Bad Ads – 2015

The Earth has journeyed around the Sun yet one more time. As it proceeded on its way, I passed plenty of time watching sports on TV. The beauty of retirement is doing what you want to do when you want to do it – – and I am retired. What I often want to do is to watch a sporting event and so that is what I do.

The downside is that I have to watch/pass through loads of commercials on TV that are the funding source for my ability to watch those sporting events. I recognize their necessity; that does not mean that I have to like them. And, I most certainly do not like lots of them. As a Boy Scout one learns that one must take the bitter with the sweet. However, there is nothing in the scouting experience that precludes one from trying to make the bitter into something marginally sweet – or at least less bitter. That is what I try to do here.

I keep a set of notes on particularly annoying or stupid ads that I see on TV and compile them here as the final rant of the year. They may be annoying to watch, but at least I get some writing material from them. Before I start in on my list, I do want to take note of two dates:

    I saw my first “Christmas shopping ad” on October 20th. It was an ad for K-Mart touting their lay-away program for purchase of Christmas gifts.

    I saw my first two “Christmas automobile sales ads” on November 5th. Audi showed a car with a bow on the hood in a driveway and VW had an ad for leasing a car where the couple took the car and went hunting for a Christmas tree during the test drive.

    Ho, Ho, Ho…

Anyhow, here are some of the bad ads you and I were subjected to last year…

Beer companies sponsor lots of sporting events and that means I saw loads of beer ads making it rather probable that I would see some bad ones. The folks at the beer companies and their ad agencies did not disappoint:

    Budweiser told me, “We don’t brew halfway.” Well thank goodness for that. I do not claim to be a master brewer – or even an accomplished amateur. However, I do recall brewing some beer years ago and halfway through the process, the wort is not pleasantly aromatic and has a nasty flavor. Come to think of it, maybe the folks at Budweiser are indeed only brewing their beer halfway…

    Bud Light maintained their ad campaign saying that you should drink Bud Light if you are “up for whatever”.

      Memo for Bud Light: Here is what I would be “up for”. I would love for you folks to make a new set of ads that are not immensely stupid. I would also appreciate a beer that did not taste as if I were drinking it for the second time. Thank you in advance…

    Miller Lite would not be outdone in the quest for annoying TV ads this year. Recently they have paid good money for TV time to inform me that their swill now comes in the original short necked bottle that it came in when it was first introduced. And I should care about the packaging for what reason…?

There are categories of ads that put fine print on the bottom of the screen. These are disclaimers that seek to indemnify the sponsors for saying things in the ad that are not the whole truth and nothing but the truth and/or for showing something that might be deceptive in some way. As a rule of thumb, look at the amount of fine print at the bottom of the screen and recognize that the length of the message there is directly proportional to the degree of fibbing or exaggeration that you have been subjected to in the ad. Basically, there are two categories of here:

    Ads – usually for automobiles – that show something outrageous to the point where they would be dangerous if any viewer were stupid enough to try to duplicate it in real life. The message at the bottom of the screen translates to:

      Don’t be an ass! Don’t even think of doing this yourself.

    Ads where there are restrictions on the offers/claims made in the ad you are watching/listening to.

      Some car rebates are for only the 10% of dealer inventory that has been on the lot the longest. You do realize that means they are cutting the price a little more than normal for those cars they have not come close to selling yet. Such a deal…

      Websites that can get you “cash in your checking account tomorrow” are not lenders or brokers and do not make lending or credit decisions. And they are often illegal in a string of states. No wonder the print is so small; anyone who read that stuff would be really leery of contacting those folks.

      Law firms who want you to call them if you – or a loved one – has taken some medicine and suffered one of a series of dire consequences including death. That firm will probably not represent you but will refer you to a law firm in your area – which you could find for yourself if you tried.

A T-Mobile ad had a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad that negated much of the benefit that was touted in the ad. T-Mobile claimed that other cell phone companies “steal your unused data” at the end of the month after you paid for it but T-Mobile will roll it over into the next month. Sounds good, no? The problem is that you only get to use that rolled over data after you run out of the allotted data in the next month – and if you did not use it all in January, why is it a certainty that you might use all of it and then some of the roll-over data in February? But even more problematic is that after one year of rolling over all that data, you lose it if you do not use it. Here is the bottom line:

    T-Mobile will “steal your data” just like the other cell phone companies but they will do it a year later than the other companies.

    Somehow, that does not sound like such a great deal anymore…

Zaxby’s Chicken had a bunch of ads on during March Madness last year. They had one of the goofs from Duck Dynasty in the ads. In a particularly stupid and annoying one, the “Duck Dynast” could only place his order for the chicken in a series of grunts exchanged with the genius at the cash register. In another, he dressed in “chicken camo” so no one could see him eating his chicken. On the stupidity scale from 1 to 10, those rate a 12.5. I do not recall ever seeing a Zaxby’s Chicken here in the Northern Virginia area but I will say without reservation that those ads would keep me from trying the food there rather than enticing me into the place.

DirecTV tried to convince me to use their satellite TV service with a series of ads showing Hannah and her talking horse. Their pitch was that DirecTV rated higher than Cable TV in each of the last however-many years. Wonderful! DirecTV also probably rated higher than used car salesmen, cops setting up speed traps, child abusers and people who rarely bathe. If you say that my comparisons are irrelevant, my response is that they are as relevant as a woman and a talking horse are as spokes-creatures for a satellite TV company. And for the record, the idea of a talking equine specimen is not novel; anyone besides me recall Francis the Talking Mule from the 1950s?

KFC ads feature the reincarnation of “The Real Col. Sanders”. Here is the message that I get from those ads:

    The folks in “creative” at the ad agency simply have no good ideas at the moment.

I heard an ad on the local sports radio station for one of the online universities. I do not know if that is a national ad or just one put on the air here to annoy the inhabitants of the DC metro area. The ad is based on the premise that some industrial leader once said:

“If you don’t control your own destiny, someone else will.”

The message of the ad is that you should take control and call this school and enroll immediately or suffer the consequences of someone else controlling your destiny. Sorry, but either the industrial leader got it wrong or the enlightened folks who will be instructing you at the online university have it wrong.

    Neither you nor anyone else can control your destiny or any other destiny. If it were controllable, it would not be destiny.

Should you call the number and think about paying those people to instruct you in courses leading to a college degree, recall that they got your attention by trying to convince you to control something that cannot be controlled. So, how smart must they be…?

TD Ameritrade touted its investment tools in an ad featuring Andrew Luck. He offered folks a “piece of Luck” by plucking a few hairs from his beard and dousing the people with it. Some of the folks said that TD Ameritrade had given them those investment tools so they were confident in their planning for retirement. Finally, they tell you don’t need luck when you have confidence.

    Really?

    So, if I am confident that I am going to win the $300M Powerball Lottery this week, I don’t need luck?

    I don’t think so…

This year seemed to be one where the auto companies all got together and decided that they would bombard viewers of TV sporting events with stupid ads. There were so many that it strains credulity it could have happened totally randomly.

    Scion ads for their little cars used the slogan:

    “Scion; what moves you?”

    On one hand, it might be considered an interesting play on words. Scion is a car; cars move you from Point A to Point B. Clever? Not really. The first time I heard the ad pose the question here was my answer:

      “Prune Juice”

    The Ford Edge ads tell you to “Be Unstoppable”. Well, if I am in my Ford Edge I am not sure that I want to be unstoppable. I think I would prefer that the brakes worked properly.

    Lincoln had to have decided to creep out a minimum of 75% of the viewers with those ads with Matthew McConaughey driving along on a dark night with not another car on the Interstate. I can imagine the meeting between the folks at Lincoln and the folks at the ad agency:

      Ok, no other car maker has gone after the very-rich, the very-aloof and the clearly-creepier-than-Hell demographic. So, here is what we came up with for you…

    For Volkswagen, harken back to the days when they touted Fahrvernugen – the joy of driving one nominally got from a Volkswagen. Well, in 2015 we learned that some of the “pep” in the engines of some of those VWs came from software that allowed the cars to pass emissions inspections but then drive in higher pollution mode to improve performance. Sure, I’ll believe the next round of VW ads…

    Oh, and Audi had some “software shenanigans” too. For several years now, Audi has been flogging us with the slogan “Truth in Engineering”. I wondered if they might amend that this year to be “Truth in Engineering Plus Emissions Software Hijinks”. No, they did not…

People who buy cars also need to buy auto insurance so the demographics of sporting events tells insurance companies that they should spend some ad dollars there. Sadly, they do so and put bad ads in front of us.

    Progressive Insurance still has Flo involved. Let me say this simply:

      If Flo were drowning in a swimming pool, I would throw her a bowling ball.

    Liberty Mutual seems intent on capturing the naïve segment of the insurance market. Several of their “spokesfolks” opine into the camera that they are outraged when they “use their insurance” [file a claim] and then learn that their rates increase. That is how insurance works. That is why you will pay more for life insurance if you smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day or are 500 lbs overweight.

    There is another Liberty Mutual genius who is shocked to learn that if he totals his new car, he only gets the depreciated value of it from the insurance company. Obviously, he lived in a cave until the moment he went to the car dealership to buy that car that he immediately wrecked.

      Memo to Liberty Mutual spokesthings: If you get the company’s accident forgiveness and/or new car replacement coverage, your monthly premiums will be higher. That is how it works. It is like the old ads for Fram oil filters:

        You can pay me now or you can pay me later.

    Allstate has a particularly annoying ad featuring a couple sitting in a restaurant. The woman asks if the man recalls saying that women are not as good at driving as men; he acknowledges that he remembers that. At that point the woman gets out her “safe driving reward check from Allstate” and proceeds to flaunt it at him for the rest of the ad. The only way to save that ad would be for the man – who is obviously a chauvinistic idiot in the first place for making the broad generalization that started all of this – to take his plate of food and smash it into the face of the preening schmoo of a woman he is with.

    Geico has had some good ad campaigns over the years and a few that have surely outlived their utility. I did not think I would ever be in this position but indeed I am:

      Every time I see “Peter Pan” fly into the reunion hall with his classmates who have aged while he has not, I say to myself, “Why can’t Geico bring back the cavemen?”

Cialis now comes in a low-dosage form that men can take every day. Cialis likes to say that it allows men with Erectile Dysfunction to be ready anytime. If they left it at that, I would think that the ad campaign was sensibly directed at the aging male demographic and move on. However, Cialis also tells us that it is sometimes effective in treating the symptoms of BPH – Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – or an enlarged prostate that is not caused by prostate cancer one of which is frequent need to urinate both day and night. And so to cover all the bases, the ads begin by saying:

    When a moment turns romantic, why stop to take a pill?

      OK, I guess. Spontaneity is a good thing… Unless of course it happens in a crowded restaurant or a movie theater or a church service…

    And why stop to look for a bathroom?

      Uh … hold on there. If the moment is turning romantic and either party needs to go to the bathroom, it is probably a good idea for that person to find one and use it because it might become a significant reason why said moment ceased to be romantic.

      Another important reason to “stop and look for a bathroom” is that we spend time and energy teaching children that it is not socially acceptable to wet themselves whenever they feel like it wherever they are. When an adult “stops to look for a bathroom” he is behaving like a socially adjusted adult instead of an annoying rug-rat in need of potty training.

    These ads are even dumber than the vintage Cialis ads where couples in parallel bathtubs held hands while staring off into the horizon.

Napoleon Grills had an ad last year that showed a neighbor sneaking into a guy’s backyard to use the neighbor’s Napoleon Grill to cook a bunch of food. Even when confronted in the act and reminded that he could get his own grill, the guy keeps cooking. What is the message I am supposed to take from this?

    Buy a Napoleon Grill and then install a perimeter security system around your home so that potentially psychopathic neighbors do not sneak in and use your grill.

    I don’t think that is the message they want…

Until there were some legal issues with some state regulatory authorities and/or attorneys general, we were bombarded with ads for daily fantasy sports websites, Draft Kings and FanDuel. Mercifully, those seem to have abated in the past several weeks. I have 2 questions for the folks who are in charge of marketing those sites – leaving aside the questions of legality that will be settled in a totally different realm:

    1. If you are going to buy up 50 ad slots for a Sunday’s worth of NFL games, why not invest enough money to make more than two different ads that you will run in those 50 slots?

    2. If I did not respond to the two ads you did make the first 1569 times I saw those ads, what makes you think I will respond to the 1570th time?

One of the fantasy draft sites had an ad where Victor Cruz asked Odell Beckham, Jr. if he (Cruz) should start Beckham or Julio Jones that week. The catchy part of the ad is obviously supposed to be that Cruz and Beckham are teammates in real life and that is nominally an awkward moment. There is another message there and it paints Cruz as someone who is dumber than a paper clip.

    Beckham and Jones are two of the best WRs in the NFL.

    Fantasy football teams start 2 WRs.

    If Cruz were lucky to have both on his team, why would he even think of only playing one of them?

When the ad bombardment for Daily Fantasy Sports sites was at its crest, there was a potential danger facing our country and our civilization. Look at all of those ads; they all said the same thing. Sign up, put up some money and you – Joe Flintwhistle sitting there at home – can win big money and we will take video of your celebrations there in your home and put it on the air. What is the potential danger in that?

    It is not a giant leap for some guy in creative to look at those videos and pitch the idea of creating another “Reality Program” where the content is video of groups of fantasy sports players watching games and hyper-reacting to various plays throughout the day. Splice those together with a few interspersed narrative interviews of the participants and you have a new Reality TV Show.

    1. If anyone ever made such a monstrosity of a show, might I suggest they call it “Survivor: Insufferability”.

    2. We need another Reality TV show like we need an outbreak of rectal boils.

Blue Buffalo Dog Food shows an ad where a pet owner is sitting in a chair and is presented with the ingredient list from three different dog food brands. He says that he would select the brand of food for his pet based on the ingredient list. OK, that makes sense; if they stopped there, this ad would not be stupid. Here is what comes next:

    The pet owner says “If you can understand what is in the (dog) food, it’s good food.”

    Really?

    Suppose the first ingredient listed – the one in the greatest quantity in the dog food – is “Mule Snot”. You understand what that is if you have an IQ greater than a hunk of cheese, but that does not make the product good dog food.

The folks at Fairfield Hotels tell me that their guests include marathon jugglers, Olympic gymnasts, a “balancing wizard” and an American Ninja. Moreover, these folks do their act in the lobbies and halls in the Fairfield hotels. This does not make me want to stay there for fear I might encounter one of more of these goofs.

