The MLB’s February Domino Fall

The Padres signing of Manny Machado to a ten year, $300 million contract is the type of move I wish teams made more.  It’s a win-now, grab-it-by-the-balls move that’s risky but holds massive reward.  More importantly, it’s a move that had to be made no matter what.

It reminds me of the Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard last Summer.  Toronto had to do something, and they did that by landing one of the six best players in the league.  If he leaves, it was still worth it, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had to be broken up.

Machado works in a similar way.  The Padres banking on this many prospects to turn out, no matter how high they may be ranked, was a risky proposition.  Getting Machado gives the team, and more importantly the fan base, something to hold on to if the worst-case scenario comes about.  That though, is very unlikely to happen.

Given that, if the Machado contract looks like holy hell in four years, then San Diego still has a very, very solid team.  All of the prospects they have now will be hitting their primes.  Machado becomes a player rather than a star.

Perhaps the most shocking part about the Machado sweepstakes wasn’t how long the process dragged out, but that he got the contract he did at this point in time.  The longer the stars held out, the lower their value goes (Cough, Bryce Harper).  That wasn’t the case for Machado.  Contracts for Machado that we read or heard throughout the Winter went anywhere from seven years, $175 million to eight years, $250 million.  The $200 million to $250 million range seemed like the sweet spot.  Machado leaped over it.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal by San Diego.  Overpaying Machado feels much safer than overpaying Harper, who’s shown more inconsistency over his seven seasons and has severe limitations defensively compared to Machado, who’s a wizard.  The attitude issues between the two cancel out, though Machado’s recent antics don’t help.  Still, that feels more like a recency bias issue.

You could also frame it this way: Would you overpay for Manny Machado if you could put him and Fernando Tatis Jr. on the same side of the infield?

I think so too.  The Padres are loaded, and while it may not come immediately, Machado’s signing brings upon baseball’s next contender much sooner than we anticipated.  Tatis Jr. won’t be there Opening Day, but Ty France has shown promise in the minors, batting .267/.355/.464 with 22 home runs and 96 RBIs between AAA and AA last season.  He could be a nice asset for the Padres to float out there along with their other 80 pitching prospects, but for now serves as a fantastic middle-man between Tatis Jr and the big leagues.

Whichever of the two play shortstop is a big but not problematic question for the Padres.  Machado marketed himself in free agency as a shortstop, but a lot of his defensive gems have came from plays at third.  The numbers back that up too.  Since his MLB debut, Machado carries a DRS of 84 at third base and a DRS of -11 at shortstop.  But, DRS is an accumulative stat, and Machado has played 4,780 and two-thirds more innings at third rather than short, making up for the huge difference.  Still, Machado’s best defensive season at shortstop was in 2016, where he posted a lousy total of three DRS.  At third, the numbers are consistently better and higher.

Despite that, if the Padres decide to fulfill Machado’s wishes and play him at shortstop, it’s not that big of a deal.  We could easily attribute the shortstop numbers to a lack of sample size.

Elsewhere, San Diego is in just as good of a place.  Luis Urias slides to 2nd base, and has insurance with Ian Kinsler behind him.  The concerning Eric Hosmer contract sits at 1st base, but that hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, and at only 29-years-old, it shouldn’t for a couple more years.  San Diego’s outfield is more than serviceable, though it’d be nice if Manuel Margot could develop his bat a bit more.

And then there’s the pitching, that, while like everywhere else, the Padres have options and will be fine no matter what, but is probably the biggest barrier this team has to break to become a contender, and that barrier will exist almost no matter what they do.

The Padres have three options.  First, they could keep everyone, hope they all develop and probably still be pretty well off.  Second, they could move almost everyone, but that requires other teams to have to make top guys available (Who?  The whole Indians rotation?  If the Mets don’t pan out and want to rebuild?).  Or third, a combination of both, where San Diego picks and chooses guys to move and keep (Because they can) and assembles a rotation that way.

The third is most likely because while the first is probably the preferred option, it’s just not realistic, especially considering this number of guys.

So who do the Padres move?  Mackenzie Gore is off limits, same with Chris Paddock.  Anderson Espinoza is a tough case.  He’s somehow only 20-years-old still, but just underwent Tommy John Surgery and wasn’t great in High-A before it. Espinoza is someone who’s terrifying to trade away but because of that could net a high return.

Then there’s the lower tier of guys, who in any other farm system are among the top prospects.  These are the Luis Patinos (Who I like!), Adrian Morejons and Logan Allens of the world.  Any combination of those two players land you a solid, win-now starter.

The market of pitchers who San Diego could target has to develop of course.  That market is not clear or even available now, but come late July, when San Diego could be much higher in the standings than we think they’re going to be, it will be.  And even if the Padres are on track, don’t count them out.  Never count AJ Preller out of any potential trade.

The Padres could also find that market to be within themselves too.  While the current rotation overall is a complete disaster, there are a couple bright spots.  Joey Lucchesi wasn’t terrible last season; the high-ish ERA, home run and walk numbers cause speculation, but Lucceshi mows down hitters when he’s firing (10.0 strikeouts per nine last season!).  He’s only 25 too, and 2018 was his debut.  I’m less high on Eric Lauer, but he’s even younger than Lucceshi at 23.  Jacob Nix is another name that has potential as well.

But so many questions comes out of the Padres current major league talent, which is why trading certain prospects, or even those guys above, for solid guarantees makes the most sense.

If the Padres do that, stick to the plan and don’t rush like they did when Preller took the job, then they will be fine.  As in 2020 World Series contender fine.

KP, AD And The Insane NBA Trade Deadline

This column has been in the works for about a week.  It’s long, but covers every major trade made over the past seven days and touches on some of the minor ones as well.

Late thoughts on the Kristaps Porzingis trade…

It’s going to be really funny when the Knicks sign Kemba Walker and only Kemba Walker this Summer, completely negating the whole point of this terrible, terrible trade.

Lets start from the beginning.  Last Thursday morning, in the middle of all the other NBA chaos that was happening, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnanowski dropped another bomb that Kristaps Porzingis met with the team, displaying that he was unhappy and concerned about its direction, leaving the Knicks to believe that he wanted a trade.  About 35 minutes later, Porzingis was a Dallas Maverick.

Thank God, Woj was late to the trade discussions New York was having about Porzingis with other teams (Or at least we hope so).  Reports later came out that the Knicks had been discussing moving Porzingis in the days prior to the trade.

This was a surprise and not so much one at the same time.  It was a surprise because you would have thought that Porzingis would be part of whatever big plans the Knicks had going for them this Summer, and you would have thought that Porzingis would’ve wanted to be a part of that.

But it wasn’t a surprise because Porzingis and the Knicks have clear, documented beef.  Whether it be Phil Jackson’s riff or the skipped exit interview or the fact that New York almost traded him once before, Porzingis and the Knicks never really got along.  The fact that New York was holding him out of basketball activities for this season even though he was probably ready to go after sustaining that torn ACL last season didn’t help their relationship either (Though that was a smart move by the Knicks, and Dallas is following suit).  Porzingis was probably going to walk next Summer, assuming he took the qualifying offer from the Knicks this Summer (Hopping into restricted free agency wouldn’t have given him the full power to leave).

The Porzingis situation serves as a warning to the rest of the league: Do Not Go To The Knicks.  All you had to do was look at how they treated Porzingis, their 2nd biggest star since Patrick Ewing.

It felt like NBA players had figured out that going to the Knicks was a suicide mission.  They got ignored by LeBron twice and never got KD’s consideration in 2016.  Their biggest signing in the past five years was Joakim Noah, which worked out wonderfully.  The Knicks had become a complete stay-away when it came to free agent destinations.

Which is why this renewed, supposed interest in joining them from two of the league’s ten best players is so strange.  Why would Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving want to go there?  KD left Oklahoma City not only because of Russell Westbrook, but because the Thunder were incompetently managed from the top down.  Kyrie wanted out of Cleveland not only because LeBron was limiting him from what he’s doing now, but because there was no way that team was winning another title again, and because Kyrie had never played for a good coach.

Maybe they want to play in New York City, the place that runs the world.  Maybe they want to bring the Knicks their first championship in 46 years in the most famous arena in the world in the city that runs the world.  Maybe KD and Kyrie just want to play together, and while Boston would make a ton of sense fit-wise, maybe they want to do it on that grandest stage.  Maybe KD wants to take on more of a LeBron-like role, where we see him as a more do-it-all, ball-handler type player.  Maybe Kyrie thinks the ceiling on this current Celtics team is a lot lower than we think it is, and that playing in Boston isn’t as fun as he thought it was.

I’m so pro player empowerment that I even supported Jimmy Butler’s antics earlier this season.  But I also care about championships, and I like players that want to win.  While Kyrie and KD would make a new threat in the East, it seems unlikely that team is a better one than each of their current ones.  Is Kyrie-DSJ-Knox-KD-Robinson better than Kyrie-Hayward-Tatum-Morris-Horford?  What about a team that features Kyrie-Tatum-Anthony Davis?  Kyrie, Davis and whatever the Celtics have left after a potential trade with New Orleans probably isn’t better than that potential Knicks team, especially considering that New York could have a juicy draft pick coming their way.  Given that Tatum is probably going to New Orleans in a Davis trade, it’s fair to see Kyrie’s point.

But for KD, does anything trump what he has right now?  DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t make a difference; he’s going to leave and the Warriors will be just as good without him.  For KD, this is simply about not getting bored, and trying to expand his game.  Again, it’s a fair point to see.

But why there…  just why the Knicks

Maybe Kyrie and KD feel like their starpower can overshadow any disfunction going on within the organization.  But there’s on the court problems too.  If KD wants to expand his game to a LeBron-like role, that affects Kyrie negatively, putting him in a similar role to the one he was in Cleveland.  And if you know Kyrie is coming, why was Dennis Smith Jr., a spark-plug, traits of bad Russell Westbrook (high usage rate, ballhog, non-off-the-ball player) guard the main piece of a blockbuster trade which sent your best player in years out the door?  I understand the salary relief, but if you have the capability to sign both Kyrie and KD, not only are you going to go over the cap to do that, but you’re going to go as far as it takes to get that team to be as good as it can.  You’ll pack MSG every night and be fine.  That includes keeping and paying Porzingis.  That means paying whatever that luxury tax bill is.  Because that team will be worth it.

