Pre-Season NFL Picks 2016 – The Post Mortem

 

Back in September 2016, I tried to predict the exact records for all 32 NFL teams and made a list of NFL coaches on the hot seat.  It has become traditional in these parts for me to resurrect those prognostications to see how good they were – – not the usual outcome – – or how far off they were – – far more common.  Why did this become a tradition?  Probably because I know no shame.

Lest anyone think that I am shading these grades – subjective as they are from the outset – here is a link to my original predictions.

Let me start with the “Coaches on a Hot Seat”.  I put 8 of the 32 coaches in that category for 2016.  Four of the eight are now out of a job and three of the ones who were fired were let go in mid-season.  Here was the list:

 

Gus Bradley (Jags):  I did not think he would be fired because I thought the Jags were going to be good last year (more on that blunder later).  Well, they weren’t.  Here is what I said back then:

“… if … the Jags regress to something like a 3-13 record, he will be toast.”

Let the record show that the Jags were exactly 3-13 and that Bradley did not finish the season at the helm of the team.

 

Jim Caldwell (Lions):  In 2015, the Lions finished 6-2 in the second half of the season setting up the team as a “momentum pick” for 2016.  I said that Caldwell needed to maintain that momentum – and the Lions did that.  They were a playoff team until they lost their last 3 games in a row.  This year, it was the 9-4 record after 13 games that kept Jim Caldwell in his job.

 

Jeff Fisher (Rams):  The Rams struggled in 2016 and got virtually nothing from overall #1 pick, Jared Goff, after they paid a handsome price to get his draft rights.  Fisher lasted 13 games and then was shown the door.

 

Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  I put him on the list in the event that the Cowboys really tanked in 2016.  That did not come close to happening as the team went 13-3; so, Jason Garrett properly continues as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  I said then that I thought Lewis “needs a playoff win this year” to keep his job.  He did not get into the playoffs – let alone win a game there – but he is still the coach in Cincy.  He has another year to go on his contract and reports say that he and the team are “working on a contract extension”.  If he does get an extension, he will likely be with the Bengals for a while because owner, Mike Brown, really does not like to pay people not to coach his team.

 

Mike McCoy (Chargers):  I said then that the team had to do better than 4-12 with the 3rd overall pick in the draft as they had after the 2015 season.  Well, they sorta did that; the record was 5-11 and they have the 7th overall pick in the draft.  McCoy made it through the final game of the year but was let go right after that.

 

Mike Mularkey (Titans):  This situation is the obverse of the one involving Gus Bradley and the Jags.  I thought the Titans would stink and that Mularkey would be gonzo.  Instead, the Titans were a very pleasant surprise for their fans so Mularkey is still in charge.

 

Rex Ryan (Bills):  Here is what I said back then:

“… he might be out of a job come January if the team falls below .500.”

What happened was that the Bills were 7-8 with a game left to play and Bills’ ownership pulled the plug on Ryan between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

 

I did not see the Niners firing Chip Kelly after such a short tenure but the team was awful and they did.  I hope that ownership in SF will show a lot more patience with Kelly’s replacement because the Niners’ 2-14 record in 2016 was due in the most part to a talent-deficient roster and not to incompetent coaching.

So, 50% of my coaches on the hot seat lost their jobs and 37.5% of them lost their jobs before the end of the 2016 season.  I will award a grade of “B” to that set of prognostications.

In the AFC East:

  • I had the Pats winning the division with an 11-5 record; I said they would win the division comfortably with that record and indeed, they would still have won the division at 11-5.  However, I underestimated the Pats in 2016; they played to a 14-2 record.
  • I had the Jets in second place at 8-8.  I did say then that if the football gods penalized Ryan Fitzpatrick strongly as payment for his way-better-than-career-stats year in 2015, that the Jets would be in “real trouble”.  The football gods did just that and the Jets finished last in the AFC East at 5-11.
  • I said the Bills would finish at 6-10; they finished at 7-9.  I did say that at the end of the year Rex Ryan would be collecting the rest of his contract money without having to freeze his butt off in Buffalo.  I got that right.
  • I had the Dolphins at 10-6.  They finished 2016 at 10-6.  In 2015, I said the Dolphins would finish with a 10-6 record and they finished at 6-10.  The Dolphins and I are clearly out of phase with one another…
  • I thought the teams in the AFC East would win a total of 31 games; they won 36 games.

