Bad Ads 2018

I am well aware that advertising – and advertisers – pay the freight so that I can sustain my TV sports habit.  I appreciate the mountains of money that they bestow on TV networks thereby making sports programming valuable commodities to those networks for the simple reason that it gives me access to lots of sports stuff.  Just as, however, I recognize and appreciate the democratic form of governance that is extant in the US, I can still criticize the US Government when it does something dumb, I have no qualms about pointing out those advertisements that are bad.  Some are in poor taste; some insult the intelligence of the viewer; some are just stupid.

Let me interject here a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Advertisement:  A medium through which people who truly care about your welfare (and not at all about money) provide you with helpful, extremely subtle reminders that your bad breath, body odor, cell phone provider and make of car all have to go.”

As I watch games on TV, I make notes along the way regarding dumb or annoying ads.  Then I gather them up and use them as fodder for the final rant of the calendar year.  I never bother to “hold over” a few bad ads from one year to the other; I never have to worry about a lack of material for the next calendar year.  That has never been a problem.

In 2018, we had mid-term elections and that meant my sports viewing activities would be assaulted with campaign ads run by the candidates and also by influence groups on behalf of candidates.  There is not a single campaign ad ever produced that is completely candid/truthful.  The only redeeming quality for political campaign ads is that they are absent from my television in odd numbered years.  I shall only consider commercial enterprises here and the ads they present to try to induce me to buy whatever they are selling.

Let me begin this year’s Bad Ads compilation by referring you to a generic set of ads.  I am referring to ads for medicines/drugs that you should “talk to your doctor about”.  They purport to rid patients of various maladies – some significant and others much less significant – but there is no free lunch.  Each of these ads has the voiceover guy – – and it always a “guy” – – reading a list of side effects and potential problems that have been noted in patients who take the medicine in question.  About the only side effect I have not yet heard described in that portion of this class of ads is having a third arm grow out of the middle of your forehead.  [Aside: That might come in handy while doing push-ups …]  And somewhere in that whole spiel is a tip of the hat to two things:

  1. How stupid the viewers of this ad must be – – and – –
  2. How litigious we have become as a society.

Every one of these medicines reminds you not to take the medicine if you are allergic to it or to any of its components – none of which you have ever heard of.  Seriously now, if one is allergic to poison ivy, does that person need to be reminded not to use the leaves as toilet paper if nature calls while hiking in the woods?  C’mon now…

While I am on the subject of categories of ads, have you noticed that all the car company ads are pretty much the same?  They all show the vehicles driving on scenic highways with no other vehicles in sight from horizon to horizon – – or they show them in the city pulling up to hotels or restaurants where there are no other vehicles parked within a half-acre of the front door.  Really?  Does that ever happen to you?   Oh, and every car maker asserts that they have the “best features in their class”.  If you hauled five different carmakers into court and forced them to try to prove that assertion, you could probably get a jury to find all five of them guilty of false advertising.

In terms of car ads that were either stupid or annoying or both:

  • The Chevy “Real People Not Actors” ads were still on the air this year.  How can that be?  Who is not annoyed as hell with those silly things?  What focus group told the company to do more of them?
  • Some of the Chevy Christmas ads are telling me I am part of the Chevy family and can get family discounts.  They open with kids telling you which of their parents works for Chevy.  Juxtapose those ads with the news in late November that GM is closing plants and laying off about 15,000 “family members”.  Ho Ho Ho…  Glad I was not one of the ones dis-invited to Christmas Dinner in the Chevy Family.
  • Buick brought back the smug guy who touts Buick vehicles for a Christmas ad that makes little sense.  He is sitting in an easy chair near a fireplace and he proclaims that all he wants for Christmas is already under the tree.  The camera then pans to the other side of the living room where there is a Buick SUV with a Christmas tree tied to the roof.  “Under the tree” … get it?  Here is a question for you.  How easy would it be for you to drive an SUV into your living room?  Stupid in spades…

The same general concept of impossible outcomes applies to insurance company ads.  Every one of them claims that the average person who switches to their company saves hundreds upon hundreds of dollars per year.  While that is mathematically possible, it does make you wonder how all those astronomically priced insurance companies stay in business.  Or maybe the way they stay in business is that their clientele comprises that stupid segment of the population who must be reminded not to take medicines they are allergic to.

For the record, the last time I compared auto insurance prices for the same level of coverage from three of the large national insurance companies, the difference in cost from the “most expensive” to the ”least expensive” was $4 per six months.  So, I wonder if all those alleged savings of hundreds of dollars per year come from reducing the level of coverage as one changes insurers.  If so, that would be highly deceptive advertising, no?

There are several insurance ads that go beyond questionable in terms of the math and take themselves squarely into the stupid realm:

  • A husband and wife stand in their backyard noting that the wife’s “she-shed” is on fire and is going to be burnt to the ground.  The husband is standing there with a look on his face that makes you think he set fire to her “she-shed”.  She ignores him as she calls her agent and finds out that she is covered and that she will be able to build herself a new and better “she-shed”.  The look on the husband’s face lets you know he is the arsonist – – and that his caper did not turn out the way he intended.  What a stupid message to convey in an insurance ad…
  • Liberty Mutual has an ad where the moronic character in the ad who is touting Liberty Mutual’s coverage gets so disgusted with the competitor’s coverage that he turns and throws his wallet into the bay behind him.  If that is your typical Liberty Mutual customer and/or the customer demographic Liberty Mutual is seeking, I think I’ll look elsewhere…

Back to generic advertising for a moment…  Have you noticed how many inter-racial couples there are in ads these days?  I guess it is a way to show a ‘post-racial” image of a company and it does provide a way for the ad to “identify with” more than a single demographic.  However, it is not as “progressive” as it might make itself out to be.

Consider that DirectTV had an ad where a black female and a white male are in the process of breaking up.  He is on the street; she is in their second story digs and is tossing all his stuff out onto the pavement.  Wanna bet you never see a guy – of any race – throwing a woman’s stuff out the window at her on the sidewalk?  No one in the neighborhood thought to call the police because it was a guy standing there trying to catch his stuff on the way down?

I cannot wait until the surviving family of some teenaged twit sues Red Bull for false advertising – – “Red Bull Gives You Wings” – – when the teenaged twit jumps off a bridge aiming to soar and fly his way into some treetops far off in the distance.  He won’t make it; he will become the forest equivalent of a “pavement pizza”; but his family will take it to court.  Red Bull does not give you wiiings; it does give you gas … but not wiiings.

Olive Garden had an ad touting ‘Buy one, Take one” in their restaurants.  According to the ad, you go to Olive Garden and order a main course; then you can take another helping of that main course or some other main course home with you for consumption at some later time.  Sounds good?  Well, I don’t want to drop a torrential rain on your parade here, but there is a drizzle you will need to deal with:

  • If you “Buy One” – and eat it at the restaurant … and then
  • You “Take One” – and presumably eat it elsewhere at some future time,
  • That means you have consigned yourself to eating TWO meals from Olive Garden.
  • In what universe is that something to celebrate?

You have to look quickly to catch this, but Castrol is the official motor oil of the NFL.  What might it mean to be the official motor oil of the NFL?  Do all the lawnmowers in the stadiums with grass run with Castrol oil?  Maybe all the team buses use that product?  Motor oil is a big deal regarding NASCAR and/or Formula 1 racing; it has nothing to do with a screen pass left.  That makes about as much sense as Riddell signing on to be The Official Shoulder Pad Manufacturer for the US Olympics Women’s Gymnastics Team.  Sheesh…

There were two iPhone ads this year that were stunningly annoying.  There was an ad where a teenage girl unlocks her phone with a facial recognition app and then manages to unlock anything and everything that she walks past.  Fortunately for all of us– I suppose – she does not meander past death row or the large cat house at the zoo.  The ad is abjectly stupid – and then it compounds that by being annoying.

In another iPhone tour de force, the message in the ad is that you can do group video chatting with the phone and the wireless carrier.  To demonstrate this the ad features about a half-dozen Elvis-impersonators singing There’s Always Me.  Question:

  • Have you ever noticed that most Elvis-impersonators look a lot like one another and they sound a lot like one another, but none of them look or sound anything at all like Elvis?
  • Just asking…

Let me pose a rhetorical question here:  Who is the guy you would most like to see dipped in molasses and strapped down to an anthill:

  • The tall skinny Verizon guy who interrupts other people’s events to give them access to Verizon’s superior network – – or – –
  • “Paul” who used to be the Verizon guy until Verizon “went in a different direction” with their ads and now “Paul” is shilling for Sprint?

The obviously correct answer here is – – Both of them!

 Colonel Sanders doing his dancing routine with Mrs. Butterworth is more than cheesy; it is downright creepy.  Who knew that these companies were seeking the squeamish demographic?

Speaking of seeking a strange demographic, Hanes underwear had a series of ads where people took “smellfies” (sniffed their armpits to see if their body odor was detectable) and the message in the ad was that Hanes underwear would eliminate the need to take “smellfies”.

  • Memo to Hanes – and to “Smellfie-takers”:  Regular bathing habits and the use of most commercial deodorants will make “Smellfie-taking” unnecessary and totally creepy.

Lavazza is a coffee company for those of you who have missed out on their ad campaign and have not ever run across the brand in real life.  The cornerstone of their ad campaign is that the Lavazza family has spent 4 generations of perfecting the art of blending coffee.  The only conclusion one can draw from that is that the Lavazza family is pretty dumb to take 4 generations to do that.  After all, once they “perfected” the blending, they cannot improve on it; so, it had to take 4 full generations of effort – by their own admission – to get to the point where they think they can rest on their laurels.  Is that really the message they meant to convey in this ad campaign?

Two beer ads were startingly dumb this year:

  1. Dos Equis ads used to be mildly amusing when they featured The Most Interesting Man in the World.  Then they replaced Most Interesting #1 with Most Interesting #2 without realizing that is not likely to be possible.  That was bad enough but the creative folks who make up those ads were not done.  Someone there thought it would be a good idea to put Rob Riggle in Dos Equis ads.  How that might mesh with “Most Interesting Man in the World” seems never to have been considered.  There is no way that any of the ad geniuses there thought folks would buy that Rob Riggle is anywhere near the Most Interesting Man in the World.  I can’t be the only person in the world who does not think Rob Riggle is even marginally interesting let alone funny.
  2. Michelob Ultra Gold is made from – – hold your breath here – – organic grains.  Ooohh…  That must mean this is the beer that hipsters chug when they want to get wasted.  Here is a cautionary note for you.  Michelob Ultra – Gold or Not Gold and/or Organic or non-Organic – tastes like the south end of a northbound horse.  Light beers as a genre are miserable; Michelob Ultra is among the worst in class.

