Johnny “Football” And RG3…

According to a report on this morning, Hue Jackson – the new coach of the Browns – says that the team needs a QB and will consider drafting the right one if he is available. Since the Browns draft at #2 this year, the odds are that a QB will be available to them in the draft so the question is whether or not they think he is “the right one”. Also, that report says that Jackson took the job in Cleveland with the understanding that he would make the decision as to whether or not Johnny Manziel remains on the Browns’ roster. And with that as preamble, let me opine here on the possible futures of two QBs who are likely to be free agents very soon. I speak of Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin III.

There has been plenty of speculation that Cowboys’ owner and GM and master-of-all-things-Cowboys, Jerry Jones, would bring Manziel to Dallas to be Tony Romo’s understudy. Recall that there were myriad stories about how Jones wanted to draft Manziel a couple of years ago but was talked out of that in order to take offensive guard, Zack Martin.

Jones also told in an interview that he feels as if he is lying on his back and looking up and all he sees is ass. He wants to change his viewscape; he wants a completely new look in all his interactions with everyone associated with the team. He said that the Cowboys got “less than they paid for” in 2015 and it cannot be a surprise that he would prefer that not happen again in 2016. Here is a link…

I am going to do a bit of mind-reading here even though I know that is impossible. I suspect that Hue Jackson knows more than a bit about dysfunctionality when it comes to NFL teams. He was the coach of the Raiders in 2011 – the year that Al Davis died. For all the great things Davis did over the course of his career, his final years were enveloped in reclusion, confusion and delusion. Jackson happened to be at the center of that maelstrom.

Then he hooked on with the Bengals as the offensive coordinator and the cost of a “lack of discipline” has to be fresh in his mind after the great “Vontaze Burfict/Adam Jones Fiasco” about 10 days ago. Since I assume that Hue Jackson is smarter than a day-old donut, I think he will try to build a team that shows discipline as one of its characteristics. And that brings us to Johnny Manziel who may or may not have slipped off to Las Vegas to carouse when he was supposed to stay in Cleveland to be part of the NFL’s concussion protocol. That is only the latest alleged incident that might lead some to think that Manziel is not the most trustworthy person on the planet.

If the Browns were to release Manziel tomorrow – they should not! – my guess is that Jerry Jones would have Manziel in for an interview posthaste and assuming that Manziel Is smart enough to show up on time, here is what I think will transpire:

    Manziel will say that he has “seen the light” and that “being cut from a team for the first time ever” was a life-changing event for him. That event put all the things he heard in his “rehab days” into a form of reality that he had not recognized before.

    Since that is precisely what Jones wants to hear – because it will allow him to sign Manziel and then crow that he got both the guy he originally wanted PLUS Zack Martin who has already been to a Pro Bowl in his first two years -, the Cowboys will sign Manziel. Jones will say that the team will provide him with ”support” and that all the young QB needs to do now is to work to learn the Cowboys’ offense.

    Everyone will leave the press conference with huge smiles and optimism will rain from the skies. I would set the OVER/UNDER on how long it takes for Manziel to be in the headlines again for something other than an on-field football happening at June 1st.

Because Jerry Jones will jump at a chance to sign Manziel, that is exactly why the Browns should not release him until Jones is at the point where he needs to address the backup QB situation in Dallas. Last year should have taught him that backup QB is an important position if you harbor playoff thoughts. When it comes time for Jones to make whatever move(s) he thinks make sense, that is when the Browns can dangle Manziel and at least get a conditional 5th or 6th round pick for him. That may not sound like much, but:

    It is better than nothing and the Browns need all the draft picks they can amass.

    It is a good return for a player who seems to be more dedicated to the proposition that “it’s five o’clock somewhere” than he is to playbook study.

And that brings me to RG3 who appears to be in a similar situation in Washington. Owner, Danny Boy Snyder apparently loved him some RG3 to the point where their bromance created some locker-room tension. As the 2015 season ended, it had to be clear to anyone who paid any attention at all that Coach Jay Gruden wants no part of RG3 next year. When the Skins picked up the option on Griffin’s contract, it guaranteed his salary at something north of $16M for next year if either of these conditions obtained:

    RG3 is on the team roster on the first day of the new “football year”. That day is in mid-March 2016; releasing a player takes about 15 minutes; I suspect the Skins can find the time to fill out the proper forms and fax them to the league and the union to make that happen to avoid $16M showing up on their salary cap for the 2016 season.

    RG3 ended the 2015 season with an injury.

To avoid that second possibility, Griffin only dressed for 1 game this year and he never came close to seeing the field in that one. The reason he was dressed that week was that the team did not have enough players designated as “healthy” to put in a uniform to stand on the sideline during the game. Essentially, RG3’s final game as an “active player” in Washington was in the role of an “animated suit dummy” – the description I often used to describe the late Dr. Myles Brand.

RG3 and Johnny “Football” have a lot in common. Both were high school football stars in Texas; both were Heisman Trophy winners playing for colleges in Texas; both play a style of game that is “unconventional” and therefore “exciting” in terms of NFL quarterbacking. So, why should Jerry Jones focus only on Johnny “Football” as he searches for a splashy signing as his backup QB? Frankly, I do not think he will and in the case of RG3 he will not need to be part of a negotiation over a conditional draft pick because the Skins are going to release Griffin for sure. [Aside: If I understand the current CBA correctly, the Cowboys would owe Griffin the $16M guaranteed salary for 2016 if they were to trade for him. Under that circumstance, Jerry Jones would have to be dumber than a dugong even to discuss such a transaction.]

However, hidden in the weeds here is another potential actor. The Houston Texans need to upgrade themselves at the QB position. They have a very good defense but they got inconsistent play at QB for all of 2015; they won the AFC South but the Colts will get Andrew Luck back in good health for 2016; the Texans really need to do something and they do not draft until #22 in this year’s draft – hardly a position where one thinks a franchise QB will fall in one’s lap. The Texans may also be intrigued by the Texas roots and Texas notoriety of either of these QBs. I doubt there will be a bidding war for either one, but there might be a race to see which team gets to interview either player as soon as he is a free agent.

I think both RG3 and Johnny Manziel will get another opportunity in the NFL. Both will have to show a fast learning curve to their new teams/coaches because both suffer from a similar “problem”. Both of them arrived in the NFL succeeding at QB because they were significantly more athletic than just about every opponent they faced in high school and in college. Without putting a pejorative label on it, that superiority did not instill in either one a dedication to learning the subtleties of playing the QB position. In the NFL, they learned that they were not athletically superior to every opponent every time they stepped onto the field. Oops… Now that lack of study/attention/dedication made them susceptible to big mistakes and to frustration on the part of their coaches. [Aside: To be sure, Manziel’s off-field escapades provide his case with an entirely different dimension as compared to Griffin.]

Talent wins out in the NFL and both of these young QBs have raw talent. There will be coaches who are certain that they are uniquely capable of harnessing that talent and developing it to the point where it is manifest in all of its glory for all to see. Who knows? Maybe those future coaches are actually right…

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that seems appropriate in light of what is above:

“At ‘Johnny Manziel facing questions about his judgment after being spotted in Cleveland.’ ”

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

Recommended Reading

Scott Ostler has this column in today’s SF Chronicle. It is an open letter to Mark Davis regarding what happened to him and the Raiders at the recent NFL owners’ meeting and things that Mark Davis might do now to make amends with Raider fans who reside in Oakland.

I think this column should be read in its entirety; it is vintage Scott Ostler. Here is the link…

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/17/16

Last week’s Mythical Picks took gas. The record for last week was 1-3-0 taking the season record down to 128-119-5. There were no Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games so that record stayed put at 17-17-1.

The “Best Pick” from last week was the only pick I got right. I took the KC/Houston game to stay UNDER 40.5 points. It did. In no way did I think that the Chiefs could score 30 points in that game; also in no way did I think that the Texans would fail to score all day. Nonetheless, it turned out right for a bunch of “wrong reasons”.

The “Worst Pick” from last week was taking Washington and giving a point to Green Bay. I really thought the Packers were coming apart at the seams and that an average team like the Skins could beat them at home. Not even close…

Please do not succumb to the temptation to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend if, in fact, the real wager involves real money. These are Mythical Picks; you would have to be a dumbass to consider them authoritative. How dumb?

    You probably think a reign of terror is a frightening storm.

General Comments:

The Cleveland Browns have a new head coach; Hue Jackson will move north from Cincy where he was the offensive coordinator to become the Head Coach in Cleveland. Jackson had a previous shot in the pilot’s seat with the Raiders in 2011; his record in his only year in Oakland was 8-8 but he lost his job when the team installed a new GM, Reggie McKenzie, and the new GM decided to go out and find “his guy” to coach the team.

