WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 2.22 

Greetings sports fans. We’re still talking about football, but there are a couple of other topics thrown into the mix as well. I hope the sun is shining wherever you are and cooler temperatures are giving way to the delightful warmth of spring. 

Heavenly Father, bless Deshaun Watson, for he hath sinned. Now, I bet you think you know what I am referring to, but you’d probably be wrong. Don’t misunderstand…I am not looking past the allegations of sexual misconduct against Watson. However, a grand jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, so I am left with the impression that he is simply a single, wealthy horndog who enjoys a good massage a bit too much and expects favors many young ladies are not willing to grant. I believe he acted inappropriately, but to my knowledge no one was raped. Deshaun Watson may be creepy, but he’s not a criminal, and since I wasn’t exactly a saint when I was a 20-something I simply hope the young man learned his lesson, has been humbled, and will be better going forward. That being said, I cannot overlook the fact that Watson, who understandably wanted away from the dumpster fire that is the Houston Texans, ended up approving a trade to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns!! This dude could’ve gotten a new start in Carolina, Atlanta, or New Orleans…and he chose Cleveland!! Has he never heard of Tim Couch?? Colt McCoy?? Brady Quinn?? Brandon Weeden?? Hell, I could list two dozen more quarterbacks whose career died in The Factory of Sadness. I’ve been a big fan of Deshaun Watson since his days at Clemson, and I was counting on him to lead my dynasty fantasy team for the next decade, but I can’t cheer for the QB of the Browns, so I traded him for multiple draft picks. Thanks for nothing you moron. 

Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived. As a lifelong Pirates’ fan it is difficult for me to be as excited as some of y’all might be, but it is a cultural touchstone and an unofficial (late) welcome to spring, so I am happy to embrace the event in the spirit in which it is intended. Pirates games are soothing background noise while I read a book or mindlessly scroll on my phone, so atleast I have that going for me for the next six months, which is nice. 

I might have more thoughts on the NFL Draft before April 28, but for now let me offer one strong opinion. If my Pittsburgh Steelers mortgage the future to move up & select a quarterback who is far from certain to be a generational talent then the powers-that-be are absolute fools. I don’t think any quarterback in this draft is worthy of a first round pick, and I’m not sure any of them will be that successful in the NFL. I would prefer to see the Steelers address numerous other issues and ride with free agent signee Mitch Trubisky for a season (or two). If that means a couple of losing seasons before rebounding into perennial playoff contention for another long stretch then I’m okay with it. They’ve done a surprisingly good job of improving the offensive line this offseason, and I feel like they’re a wide receiver & perhaps some defensive depth away from being way better than anyone expects, but that isn’t a good enough reason to reach for a rookie quarterback in the draft. 

Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks for winning the NCAA Basketball National Championship. To be honest this year’s March Madness wasn’t all that memorable or compelling, although there were some decent games & exciting moments. The tournament felt kind of like cotton candy though…tastes sweet for a few fleeting seconds then melts away into nothingness. After all the hype about Gonzaga and upsets by underdogs like St. Peter’s & Miami (FL) the title game came down to Kansas & North Carolina…two blue-bloods despite the Tar Heels’ misleading #8 seed. As a fan there simply wasn’t anything to keep my attention outside of Coach K’s retirement. The title game being on TBS was weird, and not even One Shining Moment felt like Must See TV. 

It looks like Tiger Woods, a little over a year after suffering career threatening injuries in a car accident, will play in The Masters. As a fan I am excited to see him in the field, although expectations are obviously minimized. No one expects him to contend or even make the cut. As a human being I am fascinated by his redemption & comeback story. The sins of Tiger Woods are well-documented, but I am certainly not inclined to throw stones. The fact is that Woods in The Masters is good for golf and good for sports. If only my man Phil Mickelson were playing in the tournament 🤦🏻‍♂️…but that’s a whole other story. 

Speaking of basketball, it is my understanding that the NBA Playoffs will begin soon. I have no idea who the odds on favorites are or which teams may or may not be in the field. I believe I heard or read that the Los Angeles Lakers will miss the playoffs altogether, which makes me chuckle. Lebron James can pucker up & kiss my crippled fat ass *lol*. 

I suppose I have to address the Tom Brady situation. God knows I’d rather not think about the dude, much less write about him. At any rate, first Adam Schefter broke the news that TB12 was retiring, then Brady’s Dad was like “not so fast”, then a few days later Brady did post a retirement announcement on Instagram, because I guess that’s how it’s done nowadays. But wait…there’s more!! Like Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert, Tom Brady spent 40 days in retirement before resurrecting his career. Much like Halloween‘s Michael Myers, the Clintons, and numerous rock bands who are my grandfather’s age, Brady just won’t go away. The only good to come out of this is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger won’t be forced into the background during the Hall of Fame festivities five years from now. 

WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 1.22

Our first edition of W&M in 2022 is football heavy as usual, but that’ll change in the not-too-distant future. For now it is time to bid farewell to goal posts & penalty flags and say so long to QB sacks & onside kicks. Enjoy. 

Kudos to the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. As a Steelers fan I wasn’t about to cheer for the Cincinnati Bengals, and I’m beginning to get a little uncomfortable with the sports media’s blatant attempts to position Cincy QB Joe Burrow as Tom Brady 2.0. The kid seems a bit too big for his britches (shout out to my late Grandma P.), so perhaps it’s best he was brought down a peg or two. Also, after wasting over a decade with the hapless Detroit Lions one can’t help but be happy for Rams’ QB Matthew Stafford (I bet Calvin Johnson wishes he would’ve gotten an opportunity to play football somewhere other than Detroit). The game itself was rather prosaic, although thankfully it wasn’t a blowout. I have no opinion about any of the commercials because I had company who is literally unable to STOP TALKING for longer than ten seconds at a time (it’s exhausting). I’m not going to crown the halftime show featuring nearly every old school rapper that hasn’t been shot yet as “the best EVER”, but it was sufficiently entertaining. That kind of music was never my jam back in the 90s, but if it was yours then you probably enjoyed the show way more than me. 

After an atrocious 1-7 record for each of us in the final week of the season, our Pigskin Picks of Profundity ended with yours truly scoring the season victory at 57-69, while Zach was 49-77 on the year. Although I wish we were more skilled prognosticators, as always it was so much fun doing these picks with my nephew, an annual tradition I’ve come to really appreciate.

In the wake of an ultra exciting weekend of playoff football a few weeks ago fans were calling the Chiefs-Bills clash that KC won in overtime one of the best football games they’d ever seen while lamenting the lame NFL OT rules that essentially allow a coin toss to decide the outcome. I don’t necessarily disagree with those sentiments, but I also have an alternative view. If I were in charge of the NFL overtime would follow the general idea of the current college football OT rules (more on that below), but let’s focus on defense. Y’all remember defense right?? We used to believe that “defense wins championships”, but that no longer seems to be true. Buffalo was up by three points in that game with thirteen seconds remaining. 13 seconds!! Yet they allowed Kansas City to get into field goal range with just a couple of long passes, which gave the home team an opportunity to execute the game tying field goal. While it is undeniably fun to watch great skill players & elite QBs throw haymaker after haymaker like what transpired between the Buffalo Bills & Kansas City Chiefs, let’s not get it twisted. The “Bills Mafia” can blame stupid overtime rules all they want, but the fact is that all their team had to do was stop the opposition from going 44 yards in 13 seconds and they failed. 

