Football Friday 12/13/19

As happened in September, Football Friday and Friday the Thirteenth must co-exist.  Not being superstitious, I feel no need to toss a pinch of salt over my shoulder as I set out on today’s rant nor do I think I should go around and look for a rabbit’s foot for good luck.  After all, it wasn’t such good luck for the rabbit…

Demonstrating that I do not always think ahead in sufficient detail, I now realize that with the college football season all but over in terms of picking games, that means I would have to make a serious selection in 6 NFL games to fill out a weekly Six-Pack for the rest of the month.  Simply put, that is not going to happen and so as of today, the weekly Six-Pack will masquerade itself with a smaller number of selections in the package.

Last week, the Six-Pack did well; the record was 4-2 overall and the college football portion of the Six-Pack remained en fuego.  Here is the current status of the Six-Pack selections to date:

  • Overall:  35-23-2
  • College:  19-6-1
  • NFL:  16-17-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

As everyone knows, I like to have fun with the names of players and here are some that I ran across looking for “stuff” to put in rants during this college football season:

  • Lawrence Cager (WR- Georgia):  How come he isn’t on the basketball team…?
  • Fa’Avae Fa’Avae (LB – Wash State):  Obviously, his nickname should be “Echo” …
  • Jeremaine Johnson (WR- UMass):  His nickname is “OC”; there must be a story there…
  • Andrew Parchment (WR- Kansas):  Guess what he uses when he turns in a term paper…
  • Camerun Peoples (RB-Appalachian State):  Naturally, Camerun is a running back…

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times ran across a player name that I did not; here is his comment from his Sideline Chatter column:

“Just wondering…  Does Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool have a brother named Gene?”

I recall a nickname from the past that has always given me pause.  Cory “Poop” Johnson was a linebacker at Kentucky and spent some time in the CFL.  On one hand, I would like to know how he acquired that moniker; then again …

 

College Game this Week:

 

Army vs. Navy – 10.5 (40.5) [Game is in Philly]:  These lines are interesting.  The Total Line opened at 44 and has dropped steadily to this level; the preponderance of the betting money expects a low scoring game.  Nonetheless, Navy has been a 10.5-point favorite for the entire week.  That is a large spread for what is expected to be a low-scoring game.  And why would people expect this to be a low-scoring game with the following stats:

  • Army:  Scores 30.8 points per game.  Allows 22.3 points per game.
  • Navy:  Scores 39.3 points per game.  Allows 24.2 points per game.

I think the reason here is that both teams run the triple option offense and most of their opponents only see that offense once a year meaning it is a “novelty” for the opposing defense.  In this game, both defenses will have seen this offense every day in practice.  Hence the thought that this will be a low scoring affair.  Take another look at those stats for Army.  On average, they are 8 points better than their opponents and yet their record is only 5-7.

I am definitely going to tune into this game tomorrow; it is always one of the more enjoyable games of the year.  As the last college football entry in a Reduced Quantity Six-Pack, give me Army plus the points.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

            Earlier this week, I was on the subject of sub-.500 teams making the NFL playoffs and said that I remembered the Seahawks making the playoffs in that state about 15 years ago and that I did not recall another instance of that happening.  Soon after that statement was posted, I got an email from the long-term reader in Houston who is a Sports Historian Extraordinaire.  Here is the entirety of his communique:

“Carolina won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record about 5 years ago.”

Actually, it was not “about 5 years ago”; it was “exactly 5 years ago” in 2014.  Thank you for the addendum here…

At the end of last season, the NY Jets fired Todd Bowles.  Some commentators found justification for that move in the fact that Bowles is a “defense guy” and what the Jets needed now was an “offense guy” to jump start the development of Sam Darnold as their franchise QB.  That makes a modicum of sense unless you remember that some “defense guys” such as Bill Parcells, Marv Levy, Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick found assistant coaches who could develop young QBs…

In any event, the Jets fired Bowles and hired Adam Gase who was offensive coordinator for the Broncos in the 2013 season when Peyton Manning set a bunch of offensive records.  [Manning was 37 in that season and it was his 14th year of NFL action; somehow, I don’t think he needed much “development” in 2013.]  Gase also spent a year with the Bears as their offensive coordinator and – surprise – without Peyton Manning setting passing records, the Bears finished with an “average offense”.  Nonetheless, Gase got the head coaching job in Miami after a year with the Bears.  In 3 years with the Dolphins he posted a record of 23-25.

So … how has Sam Darnold “developed”?  It is a mixed bag comparing his rookie year to this year.  Darnold’s completion percentage is up slightly and his interception percentage is also up slightly.  His yards per attempt are up slightly and his yards per catch are down slightly.  His passing yards per game are up slightly and his QB Rating is down slightly.  Just as it would be wrong to say that Adam Gase has had a deleterious effect on Sam Darnold, it is equally wrong to conclude that Adam Gase has “jump-started” Darnold’s development.

[Aside:  Adam Gase’s QB in Miami was Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins were a .500 team then.  This year – separated from Adam Gase – Tannehill leads the NFL in QB Rating at 118.5.  If you don’t believe that stat, Google is your friend…]

Here are a few Highlights from last week’s NFL action:

  • The Titans beat the Raiders 42-21 after the game had been tied 21-21 at the half.  The Titans have gone 6-1 since inserting Ryan Tannehill at QB and now are tied with the Texans in the AFC South.
  • Jameis Winston threw for 456 yards and 4 TDs as the Bucs beat the Colts 38-35.  (However, see below …)
  • Devlin “Duck” Hodges led the Steelers to a road win in Arizona.  That win kept the Steelers in the #2 wildcard slot in the AFC.  If “Duck” gets them to the playoffs, he may start a “Duck Dynasty” in Pittsburgh.
  • The Rams’ defense made Russell Wilson look mortal and the Rams’ offense suddenly looked like the Rams’ offense from a year ago.  They beat Seahawks handily 28-12.

Here are a few Lowlights from last week’s NFL action:

  • The Raiders got their doors blown off by the Titans.  About month ago, the Raiders were 6-4 and one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West with a game against the Chiefs upcoming.  Since then, they have lost 3 in a row by a combined score of 116-33.
  • Jameis Winston threw 3 INTs but the Bucs overcame that in beating the Colts.  (However, see above …)
  • The Dolphins scored 21 points – – on 7 field goals and no TDs.  They lost the game to Jets 22-21 and coach Brian Flores was mad because he thought an officiating call cost him the game.  Excuse me – – 7 field goals and no TDs and it was the officials who cost you the game?
  • The Texans lost to Broncos and fell into a tie atop the AFC South with the Titans.  How can you lose that game at home to a rookie QB leading a mediocre-at-best team?
  • The Jags lost to the Chargers 45-10.   So … maybe Gardner Minshew is not the answer at QB in Jax…
  • The Pats’ offense was AWOL yet again.  The problem there is simple…they do not have enough good receivers to make their short passing game work because no one is a real deep threat.  Far be it from me to second guess Bill Belichick when it comes to personnel moves, but why is Josh Gordon on the Seahawks’ roster and not the Patriots’ roster?
  • The Cowboys’ offense drove 75 yards on the opening drive for a TD – – then went into hibernation.  Meanwhile the Dallas defense gave up 24 unanswered points to the Bears and the Cowboys lost 31-24.

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

With the Ravens’ win over the Jets last night, the Ravens have clinched a playoff slot as the AFC North champions.  With their 12-2 record to date, the Ravens are also in the lead to get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Tampa Bay – 3.5 at Detroit (45.5):  I do believe that the Bucs are the better team top to bottom here; the Bucs are mediocre, and the Lions are bad.  My problem is that I have no idea which incarnation of Jameis Winston will get off the team bus in Ford Field on Sunday. What I do know is that Matt Stafford will be in street clothes on the sidelines for this game.  Since Stafford went down, the Lions are 0-5 and are averaging less than 17 points per game.

Philly – 4.5 at Washington (39):  This spread opened at 6 points and has been slowly receding all week long.  If you watched the first half of the Eagles/Giants game on Monday, you would have to wonder how the Eagles could possibly be favored over any other pro team by 6 points.  If you watched the second half – and the OT – you would have to wonder why the opening spread was only 6 points.  Just in case you were wondering, Eagles’ RB, Boston Scott, was born in Baton Rouge, LA.  This could be a ‘trap game” for the Eagles because next week they play the Cowboys and it could be for all the marbles in the NFC East.

Chicago at Green Bay – 4 (40):  The spread here opened at 6.5 points and has been sagging all week.  The Packers are 10-3 on the season but the Packers’ offense has been lethargic – to be polite about it – since late October when they put up 42 points on the Raiders.  The Bears’ defense in 2019 is not nearly as ferocious as it was in 2018, but the Bears only yield 17.8 points per game.  I don’t know if Mitchell Trubisky is up to the task of winning a game in Lambeau Field, but I would not be shocked by a win for the Bears here.

