Social Justice Warriors And Virtue Signalers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • “So, how’d that work out for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bad Ads 2020

When you watch sports on TV as I most certainly do, you are exposed to advertising.  It is a necessary evil; without the ads there would be no sports on TV to watch; if you doubt that, check out your local cable access channels and/or PBS for their sports listings.  The fact that the ads are “necessary” does not excuse the sub-set of ads that are either bad or stupid – – or both.  I keep a listing of such ads as the year goes along and I compile them late in December as a means to leave them in the past – – knowing full well that next year will bring a new crop of Bad Ads.

Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis accurately described the advertising genre:

“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.”

In a sense, I feel disadvantaged this year because there was not nearly as much sports on TV to watch thanks to the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan whenever.  [Aside:  If I came into possession of a bat or three and someone asked me to prepare them for dinner, I would have to confess that I have never seen a cookbook devoted to “Bat Cuisine”.  I would not have a clue as to where to start to cook the things.  Whatever…]  When I sat down to compile this year’s list, I was afraid there would not be a critical mass of items to make it worth doing.  Not the case…  The advertising folks may not have had the quantity of bad ads compared to previous years, but there were plenty of ads worthy of note here.

Remember, 2020 was a Presidential election year; that means the entire year was littered with political ads; that means the TV viewing public was exposed to toxic levels of mendacity from January (during “primary season”) through November.  If the bulls[p]it contained in all the political ads were converted to coronavirus, the pandemic would have wiped out everyone on the planet by now.  To get an idea what I mean about political ads, politicians and mendacity, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds to follow this link and watch a Johnny Carson sketch from The Tonight Show in 1982.  It will bring a smile to your face and it will convince you that politicians and the political ads supporting them are as credible now as “this politician” was in 1982.

Here is what I think about all political advertising:

  • All political ads contain lies and intentional distortions of facts.  All the people involved in making those ads are nothing better than lying weasels.
  • I am The Sports Curmudgeon, and I approved this message…

Added to the quadrennial burden we face with political ads, we also had to tolerate two other classes of ads that happen every year.  They are annoying and they are stupid; moreover, they have the survival abilities of a cockroach.  I am referring here to:

  1. The perfume/cologne ads that appear between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You know the ones I mean.  The one where they guy drives out in a desert and buries a necklace under a rock in the hot sun and that somehow relates to motivating me to buy a certain brand of cologne.  Don’t forget the one where a man and woman seek one another and finally meet in an embrace underwater in a pool making me wonder what the Hell that stuff must smell like out in the air.
  2. The Medicare Advantage Plan ads which serve to convince you that the Congress in setting up Medicare was intentionally penurious with you because for no added cost you can get a half dozen other FREE benefits.  And even  if I were predisposed to think that I needed to review my health insurance status with someone, would that someone be whatever hominid happens to answer a phone at a number hawked by Joe Namath?

There must be something about the Holiday Season that causes whatever remnants of common sense exist in ad creators to vaporize.  This year the folks who create ads for Target announced that Target had sale prices on last minute Christmas gifts and that those prices were good “for this week only”.  What’s that you say?  That is there to inform the consumer about the limits on the offering?  Fine; now consider that ad ran on December 20th.  No one would have any need for a special price on a Christmas gift more than a week in the future so the special prices would be irrelevant.

And speaking of annoying ads that materialized out of the world ether at Holiday Season time, is there an ad currently running on TV that is dumber than the chorus of carolers led by The Burger King as they sing Christmas carols to people in their cars at the Drive-thru ordering Burger King Whoppers?  If that group of masked Burger King folks approached my car, the last thing I would do is cheer them on; I would be closing the windows, locking the doors and gunning the engine.

