Social Justice Warriors And Virtue Signalers

Regular readers here know that I do not hold social justice warriors and virtue signaling in high esteem.  It is not that I disagree with the need for advancement in social justice in the US; it is that many social justice warriors take their actions and their pleadings beyond reason.  And virtue signaling is shallow and disingenuous.  Today, I want to address three sports issues that impinge on both social justice warriors and virtue signaling.  What I hope to do is to add a bit of rational thought to the three sports issues that does not seem to be there now.

Let me start with a column in the Washington Post written by Kevin Blackistone.  You can find it here and the online headline reads:

“Why the WNBA can’t wait: Kelly Loeffler should get the Donald Sterling boot”

For the record, I read Kevin Blackistone’s columns in the Post regularly and I enjoy them.  He is an advocate for social change; but normally, his words are reasoned and rational; in this particular work, I think he went over the edge.

Let me be clear from the outset.  I am not someone who is politically or socially aligned with Sen. Loeffler; were I a citizen of Georgia, I would definitely have voted against her in the Senatorial election earlier this month.  I have not supported her in the past; I do not support her now.  Exclamation Point!

The WNBA players themselves – – specifically including players on her own Atlanta Dream squad – – united to campaign against Ms. Loeffler as is their right, and it is to their credit that they acted on what they perceived to be right.  At least some of that political support and activism came as a result of Ms. Loeffler’s continuous support of the unsubstantiated claim that the Presidential election was “rigged” and/or “stolen” notwithstanding the myriad rebuffs of that claim by various levels of the US Federal judiciary.

Ms. Loeffler is a part owner of the WNBA franchise and Kevin Blackistone’s column calls for her to be “booted from the ownership ranks” comparing her to Donald Sterling.  I do not read minds, so I do not know if she and Mr. Sterling share similarly rancid views of race and gender, but I do know that there is a big difference between Kelly Loeffler as a franchise owner and Donald Sterling as a franchise owner:

  • Donald Sterling’s rancid views of Black people and women were in a position to cost the NBA lots of money/revenue.  His unpopular views threatened the pocketbooks of the rest of the owners and the league itself.
  • Kelly Loeffler owns part of a WNBA franchise; the revenues and economics of the WNBA are well beyond the decimal points of the NBA which is the parent company of the WNBA.  Even if fans boycotted Atlanta Dream games – – every Atlanta game on the WNBA schedule – –  the NBA would never notice the difference.

Removing an owner solely for their political/social views and expressions is a path fraught with danger.  Removing an owner who threatens the bottom line for the league is a totally different story.  This is not a matter for the WNBA or the NBA; this is a matter for the WNBA players and fans.

  • If Ms. Loeffler’s views are so toxic, why would any player in the WNBA play for the Atlanta Dream in good conscience?
  • If her views are so toxic, should any player in the WNBA on any other team take the court when the opponent is the Atlanta Dream?

That is the meaningful locus of activism that will carry the day – – not a bunch of moguls meeting in secret and pronouncing their decision(s).  And just imagine the social justice warriors who normally get their knickers in a knot any time a bunch of men do something “bad” to a woman…

The second issue of this type today is a campaign by the marketing folks at Coors Light to have Tom Flores elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Listen to their exhortations on the TV ads and the strongest point made is that he is the first Latino QB and the first Latino head coach in the NFL – – and therefore why is he not yet in the Hall of Fame.  I find that argumentation interesting…

No less a social justice warrior and advocate for equal treatment than Rev Jesse Jackson has routinely pointed to sports as the meritocracy where minorities of all kinds could show their unique skills and expertise to be a winner/champion and there was nothing that recalcitrant majority folks could do about it.  So, let me list here Tom Flores accomplishments in the “meritocracy of sports”:

  • As a QB, he was mediocre – – maybe just a tad better than that but certainly not “really good”.  He had a 9-year career as a player; he started 68 games; his teams were 31-33-4 in those 68 starts.  For his career, he threw 93 TDs and 92 INTs.
  • Bottom Line:  As a QB he is not remotely qualified to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • As a coach, he was good-but-not-great.  He had as 12-year coaching career going 98-87-0 in those years.  However, to his credit, his record in the playoffs was 8-3-0 and he won 2 Super Bowl Championships.  One argument against his selection for the Hall of Fame is that every modern era NFL coach in the Hall of fame has won more than 100 regular season games; Flores did not.
  • Bottom Line:  As a coach I believe he is a stretch to belong in the Hall of Fame and the question boils down to something other than his Latino heritage, “Do 2 Super Bowl rings plus Latino heritage” make up for a 98-87-0 record on the sidelines?”

Frankly, I would not vote to put Flores in the Hall of Fame along with coaches like Shula and Lombardi and Landry and Noll from the modern era.  At the same time, I would not be sufficiently upset if the Selection Committee put him in the Hall of Fame to declare that I would never again visit the facility.  But I do find it a bit unseemly – and even smarmy – for a beer company to be touting a nominee for the Hall of Fame and for him to have allowed it to happen.

The final issue has its roots in late 2017.  The University of Tennessee had had enough of its football coach, Butch Jones, at that point and fired him unceremoniously.  The Athletic Director – and presumably some others in the university hierarchy – let it be known that they wanted Greg Schiano to be the next coach at Tennessee.  At that point, there was a confluence of special interests.  Some folks were against Schiano because he was “not an SEC guy” and others were either genuine social justice warriors or only normal folks who felt an abject need to virtue signal here.  That second contingent of protestors were opposed to Schiano because he had been on the same coaching staff at Penn State with Jerry Sandusky.  There were no allegations that Schiano had done anything wrong – – let alone that he had also abused young boys in the Penn State showers.  It is just that he was there, and all that bad stuff happened and that had to make him a bad guy too.

The combination of protesting factions prevailed and kicked out the Athletic Director – – replacing him with Phil Fulmer the longtime coach at Tennessee who himself had been unceremoniously fired about 10 years prior to all that.  Fulmer went out and hired Jeremy Pruitt for the job.

Pruitt was singularly unsuccessful in the position.  In three seasons at Tennessee, the Vols record was 16-19 and the conference record was 10-16.  It was not the worst coaching record in recent times in Knoxville; Derek Dooley was 16-21 in his three years at Tennessee with a conference record of 5-19.  At the same time, Jeremy Pruitt will not cause the Tennessee alums to forget the names of Johnny Majors and/or Doug Dickey as coaches of the Vols.

Just this week, it was announced that Pruitt was “fired for cause” by the university meaning that Tennessee is going to try to avoid paying him the $12.5M buyout contained in his contract.  [Aside:  I suspect that law firms across the country can smell the “billable hours” here and are looking for ways to get in on that action.]  Pruitt is not accused of anything criminal or smarmy; he is accused of sufficiently severe recruiting violations that could bring significant NCAA sanctions down on the school.

So, the question that needs to be asked of the social justice warriors and activists who got their way in 2017 is simple and straightforward:

  • “So, how’d that work out for you”

There is plenty of room in sports and in US society for people and athletes to advocate for social justice and social progress.  In fact, the US would not be nearly the country it seeks to be were it not for that open space.  However, there is another phenomenon at play here; those people and various organizations often overplay their hand – – the current jargon is they get out too far over their skis.  I think at least four things need to be done in this realm:

  1. Athletes, teams and leagues need to support actively – with words, deeds and money – those endeavors that are aimed at social progress which align with the values of the athletes, teams and leagues.
  2. Athletes, teams and leagues need to support endeavors aimed at social progress that simultaneously provide material benefits to the organizers/activists – – but they need to make those material benefits clear and acknowledge them.
  3. Fans – – and media outlets – – need to be wary of pleadings based entirely on race or national origin without extensive supporting evidence that specific injuries have happened.
  4. Media outlets specifically need to point out and perhaps even oppose social justice warriors and virtue signalers when there is no objective evidence to support their opposition to the target of their wrath.

Finally, one of the images that social justice warriors and virtue signalers like to portray is that they are altruists; they are acting in a way that is not necessarily in their own best interest but is obviously intended to augment the common good.  For that reason, let me close with this comment by H.L Mencken regarding altruists and altruism:

“Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy.  It is an art like any other.  Its virtuosi are called altruists.”

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

 

 

NFL Teams With “QB Issues” …

Today, I want to analyze NFL teams that have “QB issues” to deal with in the off-season.  At first glance, one might think that this list would duplicate the list of 6 teams out there looking for a new coach; and indeed, there is plenty of overlap.  However, as one counterexample, the Chargers have Justin Herbert on their roster and their new coach – Brandon Staley – ought not to be kept awake at nights wondering what to do at that position.  I think there are 13 NFL teams with “QB issues” and I want to divide them into 3 categories.

Category 1 are the teams that have a QB issue of their own making.  I put 5 teams in Category 1:

  1. Eagles:  The regression of Carson Wentz’ capacity to play QB has been stunning; the reports that he is disgruntled and would prefer to be out of Philly speaks to the way his regression was handled by the former coaching staff.  People say his contract makes him untradeable; the new coach there had better arrive with a plan for team improvement and a bucket of salve for a huge case of the red ass.
  2. Jets:  Sam Darnold has been in the NFL for 3 years and has started 38 games – – and the Jets still have no idea if he can be a franchise QB.  He started his career with a defensive-minded coach followed by two years under Adam Gase’s random regime.  The Jets do not know what Darnold can do and I doubt that Darnold knows either.  Should the Jets be done with their upheaval with the hiring of Robert Saleh – – or do they need a new QB in this year’s draft too?
  3. Lions:  Someone there allowed a rumor to start saying that the Lions might be looking to move on from Matthew Stafford.  I am not here to suggest that Stafford will be in the HoF someday, but he is a more-then-adequate starting QB who will be 33 next season.  If he leaves – or becomes less enthusiastic based on this rumor floating about, this is a self-inflicted wound by the Lions.  And what else might one expect from the Lions…?
  4. Niners:  Reports say that the Niners have an out for Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract this year and that they are considering exercising that out.  Jimmy G. has had injury issues in two of the last three seasons in SF; but when he was healthy for an entire season in 2019, the Niners went to the Super Bowl.  Garoppolo will be 30 years old next season.
  5. Texans:  If reports are accurate, the Texans’ owner and Deshaun Watson have found a way to put a gap between themselves.  Assuming that both parties have dispute resolution skills beyond that of third-grade playground adversaries, this is a spitting contest that needs to end immediately.  If the Texans must “move on” from Deshaun Watson over this “feud”, the Texans’ ownership will descend in the NFL rankings down to “Danny Boy Snyder level”.

