A Fine Football Weekend Indeed

I should not have to try to convince you that this is the best college football weekend of the season.  Don’t quibble over a few meaningless games on the card [UMass/Florida International or Idaho/Georgia St. or South Alabama/New Mexico St.] and pretend not to notice that Florida State rescheduled a game they previously canceled against La-Monroe simply to get a 6th win for the season and become bowl-eligible.  Focus on the important conference championship games as I will do here:

  1. Stanford vs. USC – 4 (58):  The game is tonight in Santa Clara.  When these teams met earlier this season, Stanford RB, Bryce Love ran wild on the USC defense (17 carries for 160 yards).  Even that was not enough; USC won 42-24.  Stanford has improved as the season has gone on, but Love has been playing on a bad ankle for a month.  I think USC is still the better team; I think they will win and cover.
  2. Memphis vs. UCF – 7.5 (81.5):  This game is in Orlando, FL making it a home game for UCF.  The winner is the AAC Champion which normally engenders a reaction like, “Meh”; however, this year the winner will most likely get an invitation to play in one of the big New Year’s Day bowl games so this year the game is sorta interesting.  These teams met earlier this year and UCF won easily.  Both teams win by outscoring opponents and not by defense – hence the Total Line of 81.5.  I have no strong opinion on this game and have no rooting interest either.  So, just to be contrarian, I guess I’d take the game to stay UNDER.
  3. Georgia vs. Auburn – 2.5 (48):  The game is in Atlanta.  Three weeks ago, Auburn pushed Georgia around all day long; the final score was 40-17 and that was indicative of how the game unfolded.  That game was in Auburn and the crowd was amped for the game; the Auburn team fed on that.  Auburn shut down the Georgia run offense and forced Georgia to throw the ball 28 times; that is not how Georgia wins games; Georgia wins by pounding its running attack down the throats of opponents.  Meanwhile, the Auburn run game will not be at 100% with workhorse RB, Kerryon Johnson “questionable”.  I think this is going to be the best of the conference championship games and I like Georgia with the points.
  4. Miami vs. Clemson – 9.5 (47):  The game is in Charlotte.  Miami has escaped so many games that looked lost that they should adopt Harry Houdini as an honorary captain for this game.  The string ran out last week against Pitt and even though Clemson lost to Syracuse earlier this year, Clemson looks much the better team to me.  I think this will be a defensive game where Clemson’s defense will shut down Miami and where Clemson’s offense will just grind it out.  I like this game to stay UNDER.
  5. Ohio St. – 6 vs. Wisconsin (51):  The game is in Indianapolis.  Both teams have relied on excellent defenses to win games; I do not expect that to change this weekend.  If Wisconsin wins, they will be in the CFP; if Ohio St. wins, they do have 2 blow-out losses on their record and might not be in the CFP.  If you are a conspiracy theorist, you might think that the Big 10 conference would prefer Wisconsin to win here to assure a conference rep in the CFP.  Trust me; if Wisconsin does win on a controversial call by the refs, you will hear those cries from multitudes.  I like Ohio St. to win and cover here.
  6. TCU vs. Oklahoma – 7 (63.5):  The game is in Arlington, TX.  When these teams met earlier this year, Oklahoma led 38-14 at the half and then put it on cruise control to win the game 38-20.  If you are a TCU fan, you read that game differently; you say that TCU figured out the Oklahoma offense and shut it down in the second half.  TCU can play defense; the question here is whether they can play defense well enough to keep Oklahoma’s offense from running wild.  Purely a hunch, but I’ll take TCU plus the points.

I mentioned above the Florida St./La-Monroe game set up to allow Florida St. to attain bowl-eligible status.  Other than saying that Florida St. ought to be ashamed here, the line on the game is interesting.  Florida St. is a 27-point favorite and the Total Line is 64.5.  La-Monroe does not lose because their offense is incompetent; they have scored 50 or more points 4 times this year and lost 1 of those games.  I do not expect them to do anything of the sort here, but it is not unreasonable to think they can score 3 TDs against the Seminoles and still not cover.  And that would mean the game would go OVER – – if you catch my drift here…

Notwithstanding the menu of top-shelf college games this weekend, the “student-athletes” still must share the stage with the pros this weekend.  The NFL schedule maker has several interesting games and some important ones too.  The Thursday Night Football game last night between the Cowboys and the Skins was an important one.  The only way into the playoffs for both teams is via the wild card; yes, I know that if the Cowboys win out and the Eagles lose out the Cowboys will win the NFC East on tie-breakers; I also know that is not going to happen.  So, with both teams standing at 5-6 for the season, this game meant a lot…

However, no one seemed to tell the Skins that it meant a lot because they came out flat; turned the ball over 4 times and when they needed a 3-and-out from the defense in the 4th quarter to make a game of it, the Skins’ defense gave up a 75-yard TD drive that took about 6 minutes off the clock.  There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth on sports radio in the DC area today but if the history of the Skins’ franchise is any guide, it is about to go from the “hopeful season” to the “ugly season”.

The franchise loves to cannibalize its members.  Look for the innuendos to begin this week with anonymous sources leaking stories from “inside the locker room” and “in the Front Office’.  Weeping and gnashing of teeth always yields around here to finger-pointing and blame-assessing which leads to internal politics and turmoil.  Let the games begin…

