NFL Divisional Playoff Round — Follow the QB

The terrible Jacksonville Jaguars and the awful New York Jets will draft one and two in this spring’s NFL draft. Both franchises hired new head coaches this week, taking vastly different approaches as they try to reverse their fortunes.

SportsAttic is taking this opportunity to go on record, saying Jets fans should hope that the upcoming draft plays out as well for their future as the recent head coaching decisions will for these two perennial bottom feeders.

The Jags went for the big splash with Urban Meyer, the revered college coach turned studio talking head. Their prized first pick was certainly a key data point (along with the tens of millions of dollars, of course) in Meyer accepting the J’ville job. It says here, though, that hiring Meyer will go down as the latest in a long string of disastrous moves that have made the Jags the laughingstocks of the league.

The Jets, on the other hand, opted for substance over splash (or inexplicable head-scratcher, the Jets’ other go-to move when bringing in a new coach), tapping former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to become the latest man tasked with turning around the hapless Airplanes. The diehard Niners fans in the SportsAttic network are hailing Saleh as an outstanding selection, so those of us who continue to root on Gang Green will mark this hire as a potential sea change moment for the J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS here in January of 2021.

What we are really trying to underscore, though, is that the NFL is now, more than ever, a Quarterback League. The QB position figured prominently in both Jacksonville’s and New York’s coaching hires, with the Jags expected to draft can’t-miss QB Trevor Lawrence of Clemson with the first pick in the draft. Meanwhile the Jets decide between remaining committed to Sam Darnold (aka “Poor Sam”) or starting anew with Justin Fields or one of the other college signal-callers lumped into the “not-Trevor Lawrence” category.

SportsAttic Aside: How about sending Darnold and that number two pick to Houston for disgruntled QB Deshaun Watson? Anyone? Anyone?

If one agrees with the premise that in the NFL you live and die by your QB, then you only need to go as far as that statement to get a glimpse into the crystal ball that will bring you the winners of this weekend’s four matchups. And we can thank the Jags and Jets for reminding us of this fundamental truth with their respective coaching hires earlier this week.

(And one more time for good measure — it says here Meyer will go down as a colossal fail, while Saleh’s hire will be hailed as the second greatest moment in Jets history when this story is finished being written.)

So following SportsAttic’s 5-1 opening foray into NFL Playoff prognostication a week ago (okay, we were 3-3 against the spread, but come on already, the Saints and Bucs were barely trying), we return even more confidently this week, with our sure-fire bets to fill out your Conference Championship brackets (home team in ALL CAPS as always):

PACKERS (-6.5) over the Rams — So who ya got, Aaron Rodgers or Jared Goff? Yeah, we could probably stop this one right there. It was a feel good win for the Rams over Seattle a week ago, but the party comes to an end as the Rams head east to the frozen tundra. It seems unlikely that Goff will get anything going offensively for the Rams, even though we aren’t believers in the Green Bay defense either. And as good as the Rams D has been, Aaron Rodgers has been on a different plane than the mere mortals this year, posting the second-highest QB rating (121.5) of all-time (Rodgers also owns the top mark, an astounding 122.5 back in his MVP year of 2011). Look for Aaron Donald and the Rams front to keep things close for a half, but unless Rodgers throws up a couple pick-sixes, it won’t stay that way. Green Bay will host the NFC Championship Game next Sunday at Lambeau. (Packers, 30-13).

Ravens (+3) over the BILLS — If you play the “who ya got” game at the QB position in this one, you may as well flip a coin. Both Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are dynamic, dual-threat QB’s who come into the game playing outstanding football. So if you subscribe to the theory that the two QB’s will offset one another, look to the ground games for the difference in this one. The Ravens (SportsAttic’s pick to win Super Bowl LV) will control both the line of scrimmage and the clock in this one, pounding away with Jackson and backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The Bills are vulnerable to the run on defense, and will be facing an opposing D with cornerbacks capable of slowing down Buffalo’s superstar wideout, Stefon Diggs. This is the game of the weekend, and may come down to the final possession. In the end, Jackson comes through again in what could become an annual playoff face-off for the two young QB’s. (Ravens, 24-23).

CHIEFS (-10) over the Browns — Let’s see, if we were starting a team from scratch today, who would be our first pick? No, not Baker Mayfield. Maybe the guy calling signals across the field from Mayfield on Sunday? Yeah, probably that guy. This is an awfully fat spread for a divisional playoff game, particularly when you factor in just how good the Browns looked last week in ridding us of the vastly overrated Steelers. But these are the defending champs from Kansas City we are talking about, and Patrick Mahomes and his cadre of offensive weapons will come out rested and firing. No coasting once up a couple of early TD’s for the Chiefs this week, and when the talent differential becomes evident, look for Cleveland to quit. This one could get ugly. (Chiefs, 44-20).

Bucs (+3) over the SAINTS — In January of 1990, 41-year-old George Foreman fought 33-year-old Gerry Cooney in a matchup the publicity folks dubbed “The Preacher versus The Puncher.” Skeptics in the boxing world quickly renamed the bout “The Geezers at Caesars.”* And yes, you know where I’m going with this. For Sunday’s late game we get 42-year-old Drew Brees leading his Saints at home against 43-year-old Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that still doesn’t sound right, does it). If we are going to continue riding superiority at the QB position to our expected outcome, this one is nearly as much of a tossup as Allen versus Jackson. Too bad the NFL couldn’t deliver this game to us a few years ago, when Brady and Brees would still have been geezers, but geezers capable of putting a team on their back and carrying them to a win. Sadly, neither of these future Hall of Famers possess that kind of skill any longer, but it feels like Brees has fallen further faster than Brady. Couple that with the fact that the Saints have already waxed the Bucs twice this season, and we will go contrarian and say it can’t happen a third time. This should be an entertaining game loaded with star power, and the significance of a playoff matchup between these legendary quarterbacks (geezers or no) should be lost on no one. Look for a close one in the fourth quarter, but in the end Tommy lives to fight another week. (Bucs, 30-26).

And there you have your NFL Final Four, folks. Enjoy thinking about the QB battles that loom on next week’s horizon after Jackson, Mahomes, Brady and Rodgers advance to the Conference Finals.

Can’t wait.

*Foreman won that fight, knocking out Cooney in the second round. At the time the fight was viewed by most as a money-grab, with Big George and Cooney cashing in on name recognition. However, nearly five years later, Foreman reclaimed the heavyweight title two months shy of his 46th birthday, knocking out undefeated, 27-year-old Michael Moorer. Score one for the geezers.

Traditionalists Be Damned — More Football This Weekend Is A Good Thing

It’s Wild Card Weekend in the NFL, and thanks to the revenue-hungry environment that COVID-19 has thrust upon our nation’s professional sports leagues, we will have two extra playoff games to enjoy over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

I’m an admitted traditionalist when it comes to most things sports-related, but the NFL’s expanded playoff format isn’t going to get me all worked up. For one, there’s been so many changes to the NFL during my lifetime (when I started watching pro football it was a 14-game season, kickoffs took place from the 40, and the goal posts were at the front of the end zone), that I don’t feel any sort of “tradition” tied to how the league runs its postseason tournament.

Besides, we aren’t adding on extra rounds to the tournament, just one more team allowed in from each league combined with one less first-round bye. These changes give us the gift of bonus action over the coming weekend. In fact, not only can I live with it, but I’m excited about the new format, and have already mapped out my weekend viewing plans, arranging any and all familial obligations around kickoff times.

So with all due respect to the folks that aren’t quite done crying about the Eagles shameless tank job last Sunday night, or who want more time spent wondering how the Jets will misstep once again in identifying their next head coach (a Marvin Lewis rumor today –hmmm, not sure that gets the Gang Green faithful striking up the J-E-T-S chant, does it?), we here at SportsAttic are moving steadfastly ahead into the world of January Football.

And what better way to begin the New Year than by dusting off the old SportsAttic Six Pics for the upcoming Wildcard Weekend (home team in ALL CAPS as always)?

