Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league
Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams
Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants
Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996
Does this article’s headline make you fall out of your seat? After all, for how long have we heard complaints about baseball like: “It’s too slow.” “The games are too long.” “There’s not enough action.” “Kids like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer now. Baseball is too boring for them.” And so on and so on. In fact, I would say that these criticisms sprouted near the turn of the millennium, around the time when we shifted from “The NFL does not want to schedule games during the World Series” to “MLB wants to avoid having playoff games when NFL games are happening.” Furthermore, in the 2000 playoffs, I was alarmed to learn that seemingly mundane Monday Night Football matchups were beating Mets playoff games and Yankees playoff games in the ratings department. At that point, I knew that football had overtaken baseball as “America’s sport”, even if baseball will always be “America’s pastime”.
Over much of the 20 years that have followed, I have accepted that, while I will always love baseball, an average Mets game is less exciting to me than an average Devils game or average New York Giants game (to use the three teams of whom I am a fan). When the Devils were dominant from 1993 through 2012 (more or less), I was glued to my TV screen or to the rink itself (if I was at the game) for all 60 minutes of every game I could watch. However, while I love the Mets, I accepted that it is tough to stay glued to all pitches of 162 3-4-hour Mets games every season. I have known for 20 years that what makes baseball great is that there are games nearly every day for 6 months. I long ago accepted that I have Mets games on TV “while I am doing other things”, because it is unrealistic for me to give full devotion of my time to all pitches of all Mets games. That said, what makes baseball fandom great is watching all of those seemingly less exciting spring summer games and hoping for the payoff of thrilling September and October games later in the season. What makes baseball great is the fact that the Mets’ players and announcers feel like a part of my family from March through October. While some people love to watch their drama on Bravo in the forms of “Real Housewives”, Netflix shows, or political channels; the baseball season is the ultimate drama for me.
Of course, over the past 20 years, few people have successfully sold these great afore-mentioned aspects of baseball. All we hear is that we need to change the rules to entice younger fans to love baseball. (And the only new rule change of the past few years that I actually like is the “3-batter minimum” rule.) However, I happen to think that rumors of baseball’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Furthermore, I actually think that, after two decades of us hearing that baseball is too slow for most people’s attention spans, baseball has actually become the perfect sport for the 2021 attention span. (Cue the headline again.)
Allow me to explain. Before March of 2020 brought our lives many Covid-related restrictions, Americans by and large were already bouncing between real life and two or three forms of media at almost all times. Gone are the days when most sports fans sit on the couch to watch a sporting event with 100% focus. Now, sports fans watch games while toggling between Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, texts, emails, and pictures on their phones. All the while, these same fans are eating and drinking and maybe even listening to music. Heck, there are some crazy people out there who also talk to other people in the room while watching sports. (Not virtually but actually in person. Can you believe it?) Throw in the idea that plenty of people are also parenting kids at the same time. Oh, also throw in the fact that over the past year of Covid-related restrictions, people have greatly increased their time at home, and we can now add Zoom to that long list of toggling activities from earlier.
Years ago, I vowed that I would never be one to multitask between so many devices, but that vow sailed off to sea a few years ago. Then, once we reached the lockdown stage, with a complete dearth of sports to boot, I became a complete multitasker. I check Twitter way too often; I text way too often; and, most importantly, I am thinking about “what else I could be doing” over what I am currently doing way too often. There are plenty of times when I am eating a Moe’s burrito while watching “Seinfeld” reruns, scrolling through Twitter, texting, and looking at my road atlas (that last one is quite “me-specific”).
Anyway, as I was watching a Devils game recently, I became very disappointed in myself. Playoff games and games I personally attend notwithstanding, gone are the days when I would be glued to all 60 minutes of every Devils game. Gone are the days when I would actually be upset when even a Devils’ win would end, because my joy of watching a given game would be ending. Now, when I am watching a Devils game, I have to psych myself up not to multitask. I still love watching hockey, but I get mad at myself when I realize that I have missed a minute or two because I have been looking at my phone. I hate that I ever have the urge to look at my phone during Devils games. Hockey games are 60 minutes of action-packed excitement, and my mind should not wander during these games…but it does.