Wells Fargo Bank has a Christmas ad showing a stage coach traveling through a snow-covered terrain when it stops so that the horses can eat carrots offered to them by snowmen by the side of the trail. Then the stagecoach goes on to deliver presents to a child.

    Question: What in the name of Figgie Pudding does any of that have to do with banking?

Way too many ads tell us at the outset that these are “real people” and “not actors”. Given that the majority of those “real people” are being compensated for doing what they do, the distinction is sort of “blurry”. In any event, here are two messages for the folks who make those commercials and give us that disclaimer:

    1. It never occurred to me that those were holograms on my screen. Of course they are “real people”; they are not animations.

    2. Since when are actors not “real people”?

I do not know if hhgregg is a national company or a local one here in the DC area; they sell kitchen appliances and some electronics and things like that. Yesterday on the NFL early game shown here, they ran an ad for a one-day sale on the Saturday after Christmas. They paid to run an ad on Sunday for a one-day sale on the day before. I never took the course, Marketing 101, but somehow, that does not seem like a good idea to me.

Finally, dumb ads are not restricted to television. As I was browsing on one Internet site looking for stuff to use in my website rants, I ran across an ad along the right side of the screen with this “headline”:

    An overlooked method to pay off your credit card balance.

No, I did not go and read what that ‘overlooked method might be simply because I have a foolproof method for doing that which works every time:

    Step 1: Do not carry any credit card balances in the first place.

    Step 2: If that fails and you find yourself with a balance carried forward, then pay more each month than you spent on that credit card in the last month.

    Step 3: In short order, the balance will go to zero and then you can stay there by following Step 1.

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

University Of Missouri Football Boycott

Surely, you have read and heard about the resignation of the President of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, amidst protests over racial incidents at that institution. Clearly, the decision of the football team – players and coaches – to abstain from any football activities (practice and scheduled games) had a lot to do with forcing that resignation. The team has properly received accolades for their action here. In his statement announcing his resignation, President Wolfe urged the university folks to “stop yelling at each other and start listening and quit intimidating each other.” Whether or not you like President Wolfe, those words represent good advice.

There is an adage:

Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.

I am going to be a fool today and pose some questions regarding the pragmatic outcome(s) of this forced resignation. Let me set the stage for just a moment:

    A quick glance at Google Maps tells me that Columbia, MO is only about 100 miles from Ferguson, MO. I know nothing about that part of the country from personal experience but I do know and appreciate that there is real – and not imagined – racial tension in Ferguson. The proximity of the University of Missouri to Ferguson has to add to any racial sensitivities on campus.

    Reports on this subject refer to a history of “racial incidents” on campus that have not been addressed to the satisfaction of the protesters. I do not know what those earlier racial incidents were; therefore, I have no way to judge their severity. It is not possible to imagine a racial incident that would fall in the “good” category; nonetheless, there are varying degrees of “bad incidents” and I have no way to categorize how bad the earlier incidents may have been.

I did see an interview with the student government president – a black male – on one of the news programs; he indicated that at a campus meeting, he had been the target of “racial epithets” including the “N-word”. I read reports that someone smeared a swastika on the wall in a dormitory using human feces. That act is disgusting on so many levels that I will not even try to understand what the perpetrator might have been thinking. That less than artistic expression came soon after campus protesters blocked President Wolfe’s car in the Homecoming Weekend Parade in protest of the “earlier incidents”.

In none of the reporting have I seen any indication that anyone involved in the protest thinks that President Wolfe was involved in any of the “earlier incidents” nor that he was the “fecal artist” who decorated the dormitory. Therefore, I guess I do not understand the vehement focus on his resignation as the prime objective of these protests. Now that he is no longer associated with the university, does that mean that the persons who confronted the student government president with racial epithets are gone? Has the “fecal artist” moved on to another campus somewhere?

Unless someone can demonstrate that President Wolfe was one of those miscreants or that he has been harboring those miscreants and shielding them from identification and punishment, those miscreants are still somewhere within the university community – unless of course these incidents have been perpetrated by outsiders from the start. I am currently about 800 miles east of Columbia, MO; from this vantage point, it seems to me that the “really bad guys” have not been “smoked out” of their caves.

The protesters got what they have been demanding. Now what?

Many news outlets have raced to proclaim that there is a new day dawning on campus here and that this is only the beginning of positive change on campuses around the country. Before I get caught up in that euphoria, let me point out that many of these news outlets are the same ones that proclaimed the joy of Arab Spring four or five years ago as a movement that would usher in a whole slew of democracies in North Africa and the Middle East. That was wishful thinking that never came close to reality; frankly, until I see what the newly created environment is at Missouri and how that newly created environment minimizes any racial incidents on the campus, I will merely hope that all the change at Missouri is for the positive.

Politicians at the state and national level have jumped into the fray proclaiming – obviously – that they are the side of everything that is right and good. I have not heard any of them intimate that they have any information regarding who is responsible for the acts on campus that they decry so prolifically. Frankly, they sound to me as if they are merely opportunists grabbing at a chance for face time in order to take a “proper position” on an issue they really do not have any knowledge of or involvement with. Call me a cynic if you wish but I would think a lot more highly of these politicians if they took to the microphone with declarations of facts and specific actions they are taking to make specific changes here. All I have heard to date is platitudinous pabulum…

Having experienced in the past mandatory diversity sensitivity training sessions, let me say that I am skeptical that any such activity will do anything meaningful to humanize the thought processes of the “fecal artist”. Real change, significant change, permanent change is not likely to emerge from diversity training sessions that end with the participants singing Cumbaya. Such diversity training sessions will not hurt anything but if they are the totality of the change ushered in by the change in leadership at the university, then the protest outcomes will likely be cosmetic and not meaningful.

The onus is on the protesters now. No one is going to start a “movement” to get any of the protesters to drop out of school. However, now that they have had their say, one needs to change the focus of accountability.

    Who is responsible for the racial incidents on campus and what is the new university culture going to do about those folks?

    Who is “the fecal artist” and what is to be done to/with him/her?

One potential outcome from this matter in a completely different dimension may be that college athletes in the revenue sports will recognize the influence they can have on university policies. This protest had been ongoing for a while but what brought it to a head was when a large fraction of the football team took sides in the protest and announced that they would boycott practices and games until the protesters’ demands had been met. According to reports, the cancelation of the game against BYU this week would have cost the Missouri Athletic Department $1M. The players should learn from that quick response to their stance that there is truth in the adage:

    Money talks; bulls[p]it walks…

Should the student-athletes choose to push this pawn a way down the path, they might see a different avenue toward payment for their athletic services. Instead of trying to get “employee status” by having a national labor union certified to represent players’ interests, perhaps the way to achieve that goal – if that is truly a goal the players want to achieve – is to wait for one of the major revenue events to commence and for the players at that moment to choose to withhold services. It would take Herculean coordination effort to make the following happen but imagine for just a moment the following scenario:

    It is a Sunday night in mid-March and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee has just announced its seedings for March Madness.

    The media is focused on who got snubbed and who got a seeding they did not deserve. Monday morning arrives and that frenzy of outrage is fully expressed.

    Then, comes the announcement that the players on the 68 teams are not going to take the floor. There will be no games; there will be no television; more importantly, there will be no television revenues…

The University of Missouri faced a loss of $1M for failure to show up to play BYU. The NCAA Tournament generates close to $1B for the NCAA and its member institutions.

It is probably too large an undertaking to get 68 teams to agree to such a boycott to make my scenario even close to a reality. However, there are bowl games in football and even the College Football Playoff where the occurrence of the event involves the cooperation of far fewer players at far fewer institutions. Maybe, this is the most important lesson about effecting change that comes from the action(s) of the Missouri football team in this matter. Maybe this action will demonstrate the levers and the fulcrum that players can use to force negotiations on things they want to have happen.

And like the campus protesters who have won their point now, if the players choose to use those levers, are they ready to accept the consequences and the accountability that will come from their success?

I think the resignation of President Wolfe is not much more than a symbolic happenstance. Without concrete steps that actually change things for the better, it will be a footnote of history. I think the football players at Missouri demonstrated to athletes at other schools that perhaps it is time for the players to take heed.

    Money talks! Bulls[p]it walks!

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

The Washington Nats Dugout Scuffle

The grand sports issue here in the DC area as of this moment is the dugout scuffle between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper. The Washington Nationals had a disgraceful season. Fanboys in the area will cry crocodile tears lamenting injuries to various players on the team as an excuse for the team’s miserably embarrassing performance this year. Nonsense. The problem with the Nats is pretty simple and it was expressed by one of the SF Giants players – do not recall which one – last year just as the Giants and Nats were getting ready to play each other in the NL Playoffs. Even last year, people revered the Nats’ lineup and thought it was an unstoppable juggernaut. This “mystery Giants’ player” said they had loads of good players but – as he grabbed his man-zone – he suggested that they did not have anything “there”.

That may not have been the most articulate expression of his analysis/opinion but it was much closer to right than it was to wrong. Moreover, the roster for 2015 suffers from similar problems that one might express in the same crude fashion. The Nats have at least a half-dozen – and more likely 10 – bona fide stars on the roster right now – – if all you look at are individual stats. What they also have are a bunch of guys who are stars AND are front runners. When things go their way, these guys just pile on the stats and make it appear that they are the reincarnation of the 1927 Yankees. However, as soon as something starts to go wrong and the Nats need a clutch hit or play in the field – – not so much.

The weakest link on the Nats this year was the bullpen. More specifically, the least productive part of the team was the setup men who got the team through the 7th and 8th innings of games to usher in the closer. With the Nats this year, one of the most famous Yogisims was fully applicable:

The game was never over until it was over.

At the trade deadline, the Nats acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies and anointed him as their closer. The previous closer was “demoted” to being the 8th-inning set up guy. Hey, if you were good enough to have been the closer, you ought to be able to get through the 8th innings of games instead of the 9th innings, right? Well, that did not work and people ascribed it to an ego bruise. Please; spare me; you are getting paid millions of dollars to pitch one inning per game about 3 times a week; suck it up, buttercup.

Papelbon will receive exactly no votes in the “Mr. Congeniality Contest” nor will anyone ever nominate him for “Clubhouse Chemistry Guy of the Year”. However, no one can realistically challenge his competitiveness. He is one of those guys who seems to be a pain-in-the-ass; but if he is going to be in the league, it is probably better to have him be your pain-in-the-ass as opposed to the other guy’s pain-in-the-ass.

I wrote last year that I think Bryce Harper is one of baseball’s most polarizing players; I continue to believe that. Harper is incredibly talented; anyone who disputes that statement either has not watched Harper play or knows nothing about baseball. Harper is also one of those “frontrunners” I referred to above. As talented as he is and as dedicated to getting better year over year he is, if I needed a clutch hit to win an important game, I would much rather have Jayson Werth at the plate than Harper despite the fact that Harper is hitting about 100 points higher than Werth this year. Moreover, Harper will get only token acknowledgement in a putative “Mr. Congeniality Contest”.

If there had to be a dugout fight in the Nats’ dugout the day the team was eliminated from the NL Playoffs – after they were the pre-season favorites to win the World Series – the odds-on favorites for the combatants would have to have been Harper and Papelbon. The proximal event(s) that triggered the scuffle do not really matter; the scuffle has to be seen by the folks who run the team as a fundamental issue with regard to the roster they have built. They have individual “stars” on the team who seem to exist in their own orbits and only acknowledge the existence of other “stars” on the team during “mandatory walk-off victory celebrations”. That does not work in team sports; the Nats need only look at their NFL DC brethren to see how that formula for roster building produces little in terms of championship results.

What is the solution here? I do not know what the team will do but I think there are several fixed points in the environment that cannot be ignored:

    1. There is no way on the planet that the team will discipline Bryce Harper in any way for anything that is not a first degree felony. He is their “Golden Boy” and he has an agent (Scott Boras) who will not look kindly on an organization that even hints that there is a minor flaw in Harper’s greatness.

    2. The team is on the hook to pay Jonathan Papelbon $11M next year; they picked up that contract option when they traded for him in July. Moreover, Papelbon has a no-trade clause in that contract that he has to waive in order for the Nats to move him elsewhere. The Nats can trade Papelbon if they are willing to pay much/most of that $11M salary AND if they agree to take nothing more valuable than a liverwurst sandwich in return.

    3. Other members of the bullpen will recognize that they are set up to be the scapegoats for this season’s collapse and any of them who can sign elsewhere would be wise to do so. Any who choose to stay here will be under a microscope for any flaws starting the week before Spring Training commences in February 2016.

    4. The knee-jerk “fire-the-manager” option could well be invoked here. Matt Williams is described in the local press as being “all-business” and “stern” while the common wisdom is that the players would like someone who will pat them on the head once in a while. Maybe even pass out juice boxes and participation trophies… Nothing cures overly-indulged entitled individuals more than getting rid of a “no-nonsense” manager and replacing him with “Dr. Feelgood”.

For the record, what this particular roster needs least is a manager who will let the players do whatever it is they want to do. The team appears to have plenty of spoiled kids/brats on it; they need no encouragement to continue to live their lives in such a fashion. What this roster needs most is a significant restructuring. Some of their frontrunning “stars” need to be moved on to teams who will be enamored with their individual stats; and in return, the Nats need to acquire a few guys who – for lack of a more eloquent description – have something down in their “man-zone”. The problem with that avenue is that it will require the folks who assembled the roster – the activist owner and the GM – to acknowledge that THEIR roster and THEIR decisions were not so good. I just doubt that is going to happen…

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

Predicting The 2015 NFL Season

For new readers, this is another of the annual features where I purposely – and purposefully – embarrass myself in public. What will follow here is my forecast for the NFL team-by-team where I predict the final standings in all of the NFL Divisions and the team records for each team. I will try to explain/justify/rationalize my selections knowing full well that many of them will be off target by astronomical distances. I do want to make something clear before launching into this essay:

    I do not hate any team in the NFL. I can say confidently that I did not inflate any team’s projected record because I “love them” or deflate another team’s record because I “hate them”. Looking at rosters and schedules, I think some teams are going to do better than other teams and that is all that is reflected here.

    Therefore, when it happens – as it always does – that a team that I have picked to have a 3-13 record winds up with a 9-7 record and perhaps sneaks into the playoffs, please do not tell me that I owe that team and its fans an apology for disrespecting them. That is not what happened and I will not apologize for something that did not happen.

    What did happen was that I made a huge mistake in terms of analysis and forecasting and I will indeed admit that I was wrong.

Before getting to the individual teams and their records for the season, let me begin by identifying 5 coaches who are – or ought to be – on a hot seat already. I will list them alphabetically lest anyone try to derive some priority order from the list that is not there.

