Behind the Mic: Who’s #32?

This time of the year football fans’ cries and debates always center around “Who’s #1”?  Very rarely does anyone ask or care which team is the worst.  It is hard to determine in college football because there are just so many teams, so we are content to argue the merits of the Top 25.  But the NFL is much easier.  There are only 32 teams and by week 13, I think one could certainly stir things up by looking at which teams are the absolutely worst ones in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns are the obvious choice as the worst team in professional football.  With this week’s loss to Cincinnati, they have now lost 16 straight games (includes the final three from last year).  The Browns have been playing in the NFL since 1950 and they have never lost this many games without a win.  They are 1-23 in the past 24 games.  Just to pile on a bit, counting last year and this season, they are 3-26.  They have games at Buffalo, home against San Diego, and at Pittsburgh.  To be realistic, none of those games seem winnable.

Going back to 1960, there have only been four other teams to go winless and two of those teams played to a tie.  Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their debut season and the 2008 Detroit Lions were the only team in history to go 0-16 and the first non-expansion team to lose every game.  So, as you can see, the Browns are among some pretty elite company.

But is there an argument to be made that there are teams just as bad?  Well, the 49ers are 1-12.  The Jacksonville Jaguars are 2-11.  It’s hard to believe I am leaving the New York Jets out of the discussion, but they did just beat the 49ers this past Sunday in overtime so I will give them a pass.

Just to emphasize how bad these teams are: the 49ers two weeks ago had a TOTAL of six net passing yards and, this past week, they threw for 17 yards in the second half against the Jets.  As far as the Jaguars, let me throw this stat at you – QB Blake Bortles has thrown more interceptions for touchdowns than he has wins as a Jacksonville starter.

It does make one ponder whether these teams could beat Alabama, considered by most to be the best team in college football.  It would be men against boys for sure, but a terrific well-coached team against, well, the Browns.

San Francisco has the Giants and you could make the case they also have the Raiders, Athletics, Warriors and Sharks.  In Cleveland, thank goodness for the Indians and the Cavaliers.  Jacksonville only has the Jaguars.  Right now, none of them have a competitive NFL team.

So what’s your answer to “Who’s #32?”  Could it possibly be, “Who cares?”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, signifying the best player in college football. It was the first Heisman ever for Louisville.  He is only 19 years old and a sophomore, the youngest ever to win the award.  For those of you who go way back, the great Johnny Unitas played at Louisville in the 1950s and went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.  Lamar has some big high-topped black shoes to fill (an analogy for just those who remember Unitas).
  2. This past weekend, Army defeated Navy for the first time in 14 years. It wasn’t easy.  After leading 14-0, Army lost the lead and trailed 17-14.  They fought back to win the game 21-17.  Emmaus’ Andy Davidson scored the first two Army touchdowns.  Both teams will play in a bowl game.
  3. CBS sports announcer Verne Lundquist did his final college football game as the play-by-play man for the Army-Navy game. He announced college football for 42 years.  Watch his goodbye:

http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2016/12/10/13909272/verne-lundquist-army-navy-goodbye

  1. Villanova, the defending national champion of college basketball, is off to a 10-0 start. They are #1 in the nation for the second straight week and may have the player of the year in Josh Hart.  Years ago, head coach Jay Wright sat in my office for about an hour and we talked basketball and coaching young men.  He was here to appear on an RCN interview show.  I have rooted for him ever since.
  2. More high school basketball next week with Emmaus-Parkland and Nazareth-Whitehall on Tuesday, December 20. We will have Whitehall-Parkland on December 22.

Gary's Picks

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 9-7; Overall – 128-79-2 – 62%)
Week Fifteen

SEATTLE
MIAMI
DALLAS
GIANTS
GREEN BAY
BALTIMORE
MINNESOTA
BUFFALO
KANSAS CITY
HOUSTON
ARIZONA
ATLANTA
NEW ENGLAND
OAKLAND
PITTSBURGH
WASHINGTON

Behind the Mic: The NFL-AFC

The first weekend of the 2016 NFL season begins Thursday night, September 8, when the Broncos host the Panthers and it ends on Monday night with the Redskins welcoming the Steelers.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  This week, I will analyze the AFC and do the NFC next week.  Remember everyone is 0-0 at the moment and the aspirations of the fans are running high.  If I dampen your spirit with my thoughts, just remember I don’t know any more than you do and, quite possibly, even less.

