On Hiatus …

These rants will go on hiatus for the rest of this week while I attend to some travel and family matters.  My plan is to be back on the air next Monday, June 28th.

Until then, stay safe and stay well everyone…

 

 

Baseball Starts Today

We do not engage in April Fool pranks here.  The sportswriting standard for such things has been set beyond the creative levels achievable here; George Plimpton’s article in Sports Illustrated in 1985 about the Mets’ rookie phenom Sidd Finch has never been approached let alone topped.  If you are too young to know about Sidd Finch, Google will enlighten you…

My educational career and my professional career were centered on the physical sciences.  Nonetheless, here in Curmudgeon Central, the findings and the definitions of astronomy do not hold sway when it comes to the seasons of the year.  Neither do the feelgood stories of folklore prevail when it comes to my anticipation of Spring.  Let me be clear:

  • Punxsutawney Phil can wake up or drop dead on 2 February as far as I am concerned when it comes to the anticipation of Spring.  Here in Curmudgeon Central the single determinant of an imminent Spring is when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.
  • I know all about the vernal equinox and when it happens – – but Spring really starts on Opening Day of the MLB season.  And in 2021, that day is today!

So, today’s rant will be devoted entirely to baseball and the upcoming season.  It is a day of renewal that we were denied last year…

In the 2020 truncated season, MLB existed with more than a handful of “special rules”; some of them will be carried over into 2021; some others will be sent to the minor leagues on an “experimental basis”.  So, here is some of what we can expect in the 2021 season:

  • Last year, the DH was used in all MLB games.  This year, that practice will revert to previous times; the DH will be used in AL games and in interleague games played in AL stadiums.  That’s all…  [I hate the DH, so I like this.]
  • Last year, rosters were expanded to 30 players for a while and then shrunk to 28 players for a while before settling down to 26 players for the duration of the 60-game season.  This year, that roster expansion will go away; teams will have 26-man rosters in 2021 and will expand to 28 players when September arrives.  [I see no reason for roster expansion in 2021.]
  • Last year, double-headers presented 7-inning games nominally to minimize exposure of players/managers/umpires to one another.  That rule will carry forward to 2021.  [I do not like this rule but can live with it – – if the rule dries up and blows away in 2022 when there will hopefully be no pretense that it is “beneficial”.]
  • Last year, MLB games that went to extra innings began each extra inning with a man on second base.  That rule will carry forward into 2021.  [I hate this rule; this is only better by a tiny margin than determining the winner of an extra inning game by holding a Home Run Derby contest between the two teams.  Yuck!]
  • Last year, MLB “contracted” the minor leagues eliminating about 40 teams that had affiliations with MLB teams.  The minor leagues have been re-shuffled and fans in lots of towns/small cities now have a much dimmer view of MLB than they did two years ago – – but the owners think they know what they are doing.  On a positive note, MLB is going to use minor league baseball games to test some potential rule changes for the future.  That may not be a perfect situation, but it is methodical and rational.
  • In Triple A minor league games, they will use larger bases.  Instead of the bases that are 15 inches on a side, the games in Triple A baseball will use bases 18 inches on a side.  The idea is that this will encourage more base stealing attempts which might add some action/excitement to more games. [This rule change is one of “wait and see” for me.  I am neither excited about it nor opposed to it.]
  • In Double A minor league games, they will impose a limit on “The Shift”.  For Double A games, the team in the field “must have a minimum of four players on the infield, each of whom must have both feet completely in front of the outer boundary of the infield dirt.”  MLB has also signaled that if this rule increases the number of base hits/runners on the bases, it may then be expanded to “require two infielders to be positioned entirely on each side of second base” later in the Double A season.  [I am of two minds here.  MLB needs more in-game action involving baserunners and base hits; MLB also should not reward hitters who cannot figure out how to get on base against a shift that opens half the infield to them.]
  • In Single A games (High-A to be specific) pitchers will be required to “disengage the rubber prior to throwing to any base, with the penalty of a balk in the event the pitcher fails to comply.”  This is another rule modification that might increase stolen base attempts – – but I am not sure how it will achieve that end.  [I guess this can’t hurt but I do not see any huge benefit either.]
  • In Single A games (Low-A to be specific) MLB will experiment with robot umpires to call balls and strikes.  [This is worth a try since human umpires simply will not call the strike zone that is in the rule book that the umpires are there to enforce.]  AND in Single A games, pitchers will be limited to two “step offs” and or “pickoff attempts” per plate appearance.  Obviously, this also relates to a desire to increase stolen base attempts and to speeding up games.  [I do not know if I like this or not; let me get back to you on this one.]

`           In addition to these codified rule changes/ rule adoptions for 2021, MLB is also going to try to “crack down” on pitchers doctoring baseballs.  The focus is supposed to be that they will be strict about pitchers using “foreign substances” as a way for them to enhance “pitch movement”.  In addition to getting umpires focused on this issue – – which umpires have fundamentally ignored for about 100 years or so – – MLB will be using stats on things like spin rate for pitches and relying on “Gameday Compliance Monitors” that will keep tabs on players not in the open dugout who might be involved in getting foreign substances onto baseballs that will find their way into games.  These Compliance Monitors are sort of like MLB’s version of the Safety Patrol many of us encountered in our elementary school days; they are going to be the ones who sound the alarm if there is a violation of the rules…  Pardon me while I snicker.

Last year, there was no live attendance at games on “Opening Day” which did not happen in the Spring as interpreted by Curmudgeon Central or any knowledgeable astronomer.  In fact, there were no fans in stadiums until the playoffs began in October.  This year, various sites will be hosting fans in the stands on Opening Day.  Things vary from city to city based on the orders of State Governors around the country.  Here are two comments from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot to give you an idea of the state of play:

“In wide-open Texas, the Rangers are planning for a full house at Globe Life Field for opening day, with masks required for all fans except when eating or drinking. Who isn’t always eating or drinking at a baseball game? The Rangers will go to reduced capacity with social distancing for subsequent games. So a full house is fine to start, but not so much later? Follow that? Because I can’t.”

And …

“Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that sports venues will be allowed to open in his state at 50% capacity. Judging from the Baltimore Orioles’ 2019 attendance figures, this is about 30% more than what’s needed at Camden Yards.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had another view of the restrictions – or lack thereof – on stadium attendance in Texas:

“Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in the Lone Star State, meaning the Texas Rangers’ home opener might be a sellout.

“The rules there are now so lenient that even catcher’s masks aren’t mandatory.”

Everything that precedes this point in the rant simply must take a backseat to the fact that MLB is going to begin “when it is supposed to begin”.  There are no “gimmick starts” in Japan or anywhere else; MLB will start on time, all at once, as it should be.  Importantly, every fan of every MLB team needs to recognize this unassailable truth:

  • As of this morning, every MLB team has a “Magic Number” of 162 to win their division.  Hope springs eternal – – in the Spring when baseball starts…

Now, before I get to my swami-like predictions for the upcoming season, let me suggest 4 storylines that I need not hear about any more as the 2021 season unfolds:

  1. I am more than merely tired of former players who lament the state of the game today.  Enough already!  If you do not like baseball anymore, please find something else to do with your time and then have the decency and grace not to tell us what that new thing is.  I too liked “old-time baseball” with its 2-hour games and lots of .300 hitters.  The fact of today is that baseball is a different game now and if you do not like it, please have the grace to let those of us who do enjoy ourselves.
  2. Let it be that the truncated 2020 season has put an exclamation point on repeated references to the “sign stealing scandal” in Houston.  It happened; it was shameful; it should never happen again – – although we know it will – -; we all agree on all of that.  Now can we move on please?
  3. I am way beyond tired of players getting a giant case of the red-ass when other players “show them up”.  If a pitcher does not want to see a hitter slow-trot around the bases after a home run, don’t give up a home run.  If a batter does not want to hear a pitcher yell at  him after a strike out, hit the damned ball.  MLB players are chronological – – and nominal – – adults.  Is it too much to ask of them to act like an adult?
  4. The MLB replay system is a major impediment to pace of play and more than an annoyance to fans.  Every close play in a game results in the manager checking with his “eyes in the sky” about challenging the play or not.  Meanwhile players stall to give him the time he needs to get that “intel”.  The entire replay system – – and even the idea of using replay at all – – needs a thorough re-examination by all the folks associated with MLB, the MLBPA and the MLB Umpires Association.