Porzingis makes any team better.  Make him happy and put pieces around him, or, if you have the capability, have him be a piece around someone else.  The Knicks failed to do both of those things, and ended up trading him for two average-to-below-average first round picks and the hope that someone is coming.  That hope is based on two of the league’s ten best players leaving their already really, really good situations to come to a complete mess of an organization with serious on-court problems despite their young talent (I can’t imagine DSJ playing with anyone who is “supposedly” coming to the Knicks).

If Kyrie and KD were smart, they don’t go to the Knicks.  And if the Knicks were smart, they don’t make this trade.  How this move truly works out is based on one of those two sentences becoming true.

For Dallas, I mean, what an absolute steal.  The Mavericks essentially traded two first round picks for Kristaps freaking Porzingis, Courtney Lee, who is viable as a 5th guy for now but is a spot that could definitely be upgraded, and Tim Hardaway Jr., who 18 months ago probably gets “One of the worst contracts in the league” as a noun rather than his name.  While Hardaway Jr. isn’t the most efficient scorer, he has improved on that end over the past year, and this Mavericks team is one that just needs firepower around Luka Doncic to become a true threat in the playoffs.  Hardaway Jr. helps with that, and while the contract is still overinflated for his new self, you still have Luka and Porzingis.  I’ll take on close to anything if I have that (Except for Andrew Wiggins.  Definitely except Andrew Wiggins).

On the way out went a guard that the Mavericks were claiming they weren’t shopping and wanted around still, but definitely were shopping and didn’t want around due to his on-court fit with Doncic in DSJ and two expiring contracts that never worked out for Dallas but were too large to bench (Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan).  I mean, they cleared out everything that was wrong with their roster and got one of the best young big men in the league for the cost of two future first round picks.  The management that allowed the Mavericks to do this is who Kyrie and KD want to play for?  Good luck.

The Mavericks owe a lot of future picks now with this trade, and it’s risky if they fail to fill out the rest of this roster through other methods.  But having Doncic and Porzingis gets you to a certain ceiling, which means the picks you are giving away aren’t going to be very good in the first place.  And the duo of Doncic and Porzingis should attract talent.  These two guys have the ability to both be top 15 players; Doncic’s ceiling is legitimately one of the best players in the league.  Doncic is a de-facto point guard/crunch-time guy and Porzingis is the perfect big man for today’s league; he stretches the floor, protects the rim and is secretly athletic rather than lanky.  Porzingis’ health is a concern, but if Dallas fills out the roster, then his role can strictly be what he’s good at, rather than taking on a heavy load.

The pick going to the Hawks is probably going to be a good one; Dallas has all the incentive to go for a playoff spot for that reason and to get Luka some experience, despite their relinquishment of Harrison Barnes (More on that later).

If they didn’t owe Atlanta the pick, I would advocate for Dallas to tank the rest of this season, because again, it’s not like you’re going anywhere this season anyways without Porzingis.

Dallas heads into next season with Luka-Hardaway Jr.-Porzingis. That’s pretty good.  They need two other guys (The plan to address that sounds like a couple Summer signings) as the Barnes trade got rid of another starter.  Courtney Lee is under contract for next season, and could serve as a wing opposite Hardaway Jr.

With this trade, the Mavs are at least fun as hell next year, with the potential to be a lot better.  That might be understating it.

On the Anthony Davis situation, and the Pelicans kicking off a fire-sale…

The Anthony Davis trade request came as no surprise, but the way Davis and Rich Paul handled this was pretty crappy, and it might end up backfiring on them.

Davis claimed that there were four teams on his list: The Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the LA Clippers, and the New York Knicks.

But Davis and Paul knew that the only way Davis would be a Laker next season (Which is clearly his (And Paul’s and LeBron’s) preferred destination) would be to get him moved before the trade deadline, because then the Boston Celtics would be eligible to bid for Davis if LA had waited until July 1st.

The Celtics are out-bidding everyone no matter what.  New Orleans knew this.  Davis and Paul knew this.  The Lakers, for whatever reason, didn’t.

The Lakers first offer of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and a first-round pick was incredibly hysterical.  It was actually bad business by New Orleans that they continued to talk with them.

LA ended up getting more serious, offering all five of their young players (Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac) and two first round picks in exchange for Davis and Solomon Hill.  That was actually quite realistic and fair.

The Lakers (and their fans) thought otherwise, and failed to realize there was no offer they could have put out there that is better than what Boston can offer July 1st.  Reports have the Celtics willing to put Jayson Tatum in a potential trade along with other pieces.  In Tatum, you’re getting a future All-NBA player with the potential to be one of the league’s ten best, plus a nice stash of draft picks and your choice of other role players.  That’s incomparable to what the Lakers have.  LA’s package contained late first round draft picks and potentially zero All-NBA guys/future stars.  While I like Hart a lot, his ceiling is a solid wing on a good team who can fill multiple roles.  Zubac felt like a Jursurf Nurkic without the passing ability; someone who will learn defense while consistently putting up 20-10s (There’s a legitimate chance he’s the best out of all the young guys LA had.  Of course they ship him out of all of them across the hallway for nothing.  Congrats to the Clippers on another AD asset!).  I’m afraid Lonzo Ball has already reached his ceiling; a good passer who is going to be an iffy shooter, limiting his effectiveness to take over late in games.  Kyle Kuzma could be anywhere from the best to third best player in their offer; the guy knows how to get buckets, and has a ceiling of a crunch-time scorer, but the efficiency has to improve.  Some nights he’s on and some nights he’s off.  There’s a chance he’s Andrew Wiggins 2.0 offensively.  And we’ve been praising Brandon Ingram for three years now.  Can anyone tell me what he does well on the court?

The trade would have made sense for New Orleans because they’d be getting a young core, but from what we’ve seen so far this season, and there’s been a much bigger sample size than what we thought we were going to get, it’s not exactly confirmed that this core works.  Individually, the projections are pretty good.  But you can’t look at it that way.  The Pelicans would have been getting all these guys, and they would have been the future.  They’d have to fit and work together.  It’s certainly taken them awhile to do so in Los Angeles.

In Tatum you’re getting a guarantee, and that’s why New Orleans was smart to wait. The Lakers offer I floated that should have gotten New Orleans to consider not making the Boston deal was all five young dudes and three firsts.

The Lakers offered just short of that before “pulling out” of talks with the Pelicans, claiming their demands were “outrageous.”  While the Pelicans and Lakers were *this* close to coming to a fair agreement, New Orleans did a good job not being nice here.  They should be “outrageous.”  In Davis, we’re talking about one of the five best players in the league and possibly one of the best 45 players of all-time.  Davis is 25 and is already at that point.  He’s has 5-6 years left of his prime, and that’s worst-case scenario.

So blame the Pelicans for not taking the Lakers “final” offer all you want, but the first round picks are making up for what those young guys probably aren’t going to amount to.  Three makes it worth it, two does not.  For almost any other player, it’d be a silly argument to end discussions over.  For Davis, it wasn’t at all.

The Lakers’ and Celtics’ offers were the only ones New Orleans should have been discussing.  Other teams were putting their hands in the hat or should have been (Toronto, Portland, Miami, the Clippers), but only one of those teams gave the Pelicans a package that made sense.  While a hypothetical Damian Lillard and Zach Collins package is equal value for Davis, that would have turned the Pelicans into a little bit better than what they are now.  The ceiling on a Lillard-led Pelicans team would have been the 4th seed, not a Finals team.

The Pelicans have to get a rebuilding package out of this trade, not a win-now package headlined by another top 25 player.  You’re putting a second round ceiling on your team if you make that trade as opposed to getting a core of guys that could develop into something very, very good.

You need a star back for Davis, but that needs to be a future star rather than a current one.  That’s the difference between Tatum and Lillard.  Or between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kyle Lowry.

The four teams I mentioned above didn’t have the package New Orleans should have wanted for Davis, and it was smart of New Orleans not to consider them.  For once, the Pelicans handled something right.  Yesterday’s moves proved that as well.

The Bucks only made one move, but it was enough to counter the big plays made by others atop the East.  Milwaukee’s trade for Nikola Mirotic gives the Bucks another guy they can plant in the corner and get open shots for.  Some speculate he could be out there in crunch-time for them (He’s a player worthy of that), but that means benching Brook Lopez, who provides valuable defense to the Bucks and allows Giannis Antetokounmpo to not have to do too much on both ends.  If Lopez is out, Giannis is the de-facto rim protector, and the initiator offensively.  Giannis is a tank, but that’s a lot to ask of him.

New Orleans began their fire-sale with this move.  Just a year after acquiring Mirotic to help make a playoff run, they’re selling him to another hoping to make it deep.  This fire-sale is a elongated one, as AD (And possibly Jrue Holiday) won’t be moved till July, but Mirotic was the first domino to fall in what looks like a total rebuild for New Orleans.

They got back quite a bit; something necessary for a rebuilding team.  After the Bucks stole Stanley Johnson from the Pistons for Thon Maker, the Bucks flipped Johnson into Mirotic (An excellent move.  Johnson is a development piece.  Mirotic comes in right now and plays big minutes in the playoffs), and sent Johnson to New Orleans.  Johnson’s been up and down throughout his career, and just hasn’t figured out the offensive side of the ball.  It’s possible Alvin Gentry’s system could help.  He’s an excellent defender already, and still projects as a switchy wing.  He’s a good get and bet for the Pelicans.

Somehow, they netted four second round picks (And Jason Smith’s contract) in addition to Johnson.  Milwaukee had a ton of extra ones hanging around, and decided to ship them all to the Pelicans.  This says one of two things: 1) New Orleans wanted to revamp after the forthcoming Davis trade, keep Mirotic and try and stay competitive or (Explaining the high price) or 2) Demanded some crazily unprotected first rounder for him.  The 2nd option is more likely based on what we know about the Pelicans trade demands for AD, which is a good thing, because the first would have me concerned.

