Big-10 Football in 2020…

Certainly, the biggest news of the morning is that the Big-10 will play football in 2020 commencing an 8-game season on October 24th.    Those eight games will take place in 8 consecutive weeks so there is no “postponing” possible; according to reports, there will be a Big-10 Conference Championship Game on December 19th.  At the announcement of these new plans, the Big-10 mavens said that there will be daily and rapid testing – and presumably tracing – for all athletes and coaches starting on September 30th.  More importantly, the Big-10 health and safety plan addresses the potential danger of myocarditis as a dangerous after-effect of a COVID-19 infection:

“Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference. Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition. All COVID-19 positive student-athletes will have to undergo comprehensive cardiac testing to include labs and biomarkers, ECG, Echocardiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Following cardiac evaluation, student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for COVID-19 positive student-athletes. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.”

I think this is an enlightened approach to resuming college football.  Yes, the underlying reason for considering playing football in these pandemic conditions is a cash-grab on the part of the schools and the conference itself.  I am not trying to make these folks out to be dispassionate observers of the scene who have emulated Mr. Spock’s cool logic to arrive at this decision.  Nonetheless, the Big-10 has not put its head in the sand and decided to carry on with its cash-grab and to let the chips fall where they may for the players and coaches who are making the cash-grab possible.

  • The recognition of the potential for lingering myocarditis is an important plus for the Big-10 regimen.
  • The 21-day removal of a player who tests positive from game appearances is a plus for the Big-10 regimen.
  • The designation of a Chief Infection Officer at each school – – there just has to be a better title for those newly designated folks – – should not hurt anything but until I know what authority the CInO might have with team positivity and student population positivity data in hand, I will look upon this as window dressing.

[Aside:  Call me a cynic, but when I read that the Big-10 Championship Game was scheduled for December 19th, I went and checked to see when the teams for the CFP would be selected.  You guessed it right; the CFP filed will be announced on December 20th.  What a coincidence…!]

The business of testing players and testing the student body at large and then comparing/contrasting those results is a losing proposition from a PR standpoint.  Consider:

  1. If the positivity rate for the football team is significantly lower than the positivity rate for the student body at large, you may be certain that some professor in the sociology department will assert that this results from special advantages given to the football team and not available to the rest of the “university family”.  Moreover, the NCAA has struggled for years to try to assure that “student-athletes” do not receive any special treatment based on their status as “athletes”.
  2. If the positivity rate for the football team is significantly higher than the positivity rate for the student body at large,  you may be certain that some professor in the sociology department – – possibly the same person characterized above but with a different axe to grind under these circumstances – – will assert that this results from the exploitation of these unpaid, under-appreciated and greedily exploited children.

[Aside:  This second hypothetical professor will conveniently ignore that these “exploited children” have been petitioning to be allowed to play football ever since the Big-10 chose not to start the season at the normal time.]

One more potentially annoying outcome from this decision could come to pass.  It is a rare thing indeed when “sports” intersects with “politics and politicians” where the outcome is positive.  This decision by the Big-10 Conference is likely to draw attention and support or condemnation from the President, sitting Governors, members of Congress, State Legislators and local pols who may be running for exalted high offices such as County Prothonotary.  The chances that all that will end well are minuscule…

Yesterday, I tried to explain why the 10.3% decline in TV ratings for the NFL’s opening night game was not cataclysmic.  After I posted yesterday’s rant, I ran across some TV ratings data for the US Open Tennis Championships over the weekend.  The data is not flattering:

  • For the entire tournament, ESPN’s ratings were down 45%.
  • For the men’s final, ratings were down 48%.
  • For the women’s final, ratings were down 43%.

There are plenty of explanations for ratings decline here but those percentages are too large to brush off.  Consider:

  • The top men’s player in the world, Novak Djokovic, “was defaulted”.
  • Neither Rafael Nadal nor Roger Federer was in the field from the start.
  • Serena Williams – the biggest TV draw – was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
  • The men’s winner this year was Dominic Thiem.  I could not pick him out of a lineup with the Marvel Avengers.
  • The women’s winner was Naomi Osaka who has been ranked #1 in the world for a while making her recognizable – – but who is not as compelling a TV draw as Serena Williams.

Finally, Dwight Perry had an observation regarding the US Open Tennis Championship in the Seattle Times:

“Top-ranked Novak Djokovic got defaulted from the U.S. Open after a ball he struck in anger hit a line judge.

“On the plus side, he was immediately credited with a one-hit shutout.”

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




For the last couple of years, ESPN has used Steve Levy with an assortment of color guys to do the “Bonus Monday Night Football Game” in Week 1 of the NFL season.  That plan would not work this year because Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick will be doing MNF every week, so the network had to find another announcing team for the Steelers/Giants game last night.  Someone at ESPN came up with the idea of assigning the “college guys” to do this game.

  • Kudos to the person who came up with that idea!

Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were excellent on the call for that game.  They have worked together on college games for more than 5 years and that familiarity showed clearly last night.  They put on a professional booth performance worthy of the professional football game down on the field.  There have been lots of very good announcing pairs for NFL games over the years; last night’s performance makes me wonder if Fowler/Herbstreit might be one of those pairings if they had been doing NFL games instead of college games for the last 5 years or so.

Starting next week, Fowler and Herbstreit will be back doing college games – – which they always have done excellently.  That will leave the Levy/Griese/Riddick team to do a solo act on Monday nights.  Based on last night, that will be a good thing because the comparison last night to Fowler/Herbstreit was not a flattering one for the “main crew”.

Levy was OK on play-by-play; he made no teeth-grinding errors.  He tried to put some energy into his call of the game, but there were times when I felt the “energy” was unwarranted.  Sometimes, a TV play-by-play guy needs to sit back and let the picture on the screen inform the viewer.  If a play results in a ball placement that is close enough to the first down marker that there is temporary uncertainty, just wait about 2 seconds and the official will let you know what the story is.  In any event, keep your voice calm as you say whatever it is you feel you need to say in that moment; it may be a “mystery” for a moment; but soon, all will be clear.

Meanwhile, the next interesting thing Brian Griese adds to a telecast on MNF will be his first one.  Notice that I did not say “important thing”; given what I heard last night, that would be a next-to-impossible bar for him to cross.  To be fair, he did not do or say anything that damaged the presentation of the game.  My problem is that he did not add much of anything; his commentary was like white noise in the background.

My biggest disappointment was Louis Riddick.  I am on record here as a big Louis Riddick fan; I have enjoyed his studio work at ESPN and I thought it was a great selection on the part of ESPN to put him on the MNF varsity team.

  • Memo to Louis Riddick:  Put a little bit of energy into your commentary – – sort of like the energy you showed in your studio show performances on ESPN.

Honestly, if there had not been live shots of the three guys mic’ed up to do the game in their fashionable suits, I might have pictured Louis Riddick doing the game in his jammies on a sleep-number bed.  C’mon man; I know you can do a lot better than that.

While on the subject of TV and Week 1 of the NFL season, the ratings for Thursday night’s opening game (Chiefs/Texans) were down from last year and down significantly.  In 2020, every change of any sort in any situation must be projected immediately such that the change is either monumentally positive or calamitously negative.  In the case of last Thursday’s game, the ratings decline was neither.

  • While ratings were indeed down 10.3%, the average number of viewers for the game was estimated at 20.3 million viewers.
  • By comparison, the ESPN special – Last Dance – which captured a lot of buzz about two months ago averaged 6.7 million viewers.
  • The TV series with the greatest number of viewers is NCIS – according to Nielsen – and it averages 15.3 million viewers.
  • The Texans/Chiefs game whose ratings “cratered” if you believe the alarmists had an audience more than 30% larger than the top rated TV show in the US and more than 300% larger than the highly touted special, Last Dance.

Some of the folks who tried to minimize the ratings decline pointed out that last Thursday night was about as crowded a night as one might ever see in US sports.  In addition to the start of the NFL regular season, sports fans could also check out MLB games, NBA playoff games, NHL Stanley Cup games, MLS games, US Open tennis matches and even WNBA games all on various TV channels.  That is a full lineup indeed; maybe it caused the noted ratings decline; maybe not.

Rather than try to explain something that is probably unexplainable without a lot of rhetorical legerdemain, let me point out some data from 2019 to put NFL programming on TV in the US into some perspective:

For those who see apocalypse in a ratings decline for a single game, please wait until the results are in for 2020 as a whole to see if there is a significant challenger to the NFL as the top “eyeball magnet” that TV execs all covet.

Finally, even though the idea of an “All-Inclusive March Madness” has been summarily dismissed, this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot bears mentioning:

“Many of us opposed to the ACC’s proposal of including 346 basketball teams in the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament are asking the same question. To wit: Will players be given juice boxes and participation trophies?”

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



The NFL in 2020 …

There were 13 NFL games yesterday –  following the season opener last Thursday night –  and there is some behind-the-scenes action going on today that is very important to the NFL.  Twenty-six teams played yesterday; if you consider that each team had 50 players involved that means 1300 men engaged in non-socially distanced activities for about 3 hours.  And today the labs that are supposed to do the testing for COVID-19 are probably at work processing the first set of tests after real games.

