Sports In The Days After COVID-19

My brother-in-law and two other regular readers of these rants have communicated with me in the last week or so suggesting that I expound on a specific topic.  I have blended those three suggestions to come up with a composite “request”:

  1. What might sports be like in a “post-COVID-19 world”?
  2. Are sports important with regard to the country’s “return to normalcy”?

I am flattered to think that anyone else would think I have anything particularly cogent to say on such weighty matters; so, I feel compelled to declare:

  • No government official will read this – – and if (s)he does read it, that government official will immediately forget anything written here.
  • No sports commissioner at any level of any sport – nor any flunkie at the NCAA – will care about any of the content here for more than a millisecond.

Let me start with the second question from the “request” above.  Because sports provide jobs and income for thousands more people than just the players and owners, those enterprises are clearly part of the process of returning to “economic normalcy”.  I do not think sports will be at the foundation of the economic return because much of the revenue derived by sporting enterprises devolve from fans having discretionary income to spend.  Until people who have been economically dislocated by COVID-19 get their finances back into a semblance of order, sports revenues will not rebound to previous levels.

So, in a sense, the economic importance of sports as part of the “return to economic normalcy” might be as a measuring stick for the general financial well-being of its fans.  When we have a vaccine for COVID-19 and we have control over the virus – as opposed to our current state of play – we will know that fans are feeling good about their finances when they return to the sorts of behaviors they exhibited regarding sports before all of this began.

In electrochemistry, there is a device known as the Weston Standard Cell.  It is a device that is constructed precisely and carefully and can be calibrated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  When that is done, the electrical potential of any other electrode or electrochemical cell can be measured very accurately because the Weston Standard Cell is a very stable device.  [Aside:  Not to worry here, I am not going off into a treatise on electromotive force and the like.]  In a sense, sports will be like an economic version of the Weston Standard Cell; we have seen what sort of fan-generated revenue comes from the public in good times and in not-so-good times; by comparison as we recover from COVID-19, economists may be able to have an indicator of the complex calculations that people make subconsciously balancing:

  • Money available to spend
  • Confidence that money spent today will be reliably/readily replaced next week
  • Commodity purchased by that money is worth the expenditure.

In another sense related to sociology rather than economics, sports will be an important part of the “return to normalcy” in the sense that the “normalcy” we used to enjoy had a rhythm provided by sports.  Examples:

  • The College Football Playoff championship will be decided in early January.
  • The Super Bowl is the first Sunday in February
  • Guess when March Madness happens – and the Final Game is the first Monday of April.
  • MLB Opening Day is not a fixed date – but it is a reliable harbinger of Spring.
  • The Masters – a tradition unlike any other except for when COVID-19 strikes.
  • The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May and the other Triple Crown races are set in accordance with that date.
  • NFL Training Camps open in mid-July; the season starts on the Thursday after Labor Day.
  • If it’s a Saturday in the Fall, it’s college football time
  • If it’s a Sunday in the Fall, it’s NFL football time.
  • The World Series is at the end of October.
  • The Breeders’ Cup is in early November.
  • The Cowboys and Lions will play on Thanksgiving Day
  • The NBA will play on Christmas Day.

That rhythm is a background cadence for sports fans in the US.  We do not often recite it or commit it to a list as I have done here, but we know it is the case and we acclimate ourselves to its regularity.  Just as background rhythm does not make the song, this rhythm of sports will not cause the “return to normalcy” – – but we will probably begin to start to recognize that rhythm once it begins, and I think that will make the road back to normalcy a tad smoother for its being there.

There is another way for sports to be reassuring on the road to our reclamation of our social order.  This year, 2020, is clearly unusual; everyone hopes that it is unique.  The disruption of that sports rhythm continues to remind sports fans that this year is out of whack and as sports attempt to come back online – so to speak – those events can be guideposts on the way back to normal.  For example, the 2020 MLB season hopes to start sometime in June/July and the league hopes to get 80-90 games in before starting the playoffs.  That is a good news/bad news proposition:

  • Good News:  They are playing baseball again; that represents progress.
  • Bad News:  The 2020 season will never be considered a “real MLB season” and whatever they do will never “feel right”.

Similarly, the NBA’s “season-interruptus” (and the NHL’s too) cannot be patched back together to convince fans that 2020 was a real season.  Maybe if the NFL can actually get started on time and stay on schedule for 17 weeks, people will begin to accept that the light up ahead is truly the end of the tunnel and not a gorilla with a flashlight.  We shall see…

Moving on to the more difficult question posed by my brother-in-law and other readers, I think sports will be different for a while even after we return to “normalcy”.  Here are two reasons why:

  1. In sports with salary caps – and floors – tied to league revenues, there is going to be a significant revenue reduction now and that means cap ceilings will come down too.  Existing contracts may not fit under various caps; there may not be room for all players who have big contracts.  This situation could impinge on the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS.
  2. In MLB, they do not have “cap considerations” but the leagues and the players have a history of finding ways to shoot themselves – and each other – in the foot.  See the 1994 World Series for example…  This week the leagues will put forward a proposal regarding pay for players in a season shortened by a virus that no one could have forecast at the time of the signing of the CBA.  It will not surprise me in the least when the two parties here get into a public spitting contest over the money issue.

Now, if I am correct about that second item above, I think MLB is going to emerge from COVID-19 much worse off than it was before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.  The reality of today is that 25% of the people in the US who can work and want to work do not have a job.  Those people do not know where their next influx of money is coming from to buy food or pay the rent; some of those people are the baseball fans that MLB wants to get back on board with baseball in 2020.  How to make sure that will  NOT happen:

  • Get right back into the middle of a fight between billionaire owners and mulit-millionaire players over amounts of money that would likely pay off the mortgages of most of those putative baseball fans.
  • These jamokes have done it before; they really must not do it again, now!

All the pro leagues in the US are guilty of this – – but MLB has taken it and made it into an art form.  They take the fans for granted and they also take for granted that they can dip into the wallets of those fans with impunity.  If MLB and the MLBPA are going to maintain that set of behaviors, they had best do said maintenance with a whole lot of trepidation.  Lots of their fans are going to be cash-starved as much as they are going to be baseball-starved.  Lots of their fans are going to be leery of stadiums with big crowds, potentially infected “surfaces” and lack of the ability to effect social distancing.  Fans are simply not going to be back in the numbers that they were last year; and if the owners try to gouge them in the parking lot and at the concession stands because the players are sticking it to the owners in  negotiations, even fewer fans will show up in August and September.

MLB – and the NFL if it indeed starts on time – will be the benchmarks for how professional sports win back the live audiences that make up an important ancillary part of those games.  For MLB the challenge is bigger than it is for the NFL because the demographic for a baseball audience is older than it is for a pro football game.  As people age, they become more susceptible to the truly adverse aspects of COVID-19; and as people age, they become more conservative with their spending habits relative to their personal assets.  MLB looks as if it will be first up on this front and here is what I think the clubs need to do immediately and broadly:

  • Get rid of outrageously expensive ticketing.  The Yankees specifically should not charge anything near $1K per ticket per game.   Period.
  • Make sure the stadium that fans arrive to is spit-polished clean.  Hire a Marine boot camp drill sergeant to inspect every seat, every counter-top, every rest room before, during and after the games.
  • There is no such thing in 2020 as a $12 bottle of Bud Light poured into a plastic cup.
  • No one will pay $50 to park their car in the lot proximal to the stadium.

Teams could get away with ignoring those “fan-courtesies” over the past decade or so, but times have changed, and teams better recognize that fact.  There did not need to be any hooks to draw crowds in the last ten years; but in 2020, it would behoove teams to give every fan that shows up in the stadium for a game a voucher that will provide some benefit for a game in the future – say within 3 weeks.  Maybe it would be reduced parking rates or maybe it would be a free cheesesteak (in Philly) or – – you get the idea.  Here is what is NOT going to work:

  • Teams try to sell the fans on how tough life is for the team and its owner(s).  They have lost sooo much money in 2020 that they need to raise prices on everything just to get their heads near the surface of the water.

That – ladies and gentlemen – is pure unadulterated bulls[p]it.  Owners are going to be losing money or making a whole lot less money in 2020 than they had in their budgetary planning, but those billionaires are not about to be showing up in the 5-mile long food lines to feed their families.  AND those multi-millionaire players need to get it through their oversized egos that without the fans to open those wallets to pay the owners, those humongous player salaries are not “certain unalienable Rights” endowed by their Creator.  The MLBPA can be stubborn asshats here – but it will not redound to their long-term benefit.  Players are always trying to establish and enhance their “brand”.  Behaving like an entitled asswipe here is not an “brand enhancing strategy”.

Forty years ago – the Middle Ages had ended recently – all of the major US sports were experiencing seemingly constant labor strife.  The scenario was always the same:

  • Management cried poor.
  • Players lamented their exploitation.
  • Government mediators demonstrated that they could not resolve a spat between Bert and Ernie.

I said then – and it remains true today – that there is a voice missing from those sorts of interactions and that voice belongs to the fans who pay the freight for the owners, players and government mediators.  Their voice was never at the table – and it will not be there when MLB and the MLBPA start and finish their wrangling.  However, this time the fans have a real way – – and a real reason – – to demonstrate their primacy here.

  • Stay home.
  • Do not watch every game on TV – keep the ratings under control.
  • Call local sponsors – excuse me, “corporate partners” – for local teams and tell those “partners” directly that you will not buy their products because they are associated with an entity that is out to gouge you.
  • Write a letter to each and every company/organization that a player endorses and tell that entity that you will take your business elsewhere because that player is part of a union that only looks out for its own.

There are 30 MLB teams; if only 1000 fans for each team did what is outlined above, there would be economic ripples – and media stories about those ripples which would encourage another thousand or so fans per team to join in.  And then…

What might sports look like post-COVID-19?  It could be a Fan-Friendly Era.  Except it will not because the fans that cannot afford to go to games will stay home and drive up TV ratings, and the fans that can afford to go to games will do so because it will be a signal of their economic stature.  I believe the current jargon for the makeup of the fanbases is “Sheeple”…

As I said at the outset here, I do not expect anyone in a position to effect change in the way we bring sports back into society in 2020 to consider what is here with any degree of credibility.  Nonetheless, I really believe that the folks in MLB and the MLBPA have a significant probability of over-playing their hands here.  Hopefully, the folks in the NFL and the NFLPA can see what goes down here and “go to school” on what happens so that we do not go through it twice with pro football.

Ahh!  I think my meds have just kicked in…

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

 

 

2020 NFL Pre-Draft Analysis – Defense

Picking up where I left off from yesterday, today will focus on defensive players I saw last year who could find themselves drafted by an NFL team by Saturday night.  Here is the schedule for this year’s Draft – which will be conducted entirely online for the first time.

  • Thursday, 23 April:  Round 1 Begins at 8:00 PM EDT
  • Friday, 24 April:  Rounds 2 & 3 Begins at 7:00 PM EDT
  • Saturday, 25 April:  Rounds 4-7 Begins at Noon EDT

You can watch the event on ESPN and/or NFL Network for all 3 days.

I will begin today with Defensive Linemen.  As with yesterday’s presentation, I will put these players in alphabetical order because I do not want anyone to infer any sort of ranking here except when I specifically call out a round I think the player will be drafted.

  • Derrick Brown – Auburn: “Big and quick.  “Strong against the run and gets plenty of internal pass pressure”.  “Should go first round”.
  • K’Lavon Chaisson – LSU: “Good pass rusher, fast enough to chase down runs to the opposite side”.  “Not real good on power runs coming at him”.  “Probably a 2nd round pick.”
  • Raekwon Davis – Alabama: “Great against the run, not a lot of interior pressure on pass plays”.  “Second round?”
  • AJ Epenesa – Iowa: “All over the place in Holiday Bowl Game; unstoppable”.  “Obviously did not do that every game or he would be heralded as much as Chase Young.  Who knows?”
  • Leki Fotu – Utah: “Excellent playing the run”.  “Not fast at all and not much interior pass pressure”.  “Take in the late rounds.”.
  • Neville Gallimore – Oklahoma: “Super quick off the snap.” “Uses hands and arms to get penetration”. “Probably goes in the mid-rounds”.
  • Davon Hamilton – Ohio State: “Impressive interior pass rusher”.  “Good enough against the run”.  “Take in 2nd or 3rd round.”
  • Javon Kinlaw – South Carolina: “Screen graphic said 315 lbs., still very quick off the ball and decent pursuit of runners and QBs.”  “Not a bowling ball DT; he’s very tall”.  “First or second round pick?”
  • Chase Young – Ohio State: “Super quick off the ball and speed for an outside rush”.  “Not nearly so good defending run play straight at him”.  “Obviously a first-round pick”.

Chase Young follows in the footsteps of “The Bosa Bros” as a pass rushing monster for Ohio State.  I wonder who the Buckeyes have on the roster who will follow in these footsteps.

Moving on to the Linebackers …

  • Malik Harrison – Ohio State: “ILB big and strong against the run”.  “Not very fast – pass coverage limitations”.  “Probably a late round pick”.
  • Khalid Kareem – Notre Dame: “Good run defender.”  “Good pass coverage.”  “Not much pressure for an OLB.”  “Late rounds.”
  • Terrell Lewis – Alabama: “Good speed and pass rush moves”.  “Defends the run well”.  “Pass coverage out of the backfield, he’s average”.  I would say he is a mid-round pick but because he went to Alabama he will probably go in the second round.
  • Kenneth Murray – Oklahoma: “Big, fast and sure tackler”.  “Like pass coverage for a guy that big”.  “First round pick.”
  • Patrick Queen – LSU: “Good speed for blitz situations and for pass coverage”.  “Good enough against the run”.  “Second or third round?”
  • Isaiah Simmons – Clemson: “Excellent pass rush; plays the run and defends passes.”  “What can’t he do?”  “Has to go early in 1st round”.

I think that Isaiah Simmons is the defensive player in this draft who will have the most impactful NFL career; he just did everything on defense except play nose tackle.  I know that everyone has Chase Young penciled in as the top defender in this draft and I am not disputing his talents or his ability when I say that I think Isaiah Simmons is even better.

