On Hiatus

My long-suffering wife and I will be traveling in Northern Italy for the next week or so.  I’ll be off the air until at least 26 Sept.  Please check back then.

Looking ahead, I may not have enough time to catch up on “football happenings” to do a Football Friday two weeks from now.  We shall see…

Stay well, everyone.

 

Football Friday 9/14/18

It is Football Friday once again.  So, let me get to it and start with college football …

For about the last 15 years, I have tracked the football fortunes of Linfield College – a Division III program in McMinnville OR.  The reason I do that is that Linfield has had a winning record in football in every season since 1956; if they do that again this year, it will be their 63rd consecutive winning season; that is the longest stretch of its kind in North American sports.  Last weekend, the Linfield Wildcats lost their opening game on the road to Carroll (Montana) by a score of 21-14.  Division III schools play a 9-game regular season schedule; so, there is still room for Linfield to recover and post a winning record.

This week the Wildcats are at home to host the Redlands Bulldogs.  Redlands brings a 2-0 record to the field.  This is Linfield’s final out-of-conference game for the season.  Go Wildcats!

Last week, SMU led TCU 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.  At that point, my Six-Pack selection from last week (SMU +23) was looking good.  However, the fact is that TCU is much the better team and the Horned Frogs woke up starting in the second quarter.  The final score had TCU on top 42-12; SMU was shut out in the second half.

My most significant take away from the Clemson/Texas A&M game was that the Clemson DL is REALLY good.   Long before the movie, Remember the Titans, Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson was credited with saying that he liked his defenders to be “agile, mobile and hostile”.  Well, that is a good description of the Clemson defensive linemen in 2018!

Both Clemson and Texas A&M showed that they are good teams that are well coached.  Any time I have a chance to see them play quality opponents this year, I will be tuning in…

Ohio St. beat Rutgers 52-3.  Going into this game, the cumulative score for the last two “games” between these schools was Ohio St. 114 and Rutgers ZERO.  Maybe the Big-10 needs to consider installing a mercy rule?

Mississippi St. beat Kansas St. in Manhattan, KS last week 31-10.  K-state is not a patsy at home by any means, so this may be an indication that Mississippi St. is a team to watch even though it must play in the SEC West – the Division of Death.

Meanwhile, Kansas won a game and did it on the road.  That is a milestone because Kansas had lost 46 consecutive road games before last week.  Before anyone gets too elated here, the victory came at the expense of Central Michigan – not a school in a Power 5 conference.  Hey, at least C. Michigan is a Division 1-A school.

Another of the “directional Michigan schools”, Eastern Michigan upset Purdue 20-19 last week and it was a home game for Purdue.  It is an impressive win whenever a team from the MAC beats a team from the Big-10.

The MAC had another good showing last week – even though it did not result in a win over a team in a Power 5 conference.  Northern Illinois played Utah to a standstill for about 55 minutes; at that point, a Pick-6 put the game out of reach for the Huskies.  Utah won 17-6 but the game was close from the start until that late interception.

Notre Dame took on a MAC opponent last week and beat Ball St.24-16.  The Irish led 24-6 to start the 4th quarter and held on as Ball St. rallied in the 4th quarter.  Notre Dame was a 35-point favorite here; they never had a chance to cover that number.

Scott Frost’s opening game as the head coach at Nebraska – where he is viewed as the guy who will bring Nebraska back to national prominence in football – was a disaster.  Old rival, Colorado, came to Lincoln and beat the Cornhuskers 33-28.  I do not know if there is a town in Nebraska called Mudville – – although it would be an appropriate name; if there is, I assure you there is no joy in Mudville, NE either…

Oklahoma beat UCLA like a drum 49-21.  The Chip Kelly Era at UCLA is off to a sputtering start and one problem is that Kelly has not found either a QB or a featured RB that fits what he tries to do on offense.  To the folks in Westwood, this is going to take a while…

Penn St. beat Pitt 51-6.  Actually, it was not nearly that close.

Going into last week’s game, Kentucky had lost 31 straight times to Florida.  The Gators were 14-point favorites at home and lost the game 27-16.  I saw parts of the game and my impression was that Kentucky was the better team on both offense and defense.  As is the case in Westwood, it is going to take time to get things right in Gainesville…

Arizona lost to Houston 45-18 meaning that Kevin Sumlin’s first two games with Arizona have been losses.  This game was a spanking; Houston led 31-0 at the half.  Sumlin did not take over a disastrously bad program; Arizona won 7 games last year and they have a QB that some thought might be a Heisman contender.  [I did not; but that is beside the point since I do not have a vote.]  Arizona hosts Southern Utah this week; they need a blowout win – badly.

Colorado St. was 0-2 going into last week’s game against Arkansas – an SEC team and those losses came by a combined 41 points.  Yes, the game was in Colorado Springs and yes, Arkansas is not nearly the cream of the crop in the SEC.  Nonetheless, the Rams won this game in a dramatic way.  Arkansas led 27-9 in the 3rd quarter and Colorado State rallied to win the game 34-27.  The Rams scored on their final four possessions of the game and won it with 8 seconds on the clock with a 1-yard TD run.  It could be a LONG year for Arkansas’ fans…

Arizona St. beat Michigan St. in Tempe last week.  The temperature on the field at kickoff was 105 degrees; and it was a night game.  There was an interesting stratagem used by Herm Edwards and Arizona St at the end of the game:

  • The score was tied with 2 minutes to play.
  • Michigan St. was out of timeouts.
  • Arizona St had the ball inside the Michigan St. 10 yardline.  Instead of trying to score a TD – which would have given the ball back to Michigan St with a chance to tie the game – Arizona St. took a knee to run the clock down to nothing.
  • The Sun Devils called one of their timeouts and kicked the game winning field goal with nothing left for Michigan St.

It may not be “normal practice” for football teams in that circumstance, but Herm Edwards had faith in his kicker and as Edwards always said, “You play to win the game.”  They do not award style points…

Games of Interest This Week: 

UTEP at Tennessee – 31 (47.5):  UTEP is miserable; they could well be in my fanciful end-of-season SHOE Tournament.  Tennessee hopes to regain some status in the SEC above that of doormat/laughingstock.  This game sets up as a huge feelgood blowout at home.  We shall see…

Ball St. at Indiana – 14.5 (57.5):  The oddsmakers seem to think that the Notre Dame game last week was an aberration for Ball St.  We shall see…

Miami – 10 at Toledo (57):  Miami’s offense has not looked good so far this year.  Is this the game where it comes to life?  Or … is this another chance for a MAC team to upset a Power 5 school?

UCF – 11 at UNC:  This game has been postponed due to Hurricane Florence.  Frankly, that may be a blessing for UNC coach, Larry Fedora whose team might have gotten their doors blown off here.

Rutgers at Kansas – 2.5 (44.5):  Tis a rare occasion indeed where Kansas is a favorite over a Power 5 school.  Rutgers should be mightily offended…  The loser here should be mortified.  There is an important reason not to bet on this game.  If you did, you would feel compelled to watch it – – and if you watch it, that would require eye-bleach.

Michigan at Buffalo – 4 (53.5): Last week, E. Michigan went on the road to beat Purdue. (See above).  They must feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of college football with this line; they are underdogs to Buffalo?

UMass at Florida Int’l – 4 (60):  This game is interesting to me because either or both of these teams might be in the SHOE Tournament down the line…

Georgia Tech – 4 at Pitt (52.5):  Both teams come off a loss.  Tech lost to USF and gave up 49 points in the process; Pitt gave up 51 to Penn State.

SMU at Michigan – 35.5 (53.5):  It is time to see a Jim Harbaugh team show offensive prowess and this is a team they can do that against.

Colorado St at Florida – 20.5 (56):  This is two SEC opponents in a row for Colorado St.  Are they auditioning?

Oregon St. at Nevada – 4 (70):  It would be an embarrassment to the PAC-12 for Oregon St. to get pounded here…

Houston – 1 at Texas Tech (71):  Call this a Kardashian Family Reunion Game – – there should be no absence of scoring…

Vandy at Notre Dame – 14 (52):  Vandy is 2-0 and the combined margin of victory here is 59 points.  The Irish represent a totally different level of competition.  Interesting to see how good Vandy might be.

 

This Week’s College Football Six-Pack

Last week the Six-Pack went 2-4 bringing the season record to 5-7.  I’ll try and do better this week.  Nonetheless, anyone taking these selections – or the ones that follow in the NFL Sis-Pack – as the basis for making a real world wager involving real money is dumb enough to believe that “bacteria” is the rear entrance to the cafeteria.

Florida St. – 3 at Syracuse (68):  I do not get this line at all.  If the Total is going to be that high, then FSU is going to have to play lots better offense than they have shown so far this year.  If they do that, they should handle Syracuse comfortably.  If this is a “field-goal game” I can’t see where the 69th point would come from; the game should be comfortably UNDER.  Syracuse comes to the game with a 2-0 record but those wins came over Wagner and W. Michigan – – neither to be confused with big-time football programs.  I’ll go with pedigree here and take Florida St. on the road and lay the points.  If FSU loses here, I expect that the hounds will be baying for Seminoles’ coach Willie Taggert to be drawn and quartered.

LSU at Auburn – 10.5 (45):  I agree with the oddsmaker that this should be a low scoring game.  That being the case, I like LSU plus the points.

North Texas at Arkansas – 7 (70):  Arkansas had to learn something from that disastrous come-from-ahead loss last week to Colorado State, no? (See above).  The coaches should have them fired up for this home game.  I like Arkansas to win and cover.

USC at Texas – 3.5 (48):  I like this game to go OVER.  I am not impressed with the Texas defense at all.  Reports say that “pressure is mounting” on Texas coach, Tom Herman.  Losing this one at home will take things to DEFCON 3…

Ohio St. – 12.5 vs. TCU (60) [Game is in Arlington, TX]:  I mean no disrespect to TCU at all; the Horned Frogs are a very good team.  Having said that, I think Ohio St. is a much better team.  I’ll take Ohio St, on the road to win and cover.

Washington – 6.5 at Utah (47):  Utah is tough at home and Utah has a good defense.  This should be a low-scoring game.  Therefore, I will take Utah plus the points.

[Aside: I have seen two prognosticators say that Ole Miss will not only cover the 21-point spread in that game but that Ole Miss will beat Alabama outright.  If  you believe these two “pickers”, the Money Line odds on Ole Miss are +1040 this morning.]

Moving on to the NFL, seven coaches debuted with their teams in Week 1; all seven of those new coaches lost; some of those losses were brutal. You will notice all of this in last week’s rundown…

The Steelers/Browns tie game should have been an interesting game because it was close (obviously) and because it is a rivalry game and because the Browns have not won a game in what seems like forever.  However, the fact that both teams missed eminently makeable field goals in the final minutes of overtime leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  The Steelers turned the ball of 6 – – that’s SIX – – times.  The Browns were +5 in turnovers and did not win.  How unusual is that?  Here are ESPN reported data:

  • Since the Browns relaunched in the NFL in 1999, there have been 139 games where one team was +5 in turnovers.
  • The record for those “+5 teams” is 134-4-1.
  • The Browns have been one of those “+5 teams” on 5 occasions.
  • The Browns’ record in those “+5 games” is 2-2-1.

Amazing …

The Bills looked positively awful in Week 1 losing to the Ravens 47-3.  In the first half of the game – under the leadership of Nathan Peterman – the Bills generated all of 33 yards of offense.  As you might suspect, they failed to gain a first down in the first half.  Peterman was 5 for 18 for 24 yards with 2 INTs before getting the hook in favor of rookie Josh Allen.  I am still at a loss to understand how Peterman could possibly have beaten out AJ McCarron for the role of “Placeholder QB” as the team worked to develop Josh Allen.  Bills’ coach, Sean McDermott, gave up the pretense of a “Nathan Peterman Era” in Buffalo announcing this week that Josh Allen would start for the Bills this week.  The football situation in Buffalo is a hot mess at best.

