It’s Not A Football Friday…

For the first time since last August, I am in the process of composing a daily rant on a Friday – – and it’s not a Football Friday.  There will be one more of that genre produced next week; but as far as I am concerned, there is no football this weekend. However, there are a couple of football-related things out there…

I believe that too much has been made about the fact that 8 NFL coaches lost their jobs this year and 5 of them were Black.  While I have no doubt at all that racism is alive and well in America in 2019, I think we need to tread lightly if we want to use that label in this case.  If one wants to use the jarring numbers here – 5 out of 8 fired coaches are Black and there were only 7 Black head coaches to begin with – you need to peel away that layer of the issue and look just one layer below:

  • In the 2018 NFL regular season, those 5 coaches who were fired produced a combined record of 21-50-1.  [Note: Hue Jackson was fired after 8 games, so these totals reflect 4.5 season records.]
  • If you look at the total record of these 5 coaches in their tenure with the teams that just fired them, the combined record is 172-242-3.
  • That overall combined record is the equivalent of a team going about 7-9 over the course of 26 seasons.

I am virtually certain that none of these numbers entered into the thinking that led to the firing decisions during and after the 2019 season.  I am equally certain that the idea of “getting rid of the incumbent simply because he is Black” did not enter into the thinking that led to the firing decisions during and after the 2019 season.  So, I want to look at these 5 deposed head coaches and their records.  In alphabetical order:

  1. Todd Bowles (Jets):  On several occasions here, I have said that I do not believe he should have been fired; the roster was not built to win in 2019; even when the team was eliminated from the playoffs, the team played hard on the field.  Nevertheless, the Jets were 4-12 this year; they will draft third this April; Bowles’ overall record with Jets was 24-40-0.
  2. Hue Jackson (Browns):  For the last 5 years or so, the entirety of the Browns’ franchise has been located in Dysfunction Junction.  Jackson was no more responsible for that than the handful of head coaches preceding him were responsible.  Nevertheless, the Browns were 2-5-1 when he was fired in mid-season and his overall record with the Browns was an astonishingly bad 3-36-1.
  3. Vance Joseph (Broncos):  He was dealt a bad hand; he did not have even an average QB on the roster during his two-year time at the helm.  I guess he deserves some “blame” for not elevating one of his QBs to the level of “average”, but I think more of the “blame” belongs on John Elway’s report card for that messy situation.  In 2 seasons with the Broncos, Joseph was 11-21-0.
  4. Marvin Lewis (Bengals):  He had overseen the Bengals since 2003.  He took over an organization in disarray and put in on track to make the playoffs 7 times in his tenure there.  The last 3 seasons have not been successful; but overall, he had a combined record in Cincy of 131-122-3.  I find it difficult to understand any racial overtone in this firing decision given that he was in the job for 16 years; if race were the dominant issue there, I think it might have kicked in 10 years ago after the Bengals went through another 3-year period with a lack of success.
  5. Steve Wilks (Cardinals):  The Cards had the worst record in the NFL this year at 3-13.  They were as bad as that record indicates.  Nevertheless, he got only one year on the job to show what he can – – or cannot – – do as an NFL head coach; it is difficult to understand how he could have been so impressive in the interview process just a year ago to get the job and then to be deemed incapable of doing the job only a year later.  The hiring decision here and the firing decision here remain as mysterious to me as the whereabouts of Judge Crater.

Looking at these cases as dispassionately as I can, I think the firings of Hue Jackson and Marvin Lewis were justified.  I think Vance Joseph is taking the fall for some bad roster decisions made by John Elway.  I think Steve Wilks lost his job prematurely.  I think Todd Bowles was fired because the NYC tabloids had been using him for a punching bag over the past 18-24 months.  If someone wants to put a racial overlay on all of that, be my guest; I think the racial component of these decisions is not a big deal.

Recall a few years ago the strange – and distasteful – saga of Jonathan Martin being bullied by his teammates with the Miami Dolphins.  If you need to refresh your memory about this sordid mess, here is a link to a report from 2014 about the investigative findings commissioned by the NFL on the matter.

I bring this up today because the sordid mess from 2013/14 may have taken a turn for the worse.  Jonathan Martin – one of the victims 5 years ago – is going to stand trial for “making criminal threats” based on a posting to his Instagram account in February 2018.  I know nothing about Instagram so if I use an improper term here, I apologize in advance.  According to reports, Martin posted a picture on his account of a shotgun with ammunition.  The posted picture had a caption that said:

“When you’re a bully victim & a coward, your options are suicide, or revenge.”

If that is insufficiently creepy for you, the posted picture was tagged to (I presume this means addressed to):

  • Richie Incognito – one of the bullies cited in the investigative report
  • Mike Pouncey – one of the bullies cited in the investigative report
  • Miami Dolphins – the team where the bullying took place
  • Harvard-Westlake – Jonathan Martin’s high school in Southern California.

That Instagram posting happened proximal to the Parkland school shooting in Florida.  Here is a link to a report from the NY Daily News from about a week ago.  What was a sorry-assed situation 5 years ago seems to have gotten seriously worse that it was.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“United Van Lines says New Jersey ranked first in terms of residents leaving the state — 66.8 percent — compared to those moving there in 2018.

“Coincidence? That’s where the Giants and the Jets play.”

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

 

 

A New NFL Overtime Rule

All this week, there has been a lot of commentary about the need for the NFL to “do something” to minimize the likelihood that something akin to the infamous no-call at the end of the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game does not happen again without some sort of logical recourse.  It will be on the agenda of the Competition Committee and already there is reporting that there is a difference of opinion among members of that Committee about what can be done and what should be done – – if anything.  I will not pretend to have a suitable answer to that conundrum.

To a much lesser extent, there has been debate/consternation about the NFL’s overtime rule which was on display in both Conference Championship Games.  The short form of the consternation goes like this:

  • The Chiefs – and their dynamic young QB – never got on the field.
  • The coin flip determined the game’s outcome.

The first item is inarguably true.  I think the second one is NOT true; but because so many people seem to think it is true, I tried to come up with a modified OT Rule that would alleviate those concerns.  Before I reveal my idea, let me state a principle that guided my thinking:

  • Baseball and basketball have the best “overtime rules”.  When a game is tied at the end of regulation time, the teams continue to play the same game they played in order to reach that tie-score situation.  I want any new NFL OT Rule to produce as much “normal NFL football” as possible.

[Aside:  Since the introduction of the current OT rule in the NFL in 2010, the team winning the coin flip is the game winner 52% of the time; so, the advantage to winning the coin flip is hardly overwhelming.]

