Nick Foles and the Cost of Quarterback Insurance

For the second straight season, the back-up quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles rescued his team and led them deep into the NFL playoffs.

Nick Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz (knee) in 2017 and took the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in the team’s long history with a win over the New England Patriots.  Foles outdueled legendary quarterback Tom Brady and earned the Super Bowl MVP as well. 

This season, the Eagles and Foles agreed to a new contract (more about that later) to give Carson Wentz a chance to finish healing from ACL surgery on his knee.  Nick Foles started the first two games for the Eagles (going 1-1), and then handed the reins back to Wentz. 

Just like the prior season, though, Carson Wentz incurred another late-season injury (back).  And, just like last season, Nick Foles led the Eagles on an incredible run into the NFL playoffs.

On Sunday, though, Foles came up on the short end in the second round of the playoffs as his Eagles lost 20-14 to the New Orleans Saints headed by another quarterback from his high school. 

Some guy named Drew Brees.

Brees (1997) and Foles (2007) both graduated from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.  Brees set several school records at quarterback in high school.  Foles came along and broke most of his records ten years later.

After high school, Nick Foles left the warmth of Texas to play college football at Michigan State.  After riding the bench for his first year, Foles went west and transferred to the University of Arizona for his final three years of eligibility. 

Coming into the NFL in 2012 as a third round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Foles’ became the back-up quarterback behind a guy named Michael Vick.  Yes, that guy.

In 2013, Foles was given a chance to start midway through the season due to an injury to Vick, and he made the most of it.  He led the Eagles to the playoffs (losing, ironically, to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints) and was named to the NFL All-Pro Team.

In 2014, Nick Foles’ magic in Philly had faded a bit, and his season ended early with a collarbone injury. 

Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams (now in Los Angeles) beginning in 2015.  Though he received a nifty two-year contract worth over $24 million, Nick Foles’ on-field performance hit bottom, and he was released after only one season.

For 2016, Foles signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.  After a year on the bench behind Alex Smith, it was another one-and-done year for the journeyman quarterback.

After resurrecting the Eagles in 2017 with a Super Bowl triumph and saving the team’s playoff chances in 2018, Nick Foles and the Eagles are at now at a very unusual contractual impasse.

According to reports, the current contract calls for the Eagles to pay Foles $20 million in 2019 (if they want to keep him).  They could also trade him to another team (assuming someone is willing to give-up a draft pick or player for Foles’ expensive contract). 

If the Eagles do elect to keep Foles and pay him the $20 million, Foles has a brief window where he can decline the offer and opt out of his contract by paying Eagles $2 million.  By doing so, he could declare himself a free agent.

With a relatively thin supply of prospective NFL-caliber quarterbacks coming out of college this year, Foles may have several NFL team owners who are willing to open their wallets to pay for his services.

The real question is whether or not Nick Foles is best suited as a highly paid “insurance policy” back-up quarterback instead of an NFL starting quarterback.

His career statistics indicate that Foles’ performance as a reliever may be greater than his value as a starter. 

Foles’ calming personality as a teammate and leader in the huddle when coming off the bench are very unique traits in today’s “All about me” NFL.

Then again, this is the same Nick Foles who has now completed his Master’s Degree in Divinity from Liberty University.  He wants to become a pastor once his NFL career ends. 

Whether he remains in Philadelphia or plays for another team next season, Nick Foles seems to be content with his role.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether he becomes an NFL starter or remains the NFL’s most valuable back-up “insurance policy” quarterback. 

Like a good neighbor, Nick Foles will be there.

25% Unemployment rate for NFL Head Coaches

According to information released this week, the National Football League has eight head football coaching job openings for the league’s 32 franchises.  That is a 25% turnover rate in one season.

Think about that number as it applies to your office.

If a quarter of your company’s staff was replaced every year, most of us might believe your company would seem to be a rather unstable and risky place to work.

So, with eight NFL franchises tossing their current head coaches overboard, why would anyone want to jump in to replace them?

Three primary reasons come to mind.  Money, control, and ego (plus a new job title on your resume).

Let’s start with money.  According to some reports, NFL head coaching annual pay in 2018 ranged from about $10 million (Bill Belichick, New England and Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders) down to about $3.5 million at the lower end.

From the NFL owner’s perspective, paying the team’s strategic leader this kind of money is pocket change in comparison to the team’s player payroll of about $200 million per season.   If things don’t work out well, a slump in ticket sales alone can justify making a coaching change.

Now, let’s look at the control aspect.  Some coaches like being in control of the entirety of the team instead of just one side of the ball on offense or defense. 

The most consistently winning franchises will have a good balance on both offense and defense.  A successful head coach will try to get both sides of the ball playing to their maximum potential.  The selection and supervision of assistant coaches by the head coach are tantamount to success.

From the owner’s perspective, NFL coaches usually have some input to player selection.  However, the ultimate decision on players rests with the team’s general manager.  A great coaching staff with only mediocre NFL players will usually result in mediocre team records, too.

Finally, let’s examine the ego side of becoming an NFL head coach.  For all football players and most coaches, the National Football League marks the pinnacle of success in the sport of football. 

Though many coaches are content to make very good money (and have lower stress) by remaining a successful assistant coach, the internal drive (ego) will lead certain coaches to try their hand at driving the ultimate thrill machine – an NFL franchise.