From what we know now, the major vector for the spread of the coronavirus is aerosol droplets of various sizes that can hover in the air for differing lengths of time.  A professional football player – in addition to being a fit and skilled athlete – is an aerosol droplet producing machine.  There were epidemiological analyses that attributed the spread of the virus after a choir practice to the exhalation of aerosol droplets from singers in that choir who unknowingly carried the coronavirus.  Given the heavy breathing and the violent collisions of an NFL game, I have to imagine that choir practice is the more benign event relative to viral spread.

And so, this week there will be testing and re-testing around the league to see if the NFL’s testing regimen to date has been sufficiently tight so as to keep the virus away from players and coaches who are involved in the games.  Just as it is logical to look at an NFL game and identify it as a potential virus super spreader event, it is equally logical to look at an NFL game and assume that if no one involved has the virus to spread then there will be no spreading of the virus.

The Las Vegas Raiders – it is going to take me a while to get used to typing that out on my keyboard – will play their first home game in their new stadium next Monday.  Allegiant Stadium cost $2B and according to an announcement from the team, the stadium …

“ … will be the first venue in American pro sports to open as a cashless venue. As part of our ongoing dedication to provide our fans and patrons with a world-class sports and live entertainment experience, and in response to feedback from our most loyal customers, cash will not be accepted as a form of payment at any stadium-controlled parking location or within Allegiant Stadium.”

Transactions in the stadium on Game Days will be done with credit cards, debit cards and/or payment options available on cell phones.  In addition, there will be kiosks around the stadium where cash can be converted into prepaid cards which can then be used to purchase food, drink or merchandise.  I have no idea if these measures will be important with regard to minimizing viral spread, but they will probably help a bit.  From the standpoint of the Raiders and the stadium vendors, this ought to speed up the process of purchasing “stuff” and that might lead to people buying a bit more “stuff”.

Of course, the implementation of these procedures can only happen in real life once fans are present in Allegiant Stadium to see the Raiders play home games.  As of this morning, the Raiders will be playing in front of empty seats – or possibly some cardboard cutouts.  In that situation there ought not to be many transactions processed via the cashless methods.

Since I am thinking about the world of pro football today, let me suggest that the NFL is going to conduct the 2020 season with a different mindset than in years past.  For at least the time since the merger of the AFL and the NFL, the league has worked hard to provide competitive balance.  There are rules that try to assure that no team can get a competitive edge on its opponent other than advantages earned by talent or preparation or effort.  The slogan, “On any given Sunday…”, may be trite; but it is real to the folks who run the NFL and it is part of attractiveness of the sport.

In 2020, the NFL will have to put player safety and health on a level equal to – and perhaps even greater than – the historical focus on equal competition.  It is possible that due to health and safety concerns, every team may not play the same number of games in 2020.  If a game must be canceled late in the season due to virus detections, safety and health may have to supersede the competitive “level playing field”.  Consider:

  • Sometime in early December Team A suffers a COVID-19 outbreak.  They need to miss two games in the first two weeks of December.
  • Team A will not be able to make up those games within the framework of the season schedule; the BYE Weeks are long gone and there is no way that it is safe or is it competitively fair to expect Team A to play a compressed schedule – – say 4 games in two weeks.
  • Teams B and C were the scheduled opponents for those two weeks that team A was “on the shelf”.  They too will not be able to make up their missed game AND Teams B and C will have the “advantage” of an extra BYE Week late in the season.
  • In a “normal year” that would not be tolerable; in 2020, it may cause a few raised eyebrows followed by a shoulder shrug as the league keeps on keeping on.

The fact that some teams will have reduced numbers of fans in the stands while others play in front of empty seats presents a competitive advantage.  Roger Goodell can try to put a pretty face on the situation and say that this is not a big deal, but it is.  The Commish and the league do not want to have these different game conditions from stadium to stadium – – but they do not really have an option there.  It would be nice for them to admit that there will be different standards for teams in 2020 instead of pretending that “home field advantage” is a myth that has been perpetrated on the public by people interested in gambling on games.

Brad Dickson posted this less-than-optimistic Tweet last Thursday:

“The 2020 NFL season kicks off tonight. I’m really looking forward to the next 12 days until the 2020 NFL season ends.”

Let us hope he is wrong…

Finally, Greg Cote had this note in the Miami Herald over the weekend:

“A bunch of men you’ve never heard of are riding really expensive bicycles in the Tour de France, and it ends next Sunday.”

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



Football Friday 9/11/20

Here in Curmudgeon Central, there is a recognition of the need to contribute to a national return to normalcy in this highly unusual year.  A curmudgeon is – of course – cranky and cantankerous; but that does not mean this curmudgeon is unwilling to put forth effort aimed at some larger goal.  It is in that sense pf purpose that I announce the return of the first Football Friday for 2020.

Obviously, this year’s editions will have to incorporate changes from previous years:

  • Linfield College has cancelled its football schedule for the season; there will be no tracking to see if they would continue their streak of winning seasons in football which started in 1956.
  • With the cancellations of multiple Division 1-A conference schedules, it will probably be meaningless to carry on the thought experiment of a SHOE Tournament at the end of the season to identify the worst team in the country.

For newcomers here, the format for Football Friday will be:

  • NCAA Football – General Comments
  • NCAA Football – Games of Interest.
  • NFL – General Comments
  • NFL – Games of Interest
  • And MAYBE there will be a Six-Pack of wagers for the weekend.

I day “MAYBE” to the idea of a Six-Pack because of the reduced number of games in college football this year and because there could be several weeks in the start of the NFL season where I may not be able to find as many as 6 games worthy of wagering consideration.  Last year, filling up the Six-Pack was not a daunting task; I fear it may not be possible in 2020, but I shall give it a go.

For the record, here are the results from all the wagering suggestions from last year’s Six-Packs from September through the NFL Conference Championships:

  • Colleges – – 20-9-1
  • NFL – – 29-25-3
  • Overall – – 49-34-4

As they always say in the ads for mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future performance…

NCAA Football – General Comments:

In my NFL Pre-Season Analysis, I always list coaches on the Hot Seat.  There is plenty of turnover in the college coaching ranks also but I only pay attention to the major college programs for this purpose.  In alphabetical order, here are four coaches who might have been under pressure in 2020 but should be around next year due to season cancellations:

  1. Jim Harbaugh – Michigan:  The decision not to play Big-10 football in 2020 is a blessing for Coach Harbaugh.  According to reports, he is making about $8 a year to coach the Wolverines and the results have not been there.  He has yet to beat Ohio State; he has never won his division in the Big-10 let along the conference title.  If he were the coach at Texas, people would be saying his tenure has been “all hat and no cattle”.
  2. Clay Helton – USC:  Last year, he “saved his job” going 8-5 for the year but now there is a new Athletic Director at the school who is not responsible for hiring Helton in the first place.  With out-of-conference games against Alabama and Notre Dame on the schedule for 2020, Helton’s job looked to be in jeopardy.  He too should be grateful for not playing in 2020.
  3. Chip Kelly – UCLA:  If the Bruins were playing this year, I think Kelly would have had to be in contention for the PAC-12 Championship for the entire season to save his job.  He has been on the job two years and the cumulative record for UCLA is a lackluster 7-17.
  4. Kevin Sumlin – Arizona:  Had the PAC-12 chosen to play in 2020, Sumlin’s Wildcats would have begun the season having lost the last 7 games of 2019 all of which were losses by 10 or more points.

            Now, here are three coaches whose teams will play this year and whose teams need to do well if the coach is going to be able to sleep soundly come December.  Again, in alphabetical order:

  1. Tom Herman – Texas:  Herman is in a situation similar to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan; he was hired with great fanfare and is being paid to deliver a top shelf product.  The recent narrative has been “Texas football is back”.  I think the Longhorns have a high standard to live up to in 2020.
  2. Derek Mason – Vandy:  He took over from James Franklin five  years ago after Franklin had made Vandy football sufficiently relevant that Franklin landed the Penn State job – – a huge step up on the coaching ladder.  Since then, the Commodores have not had a winning season under Mason.  No one at Vandy expects them to win the SEC or even their division in the SEC, but perhaps the time has come for Vandy to be relevant again?
  3. Will Muschamp – S. Carolina:  Three years ago under Coach Muschamp, the Gamecocks were 9-4 and won a minor bowl game.  Two years ago, the Gamecocks were 7-6 and lost a very minor bowl game.  Last year, the Gamecocks were 4-8 and never sniffed a bowl game.  ‘Nuff said…

Amazingly, after a single game, we have the first coaching casualty of the 2020 season.  Southern Mississippi opened its season losing to South Alabama 32-21.  After that loss, So. Miss coach, Jay Hopson, resigned as the head coach.  Hopson had been in the job for 4 seasons and posted a combined record of 28-23 until this year’s opening loss.  That is not eye-popping, but it is not miserable either.