    Gus Bradley (Jax): After a handful of successful years in Seattle as the defensive coordinator, Bradley got the job in Jax two years ago. Granted, he has been saddled with poor quarterbacking down there and the rest of the roster is not populated with Pro Bowl players either. Nonetheless, his record going into this season is 7-25. Let me just say that record is not sufficiently inspiring to induce the folks down there to take the tarps off the seats that the Jags cannot give away let alone sell.

    Jay Gruden (Washington): I know, he has only been in the job for one year but in Washington under Danny Boy Snyder’s regime, two years is long time in the job. Gruden’s “calling card” as a coach is that he is a “quarterback-whisperer” and he came to DC in hopes that he might bring RG3’s performance to mythic levels. RG3 will be the clipboard-holding #3 QB as the season begins… Now, if the two QBs ahead of RG3 also play poorly, Gruden’s “calling card” may decline significantly in value.

    Joe Philbin (Miami): Expectations are high in Miami this year; Greg Cote of the Miami Herald ranks the Dolphins as the 6th best team in the NFL. I do not agree with that assessment but that is some of what Philbin needs to deliver against in South Florida. Philbin has been in Miami for 3 seasons and has posted a cumulative record of 23-25. A repeat of that kind of record is not commensurate with the “6th best team in the NFL”.

    Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay): Like Jay Gruden, this is only his second year on the job. Nonetheless, the Bucs were as bad last year as they had been under Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris. Like in Jax, there are plenty of empty seats in Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs need not win their division for Smith to stay on the job, but another year near last year’s 2-14 record and he may be collecting on whatever remains in his contract starting in January 2016.

    Ken Whisenhunt (Tennessee): He took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl after the 2008 seson and to the playoffs after the 2009 season. Since then, his teams have not been above .500. Like Lovie Smith above, the Titans went 2-14 in Whisenhunt’s inaugural year there. The team has to do better than that.

There are two other coaches in the league who might endure fan pressure or media pressure should their teams “under-perform” this year. I do not think either coach ought to be on a hot seat – let alone fired for a bad season in 2015 – but I will mention them here just because…

    Tom Coughlin (Giants): The reasons he should not be on a hot seat are myriad:

      Two Super Bowl rings
      A 96-80 record with the Giants
      Nine playoff appearances in his coaching career.

    Nonetheless, the Giants have missed the playoffs for 3 straight years and in those 3 seasons the team record has been 22-26. In the last 2 seasons the Giants have been 13-19 but that less-than-stellar record is inflated to a degree with a 4-0 record against the Skins – meaning against real competition, the Giants are only 9-19. The Giants’ fans and the NYC tabloids may not take kindly to another slightly less than mediocre season.

    Chip Kelly (Philly): He has been with the Eagles for two years and has won 10 games in both of those seasons. So why might he be on a hot seat? Well, in those two years, he has released or traded or lost to free agency some of the team’s best and best liked players. If the 2015 season craters, the fans in Philly will be in full throat…

Enough preamble… Getting down to business here, I shall begin with the AFC East. I believe the Pats will win the division again this year and that the Jets will finish last. I think both the Dolphins and the Bills will do well and that this will be one of the strongest divisions in the league as measured by the total wins by the teams there.

    Patriots 12-4: The sturm und drang of Deflategate is behind us and it will not be necessary to analyze how the Pats might do in 4 games with Jimmy Garoppolo under center and what – if any – lingering effects that might have on the team. The question for the Pats’ fans and coaches ought to be this:

      Did the Pats’ defense take a big step back from last year in losing Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork to free agency?

    Losing two really good CBs from the defense puts the pressure on the front 7 to generate pressure. It is difficult to imagine that Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have not already figured that out and have been working on ways to do just that. The Pats get an early Bye Week (October 4) and return from that Bye Week to play Dallas and Indy both on the road. That is a speed-bump in any schedule.

    Dolphins 10-6: If I am correct, Joe Philbin will keep his job in Miami and the Dolphins will be an AFC Wild Card team. The centers of attention for the Dolphins will be QB Ryan Tannehill, DE Cameron Wake and free agent signee DT, Ndamukong Suh. The Dolphins’ OL allowed 46 sacks last year; that was the worst in the league. Like the Patriots above, this is another case where a DL needs to generate pressure to prevent its DBs from being exploited. That defense – and particularly those DBs have time to work on their game because here is the schedule for the Dolphins from the start of the season until October 29. No matter how hard you look there are no great QBs the defense will have to contain:

      At Washington (Kirk Cousins)
      At Jax (Blake Bortles)
      Vs. Buffalo (Tyrod Taylor)
      Vs. Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick)
      BYE (Probably the toughest QB on the list so far…)
      At Tennessee (Marcus Mariota)
      Vs. Houston (Brian Hoyer)

    The defense needs to use those games as learning experiences because in its last 3 games it will face:

      At San Diego (Philip Rivers)
      Vs. Indiana (Andrew Luck
      Vs. New England (Tom Brady).

    Despite his prediction that the Dolphins would be the 6th best team in the NFL, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald did have this cautionary note for fans in Miami:

    “An AFC East study by StubHub of fans who bought tickets to both NFL games and concerts reveals that Jets and Patriots fans tend to like Billy Joel, Bills fans go for Garth Brooks and Dolphins fans prefer Ariana Grande. Based on that, Miami clearly is going to finish last in the division.”

    Bills 9-7: Rex Ryan will indeed keep it interesting and the presence of Richie Incognito and Percy Harvin on the roster portends interesting storylines in Buffalo. Ryan takes his “ground and pound” offense about 350 miles northwest from East Rutherford, NJ to Buffalo NY. It’s a good thing he likes to run the ball because after a training camp competition, he settled on Tyrod Taylor as his QB with EJ Manuel as the only backup on the squad. The Bills acquired LeSean McCoy from Philly last winter and they are going to need McCoy to gain at least the 1300 yards he did in Philly last year so that Taylor is not in the position of having to win games on his own. The Bills had an excellent defense last year; Ryan is a good fit to coach a team with that kind of defense. The schedule in not all that kind to the Bills in September; here is how the start the season:

      Vs. Indy
      Vs. New England
      At Miami

    It gets a lot lighter in October and November.

    NY Jets 4-12: New head coach Todd Bowles earned his stripes as a defensive coordinator and he takes over a team that is strong on defense. In addition to a solid DL, the Jets have reunited CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. You might be tempted to wonder if this pair who were in NY together from 2010 – 2012 can still play; after all, CBs have a shelf life in the NFL. Absent injury, both of these guys can still play… The Jets’ problems are on offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a journeyman QB at best; when Geno Smith’s jaw heals, the Jets can only pray that this is the year when Smith rises up from being a miserable NFL QB all the way to being a slightly-below-average NFL QB. When Geno Smith was coming out of college into the draft, there were questions about his throwing accuracy and his leadership. His first years in the NFL seem to have confirmed that he is not the most accurate thrower ever and the fact that his coach and his teammates have not rallied behind him in the aftermath of “the sucker punch” sort of says he is living down to his “lack of leadership” expectations. Look for the Jets to continue to be a “run-first team” again this year.

Moving along to the AFC North, I do not think this division will be as strong as the AFC East but I do believe it will be a closely contested division race with the Ravens as the class of the division.

    Ravens 11-5: The Ravens’ defense was very good last year and should be just as good this year. Yes, they lost Haloti Ngata to free agency but they had some depth behind Ngata last year and things should be just fine on that side of the ball. On offense, the Ravens will have a new offensive coordinator yet again; I believe that makes three years in a row. The incumbent is former Bears’ coach Marc Trestman and he does like the throw the ball and often to throw it deep. Last year, Justin Forsett was the #5 rusher in the NFL with more than 1200 yards. Was he a “1-year wonder” or can he do something like that again in 2015? In Week’s 3-5, the Ravens face each of their division opponents with the middle game against the Steelers on Thursday night. That is not a fun schedule. And the last five games in December and January are not a cake-wale either.

    Steelers 8-8: Yes, James Harrison is still playing LB for the Steelers but truth be told the Steelers’ defense had gotten old as a unit and needed help. In that sense, the Steelers added by subtracting Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu during the off-season; they both had very good careers but both had gone past their sell-by date. Football-lifer, Dick LeBeau also left town to take up the head defensive chores in Tennessee. The Steelers will have to win on offense this year until the defense rebuilds itself. To that end, the 2-game suspension for LeVeon Bell and the loss of center, Maurkice Pouncey are not a good things but the presence of Antonio Brown to haul in passes from Ben Roethlisberger is indeed a good thing for the Steelers. In games outside the division, the Steelers will face top QBs who will test that defense:

      Sept 10 Tom Brady
      Oct 12 Philip Rivers
      Nov 29 Russell Wilson
      Dec 8 Andrew Luck
      Dec 20 Peyton Manning

    Given that scheduling fact, the Steelers had best be prepared to outscore their division rivals quarterbacked by Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and whomever the Browns feel like playing whenever.

    Bengals 8-8: The good news in Cincy is that the Bengals have made the playoffs for the last 4 seasons and no other team in the AFC North can make that statement. The bad news is that in all four of those years, the Bengals have been one-and-done in those playoffs. I think this year will break the cycle because I think the Bengals will be watching the playoffs on TV this year. Last year, the Bengals’ defense was more porous than it had been in prior years. If that was due to the aging process, that is not a good omen for 2015. On the other hand, maybe the decline in the defense last year was merely due to the loss of LB Vontaze Burfict who should be back this season.

    Browns 5-11: The Browns open the season:

      At Jets
      Vs. Tennessee
      Vs. Oakland

    Those may be the “Barking Dog Games of the Week” three weeks in a row. Josh McCown arrives in Cleveland in his mid-30s to serve as a placeholder at QB until the Browns can either decide that Johnny Manziel is their guy or they go out and acquire their guy. Somehow, the Browns never seem to be able to find “their guy” at QB no matter how hard they try. Here is their history of high QB draft picks since the re-launch of the franchise in 1999:

      Tim Couch 1999
      Brady Quinn 2007
      Brandon Weedon 2012
      Johnny Manziel 2014

    The Browns won 7 games last year; I just do not think it was skill and cunning that achieved that record. It still seems to me like “smoke and mirrors”. Hence, my prediction of a regression for 2015. Realize that the Browns were the worst team in the NFL in rushing defense last year giving up 142 yards per game. The Browns may have something going for them on offense for at least the early part of the season. New offensive coordinator, John DiFilippo, has never been an offensive coordinator before so his opposing defensive coordinators will have no “book” on him. The schedule is a difficult one notwithstanding those opening 3 games and they will have 6 difficult in-division games. I think the Browns will take two steps back this year.

The AFC South is a division of “Haves” and “Have Nots”. It is not the only division like that but it is the one where the distinctions are the starkest. The AFC South is also the weakest division in the NFL this year counting the number of predicted wins by teams in that division. I believe the four teams will only win a total of 28 games.

    Colts: 11-5: The Colts offense was very good last year so all they did in the offseason was to acquire some more talent on that side of the ball. Andre Johnson is not the player he was 5 years ago; so what, he can still play. Frank Gore is not the runner he was three years ago; so what, he can still play. Rookie WR, Phillip Dorsett is another addition to a receiving corps that can haul in deep balls from Andrew Luck. The Colts are loaded with skill position players but they seem not to have addressed two weaknesses:

      Offensive Line: Andrew Luck gets hit too often and the Colts’ running attack has not been threatening let alone fearsome.

      Defensive Line: The Colts do not get nearly enough pass rush without blitzing a couple of linebackers.

    Those issues may haunt the Colts when they face top-shelf competition/playoff teams but make no mistake, the Colts are one of the AFC South’s “Haves”. Look for them to get off to a fast start with the first month of the season looking like this:

      At Buffalo
      Vs. Jets
      At Tennessee
      Vs. Jax

    There is a tough patch in the middle of the season but just in case the Colts need a win in the final weekend of the year to secure a Bye Week in the playoffs, they can close out against the Titans at home.

    Texans 9-7: I think Bill O’Brien has the makings of a good coach in the NFL meaning he may have what it takes to get his teams to overachieve. There is little doubt that he a no-nonsense fundamental-football guy. He has a team in Houston that has a very good defense and an offense that desperately needs a QB. The Texans had a training camp competition and Brian Hoyer beat out Ryan Mallett for the job. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the most positive thing on both of their résumés is this:

      Both QBs were in New England as understudies to Tom Brady and under the tutelage of Bill Belichick.

    An injury to RB, Arian Foster in training camp will not help the Texans’ offense at all. The Texans get to play the Colts twice; if they are going to win, the defense – stronger this year with the addition of Vince Wilfork and a potentially healthy Jadeveon Clowney – will have to keep Andrew Luck and company under control. I mentioned how the Colts have a soft landing in the final weekend of the season should they need it; well, the Texans have soft games for the last two weeks facing the Titans on the road and then the Jags at home. Like the Colts, the Texans are one of the AFC’s “Haves”.

    Jaguars 5-11: That prediction may not look like much but it is significantly improved over last year’s 3-13 mark. The Jags signed former Broncos’ TE Julius Thomas as a main target for QB, Blake Bortles. In the buzzard-luck tradition of this franchise, Thomas broke his index finger and needed surgery about a week ago meaning he will not be available for the first 4 or 5 games. Bortles can use a reliable pass catcher; this is his second year in the league and that is a key developmental season for guys who ultimately develop into something other than long-term straphangers in the league. None of the Jags’ WRs will cause defensive coordinators sleepless nights so it falls to the other TEs on the team to carry the load for a month. Those TEs are not superstars but they are capable enough to fill in:

      Clay Harbor
      Marcedes Lewis
      Nic Jacobs

    The Jags running attack will need to up its game too; they have decent if not eye-catching talent there. Defensively, the Jags are pretty good and they added Jared Odrick from the Dolphins to a D-Line that has Ziggy Hood and Sen’Derrick Marks. I see improvement in the Jags for the season but they still remain one of the AFC South’s “Have Nots”.

    Titans: 3-13: The Titans were 2-14 last year so it is not surprising that there were few if any bright spots on the roster. The defense was terrible; the offense seemed lost at sea. The Titans bright in 77-year old Dick LeBeau from the Steelers to try to get the defense up to slightly-below-average – which is all that one might really expect in one year. LeBeau has been around the block a few times; he came into the NFL as a defensive back in 1959; Dwight D. Eisenhower was President at that time. To goose the offense, the Titans drafted Marcus Mariotta virtually assuring that whatever play they get at QB this year it will not be consistent from game to game; such is the way of rookie NFL QBs with very few exceptions. They signed a couple of WRs in free agency and drafted Dorial Green-Beckham one round after Mariotta. Green-Beckham is one of those guys with lots of talent and an equal amount of off-field baggage. Since the season has not started and everyone still sees the glass as half-full, let me point out that my prediction of 3-13 is a 50% improvement over last year. Big deal; the Titans are definitely one of the AFC South’s “Have Nots”.

