Joe Burrow. Yeah, he's etched a permanent spot on this list. Heisman. Amazing SEC title game. CFP nerves? Yeah, right? Dude accounted for eight TDs — seven TD passes in the first half, mind you — and turned the first CFP semifinal into the laugher many of us expected.
Tennessee Titans in general, Ryan Tannehill in particular. The Titans are soaring into the playoffs and the once-unimaginable task of winning in the "ry" months does not seem as daunting right now. Derrick Henry is the power back with wheels every team covets, and AJ Brown may become the best non-first-day pick of the 2019 draft. As for Tannehill, dude has to be the front-runner for comeback player of the year, and among all the free agent quarterbacks not named Dak he has put himself in position for a bonafide, franchise QB contract offer. If it's not from the Titans, it's going to come from somewhere.
Doug Pederson. The Eagles coach will not win coach of the year — here's betting Kyle Shanahan will be the frontrunner after his 1-seeded 49ers won nine more games in 2019 than in '18 — but considering the avalanche of injuries the Eagles endured, well, Pederson coached his whistle off this year. And looking at the rosters, there's simply no way anyone would choose the Eagles' personnel over the Cowboys' personnel in any area save one. Coaching.
Trevor Lawrence. I'm not exactly the biggest Dabo Swinney fan, but a dreadful start that included Tee Higgins missing most of the first half with a head injury looked destined to be a runaway for THE Ohio State. And the coach deserves a lot of credit for keeping his team in it. (Side note: Anyone else think the Clemson concussion protocol on the sideline for Higgins was "Hey, Tee." And he turned and acknowledged the words, "Coaches, he's ready to get back in the game.") That said Lawrence was great. And poised. And tough. He ran fearlessly. He delivered big throws down the stretch. He looked the part of NFL dude.
Jameis Winston. The former Heisman-winner can never enjoy the good times for long. Riding the wave of likely returning to Tampa with a coach who gets him and a bevy of perimeter weapons, Winston ended his historically schizophrenic season with 33 TDs and 30 picks. He became the first 30-30 guy ever, and his final throw of 2019 was a record-setting seventh pick-six that let the Falcons win in overtime. Unless the unthinkable happens and Dallas lets Dak Prescott walk, Winston is now the most intriguing QB on the free agent market, and Tampa becomes one of the desirable landing spots for a QB. (Who else can offer a QB the chance to throw to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshard Perriman, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate?)
New England. Hey, I'm going to be the last person off the "Believe in the Pats" bandwagon. (May be next-to-last, Spy is a pretty big fan, so he may be last.) But amid all the "Brady is old" and "No weapons" and every other lament that was lined with merit, the Pats still managed to handle their BID-ness every Sunday. Then an inexplicable home loss to the Dolphins happened — a game that had a ton of meaning, considering a win would have meant a first-round bye and hosting in the Chiefs in round 2 — and the cracks are visible to those of us wearing even the most tinted rose-colored glasses. (Visor tip to the classic by Earl Thomas Conlee of that name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FHpCo1bqwc How good is the lovestruck line, "And they keep me from feeling so cheated, defeated, When reflections in your eyes show me a fool." We've all been there ETC. Well-played, sir. Well-played, indeed.) Side note: Miami was a weekend loser by winning. They could not even tank well and unloaded a ton of talent to not tank properly.
College football conspiracy theories. Hey, THE Ohio State fans, the targeting call was right. The fumble return/incomplete pass was very close. But the growing lament that the fix was in — especially because of the SEC officials in the game — is ridiculous at its core. If there was a conspiracy at all, it would have been to get THE Ohio State into the title game because the ratings would have been much, Much, MUCH better for THE OSU-LSU than LSU-Clemson. If your conspiracy theory is not based on who has the most money to gain, then your conspiracy theory is flawed to begin with, friends.
Antonio Brown. Man, this dude is the Weekend Losers staple like Joe Burrow is among the winners. OK, the news that Brown got a tryout with the Saints late last week was interesting, but the caveat that he was going to be on the Commissioner Exempt list was ever-present. So the dreams of having Brown in the slot next to Michael Thomas for a Super Bowl run were just that — dreams. That said, the details that Brown brought his entourage to the workout after being told to keep it low profile is the type of thing that makes football coaches roll their eyes and not only say "No" but say "Bleep No!"
NFL officiating. Wow, the biggest game of the final day of the regular season on the biggest prime time platform the league has, and we are still talking about missed calls and the referees' simply unwillingness to reverse non-called pass inference calls.
College football playoff big pictures
The nightcap of the semifinals of the college football playoff was excellent. (It also got huge TV numbers in the overnight.)
The opener was a yawner.
Neither was that much of surprise, since LSU was favored by two TDs and Clemson and THE Ohio State was a point or two, and either team could have been favored.
THE Ohio State has a ton of legit SEC-level talent. As does Clemson.
The rest of the country? Not sure they can measure up in terms of talent and speed and defensive line ability.
Yes, we say this with the caveat that Alabama or Georgia or Auburn may show up disinterested for their bowl dates and struggle or even lose. But what LSU did to the No. 4-ranked Oklahoma shows that at least three SEC teams — Bama, Auburn and Florida — gave LSU a way tougher game than the Sooners did. (Here's TFP college football ace David Paschall on the record-setting Alabama offense. Here's Paschall on the Georgia OC looking in the mirror for more and for better.)
