NFL Power Poll
Well, the powerless have left the building and before we rank the final eight — and there are a couple of surprises in there — let's explore a couple of things. Deal? Deal.
First, what do we make of the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers, and not to steal arguably the most overused Dickensian hack-cliché, it was quite the dichotomy. (Side note: As Spy as my witness, if you read a story that starts with, "It was a tale of two halves," or a tale of two anythings, just know it's installment No. 12,056,301 of that phrase. And sometimes you have to just grin and move through it.)
For the Steelers, though, it was certainly a tale of two seasons. (See what I mean.)
Through 11 weeks, the Steelers outscored foes 317-199 and averaged 99 rushing yards per game. That was worth 11-0.
In the final six weeks, they were outscored 136-172 and averaged 52 rushing yards per game. That was worth 1-5.
Injuries — especially the ACL tear suffered by Bud Dupree — were a part of it. So was the COVID, because the Steelers had more opponents schedule/reschedule games than any team and lost their bye week. It was such a 180, and the questions about Ben Roethlisberger's future are real and really interesting.
Second, the overwhelming success of the Nickelodeon broadcast on Sunday should not be lost on anyone.
More than 2 million people watched the simulcast of the Bears-Saints that was designed for kids, with slime graphics, block football players like video characters and surveys for NFL players asking pressing questions like, "What are you scared of." It was Nickelodeon's most watched program in four years and generated more than 2 billion (yes billion with a B) impressions on social media.
It was a home run by almost every measure. Expect similar versions on Nickelodeon and to land on the Disney Channel sooner rather than later — remember ESPN is owned by Disney — and expect other sports to try to match the NFL's successful debut to appeal to kids and try to make them fans of their product. It's keen BID-ness.
As for the final eight NFL teams, we rank Lombardi chasers in one of three categories. There's QB, there's head coaches we trust, and there is the presence of true dudes. The last of those three is a bit more vague, but for our purposes, a true dude, is a non-QB player who must be accounted for on every single snap by more than one person.
With that, here we go:
1 Kansas City. Checks all the boxes, and while the Rams' D is a close second in terms of dudes, no one has more mismatches than the Chiefs' O. Add in a bona fide A-list QB and one of the three coaches still writing on a white board with a Super Bowl ring, and KC is the favorite.
2 Green Bay. Unbelievably tough matchup with Aaron Donald this weekend, and if he flummoxes Aaron Rodgers, that's an L.A. upset waiting to happen. Still, no team has a better connection between QB-Coach-Dude like the Packers have with Rodgers, Matt LaFluer and Davante Adams.
3 New Orleans. The Saints get the edge in coach and a slight edge in dudes over Buffalo, but the Bills are closer than most think.
4 Buffalo. Where does the-Stefon-Diggs-for-a-fifth-rounder deal rank in terms of the best NFL trades of the last quarter century? Has to be pretty lofty, no? Unless you're a Vikings fan.
5 Tampa Bay. These next three are super tight because of varying strengths, and while we think the Rams have a legit chance this weekend in Lambeau, the Bucs get 5 spot because of the dude pulling the trigger.
6 Los Angeles. Sean McVay is one of the best, and the matchup is perfect for these Rams to shock Green Bay. When is Aaron Rodgers human? When he gets pressure up the middle. Hello Aaron Donald. Who is the biggest star WR eraser in the sport? Hello, Jalen Ramsey. If Jared Goff's thumb is decent, this one will be a fight.
7 Baltimore. Lamar Jackson runs like he's fired out of a cannon, and there has not been a QB since Vick who deletes tackling angles like Jackson does. Still, I am not as high on these Ravens as most.
8 Cleveland. Despite being ranked DFL in this list, the Browns' spunkiness — and some legit dudes like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb — give them a puncher's chance against the Chiefs. Inexperience at coach and QB are tough though. (Side question: How about a head coach making his playoff debut a week after his QB got his first playoff win? Ponder that COVID riddle for a second.)
Alabama's all-time greatness, day 2.
And in retrospect, I may have been a little bit of a prisoner of the moment. Is this Alabama team great? No doubts. Is it better than, as Fat Vader asked Tuesday with his clever homer hat button, 2019 LSU? What about the NFL overload of talent on that Miami team in 2001, as a few of you emailed me.
(Here's some more perspective on the matter from TFP college football expert David Paschall. You know the rules.)
And while DaVonta Smith's 2020 Heisman winning season is one for the ages and his career numbers will not have to apologize to any non-QB in SEC history, here's some perspective about the difference between Saturdays and what they look for on Sundays.
