It was perhaps the most interesting and unpredictable week of the year.
The Rams lost
The Patriots lost as Miami pulled of an absolute miracle last-play TD involving a wobbly pass and two laterals.
The Chiefs barely won (overtime)
The Texans and Steelers lost
Tennessee’s Derrick Henry had probably the best rushing performance of the year. He ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns, including a 99-yarder.
There are now 80 teams playing in bowl games, which includes just about everyone but Rutgers, so this page is helpful in sorting out which games might be worth watching.
But the more important task is to determine which bowl games have the silliest names.
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
Here are the Vegas odds on all the bowl games. Some examples:
Alabama by 14 over Oklahoma
Clemson by 11 over Notre Dame
LSU by 8 over UCF
Georgia by 11 over Texas
Ohio State by 6 over Washington
The only Sunday surprise was the Bears’ OT loss to the lowly Giants. The Bears will get a chance to redeem themselves next week with a Sunday night home game against the mighty Rams.
The Pats, Rams, Chargers, Texans and Chiefs all won, continuing their march to good seeds in the post-season. In a match of probable playoff-bound teams, the Steelers lost to the Chargers, but held on to first place in their division.
You already know that the Cowboys handled the Saints on Thursday, but the Saints retained the presumptive #2 slot in the NFC. The Cowboys would be division winners and the #4 seed if the season were now over. (Washington can tie them for the division lead with a win on Monday.)
OSU finished #6
Oklahoma will face Alabama in the semi-final round, with Alabama favored by 14. While Oklahoma was not undefeated, they did beat every team they played. The played Texas twice, winning one and losing one. On the other hand, they finished 96th in the nation points allowed and 108th in yards allowed. Their real weakness was passing defense, where they finished dead last in the country in passing yards allowed. (Actually tied for last)
Clemson is favored by 11 over Notre Dame.
Georgia did not beat Alabama, but they came mighty close. They were leading 28-21 at the end of three.
Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma all won, so it is now clear which teams will be in the top six. Unfortunately, only four of them can make the playoff. Alabama and Clemson are undefeated and are the last two national champions, so they are obviously in. Notre Dame is undefeated, and almost certainly in. Who would leave them out, with their massive national following?
So which team will be #4? The Georgia squad, which just proved it is almost as good as Alabama? Or will it be Oklahoma? Or OSU?
If it were my choice, I would pick none of the above. Oklahoma has no defense. Georgia as a #4 seed would get an immediate rematch with Alabama, and that’s an anticlimax. Ohio State? Well, they are good, but they lost 49-20 to freakin’ Purdue. That’s Purdue, the team that earlier had lost to Eastern Michigan. If you lose 49-20 to Purdue, what is your expected result against Alabama?
Here is what I would do: I would give UCF the #4 seed.
First of all, that matches up four undefeated teams. When will we ever see that again?
Second of all, it gives UCF their chance to put up or shut up. They haven’t lost a game since the Grant administration. They even beat an SEC team last year in a major bowl game. People forget they defeated Auburn, a team which had defeated both Alabama and Georgia during the regular season. (Both Alabama and Georgia had been #1 in the country at the kickoff of those games.) UCF’s defense was dominant in that game. They held Auburn to 90 yards rushing on 44 carries, and sacked the Auburn QB six times! Yet the “experts” ignore UCF because of their weak conference. OK, perhaps the experts are right, but let’s find out. Maybe they will lose to Alabama by four touchdowns or more, but that will probably happen to any other team in the #4 hole anyway, so let’s “see what they got.”
He wrote back to say “I got this,” corrected the problem, sent her a pair of shoes, promised her an early pair from the next wave of shoes, and invited her to Oakland to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Warriors game with him!
Now THAT is customer service (and one great piece of public relations).
The committee still shows no inclination to let UCF into the playoff club with the other three undefeated teams.
Sagarin’s computer supports that position by ranking UCF 18th in the nation. Four of the teams ranked above them have suffered four losses.
Five Thirty Eight speculates on all the playoff possibilities. The one certainty seems to be that Notre Dame is in, having finished their schedule undefeated.
Clemson seems pretty safe, given that their only remaining game is their conference championship battle against mediocre Pitt (7-5). Clemson is favored by four. Not four points. Four touchdowns.
Assuming a Clemson win, then three of the playoff teams will be Notre Dame, Clemson and the winner of the Alabama-Georgia game (the bookies currently favor ‘Bama by 13.)