Jackson’s 8-8 record did not look like a “world-beater” at the time; but in retrospect, it keeps looking better and better. Consider the Raiders’ coaching records of those who came after Jon Gruden left in 2002:

    Bill Callahan 15-17
    Norv Turner 9-23
    Art Shell 2-14
    Lane Kiffin 5-15
    Tom Cable 17-27
    Hue Jackson 8-8
    Dennis Allen 8-28
    Tony Sparano 3-9
    Jack Del Rio 7-9 (to be continued next season)

The Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999; since then, they have had 8 coaches which seems like a lot unless you look at the Raiders’ history over a similar period of time. However, it is really worse than that. Since 2010, they have had four head coaches; Jackson will be the fifth.

    Eric Mangini 2009 – 2010
    Pat Shurmer 2011 – 2012
    Rob Chudzinski 2013
    Mike Pettine 2014 – 2015

Here is an idea for a new name for the position of Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns:

    Short Attention Span Theater.

The Niners had interviewed Jackson before he spoke with the Browns. Both rosters are short on talent and Jackson chose the Browns. That should not be taken as good news by Niners’ fans… However, it does set up an interesting thing to watch. Hue Jackson is an “offense guy” and in order to run an NFL offense, you need a QB. On the Browns’ roster as of this morning they have:

    Austin Davis
    Pat Devlin
    Johnny Manziel
    Josh McCown
    Terrelle Pryor (played QB in college)
    Connor Shaw

So, does Hue Jackson – Mr. “Offense Guy” – see someone on that list who can be “The Man” for the Browns? If the Browns do not take a QB early in the draft, you would have to think so.

The Browns are not a good team and they need a QB. The Texans are a good enough team that they made the playoffs without a good QB. If the Texans could wave a wand and get themselves a top-shelf QB, the Texans could be a good team for quite a while. Here is the quarterback cadre that got the Texans to the playoffs this year:

    Brian Hoyer
    Ryan Mallett (released in mid-season)
    Tom Savage
    Brandon Weeden
    TJ Yates

If the Texans are going to repeat as AFC South champions next year, their cause will be aided by adding to that list. They may need to spend money in the free agent market or swing a trade for someone better than what is on the roster now. They are going to draft a bit too low in the first round to count on getting a QB there who is ready to start. It will be interesting to see what the Texans do here…

In all four of the Wild Card Games last weekend, the home team started a QB who had never started a playoff game before. Meanwhile, all four of the visiting teams brought QBs to the stadium that had playoff experience – and three of those four had Super Bowl rings. Yes, all the visiting teams won their games.

    Brian Hoyer (Texans) had a horrible game – his worst of the season.

    AJ McCarron (Bengals) played just well enough to set up the team for a loss when the inevitable “Bengal Bungle” happened late in the game. [See below…]

    Teddy Bridgewater (Vikes) was solid but never did find a way to get the ball into the end zone.

    Kirk Cousins (Skins) played adequately but he was betrayed by his OL who allowed 6 sacks and could not generate any meaningful running attack.

Consider that list of first-time-starting QBs who exited in the first round of playoff games with the 8 QBs that are left and their playoff experience:

    Tom Brady – 29 playoff games
    Payton Manning – 24 playoff games
    Cam Newton – 3 playoff games
    Carson Palmer – 2 playoff games
    Aaron Rodgers – 13 playoff games
    Alex Smith – 3 playoff games
    Ben Roethlisberger – 16 playoff games
    Russell Wilson – 9 playoff games

    [Aside: Had you given me that list and asked me to name the QB with the fewest playoff starts, I would have guessed Alex Smith and not Carson Palmer. Hi-Ho! ]

Last weekend, the Texans ran up against the KC Chiefs and the Chiefs like the Texans have a really good defense. What that game put on display was the Texans’ inability to deal with a “really good defense”. The final score was 30-0 and that pretty much tells you what was going on down there on the field. The stats might lead you to believe that the Texans were able to run the ball a bit here, but that is a mirage. The stats say the Texans ran the ball 25 times for 114 yards which seems rather good. The problem is that they got 50 yards on one play so that for the rest of the game, they ran the ball 24 times for 64 yards – less than 3 yards per carry.

That lack of a running game – and the fact that the Texans were behind in the game from the opening kickoff that was returned by the Chiefs for a TD – set up Brian Hoyer to throw the ball 34 times. It simply was not Hoyer’s day; he was sacked 3 times and intercepted 4 times.

With the ball at about the Chiefs’ 1-yardline in the second quarter, the Texans sent JJ Watt in on offense to play “single wing tailback” with Vince Wilfork as a blocking back and another behemoth lineman next to Wilfork on the right side of a “single wing formation”. Everyone north of Antarctica knew where that play was headed; indeed, it lost yardage due to lack of surprise. That bad play call did not lose the game for the Texans, but the folks who put that play in the game plan and then actually called it in anger ought to be made to run laps.

I think the injury that took Jeremy Maclin out of the game for the Chiefs could be very important. Maclin did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday this week but reports say that he is “not limping” and that his injury is a “mild high-ankle sprain”. Maclin is very important to the Chiefs’ offense because he provides speed in addition to experience and good hands and all that stuff. The Chiefs need a healthy Jeremy Maclin; for the moment, he is “questionable”.

The Chiefs/Texans game was hotly contested on both sides; you did not see any players on the field “dogging it”. Nevertheless, there were no cheap shots or “criminal intentions” exhibited on the field; there was no “head-hunting”.

I mention that as a way to lead into the Steelers/Bengals game. I understand that this is a division rivalry game that happened in a playoff situation. I get that. I also get that there is really no way to justify the barbarity/violence/thuggery exhibited by both teams in that game. All of that came to a head – so to speak – in the final minute of the game, but it was sadly on display for almost the entire game. In addition to the barbarism, there was an annoying level of “celebrations-over-nothing” in the game. The culmination of that was a 15-yard penalty on the Steelers for excessive celebrating after what turned out not to be a TD after all. On any ordinary week, the perpetrator of that silliness would be the odds-on favorite to be the Asshat of the Week. But not in this game…

In the final minute, the Bengals held a 1-point lead thanks to a nice pass from AJ McCarron to AJ Green. When the Steelers recovered a fumble, they had hope – but it was a faint hope. They had to march the length of the field with little time, no timeouts and with Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder such that he could not throw the ball very far downfield. Then came the “Bengal Bungle of the Year” – the “Massive Meltdown”, the “Feline F-Up”, the “Incredible Inevitable Idiocy”. You have to have seen the replays of Vontaze Burfict’s head-shot on Antonio Brown and if you have followed football for any time now, it should not have surprised you. Burfict has been a serial offender when it comes to violent cheap shots for all of his NFL career and for some of his college career. That ridiculous penalty stopped the clock; gave the Steelers a first down and put them on the fringe of their kicker’s range. And then it got worse…

Adam Jones – in case you did not know, this is the same player who used to be known as “Pacman” Jones and the one who had that “minor incident” in a strip club where gunfire rendered a guard paralyzed for life – decided that this was the exact moment to get involved in some other altercation on the field in order to earn yet another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. That made the field goal try not much more than an extra point try. The Steelers made the field goal and won the game.

In one sense, these monumental screw-ups are not all that surprising.

    The perpetrators have a history of “off-center behaviors”.

    The team has a history of having players who “make bad decisions”.

    The coaching staff apparently does not sanction such behaviors in any meaningful way because they continue to manifest themselves.

    The team has no GM so I think it is fair to surmise that the team’s owner, Mike Brown, has some role in roster building and player retention; if so, his inaction over the years would seem to be a form of acceptance of such stupidity.

Some have suggested that Marvin Lewis might – or even should – lose his job over all of this. I agree that Lewis has not provided the sort of strict discipline needed to curb this sort of stupidity; but on balance, he has done far more “right things” with the Bengals than he has done “wrong things”. These moronic manifestations should not cost him his job. However, this happened on a large national stage in front of a big audience; I do think he should be put on notice that another display of this kind would be sufficient to look seriously at getting a new coach in Cincy.