The AFC West has three good teams and an improving fourth team. Measured by the yardstick of total wins by the 4 teams, I have it ranked as one of the top three divisions this year. I like the Broncos to win the division but it will not be easy.

    Broncos 11-5: For a team that went 12-4 last year, the Broncos sure did a lot of personnel shuffling. Coach John Fox is gone and replaced by Gary Kubiak; Terrance Knighton and Rahim Moore moved on too. The team lost TE Julius Thomas to free agency but it still has Owen Daniels to man that position – assuming that Daniels can stay healthy. The offensive line undergoes big changes this year after trading away the center, losing a guard to free agency and then watching the starting left tackle go down for the year with a knee injury. That could be very important because Peyton Manning was never a nimble QB and he is in his 18th season. He can probably still outrun an oak tree – but it might be close. A key thing to watch with the Broncos this year is their running game. They may need it to keep pressure off Manning. The defense was top-notch last year and should stay that way again; Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware form a formidable pass rush tandem and the Broncos drafted another pass rusher in Shane Ray. I think the Broncos will win the division.

    Chiefs 10-6: People like to chirp at Chiefs’ QB, Alex Smith, because he never throws any TD passes to WRs. Make no mistake, I am not going to try to convince you that Smith is a top-flight QB; he is not. However, the Chiefs have not had a great corps of WRs recently either. This year, in free agency, they picked up Jeremy Maclin from Philly and he should make a difference in KC. Recall that Maclin was in Philly with Andy Reid so he does not have a steep learning curve when it comes to his “new offense”. As long as Jamaal Charles is healthy and running the football, the Chiefs will not need to win games solely through the air. For the last two years, the Chiefs’ defense has been really good and there seems to be plenty of rubber left on the tires of that unit. Last year, the Chiefs lost LB Derrick Johnson and DL Mike Devito in the first game of the year. Surely the injury bug will find another team to bite this year, right? The schedule for the Chiefs is very tough especially at the beginning:

      Week 1: At Houston
      Week 2: Vs. Denver
      Week 3: At Green Bay

    I see the Chiefs as a wild card team in the AFC.

    Chargers 8-8: The injury bug bit the Chargers in the offensive backfield last year to the point that the team saw their 3 top RBs miss a total of 25 games. Presumably that will not happen again this year. Early on, the Chargers may need to rely on running the ball more than usual because TE Antonio Gates will serve a 4-game suspension through 4 October and drafting Melvyn Gordon last May gives the Chargers a featured back. Fortunately for the Chargers, that portion of their schedule is not as tough as other parts:

      Week 1: Vs. Detroit
      Week 2: At Cincy
      Week 3: At Minnesota
      Week 4: Vs. Cleveland

    Even with Gates in civvies in the stands, the Chargers could be 3-1 when he makes his way in to the locker room for Game 5 at home against the Steelers. Actually, the offense is not what concerns me about the Chargers. Last year they only had 7 INTs as a team and only sacked opponents 26 times. Unless the ball always bounces in your favor, that kind of defense is going to lose games for you. I like the Chargers this year – it is just that I like the Chiefs and the Broncos more…

    Raiders 6-10: Since the Raiders lost to the Bucs in the Super Bowl back in 2003, the team has been a hot mess. Twice they finished 8-8; in all the other seasons they never won more than 5 games. In the last 3 seasons, the Raiders are 11-37. Nonetheless, I see the Raiders as a team on an uptick; 6 wins this year would double their total from last year. They are not going to contend in the division; they are not going to the playoffs; however, they are better than they were and they are not going to be walkover opponents this year. The additions of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper to play with Derek Carr were good moves. The additions of Curtis Lofton and Nate Allen will improve the defense where the presence of Khalil Mack should start to get some national attention. Putting a no-nonsense guy like Jack Del Rio in the head coaching slot has to help too. Most importantly, the Raiders OL seems to be improving to the point where QB Derek Carr is not in mortal danger every time the offensive coordinator calls a pass play. The Raiders’ schedule is brutal especially at the end of the year; here are their last 5 opponents:

      Vs. Kansas City
      At Denver
      Vs. Green Bay
      Vs. San Diego (Thursday night)
      At Kansas City

    One other miserable feature of the Raiders schedule is the distance they have to travel for their road games. They have 4 road games in the Eastern Time Zone and none look to be “national games” meaning they will begin at 1:00 PM EST which is 10:00 AM on the Raiders’ biological clocks.

So, to recap the AFC I see the Playoff Structure looking like this:

    Patriots (Home field advantage)
    Ravens (Bye Week)
    Indy
    Denver
    Miami (Wild Card)
    KC (Wild Card)

Moving over to the NFC, I will take the divisions in the reverse order from the AFC for no particular reason than that is how I listed my notes on my clipboard. If anyone reads something of cosmic importance into that choice, please let me know because I think it is unintentional.

I think the NFC West joins the AFC East and the AFC West as the three best divisions in the NFL for this year. If I am correct, all three divisions will house teams that win a total of 35 games for the year.

    Seahawks 12-4: The Seahawks have had a balanced offensive attack for the last several years and managed to add TE Jimmy Graham from the Saints in a draft day trade. My guess is that deal made Russell Wilson break out into a happy dance; Graham is that good. I also think the Seahawks got a steal in the draft with Tyler Lockett who is a WR that always seems to find an open spot to catch a pass and who also returns punts and kicks. Unless Marshawn Lynch breaks a leg, the Seahawks will be able to run effectively. Oh, and the defense is pretty good too even with Kam Chancellor holding out for a new contract. If my math is correct, missing a game costs Chancellor approximately $275K. He wants a new and larger contract and it will be interesting to see just how many $275K game checks he is willing to forego to put pressure on the team. The schedule is not all that kind to the Seahawks; in addition to their 6 tough in-division games here are some other tough games:

      Sept 20: At Green Bay
      Nov 1: At Dallas
      Dec 13: At Baltimore

    Rams 10-6: I think this is a big step forward year for the Rams. The Rams’ defense is keyed by its defensive line where there are 5 first round picks on the roster and the oldest one is only 30 years old. Nick Foles is 14-4 as a starter and Jeff Fisher obviously does not think he was a “system guy” in Philly. A big plus for the Rams will be a healthy Todd Gurley at running back. He comes off a knee injury last year at Georgia but he is a horse at 225 lbs and he can break big runs too. Second year back Tre Mason will provide an interesting change of pace from Gurley. What the Rams need is for a WR – say Tavon Austin – to develop this year into a reliable lead receiver. The Rams have experience and stability on the sidelines; Jeff Fisher is an excellent coach and this year could put him into the playoffs. A game on November 8 may decide the Rams’ playoff chances; more on that later.

    Niners 7-9: The changes on this team are too numerous to mention so let me just name a couple:

      Coach Jim Harbaugh – gone
      Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio – gone
      RB Frank Gore – gone
      LB Patrick Willis – gone
      DE Aldon Smith – gone
      DB Perish Cox – gone

    You get the idea; this year’s iteration of the Niners will bear little resemblance to the teams in recent years. Moreover, I do not see the replacements for the missing players as upgrades. Yes, the return of NaVorro Bowman from injury is a plus and an upgrade; the same goes for the return from injury of Glenn Dorsey but the numbers just do not add up in favor of the Niners. The first nine games of the season – leading up to their Bye Week – are difficult. If they are 4-5 at that point in the season, it will be a good thing. What they must avoid is being 2-7 at that point.

    Cards 7-9: I am just not a believer in the Cards this year. I know they played well last year before Carson Palmer got hurt and that Palmer is back now and says his leg is better than before the injury. Here is my problem in a nutshell:

      The Cards won 11 games last year but only outscored opponents by 11 points. That is called getting a whole lot of lucky bounces of the ball – and footballs are of a shape where the results of bounces can be very random.

      So, I have to decide if the cards are going to win 13 games this year because they have their #1 QB back and that will lead to more points and more wins – OR – will the Cards regress to the mean in terms of having the ball bounce their way.

      I choose the latter outcome here.

    Todd Bowles no longer runs the Cards’ defense; he is now the head-guy for the Jets. His replacement is a promotion from within meaning that new coordinator James Bettcher is familiar with the talent and what it can and cannot do. There is one other inescapable fact; Bettcher has never been a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Like the Raiders, the Cards have 4 games in the Eastern Time Zone presenting “biological clock challenges” and the Cards’ schedule has 5 tough games to end the season:

      At St. Louis
      Vs Minnesota (Thursday Night)
      At Philly
      Vs. Green Bay
      Vs. Seattle

The NFC South was an embarrassment to the NFL last year. Carolina made the playoffs with a record of 7-8-1. Three teams will be bunched together in this division again this year and the Bucs will be looking up at them all.

    Saints 9-7: The addition of CJ Spiller at RB gives the Saints a “lightening option” at RB to go with the “thunder option’ of Mark Ingram. That will be good for the Saints because with Jimmy Graham now playing in Seattle, the Saints will probably run the ball a bit more. Another area of improvement for this year would seem to be the defensive secondary where Brandon Browner comes in from New England to man one corner position and Jarius Byrd returns to the safety position from Injured Reserve last year. I do not think the Saints are a very good team but they are playing in a division bereft of very good teams. As Carolina proved last year, someone has to win the damned division. The schedule provides me the feather I will put on the scale to make the Saints the division winners. The Saints are an indoor team; they have been that way for years and years. Every year they get 8 indoor games at home as they will this year. In addition they will get road games with:

      Sept 13: Arizona (indoors)
      Oct 25: Indy (indoors)
      Nov 29: Houston (perhaps indoors – retractable roof)
      Jan 3: Atlanta (indoors)

    That adds up to 11 indoor games plus a possible 12th one if the weather in Houston demands.

    Carolina 9-7: The Panthers reupped Cam Newton to a long term deal worth something north of $100M in the offseason. He is not a bad QB but he is not one of the Top 10 in the league either. The loss of WR, Kelvin Benjamin, for the season is not a positive portent for the Panthers. The current stable of WRs headed up by Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery is something less than “inspirational”. Jonathan Stewart is the feature back but he has been in the league for 7 years now and has about 1100 carries; if Father Time catches up with him, there is not much else to turn to. Luke Kuechly is an outstanding defender and – put simply – is not replaceable by anyone on this roster. Like the Saints, I do not think much of the Panthers as compared to some other squads but they do have some easy division games and someone has to win those games. The Panthers have a very tough run in the middle of the season:

      Oct 18: At Seattle
      Oct 25: Vs. Philly
      Nov 2: Vs. Indy
      Nov 9: Vs. Green Bay

    Note that three of those games against good opponents are in Carolina. The Panthers need to win at least two of them…

    Atlanta 7-9: The good news for the Falcons is that their defense this year just cannot be worse than the defense was last year. New coach Dan Quinn has the reputation as a defensive guru having been the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks for the past couple of seasons. Before getting too carried away here, Falcons’ fans need to recall that before Quinn had that job in Seattle, it belonged to Gus Bradley who has been toiling in Jax for the last two seasons without sterling results. The best of the DBs on the Falcons last year was Desmond Trufant; he will turn 25 early in the season and the questions about him are very simple and very direct:

      Is he capable of becoming a reliable shut-down corner?

      If he has that capability, is this the year he might demonstrate it?

    The Falcons offense last year was pass-dominated; it featured Matt Ryan and Julio Jones so that is not such a big surprise. On the other hand, the running game stunk to be blunt about it. That will have to improve for this year; how much it improves will determine if the Falcons can still harbor non-miraculous playoff thoughts past Thanksgiving. The schedule is not all that fearsome for the Falcons and so I will propose a modest one-game improvement for this year.

    Bucs 4-12: There is no way to sugar-coat this; the Bucs were downright awful last year and they took Jameis Winston with the top pick in the draft with the idea that he is the cornerstone of their rebuilding effort. Winston’s physical skills are not now – and never have been – in question. The uncertainty about Winston remains:

      How is he between the ears?

      Is he 21 going on 25?

      Or is he 21 going on 13?

    NFL fans will observe and derive the answers to those questions from afar; the Bucs and their coaches will live through the answers. The Bucs start the season at home against the Titans with their new rookie QB who is supposed to turn the franchise around. If the Titans lose, they can say it was a road game and postpone their dealings with reality. If the Bucs lose at home to the Titans, it will be the mirror image of a moral victory; it will be a gut-wrenching defeat. The schedule for the Bucs is not horrendous; at one point in the midst of the season they look at the following:

      Vs. Jax
      BYE WEEK
      At Washington

    That is not like facing “Murderers’ Row”… I am predicting a 100% improvement for the Bucs this year based on a gentle schedule and the fact that even as a rookie, Jameis Winston will have games where he outshines what Josh McCown and Mike Glennon did last year.

      [Aside: Do you realize that in the recent past the Bucs have had Josh Johnson, Josh McNown and Josh Freeman all start at QB? Seriously, I am not joshing…]

Moving on to the NFC North, I see a two-team race there but it may surprise you to know which two teams they are.

    Packers 11-5: The loss of Jordy Nelson for the season is a big deal; Nelson was the target for more passes from Aaron Rodgers over the last three seasons than anyone else – and it was by a large margin. It is also a big deal in this sense:

      If the Packers lose another WR or two to serious injury, Aaron Rodgers will be throwing to “JV players”; that would be like asking the best NASCAR driver ever to win the Daytona 500 driving a Dodge Minivan.

    Nevertheless, do not forget that absent a brickheaded play on an onside kick in the NFC Championship game against Seattle, the Packers would have been in the Super Bowl. Absent a calamity of injuries to the offense, the Packers will score points; the question is how many points will the defense give up? Dom Capers is the defensive coordinator in Green Bay and his reputation is that he comes up with creative ways to use the personnel on hand. Fans in Wisconsin have to hope that reputation has a basis in fact for the 2015 season. I have gotten all the way into this team analysis and have not yet mentioned Eddie Lacy who is a quality running back that adds a run dimension to the Packers’ offense. The schedule for the Packers is interesting right out of the gate:

      Sept 13: At Chicago (huge rivalry game0
      Sept 20: Vs. Seattle (grudge match from last year)
      Sept 28: Vs KC (MNF game against a good team)

    Later in the season, the Packers play 2 Thursday games which is not quite as bad as it sounds. On Thanksgiving night, the Packers play the Bears for the second time in the season and then on the next Thursday night they take on the Lions.