  • Lions at Ravens:  The Ravens are 3-point favorites at home.  That situation has to be a vote of confidence for the Ravens’ defense because the Ravens’ offense has been AWOL for almost the entire season.  Both teams are 6-5 and have their eyes on wild cards as entries to the playoffs.  Unusually, the Lions are better on the road this year than at home; they are 4-1 on the road.
  • Niners at Bears:  The Bears are 3-point favorites in this dreadful game.  This is the first half of a double-whammy for NFL fans in the Bay Area; after getting this game in the early time slot, they will then get the Raiders/Giants in the late time slot – – unless someone gets a Federal injunction to prevent that from happening on the basis that it would be cruel and unusual punishment for Bay Area fans.  The Bears are 3-8 and have not yet been eliminated from the wild card hunt in the NFC.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
  • Vikes at Falcons:  The Falcons are 3-point favorites at home.  This game means a lot to both teams; the Vikes lead the NFC North by 3 games with 5 to play; they cannot clinch the division this week, but a win here is important to them.  The Falcons trail the Saints by a game in the NFC South; nevertheless, they would be part of the playoffs as a wild card if the playoffs started now; they need a win here.  This is the second straight road game for the Vikes and this is a time when the Falcons seem to have found their stride after suffering “Super Bowl Hangover” earlier this year.  Purely a venue call; I like the Falcons to win and cover.
  • Pats at Bills:  The Pats are 8.5-point favorites on the road.  For the moment, the Pats would be the #2 seed in the AFC Playoffs, but they have an upcoming game against the Steelers – the current #1 seed.  Therefore, a win here is a big deal for the Pats and that is bad news for the Bills.
  • Broncos at Dolphins:  The Broncos are 1.5-point favorites on the road.  This is another dreary game even though both teams are still mathematically alive in the playoff chase.  The Broncos have lost their last 5 games and they have failed to cover in any of those 5 losses.
  • Texans at Titans:  The Titans are 7-point favorites at home.  The Titans are tied for the lead in the AFC South with the Jags; the Texans are 3 games behind those two teams and given their injury situation it looks as if they brought a knife to a gun fight.  The problem is that the Titans’ offense has been woeful this year; Marcus Mariotta appears to have regressed and not progressed.  The Titans only average 185 yards per game passing; their smashmouth running offense produces 90 yards per game; the Titans are offensively challenged.  However, their challenge is nothing compared to the Texans who must rely on Tom Savage and/or TJ Yates to pilot their offense.
  • Colts at Jags:  The Jags are 9.5-point favorites at home.  Given the Colts’ anemic offense and the Jags’ strong defense, the only way the Colts keep this close is if Blake Bortles reverts to his “Turnover Machine Incarnation”.  Seriously, I would not be shocked to see that the Colts score 10 points or less in this game.  The Jags are tied with the Titans for now; they need this game.
  • Bucs at Packers:  The Packers are 2-point favorites at home.  The line opened the week with the Bucs as 1.5-point favorites but that has flipped significantly as the week went on.  Jameis Winston is expected to be back for the Bucs in this game; Aaron Rodgers will be eligible to practice with the team starting tomorrow but will not be eligible to play in this game; Brett Hundley played well against the Steelers last week and he faces a far less fearsome defense here.  The Bucs allow 395 yards per game to their opponents.  The Total Line for this game is 45 points; in 14 of their last 18 games, the Packers have gone OVER.  Just saying…
  • Chiefs at Jets:  The Chiefs are 3.5-point favorites on the road – – even though the Chiefs have lost 5 of their last 6 games outright.  Maybe that is because the Jets have also lost 5 of their last 6 games outright?  The Jets were in the game against the panthers last week until a “scoop-and-score” sealed their doom.  The Chiefs have been horrible recently – particularly on defense.  If I were in Las Vegas, I would be taking the points in this game…
  • Panthers at Saints:  The Saints are 4.5-point favorites at home.  These teams have the same record (8-3) and lead the AFC South.  Clearly, this is a big game for both teams; it is probably the best game of the weekend.  The Panthers are 5-1 on the road this year and normally that record would weigh heavily in choosing a side here.  However, the Panthers are facing a Saints’ squad who rank 1st in the NFL in passing yards at home and in offensive yards per play at home.  In addition, the Saints rank 2nd in the NFL in points scored at home.  I sure hope this is the late game carried here in the DC area this Sunday because it ought to be a good one.
  • Browns at Chargers:  The Chargers are 14-point favorites here.  Last year, the Browns won one game; that game was against the Chargers in December.  This year the Browns are winless; this game is in December.  Does lightening strike again?  The Chargers can make a playoff run – assuming they do not stub their toes in a game like this.  In fact, if the Chiefs lose to the Jets this week and the Chargers win here, the Chiefs and Chargers will have the same record.
  • Rams at Cards:  The Rams are 7-point favorites on the road.  The Cards beat the Jags last week with a strong showing from the defense and efficient QB play from Blaine Gabbert.  Maybe the defense will have another good game this week; history says that Blaine Gabbert is unlikely to sustain high efficiency.  I like the Rams here…
  • Giants at Raiders:  The Raiders are 8.5-point favorites at home.  The Giants will not play Eli Manning; the Raiders will not have Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper missed practice earlier this week.  This game will be a hot mess so let me call it the Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
  • Eagles at Seahawks (Sunday Nite):  The Eagles are 5.5-point favorites on the road.  Will Kam Chancellor be able to play efficiently this week?  Can Carson Wentz function in the environment of the 12th man the first time he experiences it?  The Eagles can clinch the NFC East with a win here; the Seahawks sit a game behind the Rams in the AFC West and would not be in the playoffs if the season ended today; this is a huge game for Seattle.  The Eagles run the ball for 147 yards per game; that is 2nd in the NFL.  The Seahawks defense gives up 98 yards per game on the ground; that is 9th in the NFL.  I think that is the axis on which this game will be decided.  There are some interesting trends at work here.  The Seahawks have lost their last 2 home games outright; the last time they lost 3 home games in a row was in 2008.  The Eagles have covered the spread in 8 consecutive games.  This game is must-see TV and coincidentally, the game is on NBC.
  • Steelers at Bengals (Monday Nite):  The Steelers are 5.5-point favorites on the road here.  As noted above, the Steelers are currently the #1 seed in the AFC with a game on the schedule against the #2 seeded Pats in a couple of weeks.  The Bengals still have a pathway to the playoffs, but a loss here will make that a rocky road at best.  The Steelers always play well against the Bengals, but the Steelers also always play less well on the road than they do at home.  In terms of historical trends, this is a prime-time game and Andy Dalton’s record and performance in prime-time games is marginally better than horrid.  The most likely scenario for this game is that the Steelers win on the basis of a 4th quarter meltdown on the part of one of the Bengals players; Dalton and Vontaze Burfict would be the prime suspects…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation regarding the NFL games over Thanksgiving weekend in the Seattle Times:

“Per presidential custom, Donald Trump pardoned two turkeys last week.

“He should’ve pardoned the Giants-Washington game.”

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

 

 

The College Football Coaching Carousel

Chip Kelly is returning to college football as the coach at UCLA.  Most commentators have had nothing but laudatory things to say about this hiring decision, but a couple folks want to take a “wait and see” position here.  Their “concern” is that lots of other coaches have copied Kelly’s hurry-up style of offense which means that defensive coordinators have seen it more frequently.  One might conclude from that logical train that the times have caught up with chip Kelly and his offense; it is no longer unusual or mysterious.

That may indeed be the case, but here is why I do not think it will be the case:

  • I agree that the Chip Kelly Offense has been “solved” at the NFL level.  I think that the reason it has been “solved” there is that NFL defensive coordinators have 11 defenders who are elite athletes who have played football for an extended period of time and who can adapt their play from game to game in significant ways.
  • In college, however, defensive coordinators – other than the one at Alabama – are fortunate to have 1 defender out there who is an elite athlete at the level of those NFL defenders.  The college guys are less experienced too and most teams have a far more restricted menu of defensive maneuvers to present to offenses.
  • I suspect that the Chip Kelly Offense will continue to work in the PAC-12 so long as Kelly can recruit the kind of players he needs to make the system work.

For the skeptics out there, Kelly signed a 5-year deal worth $23M.  More than likely he will have sufficient time at UCLA either to convince the skeptics that they were wrong or to give them reason to say, “I told you so…”

The other “juicy” story about the college football coaching carousel is the one at Tennessee.  I wrote previously about the fiasco of hiring Greg Schiano and then pulling the offer off the table because fans and boosters tied him to the Penn State scandal from several years ago.  [Note:  The chain that ties Schiano to that scandal has so many weak links in it that you have difficulty deciding which one will break first.  Nonetheless…]  If you think that sort of embarrassment would prompt folks there to get the process under control, you would be sorely mistaken.

Let’s review the bidding for a moment:

  • Fans and boosters bought into the rumors that Jon Gruden would leave ESPN and take the job at Tennessee.  Much as I wish that were true just to get him off the airwaves, it is not happening.
  • Greg Schiano became the replacement for Jon Gruden and that did not sit well with the fans/boosters who pitched a fit.
  • Since that embarrassment, other folks who are not Jon Gruden have been associated with the job and have turned it down.  David Cutcliffe will stay at Duke; Mike Gundy will stay at Oklahoma State; Jeff Brohm will stay at Purdue; Jim Bob Cooter turned down even an interview and will say as the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.
  • There was another rumor floated that Cowboys’ TE, Jason Witten, would retire and come back to his alma mater to coach.  Witten has said otherwise.
  • Currently, Tennessee is courting NC State coach Dave Doeren and – according to rumor – NC State is preparing a counter-offer.
  • I have reached out to Alfred E. Neumann to see if he had been contacted about this job, but I have not heard back from him yet…

There is an English idiom about people with champagne taste and a beer budget; some people like things that they simply cannot afford.  The Tennessee football fans/boosters have a variant on that idiom.  The folks at Tennessee have deep pockets; they can afford to lavish top-shelf salaries and perks on their head coaches and his staff; money is not their problem.  Here is the variant of the idiom that seems to afflict the Tennessee folks:

  • They want a “Top Ten Coach” but the job is not a “Top Ten Job”.