Even legendary college football coaches like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier felt the need to try their hand at the professional level.  Though these two coaches ultimately returned to college coaching, the need to achieve can become a never-ending quest. 

A good question was posed to me this week by my daughter-in-law.  “What happens to all of these eight coaches after they have been fired?  Do they just recycle them and get picked by another team?”

Generally, most NFL coaches will be paid the remainder of their contract after being fired. 

Hue Jackson (Cleveland), Mike McCarthy (Green Bay), Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Vance Joseph (Denver), Adam Gase (Miami), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), and Steve Wilks (Arizona) were initially hired to bring more wins than losses to the field this season.

Some of these names will resurface again in 2019 as head coaching candidates with other teams (McCarthy and Gase are mentioned early in the annual coaching carousel).  Others may regroup and sit out for a year or become assistant coaches again.  A few may try their hand at something else (like becoming a television analyst).

Statistically speaking, only 15 of the NFL’s 32 teams had a winning season in 2018.  That left 17 teams with a losing season this season.  From within the losing group of teams, eight head coaches were fired.

According to a report, the new head coach selected to take the helm at one of these franchises will have a career span of about three seasons. 

Who has the longest NFL head coaching tenure?  New England’s Bill Belechick started in the year 2000 and just completed his 18th season.  Next in line are Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints (2006), Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh (2007) and John Harbaugh with Baltimore (2008). 

These four coaches (with career winning records of roughly 60% or more) represent the only NFL head coaches who have remained employed for ten years or more in the same location.  That represents only 12.5% of the total number of NFL franchises.

Which current NFL coach has the longest tenure with a losing record?  As of this writing, that would be Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins.  He has posted a measly .444 winning percentage after taking the reins in 2014. 

The moral of this story?  If you want to become the next head coach of an NFL franchise, make sure that you sign a solid long-term contract which will provide you and your family with some financial security. 

The odds of succeeding as an NFL head coach for ten years or more are definitely against you.

Are NFL QB$ Worth the Big Money?

When you think about your favorite NFL team, consider the cost of an experienced winner as your quarterback and field general. 

In today’s NFL, the average team’s total salaries will run about $178 million for 2018.  With 53 players on the active roster, the average per player is $3.35 million. 

According to one report, a whopping 20 of the top 25 NFL salaries being paid in 2018 belong to the quarterback position.  These QB’s earn more than 11% of an NFL team’s payroll.

I read an article today saying that the Baltimore Ravens are actively shopping a deal to send Joe Flacco (their former starting quarterback and leader of the Ravens’ sole Super Bowl victory just six years ago) to another team for 2019.  He has been replaced in the starting line-up over the past few weeks by a rookie, Lamar Jackson, who has sparked the team of late and makes a whole lot less money than Flacco does.

If the Ravens can’t find anyone willing to swallow Joe Flacco’s $22+ million salary (good for #12 on the highest paid players’ list), the team may actually consider cutting him before next season and taking a financial loss.

So, why would the Ravens have paid their quarterback such a large amount of money if he can’t even beat-out a rookie? 

It’s probably the same reason why the New York Giants (now 5-9)  are paying two-time Super Bowl winning QB, Eli Manning, about $21 million per season.

If your favorite NFL team wants to win a Super Bowl, your best chance of winning should include having an NFL Hall-of-Fame caliber quarterback at the helm. 

It’s true, and I have the statistics to back-up my claim.

By every Super Bowl decade, your team will have its best chance to win with a Hall-of-Fame level quarterback running the offense.  In the first ten Super Bowls, every winning quarterback eventually became an NFL Hall-of-Famer

In subsequent Super Bowl Roman Numeral decades, a team with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback won at least 60% of the time.  Out of 52 Super Bowl games played, an NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback has led the winning team 68% of the time.

For the most recent decade, I have made a few assumptions:

  1.  Tom Brady = a virtual lock for Hall-of-Fame, so I have indicated him as a Hall-of-Famer
  2.  Peyton Manning = ditto
  3.  Drew Brees – based on his career NFL records/stats and one Super Bowl win, he’s likely in.
  4.  Aaron Rodgers – same as Brees above, but just a little bit less likely due to injuries, bad TV commercials, etc.

Based on their performance outside of Super Bowl seasons, I do not believe either Joe Flacco or Eli Manning (two Super Bowl titles) are future Hall-of-Famers.  The jury is also still out for Ben Roethlisberger (two Super Bowl wins) of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here’s a good question.  Why would NFL franchises pay non-Super Bowl quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Derek Carr more money than likely Hall-of-Famers Tom Brady and Drew Brees?

It is mostly due to good timing and luck by the players and some poor business judgement made by some of the franchises.  

That is why some teams haven’t made it to the Super Bowl (Detroit) or recently (Minnesota hasn’t played in it since 1977 and Oakland since 2002).  The smartest NFL teams realize that the quarterback position is a significant piece of the puzzle, but it is certainly not the only one needed in order to build a championship team.

Some franchises feel that grabbing a talented quarterback will help put the team into the Super Bowl hunt (and sell tickets and merchandise), while others seem happy with a competent and less expensive leader of the offense to make more money available for other key players.