The Pro Football Focus folks watch a ton of film and are not swayed by the hype machines or the buzz. To that end, my DaVonta devotion may have been hyperbole in the PFF analysts' eyes.
Here's their top 100 NFL draft prospects, and Smith comes in at No. 8, the third SEC WR and the second Alabama WR, one spot behind Jaylen Waddle.
Not surprisingly, Alabama had 10 players in the top 100, and somewhat surprisingly, Jamie Newman cracked the top 90 at 89. Wonder if he could have been a difference maker in either of those two UGA losses?
That said, Alabama's runaway win over THE Ohio State failed miserably in the TV numbers.
A record-low number of folks watched the Tide roll THE Buckeyes, as Monday's broadcast averaged 18.65 million viewers across the multitude of ESPN platforms on which it aired. The previous low in the BCS/Playoff era was the 2005 Orange bowl when USC stomped Oklahoma.
The numbers were down 27% from LSU-Clemson last year, and right at the same for the Alabama-Clemson title game after the 2018 season.
And while TV ratings have hit historic lows across all sports not named the NFL, here's another tidbit that supports the Bama fatigue and the expected whipping that the Tide delivered. For the first time ever, the title game was not the most-watched broadcast of the college football season.
Both semifinals — and neither was particularly competitive to be frank — averaged more viewers than Monday's title game.The Ohio State crushing Clemson averaged 19.15 million; Alabama-Notre Dame averaged 18.89 million.
To complete the loop of Bama news, Steve Sarkisian, the former Bama OC who called a whale of a game Monday and used some great presnap designs and motion to create space and desirable match-ups, was introduced as the next coach at Texas.
And in a further extension of the conversation we had Tuesday about Weeds' column of coaches listening to players because of the possibility of player portal pairing, well, the other side of that coin was clear, too.
As a refresher, Weeds' column was about UK players kneeling during the anthem and some of the fan base being upset about that. He also referenced Coach Calipari being open to protests and social statements from his players, which makes a lot of sense from his point of view.
Because while coaches certainly need a strong and trusted relationship with their players, the other side of that discussion was framed when Sarkisian said at his introductory news conference that "The Eyes of Texas" was "our school song" and the players will sing it proudly.
I know that not all things are as layered and complex as anthem protocol, but I think Tom Herman's job security was weakened for listening to his players, who made a slew of social-issue demands, including doing away with the school song. If you are in a position of leadership, listening is important. Maybe the most important skill you can have.
In terms of everyday workplace leadership, a coach's players are pretty much his employees and staff, and that relationship is paramount and supremely important for finding success.
But the boosters, season-ticket holders and alumni are the coach's customers. And no matter how great your relationship is with your employees, without support from the customers, you will be out of business sooner rather than later.
And, again, those conversations are certainly not a universal, one-plan-fits-all type of conversation, but the two points of view were interesting to me.
Jumping into hoops
So college football is over, now what? Well, I tried to watch some hoops last night. Here are some takeaways:
> Alabama is as good as any team in the SEC, and it's clear Nate Oats' system is a) fun, b) effective, and c) allowing the Tide to utilize their extreme athleticism.
> Kentucky is fractured and it's sure as bleep looks like it's deeper than a talent issue.
> If we are lucky enough to have March Madness — and believe you me, the NCAA is Hades-bent on it because of the financial stakes — no matter the match-ups, seedings or anything short of injuries, half of my Final Four will be Gonzaga and Michigan. Gang, the Big Ten is legit in hoops this year, and Michigan is the class of that very deep and impressive league. What they did to Wisconsin last night was a beatdown that's against the law in most civilized countries.
> This is the worst Duke team since Cherokee Parks was a senior and Coach K had that 'back' thing and took the winter off. No wonder he wanted to cancel the nonconference part of the Devils schedule. And while I used to really like Duke — not at all any more after learning more and more about the program — I have to ask what in the world are they doing with those uniforms these days? Over the weekend, it looked like the white balance was off or they washed their classic white duds with cheap powder blue sheets. And you better win by double-digits when you pull out the all-black alternates.
> I think I would rather have an IRS audit while having a cavity filled than play pick-up hoops on James Harden's team. What an awful, selfish, and boring style the Rockets have succumbed to with Harden as the trigger man. And it completely guts the best part of John Wall's game, which is his next level speed with the ball in his hands. That 'dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-ball fake-lean-in-3' style is like modern art: It's no fun to look at it and even harder to explain.
> As much as the crowd took away from college football, it's impact on college hoops is worse as a TV spectator. By a fair measure. And you want to know a sneaky part of sports that the lack of crowds has actually improved? The officiating. Let me elaborate.