All-in-all, that’s a win-win trade.  For Milwaukee, it could go a long ways.

The Pelicans made one other move that wasn’t AD, and that was swapping Wesley Johnson for a 2nd rounder and Markieff Morris.  Morris is going to get bought out, so it’s essentially a way to get rid of Johnson, while for Washington, they get under the tax by dealing Morris.  Morris is an interesting buyout guy, but his breed is dying.  If he can’t make the adjustments his brother has, his options might start to become limited.

On the Tobias Harris trade and the Clippers’ and Sixers’ deadlines…

This trade was an unbelievable late night surprise Tuesday that I was lucky (or not.. it was 1:30 AM) to be up for.  The Clippers shipped Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, their own first rounder next season, Miami’s 2021 unprotected first rounder and two second rounders.

There’s many dynamics to this one.  First, the Sixers essentially made a trade that rid them of all the depth they had previously been complaining about not having enough of and didn’t fix their biggest issue.  Second, the Clippers, like the Knicks, have to know someone is coming by letting Harris leave early.  The fact that they made no push in trying to re-sign him is telling.

Let’s start with the Sixers.  If you base it off win-loss, the Jimmy Butler trade was worked out fine, and in just the way we planned it too.  But underlying issues have complicated its effectiveness, and has even led me to question whether it was the right move.

Butler’s little spat with Brett Brown not long after arriving in Philly and the Sixers’ loss to the Celtics on Christmas Day spotlighted these issues.  Butler wants the offense to run through him, with pick-and-rolls and isolations a heavy part of it.  That would be fine if Ben Simmons was a shooting threat from the outside.  He is not, and probably never will be given the reluctancy we’ve seen from him in that area of his game.

With Simmons a non-threat, defenses can leave him alone in the corner if the Sixers are isolating Butler or posting up Embiid.  This has led to essentially 4-on-5 play from the Sixers in crunch-time, and it’s cost them.

While it hasn’t been that huge of an issue in the regular season, come the playoffs it will be.  You have to execute down the stretch in the playoff games.  It’s the No.1 deciding factor in who gets to the Finals.

Philly’s best option to solve that would have been trading Simmons for Anthony Davis, an offer that would have made sense for New Orleans and could probably be done straight up.  Instead of considering this, the Sixers went all in on complicating matters even further, and risk losing one or both of their two big acquisitions this season come Summer if it doesn’t work out.

Trading for Harris adds another high-usage, high volume scorer to the mix.  While Harris is a more efficient player than I have previously given him credit for, you still have to wonder about the fit.  He’ll have to sacrifice on this team.  That’s a big adjustment compared to his role on the Clippers, where he was averaging 20.9 points a game and had a usage percentage of 23.6 percent.

And Harris wasn’t what they needed.  Philly needed two things this deadline: 1) A solution to the Simmons/Butler fit (A ball-handling guard or a trade of one of those two).  2) Depth.

They got neither.  While the Sixers did remake their bench, it’s not really a unit; and they have one facilitator who’s comfortable playing off the ball (TJ McConnell) and just a bunch of other dudes.

When you have a starting five that is as talented as their’s though, you can stagger guys pretty easily.  Every player can have the offense run through them in some capacity.  Together though is the question.

The Harris trade seemed unnecessary because Wilson Chandler was doing fine as the 5th guy in the Sixers starting lineup (He’d shot 39% from three this year, and was extremely effective playing off the ball) and because it sacrificed them of already limited depth.  Landry Shamet had been fantastic this season, and provided some of that guard-play Philly coveted and was shooting the lights out of the ball (40.4 percent from three!).  Muscala was a productive big off the bench as well.

But the Sixers did get Boban Marjanovic back, who’s been one of the best big bench guys in the league this season.  He’ll bring a bigger defensive presence than someone like Muscala, but can’t stretch the floor like him and Embiid can.  Mike Scott fits more of Muscala’s role, but who knows what you’ll get from him.

They also traded for James Ennis from Houston, who never fit in there but gives Philly more size off the bench.  He’s essentially Harris’ backup at the four.

Jonathan Simmons also came in from Orlando, in what was probably the most underrated/not-talked-about trade of the deadline.  Philly traded Markelle Fultz, the No.1 overall pick not even two years ago, and no one talked about it.  Perhaps it’s because Fultz played in just 33 games for the 76ers, or because the projected star has completely disappeared off the radar this season.  No one really knows anything, and no one really knows how to evaluate it.

For Philly, they’re in a different place now.  While they could use Fultz to be a facilitator/crunch-time scorer, the Butler trade earlier this season signified that the 76ers were probably planning on a future without him.  He was never going to be the guy they hoped for.

For Orlando, it gives some hope to a franchise that hasn’t had a point guard in 10 years.  If Fultz can become anything we projected him as, that’s a win.  It’s worth the gamble of the 1st and 2nd round pick given up (The first was an extra one Orlando had from OKC, not their own).  Orlando should be able to give Fultz the car keys.  In Philly, that wasn’t the case.  Orlando allowing him to run the show will show us what, if anything, he’s really capable of.

Like Ennis, Simmons is a body off the bench.  He hasn’t done a lot for Orlando this year, but provides defense and a veteran presence on the court.  He really was a throw-in when it came to this trade.

Still, none of this makes up for the fact that the Sixers gave up valuable bench pieces and an insane amount of draft capital for a guy they didn’t need.  The picks might have been the most shocking part of the whole trade; Philly gave up the 2021 Miami unprotected first rounder (One of the most valued assets in the league) in addition to their own first next year and TWO second rounders.  You only give up that much if you’re going to be winning titles.  The Sixers can’t guarantee that.

Plus, you help the Clippers get in position for a possible Anthony Davis trade, which is far more possible and seems much more likely after this deadline.

This trade clearly symbolizes that the Clippers know things about this Summer.  In any other scenario, LA is dying to re-sign Harris and elevate the core that made them fun this season to one that can contend.  They did the exact opposite of that, clearing as much cap room as possible and fire-saling almost everyone, leading to a bevy of picks and a ton of cap room that makes them real players for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

The Clippers have to know Kawhi is coming.  Even though they got more than you could ask for, you don’t just let Harris go like that.  And you don’t get back the assets you did if you’re not making a play for someone.  It would make no sense for the Clippers to rebuild; the team they employed for the first third of the season was too close to being good.  It’s one of those “We’ll see when we get there” things, but a Clippers package featuring SGA, Jerome Robinson, Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, their own first round pick this Draft and the two firsts acquired from Philly makes a case to rival Boston’s offer.

The Avery Bradley trade was another sign.  Bradley’s not the same guy anymore, but you don’t just send him to Memphis for expiring contracts; a contender would have loved to give up value for Bradley to at least play defense for them.  That trade was a gift for the Grizzlies, who get another defensive-minded player who can switch in Bradley.

On the Raptors’ and Grizzlies’ deadlines…

Overall I was fine with what the Raptors did.  I was initially against them doing anything at all, as I believed firmly in the “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broke” philosophy (Their name coming up in Davis talks was odd to me), and because I thought that they could win the title with the roster they had pre-deadline.

Adding just Gasol was fine.  Jonas Valancuinas’ role had been limited due to injuries and the rise of Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, and Gasol isn’t able to play big minutes anyways.  Gasol essentially becomes Valancuinas’ minutes.  Now they’re just more efficient minutes.  I would expect Gasol to come off the bench, as he’s shown a bit of rust this season and isn’t the Marc Gasol we’ve been used to the past eight years.  The crunch-time pair of Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka has been too good this year.

In terms of value, Toronto sacrificed some depth, but overall got a steal.  That doesn’t mean it was unfair for Memphis though.  While they probably would have liked to get a bit more for their all-time franchise guy, the haul from Toronto was good.  Delon Wright will get big minutes, and figures to be their starter heading into next season, as it would only make sense for Mike Conley to be traded after the moves made Thursday.  CJ Miles is incredibly underrated; he was fantastic for Toronto until Danny Green showed up. The Grizz had to eat Valancuinas, but he at least fits their grind style, and there’s only one more year left on his deal.  The 2nd round adds value as well.  The Grizzlies also got Tyler Dorsey from Atlanta for essentially free (Shelvin Mack was waived by the Hawks), a young player who still projects as a scorer off the bench.

Toronto also shipped out Greg Monroe and had to pay a 2nd round pick to Brooklyn to do it.  Monroe was the minutes replacement for the injured Valancuinas, and played pretty well in that spot, but Gasol is just better and more efficient.

Charlotte’s interest in Gasol never made a lot of sense.  There’s been recent reports that Walker is probably staying in Charlotte, which made their interest a little more reasonable, and Gasol would have been upgrade over Bismarck Biyombo and Cody Zeller at the 5, but Charlotte isn’t exactly a team that should be buying when they already have a bevy of bad contracts.  They could have sent a pick along with one of those contacts to make the deal better, but how would Gasol of been part of your future core that you’re trying to build?

Interest in Mike Conley around the league was plentiful, and it should have been.  Memphis didn’t end up moving him, which has to be disappointing for both, but his time will probably come in July or at the Draft.  Utah and Detroit seemed to be the front-runners; Detroit’s interest never made any sense.

Utah and Memphis discussed two different deals – one that included Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and a 1st round pick and another that included a 1st and 2nd rounder and a contract to match Conley’s.  The first one made more sense.  Rubio almost certainly had to go out if Conley went in.  His three-point shooting has improved, but it still sits at a measly 32.5 percent.  Rubio, unlike Conley, needs the ball to be effective, and on that Utah team which desperately needed firepower (Which Conley would have supplied), you couldn’t afford to have non-shooters on the floor.  Rubio-Conley-Donavan Mitchell would have been ridiculous defensively, but they would have lacked switchability playing three guards together like that.