Need I even mention how annoying the State Farm ads with Aaron Rodgers and his monumentally inept “agent”, Gabe, can be?  There has yet to be one in the series that rises to the level of “not stupid”.  I am not the only one who reacted negatively to this ad campaign; consider this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Comedown: Aaron Rodgers is 28th among NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage and 19th in yards per attempt. But even more disappointing are his latest series of State Farm commercials. Just not as witty as before. You don’t suppose that this is Mike McCarthy’s fault, too?”

Several companies run advertisements for genetic testing so that you can get in touch with your roots and understand/express your heritage.  I ignore them for the same reason that I have not chosen to avail myself of the service that these companies provide.  Here is why:

  • Even after I know that my DNA is 52% this and 34% that and12% some other thing and 2% yak, how would that information change what I do with my time and energy on a daily basis?

I will close here by simply posing a few questions and that will surely recall the stupid ads that spawned the questions:

  • How many times did you have to see the ad featuring “The Salmon Sisters” who run their business off their boat before you were rooting for a great white shark to chomp that boat in half with the two of them on it?  Microsoft should be able to do much better than that…
  • Did Old Navy go out to ad agencies asking them to submit their ideas for the most annoying and obnoxious Christmas ads?  I am beginning to suspect that they do that every July because the stupid Old Navy Christmas Season ads cannot be that bad every year by accident.
  • If the couple who self-identify as “Slingers” ever approached you to join them in their “Slinging”, would you run for the hills immediately or would you grab a crucifix and back them off into a dark locked closet first?
  • If you simply must escape from an awkward or unpleasant social situation, is Buffalo Wild Wings really going to be your preferred escape/destination?  You just found a way to escape from Aunt Millie’s family reunion party which is a plus; however, you are now in a joint that is way too noisy, that serves bad food and smells like grease – – which is THE critical component of everything served there other than the beer.  Seems like The Great Leap Sideways to me…

As the days in 2018 “dwindle down to a precious few”, we all look forward to 2019 and just about everyone hopes that 2019 will be better than 2018 was.  Even if one does not anticipate such improvement, one hopes it will come to pass.  I too hope that advertising campaigns in 2019 are improved over what I had to experience in 2018.  However, even if they all improve a lot, there will still be plenty of material for a Bad Ads rant at the end of 2019.

Does that make me a cynic or a realist?  It depends on whether or not you agree with me.

I began this compendium by giving you the definition of “Advertising” from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm.  Let me close here with another definition from the same source that demonstrates the power of “Advertising”:

Bottled Water:  Tap water made more palatable by a label with a mountain on it.”

Happy New Year, everyone.

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


Football Friday 12/28/18

This is the final weekend of the NFL regular season and this is the final weekend of the calendar year.  So, it is time for Football Friday – – an abbreviated edition today.

Warren Wells was a WR for the Oakland Raiders in the old AFL.  He passed away earlier this week.  Back in 1969, before the rules were skewed to enhance the passing game, Wells led the NFL in these categories in a 12-game season:

  • Yards receiving with 1260 yards
  • Yards per catch with 26.8 yards per catch  [Wow!]
  • TDs receiving with 14 – – and – –
  • Total Yards from scrimmage per game with 1284 yards.

Warren Wells had personal issues that shortened his career, but he was a REALLY good wide receiver.

Rest in peace, Warren Wells.

NCAA Commentary and Games of Interest:

The College Football Playoff happens this week.  Finally, we can put to bed the ongoing narrative about how many teams should be in the CFP and how they should be selected.  Starting tomorrow, the only things that matter will happen between the sidelines in the Orange Bowl and in the Cotton Bowl.

Oklahoma vs Alabama – 14 (79) In the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL:  This game should be interesting because Oklahoma has won most of their games by outscoring the other guys not by stopping them.  The Sooners have been under 40 points in a game only 3 times this year; when they lost, they still scored 45 points.  Meaning no disrespect to any of Oklahoma’s Big 12 opponents, the Sooners have not played a defense like the one they will see in this game.  According to reports, Alabama QB, Tua Tagovailoa will play meaning that he has recovered sufficiently from a foot/ankle injury he sustained earlier this month.  The Sooners’ defense is nothing to write home about, but Tagovailoa has not been practicing at full speed for most of the time since the SEC Championship Game; he has to be just a little “rusty”.  I like Alabama to win the game but spotting 2 TDs to Kyler Murray and that Oklahoma offense is difficult to handle.  I’ll take Oklahoma plus the points.

Notre Dame vs Clemson – 13.5 (56.5) In the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX:  I think both teams here are excellent on defense.  Clemson has only allowed 4 teams to score more than 20 points in a game this year; Notre Dame has allowed only 4 teams to score more than 20 points in a game this year.  I fully expect each defensive unit to show up and play well here.  I do like Clemson’s offense more than I like Notre Dame’s offense.  Clemson averages 538 yards per game of offense and Notre Dame averages 456 yards.  However, that 81 yards per game differential does not translate into 13.5 points for me.  I like Notre Dame plus the points.  I also like the game to stay UNDER.

Since the CFP games take place in college bowl game venues, perhaps this comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times is appropriate here:

“Flush with Ideas”

“Just wondering: Shouldn’t American Standard be sponsoring a bowl?”

NFL Commentary:

Earlier this week, the Oakland Raiders signed Nathan Peterman as a free agent.  After Peterman’s release by the Bills, he cleared waivers and then the Raiders picked him up.  Jon Gruden was high on Peterman during his days at ESPN when he was part of the network’s coverage of the NFL Draft.  If Gruden can develop Peterman into a competent NFL QB, then he is indeed THE Quarterback Whisperer.

Here is a stat that I ran across – and have spent no time verifying:

  • The Arizona Cardinals have gone three-and-out on 33% of their offensive possessions in the 2018 season.

No wonder the Cards rank last in the league in total offense – and not by just a little bit.  The team just above the Cards in terms of offensive output is the Buffalo Bills; that team is hardly feared as an offensive juggernaut around the league.  Nonetheless the Bills gain 293.1 yards per game while the Cards only gain 244.5 yards per game.

The Skins released safety, DJ Swearinger on Monday after he called out the team’s defensive coordinator and his play calling toward the end of the Skins’ loss to the Titans on Saturday.  At the end of the game, the Skins had the lead, but the defense allowed Blaine Gabbert – – yes, THAT Blaine Gabbert – – to drive the field and score the TD that won the game.  [There was a subsequent Pick Six thrown on the next Skins’ possession that made the game look more lopsided than it was.]

This was not nearly the first time Swearinger had expressed problems with the team and the coaches; in the past he had been a bit more oblique.  He had railed on the intensity of practices and the “laid back nature” of the football operations with the Skins.  I guess it was the repeated spouting off – plus the specificity of his remarks this time – that cost him his job.

Do not feel too bad for DJ Swearinger.  In less than 48 hours, he was signed by the Arizona Cardinals – the team he was with before the Skins signed him as a free agent two winter’s ago.  Here is the overview:

  • Swearinger is not the best safety in the NFL – – but he was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate this year.
  • Swearinger is by far the best safety on the Skins’ roster – – the others who play that position are closer to the Porcelain Bowl level than to the Pro Bowl level.

If you live anywhere near the DC area, this is merely the latest drama emanating from the Skins’ operation.  Player/coach clashes in public may be unusual in many cities but not around here.

  • Clinton Portis clashed in public repeatedly with head coach, Jim Zorn in 2008 and their feud continues to this day with Portis ripping Zorn every chance he gets.
  • RG3 and the Shanahans (Kyle and Mike) engaged in several public spitting matches.

Eagles 32/Texans 30:  I said it was the Game of the Week and it lived up to that label.  Nick Foles worked a ton of magic here throwing the ball 49 times completing 35 of those balls for 471 yards and 4 TDs.  I think I read Foles’ contract correctly; if I did, then the Eagles hold an option for him for 2019 at $20M for a year.  On 3rd and 4th down, Foles was 15 for 16 for 165 yards and 2 TDs.  With those kinds of numbers and with Carson Wentz still on his rookie deal, the Eagles just might pick up that option…

Vikes 27/Lions 9:  Matthew Stafford – making somewhere in the $25M-30M per year range – was held to 18 for 32 for 118 yards passing before he was lifted in the 4th quarter.  With the Browns on the improve for the moment, the focus of dysfunctionality in the NFL could be on Cincy or Oakland or Detroit.  The Lions are making a strong case to be in the spotlight in 2018…

Cowboys 27/Bucs 20:  The Cowboys clinched the NFC East title with this win.  Jameis Winston did not throw an INT in the game but he did lose 2 fumbles that led to 2 Cowboys TDs.  What to do with and about Jameis Winston will consume a lot of time in the Bucs’ organization this offseason.

Colts 28/Giants 27:  The Giants led 14-0 and later led 24-14 in this game but could not hold on. The Colts’ defense committed to stop Saquon Barkley and they did just that holding him to 43 yards on 21 carries.

Pats 24/Bills 12:  The Pats are the AFC East champs for the 10th year in a row.  If this is what the Pats’ dynasty looks like as it crumbles, I suspect that Pats’ fans will settle for a continuation next year when they see the Pats win their 11th straight title.  The Pats ran the ball for 273 yards in this game showing that they can win games in a variety of ways; the team seemed not to miss Josh Gordon a bit in this game.  Speaking of Josh Gordon, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The NFL has suspended Patriots receiver Josh Gordon yet again for violating the league’s drug policy.

“In other words, upon further review, they’ve ruled he was in possession.”

Bears 14/Niners 9:  Both defenses controlled this game.  Mitchell Trubisky had some nice individual stats (25 for 29 for 246 yards and 1 TD) but that only produced 2 TDs for the game.  The Niners never saw the end zone.

Rams 31/Cards 9:  The game was a total domination by the Rams.  The Cards got 1 TD in the game; it came on a pass form Larry Fitzgerald to David Johnson.  That was the highlight/takeaway from this game

Saints 31/Steelers 28:  The Saints wrapped up home field advantage in the playoffs with this win.  Meanwhile, the Steelers may have played themselves into exclusion from the playoffs. The Steelers started the day as the #4 AFC Seed and wound u- the day as the #8 team in the standings needing help to get into the playoffs at all.   Ben Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and Antonio Brown had 14 catches for 166 yards and 2 TDs, but that was not enough.  There has been an awful lot of drama with the Steelers’ this year; are they trying to emulate the Skins?

Seahawks 38/Chiefs 31:  The Seahawks’ formula is run the ball and play defense.  The Chiefs’ offense scored plenty of points here, but the Seahawks offense was able to keep pace because the Chiefs’ defense gave up 210 yards rushing and 465 yards of offense.  They say, “defense wins championships”.  If that is true, then the Chiefs have an Achilles’ Heel.

Falcons 27/Panthers 10:  Backup QB Taylor Heinicke threw 3 INTs in the game and the normally inept Falcons’ defense held the Panthers to 10 points.  The only bright spot for the Panthers was Christian McCaffrey who ran for 101 yards and caught 12 passes for another 77 yards.