Might there be a solution to the “QB issue” for two teams here in Category 1?  Carson Wentz and Jimmy G both have big contracts that make them – supposedly – untradeable; might an exchange of one for the other be feasible?  Each player gets a new venue to show his talent.

Category 2 are the teams with a talent deficiency at the position simply because the QB decisions made by the franchise over the past five years or so have not panned out.

  1. Bears:  Mitchell Trubisky lights things up occasionally; so do fireflies.  He has been in the league 4 seasons and started 50 games; he is only 26 years old; he has not shown that he is “the guy”.  Nick Foles is a great backup QB but never seems to work out as the “main man”.  The other two QBs on the Bears’ roster today are Tyler Bray and Kyle Sloter.  The Bears are between Scylla and Charybdis.  (Hat Tip to Homer…)  The Bears draft 20th in April; that does not seem to be the way they are going to resolve their issue.
  2. Broncos:  John Elway was one of the great QBs of NFL history; nevertheless, he has been singularly unable to find a competent QB for his Broncos save for the time that Peyton Manning “fell into his lap”.  Since Manning’s retirement 5 years ago, here are the 10 QBs that Elway has given his coach as a potential starter: Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Philip Lindsey and Drew Lock.  Of that mélange, Driskel, Lock and Rypien are still on the roster.  The Broncos draft 9th this year; will there be a QB available for them at that position?
  3. Jags:  The Jags have had QB issues since the days when Mark Brunell and/or Byron Leftwich were playing; that was about 15 years ago.  The current roster has Mike Glennon, Jake Luton and Gardner Minshew as the team QBs; perhaps you may think of all three as serviceable backups for a week or two but nothing more than that.  The good news here is that the Jags draft first in April in a draft where there are several excellent talents to be had.  We shall see…

Category 3 are the teams where the QB issue was created by – or at least exacerbated by – Father Time.

  1. Colts:  The Colts rolled the dice with Philip Rivers last year and made the playoffs.  If Rivers chooses to come back next  year on another 1-year deal, the Colts QB issue devolves to “kicking the can down the road”.  Other than Rivers, the Colts’ QBs are Jacoby Brissett and Jacob Eason.  Brissett has been in the league 5 seasons and has 32 starts under his belt.  Maybe he is a worthy heir apparent to Philip Rivers…  Or not…
  2. Saints:  Jay Glazer reports that Drew Brees is retiring now that the Saints’ playoff run in 2021 is over.  Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemien and Jameis Winston are currently on the roster.  None would appear to approach Brees in terms of productivity but – to be clear – the Saints’ QB issue is not nearly as dire a situation as exist for other teams on this list.
  3. Steelers:  Yes, I know the Steelers won their first 11 games in 2020 and made the playoffs.  Nevertheless, for the last month or so, Ben Roethlisberger looked like a shell of his HoF self.  If he comes back, the Steelers have a QB issue of one kind – – namely a limited capability starter.  If he retires, the Steelers have a QB issue of a different stripe – namely that neither Mason Rudolph nor Joshua Dobbs has shown a lot of evidence of being or becoming a franchise QB.  Dobbs has been in the NFL for 4 years and Rudolph for 3 years…
  4. Patriots:  Cam Newton is a shell of his former self; Brian Hoyer will be 36 years old next year; he has been in the NFL for 12 seasons and has shown that he is a journeyman backup QB over that lengthy period.  To be fair, the Pats; pass-catching corps is also talent deficient to a similar degree; both parts of the offensive unit need serious reconstruction.  However, there is no hiding the fact that the Pats’ need to effect a significant upgrade at QB.
  5. WTFs:  Ron Rivera has shown that his system can produce some winning football with Alex Smith at QB, but Alex Smith checks every box imaginable when it comes to “Reasons Why He Is Not The Guy You Build Around”.  In addition to his injury history, Smith will be 37 years old next season.   Taylor Heinicke has appeared in 9 NFL games – starting 2 of them – in  his 3 seasons in the NFL; he played exceptionally well in his playoff start this year – – but is that enough to tell the team that their QB issue is resolved?  Fans in Washington need to hope for Smith’s health to hold up and/or for Heinicke to be a diamond in the rough because the WTFs do not draft until 20th this year and there will likely not be a gemstone quality QB available then.

These 13 teams with a “QB issue” exemplify how and why it is important for a coach and  a GM to be able to work together constructively.  Bill Belichick could not coach his way to the playoffs with Cam Newton as the QB; Mike Tomlin could not overcome Ben Roethlisberger’s diminished performances at the end of the 2020 season; Ron Rivera squeezed every drop of juice from the lemons he had at the QB position in 2020.  Those are 3 top-shelf football coaches and their outcomes in 2020 demonstrate that a talent ceiling is something that cannot be overcome save for dumb luck.  John Elway as a GM demonstrated over the past several seasons that the ability to find a franchise QB is critically important to watching your coach have success on the sidelines on Sunday afternoons.

This list comprises 40% of the NFL franchises.  All of them need to address this issue directly; some will do so, and others will punt.  Stay tuned…

Finally, fans and coaches and GMs – and maybe even owners – of these teams will approach the offseason with vigor and optimism that these issues may be resolved positively and rapidly.  For that, let me provide this observation by Ambrose Bierce:

“Optimism: The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including that which is ugly.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/15/21

When Macbeth learns of Lady Macbeth’s death, he begins a soliloquy with:

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day …”

Well, at the normal petty pace, there have been seven tomorrows since last Friday and that means today it is time for another Football Friday.  As is the custom, I shall begin by reviewing last week’s Six-Pack – knowing full well that getting the season record up to .500 is horribly unlikely:

  • College:  1-1-0
  • NFL:  3-3-0
  • Combined:  4-4-0

That brings the cumulative record to an unimpressive:

  • College:  20-25-1
  • NFL:  31-37-2
  • Combined:  51-62-3

 

College Football Commentary:

 

As is seemingly always the case, there is an undercurrent of consternation at the conclusion of the CFP this year.  It was also the case with the late-but-not-lamented BCS Championship, and the common theme is that the opportunity to become the national champion is not sufficiently open to enough teams.  As soon as that subject comes up, there is a reflexive reaction to recall the Boise State upset of Oklahoma demonstrating that – if given the chance – David can slay Goliath on a football field as he did in the Valley of Elah.

Indeed, that Fiesta Bowl game was a shock; but for just a moment, put that upset into a bit of perspective:

  • That game took place on January 1st, 2007; that was 13 seasons ago.  Since there have been no bowl game upsets of such importance that this game has been allowed to fade into memory, one might begin to conclude that “Davids” do not routinely rise up and slay “Goliaths”.
  • The final spread on that game was 7-points in favor of Oklahoma; this was not a  team winning outright when the oddsmakers thought it was a three-touchdown spread.  Teams that are 7-point underdogs only pay about 3-to-1 to win the game outright; that is not much of a longshot.
  • At the kickoff, Oklahoma was ranked #7 in the country and Boise State was ranked #9.  Had that game taken place under those conditions in mid-October, I doubt the game would be remembered 13 years after it happened.

All that is a prelude to a simple and direct question for college football fans who paid attention to the games from October through last weekend:

  • Did you see – with your own eyes – a college football team that was better week-to-week than Alabama?

I did not and I have no allegiance or rooting interest in any of the teams ranked in the Top 25 as of the end of the season.  I do not mean to imply that this year’s Alabama team was invincible; of course, on any given Saturday …  Nonetheless, that was the best college football team I saw all season long by a comfortable margin.

I am convinced that the CFP will eventually be expanded for reasons having exactly nothing to do with “fairness” or “expansion of opportunity” and having everything to do with increased revenues.  And when that happens – my guess is in the next 5 years or so – it will be equally difficult for teams in minor conferences to get an invitation unless the field is expanded well beyond any logical limit.

Look at this year’s results as you ponder what might have been the field with a 6-team bracket handing BYE Weeks to the two highest ranking teams:

  • Texas A&M would almost certainly have been the #5 seed.
  • People who want to see “the little guys” get a fair shot would argue that undefeated Cincy should have been #6.  I say, the results point in a different direction.
  • Cincy got a shot in a bowl game against Georgia and lost in a close game.  However, Georgia lost straight up to Florida by 16 points.  So, how is it logical – not emotional – to say that Cincy belonged in the CFP instead of Florida?
  • By the way, Florida had lost 3 games in the regular season and should never have been part of the CFP consideration – – and then, Florida lost its Cotton Bowl encounter to Oklahoma by 5 TDs.

It makes no sense to argue that the CFP Selection Committee does not put the “right teams” in the CFP and then say that by increasing the number of teams for them to select that they will “get it right”.  The selection process is flawed because the people involved are not “neutral arbiters” and because they do not have the time to study enough to do their rankings efficiently and effectively.  Those folks have full time jobs other than being on that Committee.

This annual emotional outburst at the end of the CFP has gotten tedious.  The tedium is particularly evident this year when – I assert – Alabama was indeed the best college football team from October through January.

In a college coaching move, it appears as if Bill O’Brien will seek the calming and cleansing waters that are available to assistant coaches at Alabama.  O’Brien left the Houston Texans under a cloud and with the team roster in shambles.  His previous reputation took on a lot of mud in the process but now he will be the Offensive Coordinator for Nick Saban and those sorts of positions have a recent history of restoring a gleam to damaged coaching reputations.

