Most Anticipated NBA Season in…Decades?

The NBA season kicked off tonight. I cannot recall being as excited for a season as I am for the 2019-2020 campaign. As much as that can be attributed to my beloved Sixers being legitimate title contenders, I have just as much enthusiasm for where the league is as a whole. 

Instead of giving a generic list of “what to watch for”, I can simplify it for everyone ranging to the true hoop heads to the borderline casuals. This is arguably the first time in multiple decades where we enter the season without a clear-cut favorite or a limited list of 3-4 teams that have a realistic shot at winning the NBA title. That has very much been the reality of the NBA for a very long time. 

The NBA has historically been a very top-heavy league in comparison to the other major sports. I have to wonder if there is a connection to it being the first league to embrace tanking, but that is a story for a different day. 

In recent years, and specifically during Lebron James’ second act with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was virtually a foregone conclusion in October that they would be meeting the Golden State Warriors that June in the NBA Finals. It was so predictable that you couldn’t get even odds on a Cleveland/Golden State preseason futures wager. It took Lebron leaving the conference altogether last summer for the East to send a Lebron-less team to the Finals for the first time since 2010. 

But that is not the case this season. You could make a legitimate argument for at least eight different teams to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this upcoming. According to Bovada, there are eight teams that have title odds shorter than +2000, or 20-1. 

Lakers +300
Clippers +333
Bucks +575
76ers +750
Rockets +850
Warriors +900
Jazz +1300
Nuggets +1800

An argument could be made for the Celtics if they were to make an in-season trade for a star. But at this point, it looks like a two-horse race in the East. Turn to the West, there are six true contenders. So, how did this happen? How did the NBA magically become more open? 

The answer is not that complicated, especially if you have been paying attention to the offseason. This was one of the most active offseasons in many years. But it wasn’t active like the spending frenzy of 2016 when average players were handed out lavish contracts, accented by Kevin Durant’s decision to join the already historically great Warriors. Instead, we had a heavy dose of player movement, which some could suggest was the apex of the “Player Empowerment Era”. 

There has never been another offseason in which so many high-profile players changed teams:

Anthony Davis (Pelicans to Lakers)
Kawaii Leonard (Raptors to Clippers)
Jimmy Butler (76ers to Heat)
Kyrie Irving (Celtics to Nets)
Kevin Durant (Warriors to Nets)
D’angelo Russell (Nets to Warriors)
Paul George (Thunder to Clippers)
Chris Paul (Rockets to Thunder)
Russell Westbrook (Thunder to Rockets)
Al Horford (Celtics to 76ers)
Kemba Walker (Hornets to Celtics)

Amongst the flurry of activity, there was a common theme that stuck out to me. The talent is much more spread around the league than it has been in a while. A few years ago, you might have these players team in up in threes, forming multiple super teams. Instead, we are entering a season of super duos. 

If this offseason followed old trends, we could have seen new super teams like Lebron James, Anthony Davis and Kemba Walker on the Lakers or what about the idea of Kyrie Irving, Kawaii Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. 

I think just about everyone outside of Los Angeles and ESPN HQ is very grateful that it didn’t happen.

Instead of only a couple of teams led by a few superstars, we are entering a season with several teams led by two stars and stronger supporting casts. If not already obvious, that equates to a much more balanced league. A more balanced league means a more competitive and enjoyable regular season. 

The NBA regular season has been deemed practically meaningless in recent years. In a season with so many more contenders jockeying for playoff seeding, that definitely will not be the case. 

This should naturally lead to a more compelling Playoffs or at least one that gets interesting far before the Conference Finals. Just think about the potential scenarios…

What if the Warriors, missing Klay Thompson, grab the 6th or 7th seed. Would a tested team like that not give a scare to the Lakers, Clippers or Rockets in the first round? When it comes to a team very familiar with each other against a talented team still trying to figure out how to play with one another, I like the odds for at least a fun first round. 

How about the prospects of the Heat, who recently acquired Jimmy Butler, facing a Celtics team that will have an interesting new look after replacing Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker. 

Obviously there are more compelling matchup possibilities in later rounds…an all-LA series, Sixers/Bucks featuring a battle between Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and eventually a very fun NBA Finals between the teams that managed to make it through what should be much tougher roads than usual. 

Either way, it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun to watch. 


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2019 NFL Season Storylines and Predictions

Happy NFL Kickoff my fellow fans. With the season underway tonight, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I believe are the most interesting stories of the 2019 NFL Season. At the conclusion, you will find my standings, playoffs and championship predictions. Enjoy!

It’s Time for Big Red

Andy Reid is only missing a Super Bowl victory before becoming a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He enters the 2019 season with the 8th most Head Coaching victories in NFL history (195). Reid has led a team to the playoffs in 14 of his 20 years as an NFL Head Coach. He is a great coach with uniquely tremendous ideas but has fallen victim to repeated mistakes. Regardless of his past, he is in a Super Bowl window with the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes appears to be the most talented quarterback he has ever coached. He’s got his guy, and at a cheap price for another couple of years. Andy Reid has a true Super Bowl contending team. He’s had the squad before and on multiple occasions. But can he finally bring it home? I’d love to see it. 

Houston is….all in?

The Houston Texans have been operating without a General Manager since June 7th and have certainly been acting like it. In the past week, they have shipped out Jadaveon Clowney for a modest return and shortly after sent multiple first round picks to Miami for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. On the surface, these look like very contradictory moves. They traded away an elite pass rusher who most could argue has not reached his full potential. It’s also safe to question whether Clowney ever will. But he was entering the final year of his contract and all signs were pointing to him leaving in free agency. So, Houston cashed in on his value in a move that usually resembles that of a rebuilding team. But the trading of high picks for two players who fit immediate needs is certainly a “win now” move. So, I guess they are in win-now mode. But, you’d think they’d love to have a guy like Clowney rushing the QB down the stretch of a Super Bowl run. 

