Three Base Hit: Cheating in Baseball, The Asterisk, and a 2020 Subway Series

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In his classic book, Nice Guys Finish Last, Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher describes how he used to file his uniform belt buckle to a razor’s edge.

Then, when he’d visit the mound to speak to his pitcher at a key moment, he’d take the ball from the hurler and rub it in his hands while he discussed his desired strategy. When the mound visit was complete, Leo would hand the ball back to his pitcher and say “it’s on the bottom, buddy,” before returning to the dugout. A little extra movement on a fastball thanks to Leo’s scuff? Durocher viewed that as gaining an edge anywhere he could. Or was it cheating?

The Lip managed three teams to the World Series, winning one. He was also the shortstop and captain of the St. Louis Cardinals’ beloved Gas House Gang, World Series winners of 1934.

In the late-1950’s, journeyman long reliever Jim Brosnan wrote The Long Season, the first diary-approach to a year in baseball. The narrative takes place as Brosnan toils through the 1959 baseball season, first with the Cardinals, and then after being traded midyear, as a member of the Reds.

Among many tales, Brosnan tells of running into his old pal Ernie Broglio under the stands prior to a Cardinals-Reds matchup. Brosnan and Broglio, teammates and fellow Cardinals pitchers earlier that season, embrace and then make a pact that they’d only throw each other meaty fastballs when they batted against each other that afternoon. Cheating the game, or old fashioned baseball rhetoric (Brosnan does admit that when he first came to the plate that day, Broglio was scuffling and all Brosnan saw from his old friend were nasty curve balls)?

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Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, chronicling his time as a reliever with the expansion Seattle Pilots during the 1969 season. In it, he shares stories from his days raising hell with Mickey Mantle and the gang as a Yankee in the early-’60’s, which earned him pariah status around the league once the book was public.

Much of Bouton’s tome takes place during the lazy hours spent lounging in the Seattle bullpen, where the reader gets a glimpse into the mundane, often hilarious goings on of professional ballplayers. During one middle-innings conversation, Bouton reports how Diego Segui retires the side with the aid of a spitball, and that the consensus among the Pilots relief corps was that Segui had retired the hitter with a “good pitch.

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Spit balls, or baseballs doctored in any fashion, are against the rules of MLB. Yet Gaylord Perry achieved legendary status as “crafty veteran” in large part due to his reputation for applying foreign substances to baseballs over the course of his Hall of Fame career. In other words, this 300-game winner’s most noteworthy characteristic upon induction into Cooperstown was being a cheater.

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Toward the end of the 1973 season, Henry Aaron was zeroing in on Babe Ruth’s all-time record of 714 career home runs. A New York reporter asked the ever-quotable Tug McGraw how he would feel if he were on the mound with Aaron one homer away from immortality. McGraw’s too-honest answer was that it might be kinda cool to just “groove one for history.”

That answer earned Tugger a meeting with Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to ensure that no such grooving would take place should McGraw and Hammerin’ Hank face off with history at stake. Kuhn was concerned about protecting the “integrity of the game.”

Now before everyone gets all worked up, this is not a lead-in to excusing the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scandal that is sucking up all of the air in Florida and Arizona as pitchers and catchers report to camp. However, I do have a question. Would we all be this exercised over Houston’s cheating if they’d done a better job of accepting their blame and doing a legit mea culpa for their sins as an organization?

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It seems to me that Houston’s organizational jack-assery is adding gas to this dumpster fire every day. Owner Jim Crane’s much-maligned press conference the other day being the rotten cherry added to the top of this shit-sundae for the team that is now easily the most despised in all of professional sports.

But it goes beyond the tone-deaf Crane. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and other Astros stars behaved like entitled and over-privileged frat boys throughout their now tainted World Series run of 2017. They only built upon that arrogance over these past two seasons, culminating in a run that came perilously to a second tarnished World Series victory in 2019. After denying and ignoring all charges these last few months, their hollow apologies today come off as scripted and insincere.

And now the baseball world is free to react with enraged impunity, leading to daily doses of vitriol heading in the direction of southeast Texas from every corner of the league. From the sounds of it, Houston is the only franchise that’s ever done anything illegal to influence on-field success. Or so it seems, based on the reactions coming from the training camps of their rivals.

But with one colossal misstep closely following another, Houston certainly has shown their moral compass is far more broken than any other franchise, perhaps in the history of the sport. Thus the beatings will continue.

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Like many baseball fans, I’ve now added Cody Bellinger to my list of favorite players, not because of his five-tool skillset that earned him the MVP last year, but because of his eloquent blistering of the Astros and the sainted Altuve when asked about Houston’s scandal the other day.

However, a couple of lockers down from Bellinger stood Justin Turner, the clubhouse leader of the outstanding Dodger clubs that have consistently fallen short of a title these last few years, most notably at the hands of the caught-cheating Astros in 2017.

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All Mets fans remember Turner as a light-hitting utility man during his time in Queens, who we now see putting up power numbers nobody in their right mind could have envisioned if you saw him perform early in his career.

That Turner is thirty pounds of muscle heavier today than he was as a Met rarely gets called into question. Yeah, maybe his discovery of a power stroke and the accompanying tens of millions of dollars in compensation he’s earned as a result, were truly because he was taught to uppercut the baseball by former Mets teammate Marlon Byrd. The same Marlon Byrd who, drumroll please, was suspended for steroid use in the very year he took Turner under his wing and helped him retool his swing. Hmmm…

So what do we do? As fans, the easy thing to do is sit back and enjoy this disastrous public relations ride the Astros are suffering through, and revel as they make bigger asses out of themselves with every choked response to a question about the sign stealing scandal. We can look forward to beanballs heading in their direction, knowing every team on the Houston schedule will approach even the most meaningless, dog days of August matchup as though it were Game 7 of the World Series.

But is it worth crying to the heavens hoping for Houston’s ill-gained 2017 World Series title to be vacated? No, because it’s just not going to happen. Remember, this is the league that juiced its baseballs to absurd levels a year ago, and denied it was happening all season long, despite their own players complaining about the alarming number of homers being allowed. Meanwhile, even the most casual fans among us shook their heads over seeing routine fly balls carry out of every ballpark with sickening regularity.

Will Commissioner Rob Manfred go back and bend to the public outcry and start suspending the Astros players implicated in the scandal? Of course he won’t. That question falls into the “asked and answered” basket, the primary reason being that Manfred wants nothing to do with such an ugly can of worms.