As is the case in much of the Southeastern United States, the Tennessee football coach lives his life under a microscope in Knoxville, TN.  The intensity there is equivalent to the situations at schools like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan … you get the idea.  The big difference here is that those schools are perennial “contenders” while Tennessee has been a middling program for the last 20 years or so.  The last time Tennessee finished a football season with less than 4 losses was in 2004.  Since 2004, Tennessee has been a regular participant in the Outback Bowl and the Music City Bowl in those years when they were actually bowl-eligible.

The Tennessee program is at an ebb tide level today.  In 2017 they were the only SEC team to go winless in conference games; Tennessee lost to Kentucky and Vandy on its way to an 0-8 SEC record.  Put yourself in the shoes of a “Top Ten Coach” or “The Big Fish Out There In The Hiring Pool”.  Do you want the Tennessee job with all that intense scrutiny plus the fact that you are in the same conference as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida?

Ten years ago, Philip Fulmer was the coach at Tennessee.  In 1998, Fulmer led the Vols to the National Championship; the only other time Tennessee was the national champ was in 1951.  Fulmer was at Tennessee for 16 years but in 2008 he had the audacity to post a losing season and the fans/boosters ran him out of town.  Since then, here are the coaches that Tennessee has lured to Knoxville:

  1. Lane Kiffin:  He stayed 1 year and bolted to take the job at USC.
  2. Derek Dooley:  He lasted 3 years and lost 7 games every season.
  3. Butch Jones:  He lasted 5 years, posted an overall winning record and was fired with 2 games left in the 2017 season.

If you are a hot coaching property, do you REALLY want that job?

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“Hastings, Neb., is gearing up to host its second Bigfoot Conference starting Feb. 15.

“Cornhusker football recruiters, leaving nothing to chance, plan to be in attendance.”

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

 

 

Benching Eli Manning

The NFL has provided sports fans with more than a few examples of boneheaded leadership.  Just to give a couple of examples:

  • Leonard Tose had to sell the Philadelphia Eagles to pay off his gambling chits to casinos in Atlantic City.
  • Al Davis hung on as the capo di tutti capi with the Raiders for a decade after he lost more than a little bit off his fastball.
  • The “Matt Millen Era” in Detroit.
  • Everyone in a position of authority with the “Cleveland Browns 2.0”.
  • Daniel M. Snyder – – need I say more?

That is hardly a complete list; I am sure that a historian could provide lots more examples of boneheadedness in the NFL for those who crave that sort of thing; I merely want to establish the existence of the phenomenon because it is time to add to the list.

The New York Football Giants [ / Howard Cosell] have apparently mistaken a rabbit hole for a NYC subway entrance.  They issued a press release yesterday announcing that in the midst of a disastrous – and highly disappointing – season, they are going to bench Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.  Let that sink in for just a moment…

The Giants’ record stands at 2-9; the Giants have been outscored by 95 points this season; they have not scored more than 24 points in any game this year; they have been held to 10 points or less 4 times this year.  Last year, the Giants were 11-5 and made the playoffs.  In no way would I suggest that there is anything in this season’s performance that merits praise.  The 2017 version of the NY Giants stinks!

There were reports a few weeks ago that “people in ownership” had made it known to “the football people” that “the football people” should pay attention to the anticipated mother lode of college QBs slated to be in the NFL Draft in 2018.  There is nothing wrong with that; Eli Manning is about to turn 37 years old; it makes sense to plan for the future.  Indeed, if the Giants had a young QB on the roster who had been a highly touted pick, it might make sense to bench Eli Manning now to see what “the kid” can do.  But that is not the case…

There are two QBs on the depth chart who were behind Manning until yesterday.  They are Geno Smith and Davis Webb.  Let me begin with Davis Webb here:

  • He played 4 years of college football.  Three of them were at Texas Tech and the fourth was at Cal.  He had impressive numbers at both schools and it should be noted that both of those schools play “pass-happy football” making impressive numbers easier than normal to come by.  Overall, he played in 35 college games where he threw 83 TDs and 34 INTs.
  • He is about to turn 23 years old.  He was taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft about 6 months ago.

If the Giants had announced that they were benching Eli Manning and replacing him with Davis Webb, I would be surprised – maybe even shocked – but I would understand that there might be a strategic purpose to that move.  If Webb had been announced as the starter for this week’s game, I could interpret that to mean that Webb’s practices had been sufficiently enticing to make the “big thinkers” in the organization want to see if they already had their QB-of-the-future on the roster.  After all, no one on the planet has any empirical evidence related to Davis Webb as an NFL player; he has never seen the field on a Sunday in his career; he may be the next Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field – – or he may be the next Kevin Kolb sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field.  I don’t know and the Giants’ “big thinkers” don’t know either.

What the Giants’ move tells me, however, is that the Giants’ coaching staff does not think that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith at this point.  And that – ladies and gentlemen – is where I must get off the bus.  In the statements surrounding this decision, here is what head coach, Ben McAdoo had to say:

“I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback, but at this point it is my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis [Webb] and give them the opportunity to show what they can do heading into next year.”

Let me deconstruct that sentence for you:

  1. You damned well better have confidence in Eli as a player and as a QB, coach.  He has won the Super Bowl twice – over the Pats both times I might add – and was the MVP in both of those Super Bowl games.  He has been to the Pro Bowl 4 times and in the 12 consecutive seasons where he has started every game for the Giants, they have had only 3 losing seasons.  Eli Manning is not the greatest QB of all time – and maybe not even the best Giants’ QB of all time – but he is an excellent player and QB.
  2. Your “responsibility to the organization” is to win football games until such time as your bosses tell you not to worry about that so much because they will not mind having a good draft pick next year.  Is that what just happened?
  3. You say you need to “take a look at Geno”.  Excuse me, but you and I and a jillion NFL fans have already looked at Geno and just about everyone else is pretty sure that Geno Smith is a career backup QB.  Period – – and exclamation point.  What Geno Smith can do next year is what he did last year; he can go looking for a job in the NFL with a team that has a solid starting QB where he is the guy on the sidelines that everyone hopes is never needed on the field in a real game.
  4. You say at some point you also need to take a look at Davis Webb.  I agree that would be a reasonable thing to do – – if and only if your assessment now is that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith in terms of winning NFL games – – unless that is not the objective anymore.

I want to create the following scenario.  Imagine that the Giants’ record is 2-9 (as it is this morning) but in the first game of the season, Eli Manning suffered a season-ending injury; the Giants have gone with Geno Smith at QB since Manning left that game on a stretcher.  What would be the likely narrative in the football punditry today?

  • It has been a horribly disappointing season for the Giants, but what can you expect?  They lost their star QB in Game 1 and had to go with Geno Smith for the entire season.  Davis Webb is still too green to throw out there because he played in a spread offense in college and is still learning the pro game.  The Giants will be all right next year once Manning is healthy and back under center.

That sounds about right to me…

So, forget the fact that the two best WRs on the team have been lost to injury for almost all the season and that the third best WR has missed games due to injury.  Forget that the targets for Eli Manning’s passes are the likes of Tavarres King, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph.  Forget that the Giants’ OL looks like dancing bears on ice skates in pass blocking situations.  Forget that players on the defensive unit have played such that people label them “quitters”.  None of that matters – – and here is why none of that matters.

  • The fundamental problem with the 2017 NY Football Giants is not the QB and it is not the injuries to the WRs.  The fundamental problem is that the roster is poorly constructed.
  • There was no depth at WR in the event of injury.
  • The OL was sub-standard last year and nothing was done to improve it for this year.
  • The RB situation is mediocre at best – – even if any Giants’ RB had a functional OL in front of him to block and open holes.
  • The Giants’ star rookie TE, catches only 52% of the balls thrown his way.

All denunciation for the problems listed above must be directed at the Giants’ Front Office.  None of that is a “QB problem”.

