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Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans Saints’

The Patriots’ Run in Perspective

In MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL on September 13, 2019 at 6:18 PM

I’ve been planning to write this since shortly after the Super Bowl, but I was busy immediately afterward and got a cold, and then it wasn’t really football season anymore. 

I wanted to start by saying I’m not a Patriots fan and apart from their first Super Bowl win (over the St. Louis Rams).  I wasn’t really in favor of them winning any others.  I didn’t mind when they beat the Falcons, and I wouldn’t have minded had they beaten the Giants though.

Adam Vinatieri, then only 29 years old, kicks the winning points as the Patriots upset the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Superdome in 2002.

If you wanted to know why I wanted the Rams to lose, first of all they were divisional rivals with the Saints at the time.   I usually will cheer for franchises who hadn’t won before (which is why I was more neutral toward the Falcons than most Saints fans), and I usually cheer against teams who are favored by 14.  That was the biggest line since the previous time the Patriots had made the Super Bowl, and one has not been that large since.  The only time it came close was the 12-point line in favor of the Patriots over the Giants in 2008.

The point of writing this is just to remark on the significance of a franchise rising so quickly in stature in a league.  If you’re old enough to read this, you probably won’t see something similar take place in your life.  Before the 2001 season, the Patriots had won zero Super Bowls.  Although they had been to 2, in my mind (and I think in the mind of the vast majority of fans) that put them behind such franchises as the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens (who at that time were both 1-0 in Super Bowls).

Now, if you use conference championships as a tiebreaker, the Patriots are at the very top of franchises with Super Bowl Championships. 

It took until the 20th Super Bowl for the Patriots to make their first appearance, and at that time they were tied for 14th at 0-1.  But arguably they belonged 17th on that list because before that season the franchise had never won a playoff game.  They would not win another playoff game for 11 years, in the season in which they would lose another Super Bowl, this time to Brett Favre and the Packers.  In the interim, two other teams (the Giants and the Bills) had passed up the Patriots and one other team (the Chargers) had tied them at 0-1.  So when the Patriots lost to the Packers, that only put them in a tie for 16th, which fell to 17th after the aforementioned Ravens won.

Bill Parcells, left, was at one time the only coach to have taken the Giants to the Super Bowl and one of only two coaches to have taken the Patriots to one. The guy on the right is Bill Belichick, who became the third to do the latter.

So in the last 17 years they went from 17th to 1st on the list. 

To put that in the context of a couple of other sports, the MLB Giants would have to win 20 World Series without the Yankees winning any just to move from #2 to #1 on the World Series list.  The Mets, who are 17th, would have to win 26. 

In hockey (I say hockey because the Stanley Cup precedes the NHL), the Red Wings would have to win 13 Stanley Cups without the Canadiens winning any just to move from #2 to #1.  It would take 24 Stanley Cups to move from #17 to #1 (several franchises are tied at 1-1).  So even by winning every year, it would take longer than 17 years in both MLB and hockey to move up so far. 

In the NBA, the Lakers (the current #2) would pass up the Celtics with just one win, but they’ve been in second place since 1963, the year the Celtics passed up the Lakers to become #1.  So the total time to move up just that one spot would still be over 50 years.  Like in hockey, #17 is only 1-1, so one of those teams (the Bucks or the Mavericks) would have to win titles every year for 17 years to move up to #1 as quickly.

Bob Cousy prepares to pass in the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the NBA Finals in 1963. The Celtics would win the series and have been at the top of the list of NBA Finalists since.

To be fair, Super Bowls have only existed since the 1966 season, but the NBA had less than a 20-year head start.  No one else is realistically going to be competing with the Celtics and the Lakers in 17 years or probably even 40 years.  The team that has moved up the most since the mid-90s has been the Spurs, but it took them 16 years to win 5.  They would need 13 more wins to pass up the Celtics.    

The Patriots have managed to have an extended dynasty in an era where that is supposed to be impossible.  No other league does as much to punish success as the NFL.  It’s not only draft picks, it’s the schedule and salary caps.  Most leagues don’t factor in past season’s success in scheduling.  Six of the 16 NFL games in a season are determined by success in the previous season.