Browns 26/Bengals 18:  The Browns are 7-7-1; they could wind up with a winning record this season and they have an excellent nucleus of young players to build around.  The Browns have been last in the AFC North standings for each of the last 7 seasons – – but not this year.  Granted the Bengals had to play their backup QB, but at the half, the Bengals’ passing offense totaled negative-15 yards.  Jeff Driskel ended the day with 133 yards and 2 TDs as passing offense numbers.

Packers 44/Jets 38 (OT):  Aaron Rodgers threw for 442 yards and 2TDs – – plus he ran for 2 more TDs – – to give the Packers their first and only road win of the season. The Packers needed to come back from a 15-point deficit in the 4th quarter to force the OT and then to win the game.   The Jets’ defense gave up 540 yards in the game.

Jags 17/Dolphins 7:  This game was about as interesting as the score would indicate.  The Dolphins did not gain 200 yards on offense – – for the 3rd time in the last 4 games.  The Jags offense produced all of 10 points in this yawn-fest.  A late Pick-6 made this into a 10-point game.

Raiders 27/Broncos 14:  A freaky 99-yard punt return by the Raiders was the only on-field highlight of this game – – unless you count some of the fans running onto the field after the game since this was likely the final Raiders’ game in the Oakland Coliseum.

NFL Games This Week:

The NFL has flexed the important games to the late Sunday afternoon time slot and to Sunday night.  A couple of the early games have potential significance on the playoffs, but the main games are for later in the day.  Those late afternoon games with no major playoff importance are in that time slot because they are being played in the western time zones.

There are two déjà vu games this week:

  1. Kirk Cousins leads the Vikings out against the Bears at home with the following at stake.  If the Vikes win, they are the #6 seed in the playoffs; if they lose, they could be done for the year.  Last year, when Cousins was with the Skins, he and his team faced that same situation – – and the Skins saw their season go up in smoke losing to a Giants’ team that only won 3 games all year.
  2. Last year, the Ravens were in the situation where a win over the Bengals in the final week would guarantee them a playoff slot.  The Ravens lost that game.  Here we are at the final game of the regular season for 2018 and the Ravens are in the same position.  If they win, they are in.  If they lose, they may be outside looking in once again.

Early Afternoon Sunday Games

Dallas at Giants – 6 (41.5):  Yes, I looked twice at the spread here; indeed, the Giants are favored in this contest.  In fact, the spread opened the week with the Giants favored by 3 points and that number expanded quickly to this level.  The game has no playoff bearing at all; the Cowboys are the #4 seed in the NFC no matter what happens here or anywhere else in the league.  That means the Cowboys will play the #5 seed next week and that would be the Seahawks as of this moment – but it could wind up being the Vikes.

Carolina at New Orleans – 7 (44):  This game has no playoff meaning at all either.  The Saints will have home-field advantage for the entirety of the NFC playoffs; the Panthers will be spending lots of time in the offseason hoping that Cam Newton’s arm/shoulder heals completely before OTAs begin.  Who knows if Sean Payton will rest some or all his top players?  If he does decide to give Drew Brees some time off here, the question will become:

  • Will the “next QB up” be Terry Bridgewater or Taysom Hill?

Jets at New England – 13.5 (45):  The Total Line here opened the week at 48 points and dropped to this level quickly.  The Patriots can still achieve the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs for this year, but it gets complicated to explain how they get there.  Here is the simple and direct meaning of the game for the Pats:

  • Win here and the Pats are guaranteed at least the #2 Seed in the AFC playoffs which means they get a BYE Week next week.

I would not bet on this game.  However, here is how I think it will unfold.  Pats get a lead and then nurse the lead with a running game while the defensive wrinkles confuse rookie QB Sam Darnold.  If I am right, then the bet is to take the Jets.  If I am wrong, the Pats could win this in a storm.

Detroit at Green Bay – 8 (44.5):  This might have been a contender for Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the big 4th quarter comeback by Aaron Rodgers last week followed by a Packers’ win in OT makes me think this game might have some late excitement.  Notwithstanding that potential, both teams are disappointments this year.  The Lions fired their coach after last year despite two consecutive seasons at 9-7.  The best they can do this year is 6-10. Meanwhile, the Packers must be a sub-.500 team this year and they have already fired their coach in the middle of this season.  Hoo-ray!

Jax at Houston – 6.5 (40.5):  The spread for this game opened at 10 points; dropped to 7 points overnight and then inched down to this level.  Why so much Jags’ money?  Beats me; I checked the Jags’ roster and their 2 QBs are still Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler.  The Texans will clinch the AFC South title with a win here; if they lose, the winner of the Colts/Titans game on Sunday night will be the AFC South champ.  A win for the Texans – along with a bunch of other happenings – could get them a BYE Week next week but the important thing for them is to win and be part of the playoffs.  The Jags’ front seven versus the Houston OL is the only mismatch favoring the Jags.

Atlanta – 1 at Tampa (51):  The Falcons started out as 1-point favorites in this game; then the Bucs were 1-point favorites and now the Falcons are once again 1-point favorites.  The game is meaningless save for the fact that it is a division game.  The Falcons were picked by more than a couple of prognosticators as the NFC Super Bowl team this year.  Their 6-9 record coming into this game defines “underachievement”.  The Bucs’ record stands at 5-10 and a blowout loss at home in this game ought to trigger a huge reshuffling of the cards in Tampa.  This is what I call a WGARA Game – – a Who Gives A Rat’s Ass Game

Miami at Buffalo – 3.5 (39.5):  This is the Dog Breath Game of the Week.  The Dolphins have the 30th ranked offense in the NFL; the Bills have the 31st ranked offense in the NFL.  If you are searching for meaning for this game, perhaps this will help:

  • If the Dolphins win, they will finish the season at .500.

Sorry, that is the best I can summon up here…  If this were a pro ‘rassling event and they needed some crazy stipulation for the match, maybe this would suffice:

  • First team to score in the “teens” wins the game.
  • Problem with that stipulation is that the game might take 6 full quarters for one of them to get there…

Late Afternoon Sunday Games

Oakland at KC – 13.5 (53.5):  In terms of rivalries, this one goes back to the 60s when John Madden and Hank Stram went at one another.  This year the teams have mirror-image records; the Chiefs are 11-4; the Raiders are 4-11.  Believe it or not, the Chiefs could wind up with the overall #1 Seed in the AFC playoffs here – – or they could fall al the way to the #5 Seed.  A win guarantees them home-field advantage and a BYE week next week.  With a loss, many things are possible…  I am not sure the Raiders have a sufficient ground attack to take advantage of the Chiefs’ biggest weakness.

Philly – 6.5 at Washington (42):  The playoff implications here are simple and straightforward:

  • Eagles make the playoffs with a win here PLUS a Vikings’ loss to the Bears

End of message…  Someone asked me earlier this week if Nick Foles is the best backup QB ever.  He surely had a magical run last year and played outstandingly last week, but there was this guy named Steve Young who backed up Joe Montana for the Niners – – and Young was pretty good too…

Cleveland at Baltimore – 6 (41): The Ravens are “win-and-you’re-in” – – just as they were last year playing the Bengals in the final game of the year.  Last year, the Ravens spit the bit; they will need to be focused and ready for this game because the Browns are not the pushovers they have been for about the last decade.  The Browns won the first meeting this year 12-9 but neither team today resembles what happened back in October.  The Ravens now have Lamar Jackson running the show with a lot more emphasis on the run game.  The Browns have an interim head coach who has the team playing a lot better than they were under the former non-interim head coach.  Both teams have won 5 of their last 6 games.  This should be a good game.  Ravens loss plus a Steelers win would give the Steelers the AFC North title AND it would eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs in the final week for the second year in a row.

Cincy at Pittsburgh – 14.5 (45.5):  The spread for this game opened at 17 points and the Total Line opened at 48 points.  Both of those line movements are big ones.  Here are the playoff implications for this game:

  • Right now, the Steelers are outside looking in.
  • If they win this game AND if the Ravens lose to the Browns, the Steelers will be the AFC North champs and make the playoffs
  • Moreover, if the Steelers win here AND the Ravens lose, the Ravens will be eliminated from the playoffs for the second year in a row.  So, the Steelers’ fans will be rooting for the Browns this week.  Seriously…

I read in a blog somewhere that the Steelers can also make the playoffs if they win this game and the Colts/Titans game winds up in a tie.  There is no way I am going to try and verify that because it would mean figuring out the tie-breakers for three teams all of whom have a tie game on their record.  I’ll pretend that cannot happen.  James Connor is listed as questionable for this game.  That is important in the passing game for the Steelers.  Connor’s backup the last couple of weeks has been Jaylen Samuels; he has run well, but his pass blocking and blitz pickups have left something to be desired.  The Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs last year with an upset win in Week 17.  That is not going to happen here, but that line does look fat; I like the Bengals plus the points.

Chicago at Minnesota – 5 (40.5):  I think this is the Game of the Week.  For the Vikes, this is a “win-and-you’re-in” game.  They can still make the playoffs with a loss providing the Eagles   also lose to the Skins.  If the Vikes get in as the #6 Seed, their first-round playoff opponent next week would be the #3 Seed – – and as of this morning the #3 Seed in the NFC are these same Chicago Bears.  There is a possibility the Bears can move up in the seedings with a win here AND a Niners victory over the Rams.  I suspect that the Bears are going to go for that #2 Seed and play their starters; if I am correct, I really like the Bears plus the points here.  If I’m wrong…

Chargers – 6.5 at Denver (41.5):  The Chargers and Chiefs have identical 11-4 records, but the Chiefs hold the head-to-head tie-breaker.  The Chargers can win the division if they win here AND the Chiefs lose to the Raiders; that would drop the Chiefs to the #5 Seed.  A month ago, the Broncos looked to have a reasonable path to a wild card playoff berth; with four games to play, they had three in a row against teams with losing records – – and then this final game.  They needed to win out.  Here is what happened:

  • Niners 20  Broncos 14  Niners’ record today is 4-11
  • Browns 17  Broncos 16  Browns’ record today is 7-7-1
  • Raiders 27  Broncos 14  Raiders’ record today is 4-11

So much for that stroll down primrose lane to the playoffs for the Broncos…

Arizona at Seattle – 13.5 (38.5):  A loss by Seahawks here PLUS a Vikes’ win in Chicago would drop Seahawks to 6th seed in the NFC from the 5th spot they currently hold.  Right now, their first-round game would be in Dallas against the Cowboys.  Both the Seahawks and the Cowboys focus on running the football, that game could bring back memories of Woody Hayes and Darrell Royal.

SF at Rams – 10 (49):  This spread opened at 7.5 points and jumped to this level as the week wore on.  The playoff meaning here is very simple:

  • If the Rams win, they get a BYE next week as the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

To get that win, the Rams will have to do it without Todd Gurley and wth CJ Anderson at RB.