Because it is not yet clear how MLB will structure its playoffs this year – – will it be the expanded version with 16 teams as it was in 2020 or will it revert to 10 teams as it has been in the recent past? – – I will not even try to structure the playoffs here.  Nonetheless, here are my prognostications for the 2021 MLB regular season:

  • AL East:  The Yankees are the best team here by a comfortable margin- – unless Gerritt Cole and another starter get hurt.  Will the Rays be able to keep up with the Yankees over a 162-game schedule?  I don’t think so.  The Blue Jays improved over the winter significantly and should seriously contend for a wildcard slot.  Heck, if the Yankees suffer a lot of injuries, the Jays just might come on and win the Division.  Who knows what the Red Sox are doing with their roster over the past couple of years?  Other than JD Martinez, no one in that line-up is “scary”.  Just pretend the Orioles are not there and spend the year wondering why they have not been relegated to the minor leagues.
  • AL Central:    Losing Eloy Jimenez for the season prevents the White Sox from being the odds-on favorites in the Division.  Which version of the Twins will show up this year; the run scoring machine from 2019 or the ho-hum team from 2020?  The Indians pitching staff is solid, but they may struggle to score.  Both the Royals and the Tigers look to be over-matched here.
  • AL West:  The Astros lost George Springer in free agency over the winter and that cannot help the team.  But I still think they have the best team top to bottom in their Division.  Maybe the A’s can make the Astros sweat it out a bit, but I doubt it.  Maybe this is the year that the Angels break through and get a wild-card slot in the playoffs?  Or will Mike Trout win the MVP (for the 4th time) and be home in October?  The Mariners, and the Rangers are merely along for the ride in this Division.
  • NL East:  The Braves are young and very good – – assuming their starting pitching remains intact.  The Mets got a lot better over the winter acquiring Francisco Lindor.  [Aside:  The loss of Robinson Cano to a 162-game suspension for PEDs might be a blessing in disguise for the Mets.]  The Nats’ starting pitching with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin at the top of the rotation is formidable.  The Marlins were a surprise last year; lightening is not going to strike twice in the NL East in 2021.  The Phillies’ bullpen let them down a lot last year; they made changes there but how significant those changes are remains a mystery.
  • NL Central:  The Cardinals got a lot better when they acquired Nolan Arenado; the question in St. Louis is the starting pitching.  If everything breaks right for either the Cubs or the Brewers, they could make things interesting here – – but it is difficult to see how all that happens.  The Reds will be better this year than in recent years, but they are also-rans.  Let us not even think about the Pirates; their season in 2021 might give tanking a bad name.  Ke’Bryan Hayes is the Pirates’ rookie third baseman and they offered him an extended contract before he played a full season at the MLB level; he turned it down.  So, he is a good player and a smart player too…
  • NL West:  There is a two-team race in this Division – – the Dodgers and the Padres just might be the two best teams on paper in all of MLB for this year.  The Dodgers are solid at the plate, on the mound and in reserve.  The Padres have Tatis and Machado as a one-two punch plus a solid starting rotation.  The Giants, D-Backs and Rockies are playing for third place here.

Of course, here in Curmudgeon Central there is always an eye for failure or the potential for failure.  So as things get underway for the 2021 season, an important question here is this:

  • Can there be an epically bad team this year?

I doubt that any MLB team will ever sink below the level of incompetence shown by the Cleveland Spiders in 1899.  That team posted a record of 20-134 which is a win percentage of .130.  There were some roster shenanigans associated with that team that would not be tolerated today, so I will ignore that level of ineptitude.

MLB went from a 154-game season to a 162-game season in 1961.  Other than last year, that has been the modus vivendi MLB for the last 60 years.  So, over that span, here are the worst records (with win percentages) posted by teams:

  • Mets (1962): 40-120 (.250)
  • Tigers (2003): 43-119 (.265)
  • Orioles (2018): 47-115 (.290)
  • Tigers (2019): 47-114 (.292)

Note that two of the four worst records since MLB went to 162 games per season happened in the last two full seasons of MLB.  Moreover, the Tigers and the Orioles who only won 47 games in their seasons of ignominy do not appear to have made significant changes since they stunk out the joint in recent seasons.  But wait, there’s more…

The Pirates have traded away or bought out a bunch of players and the projected salary for the 26-man roster on Opening Day is $41.7M according to Spotrac.com.  The AVERAGE projected salary for a 26-man roster on Opening Day for MLB in 2021 is $120.5M.  I know that Pittsburgh is a small market; nonetheless, it appears as if the team is not even going to try and be competitive in 2021.  Baseball fans in Pittsburgh need to circle September 6,7,and 8 on their calendars:

  • The Steelers’ season will not have started yet.
  • The Pirates are at home hosting the Tigers for a 3-game series.
  • Both teams could be vying for the worst record in MLB for the season.
  • Both teams could appear on the list of futility above after 2021.
  • Tix will not be hard to come by for these games…

Finally, here is one more observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding various moves by MLB teams in the off-season:

“And, in news about free agents, the Blue Jays signed George Springer, the Phillies signed J.T. Realmuto and the Royals slammed the door on Prince Harry’s possible return.”

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

 

 

Pre-Tournament Musings…

This is certainly not the place where one finds liturgical or theological enlightenment.  Nonetheless, this is the day of the year that might be termed the “Day of Wrath” (from Dies Irae) because this is the day following Selection Sunday.  Maybe we should name it the Monday of Mourning?  The main focus of the sports world today is a non-issue; far too much attention is paid to the teams that were snubbed by the Selection Committee and left out of the basketball tournament.  Big deal!  The team considered to be 69th in the country and left out of the tournament field was not going to win the tournament anyway.

You will not find me weeping and gnashing my teeth over such nonsense.  Rather, I prefer to focus on the fact that the NCAA is going to try to pull off a full tournament field of 68 teams in a semi-bubbled environment in Indianapolis.  It will not be easy; and if it goes off without any sort of disruption, it will be a huge surprise.  Given the number of teams that had to interrupt their regular season schedules to accommodate COVID-19 infections, the odds of seeing 67 games go on without incident are not good.

One sort of positive thing to come out of this regular season is that players and coaches had to learn to adapt on the fly to new situations.  There were so many game cancellations and “schedule adjustments” that the normal regimented and orderly progression of a season was never maintained.  Maybe that can be a long-term benefit for many of these players in life…

The so-called mid-majors of college basketball may well have been disproportionately disadvantaged by all of the “schedule adjustments”.  The paucity of interconference games this year did not give some of the smaller basketball schools a chance to play a game or two against the basketball bluebloods; that deprived those smaller schools the opportunity to demonstrate their potential to be competitive at a higher level.  That circumstance did not come about through malicious intent – – unless you want to ascribe that intent to the coronavirus.

A positive thing to watch for in the tournament this year is Gonzaga’s quest to finish the season with a tournament championship plus an undefeated season.  The Zags are 26-0 in the regular season; they need to win 6 more games for a perfect season.  The last team to finish a regular season undefeated and then to cap it off with a tournament championship was Indiana in 1976.  Since then, three teams have arrived at the tournament with unblemished records but have lost in the tournament.  Those were:

  • 1979 – – Indiana State lost in the Final Game
  • 1991 – – UNLV lost in the Final Four round
  • 2015 – – Kentucky lost in the Final Four round

Bob Molinaro had an interesting take on Gonzaga’s quest this year in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Over: The abrupt end to Duke’s slim postseason hopes has a negligible national impact, but all hell would break loose within the sport if a positive test derailed Gonzaga or another serious contender. It gives new meaning to ‘survive and advance.’”

[Aside:  How many “bracketologists” back in December prognosticated that both Duke and Kentucky would fail to make the tournament?  Let that demonstrate the value of such soothsaying…]

For what it is worth, Rick Pitino’s Iona team is in the tournament this year; this is the fifth school he has led to the NCAA tournament.  Rick Pitino may not be the perfect role model for your kids, but he can coach basketball teams.

What I like to do with the tournament brackets is to have some fun with team mascots and players’ names.  Even in years when there is regularity, I do not have a great track record for picking brackets; so, I find other ways to amuse myself while waiting for the games to begin.  For example:

  • We could have two Final Four games that are ‘Predator versus Prey”.  You could have the Michigan Wolverines against the Creighton Blue Jays and the Villanova Wildcats against the Oregon State Beavers.
  • In Round 1, we have a game between the Ramblers (Loyola-Chicago) and the Ramblin’ Wreck (Georgia Tech).
  • We might see a “reptilian” final game should it come down to the Maryland Terrapins and the Drexel Dragons.
  • We could have a second-round game between Oklahoma St. (OSU) and Oregon State (OSU).  Moreover, one of those schools might possibly make it to the Final Four where it could face Ohio St. (OSU).
  • The Final Game could be a contest between ethnic mascots – – the San Diego St. Aztecs versus the Iona Gaels.
  • An Elite Eight game could pair the Michigan St. Spartans against the UNC-Greensboro Spartans.
  • Perhaps the Final Game will be completely ursine matching the Baylor Bears and the UCLA Bruins.