The Lions looked almost as bad as the Bills did, losing to the Jets 48-17.  This was Matt Patricia’s first game at the helm for the Lions and it was an ugly debut; the Lions lost to a rookie QB by 31 points.  [Aside:  Matt Patricia was never “svelte”, but it looked to me as if he had put on a lot of weight over the summer.  He looked like a bearded version of Andy Reid.]  The Lions have the initials “WCF” on their uniform sleeves honoring William Clay Ford, Sr. who owned the Lions’ franchise until his death a few years ago.  If the team plays like this all year long, someone will photoshop that uniform and change the initials to “WTF”.  Just as the Browns invent ways to focus attention in their ineptitude (see stats above), the Lions do it too.  Consider:

  • On Monday night, the Lions allowed 31 points to the Jets in the 3rd quarter of the game.
  • The last time a team scored 31 points in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was in October 1950.  [Point of reference: President Truman had not yet removed Ge. Douglass MacArthur from command in October 1950.]
  • The team last to give up 31 points (or more) in the 3rd quarter of an NFL game was – wait for it – the Detroit Lions.

Amazing…

In Frank Reich’s first game as head coach of the Colts, the Bengals handed the Colts a 34-23 loss.  A late 83-yard scoop-and-score magnified the margin of victory here but there was ample reason for Colts’ fans to be unhappy.  True, Andrew Luck was back on the field and he played very well throwing for 319 yards and 2 TDs.  Not bad for a guy who has been hors de combat for 20 months…  In addition, Adam Vinatieri converted a 51-yard field goal in the game which is not bad for a 45-year old guy who has been kicking in the NFL for 23 seasons.  [Somewhere in the cosmos, Ponce de Leon wonders if Vinatieri found what Ponce died looking for.]  The bad news for Colts’ fans is that they led 23-10 in the middle of the 3rd quarter and then found a way to lose the game from there.

Pat Shurmer’s opening game with the Giants resulted in a 20-16 loss to the Jags.  This was not an embarrassing loss – unless you focus on the Giants’ offensive line performance.  The margin of victory came on a 4th quarter tipped pass that turned into a Pick Six. The Giant’s defense dominated the second half; until the Jags final possession where they took a knee in victory formation, they Jags has 7 possessions and punted 7 times.

The Dolphins beat the Titans 27-20 spoiling Mike Vrabel’s first game on the Titans’ sidelines.  This game was delayed twice for lightening around the Dolphins’ stadium and took more than 7 hours to complete.  The Titans have lost TE Delanie Walker for the year; Marcus Mariotta is questionable for this week’s game and OT Taylor Lewan left the game with an injury that put him in the concussion protocol.

Matt Nagy saw his Bears’ team jump out to a 20-0 lead over the Packers in Green Bay; things were looking up for the new head man in Chicago.  When Aaron Rodgers had to be carted to the locker room – replaced by DeShone Kizer – you could have heard a mouse squeak in the stadium.  The problem for the Bears was that Rodgers was merely hurt and not injured sufficiently to keep him off the field; he returned and led the Packers to a 24-23 come-from-nowhere victory.  It almost felt like a “Willis Reed Moment”.

The most celebrated new NFL coach for 2018 has to be Jon Gruden by a mile.  His Raiders led the Rams 13-10 at halftime and fans in The Black Hole were celebrating as if the glory days of the Raiders’ franchise had returned.  Then they played the second half and the Rams won the second half 23-0.  Here are three questions and one observation from that game:

  1. Question:  Did the Raiders avoid throwing the ball in the direction of any of their WRs because the Rams had them covered like a baby in a crib?  WR, Amari Cooper was only targeted 3 times in the game.  Something is wrong there…
  2. Question:  Was the lack of a pass rush by the Raiders a testament to outstanding OL play by the Rams or are the Raiders incapable of generating a pass rush?
  3. Question:  What were the Raiders working on for the last six weeks in practice?  The Raiders had 10 penalties for 145 yards in the first half on Monday night.
  • Observation:  Jon Gruden’s “Chucky Stare” seems not to have had the same effect as “The Belichick Glower” has been having recently.

The Skins spoiled Steve Wilks’ debut with the Cards winning 24-6 and running the ball for 185 yards in the game.  This was an old-fashioned ass-kicking; there is no polite way to describe it.  In the first half, the Cards had a total of 11 yards passing.  When a team’s offense can be compared to a “Nathan Peterman Offense”, that is not a good thing.  The Cards played as if they were on Quaaludes…

The Broncos beat the Seahawks 27-24.  The Seattle O-Line remains a mess; Russell Wilson was sacked 6 times in this game; the Seahawks were a mere 2-12 on third down conversions.  Th Broncos did not look like world-beaters here, but they did what they needed to do to get the win.

The Panthers beat the Cowboys 16-8 and neither team looked all that impressive.   In the first half, the Cowboys never snapped the ball in the Panthers half of the field.  The Cowboys offensive line showed its injuries allowing Dak Prescott to be sacked 6 times.  Cam Newton led the Panthers is rushing; he ran the ball 13 times for 58 yards.

The Eagles beat the Falcons 18-12 last Thursday night.  The game felt like a replay of last year’s meeting between these teams in the playoffs when the Eagles prevailed 15-10.  In both games, it was the Eagles’ defense that carried the day.  When the teams left the field at halftime with the Falcons leading 6-3, the Philly fans booed, and the announcing team seemed surprised that the Super Bowl champs would be booed after only a half of play.  Remember, the fans at The Linc last week are the spawn of the fans who booed Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs at Franklin Field.  To paraphrase Denny Greene:

  • They are what we know they are…

The Vikes beat the Niners 24-16.  Already, after only one week of the 2018 season, one of my pre-season predictions has come to pass.  Jimmy Garoppolo has lost a game as a starting NFL QB.  Ta-dah…  The Vikes’ defense was the star of the show here forcing Jimmy G to throw 3 INTs.  Meanwhile, the Vikes’ new QB, Kirk Cousins, put up a workmanlike performance with 244 yards passing and 2 TDs.

The Bucs beat the Saints 48-40.  What happened to the Saints’ defense that was so improved last year?  Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and 4 TDs in this game.  Yes … THAT Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson each had more than 145 yards receiving.  The Total Line for the game was 49.5 points; the game went OVER before halftime.

The Pats beat the Texans 27-20.  Father Time must have been a guest in Robert Kraft’s owner’s box for the game.  Tom Brady showed no signs of aging/slowing down throwing for 277 yards and 3 TDs.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 38-28.  In a losing effort, the Chargers produced 541 yards of offense; normally, that level of output produces a victory.  You can pin this loss on the Chargers’ special teams without fear of contradiction:

  • Chargers gave up a 91-yard punt return for a TD.  (7 points)
  • Fumbled a punt in the 4th quarter giving the Chiefs possession inside the Chargers 5 yardline.  (7 points)
  • Missed a field goal.  (3 points)
  • Those plays effected a 17-point swing and the Chargers lost by 10.

Case closed.

Here are some quick comments on this week’s games outside the NFL Six-Pack:

  • Panthers/Falcons:  This is an important division game early in the season.  A Panthers win here gives them a 2-game lead on the Falcons.  Falcons lost safety Keanu Neal for the season last week.
  • Vikes/Packers:  This is the best game of the week – assuming that Aaron Rodgers is somewhere near 100 %.  If he can’t play, this could be ugly.
  • Chargers/Bills:  Both teams have “things to work on” this week.  (See above) This is also a long way to travel for the Chargers.  It is appropriate at this point to offer condolences to Josh Allen.  Call this one the Dog-Breath Game of the Week
  • Dolphins/Jets:  Both teams won as underdogs last week.  One of these teams is likely to be 2-0 on Sunday night.  Wow…
  • Eagles/Bucs:  Eagles should score more than 18 points this week.  Bucs should score fewer than 48 points this week.
  • Browns/Saints: Who would have guessed that the Browns would take the field here with the better record?
  • Cards/Rams:  This is the only double-digit spread on the card this week.  The Rams play on a short week; it should not matter.
  • Pats/Jags:  This will be the best game of the week if Aaron Rodgers is not at full strength.  The Total Line here is 45.5 and I was tempted to take it UNDER.
  • Giants/Cowboys:  A division game between two teams that lost their opening games in a somnambulant fashion.  If the Cowboys stink it up here, I expect to see steam coming out of Jerry Jones’ ears.

Without further ado, here is the This Week’s NFL Six-Pack:

Indy at Washington – 5.5 (48):  The Skins’ running game was most impressive last week and looks to stay on track against a mediocre Colts’ defense here.  Keeping Andrew Luck in check will be more difficult than what the Skins faced last week but that running game should keep Luck on the sidelines enough to secure a win.  Luck threw the ball 53 times last week; he is obviously not on a pitch-count after his injury  I like the Skins to win and cover at home. 

Houston – 2 at Tennessee (45):  This line did not go up until mid-week and the fact that it is at 2 points says that Marcus Mariotta will be on the field and in condition to play.  Nevertheless, I think the Texans are the better team and I think they lost to a tougher opponent last week.  I’ll take the Texans on the road and lay the points.   [Caveat:  If Hurricane Florence turns this game into a “monsoon game” or if the field is a swamp, change this pick to UNDER.]

KC at Pittsburgh – 4.5 (52.5):  The Chiefs play their second road game of the season here a sweep in those two games would give the Chiefs a leg up in the AFC West race.  I think the Chiefs’ offense will score against the Steelers’ defense and I think the Steelers’ offense will score against the Chiefs’ defense.  The Total Line opened at 50; it jumped to 52 almost immediately and then added another half-point.  I would not be surprised to see it keep rising.  I like the game to go OVER.   [Caveat:  If Ben Roethlisberger is not fit to play, this wager goes by the board.  If Josh Dobbs is the starting QB, I’ll take KC plus the points.]

Detroit at SF – 6 (48):  The Lions lost at home to a rookie QB by 31 points last week.  The Niners lost on the road to a team that many think will play for the NFC Championship next January.  The Lions must travel after a Monday night game.  I like the Niners to win and cover. 

Oakland at Denver – 6 (46):  The Broncos are tough at home; the Raiders do not always show up on the road and make this trip on a short week.  If the Raiders front seven cannot pressure Case Keenum – as they failed to do last week against Jared Goff – the Broncos will feast on the Raiders’ secondary.  It is going to be a long season for Raiders’ fans.  I’ll take the Broncos at home to win and cover.

Seattle at Chicago – 3 (43):  The Seahawks were on the road last week and travel again this week.  The Bears succumbed to the “Aaron Rodgers magic” last week and need to keep Russell Wilson in check here.  I think the Bears’ front seven overmatches the Seahawks’ offensive line by a wide margin.  I like the Bears to win and cover at home.

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

The Jockacracy

Most of yesterday’s rant dealt with NFL Franchise QBs and it came from a lunchtime discussion with an old friend who was back in town.  Well, we discussed other topics too and I will deal with another of them today.

My friend said that he basically agreed with my position from a couple of weeks ago that great players do not make great coaches or GMs.  He said that he thought I should have extended that concept to broadcasters.  He remembers when Howard Cosell would rail against what he called “The Jockocracy” – meaning that top flight athletes were given broadcasting jobs after they retired even though those athletes were not journalists nor were they particularly polished behind the mic.  It is easy to point to Cosell’s remarks as self-serving/self-interested since he was a journalist/broadcaster but had never played any of the games he covered.  If you were a “Cosell-hater” – and there were plenty of them back in the day – one could pass all of that off as unabashed protectionism for his job territory.

