Wall to Wall Baseball Today

For the tenth time in a row, the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) have chosen not to enshrine either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I have no interest in rehashing the arguments favoring and/or opposing enshrinement; my position on membership in the Hall of Fame has not changed:

  1. Honorees should be in the Hall of Fame for their achievements on the field.  It should not be personality-driven; it is not a “Gentlemen’s Club”; in fact, it more closely resembles a “Rogues’ Gallery”.
  2. Some players used PEDs in their career meaning that some of their achievements have a partial basis in biochemistry in addition to God-given skills.
  3. Great players who used PEDs – or are credibly suspected of having used PEDs – should be in the Hall of Fame with a statement about those PEDs included on their plaques.

There are several fallouts from the balloting that was revealed yesterday which I find unfortunate.  The Baseball Hall of Fame has been around since 1936; the National League has been around since 1876.  Of all the players ever to take part in a major league baseball game over almost 150 years of existence:

  • Barry Bonds hit more home runs than any other player.
  • Roger Clemens won the Cy Young Award more times than any other player.
  • Pete Rose got more base hits than any other player.
  • AND none of those three players are honored in the Hall of Fame.

On one hand, that does not make me happy; on the other hand, I am not going to generate any excess stomach acid over what I consider to be unfortunate circumstances.  The election process for admission to the Hall of Fame is clear and well-known; none of the three players cited here passed the threshold for admission.  There were no “ballot irregularities”; the election was not “stolen”; the appointed jurors in this matter have rendered their verdict.

While on the subject of players who failed to get into the Hall of Fame yesterday, let me say that I believe the BBWAA voters took into account some other “stuff” beyond PED use in their voting.  Curt Schilling, in his public persona, is not a very likeable hominid; I find some of his pronouncements to be repugnant.  Having said that, Curt Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame based on Reason #1 above.  I probably would not enjoy listening to his enshrinement speech, but my agreement or disagreement with him on political/social issues should be irrelevant in the process of evaluating his accomplishments on a baseball field.

Enough about the Hall of Fame voting…  Last weekend, Dwight Perry had this note in his Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“Only 22 days till pitchers and catchers don’t report.”

I wish I could say that Professor Perry is dead wrong in his pessimism – – but I cannot…

In one other baseball item, The MLB Executive Council has rejected the proposal by the Tampa Bay Rays to have a “split season” with Montreal.  This idea has been percolating for a couple of years; the Executive Council gave the green light to go ahead with planning for such a move.  It was finally put to the Executive Council as a formal proposal and the Executive Council shot it down.  How this came to pass is pretty straightforward:

  • The Rays have not drawn well in their current circumstance for about 20 years.  The cause(s) of that lack of attendance include the stadium itself, the location of the stadium, fan apathy, other things that compete with baseball for leisure time and money…
  • Probably, all those factors are in play.
  • I am aware of two “new stadium sites” in that area which have been proposed and turned down.  There may have been more than two such proposals, but I only recall a proposal to build one on the water in St. Petersburg and another to build one in a historic area in Tampa.
  • The idea of a “split season” would make the Rays’ home games more compelling because it would increase their “scarcity”.

Here are data to keep in mind as you ponder the idea of the Rays “splitting their season” with  another city.  For 2021 here are the average attendance per game figures for the “small market teams” in MLB:

  • Miami Marlins – – 7,934 fans per game – – ranked 30th in MLB
  • Oakland A’s – – 8660 fans per game – – ranked 29th in MLB
  • Tampa Bay Rays – – 9396 fans per game – – ranked 28th in MLB
  • Baltimore Orioles – – 9793 fans per game – – ranked 27th in MLB
  • Every other team drew more than 10,000 fans per game.
  • Twelve MLB teams drew more than 20,000 fans per game.

I have no ties to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area other than to visit there in order to take in Spring Training games in some years.  Therefore, I cannot pretend to know what the answer(s) might be to get the Rays’ attendance to reflect the team’s on-field performance.  The Rays won 100 games last year; they had the best record in the American League by 5 full games.  Viewed from afar, something should be done…

Finally, here is another observation from Dwight Perry:

“The Toronto Maple Leafs, worth $2 billion according to data compiled by Sportico, are the NHL’s most valuable team.

“In other words, the Leafs are raking it in.”

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

 

 

Gruden V. NFL – An Update

A quick reset here…  Jon Gruden was fired by the Raiders after some socially unacceptable emails he authored about a decade ago became public.  Those emails were somehow compiled as part of the investigation into the “toxic work environment” in the Front Office of the Washington Football Team – – under its previous moniker.  Gruden filed suit against the NFL claiming that the release of those emails was “tortious interference” with his coaching contract with the Raiders and that release is what got him fired.

To the surprise of exactly no one with an IQ higher than Bok choy, the NFL filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit citing two fundamental reasons:

  1. The NFL did not leak the emails
  2. As the author of the emails, it was Gruden who is to blame for their content, and it was the content that got him fired.

On the assumption for the moment that Point #1 above is true – and I have no reason to doubt that it is true – it would seem that Gruden’s lawsuit is improperly targeted.  If someone wanted to sue me for releasing a herd of elephants onto the National Mall in Washington DC, there would have to be some evidence of elephants on the Mall and evidence that I had something to do with their presence there.  For the record, I have never been involved with the release of a herd of elephants anywhere on the planet to include the National Mall in Washington DC.

However, someone, somewhere and for reasons not yet fully understood did interfere with Gruden’s contract of employment by making those emails widely known.  If an individual – or individuals – could be tied to the release of those emails, then it would seem that Gruden would have a basis for action.  And again, if Point #1 above is true, then someone likely had or still has access to at least part of the reported 650,000 emails that were collected in the league sponsored investigation of the Washington Football Team Front Office.

It will not surprise me to learn that this specific lawsuit is tossed by the judge.  Nevertheless, I do not think this drama has run its course.  Unlike my “elephant metaphor” above where no one recalls any reporting of an elephant stampede on the Mall, there is clear evidence that Jon Gruden’s emails were leaked to the press.  How and why did that happen?  Recall the TV series, X-Files:

“Mulder, the truth is out there.”

Moving on … The NFL overtime rules have gathered criticism again after the Chiefs won the OT coin toss, took the ball, scored a TD and won last weekend’s game against the Bills without allowing Josh Allen and company to touch the ball.  People have come up with suggested changes to the rule, but all of the suggestions have flaws unto themselves.

One suggestion was to have the home team pick a spot on the field and then for the home team to choose whether or not to play offense or defense from that spot.  That is an interesting gimmick that will send the stat nerds into an orgasmic frenzy calculating new models for how to make those choices; but in the end that is just a new way to do the opening kickoff for the overtime period.  There is a minor flaw in most of the rule proposals that demand both teams touch the ball:

  • The team getting the second possession – assuming the first team scored a TD and now has to defend its goal line only – will play strategically differently on that possession than it has for the entirety of the season up to that point.
  • Punting is not an option; the team on offense will go for it on 4th down anywhere on the field.
  • Defenses will play only to keep the ball out of the end zone and not care a fig about anything else.
  • The game will ultimately be decided in this situation by a game that is not the same game that got the two teams into this situation.

I have a two-pronged proposal.  One of the key elements of my proposal is to maintain the strategy and tactics of the game that were employed in the first three quarters of the game all the way through to the endpoint:

  1. For all regular season games, if the score is tied at the end of 60 minutes of play, the game will go into the books as a tie.
  2. For all playoff games, if the score is tied at the end of 60 minutes, the teams will take a 5-minute break; then there will be a coin toss; then the teams will play a 15-minute period at the end of which a winner will be decided by the score.  If the score is still tied at that point, then there will be another 15-minute period and so on until at the end of a period there is a difference in the score of the two teams.

Ties in the regular season are not poison; if they were, then the current rule for regular season overtime games would not be tolerable because it allows for the possibility of a tie game.  So, just accept those results as possible game outcomes and proceed from there.

Ties in the playoffs cannot be tolerated because only one of the two teams in the field can advance while the other has to go home.  To have arrived in a playoff game that is tied after 60 minutes of play, each team had to play at least 17 regular season games and qualify for the playoffs by comparing their record to other teams in their conference.  It took the NFL 272 games to create the playoff field and those 272 games were played under a specific set of rules that guided strategy and tactics.  So, why abandon them now?

Not to worry folks; none of this will be adopted.  It is too simple and straightforward.  Consider me a voice crying in the wilderness…

Finally, if there was an “aggrieved party” in the way the overtime period unfolded between the Chiefs and the Bills, it would be Josh Allen.  So, what did he have to say about the existing NFL overtime rule:

“The rules are what they are, and I can’t complain about that because if it was the other way around, we’d be celebrating, too. So, it is what it is at this point. We didn’t make enough plays tonight.”

