The MLB Winter Meetings

The MLB Winter Meetings came and went; given the high profile of some free agents this winter, most folks assess that “nothing much happened” during the week in Las Vegas.  I tend to agree with that kind of analysis and I want to offer a possible basis for the outcome of “nothing much happening” there.

I kept flipping over to MLB Network all during the meetings to see if there was any “breaking news” or “really hot insider info” to be had.  There was not, and I began to feel badly for the MLB Network folks on camera on the set.  They soldiered on giving us reasons why this free agent would be a good fit with that team or possibly some other team.  Advanced analytics stats were thrown around like confetti after a Super Bowl game.  It became painful to have to watch all those folks sit there and find new ways to say:

  • “Ain’t nuthin happenin’ here…”

At one point they had as a guest some random guy in the personnel department for some team and they were fantasizing about what might happen if all of a sudden, the dam burst and a gaggle of free agents signed on with new teams over a short period of time.  It was such wishful thinking that I started to think that the MLB Network hosts deserved to win an Emmy for this coverage.  The basis for the award could be:

  • Not grabbing a half dozen MLB GMs by the throat demanding that they all do something – anything – even if it’s wrong in order to break the monotony.

And it was in that formulation for my imaginary Emmy that I recognized why it was that nothing was happening.  Maybe, too many GMs remembered some of the things that had gotten done with free agents in the past that turned out to be so wrong.  Maybe caution was the order of the day.  Probably the biggest signing event was Patrick Corbin signing with the Nats.

  • The deal is reported to be 6 years and $140M.
  • Corbin is 29 years old; at the end of this deal he will be 35.
  • In the late years of the deal, he may indeed still be a stud – – or not…

That is an example – albeit not a terrible example – of the inherent risk involved in signing a player to a really long-term deal.  In far too many cases, the out-years for that deal become albatrosses around the necks of the teams.  I have done zero research into expensive free agent deals in baseball history that have blown up in the face of the teams that did the signing, but I have recalled some long-term deals given to active players who are hauling down big bucks currently and into the near future without performing anywhere near what one would expect.  I will list them here in descending order of the value of the contract:

  • Albert Pujols – 10 years and $240M.  The contract was signed in 2-12 and runs through 2021.  Pujols was perhaps THE dominant player in the game in 2010-2012 but he is now a shell of player.  He hit .245 with an OPS of .700 last year.  The Angels will pay him $28M in 2019, $29M in 2020 and then $30M in 2021.
  • Prince Fielder – 9 years $214M.  The contract was signed in 2012 and ran though 2020.  Fielder was productive in the first several years but had to retire after cervical fusion surgery in 2016.  Reports said that he was still owed $96M on that guaranteed contract.
  • Jayson Heyward – 8 years $184M.  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2023.  Last year was Heyward’s best with the Cubs hitting .270 with an OPS of .731.  There are still 5 years to go here with about $115M still to be paid out.
  • Chris Davis – 7 years $161M:  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2022.  There is still $92M left to pay out on this contract and in 2018 Davis hit .168 with an OPS of .539.
  • Homer Bailey – 6 years and $105M.  This is a particular favorite of mine because it is a cautionary tale for signing pitchers long term.  The deal was signed in 2014 and will likely expire after next year (there is a mutual option in the contract for 2020).  From 2015 through 2018, Bailey has started a total of 46 games.  If my calculation is correct, his ERA over that 4-year span was 6.22; his record last season was 1-14.

I’m sure that data mining would produce other examples of long-term deals that have come to bite teams and GMs in the butt as badly as the ones above, but I think you get my point here.  Maybe the Winter Meetings were dull and boring for good reasons…

When March Madness rolls around and the Selection Committee has to include one team at the expense of another team – causing weeping and gnashing of teeth in the land – one of the factors considered is “strength of schedule”.  That is hard to quantify but let me present to you two “out of conference” schedules for two small Catholic schools to demonstrate what I mean by the eyeball test for such a criterion.

First is the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Georgetown:

  1. Maryland-Eastern Shore
  2. Central Connecticut State
  3. Illinois
  4. Loyola-Marymount
  5. South Florida
  6. Campbell
  7. Richmond
  8. Liberty
  9. Syracuse
  10. SMU

Now consider the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Gonzaga:

  1. Idaho St.
  2. Texas Southern
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Illinois
  5. Arizona
  6. Duke
  7. North Dakota St.
  8. Creighton
  9. Washington
  10. Tennessee
  11. UNC

If you cannot see the difference in the quality of the opponents for those two schedules, then you ought not be allowed to complain about any decision made by the Selection Committee in March.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found an interesting tidbit for comment out of the MLB Winter Meetings:

“The Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto, despite coming down seriously ill during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, nonetheless pulled off a three-team swap from his hospital bed.

“It’s believed to be the first deal in MLB history that’s contingent on a GM passing his physical.”

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

 

 

Sports And Politics Today

There are famous intersections in the US such as Hollywood and Vine, Haight and Ashbury, Addison and Clark, 42nd St. and Broadway – – and of course This Way and That Way.  Increasingly frequently, we are seeing another intersection these days, the intersection of sports and politics.  As much as I might want for sports and politics to exist on different and parallel existential planes such that they would not intersect, they do.  So, let me try to comment on a few of those sorts of hotspots this morning.

I will begin with the most outrageous example.  As President Trump is casting about looking for someone who is willing to be his Chief of Staff on a permanent basis, someone stepped up and volunteered for the job.  Jose Canseco – who previously offered up his services to the President as Chairman of the Federal Reserve – said in a Tweet that he would be happy to take the job on.  Moreover, in that Tweet, he said that he already has a “secret reorg plan” in mind.  Normally, at this point I would pose the rhetorical question:

  • What could possibly go wrong?

I shall refrain from asking that today because I fear there is a metric ton of stuff that could go wrong with that tandem leading the “management” of the White House.

In Phoenix, the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, threatened to move the franchise to Las Vegas or Seattle if the citizenry there does not approve in a referendum several hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrading the arena where the Suns play their home games.  There is a touch of irony here in that Seattle lost its NBA team in large part because the citizenry there did not cough up taxpayer dollars to build a new/modern arena about 10 years ago.

In Oakland, the city fathers have filed a lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL as a whole asserting that the process used by the team and the league to approve the changing venue of the franchise violates the anti-trust laws.  Part of a statement from the attorney representing the City of Oakland included this sentence:

“Before a team is ripped from the fabric of a community, there needs to be a valid reason other than simply money.”

With all due respect to the barrister speaking here, he seems to miss a fundamental point.  Where the NFL is involved, there is no reason other than money that has any weight in any decision.

Notwithstanding that statement from the attorney representing the city, the lawsuit does not seek to bar the team from leaving.  Instead, the suit seeks damages and one basis for the suit is the assertion that the relocation fee paid by the Raiders to the other teams/owners in the league is a de facto bribe designed to get the other owners to approve the relocation.  The suit alleges that the Raiders and the other 31 owners have formed an illegal cartel.  This is not the first time the Raiders have been involved in a lawsuit related to relocation.  When Al Davis took the team from Oakland to LA in the early eighties, it was the Raiders who alleged that the NFL’s rules for approving a franchise move were too severe and restricted competition.  The Raiders prevailed in that action; here they appear to be on the other side of the argument.

And in Chapel Hill, NC, many athletes at UNC have signed an open letter opposing the school’s plans to house a statue known as Silent Sam because Silent Sam is a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy and the statue was placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy more than 100 years ago.  Protesters have toppled the statue from its base and the university wants to construct a building to house the bronze casting elsewhere on the campus.  Athletes from a wide range of sports at the school have joined in the protest against that plan.

Players on the UNC men’s basketball team are part of the group to sign the open letter.  That is important because men’s basketball is the most important sport at the school and because coach Roy Williams has backed the move by the players to take a position on the matter.  Here is how Coach Williams explained the situation:

“I talked to our guys about it and told them if they feel strongly about it, go right ahead.  I think it’s their individual rights and I think they should [express themselves] if they feel strongly about it.”

Many college coaches are characterized as “control freaks”.  As often as not, that label is perfectly appropriate.  Roy Williams in this case seems to be treating his players as adults who can and should form their own opinions on this matter and then should do whatever their conscience tells them to do.  That is hardly the essential behavior of a “control freak”.

So much for the intersection of sports and politics this morning…  There is an adage in the newspaper business that the reporter and/or the newspaper is not the story; the reporter and the paper are the story tellers.  That is a noble ideal; I would say that it is not universally adhered to in current day journalism.  I mention that because the Associated Press has named Chicago Bears’ coach Matt Nagy as the NFL Coach of the Year late last week.  I find that interesting on two levels:

  1. The existence of the award, the announcement of the award and the maintenance of the history of the award seems to make the Associated Press a central part of the story.  Ostensibly, the story is about Coach Nagy, but the Associated Press is squarely in the spotlight too.
  2. This award was announced with 3 games left to play in the NFL regular season.  One does not declare the horse leading a race at the quarter pole as the winner nor is the MLB Rookie of the Year announced in the middle of August.  Why the hurry?  This seems to me to be akin to Time Magazine naming Hillary Clinton as the Person of the Year for 2016 sometime in September.  [Ooops…  Did I just intersect sports and politics again today?]

Let me be clear.  I have no trouble with the selection of Matt Nagy for that honor.  If I were part of the voting process, I would have voted for Nagy in first place, Anthony Lynn (Chargers) in second place and Frank Reich (Colts) in third place.  I would also have attached a note to my ballot asking why the vote had to be in before the end of the season.

Finally, since I mentioned Secretary Clinton above, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News that includes her:

“Davidson’s football team put up huge numbers, rushing for 789 yards against San Diego – and still lost.

“Hillary Clinton is thinking, ‘Tell me about it’.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 12/14/18

Since there was a great Thursday Night Football game on the telly last night, that must mean today is Friday.  And if it’s Friday, it’s Football Friday.  [Apologies to NBC and Meet the Press.]

