Mid-May. Time to take stock of the offseason. There’s not much left for teams to do before training camp. Vets with something left (Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jay Ajayi, maybe Chris Long) could land somewhere, but those guys aren’t going to shift the balance of power in pro football’s 100th season.
So here are my rankings, 1 to 32, of the teams with most of the chairs being taken, and the music about to stop. Instead of justifying my pick in many of the fat-graf explanations, I’ll take some space on a key point that could determine success or failure with the team.
I fully expect to be wildly incorrect, so react accordingly.
The Lead: Rankings
The 2018 playoff teams are marked with asterisks … The teams that finished under .500 in 2018 are marked with plus-signs.
1. *KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2018: 13-5)
Seems a little crazy with the firing of the 2017 NFL rushing champ (Kareem Hunt) six months ago and the iffy status of the NFL’s most dangerous weapon because of a child-abuse investigation (Tyreek Hill). But this is an In-Mahomes-We-Trust pick, mostly. I wonder if you could ever say that a rookie picked as low as 56—that was the draft slot of the Chiefs’ top pick, Georgia receiver-returner Mecole Hardman—would enter a season as the rookie with the most pressure to produce at a high level from opening day. With Hill facing a possible suspension to start the season, or more significant banishment, Hardman’s a huge factor for the Chiefs. I went back and watched his highlights from the 2018 national title game against Alabama, and he made a couple of prime-time plays. He took a shotgun snap at quarterback from the ‘Bama 1-yard line, play-faked to Sony Michel, and beat three defenders around the left corner for a touchdown. Then he flashed his 4.33 speed down the right sideline, beating the Alabama corner for an 80-yard TD from Jake Fromm. But is Hardman as tough and competitive as Hill? Will he strike fear into defenses? We’ll see in a tough three-week open to the KC season: at Jacksonville, at Oakland, Baltimore at home.
2. *NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2018: 14-5)
I just kept thinking as New England, round-by-round, let tight ends go by in the draft: Well, Bill Belichick knows he needs a tight end badly, and if he doesn’t take one, it must mean he didn’t love one, or he has plans beyond the draft. One of those plans, post-Gronk, was Ben Watson, who was highly peeved to not be active for the NFC title game as a Saint, and felt he had unfinished business as a player when he retired after the season. Watson, even at 38, is a useable player familiar with Patriot ways because he played for them for six years. I’m not sure Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be much of a factor either. And we’ll see who else comes available. Could Kyle Rudolph, for instance, in Minnesota, be a June cap casualty? That would be a golden piece for New England, though I have no idea if he’d sign with the Patriots if released. Looking at the Patriots this spring, I’m not going to sit here and kill them for not taking a Jace Sternberger in the draft. I, along with the rest of the media world, learned a lesson sometime around the fifth or sixth Super Bowl that Belichick and personnel czar Nick Caserio might know what they’re doing, and they usually figure out a better-than-competent roster to play with Tom Brady by November.
3. *INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2018: 11-7)
My first surprise, having the Colts this high. I’m relying on Justin Houston an awful lot here. The Colts haven’t had a pass-rusher have a premier season since 2013, when Robert Mathis had his last great rush season with 19.5 sacks. Houston had an impact year at 29 last fall for Kansas City (14 games, 11 sacks, including playoffs), which is why the Colts outbid others for his services on the free market in March. But he missed 5, 12, 1 and 4 games (regular and postseason) in his last four Chief seasons, so this is a gamble. If the Colts get 12 effective games out of him—and if two or three or those are in the postseason—the investment will be worth it. Big if. You can tell I’m buying Houston being able to have one more strong year for a good team. I’m probably sold mostly by the fact I saw his last game for Kansas City—the overtime classic against New England in the AFC title game—and Houston played an astounding 95 of 97 snaps that cold Sunday at Arrowhead, frequently buzzing around Tom Brady.
4. *LOS ANGELES RAMS (15-4)
The Rams will be good; we know that. But good enough to stave off the Niners and Seahawks in the West? Good enough to play deep into January? You might wonder about Todd Gurley’s future, because of the weird usage pattern in 2018 (first 12 games: 19.4 carries per game; last five games: 10.6 carries) that hinted at a bum knee. I’m not that concerned about Gurley, or the running game, because Sean McVay will figure it out. I’m more concerned with what the heck happened to Marcus Peters last year, and whether in a pass-happy NFC West the Peters-Aqib Talib combo platter can be the top cornerback group in the division like the Rams planned. Peters, per Pro Football Focus, was the league’s 11th-rated corner in 2016 and 18th-rated corner in 2017 … and in 2018, his first year in L.A., he plummeted to 91st, allowing a garish 118.9 rating in balls that targeted him. Peters did play better after recovering from an early-season calf injury, so there’s hope that, if healthy, he can get back to 2017 form. He’ll need to for the Rams to be as good as fourth in the league.
5. *LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (13-5)
Guess what percent of the Chargers’ defensive snaps Joey Bosa has played in his three NFL seasons. It’s 58.5 (including playoffs). He’s very productive when he plays—29.5 sacks in 37 NFL games—and now, for the Chargers to try to take the next step, they need the stereo rushers of Bosa and Melvin Ingram to attack the pocket together, consistently. It was interesting watching the Chargers play defense in Baltimore in the wild-card game—the secondary was so good and so deep and so young. If Bosa stays on the field this year, the Chargers will be on equal footing with the Rams for best team in L.A. How amazing it is to see the Chargers, a combined 9-23 in 2016, come so far so fast.
6. *NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-4)
I’m dying to know after bowing out of the playoffs in the most bizarre of circumstances in two straight years—the Stefon Diggs walk-off (essentially) TD in 2017, and the blown non-interference call against the Rams last year—whether the impact of those dispiriting losses will have any impact on the Saints in 2019. The two most important people in the Saints world, Sean Payton and Drew Brees, don’t seem like they’ll let a hangover happen. Payton hid for a few days after the game, then faced the music without bitterness at the combine and at the league meetings, helping push the league into improving the rule that doomed the franchise in January. For the Saints’ sake, I was glad to see them trade up for a day-one starting center, Erik McCoy, even if it cost them a second-round pick next year. McCoy was a borderline first-rounder, and after the slightly surprising retirement of Max Unger, he became a vital addition for a line that’s crucial to the Saints’ success.