In addition to mascot pairings, there are plenty of potential intrastate rivalry games to happen in the tournament.

  • Florida and Florida St. could meet in the Final Game.
  • Michigan and Michigan St. could meet in the Elite Eight.
  • Ohio and Ohio St. could meet in the Final Game.
  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. could meet in the Final Game.
  • Oregon and Oregon St. could meet in the Final Game.
  • Virginia and VCU could meet in the Elite Eight.
  • Virginia and Va Tech could meet in the Final Game.

Player names have always been a part of my pre-tournament musings.  This year I will consider All-Tournament Teams made up of players based solely on the way their names fit into categories that I have concocted in my head.  This is just for fun.  Let me begin with players that have what I call Mirror-Image Names – you can reverse the order of their names and it still sounds like a player name:

  • Bryan Antoine – – Villanova
  • Carson Barrett – – Purdue
  • Keller Casey – – Oklahoma
  • Brandon Cyrus – – UC-Santa Barbara
  • Tytist Dean – – Liberty
  • Kent Gilbert – – Tennessee
  • Ben Gregg – – Gonzaga
  • Donovan Gregory – – Appalachian St.
  • Blake Henry – – Colgate
  • Jace Howard – – Michigan
  • Jehloni James – – Georgia Tech
  • Trey James – – Iona
  • Jarod Lucas – – Oregon St.
  • Chase Martin – – Purdue
  • Cody Riley – – UCLA
  • Demetrius Terry – – Cleveland St.
  • Jalen Terry – – Oregon
  • Aiden Terry – – Rutgers
  • Cameron Thomas – – LSU

My next All Tournament Team is the Artist’s Palette Team:

  • Leaky Black – – UNC
  • Eugene Brown III – – Ohio St.
  • Gabe Brown – – Michigan St.
  • Greg Brown – – Texas
  • Kobe Brown – – Missouri
  • Xavion Brown – – Appalachian St.
  • A.J. Gray – – Hartford
  • Josh Gray – – LSU
  • Raiquan Gray – – Florida State
  • Bryant Greene – – Appalachian St.
  • Tarik Silver – – Oregon St.
  • Fabian White, Jr. – – Houston
  • Isaiah White – – USC
  • Jalen White – – Ohio

[Aside:  With five players named “Brown” here, it is a shame that Brown University is not in the tournament field this year.]

Next up is an All-Tournament team where player names have a Biblical Connotation:

  • Immanuel Allen – – Abilene Christian
  • Noah Baumann – – USC
  • Christian Bishop – – Creighton
  • Moses Flowers – – Hartford
  • Weston Church – – Oklahoma St.
  • Gideon George – – BYU
  • Jonah Jackson – – Drake
  • Isaac Likekele – – Oklahoma St.
  • Noah Locke – – Florida
  • Elijah Lufile – – Oral Roberts
  • Isaiah Miller – – UNC-Greensboro
  • Joshua Morgan – – USC
  • Micah Peavy – – Texas Tech
  • Ismael Plet – – Oral Roberts
  • Malachi Rice – – Georgia Tech
  • Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – – Villanova
  • Samson Ruzhentsev – – Florida
  • Jericho Sims – – Texas
  • Moses Wright – – Georgia Tech

I always look for players with Alliterative Names.  This year, using names and schools, I found several “Trifectas” where the alliteration has three components.  I am still in search of a “Grand-slam alliteration” such as Tom Terrific from Texas Tech.  Maybe next year…

  • Akok Akok – – UConn
  • Angelo Allegri – – UNC Greensboro
  • Alphonso Anderson – – Utah St.
  • Avery Anderson III – – Oklahoma St.
  • Adonis Arms – – Winthrop
  • Aguek Arop – – San Deigo St.
  • Austin Ash – – Iowa
  • Buddy Boeheim – – Syracuse
  • Bryceson Burns – – Drake
  • Colton Cashaw – – Iona
  • Colin Castleton – – Florida
  • Cade Cunningham – – Oklahoma St.
  • Deven Dahlke – – Drake – – Trifecta !
  • Dain Dainja – – Baylor
  • Damien Daniels – – Abilene Christian
  • Davonte Davis – – Arkansas
  • Devin Davis – – Creighton
  • Darius Days – – LSU
  • Dexter Dennis – – Wichita St.
  • David Didenko – – Georgia Tech
  • Drake Dobbs – Liberty
  • Ferron Flavors, Jr. – – Oklahoma St.
  • Gage Gomez – – UC-Santa Barbara
  • Hakim Hart – – Maryland
  • Kolton Kohl – – Abilene Christian
  • Jalen Jackson – – North Texas
  • Jaime Jaquez, Jr. – – UCLA – – Trifecta !
  • Josiah-Jordan James – – Tennessee – –  Trifecta !
  • Jason Jitoboh – – Florida
  • John Jones – – Texas Southern
  • Johnny Juzang – – UCLA
  • Kuba Karwowski – – Utah St.
  • Liam Lloyd – – Grand Canyon
  • Mawot Mag – – Rutgers
  • Marten Maide – – Liberty
  • Montez Mathis – – Rutgers
  • Mardrez McBride – – North Texas
  • Mac McClung – – Texas Tech
  • Mason McMurray – – Ohio
  • Michael Meadows – – Eastern Washington
  • Mahki Morris – – Abilene Christian
  • Pearson Parker – – Colgate
  • Reggie Raynor – – UNC Greensboro
  • Sheldon Stevens – – Oral Roberts
  • Townsend Triple – – BYU

I can concoct an All-Tournament Team with namesakes of US Presidents:

  • Bryson Bush – – Wichita St.
  • Jonathan Jackson – – Liberty
  • Tray Jackson – – Seton Hall
  • Damien Jefferson – – Creighton
  • Jalen Jefferson – – Mount Saint Mary’s
  • Malik Jefferson – – Mount Saint Mary’s
  • Meechie Johnson, Jr.  Ohio St.
  • Britton Johnson – – Alabama
  • Jayden Nixon – – Virginia
  • Rico Ozuna-Harrison – – Michigan
  • Coletrane Washington – – Drexel
  • Duane Washington Jr. – – Ohio St.

People go to college to prepare themselves for careers in life.  Here are some players in this year’s tournament where I wonder if their name indicates what they will do with the rest of their lives:

  • Geo Baker – – Rutgers – – Pastry chef
  • Adrian Baldwin, Jr. – – VCU – – Piano tuner
  • Chudier Bile – – Georgetown – – Liver transplant surgeon
  • Andre Bottoms – – Norfolk St. – – Scuba instructor
  • Jalen Bridges – – W. Virginia – – Civil engineer
  • Drew Buggs – – Missouri – – Entomologist
  • DJ Burns, Jr. – – Winthrop – – Firefighter
  • Nate Buss – – Winthrop – – Transportation specialist
  • Lamont Butler – – San Diego St. – – Obviously…
  • Jett Canfield – – Creighton – – Pilot
  • Kofi Cockburn – – Illinois – – Barista
  • Aaron Cook – – Gonzaga – – Celebrity chef
  • Adrian Delph – – Appalachian St. – – Oracle?
  • Abe Eagle – – Gonzaga – – Boy Scout Leader
  • Aleem Ford – – Wisconsin – – New car sales
  • Justin Forrest – – Appalachian St. – – Sawmill foreman
  • Javion Hamlet – – North Texas – – Actor
  • Royce Hamm, Jr. – – Texas – – Abattoir foreman
  • Luke House – – Drexel – – Architect
  • Kaleb Hunter – – UNC Greensboro – – Anything but a gatherer
  • Julius Marble II – – Michigan St. – – Sculptor
  • Miles McBride – – W. Virginia – – Wedding photographer
  • Takal Molson – – Seton Hall – – Brewer
  • Moses Moody – – Arkansas – – Bond trader
  • Andrew Muse – – Appalachian St. – – Poet
  • Justyn Mutts – – Va Tech – – Dog breeder
  • Woody Newton – – Syracuse – – Carpenter
  • Nana Opoku – – Mount Saint Mary’s – – Childcare specialist
  • Eli Parquet – – Colorado – – Flooring installer
  • Omar Payne – – Florida – – Chiropractor
  • Jamorko Pickett – – Georgetown – – Fence installer
  • Abel Porter – – Ohio St. – – Too easy…!
  • Micah Potter – – Wisconsin – – Too easy again …!
  • Joey Potts – – Oregon St. – – Chef
  • Keegan Records – – Colgate – – Statistician
  • Colton Reed – – Liberty – – Oboist
  • Mason Robbins – – Oklahoma St. – – Bricklayer
  • Brandon Slater – – Villanova – – Roofer
  • Javonte Smart – – LSU – – Professor
  • Camerohn Steele – – Abilene Christian – – Metallurgist
  • Jayden Stone – – Grand Canyon – – Geologist
  • Read Streller – – Oklahoma – – Librarian
  • Seth Towns – – Ohio St. – – Urban planner?
  • Sam Towns – – Oho – – Cartographer?
  • Tyler Underwood – – Illinois – – Typewriter repairman
  • Jordan Usher – – Georgia Tech – – Obviously …
  • Franz Wagner – – Michigan – – Composer
  • Rocket Watts – – Michigan St. – – NASA engineer
  • Deshang Weaver – – Oral Roberts – – Fashion designer
  • Tom Welch – – Loyola Chicago – – Jelly maker