On the other side of the ball, some of the defensive players have earned the label of “quitter”.  That is not a term thrown around lightly in NFL circles or in NFL reporting; but it has appeared this year relative to the Giants.  The blame for that – ladies and gentlemen – belongs on the coaching staff for deficiencies in motivational skills and on the individual players who have allegedly done the “quitting”.  None of that is a “QB problem.”

The “big thinkers” for the NY Giants have crossed the Rubicon here.  This decision can only mean that Eli Manning will not be the Giants’ QB in 2018.  It has been reported that Manning has a no-trade clause in his contract; it has also been reported that the Giants will owe him a $5M roster bonus in mid-March 2018.  I have to think that the Giants will arrange not to pay that money and the way for that to happen is for Eli Manning to be off their roster by mid-March.  That puts the coaching staff – whether or not it includes Ben McAdoo and company – and the front office – whether or not that includes Jerry Reese and company – and the Giants’ ownership mavens – the Maras and the Tischs – squarely in the spotlight.

It is easy to see what happens to NFL teams without a franchise QB.

  • The Browns have not had one since returning to the NFL and they are a laughingstock.
  • The Jets have not had one since Joe Namath.  Nonetheless even in their state of desperation, they gave up on Geno Smith.
  • Check out the 2017 version of the Miami Dolphins.
  • The Broncos have an excellent defense – that no one thinks has “quit” this year – but lack of QB play gives the Broncos a 3-8 record with one of those losses being to the Giants.
  • Compare the Houston Texans with Tom Savage to the Houston Texans with Deshaun Watson.

The Giants have just run off a franchise QB – an aging one to be sure but still a franchise QB.  If the “big thinkers” there do not find a replacement for Eli Manning – or someone who can become a replacement for Eli Manning in a year or two, the Giants are going to experience life down that rabbit hole they mistook for a subway entrance.  They can pick their QBs from the attendees at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the coaches/execs can busy themselves the way the White Rabbit did by rushing off hither and yon being late for a very important date.

In the end, they need a replacement for Eli Manning – and it will be more difficult to find one in his absence than it would be with him playing QB.  It takes time for most young QBs to learn to play the position at the NFL level; with a QB mentor on the team, a young QB can be eased into the position to play when he is ready.  If Geno Smith is the starter going forward, the pressure to win games and keep the fans from open revolt will be felt right down to the youngster(s) in the QB room.

All I can say is, whoever made the decision to bench Eli Manning starting right now had better be the smartest football guy on the planet – or the luckiest – because that decision is a career defining one.  Right now, this looks to me as if the caboose is pulling the engine.

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

 

 

Media Commentary And Baseball Commentary

I mentioned the ending of Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio; so, I decided to take that as an opportunity to check out its new competition on FS1.  First Things First is a morning sports talk program with the standard format; it features the trio of Jenna Wolfe, Chris Carter and Nick Wright.  With an admittedly much too small sample size, I would say that the show is good but not nearly as good as Mike and Mike was.  Yes, I know that Mike and Mike was on the air for almost 20 years and these guys have been at it for less than 3 months.  So, in the spirit of acknowledging that the program needs to and will improve over time, here are a few critical remarks:

  • Jenna Wolfe does not participate to anything near one-third of the time.  When she does interject a comment or make an extended remark with her opinion, it seems to be cogent and clear.  I think she needs to be a more active/vocal part of the program.
  • Chris Carter was always good as a guest on Mike and Mike before he changed employers.  He continues to be informative and entertaining and – candidly – he is carrying this program at this time.  My only “gripe” about Carter is that he does not allow his guests the latitude to express themselves the way he was able to on Mike and Mike.  He needs to hone his skills as an interviewer and to share the microphone more with his interviewees.
  • Nick Wright does not do it for me.  From what I have seen – and it is a small sample indeed – he comes across as a hot-take-know-it-all who will respond to a critical remark by saying what he just said – – only louder.  He needs to evolve.

Since I am on the subject of sports programming/broadcasting, let me say a few things about the NFL pre-game and post-game coverage on the various networks:

  • ESPN:  The pre-game coverage is cringe-worthy.  There is so much “cutesy crap” it has become unwatchable.  Regarding the post-game coverage, how badly do you wish for the return of Chris Berman and Tom Jackson to do the review of games around the league on Sunday night?  Just the two of them with extended highlights beyond the scoring plays…
  • CBS:  I like Nate Burleson a lot – particularly the way he and Phil Simms interact.  I am getting tired of Bill Cowher because he has about three different analytical commentaries to make about every game played.  I tired of Boomer Esiason several years ago.
  • FOX:  When Terry Bradshaw is on his meds and under control, this is the best pre-game and post-game show on the air.
  • NBC:  They have a mother lode with Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison and Mike Florio.  Too bad they don’t give them a lot more air time at the expense of some of the “features nonsense”.  [Aside:  Al Michaels and Cris Colinsworth are The Best!]

As December approaches, sports fans can anticipate the start of action in the Hot Stove League as baseball owners convene in December to do whatever baseball owners do in December.  Often, that is the catalyst for trades and free agent negotiations and things of that nature.  In the spirit of anticipation of MLB news percolating to the top of the pile in the coming weeks, here are a few thoughts about seven MLB teams and what they might want to focus on in this offseason:

  • Astros:  They must find a way to avoid whatever happened to the Cubs last winter after winning the World Series.  The players will spend about 3 months in a world where everyone tells them they are the greatest thing since the macarena and that they are sure to be a baseball dynasty.  Somehow, someone in the clubhouse has to dissuade them from those notions.
  • Indians:  I thought they would win it all last year – but they did not.  However, they did win 102 games meaning there is plenty of talent to work with.  Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana are free agents and could be “pricey” to sign.  Interesting…
  • Orioles:  The O’s must find a way to get started on negotiations for a long-term deal with Manny Machado.  He will be a free agent after 2018 and he is an outstanding young player the team cannot afford to lose.
  • Yankees:  They were much better last year than I anticipated.  Yankee fans are certain that the team will make another strong run in 2018 and will then open the checkbook to sign Bryce Harper AND Manny Machado in 2018.  Somewhere in the cosmos, George Steinbrenner is smiling…
  • Cubs:  These guys need to focus on baseball this winter and forget the euphoria they experienced last winter.  The team played as if in a stupor until sometime in June.  They have a great core of young talent; they could use some more pitching…
  • Marlins:  Are the Marlins really going to trade Giancarlo Stanton?
  • Rockies:  Nolan Arenado is the foundation for the team – and that is surely a good place to start.  In addition, last year Charlie Blackmon led the NL in plate appearances, batting average, hits, total bases and runs scored.  Can he do that again?

Finally, Scott Ostler has this comment in the SF Chronicle about the Oakland A’s and their continuing quest to get a new ballpark to play in:

“The A’s are talking about a new ballpark where most fans arrive by public transit and on foot. Should be a home run with Oakland’s Amish community.”

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

 

 

Monday Football Wrap-Up

The College Football Playoff picture went out of focus over the weekend as #1 Alabama and #2 Miami both lost.  There will be plenty of meat for the college football punditry to chew on for the next week or so.  However, I would prefer to take the end of the college football regular season to refer to a feature of Mythical Picks that I have forsaken this year.  I would like to offer up here the seeding for my mythical 8-team SHOE Tournament.  [SHOE = Steaming Heap Of Excrement] The idea is simple; to find the worst team in the country, pick the worst 8 teams, seed them and have them play each other; the loser must play on until there is an ultimate loser – – THE SHOE Team.