However, Cosell had a point.  Forgetting his idealistic stance that would assure that every broadcaster was previously proven to be a serious journalist, the fact is that some athletes-turned-broadcasters are not nearly as good at talking about their sport as they were at playing their sport.  I spent the last several days making a list of the current/recent athletes-turned-broadcasters and trying to come up with categorizations for them.  My list is obviously incomplete since I did not go Internet-hunting to gather up lists of all the broadcasters doing sports on TV recently.  Moreover, after I looked at the list I had compiled, I noted that there are gaps in the sports covered here.  Some reasons for this are:

  • When I watch golf on TV – not all that often – I really don’t pay attention to the announcers because they rarely have much to say that I find interesting.
  • When I watch soccer on TV, most of the games are international games and I have no idea what the background of any of the announcers might be.’
  • When I watch track and field on TV – not all that often – I often do it without any sound at all.
  • I do not watch lots of other sports on TV – NASCAR, beach volleyball, gymnastics, ice skating etc. – so I have no idea who the broadcasters may be.

So, with all of those limitations, here are former athletes who are now doing – or who recently did –  TV coverage of sports.  They are the recent/current members of Howard Cosell’s jockocracy if you will.  I have put them into three categories:  The Good  The Bad and The Ugly.  [Hat tip to Sergio Leone]

THE GOOD:

  • Troy Aikman:  He and Joe Buck are very good together on NFL telecasts.  He may not be hyper-critical in his analysis, but he lets you know which players and which coaching decisions are better than others.  And no; he does not hate your team or any other team except the Cowboys!  Get over it.
  • Charles Barkley:  Once you realize that Barkley is going to take his commentary over-the-top at least 90% of the time, you can sit back and listen to him and enjoy his comedic antics.  [See Kenny Smith below …]
  • Jay Bilas:  He is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  He is a much better broadcaster than he was a basketball player.  I suspect that even Howard Cosell would approve of Jay Bilas on TV.
  • Nate Burleson:  I like his enthusiasm – – and I hope that he does not take that style so far that it becomes a schtick because that would be annoying as Hell.
  • Mary Carillo:  I think she is outstanding.  I cannot think of another tennis announcer I would prefer to listen to.
  • Cris Colinsworth:  He is obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about football.  Moreover, he does not shrink from criticizing things he sees on the field.  And no; he does not hate your favorite team.  Get over it.
  • Kirk Herbstreit:  Like Jay Bilas, he is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  When it comes to college football, “Herbie” reminds me of the old E.F. Hutton ads.  When Herbstreit talks, people listen…
  • Tom Jackson:  He and Chris Berman were a perfect pair together…
  • “Moose” Johnson:  Sometimes, he can be long-winded but more often than not he has something add when he speaks.
  • Joel Klatt:  The closest thing to Kirk Herbstreit as a college football maven.  I like him in studio settings and during games.
  • Howie Long:  He is logical and rational.  I have called him the Mr. Spock of NFL pre-game television.
  • Tony Romo:  With exactly no previous broadcasting experience, CBS paired him with Jim Nantz as the #1 NFL broadcasting team.  Romo could have flamed out badly but he did just the opposite.  What I like is that he is unafraid to say what a team is going to do/ought to do before the fact.
  • Phil Simms:  He is much better in the studio than he was as a color analyst.
  • Kenny Smith:  He plays “Abbot” to Charles Barkley’s “Costello” beautifully.
  • John Smoltz:  He has a soothing voice and an excellent ability to explain pitching strategy.  I recall hearing him paired with Bob Costas on play-by-play and it was about as good as it gets.  Yes, I know it is heresy to some folks but those two were more enjoyable to listen to than Vin Scully.

THE BAD:

  • Terry Bradshaw:  If he were half as funny as he thinks he is, he might be tolerable.
  • Gary Danielson:  I find his voice annoying and that is a difficult hurdle to overcome.
  • Boomer Esiason:  I find his entire persona annoying and that is impossible to overcome.
  • Chris Evert:  She is as bland as oatmeal.
  • Alexi Lalas:  He comes across as a smug know-it-all.  That is not a good look…
  • Ray Lewis:  He brings the same sort of “intensity” to the microphone that he brought to the field as a middle linebacker.  That is unnecessary.
  • Dan Marino:  His “analysis” was about as deep as a parking lot puddle.
  • John McEnroe:  The only reason to listen to him is to see if he is going to go ape over some incident and how much trouble that might get him into.
  • Jessica Mendoza:  If she would just let a pitch go by without feeling the need to chime in with something to add, it would be a plus.  More than a couple of times I have hit the mute button in the third or fourth inning of an ESPN game she is doing.
  • Joe Morgan:  His commentary became repetitious which is bad enough.  It was also incessant.  That is a bad exacta.
  • Shaquille O’Neal:  Someday, he will say something insightful.  Until then he is the class clown in a studio show setting.
  • Deion Sanders:  He was entertaining for a while but now his schtick has become annoying.

THE UGLY:

  • Michael Irvin:  Boy, can he learn a thing or three from former teammates like Troy Aikman or “Moose” Johnson.
  • Alex Rodriguez:  He is hyper-critical; he never shuts up; he is a smug know-it all.  The bottom line is that he is an annoying presence on TV.
  • Joe Theismann:  He began more than half of his replay comments with, “Let me tell you what happened here…”  The problem is that I already saw what happened there; it was a damned replay!
  • Bill Walton:  If he is doing the color analysis, I instantly hit the mute button.  He is turrrible…
  • Chris Webber:  He is candid in his criticism of players, coaches and refs; he thinks they should be “accountable”.  And yet, he has never been candid or accountable about his own foibles and actions back in college.  I have trouble dealing with the hypocrisy here.

Howard Cosell was not happy with the rise of the jockocracy; but ironically, he was part of the best three-man announcing team ever on ABC’s Monday Night Football.  His two partners were both esteemed members of the jockocracy:

  • Frank Gifford – Hall of Fame running back for the NY Giants
  • “Dandy” Don Meredith – Hall of Fame announcer/commentator and NFL All-Pro QB.

Finally, sports broadcasters too often rely on catch phrases and clichés as they try to make their points.  Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this comment where he strung together a bunch of the highly overused phrases:

“Inspired by veteran scribes Bruce Jenkins and Jack McCallum, I devised an all-purpose statement anyone can use for any speech, debate or barroom discussion. Simply insert appropriate nouns and adverbs: ‘So, worst-case scenario, it’s all part of the narrative, although this is a small sample size. Look, I mean, to be perfectly frank, I want to double down at this time, check all the boxes. Trust me, I have zero tolerance, and they know who they are, but at the end of the day I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. It is what it is, going forward’.”

Phew…

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

 

 

 

Who Is A “Franchise QB”?

I guess you could say that the baseball playoff season has begun.  The Boston Red Sox have a footnote after their name in the standings this morning indicating that they have made the playoffs; we may not know all the seedings; but as of today, we know that the Red Sox will be in the bracket somewhere.

For several weeks now, we have known about teams that will not be participating in the playoffs.  On the day that the Red Sox guaranteed themselves a shot at the World Series, there are 6 teams in the American League and 3 teams in the National League that are mathematically eliminated from post season action.

One of the long-term readers of these rants moved away from this area about 3 years ago; it had been a long time since we had had lunch together.  He was back here taking care of some real estate issues and we had lunch earlier this week.  I think we spent a little over 3 hours at lunch – about half an hour catching up and the rest of the time chatting about sports issues.  It’s a guy thing…

In my friend’s lexicon, an NFL franchise QB is a player who has demonstrated on the field that he is in the top quartile of starting QBs AND he is someone who can be counted on to be with that team for the next 5 years barring injury.  Using his definition, both Tom Brady and Drew Brees are not “franchise QBs” because they fail the second criterion there; Aaron Rodgers is right on the cusp of his definition.  [He acknowledges that both Brady and Brees might play 5 more years, but he says – correctly – that the teams cannot count on them to play well for that period of time.]

My perception of “NFL franchise QB” is less quantitative; it does not involve quartiles or projections of performance for 5 years hence.  Here are the elements that I consider when I think of the label “NFL franchise QB”:

  1. In terms of performance, the QB-in-question is one who would be signed in a heartbeat by various other teams in the NFL if he were an unrestricted free agent.
  2. However, that rush to signing him cannot be weighted too heavily in terms of potential identified by scouts; there must be a body of NFL work leading to that signing rush.
  3. The QB-in-question is an off-field asset for the team too; the fanbase for his team must have adopted him and he must be “the face of the franchise” – or at least one of the two or three “faces of the franchise”.  [I add that last caveat because – for example – Jerry Jones will always be one of the “faces of the franchise” in Dallas no matter who the QB is or who any of the other players are.]

So, using my definition, I went through the starting QBs in the NFL and sorted them into categories related to their “franchise-ness”.  I will indicate my friend’s short list of franchise QBs by highlighting those names in bold:

Here are my Franchise QBs.  I think there is no doubt about these folks:

  1. Tom Brady (Pats)
  2. Drew Brees (Saints)
  3. Andrew Luck (Colts)
  4. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
  5. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)
  6. Russell Wilson (Seahawks)

Here are QBs who are close to being “Franchise QBs”; and if you were to argue that they belonged in the top category, I would not be violently opposed:

  1. David Carr (Raiders)
  2. Philip Rivers (Chargers)
  3. Matt Ryan (Falcons)

Here are QBs that belong in a category somewhere – – but I am not sure where it is.  I do know that they are not in the top category today:

  1. Kirk Cousins (Vikings)
  2. Eli Manning (Giants)
  3. Cam Newton (Panthers)
  4. Alex Smith (Skins)
  5. Matthew Stafford (Lions)

Here are QBs that are beloved by their fanbases who have shown flashes of brilliance – but all the precincts have not reported in yet:

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo (Niners)
  2. Jared Goff (Rams)
  3. Dak Prescott (Cowboys)
  4. Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)
  5. Deshaun Watson (Texans)
  6. Carson Wentz (Eagles)

Here are QBs who – as of today – are not in the running to be considered franchise QBs:

  1. Josh Allen (Bills) – not nearly enough data yet [N.B. I will not even consider discussion of Nathan Peterman here.]
  2. Blake Bortles (Jags) – the team wins in spite of him too often
  3. Sam Bradford (Cardinals) – nope
  4. Andy Dalton (Bengals) – must win a playoff game first
  5. Sam Darnold (Jets) – notwithstanding his great first outing; need more data
  6. Joe Flacco (Ravens) – notwithstanding that one great year leading to a Super Bowl win.
  7. Case Keenum (Broncos) – generally underrated but not an elite QB
  8. Pat Mahomes (Chiefs) – not enough data yet
  9. Marcus Mariotta (Titans) – lacks consistency
  10. Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) – nope
  11. Tyrod Taylor (Browns) – nope
  12. Jameis Winston (Bucs) – nope

Finally, since I have spent most of today talking about NFL QBs, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about one of those QBs:

“Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers — who just agreed to a 4-year, $134 million contract extension — is coming out with his own line of cheese, we hear.

“It’s called Packers Gold.”

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

 

 

The Sorry-Assed Orioles…

The Baltimore Orioles lost their 100th game of the season with 21 games still to play.  As of this morning, the O’s record stands at 41-102; they have lost their last 4 games, and they have lost 8 of their last 10 games.  This is an epically bad year for the franchise.  Based on their winning percentage at the moment, the Orioles project a final season record of 46-116.

The Orioles’ franchise has been around since 1954; that was the year that the hapless St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore.  The Browns/Orioles at the time were a pretty sorry lot and in that first season in Baltimore, the team won only 54 games finishing the season at 54-100.  [That was before MLB expanded the season from 154 games to 162 games.]

The other low-water mark for the Orioles’ franchise came in 1988 when the team lost its first 21 games of the season.  As you might imagine, it was a bit difficult for that Orioles’ team to climb out of a hole that deep; the team never really did that and finished the year with a record of 54-107.