AFC EAST 

  1. New EnglandTom Brady will miss four games and Jimmy Garoppolo will take over. It probably will not matter.  Brady comes back stronger and fresher than ever; Garoppolo makes his case to get a big contract and start somewhere else; and, surprise, surprise the Patriots win the division.
  2. Buffalo They had a great draft; will get New England without Brady in one game; and have a good shot at making the playoffs.
  3. Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled his differences and the back-up situation seems muddled at best with three other QB The schedule is murderous at the beginning and they get Brady for both games.
  4. Miami Adam Gase is the new head coach and the Dolphins have had a good preseason. The Dolphins just seem to underachieve.  If Gase can change that mindset, perhaps they can move ahead of the Jets.

AFC NORTH 

  1. Pittsburgh Their offense is virtually unstoppable as long as they stay healthy and avoid any more suspension problems (Le’Veon Bell). They need to improve in the secondary, but if the defense gets even a little better, the Steelers will not only win the division, but could have a shot at another Super Bowl ring.
  2. BaltimoreThey were really banged up last season placing 20 players on the injured reserve list. Since they finish the season with the Patriots, and the Steelers, their final game with the Bengals could be for the playoff spot.
  3. Cincinnati –They are better than the Ravens and they have reached the playoffs for five consecutive years, but something always seems to go wrong here. Their final game with the Ravens could move them up to #2.
  4. Cleveland – It’s Cleveland!

AFC SOUTH 

  1. Jacksonville – This team is solid – QB Blake Bortles is really good. If they can beat out the Texans, they could do well in the playoffs.
  2. Houston – This team could be VERY good. Only playing with a new QB and a new RB could cause some early problems as well as the absence of JJ Watt until his back heals.
  3. Indianapolis Andrew Luck makes them competitive; their defense does not.
  4. Tennessee – A tough schedule and an overall improved division keeps them at the bottom.

AFC WEST 

  1. Kansas City Jamaal Charles is back and he may be just enough to push them over the top. Andy Reid has a winner here.
  2. Denver – Plenty of lost personnel here starting with Peyton Manning, but my gut says they will not miss an offensive beat; defense was hurt more by free agency and the division got tougher.
  3. Oakland – The Raiders have an easier schedule than most, especially at the start. If they get confidence and momentum, they could crack the playoffs.
  4. San Diego – If you can run the ball and stop the run, you can win. The Chargers can’t do either; ergo, they won’t win.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
AFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Steelers vs Patriots
AFC Champions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

My Week One NFL predictions are coming next week.

Behind the Mic: The NFL – AFC Spoiler Alert!

I really do not want to ruin the NFL season for you. The regular season begins on Thursday, September 4, when Green Bay visits Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion. The final regular season games will be played on Sunday, December 28. And I do think you should watch as many games as you possibly can. AND, if you have no favorite team playing on a given Sunday, then by all means, tune in to the NFL Red Zone and you can pretty much follow EVERY game. You can order it at 1-800-RING RCN (I thought I would put a commercial in here – it makes our marketing people happy when I do that).

With that said, I am going to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of AFC Division winners. I would go further – you know, playoffs and AFC champion plus the Super Bowl winner, but I do not wish to spoil all your fun. That will come later, anyway. So – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the AFC regular season. The following is how the AFC will end up (this year’s projected record is in parentheses):

AFC SOUTH
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – They beat Kansas City in the playoffs last year and lost to New England. They are not really better this year, but will win their division.
2. Houston Texans (7-9) – The Texans were 2-14 last year, so I obviously think they will be closer to the team that won their division in 2012. Quarterback is a problem.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) – They, too, are better than last year, just not “better” enough (did I used to teach English?)
4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) – They were 7-9 last year; lost some key players; are just a mediocre team.

AFC EAST
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – They are in a weak division so their record will improve, primarily because their defense has improved.
2. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – They will not match last year’s record, so they will miss the playoffs again.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Did very little in the off-season to make a fan believe they will be better than their 6-10 record last year. Recent Hall of Fame inductee, Andre Reed, will be their hero, but he no longer plays.
4. New York Jets (6-10) – No media circus this year (remember the Tebow year and the Sanchez year?). But there is no offense either.