Here we go, gridiron fans:

Colts (+6.5) over the BILLS — Things have proceeded far too smoothly for the Bills over these last few weeks as they locked up the AFC East (first division title since 1995!) while barely breaking a sweat, and it may be time to remind them they are still the Buffalo Bills. The Colts boast both a strong run defense and a rejuvenated rushing attack behind rookie Jonathan Taylor, not to mention they are guided by the superior head coach in Frank Reich (no, we still aren’t over Sean McDermott puking all over Buffalo’s last playoff game almost exactly a year ago). This one may come down to which QB makes the fewest mistakes, and that doesn’t bode well for the Colts with the rapidly-deteriorating Philip Rivers under center. Still, six-and-a-half feels like too many points to give for this one. Look for the Bills to advance, but it won’t be easy on the Buffalo faithful. (Bills, 24-20)

Rams (+3.5) over the SEAHAWKS — Rams QB John Wolford, in his NFL debut, ran for a team-high 56 yards last week in their playoff-clinching win over the Cardinals. Who was the last Rams QB to grind out that many yards on the ground, you ask? If you guessed Roman Gabriel back in 1967, you would be correct (how can anyone not be a sucker for a Roman Gabriel tidbit?). If I were a Rams fan, I might just hope L.A. decides to give Jared Goff one more week to heal up, and reloads with Wolford on Saturday. The kid threw for an additional 237 yards a week ago, and generally looked eons more confident than Goff did the last time he was calling the snaps. The Seahawks come into the playoffs on a roll, winning their last four on their way to the division title, and the shocking holes in their defense that were exposed earlier in the season appear to be firmed up. The Seattle offense maintains quick strike ability behind Russell Wilson, and Terrence Metcalf is fun to watch anytime he gets his hands on the ball, but the lack of Seattle’s vaunted 12th-man advantage will matter here. Look for the Rams stout defense paired with Sean McVay’s offensive innovation to do just enough for the upset. (Rams, 20-19)

Buccaneers (-8.5) over WASHINGTON — Talk about just happy to be here. The Don’t-Call-Us-Redskins-Anymores keep texting one another to make sure no one from the NFL offices has called to say it was all a big mistake, and a horrible team like theirs simply can’t be allowed to participate in the NFL Playoffs. The Washington Football Team is in, but it will end here. In no way will that dilute our respect and admiration for everything Alex Smith did to not just get back on the field after nearly losing a leg, but to deliver results in the form of a division title to the success-starved D.C. fans. But look at the weapons on the other side of this matchup, folks. Brady and Gronk and Evans and Jones and and and…this one will be over very early. (Bucs, 37-17).

Ravens (-3.5) over the TITANS — Yes, we are going with another road warrior in the early game on Sunday’s slate. The Ravens (SportsAttic’s Super Bowl LV pick, for those keeping track), were the team everybody in both conferences hoped would fall just short of the playoffs. But here they are, and teams peaking as they head into the playoffs are the most dangerous. Add to that the Ravens’ revenge factor dating to a year ago when the Titans sent top-seeded Baltimore packing in their division round upset, and this one lines up as one hell of a contest. Tennessee shouldn’t be taken lightly, and all the factors that contributed to their upset a year ago remain in play — most importantly the beast of all beasts in their backfield, 2000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. This should be an old-fashioned slugfest, and could ultimately be decided by whoever wins the coin flip kicking off overtime. Here’s saying that the call is heads, and Lamar Jackson passes and runs his way down the field for the winning TD on the first possession of the extra period. (Ravens, 34-28).

SAINTS (-10) over the Bears — Outside of D.C., there isn’t a group of fans happier than Bears fans, over seeing Washington in the playoffs. Because it spares Chicago the scrutiny and disdain that would otherwise be heading in the Bears’ direction for having the audacity to make the playoffs despite being a lousy football team. Does anyone really see Mitchell Trubisky engineering an upset here? How about keeping it close? Me either. Yes, Chicago has some talent on defense, but this is going to be so lopsided that you might even get a Jameis Winston-sighting in garbage time. Drew Brees tunes up for one more (final?) run up the NFL Playoff mountain, while Bears fans can go back to complaining about what an abysmal, waste of a draft pick Trubisky was. (Saints, 41-10).

STEELERS (-6) over the Browns — So the Steelers get to play “for realsies” this week, right? The Browns aren’t as good as their 11 wins would indicate (when was the last time the Browns won 11, you ask? How about 1994, under a guy named Belichick, whose defensive coordinator was a guy named Saban), but the Steelers may be the worst 12-4 team we’ve seen in a long time, too. Yet it won’t matter in Sunday’s late game, as the Steelers come in looking to send a message across the lake and to the rest of their haters around the league, who love pointing at Pittsburgh’s 1-4 finish as proof that they are overrated. In the end, the haters will be proven correct, but not this week, as Baker Mayfield and the Browns still haven’t shaken off the hangover that followed their playoff-clinching celebration last Sunday. (Steelers, 31-20).

And there you have it, pigskin enthusiasts, the SportsAttic Six Picks — as sure a thing as you’ll find when looking to wager your way to unforeseen riches in 2021.

Happy New Year to all!

Why James Harden Helps Nobody and Other NBA Notes

I get it, okay. Trades are always fun to speculate about, especially when it involves a superstar. And James Harden is a superstar. At least in the pure numbers sense of the term.

However, I was looking at the teams that at various times have been rumored to be interested in trading for The Beard, and I can’t find a one of them that would be better off with him on their roster.

Let’s start with Portland.

First of all, if I’m the Blazers I don’t ever give up Damian Lillard for Harden. Full stop. Lillard is simply the better player.

But let’s say Portland can figure out how to acquire Harden without giving up their own franchise star. Not only would it deplete the Blazers roster depth (goodbye CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, for starters) trying to meet Houston’s considerable trade demands (nor should we forget the massive financial hit that Harden brings with him), but we’ve already seen The Beard come up short trying to coexist with all-world guards Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook these last few years. Any reason to believe Harden figures out how to be an effective second fiddle to Lillard if he were to go to Portland? Next.

Philly seems to come up a lot in Harden rumors, too. This one comes the closest to making sense, even though any trade would have to include the Sixers’ Ben Simmons in return for The Beard. If I’m Houston, I’d blow the ink dry on that one, because Simmons, who is still only 24, is actually the better piece to build around long-term if the Rockets finally plan to start over. As for the 76ers, combining Harden with Joel Embiid is enticing, but which of these guys do they look to when the chips are down? Both Harden and Embiid seem to fall into the category of terrific at padding stats when the seas are smooth, but likely to come up small in a tough spot. Philly is in that terrible NBA no-man’s-land, where they are good, but not good enough to get over the top. That’s the exact real estate Harden has occupied since he came into the league. Don’t do it, Sixers.

Brooklyn? After two games we were ready to hand the Nets the Eastern Conference title, and even with Spencer Dinwiddie out for the year following his ACL injury, Brooklyn boasts two superstars plus outstanding depth. It’s hard to imagine them being a better team by adding Harden’s ball-stopping offensive repertoire to the mix at the expense of every young and valuable supporting piece that is the backbone of any title contender (see Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, just for starters). My guess is Steve Nash likes the looks of the hand he’s been dealt in Brooklyn, and would be loathe to bring Harden and his baggage to New York. Pass on him, Nets, you don’t need The Beard and his headaches.

Denver is already a winning team (and still on the rise) that boasts depth with an assortment of young stars (likely to only keep getting better over the foreseeable future). Why mess all that up for a scoring champ who has never improved team chemistry? Same holds true for Utah, and besides, could you really imagine James Harden in Salt Lake City?

And herein lies the challenge in trading for James Harden. His talents are unmistakeable when it comes to scoring average. But it’s hard to find a single instance where he’s made a teammate better while playing with them.

Moving Harden allows Houston the benefit of addition through subtraction. They shed salary, negative on-court and off-court baggage, and would likely pick up several useful pieces in return. The Rockets would be wise to take any of these deals, if they truly exist, which is exactly why we should expect Harden to remain in Houston this year. There he can earn his $40 million while leading the Rockets to one of the west’s final playoff seeds, before making an early exit from the playoffs.

Sound familiar?

Other thoughts around the NBA:

*Can somebody explain to me how the Knicks blew out the Bucks the other night? I know that young teams are prone to wide swings in performance, but only one night prior, in their home opener against the Sixers, the Knicks looked like a team likely to finish with single-digits wins this year. Then they go out and do that? I still have the Knickerbockers penciled in at 20-52 for the season, but (and yes, I know I’ve said this before, but not in a couple of years…) it feels like there finally is a little hope out there.