The overall grade for the AFC East is “C –”.

In the AFC North:

  • I had the Steelers as the division winners with a record of 11-5 and that they would ride the strength of their offense to that record.  The Steelers were indeed 11-5 and their offense was the dominant unit.
  • I thought the Bengals would win 10 games and be a wild-card team in the playoffs.  The Bengals went 6-9-1.
  • I had the Ravens at 8-8 and out of the playoffs.  Indeed, the Ravens were 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
  • I thought the Browns would be 3-13 and would not have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.  The Browns were 1-15 and they do indeed have the overall #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC North would win a total of 32 games; they won only 26 games.

The overall grade for the AFC North is “B”.  I was tempted to call it “B+” given that I got two of the teams’ records spot on.  However, the fact that I missed the total wins for the division by 6 games removed the “+” from my consideration.

In the AFC South:

  • I had the Jags winning 10 games and winning the division thereby saving Gus Bradley’s job.  Instead of a 10-6 record, the Jags finished 2016 at 3-13 (dead last in the division by 5 games) and Gus Bradley is now the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers.  I definitely coughed up a hairball on that prediction.
  • I had the Colts finishing second in the division at 9-7.  The Colts were 8-8 finishing third behind the Texans and the Titans.
  • I thought the Texans would finish third with an 8-8 record.  The Texans finished 9-7 and won the division.
  • I had the Titans finishing dead last here at 2-14 with coach Mike Mularkey out looking for work.  The Titans finished 9-7 only losing the division to the Texans on a tiebreaker.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC Central would win a total of 29 games; they won exactly 29 games.

The overall grade for the AFC Central is “F”.  If schools gave grades down the alphabet, this grade might have been a “Q”.  Even the fact that the “total wins prediction” was exact, that does not mitigate the abject failure of these predictions.

In the AFC West:

  • I had the Raiders winning 11 games and winning the division.  The Raiders were 12-4 and finished second in the division to the Chiefs on a tiebreaker; the Raiders did make the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I had the Chiefs in second place in this division with a 10-6 record and as a wild-card team in the playoffs.  The Chiefs finished atop the division at 12-4.
  • I thought the Broncos would finish at 8-8 and miss the playoffs.  The Broncos were 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
  • I thought the Chargers would finish 7-9 last year.  I said they would miss the playoffs, be hunting for a new coach come January and that they would lose their stadium referendum held in November.  The Chargers finished last in the division at 5-11 and all of the other prognostications came true.
  • I thought the teams in the AFC West would win a total of 36 games; they won 38 games.

The overall grade for the AFC West is “A “.   If I could make predictions of this quality for every division year over year, I would get paid by one of the sports websites to make those pre-season picks.  Please note that none of them are contacting me to buy my “words of wisdom” …

In the NFC East:

  • I had the Skins at the division winners at 9-7.  The Skins finished at 8-7-1 which is pretty close – – except they finished third in the division and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
  • I had the Cowboys finishing second in the division at 7-9.  The Cowboys won the division at 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC.
  • I had the Giants finishing third at 7-9.  Actually, the Giants wound up 11-5 in second place in the division and in the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I had the Eagles in last place with a record of 5-11.  The Eagles overachieved and finished 7-9.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC East would win a total of 28 games; they won 39 games.

The overall grade for the NFC East is “F”.  Other than coming very close to the Skins’ final record everything else here sucked wind.

In the NFC North:

  • I thought the Packers would win the division with a 12-4 record.  They did win the division but only at 10-6.
  • I thought the Vikes would finish second in the division at 10-6.  That prediction came after Teddy Bridgewater’s injury but before Adrian Peterson’s injury.  The Vikes were 8-8 for the season finishing third in the division.  Given Peterson’s absence for 90% of the year, I think this prediction was actually pretty close.
  • I had the Lions finishing third with a 5-11 record.  I thought the absence of Calvin Johnson would be a big loss for the team.  The Lions were 9-7 last year and made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
  • I thought the Bears would be 5-11 at season’s end.  The Bears were only 3-13.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC North would win a total of 32 games; they won 30 games.