This season, several NFL franchises are successfully utilizing younger quarterbacks (with their cheaper rookie contracts, of course) to make a run for the playoffs.  Look no farther than Dallas (Dak Prescott), Houston (Deshaun Watson), the L.A. Rams (Jared Goff), Chicago (Mitch Trubisky), and Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes) as saving cash for their teams by trying to maximize their youthful QB’s and save money for other key teammates.

As for Baltimore’s very expensive benched QB Joe Flacco, he has earned a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP trophy for Baltimore.  At the time, the Ravens believed Flacco was the future of the franchise and paid him accordingly.   The same goes for Eli Manning of the New York Giants. 

Though it is far too early to know how things will play-out at the end of this  NFL season, many teams are looking to utilize cheaper quarterback options entering the playoffs and hoping to grab a Super Bowl ring without paying handsomely for a veteran offensive leader. 

Let’s see if this new trend will pay dividends in the playoffs ahead.

New Golf Rules “Fore” 2019

Professional golfers will be able to take advantage of several new rule changes coming in the new year. 

In golf, the rule book is thick and, for most players, generally harder to read than a ruling from the courts.  Average players tend to be aware of the “biggies”, but most of us generally understand that some issues just aren’t worth getting upset about.

Changes in the rules of golf come rather infrequently and extremely slowly.  The game is considered a “gentleman’s game”, but what that really means is “Golfers shouldn’t cheat”.   Many golfers have called infractions upon themselves even when their playing partners didn’t see one occur.

If you have watched much golf on television over the past few years, you have seen how the rules of golf have even cost some players (I’m talking about you, Dustin Johnson) a major championship.  Simple things can cause the loss of one or more strokes and a victory.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key changes coming in 2019:

  1.  Forty seconds to hit your shot – I am “all in” on this change.  How often do we see golfers line-up a shot or putt from every conceivable angle and then go through a routine that, if disturbed, must be started over from the very beginning?  My only beef on this change is that it should be thirty seconds instead of forty.
  2.  Three minutes to find a lost ball – This rule used to be five minutes.  If a player hits a ball which literally disappears in the rough (it happens), then the ball usually will not turn-up whether the golfer, caddy, and others take three, five, or more minutes.  Three is fine.  Get on with it!
  3.  You can putt with the flag in  – This one is interesting.  The PGA’s resident physics major, Bryson DeChambeau, has already declared that he intends to leave the flagstick in for most putts.  He said, “It depends on the COR, the coefficient of restitution of the flagstick.”  He believes that the PGA’s fiberglass flagsticks are thin enough that putts hitting the stick are more likely to fall in the hole rather than bounce out.  This guy is a smart cookie, so I wouldn’t be surprised to the see other tour players follow suit!
  4.  A caddie is not allowed to stand on a line behind you while you are taking your stance and until your stroke is made – An excellent change!  Too often do we see PGA players depend on their caddie to line-up a putt.  Worse, the ladies of the LPGA have been using caddies to stand behind the ball to line-up their shots from the tee box and fairway, too.  I’ve considered that a form of cheating for years.  Bravo!
  5.  You are not penalized for accidentally moving your ball on a putting green – How many times have we seen a ball move due to wind or an accidental misplacement of a ball being marked?  This is a good change, too.  If the intent isn’t to cheat, then it shouldn’t be penalized. 

I’d love to see a pace of play rule to insure that golfers play each nine holes in two hours or less.  I think it should players should receive a two shot penalty for each occurrence.  If you want to see players pick up the pace, a four shot addendum to the score card at the end of the round would surely do the trick!

Maybe that will happen when CBS and other networks tell the players that they must finish their round by “X” time deadline, or the finish won’t be televised at all.

Though I am looking forward to the rule changes at the beginning of the year, I have my doubts that we will see a significant (15-30 minutes less per round) improvement in the pace of play. 

With golf, we’ll take any and all attempts to make the game simpler for all players and still retain the basic requirement of honesty and integrity. 

Fore-ward and onward into 2019, golfers! 

Line ’em up! Bowling for $$$

After last weekend’s Army vs. Navy game, another autumn of college football has done its job to sustain us into the winter months. 

Your SwampSwami has decided to unveil his complete list ranking all 130 teams in the NCAA’s upper division (BCS) so that you can make your picks in this year’s Bowl Extravaganza (39 games featuring 78 teams, in case you are counting). 

Before I provide my best guesses on these exciting (cough, cough) bowl match-ups, let’s take a look at the final rankings of the SwampSwami 130:

#TeamWLBest win in 2018
4Notre Dame120
5Ohio State12162-39 over 10-2 Michigan
6Oklahoma12128-21 over 10-2 Army
7Georgia11234-17 over 9-3 Kentucky
8Washington State10228-24 over 9-4 Utah
9Michigan10242-7 over 9-3 Penn State
10Army10242-13 @ 10-3 Buffalo
11Appalachian State10221-10 over 9-3 Troy
12Fresno State11219-16 @ 10-3 Boise St.
13Cincinnati10234-30 over 8-4 Ohio U.
14Utah State10256-17 @ 8-5 Hawaii
15Washington  10328-15 @ 10-2 Wash. St
16Kentucky9326-16 @ 9-3 Florida
17Florida9327-19 over 9-3 LSU
18LSU9336-16 over 11-2 Georgia
19Boise State10333-24 over 10-2 Utah St.
20West Virginia8342-41 @ 9-4 Texas
21Syracuse9351-41 over 9-3 NC State
22Penn State9330-24 over 8-4 Iowa
23UAB10327-25 over 8-5 Mid.Tenn.
24Buffalo10336-29 @ 8-4 Temple
25NC State9328-23 over 7-5 Boston C.
26Georgia Southern9334-14 over 10-2 App. State
27North Texas9330-7 over 6-5 So. Miss
28Troy9326-16 over 7-6 UL-Lafay’te
29Texas 9448-45 over 12-1 Oklahoma
30Temple8424-17 over 10-2 Cincy
31Oregon8430-27 over 10-3 U-Wash.
32Missouri8438-17 @ 9-3 Florida
33Texas A&M8474-72 over 9-3 LSU
34Iowa8413-3 over 8-4 Iowa State
35Iowa State8430-14 over 8-3 West Va.
36Stanford8438-31 @ 8-4 Oregon
37Utah9440-21 @ 8-4 Stanford
38Marshall8428-25 over 8-4 Fla. Int’l
39Florida International8424-21 over 8-5 Mid. Tenn
40Mississippi State8423-9 over 7-5 Auburn
41Ohio U.8459-14 @ 7-5 W. Michigan
42Arkansas State8431-17 over 6-6 ULMonroe
43Duke7534-14 over 10-2 Army
44Michigan State7538-31 over 10-2 Utah State
45Auburn7521-16 over 10-3 U-Wash.
46California7512-10 over 10-3 U-Wash.
47San Diego State7519-13 @ 10-3 Boise St.
48Northern Illinois8530-29 over 10-3 Buffalo
49Louisiana Tech7529-27 @ 9-3 N. Texas
50Arizona State7538-20 over 9-4 Utah
51Wisconsin7528-17 @ 8-4 Iowa
52Northwestern8514-10 @ 8-4 Iowa
53Memphis8552-31 over 8-4 Houston
54Middle Tennessee8534-24 over 8-4 Marshall
55Southern Miss6526-24 over 8-4 Marshall
56Nevada7540-22 @ 8-5 Hawaii
57Toledo7551-24 @ 7-5 W. Michigan
58Western Michigan7528-21 over 8-5 N. Illinois
59Virginia   7528-14 @ 7-5 Duke
60Boston College7527-14 over 7-5 Miami Fla
61Eastern Michigan7528-26 over 7-5 Toledo
62Georgia Tech7530-27 over 7-5 Virginia
63Hawaii8531-30 @ 7-5 San Diego St.
64Houston8557-36 over 7-5 S. Florida
65South Florida7549-38 over 7-5 Ga. Tech
66Miami (Fla)7524-3 over 7-6 Pittsburgh
67South Carolina7548-44 @ 5-7 Ole Miss
68Purdue6649-20 over 12-1 Ohio State
69Minnesota6621-14 vs. 11-2 Fresno St.
70Oklahoma State6644-21 over 10-3 Boise St.
71Pittsburgh7644-37 over 9-3 Syracuse
72Wake Forest6627-23 @ 9-3 N.C. State
73Liberty6622-16 over 9-3 Troy
74Louisiana-Monroe6644-25 over 9-3 Georgia So.
75TCU6617-14 over 8-4 Iowa State
76Virginia Tech6641-20 over 8-4 Marshall
77Louisiana-Lafayette7647-43 over 8-4 Arkansas St
78Vanderbilt6635-7 over 8-5 Middle Tenn
79Tulane6640-24 over 8-5 Memphis
80Miami (OH)6613-7 @ 8-5 N. Illinois
81BYU6624-21 @ 7-5 Wisconsin
82Baylor6635-31 over 6-6 Okla. State
83Wyoming6635-27 over 5-7 Air Force
84USC5739-36 over 10-2 Wash. St.
85Coastal Carolina5747-24 over 10-3 UAB
86Tennessee5724-7 over 9-3 Kentucky
87Maryland5734-29 over 9-4 Texas
88Arizona5744-15 over 8-4 Oregon
89Florida Atlantic5749-14 @ 8-4 Fla. Int’l
90Indiana5738-28 @ 8-4 Fla. Int’l 
91Florida State5737-19 over 8-5 N. Illinois
92Texas Tech5763-49 over 8-5 Houston
93SMU5745-31 over 8-5 Houston
94Colorado5728-21 over 7-5 Arizona St.
95Charlotte5720-17 over 6-5 So. Miss
96Kansas State5731-12 over 6-6 Ok. State
97Ole Miss5770-21 over 6-6 UL-Monroe
98Air Force5741-25 @ 4-8 UNLV
99Old Dominion4834-31 over 9-3 N. Texas
100Akron4839-34 @ 8-5 N’western
101Nebraska489-6 over 7-5 Michigan St.
102UNLV4827-24 over 7-5 S. Diego St.
103Ball State4842-41 over 7-5 W. Mich.
104Illinois4855-31 over 6-6 Minnesota
105U-Mass4862-59 over 6-6 Liberty
106Navy31022-21 over 8-5 Memphis
107UCLA3937-7 @ 7-5 California
108Western Kentucky3930-15 @ 7-5 La. Tech
109North Carolina2938-35 over 7-6 Pittsburgh
110Kansas   3927-26 over 6-6 TCU
111New Mexico State3949-41 over 6-6 Liberty
112Tulsa3927-24 over 5-7 SMU
113South Alabama3931-28 over 5-7 Coastal Car.
114Bowling Green3921-6 @ 4-8 Akron
115New Mexico   3950-15 @ 4-8 UNLV
116East Carolina3937-35 over 4-8 Old Dom’n
117Texas State3927-20 over 3-9 N. Mexico
118UT-San Antonio3925-21 over 3-9 Texas State
119Colorado State3920-18 over 3-9 N. Mexico
120Georgia State21046-14 over 6-6 UL-Monroe
121Oregon State21041-34 @ 5-7 Colorado
122Rice21127-13 over 4-8 Old Domin.
123Arkansas  21023-0 over 3-9 Tulsa
124Kent State21035-28 over 3-9 Bowling G.
125Louisville21020-17 over 3-9 Western KY
126San Jose State11150-37 over 4-8 UNLV
127Rutgers11135-7 over 3-9 Texas State
128UTEP11140-36 @ 2-11 Rice
129Central Michigan11117-5 over Maine (10-3 FCS)
130Connecticut11156-49 over R.Isld (6-5 FCS)