AFC NORTH
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – The Bengals finished 11-5 last year and lost in the first round of playoffs. Head Coach Marvin Lewis got a one-year extension on his contract. He has never won a playoff game. The Bengals should make the playoffs. Lewis needs to win a playoff game or he will go. They are capable of saving his job.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – Their season looks like it needs some kind of boost – WR Steve Smith may be the boost; defense looks solid; Ray Rice should add even more spark upon his return.
3. Cleveland Browns (8-8) – The Browns have a new coach (again), new management (again), and a new QB (again) which has created new excitement for the fans (again). It has been seven years since they last won more than 5 games. This could be the year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – Even I can’t believe I am picking the Steelers last in their division and worse than the Browns. They’re getting old and, for now, the glory days are over.

AFC WEST
1. Denver Broncos (13-3) – Seattle embarrassed them in the Super Bowl. Denver only improved in the off-season and they will play better competition this year in the regular season. This could be a special year for Mile High.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – 9-0 start for Andy Reid’s team certainly opened many eyes. But they finished the year 2-5 and lost to the Colts in the Wild Card round of playoffs. If they can diversify their offense, they could be better.
3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – They have a great offense (thanks to Philip Rivers), but no defense. If defense wins championships (right, Seattle?). The Chargers’ defense is awful. Ergo – no championship (I learned this way of proving things in Philosophy class).
4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – They were very busy in the off-season spending lots of money. The Raiders will be better (they almost have to be – 4-12 last year).

The NFC season standings will come your way next week. Remember, these thoughts are for amusement only and do not represent the opinion of management (most of them are Redskin and Eagles fans, anyway).

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The PGA Championship last week produced the highest golf TV ratings in five years. It was the “perfect storm” for CBS – great golf, four big-name players tied or in the lead on the back nine, a rain delay that threw the finish well into prime time (60 Minutes viewers may have tuned in by accident), and darkness falling to add to the suspense. A network’s dream.

2. Speaking of golf, I am glad Tom Watson did not have to decide if he should pick Tiger Woods for the Ryder Cup team. Had he picked him or not picked him and the US lost, he would have been criticized. I respect Tiger Woods for taking that decision away from Watson.

3. I am wrapped up in the Little League World Series when the Taney Dragons are playing. Their comeback win on Sunday was great TV and with Mo’Ne Davis pitching to get to the championship final this week, the drama only increases. Go, Dragons!

4. Congratulations to the Northampton Giants of the Blue Mountain League for winning their first championship since 1994. Manager Ed Wandler has been with the BML since 1977 (37 years), and the team gave him all the credit for the championship run. It was a great season!

5. All of us associated with Lehigh Valley sports were shocked when we heard that former Allen and current Moravian Academy coach John Donmoyer died on Saturday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital. I last saw John at the VIA Hall of Fame ceremony (he was a member) and had a very nice conversation with him. I was unaware, as I think most people were, that he was ill. John coached 1,047 varsity games winning 624 of them, both Lehigh Valley records. Last December, Allen named their basketball floor for Coach Donmoyer. He took his teams to the PIAA state championship finals in 1979 and 1980. I never heard a harsh word said about John by anyone and, amazingly, that included fans. His players always stressed the life lessons that John espoused while winning games and titles year after year. He was a giant in Lehigh Valley sports. May he rest in peace.

 

Behind the Mic: My Rust Belt Romance

Gary will be returning with a new blog on August 11. This week, he’s asked RCN’s John Leone to guest blog. RCN-TV viewers should recognize John from the Lafayette College basketball broadcasts on the Lafayette Sports Network.
___________________________________________________________

Only those who have ever earnestly invested themselves emotionally in the life of a chosen major league sports franchise will understand the following. Others need not indulge me. I’m not talking about the weekend warrior here. I’m talking about those loyalists who pass along their rooting legacies to their young children, who risk otherwise happy marriages, whose palms sweat in the late innings of innocuous game number 86 sometime in July, or during final fourth quarter drives in late September. I’m talking about those for whom the major national and religious holidays include the first day of spring training and the start of OTAs in the middle of summer. I’m talking about those of us for whom the line between healthy diversion and debilitating vice has become dangerously blurred. How debilitating, you ask?

I have been a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns for the past half century.