That said, this personal tale actually shows why baseball is the perfect sport for the modern sports fan. I mentioned earlier that I long ago accepted that I have the Mets on TV while I am “doing other things”. Well, modern life is all about “doing other things”. A baseball game has become the perfect viewing activity for the modern fan! You can be sending work emails, texting, watching your daily Candace Owens or Stephen Colbert clips (depending upon your side of the political equation), scrolling through Twitter and listening to a baseball telecast all at the same time. Then, when the pitcher is ready to throw a pitch, you can give the game your singular focus and look at the TV…..or maybe you will choose to look at the TV only when a batter puts the ball in play or maybe only when there’s a very important pitch or maybe only if there is a runner in scoring position or maybe if it is the 7th inning or later, and so on and so forth. All of these possibilities are viable, but you the viewer call the shots.
Over the past 20 years, I feel that there has been a huge decline in our collective demand for things to which we want to give 3-4 hours of our undivided attention. However, there seems to be an infinite amount of demand for additional things that we can do while doing other things. That is why baseball is perfect now. Look at all the “problems” baseball has allegedly had over the past 20 years, and look at the modern solutions:
1) Problem: There are too many pitching changes.Solution: Pitching changes are perfect times to read articles linked to your Twitter feed.
2) Problem: There is too much time between pitches.Solution: This extra time allows you to send more texts between pitches.
3) Problem: Games are too long.Solution: Who cares? You are on your devices 12 or more hours per day. 4-hour baseball games fit right in!
4) Problem: There is not enough action in baseball.Solution: Actually, there is TOO much action in the other sports. I actually have to focus on the action all the time in those “more exciting” sports. Baseball actually has the perfect amount of action.
And there you have it. To be clear, I love hockey and football, and the nonstop action of hockey will always keep hockey as my personal favorite sport. However, I love baseball (and football) almost as much as I love hockey. This is why I am happy to say that baseball is the perfect sport for 2021. After 20 years of MLB trying to make itself more enticing to Americans; I think that we the people have flipped the script and made ourselves more “enticeable” by baseball.
The New York Jets are terrible, epically terrible. In fact, they are one of the worst teams in NFL history. After 8 games, the team has a point differential of -144 (average of -18 per game). As a basis of comparison, the second-worst point differential belongs to Dallas, whose point differential is -81. That said, as awful as the Jets are, their franchise is not in a terrible position right now.
You might say I am crazy, but hear me out on this one. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the “experts” seem to agree that Clemson’s quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a generational, “can’t miss” NFL talent. With the success that first- and second-year quarterbacks have enjoyed in the NFL in recent years, it is fair to assume that Trevor Lawrence should make his NFL team legitimate playoff contenders by Year 2, if not Year 1. Additionally, it is a huge advantage for an NFL team to have a great quarterback on a rookie contract, as the team can save plenty of cap room for other positions. (Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are great examples of QBs who allowed their teams to make hay while said QBs were on rookie contracts.) Thus, Trevor Lawrence figures to give his NFL 4 or 5 seasons of an incredible competitive advantage while he is on his rookie deal……and what team is looking like a sure bet to win that competitive advantage? The New York Jets.
The Jets are 0-8, and we are down to three 1-win teams – the Jaguars, Texans, and Giants. Next week, the Jaguars and Texans play against each other, which means that (barring a tie, which would actually be of even greater benefit to the Jets) one of those teams will earn a second win. Is it possible that the Jags/Texans loser goes winless the rest of the way? I would say it is possible with Jacksonville; however, Houston has enough talent to make it to 4 or 5 wins. As for the Giants, I expect them to beat Washington and win at least one other game. Then again, all of this discussion is probably moot. Are the Jets, of the -18-per-game point differential, going to win ANY game this year? Doubtful. Their last 8 games are against the Patriots (twice), Dolphins, Chargers, Raiders, Browns, Rams, and Seahawks. Given that all of those teams are NFL teams, the Jets are not winning any more games. Thus, it looks like the Jets getting the gift of Trevor Lawrence.
This begs a question. Where does the Jets’ quarterback situation of the present and future rank among those of all NFL teams? For example, if you were the Detroit Lions, would you trade your current QB situation of Matt Stafford and his contract for Sam Darnold and the highly likely prospect of having Trevor Lawrence next year. Absolutely. What if you were the Vikings with Kirk Cousins? Um, yes please.