Ideally, I would have the two teams take a 3- or 4-minute break to gather themselves physically and mentally and then flip a coin to see how the OT will begin and then play a 15-minute “fifth quarter” and see what the score is at the end of the “fifth quarter”.  If it is still tied, then play a “sixth quarter” and so on…  Notice I started this paragraph with the word “Ideally”.  Here is why that is not going to happen:

  • With the league’s focus on player safety, they are not going to require teams to play on in 15-minute segments.  While it could in fact take that long before a game ended – as happened in the famous “kick to the clock game” (Google is your friend) – I seriously doubt that the league would set it up that every OT game would require that much extra wear and tear on the players.

The college OT rule necessitates that both teams play offense and defense to determine the final score.  That is a plus; but giving the offense the ball at the opponent’s 25-yardline as a starting point seems like far too much of a concession to the offense.  However, I will use the college OT rule as the starting point for my suggestion.

I want the game to be decided by football plays to the greatest extent possible and so I will insert one deviation from the rules that got the teams to the overtime situation:

  • There will be no kicking of the football in the OT.
  • There will be no punts (you will see why none are necessary) and there will be no field goals nor PATs.
  • I know; special teams are an important part of the game.  Nonetheless, those guys can use their energies to exhort their teammates to “win it all”.

There would be no need to flip a coin; the visiting team will get the ball first.  That means that in the Super Bowl game, the visiting team will be the NFC team in even numbered years and the AFC team in odd numbered years.  Before the game starts, teams have to know if they are the home team or the visitors; that does not seem to be overly burdensome.  Then:

  • Visitors get the ball at the 50 yardline first down and 10 to go.
  • Whenever any set of downs begins with the ball outside the defenders’ 30 yardline, the offense has 3 downs to make a first down.  That simulates the “normal” course of the game where the fourth down would be a punt or a field goal try most of the time.  If they do not make a first down on those three plays, the ball goes over.
  • Whenever any set of downs begins at or inside the 30 yardline, the offense has 4 downs to make a first down.
  • If the defense holds, the ball goes over.
  • If the offense scores a TD, they MUST attempt a 2-point conversion.  If the defense runs back the 2-point conversion try for a TD the other way, the defense scores 2 points for its side.
  • Then the home team gets the ball at the 50 yardline and proceeds with its attempt to score a TD followed by a mandatory 2-point conversion.
  • At the end of a pair of possessions – one for each team – you examine the score.  Either there is a winner and the game is over, or the score is still tied, and the teams begin a second pair of possessions – this time at their own 40 yardline.
  • Any future pairs of possessions beyond the second set will also begin at the same 40 yardline.

I concede from the outset that removing the kicking from the game – particularly because the game is called “football” – violates my ideal condition of just playing the game in OT the same way you played the game in the first quarter.  However, in my defense, the current OT rule dramatically changes the strategy of NFL overtime games:

  • If the team with the first possession kicks a field goal and then kicks off to the other team and the kickoff goes out of the end-zone, the trailing team gets the ball at the 25 yardline.
  • If on that first series of downs, the trailing team faces a 4th and 16 situation at their own 19 yardline, they are going to go for it.  Punting the ball would concede defeat. However, “going for it” would never happen in the first quarter of an NFL game.
  • Elimination of kickoffs in my suggested OT Rule nods in the direction of “player safety” in the sense that kickoffs produce more injuries than “normal” football plays – or so the NFL folks would have us believe.

I do not expect a call from the Commish thanking me for resolving this issue for the league nor do I expect to become a consultant to the Competition Committee.  All I tried to do here is to come up with a relatively detailed description of how to conduct an overtime game keeping as close as possible to the normal rules, making sure that both teams get the ball, and trying to avoid playing another quarter or half or more of normal football.

Finally, the furor over the completely botched call by the officials in the Rams/Saints game last weekend seems to have died down to the level of an uproar.  Brad Dickson had this Tweet that starts to put that disaster into perspective:

“The Oscar nominations are out. Best Actor nominees include the refs in the NFC and AFC Championship games for acting like they know what they’re doing.”

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

 

 

Nothing About The NFL Today …

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome four new members next summer.  Well-deserved congratulations go to:

  • Roy Halladay
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Mike Mussina
  • Mariano Rivera

I have no objections whatsoever to any of these four honorees; I have been an Edgar Martinez advocate for most of the last decade.  Over and above that, I think the voters – members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) – demonstrated a shift in thinking here when it comes to evaluating Hall of Fame nominees.  If I am correct in thinking that a change is coming, I approve of that change.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, players who spent the entirety of their careers as relief pitchers had a difficult time getting the necessary votes for Hall of Fame induction.  Back then, a player like Edgar Martinez who spent 11 of his 18 years in MLB as a designated hitter would not have gotten into the Hall.

Let me be clear:

  • I do not like the DH rule; were it my decision alone, I would remove it from baseball in a nanosecond.
  • Nonetheless, there are players in MLB who are playing by the rules and playing as designated hitters and some of them are doing it so well that they belong in the Hall of Fame.
  • I hope the BBWAA takes this vote as “precedent” and continues to recognize the truly top-shelf players who are DHs.  [Hint: David Ortiz will be eligible in a few years…]

I am also glad to see that someone finally got a unanimous vote to get into the Hall of Fame.  Putting the nonsensical “maintenance of tradition” by having someone vote against a player obviously worthy of induction is a tradition best consigned to history’s trashbin.

In other baseball news unrelated to games on the field, Marty Brennaman said that he will retire as the Cincy Reds’ play-by-play announcer at the end of the 2019 season.  Brennaman is already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and in the Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame; he has been the voice of Reds’ baseball since 1974.  I had to travel to the Cincy area more than a couple of times in the late 1970s and I would tune in to hear Reds’ games when I was there.  Marty Brennaman was excellent behind the mic then, and by all reports, he got even better as the years went by.

            Bonne chance, Marty Brennaman…

[Aside:  When Brennaman took over the Reds’ play-by-play duties, he replaced a guy you may have heard of – – Al Michaels.]

Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald last week; it tells me all I want to know about this subject:

“Manny Pacquiao won his first match since turning 40 Saturday night in Las Vegas, beating Adrien Broner unanimously, and now is seeking a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Fight fans around the world responded by saying, ‘NOOOOO!’”

Regular readers here know that I like to have fun with players’ names.  As I have begun to watch more college basketball games now that the conference schedules have kicked in, I have run across a few interesting ones:

  • Tacko Fall (UCF):  He is 7’6” tall; he has a long way to fall…
  • Luke Major (Oklahoma St.):  If he went to UTEP, Major would be a Miner.
  • Remy Martin (Arizona St.):  Clearly a top-shelf player.
  • Unique McLean (UMass):  What would they call his clone?
  • Immanuel Quickley (Kentucky):  His mom was in labor for only 15 minutes?
  • Fatts Russell (Rhode Island):  No Jenny Craig endorsement opportunities here.
  • Admiral Schofield (Tennessee):  Why is he not playing for Navy?