7. +SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-12)
Here’s my big surprise. Only I don’t see it that way. In 2017 and 2018, the Niners were 6-2 when Jimmy Garoppolo started and 4-18 when he didn’t. In his fateful last start, when he ran left and tore his ACL at Kansas City, these were the last four drives he executed that afternoon, going head to head with Patrick Mahomes at rabid Arrowhead: 54 yards to a field goal, 87 yards to a touchdown, 77 yards to a touchdown, 58 yards to a field goal. In his 10 NFL starts, he’s a 66-percent passer. I have no problem making two statements: I think the 49ers are a playoff team if Garappolo plays a full season. And I think Garoppolo will be seen as a top 10 NFL quarterback if he plays a full season this year. Still, the fact that he hasn’t done it leaves the question in everyone’s mind: The kid’s started only 10 games in five NFL seasons, he’s been rewarded ridiculously for what the Niners expect him to do … and now, can he do it? The future of so many people in San Francisco—including joined-at-the-hip coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch—are riding on Garoppolo’s right arm. And his health. I’m fine gambling on him.
8. *PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-8)
I am trusting Carson Wentz to play a full season. If I were not, and I were trusting Nate Sudfeld to be the 2019 Nick Foles, I sure as heck would not have the Eagles eighth. So … I get the Eagles allowing Foles to leave in free agency. It was a mensch thing to do. Foles, more than any single player, was responsible for Philly winning its first Super Bowl and writing one of the great stories in recent NFL history. And then Foles had a second ridiculous run last year, engineering a 16-15 playoff upset of the Bears in Chicago, and he got to be so beloved in the Eagles’ locker room that Chris Long built a shrine to Foles in his locker. He wanted to leave. He wanted one more shot, at 30, to have his own team, a team that wouldn’t put him in the shadow of the prospective franchise quarterback. So Foles got the golden hand shake from Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie. Good for Foles. Not so sure it’s the best thing for the Eagles—though if they’d kept him for a couple of years at legit QB money, it might have led to valuable long-termer Brandon Graham leaving in free agency; can’t sign ‘em all. The Eagles can be confident in Carson Wentz, in his health and his ability. (I would be too.) But sure? No way. Wentz has been lost for the season in two straight Decembers, with a torn ACL and a fractured vertebra, and missed 13 of the Eagles’ last 24 games. He wasn’t the bold player in 2018 that he was before his ACL tear, and not just because of the 4-6 record in his last 10 starts. Maybe it’s a good thing that he stayed in the pocket more (he was more accurate, to be sure), and that probably serves him best for a long career. But the Eagles have to find the right balance of derring-do and pocket presence for Wentz, because he’s a great weapon out of the pocket.
9. *CHICAGO BEARS (12-5)
“Can you believe how lucky I am?” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano told me last week. “Coaching the Bears, in Chicago, with this incredible defense?” The great thing for Pagano and this iteration of the Bears is that Roquan Smith won’t have a ridiculously damaging holdout way too deep into training camp, and Smith can be the power point of the interior of the defense, which is what he was drafted to be … and, presumably, Khalil Mack, who started all 65 games in his career before being traded to Chicago, will go back to ironman Mack in 2019; he hurt his ankle early in his Bear year and missed three starts and was less than himself for three or four more. How good quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will be in year three is shrouded in mystery, but the Bears can still be the best team in the NFC North with a quarterback who’s 18th or 22nd in the league.
10. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-7-1)
Washington, at the end of the Kirk Cousins Era, loved Cousins the person and wasn’t entirely sold on Cousins the player. The Vikings, after one year of Cousins as the franchise guy, understand the reticence. His numbers were exquisite—70 percent passing, 4,298 yards, a 30-to-10 TD-to-interception ratio. But the Vikings, as it turned out, needed to win three of their five December games to make the playoffs. They won two. In the three losses, they fell behind New England 10-0, Seattle 21-0 and Chicago 13-0 … and Cousins led three touchdown drives in 32 total possessions in those games. Put simply, he’s got to play better in the big spot to justify $84 million guaranteed in three years. There’s nothing particularly analytical or deep about that, but it is the truth. One X factor in Cousins’ favor: His offensive line was awful last year, and two-thirds of the interior has been rebuilt this spring—with free-agent guard Josh Kline from Tennessee and first-round center Garrett Bradbury from North Carolina State.
11. +CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-8-1)
GM John Dorsey is gambling on the boldest chemistry experiment in recent NFL annals. I am too. I think the Browns enter the season as the best team in the division … but so much is riding on the risky calls Dorsey has made. One: naming Freddie Kitchens head coach. Until the last two months of the 2018 Browns season with Kitchens as interim offensive coordinator, he was a faceless, totally unknown career NFL assistant. Now the Bill Parcells disciple has become the Baker Mayfield muse. No coach in my memory has done more for his career in two months than Kitchens. Two: trading for Odell Beckham Jr. He’s great. We all can see that. But he’s a tinderbox too. Will he grow up, back with his best friend Jarvis Landry? (They were teammates at LSU.) Three: the acquisitions of Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon to bolster the defense line. Richardson’s on his fourth team in seven NFL seasons, Vernon his third in eight years. If Cleveland gets a Pro Bowl year out of either player, I think it’ll be lucky. On the surface, this seems like a free-wheeling, fun team. It has the most talent in the division. But the most talent doesn’t always win. And one final twinkling star may be on the way, if the Gerald McCoy-to-Cleveland rumors pan out. Man, what a time to be alive in Cleveland. What jersey will Drew Carey buy?
12. *BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-7)
This is how close Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh were in the fourth quarter of the final Sunday of the 2018 season. In Cincinnati, the Steelers and the Bengals were tied at 13 with six minutes to play, and the Steelers had the ball, minus Antonio Brown, at their 25-yard line. In Baltimore, the Browns, trailing 27-26, had the ball first-and-10 at the Ravens’ 39-yard-line with 1:18 left. A first down and a field goal would win the game for Cleveland. Imagine, for a moment, if Cincinnati and Cleveland walked off with wins that Sunday. Records of the top three teams in the division: Baltimore 9-7, Cleveland 8-7-1, Pittsburgh 8-7-1. I only mention that because the division is pretty close, and the Ravens, who got Lamar Jackson two new receiving toys (Marquise Brown (they’re hoping he can be in the Tyreek Hill-factor league and Miles Boykin), are a fascinating team to watch. They could win 11. They could win six. The offense had better score, because the defense has holes.
