The Brooklyn Nets and the Plight of the Second-Favorites

Kyrie Irving is a coach-killing, chemistry-poisining, loud mouth. The Beard is a ball-stopping, selfish whiner, who will never take his team to the next level.

KD? Okay, it’s hard not to like Kevin Durant at least a little bit. We liked him a lot in Oklahoma City. A little less when he first arrived in Golden State. And even less than that when he landed in Brooklyn. But hey, he’s KD, so he sort of gets a pass.

So what’s a New York sports fan to do, when it comes to the New York/New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets? After all, they are my second-favorite professional basketball team.

Yes, second-favorite. I am a die-hard New York Knicks fan, which I believe after all these years makes me eligible for some sort of pension benefits through the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization… But I digress.

Because today isn’t about our favorites, it’s about the backup organizations. Those teams we feel good will toward, and will endorse with vigor come playoff time should the favorites be eliminated, but will never occupy that special place in our hearts.

For me, we are talking about MLB’s Oakland A’s, the NFL’s New York Football Giants, and the Brooklyn Nets of The Association when the topic turns to second-favorite teams.

The whole “second-favorite” category doesn’t get much ink these days, left forgotten on the playgrounds of decades past. However, second-favorite was a critically important distinction growing up, when a cool jersey or unexpected playoff run might cause us to blurt out something along the lines of “oh yeah, well, the Steelers are my second-favorite team…” when the legitimacy of our newfound fandom was called into question.

With the Nets most certainly title-contenders this season, I’m having a hard time reconciling my feelings about this team, and whether I can stomach myself rooting for them come playoff time. I’ve always abided by the adage that you root “for the jersey” first and foremost, but even the Brooklyn Nets jersey doesn’t feel like anything I grew up with. I mean, come on — splash of color, anyone?

The Nets are an easy franchise for me, one where my feelings developed organically. Growing up in New Jersey in the early-’70’s, when it came to pro basketball, I rooted for the Knicks in the NBA, and the Nets in the ABA. End of story. When the NBA-ABA merger came along and the Nets moved to New Jersey, they slid easily into the two-hole when it came to my hoops passions, and it was never close (even though by then the Knicks had also fallen on hard times), with Doctor J having been sold to Philly and the Nets trotting out the likes of Bubbles Hawkins, Al Skinner and Wilson Washington on their early NBA rosters.

Occasionally they’d catch lightning in a bottle — like in ’84 when they upset the defending champion Sixers (and Doctor J), in the first round of the playoffs. Or during the Derrick “Whoop de dam do” Coleman/Kenny Anderson/Drazen Petrovic years. There was even the out-of-nowhere, conference championship run of the early-2000’s behind the brilliance of Jason Kidd.

And if the occasional surprise of outstanding play wasn’t enough, there was the whole New Jersey thing. Let’s face it, the state of New Jersey catches a lot of shit, so as a proud resident of the Garden State, it didn’t take much for me to rally behind the locals whenever they mounted any sort of competitive squad.

Then they moved. First to the Prudential Center in Newark, and then over to Brooklyn, adopting the black-and-white uniforms and trying a ham-handed attempt at buying a title with the ill-fated trade for the washed up threesome of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. That disastrous trade was only the most recent instance where poor decisions crippled the core of the Nets franchise, and you couldn’t help but wonder if they’d ever recover.

Yet here they are now. An incredibly wealthy owner making anything possible in the area of superstar acquisition, and a front office that seems to get the joke, benefitting from San Antonio Spurs bloodlines and what feels like (up until recently anyway) a sincere desire to build a winning culture from the ground up.

But then the opportunity to swoop in and create an unbeatable Big Three presented itself, and that same Nets front office threw caution to the wind and once again mortgaged the future in an attempt to bag an NBA title. This year.

Which brings me back to the issue at hand. How do I feel about getting on the Brooklyn bandwagon? The heart test landed in the “root for the jersey” camp. Meaning, whenever I tune in to a Nets game on ESPN or TNT, I find myself pulling for them. So there’s that.