Soon after UCLA fired coach Steve Alford, Bill Walton opined that Alford’s replacement should be – hold your breath here – Barack Obama.  Someone must have felt compelled to find a logical basis for that opinion and pointed out that President Obama’s brother-in-law was the coach at Oregon St. and is now with the Knicks in the NBA.  While that is 100% accurate, it is also irrelevant; that sort of logic would lead one to conclude that Yoko Ono was a Beatle.  She was not.

Bill Walton is a colorful and likeable character who frequently says things that are noteworthy because they are just a tad off-center.  I suspect that Brad Rock of the Deseret News also sees Walton as a source of interesting commentary as shown by these two entries in Professor Rock’s column:

“Bill Walton claims the obvious replacement for Steve Alford at UCLA should be Barack Obama.

What, Gene Hackman was busy?”

And …

“During the ESPN broadcast of the Maui Classic, Bill Walton delivered a classic of his own.

‘When everybody thinks alike,’ he said, ‘nobody thinks.’

“Good point but isn’t thinking alike the same as ‘being on the same page?’”

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

 

 

Take A Deep Breath …

I am almost to the point where I think the average NFL fan needs to take up Zen Buddhism and engage in meditation to clear his/her mind.  The outrage over the two Conference Championship games in Sunday does not seem to have diminished much let alone have gone away and we are 36 hours removed from the causes of that outrage.  In yesterday’s rant, I said that “solutions” to the problems that seemingly caused the two Sunday games to be controversial needed to be done calmly and rationally at some point in the future.  Here is what I said then:

“What happened yesterday [Sunday] is almost certain to result in a rule change.  I do not know what that change will be – – but the Competition Committee needs to tread carefully.  Normally, the committee meets in late March; that is a good thing; if the committee meeting were this Thursday, the chances for a wild over-reaction would be at least 80%.  The NFL and the fans all need some time to decompress here.”

Today, in the Washington Post, columnist Jerry Brewer is on the same track.  Here is a link to his column; I recommend that you read it in its entirety.  The headline for the column is an “inconvenient truth” [/Al Gore] many NFL fans do not want to confront today:

“The blown call in Saints-Rams reminded us sports are messy.  More replay won’t fix that.”

Let me go over a couple of things that have happened since the “call that was never made” last Sunday:

  1. There have been calls for the two officials whose responsibility was to monitor that side of the field on that play to be fired.  Everyone can agree they were abjectly wrong in their decision not to throw a penalty flag on the play.  However, if every official were held to the standard that they must never miss what turns out to be an obvious call, there would be precious few officials left on the NFL payroll.  Moreover, like it or not, without those officials out there doing their jobs imperfectly for the first 58 minutes of the game, there would not have been those first 58 minutes leading up to this “critical moment”.
  2. Peter King reported that he has heard that Alberto Riveron – the head of NFL officiating – may not survive this “crisis”.  You are drawing a long bow indeed if you are trying to assign blame to Riveron for what happened on Sunday.
  3. Darren Rovell reported that folks who bet on the game and lost “because of the non-call” are contemplating a class action lawsuit.  I am no legal scholar; I never spent a day of my life in law school; nonetheless, I have a gut feeling that their claims for damages here are not firmly rooted in reality.

Not surprisingly, the Saints’ owner, Gayle Benson, is unhappy with the results from Sunday.  She issued a blistering statement on Monday directed at the league itself.  Here is part of her statement:

“I have been in touch with the NFL regarding yesterday’s events and will aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.  It is a disservice to our coaches, players, employees and, most importantly, the fans who make our game possible.”

I sincerely hope that venting made Ms. Benson feel better.  Even more sincerely, I hope she will come to recognize that the unspecified changes she wants the NFL to pursue aggressively do not exist.  Nothing will “ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.”  The egregiously incorrect happening last Sunday was the result of human error.  So long as humans are involved in the game and in officiating the game, there is no way to eradicate human error.

  • [Aside:  In the aftermath of NFL officials’ blunders, one of the old chestnuts that is normally dragged into the town square and held up as a way to prevent such blunders is the call for “full-time officials”.  Please do not call for that as a result of what happened on Sunday; “full-time officials” can make mistakes in the heat of a game just as can “part-time officials”.]

Let me be clear.  I am NOT saying that the NFL is perfect the way it is and that nothing can be done here to mitigate future problems of this type.  There will be lots of things for the Competition Committee to think about and to wrestle with.  And I hope that they do come up with recommended changes that reduce the risk of something like this happening again.  However, those deliberations and recommendations need to be made in a circumstance where the adrenaline levels in the bloodstreams of the committee members is minimized.  I do not think I am on thin ice to suggest that we are not yet to the stage where our collective adrenal glands have gone quiescent.

This collective national outrage over officiating mistakes is not new; this has happened before and will happen again.  Ten years ago, Ed Hochuli made a huge error with less than two minutes left in a game between the Chargers and the Broncos.  Like what happened two days ago, it had a serious and material effect on the outcome of the game.  Hochuli issued a public apology saying that he “failed miserably” in that action.  For that apology, he was rewarded with death threats from fans.  Really…  It happened before and it is going to happen again.  The inevitability of these recurring mistakes is concisely summarized by a definition in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Baggage Carousel:  A whirring contraption on which you keep seeing the same suitcase, which looks like yours but is actually someone else’s, go by thirty times and yet every single time it comes around again, you still think it’s yours for a second or two.  This is a phenomenon brought about by the insane hope that the airline has not lost your luggage.”

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

 

 

Rams Vs. Pats Two Weeks From Now…

Well, the Super Bowl teams are set.  The two Championship Weekend games taken as a pair were as exciting as they have ever been; both games went to OT and the way the two overtimes unfolded could not have been more different.  Notwithstanding the nail-biting nature of the games, there is a cloud that hangs over all of this.  There is an inescapable horror here:

  • A completely botched call by the officials in the Saints/Rams game most likely determined the outcome of the game.

I am not going to bang on the officials for that horrendous call; it was an example of human error and until all the officials are replaced by AI robots, we will have to accept the fact of human error.  Having said that, my experiences as an official in my younger days remind me that THE worst thing that can happen to an official is to realize he has blown a call and that blown call determined the outcome of the game.  There must be several members of that officiating crew who are not happy with themselves this morning.

There is a bigger problem here than the mistake that was made and the bad feelings of some of the officials from yesterday.  The problem is this:

  • Instant replay was added to the game of NFL football to make sure that egregious errors such as the one from yesterday did not stand.  Instant replay was NOT introduced to look at a million slow-motion replays to determine if the “ball moved” in the process of completing the act of catching a pass.
  • The problem here is not instant replay or the technology; the problem here is the rule written by the Competition Committee to govern the “intrusion” of instant replay onto the game.  Since this was a penalty call – or non-call – and was a matter of judgment, there is no provision whereby someone or something sounds an alarm and tells the officials on the field that they have just screwed the pooch – to steal a line from The Right Stuff.
  • And, when the Competition Committee meets this Spring to consider rule changes/tweaks and finds this situation on its agenda, they must be very judicious to avoid over-reaction to yesterday’s horror show.  The games would be made into travesties if every pass play had to be scrutinized for the presence of pass interference (offensive or defensive and called or not-called).