And by the way, if you did not see last night’s game between the Chiefs and the Chargers, check your cable listings to find out when a replay is on and record it.  Other than a few questionable calls by the officials – calls that went both ways I may add – this was a most enjoyable game from a fan’s perspective.  With the Chargers pulling the game out 29-28 with 4 seconds left to play, both teams are now 11-3 in the AFC West, but the Chiefs currently hold the tiebreaker based on a better division record.  Both teams are guaranteed a slot in the playoffs; one as the AFC West champion and the other as the first wild card team as the #5 seed in the AFC bracket.  Here are the schedules going forward:

Chiefs:

  • At Seahawks
  • Vs Raiders

Chargers:

  • Vs Ravens
  • At Broncos

NCAA Football Comments:

I refrain from commenting upon or paying close attention to most of the meaningless bowl games that will commence tomorrow with 5 such meaningless games.  They are meaningless to general college football fans; they do have significance to a few categories of individuals:

  1. The bowl games are meaningful to students and alums of the participating schools if those students/alums are rabid followers of the teams’ fortunes.  If some of those folks want to use the team’s participation as the basis for a winter weekend vacation somewhere, then the game is meaningful.
  2. The bowl games are meaningful to the players and their families.  Anyone who commits the time and energy to be a college football player likes playing football.  For some this will be the last game of their football career; for others it is one more audition to be selected to play at the pro level – and there are now more pro leagues than ever – and for some, it is just one more game to get the adrenaline flowing.
  3. The bowl games are most meaningful to the coaches.  When a team is invited to a bowl game, that team can continue its practice schedule.  For teams that are playing tomorrow, there was no conference championship game; Arizona St. – for example – has not played since Nov. 24.  However, they have been allowed to practice since then and that gives the coaching staff an extra 3 weeks of practice time.

The college bowl game system is set up to increase the disparity between successful teams and unsuccessful teams.  The teams that were more successful in 2018 get to go to bowl games and get an extra 3-5 weeks of practice while the less successful ones simply “go to class” and hit the weight room as part of an off-season program.  If that sounds a tad perverse to you, remember that this system is set up and sanctioned by the NCAA…

Before I conclude my remarks on college football for the week, let me share two comments from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Sarcasm ahead: ‘I feel I will not coach again,’ Urban Meyer said.  And, as we’ve learned, his word is gold.”

And …

“Tougher challenge: When judging the prospects of new Maryland coach Mike Locksley turning around the program, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to his success as Alabama offensive coordinator. Coordinators from the strongest programs look good for a reason — they’re working with the very best athletes. It’s a luxury Locksley won’t have with the Terps.”

NFL Comments:

The Packers beat the Falcons last week 34-20.  The Falcons scored on their first possession and then the offense went AWOL.  After that first score, here are the results of the Falcons’ next 6 possessions:’

  1. Missed FG
  2. Punt
  3. Threw a Pick-Six
  4. Punt
  5. Punt
  6. Punt

By the time their next possession rolled around, it was garbage time…

If you are reading this, you must have a sufficient interest in football to have already seen the so-called “Miami Miracle” ending to the Pats/Dolphins game last week.  There has been so much focus on that one play – and who was to blame on the Pats’ side of the ball for its success – that the following has received insufficient attention:

  • Tom Brady threw for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs – – AND – – the Pats blocked 2 punts – – AND – – the Pats lost the game on that final “Miami Miracle” play.
  • A screenwriter for a Disney film on the football version of the Bad News Bears would not have come up with something that outrageous.

The Lions beat the Cards 17-3 last week notwithstanding the fact that the Lions’ total offense in the game was 218 yards.  Let me just say that ineptitude was on display throughout this game and leave it at that.  [Aside:  I did label this game as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week last Friday.]

Also, last week, I said that the Steelers as 9.5-point favorites tended to play down to the level of their opponents.  Well, the Steelers did just that; they not only failed to cover that spread; they lost the game straight up by 3 points and they missed two very makeable field goals from inside 40 yards in the process.  And of course, with any Steelers’ game there had to be some drama…

  • Ben Roethlisberger took a hit and hurt his ribs.  He went for X-rays then returned to the sidelines but did not enter the game until the end when the Steelers needed to come from behind.
  • Original explanation from Mike Tomlin was that he (Tomlin) did not want to change the flow of the game and so he kept Big Ben on the sidelines.
  • Then it morphed into the fact that the X-Rays were taken on antiquated equipment and took a while to be read out.
  • After that, Roethlisberger took a pain-killing shot for the injury and that shot took time to take effect.
  • And in the end, the dog ate my homework…

The Steelers lead the AFC North by a half game; they have lost 3 games in a row; they face the Patriots this week and the Saints next week.  They need to change the vector heading for their season immediately because it is not pointed squarely in the direction of Dysfunction Junction.

The Niners beat the Broncos 24-20 last week dealing the Broncos’ playoff aspirations a near-fatal blow.  Remember the scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knight has his arm cut off and claims it is merely a flesh wound?  Well, the Broncos may look at last week’s loss as merely a “stumbling block” but in fact it made their ability to sneak into that second wildcard slot VERY tenuous.  With this loss, the Broncos are in 10th place in the AFC combined standings and only the top 6 make the playoffs.  This was a bad loss.

The Niners’ got an outstanding performance from George Kittle in that game; he caught 7 passes for 210 yards and 1 TD.  In case that name is not front and center in your football memory, Kittle is a tight end from Iowa drafted in the 5th round in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Colts stayed alive in the AFC playoff race beating the Texans 24-20 last week and snapping the Texans’ 9-game winning streak.  This game was close all the way even though the Colts put up these stats for the game:

  • Colts sacked Deshaun Watson 5 times in the game
  • Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and 2 TDs
  • T.Y. Hilton had 199 receiving yards

The Bears beat the Rams 15-6.  They did that by stifling – even dominating – the Rams’ offense.  The Rams could not run the ball and the Rams’ screen pass attack was marginal at best.  The Rams’ defense kept the team in the game for most of the way with 3 INTs of Mitchell Trubisky, but the offense never did get into the end zone.

NFL Games This Week:

There is a full slate of 16 games this weekend; the home team is favored in 14 of those 16 games.  The Chiefs were a home favorite last night and lost straight up.  Is that an omen for what is to come…?

(Sat Afternoon NFL Network) Houston – 7 at Jets (41.5):  The Texans lost at home last week; the Jets won on the road.  Those situations are reversed this week.  This game is important to the Texans with regard to the playoffs and the seeding in the playoffs; they can still get a BYE Week there.  The Jets are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the fact is that they are not going to make it there.  In last week’s win over the Bills, the Jets were outgained on the field; they won the game by creating turnovers.  If they are going to win here, they should probably plan to repeat that formula.  Considering that the Jets are not going to the playoffs, last week’s effort was commendable for a game so late in the season; too bad the coaching staff will get no credit in the NY tabloids for having the team motivated for that performance.  I think the Texans will win the game here, but I am leery about laying that many points with the Texans simply because they have not been a high scoring team all season long.  Only 4 of their 9 wins have been by more than a TD.

(Sat Evening NFL Network) Cleveland at Denver – 2.5 (45.5):  The Browns looked aroused and attentive last week in beating the Panthers – – or was that merely by comparison to the cratering Panthers?  The Broncos looked lethargic losing last week to the Niners.  Were those simply one-week situations or are the Browns on an upswing while the Broncos are fading?  We should see here…  I know it is mid-December but take a deep breath and consider this:

  • The Browns are still mathematically alive for the AFC playoffs.

Imagine if the Browns win out and finish the year 8-7-1.  If other dominoes fall right, they could make the playoffs as the second wildcard team.  The last time the Browns did that was in 2002; Butch Davis was the coach then; the Browns have had 8 head coaches since Davis was canned.  Neither of these teams is particularly reliable but here are some trends in case you are interested:

  • Broncos are 10-0 straight up in their last 10 games against the Browns
  • Broncos are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games against the Browns
  • Broncos are 3-7-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games
  • Browns are 5-12-1 against the spread in their last 18 road games
  • Browns are 4-11 against the spread in their last 15 games against teams with a losing record.

Miami at Minnesota – 7.5 (44.5):  OK, was the “Miami Miracle” last week the lighting of a fuse that will cause the Dolphins to go soaring into the playoffs?  The oddsmakers don’t think so because they like the Vikes here by more than a TD even though the Vikes only scored 7 points total last week against the Seahawks.  This game has playoff implications for both teams; neither team is “in with a win” but both teams are significantly disadvantaged by a loss.  Here is a truly oddball trend I ran across this week:

  • Vikes are 4-1-1 straight up this year when the game kicks off at 1:00 PM ET.

This is an early game on Sunday…  Here are a couple other trends to consider – – or not:

  • Dolphins are 2-9 against the spread in their last 11 road games.
  • Dolphins are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games in December

The Dolphins are on the road here and it is December…

Oakland at Cincy – 3 (46):  There were several contenders involved – and I shall point them out later – but this is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Did the Raiders show some vital signs last week in beating the Steelers or was that just a continuation of a Steelers’ decline for the season?  I think it was a combination of the Steelers decline plus the Steelers looking ahead to two big games down the road more than a Raiders’ emergence.  Did the Bengals show spunk staying close to the Chargers last week or was that just the Chargers looking past the Bengals to last night’s showdown with the Chiefs?  I think it was the “look-ahead factor” there.  This game could go down in a variety of ways:

  • It could be a high scoring affair because neither defense is any good.
  • It could wind up with a final score of 13-9 if indeed last week was a mirage for both teams.

You must have something better to do than to watch this hot mess…

Tampa at Baltimore – 7 (46):  Lamar Jackson will start at QB even though Joe Flacco has been cleared to return to the field.  The Ravens are 3-1 with Jackson as the starter and they are in the midst of a close race for the playoffs either as AFC North champs or as the second wildcard team in the AFC.  The Bucs’ defense has improved as the season unfolded but that improvement has not manifested itself on the road.  In 6 road games this year, the Bucs’ defense has surrendered 34 points or more in every one of them; the Bucs give up an average of 39.8 points per game on the road.  If that stat scares you, here is one that is even more ominous:

  • The Bucs have gained 500 yards or more in 5 games this year.
  • The Bucs record in those 5 games is 1-4.