Anyway, I have ranked all 32 NFL quarterback situations and determined that the Jets have the 10th-best scenario. Not bad for a winless team! Don’t worry; I am going to unveil my rankings, but let me first provide some disclaimers. If a team is ranked higher than another team, I imply that more NFL teams would choose to take the higher-ranked option than the lower-ranked option. Of course, teams’ rosters, records, salary-caps, and coaching situations can cause teams to rank differently from each other. For example, I have the Bucs’ quarterback situation ranked as 7th, but I also know that the Jets (10th) and Jaguars (27th) are not talented enough right now to want to swap their situations for a 43-year-old Tom Brady. That said, most teams below 7th would swap their QB situations with the Bucs’, while it is a safe bet that the six teams above the Bucs’ would not.
One other disclaimer: In the rankings, I consider backup quarterbacks only where relevant. If there is a situation with any type of QB controversy (like the Bears), an injury-prone QB (like with the Niners and Jimmy G), or a changing of the guard (like the Jets going from Darnold to Lawrence) I consider backup QBs in my discussion. However, you will read plenty of cases where I do not discuss the backups. That said, it is a given that, if any of the top-flight QBs get hurt, it will be very bad for the team….but that does not factor into my discussion with non-injury-prone guys.
Now, without further ado, the rankings!
1) Kansas City Chiefs: You can’t go wrong with Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson, but tie goes to Mahomes because he is locked up for 10 years and is in Year 4 of his career. Mahomes likely makes the Chiefs Super Bowl contenders for at least the next 10 years. Plus, I consider Mahomes the best quarterback right now and Wilson the second-best right now, although the gap between the two is incredibly slim. I cannot argue if someone would rather have Russell than Patrick.
2) Seattle Seahawks: Of course, Wilson makes the Seahawks Super Bowl contenders for possibly the next 10 years too and at least the next 5.
3) Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is ever-so slightly below Mahomes and Wilson when I consider current QB quality. After a good but not great 2019 season (and yes I know Green Bay went 13-3), Rodgers stock dropped ever-so slightly for me. However, for much of this year, he has resembled the guy who was scrambling and throwing Hail Mary TDs in 2015. Green Bay is a legit Super Bowl contender this year, and he should keep the Packers in contention for another two or three years. However, if Rodgers starts to “lose it” due to injury or simply Father Time, the Pack is grooming Jordan Love to be his replacement.
4) Arizona Cardinals: Yeah, Kyler Murray is really good, and Arizona could legitimately win the Super Bowl this year. The guy is in Year 2, so the Cards have not yet had to tie up too much cap space in this guy. In the modern NFL, the dominant QBs (other than Tom Brady) are fantastic runners and passers. I know that Lamar Jackson is the reigning MVP, but I trust Kyler Murray more than Jackson right now when it comes to completing a big-time pass. That said…
5) Baltimore Ravens: …Jackson still makes the Ravens Super Bowl contenders, and most NFL teams would love to give up their QB situation to have him.
6) Houston Texans: This is probably the first controversial entry on the list, in that great QBs should not lead teams to 1-6 records. If you look at the top 9 guys on this list, most of them guarantee their teams at least 10 wins in healthy seasons. At the same time, I have seen Watson lead the Texans to division titles in his first two full seasons as the starter. The guy is the requisite rushing/passing threat, and I am going to chalk the 1-6 start up to the combination of a) Bill O’Brien’s coaching, b) Bill O’Brien trading away one of the best WRs in football, and c) a tough schedule to this point. I expect the Texans to end up at 7-9 or such this year and to bounce back to have playoff seasons over the next several years, even though Watson has signed his big second contract.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I have said probably 50 times over the past five years, “Brady is done”, and every time he proves me wrong. The Bucs are legit Super Bowl contenders and might be the most complete team in the NFC. I would rather have one of the Top-6 situations because the guys are mobile and will be around much longer, but Tom Brady is playing well enough to have a chance for his 7th Lombardi Trophy.
8) Pittsburgh Steelers: We are in the middle of the “Last Kick at the Can for a Future Hall-of-Famer” section here. When it comes to Brady, Big Ben, and Drew Brees; I rank the three guys in that very order in terms of how good I think they are now. None of them will take their teams deep into the 2020s, but all can win titles this year. Speaking of which…
9) New Orleans Saints: Brees is an all-time great, but I feel like there are more moments where I think “Brees looks old” than where I think the analogous for Brady or Big Ben.
