SEC football. The elite teams delivered. Big time. The next level of teams would have been unbeaten too if Matt Corral had not injured his ankle. (More on that in a moment.) It sets up the only real national title match-up we could have expected this year since Alabama and Georgia were clearly the best two teams — in the league and in the country.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Welp, there you go. Another precision-filled effort as the Packers clinched the 1 seed in the NFC and secured home-field advantage. Rodgers is now the betting favorite to win a second consecutive MVP — a move helped by Jonathan Taylor and the Colts losing inexplicably to the Raiders on Sunday — and how about these two eye-popping stats: Packers coach Matt LaFleur now has 39 wins with one game left in his third season; it's the most wins in the first three years of any NFL head coach's career ever. And, in the last two years against the dreadful NFC North, Aaron Rodgers has 36 TDs and zero interceptions. Yes, you read that correctly.
Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Wow, the Bengals are headed back to the playoffs and Burrow is the trigger man for a truly fun offense. Let's hope the ankle injury he suffered late in the Bengals' dramatic win over the Chiefs is minor. And while we're here, uh Ja'Marr Chase, come on down and collect that rookie of the year award, will you? Two things: One, Chase now holds the rookie record for receiving yards in a season with 1,429 and a game after 266-yard, three-TD Sunday. Two, here's betting that every fantasy team that was in its championship and had Chase won the title. What a day.
Tennessee Titans. Man, without Derrick Henry — how good is Henry, well, he's missed half the season and ranks in the top seven of almost every league rushing category despite having surgery in early November — the Titans are poised to be the 1 seed in the AFC. And that's without Julio Jones and AJ Brown for long stretches too. I think there are three folks in Nashville who are sorely under appreciated: Mike Vrabel maybe the best coach not named Belichick in the league; GM Jon Robinson has assembled a deep roster and every draft 'reach' — like the injured Jeff Simmons — or free agent gamble has paid off; Ryan Tannehill is the MJ of game managers, and I mean that with the most complimentary tone possible. (Here's Weeds making the case for Vrabel as coach of the year, and he has a strong argument.)
Football officiating. The game is never better, but the issues with the guys with the all-powerful flags and monster logistic logjams with replay must be addressed sooner rather than later on the college and professional levels. We super analyze reviews of the micro but miss the game-changing macro almost every game. Think how much time is spent on third-down spot with no clear video review or a catch/trap midway through the second quarter but we miss unclear fumbles and UT touchdowns. And to make matters worse in the NFL, we have to suffer through uncertain and even missed calls to then watch needlessly flagged 15-yard taunting calls by hair-triggered and power-grabbing zebras. (Side question: Is 'zebras' an offensive term in these uncertain PC times? Discuss.) And this conversation needs to happen in the offseason and it needs to start with a plan on chipping the football and using a GPS grid all over the field rather than two elderly white dudes holding two sticks connected by an actual chain. That would elevate every spot controversy and every TD debate/review.
The betting public. Wow. Just wow. There were so many near-misses and close calls for the betting public, which had huge wins in Alabama and Arkansas, which rolled past an opt-out-hindered Penn State. (Side note: Sam Pittman, wow, what a job that guy's done.) Notre Dame's collapse hurt. Badly. The Colts loss hurt worse. Any early wagers in the age of COVID is a recipe for a disaster. Case in point: Mid-week the Vikings plus-7 were a live 'dog; without Kirk 'Non-Vaxxed' Cousins, they were a dead team walking despite catching 14 against the Packers. Bettors felt like Joe Pesci's character and the online books were Kevin McAllister. And did anyone notice the number of underdogs that covered in the early window on Sunday? (And sorry for the confusion Friday and the late 5-a-10 posting. Trust me when I tell you my bowl picks — was on Alabama, especially the first half, and THE over in THE Ohio State — would not have helped much because I also was on UK (push, at best), Ole Miss, and a couple of other dead-end streets.
"Yellowstone." Good riddance to this season. The 90-minute season finale should have been a 70-minute episode 2 of this much-anticipated, mostly disappointing, highly watched season of the Paramount smash hit. We will break it down in full tomorrow so as not to unleash any spoilers before anyone who wants to watch it gets to, but man. The next season better unload some fireworks or I'm out.
The 'expand the playoff argument' crowd. Heck, the evidence shows that we should lean hard to cutting back to two teams. How about these numbers: In the College Football Playoff era, there have been 16 semifinals: A dozen of those have been decided by 17 or more points; Nine have been decided by 20+ points; Three have been decided by 10 points or fewer. After Georgia and Alabama KER-rushed their challengers Friday, the average margin of victory in the semifinals is a smidge more than three TDs.
Shut up already
We'll start with this caveat. Thank God Matt Corral appears to have just sprained an ankle. The Ole Miss quarterback was being hailed as a "throw-back" and a "'great teammate" and someone who loves the game and plays it the right way for the right reasons and
Matt Corral is great. And I'm happy he played in the bowl game.
But Kenny Pickett is great too. So is Kenneth Walker and THE Ohio State receivers who opted out in a decision to get ready for the next chapter in their life and the business decisions in front of them.