The young man has an abundance of class…

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

 

 

2022 Winter Olympics – A Cautionary Tale

Today, I want to consider the imminent Winter Olympic Games in Beijing – – not because I cannot wait for them to start nor do I have any significant interest in the events.  Rather, I want to consider the start of the Winter Games this year as another instance where sports intersect politics.  That intersection is rarely a pleasant and uplifting moment; I do not expect this one will be either.  Moreover, this upcoming intersection is a three-dimensional one because sports and politics are also traversing an axis involving money.  Oh, joy…

There are numerous “actors” in this impending drama.  I am happy to consign the IOC and all the International Governing Bodies for the various sports to the role of bankers, financiers, fat cats – – you get the idea.  They live mainly on the money axis which has major influence on anyone and everyone who lives mainly on the politics axis.  Political decisions provide the opportunity to make money – ostensibly in an honorable fashion – and the money-folks share some of that wealth with the folks who make favorable decisions in the political realm.  That mutually beneficial interaction continues apace with the precision of a Swiss watch, and it is at work in these Games.

The “problem” facing folks in the political realm is that they rarely can behave without someone somewhere disagreeing with whatever it is they seek to do.  In China, those folks are labeled as “dissidents” and the people in power seek to minimize their voice and their effectiveness on the areas of disagreement.  That is the way things are in China; that is not the way things are done in other parts of the world; both sides here need to recognize those two facts; both sides here need to agree to disagree on which “system” is best.

Into that muck and mire, we now need to add a whole bunch of athletes who have spent major portions of their lives to this point preparing to compete in the Games that provide the money that will flow from their endeavors.  All would be well if there were not political opponents of the Chinese society/political system who would choose to use the Games as a way to try to effect change in China.  Those people are motivated by their belief that things could be “better” in China if only the Chinese government would behave the way those people think the Chinese government ought to behave.

Therein lies a significant problem – – and potentially a danger for some athletes:

  • The Chinese government does not accept the premise of those who would change the way China goes about its political and social business that things would be much better with significant changes implemented.
  • These games are being conducted in China – – where there are laws on the books that can/will be enforced by the Chinese government.
  • The fact that things are done differently in other countries – or in an athlete’s home country – is not particularly relevant.

Long before the Games were to begin, the political/social controversy surfaced.  I should not need to make a list of all the areas of disagreement that exist between the “Chinese way” and the “democratic way”; suffice it to say there are numerous bones of contention.  The US government – and some other governments – have taken a purely symbolic posture here and have declared that they will send athletes to compete but will not send any diplomats to be VIP spectators at these Games.  Rather than couch my opinion as to the effectiveness of such a move in lofty terms of diplomacy, let me say that these actions are as likely to effect significant change in China as a one-legged man winning an ass kicking contest.  Nonetheless, having taken that action, people outside China can pat themselves on the back in the assurance that they “done good”.

The word is out to the athletes and team officials; the Chinese government does not want protests and demonstrations.  That may not be the way we do things here, but the Games are not here.  If someone chooses to demonstrate in a way that is either illegal or offensive to the Chinese authorities, the rules that will apply to the adjudication of the matter will be the Chinese rules.  Almost 50 years ago, there was a TV series here in the US called Baretta; one of the lines in the theme song for that series was:

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time…”

For athletes and team officials in China for these games, might I suggest that this become one of your mantras during your days there…

One of the things that has been reported about the upcoming Games is that all athletes will have to report a variety of health data on a daily basis as a COVID protocol for the Games.  They will do this via an app that will have to be downloaded to electronic devices that the athletes have with them.

  1. Memo to Olympic Athletes:  That app you will have to install onto your device(s) can and most certainly will collect other data about you and your movements and your discussions and your activities.
  2. Be careful; be very careful…
  3. And when  you get home and “delete the app”, consider that it might still be there without you knowing that it is still there.

Lest anyone think that the Chinese officials are planning to look the other way if there are “improper behaviors” at the Games, consider these words from Yang Shu – the director general for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Winter Games;

“Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations are also subject to certain punishment.”

The triple point of sports, politics and money about to play out in a very public manner could be interesting – – and it could be dangerous.  Athletes who also see themselves as  Social Justice Warriors have probably bought into the idea that “Silence/Inactivity Equals Complicity” when faced with any sort of wrongdoing.  I will not be watching a lot of the TV presentations for these Games because winter sports do not particularly interest me, but I do hope that there are no incidents that result in long term negative repercussions for any participants in the Games.

Finally, today has been more about politics than I normally prefer to include; so, let me close with this observation by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“Politics is not the art of the possible.  It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/21/22

Football Fridays are dwindling down to a precious few.  Taking both quantity and quality into account, this is my favorite weekend of football in the NFL season.  There are 4 games on the card and every one of them projects to be a gem.  So, let me get this train rolling with a review of last week’s Six-Pack:

  • College:  0-0-0
  • NFL:  5-1-0
  • Total:  5-1-0
  • Money Line Parlays: 1-1  Net profit for the week = $18

Those results bring the cumulative record for the season to:

  • College:  15-20-0
  • NFL:  41-37-2
  • Total:  56-57-2
  • Money Line Parlays:  6-12  Net loss for the season = $144

[Aside:  Before going any further into this week’s offering, I am skeptical that I will find 6 things to offer as selections  on the card this week.  So, consider this week’s “Six-Pack” in a figurative sense and not a literal sense.]

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Yes, there actually are some things to say on that subject this week…

The Texas Longhorns hired Gary Patterson late of TCU as a “Special Assistant to the Head Coach”.  This could be a great move by Texas because Patterson is a defensive guy and won lots of games in 20+ years at TCU because of his defenses.  The Longhorns’ defense for the last several years has been mediocre at best and embarrassing at times.  Remember they gave up 56 points to Kansas in a loss last season.  Assuming that head coach Steve Sarkissian takes heed of the advice/guidance provided by his new “Special Assistant”, this could be a big deal for the Longhorns.

Next, in something that I consider to be “good news for now”, it appears as if the idea of expanding the CFP from 4 teams to 12 teams is doomed.  The ACC announced that it is opposed to such an expansion; and if the conference commissioners were telling the truth a few months ago, that should mean that the PAC-12 and the Big-10 are also similarly opposed since those three conferences pledged allegiance to one another to counter/protest the SEC poaching Texas and Oklahoma from the Big-12.

There is money to be made from CFP expansion and that is why it will eventually happen.  But expanding from 4 teams to 12 teams in the current hierarchy makes no sense.  Even with only 4 teams involved, the semi-final games were “drama-free”; adding 8 more teams to the tournament will make the early round games even worse.  There have been years when I thought that it would be a good idea to have 6 teams participating; I am sure someone can point to a year where 8 teams might have been a good set up.  But even at 8 teams, the odds of having a balanced college football tournament field are long ones.

Eventually, the dollar signs will prevail here and there will be expansion – – but a 12-team CFP field will certainly be “ho-hum” for the first round and only slightly less interesting in the second round.

  • Memo for the CFP “Custodians”:  Approach any and all ideas for expansion of your product with caution.  More is not always better…

Here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times on the subject of CFP expansion:

“Expand the College Football Playoff?  We already have a 14-team tournament.

“It’s called the Southeastern Conference.”

 

NFL Commentary:

 

There appears to be some symmetry in the world of “playoff football” …

Last weekend – – the NFL’s Wildcard Round – – supplied strong evidence in support of the following proposition:

  • It would be a BAD idea for the NFL to expand the number of teams in the playoffs from 14 teams to 16 teams.

In fact, the results from last weekend’s games supplied strong evidence in support of the following proposition:

  • It would be a GOOD idea to contract the number of teams in the playoffs from 14 teams to 12 teams.

If everyone could take off their fanboy hat for just a moment and look back at last weekend’s games:

  • Four games were never in doubt after the middle of the second quarter.  The average margin of victory in these four games was 22.5 points.  The “Drama Coefficient” in those four games was ZERO.
  • The two games that ended as “one-score games” were lost by the losing team as opposed to won by the winning team.
  • In one of the two games that ended as “one-score games”, the officiating crew led by Jerome Boger made the game infuriating no matter which side you were rooting for.

Question:

  • Do we as fans need/want any more of that sort of thing as “playoff games”?

The two teams that “got in” as the #7 seeds in the two brackets were the Eagles and the Steelers.  Let me just say that it was not a great weekend for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because both of those teams soiled the sheets on national TV for any NFL fan to see. Does any fan of “football” – – not a fanboy for a specific team – – think that things would have been a whole lot better if there were #8 seeds added to the mix?

I believe that there are two reasons why the NFL is the sports juggernaut that it is:

  1. Football lends itself to wagering almost seamlessly.  When the concept of the point-spread was introduced about 75 years ago, football was the primary beneficiary
  2. Football games are events and not occurrences.  The regular season is now 17 games held a week apart – – save for Thursday night aberrations.  Every game has an impact on a team’s potential to make it to the playoffs.  Only in late September does that situation obtain in MLB after about 160 regular season games; only in mid-April does that situation obtain in the NBA after 82 regular season games.

Given that second condition, there should be no reason for anyone who is a “custodian of the game” to add another playoff game to the mix when – most of the time – it will be a laugher.  The only force pushing for it is greed – – and greed is a powerful motivator.  But as fans, we need not go along with the mindset that making more money is better for the fans than merely making a mountain of money.

For the first time ever, the NFL “treated” fans to a Monday Night Football presentation of a playoff game.  What did we get?  We got a 34-11 blowout that was as much of a nail-biter as a Popeye the Sailor cartoon until we figured out how Popeye was going to get a slurp of his spinach.