I mean, how would he handle issues such as the Astros’ late-season call-ups in 2017? Or the Astros pitchers? Or those that simply swear they weren’t a part of it? Not to mention that painfully obvious video of Altuve warning his teammates not to strip his shirt off after his ALCS-ending walk-off homer back in October. A promise to his wife? Or was it an unfinished tattoo? Or both, sure, that makes sense. Oy vey.

Nope, there won’t be suspensions, so your best bet is to just enjoy the “punishment” of Houston’s public scorn as Altuve, Bregman, Correa and others continue to prattle on about “moving forward” while their peers around the league take shots at their integrity and manhood, and denigrate every accomplishment earned by the Astros clubs of the past three seasons.

What about an asterisk on that 2017 World Series title if MLB is unwilling to expunge, you say? Wellllll…

That leads us to part two of this MLB Three Base Hit.

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Growing up, the numbers 714 and 60 were sacred to me as a fan of our National Pastime. Because they were The Babe’s numbers. Baseball started to matter to me during the 1970 season, one year too late to partake in the Miracle Mets 1969 title, but with most of those Amazin’ heroes still on the Shea Stadium field every day.

Only nine years prior to me beginning a lifelong love affair with the game of baseball, a power-hitting outfielder had caught fire in the Bronx and hit 61 home runs to eclipse The Babe’s single-season home run mark. Roger Maris won his second consecutive MVP following that 1961 campaign, and his career-defining achievement in the area of home run hitting was rewarded with its very own asterisk in the official MLB record book.

Why? Because Maris’ home run record had been set during a 162-game season, while Ruth had established his standard when the regular season concluded at 154 games.

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I would argue that the only reason I know what an asterisk is today, is because of that decision made back in 1961 by MLB Commissioner Ford Frick. We can debate all day long if Frick’s decision would have been the same if Maris’ more popular teammate (and home grown Yankees hero) Mickey Mantle had been the one to top The Babe, but Mantle ended the year with 54 round-trippers, and Roger Maris became the new, asterisk-attached, home run king.

One of the cooler baseball debates that raged throughout my formative years, into my teens and the decade of my twenties, was whether Maris’ accomplishment deserved that asterisk. Then a funny thing happened to baseball and many of its most hallowed records following the strike-shortened 1994 season. Several of the game’s biggest stars returned to the field noticeably bigger, and with homers flying off their bats at a record pace.

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We smiled and rejoiced in the goodwill created by the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa chase to 61 dingers in 1998, and were touched when McGwire celebrated with his young son when Maris’ record came down. Maris’ family was even flown in to see the record fall, and baseball reaped all the PR rewards of the feel good story. But this one didn’t end well. Sixty dingers became the new forty, and other unnaturally large sluggers began to take aim at what once was a legendary level of home run hitting, considered by many unlikely to ever be reached again.

We all know where this one ended up, with a jealous Barry Bonds deciding to juice his already superior skills in an effort to surpass Big Mac, Sosa, and all the others who’d turned the ’90’s into a full on Home Run Derby.

So now I suppose the single season HR record is 73? I could look it up to confirm, but I’m really not that interested anymore. Because the number, whatever it is, is tainted, just like Bonds career home run record total of 762 is tainted. You can’t find many baseball fans outside of the Bay Area that feel good about either of those records today.

And nobody talks about Maris’ asterisk anymore either.

Bonds and his steroid-cheat brethren remain on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in (at least for now), and there is some satisfaction in that, but there are no asterisks on any of the steroid-enhanced records. And there won’t be. In fact, in time Bonds and fellow cheat Roger Clemens will likely take their place in Cooperstown (SportsAttic aside — will their Hall of Fame busts have sculpted, oversized heads in honor of how they finished their baseball careers?), and the game will go on.

Just like the 2017 World Series champion will continue to be listed as the Houston Astros. No asterisk, no vacating the title, just acknowledgement that it happened, while MLB plays the long game waiting for its fans to “move forward.” Sound familiar? It should, because “move forward” is what everyone in Houston is asking us to do right now during those painfully staged, over-rehearsed press conferences on the sign stealing scandal.

And will we move forward? Yeah, we will, because we are baseball fans, and today’s scandal will become tomorrow’s folklore (Shoeless Joe Jackson, anyone?). Why does it happen that way? Three words:

Pitchers and catchers.

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And that’s where we will end today’s MLB Three Base Hit segment.

The ballplayers are back in camp. For this Mets fan, Agee, Seaver, Harrelson and Koosman have been replaced by Alonso, deGrom, Conforto and Syndergaard. But that orange, interlocked NY insignia on the royal blue cap remains the same as the one I fell for back in 1970. And I’ll be there at Shea (yeah, I know, but I still call it Shea) when the Mets take the field at the end of March for our 2020 home opener.

Right now, in February, baseball fan optimism is at its most delightfully illogical zenith. Especially in New York City, where one set of fans is already parade-planning, after stealing (no pun intended) the AL’s best pitcher from those cheating bastards down in Houston (guess what folks, Gerrit Cole had no idea about any of this sign stealing stuff, because, you know, he’s a pitcher, and, you know, didn’t get to Houston until 2018, and, and, and…).

And as if Yankees fans needed more reasons to smile, their arch-rivals up in Boston just traded their best player to the Dodgers, and appear to be in a level of disarray usually associated with the other New York baseball club.

What of that other New York franchise, you ask? Well, here in mid-February there is really only one reasonable conclusion to be drawn about the blue and orange. And that is that the Mets will be representing the Senior Circuit in the 2020 World Series, where they will take down the Bronx Bombers, evening the all-time ledger in Subway Series between the two clubs at one apiece.

Sure, I’m an unapologetic homer, but this isn’t as preposterously far-fetched (remember, February is the month of unreasonable optimism) as it may appear at first blush. The Mets are loaded with talent. Probably the best every day lineup they’ve put on the field since that cheating demon, Carlos Beltran, watched strike three go by with his bat on his shoulder to end our 2006 title dream. On paper, the bullpen could actually be one of the NL’s best (I know, cue the laugh track), if only their top relievers bounce back after horrendous years a season ago (the way relievers sometimes do, I might add).

But it is the starting rotation that makes the New York Mets the team nobody will want to face come October, just like the Washington Nationals were last fall. In fact, while everyone is rushing to anoint the Dodgers as the only team capable of possibly derailing title number 28 up in the Bronx, can anyone really take a hardline stance against a Mets team that will throw deGrom and Syndergaard for four starts in any seven-game series?