*Losing Spencer Dinwiddie is an enormous hit to the Nets title dreams. As good as Brooklyn looks right now, depending on the brittle Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to both stay healthy this season is a dangerous game. That’s where all that depth, especially with guys that would start for most teams, like LeVert and Dinwiddie, is so important. If KD and Kyrie can play 60 games each and head into the playoffs at close to full strength, it’s hard to bet against Brooklyn as a legit title contender. But that’s a big “if,” and losing Dinwiddie just made the degree of difficulty go way up for rookie coach Steve Nash.

*The Lakers are actually better this year. Shit. But let me make one thing clear — LeBron could win another five rings and he still won’t crack the SportsAttic All-Time NBA Top Three (Michael, Kareem, Wilt), let alone ever be called the GOAT.

*There’s been a ton of noise over the Mavs blowing out the Clippers (with no Kawhi Leonard) the other night. Yeah, a 50-point lead at the half is pretty staggering, but as far as bearing meaning beyond a statistical marvel? None.

*It was a tough draw for the Warriors to start the year with Brooklyn followed by the Bucks, but the lack of competitiveness by a team only a year removed from a dynastic run was remarkable. Losing Klay Thompson again before a single game was played had to be a gut punch, but there’s still talent on the Golden State roster, isn’t there? Getting Draymond Green back should help, but man…James Harden, anyone?

*I wonder how good Phoenix can be this year? It’s an interesting roster, and if Chris Paul is ready to settle into the role of elder statesman/facilitator, and not insist on being “The Man,” the Suns could make some noise. Right now Paul is averaging 12 points and 10 assists, in just under 30 minutes a game. That seems about perfect, and the impact he should have on Deandre Ayton’s development could be his most meaningful contribution. Ayton appears to be a beast in the making. I’ve never been a Paul fan, but I’m intrigued by what’s going on out in the desert.

*So Russell Westbrook is in Washington now, right? Teamed up on the winless Wizards alongside Bradley Beal? Yeah, that’ll end well…

Gambling and Other Holiday Sporting Topics

We’ve been quiet awhile here at SportsAttic, so it’s time for a catch up around the major sports, starting with football:

NFL

*I have a gambling problem. There, I said it. This isn’t an admission in the traditional sense, one where I’m writing this while hitchhiking home, penniless, from Vegas. No, this is more in the sense that everything I touch that even smells like a wager these days, turns to coal. Lucky for me, the agony of defeat is tens times greater than the thrill of victory when it comes to putting my hard earned dinero at risk, which is what has always kept me from falling hopelessly and dangerously into the abyss of the (now mostly legal) world of sports gambling. But even when just fooling around with friends, as a few colleagues and I do weekly with a handful of NFL picks, I’m getting my ass handed to me. Whether it’s Deshaun Watson fumbling on the Colts six just as he’s about to cover my biggest Sunday bet, or the hapless Cowboys (I’ve told myself “no more NFC East bets” at least half a dozen times this season, yet there I was screaming at the TV set) missing three FG’s in the first half Monday night and totally sucking away any spirit America’s Team may have had left in them, I can’t buy a win. Even when I attempt an emotional hedge, picking the Raiders to cover against my Jets (you know those mental negotiations, I know you do — a monetary win from the Raiders cover will make up for the emotional gut punch from another Jets defeat), it goes bad when the Jets lose in colossal-Jets-fashion on a last second TD pass. But being the Jets, the heartbreaking loss still isn’t enough to cover the eight points I’m laying out. Good grief. Lucky for me, the law of averages tells me this is my week…

*The Chiefs really seem to be head and shoulders better than everybody else, don’t they? I mean, like not-even-close-better, right? The Steelers? They were the worst undefeated team this side of the ’72 Dolphins before finally coming back to earth last weekend. It says here the Pittsburg Pretenders finish 13-3 and make an early playoff exit in January. How about the Bills? Can they beat K.C.? Tennessee? Miami? Really??? What about whoever the NFC produces as their Super Bowl entrant? The Saints? C’mon, they’re really kind of terrible, too — in a Pittsburgh-great-record kind of way. Nobody really believes in New Orleans, do they? Yeah, barring a Mahomes injury, the next Lombardi Trophy presentation seems like a foregone conclusion.

*Speaking of the NFC East — could the Giants or D.C. No-Names actually finish .500? What fun would that be? The whole point was to see one of these horrible squads slog through the final month of the season before backing into the playoffs as a putrid division winner at 6-10. The mini hot streaks in New Jersey and D.C. have taken all the fun out of that one. However, it says here either team will be a tough out in Round 1 of the playoffs against one of the multitude of NFC also-rans.

*Boy, do the Patriots suck… yes, it feels wonderful typing that.

NCAA Football

*Copper Springs Roddy texted in a grievance against the Big 10 for mismanaging the schedule to their own (TV, Big $) benefit. I didn’t have a great response, since I’ve essentially ignored college football this year, given the funky scheduling and staggered starts for different conferences. That being said, I do think Southern Cal should be in the running for the national championship game… Fight On!

* One of the best parts about the Army-Navy game (and there are many) is being able to make an ironclad case for rooting for either team. As a kid I always went with whoever was wearing the black jerseys. Still as good a system as any here in 2020, and even though they’re in green today, it’s a dark green, soooo… Go Army, Beat Navy!

MLB

*Glad to see that even under new ownership, nobody can win a postseason like the New York Baseball Mets. We’ve got a new, hard throwing reliever, and a shiny new starting catcher, and now we want a new #2 starting pitcher to go with them, and a centerfielder and, and, and… Sure, you can even throw a new GM in there somewhere, too. Somebody has to sit at the press conferences after spending all of the new owner’s money, don’t they? And while you’re at it, Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson, throw us a trade for Francisco Lindor, and maybe pick up DJ LeMahieu just to piss off the Yankees. Let’s make up for nearly 60 years of penny pinching over the course of one offseason, boys. I’m all in — LFGM!

*Speaking of the Yanks. Wouldn’t it be great if they began to revert back to the days of the early-’80’s when they traded young talent for washed up veterans? Remember Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps? Fred McGriff? Willie McGee? Doug Drabek? All young Yankees talent that never got the chance to blossom in the Bronx. Yeah, bring us lots of those kinds of deals, please, starting with the trades of Clint Frazier and Luke Voit this winter, and then build on that. Yes, we are well aware that Brian Cashman is probably much smarter than that, and that Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t have the same impatient and impetuous streak his dad did, but c’mon, this is the offseason where Mets fans dare to dream, right?

*There’s a debate raging among Mets fans about bringing back the black uniforms during this franchise reboot. I’m a pure royal blue-and-orange guy. Put me in the old school category, and keep the black unis buried — this isn’t Army-Navy, folks. And while we are busy burying bad ideas, let’s keep the DH out of the Senior Circuit, too, even if it does benefit the Mets. Some traditions need to be upheld.

NBA

*Shortest hoops offseason in history? Yawn. Oh goodie, we’ll have the NBA back on Christmas Day. Nah, I’m watching the non-stop Christmas Story loop (“you’ll put your eye out, kid”). It’s going to take a lot for me to get interested again. The LeBron-Lakers league-sanctioned championship sham of the 2020 Bubble left me with little interest to reengage. This was a year where I needed a longer offseason.

*So James Harden wants to be traded? Whatever… The Rockets already sent Russ Westbrook to the shittiest franchise this side of the New York Knicks when they traded him to Washington, so where can they send The Beard? Minnesota, maybe? How about Orlando? Talk about a guy that will be impossible to build a championship team around, between his bloated salary and need to control the ball on every possession. Unless Harden changes his approach, he has no shot of ever earning a ring. Good luck finding “equal” value in a trade, Houston.

*Loved the Obi Toppin pick for the Knicks, and also that Tom Thibodeau plans to have his charges playing honest to goodness, professional defense, but what will that actually mean? If we have a 70-game season, can Knicks fans realistically even hope for a 30-40 record? Success still feels an eternity away from returning to Madison Square Garden, but I suppose you have to start somewhere. If we can win 30 and develop a few of the youngsters into actual, contributing pros, Thibs gets a huge thumbs up for 2021-22.