    Vikings 10-6: The Vikes are my team to take a big step forward in the NFC this year. Last year the Vikes were 7-9 but it sure did not seem as if they were that close to being a “break-even team”. My optimism here is based on the fact that Teddy Bridgewater will take a; significant step forward this year on his path to becoming a good NFL QB; his play at the end of last year was significantly better than it was earlier in the year; I like to think of that as a positive omen. Moreover, the addition of Adrian Peterson to the backfield – even with a year of “football rust” on his chassis – can only be a plus for the offense. Here is a Vikings’ question with potentially negative implications:

      Will Cordarelle Patterson show this year that he is something more than a fast guy who is a return man?

    The Vikings lost a stud on the OL – tackle Phil Loadholt – to a season-ending injury in training camp; somehow, they need to find a way to replace him with someone more skilled than a guy who was a piano-mover two weeks ago. The schedule is relatively kind to the Vikings but I foresee that their key game is on November 8. More on that later…

    Lions 6-10: The Lions had a fearsome defense last year that kept them in games until the offense could figure out what the offense was there to do. Then in free agency the Lions lost Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley and replaced the two of them with Haloti Ngata and a rookie. With no offense to Ngata who is a quality player, he cannot fill in for two guys who were standouts as DTs. And that is not all that is missing from last year’s Lions’ defense that ranked second in total defense in the league. Also gone are George Johnson and LB, CJ Mosley. The Lions were 11-5 last year; my prediction for this year represents a precipitous if not calamitous drop. Yes, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are still in Detroit but with Reggie Bush having moved on to SF, can you name any Lions’ RBs without peeking? You are correct, the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah last May and he may need to be a key part of that offense this year. The schedule is not a killer but there are two small segments that might prove challenging:

      Sept 27: Vs. Denver
      Oct 5: At Seattle (Monday nite)

    And…

      Nov 15: At Green Bay
      Nov 22: At Oakland
      Nov 26: Vs. Philly (Thanksgiving Day)
      Dec 3: Vs. Green Bay (Thursday night)

    Bears 4-12: The collapse of the Bears in 2014 cost the coach and the GM their jobs. Last year the team went 5-11; I think this year is going to be worse. One of the offensive “improvements” the Bears are touting is the reuniting of Jay Cutler with WR Eddie Royal; they had a grand old time of it when they were teammates in Denver. The problem is that grand old time happened in 2008; in NFL terms, that is Paleolithic. The good news is that new coach John Fox has been successful in Carolina and again in Denver. He showed that he was adaptable in Denver when he took a Tim Tebow-quarterbacked team to the playoffs and won a game there. He will indeed need that kind of magic touch in Chicago this year just to aspire to a .500 record. Let me explain why I say that. If Jay Cutler falters or gets injured, the #2 guy on the Bears’ depth chart is Jimmy Claussen. There are currently two guys behind him on that chart which is a frightening thought. Vic Fangio was cut loose by the Niners in their housecleaning at the end of the year and he found a landing spot with the Bears as defensive coordinator. He may provide a spark – but he does not have the ability to rush the passer or provide tight pass coverage. An important element in Fangio’s success with the Bears’ defense will be how much gas Jared Allen has left in his tank. In the first three weeks, the Bears have to face the Packers and the Seahawks; later in the season they have this scheduling stretch:

      Nov 9: At San Diego (Monday night)
      Nov 15: At St. Louis
      Nov 22: Vs. Denver
      Nov 26: At Green Bay (Thanksgiving night)

Finally, we arrive in the NFC East as our circumnavigation of the NFL world completes itself. This division will have a highly contested two-team race at the top which the Cowboys will win and a pretty-much guaranteed bottom feeder down the line.

    Cowboys 12-4: The Cowboys have an injury problem they will have to resolve quickly; Orlando Scandrick was their best DB last year and he tore both his ACL and his MCL in a practice about 2 weeks ago. Obviously, he is done for the year. Lots of folks have said that the Cowboys’ loss of RB DeMarco Murray from last year’s team was the thing it would miss the most; while I agree that Murray is a quality RB, the loss of Scandrick is to me significantly more important. The front seven for the Cowboys is solid and the addition of Randy Gregory seems to be a big plus – assuming that he can continue to steer clear of the substance abuse policy and testing by the league. The schedule gives the Cowboys a soft landing at the end of the year if they need one. Their last 3 games are:

      Vs. NY Jets
      At Buffalo
      Vs. Washington.

    Eagles 10-6: Chip Kelly has had his Eagles teams go 10-6 in each of his first two years with the club. I do not see any reason this year should be different. In the offseason, Kelly seemed to be morphing into the NFL version of Dr. Frankenstein by trading quarterbacks with the Rams, trading away his most productive RB, losing his top WR to free agency and letting a Pro Bowl guard become a cap casualty. Nevertheless, it looks as if the team is not crippled by any/all of that. Sam Bradford takes over the controls here; the Eagles’ offense involves lots of quick throws and lots of speed; will that game fit Bradford’s style? It sure was not what he was asked to do in St. Louis. Moreover, can he stay healthy? In those first two 10-6 seasons, Kelly has won games with Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles at QB. Not to be too snarky here, but no one in Canton is taking measurements for either player so they can get a head start on casting a bronze bust. What the Eagles need to do to improve their record is to improve their defense. The Eagles gave up more plays of 20+ yards than any other team in the league. Adding Byron Maxwell and rookie Eric Rowe to the secondary will hopefully reduce that number; adding Kiki Alonzo to the linebacking corps should help too.

    NY Giants: 6-10: The Giants were 6-10 last year and I do not think they are going to be any better or worse this year. Here is an unabashed bottom line analysis for the Giants:

      Last year their defense was horrible – which is pretty much what their defense was two years ago.

      If it doesn’t get a LOT better this year, the Giants will be mired in this level of mediocrity.

    One way to address that needed improvement is to change defensive coordinators and the Giants went back to Steve Spagnuolo who had held that job with the team back in 2007. That may have been a big addition for the team but the hand injury to Jason Pierre-Paul was a big subtraction for that defense. In the secondary, the Giants had to go out and sign Brandon Merriweather as a safety; Merriweather could not make it on the Skins’ roster so you sort of have an idea what his level of productivity might be. The Giants will win games where they get into shootouts with other bad defensive teams who cannot also keep up with the likes of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Victor Cruz. The schedule is not that bad for the Giants but the prediction of 6-12 assumes that the team breaks even at home and wins two road games – against Washington and Tampa Bay.

    Skins 3-13: It will be a long and winding road to rebuild this roster. New GM, Scott McCloughan, began the process last year but the amount of “has-beens” and “never-weres” on the roster means it will take multiple seasons to get to a competitive state. The Skins have 3 QBs and all of them have flaws. Kirk Cousins will start the year and he has the best chance of developing into a serviceable QB in the Jay Gruden offensive system. Behind him are Colt McCoy who is a career backup and RG3 who could not be a poorer match for the Gruden offensive system without undergoing at least one amputation. In the event that Cousins shows well this year, the Skins will have an interesting dilemma at the end of the year; Cousins’ rookie contract is up then. What to do…? On offense, the Skins will employ a power running game with two big backs; Alfred Morris is also in his walk-year and Matt Jones is a running back who seems to like contact so much that he goes looking for it whenever he has the ball. On defense, the Skins will give up big pass plays with receivers running in broad open spaces in their secondary. The Skins have a 3-week stretch in October where they may be able to catch their breath;

      Oct 18: At NY Jets
      Oct 25: Vs Tampa Bay
      Nov 1: BYE Week.

    When the Skins get that Bye Week they will have played 7 games. I think their best scenario is a 2-5 record but 1-6 is more likely. That home game against the Bucs might be a win going into the Bye Week which might engender talk of momentum and all that stuff. Well, just look past the Bye Week and you will see that after stewing for 2 weeks on their lousy record, the Skins get to travel north to pay a visit to the Patriots in Foxboro. Hello, momentum…

In order to make my prediction for the NFC Playoff structure, I need to explain the significance of “the November 8 game”. On that day the Vikings will play the Rams in Minnesota. That game will provide the tie-breaker between those two teams each with 10 wins. Only because the Eagles are not going to play either team will I concede them a wild card spot and declare that the other wild card spot will go to – – the St. Louis Rams.

Therefore the NFC Playoff Structure is:

    Seahawks (Home field advantage)
    Cowboys (Bye week in the playoffs)
    Packers
    Saints (Via a tie-breaker0
    Eagles
    Rams

So, let it be written; so, let it be done…

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

Judge Berman Has Spoken…

Today, Judge Berman overturned the NFL-imposed 4-game suspension for Tom Brady. I have not gone online to read any opinion pieces about that decision yet. The reason is that I am confident that the people who had opinions on the matter before Judge Berman’s decision will not have changed their minds before their fingers hit their keyboards.

For the record:

    For me, there has never been sufficient evidence that the balls in question were purposely deflated – let alone evidence that Tom Brady was involved in that activity even it actually happened. Judge Berman evidently thought that was important too because he reportedly kept asking the NFL attorneys what evidence they could present to show that Tom Brady had anything to do with tampering with game balls on January 18, 2015. And they could present no such evidence.

    For me, there were procedural inadequacies from start to finish in the case that should have rendered it moot. Most important in those inadequacies was the fact that The Wells Report – paid for by the NFL with the intent of showing wrongdoing in the matter and costing somewhere between $3M and $5M – could only come to the conclusion that Tom Brady might have been generally aware of something that it had to use pseudo-science to determine had happened. Ted Wells is an attorney and has to consider his reputation and the reputation of his firm even in light of the $3-5M he was getting in billable hours for this report. He could not/would not put his name on the line to say “this guy did that thing because here is the evidence.”

    With regard to the refusal to turn over the phone to the investigators, let me point out that if you are charged with something, you do not have to turn your phone over to the police just because they ask for it. They can get a warrant to confiscate if from you, but you are not required to just hand it over because they said “pretty please”. Somehow, the NFL seemed to think that they had a right to ask for Brady’s phone and that conferred some obligation on his part to give it to them. Obviously, Judge Berman disagreed.

I know that there will be some folks out there calling for Roger Goodell’s head on a stick. While I believe he was way out of line here, I am not going to be one of those people. Back in September of last year – more than 4 months before anyone ever heard of deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game – I wrote this piece on this website. I believe then and continue to believe that the NFL and the NFLPA set up an untenable situation in their last CBA with regard to the way discipline would be meted out. Because all of this is in the CBA, that means that both parties are to blame; there has never been a CBA without at least two parties as signatories.

My argument is that a sports commissioner needs to do two things to be successful:

    1. Grow the league revenues/profits
    2. Maintain labor peace to keep the product on the field/growing.

Roger Goodell has been hugely successful at those two things; the NFL will bring in about $11B in revenue this year and projects to more than $12B by 2017. His “problem” is that he is also “The Disciplinarian” and that “other duty” puts him in a position to do things that make the league look stupid (does not grow revenue) and makes the union go berserk (does not maintain labor peace).

In my rant 4 months ago, I said the solution here would be for both parties to the CBA to admit they have an internal flaw here and for both sides to amend the CBA to create a Disciplinarian who is not part of the league or the union. Both parties should fund the Disciplinarian and whatever staff is needed; both parties should define what degree of cooperation all parties to the matter would owe to the Disciplinarian. If mature adults could put their egos in another room for 4 hours, this kind of agreement should be forthcoming. The problem here is that will not happen – and that means that there will be some “scandal” will come up in the future to which someone will attach the suffix “-gate” and it will turn into a glorious mess.

Why do I predict that? Because the NFL is going to appeal Judge Berman’s decision and that is nothing more than an ego-driven reflex. And because the NFLPA is already gloating about their winning streak in courts to overturn/reduce the discipline decisions of the Commissioner and that is nothing more than ego-driven posturing.

So, Tom Brady will be on the field for Game 1 next Thursday night – as he should be. Just as certainly, there will be some other brouhaha in the next year or so that will spin out of control – and likely it will be founded in the same CBA-driven morass as was Deflategate. However for the moment, we can take solace in the words of former President Gerald R. Ford spoken just after he was sworn in as President in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation:

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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

Pete Rose – For The Last Time?

Long-term readers know well that I have believed that Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame for the accomplishments of his career on the field. I have never liked his off-field behaviors but I thought that Bart Giamatti at first took a hard stand on those behaviors and then Fay Vincent piled on. What bothered me the most about his off-field behavior is that it took him years upon years to admit what he had done. As with many “scandals” the cover-up and the denial magnify the iniquity.

Nonetheless, I am still willing to have Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame and to include on the plaque bearing his name a direct statement of the fact that he bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s. However, new evidence seems to have surfaced that indicates that Pete Rose bet on baseball games while he was a player – in a time that preceded his managerial position. Now, that changes everything…

The new evidence was uncovered and announced by ESPN’s Outside The Lines. There is no question that Outside The Lines has earned a prestigious standing in the arena of investigative sports journalism. The fact that the folks there put their names and the reputation of the program on the revelation renders a high degree of credibility to the report. If the same report had come from some “click-bait website”, I would be skeptical.

The timing of the emergence of this new evidence – originally obtained/discovered 26 years ago in 1989 – is strange. It has been sealed and stored in the National Archives for all or most of that time and just now a copy of it has surfaced. Were I given to conspiracy theories – and I am not – it would not be all that difficult to see some nefarious hidden hand at work here moving to leak new evidence just as Pete Rose has applied for reinstatement to baseball with a new Commissioner. Frankly, I think the Bilderbergs and the Trilateral Commission have bigger things to worry about than whether or not Pete Rose is reinstated into the good graces of MLB.

Let me explain why the new information presented by Outside The Lines crosses into a new and dark place. To do that, let me present to you some fictional events in the life of the winningest jockey of all time – – Joe Flabeetz. Everyone who ever went to a racetrack where “Beetzy” was riding knows that was always a threat to win the race when he was on a horse in the starting gate; he was just the best. So, when he retired, it was a sure-thing that he would go into the Racing Hall of Fame; after all, he had won more races than anyone in history.