Sunday Nite Game

Indy – 3 at Tennessee (43.5):  The winner of this game will go to the playoffs; it is as simple as that.  The Colts needed a big rally – – actually two big rallies – – to win last week over the Giants (see above).  The Colts held Saquon Barkley in check last week; can they do the same this week with Derrick Henry?  Looking only at the QBs here, this will be a battle between Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert.  [Aside:  The Titans “real QB” says he will try to play this weekend; to me, that means he is not going to play very much and not very well if he does play.]  If football were not so much a team game, there would be no choice to make here.  The game is in Nashville where the Titans are 6-1 this season.

Finally, I will crib from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times for the third and final time today:

“Harley-Davidson has recalled 238,000 motorcycles because they have a clutch problem.

“The NFL, not to be outdone, immediately recalled the New York Giants.”

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



Clearing The Clipboard…

As the year is drawing to a close, I’ll use today to clear a few small items off my clipboard to get ready for 2019 ranting…

The Chicago Bears are going to sell beer in cans not plastic cups.  The reason is that beer cans are more environmentally friendly – they are recyclable – and plastic cups are now seen as spawn of the Devil.  It was not all that long ago when all the momentum was to sell beer in plastic cups because when an angered and inebriated fan threw the beer container at an opposing player or official, the cup was a lot safer than a full can of liquid.  According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Soldier Field peddles about 20,000 cases of beer a year at the Bears’ home games – including exhibition games – and whatever other ancillary events take place there.  That amounts to 480,000 cans of beer.

  • That is a lot of “ammunition” to put in the hands of potentially angry spectators – and –
  • That is almost a half-million plastic cups that need not be used.

It turns out that Urban Meyer is not going to retire fully at Ohio State.  He will not be the head football coach, but he will stay on at the university and he will be teaching a course there – one that students can take for academic credit.  The course will be “Leadership and Character” and it will be offered by the business school at the university.  Given some of the off-field “issues” that Meyer’s players have had at Florida and the way he danced around candor related to allegations of domestic violence by one of his assistant coaches, the course title and might strike one as ironic…

If you ever have a chance, watch an NBA game on TV between the Houston Rockets and the LA Lakers.  Forget about all the nuances of the game and focus on this:

  • How many extra steps do the officials allow James Harden to take without a traveling violation – and –
  • How many extra steps do the officials allow LeBron James to take without a traveling violation?
  • For a single game, add those two numbers.
  • I’ll set the OVER/UNDER for that total at 50.5.

The NBA has deals in place with two “sports data providers” to distribute in-game official NBA data that can be used by licensed sportsbooks in the US for in-game NBA and WNBA wagers.  [Aside:  If you are even thinking of making an in-game wager on a WNBA game, please get yourself some counseling – quickly.]  This may seem like a small deal but data from betting shops in Europe and the UK indicate that live/in-game wagering has a larger handle than betting prior to the start of the contest.  Is this the harbinger of a major change in betting habits in the US?

In other news related to the NBA and wagering, the league announced about a week ago that it had expanded its partnership with FanDuel:

  • FanDuel had been the Official Daily Fantasy Partner of the NBA and WNBA
  • Now Fan Duel is also the Authorized Gaming Operator for the NBA.

Best I can tell, here is what the expanded partnership does:

  • FanDuel gets to use the NBA logos and trademarks on all its basketball products and gets access to the NBA’s official data streams.
  • The NBA gets to be part of FanDuel’s process for creating new betting formats and new “gaming experiences”.

All of this gambling-related news comes because the Supreme Court struck down PASPA as unconstitutional earlier in 2018.  In tat decision, the Court said that Congress could act to establish regulations on sports betting – – but that the way they did it in PASPA did not pass Constitutional muster.  Well, the Congress appears to be taking that opening seriously.  A group of Senators will introduce legislation designed to provide US Government oversight for sports betting.  According to reports, the proposed legislation would include:

  1. A prohibition on sports betting for amateur sports except the Olympics and college sports.  [That means you will not be able to get down on a 12-and-under soccer game involving the travel team from your town.  Too bad…]
  2. A prohibition on sports betting by anyone under 21 years of age.  [I guess that makes sense … except people are eligible to vote and serve in the military at age 18 but they can’t make a wager on the Jets getting 4 points against the Bills?]
  3. A prohibition on sports betting by athletes, coaches, officials, and others associated with sports organizations.  [I hope that only means no betting on the sports they are involved with; a basketball player ought to be able to bet on horseracing and/or a football game without a problem.]
  4. A prohibition on sports betting by persons convicted of federal crimes related to sports betting.  [No problems here…]
  5. A requirement that sportsbooks use results provided by sports organizations or their licensees to determine betting outcomes through 2024 and then to set data integrity requirements for future times.  [Sounds like the lobbyists for the NCAA, MLB, MBA and NFL had an impact here.]
  6. An amendment to the Wire Act which would allow interstate sports wagering.  [No problems here…]

Frankly, other than giving the sports leagues legal authority to get themselves a regular stream of revenue from sports betting, I am not sure this legislation addresses much of anything important.

Finally, here is a commentary by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Ten Byron (Ill.) High School football players were suspended for three games — the last of which was a 24-20 loss to Monticello in the Class 3A state-championship game — after they ran across a field naked with Oreo cookies wedged between their buttocks as a prank.

“That’s what you call a costly end-zone celebration.”

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



Covering the NFL On TV…

It is late enough in the NFL season for me to offer up my observations about the TV productions associated with NFL football for this season.  It is not as if I am awarding some sort of honorific title that anyone associated with NFL broadcasting would care about; these are just my reactions to some of the studio shows and television announcing teams that graced the airwaves this year.

For no reason in particular, let me start with CBS.  Their pre-game/post-game studio show is the best of a sorry lot.  Notwithstanding that accolade, the show has plenty of room for improvement; here is the most obvious way for the show to get better:

  • Bill Cowher has sailed by his “’Best If Used By” date.  His analyses for every game sound the same to me – – run the ball; stop the run; hold the other QB in check.  [The depth of that insight is equivalent to the depth of puddle in a parking lot.]  The only thing he leaves out is “score more points than the other guys”.  As the depth and content of his contributions to the “discussions” on the program have diminished, Coach Cowher has amped up the volume as if to make his points appear to be more meaningful.  Sadly, volume does not equal insight…

I like Phil Simms in this studio role a lot more than I liked him in the booth as a color analyst and I think Nate Burleson is a rising star in that business.  CBS should leave both of those guys alone.  I have never been a Boomer Esiason fan; the best I can say about him is that he is the same now as he was two or three years ago.  If you liked him then …  James Brown is just fine as the ringleader here.

CBS has two excellent broadcast teams calling their games:

  1. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are each very good – – and when they play off one another they each make the other one better.
  2. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts are also excellent – – but far less recognized because they do not get nearly the exposure that Nantz and Romo get.

Over at FOX, the problem seems to be that the network is trying to turn the pregame show into a comedy event – – with one glaring problem:

  • None of the people on the program are even remotely comedic.  I have a corn on my foot that is a funny as any of those guys.

I have no problems with either Howie Long or Tony Gonzales; they seem to realize they are there to talk about football first and silliness third or fourth.  Jimmy Johnson is better than Bill Cowher; let me leave it at that.  Michael Strahan may be wonderful on Good Morning America; I’ll never know about that because you could not get me to watch any of those “morning fluff shows” without providing me with wealth that would change the fortunes of at least 4 of my future generations.  What I do know, is that he adds little important insight to the FOX pregame shows.  Curt Menefee is a slightly heavier version of James Brown; he is just fine – and innocuous – as the ringleader here.  And that brings me to Terry Bradshaw…

  • I would much prefer to see Terry Bradshaw join Bill Cowher in retirement – forced or voluntary makes no difference to me.

Oh, by the way, someone at FOX must figure out a graceful way to “move on” from Rob Riggle and his weekly picks.  He takes 2 minutes to do a comedy routine; but it is not funny.  And here is something the FOX people need to realize:

  • Short of colonoscopies, there are few things more uncomfortable that watching someone trying to be funny – – when the bit is not funny at all.

In the booth at the games, FOX has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as their top-shelf team.  Those guys are really good – and no, Joe Buck is not smarmy and no, Troy Aikman does not hate your favorite team.  The problem at FOX is that it is a BIG step down from those guys to the rest of their announcing crews.

For NBC’s Football Night in America, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison do a fine job in their low-key presentations.  I prefer their understated presentations of their opinions much more than the bombast or the attempted humor at CBS and FOX.  Mike Tirico is good.  Tirico’s “problem” is that he is the NBC heir-apparent to several positions.

  1. Mike Tirico is the latter-day Dan Patrick on Football Night in America.  Problem is, that Patrick was better at that job.
  2. Mike Tirico is the latter-day Bob Costas at the Olympic coverage.  He is to Bob Costas as Adam Sandler is to winning an Oscar for Best Actor.
  3. Mike Tirico is seen as the heir-apparent to Al Michaels as the play-by-play guy for Sunday Night Football.  Mike Tirico is to Al Michaels as Colonel Sanders is to Auguste Escoffier.

Over at ESPN, the self-proclaimed “World-wide Leader” has not recovered from the decision to “move on” from the Sunday morning show that Chris Berman orchestrated.  Randy Moss and Charles Woodsen are fine; the rest of the program participants could be changed out with Manny, Moe and Jack on any given Sunday and it would make no difference.  That program needs a total overhaul.  The lead-in to Monday Night Football is significantly better than the Sunday morning show.  Adding Suzy Kolber and Steve Young to Randy Moss and Charles Woodsen makes that program work.

And that brings me to the ESPN game coverage for Monday Night Football.  Let me preface these remarks by saying that anyone at ESPN who tries to compare this announcing crew to Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith should have his/her head placed directly to the right of Ted Williams’ head in that cryolab wherever it is.

  • Joe Tessitore needs to recognize that every 3-yard run on 1st and 10 is not the shot heard round the world.  I did not think it possible that someone else could be as hyperbolic as Kevin Harlan and/or Gus Johnson – – but Tessitore achieves that level.  Many is the game where I would swear that he is in the booth chugging quadruple espressos at every change of possession.
  • Jason Witten suffers by comparison to his former teammate Tony Romo who stepped into the announcing booth at the top of the announcing ladder and performed outstandingly.  Witten made the same jump from field to booth at a similar level, but Witten is merely OK at the job.  What ESPN needs to do is to provide Witten with mentoring and other opportunities to be on the air so that he can grow in his new occupation.  Jason Witten is not a “natural” on the air – – but he has insights that are valuable.  I consider him a work-in-progress.
  • I really like Booger McFarland; simultaneously, I hate how ESPN is using him on the MNF telecasts.  We have had a full year of the Booger-Mobile; it was worth a try, but it does not work.  It is time to send it to the Edsel Hall of Fame.  Booger McFarland has insights to offer; in addition, he is clever and – at times – funny in the way he makes his points.  He would only be better if he were in the booth with his colleagues so that they could play off one another the way human beings do in social situations.  I believe that ESPN is wasting a significant talent in Booger McFarland propping him up in that motorized contraption.  Oh, by the way, if Booger and Witten were in the booth together and interacting there as human beings who also happen to know football, I think it would help Witten’s development as a color analyst.