The Defensive Backs are next:

  • Terrell Burgess – Utah: “Tough defender; hard hitting tackler”.  “Not fast but seems to know where the ball is going so he gets there on time”.  “Plays safety”.  “Late round pick”.
  • CJ Henderson – Florida: “Big CB with good speed”.  “Solid pass defender deep and short”.  “Not much of a tackler on run plays to his side”.  “1st or 2nd round”.
  • Darnay Holmes – UCLA: “Small but fast”.  “Good coverage good closing speed”.  “Size is a problem?”.  “Late round pick; if he were bigger he’d go earlier.”
  • Xavier McKinney – Alabama: “Guy is everywhere – always around the ball”.  “Sure tackler and very good in coverage”.  “Plays safety in college”.  Looks like a 1st round pick to me”.
  • Jeff Okudah – Ohio State: “Good size and speed”. “Plays lots of man coverage in college”.  “Good enough as a tackler on run plays”.  “Has to go in the 1st round”.
  • John Reid – Penn State: “Good cover guy but very small”.  Maybe worth a late round pick?”
  • Antoine Winfield – Minnesota: “Excellent speed”.  “Covers well and tackles well enough”.  “Plays safety and problem is size; he is awfully small for an NFL safety”.  Take a flier on him in the late rounds.

Before I leave the defensive backs, let me make a comment about one here for whom I have no “performance notes” – – but I do have this note:

Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn): “Every copy editor and play-by-play announcer in an NFL city hopes this guy is drafted by a team in ‘the other conference’.”

I have exactly one Place Kicker in my stack of notes:

  • Rodriguo Blankenship – Georgia: “His placekick attempts all seem to go right down the middle – – very accurate”.  Team that needs a kicker can grab him in the late rounds”.

That’s it, folks; that’s all I have.  No none alerted me to a defensive player at a small school so I can’t tell you to watch for Joe Flabeetz from Teensy Tech as the Draft unfolds this weekend.  So, let me leave you with a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding a way that NFL broadcasters may reflect these COVID-19 times:

“NFL broadcasters, in keeping with the coronavirus theme, will henceforth refer to busted coverages as ‘social distancing.’”

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

 

 

2019 NFL Draft Preview – Offense

About 45 years ago, Howard Cosell characterized the NFL Draft this way:

“…the most overrated, over-propagandized annual event in American sport.”

He was probably right.  Nevertheless, I will be paying attention to the draft later this week because in 2020 it is sports reality and that is a commodity in rare supply these days.  The telecast over a three-day span is not fantasy; it is not bloviating opinion; it is reality and it will take place in the present tense.  Hallelujah…

Let me do a quick reset here for those who have joined on in the last year.  I like college football, so I watch it on television.  As I watch, one of the things I do is to look for players who – I think – have a shot to play in the NFL and I keep a small notepad with me to make notes.  Then, I take those notes and relate my impressions and opinions here before the draft takes place.

This is NOT a mock draft; this is just a compendium of notes that I took during college games last Fall.  [Aside:  There are two players named here because readers informed me of their abilities.  They will be clearly indicated.]

Because all this information comes from watching games on TV, there will be plenty of players that I have nothing to say about.  Obviously, the Power-5 schools are on TV a lot more than other teams; obviously, I live in the Eastern Time Zone, so I see eastern and midwestern teams more frequently than I do far west teams.  Moreover, I often only see a team play one game and maybe that is not the day when a prospect played his best game.  I can assure you that any omission of a player from this list is not an act of disrespect.

I notice that I have fewer notes this year as compared to previous years; I have no idea why that is the case, but it is what it is.  This year will at least be better than last year when I had to forego this tradition because I accidentally left all my notes in the seatback pocket of an airplane.  Time get started…

I shall begin with the Quarterbacks.  I will do them in alphabetical order:

  • Joe Burrow – LSU: “Very accurate on long throws; hits receivers in stride.”  Everyone has him going to the Bengals with the first pick; sounds good to me…
  • Jake Fromm – Georgia: “Announcers really love him, he’s OK but not anything better than OK.”  If he is still available in the 4th or 5th round, he’s worth a shot.
  • Justin Herbert – Oregon: “Love his athleticism and arm strength; he makes the out pattern to the wide side of the field look like an ordinary throw.  Not fast but moves in the pocket well.”  I think he should go early in the 1st round.
  • Jalen Hurts – Oklahoma: “Big question mark.  Accurate short passer but long completions were to receivers open by 5 yards.  Not a lot of throws like that in the NFL.”
  • Jordan Love – Utah State:  I mention him here because he has gotten a lot of attention over the past month or so; some reports say that Bill Belichick covets him as Tom Brady’s long-term replacement in New England.  I have no notes on him because I don’t think I ever saw a Utah State game last season.  Sorry…
  • Shea Patterson – Michigan: “Lots of hype coming to college football but looks ordinary to me.”
  • Tua Tagovailoa – Alabama: “Good mobility; accurate on short throws and long throws.”  “Always finds someone open.”

Injuries are a way of life in football.  Tagovailoa will enter the NFL “pre-injured” and that ought to concern a team that takes him early in the draft.  When healthy, he is a serious candidate to be a franchise QB for a team for a long while; the problem is that he has already had 3 surgical procedures before taking a snap in an NFL Training Camp.

Let me move on to the Running Backs – again in alphabetical order:

  • Eno Benjamin – Arizona State: “Not a big guy; carries the ball a lot; runs hard every down.  Quick and decisive cuts.  Not so good at pass blocking.”  I think he is worth a late round pick.
  • AJ Dillon – Boston College: “BIG back; runs hard; not gonna break big runs but looks like a durable back”.  [Aside:  No notes on pass catching or blocking.]
  • JK Dobbins – Ohio State: “Runs hard; runs through contact; always falling forward.”  [Aside:  No notes on pass catching or blocking.]
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire – LSU: “Big threat as a receiver”.  “Quick to the hole”.  I think his speed and pass-catching abilities gets him taken late first round or second round.
  • Anthony McFarland – Maryland:  Not big, but this guy is fast and he can catch the football.”  I think he can be a third-down back in the NFL.  He could go in the 3rd or 4th round just because of his speed.
  • Zac Moss – Utah: “Built like a bowling ball; runs hard; tough to bring down.  Not a speed back.”  “OK as a blocker.”
  • Jonathan Taylor – Wisconsin: “Big back and fast”.  “Picks up blitz well.”  “Looks like a 1st round pick to me”.

Next up will be the Wide Receivers.  For the last couple of months, I have been reading reports that this year’s draft is very deep in quality wide receivers.  My notes would seem to agree with that assessment because I have ten WRs with notes on them – – plus one player suggested by a reader.

  • Brandon Aiyuk – Arizona State: “Big receiver and VERY fast”.  “Also returns kicks for Ariz St.”  “Mid-round pick?”
  • Chase Claypool – Notre Dame: “Looks more like a TE; said he weighs 230 lbs.”.  “Fast enough to be WR in the NFL?” “Worth taking in late round as a TE.”
  • KJ Hamler – Penn State: “Small but VERY fast”.  “Mid rounder who will either blossom or bust.”
  • Tee Higgins – Clemson: “1st or 2nd round for sure.”  “Screen graphic said 6’4” and 215 lbs.; I believe it”.  “Good hands”.
  • Justin Jefferson – LSU: “Versatile – – open on long balls and open in short passing game”.  “Excellent hands”.  “1st or 2nd round”.
  • Jerry Jeudy – Alabama: “Fast and good hands.  “Big enough with long arms”.  He looks like a first-round pick to me.
  • CeeDee Lamb – Oklahoma: “Gets open all the time but not the fastest WR I have ever seen.  Good size and hands.”  “Has to go in first or second round.”
  • Denzel Mims – Baylor: “Big with great hands.  Aggressive going for the ball”.  “Fast enough to play in the NFL.”  “Worth a mid-round pick.”
  • Michael Pitman – USC: “Big, long arms, decent speed”.  “Possession receiver”.  “Late round pick?”
  • Henry Ruggs – Alabama: “Super fast but not very big.”  “Defense stretcher.”  “2nd round pick.”

As promised, here is a player nominated for mention by a reader via email.  The player is Stephen Guidry – Mississippi State.  Here is the pertinent part of the email I received from the reader:

“You won’t take note of him if you watch the Bulldogs because there isn’t a QB in Starkville who can throw worth a damn.  But he has good hands and he’s tough when they get the ball anywhere near him.”

Time for the Tight Ends.  It would appear to be a meager crop this year…

  • Hunter Bryant – Washington: “Always open and catches anything that comes to him”.  “Not a good blocker”.  “Mid-round pick?”
  • Cole Kmet – Notre Dame: “No speed but good hands for short passing game”.  “Blocked well on pass plays where blitz came on his side”.  “Maybe a late round pick.”
  • Thad Moss – LSU: “Big, strong, good hands.”  “Quick but not fast.”  “Doesn’t block much”.  “Early round pick.”

Before I start with the Offensive Linemen, I need to explain that I lump all of them into one category since the NFL tends to move players from position to position in this unit.  In addition, I want to present a cogent observation made by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about a month ago:

Great class: As always, attention at the NFL draft will sharply focus on quarterbacks, but what intrigues more teams are the half-dozen or so outstanding offensive tackles worthy of first-round selections. After quarterback, isn’t the O-line the most important element for a contending team?”

  • Trey Adams – Washington: “Solid run blocker; not a lot of speed to lead plays to the opposite side”.  “Late round pick”.
  • Tyler Biadasz – Wisconsin: “Excellent pass blocker.”  “Played center for Badgers.”  “Early round pick?”
  • Shane Lemieux – Oregon: “Excellent power run blocker; solid pass blocker”.  “Not very fast”.  “Worth a 3rd round pick?”
  • Caesar Ruiz – Michigan: “Excellent blocker – quick to get to a double team assignment”.  “Late first or second round pick?”
  • Andrew Thomas – Georgia: “Big and strong.  Really good pass blocker”.  “Probably a first-round pick.”
  • Jedrick Wills – Alabama: “Big man (screen graphic said 310 lbs.)”.  “Quick for his size and blocks well for both run and pass plays”.  “Has to be a first-round pick”.
  • Isaiah Wilson – Georgia: “Another huge man on UGA OL”.  “Excellent blocker on power run; pass blocking is good not great”.  “Take in 2nd round?”

I had no Punters in my notes, but this is where that second player mentioned via email enters the picture.  Here is the email referring to Alex Pechin – Bucknell.

“Bucknell is never on TV so you won’t see them and besides, they stink.  But they have a punter who gets lots of practice and he gets off at least one 50-yard punt every game and sometimes a 60-yarder.  Alex Pechin is his name.  He won’t get drafted but some team should invite him to camp for a tryout.”

I went and Googled “Alex Pechin Stats” and learned that:

  1. He averaged 47.6 yards per punt last season.  So, he must have had more than a few punts over 50 yards in length.
  2. Indeed, Bucknell was not very good last year; the record there was 3-8.  Pechin did indeed get plenty of practice; he punted 65 times for the season.
  3. He double majored in biomedical engineering and management for engineers.  He also was the Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year in each of the last three seasons.

Tomorrow, I will go through the defensive players from last year’s notes.  Until then, let me leave with this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Doughnut:  A food created in response to the notion that if something has 20 grams of sugar, 25 grams of fat and 425 calories, then it should be made available in groups of twelve.”

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

 

 

2019 Pre-Season NFL Picks Post-Mortem

Think back to when you first read George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984.  At first, I had a difficult time resonating with the idea of “Hate Week” or the daily and obligatory “Two Minute Hate” for the citizenry.  That was when I was in the 9th grade.  Today, I have a greater appreciation for the concepts there and today’s writing exercise sort of fits into something like

  • Two Great Hours of Humiliation.

Today, I will dig out my predictions for all 32 of the NFL teams and how they would do in the 2019 regular season.  I will grade myself on the accuracy (would that it were so…) of those predictions and then sit here and absorb the laughter that those predictions will certainly provide.  If you want to follow along with the hilarity, here is the link to what I wrote back in September 2019.

I will start with my “coaches on a hot seat” predictions:

  • Jason Garrett – – indeed he was fired
  • Jay Gruden – – indeed he was fired.
  • Doug Marrone – – he was retained but there was a short span of time when a lot of folks thought he would follow Tom Coughlin to the unemployment line
  • Bill O’Brien – – his Texans won the division again in 2019 and he got promoted to take on the jobs of head coach AND general manager.
  • Matt Patricia – – he was retained despite a bad record; the loss of Matthew Stafford at QB for half the season made a decent record all but impossible.
  • Ron Rivera – – indeed he was fired.
  • Dan Quinn – – he was retained after the Falcons rallied in the second half of the season to post a record that was not embarrassing.
  • Mike Zimmer – – he was retained and the Vikes picked up the 2020 option in his contract after the team made the playoffs as a wild-card team.

I did not have Freddie Kitchens on my hot-seat list at all.  I did not have the Browns as a “Super Bowl Sleeper” as did some other prognosticators but I also never imagined how incompetently the Browns’ team would be organized and managed.

I did not see the Giants firing Pat Shurmer as quickly as they did, but the Giants were bad once again and his record over two seasons in NY was 9-23

Of the 5 coaches who were fired, I had 3 of them on my list.  That is the good news.  The bad news – for me – is that owners of teams that underperformed expectations/talent levels did not pull the trigger and get a new coach.  The best I can do in giving myself a grade here is a “D”.  The “misses” on O’Brien, Quinn and Zimmer were big misses…

I started with the AFC West and I projected that the division as a whole would go 35-29.  Actually, the AFC West combined record was 31-33.

  • I had the Chiefs winning the division with a 13-3 record.  That was pretty close to the actual Chiefs’ record of 12-4.  And let me pat myself on the back here and point out that I singled out Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu as key additions to the Chiefs’ defense for 2019.  I need that sort of “bragging space” because of what comes next …
  • I had the Chargers finishing second in the division with a record of 11-5.  I must have been looking in a mirror while typing that out because the Chargers finished with a record of 5-11 – – putting them dead last in the division.
  • I had the Raiders finishing third in the division with a record of 6-10.  The Raiders came in with a 7-9 record, so I wasn’t all that far off in that prediction.
  • I had the Broncos at the bottom of the division with a 5-11 record.  The Broncos finished 7-9.  I did not see the demise of Joe Flacco as the Denver QB and the emergence of Drew Lock at that position.

The overall grade for the AFC West is another “D”.

Next up was the AFC North and I projected that the division as a whole would go 29-35 tied with the AFC South for the worst division in the NFL.  In fact, the AFC North combined record was 30-34.

  • I had the Steelers winning the division with a record of 10-6.  That was not even close although I have to say that the inability of Ben Roethlisberger to participate in more than two games in the 2019 season certainly affected the Steelers’ fortunes for the year.  The Steelers did manage to finish second in the AFC North with an 8-8 record.
  • I had the Ravens next with a record of 8-8.  I thought that their losses on defense would make the team vulnerable and I did not foresee Lamar Jackson emerging as the league MVP.  The Ravens had the best record in the NFL at 14-2.  Ouch …!
  • I had the Browns also finishing at 8-8.  The team was a dumpster fire for much of the year and struggled to finish at 6-10.
  • I had the Bengals bringing up the rear in the division with a record of 3-13.  Actually, the Bengals managed to underperform even that low standard and finished at 2-14.