I still can’t stomach Kyrie, but grudgingly marvel at the scope of his jaw-dropping skills. And I can’t help but be impressed by what appears to be a team-first approach coming from James Harden, as he integrates his game into the world of the other two superstars. I’ve always liked Coach Steve Nash, although I find it comical that these Nets approach defense so similarly to how Nash himself played it when he was in the league. And of course there’s KD, who is worth watching any chance we can get, holding our collective breath every time his brittle body hits the hardwood.

The role players? Meh. DeAndre Jordan serves a purpose, and I do appreciate his workmanlike, no nonsense approach. Joe Harris? You need a guy like Harris if you are serious about winning a title. But my two favorite Nets coming into the year, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, were both jettisoned in the Harden trade, and the other guy I liked pre-Corona — Spencer Dinwiddie — is out for the season.

So it’s really a matter of can I ride with the Big Three once the Knicks are eliminated. The answer to that question may lie in the competition that lies between the Nets and their long sought after NBA championship.

In the East it is pretty straight forward. I’ll never root for the Celtics, and I think the 76ers’ Big Two are overrated front-runners, so score those easy wins for the Nets bandwagon. The Bucks? Milwaukee? Really? Yeah, give me KD and the other guys.

In the West, the Lakers at one time could have laid claim to the title of my second-favorite team. I annually rooted hard for them in the ’80’s to take down Larry Bird and the hated Celtics. But I can’t bring myself to root for a LeBron-led team that was gift-wrapped an O’Brien Trophy just a few months back during that farcical, bubble playoff format.

What about the Clippers? I do like Kawhi, but the Clips are kind of like a poor man’s Nets, in that they, too, were a hapless laughingstock that relocated multiple times, and has now evolved into a talented contender. But I have no history there, despite the proximity to my current home, so it is still the Nets. Utah? Denver? Nope. Nope.

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers would be tough to root against in a series with Brooklyn, except for one fatal flaw — Carmelo Anthony calls the Rose City home these days. Next.

Yup, the Nets remain secure as my second-favorite. I’ll root them on as though Doctor J, Buck Williams, Kenyon Martin and Super John Williamson were still wearing those red, white and blue jerseys, lighting it up out on the Island, or in the swamp at Brendan Byrne Arena.

Second-favorite? Hell yeah. Game on.

And the MVP of Super Bowl LV is…John Elway?

On one side of the field we have the defending NFL champions, led by their young, dynamic, Uber-talented, superstar QB. A gunslinger who completes passes from every arm angle imaginable, sometimes even with his left hand.

The Super Bowl champs are coached by the stereotypical football lifer — heavyset, ruddy cheeks, a prolific mustache. The coach had pushed all the right buttons a season earlier in delivering a Super Bowl title to his football-crazed city for the first time since the early days of the NFL-AFL merger.

The reigning NFL title-holders have advanced within one game of repeating as champions while barely breaking a sweat, winning their two playoff games by nearly 30 points combined. They are immediately installed as the favorites.

On the other side of the ball we have a Wild Card team. One that had to win three road games just to get here. They are led by an aging QB destined for the Hall of Fame one day, who already boasts multiple Super Bowl appearances on his resume.

Sound familiar?

Yes, we are talking about Super Bowl XXXII, played on January the 25th of 1998, following the 1997 NFL season. The Green Bay Packers, coached by Mike Holmgren and led by young Brett Favre, had gone 13-3 in defense of their Super Bowl XXXI title won a year before. It was unimaginable that they could lose to a clearly over-matched opponent.

Especially this opponent. The Denver Broncos. Yes, football fans were going to be subjected to having to watch the Broncos take another old-fashioned ass-whupping on yet another Super Bowl Sunday.

A drubbing like the one back in ’87, when the Giants had pummeled them 39-20. Or the following year, when it was the Redskins turn to take a bat to the Denver piƱata, 42-10. Or two seasons after that, when the 49ers just refused to stop scoring, stomping on the Broncos 55-10.

Question: How many Denver Broncos does it take to change a flat tire? Answer: One. But if it’s a blowout, the whole team shows up. That was the narrative that accompanied the Denver Broncos and John Elway to San Diego back in ’98, as they traveled west for Super Bowl XXXII.