What happened yesterday is almost certain to result in a rule change.  I do not know what that change will be – – but the Competition Committee needs to tread carefully.  Normally, the committee meets in late March; that is a good thing; if the committee meeting were this Thursday, the chances for a wild over-reaction would be at least 80%.  The NFL and the fans all need some time to decompress here.

I said that the two overtimes unfolded differently yesterday.  The Saints won the toss for OT and took the ball.  The Rams’ defense intercepted a pass and set up a long field goal for the winning score.  In the other game, the Pats won the toss and took the ball.  They then proceeded to take the ball down the field converting three third-down situations along the way to score a TD and win the game without giving Patrick Mahomes a chance to step onto the field.  The fundamental difference exhibited here demonstrates the underpinning of the NFL’s OT rule.  People on sports radio late last night were arguing that the rule is unfair because the Chiefs never got the ball in OT.  While I do not think the OT rule is perfect by any means – and it is not the one I would write if I were Dictator of the Universe – those complaints are nonsense.  There are 3 reasons why the Chiefs did not get a chance to put their offensive unit on the field:

  1. The Chiefs’ defense did not create a turnover.
  2. The Chiefs’ defense did not force a punt.
  3. The Chiefs’ defense did not hold the Pats to a field goal.

From those 3 reasons please note 2 important things:

  1. It was the Chiefs’ defense – part of the Chiefs’ team to be sure – that did not perform in a way such as to get the offense off the bench and into the game.
  2. Defense is part of the game of football.

The fact here is that the Chiefs lost the game because the Chiefs’ defense was not up to the task of doing what defenses are designed to do at the most crucial time in the game.  This is not a “rules problem”; this is a “performance problem”.

With the opponents for the Super Bowl now set, we will enter into two weeks of hyper-frenetic bloviating about the upcoming game.  We have a bunch of story lines:

  • The “old QB” – arguably the GOAT – taking on the “upstart/young buck QB”.
  • The QB taken as the #1 pick in the draft against the QB taken as the 199th pick in the draft.
  • The sure-to-be Hall of Fame coach versus the wunderkind coach.
  • Brandin Cooks with the Pats in the Super Bowl last year and with the Rams in the Super Bowl this year.
  • Where was Todd Gurley for most of the NFC Championship Game?  Is he hurt?

I will try to refrain from engaging in any of those sorts of discussions over the next two weeks and I most certainly will not pay even a shred of attention to the Pro Bowl Game next weekend.  My focus on the upcoming Super Bowl will have to do with four things:

  1. How do the teams match up on the field?
  2. Are there any interesting/curious trends related to the game?
  3. Are there any interesting prop bets for the game?
  4. Am I still invited to the traditional Super Bowl party thrown by the person who arranges the logistics for our annual Las Vegas excursion?

Finally, Brad Dickson Tweeted out this great idea:

My idea: show war criminals episodes of “The Masked Singer” in lieu of waterboarding.

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/18/19

For those of you who have not yet encountered the latitude offered by retirement, let me say that Friday has arrived, and you can now – hopefully – forget and ignore all the nonsense you put up with all week long.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, today is merely the penultimate Football Friday.   There really is nothing to merit comment regarding college football over the past week; so, let me dive directly into pro ranks.

NFL Commentary:

Here is a manifestation of how dominant the NFL is with regard to our football focus here in the US:

  • Three weeks from now, a new football league – the AAF – will take the stage.  The AAF has a national TV contract and 8 teams in training camp preparing for the first weekend of games on Feb 9 and Feb 10.
  • When I look at the national sports websites, there is not a mention of the AAF.  There is news; the local media in the cities with teams are covering that news – to varying degrees – but there is no overall buzz around this new sporting enterprise.
  • So long as the NFL has playoff games and then enters its two-week media saturation leading up to the Super Bowl, the AAF is an afterthought.  Perhaps, next season, they might want to move their starting date deeper into February to get some attention to their league before starting their regular season.
  • Just a thought…

The Steelers fired their running backs coach, James Saxon.  To set the record straight here, I do not know James Saxon from a saxophone but here is what I know:

  • The Steelers played the 2018 season without LeVeon Bell at running back and it is highly unlikely that James Saxon played much of a role in the contract impasse that made Bell’s absence a reality.
  • In Bell’s absence, James Connor assumed the lead back role and played 13 games.  In those games, Connor ran for 975 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and 12 TDs.  Connor also helped in the passing game adding 497 yards receiving (9 yards per catch).
  • So, how is it that the running backs coach was found to be lacking to a degree sufficient that the Steelers let him go?

While I am on the vector heading of player performance and coaching overlap with that performance, maybe someone can offer an explanation for this – other than a different coaching capability or utilization:

  • How come Eli Apple was a bust with the Giants – and a “problem” in the locker room reportedly – but quickly emerged as a better than average cornerback once he was shipped off to the Saints?

All four teams that had BYE weeks two weeks ago won their games last week.  That week of rest and rehabilitation is a big deal.  Since 2011, those teams with the BYE week are 25-7 straight up in the divisional round.

One other “trendy” item from last week is that the higher scoring team for the season on average won every game.  In fact, the NFL’s “Final Four” this year is composed of the 4 highest scoring teams over the course of the regular season:

  1. Chiefs scored 565 points
  2. Rams scored 527 points
  3. Saints scored 504 points
  4. Pats scored 436 points

Remember, defense wins championships…

And … congratulations to the KC Chiefs.  With their win last week over the Colts, the Chiefs snapped the NFL’s longest home playoff losing streak ever – – 6 games.  The last time the Chiefs won a playoff game in Arrowhead Stadium was in 1993 and their QB on that day was Joe Montana.

I believe the Eagles/Saints game last week turned on the fake punt that resulted in a Saints’ first down in the second quarter.  Up to that point, the Eagles had the momentum; after that play, the momentum was balanced and turned slowly in favor of the Saints for most of the rest of the game.  I really thought that Nick Foles was going to lead the Eagles to another magical win in the final two minutes.  If you had told me that the Saints would be the winner on a turnover, the last Eagles’ player that I would have thought to be involved would have been Alshon Jeffrey.  But that is how it all went down…  Saints survive and advance.

Patrick Mahomes started one game for the Chiefs last year; the 2018 season is the moral equivalent of his rookie year as a starting QB.  Yes, the rules of the NFL have changed to favor passing offenses; nonetheless, his stats of 50 TD passes and 5000+ yards passing in his “rookie season” is amazing.  The only other two QBs in NFL history to reach those two milestones in a single season are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  Neither Brady nor Manning is in the Hall of Fame just yet, but can there be any doubt they will be there when they are eligible for induction?