10) New York Jets: Everyone higher on this list allows for the statement, “We are legit Super Bowl contenders because we have our current QB.” Of course, a team can win a Super Bowl with a QB listed below, but there is much less certainty. Thus, I will sign up for the Lawrence hype combined with the fact that I should get a few years of quality play before I have to break the bank.
11) Cincinnati Bengals: I am using the same logic as with the Jets, except I have actually seen Joe Burrow play in the NFL, and the guy is excellent. The Bengals are a work in progress, but, if they improve their defense, I can see Burrow leading them to the 2021 AFC North crown.
12) Tennessee Titans: Over the past year, Ryan Tannehill has been one of the best quarterbacks in football. I know that Derrick Henry did most of the offensive work in last year’s playoffs, but Ryan Tannehill has beaten Patrick Mahomes and other quality NFL teams. Tannehill is not on the level of those first nine guys, with whom any team using said QB automatically becomes a Super Bowl contender….but the Titans can definitely win a title with Tannehill.
13) San Francisco 49ers: We are now at the part of the rankings that are a bit of a cluster-you-know-what. I feel like people would have much more disagreement about these next 14 teams than they would have about the earlier entries on this list. Anyway, I like Jimmy G. He was one overthrown pass in the Super Bowl away from having a Lombardi Trophy (as a starter). When he has been healthy, he has looked good much more often than not. He is too injury-prone, but Nick Mullens is one of the best backups in the league. I know that he looked better against the Jets and Giants than he has against other teams, but, if you have a backup QB who looks dominant against any NFL teams, you will take it.
14) Philadelphia Eagles: I…don’t…care what you think about Carson Wentz as long as it’s about him being an enigma. (Yes, I like Fall Out Boy very much.) His win over the Giants on TNF was proof of this. He looked confused for much of the game and made a few wonderful throws with the game on the line to give Philly the win. Anyway, the guy was a 2017 MVP candidate while leading the Eagles to the top seed before getting hurt and watching Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the championship. I am fine taking my chances with a guy who has led a team to the #1 seed three years ago.
15) New England Patriots: I am not ready to give up on Cam Newton yet. He was a Top-10 QB for most of the 2010s and was a Top-5 QB part of the time. I have a hunch that the Pats will go on a run in the second half of the season as Belichick and Newton start to jell. However, if I am wrong, the Pats can cut bait with Newton and can draft a QB with their high draft pick.
16) Dallas Cowboys: As a Giants fan, I am not supposed to praise Dak Prescott, but I really think the guy is a great QB. I have seen him make too many great throws, and, if it weren’t for some late Aaron Rodgers magic, we would remember Dak for a great playoff comeback against Green Bay four years ago. Anyway, had Dak not been hurt, I would have put Dallas in Jets territory (around #10). I should note though that I was wrong in predicting that Andy Dalton would be an excellent backup, and now Dallas has lost him to injury too.
17) Denver Broncos: I really like Drew Lock. I wanted the Giants to draft him and not Daniel Jones, but oh well. Lock looked great in limited action last year. He had disappointed this year but looked great in leading the Broncos back this Sunday against the Chargers.
18) Los Angeles Chargers: I like Lock slightly more than Justin Herbert, but you could make a case either way, especially with Herbert being in his rookie year.
19) Miami Dolphins: I cannot judge Tua on one game, but, if he is what he is cracked up to be, the Dolphins will be set at QB for a while. Plus, if Tua gets hurt, Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown this year that he can still win games.
20) Atlanta Falcons: Poor Matt Ryan. How many times have we seen that sad look on his face as the Falcons fall apart at the end? Anyway, we all saw him make a pass to Julio Jones that looked like a Super Bowl clincher. It turned out to be for naught. That said, Ryan was the 2016 MVP and still puts up strong numbers. I think he could make another Super Bowl run before his career ends.
21) Carolina Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater has looked rejuvenated this year, and he is great comeback story. Carolina’s defense is terrible, but I can see Bridgewater and Carolina rising to the top of the NFC South over the next few years as the other QBs in the division age.
22) Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff is what he is at this point. He is good enough to reach a Super Bowl with a strong supporting cast, and all four of his teams under Sean McVay have been playoff or near-playoff teams (assuming this to be the case this year). He is not going to make a ton of highlight-reel plays nor be an MVP candidate, but you can do worse than him.
23) Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr doesn’t excite me. Yes, he was great in the Raiders’ upset win in KC, but he is what he is at this point. I can’t visualize him leading a team deep into the playoffs.
