The Sorry-Assed Orioles…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Two Readers Have Wishes Granted Today …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Football Friday 9/7/18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Today Is Mishmash Day

Here is a headline from yesterday at CBSSports.com:

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

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

  • Do not allow any earned runs in September.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nike’s New Marketing Campaign

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

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

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

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

Therefore, things to look for in September include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Green Bay 3,377, Chicago 3,377.”

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

 

 

NFL Season Predictions – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AFC playoff picture will look like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NFC playoff picture will look like this:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Last Month Of MLB – 2018

When I was a kid, Labor Day meant that school would start later that week and that meant summer was over.  The calendar said summer wasn’t over and there was a big part of summer that wasn’t over yet – – the baseball season.  I have long since ceased to be concerned with the start of a new school year, but Labor Day remains a good point in the baseball season to see how things stack up for the homestretch.

  • The AL East:  As expected, the Yankees and the Red Sox have dominated this division from the start.  The Red Sox have a comfortable 7.5 game lead this morning.  More interestingly, if the Red Sox were to lose every game from here on out, I think they would still be the second wild card team in the AL playoffs.  The Red Sox have won 94 games so far; to miss out on the second wild card slot, the Mariners would have to finish the season 19-6.  I suspect that neither condition will be met…
  • The AL Central:  Such a yawn…  The Indians lead the Twins by 14 games as of this morning and the Twins are a less-than-impressive 10 games under .500.  On the tension/drama scale, this “race” is comparable to a prune smoothie.
  • The AL West:  The Astros lead the A’s by 2.5 games this morning and the A’s are as hot as any team in MLB.  Meanwhile, if the A’s were to “regress to the mean” sharply in September, the Mariners are still within shouting distance.  AL fans should focus their attention here…
  • The NL East:  The Atlanta Braves are on top and they look like the best team in the division – but their lead is only 4 games over a Phillies’ team that continues to win with smoke and mirrors.  The “big story” here is the dreadful showing by the Nationals for 2018
  • The NL Central:  The Cubs are on top today with the Brewers 5 games behind and the Cardinals 5.5 games behind.  The Cubs and Brewers play 6 times in September and the Cubs play the Cardinals 3 times between now and the end of the season.
  • The NL West:  In terms of a division race, this is where the excitement is.  As of this morning, the Dodgers lead the Rockies by half-a-game and lead the Diamondbacks by 1 game.  The Dodgers play the Rockies 6 times this month and they play the Diamondbacks 3 times.  Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks and Rockies will face off 7 times in September and the D-Backs also have to play the Cubs and the Astros this month.  Stay tuned …

But wait; there’s more …  The wild card race in the NL is indeed wild.  For the sake of simplicity, I will assume here that the Cubs go on to win their division and that the Braves are the NL East winners.  Even eliminating those two teams from any participation in the wild card chase, here is how it looks today:

  1. Brewers  77 – 61
  2. Cardinals  76 – 61  0.5 GB
  3. Dodgers  75 – 62  1.5 GB
  4. Rockies  74 – 62  2.0 GB
  5. D-Backs  74 – 63  2.5 GB
  6. Phillies  72 – 64  4.0  GB

I know the football season is underway – at the college level – and that NFL games start this week.  Nonetheless, keep paying attention to the baseball box scores because there is the potential for some interesting fireworks there.  With the ascension of advanced analytics in baseball, however, there is one sort of “fireworks” we are not likely to see so long as the computers dictate strategy.  In 2018, managers view a stolen base attempt with the sort of disdain shown for someone trying to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on a kazoo.  The MLB leader in stolen bases in 2018 is Trea Turner; he has 35 steals.  Only 3 players – – Turner, Dee Gordon and Starling Marte – – have attempted to steal 40 or more times in the season.

Granted, none of these guys is Rickey Henderson on the bases but just for comparison, consider Henderson’s stats.  In 1982, he led MLB in steals with 130 and he attempted 172 steals.  Henderson played in 149 games that year, so he attempted 1.15 steals per game.  For his career, Henderson attempted 1741 steals and was successful 1406 times.  Modern day managers would be horrified with those numbers – – but Henderson scored more runs in his career than anyone else in baseball history (He crossed the plate 2295 times.) and the last time I checked, that was the object of the game.

Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week regarding another modern baseball stratagem dictated by analytics:

“One and only: Ted Williams, who would have turned 100 on Friday, batted against infield shifts that were used just for him and still hit better than .300. Today, many of the shifts are employed to stop .200 hitters. I think the Splendid Splinter might have found that funny.”

Finally, let me close with a baseball-themed comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez says he injured his finger by getting it caught in a suitcase.

“That’s what he gets for not bringing in a closer.”

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

 

 

Football Friday – Weekend Of 8/31/18

Football is about to begin for real.  There have been a few college games so far, but the meat of the college season starts this weekend.  The NFL pretend games have mercifully ended with kickoff for the games that matter scheduled for 6 September at 8:20 PM EDT.  With the arrival of football season, I will commence Football Friday which is not to be taken literally.  Here is what I hope to do with Football Friday:

  • Starting with the week of Sept.29, follow the progress of the Division 3 Linfield College Wildcats as they seek yet another winning football season.  They have done that every year since 1956.
  • Present some general comments related to college football and the NFL pertinent – hopefully – to some of the upcoming games on the weekend.
  • Comment on wagering opportunities for games of interest in college and NFL football.
  • Present two “Six-Packs” … six college games and six NFL games worthy of a “sporting investment”.  That is likely going to be a stretch for me since I rarely think there are 6 NFL games worth betting – – but I’ll give it a shot here.

The reason I said above not to take Football Friday literally is because I already know that life events are going to intervene to force schedule changes.  Sometimes, these offerings will be out on a Thursday; sometimes, they will not happen at all as I will be about 6 time zones away from Curmudgeon Central on a trip with my long-suffering wife.  I’ll just take them a week at a time – – the same way that football coaches always take things one game at a time.

It is fair to say that there are more than a few folks out there who believe that Urban Meyer dodged a bullet when all he got was a 3-game suspension from Ohio State.  One of the university trustees has resigned that position in protest.  If you care to read the case for why Urban Meyer should have been fired from his job, here is a link to Sally Jenkins’ column today in the Washington Post.  As is her wont, Jenkins pulls no punches in this column; here is her lead sentence:

“Read the public documents Ohio State collected in its investigation of Urban Meyer and you will never again be able to view him as anything but boneless.”

And that is the nice part of her column…

Tomorrow on FOX, the game between Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic should be entertaining – unless of course you like defense dominated games where field position dictates the action.  Lane Kiffin and Lincoln Riley are generally regarded as offensive innovators.  Kiffin has most of his offensive starters back from last year’s team that won its final 10 games of the season and scored 40 or more points in a game 8 times last year.  Riley’s offense was piloted by Baker Mayfield last year; to say it was prolific would be to soft-pedal the praise.  Mayfield is gone now – the first overall pick in the NFL Draft – and he is replaced by Kyler Murray.  Normally, that would signal caution on the part of coaches and fans, but Murray brings an interesting résumé to the field:

  • Two years ago, he began the season as the backup QB at Texas A&M but won the starting job in mid-season.
  • He transferred to Oklahoma at the end of the 2015 season and was Baker Mayfield’s backup last year.
  • He is also a baseball player who was drafted #9 overall by the Oakland A’s and he has signed a contract with the A’s that gave him a $4.5M signing bonus.  After this season, he plans to forego his senior season of eligibility for football and report to Spring Training with the A’s.

The Oklahoma/FAU game opened with a Total Line of 65.5; this morning the Total Line is 72.  People are expecting offensive fireworks here despite the fact that is the first game of the year for both teams.

There is a game this weekend that might qualify as the Game of the Week if it were on the card sometime in late October or early November.  Both Michigan and Notre Dame have lofty aspirations for the 2018 season.  They play each other tomorrow at Notre Dame; the losing side here will be very disappointed. The oddsmakers see a close game and a defensive game.  Notre Dame is favored by 1.5 points and the Total Line is a very modest 46.5.

Louisville visits Alabama tomorrow night.  In a press conference a couple of weeks ago, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino said flat out that Louisville was going to beat Alabama in Game 1 of this season.  Tomorrow is Game 1.  The oddsmakers have a different view of this game.  As of this morning, Alabama is a 24-point favorite and if you want to take Petrino at his word and bet Louisville to win the game outright, the Money Line is at a cozy +1425.

