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Presenting the 857,224th edition of 2016 NFL Wild Card playoff predictions on the Internet

January 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Because why try something original when you can play it safe and copy everyone else, right?

Let’s go through this weekend’s games and see what I think. Even I don’t know.


AFC WILD CARD


Chiefs @ Texans

The Chiefs won this matchup, 27-20, back in Week 1. As if that means something, because it totally does not. Kansas City’s last loss came before the World Series. Both of these squads have strong defenses, but the Texans don’t have the personnel, especially in their backfield, to outscore a Chiefs offense that has been steamrolling opponents without Jamaal Charles; they’ve held a 14-point average margin of victory during their 10-game winning streak. That train doesn’t stop here. Chiefs win, 24-17.

Steelers @ Bengals 

I think this is the toughest call of the weekend. The absence of DeAngelo Williams is a bigger deal than perhaps most people realize; who knows what Pittsburgh will get out of Fitz Toussaint or Jordan Todman? And the Bengals have the corners — and the defense overall — to trouble a one-dimensional attack. However, a seemingly indomitable Antonio Brown, a now-motivated Martavis Bryant and a blossoming Markus Wheaton are a very, very tall order for any D. Ben Roethlisberger has shredded the Bengals at their place in recent meetings, and I think he will do it again. He has to if the Steelers have any shot. A.J McCarron, like Andy Dalton, can’t give Cincinnati its first playoff victory since 1990. Steelers win, 26-21. 

revenant-leo

I’ll probably ditch the Seahawks-Vikings game Sunday to go watch Leo’s latest plea for an Oscar.


NFC WILD CARD


Seahawks @ Vikings

It’s Oscar season, and I am way behind on my cinema. So I’ll most likely sacrifice watching this game to go to the movies. What Seattle’s passing game has done without Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch* (and WITH Doug Baldwin) is captivating. But this one could turn unwatchable quickly. The only entertainment in the second half may come via NBC’s cameras scouring the crowd to give us shots of drunk dudes going shirtless with the wind chill at minus-20. The deep freeze will probably modify the scoring a little bit. Seahawks win, 23-10. 

*While typing this up, I found out that Lynch won’t be available for this game. A surprise for sure, but not one that should change anyone’s opinion on this game. Lynch didn’t play when the Seahawks went up to Minnesota just a month ago and demolished the Vikings, 38-7.

Packers @ Redskins 

I’m sure that I am setting myself up for failure here because it’s unlikely that visiting teams will go 4-0 this weekend. But I just can’t. I mean … Kirk Cousins over Aaron Rodgers?? I just … no, I can’t. I’ve seen the play of both men and their teams of late, but it feels wrong.  It sends a cold shiver down my spine. For all of the problems that Green Bay has along its offensive line, with its running backs and receivers, in its defensive secondary without Sam Shields, I just can’t. For no reason other than Aaron freaking Rodgers. My least confident pick of this round. Packers win, 16-14.

Hasty NFL head coach firings shouldn’t surprise us any longer

January 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Lovie Smith“This is the NFL , which stands for Not For Long …” — Jerry Glanville

“Just win, baby!” — Al Davis

Those realities intersected yet again Wednesday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith after just two seasons on the job.

The news came as a shock to many, following a season in which the Bucs improved their record by four games, and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston showed legitimate promise. Why not give Smith more time to build upon that amelioration? Why shun continuity and force your No. 1 overall draft pick QB to work with his second head coach in as many pro campaigns?

On Thursday, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht presented a pretty clear and simple answer to those questions, and it has everything to do with winning.

“When you have eight wins, and three home wins, in two years, you’ve been patient enough,” he said.

In today’s NFL, job security for head coaches belongs in the same category with Loch Ness folklore. Of the eight new hires in 2011, only two men — Jason Garrett and Ron Rivera  — still hold their post. Pat Shurmur (Browns) was out in two seasons while Hue Jackson (Raiders) didn’t last more than one.

Five of the seven coaches of the 2012 class have been booted. The two that remain — MIke McCoy and Gus Bradley — are definitely on the hot seat entering 2016. Romeo Crennel (Chiefs), Greg Schiano (Bucs) and Mike Mularkey (Jaguars) never made it past year two. Crennel and Mularkey were granted only one full season.

2013, more of the same. Rob Chudzinski (Browns) gets pink-slipped after one year, and Marc Trestman (Bears) is gone following his second. In some #BizarroNFL stuff, Chip Kelly held the Eagles’ gig for three seasons … and I was shocked that he didn’t stay longer.

With Smith’s dismissal Wednesday, the entire 2014 crop of fresh head coaches has officially dissolved. Ken Whisenhunt (Titans) and Mike Pettine (Browns, yet again) are also currently unemployed. And the 2015 class of six has already lost one member: Jim Tomsula (49ers).

It should come as no surprise that all but one of those teams in parentheses has missed the playoffs during this five-year period of turnover — that’s why they were fired in the first place, right? Thanks to Andy Reid, who followed Crennel, only the Chiefs have played meaningful games into January.

