5-at-10: More NFL rules changes, MLB playoff and award projections, Caitlin Clark’s popularity

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark warms up before a second-round college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark warms up before a second-round college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Rule changes

I support the NFL's rule changes. I don't believe they care about player safety, but I do believe they are trying to bring the excitement of kick returns back to the game.

Only 22% of kickoffs in 2023 resulted in a return. That's the lowest number in league history. The rule changes on the kickoff — quickly presented here — will feel a little odd a first with the kicker at his 35, the rest of the coverage team at the opposing 40 and nine of the 11 guys on the return team between their 35 and 30.

Some of the details I thought were important:

— Onside kicks in the fourth quarter only.

— No fair catches on kickoffs.

— Touchbacks that sail into the end zone start the offense at the 40.

I am interested in your thoughts on the kickoff rule changes?

Again, we have seen some major overhauls by the traditionally change-allergic leaderships of the NFL and MLB in over the last couple of years. The MLB changes were almost universally beloved.

The NFL changes will have ripples too, especially when this bleeds down to the college game.

But my biggest question is why overhaul this rule when there are a few much more pressing issues that deserve to be addressed.

Sure, everyone loves an exciting kick return, but that is so far behind the true needs of chipping the ball and using technology for spots, for TDs, for fumbles, for kicks that go over the uprights and so many other things.

Heck the ball already has computer technology in it — that's how they generated the NextGen stats for speed and other things — but let's get this done.

Plus, if we are going to tweak a certain aspect of the sport and make the kickoff matter, it is far past time to make overtime fair.

Use the college rules, but both teams start at the 50.



MLB projections

So Thursday is Opening Day across MLB.

I loved Opening Day growing up. Nothing worse than a rainout on Opening Day, though. (And it looks like the Braves-Phillies could be quite wet Thursday. So it goes.)

The American League is filled with depth.

The National League, I think, is more top-heavy.

The Rangers and the Astros in the AL West are legit. I think the Royals have made a lot of savvy moves in the Centra, but that feels like the Twins' division to losel. The East is a free-for-all that could very well cost the skippers in Toronto and New York their jobs.

In the NL though, the Braves and the Dodgers are the two best teams, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to be contenders because they have such a wealth of starting pitchers. That rotation was made even better with the addition of Jordan Montgomery on Tuesday.

So let's do it this way:

I have the Dodgers, Braves, and Cubs winning their divisions with the D-Backs, the Giants and the Phillies as wildcards.

Braves over Dodgers in the NLCS.

In the AL, Astros, Twins and the Orioles as division winners with the Rangers, the Rays and the Blue Jays as wildcards.

Orioles over Twins in the ALCS.

Braves over Orioles for the whole shebang.

Which leads me to Adley Rutschman, Baltimore's catcher as the AL MVP, and Mookie Betts as the NL MVP.

Cy Youngs to Zac Gallen of Arizona and Corbin Burnes of Baltimore.

Sports and TV

Been a hot minute that things in the sports media world have truly surprised me.

This one counts.

The combined TV audiences of first-round NCAA tournament games was up slightly from last year across the four networks and averaged a smidgen more than 9 million viewers.

But again, that was the combined eyes across CBS, TruTV, TNT and TBS, so the average audience for each game according to SportsMediaWatch.com was 2.98 million viewers.

Yes, there is a lot of overlap and viewer cannibalism with every game getting its own time slot, but I was first shocked by how low that number seems considering the NCAA charges billions for the TV rights of March Madness.

But here are two more shockers:

The NASCAR race Sunday in Texas =averaged more than 3 million viewers, which was up double digits from last year and better than the average of the first round of March Madness. (Side note: Other than the rain-delayed Daytona 500, all the NASCAR TV numbers have been up compared to last year.)

And here's the big one, because while a couple of blowout wins — Purdue's and Duke's over the weekend — were the most watched sports events of the weekend (and the weekend designation matters for obvious reasons), let's remember that above average and now share this:

Caitlin Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes averaged 4.9 million viewers in Monday's second-round win over West Virginia.

It was the most-watched non-Final Four women's basketball game ever.

The previous record-holder for that title was Clark and Iowa winning their first-round game over the weekend against Holy Cross.

And the Clark effect is raising the profile across the entire sport. ESPN's numbers Monday were up 180% according to SportsMediaWatch.com for women's hoops compared to last year.


This and that

— There was one winner in the monster lottery Tuesday night. That ticket was worth $1.13 billion. Yeah, that's winning the weekday. Couple of big-picture questions, and that amount of money is hard to fathom, but let's say you won $10 million in a lottery or Ed McMahon showed up at your door with one of those sweepstakes checks. Do you quit work? And what's the first thing you buy/do with the money? Go.

— Long live the Chattanooga Wreckers. Or has Ernie Banks could have opined, "Let's play tow."

— John Calipari will return to Lexington.

— The NFL rule changes make the Steelers addition of Cordarrell Patterson look even smarter.

Today's questions

We got several above for the Which Way Wednesday, but considering the rule changes, which recent rule change is your favorite.

Which is your least favorite.

As for today, March 27, let's review.

Mariah Carey is 55 today. Fergie is 49.

"Singing in the Rain" debuted on this day in 1952.

Rushmore of movies with a type of weather in the title. Go.

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