New England – 10 at Cincy (41.5):  There is a modicum of “intrigue” here even though the Pats are 10-3 and the Bengals are 1-12.  However, not enough “intrigue” to get me to watch this one…

Houston at Tennessee – 3 (51.5):  The Total Line opened at 47.5 and shot up to this level rather quickly.  This is my Game of the Week.  The Titans are hot; the Texans are coming off a loss at home to the Broncos who started a rookie QB on the road for the first-time last week.  The Texans’ pass defense ranks 31st in the NFL this morning and Ryan Tannehill could have a huge game here.  My only real concern is that the Titans historically play up to or down to the level of their opponent.  The winner here will lead the AFC South division race and these two teams will meet again in two weeks to close out the season.  I’ll put the Titans in this week’s Diminished Six-Pack and lay the points.

Seattle – 6 at Carolina (49):  Seattle is coming off a big loss to the Rams; the Panthers are in free-fall.  This is a “body-clock game” for the Seahawks but here is why they are favored by 6.5 points on the road:

  • The Seahawks love to run the ball with a power running game.
  • The Panthers give up 5.5 yards per rushing attempt.

The Seahawks have been uncharacteristically good on the road this year with a 6-1 record in those games.  I’ll put the Seahawks in this week’s Short Six-Pack to win and cover.

Denver at KC – 10 (45):  The spread opened at 13 points and dropped to this level quickly.  The Broncos have won 2 in a row with rookie QB, Drew Lock under center.  Is he ready to win a game in Arrowhead Stadium against Patrick Mahomes and Company?  I doubt it.  The often-maligned Chiefs’ defensive unit has held their last 3 opponents (Chargers, Raiders and Pats) to an average of 14 points per game.

Miami at Giants – 3.5 (46.5):  Clearly this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Maybe you can find some interest here if you call this the Geriatric Bowl:

  • Eli Manning will start at QB for the Giants at age 38.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at QB for the Dolphins at age 37.

If you can come up with something about this game more interesting than that, let me know…

(Sun Nite) Buffalo at Pittsburgh “pick ‘em” (37):  This game was flexed into the Sunday Night Football slot for this week.  If you want to call this one your Game of the Week, I will put up only the mildest of protests.  As of this morning, these are the two AFC wildcard teams; the Bills can still catch the Pats in the AFC East but the only path to the playoffs for the Steelers is via the wildcard.  It is a big game for both teams here; I have a social commitment on Sunday evening, so I am grateful for the inventor of the DVR…

  • The last time the Bills beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a regular season game, the leading rusher in the game was OJ Simpson.  He gained 227 yards and the year was 1975…

Steelers’ WR, JuJu Smith-Schuster had to leave practice with an undisclosed injury earlier this week and has been “downgraded” to questionable for this game.  Not good news for Steelers’ fans…

Jax at Oakland – 6.5 (46.5): The spread opened at 4 points and the Total Line opened at 44.5 points.  The adjustment to this level happened gradually over the week.  Barring a construction workers’ strike or an earthquake in Las Vegas, this will be the final game for the Raiders in Oakland – – unless of course they return there in the 2039 NFL season.  [Somewhere in the cosmos, Al Davis is smiling at that thought.]

Raiders’ RB Josh Jacobs missed last week’s game with a “shoulder injury” but now we know it is a “shoulder fracture” and yet, he is reportedly taking pain killers to see if he can play in this game.  The Raiders are not making the playoffs this year; risking further serious injury to their stud running back in this game against a miserable Jags’ team would be monumentally stupid.  Since October 27 – when the Jags beat the Jets 29-15 – the Jags have not scored more than 20 points in a game.  Their record since then is 0-5 and they are averaging only 11.4 points per game in those 5 losses.

Cleveland – 3 at Arizona (49):  No nonsense here.  This is the So-What Game of the Week.

Atlanta at SF – 10.5 (48):  The spread opened the week at 12 points and the Total Line was at 45.5 points.  There has been plenty of line movement here.  It is a big game for the Niners relative to their playoff seeding; it is a big game for Falcons’ coach Dan Quinn relative to his continued employment as the Falcons’ head coach in 2020.

Rams at Dallas – 1.5 (48.5):  The spread for this game is all over the map this morning.  The spread opened with the Cowboys as 3-point favorites; that lasted less than a couple of hours but as of this morning I can find the game as “pick ‘em” at one of the offshore sportsbooks and with the Cowboys favored by 1 point, 1.5 points and 2 points in other places.  Here is a trend to consider:

  • The Rams have a winning record at 8-5 as of this morning.
  • The Cowboys have 7 losses this year and 6 of those losses have come against teams with winning records as of this morning.
  • In 2019, the Cowboys have zero wins against teams with a winning record as of this morning.

If my calculations are correct, the Rams would be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss here.  The Cowboys’ offense has sputtered the last 3 weeks against top-shelf defenses (Pats, Bills, Bears) and now face a better-than-average Rams’ defense.  I think the wrong team is favored.  I’ll put the Rams plus the points in this week’s Abbreviated Six-Pack.

Minnesota – 1.5 at Chargers (45):  The spread for this game is also all over the map.  The opening spread was 3 points; and this morning, you can find it everywhere from “pick ‘em” to 2 points.  This was originally the Sunday Night game until the flexing decision put the Bills/Steelers game in that slot.

(Mon Nite):  Indy at New Orleans – 9 (46.5): The Total Line here opened at 44 points.  Colts’ WR, T.Y. Hilton could be back for this game; the Colts have struggled with him on the sidelines.  The Saints have a playoff slot secured; I believe the Colts will be eliminated if they lose here – which I fully expect them to do.

Let me recall this week’s Four-Pack Masquerading as a Six-Pack:

  • Army + 10.5 vs Navy
  • Titans – 3 over Texans
  • Seahawks – 6 over Panthers
  • Rams +1.5 against Cowboys

Finally, since I used a Dwight Perry comment earlier today, let me close with another of his musings in the Seattle Times:

“A Las Vegas hospital billed the parents $2659 to pull a tiny doll’s shoe from their child’s nostril.

“Imagine what it would cost to remove Antonio Brown’s foot from his mouth.”

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

 

 

Follow The Money…

Anthony Rendon signed on with the LA Angels for 7 years and $245M.  That is in line with Nolan Arenado’s contract (8 years and $260M) because Arenado, Rendon and Kris Bryant are the three best third basemen in MLB.  [Bryant may be a free agent later this offseason if he wins a grievance he has filed; if not he will be a free agent next year.]  Here are a couple of things that come to mind about this signing:

  1. The Angels already had a good offensive lineup; adding Rendon should make it a very good lineup.  Now folks will turn their attention to the Angles pitching and ask if it is well staffed.
  2. The Nats lost an important part of their infield and a big bat in the middle of the lineup.  The Nats’ philosophy appears to be to invest the big bucks in starting pitchers (Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin) and not in position players.  In two off seasons, the Nats have lost Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper from their lineup while spending big on a starting pitcher.
  3. I wonder why none of the baseball poets have called out Scott Boras today.  It was less than a month ago that Boras lashed out at baseball owners for failing to spend on free agents and accusing them of colluding to keep prices down.  The baseball press covered that story and commented on it.  Now Boras has signed 3 of his free agents to humongous deals in 3 days.  Why not at least ask him now if – just maybe – he was full of excrement when last he pontificated?

Since I am writing about huge sums of money, consider the current trend in franchise values in the major sports.  Sports franchise values have always been on an uptrend, but that uptrend has become a steep climb in recent years.  The Dallas Cowboys in the NFL are valued at $5B by Forbes and that same publication also says that every NFL franchise, MLB franchise and NBA franchise is worth more than $1B.  Naturally, this means that guys rich enough to have purchased those franchises in the past are sitting on a huge potential profit should they wish to sell – along with a tidy revenue stream so long as they continue ownership.

To say there is a “dark side” to all that expanding wealth and value would be an overstatement; but there is a shady spot.  If someone like Jerry Jones decided to sell the Dallas Cowboys, he would have to find someone who could pony up something in the neighborhood of $5B – and you could easily expect Jones to seek a purchase price higher than that.  The fact is that there are not a lot of people on the planet who can do that; and if you then throw out all the folks who can afford such a thing but do not give a rat’s patootie about the NFL or US sports, the universe of potential buyers is small.

I have no intention of getting you to cry crocodile tears for franchise owners here, but lest you dismiss this as a trivial matter, consider that the NFL is considering a rule change to expand the number of potential buyers for franchises.  Currently, NFL bylaws set the debt limit for an NFL owner – the amount of money he can borrow against the team as an asset – at $350M.  That is not the total debt he/she is allowed; it is the debt limit against the team.  That number was set back when franchises were much less valuable.