Having offered what I think is well-deserved praise for Patrick Mahomes, I have a question arising from last week’s Colts/Chiefs game:

  • Who were those guys playing defense for the Chiefs and where were they all season long?

The Colts led the NFL in converting third-down situations for the regular season; they converted 49% of the time.  Last week, the Chiefs defense did not allow a third-down conversion; the Colts went 0 for 9 in that circumstance.  Even more importantly, the Chiefs’ defense forced four consecutive three-and-outs on the Colts’ first four possessions of the game.

The Rams/Cowboys game turned on a complete reversal of form for the two teams.  The Rams’ run defense was the worst in the NFL in the regular season in terms of yards allowed per run play.  Last week, they stuffed Ezekiel Elliott holding him to 47 yards for the game and rendering him a non-factor for the Cowboys’ offense.

  • [Aside:  When the Rams stuffed Elliott on 4th and short in the 4th quarter to ice the game, I was glad to see that the Rams’ defenders did not get themselves a taunting penalty for showing Elliott his “feed me more” gesture.  I half expected that gesture to be prominently on display at that point.]

Meanwhile, the Rams – known for their high-powered pass attack ran the ball down the Cowboys’ throats all game long.  The Rams had 2 RBs each gain over 100 yards in the game – remember that Elliott had 47 yards in the game.  The Rams gained 5.7 yards per rush attempt against a Cowboys’ defense that many folks thought was a dominant unit.

The first half of the Pats/Chargers game was an organized butt-stomping.  The Pats’ defense had not been the best part of the team all season long, but in the first half of that game they looked as if they could have carried the team to the playoffs no matter what else had happened to the team.  Regarding the Pats’ team, there has been a lot of talk/speculation that his might be the end of Gronk’s career.  He was not targeted even one time in the first half, so you might conclude that his ability to get open has diminished.  However, when I watched replays, I saw Gronk blocking from his TE position as if he were an additional offensive lineman on the field.  I have no insight into his injury status or his individual career plans, but the way he blocked in the game against the Chargers makes me think he still has NFL caliber skills.

The Chargers’ cornerback and punt returner, Desmond King, had a particularly bad time of it in the first half of the game.  King gave up a TD pass on a blown coverage; he was called for a holding penalty on a third-and-long play that would have gotten the Chargers’ defense off the field; he fumbled away a punt.  If you had not seen the Chargers play before that game, you might have concluded that King is a stumblebum – – and you would have been dead wrong.  Desmond King was named to the Pro Bowl this year; he just had a disastrously bad half of football in a nationally televised game.

NFL Games:

Before I get to the games themselves, the Pats are underdogs this week.  The last time the Pats were an underdog was – according to a friend who keeps a database on this sort of thing – on September 20, 2015 when the Pats were 2-point underdogs on the road against the Bills.  [Aside: The Pats won that game straight up.]

That same friend did some “data mining” on pro-football-reference.com and provided me with this fact:

  • The last time the Pats won a road playoff game was in 2006.  That sounds dire – – until you realize that the Pats have been playing most of their playoff games in Foxboro for most of the time in the intervening years.

(Sun. 3:05 PM EST) Rams at New Orleans – 3.5 (56.5):  Drew Brees is 6-0 in playoff games in the Superdome.  That fact also came to me from my “data miner” although that is not something so obscure that I could not have found it myself.  When these teams met in the regular season (in November) the score was 45-35; the two defensive units seemingly took the day off and the two offenses ran up a total of 970 yards in the game.  I expect both defensive units to play better in this game – although I have concerns about the Saints’ run defense given the Achilles’ tendon injury to Sheldon Rankins last week.  Here are two important factors in my pick for the game:

  1. Jared Goff – despite his obvious skills – has very good games and not-so-good games.  This year, he has had a game where he threw 5 TDs; this year, he also had a game where he threw 4 INTs.  It is almost as if his performance and stats can be “bipolar”.  If there is a pattern that predicts which type of game he is about to have, I have not been able to discern it.
  2. The Rams ran the ball well last week – and if they can do that again here, they will likely win the game.  However, the Rams stopped the Cowboys running game by focusing their front seven on the run almost to the exclusion of anything else except for obvious passing downs.  They dared Dak Prescott to beat them and he could not.  If the Rams try something like that against the Saints, Drew Brees is perfectly capable of taking control of the game and winning it for the Saints.

I like the Saints to win and cover here.  I also like the game to go OVER.

Two trends support the game going OVER:

  • Saints are 10-4-1 to go OVER in their last 15 playoff games.
  • Saints/Rams games are 9-4 to go OVER in the last 13 head-to head matchups.

If you are convinced that the Rams will win the game straight up, you can get odds of +145 on the Money Line this morning but there is another way to play that.  If the Rams indeed win here, they will be in the Super Bowl and you can get a futures prop bet on the Rams to “win it all” at odds of 18-5.  If the Rams indeed win here, the odds on them winning the Super bBowl will drop dramatically about 2 minutes after this week’s game is over.  So, if you are a Rams’ believer…

(Sun 6:40 PM EST) New England at KC – 3 (55.5):  Let me offer up a few more stats/trends that relate to this game:

  • Tom Brady has been the starting QB in 28 playoff games that the Pats have won.  Not surprisingly, that is an NFL record…
  • Since Andy Reid came to KC, the Chiefs are 2-1 against the Pats.  None of those three previous meetings were playoff games.
  • Andy Reid’s Chiefs lost to the Pats earlier this season in Foxboro 43-30 in mid-October.  The Chiefs were undefeated going into that game.
  • Andy Reid and Bill Belichick have coached against one another 8 times.  In 7 of those 8 games, the game went OVER.  (Thanks again to my data-mining friend.)

Both teams played very well last week – particularly on the defensive side of the ball; the Pats held the Chargers to 19 yards rushing on 10 attempts.  Yes, the Pats took a dominant early lead and made the Chargers have to throw the ball, but when they tried to run, they had no success.  I do not expect either defense to shut down the opposing offense here.  If that is going to happen it will be at the behest of Mother Nature and not anyone’s defensive schemes.  Having said that, I believe that the defense that plays better will be the one on the winning team.  On the assumption that the weather will be tolerable (high-20s) and that the wind will not be of the gale force variety (as per weather.com), I like this game to go OVER.  With less conviction, I like the Pats plus the points here too – – to some extent because it is such a novelty wager.

Here are a two opposing trends related to this game:

  • Chiefs are 2-9 against the spread in their last 11 playoff games.
  • Chiefs are 13-5 against the spread in their last 18 games against AFC opponents.

Finally, as you watch the games this weekend and listen to the commentary by the announcers, keep this observation in mind from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Sarcasm ahead: How did TV audiences ever comprehend that a football team was closing in on the goal line in the days before announcers began caterwauling about the red zone?”