Conley would have been perfect for Utah.  He would’ve fit alongside Mitchell thanks to his three-point shooting and could have taken some of the ball-handling pressure of him.  Nothing on the defensive end would have been lost as well.

On the Otto Porter trade…

This trade was strange.  If you’re Washington, you can’t solve your biggest problem (John Wall’s albatross of a contract), and while that means moving Porter is okay, it doesn’t mean that this was the move to make.

Washington sent Porter to Chicago for Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and a second round pick.  Thank God for that second round pick; it really does a lot of the makeup for this terrible, terrible trade.

First of all, Chicago couldn’t have given you anything better?  Did you not ask about Antonio Blakeney, or even Kris Dunn?  Dunn straight up would have been a better deal, and you could have forced a pick out of Chicago had they given you Blakeney.

Secondly, did you not call a team like Dallas, Utah or Denver and gauge their interest?  Those are all wing-needy teams who could be looking for third options offensively, and might have been willing to give up more than the equivalent to Parker and Portis.

Third, how do you feel good about Parker and Portis coming back for Porter?  Porter’s proto-type is one of the most coveted in the league right now.  His value is way higher than what he went for.  Plus, Parker is a terrible fit for a Wizards team that needs more unselfish players and better defenders.  Parker is the complete opposite of both of those traits.

Oh!  And he has a club option for this Summer, so you’re not even getting him back because there’s no way you’re paying $20 million to him next year.  So the value is completely gone!

The Wizards did get Bobby Portis, who’s a young big that Washington could develop into something more.  He’s actually a perfect fit given some of the personalties in that locker room.

But Portis straight up isn’t close to what could have been received for Porter, making this one hard to justify.  I guess we can just say “Eh, it’s the Wizards” and move on.

I was initially sour on Chicago’s end of this trade, but have came a bit around.  Despite being on that massive max contract, Porter is only 25 and has two years left on his deal.  For the Bulls, he can be kind of a leader for them, and an effective one on the court too.  He could help them defensively, an area they could use it as they rank 24th in defensive rating.  By the time Porter’s contract comes up again, the Bulls would hope to have something developing into a playoff squad.  Porter, by then still only 27-28, could have some years left, and be willing to re-sign and try and push the Bulls into their new era.

Quick hits on the deadline:

  • Portland stayed quiet for the most part, but did end up swapping Caleb Swanigan for Skal Labissiere, a move I liked a lot.  Both guys needed a change of scenery, and Labissiere is a nice mobile player Portland can try and find minutes for.  The Kings are also pretty set rotation-wise, but need someone in the middle of their new lineup of De’Aaron Fox-Buddy Hield-Bogdan Bogdanovic-Harrison Barnes.  Swanigan won’t be the answer there, but with some development could turn into a bench big at some point.
  • Circling back to the Lakers, their trade for Reggie Bullock was a good one.  LA essentially swapped a lights out shooter in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk for another one in Bullock.  Bullock gives LA better defense and more experience; you can trust him in a playoff game.  The 21-year-old Mykhailiuk might have been a stretch in that spot.
  • The Kings made some good, interesting moves Thursday.  Essentially, Sacramento traded Iman Shumpert and Skal Labassiere for Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, escalating their timeline and giving them even more depth on the wing.
  • I addressed Barnes’ fit above.  Burks gives them another wing they can insert in off the bench.  His length fits well with the Kings.
  • Value wise, Sacramento did great.  Labassiere for impact guys like Burks and Barnes is a steal (Even though giving up Labassiere comes with a bit of a risk).
  • The Shumpert trade was a win-win.  Sacramento got impact guys and Houston gets a guy who can hopefully help them out on the defensive end as James Ennis did not.  He’s also been great from three this season, so he fits Houston’s scheme well.
  • The Cavaliers also benefitted from that three-teamer, netting a first round pick from Houston to take on Brandon Knight’s contract (Once again an example of Houston’s new owner being very, very cheap.  Houston had to give up a 2nd rounder for Indiana to buy out Wade Baldwin and Nik Stauskas) and got Marquese Chriss on a flyer (I still believe in you Marquese!)
  • Speaking of the Suns, the Tyler Johnson trade felt a lot like last year’s trade for Elfrid Payton, except a more expensive one.  The Suns got rid of one horrific deal for another, but the second could actually provide some value.  Johnson should get time next to Devin Booker at point guard, and theoretically, the two should be able to play off the other as he’s a 35.3 percent shooter from three.  It’s worth the gamble, since the Suns didn’t really have to give anything up.  If Johnson fits, the Suns could have an answer at their weakest spot.
  • I wish the Suns would have kept Wayne Ellington, who also came over in that trade, but he deserved the chance to be on a competitive team.
  • I did not expect him to sign with the Pistons though, as they are on the fringe of what I would deem a “competitive” team.  He’s essentially the Bullock replacement (Detroit looks smart here, swinging Bullock for an asset and getting Ellington, a similar player) there.  But teams like Philly and maybe even Golden State were calling.  Why not go there?
  • The Barnes trade for Dallas made it clear they’re all-in on this Summer.  They, like a couple other teams, must know one guy is coming.  Barnes was plenty effective for them, and they didn’t really get anyone back (Justin Jackson is a tough evaluation.  I liked him a lot but there’s a real chance he’s just terrible).
  • So what did we learn this deadline?  1) There’s way too many teams who have their whole future hinging on this Summer.  That’s a scary proposition, and someone’s going to lose out.  2)  Philly is one of those teams, but it might be in their best interest to actually let themselves lose out a bit.  If you let Butler leave and insert Harris as your 5th starter, isn’t that a better team than what you entered this season with?  Can Harris be the crunch-time option?  3) The Eastern Conference Playoffs are going to be fascinating.  All four of the top teams have Finals-worthy talent.  4)  The Kings are in position to get into the playoffs, and if they do, watch out.  They could make some noise.

Super Bowl Roundup

This was what I worried about it being.

Nothing felt right all week.  This Super Bowl felt like it was going to disappoint.  The fact that we didn’t talk about the game all week due to do still standing controversy over the NFC Championship Game and the NBA having a meltdown over the course of three days should have been a warning sign.

In a sense, I was totally wrong.  But in another sense, I was totally right.

I wrong in the fact that I thought the Rams would show up and give New England problems.  I was right in the fact that whatever the Rams did, it wouldn’t bother the Patriots enough for them to lose the game.

The Patriots were certainly bothered, but it was by themselves, not the Rams.

Since this game was a dud, we’re going to recap every aspect to it.  The game, the commercials, and unfortunately the halftime show, which wasn’t anything we should have had high hopes for in the first place, but maybe making fun of it can help us feel better about it.

The game: 

The first quarter set up the whole game pretty well.  Early on, it was evident that it would come down to whichever defense was going to have a dumb blown coverage or something, because it wasn’t good defense that led to the pitiful start, it was bad offense.  Both quarterbacks looked horrific early.  Tom Brady threw an interception to Cory Littleton on the first possession of the game; a horrible decision followed up by an even worse pass.  The Rams did absolutely nothing with it, thanks to fantastic coverage by the Patriots secondary (A trend that continued throughout the whole game).

That two drive sequence just kept repeating itself.  Brady and Goff were missing throws, the Rams refused to give Todd Gurley the ball and couldn’t throw due to New England’s secondary having one of its best games of the season.  The Patriots then finally got a good drive thanks to Sony Michel running like he has since the halfway point of the regular season and Julian Edelman kicking off his MVP campaign, but didn’t get anything out of it after Stephen Gostkowski shockingly missed a field goal (At this point, we were wondering “Man, are the Patriots really going to get out-executed like this?”).

That missed field goal didn’t cost the Patriots anything really.  The Rams offense was going nowhere no matter what you gave them.  The lack of commitment to the running game with Gurley (Anderson was not going to work.  That was clear early on.  He looked like Denver C.J. Anderson last night) and inability get off or make any throw killed them.

New England took advantage of that, leading to a resounding 13 points on the night.  But on a night like last night was, that’s all it took.  When the lead was 3-0, it felt like 20-0.  Nothing the Rams showed us made Sunday night made us think they were even coming back from that.

But all it took was some common sense from the Rams for them to make it game.  In the mid-3rd quarter, they started doing things like giving the ball to Todd Gurley, or throwing to Brandin Cooks, who had a backup on him in coverage after Patrick Chung went out with an arm injury.  A big reason the Rams were incompetent offensively was because of the excellent execution by New England, but they also didn’t exactly do what they were good at, and that was let their weapons go to work.  Gurley got just 10 touches, and while Cooks did end up having a big game, they went to him at the wrong times.  It felt like Los Angeles was waiting to go down before using their goods.

One of the few times they used their goods got them their only points of the night: A field goal in the late 3rd quarter to tie the game.

After another Rams punt, it was starting to feel like they were running out of chances.  New England wasn’t playing crappy enough to lose the game, and there was no way Brady was going to lose this type of game.  The Rams were going to have to stop him.  Brady was not going to stop himself.

He didn’t do that.  Finally, early enough to give the Rams a chance but late enough for them to punt it and give the Patriots time to put the game away, the Patriots had a Patriots-like drive.  Rob Gronkowski, who contributed to the Patriots yard total (I guess that’s what he contributed to?  There wasn’t a whole lot to contribute to in a game like this), made two huge catches on seam routes along the hashes, plays that no team, and definitely not the Rams, could cover.  Gronk got ever so slight of a jump on the defender each time, and for someone with his size, that goes a long ways.  It’s just not coverable.

That led to a New England touchdown, punched in by none other than Sony Michel, and essentially ending the game.  For the Rams, one possession deficits felt like two.  Add in the crunchiest crunch-time pressure that able to be applied, and the 10-3 deficit felt like three possessions for them.