I like this game to go OVER.  The Bucs can score – even on the Ravens excellent defense – and I think the Ravens will have a good offensive game here.  There are trends that favor the OVER here – but they are not the reason I like playing the Total Line here:

  • Ravens have gone OVER in 8 of their last 11 games in December
  • Bucs have gone OVER in 8 of their last 10 games as an underdog
  • OVER is 18-7-1 for the last 26 Bucs’ road games

Your mileage may vary…

Dallas at Indy – 3 (47):  The longest winning streak in the NFL belongs to the Dallas Cowboys.  They can clinch the NFC East title with a 6th straight win here.  Meanwhile the Colts are 7th in the AFC – leading the Dolphins and Titans on tiebreakers – meaning that they need a win here even more than do the Cowboys.  The importance of the game made it a contender for Game of the Week.  I think the game comes down to two defensive questions:

  1. Can the Cowboys’ defense keep Andrew Luck from running wild?
  2. Can the Colts’ defense keep Ezekiel Elliott from running wild?

I think this game will be in doubt through the final possession.  In that case, I always prefer to take the underdog and the points, so I’ll take the Cowboys here even on the road against a desperate team.

Detroit at Buffalo – 2 (40):  The spread opened the week as a “pick ‘em” game and it has inched up to this level as the week progressed.  This game got serious consideration for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Neither team is particularly relevant or interesting this year; both can make family-oriented plans for January 2019; they will not have any league-mandated commitments.  The Lions have been practicing outdoors in the Detroit weather for several weeks now; have they – for some deeply guarded reason – been pointing to this game?  If so, why?  Bills rookie QB, Josh Allen, is averaging 55 yards per game rushing in his 9 games this year.  For perspective, Bills RB, LeSean McCoy is averaging 40 yards per game in 12 games this year.

Green Bay at Chicago – 5.5 (45):  This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL; it goes back to the days when professional football was more of a curiosity than a staple in the sports world in the US.  The Packers’ offense looked more focused and engaged last week under interim coach Joe Philbin.  However, it must be noted that last week’s opposing defense was the Falcons’ defense and this week the Packers face the Bears.  I’ll be generous here and merely say that the Bears’ defense is better than the Falcons’ defense.  I believe the Bears clinch the NFC North title with a win here; the Packers playoff hopes are alive – – on life support – – in an ICU – – having received the last rites.  The Packers have won 15 of the last 17 games between these two teams and the Packers have covered the spread in 16 of their last 20 encounters with the Bears.  I think both of those trends will be reversed here.  I like the Bears to win and cover at home where they are 6-1 against the spread this year.

Tennessee at Giants – 2 (43.5):  The Titans need this game the same way the Colts and the Titans need their games to stay within hailing distance of that second wildcard slot in the AFC.  Meanwhile, the Giants have looked good over the last month begging the question:

  • Where was this sort of performance in September or October?

The Titans have not been good on the road this year with a 2-5 record.  Not to worry, though; the Giants at home are merely 2-4.  In their 7 road games this year, the Titans only average 16.5 points per game.  On a neutral field, I would like the Titans but given it is a road game and the Giants are playing much better than they did early on …

Washington at Jax – 7.5 (36.5):  This was the runner-up – losing by a nose – for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  If you live anywhere other than the Jax area or the DC area, count your selves fortunate this week.  If you do, you will not have to watch this abomination on your cable system because no local station outside those viewing areas is going to choose to put this game on their channel.  If you think it is difficult to find Bigfoot, think about how hard it might be to find a football fan in “Peoria” who does the following on Sunday:

  • He lets his fingers do the walking to call every sports bar within a 50-mile radius to see if any of them would be willing to put this game on one of their big screens because he cannot bear the thought of missing a QB throwdown between Cody Kessler and Josh Johnson.

Here is a hint:

  • You are more likely to find DB Cooper than you are to find that football fan. 

The Jags do not score points; they average 16.3 points per game this year.  How can they be more than a TD favorite over anyone?  The Skins’ offense has been leaking oil from the start of the season and they are now on their 4th starting QB for the season.  The Jags defense won a game by pitching a shutout against Andrew Luck and the Colts; if they show up and play like that, the Jags could hold the Skins to single digits even accounting for some Jags’ offensive blunders.  Here is the key to the game:

  • The Skins have had trouble stopping the run in the last 5 or 6 games.  Can Leonard Fournette keep his head in the game and not somewhere out in the Xygork Nebula and pound the ball at the Skins defense 25 or 30 times?  If so, the Jags will win this game.

The Total Line here is extremely low for an NFL game in 2018.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of scenarios I can imagine where the final score is 9-6 or something close to that.  Ignore this game – – if you are fortunate enough to be able to do that.

Arizona at Atlanta – 10 (44):  This game too received serious consideration at the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Both teams stink; let’s get that out of the way.  One difference is that most folks expected the Cards to stink this year, but more than a few folks thought that the Falcons were going to be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl in February 2019.  That ain’t happening.  The Falcons’ defense has been awful this year; there is no way to sugar-coat that.  However, the Cards are the lowest scoring team in the NFL averaging a meager 13.7 points per game.  If the Falcons’ defense gets punked this week, the team hierarchy should arrange for an organized ass kicking for that side of the ball.  With that out of the way, I have to say that I do not understand how the Falcons that everyone has seen in 2018 can possibly be a double-digit favorite over another professional football team.  Let me do some math here:

  • Assume the Falcons hold the Cards to their season average of 14 points.
  • That means to cover this spread, the Falcons need to score 25 points.
  • The Falcons have only reached that level 5 times in 13 outings this year.
  • The last time the Falcons score 25 or more points was on November 4th against the Skins.

Seattle – 3.5 at SF (44):  The spread here opened the week at 6 points and has eroded steadily as the week went on.  I think that is because folks recognize that this is a sandwich game for the Seahawks.  They won a tough game over the Vikes last week; they have the lowly Niners here; they just might be looking ahead to next week’s game at home against the Chiefs.  The Niners beat the Broncos last week; the Seahawks are higher on the food chain than the Broncos.  The danger for the Seahawks here – who have not yet guaranteed themselves a playoff berth – is that the Niners are not playing like roadkill as most 3-10 teams do in December.  Here are two trends that point in a similar direction:

  • Seahawks are 8-3-2 against the spread this year – 2nd best in the NFL
  • Seahawks are 11-2-1 against the spread versus the Niners in their last 14 games.

I like Pete Carroll to rally the troops here and for the Seahawks to win and cover even on the road in this sandwich game.

New England – 3 at Pittsburgh (52): The Pats are one of only two road favorites this week.  This is also the only game on the card this week matching two division leaders.  For those reasons, this is The Game of the Week.  Both teams lost last week, and the Steelers have lost 3 in a row.  That loss last week to the Raiders must be the nadir of the season in Pittsburgh, right?  Earlier this year, the Steelers had a 6-game winning streak but the way they have played in these 3 losses makes that win streak seem as if it happened in the Stone Age.  The Pats have won 5 in a row over the Steelers.  The Pats are fighting for seeding in the AFC playoffs; they have not yet wrapped up the AFC East title, but that is foregone conclusion.  The Steelers could find themselves out of the playoffs if they do not win here – – because next week they play the Saints in New Orleans and that will not be a gimmee.  If you are inclined to take the Pats in this game, here are some trends that will reinforce your belief:

  • Pats are 9-2 against the spread in their last 11 games in December.
  • Pats are 11-4 against the spread in their last 15 games on grass.
  • Steelers are 1-7 against the spread in their last 8 games in December
  • Steelers are 3-8 against the spread in their last 11 games at home.

I’ll pass on this game and just watch it to enjoy it.

(Sun Nite) Philly at Rams – 11 (52):  Let me jump to the bottom line here.

  • If Nick Foles comes off the bench and leads the Eagles to a win here that would mathematically keep the Eagles’ playoff hopes alive and then goes on to get them into the playoffs, I am going to suspect that there is some sort of “tripartite Dr. Faustus arrangement” among Nick Foles, Doug Pederson and Lucifer.

If you think the Eagles are going to win this one, you can find them on the Money Line at +500 or greater at various sportsbooks.  I think the Rams are going to truck the Eagles here…

(Mon Nite) New Orleans – 6.5 at Carolina (51):  The Saints are the other road favorite on the card this week and it should be noted at the outset that the Saints have the best record against the spread in the NFL this year at 10-3.  A month ago, this looked to be a major showdown game that could possibly determine the NFC South champion.  The problem is that the Panthers have not won a game since November 4th and will need help to make the playoffs now that the division title is impossible.  I have no inside knowledge here, but it sure looks to me as if Cam Newton is playing hurt.  On the other side, Drew Brees is playing at his normal level of efficiency and effectiveness.  An interesting thing to watch in this game will be the ability – or inability – of the Panthers to run the football.  The Panthers average a very respectable 5.4 yards per rush attempt.  At the same time, the Saints defense allows a mere 3.6 yards per rush attempt.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times relevant to an earlier college football game:

“ ‘Unsportsmanlike conduct … on all players … from both teams,’ announced the referee following a brawl in the Mississippi State-Ole Miss game that resulted in four players getting ejected.

“And if that didn’t stem the mayhem, officials admitted later, then it would have been … double-secret probation!”

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

 

 

Baseball Business Today

The baseball season for the Baltimore Orioles officially ended on September 30, 2018; to say the season was a disaster would be an understatement.  Soon after that dreary ending, the team fired – or liberated depending on your point of view – manager Buck Showalter.  Clearly, a total rebuild would be necessary.

Fast forward to the present; skip over the approximately 10 weeks that have intervened.  The MLB General Managers held a convention/meeting; now the MLB Winter Meetings are moving along at a gallop.  The Baltimore Orioles still do not have a manager.  There was a report last weekend that the team had narrowed down their search to six people.  Two of the six have previous managerial experience and that is usually an important ingredient in this sort of a search.  However, in this case, the managerial experience must be relevant experience.