The overall grade for the NFC North is “B”.  I realize I was off by a lot on the Lions here but coming as close as I did on the Vikes despite injuries to their QB and their stud RB sort of makes up for some of that.  Coming as close to the win total for the division as I did also gooses the grade up just a tad.

In the NFC South:

  • I had the Panthers “winning the division by a mile” at 13-3.  You may commence snickering now; OK, that is enough.  The Panthers succumbed to “Super Bowl Hangover” in a major way and had a record of 6-10 for the season.  That put them in last place in the division.
  • I thought the Bucs would be 7-9; they were 9-7
  • I thought the Saints would be 7-9; they were exactly 7-9.
  • I thought the Falcons would be 7-9; they were 11-5 and went to the Super Bowl.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC South would win a total of 34 games; they won 33 games.

The overall grade for the NFC South is “C – “.  Obviously, I had the Panthers dead wrong and hugely underestimated the Falcons.  However, I did have the Saints, Bucs and the total wins for the division pretty close.

In the NFC West:

  • I liked the Seahawks to win the division at 11-5 on the basis of a tiebreaker. Indeed, the Seahawks won the division and their record was 10-5-1.  Oh, by the way, I did say before the season started that OL would be an issue for the team – – and it was.
  • I thought the Cardinals would finish second in the division with a record of 11-5 and lose out on tiebreaker.  Indeed, the Cards did finish second but that was because they had a record of only 7-8-1.
  • I had the Rams finishing third at 6-10 and said they would be looking for a new coach in January.  The Rams did finish third at 4-12 and they searched for and found a new coach in January.
  • I thought the Niners would finish last in the division at 6-10 and that the turmoil in the coaching staff/GM office and owners’ suite would continue.  The Niners indeed finished last at 2-14; they have a new coach and a new GM but they still have the same owner and President of football operations because, you cannot fire an owner.
  • I thought the teams in the NFC West would win a total of 34 games; they won only 23 games.

The overall grade for the NFC West is “B”.  I had the order of finish correct; and other than missing the Cards; final record by 3.5 games, much of the rest of my crystal ball gazing was on target.  The total wins for the division was off by a lot however…

So, I have handed out 9 “grades” here – 8 for the individual divisions in the NFL and one for the coaches on a hot seat.  Here is how they break down:

  • A = 1
  • B = 4
  • C –  =  2
  • F = 2

My Grade Point Average for the 2016 works out to be 2.11.  That may not sound like much, but it is an improvement over the 2015 when the GPA was only 1.98.  Major progress can result from a series of small steps…

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

 

Admin Note – Writing Plans – The Next 10-12 Days

Here is what I hope I will be able to do over the next 10-12 days:

  • I want to do a rant on Monday 26 December.
  • I want to do the annual “Bad Ads” compendium sometime next week.
  • I want to do an abbreviated version of Mythical Picks on Friday or Saturday next week

Note I did not say was certain that I would be able to do those things; those are my basic objectives.  If things break right in terms of family/social commitments, I might be able to sneak in some other writings.  If not, I plan to be back on the air in “regular mode” on 5 January 2017.

Stay well, everyone…

 

The Start Of The MLB Off-Season

The MLB general managers are about to convene for the annual GM meetings.  While the off-season began for most teams a month or so ago, this annual convocation is the ceremonial beginning to the preparations for the 2017 season.  I saw a list of more than 130 free agents who are out there looking for another gig.  Not to worry, I am not going to go through that list here; however, there are some names on there that are sort of interesting.  There are “name players” who might be interesting additions to teams but who may not draw a lot of interest because of advancing age and/or high price.  I put many of these folks into 5 categories that I will present here:

On Sale/As Is/No Returns/All Sales Final:  Category descriptor is self-explanatory – –

  1. Tim Lincecum (been a while since he was effective)
  2. Koji Uehara (age 41)

Bargain Basement:  For a short-term deal at reasonable cost, look here – –

  1. Peter Bourjos (injury issues resolved?)
  2. Ross Detweiler
  3. Jeff Francouer (tempted to put him in the category above …)
  4. James Loney
  5. Colby Rasmus
  6. Jared Weaver (veteran 5th starter in a rotation?)