Those of you who’ve read this far may be old enough to remember a time when such loyalties could be deemed well-placed. Younger folks, on the other hand, will have the sense that the author here is the Marquis de Sade. But remember, we’re talking cornerstone franchises here – Rust Belt cities where these respective sports were born and whose roots run deep. These were franchises that represented the best in us – blue collar players who bled for blue collar towns with a blue collar effort…and yes, an occasional championship. These were franchises that actually did have glory days. To underscore such history, the Browns are likely the only franchise that has ever effectively traded its owner. When Art Modell took his collection of football paraphernalia to Baltimore, a city revolted and fought the good fight to keep its soul at home. I mean, who are “The Ravens” anyway? The name, the colors, the records, and the memories are where they should be – with the Cleveland Browns. But I digress.

Once the NBA Syracuse Nationals left my hometown in 1963 for greener pastures in Philadelphia, I became the very young resident of a city without a major sports franchise. In retrospect, I was in essence a free agent fan lured not by big contracts and perennial championships, but rather by the enticements that all kids gravitate toward – cool team colors, gaudy box scores, a first trip to a big league stadium, and extended family influences. How could I have known that the two teams of my choosing would represent rival cities, 90 miles apart, and whose fan behavior toward one another on game day would make the Bloods and the Crips blush?

But how I arrived at this precarious place – a die-hard fan of two franchises whose decades-long run of ineptitude has been nothing short of epic – is a story for another time. My younger friends and even my own children have come to look at me with a mixture of sympathy and incredulity. Why would an otherwise normal person, not a resident of either town, actually choose to follow these teams? Only recently, the Pirates set a DiMaggio-like record for franchise futility, failing to reach .500 during a streak spanning two full decades. Be aware, that includes all franchises from all major professional sports – not just baseball. But even by the Browns’ more recent standards, the Pirates have been in a good place.

Remember, this is a franchise (the Browns) whose failures have been classic. So iconic have their heartbreaks been that they’ve christened them in a sort of morbid remembrance. Even casual NFL fans know of them by name. So while the Steelers have “The Immaculate Reception,” the 49ers, “The Catch,” and the Titans (who are they, anyway), “The Music City Miracle,” we Browns fans are left to ponder “Red Right 88,” “The Drive,” and “The Fumble.” Even our stadium has been unofficially dubbed, “The Factory of Sadness.” I could go on, but you get my point.

And still, fully aware of my own fatal attraction, as my Pirate summers would all too soon inevitably melt into baseball oblivion, I could always turn to Cleveland’s football-version of Christmas morning: Draft Day. And like most gifts on Christmas morning, the newness and glitter of the next promising draft class would soon fade, as the promising packages of highly-touted future stars invariably represented as so many lumps of coal. And just as quickly I’d be back to the Bucs, trying to keep up with which veterans they’d jettison to contending teams at the trade deadline for more promising prospects – again, and again…and again. Perennial sellers.

And so the cycle would go: year, after year, after excruciating year. My children are grown now. As heirs to my Browns-Bucs plight, they’ve witnessed and lived through the years of frustration. And if I’ve failed to teach them anything worthwhile, at least loyalty and persistence haven’t been among the lessons lost.

None of my kids are named Job, (though my wife, Julie, is most certainly the female equivalent) but maybe, just maybe, they are about to experience the Biblical lesson for which he is known.

Clint Hurdle has at long last energized the baseball ghosts of Clemente and Mazerowski in Pittsburgh. And anyone who still believes that “there’s no crying in baseball” wasn’t witness to the Bucco’s wild card win over the Reds last October. One TBS broadcaster’s eloquence captured the moment that night. As the camera panned the packed stadium and the hysterical crowd, I heard him say, “Now I know what 20 years of frustration, unleashed and dressed in black and gold, looks like.” How can you not love the romance of baseball?

And even Cleveland’s (new again) football front office has NFL followers taking notice with the drafting of Johnny Manzeil. That gift hasn’t been opened yet, but there it sits. And if nothing else, Browns football is relevant again and hope springs eternal.

So you’ll please excuse me if I guffaw at the plight of the Cubs or the Curse of the Bambino. Pittsburgh football fans have had the Steelers, and Cleveland’s baseball folks have at least sniffed success with the Indians (and, of course, the “Return of the King” this NBA season). But for a fan whose enduring loyalties forever shift with the seasons between the castaway teams of these two cities – summers in Pittsburgh and autumns in Cleveland – a new standard has to have been set for, well, I’ll let you fill in the blank. My family and close friends have given up trying.

Gotta run. The Pirates are on the west coast, so it’ll be a late night. And the Browns are into their first week of training camp. Have to see how the QB competition between Hoyer and Manzeil is going.

Finally, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!!