[Aside:  If you like trends, the last time Alabama lost its opening game of the season, it was 2001.  The game took place 10 days before the hijacked aircraft took down the twin towers in NYC.]

I understand why some schools take on games where the team is overmatched to generate revenue for the athletic department.  However, I think that New Mexico State has taken that tactic and raised it to an art form.  The Aggies are one of the Independents in Division 1-A football after they were invited to leave the Sun Belt Conference at the end of last year.  Filling a schedule for an Independent school is not a trivial undertaking – unless the school is Notre Dame – but here is what New Mexico State did for this season:

  • Last Saturday, August 25th, the Aggies played Wyoming and lost 29-7.  Looking at the stats for the game, it was probably not that close – but I did not see the game, so I cannot be certain of that.
  • Last night, August 30th, the Aggies traveled about 1500 miles to play Minnesota in the Twin Cities.  Not surprisingly, they got hammered 48-10.

It is one thing to take on bigger opponents for a payday and another to schedule your team to play 2 games in 5 days in August with 1500 miles of one-way travel involved…

For the NFL, this is “Cutdown Weekend”; lots of roster movement and player movement will happen in the next 24-36 hours as teams must be down to the 53-man roster by 4:00PM EDT tomorrow.  There were trades this week involving backup QBs in advance of the free-agent scrum that will happen as soon as the cuts are announced.

  • The Packers sent backup QB, Brent Hundley to the Seahawks where he will carry a clipboard for Russell Wilson instead of Aaron Rodgers.  Hundley showed last season that he might someday become a journeyman QB who will not throw up on his shoes.  The scary thing about this trade is that the Packers chose to keep DeShone Kizer over Hundley.  Hundley was hugely unimpressive, but Kizer looked even worse.
  • The Jets sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints.  With Sam Darnold named as the starter for the Jets and with Josh McCown uninjured in the exhibition season, there was no need for the Jets to keep Bridgewater and by trading him – vice releasing him tomorrow – they scored a 3rd round draft pick next year.  The Jets need draft picks; that roster is anything but “loaded”.  The Saints’ decision here tells me that the braintrust in New Orleans thinks they have a shot to go deep in the playoffs this year and are willing to spend a draft pick to buy some insurance.

From reading various “camp reports”, there are several players who could be free agents as of tomorrow and who ought to be able to find homes somewhere in the NFL.  Here are five of them:

  1. Ameer Abdullah – RB:  He came to the Lions in the second round of the 2015 draft.  He has been with the Lions for 3 seasons and has never rushed for 100 yards in a game.  [Aside:  The last Lion to rush for 100 yards in a game was Reggie Bush and he did that in 2013.]  The team signed LeGarrette Blount in the off-season to be the “big back” and they drafted Kerryon Johnson too.
  2. Josh Dobbs – QB:  The Steelers are not likely to keep 4 QBs on the roster.  Ben Roethlisberger is the starter and the team just drafted Mason Rudolph 4 months ago.  The other two QBs on the roster are Dobbs and Landry Jones.  I doubt that teams would want to give up anything to get Jones, but Dobbs might attract offers because he is only 23 years old.  If Dobbs is cut, I suspect he finds a job somewhere in the league.
  3. Mike Gillislee – RB:  The Pats signed him to be their “big back” last year after LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles.  Somehow, Gillislee worked his way lower and lower on the Pats’ totem pole to the point that he was not even dressed for about a half-dozen games at the end of the season.  He is only 27 years old, so he should find a home somewhere.
  4. Robert Griffin III – QB:  The question for the Ravens is simple.  Do they carry 3 QBs or only 2?  Joe Flacco is the starter; Lamar Jackson is a first-round pick from this year’s draft for whom the Ravens traded up to get.  They are making the team.  RG3 played well in the exhibition games so maybe his career gets extended somewhere?
  5. Paxton Lynch – QB:  The Broncos only have 3 QBs on the roster and Lynch appears to be the odd-man out.  While his performances to date have been tepid-at-best, he is only 24 years old and he fits the mold of a “developmental asset” that many teams use for their backup QBs.