Yes, they are still the Mets, so all of these projections must be made through the lens of “if something shitty is bound to happen, well, it probably will” (wild boar chases star outfielder? I mean, you can’t make this stuff up), but if you took the Mets collection of talent and inserted it onto any other run of the mill ball club’s roster, say the Orioles or the Padres as an example, wouldn’t you have to view them as title contenders?

Put it in the books, folks. Your 2020 World Series will conclude with Jacob deGrom taking down Cole in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, and the Mets will raise their championship trophy while celebrating on their crosstown rival’s infield.

Play Ball!

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Hope for New York? Despair in Brooklyn? Around the NBA for a Pre-Trade Deadline Roundup

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Anyone else not surprised that the Brooklyn Nets are worse this year with Kyrie Irving in the fold?

Now, is it Kyrie’s fault that the Nets are five games under .500 nearly two-thirds of the way through the schedule? No, just like it wasn’t Kyle Shanahan’s fault the Niners blew a fourth quarter lead in the Super Bowl. But like Shanahan, when it’s your face associated with the success of a franchise, you will shoulder more than your fair share of the blame when things don’t go as planned. And yes, the background noise you hear right now is laughter emanating from all those Boston Celtics fans out there.

So this is now two franchises in a row that have taken a step back after adding Kyrie’s star power to its roster. Irving was a necessary evil if the Nets were ever going to convince Kevin Durant to come to Brooklyn, but let’s take a quick inventory of what we’ve seen so far, fifty games into Kyrie’s Brooklyn career:

*the Nets’ selfless play, help defense and ball movement that earned them an unexpected playoff spot a year ago, have all taken notable steps backwards since Irving arrived and disrupted last season’s successful rotation

*the injury bug continues to haunt Irving (along with accompanying whispers around how badly he really wants to be on the court when everything isn’t going his way), with him already missing 29 games this year (and counting)

*he’s gone public saying that the Nets need more stars to bolster his quest for a title in the borough, choosing not to comment on how much money Brooklyn spent on he and KD this offseason, not to mention their pal DeAndre Jordan

Despite all that, the Nets are still likely to find a way to make the playoffs this year, and the guess here is they will do it with roughly the same 42-40 record as they posted a year ago, which should be good enough for a seven seed. If you look at the standings today, that probably means a matchup with Toronto, Boston or Miami (or Philly should they ever figure out how to get their act together).

Brooklyn is the team nobody wants to face in a short series, in large part due to the explosive nature of Kyrie, but a repeat of a year ago (low playoff seed and first round elimination) can’t be what Sean Marks and the Nets brain trust had in mind when they broke the bank last July. Stay tuned.

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Moving across the river, the Knicks continue to surprise us in a stealth manner with the occasional good decision. Replacing the all-talk, no-results Coach Fiz with the understated, hoops-lifer Mike Miller was the team’s first good decision a couple months back.  Now they’ve built on that unexpected momentum by taking the gun out of team President Steve Mills’ hands before he could shoot the Knicks franchise in the foot yet again with poor trade-deadline decisions.

The shit-canning of Mills was way overdue, and leaves all of us in Knicks Nation with a cleansed feeling today. However, lest we forget, these are the Knicks, so who’s to say that we won’t wake up tomorrow to see the return of Isiah Thomas as President of basketball ops at The Garden. Yes, my skin is crawling as I type those words, but we all have learned to expect the worst buffoonery imaginable when it comes to Knickerbocker decision-making.

All we Knicks fans can do is hope the good decisions continue; the draft assets remain in house (as opposed to being traded for DeAngelo Russell or Andrew Wiggins, or some other disastrous, headline-grabbing type of bad deal); and ultimately a capable basketball man is put in charge to right this sinking (sunken?) ship. A tall order? Yes, but it beats reading about Mills digging our hole even deeper after getting taken to the cleaners at the trade deadline once again by the more competent execs around the NBA.

More NBA thoughts:

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A quick round of applause to Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Russell Westbrook for making it work thus far down in Houston. Despite there only being one basketball in play at a time, the Rockets are still winning, and both The Beard and Russ are filling up box scores at alarming rates. But can this Houston team win a playoff series as currently constituted? Nope. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the road heading to Utah. It would be a pleasure to watch the team-oriented Jazz broom Houston out of the first round without breaking a sweat, although a bit sad that D’Antoni’s distinguished coaching career would in all likelihood come to an end with such an outcome. And that is  exactly where this Rockets club is headed once the regular season concludes, so until then sit back and enjoy that prolific backcourt.

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Speaking of the Jazz… They’ve cooled off a bit of late after that scorching run that made the league take notice. Their 18-4 home record remains the best in the Western Conference, and is a compelling reason to expect them to, at a minimum, survive their first round playoff matchup and advance to what could be a date with LeBron and AD out west. Utah is really good. Period. A final four in the west that includes the L.A. favorites, plus Denver and Utah would provide us fans with incredible hoops entertainment this spring.

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And what of those Los Angeles favorites that share a home at Staples Center? I mean, who ya got? With 30 games or so remaining in the regular season, I believe it is fair to say that the L.A. club that enters the playoffs healthiest will be the prohibitive favorite to win it all come June. LeBron clearly has something to prove, and with AD shining alongside The King’s greatness, it is hard to take a strong position against the Lakers as our next NBA champion.

But then you remember how unstoppable Kawhi was last postseason. With Leonard leading the way, along with Paul George’s two-way game, strong supporting players and solid depth, not to mention Doc Rivers at the helm, it makes betting against the Clips a dicey proposition. It will all come down to health, folks, and right now the battle of L.A. is too close to call.

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If you were starting a team right now and could pick any point guard in the league, do you take Damian Lillard or Ja Morant? If you are a “win now” franchise, you have to go with Lillard, who’s once again tearing it up for a Blazers team with zero shot at winning a title (and as of now looks hard pressed to even make the playoffs).

If you are building a future dynasty, Morant sure looks like the real deal, and by far the best player to come out of last year’s draft. The fact that Morant has led the Grizzlies to the number eight seed in the loaded west is nothing short of miraculous, and even if that means a quick, round-one departure come playoff time, the experience garnered by this young Memphis squad will prove invaluable.

SportsAttic Aside — for what it’s worth, I’d take both Lillard and Morant over Kyrie Irving, and not even have to think about it. Just sayin’.