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

 

 

Incredible Stuff This Morning…

A former colleague and reader of these rants often chastises me for my lack of commentary on tennis.  Well, today tennis is at the top of the list for comment because of an incredible report by the Associated Press in Paris.  Police in Europe have arrested several players and are investigating others related to match fixing on a grand scale.  The players involved are not ones that casual fans would ever hear of and the tournaments where matches were allegedly fixed were not ones that would ever make the sports pages here in the US.  Nonetheless, the AP report says there is a syndicate in Europe which is “suspected of fixing hundreds of matches and paying off more than 100 players from around Europe”.

Some of the minor tournaments offered prize money of $15,000; some of the players received payoffs as low as 500 euros from the gambling syndicate.  None of the activities described by the AP report involved tennis players I have ever heard of.  Of the players identified in the report, the highest world ranking achieved was 354thHere is a link to the AP report for all the details.

I am surprised by two things in this story:

  1. I am surprised that there is a marketplace for betting on tennis tournaments where the total prize money is $15,000.  The story says that the syndicate would place lots of small wagers all around Europe on these matches.  I take that to mean that an oddsmaker in Slovenia would take bets on a minor tennis tournament in France.  Really?
  2. I am surprised by the economics here.  The story said that some players got as much as 3000 euros to fix a match.  Assuming a “small wager” that would not draw any attention would net 100 euros, that means there would have to be 30 such bets placed in a variety of venues just to break even.  And there must be some cost involved to pay the folks who place those bets in all those scattered locales.

John Engler is the former Governor of Michigan and he has been serving for the past year or so as the Interim President of Michigan State University.  He came to hold that position after the Larry Nassar scandal roiled the university community and resulted in the ouster of the University President at that time.  Given the repugnance everyone felt about what Dr. Nassar did to those young women athletes and the cover/protection he was provided over the years, Engler’s time at the university was guaranteed to be tumultuous under the best of circumstances.  Without going into a chronology here, let me just say that his tenure there did not come close to enjoying “the best of circumstances”.

John Engler is a former politician.  While that label carries with it more than a few pejorative characteristics, it also would indicate to me that he is sensitive to words and phrases that might be inflammatory.  My guess would have been that he would pick and choose his public comments carefully in order to bring some sense of healing and normalcy back to the university community.  Well, that hypothesis went off the rails…

John Engler chose to sit down and talk with the editorial board of the Detroit News.  Politicians do this all the time; normally, the most scathing criticism they would face after such a meeting is that the politician and the editorial board have polar opposite opinions on how to resolve some public issue.  Not this time…  Engler told the editorial board that some of Dr. Nassar’s victims were “enjoying the spotlight” and that it was his job to have the university “get back to work”.

  • Igor Stravinsky was not that tone deaf!

John Engler has resigned as the Interim President of Michigan State University.  And that act has opened the door for hyperbole and silly statements from Engler’s critics/opponents.  Here is one of those comments:

“John Engler’s reign of terror is over.  Michigan State University will be returned to its people.”

Really?  Reign of terror?

Here is a link to a story in the Detroit Free Press that summarizes the current situation and presents some of the highlights/lowlights of the past year or so that John Engler has been the Interim President at Michigan State.  I believe it was during the latter days of the Nixon Administration that the phrase “mistakes were made” entered the colloquial language.  To say that “mistakes were made” by Engler and by others at Michigan State would be about as polite a description as I would be willing to offer.

Danny Boy Snyder and Team President and plenipotentiary, Bruce Allen, have unloaded a narrative on Skins’ fans this morning.  Over the past several weeks, there have been reports by several outlets that the team had interviewed the likes of

  • Gregg Williams
  • Steve Wilks
  • Todd Bowles
  • Joe Woods

All four of these men are out of work and all of them are seeking defensive coordinator positions.  The Skins had a defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, under contract and on the staff while all of that was going on and all four of those guys left the interview here and kept on looking for jobs elsewhere.  Here is the narrative that Danny Boy and A-hole Allen are trying to perpetrate today:

  • Greg Manusky was their guy all along.  They were only talking with these other 4 potential defensive coordinators as “consultants”; they were interviewed to give the Skins an outside perspective on their defensive personnel and their defensive strategies.

Recall that the Skins released DJ Swearinger after Swearinger called out Manusky by name for what Swearinger called kindergarten mistakes in defensive play calling.  [Aside:  I have no idea if Swearinger is right or not but that it what he said.]  Add to that incident that the Skins’ defense started the season strong and ended the year in tatters – – but not from any injuries to any of the key players.

Now, it is obvious to me that if the narrative were even remotely true, there would be evidence that Greg Manusky sat in on all those interviews/consultant meetings because if he is the strategist for the defense, it would be helpful for him to hear from some of his peers in such a setting.  There is exactly no reporting that Manusky did anything like that.

Here is what probably happened:

  • Allen and Snyder wanted to make a change so that they could appear to be doing something positive to improve the on-field product.
  • The head coach is the de facto offensive coordinator and he is staying on; the special teams coordinator is already gone, and the team has not milked that situation for any positive spin.  So, the next thing to look at is a change in defensive coordinator.
  • Four guys came in; they looked at the situation; they asked around the league among their networks to find out what the management deal in Washington is all about.  Then, all four of them said the equivalent of “I’ll be right back,” and scurried off to find positions elsewhere.
  • And now we learn that Greg Manusky was “the Skins’ guy” all along.
  • I suspect that Greg Manusky was as surprised to hear that this morning as anyone else.

Finally, since I mentioned John Engler and his life as a politician above, consider this comment from Brad Dickson related to politicians:

“Being a mall Santa is very similar to being a politician. You get to make a lot of hollow promises that never happen and nobody holds you accountable.”

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

 

 

Sprucing Up…

Today is the day for me to spruce up my clipboard and get a bunch of “small stuff” off of there.  I’ll start with what I think is a somber note.

Bob Costas is leaving NBC after 40 years with the network.  Over the past year or so, his on-air assignments at NBC had been reduced significantly.  During his 40-year tenure at NBC, Costas had been a mainstay in their coverage of MLB, the NFL, college basketball, the Olympics – you get the idea.  He was not assigned to be the anchor for the Winter Games in Korea last year and he was not involved in the post-game commentary for Sunday Night Football in the season that just ended for NBC.  I have exactly no inside information here, but it surely appears to me from afar that this parting of the ways is less than fully amicable.  Would that it were not so…

Bob Costas was and remains an outstanding broadcaster at the game and in the studio.  According to reports, he will continue to do MLB games on MLB Network – and I hope those reports are correct.  Bob Costas teamed with John Smoltz in the booth for a baseball game is an enjoyable experience.

