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NFL Playoff Picture
[Posted Wed. a.m.]
NCAA Basketball Quiz: The NCAA Basketball Tournament has been in existence since 1939. Name the only four schools, eligible in each year since the tournament’s inception, to have never made the field. Johnny Mac can’t play since his alma mater is one of them. Answer below.
Following Seattle’s 21-7 win over a listless Minnesota Monday night, with just three weeks to go we have the following playoff setup.
AFC East: New England 9-4
AFC North: Pittsburgh 7-5-1
AFC South: Houston 9-4
AFC West: Kansas City 11-2
Los Angeles 10-3
For the final wildcard slot, Baltimore would have it today on tiebreakers, though Indianapolis, Miami and Tennessee are also at 7-6.
NFC East: Dallas 8-5
NFC North: Chicago 9-4
NFC South: New Orleans 11-2
NFC West: Los Angeles 11-2
For the two wildcard slots: Seattle 8-5, Minnesota 6-6-1, Carolina 6-7, Philadelphia 6-7, Washington 6-7. [For drama’s sack, I hope the Eagles nab the second one.]
In the Sunday night game (after I went to post), the Rams suffered their second loss of the season, in Chicago, 15-6, as the Bears’ defense held quarterback Jared Goff to 20/44, 180, 0-4, 19.1. The Bears’ Mitch Trubisky wasn’t much better, 16/30, 110, 1-3, 33.3.
Los Angeles’ All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald was held without a sack.
Back to Seattle’s 21-7 win over Minnesota, the Seahawks broke out in the fourth quarter after leading just 3-0 after three. Russell Wilson was only 10/20, 72, 0-1, 37.9, Seattle relying on its ground game, as well as a TD from its defense.
[Minnesota fired offensive coordinator John DeFiippo after the game, DeFilippo a nonetheless highly sought-after commodity, having been the Eagles quarterback coach during the run to the Super Bowl with Nick Foles replacing an injured Carson Wentz.]
But tomorrow, Thursday, we have Chargers at the Chiefs, a huge game. I’ll be nervous watching every one of Michael Badgley’s kicks.
Speaking of the lad from Summit, it’s clear he has become a favorite among the coaches and his teammates because he is a real football player, not just a kicker.
At the end of the first half Sunday, the Chargers needed an offside penalty to allow Badgley to attempt a franchise-record 59-yarder, which he then nailed.
Those extra yards convinced head coach Anthony Lynn to give the kid a shot.
“After that (penalty), that young man was pulling on my tail,” Lynn said later. “ ‘Coach, let me kick. Let me kick.’ I was going to let him kick it.”
“He made all of his kicks,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “That’s what we’re asking of him. Big day for him. I’m glad we finally got somebody who’s consistent because that’s what we’ve been needing.”
--Football fans are still talking about Coach Bill Belichick’s royal screw-up when he allowed Rob Gronkowski to play deep defender on Miami’s last-second, double-lateral, walk-off miracle touchdown Sunday.
Everyone is pointing out the same thing. Whereas Gronkowski, because of his size and athleticism, is always situated on goal line Hail Mary, end of game / half situations, this was not a Hail Mary play. The Dolphins snapped it from their 31-yard line, meaning Ryan Tannehill would have had to throw it 75 yards in the air into the end zone. Just wasn’t going to happen. It would have to be a lateral play and Gronkowski, the last line of defense, was outmaneuvered by Kenyan Drake, Gronk stumbling and losing his angle to chase Drake down.
This is all totally on the Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain, as the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay would say.
--Bowl season commences this Saturday. I’ll look at Arizona State vs. Fresno State, but I’m ticked off Appalachian State and Middle Tennessee is on so late (not that this is a great matchup, but I just wanted to see the Apps).
--Kansas State found its replacement for the retiring legend, Bill Snyder, North Dakota State’s incredibly successful Chris Klieman, who is 67-6 with three FCS championships in Fargo.
Klieman will stay on as Bison coach through the FCS playoffs, top-seeded NDSU facing South Dakota State in a semifinal Friday, with the national championship Jan. 5.
Klieman agreed to a six-year deal at $2.3 million per with a $200,000 annual raise.
K-State is following the path of Ohio State and Stanford in hiring an FCS coach to run their programs. Jim Tressel coached the Buckeyes to the 2001 national championship and Jim Harbaugh took Stanford to the Orange Bowl in 2010.
The Wildcats’ job was the last remaining open head-coaching position in a Power 5 conference.
--AP All-America teams:
[Just the positions I care about, for now.]