Bonne chance, Coach O’Brien…

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Urban Meyer has signed up to be the head coach of the Jags.  I will wait until all the NFL coaching openings are filled to think about the scope of all the changes made in that area, but I will say this about Coach Meyer:

  • In his 7 years at Ohio State, Meyer’s teams lost a total of 9 games.
  • If his first year with the Jags results in the Jags losing fewer than 9 games, he might be the Coach of the Year in the NFL.

The Jets announced that Robert Saleh will be their new head coach; Saleh had been the Defensive Coordinator for the Niners for the past several years.  There had been rumors that the Jets would hire recently fired Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson; those rumors were based on the previous working relationship between Pederson and Jets’ GM, Joe Douglas.  Now that those rumors have been put to rest, let me offer a note of encouragement for Jets’ fans:

  • A little more than 25 years ago, the Jets hired a recently fired Eagles’ coach and it did not end well at all.  History does not always repeat itself – – but every once in a while…
  • No matter the outcome of the Robert Saleh regime in NYC, he will not have an anvil labeled “Kotite” hanging over his head from Day One.

Before all the other vacancies are filled, I do want to make a comment about one report of a coaching interview.  The Falcons reportedly interviewed Todd Bowles for the job in Atlanta.  Notwithstanding a losing record with the Jets, I thought that Bowles did a good job there with the roster he had.  The Falcons have a significant need for a roster upgrade and Bowles could be the guy to see them through the rebuilding stages.

So, what may we glean from last week’s playoff games?  The Ravens beat the Titans 20-13.  More important than the score is the fact that the Ravens held Derrick Henry to 40 yards rushing on 18 carries.  The game also got the monkey off Lamar Jackson’s back as he won the first playoff game of his career.  The Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but dominated the game from that point forward.  The Ravens turned the tables on the Titans; normally, it is the Titans that dominate the running stats for a game; here the Ravens outgained the Titans on the ground 236 yards to 51 yards.

The Saints beat the Bears 21-9.  The Bears’ defense played well; holding the Saints to 21 points is an accomplishment; that matches the lowest output by the Saint’s offense for all of the 2020 season.  The Bears’ offense, however, told a different story:

  • The Bears had the ball for only 21 minutes in the game.
  • The Bears ran 49 plays, and the Saint ran 75 plays.
  • The Bears made only 11 first downs
  • The Bears were 1 of 10 on third down conversions.

Added to those woes, the Bears were penalized 9 times in the game and 5 of those penalties gave the Saints a first down.  On a few plays, Mitchell Trubisky made perfect throws; however, for most of the game, he looked mystified as to what he was seeing and what he should do about it.  The Bears’ braintrust needs to do some heavy analysis of their QB situation for the future.  That Bears’ defense is not getting any younger…

The Browns beat the Steelers 48-37.  The Browns ran off to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter; if something could have gone wrong for the Steelers in that opening quarter, it did.  The Steelers dominated the stat sheet – but to no avail:

  • Steelers led in time of possession 32:46 to 26:40.
  • Steelers had 34 first downs to Browns’ 20.
  • Steelers gained 553 yards on offense to the Browns’ 390.
  • Steelers were 8 of 15 on third down and 3 of 3 on fourth down conversions.
  • Ben Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and 4 TDs in the game.

So, how could the Steelers have lost by 11 points?  Well, look no further than the five turnovers by the Steelers – 4 INTs and a fumble that was recovered by the Browns for a TD on the first play of the game.  Once again, the Steelers demonstrated the absence of a running game gaining only 52 yards on 15 carries.  Indeed, Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards – – but it took him 68 attempts to get to that mark.  All they could do for most of the night was dink-and-dunk.  And that leads me to wonder:

  • Is Ben Roethlisberger finished?  He will be in the Hall of Fame one of these days, but has Father Time come knocking on his door?

The Steelers have not won a playoff game in 4 years; this is not a team that needs a drastic “rebuild” because the defense is very good, and the pass catchers are more than adequate.  The Steelers do need to shore up the OL in the off-season and they may just need to be in the QB market for the first time in an awfully long time.

The Bills beat the Colts 27-24.  Like the Steelers above, the Colts dominated the stat sheet:

  • Colts led in time of possession 34:17 to 25:43.
  • Colts had 27 first downs to the Bills’ 22.
  • Colts were 9 of 17 on third down to the Bills’ 2 of 9.
  • Colts were 2 of 4 on fourth down conversions.
  • Colts had 472 yards on offense to the Bills’ 397.

The Colts trailed 24-10 with eleven minutes to go in the fourth quarter but rallied to make a game of it.  The Colts had a “Hail Mary” shot at winning the game on the final play.  However, a decision in the middle of the second quarter loomed large at the end of the game.  The Colts had the ball first and goal at the Bills 4 yardline with the Colts leading 10-7.  The first three plays resulted in a net of zero yards; a short pass and a run from a wildcat formation got the ball to the 1 yardline where the Colts lost 3 yards on a running play.  Now it is 4th and goal at the 4 yardline and the Colts decide to go for it and get nothing from the drive.  Note, that the Colts lost the game by 3 points…

The Rams beat the Seahawks 30-20.  The fact that All-World defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, had to leave the game with a rib injury must mean that this result is not an unalloyed success for the Rams.  The fact that Jared Goff was able to be as effective as he was is a bright spot because he had had surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand – – several pins were inserted – – only 12 days prior to this game.  He was needed once starter John Wolford had to leave the game with an apparent neck injury in the first quarter.

The Seahawks like to run the football, but the Rams outgained the Seahawks on the ground 164 yards to 136 yards and they held the edge in time of possession 33 minutes to 27 minutes.  Neither team was particularly good on third down conversions; the Rams were 3 of 15 in that situation; the Seahawks were 2 of 14.  Ho hum …

The Seahawks turned the ball over twice – – one was a Pick Six – – and those plays certainly did not help their cause.  This was a defensive game from start to finish notwithstanding the total score of 50 points.

The Bucs beat the WTFs 31-23.  You can look at the two QB performances here and see one as “business as usual” and the other as “wow, look at that”.

  • “Business as usual” would be Tom Brady.  He was 22 of 40 for 381 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  Just another “day at the office”.
  • “Wow, look at that” would be Taylor Heinicke.  He was 26 of 44 for 306 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.  Heinicke also led the WTFs in rushing with 46 yards on 6 carries and a rushing TD.

This game was in doubt to the end.  At the start of the 4th quarter, the Bucs led by a tenuous 18-16 score; they extended the lead to 28-16 with 9 minutes left in the game but the WTFs closed to 28-23 with about 5 minutes to go.  The Bucs added a field goal and then held the WTFs on downs to ice the game.

One of my “takeaways” from this game was that Tom Brady may be even less mobile than he was in the past and Tom Brady may not be able to throw the ball 60 yards downfield more than once a month – – and that does not really matter.  What matters is his accuracy and his ability to hit receivers in stride such that they can gain more yards after they catch the football.  Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all excel in that phase of quarterbacking – – and that is why all three of them are still going to be on the field this weekend in their “football dotage”.

 

NFL Games:

 

(Sat 4:35 PM EST)  Rams at Green Bay – 6.5 (46.5):  Anytime there is a football game in Green Bay in January, one should check with Weather.com to see if Mother Nature wants to be part of the action.  The forecast for Saturday is for morning snow showers with a high temperature of 35 degrees and a low of 27 degrees; wind out of the NNW at 12 mph.  So, this will not be a game that harkens back to the famous Ice Bowl game in 1967 when the temperature was 13 degrees below zero.  However, if you are a QB with a recently surgically repaired thumb on your throwing hand, my guess is that you might encounter a small degree of difficulty gripping a football.  If history is any guide, Aaron Rodgers will not have difficulty throwing or gripping a cold football so there is an advantage for the Packers there.    The Rams’ defense ranked 1st in the NFL over the regular season in total yards allowed and it ranked 1st in pass defense allowing only 190.7 yards per game.  Can Aaron Donald play effectively here?  He is a big part of that defensive prowess.  And in addition to watching the line play involving Donald and/or his substitute, here is the battle that will be interesting and perhaps determinant for the game:

  • Davante Adams is one of the best WRs in the NFL and Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target.  Jalen Ramsey is outstanding as a cover corner who routinely draws the opponent’s top receiving threat and usually holds that receiver in check.
  • Let the game begin…

The other key to this game should be the ability of the Rams to run the football.   The Packers’ defense ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 112.8.  The Rams’ averaged 126 yards per game on the ground; if they can run effectively here – – as they did last week – – they can keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines under a parka and that would be a good thing.

I think the Packers will have difficulty running the football here, but I do not think Aaron Rodgers will be shut down even if Jalen Ramsey dominates Davante Adams; I think the cold weather will limit Jared Goff to some extent so Cam Akers running the ball will be critical.  I like the Packers to win and cover at home in a low-scoring game; I also like the game to stay UNDER; put them in the Six-Pack. 

(Sat 8:15 PM EST)  Baltimore at Buffalo – 2.5 (49):  Frankly, I am looking forward to watching this game more than any of the others this weekend.  Both teams are peaking at the right time; the Ravens won 5 in a row at the end of the regular season and then won again last week; the Bills won 6 in a row at the end of the regular season and then won again last week.  The game will put on display two of the best young QBs in the league.  Now, as good as both young QBs are, I do not think either one is the key to this game:

  • The Ravens are a running team.  They can run inside with power and they can run outside with speed.
  • The Bills are mediocre defending against the run.  They ranked 17th in rushing defense over the regular season which sounds workable, but they also ranked 25th in the league in yards allowed per carry (4.6).
  • I have no expectation that the Bills can stop the Ravens’ running attack; the question is if the Bills’ defense can keep it from dominating the game.  Moreover, they will need to devise a way to do that which does not simultaneously allow Lamar Jackson to go off.

I almost do not want to make a selection here because I want to focus on the events of this game without having even as trivial a “rooting interest” as one of these Six-Pack selections.  However, that would violate the spirit of these Football Fridays so, here goes …  It does not look as if the weather in Buffalo will be a factor; I like the Ravens to win the game outright and so I will take them plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack. 