Take a Shot: These are players getting up in years who may want a long-term deal; that makes them a bit of a risk – –

  1. Jose Bautista (Age 36)
  2. Edwin Encarnacion (Age 33)
  3. Rich Hill (Age 36)
  4. Mike Napoli (Age 35)
  5. Matt Wieters (Age 30)
  6. CJ Wilson (Age 35)

Worth Pursuing:  This guy can give a roster plenty of flexibility – –

  1. Ian Desmond

Good for the Bullpen:  Relief pitching is very important – –

  1. Kenley Jansen
  2. Mark Melancon
  3. Drew Storen

The GM meetings often lay the groundwork for trades that culminate in December and all the discussions/evaluations regarding off-season trades must be put in the context of free agent availability and price tags.  There is no baseball action at the moment, but that does not mean there is no baseball activity at the moment…

There is one other baseball free agent that is interesting because of his reputation.  A. J. Pierzynski is on the market at age 39.  He has been in the major leagues for 19 years with 7 different teams.  Here is a comment attributed to Ozzie Guillen – not known for being “politically correct” at all times – regarding AJ Pierzynski:

“If you play against him, you hate him.  If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

In the NFL, the trade deadline came and went with nothing of great importance happening.  There are “contending” teams with significant needs out there (the Eagles really need a WR; the Seahawks and the Vikes need offensive linemen) and there are teams going nowhere with a player who might fill one of those needs for a contender (Browns and Niners each have a good offensive lineman who could help a lot).  The fact that nothing happened says that the “sellers” were asking too high a price for the goods they were peddling.

The thing that I like about the NFL trade deadline is precisely what frustrates me about the MLB trade deadline.  When the NFL deadline passes, there are no more trades; the deadline means what it says.  In MLB, the “trade deadline” is 31 July but everyone knows that is nonsense since player movement happens after the “trade deadline”.  Here is the system that I would prefer for MLB:

  1. The trade deadline is hard and fast on June 30.
  2. As of 1 July every year, each team has its roster and its minor-league system.  That is the cadre that will take teams to the playoffs – or not.
  3. If a player is waived/cut/released, he still collects his guaranteed contract, but he cannot sign with another MLB team.  He can go and play in the minor leagues somewhere as an “unaffiliated player” and then sign on with anyone who wants him in the subsequent season.

That would be a simple system – and it would put a premium on building a team down through the minor leagues for depth from the beginning of the year.  It would discourage teams from throwing together a roster in April with a wait-and-see attitude regarding a position of buyer or seller at the end of July.

I will not be holding my breath until MLB adopts my approach here…

Finally, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Cha-ching: The sale at an auction of one of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s bats for $583,500 illustrates how ridiculous some people can be with their money. Imagine how much somebody might be willing to pay for Joe’s shoes – if he had any.”

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

 

 

MLB Playoff Thoughts …

Having been off the air for a few days, I realize that some of this commentary is a tad late, but I want to make a few points about the MLB playoffs. The Washington Nationals lost in the final game of their series with the LA Dodgers after leading the best of five series two games to one. Lost in the heroics of Clayton Kershaw winning Game 4 and then coming in to pitch in the 9th inning of Game 5, is the fact that Nats’ manager Dusty Baker so over-managed that game that it was laughable.

Many of the folks who commented on that series were reluctant to indict Baker for many of his “strategeries”. I get that; Dusty Baker is a baseball-lifer; he is obviously a likeable person; he is accommodating with regard to the access he gives to the commentators. Notwithstanding any or all of the above, he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a turd last week:

    Max Scherzer has been and remains the stud pitcher on the Nats’ staff. He had thrown a shut out until a leadoff home run – to the opposite field and just over the wall – on the first pitch of the 7th inning. That tied the game. That was Scherzer’s 99th pitch but it is not as if he never threw that many pitches in a game in the past. As Baker came to the mound, I figured he was going to tell Scherzer to shake it off and the team would get him another run to win this thing. But Baker took him out and went to the Nats’ bullpen.

    If there was a weak link in the Nats’ season in 2016, it would have to have been the bullpen. It had been good in the series against the Dodgers but it was not the strength of the team. So “strategery #1” was to take out the best pitcher on the team and to rely on the weakest link of the team.