When the Packers took the field that afternoon as 11-point favorites, the only question being debated across the nation was how much of a bloodbath would this one turn out to be. Then a funny thing happened — they played the game.

And there we were, tied at 17 with a couple of minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Broncos and their punching bag of a QB, with that mouth full of horse teeth that always seemed to form a smile despite his constant failings in the biggest of moments, had the ball on the Green Bay 12, staring down a third-and-six.

John Elway dropped back to pass, and finding no one open, tucked the pigskin and took off running on his 37-year-old legs. As he neared the first down marker he launched himself airborne, determined not to fall short of the most important first down of his Hall of Fame career. Three Green Bay defenders converged and took the old QB’s legs right out from under him, sending Elway into the classic “helicopter spin” descent. When Elway landed with a thud on the San Diego turf, the Broncos had first and goal from the Packers four-yard-line.

Two plays later Terrell Davis punched it in from the one, and the inspired Broncos never looked back.

Never before or since has one play so singularly rewritten the script of a player or a franchise. Elway would even return the following year and lead his Broncos to a second consecutive Super Bowl win, easily thumping the Atlanta Falcons, before riding off into the sunset, heading for a future selling cars and making foolish statements from his post in the Denver front office.

Fast forward now to this upcoming Sunday, and a game many of us fans are finding difficult to handicap. Our answer lies twenty-three years ago, alongside an old quarterback with unfinished business, who’d just helicoptered to the turf.

With the image of that old warrior moving the chains fresh in our minds, SportsAttic brings you with absolute certainty, the winning prediction for Super Bowl LV:

Buccaneers (+3) over the Chiefs — True, Tom Brady carries a very different legacy into this one than John Elway did 23 years ago, but the chip on the GOAT’s shoulder is visible all the way from Foxboro. Logic defies here, because if one is applying logic, it is difficult not to end up concluding that the Chiefs won’t just win this game, but will win it big. Patrick Mahomes is that good. And he’s back with a clear head and two healthy feet. He has weapons that just keep coming at you, and he established in Kansas City’s Week 12 win over Brady and the Bucs that he relishes lining up across from that Tampa Bay secondary. All Mahomes did in that prior matchup was throw for 462 yards and three TD’s, with zero picks. Tyreke Hill racked up 269 of those yards and all three scores on the receiving end of things in that one. And it is hard to imagine, after witnessing Hill play at a speed a couple of gears beyond anyone on the Buffalo defense two weeks back, that the Bucs will have a sufficient answer for him this time around. Or an answer for Travis Kelce for that matter. Or Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Or, or, or… Two weeks ago we put out there that the only way Brady and the Bucs stood a chance at upsetting the Packers was by playing the perfect game. And then Brady went out and threw three picks. And won. They’ll need to be more perfect this Sunday, and it is fair to conclude that it is highly unlikely Tampa can survive another three-pick outing from The GOAT. But the Buccaneers do other things well, too, that will wear down Kansas City. In Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, they have powerful backs that can eat up the clock and keep Mahomes and that scary, quick-strike K.C. offense off the field. On the defensive side of the ball, Tampa Bay boasts the league’s fourth-best pass rush, featuring Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquille Barrett. The Bucs need those two to spend considerable time in the Chiefs backfield for Tampa to have a chance. In fact, the X-factor in this one may end up being whether the Bucs defense can continuously have Patrick Mahomes fleeing the pocket, uncomfortable and threatened. Accomplish that and things can remain close as the game moves into the fourth quarter. Give Mahomes time to find his weapons, and… In other words, the Buccaneer defensive line needs to do to Mahomes what Buffalo could not — put him on the ground over and over again. Ironically, the Tampa Bay D needs to execute on the exact formula the Giants used to knock off Brady and his Patriots in Supes XLII and XLVI. Also ironically, like Elway twenty-three years ago and Eli Manning more recently, Brady is the other quarterback in Super LV. The guess here is that TB12 uses that second-billing for motivation. And being opposed by the reigning Super Bowl MVP? You think Brady doesn’t consider that trophy his personal property at this point in his career? You bet he plans to take it back. So throw away the Week 12 result, folks. Because this one is all about legacy — either burgeoning or last chapter — and for Super Bowl LV, take the QB who already owns six rings. And here’s hoping we get a helicopter moment from him before it’s all over. (Buccaneers, 34-30)

Sad Times for the Baseball Hall of Fame

It’s official! No new inductees this year into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

That piece of good news will fittingly leave this summer’s induction ceremony to Derek Jeter (and some guy from Canada that played for Colorado, I think…) as we begin to restore order to the world of sports following the havoc wrought by the Coronavirus.