The fact is that the Orioles are going to stink like a bloated rhino carcass in the hot sun on the veldt for at least a couple of years.  Maybe those 115 losses in 2018 represented the nadir of this losing cycle; maybe not…  This is not a team that needs a master in-game tactician to eke out an extra win or three in order to stay in the playoff hunt; this is a team that needs a manager who will not get himself into a blue funk in the middle of the team’s second 6-game losing streak in a month.

And that is why the two rumored guys on the “short-list” with previous managerial experience are particularly relevant:

  • Manny Acta spent 3 years at the helm for the Washington Nationals when the Nats were doormats and then 3 more years managing the Cleveland Indians when the Indians were awful.  He has been around teams that had no pretense of relevance; he would not be fazed by losing once again.  Over a total of five and a half seasons, his record is 372-518 (winning percentage of 41.7%).
  • Mike Redmond spent two and a half seasons guiding the Miami Marlins.  His teams went 155-207 (winning percentage of 42.8%).  Let’s just agree that as a manager he never got used to arriving at the ballpark thinking about how his team was going to use that game on that day to get into the playoffs.

On one hand, it does not matter who the Orioles pick as their manager because the team is going to fail and after a couple of years the new manager is likely going to be kicked to the curb for specious reasons.  On the other hand, it has to be disadvantageous to go into the Winter Meetings without a manager.  When the Orioles’ brass meets with agents and or free agent players in the hotel lobby, how can there possibly be any meaningful discussions when the agent/player have no idea who will be running the clubhouse next year?

Finding a new manager should not take 10 weeks.  If that is a harbinger of the time-line for the rebuild of the Orioles’ team on the field, it is going to be a bleak time in Baltimore…

You may recall that the Oakland A’s announced their plans to build a new stadium on a waterfront location in the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago.  Before the folks in that part of the world get themselves worked into a frenzy of anticipation, there are lots of things that have to happen between artist renderings of the new facility and fans showing up at the gates with tickets for a game on that particular day.  Things do not always proceed smoothly – or even proceed at all.

Consider the situation about 2500 miles east of the Bay Area in a different Bay Area; the Tampa Bay Rays have been pursuing a new “baseball-only stadium” in “downtown Tampa” for more than a few years.  There were plans and proposals and an artist’s rendering of the stadium in a part of town known as Ybor City.  Talks with local politicians and business leaders and the citizenry were afoot; it appeared as if the Rays would find a way to play somewhere in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area other than in Tropicana Field.  Until earlier this week…

The Sporting News reported that the Rays’ stadium proposals have hit the skids.  According to the report, the Rays are committed to stay in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area but that all activities related to their new stadium proposal are abandoned – – for now.  The Rays’ lease for Tropicana field runs through the 2027 MLB season so there is plenty of time for all parties to re-engage in the Stadium Kabuki Dance-Theater in another 3 or 4 years.  That timeframe would allow the team to cite its economic woes and for the local politicians to stand firm against giveaways to billionaire owners and for the business community to do whatever seems to be expedient at the moment.

While that new stadium debate is in hiatus for the moment consider these data:

  • In 2017, the Rays finished last in MLB in fans per game in the ballpark.  They drew only 15,477 per game on average.  The next lowest attendance was 18,219 per game (Oakland) which is 18% more than the Rays enjoyed.
  • In 2018, the Rays finished next-to-last in MLB in fans per game.  [The tanking Miami Marlins sank to the bottom in 2018 losing almost 50% of their attendance relative to 2017.]  Despite “climbing out of the basement” in terms of average attendance, the Rays average attendance still went down.  For the 2018 season they only drew 14,259 per game; that is a drop of 8% year-over-year when the basis for the drop was the lowest average attendance for the 2017 season.

Please note that the Rays’ drop in attendance in 2018 was not because the team was awful; the Rays won 90 games last year.  Having been to the Oakland Coliseum years ago to see a baseball game, I know firsthand that the stadium is a negative factor for the A’s regarding their perennially low attendance.  I have only driven past Tropicana Field – on my way to see the Yankees play in Spring Training – so I can only say that from the outside, Tropicana Field looks a whole lot better than does the Oakland facility.

Finally, here is a note pertinent to baseball in Florida from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Florida Marlins announced the signing of touted Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa.

“Team officials can’t decide whether to start him out playing in Walla Walla or Pago Pago.”

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

 

 

Two Recommended Readings Today…

There are two columns in this morning’s Washington Post that deserve comment.  The first one is by Sally Jenkins and it is inspired by an investigative report into the actions of the US Olympic Committee regarding the physical abuse of women gymnasts by Dr. Larry Nasser and the mental abuse of those young women by trainers and senior officers of the USOC.  Based on the investigative report – – 233 pages long no less – – there was everything from foot-dragging to active coverup actions by multiple folks as these abuses were ongoing.  Dr. Nasser is a monstrous child molester who will spend most if not all of the rest of his life in prison.  However, he is not the only one who needs to answer for actions taken and actions not taken over the last couple of decades.

Here is a link to Sally Jenkins’ column.  Even though you will have feelings of revulsion when you finish reading it, I suggest it is worth that discomfort.

The second column is by Kevin Blackistone and it deals with the QB situation here in Washington where the Skins have brought in two retreads to play QB in the aftermath of two QBs ending their seasons with broken legs.  There has been plenty of talk in these parts about the possibility that the Skins would bring in Colin Kaepernick to be the interim QB in lieu of folks like Mark Sanchez and/or Josh Johnson.  One caller to a local sports radio program went so far as to suggest that hiring Kaepernick for the job would be a way for the team to get out from under all the bad publicity that it got when it signed Reuben Foster off the waiver wire.  Blackistone argues that Kaepernick “simply can’t” play for the Skins.

Here is a link to Kevin Blackistone’s column.  I doubt that it will change anyone’s mind on the entirety of the “Kaepernick-protest issue”, but it does make a strong case as to why the Skins will not hire him and why it is in his better interest not to be hired by that franchise.

I am about to step over the line here into a bit of mind reading.  That demands the following disclaimer:

  • I have no psychic capability whatsoever.
  • I cannot read minds.
  • What follows is a logical – to me – conclusion drawn from external events and not an actual transcript of the thoughts of other people.

With that disclaimer front and center – and fresh in everyone’s mind – let me say:

  • I don’t think Colin Kaepernick would take a “franchise-QB style contract” with the Skins even if one were offered to him.

For the last several football seasons, Colin Kaepernick has been the central figure in a protest that started out in opposition to police violence against black men in the US.  When Kaepernick first took a knee during the National Anthem, I said that I completely supported the goals of his protest but that I wished he had chosen a different forum to make that protest.  My objection then was not based on any sort of uber-patriotism; my objection was simply that many folks would focus on the “anthem-part” of the protest and not the “police violence” part.  Unfortunately, I was more right than wrong with that sentiment.

Notwithstanding my reservation about the form of his protest, I supported his goals then and I continue to support his goals as I am writing these words.  At the same time, over the past couple of years while Colin Kaepernick has been unemployed, it seems to me that he himself has morphed from an athlete using his recognizability to highlight a societal problem to a social justice warrior who used to be an NFL QB.  Ignoring entirely any actions or inactions by NFL teams or the NFL as an entity over the past two years, I have the sense that Colin Kaepernick now exists in a space where his primary objective is to improve the social condition of the country.

It seems to me that for the last year or so, Colin Kaepernick has done a lot more to establish a brand for himself as an opponent of oppression rather than to shore up his brand as an NFL QB.  That is certainly his right and his privilege; I have no qualms with that at all.  And because I believe that his current focus is to enhance his brand as an opponent of oppression, I do not believe that he could possibly put his name on a contract alongside the signatory for the Washington Redskins.  An opponent of oppression cannot maintain credibility if that same opponent of oppression is a “Redskin”; an opponent of oppression will see his/her brand destroyed by the hypocrisy of such a situation.

When the Skins signed Josh Johnson to be their 4th QB of the season, people asked Head Coach Jay Gruden if the team had contacted Kaepernick.  Gruden sidestepped the question saying that there were discussions about that, but that they decided to go with Johnson because he had been with Jay Gruden in Tampa about a decade ago and was familiar with the terminology of the offense.  Jay Gruden actually said that with a straight face.

If indeed anyone initiated such an internal “discussion” of such a personnel move, here is my stylized version of how it went down:

  • Coach Gruden:  We’re desperate here; we’re still in the mix for the playoffs.  Should we put in a call to Kaepernick to find out if he is in football shape and bring him in for a workout?  He’s a better QB than anything else out there…
  • Team President Bruce Allen:  Are you [bleeping] kidding?  I have military flyovers scheduled at the start of every home game for the rest of the year.  That is an important part of the team’s community identity.  Can’t do that…
  • Owner Danny Boy Snyder:  Not here … not now … not ever.
  • Coach Gruden:  I’ll put in a call to Josh Johnson right now…

Kevin Blackistone is absolutely right; Kaepernick should not be the QB for the Skins.  Moreover, those folks who are following his lead as an opponent of oppression should urge him never to have any sort of contractual ties to that franchise for the sake of his social causes.  I think everyone is safe here.  The Skins do not want Kaepernick and Kaepernick – and his supporters – want nothing to do with the Skins.  It is amazing how one can find common ground when you go and look for it.

Finally, here is a comment by Brad Rock of the Deseret News regarding another NFL QB:

“A 69-year-old Dutchman is suing to get his age legally changed, saying he has the body of a 45-year-old and identifies as such.

“He believes the switch would improve both dating and job prospects.

“Elsewhere, Tom Brady is planning to declare himself eligible for the 2019 NFL draft.”