I also like to create a Copy Editors’ Nightmare Team.  It can also be a challenge for play-by-play broadcasters too:

  • Ochai Agbaji – – Kansas
  • Chibuzo Agbo – – Texas Tech
  • Max Agbonkpolo – – USC
  • Warith Alatishe – – Oregon St.
  • Rati Andronikashvili – – Creighton
  • Martynas Arlauskas – – Gonzaga
  • Giorgi Bezhanishvili – – Illinois
  • Nyzaiah Chambers – – Norfolk St.
  • Damian Chong Qui – – Mount Saint Mary’s
  • Okay Djamgouz – – Drake
  • Ayo Dosunmu – – Illinois
  • Victor Iwuakor – – Oklahoma
  • Abayomi Iyiola – – Arkansas
  • Efstratios Kalogerias – – Norfolk St.
  • Modestas Kancleris – – Creighton
  • Balsa Koprivica – – Florida St.
  • Sandro Mamukelashvili – – Seton Hall
  • Asbjørn Midtgaard – – Grand Canyon
  • Emeka Obukwelu – – Arkansas
  • Eugene Omoruyi – – Oregon
  • Osayi Osifo – – Florida
  • Osun Osunniyi – – St. Bonaventure
  • Victor Radocaj – – Eastern Washington
  • Yahuza Rasas – – Texas Southern
  • Ryan Tankelewicz – – UNC Greensboro
  • Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua – – Baylor
  • Aher Uguak – – Loyola-Chicago
  • Paxson Wojcik – – Loyola-Chicago
  • Szymon Zapala – – Utah St.

I found five names in my looking around that are interesting – – but do not fit on tournament teams.  So, I will just list them here:

  1. Dajuan Harris, Jr. is a guard on the Kansas team.  Too bad he is not a twin; if he were, his brother could have been named “Da-udda-juan”.
  2. The Drexel coach is named Zach Spiker.  How is he not the volleyball coach?
  3. The Oregon St. coach is named Wayne Tinkle.  Moving on…
  4. Tony Perkins is on the Iowa team.  I thought I saw him in the movies…
  5. Reggie Miller is on the Abilene Christian team.  I did not realize he had any NCAA eligibility left…

Finally, let me close with a tournament overview by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times :

“Virginia joined Duke on the sideline at the ACC basketball tournament after a positive COVID-19 test, and Kansas is similarly out of the Big 12 tourney.

“So can we just end the suspense early and proclaim the virus as this year’s national champion?”

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

 

 

Pitchers And Catchers Reporting …

I have no intention of going all meteorological on  you today, but here in the DC area we got some freezing rain/ice as precipitation about 3:00 AM last night; it is continuing in that mode as I write this and then some snow is forecast on top of that frozen mess for the rest of the day.  The sky is fully covered in clouds at about 1000 feet of elevation.  If ever a day oozed “dreariness”, it would be today in the DC area.

Nonetheless, there is a way for me to look over, under around and through this mess to see something much more pleasant and alluring.  No, I am not auditioning for the male lead in a remake of the silent movie, Little Mary Sunshine; I am simply acknowledging that this is the time of year when pitchers and catchers begin to report to Spring Training sites.  That means baseball is coming and baseball means this sort of dreary weather is on the wane.

That good news is compounded by the fact that Spring Training is going to happen “on time” this year.  It was not long ago that there was some doubt about the timing there; MLB wanted to delay the opening of Spring Training camps for about a month for “pandemic-related” reasons; the players’ union refused to accept that, and the legalese of the CBA resolved that head-butting exercise.  And in that last phrase, you can find the germ of future strife in this dimension.

Lest you think I am being dramatic, consider this one seemingly minor episode:

  • About two weeks ago, MLB scheduled a call with Federal officials to get the latest information and projections about COVID-19 and its spread and vaccine availability and reasonable protocols and – – you get the idea.
  • The players’ union was invited to participate in the call.
  • The union refused and set up a call of its own with Federal officials on the same subjects.

Recall that the current CBA expires after this season concludes and there needs to be cooperation to get to a new CBA.  Just reviewing the behaviors with regard to gathering COVID-19 related information from Federal officials, I would say these sides are behaving more like middle school kids involved in a feud than they are rational adults.  What baseball as a sport needs here is pragmatism – – and if there is any of that stuff lying around in the sport, it is surely keeping a low profile.

The so-called “elephant in the room” for MLB is that there are some systemic problems in the game that threaten the economic foundations of the game itself.  Those systemic problems may create bad news and rougher times for the billionaire owners and for the millionaire players.  Moreover, the best way to exacerbate those systemic problems is for the owners and the players to continue to turn marginally important issues into the latter-day equivalent of Custer’s Last Stand.

The 2021 season will be 162 games long – – assuming no massive return of COVID-19 between now and October.  When there are doubleheaders, the games will be 7 innings long and the “runner on second” to start extra innings will return for an encore.  [Aside:  For the record, I do not like either rule but their inclusion in the 2021 season is not sufficiently horrible that I would oppose them to the death.]  In addition, the DH will only be applicable for AL games or interleague games in AL parks.  MLB offered to keep the universal DH in place for 2021 in exchange for the union’s agreement to continue the expanded playoffs from last year.  When the union refused to agree to that, MLB took the universal DH off the table.  [Aside:  For the record, I hate the DH and I hate expanding the playoffs as MLB did last year.  Nonetheless, the absence of an ability to find a way to agree to compromise here is something I hate even more.]

According to an AP report:

“The agreement (on how to conduct the 2021 season) includes more sophisticated contact tracing for COVID-19 that includes the use of technology, and more league rules on behavior to comply with coronavirus protocols.”

Pardon me for a moment of pessimism here; but given the lack of collegiality that exists between the owners and players now, I cannot help but think that “more league rules on behavior to comply with coronavirus protocols” just might spark some more ill will between now and the end of October.

There is going to be a fundamental difference in the conduct of Spring Training this year.  In previous years, teams would have a training camp for its most likely major leaguers and a separate camp of its minor league prospects.  Occasionally, one of the hot minor league prospects would be brought into the major league camp for a game or two to “check him out” against major league competition.  This year, the major league training camps can be as large as 75 players meaning the distinctions between the major camp and the minor camp can be blurred significantly.

That blurring will mean that teams will need to carefully manage the playing time available to young players and to veterans hoping to make a team as a utility player of a bench presence.  While it can be argued that such vigilance was always important, it takes on greater significance this year because of what happened last year.  There was no minor league baseball season last year; teams did not get to see their prospects wax or wane in 2020; the “book” on most minor league prospects has its most recent entries written in invisible ink.

The good news is that pitchers and catchers are reporting; that is a harbinger of Spring; I can think about that as I watch more freezing rain fall from the sky this morning.  The bad news is that baseball is not in a good labor/management place today and the document that keeps them from going at it tooth and nail expires in about 9 months.

Tomorrow, I will try to explain what I mean by “systemic problems” that threaten baseball for fans, owners and players.  Until then, let me close with a description of another annual Spring event from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Spring Break:  A week-long bacchanal that makes the reign of Caligula look like a scrapbooking party at the Red Hat Society.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, John Chaney

John Chaney died over the weekend at the age of 89.  He was the head basketball coach at Temple for next-to-forever and is most deservedly a part of the Naismith Hall of Fame.  Chaney was a charter member of the “Tough Love School” of coaching; he would not fit in well in today’s world of coaches being kinder and gentler that he was.  His teams played ferocious defense; he demanded that.  It would have been fun to watch one of his Temple teams play one of Bob Knight’s Indiana teams back in the day…

Rest in peace, John Chaney.