Basketball officials are human. Fact. (Well, all of them not named Bruce Benedict. Stupid Bruce Benedict.)
Humans, like basketball officials not named Bruce Benedict are aware of and impacted by their surroundings. Fact.
Ergo, basketball officials default to pleasing home crowds more times than not, even if it's unknowingly. That's especially true in high-profile college arenas and doubly especially on the coin-flip call that elicits the biggest cheers/boos, the 'whistle wait and emphatically deliver the' block/charge call.
The few fanless games I have watched, the officials have been more about the call than the crowd and that has led to better officiating, at least in my opinion.
This and that
— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on UT hiring Kevin Steele to a yet-to-be-fully-defined role as a defensive assistant. This one seems a little strange, or even a lot strange, considering Steele was in some ways organizing a coup to try to be the head coach at Auburn. (Side note there: As an AU grad, the single best thing I can say about the hiring of former Boise State coach Bryan Harsin is that it meant we did not hire Kevin Steele as the HC. Seriously.) And, as Weeds noted today, the addition of Steele could be viewed as a piece to help rebuild with Jeremy Pruitt or be there to replace Jeremy Pruitt.
— While we are talking college hoops, we need to get back to picking games on a regular basis. (This would be the point in the show when Spy rolls his eyes and offers deadpanned "Yeah, because God forbid we go a season without some of your picks. Because your college football picks really set the house on fire." Shut it Spy.) Well, fade or follow, bet or belittle, the choice is yours, but I'm going to offer a pick daily — at least when a) I remember, and b) there's a game I like — and we'll keep track. Tonight, give me Auburn plus-2 over Georgia. Game 2 with the five-star point guard after an erratic debut figures to be a little bit smoother for Bruce's boys. I will also put a taste on Arkansas catching 4 at LSU. A nice money line parlay of those two would pay nicely.
— August National is going to have 'limited' numbers of fans this spring. Normally, we are against the super-early announcement — hi, Big Ten — because the numbers and the circumstances change quickly, in any number of directions. But in the case of something like The Masters, that has global reach and forces folks to plan way in advance to attend a real-life, bucket-list kind of event, the early plans make a lot of sense. Dang you, COVID.
— Been meaning to add this for a while, but you regulars know that the Mrs. 5-at-10 is way more talented with a camera in her hands than I am with a keyboard under mine. Well, right before Christmas when we had that planetary event that a lot of folks dubbed The Christmas Star, well, the Mrs. 5-at-10 found the perfect spot to make an all-time photo of it. You can order it here. We've shared it in this space before, but this one generated so much reaction, she made it available for folks to order if they so choose.
— Want some good COVID news? Of course you do. According to this story, reports released Tuesday from the journal Science. Yes, the coronavirus is here to stay — that's not the good news Intern Scott. The good news is that once adults are immune after being infected or vaccinated, the future of this thing will look more like a common cold. But that' a ways down the road. Keep masking up people. Keep fighting through gang, and one of my neighbors is a doctor, and he may have phrased it best about these final days when we're all so over this thing we can't put it into words: "No one wants to be the last soldier killed in the war."
— Wow, this has turned into a monster 5-at-10. Sorry. Kinda. Here's one more. How disappointing, if true, is the news of a former U.S. Olympic athlete and five-time medalist being part of the mob that charged the Capitol? And the Chuck Norris-look alike guy in the mob has been crazy too.
— And just one more. Our friends at SportsBettingDime.com, set the odds at 6-to-5 (bet $100 and win $120) that The Donald will be saying fore rather than four more years and will be playing golf when Joe Biden gets inaugurated next week.
Again, sweet buckets this thing got long. And I will for sure post the winner of the bowl contest today.
Which way Wednesday starts this way:
Which SEC hoops team is the best on the floor, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri?
Which way should Jeremy Pruitt feel about the addition of Kevin Steele, "Great, we got a coach who knows his stuff and made Auburn a much-better tackling football team" or "Well, crud, here it comes" all things considered?
Which non-1 seed left in the NFL playoffs, if you were forced to wager on, would you pick to get to the Super Bowl?
Feel free to fire some "Which Way Wednesday offerings my way too.
As for today, Jan. 13, let's review.
Some hunky acting fellas celebrate birthdays today, as Liam Hemsworth (31), Orlando Bloom (44) and Patrick Dempsey (55) were born on this day.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is 60 today.
Former 1970-80s funnyman Rip Taylor would have been 90 today.
Rushmore of Rip, and be creative. And remember the mailbag.