    What followed was a parade of pitchers to the mound in the 7th inning giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. What was even worse was the start of a series of double switches that used up position players when new pitchers went to the mound. After the Nats closed the game to 4-3 in the 9th inning, there were no more pinch hitters in the dugout and many of the better offensive players on the team were out of the game. Second-rate hitters had to face Clayton Kershaw and – as you might expect – they were over-matched. The reason they were over-matched is because Dusty Baker over-managed.

One other observation about that series… It was likely the final curtain call for the core of the Phillies teams of 2008 – 2012. Let me cite the following:

    In Game 4, Chase Utley had the game winning hit.

    In Game 5, Carlos Ruiz – batting for Chase Utley – in that fateful 7th inning drove in a run and scored the winning run.

    In Game 5, Joe Blanton came in for the Dodgers and threw one-and-a third innings of perfect baseball.

    In Game 5, Jayson Werth was thrown out at home plate – by about 10 yards – when the Nats’ third-base coach did not hold him at third base on a double down the left field line. I could have made that relay throw from shallow left field to get Werth at the plate on that play. The coach clearly had a brain-lock there.

In other MLB playoff commentary, may I ask where the phone booth is that Andrew Miller uses to put on his Indians’ uniform and cover up the big red “S” on his chest? It is not that opposing players are not hitting the ball hard; they are not hitting the ball at all. It looks as if he is throwing to high school players on many of his pitches.

The Indians acquired Miller at the trade deadline. This was not a “rent-a-player” sort of deal because Miller is signed through the 2018 season at $9M per year. If he continues to pitch like this, he is an ever-loving bargain.

Should the World Series come down to a face-off between the Indians (leading 3-0 over the Jays at the moment) and the Cubs (tied 1-1 with the Dodgers at the moment), MLB could market this as the Exorcism World Series. Both teams have demons and one of them will rid themselves of said demons in that Series:

    Cubs’ last World Series victory was in 1908. The “Billy Goat Curse” was put on the team in 1945 which is the last time the Cubs were in the World Series – they lost to the Tigers that year.

    Indians’ last World Series victory was in 1948. The went back to the World Series in 1954 having won 111 games in that 154-game season. [Aside: the Yankees won 103 games that season and finished 8 games out of first place.] Nonetheless, in the 1954 series, the Indians lost to the Giants 4-0; that was the series where Willie Mays made the famous over-the-head catch of the deep shot to center field by Vic Wertz.

Linda Blair should throw out the first pitch if the Series comes down to the Cubs/Indians…

Rich Hill is starting playoff games for the Dodgers and getting people out. That is a bit strange. He has been in MLB for 11 years – but not pitching at this level. In fact, after shoulder and Tommy John surgery, he was in the Nats’ minor league system just last year until they released him. From there he went to the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball as a stepping stone to signing with the Red Sox. The Dodgers acquired Hill at the trading deadline from the Oakland A’s; he is playing on a 1-year contract worth $6M and will be a free agent in less than a month. Given the way he has been pitching for the Dodgers in the last couple of months, he will likely make more than that starting next year.

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

“Barry Bonds, fired as Marlins hitting coach after one season, thanked the club for what he called ‘one of the most rewarding experiences of my baseball career.’ Which I think officially lowers the bar on rewarding experiences.”

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

Admin Note

An important family event will have me off the air for a short time. I should be back on schedule sometime between July 16 and July 18.

Please check back then.

Meanwhile, stay well everyone…

Admin Note

Over the weekend, I encountered e-mail gremlins. Some readers here have requested an e-mail notification when I post a new rant; that mailing list was one of the files corrupted by the gremlins. I have reconstituted it from memory – but my short term memory is not what it used to be.

Therefore, anyone who fell off the mail list who wants to be back on – – or anyone who wants to be added to the list anew – – just send me an e-mail at:

    sportscurmudgeon@verizon.net

Sorry about that…

Admin Note

My writing schedule for next week will be sporadic. Family events will consume much of the time during the week.

My plan is to write on Monday morning and then see what happens after that. Sometimes plans work out; other times … not so much.

I should be back on normal schedule by the week of February 15.

Stay well, everyone.