The overall grade for the AFC North is a flat-out “F”.

            Moving on to the AFC South, I projected that the division as a whole would go 29-35.  Looking at the final standings, the AFC South combined record was 32-32.

  • I had the Texans winning the division with a 10-6 record.  That is exactly what happened in the 2019 season.  I said that the Texans would need to protect Deshaun Watson better in 2019 than they did in 2018 – – and indeed they did that too.
  • I had the Colts finishing second in this division with a 9-7 record.  I said – along with just about everyone who follows the NFL with an IQ greater than a thermostat setting – that the loss of Andrew Luck as their QB would be a big drag on the team’s performance in 2019.  The Colts finished 7-9 for the year.
  • I had the Titans in third place in the AFC South with a 6-10 record.  The Titans finished the season at 9-7 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.  That disparity is embarrassing to begin with, but I went further and shot myself in the foot by saying this:

“New additions to the roster include Adam Humphries, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake; they will certainly not hurt the team, but I doubt they are the engine that propels the Titans to playoff contention in 2019.”

  • I had the Jaguars bringing up the rear in the division at 4-12.  Indeed, the Jags finished last in the AFC South but with a 6-10 record.

The overall grade for the AFC South is a “D-minus” and I might be a bit generous there…

The last stop in the AFC was the AFC East.  I projected that the division would go 31-33 for the season.  In fact, the combined record for the AFC East was 34-30.

  • I had the Patriots winning the division – as did every other prognosticator who was not trying to come up with a “bold prediction” as opposed to a “sensible prediction”.  I said that the Pats would go 12-4 which is exactly what they did in 2019.  Let me pat myself on the back here by pointing out that I did indeed foresee a significant Patriots’ weakness in 2019:

“The only question mark for this year in my mind is the receiving corps for the Pats.  Yes, they signed Julian Edelman to a contract extension and that is a good thing.  However, after that, there are good players with question marks all over them.  Is rookie N’Keal Harry the real deal?  [Not in 2019 he wasn’t.]  Can Philip Dorsett do anything other than run fly patterns?  [No.]  How long until Josh Gordon is suspended yet one more time?  [Much too soon.]

  • I had the Bills finishing second at 9-7; the Bills came home with a 10-6 record in second place in the division.
  • I had the Jets finishing in third place with a record of 8-8.  The Jets did finish third with a record of 7-9.
  • I had the Dolphins stumbling home with a 2-14 record in 2019.  Clearly, I did not foresee another bout of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s “Fitzmagic”; he somehow got the Dolphins to 5-11 record.

The overall grade for the AFC East is a solid “B-plus”.  It would have been an “A” if the prediction of the Dolphins’ record had been closer; c’est la guerre…

At this point in the post-mortem, I have to hope that things will get a whole lot better in the NFC portion of this rant because if it doesn’t, my “Two Great Hours of Humiliation” might morph into “Two Long Months of Humiliation” …

In the NFC West, I projected that the division would go 33-31.  Actually, the NFC West combined record was 38-25-1.  That is not a good omen for the grade that will be assigned to this division very shortly…

  • I had the Rams winning this division with a 12-4 record.  In fact, the Rams were a disappointing 9-7 for the season and finished a distant third in the division.  I mentioned in September the “Super Bowl curse” associated with teams that lost the Super Bowl the year before and then dismissed it.  I don’t know if the Rams fell victim to that “curse”, but they were exposed more than a little bit last year.
  • I had the Seahawks finishing second in the division at 10-6.  Looking at the standings, the Seahawks did finish second with a record of 11- 5.  That looks rather prescient and indeed I mentioned in September something that was key to the Seahawks’ season:

“With the dissolution of the Legion of Boom, there were some questions on defense for the Seahawks including who will provide their pass rush [Answer:  Jadeveon Clowney acquired from the Texans at the 11th hour.]  and who will be their shut-down cornerback [Still TBD…].”

  • I had the Niners finishing third in the division with a record of 7-9.  I guess I must acknowledge that the Niners did better than that; they finished the season at 13-3 and had home field advantage throughout the playoffs and then played in the Super Bowl game.
  • I had the Cardinals “looking up at the rest of the division” with a 4-12 record.  The Cards were indeed last in the NFC West, but their record was 5-10-1.

The overall grade for the NFC West is another flat-out “F”.

            Next up was the NFC North and I projected that the division would go 34-30.  In reality, the division combined record was 34-29-1.  At this point I am feeling rather good about my crystal-ball-gazing for the NFC North – – until …

  • I had the Bears repeating as NFC North champs in 2019 with a record of 11-5.  The Bears finished 8-8 and a distant third in the division.  Ooops…
  • I had the Packers finishing 9-7; their actual record was 13-3.  Ugh…  At least I was sort of on target with this comment:

“Based on last year’s results, the Packers’ defense needed a whole lot more pass rushing so they went out and acquired “the Smith Brothers” – Preston and ZaDarius – in addition to drafting Rashan Gary with their first-round pick.  Hopefully, that will produce some positive results there.”

  • I had the Vikings finishing 9-7; their actual record was 10-6.  Not bad … plus I had this observation that was more correct than incorrect:

“This should be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Kirk Cousins, and it will lean toward the “put-up” side of that scale if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season.”

  • I had the Lions in last place with a record of 5-11.  With Matthew Stafford sidelined for about half the year, the Lions limped home at 3-12-1.

The overall grade for the NFC North is a “D” avoiding yet another flat-out “F” based on the combined record prediction and the closeness of the Vikings prediction.

Here we go to the NFC South where I had the division going 34-30.  Look at the standing and you will see that the NFC South combined record was 32-32.

  • I had the Saints on top of the division at 12-4.  Indeed, the Saints did win the division with a 13-3 record.
  • I had the Falcons finishing second here with a 10-6 record.  The Falcons started the season losing 7 of their first 8 games and then coming on with a rush to finish 7-9 for the season.  I had them in second place – – and that is where they finished.
  • I had the Panthers finishing third at 8-8.  Not quite … the Panthers finished last at 5-11 and fired their coach in the process.
  • I had the Bucs bringing up the rear in the division with a 4-12 record.  Not close … the Bucs finished 7-9.

The overall grade for the NFC South is yet one more flat-out “F”.  Missing the Saints record by a single game was good, nothing else in this mix was even marginally close to correct.

The last stop on this “Walk of Shame” is the NFC East where I predicted a combined record of 31-33.  The division’s actual combined record was 24-40 making it far and away the worst overall division record in the league.

I did start off on sort of a high note here declaring:

“The four teams here split nicely into two ‘Haves’ and two ‘Have-Nots’.”

What I did not realize at the time was that the two “Haves” were not nearly as good as I thought they would be and that the two “Have-nots” would be a lot worse than I thought they would be.

  • I did have the Eagles winning the division – on a tie-breaker – with an 11-5 record.  The Eagles rallied to win their last 4 games of the season – – all against division opponents – – to win the division at 9-7.  I said that the addition of DeSean Jackson and Malik Jackson were positive moves for the team; neither Jackson played much at all.
  • I had the Cowboys also finishing with an 11-5 record.  Actually, the Cowboys were 8-8 and got their coach fired in the process.  I said that the back end of the Cowboys’ schedule would be difficult for them and indeed, the Cowboys lost 5 of their last 8 games.
  • I had the Skins finishing third at 6-10.  The Skins’ record was 3-13; they lost their first 5 games and got their coach fired; then they finished the season with a 4-game losing streak.
  • I had the Giants finishing last at 3-13.  Hey, I was close; the Giants finished 4-12 and got their coach fired in the process.  [Aside:  Demonstrating once again the insignificance of the NFL Exhibition Games, the Giants were 4-0 in Exhibition Games.  Big “Bleeping” Deal…]

The overall grade for the NFC East is a “D”.

As it comes time for the summation here, I recall Frank Sinatra crooning:

“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…”

The following results will not be pretty; there are 9 grades in total and they are – in the order they were presented:

  1. D
  2. D
  3. F
  4. D-minus
  5. B-plus
  6. F
  7. D
  8. F
  9. D

            I won’t belabor the point here but if an NCAA “student athlete” had those grades on his record, he would not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics for long…  No matter; I’ll be back and try to do better come next September.  Anthony Bourdain had an observation that seems pertinent here:

“We learn as professionals by repetition, by getting it wrong, getting yelled at and doing it again.”

See you in September.

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

 

 

Bad Ads 2019

One of the traditions here in Curmudgeon Central is to wind up the year with a review of Bad Ads that have polluted the radio and/or TV airwaves during sports broadcasting.  It would be impossible to try to memorize this compendium; the only way I can see to do it is to make a note of the Bad Ad as soon as I see it and then come back and collate them into something approaching a logical order during the Holiday Season.  That practice puts a balance into this time of year; in addition to thinking about the joys of family and friends and the positive outlook one must have to ponder the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions”, recalling these Bad Ads from the past year reminds me that lots of things in this world are just plain stupid.

There were so many Bad Ads promulgated by cellular phone companies this year that I would not mind fining them significant amounts of money for the horse-bleep they have showered upon the public.

  • Sprint must believe that its audience has the memory retention of a nematode.  A year ago, they wanted us to switch to the Sprint network because the Sprint network was just as good as the Verizon network but at a lower price.  Such a deal…  Now this year, they continue to use the former Verizon pitchman, “Paul”, and this year he is telling us that the Sprint network is now twice as fast as it was, and it covers 30% more of the country.  Either the 2018 ad campaign was faulty, or the 2019 ad campaign is exaggerated – – or both.  I suspect it’s both.
  • Verizon had an ad where two teenage girls were singing its praises because Verizon got them front row access to some goof’s concert.  One of them effervesced that it was the most exciting thing of her life.  Since you could not get me to a rock concert with a fishhook in my mouth, I am not sure how or why that is supposed to convince me to sign on with Verizon as my wireless carrier.  Obviously, someone in their ad agency sees a connection I do not.
  • Sprint added a blonde goof to the ads with “Paul” for reasons that I am sure make perfect sense in the world of advertising.  “Paul” was the guy who made his mark by walking three steps and asking the person on the other end of his phone call, “Can you hear me now?”.  He was walking around to test network coverage; yeah, right!  Verizon must have ditched him, and he jumped ship to Sprint where he was merely smarmy.  Now paired with this blonde goof of the female persuasion the two of them are stupid plus annoying.

Memo for the Sprint Ad Agency:  Stupid and annoying is not the sort of Exacta you should be seeking in your advertising.  No charge for that advice…

  • Cricket Wireless has ads with fuzzy alien lifeforms that make loud and squeaky sounds as “communication”.  The noises are most unpleasant; I would like to take the folks who thought up this ad campaign and the folks at Cricket who “green-lighted it” and lock them in a dark room for 72 hours with that sound track playing on a circular tape.  And for the record, were I checking to see which wireless network I would prefer to use, I would be looking carefully to find one that does not have loud squeaky noises as part of the transmissions.

Exxon/Mobil has a new premium gas that supposedly makes your engine run two times cleaner than any other gasoline.  If that were demonstrably evident to every Joe Sixpack who drives a gasoline engine vehicle, they could simply tell everyone that and be done with it.  However, they feel that they need to convince people of the rectitude of their new product with a spokesthing who calls himself Mr. Supremium.  Everything he does or has is supremium because it is twice as good as anyone else’s comparable item.  Even his ascot wears an ascot.  Every time I see that ad, the thought that runs through my mind is that must mean that his smelly armpit must have its own smelly armpit meaning his B. O. is also “supremium”.

Hanes underwear offered me the opportunity to acquire and collect Michael Jordan Trading Cards that were contained in “specially marked packages” of the undergarments.  Trading cards for adults?  Who in their right mind would run out and buy that stuff if they did not need underwear in the first place?  C’est stupide?  Wie dumm ist das den?

My notes do not reveal the brand involved here so I’ll just have to describe the ad generically.  It is for Bladder Control Underwear.  A woman trying to be very serious and very sincere reports that she has found bladder control underwear that “looks pretty”.  She makes this declaration wearing her bra and these undies and the tone of her voice certainly conveys that she believes she has a real find here.  This ad is nonsense on two levels:

  • First, no one needs to see a woman who represents someone of an age that needs bladder control underwear in those underwear.
  • Second, the product is not pretty; it is an adult diaper and it looks like an adult diaper.  For the record, adult diapers have plenty of utilitarian value, but they are not pretty and this spokesthing is not about to change anyone’s mind on that score.

In December as folks were ramping up their Christmas shopping, Home Depot ran a radio ad.  If there was a TV version of the same ad, I did not see it.  The deal was simple and pretty interesting.  If you bought a battery powered tool from some brand of tools you would get another battery powered tool from the same manufacturer of equal or lesser value free.  No problem there; if you are shopping for a “Do-it-yourselfer”, this could be an important message.  Here is the problem, the closing line for the ad was “Even Santa can’t beat that.”  Folks, that is pure nonsense.  Santa can certainly beat that because Santa would bring the first tool for free AND the second tool for free too.  Santa does not leave invoices for presents left under the tree…

Smirnoff Vodka took the time and energy to have Ted Danson as their celebrity spokesthing inform me that the vodka was made from non-GMO grains.  That is of exactly zero importance to me.

Reese’s peanut butter cup ads and ads for Reese’s Pieces always end with the voice over saying “Not sorry!”  Glad to know that – – except I have no idea what they are “not sorry” about.  If they are “not sorry” for providing a confusing advertisement, then they ought to be sorry.

Charmin toilet paper will simply not retire the “Charmin Bears”.  I continue to wonder why Procter & Gamble continues to advertise toilet paper (everyone I know buys the stuff already) and why they do not dump those silly bears.  Get it?  Dump the bears that rhapsodize about toilet paper?  Dump … toilet paper?  Puh…leeez…

I need to do a diversion here because I never saw this ad personally.  I got this as an email communication from a former colleague.  It is an ad for Spam used to create a taco filling.  The visual is a can of Spam with a short recipe for the taco filling and the caption is “Pork Favor”.  So that there is no misunderstanding here, let me say this as clearly as I can:

  • The idea of a Spam Taco is a culinary abomination in the sight of the Lord.