Fast food purveyors always get a mention in these annual retrospectives, and this year is no exception.  Two ads went beyond the norm:

  1. Papa John’s:  With the societal emphasis on social distancing, just about every purveyor of victuals declared their commitment to contactless delivery of some sort.  The dumbest of these assertions was Papa John’s announcement that they take their pizzas out of a 450-degree oven and put it directly in a box, no touching.  Really?  How is that different from what you did before the shutdown or different from every other pizza maker?
  2. Pizza Hut:  The folks in the test kitchens came up with “plant meat” for their pizzas and the company just had to tell everyone that it was available.  Look, pizza is not a health food; it is never going to be a health food; stop trying to pretend it is a health food.  Just make good pizza; sell it at a reasonable price; do not allow your “chefs” to add any bodily fluids to the orders; deliver it hot.  If you do that, you will be just fine…

There is another food-based ad from this year that is outrageously stupid.  The ad is for a company called Freshly and they deliver meals to you that you can take out of the fridge and put in the microwave for about 3 minutes and then eat.  It is a full meal.  In the ad, the young woman takes a first bite, smiles and announces to her partner that, “We don’t have to cook anymore.”  Folks, taking a dinner in a plastic tray out of refrigeration and putting it in a microwave is how they prepare food on an airplane.  When was the last time you had a meal on an airplane that made you think that if you could only get that food delivered to your home, you would never have to cook again?  If I assume this woman is telling the truth with her declaration, then I must also assume that she has several shots of Novocain in her tongue as she is tasting that wonderful meal.

While on the subject of ads for companies that deliver food to your house, there is one for Uber Eats that goes beyond creepy.  I am referring to the ones involving Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles and an overly effeminate bearded man who do tumbling routines on a gym mat while wearing the same outfit.  In one, Ms. Biles asks if he is wearing her leotard and he says, “Yes”.  I said above that Joe Namath would not entice me to call some stranger to review my health insurance coverage; well, Joe Namath is a pillar of expertise on that subject when compared to the credibility of the  effeminate, cross-dressing dude in this ad…

Old Navy did not disappoint in 2020.  As soon as Black Friday happened, Old Navy was on the air with flashing colors and gyrating people wearing some of the ugliest and low-class clothing imaginable.  When I eventually stop doing these retrospectives, I need to remember to give Old Navy a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the world of insurance advertising:

  • Liberty Mutual has yet to move on from Limu Emu – – and Doug.  Given Doug’s encounters with other members of humanity, I wonder which of the two recurring characters featured in the ad is the more intelligent one.
  • Progressive has been annoying us with Flo and her “colleagues” for years.  Now they have introduced us to Mark and Marcus a pair of blithering idiots who apparently are football sideline officials who man the first down chains.  Surely you have seen the variants on how the chain interferes with their lives because they will not let go of the first down sticks.  And on what planet is that supposed to entice me to consider Progressive as my insurance company?
  • The Nick Saban ad for AFLAC makes me feel sorry for Nick.  He needs the money awfully badly to allow himself to look as stupid as he does in that ad with the duck…

The three major wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – are wearing everyone out with their 5G ads.  This one is the fastest; that one has the broadest coverage; one of them was “built right”.  What is missing is any sort of convincing evidence from the carriers that I need 5G service at all – – let alone from the one that is sponsoring the ad in question.  One ad said that with 5 G you could download an entire movie in less than a minute.

  • Question:  Why would I want to watch a movie – – made for the big screen at a movie theater – – on my phone which has a screen only slightly more than half the area of a square of toilet paper?  Oh, and do not get me started on the difference in audio quality between my phone and movie theater acoustics…

Cricket is not one of the major wireless carriers, but it ran a dumb set of ads of its own for several months this year. There are “monsters” in the Cricket ads that make annoying squeaky noises for no discernable reason.  Then there is also the ad featuring one of the monsters who says he cannot join some sort of social event because it’s “too far to go”.  Turns out it is on the couch 10 feet away and still would prefer to chat on the phone instead of joining its “friends”.  Somehow, someone thought that vignette would make me want to join in that happy social circle using Cricket.

In case you did not know, Senekot is a laxative. Evidently, it now comes in a chewy/gummy form.  A current ad shows one of the animated “gummies” telling you to chew one or two at bedtime – –  “and then in the morning , it’s show time!”  If you go to Thesaurus.com, you will find 48 suggested synonyms for “disgusting” ranging from “abominable” to “yucky”.  Let me suggest that all of them apply to this advertisement.

Speaking about ads for things you take to provide a cure or a therapy for a malady, there is a generic comment that must be made here.  Every drug ad tells you not to take the medicine if you are allergic to it or to its components.  Think for a moment about the intellectual prowess of someone who needs to be reminded not to take something intentionally that he/she is allergic to.  Ponder that for just a moment.  Here is an analogous circumstance:

  • In the Boy Scout manual under the heading of wilderness survival, the author(s) would feel a need to tell the young scout – – if you are lost in the woods and have to take a dump, do not wipe your butt with poison ivy leaves if you know you are allergic to poison ivy.