Congratulations to newly minted MLB Hall-of-Famer David Ortiz, who will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer. Big Papi won three World Series with the Boston Red Sox, was a ten time All-Star, and had a .286 career batting average with 541 home runs in 20 seasons. Sadly, Ortiz’s moment was overshadowed a bit by hand-wringing over Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens not being selected in their final year on the ballot. I find it interesting that so many will passionately defend known defrauders of the game like Bonds & Clemens, yet they’re perfectly fine with Curt Schilling being excluded from the Hall of Fame. Schilling’s alleged mediocrity…6 time All-Star, 3 time World Series Champion, 3000+ strikeouts…is a weak excuse since we all know the real reason the powers-that-be don’t like him is because of his very candid political opinions. 

Y’all, I didn’t even keep track of college football’s bowl season while it was happening, but I did go back & check the numbers. Zach edged me by a couple of games in our Bowl-a-Palooza picks, going 18-19 while I was 16-21. Five bowl games were canceled altogether, while two games were played with altered matchups so those results were tossed aside. Between COVID, the transfer portal, star players opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft, & the coaching carousel, bowl season didn’t seem like very much fun this year. When the playoff is expanded something is going to need to be done to make the other games matter for fans and apparently players & coaches.

Okay, so let’s talk overtime. The current college football OT rules allow each offense to have the ball starting on their opponent’s 25 yard line, meaning they’re essentially in field goal range already. No matter what Offense A does Offense B gets the ball (also on the opponent’s 25 yard line). The wildcard is what does Offense A do with the ball?? At worst they’ll have an opportunity to kick a 41 yard field goal (unless they turn the ball over). That’s not a chip shot, but it’s more than makable in most circumstances. At best they’ll score a touchdown & put the pressure on the opposing team’s offense. Now here’s where it gets weird. If both teams trade matching scores and there is a second overtime, any TD must be followed up with a 2 point conversion instead of an extra point. Then, if we make it to a third OT, the teams just alternate 2 point plays (that start on the three yard line), which is basically a football variation of penalty kicks in soccer. I despise the two point conversion rule for overtime. In contrast, the NFL does have a kickoff (after a coin toss, with the winner of that always choosing to receive…obviously), and if Offense A scores a touchdown the game is over. If they score a FG or don’t score at all Offense B gets an opportunity. If Offense B matches what Offense A did then it becomes sudden death, and if the teams are still tied at the end of 10 minutes the game ends in a tie. My proposal would be a hybrid of the two differing systems, and would ideally be implemented on both levels…college & pro. Give Offense A the ball on the 50 yard line. I’m not usually a proponent of minimizing special teams, but in this case I believe it works best. The offense isn’t already in field goal range and has some work to do, while the defense has a legit opportunity to do their job. No matter what happens Offense B will get a chance to possess the football. Unlike the current college system I would have a time clock, but, as opposed to current NFL rules, I’d bump the extra period back up to 15 minutes (I don’t like ties but can live with the theoretical yet unlikely possibility that it could happen). No team would ever be forced to attempt a two point conversion unless they choose to do so. 

I would be remiss not to mention the retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Thankfully it wasn’t a surprise, and it was time. I don’t know if all the blame belongs with offensive coordinator Matt Canada, or if Big Ben just didn’t have an arm anymore, but the offense had become painful to watch. I enjoy an occasional screen pass, and realize “bubble screens” specifically have become part of football, but I just don’t believe throwing the ball five yards or less downfield constantly is productive, especially when defenses are expecting it. To be clear, I am aware that the Steelers’ offensive line was abysmal this past season & needs a major overhaul. I’m not completely sold on the receiving corps either: Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, & JuJu Schuster aren’t nearly as great as they believe themselves to be. Aside from those issues though, an aging quarterback with zero mobility & a weakening arm simply doesn’t bode well, especially when the AFC boasts young guns who can move like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, & Joe Burrow. Roethlisberger was never fast, but he always had tremendous escapability that allowed him to scramble & extend plays. That escapability had noticeably diminished, and when combined with a poor offensive line & questionable play calls the Steelers offense was doomed. So, as the Steelers & all the fans prepare to move forward, right now I want to give one last shoutout to Ben Roethlisberger. It has been a joy to watch you, from the moment I gathered with co-workers at a local sports bar on that spring day 18 years ago & watched my Steelers draft you with the eleventh pick, thru two Super Bowl victories, all the way to a bitterly decisive playoff defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs last month. More importantly, it has been delightful to see you evolve from an impetuous young man into a mature & responsible husband, father, leader, & adult. People still like to bring up the past & criticize you for mistakes made 15 years ago, but I’d tell those people to clean their own house first. None of us are perfect, and you’ve gone thru your battles very publicly. From a football perspective I wish you’d have gotten atleast a couple more opportunities in the Super Bowl, but so many factors play into that. You got us two Lombardis & provided many other great memories. I don’t know if coaching or ownership or anything football related is in your future, but as a fan I sincerely hope to have you as part of the Steelers organization in some capacity down the road.

THE 2021 SAMMY CLAUS WISH LIST 

Christmas isn’t what it used to be for Sammy Claus. There are lots of reasons for that, and I will spare The Manoverse the mundane details. Suffice to say that I long for the days when our extended family gathered on Christmas Eve to consume copious amounts of seafood and simply relish the joy of fellowship. I miss the cheerful anticipation of being with the nuclear family on Christmas Day when we were happier, healthier, & more sanguine. The absences of my mother & my grandparents are keenly felt years after their departure from this mortal coil. My nephews are grown up and I missed out on having children of my own, so we await a new generation of youngsters thru which we may renew our holiday merriment. If I sound downtrodden it is because I’m keeping it real. Thru the years I have occasionally laid bare my soul in this space. I have been transparent about who I am & what I’m about, good or bad. Having said all of that, it cannot be denied that this holiday season has been a significant improvement over last year. While legit concerns remain…because that’s just life…there is ample evidence for hope & tranquility. It is with that sense of optimism that we once again present the annual Wish List. As always, being Sammy Claus wields no special power. I will not be flying around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer on Christmas Eve. My fervent hope is that a certain inhabitant of The North Pole reads The Manofesto on occasion and might see fit to bestow these gifts upon the entities named here. And of course my biggest wish is that everyone will step away from the presents & the food & the movies to praise The One True Reason for The Season.

Gas Prices

a 50% decrease

The Pittsburgh Steelers

A young, athletic, rocket armed, mobile QB, revamped offensive line, and new offensive & defensive coordinators. Is that too much??

The NCAA’s Transfer Portal

Parameters. It’s not a terrible concept, but it is a little out of control.

Lebron James

Utter & complete professional failure and the newly learned skill of knowing when to shut your ignorant piehole.

Urban Meyer

a swift kick in the ass

Mike Krzyzewski (aka Coach K)

A very happy retirement…you’ve been amongst the best.

Tiger Woods

one last hurrah

The Southern Border of the U.S.

A freakin’ wall for God’s sake!! There is a right way & a wrong way for “tired, poor, huddled masses” to breathe free in America. My great grandparents emigrated here from Italy and I’m grateful, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a process be followed and laws respected.

The RGPAC

Just as many entertaining shows in the future as we’ve enjoyed the past few years.

My Friends Who Are Leaving RGPAC

Much success & happiness in your future endeavors. You WILL be missed & you better stay in touch!!

That One Dude On City Council

Defeat in the next election & much misery in your pathetic little life…you’re a total prick.