Bengals 26  Raiders 19:  This was clearly the worst officiated game that I saw all season long.  The NFL grades out every official on every play in the regular season and then puts together the “best at their positions” to do the playoffs.  How can anyone think that is a bad idea?  Here’s how:

  • Officiating teams are indeed teams just as the players on the opposing sidelines are teams.  They work together as a unit and working together for officials is enhanced by practice and repetition – – just as it is for the teams on the field.  Throwing together highly graded officials who have never worked together for playoff games makes no sense; that is the sort of thing to do in the Exhibition Season to see which officiating crews work best together; it is not something to “experiment with” in the win-or-go-home stature of the playoffs.

I do not want to pile on the officiating crew any more than as happened already, but I am not going to shed a tear at a report from the middle of this week that Jerome Boger and that crew will not be working any games this weekend – – despite whatever grading the individuals received.

Bucs 31  Eagles 15:  Do not be fooled by the 16-point margin of victory here; this game was 31-0 at the start of the 4th quarter; the two Eagles’ TDs came in garbage time.  It appeared that Eagles’ QB, Jalen Hurts, somehow forgot how to throw a football accurately somewhere between the warmups and the kickoff.  He completed only 23 of 43 attempts and some of those “misses” were by a mile.  Over the course of the regular season, the Eagles led the NFL in rushing; last week they managed to gain only 95 yards on the ground, and it was the Bucs who dominated time of possession 33 minutes to 27 minutes.

Niners 23  Cowboys 17:  The Cowboys did themselves in committing 14 penalties in the game – – three on defensive end Randy Gregory that were so obvious Ray Charles would have thrown the flag.  I assume you have seen or heard about the infamous “QB draw with 14 seconds left in the game” that ran out the clock because there were no timeouts available, so I will not describe the situation here.   But that play does raise some interesting issues:

  • The Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and play caller – – Kellen Moore – – has been anointed by “NFL insiders” as a certified offensive genius.  If he called that play, he needs to turn in his “genius card” and go eat at the table of mere mortals.
  • The Cowboys’ head coach – – Mike McCarthy – – defended the call as the right one and challenged the intellect of anyone who doubted it was the right call.  OK, he is defending his coaches and players from a full ration of criticism and scorn; I get that.  But he is the head coach, and he is on the headset listening to the call; so, his inaction means he really thought that was a good play at the time?  Or is it that he is just there on the sidelines like a Christmas tree ornament?

When I boil away the emotion and the rhetoric that has infused that game-ending fiasco, I come back to an important line from the movie, Forrest Gump:

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

The Niners deserved to win this game demonstrating a balanced offense that gained 172 yards passing and 169 yards rushing.  The Niners had the ball for 34 minutes, converted 6 of 13 third-down attempts and only turned the ball over once.

Let me pause here to present some recent data regarding the Dallas Cowboys as “America’s Team”.  The Cowboys won the Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season; that was the same year that the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the NFL as an expansion team and finished 1995 with a 4-12 record.  I doubt that I would have to spend a lot of time convincing most NFL fans that the Jags are not a franchise with a huge national following or any sort of glorious winning tradition.  Nonetheless, consider these stats from the start of the 1996 season until today:

  • In the playoffs, the Cowboys’ record is 4-11
  • In the playoffs, the Jags’ record is 7-7

Chiefs 42  Steelers 21:  The game was scoreless for the entire first quarter and the Steelers led 7-0 with a defensive TD in the second quarter.  That happened with 10:41 on the clock; from that point until the 9:14 mark in the third quarter, the Chiefs scored 35 unanswered points.  For those keeping score at home, that is 35 points in 15 minutes and 25 seconds.  This game was embarrassing:

  • In the first half, the Steelers had  8 possessions.  They punted 7 times and kneeled out the ball to end the half on the eighth possession.
  • In the first half, the Steelers’ “best possession” was 6 plays for 20 yards encompassing 3 minutes and 47 seconds before executing the punt.

Seriously, did anyone outside the city limits of Pittsburgh believe the Steelers had a ghost of a chance to win this game?  I know that one of the NFL mantras is that “defense wins championships”, and the Steelers have a very good defense.  But  the Steelers’ offense has been weak at best for most of the year and was miserable last weekend; the offense was too much of a burden for the defense to bear.

Oh, and by the way …

  • Memo to everyone who earlier this season thought the Chiefs’ had serious offensive problems:  Not really…

Bills 47  Pats 17:  This was the biggest beat down of the weekend and the biggest difference was in the stat lines produced by the two QBs:

  • Mac Jones:  24 of 38 for 232 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs + 18 yards rushing
  • Josh Allen:  21 of 25 for 308 yards with 5 TDs and 0 INTs + 66 yards rushing

The Bills never punted in the game and never turned the ball over; they scored on every possession save the final one to kneel out the game.  It is difficult to lose when doing that.

Back in early December, the Pats beat the Bills only throwing the ball 3 times in the entire game and running the ball down the Bills’ throats.  Noting of that sort happened last weekend; the Pats ran the ball 20 times and gained only 89 yards.  I said last week that the Bills could adopt the defensive strategy to shut down the Pats’ run game and force Mac Jones to beat them.  I do not know if that was the explicit game plan on defense, but it seems to be what worked here.

For the last 20 years, the Pats were a significantly superior team as compared to the Bills; that situation no longer obtains; in fact, the Bills are the superior team now.  This rout was not a fluke; my eyes tell me that overall, the Bills are faster at just about every position than the Pats are, and superior speed is very difficult to overcome.

Rams 34  Cards 11:  At one point in the season, the Cards had the best record in the NFL.  Since Halloween, the Cards are 4-6 but that record is worse than it looks.  Included in those 6 losses are these two embarrassing clunkers:

  •  Nov 14:  Panthers 34  Cards 10
  •  Dec 19:  Lions 30  Cards 12

In their final 5 games, the Cards went 1-4.  I mention this because they played like a team that did not belong in the playoffs last week.  This was another flat-out beat down.  Yes, the Cards had to play without DeAndre Hopkins and that had to hurt their chances, but that does not explain the 375 yards of offense given up to the Rams nor the 6 of 13 conversion rate by the Rams on third downs.

The Cards’ offense was no better than the Cards’ defense here.  The Cards only had the ball for 24:14 in the game; the total offense was 183 yards; the Cards were 0 of 9 on third-down attempts and 1 of 2 on fourth down attempts.  I know the Rams’ defense is very good – – but that showing was embarrassing.

The return of Cam Akers to the Rams’ backfield was impressive; he could be an important offensive piece for the team this week against the Bucs.  In the game against the Cards, he carried the ball 17 times and caught 2 passes accounting for 95 yards from scrimmage.

The Rams got a Pick Six off a totally misguided pass attempt by Kyler Murray who threw the ball underhanded while being tackled in his end zone.  The ball was like a soft pop foul in baseball, and it was picked off at the Cards’ 3-yardline and run in for a score.  That made the game score 21-0 and pretty much ended any suspense one might have been imagining as to the game outcome.  Both Peyton and Eli Manning were biting their tongues in the aftermath of that play…

Let me offer an off-the-wall observation here:

  • I don’t think the Cards are a well-coached team.  They were undisciplined against the Rams; and as noted above, they cratered in the second half of the season.  I don’t know if this “issue” belongs to Kliff Kingsbury or to his assistants, but some sort of introspection and “self-analysis” seems needed here.

 

The NFL Games:

 

(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Bengals at Titans – 3.5 (47.5):  Here are two “big deals” that favor the Titans in this game:

  1. They had a BYE Week last week to rest and recuperate and game-plan.
  2. Derrick Henry is back and cleared to play.

Here are two big deals that favor the Bengals in this game:

  1. Joe Burrow is the better QB in the game and has been en fuego lately.
  2. The Bengals rush defense – the one having to deal with Derrick Henry – ranked 5th in the NFL last season giving up only 102.5 yards per game.

The Titans’ pass defense has not been very good this year (25th in the NFL) and the Bengals’ pass offense is the heart of the offense.  This game will be won and lost at the line of scrimmage.  If the Titans’ OL can set up the run and if the Titans’ DL can get pressure on Burrow, the Titans should win handily.  The question is, can those two units do that …???  The Weather forecast for Saturday in Nashville calls for sunny skies with a high temperature of 40 degrees and a low of 24 degrees.  Those conditions should not be an assist for the Titans’ pass defense; I think the Bengals will keep this game close; I’ll take the Bengals plus the points; put it in the Abbreviated Six-Pack.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Niners at Packers – 5.5 (47):  Forget the players and the game strategies for a moment and focus on the weather forecast for Green Bay tomorrow:

  • The high temperature for tomorrow will be 20 degrees.
  • The low temperature for tomorrow will be 1 degree below zero.
  • This game is tomorrow night…

According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Love keeps the cold out better than a cloak.”

Nonsense!  Those players and coaches on the sidelines will be wearing cloaks in Green Bay tomorrow night…

In any weather conditions, the Packers should look to contain the Niners’ running game and put the burden on Jimmy G. to beat them.  That strategy is even more important if Jimmy G has to deal with frostbite in addition to the Packers’ defense.  I think this game turns on this aspect – – how well can the Packers contain the Niners’ running game.  These teams met in Santa Clara back in September with the Niners winning by 2 points.