QB: Kyler Murray, junior, Oklahoma
RB: Jonathan Taylor, sophomore, Wisconsin; Darrell Henderson, junior, Memphis
WR: Jerry Jeudy, sophomore, Alabama; Marquise Brown, junior, Oklahoma
Ends: Clelin Ferrell, junior, Clemson; Sutton Smith, junior, Northern Illinois
Tackles: Quinnen Williams, junior, Alabama; Christian Wilkins, senior, Clemson
Linebackers: Josh Allen, senior, Kentucky; Devin White, junior, LSU; Ben Burr-Kirven, senior, Washington
Cornerbacks: Deandre Baker, senior, Georgia; Julian Love, junior, Notre Dame
Safeties: Grant Delpit, sophomore, LSU; Deionte Thompson, junior, Alabama
QB: Tua Tagovailoa, sophomore, Alabama
RB: Travis Etienne, sophomore, Clemson; Trayveon Williams, junior, Texas A&M
WR: Tylan Wallace, sophomore, Oklahoma State; Andy Isabella, senior, Massachusetts*
*As I wrote before, future Patriot
All-purpose player: Greg Dortch, sophomore, Wake Forest!!!!! Go Deacs!
Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, sophomore, Ohio State...was the third team QB, in keeping with the Heisman Trophy voting...Murray, Tagovailoa, Haskins.
No surprise that Alabama led the way with four first-teamers, Clemson next with three.
--At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Mets’ new GM, Brodie Van Wagenen, already with the biggest trade of the offseason, acquiring Robison Cano and closer Edwin Diaz from Seattle, was said to be working on a three-way deal that would have the Mets acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, while the Mets send the Yankees pitcher Noah Syndergaard to the Yankees.
But the Marlins want Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, and as of now it’s unlikely the Mets would make such a trade.
So this morning, it seems a three-way deal is off and the Mets are negotiating directly with Miami for Realmuto.
--Meanwhile, the Phillies are out to land one of the two big prizes on the free-agent market, outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado. The Phillies have been out of the playoffs seven years in a row and need to bring the fans back, owner John Middleton saying last month, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little stupid about it.”
The Yankees indicated Monday they are not in the market for Harper, but may be for Machado, who they are meeting with Friday. The Dodgers might be interested in Harper, and the White Sox are said to be anxious to make a splash.
But other prominent clubs like Boston and Houston do not appear to be in the market for either, plus they just don’t need them.
The Cardinals would be interested in Harper, but not at his price tag, and the Cubs are gun-shy, after being burned in their incredibly stupid contract with outfielder Jason Heyward, eight years, $184 million, virtually zero production since.
I mean it’s going to be interesting if no one has signed either Harper or Machado come Christmas. I’m guessing Philadelphia wraps up a Harper deal. Machado?
But Philadelphia signed free-agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a 3-year, $50 million deal, which surprised me a bit. The 32-year-old, five-time All-Star and 2013 NL MVP, batted .255 with 20 homers and 65 RBIs in 155 games last season with San Francisco and the Yankees. This move doesn’t preclude the Phillies from still going after Harper or Machado.
--Toronto released shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, making him a free agent. The guy who once seemed ticketed for Cooperstown, was out all 2018 after surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels in early April, and he hasn’t played since July 28, 2017, after suffering ligament damage.
That’s been the story of Tulo’s career...tons of injuries but, when healthy, a big bat. For his career, he has a .290 average, 224 home runs and 779 RBIs.
The Blue Jays clearly didn’t expect anything from the guy, however, because they are eating the remaining two years, and $38 million on his contract, meaning some team can take a chance on him at the major league minimum.
--About an hour after I posted Sunday, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced there would be at least two new inductees next summer in Cooperstown, thanks to the vote of the Today’s Game Era Committee, which elevated Harold Baines and Lee Smith, with Smith collecting all 16 votes and Baines receiving the required 12 of 16 (75 percent) for enshrinement. Many of us are just shaking our heads in disbelief.
Smith at least once got more than 50 percent of the votes from the writers in his 15 years of eligibility, but Baines peaked at 6.1 percent and was off the ballot in five years.
Baines said after he was informed of the selection: “To be honest, I wasn’t sitting around waiting for the call.”
Tyler Kepner / New York Times
“Baines had a fantastic career. The first overall pick in the 1977 draft, he played 22 seasons, collected 2,866 hits and made six All-Star teams. He was so revered by the Chicago White Sox that they retired his No. 3 jersey a month after trading him to (George W.) Bush’s Rangers in 1989. Then the White Sox brought him back – twice – as a player and again as a coach.
“Their owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, was part of the voting committee on Sunday. So was the Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who managed Baines with the White Sox and the Oakland Athletics. Eight other Hall of Famers, plus three other executives and three news media representatives, comprised the panel....
“ ‘There was a lot of discussion – in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, that’s 20 years, in just about every offensive category, he was in the top four or five guys, the best in our game,’ La Russa said. ‘I just think he was a little too quiet.’”