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

 

 

A Pathetic Performance Yesterday

Most of the readers of these rants do not live in the Washington DC area; and so, they cannot fully appreciate the football repugnance that is in the air here this morning.  Every year, the fans in the area – egged on by representatives of the Skins and by local sports media cheerleaders – convince themselves that this is the year the team will “return to glory” and be a prominent player in the NFL playoffs.  Usually by this point in the season, reality is just beginning to settle in; this year is different.  Yesterday, there was a consummate capitulation on the gridiron at FedEx Field; the Skins lost to the Giants by a score of 40-16, but the score was 40-0 at one point and the Giants played prevent defense for the last 20 minutes of the game.

Some of the local cheerleaders are pointing to the need for the team to dip down to find their 4th QB of the season in the second half of that game as the basis for the meltdown.  That is unadulterated piffle; the need to play a backup QB has exactly nothing to do with the fact that the Skins’ defense gave up 40 points and 227 yards on the ground.  The insertion of a backup QB does not explain committing 15 penalties in the game for 135 yards.  The problem yesterday is that the team – the whole team – just took a pass on playing the game.

[Aside:  The Giants were not at full strength yesterday either; Odell Beckham, Jr. did not even make the trip from NY to Washington with the team.  That offensive output came without one of the top two offensive players on the Giants’ roster.]

With the score 40-0, Mark Sanchez was relieved of duty for the day and Josh Johnson entered the game.  The last time Johnson played in an NFL game was in 2011; he was signed to backup Sanchez – who was backing up Colt McCoy who was backing up Alex Smith – when the Skins found him playing in a pickup basketball game in California.  Against a prevent defense, Johnson got two TDs and a pair of 2-point conversions to make the score much more respectable than it was.  Part of the mantra around here now is that he should have started the game yesterday and – with him starting next week – things will be better.

Let me say this clearly:

  • If “things are not better” next week, the NFL should relegate the Washington franchise to the newly forming AAF and create an expansion franchise to take its place.
  • If “things are not better” next week, Washington will replace Cleveland and/or Cincinnati as the laughingstock of the league.

There is a fundamental problem with the Skins as a team – and it is not the coaching staff although the coaching staff has not ameliorated the fundamental problem to any great extent.  The problem is that the team just does not appear to be bothered by losing – or even losing as badly as they did yesterday.  That is not a “coaching problem” at the core; that is a “roster construction problem” at the core.

I mentioned that Josh Johnson is being touted this morning as the latest savior for the franchise.  I also mentioned in passing that he has been out of the NFL for 7 years now indicating to me that none of the other 31 teams view him as a savior nor have they done so for quite a while.  Here is Josh Johnson’s football itinerary since graduating from college:

  1. Tampa – 5th round pick
  2. SF
  3. Sacramento Mountain Lions in the UFL
  4. Cleveland
  5. Cincy
  6. SF – again
  7. Cincy – again
  8. NY Jets
  9. Indy
  10. Buffalo
  11. Baltimore
  12. NY Giants
  13. Houston
  14. Oakland
  15. San Diego fleet in the AAF
  16. Washington

If that does not qualify Josh Johnson as The United Van Lines Man of the Decade, I do not know what it might take to win that award…

Enough about the Skins and their new QB “prodigy” …  There is a TV ad that runs in just about every NFL game for USAA.  It features Joe Lombardi – grandson of Vince – who is simultaneously the QB coach for the New Orleans Saints and a “USAA member for life”.  It is not a candidate for one of the “Bad Ads in 2019”, but it made me think about something having nothing whatsoever to do with USAA.

As the QB coach for the Saints, Joe Lombardi’s résumé is polished by his association with a very successful QB named Drew Brees.  No problem there; that sort of thing happens quite often.  However, we know that the Green Bay Packers will be looking for a coach in this off-season and that dealing positively with the resident star QB in Packer-land will be a primary skill for the new coach.

  • Memo to Joe Lombardi:  If the Packers’ front office calls you, think three times before saying, “Yes.”  Your genetic association with your grandfather will set expectations for you in Green Bay that will be nigh onto impossible to achieve – think 14-2 every year and Super Bowl appearances at least 3 out of every 5 years.

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

“Beer:  A beverage about which some rather laughable people believe it is possible to be a ‘connoisseur,’ despite the fact that the main difference between most beers is which on tastes the least like liquid ass.”

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

 

Football Friday 12/7/18

Seventy-seven years ago, today was “a date that will live in infamy”.  On December 7, 2018, today is merely a Football Friday.  The only major college game this weekend is the annual Army/Navy game with Army set as a 7-point favorite.  It may not be part of the CFP, but the Army/Navy game is always worth watching.

In the absence of “College Football News”, I have reserved this time to reveal the seedings for the 2018 SHOE Tournament.  The idea here is to identify the worst team in Division 1-A college football in a way analogous to the way the CFP operates.  There is a bracket; the teams square off on the field; the wrinkle here is that the loser of each game must play on until there is an ultimate loser in the tournament.  Winners along the way can go home and study for final exams – or just enjoy the Holidays at their pleasure.

I have unilaterally picked the 8 teams I believe should be in contention for the SHOE Team label – the Steaming Heap Of Excrement.

Before revealing the order of the 8 teams in my imaginary tournament, let me provide you with some of the stats that led me to identify the #1 Seed in this event.  The UConn Huskies were historically inept on defense this year.  Consider these stats:

  • UConn allowed an average of 50.4 points per game this year.
  • UConn allowed a total of 7,410 yards this year which equals 617.5 yards per game.  That is the worst in college football history; the previous record was held by Kansas who once allowed 560 yards per game for a season.  UConn demolished that record.
  • The best showing for the UConn defense was against UMass when the Huskies “only” allowed 444 yards.
  • The worst showing for the UConn defense was against Boise St. when the Huskies allowed 818 yards.

One more preliminary comment.  It was a close call for me to pick the #8 seed in this tournament of losers.  My first thought was to put Rutgers with its 1-11 record in that slot but the final two games of the year for Rutgers were not embarrassments.  Rutgers lost those games, but they were losses to two good teams (Penn State and Michigan State) and neither was a blowout.  So, Rutgers is not in the field this year.  Maybe next year for the Scarlet Knights?

So, here is the SHOE Tournament field:

  • #1 Seed UConn (1-11):  See above for why they are in this slot.  The Huskies’ only win this season came at the expense of Division 1-AA, Holy Cross.
  • #2 Seed Rice (2-10):  The Owls beat Division 1-AA Prairie View in Week 1 and then Old Dominion in Week 13.  Those two wins are bookends on a horrendous season in between.
  • #3 Seed UTEP (1-11):  The Miners’ only win was over Rice.  So, even with a worse record than Rice, they have to be seeded below Rice here.  No need to root for a rematch…
  • #4 Seed C. Michigan (1-11):  The Chippewas have lost 8 games in a row since defeating Division 1-AA Maine back in September.
  • #5 Seed San José St. (2-11):  They have a Division 1-A victory over UNLV but they also lost to Division 1-AA UC-Davis and lost 4 games by 21 points or more.
  • #6 Seed Oregon St. (2-10):  The Beavers beat Division 1-AA Southern Utah and Colorado but lost 5 games by 21 points or more.
  • #7 Seed Louisville (2-10):  The Cardinals’ wins were over Division 1-AA Indiana St. and W. Kentucky plus the Cardinals gave up 55 points or more in each of their last 5 games.
  • #8 Seed Georgia St. (2-10):  The Panthers have a win over Division 1-AA Kennesaw St. and one over La- Monroe.  However, they lost 6 games by 21 points or more.

NFL Commentary:

The biggest thing that happened as a result of last week’s action was that the Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy after losing at home to the Cardinals who were 14-point underdogs in the game.  There had been myriad reports of friction between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers for more than a month, so this news was surprising in that it came before the end of a humongously disappointing season for the Packers.

  • [Aside:  This specific loss to the Cardinals was significantly out of the ordinary.  The last time the Cardinals beat the Packers in Green Bay was in 1949 – – when they were the Chicago Cardinals before they were the St. Louis Cardinals before they were the Arizona Cardinals.  For perspective, in 1949 Harry Truman was President; Joe Louis retired as heavyweight champion and the NATO alliance was born.]

I am generally not a fan of firing a coach in the middle of a season; normally the interim guy proves that the problem is not the messenger or the message; the problem is the roster.  [Aside:  I acknowledge that firing Hue Jackson earlier this year was a proper move and the results under Gregg Williams have been significantly better than they were before the move.]  Regarding the Packers, I think they need a roster overhaul more than they may need a new coach who can get along better with Aaron Rodgers and “better offensive play calling”.

In any event, with two NFL coaches already fired, I started to pay attention to reports/speculations out there regarding other coaches who may be under scrutiny as the season comes to an end.  Let me list them here in alphabetical order:

  1. Todd Bowles (NY Jets):  If the NYC tabloids were running the Jets’ franchise, Bowles would have been gone by now.  I think Bowles is likely to be fired after the season is over and I think that the seeds of his firing were planted by his previous success.  In his first year in NY, the Jets went 10-6; no one expected that.  Later, many folks believed the Jets were on a path to go 0-16 in a season, but Bowles somehow won 5 games with a JV roster.  He sort of put in people’s minds that he had the ability to make chicken salad out of chicken s*it.  Personally, I would fire the Jets’ GM before I fired Todd Bowles – – but that’s just me.  The best reason I can come up with for his firing is that Sam Darnold is more likely to reach is potential under an offensive-minded coach and coaching staff and Bowles is absolutely a defensive guy.
  2. Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay Bucs):  Koetter got the job because he was the offensive coordinator in Jameis Winston’s rookie year and Winston looked as if he was going to be a superstar in the league.  The team fired Lovie Smith and hired Koetter to keep Koetter from taking a job elsewhere; he was one of the “hot prospects” in that offseason.  Well, all of that has hardly worked out according to the plan.  The question for the next 4 games is pretty simple in Tampa.  Can Jameis Winston – reinstated as the starter there – play well enough to save the job of the guy the team hired because of Winston in the first place?  Oh, by the way, the Bucs’ defense stinks and that is not Koetter’s fault.
  3. Marvin Lewis (Cincy Bengals):  Lewis has been in Cincy since 2003; only Bill Belichick has been in his job longer than that.  Lewis took over a monumentally dysfunctional franchise and put it on its feet; he tore the “laughingstock label” off the team and got them to the playoffs 7 times in 15 years.  His record with the Bengals is over .500 at 130-119-3.  But there are blemishes on that résumé that are difficult to ignore.  The Bengals have lost every playoff game they participated in in the Marv Lewis Era and sometimes they lose because the team suffers mental meltdowns late in close games.  It happens over and over; the players never seem to learn from previous gaffes; certain players are serial offenders.  That leads some to conclude that Lewis does not hold them accountable for their blockheadedness and that makes him the “Enabler-in-Chief”.  Marvin Lewis did a great service to the Bengals’ franchise that he took over in 2003.  Has he gone past his “sell-by date”?
  4. Doug Marrone (Jax Jags):  The Jags are the biggest disappointments in the NFL in 2018.  The biggest source of trouble for the Jags has been the play of Blake Bortles at QB; he does not belong there, and the Jags decided in the last off-season to sign him to a large 2-year contract extension.  If Marrone was one of the people who thought that was a good idea, he should be fired yesterday; if not, he should keep his job and all the folks who thought that was a good idea should be fired immediately.  The Bortles situation is rather simple to understand as it exists now.  Bortles will be a salary cap liability to the Jags if he is on the roster or off the roster; there is no real difference there.  Bortles will be a roster liability if he is on the roster but not if he is off the roster.  Kabeesh?  Oh, and by the way, someone in the Jags’ organization needs to find a way to convince Leonard Fournette to get a handle on his emotions so that he does not make a fool of himself and a punching bag out of the team.
  5. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons):  The Falcons are not as disappointing as the Jags – – but it’s close.  The Falcons never did thrive on the strength of their defense; the Falcons were an offense-oriented team when they were successful.  This year, the offense has been bland – maybe even dismal.  If I owned the team, I would change out members of the offensive staff before I changed out the head coach who had plenty of success until this year.  In his first three years in Atlanta, Quinn’s teams were 29-19-0; they went to the Super Bowl after the 2016 season and made the playoffs again last year.  The Falcons are 4-8 this year but 4 of the 8 losses were by 7 points or less.  Is that just misfortune – – or is that a team flaw that they continue to lose more close games than they win?
  6. Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers):  The Panthers’ existing 4-game losing streak has made some folks wonder if the new ownership in Carolina will use that losing streak as a basis for demonstrating who’s the new boss in town.  Last week, the Panthers lost to the Bucs and Cam Newton threw 4 INTs in the game.  Seriously now, is there a coach out there who would have prevented that from happening had he been on the sidelines instead of Ron Rivera last week?  In addition, on the final play of the game when the Panthers needed a Hail Mary pass of more than 50 yards to tie the game, they took Newton out of the game and inserted Taylor Heinicke to be sure the pass would go far enough to reach the goal line.  If that does not tell you that Cam Newton is playing with a bum arm, I don’t know what will.  Bum arms on starting QBs are not coaching deficiencies…

Before I get to the NFL games this week, let me offer condolences to the NFL fans in the Bay Area for the depressing state of affairs in that region of Northern California.  The two teams in the area are having disastrous seasons; and to make it worse, fans of both teams had reasons for optimism back in August:

  • Niners’ fans looked forward to seeing Jimmy G continue his unbeaten streak as a starting QB and to lead the team to playoff contention if not the playoffs proper.
  • Raiders’ fans were positive that the return of Jon Gruden would set the vector heading for the team in the direction of “past glory”.

Here we are in Week 14 of the 2018 NFL season and there are only two teams that have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  You guessed it; they are the Niners and the Raiders; both teams sport records of 2-10 to date.

NFL Games This Week:

If someone were going to look for reasons to keep Doug Marrone in charge of the Jags, that someone would need to destroy any and all evidence of last night’s game against the Titans.  The Jags were outhit and out played for the final 50 minutes of the game.  The Jags showed a lot of bravado early on but did not translate that bravado into actions such as tackling any of the Titans’ running backs/receivers and/or blocking any blitzers who were bent on terrorizing Jags’ QB, Cody Kessler.  The Titans won by 3 TDs but the game was not nearly that close.

Baltimore at KC – 6.5 (51.5):  This was a strong candidate for the Game of the Week; it has playoff implications for both teams.  The Ravens are a half game out of the division lead in the AFC North and the Chiefs hold a one game lead in the AFC West and a one game lead for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Moreover, both teams are playing as if they belong in the playoffs over the past month.  The Ravens have won 3 in a row with a stifling defense, a power run game and a little bit of passing from Lamar Jackson.  The Chiefs continue to win by outscoring the opposition and despite a mediocre defense.  The Ravens should be able to run on the Chiefs’ defense which gives up 122 yards per game.  It will be interesting to see how well the Chiefs’ passing attack fares against a Ravens’ pass defense that allows only 194.4 yards per game (second best in the NFL).

Indy at Houston – 5.5 (49.5):  The Colts were shut out by the Jags last week and they are going to face another tough defense on the road in this game.  That loss last week snapped a 5-game winning streak for the Colts and they probably need to win 3 of their last 4 games to have a shot at a playoff berth.  Here is the Colts remaining schedule after this week:

  • Vs Cowboys
  • Vs Giants
  • At Titans

The Colts really need a win here…  Meanwhile, the Texans are white hot riding a 9-game winning streak.  Interestingly, the winning streak began in Week 4 with a win over the Colts in Indy.  This game boils down to something rather simple:

  • The Texans are hoping to get a BYE Week in the AFC playoffs
  • The Colts are hoping to be admitted to the AFC playoffs.

I think defense will dominate this game.  I like this game to stay UNDER.

Carolina – 2 at Cleveland (47):  If you told me a month ago that the Panthers would only be a 2-point favorite in this game, I would have suggested that someone needed to make you pee in a cup to find out what you had ingested.  But here we are; the Browns are playing much better in the absence of Hue Jackson; the Panthers have lost 4 in a row and Cam Newton is playing while less than 100% healthy.  The Panthers’ season is on the brink of disaster; they have lost 4 in a row and here is what is ahead of them after this road game:

  • Vs Saints
  • Vs Falcons
  • At Saints

The Panthers are 1-5 on the road this year; meanwhile the Browns are 3-2-1 at home.  I think the Panthers’ playoff hopes are minuscule given their schedule, but a loss here will turn “minuscule” into “nil”.  I like the Browns at home plus the points.

Atlanta at Green Bay – 5 (50):  This game was a candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but the presence of two capable QBs on the field holds out a hope that the game could be competently played.  The Falcons are mysteriously bad; the Packers are in disarray.  In addition to firing Mike McCarthy last week, they also fired assistant coach Winston Moss for tweeting that the team needed more accountability for everyone including Aaron Rodgers.  I do not think either defense will stifle the opposing offense here; both QBs should have a big day.  I like the game to go OVER.

New Orleans – 9 at Tampa Bay (56):  The Saints stunk out the joint against the Cowboys last week scoring only 10 points in the game.  To give you a benchmark here, the Saints had only been held under 30 points twice in the season until last week.  I am confident that the Bucs’ defense will not hold the Saints to 10 points in this game.  The Saints’ loss last week was their second loss of the season; the first one came in Week 1 to – – the Bucs.  That’s right; if the Bucs win, they will sweep the Saints this year – the same Saints team that has its eye on a BYE week in the playoffs and maybe even home field advantage in the playoffs.  I do not think the Bucs are going to win here but that line is fat; give me the Bucs plus the points.

Jets at Buffalo – 3 (38):  This game was also a candidate for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week, but it is a division game so that adds a modicum of interest there.  The Bills won the first meeting of these teams this year; the Jets seem to have regressed from that point in the season.  If Sam Darnold is ready to go, this will be a game where both rookie QBs – presumably both are young franchise QBs of the future – will go at one another.  See, there actually are interesting things associated with this game…  Make this a venue call; I like the Bills to win and cover.

New England – 7.5 at Miami (47):  Everyone knows that the Pats get better as the season goes on.  During the Belichick Era in New England, the Pats are 63-11 in games played in December.  The Dolphins are merely a .500 team this year; the Pats would clinch the AFC East title with a win here; so, this is almost a walkover – – no? This is the time to bet the mortgage money on the Pats – – right?  Well, maybe not…  Check out these trends:

  • Tom Brady is only 7-9 straight up in games played in Miami.
  • Last year, the Pats lost to the Dolphins in Miami as 10.5-point favorites.
  • The Patriots are 1-4 straight up in their last 5 visits to Miami
  • The Dolphins are 5-1 against the spread at home this year.
  • The home team is 13-3 against the spread the last 16 times these teams met.  This game is in Miami.
  • The Dolphins are 7-3 against the spread when getting more than 7 points at home in the history of the Miami franchise.

Ok, so maybe the play is to load up on the Dolphins here – – right?  Well, check this out:

  • The Pats are 11-3 against the spread in their last 14 games on grass.  This game is on grass.
  • The Dolphins are 4-10 against the spread in their last 14 games against teams with a winning record.  The Pats are 9-3.

These trends/stats demonstrate why they call it sports gambling and not sports investing…

Giants – 3.5 at Washington (41):  This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game until the season-ending nature of Colt McCoy’s injury became clear.  That set the line at this level and it gives you a snapshot of how the Skins’ season has swirled around the porcelain bowl.  The Skins were on track to win the NFC East until the injury bug bit them; now the Skins are at home and they are underdogs to a team with a 4-8 record.  While people are rightfully wondering if Mark Sanchez can do anything with and for the Skins’ offense; there is another problem here.  At one point earlier this year, the Skins’ defense was solidly in the Top 10 in the league.  Forget that; over the last 5 games, the Skins’ defense has given up more than 430 yards per game.  The Giants have won 3 of their last 4 games including a win over the division-leading Bears.  Landon Collins will miss this game – and the rest of the season – for the Giants and will undergo shoulder surgery next week.  An interesting angle on this game will be watch the Hall of Fame RB, Adrian Peterson, on the same field with rookie RB sensation, Saquon Barkley.