Now, you could blame each franchise’s lack of postseason qualifications on bad coaching and that moves were to made to rectify that in short order. You may be right.

I’d argue that these teams are floundering as a result of the quick hooks. No other sport stresses teamwork, togetherness, family more than American football. It’s a brotherhood, they say. NFL coaches use so many war metaphors such as being in a foxhole and accomplishing a mission, you’d imagine that maintaining a tight unit with a stable locker room general is integral to success.

But brotherhood be dammed; how many games did you win this year? That is truly the only thing that matters in this climate. Hell, winning games won’t even save your job. John Fox got fired by the Broncos following a 12-4 season in 2014.

It’s actually all about lifting that Lombardi Trophy. Of course, that’s what every team strives for, but a select few have the current roster and coaching to obtain such a prize. However, that doesn’t stop the delusions of grandeur from basically ever owner in the NFL. Just look at this exchange from earlier this week between 49ers CEO Jed York and a reporter asking about the team’s head coaching search:

“Are you in need of somebody who you’re comfortable with, who makes you feel good when you’re in a room with them?” York was asked.

“We’re in need of somebody that can win Super Bowls,” York said.

“So, personality doesn’t matter?”

“We’re in need of somebody that can win Super Bowls.”

Every team wants to win the Super Bowl, but only one of 32 can actually do it each season. That’s kind of a rule. And the 49ers right now are probably 29th among the league’s best bets to be playing in Super Bowl LI (Hey there, Blaine Gabbert!).

I’d rather root for a team with executives who really care about winning rather than one with people who care about only the bottom line. But holding an incoming head coach to such a ridiculous standard without having a sense of your on-field talent (or lack thereof) can’t possibly make such an opportunity seem appetizing.

So, a word of warning to all of those men currently considering the vacancies in Tampa Bay, San Fran, Tennessee, New York, Philadelphia, Miami or especially Cleveland: choose wisely.

Know that your plan and vision will need to work and work immediately, no matter the hand the you’re dealt on the field. It’s Super Bowl or bust, buddy. Otherwise, odds are the only thing you will have added by 2018 is another line on your resume.

2016 Baseball Hall of Fame election: A great day for Griffey Jr., Piazza and many others

January 7, 2016 Leave a comment

 

109347Going into Wednesday, I held out hope that we might see a quartet of players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for the second straight year. Two players did get in — obvious choices in Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza — but the day’s results brought good news for not only them but for a bunch of players who hope to join them in Cooperstown at some point in the near future.

Griffey Jr. fell just three votes shy of becoming the Hall’s first-ever unanimous inductee. At first, I really wanted to know which three dummies left Junior off of their ballot, but finding such an answer isn’t important. It will be remembered that Griffey Jr., the Player of the ’90s, registered the highest voting percentage in Hall history: 99.32. The abstaining 0.68 percent will live on only in the form of a sports bar trivia question. And that’s a stretch.

As long as you get elected into the Hall, that is what matters. It’s a pass-fail grading system. Percentages are good for ego-stroking (and Griffey Jr. deserved his high vote total), but anyone who surpasses that 75 percent induction threshold will always be regarded as just as worthy as any other player with a bust in the museum.

Piazza, a dominating talent at the catcher position who had to wait too long to enter the Hall (Piazza will have company in that highly specific category, but I’ll get to that later), was listed on 83 percent of the ballots in his fourth year of eligibility. There’s no doubt that Piazza should have been elected in fewer than four years, but baseless steroid associations (concerns? assumptions? aspersions?) hindered his trek. That’s a shame, but again, it doesn’t really matter now because he’s in.

Although every other player fell short of 75 percent, many of them can probably smile tonight as they think about their future chances for induction. In this first election since the HOF culled the voting base of well more than 100 people who had not held active status with the Baseball Writers Association of America since the days when Morgan Ensberg was an All-Star, plenty of players saw their odds of reaching the Hall greatly improve.

Player Ballot year 2016 vote % 2015 vote % % difference
         
Mike Mussina 3rd 24.6 43.0 18.4
Edgar Martinez 7th 27.0 43.4 16.4
Jeff Bagwell 6th 55.7 71.6 15.9
Alan Trammell 15th 25.1 40.9 15.8
Tim Raines 9th 55.0 69.8 14.8
Curt Schilling 4th 39.2 52.3 13.1
Mike Piazza 4th 69.9 83.0 13.1
Fred McGriff 7th 12.9 20.9 8.0
Roger Clemens 4th 37.5 45.2 7.7
Barry Bonds 4th 36.8 44.3 7.5

When you see players jumping up 15, 16, 18 percentage points, understand what a gigantic leap that is. From 2014 to 2015, Schilling garnered the largest positive difference in percentage points at +10.0. From 2012 to 2013 — when the ballot was wide open and no one ended up getting elected — Dale Murphy gained the most ground during his final year of eligibility. However, it was just 4.1 percentage points, up to 18.6 percent.

Cutting all of that “dead wood” had a significant positive impact on the voting. Leaving just the baseball people to vote on baseball’s hall of fame resulted in more votes for worthy players and the greater likelihood that more players will see their enshrinement day come before their 10 years on the ballot has passed.