Most of this tired and broken lament started this weekend with the ESPN pregame on-air crew — and especially Kirk Herbstriet and Desmond Howard — of ESPN's GameDay who blasted today's players for 'not loving the game' and being entitled and even went as far as blaming video games.
(Side rant: The 'video game' stuff is tired and ridiculously flawed. It's the parenting version of the catchall umbrella of blame. "Uh, those video games. When we grew up we played outside all day — which is my generation's lament akin to walking to school uphill in the snow both ways — and look how we turned out." Yeah, look. We're messed up too. And to be frank, we didn't play outside all day. Not with Pong and Atari and Intellivision. Video games are not the problem; bad parenting is. Because if you are going to lament the video games, when far too many parents use screens as pacifiers even from the earliest of ages, well, pot meet kettle. Kettle, pot.)
Herbstreit went as overflowingly far as to say he thinks "this era of player just doesn't love football."
Bull(BLEEP)! And yes, I used an exclamation point. Kirk, this era of player may not love college football as much, and they certainly don't love their colleges as much as you or I did/do, and that's fine. The colleges don't love them either, or scholarships would be a four-year deal. But they love football every bit as much, if not more.
Also of note here is that immediately after Kirk and Desmond bagged on college players opting out of non-playoff bowl games, they had a touchy-feely interview with Lincoln Riley, who opted out of Oklahoma's bowl game because of a business decision for his family to go to USC. Uh, hypocrite much? Chastise the player but stroke the coach? Yeah, that's play No. 3 in the ESPN playbook.
Never mind that ESPN shows like every bowl game but the Sun Bowl and not a single disclaimer about the conflict of interest of bagging on these players' opting out devalues the product and lessens the interest in the bowl package Herbstreit's and Howard's employer has paid billions for. In a lot of ways, they are bagging on the players — the relatively (by comparison) unpaid labor in a billion-dollar operation — for exactly what ESPN is doing.
Read Howard's quote" "Their whole mentality right now is about the championship, the playoff,. We've got to get into the CFP and because of that they don't value the bowl games. When we were coming up, Herbstreit and myself, to go to a bowl game was a huge reward for a fantastic season. That's what it meant."
Uh, ESPN filled six different stations with various coverage of the semifinals and will do the same for the title game a week from tonight. But we're to think that ESPN had the same focus on the Gasparilla Bowl or another game played at 10 a.m. Central time to fill a time slot. OK, we'll ask again, "hypocrite much?"
So forget the preaching crud — the back in my day line of thinking rarely works on much of anything — and the hypocrisy and even the self-serving, business-side flaws of their stance.
The whole, "They don't love football" line of thinking is straight B.S. They love and work at football more than previous generations. Getting to be a major contributor at a major college program that has plausible designs on playing football for a living is a 24/7/365 job for a vast majority of these kids that come the offseason, the same ESPN talking heads will be bashing lower-level coaches and parents for only focusing on one sport.
With camps and 7-on-7s and year-round training and clinics and position coaches, a lot of these kids who opted out have invested more in football at this age than Howard and Herbstreit combined.
Look, if the kids want to play, great. If they opt-out, great. They have to make that decision for themselves and their situations.
But for Herbstreit and Howard to use the bully pulpit of the stage that is GameDay for some self-congratulatory "Back in my day" rant is a travesty on its face, and it is made worse by the hypocritical nature and undeniably self-serving goal of their employer.
Whatever. (I'm just thankful Matt Corral didn't break his ankle and cost himself millions.)
This and that
— OK, well start with a programming note or two. I have been asked to write less in each 5-at-10. I will try. So there's that. Also, the bowl standings will be posted after the LSU game with the leaders and the folks chasing last place. Deal? Deal.
— It's impossible to know the depths of another person's mental struggles, but I wonder why Antonio Brown is not being treated with the kid gloves some of the tennis stars and US Olympians have been. Because in my anything-but-professional opinion, AB has some real issues. (Side note: How about the stat that with the second half of Sunday's game remaining — Brown removed his jersey and pads and exited the field before halftime — and another week to play, Brown needed eight more catches, 55 more yards and one more TD to trigger $1 million in performance bonuses.)
— Here's the latest from a busy weekend from Paschall as Cade Mays has elected to move along to the NFL. Hope Herbstreit and Howard didn't TP the Mays house since he doesn't love the game as much as they do.
— Here's the flexed Week 18 schedule for next weekend's NFL games.
— It was somehow fitting that Dan Reeves' death was overshadowed this weekend by all the tributes paid to John Madden. And how Reeves — who was a very good Dallas QB and a great NFL head coach — is not in the Hall of Fame is anyone's guess.
You know the drill. Weekend winners and losers, go.
As for Multiple Choice Monday, left go here: Which first-year player should be NFL rookie of the year?
— Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase
— Pats QB Mac Jones
— Cowboys LB Micah Parsons
— Other (and specify)
As for today, Jan. 3, let's review.
Apple Computers was incorporated 45 years ago today.
On this day 18 years ago, Casey Kasem gave up hosting duties on American Top 40 to Ryan Seacrest. Thirty-five years ago, Aretha Franklin became the first female inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Michael Schumacher is 53 today.
Rushmore of all-time race car drivers. Go.