In my outrageous example where Jerry Jones tries to sell the Cowboys and his asking price is a modest $5.5B (merely 10% over the Forbes valuation), it would mean that a potential buyer would have to come up with $5.15B of his own capital – along with only $350M of borrowed money – to close the deal.  The league is considering a change that would raise the debt limit to $1B in situations where the larger debt burden would exist for the purpose of buying an existing franchise.  As I understand it, this increased debt limit would not apply to current owners; those owners would not be permitted to increase their debt pledged against the franchise; the NFL is not looking to give owners a way to “pull money off the table” by this mechanism.

The NFL is not alone in this sort of thinking.  The NBA raised its debt limit from $250M to $325M about a year ago recognizing the explosion of franchise values in that league.  Recall when the NBA “forced” the sale of the LA Clippers, the valuation was set at $750M – $800M and Steve Balmer came in with a bid of $2B to acquire the team.

As I said, I don’t want you to pity the poor people who own sports franchises that they want to sell because they cannot find a buyer.  I merely want to point out that in this case, an old adage needs to be seen from a different perspective:

  • Every silver lining has a cloud around it…

Regarding the latest Patriots’ controversy involving a film crew taking pics of the Bengals’ sideline during a game, I think that some of the folks writing and commenting on this matter need to clean up their language.  I have read and heard multiple folks call this action “illegal”.  Take a deep breath folks; the investigation here is not being conducted by the FBI or the local police; if and when wrongdoing is uncovered, the perpetrators will not go to trial and hence to jail if convicted.  This is a violation of NFL rules and it is the NFL doing the gumshoe work; if and when wrongdoing is uncovered, the Pats will pay a fine to the league at a minimum and perhaps lose a draft pick at the most.  Clean up the language here…

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is clearly not sanguine about the direction of the SF Giants:

“Are the Giants a jinx ship, sailing into the Bermuda Triangle, a Flying Dutchman with the Titanic skipper at the helm? Quick look at the box score for the last year: Lose beloved skipper Bruce Bochy, who grows more beloved by the day … Jump into analytics with Farhan Zaidi … Hire manager Gabe Kapler, a man with a tan and baggage.”

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

 

 

Looking At Some Numbers Today

If you watched any of the Giants/Eagles game on Monday Night Football this week, you had to notice the repeated references to the fact that the winner of the NFC East this year might not have a winning record for the season.  That same fact has been the repeated subject of more than a few segments on sports-gab shows in TV and – at least here in the DC area – on sports radio.

I recall the Seahawks making the playoffs with a 7-9 record about 15 years ago; I do not recall any other “sub-.500 teams” ever since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in the 90s.  However, the tut-tutting about the possibility of that happening again this year needs to be put into perspective.  Consider these two facts:

  1. This year’s NFC Champion must win a minimum of 7 games – unless the Eagles and Cowboys tie each other on December 22, and both lose their other remaining games.  So, the “worst record” for an NFC East team could be 6-9-1.
  2. It is possible – although the chances are vanishingly small – for a team with a 3-13 record to make the NFL playoffs as a division winner and host a playoff game.

Let me explain how a 3-13 team can win a division:

  • Suppose all four teams in a division lose every game they play outside the division.  Every team plays 10 games out of the division, so all the teams have an 0-10 record in those games
  • Suppose also that all four teams in a division split those division games such that each team has a 3-3 record there.
  • Now, all four teams will end the season at 3-13 and the NFL tiebreaker system will crown one of them as the Division Champion.
  • That winner will host a playoff game; and if they miraculously go on to win their next 4 games in the playoffs, they would be Super Bowl Champions with a season record of 7-13.

Suddenly, having an NFC East champ at 7-9 doesn’t look nearly as awful as one might portray it…

Some of the colleges that recently fired their head coaches have announced replacements.  Mike Norvill goes from Memphis to Florida State; Lane Kiffin goes from FAU to Ole Miss; Sam Pittman will take over in Arkansas.  Alums at those schools are brimming with enthusiasm today; thing are surely going to change for the better.  So, I decided to take a look at how last year’s “new hires” did in their first year on the job.  I do not have an exhaustive list of every college coaching change, but these are ones that I found quickly and easily.  In alphabetical order:

  • Gary Andersen – – Utah State:  His record was 7-5 this year.  Andersen is returning to Utah State after stints at “more visible programs” such as Wisconsin.  This season was not a great start but there is no embarrassment here.
  • Tom Arth – – Akron:  His record was 0-12 this year – – the only Division 1-A team not to win a game this year.  There is no spin-meister alive who can make that look good.
  • Walt Bell – – UMass:  His record was 1-11 this year and UMass had the worst scoring defense in the country by a wide margin.  Bell took over for Mark Whipple who had been at UMass for 5 years and had gone 4-8 in the previous 2 seasons.  This year is a giant step backwards.
  • Mack Brown – – UNC:  His record was 6-6 this season but that is a significant improvement over the previous two seasons where UNC won a total of only 5 games.  Moreover, the Tar Heels were competitive in every game; only twice did they lose by as many as 7 points.  This is a significant improvement.
  • Geoff Collins – – Ga Tech:  His record was 3-9 this season but he needs a longer leash than a year because he tried to run his offense with players recruited for and trained in the triple option offense favored by his predecessor, Paul Johnson.
  • Ryan Day – – Ohio State:  His record was 12-0 this season.  What more is there to say here…?
  • Manny Diaz – – Miami:  His record was 6-6 this season but that is a bit deceiving.  Two of those losses were to Ga Tech (see above) and then to Florida International.  I doubt that Miami alums and boosters saw 2019 as a “positive experience”.
  • Chris Klieman – – Kansas State:  His record was 8-4 this season which is plenty good.  He must live with the fact that he has replaced the Godfather of Football in Manhattan KS and it will take years for the K-State faithful to let Bill Snyder’s memory even begin to fade.
  • Mike Locksley – – Maryland:  His record was 3-9 this season.  After winning the first two games by a combined score of 142-20, reality set in.  After that, the only other win came at the expense of Rutgers.  Against ranked teams, Maryland was 0-4 losing by a combined score of 222-31.  If that is considered “progress” …
  • Jim McElwein – – C. Michigan:  His record was 8-4 this season.  He came to C. Michigan from Florida and showed here that he can coach a bit.  Last year, C. Michigan was a SHOE Tournament team that won only 1 game.  This year, they played for the MAC Championship.  He provided a huge turnaround there.
  • Les Miles – – Kansas:  His record was 3-9 this season; nonetheless, that is a small step forward from where Kansas football has been recently.  Their win over BC was a plus – – but there is still a looong way to go for the Jayhawks if they want to regain a semblance of respectability in the Big 12.
  • Scott Satterfield – – Louisville:  His record was 7-5 this season.  The previous year was a disaster for the Cardinals; the record was 2-10 and they fired Bobby Petrino in November.  Satterfield came to Louisville from Appalachian State where he had winning records for 5 consecutive years.  It would be hard to argue that this was a bad hire…

Finally, here is an entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm that seems appropriate for this Holiday Season:

Dickens, Charles:  The man responsible for every lousy community-theater production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that you ever had to sit through because your wife had a friend from work who was playing Bob Cratchit.”

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

 

 

The Management Of Sports…

These are turbulent times for MLB.  The Commissioner must conduct in inquiry into a “cheating scandal” by the Houston Astros and whatever he does will be divisive.  There is almost no room for him to “thread the needle” so to speak where his inquiry is viewed as sufficiently thorough without being viewed as overly harsh.  This is not an existential crisis for MLB – as may well have been the Black Sox scandal in 1919 – but Rob Manfred is pretty much in a position where he is going to be vilified by some baseball fans at the end of his inquiry.

MLB did not ask for that problem; nonetheless, it is on MLB’s plate and is not going away quietly or on its own.  Such is not the case with a second major controversy involving MLB; the owners here have chosen to take careful aim and shoot themselves squarely in the foot – taking care to inflict maximum damage upon said foot.  This problem involves MLB’s proposed contraction of minor league baseball supported by MLB teams from 162 teams to 120 teams.

As expected, there are lots of minor league cities that do not think that is such a great idea; and as I noted when news of that proposal first surfaced, every one of those cities is in a Congressional District represented by a Congressthing.  Looking good to the “folks at home” in this one is easy for those Congressthings; all they need do is to make it crystal clear that they think this is a dumb idea proposed by a bunch of rich people who only want to make even more money and leave the poor folks in Beaglebreath without their beloved Buglers.

Already, a variety of members of the House of Representatives have made it known that they do not like this idea; they see it as a shakedown of small towns to upgrade what facilities they already have as a path to being one of the “Surviving 120 Teams”; they see MLB’s exemption from the anti-trust laws as Congressional leverage here; they see an issue on which they can campaign for re-election.  MLB did this to itself; the owners are not bleeding red ink and this idea was boneheaded from the start.  Now, Commissioner Manfred has to find a way to put the toothpaste back in the tube…

Amid all this, MLB finally did something right – – something that it should have done at least 20 years ago.  Marvin Miller was elected to Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game.  Marvin Miller did more to shape the game of major league baseball as it exists in 2019 than anyone since Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley convinced Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham to move their franchises from NYC to LA and SF respectively.  Marvin Miller died in 2012; he should have been in the Hall of Fame at least a decade before his death – – and probably two decades.  But at least MLB finally got this one right…

While baseball execs have some choppy seas to deal with, the business side of the NFL appears to be in much calmer waters.  Indeed, there is a new CBA that will have to be consummated when the current one expires at the end of the 2020 season.  However, any “sticking points” in those negotiations will be mitigated to some extent by one overarching reality:

  • The two sides are seeking a way to divide up a revenue stream that is estimated to be just north of $16B in 2019 and that stream is expected to continue to grow from there.