The Orioles have never had a season where the won fewer than 54 games since they started play in Baltimore and this year’s team would need a Hollywood ending to get to 54 wins.  There are 19 games left on the Orioles’ schedule – and with Hurricane Florence threatening to interfere with MLB schedules over the next week or so – it is not a certainty that the Orioles will play all 162 of their scheduled games.  None of the remaining games matter to the O’s; six of their remaining games are against the White Sox or the Blue Jays and none of those six games matter to the opponents.  Any rainouts there could well be ignored by the end of the season.

All of this is to say that the Orioles “best case scenario” to win 54 games this year to avoid being the worst team in franchise history is for them to win 13 of their last 19 games.  That would ask the team to play at a winning percentage of .684 when they have been playing at a winning percentage of .287.  It is not impossible – – but highly unlikely.

Looking for a ray of hope in that mess, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Baltimore motorists are the worst in the nation, according to a new study.

“No wonder the Orioles barely cracked the top 25 when it comes to runs driven in.”

When a team is in the midst of a season that bad, one of the things to ponder is the likelihood that the manager will be around for the next season.  Before going any further, I want to state categorically that the Orioles’ miserable showing in 2018 is NOT the fault of managerial actions taken or not taken by Buck Showalter.  Baseball fans should recall times when teams solidly overachieved because several players on the team all had “career years” in the same season.  What has happened to the O’s in 2018 is the mirror image of that situation; just about everyone on the Orioles’ squad has underperformed the norm and, in some cases, has underperformed the norm by a lot.  None of that is the manager’s doing…

Obviously, I would not part company with Buck Showalter if I were the owner of the Orioles – – but I am not the team owner.  The owner in Baltimore is Peter Angelos and some of his decisions in the past have been mercurial to say the least.  In my mind, there is a much more fundamental question that needs to be considered when thinking about Buck Showalter’s future with the team:

  • Does Buck Showalter – at age 62 – want to sign on to a total tear down and rebuild of a team?

Make no mistake; that is what the Orioles immediate future has in store for the manager and the GM.  A well-plotted rebuild married with the good fortune of no serious injuries to any of the top developmental players is going to take 3 years or more.  I am not suggesting that Showalter is ready for a rocking chair and the early-bird specials in Boca Raton, but it is fair to ask if he wants to put up with plenty of losing for the next several years at this point in his life/career.

As soon as the MLB season is over, the stories and rumors of managerial movements will kick into high gear.  John Gibbons is not coming back with the Blue Jays next year; that is pretty much cast in stone; my suspicion is that Gibbons realizes that the Jays need to embark on a strategic rebuilding project and that he does not want to be organizer of that sort of goat rodeo.

I will be interested to see how Mike Scioscia fares in this off-season.  Scioscia has been the Angels manager since 2000; he guided the Angels to a World Series win in 2002.  However, since 2010, the Angels have been in the playoffs only one time and if they finish below .500 in 2018, that will be the 3rd year in a row the team has done that.  Normally, that gets a manager fired, but normally a manager does not stay in the same job for 18 seasons…

There is an interesting stat to consider this morning in the NL East.  The Phillies are 3.5 games ahead of the Nats in the standings.  For the season, the Nats have outscored their opponents by 70 runs despite a barely sub-.500 record of 71-72.  Meanwhile, the Phillies have been outscored by their opponents by 13 runs over the course of the season but find themselves with a positive 74-68 record.  The only other team in MLB over .500 with a negative run differential for the season is the Seattle Mariners.

Finally, this baseball note about the Washington Nationals comes courtesy of Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“The Washington Nationals have been 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 9-9, 10-10, 16-16, 17-17, 42-42, 43-43, 45-45, 46-46, 47-47, 48-48, 49-49, 51-51, 52-52, 53-53, 60-60, 61-61, 62-62, 63-63, 64-64, 66-66, 67-67, 68-69 and 69-69 this season.

“In a related story, the Nats have just been named the official baseball team of the Indianapolis 500.”

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

 

 

Two Readers Have Wishes Granted Today …

A former colleague and long-term reader of these rants is a tennis player and a tennis fan.  He is not so much a football fan; and when I introduced “Football Friday” as a concept ere, he lobbied for “Tennis Tuesday”.  Another reader’s son and daughter were college level tennis players; he too has lobbied for more “tennis focus” over time.  My response to them has always been pretty simple:

  • I really do not follow tennis closely at all – – because – –
  • I really do not enjoy watching tennis.

Today, two readers will get their wishes granted.  The women’s final match of the US Open produced a controversial event that is worth a comment.  Let me do a reset for those who – like me – tend to ignore tennis tournaments.

  • Serena Williams lost the final match in the US Open to Naomi Osaka.
  • Williams received a warning and two penalties from the chair referee.

I have never officiated a tennis match, but I have officiated various other sports over a period of 37 years; my comments here come from a basis as a referee in the generic sense.

The warning to Serena Williams came when the chair told her that she was being coached from the stands and – for reasons that are not clear to me – that is against the rules.  In an interview, her coach admitted he was doing that; tennis commentators say it is done all the time.  If the coach in the stands was “coaching” and it is against the rules, then the chair was justified in issuing the warning to Serena Williams.  If the commentators are correct that it happens all the time, then the chair was being petty simultaneous to being justified.  Serena Williams did not take the warning well at all; she told the chair several times that she was not cheating and has never cheated to win.  She took the warning personally.

Later, in frustration over happenings in the match, Serena Williams took out her frustration on her tennis racket smashing it to the ground and destroying it.  According to tennis commentators, that behavior runs afoul of the “abuse rule” and since there had been a prior warning – – for coaching – – the second rules violation led to Williams losing a point.  If she took the first warning poorly, she took this one even less well.  She said that the chair had stolen a point from her.

As her “displeasure” with the way things were going grew, she took a very logical – but very wrong – next step.  Since she was convinced that the chair had “stolen a point” from her; she proceeded to call the chair referee “a thief”.  Hey, if he stole something, then he is a thief, right?  The problem there is that she now attacked the referee as a person and not his decisions and that is across the line.  The chair then penalized her a game in the set and that decision was upheld by the tournament director when Serena Williams appealed to him.

At every step in the escalation of tensions here, there was a logical/predictable set of events and outcomes.  Once the “warning for coaching” was issued, things went downhill.  The “abuse violation” was clear; there was a destroyed racket on the court in plain view of everyone; absent the “coaching warning” that would not have cost Serena Williams a point and things could well have ended on a warning for violation of the “abuse rule”.  Even at that point, things could have been contained until it all got personal with the chair referee.

I have probably officiated 2500 “games” in various sports.  I have been criticized for “missing” at least 100,000 calls; I have let the vast majority of those protests slide.  I can recall about a dozen incidents where a coach or player went beyond protesting a call and made their protest personal.  One particularly frustrated coach – a man in his 50s who was an educator in his real life – lost it and called me a fellator loud enough to be heard throughout the gym.  I tossed him from the game instantly.  There is a difference between telling me I missed a call or misinterpreted a rule and getting personal.  That was where the drama at the US Open went off the rails.

Enough tennis …  I do not want to overreact to the first game of the NFL season, but something bothered me as I was watching the Falcons/Eagles game last Thursday night.  Something seemed “wrong” with Matt Ryan; there was no zip on the ball when he threw; even his completions downfield seemed to take forever to get where they were going.  Pitchers in baseball talk about having a “dead arm”; if there is such a thing for a QB, it seemed to me that Ryan may have encountered it.

This is not an overreaction because I brought up this issue in my NFL predictions for every team.  I watched much of the Ravens/Bills debacle yesterday even though the outcome was not in doubt for the last three quarters of play.  I watched it the way one might be mesmerized by the progress of a multi-car pileup at the bottom of an icy hill.  The Bills played terribly, and I am sure that some folks somewhere have already concluded that they will be the 2018 team that goes winless for the season.  I’ll stand back from that for now, but I do have to wonder again what the thought process was in Buffalo during the offseason:

  • The Bills made the playoffs last year as the second wild-card in the AFC.
  • So, why did they blow up the team?  They let their QB walk; they did a total makeover of their O-Line; they signed AJ McCarron to a 2-year contract and then traded him to Oakland for a 5th round pick; they assembled a WR corps that cannot even be called “plain vanilla”.
  • They said that Nathan Peterman won the starting job in training camp beating out AJ McCarron.  If you watched even two series of yesterday’s game, you have to wonder what the Hell was going on in that training camp that could have led to that conclusion.  Peterman was below awful in the hierarchy of adjectives.
  • This is not a case where a new GM and a new coach have come to town and are in the process of putting their stamp on the team and the roster; those guys were there last year when the team made the playoffs.
  • To the extent that there was a grand strategic plan behind all the moves made by the Bills in the last off-season, I just do not get it.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A man and two women are on the loose in Silver Spring, Md., after they stole an $80 wig from a store.

“Police profilers describe the suspects as huge fans of artificial turf.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/7/18

It’s Friday.  So, this will be the second iteration of Football Friday – – only this time we have both college football and NFL football to contemplate.  Let’s begin with a few comments about last week’s college football action.

I am sure that things could have been worse for the PAC-12 but Godzilla stayed at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and did not come ashore and stomp all over a half dozen or so campuses in that conference.  Washington – the class of the PAC-12 North – lost to Auburn.  There is no shame in that, but given some of the other stuff that happened, the conference could have used a win there.  Oregon St. – a PAC-12 cellar-dweller – went to Ohio State and got depantsed 77-31.  It was not that close.  UCLA inaugurated the Chip Kelly Era with a loss to Cincy – a team that managed to win all of 4 games last year.  And Arizona found a way to lose to BYU – another 4-win team from last year – in Kevin Sumlin’s first game at the helm.

Things were even worse for the Big-12 last week.  Ole Miss rolled over Texas Tech by 20 points.  The Tech defense was not very good last year but it returned 10 starters and the narrative was that the Tech defense would take a big step forward this year.  Forget that; Ole Miss averaged 9.1 yards per offensive play.  Oh, but that was the good news for the Big 12:

  • Texas went for its “revenge game” against Maryland – – and lost.  That makes it two years in a row that Texas has lost to this Big-10 doormat – two years in a row that Tom Herman’s team starts the season by soiling the sheets.  Making it worse, the Longhorns led at the end of the 3rd quarter so this was a come-from-ahead loss.  Here is a stat for you.  Since 2011, Maryland has played 24 games against “ranked opponents”.  Maryland’s record in those games is 2-22; the 2 wins were the ones over Texas last year and last week.
  • [Aside:  Two years ago, Tom Herman was the “hot hire” in college coaching and Texas lured him to Austin with a 5-year deal worth $29M.]
  • Kansas St. needed a furious 4th quarter rally to beat South Dakota by a field goal at home.  Hey, a win is a win, right?
  • Making the Texas and Texas Tech losses seem trivial, Kansas lost in OT to a Division 1-AA school, Nichols St.  I said in my college football preview that Kansas coach, David Beaty was on a hot seat.  Well, now you can label him as “Dead Man Coaching”.  His record at Kansas as of this morning is 3-34.

After the Kansas/Nichols St. game, Coach Beaty said:

“… this team is going to continue to work toward the goals they have set.”

Really?  I would have to believe that one of the goals they had set for themselves was not to lose to a Division 1-AA team.  What nonsense…

Here is a serious question.  When Kansas goes shopping for a new coach sometime in late November of this year, what should be the view of potential hires:

  1. Kansas is THE worst coaching job at any Power 5 school in the US, so the money had better be good because my résumé is going to take a hit by going there.   Or …
  2. Kansas is a golden opportunity.  They have stunk for so long that there is nowhere to go but up.  If I can turn that team into a .500 club in 2 years, I’ll be labeled a young up-and-coming coach who will be sought out by schools with real football programs.