Here is the field for 2017 with a brief rational for why the team is in the field:

  1. UTEP:  Their record is 0-12; they are the only winless team in Division 1-A.  ‘Nuff said…
  2. UNC-Charlotte:  Their record is 1-11; they were shut-out twice this year and they lost to Division 1-AA, NC A&T.
  3. Rice:  Their record is 1-11; their only win was over UTEP; they lost 5 games by 30 points or more.
  4. Ball St:  Their record is 2-10; they lost their last 9 in a row all of them by double-digits; one of the two wins was over Division 1- AA, Tennessee Tech.
  5. Kansas:  Their record is 1-11; the win was over Division 1-AA, SE Missouri St.; they lost 5 games by 38 points or more.
  6. Oregon St.:  Their record is 1-11; the win was over Division 1-AA, Portland St.; they lost 5 games by 31 points or more.
  7. Kent St.: Their record is 2-10; one win was over Division 1-AA Howard; they lost 7 games by 3 TDs or more.
  8. Illinois:  Their record is 2-10; the wins were over Ball St. and W. Kentucky and then they lost 10 in a row – 5 of them by 3 TDs or more.

A team that does not deserve to be in the SHOE Tournament is Tennessee – but no one in or around Knoxville should delude themselves into believing that the Vols are nearly average.  Tennessee is hunting for a new coach and reportedly had a deal to hire Greg Schiano until that fell apart late last weekend.  The issue has nothing to do with Schiano’s coaching credentials; the deal fell through because Greg Schiano was an assistant coach at Penn St. during the Jerry Sandusky years there and social media allegations surfaced saying that he covered up for Jerry Sandusky then.

Here is the problem:

  • These are allegations and nothing more.  Jerry Sandusky was indicted, tried and convicted of child molestation and is in jail where he belongs for those crimes.
  • If – I said IF – Greg Schiano covered up any of that heinous behavior, then Greg Schiano should be indicted, tried and jailed if convicted as an accessory.  Absent any of those activities, people who make those sorts of assertions on social media should be accountable for their statements.

Let me be clear; I do not think Greg Schiano would have been a great hire for Tennessee.  He was at Rutgers for 10 years and posted a 68-67 record there – – but that was before Rutgers joined the Big 10; the opposition in those years was at least 3 steps below anything that Tennessee might face in SEC competition.  Other than that, his head coaching résumé consists of 2 years with the Tampa Bay Bucs where he had a record of 11-21.  Greg Schiano is not the reincarnation of Bill Walsh.  Nonetheless, if he lost the opportunity for that job simply because of allegations of wrongdoing, then that is wrong too.

In NFL action, the Bills surprised the Chiefs, who seem to have forgotten how to play offense since their BYE Week.  The Bills had yielded more than 100 points in their past two games and held the Chiefs to 10 points on Sunday.  The Chiefs are in a free-fall; I said about 2 weeks ago that the AFC West race was over and done with and that the Chiefs would win in the end.  I am not nearly so sure about that now even though they still lead the division by a game over the Raiders and the Chargers.

Another surprising result was the Cards’ last second win over the Jags dropping the Jags into a tie atop the AFC South with the Titans.  Blaine Gabbert led the winning drive that resulted in a 57-yard field goal by Phil Dawson – the longest of his very long NFL career.  Not all that surprisingly, Jags’ QB, Blake Bortles threw an interception with about 3 minutes to play that set up “the drive” by Gabbert and the field goal by Dawson.

Other than those two outright upsets, the surprises of the weekend came from underdogs who gave favorites some agita despite losing.

  • The Jets lost to the Panthers by 8 points but were leading the game in the 4th quarter and had the ball until a scoop-and-score turned everything around.
  • The Colts led the Titans 16-13 at the start of the 4th quarter before surrendering a TD to lose the game.  For the season, the Colts have been outscored in the 4th quarter by a cumulative score of 116-28.  Yowza!
  • The Seahawks only led the Niners 7-3 at the half before pulling away in the second half.
  • The Steelers needed a last second field goal of 53 yards to beat the Packers 31-28.

The most impressive performance of the weekend was the Eagles dominance of the Bears.  In the first half, the Bears managed zero first downs and were penalized for more yards than the offense generated; for the game, the Bears’ total offense was an anemic 140 yards. The final score was 31-3 and that pretty well represented the way things unfolded on the field.

I said last week that the Rams/Saints game was the best game of the weekend and it proved to be the case.  The Rams won the game, but the real story is that the Rams are for real.  Jared Goff threw for 554 yards and 2 TDs; Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins combined to catch 20 balls for 198 yards; Todd Gurley added 130 yards from scrimmage; the Rams’ defense held the Saints’ offense in check for most of the day.  Do not sleep on the LA Rams…

The Bucs’ defense continues to be butt-ugly.  The Falcons produced 516 yards of offense against the Bucs yesterday and the Falcons converted 11 of 14 third down attempts.  That is simply bad defense; I don’t think you can call it anything else.

There was a Jimmy Garoppolo sighting on the field yesterday in SF.  He entered the game after an injury to CJ Beathard and his first pass as a Niner was a completion for a first down on 4th and 6.  On the next play – the last one of the game – he threw a 10-yard TD pass that was meaningless in this game but surely will whet the appetite of Niners’ fans.

The brawl between players for the Broncos and Raiders should not be tolerated by the league.  NFL games are TV programming; that is where the money comes from and no one tunes into an NFL game for that sort of bulls[p]it.  I would not object for even a moment if Roger Goodell looks at all the film and suspends a half-dozen or so players from each team for a couple of games.

The Pats’ defense was the subject of outright ridicule earlier this year; yesterday against the Dolphins, the Pats sacked Matt Moore 7 times.  Funny how things can change quickly in the NFL…

Last year, Jason Garret was the Coach of the year for the Cowboys.  Now there are fans calling for his head and rumors galore that he is on the hot seat.  Now did he get so dumb so fast?  Funny how things can change quickly in the NFL …

Finally, consider this cogent observation by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Idle thought: It’s easy to take Bill Belichick’s Patriots for granted, but think of this: Unlike other franchises, New England doesn’t suffer from Super Bowl hangovers. Each season, no matter what happened before, the Patriots return hungry and focused. Belichick is just smarter than everybody else.”

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

 

 

Correcting An Error From Yesterday…

I must begin this morning with a correction.  Yesterday whilst in the process of commenting on the NFL games on tap for the weekend, I wrote this:

Browns at Bengals – 8:  The Bengals are a bad 4-6 team; the fact that they are 8-point favorites here speaks volumes about the Browns.  This is undoubtedly the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

The correction that needs to be made is the use of the word “undoubtedly”.  For anyone who was able to stay awake long enough to watch the Skins/Giants game last night, you realize this morning that you watched a brutally ugly football game that may indeed be the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The Browns and Bengals have a high hurdle to overcome if they are going to provide a less entertaining game than the Skins and Giants did.

I am not alone in my assessment of how bad that game was.  The Washington Post is the hometown paper of the winning team from last night.  Let me give you a sampling of the comments in the gamer written about that contest last night:

“It was about as ugly as it gets, but the Washington Redskins escaped with a victory over the New York Giants in their first Thanksgiving home game Thursday night … It was a scoreless and dreadful first quarter that was anything but watchable.  There were more punts, five, than first downs, four.  Both teams combined to go 1 for 7 on third down.”

Since the Giants were half of the miserable game last night, I am reminded that there were reports a few weeks ago that “ownership” for the Giants supposedly passed the word to the “football folks” to start looking carefully at the quarterbacks who would be available in the 2018 NFL Draft.  Eli Manning will be 37 years old a couple of days after the Giants play their final regular season game this year; despite the Giants’ horrible record this year, it would be far from correct to pin the blame on Manning; the Giants misery has two fundamental sources:

  1. Injuries
  2. Lack of depth on the roster

The problem here is that Item #1 from above plays directly into Item #2 from above.  The injuries to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Brandon Marshall would have left a hole at WR on any team.  However, the subs the Giants have put out there are jaw-droppingly bland.  The same goes for depth along the offensive line.  The reason the Giants cannot score is simple:

  • The OL cannot provide a productive running game.
  • The OL cannot protect Eli Manning on pass plays.
  • Eli Manning is not now – and never was – a “mobile QB”.
  • Eli Manning does not have many open receivers to throw the ball to.