13. *SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-7)
In the first two drafts after being named Seahawks GM in 2010, John Schneider picked safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor (same 2010 draft, 119 picks apart), tackle Russell Okung, wideout Golden Tate, linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell—and Seattle signed Stanford wideout Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free-agent. Not bad. Three-quarters of the Legion of Boom secondary, a Super Bowl MVP (Smith), a cornerstone linebacker (Wright) and the second-best receiver (to Steve Largent) in franchise history in Baldwin. So now, in the span of 14 months, Baldwin, Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor are gone. Schneider is having to rebuild the secondary from scratch. He got his quarterback with the 75th pick in 2012, and Bobby Wagner and Wright should hold the defense together for at least one more year. But make no mistake: Seattle is in the midst of Schneider trying to rebuild a great team and keep it at least good and playoff-competitive, formed around an innovative quarterback. Some puzzle pieces need to come through this year for Seattle to win 10 games: free-agent pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah, first-round rusher L.J. Collier, second-round receiver/male model D.K. Metcalf, and maybe, just maybe a tackling machine in fifth-round Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven—who had the most tackles in a college season (176) since Luke Kuechly in 2011 at Boston College. Not many GMs get to build two teams with the same franchise. That’s Schneider’s task this year and next.
14. +GREEN BAY PACKERS (6-9-1)
I can only imagine what Aaron Rodgers feels like sitting there at the Bucks playoff games when he’s not thinking, Fear the Deer, baby. He has to be thinking how absurd it is that, since mid-2015, he’s won exactly half of his starts—27 of 54, over nearly a four-year period. He has to be thinking how, at 35, he’s reaching the home stretch of his career, and he doesn’t want to go out with one Super Bowl win and just one Super Bowl appearance. And he has to be thinking all eyes around the league will be on him as he tries to team with a new coach, Matt LaFleur, to rekindle the hopes of a great franchise gone mediocre. In a personnel sense, the Packers didn’t help Rodgers and LaFleur much this offseason, adding no marquee free-agents and just a second-round center (Elgton Jenkins) and third-round tight end (Jace Sternberger) and no receiver help. So the weight continues to be on Rodgers as he adjusts to a new coach and new system, in a division with at least two teams that have passed the Packers. Big year for the quarterback.
15. *HOUSTON TEXANS (11-6)
I would have liked to see the Texans devote more resources to fixing, arguably, the worst position group—offensive line—on any returning playoff team. Last year, the mobile Deshaun Watson was sacked, hit or pressured significantly 275 times in 16 games, per Pro Football Focus. That’s a lot. Houston responded by drafting Tytus Howard, a tackle from small Alabama State, in the first round, after their reported top tackle choice, Andre Dillard, was snatched before them by Philadelphia. I hope Howard can play right away, because he’s desperately needed. It’s amazing that, under all that pressure, Watson found time to hit DeAndre Hopkins 115 times. Imagine if Watson had legitimate time to pick apart defenses. He could connect with Hopkins 150 times.
16. *DALLAS COWBOYS (11-7)
Best news of the offseason for the Cowboys, easily, didn’t come in free agency (through re-signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence for five years was big) or the draft. It came on the field in the last few weeks, when the Cowboys have seen the best center in football, Travis Frederick, return to form after missing 2018 with an autoimmune disorder that attacked his nervous system and left him feeling weak for months. “He looks really good,” said coach Jason Garrett. “It’s good to see him out there in a stance, running football plays.” In 2017, with Frederick as the linchpin, Dallas had the best line in the NFC. The Cowboys can reclaim that if Frederick’s back whole.
17. +ATLANTA FALCONS (7-9)
I keep hearing owner Arthur Blank is getting restless. In the Falcons’ last 35 games (the first one in that 35-game string is the Super Bowl loss to New England), they’re 18-17, and they’ve got a $30-million-a-year quarterback and a receiver, soon, likely to be a $20-million-a-year player. Yet a team in the Falcons’ division, New Orleans, scored 90 points more than Atlanta last year. Seems smart to reinforce an aging offensive line, which Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff did early in the draft with a new guard, Chris Lindstrom, and a tackle, Kaleb McGary, who could both start this year.
18. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (9-6-1)
It’s going to be peaceful in Pittsburgh without the weekly (daily?) questions about Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. But with all the distractions and discord last year, the Steelers still averaged 26.8 points per game, and I’ll be surprised if they reach those heights this year. Steelers players might find it more placid coming to work and games this year with Antonio Brown 2,300 miles away, but how are they replacing Brown’s 115 catches a year over the last five seasons? With James Washington? Donte Moncrief? Doubt it. More likely, Pittsburgh turns to the man who cost them first, second and third-round picks on draft day, linebacker Devin Bush, and hopes he can be the sideline-to-sideline presence Ryan Shazier was until that fateful night in Cincinnati late in the 2017 season.
19. +OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
Such an interesting team, from the front office and the addition of Mike Mayock, to the offensive attack and the addition of Antonio Brown, to the run game and the addition of Josh Jacobs, to the secondary and the addition of tone-setter Johnathan Abram. I wonder if the schedule will make it very tough to be good—and not just the quality of opposition, but the way the slate is set up, with the Raiders going 48 days between games in Oakland in Week 2 and Week 9. And the Raiders finish with two straight on the road. Hard to imagine the Grudens being great this year, but they can, at least, set the stage for a bright future by hanging around .500.
20. +JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (5-11)
Hard not to get a weird vibe from this team. You’ve got two of the most my-way-or-the-highway guys, Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone, running the show, and last year there was Jalen Ramsey being a loose cannon all year and Leonard Fournette acting up late in the season—both are back this year—on the way to a stunningly disappointing five-win season. Then Coughlin criticizes players who aren’t in the voluntary offseason program. The leading tackler, linebacker Telvin Smith, mysteriously walks away from football without first telling the team, and acts all bothered when people question why he’s doing this … and makes himself unavailable to the team. Even with Nick Foles, the steadiest guy and best teammate you could imagine, imported to improve the quarterback position, it’s still hard to trust this team.
