Fine line of destiny
Think about this: The conversation in the aftermath of the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs are pointed and varied.
The winners still have time to digest and spin forward. There's season left, practices ahead and at least one more Sunday (thank God) work day still on the calendar.
For the losers, the questions are deep and confusing.
For the Colts, the questions are way more pleasant than the rest of the near-miss teams that finished up last weekend. There is an answer at quarterback as Andrew Luck is signed through 2021. (Yes he has a buyout option, but that seems highly unlikely.) There was the extreme — and affordable — success form last year's draft class, which included starters Quentin Nelson, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith and more. There is the fact that the Colts are, by average age, the youngest team in the NFL (average age is 25.19). There is the number that the Colts have far and away the most salary cap money for 2019 — Indy has more than $122 million in cap space, which is almost $23 million more than the Jets. The Colts will have the Jets second-rounder (acquired in last year's draft deal for Sam Darnold) so they have three picks in the first 58 picks. That's good times friends. So if we have to have a question, let's go here: Will the Colts make a hard push for Antonio Brown, because the window is now for Indy, and adding a bona fide go-to dude on the perimeter — and they can afford it — makes a very good team great and a contender into a possible Super Bowl favorite.
For the Chargers, the questions are not filled with as many good vibrations. Simply put, with an aging Philip Rivers — who was throwing to spots and has lost several mph on his fastball — was this the Chargers bets last chance to get to the Super Bowl with the future Hall of Famer behind center? Maybe, maybe not. But if you are the Chargers you have to move now to win in 2019, because while the Colts' window is just now opening, if you had to guess, the Chargers have one more season left — at most two — with Rivers.
For the Dallas Cowboys, the questions are about who is going to get paid. Dak Prescott's affordable deal runs out in 2019, which is also the last year of the low-cost guaranteed deal for Ezekiel Elliott. (As a first-rounder, Elliott is under a team option for 2020, but that number is north of $24 million, so Elliott's long-term contract must be worked out sooner rather than later.) Next season is also the last on Amari Cooper's deal, and Dexter Lawrence, the team's best pass rusher, is a free agent now. So while the world debates whether Jason Garrett should be the guy on the sideline, the questions about the stars on the field moving forward have little to do with decals on the helmets. (And considering that the Cowboys have already extended tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick through at least 2024 in deals that add up to more than $90 million in guaranteed money, it's hard to see Dallas keeping all of those skill guys, right?)
For the Eagles, simply put it's whether you keep Carson Wentz or Nick Foles as your quarterback moving forward? If you keep each, that's $29 million for two quarterbacks. That's doable by league comparisons, but not for a team that currently has the worst cap situation in the league. We would keep Wentz — the ceiling is higher and the price tag, at least in the short term, is more affordable — and try to deal Foles for something. (And the decision to keep Foles and not trade him last offseason will be second-guessed more and more often heading into the draft.)
But in discussing the fine line of destiny in terms of the Eagles, is quite intriguing. If Alshon Jeffery catches that slant and the Eagles come back and win in New Orleans, then Foles is the toast of the town. Jeffery dropped it and it was picked off and the Eagles are done and Wentz appears to be the future.
That's a razor thin dividing line.
Best in the business
If you are a regular and were looking around Monday and wondering, "Hey didn't, Fat Face say he was going to write more about Michael Thomas?"
Well, first, it's Mr. Fat Face, and second, well yes, we did. So let's get to it.
Not sure whether it's because he has been on my fantasy team or what, but man Michael Thomas is the best receiver in the NFL. Period.
Better than Odell. Better than Julio or AJ Green or anyone else you want to throw out. Better than Antonio Brown. Better than all of them.
Yes, he's running patterns for Drew Brees, who is a Hall of Famer, but with what Thomas did on Sunday, the angle of the discussion of "Thomas is great because of Brees" certainly has some merit the other direction too.
When the chips were on the line, Brees was great Sunday because of Thomas. Check the numbers: Brees was 28-of-38 for 301 with two scores and a pick. Thomas had 12 catches (on 16 targets) for 171 yards and a score.