The Niners reported that Jimmy G was “limited” in practices this week with his injured thumb; if he cannot play efficiently for the entire game and the Niners have to use Trey Lance in these circumstances, I think this will be a mismatch.  There are too many unknowns here; I have no selection for this game.

(Sun 3:00 PM EST) Rams at Bucs – 3 (48):  On a typical January weekend, weather for a football game in Tampa is not much of a factor; such seems to be the case for this weekend.  On Sunday the temperature range is between 37 and 61 degrees with little chance of rain.  The Rams beat the Bucs by 10 points back in September in LA; Matthew Stafford threw for 343 yards on that day.  This weekend, the focus for the game has to be on the Bucs’ OL.  Both OT, Tristan Wirfs and C, Ryan Jensen had to miss part of last week’s game with injuries; both are All-Pro linemen; both are listed as “questionable” for this game meaning they will try to play and then see how things go.  If the Rams’ defense with Von Miller and Aaron Donald get to go against subs, this could be a LONG day for Tom Brady who is not exactly a “scrambler”.  The Bucs’ defense dominated the Eagles last week, but the Rams’ offense plays at a different level than the Eagle’s offense; I think the defensive edge here goes to the Rams sufficiently that they can win the game outright; so, I’ll take the Rams plus the points here; put it in the Abbreviated Six-Pack.

(Sun 6:30PM  EST) Bills at Chiefs – 2 (53.5):  Here is another rematch from the regular season.  Back in October the Bills went to KC and beat the Chiefs by 18 points; Josh Allen had a big day throwing for 315 yards and rushing for 59 yards.  That was just about the time when the Chiefs were putting the pieces together for a late run to the playoffs.  The Bills’ defense led the NFL in pass defense (163 yards per game allowed) and in total defense (272.8 yards per game allowed).  I do not think that will matter here; I think both teams will score a lot.  The weatherman should not be a major factor with temperatures on Sunday ranging from 33 to 43 degrees with no rain in the forecast.  I like this game to go OVER; put it in the Abbreviated Six-Pack.

So, let me review this week’s Abbreviated Six-Pack:

  • Bengals + 3.5 against Titans
  • Rams +3 against Bucs
  • Bills/Chiefs OVER 53.5

And the temptation is too great to ignore an interesting Money Line Parlay here:

  • Bengals at +160
  • Rams at +135  to win $511 on a $100 wager.

Finally, since these are winter football games where winter weather can be a factor, let me close with this characterization of winter days from Bill Watterson – – the creator of Calvin and Hobbes:

 “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”

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

 

 

USFL 2.0

In yesterday’s rant, I mentioned the USFL in passing.  After I proofread the rant and posted it, I went to see what is up regarding the USFL simply out of curiosity.  Here are a few things I learned from various reports:

  • “USFL 2.0” has no connection with the original USFL from 40 years ago other than the name and the trademarks from the old league which were “allowed to go dormant”.
  • FOX Sports has some sort of ownership stake in the enterprise that is not clear to me.  FOX does provide a TV contract to the USFL which gives it a measure of credibility/stability.  According to reports, FOX Sports will provide $150M to the league over the first 3 years of its existence and will seek to get an added $250M for the league from other “investors/partners”.
  • NBC will also telecast a significant number of games.  Scheduling calls for games on Saturday and Sunday with “special broadcasts” possibly on Fridays and/or Mondays.  [Aside: No, I do not know what a “special broadcast” might be.]
  • Mike Pereira is the Head of Officiating for the USFL and will remain as the “Rules Analyst” for FOX on NFL telecasts.
  • “Moose” Johnston is the Executive VP of Football Operations for the USFL and a color analyst for FOX on NFL telecasts.
  • This year, all games will be played in Birmingham, AL even though the teams will carry the names of cities around the country.  The idea is to save funds on travel costs and for all the teams to transition to their “real homes” by 2024.
  • The league will start with 8 teams; each team will have 38 roster players and 7 more players on a practice squad.

The league will hold its draft in late February.  According to reports, there are two “interesting” names that are already in the draft pool.  The first is Trent Richardson who came out of Alabama as the best thing since sliced bread at running back; he was drafted by the Browns with the third overall pick in 2012.  Richardson lasted two seasons in the NFL – the Browns traded him to the Colts – and then he went to the Saskatchewan Rough Riders and then to the Alliance of American Football and is now affiliated somehow with the Caudillos de Chihuahua of Mexico in the Futbol Americano de Mexico.  It seems to me that Richardson has taken to heart the lyrics of a song by Dion and the Belmonts from the 1960s:

“Oh yeah I’m the type of guy that likes to roam around
I’m never in one place I roam from town to town
And when I find myself a-fallin’ for some girl
I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the world
‘Cause I’m a wanderer, yeah a wanderer
I roam around around, around, around, around…”

The other interesting name in the draft pool that I ran across is Vinny Papale.  He graduated from Delaware in 2019 and has been to mini-camps with the Raiders, Eagles and Football Team.  He is the son of Vince Papale who made the Eagles as a walk-on back in the late 70s because Eagles’ coach Dick Vermeil was impressed by his work ethic.  His father’s story was told in the movie, Invincible where Mark Wahlberg played the role of Vince Papale and Greg Kinnear played the role of Dick Vermeil.

There is a non-football side issue with the new version of the USFL that is interesting.  All players and everyone on the staff in the USFL will have the opportunity to get a “tuition-free and debt-free” college degree.  The league has a partnership with Capella University and Strayer University that will give players access to online classes for credit and in-person classes if they are available and are preferred by the players/staff.  Moreover, these universities offer masters’ degrees in several fields meaning that players/staff who finished an undergraduate program could earn a graduate degree if they are interested.

That educational opportunity will probably have no bearing on the USFL’s on-field product, but it is an interesting twist on ways to compensate young football players.

One final thing I learned about the USFL is something I am not sure is such a good idea.

  • The USFL will grant eligibility to any player who graduated high school in 2020 or earlier.

Some people graduate from high school at age 17; that means it is possible for a 19-year-old to be eligible for the USFL.  Yes, I know about Herschel Walker and about Maurice Clarett.  I also know that professional football is played in the main by adults who have spent a lot of time developing the musculature to withstand the violence of the game.  The vast majority of 19-year-olds are not ready to take that sort of punishment.

I recognize that this is a situation of “free choice” by the participants and that 19-year-olds are legally adults.  I still would prefer not to have them eligible for professional football.

So, there are some of the results of my meanderings through a Google search for “USFL”.  The plan is to start the league on April 16th.  The 8 teams will be divided into two divisions; each team will play a 10-game schedule consisting of 6 games against the other 3 division opponents and a single encounter with the 4 teams in the other division.  The top two teams in each division will make the playoffs and the season should be over by the 4th of July.

Bonne chance USFL 2.0…

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with words from Woody Allen:

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.”

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

 

 

Going Beyond Baseball’s Economic Issues…

There was a comment on a recent rant asking about any sort of indication(s) of progress in the MLB/MLBPA negotiations.  The bottom-line answer is that the two sides seem to have begun their “thousand-mile journey” by taking a first step.  Reports said that the two sides met for an  hour and …

  1. The players were “unimpressed” by the offer made by the owners
  2. The meeting ended without physical violence.
  3. There was no announcement of the next scheduled negotiating session.

The negotiations ongoing here are about nothing other than money; the chasm between the two sides is simply that the players want more of baseball’s revenues to flow to them and the owners want to keep more of that same revenue for themselves.  Everything else that you will hear and read about is peripheral to or derivative of that fundamental issue.  So, I want to take the following position on the negotiations:

  • There is a mountain of money up for grabs here.  If anyone wishes to doubt that consider that Max Scherzer will make more than $40M per year for the next 3 years to start – hopefully – 30 times in a season for the Mets.  That means the Mets have a lot of money and Max Scherzer is getting a lot of money.
  • I can point to other examples here, but you get the idea.  No one involved in these negotiations on either side of the table is going to qualify for a $600 stimulus check from the government.
  • Ergo, I want to ignore all the economic issues confronting baseball today and assume that the two sides will have a kumbaya news conference once they figure out where the economic balance point is.  At that time, I’ll become interested in the economics once again.

What I want to do is to look at the on-field product that MLB and the MLBPA puts on for the fans who provide both sides with the money they are arguing over.  The reason I want to focus on that sort of stuff is that neither side is going to be happy if the revenue stream starts to flow less robustly.  And make no mistake, there are problems to be solved in the “product arena”.

The MLB/MLBPA “product” is entertainment; sometimes the entertainment is experienced live and in person; sometimes it is consumed via radio or TV.  Entertainment is enhanced when something happens on the field and some things that happen on the field are more entertaining than others.  So, consider the following stats from 2021:

  • For the season, there were 39,484 base hits in MLB games
  • For the season, there were 42,145 strikeouts in MLB games

In 1969, baseball faced a similar “problem”; hitters were overpowered, and the game slowed to a crawl.  So, they lowered the mound and there were more base hits meaning there was more entertainment for fans.  MLB and the MLBPA need to take a deep breath here and recognize that their arguments over revenue splitting might someday be trumped by the fact that revenues for baseball are in decline.  Maybe, the two sides need to work on how to improve the product with the same vigor as they pursue getting a bigger portion of the pie.