And considering that Georgia beat two of those three — and faced LSU battered and shorthanded — does anyone think the Sooners are better than the Bulldogs?
Which leads us to big picture question No. 1 for the CFP folks. Are we looking to pick the four best teams or the four best résumés to keep conferences happy?
Because if the committee is committed to picking the four best teams, well, the metrics are going to need to change. Because other than the Rose Bowl thriller against Georgia, Oklahoma has routinely been a punching bag in the playoffs, and while past performance does not indicate future results, this is becoming more than a little predictable.
That will be even more important in a few years. Because I think we all know that when this TV deal is up college presidents are going to look for every possible way to expand this because it will be more money for more mouths.
But the destruction — and gang, the semifinals are way more likely to be tail-kickings than thrillers — of OU shows that the divide this year was not about expanding the field beyond four as much as properly filling the field with four capable contenders.
And as that divide expands beyond four teams, is there any reason to expect that divide not to continue to grow?
If there had been six this year — and six is a nonsensical number; if/when they expand, they have to go to eight — and they gave it five conference champs and a Group of Five team, it would not change much in terms of perception:
LSU and THE Ohio State get byes. Clemson baptizes Memphis, Oregon beats Oklahoma by two scores. LSU crushes an Oregon team that Auburn beat and we still get THE Ohio State-Clemson classic.
Gang, I believe this: The expansion of the playoff is going to severely damage the best regular season in sports. Just like expanding the NCAA tournament killed the magic that was the college basketball season, and especially the conference tournaments.
This and that
— Kudos to ESPN for kickstarting the hype machine on the Bulls 30-for-30, 10-part series this summer. Count me 100 percent in.
— OK, LeBron James became the ninth NBA player with 9,000 assists over the weekend. OK, the all-time leader is John Stockton with 15,806, so that's outside the realm. But LeBron is averaging a career-best 10.8 assists. LeBron has said that he wants to be in the NBA when his son is eligible to be drafted — Bronny is a high school freshman — so that would be at least three more years. If he stayed on his career arc of 7.3 assists per, that would be close to 600 for each of those years. That's easily another 2,000 with the rest of this season and three more. That would move him into No. 3 all-time in assists, and gang, if four years from now, LeBron has added another banner or two and is the all-time leading scorer and No. 3 all-time in assists, uh, that's a big-time résumé in the GOAT conversation.
— Speaking of New England, this weekend will be in a wildcat weekend for the first time since 2009.
— Speaking of the NFL, here's the first-round order of the non-playoff teams: 1. Cincinnati (2-14); 2. Washington (3-13); 3. Detroit (3-12-1); 4. NY Giants (4-12); 5. Miami (5-11); 6. LA Chargers (5-11); 7. Carolina (5-11); 8. Arizona (5-10-1); 9. Jacksonville (6-10); 10. Cleveland (6-10); 11. NY Jets (7-9); 12. Oakland (7-9); 13. Indianapolis (7-9); 14. Tampa Bay (7-9); 15. Denver (7-9); 16. Atlanta (7-9); 17. Cowboys (8-8); 18. Pittsburgh (to Miami) (8-8); 19. Chicago (to Oakland) (8-8); 20. LA Rams (to Jacksonville (9-7).
— The UTC women's basketball team is free-falling. They are 1-13 — winless at home — and are losing games by 19.9 points per game. That -19.9 scoring differential is right around 338th nationally (stats were not updated after Sunday's games). There are 348 Division I women's basketball teams. Hard to believe that less than five years ago, there was a concrete line of thinking that UTC could be the women's version of Gonzaga.
— Picks were very up and down, and while not truly entertaining in the sense of our fiscal definition, we got some unfortunate breaks. Yes, the over Air Force-Washington State was cooked as soon as the Falcons ate up 14 minutes on a first drive that spanned the end of the scoreless first quarter and the start of the second quarter. But bad beats for the Oklahoma State-A&M backdoor cover as well as the over/unders Sunday. The Vikings-Bears kicked multiple field goals in the final five minutes — including an total buster with 10 seconds left — and a listless Steelers-Ravens game featured Pittsburgh giving up a safety late that pushed the total as well as a Ravens fumble recovery in the end zone for a fourth-quarter TD.
— As for the numbers, an aggressive college weekend that started Thursday left us 8-7 on the bowl season. Our NFL picks went 2-2-1 (losses on Packers minus-13, Vikings-Bears under 37; wins on New Orleans minus-13 and Titans minus-3; push on Steeler-Ravens under 38) and finished the regular season 58-35-3, which is 62.4 percent against the number.
— Speaking of picks, we are already on the Louisville Cardinals over Mississippi State today. We did not include them last week, but I am on Florida tonight minus the 14, too. (Buy it down, if possible.) If you need action on all of them, go under 47.5 in Cal-Illinois (but both of those teams have been ravaged by injuries so that one is a guess). That said, I am on Western Kentucky minus-3 (buy the half) against Western Michigan under the 55.
— Programming reminder: Bowl scoring will be updated and posted by the end of BID-ness today.
— Programming reminder, part II: No Press Row today. Enjoy the bowl game coverage.
Weekend winners and losers.
Happy birthday to two of my favorites — LeBron and Tiger blow out the candles on this day. LeBron is 35; Tiger is 44.
LeBron was AP athlete of the decade. Tiger should have been the AP athlete of 2019.
If we had a male athlete Rushmore of the last 40 years (since 1979), do both those dudes make it?