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Speaking of making picks, if you had to decide who’s fast start to the season was a bigger mirage, the Heat or the Mavericks, which team would you point at? And maybe throw OKC into the equation, too, since most of us had the Thunder in full on tank mode for the foreseeable future after the Westbrook trade.

As for Miami or Dallas, I have to go with Dallas as most likely to come back to the pack. Certainly the Luka Doncic injury factors into my selection, as well as the fact that it remains to be seen if the Mavs can ever can get it together to the point where both Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can thrive on court at the same time. But the real difference maker here lies in strength of conference.

Miami’s start has defied common sense when you look at their roster. Yes, Jimmy Butler has been beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected, a stud on both ends and a leader as well, but Miami also gets to feast on all those Eastern Conference bottom feeders, making a full on collapse in South Beach less likely.

Meanwhile the Mavs (and the Thunder) must maintain their winning pace in the rugged west. When Doncic gets back will he be the same player we saw through the season’s first half? Can Porzingis stay healthy and in the lineup? A “no” to either of those questions sends Dallas spiraling toward a .500 record and a scrum for the 8th seed (they are in the six-hole currently).

In the east, the poor competition should allow Miami to hang in the high-40’s to low-50’s range for wins, even if they do suffer the reversion to the mean many predict after their off the charts start. OKC? Same challenge as Dallas, and add to that the question of whether anyone really expects Chris Paul to make it through this season without missing significant time to injury. CP3 has only missed one game thus far. Can it continue? Doubt it. Look for the Thunder to end up battling Portland for the final playoff slot in the west.

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And while we marvel at Miami’s rise to the top of the east, whether it is due to poor competition or not, can we also take a minute to ask what the heck is wrong in Philly? How can a roster this loaded be sitting as the current six seed, looking up at the likes of Indy and Miami? Well, one may begin to conclude that there is a coach-killer or two lurking in the Sixers locker room. Barring a strong finish to the season and a run to the conference finals at a minimum, look for either Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons to get moved in the offseason, with an entirely retooled roster awaiting the new head coach when 2020-21 rolls around.

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And now one final existential question — what is the value of a high-scoring star on a bad team? I found it interesting this week to hear such whining about not earning an All Star bid coming from Bradley Beal (and his girlfriend — never a good look BTW) and Devin Booker. The league has built its brand around the marketing of its stars, and in a stats-driven league, there will be many deserving, quality names propped up by their showy numbers for voters to consider every year. The reality is that  quite often the All Star tie-breaker will be how valuable is the player to their team, and are they a winner who makes those around them raise their level of play?

That last data point would explain Beale being left off the East this year, and Booker’s exclusion out west. Both are great players and regulars on SportsCenter night after night, while we watch their teams takes another bad loss on the chin.

And if the team does matter, then what about Trae Young’s starting nod? Based on the amount of airtime he gets on the highlight reels, he appears to be the next “next big thing,” yet the Hawks keep losing. And losing. And losing.

Currently Atlanta is playing to a .255 winning percentage despite Young’s 29/4/9 stat line. Yes, the Hawks roster is abysmal, and also yes, Young is well worth buying a ticket to see. But All Star starter? The Wizards are only slightly better than Atlanta, winning at a .347 clip, with Beal weighing in at 29/4/6 (nearly identical stats to Young). And the Suns are the best of these three terrible teams, currently ten games under .500 (their best start in years) with Booker at 27/4/6. All tremendous players and scorers, but none of whom can be called winners yet. Ever? Time will tell.

All Stars? Only Trae Young. Go figure.

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How To Pick A Pick-’em? Go Big With Buck In SUPE LIV

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Mets fans from the early ’70’s might remember the old joke about the difference between managers Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra.

As it went, the difference was said to be six innings. When Hodges managed the Mets, he would be thinking during the third inning about what strategy he would employ in the sixth. When Yogi was manager, he would spend the sixth inning thinking about what he should have done back in the third.

I keep coming back to that one when I compare the lead men for this Sunday’s Super Bowl extravaganza. On the one hand, we’ve got the grizzled, overweight, throwback coaching lifer, who has never been able to get over the top in the big game. On the other sideline will be the futuristic head coaching prototype. A guy with youth, smarts and good looks on his side, and who fits in perfectly among the venture capitalists and private equity boys and girls of Silicon Valley.

In a matchup where the odds makers have installed a razor-thin, one-point spread, shouldn’t the difference in tacticians at the helm be the ultimate difference maker? Well, maybe…

But then I remember that this latest model of “cool head coach who is changing the future of football before our very eyes” was last seen on this stage play-calling the Atlanta Falcons to the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history. Not only that, but Kyle Shanahan arrives in Miami this year on the heels of another in this assembly line of super-cool, metrics-driven NFL communicators. You remember Sean McVay, don’t you? The poor guy was so badly overmatched against Bill Belichick in this game a year ago that no one even mentions his name anymore outside the greater Los Angeles area.

Meanwhile, can we get a couple of huzzahs for the big man leading the Chiefs? I have had a field day at Andy Reid’s expense on these pages over the past two seasons, and he’s earned all of our skepticism with his early departures from the playoffs in so many years past, despite often lining up with the far more talented roster. But have you been watching these Chiefs throughout the playoffs? They are one scary team.

Kind of like the San Francisco 49ers, who are pretty much every bit as scary, just for different reasons. What it all adds up to from this vantage point is the two best teams in the NFL facing off in this year’s Super Bowl. And it should be a helluva game. But somewhere there’s a rule that states we have to make a pick here, so the key factor in handicapping this Sunday’s Roman Numeral Fete is short and to the point: we’re going old school.

And by “old school” I don’t mean this is a Niners pick either, even if they do have the tougher defense, the superior ground game and the do-everything tight end at their disposal. Classic old school attributes, for sure, but that’s not where AtticBro is heading with this one. Nope, this old school pick is all about The Walrus, Mahomes and Buck. Let me explain:

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The Walrus: Can any of us say with certainty that the photo above isn’t actually Andy Reid following two weeks in the Maui sun? Just sayin’. Could be though, right? The reality here is that despite the fun we poke at the Chiefs head man, all the guy does is win. He won in Philly (advancing to Super Bowl XXXIX), and he’s won in K.C. Big. That whole “winningest active coach never to win a Super Bowl” graphic will be shown more than a few times this weekend, but it says here that this is the big man’s year. He’s got the better QB, and an explosive enough offense to come back from any deficit, as we’ve witnessed throughout the Chiefs’ postseason run this season. And the defense, historically an Achilles heel of Reid’s Chiefs squads, is actually tough. Tough enough, anyway, to occasionally get the Niners ball control system off the field. Which gives Patrick Mahomes a high likelihood of driving it all the way downfield in the other direction for a score. Shanahan? He may be the game’s next great tactician and leader, but we really don’t know anything about him just yet. I’ve felt all year long San Francisco was a year away, and I still feel that way. Those spoiled Bay Area fans will have to take solace in the fact that the stacked Niners are set to contend for years to come. But 2020 is the year of The Walrus.