Before concluding my commentary on the Steelers/Bengals game, let me say clearly that Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ coaching staff, and the Steelers’ players did not behave in an exemplary fashion either last week. The Steelers did not exhibit nearly the same levels of anti-social behavior or the same depths of moronic activities as did the Bengals; and indeed, they won the game. Nevertheless, their game behavior was anything but exemplary and they have not attracted anywhere near the level of public scorn as have the Bengals. However, they are not blameless here…

Dwight Perry had a wonderful summary of all this in the Seattle Times:

“Hothead costs the Bengals a playoff win? Cue the first “Burfict storm” headline in 3 … 2 … 1 …”

The Vikes/Seahawks game was another hard fought game featuring two good defenses that were both hitting hard from start to finish. However, there were no cheap shots or kill shots in the game despite the fact that there were hard hits on the vast majority of plays. It seemed as if the Vikes’ defense was out to prove that it is much better than what they showed in the last meeting between these teams a couple of weeks ago. In that contest, the Seahawks ran off to a 35-0 lead and dominated the game.

I still wonder why the Vikes did not really try to throw the ball downfield in the game. I can only recall one deep pass and it was incomplete. Maybe it was the frigid weather? Maybe it was a lack of confidence in their receivers? I have seen Bridgewater throw deep in previous games; he can do that when given the chance; the play calling never got to that last week.

The Seahawks’ defense geared itself to keep Adrian Peterson under control for the day. Peterson ran the ball 23 times for a total of 45 yards. The Seahawks’ defense can declare “mission accomplished” for that one. Peterson was extremely valuable for the Vikes this year in that he forced defenses to tend to him thereby allowing Terry Bridgewater some lebensraum in the passing game. For the Vikes to advance as a team next year, they will need Peterson to play at a comparable level to this year AND for Terry Bridgewater to ramp up the passing game.

I really thought the Skins had sufficient momentum going for them to win at home against a Packers’ team that had struggled in the late part of the season and a team that had looked discombobulated in several of their late-season losses. When the Skins led 11-0 in the early second quarter, I thought they might run away and hide. What followed next was that the Packers proceeded to score points on their next 6 possessions to win the game comfortably.

I mentioned above that the Skins’ OL betrayed Kirk Cousins. If you have a recording of the game, go and watch Skins LT, Trent Williams. He is a constant Pro Bowl selection and he deserves those honors; he is a really good offensive lineman. However, not last week… In the late stages of the game, the pressure and the sacks were always coming from his side of the formation and he was often the guy lurching in a desperate attempt to get a body on a defender just as Kirk Cousins was about to take a shot.

I also want to make a comment about Skins’ WR, DeSean Jackson. His speed, his hands and his general athleticism make him a serious deep threat that any defense must pay attention to. Having said that, he has hardly lived up to his physical abilities recently. Let me do a brief reset here:

    Jackson chose – as is his right under the CBA – to skip all of the Skins’ offseason workout programs and OTAs last year. He was working out on his own.

    Jackson injured himself in training camp by running into a blocking sled. Honest, he did that…

    After missing most of the exhibition season – but repeatedly professing that he was working on his speed and would be ready for the opener – he pulled a hamstring on the first deep ball thrown his way in the opening game. I believe the next time he was on the field in anger was in early November.

    Jackson appeared in 10 games this year, caught 30 passes and scored 4 TDs. That is a meager output from a nominal #1 receiver who claims that there is not a defender alive that can cover him on the field.

I went through all of that to set up the fact that Jackson cost the Skins a TD in this game. He caught a pass over the middle at about the 10 yardline and made for the pylon at the goal line. Holding the ball out from his body in a stylish fashion, he glided across the goal line but did not step in the end zone before going out of bounds. Hence the ball was not past the pylon and it was not a TD; had he dived into the end zone it would have been a TD. As fortune would have it, the Skins could not put the ball in the end zone even with a 1st and goal spot at the half-yardline. They got a field goal; and they saw the game momentum shift immediately to the Packers.

Two seasons ago, Chip Kelly simply cut Jackson in Philly and lots of people thought Kelly had taken leave of his senses. Jackson is an immense physical talent; there is no question about that. Jackson is also – to use a word a former colleague used frequently – a “meathead”. His “meatheadedness” is not violent or dangerous like the behaviors of some of the Bengals, but Jackson’s “meatheadedness” seemingly would have him fitting in just fine in the Bengals’ locker room.

The Games:

(Sat. 4:35 PM EST) KC at New England – 4/5 (42.5): The Total Line for this game opened at 45.5 and plunged to this level right away; you can find it as low as 41.5 this morning. The Pats will get Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola back on the field for this game and the knee-jerk thinking is that this will throw the Pats’ offense back into overdrive and all will be well in Chowdah City. I am a bit antsy with tha kind of reasoning because:

    The Pats’ offensive line is significantly diminished by injuries.

    The Chiefs’ defense succeeds by pressuring the QB.

I think that match-up is seriously tilted towards the Chiefs. I know that Bill Belichick has had 2 weeks to cook up some kind of “magical scheme” for this game. I think he needs a magical potion to heal his offensive linemen so they can play in top form more than he needs a “magical scheme”. On the other side of the ball, Belichick’s 2 weeks to prepare a defensive strategy may pay significant dividends. Alex Smith has been very efficient and effective this year during the Chiefs’ 11-game win streak. However, the Pats’ bring a good defense to the field and those 2 weeks to come up with a few “confusing wrinkles” could prove decisive. Make this a venue call, I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.

(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Green Bay at Arizona – 7 (49.5): The Cards beat the Packers in Arizona 38-8 just a few weeks ago. Sounds as if laying only 7 points is a bargain, right? Remember, two of the Cards’ TDs in that game came from fumble recoveries that were run in for a score. How likely is that to happen again? Also, consider that the Vikings lost to the Seahawks 38-7 just a few weeks before those teams met last week. What happened there? The Seahawks won the rematch by a single point – and needed a botched chip-shot field goal to do that. This game is not a slam-dunk for the Cards. The Packers played the way we have come to expect the Packers to play against the Skins last week but there is a difference here. The Skins’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL this season in yards per game; the Cards’ defense ranked 5th in the league; the Cards gave up about 60 fewer yards per game than did the Skins. I think there will be lots of offense and lots of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun. 1:00 PM EST) Seattle at Carolina – 3 (44): For me, this will be the best game of the weekend. I think the winner of this game goes to the Super Bowl and the winner of this game will be the favorite in the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson is undefeated playing against the Panthers in Charlotte; his record there is 3-0. None of those wins were blowouts by any stretch of the imagination, but they were victories. Counterbalancing that information is the fact that the Panthers beat the Seahawks this year on the Seahawks’ home turf in another close game. The Panthers have had a week to rest and to prepare for this game. The Seahawks on the other hand had to play in the “Minnesota Freezer” last week, fly back to Seattle, and then fly to Charlotte (3-hour time change for an early kickoff). The Seahawks are here thanks to a missed chip-shot field goal. Does that mean they are “destined” to win it all this year or does it mean they are not really good enough to be in this game in the first place. I have no idea about their destiny; I do believe they are good enough to deserve to be in this game. I like the Seahawks plus the points here. Notwithstanding that selection, I think this will be a great game to watch.

(Sun. 4:40 PM EST) Pittsburgh at Denver – 9 (40): The spread opened at 4.5 points and has been rising all week. Reports this morning say that Antonio Brown will not play on Sunday; reports earlier in the week said that Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury is a “sprained AC joint and torn ligaments in his right shoulder”. I do not know an AC joint from a DC joint but it stands to reason that injuries to the throwing shoulder of a QB are not trivial matters. At the very least, Roethlisberger will be playing at something less than full effectiveness. If in fact Landry Jones has to play a significant portion of this game, let me say this very clearly:

    Landry Jones is probably a very nice young man, but against the Broncos’ defense in Denver, he is – simply – overmatched.

In the real world, no one would get down on this game until the playing status and the anticipated proficiency level for Roethlisberger was far better known. However, I have to make these picks a bit more than 48-hours before that information will be available. Here is how I think the game will roll out:

    Roethlisberger starts but it becomes clear very early on that he cannot throw the ball downfield.

    That diminishes the value of the speed the Steelers have at the WR position – even with Antonio Brown sidelined.

    Steelers’ defense also has no real deep threat to worry about because the evidence from the 2015 season says that Peyton Manning is not the deep threat he was just a few seasons ago.

    Both teams will try to run the ball with only marginal success against defenses that line up to stop the run.

    The game will turn on field position and turnovers.

With that scenario, I like the game to stay UNDER. By the way, if I knew for certain that Landry Jones and/or Michael Vick would never see the field in this game, I would take the Steelers with that basket of points. But I don’t know that for certain …

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment with regard to Johnny Manziel and his off-field escapades in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Johnny Manziel has appeared in so many possibly alcohol-related videos, he’s been named an honorary Clydesdale.”