*I’d really like to root for the Brooklyn Nets this year. They’ll never replace the Knicks in my heart, but I’ve always been a fan of the franchise, dating back to the pre-Dr. J days of Rick Barry and Bill Melchionni. But jumping on the Nets bandwagon for ’21-’22 would mean trying to stomach Kyrie Irving, and I just don’t think that’s possible. Poor Steve Nash. He’s got his hands full simply being a first-time head coach, but add in the headaches of Kyrie and the high likelihood that he poisons Kevin Durant, and this will make for a fascinating case study, if nothing else. I suppose there’s always a chance Kyrie gets a hang nail and misses most of the season, as has been his pattern the last few years (and funny how his teams seem more cohesive and happier once he’s sidelined), but barring that, it feels like Brooklyn becomes the team to root against when I get bored with hoping the Lakers lose.

NHL

*A hockey note! How about that? I was cleaning out some cabinets the other day and came across three signed pucks from my days as a fan of the New Jersey Devils — Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur and Ken Daneyko. It reminded me of how much fun those disciplined and talented Devils teams of the dynasty years (and yes, they had a legit dynasty going) were to watch. And even though I’m not paying close attention, it feels like Lou Lamoriello may be building something similar out on Long Island these days. Let’s hope so — those diehards out east may be the most passionate hockey fans I’ve every seen. Go Isles.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

A Taste of Normalcy — Thanksgiving Football, Chucky and Random NFL Notes

It pains me to admit it. Especially after he threw away the Raiders final two seasons playing in front of the fanatical fans of Raiders Nation in Oakland, but it would appear Jon Gruden does, indeed, know what he’s doing.

It’s good for the NFL to have the Raiders competitive again, especially after such a dreadful run since…well, since Gruden last coached the team. Derek Carr is kicking ass again, no longer looking like the same shell-shocked guy behind center, and the defense is starting to bring back memories of the Tatum/Alzado/Sistrunk Raiders of the ’70’s.

The Raiders split their two matchups with the Chiefs, handing them their only loss last month, and barely letting one slip away last weekend. That’s proof enough for me that the Silver and Black is back. Kansas City seems to be playing on another level, and are clearly the Thanksgiving Day favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champs come February.

But how cool would it be to see them meet up with Oakland (sorry, but I can’t get used to Las Vegas yet, maybe next season) in the AFC Championship? Shades of Buck Buchanan and Ben Davidson wreaking havoc in the opposing backfields. Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica to Cliff Branch and Lenny Dawson tossing bombs down the sideline to Otis Taylor.

Bring it on, we are ready for some cold weather football!

Yup, it’s that time of year, with Thanksgiving Day providing us all a little respite and normalcy amidst the trials and tribulations of 2020, courtesy of the NFL schedule makers. Hell, even the pillow fight between two 3-7 NFC East patsies can get the juices flowing right now (playoff implications!), and we can all use the time over the holiday break to better understand the new NFL playoff format (only one bye per conference is about as far as I’ve gotten with it so far).

But before we proceed to the SportsAttic Thanksgiving Locks that are guaranteed to guide your recreational wagering to unforeseen fortunes on Turkey Day, here’s a few additional notes worth pondering around the NFL:

* Can we all agree that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were better off together than apart? It was a fun debate for awhile over who would have the better year, but now reality is setting in. And other than having two teams to root against instead of one, it’s just not working for us. The Pats seem certain to sit out the playoffs, barring an unforeseen turnaround of fortunes, and Brady looks incredibly ordinary despite a myriad of offensive weapons at his disposal. In fact, you could make the argument that the 75-year-old Mr. Bundchen has more weapons down in Tampa than he ever had in all his years in New England. And still, meh. The novelty has worn off and the NFL is the worse for their separation.

*The Browns are 7-3, but does anyone really trust them to make postseason noise? In fact, would anyone really be shocked if they figured out a way to miss the playoffs entirely over the season’s final six games? They go to Jacksonville this weekend, which should be a lock for win number eight, but the line is only 6.5 over the barely-professional, 1-9 Jags. Hmmm…anyone else feeling 9-7 and an epic collapse up in Cleveland?

*Poor Cincinnati. History shows us that this QB injury thing runs deep. Real deep. Remember poor Greg Cook? Of course you don’t. Nobody does. That’s right, we’re not talking about Carson Palmer or Joe Burrow here. Not even the purgatory-ish Andy Dalton Era. Nope, Greg Cook was the first prized first-round draft pick in Bengals history, all the way back in 1969. A can’t miss QB prospect from nearby University of Cincinnati, Cook started as a rookie and had a heck of a year, beating the Raiders and the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs along the way. But a shoulder injury ended his season, and, save for a one game comeback attempt in 1973, Cook’s career was over. This QB ugliness runs real deep in Bengals-land, folks, real deep. Beware the Curse of Greg Cook.

*There’s a lot being written about how a 6-9-1 record could win the NFC East this year. The problem with that theory is that for it to happen, the Eagles would need to go 3-3 from here. And there’s zero chance of that happening. It will be a 6-10 record that takes the worst division in NFL history. And the “winner” will be the one team out of the Giants, Dallas and Washington that “gets hot” and figures out how to play .500 ball the rest of the way. SportsAttic call? Here’s a hint…“Hail, to the no names…”

*I’m tired of Aaron Rodgers’ schtick. The next time we hear him accept responsibility for something having gone wrong in Green Bay will be the first. The whining and coach killing stuff has been going on for years, and now he doesn’t even attempt to hide it. The Packers are a lousy 7-3 team in what is proving to be a highly mediocre NFC. Sure, they’ll make the playoffs, because thanks to their weak division, but look for the Pack to go one and done once the postseason arrives. And here’s betting Rodgers will be pointing fingers everywhere but between his own numbers when the shit hits the fan in the frozen tundra. No wonder Green Bay drafted a QB.

*Speaking of mediocrity in the NFC, who’s going to win the west? It doesn’t seem like anyone wants it right now, but each team possesses a chance despite huge flaws. For a change of pace we’ll throw our support behind Arizona (at least they are fun to watch), but I can’t help but feel they are at least a year away. The Seahawks were the logical choice back in October, but things got wobbly up in the Pacific Northwest since then, and besides, it seems counterintuitive to expect Seattle to have success by outscoring the opposition. Heck, call it for the Cardinals. It is 2020, after all.

And now onto the Thanksgiving slate of games. Home team in all caps:

LIONS (+3) over the Texans — This is the weekend of the home dog, for those of you who occasionally look to place a wager on a gridiron contest. And look to Motor City to kick off that trend. The Lions can’t possibly be as bad as they looked last week against the Panthers, can they? Welllll… yeah, they are the Lions, but lest we forget, this Thursday we get the Thanksgiving Lions. This is football day in Detroit once a year, and the underachieving, barely caring Texans will roll over for the home team after making their year by beating the Pats last Sunday. Lions, 27-17

No Names (+3) over the COWBOYS — Don’t look now, but Ron Rivera has the Washington Football Club playing decent ball despite their suspect talent. And talk about a Thanksgiving feel good story? Alex Smith and what he’s overcome is nothing short of miraculous. Time for Smith to shine with the whole country tuned in, and it couldn’t be more well deserved. Dallas? Yeah, Dalton’s back, and they did have an impressive win (well, sort of, it was against the Vikings) last week. Nah, doesn’t matter. This will be Smith’s day. No Names, 31-20

Ravens (+4) over the STEELERS — Yes, we know, thanks to the Ravens’ Covid-19 outbreak, this game’s been moved back to Sunday, instead of entertaining us as the Thanksgiving night game. We’re keeping it in our picks anyway, only because this is the lock of the week! Look for the Steelers to wake up Monday morning at 10-1. This is a classic first-loss game for undefeated Pittsburgh. A tough, divisional matchup against an opponent loaded with talent, but one that has been wildly inconsistent through the season’s first ten games. This Ravens team despises the Steelers, and they match up well on both sides of the ball. For those of you ready for cold weather football, this is the gold standard on Sunday. Ravens, 23-21

And there you have it. Here’s hoping everyone enjoys a safe, healthy Thanksgiving that ushers in the end of 2020 and the coronavirus. Cheers!

Make or Break Year for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Standards for Hall of Fame induction have been eroding over the past several years, and this being 2020 and all, with the world getting more painful to endure by the day, there really couldn’t be a worse time for the Class of 2021 HOF ballots to be mailed out.