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Mahomes: Okay, let’s do a quick inventory — rifle arm, smarts, running ability, leader, dangerous weapons at the skill positions. That is a pretty solid baseline for Patrick Mahomes to work from, and apart from his egregious lapse in judgement choosing to appear in those overplayed State Farm commercials with Aaron Rodgers, its hard to find much wrong with the kid. Heck, he even likes the Mets, with his dad having worn the blue and orange toward the end of his career as a major league pitcher. And let’s stay on the diamond for another minute. It turns out Patrick was also a tremendous baseball talent back in the day, so let’s give some props to parents who let their kids grow up enjoying multiple sports in the name of having fun, rather than being slotted into some youth-QB, sausage-making process starting at the age of eight. Jimmy G. on the other side? Hard to quarrel with him either, but Mahomes is the best QB in football right now. Enormous edge to K.C. And if we needed more to turn this needle in the direction of K.C., let’s take a minute to send a hearty Bronx Cheer in the direction of Mr. Garoppolo, simply for his ties to Brady and Belicheat up in New England (anyone sad the Patriots aren’t a part of things this weekend? Didn’t think so). Guilt by association? You betcha.

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Buck: Yeah, here comes the old school angle. Growing up in the ’70’s, the Chiefs were a damn entertaining team. Lenny Dawson to Otis Taylor was Mahomes to Tyreek Hill long before either of those guys were born. And Kansas City had so many other heroes that were so much fun to watch on any given Sunday — Willie Lanier, Mike Garrett, Bobby Bell, and especially Buck Buchanan. Big number 86 was the gold standard of my Chiefs football card pile every year growing up. Not only did he have the ultimate football badass name, but he happened to be one enormous human being. He stood 6’7, and weighed 287 pounds, back when that was impossibly huge for an NFL-er. He’d been the Chiefs first overall pick in the AFL Draft back in 1963, when he became the first player ever from an historically black college to be taken in the first round. He was strong and fast, and when the Chiefs blew out the Vikings in Super Bowl IV fifty years ago, Buchanan was part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Mount Rushmore. When I think back on my favorite 49ers from those impressionable, good ole days of the ’70’s? I only make it as far as Woody Peoples. Also a great player in possession of an incredibly catchy football name, but Peoples just wasn’t Buck Buchanan.

And that’s where we land for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV. Two great teams, well-deserving of representing their respective conferences in the NFL-AFL Championship Game. But somebody’s gotta win, and it says here that having 50 years of Buck Buchanan karma on your side, along with an overdue and sentimental-favorite in Head Coach Andy Reid, and the best QB on the planet, will be enough for the Chiefs to win and cover on Super Bowl Sunday.

CHIEFS 34, 49ERS 31

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Hall of Fame Class of 2020 — Jeter, Simmons and ???

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We started seeing the ballots over the weekend, and the headaches began.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love the Hall of Fame and all it represents for fans of baseball history. And yes, I annually wring my hands in despair over what I consider to be a watering down process taking place as new voters come on board feeling compelled to submit ten names a year for induction simply because there are spaces for ten names on their ballot.

However, I also recognize that voting on Hall of Fame induction is not an easy task. There are tremendous players coming forward for consideration every year, and not only is this an in depth statistical exercise, there are emotions, likes and dislikes, and warm memories (or in the case of Jeff Kent, maybe not so warm) that influence our preferences.

So rather than wait for today’s announcement of the latest HOF class and begin railing loud and long over those selections that don’t coincide with my be-all/end-all judgements on the topic, I decided to approach things as though I had a vote on this 2020 class (something I truly wish I had, but likely never will).

Like most voters (I hope, anyway), I have some baseline parameters I will follow at the outset of my deliberations. Personal beliefs that I will incorporate into filtering down my selections that are mine only.

We’ll start with the easy one (to me) — no steroid cheats. The damage done to over 100 years of historical, statistical relevance as a result of the video game numbers these cheats put up over a sustained period of time bridging the turn of the 21st century remove them from any consideration. In my personal Hall of Fame pecking order, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson get my vote long before any of the steroid “stars.” Period.

Next, for a first ballot vote, the player must be incredibly special, both statistically over a long period of time, and in the image that remains impressed within my memory bank when I think back on them as a player. Names like Mays, Seaver and Griffey Jr. come to mind. And yeah, Mariano Rivera.

And lastly, since it is my vote, I allow a level of subjectivity to eliminate anyone from consideration on a year-by-year basis who fails the “flaming asshole” test. This filter is rarely invoked, and when it is, it typically would only mean moving a deserving player back a year or two in their ten-year process of shooting for inclusion. Bottom line — bad behavior warrants consequences.

Taking those prerequisites forward into the Class of 2020 ballot, here’s how I see it:

For starters, I only see sixteen “real” candidates among the dozens on the actual ballot. Those names include those who got enough votes a year ago to return, and a couple of newcomers.

For reference sake, to me the following players represent the “true” 2020 choices– Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi.

This list includes everyone with 7.5% (Jones) of the vote or more from a year ago, and only Jeter and Giambi among first-year eligibles (apologies to Bobby Abreu, but Harold Baines got your spot and everyone else like you for the next 100 years with his monumental joke of an induction a year ago).

Okay, let’s get the filtering process started.

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Steroid Cheats

I consider one’s position on whether to include (or not) those implicated for illegal steroids use a personal one among the voters. I also believe it is fruitless for those that believe they should never be inducted into the HOF to try and convince those with the opposite stance otherwise, and vice versa. So we will dispense with my annual rant on the subject, and simply say that on this wannabe voter’s ballot, the names Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, Sheffield, Pettitte, Giambi and Sosa will forever be left off, and I hope that there are enough folks that feel as I do with real ballots out there to keep these steroid cheats out of the Hall of Fame forever.