I don’t think I’ve seen a Baseball Hall of Fame vote in recent years that carried less controversy than Wednesday’s, largely due to those massive point gains.

Griffey Jr. got in at nearly 100 percent. Awesome.

Piazza got in by a healthy margin. He should have been in sooner, but cool.

Bagwell and Raines still have work to do, but given where they sit after the 2016 vote, it’s pretty easy to assume that they will get the call in 2017. That year will also be Raines’ final one on the ballot, so you know he’ll get some sentimental votes.

Trevor Hoffman was named on 67.3 percent of ballots in his first year. His time is coming.

Edgar Martinez, with only three years left on the ballot, probably doesn’t have enough time to gain 30 percentage points, but with the advances made by Mussina and Schilling, their candidacy is looking very strong, even if they have to wait past 2017. They will be taking just their fourth and fifth turns on the ballot, respectively.

In previous years, there’s been a ton of debate directly following the Hall of Fame announcement about who got jobbed, why voters are stupid not to vote for Player X and yada, yada, yada.

On Wednesday, there wasn’t much of that at all because the players who should have definitely gotten in did. And those who didn’t but deserve to — Raines, Bagwell, Hoffman, Schilling, Mussina — probably will and soon. So why complain about something that’s damn near inevitable anyway?

It was a little odd to not hear that much noise. 

Helping those on the outside looking in are the newcomers to the ballot in 2017 and beyond. Frankly, there is not a ton to love here.

Next year, Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez will land on the ballot. I think Vlad can get in on his first try if for no other reason than this looks like a line drive in the box score, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he falls between the 60-70 percentile.

Even with the more knowledgeable voting base, “Pudge” will probably get the Mike Piazza treatment: Totally deserving of your 75 percent but will probably have to wait because of PED anxiety (worries? connections? accusations?). Give him 2-3 years.

M176-461bkanny? Nope. Even the biggest apologist for Bonds and Clemens (I haven’t forgotten about them) won’t let him pass through the gates.

In 2018, Chipper Jones is a no-brainer, but what about Jim Thome? Will his 612 home runs be devalued by his lack of versatility and defense? Will the “slugger” tag hurt him?

In 2019, Mariano Rivera. But Roy Halladay and/or Todd Helton???

There have been seven first-ballot Hall of Famers in the past three votes. But over the next three, we might see only three or four at most. That leaves a lot of smart people with a lot of blank spaces to fill with the names of a lot of excellent players. And those players minus Raines have plenty of years to stump for votes.

Let’s finish this up by talking about the two most polarizing names on this year’s list and assess their chances of ever being inducted in Cooperstown: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

I would vote for them. I don’t know if that makes me whatever a “Big Hall” guy is, but they are two generation-defining ballplayers who would have made it into the Hall if their careers had ended before the earliest record of them allegedly taking performance-enhancing drugs. Oh, and this is a good time to mention that, unlike your Mannys, your McGwires, your Palmerios, any talk of Clemens’ or Bonds’ PED use also has to include some form of the word “alleged.” With all of the dot-connecting that’s gone on, there is still no PED admission or otherwise solid proof with Clemens or Bonds.

That’s not to say that they didn’t take banned substances. I’m sure they did (as did many, many, many of their peers). But baseball never caught them. They never tested positive. That has to play a role into their candidacies.

But more to the point about how this year’s voting affects Clemens and Bonds. I’ve heard some people say that their seven-point jump is not enough, that they needed a bigger boost in order to clear the 75 percent hurdle. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons.

One: Time. It’s been a theme in this post. Like Schilling, Clemens and Bonds just finished their fourth years on the ballot. I know they each still need to gain about 30 or so percentage points and that’s a lot of votes, but they have time. After Tim Raines’ fourth go-around, he was at 37.5 percent. Bagwell was at 54.3 percent after his fourth year, and that was 2014. Now, once a player held down by PED chatter (whispers? conjecture? suggestions?), it’s basically a foregone conclusion that Bagwell will be making a speech in Cooperstown during the summer of 2017. That honor will be bestowed upon him during his seventh year as a candidate. In other words, with time to spare.

Time also has a tendency to make us gloss over the ugly and complicated parts of a person’s life. With time, perhaps the voters will do the same when it comes to Bonds’ and Clemens’ baseball lives and reflect more on their undeniable greatness.

Two: Bonds and Clemens will make it to Cooperstown with an addition of only about five percentage points over each of the next six years. And as stated above, the next few years aren’t exactly filled to the brim with obvious candidates for induction. Once Hoffman, Bagwell, Raines and possibly Guerrero graduate in 2017, I expect Bonds and Clemens to receive significantly more support because these smart baseball writers are going to have to vote for someone. Without a bevy of attractive new options available, I think more and more voters will give these two their HOF due. 

It may take until 2022, when David Ortiz’s name will probably appear for the first time on a Hall of Fame ballot, but I believe Bonds and Clemens will have their day in Cooperstown. And what a day that will be.