As I am sure you have heard/read, the Rams and Lions exchanged QBs over the weekend and the Lions got three draft picks in the process.  The rumors that the Rams’ coaching staff was not enamored with Jared Goff proved to be accurate; they shipped him off to the Lions – even under new management the Lions must be considered part of “NFL Purgatory” – and they tossed in two first round picks and a third-round pick.  It seems clear to me that the Rams believe they will be serious Super Bowl contenders next year with upgraded QB play from Matthew Stafford.

It is the “draft picks” part of this trade that I find interesting.  Most commentators place great value on two first round picks plus a third-round pick; they call it “draft capital”.  The Rams seem to be selling that “draft capital” short and the Rams have been doing that for a while now.  Assuming that they do not trade to acquire a first-round pick between now and the 2023 NFL Draft, the Rams will have gone 7 consecutive years without a selection in the first round:

  • 2017:  Traded this pick as part of the deal that got them Jared Goff in 2016.
  • 2018:  Traded this pick to the Pats for Brandin Cooks.
  • 2019:  Traded this pick to the Falcons to move down in the draft for lower round picks.
  • 2020:  Traded this pick to the Jags for Jalen Ramsey
  • 2021:  Traded this pick to the Jags for Jalen Ramsey too.
  • 2022:  Traded this pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford.
  • 2023:  Traded this pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford too.

I believe that “draft capital” is highly overrated.  The NFL Draft is a gamble and not an investment; “draft capital” is more akin to a “poker stake” in the NFL Draft shuffle.  I use poker as my analogy purposely because to win at poker you need a combination of luck and skill and that is exactly what you need to be successful in the NFL Draft.  The Rams now – – and 50  years ago under George Allen – have chosen to give up their position in the first round of the Draft in exchange for what they consider to be known talent entities.  If it works, watch lots of other teams try to copy that behavior; if it flops, the pundits will point to the Rams’ braintrust as a pack of naïfs.

Here is why I find the Draft to be interesting but not all that important.  Consider a Draft where there have been no trades and consider that each of the 32 teams would make the best selection available when it came their turn.  To make it simple, consider only the first two rounds for a moment:

  • “Worst Team” has Pick 1 and Pick 33
  • “Best Team” has Pick 32 and Pick 64

If each team is picking the best player every time, there is a marginal difference between the “Best Team” at Pick 32 and the “Worst Team” at Pick 33.  In terms of great improvement potential for the “Worst Team” the difference lies in the talent gap between Pick 1 and Pick 64.

However, the same conditions exist at the interface of every round of the Draft; the “Best Team” picking at 65 “evens out” the “Worst Team” picking at 64 and then at the end of the third round, the “Best Team” picking at 96 evens out the “Worst Team” picking at 97 and so it goes.  The net result of a “perfect Draft” of this type is that the big advantage for the “Worst Team” is that they get Pick 1 and the “Best Team” gets Pick 224.  Not exactly Earth-shattering…

The NFL Draft is interesting because the teams are NOT perfect in their selections.  Every team in the NFL passed on taking Tom Brady several times; the Niners traded up to get a kid from Mississippi Valley State University that few folks had ever heard of named Jerry Rice; in 1965, the Bears had back-to-back first round picks at #3 and #4 and they took Dick Butkus and Gayle Sayers with those picks.  [Aside:  The two players taken ahead of Butkus and Sayers in that Draft were Tucker Frederickson and Ken Willard.]

The trade that took place this weekend means that the Rams have their eyes on a Super Bowl appearance in the next year or three and are convinced that Matthew Stafford’s improved play at QB will be the impulse that gets them there.  Meanwhile, the Lions seem to recognize that they have a major rebuilding project in front of them – – as they seem to have had for the last 30-50 years – – and that they want to have more chances to strike it rich in the Draft poker game.

  • Shuffle up and deal …

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot two weeks ago:

Inside info: Gamblers and other interested parties might have appreciated knowing beforehand that Drew Brees played out the season with a torn rotator cuff and torn fascia in his foot. This according to an Instagram post by wife Brittany Brees.”

To which I say:

  • Are we sure that “gamblers and other interested parties” were in the dark here?

Finally, let me wish everyone here a Happy Virtual Groundhogs Day.  The normal pomp and circumstance associated with today has been replaced by a virtual ”ceremony” whereby the large ugly rodent makes his annual prediction on the arrival of Spring.  The pandemic strikes again…

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

 

 

Football-free Friday 1/29/21

For the last 5 months, Friday rants were devoted to football as has been the custom here in Curmudgeon Central for years.  However, this particular Friday is always a deviation from that schedule because even in non-COVID seasons, there is no football of significance happening on this weekend.  I view the Pro Bowl – even when it is played – with even lower regard than I do the Exhibition Games that lead up to the NFL regular season.  So, let us just agree to call this Football-free Friday.

The Baseball Hall of Fame will have no new inductees next summer from the voting of the Baseball Writers Association of America; no player on the ballot this year received the requisite 75% of the votes cast to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame.  The three highest vote counts went to:

  • Curt Schilling
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens.

From my perspective, people with a vote in this matter have chosen to vote against these three players for different reasons.  Bonds and Clemens are both inexorably tied to PED use – not proven to legal standards but proven to the standard of a preponderance of evidence for many baseball fans.  Schilling is merely “politically odious”; many of his public pronouncements go well beyond the standard of “politically incorrect”; many of his pronouncements are in the category of loathsome.  [Aside:  I am not going to list some of them here because I really believe that they need no additional airings.]

All three players have one year left on the Baseball Writers’ ballot; after that, their candidacy will be in the hands of a Committee known as the Today’s Game Committee.  Here is the membership of that Committee:

“The Today’s Game Committee shall consist of 16 members, comprised of members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. shall act as the non-voting chairman of the committee and shall act as non-voting Secretary of the Committee.”

Schilling took the unprecedented action to petition the Hall of Fame to direct the Baseball Writers to take his name off their ballot for next year; he says he does not want to give the writers another year to harp on his personal views as they go about their voting.  Surprisingly, the writers have protested to the Hall of Fame that Schilling must remain on the ballot because their rules say he belongs there.  Yes, you are right; this contretemps has all the gravitas of an argument over “Tastes Great” versus “Less Filling”.

My position on the propriety of including controversial figures in the Baseball Hall of Fame is not black and white – – so let me try to explain.  The Baseball Writers try to include “character” and “integrity” issues in their criteria for entry to the HoF.  That leads to a conundrum quickly:

  • Steroids were illegal in the 90s when they were rampantly used in MLB; there was no baseball rule about that but there were legal restrictions.  So, does that make PED users automatically ineligible on the basis of a “character flaw” as a “lawbreaker”?
  • PEDs – by definition – give the user “performance enhancement” meaning they promote his ability to accumulate great stats that the writers then view as the basis for his candidacy.  So, should PED users be disqualified on the basis that their stats are in question?  Well, if that is the case, then how could someone like Gaylord Perry be in the HoF when he threw thousands of illegal spitballs over the course of his career that accumulated stats sufficiently noteworthy …?
  • When a player lies about using PEDs – or about gambling on baseball – should the lies themselves be disqualifying indicating of a lack of “integrity”?

If I had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame – which I do not – I would vote:

  • To include Bonds and Clemens and other PED users/suspects posthumously and with the provision that their plaque in the Hall says explicitly that there is plenty of reason to believe that these players were PED users and that PEDs may well have inflated their statistics cited in the Hall of Fame.
  • To include Pete Rose posthumously and with the provision that his betting on baseball and his lying about betting on baseball be included on his plaque with the notation that his gambling behaviors did not enhance his ability to accumulate his statistics.
  • To include Curt Schilling in the HoF because he is one of the best big-game performers ever.  [See some stats below]  The idea that Curt Schilling and his odious political views will somehow pollute the Baseball Hall of Fame is beyond ludicrous.  Cap Anson and Ty Cobb were fundamentally flawed human beings – Anson also bet on baseball games – and they are in the Hall.  There is more than a little evidence that Cobb and Tris Speaker colluded to fix a game or two even after the 1919 Black Sox scandal and that the Commish looked the other way.  Speaker is in the Hall.  I think Curt Schilling is a social troglodyte – meaning no disrespect to cave dwellers in antiquity.  But he will not be the most repugnant person in the Hall of Fame if inducted.