I mentioned that the Chip Kelly Era at UCLA started out with a stink bomb.  It does not get any easier for the Bruins this week as they travel to Norman, OK to play the Sooners.  Believe it or not, UCLA is a 30-point underdog in the game…

Remember that Cardinals’ coach, Bobby Petrino, guaranteed that Louisville was going to beat Alabama in the opening game of the season.  Well, Louisville came up just a tad short; Alabama won the game 51-14.

  • Memo for Coach Petrino:  Do not poke the bear…

Liberty U is stepping up to Division 1-A in football this year.  It won its opener over Old Dominion handily by a score of 52-10 and shut out ODU in the second half of the game.  Unless Liberty is the sleeper-of-the-year, it could be a long season for the folks in the Norfolk area…

I kinda thought that Florida Atlantic would be able to score on Oklahoma and keep it within the 3-touchdown spread.  Forget that; the score was 42-0 at the half and 63-14 when the final whistle mercifully blew.

West Virginia beat Tennessee 40-14.  I saw the replay of the game and it looked to me as if Mountaineers’ QB, Will Grier was aiming to be the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft next spring.  He threw for 429 yards and 5 TDs and was hitting his receivers in stride all day long.

Michigan lost to Notre Dame meaning that Michigan – under Jim Harbaugh – is 9-9 in its last 18 games.  The Notre Dame defense looked outstanding in the game.  I mention this as a way to lead into the next item.

Virginia Tech used a throttling defense to beat Florida State last week – holding the Seminoles without a TD for the first time since 2008.  VA Tech and Notre Dame play one another in Blacksburg VA on October 6.  If those defenses are as good as they looked last week, the Total Line for that game could be in the low-40s…

The LSU defense rendered anything Miami tried to do moot.  If Miami has real offensive problems, then looking ahead to the Miami/Florida St. game is not a pleasant thought.

One more comment about the Florida State debacle last week…  The football program in Tallahassee is one of the better programs in the country over the past 30 years or so.  When Jimbo Fisher bolted the team last year, the Seminoles hired Willie Taggert to lead the program.  After watching Florida St. stumble all over itself last week – – I know; it’s only one game – – I wonder if the Seminoles reached too far.  Consider:

  • Taggert had a losing record in his 3 years at W. Kentucky.
  • Taggert had a losing record in his 4 years at USF.
  • Taggert was 7-5 last year in his only year at Oregon.
  • Taggert has an overall record of 47-51 as a college football coach.

Willie Taggert had 1 year of experience in a Power 5 conference and he managed a 7-5 record there.  Somehow, that and an overall losing record enticed a school with the stature of Florida State to hire him?  Really?

In the Auburn/Washington game, I saw that Auburn has a tight end named Sal Canella.  I wonder if he is related to Sal Monella – from Brooklyn.  You have probably met Sal sometime in your life – – possibly after eating Grandma’s potato salad which has been sitting out in the sun for a few hours at a family picnic.

Looking ahead to Week 2 in college football, there are not nearly as many interesting games as there were in Week 1.  But I’ll give it a try:

Liberty at Army – 8 (59):  This is interesting because of the drubbing Liberty put on ODU last week.  Is Liberty for real or is ODU that bad or what?

W. Michigan at Michigan – 28 (56.5): The Michigan offense better put on a show for the fans in Ann Arbor here after laying an egg against Notre Dame last week.

Duke at Northwestern – 3 (49):  The OVER/UNDER for the median SAT score here is 1250…

Kansas at C. Michigan – 5 (49.5):  Clearly the easiest game left on the Kansas schedule and they are the underdog here.  Oh my…

Rice at Hawaii – 17 (70):  Hawaii is 2-0 and beat Navy last week.  Rice flew about 4000 miles one way for this game.

So, here is my College Six-Pack for the week.  Last week, the Six-Pack was 3-3.  Meh…

(Tonite) TCU – 23 at SMU (59):  These schools are next-door neighbors.  TCU is the much better team – – but TCU just might be in a trap-game situation with Ohio State on tap for next week.  Purely a hunch, I’ll take SMU plus the points here.

Penn St. – 9 at Pitt (55):  Penn State needed OT to beat Appalachian St. last week and this is a big rivalry game from a long time ago.  I like Pitt plus the points.

USC at Stanford – 6 (56):  This is an important game that could be the deciding factor in the PAC-12 South race for the year.  I think Stanford will find ways to confuse USC’s freshman QB; I think USC will find ways to prevent Bryce Love from running amok.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Clemson – 12 at Texas A&M (54):  This one is Dabo versus Jimbo.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Bo Schembechler offers a tip of the cap…  Call it what you want, this is the best game of the weekend.  Clemson prides itself on being a great road team.  The “money folks” at A&M who ponied up huge money to lure Jimbo Fisher to College Station look at this game as an indication of how their “investment” may pan out in the future.  I like Clemson to win and cover here.

Georgia – 10.5 at S. Carolina (56.5):  I know that Georgia is the better team, but the Gamecocks can be tough at home and they will bring a reasonable defense to the field.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Appalachian St – 13 at UNC-Charlotte (48):  App St. took Penn St. to overtime last week and Charlotte is a bottom-feeder.  Even accounting for a letdown, I like App St to win and cover here.

Turning to the NFL, there was lots of sturm und drang in evidence early last week as commentators and fanboys all over the country lamented various moves made by teams in cutting down to the 53-man limit.  Perusing a few of the message boards, you would have thought that some of the cuts were as outrageous as throwing a bowling ball to a drowning person.  Calm down folks…

I will leave the final decision here to REAL NFL historians – – such as Dan Daly and/or Ray Didinger – – but here is what I think was the biggest cutdown “blunder” ever in the NFL:

  • In 1955, the Pittsburg Steelers used a late round draft pick on John Unitas.  After training camp, they cut him.  The Steelers kept Jim Finks and Ted Marchiborda as their QBs.  Both Finks and Marchibroda had long careers in the NFL after their playing days were over but neither one was a star on the field.
  • No other team signed Johnny U and so he spent a hear playing semi-pro football.
  • In 1956, the Baltimore Colts signed John Unitas as a free agent and put him in a backfield with rookie Lenny Moore and second year player Alan Ameche and gave him a guy named Raymond Berry to throw the ball to.  You know how that worked out…

For the first week of MNF, ESPN will depart from previous tradition.  Normally, ESPN puts its main broadcast team on the early game of the Monday double header; this year Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland will do the late game (Rams/Raiders).  That means Jason Witten’s debut on a game that means something will involve Jon Gruden – – the guy he is replacing in the broadcast booth.  That could be an interesting storyline, but I don’t think that is why the ESPN suits made their decision.  I think they wanted to put their “A-Team” on the better game – – and the early game is the Jets/Lions which could be a real ho-hum affair.

Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding MNF’s innovation for this season:

“New ‘Monday Night Football’ sideline reporter Booger McFarland will ride up and down the sidelines on a motorized cart dubbed ‘The Booger Mobile.’

“It’s believed to be the greatest innovation on wheels since the Pinto, the Corvair and the Edsel — take your pick.”

Last night’s kickoff game in Philly was a nail-biter to the end.  With the Eagles leading by 6 points, the Falcons had 5 shots at the end zone in the final 30 seconds to win the game but could not make it happen.  There was not a lot of offense in the game and both teams looked as if they could have used more practice time than the current CBA permits, but the game was exciting down to the end.

Here are thumbnail comments on the games this week that are not part of the NFL Six-Pack:

  • Jags/Giants:  Jalen Ramsey versus Odell Beckham, Jr. in OBJ’s first game back from injury; that should provide sparks.  It is also Saquon Barkley’s first game in front of the home fans.  It is also the return to NYC of Tom Coughlin in his exec role with the Jags.  Plenty of storylines here…The Jags probably think they can make a playoff run this year; we shall see.
  • Niners/Vikes:  Can Jimmy G stay undefeated as a starting QB?  Also, look for the Vikes to benefit from the return of RB, Dalvin Cook from injury.
  • Titans/Dolphins:  I have spent about 24 hours trying to find a reason to care about this game.  If you have one, let me know…
  • Seahawks/Broncos:  Seahawks are notoriously bad on the road; Broncos are really good at home.  However, who knows what to expect from the Seahawks totally revamped roster this year – – other than the OL will be substandard.
  • Chiefs/Chargers:  An important divisional game right out of the gate thanks to the schedule-makers.  We have a newbie QB in KC and an old hand at QB in LA.  Andy Reid teams usually start the season well…
  • Cowboys/Panthers:  One of these teams might be good this year.  Don’t know if that is true or which one it might be.
  • Skins/Cardinals:  Neither of these teams will be good this year.  This is the Dog Breath Game of the Week.
  • Bears/Packers:  This rivalry goes back to the origins of professional football in America.  It is a division game to start the season.  What’s not to like?
  • Jets/Lions:  This is the debut of Sam Darnold.  It is still September; so, the Lions have not been eliminated from the playoffs yet.  That’s all I got …

Here is the NFL Six-Pack for the week – with a seventh pick thrown in at no extra charge:

Pittsburgh – 4 at Cleveland (44):  It is fashionable to pick the Browns to win this game outright and end their 18-game losing streak.  Well, Curmudgeon Central is not a fashionable locale by any stretch of the imagination; my long-suffering wife will testify to that.  The Steelers have the better QB; the better set of playmakers and the Browns – – well they are the Browns.  I’ll take the Steelers and lay the points.

Tampa at New Orleans – 9.5 (49.5):  This is the largest spread of the week – – for a reason.  The Saints aspire to play in the Super Bowl this year; if the Bucs think that way, they are delusional.  The Saints will start Drew Brees; the Bucs will start Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Even with Mark Ingram sitting out a suspension, I like the Saints to win and cover here.

Houston at New England – 6.5 (51):  This is the best game of the weekend between two heavyweight teams; both squads should be in the playoffs come January.  This is the return game for Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus.  I like the Texans plus the points here.  [Aside:  I was tempted to take the Texans on the money line here at +220 but I am not going to go that far taking a young QB to win outright in Foxboro.]

Buffalo at Baltimore – 7.5 (40.5):  I am neither a Joe Flacco fanboy nor a Joe Flacco hater but given the choice of backing a team led by Joe Flacco or Nathan Peterman, I’ll take Joe Flacco.  I wish that half-point hook was not on the spread, but I’ll ignore that and take the Ravens to win and cover.  Also, I like this game to go OVER.

Cincy at Indy – 2.5 (48):  I like the fact that Andrew Luck in back and able to play.  Notwithstanding the Colts advantage at QB if Luck is even at 80% of what he was, the Bengals are the better team here and they are getting points.  I like the Bengals plus the points here.

(Monday Nite) Rams – 4 at Oakland (49):  This is the first game of the Jon Gruden Era and already there are grumblings among the Raider faithful given the trade of Khalil Mack.  This game features two franchises that are perpetually peripatetic.  The Rams started out in Cleveland, moved to LA then moved to St. Louis and now they are back in LA.  The Raiders started out in Oakland, moved to LA, threatened to move to Irwindale, moved back to Oakland and are on their way to Las Vegas.  The game should be sponsored by Mayflower Moving Company…  I think the Rams are the better team by far; I like them to win and cover here.

Finally, Brad Rock had this comment in the Deseret News recently going to see the Cleveland Browns play football:

“A woman directed a profane Facebook rant at family and friends for failing to finance her $60,000 ‘Kardashian wedding’.

“She reportedly asked guests to pay $1500 apiece to attend.

“That’s outrageous, but seriously, worse than charging $200 to see the Cleveland Browns?”

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

 

 

Today Is Mishmash Day

Here is a headline from yesterday at CBSSports.com:

  • “What deGrom needs to do to get ERA below Gooden’s 1.53.”