Now suppose we learned – after his retirement – that Joe Flabeetz had a long history of gambling. After all, gambling and horseracing are inseparable activities; should that be disqualifying? Well, I think it all depends:

    If “Beetzy” bet on the Super Bowl every year, I would have no concern about that at all if he did that through a sportsbook in Las Vegas or through some off-shore book that took such action. Once again, if I were prone to conspiracy theories, I might be just the tiniest bit concerned if he made that bet with a local bookie because – perhaps – it might tie him to organized crime and that is not a good thing for racing. Nevertheless, I would ignore it…

    If Joe Flabeetz bet regularly on football and/or baseball and/or soccer and/or hockey games, I would have the same reaction to his wagering on the Super Bowl. I just do not think this is any bigger of a deal than if he played poker every Saturday night with a group of friends who had nothing to do with horseracing. I just do not think this matters…

    Looking back over “Beetzy’s” career, he won just about all of his races in the US and in Canada. Every once in a while when he had a “super horse” he would go to Dubai to ride that steed in the annual top-shelf race there. So, what might I think about a new revelation that Joe Flabeetz regularly bet on horse races in Australia? Not only had he never raced there, he had never even been to Australia… I am very uncomfortable at this point because jockey’s betting on horse races erodes significantly the confidence in “the integrity of the sport”. Lord knows; there is a significant fraction of horse players who are ready to believe that the only reason they lost that last race is because of some “hidden hand” that turned the outcome against them. At this point, I am very uncomfortable with “Beetzy” and his behavior(s) when he is not in the saddle; but still, he did win more races than anyone in history…

    One more revelation indicates that Joe Flabeetz bet on races at the tracks where he was riding – but only on races where he had no mount. I am off the Joe Flabeetz Train at this point. Gambling and jockeys are too closely related in terms of the sport to let jockeys get this close to gambling on the races themselves. This would disqualify Joe Flabeetz from the Racing Hall of Fame in my mind. And that is where it would seem that Pete Rose is with the new Outside The Lines information.

Let me take this clearly fictional analogy one step further:

    Let us suppose that we just learned that Joe Flabeetz bet $100 to win on every horse that he rode in every race in his career and that he absorbed all the losses while donating all the proceeds from the winners to the noblest charity you can imagine. Moreover, he kept all those records and the IRS itself has audited and determined that every dime is accounted for properly. Even in that situation where Joe Flabeetz has clearly done some splendid good, he disqualifies himself from recognition in the Racing Hall of Fame. There has to be a clear line that separates jockeys from betting on races close to them and the nobility of the outcome from crossing the line does not justify the crossing of the line.

Obviously, the new information obtained and revealed by Outside The Lines will need to be vetted/corroborated and we do owe Pete Rose and his attorneys the opportunity to rebut or challenge the accuracy of that information. However, if at the end of the vetting and rebutting it turns out that Pete Rose bet on baseball games while he was a player, I will – sadly – change my call for him to be in the Hall of Fame.

If the information is valid, then Pete Rose belongs NOT in the Hall of Fame but rather in my fictional Just Go Away Club.

Finally, let me leave this topic with two thoughts that seem appropriate to this entire messy situation:

“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest — ask him. If he says, ‘Yes,’ you know he is a crook. – Groucho Marx

And …

“It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.” – H. L. Mencken

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

Cards Hack The Astros – Initial Thoughts

The big sports story of the moment is the “hacking” of the Houston Astros’ computer systems/databases by folks employed by the St. Louis Cardinals. I put quotation marks around “hacking” here because if the reports out there are correct, this is not equivalent to what was done to break into the Sony databases. It seems as if the Astros’ GM – formerly with the Cardinals – had a favorite set of passwords that he used when with the Cards and he did not change them when he moved on to the Astros. Well, if you know someone’s passwords, it is not exactly “hacking” to get into the systems.

None of that is to try to justify what folks with the Cards allegedly did. If I find a key to your house in a parking lot and I wait until you are gone to let myself in, my entry into your house is not justified. I do not know if that analogy would hold water in the legal realm, but that seems to be a valid comparison for here.

Because the Cardinals have been a very good team for a very long time now, fans of opposing teams are experiencing a sense of schadenfreude. That is a fun sensation for a while; what is more important is to learn about what happened and to assess its implications and then move on to some kind of resolution.

I will refrain from schadenfreude for now until the legal folks decide whether they are going to charge anyone high up in the Cards’ organization with a crime in the matter. Unlike some other baseball cheating scandals, this one also seems to violate Federal Law – the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 as amended. This seems to me to be a case of corporate espionage at the very least. For me the key question now is:

    Who in the Cards’ organization knew what – and when did they know it?

It may not matter to the FBI and the DoJ whom they indict in this matter and what position those folks held in the Cards’ organization, but it matters to me. If the Cards’ GM knew this was going on and turned a blind eye, that makes this a whole lot worse. If an underling told him that (s)he thought (s)he could break into the Astros’ databases because (s)he thought (s)he had the passwords and he gave a nodding approval, that makes it even worse than a whole lot worse. From an overview perspective, there is a significant difference between a “rogue IT guy” doing this and “executive suite involvement.” Both situations are bad; one is outrageously bad.

Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be doing the right thing here. He has said MLB is cooperating with the FBI in the investigation – I should hope so! – and he has not jumped the gun with regard to punishments. Moreover, he is not going to need to hire an investigator to weed out what happened. The FBI with subpoena power and needing to interrogate people who may choose to have their own legal representation will provide him with better information than a private investigation could. When the FBI and the DoJ are done, he can act. At the very minimum, there are going to be some folks banned from ever working in baseball again.

Taking a longer view, I find it interesting to try to place this hacking incident into the landscape of baseball scandals. In a sense, this is signal stealing on steroids which may be an apt description given baseball’s history with steroids. I am not a baseball historian by any measure, so consider what follows as something a high school kid might write for his junior thesis and not what a professor might write for a peer-reviewed journal.

Scandals that were worse than the current “hacking” investigation seems to be:

    The Black Sox Mess in 1919: This involved fixing games in the World Series. Surely we can agree the current mess is nowhere near as bad as that.

    The ’51 Giants stealing signs from their scoreboard: Stealing signs happens; denying that it does would be stupid. However, sign stealing at the level that the Giants practiced it was an affront to the game and surely affected a pennant race and a World Series participant. That was worse than this mess.

    BALCO/Biogenesis: These illegal and corrupt activities affected the stats that form part of the foundation for baseball’s history. I cannot see how the current mess will come close to doing that.

    Racism: After integration in the 40s, baseball still suffered outrageous racism in the form of death threats to Henry Aaron as he approached Babe Ruth’s home run record and in the form of Marge Schott as a franchise owner. The current mess is not good, but it is not nearly as pernicious as racism.

Scandals that were bad but not as bad as this one looks to be:

    The 1980’s Free Agency Collusion: This was not cheating to win games; this was cheating to save money. It was a stupid idea and it was even more stupidly executed. In the end it did not save money; it cost owners $300+M.

    Pete Rose: There is no evidence he bet on games involving his teams nor that he bet on games while he was playing. His jail sentence was for tax evasion which is not a baseball scandal.

Since this investigation is not yet finished – and often these Federal probes take a lot of time – there will be plenty of time for folks to ruminate on where this scandal fits into the landscape of scandals in the sports world outside baseball. Surely, someone will try to draw a comparison between this matter and “Deflategate”. There is an attractive reason to do so in that the Cards and the Pats are top-shelf teams/franchises and it might be fun to demonstrate their feet of clay. When you read that kind of thing, consider it nonsense. Even under the most nefarious scenario you might imagine for “Deflategate”, no one is in danger of going to jail based on the air pressure in a dozen footballs. Someone – some ones – here might do some time.

No matter how all of this shakes out, there is a baseline issue that Rob Manfred will have to deal with. Someone in the Cardinals’ organization cheated; there is no way to sugar-coat that. Someone used an improper – seemingly illegal – means to gain an advantage for the Cardinals that an opponent (the Astros in this case) did not have access to. I do not see any way around coming to the conclusion that cheating is involved here. Now, if the “integrity of the game” and the “best interests of baseball” mean anything other than bluster, Rob Manfred is going to have to take some definitive action(s) when we get to the bottom of all this.

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

In Anticipation Of The “Deflategate” Punishments

The Ted Wells Report to the NFL regarding “Deflategate” was finally delivered. In a sense the report was perfect – from the perspective of the folks in the NFL who want to keep “The Shield” front and center in the sports news mix 365 days per year. What the report has done is to give the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Haters” fuel for their hatred while simultaneously giving the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Acolytes” plenty of room to point at the haters for being what they are. While much of the sporting world awaits the decree of The Commish on this matter, let me take a moment and try not to preach to you about morality or pragmatism or concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The Wells Report, lengthy beyond what was needed and tardy given its contents, makes several things clear:

    The Pats used underinflated footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

    The measurements of those underinflated footballs by NFL officials at halftime showed a range of 0.4 psi from ball to ball depending on which pressure gauge was used. I have a PhD in chemistry; if a student reported data of that nature, I would send him/her back to the lab with a calibrated instrument to find out what the actual pressure was.

    There is incriminating evidence to say that two Pats’ employees were involved in assuring that the balls were inflated to the minimum pressure stipulated by the rules – and that in this particular game they may have “over-achieved” by underinflating the balls.

    The game officials did not cover themselves in glory in terms of their stewardship of the game balls once they had performed whatever measurements they did on those game balls.

After all of that, the report contains incredible wordsmithing – or weasel-wording depending on your bias here – to say that “it is more probable than not” that those two Pats’ employees took air out of the footballs after the referees had checked them prior to the kickoff and that Tom Brady “was at least generally aware” of the actions of those two Pats’ employees. And it is that kind of phraseology that makes me want to get off the Ted Wells train…

If it is “more probable than not”, that means that you believe “it” to be true but there is enough reason to doubt that conclusion that you will not put it forth in writing lest you be proven wrong at some later date and thereby demonstrated to be an incompetent investigator. Take a deep breath folks but the fact is that Ted Wells and his law firm have made lots of money off the NFL and stand to make lots more in the future – so long as they do not come up looking like amateurish a$$holes in reporting on this high-profile matter. Ted Wells is also an accomplished attorney who “more than probably” “is generally aware” of the laws regarding libel and slander. The fact that he worded his conclusions as he did could well mean that he did not want to be sued for libel/slander and have to prove in a court that what he said/wrote was the absolute truth.

“More probable than not” applies to the two employees who by dint of some incriminating text messages to each other points to the determination that they did something deliberate to take air out of the footballs after the officials had measured the internal pressures. I am going to say something harsh here but bear with me:

    No NFL fan – indeed, even no sports fan – gives more than a rat’s patootie if those two Pats’ employees did or did not do what they are alleged to have done. Folks, these two people do not matter a whit.

What NFL fans want to know is this:

    Did Bill Belichick orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did Tom Brady orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did anyone else in the Pats’ organization who is more famous than the two locker room attendants but less famous than Belichick or Brady orchestrate any of this?

The Wells Report pretty much exonerates Belichick and other members of the Pats’ organization. However, with regard to Brady, it says that he was “at least generally aware” of the actions of the locker room attendants. Let’s review:

    Wells is not certain enough to say that these two Pats’ employees did in fact deflate the footballs on that day in anything resembling an unequivocal fashion.

    Wells implicates Brady saying he was “at least generally aware” of actions that he is not willing to say that the locker room attendants actually did.

If I were to be most unkind here, I might characterize the key findings of the Wells Report in the following:

    We know the footballs had lower pressure than the rules allow.

    We think we know who did it – but we have no way of coming close to proving that conclusively.

    Based on the evidence that is not sufficient to point to the perpetrators unequivocally, we also take a leap of faith to say that Tom Brady “was generally aware” of that they may or may not have done but we have nary a clue as to whether he ever told them to do it.

If you are a Patriot/Belichick/Brady hater, take a deep breath here. Gather your thoughts because I am going to go into another direction here that you may not like even more than you did not like what came before.

Some have called for a suspension for Tom Brady for a couple of games; others have suggested 4 games; some have said suspend him for all of the 2015 NFL season. Think about it for a moment:

    Should the NFL set the bar for a lengthy suspension at “was generally aware” of a rules violation perpetrated “more probably than not” by someone other than the player to be suspended?

If “more probably than not” becomes the measure for lengthy suspensions, consider that phraseology when it comes to each and every domestic violence call made to 911 and involving an NFL player:

    The call is recorded; the caller gives an address and a description of what is happening.

    When the police arrive, they write a report indicating injuries/bruises on the person who made the call and they find the “NFL player” at the scene.

That is not enough to get a conviction in a court of law. If it were, the NFL would have more than a few current players who were doing time behind bars and not playing Sunday football. But if the standard for NFL participation is to be “more probably than not”, loads of players would suffer consequences from the league far in advance of any court appearance/trial. I do not know if that is such a good idea…

Recall a few years ago when the Giants were accused of faking injuries to defensive players as a means to slow down opponents who used a hurry-up offense. Such chicanery violates on-field rules and it would not be difficult to conclude that “more probably than not” the players were faking those injuries – after all they were back in the game seconds later – and it should not be difficult to assert that the coaches and the other players were “generally aware” of that those rule-breakers were doing. If this is to be the new standard for eligibility, there could well be entire teams that are on suspension with only one week for a franchise to assemble a replacement team. That would be ugly…

Now that I have suggested rational reasons why harsh punishments are not justified here, let me now tell you why the NFL has to hand down some significant penalties in this matter. The Commissioner and the league have some pragmatic issues to confront:

    This involves the Patriots and the fact of the matter is that the Patriots were over the edge in the Spygate Incident in 2007. There has to be a penalty and it cannot be a mere slap on the wrist.

    This incident involves on-field issues and on-field issues involve the “integrity of the game” and the integrity of the game is a foundation piece that supports this $10B per year enterprise.

    Tom Brady is a famous white player. The majority of players who have served significant suspensions meted out by the NFL have been less famous and black.

    There is no rational financial penalty that can be levied on Brady or on the Patriots that makes any sense.

Oh, and for the record, some folks have suggested that the Colts and the NFL ran a “sting operation” on the Pats in that game; I cannot tell you how little credence I put in such assertions. There is no “Colts/NFL Conspiracy” here any more than there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” about 20 years ago to defame a former President for getting serviced in the White House.

The NFL has to come down on someone or something for these deflated footballs; they violate on-field rules and the league cannot pretend it is inconsequential without simultaneously admitting that at least one of its hundreds of rules is in the book for no good reason whatsoever. So what are the possibilities?

    Monetary fines that have any relationship to previous fines are immaterial here.

    Tom Brady and his household take in something in the neighborhood of $60M per year these days. A fine of $1M would be enormous by prior standards and would be an amount just north of pocket change that fell into the sofa pillows for the Bradys.

    Forbes says Robert Kraft has a net worth of $4.3B and the Pats are making money faster than he can count it. What might the NFL fine the Pats and/or Robert Kraft – notwithstanding their declaration of innocence in the Ted Wells Report – that would be more significant than a mouse turd?