I think there are a few programs that are in the ascendancy around the country.  I do not mean they are national championship contenders by any means, but they are programs that have been improving in recent times.  For Cal, it is a shame they will not be playing in 2020.  Here is my list:

  • Cal:  It was not long ago that the Golden Bears’ defense was a laughingstock that gave up an average of more than 40 points a game.  Not surprisingly, Cal did not win a lot of those games.  Last year, Cal only surrendered 22 points per game and that produced 8 wins and a bowl appearance.
  • Iowa State:  The Cyclones were 7-6 last year but four of those six losses were by one score or less; that team flirted with an 11-2 season.  Lots of starters are back including the quarterback.  Iowa State may be a tough out this year.
  • UNC:  Last year, the Tar Heels moved on from a couple of disastrous seasons under Larry Fedora and brought back Mack Brown for a coaching encore in Chapel Hill.  Instead of winning 3 games a  year and being routinely dominated, the Tar Hells won 7 games in 2019 and then won a bowl game.  With returning QB, Sam Howell, the Heels may be even better in 2020.

I hope no one here is shocked by my assertion that college football coaches are control freaks and that speaking the truth is not something they do all the time.  An example of those traits was on display earlier this week when Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, declared that he will not be revealing any COVID-19 test data because it might give an opponent a competitive advantage.  He likened those tests to injuries and he never wants to reveal injuries or the extent of injuries for those same competitive reasons.

  • Memo to Coach Riley:  There is a significant difference here.  If a player has an ankle injury, he may play, but that injury is not contagious to teammates or opponents.  Such is not the case with the coronavirus…

I have argued for years that there are too damned many college football bowl games in December most of which are as meaningful as an Amish Microwave Cookbook.  This year could be the most interesting bowl season ever.  Consider:

  • Technically, there are 43 bowl games on the calendar this year.
  • There is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics, but if there were, I doubt the Nobel Committee would be tempted to give me the prize for revealing to you that  86 teams will be necessary to fill out those games.
  • Given season cancellations – and if I have counted correctly – there are only 76 Division 1-A teams playing in 2020.
  • If the NCAA “rule” is applied that a team needs to win 6 games or more to be “bowl-eligible”, the number of potential teams should shrink considerably.
  • Will some teams play in two bowl games in 2020?
  • Certain bowl games have contractual links to specific conferences – and some of those conferences will not be playing football in 2020.
  • This should be fun…

Let me say something about the SEC West Division.  For at least the last half dozen years, that division has been the strongest division in college football in the country with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M present.  Starting in 2020, Lane Kiffin takes over at Ole Miss and Mike Leach comes to Mississippi State.  Given the successes of those two coaches over their careers, you can only assume that the division will be stronger and deeper.  That is not good news for the folks at Arkansas who get to play all 6 of those SEC West division rivals every year.


NCAA Games of Interest:


Ga Tech at Florida State – 12 (52):  This line is all over the place; you can find the spread as high as 13 and as low as 11.  The Total Line varies from 50.5 to 52.5.  I take that to mean that there is no betting consensus on this game from sportsbook to sportsbook.  Florida State has a new coach, Mike Norvill, whose calling card is “high-powered offense”, but there has been precious little practice time to install such an offense.  Could be an interesting game…

Coastal Carolina at Kansas – 7 (56):  This is an interesting game because Coastal Carolina beat Kansas last year at Kansas by a score of 12-7.  Even at a non-football school like Kansas, losing two years in a row at home to the likes of Coastal Carolina would be shameful.

Clemson – 33 at Wake Forest (61):  Interesting only because Clemson se4eks a return to the CFP again in 2020…

Duke at Notre Dame – 20 (53.5):  Lots of people think Notre Dame will be a top-shelf team this year and might challenge Clemson for the ACC title.  That makes this game interesting…

La-Monroe at Army – 17.5 (53.5):  Army dismantled Middle Tennessee last week 42-0 by running the ball over around and through that defense.  Last year, La-Monroe’s run defense was awful; of the 130 Division 1-A teams, La-Monroe’s run defense ranked 128thI like Army to win and cover here; put this one in the Six-Pack.

La-Lafayette at Iowa State – 11 (57):  I said above that I think Iowa State could be primed for a good season in 2020.  I like the Cyclones to win and cover here in a home opener; put it in the Six-Pack.

Tulane – 10.5 at South Alabama (52.5):  South Alabama won its opener on the road this year at Southern Mississippi – and caused the coach there to resign (see above).  The Jaguars were 14-point underdogs in that game and won by 11 points.  Now they are at home for a second game against a decent team – – but not a powerhouse.  I’ll take South Alabama plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.


NFL General Comments:


            It was good to see the Chiefs and Texans on TV last night.  Presumably, it was the start of an uninterrupted NFL season.  The Chiefs looked very impressive; rookie RB, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, made an impressive debut rushing for more than 13 yards in the game.  Just what the league needed – – a running attack for the Chiefs to play with.

Von Miller hurt his ankle – tendon damage – on the final play of a practice earlier this week and will be out for the season.  That has to be a significant blow to the Broncos because it was a veteran defense that the team hoped to have led it through the season.

Let me do a little more math for you here:

  • Tom Brady enters the 2020 season having started 283 regular season games.
  • Brett Favre holds the NFL record for most regular season starts at 298.
  • There are 16 regular season games scheduled for 2020.
  • Ergo, start the countdown to the record…

The Giants waived CB, DeAndre Baker last week.  Just a year ago the Giants traded up to get him in the first round of the draft but an armed robbery incident earlier this year puts him on Roger Goodell’s “Exempt List” and it also puts him on a court docket for a trial that could land him a sizeable jail sentence.  Considering all the “investigating” and all the “homework” done prior to an NFL Draft, it is surprising to see things like this happen


NFL Games:


Miami at New England – 6.5 (42):  The focus here will be on Cam Newton as the starting QB for the Pats and the presence of Tua Tagovailoa on the bench for the Dolphins.  Also, at age 38, is there any “Ryan Fitz-Magic” left?

Cleveland at Baltimore – 7.5 (48):  This is my choice for the Game of the Week.  The Ravens dominated the regular season last year before flaming out in the playoffs.  The Browns have another new coaching staff – – but this time it appears as if there might be some adult supervision resident in that staff.  The two QBs here have very different – and yet very similar –  things to prove this year:

  • Lamar Jackson was the MVP last year and was a dominant player.  He needs to show that was not a fluke.
  • Baker Mayfield “regressed” – to put it politely – last year.  He needs to show that was not a fluke.

Jets at Buffalo – 6.5 (39.5):  We should get an early indication of how Adam Gase and LeVeon Bell will get along this year.  Last year, the relationship was less than wonderful and this year the Jets signed Frank Gore to be part of the running back picture.  I cannot imagine that sits all that well with Bell.  The other interesting aspect to this game is the play of the two QBs.  Sam Darnold needs to improve significantly for the Jets to do anything at all this year; if Josh Allen improves again over his positive season in 2019, the Bills could win the AFC East.  I like the Bills to win and cover here; put it in the Six-Pack.

Raiders – 3 at Panthers (47.5):  The spread here opened as “Panthers – 1”.  Given the turnover and the turmoil in Carolina over this strange offseason, I am not sure how that opening line was set – – but even now the spread is not big.  Terry Bridgewater begins his Panthers’ career here.

Seattle – 2.5 at Atlanta (49):  The spread for this game opened as “Pick ‘Em”.  This should be an offensive display even in an early season where there have been no Exhibition Games.  The Seahawks brought in Jamal Adams – at a hefty price – and their defense should get a baptism of fire against Matt Ryan with his crews of pass-catchers.

Philly – 5.5 at Washington (42.5):  The Eagles looked to shore up the defensive backfield with the acquisition of Darrius Slay; that unit needed help and he should provide some.  The Eagles had a ton of training camp injuries, so team health is already an issue there.  The WTFs are a work in progress; Ron Rivera must turn a dumpster fire into something attractive and that is probably going to take some time.  The biggest challenge for Rivera and his staff this year is the evaluation of QB, Dwayne Haskins.  Is he the stud that he appeared to be at Ohio State or is he the reincarnation of JaMarcus Russell?

Chicago at Detroit – 3 (42):  Surprisingly, Mitchell Trubisky will start at QB again this year for the Bears; I would not have thought that possible last January.  Matthew Stafford is back on the job as the QB for the Lions but their fortunes rest on the ability of the defense to stop opponents.  This game is Bears’ anemic offense versus Lions’ porous defense.  Oh joy…

Indy – 8 at Jax (45):  This is the Philip Rivers show debut in Indy.  If that show has a good run in 2020, the Colts can make the playoffs; if not …  The Jags are going to stink.

Green Bay at Minnesota – 2.5 (45):  Two interesting things for this game both involve the Vikes.  They acquired Yannick Ngakoue late in training camp to give them two good edge rushers; how will that work out?  They traded away Stefon Diggs and drafted Justin Jefferson (LSU) in the first round of the Draft; how will that work out?

Chargers – 3 at Cincy (42):  Welcome to the NFL, Joe Burrow.  You should be happy to know that AJ Green will be out there to catch balls that you throw his way.  For the Chargers, they will start Tyrod Taylor at QB while QB-of-the-Future, Justin Herbert takes notes on the sidelines.

Arizona at SF – 6.5 (48):  This game should be hard-fought and close.  The Niners have to shake off that come-from-ahead loss in the Super Bowl and they take on a team that played them tough twice last year.  The addition of DeAndre Hopkins is a plus for any team and the Cards have him now.  Keep our eyes on Isaiah Simmons for the Cards; he might be the best pick from last year’s NFL Draft.