The news that no new inductees will be added to The Hall is welcome here at SportsAttic (and not just because our wannabe ballot submitted months back included ZERO names, although we do love nothing more than being vindicated), where annually we rail against those voters who insist on watering down the hallowed HOF by sending in the maximum ten names allowed come hell or high water (hello, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post).

Sitting here in January of 2021, it feels absolutely right that we move away from squabbles over Curt Schilling, and whether an abominable human being should or shouldn’t be enshrined. No more fighting over the desecration of the record books at the hands of the steroid cheats, and whether such scumbaggery should be overlooked in the interest of getting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens their oversized bronze busts.

Because times are tough in Cooperstown these days, and if there were flags at The Hall, they’d be flying at half mast.

Over the course of the last year, the baseball Hall of Fame has bid adieu to nine members of fine standing. Superstars that those of us of a certain age grew up idolizing. A critical part of the fabric that weaved together a lifetime of passion for bats and balls, green grass, and the smack of horsehide on leather. Passion that runs deep to this day, as evidenced by how seriously many of us baseball fans take things such as Hall of Fame vote counts.

So today we take advantage of this lull in ballot vitriol to pay tribute to those Hall of Fame heroes who’ve passed on since the beginning of 2020.

Be warned, for this is a personal journey through some of my own fondest memories, because that’s really what the Hall of Fame represents to baseball fans. Memories of a time more innocent and less complicated. When we lived and died by the standings, arguing fervently over who would be appearing on Kiner’s Korner that night, laser focused on reciting numbers from the backs of small pieces of cardboard, as though such factoids would forever remain the most critical pieces of information known to man.

Let’s join hands in a moment of silence for:

Henry Aaron — This most recent departure of the man who will always be my true Home Run King, may have cut deepest. Hank Aaron transcended the baseball diamond, his talent, achievement and ability to rise above hate and racism setting an aspirational example for how the world might one day be approached by us all. I was eight years old and living in a suburb of Los Angeles the day Aaron vaulted beyond the immortal Babe Ruth’s 714 round-trippers. Lefty Al Downing* was on the mound for L.A. (Downing also happens to be the answer to one of my favorite baseball trivia questions — see below). Cue to the familiar wrist snap of Hank’s smooth, righty swing. No need back then for the all-or-nothing uppercut so prevalent today, to say nothing of exit velocities, thank you very much. And there was Billy Buckner (who 12 seasons later would deliver the greatest moment of my baseball fan life) scaling the wall in left to no avail. Those two fans running up alongside Aaron as he rounded second, momentarily scaring the heck out of a nation, until we realized they were just there to celebrate like the rest of us, albeit a lot more recklessly. Hank telling us he was just glad it was over after he’d crossed the plate with history on his shoulders. The story of all he endured as he approached Ruth’s record is even more poignant today, and his death last week gave Henry Aaron one more opportunity to send a message to the world about what true class and dignity looks like, at a time when we all could use just such a refresher.

Lou Brock — Nothing against Rickey Henderson, who is also a most deserving Hall of Famer, but because of the time in my life when Lou Brock took his leads off of first base, he remains, in my mind anyway, the greatest base stealer of them all. Back in the summer of 1974, when Brock obliterated Maury Wills’ MLB record with his 118 thefts, it seemed unfathomable to me that such a preposterous total could ever be bested. Brock was the real deal beyond just the base paths, too. He could field, hit, and hit for power, and to this day I’m stunned when his name is occasionally raised as someone undeserving of being in The Hall. In addition to staggering all-time stats, hundreds of stolen bases, and 3000-hit club membership, Brock also contributes to wonderful baseball lore every time the topic of most lopsided baseball trades of all time comes up (Ernie Broglio, kids). Plus, he was the catalyst for two World Series winners, and was a mentor to young Keith Hernandez. Nuff said.