There is so much money on the table here that neither side should want to forego the bounty for any period of time.  Moreover, once a new CBA is in place providing the assurance of labor/management stability, the NFL can focus on renewing its media rights contracts with its “partner networks” meaning even more money for the owners and players to share.  [Aside:  The current agreement has been in place since 2011, and it had no “opt out clause” for either side.  That provided the basis for the league to demand – and receive – the fees they now enjoy.]

While the execs who run MLB and the NFL have challenges in front of them, there is at least an expectation that they can – and will – meet those challenges constructively and professionally.  Rob Manfred is in a tough spot with the Astros’ investigation, but MLB will weather the inevitable storm of protest that comes at the end.  The NFL will live through some sensational stories about the imminent rupture of labor/management peace never again to be re-established.  Those are nothing compared to the announcement earlier this week that the World Anti-Doping Agency has “banned Russia” from the Olympics in 2020 and in 2022 and from all other international competitions that come under the aegis of the World Anti-Doping Code.

That sounds as if the WADA members did a couple of things:

  • They caught the Russian athletes red-handed.
  • They imposed a huge sanction on those cheating athletes.
  • They have deterred future cheating based on this harsh punishment.

Well … maybe not.  According to the WADA watchdogs, this was a state-sponsored program of doping and cheating; the athletes did not do this on their own.  So, here is how that translates:

  • Those athletes may compete in the Olympics and other international competitions – – but not as representatives of Russia.
  • They will be identified as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” in the Olympics; I have not read what euphemisms will be used for other international competitions.
  • They may not display the Russian flag, nor will the Russian National Anthem be played during the competition(s).

I have no fondness or respect for WADA – or its US branch the USADA.  However, I will yield the floor here to Sally Jenkins of the Washington PostHere is a link to her column in today’s issue on the WADA banishment decision; I urge you to read it in its entirety.  To whet your appetite, here is her lead paragraph:

“What the Olympics need is a clean start. By that I don’t mean a ‘pure’ start, as opposed to a ‘dirty’ one, or any of the other uselessly simplistic terms used by the World Anti-Doping Agency to perpetuate its junk science. I mean a complete philosophical, ethical and scientific rethinking. The kind resisted by conflict of interest-riddled anti-doping bureaucrats, whose superficial ‘banning’ of Russia from competition would be more meaningful if WADA was any better than, well, Russia. What you have here is a battle between crooked cops and creeps, with a lot of athletes caught in between.”

Finally, here is a word from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Scientists at the National Defense Medical College in Japan say they’ve created artificial blood that works better than the real stuff.

“Didn’t pro rasslers already do that?”

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

 

 

An NBA Coaching Change Already …

The NY Knicks fired coach David Fizdale over the weekend.  Last year, the Knicks were a league-worst 17-65; they had lots of cap space and money to offer free agents over the summer and wound up with none of the available ones that anyone else wanted.  When Fizdale was fired, the Knicks were 4-18 and had lost 8 games in a row; this morning they are 4-19 having lost 9 games in a row and that is the NBA’s worst record.

That is a prima facie case indicating that Fizdale is a failure and the team certainly needs a “new voice in the room”.  The key element of a prima facie case, however, is that it is a rebuttable case based on presumption.  David Fizdale does not have a long coaching record; however, before his year and half with the Knicks, he was in Memphis where his record was 50-51 – with a playoff appearance.  Looking at that data – and reviewing the Knicks current roster – I am not so sure that Fizdale has severely underachieved.  For example, the Knicks are dead last in the NBA in free throw shooting; they make 67.5% of their free throws; the next-worst team makes 72.2%.  Explain to me how that is David Fizdale’s fault…

When I look at the Knicks’ roster, I cannot bring myself to say that it is competitive at the NBA level – and the brazen fact is that David Fizdale is not the person ultimately responsible for the construction of that non-competitive roster.  The way I see it, Fizdale is “taking the fall” for the GM, team president and team owner above him because they could not land any of the top-shelf free agents who were floating around in the basketball cosmos last summer.

The NY Knickerbockers won 17 games last season; I think they will struggle to win 25 games this year – even if the Ghost of Red Auerbach returns to Earth and assumes the coaching job in NY.  Sorry Knicks’ fans but that’s how it is…

Since the Ghost of Red Auerbach is unlikely to materialize any time soon, who might be the candidates to take the job?  Since the Knicks probably want a “splashy hire” to distract folks from examining that mélange of a roster, here are some “splashy names” in alphabetical order:

  • Patrick Ewing:  He is a former Knick; he has paid his dues as an assistant in the NBA and could probably be lured away from Georgetown where 4 players are either in the transfer portal or living under a restraining order issued by a court.
  • Mark Jackson:  He played for St. John’s and the Knicks; he is a “NY guy” and was successful with the Warriors in a previous coaching stint.
  • Jeff Van Gundy:  This would be the Knicks’ equivalent to Danny Boy Snyder luring Joe Gibbs back to the sidelines to coach the Skins about 15 years ago.  Check it out; Gibbs did not do all that well when cast with a team constructed by Danny Boy and Vinnie Cerrato instead of the one built by Bobby Beathard.
  • Stan Van Gundy:  If the Knicks can’t get Jeff, they can’t get much closer to hiring Jeff than this…  Stan Van is such a natural on TV that I would suggest to him that he follow his brother’s lead and stay “out there” as a potential hire and not take a seat on the bench.

Actually, I do have an idea for the Knicks that I will offer free of charge.  If they hire this guy, it will be newsworthy and distract folks from the team record and team roster; if they hire this guy, they will get someone with ties to the Knicks; if they hire this guy, they will get someone who can coach basketball.  Here is “the guy”:

  • Rick Pitino

As another example of the limitations of coaches on athletic performance, I read the following item somewhere and failed to record where that was.  This is not something I ferreted out by myself, but I don’t remember where I saw it:

  • The San Diego Padres hired Damion Easley to be their batting coach.  With this new hire, since 2004 the Padres have had 11 batting coaches.
  • My conclusion is that only a very few people can “teach” people who have made it to the high minor leagues or the major leagues on natural talent how to hit a baseball any better than they already can.

[Aside:  Unless the Padres have miraculously found one of those ultra-rare “teachers”, I would suggest that Damion Easley rent and not buy.]

The College Football Playoff is set.  Oklahoma earned the #4 seed over the weekend beating Baylor while LSU beat Georgia.  I think the Selection Committee got it right; the top 3 seeds in the tournament are all undefeated.  The fourth seed, Oklahoma, has 1 loss.  I believe these are the other teams in Division 1-A college football with only one loss in 2019”

  • Appalachian State  12-1
  • Boise State  12-1
  • Memphis  12-1

I have not seen Appalachian State play an entire football game this year, but I have seen both Boise State and Memphis – – and I have seen Oklahoma.  While I concede that the three one-loss teams who have been “excluded” from the CFP this year are quality teams, I cannot bring myself to either of these two conclusions:

  1. Oklahoma is so obviously inferior to one or more of these teams that the Selection Committee should be ashamed of its decision.
  2. Their “exclusion” presents a sound argument in favor of expanding the CFP to eight teams.

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

“MLB is floating a proposal that, starting in 2021, would reduce the number of minor-league teams from 160 to 120.

“OK, 122, if you want to include the Tigers and Orioles.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 12/6/19

Tomorrow will be Pearl Harbor Day – – but until tomorrow, today is Football Friday.  This is the weekend that will crown the conference champions and will determine the four teams that will participate in the College Football Playoff and will set in motion the activities to populate the seemingly endless number of other bowl games.  If I have counted correctly, there will be 41 bowl games this year requiring 82 teams.  There were 130 Division 1-A teams aspiring to a bowl slot back in August meaning that only 37% of the teams failed to “make the post season”.  College football advocates like to say that every game matters; well, when 63% of the teams “make it to the post-season”, one can wonder…

Last week, the Six-Pack broke even at 3-3.  Here is the cumulative record for the season:

  • Overall:  31-21-2
  • College:  17-6-1
  • NFL:  14-15-1

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Earlier this week, I ran through a bunch of the schools that will be looking to hire a new coach over the next several weeks.  One school has already made a “splashy” hire.  Rutgers signed Greg Schiano to an 8-year contract for $32M.  This is a coming-home event for Schiano; he is a self-identified “Jersey-guy” and he has been the coach at Rutgers before.  When he took the job last time, the program had sunk into the mire; over the previous 5 seasons, Rutgers went 11-44.