Anyone can Google Schilling’s career stats for themselves.  I want to present just a couple of things that take a bit of searching through those stats to indicate why I believe Curt Schilling’s on-field body of work makes him eligible:

  1. In the history of baseball, only 4 pitchers have recorded 300 strikeouts in three different seasons.  Those 4 are Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Curt Schilling.  That is rather good company Schilling is keeping there…
  2. He started five postseason games where a loss would have eliminated his team; he won every one of them.  No other pitcher did that.
  3. Overall in postseason play, Schilling started 19 games and was the pitcher of record in 13 of those 19 games.  His record for his career in the post season was 11-2 with an overall ERA of 2.23.

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times related to another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame – – about whom there is no debate regarding his proper inclusion there:

“Yogi Berra, the late Yankees legend, is about to get his own commemorative postage stamp.

“New U.S. Postal Service motto: It ain’t delivered till it’s delivered.”

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

 

 

The Fortunes Of Two Football Coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Football Friday 1/8/21

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

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

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

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

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

 

College Football Commentary:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last observation about this year’s bowl games:

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

 

College Game of Interest:

 

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

 

NFL Commentary:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NFL Games:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, let me review the Six-Pack:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Football Friday – On Thursday – 12/24/20

Anyone who has been reading these rants for even a short period of time has surely come to the realization that Football Friday is an important calendar entry here in Curmudgeon Central.  Nevertheless, Football Friday is being moved to a different calendar entry this week to make way for Christmas this Friday.  Even though my long-suffering wife and I will be spending Christmas Day using Zoom and WhatsApp to connect with family, those virtual celebrations take precedence over banging out Football Friday on its normal schedule.

Call this “Touchdown Thursday” if you want.  I shall begin as usual with a review of last week’s Six-Pack which had 8 selections crammed into it:

  • College:  2-2-0
  • NFL:  2-2-0
  • Combined:  4-4-0

Those results bring the cumulative results for the 2020 season to this less than laudatory status:

  • College :  17-22-1
  • NFL:  24-30-1
  • Combined:  41-52-2

 

College Football Commentary

 

College football is poised to step aside in its pursuit of the spotlight within the US sports world; its regular season is over; its playoffs will not happen for another week or two.  College football will seek to fill some of that time with bowl games that are generally meaningless and uninteresting.  From this afternoon through Saturday evening, there will be eight bowl games; only two of those eight games caught my attention for more than a microsecond:

  1. Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina:  The teams will meet in something called “The Cure Bowl” in Orlando, FL on Saturday at 7:30 PM EST.  This is an interesting game because Liberty is 9-1 on the season and Coastal Carolina is 11-0.  Even though these are second tier teams from second tier conferences, it might be an interesting game.
  2. Marshall vs. Buffalo:  The teams will meet in something called “The Camelia Bowl” in Montgomery, AL on Christmas Day at 2:30 PM EST.  This is an interesting game because Buffalo has a running back named Jarrett Patterson who has averaged 178.7 yards per game and 3.2 TDs per game this season.

The CFP pairings are set.  Frankly, I am a bit surprised that there was only a murmur of controversy regarding the naming of the 4 entrants this year; I would have expected the lackluster showings of both Ohio State and Notre Dame in their final games to have created a more vocal advocacy for other teams such as Texas A&M, but that never materialized.  The CFP semifinals will occupy the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl this year; that leaves the so-called New Year’s Six with the following matchups:

  • Cotton Bowl Dec 30th 8:00 PM EST:  Oklahoma vs. Florida.  These are two good teams with plenty of offensive firepower.  I will not be surprised if the losing team scores 30+ points in the game.
  • Peach Bowl Jan 1st 12:30 PM EST:  Cincy vs. Georgia.  Cincy is undefeated; Georgia has lost twice – – to Alabama and to Florida.  Both teams are strong on defense.
  • Fiesta Bowl Jan 2nd 4:00 PM EST:  Oregon vs. Iowa State.  I am afraid I will miss this game; my calendar calls for me to rearrange my sock drawer at that time.
  • Orange Bowl Jan 2nd 8:00 PM EST:  Texas A&M vs. UNC:  The Tar Heels average 43.0 points per game; The Aggies allow 21.1 points per game.  This should be interesting.

Other than games mentioned here, I count 11 other college football games that will happen between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  I find precisely none of those games to be interesting let alone compelling.  If you are an alum of any of the 22 schools that will be participating in those 11 games or if you have a blood relative who is attending any of them, tune in to see what happens.  I plan to be busy trying to reach the unreachable star.  (Hat Tip to The Man of La Mancha.)

Two games from last weekend produced strange happenings on the field that bear passing mention even though the season is over.

Penn State beat Illinois 56-21.  The score at the end of the first quarter was 21-21.  Here are the scoring drives for that first quarter:

  1. Penn State 1 play 75 yards
  2. Illinois 4 plays 16 yards
  3. Penn State 100-yard kickoff return  (BTW there is 10:51 still to go in the 1st quarter at this point.)
  4. Illinois  3 plays 75 yards
  5. Illinois 4 plays 63 yards
  6. Penn State  10 plays 75 yards

And then, the Illinois offense went into hibernation for the rest of the game…

Army beat Air Force 10-7 to retain the Commander in Chief trophy for 2020.  The Army passing attack produced this highly unusual stat line:

  • 1 of 2 for 0 yards with 0 TDS and 0 INTs

Meanwhile, the Air Force passing attack was marginal at best:

  • 6 of 14 for 107 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs

With the regular season ended, I can now announce that the winner of the inaugural Brothel Defense Award – the defense that is most easily scored on – is Kansas for giving up 46.0 points per game.  Let’s hear it for the Jayhawks…

There are no college football games that merit placement in this week’s Six-Pack so I shall move on to the next standard section for Football Friday.

 

NFL Commentary

 

I am fast coming to the conclusion that Dwayne Haskins is a meathead.  Last season there were hints that he had difficulty remembering how to call various plays in the huddle after he got the signal from the sideline.  When he lost his starting job this year, there were stories that coaches had to teach him how to take notes during film study to make that film study productive.  And now – – after he regained his starting QB job due to injuries to Kyle Allen and Alex Smith – – Dwayne Haskins finds himself front and center in the mind of Roger Goodell.  Here is the deal:

  • After losing to the Seahawks last weekend, Haskins went out to a ”local exotic club”; losing the game must have put him in need of solace so that he might arrive at club HQs next week alert and ready to absorb the game plan being devised by the coaches.  No big deal, right?
  • Did I mention that he was photographed in the “exotic club” without a mask on his face?  That is a violation of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
  • Oh, by the way, this is the second time Haskins has been in violation of the NFL’s health and safety protocols.  That means he could suffer a 4-game suspension if The Commish so decides.

[Aside:  Kyle Allen is out for the year; Alex Smith’s availability for this week’s game is uncertain; the other QB on the active roster is Taylor Heinicke.  If the WTFs win out, they are in the playoffs; they need their QB suspended like a moose needs a hat rack.]

Naturally, Dwayne Haskins issued a public apology for this meatheadedness.  Here is what he said; tell me if you think you have heard this sort of thing somewhere before.

“I want to publicly apologize for my actions this past Sunday.  I spoke with Coach Rivera yesterday and took full accountability for putting the team at risk. It was irresponsible and immature of me and I accept responsibility for my action. I also want to apologize for creating a distraction for my team during our playoff push.

“I will learn and grow from this and do what’s best for the team moving forward.”

Amazingly, his previous transgression regarding the COVID-19 protocols did not enable him to learn and grow from that incident not did it get him to realize what constitutes irresponsible and/or immature behavior.  But now, things will be different…

Lest you think I am being too harsh on someone who is only 23 years old, take a moment and follow this link to read what Sally Jenkins has to say on the subject in Wednesday’s Washington Post.

Last week, the Seahawks beat the WTFs 20-15.  Dwayne Haskins played the best game of his career here in a loss.  Here is his stat line:

  • 38 of 55 for 295 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs plus 3 carries for 28 yards.

That is not a great stat line for an  Aaron Rodgers or a Patrick Mahomes; but importantly, Haskins was poised for much of the game and did not stare down his receivers.  It may not be good enough to convince the WTFs’ coaches to put up with Haskins’ immaturity and meatheadedness as noted above, but it was his best showing to date.  As usual, the WTFs dug themselves a hole trailing at the half 13-3 and then trailing at the end of the 3rd quarter 20-3.

The Cards beat the Eagles 33-26.  The Eagles could not have asked for much more than they got from Jalen Hurts in this game.  Here is his stat line:

  • 24 of 44 for 338 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs plus 11 carries for 63 yards and 1 TD.

The Eagles’ problem here was the defense that gave up 526 yards total offense.  Even though the Eagles “won the takeover battle” 3-0, it was not enough.