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No-Asshole Rule

Proving that there are very few coincidences in life, the majority of the assholes on this year’s ballot were already eliminated in the steroid section (hello Barry, Rog, Sammy, Manny and Shef), but don’t think for a second we’ve forgotten about good, ole Jeff Kemp. Kemp is a tough one, because as a second baseman his offensive numbers warrant strong consideration (377 dingers, 2461 hits), however his arrogant, petulant attitude that permeated his entire career, not to mention his weak-at-best glove work, keep him off my ballot this year, with the caveat I’ll start fresh with him annually until his ten years are up.

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Hall of Very Good

Baseball history is littered with great players who fell just short of the Hall of Fame. This ballot is loaded with more of the same. Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Larry Walker all fall into this category.

I worry when the announcement comes out later today that we will hear Walker, Jones and Rolen included among the new HOF members. Walker, in particular, seems to be gaining momentum, which troubles me the way Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Harold Baines trouble me. Outstanding players all, who to me fall just short of HOF-worthy. But today, when voters seem compelled to choose ten names per ballot regardless, we now annually are subjected to folks like these very good players gaining ground on undeserved immortality.

Walker had 383 homers and 2160 hits in his career, to go with a .313 lifetime average. Super numbers for sure, but not Dave Parker numbers. And Parker remains on the outside looking in. And that doesn’t even begin to open up the whole Coors Field can of worms, when it comes to Walker (the most accomplished of all those who benefit from the thin Colorado air). Yeah, his offensive stats were padded. No doubt. But even with those enormous, Coors-aided numbers on the back of his baseball card, Walker still comes up short of MLB immortality.

So does Jones, who absolutely warrants additional consideration because of his all-time great glove work. In fact, you could argue that few centerfielders were more dominant at both the plate and in the field than Jones was for that ten-year period between 1998 and 2007. But a ten year run gets Jones into the Braves Hall of Fame (or whatever they call it at their new ballpark), not Cooperstown. He didn’t even reach the 2000-hit plateau folks, which to me is a deal-breaker (see Richie Allen for more on this topic).

Rolen benefits from the dearth of third basemen in The Hall, but that shouldn’t be enough to throw a great-yet-not-all-time-great into the mix. Sorry Scott, you’re not a Hall of Famer. And the same goes for Todd Helton (see Walker above), Wagner and (for one more year anyway) Vizquel, who comes soooo close due to his combination of sustained defensive excellence over twenty-plus years and a good-enough bat at the one position that allows that in Cooperstown.

If you’re keeping score at home, that leaves us with The Captain, Derek Jeter, who will go in easily in this, his first year on the ballot (SportsAttic Note: Going to predict that at least one voter leaves Jeter off this year, denying him the honor of joining his teammate Mariano as the only unanimous entrants. Why? I dunno, just a feeling), and Curt Schilling.

Schilling is a lightning rod, and justifiably so. He dances around the margins of the asshole factor, having clearly embraced such a distinction now that his playing days have concluded. He “only” won 216 games in his career, fewer than many MLB hurlers that haven’t garnered entrance into The Hall. But Schilling gets in for me because his regular season excellence is good enough (multiple times winning 20+ — yes, wins still matter to a few of us –, three times striking out over 300 batters), and his historical impact is high.

The guy was 11-2, with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play, covering three different franchises.  He was part of the Red Sox squad that broke the curse in ’04, and offered us the bloody sock moment along the way. He was still with the Sox for their next title in ’07, which was Schilling’s final year as an active player, and he went 3-0 during that postseason run to punctuate an amazing career featuring excellence at the most critical of moments.

And of course he was the World Series co-MVP in 2001 (along with Randy Johnson), when the Diamondbacks ended the Yanks three-year title run in seven games. That was also the year he offered us one of the better baseball quotes of the 21st Century, as he prepared to take on the heavily-favored Bombers, who were said to sometimes win with the pre-ordained aid of “mystique” and “aura” — “when you use the words mystique and aura, those are dancers in a nightclub. Those are not things we concern ourselves with on the ball field.”

So it’s Derek Jeter and Curt Schilling for me. Jeter in his first year of eligibility, and Schilling in year eight, which is about the right amount of time for a guy on the bubble to cool his jets. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, gentlemen.

Ten slots on the ballot, only two worthy of the immortality afforded MLB’s all-time greats, as memorialized in Cooperstown.

And now it’s time to go for the Advil and await the official announcements.

Play ball!

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Championship Sunday –Rodgers Revenge?

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Like some hard-to-kill mutant zombie, SportsAttic is back at it again this week, handicapping what many football fans consider to be the most enjoyable Sunday of the NFL season.

Undeterred by last weekend’s whitewashing, which brought our postseason record to 0-8 (1-7 against the spread — yikes!), we return with an optimistic outlook for the AFC and NFC Championship games set to air this Sunday. You’d be excused if, by now, you’ve decided that the SportsAttic weekly selections have become the most tried and true method for NFL gambling success — if you simply take our picks and go the other way!

However, we here at the SportsAttic Editorial Prognostication Selection Committee (yeah, it’s just me, but tell me that didn’t sound at least a little impressive) are choosing to take the glass-half-full approach, wagering (no pun intended) that we are SO overdue at this point (did I mention that I also swung and missed, taking Clemson to cover in the National Championship game?) that regardless of the methodology we utilize in picking this weekend’s winners, the law of averages will ensure our predictions come up golden.

The choice on how to best capitalize on the following predictions is yours, of course, and without further delay here we go (as always, home team in ALL CAPS):

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49ERS (-7 1/2) over the Packers — I’ve been giving the Niners shit all year. They’re a year away. Overrated. Not as good as the Saints or Seattle. Stumbled through the second half of the season. Then again, I’ve felt similarly doubtful about the Packers, who have feasted on an overrated, mediocre division, all the while riding the mighty shoulders of their one, unquestioned star, Aaron Rodgers. And the point spread feels like a lot for a conference championship matchup between the two teams that earned byes into the Divisional Round. But as much as I hate to say it, given that Bay Area fans are so goddamned spoiled between the MLB Giants’ run at the beginning of the last decade, followed by the Warriors dynasty, and now this Niners resurgence, but San Francisco is head and shoulders the best team left standing in the tournament. And even though I’m rapidly tiring of sappy pregame features on George Kittle, the San Francisco tight end is a complete stud. With the exception of QB (and even QB is close), the 49ers are superior to Green Bay in every facet of the game, with only the defensive secondary being a toss up.  And therein lies the “puncher’s chance” for The Pack. Can Rodgers put the entire Green Bay roster on his shoulders and gunsling his way to the upset in the shadows of his old NorCal stomping grounds? It’s a cool storyline, but I can’t see this one happening. This game will test the power of taking the contrarian approach to a SportsAttic selection. We only need to go back one week to see how the SportsAttic Reverse Indicator derailed the Baltimore Ravens’ title aspirations. You remember the Ravens, right? Clearly the best team left in the tournament a week ago? Playing an overmatched opponent that had already advanced further than their talent would indicate possible? Large point spread be damned, the Ravens were not to be stopped, right? Not so fast… Well, at the risk of uttering the most dangerous four words known to gamblers across the globe, “it’s different this week.” (49ers, 31-20)