Schiano did not work miracles back then; he slowly built the program to the point where Rutgers went to a bowl game in 6 of his final 7 seasons there.  He was not fired from his job then; he left to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL.

He is not going to work miracles this time either for a couple of reasons, but the major reason is this:

  • When he last took over the job in 2001, Rutgers was in the Big East where the dominant teams were Miami and Va Tech.  Now Rutgers is in the Big 10 East where every year they know they will face the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

Rutgers has lost 21 consecutive Big 10 games dating back to November 2017.  This year Rutgers was 0-9 in conference games and lost by an average of 35 points per game.  Since joining the Big 10 in 2014 Rutgers’ conference record is 7-45 losing by an average of 23 points per game.  It will take any coach anywhere a bit of time to climb out of that abyss – – if such a climb is even possible.

There were a few surprising results from last week’s rivalry games:

  • It was no surprise that Ohio State beat Michigan; Ohio State is the better team.  However, the surprise was the 29-pooint margin of victory.
  • The margin of victory was a surprise also in the Kentucky/Louisville game.  The Wildcats won by 32 points.
  • Wisconsin beat Minnesota soundly 38-17.
  • Auburn beat Alabama 48-45.  Alabama was favored in the game, so it was technically an “upset”.  The surprise to me is that Auburn scored 48 points against the Bama defense.  This year, Auburn had offensive outbursts against the likes of Samford, Arkansas and Kent State – – not the likes of Alabama.
  • LSU beat Texas A&M 50-7.  LSU is the better team to be sure, but 43 points better?
  • Florida beat Florida State by 23 points after leading 30-7 at halftime.
  • Oklahoma beat a ranked Oklahoma State team by 18 points in Stillwater where Ok. St. is much tougher.
  • UVa beat VaTech 39-30 earning the “privilege” of facing Clemson this weekend.
  • Memphis beat Cincy 34-24.  These two teams will play again this week in the AAC Conference Championship game.
  • Washington beat Washington State 31-13 in the Apple Cup.  Washington’s coach “stepped down” and Washington State gave its coach a contract extension.  Say what?

 

The SHOE Tournament:

 

Here are the teams vying to be crowned as “The SHOE” – – The Steaming Heap Of Excrement – – for 2019.  The idea is to imagine them playing one another in this 8-team bracket where the loser of a game must continue to play on.  The #1 Seed in this tournament is the team that appears now to be the worst in the country – – but you never know…

As with the CFP at the other end of the college football spectrum, the seeding here is done by a committee.  The difference is that the SHOE Tournament seedings are done by a committee-of-one, namely me.

  • #1 Seed Akron:  This seeding is almost by default; Akron is the only Division 1-A team out of 130 such teams to go winless in 2019.  They closed out the season losing to Ohio – – not Ohio State – – by a score of 52-3.
  • #2 Seed UMass:  I’m not so sure that UMass can win a Division 1-A game because its defense is legendarily bad.  The Minutemen gave up 52.7 points per game this year; that is 11.7 points per game more than the next-worst scoring defense in the country.
  • #3 Seed Old Dominion:  The Monarchs finished the year at 1-11.  That lone win came in Week 1 by 3 points over a Division 1-AA opponent.
  • #4 Seed UTEP:  The Miners finished with a 1-11 record.    Their lone win was also in Week 1 by 2 points over a Division 1-AA opponent.
  • #5 Seed New Mexico State:  The Aggies were 2-10 this year.  On November 23, the Aggies beat UTP by 11 points; that means they deserve a lower seeding here.
  • #6 Seed UConn:  The Huskies were 2-10 this year also.  The two wins were over a Division 1-AA opponent and UMass.
  • #7 Seed Rutgers:  The Scarlett Knights were 2-10 in 2019.  The two wins came at the expense of Liberty and UMass.  See above for more details on Rutgers’ stinkitude…
  • #8 Seed Arkansas:  The Razorbacks were 2-10 this year.  From October 19 through November 23, Arkansas played 5 games and gave up a total of 254 points.  Two of the teams in that run were Western Kentucky and Mississippi State – – not exactly offensive powerhouses.

 

College Games this Week:

 

(Fri Nite) Oregon vs Utah – 6.5 (46.5):  The two best defensive teams in the PAC-12 will play for the conference championship; that is not normally the case out west.  The Utes have a shot at the CFP with a solid win here; Oregon already has two losses; I cannot imagine a scenario where Oregon gets into the CFP this year.  Everyone who follows college football has heard of Oregon QB, Justin Herbert – a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.  It is time for folks to get to recognize Utah RB, Zack Moss.  That guy can play…

Miami (OH) vs C. Michigan – 6 (54):  This is for the MAC Championship and there are some oddities here:

  • Miami is 7-5 while C Michigan is 8-4 – – and one of them will be a conference champion on Sunday morning
  • C Michigan won only 1 game last year and is playing for the conference championship this year.
  • Both teams lost to W. Michigan in MAC games – – yet W. Michigan isn’t in the championship game.

Baylor vs Oklahoma – 9.5 (65.5):  Both teams are 11-1.  Oklahoma beat Baylor but lost to K-State.  In their game against Baylor, the Sooners rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win.  No matter the outcome here, you have to tip your hat to Matt Ruhle as the coach at Baylor.  He took over a program in shambles as Art Briles was escorted out of town and Jim Grobe took over for one year as an interim coach back in 2017.  The Bears were 1-11 that year; they are 11-1 this year.

UAB vs Florida Atlantic – 8 (49.5):  The interesting aspect of this game is Lane Kiffin, the coach at FAU.  He has been linked to the job openings at both Arkansas and Mizzou in the SEC.  While those jobs may not be easy “turn-arounds” given the conference opponents, the SEC is at or near the top of the college football food chain in terms of coaching.  A loss here would not help Lane Kiffin’s candidacy for either of those jobs…

Cincy vs Memphis – 9 (57.5):  They met last week, and Memphis prevailed by 10 points.  The winner will be the AAC champion.

Hawaii at Boise St. – 13 (65):  This is the Mountain West championship game and it is being played on the “Smurf-Turf” in Boise.  Weather.com says it should be raining and in the 40s for this game; that is not Hawaii weather.  I’ll put Boise St. in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover at home. 

Georgia vs LSU – 7 (55.5):  LSU has the most prolific offense in the SEC scoring 46.7 points per game.  Georgia has the stingiest defense in the SEC allowing 10.4 points per game.  That alone makes this game worth watching…

Wisconsin vs Ohio State – 15.5 (56.5):  The Buckeyes beat the Badgers by 31 points in late October scoring 28 unanswered points.  The spread here is only half of that margin of victory.  I suspect that spread is where it is because Ohio State QB, Justin Fields, tweaked his knee in last week’s game; that level of uncertainty is why I am not taking Ohio State to win this one big.

UVa vs Clemson – 28 (57):  Just so you know, Virginia is +2375 on the Money Line here.  In case you had not noticed, Clemson ranks first in the country in scoring defense allowing only 10.1 points per game.  I think Clemson pours it on here.  I’ll put Clemson in this week’s Six-Pack and lay the points.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

I want to say something about last night’s Cowboys/Bears game.  The Cowboys were listless on offense and awful on defense.  The quick narrative here is that this is the fault of the coaching staff etc.  There is, however, a large measure of blame to be put on the players here.  These are professional athletes – some of them are making multiple millions of dollars per year to ply their trade.  Real motivation comes from within a person; I think it is an overstatement to say that all motivation comes from within, but I believe most of it resides there.

The Cowboys have talent – lots of talent.  What they seem to lack this year is a sense of their responsibility to put all that talent on display for 60 full minutes of a football game.  Is that a coaching flaw?

The Cowboys were listless two weeks ago losing to the Pats and then were merely lethargic on Thanksgiving Day in a loss to the Bills.  Last night’s seeming indifference on the part of the Cowboys is not news.  Those who conclude that all of this falls at the feet of the coaching staff wonder aloud how and why Jason Garrett continues to be the head coach in Dallas after almost 10 years that have produced 2 playoff wins and 4 winning seasons.  Here is my theory:

  • Jason Garrett is very good at taking the blame without lashing out.
  • Jerry Jones needs someone to pin the blame on when the Cowboys team that he assembles annually does not meet expectations.
  • Jason Garrett likes his job; Jerry Jones like having a coach who can absorb blame like a sponge.
  • I am no psychologist, but it looks to me as if there is a tad of codependency at work here.

Last week’s NFL games showed some ups and some downs.  Here are some of the “ups”:

  1. The Skins rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Panthers.  The Skins’ defense produced 4 takeaways in the game and sacked Kyle Allen 7 times.
  2. Derrick Henry ran for 149 yards and 1 TD against the Colts.
  3. Drew Lock won his first start as a Bronco.  It was certainly not pretty – – but the Broncos won the game with a field goal as time expired.
  4. The Dolphins offense had 4 trips inside the Red Zone against the Eagles and came away with 4 TDs.
  5. The Rams amassed 549 yards total offense.
  6. The Bengals held the Jets to 6 points getting their first win of the season.  The Bengals’ defense had been giving up 417.2 yards per game; the Jets only managed to gain 271.