Tampa at New Orleans – 3.5 (47):  The spread for this game opened at “Saints – 6”.  This was my runner-up for Game of the Week simply because of the storyline of Tom Brady versus Drew Brees.  I have an idea that this game will be an offensive show with the ball moving up and down the field from start to finish.  I like this game to go OVER 47; put it in the Six-Pack.  I can see this game being one where the first team to score 35 points wins…

(Sun Nite) Dallas – 3 at Rams (51):  Cee Dee Lamb gives the Cowboys a major upgrade at WR; he just might be the best WR in Dallas since Michael Irvin.  The Rams have a known quantity as a dominant player in Aaron Donald.  This will be a fun game to watch.

(Mon Nite Early) Pittsburgh – 5.5 at Giants (46):  The Steelers have a very good defense – probably one of the top 5 in the NFL  The Giants’ offense is probably “below average” – not withstanding an improving Daniel Jones and the presence of Saquon Barkley.  Ben Roethlisberger says his elbow is fully healed from last year’s surgery meaning the Steelers’ offense must be improved from last year.  I like the Steelers to win and cover on the road here; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Mon Nite Late) Tennessee – 2.5 at Denver (41):  Yes, I know the Titans were Cinderellas in the playoffs last year, but this game should be a slog.  The Titans’ offense is nothing special and the Titans’ defense looks to be too strong to allow the Broncos to do much business.  I see a lot of punting and field goal attempts here.  I anoint this as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.

Let me summarize the Six-Pack for this week:

  • Army – 17.5 over La-Monroe
  • Iowa St – 11 over La-Lafayette
  • South Alabama +10.5 against Tulane [No, I do not hate schools from Louisiana…]
  • Bills – 6.5 over Jets
  • Bucs/Saints Over 47
  • Steelers – 5.5 over Giants  [No, I do not hate NYC teams either…]

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



An Idea Whose Time Should Never Come

I have said previously that March Madness is my favorite sporting event on the calendar and that its existence provides the only justification for the NCAA to exist.  I stand by that position just as I stand by my previous position that more is not necessarily better when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.  I have always opposed expansion of the tournament beyond 64 teams and there is only one way I would support the idea of a 96-team bracket.

  • If the powers that be MUST expand March Madness to 96 teams, they should make the selections giving the top 32 teams a first round BYE.
  • That leaves the “Bottom 64” to play among themselves in essentially 32 “Play-In Games”.
  • The 32 “Play-In winners” would then be seeded with the Top 32 who got a BYE.
  • The 32 “Play-In losers” would then make up the field for the NIT.

Other than that, my preference is to put the field back at 64 teams and leave it there.  So, it should come as no surprise that I will provide no support at all for a proposal by the ACC basketball coaches to stage an “inclusive” tournament consisting of all 346 college basketball teams that are eligible for the tournament.  The Idea here can be stated so nobly that some folks may shy away from saying that it is a bad idea; the idea here is to give every college basketball player a chance to play on the ultimate stage of college basketball. Think about it:

  • Everyone gets to participate.
  • Everyone has a chance to be a champion.
  • The potential for underdog stories will abound,  Think about Rudy and Rocky and Hoosiers

Maybe the ACC coaches think that this is a way for the NCAA to increase revenue from the tournament and thereby make up some of the lost revenue from not having staged a March Madness in 2020.  The problem with that thinking – if it indeed is out there somewhere – is that any revenue increase will not scale linearly.  The NCAA – in round numbers – takes in $1B for TV rights to its 68-team event.  The “All-Inclusive 346-team event” will not generate revenue according to the formula:

  • 346/68 X $1B  =  $5.1B

Trust me; if there were even a prayer that kind of revenue could be achieved by letting everyone play, the NCAA would have glommed onto that idea at least a decade ago.  Even if the NCAA could create an auction for the early round games in the “All-Inclusive Tournament”, I cannot see any networks throwing big money at the early round games where high seeds like Kentucky, Duke, Kansas or Michigan State square off against the likes of Chicago State, Alcorn A&M, Marist or Austin Peay.

In fact, there might be a net loss of revenue for college basketball under the expansion model.  Minor conferences stage conference tournaments and take in minor amounts of money from those broadcasting rights.  If the “All-Inclusive” tournament comes to pass, why hold those conference tournaments and why would a network bother to pay to put those preliminary events on the air?

Moreover, there is another obstacle to this idea lurking out there.  That “other obstacle” would be known as Title IX; there are about 350 women’s college basketball teams that play what is nominally Division 1 basketball and it would not shock me to learn that someone, somewhere might ask for equal treatment with regard to tournament exposure.  If you think early round men’s games in the “All-Inclusive” tournament would be thundering blowouts, imagine the carnage for the early-round women’s games.  After all, even in the women’s 64-team brackets, there are few if any teams on the lower side of a bracket draw that even make the Sweet Sixteen.  The idea of tuning in to watch the 340th seed play the 10th seed in such a women’s tournament is about as appealing as a root canal.

The ACC basketball coaches are not bad people and I have no reason to think that their proposal here is malevolent in any way.  I do think it is misguided and purposeless and that it should be dismissed posthaste and without further comment.

Switching gears – sort of – there was a recent study done for that estimated the loss of revenue by various US sports this year due to loss of ticket sales.  Here are the estimated losses for US sports solely due to the lack of ticket sales in 2020:

  • MLB – – $5.1B
  • NBA – – $1.7B
  • NHL – – $1.1B
  • MLS – – $0.6B
  • NCAA – $0.3B (From the lack of ticket sales to March Madness only)

Ten MLB teams will see revenues drop at least $100M this year with the Dodgers estimated to experience a drop of just over $200M.  In the NBA, the Lakers’ revenue loss will be on the order of $82M; and in the NHL, the Maple Leafs should see the biggest decline in ticket revenue at $42M.

Somewhere down the road, we will get estimates akin to these for the NFL as it proceeds with its 2020 season starting tonight.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Ray Ciccarelli, the unsuccessful NASCAR truck-series driver who threatened to quit over the sport’s Confederate flag ban, is now hedging on that. His fans are happy. Both of them.”

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



A Major Clarification Today

Let me apologize; I have not been nearly as clear as I thought I was recently.

  1. I am not looking forward to a COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of this year’s NFL season.
  2. I do not expect the NFL season to crash and burn because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
  3. I am not “rooting for the virus”.

Yesterday, I got 3 emails from readers wondering why I had taken those positions; and, for the first time ever, I received a phone call from an old friend who reads these rants wondering why “I had turned on the NFL.”  Therefore, I need to set the record straight this morning:

  • The “modified NFL Pre-Season Analysis” that I did this year does not reflect my expectation that the season will be in disarray or that I hope that is the outcome.  The reason for the “modified” format and content this year is that I do not feel I had nearly the same kind of or the same amount of information to do full projections of records for all 32 teams.  The “modification” was caused by the virus to be sure – – but it is not an expression of my expectation that the virus will prevail here.
  • My comments yesterday about testing and contact tracing tried to recognize the difficulty of those tasks if there were to be an outbreak within a team.  I did not say those tasks were impossible nor did I mean to imply that if a player on a team came down with the virus that it would inevitably spread throughout the organization.  And most importantly, I do not want that to happen.

The NFL has done an exceptionally good job of assembling teams in a “non-Bubble situation” and conducting training camps while containing the coronavirus.  I read a report yesterday in The Ringer that for the third week in August – – when training camps had their maximum number of participants – – the NFL administered 58,621 COVID-19 tests to just over 8000 players/coaches/staff and only 10 of those tests were positive.  Those numbers reflect an unmitigated success.  Kudos and all that…

Lest I get carried away in euphoria in my attempt to clear the air here, there are still challenges that teams need to encounter as the season proceeds.  The biggest one that comes to my mind is team travel.  Training camp was not a bubble environment to be sure but there was not a lot of team travel this year because there were no Exhibition Games.  Travel will be a challenge because I am convinced by the NFL’s own data of the following:

  • The coronavirus is more prevalent in the “world-at-large” than it is in the controlled and vigilant NFL team environment.

When teams had their full training camp compliments, there were about 8000 people in all the camps counting players, coaches and staffs.  I cannot imagine picking 8000 people at random in the US and administering about 58,000 tests to those people and coming back with only 10 positive tests.  The thing about traveling is that the teams will need to navigate that “less sterile” environment to get from “home” to “game venue” and back to “home”.  To date, the NFL’s defenses have been successful; now comes a new challenge; and, if the past is prelude, the NFL’s defensive measures will meet this new challenge successfully.

I hope my position is clear today.  I want the NFL season to proceed as scheduled and I am glad to see the success they have had in containing COVID-19 so far and I see challenges ahead that the league and the players will need to overcome in order for that season to proceed as scheduled.  10-4…

Glancing over at the NBA in the midst of its playoff brackets, Bob Molinaro had two comments in his columns in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that did not occur to me at first but resonate well now that he pointed them out:

Casual look: In Orlando, NBA coaches are neatly dressed in sneakers, slacks and polo shirts. Let’s have them lose the suits for good. What’s the point of basketball coaches dressing as if they’re applying for a bank loan?”