The battle for the fourth spot now shapes up to be between Oklahoma and Ohio State, which re-entered the picture after scoring 62 points against last week’s #4, Michigan. Both of those teams will be rooting for Alabama this week, because if ‘Bama loses they could still make the play-off, given that their regular season is considered by some to be the single greatest in the history of college football dating back to 1888!
An Alabama loss, coupled with wins by Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, is a nightmare for the selection committee. They would then be stuck with Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson and would only have one more spot to allot to three teams with approximately equal credentials. (That would be Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State, all three of which would probably be favorites in one-on-one match-ups against Notre Dame. Alabama would probably be favored by 20 over the Irish head-to-head, yet could end up freezing on the outside of the playoff club, looking in while the Notre Dame team lounges by the fire in their green smoking jackets!)
Slow news week. Only two teams had byes. It turned out to be the two teams really worth talking about: the Chiefs and the Rams!
The other two power teams, the Pats and Saints, won. Their QBs are amassing records to go with their wins. Tom Brady became the all-time NFL leader for passing yardage for all games (including post-season). Drew Brees holds the record for most regular-season yards, which he set earlier this year. Brees is beating Brady by a wide margin in that category (more than 4,000 yards), but Brady’s post-season record is phenomenal. He has more than 10,000 yards in the post-season, compared to only about 4,000 for Brees.
Symbolic of the offense upsurge in recent years, particularly this one, this was the only time in NFL history in which both teams finished with 50 points or more.
And they did it without OT!
To me the most amazing thing about the game is that the Chiefs scored 51 points despite turning the ball over five times. If they could have held on to the ball, they had a good shot at 70, and might even have scored 80.
Sorry, Eagles. This isn’t last year.
Brees was unbelievable yet again. He seems to be headed for an MVP at age whatever he is . I don’t want to say he’s old, but I think he started his career as the back-up to Curly Lambeau. When they went on the road in those days, they called it “on the trail”; the hotels were called “inns”; and the bibles in their rooms said “In the beginning was the word … To be continued.” That all changed when Bethlehem joined the league.
There was not much unexpected.
All of the undefeated teams remained undefeated. #1 Alabama almost seemed vulnerable in the first half. They were tied 10-10 with The Citadel. Of course they then proceeded to score 27 in the third period en route to a 33-point victory. #3 Notre Dame destroyed #12 Syracuse. That should assure the Irish a spot in the playoffs, given that Syracuse almost beat #2 Clemson.
The only true surprise in the top ten was that #9 West Virginia blew a 31-14 halftime lead. #10 Ohio State didn’t look good against Maryland, but they hung in there to win 52-51 in overtime.
UPDATE from the comments:
Scoopy, you’d really appreciate this, from Wiki: “On October 25, 2017, two weeks before his 103rd birthday, Lloyd attended Game 2 of the 2017 World Series. Lloyd had also attended Game 1 of the 1926 World Series, 91 years earlier, at the age of 11.”
The 1926 World Series is the one immortalized in The Winning Team, in which the great Grover Cleveland Alexander won two games and saved game seven despite being hung over. Alexander, played in that film by President Gipper himself, had once been the top pitcher in the NL. He had led the league in wins six times, including three consecutive seasons of 30 wins or more, but by 1926 he was a 39-year-old alcoholic. His performance in that series, against perhaps the greatest baseball team ever assembled, is considered not far short of miraculous. The movie is a typically sappy 1950s sports film, but doesn’t really exaggerate Alexander’s accomplishment that week. It really was that good and that unexpected.
So Norman Lloyd, who is still alive, was born during the first months of WW1, and once actually saw “Old Pete” out on the field (even though Alexander did not pitch in game 1 of that 1926 series). That almost seems impossible. Alexander played against Honus Wagner and Cy Young!
Yelich was the unanimous choice among position players. The other first place vote went to a pitcher (deGrom). Javier Baez was named on all 30 ballots, but none of them placed him first.
Yelich led the league in the key Sabermetric stats (OPS and WAR), and many of the traditional stats as well (slugging and batting averages). After the All-Star break, Yelich hit .367 with 25 homers. He totally carried the team during their final stretch drive, batting .370 with 34 RBI in the final month. In the final eight-game winning streak that carried the Brewers past the Cubs to the division championship, Yelich batted .458 with a .649 on-base percentage, and he averaged more than two RBI per game.