Let me say this as starkly as I can:

  • It will not matter if the new CBA contains measures to assure that teams are not tanking and living off shared revenues nor will it matter how long it takes before a  young player becomes eligible for salary arbitration if the public gets bored with the entertainment product and takes its interest elsewhere.

And just for giggles, consider the possibility of a shift in interest by the public in 2022.  Suppose that the hardliners on both sides of the table lock down these negotiations to the point that the season does not begin until May 1st.  I hope that does not happen, but please do not rule it out.  Starting in April 2022 will be the rebooted USFL which is partially owned by FOX Sports, and which already has a national TV contract.  I suspect that the execs in the USFL offices are lighting candles in churches all over the country praying for the baseball lockout to extend beyond their first couple of weeks on the air.

Football – collegiate and the NFL – now dominates the sports attention of the US public; it used to be baseball, but that day is gone.  If MLB is playing its normal schedule without making fans hear and read about spats among billionaire owners and millionaire players – – along with smug and oily agents – -, it would command much more attention that yet one more “Spring Football League”.  But if MLB is dark…???

Here is a challenge for Rob Manfred, Tony Clark and their minions:

  • Get the CBA done quickly and with minimal rancor such that two things happen.  First, Spring Training and the regular season begin “on time”.  Second, there is enough residual “good will” for everyone involved to come together again and to address changes to the game that will solidify baseball’s position in the US sporting cosmos.

Here is a challenge for sportswriters, columnists and TV “hot-takers”:

  • Let the CBA negotiators know that you are going to ignore them until and unless they have a press conference to announce the existence of a new CBA.  In George Orwell’s novel 1984, there were things called “unpersons”; they were erased from public memory; there was no record of their existence.  That is too harsh for the CBA negotiators but maybe they should be consigned to “unperson status” until they reach an agreement?

Did someone ask what sort of game changes might be needed to increase the entertainment value of MLB?  I am not going to pretend to have a magic balm that once applied to the game will cure everything instantly – – but I do think the time has come for serious consideration of these alterations:

  1. Implement an electronic means for calling balls and strikes.  If hitters have a more consistent strike zone to manage – – consistent from game to game and from first inning to ninth inning in a single game – – they are likely to get more hits meaning they are likely to produce more entertaining action.
  2. Lower the mound again?  To me, that is certainly a better idea than moving the pitching rubber back one foot.
  3. Pitch clocks – strictly enforced – along with limits on the number of pickoff attempts will also produce better pace of play and potentially more stolen base attempts (more action).
  4. Revisit the idea and the implementation of “instant replay” because it is never “instant”.

Since today was about baseball, let me close with some words from Henry Aaron:

“It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball.  It took one afternoon on the golf course.”

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

 

 

Coaching Vacancies In The NFL…

The hunting season for NFL coaches may not be over – – but surely the majority of the “harvesting’ is done.  As of this morning, the Raiders still have their interim head coach – – but they have fired their GM, Mike Mayock – – and there are rumors that Jerry Jones might be sufficiently disappointed in the Cowboys’ self-inflicted exit from the playoffs to give in to his impulses and fire Mike McCarthy – – but that still remains to be seen.

  • [Aside:  I am not sure what McCarthy does for a living in Dallas.  He does not call the offense; he does not call the defense; he does not call the special teams.  If his job is motivation and coaching up the players to play “smart football” then he should be fired immediately because the Cowboys were flat last weekend and were beyond stupid on the field.]

In any event, let me review the teams that have actual coaching vacancies as of this morning and try to assess how good those jobs might look to potential candidates.  I’ll take them in alphabetical order to avoid any hint of rank ordering on my part.

Bears:  This roster needs improvement on the OL and at WR and the “draft capital” has been depleted in previous trades for Khalil Mack and in the deals that got the Bears earlier draft slots such that they could take Mitchell Trubisky and later Justin Fields.  If Fields is “for real” and can be developed over a year or two, that will ease the severity of the Bears’ situation, but Fields looked like an early work-in-progress when he got time as the starter in mid-season.  The biggest question mark facing a coach who seeks out this job resides about 200 miles north of Chicago in Green Bay, WI.  That question mark is:

  • Will Aaron Rodgers stay with the Packers?

The stark reality is that if Rodgers stays in Green Bay – and therefore in the NFC North – the Bears are not winning that division until he leaves.  This is neither the best job opening out there nor is it the worst – – unless Rodgers stays in Green Bay and plays as long as Tom Brady has played in the NFL…

Broncos:  Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Broncos desperately need a top-shelf QB.  One would think that having John Elway involved in the selection process for a starting QB would give the Broncos the inside track on resolving that issue.  Not so.  Ever since the end of the 2015 season when Peyton Manning retired, here are the QBs who have started for the Broncos:

  1. Trevor Siemian (24 games)
  2. Paxton Lynch (4 games)
  3. Brock Osweiler (11 games)
  4. Case Keenum (16 games)
  5. Joe Flacco (8 games)
  6. Drew Lock (21 games)
  7. Brandon Allen (3 games)
  8. Jeff Driskel (1 game)
  9. Brett Rypien (1game)
  10. Philip Lindsey (1 game)
  11. Teddy Bridgewater (14 games)

That represents 6 seasons of mediocrity and this year’s Draft class for QBs is ”not highly regarded”.  The rest of the Broncos’ roster is solid particularly in the defensive backfield and at wide receiver.  The coach that takes the job in Denver must either get Teddy Bridgewater to improve his game significantly AND to stay healthy – – or pray for a miraculous anointing of a journeyman QB plucked from the world ether to become “elite”.  This job is probably good for a 3-year run before a lack of playoff success gets the new guy fired.  Oh, and just for giggles, the ownership of the team is in the process of changing; who knows what the new owner will be like…  Ergo, the key in the deal for the new coach is how much gets paid out to him by the deal when he gets fired…

            Dolphins:  I still have no understanding as to why Brian Flores was fired.  One bit of “inside information” is that Flores’ relationship with QB Tua Tagovaiola had soured.  Pardon me, but what has Tua done in his NFL career that would make an owner take his side in a dispute with a coach that has had a winning record with the franchise – – assuming that such a dispute actually existed.  In these days of “offensive football” where things favor the passing game, Tua has yet to have a season with more than 2653 yards passing – – and he has been injured enough to miss 9 games in 2 seasons.  [Aside:  If  a coaching aspirant is looking at the “successes” of the GM above him, he should focus on the fact that the current GM selected Tua instead of Justin Herbert – – for whatever that is worth.]  The good news here is that the Dolphins’ defense is very good, and they have Jaylen Waddle at WR who appears poised to have a fine NFL career; the bad news is that team ownership/leadership has been sub-par over the past decade or so.  This would not be a good job for a first-time coach because it could stamp him as “a loser”; if the team can convince an experienced coach to take the job, it would be somewhat better…

Giants:  This team is a mess.  Daniel Jones has been in the league for 3 seasons now; he has started 38 games; the Giants’ record in those games is 12-26.  I do not mean to say that Jones is a lost cause – – but he is not someone who can put a mediocre team on his back and scratch out victories.  Oh, and he missed the last 6 games of the 2021 season with a neck injury.  Having said that, Jones is not the weak link in the Giants’ offense; part of his lack of success has to be attributed to a bad offensive line and a wide receiving cadre that elicits “Meh!” when under consideration.  So, the owners let the GM who assembled this roster “retire” with a ceremony on the field for the final game but then fired the coach who had to deal with that hot mess.  Is that a situation a new coach will find “favorable”?  The last three head coaches and the last GM hired by John Mara have been singularly unsuccessful; if this coaching search goes differently, it will be fortunate indeed.  Given the microscopic scrutiny the Giants will get by the NY press corps, this is not a job that looks to be “coach-friendly”…

Jags:  From what I saw in his time at Clemson, Trevor Lawrence is a generational talent at QB; prior to Lawrence’s time at Clemson, the last college QB to make me take notice to the same degree was Andrew Luck at Stanford.  James Robinson is a solid running back who averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year.  The defense is young and inexperienced but has talent.  However, the offensive line and the wide receivers are sub-standard.  Unlike most of these job openings, the QB situation is in good shape; but the rest of the team needs talent upgrades and significant additions to the “coaching-up” processes.  If a competent coaching staff can come together here and develop the players much more successfully than happened last year, it will not be difficult to show improvement.  There should be no exotic expectations for the Jags among its fans – or even its owner –; there will not be a fan revolt if the team does not “make a playoff run” sometime in the next two seasons; with competence and steady improvement, the new coach here has a chance to make a positive impression on fans and in Front Offices around the league.  One downside to this position is that the GM, Trent Baalke, does not enjoy a positive reputation around the league and many Jags’ fans wanted him fired at the end of the season too.  All in all, this is a job worth chasing…

Texans:  The Texans ranked dead last in the NFL in total offense for 2021; that result is directly tied to the Deshaun Watson “situation”; until and unless the Texans get Watson back under center – a status he says is unacceptable to him – or they acquire a competent QB in a trade or through the draft, the Texans are consigned to the bottom of the AFC South.  The real issue here in my mind relates to reports out of Houston about how the disenchantment with management came to be for Watson and then how all the parties to that tension found ways to make a bad situation lots and lots worse.  Let me be polite here and say that more than a few reports about the environment in Houston regarding the owner and the GM and the football operations folks paint them as “flaky” or “not in line with folks in similar positions around the league”.  Aspirants for this position need to consider these two parallel realities:

  1. The roster is gutted and without Watson the offense is going to be at or near the bottom of the league again in 2022.
  2. There are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs on the planet – – and this is one of them.