I agree.  When teams are practicing, coaches do not show up in Armani suits and ties but somehow the players find a way to take instruction from the guy in shorts and a polo shirt.  I suspect it would work during a game as well.

Here is the other comment from Professor Molinaro that made me stop and think:

Close encounters: I realize that they’ve been in a bubble and are exhaustively tested, but I flinch a little when NBA players embrace after games.”

I know that the players have been in close contact and have been breathing and “exchanging aerosol droplets” with one another for the last couple of hours, but do they have to tempt the coronavirus one last time at the end of every game?

Across the pond, the English Premier League is about to begin its 2020/2021 season this weekend.  Manchester City is the betting favorite to win the league despite the great season that Liverpool had last year in taking the crown.  You may recall it was not that long ago that Leicester City came from nowhere to win the league at very long odds.  If you want the longest shot on the board for the EPL this year, you need to get your money down on Aston Villa, Fulham or West Brom.  Those three teams are currently all at 10,000 to 1 to win the EPL.

Finally, let me make it a trifecta for comments from Bob Molinaro in today’s rant:

Still on: I don’t care for how long and what possible reason ESPN carries the games, Korean baseball will never convince me to set my alarm clock for 5:30 a.m.”

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



The Intersection Of COVID-19 And Two Sports

Today, there is news from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  Statistically, the IOC makes the news under one of two circumstances:

  1. Someone breaks a story revealing corruption or chicanery and the IOC swears that it will investigate and get to the bottom of it all because those sorts of things are not part of the “Olympic Movement”.  [Aside:  Ha!]
  2. They announce some phase of some upcoming Games; and normally, it evokes a head-scratching response.

Today’s news is much more of the latter.  According to a senior official of the IOC, the 2020 Games that were supposed to be in Tokyo in July and were postponed to 2021 will go on as scheduled with or without COVID-19 and with or without a viable vaccine.  Let that wash over you for just a moment while I ask – ever so politely and only for the purpose of clarification:

  • If you do not need a viable vaccine to put on the 2021 Games and you are going to stage the Games despite the status of the coronavirus that caused the 2020 postponement, why did you postpone the 2020 Games in the first place?

If the guy in China who ate the bat that caused the coronavirus to jump from bats to humans had ordered Italian food for that dinner, the 2020 Games might have been held under ordinary circumstances.  In that case, the expectation was that approximately 11,000 athletes would have assembled in Tokyo from every corner of the Earth and participated in the Games.  I am going to go out on a limb here:

  • If there is no viable vaccine – – nor presumably a highly effective therapeutic – – for COVID-19 by the Summer of 2021, I doubt that 11,000 Olympic athletes will participate in those Games.

The basis for my assertion there is that I believe that many Olympic athletes are smarter than your average rutabaga.  Some will decide that an infection risk is not worth the gamble and simply go on with some other phase of their lives.  Moreover, the ones who do show up will need to think much more carefully about “normal behavior” in the Olympic Village as the Games run their course.  Recall that in most of the recent Games, there have been reports of hundreds of thousands or condoms being supplied to athletes in the Olympic Village to prevent the spread of AIDS.  I am neither a physician nor an epidemiologist, but I feel as if I am on firm ground here:

  • Folks who recognize the wisdom of using condoms in social interactions are not practicing social distancing.
  • The employment of that which prevents the spread of AIDS might accelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus – – in the absence of a viable vaccine.

I am not sure why the IOC felt the need to make such a definitive statement at this point, but I try never to be in the business of understanding IOC actions to the point that I can replicate the decision making processes there.

Let me pivot here to the intersection of COVID-19 and another sport – one about to begin its season – the NFL.  Other than the flurry of false positive coronavirus tests affecting about 10 teams a few weeks ago, the NFL seems to have gotten to a very comfortable place at the end of training camp.  There has not been a “team outbreak” and the latest data reported out said that the positivity rate for the frequent testing done is less than 1%.  Frankly, the NFL should not have realistically counted on anything better than that when it finalized its plans for a 2020 season.

Things have gotten to the current positive place because the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a reasonable testing regime and to team behaviors that were both effective in preventing viral spread and tolerable to the players such that they held to the rules.  Congratulations to both sides of the table for that demonstration of rational adult behavior.

It will be interesting to see how the league will conduct contact tracing in the event of something more than a single positive test that become confirmed as positive tests.  Imagine if 5 players on a team test positive and those positive tests are confirmed.  At that point, the element of contact tracing becomes particularly important.  Consider:

  • The NFL teams do not live in a “Bubble”.  Therefore, players come in contact with people outside the “team environment” meaning that all contact tracing involving that aspect of a player’s life will rely on the candid and thorough recall of the infected player.
  • It has been established that one can spread the virus without showing symptoms which means to me that it is possible for a player to be infected to the point of being a source of viral spread before he is tested and shows positive for the COVID-19 virus.  That being the case, he could have been part of regular team functions – – meetings, film study, practices – – for a day or two or three as a virus spreader before the test results came in.  Ignoring for a moment any outside  contacts that might shed light on how he became infected or to whom outside the team he may have spread the infection, how would a team determine which of his teammates he had been with for a sufficient amount of time and in sufficiently close proximity to put those other teammates at risk?

Those challenges are non-trivial for a single player on a team testing positive; the challenge increases exponentially for multiple players who crisscross one another within the team.  Practices would be real challenges there.  A real practice – – not just a walk-through – – puts players in situations where they are aerosol droplet producers meaning there is always the potential for viral spread in a practice if there is an infected player involved.  Now, imagine the contact tracing challenge if the infected player is part of the defensive unit, the punt and kickoff defense unit, the punt coverage unit and the placekicking unit.  YOWZA!

Finally, let me leave you with this Tweet by WSOP commentator, Norman Chad:

“They say the early bird gets the worm. If the worm were smart, he would start sleeping in.”

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



Rest In Peace, Lou Brock

Lou Brock died last weekend at the age of 81.  After a 19-year career in MLB, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame; his ”calling card” was the stolen base.  For his career, Lou Brock stole 938 bases including 118 steals in 1974.  He was involved in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history; there were 6 players involved but the two that headlined the trade were Lou Brock and Ernie Broglio.  Broglio went to the Cubs and did nothing special there; Brock went to the Cards where he played for 16 years, made the All-Star team 6 times and then entered the Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace, Lou Brock.

The most unusual occurrence over the weekend had to come from the world of tennis where Novak Djokovic was defaulted in a match in the US Open.  Djokovic is currently ranked as the #1 player in the world and while the tennis term is that he “was defaulted”, the more colloquial way to say this is that he was thrown out of the tournament.  What happened is that Djokovic hit ball at a line judge and caught the judge in the throat; the judge was having trouble breathing and had to be assisted off the court.  Reports say that he hit the ball “in anger” and that this was not an accident; that sort of behavior interpreted in that way would get any athlete thrown out of any event save a pro ‘rassling encounter;.

Djokovic has some history with “anger issues” but this is the first time his behavior has cost him a match – and a chance to win another major tournament.  Elite tennis players in the past have also had “anger issues”.  Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios are men who come to mind there; Serena Williams has also been known to be less than polite when it comes to dealing with match officials.  There is probably a PhD dissertation in psychology wrapped up in this situation…

Steve Nash has been hired as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.  Nash is a Hall of Fame player but has no coaching experience of any note prior to this undertaking.  Stephen A. Smith of ESPN said that this was an example of “white privilege”.

I like Stephen A. Smith and have liked him since he was a beat reporter and then a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  When he was in that phase of his career,  the term “NBA Insider” had not yet entered the American language, but Stephen A. Smith was as much an “NBA Insider” then as anyone who lives in the glow of that term today.  Having said that, I completely disagree with him on this point.

I have written here several times my sense that great players do not make great coaches.  Nonetheless, great players – of every color and ethnicity – have a trump card to play within the confines of the game at which they excelled.

  • Billy Cunningham and Larry Bird were hired as head coaches after their playing days were over; those hires were not “white privilege”; those hires were “basketball privilege”.
  • Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Paul Silas and Magic Johnson were hired as head coaches after their playing days were over; those hires were not “black privilege”; those hires were “basketball privilege”.

Steve Nash played in the NBA for 18 years; he was named to the All-NBA team 7 times; he was an All-Star 8 times; he was the NBA MVP two years in a row and won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award one time.  If there is an issue or a question or a job opportunity related to basketball, those credentials would get anyone – of any color or ethnicity – entry into the discussion if that person so chose to be involved.

Having said the above, I go back to my stance that great players do not make great coaches and I do not make any assumption that Steve Nash will be a guaranteed success as the head coach of the Nets.  That issue will work itself out over time and the record will demonstrate if this was a “good choice” or a “bad choice” by the Nets’ ownership.  However, under no circumstances do I believe this hiring choice was one of “white privilege”.

Dwight Perry had an item in his column in the Seattle Times last weekend that I missed completely:

“Giants manager Gabe Kapler challenged a play at first base with his team ahead 18-2 in the seventh inning.

“So why isn’t there an unwritten rule about that?”