“Vaccine” Mandates & Passports

Annihilation. This is is America. Get the jab or not, whatever makes you happy & makes you feel safe, but no one should lose their livelihood or be denied access to venues over a “vaccine” that doesn’t even prevent the disease it was created to eradicate and has actually caused illness & death to otherwise healthy people who thought they were doing the right thing.

Sammy Claus

A Mrs. Claus, or atleast a lovely lady to laugh with, go out to dinner occasionally, see a show or watch a movie, and most of all someone with whom I can have engaging, enlightening, intelligent conversations and who’ll challenge me to be a better version of myself.

The Metaverse

healthy competition

Cancel Culture

cancellation

Anything “Problematic”

A giant eye roll. Seriously, stop judging things that were created, stated, produced, or done decades ago thru our modern, politically correct, woke perspective. It’s silly. It’s meaningless. It’s unproductive.

COVID-19

Lack of oxygen, which is the simplest way to put out a fire.

Kyle Rittenhouse

A peaceful life away from an unwanted spotlight.

Alec Baldwin

firearms safety training & a set of steak knives

The Cuomo Brothers

Actually, they’ve already gotten what they deserved.

Jenn Psaki

a lobotomy

My Neighbor

a mute button 😂

Late Night TV

Atleast one new host that is actually funny & not a complete douchenozzle.

Streaming Services

Consolidation & lower prices…y’all are getting out of control nickel & diming us into poverty.

Pro Wrestling

A return to the glory years of being enjoyable, must-see television. The current product ain’t it and we all know it.

Jeopardy!

A permanent new host that everyone can embrace.

Britney Spears

Wisdom. Happiness. Good decision making. Freedom. Peace.

Pete Davidson

Intestinal fortitude to withstand what is to come. Ride the wave my man. Enjoy the moment. Sadly, we all know it won’t last.

Per tradition I shall end with a quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 3.21 

Y’all know that I try to keep the sports content to a minimum during the football season due to our weekly picks, but since a) we haven’t done WM since February, and b) there are other things besides football to discuss, I’m going to suspend my own rule. Rest assured there is plenty of other content in the hopper for those that don’t enjoy ball games & such as much as the rest of us. 

The baseball playoffs have begun. In the American League it’s the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, & Boston Red Sox, while the National League has the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, & Los Angeles Dodgers. I had thought I’d watch a lot more baseball this season after the virus-shortened, empty stadium anomaly of 2020, but oddly enough I think I’ve watched even less. The Manoverse knows that I’m a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, which means I had absolutely no interest in or reason to watch many games this year. I try to find some level of enthusiasm for the playoffs and choose one or two teams to cheer for. I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible this year, but thankfully the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, so that’s something.

I haven’t really made a big deal out of my feelings about COVID related subjects like vaccines, masks, & mandates outside of the meme zone that is my Instagram because…well, just because. I have very strong opinions, but realize there are folks with polar opposite views. It is what it is and I see no reason to argue about it or negatively impact relationships I value. That being said, it has been announced that mandates in California & New York will require players and fans attending basketball games to be fully vaccinated. I assume hockey players & fans will be affected as well, especially since Canada has already become an outright fascist hellhole anyway. For the first time in my life I am not envious of people living in big cities with access to professional sports venues. I can’t wait to hear the spin when NBA & NHL players and vaccinated fans start testing positive like crazy for The Sickness. Oh sure, they are unlikely to end up dead or even hospitalized, but of course there is a 98% chance they wouldn’t have gotten that ill without the “vaccine”. Atleast I’ll be able to enjoy the games in the freedom & comfort of my own abode. 

Congratulations to Team USA for bringing home the Ryder Cup. I didn’t watch as much of the competition as I’d anticipated, and I think that had a lot to do with guys like Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, & Phil Mickelson being absent while newer players like Colin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, & Daniel Berger took center stage. I’m old enough to remember Ryder Cup teams featuring legendary golfers like Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, & Fuzzy Zoeller, so I just need to get used to these fresh faces. 

Okay okay, my intention was to stay away from football at this particular moment, but I don’t think I can. There is an elephant in the room that needs addressed, and that is my Pittsburgh Steelers. Hindsight is 20/20, and in an effort to think positive I had them as a playoff team in my season preview. Sadly I do not think that is going to happen. QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting most of the blame, which isn’t totally fair. Yes, he is showing his age. At 39 years old he has certainly declined and definitely isn’t performing at the same level as contemporaries like Drew Brees (who still looked pretty decent last season at 42 before retiring), 37 year old MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, who is apparently a 44 year old unicorn. That being said, it must be noted that the Steelers are starting a very young offensive line that hasn’t jelled into the cohesive unit one would prefer. Big Ben was never fleet of foot, but once upon a time he had a unique escapability that allowed him to keep a play alive long enough to make something happen, and that skill has diminished significantly. All of this has affected the perception of RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick. It doesn’t help that former starting tailback James Conner has amassed 172 yards & 4 touchdowns in four games while being the Arizona Cardinals’ backup compared to Harris’ 185 yards & one TD. Do I think drafting Harris was a mistake?? I’m not ready to go there just yet, but I understand the opinion of some that the team should’ve used that pick on an elite lineman. At any rate, whether one chooses to blame Roethlisberger, Harris, head coach Mike Tomlin, or GM Kevin Colbert the fact is that the Steelers are probably facing their first losing season since 2003. I don’t believe that backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph & Dwayne Haskins are the answer, so even if Roethlisberger retires and a quarterback is taken in the draft we’re probably looking at another tough season next year. At this point my hope is that 2023 will find the team with a young QB we can believe in, an experienced offensive line, the core of the defense intact (mainly linebacker TJ Watt & safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), Najee Harris at full throttle, and the receiving corps of JuJu Schuster, Chase Claypool, & Diontae Johnson still in Black & Gold. Perhaps then we’ll have something to cheer about. 

NASCAR is also in the midst of its “playoffs”, a system I’m still not sold on. There are 12 drivers left in the chase for the championship, and honestly I don’t have any feelings one way or another about most of them. I have paid a bit more attention to racing than baseball the past several months, but that is damning with faint praise. Not only is Dale Earnhardt dead & Tony Stewart retired, leaving me with no one I’m really invested in cheering for, but Jimmy Johnson & Jeff Gordon are also retired, so there is a lack of villains to dislike outside of Kyle Busch.  There are five races left, and I suppose I’ll check out bits & pieces of them, but mostly my eyes will be glued to NFL Redzone every Sunday. 

2021 NFL Preview & Prognostications

Just a few days ago I was pretty excited about the return of football with capacity crowds and business as usual, but now The Sickness has grabbed headlines again and it seems as though that sense of normalcy could be in jeopardy. At the moment no sweeping proclamations have been made, but stay tuned. In the meantime we shall proceed.

The biggest news outside of Covid related chaos is the NFL’s expansion to a 17 game regular season. To achieve that teams played one less pre-season game, so the only people really affected are the fringe players trying to make a team’s roster. There are always old faces in new places, teams with new coaches, and overhyped rookies looking to become the next Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Randy Moss, or Lawrence Taylor, and we’ll have a much better idea in a few months how all of that might shake out. For now it’s all guesswork, but atleast it’s fun, and I am glad that I feel encouraged enough to bring back this preview after a one year hiatus. As always the team’s record from the previous season is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. And remember…no wagering. I am not a professional and most of the time I’m not very good at this.