I was not sufficiently enticed by that headline to click on the link, because I thought I knew the answer off the top of my head:

  • Do not allow any earned runs in September.

Brad Dickson, humor writer formerly with the Omaha World-Herald tweeted out his perspective on the Nike/Colin Kaepernick kerfuffle:

“Well, I’m glad that Nike finally found a spokes-person who’s non-polarizing. Second and third choices were Julian Assange and Kim Jong Un.”

It is a good thing when a “big controversy” gets to the point where we can make fun of it in addition to venting spleen over it…

Believe it or not, there are TWO high school football things to talk about this morning.  Often, I can go through an entire football season without mentioning two high school football happenings but that is not the case today.

The highest scoring high school football game in Iowa happened earlier this year.  Council Bluffs Jefferson beat Sioux City North by a score of 99-81.  [Aside:  No truth to the rumor that both defensive coordinators bet the OVER.]  At halftime, Council Bluffs led 57-21; Sioux City North won the second half 60-42.  The QB for the LOSING side threw for 310 yards and 9 TDs in the game.  The winning side ran the ball for 749 yards (67 attempts) and one runner scored 8 TDs.

I presume that these two teams will meet on a basketball court sometime this winter.  I suspect there will be fewer points scored in the basketball game than were scored in this football game.

The other high school football note is captured in this comment by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Turning out: During a high school football game last weekend in Little Rock, Ark., false reports of gunfire sent 38,000 panicked people scrambling for the exits. That’s right, a high school game in Arkansas attracted 38,000 spectators.”

I suspect that in many parts of Texas, a crowd of 38,000 for a high school football game would be an indicator that the game was played in a torrential downpour…  There are indeed parts of the country where youth sports are much more important then they are here in the DC suburbs.

Allow me to tell a story here.  In my real career before ranting on the Internet, there was a time when I had to travel to Joplin, MO about once a month/every six weeks.  On the first of my visits there, I asked the people who lived there with whom I was transacting business what I ought to do for entertainment in the evening.  Most of the trips there were 2 or possibly 3 days in duration.  My colleague asked me if I liked baseball; of course, I said I did.  He said that he and his wife were going to the game that evening and that I should consider meeting them at the park; there are always tickets available at the walk-up window.  I thought that was a great idea and he gave me directions to get from my motel to the park.  [Aside: I doubt that anyone had even dreamt of GPS at that point in history.]

I went back to the motel and changed clothes and started to head to the park.  I was trying to think in what minor league Joplin had a team; none came to mind; I assumed that meant it was going to be A-ball or maybe a rookie league.  I was wrong…

My colleague and his wife – and about a thousand other folks – were there to watch a Little League doubleheader.  During my time when visits to Joplin, MO were happening on a regular basis, I took in several other Little League doubleheaders to pass the time on summer evenings.  The crowds were always about the same size.

As a point of reference, if a Little League team in the DC area counted the attendance at all of their games for an entire season, I doubt that it would come anywhere near 1000 souls…

Great players – in general – do not make very good coaches/GMs.  The counter-example here would be Larry Bird who was a great player and a good coach.  [Bill Russell’s tenure with the Celtics does not count because he was a player-coach and “Coach Russell” had the “Great Player” Russell on the court.]  Perhaps, we are seeing an example of this phenomenon unfold in the NFL.  John Elway was a great QB to anyone who saw him play.  John Elway has been less than successful in finding QBs for his Denver Broncos.  [Do not count “finding” Peyton Manning on the free-agent market after he was released by the Colts.  Everyone knew Manning was a great QB; the question was if his body could hold up throughout a season.]

The QBs he has taken in the draft have ranged from “decidedly mediocre” to “outright awful”.

  • Trevor Siemian – a 7th round pick – is probably the best of the lot.  He will back up Kirk Cousins for the Vikes this season.
  • Brock Osweiler – a 2nd round pick – is starting his 7th season in the league and has yet to do anything marginally impressive.
  • Paxton Lynch – a 1st round pick – lasted 3 years with the Broncos where he started 5 games.  He was released by the team in this year’s cutdown.

I think the reason great players make less than great coaches/GMs is that they were able to things naturally/instinctively that others could not.  You cannot teach “instinct” and – even worse – a great player turned coach/GM might just assume that everyone has the same instincts that he does/did.  The fact is that most players do not have innate greatness and perhaps those great players turned coaches/GMs are on a fool’s errand looking for young players who will just like they were.  Just a thought…

Finally, let me close with another Tweet from Brad Dickson:

“This morning I learned that John McCain and Michael Jackson were born on the same day. So much for astrology.”

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

 

 

Nike’s New Marketing Campaign

I guess I have to start today with Nike’s corporate decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30th anniversary of Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It”.  Many columnists this morning have lauded Nike for “taking a side” in the ongoing dispute between Kaepernick and the NFL.  Actually, I don’t think they took a side at all.  Remember just as Nike will pay Kaepernick to use his image and his person as the basis of their new ad campaign, Nike also is paying the NFL to be its official athletic shoe and it also is selling uniform jerseys to the NFL teams.  What Nike did was to make a business decision and now people who have already made up their mind on the “Kaepernick/NFL Kerfuffle” are acting out.

  1. People who think Kaepernick and his anthem protests were right and proper hail this as a victory – – and some predict that this will be a landslide that engulfs the NFL and its owners.
  2. People who think Kaepernick’s anthem protests were an affront to the United States see this as more pandering to the protesters and they have taken to the streets to burn Nike gear and shoes.

No one had their mind changed by Nike’s decision – – and if anyone thinks that Nike did not take all of this into account before launching this campaign, he/she is delusional.  And for the record, the entire athletic shoe and apparel industry – including Nike and all its competitors – got a business boost in the past 48 hours.  When large numbers of people burn up shoes and jerseys, that creates demand in the industry.  Nike competitors will get the business of folks who burned the shoes; Nike will get the business of people who think the company did a courageous and righteous thing.  It is quite transactional…

Allow me to make two quick baseball observations here.  We are at the point in the MLB season where rosters are expanded, and managers now have 40 bodies in the dugout to use in game situations.  Do not be surprised if games in September – particularly ones involving teams that are not in the running for anything – start to take longer to complete.  Up until September 1, MLB teams carry 12 or 13 pitchers on the active roster.  In September, managers may have 15 or 20 arms available to them.  It takes a smidgen of planning ahead when it comes to managing a bullpen in the early part of the season; in September, managers can change pitchers on a whim.

Therefore, things to look for in September include:

  • Time of game entries in box scores longer than 3:30
  • Games where the total number of pitchers used by both teams is 12 or more.

The Miami Marlins made an announcement of a business decision of their own last week.  For those who thought that Nike made a bad decision, please ruminate on this one for a moment.

  • Next year, the Marlins will set aside sections in the stands for fans who want to bring noisemakers to the game.

As of this morning, the Marlins average attendance for 2018 home games is 10,014.  Last year, the Marlins drew just over 20,000 per home game; so, attendance this year is about half of what it was last year.  Obviously, the decision by the Marlins to slash payroll and trade off all but one of their top players is the principal cause of that attendance debacle.  Nonetheless, I wonder about the thought processes of the Marlins’ braintrust if they think adding sections full of noisemakers – – think vuvuzelas – – will attract thousands of fans per game to the stadium.

Niners’ CB, Richard Sherman, is in the news for something other than his play on the field.  Sherman will launch a Daily Fantasy Sports website that offers a different way to play daily fantasy sports.  Since I never played them “the old way”, I am no position to tell you how new and different Sherman’s approach to that form of gambling might be.  Buried in the announcement of the launch of Daily Number is the fact that it plans to launch in 23 states meaning that this endeavor is going to seek a national presence in the daily fantasy sports landscape.  Here is a link to a report at legalsportsreport.com that explains how the app will work and what the marketing plan for it is.

Given my apathy about daily fantasy sports in general, consider this a public service announcement …

After those of you who care about daily fantasy sports have digested the nuances of this new approach to that form of gambling entertainment, ponder for a moment what might have been the reaction of Roger Goodell to this announcement just a year ago.  After he recovered from the apoplexy he would have suffered …

Having mentioned fantasy sports, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald on the subject:

“It’s fantasy draft weekend: Has your league had its fantasy draft yet? Better get to it, with NFL season opening this Thursday night. Only sure bet with fantasy drafts? You’ll think your team is a lot better than it really is. Me, too.”

Finally, here is a tidbit of football history from Peter King’s Football Morning In America column at NBCSports.com earlier this week:

“The Bears and the Packers, fittingly, will open the 100th season of professional football in Green Bay Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

“They have met 196 times previously—194 in the regular season, twice in the playoffs. In those 196 games, this is the composite score:

“Green Bay 3,377, Chicago 3,377.”

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

 

 

NFL Season Predictions – 2018

A quick reset, if I may.  This is one of my annual exercises where I set out to embarrass myself.  I am going on the record here to predict the final regular season record for each and every NFL team and to predict the playoff pairings that will begin in January 2019.  [Aside:  I probably have a better chance of bringing peace to the Middle East by January 2019 than I do of getting all of this right.  But what the hey …]

These predictions will stay on the website as long as the website continues to exist as a monument to my ineptitude as a prognosticator.  I take solace in an old adage:

  • Prediction is difficult – – particularly when it deals with the future.

One more background item before getting down to business…  None of these predictions are made with any sort of malice or animus.  There will surely be teams who will have much better records in January than the ones I predicted for them in this piece.  I did not do that to disrespect the teams, the players, the coaches or the fans of that team; what I did was to make a mistake.  Under those circumstances, I do not owe anyone an apology; what I have to do is to admit that I was wrong.

With the administrative stuff out of the way, let me begin with an added feature of these annual things.  I want to make a list of the NFL Coaches on a Hot Seat – – before the season starts.  I will list them alphabetically lest anyone misinterpret and think that I have prioritized the heat on their seat:

  1. Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  He has been the full-time head coach of the Cowboys since 2011; the team’s cumulative record over that period is 62-50 with 2 playoff appearances and 1 playoff victory.  From all outward appearances, he and Jerry Jones have a relationship that is as close as one could have with someone who is not a blood relative.  Or, perhaps, Jason Garrett survives as the Cowboys’ coach because he does not push back against Jerry Jones’ “intrusions” into the football aspects of the Cowboys?  I dunno; I’m just tossing that out there for consideration…  However, at some point, this is nominally “America’s Team” and mediocrity is not going to cut it forever – unless Jerry Jones is happy cashing all the revenue checks he takes in and does not really give a rat’s ass about Super Bowl rings anymore.
  2. Adam Gase (Miami):  Yes, he had the Dolphins in the playoffs in 2016 and then had to try to navigate the 2017 season without his starting QB and with Jay Cutler on the field.  Call that whatever you wish; those were far-less-than-ideal circumstances.  However, the Dolphins let a bunch of their talented players take a hike.  Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh left in the off-season; Jay Ajayi was shipped out of town in the middle of last season amidst rumors of “friction” with the coaching staff.  Boy they sure punished him by trading him to the Super Bowl champion Eagles!  Adam Gase cannot survive another 6-10 season in Miami.
  3. Jay Gruden (Washington):  He has lasted longer than any coach in the Dan Snyder Era and is the only Skins’ coach in that Era ever to get a contract extension.  Nevertheless, his overall record on the job is sub-.500 and the organization/fanbase has higher expectations for this year’s team than in recent seasons.  The QB situation is no longer a weekly soap opera; the Skins have a solid player at that position and his contractual status is settled.  I think the Skins need to be 8-8 or better this year for Gruden to be on the job next year.  Looking at the Skins’ schedule, there could be a big trap early on.  The Skins open at Arizona then host the Colts and Packers before getting the early BYE Week.  If the Skins lose to the Cards and Colts and then get blown away by the Packers leading to that BYE Week …
  4. John Harbaugh (Ravens):  I had him on this list last year.  He led the Ravens to the Super Bowl championship in 2012.  Since then in 5 seasons the Ravens have a cumulative record of 40-40 with one playoff appearance.  Last year, the Ravens would have been in the playoffs had they beaten a mediocre Bengals’ team in the final game – – but they didn’t.  I think the Ravens need to win enough games to make the playoffs this year or they will be finding a new coach next winter.
  5. Hue Jackson (Browns):  With a coaching record in Cleveland of 1-32 over the past two seasons, I am surprised that he is back on the sidelines for another go-round.  There is nowhere to go but up from an 0-16 season and some folks are already talking about the Browns winning 8 games this year and even challenging for the AFC North title.  If ownership has those expectations, Jackson is cooked.  If he wins 5 games with that roster he ought to be given another season at the helm; if he wins the AFC North, the folks in Canton, OH should fit him for a yellow blazer.
  6. Vance Joseph (Denver):  The problem with the Broncos last year was more than just their 5-11 record; in addition, the team did not make a game of it far too often.  Yes, the Broncos were limited by their QB position but 5-11 and looking dispirited on the field is hard to take.  The Broncos have a new QB who will never be a Hall of Fame candidate but who is a step up from what they had last year.  The team must win more games this year and must be competitive in their losses or Vance Joseph will be out of a job after only 2 seasons.
  7. Dirk Koetter (Bucs):  It was not that long ago that the Bucs fired Lovie Smith to promote Koetter to the top job because of the great work he was nominally doing with Jameis Winston.  So, how’s that working out?  Well, the Bucs are 14-18 in Koetter’s two years in the head coaching position and Winston will be sitting out the first 3 games of the season on a suspension for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  The schedule-maker did Koetter no favorites; the Bucs opponents in those 3 games without Winston will be Saints, Eagles and Steelers.  Ouch!
  8. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  It seems as if I put him here every year, so I’ll do it again this year.  Actually, I think Lewis is relatively safe for this year unless the Bengals go 2-14 or something like that.  The reason is that he got a contract extension that runs through the end of the 2019 season and Mike Brown does not like to pay coaches not to coach.

I went back a forth about whether to put Todd Bowles on this list.  The Jets’ roster is not a good one and the Jets will start a QB who is 21 years old and only played in 27 games in college.  By all reason, the Jets should not be very good this year – and they were only 5-11 last year.  However, the reason I left him off the list is that the Jets were in the same situation as the 2017 season began; some folks thought that the Jets – not the Browns – would have a shot to go 0-16 for the season and Bowles somehow squeezed 5 wins out of that roster.  I think that overachievement from last season will get him a pass from 2018 and into 2019.

Now to the business at hand; I shall start in the AFC West.  My prediction is that this division will produce a cumulative record of 32-32 at the end of the season.  They may represent the “Left Coast”, but their record is pretty much “middle of the road”.

  1. LA Chargers (10-6):  That’s right; I am picking the Chargers to win the division this year.  I think the other teams in the division have come back to the Chargers and the best QB in the division is Philip Rivers.  They will need some other WR besides Keenan Allen to play well.  I think their weakness from last year was run defense and they seemingly have tried to improve that in the off-season.
  2. KC Chiefs (9-7):  The Chiefs’ D-line and run defense must improve; they got decent pass rush some weeks last year and not-so-good pressure on other weeks.  I think Andy Reid will have a good offense even with a new QB; the defense is “the issue”.  I am not sold on Sammy Watkins and the big money the Chiefs bestowed on him.  Watkins is 24 and this is his 3rd NFL team already.  He is not some journeyman roaming around looking for a place to hang his hat; he was a first-round pick and already 2 teams have “gone in a different direction”.
  3. Denver Broncos (8-8):  Last year, the Broncos’ pathetic offense kept them out of the playoff hunt; the defense was solid.  Case Keenum is not a Hall of Fame candidate anywhere in the future, but he is a significant step up from what the Broncos put on the field at QB last year – – and that assumes that Keenum does not improve even a little from last year to this year.  The Broncos will improve but not enough to win the division or make the playoffs.
  4. Oakland Raiders (5-11):  Their OL took a step back last year and their DL was just plain poor.  Football games are won and lost “in the trenches” and the Raiders paid dearly for those line failures.  The Raiders addressed the OL in the draft; I do not see how the DL is supposed to make a quantum leap this year over last year.  The Raiders’ WR corps will be interesting to watch.  Jordy Nelson is 33 – but he played well in Green Bay last year.  Amari Cooper pulled a disappearing act last year for the Raiders; will he find his way back this year?  Martavis Bryant seemed always to be 48-hours away from another suspension for something or other and that is rumored to be on the horizon for 2018 – – but the Raiders will dodge that bullet because they cut him from the roster in the final camp trimmings.  Those first round draft picks that the Raiders got in exchange for Khalil Mack will be of zero value in 2018 – – and they are going to be heavily scrutinized in the next several years.  The Raiders acquired AJ McCarron from the Bills to be the backup QB.

Moving to the AFC South, my prediction is that the division’s cumulative record will be 34-30 – making it the strongest division in the AFC.

  1. Houston Texans (11-5):  Even if there is a football god on Mount Canton who delights in torturing Bill O’Brien, that god has to take a breather this year.  Forget any draft picks that might make this team or any free agents who might contribute this season, the Texans will be significantly better simply to regain the services of Whitney Mercilus, JJ Watt and DeShaun Watson – – all of whom missed plenty of games last year.  Bill O’Brien has toiled in Houston without a competent QB who is healthy all the time and without the services of key defensive players for the last couple of years.  He – and the Texans – catch a break this year and win the division.
  2. Jax Jaguars (9-7):  The Jags will take a step back this season for a couple of reasons.  They will play a “first place schedule” this year and they are just not likely to repeat the good fortune they had to play teams with injured QBs as often as they did last year.  Unless I counted wrong, they faced 6 mediocre QBs last year [Jacoby Brisset, Blaine Gabbert, DeShone Kizer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and TJ Yates].  The Jags are a good team with a good defense, but I think this is a regression to the mean season for them.  Face the facts here; if Colts’ QB Andrew Luck is even able to play at 80% of his previously shown capacity, the Jags have the worst QB in the division by a mile-and-three-quarters.
  3. Tennessee Titans (9-7):  In terms of team needs, the Titans need an upgraded pass rush and they need to be sure Marcus Mariota says healthy all year.  The Titans signed two free agents from the Patriots in the off season – – Malcom Butler and Dion Lewis.  The new coach in Tennessee is Mike Vrabel.  Hmmm…  Where did he play his football?  Something to watch here is that Patriot players who go elsewhere do not always perform the way they did in New England.
  4. Indy Colts (5-11):  Yes, Andrew Luck is back, and everyone says he is throwing naturally and without pain.  Honestly, I hope that is the case now and the case going forward.  The fact is that he has not played in a real NFL game in about 20 months.  The Colts took 2 offensive linemen high in the draft signaling that they have finally realized that keeping Andrew Luck vertical is critical to their success.  We shall see how all that works out…  Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense looks as if will be a sieve once again.

The AFC North will produce a cumulative division record of 29-35 at season’s end, if my prognostications are correct.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5):  I think the Steelers win the division by default; none of the other three teams there present a credible challenge unless Ben Roethlisberger goes down and LeVeon Bell does not show up ready to play football.  This Steelers’ defense will not carry this team; it is a far cry from the Steel Curtain of old.  The Steelers drafted an “heir apparent” to Ben Roethlisberger in this draft; what they really needed was to draft an “heir apparent” to Ryan Shazier.
  2. Baltimore Ravens (8-8):  The Ravens need help at WR; they offered Dez Bryant a 3-year contract ($21M) and caught a break when he turned them down.  They added Michael Crabtree who is OK, but not someone who will keep defensive coordinators awake at night wondering what to do with him.  Pressure will mount on Joe Flacco as the season goes along because he has a sub-.500 record as a starter over the last two years and because flashy first-round pick Lamar Jackson is on the squad.  As I noted above, John Harbaugh may be coaching for his job this season.  For once, you can believe him when he says he is playing the guys that he believes give the Ravens the best chance to win.
  3. Cincy Bengals (5-11):  Here is a shocker; the Bengals will start the season with Vontaze Burfict serving a suspension.  Who woulda thunk it…?  The offensive line was miserable last year; I am not sure where the improvement will come from this year unless Cordy Glenn (acquired in a trade) and Billy Daniels (drafted early) play really well.  The Bengals are also single-threaded at QB; AJ McCarron left in free agency.  When they headed into mini-camp the guys on the depth chart behind Andy Dalton were Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel and Logan Whiteside.  Ruminate on that as you realize that every other team in the AFC North took a QB relatively early in the 2018 NFL Draft – but the Bengals did not…
  4. Cleveland Browns (5-11):  Coming off an 0-16 record, this record would be an infinite improvement – mathematically speaking.  I know it is chic at the moment to talk about the Browns going 8-8 for this season but I just don’t see that happening.  Here is a big plus for the team.  Last year, the Browns soiled themselves so regularly that you might have thought they all ate prunes and All-Bran for breakfast daily.  Whoever played QB on any given series was a turnover waiting to happen.  With Tyrod Taylor at QB, those turnovers are going to go down significantly; he is not a great QB, but he knows how to protect the ball.

The AFC East – similar to the AFC North – is top-heavy.  I predict that the division will produce a cumulative record of 29-35 at season’s end.

  1. New England Patriots (12-4):  Ho-hum…  Another day at the office; another year making predictions about the AFC East champs.  Getting to double digit wins in a season is a lot easier when a team like the Pats can look at the schedule and pencil in at least 5 wins in their division – – and sometimes 6.  This could be one of those years.  The only real “football questions” surrounding the team involve Julian Edelman’s suspension and the deal that Tom Brady has made with Father Time.  To make things interesting, people have flogged to death the story about potential friction among Brady, Belichick and Kraft.  I do not doubt for a moment that there is some unease in that troika, but unless Brady breaks a leg and/or Belichick decides to go yak wrangling/yeti hunting for the balance of the season, the Pats will be just fine.
  2. NY Jets (7-9):  Yes, even with a rookie QB who only played in 27 college games at USC, I think the Jets will improve on their 5-11 record from last year.  I am not sure who is going to catch whatever Sam Darnold delivers in the passing game and I don’t think there are any All-Pro running backs on the roster.  Nevertheless, I was most impressed by the job that Todd Bowles did last year with a terrible roster.  By the way, safety, Jamal Adams, was a really positive addition to the Jets’ defense last year and should only get better this year.
  3. Miami Dolphins (7-9):  The good news is that Ryan Tannehill is back to play QB; the bad news is that Ryan Tannehill is the starting QB.  Fans in Miami have to hope for Tannehill to return to form and improve as the season goes on; he has missed 19 consecutive games so that is not a certainty.  The reason fans have to hope he is back permanently and competently is simple; Brock Osweiler is the back-up and we pretty much have figured out by now that he is not the answer to any question anyone might want to ask.
  4. Buffalo Bills (4-12):  I do not understand the thought processes in Buffalo.  The Bills made the playoffs – via the back door to be sure – in 2017 so they “built on that showing” by blowing up the team.  What I mean by the Bills getting into the playoffs by the back door is simple; they were outscored by 57 points in their 16 regular season games and made the playoffs as the last wildcard.  That does not happen often.  So, their starting QB – Tyrod Taylor – shuffled off out of Buffalo to Cleveland and the Bills replaced him with the triumvirate of Josh Allen, AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman.  Yowza!  Here are the cumulative stats for those three QB candidates:  5 starts, 8 TDs, 7 INTs.  Yowza – squared!!  And then the Bills traded AJ McCarron away to the Raiders for a 5th round pick and named Nathan Peterman as their Game 1 starter.  But it gets worse…  if I am not sure who will “do the catching of passes” for the Jets, I am even more in the dark when considering the Bills.  Last year, RB, Le Sean McCoy was the leading receiver on the team.  The most productive wideouts on the roster would appear to be Kelvin Benjamin (good but not a game changer) and Zay Jones (he caught 27 passes for 316 yards last year).  I will not be shocked to see a snowy Bills’ home game in December with three inebriated Bills’ fans in the stands with their shirts off and the letters W, T and F painted on their bare chests.  My answer would have to be along the line of “I don’t get it either, bro.”  I project that the Bills will be part of a coin flip to see who gets the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The AFC playoff picture will look like this:

  • #1 seed:  Patriots
  • #2 seed: Steelers
  • #3 seed: Texans
  • #4 seed:  Chargers
  • #5 seed:  Jags
  • #6 seed:  Chiefs

And so, having taken a deep breath and refilled my coffee mug for the fourth time this AM, I shall move on to the NFC and like the progression in the AFC, I shall begin with the NFC West.  Should my predictions pan out, this division will be the weakest one in the NFC generating a cumulative record of 29-35.