The final score of the game in question was Giants 23 – Rockies 5.  Considering the vitriol expressed when Fernando Tatis, Jr swung at a 3-0 pitch to hit a grand slam home run late in a blowout game only about a week before this Giants’ game, I wonder why there was no outcry about Kapler’s challenge.  I am sure that if someone had questioned Kapler on that behavior, he would have had some arcane analytical point to make about the necessity for such a move.  Kapler seems to me to be one of analytical baseball’s high priests; he manages the game in a way that a friend characterizes as “analytics on steroids”.

MLB has moved significantly in the direction of analytics; while some of that movement is positive, there are some jarring aspects too.  I have seen games where players in the field take out a card/sheet from the pocket of their uniform to figure out where to play the next hitter in this game situation or for a pitcher to look to see how to pitch to the next batter.  For players at the top rung of their profession, that is a bad look; you don’t see NFL offensive linemen come out of the huddle checking their “crib sheets” to figure out what blitz to look for on 3rd and 8 at their own 25 in the third quarter.

Finally, one more observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Who better suited to be the White Sox’s stopper than righty Dylan Cease?”

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



Rest In Peace, Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver died earlier this week; he was 75 years old.  Seaver is probably the best player in the history of the NY Mets and had a 20-year career in MLB that led him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He suffered from dementia and recently had contracted COVID-19.

Rest in peace, Tom Seaver.

Assuming that things continue along the trajectory they are currently on, the sports world will be very active very soon.  Baseball, professional basketball and hockey are “up and running”, the NFL is about to kick off its season; college football will happen in some of its normal venues; soccer, tennis, golf and horse racing are ongoing too.  It is almost as if the pandemic has been put under control.

Maybe, that is why a statement by Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli – the director of athletic medicine at Penn State – was so jarring.  Originally, he said that almost one-third of the Big 10 athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 appeared also to have myocarditis based on cardiac MRI scans.  Please note that Dr. Sebastianelli revised those figures saying that the data indicated about a 15% rate of myocarditis and not a 30-35% rate.

No matter …  This is another new discovery as medical science learns more about COVID-19.  There have been previous linkages between myocarditis and COVID-19; Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez is probably the most famous of the cases involving that linkage.  And an important thing to know about myocarditis is that it can be fatal if left untreated, and that means a person who contracts COVID-19 and exhibits recovery from the virus may not be totally back to good health.  There may be at least one lingering aftereffect which is less than benign.

Most people who need hospitalization for COVID-19 do not have cardiac MRIs done; so, the data for the general population is not available for comparison to the athletes tested here.  Nevertheless, these are data that cannot be cavalierly set aside.  Medical science needs to begin to shed light on a basic question here:

  • Is this seemingly high rate of coincidence between myocarditis and COVID-19 related in some way to the rigorous physical activity that produces “elite athletes” such that this is a minor concern for the rest of us “normal folks”?

While that may appear on the surface to be a minor point and need not be considered in the times when issues such as vaccines and therapeutics are being studied, there could be important consequences from possible answers to the question above.

  • Suppose a linkage can be shown between the training of an athlete and the likelihood of COVID-19 leaving behind myocarditis in the athlete after “recovery”.  Might that affect the way athletes prepare for their lives in that field of endeavor?  Would there be potential athletes who choose not to take on that added risk?  Might there be vaccines or therapeutics that would minimize the chances of myocarditis even if COVID-19 were contracted?
  • Suppose no linkage can be found between athletic training and myocarditis that follows a recovery from COVID-19.  If that is the case, then there could well be an awful lot of people unknowingly walking around with myocarditis which can be fatal if left untreated.

Let me do some back-of-the-envelope math here.  Before anyone tells me that this is too simplistic, let me plead guilty to that charge.  The reason is that I am not an epidemiologist and cannot do the calculations rigorously, but the “simple math” makes me sit up and take notice.

  • As of this morning according to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 6.17 million cases of COVID-19 in the US this year.
  • As of this morning according to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 187 thousand deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the US this year.
  • Simplistic Assumption Warning: If you subtract the deaths from the number of cases, you can approximate the number of people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 in the US this year.  Again, using approximations, that would mean there have been 6 million folks who have “recovered”.

Now apply Dr. Sebastianelli’s data.  If 15% of the people who contract COVID-19 also carry myocarditis with them AND if this is the situation with the general population and not just elite athletes, then there are approximately 900,000 people going about their everyday lives with a condition that “can be fatal if left untreated”.  Here is a newspaper account of what Dr. Sebastianelli said and how the Big 10 may have considered it as part of its decision to postpone the 2020 football season.  I am not trying to be Chicken Little; I do not know enough to be actively worried about this situation; I also do not know enough to ignore the possibilities here.

As the sports world continues along its path to return to a semblance of normalcy, I think we must continue to study and learn about COVID-19 and its long-term effects over and above its immediate effects.  The resumption of professional sports – – and realistically I put college football in that category – – will provide a lot of money/profit for players and owners and athletic departments.  Much of the attention has been given to the athletes in these endeavors as the ones upon whose shoulders that money will be accrued.  But wait; there’s more…

For all that money to flow into various coffers, there are thousands of other folks who must be actively involved to make it happen.  In addition to the players, coaches and officials, think about the people who set up and take down the stadium/arena environment, the concessionaires, the TV and radio production folks, the people who get the players and coaches to and from the game venues.  If Dr. Sebastianelli’s data applies to the general population, then those people also are in harms way being around potential spreading events and potential COVID-19 spreaders.

When the NFL kicks off next week and limited college football happens weekly, all the COVID-19 problems related to sports may not be in the rear-view mirror.

Finally, here is another slant on the subtle effects of COVID-19 on life in America from a Tweet by Brad Dickson:

“Since all the bank lobbies are closed I’m starting a GoFundMe for bank robbers who are not able to ply their trade. Please give whatever you can. Thanks.”

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



NFL Pre-Season Analysis For 2020

To the surprise of no one who had been even semi-conscious for the past six or seven months, 2020 has been atypical.  One week from today, the NFL will try to start its 2020 season on time and with a schedule that is intact.  The Chiefs and the Texans will kick off the season and I surely hope that it can go through to a conclusion with minimal COVID-19 interruption/impact.  I doubt that I am alone in that hopeful state.

One of the realities of the state of sports in the US in 2020 is that I have been paying a lot more attention to things other than the NFL’s preparation for its upcoming regular season.  In a normal year, I would have a reference document about player and coaching moves in the NFL offseason and about Draft selections and training camp injuries as the fodder for my annual “exercise in self-incrimination”.  I would use all of that to create here my annual predictions for every NFL team and their final record for the regular season.  This Pre-Season Analysis is the document that normally provides the basis for my great day of shame in February of the next year when I reveal how wrong-headed I was back at the beginning of the season.  I will, however, keep up the spirit of self-humiliation this year and identify specific predictions against which I can grade myself next February.  There are 23 specific predictions here; come next year, I will try to see if I can achieve a passing grade as a modern-day Nostradamus.

This year I cannot do a full team-by-team record prediction because the reference document with all the notations made over the six-months of the off-season does not exist – – because I was focused on other things and never compiled the references.  With a week to go until kickoff, there is no possibility that I could bring it all together in time – – and so, I decided to do it differently this year.  I will try to make predictions regarding the teams to make the expanded playoffs in January 2021 and I will try to make some specific commentary about events that should impinge on specific teams as the NFL season unfolds – – and I shall be assuming that it will unfold in its entirety.

I mentioned the NFL’s expanded playoffs for January 2021 so let me take a moment to remind everyone what that means:

  • There will be 14 teams in the playoffs this year instead of the 12 teams that had participated in recent years.
  • The 4 division winners will make the playoffs as will 3 wildcard teams from each conference.
  • Only the team seeded #1 in each conference will get a Bye Week now; each of the other 3 division winners will host Wild Card teams from their conference.

Let me start with the AFC West Division.  The defending Super Bowl Champs – the KC Chiefs – are in this division and they seem to have found ways to dodge the scourge that hits most Super Bowl winners.  They have most of their starters back again this year; their losses to free agency and COVID-19 opting out have been minimal.  The toughest opponents for the Chiefs in 2020 will be the injury bug and the coronavirus.  So, let me get my first prediction out of the way quickly:

Prediction #1:  The Chiefs will win the AFC West handily and – despite getting a run for the money from the Baltimore Ravens –  the Chiefs will get the AFC Bye Week in the playoffs as the #1 seed.

The rest of the AFC West may not pose a significant threat to the Chiefs but there is plenty of potential intrigue in which team finishes second and which finishes fourth.  I can make a case for any of the permutations and combinations for those three teams.  Taking them in alphabetical order:

  • Broncos:  They have a veteran defense and if you believe that Drew Lock showed himself to be a rising star in the NFL late last season, then Lock and the addition of some added offensive weapons could make the Broncos the next-best team in the division.  Or … Lock could have been a mirage and the Broncos could stink in 2020
  • Chargers:  They must replace Philip Rivers at QB and Tyrod Taylor has been named the starter for now.  If the Chiefs start to run away from the division, Justin Herbert might see action by mid-season.  The Chargers’ defense is good enough to keep them in lots of games this year.