21. +CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)
Just a lot of uncertainty with this franchise right now. I don’t know what the Panthers will get out of Cam Newton after two surgical procedures on his throwing shoulder in the last two-plus calendar years. I need to see whether Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns can be the day-one pass-rush threats they were imported to be. I’ll be interested to watch the line’s ability to keep Newton clean, though the Panthers have to be thrilled with the development of third-year tackle Taylor Moton. More than ever, Carolina needs the quarterback to be kept clean—his long-term health is at stake—and the team also needs to make sure it doesn’t beat Christian McCaffrey (20.2 touches per game last year) into the ground. Carolina will contend if Newton stays healthy for 16 weeks and the pass-rush can be good by Labor Day, and both are possible. Big ifs.
22. +WASHINGTON (7-9)
Love the Dwayne Haskins pick, even though it might take some getting used to for him to mesh with Jay Gruden’s offense. “Could be an adjustment period,” someone close to Gruden told me the other day. But Gruden, after watching Haskins at a mini-camp over the weekend, gushed over him: “He’s made some throws that turn your head, without a doubt.” Love the Montez Sweat pick too, especially late in the first round. Now maybe Ryan Kerrigan has a frisky young guy (and a speedy one) to take some of the pass-rush pressure off him. Just a projection, but if Case Keenum starts for the first month (at Eagles, Dallas, Chicago, at Giants) and the offense is going nowhere, how great would it be for Gruden to name Haskins the starter in Week 5 at FedEx Field … with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick coming to town for the first time since 2011?
23. +BUFFALO BILLS (6-10)
Here’s what I like about Buffalo’s offseason: They got a little better at a lot of places on the roster. John Brown and Cole Beasley make the receiver group markedly better (if Brown can stay on the field). The under-used Tyler Kroft comes from Cincinnati to probably start at tight end. The right side of the offensive line is all new: center Mitch Morse, guard Cody Ford, tackle Ty Nsekhe—if projections hold. And Ed Oliver is the three-technique Buffalo has dreamt about being there with the ninth pick of the first round since the combine. And there he was. “We want to take 90 guys to training camp who belong in an NFL training camp,” GM Brandon Beane told me the other day. “What we’ve tried to do all offseason is bring in guys who make the competition better at every position. Guys like Tyler Kroft.” There are not many rosters like Buffalo’s right now. The Bills have one draft choice from 2016 or earlier, ’16 first-round pick Shaq Lawson, on the roster. That’s a trend Beane wants to change. “I want to build this roster through the draft,” he said. “But there’s going to be a big changeover when you first take over.” The Bills aren’t ready to climb Mount Patriot yet, but they should have a significantly better 53-man roster by Labor Day than they had last year.
24. +DENVER BRONCOS (6-10)
The spring has gone rather well for the Broncos … assuming Joe Flacco can play. Even if he can’t, and the Broncos are more optimistic about him than anyone in the state of Maryland, Denver GM John Elway backstopped the quarterback position pretty well by stealing Drew Lock with the 42nd pick in the draft. But the best thing that’s happened in Denver since season’s end is the hire of Vic Fangio, because he’s long-past due at a head-coaching shot, and he can command a room, and he’s the kind of football guy his players will respect from day one. The storm clouds, for me, are the fate of Chris Harris (contract dispute), whether Flacco can recreate the old days from Baltimore, and whether the line can protect Flacco.
25. TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)
So we’ve reached year five of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. If you’re like me, you really don’t know if either is the long-term passer for his team.
Mariota: 55 starts, .632 accuracy, plus-27 touchdown-to-pick differential, 7.5 yards per attempt, 89.4 rating, average Pro Football Focus annual rank among QBs—21.
Winston: 54 starts, .616 accuracy, plus-30, 7.6 yards per attempt, 87.8 rating, average PFF ranking—23.
If I’m the Titans, this is the year I’ve got to see it from Mariota, who has a very solid slot guy now (Adam Humphries, from Tampa Bay) and a rookie receiver from Ole Miss, A.J. Brown, who was a low first-rounder on some team’s boards. If Mariota raises his game this year, he’ll take the Titans with him. If not, we may see Ryan Tannehill by season’s end.
26. +NEW YORK JETS (4-12)
Obviously, the Jets are better, with Le’Veon Bell to energize the offense, C.J. Mosley to be the (expensive) hub of the defense, and Jets fan-man Quinnen Williams pushing the pile into the quarterback. But I’ve got to see it first. The Jets have won five, five and four games the last three years (14-34, for those scoring at home), and the guy they’re relying on most to change the offensive culture, Bell, has a unique résumé in recent NFL history. When he plays, he’s the best all-around weapon among backs in the NFL. When he plays. He sat in the contract dispute last year, and missed 15 games over the previous three seasons. That means, of the Steelers last 68 games, Bell sat for 31 and played 37. What effect will the lost year have on him? How many games can the Jets count on Bell this year, and for the next two or three seasons? Anyone who says he/she knows is guessing.
27. +DETROIT LIONS (6-10)
The coach, Matt Patricia, is a former Patriot. The GM, Bob Quinn, is a former Patriot. Two assistant coaches and two scouts are former Patriots. Eight players on the roster, led by Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola, are former Patriots; six used to be coached by Patricia, the Patriots’ former defensive coordinator. I’m sure I’m missing a Foxboro alumnus or two. It’s good to have a base of people with a Belichickian base, collectively. And I trust Patricia to build a competitive defense in the rock-ribbed NFC North. But what I’d like to see in Detroit is an offense that scores more than 15 points a game. That’s the number (15.3 actually) the Lions averaged in the last two months of the season, if you take out the meaningless, playing-for-nothing exercise in week 17 against Green Bay. In the previous eight weeks, Detroit scored 9, 22, 20, 16, 16, 17, 13 and 9 points. Darrell Bevell replaces Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator, and few new coordinators have the task Bevell has.
28. +NEW YORK GIANTS (5-11)
Every reporter and TV screamer and columnist has weighed in on Eli Manning and Daniel Jones and the sanity of the general manager. So let’s spend one paragraph on one of the most interesting things we’ll witness this year: exactly who will be impactful, and who will line up where, on the Giants defense. By my count, nine of the 11 starters on defense on opening day (if they open in a nickel package) could be new to the team over the last 15 months: defensive linemen B.J. Hill and Dexter Lawrence, linebackers Alec Ogletree, Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter, and defensive backs Sam Beal, Deandre Baker, Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers. Chemistry class will be in session at Giants camp in July. It had better be—because no one knows how productive the post-Odell offense will be.