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

Finally, The NFL Is Back In LA…

The NFL owners have approved moving the Rams back to LA; they have given the Chargers the first option to join the Rams in a joint stadium situation akin to the Giants/Jets; they have left the Raiders in Oakland seemingly “twisting slowly in the wind”. [H/T to John Erlichman.] There are probably a dozen vantage points from which to view the decision(s) here leading to multiple dozens of interpretations and conclusions. My view is simple; my info sources are Forbes and Business Insider:

    Stan Kroenke owns the Rams. Forbes says his net worth is $7.5B as of 2016. The league approved his plan over and above any other.

    Dean Spanos owns the Chargers. Forbes says his net worth is $1.1B as of 2015. The league did not approve the plan he put forth but gave him the first option to join Stan Kroenke if the two of them can strike a deal.

    Mark Davis is the chief owner of the Raiders. Business Insider says net worth is $500M as of 2015. He was the tag-along partner with Spanos in the Spanos’ plan and now he is the owner most on the outside looking in.

The NFL owners are not – as a group – wonderful and philanthropic people. I seriously believe that they live by a statement made famous in the Abscam scandal about 35 years ago:

“Money talks and bullsh*t walks.”

If I am even close to correct, Mark Davis and Dean Spanos never really stood a chance of coming out on top here. The NFL’s “LA Relocation Committee” reportedly voted 5-1 to recommend the Spanos/Davis Carson CA “solution” to the owners en banc. But as soon as the owners met in plenary session, the magnitude of the potential returns to the league as a whole became the central issue and when that happened, the Kroenke Plan won in a walk. Dean Spanos has a year to decide if he and his Chargers will sign on with Kroenke and his Rams as tenants in the new playpen. If he does not act by then, Davis and the Raiders can opt in.

The “Kroenke Stadium” will be finished in 2019. Until then the Rams – and any other NFL team that signs on as a tenant in “Kroenke Stadium” – will play in the LA Coliseum. From my perspective, the folks in San Diego have one more short window of opportunity to decide if they want to spend a ton of taxpayer money to build the stadium that the Chargers want in the place that the Chargers want. If not, my guess is that the Chargers will be moving north.

What happens to the Raiders? Well, assuming that Dean Spanos does not let his first option to move to LA expire, I think the Raiders are up for bids. Look, the O.Co Coliseum is more than an anachronism; it is an embarrassment; the sewage lines back up periodically into team dressing areas; there is a baseball diamond in the middle of the field for the first half of the season. Oakland does not have a billion dollars lying around to build a new stadium and probably would be hard-pressed to borrow that kind of money at reasonable interest rates even if they thought that was a good idea. So, what does Mark Davis do now?

    Remember, his lease at O.Co Coliseum expired at the end of this season. He has to have a place to play games in 2016; that fact does not increase his leverage with the good folks in Oakland.

    He can wait it out to see if the Chargers do something stupid and let their option lapse. That is called kicking the can down the road.

    He can make nice with the folks in St. Louis who came up with a plan to do a new stadium there – even though it will be “junior varsity” as compared to “Kroenke Stadium” in LA. However, there will be no baseball diamond on the field and presumably, the toilet facilities will not back up into the locker rooms.

    He can warm up talks with San Antonio where he and the mayor had some “friendly chats” over the past year or so.

    Or … Mark Davis can be the owner who moves his team to London. The rub there is that the fee for moving a team is $550M. If Davis does not get the other owners to allow him to prorate those payments over a pretty long period of time, he cannot afford the payment to his fellow owners let alone any other expenses.

Lest you think my idea that the Raiders might wind up in London is far-fetched, consider that the NFL already has three “stadium deals” going on in the UK. The league started out with 1 game a year over there and it got traction; then it expanded to 2 games per year and will go further than that in the near future. Yes, that is different from having one team there permanently – and indeed there are scheduling hurdles to overcome – but there seems to be a clear audience/fanbase for NFL football in London. Next year, the NFL hopes to play games in London on 3 consecutive weekends with one of the teams involved staying there and playing two games on two consecutive weekends. And remember, greater London has a population of 8.6 million souls at last count

I said there were “three stadium deals” ongoing in London right now. Let me review the bidding here:

    Last year, the NFL agreed to play 2 games per year in Wembley Stadium through 2020. For details on this agreement, check here.

    Last year, the NFL signed a 10-year deal to play a game in the new stadium under construction for Tottenham Hotspur. That stadium will have a retractable roof and a retractable grass field (used for EPL games) with an artificial turf under that for NFL games. That sounds like a serious venue. For details, check here.

    Last year, the NFL signed an agreement with the Rugby Football Union to play 3 games (1 per year) at Twickenham Stadium in London. This venue seats 82,000 folks; it already exists; teams can play there tomorrow – if there were games tomorrow. For details, check here.

I do not know when this is going to happen, but the National Football League is going to become the International Football League one of these days. It seems to me that Mark Davis is in a position to be a pioneer here – if such pioneering tickles the pecuniary fancies of his fellow owners.

Finally, Dean Spanos and the Chargers have been doing the “New Stadium Boogie” with the San Diego pols for at least a decade now. Spanos has said that he and the team have done everything they could do to get a new stadium built there. I am certain that he and the team have worked hard on this but I take exception to his assertion that he did everything he could because:

      He never offered to build a stadium there on his own nickel.

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

Alabama/Clemson – A Great Championship Game

If you did not like the Alabama/Clemson game on Monday night for the College Football Championship, you must not like college football. The game featured two excellent teams; the teams played hard on every play; the game was close from start to finish and the outcome was still in doubt in the final minute of the game; there were excellent showings by excellent players on both teams. I can understand your not liking the outcome of the game if:

    You had Alabama minus-7 points and lost on the backdoor cover at the end.

    You are a student at or an alum of Clemson University.

    You are a student at or an alum of Auburn University.

    You think Nick Saban and/or Lane Kiffin are the Devil’s spawn.

However, I do not see how you can like college football and not have enjoyed watching that game.

Congratulations to both teams and to both coaching staffs. And congratulations to the folks who set up the College Football Playoff and set things up such that these two teams could be in a position to play one another for the championship. The current playoff system may not be perfect, but it is much better than the BCS which preceded it and a light-year better than the bowl games followed by polling which preceded the BCS.

In another aspect of college football, the Austin Business Journal reports that the University of Texas nearly doubled its concessions revenue at football games this year because for the first time they sold beer in the stadium. Fans bought beer to the tune of $1.8M for the six games played at Darrel Royal-Texas Memorial stadium this year. That is a lot of suds considering that a significant fraction of the fans in attendance are not – you know – legally allowed to purchase, possess or consume beer.

That same report said that Texas took down a profit of $812,798 from the $1.8M in sales. Here is the upshot as I see it:

    Texas will not be “re-thinking” or “re-evaluating” this decision any time soon.

    Other universities will be introducing this new convenience to their fans in the not-so-distant future.

Switching gears and sports, there are reports that the Brooklyn Nets are trolling John Calipari to come to Brooklyn to be the Head Coach and Grand Vizier of All Things Basketball for the franchise. Only a couple of months ago, there were similar reports saying that the Sacramento Kings were similarly fishing for Calipari. For all I know, those reports may have been planted by Calipari’s agent to see what sort of “action” it might stir up. Or, all of this might be nonsense…

In any event, the current reports regarding the Nets say that Calipari might think about making a switch if the Nets started their offer at 10 years and $120M. If other reporting is correct, this would be about a 50% raise from what his total package is worth at Kentucky. The thinking that is attributed to the owners who want to lure Calipari away from Kentucky is that he coached a lot of really good young NBA players at Kentucky and therefore he might have an inside track to get them to sign with Coach Cal’s team once they hit free agency. Who knows? That may actually be what the owners are thinking…

In addition to my faulty mind-reading skills, I am loath to try to figure out what sort of basketball-related reasoning might be percolating in the minds of either Kings’ owner, Vivek Ranadivé, or Nets’ owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Without going through a list of questionable basketball decisions/pronouncements from either owner, let me just say that I might not be alone in questioning their “basketball acumen”.

What could get interesting here is if Calipari and his agent somehow get these two owners to start bidding against one another to get “Coach Cal”. Phil Jackson reportedly gets $12M per year from the Knicks in a 5-year deal; Jackson’s credentials include enough championship rings to require a wheelbarrow to haul them around; if those two uber-rich owners get into a bidding war for Calipari and that bidding war turns into an ego-battle, I wonder how far beyond $12-million a year they might be willing to go…

In any event, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently regarding another time in John Calipari’s career:

“Questionable: From the What Are People Thinking Dept. comes news that UMass threw a two-day celebration this week for John Calipari, the rule breaker who took the school to the 1996 Final Four, only to have the team’s place vacated by the NCAA. The school is hanging a banner for Calipari in the gym rafters, a gesture normal people are not expected to understand.”