Vikings:  Mike Zimmer had been in that job for 8 seasons; his firing was not some knee-jerk reaction by ownership.  For me, the telltale stats that say it was time for the team to move on are these:

  • The Vikings’ defense ranked 30th in the NFL in total yards allowed (383.6 yards per game).  Only the Texans and Jets were worse.
  • The Vikings’ defense ranked 29th in the NFL in points allowed per game
  • In 2020, the Vikings’ defense ranked 27th in the NFL in total yards allowed (393.3 yards per game).
  • In 2020, the Vikings’ defense ranked 24th in the NFL in points allowed per game.
  • Mike Zimmer is a “defensive coach”; those results are not even remotely “acceptable”.

The positive side of this job opening is the offense.  Kirk Cousins is a serviceable QB; Dalvin Cook is a top-shelf running back and Justin Jefferson is a monster at WR.  If the new coach and GM – – the team is looking for both – – can find a way to shore up the defense and make it only “middle of the pack” when it comes to those sorts of defensive stats, this could be a very rewarding position…

So, there is my overview for what it is worth.  Since you get it for free, you know exactly what it is worth…

Finally, these hirings in the coaching domain will be finalized by team owners – – incredibly rich people.  So, let me close today with an observation about “The Rich” by George Bernard Shaw:

“What is the matter with the poor is poverty; what is the matter with the rich is uselessness.”

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

 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. And Benjamin Franklin

In addition to today as a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 17th is also the birthday of Benjamin Franklin.  So, as a remembrance of Ben Franklin, if someone annoys you today, just tell them to go fly a kite.

Speaking of annoyances, why is it that some folks cannot/will not admit they were wrong with previously stated extrapolations of facts?  Everyone makes mistakes – – particularly me.  One of these days soon, I will revisit my NFL pre-season projections for every team and point out where I was right – – and importantly – – where I was dead wrong.  The potential for error is significant when trying to predict the future.  So, if/when someone sets out on that path, they need to admit when they are wrong.

About 5 years ago the NFL’s TV ratings took a hit; those ratings had been monotonically increasing for years but then they took a dive.  In a rush to find an explanation for that circumstance, more than a few “insiders” and “pundits” took the position that this was a sign that the public’s fascination with the NFL was leveling off because of the dangers of CTE to the players.  Some even suggested that at some future date down the road, there would not be enough players willing to play pro football because their mothers would not allow them to play as youngsters.

Well, over the last 5 years or so, the NFL’s TV ratings have rebounded and the numbers are now available for the Calendar Year 2021:

  1. Of the 100 TV programs with the largest viewing audience in 2021, 91 of them were NFL games.
  2. The average NFL game audience was 17.1 million people.  That average includes meaningless games involving two bad teams that drew miniscule audiences.
  3. The TV audience for the Oscars Award Program in 2021 was 9.2 million people – – about half the average NFL game.
  4. On Christmas Day, the NFL and the NBA had games on at the same time.  The Browns/Packers game drew 28.6 million viewers; the Lakers/Nets game drew 5.8 million viewers.
  5. Game 6 of last year’s World Series drew a TV audience of 11.8 million viewers which is only 70% of the audience for the average NFL game.
  6. The early Thanksgiving Day game this year featured the Lions (0-9-1 at the time) versus the Bears (3-7-0 at the time).  That utterly meaningless game between two bad teams had an audience of 28.2 million people.

So, for all the folks who saw CTE as a surefire harbinger of doom for the NFL and for football itself, what have you to say now?  What happened to that narrative drumbeat over the past 5 years – – other than the suggestion that some of the data offered up by some of the “researchers” were interpreted in a highly subjective fashion?

I have no idea what the long term future of the NFL is if you take “long term” to mean 25-50 years.  However, I am confident that the NFL will survive as a business entity so long as it can deliver that many eyeballs to its broadcasts on a reliable basis.  The revenue from those broadcasts is mainly what allows approximately 2000 NFL players to share in a wage pool that is close to $6B – – and that monetary incentive will likely assure the NFL a deep pool of willing and able players.

Changing lanes here a bit, it appears that ESPN is going to try to create a Sunday Night Baseball version of the MannningCast.  Readers here know that I love the ManningCasts because Peyton and Eli bring knowledge, humor, fun and a measure if irreverence to the presentation.  They are different and they are fun to watch because of their personalities and their relationship to each other.  Replicating that would be difficult under any circumstances.

What ESPN seems to have planned is to pair Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez in the roles of Peyton and Eli Manning.  As I said above, it is difficult to predict the future, but when I put those two in juxtaposition in my head, my first response to the suits at ESPN would be:

  • Good luck with that!

Michael Kay has been doing  Yankees’ telecasts on the YES Network for about 20 years and was part of the Yankees’ radio broadcast team for several years before that.  He is a bit of a “homer” – – but that is to be expected given the platform from which he does his job.  I will assume that he can shed that perspective particularly when ESPN has him doing his “faux-ManningCast games” involving the Yankees.  That is only part of Michael Kay’s challenge.  Can he be witty as the “top-banana” in the act or as the foil in the act?  I have never heard/seen that side of his personality; I think it could be a step hill to climb.

A-Rod on the other hand has indicated to me that he is more than willing to be critical of plays and players on the field; he has even been critical of pitchers and their play even though I cannot find any pitching stats for A-Rod at baseball-reference.com.  And if you find A-Rod as “witty” or “light-hearted” in his broadcast persona, then you and I have very different definitions of those terms.  The Mannings are critical of certain players and specific plays; to my ears, A-Rod is not merely critical, he is didactic.  That is fine once in a while, but didactic can become annoying if it is not used sparingly.

I wish no evil on ESPN; that network and its sister networks provide me with plenty of entertainment and information.  Nevertheless, my guess is that this experiment in game presentation is not going to be nearly as successful as the ManningCasts have been.  We shall see…

Finally let me close today with words from both Dr., Martin Luther King and Benjamin Franklin:

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” [Dr. King]

And …

“Well done is better than well said.” [Dr. Franklin]

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/14/22

Last week’s Football Friday was littered with meaningless games and participation by players whose recognition would have had to have grown tenfold for them to be categorized as “unfamiliar”.  This week’s Football Friday involves 14 teams that will take the games very seriously and players who have routinely played for the teams this season to get those teams into playoff status.  Last week was only slightly better than the final week of the Exhibition Season; this week will be riveting.

Let me begin with the results of last week’s Six-Pack – – plus one other pick:

  • College:  1-0-0
  • NFL:  2-4-0
  • Total:  3-4-0
  • Money Line Parlay:  0-1  Net loss for the week = $100

And that brings the cumulative results for the season to:

  • College:  15-20-0
  • NFL:  36-36-2
  • Total:  51-56-2
  • Money Line Parlays:  5-11  Net loss for the season = $161

 

College Football Commentary:

 

There is little happening in college football at this time of the year other than recruiting efforts by coaches to get high school players to commit to the coach’s school and/or to convince a player in the “transfer portal” to land at the coach’s school.  That whole process is uninteresting to me until the music stops and all the recruits and transfers have settled into their new positions.  So, there has been a paucity of commentary on the college front in these offerings over the past month or so.

However, there was a Tweet I ran across that I wanted to share just because it is amusing.  Brad Dickson was a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald; he still lives in Omaha and often comments on Nebraska football – – which is akin to a religious cult at times in parts of Nebraska.  Here is his reaction to a “rumor” making the rounds in the heartland:

“On message boards some Husker fans are speculating about Zac Taylor possibly leaving the Cincinnati Bengals to return and coach Nebraska. Let me put it this way: there are better odds that Richie Incognito is named the next pope.”

For the record:

  • There have been 13 Popes named Innocent.
  • There have been 0 Popes named Incognito.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Earlier this week, I mentioned a lawsuit filed by a fan against the Giants and Jets claiming false advertising and deceptive practices because they call themselves the NY Giants/Jets but play and practice in New Jersey.  I said then that the same thing applies to the Bills, the Football Team, the Cowboys and the Niners – – off the top of my head.

The reader in Houston added to the list in an email sent to me the day after my observation:

“The LA Rams and Chargers play in Inglewood, CA.

“The Las Vegas Raiders play in Paradise, NV. (FYI – the Las Vegas Strip is not in Las Vegas, but in a pair of unincorporated towns called Paradise and Winchester.)

“The Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens, FL

“In addition, there are six teams (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Carolina, New England, Tennessee, and Minnesota) who have a state or region in their name instead of the city. That means there are 16 NFL teams playing their home games “legitimately” in the city in their name.”