The Rams played urgently and the best they had all night when trying to tie New England at 10.  Like New England had just done, it looked like the Rams were about to have a classic Rams drive.  LA was throwing deep down the field, and letting their weapons do what they’re good at.  Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, and Robert Woods all had huge plays, and Goff looked like the Goff we had seen all season.  That was until he left a ball short for Cooks, which Stephon Gilmore went up and snagged, sealing the game.  It was a mix of a bad throw and good play by Gilmore; Goff could have led Cooks a bit better toward the end zone, but Gilmore took a huge risk by under cutting it.  Had that ball been thrown better, Gilmore would have been shredded for abandoning Cooks and trying to play ball-hawker instead of sticking with him and defending the pass that way.

That sealed it, ending what was the worst Super Bowl of the decade and probably a top three worst Super Bowl since I’ve been alive.  Steelers-Seahawks, Panthers-Broncos, Seahawks-Broncos and this one are all in that conversation.  The game was a completely backwards reflection of this season.  After teams racked up points and offenses were taken to a new level this season, we got the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever.  This had to be karma for two weeks ago.

The commercials:

Since the game wasn’t that good, let’s give a shoutout to some of the best commercials that aired last night.

We’ll start with the NFL, who nailed it for the 2nd year in a row with this gem.  Keep in mind, last year they ran the Eli Manning-Odell Beckham Jr. Dirty Dancing one.

There were so many amazing moments in this commercial.  First, as soon as I saw this, I knew we were in for something good.

I mean, look at the way Marshawn is staring at the cake!

Some other awesome moments from this commercial:

  • Peyton Manning throwing the ball and saying “That hurt”
  • Tom Brady taking all five of his rings off and putting them in the dude’s hand.  They should have updated this and ran it after the game was over to show all six.
  • Lynn Swann’s appearance
  • Joe Montana’s rocket to Jerry Rice

In terms of killing it for the 2nd year in a row, Amazon did it again.  Last year’s Alexa commercial was great, but this year was even better.  The key: Dogs.

They knew the dog part was going to stick, so seeing just that re-aired multiple times throughout the game was nice.

Stella Artois brought the Dos Equis guy back.  This dude was a childhood hero of mine, so props to them.

On a more serious yet good note, Microsoft tugged the heartstrings.

I thought this was going to be really inspirational until this commercial showed the full shot of the tennis court with Serena on it with the Bumble ads and I went “OH THEY DID NOT GO THERE”.

Another one on the more serious note.

I thought this one was hilarious and probably represents someone we all know.

The M&Ms have never had a bad one.

Shoutout to Beetloaf and puberty.

Google showing the good side to technology.

I don’t know why Clint Eastwood was needed for this but Audi did a good job capturing us procrastinating.

Charlie Sheen has been a cool sport about himself in Super Bowl commercials over the years.

Imagine all the 13-14 year olds who tried not to laugh with their parents right next to them watching this.

The (underwhelming) halftime show:

I’m not really sure what I expected.  Maybe for Travis Scott to sound like Travis Scott (Was he supposed to have his auto-tune off?)?.  All I know is that whoever was in charge of making this hip didn’t do a very good job.  They had Big Boi in the wrong role doing the wrong song (They should have just brought out Andre 3000 and let him and Big Boi do ‘Roses’ or something), though his coat and intro was fantastic.  Scott sung his one song that gets radio buzz during a time in the concert where it felt like they just threw it in (Shoutout to SpongeBob though and thanks to Travis for coming up with that idea.  That was the 2nd best thing to happen during the show).  Maroon 5 did what everyone thought they would, and even their good, old stuff didn’t sound good because Adam Levine was out of key for most of it.

The NFL needs to learn that this isn’t hard.  The best halftime shows come out of putting one act who is a performer on a not-so-fancy stage and let them do their thing.  Prince is an entertainer, and he did that during Bears-Colts.  Bruno Mars killed it.  U2 had 12 minutes and killed it.  You don’t have to get fancy.  Just get entertainers and let them go to work.

Also, stop booking people who make niche music.  Usually that is better music, but Maroon 5 makes music meant to be sung in a cafe, not in a big concert setting.

Super Bowl Preview

I don’t know why this Super Bowl feels underwhelming.  It’s a good matchup; we could see a lot of points, or not a lot at all considering that we might have a quarterback matchup that could produce some mistakes (more on that later).  But something feels off.

Maybe it’s because one team probably shouldn’t be here, and the team that should have been might be the best in football.  Or maybe it’s because Championship Weekend was just too perfect in terms of the competitiveness and quality of the games, and even though Sunday’s the Super Bowl, no game could get better than what we saw two weeks ago.

Or maybe it’s just a personal thing.  Maybe it’s because this is the first Super Bowl I can remember not being with my family for.  Maybe it’s because college is kicking my absolute butt right now, and I haven’t had time to sift through Twitter and just take in the fact that it is Super Bowl week.  Or maybe it’s because the NBA lost it’s freaking mind this week, especially so yesterday and today.

But just because all of this is true doesn’t mean Sunday can’t be great.  Sure, it’s a little cringe-worthy we’re two days from game-day and we’re still debating about who should actually be playing in the game, but hey, that’s just more press for the wonderfully-ran National Football League during its biggest week of the year!  It’s not like they’ve mishandled anything during this week before!

Alright, alright.  Enough crapping on the league.  Let’s get to the game.

In terms of the matchups and schemes, some serious parallels can be drawn to last year’s Super Bowl, where New England succumbed to Nick Foles and the Eagles (An outcome that somehow made more sense after this season, with Philadelphia looking like crap with Carson Wentz starting and playing like the Super Bowl Champs with Foles starting) due to Foles picking apart the Patriots defense and the Eagles’ stepping up, forcing the greatest quarterback ever into one of the greatest mistakes ever made.

The Patriots aren’t nearly as bad defensively this season as they were last.  New England was 32nd in Defensive DVOA last year.  They were last in the league and made the Super Bowl.  This season, they’re back up to 11th, an impressive turnaround.  The defense wasn’t really why New England was losing games and had their crap stretch of the season; it had more to do with the ploy Tom Brady and the rest of the team put on the league by pulling a Warriors-like “We’re just going to take this one off” type of season.  They’re so good they don’t have to try.  Football’s not nearly as forgiving as basketball is due to the limited amount of games, but the Patriots pulled it off flawlessly, finishing at the classic 11-5 mark.

This defensive step-up is bad news for Jared Goff, who is similar to Foles in this situation.  Goff is somewhere between above average and good when it comes to his overall skill, and is appearing in the Big Game for the first time against one of the NFL’s all-time teams.  Him and Foles are in incredibly similar spots.  The biggest difference is that while Foles hadn’t exactly had the big game spotlight before last year’s playoffs either, Goff has less experience overall than Foles.  Goff is 24 and is about to complete his 3rd year as a NFL starter.  Foles was 29 and had almost six seasons under his belt before stepping into the spotlight.

But Goff doesn’t have the bag of nerves attached to him.  While he may not ever be the most perfectly rounded QB, it never feels like Goff is going to screw up in a big way.  Prior to last season’s run, we felt that way about Foles.  You just didn’t trust him.

A lot of that trust in Goff is due to his head coach, Sean McVay.  McVay has gotten ridiculous production out of anyone he’s asked for from it.  CJ Anderson, a former Broncos outcast who was everyone’s projected breakout player every year for three seasons is running at the same level or even better than Todd Gurley is.  Josh Reynolds has replaced Cooper Kupp, whose season ended on a torn ACL in Week 10, with what feels like no consequences lately (At first, very much so).

McVay’s high-powered offensive scheme allows Goff to rely on his weapons.  Todd Gurley, Anderson, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Reynolds and Gerald Everett are all there for Goff to work with.

New England’s defense has substantially improved.  They don’t win 11 games this season without it.  But throughout these playoffs, it feels like we could have begun to overrate it a bit, which is dangerous when facing an offense that’s this devastating.

The Patriots got a little lucky against the Chargers in the Divisional Round.  Los Angeles stupidly came out aggressive, trying to throw the ball downfield in the frigid New England air and essentially gave possessions away that way.  Brady went back into Brady mode, proving us all wrong and forcing everyone to pick them to make the Super Bowl.  That game was much more about what LA did wrong offensively rather than what the Patriots did right defensively.

The Chiefs model (I think it’s actually better) the Rams’ scheme the closest to anyone to in the league.  It features attacks downfield while also relying on a running game.  Skill position players are used to their strengths, and the roster is equipped with guys who have every strength and skill you can possibly have offensively.  Need someone to create in space out of the backfield?  Need a deep threat?  Want to get absolutely toasted downfield?  The Chiefs, and the Rams, have you covered.

Once again, it wasn’t really New England’s defense that gave them the early lead against Kansas City.  Patrick Mahomes was rattled early on, leading to a failed capitalization on a Brady interception and a 14-0 lead.  Then KC found themselves and went to work.  Those ever-s0-skilled position players did their thing.  KC scored almost every single time the rest of the game.  All that mattered was that Brady could answer.  He did.

Sure, if the Patriots were able to survive the Chiefs, the most explosive offense in the league, then they should be able to get ahold of the Rams, right?

The Rams bring a bit more diversity than KC did.  After the Kareem Hunt departure, KC lacked that lead back who they could feed.  They relied on a cache of guys, none of whom were ever going to grind you down.  They all had speciality uses.

The Rams are different because they have two running backs who can serve as that lead guy and as speciality guys (Having Todd Gurley be a speciality guy is a sickening thinking experiment about how good this offense is).  Though he hasn’t looked his best lately, Todd Gurley is still Todd Gurley, and CJ Anderson is like that one pitcher who just gets hot for three series and leads his team to the Fall Classic (Things like that just isn’t supposed to happen in football).  The Rams can use either of these guys as open field weapons or as up-the-gut runners.  That means whenever they’re used, you’re dealing with fresh legs.

Then LA throws at you Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.  Cooks is a speedster who can run any short-to-intermediate route and he’ll be open, simply due to his gust of beating guys off the line.  Woods was used incredibly incorrectly against the Saints, as McVay strangely kept trying to throw him screens instead of Cooks, but serves a downfield threat the Patriots have to put one of their safeties on.

The Patriots didn’t exactly have to worry about the Chiefs offensively though because they knew the offense had their back.  For New England, they need Sunday to work the same way.