In one other NBA note, I think that the combination of the “Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America” coupled with the obviously bad season Kobe is having in his final go-round is covering up something else. Flying under the radar so to speak is how bad some of the other Lakers’ players are playing. The team is obviously a mess; this morning, their record is 8-31 and they are a measly 28.5 games out of first place in the Pacific Division. Not all of that is Kobe Bryant’s fault. Consider:

    Roy Hibbert has started every game. He is shooting just under 43% from the field; remember he is 7’ 2” tall so he ought to be getting a bunch of dunks and 2-foot shots. Even worse, he is pulling down less than 6 rebounds per game. Hibbert is only 29 years old; he should be in the prime of his career.

    Julius Randle has started about half of the games. He is shooting 40% from the field. To his credit, he gets 11.5 rebounds per game but he turns the ball over about twice per game.

    DeAngelo Russell has started about half of the games. He too is shooting 40% from the field; he turns the ball over a bit more than twice per game; he does lead the team in assists with 3.2 assists per game. [The fact that 3.2 assists per game leads the team speaks volumes with regard to the style of play out there in LA.]

Finally, since I mentioned beer sales above, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“A 19-year-old named Bud Weisser was arrested for trespassing at the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis.

“Coincidence? Every Jack Daniels in town is suddenly under police surveillance in Lynchburg, Tenn.”

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

Concussion – The Movie…

The movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith is out. I am not a movie fan by anyone’s definition; I will surely not go to a movie theater to see this one. The film seems to have caused more of a stir prior to its release than it has since it has been “out there”. I do not have any intention of discussing the merits of the movie itself or the folks who made the movie but I do want to make a few general comments on the central topic of the movie and about documentaries in general.

    The movie focuses on the doctor whose research dealing with NFL players’ brains discovered the condition known as CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – was prevalent among NFL players. CTE is a degenerative and progressive condition that is correlated to – and probably caused by – concussions and/or repeated violent but non-concussive blows to the head.

    This move would be “course material” for a medical school without the dramatic addendum that the NFL purportedly tried to silence and/or intimidate the doctor. That takes the subject matter out of the realm of bland “textbook-material” and puts it squarely in the domain of attractive “screenplay-material”.

    I find it inconceivable that the NFL, anyone who played football in the NFL or any fan of the NFL did not realize prior to this doctor’s discovery that the banging of heads in NFL games would be detrimental to the condition of the brains contained within those banged heads. CTE was known before the time when the doctor who is the subject of Concussion tied CTE to playing football particularly at the NFL level. In the past, people did not know this by its scientific name, but the results of CTE were rather commonly known. Boxers were known to be ‘punch-drunk”; this was a phrase in common usage back when I was a kid. This is not something new or recently discovered.

I am not shocked by any assertion that – or any evidence to show that – the NFL did not receive the news of this doctor’s research well since it led to a demonstration that CTE was prevalent among retired NFL players. Large organizations – private sector or public sector ones – react to threatening news in a predictable way; they go into survival mode. Said survival mode usually takes the form of:

    Admit nothing.
    Deny everything.
    Make counter-claims/accusations against the adversary.

I do not need to go to the movies to have that sort of behavior “revealed to me” as if I ought to be surprised by its existence…

I have a particular skepticism about movies that are dramatizations of real events or ones that purport to be documentaries. “Real events” put truthfully onto film – or into a digital format these days – would be really low-grade entertainment. I always wonder how much “reality” got lost in the “spicing up” of those real events. Even worse to me are the movies that claim to be documentaries. The dictionary says that a documentary movie provides a factual record or report. My limited experience with such movies is that they are far more likely to be advocacy pieces than the presentation of all the facts. If a particular one is an advocacy piece disguised as a documentary, I can probably learn as much by reading a few public statements by the maker of the “documentary” as I will learn by paying $12.50 and sitting in a theater with a bunch of people I do not care to be with and watching the movie. Let me give you a real example and a “made-up example”:

    The Real One: The documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, starred Al Gore giving his lecture(s) on global warming/climate change and was made by the same person who made then-candidate Barrack Obama’s biographical film that “introduced” Obama at the Democratic National convention in 2008. I know what Al Gore has to say about global warming; I have read his books. Given the other works of this director, I seriously doubt that I will go to the theater and see any attempt to refute or challenge any of Gore’s assertions.

    A “Made-Up” One: If a movie hit the theaters next week billed as a documentary exposé of the evils and abuses of the “abortion industry” and Planned Parenthood in specific, I would be monumentally uninterested in seeing it. That monumental lack of interest would be magnified even more if I were to learn that it was produced and directed by Jerry Falwell. [Yes; I know that Rev. Falwell is dead. I specifically picked him for this fictional example to avoid anyone thinking that all of this is aimed at criticizing some living individual. Just follow me a little further here, please.] I do not need to go to a movie theater to find out how Rev. Falwell feels about abortion or what he thinks might be a proper role for Planned Parenthood in US society. If he were the producer/director, I think I know the bottom line(s) before I pay my $12.50 and belly-up to the popcorn stand.

Concussion may be entertaining for some folks; it is absolutely not my genre of choice. What I hope is that not too many folks leave the theater after watching it with the thought that many if any of the revelations in the story should be unexpected. I also hope that only the dimmest of bulbs exiting the theater were shocked to learn that playing professional football, concussions, and brain damage go hand-in-hand.

I mention this today because of a report this morning in the Washington Post saying that the doctor in question here – a man born in Nigeria – now thinks that racism may have been part of the reason that his findings were ignored and challenged. I do not know that to be the case; it would not shock me to learn that this assertion is correct; it would also not shock me to learn that this assertion is overblown. Here is something I can say with certainty:

    Not a single syllable of any word above has even a smidgen of racial overtone to it.

Switching gears, there were reports yesterday that the Buffalo Bills’ Head Coach, Rex Ryan, hired his twin brother, Rob Ryan, to be one of the defensive coaches for the Bills. Some people chose to become indignant about this hiring and called it nepotism. These folks might well be surprised to learn that Paris is in France if they think nepotism is rare in the NFL.

    News Flash: It happens all the time.

Frankly, I think there is a much more important aspect to this hiring that the suits at NFL Headquarters need to focus on:

    The Buffalo Bills must be the team featured on Hard Knocks next summer. Imagine the entertainment value with the Ryan twins together for an entire training camp and think about the bump the whole thing could get from a visit by Buddy Ryan to see how his progeny are implementing his “46-defense”. I tell you; this could be comedy gold…

Finally, here is Greg Cote’s reaction in the Miami Herald to the Dolphins’ hiring of Adam Gaze as their new Head Coach:

“Adam Gase, suddenly league’s youngest head coach at 37, makes it five Dolphins hires in a row (eight including interims) who have never before been an NFL head coach. Miami’s head-coach job posting: ‘EXPERIENCE REQUIRED PREFERRED TOTALLY UNNECESSARY.’

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

Baseball Hall Of Fame Inductees For 2016

The Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome two new members next summer. Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were both well above the 75% threshold in terms of votes received to merit their induction. Griffey was an absolute no-brainer; the voting is done by the members of the BBWAA – the Baseball Writers’ Association of America – meaning that everyone who has a vote is someone who is involved in covering and following baseball over a period of time. It is inconceivable that anyone who follows/followed baseball as the means to make his/her living could have seen Griffey play and not recognize that he was one of the all-time greats. About the only thing he never did was to come out before the game with the grounds’ crew and help them lay down the chalk for the foul lines.

Mike Piazza was another story. He has been eligible for 4 years and there had been a “PED cloud” over him. However, that cloud was as much innuendo/rumor/whispers as it was “evidence”. If you saw Piazza’s numbers standing alone, you would have to say he was Hall of Fame worthy but the BBWAA voters had issues with him. Perhaps it was exactly those “issues” that pressed forward changes in the BBWAA itself. Last year, a little more than 100 Hall of Fame voters lost their voting franchise because they had not covered baseball for the last 10 years.

Some folks have suggested that it was this “purging” of “old-timers” whose views on PED usage were ossified at best that propelled Piazza into the Hall of Fame. In prior years, there were almost 600 ballots distributed; this year, there were only 450. I do not read minds, so I will not try to tell you how or why folks voted the way they did. However, there is some math to suggest some validity here.

    Barry Bonds “benefited” from the “purge”. In his three prior years of eligibility, Bonds got 206, 198 and 202 votes. This year, he got 195. He seems to have a stable core of writers who believe that he belongs in the Hall of Fame and if the objective is to get to 75% of the votes, it will be easier to get there with only 450 voters than 600 or so voters. It will mean there are fewer minds to change. However, please note that Bonds’ vote this year is still well below 50% and not within hailing distance of the 75% needed for induction.