North

Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) 10-7

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) 10-7

Cleveland Browns (11-5) 9-8

Baltimore Ravens (11-5) 8-9

I think Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow is the real deal, and he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The Browns might be a bit of a surprise too, but I don’t believe it will be in a good way. Everyone assuming they are the presumed division champs will likely be wrong. Am I undervaluing the Ravens?? Perhaps. But every team can’t have a winning record and make the playoffs, and in a highly competitive division my vibe is that Baltimore will run into some problems and fall short of expectations (actually those problems have already began with the loss of starting tailback JK Dobbins to a torn ACL).

East

Buffalo Bills (13-3) 11-6

New York Jets (2-14) 8-9

New England Patriots (7-9) 8-9

Miami Dolphins (10-6) 7-10

The Bills have to be considered amongst the favorites in the conference. To be honest I thought QB Josh Allen was a bad choice as the 7th overall pick in the draft a few years ago, but he’s doing a pretty good job of proving me wrong thus far. There’s no reason to believe Buffalo won’t dominate a division that is a mess otherwise. I think the Jets may have finally found a decent quarterback, and they also added some other pieces on both sides of the ball that make me think they won’t be the dumpster fire we’ve come to expect. The Patriots aren’t the same team without Tom Brady, and I’m not as confident in their rookie signal caller Mac Jones as I am in New York’s rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Dolphins might take a step back this season, but I hope they aren’t dumb enough to give up on second year QB Tua Tagavailoa. I believe they are building a solid team around him and good things are ahead, but it might take another year to gel.

West

Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) 11-6

Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) 10-7

Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) 7-10

Denver Broncos (5-11) 7-10

No one has been talking about the Chargers this offseason, and that might be a good thing. I always prefer to sneak up on people rather than have the pressure of lofty expectations. QB Justin Herbert acquitted himself quite well in his rookie campaign and there’s no reason to expect anything less this year. The Raiders & Broncos aren’t going to be any better than they were a year ago. I expect both teams to utilize multiple quarterbacks and need their defense to lead them to some victories. The stunner here is the KC Chiefs. Most talking heads will consider them legit Super Bowl contenders, but I think they’ll lose a dogfight for the division, sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard, and be watching the Super Bowl at home like the rest of us.

South

Tennessee Titans (11-5) 12-5

Indianapolis Colts (11-5) 11-6

Houston Texans (4-12) 5-12

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) 5-12

The Colts acquired QB Carson Wentz from Philly in the offseason, but will that do them any good?? Wentz can’t seem to stay healthy, and at the moment it’s a tossup as to whether he’ll be ready to go Week 1. That leaves the door open for Tennessee. RB Derrick Henry is a stud & receiver Julio Jones came over from Atlanta a few months ago. He’s 32 years old, but with AJ Brown in the lineup Jones won’t have the pressure of being the top wideout. Replacing tight end Jonnu Smith won’t be easy, and that may be the chink in the armor of the Titans’ offense. I’m not sure what to make of the Titans’ defense, although they did add former Steelers’ linebacker Bud Dupree. Watch time of possession in their games. I think they’ll dominate that and win a bunch of low scoring grinders. Everyone has heard more than enough about the Deshaun Watson situation in Houston and there are still a ton of questions. Will they trade him?? Will he be suspended for a big chunk of the season?? If Tyrod Taylor takes most of the snaps I think the Texans are in for a long season. I don’t have much faith in the Jags either, although I think new head coach Urban Meyer will build around rookie QB Trevor Lawrence and have his team in the playoff conversation a year or two from now, but losing first round draft pick Travis Etienne in the preseason doesn’t bode well for this season.

Playoff Teams: Bengals, Bills, Chargers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Steelers

AFC Champion: Tennessee Titans

 

East

Washington Redskins (7-9) 10-7

Dallas Cowboys (6-10) 9-8

New York Giants (6-10) 7-10

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) 5-12

I’m still not buying the Cowboys as legit Super Bowl contenders, although I believe QB Dak Prescott will be just fine returning from the ankle injury that torpedoed his season last year. I suppose the Giants could surprise me and be much better than they were a season ago, but my vibe is that they are just kind of treading water. It blows my mind to see how far the Eagles have fallen since winning the Super Bowl less than five years ago. Can Jalen Hurts make the leap from excellent college quarterback to solid NFL starter?? I think Philadelphia has a bunch of very good players on both sides of the ball, but they have lacked cohesion the past few seasons and I’m not sure that’s going to change. That leaves Washington as the favorite. Is their enough FitzMagic left in the 38 year old signal caller now playing for his ninth NFL team?? Having an elite defense led by Chase Young, Montez Sweat, & Landon Collins will certainly help.

West

Arizona Cardinals (8-8) 11-6

Los Angeles Rams (10-6) 10-7

Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 9-8

San Francisco 49ers (6-10) 7-10

This race is going to be fun to watch. Arizona & the Rams both made moves this summer, and whether or not they work out well one has to give them credit for not standing pat. Los Angeles thinks they have a better chance of advancing in the playoffs with 33 year old veteran QB Matthew Stafford than with 2016 top overall pick Jared Goff, who they shipped to Detroit. I think it might be a positive chain of events (eventually) for both guys. The Rams lost starting RB Cam Akers to injury but traded for former Patriot Sony Michel so I don’t believe the team will be negatively affected all that much. The defense, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, should be stout. Having said that, I am giving a slight edge to the Cardinals, who added receivers DeAndre Hopkins & AJ Green and have a defensive unit featuring newly acquired defensive end JJ Watt, first round LB Zaven Collins, and a very talented secondary. Seattle has won 10+ games seven out of the past eight years and Russell Wilson is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but I feel like they’ll drop off just enough to miss the playoffs. ‘Frisco needs to decide on a quarterback, and once they do that I think they can get back on track, but that might be a couple of years from now.

North

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) 9-8

Green Bay Packers (13-3) 9-8

Chicago Bears (8-8) 6-11

Detroit Lions (5-11) 1-16

Or as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call it, The Norris Division. I am sure I don’t have to rehash the Packers/Aaron Rodgers drama that has dominated offseason news, but I think it might be just enough of a distraction to cost them the division. The Lions have stunk most of my nearly five decades on the planet and I don’t think that will suddenly change in 2021. Much like the 49ers the Bears have a quarterback conundrum. Conventional wisdom says the smart thing to do is start either journeyman Andy Dalton or former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center, but we all know the pressure from fans & the media will lead to rookie Justin Fields being handed the keys to the kingdom. That decision will likely pay off down the road, but it creates chaos right now. So why am I so high on the Vikings?? I don’t know to be honest. Kirk Cousins isn’t spectacular, but he can be a very good quarterback at times and he has solid weapons at receiver & running back. The secondary could be one of the best in the NFL, and guys like Danielle Hunter & Anthony Barr should disrupt opposing offenses often. It won’t be pretty, but I think the Norris goes to the Vikes by a nose.


South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) 13-4

New Orleans Saints (12-4) 8-9

Atlanta Falcons (4-12) 6-11

Carolina Panthers (5-11) 5-12

I’ve stopped waiting for Tom Brady to fall of a cliff. That whole regimen of 25 glasses of water per day, fruit smoothies, fish, and lots of veggies apparently works because he proved a year ago that he deserves much more credit for the Patriots “dynasty” than Bill Belichick. I don’t expect much to change this season, and it helps that the rest of the division will probably struggle. New Orleans has named Jameis Winston as their new starting QB after the retirement of Drew Brees, and Winston is going to have to prove himself before I start to believe in him. I don’t anticipate much improvement by the Falcons or Panthers. Carolina must stop opposing defenses from stacking the box to stifle premier RB Christian McCaffery, and for that to happen former Jets first rounder Sam Darnold will need to finally live up to his potential. Atlanta got rid of receiver Julio Jones and I’m just not impressed by what remains.