College Football Games of Interest: 

(Friday Nite) San Diego St. at Stanford – 13.5 (48.5):  This is a revenge game for Stanford; last year they visited San Diego St. and lost 20-17.  The Aztecs had the nation’s leading rusher last year in Rashaad Penny; he is gone.  The Cardinal still have Bryce Love carrying the football for them.  I think the Aztecs are in for a long evening of football…

Ole Miss at Texas Tech – 3 (67):  Ole Miss is still on probation and cannot go to a bowl game this year; they are “playing for pride” in Oxford, MS this year.  Texas Tech has been disappointing the last several seasons and more than a few commentators think that Kliff Kingsbury could be out of a job without significant improvement this year.  The game could be interesting…

Texas – 13.5 at Maryland (53):  This is a revenge game for Texas; they lost in Austin last year to Maryland 51-41.  The Maryland program is in turmoil with the coach suspended and an investigation ongoing into an alleged “toxic culture” in the football program that may have played a part in the death of a young athlete during a practice.

Army at Duke – 13.5 (46):  Army won 10 games last year; this is a game of interest specifically to see if they are on track to do that again.

 

 College Football Six-Pack:

  • [Make no mistake, these picks do not derive on the basis of any inside information or hours of research.  No one should risk any real money on any of these picks solely on the fact that they are here.  Anyone who did that would also think that “fast food” is what you get when you run over a deer at 75 mph.]

West Virginia – 9 at Tennessee (63):  Tennessee cleaned house after last season and then went through the most bizarre coaching search ever leading to student protests over the announced hire leading to the withdrawal of the offer to hire.  The new coach is Jeremy Pruitt and he comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree; that is the good news.  The bad news is that Tennessee does not have the same level of talent that Alabama does.  Meanwhile, West Virginia is led by QB, Will Grier who is an early contender for the Heisman Trophy and who averaged 300+ yards per game passing last year.  I like West Virginia to win and cover.

Washington vs. Auburn – 2.5 (48) [Game is in Atlanta]:  If the Michigan/Notre Dame game is not the best game of the week, then this one surely is.  The Huskies look to be the class of the PAC-12; they have experienced leaders on offense and a very good defense.  Auburn is a top-shelf SEC school and will win plenty of games this year.  Interestingly, Auburn played 2 games in Atlanta last year and lost both of them.  I like Washington plus the points here.

Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma – 21 (72):  I mentioned this game above.   Call this a “Chris Christie Line” – – it looks fat to me.  I’ll take FAU plus the points.

(Monday Nite) VA Tech at Florida State – 7.5 (54.5):  Florida State has a new coaching staff and a new system while VA Tech brings one of the top-rated defenses to the field.  I like Tech plus the points here. 

Miami – 3 at LSU (46.5) [Game is in Arlington, TX]:  If this game were in Baton Rouge as the opening game of the season, I would jump on LSU immediately.  However, on a neutral field, I like the Miami defense to throttle the typically bland LSU offense.  I’ll take Miami and lay the points. 

Appalachian St. at Penn St. – 24 (54):  Saquon Barkley is not in Happy Valley anymore.  I do not expect Penn State to lose this game, but I do think that is a boatload of points to give to one of the better teams outside of the Power 5 Conferences.  I’ll take App St and the points.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times was clearly looking ahead into the college football season with this comment:

“The Cactus Bowl has been rebranded the Cheez-its Bowl.

“You’ve got to like Wisconsin’s chances of getting the first invite.”

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

 

 

Who Will Lose 100 Games This Year?

At the end of April, six teams in MLB were on track to lose 100 games this year.  At the end of June, that list had narrowed to three teams.  By the end of July, the list of 100-game losers was back up to four teams.  And so, we are now at the end of August …

  • The Orioles project to lose 114 games this year.  They have the worst record so far in MLB and they are in the same division with the Red Sox who have the best record in MLB.  As of this morning the Orioles are 52 games out of first place in the AL East.
  • The Royals project to lose 111 games this year.

That’s it.  That’s the list – – with an asterisk…

  • The Padres project to lose 99 games this year.  By the end of September – when all the precincts have reported in so to speak – the Padres might sink into that abysmal category.

As I looked at the standings for the various teams in order to do the calculations cited above, I noticed something interesting.  I said above that the Red Sox had the best record in MLB and they have a comfortable lead over the Yankees who have the second-best record in MLB.  Moreover, the Red Sox winning percentage in road games this year is .647 and that is better than the overall record for every other team in MLB.  In fact, as of this morning, only the Yankees home record is better than the Red Sox road record.

