5-at-10: NFL parity in a power poll, Braves offseason issues, Did you miss the NBA?

Philadelphia Phillies Jean Segura (2) steals second base as Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) misses the tag during the sixth inning in Game 4 of baseball's National League Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

NFL Power Poll

So, the NFL has become all about the under.

Underdogs, and under totals.

Let’s review.

NFL underdogs getting 3.5-or-more points are a staggering 37-19 this season. Yes, that’s better than 66%, and good enough to put a little money aside for when the recession hits.

And it’s not just against the numbers either. Sunday, four of the largest favorites in the 1 p.m. window lost outright. Tampa and torrid-tongue Tommy B were a 10-point favorite and lost to Pittsburgh. San Fran (minus-4) lost to Atlanta, Baltimore (minus-5.5) lost to the New York Giants and Green Bay (minus-7.5) lost to the New York Jets.

In case you’re wondering, a $100 moneyline parlay on those four would have paid more than $13K. That would help the ends meet, no?

And the unders are just as strong.  

Overall, as defenses bend but do not break and have goals of forcing field goals in sustained drives whenever possible, the "under" on total points scored bets is 57-37 this year. And in nationally televised primetime games, the under is 13-6 through six weeks.

The takeaways here? 

Point A: The NFL’s desired push toward a league filled with every team somewhere between 10-7 and 7-10 is working.

Point B: QB play in the NFL right now is less than great. How many legit dudes under 35 are behind center right now? Like generational, "that guy’s Canton-bound" QBs?

Josh Allen? You bet. Patty Mahomes? Of course? 

Who else under 35 is out there that you would bet a sizable amount of coin on being a HoFer?

Third, and to overlap the weekly talking points of these laughable roughing the passer penalties with the realization that the number of “plan your Sunday around QB Stud playing at 4 p.m.” is dwindling means we can expect the rules committee to reconvene at some point and back the "boy in the bubble treatment" of NFL QBs everywhere and find ways to try to increase scoring.

Because, point A is forever true: The NFL wants parity. But, the NFL wants parity at 31-28, not 19-16 in overtime. So expect the rules committee to reconvene at some point and a) reinforce these ticky-tack roughing the passer calls and b) try to regulate ways for more points.

Let’s get to the poll.


1 Philadelphia (6-0). The Eagles are complete. Front to back, this side and the other. Jalen Hurts is playing like an MVP frontrunner. (Would you wager on Hurts being a Canton invitee at this point? Me neither.) And know this: Philly has Hurts on a contract with a cap hit of less than $2 million for this year and next, so the talks about Philly trading for Christian McCaffrey are real and they are spectacular.

2 Buffalo (5-1). Does the QB make the receiver or the receiver make the QB? It sounds pretty simple, I know, but there are some complexities to it. And while the QB always gets too much credit for Ws and too much blame for Ls, this corollary is an intriguing one to me. We ask here because Josh Allen is a dude. We know this. But he has folks saying Stefon Diggs is the best WR in the league and Gabe Davis is the best deep threat since Randy Moss. C’mon, people. Diggs was above average in Minnesota; Davis is as interchangeable as chin straps in today’s NFL. Allen could make Spy look like Fred Biltenkoff (only older, if that’s possible). Look around. Russell Wilson is mighty pedestrian without DK Metcalf and Co. Matt Ryan has not been the same since Julio Jones got old. Marvin Harrison is in the Hall because of Peyton (but let’s keep that between us because no one — I repeat no one — wants Marvin Harrison mad at you). Matt Stafford has gone from Calvin Johnson to Cooper Kupp, so is that a Stafford check mark or a Phil Jackson-level of excellent decision making? (Side question: Man, Phil never agreed to go coach the Sacramento Kings and build around Wayman Tisdale, you know it?)

3 Minnesota (5-1). Raise your hand if you had a team six-weeks into the 2022 season with a two game lead in the NFC North. Now keep that hand raised if you thought it would be the Vikings rather than the Packers. Thought so. 

4 New York Giants (5-1). Want the ultimate definition of the level of parity in today’s NFL? The New York Giants are 5-1 through six games. They have a point differential of plus-14. Chew on that. And man, being 5-1 is great. Being 5-1 in a decision year on Daniel Jones and future contracts is a bona fide conundrum. Because let’s say the Giants play a smidge better than .500 the rest of the way. That’s 11-6, and that’s in the playoffs. Do you part ways with a first-round QB who just got you into the dance?

5 Kansas City (4-2). Yes, there are only four teams in the league that are 5-1 or better through six games. And fittingly there are four teams with one win too. And even with his less-than-Mahomes-like performance Sunday, I think the Chiefs are the best of the four-win club. 


28 Washington (2-4). The only thing worse than the Commanders’ QB play is their owner. Thank you, and try the veal. Speaking of QB play, when “Wentz to have surgery, Meinke likely to start” comes across the ESPN ticker, is that good news or bad news for Commanders fans? Discuss.