Special commendation goes to U-Conn for winning this year’s worst team by edging Central Michigan by virtue of their thrilling seven point win over FCS opponent, Rhode Island!  Better luck next season, Huskies!

Without further ado, below are the SwampSwami bowl picks (winners in BOLD) based on my  team rankings.  HAPPY BOWLING!!!

Bowling for $$$Team 1#Team 2#
New MexicoNorth Texas27Utah State14
Las VegasArizona St.50Fresno State12
CameliaE. Michigan61Georgia Southern26
New OrleansAppalachian St.11Middle Tennessee54
Boca RatonUAB23Northern Illinois48
FriscoOhio U41San Diego State47
GasparillaMarshall38South Florida65
BahamasToledo57Florida International39
Idaho PotatoesBYU81Western Michigan58
BirminghamMemphis53Wake Forest72
Armed ServicesArmy10Houston64
Dollar GeneralBuffalo24Troy28
HawaiiLouisiana Tech49Hawaii63
First RespondersBoston College60Boise State19
Quick LaneMinnesota69Georgia Tech62
PinstripeWisconsin51Miami (FL)66
Music CityAuburn45Purdue68
Camping WorldWest Virginia20Syracuse21
AlamoIowa State35Washington State8
BelkSouth Carolina67Virginia59
ArizonaNevada56Arkansas State42
PeachFlorida 17Michigan9
Cotton (BCS-A)Clemson2Notre Dame4
Orange (BCS-B)Alabama1Oklahoma    6
MilitaryCincinnati13Virginia Tech76
RedboxMichigan State44Oregon31
LibertyMissouri32Oklahoma State70
HolidayNorthwestern52Utah  37
GatorTexas A&M33North Carolina State25
OutbackMississippi State40Iowa34
CitrusKentucky16Penn State22
RoseOhio State5Univ. of Washington15

NFL Playoffs – “And down the stretch they come!”

With only four football games to go in the NFL’s 16 game regular season, did you know that nearly every team in the NFL is still in the playoff hunt coming into this weekend?

It’s true!  Only two teams out of the NFL’s 32 franchises have been eliminated from the playoffs with four games to go.

If you’re a fan of the AFC’s Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders or of the NFC’s San Francisco 49ers (both teams are 2-10), then you’re now hoping to “win” the first pick in next spring’s NFL draft.

For everyone else, hope still springs eternal!  Well, at least for this weekend.

If mediocrity is your battle cry, the 2018 NFL season is for you!  Among the 32 teams, only twelve teams (six each in the AFC and the NFC) are currently sporting a winning record coming around the corner and down the stretch run of this season.

Even the 3-9 New York J-E-T-S – JETS, JETS, JETS! and the 3-9 Arizona Cardinals could, theoretically, slink into the playoffs at 7-9 under the right circumstances.

In the AFC, the biggest surprise has been the rebirth of the Houston Texans.  After starting 0-3 and having sports fans (such as me) suggesting that head coach Bill O’Brien should be headed to the unemployment line, the Texans are now on a 9-game winning streak and will not face another team with a winning record during the final month.

The Texans’ turnaround from a 4-12 team in 2017 to a playoff contender this season can be traced to a healthy defense led by a healthy perennial all-star, J.J. Watt.  Houston, which finished dead last in the league’s defensive stats in 2017, has climbed back up to 10th in total defense thus far in 2018.

Kansas City’s prolific offense has led the Chiefs to the AFC’s best record at 10-2.  The oft-overlooked Los Angeles Chargers are right behind at 9-3, and, despite playing home games in a tiny soccer stadium, seem to be riding a wave of confidence behind veteran quarterback, Philip Rivers.

Rivers is having a terrific season with 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions in 2018.  Many fans (me included) would like to see him finally get a chance to play in a meaningful playoff game as he concludes his 15th season with the Chargers.

The unraveling of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2017 AFC runner-up to New England) has been dramatic, too.  J-ville’s offense was suspect last season and has only worsened in 2018.  Meanwhile, the 4-8 Jaguars’ defense is still a statistical #3 in the league but has been a no-show in several key games this season.