Here are some of the “downs”:

  1. The Pats’ offense continued to look anemic on Sunday night against the Texans.
  2. The Eagles’ defense was awful.  The Eagles scored 31 points on the Dolphins and managed to lose.
  3. Nick Foles was benched – not injured but benched – in favor of Gardner Minshew.  The Jags have to be shaking their head at the 4-year and $88M contract they gave to Foles last Spring.
  4. Daniel Jones threw 3 INTs in the Giants’ loss to the Packers
  5. The Colts’ field goal unit allowed two tries to be blocked – – and one was returned for a TD.
  6. Sam Darnold and Jets’ OL played miserably as Jets lost to Bengals.  The Jets never snapped the ball in Bengals’ Red Zone.

[Aside:  In Game 8 this year, the Jets lost to the previously winless Dolphins.  In Game 12 this year, the Jets lost to the previously winless Bengals.  How charitable of them…]

By the way, the Skins with their 3-9 record can still make the playoffs this year as the NFC East champions.  A lot of things must fall just fight, but they are “still in the hunt”.  Here is what must happen:

  • Skins must win out over the Packers, Eagles, Giants and Cowboys.
  • Cowboys must lose out against Rams Eagles and Skins
  • Eagles must lose twice to the Giants, once to the Skins and beat the Cowboys.

Danny Boy Snyder is reading that and thinking, “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

Baltimore – 6 at Buffalo (44):  You could make the argument that this is the Game of the Week.  It will certainly be a challenge for the Bills – a team that has not beaten an opponent with a better than .500 record.  The Bills defense is very good, but it has shown some vulnerability to the run – – and the Ravens love to run the ball and will certainly try to run the ball here.

Washington at Green Bay – 12.5 (41.5):  The spread opened at 14.5 points and has been dropping all week indicating that there is a preponderance of “Skins money” showing up at the betting windows.  The Skins have won two in a row beating the Panthers last week as a double-digit underdog.  If you believe that will happen again, you can get +550 on the Money Line for the Skins to win straight up.

Denver at Houston – 9 (42.5):  The Texans need this game; the Broncos are playing out the string.  One interesting thing here is to see if Drew Lock’s first road start can be as productive as his first home start was last week when the Broncos beat the Chargers.

SF at New Orleans – 2 (44):  This is The Game of the Week.  Potentially, this game could decide who gets home field advantage in the playoffs.  Other than that, you have the excellent Niners’ defense going against Drew Brees in the Superdome.  This game is in the early Sunday time slot; if it is on in your viewing area, don’t miss it.

Cincy at Cleveland – 7 (41.5):  Other than labeling this game as half of the annual “Battle of Ohio”, this game is meaningless.

Carolina at Atlanta – 3 (47):  Let’s review the bidding here:

  • Panthers are 5-7 and have already fired their coach.
  • Falcons are 3-9 and most people think their coach has one foot out the door already.
  • Falcons beat the Panthers in Carolina 3 weeks ago by a score of 29-3.

To me, that adds up to a ho-hum game…

Detroit at Minnesota – 12.5 (43.5) The Vikes are a game behind the Packers in the NFC North race and are in good position for a wildcard berth in the playoffs.  This is a team they should beat and did beat 42-30 back in late October.  The Vikes get one more shot at the Packers on December 23.  The Lions are out of it at 3-8-1 and will play a rookie QB against a solid Vikes’ defense. Also, the Vikes are 5-0 at home this season.   I’ll put the Vikes in the Six-Pack to win and cover – – even though I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL.  I can hear that back-door cover approaching…

Miami at Jets – 5 (46):  This is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  It is a “revenge game” – if you must – since Miami beat the Jets to get its first win of the season back in October.  Jets are 4-8 with a point differential of only 76 points.  Dolphins are 3-9 with a point differential of 177 points – – worst in the NFL by far.

Indy at Tampa Bay – 3 (47):  The Total Line here opened at 50.5 and dropped quickly to this number.  The Colts need this game badly to stay within hailing distance of the Texans and the Titans in the AFC South.  The Colts have been miserable the last couple of weeks while the Bucs’ defense has shown improvement in the last couple of weeks.

Chargers – 3 at Jax (43.5):  The label on this game should be WGARA – standing for Who Gives A Rat’s Ass.

KC at New England – 3 (48.5):  This may not be the Game of the Week, but it ought to be an entertaining matchup that recalls last year’s playoff meeting between the teams.  Here is an interesting stat I ran across:

  • In their last 53 games after a loss, the Pats record against the spread is 37-16.
  • The Pats lost last week.

Until the Chiefs show they can stop the run without putting 10 men on the line, I expect the Pats to run and throw short passes to control clock and keep Patrick Mahomes on the bench.

Pittsburgh – 2 at Arizona (43.5):  The Cards’ defense is the worst in the league giving up 426.3 yards per game and they give up 29.1 points per game.  Also, the Cards surrender 118.8 yards per game rushing and that is important because rookie QB, Duck Hodges, may need to lean on a running game here.  The Steelers hold a playoff slot as of this week; they need this game.  I’ll put the Steelers in the Six-Pack and lay the points even though I am backing a rookie QB on the road as a favorite.

Tennessee – 3 at Oakland (47.5):  The Titans have been on a roll recently but find themselves in a “sandwich game situation” here.  Last week, they played – and beat – a division rival in the Colts; next week, they have a critical game against the Texans that could be a significant of the AFC South race.  Meanwhile, the Raiders laid two eggs in a row in two road games losing them by a combined score of 74-12.  The Raiders are back home this week…  Here are my questions about this game:

  • Can the Raiders rebound at home?
  • Do I trust the Titans to maintain consistency this week in a “sandwich situation”?
  • Since both teams rely on the run, which defense will stop the run best?

I’ll put the Raiders plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Rams “pick ‘em” (47):  The spread for this game has been all over the map.  It opened with the Seahawks as 2-point favorites.  You can still find them as a 1.5-point favorite at one sportsbook; most of the sportsbooks have this as a “pick ‘em” game, and another one has the Rams as a 1-point favorite.  The Seahawks won the first meeting here by a point in Seattle; in that game, they stacked the line to stop the run and dared Jared Goff to beat them through the air.  He did not.  I would not be surprised to see the Seahawks to play similar defense here; so, what wrinkles can the Rams come up with in the passing game?  This is a game you want to see on Sunday Night Football.

(Mon Nite) Giants at Philly – 9.5 (45):  Eli Manning returns to the field for this game; Daniel Jones gets to rest his injured leg.  The Eagles will win the NFC East if they win out.  The Eagles stunk out the joint last week losing to the Dolphins and have lost 3 in a row.  Not to worry though, the Giants have been stinking out the joint since the end of September and have lost 8 in a row.  Notwithstanding all that gloominess, the game has playoff implications.  I think both defenses are vulnerable here, so I’ll put this game in the Six-Pack to go OVER.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  1. Boise State – 13 over Hawaii
  2. Clemson – 28 over UVa
  3. Vikes – 12.5 over Lions
  4. Steelers – 2 over Cards
  5. Raiders + 3 against Titans
  6. Eagles/Giants to go OVER 45 points

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that I endorse completely:

“Not that football needs another rule or anything, but any player who goes nutso celebrating a first down, a touchdown or a turnover — when his team is trailing by three or more scores — should get flagged 15 yards for stupidity.”

Can I get an AMEN! here…

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

 

 

Three Little Changes…

I want to devote today to changes in sports – – hopefully changes that will make things better and not usher in a boatload of “unintended consequences” as happened with instant replay.  I know that all change is not positive, but I do think that it is possible to find ways to emphasize the positives such that one will hopefully minimize the negatives.  I also recognize the truth in the adage attributed to Sir Winston Churchill:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

My intent here is to propose or endorse a few avenues of change knowing that the improvements that I see in making those changes will cause others to see “the dark side”.  I think these are worthy of consideration.

Several months ago, MLB said that it planned to impose the “3-batter rule” on relief pitchers in 2020.  Things went so far that MLB said it wanted to put the rule in place and the players union said it would not oppose it as something that violated the current CBA.  That sounded awfully nuanced when I read about it, but I figured that there were still details to be worked out there.  Now, we are in the offseason and I have not yet read or heard that MLB has indeed put that rule into the rulebook.  That brings two questions to mind:

  1. How are teams supposed to maneuver their rosters this winter when there is a pending rule change that may or may not go into the rulebook later this winter?
  2. What is the hold-up?