29 Las Vegas (1-4). Clearly the best of the one-win crew, and funny how three of the four of that club had byes this week. Maybe that’s why the football was so entertaining. Well, other than last Thursday. Egad. This Thursday’s match-up? Saints at Cardinals, who have even less time for Kyler Murray to pretend like he’s studying. Why is it not, I don’t know, Raiders-Texans — two teams who were off last weekend so the crammed schedule would not be an issue — in the Carr Family Crossover Bowl?  

30 Detroit (1-4). Not sure he’s going to make it as a head coach, especially in Detroit, but it’s hard not to like Dan Campbell. In fact, when it ends with the Lions, I will be among the first to go buy a used Tahoe from Dan Campbell Chevrolet, wherever it opens up. Who’s with me.

31 Houston (1-3-1). The benefits of fantasy football in terms of blanket interest is clear with this Texans bunch. Because if you are in a fantasy league, I’m willing to bet that the team leading your league has Dameon Pierce on its roster.  

32 Carolina (1-5). Fired coach. Open QB tryouts. Trading talks around the face of the franchise. Diva wide receivers getting kicked to the locker room during the game. Our pets’ heads are falling off. It’s all going south for Carolina. But hey, that means they are the front-runner in the race for Hendon Hooker, right?    

Braves big issues

The Braves were bounced from the playoffs over the weekend.

You may have heard about it in real time, or you may just now be waking up from a 72-hour, “We finally beat Bama” bender filled with cigar smoke and peach moonshine.

And if the latter is the case, where are we watching the Georgia game?

But a year after capturing the imagination of every Southerner who remembers fondly the two great Dales in a 3 and making all of us believe that Skip Carey was watching down with a styrofoam tomahawk in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, the Atlanta wilted.

Now comes another difficult offseason centered around a very popular player and clubhouse leader who is headed to free agency. 

Starting there, let’s look at three offseason issues for the game’s best GM, Alex Anthopoulos, and the Braves leadership to contemplate:

1 Dansby?

You know. Anthopoulos knows it. Every elderly lady from Memphis to Moultrie who spends the summer months bouncing between the kitchen, tent revivals and listening Chip Carey knows it.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson is a free agent. 

In the "we must have Dansby back" categories: He had a career year. He is a linchpin guy who has proven to be a top-of-the-order kind of guy. Even AA said he was a much better teammate.

In the "do we really need Dansby" categories: His career year came as a 28-year-old, which is statistically proven to be the peak physical season for MLB players. His career year came after an offseason in which Dansby admittedly trained harder than he ever has — a wise move heading into a season that will have millions if not tens of millions of dollars difference because of his production. 

So if the ledgers balance, the issue becomes cost.

At what cost will Dansby return to the ATL? I thought the Braves should have re-signed Freddie Freeman. Matt Olson is a younger, less-productive version of Freeman, and that’s fine.

If Dansby wants $25-plus million per — kids, remember his career year was .277 with a rather paltry .329 OBP — are the Braves ready to have their highest paid position player be a guy who is a one-time All-Star whose best MVP finish before this year was 18th?

And could that $25 million be better served in a pitching staff — be it starter or an upgrade at close, or even both — considering the signed options who could play shortstop like Ozzie Albies or Vaughn Grissom.

Good thing Anthopoulos is so good at his job, and even the elderly ladies know that AA has earned a wide margin of belief that if he lets Dansby walk we have to think it was the right call.

2 Cha-ching

For the fans of Dansby and those wanting his return, there is a silver lining. In a recent interview with team president Terry McGuirt said he hopes to “have a top-five payroll” in baseball.

The Braves are eighth and have arguably the best ballpark set-up financially in the game.

Cash is rolling in, even if the regional TV deal is not ideal.

So if the Braves add to the $188 million payroll, Swanson becomes doable.

But there are other positions, especially on a pitching staff that was confounding at times this season, especially in the ‘er’ months down the stretch.

Spencer Strider is signed long-term and has ace, top-of-the-rotation stuff. Max Fried is a stud, and the team has two more arbitration seasons for the soon-to-be 29-year-old lefty. Mike Soroka can’t stay healthy. Charlie Morton showed his 39 years this season, despite currently being the highest-paid player on the roster. The bullpen was a roller coaster, even if they had the fourth-best ERA in baseball as a group. (Side note: That’s a hard stat to believe, right, because it sure did not feel like the Braves’ pen was the game’s fourth best.) Plus, closer Kenley Jansen will have to be either re-signed or replaced.

That will take dollars. And sense.

We know AA has the latter. How much extra of the former will he get this offseason.

3 So, about the outfield

A lot of the pieces added at the last two trading deadlines — Adam Duvall and Robbie Grossman among them — are almost assuredly gone.

We know Michael Harris is going to be a fixture in center for the foreseeable future.

We know Eddie Rosario is under contract for the next two years.

And we know that Marcel Ozuna and Ronald Acuña Jr. are signed as well. But the questions about the three the Braves put in the grass are direct and indirect.