As the audience, you need to consider how stupid the ad folks think you are.  Every time I hear an ad with that admonition, I think to myself that they are treating me as if I am not nearly as smart as bait.

The Toyota Venza has an ad where it is raining heavily, and a distraught couple is out searching for their lost dog by driving along highways.  Eventually they find the dog – such a feelgood moment – and they dry him off and put him in the car and presumably head on home.

  • Question:  What is the message here?  When you lose your dog and it is raining, Toyota Venza is the best vehicle to use to go and find your dog?
  • Question:  If you lost a child and it is raining, would the Toyota Venza be the car to use in that circumstance too?

There is a new service that is making its debut entry on Bad Ads; it only goes to prove that as new services become worthy of advertising, some creative genius somewhere will find a way to make an annoying or stupid ad.  The new service area is computer cloud services.

I need to apologize for the first entry on the list; I saw it and made a note of the context of the ad but did not note who the advertiser was.  And if I ever saw it a second time, I did not amend my first time note.  So, this ad is from a Mystery Advertiser who is in the business of cloud computing.  The ad goes like this:

  • You see scenes of people in laboratories and at computer terminals and in business meetings and on job sites and all of them are amazing all their colleagues with whatever they have been working on – – of course using the Mystery Advertiser’s cloud computing services.
  • The voice-over is sonorous as it tells you that the Mystery Advertiser’s services allow your company and your people “to come up with new innovations” for problems they face.
  • Question:  When was the last time  you or anyone else came up with an old innovation?

The second Bad Ad from the world of IT comes from Amazon and its IT arm.  The ad features a woman who asserts that she became a teacher to change the way education is delivered to students.  She says that she is an impatient person and that Amazon allows her to change the world at the pace she wants.

  • Memo to Teacher Lady:  Get over yourself.  Looking at the status of public education these days, your pace for change is a lot slower than it needs to be.  There are people out there who must be reminded not to take drugs they are allergic to.  Pick up the pace, please…

Let me close this review of 2020’s advertising blunders with two observations about advertising that supplement the comment from Sinclair Lewis cited above:

“Advertising is legalized lying.”  H.G. Wells

And …

 “Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.”  George Santayana

[Aside:  Please apply Santayana’s observation here with every political ad you heard or saw this year or any other year.  I think he was spot-on there…]

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

 

 

The Vincent Amendment To The Rooney Rule

The NFL’s Rooney Rule was put in effect in 2003; it requires a team that is seeking to hire a new head coach to interview at least one “diverse candidate”.  Over time, that requirement has been expanded to include hiring searches for GMs and for senior coordinator positions  and etc.  Later, it was expanded again to mandate the interview of more than a single “diverse candidate” in an attempt to avoid tokenism in the interview process.  The rule is well-intentioned, but it has not been acclaimed as being highly successful in achieving the goal of matching the proportion of “diverse players” in the league to the “diverse occupants” in those leadership jobs.

  • [Aside: I use the quotation marks around “diverse candidates” here because the reality is that the Rooney Rule and its modifications applies to Black candidates for the jobs and not any of the other populations that one might normally consider to be “diverse”.]

About a year ago, the NFL mavens tried to enhance the Rooney Rule again to get it to achieve hiring percentages closer to the NFL player population; the idea then was to award teams an extra draft choice if they hired a “diverse” candidate” for a head coaching or GM opening.  That proposal was like waving a white flag because:

  • Minority candidates for head coach and GM jobs did not want to have any “stigma” attached to them when/if they got hired.
  • They wanted to get the job on their merits and not because the team might secure an extra draft pick somewhere down the line tagged to their ethnicity.

That proposal died a natural death – – but to relate to a common storyline in horror movies – – no one put a wooden stake in the heart of that proposal.  For that reason, it came back to life last week in an announcement from NFL Senior VP for Player Engagement, Troy Vincent.  Here is the essence of the “Vincent Amendment” to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” (the VARR):

  • The NFL will give two third-round compensatory draft picks to any team that has a “diverse candidate” hired away from them into head coaching or GM positions.