Forget question number 1 above for today; that is why managers and GMs get paid the big bucks; that is their problem.  Focus on question number 2.  The idea behind this rule change in the first place was to speed up games by reducing the number of pitching changes during an inning.  Let me be clear; this will no speed up games to the point that we will see the return of the “two-hour game” or even the “two-and-a-half-hour game” with any regularity.  What it will do is to cut down on the number of “breaks in the action” in mid-inning.

I have to believe that at least a few of the baseball mavens thought about these sorts of issues and weighed them against potential consequences before making the announcement that they did a few months ago.  If it made sense to give this a try, then – and it must have if it got to the point that the union commented on it – let me repeat the question:

  • What is the hold-up?

Memo to The Commish:  Put this rule in the rulebook now.  If you find after a year or two that it does not make sense, then take it out of the rulebook then.

Let me move now to the NFL where there is ample reporting suggesting that schedule changes to include a 17-game regular season are in play.  One twist on that change is that every team would have to play a game on a “neutral site” so that half the teams do not reap the advantage of a “ninth home game” every year.  [Aside: I doubt the schedule maker(s) are the motive force behind this change.]  These “neutral sites” could include foreign venues and cities in the US where there are no NFL franchises in the neighborhood.

If all that comes to pass, my idea here will be moot.  However, since the NFLPA has been against expanding the regular season in the past, let me proceed here on the basis that the regular season will remain at 16 games.  My suggestion here intends to give some sort of trivial meaning to the Exhibition Season that is foisted upon season ticket holders.  The emphasis here is on the word “trivial” because those are Exhibition Games at their core – – meaning their value is virtually nil.

Here is the idea:

  1. Keep standings for the teams in the 2 conferences as if the games were real ones.  Not to worry, they will be wiped clean at the end of the Exhibition Season and will have no bearing on things like the playoffs.
  2. Using tiebreakers that have yet to be devised, the 4 teams in both conferences that have the best records in the 2020 Exhibition Season would earn the following benefit – they can opt out of playing any game outside the “Lower 48” during the 2021 regular season if they choose to do so.

I know; this is not Earth-shattering.  However, it does provide teams with a minuscule motivation to play well and it does give fans a reason to look at the agate pages to see the Exhibition Season standings.

The last suggestion for the day seeks to improve the thing that I have called the single best sporting event of every calendar year.  I am talking about March Madness and I have not backed off my assessment of its excellence.  Recall in the past that I have offered this modification:

  1. The Selection Committee should choose 96 teams not 68.
  2. The Selection Committee should name the Top 32 teams and give them a bye for the first round.
  3. The remaining 64 teams should play 32 single-elimination games where the winners go into March Madness and the losers become the entrants in the NIT and play out that junior-varsity tournament.

I still maintain that is a change to be made but there is exactly no impetus for it outside these pages.  Ergo, my secondary modification would take aim at the play-in games as currently exist under the current selection rules.  Here is the change:

  1. The Selection Committee announces its brackets on Sunday meaning the 8 teams in the “play-in games” are identified then.
  2. All 4 of the play-in games should happen on Tuesday of the following week – not half on Tuesday and half on Wednesday.
  3. The winners of those games advance to the bracket of 64 – AND – all four of those winners are slotted to play in Friday/Sunday side of the first-round games.

Nothing can erase the fact that those 8 “play-in teams” face an extra game in the tournament structure but with this modification they get an extra day to travel/practice/prepare for that first round game than they currently get.

None of my suggestions here will make things perfect; I submit that they could make things marginally better that they are now and should at least be considered before being dismissed out of hand.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Finally, I began today by quoting Sir Winston Churchill.  I shall close by quoting a British essayist and physician, Havelock Ellis:

“What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.”

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

 

 

NFL News Items…

The NFL has suspended Cardinals’ DB, Josh Shaw, through the 2020 regular season for betting on NFL games.  According to reports, Shaw placed the bets legally in licensed and regulated sportsbooks and made no attempt to conceal his identity or to assume a false identity.  Notwithstanding the fact that it surely appears as if he did nothing that could run him afoul of the law, there is an unanswered question here:

  • What the Hell were you thinking?

It has been about 18 months since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA as unconstitutional opening the door for individual States to license and regulate sportsbooks.  In that 18 months, Josh Shaw was a player in the NFL; he has been on IR with the Cardinals since the beginning of the 2019 regular season.  It is inconceivable to me that he never heard or read about Roger Goodell’s public angst over how this proliferation of gambling opportunities might eat at the “integrity of the game”.  Somehow, Josh Shaw never heard that stuff.

Compounding the naiveté here, Shaw allegedly bet against his team – the Cardinals – as part of a three-team parlay.  Commissioner Roger Goodell stated the obvious when he was announcing Shaw’s suspension:

“If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football.”

Josh Shaw will appeal his suspension.  If you want an example of a long shot, consider his chances of getting the Commish to change his mind on this one.

There is a gray area in the NFL gambling policy – despite the seemingly no-nonsense tone set by Roger Goodell above.  NFL players play fantasy football; fantasy football is a form of gambling; fantasy football results do not depend on the outcomes of NFL games but do rely on the statistics from NFL games to determine winners and losers.  In fact, the NFL has a financial partnership with DraftKings as the league’s Official Daily Fantasy Partner.

I have no interest in debating whether fantasy football participation by NFL players should or should not be allowed.  However, I think the juxtaposition of one being allowed while the other is clearly not allowed is interesting to observe.

Another NFL event involves a totally different form of “gambling”.  The Carolina Panthers fired coach Ron Rivera yesterday; the team has lost 4 games in a row and last week’s loss at home to the Skins – after leading in the game 14-0 – was probably the final nail in the icing – – to use a mixed metaphor.  Rivera had been with the Panthers for almost ten seasons; his teams had been in the playoffs 4 times and the Panthers went to the Super Bowl once.  Rivera’s cumulative record in Carolina was 76-63-1

In the announcement of the change, Panthers’ owner, David Tepper, said that it was time for him to put his stamp on the team.  Well, he just did that, and the figurative roulette wheel is in motion.

David Tepper bought the Carolina Panthers from Jerry Richardson in May 2018 for a reported $2.2B.  Tepper made his money as a hedge fund manager and his net worth is reported to be in the neighborhood of $11.5 – 12B.  Tepper is an avid sports fan and was a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to buying the Panthers.

David Tepper is about to hire a new coach; he can afford to hire anyone in the business; he will put his stamp on the team by selecting the next head coach after owning the team for less than 2 years.  His reputation is that he is loud and brash.  He has made a boatload of money by being in charge.

Other than a significant difference in age, that is close to the profile of Danny Boy Snyder when Snyder bought the Skins in 1999.  About 18 months after taking over, Snyder fired the Skins’ head coach and started a process that saw 6 full time head coaches come and go in 20 years.

David Tepper could learn something about that situation because the head coach that Snyder fired was Norv Turner – – who was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers and will now be the assistant head coach for the rest of the 2019 regular season.  Norv Turner should not be hard to find for David Tepper…

A couple of weeks ago, I thought the AFC South race would come down to the Colts and the Texans – but the Titans have been on fire for the last month.  This morning, the AFC South race looks like this:

  • Texans:  8-4
  • Titans:  7-5
  • Colts:  6-6
  • Jags:  Doesn’t matter

The Titans and the Texans will play each other twice in the remaining regular season (at Tennessee on 15 December and at Houston on 29 December).  The Texans’ other two games (Broncos and Bucs) are much easier than the Titans’ other two (Saints and Raiders), but the division title could rest with the outcome of those two head-to-head matches.

Meanwhile, the Colts have one tough game (Saints) still to go and three other winnable games (Bucs, Panthers, Jags).  The AFC South race could well be decided on 29 December – the last day of the regular season.

Finally, since everything today has to do with NFL stuff, let me close with two very interesting questions posed by Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“If the Raiders win the Super Bowl, will they have a parade? If so, won’t it be in Las Vegas? The typical championship parade scenario is the city and the team split the costs. Oakland is not likely to spend a dime on a Raiders parade, and the Raiders will be saving all their money for the clubs and tables in Vegas.”

And …

“If the 49ers win the Super Bowl, where will their parade be? Judging from TV shots during nationally-televised games, won’t it be across the Golden Gate Bridge and into downtown Santa Clara?”

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

 

 

College Football Coaching Changes

The first week of December is a time of hope and misery for college football coaches.  Underperforming teams shed their coaches; there is nothing new about that.  However, at the college level, some coaches lose their job simply because the boosters and the big money donors have unrealistic goals of national prominence for their teams.  Some coaches become cannon fodder in those situations.  Moreover, sometimes the coach that is hired may not be as good as the one who served as cannon fodder.

Looking only at major colleges in the Power 5 conferences, jobs are already open.