(Sun 3:05 PM EST)  Cleveland at KC – 10.5 (56.5):  Anyone who reads these Football Friday missives knows that I hate picking NFL games with double-digit spreads.  The Browns will certainly try to control the clock here with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt carrying the ball.  The Chiefs will do what the Chiefs always do; they will score points.  If the Browns fall behind, I think it is game over; if the Browns get a lead and can run the ball to milk the clock …  The Browns and Chiefs allowed the same number of yards to opponents this season (actually the Chiefs allowed 2 fewer yards total for the season but let us not pick nits).  However, the Browns’ pass defense was not particularly good ranking 22nd in the NFL regular season.  If Ben Roethlisberger could score 37 points last week and throw for 501 yards, what might be expected from Patrick Mahomes here?

  • [Aside:  Back in their college days, Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) faced each other one time.  In that game the two combined for 1279 yards passing in only 4 quarters of football.  Baker Mayfield and the Sooners won that game 66-59.  That will not be the outcome here…]

The Browns’ win last week over the Steelers was an emotional victory.  They beat their biggest rival in the team’s first playoff game in next to forever; they did it with their coach in quarantine and on the road.  Just looking at the players on the sidelines at the end of the game, you could see the emotion in their eyes.  So, is the game this week possibly a let-down from that emotional high?

Because I hate double-digit spreads, I will forego a selection against the spread; I do think there will be a lot of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack. 

(Sun 6:40 PM EST)  Tampa Bay at New Orleans – 3 (51.5):  The spread here opened the week as a pick ’em game but settled in at this level in mid-week.  This is the third time this year we can watch Tom Brady and Drew Brees ply their trade in the same game; the Saints prevailed in the first two meetings.  The Saints’ defense ranked 4th in the NFL for the regular season in total defense and 5th in the NFL in pass defense; they only allowed 217 yards per game in 2020.  In both games this year, the Saints’ offense has been productive scoring 34 points in one game and 38 in the other.  Having pointed out the Saints’ advantages here, let me also say that the Saints in 2020 are not a team designed to be able to come from behind; they normally do not produce lots of big plays in a game; they win by efficiency.  So here is a key question for the Saints if they are to be the winner of this game:

  • Can you avoid a sluggish start to the game that puts you behind by two scores early on?

The Bucs’ pass defense ranked 21st in the NFL this year giving up 246.6 yards per game; that unit can be exploited as was demonstrated by Taylor Heinicke last week ( see above).  TV announcers like to say that it is difficult for a team to beat another team three times in a season.  However, here is a stat that I ran across this week:

  • Since 1990, teams that beat an opponent twice in a regular season were 12-5 against that same opponent when they met a third time in the playoffs.

I think Tom Brady is the better QB in this game; I also think the Saints are the better team in this game and football is a team game.  I like the Saints to win and cover at home; and I like the game to go OVER; put those in the Six Pack.

            So, let me recap this week’s Six-Pack – – which conveniently contains six selections:

  1. Packers – 6.5 over Rams
  2. Packers/Rams UNDER 46.5
  3. Ravens + 2.5 against Bills
  4. Browns/Chiefs OVER 56.5
  5. Saints – 3 over Bucs
  6. Saints/Bucs OVER 51.5

            Finally, the Bills will be relying on Stefon Diggs to be a weapon in their game against the Ravens this weekend.  Here is a comment related to Diggs from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Cameras caught wideout Stefon Diggs flossing on the sideline in the Bills’ regular-season finale.

“Forget All-Pro — he’s an ADA first-stringer!”

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

 

 

NBA Today

James Harden got his wish; the Houston Rockets traded him to the Brooklyn Nets as the headline for a deal that involves 4 teams – Rockets, Nets, Cavaliers and Pacers.  This trade gives the Nets a “Big 3” alignment of Durant, Harden and Irving – – when Irving can get himself focused on basketball and not outside issues.  This trade signals that the Nets are focused on winning a championship now – or very shortly into the future.  Here are the highlights of the trade:

  • Rockets get Rodions Kurocs, Dante Exum, Victor Oladipo and four unprotected first-round picks (Brooklyn 2022, 2024 and 2026, Milwaukee 2022), and four unprotected first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027).
  • Nets get James Harden.

Let me start with the Rockets.  This puts them in an interesting “tear down and rebuild mode”.  Kurocs and Exum are role players; Kurocs is only 22 years old so he has room to “develop” but the odds are that he will bounce around the league as a throw-in for a variety of trades over the years.  Exum is in his mid-20s and is sort of in the same position.  Oladipo is an All-Star when he is healthy – – but he is not always healthy.  If you pair him with John Wall,  you have two players who are All-Stars when healthy – – but neither is always healthy.  Wall and Oladipo should prevent the Rockets from being awful – – but nothing more than that.

The Rockets, however, now have the draft capital for a rebuild.  It may appear at first that those first-round draft swaps are of no value since the Nets look to be very good and drafting at the bottom of the first round.  That is almost certainly true for 2021 and 2023, but as the Nets’ “Big 3” start to age, those swaps in 2025 and 2027 might develop some value.

The Nets are clearly in “Win Now Mode”.  Back in December when the first rumblings of “Harden to the Nets” was the headline story in NBA circles, I said that it would be a risky move for the Nets for two reasons:

  1. Harden and Irving both want/need the ball to be as effective as they can be.  Durant does not need the ball as much as the other two, but he is more efficient offensively than the other two in the sense that he scores a lot of points with the ball in his hands for a relatively short time.  There is an unalterable fact about NBA basketball that applies here.  There is only one ball in use on the court at any given time.  We will soon find out if James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant learned their lessons about “sharing with others” in kindergarten.
  2. Defense is secondary in the NBA; please do not try to convince me otherwise.  Having said that, two of the Nets’ “Big 3” exhibit nonchalance on defense over and above the typical lack of enthusiasm for that part of the game.  Durant will play defense – and will have to against teams with topflight centers and power forwards – but that will limit his offensive production.  When he is on the bench …  Back in December, I said that the Nets’ opponents might be able to score as if it were a layup line.

[Aside: For anyone who wagers on NBA games – I do not! – let me suggest that you consider betting OVER in Nets’ games for a week or two until the “market adjusts” to the new scoring potential married with the new defensive liabilities of the Nets.]

I think the most important “intangible” in this trade is that James Harden gives the Nets a measure of insurance for those times when Kyrie Irving takes time off for injury and/or personal reasons.  Over the last 3 NBA seasons, Irving has missed 87 games; so far this season, Irving has missed 6 of the 13 games on the Nets’ schedule.

If you believe that talent dominates everything else in the NBA, the Nets now must be the Eastern Conference favorites and – on a talent basis – on the same level as the Lakers out west.  If you believe that offense is only part of the NBA game, you might see a few smudges on the shiny new toy in Brooklyn.

In other NBA happenings, the league is having difficulties with the coronavirus.  Last season, the NBA was immensely successful with its “Orlando Bubble”; it finished off a regular season and ran a full complement of playoff games with only minimal overlap with the virus.  It was an unadulterated success from a scheduling, health and safety standpoint.  However, the main defense against the virus provided by the “Bubble” was the strict control over the people and the products that crossed the isolation boundary of the “Bubble”.  In the current season, that isolation boundary does not exist.

This NBA season began on December 22nd; the first NBA game that had to be postponed happened on December 23rd; as of this morning seven games have been postponed and two more games scheduled for tomorrow are going to be postponed.  That will make 9 games in 24 days that had to be scrapped due to the virus.

Obviously, there needed to be some form of tightening up the COVID-19 protocols currently in place if the league is to avoid either a hiatus or a shortened version of its already truncated season.  At the current pace of postponements, there could be a scheduling crisis at the end of the season resembling the Gordian Knot.

Earlier this week, the league and the players have agreed to some new restrictions to try to limit the virus.  They are well-intentioned; they will mitigate the problem if they are followed strictly.  Aye, there’s the rub…

  • Players and staff are not to leave their residences when the team is at home except for outside exercise, emergencies, essential services and team activities at the team facility.
  • Anyone who visits the residence of a player or staff member on a regular basis – – like a personal chef – – must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
  • Pre-game meetings in the locker rooms are limited to 10 minutes and everyone must be masked.
  • Players cannot arrive at a game venue more than 3 hours in advance of tip-off.
  • On an airplane, players can only sit next to a teammate whom they will sit next to on the bench.
  • “Extended socializing” with players on opposing teams is “discouraged”.
  • Mask wearing rules are extended.
  • If a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the league can mandate twice -a-day testing for players and staff in lieu of the standard daily testing set forth in the protocols.

Finally, yesterday I mentioned the contract extension between Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan.  Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this take on that event:

“Jim Harbaugh has reached an incentive-laced contract extension to coach Michigan football through the 2025 season.

“No truth to the rumor that Ohio State boosters bankrolled the whole thing.”

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

 

 

The Fortunes Of Two Football Coaches

The Philadelphia Eagles fired coach Doug Pederson notwithstanding the fact that he delivered the only Super Bowl Trophy in the team’s history.  The rupture in the relationship there appears to be multi-dimensional:

  • Last January, Pederson announced that his offensive coordinator would be back for another year; the next day, the Front Office fired the coordinator.  The Eagles went without an offensive coordinator last year dividing those duties between two “senior offensive assistants”.
  • Defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, has either retired or has merely decided to take a year’s leave of absence from coaching.  Pederson wanted to hire Cory Undlin as his replacement; Undlin has 1 year of experience as a defensive coordinator and it yielded extremely poor results.  That hiring was not going to happen.
  • The Eagles record since winning the Super Bowl has been a mediocre 22-25-1.  Moreover, in that time the team saw a dramatic regression in the performance of QB, Carson Wentz.
  • And then there was the “Nate Sudfeld Decision”…

The “explanation” for playing Nate Sudfeld in the 4th quarter of this year’s final game against the WTFs is that he had been with the team for 4 years and deserved a chance to play.  The game was meaningless to the Eagles – – but it was of critical importance to the WTFs and to the NY Giants and to the general integrity of the NFL.  So, the explanation that he “deserved a chance to play” was never going to fly – like an eagle or any other species of bird.