Whitey Ford — In my humble opinion, the two greatest baseball teams of all time were the 1927 Yankees, followed by the 1961 Yankees. And it’a s close one. Mantle and Maris get most of the attention as history looks back on that ’61 team, but somebody had to pitch, too. Enter the Chairman of the Board. Take a look at Whitey Ford’s stats in support of the M&M Boys that season. He went 25-4 and led the league in innings pitched, starting 39 games for the champs. He was the Bombers undisputed ace for nearly two decades, taking the ball in eleven World Series. Unreal. But by the time I came along, none of that mattered. Because Whitey was the guy on the mound every year for Old Timers Day in the Bronx. Usually opposed by Satchel Paige and a squad made up of opposing old time stars, my memory is of Whitey still looking free and easy grooving batting practice heaters with that huge smile on his face. And he always took home the “W” in those Old Timers Day matchups, too, often supported by a homer from his old drinking buddy, The Mick.

Bob Gibson — As a Mets fan who started paying attention to baseball in the early-’70’s, Bob Gibson was the enemy, but an enemy who earned our respect and fear with his talent and dogged competitiveness. Somehow, my most vivid Gibson memory from all those days ago was a commercial spot he did about treating asthma. The idea that this giant of the diamond suffered from asthma and had to take medication for it, somehow made him more human and the game more approachable to me. An indelible imprint that highlights the power of advertising, and it remains with me to this day. And if the asthma story isn’t enough, then just spend a little time thinking about that 1.12 ERA in 1968. And while you’re at it, please tell me how Gibson actually managed to lose nine games that year?

Al Kaline — Mr. Tiger only made the playoffs once while I was watching back in the ’70’s, when Detroit lost in the ALCS to the A’s in 1972. It was a close, three games to two series (Kaline looked like he’d be the hero in Game 1, homering off Rollie Fingers in the top of the 11th to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead, only to see the A’s come back with two in the bottom half of the inning to pull out the win) that kick-started the Oakland dynasty. But two things always stood out for me most about Kaline’s career — first, how the back of his baseball card always reminded us Al went directly to the big leagues at the age of 18, with no stop in the minors. And second, that Kaline’s final base hit was his 3000th. For those of us who admire excellence in perfect symmetry, that was Kaline.

Joe Morgan — Simply put, Joe Morgan was the best all-around player I remember watching during those mid-’70’s years of his prime, especially during his back-to-back MVP seasons of 1975 and 1976. He literally did it all amidst that star-studded Big Red Machine lineup — hitting for average, hitting for power, stealing bases, drawing walks — but mostly it is the arm pump I harken back to, flapping away in eager anticipation while he waited for the pitcher to deliver. It is an indisputable fact that every kid my age found him or herself emulating that lefty pump at one time or another in the street or at the schoolyard, timing the opposing pitcher and considering themselves super cool, during the growing up years of the ’70’s.

Phil Niekro — The first time I saw a knuckleballer it was without question the coolest thing I’d ever seen on a baseball field. Phil Niekro of the Braves had just handcuffed my Mets and piqued my curiosity in the process. Other than one pitch that spun and John Milner deposited into the right field seats, the Mets had no chance. The knuckleball seemed almost unfair, as I watched my blue and orange clad favorites flail away in futility. Adding to my wonder was the pitcher’s unique last name that seven-year-old me found hysterical, and that in the day of blazing fastballs from Seaver and Gibson, Niekro’s knuckler just kind of floated up there. It was an unhittable pitch that, despite countless hours of practice in the backyard, I was never able to master. Unbelievably, Niekro even had a brother in the bigs, and Joe threw the knuckleball as well (slightly less effectively than big brother Phil). It was nearly too much to fathom. Thanks for the awesome memories, Knucksie.

Tom Seaver — Only the greatest to ever don the blue and orange, singularly responsible for lifting an entire franchise from laughingstocks to champions. Tom Terrific. The Franchise. Number 41. Tom and Nancy. Seaver and Koosman. Seaver versus Gibson. Or Jenkins. Or Carlton. Or Marichal.