Bonne chance, Bob Costas…

There is a lot of sturm und drang out there today regarding the optimal choice for Kyler Murray’s athletic future.  Should he stick with baseball where he is drafted and signed to a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s that is reportedly worth $5M?  Or, should he parlay his Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma into a career in the NFL?  This topic is pure gold for sports radio and for the “debate shows” on networks like ESPN and/or FS1; the capacity for emoting on the air is most generous.  I will try to “weigh in” here in a more measured way:

  • Yes, Kyler Murray is shorter than the “prototype NFL QB”; he is listed at 5” 11” and 194 lbs.  And my reaction to that is,” So what?”  Consider that Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Michael Vick are all “short guys” while Brock Osweiler is 6’ 8” and Blake Bortles is 6’ 5”.  Size does not matter here – – so long as the other skills are present.  Would anyone prefer Osweiler or Bortles over any of the “short guys” here?
  • The only reason this is even an interesting topic for discussion is that Murray is a QB that could be taken early in the first round of the NFL Draft.  If he were a cornerback or an offensive tackle, there is no discussion.  If he were a QB who looked to be drafted in the 5th round as a developmental project, there is no discussion.
  • The economic issue here is simple.  MLB players – on average – have much longer careers than do NFL players.  However, it might take a baseball players 3-5 years riding buses in the Eastern League to make it to the major leagues where the real earning power begins.  For an NFL QB taken early in the draft, the near-term money is much greater.  Consider Carson Wentz’ contract with the Eagles.  His signing bonus was $17.6M; the total value in the first 4 years is $26.7M; there is a 5th year option held by the Eagles that would pay Wentz north of $20M in his 5th season.

Kyler Murray needs an agent who has the contacts in the NFL to get a realistic assessment of where Murray will be taken in the April draft if he stays in that draft.  If he is a Top 5 or even a Top 15 pick, I think he should play football.  If he is going to be a 3rd round pick, he should bank his $5M from the Oakland A’s and work on his baseball skills.  I don’t think there is a lot to emote about here.

In social news related to the sports world, reports say that Tim Tebow is engaged to the woman who won the Miss Universe pageant in 2017.  If a date has been set, I have not seen it.  However, I do think that the engagement itself is a milestone:

  • Tim Tebow actually completed a pass here.

Do you realize that the NBA regular season is half-over?  The league has staged about 750 games this year; how many did you really care about enough to make them “appointment viewing”?  Forget that criterion, how many did you really care about?  Sometime in early March, the NBA will become interesting as teams bunched around the cut line for the playoffs take every game seriously trying to get into the playoffs while teams comfortably there, jockey for seeding in the playoffs.  Until then … carry on.

There are some interesting things to see in the NBA standings – not interesting enough to get me to follow things closely, mind you – but interesting.  Some teams this year have taken “home court advantage” very seriously:

  • Sixers are 19-4 at home and only 10-12 on the road.
  • Celtics are 15-5 at home and only 10-13 on the road.
  • Hornets are 14-8 at home and only 6-15 on the road.
  • Wizards are 13-8 at home and only 5-18 on the road.
  • Nuggets are 18-4 at home and only 11-10 on the road.
  • Thunder are `14-6 at home and only 12-11 on the road.
  • Blazers are 18-7 at home and only 8-12 on the road.
  • Spurs are 18-6 at home and only 7-14 on the road.
  • T-Wolves are 15-7 at home and only 6-16 on the road.
  • Pelicans are 15-6 at home and 6-17 on the road.
  • Mavs are 16-5 at home and 4-18 on the road.

There you have 11 teams – – 37% of the league – – with highly unbalanced home and away records.  Considering that, there is one team that has a slightly better road record than a home record as of this morning.  You will probably not be gobsmacked to learn that team is the New York Knickerbockers.  They are 4-14 at home and 6-19 on the road.  The Knicks stink no matter where they play – – but they are slightly more odiferous in Madison Square Garden.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times about another wedding proposal related to the sports world:

“A man proposed to his girlfriend when she hit the 16-mile mark while running her first New York City Marathon.

“He would’ve done it at 15, but he wanted her to go the extra mile.”

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

 

 

Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You

Over the last month or so, there were a couple of “incidents” at NFL venues where fans of the home team decided that the home team needed “vociferous negative feedback” regarding their performance on the field.  The level of the fans’ vocal displeasure offended some of the home team players to the point that they lashed out at those fans in their home stadium.

  • DJ Swearinger – with the Skins at the time of these comments – said that local fans who sold their tickets to fans of the opposing team were not worthy to be called Skins’ fans and should not buy season tickets.  [Aside: With game attendance cratering in DC, I am sure the folks in the Skins’ business office were thrilled to hear him say that.]
  • Josh Norman of the Skins said something to the effect that he preferred to play away games because when he is on the visiting team, he expects to be booed.  He stopped short of any expletives to describe the home fans, but he was clearly angry and chastising the home fans.  [Aside:  Imagine how happy he might be if Skins’ fans started referring to FedEx Field as FedUp Field.]
  • In the Ravens/Chargers playoff game in Baltimore, the home fans were vociferously unhappy with Lamar Jackson and his performance for the first 45 minutes of the game and were upset when he – and not Joe Flacco – took the field early in the 4th quarter.  After the game, Ravens OT, Ronnie Stanley, said that as athletes they expect support from their fans all the time.

These sorts of comments and reactions from players have to considered in the moment and not as dogma.  Players need to be emotionally committed to play NFL football; if they are not focused on the game and their preparations for the game, they are not going to last long in the league.  In the context of that emotional bubble they exist in, home fans booing them is a form of cognitive dissonance.  When players react emotionally – and negatively – to such a situation, we need to avoid an equally emotional response to their anger/frustration/whatever.

Having said that, once the adrenaline has subsided and everyone can take a calmer look at the concept of “fan behavior”, I think there are a few guideposts in the landscape that need to be recognized:

  1. Any actions or verbiage by fans that are obscene or racially offensive should never be tolerated.  Those fans should be discovered – with the assistance of real fans – and removed from the premises.  Players, coaches and officials need not hear from or observe those people.
  2. Any actions by fans that presents a danger to a game participant – throwing a rock or a beer bottle – is totally unacceptable and must be called out.

With those sorts of limitations, players need to be very cautions about criticizing fans behavior(s).  The fact of the matter is that NFL players are partners with NFL owners in an enterprise that generates close to $20B in revenue annually.  All that money comes from the fans in terms of their TV viewing leading to ad revenue to ticket sales to jersey sales to …  It does not make a lot of sense to assault, insult or dismiss the source of all that revenue that winds up in the players’ and the owners’ pockets.

The next time you hear about a player going off on this vector heading, resist and rebut any argument that defends the fans’ First Amendment rights to say what the want.  This is NOT a First Amendment issue; the government is not restricting any rights of expression here.  What the player is doing in these sorts of cases is berating the people who are providing him the means to earn a living playing football.  Viewed from that perspective, any such commentary outside any moments of adrenaline rush make exactly no sense at all.