The Cowboys beat the Niners 41-33.    You should not conclude from the Cowboys’ total of 41 points that they marched up and down the field at will against the Niners.  The Cowboys got 24 points because of short fields set up by recovering 2 fumbles and intercepting 2 passes; then with the score 34-27, the Cowboys returned an onside kick for a TD.  In fact, the Cowboys were outgained 458 yards to 291 yards.

The Bills beat the Broncos 48-19.  The Bills clinched the AFC East title with this win; that is the first time the Bills have won the division since 1995.  The star of the game had to be Josh Allen; the Bills’ QB threw for 359 yards and 2 TDs plus he ran for 33 yards and 2 more TDs.  Stefon Diggs was on the receiving end of 11 passes from Allen gaining 147 yards in the process.  The Broncos made a game of it in the first half trailing only 21-13 at the intermission but the second half got ugly pretty quickly for Broncos’ fans.

The Packers beat the Panthers 24-16.  The Panthers defense showed up ready to play.  They sacked Aaron Rodgers 4 times and held him to 143 yards through the air.  Packers’ RB, Aaron Jones, gained more yards rushing than Aaron Rodgers gained passing; that does not happen often.  The Panthers’ offense was not efficient here; they got to the Red Zone 4 times and only came away with 1 TD.

The Bucs beat the Falcons 31-27.  When I saw that the Falcons led 17-0 at halftime, I made a note on my pad saying:

“The Bucs have them right where they want them.”

Early in the third quarter, the Falcons led 24-7.  And then, as if on cue, the Falcons squandered a three-score lead once again.  In the fourth quarter of the game, the total offense for the Falcons was 35 yards.

The Titans beat the Lions 46-25.  Just to point out the dominance of the Titans in this game, consider only these two stats:

  1. Titans were in the Red Zone 5 times and came away with 5 TDs
  2. Titans converted 9 of 11 third-down situations.

Maybe the folks in Detroit looking for a new coach and GM should consider the possibility that the team could use an influx of talent on the field as much as it needs better leadership on the sidelines and in the front office?

The Ravens beat the Jags 40-14.  The Jags started Gardner Minshew at QB in this game but that did not provide much of a spark; the Jags failed to score a point in the first half of the game.  As an indicator of how much the Ravens had this game under control, they did not punt at any time in the game.

The Colts beat the Texans 27-20.  The Texans had a good chance to tie this game and send it to OT but lost a fumble at the Colts’ 1 yardline with 19 seconds left on the clock.  Deshaun Watson played well here throwing for 373 yards and 2 TDs in a losing effort.

The Bears beat the Vikes 33-27.  Mitchell Trubisky was efficient if not spectacular here.  His stat line was:

  • 15 of 21 for 202 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT plus 8 carries for 34 yards

Dalvin Cook had a good day for the Vikes gaining 132 yards rushing and scoring 1 TD.  The Vikes sputtered when it mattered; they were 4 of 11 on third down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth down conversions.

The Dolphins beat the Pats 22-12.  When I took this game to stay UNDER 41.5 in last week’s Six-Pack, I said that the first team to 20 points would be the winner.  Voila!  For the first time since Tom Brady missed an entire season with a knee injury more than 10 years ago, the Pats are not going to be in the playoffs.  The Dolphins ran for 250 yards in this game and controlled the ball for just over 37 minutes.  The Dolphins converted 7 of 12 third down situations while the Pats were only 2 of 9 in the same circumstances.

The Jets beat the Rams 23-20.  The Jets are off the schneid; they have a win on their record; they also now do not possess the overall #1 pick in next year’s draft; that pick now belongs to the Jags based on tiebreakers.  The Rams were 17-point favorites in the game and the Jets were +675 on the Money Line; so how did this happen?  Sam Darnold was efficient and effective at QB; the Jets’ defense limited the Rams to 303 yards and held the Rams to 2 of 11 on third down conversions; the Jets’ special teams blocked a punt.  I suspect a whole lot of survival pools shrank significantly when the final whistle sounded here…

The Chiefs beat the Saints 32-29.  The Chiefs looked awfully good against a very good Saints’ defense here; the only issue for the Chiefs is that two of their RBs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and LeVeon Bell, suffered injuries in the second half of the game.  The Saints had Drew Brees back from the injured list and he looked rusty for most of the first half of the game.

The Browns beat the Giants 20-6.  After trailing at the end of the first quarter 3-0, the Browns dominated the game.  The next time the Giants scored was with 4 minutes left in the game to make the score 20-6.  The Browns held the ball for 34 minutes in the game and converted 9 of 13 third-down situations.  The Browns’ receiving corps of Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones may not be household names, but they are very good.  And maybe just as importantly, they are not divas who demand attention at all times.

The Bengals beat the Steelers 27-17.  The Bengals were energized for this game; they outhustled the Steelers from start to finish.  This is the third loss in a row for the Steelers; they are in the playoffs but have not yet secured the AFC North title.  Ben Roethlisberger is going to the Hall of Fame one of these days but his performance in this game was abjectly awful.  Twice he threw into triple coverage which had to mean that he missed an open receiver somewhere unless the Bengals had 13 men on the field; the reason neither of those passes were intercepted is that he was so far off target that no one could get to the ball.  The Steelers’ defense played well; the Bengals only gained 230 yards in the game, but the Steelers’ offense was almost non-existent.

Just to summarize, here is the playoff picture going into this week’s games:

  • In the NFC, Packers have clinched the NFC North.  The Seahawks and Saints have clinched a spot in the playoffs.  That’s it; the five other slots are up for grabs.
  • In the AFC, the Bills and the Chiefs have clinched their divisions and the Steelers have clinched a spot in the playoffs.  That’s it, the five other slots are up for grabs.

 

NFL Games:

 

By making these picks a day earlier than usual, some of the lines for Sunday’s games could move significantly relative to where they are now.  C’est la guerre…

 

(Fri 4:30 PM EST) Minnesota at New Orleans – 7.5  (51):  Drew Brees started out last week’s game miserably but played much more like himself in the second half of the game.  The Vikings do not have much of a pass rush, so Brees ought to be able to pick the Vikes’ secondary apart.  I do not like that hook on top of a full TD in the spread so I will pass on this as a selection for the Six-Pack.

(Sat 1:00 PM EST) Tampa Bay – 10 at Detroit (54):  The line opened at 8 points and suddenly expanded to 10 points at those sportsbooks where the game was not taken down entirely.  Here is the deal:

  • The Lions had a positive COVID-19 test.  Not good but not a disaster either…
  • Problem is that interim head coach, Darrell Bevell and the entire defensive coaching staff are marked as “close contacts” with the infected person.
  • It is not as if the Lions’ coaching staff is made up of top-level strategists and tacticians, but it probably behooves the team to have someone there to do some decision making.  Right now, it is not clear who will be there to do  that.

(Sat 4:30 PM EST)  SF at Arizona – 5 (48.5):  The analysis for this game is simple and direct.  The Niners are eliminated from the NFC playoffs; the Cards are in the playoff picture but need this game to stay afloat.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST):  Miami – 3 at Las Vegas (48):  In last week’s so-called “look-ahead line” the Raiders were favored by 1.5 points but the injury to Derek Carr made the Dolphins the favorite when this week’s betting began, and they have remained the favorite all week long.  Dolphins rookie QB, Tua Tagovailoa may not be lighting up the NFL stat sheets, but he has started 7 games and is 6-1 against the spread.  That would make him a strong contender for Rookie of the Year by folks who have been backing him and the Dolphins this season.  The Raiders have lost four of their last five games and it is the Raiders’ defense that is on the spot.  In those last 5 games, the Raiders have allowed 36 points per game; a change in defensive coordinator did not result in significant change on the field.  I like the Dolphins to win and cover in this important game in their playoff run; put it in the Six-Pack.

Denver at Chargers – 3 (49):  The Total Line opened the week at 51 points and dropped rather quickly to this level.  Often, late season games involving the Broncos have a dropping Total Line when the game is outdoors in the elements of Denver in December.  Such is not the case here.  The Chargers offense is hitting on all cylinders; Denver has been in-and-out for most of the season.  The Chargers have won their last two games; the Broncos have lost 5 of their last 7 games including last week’s shellacking at the hands of the Bills.  I like the Chargers to stay hot and to win and cover at home; put it in the Six-Pack.  I also like this game to go OVER; put that in the Six-Pack too.

Cleveland – 9.5 at Jets (47.5):  The Browns can all but lock up a playoff spot with a win here; the Jets will hit the field as winners of their last game; that will be a new sensation for these guys.  Did the Jets wake up last week?  Were the Rams over-confident?