Over in the NFC, the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams have clinched a playoff spot, while the 10-2 New Orleans Saints are one game away from clinching a spot, too.  After that, your guess is as good as mine.

In the NFC East (where every team seems to “hate” the other one), the 7-5 Dallas Cowboys’ 5th-rated defense is carrying the squad right now.  However, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles and Washington “QB Hades” Redskins are lurking just one game back at 6-6.

In the NFC Central, the surprising news isn’t so much that da’ Bears of Chicago are playing well and leading the division at 8-4.  The real story has been the complete unraveling of the Green Bay Packers (now 4-7-1).

The Pack fired their Super Bowl champion head coach, Mike McCarthy, this week after the Green and Gold laid a big egg at home last Sunday against the pitiful Arizona Cardinals.  Media reports are now pointing a finger at All-Star quarterback (and frequently-seen commercial pitchman) Aaron Rodgers as shouldering a large part of the blame.

The Green Bay quarterback may need to rely on those noise-cancelling Bose headphones a lot more over the next four games!

So with 30 out of 32 NFL teams still having a reason to win this weekend, enjoy the final four weeks of the 2018 NFL season.

As we head down the stretch, your favorite “horse” could be jockeying for playoff position or yet another trip to the proverbial glue factory.



UCF win streak at 25, and BCS ignores (again) – SwampSwami College Football Top 25

By now, I’m sure you have heard that the NCAA college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS) will feature three unbeaten teams (Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame) and a one-loss University of Oklahoma Sooners squad.

Three of the four unbeaten teams made it into the BCS playoffs.

For the second straight year, though, the undefeated team from the University of Central Florida has been left out of the Final Four of college football.

Going back to last season, the 12-0 Knights have rolled-off an incredible 25 wins in a row.  The streak now includes two straight American Athletic Conference championships and a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl victory last season over a 10-3 SEC West Division champion from Auburn.

Since 2000, only teams from the University of Miami (34 in a row from 2000-2003), Florida State (29 straight from 2012-2014), and Alabama (26 consecutive wins from 2015-2016) have won more games than UCF’s current run of victories.

However, all three of those college football teams were selected to play in the BCS Championship, and each team won a national title during their winning streaks.

Snubbed for the second straight year, UCF will take their 25 game victory streak to play another SEC West juggernaut in 9-3 LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

It seems like the BCS brass are saying, “Here’s a nice payday and a good bowl opponent for you, UCF.  Now, please just take the money and go away!”

This isn’t to bash the Big 12 champs from Oklahoma.  The Boomer Sooners dispatched the only team to beat them this season, the Texas Longhorns, in the conference championship game on Saturday.

Only four teams can make the BCS elite group.  Bama and Clemson are the unbeaten champions of the SEC and ACC, respectively.

Notre Dame (an independent in football) also beat all comers this season to earn their shot, too.  The Fighting Irish will now get their chance.

Only one unbeaten team was left out of the mix again this season.  That’s right.  UCF.

For the record, below is the list of conference champions who will not be competing for the 2018 BCS Championship:

AAC – UCF (12-0)

Big Ten – Ohio State (12-1)

Conference USA – UAB (10-2)

Mid-American – Northern Illinois (8-5)

Mountain West – Fresno State (11-2)

Pac 12 – Univ. of Washington (10-3)

Sunbelt – Appalachian State (10-3)

Sure, Ohio State has a gripe (although they did lose to a 6-6 Purdue team earlier in the year), and Georgia fans are still trying to figure out why their coach called a fake punt late in the game to hand the momentum and the victory to Alabama Saturday.

All of the college football conference champions above were left out of the BCS mix.

Only one of them, though, was unbeaten as the regular season ends.  Again.

Below is the College Football Top 25 for the week ending December 1, 2018:

# Team W L 2017 AP Rank Best win/loss in 2018
1 Alabama 13 0 1
2 Clemson 13 0 4
3 UCF 12 0 6
4 Notre Dame 12 0 11
5 Ohio State 12 1 62-39 over 10-2 Michigan
6 Oklahoma 12 1 28-21 over 9-2 Army
7 Georgia 11 2 34-17 over 9-3 Kentucky
8 Washington State 10 2 28-24 over 9-4 Utah
9 Michigan 10 2 42-7 over 9-3 Penn State
10 Army 9 2 42-13 @ 10-3 Buffalo
11 Appalachian State 10 2 21-10 over 9-3 Troy
12 Fresno State 11 2 19-16 @ 10-3 Boise St.
13 Cincinnati 10 2 34-30 over 8-4 Ohio U.
14 Utah State 10 2 56-17 @ 8-5 Hawaii
15 Washington 10 3 28-15 @ 10-2 Wash. St
16 Kentucky 9 3 26-16 @ 9-3 Florida
17 Florida 9 3 27-19 over 9-3 LSU
18 LSU 9 3 36-16 over 11-2 Georgia
19 Boise State 10 3 33-24 over 10-2 Utah St.
20 West Virginia 8 3 42-41 @ 9-4 Texas
21 Syracuse 9 3 51-41 over 9-3 NC State
22 Penn State 9 3 30-24 over 8-4 Iowa
23 UAB 10 3 27-25 over 8-5 Mid.Tenn.
24 Buffalo 10 3 36-29 @ 8-4 Temple
25 NC State 9 3 28-23 over 7-5 Boston C.