Denver – 4 at SF (45):  This game opened with the Broncos as 4.5-point favorites; that was before the news that Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the season.  That news did not seem to move the line at all and I find that surprising.  The Broncos are 6-6; they could make the playoffs but would probably need to win out.  Looking at this game and the rest of their schedule, that is within the realm of possibility except for the final game of the season.  After this game, the Broncos schedule is:

  • Vs Browns
  • At Raiders
  • Vs Chargers

The loss of Emmanuel Sanders is a big deal for the Broncos.  In 12 games this year, Sanders caught 71 passes for 868 yards and 4 TDs.  The Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas earlier this season, so it will be interesting to see who becomes the “bull goose looney” [H/T to Ken Kesey] in the Broncos’ wide receiver’s room for the rest of the season.  Meanwhile the Niners are wondering if they will be “on the clock” for the #1 pick in the NFL Draft next April – – or if they will have to wait in line behind their brethren across the Bay in Oakland.  I like the Niners at home plus the points.

Bengals at Chargers – 14 (47.5):  The Chargers are solidly on course for the playoffs and could catch the Chiefs in the AFC West; they are only a game behind in the standings.  The Chargers need this game; but if there were ever a “Trap Game” for a team, this would be it:

  • Last week, the Chargers came from way behind to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh
  • This week the Bengals come to LA as a team in total disarray and with key injuries.
  • Next week, the Chargers play the Chiefs for what could be the AFC West title.

This game will pit Jeff Driskel against Philip Rivers as the opposing QBs.  Who ya got?  Rivers is a bona fide MVP candidate this year; Driskell has thrown 4 passes in the NFL and he completed all of them for a total of 39 yards.  Oh, and Bengals’ WR, AJ Green, is out for the year with a foot injury too.  The Bengals have lost four in a row and three of those four losses have been by 14 points or more.  This one has BLOWOUT written all over it; but I am not going to give away 2 TDs to start the game.

Detroit – 3 at Arizona (40.5):  This game is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  These teams bring a combined record of 7-17 to the coin toss.  It is not a divisional game; neither team elicits any real emotional reaction outside their local community; if you are interested in this game and happen to be in the neighborhood this weekend, you can get tix for as little as $18 online.  If you press me to find something interesting about this game, here is the best thing I can come up with:

  • Lions have a first-year coach in Matt Patricia
  • Cards have a first-year coach in Steve Wilks
  • Both first-year coaches have a lot of work left to do to put a winning team on the field.

The Lions have lost 5 of their last 6 games and have failed to cover in all 5 losses.  The Cards are 6-6 against the spread for the season.  Keep your money in your pocket…

Philly at Dallas – 3.5 (44):  I know that an Eagles’ win here will put them in a tie with the Cowboys in the NFC East.  Nevertheless, I believe the Eagles are out of contention for that division title because of their upcoming schedule as compared to the Cowboys’ upcoming schedule.  Assume for a moment that the Eagles win here, and both teams go forward with a record of 7-6.  Here is the Eagles’ remaining schedule:

  • At Rams
  • Vs Texans
  • At Skins

The Rams and Texans have a combined record of 20-4.

Meanwhile, here is the Cowboys’ remaining schedule:

  • At Colts
  • Vs Bucs
  • At Giants

The Colts are at .500 as of this morning; neither the Bucs nor the Giants can make that claim.  The fact is that the Cowboys schedule from here to December 30th is a whole lot easier than the Eagles’ schedule.

The Cowboys have won 4 in a row and the way Amari Cooper has played since his arrival in Dallas makes one wonder how or why he under-performed so much in Oakland for the last year and a half.  It looks now as if Jerry Jones got the best of that deal with the Raiders even though most folks thought he got fleeced when the trade was announced.  The Eagles are on a 2-game in streak but do not fail to consider the opponents in those two games – – the Giants and the Skins.

Pittsburgh – 10 at Oakland (51.5):  The Raiders – like their neighbors in the Bay Area – can see their way clear to the overall #1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft; it is within their grasp so long as they continue to lose football games in December.  Meanwhile, the Steelers need to win this one.  As of now, the Steelers hold a tenuous half-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North and the Steelers do not have a cakewalk for their remaining games.  Check this out:

  • Vs Pats
  • At Saints
  • Vs Bengals

The unavailability of James Connor this week is not good news for the Steelers.  Even without him, the Steelers are the superior team, but the Steelers historically play down to the level of their opposition.  They simply cannot afford to do that in this game to the point where they lose the game to an inferior opponent.

(Sun Nite) Rams – 3 at Chicago (51.5):  This game was flexed from an early start time to the Sunday Night national game.  This is The Game of the Week; it matches a division leader (Bears) against a team that has already clinched its division championship and is eyeing home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs (Rams).  The Rams’ incentive is that they hold a 1-game lead over the Saints for that home field advantage; the Bears’ incentive is holding onto their lead over the Vikes in the NFC North.  It appears as if Mitchell Trubisky will return to the lineup for the Bears this week and it is incumbent on the Bears’ OL to play better than it did last week when it allowed the Giants’ defense to sack the QB 4 times.  This week Aaron Donald will be on the DL and the Bears do not want him throwing Mitchell Trubisky around like a rag doll.

(Mon Nite) Minnesota at Seattle – 3 (45):  This game will become the Game of the Week if Mitchell Trubisky cannot play on Sunday night and the Rams win because the Bears had to play Chase Daniel.  In that event, the Vikes will have double motivation in this game:

  1. A win will put them only a half-game behind the Bears with the Bears slated to come visit the Vikes in the final game of the season.
  2. A win will put them ahead of the Seahawks by a half-game as the #1 NFC wildcard team.

The Seahawks are not going to catch the Rams in the NFC West; their entry into the playoffs depends on getting a wild card slot and they will do that if they win out.  The Seahawks like to run the ball to set up Russell Wilson in the passing game; the Bears have the second-best run defense in the NFL allowing only 85.8 yards per game on the ground.  The Vikes have won 6 games this year; only one of the teams they beat (Eagles) has a .500 record this year; all the others are below .500.  I like the Seahawks at home to win and cover.

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

“In the biggest upset of 2018, Rocky Balboa retired before Tom Brady did.”

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

 

 

National Microwave Day

Today is National Microwave Day.  Really …  So, to commemorate that day, I will try to make this quick…

I had exactly no inside information a couple of days ago when I mentioned that if the D-Backs really wanted to offer up Paul Goldschmidt in a trade, it would behoove lots of teams to go and get him.  Well, the St. Louis Cardinals did just that trading 3 prospects and a draft pick to the D-Backs for the six-time All Star, Paul Goldschmidt.  The D-Backs just declared themselves to be in a rebuilding mode having lost Patrick Corbin to the Washington Nationals in free agency earlier this week.

It looks as if there is really going to be a reincarnated XFL – call it XFL 2.0 if you want.  The league is scheduled to begin play the week after the Super Bowl game in 2020.  On the assumption that the AAF survives its inaugural season intact, they too will be putting on a game on the Sunday after the Super Bowl in 2020.  That might be interesting…

XFL 2.0 announced the location of its 8 franchises this week.  Seven cities that have NFL teams plus St. Louis – where there was an NFL team until very recently – will make up XFL 2.0.  Contrast that “placement strategy” with the one from the AAF where only 2 cities with NFL teams (Atlanta and Phoenix) will also have AAF teams.

The 8 teams in the new XFL will have rosters of 45 players with practice squads of 7 players each.  The AAF is trying to assign players to teams proximal to where the players went to college; it is not clear that the XFL has any similar strategy in mind.  However, the XFL will also be assigning players to franchises starting in early 2019.

The original XFL had some rule changes and presentational techniques that deviated significantly from the NFL or college football.  Some were:

  • Kickoffs had to be run out of the end zone; there were no touchbacks unless the ball carried out of the end zone on the kickoff.  [Aside:  The NFL in 2018 has gone almost 180-degrees in the opposite direction trying to minimize kickoff returns as a player safety measure.]
  • PATs were only pass/run from the 2-yardline.  There were no place-kicked PATs.
  • Pass receivers needed only 1 foot down inbounds to make a catch.  [Aside: That was and still is the college rule; personally, I prefer the “2 feet down” rule ever so slightly.]
  • As in the CFL, a back could be in motion toward the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.  [Aside:  The offense has enough rule advantages as it is without adding this one in my opinion.]
  • As in the CFL, there were no fair catches on punts.

I mention those old XFL “innovations” because XFL 2.0 intends to continue that tradition.  While announcing the location of the 8 franchises for the league, Commissioner Oliver Luck also said that the league would be “crowdsourcing” ideas for rules that are different from the NFL and/or college football.  I did not like that choice of wording at first; I thought he was saying that he was going to open this up to some sort of Internet forum wherein anybody with a keyboard and a modem could throw an idea in over the transom.  I was relieved to hear that Commissioner Luck clarified that to say that he and other league officials have sought input from some former coaches and players about rule changes that might make sense – as opposed to what might come in over the transom.  The rule modifications for this iteration of the XFL will not be change-for-the-sake-of change; the idea is to promote safety and to make the games more entertaining to the audience.  Here is part of Luck’s announcement:

“It’ll look like football, but we do plan on innovating in a couple of spaces. We’ve convened what we call a ‘football reimagined’ effort. Looking to address those issues that football fans tend to complain about.”

Probably the two biggest complaint fans have about football games in 2018 are tied together.  Fans complain about:

  1. Officiating – – and – –
  2. Replays and the adjudication of replays.

Nothing will make fans happy with officials’ calls that go against the home lads at a critical moment in the game.  However, there must be a better – and faster – way to adjudicate replay reviews.  I cannot recall the last time I sat back and said to myself anything like the following:

  • “Boy, am I glad that they are taking 3 minutes to review that last play because I was getting far too excited about and emotionally invested in the game as it was happening.  I really needed this breather.”

I am not going to throw any ideas over the transom here, but:

  • Memo to XFL 2.0:  There just has to be a better way to do this!