Patrick Mahomes got the day off in the final game of the regular season and that was more than “okay”; it was good common sense shown by Chiefs’ coach, Andy Reid.  That game meant nothing to the Chiefs; they would be the overall #1 seed in the playoffs win or lose.  That game meant nothing to the Chargers; they would miss the playoffs win or lose.  Everyone expected and accepted that the Chiefs would be playing the JV that day.

So, the Eagles now join the other six NFL teams that are seeking new head coaches.  The attractiveness of the Eagles’ job depends almost entirely on whether Carson Wentz is “fixable”.  He has a huge contract that will make him difficult to trade even to a team that is convinced that he is “fixable”.  If he is neither tradeable nor fixable, the Eagles are headed for a bad stretch over the next several  years.  Stay tuned…

Down at the collegiate level, the University of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh reached an agreement on a contract extension there; the extension runs through the end of the 2025 season.  Here is what is unusual about this contract extension:

  • Harbaugh had one year left on his current deal and that called for an $8M salary.
  • The new contract calls for him to earn $4M in 2021 with incentives that could get him back to the $8M level.
  • It will cost Michigan $4M to buy Harbaugh out this year but that figure goes down by $1M a year to the end of the deal.
  • It will cost Harbaugh $2M to buy himself out this year and that figure goes down by $500K a year to the end of the deal.

No matter how you look at it, Jim Harbaugh retained his job but took a massive pay cut in the process.  His “old deal” began in 2014 and was to end at the completion of next season; his “new deal” runs an extra 4 years but at about half the previous rate.  That does not happen frequently in the coaching profession; normally a coach in that situation is fired – – or at best he and the school “mutually agree to go in different directions.”

When Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, he was the conquering hero returning home to the place where he saw success on the field for the Wolverines.  He was the guy who would lead the team to previous heights – – then beyond them.  More than merely the “Buzz Lightyear of Michigan football” (“To infinity and beyond!”), Jim Harbaugh was “The Football Messiah” in Ann Arbor back in 2014.  Now, he is a coach who kept his job by taking a 50% pay cut…

The incentives in his contract – – if achieved – – would allow Harbaugh to be –  once again –  one of the highest paid coaches in the country.  So, let us look at what it would take to get him into the rarefied air of more than $8M a year:

  • Win the Big 10 title – – almost certainly meaning wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State in the process.
  • Be selected for the CFP
  • Win the National Championship
  • Be named Coach of the Year.

Now, let me look at the recent fortunes of Michigan football in juxtaposition to that list of goals for the program:

  • The Wolverines are 11-10 in their last 21 games.
  • Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State
  • Michigan has lost its last 4 bowl games – – none of them even close to the stature of the CFP bowl games.

Nothing in those contract incentives is impossible.  Having lofty goals is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, my guess is that Harbaugh and the Michigan football program should be humming the tune of an old Frank Sinatra song:

“He’s got high hopes; he’s got high hopes

He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes…”

Finally, given the status of the Eagles’ fortunes and the Michigan football situation, it seems appropriate to close here with the definition of optimism provided by the journalist and writer, Ambrose Bierce:

Optimism:  The doctrine that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong.  It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.”

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

 

 

Sports Media Overreaction

I want to spend today considering “media overreaction”.  There seems to be an inability to take an event and look at it analytically/dispassionately and then report on its meaning and its place in the gestalt of the moment.  Rather than treating many events in that manner, the more likely path for the story to follow is to report it; blow it out of proportion and then move on to the next “breaking news”.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, we deal with sports; therefore, I will refrain today from any remarks about all the “breaking news” that comes to us on those cable channels that try to represent themselves as “news outlets” when, in fact, they spend most of their time creating and pushing a narrative of their own and then reporting on events in a way to fit their chosen narrative. Today I just want to focus on a singular instance of a sports event and its overblown coverage.

The event took place just after the Washington WTFs beat the Eagles in Week 17 of the NFL season and Chase Young “pranced” off the field shouting that he wanted Tom Brady and that he was coming for Tom Brady – – referring to the playoff game that was to take place the following week.  Far too many sports outlets took that event and ran with it – – in a variety of directions.

  • Direction #1:  This is a brash young man who does not know what he is getting himself into by calling out “The GOAT”.  Be careful what you wish for, young man…
  • Direction #2:  This is a demonstration of his leadership qualities; it is why he was named as a team captain in his first year; we should lump him in with historical figures such as General Patton in terms of leadership qualities…
  • Direction #3:  This is what you expect from a great player – – parentheses Chase Young is a great player – – and he is following in the footsteps of great defensive players in the past on his way to glory…

Just maybe, the more accurate “direction” for this story to have taken would have been that this is a 21-year-old young man who is exuberant and who realized in that moment that he and his team had made the playoffs and he knew that he would face the Bucs and Tom Brady the next week.   And what he did on his way to the locker room was not a momentous event; it was the venting of his exuberance – be it rational or irrational exuberance.  (Hat Tip to Alan Greenspan)

Frankly, I think all three of those storyline vectors above are flawed in some way but #3 is either wishful thinking on the part of the commentators or idolatry on their part.  Having seen Chase Young play in most of his NFL games, let me offer a dispassionate assessment of his position in the hierarchy of great NFL defensive players past and present:

  • First, it is too early to know if he belongs in the pantheon of great defensive players.  Having said that, he is awfully good, and he gives great effort on every play.  I doubt that there is any team in the league that would not be happy to have him on its roster for 2021 and subsequent years.
  • Now, I have heard his name put in the same context and even in the same sentence with Ray Lewis and Reggie White.  And that is where I get off this train.  Perhaps about a decade into the future, Chase Young will have earned his place in that sort of conversation, but to put him there now is premature idolatry on the part of the person(s) making the comparison.

Let us take a quick peek at the stats…

  • As a 21-year-old rookie, Chase Young played in 15 regular season games.  He had 7.5 sacks, 32 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles and 12 QB Hits.
  • He also played in that one playoff game he was so exuberant about.  In that game he was much closer to a “non-factor” than he was to an NFL legend; he had 1 solo tackle and 2 assisted tackles and was on the field for 65 defensive plays.
  • That’s all there is…

So far, Chase Young is not remotely in the class of the best of the elite defensive players in NFL history such as Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Mean Joe Greene and/or Deacon Jones.  Any continuation of this sort of idolatry runs the risk of labeling Young as a “guy who never reached his potential” which would be unfortunate because he did show enough to indicate that he will be a very good NFL defensive player at the very least.

The same thing goes for great leadership skills.  Skipping off the field one time and “calling out Tom Brady” one time does not put him in the same class with Ray Lewis, Sam Mills, London Fletcher or Brian Urlacher.  Give this guy some time and some room to do something that exhibits REAL leadership before anointing him as a great leader.

A former colleague of mine often made this distinction between management and leadership; he said:

“Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.”

I do not think that is a perfect distinction/delineation, but it is part of the essence of leadership along with a dose of an ability to inspire others to perform at maximum level.  Chase Young played well in 2021; as I said, he would be welcome on all 32 NFL rosters.  But other than a lot of hopping around and rah-rah demonstrations and photobombing others, I did not see anything that suggested – –  “Ray Lewis”.

Finally, Albert Einstein – someone who was and still is idolized to some degree by a segment of the population – had this to say about idolatry:

“Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Tommy Lasorda

Tommy Lasorda died over the weekend at the age of 93.  He was originally signed by the Phillies as a minor league player but then released.  The then-Brooklyn Dodgers picked him up in the late 1940s and he spent the rest of his life with the Dodgers’ organization save for one year when he was sold or traded 3 times and wound up back with the Dodgers.  From there he became their coach or manager from 1973 to 1996.  After retiring from baseball, he became a de facto ambassador for the sport itself.

Rest in peace, Tommy Lasorda.

Even though that introductory note is somewhat dispiriting, let me stick to the topic of baseball this morning.  MLB has been on hiatus for two-and-a-half months since the end of the World Series in October.  In “normal times” we would be about a month away from “pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training” and there would have already been a lot of trades and free agent signings on the books by now.  That is not nearly the case in January 2021; there have been two “significant” trades and a free agent signing or two, but much of the expected news from the “Hot Stove League” has been silent.

The “party line” for the 2021 MLB season is that it will start on April 1st and will run for a full 162 games.  That pronouncement was made last July even before the truncated 2020 season began.  A lot has happened since then and we have – presumably – learned a thing or two about “staging sporting events in a pandemic” since then.  There has been talk of delaying the start of the season until May and playing only 120 – 140 games for the regular season.  Naturally, the players’ union opposes that proposal so there is still some uncertainty as to when the season will begin and how long it will run.

[Aside:  I swear that the MLBPA would oppose a cancer cure if the MLB owners “invented” it and the MLB owners would do the same if the situation were reversed.]

Allow me to toss another coal into the “Hot Stove” here and cite an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

Waiting game: Major League Baseball is taking its time deciding whether the National League will use the designated hitter this season, making it difficult for teams to know whom to acquire. It’s as if Commissioner Rob Manfred is begging for more bad publicity.”