Bob Molinaro lamented last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Stat stuff: The Red Sox had their 37th win by the end of May. The Orioles won their 37th last week.”

Somewhere in the cosmos, Earl Weaver weeps…

The FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, was here in the US earlier this week and presented his rosy vision for soccer in the US.  He sees the 8-year period between now and 2026 when the World Cup will come to North America as a vehicle to elevate soccer in the US to a much higher plane of existence.  Yes, I know; the World Cup has been here before and had little to no lasting impact on soccer in the US.  The odds are that will happen again once the 2026 tournament is in the rear-view mirror; I am not suggesting that the US is going to be one of the “futbol blue-bloods” because of the 2026 tournament.

However, if the folks who oversee/promote soccer in the US do some positive things during these 8 years of anticipation and preparation for the World Cup, it could raise interest in soccer and it might produce a more competitive US Men’s National Team for that tournament and ones going forward.  The opportunity is there; the problem is that the opportunity has been there before, and the US soccer gurus have done nothing to exploit those opportunities.  If soccer is to become a big deal in the US and thereby elevate the USMNT’s stature/ranking in the world, here are a few of the things that need to happen.  They cannot happen overnight; but at some point, they have to happen.  Is this the springboard to start the process to make them happen?

  • The US does not have equivalent “soccer academies” to the ones abroad.  Young players in the US do not learn skills to the extent that their foreign counterparts do; young players in the US spend lots of time traveling around to play games; the shortage of time spent on fundamentals and game instincts shows when the US plays one of the “futbol blue-bloods”.
  • Somehow there needs to be a relegation/promotion system for MLS and soccer leagues/associations below MLS in the country.
  • College soccer needs to throw off the trappings of “conferences” that were constructed to benefit football and the top soccer programs in the country need to coalesce into some sort of association of their own.

Just a note about the 2026 FIFA World Cup tournament.  It will be the first one that has 48 teams in the groups instead of the current 32 teams.  That means there will be a total of 80 games in the tournament; 60 will be played in the US and 10 will be played in Canada and 10 in Mexico.

FIFA recently took another action that was noteworthy.  It suspended the president of the Palestinian Football Association for 12 months and fined him approximately $20K for violating Article 53 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.  That article deals with individuals who might “incite hatred and violence”.

Here is what happened:

  • The Argentinian National Team was scheduled to play the Israeli National Team in a “friendly” in early June.  The game was to be in Jerusalem.
  • The president of the Palestinian Football Association called on people to “target the Argentinian Football Association” (whatever that means) and for them to burn jerseys and pictures of Argentinian star, Lionel Messi.
  • Evidently, those exhortations must have gained some traction because the “friendly” was canceled.
  • FIFA determined that it was those remarks that precipitated the hatred and violence that caused the match to be canceled.  Hence a 12-month banishment from anything associated with a futbol match other than his buying a ticket and sitting in the stands with the rest of the spectators.

When I read about this, I was surprised because:

  • I was totally unaware that there was anything like a Palestinian Football Association – – let alone that it had a president.

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

“Giants first baseman Brandon Belt named his newborn son August, in honor of his college coach at Texas, the late Augie Garrido.

“Just be thankful the Longhorns hired Garrido instead of Oil Can Boyd.”

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

 

 

More Sports Media? Again?

Yesterday, I spent a little over a thousand words chastising the widely available sports media – The WASM – for blowing stories out of proportion.  Naturally, one might expect that I would be avoiding any more mention of sports media for a while.  After all, if their behavior(s) annoy me, it would be logical for me to focus attention elsewhere.

Well, here in Curmudgeon Central, logic is not a permanent resident.  And so, I want to look at sports media events again today – but from a different angle.

Programming changes are coming to ESPN.  Probably the most dramatic change will be to Get Up! – the new sports roundtable discussion vehicle that ESPN designed around Mike Greenburg.  The show is currently a 3-hour snooze-fest which is hugely ironic given its name; the show is going to be cut to 2 hours.  In addition, Michelle Beadle will be leaving the show in a maelstrom of contrived controversy and her replacement has not been identified.  Perhaps the suits at ESPN know who they will put in Beadle’s chair but think that keeping an air or mystery around the announcement will generate interest in the show.  [Aside:  If that is indeed their thinking the show is doomed because there are more fundamental flaws in the concept.]