Playoff Teams: Redskins, Cardinals, Vikings, Bucs, Cowboys, Rams, Packers

NFC Champion: Green Bay Packers

 

Tennessee Titans 24

Green Bay Packers 19

Top Five Picks in 2022 NFL Draft

1 Detroit Lions

2 Houston Texans

3 Jacksonville Jaguars

4 Carolina Panthers

5 Philadelphia Eagles

 

Winning & Musing…Volume 2.21

Sadly football season is now over. Atleast we have Modified March Madness, the Daytona 500, & golf on the horizon, right?? The sports calendar may have its lulls, but they never last for long. 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the new Hall of Fame inductees: WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), who could’ve played atleast five more seasons and might’ve been considered the greatest receiver ever if he’d been on a perennial championship contender. O-Lineman Alan Faneca (Pittsburgh Steelers). DB John Lynch (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). QB Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts & Denver Broncos), who I will always consider a superior quarterback to Tom Brady. DB Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders & Green Bay Packers), whose combined success in college & the NFL is probably under appreciated. WR Drew Pearson (Dallas Cowboys), who should have been in the HoF thirty years ago. Pittsburgh Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who played a huge part in building the 1970s dynasty. Former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Flores. Not making the cut: O-Lineman Tony Boselli, linebackers Zach Thomas, Clay Matthews, & Sam Mills, and receivers Torry Holt & Reggie Wayne. 

 

 

A few friends posted on social media the day before the Super Bowl expressing total indifference about the Big Game. Actually I have several friends like that – absolutely no interest in sports whatsoever. To each their own, but honestly I’m very thankful to be a sports fan. Watching ball games, golf, & car races on TV has helped me thru some dark times at various points in my life. This past year I have observed several of my Facebook friends doing outdoor activities like fishing & hiking, and I’m a bit jealous. Such things are basically pandemic proof, which I’m sure has been a blessing for them. Unfortunately I’ve never been physically able to be outdoorsy, so I’ve relied heavily on simply being a sports fan. 

 

 

Real Time Super Bowl Thoughts:  

  • H.E.R.?? 👀 Stupid moniker, but she can sing, play guitar, & has a nice rack. 
  • I’m not a country music fan, but I might have to check out this Eric Church guy. Nice job on the anthem, although two voices aren’t necessarily a good thing. The lady singing kind of overpowered him. 
  • You mean that poet’s 15 minutes aren’t up yet?? ⌚️ Guess I can’t blame her for striking while the iron is hot. 
  • The Door Dash commercial with The Muppets is cute. 
  • “Jumping offside really does help you get to the QB sooner.” That’s some Booger McFarland level insight from Tony Romo 🤣.
  • Matthew McConaughey, Doritos, & Queen…an oddly compelling combination. Will Ferrell’s GM commercial is amusing. How can you have a group of Bud Light Legends without Spuds McKenzie or The Frogs?? Maybe that’s Budweiser?? I don’t know. On the rare occasion I drink beer I prefer good beer 🍺.
  • TB 7, KC 3 at the end of the 1st  Q. More defense & smash mouth football than most expected, and I’m okay with that. 
  • Mountain Dew Melon?? No thanks 🤢.
  • BIG 2nd Q goal line stand for the KC defense!!
  • The Jason Alexander Tide commercial is low key brilliant if you get the background music joke. TMobile, Gwen Stefani, & Blake Shelton…okay, I get it. Not bad 🤷🏻‍♂️.
  • 21-6…Tampa leads at the half. The Chiefs are making too many mental errors. 
  • A reasonably entertaining halftime show. I’m sure people far younger, allegedly way cooler, and more familiar with The Weekend than me will hype it as the best ever, but I’m nostalgic for the days of Prince, Michael Jackson, & Justin Timberlake. 
  • The Uber Eats Wayne’s World spot just made me sad. Wayne & Garth are looking old 👀.
  • Gronk is a freakin’ beast. I can’t hate on him like I do Brady. 
  • Dear Ashton Kutcher: Don’t. Ever. Sing. Again.
  • Tampa is up 31-9 at the end of Q3. If anyone but KC was the opponent I’d be changing the channel, but with Mahomes I feel like anything can happen.
  • “Only” 25k fans in a stadium that can seat over 65k. Will this event come to be known as a “super spreader”, or is that kind of thing over now that we have a new President?? 🏟
  • Blaine Gabbert now has more Super Bowl rings than Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, & Fran Tarkenton…combined. Life isn’t fair. 
  • I hope Jason Pierre-Paul doesn’t celebrate with fireworks 🎇.
  • As a proud alumnus of Marshall University I can put aside my disdain for TB12 long enough to be happy for Bucs’ offensive coordinator & former Herd QB Byron Leftwich.
  • 31-9 Final. Tampa wins. The fallacy of The Patriots Dynasty has been exposed.  Belichick really is that coach who went 36-44 with the Cleveland Browns. It was Brady all along. He now has more titles than any franchise in NFL history, let alone individual players. Bastard. 
  • One thing the NFL does better than the other pro & even college leagues: the whole deal is over by 10:30pm. It’s Sunday night & people have to go to work in the morning, so the average fan doesn’t want to stay up until midnight. 

Sammy Claus Returns!!

A year ago, after a decade of presenting to the masses The Sammy Claus Wish List, there was no Christmas Spirit in The Manoverse. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the malaise I was feeling not only foreshadowed my own personal health issues, it was the precursor to a year most of us will be glad to see come to an end. Things may not be perfect heading into 2021, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel concerning my particular situation, and the rest of the world has reason to be optimistic that lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing, and other related roadblocks may eventually give way to a return to normalcy. It may not happen overnight, but there is hope, and it is with that sense of positive anticipation that Sammy Claus has decided to resume traditional activities.

To refresh your memory, being Sammy Claus wields no special power. I can only hope that The Big Man at The North Pole has time to surf The Net and read what we publish here, then see fit to grant these wishes. Let’s face it…the past several months haven’t been easy for most of us, but perhaps handing out the suggested gifts to the entities mentioned here could atleast put a smile on some faces and make the world a slightly better place. Aside from all of that though, I sincerely hope The Manoverse never forgets the reason we celebrate Christmas. I am very honest in admitting that my faith has been tested this year, and ashamed to admit that I  too often fail the test. But, as Rocky Balboa once said, “life ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Christmas is a much needed reminder of our eternal reason to never give up.

 


COVID-19/Coronavirus – obsolescence
😷

The Pittsburgh Steelers – receivers who can actually catch the damn ball 🏈

Rush Limbaugh – a miracle 🙏🏻

Cardi B – a dry towel & an ounce of class 😳

Social Media “Fact” Checkers – an especially warm spot in the fiery pits of Hell…we all know what’s really going on 🤬

Live Music & Sports – the return of packed venues of raucous & appreciative fans 🎭

Small Business Owners – survival followed by prosperity 💰

Virginia, New York, & Michigan – new Governors 🇺🇸

Essential Employees & Frontline Healthcare Workers – kudos & a big fat raise

👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

Social Distancing – hugs & kisses 🤗😘

Newspapers & TV News Outlets – truth serum 📺🗞

Vice President Mike Pence – a fly swatter 🪰

The Month of March – Madness (the good kind 🏀)

California – Wasn’t it supposed to fall into the Pacific Ocean decades ago??