The second-year QBs

The 2018 NFL QB Draft Class is a fascinating group. There were five selected in the first round (1 – Baker Mayfield/CLE), 3 – Sam Darnold/NYJ, 7 – Josh Allen/BUF, 10 – Josh Rosen/ARZ, and 32 – Lamar Jackon/BAL), the most since 1999.  It’s one with the potential to be historic. A case can be made for all five former first-rounders to make significant jumps in their second year. Rosen already finds himself on his second team, being traded to Miami when Arizona determined they wanted to select Kyler Murray #1 overall this year. He is being thrown into a tough spot: a team that has made every move suggesting they have already punted on the season. I really like Darnold to progress this season. He has a good pedigree, is still very young he really started to show a lot of promise towards the end of the season. I’m a big fan of the talented young QB who takes early lumps, is forced to get better faster, and learn to overcome those challenges. You could say Allen and maybe to an extent, Jackson fit in that category. Either way, I think all three take big steps forward in 2019. And Mayfield, he’s the star of the class…for now. He’s got the QB moxie that I love and is present with several all-time great QBs. He has the spotlight on him this year, but I think he may be ready for it. 

Brady and Brees…decline?

Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the lone starting QBs in the 40+ club. While both are unquestionably first-ballot hall-of-famers, it seems inevitable that at least one, if not both will decline in 2019. Brees and Brady have already defied father time, managing to be very effective at their respective ages. In many cases, the decline for QBs is steep is sudden. Just look at Peyton Manning in 2015. The good thing for both guys is that they on teams where they are not forced to carry the load like they had to do occasionally at different points of their career. There were moments in 2018 that Brees and Brady showed their age (like Manning in 2014), and I will not be entirely shocked if either QB shows a prominent decline this season. Either way, regardless of your rooting interests, it has been a pleasure to watch both these guys over the past two decades.

Carson Wentz Revenge Tour

The failure of Wentz to finish the past two seasons have significantly impacted his perception around the league. I will not completely dismiss the injury concerns, but it blows my mind how so many people forget how great he was in 2017, prior to tearing his ACL against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. He was well on his way to winning the NFL MVP, finishing the season with 33 TDs, 7 INTs and a passer rating of 101.9. Despite improving his rating to 102.2 in 2018, Wentz was clearly limited and still recovering before injuring his back in December. For the first time since 2017, Carson Wentz is completely healthy and has an arsenal of weapons that should help him have a big year. If he can stay healthy, Wentz will be a serious challenger for the MVP. 

Playoff Seed in ()

AFC East
New England Patriots 11-5 (2)
New York Jets 9-7
Buffalo Bills 8-8
Miami Dolphins 3-13

AFC North
Pittsburgh 11-5 (3)
Baltimore Ravens 9-7 (6)
Cleveland Browns 8-8
Cincinnati Bengals 4-12

AFC South
Houston Texans 10-6 (4)
Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7
Indianapolis Colts 8-8
Tennessee Titans 6-10

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 (1)
Los Angeles Chargers 9-7 (5)
Denver Broncos 7-9
Oakland Raiders 4-12

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card
Chargers over Texans
Steelers over Ravens

Steelers over Patriots
Chiefs over Chargers

Chiefs over Steelers


NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5 (3)
Dallas Cowboys 9-7
New York Giants 5-11
Washington Redskins 3-13

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings 11-5 (2)
Green Bay Packers 10-6 (5)
Chicago Bears 9-7
Detroit Lions 6-10

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons 10-6 (4)
New Orleans Saints 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9
Carolina Panthers 6-10

NFC West 
Los Angeles Rams 12-4 (1)
Seattle Seahawks 10-6 (6)
San Francisco 7-9
Arizona Cardinals 3-13 


NFC Playoffs

Wild Card
Packers over Falcons
Eagles over Seahawks 

Eagles over Vikings
Packers over Rams

Eagles over Packers


Super Bowl
Chiefs over Eagles


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The Timing of Andrew Luck’s Retirement

I am shocked by the news of the Andrew Luck retirement. I am sure there is so much we don’t know. So I won’t even get into the reasons or try to speculate. I have my theories. But, what is on my mind is the timing of it. We knew he was dealing with an injury and his Week One status was up in the air. We also know he has previously missed an entire season for an injury that still has some suspect details. 

But the timing is bizarre within the context of his career. Basically, since Luck was drafted in 2012, the Colts received a lot of criticism for not building a better team around him. The criticism was very fair. They especially struggled to draft and develop an offensive line that would better protect him. 

That is not the case entering 2019. The Colts are good. They have an up and coming defense with playmakers, a strong offensive line, a good receiving core, and solid running back group. Indy was entering the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I was pretty confident in their chances to at least reach the AFC Championship Game, if not win it. 

You have to figure this has to do very little if anything to do with football. Well, it could be a cause of football. We are starting to see more and more NFL players retiring earlier than they used to. In this case, it had to be something major for Luck to walk away from the best team he has ever had just weeks before the season started. 

Oh, the money? He walked away from $12.8 million over the next two years. But, I guess that doesn’t matter as much when you’ve already banked about $97 million. 

Speaking of money, if you were quick enough to place the Colts under 9.5 wins bet, I applaud you. It’s currently 6, and am intrigued by the over. The Colts are still a decent team, even without Andrew Luck.

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Week 1 NFL Overreactions

One of my favorite new NFL traditions is the abundance of overreactions following Week 1 of the NFL Season. These topics dominate the radio waves, social media feeds, podcast discussions and barroom debates. Now, I am not at all suggesting I am above this practice. Therefore, I am compelled to share my observations (or overreactions) from Week 1. 

Bills and Cardinals will be forced to play their Josh’s sooner than later

Buffalo and Arizona look destined for very long seasons. What else do they common? They invested top-ten picks in quarterbacks (which also happen to be named Josh). Most teams prefer the scenario where the rookie QB doesn’t have to play right away. But if their performances in Week 1 are a sign of things to come, the Bills and Cardinals could be out of playoff contention by October. Assuming that will be the case, there won’t be any logical reason for the rookie QBs to maintain clipboard duties. These teams clearly invested these picks with the hopes of finding their next franchise quarterbacks, and I anticipate both will make their debuts very soon. Even if neither is “the guy”, the sooner they play, the sooner they will have an answer. 