I need to channel the game of Monopoly to express what the person(s) that came up with the concept of a Spam taco should have to deal with.  They should not pass Go; they should not collect $200 and they should immediately proceed to the Ninth Ring of Hell.  [Hat tip to Dante Alighieri here…]

Rocket Loans has an ad where some goofy spokesthing gives pep talks about Rocket Loans to college football/basketball mascots.  Seriously, if I were figuring out where to go to get a loan to buy a house and make that sort of humongous financial commitment, what would make anyone think that this stupid ad would influence my decision?  That ad seems pitched to people whose IQ is in the range of the uniform number for a typical offensive lineman on a football team…

Four vehicle ads went high on the silliness scale this year:

  1. An ad for the Chevy Silverado tried to convince me that it was “a little bit of country and a little bit of rock and roll.”  Even my long-suffering wife who is not exposed to lots of sports advertising asked what that has to do with a truck.
  2. An ad for one of the Mazda models tells me to “Feel alive!” when I drive this car.  That should not be very difficult because I have no idea how to “Feel dead!”
  3. An ad for the Ford Explorer ends with the statement that it is “the greatest exploration vehicle ever.”  Come on now; give me credit for having neurons close enough to play tennis with one another here.
  4. GMC trucks now have a new super-duper multi-functional tailgate on some of the models.  My first reaction to seeing all that new functionality can be summed up in the phrase – – Whoop-di-damned-do!  Then I noticed that the ad went even further along the axis of stupidity.  The ad shows hundreds of people who have seemingly removed the tailgates from their trucks and are marching in unison to a hilltop where a GMC Truck with the advanced tailgate is parked.  This ad begs a couple of questions.  Would you really buy a truck based on the tailgate?  Why are all those idiots carrying their tailgates to a hilltop?

Colonel Sanders and Mrs Butterworth pay a return visit to Bad Ads this year.  The two “characters” are shown making out in an attempt to generate my interest in KFC Chicken and Waffles.  Actually, the scene is frightening and disgusting to the point that I would rather choke down anything on the Taco Bell menu than eat those chicken and waffles.  In fact, I will choose never to use either product again.  <shudder>

Time out for a moment…  The horror of the Col. Sanders/Mrs. Butterworth ad made me stop and think about a fundamental question created by the modern advertising culture.

  • Given the characters created by ad companies and they way those characters are portrayed in a variety of situations, who is the grandest pervert of the group?  The Burger King?  Colonel Sanders?  Ronald McDonald?
  • That could be a three-way dead heat…

I have no idea which product these ads were promoting; that is how outrageous and annoying the ads were.  But I can bring them to your attention by reminding you of the three words that a bunch of mouth breathers kept yelling throughout the ad:

  • “Free … Phone … Football !”

A Bud Light ad is the only beer entry on the list this year.  The medieval king who presides over the domain that toasts everything with “Dilly.  Dilly!” decrees that everyone needs to know the ingredients in their beer.  Ergo, Bud Light cases will have an ingredients list.  Here’s the list:  Water, Barley, Rice, Hops.  Let’s see, water, grains, hops.  No real surprises there.  What the Hell else would anyone expect to be in his/her beer?  Or is there some secret movement in the craft beer industry to include mule snot in some microbrews?

The following ad only showed up briefly late in the Christmas shopping season – thankfully.  It begins with Johnny Depp driving out into the desert and burying his necklace in the sand and marking the place with some rocks.  Then he looks agonizingly to the heavens and the blazing sun.  This is an ad for a cologne called Sauvage by Christian Dior.  If anyone ever asks you to give an example of disjointed logic, suggest that they watch this 30-second ad a couple of times.

I only saw this ad one time and failed to make a note about the brand it was hawking.  It was so out of this world that I needed to jot down the ad concept and figured I would see it again and then make a note of the brand.  Too bad.  Anyway, the company that makes this mystery product actually paid money to produce an ad and then paid more money to put it on TV.  The product provides “probiotics for dogs”.  Since I saw it and noted it, that means they put the ad on a sportscast.

  • Memo for The Record:  Next time, try Animal Planet or maybe The Pet Channel?

There are an army of companies out there that claim to help people with debt problems.  One of the things they say they can help with is if you “have been the victim of a predatory loan.”  That sounds so sad – – but “victims” of a predatory loan are really “victims” of their own inability to understand the terms of the loan they just signed up for.  I can’t get past the idea that these companies have identified an “unsophisticated segment of the population” that has already been “victimized” financially and are using ads like this to hook them again.  It’s like fishing in a stocked pond.

Wells Fargo had a campaign to convince folks that the company offered a wide range of banking services.  The overarching slogan for this campaign was “This is Wells Fargo.”  The dumbest of the ads in the campaign goes like this:

  • The beneficiaries of Wells Fargo’s services are a young couple who eat out at restaurants every night – – checking all the new hot culinary scenes.  At some point, they “wonder” if their dining expenses are hindering their ability to save money to buy their first house (DUH!)
  • So, they call Wells Fargo to have a guy in a call center tell them to eat at home more than once in a while.  And the couple is ever so happy to get that insight from a financial professional.

The slogan for this campaign ought to be “This is Wells Fargo.  We try to alleviate financial idiocy.”

In any compilation of this sort, there are always a few entries that soar to the top stratus of the universe.  Three ads this year were outrageously stupid to the point that they vied for the stigma of Dumbest/Most Annoying Ad of the Year.

  • Second Runner-Up:  The plea made for car donations to Kars-4-Kids with that hugely annoying jingle which has been around so long I think it was composed by one of the Cro-Magnon people.  Look, if you are going to put the ad on TV and have a bunch of kids lip sync the damned jingle, do enough takes so that at least one of them comes close to getting it right.
  • First Runner-Up:  The ads for My Pillow are stupid to the fourth power.  I am sure the pillow inventor who hawks them in these ads is a nice man and has never engaged in anything but an altruistic search for a perfect pillow so all of us can get a good night’s sleep.  Nevertheless, after I see one of those ads, I think to myself that maybe we ought to rethink our aversion to waterboarding.

And the winner of the Dumbest/Most Annoying Ad for 2019 is:

  • LIMU the Emu – – and Doug.  If you run across any of these ads, just sit back and try to come up with ten synonyms for “stupidity” as the ad is playing.  I have never gotten beyond 8 – – and hope never to have to try to beat that record.

As 2019 fades into history, the appropriate way to end a rant of this sort is to look optimistically to the arrival of 2020 with the wish that things will necessarily get better next year.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, that kind of feelgood thinking lasts about a minute because that kind of feelgood thinking has never worked in the past.  I just know that I’ll be back here doing this again next year.

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

Football Officiating

We have all done more than a little complaining about NFL officiating this season – – and a lot of it is driven by compelling visual evidence that the officials “got it wrong”.  Instant replay was supposed to cure all those problems; to put it simply, it has not.  We have to come to grips with a sporting parallel to Al Gore’s screed,

  • An Inconvenient Truth.

Take a deep breath; put yourself in your happy place; take a sip of coffee and absorb these next two statements:

  1. Many of the worst officiating mistakes – and the decisions not to overturn those mistakes upon review – result from basic human error.
  2. It is not possible to remove the spectre of human error from any endeavor that involves humans.

College football provided an example of fundamental human error on the part of officials earlier this season.  In the Washington State/Cal game, officials threw a flag for “hands to the face” on a return play.  They enforced the penalty and the teams ran the next play.  Here is the problem:

  • The officials enforced the penalty on the wrong team.  [That resulted in a 57-yard swing in field position.]
  • The officials realized their mistake after the next play had been run – meaning that, by rule, there was no going back and correcting the mistake.
  • The officials informed the Washington State bench of the error during the game.

That is about as bad as it gets – – and there is no way to guarantee that it will never happen again so long as human beings are used as officials and as the replay overseers for the games.

The referee in the game – the crew chief – was suspended by the PAC-12 for a game and the other members of that crew were “downgraded” by the Conference for whatever that is worth.  I have no problem with the discipline there.

This season at the NFL level, there have been too many examples of missed calls and decisions not to overturn said missed calls to list them here.  Those mistakes have led to multiple cries for the NFL to dip into its $15B revenue tsunami to come up with fixes for these “gaffes”.  At some point, the weeping and gnashing of teeth will be sufficiently loud that the NFL and the NFLPA will have to make some revisions in how the game is officiated.  Be very wary when that time comes if they tell you that whatever they propose to do will “fix things”.  Sadly, it will not.

There are three officiating improvement suggestions that have been voiced so many times as to become trite.  They will come to the surface again at the end of this season when reports emerge about the deliberations of the NFL Competition Committee.  Let me list them here and comment:

  1. Microchips in the ball
  2. Sky Judges
  3. Full Time NFL officials

In principle, putting microchips in the balls would assist with ball placement and measurements for first downs and touchdowns – – did that ball break the plane before the knee was down?  It could also be used to determine if a field goal or PAT that goes higher than the goal post upright is good or not.  There is only one way to find out if this technology offers sufficient benefits to justify the cost and maintenance of the systems and that is to try it out in game conditions.

  • Memo to the NFL:  If you think this is even a marginally good idea, try it out in a bunch of those meaningless Exhibition Games that you continue to foist off on fans.

A “sky judge” is a fancy way to describe another official (another human official) in the “press box” who has a link to the referee so that the “press box official” can buzz the referee on the field and tell the official on the field that the last play needs to be reviewed.  Sounds good on the surface…  Here is how I view a “sky judge”:

  • He/She is one more person who can challenge a call on the field – – except the “sky judge” has an infinite number of challenges, not just two.  Perhaps this will improve the accuracy of officiating; certainly, it will make the games run longer and have a choppier rhythm.  And most importantly, the “sky judge” is subject to human error as are the officials on the field.

Related to the possible existence of a person with an unlimited number of replay challenges, please consider this observation on replay challenges from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad:

“The day synchronized swimming incorporates replay challenges, I’ll know it’s all but over.”

The idea of “full-time officials” for the NFL has been around for at least 25 years that I can recall.  The problem with implementing that solution to the problem is that it does not put in place any means to provide those newly hired full-time-officials with what they need most to improve their performance.  Having officiated sports (mostly basketball) and having tried to teach young folks how to officiate games, there is no substitute for active participation in real games played at the speed of real games.

Full-time officials can spend hours upon hours studying the rulebook; at the end of two years on the job full time, I would expect that some of the officials could recite the rule book with less than three prompts.  That familiarity is a plus – no doubt about that.

Full-time officials can spend hours reviewing film and working on officiating mechanics that are developed for the purpose of putting officials in the right place to make the calls they need to make.  Mechanics deal with where the officials should be during a play and what areas of the field each one is responsible to monitor.  It would do no good at all to have all 7 officials focused on something on the near sideline as a play proceeds down the far sideline; officials need to practice where to be and how to look for rules violations during live action.  Full-time officials can practice these mechanics over and over until they are “hard-wired” into their collective brains.

As you think about those last two paragraphs, remember that full-time officials will be “on the job” for 8 hours a day and about 230 days a year.  (I am being generous in the amount of vacation time allowed here.)  In that time, there will be 20 days wherein the full-time officials will be actually officiating NFL games for about 4 hours.  [The best of those officials will do more work in the playoffs; 20 games are the baseline for all the full-time officials.]

Therein is my problem with full-time officials.  What they need to be doing more than 20 times a year – remembering that only the 4 Exhibition Games are practice for those full-time officials – is unavailable to them.  Let me now present you with

  • An Inconvenient Truth 2

The thing that will do the most good in terms of improving on-field officiating is a chimera; it does not exist.  NFL officials need to officiate games involving real players who are playing at real speed and with real intensity.  It helps if they “officiate” scrimmages at practice; it helps if they officiate XFL games.  But the real stuff – what they must be able to handle – is not available to them in any imaginable practice/rehearsal setting.

Let me suggest here that all prospective solutions to this “problem” be subjected to the criterion suggested in the beginning of the Hippocratic Oath:

  • First, do no harm…

Try the microchips in the balls during Exhibition Games; the only “harm” I can see there is that it might be a costly experiment that shows little likelihood of being worth further pursuit.

Try a “sky judge” in the Exhibition Games while you are at it.  The added cost is minimal; it would be a small sample way to test the benefits derived and the unintended consequences incurred.

Before hiring full-time officials – – and necessarily fire those current officials who do not choose to accept full time employment by the NFL – – find out for sure what the loss of experience/competence is going to be.  We have seen what “replacement refs” look like and it is not pretty.  Currently, the NFL has a roster of 122 officials; 23 of those officials (19% of the roster) have been officiating NFL games for 20 years or more.  I would surely want to know that I would not lose all or most of that experience by mandating full time employment for NFL officials.

There is no doubt that officiating football in college and in the NFL can be improved – but it can never be perfect.  When considering changes to the way games are officiated, it is important not to believe that there is a silver bullet out there to kill off all the demons and turn football officiating to an uplifting place such as might exist in a Disney princess movie.

Finally, since I have stated that perfection is not possible in sports officiating, let me close with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Perfectionist:  The worst kind of boss; the best kind of sex partner.”

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

 

 

Young NFL QBs

This year, there is an abundance of young QBs getting a lot of playing time for NFL teams.  This week’s starters could include:

  1. Brandon Allen
  2. Josh Allen
  3. Kyle Allen
  4. Jacoby Brisset – – maybe
  5. Sam Darnold
  6. Jared Goff
  7. Dwayne Haskins – – Skins are on BYE Week
  8. Lamar Jackson
  9. Daniel Jones
  10. Patrick Mahomes – – maybe
  11. Baker Mayfield
  12. Gardner Minshew – – maybe
  13. Kyler Murray
  14. Dak Prescott
  15. Mason Rudolph
  16. Mitchell Trubisky
  17. Deshaun Watson
  18. Carson Wentz – – Eagles are on BYE Week

That means more than half of the NFL teams will be starting a QB who is under 26 years old and 10 of these young QBs entered the league in either 2018 or 2019.  The four “old hands” on the list above – Brisset, Goff, Prescott and Wentz – have shown me enough to say that they should provide their teams with lots of serviceable years down the road.  As for the others, I’ll anoint Jackson, Mahomes and Watson as three more NFL lifers barring injuries despite a smallish sample from which to make such a judgment.  As for the others…?

When I think about what distinguishes a “franchise QB” from a “flash in the pan”, there are more dimensions to consider beyond physical skills.  Of course, a successful NFL QB must have physical talents in sufficient measure to make the athletic moves needed in the job.  Those are the things that one can measure; those are the things that I look at when I see college QBs who aspire to “move up”.  However, those skills are insufficient to make a “QB” into a “franchise QB”.  There is a mental, an emotional, a prudent and a dedicated axis on which a young QB must reach a minimum score to make that jump.