    The last discipline for a team that violated the tampering rules (Jets in 2015) was a $100K fine. In this environment, that is a laughable fine.

That leaves suspensions and loss of draft picks.

    The Falcons GM got a suspension when it was determined that the Falcons pumped in amplified noise into the Georgia Dome in violation of league rules. This happened even though the GM had no involvement in the incidents; it just happened on his watch.

    The Browns GM got a suspension of 4 games – without pay – for sending text messages to one of his coaches on the sideline during a game.

    With those “suspension precedents” someone on the Pats needs to be suspended for multiple games and the only person mentioned in the Wells Report who might be in the crosshairs is Tom Brady.

No matter what Roger Goodell decides to do here, there will be screeching. If he drops the hammer on the Pats as a franchise, lots of folks will see it as having been amplified by a desire to prove that even the “best teams” can suffer at the hands of the “League Disciplinarian”. If nothing happens to the Pats as a franchise, the folks in other cities can pat themselves on their backs for “knowing” ahead of time that the fix was in for the league’s favorite franchise. If the Pats lose a draft pick, it will not be enough for some fans and it will be an outrageous miscarriage of justice for other fans.

Roger Goodell is between a rock and a hard place but that is why he gets paid the big bucks – reportedly north of $40M last year. Here are some elements of what I would do if I were in his position and wanted to keep collecting that cool $40M per…

    1. Even though fines are virtually meaningless here, they do have some meaning to the general public. Therefore, I would fine the Pats $5M – and tell them to shut up and pay it lest the next judgment against the team be a whole lot worse. Moreover, I would fine Tom Brady $500K – the same amount Bill Belichick was fined in the Spygate Incident – with the admonishment to him and his seemingly hyperactive agent that it could be a whole lot more severe.

    2. If there needs to be a suspension to assuage the villagers poised to march on the Pats’ castle with torches and pitchforks, then make it a 3-game suspension where Tom Brady cannot play in any of the Pats’ home games against their 3 division rivals. [October 25 vs. the Jets, October 29 vs. the Dolphins and November 23 vs. the Bills]. I think this would be excessive on the part of The Commish and I think it sets a horrendous precedent for league action, but if he must…

    3. The most meaningful punishment would be loss of draft picks for the team – despite the fact that the Wells Report exonerated the owner and the coaches and everyone else in the franchise. Maybe the Commish could relieve the Pats of their first round pick in 2016 – or in 2016 and 2017 if he really wants to establish his cred as “The Great American Badass”.

      [Aside: The Commish also needs to tell the Competition Committee to change and tighten the rule about how game balls are prepared and handled before games. Make the officials responsible for inflation and preparation of the balls and make a player or coach from each team go to the officials’ room to witness the pressure measurements for all of the game balls. No team will prepare or inflate the game balls.

      Oh, by the way, spend some of the $10B to buy a calibrated pressure gauge for each officials’ crew…]

I expect criticism from Patriot fans suggesting that the punishments I offered up are too stern for things that are suspected but not known for sure. I expect criticism from Patriot haters and fans of other teams who may or may not hate the Patriots for harping on the flimsiness of the evidence and the conclusions in the Wells Report. The last thing I expect is for more than a handful of people to think I have called this one down the middle.

We shall see what The Commish decides – the guy who makes $40M per year to make such decisions. I shall just sit back here in Curmudgeon Central and take it all in and use whatever decision comes down as fodder for a future rant.

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

The NFL Pre – Draft Analysis – 2015

Let me do a quick reset here for new readers. I watch a lot of college football on TV in the Fall for one simple reason:

    I like college football.

One of the things I like to do is to watch for players who I think can play at the NFL level and so I keep a notepad beside me and jot down things I see. With the NFL Draft upon me, I then go back and cut up the pieces of paper with the commentary on players and arrange them by position in order to create this feature.

That is really all there is to this. I am not a scout; I do not have access to inside information; I do my observing from the comfort of my living room; no NFL GM or personnel guy would waste even a nanosecond considering any of my commentary here. Importantly, my data source is my cable TV provider combined with my personal/family schedule regarding when I am free to sit down and watch a game or two. That means:

    Living in the DC area, I am going to see East Coast teams more frequently than West Coast teams. I have no rooting interest that creates an East Coast bias but the time zone where I live creates a de facto bias of that type.

    I am more likely to tune in to watch “major” schools play each other as opposed to “minor” schools. Villanova versus Syracuse might be an enticing game to see if the game is basketball; for football, not so much. Moreover, my cable provider tends to show lots more games involving “major” schools than “minor” schools. Hey, I am not a programming director.

    Often, I only see a team play one time in a season. A really good player may have had his worst game of his career on that day or missed that game with an injury and so I never noticed him as a “draft prospect”. If I ignored him, it is not due to any bias on my part.

The most logical way to do this is to go position-by-position and so I shall start with quarterbacks. Obviously, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be drafted early; they were the two best QBs I saw last year but that is not to say they are mortal locks for stardom in the NFL.

    Jameis Winston has a great arm; he made a couple of deep throws last year that made me say “Wow!” He is big and strong and knows how to play in the pocket. He is not, however, a scrambler; when forced to move and under pressure, he makes some throws that look like a high school QB on the run. He has plenty of “upside” and he also seems to bring plenty of off-field “baggage” to the party.

    Marcus Mariota is more accurate than Winston but cannot throw the deep ball nearly as deep. On the run, he is much more composed and accurate with his throws than Winston and he is faster. If he is going to be an early success in the NFL, he needs to go to a program that will allow him to continue to play the wide-open option offense that he knows. If he goes to a straight “drop-back passing offense”, it might take him a few years to blossom.

      If I were the Bucs with the first pick and with Lovie Smith as the coach, I would take Winston over Mariota because Lovie Smith is more likely to run a standard pro offense than an option-pistol offense.

    Brett Hundley (UCLA): This is the summary of my notes on Hundley: He is really fast; “if he had good hands he would have been a WR”; he locks in on his receiver awfully quick; not as accurate as he should be. I think he might be a good pick in Round 3.

    Bryce Petty (Baylor): He has a big arm that can throw darts and he can put air under a ball when that is needed. He is not as good under pressure and reports say he never had to call plays or memorize a play book playing in the spread offense at Baylor. Given the way that has hampered RG3, that would give me pause – except for that big-time arm. My note says “Round 3 or 4”.

    Sean Mannion (Oregon St.): “Tall and immobile” summarizes what I saw here. He is an accurate passer unless protection breaks down and then he is nothing special at all. “Late round pick” is what I have.

    Blake Simms (Alabama): Here is my note on him: “Does he look good because he has Amari Cooper to throw to?” That situation has obtained in the past and it could well be the case here. I doubt he is worth taking before Round 7 and maybe he goes somewhere as an undrafted free agent.

    Shane Carden (E. Carolina): He has a “better than average arm” and is “OK throwing on the run”. One question mark was “big enough???” One more note I had was that he might need to “cut down on the caffeine” a bit; he sometimes plays “out of control”. I think he will go very late in the draft or possibly be an undrafted free agent.

Staying in the backfield, here are my notes on running backs:

    Todd Gurley (Georgia): I did not see Gurley play last year due to his suspension and subsequent injury. I did see him a year ago and remember that I was impressed. However, how teams will weigh his injury history is a mystery to me. If he is fully ready to play the way he did in 2013, he should be a first round pick; otherwise …

    Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin): “Hits the hole quickly” and if he “gets through clean = BIG gain.” Looks “big enough” to take the abuse a RB gets in the NFL. Here is a note I have that might be important: “They do not ask him to do much pass blocking. Is that because he can’t?” He will go in the first round of the draft.

    Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska): Here is the dichotomy represented by my notes. “Really fast, very elusive” and “Looks awfully small”. My guess is second or third round.

    David Cobb (Minnesota): He is “built like a bowling ball and runs like one.” He showed “plenty of power/not much speed”. For the right team, he could be a valuable asset worth a third round pick; in a more general sense, he is more likely to go fifth or sixth round.

    Duke Johnson (Miami): He has “plenty of speed” but “not much of a power runner”. I also said “looks too small to be more than a 3rd down back”. I could see him going in the third or fourth round.

    Jawan Edwards (Ball State): He is “built low to the road” and is a “strong runner between tackles.” MAC defenses are a far cry from NFL defenses so he is likely to be taken very late in the draft if at all.

I only saw two fullbacks that caught my attention sufficiently to make me take pen in hand and both of them played in the SEC:

    Connor Neighbors (LSU): “Good lead blocker” and “good pass blocker” are things you want to see on your notes for a potential fullback. I have no mention here of his running ability or pass-catching ability so that must mean his real value is as a blocker. Where he might go in the draft really depends on how many teams are looking for blocking fullbacks this year.

    Jalston Fowler (Alabama): “Good pass blocker” and “power runner” are my two notes as to his football skills. My other note about him says “big bruiser” which is good for a potential fullback. As with Connor Neighbors above, where he goes in the draft depends on how many teams are shopping for fullbacks this year.

I shall now move along to the wide receivers where I have plenty of notes about players coming out this year. Before getting to the listing here, I realize that lots of folks have Devante Parker and Rashad Greene listed among the elite WRs. I saw Louisville play but made no notes about Parker; I saw Florida State play several times and made no notes about Greene. Make of that what you will… Nonetheless, I do have comments about 8 WRs in this year’s draft.

    Amari Cooper (Alabama): I have lots of notes about his play and his abilities but there is one note that sort of summarizes it all:

      “Only injury can stop this guy.”

      He definitely goes in the Top Ten picks.

    Devin Funchess (Michigan): He is “very big for a WR” and he has the speed and hands to play the position. He will be a good “possession receiver”. I would put him in the second round.

    Kevin White (WVU): “Tall and very fast” with “great hands” means he ought to be a first round pick.

    Tyler Lockett (K-State): “Undersized” but “finds ways to get open” and “good hands” means he is worth a look as a WR. He also played on return teams for K-state. Third or fourth round seems right to me.

    Dres Anderson (Utah): The announcers said he was Flipper Anderson’s son and so I paid attention to him. He has “good speed” but he “missed a couple of passes he got both hands on”. If you like football bloodlines, you might take this guy late in the draft but not much before that.

    Davaris Daniels (Notre Dame): Announcers said he was Phillip Daniels’ son and so I paid attention to see how the son of a defensive lineman played WR. My only note was “good hands”. Once again, if you like football bloodlines…

    Devin Smith (Ohio State): “Makes big plays when team needs it”. That is sort of what you would want a WR to do, right? He is “not as big as other WRs” but he can play. Probably a good bargain in the third round…

    Keith Mumphrey (Mich St.): “Good blocker on run plays to his side” and “good run after catch” are the positives. “Not very big” is the negative. That sounds like a late round pick to me…

Readers who have been around these analyses for several years might notice a glaring absence this year. Normally, I have e-mail notes from folks who have seen players at small schools in their area – or at their old alma mater – telling me about players I never get a chance to see. Indeed, I had about a half dozen of them but they went to the great bit-box in the sky when my previous computer went paws up. Therefore, to the folks who sent me those e-mails, I am not ignoring your comments nor am I “dissing’ your astute observations; your observations are not here because I lost them.

      [Aside: It is a good thing I create my notes with paper and pencil or I would have lost an entire season’s worth of notes with the demise of my computer. Then again, you would have been spared one of these draft analyses if that had that happened. You can decide among yourselves if you came out ahead in that calculus…]

Moving along to the tight ends…

    Jesse James (Penn State): Seriously, how can you not pay attention to a player named Jesse James? Too bad Penn State does not run the pistol offense… My notes say “made a nice catch” and “mediocre blocker on run plays”. That sounds like a low round pick to me if he gets picked at all.

    Blake Bell (Oklahoma): He is a “very large man” who “blocks very well” but who “looks awfully slow”. I would put him as a mid-to-late round pick.

    Max Williams (Minnesota): “Pass catching TE” who gains “lots of RAC”. “Seems not too interested in blocking” but “gets in defenders way”. With the emphasis on tight ends who can catch the ball down the seams these days, he will probably go by the end of the second round.

I do not try to make distinctions between guards and tackles on the offensive line because I have seen plenty of players move from one position to another going from college to the NFL. I do tend to think about centers as a unique position but I will lump them in here with offensive lineman:

    Brandon Scherff (Iowa): Most of the draft mavens think he will be the first offensive lineman taken this year. My notes may not reflect that same enthusiasm. I noted that he is “very big and very strong” and that he “leads runners 10 yards downfield” when the play is blocked correctly. However, I also noted “outside pass rushers give him problems”. If you are going to be a successful offensive tackle (his college position) in the NFL, you have to be able to handle the outside pass rushers. Everyone else thinks he is a sure-thing prospect; I think he needs more coaching to be a quality NFL player.

    La’el Collins (LSU): “Power blocker” and “big guy” are the plusses. “Not real good with the blitz” is the negative. Probably a late first round pick.

    Corey Robinson (S. Carolina): He is “a huge man” who is a “good pass blocker”. However, he is “rarely out in front on a wide run to his side”. Probably a good pick in the third round.

    Jake Fischer (Oregon): He is “very big and very fast”. He blocks his man and then races to find someone else to block and after a big gain he is “first OL to the new line of scrimmage.” Chip Kelly ought to be highly attracted to this guy. My guess is that he will be taken in the second or third round.

    Tyrus Thompson (Oklahoma): “Good run blocker” and “not so good pass blocker” makes him seem like project to me. However, he is a big guy from a big time program so he may be worth taking late in the draft for developmental purposes.

    Shaq Mason (Ga Tech): “Very good drive blocker” and “quick enough to lead outside run plays” from center position are very positive things. The issue with just about any lineman from Ga Tech is that the Yellow Jackets rarely throw the football except when they absolutely have to. Ergo, “can he pass block at all”?

    Leon Brown (Alabama): He is a “good run blocker” who “pushes his man backward most of the time”. However, “not much speed to lead outside runs”. He should be a mid-to-late round pick.

    Trenton Brown (Florida): A “HUGE man – screen graphic says 6’ 8” tall”. “Very strong and very stationary”. “Not much speed” so this guy would be a real project for a team. But he is big and strong… Probably sixth or seventh round if he is drafted at all.

Before moving on to the defense, let me say that I have no notes regarding any punters in this year’s draft and only two notes on placekickers neither of which indicates to me that you will hear their names called from the podium until late on the last day of the draft:

    Sam Ficken (Penn State): “Got good depth on kickoffs in not great weather conditions”

    Kyle Brindiza (Notre Dame): “Big man/big leg”.