Andrew Luck can’t carry the Colts

Indy is rejoicing with the return of Andrew Luck. Make no mistake about it; having a franchise QB is the most valuable asset in the NFL. And give Colts credit for having that. However, I can’t quite be jealous of a franchise that went from Manning to Luck seamlessly, but I digress. However, despite having the QB back and healthy, the rest of the roster is still a lot to be desired. There’s no doubt an elite quarterback can cover up for a team’s flaws. But based off Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, that task looks insurmountable for Luck. A 7-9 finish looks like the ceiling for the Colts. Hopefully, the 2019 offseason leads to a more concerted effort to build around their star QB. Don’t get me wrong, I like what the Colts did this past draft, with their high pick investments in the offensive line. But, I doubt that will be enough to get the Colts back into contention this season.

The Giants will be haunted by passing on Sam Darnold

For the record, I am a big fan of Saquon Barkley. I’d go as far to say he has superstar potential. But even if he reaches his full potential, I have a tough time believing that selecting Barkley with the #2 overall pick over Sam Darnold will end up being the correct, long-term decision. It would generous to say Eli Manning’s best years are behind him. He looks cooked and the Giants are kidding themselves if they think he can reclaim the Super Bowl magic. I have a hard enough time justifying the use of a draft pick that high on a running back when you consider the shelf-life of the position and overall impact on a team’s success these days. Maybe if the Giants were a locked and loaded Super Bowl contender with a franchise QB in his prime, I could get behind adding a player like Barkley as the “missing piece”. But the Giants are coming off a 3-13 season with a 37-year starting quarterback. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned how Darnold dazzled in his NFL debut on Monday Night Football, a broadcast that had to be a tough watch for every Giants fan.

The Ravens are a legit AFC contender

This might seem like a foolish suggestion, considering my very low opinion of the Bills, who they dismantled in Week 1. But that win aside, there is a lot to like about the Ravens. They have a dominant defense and vastly improved offensive line. Baltimore has also revamped their receiving core with guys like John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Everyone including Flacco himself knows that he has been a disappointment since signing that huge contract following the 2012 Super Bowl victory. But there are three reasons why I am optimistic that he will have a good 2018. First, he appears to be completely healthy, which wasn’t the case in 2017. Secondly, he is one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL, something that should pair well with the weapons in the passing game. Lastly, I’m a believer in the idea that a fire it can light under a QB after the team drafts a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

Winning isn’t a priority for the Raiders

As I wrote in my most recent post, I do not have very high expectations for Oakland in 2018, despite the Jon Gruden hype. They traded away their best player a week before the season in exchange for nothing that will help them in 2018. I get the sense that Jon Gruden isn’t a major Derek Carr fan, despite his time in the MNF booth leading us to believe he loved every player in the NFL. For Gruden, he has an easy out if the Raiders fail to make the playoffs: That he didn’t draft Carr. His contract is manageable in that they will be able to cut him after next season without a significant cap penalty. I can very easily foresee a scenario where the Raiders finish with 4-6 wins, thus are able to use a high pick on a QB in 2019 with the intention for that to be the lame-duck year for Carr. Then Gruden gets to draft his guy, and build the team the way he likes as they start fresh in Sin City.

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Season-Long NFL Picks & 5 Bold Predictions

A brand new NFL season kicks off this week, starting with the defending champion, Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night. With that being the case, the time is as good as any to present my annual NFL predictions.

  1. The Washington Redskins will miss Kirk Cousins

I have never been a big Alex Smith fan, primarily due to the limitations of his arm. I’ve always considered him a QB who was good enough to keep your team competitive, but not one capable of leading one to a Super Bowl. On the flipside, Kirk Cousins may be one of the more underrated and underappreciated players in the NFL. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy to suggest a player who cashed in the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history is underappreciated. But, with how seemingly desperate the Redskins were to get rid of Cousins, you’d think he was Tim Tebow.

The Redskins were decimated with injuries last season and Cousins still threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Despite his performance, Washington made it clear they were ready to move on from him. The Minnesota Vikings, the beneficiary of the Washington fallout, filled a major void on an already loaded roster. Sure, Case Keenum played very well in 2017. However, the Vikings knew they needed to upgrade at QB in order to have a realistic shot of winning the Super Bowl. And that is exactly what they did.

  1. Jon Gruden will be a massive failure in Oakland

For the past decade, the rumors of Gruden returning to coaching have become an annual tradition. As we know, the rumor finally became reality when he left the Monday Night Football booth to return to the Oakland Raiders for an unprecedented $100 million contract. Gruden has made waves this offseason with very questionable roster moves, but none had been as puzzling as jettisoning Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears this past weekend.

It’s hard not to be concerned about a new coach who seemed to make such a little effort to get along with the team’s best player and determine a solution to keep him. One side may argue that the move will send “a message to the locker room”. But will that be the right message? My hunch says no. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a player on a team that traded away the best player a week before the season in exchange for nothing that will help them in 2018. While the Raiders are yet to play a game, I cannot be too optimistic based off his first offseason.

