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………

 

 

Bad Ads 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • “Free … Phone … Football !”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football Officiating

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

  • An Inconvenient Truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • An Inconvenient Truth 2

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

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

  • First, do no harm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Young NFL QBs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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