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Titans (+7 1/2) over the CHIEFS — And with a few short strokes of the keypad has the unlikely run of the Titans now met an untimely, SportsAttic demise? I’m sorry, but the Chiefs were dead-ass D-E-A-D in the second quarter of last week’s game, until the moment became too big for meathead Bill O’Brien (“It’s 4th and inches, step on the neck you dumbass, get that kicker off the field for God’s sake!!!!!”). And as if O’Brien’s short-arming the golden opportunity to ride his stud QB to a 28-0 second quarter lead wasn’t enough, he elects to try and overcompensate for his gutless faux pas on 4th and inches with that horrific fake punt. At that point North Dakota State University would have found it’s momentum and gone on to paste the Texans. In other words, O’Brien bailed out his counterpart Andy Reid before Reid could realize his annual postseason destiny of losing to an inferior team. Luckily for Reid, the Titans pulled off their upset, giving Reid another chance this Sunday. Can the Titans continue to ride the formula of superhuman Derrick Henry grinding away big chunks of yardage, this time going against the worst defense they’ve faced thus far in the playoffs? Hell yeah they can. Will Ryan Tannehill continue to execute his newfound skills as a “game manager,” minimizing turnovers and controlling the clock, thus keeping the dangerous K.C. offense on the sidelines? Well, that’s the question, really. Despite O’Brien’s foibles last weekend, the Chiefs spectacular offensive run once they’d been given their reprieve was absolutely something to behold. Patrick Mahomes is the best QB left in the Final Four (apologies to Rodgers, but it’s true folks), and if K.C. gets rolling again on Sunday this could get ugly quick. Here’s where the edge of Mike Vrabel over Andy Reid makes the ultimate difference. Look for Tennessee to grind out 40 minutes of possession time, and ride 200 yards on the ground from D-Henry to a shocking appearance in Super Bowl LIV. (Titans, 23-20)

Stone cold locks. Take them to the bank. The tide is turning. Winning time, folks, winning time.

See you on Sunday!

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How to Top a Perfect Wild Card Weekend?

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Yeah, I went 0-4 last weekend, but c’mon! Who’d have guessed that…

*Sean McDermott would forget how to coach following a near-perfect Buffalo first half?

*Mike Vrabel would out-Belichick Belichick?

*Carson Wentz would leave early with an injury (okay, I suppose you might have guessed that one)?

*Josh McCown was still in the league??

*Tom Brady and Drew Brees would finally play like 40-somethings on the same weekend?

*Kirk Cousins would win a meaningful game?

*J.J. Watt would not just stay healthy the entire game, but wreak havoc?

Besides, I would argue there is the exact same degree of difficulty involved for a prognosticator to perfectly forecast four games the wrong way, as there is to correctly pick all four winners (go ahead, try it). And hey, we were actually 1-3 against the spread (just sayin’ and thanks for covering, Titans).

Plus, everyone knows Wild Card Weekend is simply the warm up band for Divisional Round Weekend, when the talent level moves up a notch along with the stakes.

So here we go one more time — doubling down, moving our chips to the middle of the table, you’re either in, or you’re out — Jim Fassel-style circa 2000 (home team in ALL CAPS as always):

Vikings (+7) over the 49ERS — If you are one of the haters out there taking the SportsAttic picks and going the other way in amassing your gambling fortune, even I would encourage you to go against us here. These damn Vikings! All that talent, and they just suck you in time and again. And then when you can’t stand the pain anymore and decide to ride their hapless inability to win the big one, they go and kick the Saints’ ass in New Orleans. I just don’t know anymore. But I do feel like the Niners staggered into this postseason, one Pete Carroll delay of game gift away from losing their bye week, and that they have big time exposure in their secondary. I like a shootout here, but I’m going with the Vikes, and not just to cover. Upset Special! (Vikings, 31-30)

RAVENS (-8.5) over the Titans — I don’t feel good about this one either. Such is the life of a prognosticator coming off an 0-4 whitewash during Wild Card Weekend, I suppose, but let’s face some facts. The Ravens are guided by a second-year QB. Yeah, Lamar Jackson has been a beast and appears unstoppable right about now, but as the great Bill Parcells used to say “let’s not send him to Canton just yet.” The Ravens certainly appear to be the head and shoulders favorite to emerge from the AFC in a couple weeks time, but this was a Baltimore team most had going 7-9 or even 6-10 in the preseason reviews. Well, even so, this weekend’s pick is more about the Titans being out of their league in Round 2 against any of the remaining playoff teams, and my sense is that Tennessee is simply happy to be here. Don’t expect style points from either side this week, but Baltimore moves on. (Ravens, 24-10)

Texans (+9.5) over the CHIEFS — Repeat after me:  TOO MANY POINTS! Yes, it’s only Wednesday, and perhaps this line shrinks as kickoff nears, but c’mon now, do we really think Kansas City is that much better than Houston? Patrick Mahomes gives the Chiefs a built-in advantage most weeks at the most important position on the field. Not so this week, with Deshaun Watson riding high after putting the entire Texans franchise on his back and pulling out that improbable comeback against the Bills last Saturday. And Houston’s defensive front, sparked by J.J. Watt’s return, was downright ferocious in the second half. Now factor in Andy Reid and his track record of coming up small in big spots when his team is heavily favored, and this seems like a layup against such a wide spread. Not that Titans HC Bill O’Brien distinguished himself even a little bit last weekend either, he just had the benefit of not being quite as awful as McDermott when the game went to shit in the final minutes. Which coach will do the least damage to his own troops this Sunday? I’m going with O’Brien. And if I’m taking Houston to cover, I may as well shoot for the outright win. Besides, don’t we all want to see that D-Wat versus L-Jax matchup next weekend in the AFC Championship Game? (Texans, 37-31)

Seahawks (+3) over the PACKERS — Here’s hoping it starts snowing in Green Bay today and doesn’t stop until sometime Monday morning. This should be an old-fashioned grinder, and I like the Seahawks if it is. Beast Mode has his sea legs back, and a questionable Packers D awaits, while the Seattle D looked real tough last weekend, even if it was against a bunch of Philly stand ins. The Seahawks can handle the cold, too (anyone been to Seattle in January?), and despite not looking great against the Philly M*A*S*H unit on Sunday, Russell Wilson seems like he’s having one of those “meant to be” kind of years. Aaron Rodgers will keep Green Bay close, but the Pack have been pretenders all year, and that becomes all too clear by Sunday night. (Seahawks, 17-16)

So there you have it — three upsets leading to a Ravens-Texans and Vikings-Seahawks Championship double-header next Sunday afternoon.