  1. NFC North will be the best division

There is a clear hierarchy of divisions across the league. But, I genuinely believe the NFC North is the strongest from top to bottom. The Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They have a truly elite defense devoid of weaknesses. On the offensive side of the ball, Kirk Cousins takes over as the new signal caller and joins a potent passing attack and promising running game. Shift to the Packers, who get Aaron Rodgers back healthy. Unlike most Green Bay teams of the recent past, they appear to finally have a stable running game and enough play-makers on defense to prevent that side of the ball from being a liability. Like Minnesota, they’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

By looking to the “bottom half” of the division, the Lions and Bears do not look to be your typical bottom dwellers. The Lions should have an improved offensive line, recent additions to hopefully stabilize their running game to compliment an already strong passing game, and a good enough defense to keep them in every game this season. Last we turn to the Bears, who fortified their defense after acquiring Khalil Mack. The offense will go as far as second-year QB, Mitch Trubisky can take them, but he has enough weapons to lead a very effective offense.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles will (eventually) be better in 2018

The defending champs enter the regular season very banged up, and most notably without Carson Wentz. Wentz was on his way to winning the NFL MVP before tearing his ACL in Los Angeles last December. As expected, it has been a long recovery and he is yet to be cleared by the doctors. With his status in addition to a handful of other players slated to miss the beginning of the season, I anticipate a bumpy start, even with the first quarter arguably being the easiest part of the schedule.

But, the Eagles will get healthy and I anticipate them getting their stride between October and November. I am also very encouraged by the offseason additions as well as the returning players who missed the Super Bowl run. Once healthy, an argument can be made for this roster being even stronger than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last February. I truly believe that the team will be fueled by those players who missed out on the triumph and will be extremely motivated to experience it for themselves. I don’t anticipate a Super Bowl hangover.

  1. Dak Prescott will continue to regress

I was alone by thinking a lot of Prescott’s rookie season was a fluke. For most of the season, he was working with ideal conditions that typically leads to a high level of performance. The offensive line and running game were elite and he had several very good options in the passing game. But now as we are entering his third NFL season, the Cowboys’ line looks in disarray and with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, it won’t get any easier.

A lot of pressure comes with being the QB of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite an impressive rookie campaign, I remain extremely skeptical about his long-term potential. He had a down year in 2017 and while a lot of Cowboys supporters assume it was an anomaly, I’m more likely to believe it’s a sign of things to come. Sorry Dallas fans, Dak is a lot closer to Quincy Carter than he is to Troy Aikman or even Tony Romo.

Final Standings

AFC East
New England 11-5
New York Jets 6-10
Miami 5-11
Buffalo 2-14

AFC North
Pittsburgh 10-6
Baltimore 10-6
Cincinnati 7-9
Cleveland 4-12

AFC South
Jacksonville 11-5
Houston 10-6
Tennessee 9-7
Indianapolis 7-9

AFC West
Los Angeles Chargers 10-6
Kansas City 8-8
Denver 6-10
Oakland 4-12

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
New York Giants 7-9
Washington 7-9
Dallas 6-10

NFC North
Minnesota 12-4
Green Bay 10-6
Detroit 8-8
Chicago 7-9

NFC South
Atlanta 11-5
New Orleans 10-6
Carolina 9-7
Tampa Bay 6-10

NFC West
Los Angeles Rams 11-5
Seattle 9-7
San Francisco 8-8
Arizona 4-12

AFC Championship
Los Angeles over Pittsburgh

NFC Championship
Atlanta over Minnesota

Super Bowl
Atlanta over Los Angeles


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Warriors Have Changed the Optics of Super Teams

The Golden State Warriors made history a couple weeks ago when they completed the sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third NBA Championship in four seasons. The Warriors became the first team to win three championships in four years or fewer seasons since the Los Angeles Lakers won three in a row from 2000-2002. Most people considered the result a foregone conclusion a whole year ago, being that Golden State has asserted themselves into a rare air of league-wide dominance.

With how the Warriors are currently constructed, they don’t have any signs of fading any time soon. Sure, if Kevin Durant rediscovers any semblance of competitive fire and chooses to pursue the challenge of winning with a team not already loaded with star players, then we could see them slip a little. But if the Golden State core stays together in an effort to chase the Bulls of the 1990s or Celtics of the 1960s, they’ll continue to force opposing teams to expend all bits of creativity in order to come up with a solution for the NBA’s latest dynasty.

It was just a few years ago that the basic NBA team building approach was to obtain a superstar talent through the draft who could evolve into a franchise player and surround that player with additional star and solid complementary pieces. Prior to 2016, it was easy to feel optimistic about your chances to win an NBA Championship by following that formula. But, the Golden State Warriors have completely changed the dynamic of the league, as teams have to figure out how to beat this “super team” by trying to form another, you guessed it, “super team”.

The concept of a “super team” was born during the 2010 offseason when Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in Miami to go on an impressive run that culminated in two championships and four NBA Finals appearances. Everyone outside of South Florida was repulsed by the act of star players teaming up to basically form an all-star team. It was unprecedented in the NBA, and while most basketball purists would hope it was an anomaly, the desire to somehow takedown Golden State may have not only incentivized stars to team up again, it has made the concept completely acceptable to the viewing public.

If Lebron James teams up with Paul George and/or Kawhi George when free agency kicks off next week, the move will not face more than a small fraction of the national vitriol that James and the rest of the Miami Heat faced back in 2010. In a way, I’m sure there are some basketball fans that would love to see it, especially after the complete bore of this past NBA Finals. Let’s be real, a competitive NBA Finals of uber-talented teams is pretty compelling. 

Sure, there are a handful of young, talented teams that are arching towards being able to compete for a title. But it will realistically take a team comprised of multiple elite players like James, Leonard, and George to defeat Golden State as soon as next season.

With Lebron James coming off consecutive defeats to the Warriors in the NBA Finals, he certainly knows that he needs to surround himself with better players to have a better shot next year. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he soon finds himself on a team just as talented and high-profile as the 2010 Miami Heat. But this time around, I won’t fault him for a bit. Let’s hope he skips the ESPN special.


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Vegas is Making History, and it Sucks

The Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest team is continuing to rewrite history in their inaugural season by accomplishing what very few professional expansion teams have ever accomplished. To some, they have been the darlings of the NHL. There is a lot to applaud in terms of their roster construction and team building, considering the Knights are made up of cast-offs from the rest of the league. For that, it is an incredible, inspirational story that is a “30 for 30” waiting to happen.