29. +TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-11)
Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich with Jameis Winston. I like that a lot, mostly because of the drama. I have no idea what direction the Bucs’ offense will take, but I do know one thing: Winston will throw deep early and often. The biggest job for Arians, aside from trying to U-turn a foundering franchise, is the care and fixing of Winston, who couldn’t cure his interception bug in four seasons of Dirk Koetter’s tutelage. In fact, the only quarterback in the NFL since 2015 (minimum 1,500 attempts) to average more than a 3 percent interception rate is Winston—58 picks on 1,922 attempts, for a pick rate of 3.02 percent. Which means that, for every 100 passes Winston has thrown as a pro, just over three have been intercepted. (Hat-tip to Pro Football Reference for the play-index device that allows that stat to be figured out.) So you see the need for new teaching voicing in Winston’s ear … By the way, speaking of the Marcus Mariota-Jameis Winston debate, they meet for a referendum in Nashville on Oct. 27.
30. +CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-10)
No one in Cincinnati wants to hear this, but this is the same kind of season as Arizona and Miami are approaching: new coach, fact-finding mission, a major rebuilding job. But it seems so much more significant after Marvin Lewis had the head-coaching gig for 16 years, and first-year, first-time head coach Zac Taylor emigrates from the wildly successful Rams offense to the humdrum Cincinnati attack. And not only does Taylor have to figure out—this year, preferably—if he’s going to stick with Andy Dalton after this ninth Bengal season, he’s got to do it while reconfiguring his offensive line and making sure rookie defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has the resources to be competitive during a total defensive overhaul. Bengals were a bad defense last year and allowed 28.4 points per game. Good for the Bengals in finally tearing the insular staff apart and looking outward to fix a foundering franchise.
31. +ARIZONA CARDINALS (3-13)
All is definitely not lost for the Cardinals. The real losers in the post-season Cardinal experiment? The American football fans. Unless you’ve got a TV package able to show every Cardinals game, starting with seven competitive games—Detroit, at Baltimore, Carolina, Seattle, at Cincinnati, Atlanta, at New York Giants—or you’ve got the RedZone Channel, you’re going to miss a fascinating football story. Think of this: Soon after being named the Texas Tech head coach late in 2013, Kingsbury offered a tiny Allen (Texas) High School sophomore quarterback, Kyler Murray, a full scholarship to play quarterback for the Red Raiders beginning in the summer of 2016. Murray turned it down eventually, choosing Texas A&M and later transferring to Oklahoma. And so now Kingsbury, six years after first laying eyes on the phenom quarterback who’s been the smallest man on the field for years, gets to make him the centerpiece of an imaginative and thrilling offense in the NFL. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see every snap of Murray’s developement, with Kingsbury pulling the strings? It’s a shame the Cardinals have but one prime-time affair this year (Halloween night, Thursday, Garoppolo at Murray). If I’m not there in person, I’ll be watching on TV, that’s for sure.
32. +MIAMI DOLPHINS (7-9)
So you hear things in this job. Some things you hear are true, some you’re not sure about, and some sound so smart and logical you figure there’s a good chance they’re true. This falls in the third category: Miami owner Stephen Ross either in direct words to his football people or in every message to the football staff in recent months, has told them he wants a long-term quarterback above all things—and whatever it takes, whether it be tanking this season, or somehow getting in position to take the quarterback they’re sure can be the next franchise quarterback for the Dolphins, that’s the most important development for this Miami season. Why not? Assessing Ross’ 10 years as majority owner of the Dolphins: one season over .500 … zero division titles … zero playoff wins … no franchise QB. If indeed he has told his minions that he is interested only in a quarterback who has a chance to be the next Dan Marino, why not? And if letting Ju’Wuan James and Cam Wake go in free agency and getting third and fifth-round Compensatory Picks in return, and if picking up an extra second-round pick by moving down in this year’s draft in a trade with New Orleans, and if dealing Ryan Tannehill to Tennessee for a fourth-round pick … if doing all those things leaves Miami with nine picks in the first five rounds next April, including (presumably) a high first-rounder of their own, then the Dolphins should be in fine position to draft a big QB prospect. By the way, acquiring Josh Rosen for the 62nd pick this year gives Miami a bridge year to see if Rosen just might be that franchise guy. Smart investment there. Funny to say this about the team I like least in 2019 heading into the season, but I appreciate what Miami’s doing.
Still Going Strong10
Last week in this column, I wrote about the Chuck Pagano Colts/Bears Chuckstrong fundraiser for cancer research for the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. The average raised per year in the first six years of the event was about $800,000.
On Thursday night, in Indianapolis, the seventh Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala raised a record $1.86 million.
For the record, that’s $1.86 million for a movement led by a coach who was fired by the hometown Colts 16 months ago, and who doesn’t work or live in town anymore, and who brought the owner, GM and coach of his new team—the Bears—to the event. (Pagano is Chicago’s defensive coordinator. The Bears contingent came in two vehicles, Pagano and George McCaskey earlier than Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace and others, and the traffic was brutal by the time Nagy and Pace got on the road, and it took them more than four hours to make the trip to Indy.) Smashing the record by a long way? More than a year after the keynote guy was fired?
It’s how Chuckstrong got to the $1.86 million that is the story of the night.
Late in the evening, an Indianapolis entrepreneur, Gary Edwards, donated $250,000. And when MC Pat McAfee was heading to the microphone to hip-hip-hurray Edwards, Colts COO Pete Ward intercepted him and told him he’d gotten a text from Colts owner Jim Irsay (not in attendance) that he wanted to tell the crowd about.
Pete Ward went onstage and told the crowd: “I have a text message from Mr. Irsay. If the entire crowd can match the DEEM donation of $250,000, I will personally donate $1 million tonight.”
The crowd gasped.
Indy’s not a million-dollar-donation town. Or maybe it is. For this night, just maybe.
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Nearly $2,000,000 raised 4 cancer research last night at the 7th annual #ChuckStrong Gala at the @Colts complex..I was incredibly lucky & honored to be a part of such a badass evening. Really magical stuff happened in there. Coach Pagano and the @chicagobears traveled down from Chicago to tag team with The Colts and @iu_health to save folk’s lives… Really cool shit… Also. 🗣 Jim Irsay donated 1 MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS to close out the night.
This was one of those auctions that had the guests registered by app on their phones to be able to give, and the results showed up on a tote board. And all of a sudden, as McAfee got to the stage and began urging people to give, the number started multiplying.