Finally, Greg Cote provided a commentary in the form of Carnac the Magnificent in the Miami Herald last week:

“Answer: Imprisoned-for-life Larry Nasser says his years of sexual abuse of female gymnasts should have been tried as a medical malpractice case.

Question: What’s the new and ultimate definition of ‘delusional’?”

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



LeBron James on “Slave Mentality”

Until I read a blurb in the Washington Post over the weekend, I was not aware that LeBron James hosted a TV show on HBO.  I do not subscribe to HBO and without this mention in the Post, my ignorance would have likely extended forever.  The show is evidently named The Shop and it features a barber shop setting where LeBron and his invited guests sit around and talk about “stuff”.  If I were already subscribed to HBO, I might tune into an episode or two just to see who the invited guests are and what the discussion topics are about.  Having said that, I will not be adding HBO to my cable TV package based on my newly acquired awareness of this programming.

Here is the part of the report in the Post that caught my attention.  They report that LeBron James had this to say in a recent episode of his show:

“In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality.  This is my team.  You do what the f- – – I tell y’all to do, or we get rid of y’all.”

LeBron then went on to praise NBA commish, Adam Silver, for allowing NBA players to have “a real feeling” and to express those real feelings even when Silver does not agree with them.  OK, I get it; LeBron James thinks Adam Silver is a good guy and a lot better person that Roger Goodell.  Moving on…

LeBron James is an adult; moreover, he is an intelligent and articulate adult – – the syntax of the above statement notwithstanding.  In addition, I recognize and appreciate the use of hyperbole regarding many situations.  However, in this case, I believe that LeBron James went too far – – way too far.  Let me explain.

I have a problem with LeBron’s position and it has nothing to do with stereotyping in his description of NFL owners as “old white men”.  Most NFL team owners are exactly that but not all of them.  My problem is his attributing their thoughts to a “slave mentality”.  LeBron does not – because he cannot – read minds.  He has no idea what NFL owners think or if they possess a “slave mentality”.

Slavery was – and remains – an abominable aspect of the human social order.  Attributing aspects of slavery – even the mindset of slave owners which can only be imagined or inferred – is an extrapolation that is improper.  If I were to make some sweeping and damning statement about the mentality of Black NBA basketball players based on my mind-reading skills, I would and should be vilified as a racist.

The NFL is far short of beneficent in the way it deals with its players.  I am perfectly willing to heap scorn upon them for dumb things that the league does.  However please consider:

  • There is a union representing the players.  Slaves did not then and do not now have unions.
  • There is a CBA under which the owners and players do their business.  I have never heard of anything resembling a CBA in a situation where slavery is part of the social order.
  • The CBA makes the NFL owners and players partners in a multi-billion dollar enterprise.  Actual slaves are not partners with their owners.
  • The CBA provides players with something called “free agency”.  Free agency allows players to “take their talents” elsewhere; when slaves in the southern US sates ran away, they were hunted down and returned to their owners. Free agency is the antithesis of slavery.
  • The NFL has made about 10,000 players millionaires in the past 20-25 years.  Few if any slaves in any slave society ever achieve a tenth of that wealth.

While ranting about something related to the NBA – tangentially to be sure – let me comment on an NBA game that was on my TV last week.  The Washington Wizards played the Houston Rockets; both teams had started the season significantly underachieving expectations for them; recently, both teams had shown improvement and the Rockets had made it back to the .500 level for the season.  NBA games in December are usually snooze-fests, but this one looked like it had the potential to be interesting.  Man, was I wrong…?

  • The Wizards gave up 70 points in the first half by standing around on defense as if the game was a rec league contest for men 50 years and older.
  • They seemingly equalized that lack of effort on defense by having everyone without the ball on offense standing around like the statuary in the Roman Pantheon.
  • Meanwhile, the Rockets made the game painfully boring by effecting an offensive game plan that had them attempt 55 shots from 3-point range.  At least in the 3-point shooting contest during All-Star Week, there is a short time limit on that activity – which by itself is boring – but the Rockets did that for all 48 minutes here.

The final score of this hot mess was Rockets 136 and Wizards 118 – – if you care.

Finally, here is the Headline – and the sub-headline – for an article on from last Saturday:

“Ranking Foles’ most likely landing spots”

“Nick Foles could stay in Philly or the Super Bowl

LII MVP could opt to move on this offseason”

Well, that covers all the possibilities – including his possible decision to retire from the NFL to herd yaks in the highlands of Nepal next year.  Sheesh…

[Aside:  No rant tomorrow.  I will have something posted on Wednesday 26 December.  Merry Christmas/Seasons Greetings to one and all.  Be safe and stay well.]

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



Football Friday 12/21/18

The late George Jones sang:

“It’s finally Friday
I’m free again
I got my motor running for a wild weekend
It’s finally Friday
I’m out of control
Forget the workin’ blues
And let the good times roll”

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I am always free; my weekends are no longer wild; I try to remain in control because I have no working’ blues to worry about.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, it’s Football Friday.

NCAA Football Commentary:

Nothing of any gravity happened on the field last week.  So, let me use this space to present two items I found in Bob Molinaro’s column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot and comment on them.

“Liberty’s choices: Liberty University, which vigorously promotes its Christian foundation, just hired football coach and Jesus-name-dropper Hugh Freeze, who was forced out at Ole Miss for a “pattern of personal misconduct” which included using a school phone to call escort services. He’ll now work under A.D. Ian McCaw, who held the same position at Baylor during its sexual assault scandal.”

I suggest that Coach Freeze and AD McCaw might want to take a moment as they begin their work at Liberty to recall Luke 12:2:

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.”

Professor Molinaro’s second observation comments on the human condition:

“Not so fast: It’s no surprise that influential people in college football are ready to speed up discussions about expanding the playoffs from four to eight teams. The human species is programmed to believe that more is better, especially when huge sums of money are involved. We’ll see how soon expansion takes place and, then much later, if it improves the sport. Because sometimes, more is just more.”

Indeed, the idea that “more is better” permeates many human enterprises starting with how big a serving of pie a la mode one would like after dinner.  In many cases, more is actually better; when you get a promotion at work and it comes with a 10% raise, your life is probably going to be better than it would be getting the promotion without the raise.  But Molinaro is right in this circumstance.

When I look at the landscape of college football for this year, I have seen every one of the teams ranked in the Top Ten at the end of the season play plenty of football – – except for UCF which I have only seen play about one-quarter of one game.  I cannot make a pronouncement on UCF’s potential to win an expanded CFP because I don’t have a basis for judging if they belong in the Top Ten nationally.  And, by the way, neither do the UCF acolytes in the Orlando area.

However, with regard to the other teams in the rankings, I really do not believe that teams ranked from #7 through #15 would have a chance to run a tournament gauntlet and become national champions.  Here are the teams in that ranking – omitting UCF:

  • Michigan (10-2)
  • Washington (9-3)
  • Florida (9-3)
  • LSU (9-3)
  • Penn State (9-3)
  • Washington State (10-2)
  • Kentucky (9-3)
  • Texas (9-3)

The problem with expanding the CFP is where to stop.  If a committee has to draw a line somewhere among that grouping of teams, there will be as much controversy then as there is now drawing the line between Number 4 and Number 5.  Yes, there will be more college football games that are interesting but expanding the CFP will not eliminate the controversy and the claims of exclusion by a team just below the cut line.

For proof of that, consider March Madness which invites 68 teams to the party…

NFL Commentary

Notwithstanding what is about to follow here, I am not going to use Bob Molinaro to write this entire rant for me.  However, he did have a very cogent insight in a recent column that fits well here:

“Not the fix: Remember when everybody was calling for the NFL to hire full-time game officials? Well, the league has 24 this season. Why, then, does the officiating appear to be 24 times worse?”

I don’t know that the officiating appears to be 24 times worse this year than before, but it certainly is no better than it has been.  The reason for that is pretty clear to me.  These comments come from someone who never officiated football but who did officiate basketball for 37 years.

  • In the off-season, the only things an official can “improve upon” are knowledge of the rules and officiating mechanics.  Those improvements come from studying the rule book and from watching instructional videos and game tapes.
  • Calling an actual game requires a thorough understanding of the rules.  Calling an actual game also demands that the official be in the right place at the right time to have a real chance to see the play he needs to call.  That second demand only comes from calling a real game – and here is a news flash – there are no real NFL games between the Super Bowl in February and the start of the Exhibition Season in August.
  • I am not denigrating rule studying and film study for officials; to the contrary, those are essential elements of developing competent officials.  What I am saying is that they are necessary but not sufficient to develop competent officials.

When NFL teams fade into the bottom levels of the league, the most common way for them to try to elevate their status is a housecleaning.  This involves firing the coach and the coaching staff and maybe the GM too; it involves releasing a bunch of players and getting new ones from the draft and from free agency and – in some cases – from the scrap heap to start the reconstruction process.  The Niners, the Raiders and the Bills have begun such a process.  It is certainly not completed and there is no certainty that any of the three “reincarnated teams” will be dominant in the NFL at any point in the future.  But they are on that path…

I think there are several other teams in the NFL that ought to consider that mode of operation:

  • Bengals:  Marvin Lewis had the Bengals in or around the playoffs from 2011 through 2015 after taking over the team in 2003 when the franchise was little more than a punchline.  However, in the past 3 seasons the Bengals have receded to the mid-bottom of the league.  Yes, there have been injuries; but the problem with the team is lack of discipline on the field and to many players who used to flash talent on the field but are now just aging has-beens.  Is Marvin Lewis the guy to breathe life into the franchise once again?  He did it once but that was a long time ago…
  • Broncos:  This one is pretty basic.  The Broncos need a competent QB and so far, John Elway has been singularly unsuccessful in finding a competent young one.  Case Keenum is not that competent young one.  Neither are these young QBs taken in the John Elway Era.  (Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemien, Zac Dysart, Brock Osweiler, Tim Tebow and Tom Brandstater)
  • Cardinals:  Maybe the Cards tried to kickstart the motor last year when Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians left town and Steve Wilks was hired and Josh Rosen was drafted.  The problem is that the Cardinals show little life and a minimal level of competence on offense.  The team is last in yards gained per game on offense and scores about 14 points per game.  If the braintrust in Arizona thought they rebooted the franchise last year, they need to take a very long look at what has been accomplished this year and ask if they are willing to continue down that road.
  • Jags:  They say that defense wins championships – – but not by itself.  There must be a semblance of scoring potential if a great defense is going to prevail.  The Jags came close to the Super Bowl last year with an excellent defense and no real offense.  This year, the offense was even worse, and the defense simply could not hold up.  Do the Jags have the right coaching staff and front office?  The pedigrees say that they do but the assembled roster on the field says there is a problem somewhere.  [Aside:  If I got the NFL’s “dead money” rule figured out correctly, Blake Bortles will cost the Jags $16.5M against the cap next year when they cut him at the end of this year.  After Bortles’ performance in 2017, who agreed to that deal in the last off-season?]  The Jags need a QB even worse than the Broncos do, and the Jags need a lot less “nonsense” from young players who seem to need recognition as “social media provocateurs” than recognition as on-field champions.