I don’t mean to sound negative, and I am sure some people will initially perceive my message that way. But if I’m going to be honest and look at the big picture, specifically from a fan perspective, is this actually a good thing? I’m saying no. I am not trying to rain on the parade of Las Vegas “fans”, those who have enjoyed following the story, or are praying for their 500-1 Stanley Cup bet to cash that they placed for the helluva it.

The Golden Knights punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup on Sunday afternoon, becoming the second NHL expansion team to do so and have a shot at becoming the first to hoist the Cup.

Let’s first address the obvious from a fan experience. If you adopted the Golden Knights as your favorite NHL team, due to geographical reasons, where do you go from here? If they win it their first year, every successive season that doesn’t end with a championship parade down the Vegas strip will be considered a major letdown.

Naturally, the question will be “Are these fans that didn’t have a hockey team prior to 2017 going to be really upset?” Probably not. It’s Vegas, there’s plenty to do and more importantly, plenty to distract yourself from a temporary disappointment of the local sports team. So why is this story actually kind of a bummer? Well, it’s a bummer for the other fans. I’m talking about the fans who have been die-hard fans and have been waiting for their team to finally win it for multiple decades if they have even seen it ever happen.

Let’s be real, its a slap in the face to a lot of fans. And I’m not casting any blame to the Las Vegas organization or any of their fans. They’re not going to try less so they don’t piss off the long-suffering teams and their fans. They did what they were supposed to do and good for them. But for the die-hard fans of teams that haven’t won in over 30 years like the Toronto Maple Leafs (1967), Philadelphia Flyers (1975) or New York Islanders (1983) or teams that have been around for at least 40 years and have never won like the St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, or Buffalo Sabres, watching this HAS TO suck.

When I watch a championship series or game in a major sport and do not have a dog in the fight, I have a very simple rule to help determine my rooting interest: Which fanbase has been starved longer? It’s why I was all aboard Boston Red Sox bandwagon in 2004 and the Chicago Cubs in 2016. I love seeing good, loyal fanbases finally get rewarded with what the most cynical of fans believed would never happen: a championship celebration.

If you ask a Cubs or Red Sox fan how much more satisfying that win was after years of suffering, they’d all tell you it only made the championship that much sweeter. After watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles FINALLY win a Super Bowl this past February, I can confidently say that all the years of disappointment and heartbreak made the victory that much more exciting.

Just like in other areas of life, most people would agree that success is appreciated so much more following struggles and failures. On the other hand, most would probably agree that instant success or gratification before any struggles is not nearly as satisfying and sometimes it can even be harmful in the long-run due to heightened, unrealistic expectations.

It makes me cringe when new sports franchises win right away. It took the Arizona Diamondbacks three seasons to win a World Series and the Florida Marlins won two within their first ten years of existence. I am sure those championships were fun to watch, live through and experience. But there is no way it can match the feeling of a championship after years of hardship or coming up short.

Now the Las Vegas Golden Knights are the next candidate to fall in this company. If you’re a new fan, I hope you enjoy it. But as crazy as this advice may sound, cherish it because you never know when they’ll be back.


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The UCF Critics are Missing the Point

There has been a lot of debate surrounding UCF’s claim of a National Championship, following their defeat of Auburn in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. One side is claiming it to be ridiculous, looking at their proclamation as illogical by mocking their bold statement. This group is primarily made up of SEC elitists that have discredited UCF’s 13-0 season by citing their weak schedule and diminishing their win over Auburn by questioning the Tigers’ motivation in the game following an SEC Championship Game loss that knocked them out of the Playoff.

In the other corner, there is the group that has mostly defended UCF all season, claiming they should have had a fair shot at the National Championship, despite the schedule that was perceived as very weak in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee. This is a committee that ranked teams with two and three losses ahead of UCF with the argument that those teams played a much tougher schedule.

UCF’s victory over Auburn served as vindication that they did, in fact, deserve to be in the National Championship conversation. This belief was backed up by the fact that Auburn defeated both teams in Monday’s Championship Game earlier in the season. If we applied the transitive property, the logic is very sound.

But despite the arguments, nothing will magically insert UCF into Monday’s game, nor pit them against the winner the following week. So, UCF Athletic Director, Danny White took matters into his own hands by proclaiming UCF as National Champions. He has gone as far to commit to putting up a banner in Spectrum Stadium and honoring the bonuses built into the contract of the coaching staff for winning a National Championship.

But if you think these actions are only about an unofficial proclamation of a championship that the biggest critics think is delusional, you might be missing the point. That is just the tip of the iceberg. This action by UCF has forced the football program into the national sports conversation this whole week. This is completely foreign territory for the Knights. Sure, they had their fifteen minutes of fame following a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor four years ago. But while that 2013 season helped put the UCF Knights on the map, they essentially became lost and forgotten from the national perspective of the college football landscape the following season.

The program calling itself National Champs is an attempt to prevent that from happening again. It’s a message to the rest of college football that UCF is a nationally relevant program and is here to stay. So far, it is working. This week, several prominent current and former college football coaches and analysts have weighed in on UCF’s accomplishments and the merits behind the idea of them being National Champions.

Just yesterday, former long-time FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden voiced his support for UCF calling themselves National Champions. 

“I’ll be honest with you, they deserve [the national title], in my opinion,” the retired coach said in an interview with The World-Herald.

“But they won’t win it because they’re not in the Power Five, you know? But you take Auburn in November, probably the hottest team in the country, Auburn beat No. 1 and No. 2, then Central Florida beats them. And so I think they got a right to claim it. But the NCAA won’t recognize it.”

The full story on Knight News can be found here.

His detailed quote leads right to the other issue at play and more importantly the next component of UCF’s motivation behind their championship claim. It is an indirect protest of the current system that makes it virtually impossible for a Group of 5 team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the 12-0 UCF Knights can only rise to as high as #12 in the rankings, how can any other Group of 5 program have any hope in future years?