Make no mistake, fan commitment to NFL football – as opposed to any individual player(s) or any less-than-successful team(s) – rings the cash register very loudly.  Consider:

  • In 2015, the Super Bowl produced the largest TV audience in history – 114.4 million viewers.
  • In 2016 the Super Bowl had 112.2 million viewers
  • In 2017, the Super Bowl had 111.9 million viewers
  • In 2018, the Super Bowl had 103,4 million viewers

That level of popularity is what allows networks to charge advertisers seemingly outrageous fees to buy ad time for the game.  According to reports, CBS is virtually sold out of its commercial slots for this year’s game and they are charging $5.2M for a single 30-second slot during the game itself.  Projections say that CBS will pull in more than last year’s record haul by NBC for Super Bowl Sunday which was $414M.  Adweek.com says that over the course of the season, network advertising revenue for all NFL games totaled $3.91B – up about 4% from last year.

The networks take in all that money because advertisers know there are people tuned in to see and hear their sales pitches.  And because those advertisers want to make their pitches to those NFL fans, they pay what the networks charge.  And that allows the NFL to negotiate humongous TV rights deals…  If this sounds like “trickle down economics”, that is because it is “trickle down economics”.  Players need to keep this somewhere in their consciousness when they are tempted to lash out at fans who think they ought to be playing better than they are.

Finally, since I mentioned Josh Norman above, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding another of Norman’s pronouncements:

“Cornerback Josh Norman told reporters, ‘you can kiss my ass goodbye; I’m out’ if he ever wins a Super Bowl.

“If Norman stays with Washington, keep this in mind:  George Blanda – who was 48 during the 1975 season – holds the record for the oldest NFL player.”

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

 

 

The Value Of Coaching Stability…

Since most NFL coaching vacancies have been filled, I think it is interesting to observe the situation that exists in the AFC East.  The Patriots hired Bill Belichick in 2000; he has been “the football guy” in New England since then.  After going 5-11 in his first season with the Pats, his teams have never had a losing season – or even one with a .500 record – to this day.  Moreover, the Pats have had double-digit wins in 16 consecutive seasons.  The organization has been a model of consistency and consistent success.

It is interesting to look at the other three teams in the AFC East from 2000 to the present:

  1. Buffalo Bills:  At the end of the 2000 season, Wade Phillips was fired.  Since then, the Bills have had 9 head coaches – including two interim head coaches who took over when the guy in charge was fired before the season ended.  None of those 9 head coaches since Wade Phillips – including the current incumbent – has posted a winning record.  The Bills have had 10 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Bills’ record has been 127-177.
  2. Miami Dolphins:  In 2000, the Dolphins hired Dave Wannstedt as their head coach; he lasted 3.5 seasons in Miami.  Since then, the Dolphins have hired and fired 8 head coaches and they are one of the teams still in search of a new coach as of this morning.  The Dolphins have had – including interim head coaches – 9 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Dolphins record has been 144-160.
  3. New York Jets:  In 2000, the Jets hired Al Groh as their head coach; he lasted 1 season in NYC.  Since then, the Jets have had 4 head coaches – and just hired the guy the Dolphins just fired.  The Jets have had 5 head coaches since Belichick arrived in New England and the Jets record has been 141-163.

The Pats have had one guy in charge for 19 seasons and their record has been 225-79.  The rest of the division has had a total of 24 guys in charge over the last 19 seasons and none of the teams have been able to break even on the field over that period of time.

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com said over the weekend something that I have been preaching for several years now.  He said that NFL GMs on unsuccessful football teams tend to get a pass from the owners for the lack of success while coaches get the axe for on field futility.  You can point to several current examples – Cardinals, Jets, Bucs – but I think the most blatant example is here in Washington where Danny Boy Snyder has run through 8 head coaches over the last 20 years and 2 GMs.  Only one coach in those 2 decades left with a record at .500; that was Marty Schottenheimer who was fired after one season with an 8-8 record; every other coach – including the second coming of Joe Gibbs – left DC with a losing record.

The first Skins GM of this period was Vinnie Cerrato.  Looking back at some of the drafting decisions made in his tenure is comedy gold and he was the architect of some disastrously bad free agent signings too.  He actually had his own radio show on the sports talk station that Snyder owned in this area; he took time to prepare for and do that show while the team was languishing below .500 on the field.  Cerrato lasted about 10 years and was replaced by Bruce Allen who has distinguished himself by continuing the losing record of the team but not making a public spectacle of himself while that is going on.  In fact, he has not spoken to the press in almost 600 days.  D.B. Cooper is easier to find than Bruce Allen.

Here is a link to Jason LaCanfora’s column on CBSSports.com.  I think it is high time we all start to look at the roster-builders for unsuccessful teams when we are handing out blame for why there is a lack of success.

I don’t know what is going on in Pittsburgh, but it would seem as if the Steelers are trying to raise their public profile.  There is an inordinate amount of drama emanating from that franchise – over and above the drama that has seemed to be the norm under Mike Tomlin’s regime there.  I like Mike Tomlin; he seems like an intelligent man who is far more open and revealing than 99% of his peers.  I also think he is a good coach even though his teams are not always the most disciplined squads.  But the last year or so has been over the top there:

  • The LeVeon Bell contract hassle in the offseason was far too public and the questions about when he might or might not return to the team once the season began were far too numerous.
  • Several offensive linemen basically said they did not care if Bell came back to the team or not.  That is atypical for an NFL team…
  • The running back position was cobbled together with James Connor and others when he got hurt.  The running back position may not have been what it might have been with LeVeon Bell there, but it did not embarrass the team.  So, now that the coach-shuffling season is on, the Steelers decided to fire the running backs coach.  Say what?
  • Antonio Brown is a diva; lots of WRs are divas; lots of very good WRs are divas.  But there have been diva WRs who managed to stay short of getting into open arguments with the star QB and – reportedly – throwing a football at him in practice such that the two needed to be “sent to time outs”.  Evidently, the problem is so fundamental here that the Steelers are exploring a trade for Brown even though it will cost them about $20M in dead cap space next year.
  • In order not to take sides in a dispute where I clearly do not know enough to take sides, it seems perfectly clear to me that Ben Roethlisberger is not demonstrating anything related to leadership skills in this mess – and maybe he is part of the unfolding and public drama in Pittsburgh?

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers need to get all of this tied down and under control.  For the last several years, the only team the Steelers had to worry about were the Ravens; the Browns stunk, and the Bengals always invented new ways to inflict wounds upon themselves.  The Ravens are still a worthy rival AND the Browns now have a young core of very talented players.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this comment about the Antonio Brown situation with regard to his teammates in Pittsburgh:

“Steelers’ star receiver Antonio Brown skipped practice and went incommunicado in the days leading up to the team benching him for the season finale.

“Probably not the fade pattern his coaches had in mind.”

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