Some might argue that the Bucs, Lions and Jets belong on this list too.  I agree that they have lots of room for improvement, but each has some reason not to be on a par with the teams above.

  • The Bucs have a decent offense, but their defense has let the team down more than a few times this year.  I think the defense can be improved and that will make the team competitive if not excellent.  If, however, the Jameis Winston Era in Tampa is demmed to be over by the Bucs’ front office, then I would agree that the Bucs belong on the list above.
  • The Lions have a new coach and they have a franchise QB who is better than any QB available to any of the teams on the list above.  Matthew Stafford is indeed overpaid, but a competent front office and coaching staff can build around him.  The Lions are a historically futile franchise, but I would let the current “change of direction” run its course for a while longer.  The thing that would give me pause is that coaches from the Bill Belichick tree have tended to underperform when they go elsewhere – and Matt Patricia is from that tree…
  • The Jets have a good young QB who needs developing.  They also need a significant upgrade in the cadre of folks who are going to catch the balls that he throws at them.  That is on the GM – – and remember, he is the guy who thought Christian Hackenberg was a second-round pick just a couple of years ago.  The NY tabloids want Todd Bowles run out of town on a rail.  I think that is uncalled for; the team has been out of serious contention for about a month and he still has the team playing hard – even when they lose.  To me, that is the sign of a good coach not an incompetent one.

Last week, the Cowboys could have clinched the NFC East with a win over the Colts.  That did not happen in large part because the Cowboys were shut out in that game.  I still think the Cowboys will make the playoffs, but they will have to play at least one road game there and the team is only 2-5 on the road…  The Colts’ defense is emerging as a top-shelf unit; they shut down Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott in last week’s game.

In another game with playoff implications last week, the Vikes laid an ass-kicking on the Dolphins 41-17.  Speaking of teams that are not road warriors, the Dolphins are now 1-10 in their last 11 road games.

The Ravens ran the ball down the Bucs’ collective throats for 242 yards in a convincing win.

The Bears beat the Packers by a TD last week clinching the NFC North title and eliminating the Packers from the playoffs.  The defense prevailed sacking Aaron Rodgers 5 times in the game.

The Seahawks’ playoff drive hit a speed bump in SF last week; the Niners won 26-23 in OT.  I said it could be a sandwich game for the Seahawks and it certainly appeared as if their heads were not in this game; Seattle committed 14 penalties for 149 yards.

The Steelers beat the Pats to snap a 3-game losing streak and maintain their half-game lead in the AFC North race.  The Steelers unveiled rookie RB, Jaylen Samuels (5th round pick from NC State), who gained 142 yards on the ground in the game.

The Eagles kept their mathematical hopes for a playoff berth alive beating the Rams by a TD last week.  [Aside:  I got this game all wrong; I said the Rams were going “to truck the Eagles”.  Not so…]  Nick Foles and Alshon Jeffrey hooked up for 160 yards in this game.

The Falcons indeed trucked the Cards 40-14.  The Falcons’ defense got 7 sacks in this game.  Since the Falcons D-line is not manned by a bunch of future HoF inductees, this reflects on the quality of the Cards’ OL very badly.  See above…

The Bills beat the Lions 13-12.  The Lions missed a PAT and a field goal from inside the 40 yardline and lost the game by a point.  That is the essence of “Lion-hood”; that is why I said above that the Lions are a “futile franchise”; they do this sort of thing way too frequently.

The Raiders lost to Bengals by 2 TDs.  Here is how the Raiders began the game on their first 5 possessions – – 3 punts and 2 lost fumbles.  That is not exactly showing up ready to play.

The Skins beat Jags in a game that was as pleasant to watch as a root canal.  Josh Johnson was the superior QB on the field as opposed to Cody Kessler.  That is like Sneezy announcing that he is the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs.

Two weeks ago, the Giants scored 40 points against the Skins.  The Giants scored ZERO points last week against the Titans.  Titans’ RB, Derrick Henry, carried 33 times for 170 yards in the game.  In the last two games Henry has gained 408 yards rushing.

The Browns beat the Broncos by a point last week.  It must have been an epiphany for the oddsmakers in Las Vegas because they installed the Browns as a 7-point favorite over the Bengals this week.  The win was fueled by 100 yards rushing by Nick Chubb.  Raise your hand if you ever heard of Freddie Kitchens more than a month ago.  Since he took over as the OC in Cleveland – – when the much more recognizable and heralded Todd Haley was shown the door – – the Browns have won 4 games and Baker Mayfield has looked the way an overall #1 pick is supposed to look.

NFL Games This Week:

If the Chargers win out and KC loses one of its last two games, the Chargers will have home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs.  The chargers home field is the Stub Hub Center – a soccer field that normally seats 27,000 people but could be expanded to 32,000.  The Chargers have not been successful in selling out that venue for the last two years; many of their games have been in front of “home crowds” where half the fans were wearing the opponents’ colors.  If the AFC Championship Game is played there, it will make for some interesting crowd shots – – or if the NFL would prefer the lack of crowd shots.

The Raiders/Broncos game on Monday night could be last game in Oakland for the team given the lawsuit the City of Oakland filed and the terms of the Raiders’ lease for the Oakland Coliseum.  Look for ESPN to milk that angle from start to finish because the game is not going to have any import on the outcome of the season.  And as they milk that angle, please recognize that it is not nearly the whole story.

  • The city is losing its franchise.
  • Those fans in the Black Hole are losing their team – – for the second time.
  • The last home game is against a division rival meaning that the peace and joy of the season are unlikely to be widespread in the stands.
  • It is Christmas Eve and any of the folks in the stands who have kids ought to be home with those kids on that night.

(Sat. Afternoon) Washington at Tennessee – 10 (37):  The Skins’ run defense has deteriorated as the season went on and Titans’ RB, Derrick Henry, has become more effective as a runner as the season went on.  If those trends continue, Henry should dominate this game.  If for some reason you find I necessary to watch this game, keep your eye on Titans’ defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey; he is the best defensive lineman no one knows anything about.

(Sat. Evening) Baltimore at Chargers – 4 (43):  The Chargers are 10-1 in their last 11 games; the Ravens are in that last AFC wildcard slot for now, but a loss would not do their chances any good.  I almost made this the Game of the Week but since the Chargers are in the playoffs no matter what, I backed off that choice.  The Ravens win by running the ball and the Chargers’ run defense is not the team’s long suit.  I think this game will be low scoring; and in those games, I prefer to take the points.  Ergo, I’ll take the Ravens plus the points – – even on the road.

Tampa at Dallas – 7 (48):  The Bucs’ offense has sputtered in the past couple of weeks; that is not good news for a team whose defense is pretty bad.  The real weakness for the Bucs is run defense and with Ezekiel Elliott in the Cowboys’ backfield, that should be a fatal flaw.

Buffalo at New England – 13.5 (44.5):  The Pats have lost 2 in a row and are still not guaranteed to be the AFC East champs.  That should change at the end of this game – – but 13.5 points is a whole lot to give.  The Pats are 6-0 at home this year; I do not think the Bills can win outright, but I am not ready to lay down any coin of the realm on this game with that spread.

Atlanta – 3.5 at Carolina (43.5):  At the start of the week, the Panthers were a 3-point favorite here.  Then came the announcement that Cam Newton was being shut down for the year with his shoulder injury – which was pretty obvious to anyone who watched the Panthers play over the past month or so.  The Panthers’ starting QB will be Taylor Heinicke whose college career was spent at Old Dominion.  The Falcons have given me no reason to trust them as road favorites this year and the Panthers are nothing but a huge question mark in this game.  Watch if you must, but no wagering, please…

Jax at Miami – 3.5 (38.5):  What is there about the Dolphins’ offense to like?  What is there about the Jags’ offense to like?  What is there that would make me tune into this game?  It was a contender for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but lost out in the final analysis.

Giants at Indy – 9.5 (47):  Which incarnation of the Giants’ team is on the charter flight to Indy?  Is it the one that scored 40 against the Skins or the one that was shut out by the Titans?  By the same token, the Colts’ defense has been asserting itself recently and they shut out the Cowboys last week.  My guess is that the Colts will commit the defense to stopping Saquon Barkley and if they can keep him in check, the Giants pose little threat.  The Colts have won 7 of their last 8 games and need this game to stay in the middle of the AFC chase for the second wild card slot.

Houston at Philly – 1.5 (46):  The spread began the week with the Texans as 1.5-point favorites but that did not last long. I think this is The Game of the Week because the game is vital to both teams.  The Eagles will be eliminated from the playoff chase with a loss; the Texans’ hold on a playoff bye will be dealt a severe blow.  If the Eagles are to win here, their front four will need to dominate a sub-par Texans’ offensive line and keep Deshaun Watson in check.  The game ought to be fun to watch…

Minnesota – 6 at Detroit (42):  The Vikes were impressive last week dominating the Dolphins and the Lions are – – well, they are the Lions.  However, I am not sure I trust the Vikes enough to make them a 6-point road favorite against a division opponent.  After all, the Vikes are only 2-4-1 straight up this year on the road.  Last week, the Vikes pass defense was excellent holding Ryan Tannehill to 108 yards passing (11 for 24 overall).

Green Bay – 3 at Jets (47):  The Jets are 2-5 at home this year; that is hardly impressive.  However, the Packers are 0-7 on the road this year; that is even worse.  [Aside, the Packers are only 1-5-1 against the spread on the road so that is not a whole lot better.]  Neither team has anything to play for, but I like the Jets’ defense as the better defense here and the Jets are at home and getting points.  I’ll take the Jets plus those points please.

Cincy at Cleveland – 10 (47.5):  As noted above, the spread opened the week at 7 points, but money has been coming in on Cleveland all week long.  I’ll be surprised to see the line go higher – – but then again, I am already surprised to see the Browns as a double-digit favorite over anyone.  The Browns’ offense has been improved recently; the Bengals’ offense is crippled by the losses of Andy Dalton and AJ Green.  The Browns’ defense has been steadily improving this season; the Bengals defense has been regressing.  I said above that the Bengals may need to start a rebuilding program.  If the in-state rivals – the Browns – were to blow the Bengals out here, that might be the impetus to get the Bengals to decide to do it.  Purely a hunch, but I think the defenses will keep the offenses in check; I like the game to stay UNDER.