Someone gave $25,000. Someone else did too. There were donations of $5, $50, $10, $100. Then $25,000.
“Hey AC!” McAfee called out to left tackle Anthony Castonzo. “Come on! You give $10,000, I’ll give $10,000!”
Castonzo did. McAfee did.
“Ryan Kelly!” McAfee called out to the Colts center.
Kelly gave $5,000. Other Colts chipped in.
Two more $25,000 donations.
They were getting close. McAfee didn’t think of himself as a particularly persuasive MC, but he said something to spur more giving: “Listen! Maybe you’re not saving anyone’s life who you know. But maybe it’s your dad, or your sister, or someone else’s sister, or someone else’s dad! We all have to help! Research is vital!”
The tally board went dark, and it was left to the cancer center’s director of development, Amber Kloepfer Senseny, to announce to the crowd: “We did it! We hit the $250,000 mark!”
Which meant Jim Irsay was out $1 million.
“All I can say,” McAfee said Friday, “is it was magic. Chuck gets let go, lots of questions whether Chuckstrong continues, and not only does it continue, but these two rivals, the Colts and Bears, team up. Then what Mr. Irsay does at the end. I was looking over at the side of the stage and there’s Chuck, dropping a few tears because of the sheer emotion of the night. I was thinking about it, and all I can compare what happened last night to was like a big win, late, in a football game.
“That … was a fulfilling night in my life, a night I’ll never forget.”
Come And See Me
Shameless plug for a very good cause:
I am on the Board of Directors for a New Jersey youth literacy non-profit group, Write on Sports, which helps at-risk middle-school kids (many in and around the inner cities of Newark and Paterson, N.J., and some in other cities) learn how to write and read by writing about sports, and reading about sports. It’s amazing, I’ve found, how much these young teens get into reading and writing when the topics are about things they feel passion.
So here’s the story: Next Monday, May 20, I will be at the Yale Club in midtown Manhattan to engage a group in all sorts of football talk from 6-8 p.m. If you come early, at 5:30, you can have a drink with me and buttonhole me on whatever you want to talk about. If you want to come for the whole evening, from 5:30 to 8 p.m., or just for the dinner and conversation, from 6-8 p.m., here’s a link to get you there.
Please follow the information to buy tickets and then feel free to come and abuse me any way you see fit next Monday. I’d love to see you. And just so you know … the cause is wonderful. An old pro at the Associated Press, Byron Yake, invented Write on Sports, and he’s gotten a slew of smart and wonderful sports people to support it over the years—Josh McCown, Justin Tuck, Prince Amukamara, Hubie Brown, Stephen A. Smith—and to inspire so many kids who otherwise would not have much of an interest in writing and literacy. I’m proud to be a part of the group.
Please follow me on Twitter this week for more information on this event. Hope to see you a week from tonight in Manhattan.
Quotes of the Week20
“If the extension is what works best for both of us and that’s how it plays out, then great. If not, shoot, let’s go have a heck of a 2019 and then we’ll worry about 2020 when we need to worry about it.”
—Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, to former teammate Nick Hardwick and co-host Jon Schaeffer on XTRA 1360 in San Diego, via Pro Football Talk, in one of the most sensible things ever said about a prospective contract extension. Rivers is due to make $11 million in the last year of his current deal this fall, but he wants to continue to play in 2020 and beyond.
“We do all the things you want to do with rookies to kind of get them going in a real-life setting. A lot of these guys, they went from high school—they were home—to college, where everybody does everything for them. Now they’re on their own. So you have to educate them about, ‘This is how it’s going to be and you’re on your own and you’re going to have to pay bills and you’re going to have to get your own food.’ There’s a lot of things that guys don’t know about.”
—Jets coach Adam Gase (per Matt Stypulkoski of NJ.com). Gase did a smart thing in passing up a rookie minicamp over the weekend with the Jets, having a rookie “orientation” instead. He figures it makes little sense to do physical work and risk injury when the rookies would be better served learning their new environment first.
“The biggest problem with the New England Revolution isn’t the coach. It’s the owners, Bob and Jonathan Kraft. If they aren’t serious about their team, they should sell it to someone who would be.”
—Grant Wahl, the esteemed Sports Illustrated soccer writer.
Not such a great offseason for the Super Bowl champion owner’s family. Only one team in the 24-team Major League Soccer has fewer than the Revolution’s two wins, and the Revs last week fired their head coach.
“President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions the Boston Red Socks to the White House.”
—From whitehouse.gov on Thursday, on the president’s schedule for the day. The office of the press secretary later referred to the team as the “World Cup Series Champions.”
There are 27 quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame whose careers stretch from the 1950s to today.
Total playoff wins for those 27 quarterbacks after their 39th birthday: 1.
Total playoff wins for Tom Brady after his 39th birthday: 8.
Won-lost record for those 27 quarterbacks after their 39th birthday: 64-64.
Won-lost record for Tom Brady after his 39th birthday: 43-10.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Odell Beckham Jr. has spent about a day in Cleveland since being traded from the Giants to the Browns. That would be one day in Cleveland out of 61 since the trade.
Free country. Seems weird.
No-hitters thrown by selected pitchers in major-league history:
Pedro Martinez: 0
Roger Clemens: 0
Greg Maddux: 0
Steve Carlton: 0
Grover Cleveland Alexander: 0
Babe Ruth: 0
Don Drysdale: 0
Homer Bailey: 2
Mike Fiers: 2
Bailey is 70-80 in his career. Fiers, who threw his second last week, is 57-58.
King of the Road
Last week, I went to my first Montclair (N.J.) High School softball game since Mary Beth King played 15 years ago. I was greeted at Fortunato Field, the same field where the Mounties have played winning softball for years, with walkup music for the Montclair High batters.
Tweets of the Week40
Mail call. Send your comments/ideas/brickbats to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You were too hard on Joe Theismann. From David A., Boise, Idaho: “Your take regarding the Redskins uniform number seven and Joe Theismann was harsh and woefully ill-informed. Sometimes it’s not just about numbers. Theismann represented the Redskins for 12 years rising from a punt returner to Super Bowl-winning quarterback and MVP. His career ended prematurely with an injury so ghastly and noteworthy that it changed the game and inspired a feature film. For the past 33 years he has been an ambassador for the Redskins and beloved by fans. Hopefully this gives you the appropriate context and maybe, just maybe, you’ll cut Joe some slack.”