The only exception may be if one of those programs is lucky enough to secure an out-of-conference schedule that includes Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma. The problem? Those schools and others at that level will never schedule games against those top Group of 5 programs. Why? Because they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so. There isn’t any incentive.

The current system we have in place is a corrupt and biased one. We have a committee that has shown the evidence of making a conscious effort to block Group of 5 from ever sniffing the playoff. UCF is exposing that problem and for now, they are getting exactly what they want – a national conversation about it.

I have written previously about the need to expand the playoff, and this has been a season to support it. But this time it has been for different reasons. Every year an argument can be made for the teams just outside the playoff field to get a spot. That will always be an issue regardless of how big the playoff field gets. Just look at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which has a field of 68 teams. There is always an argument put up for the 69th and 70th team.

But what the basketball tournament has is a way for teams of the Mid-Major conferences (the basketball equivalent of the Group of 5) to earn a spot. For them it’s simple. Win your conference and you’re automatically in the tournament. There isn’t a biased and elitist committee that can exercise their power to block those teams from proving their worth in a real game because they weren’t impressed with their regular season schedule. It all gets settled on the floor, as it should be settled on the football field.

Thanks to UCF, this is something that is now getting further examined and their proclamation of a National Championship is only the first domino to fall. It may be naive to suggest anything significant will change next season. But whether the playoff field expands and guarantees a spot or more to Group of 5 teams, or the selection criteria changes, I can safely say this was the first significant step for college football to become a more fair and even-level playing field. It may not fix the revenue gap between the Power 5 and Group of 5, but I feel good about the potential for a more fair playoff system becoming a reality sooner than later.

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Despite Frost’s Departure, UCF is a Sleeping Giant

The past week has been an unbelievable roller coaster for the UCF Knights Football Program. Rumors of Scott Frost’s departure for Nebraska continued to mount on the eve of the AAC Championship Game against the Memphis Tigers. Following a thrilling victory in double overtime, the rumors became reality and the Knights were without a coach as they were extended an invitation to the Peach Bowl to play the Auburn Tigers on New Year’s Day. Despite what looked like a shaky situation, all signs point to UCF being able to continue their momentum and taking the next step as a football program.

As far as Group of 5 Programs, UCF has been one of the best programs since 2007. Thanks to Saturday’s AAC Championship game win over Memphis, UCF will earn their second trip to a New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl since 2013. UCF is the only Group of 5 program with that distinction. The Knights are one of 15 FBS teams since 2013 to play in multiple New Year’s/BCS Bowl Games.

Teams to Play in Multiple New Year’s Six/BCS Bowls Since 2013

5 Alabama
5 Ohio State
4 Florida State
4 Oklahoma
4 Clemson
3 Michigan State
2 Washington
2 Auburn
2 Baylor
2 Stanford
2 Penn State
2 Ole Miss
2 Wisconsin

That’s a pretty special group of storied, big-time college football programs that UCF is a member of as well. From 2007-2016, the Knights have won 10+ games four times, played in seven bowl games while winning three. That’s a pretty good span of success over a ten-year span. Now insert a historic, undefeated 2017 season as the highest scoring team in the nation.

It’s been a storybook season minus the cloud of Scott Frost to Nebraska rumors that grew darker through November until becoming reality this past weekend. The news broke that Frost would be accepting the Nebraska job during overtime of UCF’s thrilling 62-55 win over Memphis.

Under normal circumstances, a fan base would be completely elated to celebrate their third conference title in five years. But this was not a normal circumstance. As much as fans were cheering, the mood in the stadium turned bittersweet as the video board focused on Frost, who was clearly trying to hold back his emotions. During this sequence, he exchanged a few words with outgoing UCF President, Dr. John Hitt in what I imagine Dr. Hitt was taking the time to express his appreciation for what Scott Frost did for the football program in such a short period of time.

By applying logic, Scott Frost cannot be faulted for taking the opportunity to return home to Nebraska to coach his alma mater. It’s a dream job. And while we found out in a story on Monday that the decision was much tougher than anyone thought it would be, Frost did what we expected by accepting the job to become the Cornhuskers next Head Coach.

Despite UCF fans being able to understand and accept Frost’s departure after only two seasons, it’s hard not to still be disappointed. For years I watched big-time Power 5 programs poach successful coaches from Group of 5 programs. It’s an unconscionable system that takes a coach from his team, usually before the big bowl game that getting to was the major goal of the season.

On top of that, it leaves the team in purgatory before the unavoidable process of starting over with a new coach, culture, and class of incoming players. It’s nearly impossible for a good Group of 5 program to sustain success due to inevitable departure of the coach for a bigger job with more money and resources.

Naturally, it’s easy for UCF fans to feel uneasy about the near future. In a way, it’s a Catch-22 because if the best case scenario occurs and UCF comes back strong, what is standing in the way of this process repeating itself within the next couple years? That’s a fair question.

The head coaching job was vacant for less than 72 hours as UCF announced the hiring of Josh Heupel, former Missouri offensive coordinator Monday afternoon. Heupel draws multiple similarities to Scott Frost. Both are former National Championship winning quarterbacks from the Big 12 who served as successful OC’s of major programs before taking the reins at UCF.

UCF athletic director Danny White deserves a lot of credit for not just acting quickly following Frost’s departure, but for working in a $10 million buyout into Heupel’s contract. Clearly White wanted to make a hire that appears to be a seamless transition on paper while doing what he can to prevent another quick exit (Frost’s buyout was $3 million).

UCF fans should be just as excited about the hiring of defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Shannon recently held the same title with the University of Florida. In addition to Shannon’s credentials as a defensive coach, his recruiting connections to Miami, a historically talent-rich area cannot be understated.

The program has the right people in place to build off the momentum from this historic season. Former head coach George O’Leary did a tremendous job putting UCF on the map in from the mid-2000s before stepping down in 2015. Scott Frost became the first coach to take an 0-12 team to a bowl the following season in 2016, before following up with a 12-0 campaign this season. Now the program is in the hands of a well-respected coaching staff with great recruiting ties.