A successful NFL QB  has to be intelligent enough to know the playbook and know the game plan; if that level of mental gymnastics is too difficult, it does not matter if the guy can throw the ball 75 yards in the air and drop it into a rain barrel.  Moreover, a successful NFL QB must be analytical to the point that he can see one thing happening in front of him and recognize what is the most likely thing to happen next.  That analytical thinking is referred to as

  • Being on the same page as his receiver – – or – –
  • Reading the defense – – or – –
  • Having the game slow down for him.

Predicting a young QBs “score” on that dimension is not much more than guesswork; I need to see live action on a field to begin to sense the capability – or the limitation – here.  I believe that if you gave truth serum to coaches, they would say the same thing.

A successful NFL QB must have his emotions in check.  Everyone deals with emotions in a personal way and some folks allow their emotions to dictate their behaviors in ways that are not constructive.  An NFL QB will experience emotional highs and lows during the progress of a game and a season.  He has to be able to prevent the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low.  When a receiver drops a pass that hits him in both hands when the receiver is in the end zone with no defender closer than 10 yards, the QB cannot sink into depression or get so angry that the anger becomes destructive.

It is perfectly OK for a QB to “wear his emotions on his sleeve” if that is part of his persona all the time.  The key element there is that he has a governor on those emotions to assure that the swings do not wander off into areas of dysfunction.  Often I hear analysts talk about the leadership skills of franchise QBs; I believe that one of the important elements of those intangible leadership skills is the emotional control that the QB has on himself such that he can project a constructive level of emotion onto those around him.

The “prudence dimension” involves things that do not happen on the field.  Sixty years ago, a very successful NFL QB named Bobby Layne reportedly showed up at game time hung over from the night before on a semi-regular basis.  The game was different then; that sort of behavior will not work for an NFL QB in 2019.  Joe Namath cultivated a playboy persona 50 years ago; it worked for him, but it is not likely to work for many other young QBs.

Notwithstanding the potential negativity involved in such off-field behaviors – – things that breed those dreadful distractions, don’t you know – – young QBs have free time, plenty of money and are recognizable.  Call it “common sense” or call it “maturation” or call it whatever you want; a young QB who aspires to be a franchise QB has to be able to deal with that sort of tempting environment in a way that does not become destructive.

The “dedicated dimension” is another one that has changed over the years.  Sixty years ago, a less than physically fit QB named Sonny Jurgensen played well enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.  When Vince Lombardi arrived in Washington as his coach, Jurgensen said it was the only time he played without his gut spilling over his uniform.  Those days are long gone; successful NFL QBs today need not be bodybuilders or fitness fanatics, but they must stay in condition 12 months of the year and prepare their bodies for the rigors of a 16-game regular season all during the off-season.

I said above that there are 7 of the young QBs on this week’s “starters list” I am confident will make the grade as franchise QBs over the long term.  All of them have shown basic physical skills on the field and all of them appear to score well on the four dimensions discussed here.  Their actions and behaviors cause their teams to win games as opposed to a situation where the team wins games with the QB merely along for the ride.

As for the other 11 young starters on this week’s list, I would make no judgment regarding 8 of them simply because they have not been in enough situations to allow for any sort of rational judgment.  I will say, however, that 3 of this week’s young starters have some visible red flags.

  1. Sam Darnold:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It does not seem as if the “game is slowing down for him”.  He is showing his emotional down cycles during the games.  This is a new offensive system for him in his second year in the NFL with new coaches.  Are those changes significant factors in his regression?
  2. Baker Mayfield:  He is not nearly as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  His ‘analytical” skills seem not to have advanced; and in terms of dedication, he appears to be as dedicated to developing his brand and appearing in commercials as he is to developing as a QB.  As a cautionary note here, that is a similar behavioral path to the one taken by the young RG3…
  3. Mitchell Trubisky:  He is not as good this year as he was at the end of last year.  It appears as if the game is “speeding up for him” instead of slowing down and even his coach has criticized his “body language” during the game – a potential detriment to his leadership skill.

Finally, in keeping with today’s theme of young QBs who may or may not ripen into franchise QBs, I want to be sure that this news item does not pass you by.  It did not make banner headlines; you may have missed it; it is relevant to the topic of the day:

  • Brock Osweiler retired from the NFL after a 7-year career.

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

The Integrity Of The Games

By now, you must have heard about and seen the replays of the highly controversial calls made and not made by the officials in the Packers/Lions game on Monday night.  I do not care to rehash the purported importance of those calls on the outcome of the game; those sorts of issues have been litigated to death on sports radio and on the talking-head TV shows.  I want to go in a slightly different direction with this issue.

  • The NFL is flirting with a situation where people can begin to doubt the integrity of the games on the field.

I am not accusing anyone in the league offices or any of the officials in Monday’s game of any nefarious behavior(s), but we should acknowledge that we live in society that does more than tolerate conspiracy theories.  And the NFL can allow creative thinkers to cast some conspiracy nets very broadly these days.

Ironically, the last time a Monday game ended with such an influence from the officials was the infamous “Replacement Refs Game” and the Packers were in that game too but came out as the “victims” of the bad call instead of the being the “beneficiaries” of the bad calls.  The problem is not who benefits from or who loses as a result of the actions; it is the atmosphere around the actions.

The league has to make decisions which may benefit one team or not.  The NFL suspended Tom Brady for 4 games a few years ago; that “hurt” the Pats and “helped” their 4 opponents in those games.  That sort of thing is unavoidable.  What the NFL should not allow to happen is for its officials to be seen as bumbling fools as is the case in the WWE.  Thousands of people in the stadium see what happened on the field and then see the replays; millions at home also see this; the officials saw it in real time and then see it in super slow motion on replay.  After all of that, the officials don’t see what everyone else sees.  [Aside:  That is a standard “script” for a lot of rassling matches where the “bad guy” has a “foreign object” hidden in his trunks or is slipped a “foreign object” by an outside assistant.  Everyone sees it and recognizes it – – except the referee.]

The popularity of NFL football in the US has several pillars holding it in place; one of those pillars is that millions of people wager millions of dollars on NFL games meaning that those millions of people:

  • Care about the outcome of the games
  • Care about the honesty of the processes that lead to the outcome of the games

That “caring” must not be abused lest those people stop wagering on NFL games which will weaken an important pillar of NFL popularity.  The revenue streams for the NFL and the franchise values for the teams cannot be maintained if too many people stop betting on the games.  Gambling is not the sole reason for NFL popularity, but it is a critical one.

I drew a comparison to professional wrestling above.  Let me continue with it for a moment.  Lots of people watch pro wrestling – but gambling on pro wrestling is minuscule.  People watch it to see the unfolding of a soap opera style plot along with plenty of athleticism and acrobatics.  Maybe the NFL could morph into something akin to that which would hold a fanbase’s interest, but I cannot imagine that it would be able to maintain the numbers it now enjoys.  Ergo, there is ditch along the side of the road on which the NFL is traveling and the vehicle careening down that road is edging its way toward that ditch.

During the Monday night game, former Lions’ star, Barry Sanders, Tweeted that the NFL

“… needs to look at a way to prevent that [blundered calls] from happening.”

It would be hard to argue that Sanders is wrong there.  The problem is that if the root cause of the bad calls is human error, then there is no way to prevent “that” from happening.  What the league needs to do is to try to repair any other aspects of the game that allow “that” to happen.

Part of the problem is technology and replay.  Technology allows millions of fans to have a reason to question – maybe even doubt – the competence of the officials on the field.  If they can question a set of officials enough times, then they can cross into a space where they begin to wonder if those officials might be failing to make proper decisions on the field for some reason that is not generally known.  When instant replay became feasible, the NFL adopted it as part of the game with the stated intent of

  • Getting it right.

Hey, if I were in the position of explaining why this new tool was being added to the game, I would surely use that as a justification.  I would never tout this new tool as something that would enable the officials to “get it wrong”.  Channeling Hamlet here:

“Aye, there’s the rub…”

Far too often, replay lets lots of fans see that the call on the field was wrong, but it will stand as called (wrong) for some reason that the official never explains.  That can be fertile soil to sprout some conspiracy theories.  If any of those sorts of things begin to fix themselves in the minds of fans, the slogan “On any given Sunday …” can take on an entirely new meaning on an orthogonal axis to where the league wants to go.

For the record, I am not advocating the removal of instant replay.  The toothpaste is out of the tube on that one and it is not going back in.  However, the league need not expand its purview any wider than it is now until and unless they come up with an efficient and effective way to make changes when those changes are obviously necessary.

Oh, but there is more to the “integrity of the game” issue in 2019.  Every year, there is a team in the league that is the doormat.  The NFL – knowing that competitive balance is a good thing for the league – seeks to assist that team’s efforts to become more competitive/competent through the NFL Draft.  I have argued before that the Draft may not be as great a tool for “leveling the playing field” as it is made out to be, but the intent behind the draft is noble indeed.  This year, there are a handful of “bad teams”; with almost 40% of the season in the rear-view mirror, there are two teams that have not won a game yet and three others with only one win to their credit.  [Aside: The Skins have only 1 win this year and it came at the expense of the Dolphins who have not won any games so far this year.]

And since I just mentioned the Dolphins, let me say that they are an assault on the integrity of the game for the NFL.  The NFL Draft is supposed to “alleviate the suffering” for the worst teams in the league in each season; the NFL Draft is not supposed to be a reward for winning the race to the bottom.  The Miami Dolphins in 2019 are an inept bunch – but their ineptitude feels different.  They give every indication that they are trying to lose so that they can rebuild via the draft.  That is what the Sixers did in the NBA over about a 4-year period of tanking; that surely seems to be what the Dolphins are doing now in the NFL as they have traded away their good players for future draft picks and put a mighty inferior product on the field for games this year.

Tanking in pro football – or basketball or baseball – does not protect the integrity of the game.  Intending to lose – and/or losing intentionally – is what happens in professional wrestling where few if any people identify “integrity of the game” as a vital element of the competition.  If you look at the Dolphins season in 2019, they do not seem to be trying very hard to win games.  Their first four losses were by margins of 49 points, 43 points, 25 points and 20 points.  If you look at that sequence and see it as “progress”, then you are like the little kid who is in a room up to his neck in horseshit and goes digging around in the muck to find the pony that has to be there somewhere.

In the last 10 years or so, the NFL has seen some monumentally bad teams play out a season.  However, the Lions under Rod Marinelli played to win games; they were just not good enough to do so and went 0-16.  The Browns under Hue Jackson had a pair of seasons with a cumulative record of 1-31, but they tried to win games.  The 2019 Dolphins need to do a better job of looking like they want to win a game or two.  Any objective look at their roster will tell an observer that this team is not capable of ‘breaking even” for the season – but losing their 5 games to date by an average of 27.6 points per game hints at a less than robust effort to build a competitive roster for the year.

The NFL is still the 800-lb gorilla for sports in the US and it is going to remain in that position for a long time – – unless it shoots itself in the foot.  Giving fans even a spark of a reason to question the integrity of their games is the figurative equivalent of the league not only shooting itself in the foot but also taking careful aim to assure that the bullet does the most damage possible to the bones and tendons in the foot.

Finally, since today’s rant is about football – with occasional nods toward professional wrestling – let me turn to The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm for definitions of those activities:

Football:  An American sport in which men try to get a teardrop-shaped ball from one end of a big field to another while grunting, piling on top of one another, and giddily jumping up and down when they succeed.  Homoerotic? You decide.

And …

Wrestling:  Boxing with hair.

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

 

 

NFL Season Preedictions – 2019

For those who have joined in this madness over the last year, this is an annual event here in Curmudgeon Central.  Demonstrating my inexhaustible capacity to absorb embarrassment, I try to make season-long predictions for the NFL.  Oh, but I do not build in some cover when I do that by sticking to generalized predictions; rather, I will set out here NFL coaches I think are on the hot seat and could be coaching for their job this year and – in an even more reckless endeavor – I will predict the final record for all 32 teams in the NFL.

This would be fun if I just waited until about December 15th and then quietly took down all evidence of these predictions such that there could be no “day of reckoning” once the 2019 regular season ends on 29 December 2019.  However, I do not take down the predictions; in fact, I will come back and give them grades once the regular season is over.  Believe it or not, this is what I call fun and games…

One more bit of boilerplate needs explanation now.  I do not love or hate any NFL team to the exclusion of any other team.  There is no deep-seated hatred to be found in these predictions.  When I inevitably underestimate one team’s record for 2019, that was not based on a longstanding grudge I have with that team or that city or the colors of its uniforms.  I do not owe the team or its fans any apologies; what I owe them – and everyone – is the admission that I was wrong in my prediction(s).  And, I shall do that…

I will begin with my list of NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat.  Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches.  I said one of them would be on a hot seat but ought not to be.  He was fired anyway.  Of the other 7 on my list, 5 lost their jobs.  Am I a hex on the NFL coaches who make it to this list?  If I were given to self-flattery, I might claim such a connection.

Anyway, here is my 2019 list of 8 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2019 – presented in alphabetical order lest someone infer much more to this screed that is intended:

  1. Jason Garrett (Cowboys):  He was on the list last year; when the Cowboys went 10-6 and won the NFC East, his job was saved – – but he did not get a contract extension and his deal is finished at the end of this year.  Garrett has been the Cowboys’ Head Coach since the middle of the 2010 season; over that period, his coaching record is 77-59.  Here’s the rub; he has been the head coach for 8 full seasons; he has only made the playoffs 3 times and his playoff record is 2-3.
  2. Jay Gruden (Skins):  Like Garrett, he too was on last year’s list and managed to survive despite failing to make the playoffs.  Who knows; did the catastrophic leg injury to Alex Smith save his job?  Gruden is on thinner ice that Garrett.  He has been the head Coach of the Skins for 5 seasons; his cumulative record is 35-44-1; last season the Skins were 4-12; Gruden’s teams made the playoffs only one time and the playoff record is 0-1.  I suspect that Jay Gruden needs to make the playoffs to keep his job at the end of this season.
  3. Doug Marrone (Jags):  After the 2017 season, the Jags had the Patriots on the ropes in the 4th quarter of a playoff game; what happened was another miracle comeback by Tom Brady and the Jags went into a funk that lasted through all of 2018.  After missing out on a real shot to play in the Super Bowl, the Jags laid a giant egg last year going 5-11.
  4. Bill O’Brien (Texans):  He has made the playoffs in 3 of his 5 seasons in Houston but his playoff record is 1-3.  Moreover, his overall regular season record is a not-so-hot 42-38.  He could become a target of fans in Houston if the team is mediocre again in 2019.
  5. Matt Patricia (Lions):  Year One in Detroit was an uninspiring 6-10.  The Lions spent some serious money in the free agency market this offseason, so I suspect the expectation for Patricia – – and to a lesser degree for Matt Stafford – – is a playoff appearance and at least a competitive effort in the playoffs.  That expectation is not likely to be fulfilled for the simple reason that the Lions are in a division with three teams with better rosters than the one in Detroit.
  6. Ron Rivera (Panthers):  I put him here because the Panthers have a new owner and the new owner inherited Rivera; he did not select Rivera himself.  Rivera has taken the Panthers to the Super Bowl – losing there to the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning – but in the “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere of the NFL, his Panthers have been 13-19 in the last two seasons.
  7. Dan Quinn (Falcons):  His team underwhelmed last year missing the playoffs and going 7-9 for the season.  This year, Quinn has a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator (Quinn will call the defensive plays himself to start the season).  He also changed out the special teams’ coach meaning that he is the last man standing in the coaching hierarchy.  If that change produces another 7-9 season, look for the next obvious change to be made and for Quinn to be looking for work elsewhere.
  8. Mike Zimmer (Vikes):  He is working on the final year of his contract and no extension was offered.  The Vikes went 13-3 in 2017 and then spent big bucks to sign Kirk Cousins as their QB only to go 8-7-1 in 2018 and miss the playoffs.  If anything like that happens again in 2019, Zimmer will be looking for work.