This is not a good idea on several levels:

  • First, it still links the hiring of a “diverse candidate” into one of those jobs with a draft day event.  Granted in this case, there is a reward to the team that “developed” the “diverse candidate” as opposed to the first scenario where there was a reward for the hiring team.   That is not an insignificant difference.  Nonetheless, it makes EVERY hiring of a “diverse candidate” subject to a level of scrutiny that is not necessarily going to happen if Caucasian Joe Flabeetz gets the job.
  • Second, if you buy into the idea that the NFL Draft is a semi-science wherein teams select the best fits for their team needs every time it is their turn to draft, this idea flies in the face of the fundamental reason to have a draft in the first place.  The draft is supposed to allow the weaker teams to get better in the draft at the expense of the stronger teams based on the order of selections.  The VARR will kick that concept in the head.
  • “Diverse candidates” will always be sought from the stronger teams than from the weaker teams.  Not a lot of coordinators from teams that just went 4-12 or worse are going to get serious interviews for head coaching jobs or GM positions.  Therefore, under the VARR, it is going to be the stronger teams who will be rewarded for having hired “diverse candidates” for those coordinator positions now that another team has poached them for a more senior position.
  • What is the need to reward the stronger teams with 2 extra third round picks?
  • How will the hiring of coordinators be influenced by the potential to harvest future third-round picks down the line if the hiring decision is successful?

This is another well-intentioned idea that is not a good idea.  This idea incentivizes the hiring of “diverse candidates” below the head coaching level such that the hiring decision MIGHT bring a draft pick bonanza down the road.  If “diverse candidates” did not like the idea of having a “price on their head” in the previous suggestion to award picks for their hiring, why should they like the same idea to be applied to the hiring decision to make them coordinators?

I have no reason or intention to trash Troy Vincent here; I am completely convinced that his intentions in this initiative – and in the previous one about a year ago – are pure as the driven snow.  However, the best way to achieve “color-blindness” in the senior hiring decisions in the NFL is NOT to attach a price to influence those decisions in either direction.  There are two shining examples as of this morning for NFL owners to examine and consider when/if they move to “take their franchise in a different direction”:

  1. Brian Flores:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired last year to a team that seemed to all in the outside world as a “tanking candidate”.  They won 5 games last  year and they are squarely in the playoff race in the AFC this year.
  2. Mike Tomlin:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired in 2007 and has never had a losing season with the Steelers since he arrived on the scene.

Not every “diverse candidate” will be a Brian Flores or a Mike Tomlin – – just as every “majority candidate” will not be a Bill Belichick nor a Richie Kotite.  Hiring a head coach or a GM – – or both – – is a crapshoot.  Some owners make good decisions; others make bad decisions.  AND some owners make choices that work out famously just by dumb luck.  For the NFL to put its thumb on the scale so to speak in that decision making process in any way does not conform with the idea that NFL football is a meritocracy where skill at one’s job augmented by dedicated hard work are the keys to success.

Dan Rooney created the Rooney Rule.  Dan Rooney died in 2017.  We can never know what he might think about the Vincent Amendment to the Rooney Rule as announced last week.  He may have thought it was a brilliant extension to his proposal – – or he might have thought it was a step backward.  I think it was the latter…

Finally, Alfred Adler was a psychotherapist who was the person responsible for identifying the concept of a human inferiority complex.  Here is what Dr. Adler had to say about humans and noble principles:

“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.”

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

 

 

NFL Pre-Season Analysis For 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NBA Players Walk Out

Yesterday, I wrote about declining NBA TV ratings and potential reductions in broadcasting rights fees that might come from those declines if they are not reversed.  I had NO foreknowledge of the NBA players’ choices to refuse to play their playoff games last night when I wrote what I did; now that I know what transpired last night, I am concerned by the idea of a “players meeting” with the stated objective of “determining the next steps”.

Let me get three things out of the way from the beginning so that there can be no misunderstanding:

  1. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI that is the foundation of the current protest and “walkout” by NBA, WNBA and MLB players is a horrific event.
  2. The perpetrator should be arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.
  3. It stretches one’s imagination to conceive of a justifiable reason for any person to shoot another person in the back seven times; that stretch of the imagination goes beyond the strength of the warp and woof of the universe.