UCF may still be in the Group of 5, which can certainly be limiting considering their media revenue is roughly 10% of their Power 5 counterparts. Given what UCF has accomplished over the past decade, the size of the university, tv market and upgraded facilities, I have to think their time outside the Power 5 is limited.

It may not be until the early 2020’s until the realignment discussion creeps up again, as the end of the major TV deals draw close. At this rate, there is no question UCF will be one of the most attractive candidates to make the move to a conference like the ACC, SEC or Big 12. And based on what they have been able to accomplish with very limited resources in comparison to major in-state programs like Florida, Florid, and Miami, the sky’s the limit for what UCF can be once they finally get a seat at the table.


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Midseason NFL Power Rankings

It’s hard to believe the NFL Regular Season is halfway through the books. Here is where how we would rank all 32 teams at the midpoint of the season. Keep in mind, each teams’ win/loss record is borderline irrelevant. Moreso, these are the rankings based on how good we think the teams are right now.

1. Philadelphia Eagles 8-1

The Eagles are the most complete team in the NFL. Carson Wentz is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP and the defensive front is playing at an elite level. Those two elements generally equate to great success on the football field. It is even more remarkable that Philadelphia is doing this with all of their injuries. (Casey Gillespie)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2

The Pittsburgh offense has struggled out of the gate and there have been questions about Ben Roethlisberger’s future. They looked to have snapped into gear lately and the defense is also starting to come together. The Steelers have all the talent and experience emerge from the AFC as the conference’s representative in the Super Bowl. (CG)

3. New England Patriots 6-2

The Patriots had a very rocky start on defense, but have somewhat stabilized over the past few weeks. The loss of Julian Edelman has been noticeable, but Tom Brady has had enough to work with on offense to be productive. New England is not the flawless team many of the prognosticators expected they would be, but they looked poised to return to the postseason for the 14th time in the last 15 years. (CG)

4. New Orleans Saints 6-2

Coming off a big win over the disappointing Bucs, New Orleans now sits atop the NFC South at 6-2. They won the first meeting against Carolina, who seems most likely to challenge them as division champs, with a rematch scheduled in the Superdome Week 13. They will also play the Falcons in two of their last four games, making it mandatory for them to keep up this momentum if they want a shot in the playoffs. (Chris Himes)

5. Kansas City Chiefs 6-3

Kansas City leads the AFC West as the only team over .500 and has the best chance of making the playoffs. Alex Smith is having a career year, and not many predicted Kareem Hunt to be Rookie of the Year. The biggest red flag is a bottom-5 defense, but their ability to cause turnovers and have Hill as a returner leaves them hope to go far in the playoffs. (CH)

6. Los Angeles Rams 6-2

The Rams are the most pleasant surprise of the season. New coach, Sean McVeigh has worked wonders to help Jared Goff make an enormous second-year jump. With the reemergence of Todd Gurley and additions in the passing game like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and rookie, Cooper Kupp. The defense has had pieces in place for the past few years, but it looks like the offense has caught up. (CG)

7. Carolina Panthers 6-2

The Panthers will play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football before a Week 11 bye. They’re coming off two division wins against the Falcons and Bucs, whom they will play again to close out the season. McCaffrey will play an even bigger role in the passing game now that Benjamin is gone, and Cam Newton needs to be smarter with the ball (11 interceptions, 5 fumbles). Many are still scratching their head at that Buffalo trade. (CH)

8. Seattle Seahawks 5-3

While the Seahawks are one of the better teams in the NFC, they don’t look like their usual dominant selves at the midpoint of the season. The defense has been great and has arguably played at their championship level of the past few years. Their limitations lie within their running game and offensive line. The line got a boost following the acquisition of Duane Brown before the trade deadline. (CG)

9. Jacksonville Jaguars 5-3

Things are finally coming together for the Jags this season. Behind a dominant defense, they seemed to have figured out their formula for success: control the ball with a run-heavy offensive attack, limit the chance for Blake Bortles to make big mistakes and ride a dominant defense. It’s nice to see all the high draft picks and big free agent signings start to translate to results on the field. (CG)

10. Dallas Cowboys 5-3

Dallas is coming off a convincing victory over Kansas City this past Sunday. Ezekiel Elliot is clearly the team MVP, and the Cowboys postseason hopes may rest on his ability to continually avoid a suspension. The defense is still very suspect, but if they can keep getting pressure up front on a consistent basis, they could cover up their liabilities on the back end. (CG)

11. Buffalo Bills 5-3

The Bills made moves in the preseason to suggest winning was not a priority in 2017. New head coach, Sean McDermott has done a tremendous job as the Bills miraculously find themselves at 5-3 at the halfway point. Buffalo is firmly entrenched in the playoff race and has a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 1999. (CG)

12.  Tennessee Titans 5-3

The Titans are starting to put together some wins as Marcus Mariota’s health has gradually improved. The offense has plenty of weapons and it should only get better with Corey Davis now healthy. The defense is still very suspect and the more they are exposed, the more their playoff chances will shrink. But if Tennessee can stay balanced on offense and play ball control, they have a good shot to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. (CG)

13. Minnesota Vikings 6-2

The Minnesota defense has been phenomenal and Case Keenum has essentially held down the fort and done enough not to lose. Despite being 6-2, it’s hard to get super optimistic about the ceiling for the Vikings if they make it to January and will need Keenum to keep pace with the top teams in the NFC. If Teddy Bridgewater can return and is effective, the ceiling could be much higher. (CG)

14. Washington Redskins 4-4

The Redskins are coming off the most shocking win of the weekend after winning at Seattle. Things were beginning to trend downward following consecutive losses to their division rivals. Kirk Cousins was impressive, despite playing behind only one regular starter on the offensive line. If Washington can get healthy, don’t rule them out for making a run at a wild-card spot. (CG)