Thanks for the note, David. Many on Twitter and via email responded to my Theismann note last week, with the vast majority feeling the way you do. Theismann’s a good man and did a lot for the franchise, to be sure. My feeling is if a team has not retired a number, the team is free to give it out. This franchise has retired one number: 33, worn by Hall of Fame quarterback/punter/safety Sammy Baugh. I found it odd that the franchise has never giving out the number seven, and it took a phone call from the first-round quarterback of the future to Theismann to clear the way for Dwayne Haskins to wear seven.
The last two players from the Washington franchise to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, linebacker Chris Hanburger (2010) and guard Russ Grimm (2011), have had their numbers given out multiples times since they entered Canton. Hanburger’s 55 has been given out five times in the last 10 years; 55 is currently the jersey number of backup center Casey Dunn. Grimm’s number 68 has been issued three times since he entered Canton, and backup guard Tyler Catalina wears it currently. Here are two Hall of Fame players, part of Washington’s glory years, handed the ultimate award football players could achieve—being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And their numbers have been handed out freely. (Art Monk’s number 81 does not seem to have been handed out since he made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)
The team can handle the issuing of numbers any way it wants, to be sure. For the most recent two Hall of Famers to have their jerseys given out often and for a rookie to have to call that player whose number has not been retired to make sure it’s okay he can have the number just seems … weird.
The 2019 Hard Knocks team. From J.A.: “Hearing anything on who the ‘Hard Knocks’ team will be this year?”
NFL Films—which drives the bus on the “Hard Knocks” process—seems to be a little bit behind in the team selection, in part because of all the programming associated with the league’s 100th season in 2019. Remember that the show has some restrictions—it can’t pick a team with a rookie head coach, or a team that’s been in the playoffs the last two years, or a team that’s been on the show in the last 10 years. For this year, that leaves Oakland, Washington, San Francisco, Detroit or the Giants eligible to be the team for “Hard Knocks.”
No franchise wants the NFL Films intrusion. My feeling is that, far and away, the most attractive team this year is Oakland, because Jon Gruden is a TV star, and the specter of Antonio Brown in camp will be TV-worthy, and because, well, because the Raiders are inherently so interesting. But we’ll see. If I had to guess right now, I’d say it’d be the Raiders—but that’s simply a guess.
Nothing wrong with mock drafts. From Mike E., Washington, D.C.: “Who do you think is ‘deceived and played’ by a mock draft a year in advance? Nobody reads a ‘way too early 2020 mock draft’ and expects to get actual facts. It is what it is: one person’s opinion of the future based on a bunch of unknowable factors. I think everyone who reads them understands all the deficiencies you raise, and of course they are click bait, but maybe it highlights a few players that I would not have heard of otherwise to keep an eye on for the upcoming college season.”
Mike: Why pair players with teams based on “unknowable factors,” such as who will enter the draft, and where the teams will finish, and how the draftable players will play in 2019? I’m fine, a year out, with the smart draft analysts doing stories and lists on the players projected to be in the draft next year, and, entering the 2019 season, what the order of these players is. Too many of these click-bait-and-nothing-more things throw out chum to readers that seems to say: Want to know who your team is picking next April? Here’s my guess as of today. Nonsense. Bunk.
10 Things I Think I Think50
1. I think Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Giants, and the Bucs, are all going to look back on his career in a few years and ask, “What if?”
2. I think it’s easy to miss retirements of significant people in the NFL, and it would be easy to skip the retirement of Scott Studwell from the Vikings. Studwell, a linebacker from Illinois, was a ninth-round pick of the Vikings in 1977 and played 14 years as a physical, sideline-to-sideline tackler. Against Detroit in 1985, he had a franchise-record 24 tackles in a game; his 1,981 total tackles are 529 more than any player in franchise history. (Think about that for a second.) He retired after the 1990 season, joining the scouting department. And as director of college scouting from 2002 to 2014, he oversaw the drafting of Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway and Harrison Smith. Man, that’s a heck of a résumé. Studwell said his major regret is never winning a super Bowl as a player or contributing to one as a scout. “That’s what I want for this organization so much,” Studwell said. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to grow up in one organization, stay in that organization, and work so hard to get the organization in position to win a championship.” For five minutes he talked about the importance of that title to him. Over the years, as a player and a scout, it’s hard to imagine anyone working harder for a title than Studwell.
3. I think I don’t know a retired player who sets as good an example for his peers and those behind him than Curtis Martin, who graduated with a doctorate degree on Thursday. Such a good person, and such a shining example.
4. I think it’s nice to see the XFL have all of those national TV outlets for when it starts play next February. I just have no idea who’s going to watch the games. I keep hearing there is this voracious appetite for football after the NFL season. Maybe there is for people who work in football. And I hope they prove me wrong—truly—but I don’t think there’s an audience to watch players and teams fans don’t know, in mostly empty stadia, at a time of year when football has never sold.
5. I think the Dallas Cowboys should take a deep breath and sign Dak Prescott—five years, $150 milion ($90 million guaranteed) sounds about correct—before he plays well enough this year to push him into Russell Wilson land. Prescott’s not a top-five quarterback, but you absolutely can win with him, and he can play well enough in and out of the pocket to be competitive in the biggest games on the schedule. And he is a very good face of the franchise, eminently trustworthy and a good leader. For those who swear he’s not worth it, ask yourself this question: What is the alternative, and are you willing to let Prescott walk away while the Cowboys go the draft-and-develop route in the near future?
6. I think some Cowboys fans would like, in part because of the financial sanity, the advantage to having a rookie quarterback not chew up your cap. But let’s look at the first-round quarterbacks in the most recent seven drafts, and let’s see how many are better than Prescott. I don’t include 2018 and 2019 because we don’t know the results of their play yet. We are not sure of all of these players, but we have a pretty good idea about most.
Quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2011 and 2017, compared to Prescott
Total first-round QBs: 20.
Clearly not as good as Prescott … 11 of 20 (55 percent): Jake Locker (8th pick, 2011), Blaine Gabbert (10-2011), Christian Ponder (12-2011), Robert Griffin III (2-2012), Ryan Tannehill (8-2012), Brandon Weeden (22-2012), E.J. Manuel (16-2013), Blake Bortles (3-2014), Johnny Manziel (22-2014), Teddy Bridgewater (32-2014), Paxton Lynch (26-2016).