I presume that anyone who reads further into this rant understands my revulsion related to the events in Kenosha, WI this week.  If anyone might be unclear on that point, please go back and read those statements again; there are no mitigating adjectives and adverbs in there.

Now comes the time to consider the pragmatic realities that professional athletes must recognize as they demonstrate their revulsion to the events that cause my revulsion.  Here is some of that reality:

  • I write these rants 5 days a week because I find it fun and challenging to do so.  I do not derive a nickel from any of them.  There is no way that the existence of these rants in this backwater eddy of the Internet will confer any sort of “celebrity status” on me.  My writing here is my way of consuming time in my retirement years and a critical element in my continued pursuit of ways to avoid driving my long-suffering wife teaspoons.
  • It does not matter even a little bit to me if the NBA playoffs take a night off – – or take the rest of the season off.
  • For the NBA players, such indifference is hardly the case.  If they take a night off as a symbolic gesture, the NBA can find a way to adapt its schedule – and the TV networks will get over their hastily mandated scramble to fill the air time vacated by playoff games that were boycotted.
  • However, if they decide to double down on their efforts to be “social justice leaders” and refuse to play the rest of the NBA playoffs – – if that is the outcome of “determining the next steps” – – then the NBA players are playing “You Bet Your Career” and the NBA may be playing “You Bet Your Existence” very soon.

According to reports, two NBA teams – – Lakers and Clippers – – have pushed to end this year’s NBA season.  No other teams supported that position, but it appears as if Thursday’s NBA scheduled playoff games will also need to be “postponed”.  I believe the players here are walking a very fine line.

There are economic ramifications here:

  • The NBA playoffs present the league with approximately $1B of the $2.7B that the league collects for TV rights.  Cutting the playoffs off in the early stages will not make the “broadcast partners” happy.
  • As reported yesterday, TV ratings for NBA games are down significantly.  Add to that fact, all the TV networks are financially strapped.  Any cancellation here costs the networks the ad revenues they have already sold; any cancellation here will cost the NBA some of the current – and potentially some of the future – TV revenue for its broadcast rights.

Players who make millions of dollars a year “to play a child’s game” and then walk off that job will not make friends with many NBA fans who may be out of work and scraping to keep their lives together in the days of COVID-19.  Those fans are the eyeballs in front of the TV sets that provide the money to fund those multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts.  Not only might the players risk their financial status here, they can risk losing their “platform” or their “influencer status” if they lose the support of the “fans on the street”.

The players in the NBA – – and in other leagues that have leaned toward supporting the players in the NBA – – are adults and they can and should make their life decisions for themselves.  I am in no way interested in trying to alter whatever course(s) of action they find to be appropriate for them in this matter.  AND, because they are adults, they will need to face and endure any consequences that may come from whatever actions they choose to take.  If the Lakers’ and the Clippers’ players carry on and refuse to play in any future games this year and if the NBA playoffs continue without them, then those players will need to shoulder any and all of the economic and social consequences that come to them.  What will not be tolerable will be for any of those players to try to paint themselves as “victims” in this matter’ they are doing whatever they do by choice – – and by the fact that they have the economic wherewithal to make such choices for themselves.

  • The ONLY victim here is Jacob Blake.

Please recall that I said above that the perpetrator of that shooting should be “arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.”  I stand by those words and I presume that every concerned NBA player would not disapprove of that position.  Now I have something dark to say:

  • Even if the maximum penalty is assessed here after a conviction of the murderer of Jacob Blake, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.
  • Even if the NBA players cancel the rest of this season and sit out all next season, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.

Several reporters this morning have characterized the walkout as the players sending a strong message that the social conditions in the US need to change.  I agree the players have sent a message and I agree that social conditions in the US need to change; but sending a message only begins the process of change.  First that message must be received; then it must be understood; then it must be acknowledged as valid; then it can – not will but can – spark change.