In what was clearly an effort to protect and conserve Brady, the Patriots have adapted a power running scheme since the last month of the regular season.  Sony Michel worked through his early season struggles and is running hard, a style of play that’s not necessarily accustom to him.  At Georgia, Michel was the speedster compliment to Nick Chubb.  Now, he’s a like a mix of his classic self and Chubb.  New England has no problems rushing Michel up the A and B gaps, and he’s made that a non-issue.  Against the Chargers, he torched a top ten run defense by DVOA by running and hitting holes hard.  He was patient behind the line of scrimmage as well.

The Rams defense is complicated.  The stats identify them to be the complete opposite of the eye test.  DVOA ranks them 28th against the run and 9th against the pass.  But, the Rams have continually blown coverages throughout the season; everyone from Marcus Peters to LaMarcus Joyner.  Brady, who’s back to looking like Brady, should be able to pick them apart.

That’s good news, because there’s a serious chance the Rams wreck havoc up front.  LA stopped Ezekiel Elliot in his tracks in the Divisional Round, ending the running back’s insane hot streak to close out the season.

The Rams then did the same to the Saints in the Championship Round.  Granted, New Orleans was locked in on attacking the Rams secondary, as they only had 21 attempted rushes as a team, but LA stuffed both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.  Ingram had eight carries for 31 yards, while Kamara only gained 15 on one fewer carry.

The Rams defensive front is hot right now, and they’ve shut down every hot opposing run game.  The Patriots are another one standing in their tracks.

If the Pats run game is shut down and the Rams are able to score in whatever fashion on the defense, then it’s going to be up to Brady and Belichick.

Good luck to the Rams if that’s the case.

That’s essentially what this game comes down to.  Brady’s going to have to… step up?  Is that the right terminology here?  Is it really possible for Brady to elevate any higher?

Brady is going to have to deliver.  After watching what he’s done the past two weeks, and after seeing him fake-look like a shell of his former self, there shouldn’t be any doubt that won’t happen.

But that also means that how last year’s Super Bowl ended can’t happen again.  Or that the Rams skill up front can’t create the impact that those old Giants teams did.

Like last season, this Super Bowl feels like one that’s going to come down to a crucial turnover.  One that punishes the team who doesn’t score that one time to the point where the game is put out of reach.

In a season where offense has become everything, the Super Bowl perfectly reflects that.  Stops are going to go a large distance.  Turnovers even farther.  One quarterback is too good and other is too explosive thanks to his surrounding cast.

That monumental mistake could come from either side.  It could come from Goff’s because he’s young and inexperienced, and isn’t exactly the best QB in the world to start with.  It could come from Brady’s due to the talent and skill that’s relentlessly coming for him all game, or because last season proved that in a big moment, Brady is actually human.

This game figures to feature a lot of points.  In those type of games, you always take the better quarterback.  That’s the guy who’s less likely to screw up.

That’s Brady.  And there’s no debate about that.

Prediction: Patriots-33  Rams-27

That Was The Best Day Of Football You Could Ask For

For the past two weeks, we’ve suffered through some incredibly boring and no fun games.  During Wild Card weekend, only one game was close the whole way through.  And last week, we got one good game overall.

Whether it was the bad luck of the past two weeks or Drake reverse jinxing all four teams, we finally got a good day of football this postseason.  And it was the best day we could of asked for.

Rams-26 Saints-23 (OT)

Similar to the Bears during Wild Card weekend, it is hard to figure out how the Saints lost this game.

Sure, they blew a 13 point lead, but it was early, and the Rams weren’t at their full potential yet.  The Rams came out a complete mess offensively.  Drops by Todd Gurley and bad throws by Jared Goff plagued Los Angeles, and somehow it was CJ Anderson who once again was running better than the All-Pro.

It felt like Goff and the Rams were caving.  New Orleans had the ball the entire first quarter, and two drives that went nowhere by LA put them in a 13-0 hole.  It wasn’t like New Orleans’ defense was playing extremely well; most of it was self-inflicted.  The first Gurley drop, then the drop which turned into the interception, and stupid screens to Robert Woods could explain a lot of it.  I didn’t like those LA play-calls; you have Brandin Cooks; if you’re going to run a play for someone that is based on getting yards after the catch, you run it for Cooks, not Woods.

New Orleans was dominant offensively.  They had a few bad drives (Which LA capitalized on well), but when they were on, the Rams defense couldn’t stop them.  Alvin Kamara was open all game, and New Orleans got huge plays out of Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Hill.  Taysom Hill got involved as well, and at halftime, it felt like exactly how it did in Week 9: The Rams were stuck playing catchup.

But this time, LA came back.  After New Orleans went up two possessions again right after halftime, the Rams found themselves.  Brandin Cooks and CJ Anderson torched the Saints, and Tyler Higbee scored to make it 20-17.

LA never turned back after that drive.  That doesn’t mean it was all positives, but it was enough.  If New Orleans went three and out or punted, the Rams did too.  If New Orleans scored, so did LA.  The anomaly in that formula came early in the 4th, when the Rams got big plays out of Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds to tie New Orleans at 20.

That’s when things really got started.

LA’s comeback was subtle.  This was a great game not because of what happened before the tie, but because of what happened after it.

In big games like this, all you can ask for is a good ending.  The Rams and Saints got us to the point of making that possible, and then made it happen.

Brees and the Saints got the ball back with five minutes left.  Kamara gave them a big return, and because of that it was clear the Saints were doing their best to take their time.

But then LaMarcus Joyner decided to sag off of Ted Ginn Jr, and the Saints were at the Rams 13 yard line with 2:08 left.  Now they could take their time and not have to deal with any pressure.

But the Saints wasted first down by throwing and then had Kamara swallowed up (like he was all night on the ground), leading a crucial 3rd down.

In the moment, it didn’t even feel like pass interference.  It looked worse.  Nickel Robey-Coleman didn’t used his hands to interfere or hold back Tommylee Lewis’, he straight-up mauled him, running with his head up and extended his arms into Lewis’ head and neck area to push Lewis into the ground.  It would have been an excellent block had Lewis not been a defenseless receiver and if Robey-Coleman was on offense.

The correct call would have given the Saints a fresh set of downs on the six yard line, allowing them to score in either way and more importantly run the clock down.  It’s almost improbable that LA would have gotten the ball back if New Orleans executed properly.  They only had one timeout, but by a possible 4th down field goal attempt, only 10 seconds or so would have been left on the clock.

I’m usually the type of person that discredits how big of an impact calls have on games.  I usually believe that no matter how egregious some calls are, you can always do things to make up for them.  This more true in basketball, as calls can be made up for by playing faster and recovering possessions that way.  In football, it’s harder because there’s not many possessions.

Sure, the Saints could have stopped the Rams from kicking the game-winning field goal, but it’s not like LA went “down the field” on New Orleans.  The game-tying kick was 48 yards and that Rams drive to tie was typical Rams football: Deep throws across the middle of the field and methodical movement.  The Saints were never going to be prepared to stop it, but they were going to be prepared to answer it.  That type of game, that absolute shootout type of game where the Saints don’t have to worry about defense, never really came.

And sure, Brees could have not thrown an interception early into overtime, but that was a bang-bang play between Brees and Dante Fowler Jr.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision by Brees, it was simply a good play by Fowler.  By the time Brees had made the decision to throw, Fowler was right on top of him.  Fowler’s arm hit Brees’ right at the perfect time and angle, and that’s why the ball took such a wild trajectory in the air.  Are we really going to blame Brees when an excellent defensive play caused his first overtime interception ever?

It’s possible I’m just making excuses for New Orleans and am blaming the refs too much.  But there’s a chance that’s the most egregious call ever given the stakes, and given how prominent and explosive the play was.  There was no hand-fighting, someone got laid out.  And could have been seriously hurt.

So yeah, the Saints may have blown their chances to make that call less impactful.  But they also should have never been put in that position in the first place.

Patriots-37 Chiefs-31 (OT)

While the NFC Championship Game unfortunately was decided on a brutal no-call, the AFC came down to execution and big plays late.  This game honestly could have decided who the best team in the league really was.

A perfect example of that came after Chris Hogan “dropped” a pass from Tom Brady with 1:05 left in the regulation.  The call of incomplete was probably the right one; I honestly had no idea; no camera angle was sufficient for me, which meant the call probably should have stood as a catch, but giving such an iffy call like that to New England was going to make the world explode after what everyone had already been through Sunday.

But Hogan’s “drop” didn’t matter.  New England survived it and a drop by Gronk that ended up in Charvarius Ward’s hands, which looked like the game-sealer for the Chiefs until Dee Ford was called not offsides, but lined up offsides, a somehow even more egregious penalty in that situation.

Despite the breaks, how many teams come out of that Hogan incompletion and aren’t bothered by it?  Or aren’t totally rattled by the fact that they came within an inch (literally) of losing the game?  That two play sequence, even with the breaks, throws off every other team in the league.

Not this one.

New England, like the Saints, came out on fire.  They did exactly what they did to LA to the Chiefs.  The Patriots grinded KC down, using Sony Michel and James White as receivers and backs.  New England ran Michel right up the gut (A ballsy proposition considering his size) and spaced White out and let him do his thing.  They used eight minutes of the clock, and the next possession felt like a must score for KC.

They went nowhere.  Mahomes took a brutal sack on 3rd down after holding onto the ball too long (He was really bad about not getting rid of it Sunday in addition to just looking a little off/rattled).

KC got a break though.  After another fantastic drive by New England, Brady threw a ball right to Reggie Ragland in the end zone.  It was one of those old man mistakes we’ve seen from Brady this season, and felt like it cost them much more than it did. It should have; it was a completely bone-headed throw by Brady.  Ragland did a good job of making an athletic play by going up and getting that ball, but Brady could have put a little more mustard on it and put it towards the back of the end zone for Gronk to go and get.  Or, why not just run the ball?