Betts and Mike Trout got almost all of the 1-2 votes in the AL. Betts was first or second on every ballot, while Trout was on 25/30. Trout did receive a position on every ballot, but five of the voters placed him somewhere from third to fifth.
29 of the 30 voters chose de Grom, and I’m OK with that choice, but …
He finished the season with a 10-9 record. No starting pitcher has ever previously won a Cy Young with fewer than 13 wins.
If we could look back upon this from 20 years hence, I don’t think this would be viewed as an exception, but rather as the start of a new trend. As I’ve noted previously, the pitchers’ W statistic is becoming increasingly irrelevant as starting pitchers face ever fewer batters.
Meanwhile Blake Snell won in the American League with 180 innings pitched. No starter had ever won with fewer than 198 innings, but there’s no question Snell was the right choice. Innings or no innings, he had one of the greatest seasons in modern history.
* He was 21-5 with a mediocre team. They Rays were 68-63 in games not started by Snell.
* His ERA was 1.89. Only four American League pitchers have gone below 2.00 in the DH era. I think you have heard of the others: Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Ron Guidry.
* Get ready for this one, because it sounds like a misprint. Opponents batted .088 against him with runners in scoring position.
No real changes, except that a few of the teams in the middle got closer to the top. The top ten did not budge at all.
There are a few minor differences between the official rankings and the computer rankings.
* The computer places Penn State and Washington in the top ten in lieu of LSU and Washington State.
* The computer calculations do not really favor Notre Dame. Despite the 10-0 record posted by the Irish, the computer slots them in the #9 position, behind Penn State, which has three losses.
* The calculations have even less respect for UCF, which is rated 23rd, beneath seven teams with four losses, and barely above Texas Tech, which is 5-5.
The only real news this week is that the Pats lost. They have been as good as usual in Foxboro, but are 2-3 on the road.
Well, I guess this is news: the friggin’ Bills scored 41 on the road. In the previous six weeks they scored 0-13-13-5-6-9. If only they could play the Jets every week.
The Eagles’ woes continue. The defending champs lost at home, dropping them to 4-5, so all is not sunny in Philadelphia. Fortunately for them, their division has no real runaway power team, so they are still contending for a playoff spot.
There’s a lot of scoring this year. The Steelers scored 52; the Saints reached 51. At age 39, when quarterbacks used to be well into their new careers in beer commercials, Drew Brees is turning in epic performances week after week. With only a single interception all year, he has completed nearly 80% of his passes, well on pace to crush the record of 72%, which he just set last year. Kenny Anderson set the completion percentage record in 1982 at 70.6%, and held that record for 27 years. Things have changed. Brees alone has broken it four times recently, and at this point in the 2018 season, five different guys are on pace to top Anderson’s old record.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot …
The Cleveland Browns kicked ass. They have a winning record at home this year (3-2-1)!
Alabama again shut out a ranked opponent. Yawn.
The top 10 all won. Only Oklahoma had to struggle. (‘Twas 48-47 in a typical Big 12 shootout.)
The dream bubble burst for #11 Kentucky. They lost to a team which came in with a 1-4 conference record.
I assume that Syracuse will move up at least to Kentucky’s #11 spot by leapfrogging UCF (which won, but gets no respect).
Lower down the ladder, there were losses from 14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 24. That’s great news for #19 Texas and #20 Penn State, as they should move up at least four slots.
Mauer’s is a great story in many ways, and it’s nice to write about something positive.
The 6’5″ Mauer was arguably the best high school multi-sport athlete in history. In 2000, he was USA Today’s high school player of the year – in football. He repeated as the player of the year in 2001 – but this time for baseball. Oh, yeah, and he was also all-state in basketball.
He was the MLB #1 draft pick overall. That’s not surprising, given that he batted above .600 in his senior year of high school, which was completely expected because he had never dipped below .542 in any previous season. Hell, he had batted over .500 with no strike-outs as a freshman, while playing against the big kids. In his four years of high-school baseball, he struck out only once!
He spent his entire major league career with the same team. As ESPN notes: “He is one of 22 former MVPs to play his entire 15-plus-year career with one franchise. Each of the previous 21 is in the Hall of Fame.”
But it was not just any team that he dedicated his entire career to. What makes the story really great is that it was his home-town team. The only city where he ever played major league baseball was the very same one where he was a high school phenom. In fact, he was born in the twin cities and never left home.