There are some measures taken in other leagues to keep salaries under control, but the haves and have-nots are still pretty easy to determine based on salary most of the time.  In the NFL, even if you look at room under the salary cap, it doesn’t tell you very much.  So it’s not all about who’s spending money and who isn’t.  When I checked after last season, the Colts had the most room under the salary cap, and they made the divisional round of the playoffs, for instance.  The Jaguars were one of only two teams over the cap, and they finished 5-11.  You have to consistently bargain for and make good draft picks, and you have to consistently make your salary dollars count to have these results.  I don’t want to get into the scandals, which are overblown in my opinion; but there is no question that making great decisions has been the key to success.

I’m sure there are people who know a lot more about the NFL than I do who can speculate if the Patriots will win again and if so how many before Brady and Belichick retire, but even if they’re done, the last 17 years have still been an amazing achievement.

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Explaining NFL Playoff Scenarios

In NFL on December 27, 2018 at 12:13 PM

I’ve done this a few different times over the years since there is kind of a lull in college football action, at least among the top teams. Also, I like solving the puzzles presented by tiebreaker scenarios. It’s like sudoku except fun and informative.

SECTION I: TEXT EXPLANATIONS

NFC

I’m going to start with the NFC to get it out of the way. The AFC if you get into some of the tiebreakers is very difficult to follow, but the NFC is pretty simple.

The division winners are the Saints, the Rams, the Bears, and the Cowboys. The Seahawks will be one of the two wild card teams.

The Saints are definitely the top seed (and as a result will have a first round bye, followed by playing the lowest-remaining seed), and the Cowboys are definitely the fourth seed, who will play the better of the two wild card teams in the first round.

Saints QB Drew Brees escapes the Steelers’ pass rush in New Orleans on Sunday. As a result of the Saints’ win, New Orleans clinched the #1 seed and put the Steelers on the brink of elimination from playoff contention.

The Rams have the inside track for the #2 seed, which entails a first-round bye. They clinch if either they win or the Bears lose. If neither of those happens, the Bears will be the #2 seed since Chicago beat Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago.

The Seahawks have the inside track on the #5 seed, the top wild card. They clinch with a win or a Vikings loss. If the Seahawks lose and Vikings win, the Vikings will take the #5 seed.

The Vikings have not clinched the playoffs yet, but they have the inside track against the Eagles. Minnesota would have to lose and Philadelphia would have to win for the Eagles to take the last playoff spot. In that scenario, the Seahawks wrap up the #5 seed regardless of the outcome of their game.

I don’t think any charts are even necessary for the NFC.

AFC

Intro and Making the Playoffs

The AFC, simply put, is a mess. It’s very weird to only have one known division champion of the four divisions. And that one known champion could be the best division winner or the worst division winner, so even that doesn’t clarify things as much as usual.

In the discussion below, except for one clearly marked paragraph, I will basically be pretending ties aren’t possible.

In order to finish as a top-4 seed (which also means your first game will be at home), you must win your division. So I’ll start by covering what needs to be done in order to win each division.

The one team I referred to who completed this process is the Patriots of the AFC East.

Patriots QB Tom Brady throws over the middle of the Bills defense in a lackluster win in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday. With the win, the Patriots clinched the NFC East for the 10th year in a row.

In the AFC North, the Ravens only have to win in order to clinch. But if the Ravens lose and the Steelers win, the Steelers win the AFC North. If both lose, the Ravens win the AFC North. Without a tie, neither the Ravens nor the Steelers can make the playoffs as a wild card team.

In the AFC South, there are three potential champions. The Texans are one win away. If the Texans lose, the champion will be the winner between the Colts and the Titans (again, I’m excluding ties, but for that one I looked it up).

The AFC West is the only division that is tied going into the final week. Since the Chiefs have lost two games outside of the AFC (to the Rams and Seahawks) and have lost only once (against the Chargers) in the division, they hold the tiebreaker. So the Chargers would need to win and hope the Chiefs lose to the Raiders.

I’m going to reserve discussion of how the divisional champions will be seeded until the end since it’s the most complicated.

Wild Cards

An AFC wild card team would have to finish 10-6. I mentioned that the Texans haven’t clinched the division, but they have clinched at least a wild card spot. Both possibilities in the AFC West have clinched at least a wild card and could not fall below #5, which is the top wild card team.

The winner of the Colts and the Titans will get the last remaining playoff spot. As mentioned earlier, the playoff spot could be a division champion and in the case of the Titans could be as high as #2. Regardless, the loser is out.

