Baltimore – 3 (41.5):  The early start to this game is not optimal for the Chargers coming almost 3000 miles across 3 time zones to the kickoff.  On the other side of that balance however is the fact that the Chargers have been a better road team than a home team this year (7-1 on the road versus 5-3 at home).  These teams met two weeks ago in LA and the Ravens won that game holding Philip Rivers under 200 yards passing and intercepting him twice.  On offense, the Ravens used a power running game to control the clock and the tempo; I presume the Chargers’ coaches will have the team ready to counter that sort of offense.  The Ravens have the advantage on special teams.  I like the Ravens to win and cover here; I also like the game to stay UNDER.

Here are trends at work for this game:

  • Chargers have gone UNDER in 20 of their last 28 games against AFC teams.
  • Ravens are 6-1-1 to go UNDER in their last 8 playoff games.
  • Ravens are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 games in January.

(Sun 4:30 PM EST) Philly at Chicago – 6.5 (41) The spread here opened at 4.5 points and has been slowly increasing as the week progressed.  The Eagles are the only team returning to the playoffs from last year who are playing in this wild-card weekend; all four of the teams with BYE Weeks were in the playoffs last year and they get a week off here.  I wrote the Eagles off earlier this year; I was wrong about that.  I did not think they could sweep the Rams, Texans and Skins in their final 3 games – – but they did.  The Bears’ defense leads the league in points allowed – only 17.7 points per game – and the Bears have not allowed more than 17 points in their last 4 games.  The Eagles’ defense has played well for the last month; they will need to contain the Bears’ run game and then try to force Mitchell Trubisky to beat them through the air.  If the Bears can run the ball, the Bears will win the game comfortably.  The Eagles have covered in 4 of their last 5 games and there is always the possibility of some more “Nick Foles Magic”.  I’ll take the Eagles plus the points.

Here are opposing trends for this game:

  • Eagles are 6-2 against the spread in their last 8 playoff games on the road
  • Bears are 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 games as the favorite.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Fruitcake:  A gift given to you last Christmas by people who shrewdly anticipated your needing a doorstop this Christmas.”

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

 

 

Ring In The New…

Here in Curmudgeon Central, the passing of one year to the next causes me to write Bad Ads for the previous year.  In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the passing of one year to the next means that Gene Collier publishes his awarding of the Trite Trophy on the last Sunday of the year.  This year marked the 35th time the Trite Trophy has been awarded – and has been the case in previous years, the result is well worth the time it would take you to read it.

If this event is not marked as a reminder on your calendars, let me provide you with a link here to this year’s “award ceremony”.

In addition to Gene Collier’s annual contribution to enjoyable reading, I can always count on Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle to offer up some insightful – and often wishful – ideas for New Year’s resolutions.  Here are four ideas from his compendium for 2019:

“To knuckle down and finally finish writing that book I haven’t started.”

And …

“To discover a new baseball stat. Working title for my website: ‘FoulBalls.com’.”

And …

“To invent a ballpark food. Perhaps something inspired by the turducken concept. Like, a churro inserted into a hot dog, inner-tube style, and the hot dog wrapped in a pizza. Churdogza. With a jalapeño hot-fudge ranch dip.”

And …

“To pitch Hollywood on my idea for an NBA reality soap opera. The NBA has the best drama. Baseball? Forget it, the sexiest topic in MLB is whether to ban the shift. Football? They tamp down the interesting stuff (see: Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Washington’s D.J. Swearinger). My soap will feature Draymond and KD, Russell Westbrook, the Ball family, LeBron James, James Harden, and the entire Knicks front office.”

For those of you who think I may have been overly critical or improperly focused on the foibles and missteps of Danny Boy Snyder over the past two decades, please take a moment to read this column in the Washington Post by Sally Jenkins.  This is not a “take-down”; this is a “hood stomp”.

There are reports out there saying that ESPN will keep the “Booger Mobile” in its garage for any and all the NFL playoff games covered by the World-Wide Leader.  Hosonna and Hallelujah to that decision.  Booger McFarlane will be in the booth with his broadcast colleagues for the ESPN games – where he has belonged for all the 2018 football season.  Hopefully, this is a sign from the suits on mahogany row at ESPN that the Booger Mobile will be dismantled and sold off as spare parts.

I don’t do a lot of “rooting for” people or things to happen in these rants; that would not be much of a curmudgeonly thing to do.  Nevertheless, I must admit that I am sorta – slightly – rooting for the KC Chiefs to win the Super Bowl this year.  Here is why:

  • By all accounts – and from the NFL Films program on his life inside and outside football – Andy Reid is a good person.
  • He also has some prodigious football stats as a head coach with winning percentages in excess of more than a couple of coaches who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
  • Andy Reid is not there – and is not likely to be considered for a spot in Canton, OH – unless he wins a Super Bowl.  That is the box he has left unchecked on his curriculum vitae.
  • Until and unless he wins a Super Bowl, Andy Reid will be one of the group of “very good coaches” who is not in the Hall of Fame because he never “won the big one” such as Marty Schottenheimer.
  • If Andy Reid wins a Super Bowl and that gets him into the HoF, he will assuredly be the coach with the greatest girth amongst he peers there.  I once said of Andy Reid that if you threw a football at him from behind, so he could not catch it, the ball would go into orbit around his waist…

The Sporting News named Kenny Omega as the pro ‘rassler of the year for 2018.  Since I associate from my youthful days of following pro ‘rassling top shelf ‘rasslers as “alpha males”, I am not sure what sort of character Kenny Omega might play to win such an award.

The New Year greeted UCLA basketball coach, Steve Alford with news that he was the former UCLA basketball coach.  Dick Vitale says that UCLA should hire Rick Pitino for the job; that would require the AD and the administration there to have a set of onions the size of watermelons.  I have no idea if the powers that be in Westwood want to hire a permanent replacement in the middle of this season or if they are going to do their searching in January – March 2019 and try to land their guy once the regular season is over.  If they would be content to wait here is a dark-horse name, they should consider:

  • Buzz Williams (Va Tech):  Williams won two thirds of his games at Marquette over a period of six seasons in the Big East and since then he has won 59% of his game at Va Tech in four-and-a-half seasons despite taking over a moribund program.  UCLA basketball may not be the glamor job that it was during the Wooden years, but it is still a prestigious job – – despite the potential of having to deal with LaVar Ball occasionally.

Finally, since most of today’s rant deals with the end of 2018 and the start of 2019, consider this observation by Brad Dickson on that topic:

“If Albert Einstein posted his brand new Theory of Relativity on Facebook it’d probably receive about 3 or 4 ‘likes’. If he then posted a photo of the Einsteins with the family dog it’d get 400 ‘likes’.”

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