It was bad enough that Derek Jeter’s near-unanimous enshrinement had to be sullied by the inclusion of great-not-legendary Larry Walker a year ago. This year’s ballot offers a veritable chamber of horrors for those of us who are pained by the watering down process that seems to worsen annually, aided and abetted by new voters with little respect for the sanctity of Cooperstown.

There are 25 candidates this year for voters to ponder, and a few do warrant strong consideration. However, several candidates were just good enough during their playing days to tempt the new wave of participation-trophy voters to add their names to their ballots.

This new breed of voter suffers from a mindless desire to submit the maximum-allowed ten names every year. And that’s where the watering down effect is captured, as many good, but nowhere near Hall-worthy, players benefit from such stark ignorance of the intent of the rules and standards the voters have been charged with safeguarding.

To put this year’s ballot conundrum in it’s proper perspective, SportsAttic will break down the 2021 candidates utilizing the following four categories:

Steroid Cheats (6 of them this year)

True Contenders (3)

Good-not-Great Pretenders (7)

How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballots? (9)

*Steroid Cheats — The poster children just keep creeping along, don’t they? Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may actually pull it off this year. Both of the lying cheats crossed over 60% in voting a year ago, leaving the distinct possibility that as the forgiving nature of our populace continues to work in their favor, coupled with the largesse of those bound and determined to write down ten names, 2021 will be their year. Let’s hope not. Because then it opens the door to the rest of them — Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte and Manny Ramirez — none of whom should ever be allowed into The Hall without buying a ticket. As a side note, we’d like to take a minute here on Pettitte. Just because he’s a seemingly good guy, particularly when compared to two of the game’s all-time dickheads in Bonds and Clemens, doesn’t mean he is any less a steroid cheat. In fact, he’s one of the few who actually admits his wrongdoing. Points for being a decent human being, for sure, but he still shouldn’t get on a Hall of Fame ballot. And oh by the way, if we are protecting all-time standards here (and that is the charge put to all HOF voters), Pettitte’s career numbers would leave him short anyway! As an additional aside, it was tempting to throw Jeff Kent into this grouping (you know the old line about if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), but we will refrain from presuming Kent’s steroids guilt simply due to locale and association (plus we like that he overtly despised Bonds for most of the time that they were teammates).

*True Contenders — Curt Schilling was the high vote getter not earning induction a year ago, so he enters in the pole position this year. Unlike his steroid-enhanced brethren, Schilling’s candidacy suffers as time moves on (this is his ninth year on the ballot — they only get a decade to earn the necessary votes), because each passing year gives him more time to alienate voters by making absurd statements and engaging in bizarre behavior. He’s joined in the serious consideration camp by Omar Vizquel, the best defensive shortstop of the modern era this side of Ozzie Smith, who is bidding to be the first inductee since The Wizard himself to enter The Hall holding a glove and not a bat. We reluctantly add Kent to the “strong consideration” group, too, despite our bias and resentment toward him for not realizing his potential during his time in a Mets uniform (remember the David Cone trade, folks?). Kent’s monster power numbers at the second base spot compare favorably with several HOF legends (Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg — that’s good company), but his blacksmith’s touch with the leather, prickly personality and world class pornstache have kept him on the outside looking in up until now.

*Good-not-Great Pretenders — This is where things get dicey, because those voters desperate to get to ten names have a multitude of options to choose from that will hasten the slide toward a Hall of Very Good if we aren’t careful. Consider, if you will, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Mark Buehrle, Barry Zito and Bobby Abreu. Since the ballots were released, I’ve read articles making the argument for each of these candidates to be voted in this year. It makes my head hurt. To any advocate out there who believes these are the types of players that have earned their way into the Hall of Fame, I need only respond with the following names — Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Dick Allen, Luis Tiant, Vada Pinson. Baseball history is littered with outstanding players whose careers were fantastic in their own right, but just missed legendary status. And as a result they also missed out on the Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick around the horn on this year’s pretenders, beginning with Rolen — just because The Hall is light on third baseman doesn’t mean we should lower standards! Rolen was really, really good. Rolen isn’t Hall of Fame-worthy. Period. Wagner was a terrific reliever, but he doesn’t belong in the same sentence as a Mariano Rivera, let alone Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers. Next? Jones had a world class glove, played on championship-caliber Braves teams, and put up several years of impressive power numbers. Worth a thought and quick consideration, sure, but in the end Andruw Jones is not a Hall of Famer. Beurhle and Zito? Really? Very good pitchers. That’s that. And here’s the one that seems to be trending right now for this year’s water-down apologists — Bobby Abreu. Yes, Abreu has a lot of advanced metrics that seem to warrant serious consideration for a vote. Is he a stronger candidate than Harold Baines was? Yes, but two wrongs do not a Hall of Famer make. And Abreu is an epic fail when it comes to the baseball eyeball test. Hustle, taking the extra base, running into a wall trying to save a run/game, swinging at a ball out of the strike zone when your teammates need a base hit over a walk and are relying on you to be “the man.” Abreu came up small in all of these categories over the course of his career. He is the anti-Dave Parker, a star who compiled awesome stats, but whose numbers actually paled in comparison to his fire and intangibles between the lines. Go home, Bobby Abreu. If the Phillies (I think that’s the team we are supposed to think of when we think of Abreu, right?) have a franchise Hall, let them put you in there. Not Cooperstown. Not this year. Not ever.

*How The Hell Did They Get On The Ballot? — Okay, really now, LaTroy Hawkins? Is there a handbook or manual somewhere that can help explain how they arrive at the nine place holders that round out this year’s Hall of Fame ballot? A.J. Burnett, Dan Haren, Michael Cuddyer, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Aramis Ramirez, Steve Swisher, Shane Victorino? Serviceable major leaguers all, you could even argue that Hudson, Burnett and Hunter border on the pretender category, but come on already! And here we arrive at the heart of the dilution problem. If you remove these nine names from consideration, it leaves a voter with only sixteen players to choose from, and a ballot with ten slots to fill, if you believe 1. they are truly legendary, or 2. you fear receiving an incomplete grade if you haven’t filled in all ten blanks. And for those opting for Door Number Two, this isn’t the SAT’s, where you might get lucky with a guess and it pays to fill in every available space.

So in case you missed it, the SportsAttic ballot that will bring you the most deserving Class of 2021 Major League Baseball Hall of Famers will include…drum roll please…

A blank ballot.

Schilling falls just short, despite his postseason glory and above-average career stat line (El Tiante, anyone?).

Vizquel misses out, barely, but will get this vote a year from now (Jeter should be the only inductee when they do the 2020 makeup ceremony next summer, but that was already blown up by Larry Walker’s inclusion, so the last thing we want to do is add a second shortstop to next year’s festivities).

And Jeff Kent? Sorry, but Kent remains at the tippy top of the Hall of Very Good. A great player, with tremendous offensive credentials compiled during the Steroid Era, a glove constructed from stainless steel, and an absolutely abominable mustache.

It’s the Hall of Fame, folks. Only the legends should be awarded the bronze bust.

Playing Catch Up with the NFL

One of the late NFL games here in Southern California today has Las Vegas taking on Los Angeles.

Okay, now that takes some getting used to, doesn’t it? Los Angeles football has existed off and on for most of my life, so that part of the equation I can almost come to terms with. That is, until we note that the L.A. half of today’s matchup isn’t the Rams (or even the Raiders), it’s the Chargers.

And that I’ll never get used to, since the only thing cool the Chargers ever had going for them was that they played in San Diego! Even the awesome, lightning bolt logos on their helmets have lost a little luster in their move 120 miles to the north.

To further complicate things, the Raiders are part of today’s late game, fresh off a move of their own, from Oakland (where regardless of how many times they relocate, the Raiders will always belong) to Las Vegas.

If we all agree that change is the only constant in life, I suppose I should quit complaining and just get with the program. It doesn’t matter if the league will always be imprinted in my head the way it was configured back when I first figured out how to read the league standings when I was a kid.

In that world, it’s the Oilers who will always play in Houston, the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Colts in Baltimore, and the Jets on actual New York soil, not in some New Jersey swamp.

Today the Cleveland Browns are resting at home during their bye week, but we all know these aren’t the real Browns. They are sort of like that second Darrin in Bewitched that just appeared one year, sort of resembled the original Darrin, but was never quite as entertaining. There’s no Jim Brown in this zombie version of the Browns history, or even Leroy Kelly. No Brian Sipe or Bernie Kosar. Hell, we can’t even give them the unsuccessful, Cleveland version of Bill Belichick (you know, the one that showed up out of nowhere back in New England this year).