  1. The message has been sent.
  2. I think most folks understand the message, but some will deny understanding and try to deflect any explanation of the message to other issues.
  3. Sadly, I think there are too many folks who are not convinced of the validity of the message; and to make things worse there, I am not sure they will see a walkout by millionaire athletes as a reason for them to accept the validity of the message.  For many folks in this category, the linkage between an NBA walkout and the social issues here is tenuous at best.
  4. Change may begin to happen in areas where the first three of these milestones have been accepted and perhaps those changes can spark progress in stagnant communities in the US to move along this path to identify with and to act on the message that has been sent.

And that takes us back to the players.  A symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting gathers attention.  But a symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting will not create the momentum necessary to achieve the change sought by that Tweetstorm.  The need now is for people – – fans and also observers who are not NBA fans – – to see action(s) by players that move things closer to the goal of the sent message.  Actions – – not photo ops.  Actions – – not one-off donations to an NGO.  Actions – – not an Instagram video.

The players have the spotlight; they have the microphone in hand and the cameras are turned on and recording.  It is time for them to lead.  I hope that is what the players meant last night when they called their meeting to determine “the next steps”.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil rights movement that accomplished many important things.  He led with words and symbolic gestures – – and then he led with repeated and consistent actions over the course of time; and it was the actions that forced the changes.

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

 

 

Baseball On The Brink

And now for something completely different…  Sorry if that conjures up memories of Monty Python and sketch comedy; that is not what is going to happen here.  I doubt that anything to follow today even borders on “funny”.  What is “completely different” today is a report on the first ever Curmudgeon Central Opinion Poll.  Before I get to the poll and the responses let me explain why I did this for the first time, now.

  • I never did anything like this before because I never thought that there would be a large enough sample in terms of the respondents to come up with anything meaningful.
  • Last week, I had a sense that MLB and the MLBPA were on track to make the 2020 baseball season into a horrible train wreck.  [Aside:  I thought it would drag on a bit longer before hitting the skids; I did not think it would happen this week.]
  • I wanted to be informed of the views and perceptions of people that I have known for years – people I respect for their intelligence and insight – who are full-blown baseball fans.  I was not worried about sample size or finding a representative cross-section for the poll.  I only wanted to hear from smart people who are fans of baseball.  [Aside:  If you want to dismiss this effort by saying that I am trying to live in an echo chamber, you are free to do so.  That was not my intent and the results to be presented below do not seem to support that assertion.]

My “polling methodology” was about as basic as you can imagine.  I sent the same email to 12 people who are readers of these rants and who I have known to be baseball fans for a long time.  The shortest acquaintance I have had with anyone on the “polling roster” is 24 years.  Here is the email that I sent to each of them:

“I want to pose a question/challenge to you.  I will use the ‘result’ in a future Sports Curmudgeon rant without identifying you in any way. If you don’t want to answer, that’s OK too.

“Give me 3 simple declarative sentences to describe what you think of the MLB owners and/or the MLBPA in the midst of their negotiations regarding a restart for the 2020 MLB season.

“If you want to elaborate on any of those 3 simple declarative sentences, please feel free.

“Thanks in advance.”

I got 9 responses from my 12 inquiries; and rather than try to pretend that one can do statistical analysis on a sample size of 9 people, what I intend to do here is to categorize the responses and then present them for anyone to interpret as they will.  Since some of the responses made essentially the same point, I have merged some of those answers.

For simplicity sake, I will break down the responses into 4 broad categories:

  1. Responses that are more favorable toward MLB and the owners
  2. Responses that are more favorable toward the MLBPA and the players
  3. Responses that speak to the sport of professional baseball as a whole
  4. Responses that call for a pox on both houses involved here.

Let me begin with Responses More Favorable to MLB and the Owners:

“With or without an agreement, Manfred needs to make [a season] happen for the good of the game.  MLB and the MLBPA would be foolish not to find a way to get onboard – they (MLBPA) will have plenty of oppt’y to press their points in the future but if they’re not playing, it won’t matter.”

 

“Blake Snell is a bleeping idiot.  He’s not risking his life going out to play a game that any kid dreamed to be part of.  The medical staffs will insure that there will be preventative measures to protect the team and the players.  The police, fire and hospital workers are the heroes.  They deserve the big paycheck.”

 

“[The MLBPA] is focused only on the problems in 2020.  It does not seem to realize that the health of baseball as a business is beneficial to players in the future.”