    Roger Clemens similarly “benefited” from the “purge” in the same sense that Bonds did. Like Bonds, Clemens seems to have a constant base of support for his candidacy. In his 3 years of eligibility, he has gotten 214, 202 and 206 votes; this year he got 199. Once again, his percentage is up because he got about the same number of votes while the total number of votes declined, but he too is still south of 50% of the vote.

I think the “PED cloud” will not dissipate until the BBWAA members have a chance to vote on the poster-child for PEDs – Alex Rodriguez. Like Griffey, Bonds and Clemens, no one could look at A-Rod’s numbers without a name attached to them and conclude that the player who achieved those numbers is unworthy of the Hall of Fame. Moreover, after A-Rod sat out an entire year on suspension for repeated PED use, he came back and played (purportedly) clean at age 40 and had a commendable season. The writers will have to decide when A-Rod is on the ballot what their collective stance will be for PED users because there is no question that he used them during his career. With both Bonds and Clemens, there is still that lingering argument that neither ever failed a drug test. [Aside: It must be pointed out here that Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test either and we know how that all turned out…]

I think that Mike Piazza indeed benefited from the “BBWAA purge” but I am not outraged by that in any way simply because whatever “evidence” there was that he was a “PED-cheat” seems far more flimsy to me than is the “evidence” in the Bonds or Clemens situations.

In any event, Piazza’s induction is a “rags-to-riches story” that might inspire a biopic somewhere down the line. He was hardly a “5-Star recruit” or a “top prospect” in his youth. In fact, in the 1988 MLB draft, Mike Piazza was selected by the LA Dodgers in the 62nd round; he was the 1390th overall pick that year; every team passed over him again and again and again… The lore is that the only reason the Dodgers “wasted” a pick on him is that Tommy LaSorda and Mike Piazza’s father were close friends. If that was the “only reason” then LaSorda and the Dodgers got awfully lucky; if there was a scout who put Piazza on the Dodgers’ draft board notwithstanding the LaSorda/Piazza Sr. friendship, that scout surely deserved a nice bonus.

One other note from the Hall of Fame balloting this year is that this was the last year of eligibility for Alan Trammel and Mark McGwire. Neither made it into the Hall. Now, they will fall under the scrutiny of the Veterans’ Committee and that body has been most stingy with its admissions to the Hall of Fame over the past several years.

Changing topics – and sports – Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Picked-up piece: With its victory over Michigan State in the CFP semis, Alabama won more games at Jones’ AT&T Stadium this season (2) than the Cowboys (1).”

I include that here because I know that one long-term reader of these rants is rabidly anti-Cowboys; and although he realizes that Jerry Jones is not the anti-Christ, he is certain that Jones and the anti-Christ are best buddies. If he had not already put those pieces together, I know he will read those words and give them a fist-pump. It is just another of the services I provide…

Finally, here is one more observation from Bob Molinaro.

“Another lifeline: After he was almost inexplicably retained as Colts coach, Chuck Pagano said, ‘This is absolutely the best day of my life.’ If he says so. But what about the time doctors told him that his cancer was in remission? Presumably that wasn’t such a bad day, either.”

Seriously now, better than the day you got married? Better than the days on which your kids were born? Better than the day you heard the word “remission”? Sigh… Coachspeak run amok.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 1/10/16

There were no Mythical Picks last week; however, the Mythical Picks from two weeks ago were en fuego. Three weeks ago, I had the best week of Mythical Picking” this year at 12-4-0; two weeks ago, was even better with a record of 12-3-0. That brings the cumulative record for the season to 127-116-5 which is solidly above .500 and very close to being mythically profitable against a 10% vig.

The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol was 1-0-0 two weeks ago. For the season, The Coin did exactly what one might expect from a flipped coin. The season record for the coin – and presumably there will be no coin-flip games in the playoffs – stands at 17-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from two weeks ago were taking the Falcons +7 and seeing them win outright against the Panthers and taking the Rams +13 and seeing them beat the Seahawks straight up.

The “Worst Pick” from two weeks ago was taking the Steelers minus 10 points against the Ravens and having the Ravens win the game.

Notwithstanding the hot streak shown in the last two versions of Mythical Picking, no one should consider anything written here as authoritative or informed with regard to the outcome of playoff games this week – or in future weeks for that matter. One would have to be pretty stupid to use these musings as the basis for making a real wager on a real game involving real money. How stupid?

    You would probably sprinkle sugar on your pillows to ensure sweet dreams.

General Comments:

The NFL owners will meet next week in an attempt to resolve the “LA Situation”. The problem here is very simple; you learned about the principle in ninth-grade science class:

    Two bits of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

The problem the NFL owners need to resolve is this one:

    They want to put a maximum of 2 teams in the LA market – and perhaps only 1.

    The problem is that 3 teams want to move there.

    That is akin to the difficulty of putting 10 lbs of horsesh*t in a 5-lb bag.

The NFL bylaws say that any proposal to move a team requires the affirmative vote of 24 owners. Now, the fact that the impending meeting has not allowed any of the reporters who follow the league closely to report how things are going to turn out tells me that the league does not know how things are going to turn out. The national reporters who cover the NFL are very good at working their sources; by this time, I would have expected to read at least a half dozen reports on what was going to happen at next week’s meeting with only minor variants among the reports. What I have seen is dead silence…

The only recent pronouncement of note was a comment in a report issued by Stan Kroenke – owner of the St. Louis Rams. He said that any team that is in St. Louis – or moves to St. Louis – is on the path to “financial ruin” and that ruination would be bad for the NFL as a whole. Here is a link to a report on Kroenke’s remarks and his proposal to the NFL for moving the Rams to LA.

The tone of his remarks would lead me to conclude:

    If Stan Kroenke were running for mayor of St. Louis against Satan, the polls would likely have the race as “too close to call”.

What the NFL seems to need is leadership – by the Commish or an owner or two – to broker a compromise deal. If all three of the owners who want to move have cobbled together a solid group of 8 other owners who will back their position and no other position, this is NFL gridlock that could be more restrictive than Congressional gridlock – and that is not an easy situation to obtain. Stand by for some sort of temporizing move by the league next week…

The Cleveland Browns hired Paul DePodesta to be their strategic leader that will take the Browns from their status of “adrift at sea” to “relevant in the NFL”. The unusual thing is that the Browns hired DePodesta away from the NY Mets of MLB. Time will tell if this was innovative or just plain stupid…

DePodesta replaces Ray Farmer as the guiding light. Farmer demonstrated rather clearly that he had no clue how to create a draft board that yielded productive players for the team; the roster is significantly low on talent. Farmer’s claim to fame for this tenure in Cleveland is that he was suspended for 4 games for sending text messages from his perch in the stadium to one of the assistant coaches on the sideline during a game. With that record, let me just say that DePodesta does not have a tough act to follow.

The move from MLB to the NFL is sort of a mirror-image of the move made by Bo Schembechler who went from Head Coach and Athletic Director at Michigan to be the President of the Detroit Tigers in the early 90s. Schembechler lasted about 2 years in the job and his signature achievement was to fire Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who was rehired by the Tigers about as soon as Schembechler was shown the door. If that is another yardstick by which DePodesta is to be measured, it does not provide him a daunting task.

Probably the biggest obstacle to DePodesta being successful is the mercurial owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslem, who seems to have the patience and attention span of a kitten. Here is what Haslem had to say about this new hire:

“We are fortunate to bring in Paul, an extremely talented, highly respected sports executive who will add a critical dimension to our front office. His approach and ambition to find the best pathways for organizational success transcend one specific sport and his experience as a high-level sports executive make him a terrific addition to the Cleveland Browns.”

If history is any guide, DePodesta will have 24-36 months to find those pathways to organizational success and to traverse them into the realm of success. Or else – back to baseball…

Here is what I think is the most important aspect of DePodesta going from the Mets to the Browns:

    Will the Mets retaliate by trying to sign Johnny Manziel and anointing him as “Johnny Baseball”?

Indy Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, announced that the Colts will keep both Coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson for next season. Given all of the reports of turmoil and strife amongst those three folks over the last year or so, that was an unexpected move. Here is the deal; the Colts underachieved last year for three reasons – and two of the reasons are intimately related:

    1. Andrew Luck got hurt

    2. The OL stunk and could not protect Luck or his replacements

    3. The defense stunk; they gave up 51 points to Jax for Heaven’s sake.

Now, how did those situations obtain?