But Baines was not one of the best hitters in his era, period. He was a very solid player, no doubt, who through longevity became a big compiler, but in the league MVP balloting, his best finish was ninth, for crying out loud.
And in some of the metrics like WAR and OPS, he falls well below Cooperstown standards.
AP Top 25 (Dec. 10)
[It’s exam week for many, so limited action until the coming weekend.]
1. Kansas (57) 8-0
2. Duke (4) 9-1
3. Tennessee (1) 7-1
4. Gonzaga (1) 9-1
5. Michigan (1) 10-0
6. Virginia (1) 9-0
7. Nevada 10-0
8. Auburn 8-1
9. Michigan State 8-2
10. Florida State 8-1
11. Texas Tech 8-0
14. Buffalo 9-0
17. Villanova 8-2
23. Furman 10-0
--Well we had a big upset Tuesday night, Villanova falling to Penn at the Palestra, 78-75, the Quakers’ first win over the Wildcats since 2002.
Villanova had won a city-record 25 straight games against Big 5 rivals Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and the Quakers. Clearly, the Wildcats were caught looking ahead to Saturday’s game against No. 1 Kansas.
--I’m shocked at the rise of the Buffalo Bison, who early on upset then-No. 13 West Virginia (currently 6-3 and unranked), while blowing out all their other opponents.
So how good are they? We’re about to find out. Buffalo has big road tests against No. 25 Syracuse (Dec. 18) and No. 21 Marquette (Dec. 21). A split in these two would show me something.
In highly dramatic fashion Tuesday, Tottenham and Liverpool made it through to the Last 16.
Tottenham, in its group, needed to match the score of Inter Milan, as the Spurs took on Barcelona, a tall order.
But as Inter Milan scored in the second half to tie up PSV, 1-1, the Spurs found themselves down 1-0, until Lucas Moura, on a beautiful pass from Harry Kane, tied it up in the 85th minute and the Spurs held on.
Meanwhile, Liverpool needed to beat Napoli 1-0, and they did, 1-0.
So all four Premier League teams have advanced to the Last 16, Manchester City and Manchester United having qualified earlier.
--Congratulations to Maryland, which has had a rough year all-around, as the Terrapins took the NCAA soccer title Sunday night over Akron, 1-0; Maryland’s fourth men’s title. [A shared title in 1968 with Michigan State, and then 2005 and 2008.]
--I watched ESPN’s “30 for 30” on one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Buster Douglas’ taking out heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. Great show. Great footage.
I’ll never forget that night, Feb. 11, 1990, as my friend Pete M. and I were in Hoboken, having been out for a few adult beverages, when at the last minute we thought, what the hell, let’s buy the fight even though Douglas was an overwhelming underdog...42 to 1 in Vegas.
But I totally forgot that Douglas went into the bout having just lost his mother, which made victory all the more amazing.
Definitely catch the film.
--According to Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become the most-streamed classic rock song of all time.
As Anne Steele of the Wall Street Journal noted:
“Released in 1975, the song made for an unlikely smash hit. At six minutes long, it is twice as long as a typical pop song and shifts musical gears repeatedly...
“Now it has found a new audience on streaming services thanks to the success of the Freddie Mercury biopic of the same name, which opened in November. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a single from the British rock band’s seminal album ‘A Night at the Opera,’ has been streamed more than 1.6 billion times globally on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and other streaming services, according to Universal, the world’s biggest music company.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was No. 1 nine consecutive weeks in the UK in 1975, but only peaked at No. 9 on the U.S. Pop Charts. But the accompanying video is widely regarded as the first music video.
The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.
In taking the top spot, the song pulled ahead of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Guns N’Roses’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and its “November Rain.”
The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” became the highest-grossing music biopic in history five weeks after its release, grossing more than $596.1 million globally through last weekend.
Top 3 songs for the week 12/16/78: #1 “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (Barbra & Neil) #2
“Le Freak” (Chic) #3 “Too Much Heaven” (Bee Gees)...and...#4 “I Just Wanna Stop” (Gino Vannelli) #5 “My Life” (Billy Joel) #6 “I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round)” (Alicia Bridges) #7 “Time Passages” (Al Stewart) #8 “Sharing The Night Together” (Dr. Hook) #9 “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” (Andy Gibb) #10 “MacArthur Park” (Donna Summer...where’s my sword...)
NCAA Basketball Quiz Answer: The four Division I hoops programs to have never made the tournament since 1939 are...St. Francis (New York), Army, William & Mary and The Citadel.
Northwestern was part of the above group until they finally made the Big Dance in 2016-17.
New Hampshire and Maine have been eligible since 1962 and they too have not qualified for the tournament as yet.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.