But that coaching stuff is merely the appetizer course here.  From here on out things will stray from logic to wild extrapolation.  It is time to go division-by-division through the NFL and to predict the exact record for every team.  For no particular reason, I shall start with the AFC West.  Based on my admittedly – – and proven over the long-term – – hazy crystal ball, this will be the best division in the NFL.  I believe the cumulative record for the 4 teams here will be 35-29.  Last year, the Chiefs and Chargers went toe-to-toe in the division until late December; both teams are back for this year with formidable talent.  I think the most interesting part of this division is what the “other two teams” – – the Raiders and the Broncos – – do in 2019.

  • I like the Chiefs to win the AFC West with a record of 13-3.  I know that it is fashionable to pick division winners to “take a step back” or to “come back to the pack” in the next season; nonetheless, I don’t think the Chiefs are going to do that sort of thing.  I say that while acknowledging that it is unreasonable to expect Patrick Mahomes to throw 50 TD passes again in 2019.  Their Achilles Heel last year was the defense; they have made changes on that side of the ball – – and presumably they know what they are doing.  Look … in their losses last year, the Chiefs scored an average of 39.7 points; NFL teams are not supposed to lose ANY games when they score that many points.  Frank Clark and Tyrann Matthieu are in KC to see that no such thing happens again this year.
  • I like the Chargers to finish second here with a record of 11-5.  Last year, the Chiefs and the Chargers fought it out to the end of the season – – and that could happen again.  I like the Chargers, but I am not thrilled by their WR corps.  In addition, their “situation”/”relationship” with Melvyn Gordon is sub-optimal to say the least.  Learning that Russel Okung will miss the first 6 weeks of the season – – at least – – is not a plus either.  The Chargers very well may have been able to sneak up on a couple of opponents last year and should not have that luxury this year.  I think they will take a minor step back this year and finish 11-5.
  • I like the Raiders to finish 6-10.  Before I am designated as persona non grata in the Black Hole – – where I would never choose to watch a game in the first place – – may I point out that this prediction represents a 50% improvement over last year’s 4-12 record.  If the Raiders are to be even more improved than my 50% estimate they will need to upgrade significantly their pass rush and their OL.  Adding Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs to the offense is a help – – but neither addition addresses either of those two glaring needs and that assumes that Antonio Brown does not go “’round the bend” between now and December 1.  The Raiders host the Cincy Bengals in Week 11; that will allow Vontaze Burfict to renew acquaintances with his former teammates with Black Hole denizens looking on.  Let the good times roll…
  • I like the Broncos to bring up the rear in this division with a record of 5-11.  John Elway may indeed be the best all-around QB ever in the NFL; nevertheless, his ability to look at other QBs and figure out which one(s) might also be semi-great is totally suspect.  This year the Broncos will go with Joe Flacco at QB; Flacco is a Super Bowl winner whose career has been on a downslope since that victory in February 2013.  Bradley Chubb and Von Miller give the defense elite pass rushers as bookends on the defensive line.  Vic Fangio was a critical part of the top-rated Bears’ defense last year and he has some pieces to work with here in Denver…  I think a most important element here is the ability of WR Emmanuel Sanders to return from his injury and play at full speed.  If he cannot, I don’t know who will catch Joe Flacco’s throws.

For the AFC North, I project a weak showing in 2019.  I think the division’s overall record will be 29-35 making then tied with the AFC South as the worst division in the NFL.  Lots of folks are picking the Browns to win this division in 2019; for the record, the last time the Browns did such a thing was in 1989; and back then, there was no such thing as the AFC North.  Oh, and by the way, the team that did that back in 1989 is now known as the Baltimore Ravens…

  • I like the Steelers to win the division with a record of 10-6.  I think the Steelers will benefit from the lowered level of drama enveloping the team now that Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell are elsewhere.  Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin are the “Steel City Survivors” of the controversy from the past year; if things do not quiet down, either or both might the next one with a ticket to “Anywhere Else, USA”.  The Steelers were not a bad team last year; they simply underperformed to “Steelers-standards”.  Yes, they limped home with a 9-7-1 record, but remember that they were also 7-2-1 in November last season.  I do not do Fantasy Football; I do not like Fantasy Football.  Nonetheless, if I were playing Fantasy Football, I would definitely want to have JuJu Smith-Shuster on my team this year.
  • I like the Ravens to finish 8-8.  For the first time in next to forever, the defense in Baltimore is something to question.  Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosely, Eric Weddle and ZaDarious Smith are all missing from the Ravens’ defense in 2019.  Make no mistake, none of those guys are youngsters; make no mistake, none of those guys are stumblebums either.  The Ravens’ offense will be totally different this year with Lamar Jackson at the helm in place of Joe Flacco.  Casting no aspersions on either QB, it might be difficult to identify two more different QBs in terms of style and versatility.  Adding Mark Ingram cannot hurt the offense; adding Earl Thomas has to help the defense.  Oh, by the way, in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football you can see Earl Thomas going against his former teammates and his former coach – – the folks he flipped off as he was motored off the field on a cart last season.  Let the good times roll…
  • I like the Browns to finish 8-8.  I know that everyone has the Browns as their “bold pick” for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl next February.  I do not share that euphoria.  Yes, the Browns were significantly improved in 2018 with a final record of 7-8-1.  However, recognize that the Browns were playing a “last-place schedule in 2018 and those 7 wins did not come against any of the NFL powerhouses.  This year the schedule is more difficult; while I believe the team will improve over last year, I don’t think the record will improve significantly.  The Browns’ defense gave up 5 yards per carry against the run last year; if that does not improve significantly, it will not matter how much the offense has improved.  The team has more talent on offense than it did last year; the team added help on the DL (Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson).  If it all blends seamlessly, the Browns may surprise me and win this division; if all those egos bubble to the top and rookie coach Freddie Kitchens is not able to tamp them down, the Browns could fall back to 5-11.  We shall see…
  • I like the Bengals to take up the rear in this division with a record of 3-13.  I would say the offense here is “OK” with a fully functional AJ Green; if he is even 10% hobbled, the Bengals’ offense could be “scoring challenged”.  The Bengals have a new head coach – Zac Taylor – and he has inherited a mess.  The good news for Bengals’ fans is that their very high draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will be worth a lot to some team that thinks it is a player or so away from playoff glory.

Next up, I’ll tackle the AFC South.  This division prediction underwent a complete re-evaluation last week when Andrew Luck announced his retirement from the NFL.  Until that moment, I blithely figured that his calf injury that then morphed into a bone/ankle injury was just an excuse to hold him out of harm’s way in the Exhibition Season and the early practice sessions.  Perhaps that will give you an insight as to why Pollyanna is not a welcome visitor to Curmudgeon Central.  As noted above, I think the overall record for this division will be 29-35.

  • I like the Texans to win this division with a record of 10-6.  No team in the NFL was happier to hear the Andrew Luck retirement announcement than the Houston Texans. Last year, the Texans’ OL surrendered 62 sacks; that must improve in 2019 for my prediction to come true and for Deshaun Watson to remain ambulatory and – perhaps – for Bill O’Brien to keep his job.  The fact that they drafted two offensive tackles tells me that they recognize that they have a problem there.  The Texans will also take the path less traveled this year by doing without a GM; they will do this by committee and wing it.  The owner says this will be a leaner and flatter organization; 31 other NFL teams seem not to agree.  Somehow, that “leaner and flatter organization” was not able to come to terms with Jadevon Clowney over the past six months and that is an indictment on that “leaner and flatter organization”; shipping him off to Seattle in late August meant they got pennies on the dollar for Clowney.  Maybe the Front Office redeemed itself making a late trade to acquire Laremy Tunsil to play left tackle and – hopefully – provide some time and protection for DeShaun Watson.  Lamar Miller is out for the year; it might be interesting to see how this “leaner and flatter organization” deals with that.  The early schedule for the Texans is not going to be easy; they begin with at Saints, Jags, at Chargers, Panthers, Falcons, at Chiefs, at Colts.  And that just gets them to Halloween…
  • I like the Colts to finish second in the division with a 9-7 record.  Before Andrew Luck retired, I had the Colts winning this division handily at 12-4.  Since I have them only a game behind the Texans, they might still win the AFC South if they can sweep the two games with the Texans.  [Those games are October 20 and November 21.]  As they say on the TV show, The Price Is Right, Jacoby Brisset … come on down!
  • I like the Titans to finish third in the division with a record of 6-10.  I think we have come to the time when we need to ask a simple question.  Is Marcus Mariota a franchise QB or not?  Another burning question for the Titans as a team is this one.  Why is it that they can rise-up and beat just about anyone on one week and then turn around and lose to a certified bottom-feeder the next week?  New additions to the roster include Adam Humphries, Ryan Tannehill and Cameron Wake; they will certainly not hurt the team, but I doubt they are the engine that propels the Titans to playoff contention in 2019.
  • I like the Jags to bring up the rear in the division with a record of 4-12.  I have no doubt that Nick Foles will be an upgrade at QB over Blake Bortles, but I do not think that Nick Foles can carry a team by himself and the WR corps in Jax is not going to scare many defensive coordinators.  I know that the Jags have Leonard Fournette as a featured RB and that Fournette is plenty talented, but he is also one of the biggest meatheads in the league.  I would not be surprised to learn that his nickname within the organization is “WTF”.  The calling card for the Jags remains their defense which will be strong again in 2019.

[Aside:  Bortles in with the Rams this year.  Imagine if Jared Goff is injured and Bortles blossoms in Sean McVay’s “system”.  That would make the Jags’ coaches look like the dunces of the western world and would elevate the perception of Sean McVay’s football acumen to the level of Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula.]

Last in the AFC, will be the AFC East.  This division has been anything but inscrutable for the last decade-and-a-half.  The Patriots have won the AFC East in the last 10 consecutive seasons and have won it 15 of the last 16 years.  Last year, the Pats were 11-5 which was their worst record in 9 years – – and yet they managed to go on and win the Super Bowl.  I think the cumulative record for this division will be 31-33.

  • Absent a major disaster striking Foxboro MA, I like the Patriots to win the division with a record of 12-4.  Tom Brady embodies this team in a way that transcends his leadership and QB play.  Like the team itself, Brady is like Old Man River; he and the Pats don’t say nothing, they just keep rolling along.  The only question mark for this year in my mind is the receiving corps for the Pats.  Yes, they signed Julian Edelman to a contract extension and that is a good thing.  However, after that, there are good players with question marks all over them.  Is rookie N’Keal Harry the real deal?  Can Philip Dorsett do anything other than run fly patterns?  How long until Josh Gordon is suspended yet one more time?  Notwithstanding all those questions, the Pats will have the answers they need to win the AFC East once again.  Maybe the biggest question they will have to resolve is the sub for center David Andrews who will miss some/most/all of the season with blood clots in his lung.
  • I like the Bills to finish second in the division with a record of 9-7.  The Bills tried to upgrade their WRs in the offseason acquiring Cole Beasley and John Brown.  The team would have had the oldest tandem of RBs in NFL history with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore sharing touches as the lead RBs.  Their combined age is 67 as of this morning.  However, McCoy’s advancing age in conjunction with his $6.3M pricetag for the year led the Bills to release him just last weekend.  I expect QB Josh Allen to show improvement in Year 2 of his career as he learns to play QB in ways other than relying on his natural athletic abilities.
  •  I like the Jets to finish third in the division with a record of 8-8.  I like what the Jets did by signing LeVeon Bell to take some of the pressure off Sam Darnold as he enters his second year as an NFL QB.  Equally important, I think the addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator is a step in the right direction.  Adam Gase and his staff need to clear the air in the organization; I believe the Jets are the only team in the NFL to lose 11 games in each of the last 3 seasons; that is a toxic atmosphere.  I am counting on a significant change in the approach that the Jets have to the season because I think they will double their win total from last year to this year.  Circle the Jets/Steelers game in Week 16 as an interesting one as LeVeon Bell and his former teammates get together…

[Aside:  I believe the longest road trip for the Jets in 2019 will be to Jax and to Miami in successive weeks in late October/early November.  The Jets never leave the Eastern Time Zone this year.]

  • I like the Dolphins to bring up the rear in the division with a 2-14 record.  With a QB tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen – in whatever order you prefer – the Dolphins will probably lead the NFL in IQ points at the QB position.  Unfortunately for Dolphins’ fans, IQ points do not equate to scoreboard points.  Fans need to resist the temptation to look at the world through “Rosen-colored glasses”; he must show that he can produce wins in whatever system Brian Flores installs for the team. The new coach in Miami, Brian Flores, exudes energy and optimism; I doubt he will have the same bearing come December.  Yes, the Dolphins will be on the clock starting in early January 2020 with the overall #1 pick in the NFL Draft.  Moreover, they will be dominating in the draft for the next year or two having acquired multiple first round picks and a second round pick from the Texans in the trade for Laremy Tunsil.  [Aside:  With that trade, the Dolphins have given up any pretense that they are doing anything other than tanking 2019…]

To recap the AFC, here is my playoff picture:

  • Chiefs – – BYE week and home field advantage in the playoffs
  • Pats – – BYE week
  • Steelers/Texans – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019
  • Texans/Steelers – – depends on tie breakers … Is there an echo in here?
  • Chargers – – first AFC wildcard team
  • Colts/Bills – – depends on tie breakers; they do not play each other in 2019.