Cincy at Houston – 9 (46):  After the way the Texans played last week, I am shocked to see that they are 9-point favorites over anyone let alone a team that played as well as the Bengals did last week.  Yes, the Bengals must go on the road on a short week; yes, this is a home game for the Texans after three straight games on the road;  yes, the Bengals were jacked up for a division game last week and are not likely to play at the same intensity level this week.  But 9 points…?  That line is fat; I’ll take the Bengals on the road plus the points; put it in the Six-Pack.

Indy – 2 at Pittsburgh (44.5):  If the Steelers’ offense does not come back to life here, the Steelers are going to lose their 4th game in a row.  The Steelers have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last 4 games; the Colts have a good defense, one that is better than the Bengals’ defense that held the Steelers down last week.  Three questions relative to the Steelers are in the air here:

  1. Can RB, James Connor make it back from injury for this game?
  2. Would that be enough impetus if he can play?
  3. Is Ben Roethlisberger’s career over – – or has it just looked that way for the past 3 games?

Chicago – 7.5 at Jax (47.5):  You can find this line at 9 points at one sportsbook this morning; almost all the others have it at 7.5 points.  Take a deep breath here while I remind you that the Chicago Bears have scored 30 or more points in each of their last 3 games.  The Jets gifted the Jags with the overall #1 pick in the draft last week by beating the Rams; will the Jags return the favor here?  The Bears are still alive in the playoff chase; if they blow their chances against the 1-13 Jags, there will be a major outbreak of dolore di stomaco in the Windy City…

Carolina at Washington – 2.5 (43.5):  The fact that this line is where it is tells me that the bettors are convinced that the NFL is not going to suspend Dwayne Haskins for this game (see above).  I suspect they are correct; even Roger Goodell who likes to polish his “tough-guy image” periodically may be reluctant to put that sort of barrier in front of the WTFs who lead the NFC East for now.

Giants at Baltimore – 11 (44):  Both teams are still playoff contenders – – but a loss for either team could be fatal.  Did the Ravens figure out what had been bothering them last week?  If so, they will win this game in a walk.  If not…

Atlanta  at KC – 11  (54):  The spread opened the week at 13 points; this morning you can find it as low as 10 points at one sportsbook.  Here is a fun Fact about the Falcons in 2020:

  • The team is eliminated from the playoffs with a 4-10 record.  Nonetheless, the point differential for the Falcons is +2 for the season.
  • Other 4-10 teams (plus the Eagles at 4-9-1) have point differentials from minus-33 points to minus-71 points.

The Chiefs are 13-1 and could secure the playoff BYE Week in the AFC with a win here.

Rams at Seattle – 1 (47.5):  The spread for this game opened at 3 points; this morning you can find it anywhere from 2 points to “pick ‘em”.  Maybe you can explain the Rams; loss to the Jets last week as it being a “look-ahead game”.  If so, the Rams need to come out smoking in this one because a loss to the Seahawks will guarantee that the Rams will not win the AFC West.  A win for the Rams will put them atop the AFC West based on the head-to-head tiebreaker for the season.

Philly – 2 at Dallas (49.5):  The game opened the week with the Cowboys as 2-point favorites and then it flipped.  I have no explanation for that change.  I also have no explanation for why anyone would want to bet on either of these teams this weekend.

(Sun Nite) Tennessee at Green Bay – 3 (56):  The spread for this game opened at 5 points and has been eroding to this level during the week.  Darrick Henry should have a big day against the Packers’ defense; Aaron Rodgers should have a big day against the Titans’ defense.

(Mon Nite)  Buffalo – 7 at New England (46):  The Pats have looked miserable on offense for a while now.  The Pats scored more than 20 points only once in the last 5 games; their defense is good but not that good.  Defenses are loading up to stop the run and daring either Cam Newton or Jarret Stidham to do damage with the cadre of pass catchers on the Pats’ roster.  It is just not working.  The last time the Bills were a road favorite over the Patriots was back in 1999.  I think the Bills will dominate here; I like them to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

Let me review this week’s Six-Pack – – with only 5 entries this week:

  1. Dolphins – 3 over Raiders
  2. Chargers – 3 over Broncos
  3. Chargers/Broncos OVER 48.5
  4. Bengals +9 vs. Texans
  5. Bills – 7 over Pats

Lest anyone feel cheated by the lack of a sixth selection above let me throw in a Money Line Parlay just for fun:

  • Bears at minus-360 plus Bucs at minus-440 plus Browns at minus-440 plus Bills at minus-320
  • This is a Money Line Parlay from Sesame Street; it is brought to you by the letter “B”.
  • By my calculation, if it hits, the parlay will pay out at +149.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“Ex-Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville — the newly elected U.S. senator from Alabama — hinted he’ll join a potential challenge to the electoral-vote count when Congress reconvenes in January.

“Ever see a red challenge flag thrown across the senate floor before?”

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

 

 

Hockey In 2021…

According to reports, the NHL and the NHLPA have a tentative agreement to start the next hockey season on January 13th and for the teams to play a regular season of 56 games.  The challenge(s) facing the NHL in these times of coronavirus pandemic are more complex than they are for other US sports.  The NHL has 7 teams based in Canada; as of this morning, there are travel restrictions in place for people to quarantine after crossing the border between the US and Canada.  Those travel restrictions make perfect sense in terms of public health; those travel restrictions make normal scheduling procedures for the NHL impossible.

From what I have read, there is one part of the tentative agreement – – it still needs to be ratified formally by all the owners and by the players themselves – – that must have a purpose behind it; but that purpose escapes me.

  • Teams that missed the playoffs last year will open their training camps on December 31st and teams that made the playoffs last year will open their training camps on January 3rd.

Here are some of the nuts and bolts contained in this tentative agreement that control how the upcoming season will take place:

  • There will be no exhibition games.  After a couple weeks in training camp the season will start on January 13th.
  • The teams have been realigned for 2020 and the plan is to return to the old alignment once the pandemic is in the past.
  • There is an all-Canadian division for those 7 teams based in Canada from Montreal in the east to Vancouver in the west.
  • The 24 teams based in the US have been geographically clustered to reduce travel times and allow for some schedule compression.
  • Teams will only play regular season games against the other teams in their division.
  • The regular season will end on May 8th; the Stanley Cup Finals will end on or before July 15th.
  • The top 4 teams in each division will comprise the field for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There are plenty of details and wrinkles contained in this tentative agreement that are important but do not register that importance to me simply because hockey is not in my wheelhouse.  One way that I keep up with “hockey stuff” is to follow Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note which you can find here or on the website listed under “Columnists I Read”.

Recently, the NY Post reported that Vontaze Burfict was arrested in Las Vegas “on a misdemeanor battery charge”.  As I scanned that report, two things ran through my mind:

  1. If I had to make a list of the 10 NFL players most likely to be involved in a “battery incident”, Vontaze Burfict would be an early entry on that list.
  2. I am surprised it was only a misdemeanor battery incident.

TMZ Sports reported on what allegedly happened; according to that report, Burfict and some others were looking for a place called “Secret Pizza” in Las Vegas and the schtick for “Secret Pizza” is that it is intentionally difficult to find.  If you are interested, you can find the TMZ Sports report here.

For those of  you old enough to have read the Uncle Remus Tales before they were deemed to be ever so politically incorrect, you may remember the story where Br’er Rabbit was caught and captured by Br’er Fox.  The fox was going to eat the rabbit, but the rabbit said that would be just fine so long as the fox did not throw the rabbit into the briar patch.  After a series of exchanges where the fox made it appear to be worse and worse for the rabbit, Br’er Rabbit kept saying whatever the fox wanted to do was OK – – just so he did not throw the rabbit into the briar patch.

Naturally, the fox falls for the line; throws the rabbit into the briar patch and the rabbit escapes unharmed.  I mention that because the NY Knicks and owner James Dolan remind me of that story this morning.  The Knicks are banning the media from Madison Square Garden and preventing them from covering the Knicks’ exhibition games played there; the reason given is the pandemic.  Let’s just say that there are a few folks who are not buying that story; some folks think that this is the team’s way of trying to make life more difficult for media folks who are not always nice to the team or its owner.

I think more than a few of those media folks see this as having been thrown into the briar patch.  Covering Knicks’ games has probably not been fun for the last 5 years or so; covering exhibition basketball games is more of a chore than normal because everyone knows from the beginning that the games themselves are irrelevant.  And so, the team will forbid the scribes from being in the building to do something they would naturally prefer not to have to do.

  • Memo to NY Knicks:  Thank you for throwing me in that briar patch.

Finally, since I began this morning writing about the NHL, let me close with an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Hockey:  Attempted murder on ice.”

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