Will & Jada Smith – a DVD of Disney’s Tangled 😬

Bill Gates – a medical degree, because that’s the only way anyone with an ounce of common sense will ever listen to the garbage he spews about vaccines 🤦‍♂️

Murder Hornets – death!! 🐝

Mike Tyson – a title fight…come on, y’all know you want to see it!! 🥊

The Constitution – protection from the assault it is about to face the next few years 🙏🏻

Wolfgang Van Halen – much success as he embarks on his own career in the formidable shadow of his legendary late father 🎸

 

 

As always I shall end with the traditional quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

Winning & Musing…Volume 3.20

We meet again…five months later. The good news is there have been sporting events that we can talk about. Having said that, 2020 has been an undeniably challenging time to be a fan. Will the new year see a return to normalcy?? Probably not, ateast at first. But we’ll watch anyway, and occasionally ponder related topics right here.

 

 

 

 

As happy as I am that the NFL & NCAA have given us a football season the fact is it just isn’t the same. It’s so strange to watch a game being played in an empty or nearly empty stadium. We didn’t do our normal preseason poll or NFL preview because I just didn’t know what to expect. My nephew & I haven’t done our weekly picks like in years past and we won’t be picking bowl games (several of which have been canceled anyway). There have been way too many games canceled and players who have missed time after testing positive for The Sickness or being in close proximity to others who have tested positive. Kudos to all involved for making the effort and taking the risk, but even though I have watched I am admittedly not as invested as usual.

 

 

I was dealing with my own (non-Covid) health issues this past summer, so I really didn’t pay all that much attention to the abbreviated baseball season or the bubble-wrapped NBA playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title, so in a world turned upside down I suppose two big city franchises with enough money to buy their championship provided some semblance of status quo normalcy. Also, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, but honestly I had to look that up because I paid even less attention to hockey this season than usual.

 

 

I appreciate the fact that the Indianapolis 500 and The Masters were both rescheduled instead of being outright cancelled, but as a fan it just didn’t work for me. I watched a little bit of The Masters, but was mostly focused on football that weekend, as I’m sure most fans were. I didn’t even know the Indy 500 was on until about an hour after it was over. I just completely forgot about it. Congrats to whoever won each event, but I don’t recall who that was and at the moment it’s not important enough to me to look it up.

 

 

Folks, we need to get something straight. Just because a fan is upset at their team losing and expresses some negativity does not mean they aren’t a “real” fan. I saw this kind of debate rear its ugly head after my Pittsburgh Steelers had their hot start come to a screeching halt and lost a couple of games. Fans were upset…mad at the NFL for bumbling the rescheduling of games and seeming to apply the rules differently to different teams, angry about wide receivers dropping way too many balls, frustrated by mounting injuries to the team, peeved at sports media types who were questioning the Steelers legitimacy even before they lost, disappointed by questionable coaching strategies, and of course debating dubious calls by referees. In my opinion this is normal fan behavior. However, there are those who say anyone who expresses any kind of doubts or frustration aren’t true fans. That’s poppycock. My perspective has always been the irritated passion a fan exhibits when things aren’t going well proves just how deep & fervent their fandom really is, contrary to the kind of blindly loyal fan who acts like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, shouting “All is well!! Remain calm!!”, even as chaos reigns down all around him.

 

 

It would be negligent for me not to address the latest in the PC Police’s War on Sports, and guess what…the fans are losing. In the midst of the uproar caused by the #BlackLivesMatter hoopla last summer the NFL’s Washington Redskins finally bowed to media created pressure and dropped the “offensive” nickname. They’ve played this entire season as the Washington Football Team, which is all kinds of stupid. And now the Cleveland Indians have announced plans to drop their century old moniker. I’ve just never understood how anyone could possibly be offended by a sports team honoring a group of people by naming their team after them. Have y’all ever  had a friend or family member name their baby or even a pet after you?? It’s meant as a compliment. Do you know how thrilled I’d be if West Virginia got an NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL franchise and called them the West Virginia Sams?? I’d be verklempt!! But that’s what liberals do in the name of “progress”. They suck all the joy out of the room, like sort of giant, evil vacuum. It is what it is, and it makes me sad.

 

 

I’m not sure what the answer is, but in no way do I feel like an Ohio State Buckeyes team that has only played six games should be in the College Football Playoff. In retrospect this would have been the perfect year to do a test run of an expanded playoff with 8 or even 16 teams. I won’t ride the powers-that-be too much for their lack of foresight because they, just like so many of us in all walks of life, have been making things up on the fly in the midst of all the craziness, but it would’ve been nice to see some fairness & common sense implemented instead of what it looks like is happening, which seems to be “let’s do whatever we can to get four traditional power programs in the playoff by any means necessary because it’ll be good for TV ratings”.

Winning & Musing…Volume 4.19

Apologies non-sports fans!! As has become my custom I have attempted to minimize sports related content in the midst of autumn since we do our weekly football picks and that feels like enough. Having said that, there are occasions when it becomes necessary to break the rules and address some stories that need attention. Fear not…I have plans to introduce a couple of new projects in this space during the new year, and I suppose there’ll be some Christmas related content in the very near future in the course of the holiday season, so if you’re not into football, basketball , etc. just stick with me.  Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose congratulations are in order to the Washington Nationals for winning the World Series. To be honest I didn’t have a dog in the fight…I’m just glad it wasn’t a Yankees/Dodgers Series. At first I was cheering for the Nationals, but then President Trump showed up to a game and the crowd was…well, let’s just soft sell it and say they were quite disrespectful. In that moment I realized that the fanbase of the Nationals are what some of us refer to as The Swamp…out of touch government types that take a lot more from than they contribute to society. So then I decided to pull for the Astros, but it was too late. I’m not upset at all though. We got a really entertaining seven game series without the big market “usual suspects” involved, and that’s cool in my book. Yes yes yes…I’m aware that Houston, TX is the fourth largest city in the United States and the Astros have been rather successful lately, winning the World Series in 2017 and appearing in the last three ALCS. However, before that they’d only appeared in one Series, losing to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. During my youth in the 70’s & 80’s the Astros were a prosaic team with only an occasional above average season, so right now I’m not tired of their success just yet.

 

 

 

As a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan I feel obligated to weigh in on the recent Thursday Night Football kerfuffle with the Cleveland Browns, which was one of the more odious things I’ve seen in sports during my 47 years on the planet. A few thoughts:

  • Myles Garrett is a piece of garbage who should never play another down in the NFL. Right now his suspension is “indefinite”, and I’m guessing that means he won’t play again this season but will be allowed to return in 2020. I don’t think that’s enough, but I don’t make those decisions.
  • To all the people who are saying that Steelers’ QB Mason Rudolph should’ve been suspended a game or two because “he started it”…just shut your ignorant piehole. Your response is tone deaf and moronic. The NFL should fine Rudolph $1. That’s it. Nothing more, He was the victim!! The man almost had his head bashed in with his own helmet and people think HE should be suspended?!?!?? That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Anyone expressing that opinion not only should lose their jobs immediately, but they should also be sterilized because that kind of stupidity shouldn’t be passed on to a new generation.
  • Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey is appealing his three game suspension and I hope it atleast gets knocked down to one game. He does not deserve harsh punishment for his actions…he deserves a bonus & a damn medal. He was sticking up for his quarterback and very well may have saved his life. Pouncey is a hero in my book.
  • While Pouncey received a three game suspension Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi only got one game for blindsiding Rudolph in the midst of the fight. In my opinion those suspensions should be reversed. Referees don’t hesitate to call stupid penalties nowadays on “blindside blocks” & “defenseless players”, and Ogunjobi laying out Rudolph from behind seems like it fits the definition. Garrett won’t be around when the two teams meet again in a few weeks, but Ogunjobi will. Stay tuned…just sayin’. He might want to watch his back.
  • I hadn’t had much exposure to Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens before all of this, but my God…what a clueless redneck twatwaffle that guy is. Undisciplined teams are a direct reflection of a piss poor head coach. Browns’ ownership should fire Kitchens immediately. He was a terrible choice in the first place and has done nothing to change that perception.
  • I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the Browns did indeed win the game. Pittsburgh played terribly in all three phases and Rudolph didn’t exactly make Steeler Nation feel confident about Life After Ben. To be fair it must also be pointed out that injuries have hit the Steelers hard all season long and they were playing with a skeleton crew. No excuses though…they should have won the game.