Moving over to the NFC, I will maintain geographic parallelism and begin with the NFC West.  I think the total record for this division will be 33-31.  There are two “new QBs” in the division this year if you count the returning Jimmy Garoppolo as a “newbie” since his tenure there last year was so short.  The teams at the top of the division have a lot more “certainty” going for them under center.

  • I like the Rams to win the division with a record of 12-4.  I don’t care what the Rams say or what the Rams’ doctors say or even what Todd Gurley says, but Gurley was injured to the point where he was a liability not an asset at the end of last season.  The Rams want/need him back to being Todd Gurley again and until he shows that in a real game, that is a significant question mark for the team.  One other thing from last year is that the Rams missed Cooper Kupp as their possession receiver a whole lot after he went down.  Presumably, he is back and ready to play at his normal level.  I am not an advocate for the “Super Bowl Hangover” theories, but the fact is that the Pats de-pantsed the Rams in that game last February.  If there is such a “curse”, it might take hold here…  The additions of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews in the off season will provide veteran leadership to the defense.
  • I like the Seahawks to finish second in the division with a record of 10-6.  With the dissolution of the Legion of Boom, there were some questions on defense for the Seahawks including who will provide their pass rush [Answer:  Jadevon Clowney acquired from the Texans at the 11th hour.]  and who will be their shut-down cornerback [Still TBD…].  On the plus side, it appears that the team has assembled a competent OL after years of chaos there.  If that is the case and the Seahawks can run the ball a bit and Russell Wilson can play without fearing for his life every third play, the Seahawks will be a tough out in 2019.
  • I like the Niners to finish third in the division with a record of 7-9.  The Niners will get Jimmy G back from injury and RB, Jerrick McKinnon back from injury this year; those are two big plusses for the offense.  However, name the top 3 receivers on the team.  OK, name 2 receivers on the team.  How about any pass catchers?  Therein lies the problem for the Niners.  On defense, the team has clearly decided to focus on edge rushers trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa.  The Niners won only 4 games in 2018; I think they make a big improvement in 2019.
  • I like the Cardinals to end up looking up at the rest of the division with a 4-12 record.  There is a chance that Kliff Kingsbury’s offense rattles NFL defensive coordinators for the first year the same way Chip Kelly’s unusual offense did.  However, I don’t know that the Cards have the same talent level that Kelly’s Eagles did.  With Patrick Peterson suspended for 6 games, you can add “defensive backfield” to the list of weaknesses for this team.  That is a bad thing because last year the Cards gave up an NFL high of 154.9 yards per game on the ground.  Lest anyone think I am banging on the Cardinals unnecessarily, please note that I project them to have more wins this year (4) than they did last year (3).

[Aside:  The Cards spent a lot of draft capital to get Josh Rosen last year and then jettisoned him for dimes on the dollar to take Kyler Murray this year.  If that works the Cards’ braintrust will be “NFL made men” for a decade or so; if it sinks like a lead turd, they will be looking for new jobs at a local Applebee’s.  Stay tuned…]

In the NFC North, the Bears are the defending champions and they relied heavily on an inordinate number of takeaways last year to propel them to that division title.  The tendency is for teams that stand out like that in a single season to regress to the mean in the next year.  Two other teams have significant question marks – – and then there are the Lions.  This was a most difficult division to analyze; I project its cumulative record to be 34-30.

  • I like the Bears to repeat as division champs with an 11-5 record.  I mentioned above how important takeaways were to the Bears last year.  They had 36 of them; most teams were in the low to mid-20s.  The Bears have a new defensive coordinator as Vic Fangio took over the top job in Denver; Chuck Pagano has been a successful DC before…  The Bears do have a “kicking problem”.  Their season ended in the playoffs against the Eagles on the famous “double-doink” field goal try.  The Bears had 8 kickers in camp at one point trying to find a new one.  It’s too easy to rain on the Bears for that “problem” but when that is a team’s biggest problem in August, that means things are looking pretty good.  Here is another geeky stat to think about …  In 2018, the Bears never trailed in 9 of their 16 games.  It is much more difficult to “play from behind” and the Bears and Mitch Trubisky rarely had to do that.  Can that sort of situation continue to obtain in 2019?
  • I like the Packers to finish “second” in the division with a 9-7 record.  There will be serious scrutiny on the Matt LaFleur/Aaron Rodgers “relationship” as the season unfolds.  Based on last year’s results, the Packers’ defense needed a whole lot more pass rushing so they went out and acquired “the Smith Brothers” – Preston and ZaDarius – in addition to drafting Rashan Gary with their first-round pick.  Hopefully, that will produce some positive results there.  The team lost two of its long-term assets in Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb in the offseason.  With Matthews and Cobb gone, Aaron Rodgers will need to find new partners for his State Farm commercials…
  • I like the Vikings to finish “third” in the division with a 9-7 record.  The Vikes and the Packers play each other twice; if one team sweeps that series, that team will finish “second in this division”.  If it is a split, then the tiebreakers get way too difficult to forecast.  This should be a put-up-or-shut-up season for Kirk Cousins, and it will lean toward the “put-up” side of that scale if Dalvin Cook can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019 season.
  • I like the Lions to chase the rest of the division across the finish line in 2019 with a 5-11 record.  I said this was the most difficult division to analyze.  There is one thing that is reliably consistent here from year to year: The Lions will be … the Lions.  Believe it or not, this will be Matthew Stafford’s 10th year in the NFL; he has had the Lions in the playoffs 3 times in that span and the Lions have exited the playoffs in their first game all 3 times.  Notwithstanding Coach Matt Patricia’s defensive pedigree, the Lions defense was hugely inconsistent last year, and it does not look a whole lot better to me this year.  That defensive pedigree comes from Patricia’s time with the Patriots; but historically, time with the Pats as a coordinator has not translated into success as a head coach.  See Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weiss …

Before moving on to the next set of predictions, the 2019 NFL season – – the 100th such regular season – – will start with a classic NFC North match-up.  The Bears and Packers have played each other 198 times over the past 99 seasons; the Packers lead the overall series 97-95-6.  The teams split their games last year.  This is a fitting way for the NFL to start its centennial season.

Moving on to the NFC South, both the Falcons and the Panthers were bitten badly by the injury bugs last season and both waddled to the finish line with 7-9 records.  Surely, the football gods will not inflict the same plague on these teams again in 2019 – – right?  I have the cumulative record for this division at 34-30.

  • I like the Saints to win the division with a 12-4 record.  People talk about Super Bowl Hangovers for teams that lost in that game but if there is going to be any “hangover” team in the NFC, it would have to be the Saints who were the victims of such a bad call by the officials that the single play caused a massive rule change for the entire league.  Actually, the Saints have been eliminated from the playoffs for 2 years in a row on bizarre plays; remember in 2017 it was the “Minneapolis Miracle” that sent the Saints home.  Even with Mark Ingram gone in free agency, the Saints have what they need to have on offense; if the defense plays well, this is a team to fear in January.
  • I like the Falcons to finish second in the division with a 10-6 record.  The Falcons must improve their pass rush; they allowed QBs last year to sit in the picket and pick apart the secondary to the tune of 259.6 yards per game.  The Falcons have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and Dan Quinn is squarely on the hot seat this year.  Let me say here that I think Calvin Ridley is a top-shelf WR who is overlooked to some extent because Julio Jones is on the same team.  I think the Falcons home game on October 27 (Week 8) is a critical game for them.  That game will welcome the Seattle Seahawks to Atlanta, and I have both teams pegged at 10-6 for the season and – a tad of foreshadowing here – I think 10-6 is the record for the 2nd and final NFC wildcard slot.  So, the winner of that game in October will have the tiebreaker…
  • I like the Panthers to finish third in the division with an 8-8 record.  Cam Newton’s shoulder must be better than it was at the end of last year when he could not throw the ball more than about 35 yards in the air; that alone is a big improvement for the team.  With Norv Turner designing and running the offense, the QB must be able to throw the ball downfield; that is a major feature of Turner’s offensive philosophy.  The question for the big thinkers in Carolina is this:  Has Cam Newton reached – or even passed – the peak of his prime?  In addition, the team now needs to find some pass rush pressure from their defensive linemen…  Head coach Ron Rivera will take over the defensive play-calling duties this year.
  • I think the Bucs will finish last in the division with a 4-12 record.  Bruce Arians may have tired quickly of his color analyst job on TV last year but with this team to coach, he may want to rethink his re-entry into NFL coaching.  [Aside:  I hope he stays where he is because I thought he was miserable as a color analyst; but that’s just me…]  The burning question in Tampa is the same one that is smoldering in Tennessee:  Is Jameis Winston an NFL franchise QB?  He has been around since 2015; last year was his best year statistically and yet the Bucs went 5-11.  Bruce Arians has helped more than a few NFL QBs move their games up to much higher planes of existence in the past so, can he be the guy to make Jameis Winston look like a bona fide overall #1 pick in the draft?

Last but not least, here is the skinny on the NFC East.  The four teams here split nicely into two “Haves” and two “Have-Nots”.  Overall, I think this division’s total record will be 31-33.  I think the Cowboys and the Eagles will dominate the division and will both finish with the same record.  They will meet twice (Week 7 in Dallas on Sunday Night Football and then again in Week 16 in Philly).  Those will be the two most important games on the calendar for both teams; a sweep by either one will make them the division champ and relegate the other one to the #1 wildcard slot.

  • I pick the Eagles to win the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  I think the Eagles and Cowboys will split their games head-to-head meaning that the tiebreaker will have to get down to scheduling minutiae.  Looking at the schedules for the Eagles and the Cowboys, I think the Eagles have an easier one, so I’ll give them the tiebreaker somewhere down the line – – like Conference record.  [Aside: The early schedule with road games at the Vikes, Packers and Falcons is not a piece of cake!]  The Eagles must have Carson Wentz stay healthy and play the whole season – something he has not done for the last 2 seasons.  The addition of DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles a viable downfield threat – – something they have not had for a while.  I think the addition of Malik Jackson to the defensive line was a positive move for the team.
  • I like the Cowboys to finish second in the AFC East via a tiebreaker with a record of 11-5.  Obviously, this gaze into the crystal ball assumes that Ezekiel Elliott will be in a Cowboys’ uniform for most if not all the games in 2019; Zeke is the key to that offense not the QB or any of the pass catchers.  The weak link in the Cowboys roster last year seemed to be the defensive backfield and whatever changes were made there over this offseason seem to me to be cosmetic as opposed to transformational.  The late schedule for the Cowboys is no picnic.  After the Pats come to town on Thanksgiving Day, the schedule reads Bills, at Bears, Rams, at Eagles.  If my vision for the Bills is accurate, this schedule could evoke a comment along the lines of “Great googly-moogly, get me outta here…”  [h/t Stranded in the Jungle by the Jay Hawks]
  • I think the Skins are the better of the two “Have Not” teams and will finish third in the NFC East with a record of 6-10.  The absence of Trent Williams at left tackle on offense is more important than it might be to the casual observer.  The fact is that Trent Williams was the single best player on the team simply because he is one of the five or six best offensive left tackles in the NFL – – and no other member of the Skins’ roster can even pretend to make that claim.  We now know that the Skins will go with Case Keenum as the starting QB at the beginning of the season.  That is the rational decision meaning that it was probably taken over the objection of Danny Boy Snyder who has seemingly attached his lips to the buttocks of Dwayne Haskins as the QB of the future for this franchise.  The Skins have a ton of question marks in addition to the ones implied above to include…  Is Darius Guice for real?  He was out for all last year and the Skins relied on 34-year old Adrian Peterson to be the lead back.  Before the 2019 season even starts, Peterson already has 2825 carries in his NFL career.  Who is going to catch the passes thrown by Case Keenum and/or Dwayne Haskins and/or Joe Flabeetz?  Jordan Reed is injured again in the exhibition season; the Skins were trying to trade Josh Doctson and when that did not work they cut him; Jameson Crowder left in free agency…

[Aside:  Skins’ and Vikes’ fans need to circle Week 8 on their calendars.  That is when the Skins go to Minnesota for a game that will feature former Skins’ QB – – Kirk Cousins – – against former Vikes’ QB – – Case Keenum.  My suspicion is that neither fanbase will be happy with their incumbent QB by that time in the 2019 NFL season.]

  • I think the Giants will be in the caboose of the division with a record of 3-13.  This team needs upgrades no matter where you look – – except for running back where Saquon Barkley is an unusual talent.  The Giants had two high draft picks in this year’s NFL Draft; they are going to get another one next year; they need to make sure all those high draft picks turn into impact players sooner than later.  The Giants traded Odell Beckham, Jr. in the off season and are probably happy to be relieved of his “drama”.  Their problem is that they cannot be happy to be relieved of his talent.  Sterling Shepard broke his thumb in training camp; Golden Tate will serve a 4-game suspension; Corey Coleman will miss the entire year with an ACL injury.  The healthy WR roster is mediocre at best.  The early schedule for the Giants is not so horrific, but in November the schedule reads Cowboys, at Jets, BYE WEEK, at Bears, Packers, at Eagles.  Ouch!

So, here is my playoff prediction picture for the NFC:

  • Saints/Rams – – tie breaker determined by the winner of the head-to-head game on Sept 15.  Winner gets a BYE week and home field advantage throughout the playoffs
  • Rams/Saints – – tie breaker determined by the loser of the head-to head game on Sept 15.  Loser gets a BYE week in the playoffs.
  • Bears – – tie breaker over Eagles
  • Eagles – – loser of tie breaker to Bears
  • Cowboys
  • Falcons/Seahawks – – winner of the head-to head game on October 27.

So, there you have it.  That is how the NFL season will unfold between now and January 2020.  If you fall into a coma tomorrow, you can rely – – sort of – – on these projections to get you up to speed quickly once you wake up on New Year’s Day.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago that seems pertinent to the upcoming NFL season in 2019:

“Students in Oregon can now take ‘mental health days’ as excused absences, just like sick days.

“Arizonans had something similar last year — better known as the Mondays following Cardinals games.”

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

 

 

Pre-Season Look At College Football For 2019

I am going to try something new this year – – a pre-season look at college football.  I have been doing an NFL prognostication for more than 15 years now but never did one for college football.  The reason I stayed away from college football is that I was locked into the model that I used for the NFL where I – ridiculously – try to pick the final record for every team in the league.