24) Buffalo Bills: I just can’t get myself excited about Josh Allen either. Yes, he makes big plays, but it’s Year 3, and he makes way too many head-scratching mistakes for my liking.
25) Detroit Lions: Last year at midseason, I thought Matthew Stafford had a chance to lead the Lions on a deep playoff run and make a play for MVP. Then, Stafford suffered a season-ending injury. This year, Stafford is back to his normal self. The Lions play many exciting games, but you know the team will end up annually with somewhere between 6-8 wins. It is looking more and more like Stafford will finish his career with zero playoff wins.
26) Cleveland Browns: Browns’ QB were terrible for so long that Baker Mayfield’s mediocre play sometimes fools people into thinking he is a great QB. He isn’t.
27) Jacksonville Jaguars: Gardner Minshew II has been a nice story the past two years, but the Jags seem primed to finish with the #2 pick, with which they will likely pick their QB of the future. The jury is out on how strong a QB that will be, but we know he will be a big step down from Trevor Lawrence; which is why I list the Jags so far below the Jets.
28) New York Giants: I want to talk myself into Daniel Jones. However, there are so many guys higher on this list who look(ed) so much better than Jones in their first and second seasons. Everyone knows that Jones needs to decrease his number of turnovers, but the question is whether or not he can do it.
29) Indianapolis Colts: I thought the Colts would finish 3-13 this season. Watching the Chargers last year, I thought Philip Rivers was done. He has proven me wrong, and he has the Colts at 5-2. That said, I do think that Rivers is at the end of the line, and I expect the Colts to come back to Earth as their schedule toughens (includes Titans (twice), Ravens, Steelers, and Packers).
30) Chicago Bears: When the Eagles won the Super Bowl, I was big on the “Nick Foles dominated for the 2013 Eagles. This year’s performance is no fluke” train. That said, the Nick Foles of Jacksonville and Chicago is an average quarterback. Was the 2017-18 Philly Foles an average QB who found some good luck, or was he a great QB then? I don’t know, but that doesn’t matter now. The Bears are a solid team with two OK QBs (including Mitch Trubisky) and thus in no position to draft a better QB.
31) Washington Football Team: I thought Washington might not win a game this year, but the Football Teamers have already won twice. Ron Rivera might get them up to 3 or 4 wins, which hurts their chances of drafting a franchise QB. Kyle Allen is a fine backup QB, but that is all he is.
32) Minnesota Vikings: Ugh, Kirk Cousins. The first all-guaranteed contract in NFL history, and Cousins has trouble breaking 100 passing yards per game. The Vikings have so much money locked up in this guy but are also too good to be in the position to draft a solid replacement.
And there you have it! I hope that you enjoyed my rankings!
The 2020 Major League Baseball season has been like no other – 60 games, no fans in the seats, 16 teams in the playoffs, and several other rule changes. Though the bulk of these rule changes are temporary, the powers that be could ultimately decide to keep some of these rules for future seasons. As a result, I would like to share my views of which rules I would like to keep and which I would like to toss. I am going to list these in order from “most strongly want to keep” to “most strongly want to toss”. Thus, without further ado, here are my thoughts.
If a reliever enters a game mid-inning, he must pitch to at least three batters or the end of the half-inning – DEFINITELY KEEP
OK, I know that MLB actually introduced this rule pre-Covid, but, since it officially debuted on the field in 2020, I am addressing it anyway. Simply put, I love this rule. I am a baseball purist, and most purists hate this rule. However, the purist in me believes that starting pitchers should pitch until they are no longer effective, and relievers should do the same. I do not love that the game has evolved to a point in which the standard is for teams to use six relievers per game. Thus, I believe that anything that can trim that number is a good thing. Plus, I think that relief pitchers are the biggest reason why games are longer than they were in previous generations. Pitching changes lengthen games, and relievers tend to pitch at a slower pace than starters. After all, starters want to find a rhythm, which is hard to accomplish at a slow pace (unless you are Steve Trachsel); whereas relievers pitch to so few batters that deliberation outweighs any need to find rhythm. The 2020 “three-batter rule” does not address this second issue, but at least it does address the first in allowing for fewer pitching change. I like this rule, even if it means an angry mob of situational lefties will be knocking down my door. Sorry, Jerry Blevins.