For this one paragraph, I did look up what happens in the event of a tie in that game. First of all, the Texans would win the AFC South regardless of the outcome of their game since they start out a full game ahead. If the Titans and Colts tie and the Steelers win, all three will have the same record. If in addition to that the Ravens win, the Steelers will then have to compete for a wild card (if the Steelers win and the Ravens lose, the Steelers win the division and don’t compete for the wild card). The way the tiebreakers work is ties within a division are resolved first. The Colts beat the Titans earlier in the year, so they would eliminate the Titans. Then the Steelers would win the tiebreaker against the Colts with a better record in common games. If the Steelers lose, the Colts would take the spot.

Number One Seed

That wasn’t even the trickier aspect of the AFC. The real headache is how the division winners would be seeded in the event of ties. As many as five teams could finish with 11-5 records, and as many as four teams could finish with 10-6 records.

These are the main scenarios (“AFC West” refers only to Chargers and Chiefs.):

Two AFC West losses + Patriots win = Patriots #1 (Patriots would win tiebreakers against the Chiefs and/or Texans)

Chiefs lose + Chargers win = Chargers #1 (Chargers would finish with the best AFC record outright regardless of other outcomes.)

Two AFC West losses + Patriots lose = Texans #1 (Texans would win tiebreaker over Chiefs.)

Any other scenario = Chiefs #1

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes looks to throw against the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday night. Despite two losses in two weeks, the Chiefs have one more chance to wrap up the #1 seed against the Raiders next Sunday.

Number Three and Number Four Seeds

I’m putting the scenarios for #2 last since that’s the most complicated.

I’ll start with the simplest and most likely situation. If the Patriots and either (or both) the Chiefs or the Chargers win, this will be the Texans’ to lose.

If the Patriots lose, Houston will be in the top two with a win though. In that case, the Ravens would pass up the Patriots for the #3 spot.

If Houston does lose, they would not be in the running for a top four seed. The Ravens and Titans could then rise as high as #2 with wins, and the Colts could rise as high as #3 with a win. It’s likely that the Patriots would keep all of the above an additional spot lower with a win though.

A three-way tie between the Patriots, Colts, and Ravens (meaning the Patriots lose while Colts and Ravens win) would make the Ravens #2 and the Patriots #3.

A three-way tie between the Patriots, Titans, and Ravens would make the Ravens #2 and the Titans #3.

In the event of a loss, Houston would lose the tiebreaker to the Titans/Colts winner for the division, so the Texans would fall to the second wild card (#6 seed).

Number Two Seed

In the discussions above, I mentioned a couple of routes to the #2 seed.

If one of the two relevant AFC West teams win, the simplest route to #2 would be for either the Patriots or Texans to win and finish as the only 11-5 team (which would require the other to lose). If both win to finish 11-5, the Patriots win the head-to-head tiebreaker.

I mentioned in the previous subsection that if both the Patriots and Texans lose to finish 10-6, the Texans become a wild card team and the Patriots would end up tied with the Titans/Colts winner and/or the Ravens.

I covered the three-way ties, but the Patriots would lose a two-way tie for the #2 seed with the Titans but win a two-way tie with the Colts. The two-way tie is what happens if the Ravens and Patriots lose.

If both AFC West teams lose and the Texans win, the Texans don’t necessarily finish ahead of the Chiefs. As mentioned in the “#1” subsection, if the Patriots win in this scenario, they will take the #1 seed since they beat both the Texans and the Chiefs (who have not played each other).

The next step – and this is what I’ve been saving for last – is to resolve the tie between the Chiefs and the Texans. I mentioned they didn’t play each other, so the next step is common opponents. Both lost to the Patriots and beat the Browns. The Texans beat the Jaguars twice and the Chiefs beat the Jaguars once, which gives the Texans a half-game lead. But in return the Chiefs beat the Broncos twice, and the Texans only beat the Broncos once. So both teams are 4-1 in total against the 4 common opponents.

How a Chiefs-Texans tie in the standings would actually be resolved if everything favorable to the Chiefs happens. The italicized teams are involved in the five game the Chiefs would need to go in their favor. The bolded teams are involved in games where it won’t matter either way because the numbers at the bottom wouldn’t change. The numbers at the bottom would be the final strength of victory for the respective teams.