Thanks as always to the reader in Houston for the additions and clarifications.

Last week, I noted that some of the fans in Jax were planning to wear clown costumes to the final game there.  Dwight Perry also knew of those plans and had this comment in the Seattle Times:

“Jacksonville Jaguars fans plan to attend Sunday’s season finale dressed as clowns to protest the team’s ineptitude.

“Hey, it was either that or humiliate themselves by wearing their Jags jerseys.”

Perry did not spare his local franchise of scornful comment in his column.  Taking note of the team’s less-than-wonderful record at the end of December, he had this comment:

“The Seahawks — going nowhere fast at 5-10 — should switch to a buzzard on their helmets for the rest of the season.”

For the record, the Seahawks “rallied” from that record to finish the season at an unsatisfying 7-10.

Looking at the scheduling for this week’s 7 playoff games, please remember that the distribution of the games into the available time slots provided by the “TV broadcast partners” was done by the league.  With that in mind, let me suggest that the scheduling mavens for the NFL never paid much attention in geography class in middle school nor have they any meteorological training.  I offer the following as supporting evidence to that statement:

  • The game in Tampa will take place at 1:00 PM EST.
  • The Tampa forecast is for a high temperature of 70 degrees with some thundershowers.
  • The game in Buffalo will take place at 8:15 PM EST.
  • The Buffalo forecast is for temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees with some wind.
  • The game in KC will take place at 8:15 PM EST.
  • The KC forecast is for temperatures in the 20s with some wind.

The Prosecution rests, Your Honor…

Now that the rest of the NFL season involves only 14 of the 32 teams, it made sense to me to look at how these teams fared against one another in the regular season.  Ignoring the teams that were at or near break-even against their “playoff peers” here are the  best and worst of the records:

  • Packers – – 5-1
  • Bucs – – 4-1
  • Chiefs – – 6-3  (Over half of the Chiefs’ opponents made the playoffs)
  • Bengals – – 4-2
  • Bills – – 2-4
  • Cowboys – – 2-4
  • Steelers – – 2-5
  • Rams – – 2-5
  • Eagles – – 0-6

[Disclaimer:  I aggregated all those records by hand so I could be off somewhere in the process due to “human error” which is often a euphemism for “being a dumbass”.]

As the playoff games begin, I want to cite here again an item I have saved from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot from a year ago.  It was published before the start of last year’s playoffs and surely seemed to be accurate then, so …

New rules: It’s curious how during NFL postseason games almost nobody on the offensive line holds, pass defenders get away with grabbing receivers, and rarely is anybody detected for illegal blocks on kick returns. It appears that the refs are following orders to let ‘em play. But if a laissez-faire approach is good for the playoffs, why not just let ‘em play all season?”

Taking a quick glance at last week’s games…

Vikes 31  Bears 17:  The Bears led 17-10 at the start of the 4th quarter.  Then two TD passes by Kirk Cousins and a Pick-Six by Andy Dalton produced this final result.  Meh!

Browns 21  Bengals 16:  Joe Burrow sat out the game and Brandon Allen demonstrated why he is the backup QB in Cincy.  The Bengals generated only 182 yards of total offense and here is Allen’s individual stat line:

  • 15 of 29 for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs

Case Keenum was the Browns’ QB for the day; he did not exactly light up the scoreboard here and the difference in the game was the rushing  yardage:

  • Bengals – –  79 yards on 18 carries
  • Browns – –   205 yards on 41 carries

Lions 37 Packers 30:  Aaron Rodgers played the first half; Jordan Love played the second half.  If Love is seen as the “future franchise QB” in Green Bay, he must be showing some great talent in their practices because his one game where he subbed for Rodgers for COVID reasons and this second half have not been impressive.  Here is his stat line for last week:

  • 10 of 17 for 134 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs

Jags 26  Colts 11:  The loss sends the Colts home and out of the playoffs; Carson Wentz played a miserable game here but before all the blame gets heaped on him consider that the Colts defense – – a highly regarded unit for most of the year – – allowed Trevor Lawrence to complete his first 11 passes; gave up 318 yards of total offense and gave up 26 points to a team that had not scored more than 24 points in the previous 16 games.  The Jags were the lowest scoring team in the NFL for 2021.

[Aside #1:  The Money Line odds for the Lions last week were +900 and the Money Line odds for the Jags were +1100.  Had someone parlayed those two picks and wagered $100, he would have won $11,900.]

[Aside #2:  No, I did not have that…]

Steelers 16  Ravens 13 (OT):  This game had all the aesthetic qualities inherent in firing squad.  The Steelers move on to the playoffs and the Ravens stay home having lost their final 6 games in a row in 2021.  That sounds awful but there is a glimmer of hope in there:

  • Lamar Jackson missed some time in those six games due to an ankle injury
  • Five of those 6 straight losses were by 3 points or less.

Bucs 41  Panthers 17:  The Bucs only led 17-10 after 3 quarters.  Never believe that players are not aware of personal stats or bonus thresholds.  Tom Brady saw to it that Gronk got his catches/yardage needed for a $1M bonus in the game.  Gronk caught 7 passes for 137 yards here.

Football Team 22  Giants 7:  A truly meaningless game where the Giants produced only 177 yards of total offense and turned the ball over 3 times.  In those circumstances, it is surprising the Giants only lost by 15 points.

Titans 28  Texans 25:  The Titans secured the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs with this win; the Texans finished the season with a 4-13 record, but they did not quit.  The Titans led 21-0 at the half but the Texans rallied to make the score 21-18 with about 12 minutes left in the game.  From there, the teams traded TDs to produce the final score.

Dolphins 33  Pats 24:  The win gives the Dolphins a sweep of the Pats in 2021 and it gives the Dolphins a winning record at 9-8 despite suffering a 7-game losing streak in mid-season.  None of the above saved Brian Flores’ job as the Dolphins’ head coach.

Bills 27  Jets 10:  The score was 13-10 at the start of the fourth quarter.  The Bills had two possessions in the 4thquarter and got a TD on both of them.  [Aside: They also had a final possession to run the clock out.]  Meanwhile, here were the results of the three possessions by the Jets in the 4th quarter:

  • 6 plays leading to a PUNT
  • 3 plays leading to a PUNT
  • 3 plays leading to a PUNT

Saints 30  Falcons 20:  The Saints had the ball for 39:17 in the game thanks to Alvin Kamara carrying the ball 30 times for 146 of the Saints’ 195 rushing yards.  The Saints converted 8 of 16 third-down tries while the Falcons only managed to convert 3 of 10.  The fact that the Falcons turned the ball over three times did not help their cause even a little bit.

Seahawks 38  Cards 30:  The Seahawks gained 431 yards on offense here; where was that offense earlier this year?  The score was 24-24 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  On their last 3 possessions – – other than kneeling out the clock – – the Seahawks scored 3 TDs.  Here are the results of the last 3 possessions by the Cards:

  • 4 plays leading to a LOST FUMBLE
  • 14 plays leading to a 30-yard FIELD GOAL
  • 14 plays leading to a 36-yard FIELD GOAL

Niners 27  Rams 24 (OT):  The Niners produced 449 yards on offense and the Rams only managed 265.  Normally, games like that do not go to OT.

Chiefs 28  Broncos 24:  This game was dead even on the stat sheet.  An 86-yard scoop-and-score in the middle of the 4th quarter by the Chiefs provided the margin of victory here.

Cowboys 51  Eagles 26:  The Cowboys are the better team here when both teams are playing their “regulars”.  The Eagles sat several of their “regulars”, so this game turned into a practice session pretty quickly.

Raiders 35  Chargers 32 (OT):   This was the perfect way for the NFL to have its final regular season game come to its conclusion.  The Raiders generated almost 100 more yards on offense than the Chargers did, but the Raiders also accumulated 108 yards in penalties on 10 violations.  The overtime period saw three scoring plays (all field goals naturally); that is not commonplace for NFL OTs.

 

NFL Playoff Games:

 

(Sat 4:30 PM EST)  Raiders at Bengals – 6 (49):  The Bengals last won a playoff game at the end of the 1990 season, and they have missed the playoffs entirely for the past 5 seasons.  [Aside:  That last win in 1990 came at the expense of the Houston Oilers.]  They are favored here because Joe Burrow, JaMar Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon make for a big-time offense; the Bengals average 27.1 points per game.  The Raiders’ pass defense ranks 13th in the league giving up 222.9 yards per game.  Meanwhile, the Raiders’ passing game is not as potent, but it will play against the 26th ranked pass defense of the Bengals which allowed 248.4 yards per game.  I think the two passing offenses will decide the outcome.  The Raiders are accustomed to playing tight games this year; 7 of their 10 wins were one-score games and four of those one-score wins were overtime games.  The Raiders are on a 4-game winning streak and the total margin of victory in those 4 wins was 12 points.  The Bengals defeated the Raiders in the regular season in Las Vegas by 18 points but that was 8 games ago.  Purely a hunch, I think the Raiders keep this game close; I’ll take the Raiders plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack

(Sat 8:15 PM EST)  Pats at Bills – 4 (43.5):  The Bills bring a 4-game winning streak to the game.  These teams split their meetings in the regular season with each team winning on the road.  The Pats have been better on the road than at home; they are 6-2 on the road and only 4-5 at home.  Go figure…  As noted above, this game will be played in COLD weather but without the sort of windy conditions that prevailed when the Pats beat the Bills in Buffalo back in December.  Each team has a fairly obvious defensive key:

  • Pats’ rookie QB, Mac Jones, has been better at home than on the road despite the teams home/road record.  The Bills could load up to stop the Pats’ run game and force Jones to beat them in “adverse conditions”.
  • The Bills’ running game survives because oftentimes Josh Allen is their leading rusher.  Allen rushed for 763 yards this year on 122 carries (6.3 yards per carry).  The Pats could easily adopt the same strategy as the Bills and load up to stop the run and put a spy on Josh Allen.