Heads! You lose in today’s NFL

During the fourth quarter of the Thursday night NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys, a defensive player for the Cowboys clearly launched himself helmet first into New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Was there a penalty called on Dallas?  No.

Did the referees confer on the field or with the replay booth to review the play?  No.

Does the NFL really care about putting an end to the dangerous (to both players) tactic of making a tackle by leading with your helmet?  Apparently not.

Talk is cheap, NFL.  Your actions speak louder than words.

During the offseason, the NFL talked a lot about getting tough on unnecessary helmet-to-helmet contact which may have immediate (concussions) and possible long-term (CTE) health implications for the players.

Before we delve into the NFL, let’s applaud how the NCAA is handling the same type of play in college football games.

A penalty flag is thrown at the offending player.  The replay booth reviews the play to determine if the offending player lowered his head and made helmet-to-helmet contact intentionally (regardless of whether either player was injured after the hit).

In college football, once the infraction is verified, the offending team is penalized 15 yards, AND the offending player is ejected from the game.  If the play happens during the second half of a football game, the player must also sit-out the first half of the team’s next game, too.

Do the college referees make mistakes on similar calls during the college games?

You bet.  Ask any LSU fan and a similar call which went against All-American linebacker Devin White caused him to sit-out the first half of the team’s battle with Alabama earlier this month.

On the whole, though, college football is clearly sending a message to players that making illegal contact utilizing your helmet isn’t smart and is quite dangerous.  College football players are learning that you’re going to get tossed if caught doing it.

Though I played football in the stone ages, today’s players are still being taught to make a tackle by wrapping-up the ball carrier’s legs.  If the player’s legs are unable to move, then the ball carrier will go either down or your teammates will arrive soon to help bring him down.

Utilizing the crown of the helmet to make a tackle just isn’t very smart.  Not only can a player break his own neck, he can inflict permanent head and brain damage to the other player, too.

Helmets have never been designed to do anything other than offer a little protection for the player’s own head.

The slothful NFL finally made a rule change to address this issue after the 2017 season ended.

From the NFL’s website, here is the current rule:

The Rule: As approved by NFL clubs in March, it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.​

Penalties for Violation: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may also be ejected. Ejection standards:

  1. Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet
  2. Unobstructed path to his opponent
  3. Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options

Sounds good.  So we ask again.

Why wasn’t this penalty called last night?

Perhaps it is because NFL officials simply aren’t making the calls during most football games even after the new rule was implemented.

During last night’s contest between the Saints and Cowboys, Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira made this comment.

“We haven’t seen many called this year,” Pereira said, “but that’s a clear example of leading with the crown of the helmet.”

This leads me and many viewers to ask again, “Why aren’t the NFL refs making this call?”

My best guess is that the NFL wants to keep the pace of play moving.  Compared to college football’s overly lengthy 3 1/2+ hour broadcasts, the professional league has kept most of its games close to three hours in length.

Is that really their primary excuse?  If so, then the NFL owners, as usual, are winking at each other again while continuing to put profits ahead of the players’ safety.

More and more parents continue to advise their kids to stay away from participating in football due to mounting evidence of likely brain damage years later.

Someone has to make an intelligent decision.

In the meantime, it’s “Heads – you lose” if you play in today’s NFL.


Aggies may get their wish – an SEC rivalry with LSU

Once Saturday night’s epic seven overtime college football thriller between Texas A&M and LSU ended, the Aggies 74-72 victory over the Tigers may have bigger implications down the road.

The Aggies, who joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, lost their long-term rivalry with the University of Texas (Aggie fans still refer to them as “Texas University”).  Most Longhorn fans that I have met were glad to end the series, but the Aggies still dislike the Horns so much that the school’s primary fight song “The Aggie War Hymn” remains intact.

Six years later, these loyal 12th Man Aggies still want to “saw Varsity’s Horns off”.

The school also maintains a strong military tradition.  Established in 1876, the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets still commissions more ROTC officers (Army, Navy, and Air Force) than any other institution in the United States.

The Texas A&M Fightin’ Aggie Band still plays military songs during the games with halftime shows of precision marching.  No traditional musical fare at College Station during football games.

Aggie fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

The SEC has unsuccessfully tried to pair-up A&M with South Carolina every football season, but the match just didn’t fit well for the Aggies or Gamecocks.

Texas A&M is a large school with large ambitions. They want to play and beat the best.

Aggie fans have longed for their next-door neighbor in Louisiana to become their newest rival to “hate”.

I have attended football games at both Texas A&M and LSU, so I understand the traditions of both schools fairly well.

The problem for AggieLand is that LSU has always (long before Nick Saban arrived) considered the University of Alabama to be their primary football rivalry.  After that, it’s probably Auburn or, during better times, Ole Miss in the pecking order of LSU’s primary rivals.

The Tigers respected their neighbors to the west, but Louisiana fans had not considered the Aggies worthy of becoming a true football rival.

LSU has dominated Texas A&M in football ever since the Aggies joined the SEC.  Prior to last week, the Aggies had not beaten LSU in football after becoming a member of the SEC.