Now, for the defense, let me start with the defensive linemen and say unequivocally that Leonard Williams (USC) is going to be an impact player in the NFL unless he has a limb amputated. He is not only big and strong and a form tackler, he is also too fast to be a 300-lb man. He reminds me of a younger and faster version of Richard Seymour – and that is high praise for a guy who has never played a down in the NFL. If he does not go in the Top Five in the draft, there is some dark information out there related to Leonard Williams.

    Michael Bennett (Ohio State): “Very quick” and “plays to the whistle” on every play. My notes say “should be first-rounder”.

    Malcom Brown (Texas): I have two notes: “Big man to stop the run” and “reminds me of Vince Wilfork”. That sounds like a first-round pick to me…

    Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma): “Really big guy – screen graphic said 325 lbs”. Maybe that was before breakfast? He was “born to stuff the run”. Probably gone by the third round.

    Shane Ray (Mizzou): “Really good pass rusher” but “does not seem like he has run play responsibility”. If he is as one-dimensional as he looked to me, he could last until the third or fourth round.

Here are my notes on linebackers:

    Dante Fowler (Florida): “Super quick at the snap” and “hustles every play” combined with “sure tackler” makes him a candidate to go in the Top Ten in the draft.

    Bernardrick McKinney (Miss St.): “Meets runners head-on” and he is a “real bruiser”. A team needing an inside linebacker for a 3-4 defense can use him right away. Probably second or third round…

    Denzel Perryman (Miami): “Sure tackler – when he gets more than a finger on ball carrier it’s all over”. However, he is “not great in pass coverage” and “maybe too small?” I think he goes somewhere around the third round.

    Ramik Wilson (Georgia): He has “good size” and “good speed for a guy his size”. He “tackles well” but “struggles to defend passes”. I think he too goes somewhere around the third round.

    Taiwan Jones (Michigan St.): “Good against the run” and “already has NFL size” means he might be ready to play from the get-go. However, he “cannot cover receivers”. Probably another “thirdish rounder”.

    Marcus Rush (Michigan St.): What a great name for an outside linebacker…! He “needs to add some weight” but he is “very fast” which lets him cover backs out of the backfield. Probably a project so put him in the sixth or seventh round.

I have left two linebackers off the list above because I want to say something about each of them that goes beyond my notes. Randy Gregory (Nebraska) is a top-shelf NFL prospect. He went to the Combine and tested positive for drugs; reports say it was marijuana. I am not going to all moralistic on you here, but Gregory knew he would be tested and knew he would be tested for marijuana at the Combine in February. And he still got caught. That would lead me to wonder:

    Can he stay off the stuff enough in the future to avoid further positive tests when those tests are random? A suspended player is of little value to a team.

    Does he care enough about football to stay eligible?

    Is he so entitled that he does not care about the rules because they just do not matter to him?

    Is he dumber than a garden hose?

If Randy Gregory simply made a “youthful error” – as opposed to being an Olympic-class moron – he ought to be taken in the Top Ten in this draft. He is that good. However…

The other linebacker that really intrigued me was Shaq Thompson (Washington). Thompson has played linebacker, safety and running back at Washington and has been accomplished at all three positions. The screen graphic said he weighed 218 lbs which is generally too small to play linebacker at the PAC-12 level – but he not only played linebacker there, he played linebacker really well. I am skeptical that he can add enough weight to play linebacker in the NFL for very long but he is so athletic that he might actually be able to carry more weight effectively. And he can also be a safety of a running back too. They do not generally have slots on NFL teams for “utility player” as they do in baseball, but that is what Thompson seems to be. I have no idea how teams are going to view this kind of multi-dimensional player so I have no idea where he might go in the draft.

However, it would not surprise me even a little bit if Bill Belichick took Shaq Thompson somewhere along the line with the idea of making him into multi-dimensional player. If that were to happen, it would be interesting to watch and see how the Pats might use him.

I saved the defensive backs for last for a simple reason. If my notes are any guide, this is going to be a good year for teams to rebuild or add depth to their secondaries. Here are my notes on 14 defensive backs.

    Jalen Collins (LSU): “Big, strong and fast”, “plays the run well”, ‘good tackler”. First or second round pick.

    Landon Collins (Alabama): “Hits like a train”, aggressive in run defense”. Should go in the first or second round.

    Cody Prewett (Ole Miss): “Big hitter”, “covers back out of backfield”, “speed?” Second or third round pick.

    Cody Riggs (Notre Dame): “Good in coverage” “looks awfully small to play in NFL”. Probably a late round pick.

    Gerod Holliman (Louisville): “Big and fast”, “playing safety instead of corner, why?” I think he should go around the third round because he has versatility.

    Trae Waynes (Michigan St.): “Play’s press coverage most of the time”, “can also play off his man”, “did not see him in a zone defense”, “sure tackler”. Probably a first round pick.

    Doran Grant (Ohio State): “Sure tackler”, “good in man coverage”. Gone in the second round.

    Kyshoen Jarett (Va Tech): “Not very big but hits hard”; “covers backs and TEs – a safety in NFL”. Possibly third or fourth round.

    Eric Rowe (Utah): “Aggressive in man coverage”; “sure tackler”, “closes on ball”. Maybe first or second round?

    Erik Dargan (Oregon): “Strong against the run”, “good size/decent speed”. Should go in third or fourth round.

    Julian Wilson (Oklahoma): “Big CB good tackler”; “good in coverage”. Maybe second round?

    PJ Williams (Florida State): “Good size and good instincts”. Should go in second round.

    Ronald Darby (Florida State): “Looks like [PJ] Williams’ twin brother”, “aggressive in man coverage”. Should go in second round.

    Adrian Amos (Penn State): “Big kid who hits hard”, “good in coverage”, not super-fast”. Perhaps third of fourth round.

So now you are prepared to watch as much – or as little – of the NFL Draft as you want on TV. I am sure that the guys covering the Draft for ESPN and NFL Network will have volumes more to say about each player that I named here plus the 200 other guys who will have their names called. Trust me, I am not angling for a spot on those telecasts. Actually, I admire ESPN for taking the Draft and making it into a benchmark sports TV event every year; in reality, I think the NFL Draft itself is very close to the way Howard Cosell described it about 30 years ago:

“…the most overrated, over-propagandized annual event in American sport.”

Nevertheless, ESPN and the relentless NFL promotional machine have turned it into something that draws the attention of millions of fans. So who am I to fight against that juggernaut…?

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

The Tournament Names Rant…

For the rest of the world, today is St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Curmudgeon Central it is the Tuesday before the men’s basketball tournament begins and that can mean just one thing:

    It is time for the annual “Names Rant” for players in the tournament.

As you watch tournament games, you will be certain to see the NCAA flogging the idea that their student-athletes are going to be professionals in something other than sports. Well, just in case some of those folks paid attention to the omen of their name, here is what they should be majoring in:

    Ron Baker (Wichita State) – Culinary Arts
    Romelo Banks (N. Florida) – Finance
    Evan Bradds (Belmont) – Carpentry
    Farad Cobb (Cincy) – Electrical Engineering
    Elgin Cook (Oregon) – Culinary Arts
    Quinn Cook (Duke) – Culinary Arts
    Tekele Cotton (Wichita State) – Fashion Design
    Dallas Ennema (Albany) – Nursing
    Jarred Guest – VCU) – Hotel Management
    Igor Hadziomerovic (Boise St.) – Medical Technology
    Stefan Moody (Ole Miss) – Psychology
    Deron Powers (Hampton) – Electrical Engineering
    RaShawn Stores (Manhattan) – Marketing

A few other players might find themselves drawn by fate into fields that do not necessarily demand a college degree – although the experience of college surely benefits everyone exposed to same.

    Anton Beard (Arkansas) could become a barber
    Anthony Barber (NC State) could go into business with him
    Kris Dunn (Providence) could become a bill collector
    James Farr (Xavier) could become a travel agent
    Tony Parker (UCLA) could become a valet parker
    London Parrantes (UVa) could become an airline pilot
    Sir’Dominc Pointer (St. John’s) could become a dog breeder
    MJ Rhett (Ole Miss) could become a butler
    Lee Skinner (Wofford) could go to work in an abbatoir
    Thomas Walkup (Stephen F. Austin) could become a bellman
    Dez Wells (Maryland) could work in an oilfield.

As the college basketball season unfolded, I happened to run across a name that I noted just for this “Names Rant” because I would have to include it should his team make it to the tournament. Alas, Ohio University did not make it so I can only refer to the name but cannot put him on my Tournament All-Name Team:

    Wadly Mompremier

Not to worry, there will still be an All-Name Team and here it is … or maybe I should call this the tournament team that will give copy editors around the country nightmares:

    Martavious Newby G Ole Miss
    Shivaughn Wiggins G Coastal Carolina
    Chinanu Onuaku C Louisville
    Zena Edosomwan F Harvard
    Sir’Dominic Pointer F St. John’s

    First off the bench on the All-Name/Copy Editors’ Nightmare Team would be:

      Scoochie Smith G Dayton
      Mamadou Ndiaye C UC Irvine
      Dallas Ennema F Albany

Speaking of great tournament names, I wonder whatever happened to Orsten Artis and Fennis Dembo…?

As usual, there are mirror image names in the tournament – players where you can reverse the first and last names and not be sure which order is correct. Consider:

    Lawrence Alexander G N. Dakota St.
    Remy Barry F N. Mexico St.
    Drew Brandon G E. Washington
    Dallas Cameron G Stephen F. Austin
    Jerian Grant G Notre Dame
    Tyler Harvey G E. Washington
    Parker Kelly G E. Washington (Did E Wash recruit these guys on purpose?)
    William Lee F UAB
    Dakota Mathias G Purdue
    Dyshawn Pierre F Dayton
    Jacob Parker F Stephen F. Austin
    Tony Parker F UCLA
    Aqeel Quinn G San Diego State
    Brandon Taylor G Utah
    Chris Thomas F Texas Southern

You could assemble a tournament team and call it the All-Presidential Team Here are your potential roster candidates:

    Darius Carter – Wichita State
    Quincy Ford – Northeastern
    Xavier Ford – Buffalo
    Jerian Grant – Notre Dame
    Aaron Harrison – Kentucky
    Andrew Harrison – Kentucky
    D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s
    Nigel Hayes – Wisconsin
    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona
    Justin Jackson – UNC
    Parker Jackson-Cartwright – Arizona
    Brice Johnson – UNC
    Reginald Johnson – Hampton
    Robert Johnson – Indiana
    Stanley Johnson – Arizona
    Tyler Harvey – E. Washington
    Kennedy Meeks – UNC
    Brandon Taylor – Utah

There are some players’ names that make you stop and think along the lines of “Don’t I know you form somewhere else?” or possibly “I thought you did XX and not play basketball.” Consider:

    Gary Clark (Cincy) – – I thought you played football…
    Vince Edwards (Purdue) – – You don’t look like Dr. Ben Casey…
    James Farr (Xavier) – – You don’t look like Corporal Klinger…
    Charles Mann (Georgia) – – I thought you played football too…
    Johnathan Motley (Baylor) – – I wonder if he has a “crue”…
    Jervon Presley (Hampton) – – Is your uncle, Elvis, really dead?
    Quentin Snider (Louisville) – – Aren’t you the guy coaching the Utah Jazz?
    Travis Souza (UC Irvine) – – Shouldn’t you be marching somewhere?
    Ralston Turner (NC State) – – Do you have a brother named Ralston Purina?
    Justice Winslow (Duke) – – Did you ever catch up with Burt Reynolds?

Enough with the silly players’ names stuff? I think so… I want to give you a couple of things to think about as you figure out your brackets for this year. Without going through the monotony and uselessness of picking every game, let me give you three things to consider as you fill out the brackets:

    1. Two coaches I do not trust in tournament play are Mark Few and John Thompson III. I am not saying they are bad coaches; what I am saying is that their teams have not shown well in the tournament over the past few years. Both coaches have teams with a bad habit of losing to teams seeded well below them in March.

      [Aside: Living in the DC area I have gotten to see Georgetown and Maryland play more than a couple of times this year. How both of them wound up as #4 seeds in their brackets is a mystery to me. Georgetown is not nearly as good a team as Maryland.]

    2. On the flip side, I have faith in two coaches to have their teams ready to play well in early rounds of the tournament just about all the time. Those coaches are:

      Shaka Smart
      Roy Williams

    3. One of the teams that wins a play-in game can win another game or two – remember VCU and LaSalle in those circumstances. If you can pick the team out of those that will have a Cinderella performance for a while, you can amass a lot of points in your bracket pool.

Speaking about teams in the play-in games, the Selection Committee really screwed the pooch when it put Dayton in one of those games on Dayton’s home court. That is simply wrong. If the Committee felt that Dayton HAD to be in the tournament, they should have put them in one of the #16 seeds where they did not have to be in a play-in game held in Dayton. In the big picture it does not matter because Dayton is not going to win it all. However, the placement of Dayton in the bracket where it is represents a humongous brain-cramp for the Selection Committee.

Here are some first round games I am looking forward to:

    N. Iowa/Wyoming: I saw N. Iowa play twice this year and their senior center, Seth Tuttle, is a good all-around college basketball player. This could be a close and low-scoring game that goes down to the final minutes.

    Wichita St./Indiana: I am still not sure why Indiana is in the tournament at all since it lost 13 games this year.

    VCU/Ohio State: It will be interesting to see how Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell handles the full-time frenetic defense of VCU.

    SMU/UCLA: UCLA is another team that is in the tournament with 13 losses on their record; I would like to see what the Committee saw in them. Oh, and Larry Brown is the coach at SMU and if they win their first round game it will be interesting to see if he leaves for another job before the second round game.

Have any of you even bothered to look at the NIT brackets – or are you like me in that you consider the NIT really as the National Intramural Tournament these days? Here is a link to the 32 teams involved in the NIT this year and the opening round pairings. If you can see a compelling match-up there, you are better than I am. The next time you hear anyone suggest that the NCAA tournament needs to be expanded to 96 teams, consider that this is the roster of teams that would be added this year. Take a look and tell me there is a good reason to put any of them in the “Field of 64”.

Finally, here is an interesting view on the process by which we arrive at the teams in the brackets each year from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. It is hard to argue with it:

“Much ado: So be it if this brands me a curmudgeon – though that’s been pretty well established by now, I suppose – but most conference basketball tournaments leave me cold. I can’t be the only one who thinks this way, though, judging from the rows upon rows of empty seats in the background of so many games. By and large, conference tournaments are intramural squeaking. The concept is played out, and the sport needs to come up with something better to promote the product.”

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