In that backdrop of uncertainty, there have been two offseason trades labeled as “blockbusters”, one other trade that could be interesting in retrospective and a lot of hemming-and-hawing on the free agent market:

  • “Blockbuster” #1:  This move is actually two moves that were made so close in time that they appear to have been part of a grand scheme.  The San Diego Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Rays and Yu Darvish from the Cubs in about 24 hours.  The Padres sent 4 prospects to the Rays for Snell and four more prospects to the Cubs for Darvish.  [Aside:  The Padres also signed a highly sought-after Korean infielder, Ha-Seong Kim.]  It would appear that the Padres are taking aim at the Dodgers’ hegemony in the NL West.  Interestingly, these moves might make it seem as if other teams in the NL West are far off the pace.  If that is the case, might that lead the Rockies to want to trade Nolan Arenado?  Now, that would produce a “blockbuster” swap…
  • “Blockbuster” #2:  The Mets acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Indians for two minor leaguers and two young players who have been OK for the Mets at the major-league level but nothing more than that.  It is hard for me to think that this is much more than a salary dump by the Indians because the talent levels of the players involved are not nearly in balance.
  • Potentially interesting trade:  The Nats acquired Josh Bell from the Pirates.  Bell had a disappointing season – to say the least – in 2020 but he made the All-Star team in 2019 and he is only 28 years old.  To acquire Bell, the Nats gave up two minor league pitchers.  Is Bell an “All-Star caliber player” or was 2019 a mirage?  Could be interesting…

There are more than a hundred free agents out there who remain unsigned.  Some of them will fade into oblivion as their careers come to an end, but there are plenty of valuable assets out there on the market – – and we are theoretically only a month away from the start of Spring Training.  I will list here only a dozen that I think should be interesting to more than a few teams:

  1. Trevor Bauer – Starting pitcher
  2. Jackie Bradly Jr. – Outfielder
  3. Alex Colome – Reliever
  4. Didi Gregorius – Shortstop
  5. DJ LaMehieu – Second baseman
  6. Jake Odorizzi – Starting pitcher
  7. Marcel Ozuna – Outfielder
  8. JT Realmuto – Catcher
  9. George Springer – Outfielder
  10. Marcus Stroman – Starting pitcher
  11. Masahiro Tanaka – Starting Pitcher
  12. Justin Turner – Third baseman

We are fast approaching the time when Scott Boras will emerge from wherever he spends his time to announce that the lack of offers in the free agent marketplace – – particularly the lack of offers to his clients – – is proof positive of owner collusion. If history is a guide, he will offer hearsay evidence at best to support his collusion theories and the baseball writers will report them lending various levels of credulity to them.  And then they will evaporate until late next January…

Finally, let me close today with a note from longtime Dodgers’ infielder, Steve Garvey, about Tommy Lasorda:

“Lasorda’s standard reply when some new kid would ask directions to the whirlpool was to tell him to stick his foot in the toilet and flush it.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/8/21

After two aberrant weeks where Holidays intervened to disrupt things here in Curmudgeon Central, Football Friday is once again coinciding with Friday on the calendar.  F. Scott Fitzgerald told us never to accept a single defeat as a final defeat.  He was right; simply through perseverance, Football Friday and the common calendar have come back into sync.

Therefore, let me begin with a look back on last week’s Six-Pack.  It was another plain vanilla performance which makes it all but certain that this year’s cumulative record in Six-Pack selections will be less than .500.

  • College: 2-2-0
  • NFL:  2-2-0
  • Combined:  4-4-0
  • Money Line Parlay:  0-1

That brings the cumulative record for Six-Pack selections to:

  • College:  19-24-1
  • NFL:  28-34-2
  • Combined:  47-58-3\
  • Money Line Parlays:  0-2

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Texas fired Tom Herman and found a way to cough up $24M to buy out his contract.  Texas football has lots of booster money at its disposal and Texas boosters seem not to be able to live with a successful football program that does not go beyond that level and become a dominant football program.  Herman was the coach at Texas for 4 seasons; his teams registered a combined record of 32-18; he was the “hottest”/”sexiest” coaching hire on the market back in 2017; now winning about 2 of every 3 games is not enough…

Texas alums love to crow – after spending a lot of money and landing a “top-shelf new coach” – that Texas football is back.  Maybe that will be the case this time; I will wait to see how the “new guy” makes that happen…

The “new guy” will be Steve Sarkissian who got the job on two bases:

  1. He is the offensive coordinator for Alabama and the Alabama offense is more than merely “very good”.
  2. He has cleansed many – if not all – of the stains on his previous coaching résumé in the penitence chamber of Nick Saban’s assistant coaches.

Steve Sarkissian may indeed be the second coming of Darrel Royal in Austin; time and results will decide if that is to be the case.  However, let me suggest that you read this assessment of the hire from CBSSports.com.

What college football has left to present to its fans is a CFP Championship Game.  Alabama and Ohio State will give college football fans a contest that is worthy of viewing and  analysis.  What happened last week in the CFP semi-finals was also an important presentation of college football; fans saw a lot of top-shelf college football players putting maximum effort out there for 60 minutes; nobody was “dogging it”; fans of college football – – as opposed to fans of a single team or a single conference – – got something they could appreciate.

Now, look at the rest of the bowl games for 2020/2021.  There were fewer of them this year because COVID-19 mandated that there would be fewer of them.  And, even with a smaller set of games to fill, how many of them were either important or interesting?

  • Georgia 24 Cincy 21:  This was interesting because Cincy is not a Power 5 team and Georgia is one of the better teams in the best of the Power 5 Conferences.  The Bearcats had been undefeated going into the game; this game was meaningful, and it was competitive.
  • Oklahoma 55 Florida 20:  This game matched two “also-rans” near the top of two Power 5 conferences.
  • Oklahoma St. 37 Miami 34:  This game was between two good-if-not-great teams and it produced a close contest.
  • Liberty 37 Coastal Carolina 34 (OT):  These are two teams that are not in Power 5 conferences who brought a combined record of 20-1 to the kickoff and then delivered an OT game for the fans.

The rest of the bowl games – – and there were dozens more – – were either not competitive or not important.  I bring this up only to suggest that the cries you will hear and read about expanding the CFP from 4 teams to 8 teams are not interesting.  This year, I might entertain an argument that Texas A&M belonged in the CFP as opposed to Notre Dame.  The Aggies won their bowl game over UNC handily.  But that is where it ends.  Yes, I know that in March Madness we finally saw a #16-seed beat a #1-seed.  But did we REALLY enjoy watching all of the blowout games pairing those teams for all those years?

One last observation about this year’s bowl games:

  • The ACC record as a conference was 0-6.  Not impressive…

 

College Game of Interest:

 

(Mon Nite) Alabama – 8 versus Ohio State (75):  Nick Saban traditionally has been a “defensive guy”; this year his defense has not been outstanding – – merely 32nd in the country in yards per game allowed and 13th in the country in points per game allowed.  This year, the Alabama offense has the spotlight, and it puts 48 points per game on the scoreboard.  Instead of offensive coaches trying to find ways to “trick” the Alabama defense into a mistake or two in a game, this year’s opposing offensive coaches have to be concerned about keeping pace with the Alabama scoring machine.  From what I have seen, the Buckeyes have the speed on offense to do that AND they have a QB who can direct a big-play offense with poise and talent.  Will Justin Fields be at his peak physically after suffering a chest/rib injury a week ago and being sent back into the game with a “couple of shots” and “no diagnosis”?  Ohio State is +250 on the Money Line; Alabama is minus-270 on the Money Line.  I will try for a “middle” here where I bet on both teams and hope to win both bets.  I like Ohio State + 8 points AND I like Alabama on the Money Line.  If the Crimson Tide wins by 7 or fewer points, I cash both bets.  Put that pairing in the Six-Pack.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Last week, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Hardware: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s MVP; Buffalo’s Sean McDermott is Coach of the Year. No arguments will be entertained.”

Pardon me, Professor Molinaro; I do have two nominees to enter into this discussion and I believe that both merit consideration for these awards.  If Aaron Rodgers and Sean McDermott ultimately wind up with the awards, I shall have no great sense of loss.  I will not say the voting was rigged nor will I be so appalled by the choices that I would contest the voting process itself.  Having said that:

  1. Derrick Henry needs to be considered as the NFL MVP for 2020.  If you use the criterion of “best player for the season”, Henry’s 2000+ yards speak for themselves rather eloquently.  If you use the criterion of “most valuable to his team”, I suggest that the Titans would not be in the playoffs without his presence in the backfield and his 397 “touches” in the 2020 regular season.
  2. Kevin Stefanski needs to be considered as the NFL Coach of the Year.  He took over a Browns’ team that clearly lacked adult supervision and despite his “youth” (he is 38 years old), Stefanski got the Browns to a 11-5 record and a place in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.  The last time the Browns won 11 games in the regular season was in 1994; you may have heard of the coach on the 1994 Browns’ team; it was Bill Belichick.

The NFC playoff teams present us with the possibilities of seeing Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady playing against one another this year as the games unfold.  Even in Curmudgeon Central, there are no complaints about watching any or all those potential games.

Teams fight and claw to make it to the playoffs through the NFL regular season.  Well, we have an expanded playoff set this year and maybe it makes sense to try to understand what these playoffs mean to some of the teams and players who are still playing:

  • The Titans and Browns are in the playoffs this year.  They are the only two teams making the playoffs this year that have never won a Super Bowl game.  The Titans have been to the Super Bowl once; the Browns – in neither of their incarnations – have ever participated.
  • Lamar Jackson has never won a playoff game having made the playoffs in both of his previous 2 seasons in the NFL.  The Ravens bring a five-game winning streak to the kickoff against the Titans.  That is the good news; the bad news is that those five wins came at the expense of the Cowboys, Browns, Jaguars, Giants and Bengals. The Titans should provide stiffer competition this week.
  • The Bills have won six games in a row and all six victories were of the double-digit variety.  Josh Allen threw 15 TDs and two picks in those winning games. The victims in those last 6 wins by the Bills were the Rams, Niners, Steelers, Broncos, Patriots and Dolphins.
  • The Browns last playoff win came in January 1995.  Their QB this week, Baker Mayfield, was not born until April 1995.

These playoffs could very well mean a lot for some NFL coaches – in addition to what the game might mean to players and franchises.  Consider:

  • Bruce Arians (Bucs):  He is an “offensive coach” and this year he was presented with Tom Brady, Gronk and Antonio Brown in addition to what he had last year.  I suggest the team had better score points.
  • John Harbaugh (Ravens):  He is in no danger of getting fired, but his reputation will not be enhanced even a little bit with a 3rd consecutive first-round playoff loss.
  • Sean McDermott (Bills):  He has lost his only two playoff games in the first round of the playoffs – – just like John Harbaugh has lost in the last two years.   The huge difference here is that Harbaugh has a Super Bowl ring and McDermott does not.
  • Matt Nagy (Bears):  Making the playoffs is likely a “coaching career reprieve” for him – – unless the Bears are embarrassed by the Saints this weekend…

Speaking of the Bills and their appearance in this year’s NFL playoffs, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“In addition to game tickets, parking and antifreeze, the 6,772 fans allowed in to watch the Bills’ first playoff game will be required to pay $63 for a COVID-19 test on the way in.