Yes, Texas A&M finally won a game over LSU on Saturday night in College Station.  It took seven overtimes and several quite fortunate breaks to give the Aggies the win.

Tiger Nation is still hot about the officiating decisions late in the fourth quarter and in overtime that all seemed to go against the Tigers.

LSU Head Football Coach Ed Orgeron is still upset.  At a press conference Tuesday, the gravel-voiced coach said:

“In 35 years of coaching I have never used officiating as an excuse. There were some bad calls. They missed some calls. Four times the game should have been won for LSU. Those calls should have went in our favor. They didn’t. There’s nothing I can do about that. I felt bad about it. Our guys fought. We should have won the game.”

But wait, there’s more!

After the incredible seven-overtime game finally ended, a dust-up happened along the sidelines which apparently involved some inappropriate behavior by the nephew of Texas A&M coach, Jimbo Fisher.  He was vigorously rebuffed by one or more LSU assistants.

Between the iffy officiating and the post-game sidelines altercations, the Aggies may be getting their wish for an SEC rival.  LSU fans have taken notice and are starting to develop the early stages of a Longhorn-like dislike of Texas A&M.

A reminder to AggieLand.  LSU has a proud military tradition as well.

Going back to the 1800’s, LSU and its hallowed grounds have been known as the “Ole War Skule“.

The mascot for the Aggies is Reveille the collie.  She should be concerned as usually docile Mike the Tiger has been awakened some pesky Aggies.

After the first salvos were fired from College Station Saturday, overtures coming out of Baton Rouge signal that a sports version of a declaration of war may be percolating.

For now, though, it’s all talk.

Here’s how I will know a Texas A&M/LSU rivalry has become legit.

Once the words to the “Aggie War Hymn” are changed to mention LSU, then the Aggies may get their wish for an annual rivalry with the Bayou Bengals.






The Fantastic Four dominate SwampSwami College Football Top 25

While several teams in the College Football Top 25 teams had tough games this holiday weekend, our four remaining unbeaten teams dispatched their foes like the Fantastic Four superheroes they have become this season.

Notre Dame, our fourth rated team, unveiled its invisibility during a sluggish first half of their game with USC Saturday.  Fortunately, the Fighting Irish showed-up in time for a second half rally to grab the victory and go to 12-0 this season.

Continuing at number three in our weekly poll is UCF.  The Knights from Central Florida s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d an early lead over their in-state rival South Florida during an easy 38-10 win.  The victory elongated the Knights winning streak to 24 games as they improved to 11-0.

After a “game” start by the South Carolina Gamecocks, our second-rated Clemson Tigers caught fire before halftime and torched their in-state rivals in the second half to secure a 58-35 win.

As in most of their games this season, it was “Clobbering Time” again for the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  Though Auburn played a valiant first half, the Tigers (like most of Bama’s foes) were beaten into submission after halftime and vanquished by a 52-21 count.

Special “Standing 8 count” commendations this week go to Texas A&M and LSU for their incredible seven overtime bout won by the Aggies 74-72.  This game packed more punches than you will see in the new movie, Creed 2.

Finally, I made a comment at the end of last week’s Top 25 that the Big Ten game between Michigan and Ohio State needed to prove something as I (still do) feel that the competition in the conference is relatively soft.  The vaunted Michigan defense gave up a whopping 62 points as Ohio State scored at will on the toothless Wolverines, 62-39.

Ohio State (which climbed to #5 in this week’s rankings) must beat the 8-4 Northwestern Wildcats team this weekend in the Big Ten conference championship.   Based on the Buckeyes lack of defense this season, I wouldn’t bet against Northwestern.

Below is the complete College Football Top 25 rankings for the week ending November 24, 2018:

# Team W L 2017 AP Rank Best win/loss in 2018
1 Alabama 12 0 1
2 Clemson 12 0 4
3 UCF 11 0 6
4 Notre Dame 12 0 11
5 Ohio State 11 1 62-39 over 10-2 Michigan
6 Oklahoma 11 1 28-21 over 9-2 Army
7 Georgia 11 1 34-17 over 9-3 Kentucky
8 Washington State 10 2 28-24 over 9-3 Utah
9 Michigan 10 2 42-7 over 9-3 Penn State
10 Boise State 10 2 33-24 over 10-2 Utah State
11 Army 9 2 42-13 @ 10-2 Buffalo
12 Appalachian State 9 2 21-10 over 9-3 Troy
13 Buffalo 10 2 36-29 @ 8-4 Temple
14 Cincinnati 10 2 34-30 over 8-4 Ohio U.
15 Utah State 10 2 56-17 @ 8-5 Hawaii
16 Fresno State 10 2 49-27 over 7-5 San Diego St
17 Texas 9 3 48-45 over 11-1 Oklahoma
18 Washington 9 3 28-15 @ 10-2 Wash. St
19 Kentucky 9 3 26-16 @ 9-3 Florida
20 Florida 9 3 27-19 over 9-3 LSU
21 LSU 9 3 36-16 over 11-1 Georgia
22 West Virginia 8 3 42-41 @ 9-3 Texas
23 Syracuse 9 3 51-41 over 8-3 NC State
24 Penn State 9 3 30-24 over 8-4 Iowa
25 Utah 9 3 40-21 @ 7-4 Stanford