So, when throwing to everyone else, Brees was 16-of-22 for 130 yards and a touchdown that was open because the Eagles had two dudes looking at Thomas. That's pretty pedestrian.
And over the last five years, look at the resurgence of Brees, and in a lot of ways, Sean Payton, who was on an ever-growingly warm seat before Thomas showed up.
The group went 7-9 in Thomas' rookie year in 2016. It was the third straight 7-9 showing. Well, since, the Saints are 24-7 in regular-season games in which Thomas and Brees have played. So with Thomas, Brees is 31-15 winning at 67.4 percent of the time. And that's at the ages 37-39. Without Thomas over the years, Brees is 124-93 as a starter. That's a 57.1 winning percentage.
This also raises the conversation of value in terms of quarterbacks, or anywhere you may find it.
Tom Brady, other than Gronk, has made average receivers and position-less attacks hum. Same with Aaron Rodgers, so paying those QBs is worth it. But look at the value numbers of the elite level wideouts?
Is Matt Ryan great or is Ryan pretty good with an all-timer like Julio creating match-ups and easier throwing scenarios? We know what Andy Dalton is with and without AJ Green. Dak Prescott looked like a different dude with Amari Cooper. Go around the league and ask yourself, is Big Ben great because of his weapons or are his weapons great because of Big Ben? What about Mahomes with Ertz and Hill? Hmmmmmmmm.
Tuesday college hoops hoopla
We are going to have a college hoops item of interest each Tuesday. And we welcome your feedback, and possibly your suggested topics.
Today, we ere prepared to write about the chase for Zion Williamson, but then Duke's loss happened last night.
And no, we are not talking about the 95-91 overtime loss to Syracuse at Cameron Indoor. (Side note: That's the first time Duke has lost at home as the No. 1 team to an unranked team under Coach K. And while that may sound like a slew of filters to plow through, the sample size is, well, sizable. Duke is now 90-1 in such games. So there's that.)
Duke is the most-talented team in the country. Maybe Kansas is the deepest. Maybe Tennessee is the most experienced. Maybe Michigan is the most efficient. Maybe Kentucky has the most upside.
But Duke, at full strength, has the most talent, and as such, also has the highest ceiling. The Devils' A game is better than anyone.
Now please notice that we said at full strength, because the question of when will they be at full strength again is now on the lips of every Duke fan after point guard — and ace defender — Tre Jones is out indefinitely with a painful shoulder injury. A Duke spokesman said it was an AC joint separation in which the collar bone is separated from the shoulder blade. (Wow, that sounds Ouch-standing indeed.)
Duke was up 14-6 when Jones was hurt, for what it's worth.
And while we all marvel at the runaway train that is Williamson, who dropped 35 and 10 last night in 44 of the possible 45 minutes.
But without a conductor/point guard, runaway trains can be every bit the disaster as they are demolishing.
This and that
— So President Trump welcomed Clemson to the White House to celebrate the Tigers' national championship win over Alabama. To celebrate, Trump had Micky D's, Wendy's, Burger King and some pizzas. OK. (Have to wonder that if Alabama won, was it going to be Waffle House and Dollar General trinkets?) Well, as you likely could have guessed, social media had a field day. One of the best was from Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, who Tweeted "???? McDonalds? Wendy's? BK? Fave food? That's not a lunch of champions. That's a middle school field trip." He's not wrong. But to be fair, a lot of the Clemson players cheered when the lids were removed, but why let the facts get in the way of anyone's narrative, you know? (Also of note, because of the shutdown, Trump paid for the deal out of his own pocket, which is a fact that is not mentioned in every story either.)
— On the opposite end of the fast food story chain, God bless the Chick-Fil-A folks. Not only because they have the best product rolling, they are a company with a heart. Truly. Read this story friends and get the "Allergies" or "Is it dusty in here" responses ready. Good for you Chick-Fil-A.