 

 

 

I’m not a fan of style over substance. It may be unfair to chime in since I’ve never been there, but my perception is that Hollywood specifically and California in general is a lot like The Capitol in The Hunger Games…self-absorbed, hedonistic heathens whose wealth far outweighs their common sense. That’s why I chuckled a bit when it was announced that this year’s National League MVP was Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfielder Cody Bellinger and the American League MVP is California/L.A./Anaheim (I’ve lost track) Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout. The Dodgers did atleast make the playoffs before being ousted by the Nationals, while the Angels finished 35 games behind the Astros in their division. Individual honors are nice, especially for those players, but team sports are…well…about the team, and I am always amused when I see small market teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians, & Milwaukee Brewers achieve some level of success while teams like the Angels spend a ton of money and it does them absolutely no good. Even funnier is the case of Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, who signed with Philly last winter for $330 million over 13 years. The Phillies finished with a .500 record in 2019, 16 games out of first place in their division. Harper’s former team?? The Washington Nationals. Sure, $330 million is nothing to sneeze at, but almost any professional sports player whose career lasts more than a few years is going to retire a very wealthy person these days, and I’m guessing most of them would trade half their money & individual accolades for a championship that many will never see.

 

 

 

In 1975 Boston Celtics’ center Bill Russell was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, at the time he was the first black player to receive the honor and refused to attend the ceremony. Russell didn’t feel right about being the first and thought others should be inducted before him. Recently Russell finally received his Hall of Fame ring in a private ceremony. Obviously there have been a lot of black NBA legends inducted into the Hall of Fame in the past four decades, but the mystery as to why it took so long for Russell to finally accept his ring can apparently be solved with one name: Chuck Cooper. Cooper was an All-American for Duquesne in the late 1940’s and was the 14th overall pick by the Boston Celtics in 1950. He didn’t have a statistically notable pro career, but was the first black player drafted into the NBA. Perhaps one could think of him as the Jackie Robinson of basketball. Cooper was finally inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame a few months ago (35 years after his death), which is what likely persuaded Russell to accept his honor. There’s a lot to unpack here. We’ve got virtue signaling all over the place, which y’all know drives me nuts. I suppose there’s no big issue with Cooper being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but on the other hand it’s worth pointing out that his numbers on the court didn’t seem to justify it for more than a half century. It wasn’t until the “woke” 21st century when simply being a certain race, religion, gender, orientation, etc. is deemed worthy of accolades that someone somewhere thought Cooper’s standing as an NBA trailblazer makes him a Hall-of-Famer. Jackie Robinson…besides being a more famous trailblazer himself…actually had a Hall of Fame career: Rookie of the Year, six time All Star, World Series champion, National League MVP, National League batting champion. Nevertheless, I suppose putting Cooper into the Hall of Fame is a nice thing to do. But Russell refusing his induction for 40+ years is just weird. I’m reminded of actor Marlon Brando refusing the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1973 for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather because he was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans. What good does any of that do?? Bill Russell was one of the greatest basketball players of all time and he delayed his Hall of Fame induction for what?? Craziness!!

 

 

 

Well, they finally did it. The Pittsburgh Pirates cleaned house. They got rid of manager Clint Hurdle as well as pretty much the entire front office. Hurdle seems like a nice man, but in the past couple of years it felt as though he’d given up, knowing that he could never have a team that would flourish with the current Pirates ownership. He’s not wrong, but for the sake of the team I think it’s important to have a manager with enough idealism & passion to atleast believably feign faith in his club’s potential instead of a tired old man so worn down by life that his boredom is palpable. Energy & enthusiasm aren’t going to be enough to turn the tide in Pittsburgh, but it’s a good start. The new front office is taking shape and I expect Hurdle’s replacement to be named before Thanksgiving. Years…decades…of futility have taught me not to get excited at all about the Pirates, but after one of the most demoralizing seasons in team history it’s nice to know that steps are being taken and something new is being tried.

2019 NFL Preview & Prognostications

I was at an outdoor concert a couple of weeks ago, and as darkness fell around 9pm I felt a slight chill in the air. Autumn was in the breeze. That’s a feeling I usually don’t experience until Labor Day Weekend while attending our local Italian Heritage Festival. In the moment I was not pleased because I tend to prefer the warmth & sunshine of summer. I have nothing particular against fall except for the fact that it ushers in winter, which I despise. At any rate, in an effort to find a silver lining and think positive I must say that there are a few good things about autumn…my birthday, Halloween, & football. Glorious football is back!! It’s time once again to look into the pigskin crystal ball and make some predictions about how this season might play out. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in pre-season, but there are injuries, holdouts, & emergent rookies we can’t ignore. As always the team’s record from the previous year is in parentheses, with the predicted record for this season following it. And remember…no wagering. I am not a professional and most of the time I’m not very good at this. Let’s just relax & have some fun.

 

  

 

 

North

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) 10-6

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) 9-7

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) 3-13

Despite an eventful off-season that saw talented but troubled WR Antonio Brown shipped to The Left Coast I don’t think my Steelers will implode. However, I do expect divisional games to be even more competitive than usual. Don’t sleep on the Ravens…they’ll battle for every yard on both sides of the ball, and new QB Lamar Jackson is feast or famine: he’ll have moments of pure brilliance, but he needs to become a better passer and has to stay healthy. Everyone needs to slow their roll on the “new & improved” Browns. Going back to his college days I’ve always opined that QB Baker Mayfield gave me a Bret Favre-ish vibe, and I see it now more than ever. Adding receivers Odell Beckham Jr. & Jarvis Landry into the mix along with a backfield of Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt bodes well for the offense. I like their defense too…DEs Myles Garrett & Olivier Vernon and tackle Sheldon Richardson should be stout against the run as well as put some pressure on opposing QBs, and the secondary might be sneaky good. Having said that, I’m not buying Cleveland as a playoff team just yet. The Bengals finally pushed longtime head coach Marvin Lewis out the door, but I’m not sure 35 year old Zac Taylor is the answer. He’s never been a head coach at any level and the learning curve will be quite foreboding. Regardless of whether or not Taylor lasts more than a season or two Cincy probably needs to blow things up and construct a whole new roster from the ground up.