I love many TV jingles for sports. These are the instrumental pieces that open broadcasts and take us into commercials. To me, a good jingle can make an average game feel good and can make a good game feel great. Additionally, there is a symbiotic relationship between sporting events and their jingles. The more great moments with which I associate a jingle, the greater the jingle seems to me. I love jingles, and I have even been known to download some to put on my running playlists. There is great motivational power in a great jingle. Therefore, I have decided I would like to create a countdown of my 10 favorite sports jingles of all time.
Two weeks ago, as most sports fans did, I watched the NFL Draft. Because I was so starved for sports, I actually watched much of Rounds 4 through 7, which I never do. I was desperate for sports. Anyway, at one point in the draft, some of the analysts referenced the New Orleans Saints’ three-consecutive devastating playoff losses. Yes, those losses must have been rough for Saints fans. To put this in perspective, this year’s Saints were legitimate Super Bowl contenders and lost a #3-#6 playoff matchup in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings….and that was probably the least painful loss of the Saints’ three consecutive playoff losses. That tells you something. Of course, when you can name a loss with something as simple as “Missed Passed Interference” or “Robey-Coleman” or something as momentous as “Minnesota Miracle”, you know the loss is bad. This year’s loss was merely “an overtime playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings”, which does not have quite the ring of the others.
On Wednesday night, Jacob deGrom pitched seven dominant shutout innings, striking out 14 Marlins, en route to a Mets victory. When it was time for Mets manager Mickey Callaway to reach into the bullpen in the Bottom of the 8th Inning, New York held a 6-0 lead. The first reliever on whom Callaway called was journeyman southpaw Luis Avilan.
Before I address the title of this article, please allow me a bit of preamble.
You might have seen the OBJ trade coming, but I did not. Yes, there were trade rumors about Beckham at various times over the past two years, but, during this offseason, there was no considerable buzz about such a trade being a legitimate possibility. Therefore, my brain is still processing the trade. Do I like this trade or not? I honestly do not know.
I could not care less about February baseball injuries. (Side note: I cannot stand when people say “I could care less” when they mean “I could not care less”.) Allow me to repeat myself. I could not care less about February baseball injuries.
I make this point because it is apparently a huge story that Mets’ infielder Jed Lowrie is heading for an MRI for soreness in the back of his knee. Notice that today’s date is February 24. The Mets’ first regular-season game takes place on March 28. Thus, we are five weeks from the start of the regular season. Do I care that Jed Lowrie might miss a few weeks of Spring Training? Of course not. As I have discussed in the past, I could not care less about preseason games in any sport. My main goal for any preseason is to have all of my team’s players be healthy when the regular season starts.
There is no worse feeling for the collective of sports fans than the feeling that the wrong team has advanced in the playoffs. I don’t mean “wrong team” in the “Jaguars over Steelers last year” sense. Sure, most of us were hoping for a Steelers/Pats AFC Championship game, featuring the two teams most of us thought to be the best in the AFC; but we were happy for the Jaguars for pulling off the upset fair and square. No, when I say “wrong team”, I mean it in the sense that the wrong team has advanced as a result of something completely beyond the control of the teams in the game.
Unfortunately, this was the case with the Rams/Saints NFC Championship Game. It is extremely rare for all sports fans to agree on an officiating call, but that is just what happened with Los Angeles and New Orleans. Everyone knows that the officials should have called either pass interference or unnecessary roughness on Nickell Robey-Coleman, but the officiating crew somehow rendered no penalty. Meanwhile, a penalty call would have given the Saints a 98% win probability. In that case, the Saints would have been able to bleed the clock down to 23 seconds or so before giving Will Lutz the chance to kick a game-winning and tie-breaking 21-yard chip-shot field goal.
Of course, the officials missed the penalty call, so the aforementioned scenario did not occur. The Rams are now heading to the Super Bowl. As a result, I spent the first several days of last week trying not to think about the Super Bowl. Just as I have tried to avoid football after devastating Giants playoff losses, I did the same for a few days here because of the Rams/Saints game. Never in my life have I seen an official’s call so drastically affect a playoff result, and this happened to send essentially the wrong team to the Super Bowl. Sitcoms and dramas are scripted. Reality shows are REALLY scripted. However, sports are not supposed to be scripted at all. Sports serve as a meritocracy where each team must earn all of its success. I did not feel that the Rams had earned its trip to the Super Bowl.