Why look for a QB in the 2018 draft?  Let me refresh your memory about the Giants’ depth chart at QB.  Behind Eli Manning are:

  • Geno Smith
  • Davis Webb

The prosecution rests, Your Honor…

ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike faded to black recently.  The show had an almost 2 decade run in the “morning drive time slot” here on the East Coast; there are not a lot of programs that have achieved that sort of longevity.  The show was obviously highly scripted and at least some of the recurring themes were nothing more than shtick, but Mike and Mike was generally entertaining and informative at the same time.  That is a rich exacta for a program to hit.

Both hosts brought “knowledge” to the microphone; Mike Golic was a defensive lineman at Notre Dame and then in the NFL who preached “athlete’s perspective; Mike Greenberg was a long-time sports journalist who brought the fan’s perspective and a more intellectual basis for commentary to the microphone.  They treated one another as professionals and as colleagues; when they tossed barbs at one another, it was clearly done in good humor and without rancor.

Because Mike and Mike was an ESPN production, the guys had access to lots of “guests” for the purpose of interviews.  Those interviews were an important part of the show and part of the reason I tuned in regularly.  The interview guest was not “cross-examined” and was never interrupted.  The guest was there to add to whatever topic was up for discussion and both hosts asked a question and then shut up while the “expert in the room” tried to provide an answer.  I don’t know how sports radio works in your city, but that is not how guests are handled on the sports radio programs here in the DC area.

The program came to its end because ESPN decided to put Mike Greenberg in charge of a new “morning program” starting in the Spring of 2018.  I have not read anything about what this new program will be like other than reports that Greenberg’s cohorts on the new program will be Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose.  Since we are still talking about ESPN as the source of the program, I would assume that the same stable of “expert guests” will be available, but I have no idea what sort of vector heading the new program will take.

Mike Golic’s new assignment on ESPN Radio is well known.  Next Monday, he will be back on the air in the same time slot with Trey Wingo as his new “partner in crime”.  I will of course give the new program a try; what I hope is that Golic and Wingo – or whatever ESPN decides to call the new show – does not try to be Mike and Mike with a different voice over the air.

In addition, thanks to Mike Greenberg and to Mike Golic for lots of good morning entertainment over the past 20 years or so…

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

“UPS will deliver an estimated 750 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“So it’s a good thing the Phoenix Suns are mailing it in early this year.”

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

 

 

Football Friday – – On Thursday

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

There is a ton of football on tap for this long holiday weekend so let me start with some of the rivalry games in college football:

  • Ole Miss goes to Starkville to play Mississippi St. in the Egg Bowl; Ole Miss is a 15-point underdog in the game.  This is always a big event in the State of Mississippi but this year there may be just a bit more intensity than normal.  A Mississippi State fan/blogger/reporter is the one who uncovered evidence of some recruiting “irregularities” at Ole Miss that led to the firing of the coach just before the season started.
  • Alabama is a 4-point favorite at Auburn in the Iron Bowl.  The winner is the SEC West champion and goes to face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game; recall that Auburn demolished Georgia just 2 weeks ago.  In that game, the Auburn defensive front 7 throttled Georgia’s run game and forced them to try to throw the ball to win; that did not come close to working out for Georgia.  I don’t know if Auburn can do that to the Alabama running game, but if it can…
  • Georgia is an 11.5-point favorite on the road at Georgia Tech.  Georgia is the better team here, but Auburn showed the world how to beat Georgia.  I doubt that Tech can do what has to be done here.
  • Florida St. is a 5-point favorite at Florida.  This year has been hugely disappointing for both of these teams; each one brings a 4-6 record to the kickoff.  Between them, these teams have a total of 8 wins; often in the past, both teams would come to this game with 8 or more wins apiece…
  • Vandy goes across the state for its annual game with Tennessee.  Neither team is any good but there is a bright spot in this game.  One of these teams will win its first SEC game of the year this weekend.  Hi-ho!
  • Clemson is a 14.5-point favorite over in-state rival South Carolina.  Clemson is the better team and Clemson has to win to maintain its position in the CFP rankings.  Nonetheless, South Carolina is tough at home; that line looks fat to me.
  • VA Tech is a 7-point favorite at UVa.  Neither team plays reliably from week to week; so, I have no idea how this game will unfold this year.
  • USF visits UCF and UCF is an 11-point favorite.  UCF wants to maintain its undefeated status here; USF has lost once.  The winner here will be the AAC East Champion and will likely be the “non-Power 5 team” to get an invitation to a New Year’s Day bowl game.
  • Wisconsin is a 17-point favorite at Minnesota in the game that decides which team takes possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.  Wisconsin is on the periphery of the CFP, but they cannot look ahead to the Big 10 Championship Game against Ohio St. here.  Minnesota needs a win to be bowl-eligible.
  • Ohio St. travels north to play Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Ohio St. has wrapped up the Big 10 East title, but this rivalry is such that there is no danger of the Buckeyes jaking it here.  Another reason to tune in to this game would be to try to capture Jim Harbaugh venting steam via any of a half-dozen bodily orifices on the sidelines.
  • Oregon hosts Oregon St. in the Civil War; Oregon is a 21-point favorite here.  That line is more a reflection of how badly Oregon St. has played this year than anything else because Oregon is only mediocre.
  • Washington St. is a 10-point underdog at Washington in the Apple Cup game.  If State wins, they are the PAC-12 North champion; if Washington wins, Stanford is the PAC-12 North champion.  [I think I have that right…]  Even if the stakes were lower, this would be an intense game.
  • Arizona is a 2-point favorite on the road against Arizona St.  The interesting thing about this game is that the Total Line is 75.5.  Don’t blink; you may miss a scoring play…

In NFL action, all of the regular season BYE Weeks have passed; all 32 teams will play between today and Monday night.

  • Vikes – 2.5 at Lions:  The Vikes have a 2-game lead over the Lions in the NFC North but the Lions schedule from here on out is pillow soft.  If the Lions can cut the lead to one game here they would hold the tie-breaker over the Vikes and things could get interesting.
  • Chargers – 1.5 at Cowboys:  Because the Chiefs and the Raiders continue to throw up on their shoes, the Chargers probably feel as if they have a playoff shot coming out of the AFC West.  They need this game.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys trail the Eagles by 4 games in the NFC East and they are not leading in the wild card race.  They too need this game.
  • Giants at Skins – 7:  The Giants are mathematically eliminated from winning the NFC East; the Skins have a mathematical hope there, but it might require Divine Intervention to make that happen.  The only reason to stay up to watch this game is that it is a rivalry game.
  • Browns at Bengals – 8:  The Bengals are a bad 4-6 team; the fact that they are 8-point favorites here speaks volumes about the Browns.  This is undoubtedly the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
  • Bears at Eagles – 13.5:  The Eagles are playing as well as anyone in the league right now and the Bears are a 3-7 team playing like you would expect a 3-7 team to play.  Nonetheless, that is an awfully big spread…
  • Dolphins at Pats – 16.5:  The Pats are playing as well as anyone in the league right now and the Dolphins are a 4-6 team playing not nearly as well as you might expect a 4-6 team to play.  Nonetheless, that is an even bigger spread …
  • Bills at Chiefs – 10:  The Bills have lost 3 in a row and the last 2 were blowouts.  The Chiefs have lost 2 in a row and have looked awful in both losses.
  • Bucs at Falcons – 9.5:  The Falcons almost coughed up a game in the final couple of minutes on Monday night against the Seahawks, but their win kept them solidly in the NFC wild card race.  The Bucs have been playing better with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB in place of Jameis Winston.  I have to say that I never anticipated writing that sentence…
  • Panthers – 5 at Jets:  The Jets were a nice feelgood story in September when they won a couple of games to the surprise of lots of fans.  However, the bloom is off that rose now…
  • Titans – 3 at Colts:  I know; the Titans are only a game behind the Jags in the AFC South race.  I know; this is a division game.  Here is something else I know; I really do not care about this game at all.
  • Seahawks – 6.5 at Niners:  If the playoffs started this week, the Seahawks would be out.  They dare not stumble here…
  • Saints at Rams – 2.5:  By far the best game of the weekend…
  • Jags – 5.5 at Cards:  The Total Line here is only 37.5 points; I think the oddsmaker hit the nail on the head there.
  • Broncos at Raiders – 5:  It is Paxton Lynch’s turn in the driver’s seat for the Broncos this week.  The Raiders blew a chance to narrow the gap between them and the Chiefs last week and really need a win here.
  • Packers at Steelers – 14:  Given the way the Steelers’ defense has been playing lately, I don’t see the Packers doing a lot of business here.  That is a big spread indeed – – but if forced to make a pick, I would lay the points.
  • Texans at Ravens – 7:  Once again the Total Line is set very low – at 38 points.  I do not see either team scoring very often here.