 

 

South

Indianapolis Colts (10-6) 10-6

Houston Texans (11-5) 9-7

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) 9-7

Tennessee Titans (9-7) 5-11

There are just so many questions…this might be the most difficult division in the league to calculate. Can Colts’ QB Andrew Luck stay healthy?? Will QB Nick Foles be the answer Jacksonville has been seeking?? Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, Lamar Miller, or Leonard Fournette…which running back will lead the pack?? Will any of these four defenses emerge as elite (the Jags were #5 a year ago, the Titans #8, Indy & Houston were #11 & #12)?? I’m downgrading Indianapolis a bit due to concerns about Luck’s ankle, but still think they will win the division if he doesn’t miss more than a couple of games. I like Foles and the Jags’ defense is stout, but have serious doubts about the durability of Fournette and the rest of their skill players inspire little confidence. I love Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson, but somebody other than WR DeAndre Hopkins has to step up and be reliably productive. Houston has the same issue on the defense…JJ Watt is fantastic, but others have to contribute. My vibe is that they take a step back this season, make some adjustments, and become serious contenders in 2020. This feels like a make or break year for Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota. When he came out of Oregon in 2015 the big debate about who would go #1 overall in the draft was between him and Florida St.’s Jameis Winston. Winston went to Tampa while Mariota was chosen next, but neither quarterback has set the world on fire. There just seems to be something amiss in Tennessee. I think they decline slightly and head coach Mike Vrabel finds himself on the hot seat.

 

 

East

New England Patriots (11-5) 10-6

New York Jets (4-12) 8-8

Miami Dolphins (7-9) 8-8

Buffalo Bills (6-10) 3-13

Here we go again. Tom Brady appears to be ageless and Bill Belichick’s stature as a head coach grows with each passing year, despite his shady tactics. The Patriots have become Tiger Woods from two decades ago when he was winning a lot but we all knew he really only cared about the majors. In much the same way it seems like everyone understands that New England will win a rather weak division, and their only true goal is another Super Bowl. With that in mind I think they’ll win the division but not run away with it. Jets’ QB Sam Darnold continues his maturation process, and now he has RB Le’Veon Bell as a safety net. I like what the Jets are doing and believe they’ll noticeably improve. I feel bad for Dolphins & Bills fans. They’ve known for a decade & a half that their teams aren’t winning the division, but they don’t even get to enjoy watching obvious progress. Both squads just seem to be treading water and perpetuating their mediocrity with poor coaching hires, bad free agent moves, and subpar drafts.

 

 

West

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) 11-5

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4) 10-6

Oakland Raiders (4-12) 6-10

Denver Broncos (6-10) 3-13

At the time of publication Chargers’ RB Melvin Gordon is threatening to continue his holdout into the start of the season, which could certainly have a negative impact. Even if he’s back in uniform Week 1 there have to be questions about fitness & durability after sitting out the entire pre-season. It’s a messy situation that opens the door just enough for the Chiefs to slip by & take the division. There’s a lot to like about KC, led by NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Speaking of messy situations, the Antonio Brown Circus has moved from Pittsburgh to Oakland, which theoretically should make the Raiders better on the field…but I’m not convinced. I’ve lost track of whether this is the team’s final season in Oakland or if they’ll have to wait until 2021 to relocate to Las Vegas, but until that move occurs I think the Raiders are stuck in neutral. The Broncos have ostensibly improved their quarterback quandary with the addition of Joe Flacco & by drafting Drew Lock out of Missouri in the second round of the draft. They also have new head coach Vic Fangio, which should help the defense. Give this group time to gel & they have potential, but I have low expectations for the current season.

 

Playoff Teams:   Chiefs, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Texans

AFC Championship:    New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Chargers

 

 

 

 

North

Chicago Bears (12-4) 11-5

Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) 8-8

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1) 8-8

Detroit Lions (6-10) 5-12

The more things change the more they stay the same, and I don’t expect much difference in what ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call the Norris Division. The Packers have a new head coach and QB Aaron Rodgers has become increasingly enigmatic. The Vikings have some talent but not enough to move the needle. The Lions are…well, they’re the Lions. That leaves the Bears to claim another division crown and vie for home field thru the playoffs. QB Mitch Trubisky should take another step in his development and I have high expectations. Combined with a tough defense that makes for a potentially elite team. Anything short of an appearance in the conference title game will be a disappointment for Chicago.

 

 

South

New Orleans Saints (13-3) 14-2

Atlanta Falcons (7-9) 9-7

Carolina Panthers (7-9) 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) 2-14

My heart still hurts for the Saints and their fans. They absolutely should have been in the Super Bowl last season but got royally screwed by an inept officiating crew. My vibe is that situation will provide motivation to an already very solid team. QB Drew Brees is almost as nature-defying as Brady, but I suspect this may be his last great opportunity to get another Lombardi Trophy. The Falcons & Panthers will both be good but not great, and I have serious concerns about the health & durability of Carolina QB Cam Newton. Tampa is just a warmer version of Buffalo with a more heralded QB. They can change coaches and do all the tinkering they want, but none of their decisions seem to work out the way they hope. Jameis Winston is undeniably talented, but I just don’t think he is a top shelf NFL quarterback.

 

 

East

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) 10-6

Dallas Cowboys (10-6) 9-7

Washington Redskins (7-9) 7-9

New York Giants (5-11) 6-10

The Eagles’ safety blanket is gone, so QB Carson Wentz better stay healthy. Not only that, but he needs to live up to the hype. The division will be a dog fight, and Wentz needs to fulfill his potential for Philly to come out on top. I’m not buying the Cowboys’ hype. I don’t think they’ll be horrible, but the holdout of RB Zeke Elliott could have a negative impact. Media types will yap endlessly about a “quarterback controversy” in New York, but does it really matter?? I’ve never thought Eli Manning was that good, and if he loses the starting gig to rookie Daniel Jones it says a lot more about Manning than it does Jones. Either way the Giants’ QB…whomever it may be…won’t have Odell Becham Jr. to throw to, and that’s a problem. RB Saquon Barkley can only do so much, right?? The Redskins will have some solid games and at times look like a potential playoff team, but at the end of the day their fans will be disappointed and be left to wonder what happened. Head coach Jay Gruden is an offensive coordinator masquerading as a head coach, successfully trading on his more famous brother’s name, and he’s not going to achieve much success with Case Keenum as his starting quarterback. Rookie signal caller Dwayne Haskins will likely snag the job by mid-season, so there is some hope for the future.

 

 

West

Los Angeles Rams (13-3) 10-6

San Francisco 49ers (4-12) 9-7

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) 8-8

Arizona Cardinals (3-13) 4-12

I hated what happened in the NFC Championship game last season not only because of how the Saints got shafted, but also because I knew the Rams were sitting ducks in the Super Bowl. As talented as they are I just knew that the Patriots were foaming at the mouth to take on a young & inexperienced coach/QB combo, and it turned out exactly as I knew it would. And now the Rams aren’t a secret to the rest of the league so their opponents will be more prepared than a year ago. I still think they’ll win the division, but it won’t be quite as effortless. Jimmy G. is back under center for the Niners, and that means a huge turnaround. They’ll be in a battle with several other teams for a wildcard berth, but that’s a nice change from last season. Seattle still has Russell Wilson and they made some solid draft picks, but I believe they’ll take a step back this year. The Cards are trying to copy the Rams’ formula, but I’m not convinced it’ll work. Kliff Kingsbury probably needed a few more years as a college coach before taking the helm of an NFL team, and Kyler Murray is a perfect example of a great college quarterback whose skills just don’t translate to the NFL. Kudos to the powers-that-be in Arizona for rolling the dice and trying something new, but two years from now Kingsbury will probably be coaching on Saturdays and Murray will be playing baseball…if NFL defenses don’t maim the little guy.

 

Playoff Teams:   Saints, Bears, Rams, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers

NFC Championship:   New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears

 

 

 

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Top 5 Picks in 2020 NFL Draft

1       Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2       Denver Broncos

3       Cincinnati Bengals

4       Buffalo Bills

5       Arizona Cardinals