    Is this a result of coaching malfeasance/incompetence?

    Is this a result of roster-building malfeasance/incompetence?

    Or both?

    The answer here cannot be “Neither!”

For the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Colts record was 22-10 – an enviable record on the surface. However, there is a hidden factor at work there. The Colts are in the AFC south with the Jags, Texans and Titans; in 2013 and 2014, those three teams stunk and the colts record against them was 12-0. Against the rest of the NFL, the Colts went a mediocre 10-10. Moreover, the Colts were dispatched from the playoffs in both 2-13 and 2014 by losing blowout games to the Patriots. There is a “smoke-and-mirrors” aspect to that gaudy 22-10 regular season record…

I cannot read minds but it seems to me that keeping everyone in place means that Jim Irsay thinks that the Colts are serious championship contenders in the very near future and he does not want to “piss in the soup” so to speak. If my conclusion is correct here, then I have to say that I do not share Jim Irsay’s rosy view of the team. Yes, the colts have a very good young QB and yes, they have talent at the offensive “skill positions”. However, I do not think they are a player or two away from greatness or a mere “tweak of the scheme” away from elite status in the league.

I said in a rant earlier this week that I was surprised to see the Eagles fire Chip Kelly – not because I think Kelly is a great coach but because Jeffrey Lurie had shown lots of patience in terms of making coaching changes in the past. The never-to-be-labeled “shy” fans in Philly had a vehement faction that wanted Kelly tarred and feathered prior to being ushered out of town. There was a similar venting of spleen in Philly 3 years ago regarding Andy Reid and his ability to find his ass with either hand. And so, I ask Eagles’ fans this rhetorical question:

    Are the Eagles a better team today than they were when Andy Reid was fired and Chip Kelly took over?

Before we get to the picks for the week, here are my thoughts on NFL awards for the regular season:

    MVP: Cam Newton – with Carson Palmer running a close second.

    Offensive Player of the Year: Carson Palmer – only 1 award per player.

    Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt – with Josh Norman a close second.

    Rookie of the Year: Amari Cooper – with Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston getting consideration.

    Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera – with a tip of the hat to Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and Andy Reid.

The Games:

Here are the four teams with Bye Weeks:

    Broncos: Peyton Manning saved the top-seed slot for the team with a second-half comeback last week. To the surprise of no one outside the Brock Osweiler household, the Broncos announced that Manning will start next week. The team will use the two-week interval to allow Manning to “sharpen his game” hopefully without aggravating his physical condition.

    Patriots: Given the number of injuries to the pats’ OL, I would not be surprised to learn that the team has signed two guys to the roster who have been employed as piano movers in the Boston area for the last 5 years.

    Panthers: The Panthers are loose and cocky at 15-1 for the season. Their challenge is not to become the first team with that kind of record to lose their first playoff game.

    Cardinals: Are they rooting for the Seahawks to be their opponent next week to avenge that 36-6 drubbing they absorbed only a week ago? Or are they rooting for anyone else to come to town?

(Sat. 4:35 PM EST) KC – 3.5 at Houston (40.5): There is an eerie similarity between these two teams. The Chiefs started out 1-5 having lost their best offensive weapon – RB Jamaal Charles. The Texans started out 2-5 and lost their best running back, Arian Foster. The Chiefs rallied to win 10 in a row finishing 11-5 but could not catch the Broncos who built a huge lead in the early part of the season. The Texans rallied to finish with 7 wins in their last 9 games; that was good enough to get them the AFC South title and hence the venue for this game. If you like historical trends, consider these:

    The Texans are 2-0 at home in playoff games.

    The Chiefs have not won a playoff game on the road since 1993.

Both teams win with defense leading the way. The Chiefs allow only 17.9 points per game; the Texans allow only 19.3 points per game. The Chiefs enjoy a 4 points per game advantage on offense but neither squad will be confused with offensive juggernauts such as Carolina, Arizona or New England. Absent 2 scores by defensive units and/or special team units, I like this game to stay UNDER.

(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Pittsburgh – 3 at Cincy (45.5): According to reports, Andy Dalton did not practice on Wednesday. Since he has not thrown a pass in anger in about a month, my guess is that means he will not play and AJ McCarron will. That might be comforting to Bengals’ fans in the sense that Dalton cannot lose this playoff game for them as has been his custom for the last several years. According to reports, DeAngelo Williams did not practice for the Steelers on Wednesday and reportedly was “wearing a boot” on Wednesday nursing his leg/ankle injury. That would seem to indicate an even higher dose of Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football on Saturday than is normal – and the Steelers throw the ball a lot. Here are a few trend stats for you:

    The last Bengals’ playoff win was in 1990. Sam Wyche was the coach then.

    Marvin Lewis is 0-6 in playoff games with the Bengals.

    Ben Roethlisberger is 11-2 against the Bengals in Cincy for his career.

The much-maligned Steelers defense gives up lots of yards per game (363.1); they rank 21st in the NFL in that category. However, that same defense does not give up as many points per game as one might expect (19.9); they rank 11th in the league in that category. The Bengals’ defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in points allowed (17.4 points per game). I surely prefer Ben Roethlisberger over AJ McCarron here in a playoff atmosphere. I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover on the road.

(Sun. 1:05 PM EST) Seattle – 5 at Minnesota (39.5): The Total Line for this game opened at 42.5 and has dropped to this level probably due to folks hearing about where the mercury will drop to come game time. The Vikes play outdoors until their new playpen is finished and the forecast for Sunday calls for the high temperature to be 3 degrees and the low temperature from Saturday night to be minus-10 degrees. Add the forecast of 12 mph winds and you can pretty much figure out that Jerry Lee Lewis could do a halftime show featuring the song:

    Whole Lotta Shiverin’ Goin’ On

A month ago, the Seahawks beat the Vikes in Minnesota 38-7; the score that day accurately reflected the better team on the field. Somehow, I do not think the Vikes are “climatically advantaged” over the Seahawks to the point that it would compensate for a 31-point butt-stomping. Oh, and in case you had not noticed, the Seahawks have won 5 consecutive road games going all the way back to October 11. I’ll take the Seahawks and lay the points here.

(Sun. 4:40 PM EST) Green Bay at Washington – 1 (45): This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game. You can still find it that way at 2 Internet sportsbooks. You can also find the game with the Packers as a 1-point favorite at 1 Internet sportsbook. The majority of venues have the game with the Skins as the single-point favorite. The Skins won 9 games this year including their last 4 in a row. That is the good news. Here is the bad news. The Skins did not beat a single team that posted a winning record for the 2015 season. In fact, the Skins only played 3 games against teams with a winning record and here were the outcomes:

    Oct 18: Jets 34 Skins 20
    Nov 8: Pats 27 Skins 10
    Nov 22: Panthers 44 Skins 16

    For the record, the Packers are 10-6 this season.

Do not get carried away with a case of “Packer euphoria” just yet. The Packers are a flawed team; their wide receivers do not stretch the field; they are only a mediocre running team and their offensive line is injured to the point of marginal competence. The Packers’ defense allows 3.5 points per game fewer than the Skins’ defense does and 33 fewer yards per game than the Skins’ defense. Nonetheless, the Packers are not going to win this game by shutting down the Skins’ offense; if the Packers’ defense is to be the “star of the game” it will have to do it by creating a few turnovers. I make this a venue call; I’ll take the Skins to win and cover at home.

Finally, here is my wish for this week – or for the remainder of the playoff games for that matter:

    Let there be no officiating blunders that directly affect the outcome of any of the games regardless of which team benefits from said blundering.

There have been far too many blunders this year even with the intervention of replay. I hope we all have seen the full quota of such events for the season; we do not need any more.

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

Add One More…

Add one more NFL team looking for a new head coach to the list from yesterday. Late yesterday, the Tampa Bay Bucs parted company with Lovie Smith in a surprising move. In 2014, the Bucs won only 2 games; they were downright awful and had the overall #1 pick in the draft which they used to take Jameis Winston. In 2015, the Bucs finished at 6-10 which is a clear improvement. However, at one point in the season they were 6-6 and were in the mix for a playoff spot; then they lost their last 4 games in a row.

After Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl in Tampa in 2002, he stayed on as coach there until 2008. Since then, the Bucs have gone through Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith as head coaches. The roster has talent; the fanbase is very much a front-runner group; the owners do not exhibit a lot of patience. It will be interesting to see what kind of enthusiasm emerges for that job.