Raiders-Chargers is today’s late game on Fox, which I’m choosing to watch because if I sit through another minute of the Dallas Cowboys this season I may turn to stone. Dallas is playing Pittsburgh on CBS right now, that network’s national game that immediately followed the Ravens victory over the Colts.

Yeah, we need to take a second on Ravens-Colts, don’t we.

So the Ravens play their home games in Baltimore, right? Even won a couple of Super Bowls there. Great fans, those Baltimore die-hards. Problem is, the Colts won Super Bowl V for that same group of fans back in the early-’70’s, when they played their home games in Baltimore.

Greatest Game Ever Played? Alan Ameche? Artie Donovan? Gino Marchetti? John Mackey? You could make a case that right up until Bob Irsay snuck them off into the Baltimore night, the Colts were the most storied NFL franchise east of Green Bay.

We’ve experienced an entire era of Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (those Colts delivered a second Super Bowl title to the Indy fans, too), but when we think Colts, we’ll never stop envisioning Johnny Unitas and his high-topped cleats, jogging back onto a muddy field while pulling that badass helmet with the white horseshoe emblem over his crewcut. Nope, like the Chargers’ bolt, the Colts’ horseshoe has never been quite as cool when worn in Indiana.

At least the Ravens and Colts have established some winning traditions and identities in their new homes. Not so when we turn our attention to the abomination that is Houston/Tennessee.

The Houston football team isn’t supposed to have some knockoff Patriots emblem on their helmet, it should be an oil rig about to spew black gold and Texas Tea (oops, sorry for the Beverly Hillbillies reference), while Dan Pastorini throws another interception killing a drive. It’s Earl Campbell running over some cringing free safety. Give me Bum Phillips, Curly Culp and Warren Moon, not whatever Houston football is known for today (okay, we must admit, today’s Houston edition has put together quite a reputation for spitting the bit when the playoffs roll around, especially when playing in front of their home fans).

But for those of us paying attention, we know that the Oilers aren’t dead, they just play their home games in Tennessee now (where, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the Beverly Hillbillies set sail from after Ole Jed became a millionaire). There, as the Titans, they’ve put together an unremarkable run of title-free football that might warrant more derision if we weren’t currently comparing them to the Houston Texans.

At least Tennessee did make it to one Super Bowl, where they lost to…

Enjoying their own bye week today is the “true” Los Angeles gridiron entry — the Rams. The Rams have one Super Bowl trophy to their credit, a title won over the Titans-nee-Oilers while playing their home games in St. Louis.

St. Louis? So the Rams really played there, did they? For twenty years, you say? Huh. Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, a teary Dick Vermiel, Greatest Show on Turf, and yet, if push comes to shove, I barely remember the St. Louis Rams.

In fact, the only St. Louis football I do remember with clarity, came during the misbegotten run of the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim Hart launching bombs to Mel Gray just often enough to keep things close before losing week after week to the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles as the prototype fifth wheel of the NFC East. Yeah, that’s the St. Louis football I remember, and if it were up to me (alas, it’s not) they would only play Super Bowls and college football in the desert today.

Expansion teams? In my book, there will only ever be two — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, featuring the Selmon Brothers, Lee Roy and Dewey, and the AFC West Seattle Seahawks, with that crazy lefty, Jim Zorn slinging it all over the field to Steve Largent. Until Jacksonville, Carolina, the imposter Cleveland Browns or the Houston Whatever-their-names-are win a Super Bowl, they don’t exist in my NFL.

Given all that, I’ve just talked myself into changing the channel back to the Steelers-Cowboys game. It promises to be a lopsided contest, but at least these are two franchises that offer me historic consistency. Besides, the real upside to Pittsburgh-Dallas today is that it never gets old seeing somebody whip up on the Dallas Cowboys.

Because the more things change in the NFL, the more they stay the same (just ask the winless New York Jets).

It’s Almost Next Year — Welcome to the Mets, Steve Cohen

I first became a fan of the New York Mets in 1970, too late to be a part of their Miracle run of 1969, but easily swept up by its magical aftermath that placed the Mets at the heart of the New York baseball scene.

Almost from the start, I was well aware of who the Mets owner was. Joan Payson was always visible to us Mets fans, be it riding around in a golf cart with Casey Stengel every Old Timers Day, or on the page dedicated to her every year in the Mets Yearbook. She oozed class, wealth and sophistication, even if I’m hard pressed to remember her ever saying a single word. It never occurred to five-year-old me that our owner had anything to do with the games being played on the field. She was simply our number one fan.

Fast forward fifty years and I have to admit I don’t recall ever hearing new Mets owner Steve Cohen utter a single word either. But the similarities to Mrs. Payson end there. We’ve got ourselves a new owner, folks, and this one brings with him instant credibility and enthusiasm.

Hope always springs eternal, but also now anew for Mets fans, as we welcome Mr. Cohen to the fold as our new owner. He’s already tweeting us asking for input, subtly suggesting he will be a player signing free agents, and generally allowing Mets fans to feel like big hitters (pun intended) for the first time since the days of Darryl, Doc and Davey back in the mid-’80’s.

Now there are a few realities still to be overcome for us Mets fans, most significantly that we are still the Mets. Add to that the fact that a big checkbook doesn’t guarantee results (last I checked James Dolan has plenty of money, yet take a look at the Knicks — check that, don’t look). But as the old saying goes, “money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure will pay the mortgage.”

For the past several off-seasons, like all also-ran fans, we would experience optimism, but it was the type where we had to hope absolutely everything went right in the coming season, and then pray for a healthy dose of luck on top of that. Put all that together, and the Mets might contend.

Such an unlikely formula even managed to play out for the Mets back in 2015. But now? Now we have real hope, in the form of an above-average Mets nucleus returning to Queens in 2021, and deep ownership pockets ready to add some real star power, filling out our roster at a time when the rest of the league is sucking financial wind courtesy of COVID-19.

In other words, it’s finally ours to lose, Mets fans. Welcome Steve Cohen, and Let’s Go Mets!

Other random thoughts for a Sunday afternoon around the world of sports:

*For the second year in a row I’m offering a public “my bad” to the winning World Series manager. Not that Dave Roberts distinguished himself as any kind of master tactician in leading his incredibly talented Dodgers to the championship, but he was smart enough to stay out of the way. And try as Roberts did to keep the Rays in it, Kevin Cash was bound and determined to be the manager most remembered for blowing a World Series in 2020. Congrats, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers. One and done? You betcha.

*I’m overjoyed that Yankees GM Brian Cashman finally enters an offseason with a bunch of shitty decisions to preside over. Keep catcher Gary Sanchez and let his decline continue with the bat in his hand, while butchering his duties behind the plate? Or move him and run the risk of seeing Sanchez hitting 50 dingers for some team like the Reds in 2021? Overpay D.J. Lemahieu following two career years and keep him in the Bronx on a multi-year deal? Or let him move across town and be part of the Mets renaissance? Roll the dice and trade Luke Voigt, selling high and assuming he can’t repeat his career 2020 (accomplished during a 60-game season)? Or keep him and watch him hit .230 with 18 dingers and 53 RBI in 2021? Masahiro Tanaka? How many contracts will Cashman get away with giving this guy before the hurler’s partially torn elbow explodes and ends his career? And these are just the tip of the Yankees iceberg, when it comes to sticky offseason calls. Cashman is among the game’s very best, but he’s painted himself into a corner with a high payroll, brittle, feast or famine sluggers locked into the middle of the lineup, and a dearth of starting pitchers behind Gerrit Cole.

*Over to the gridiron, the NFL season feels real now, with baseball, hoops and the NHL behind us while the weather turns cold back east. Are the Steelers really as good as their 7-0 record says they are? Can we finally write off the Patriots, or is Belichick rope-a-doping us once again? Should we just hand the Lombardi Trophy to Patrick Mahomes and pencil in the Chiefs as the AFC’s Super Bowl participant into the 2030’s? Will the Seahawks be this year’s NFC West Super Bowl loser? Will 6-10 actually win the NFC East? The Packers look really good. Was lighting a fire under Aaron Rogers the real reason Green Bay drafted a QB in the first round back in April? Anyone know how the expanded playoff format works? Me either, but I know more teams get into an expanded tournament this year. Here’s hoping the season can continue uninterrupted.