Moving along to Responses More Favorable to the MLBPA and the Players:

“The owners have negotiated in bad faith by making the same proposal three different ways, but couching the same monetary result differently in terms of number of games, pay and benefits.”

 

“The owners’ demands for payroll concessions from players while crying about $640,000 in losses per game played is disingenuous when they refuse to share financial information which might justify that claim.”

 

“Their economic self-interests are all the owners care about.  Their economic self-interests are paramount with the players, although health concerns will have significant importance for the young players with families if playing baseball becomes a reality in 2020.”

 

“[MLB and the owners] have negotiated as if there will be no seasons in 2021, 2022 or 2023.”

Next up are Responses that Speak to the Sport of Professional Baseball as a whole:

“The public views the back-and-forth offers and counteroffers with mounting apathy.  The chance to play a meaningful number of games is fast disappearing.  A radically shortened schedule will lead to a ‘winner’ having no legitimacy and tarnished with a giant asterisk.”

 

“If there is no consensus to start the season in the next several weeks the game is dead.  There are/was 42 million Americans out of work in the last three months.  Joe Flebleezt (stole that from you) does not want to hear that the players are going to lose a certain percentage of their multi million dollar contracts to play 60 games a year instead of 162.”  [Aside:  The least you could have done is to spell Joe Flabeetz’ name correctly.  😊]

 

“Both the owners and the players are destroying the golden goose by failing to make obvious concessions that would permit an agreement and their stubbornness will have financial and fan loss repercussion that will damage the game for a decade or more.”

 

“The inability of the two sides to reach an agreement without acrimony is not at all surprising. Very little ever changes in baseball. Labor strife was baked in to the culture in the earliest days of the professional game. Unchanging, uncaring, the game is destined to join horse racing and boxing in the category of irrelevant sports.”

 

“In the broad sense of what American society is dealing with, in all its iterations, the MLB season is relatively insignificant and largely irrelevant to a large segment of the population.  However, the citizens are in dire need of SOME level of distraction and Baseball would miss a golden opportunity NOT to fill that need.”

Lastly, here are Responses that Call for a Pox on Both Houses:

“The fans are again being taken for granted by both players and owners.”

 

“The only thing they agree on is not to talk to each other.”

 

“[Bleep] all of them!  [Aside:  I realize this is not a declarative sentence because the verb is in the imperative mood, but I think you get the intended meaning.]

 

“The owners are greedy and the players are greedy.  Think about the people who pay your salary.  I’m permanently out if this is not resolved.”

 

“The fans are of very little concern  to either owners or players.”

 

I sent my email request out last Wednesday, four full days before the negotiations reached the stage we find them in today.  The union has refused another MLB proposal; and this time, the union said there will be no more negotiations because it is time for MLB to tell the players when and where to report for whatever season MLB puts on the schedule.  I was “prescient” inquiring when I did; the responses were “prescient” in anticipating where all of this wound up.

What we have now is sort of a work stoppage.  It is not a strike because the players now have declared that they want to play; it is not a lockout because MLB can simply announce the time and place where games will begin again.  However, this is an interruption in the normal course of business for professional baseball that goes beyond the intervention of the coronavirus; the cause of this interruption is a dispute over pay and working conditions – – which are traditionally the terrain of labor/management disputes.  If there is a noun for this kind of a labor/management situation, I do not know what it is.

However, there is a historical context to apply here.  Back in 1994 when the World Series had to be canceled because the players refused to finish the season past the middle of August, the future of baseball was in jeopardy.  It took the ruling of a future Justice of the US Supreme Court to “save baseball” and get the game back on the field in late April of 1995.  [Aside:  For the record, I do not believe that Sonya Sotomayor “saved baseball”; but indeed, her ruling was the event that broke the logjam that existed in 1994-1995.]  Fans were not happy; some blamed the owners; other blamed the players; everyone blamed someone or something for the lack of baseball – – and lots of fans “vowed” to stay away forever.  Through pure serendipity, MLB and the MLBPA had a savior waiting in the wings.

  • As the 1995 season began, one of baseball’s – – nay one of all of sports’ – – “unbreakable” records was in the line of fire.  And in September 1995, Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played when he played in his 2131st consecutive game in the Orioles’ home park in Baltimore.