— Speaking of college hoops, we are looking for and trying to remember to include a college or NBA hoops pick each day for you entertainment hunters. That sad, be happy I did not include either from last night, because, well, the Duke loss would have not been entertaining and FSU getting hammered at Pitt would also been the opposite of entertaining. So, with the knowledge that when we tried to start this in December, we hit Auburn plus-the-points over Duke and the Warriors minus-the-world over the Hawks. So at 1-0 in each, in our Fab Daily Dribble, we'll go here: Yes, we're late to the party on the fiesta Ole Miss Rebels of ol' Kermit Davis, but the Hotty Toddys are 14-1 overall and 14-1 against the number. Yes, you read that right. The gym is rocking. We'll take the Land Sharks and lay the 3.5 at home tonight against LSU.
— Want an amazing juxtaposition stat entertainment hunters? Kermit and the Rebs are 14-1 against the number, which is the best in the country at better at 93 percent. The worst team against the spread this season? Yep, Davis' former team, the MTSU Blue Raiders at 2-13 in Vegas' eyes. That's 13.3 percent. Ouch-standing.
— And while we are here, there are three NBA teams currently covering at or better than 60 percent of the time: Sacramento (26-17-1, 60.5 percent), Dallas (26-17, 60.5 percent), and Milwaukee (24-16-2, 60 percent). The worst two teams against the number? Well, each is 18-25, which is 41.9 percent. One is Memphis. The other is Golden State.
— Adam Gase looks like a nut job. Man, not since Marty Feldman has the crazy eye been that telling.
— Speaking of Antonio Brown, here are the top odds from bookmaker.eu on which team will have Antonio Brown on the roster for week one of the 2019 regular season: 49ers +211 (roughly 2 to 1); Jets +555 (roughly 5.5 to 1); Raiders +606 (roughly 6 to 1); Cardinals +708 (roughly 7 to 1); Dolphins +1015 (roughly 10 to 1); Cowboys +1117 (roughly 11 to 1); Colts +1324 (roughly 13 to 1); Steelers +403 (roughly 4 to 1); Field +302 (roughly 3 to 1). Man, it's impossible to see the soon-to-be-cap-strapped Cowboys taking on Brown's $20-plus-million contract. And the way the prop bet us worded, there's little way we see Brown 'playing' for the Steelers at all next year. He may be on the roster to start the year, but playing? Not bloody likely.
— Kyler Murray declared for the NFL draft. In the grand scheme of things, that means very little because he can still go back to baseball. But — and we love the draft; you know this — Murray's declaration delivers a stake of clarity into the heart of those of us who actually take some enjoyment from underwear Olympics known as the NFL combine. Simply put, the biggest game changer and most important nugget of news from the draft combine will not include a 40 time, a shuttle run, a bench press or a vertical. The most important moment from the combine will be Murray standing sock-footed against a wall, like a school kid heading to basketball tryouts, and NFL GMs wondering if Murray's taller than 5-8 and whether
— Sweet Odin's beard. Dear Lord James Harden is on fire. He had 57 last night and has scored 30 or more in 17 straight games, which is amazing. That said, watching Harden dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble, ball fake to draw a foul or step back and shooting a 3 is not exactly the most exciting thing the NBA has to offer to be honest.
— In high school we tried to sneak cinnamon toothpicks into class. (You did too. Admit it.) Nowadays, we have cigarette toothpicks? Egad. Proving yet again that not all advancements are good things.
True or false Tuesday. True.
True or false, Michael Thomas is the best wide receiver in the NFL.
True or false, Dallas should give Dak Prescott franchise QB dollars.
True or false, you would pay to watch James Harden play basketball.
True or false, Kyler Murray will be measured under 5-foot-9 at the combine.
On this day, Jan. 15, Drew Brees is 40 today.
MLK Jr. would have been 90 today. He was a flawed human — aren't we all — but an amazing leader and arguably the best public speak in U.S. history.
In 1892, the rules of basketball were first published in Triangle Magazine.
As for the Rushmore, on this day 38 years ago NBC debuted "Hill Street Blues."
Rushmore of TV cop shows. Go.