*In case you missed it, they played the French Open last month. I barely woke up in time to see Rafa Nadal absolutely obliterate Novak Djokovic in the men’s final. Awww, poor Novak. Everyone picking on him, when all he ever did was ignore coronavirus protocols and party in one of the virus’s first “super-spreaders,” back in the spring, then be unapologetic about it, antagonizing many of his fellow tour pros. Then he bitches loud and long about the inconvenience of having to play the U.S. Open in New York City without the luxury of being able to dine and party and enjoy the city’s nightlife, thanks again to those party-poopers from the USTA putting protocols in place to constrain his fun while keeping players safe. Then he makes an early exit from the tournament, DQ’d after pegging a linesman with a wayward line drive struck in anger. Like I said, awwww…

*Who won the Stanley Cup? Tampa? Oh, that’s right. Wait, Tampa has a hockey team? Boy, have I been away from the ice for too long. Next thing you’ll tell me there’s NHL teams in Tennessee and the Carolinas. Wait, what?

*I’d really like to root for the Lakers as my “west coast team” again before I die. I could have loved the ’70’s version with Wilt, Baylor, Goodrich and West, if not for the fact that they were my Knicks’ arch-rivals in three separate NBA Finals that decade. I did get on board the Showtime Lakers bandwagon in the ’80’s, and took great joy in seeing Magic, Kareem and Jammin’ James get the better of the hated Celtics more often than not. But then the Lakers figured out how to steal Kobe in the draft and next thing you know Big Chief Triangle moved his front-running act to Tinsel Town. It soon became an unfair fight, with Shaq at his most dominant, and they became even more unbearable when Kobe snagged a couple of titles of his own toward the end of the decade. And now LeBron makes it impossible to conjure any affection for the purple and gold. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day LeBron clues us in on who he actually is? The guy is so busy trying to create this really cool, superstar persona, that in the end he just ends up appearing tragically lame. He was only the second-best player on this year’s Lakers title team (a fact acknowledged by nearly everyone but LBJ himself), and his insecurity over his inability to secure his place as the NBA’s GOAT was on full display during the Lakers title celebration. One second we see LeBron trying to be MJ, collapsed on the ground, overcome with emotion. We can’t help but wonder how many times he’s replayed the tape of MJ doing just that back in the ’90’s. Then we see LBJ proudly puffing on a big old cigar, Michael Jordan-style. Hell, how did he not think to stick out his tongue on a soaring dunk and then smile and shrug his shoulders at the TV cameras on his way back up the court? And just when the MJ impersonation was running out of juice, there he was invoking Kobe as his spiritual blood brother and partner in the Lakers championship legacy. He practically pleaded for us to understand that as beloved as Kobe was throughout the NBA, we must recognize that LeBron was always Kobe’s one and only BFF. As sad as all those public insecurities on display come across, they pale in comparison to his lame attempts at positioning himself as the NBA’s champion of social justice. Unless by “champion” he’s referring to hiding in the shadows, silent and non-committal, until a lesser known player is lauded for courageous and thoughtful commentary on an important issue in the news. Only then does LeBron emerge, deftly paraphrasing the comments as his own, on his way to grabbing the baton at the front of the day’s protest parade. Enough already. Your legacy as a Top 10 All Time NBA-er is secure, King James, stop trying so damn hard to be something you’re not.

*Isn’t Mike Tyson fighting Roy Jones, Jr. this month? Now that I can get excited about. Conjures up memories of Big George Foreman taking on Gerry Cooney years back, in the bout affectionately billed as The Geezers at Caesars. And yes, I bought the Pay-Per-View for that one, and I’ll be watching Iron Mike climb into the ring again later this month, too.

*Tough year for MLB Hall of Famers — Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan. I’m sure I’ve missed a few more, but what a list. Morgan spent the final years of his life in the same town as I, and I’m sorry to say we never crossed paths. Any baseball fan my age emulated that left-handed elbow pump of his back in the ’70’s. You had no choice, because Joe Morgan was bad ass. With two months to go in this God-forsaken year, I sure hope Hammerin’ Hank and the Say Hey Kid stay healthy and safe.

Why the Dodgers Won’t Win the 2020 World Series

History is vast and expansive, which is convenient when one is trying to find precedent to support a hypothesis based on hope.

Heading into the 2020 World Series, it’s difficult to build a logical case as to why the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers won’t end their three-decade-plus title drought with a win over the solid-as-a-rock Tampa Bay Rays.

This is where history helps. Because the reality is that when a seven-game series is contested between two good teams, it is typically the more talented group that comes out the winner.

Over 100 years of baseball history supports that premise — think about any of the various Yankees dynasties, from Ruth to Jeter; or those star-studded Oakland A’s squads of the mid-’70’s; or even the Big Red Machine, when they swept the pre-Reggie Yankees in 1976. Talent usually prevails.

However, “typically” and “usually” don’t mean “always,” and that’s where history comes in handy. With over one hundred Fall Classics in the books, we don’t have to look too hard to find examples of teams that came together at the right time and overcame significant talent differentials to win a championship nobody thought possible.

In fact, if we return to Los Angeles’ last World Series title back in 1988, we see a terrific historical marker. The Dodgers were far from a dominant club in ’88, but rode a wave of momentum and good luck, not to mention a dominant (near unhittable) Orel Hershiser, to earn their way into The Series.

The Dodgers had beaten an overconfident Mets team in the NLCS to advance, and waiting for them was an absolutely loaded Oakland A’s roster (think young Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley). The A’s showcased power, speed, great starting pitching and a lockdown closer. No one gave the Dodgers a chance, and when they entered the ninth inning of Game 1 down a run with Eckersley on the mound, all seemed to be going according to expectations.

Then the one-legged Kirk Gibson’s homer for the ages changed everything and the next thing you know Gibson’s sub, Mickey Hatcher (Mickey Hatcher??) was getting a hit every time he stuck his head out of the dugout. World Series MVP Hershiser did the rest, and the Dodgers won in five.

That unexpected Dodgers title was such a clear and obvious gift from the Baseball Gods, that Dodgers fans have been forced to pay the price with zero championships ever since. Has that tax from 1988 now finally been paid in full? Playing in their third World Series over the past four years, will the Dodgers finally close the deal?

Well that’s why they play the games, but before we clue you in on the upcoming outcome, we can’t resist one more historical example.

The year was 1969. A former expansion team known mostly for losing had shocked the world and advanced to the World Series, sweeping Hank Aaron’s Atlanta Braves in the first-ever NLCS to get there.

Waiting for the upstart New York Mets were the Baltimore Orioles. The O’s had no weaknesses and had won 109 regular season games. They had Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson. Boog Powell and Don Buford. They played good defense, had a respected manager in Earl Weaver, and only three years earlier had shocked the world by sweeping Sandy Koufax and the favored Dodgers to win the first World Series in franchise history.

The Mets had pitching, of course, led by wonder boy Tom Seaver, who would soon collect his first Cy Young Award, but were otherwise a collection of spare parts that had somehow caught lightning in a bottle over the summer of ’69.

The problem for the Mets, was that while pitching was clearly their greatest strength, the Orioles had arms, too. Mike Cuellar (who would outduel Seaver in Game 1 and lead everyone to believe the Mets’ bubble was about to burst), Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and a deep bullpen appeared every bit the equal of the Mets staff.

Despite no discernible advantages, the Mets rode kismet, the “different hero every night” approach (hello, Al Weis), and the left arm of Jerry Koosman to a World Series Championship in five games. “Miracle” Mets was a most appropriate moniker when we look back at the magnitude of that upset, and the Amazin’s are another example of why we should never rule out the underdog.

Which brings us to 2020.

Despite a dearth of superstars, the Rays are a most deserving American League champion. They played .667 ball during the shortened regular season, swept the Wild Card round against a “nothing to lose” Toronto team, and then outlasted the big market Goliaths from New York and Houston to get here.

One of the most fundamentally sound clubs in MLB, Tampa can hit, hit for power, take the extra base, pitch and then close you out with a deep, hard throwing pen. Manager Kevin Cash has shown he knows how to get the most out of his roster, and uses his players’ ability to play multiple positions to his advantage, making it difficult for the opposition to gameplan on any given night.