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

“Awesome:  A word most properly used to denote something truly breathtaking, unbelievably magnificent or strikingly wonderful; it is now used to describe everything from a half-decent meal to a show of support for someone who just landed an entry-level job at Staples.”

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

 

 

RIP President George H. W. Bush

Today is the national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush.  Certainly, somewhere in the US, someone will lift a glass and offer a toast to President Bush on this day that commemorates “toasting” in the US.  Eighty-five years ago, on this date in 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution which ended the Prohibition Era.

Rest in peace, Mr. President…

Last week, the Oakland A’s announced plans to build a new stadium in the Bay Area.  Lord knows; they have needed one for at least a decade now.  The proposed site is a waterfront venue on the bay and the architectural renderings show a cozy stadium with a seating capacity of 35,000 – a number that makes sense for the team.  Consider that the A’s were the hottest team in MLB for about a month or 6 weeks last year and breezed into an AL wild card slot with 97 wins on the season.  Despite that surprising and exciting season:

  • The A’s average attendance for 2018 was 19,427.
  • That figure represents an increase of about 1200 fans per game from 2017.
  • Even with a wildcard team, Oakland ranked 26th in MLB in attendance.

Certainly, a new stadium will attract more fans to the games than the Oakland Mausoleum – – uh, Coliseum – – will.  But it is unlikely that a new stadium will increase attendance there to the point that the new venue would be too small.  So, naturally the team execs and the architects involved were very upbeat in their presentations and the politicians in the area did not dump all over the proposed plans as soon as they were announced.  Perhaps this is the start of something new for the A’s.

However, there is a sentence in one of the articles abut this proposed new stadium that makes me wonder how all of this will work:

“Transportation challenges could be met in part by a gondola system connecting to downtown Oakland, which certainly sounds like a unique way to get to a ballgame.”

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but that “unique way to get to a ballgame” makes me wonder how difficult it might be to get to that same ballgame by more “traditional means” such as public transit or driving one’s car or teleportation.

The team laid out a schedule that identified groundbreaking in 2021 and the opening of the new venue in 2023.  In order to get to that groundbreaking date, there are a bunch of negotiations with the city and bureaucratic hoops that need jumping through by the end of 2019.  That may sound like plenty of time, but I will wait to raise my glass and offer a toast to the City of Oakland and the Oakland A’s over the final agreement(s) that moves this plan beyond the artist rendering stage.

The A’s have trouble drawing fans to their stadium; NASCAR has even more trouble drawing fans to their TV sets to watch NASCAR events.  Here are some stats to consider:

  • In 2005 (the peak of NASCAR’s popularity) 8.5M fans on average watched a NASCAR race.
  • In 2016, 4.47M fans on average watched a NASCAR race.  That is a drop of 47% from the high-water mark in 2005.

But it gets worse…

  • In 2017, the average number of viewers for a NASCAR race was only 4M fans.
  • In 2018, the average number of viewers for a NASCAR race was only 3.3M fans.

From the peak year – 13 years ago – NASCAR has lost 61% of its TV audience.  The problem is that the trend does not show any signs of hitting bottom.  From the already smaller audience figures of 2016, viewership dropped in 2018 by 26%.  These numbers are doubly ominous for NASCAR.

  1. The first problem is obvious; with declining numbers of viewers and TV ratings, the networks are going to be reluctant to maintain the level of payments made to NASCAR for TV rights.
  2. The dual threat here is that a lot of revenue flows to the various racing teams from “naming rights” and “logo placements”.  The value of those “rights” and “placements” diminished significantly when there are fewer eyeballs out there to recognize/acknowledge the product involved.

I am not one of the folks who watches NASCAR on TV nor do I follow NASCAR very much. Therefore, I am in no position to offer up any solutions to this situation that anyone should listen to let alone consider.  However, I think the numbers suggest that something must be done by the folks who run NASCAR to hold its basic audience and then to start to grow it back a bit.  If the revenue streams from TV and from sponsorships both decline significantly, it could be an existential threat to NASCAR as a sports entity.

Urban Meyer announced his retirement from coaching as a result of a cyst on his brain.  This is the second time he has retired for different health-related reasons.  Notwithstanding those circumstances, Meyer said that it was a “complicated question” when asked if he would ever coach again but that he was “fairly certain” that he would not.  There is no question that Meyer’s teams have been highly successful wherever he has been the coach; there is also no question that more than a few players on those successful teams exhibited some sociopathic behaviors – and at Ohio State, it would appear that one of his assistant coaches also exhibited those sorts of behaviors.

There is no question Urban Meyer was a great college football coach – at four different universities – if all you see are the wins and losses and national championships.  But there is a side of his story that is not nearly that bright; it may not be a “dark side” to the extent that Darth Vader was on the “dark side” but it has its sinister shades.  Personally, I will not be shocked to see him back on the sidelines somewhere down the line…

Finally, as the days get shorter and we approach the winter solstice, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Seasonal Affective Disorder — the ‘winter blues’ — is real, says Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief medical correspondent.

“ ‘Tell us about it,’ said Bills fans in unison.”

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

 

 

Vengeance Of The Football Gods?

In late October, the Skins were 5-2 atop the NFC East and appeared to be playoff bound.  This morning, the Skins are 6-6 and are one of the teams “in the hunt” for a playoff spot but will have to finish the season with Mark Sanchez at QB – – assuming he too does not break a leg in the next month.  Last night, backup QB Colt McCoy broke his fibula against the Eagles and is out for the year.  Fan reaction to this unfortunate and freakish injury is all over the map:

  • Some say this is the worst luck for a potentially great team in football history.  That is patent nonsense.  The Niners lost their first two starting QBs to injury just this year; it is not a once in a lifetime occurrence.  And by the way, this Skins team when fully healthy was a competitive team but hardly “potentially great”.
  • Some blame the training staff for the team because the team – according to these folks – suffers more injuries every year than every other team.  I have no stats to prove or disprove that assertion, but I do not know what a training staff might do to prevent the two top QBs from breaking a leg in a game.
  • One caller to a local sports radio show attributed McCoy’s broken leg to karma.  This is the Skins’ price to pay for claiming Reuben Foster off waivers.  That is not even worthy of a comment…
  • Some have already used this to project that the Skins will not win another game this year and that should be the basis for firing coach Jay Gruden.  If Danny Boy Snyder is dissatisfied with a coach with a losing record over a five-year stint on the job, then he should fire Jay Gruden but firing him because two QBs broke a leg in two separate games this season is beyond stupid.

Let me offer a word here on the idea of the Skins firing Jay Gruden come January.  What is the enticing aspect of the football situation here in Washington that might get a “hot coaching prospect” salivating to come here?  Consider:

  1. Alex Smith’s injury may be career-ending.  At the very least, he will miss all the off-season OTAs and may not be able to play at all in the exhibition games.  As I understand Smith’s contract with the Skins, he will count for $50M against the salary cap over the next two years even if he never takes another snap for the team.
  2. Colt McCoy’s injury is less serious making him the de facto #1 QB on the roster.  McCoy is one of the best backups in the NFL and could probably be the starter for a handful of QB-deficient teams, but he is not a giant magnet pulling every aspiring NFL coach into the Skins’ orbit.
  3. The franchise itself is a mess.  The Skins braintrust needs to give thanks every day for the way the Browns, Bengals and Raiders are run.  The very public misadventures of those franchises allow the Skins’ on-field and off-field stupidities to happen outside the brightest part of the spotlight.

Bottom line:  Danny Boy Snyder can choose to fire Jay Gruden if he wants to do that, but he should not expect any top-shelf coaching prospects to line up at his office door to plead for the job.

Changing the subject to baseball, the Winter Meetings are on tap for next week.  I read a report that said the Cubs were “willing to listen to offers” for Kris Bryant.  Taken literally, I guess you should say that is a smart thing for them to do; there is no harm in listening.  On the other hand, I wonder how letting that kind of speculation percolate in the clubhouse benefits the team.  Kris Bryant is one of the ten best players in the game – and I personally would put him in the top five.  So, I said to myself that maybe Theo Epstein has lost some his “magic touch” when it comes to roster building.  So, I went to take a look at the Cubs’ moves over the last off-season.

  • Cubs signed starter Yu Darvish to 6 years and $126M.  He started 8 games last year and had an ERA of 4.95.  Not good at all…
  • Cubs signed starter Tyler Chatwood to 3 years and $38M.  Chatwood was coming off a year with an ERA of 4.69 but he did not do that well for the Cubs last year pitching to an ERA of 5.30 over the course of 24 games and 104 innings.
  • Cubs signed starter Drew Smyly to 2 years and $10M.  Smyly did not pitch at all in 2017 or 2018 coming off Tommy John surgery.
  • Bullpen signings were Brandon Morrow (2 years and $21M), Steve Cishek (2 years and $13M) and Brian Duensing (2 years and $7M).  Morrow pitched well for the Cubs last year; Cishek was underwhelming; Duensing had an ERA of 7.65.
  • The pitchers the Cubs subtracted from their roster included Jake Arietta. Wade Davis and Koji Uehara.  Arietta was more productive than all three of the starters signed; Davis had his worst ERA since going to the bullpen but still led the NL in saves and Uehara turned 43 years old doing something other than pitching in the major leagues.

Bottom Line:  Theo Epstein did not cover himself in glory in last year’s off-season.  Maybe he will “listen to offers” for Kris Bryant this year but my advice to him would be to avoid pulling the trigger.

Speaking of the MLB offseason, much of the focus of speculation so far has properly been on the futures of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  They are both young and excellent players.  However, there are also reports that the D-Backs might be willing to trade Paul Goldschmidt.  If a team is looking for a big bat and a perennial All-Star and that team happens to “lose out” on the Harper/Machado sweepstakes, that team might do very well to acquire 30-year old Paul Goldschmidt.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment about the Red Sox and their World Series parade last month:

“The World Series trophy was damaged by a thrown full can of beer during the Red Sox championship parade. That’s terrible. Talk about a waste of beer!”

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