“Make it an even $100, rumor has it, and they’ll even throw in a Dr. Fauci bobblehead.”

Last weekend was the grand crescendo for the NFL regular season.  Let me mark the occasion by presenting some thumbnail comments on some – but not all – of last week’s games.

The Falcons did not force the Bucs to punt even once in their 44-27 loss last week.  The Falcons have lots of work to do in the off-season on both offense and defense.

The Cards are another team with work to do in the offseason.  They finished the season at 8-8 losing last week to the Rams quarterbacked by John Wolford in his first ever NFL start.  Since their BYE Week in early November, the Cards went 3-6.  Those three wins were:

  • The “Hail Mary win over the Bills”
  • A win over the NY Giants
  • A win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • Not impressive…

The Dolphins’ defense disappeared last week giving up 56 points to the Bills.  Was the Dolphins’ “Top-10 Defense” from Weeks 1-15 a mirage?

What do the Jets need to do in the offseason.  They need upgrades everywhere.  They have lots of picks this year and plenty of cap space – – that is good news for Jets fans.  Now, those picks and free agent signings must be productive…

The Pats very simply need to find a new QB AND they need to upgrade their pass catching cadre significantly.  There is no coaching legerdemain or scheming that will overcome those deficiencies.

The Jags are going to take Trevor Lawrence with the overall #1 pick in the Draft, but he will not be able to help the Jags’ defense which gave up 492 points this year.  The Jags have the Rams’ pick in the first round too and that one had better deliver a defensive stud.

Can Derrick Henry carry the miserable Titans’ defense through the playoffs?  He had 250 yards rushing by himself last week; and yet, the Titans needed a doinked field-goal to provide a 41-28 win over the Texans who went 4-12 for the season.

The Ravens beat the Bengals 38-3 and have won 5 straight games; the Ravens have been dominant in all 5 of those games.  The Ravens ran for 404 yards last week against the Bengals; of course, they won that game handily.  Two things here:

  1. It is tough to beat a team that can dominate the line of scrimmage like that.
  2. Most playoff teams have a better run defense than the Bengals – – except maybe the Titans’ defense which is pretty miserable.

The Niners just need to get their starters healthy in the off-season.  They were playing with one hand tied behind their back for most of the year.  The team has talent; much of it was on the sidelines this year – – or up in the press box socially distanced – – and in street clothes.

The Eagles need to repair coach/player trust – – some of which had to have been lost when Nate Sudfeld was sent in to play the 4th quarter of last week’s game.

With all the focus on the miserableness evinced by the NFC East, the Bears enter the playoffs with some less-than-outstanding credentials.  The Bears went 8-8; they had a six- game losing streak during the season; if I have counted correctly, they have played other playoff teams 7 times and have gone 1-6 in those 7 games.  But at least, they are in the playoffs instead of sitting at home watching on TV.

The Raiders need to shore up their defense.  They are pretty much good-to-go at QB, RB, TE and WR.  The other side of the ball needs a talent infusion – – a large dose of new talent.

The Chargers may be searching for a new coach, but they have their franchise QB under contract.  Justin Herbert is the real deal.

The Lions are out looking for a new coach and the team is rumored to be considering a trade for Matthew Stafford.  I do not know if fans should be thrilled about that or not, but I think Matthew Stafford should be elated.

 

NFL Games:

 

(Sat 1:00 PM EST)  Indy at Buffalo – 6 (51):  The Colts’ defense was a Top 3 defense for the early part of this season, but it has become middling-at-best over the last month or so.  That is not a good way to approach a game against a Bills’ offense that is rocking and rolling.  I noted above that the Bills have won 6 games in a row by double digits; in those 6 victories, the Bills have averaged 39.8 points per game.  The Colts’ QB, Philip Rivers, is certainly the more experienced QB particularly in the playoffs; but his record in playoff games is not eye-popping.  He has started 11 games in the playoffs and won only 5 of them; in those 11 playoff games, he has thrown 14 TDs and 10 INTs.  The Colts’ rookie RB, Jonathan Taylor, has seemingly overcome his fumbling issues from earlier this season; he has rushed for 1169 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie.  The key here is the ability of the Colts’ defense to keep the Bills from sprinting out to a big lead; I do not think they will do that; I like the Bills to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sat 4:30 PM EST):  Rams at Seattle – 3 (42):  These teams met twice in the regular season; this will be the rubber match; the home team prevailed in both regular season encounters.  Jared Goff’s thumb injury happened in the second game against the Seahawks two weeks ago; the small spread on the game indicates to me that the oddsmakers and the bettors to date believe that Goff will be able to play here.  The Rams’ defense has been successful against the Seahawks this year holding them to only 18 points per game in those two outings.  The Seahawks’ defense was awful at the beginning of the regular season, but that defense has been mighty stingy since mid-November giving up only 16.0 points per game in the final 8 regular season games.  I expect the game to be dominated by the two defenses but that Total Line seems awfully low to me; I’ll take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST)  Tampa Bay – 8.5 at Washington (44.5):  This spread varies from 8 points to 9.5 points from sportsbook to sportsbook; this is the most common line as of this morning.  If there is a merciful God, the announcers for this game will not harp on the Chase Young “calling out” of Tom Brady after the WTFs beat the Eagles last weekend to clinch this playoff spot.  It was not worth the coverage it got last weekend; it became silly reporting early this week; it is now annoying, and I hope it is not a central storyline Saturday night.  [Aside:  Fat chance…]  This is an opportunity for the WTFs’ young defense to present themselves; the Bucs’ offense has plenty of talent; can the young defense hold it down?  The last time the WTFs’ defense gave up more than 20 points in a game was on November 15th.  If you look at the Bucs’ offense, you will notice that it has averaged over 40 points per game in the last 3 games and that Tom Brady has thrown for a total of 1137 yards in those 3 games.  That may lead you to conclude that the WTFs’ defense is simply overmatched.  But wait; those last 3 games for the Bucs have been against the Falcons (twice) and the Lions.  I believe I have tracked this down correctly:

  • I believe this is the first time in his career that Tom Brady has been in a playoff game in the wildcard round where he has been on the road.
  • Tom Brady has started 301 regular season games and 41 playoff games in his career.  There are not a lot of “firsts” that he encounters these days…

The QB situation for the WTFs is “tenuous”.  Alex Smith is competent and fragile; Taylor Heinicke is getting reps in practice with the starting unit.  Is he going to be part of the game or is that a ploy to make the Bucs’ defensive coaches prep for something that is not going to happen?  No matter; the WTFs are not going to win this game if it turns into a shoot-out.  I think the game will stay close; I think the Bucs will win but they will have to work to make that happen; I’ll take the WTFs plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun 1:00 PM EST)  Baltimore – 3 at Tennessee (54):  Can the Ravens’ defense stop Derrick Henry?  No.  Can they keep him in check such that the Ravens’ offense has a chance to work on a porous Titans’ defense?  That is the key to the game…  Both teams would prefer to run the ball down the throat of the opponent; both teams should be successful to a point doing that.  The Titans have beaten the Ravens the last two times they met – – including in last season’s playoffs where the Ravens were sent home after a dominant regular season.  I think Lamar Jackson will have a big game here and break his “playoff jinx”. I like the Ravens to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun 4:40 PM EST)  Chicago at New Orleans – 10.5 (47.5):  From Week 13 through Week 16, the Bears’ offense seemed to awake from hibernation; in those 4 games, the Bears were north of 30 points every week and averaged 35 points per game.  It was a mirage.  Here are the defenses that were torched by the Bears in that 4-game run:

  1. Lions
  2. Texans
  3. Vikings
  4. Jags

Three of those four teams were bad enough this year that they are out looking for new coaches as I type these words.  Mitchell Trubisky will have difficulty against a good Saints’ defense; he will need all the help he can get from RB, David Montgomery.  By the same token, the Saints’ offense will not waltz up and down the field over the Bears’ defense because the Bears will probably collapse the defense and dare Drew Brees to beat it deep.  I do not think he can do that too often.  I hate picking double digit spreads in NFL games; in the regular season, this game would never show up in a Six-PackBut since these are the playoffs, I’ll make an exception; I’ll take the Bears plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun 8:15 PM EST)  Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 6 (47.5):  Can the Browns beat Steelers two weeks in a row?  The Steelers lost by 2 points in Cleveland last week without the services of Ben Roethlisberger, TJ Watt, Cam Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey.  Nevertheless, the Steelers have problems that have been exposed over the past five weeks where they have gone 1-4 to finish off the regular season.

  • The Steelers do not run the ball well.
  • The Steelers do not throw deep well.
  • The Steelers lead the NFL in “dropped passes”.

If the Steelers are to win this game, it will likely be on the backs of their defense – – but that unit has had more than its share of injuries to top-shelf players  Devin Bush and Bud Dupree jump to mind there.  On the other hand, the Browns’ loss of Olivier Vernon will not help their defense.  Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski will have to miss the game under the COVID-19 protocols; given that I think he belongs in the discussion for Coach of the Year (see above), I believe that will be a significant issue.  I do not expect any offensive fireworks in this game; the Browns will try to pound the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt; the Steelers will dink-and-dunk far more often than they will do anything else.  In the end, I think the Steelers are the better team and they will have their coach on the sidelines; I’ll take the Steelers to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.

Just for fun, I want to try one more Money Line Parlay this week.  Give me:

  1. Alabama at minus-270
  2. Bills at minus-300
  3. Ravens at minus-180
  4. WTFs at + 300.

The payout here will be +850 – – if I did the math correctly.