If I were quizzed by the suits at ESPN about my perception of the intent of the program they created, I would be at a loss.  It does not fit with any of the other ESPN programming models and yet its variance from those other models does not identify it.  Consider:

  • SportsCenter programming:  This is “sports news round-up” programming.
  • Inside the NFL/The Jump programming:  This is “deep dive into a single sport” programming.
  • First Take/Around the Horn programming:  This is “contrived controversy” programming.

Get Up! Is nothing like any of those programs and yet it does not stake out a path or a territory for itself.  I began to wonder if the folks who “designed” the program conceptually had anything in mind for the program direction other than to throw three interesting folks on a set just to see what happened.

I am not a regular viewer of Get Up! But I have made it a point to tune in aperiodically to see how the show has evolved.  The opening days of the show were painful to watch, and I expected time to provide a measure of pace and purpose to the discussions there.  For the most part, I was wrong in that expectation.  I have watched enough of the program now that it has been on the air for about 3 or 4 months to say that I just do not like it.  The funny thing is that I do like all three of the hosts of the program individually.

  • Mike Greenburg is solid.  He is a sports fan in his core and that comes across in his TV persona.
  • Michelle Beadle has energy and very pointed opinions that she presents in unequivocal terms.
  • Jalen Rose has a great sense of humor.

For some reason, the three of them together add up to a dish that just does not work.  It would be like making an ice cream sundae using vanilla ice cream, tuna fish and mustard.  All three ingredients are very good but in combination it just does not work.

In another ESPN move, the good folks in Bristol seek to achieve a major warp in the space-time continuum.  According to reports, they are going to move High Noon to 4:00 PM ET.  While that may not be easily done with an atomic clock, it is very easy with the High Noon program featuring Bomani Jones and Pablo S. Torre.  Now, there is a relatively new ESPN program that works.  I think it is too long in its current incarnation going from 12:00 to 1:00 ET, but that will be remedied with the time change because it will then be a 30-minute show.

The aura that comes across on High Noon – ESPN is going to change that name, right? – is that these are two friends who are sitting around and talking about sports topics that both of them enjoy.  This is the same vibe that emanates from Pardon the Interruption where – in fact – Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are indeed good friends off camera.  If Jones and Torre are not friends off the air, they are damned good actors on the air!

Just as I gave up on Get Up!, I have been drawn to High Noon even though noontime is not normally TV viewing time here in Curmudgeon Central.  With the time change, I will probably watch more of it.

Switching gears – and networks – I read a report in the NY Post that NBC and Bob Costas may part company.  Say what?  Those two entities have been conjoined twins for as long as I can remember.  In “sports media world” folks jump around from place to place and network to network but there are a few folks who identify with a singular media outlet;

  • Howard Cosell and ABC Sports
  • Chris Berman and ESPN
  • Jim Nantz and CBS Sports

Put Bob Costas on that list with NBC Sports and you will understand why I was very surprised by the NY Post reporting.  I guess I should not have been as surprised as I was after NBC decided to make Mike Tirico the studio honcho for the Olympics in place of Costas.  Meaning no disrespect to Mike Tirico who is a very competent member of The WASM, but he is not Bob Costas.  I will not pretend to know any of the backstory(ies) here, but I have to believe that there have been backstage incidents in the past year or so that have led to all of this.

Let me go on a flight of fancy here for a moment.  Bob Costas’ first love in sports is baseball; he is an articulate analyst of the game.  I can say the same thing about Keith Olbermann.  Imagine if the two of them came to your town in one of the large auditorium venues to sit down for about 3 hours to talk baseball with one another – – and with the audience.  I would pay money to be in that audience.  And they could take the show on the road and reprise the concept in different cities say once a quarter.  That would give them lots of fresh material to discuss and it would keep the idea fresh enough to continue to draw audiences in cities that are deeply into baseball.

Obviously, I think this is a great idea, so I will now invoke the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard:

“Make it so.”

Finally, consider this observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot relative to TV media:

“Tuning out: TV viewership of the MTV Video Music Awards dropped off sharply for the second year in a row. What happened? Did Madonna take a knee?”

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