Today Is Mishmash Day

Here is a headline from yesterday at

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

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

  • Do not allow any earned runs in September.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nike’s New Marketing Campaign

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

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

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

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

Therefore, things to look for in September include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Green Bay 3,377, Chicago 3,377.”

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



NFL Season Predictions – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AFC playoff picture will look like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NFC playoff picture will look like this:

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

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

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

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

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



The Last Month Of MLB – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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