First, direct: Will the Braves tolerate the Marcel Ozuna sideshow? He has had multiple run-ins with the law, including a long suspension for domestic violence. He is owed $16 million for 2023 and ‘24. He is terrible defensively. And his once bombastic bat has morphed to a whisper.

Second, direct: Vaughn Grissom is ready. Now. And if it’s not at shortstop — or second — could it be in left field. He would have to be a better defensive option than Ozuna. Heck, we have potted plants that are better defensively than Ozuna, but that’s a high price for an everyday DH who hit .213 and .226 each of the last two seasons respectively. 

Third, indirect: Should we be concerned about Acuña? The lack of hustle that was clear on the inside-the-park homer in the elimination game against the Phillies was evident for everyone including Stevie Wonder. There have been whispers that Acuña is already unhappy with his long-term, team friendly deal as stars like Juan Soto are going to ask for three times what he got. There figures to be a growing animosity between Acuña and a pitching staff that rarely retaliates when he gets plunked over and over again. Acuña is the most talented player on this roster, and one of the five or seven best talents in the sport.

But an unhappy superstar can be a franchise-killer in almost any sport.

Finally, indirectly: The changing rules of the game will make athleticism, especially among guys in the grass, more important than at any time since the PED revolution led to “chicks digging the long ball.” There will be more chances and benefits to stealing bases. There could be defensive alignments that call for the left fielder to move into short right-field (where the shifting infielder currently stands) and readjust the two remaining outfielders accordingly.  

That does not help Ozuna at all.

And it only adds to the list of questions for AA in the coming weeks.

NBA starts

So, the NBA season ended like three weeks ago. And now it’s time for a new NBA season.

Of course it is.

Remember the movie “Office Space,” which I think is wickedly underrated? 

Well, there’s a great scene in which the two Bobs — the consultants brought in to fire folks, one of whom is played by the always great John C. McGinley — ask Peter, “See if you have missed a lot of work lately.”

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob” is Peter’s response.

Yeah, that’s how the NBA strikes me. Sure I’ll watch more than you when football ends, but I will miss more than I catch and I am pretty sure I won’t be missing it anyway.

But it starts tonight, and we start these seasons with projections and predictions.

NBA champ: Brooklyn. The Nets have two bona fide unicorns and arguably the best off-the-dribble scoring point guard since Allen Iverson was in the league. If this bunch can assume a “Bleep the world, we’re running this thing” attitude — a big if with a collection of dudes with the fortitude of china dolls in that locker room — the Nets will be a match-up nightmare for everyone.

NBA MVP: I’m picking Giannis because he’s the ultimate unicorn, but if Kevin Durant stays healthy and the Nets share — two monster ifs, I know — dude will average 35 a night and could shoot 50/40/90.            

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Smith, Houston. Did anyone think I was picking anyone different?

Coach of the Year: Ty Lue, Los Angeles Clippers. I think the Clippers will be excellent — and far and away the class of L.A. — with the return of Kawhi Leonard. And Lue will ride that to the Finals and get the credit.

Most Improved Player: Zion Williamson, New Orleans. The league is more fun with Zion in it. And I hope he is healthy enough to do those amazing, eye-popping Zion things. It was tempting to consider a couple of former UK players here as I think Anthony Davis with the Lakers and Phily’s Tyrese Maxey are ready for big years too.

Defensive Player of the Year: Bam Adebayo, Miami. It’s either Bam or Ben Simmons in Brooklyn, two cats who can legitimately defend 2s-thru-5s. I’ll side with Bam because I know he won’t have extended stretches of inactivity.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Poole, Golden State. That is, unless of course, Draymond Green breaks his face in practice.

Wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it Bob.

This and that

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall on the mounting frustration in T-Town after Saturday’s loss to the Vols

— Speaking of betting trends in the NFL that are interesting, your Atlanta Falcons are a perfect 6-0 against the number this season. And the simple fact that Arthur Smith has that roster at 3-3 and tied for first is worthy of coach of the year consideration in truth.

— Man, Harrison Ford is adding his name to another of the all-time movie brands. He’s replacing William Hurt in the Marvel Universe. 

— Side question: Didn’t Russell Wilson be really good at football like not that long ago?

Today’s questions

True or false, it’s Tuesday. Morning, Ern.

True or false, the Braves will resign Dansby Swanson. (Not should they, will they.)

True or false, you’d take Chiefs or Bills against the field in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl.

True or false, Bryan Harsin is coaching Auburn in its next game. (Remember, Auburn has a bye this week.)

True or false, you ‘missed’ the NBA.

True or false, you have ever been to a regular-season NBA game.

True or false, Tennessee’s resumé deserves to be ranked No. 1 in the country.

You know the drill, answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

As for today, Oct. 18, let’s review.

Jean-Claude Van Damm is 62 today. 

Rushmore of best martial arts movie actors. Go and enjoy the day.