[Aside:  The Chargers will play home games in the spanking new SoFi Stadium but there will be no fans in the stands.  That should not be a shock to Chargers veterans; the Chargers have been playing in front of next to no one for several years now.]

  • Raiders:  So, Jon Gruden is an offensive wizard.  This is his third year at the helm for the Raiders.  Here is the question:  When do we get to see the Raiders as an offensive juggernaut?  When do we get to see the Jon Gruden imprint on QB Derek Carr?  I see no compelling reason to put the Raiders ahead of the Broncos or the Chargers – – just as I see no reason to put either the Chargers or Broncos ahead of the Raiders.  The early schedule for the Raiders is difficult.  After a seemingly easy opener against the Panthers, the next four opponents will be the Saints, Pats, Bills and Chiefs – – all of whom I see as playoff teams.  Welcome to Las Vegas…

Prediction #2:  The AFC West will produce only 1 playoff team in 2020.

Next up will be the AFC South.  Any team here other than the Jags has a shot to win this division but there are no dominant teams here.  The Titans shocked the world last year making the playoffs with a 9-7 record and then going on to the AFC Championship Game only to lose there to the Chiefs.  The tendency would be to give the Titans the nod here because they have kept most of their team together through the off-season but that may or may not be a good thing.

  • Titans:  They have bet the farm that Ryan Tannehill is indeed a franchise QB and will not regress to the QB he was for the first six years of his career in Miami.  The Titans’ fans also have to hope that Derrick Henry continues to do his “Jim Brown imitation” once again in 2020 despite 386 carries in the 2019 season (including the playoffs).
  • Colts:  The key variable here is obvious.  How much tread is left on Philip Rivers’ tires?  The Colts’ defense is ordinary; they will need to score points to win.  Can Rivers give them the leadership – and more importantly, the passing game – to score those points?  He must be an upgrade over the 2019 showing of Jacoby Brissett, right?  Those young receivers – other than TY Hilton – really are NFL caliber players, right?
  • Texans:  If I tried to tell you that I understand the reasoning behind most of the Texans’ off-season moves, I would be a big enough liar to run for the US Senate.  DeShaun Watson is the offensive key to this team; JJ Watt’s health/availability is the defensive key.
  • Jaguars:  The Jags are going to stink this year.  I think the only question here is if they will be bad enough to secure the overall #1 pick in the 2021 Draft.

Prediction #3:  I will take a rejuvenated Philip Rivers to lead the Colts to the division title and the playoffs in 2020.

Prediction #4:  There will be only 1 team from the AFC South in the playoffs in 2020.

Turning now to the AFC North.  Last year the Ravens dominated the regular season and then laid a giant egg in the playoffs after having a BYE week.  I like them to dominate their division this year, but they will not enjoy a playoff BYE this time around.  Maybe that will be a plus?  The addition of Calais Campbell will make a very good defense even better; the loss of Earl Thomas may – if you believe reports – improve the locker room “chemistry” but it is hard to imagine that he will be fully replaced on the field.

Prediction #5:  The Ravens will win the AFC North comfortably.

  • Browns:  Last year, they were the “trendy pick” to make it to the Super Bowl only to see the team flop like a mackerel in a parking lot puddle.  It appears that the Browns may actually have adult supervision in the management and coaching ranks this time around and that may be what the team needs to exploit an awful lot of football talent on the roster.  Baker Mayfield had a huge sophomore slump in 2019 (22 TDs and 21 INTs); he needs to prove that was merely a bad season and that he is in fact the Browns’ franchise QB for the years ahead.

Prediction #6:  The Browns will make the playoffs and will win double-digit games in 2020.

  • Steelers:  Having Ben Roethlisberger healthy for more than 2 games will make a big difference this year.  Does anyone really need to see more of either Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges to recognize that?  Last year, the offense was unreliable from game to game and quarter to quarter.  The defense was very good last year and should be good once again.

Prediction #7:  The Steelers will make the playoffs in 2020 making it three teams from the AFC North to play on to January 2021.

  • Bengals:  Joe Burrow will get loads of attention and opportunity to air it out because the Bengals’ defense should be giving up points generously.  The return of AJ Green at WR ought to be a big plus for the rookie QB.  Last year, the Bengals has the overall #1 pick; they will be within shouting distance of that “honor” again in the Spring of 2021.  The thing for Bengals’ fans to look for is competitiveness; the Bengals rolled over and played dead too often last year; it needs to be different this time around.

Now it is time to close out the AFC by examining the AFC East.  For the last decade, it was a clear choice as to who was going to win this division.  The only “judgment” involved projecting if the Patriots would get a playoff BYE and if one of the other teams would be able to muster up sufficient fortitude to become a wild-card team.  Not so in 2020 …  Much like the AFC South, there are 3 teams in this division who can take the division race down to the final weeks of the season – from Christmas Day until January 3, 2021.  I think the division champion will be decided on December 28 when the Bills visit Foxboro to play the Patriots; the winner of that game will be the AFC East champion.  Not to worry for fans of either side, the loser will be a wild-card team in the playoffs.

Prediction #8:  The Bills will win the AFC East.  The last time the Bills won the AFC East, Jim Kelly was their QB.

  • I think the addition of Stefon Diggs at WR combined with the added experience of QB, Josh Allen will make a big difference for the Bills’ offense.

Prediction # 9:  The Pats will continue their streak of playoff appearances as a wild card team in 2020.

  • Pats:  It may take some time to adjust to the new look on offense for the Pats in 2020.  Cam Newton is a fundamentally different QB than Tom Brady and the Pats will have to change up their offense to maximize Newton’s skills.  I think the Pats will be more of a ball-control/run-oriented team this year than we have seen in the past because I think it will take time for Cam Newton to adjust to the system and the players he has at the skill positions in New England.  Free agent, Leonard Fournette, is the kind of “big back” that Bill Belichick has used effectively in the past.  If Belichick passes on Fournette, that would indicate to me that he dislikes something about Fournette that goes well beyond his physical talents.
  • Dolphins:  They really surprised folks last year; they looked like a “2-win team” if things went their way.  They won 5 games last year and they improved their roster in the Draft and with free agency signings.  They will make things interesting in the division, but they are not ready to be a playoff team just yet.
  • Jets:  It will be a long season for NYC football fans.  The Jets are not a good football team.  Their defense was OK – but nothing better than that – until they traded Jamal Adams to Seattle.  You can hire all the spin doctors who will be out of work after the Presidential campaigns are over and they cannot spin that trade to mean that the Jets’ defense got better.  The schedule does the Jets no favors; the first 8 games look as if the team could be fortunate to be 2-6 when November rolls around.  If the Jets are worse than 2-6 at that point, I suspect there will be a coaching change in mid-season with Gregg Williams taking the helm.

So just to review, the AFC playoffs will have the Chiefs resting up for a week while the Bills, Browns, Colts, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers take part in Wild Card Weekend.

Moving along, here is a synopsis for the NFC West.  Top to bottom, this is the best division in the NFL overall.  The Seahawks were a playoff caliber team last year and made two particularly good additions in the offseason in Greg Olsen and Jamal Adams.  Those two moves make me think that Seattle is in “Win-Now Mode”.  The Niners must battle the curse of being the Super Bowl loser, but that roster is young and talented; they will be a tough out every week.  Both the Rams and the Cardinals would be dominant forces in any other NFC Division, but I think they trail the field in this division.

Prediction #10:  The Seahawks will win the NFC West and will be the top seed in the NFC playoff bracket.

Prediction #11:  The Niners will be one of the NFC wildcard teams.

  • Rams:  Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley are no longer part of that offensive unit and I think that will show up in the season results.  On defense, Aaron Donald remains THE dominant defensive lineman – – perhaps the most dominant defensive player? – in the NFL.
  • Cardinals:  Even before the Cards acquired – – or stole – – DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans, there was every reason to believe the Cards’ offense would be better this year as Kyler Murray developed his game and the offensive scheme evolved a bit.  I think the Cards’ first round pick, Isaiah Simmons, is going to be a star in the NFL; he will help that defense right away.  The Cards are a good team, but they have 6 tough games against these division opponents on their dance card.

Next under the microscope is the NFC South.  Just as the departure of Tom Brady from the Patriots causes me to believe that the Pats will not be as formidable as in recent years, the arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa makes me believe that the Bucs will be significantly better this year as compared to last year.  Consider that Jameis Winston threw 30 INTs for the Bucs last year; Tom Brady has thrown 29 INTs in the last 4 seasons combined.  The Bucs defense is a good unit and the fact that they will not have to deal with nearly as many “sudden changes” is a big plus.  The Saints are always a threat with Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara on the offense.  The rub here is that Kamara is an uncertainty this year.  He was injured for some of last year – presumably fully recovered – but he has been conducting a so-called “hold-in” where he has reported to training camp but is not practicing.  The Saints do not have a replacement for Alvin Kamara.

Prediction #12:  The Bucs will be the NFC South champions this year.

Prediction #13:  The Saints will be one of the NFC wildcard teams in the playoffs.