Don Sutton — Or Sutton. Don Sutton played for a host of teams before hanging up his spikes after an incredible, 23-year career that boasted both consistency and excellence. But for me, Sutton will always be the ace of the 1970’s Los Angeles Dodgers. He was on the hill the first time I attended a game at Dodger Stadium back in 1973, and in addition to the quality start that was pretty much a standard his entire career, I remember Sutton stroking three consecutive singles up the middle, prompting my mom to suggest that perhaps the Astros should counter by stationing a fielder directly on second base (a precursor to today’s shift? Well played, mom!). Most miraculously, though, is that Sutton never took a trip to the disabled list his entire career! No missed starts? Are you kidding me? They don’t make them like Don Sutton anymore.

Superstars and deserving Hall of Famers all. And a reminder to present-day Hall of Fame voters why standards need to be upheld and admission to Cooperstown should be allowed only for the elite — those that transcend the game itself.

They will be missed.

*Name the player on the field when both of Babe Ruth’s home run records were broken?

NFL Conference Championships — Luck of the Quarterback Draw

Whoever it was that first said “I’d rather be lucky than good,” must have had the National Football League in mind.

The NFL is a league that frequently finds ways to exasperate its fans. “No end zone celebrations whatsoever or lose 15 yards,” becomes “end zone celebrations are not only allowed, but encouraged” (especially if they are choreographed ahead of time — oy vey!).

“Is it or isn’t it a catch? Did he break the plane? No kneeling! Wait — kneeling is actually valued and respected. But don’t even think about touching the quarterback.”

We see more flags for pass interference than completions on throws beyond twenty yards. Yeah, if you let it, the NFL can drive you crazy.

But despite all of the paper cuts administered by the No Fun League on a weekly basis, we keep coming back. Because football is easily the most TV-friendly of all the sports we fans choose to entertain ourselves with, and the once a week format allows for buildup, hype and anticipation guaranteed to make even the most staid of observers froth at the mouth as kickoff approaches on any given Sunday.

And at no time is that kind of unabashed anticipation more palpable than during the month-long run-up to the Super Bowl, when the “tournament” plays out. Multiple games of consequence on consecutive weekends, culminating in a two-week celebration of Roman Numerals on the first Sunday of February. Heck, we even look forward to the commercials.

Cool as all that may be, there are some years when the NFL’s good fortune just goes…beyond. And here, in January of 2021, the NFL finds themselves face to face with one of those “beyond” weekends. Think about it.

They get an AFC Championship game that features a couple of superstar QB’s on the rise, who represent all that is bright about the league’s future. For only the second time ever, it’s a conference championship featuring two quarterbacks both 25 or younger (the first such matchup was all the way back in ’79, when Vince Ferragamo and the Rams bested Doug Williams and the Buccaneers), one already a Super Bowl MVP, and the other a contender for league MVP honors this season. Chiefs-Bills on Sunday afternoon is appointment-TV for any fan of the gridiron worth his or her salt.

And as if that afternoon matchup featuring Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen wasn’t enough good fortune, the league actually tops it with their Sunday opener, when two NFL Mount Rushmore icons square off on the legendary frozen tundra of Title Town, USA!

I mean, how lucky must the NFL be to have their cards fall in such a way that a conference championship game between future Hall of Fame QB’s Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the hallowed, rock hard grounds of Lambeau Field isn’t even the feature game this Sunday?

Yes, the 2020 NFL season is crescendoing at the perfect moment, putting a positive exclamation point on what’s been a remarkable year in the league’s history. The NFL not only successfully navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and completed a regular season without crippling interruptions, but they even brought us an expanded Wild Card round that gave fans more playoff football to enjoy. And now the NFL selects its Super Bowl participants with two evenly-matched, appropriately-hyped conference championship games pitting the game’s greatest current quarterbacks, young and old, against one another.