I do not want to jump the gun here because the NFL Free Agency scrum is not going to happen for more than a month, but there are a few players whose contracts expire when their seasons’ end who played their way into a big contract during this year’s free agent frenzy. Just a couple off the top of my head in alphabetical order:

    Kirk Cousins: His rookie contract – the one doled out to a 4th round pick – is over and he is now a certified starting QB in the NFL. My guess is that Cousins has made about $2M in his first 4 years; my guess is that his salary next year will be north of $13M and will escalate each year that the contract is in force.

    Josh Norman: His rookie contract – the one doled out to a 5th round pick from a small college – is over and he is one of the top corner backs in the NFL. Like Kirk Cousins, he has probably made about $1.5-2M so far in his career but his contract next year will be significantly higher. Might he get a contract worth $13M per year on average?

    Russell Okung: His 6-year contract that was worth $48.5M is up and he is one of the best left tackles in the league. His only problem has been some nagging injuries. Okung is only 27 years old so he should expect a fat long-term deal.

    Muhammed Wilkerson: His 4-year contract with the Jets probably paid him a total of $3M and then the Jets picked up an option for 2015 at about $7M. Despite his injury in Week 16, Wilkerson is an exceptional defensive lineman. He may not get “JJ Watt money” (6 years for $100M) but he will cash some nice paychecks during the next deal.

I mentioned above that Russell Okung and Muhammed Wilkerson have had injuries to deal with. That reminds me that I have grown very tired of hearing analysts spout the same old stuff about how this team or that team will have to adopt a “next-man-up culture”. Frankly, that is pretty shallow thinking and it says nothing meaningful about what an injury situation really means to the team. What it says most loudly is that the analyst has no idea what to say about the future and so he falls back on what has become an “old saw” in only a few years. Consider:

    If every team with an injury to compensate for needs to adopt this “next-man-up” attitude, then it stands to reason that such an attitude is part of the essence of being an NFL team. If the supplier of tape and bandages to a team went bankrupt, no one would say the team needed to adopt a “next-tape-supplier-up” attitude. They would say that the team had to adapt to a new situation.

    If you think even a little bit about the idea of a “next-man-up” culture, you will realize that it is more than nonsensical; it is mandatory. If a team loses its starting middle linebacker to an injury, it has only 2 choices:

      It can play someone else at middle linebacker.

      It can play without a middle linebacker.

    That choice is not going to be very difficult for the majority of coaching staffs in the NFL…

While I am on the subject of nonsensical phrases that are overused to the point that they become meaningless, I am tired of hearing that this coach or that coach has “lost the locker room”.

    Memo to Oblivious Coach: Follow your nose and head toward the rancid smell of sweat and dirty jockstraps. You will find the locker room at the end of the line of stink.

Often, I tell you about culinary atrocities that are available at baseball parks around the country but I ran across a report about one that will clog your arteries at a football stadium. At Lambeau Field, you can buy something called The Horse Collar.

    No; it is not horsemeat.

    No; it is not a saddle.

    The Horse Collar is 22-inch long kielbasa bent into a long U-shape. It is served in a roll that is the same U-shape and the sausage – which has been cooked in beer – comes with melted cheese and deep-fried sauerkraut. That is correct; the sauerkraut, which is the only marginally healthy ingredient here, is deep-fried to add to the stress test you will set upon your Lipitor prescription.

    The description above is the “baseline Horse Collar”. You can add fried onions and/or fried peppers at your whim.

A horse collar tackle in an NFL game draws a 15-yard penalty because it is a dangerous way to bring down a ball-carrier. I wonder what penalty a cardiologist might wish to impose on a patient that he saw chowing down on The Horse Collar at Lambeau Field?

Finally, an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Baltimore Ravens behemoth John Urschel co-wrote a paper, published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics, titled ‘A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.’

“And to think, some of his O-line brethren can’t even remember the snap count.”

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

RIP Bob Connolly

I am back from a week without my computer and with only periodic Internet access. I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year celebration. I learned some sad news last night when I checked my e-mails; Bob Connolly – one of the folks listed under “Columnists I Read” on the right margin of the website – passed away just before Christmas. I never met Bob in person but we were in frequent contact over the Internet. When I visited Ireland several years ago, we took a train from Dublin to Belfast and passed through Connolly Station; I took a picture and sent it to him asking if it was named for a relative of his. That led us into a lengthy exchange with regard to Irish/British history and Irish/British politics. Bob was an avid follower of boxing although as a polio survivor he could never participate in anything like boxing as an activity; he explained many things related to boxing to me over the years.

I will leave the link to his Dreams Blog on the website for a while in case any of you might want to check out his final writings.

Rest in peace, Bob Connolly…

There are 6 NFL coaching vacancies at the moment. Only one of them is really surprising to me and that is the Eagles. Jeffrey Lurie had shown great patience during the Andy Reid years as the team built itself up from the worst team in the league in 1999 to a Super Bowl participant in 2005 and a frequent playoff participant up through 2010. Given his enthusiastic verbal support for Chip Kelly, I did not think he would fire Kelly; but he did and the Eagles are looking for a new coach and a new personnel guy since Kelly wore both hats in Philly. Howie Roseman is in charge of personnel for the moment and he has been in Philly for several years now; that is good news and bad news at the same time.

    Good News: He knows the roster’s strengths and weaknesses and he has been doing this job for a while. He is not a novice.

    Bad News: He has butted heads with both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly. I do not know if that has led to a reputation around the league that might scare off top-shelf coaching candidates – but it might…

If you subscribe to the theory that a franchise QB is the single most important factor in a team’s and a coach’s success, then the six openings fall into two categories. Two teams have what appear to be “good QB situations”:

    Giants: The defense may be horrid and the running game shows up only once in a while, but the QB is a 2-time Super Bowl winner. Moreover, Eli Manning has talent to throw to at WR and at TE.

    Titans: Marcus Mariota is not an established star in the NFL yet but his rookie season indicates that he has the potential to become one. The Titans need help in plenty of other places on the roster, but barring injury, they would seem to be set at QB for a while.

The other four teams have what appear to be “not so good QB situations”:

    Eagles: Is Sam Bradford – who is a free agent and will need to be resigned – the long term answer? Yes, he was the overall #1 pick in the draft a few years ago, but still… Certainly, Mark Sanchez is not the long term answer. This is an “iffy situation” at best.

    Dolphins: Is Ryan Tannehill the long term answer? He plays well in stretches and then seems to regress for other stretches. Personally, I think the Dolphins need a huge upgrade in the offensive line in front of him more than they need to go on a QB search.

    Niners: The have an injured/rehabbing Colin Kaepernick – who seemingly regressed to “raw rookie status” last season – and Blaine Gabbert on the roster. Counting on either of those guys is pretty much a crap-shoot…

    Browns: Josh McCown will be 36 next season and finished the year with a shoulder injury. Nonetheless, he is the best QB on the roster. Enough said…

Of those four teams with “not so good QB situations”, I would have to say that the Eagles’ job should be the most attractive because the ownership situations with the other 3 clubs have shown themselves to be mercurial in some cases and downright incompetent in others. The next several weeks will be interesting…

Since I mentioned the Eagles above, let me switch here to another Philly team, the Sixers. Last month, the team hired Jerry Colangelo – rumor has it that the Commissioner pressured the Sixers’ owner to do so in order to bring some level of credibility to the team – and then they hired Mike D’Antoni as an assistant coach. Obviously, these two moves could not hurt a team that was 1-26 at one point in this season; in fact, the Sixers are 3-7 over their last 10 games but let us put that in perspective here.

    Because of their horrid start to the season the Sixers are still – after 37 games – on pace to win only 8 or 9 games this season. Eight wins would set a new record for the worst season record ever; nine wins would tie that record.

    D’Antoni is an offensive minded coach; the head coach, Brett Brown, is a defensive minded coach. If they blend their “basketball gestalt”, they might make the Sixers into a real team. Remember, a team with a 1-26 record projects to have a final NBA record of 3-79.

    The Sixers have played only 14 home games so far this year and have been on the road for 23 games. That means they have a preponderance of home games left on their schedule. They have not been fearsome at home with a 2-12 record but that is surely better than their road record of 2-21…

I am sure you remember Stephon Marbury and some of his antics in his NBA career. Marbury has been playing in China for the last several years and according to this report, a museum dedicated to him opened in Beijing late last month. He already has a statue in that city and is pictured on a Chinese postage stamp. Let me just say that he has obviously found his milieu in the Far East…

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this retrospective on 2015 in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Looking back: Because we’re accustomed to media losing perspective about everything, it wasn’t surprising that in 2015 the relentless fallout over the alleged PSI of a few Patriots footballs created far more outrage than the conviction of New England tight end Aaron Hernandez for the very real crime of first-degree murder.”

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