The interception didn’t do anything for the Chiefs besides keep it a one possession game, but even that advantage went away as New England went up 14-0 at halftime after another methodical drive that featured more James White and a ridiculous TD throw and catch by Brady to Phillip Dorsett.  Brady fit it in an incredible window, and with tight coverage Dorsett did a nice job coming toward the ball.

The Chiefs getting the ball to start the 2nd half was the best thing that could have happened to them.  If New England gets it and goes up 21-0, then this game probably turns out a lot differently.

KC finally looked like the team we saw all year.  Mahomes flung a ball downfield to Sammy Watkins and then fired a rocket to Travis Kelce for a touchdown, and the whole game shifted.  If this Chiefs team was going to start showing up, New England’s task was going to get a lot harder.

Still, it was a matter of playing catch-up.  The Chiefs were in the Rams spot.  New England had went up 10 again, and KC answered thanks to the speed of Damien Williams, who gained 33 yards on a wheel route along the right side of the field and then caught a touchdown later in the drive.  The Chiefs just shouldn’t be allowed to run the wheel; they have too many guys who can score on it.  It’s just unfair.

With KC’s offense now fully firing, it was New England who had to start scoring every possession.  They looked like they were in decent shape to do that until Rex Burkhead got stopped on 4th and 1 at the Chiefs’ 25 yard line, a decision I was okay with until the play was actually ran.  You have the best QB-sneaker of all-time and need one yard.  Why give it to Burkhead? (He certainly made up for it later, though)

What then resulted was the most insane stretch of plays, scoring drives, reviews and calls I can remember.  The Chiefs did nothing with the ball and were forced to punt, only for Edelman to not-but-maybe/possibly touch it; I thought there were clear angles that showed that the ball didn’t touch either of his hands, but it was close and, and if not for the drop by Edelman on the 2nd play of the drive, then that ruling in addition to the other 50-50 calls that went in New England’s favor again would have set the world on fire.  I guess the ball didn’t lie.

For the first time all day, the Chiefs capitalized off a New England turnover.  Mahomes put the ball in the end zone just as quickly as he did after halftime, and it was Damien Williams again.  That guy was just too fast for the Patriots.  Better him beat you than Tyreek Hill, I guess.

I mentioned it to start with New England, but Kansas City deserves just as much honor.  The resiliency both teams showed in those final eight minutes yesterday led to some of the best football I’ve ever seen.  Resiliency turns into execution, and the Pats and Chiefs did it at the highest level possible yesterday.

It was New England’s turn to execute first.  Sure, they got some help with the unbelievable roughing the passer call on Chris Jones, but I truly believe the Pats convert on 3rd and 7 there and still go down the field.  Was anything stopping them in that moment?  I mean, just look at Chris Hogan’s one-handed catch later in the drive.  What can you do against that?

The Patriots 2nd to last touchdown drive of regulation was a clinic.  Brady picked apart Kansas City as he did all game (and as he still was about to do), and Sony Michel punched it in from the 10 yard line with another run straight up the middle.  New England’s blocking for him was fantastic; he’s so small that he doesn’t need very big holes but is fast enough to shoot through them.  Even though the hole is small, it’s hard for defenders to shed their blocks when the blocking is so well done.

But Mahomes wasn’t scared, and in the moment, it felt like they were going to go down the field once again.  The level of trust in these two QBs was probably too high, but they had us convinced that they could do anything at that point.

KC got two huge breaks thanks to J.C. Jackson’s two defensive penalties in coverage (One was holding, one was interference.  Also, Jackson was really bad overall Sunday), and Mahomes found Sammy Watkins on once again another wheel route for 38 yards.  Williams again punched it in, but there was too much time.

Way too much time.

Somehow, each team got the ball and scored in the final 2:03.  I covered the Patriots drive to take the 31-28 lead above, and how insane it was that they battled through the Hogan drop and through the Gronk drop/tip-drill pick.  That drive was the most Pats thing ever.  It was just turned out that they left enough time (Just 39 seconds, to be exact) for the Chiefs to do the most Chiefs thing ever.

That phrase certainly has taken on a different meaning this year.

Thanks to a huge play by Spencer Ware and great awareness by Mahomes to take a shot on a free play, the Chiefs were in position to tie, and like one of the best teams in the league should, and how fitting it would have been considering this game, they did.  Because of course they did.

Due to how unstoppable the offenses were in the final eight minutes, it felt like the coin toss won the game.  There was no way the Chiefs were stopping New England, but there was also no way New England was stopping the Chiefs.  Brady’s final drive was probably the most impressive of the game.  New England got 10 yards every play, and Brady picked KC apart in a way he hadn’t all day.  Somehow, it was possible for him to improve on his performance.

That final drive was this game in a nutshell.  The absolute and absurd display of execution and clutch plays between KC and New England was 2nd to no other game this season.  No teams besides these two could put on that good of a show and not screw up in an impactful way.  No game has been that good in awhile.

No day has had me asking for there not to be any more football.  Sunday was too perfect for anything else.

NFL Divisional Round Recap

Like Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was also quite underwhelming.  We essentially got one good game.  I guess that’s just setting us up for Championship Sunday, where we really did get the league’s four best teams.

Chiefs-31 Colts-13

This game felt entirely too much like last weekend’s Wild Card matchup that also featured the Colts.  The only difference was that they were on the wrong side of it this time.

This game was similar to last week in the sense that it was over in four to five drives.

Despite the weather, a Chiefs offensive clinic worried me for the Colts.  Indianapolis, whose defense has gotten better but still isn’t that great, has to play conservative because of their shortcomings That means sitting back in zone coverage and keeping everything in front of you.

But there’s a couple problems with that against the Chiefs.  One is that free yardage is a sin when trying to stop Kansas City; it gets them in a rhythm and gives them even more confidence than they already had.  Two is that the Chiefs execute better than anyone offensively in the league.  If you leave guys open, they’re going to capitalize on it.  And three is that even if you do keep everything in front of you, the Chiefs are so good after the catch that they can outrun or out-muscle you for extra yards.

All of that happened Saturday.  Kansas City’s offense was too overwhelming.  Tyreek Hill found holes in the zone and was open all game; so was Travis Kelce.  Damien Williams gashed the Colts front, thanks to amazing downfield blocking (That downfield blocking also helped receivers get yards after the catch).

It was just too much.  Like Houston last weekend, one bad drive cost Indy everything.  The Colts opening drive went well until Eric Ebron reverted to the Eric Ebron we’ve been used to the past four years and dropped a crucial ball on 3rd down.  The Chiefs went down and scored, and the next Indy drive felt all too important.  Once again, they got nothing.  The Chiefs defensive lineman were getting their hands up and knocking down passes.  Dee Ford put immense pressure on Andrew Luck.  It was perhaps the best defensive performance we had seen out of this KC defense all season.

The only hope Indy had was that a classic Andy Reid postseason performance was in store.  KC’s offense didn’t do a whole lot in the 2nd half, but Indy didn’t capitalize, essentially cancelling out the possible meltdown.

The weather didn’t help the Colts either, but that was a factor that affected them the  whole game, not just the 2nd half.  Luck threw multiple balls into the ground, and drops killed them.  The weather factor always feels like a cliche, but the weekend’s first game was a classic performance of a dome team in treacherous conditions.

In better conditions, it would have been fun to see these two engage in a shootout.  But the weather had too big of an impact on the Colts, and proved to us that the Chiefs are still, and just may be, unstoppable.

Rams-30  Cowboys-22

The score was and wasn’t a good representation of how this game turned out.

It was a good one as the Cowboys played just as well as the Rams for the first quarter, and as Dallas made a bit of comeback late to make things interesting.

But it wasn’t a good one as Los Angeles dominated the Cowboys defense for most of the game, and led 20-7 at halftime after a slow start.

Though it was pretty short-lived, the Rams dominance went far.  CJ Anderson actually ran for more yards than Todd Gurley did.  That right there sums up Dallas’ night defensively.

The two were a ridiculous one-two punch.  Anderson put up 123 yards and two touchdowns, while Gurley ran for 115 and one.

It was essentially a three drive sequence that turned the game.  Down 7-6 after the slow start, the Rams came out on fire on a drive early in the 2nd quarter.  Jared Goff made a couple nice passes, and Anderson finished them off.  It was methodical; one of those soul-gutting drives where you went “Oh man, they look unstoppable.”

And they were.  The next Cowboys drive felt like a must-score.  The momentum had swung, and LA had all of it.

Dallas did nothing with it.  Ezekiel Elliot actually had one of his better runs of the night on that drive, but Dak Prescott forced two balls to Amari Cooper (who was dominating early) and that was it.

The next Rams drive looked just like their prior one.  The running game dominated, and Goff made a couple huge throws.  It was Gurley who had the biggest play of the drive though, running in 35 yards for the score.

That all the sudden put LA up two possessions.  Dallas never recovered.  They got close to nothing out of the rest of their drives; the Rams’ run defense stuffed Zeke, ending what was an incredible month-and-a-half tear he was on, and the secondary adjusted after some early struggles.

The performance from LA was a decent one.  There’s some nits you could pick; they had an extremely hard time with Amari Cooper early, who, yes, has been on fire since being traded to the Cowboys, but should be contained given the Rams secondary talent.

At the same time, that Rams secondary talent has been torched for most of this season.  Marcus Peters was picked on again Saturday night, and even LaMarcus Joyner had a couple brutal missed assignments (Specifically the Amari Cooper TD).

It’s not exactly the performance you’d like heading into a matchup against the 2nd most explosive offense in the league, but there’s a good chance defense just doesn’t matter in that game… we could be looking at a 50-45 score next week.

That’s where LA’s performance was impressive.  The offense came out and dominated.  Goff made throws, the running backs were essentially interchangeable. Another performance like that will be needed next week.

As for Dallas, they went from a point in their season where Jason Garrett should have been absolutely canned (and maybe still should be??) to in the playoffs.  Zeke turned into a monster until he ran into the league’s best run defense (Fair that he didn’t show up) and the defense started playing above-average football, or in a more positive light the best defense it has played in years.  While it’s fun to make fun of the fact that Dallas lost early in the playoffs again, this was probably their ceiling, and that was one heck of a turnaround.