Rams – 14.5 at Arizona (44):  You can find the Rams favored by as many as 16 points at one Internet sportsbook this morning.  Not only is that a huge spread; that is a huge spread against a home team.  The Cards are indeed miserable, and the Rams need a game to get themselves right again.  This is that game; if the Rams stumble here, they are going to have plenty of doubts come playoff time.  I said I thought the Rams would truck the Eagles last week and I was dead wrong.  Clearly, I am going to demonstrate that I do not learn from experience.  I think the Rams will truck the Cardinals this week.  But I would not bet on it…

Chicago – 4 at SF (43):  The Bears are the NFC North champs; they are in the playoffs.  Will they be fully engaged in this game against a team that is 4-10 and going nowhere this year?  The Niners beat the Seahawks last week when – maybe – the Seahawks did not take the game as seriously as possible (see above).  This game might be more interesting than the team records would indicate.

Pittsburgh at New Orleans – 6 (53):  I thought about this as a possible Game of the Week because the Steelers need the game to stay atop the AFC North and the Saints are gunning for playoff home field advantage.  But I backed off that.

(Sun. Nite) KC – 2.5 at Seattle (54.5):  The Seahawks are much better at home than on the road and this is a big game for both teams.

  • Since 2012 the Seahawks are 42-12-0 straight up at home
  • Since 2012, the Seahawks are 33-20-1 against the spread at home.

This game was a serious contender for Game of the Week.  The Seahawks are unlikely to win a shootout game with the Chiefs, so I expect them to run the ball as much as possible to limit the number od Chiefs’ possessions.  If they can do that and if they avoid turnovers, the Seahawks can win this game straight up; if they get into a scoring-fest, they will probably lose out – even at home.  I like the Seahawks as a home underdog here because of their defense and their ability to run the football; I’ll take those points.

(Mon. Nite) Denver – 3 at Oakland (43):  Neither team has anything to play for; I doubt that the players, coaches and officials would all prefer to be home with their families on Christmas Eve instead of being here.  Sentiment about the Oakland Coliseum aside, this is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Finally, Brad Rock had this observation in the Deseret News recently:

“Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers and wife Tiffany are expecting their ninth child.

“They say they’re thrilled with the news, but many have to make cuts before finalizing their 53-child roster.”

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



Horseracing In The News

It has been a while since I spent a lot of time commenting on horseracing.  At one point in US history, horseracing, boxing and baseball dominated the sports landscape.  Over the past 3 or 4 decades, boxing and horseracing have gone into eclipse; baseball remains popular, but folks wonder if short-attention spanned millennials will keep the fan base as large as it is.

Two things contributed significantly to the popularity of horseracing in the US in the 20th century:

  1. The racetrack was the only place outside of Las Vegas or Reno where one could legally make a wager.
  2. There were a manageable number of significant races sprinkled around the calendar and all the best horses showed up to try to win them.  Today, there are so many stakes races at so many tracks on just about every weekend of the year that the best horses can effectively dodge one another most of the time.

The legalization of sports betting as a result of the Supreme Court decision declaring PASPA unconstitutional may give horseracing a boost in popularity.  Racetracks have an infrastructure in place to handle wagering and to handle large amounts of cash; they do not have to build a new “casino” to accomplish that status.  That is why in many of the States where sports betting is beginning to spread, racetracks are early venues for bettors to get their action down on games.  This may be a short-term fix for racetracks because it appears that one of the directions for sports wagering is to do it all on mobile phones with a variety of apps.

In any event, the immediate uptick in racetrack fortunes has generated some “investment interest” for the short term.  After a 4-year period of darkness, Colonial Downs in New Kent County, VA will reopen for live racing in 2019.  There will be 15 days of live racing in August and September; the folks who will run this enterprise, Colonial Downs Group, has committed to invest $300M in the facility and the staging of the races.  The expectation is that Colonial Downs will create 800 new jobs for that part of the Commonwealth.

I hope these folks succeed – but I have a significant doubt.  It is the same doubt that was in my mind the day the State regulators decided to put the one-and-only racetrack in the State in New Kent County.  It is not the best venue for a racetrack.  New Kent County is between Richmond and Williamsburg; it is not a population center; it is not a part of Virginia where the folks living there have lots of disposable income to spend on racing.  Data:

  • The population of Richmond – about 30 miles from the track – is 220,000.  If you draw the circle wide enough, the Richmond Metro Area has a population of just over 1 million.
  • In Northern Virginia there are lots more people (1.1 million in Fairfax County alone) and these are some of the counties with the highest average income per year in the entire US.  From my home in Falls Church, VA to Colonial Downs is a drive of about 125 miles on a VERY heavily traveled portion of Interstate 95; it’s about a 2 hour drive each way for me to attend racing there.
  • Another major metro area in Virginia is the Tidewater Region made up of Hampton Roads, Newport News, Virginia Beach and Norfolk.  The Metro Region there has about 1.7 million residents.  Colonial Downs is 65-75 miles away from this population center on a crowded portion of Interstate 64; I would guess that it is a 90-minute drive each way to get to the track.

There were lots of folks in the State Legislature who opposed allowing pari-mutuel betting in Virginia; when they lost that battle, they seemed to turn their attention to locating the track in as disadvantageous a place as possible.  They did not quite succeed in that endeavor; after all the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern VA would clearly have been a worse venue, but they did pick a place where the track would struggle to survive – as it has since it opened for the first time in 1997.

The other piece of investment news related to horseracing is also in this eastern part of the US close to where I live.  Several years ago, there was a study done that said it would take $300M to renovate and upgrade Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, site of the Preakness every May.  I said back then that I could not imagine anyone investing that kind of money in a facility that sits in the neighborhood that I have to drive through to get to the track; several Baltimore residents challenged that assertion and said that the area was ripe for gentrification.

Well, the track and the facility were never upgraded much beyond a new coat of paint here and there.  I described Pimlico as an upholstered toilet in the past; from all reports that label is still appropriate.  And now there is a new study…

It seems as if the price tag for upgrading Pimlico to the point where the Preakness can continue to be contested there has gone up; now the estimated cost is $424M.  [Aside:  Odds on the project coming in at cost or below cost are 99-1 at a minimum.]  The folks who own Pimlico also own Laurel Race Course about 30 miles away.  Those folks have been spending money to upgrade Laurel for about 10 years now and they are not particularly interested in also spending big bucks to upgrade another nearby facility that is threadbare to say the least.  The owners say that if there is public money available to do the Pimlico “spiffing up” that would be just fine with them.  The mayor of Baltimore has already announced that “state money” – probably via the Maryland Racing Authority would have to be part of this project.

And so, the dance continues…  The track owners are happy to keep investing in Laurel Race Course which was a much nicer facility than Pimlico was when they made the decision to work on Laurel and keep Pimlico as its stepchild.  [Aside:  Racetracks sit on large tracts of land and Pimlico is inside the Baltimore city limits.  If indeed that neighborhood is “ready for gentrification” that land tract may be a whole lot more valuable without stables and a grandstand on it.  Just saying…]

I do not think that either of these happenings/infusions of capital indicate the resurgence of horseracing in the US.  Nor do I think that these racetrack facilities are going to be centers of sports wagering in the long term.  But for now, there is an uptick of interest in track facilities – – so long as they are more inviting than the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle posed an interesting question there several weeks ago:

“Hey, Jim Morrison of The Doors. What’s a ‘mire’? If there’s no time to wallow in the mire, can we just wade in it?”

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



NFL Roster Assembly

Yesterday’s rant had not been up on the website for more than an hour when my phone rang.  A former colleague who has retired to a more southerly climate where football is king greeted me and immediately told me that I should not worry about the spending habits of MLB GMs.  After all, he reasoned, MLB management has been too stupid to bargain themselves a salary cap into their CBAs meaning that spending stupid amounts of money is commonplace in the sport.  To his mind, baseball payrolls are often used as ways for old and rich male owners of MLB teams to signal to other rich male owners of MLB teams how large their male genitalia are.

Then he told me to go and check out the highest paid QBs in the NFL this year to see how they are doing.  I asked him to give me a hint and he gave me the following names; I have filled in some details surrounding those names:

  • Derrick Carr:  He is in the second year of a 6-year deal that could be worth as much as $125M; his cap number for 2018 is $25M.  The Raiders stink; it is only minimally Carr’s fault that they stink but he has done little to “elevate” the mediocre players around him even to the level of mediocrity.
  • Kirk Cousins:  He is in the first year of a 3-year deal that is guaranteed to be worth $84M; his cap number for 2018 is $24M.  The Vikes have not been dominant this year, but they are currently in as the NFC second wildcard team.  If they win out, they are guaranteed to be in the playoffs.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo:  He is in the first year of a 6-year deal that could be worth as much as $137.5M; his cap number for 2018 is $37M.  The Niners’ miserable season cannot be blamed on Garoppolo who has been on IR since early in the season.
  • Aaron Rodgers:  He is in the first year of a 4-year extension that might run for 6 years by mutual option; for the 4-year deal the contract value is $75M fully guaranteed; his 2018 cap number is $21M.  The Packers are not making the playoffs and have been less than fearsome this year at 5-8-1.
  • Matt Ryan:  He is in the first year of a 5-year deal that could be worth as much as $150M with $94.5M of that guaranteed.  The Falcons have been a huge disappointment this year despite Ryan’s efforts; the Falcons have been injured and have not had their “first string guys” available at the same time very often this year.
  • Matthew Stafford:  He is in the second year of a 5-year deal that could be worth as much as $135M; his cap number for 2018 is $26.5M.  The Lions have been no factor this year just as they were not a factor last year.

My former colleague says that the NFL GMs are too stupid to realize that a salary cap prevents them from spending stupid amounts of money but that it does not absolve them of the stupidity of assigning so much value to the QB that it is not possible to afford to build a solid roster around that QB.  Other than the Vikes and Cousins on that list above, no other team is at .500 for the year – – and the Vikes are merely a half-game over .500.

The NFL salary cap for 2018 is $177.2M; just for fun, I will round that off to $180M to make the math here simpler.

  • If your QB has a 2018 cap number of $30M, you are committing 16% of your allowable salary to the QB.  That means the other 52 guys – plus replacements you have to bring in as the season unfolds – can only consume 84%.  Look at that disparity on a per player basis.

Roster building is more of an art than it is a science.  But there is a math component to all of this and the math seems to say that roster building is much more of a salary balancing act than a “throw the money at a single QB” act.  With advanced analytics folks moving into positions of authority in NFL teams, how long might it be before one of them comes up with an algorithm to optimize salary distribution for teams?

Moving on …  What’s in a name? Well, there is an NFL coach who might give us an insight into that question.