It looks to me as if the Bills are peaking as they enter the playoffs on a 4-game winning streak.  I know that Bill Belichick’s teams do not usually make early playoff exits, but I think the Bills are the better team right now; I like the Bills to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.  I need another pick to fill out the Six-Pack so … even in the frigid weather forecast for this night game, I will take the game to go OVER the total; put that in the Six-Pack too.

(Sun 1:00 PM EST)  Eagles at Bucs – 9 (45.5):  The Eagles can run the football; they led the NFL in rushing gaining 159.7 yards per game on the ground.  On paper, it would appear that this would play into the Bucs’ hand since the Bucs had the third best rush defense in the league allowing only 92.5 yards per game.  However, the Bucs had nice leads for large portions of games this year meaning that the opposition was favoring a pass offense to catch up.  The Eagles’ defense cannot allow this to become a shoot-out; in that circumstance, the Bucs would hold significantly superior firepower.  The Bucs will be without Chris Godwin (injury) and Antonio Brown (goofball), so the Bucs’ offense is hampered slightly.  However, Mike Evans will be on the scene.  Moreover, the Eagles defense against tight ends over the middle this year has been less than air-tight, and the Bucs have 3 tight ends – Gronk, Cameron Brate and OJ Howard – who should have big days.  The Bucs have won 5 of their last 6 games but they have only faced one “better than average offense” in that stretch; here are their victims:

  • Panthers
  • Bills
  • Falcons
  • Colts
  • Giants.

The loss in that run was to the Saints who only scored 9 points but still won the game.  I like this game to go OVER the total; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun 4:30 PM EST)  Niners at Cowboys – 3.5 (51):  The Niners can run the football too; they average 127.4 yards per game and when the running game is working, they just keep on keeping on.  If the Cowboys’ defense does not force the Niners to throw the ball more often than they want to throw it, the Niners will win the game straight up.  As noted above, do not be fooled by the Cowboys’ 51 point outburst last week; that was against practice squad members of the Eagles team.  I was also impressed by the Niners’ defensive Front 7 in last week’s win over the Rams.  I think the Niners can win the game straight up so I will take them with the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun 8:15 PM EST)  Steelers at Chiefs – 13 (46):The Chiefs beat the Steelers like a drum in Arrowhead Stadium on the day after Christmas by a score of 36-10.  If any of the players have repressed that memory, I suspect that Mike Tomlin and company will be sure to bring back those memories.  The Chiefs’ defense is up-and-down this  year; if they take the game less than 100% seriously on defense, this could be a nail-biter.  The Chiefs’ defense allows 368.9 yards per game putting it at 27th in the NFL.  I am not a fan of the Steelers’ offense by any means – – but the Chiefs’ shortcomings on defense can keep this game close.  On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs’ offense is elite and even the excellent Steelers’ defense is unlikely to render it merely average.  I cannot see the Steelers winning this game, but I have no interest in making a selection with that big a spread in a playoff game.

(Mon 8:15 PM EST)  Cards at Rams – 4 (49) :  Like the Pats/Bills game, this game presents two teams that split their regular season encounters with each team winning on the road.  Neither team comes to this game playing strong, consistent football.  The Cards lost 4 of their last 5 games and the Rams arrive on a 2-game losing streak.  Both teams rely on strong defenses to be successful; I assume both defenses will show up intending to dominate the opponent; ergo, I like the game to stay UNDER the Total; put it in the Six-Pack.

And here are two Money Line parlays to consider:

  • Bills @ minus-200
  • Chiefs @ minus-700
  • Bucs @ minus-375  to win $118 on a $100 wager.

And …

  • Raiders @ +190
  • Niners @ +145  to win $611 on a $100 wager.

Finally, here is one more item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“At TheOnion.com: ‘Star high-school quarterback blissfully unaware he’ll be Jets starter 4 years from now.’”

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

 

 

Suggestions To Break the MLB Lockout Impasse

The MLB lockout continues and there are not active negotiations ongoing between the two sides.  I will go out on a limb here and suggest that absent any negotiating sessions, there will not be a resolution to this labor/management impasse.  So, when I ran across this column in the NY Post  by Ken Davidoff it caught my attention.  In the column, he tries to suggest compromises that the two sides might make in order to get to a new CBA even though neither side would get everything it wants to get.  Here is a link to his column; it is worth reading in full.

Let me be clear from the start; I do not agree with all of his proposals – – but that is exactly the point to be made now.  The time for rhetoric and posturing is in the past; the issue now is not if a suggested path forward is “perfect” or even “desirable”; the issue now is if a suggested path forward is “acceptable in exchange for some other modification of position by the other guys.”

Davidoff suggests payroll floors for all MLB teams.  I think this is a great idea but surprisingly it is as unappealing to the union as it is to the owners.  You would think that if teams like the Orioles, Marlins and Rays had to bump up their payrolls by as much as 100-150% over a 5-year period, the union would like that.  Rather, it seems that the union reflexively dismisses the concept of a salary cap and sees a salary floor as an opening to also have a salary cap.

That is a point where I part company with the union position.  Salary caps along with salary floors work in other professional sports; the players in the NFL and the NBA and the NHL are not being exploited and used up as chattel property without fair and reasonable compensation.  Obviously, there would need to be a lot of haggling over what the numbers might be for cap and floor; and just as importantly, there would have to be some grace-period exemptions for teams to come into compliance should it come to be.  But this is something that both sides should want to achieve somewhere down the road – – so get started now because it might take 10 years of negotiating to get it done.

Davidoff suggests increasing the threshold for baseball’s “luxury tax” as a balancing act for the salary floor that he proposes.  Absent getting to a “Cap-and-Floor” structure, the increase he proposes in the luxury tax target point makes sense.

Davidoff suggests increasing the minimum salary for MLB players by more than 100% in 2022 and by about 300% by 2026.  I cannot imagine how the union would oppose such a position; the question is what might the union be willing to give to the owners in exchange.  I think the increases proposed would be helpful to young players who are a long way from getting to free agency; that would be a lot of votes in the union to ratify whatever else might be in the new CBA.  This change would also make it easier to assure that low-payroll teams start to approach a reasonable salary floor – – but then again, the union hates the idea of a salary floor.

Davidoff has a suggestion in his column regarding a change in the arbitration system.  I confess that I do not understand baseball arbitration rules anywhere near well enough to understand what he is proposing here and why it might or might not be a resolution that either side might like or dislike.  He says that his suggestion would diminish the relevance of agents; if that were to be the case, I could get behind it.

Davidoff wants to modify the MLB Draft so that teams are not rewarded for long-term tanking and perennial losing.  Maybe his suggestion is the best way to accomplish this end via the Draft and maybe there is a better idea out there; I don’t know.  However, I do think that his final conclusion here is definitely something that would be beneficial to MLB:

“Massive losing must be disincentivized.”

Davidoff favors a 14-team playoff and universal DH.  I disagree on both points.  I have never liked the DH rule and I still do not like it.  The only way I would even begin to consider expanded playoffs with 14 teams would be to cut back the regular season from 162 games so that the regular season can begin after April1, and the World Series can end before Halloween.  I really do like the idea of an orderly reduction of regular season games from the current 162 games to 144 games over a 5-7 year period.

Davidoff wants to eliminate the draft-pick penalties for teams signing top-shelf free agents.  I like that idea; the team losing the free agent can have a supplemental pick in the Draft but the team signing that free agent need not lose a pick.

Davidoff favors 7-inning doubleheaders so long as COVID is a problem.  He addresses the issue of “the fan who pays a 9-inning price for a ticket only to get a 7-inning game” with a creative suggestion.  Each fan gets a $15 coupon to be used for food in the stadium as compensation for the shorter game.   That is the kind of creative thinking that seems absent from the two sides who have to reach an agreement here.

Davidoff also suggests putting in pitch clocks and I think that is a great idea.  He cites data from pitch clock experiments in  Low-A minor leagues that showed more than 20 minutes being cut from average game time.  I attend AA games in Altoona every summer where there is a 20-second pitch clock and has been for several years.  The games move along much more quickly than MLB games do AND no pitcher has had to be helped off the field with his arm hanging by a thread.

Thanks to Ken Davidoff for this essay; I can only hope that the combatants read it and open their minds to the points he makes because without open minds, this contretemps will not resolve itself.

Finally, the two sides in this “battle” are still focused on ideal outcomes for their sides and that leads me to close today with a view of idealism from William F. Buckley, Jr.:

“Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive.”

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