So, let me review the Six-Pack:

  • Ohio State +8
  • Alabama on the Money Line at minus-270
  • Bills – 6 over Colts
  • Rams/Seahawks OVER 42
  • WTFs +8.5 against Bucs
  • Ravens – 3 over Titans
  • Bears +10.5 against Saints
  • Steelers – 6 over Browns
  • Money Line Parlay of Alabama, Bills, Ravens, WTFs

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation regarding one of this year’s minor bowl games in the Seattle Times last week:

“Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz — while dancing with the Duke’s Mayo Bowl crystal trophy after the Badgers’ 42-28 win over Wake Forest — fumbled it onto the locker-room floor, shattering it into hundreds of pieces.

“No need to tell this to Mertz when the replacement bauble finally arrives: Don’t hold the Mayo.”

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

 

 

Football And Baseball Today

There are 15 finalists (as players) for the Pro Football Hall of Fame who will be presented to the Selection Committee just before this year’s Super Bowl game.  The HoF bylaws limit induction classes to between four and eight.  Here is the entire list; the ones in Bold are the ones I would vote for:

  1. Jared Allen – – Defensive end
  2. Ronde Barber – – Cornerback/safety
  3. Tony Boselli – – Offensive tackle
  4. LeRoy Butler – – Safety
  5. Alan Faneca – – Offensive guard
  6. Tory Holt – – Wide receiver
  7. Calvin Johnson – – Wide receiver
  8. John Lynch – – Safety
  9. Peyton Manning – – QB
  10. Clay Matthews, Jr. – – Linebacker
  11. Sam Mills – – Linebacker
  12. Richard Seymour – – Defensive tackle/end
  13. Zach Thomas – – Linebacker
  14. Reggie Wayne – – Wide receiver
  15. Charles Woodson – – Cornerback/safety

Another NFL related item floating around in the world ether recently is that the league is seriously considering expanding to a 17-game regular season next year.  Evidently, that possibility came about the last time the league and the NFLPA negotiated over the existing CBA; I must admit that I missed that point at the time – – or maybe my memory is approaching advanced age.  In any event, the motivation for such a move is transparent; the owners did not make a lot of money in 2020 thanks to COVID-19.  I doubt that any of the owners will be qualifying for food stamps any time soon, but the reduced revenues combined with expanded costs likely put some teams in the red for 2020; adding a regular season game adds another weekend of television programming which will immediately increase revenue.  I doubt that anyone is “playing a long game” here; I think this is purely about revenue.

At the same time – – and probably as a tip of the cap to player health and safety – – the story is that the NFL would cut the Exhibition Season from four games to two games.  While this might decrease revenues a tad, the TV revenue from a 17th regular season game would surely offset that reduction several times over.  Fans must applaud that “trade off”; an extra game that means something in exchange for two meaningless games.

The other schedule adjustment for next year might be shifting the Super Bowl from the first Sunday in February to the second Sunday in February.  There could be a social problem with that move.

  • When February begins on a Saturday – as it happens to do this year – the second Sunday of February would be February 14th.
  • Super Bowl Sunday will coincide with Valentine’s Day.
  • My long-suffering wife and I have been married for almost 55 years.  Valentine’s Day is not nearly as big a deal for us now as compared to 55 years ago.
  • Such may not be the case for more than a few younger folks where such an overlap of “important days” might cause significant relationship strain.

In the world of MLB, the White Sox new manager, Tony LaRussa pleaded down his DUI arrest to a charge of reckless driving.  He served 1-day of house arrest, paid a fine of $1400 and will do 20 hours of community service as punishment for the incident.  Once the case was resolved, LaRussa’s lawyer said that his client “did not have a drinking problem.”  I am not qualified to diagnose people who “have a drinking problem” but I would note that this is LaRussa’s second DUI arrest over a period of more than 10 years.  Some folks may think that is an “issue”; others may think that is “problem”; tomato; tomahto.

Another baseball happenstance involving “blood analysis” is that Mets’ infielder, Robinson Cano will be suspended for the entire 2021 season for testing positive for a PED (stanozolol).  This is Cano’s second positive test; the first was in 2018.  The fact of a second positive test is the reason behind the full-season suspension – and his forfeiture of his $24M salary for 2021.  [Aside: I do not know if his suspension is for a season or for 162 games.  That issue might be important if the 2021 MLB season is truncated somewhere below the normal 162 games.]

Cano’s contract runs through the end of the 2023 season at $24M per year.  At some point, he will return to the Mets and create a decision for them to make.  Assuming that Spring Training for the 2022 season begins at the normal time in 2022, Cano will report to the team at age 39.  He has been with the Mets for 2 seasons – – 2020 was a truncated season – – and his combined stats for those two years covers 156 games for him.  That is awfully close to a single season of participation.  His combined stats for those 156 games with the Mets, Cano had a batting average of .275 and an OBP of .321.  He hit 23 home runs, scored 69 runs and drove in 69 runs.  Those stats covered years when he was 36 and 37 years old…

By the way, if those are the stats that came along with PED use, Cano might consider asking his pharmacist for a rebate…

Finally, having mentioned Tony LaRussa’s interactions with alcohol above, let me close with this comment from poet, Dylan Thomas:

“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.”

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

 

 

The NFL Coaching Game Of Musical Chairs

It would appear as if six NFL teams will be looking for a new coach for next season.  I say “it would appear as if” because there might be a seventh team in the coaching market if negative player reaction to the Eagles’ embarrassing “strategic decisions” from last Sunday nights persists and grows.  But for now, here are the potential buyers in the coaching market:

  1. Chargers
  2. Falcons
  3. Jaguars
  4. Jets
  5. Lions
  6. Texans

An interesting way to look at this “marketplace” is to examine the jobseekers.  There are three categories of coaching candidates this year as is the case every year:

  1. Former NFL head coaches who have been fired from previous jobs and who have rehabilitated their résumés in some fashion.
  2. Current assistant coaches/coordinators whose current teams excel in the phase of the game under control of the candidate.
  3. “Hot” college coaches eager to step up to the pro level.

One of the former NFL coaches whose name has been floated about in this coaching cycle is Jim Caldwell.  Should he land a job this time around, he will make NFL history.  Caldwell was the coach of the Detroit Lions from 2014 through 2017.  Here is the historic mark he could make if he gets a job with any of the 6 teams in the market:

  • Since the merger of the NFL and the AFL in 1970, no head coach fired by the Detroit Lions has ever gotten another head coaching job in the NFL.

The Lions and their head coaches for the last 50 years have been a mess.  At the time of the merger, Joe Schmidt was the coach; he left in 1972 and in his 6-year tenure, the Lions won more games than they lost.  Since 1972 here are the Detroit Lions head coaches who have posted a winning record:

  • Gary Moeller:  His record was 4-3 after taking over the job in mid-season in 2000.
  • Jim Caldwell:  His record was 36-28 in his 4-year tenure.

That’s the list, folks.

The current assistant coaches/coordinators are a list of the “usual suspects”.  Their names have been on the grapevine all season long.  The closest thing to a “surprise entry” on the list is Joe Brady.  He has been an assistant in the NFL for only 1 year after a spectacular season as the offensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers won the CFP championship.  Brady is only 31 years old; if he gets a job in this cycle, it would be a rapid ascension up the ladder of the coaching profession.

The “hot college coach” for this year is actually a “hot former college coach” who has been on TV for the last two years – – Urban Meyer.  Rumor has it that the Jaguars and the Chargers have Meyer on their radar and that Meyer’s agent is seeking a multi-year deal worth $12M per year plus incentives.  Urban Meyer has been a winner – – a big winner – – in all of his collegiate jobs; that is the reason his agent could make such contractual demands with a straight face – – if in fact the rumors are true, and the agent actually did that.  Here are a couple of significant differences between a college head coaching job and an NFL head coaching job that would give me pause before I hired a college coach to a “multi-year deal at $12M per”:

  • College coaches get to pick the players they want.  Coaches go and schmooze parents and players to get top shelf talent; coaches who can do that successfully about 15 times a year are pretty much assured of success.  Not so in the NFL; a coach may covet a player and the Draft will assign that player to another team; the coach is powerless to “change the player’s mind”.
  • There is no salary cap in college football.
  • In college, the coach has imperial power.  For example, if he does not want players or assistant coaches to give interviews, he can make that rule and enforce it with suspensions and/or playing time.  In the NFL, the CBA requires players to be available to the press; a coach who does not like that will have to submit to that rule.  His “powers” are limited by higher authority.

None of this is to say that Urban Meyer – – or any other “hot” collegiate coach – – cannot adapt to the NFL situation very quickly.  Matt Rhule made the necessary adaptations with the Panthers this season, but Rhule is not getting $12M per year.

Instead of pontificating as to which team should select which coaching candidate, I think the more interesting mental exercise is to look at the jobs and think about which job is the best one for the jobseekers to chase.  If you believe that the only road to success in the NFL is to have a bona fide franchise QB in hand, then the Jags and Chargers rush to the top of the list.  The Jags have the first pick in next year’s draft and Trevor Lawrence looks to me to be the best QB to come out of college since Andrew Luck in 2012.  Meanwhile, the Chargers have Justin Herbert under contract and his rookie year makes it clear that he is a franchise QB.

If you believe that the best way to turn a team’s fortunes around is to radically change the roster, then the Jets and the Jags become most interesting.  Both teams have 2 first round picks this year and both teams have more than $80M in salary cap room.  That means a roster shuffling is more than possible.  Comparing the Jags and Jets on this dimension brings up an interesting economic difference:

  • Success in the NY/NJ area brings the opportunity for added endorsements and celebrity status.  Success in the NY area also means paying State income tax in either NY or NJ in the 9-10% range.  For a player making $5M a year, that means giving the State authorities $500K per year.
  • Success in Jacksonville does not assure endorsements nor celebrity status nearly to the degree that success does in NY/NJ.  However, the state income tax in Florida is ZERO.

As Samuel L. Jackson is wont to say on the Capital One ads:

“What’s in your wallet?”

Finally, since I mentioned taxes on wealthy young men who play football in the NFL, let me close with this observation from Oscar Wilde:

“Rich bachelors should be heavily taxed.  It is not fair that some men should be happier than others.”

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