Enjoy your football festivities as well as your festivities with family and friends over this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

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

 

 

Practice – We’re Talking About Practice

Over the last year or so, one of the staples for sports commentary has been the declining TV ratings for NFL games.  Some folks have called the drop “precipitous” or worse; that is a bit overblown because even though they are indeed down, NFL games remain the highest rated programming for NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN.  It just might be a tad too early to say we are watching an extinction event.

There have been lots of root causes for the declining popularity of NFL games offered by commentators in the past year, such as:

  1. The 2016 Presidential Campaigns/Debates:  These may have had a small effect because NFL ratings did rise a bit after the November elections.
  2. CTE/Brain injuries:  Moms do not want their kids to play football and so they encourage them not to watch it either.
  3. Colin Kaepernick and the “Anthem Protests”:  While I have indeed said that I would have preferred a different vehicle for those protests, I have not come close to tuning out NFL games because of it.
  4. Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”:  Frankly, this one seems to me to be an answer in search of a question.  But that’s just me…
  5. Sociopathic players:  There are indeed a lot of NFL players who are drug abusers and sexual abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence; so, maybe…
  6. Roger Goodell’s dealing with sociopathic players:  Let’s just call his performance here “spotty” and leave it at that.  OK?
  7. Sensory saturation:  In many markets, fans can see 2 teams on Thursday night, 8 teams on Sunday and 2 more teams on Monday night.  That is almost 40% of the teams each and every week.

I think the first six of those thematic hypotheses are stretched thin in terms of causing the league’s fall in popularity.  I think there is much more meat on the bone for the seventh one on that list – – but I would like to add a bit more sinew to the structure.

Because of the “sensory saturation” mentioned above, I think fans have become – over the years – more sophisticated about the game of football.  With so many viewing opportunities, lots of folks see lots of games not involving the hometown heroes so they can watch more dispassionately and learn more about the games.  And as fans become a bit more “knowledgeable”, I think some of them achieve this status:

  • “Hold Your Nose Watching”

There are too many games on TV under any circumstances; but in addition, there are too many games on TV where one or both teams is playing what knowledgeable fans have come to recognize as bad/incompetent football.  If you were to tune into Comedy Central and saw a standup comic performing who was not funny, you would change the channel or hit the off-button.  If you were to tune into a show like American Idol and heard a singer who sounded like a cat being given a bath, you would change the channel or hit the off-button.  So, if you tune into and NFL game and see the Browns or the Niners or the Giants or the …

If my hypothesis here has validity for you, I want now to suggest two causes for this spread of bad play around the league:

  1. Lack of Practice:  Football is a game that is learned by repetitive acts; a player is shown “proper technique” and then proceeds to master that technique through practice.  The problem is that practice has been limited at the high school and college level for a variety of reasons; players arrive at the pro level with less practice time in their hip pockets.  Then, the current CBA kicks in and NFL teams have limited off-season practice sessions and limited numbers of times when practices can be “physical”.  The reason many games appear to be less competent than they used to be is – – the players have not been practicing as often and are tutored to a lesser degree.
  2. The NFL Salary Cap:  The Law of Conservation of Mass applies directly to money.  You cannot spend the same dollar twice.  When teams pay their best players tens of millions of dollars per year – as they should – that means they need to have more than a few players making the league minimum to assure the total stays below the cap.  Those “league minimum players” are not only less competent than the star players, they are the ones with the least practice time in their lifetime.

Some try to say there are in insufficient number of quality QBs these days.  [Aside: many of those people make this argument in conjunction with the Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”.]  I suggest that the problem here is more wide ranging.  Indeed, there are an insufficient number of quality QBs in the NFL today; there are also an insufficient number of offensive linemen and defensive backs.  One common denominator among those three positions is that all of them demand skills learned through lots of practice.

Switching gears …  I saw a headline for an article at Golf.com that said:

“What is Tiger’s biggest hurdle in latest comeback?”

In the article under that banner, about a half-dozen golf writers/commentators offered their opinions and analysis.  My answer had Golf.com thought to ask me would have been short and to the point:

  • Biggest hurdle?  Making the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Finally, let me leave you with these words from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Grill guru George Foreman (68) has dared actor Steven Seagal (65) to meet him in the ring.

“After which the pair plans to star in a movie titled ‘Jurassic Park: Mueslix’.”

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

 

 

The Hatfields And The McCoys

When it comes to the blood-feud that seems to have erupted between Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell, I am living in the great state of confusion.   I understand that Jones may be mightily angry about the 6-game suspension for Ezekiel Elliott but Jones and Elliott and the NFLPA all fought that issue out in court and it appears to be over.  Moreover, I cannot imagine that Jones would be that upset about having a player suspended since a season rarely goes by without at least one member of the Dallas Cowboys sitting out a stretch.

For a while I thought that Jones had designs on letting Goodell’s contract lapse and then maneuvering himself into the commissioner’s slot.  It happened in MLB when Bud Selig did that; it happened in the old NFL when Bert Bell transitioned from owner of the Eagles to NFL Commissioner.  That was an “interesting theory” but I have to discard it now because naming a new commissioner requires a super-majority vote of the 32 owners and for the last several months, Jones has been pissing off his fellow owners on a pretty regular basis.

Specifically, he has criticized the committee of owners who were tasked with negotiating Goodell’s contract renewal and the member ship of that Compensation Committee contains a lot of “NFL blue blood”:

  • Arthur Blank
  • Clark Hunt
  • Robert Kraft
  • John Mara
  • Bob McNair
  • Art Rooney

ESPN’s Outside the Lines has a report in ESPN the Magazine that goes over the events leading up to this blood feud and some of the events that have gone on in the midst of that blood feud.  It is a long piece, but I commend it to your reading.  In that report, the authors, Dale Van Atta and Seth Wickersham, quote Jones in a phone conversation with Goodell at the point when Goodell informed Jones of the suspension decision for Ezekiel Elliott.  Here is that quote:

“I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,” Jones said. Then he mentioned Deflategate. “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”

I recall hearing a song with the lyrics “…haters gonna hate”.  Maybe this is a case of a billionaire owner just being a billionaire owner who just does not allow anyone to tell him something he does not want to hear.  I am not a mind reader or trained in any of the mental health disciplines, but I cannot get over the fact that I sense that there is an “antecedent event or events” that set the stage for all of this.  I wonder if we will ever know what it was…

Greg Cote had this observation about the feud in the Miami Herald over the weekend:

“The Jerry Jones-Roger Goodell feud is getting nasty. On the bright side, it’s a diversion from counting players who took a knee during the anthem.”