Too close to call right now, but Prescott has an edge … 3 of 20 (15 percent): Jameis Winston (1-2015), Marcus Mariota (2-2015), Mitchell Trubisky (2-2017).
Clearly better than Prescott … 3 of 20 (15 percent): Cam Newton (1-2011), Andrew Luck (1-2012), Patrick Mahomes (10-2017).
Better than Prescott, though with an injury asterisk … 1 of 20 (5 percent): Carson Wentz (2-2016).
Too close to call right now, but they look better than Prescott to me … 2 of 20 (10 percent): Jared Goff (1-2016), Deshaun Watson (12-2017).
So—and we’re sure to disagree on a few of these—I have Prescott with at least a slight edge on 14 of the 20 first-round quarterbacks picked between 2011 and 2017. So, Cowboy fans: Are you sure you want to roll the dice, cast Prescott aside in the near future, and take your shot with the next hot young first-rounder? I will remind you: In 2016, I covered the Cowboys draft, and I was inside their process, and Jerry Jones looked like his dog just died after he and his scouting group missed out on Paxton Lynch, and they were ticked off again to miss out on Connor Cook atop the fourth round, which left them with … Dak Prescott.
7. I think I like the hire of Joe Thomas for NFL Network’s Thursday night pre and post-game shows. The former Browns tackle has a chance to be very good on TV because he’s likeable, and he can simplify some difficult football concepts in soundbite form. Good luck to Thomas.
8. I think the football story of the week—The MMQB’s Andy Benoit with a very deep dive into the dissection of the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to New England through the eyes of Sean McVay and other Rams coaches and players—is special. First, it’s special to be able to get an NFL coach to show his vulnerable side, which Benoit does. McVay admits to Benoit about his game-planning and game-day coaching in the Super Bowl: “I was so bad in that moment.”
9. I think, for those young journalists who read the Benoit story—and if you want to be good in the business, you should read it and learn from it—you notice not only the strength of the information gained by Benoit spending three hours picking apart the game with McVay. But you notice how he learned from both Bill Belichick and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “Josh McDaniels had a real feel for that game’s game flow and how to play that game to try to win it,” McVay told Benoit. That’s significant to me because Benoit got McVay to not only examine his weaknesses on Super Sunday but to admit he learned something from the offensive guru on the other side of the field. To be good at this job, one important factor is to have the trust of the people you write about at the top of the profession. Benoit clearly has that with McVay.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Column of the Week: No One Asks the Top CEOs Where They Went to College. Joe Nocera of Bloomburg News on the myth that your success in life is based on where you go to college. (I’m late on this one, but it came to my attention Friday and rang so true.)
b. Nocera: “Of the CEOs of the top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500, exactly one—Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos—went to an Ivy League school (Princeton). And that’s not all. We tend to think of the founders of technology companies as having all gone to Stanford University (or dropping out of Harvard University). And yes, many of them did. But Michael Dell went to the University of Texas. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Marc Andreessen went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. So did Larry Ellison, though he never graduated.”
c. It may be true that a graduate of Harvard or Williams or Cal is likely to get an interview for a job more readily than a grad of Ohio University (me) or Ball State (Jason Whitlock) or the University of Dayton (Dan Patrick) … or even Cedarville University (DeMaurice Smith) or Washington & Jefferson (Roger Goodell) or the University of Guelph (Thomas Dimitroff) or St. Thomas College (John Schneider). But as Nocera writes, and this is the truism I tried to tell my two daughters over and over when they were obsessing about college years ago: “Maybe a Harvard diploma will give a graduate an easier shot at landing a first job out of school. Maybe. But that’s really the only advantage, and it doesn’t last long. Once you’ve landed the job, you have to perform. If you don’t, your Harvard degree isn’t going to be worth the parchment it’s printed on. And if you do perform, nobody is going to much care that you went to the University of Central Oklahoma.”
d. Easily the most important message in this column is contained in 10 a, b and c.
e. NBA players who regularly miss free throws … That is ridiculous. Making free throws should be like kicking 35-yard field goals.
f. I would not pay Kyrie Irving a max contract, but hey, that’s just me, the non-NBA fan.
g. Albert Pujols and his 2,000 RBI … awesome. He is 87 RBI away from being able to say: Only Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth had more RBI in their careers than I did. He’s 215 RBI away from passing Ruth, 298 from passing Aaron. Who knows? Seems unlikely, and Pujols is 39, but we shall see.
h. I went to Camden Yards the other day, to see Chris Sale pitch for the Red Sox against the O’s, and a guy sidled up to me before the game and asked: “Are you Joe Lockhart?” I said no. He said, with a voice convinced that I was lying, “Are you sure? You look exactly like him.” I said no, I was not Joe, and I didn’t know I looked exactly like him, but it’s nice to meet you.
i. Sale and the Red Sox pitchers, by the way, struck out 22 and walked none in a 2-1 12-inning win. I guess he’s back.
j. Story of the Week: “Beto and Sasha: The bizarre experience of watching my college boyfriend run for president,” by Sasha Watson, writing in the Washington Post. I always like reading what the college years were like for people who achieve fame later in life.
k. Really proud of Leslie Silver, wife of my friend Mike Silver, for her work educating and illuminating the problems of homelessness in California with a new documentary. Watch the trailer.
l. And you can help the cause here.
m. I’ve learned one important thing about baseball in the first seven weeks of the season: Tampa Bay is not going away.
n. Kudos to Dick Vitale, whose 14th annual gala over the weekend raised $4.3 million for pediatric cancer research.
o. Coffeenerdness: The more I drink the Dunkin Donuts dark roast, the more I think it’s the best reasonably priced dark coffee on the takeout market.
p. Winenerdness: There’s only one budget Chianti for me: Da Vinci. At $10.99 a bottle, you’d think it’s an el cheapo wine. But it’s quality Tuscan fare, and proof that you can get a good bottle of wine for $11.
q. Are we going to do anything about school shootings? Any leaders out there have the guts to stand up and be counted and make this the most important issue in his/her next campaign?
The Adieu Haiku
Kawhi! Shot heard ’round
Canada! One bounce. Then two.
Three. Four. And in! Wow!
I made my rankings.
You are angry. Soooooooo angry.
Email me! Right now!