  1. LA Rams (10-6):  With the recent signing of Aaron Donald to the richest contract ever given to aa defensive player, there seem to be no holes in this roster.  [Aside:  Donald’s contract enjoyed that status for less than 48 hours when it was eclipsed by Khalil Mack’s new deal in Chicago.]  About the only apparent challenge for the team will be the schedule – – not particularly easy outside the division – – and maintaining order in the locker room with some salty characters having been acquired in the off-season.  If things with Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib start to get out of hand at any point, maybe the coaches will need whips and chairs to keep things under control.  Another question mark for me is the acquisition of Brandin Cooks who is about to turn 25 years old and on his 3rd team already.
  2. SF Niners (8-8):  I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings to the Bay Area fans, but Jimmy Garoppolo is going to lose a game sometime this season.  Now that we are over that speed bump, RB, Jerick McKinnon was supposed to replace Carlos Hyde as the featured RB in Kyle Shanahan’s offense – but now it appears that he will miss 2018 with an ACL injury.  Linebacker, Reuben Foster will serve an early-season suspension; Foster is very important to the Niners’ defense; he is a difference maker.  Foster needs to get a grip on his life and recognize – hopefully during his suspended time – that if he does not get his off-the-field life in better control, he will not be part of the NFL for very long.  Another question mark for the defense is the level of play the Niners will get from Richard Sherman who is coming beck from an Achilles tendon injury last year and a “Grade 1 hamstring strain” suffered in this year’s Exhibition Season.
  3. Seattle Seahawks (7-9):  The turnover within the Seahawks organization is almost as complete as the turnover that occurred here in DC when President Trump took over from President Obama.  About half of the coaching staff is new; the defensive backfield is totally new – unless Earl Thomas relents and shows up to play.  The OL was awful last year and only a true Seattle fanboy would look at this group and say they are going to be world beaters this year.  Russell Wilson made some amazing plays out of nothing last year with his scrambling and throws on the run.  But magicians can only pull rabbits out of a hat if they have previously stuffed rabbits in there.  That OL has to be sure to keep Wilson in a position to keep finding those rabbits to stuff in those hats in order to …
  4. Arizona Cardinals (4-12):  If indeed this is Larry Fitzgerald’s last year in the NFL, this is a sad way for a great receiver – – and by all accounts a very good person – – to exit stage right.  I have this bleak prediction even though the Cards’ QB situation has improved from last year except Sam Bradford is a “China doll” (Bradford has been in the NFL 9 years and has made it through a complete season exactly twice.) and Josh Rosen is awfully green to be wearing Cardinal red.  Word is that the team will carry 3 QBs and include Mike Glennon in the QB discussions.  If Bradford suffers so much as a thumb blister, the Cards could be in deep water.

The NFC South will be a difficult division.  When the dust settles, I predict that the division combined record will be 35-29.

  1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4):  Falcons’ fans need not worry about where the yards and the points will come from as long as Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohammed Sanu orchestrate the passing attack and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman handle the running chores.  I am not sold on the Falcons’ DL, but the rest of the defense appears to be plenty good enough.
  2. New Orleans Saints (12-4):  There are no glaring holes on this roster either; the Saints’ defense came to life last year after being AWOL for several seasons and the Saints will also put points on the board against anyone.  The Saints gave up next year’s first round pick to move up in the draft to take an edge rusher from UT-San Antonio, Marcus Davenport.  That took a huge set of onions.  I wonder if Drew Brees – at age 39 – has made the same deal with Father Time that Tom Brady has…  Mark Ingram will serve a 4-game suspension at the start of the season.  That is not exactly the toughest part of the schedule for the Saints except for the 3rd game when the Saints go to Atlanta to play the Falcons.
  3. Carolina Panthers (6-10): The O-line was a significant problem for the Panthers last year and I don’t see that they took any significant or bold steps to improve it during the off-season.
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs (4-12):  Jameis Winston took a giant step backwards last year and will start this year with a 3-game suspension.  When he comes back, he needs to be a lot better than he was last year.  The same must be said about WR DeSean Jackson who can be a real difference maker but just blended into the woodwork last season.  The Bucs did try to shore up their D-line and it does look good on paper.  They signed veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry; they drafted Vita Vea out of Washington and they have Gerald McCoy coming back from an injury.  If my record prediction is correct, the Bucs will be in the market for a new coach in January 2019.  [Aside:  The NFL is anally retentive about what players can put on the nameplate on the backs of their jerseys.  Imagine if Vita Vea wanted his full name there – – Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau “Vita” Vea]  The Bucs will be coin flipping with the Bills to see who gets the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Moving to the NFC North – or the Norris Division as Chris Berman used to call it – I think this will be the toughest division in the league this year.  I project a combined division record here of 36-28.

  1. Green Bay Packers (11-5):  The Aaron Rodgers’ contract issue is resolved, and it ought to be interesting to see how he and Jimmy Graham work to create offensive nightmares for opponents.  Davonte Adams returns also, but I wonder how much the Packers will miss Jordy Nelson.  The Packers added help in their secondary via the draft and they signed Muhammed Wilkerson from the Jets as a run stopper.  The question for the Packers’ defense is their pass rush; it was anemic last year, and it looks as if it will be the same personnel this year.
  2. Minnesota Vikings (11-5):  The team is solid on offense and on defense.  They made it to the NFC Championship Game last year and upgraded themselves at QB in the offseason signing Kirk Cousins to replace Case Keenum.  Moreover, they will get RB, Dalvin Cook back from a season ending injury last year and he looked like a really good player while he was playing.  Of course, there is a question as to how much the O-line will miss coach Tony Sparano who passed away in the off-season…
  3. Chicago Bears (9-7):  Their offense looks to be improved this year as Mitchell Trubisky starts his second year with plenty of experience under his belt.  Remember how Carson Wentz blossomed in his second season with a similar background last year.  The Bears added pass catchers in free agency for Trubisky to throw to – – Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson.  The Bears also have two RBs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen who can take some pressure off Trubisky.  The Bears’ defense is not the worst in the league – – and it improved significantly with the trade last weekend to acquire Khalil Mack from the Raiders..  The defensive backfield seems to be Kyle Fuller and “three or four other guys”.
  4. Detroit Lions (6-10):  Two years ago, LeGarrette Blount got a Super Bowl ring with the Pats.  Last year, LeGarrette Blount got a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles.  This year, the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount… Is this an omen?  I don’t think so.

Finally, I come to the NFC East which will not be a fearsome division at the end of the season.  I prognosticate a cumulative record here of 31-33.

  1. Philly Eagles (10-6):  The Eagles may have sneaked up on an opponent or two last year; that will not happen again in 2018.  The two question marks for the Eagles in 2018 are pretty direct.  When will Carson Wentz be ready to play at something near the level he demonstrated in 2017?  Will Jason Peters be able to play at anything near the form that people have become accustomed to seeing from him as he returns from a major ACL and MCL knee injury last year?  If you believe in trends, the last time an NFC East champion repeated in the following season was back in 2004.  Sydney Jones was a high draft pick of the Eagles in 2017 who missed the entire season with an injury; his addition to the defensive backfield is as if the team had an extra draft pick this year to add to their Super Bowl winning roster.
  2. NY Giants (8-8):  The Giants are going to be better simply because they will have Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard on the field to catch the ball and they will have Saquon Barkley in the backfield to run the ball.  The reason the Giants will break even on the season is that the defense – – which struggled last year to be polite – – is going to continue to struggle this year.  Another “issue” for the Giants is that there is precious little offensive depth – particularly on the offensive line.  The Giants won 11 games in 2016; they were probably not that good that year; the Giants won 3 games in 2017; they were not that bad last year.  Given the roster available, 8 wins seems about right…
  3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8):  Whether you think Dez Bryant is a top-shelf receiver or not, the fact is that the Cowboys of 2018 are missing Bryant AND Jason Witten from their pass-catching corps.  That is lot of “chemistry” with Dak Prescott that needs replacing and as importantly, it is a lot of “pass catching” that is missing from the Cowboys’ roster.  Fortunately, Ezekiel Elliott is there to carry the ball; unfortunately, two of the Cowboys’ very good offensive linemen – Travis Fredrick and Zach Martin – will begin the season on the shelf.  In a surprising cutdown move, the Cowboys cut kicker Dan Bailey and will enter the season with a kicker who has never attempted a kick in a real NFL game.  Earl Thomas is holding out from the Seahawks and has said specifically that he wants to play for the Cowboys … a team that could use help in the secondary.  Somehow, Jerry Jones & Co. have not made that happen.  Strangely, I still see the Cowboys breaking even for the season.
  4. Washington Skins (5-11):  I will make no friends in the DC area with that prognostication; expectations are higher this year than they have been in the last 5 years in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area.  Alex Smith is here to be the QB without any drama about his contract; they already have him signed for 3 seasons.  The problem is that he cannot do it all by himself.  He needs a lot more production from the WRs on the team and somehow Jordan Reed has to find a way to play more than a half-dozen games or so.  I said above that Sam Bradford was a “China Doll”; so is Jordan Reed. They really need a ‘bell cow running back” [Hat tip to Keith Jackson] and Darius Guice was supposed to be that guy; he is out for the year with an ACL tear.  Now it will fall to Adrian Peterson at age 33 to be the workhorse at RB.  Good luck to him with that assignment.  The Skins’ defense was miserable last year and if you think it will be significantly better this year, I am anxious to hear your rationale for that.  The back end of the Skins’ schedule in 2018 is brutal.  Starting on Thanksgiving, they are AT Dallas, AT Philly, HOME vs Giants, AT Jax, AT Tennessee, HOME vs Eagles.  Ouch!

The NFC playoff picture will look like this:

  • #1 seed: Falcons
  • #2 seed: Packers
  • #3 seed: Eagles
  • #4 seed: Rams
  • #5 seed: Saints
  • #6 seed: Vikings

Please note that I have picked the LA Rams and the LA Chargers to win their respective divisions and participate in the playoffs.  I am not, however, anywhere near ready to think about a “LA/LA Super Bowl Game”.  If that is your deal, you can try to parlay the Rams and the Chargers as the two conference champions.  If you make the bet and cash it, you will make a tidy sum.  The Chargers are 10-1 to win the AFC Championship and the Rams are 6-1 to win the NFC Championship.  So, a parlay of those two events on a $100 wager should yield $7000.

I do believe that the Atlanta Falcons have an honest chance to be the first team to play in a Super Bowl game in their home stadium in February 2019…

So, just in case you decide to join Bill Belichick on his yak wrangling/yeti hunting expedition and miss the entirety of the 2018 season, you can take this definition of the future along with you and know exactly how things turned out.  Sort of…

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