There is an owners’ meeting scheduled for December 13th in Dallas – Jones’ home turf no less – and since the contract has been in negotiation for about 5 or 6 months, one might imagine that the Compensation Committee might present the details to the assembled owners there.  Based on a report today, Jones asked Arthur Blank – Chairman of the Compensation Committee – if the new contract for the commissioner would go before the owners for a vote.  Blank reportedly said it would not because there has been a unanimous vote of the owners designating the Compensation Committee as the entity to negotiate this new contract and – importantly it would seem – has delegated to the committee the responsibility to get a deal done in the name of the NFL.

This is not over.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Al Davis has a smirk on his face…

There are about 90 days until the Winter Olympic Games begin in PyeongChang, South Korea.  The Olympic torch has already left Greece and will make its way to Korea via the moon – or something nearly as relevant.  The games will be telecast here in the US by NBC and its family of networks and platforms and whatevers.  Today I read that they plan to live stream 1,800 hours of stuff from those Winter Games.  Those presentations are in addition to all the programming that NBC will be delivering over the airwaves and cable providers in prime time and on weekends.

Before anyone asks, let me make two things clear:

  1. I have no idea what the content of 1,800 hours of live stream coverage will be.  I suspect that much of the time will be even less riveting and less meaningful than the televising of the NFL Combine.
  2. I will not be watching much of the action in those games because I will be traveling during the festivities.

Scott Ostler had this report and comment in the SF Chronicle a while back:

“Sales are sluggish for tickets to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Factors include high prices, a sagging world economy, and a reluctance to buy front-row seats for a nuclear holocaust.”

Finally, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Browns fan Chris McNeil has secured a Cleveland parade permit for Jan. 6 just in case the team completes a ‘perfect’ 0-16 season.

“Now comes the tough part: Convincing Roger Goodell to show up and hand out the participation trophies.”

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

 

 

Football Happenings …

Not a lot of important stuff in the world of college football happened last weekend other than UCLA firing head coach Jim Mora meaning that there will be more than a couple of “name programs” out there looking for new leadership.  So, I won’t dwell on college football today because there were lots of strange doings in the NFL.  I want to start with the utter collapse of the Skins against the Saints.

  • With less than six minutes to play, the Skins led the Saints 31-16 and they had the Saints pinned deep in their own territory.  The Skins’ defense had been pressuring Drew Brees all day long and there were few if any receivers running wide open all day long.
  • And then it happened…  There was no pressure on Brees; receivers ran routes that confounded defenders and the Saints marched the field to score making it 31-23.
  • The Skins went 3-and-out and punted the ball away – only to watch the Saints parade down the field with no timeouts eating up large chunks of real estate on every play.  The touchdown came, and the 2-point conversion came, and the game was tied.
  • The Skins got to the edge of field goal range only to get an intentional grounding penalty that sent the game to overtime.
  • The Saints kicked off and held.  The Saints got the ball and ran off tackle twice for about 60 yards and kicked the game winning field goal.

This loss belongs squarely on the shoulders of the defense and/or the defensive play caller in the final 5 minutes of the game.  It should never have gone to OT; that game was in the bag until the Skins’ defense decided to cough up the game.  Consider these defensive stats

Last Friday, I said that I did not understand why the Bills’ braintrust had decided to bench Tyrod Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman.  The Bills have made some strange personnel decisions during the last off-season and near the trade deadline this year but this one was really out of left field.  Peterman proceeded to throw 5 INTs – – in the first half before he was benched.  I only saw the highlights here, but I have no idea what he might have shown in practice that would have convinced the coaching staff that he was ready to see the field on a Sunday.  He would have had to have shown a lot more “savvy” just to reach the level of “bewildered”.  The Bills lost to the Chargers 54-24

It is important to learn new things every day.  Here is what I learned from yesterday:

  • I learned why there were 7 college QBs taken ahead of Peterman in the NFL Draft last Spring.

Speaking of less-than-competent quarterbacking, the Green Bay Packers are up against it.  Brett Hundley was simply overmatched playing the Ravens’ defense and that defensive unit pitched its 3rd shutout for the season.  Hundley threw 3 INTs and lost a fumble in this debacle.

And speaking of good defensive units, the Vikings took on the NFL’s most prolific scoring offense last week and beat the Rams 24-7.  Case Keenum led the Vikes to 451 yards of total offense while the Rams were limited to 254 yards.  The Vikes are going to the playoffs – either as the NFC North champ or as a wild-card.

The Lions stayed 2 games behind the Vikes in the NFC North beating the Bears despite giving up 222 yards of rushing to the Bears. On Thanksgiving Day, the Vikes visit the Lions for the traditional “early game”.  Usually, the “early game” has little if any meaning regarding playoff races; this year the “early game” is a critical matchup; the Lions must win if they think they can win the NFC North.

Recall last Friday that I said the Browns needed for Blake Bortles to throw the game away if they were going to have a chance to get their first win of the season.  It almost happened – until the Browns remembered that they are the one-and-only laughingstock of a team in the league and proceeded to prove it.  Here is how it went:

  • The Jags led only 13-7, the Browns got the ball with about a minute-and-a-half left at their own 20 yardline.  The Browns’ defense had done its job; it had held the Jags to 3.7 yards per play and less than 200 yards of total offense.
  • So, how did the Browns’ offense respond?  DeShone Kizer fumbled the ball; and in a mad scramble for the fumble that looked like NFL Films was doing an homage to the Keystone Kops, the Jags recovered it in the end zone to win the game 19-7.
  • Just for the record, that lost fumble was Kizer’s 4th turnover of the game…
  • I did not watch this game, but I read one report that said the Browns total offense in the first quarter was all of 4 yards.  Yowza!

The Broncos’ defense had been missing in action for the past several games, but they made a significant reappearance yesterday.  The Broncos’ defense held the Bengals’ offense to 12 first downs and only 190 yards total offense.  Unfortunately, the Broncos lost the game anyway by a score of 20-17.  The turning point had the Broncos ready to score a TD when Brock Osweiler threw the ball to a Bengals’ defender who returned it about 100 yards to the Bronco’s 1-yardline.  When the Bengals scored on that 1-yard drive, that was a 14-point swing in a game decided by a field goal.

Somehow, the Chiefs held the Giants to 9 points in regulation time but still managed to lose the game in OT.  That makes 4 games in a row where the Chiefs have been on the short end of the stick, but they still lead the AFC West by 2 full games.

The Raiders did not take advantage of the Chief’s loss against the Pats in Mexico City.  It was plain and clear from the first possession that the Pats’ offense was going to have its way with the Raiders’ defense.  Let me give you just a few numbers here:

  • Tom Brady was 30-37 for 331 yards.
  • Pats averaged 7.2 yards per offensive play.
  • Pats’ TD drives were 73 yards, 80 yards and 85 yards.

The Eagles/Cowboys game was a night and day event.  In the first half, the Cowboys led 9-7 and Carson Wentz looked very much the part of a young QB who had gone to a Division 1-AA school and who was still learning what pro football was all about.  I have no idea what the Eagles’ coaches said at halftime but by the end of the 3rd quarter, the game had changed 180 degrees to the point where it looked as if the Eagles’ offense was playing against a group of guys who had never played defense together before that game.  The Eagles ran the ball for 215 yards and their shortest TD drive was 75 yards.

Do not make the mistake of looking at the final score here (Eagles 37 Cowboys 9) and attribute that to Ezekiel Elliott’s absence.  Yes, the Cowboys missed Elliott, but it is not as if they did not have a running game.  Alfred Morris – who once ran for 1500 yards in a season – gained 95 yards on 17 carries.  The Cowboys were undone by an uncharacteristic performance from Dak Prescott last night; he threw 3 INTs and lost a fumble that turned into a “scoop-and-score” for the Eagles.

Finally, a news item/prediction from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Think this guy just might have an ink-cartridge endorsement in his future?

“Introducing Stanford placekicker Jet Toner.”

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