Ripken’s pursuit of that “unbreakable record” dominated the narrative of baseball in 1995 in a totally positive way; and when he broke the record, it was almost as if the strike/lockout from the previous year had never happened.  Subsequent to that “life-saving event”, MLB carried on into the heart of the PED/Steroid Era; and once again, fans were enthralled by the homerun antics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when both of them broke Roger Maris’ longstanding record of 61 homeruns  in a single season in 1998.

If there are any “baseball saviors” out there waiting to rescue MLB from a sports nadir in 2021, I cannot tell you who or what they might be.  Maybe Joe Flabeetz will play in the 2020 truncated season of 50 games or so and wind up hitting .420 for the “season”.  At least, that would generate some controversy and some interest in baseball history that might carry over into 2021.  Sorry folks, that is the best I can come up with…

Until and unless both the owners and the players’ union can come up with better answers to issues such as:

  1. Revenue sharing:  The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Astros, Cubs and Phillies all have the highest projected payrolls for 2020.  They also all play in big markets with plenty of baseball tradition.  That is fine – – but the fact that they can afford to outspend the other 22 teams in MLB is not fine.  MLB needs meaningful revenue sharing similar to what the NFL has had in place for about 50 years.  And as I have argued here before, a salary cap plus a salary floor for every team would make a lot of sense.
  2. Penalties for tanking:  The fact is that too many teams had positioned themselves in 2020 to try not to win a championship.  The Mariners, Orioles, and Tigers in the AL are not trying; you might include the Red Sox here given their trade of Mookie Betts for a ham sandwich and you might have included the Indians too if they had been successful in trading Francisco Lindor as had been rumored.  In the NL, you can write off the Giants, Marlins and Pirates.  If you include the Rockies who were looking at the possibility of trading away Nolan Arenado, that will bring the suspect list up to nine teams.  That means 30% of the teams in MLB were not even going to try to be “winners” in 2020.
  3. Service-time manipulation:  The current CBA has a humongous loophole in it that allows owners to keep young players ineligible for arbitration for an extra year.  That loophole is so large that you can drive a phalanx of buses through it, and it can save the owners tens of millions of dollars.  Guess what?  They exploit that loophole with relish as they should.  Do not blame the owners here; blame the players’ union negotiators for acquiescing to a set of procedures that is so blatantly exploitable to the detriment of the players they were nominally there to represent.

Folks, this situation would have to be a whole lot more organized and constrained to be described as a “hot mess”.  My perspective is that no matter which side you might choose to align with here, that side has feet of clay, the brains of a starfish and an excretory aperture at both ends of its alimentary canal.  There are no heroes; there are only greedy, mendacious predatory beasts – – on both sides.

Why is this worse than 1994 and 1995?  Well that is simple.  In addition to the lack of some outside event/player to capture the attention of everyone who ever liked baseball in the past, here is something that 2021 is sure to have:

  • Lots more acrimony as the spillover product from this year’s inability to find a way to play a truncated season that neither side could have predicted or avoided or desired.  And the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out at the end of the 2021 season and will have to be renegotiated.  Oh, swell…

Professional baseball has been around for about 150 years in the US and – – amazingly – – the owners and the players have not yet come to recognize the fact that they need each other in order to sop up the $11B in annual revenues that MLB generates today.  No one will pay money to watch the owners play baseball against one another; no one will pay nearly $11B for the players to perform on a semi-organized barnstorming tour.  Why is that so obvious to me and not to the combatants here?

I really want to be wrong about this, but I think MLB and the MLBPA have done a slow walk in lockstep onto the edge of a precipice.  Moreover, if there are any adults in the room and those adults have been silent to this point, the situation could become catastrophic unless those adults jump to their feat and yell the negotiating equivalent of:

  • W … T … BLEEP … are you blockheads doing?

Leaders get the credit when things go in a positive way for their organizations and leaders need to take the blame when things go south while they are in charge.  So, let me just say:

  • Thank you, Rob Manfred.
  • Thank you, Tony Clark.
  • You have provided generations of future students studying to get an MBA with a top-flight case study on how not to handle negotiations.

Finally, as if this has not been sufficiently gloomy so far, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Fair warning: If the MLB season ever gets up and running, baseball media maven Tom Verducci anticipates ‘more pitching changes, less offense.’ Oh, goody.”

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

 

 

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………