A quick summary of his achievements in pro baseball:
He is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball history, and won three gold gloves on defense as well.
He won three batting championships en route to a .306 lifetime average, but as high as that is, it is deceptively low. According to baseball-reference.com, he batted .328 lifetime in games he played as a catcher. (He stopped playing that dangerous and demanding position after a serious injury.) Among all catchers with 3000 or more at bats, that is the highest lifetime batting average in baseball history.
The top five:
Joe Mauer .328
Mickey Cochrane .320
Mike Piazza .313
Bill Dickey .313
Ernie Lombardi .308
In his MVP year, 2009, Mauer may have had the best offensive year any catcher ever had. He led the American League in both on-base percentage and slugging average, and got 27 of the 28 votes in the MVP balloting. To put that in perspective: Mike Piazza, who is generally considered the best offensive catcher in MLB history, never led his league in either OBP or SLG, but Mauer led in both in the same year, and also led in OBP in another year,
Those are some amazing numbers. I guess it must be a seller’s market, because Harper has been hot and cold. The biggest plus is that he’s only 26 and probably has his best years ahead of him, but he has batted below .250 in two of the last three years, and is averaging only 29 homers and 91 RBI per year in that period.
If that’s Harper’s market value, how the hell much would Mike Trout be worth on the open market?
Anyway, back to the point …
The White Sox are supposedly pursuing Harper, but several people have concluded that only about three or four teams in the game (1) can afford him; and (2) can offer him a chance at a ring. The Sox are never mentioned in that group. NBC Sports thinks he’s destined for the Phillies, but acknowledges the interest shown by the White Sox.
I have stated this many times, but if I were his age and had his talent, I would proactively try to play in Colorado, where my talents would produce the best results. Coors Field is a place where a hitter like Altuve could approach .400 and a slugger like Stanton could challenge Bonds’ homer record without any help from the needles. Playing there for a decade would punch Harper’s ticket for Cooperstown. All of that would be true at any time, but there is a special bonus in doing it now, because the Rockies already have a contending team without him, so he could be their entry pass into the post-season.
Can they afford him? I dunno. That part of the equation is beyond my pay grade, but if I were their owner and knew that Harper was interested, I’d try to find the money.
As expected, Michigan crept into the Big Four. Next week, four of the top ten (Including #1 and #2) have games against other ranked opponents.
As usual, Sagarin’s computer rankings don’t give Notre Dame, Syracuse and UCF as much respect as the CFP committee.
* The Irish are ranked 12th by the computer, versus 3rd by the committee.
* UCF is valued 23rd by the computer, but 12th by the committee.
* Syracuse is 13th in the CFP rankings, at which the computer utters a low, mechanical chuckle. The Orangemen are rated 44th by the computer, which is below TCU, a team with a 4-5 record.
On the other side of the coin, the computer really likes both Iowa and Washington, ranking them in the top ten.
The Rams finally lost, but they played well enough. They just ran into a buzzsaw offense that ran up 35 points in the first half. The Rams lost on the road to an equally good team, and Drew Brees played lights out (Michael Thomas alone had more than 200 receiving yards), so there was no shock there.
The Rams, Saints and Chiefs now have one loss apiece. Four teams have two losses, including the ever-menacing Pats.
Hey, thank heaven for the Raiders. If not for them, my home state of NY would have a monopoly on the really sucky teams (The Bills and Giants are awful- and the Jets aren’t so hot either.)
The rankings mentioned below differ somewhat from the ones we have been discussing in previous weeks, because the official rankings came out for the first time this week. A lot of teams came up with very different results. Houston, for example was #17 in the AP poll, but could not crack the official rankings at all. As it turns out, the official rankers were correct, because Houston lost this week to a team with a losing record.)
Well, there goes our hope that somebody would give Alabama a game. LSU was ranked #3 in the nation, and couldn’t even score a friggin’ field goal against ‘Bama. Final score 29-zip.
LSU’s humbling loss means that Michigan will join the Fantastic Four. Michigan was ranked #5 and they won 42-7 over the 14th-ranked team, so they clearly will advance at least up to #4, possibly even #3, depending on how the voters feel about Notre Dame’s schedule. The Wolverines also have two pretty easy games coming up, so they should be able to hold their place for a while, at least until they have to play OSU in Columbus.