The problem for Cash and the Rays, is that every accolade we note above can also be attributed to his opponents in the Fall Classic. And then some.

The Dodgers had an even more dominant regular season than the Rays, and showed mettle in surviving a strong Padres club in the NLDS before coming back from down 3-1 in the NLCS against the Braves. There are no easy outs in the L.A. lineup, they play better defense (statistically anyway) than the Rays, and can go arm-for-arm against Tampa when stacking up both their rotation and their pen.

The Los Angeles roster is as deep as Tampa’s, and like the Rays, they have multiple players with the ability to move around the diamond effectively. Such flexibility gives Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts the potential to adapt easily to different situations as the game progresses.

While Roberts will never be confused with Gil Hodges when it comes to strategic acumen, the Dodgers gain another advantage thanks to the DH being in use every game during the 2020 series. Not having the pitcher bat negates Roberts’ penchant for poor decision-making whenever the pitcher’s spot in the batting order approaches.

We still see Roberts giving at least one game away when he mismanages his substitutions and loses the DH slot with a late double-switch, but will that be enough to swing the series in Tampa’s favor?

In a seven-game sampling, a manager throwing one game away can certainly be the difference-maker, but despite the Roberts Factor, it says here the Dodgers will rise to the occasion and bludgeon their past any managerial miscues to a couple of high scoring wins.

While L.A. has the vastly superior offense, we give the rotation edge to the Rays — Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton for two games apiece is awfully strong, even if Cash does have too quick a hook at times. Normally the team with the pitching edge gets the nod in a playoff series, but once again the Dodgers are also darn deep on the hill.

Countering with some combination of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Jose Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, even Roberts can look good cobbling together a starting rotation. That being said, the most interesting matchup to watch may be in the bullpens.

Both clubs have deep and effective pens, but the X-factor will be who has the more resilient collection of arms in reserve. These teams have been playing damn close to every night for almost a month now, and the wear and tear on relievers who aren’t used to this type of pounding is significant. This should prove to be another edge for Cash and the Rays, since we absolutely expect Roberts to go to the well one too many times with his running-on-fumes closer, Kenley Jansen.

The Rays appear to be the team of destiny here, and are the far more likable franchise, winning big despite the third-lowest payroll in all of baseball. But the Dodgers don’t just spend money, they spend it well.

Here’s hoping we get one more Game 7 before the 2020 MLB season comes to its successful conclusion, but the Rays will fall one game short of realizing their dream season when the last out is in the books.

Dodgers in 7.

A Cheater Label Doesn’t Negate Talent — MLB ALCS/NLCS Preview

If I had a Hall of Fame ballot (and I desperately want one), I would never cast a vote for Barry Bonds. Hank Aaron remains the All-Time Home Run King in my mind, and Roger Maris (asterisk and all) is the single-season champ.

Bonds and his steroids-enhanced brethren desecrated the holy land of Major League Baseball when they tainted long-standing, statistical records that color the historic tapestry of our National Pastime. And as grandiose and self-important as that last sentence may sound, I stand by it.

I’ve heard all the arguments pertaining to “greenies” (amphetamines), pre-integration stats and the like, but I still single out the Steroid Era as the one that permanently tarnished the game. With Barry Bonds as its poster child, he would never get this HOF vote.

However, that doesn’t keep me from wondering what Bonds’ career numbers would have looked like if he hadn’t gone on the juice, increased several hat sizes and packed on a hundred pounds or so of muscle. Where would Bonds sit today, when we consider the GOATs of the game, if his career had concluded with a stat line that looked something like the following:

*.319 career batting average

*.471 on base percentage

*3814 hits

*507 home runs

*812 doubles

*226 triples

*515 stolen bases

*13 gold gloves

*8 MVP’s

Of course we’ll never know, but the numbers listed above aren’t beyond imagination when you consider the trajectory of Bonds’ stats back in the early-’90’s. The guy was already a terror while clean, and when such talent was given the artificial advantage of steroids, he became other-worldly. And, with apologies to Roger Clemens, Bonds also became the most infamous cheater in the history of Major League Baseball.

Which brings us to the 2020 Houston Astros.

Trash cans in 2017. Buzzers in 2019. A universally despised franchise (at least outside of the greater-Houston city limits). Yet here they are again, folks, back in the ALCS, after backing their way into this year’s participation-trophy playoff tournament with a sub-.500 record. But a funny thing happened when the games returned to their more traditional rules and started to matter again.

We got reminded of how much talent these Astros possess, and now we get a view into just how good they really are, with no worries gnawing away at us about how they may be cheating the game in one way shape or form. And don’t think the 2019 World Series runner-ups aren’t enjoying sticking it up all of our collective asses as they march toward a date with dastardly destiny, 2020-style.

I mean, could there be a more fitting 2020 MLB champion than the team we all began the year looking forward to seeing get abused and humiliated on a nightly basis? Deserving targets of scorn and derision by fans across the country, every time they took their cheating show on the road?

In irony only imaginable through the lens that is the year 2020, the Astros have not seen a single hostile crowd yet this season. And now, to add insult to injury, they have a playoff path laid out in front of them that allows for each of their most hated critics to be lined up like ducks on the pond to be vanquished, shit on, and sneered at, as they waltz their way to another date in the World Series.

On that note, here is the SportsAttic preview of the two League Championship Series, letting you in on who to expect to show up when the 2020 World Series begins week after next, down in Arlington, Texas.

American League Championship Series

Astros versus Rays — Yeah, the cheating SOB’s are winning this one, too. It’s a real shame, too, since the Rays proved a lot to us in sending the Yankees home for the winter in such thrilling fashion. Tampa Bay is fundamentally sound, well-managed, with a deep roster and strong bullpen. Randy Arozarena looks like a star we can look forward to watching for years to come, and Tyler Glasnow is downright filthy. And as much as we offer heartfelt thank you’s to the Rays for sending the Evil Empire packing in the ALDS, the reality is that this series got a whole lot less interesting when the Yankees Aroldis Chapman served up that gopher ball last night. Sure, Rays fans will point to their league-best record during the truncated regular season, and how they extended the tech-enhanced Astros to a full five games in the ALDS a year ago — with both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander still throwing for the ‘Stros. Surely with the Rays a better club in 2020, and the Astros no longer having the advantage of knowing what pitch to expect in advance of taking their swings (not to mention missing the aforementioned Cole and Verlander), this should be all Rays, right? Not so fast. Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Gurriel… it’s a lot like Barry Bonds before the juice and the enormous head. Looking back we tend to forget just how good the talent was before the illegal advantages kicked in. And courtesy of the neutral site in San Diego, the Astros will still avoid any venom coming their way from angry fans, at least until the World Series begins. The Rays showed enough in taking out the Yanks to make us think this will be a hard fought series, but ready or not, Houston will be returning to their third Fall Classic in four years. Astros in six.

National League Championship Series

Dodgers versus Braves — Oh, that’s right, there’s another LCS this week. While temptation is practically begging us to assume Dave Roberts will manage the boys in blue out of the playoffs one round short of the World Series for what feels like the millionth time, the Braves just don’t have enough. Atlanta, featuring MVP-candidate Freddy Freeman, boasts a lineup that can flat-out mash, but so do the Dodgers. And the Dodgers are deeper and more versatile than the Braves. Yes, the L.A. bullpen looked a bit wobbly in taking down the one-year-away Padres in the NLDS, but not so much as to equalize what is their significant advantage on the mound. Will Roberts keep giving the ball in save situations to Kenley Jansen, who appears a couple seasons past his shelf life as a dominant closer? Or will he go to Joe Kelly, setting us up for some delicious revenge storylines when they move on to a 2017 rematch against the Astros in a week’s time? Figure Roberts to give at least one game away trying to ride a spent Jansen, and we should anticipate Clayton Kershaw’s annual pummeling in a big spot, but even with those two likelihoods coming their way, the Braves won’t win this series. That’s not to say that if it goes the full seven, the advantage wouldn’t swing hard in the direction of Atlanta, as the Dodgers would be forced to face the possibility of losing to an inferior foe yet again while extending their championship drought another year. But don’t worry Los Angeles fans, it won’t go seven, and the dream of following LeBron James’ parade with one of their own will remain alive for the Dodgers just a bit longer. Dodgers in six.

There you have it, baseball fans. The 2020 World Series will be contested on a neutral site between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

Play ball!