  • Arkansas:  They fired Chad Morris several weeks ago so they – nominally – have had a head start at finding his replacement.  Good luck to them; they are going to need it because at this moment of history, Arkansas is the place where coaching careers go to die.  Arkansas jumped to the SEC in 1992; in 28 seasons there, they have been above .500 13 times and have won 9 or more games only 4 times.  In the last two seasons, the Razorbacks’ record is 4-20.  As a member of the SEC West, they will face Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M every year.
  • Boston College:  They fired Steve Addazio last weekend.  He had been at BC for 7 seasons and produced a record of 44-44.  I am not going to pretend that is a great record because it is not.  However, what is the expectation for football at BC?  The last time they had double-digit wins there was in 2007; the coach was Jeff Jagodzinski.  The powers that be there told Jagodzinski not to interview for the then vacant job with the NY Jets; he did so anyway, and BC fired him the next day.  Since then, BC has gone 74-78.  Does that look like a hot job to you?
  • Florida State:  Like Arkansas, they have had a “head start” finding a new coach having fired Willie Taggert in mid-season.  There are multiple stories out there about how and why Jimbo Fisher left opening the door to hire Taggert; I don’t know which are true and which are false.  However, I do know that what used to be a national powerhouse has been decidedly mediocre for the last 3 years – record over that span is 18-19.  I wondered at the time Taggert was hired if he was ready for such a high-profile job; now I wonder if the profile has been sufficiently marred to be attractive to a coach who is ready for a high-profile job.
  • Missouri:  They fired Barry Odom last weekend.  Odom had been there for 4 years and produced aa record of 25-25.  Missouri is under NCAA sanctions limiting recruiting and scholarships.  They also play an SEC schedule.  Bonne chance, Mizzou…
  • Old Dominion:  They fired Bobby Wilder over the weekend after a 1-11 season.  ODU has only been in Division 1-A for 6 years; Wilder has been the coach there for all that time and in 2016 – the 3rd season in C-USA – he led the team to a 10-3 record and a victory in a minor bowl game.  A new coach at ODU has nowhere to go but up after a 1-11 season; at the same time, one has to wonder what the expectations are for the football program there.  If the poohbahs there will be satisfied with being competitive and contending in C-USA, that is one thing; if they aspire to more than that in something less than a decade or so, that is a totally different thing.
  • Ole Miss:  They fired Matt Luke over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 15-21.  Luke took over a program in turmoil; Hugh Freeze had to leave in the wake of major NCAA violations and investigations and Freeze’s predecessor, Houston Nutt, sued the school for defamation claiming that Freeze and the school tried to pin the violations on Nutt.  Not surprisingly, Luke had problems winning games at Ole Miss and is now out of a job.  Also, like Arkansas above, Ole Miss plays in the SEC West and faces the same gauntlet of teams Arkansas faces each year.
  • USF:  They fired Charlie Strong over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 21-16.  The” problem” with that record is that the Bulls won 10 games three years ago and only 4 games this year.  He came to USF after three sub-.500 seasons at Texas and took over a team that had gone 11-2 the year before he arrived.  [Aside:  The coach he replaced was Willie Taggert who left to take the job at Oregon.]  As in the case of ODU, what do the folks in the athletic department and the big-money alums aspire to for their football team?  Anyone interviewing for the job needs to understand those aspirations.

As is usually the case, schools will look for their next coach in one of three places:

  1. Assistant coaches on the staff:  Sometimes there is one part of a team that is performing very well, and the thinking is that if the coach in charge of that part of the team has control over everything, then everything will perform very well.  Sometimes that works; other times, it does not.  Another reason schools look here is that paying someone taking a head coaching job for the first-time costs less than hiring someone else’s head coach.
  2. “Failed” NFL coaches:  That model worked very well when schools decided to hire Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Steve Spurrier.  It did not work out so well when schools decided to hire Lane Kiffin, Jim Mora, Jr. and Chip Kelly.
  3. Successful coaches not in the “Power 5”:  This year, the targets would be the coaches at Memphis, Cincy, SMU, Florida Atlantic, UAB, La Tech, Boise St. San Diego St. Hawaii, Appalachian St. and La- Lafayette.  As with the category of “failed NFL coaches”, sometimes this works wonders – – see PJ Fleck at Minnesota – – and sometimes it does not work out nearly as well – – see Geoff Collins in his first year at Georgia Tech.

There have been two coaches that have stepped down so far in this off-season; one has created a vacancy:

  1. New Mexico:  Bob Davie resigned as the head coach in Albuquerque; no specifics were given but reports cite health concerns as being a big motivator here.  Recall that Davie needed emergency medical attention earlier this year and did not travel with the team to one of the away games.  The job is open; it should not be difficult to improve on a 2-9 season with an 0-7 record in the Mountain West Conference.
  2. Washington:  Chris Petersen has stepped down from the head coaching position and will assume the role of a “leadership advisor” to the athletic department.  The current Washington defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake, has been named the new head coach concurrent with Petersen’s departure from the position.

Early December is the “time of tension” for college coaches that have not done particularly well for the past year or two.  Their brethren at the NFL level will face their days of reckoning in the waning hours of 2019 and in the first week of January 2020 right after the NFL regular season closes out.  With 25% of the season still to take place, I see 9 coaches who are in danger of losing their jobs – – but there are still games left to play.

Finally, just to lighten the mood here a bit, consider this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Dali, Salvador:  A twentieth-century Catalonian artist who came up with stuff like melting clocks and helped usher in the surrealist movement, which may have been responsible for the first widespread use of the phrase, ‘WTF’.”

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

 

 

Heading For The Home Stretch

If you were to compare the NFL season to a 1-mile horse race, the teams have just run three quarters of a mile and are setting for the stretch run.  Of course, as in about any horse race, there are contenders and laggards at this point.  What I want to do now is to ignore the laggards and look at the contenders through this lens:

  • How good – or how bad – are the remaining opponents for the contenders?

After all, it would have to be easier to close out the season against 4 fuzzy bunnies than it would be to run a murderous gauntlet.  I’ll start with the AFC and go in alphabetical order:

  • Baltimore Ravens:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 25-23
  • Buffalo Bills:  Current record is 9-3.  Remaining opponents are 27-21.
  • Houston Texans:  Current record is 8-4.   Remaining opponents are 23-25.
  • Indy Colts:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 24-24.
  • KC Chiefs:  Current record is 8-4.  Remaining opponents are 24-24.
  • New England Patriots:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 21-27.
  • Oakland Raiders:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 19-29.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 26-21-1.
  • Tennessee Titans:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 32-16.

Clearly, the Titans, Steelers and Bills have the more difficult schedules ahead of them while the Raiders and Pats have easier paths to the playoff ahead.  The Colts record and the records of their remaining opponents are in perfect balance.  The Colts are at .500 and their opponents cumulatively are also at .500.

Over in the NFC:

  • Chicago Bears:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 31-17.
  • Dallas Cowboys:  Current record is 6-6.  Remaining opponents are 21-27.
  • Green Bay Packers:  Current record is 9-3.  Remaining opponents are 20-27-1.
  • LA Rams:  Current record is 7-5.  Remaining opponents are 28-19-1.
  • Minnesota Vikings:  Current record is 8-3.  Remaining opponents are 31-27-1.
  • New Orleans Saints:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 25-22-1.
  • Philadelphia Eagles:  Current record is 5-7.  Remaining opponents are 13-35.
  • Seattle Seahawks:  Current record is 9-2.  Remaining opponents are 33-25-1.
  • SF Niners:  Current record is 10-2.  Remaining opponents are 29-18.

The Vikings and Seahawks play tonight; that is why their records and the records of their opponents are different from the other entries here.  In addition, even though the Eagles have the worst record of any “contender” in either conference, the Eagles have a guaranteed entry into the playoffs if they win out.  That would make them the NFC East champions and looking at their remaining opponents, one might think it would be an easy road for the Eagles.  Then again, they just got through losing to the Dolphins last weekend…

While the NFL continues to rake in revenues hand over fist, the Arena Football League has declared bankruptcy and ceased operations last week.  Arena football has been around for more than 30 years, but it has always been a niche sport.  At the height of its popularity, Arena Football games drew about 13,000 fans per game; the league could sustain itself with that sort of fan support but in recent years teams folded – – there were only 6 left standing as of last week – – and attendance last season was less than 7,000 per game.  As if that were not bad enough, the six teams were owned by only 3 entities; one operated three teams in Albany, Atlantic City and Philly and a second operated the teams in Baltimore and DC.

The financial viability of the league depended on obtaining a revenue generating media rights contract and by finding ways to exploit newly legalized gambling to provide added revenues.  In the past, the Arena Football league had to play CBS Sports Network to put Arena football games on the air; the league was paying to cover production costs while the Network got to keep whatever ad revenue came in.  Clearly, that model cannot work for long.

Obviously, the declaration of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and cessation of all operations by the Arena League makes it clear that a satisfactory media rights contract was not in the cards and that any plans to exploit legalized gambling to provide added revenues were insufficient to keep the league afloat.

Rest in peace, Arena Football League.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this cogent observation about the NFL in 2019 in the Seattle Times recently:

“Whoever said ‘Justice is blind’ obviously had the NFL’s new pass-interference review system in mind.”

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