  • Falcons:  The Falcons added Todd Gurley to the offense to give them a more respectable running game.  The question here is the soundness of Gurley for a 16-game season.  If he is the same player he was in 2017-2018, the Falcons got themselves a bargain.  We shall see…  Weep not for that offensive unit under any circumstances.  With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the field, that offense will be just fine.
  • Panthers:  Matt Ruhle has been a miracle-worker in turning around sad-sack college football programs, but it has usually taken him a couple of years to make those adjustments.  Here he gets a double whammy.  Not only does he have a roster with holes; he has not had the off-season time with his players to start the learning processes for his new systems until mid-July.  Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Mc Caffrey will provide some excitement – and hope for the future – but this is going to be a tough year in Carolina.  Replacing Luke Kuechley and Thomas Davis at LB all in one season is a tall order, indeed.

Moving on up to the NFC North, I see a ton of question marks.

  • Vikings:  Is this the year that the Vikings figure out how to avoid losing those games they simply must win?  Is any thing more important to the Vikings than the health of Dalvin Cook?  Is Justin Jefferson an adequate replacement for Stefon Diggs?
  • Packers:  Is the Green Bay defense a top-shelf unit or did they markedly over-achieve in 2019?  Can the so-called “Smith Brothers” continue to dominate games?  Other than Davante Adams, who in the Packers’ receiving corps is a major threat?  Devin Funchess?  Why did the Packers use their first-round pick on a QB?
  • Bears:  The Bears’ quarterback play cannot be as bad as it was in 2019, can it?  Can Tarik Cohen be the main RB on the team for 16 games?  Will the secondary improve noticeably in 2020?
  • Lions:  There are always questions with the Lions; and, when they are answered – usually in the most negative way –  the reason is always the same:  It’s because they are the Lions.  Last year the Lions were awful on defense – and that is how Matt Patricia earned his stripes in the NFL.  Last year the Lions’ defense gave up more yards than all but one other team and ranked 26thin scoring defense.  In the offseason they lost Darius Slay who was the brightest light on that defensive unit.  The Lions must turn that around – – quickly.

Prediction #14:  The Vikings will win the NFC North.

Prediction #15:  The Packers will make the playoffs – – but neither of the other two teams in the NFC North will finish at or above .500.

The last division on the list is the NFC East.  Last year, I said the division was clearly bifurcated into two “Haves” and two “Have-nots”.  Such remains the case in 2020.  The Cowboys and the Eagles are solid, respectable teams; the Giants and the WTFs will stink.

  • Cowboys:  Let me put this simply.  Dak Prescott will make about $31M this year on the franchise tag.  He has been in the league for 4 seasons and has 67 starts – counting playoffs – under his belt.  It is time for him to avoid coming up small in big games.  The Cowboys have real potency at the WR position; they should score plenty of points.  The biggest concern for the offense is that the OL is aging – but it is still a top-shelf unit.

Prediction #16:  The Cowboys will win the NFC East.

  • Eagles:  Let me put this simply.  They have to avoid rampant injuries; their training camp has resembled a M*A*S*H unit this year.  Last year they won the division without having  speed, size or experience at the WR position.  Presumably, that will not be the case in 2020…

Prediction # 17:  The Eagles will make the NFC Playoffs.

  • WTFs:  Here is what this team will look forward to in the next offseason.  It will look forward to getting a new team name, that’s what.  There is a new coach in DC; that is a good thing because they have needed one for a while and Ron Rivera is good football coach.  He inherits a team with exactly one real strength – – the defensive line where the team has 5 first-round picks in the unit.  That’s it; that’s the list.  While in the process of “changing the culture” there, Rivera also gets to battle cancer this year and there will be distractions provided courtesy of the investigations into sexual harassment in the team executive suite.  I doubt that Tinkerbell has enough Pixie Dust on hand to get the WTFs up to .500 for the year.
  • Giants:  The good news is they have a new coach, an excellent running back and a second year QB who showed significant promise in his rookie year.  The defense – and particularly the secondary – will scare no one and that is the rest of the story.  Like the crosstown NY Jets, the Giants will be sad sacks in 2020.

Summarizing the NFC playoff picture, the Seahawks will get the top seed and the playoff BYE week while the rest of the bracket will be the Bucs, Eagles, Niners, Packers, Saints and Vikings.

One other feature of my pre-season predictions has always been coaches who I see on the hot seat and what I think will happen to them. So, in alphabetical order – – because I have no intention of trying to rank these entries – – here are my NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2020:

  • Adam Gase (Jets):  His “calling card” in the coaching ranks is that he is a “QB developer”.  His recent record brings that into question since Ryan Tannehill blossomed as soon as he left Adam Gase and since Sam Darnold is still a “work in progress”.  Moreover, Gase has gotten himself crosswise with Jamal Adams – – who demanded and got a trade out of NY – – and with LeVeon Bell.  If the Jets are as bad as I think they will be, I will not be surprised if Gase is relieved of his role with the Jets before the end of the season.

Prediction 18:  I think Adam Gase will not make it to January 2021 as the head coach of the Jets and that Gregg Williams will be his interim replacement.

  • Doug Marrone (Jags):  This will be Marrone’s fourth year as the coach of the Jags and ever since they gagged away the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots in 2017, the team has been a mess.  Given the denuding of the roster over the last two years – five Pro Bowlers on defense and one on offense are gone – the Jags will probably be a doormat this year.  I do not think Marrone will survive the carnage of this season unless there is a real “Minshew Miracle” on tap.

Prediction 19:  I think that the clock will strike twelve on the Doug Marrone Era in Jax at the end of this season.

  • Matt Nagy (Bears):  He was the Coach of the Year in the NFL in 2018; then the Bears – and particularly their offense – were less than miserable in 2019.  Nothing seemed to be working in Chicago.  The Bears now have an overpaid Nick Foles and an under-achieving Mitchell Trubisky vying for the QB job.  Things do not look good in Chicago and Nagy could well be the casualty in that catastrophe.

Prediction 20:  I think Matt Nagy survives as the Bears’ coach as fans and “NFL Insiders” pin the blame for the Bears’ lack of success on the guy who built the roster.

  • Bill O’Brien (Texans):  The Texans have been in the playoffs four out of the five years that O’Brien has been the coach so this entry on the list is a long shot.  Coach Bill O’Brien’s biggest problem is the roster makeup given to him by GM Bill O’Brien.  He has made some strange personnel moves over the past couple of years and none make me scratch my head more than trading away DeAndre Hopkins for in injured running back and then “replacing” Hopkins with Brandin Cooks by sending away a second round pick.  The QB magic produced by DeShaun Watson could save O’Brien’s coaching job – – but the Texans really do need a GM…

Prediction 21:  I think the Texans definitely get a new GM for next year.  And Coach Bill O’ Brien will be a casualty – collateral damage if you will – of that GM decision.

  • Matt Patricia (Lions):  This will be his third season at the helm of a downtrodden franchise that had risen to the level of a “break-even team” under its previous coach, Jim Caldwell.  In his two seasons in Detroit, Patricia’s Lions have gone 9-22-1.  Yes, I know that Matthew Stafford was injured and out for 8 games last year; nonetheless, the Lions remain an irrelevant team under Patricia’s leadership.  I think it will take a 9-7 record and a healthy Matthew Stafford to achieve that record to save Patricia’s job after 2020.

Prediction 22:  I think Matt Patricia is coaching his final year in Detroit.

  • Dan Quinn (Falcons):  Lots of people were surprised when Quinn survived the BYE week last year.  The Falcons started the year 1-7 and looked lost in many of those games.  But he – and the team – turned it all around and went 6-2 in the second half of the year.  Quinn has been in Atlanta for 5 years and has been to the Super Bowl with the Falcons.  His seat is warm but not hot.

Prediction 23:  I think Dan Quinn makes it through 2020 without great jeopardy.

Mike Zimmer (Vikings):  I had him on my “watch list for hot seats” because 2020 was to be his final year under contract in Minnesota and there had been no extension given during the off-season.  However, in mid-July he did get a multi-year extension and his seat is now just a comfy one.

Before wrapping this up, let me just list here some of the things I jotted down about question marks hanging over some NFL players this year.  As I was musing about the season, these things cropped up in my mind, and even when I recognized that they were important questions, I was not confident that I had the answers.  So, just for fun and in alphabetical order:

  • Antonio Brown – – Will a team take him on with his 8-game suspension and his soap opera atmosphere?
  • Jadeveon Clowney – – So, where is he going to play in 2020 – – or will he sit out a season?
  • Todd Gurley – – Can he stay healthy?  Did the Falcons get a bargain signing Gurley for only $5M?  Did they get 2017 Todd Gurley or 2019 Todd Gurley?
  • Alshon Jeffrey – – Is he recovered from Lisfranc surgery?  Do he and Carson Wentz hate each other?  We shall see …
  • David Johnson – – Can he stay healthy?  If so, he will be an important part of the Texans’ offense.
  • Xavier Rhodes – – Had a lackluster year in Minnesota last year and signed on with the Colts for only $3M because of that performance.  But he used to be an All-Pro as recently as 2017.  Is he a bargain or is he washed up?
  • JJ Watt – – Can he stay healthy?  Great player when healthy and Texans need him on that defense.

The only thing left now is for the teams and the players in the NFL to maintain vigilance against an outbreak of COVID-19 such that the season can proceed as scheduled.

            So let it be written; so let it be done.

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