  • Matt Kafka is the QB coach for the KC Chiefs and he has accrued a lot of credit for the development of Patrick Mahomes there.  My former colleague told me – after chastising me about my off-the-mark views of MLB spending and NFL mismanagement of the salary cap – that he thinks the Jets need to clean out their coaching staff and to get Matt Kafka away from the Chiefs to work with Sam Darnold.  [Aside:  I am not nearly as sour on Todd Bowles as others seem to be; my former colleague thinks he should have been fired at the end of last year.  Whatever …]
  • Franz Kafka – sort of a namesake for Matt Kafka – was a writer whose characters always seemed to be dealing with alienation, isolation and fantastical surroundings.  If Matt Kafka went to the Jets and the Jets’ organization were to continue on the path it has been on for about the last 40 years, you would have someone named Kafka in a Kafkaesque circumstance.  Observing Matt Kafka in those circumstances might be like looking at a sociological/psychological Petri dish.

My former college did not find that even mildly amusing.  After all, he is a Jets’ fan…

Finally, Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – had this Grinch-like message for children in this Holiday Season:

“Kids, think about it. The Postal Service can’t get a letter delivered across town – how the hell is it gonna get your letter to Santa to the North Pole?”

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



The MLB Winter Meetings

The MLB Winter Meetings came and went; given the high profile of some free agents this winter, most folks assess that “nothing much happened” during the week in Las Vegas.  I tend to agree with that kind of analysis and I want to offer a possible basis for the outcome of “nothing much happening” there.

I kept flipping over to MLB Network all during the meetings to see if there was any “breaking news” or “really hot insider info” to be had.  There was not, and I began to feel badly for the MLB Network folks on camera on the set.  They soldiered on giving us reasons why this free agent would be a good fit with that team or possibly some other team.  Advanced analytics stats were thrown around like confetti after a Super Bowl game.  It became painful to have to watch all those folks sit there and find new ways to say:

  • “Ain’t nuthin happenin’ here…”

At one point they had as a guest some random guy in the personnel department for some team and they were fantasizing about what might happen if all of a sudden, the dam burst and a gaggle of free agents signed on with new teams over a short period of time.  It was such wishful thinking that I started to think that the MLB Network hosts deserved to win an Emmy for this coverage.  The basis for the award could be:

  • Not grabbing a half dozen MLB GMs by the throat demanding that they all do something – anything – even if it’s wrong in order to break the monotony.

And it was in that formulation for my imaginary Emmy that I recognized why it was that nothing was happening.  Maybe, too many GMs remembered some of the things that had gotten done with free agents in the past that turned out to be so wrong.  Maybe caution was the order of the day.  Probably the biggest signing event was Patrick Corbin signing with the Nats.

  • The deal is reported to be 6 years and $140M.
  • Corbin is 29 years old; at the end of this deal he will be 35.
  • In the late years of the deal, he may indeed still be a stud – – or not…

That is an example – albeit not a terrible example – of the inherent risk involved in signing a player to a really long-term deal.  In far too many cases, the out-years for that deal become albatrosses around the necks of the teams.  I have done zero research into expensive free agent deals in baseball history that have blown up in the face of the teams that did the signing, but I have recalled some long-term deals given to active players who are hauling down big bucks currently and into the near future without performing anywhere near what one would expect.  I will list them here in descending order of the value of the contract:

  • Albert Pujols – 10 years and $240M.  The contract was signed in 2-12 and runs through 2021.  Pujols was perhaps THE dominant player in the game in 2010-2012 but he is now a shell of player.  He hit .245 with an OPS of .700 last year.  The Angels will pay him $28M in 2019, $29M in 2020 and then $30M in 2021.
  • Prince Fielder – 9 years $214M.  The contract was signed in 2012 and ran though 2020.  Fielder was productive in the first several years but had to retire after cervical fusion surgery in 2016.  Reports said that he was still owed $96M on that guaranteed contract.
  • Jayson Heyward – 8 years $184M.  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2023.  Last year was Heyward’s best with the Cubs hitting .270 with an OPS of .731.  There are still 5 years to go here with about $115M still to be paid out.
  • Chris Davis – 7 years $161M:  This contract was signed in 2016 and runs through 2022.  There is still $92M left to pay out on this contract and in 2018 Davis hit .168 with an OPS of .539.
  • Homer Bailey – 6 years and $105M.  This is a particular favorite of mine because it is a cautionary tale for signing pitchers long term.  The deal was signed in 2014 and will likely expire after next year (there is a mutual option in the contract for 2020).  From 2015 through 2018, Bailey has started a total of 46 games.  If my calculation is correct, his ERA over that 4-year span was 6.22; his record last season was 1-14.

I’m sure that data mining would produce other examples of long-term deals that have come to bite teams and GMs in the butt as badly as the ones above, but I think you get my point here.  Maybe the Winter Meetings were dull and boring for good reasons…

When March Madness rolls around and the Selection Committee has to include one team at the expense of another team – causing weeping and gnashing of teeth in the land – one of the factors considered is “strength of schedule”.  That is hard to quantify but let me present to you two “out of conference” schedules for two small Catholic schools to demonstrate what I mean by the eyeball test for such a criterion.

First is the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Georgetown:

  1. Maryland-Eastern Shore
  2. Central Connecticut State
  3. Illinois
  4. Loyola-Marymount
  5. South Florida
  6. Campbell
  7. Richmond
  8. Liberty
  9. Syracuse
  10. SMU

Now consider the “out-of-conference schedule” to date for Gonzaga:

  1. Idaho St.
  2. Texas Southern
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Illinois
  5. Arizona
  6. Duke
  7. North Dakota St.
  8. Creighton
  9. Washington
  10. Tennessee
  11. UNC

If you cannot see the difference in the quality of the opponents for those two schedules, then you ought not be allowed to complain about any decision made by the Selection Committee in March.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found an interesting tidbit for comment out of the MLB Winter Meetings:

“The Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto, despite coming down seriously ill during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, nonetheless pulled off a three-team swap from his hospital bed.

“It’s believed to be the first deal in MLB history that’s contingent on a GM passing his physical.”

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



Sports And Politics Today

There are famous intersections in the US such as Hollywood and Vine, Haight and Ashbury, Addison and Clark, 42nd St. and Broadway – – and of course This Way and That Way.  Increasingly frequently, we are seeing another intersection these days, the intersection of sports and politics.  As much as I might want for sports and politics to exist on different and parallel existential planes such that they would not intersect, they do.  So, let me try to comment on a few of those sorts of hotspots this morning.

I will begin with the most outrageous example.  As President Trump is casting about looking for someone who is willing to be his Chief of Staff on a permanent basis, someone stepped up and volunteered for the job.  Jose Canseco – who previously offered up his services to the President as Chairman of the Federal Reserve – said in a Tweet that he would be happy to take the job on.  Moreover, in that Tweet, he said that he already has a “secret reorg plan” in mind.  Normally, at this point I would pose the rhetorical question:

  • What could possibly go wrong?

I shall refrain from asking that today because I fear there is a metric ton of stuff that could go wrong with that tandem leading the “management” of the White House.

In Phoenix, the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, threatened to move the franchise to Las Vegas or Seattle if the citizenry there does not approve in a referendum several hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrading the arena where the Suns play their home games.  There is a touch of irony here in that Seattle lost its NBA team in large part because the citizenry there did not cough up taxpayer dollars to build a new/modern arena about 10 years ago.

In Oakland, the city fathers have filed a lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL as a whole asserting that the process used by the team and the league to approve the changing venue of the franchise violates the anti-trust laws.  Part of a statement from the attorney representing the City of Oakland included this sentence:

“Before a team is ripped from the fabric of a community, there needs to be a valid reason other than simply money.”

With all due respect to the barrister speaking here, he seems to miss a fundamental point.  Where the NFL is involved, there is no reason other than money that has any weight in any decision.

Notwithstanding that statement from the attorney representing the city, the lawsuit does not seek to bar the team from leaving.  Instead, the suit seeks damages and one basis for the suit is the assertion that the relocation fee paid by the Raiders to the other teams/owners in the league is a de facto bribe designed to get the other owners to approve the relocation.  The suit alleges that the Raiders and the other 31 owners have formed an illegal cartel.  This is not the first time the Raiders have been involved in a lawsuit related to relocation.  When Al Davis took the team from Oakland to LA in the early eighties, it was the Raiders who alleged that the NFL’s rules for approving a franchise move were too severe and restricted competition.  The Raiders prevailed in that action; here they appear to be on the other side of the argument.

And in Chapel Hill, NC, many athletes at UNC have signed an open letter opposing the school’s plans to house a statue known as Silent Sam because Silent Sam is a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy and the statue was placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy more than 100 years ago.  Protesters have toppled the statue from its base and the university wants to construct a building to house the bronze casting elsewhere on the campus.  Athletes from a wide range of sports at the school have joined in the protest against that plan.

Players on the UNC men’s basketball team are part of the group to sign the open letter.  That is important because men’s basketball is the most important sport at the school and because coach Roy Williams has backed the move by the players to take a position on the matter.  Here is how Coach Williams explained the situation:

“I talked to our guys about it and told them if they feel strongly about it, go right ahead.  I think it’s their individual rights and I think they should [express themselves] if they feel strongly about it.”

Many college coaches are characterized as “control freaks”.  As often as not, that label is perfectly appropriate.  Roy Williams in this case seems to be treating his players as adults who can and should form their own opinions on this matter and then should do whatever their conscience tells them to do.  That is hardly the essential behavior of a “control freak”.

So much for the intersection of sports and politics this morning…  There is an adage in the newspaper business that the reporter and/or the newspaper is not the story; the reporter and the paper are the story tellers.  That is a noble ideal; I would say that it is not universally adhered to in current day journalism.  I mention that because the Associated Press has named Chicago Bears’ coach Matt Nagy as the NFL Coach of the Year late last week.  I find that interesting on two levels:

  1. The existence of the award, the announcement of the award and the maintenance of the history of the award seems to make the Associated Press a central part of the story.  Ostensibly, the story is about Coach Nagy, but the Associated Press is squarely in the spotlight too.
  2. This award was announced with 3 games left to play in the NFL regular season.  One does not declare the horse leading a race at the quarter pole as the winner nor is the MLB Rookie of the Year announced in the middle of August.  Why the hurry?  This seems to me to be akin to Time Magazine naming Hillary Clinton as the Person of the Year for 2016 sometime in September.  [Ooops…  Did I just intersect sports and politics again today?]

Let me be clear.  I have no trouble with the selection of Matt Nagy for that honor.  If I were part of the voting process, I would have voted for Nagy in first place, Anthony Lynn (Chargers) in second place and Frank Reich (Colts) in third place.  I would also have attached a note to my ballot asking why the vote had to be in before the end of the season.

Finally, since I mentioned Secretary Clinton above, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News that includes her:

“Davidson’s football team put up huge numbers, rushing for 789 yards against San Diego – and still lost.

“Hillary Clinton is thinking, ‘Tell me about it’.”

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