Being stuck in that mindset, I realized that was an impossibility for college football where there are about 130 teams and where I really do not care much about 75% of them.  But it did seem as if there was something to be done on the subject; and so, I decided to try and look at college football from a pre-season perspective a bit differently from the way I look at the NFL.  If I like the outcome, I’ll make this an annual feature.  If I don’t like the outcome, I’ll try to think of modifications to make it so that I like it next year.  If I hate the outcome, this will be a “one-and-done”.

From the outset, let me say that I cannot even pretend to know much about the roster details of any college football team.  That is a subject I will learn about as I watch college football games and read what local writers have to say about the best and worst teams in the country.  The content here is going to be much more abstract than team-by-team analysis.

Bob Molinaro had this comment recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot; it is almost as if he knew what I was going to write here before the first keystroke was struck:

“Quick hit: Speaking of college football, here is all the preseason blather you need in a nutshell: Every team promises to do better. Rinse and repeat.”

With all that as preamble, let me start by talking about coaching changes in college football for this season.  If you assume that 25% of the head coaches get replaced every year, that means there will be between 30 and 35 new head coaches on the sidelines this year.  I don’t care enough about a coaching change at Disco Tech to check the bios and credentials of the coach leaving the job or the new guy coming in.  But there are changes at eight major schools to keep an eye on.

  1. Colorado:  Mike Macintyre is out, and Mel Tucker takes over.  Colorado started out last year on a roll winning the first 5 games of the season including wins over Nebraska, Arizona St., UCLA and rival Colorado St.  Then the wheels came off the wagon and Colorado lost the final 7 games of the season – including a loss at home to a woeful Oregon St. team.
  2. Georgia Tech:  Paul Johnson is out, and Geoff Collins takes over.  Johnson was not fired; he surprisingly resigned his position to be with his family after a lifetime in football.  Collins comes there off two winning seasons at Temple; make no mistake, Georgia Tech is a significant step up the coaching ladder from Temple.  This could be an interesting situation to watch…
  3. Kansas:  David Beaty is out, and Les Miles takes over.  Beaty was the head coach at Kansas for 4 seasons; his teams won a total of 6 games in those 4 seasons.  Miles’ previous college jobs have been at Oklahoma St. and LSU; Kansas is MUCH lower on the food chain than either of those schools.  Notwithstanding that fact, Kansas football has exactly nowhere to go but up.  The last winning season for Kansas was in 2008; since the 2000 season the cumulative record for the Jayhawks has been 75-153.  If Les Miles wins 5 games this year, he will be seen as a miracle worker; it his team wins only twice in 2019, he will be viewed as an overpaid has-been who needs to be run out of town on a rail.
  4. Kansas St.:  Bill Snyder is out, and Chris Klieman takes over.  Snyder is an icon at K-State; his departure is a retirement and nothing else.  It would be an understatement to say that Snyder was the “face of K-State football”; he was the “soul of K-State football”.  Kleiman has the unenviable task of replacing a “legend”; Klieman comes to K-State from North Dakota State which has been a Division 1-AA powerhouse for the last 7 or 8 years.
  5. Maryland:  DJ Durkin is out, and Mike Locksley takes over.  The football program – and the entire athletic department – at Maryland was a hot mess last year.  Locksley was the OC at Alabama last year; his only head coaching gig was at New Mexico where his teams went 2-26 – – and there was more than a little off-field nonsense going on too.  This could be interesting to watch too…
  6. North Carolina:  Larry “The Hat” Fedora is out, and Mack Brown takes over.  UNC was awful last year; the overall record was 2-9. Brown returns to Chapel Hill having been the head coach there from 1988 to 1997; Brown leaves a cushy spot at ESPN to return to the coaching ranks.
  7. Ohio St.:  Urban Meyer is out, and Ryan Day takes over.  Meyer has “retired” once again; if you look at leaving a job as a head coach in college football as akin to divorce, then Meyer is the Za Za Gabor of the Gridiron.  Day coached the Buckeyes to a 4-0 record while Meyer was on “administrative leave” last season.
  8. Texas Tech:  Klif Kingsbury is out, and Matt Wells takes over.  Tech has been known for its prolific offense in recent years, but that has not produced much in terms of winning seasons. In 6 years under Kliff Kingsbury, Tech has only had two winning seasons. Matt Wells was hired to change that status and he will bring a more balanced offense to the field.  How well that might work with a team recruited to play in a different system remains to be seen.

I want to mention only one coaching change at the Division 1-AA level:

  • William and Mary:  Jimmye Laycock is out, and Mike London takes over.  Jimmye Laycock has been the head coach at William and Mary since 1980.  In his 38 seasons there, his teams have gone 249-194-2.  Moreover, 3 people from his program are currently NFL head coaches.  Sean McDermott (Buffalo) and Dan Quinn (Atlanta) were assistants under Laycock; Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh) played for Laycock.  London played for Laycock and has been the head coach at Richmond, UVa and Howard before taking this job.

The 2018 season saw its share of changes in head coaches around the country.  Some of the new hires made a decent impression while others were “disappointing”.  I think there are six second-year coaches that will be interesting to keep an eye on.  I am listing them alphabetically lest anyone try to read some meaning into the order that is unintended.

  1. Herm Edwards (Arizona St.):  People scoffed when Arizona St. hired him away from ESPN, but Edwards and his staff led the Sun Devils to a bowl game and a 7-6 record.  [Aside:  The Las Vegas line for total wins for Ariz St. last year was 5.]  Edwards is not a prototypical head coach for a college team; if his system continues to work, things will be just fine in Tempe; if the system sputters …
  2. Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M):  His first season in College Station was 9-4 and the Aggies only lost to Clemson by 2 points.  Every other coach on this list would be thrilled to have had an opening season like that; but that is not what the Aggie boosters opened their wallets to see.  Fisher has a 10-year deal worth $75M to coach at Texas A&M; those folks bankrolling that job expect a lot in return.
  3. Scott Frost (Nebraska):  He was hailed as a savior when he returned to his alma mater as the head coach last year.  Then the team started off 0-6; all was not peaches and cream in Lincoln, NE.  However, the team rallied and went 4-2 in its final 6 games leading Husker fans to think very positively about the 2019 season.  I don’t think another 4-8 season will make Nebraska a “happy place”; there is some pressure here…
  4. Chip Kelly (UCLA):  The Bruins were 3-9 last year and were blown out in 5 of those losses.  If you want to explain that away, you can say that Kelly has his own system for offensive football and that he inherited a squad not recruited to play his style of football.  If you want to be less kind, you can say that Kelly is more stubborn than a mule.  That record needs to improve this year – particularly avoiding losses to out of conference opponents from the All-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference.
  5. Dan Mullen (Florida):  He had Florida in the hunt for the SEC East berth in the SEC Championship Game last year; that slot went to Georgia.  Florida fans expect the same sort of meaningful football again this year.
  6. Willie Taggert (Florida St.):  His first year in Tallahassee was “unacceptable” to Seminole fans.  The team finished 5-7 and did not make a bowl game for the first time in next to forever (1982); moreover, the team looked overmatched in many of its losses six of which were by 19 points or more.  If Florida St. does not make it to bowl eligibility again this year, Taggert may be looking for work elsewhere.

One thing that must be part of any pre-season future cast is the section on “Coaches on a Hot Seat”.  I am going to put a couple of coaches here who are not on a hot seat in the sense that they are likely to be fired at the end of this season; they are here because there are certain expectations for their teams that have not been close to fulfilled so far despite overall success.

  • Chris Ash (Rutgers):  Look, no one with the brains of rutabaga expects Rutgers to be a Top 25 football program.  However, Ash has been on the job at Rutgers for 3 years and his record there is 7-29; last year the Scarlet Knights were 1-11.  The poohbahs at Rutgers may delude themselves into thinking they might actually be able to hire a good coach to come to Rutgers; and then, they might use that delusion to fire Chris Ash.
  • Randy Edsall (UConn):  On one hand his job is very safe because UConn has opted out of its conference and faces the choice of making a go of it as in Independent or dropping down to Division 1-AA – – neither of which would be an attractive lure for a competent coach.  On the other hand, his team last year was historically bad on defense allowing just over 50 points per game and about 9 yards per play to opposing offenses.  Not surprisingly, UConn was 1-11 last year…
  • Jim Harbaugh (Michigan):  He will not be fired by the folks in Ann Arbor, but the fact is that he has not achieved what Michigan fans expected when he was hired 4 years ago.
  • Clay Helton (USC):  He was 5-7 with USC last year; the last time the Trojans had a record that bad was in 2000; the last time they had a worse record than that was in 1991.  Need I say more…?
  • Lovie Smith (Illinois):  The school gave him a 2-year contract extension in this off-season so he may be safe for this year.  But here is the rub; he has been at Illinois for 3 years and his teams have gone 9-27.

The one thing that I do not like about college football is that too many top-shelf teams go out of their way to avoid playing any reasonably competitive games out-of-conference.  There will be mismatches dictated by conference alignments; when Ohio St hosts Rutgers, that is not a scheduling choice that either school has made.  However, some of the very good teams make a mockery of their out-of-conference scheduling decisions.  Here are seven (again in alphabetical order) that deserve a healthy measure of opprobrium:

  1. Alabama: Duke, New Mexico St. So. Mississippi and Western Carolina.  Duke is at a neutral site; the other three games are home games for Alabama. Really …
  2. Florida St.:  Boise St., La-Monroe, Alabama St and Florida.  Florida is a traditional game; the other three games are embarrassing choices.
  3. Ohio St.:  Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (OH).  Surprise, all those games are in Columbus, OH…
  4. Oklahoma St.:  Oregon St., McNeese St. Tulsa.  A smidgen of good news here is that only the McNeese St. game is a home game for the Cowboys.
  5. Penn St.:  Idaho, Buffalo, Pitt.  All are home games; the game against Pitt is the reincarnation of what used to be a big rivalry, but still …
  6. Texas A&M:  Yes, they play Clemson out of conference.  They also chose to schedule Texas St., Lamar and Texas-San Antonio.  Please…
  7. Va Tech:  Yes, they play Notre Dame out of conference.  They also chose to schedule Old Dominion, Furman and Rhode Island.  Seriously …

Compare those out-of-conference choices with just one other team that should compete for the National Championship this year:

  • Clemson:  They play Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse and UNC-Charlotte.

Also, compare some of that cupcake scheduling against independents such as Notre Dame and BYU.  Yes, I know that Notre Dame can schedule just about anyone that it wants because it will result in a nice payday for both schools.  Nonetheless, Notre Dame could opt to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor and Our Lady of the Amputees; the fact is that they do not, and you know they do not.  You may not be nearly as familiar with the independent schedule that BYU has assembled for itself:

  • The first four games are:  Utah, Tennessee, USC, Washington
  • It gets a tad easier after that with games against Liberty and Idaho State.

Looking over the schedules for some of the teams that appear to be “top teams” for 2019, I have identified six games in the first month of the season that should be fun to watch as well as instructive as to what may come later in the season:

  1. Oregon/Auburn (31 August):  Auburn is a competitive SEC West team and the SEC West is the best division in the best conference in the US.  Oregon has QB, Justin Herbert, returning for his senior year; he could have declared for the NFL Draft in April and might have been the first QB selected.  This is a neutral site game (Arlington, TX).
  2. LSU at Texas (September 7):  Both teams – and many of their fans – consider the Tigers and the Longhorns as serious contenders for the national championship.  I don’t agree – – but this will be an interesting game to watch just to get a yardstick on these teams.
  3. Texas A&M at Clemson (September 7):  Last year’s game was a 2-point win for Clemson.  I would not be surprised to see this game end as a “one-possession game”.  Two of the best college QBs will be on display here – – Kellen Mond for the Aggies and Trevor Lawrence for the Tigers.
  4. Washington St. at Houston (September 13):  I predict the Total Line for this game will be at least 80 points.  If you like tight defensive battles, just avert your eyes…
  5. Texas Tech at Arizona (September 14):  This should be another offensive explosion driven by the two QBs – Alan Bowman (Tech) and Khalil Tate (Arizona).
  6. Notre Dame at Georgia (September 21):  The Irish were undefeated in the regular season last year; Georgia lost twice  – once to LSU and another time to Alabama; neither loss was embarrassing.  Both teams hope to be part of the national championship conversation in November/December.

I do need to make some observations about specific teams and their prospects for the upcoming season just to prove that I can embarrass myself at the college football level as well as I do at the NFL.  So, here are five generalized team predictions (in alphabetical order) for some teams in 2019:

  1. Arizona:  The Wildcats were 5-7 last year but – presumably – they will have a healthy Khalil Tate this year.  They have a relatively soft out-of-conference lineup and the PAC-12 South is not the toughest division in the country.  I think Arizona will be a winning team in 2019.
  2. Duke:  The Blue Devils were 8-5 last year using a QB who was drafted #6 overall in this year’s NFL Draft.  Coach Cutcliffe is reputed to be a QB-whisperer; unless he has a willing and talented listener for this year’s squad, it may be a stretch to see Duke winning 8 games again this year.
  3. Kentucky:  The Wildcats were 10-3 last year and two of the three losses were to very good teams (Texas A&M and Georgia); they finished 12th in the final poll for the season.  They won playing tough defense and using a grinding offense featuring Benny Snell.  The defense may continue to be tough, but Snell and his 16 TDs are gone.  I will be surprised if Kentucky comes close to winning 10 games again this year.
  4. Nebraska:  The Huskers were 4-8 last year but they were 4-2 in the final half of their season.  Adrian Martinez developed nicely as a true freshman at QB toward the end of last year and the schedule sets up favorably in terms of home and away games.  Nebraska should be bowl eligible and may win 8 games in 2019.
  5. Tennessee:  The Vols were 5-7 last year with a new head coach and a new system.  They have a soft out-of-conference schedule that should provide 4 wins.  Their SEC schedule is difficult, but Tennessee ought to be able to win 7 games this year.

I need to mention here a specific player and program.  Jalen Hurts will be the Oklahoma starting QB after transferring there from Alabama.  Two years ago, Baker Mayfield was the starting QB there; he won the Heisman Trophy and was the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.  Last year, Kyler Murray was the starting QB there; he won the Heisman Trophy and was the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.  No pressure on Jalen Hurts this year … right …?

I need to mention here that Division III Linfield College will enter the 2019 season riding a 63-year streak of winning seasons in football dating back to 1956.  I will be keeping you abreast of their progress toward another such season in “Football Fridays” again this year.  If there is a longer streak of seasonal success in a team sport in the US, I am not aware of it.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding college football – – and one of its more colorful characters:

“Washington State football coach Mike Leach, to ESPN, when asked how he’d like to be remembered when his obituary is written: ‘Well, that’s their problem … What do I care? I’m dead.’”

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