And as for SportsAttic rebounding from the startling debacle that took place last weekend? Lock these picks in now — contrarians be warned — you can take ’em to the house!

(And as a wise man once said of me in my youth — or maybe it was a few weeks ago — “never in doubt, rarely right.”)

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks — Beware the Bills!

Happy New Year all! With 2020 upon us, we here at SportsAttic sense a palpable sea change at work, one that will have lasting repercussions on the world of sports this year and beyond.

Yup, we are making the bold proclamation that “out with the old” includes the horrific prognostications that dotted our SportsAttic columns throughout much of 2019. To put it succinctly, we are feeling it!

So we will not delay even a single day into the new decade before unleashing upon an unsuspecting public four, sure-fire NFL picks that, if followed by our legion of adoring readers, will ensure riches and glory as your NFL wagering endeavors take on next-level financial relevance with the onset of “the tournament.”

However, before we lay out our 2020 NFL Postseason Sure Things, there are a couple of thoughts that need to be passed along in the aftermath of the annual Black Monday slaughtering that claimed the scalps of several head coaches just two days ago.

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First, help me here — wasn’t Ron Rivera supposed to be the offseason’s hot head coaching candidate? And without so much as a “let me think about it,” he signs a deal with the Washington Redskins? Washington??

The spectacular magnitude of Rivera’s poor judgement here, joining forces with Little Danny Snyder and the most dysfunctional bunch this side of James Dolan’s New York Knickerbockers, is a clear indicator that Rivera is not of sound mind. So wait a second, maybe this signing does make sense?

In some bizarro Groucho Marx twist (“I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member”), Rivera’s frighteningly inept decision-making in accepting a contract from Snyder and the Redskins actually makes him the perfect choice in Washington.

Right? Think about it. It makes sense. I think.

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And while on the subject of the NFC East, did anyone happen to catch Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s presser after firing head coach Pat Shurmur the other day? Many Giants fans felt Gettleman should have been shown the door right alongside Shurmur. After all, he is the guy who assembled the absurd hodgepodge of a roster that threatens to suck the spirit out of young superstar Saquon Barkley if left unchecked.

My sense after watching Gettleman manage to display both extreme arrogance and a clueless outlook on the direction of his team, is to wonder if perhaps franchise owners John Mara and Steve Tisch simply wanted to see the GM publicly tortured by the rabid New York media. After all, Gettleman had spent most of the season hiding from reporters while Shurmur ate shit week after embarrassing week. Mara and Tisch are nothing if not all about fair play.

Whatever the reason, if you are a Giants fan, you have to wonder if things can change for the better under Gettleman’s watch. So here’s a proposal — why not go after Jim Harbaugh?

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I mean, can’t we declare the U. of Michigan homecoming over now?

Harbaugh leading the New York Football Giants would fire up their loyal and suffering fanbase, and provide the right kind of strong guidance and stability for young QB Daniel Jones, as he enters the critical second year of his learning curve. Yeah, Harbaugh can be a handful off the field, and not exactly central casting for the ultra-conservative Giants organization, but hey, neither was Bill Parcells, and that one worked out okay.

If I’m Mara and Tisch, I pull out all the stops to get a Harbaugh meeting, and then I back up the Brinks truck, along with a promise of complete control of all football decisions. Have Gettleman report into Harbaugh, and run the off-field football operations for a year. At that point, Harbaugh can decide whether he wants to keep Gettleman (any wagers on that one?), or bring in his own guy to upgrade their overlooked analytics department and handle salary cap issues.

The Giants are flat-lining, and just watched the only worse-run franchise in their division make a positive splash with the Rivera hiring. They need to be bold, and that’s not waiting around hoping Jerry Jones sends Jason Garrett their way. Harbaugh would be a game-changer.

Again, think about it.

Okay, on to the Wild Card predictions (home team in all caps):

Bills (+2.5) over TEXANS — There’s always at least one upset on Wild Card Weekend, and here it is. Yeah, the J.J. Watt return will fire up the Houston fans and his teammates, but this Buffalo defense is for real, and will eat up Deshaun Watson and take the crowd out of it by putting up points early.  Look for Josh Allen to send a message that Lamar Jackson isn’t the only dual-threat QB to come out of the vaunted 2018 draft. Bills, 24-16.

Titans (+5) over the PATRIOTS — Technically this isn’t an upset call. The Pats don’t have the offense to cover here, but will do enough on their home field to stay alive one more week. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel knows Bill Belichick as well as anyone in the league, and will ride monstrous Derrick Henry hard, but in the end look for the GOAT to drive downfield and win a nail biter on a late field goal. Patriots, 20-17.

SAINTS (-8) over the Vikings — Too many New Orleans weapons for the Vikings to keep pace. Besides, you never really bought into the whole “new and improved Kirk Cousins” storyline, did you? If you are in one of those NFL Playoff fantasy leagues, I sure hope you went with Drew Brees with your first pick. He will pile up the stats in this one. Saints, 37-17.

EAGLES (+1.5) over the Seahawks — This will be upset number two of the weekend, although it doesn’t feel like much of an upset call when we go with the division champ, playing at home, over the wild card squad that just got off a cross country flight. Bottom line here is that Seattle looked like a team running on fumes when they expired one delay of game penalty short of the division title on Sunday night. Meanwhile the Eagles are one of the NFC’s hottest teams, even if their momentum was built on wins over terrible teams. Here’s hoping for some cold, nasty Philly weather, a muddy field, with fans being ejected by the cops for throwing snowballs at the opposing team’s players. Yes, an old fashioned Philadelphia playoff game. Eagles, 19-17.

There’s Week One for you, folks. Write them down in ink, and we’ll tackle the Divisional Round when the dust settles.

Happy New Year!

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