Georgia is still a legitimate contender to make the playoff. They were ranked #6 and beat the #9 team 34-17. I suppose they will move up to the #5 spot.
As I think we all expected, Utah was nowhere near as good as their #15 ranking, and got soundly trounced by unranked ASU.
Once again, there will be plenty of changes at the bottom of the list. The following teams lost: 3, 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 20, 25. Next week’s versions of Utah, that is to say the teams that are not as good as their ranking, will include Syracuse, and Cincinnati. (Syracuse was #19, and will probably crack the top 15. Cincinnati defeated Navy 42-0, which is a much worse drubbing than Notre Dame gave the Midshipmen, and they are 8-1, so the Bearcats will probably claw their way back into the rankings. They would love to forget that loss to Temple, which marred their otherwise perfect season.)
He hit more than 500 homers and led the NL three times. In 1965 he and Willie Mays teamed up to hit 91 homers.
One commenter made an interesting point – Willie frequently had more walks than strikeouts, including four consecutive years. In fact, in his MVP year he drew so many walks that he led the NL in on-base percentage (not to mention in slugging average as well). In his prime, from 1965 to 1971, ages 27 to 33, his on-base percentage was a sparkling .404 for that seven-year period. He led the league in OPS three consecutive times during that period.
Here’s a measure of how much respect pitchers had for Willie: before Barry Bonds came along, Willie held the major league record for intentional walks in a season.
Oh, wait – make that 92 in the first half!
The Warriors’ stars, Curry and Durant, both came into this game averaging more than 30 points per game, but they practically got a day off this time. Klay Thompson was da man. He scored 52 points on the strength of 14 threes. That’s the NBA record for threes in a game, which is doubly impressive when you consider that he basically only played a half (27 minutes).
The other four starters averaged less than a half (23 minutes of playing time) because the Warriors held a 92-50 lead at halftime, so it was safe to empty the bench and take a look at what the subs could do.
UPDATE: Google was right! It was the Price and Pearce show.
Yesterday I said that game four was Steve Pearce’s lifetime moment when the journeyman utility player first tied and then won the game with his bat. The sonofagun hit two more homers in game five to become the World Series MVP! Meanwhile, David Price won his second game of the series by allowing only three hits in seven innings.
I’m not really a Red Sox fan, but I always feel that things are right when the team which is obviously the best in baseball wins the World Series. It indicates that there is sometimes order and justice in the universe.
Google has developed many incredible applications, but Google Time-Travel must be the best
No real surprises.
The Packers came very close to handing the Rams their first loss, but came up just a hair short at the end.
“Feel good” story: A fumble notwithstanding, Adrian Peterson looked like his old self. He rushed for 149 yards in a Washington victory, including a 64-yard TD.
No surprises, that I could see. Houston and Syracuse did enter the ranked group and Utah did move up seven spots. Sagarin’s computer rankings have one significant variation: the computer does not give Notre Dame much respect. The Irish are ranked 12th – below freakin’ Utah!
Next week is a good one in college ball. Eight of the top fifteen teams will be in action against each other, including #1 vs #4 (Alabama-LSU)
5-14 (Michigan vs Penn State)
6-11 (Georgia vs Kentucky)
12-15 (West Virginia vs Texas)
It seemed that the Dodgers had this one in hand. And then they didn’t. The Dodgers got another superb start from their pitching staff. Rich Hill allowed only one hit in 6.1. This time, however, their bullpen failed miserably.
The Red Sox bullpen was also poor, but it wasn’t that important, given that their hitters put up 9 runs in the last three innings.
The Red Sox’ big stars, Betts and Martinez, were again collared, but they were not needed this time. The Dodgers were defeated by role players, two veterans who are career .250 hitters. Mitch Moreland delivered a clutch pinch-hit homer to ignite the Sox, but the obvious Red Sox star was an aging journeyman and general utility guy, Steve Pearce. He tied the game with a homer in the eighth, then put it out of reach with a three-run double in the ninth that gave Boston the final margin of victory. This is Pearce’s 12th major league season. He’s played five different positions plus DH, for seven different teams in both leagues. In all those years he has never played regularly enough to qualify for the annual leader board on the rate stats. He has never batted in as many as 50 runs in a season. He has averaged only 181 at bats per year.
He’s not a “poor player” but this was the time to strut and fret his hour upon the stage.
And he’s entitled to a little strutting after that game.