Fortunately though, as last week wore on, I started coming to grips with having the Rams in the Super Bowl. I know you might be thinking, “Jesus, it’s just a game, Focker.” However, if I actually had that type of attitude toward sports; chances are I would not spend hundreds of hours per year watching people I have never met compete against each other on the field. I certainly would not spend multiple hours per week writing blog entries. Therefore, I did truly need to come to grips with the Rams being in the Super Bowl, and I was somewhat successful. My consolation has come from this simple fact: After the missed call, the Rams STILL had to do a whole lot to win the game.
We are all correct when we cite the “98% win probability” number as reason why this missed call should not be treated equally with the multitude of other missed calls in NFL games. However, many people act like the missed call handed the Rams the win. That is not the case. With the non-call, the Saints’ win probability fell to 78%. After the non-call, my thought was “Let’s hope the Saints hold on to win anyway, so that this call does not matter”, not “Oh my God, the refs just took the Saints’ win and gave it to the Rams!”
After the missed call and Will Lutz’s subsequent go-ahead field goal, the Rams still needed all of the following to happen:
Jared Goff needed to lead a last-minute drive into field-goal range in one of the toughest road venues in sports
Greg Zeurlein needed to kick a game-tying 48-yard field goal
The Rams needed to win the overtime coin toss, since we all know that, if a team has a Hall of Fame quarterback (like Drew Brees), that team will score a TD on the opening possession of OT.
Oops, the Rams lost the toss but forced that Hall of Fame QB to throw an interception.
The Rams needed to drive to at least the Saints’ 33-yard line so to minimize the risk of a missed FG giving the Saints great field position.
Oops, the Rams stalled, and Sean McVay showed enormous spheres by letting Zeurlein kick a 57-yard FG (as I implored McVay to punt), which was good by several yards.
I should also note that, if the officials had made the correct call on the disputed play, the Rams would have likely ended up with the ball at their own 25-yard line with 20 seconds to play. They would have needed to gain 35 yards to set Zeurlein up for a 57-yard game-tying field goal, which he clearly could have made. Could the Rams have gained those necessary 35 yards on consecutive sideline passes before letting Zeurlein tie the game? It is not likely, but it is also not impossible.
Anyway, whether that last scenario works for you or not, the fact remains that the refs did not hand the Rams a win. The refs merely upgraded the Rams’ chances from “long shot” to “unlikely”. Kudos to the Rams for taking advantage of a slight opportunity.
Lastly, I should note that one could consider the missed penalty call a lucky moment for the Rams. Whether we like to admit it or not, many of these nail-biting games come down to luck. No, luck does not always involve a missed penalty call, but luck could be a bounce of a fumble, a made or missed FG, or a lucky catch. Just look at the Chiefs/Pats game. Dee Ford being offsides had nothing to do with what should have been a game-sealing Chiefs interception, but the penalty gave the Pats a second life. Because of a guy lining up a few inches offsides, a different team is now heading to the Super Bowl. It happens. Actually, speaking of the Pats, look at the first Giants/Pats Super Bowl, and look at the Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl. In both games, the Patriots were victimized in the last minute by incredible catches with elements of luck (David Tyree’s Helmet Catch: combination of skill and luck, Jermaine Kearse having the ball fall in his lap: mainly luck). In the former case, Eli Manning used Tyree’s catch and several other clutch throws to give the Giants the win over the Pats; in the latter, Malcolm Butler’s interception kept Kearse’s catch from leading the Patriots to defeat. Of course, for another modern example of luck, we know that the Eagles beat the Bears this postseason by a fraction of an inch on a “double-doink”.
Over the years, we have had many, many NFL teams win playoff games by the slimmest of margins, and those games are always the most bitter of pills for the losers to swallow. Unfortunately for the Saints, they have been eliminated in consecutive seasons by those slim margins in as devastating fashions as possible. The Saints are not the first deserving-to-be-there team in history to watch the Super Bowl from home, and they will not be the last. They are not even the only current team feeling that way, as the Chiefs are in the same boat.
The closer the game, the more likely it is that a bad bounce or bad call will greatly swing the result. Sports can be cruel. In this case though, the Saints still had a 78% chance of winning after the bad call. How much does this assuage my initial negative reaction to the game? I do not know. If the refs had made the right call, we are probably watching the Saints on Sunday, February 3. However, I keep telling myself that the Rams did what they had to do to win the game. I think I have come to grips with the Rams’ victory, and I hope you have too.