15. Detroit Lions 4-4

The Lions clearly have the talent on both sides of the ball to return to the postseason. Matt Stafford is playing very well and the defense has been solid. The Lions have a very good secondary and the defense as a whole could be even better if they could generate more consistent pressure from their front four. (CG)

16. Atlanta Falcons 4-4

How have the Falcons followed up blowing the Super Bowl? By starting 4-4 despite decent team statistics. It would be crazy to expect Matt Ryan to repeat 2016, but what about Julio? He is on pace for just two receiving TDs, which would be tied for a career low when he only played 5 games in 2013. Playing against the Cowboys with Zeke before traveling to Seattle will be quite the challenge, but will be a solid measure to determine if this team has a legit shot at the big game again. (CH)

17. Oakland Raiders 4-5    

The addition of Marshawn Lynch had many thinking this team had an easy route to the Super Bowl; unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. They only have one division one in three games, which is worst in the West. So what needs to be fixed? Their defense. They are ranked 28th in the league, while the offense sits at 10. Mack has yet to force a turnover this season and only has four sacks. They will take this week off and look to make a second-half run. (CH)

18. Baltimore Ravens 4-5

There may not be another team in the NFL more impacted by injuries than the Ravens. Unfortunately, Baltimore has not been able to overcome those injuries. Joe Flacco’s mediocre play has kept the offense very limited and the defense has not been the dominant unit we have been accustomed to seeing over the past 10-15 years. The Ravens appear to have an 8-8 ceiling. (CG)

19. Arizona Cardinals 4-4

Despite being without David Johnson and Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are not completely dead…yet. They have enough talent on defense to remain competitive but look like a 7-9 team at best behind Drew Stanton. Many people thought this would be the last hurrah for the aging core in Arizona, but injuries are making it look like the championship window has closed. (CG)

20. Los Angeles Chargers 3-5

Despite sitting at 3-5, the Chargers have too much talent to count them out of the playoff picture. They have an offense capable of being very prolific and arguably field the best defensive end duo in the NFL, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Getting constant pressure on the QB without blitzing usually leads to good things. Los Angeles has a handful of close, excruciating losses in the first half of the season. If they can get better at finishing games, don’t sleep on the Chargers going on a run. (CG)

21. New York Jets 4-5

The Jets may be the biggest overachievers of the season to date. Every move in the offseason indicated this was a throwaway season. Apparently, the coaches and players didn’t get the memo. The defense has been solid and Josh McCown has led what has been an adequate offense. (CG)

22. Houston Texans 3-5

Losing their Rookie of the Year quarterback is devastating for the Texans. Although they’re in the weakest division in football, it will be near impossible to make the playoffs with Tom Savage at the helm and Watt out until next season. While the present seems gloomy, the future appears bright for Houston. (CH)

23. Denver Broncos 3-5

The vaunted Denver defense got taken to the woodshed this past Sunday to the Eagles, giving up 51 points, the most since 2010. Even if that was just a bad day, the bigger concerns are on offense and specifically at the quarterback position. Paxton Lynch is looking like a bust, especially if he cannot beat out Trevor Semenian or Brock Osweiler. The Broncos are a great example of a team that can have talent in so many places but cannot be successful with a terrible quarterback situation. (CG)

24. Miami Dolphins 4-4

The Dolphins may be the worst 4-4 team in the NFL. Their wins have been hollow and Jay Cutler doesn’t look like he is up to lead Miami back to the playoffs. Outside of a couple of playmakers, the defense looks mediocre and incapable of keeping the better offenses in check. It looks like .500 may be the ceiling for the Dolphins this season. (CG)

25. Chicago Bears 3-5

The Bears defense has kept them competitive through the first half of the season as rookie QB, Mitchell Tributzky continues to get eased into the NFL. A lot of credit has to go to John Fox, who has done a lot with a team that looked destined to lose 12-13 games back in the preseason. (CG)

26. Cincinnati Bengals 3-5

The losses to the offensive line this past offseason have been glaring, as the Bengals have struggled mightily to move the ball. Cincinnati looks primed to miss out on the postseason for the second straight year and one has to wonder if major changes are coming at the end of the season. (CG)

27. Green Bay Packers 4-4

The Packers without Aaron Rodgers were on a national stage Monday Night and it was not a pretty site. Brett Hundley managed the game fine, but the emphasis needs to be put on the word “managed”. Assuming Rodgers doesn’t return this year, it looks like a lost year for Green Bay. (CG)

28. Indianapolis Colts 3-6

Statistically, Indianapolis has the worst defense in the league. Offensively, they’re really missing Luck. Much like other terrible teams who look forward to the future, the Colts have two future stars on each side of the ball: Marlon Mack is looking like a solid replacement for Gore, and Malik Hooker leads the team with three interceptions. Fans are keeping their fingers crossed that Luck will return to 100% next season. (CH)

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-6

The recent move by the Bucs won’t sit well with fans favoring instant gratification. It’s smart for the future, as they don’t want an Andrew Luck situation. It’s frustrating for the fans who had so much hope going into the season, and for the team who has so much talent, to be sitting at 2-6 halfway through the season. And what’s worse, they used up their bye in week 1. The rest of 2017 doesn’t look good for the pewter players. (CH)

30. New York Giants 1-7 

This is a completely lost season for the Giants, and all signs point to blowing things up at season’s end starting with the inevitable dismissal of Ben McAdoo. It may also be time for the front office to prioritize finding the replacement for Eli Manning. (CG)

31. San Francisco 49ers 0-9

Despite being winless at the midpoint of the season, the 49ers should get someone of a jolt following the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo last week. He is realistically another game or two away from taking the starting QB job away from the rookie, CJ Beathard. However, he should give the 49ers enough of a lift down the stretch to avoid a winless season. (CG)

32. Cleveland Browns 0-8

Much like last season, a major storyline of the season will be the question if the Browns will avoid going 0-16. Sadly, they may be even worse than last year. Passing up on Carson Wentz and most recently Deshaun Watson could haunt this franchise for as long as the NFL allows them to exist. (CG)


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