Patriots-41 Chargers-28

Yet another game where the score was not indicative whatsoever of how things actually went.

This was a classic domination by the Patriots.  Who could of possibly thought they’d have trouble with the Chargers at home?

Oh, wait, that might have been me.

This game proved to us that while this Patriots era might be on its last legs, it’s certainly not dead yet.  Watching this game was like taking your car for one last ride on your favorite road before you sell it.  Tom Brady was out there picking apart the Chargers.  James White and Julian Edelman were grinding away for yards.  Great play designs were everywhere.  Bill Belichick’s favorite term is execution, and New England did that Sunday.

The 35-7 lead came thanks to Sony Michel remaining extremely patient at the line of scrimmage and hitting holes incredibly hard, and James White doing the same thing on catches out of the backfield.  Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, while White caught 15 passes for 97 yards.  Both guys ran incredibly hard, and the Chargers couldn’t bring them down.

Edelman was also unreal.  The guy was wide open for what felt like the whole game. He racked up 151 receiving yards and torched the Chargers.

There was about ten minutes of football that was entertaining, and it was the first ten.  It was the Chargers only successful offensive football besides the garbage time at the end.  Los Angeles came out incredibly aggressive, throwing deep twice and connecting on both, once to Mike Williams and the other to Keenan Allen, who was left wide open in the end zone on a blown coverage.  That tied it at seven.  The Chargers didn’t score again until the end of the third quarter.

New England’s defense was impressive, but it felt strange that the Chargers were trying to be so aggressive, especially since it was 25 degrees out, which isn’t exactly air-it-out weather.  Phillip Rivers threw 51 times, while Melvin Gordon only got nine carries.  It would have been nice to see more of a balance; the Chargers might have had real success grinding away with Gordon.  That would have killed more clock, since LA was getting beaten in the possession battle from the start of the game.  Instead, the Chargers kept throwing and kept throwing, even when it wasn’t working.  Whether running the ball was going to work or not, keeping it on the ground would have at least given the defense a bit more rest.

Next week for the Patriots will be the real test.  I was a week early on that.  Going into KC against that Chiefs offense is daunting.  They did a good job Sunday limiting big plays, but can they do it again?

Saints-20 Eagles-14

Like the Rams against Dallas, it took New Orleans a little while to get going Sunday afternoon.  The Eagles and Nick Foles came out on fire, and for awhile, it really looked like Foles was going to cook yet another defense and get Philadelphia one step closer to the Super Bowl again.  The Saints weren’t totally dominated; they got a break to score a touchdown in the 2nd quarter when Foles got a little cocky on a deep ball that Marshon Lattimore played perfectly and picked off.  New Orleans needed Taysom Hill’s fake punt rush to extend the drive, but it resulted in a touchdown thanks to a huge catch by Michael Thomas down the field to set them up.  Still, the Eagles were in control.  New Orleans’ defense couldn’t stop Foles and Alshon Jeffrey.  The Saints struggles that some picked on in the past couple weeks had started to come to light a bit.

But Drew Brees and Thomas weren’t having it.

The Saints first drive of the 2nd half was the turning point.  It looked like drives the Saints had put together all season.  Thomas getting open and making huge catches downfield.  Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram with four yard rushes every time they touched the ball.  Some trickery with Taysom Hill (That bomb to Kamara was unfortunately called back thanks to a holding penalty on Andrus Peat).  Drives like those are what made New Orleans unstoppable all season.  They looked unstoppable in that moment, and after that, Philly finally looked stoppable.

The Eagles next drive felt critical.  After watching New Orleans go down the field so easily, no points for Philly felt like a death sentence.  Their drive went nowhere, but New Orleans couldn’t punch into the end zone on their next drive, leading to only a six point lead instead of a two possession one.

That brought it down to Foles at the end.  New Orleans missed a field goal on the drive prior, allowing Philadelphia to stay in it and win with a touchdown and extra point.

If you were going to pick anyone to lose the game for the Eagles, it probably wouldn’t have been Alshon Jeffrey.  Like Thomas in the 2nd half, Jeffrey dominated the opposition in the 1st half, and had emerged as a massive target for the Eagles since Carson Wentz went down.  Jeffrey, like Thomas and Amari Cooper, had been always open for the past month of the season.  He was killing it.

Which is why, as much as he is to blame for the Eagles loss, it’s gut-wrenching to put the blame on him.  It was a once-in-a-million play by Jeffrey, and it came at the worst time.

The Eagles loss feels a lot like Chicago’s last week.  It just doesn’t feel right to blame anyone in particular.  Jeffrey had such a good game until the last drive.  Foles was on fire and earned himself a ton of money.  The defense really did its best job against Brees for most of the game.  Philly really gave it their all.

I guess that’s just a testament to how scary the Saints really are.

2019 National Championship Preview

For the third time in four years, we got here: Alabama and Clemson in the National Championship Game.  And for the fourth time in five years, we got Alabama and Clemson in a Playoff matchup.

And no one is really complaining.  Or at least, no one should be.

The Playoff is supposed to take the four most deserving teams.  Just because Oklahoma’s defense got cooked by the Crimson Tide doesn’t mean they didn’t belong in.  Playing the “who would beat who” game is the wrong way to evaluate the playoff.  If that was the case, there should be no playoff whatsoever, and Alabama should just be voted the National Champion every year.

Georgia may have kept it closer with Alabama, but they probably wouldn’t have beaten them either, especially if they preformed like they did against Texas. Maybe the Bulldogs should have taken care of LSU earlier this year, a team that almost lost to UCF’s backup quarterback.

The committee didn’t get it wrong because Oklahoma lost to Alabama.  Oklahoma was supposed to lose to Alabama.  They’re the fourth seed going up against the one. The same case goes with Georgia.

So what are we really complaining about?  That the games just aren’t good?  That’s a fair argument, but it’s not the same as which teams deserve it.  The committee isn’t making that decision based (or at least, shouldn’t be) off how good of a game the semifinals will be.  That’s not their job.

The case is true that the semi-finals haven’t been good games.  We’ve had one good semi-final game in the history of the College Football Playoff, and that was last year’s insane Rose Bowl shootout between Oklahoma and Georgia.  I don’t know what the exact remedy is to fix it, but expansion feels like the best route no matter.  If you expand, even to a six-team playoff, you make everybody happy.

It feels like every year when we have the playoff debate, there’s always two extra teams we debate over (I feel bad.  I didn’t originally think of this, someone else made this observation and I’m blanking as to whether it was a friend, something I saw on Twitter or TV, or read.  Sorry to whoever I stole this from!).  Not three, not four, not five.  Just two.  This year, there were people who thought Georgia and/or UCF belonged in.  Last year it was UCF/Ohio State.  The year before that it was Ohio State/Penn State.

So six is the perfect number, not the eight I have previously campaigned for.  That way teams only have to schedule one less game per year, the “Team B deserved in over Team A” crowd shuts up, and we’re at least doing something to attempt to make the semi-finals better.

Alright, enough ranting.  Yahoo! Sports had a tweet on the night of the semifinals and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

That little rant above was spurred off this tweet.  Let’s preview the big game.

National Championship: No.2 Clemson vs. No.1 Alabama

I touched on this above, but no one should be complaining about this game (Oh God here I go again).  It’s the two best teams in the country.  There’s been one bad game between these two in the previous three meetings.  Neither are the type to not show up or get absolutely throttled in a game like this.

Though it didn’t really matter against Notre Dame, Clemson has one big disadvantage in this game, and that’s experience.  Trevor Lawrence is my age.  So is Justyn Ross.  The other skill position players, and espicially the defense, have been around.  But the Alabama defense is ruthless, and forcing Lawrence to crumble should be one of their top priorities.  He was a little shaky early against the Fighting Irish, but so was Ian Book, so Notre Dame had no way to capitalize.  If they can do what the Irish did to Lawrence, it’ll be easier stopping the Tigers fearsome run game, and the Tide should be able to capitalize a couple times given the explosiveness of their offense.

The Irish combatted Book’s slow start by throwing short passes and letting their skill guys go to work.  They made good (but probably too much) use of tunnel screens, which Clemson had a hard time containing in the 1st half.  The Tide are suited to grind teams down like that with the powerful trio of Josh Jacobs and the two Harrises.  Getting past Clemson’s NFL-caliber defensive line is a tall task, but this is where the loss of Dexter Lawrence could loom large.  He’s the big run-stuffer in the middle.  The Bama is trio is just better than Dexter Williams, who was stuffed in the semi-final match, running for just 54 yards.  The Tigers are also up against a better offensive line, which will create larger gaps for the running backs to get through.

Turnovers, specifically forced fumbles, also helped Clemson against Notre Dame.  It seems unlikely they’ll be able to do the same against Alabama.  The Tide take care of the football.  Nick Saban-coached teams don’t make those mistakes.

That being said, I’m still much more concerned about Clemson’s offense in this game rather than the defense.  The Tigers aren’t getting torched by Alabama.  They’re too good.  No one is getting overmatched in this game.

Which is why concern for the Tigers offense is high.  They dominated the Irish.  Lawrence was able to take the top off the secondary (A secondary which was actually the strength of the group).  Travis Etienne ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.  Justyn Ross blew corners off the line.

Like Clemson, Alabama’s defense isn’t getting torched in this game.  The big plays Notre Dame allowed won’t happen.  Etienne won’t easily rush for 100+ yards.  Lawrence is going to be up against the best defense in the country, which is a group of talent he’s never seen before.

This is a grudge-match.

And in these, it comes down to who you trust.  In shootouts you take the better quarterback.  In grudge-matches you take the offense less likely to make mistakes and more likely to make big plays with their skill guys.  Lawrence, a true freshman,  against this Bama defense makes me nervous.  I’ll count on the Tide to execute better, and on Tua Tagovailoa to make the throws after attacking the hole in Clemson’s defensive front.

Prediction: Alabama-28 Clemson-24