SportsAttic emphatically quotes the great Bart Scott, when we say, “Can’t wait!” (Home team in ALL CAPS as always)

PACKERS (-3.5) over the Buccaneers — And so the ride ends for Tom Brady and the Bucs, amidst a snowstorm and freezing temperatures in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The problem for Brady and Tampa Bay is that they are simply overmatched in this one. They’ve ridden Brady’s magic coattails as far as they could, but now they face an opponent that appears stronger in every category. For Tampa Bay to have a chance, they need to play the perfect game. Could it happen? Sure. Brady needs to recreate the Tommy/Gronk chemistry of ten years ago, the defense needs to score points, the offense needs to eat clock and win the battle of the line of scrimmage, and they can’t make any mistakes on either side of the ball. Easy enough, right? The Bucs’ D scored more points than any other team in the league this year, so maybe they catch lightning in a bottle there? Maybe? Brady hasn’t thrown an interception on the road since Week One, an astounding NFL-record streak of 368 passes with no picks. Does he have one more week of flawless accuracy in his right arm? Maybe? The Bucs do have legit horses in the backfield, with Leonard “I hate cold weather” Fournette and Ronald Jones, and apply pressure on the opposing QB better than most. But more than anything, the Bucs rely on Brady to work his wonders. In fact, we may as well refer to Tampa Bay as the Bradys here in 2020/2021, rather than the Buccaneers, because that’s how the world has viewed the franchise this season. However, the guy that will be calling the signals for the home team on Sunday is the far better quarterback right now. Aaron Rodgers became just the sixth QB to pass for 50 touchdowns in a single season this year, and is rolling toward his second league MVP award once the playoffs conclude. Rodgers throws to arguably the league’s best wide receiver in Davante Adams, and look for that duo to hook up for at least two more scores on Sunday. The Pack boasts all kinds of fresh legs at running back that will pound away on the Bucs out of the backfield, and the Green Bay defense will continue to be “good enough.” Tampa has the veteran weapons to hang around for a half, maybe even into the fourth quarter, but in the end look for Brady’s streak of passes without an INT on the road to end, and for the Packers to finally get over the hump and advance back to another Super Bowl. (Packers, 37-27).

Bills (+3) over the CHIEFS — This is a pick based on the assumption that Patrick Mahomes will be off his game just enough for the Bills to come away victorious. That is a big if, of course, but it is difficult for us to imagine that the concussion shot Mahomes took a week ago has completely cleared. Yes, we know the NFL has cleared Mahomes through the league’s concussion protocol, and who are we to question the motivations behind the NFL wanting their poster child back on the field — at all costs? So here comes Mahomes, clear head or not, taking on the D that rendered Lamar Jackson ineffective and ultimately incapacitated a week ago. And then there’s the matter of Mahomes’ bad toe. Don’t think for a second that the bad toe didn’t play into the hit that ultimately KO’d the QB last weekend against Cleveland. Mahomes may not be Lamar Jackson when it comes to the ground game, but his speed is a key ingredient of his greatness, and if he is giving up just half a step favoring the toe on Sunday, it makes him an easier target for the fast and aggressive Buffalo front seven. It says here that Mahomes is watching the end of this one from the home team locker room, while Chad Henne takes the final snaps and K.C. fans ponder what might have been. It won’t help the Chiefs’ cause that Clyde Edwards-Helaire is also less than a hundred percent, as is his backup, Le’Veon Bell. All of which leaves a crack in the door for the team we’ve watched grow and improve week after week this season into an AFC power — the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen showed us something with his performance against the tough Baltimore defense a week ago, and appears poised to take his position as Mahomes’ foil for the next decade or so (the Peyton Manning to Mahomes’ Tom Brady, anyone?). Buffalo is banged up, too, especially at wide receiver, so Allen will need to step up big time if Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley (both on the Bills injured list this week) can’t find separation against a solid Chiefs secondary. This one is an instinct call — taking the team riding the bigger wave of momentum, with the healthier QB, and the better defense. None of that will matter if Mahomes is Mahomes for sixty minutes, but it says here that won’t happen. And ultimately this one ends with the Chiefs hope for a repeat dashed. (Bills, 31-30).

There you have it — Super Bowl LV on Sunday, February 7th down in Tampa — the Green Bay Packers against the Buffalo Bills.

Can’t wait!

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.