The next tiebreaker is “strength of victory”. If it were strength of schedule, the Chiefs would win regardless of any other outcome, and there would never be a need to talk about any NFC games (the Texans and Chiefs played completely different NFC teams, but since every team of one conference only plays a single division of another conference and every division has two intra-divisional games in the final week, none of the outcomes would matter), but the NFL apparently thinks strength of schedule is a completely useless way to resolve a tie between two teams.

Since the teams that beat the Chiefs were all very good, this takes the better teams away from the Chiefs’ average. As a result, strength of victory (which is an assessment of who beat the best collection of teams) gives the Texans a clear edge.

That edge can be overcome, but only if the Ravens and both of the NFC teams who lost to the Chiefs (the Cardinals and 49ers) win and both of the NFC teams who lost to the Texans (the Cowboys and Redskins) lose. I’ll warn you that ESPN’s “Playoff Machine” contradicts me here, so if I’m missing something, let me know. I checked my numbers thoroughly (I even briefly thought I made a mistake in one of the records. I doubt Excel is wrong in its computation.

Same key as the chart above, but the games below the thick black horizontal line are the games that were (or would be) lost. Even if every relevant game were changed to an unfavorable result for the Chiefs, the Chiefs would still win the tiebreaker. I think it’s a sign of a better team if you only lose once to a team with single-digit wins rather than three times, but the NFL didn’t ask me.

The Cardinals and the 49ers winning would be bizarre results, especially since they’re both playing much better teams with something meaningful to play for, but remember that we don’t even have this conversation unless the Chiefs and the Chargers both lose, so we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole anyway.

Finally I have a historical note to make this a little weirder. The original nickname for the franchise that became the Kansas City Chiefs was the Texans. Those were Dallas Texans though.

Team Possibilities

This is the range of possible outcomes for the various AFC teams, excluding ties:

The Chiefs could get the #1, #2, #3, or #5 seed.

The Patriots could get the #1, #2, #3, or #4 seed.

The Chargers could get the #1 or #5 seed.

The Texans could get the #1, #2, #3, or #6 seed.

The Titans could get the #2, #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Ravens could get the #2, #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Colts could get the #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Steelers could get the #4 seed (or nothing).

SECTION II: AFC SCENARIO LISTS

I already covered a couple of these when I discussed the AFC #1 seed, but this is a more mathematical way of explaining the various scenarios (again, this is ignoring ties; and “AFC West” refers to the two competitive teams, the Chiefs and the Chargers). This is also kind of my proof of the last subsection:

Patriots win + at least one AFC West win = Patriots #2

Chiefs win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chiefs #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Chiefs lose + Chargers win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chargers #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Chiefs lose + Chargers lose + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chiefs #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Patriots lose + Texans win + at least one AFC West win = Texans #2

Patriots win + Chiefs win + Texans win = Texans #3

Patriots lose + Texans win + Ravens lose = Patriots #3

Patriots lose + Texans win + Ravens win = Patriots #4

Titans win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Ravens lose = Titans #2, Patriots #3, Texans #6

Titans win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Ravens win = Ravens #2, Titans #3, Patriots #4, Texans #6

Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens win = Ravens #3, Titans/Colts winner #4, Texans #6

Patriots win + Texans win + Ravens win = Ravens #4

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens lose= Titans #3

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens win = Titans #4

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans win = Titans #6

Colts win + Texans lose+ Ravens lose = Colts #3

Colts win + Texans lose+ Ravens win = Colts #4

Colts win + Texans win = Colts #6

Steelers win + Ravens lose = Steelers #4, Ravens eliminated

Steelers lose = Ravens at least #4

SECTION III: AFC CHARTS

This is mostly from the New York Times, except I had to add the Eagles/Redskins game to the flow chart of the Chief’s various routes to their playoff seed. Previously, it said “50% chance of div. champ” on the right after “the Ravens win”. In this scenario, the Chiefs would already be the division champs, so that’s not really true (#fakenews); but I guess that was like an error message trying to tell the makers of the chart they didn’t provide enough information. The red box around “#2 BYE” means in that scenario the #1 team is the Texans. The blue box means in that scenario the #1 team is the Patriots. Where it says “#3 DIV. CHAMPS,” that would mean the Patriots are #1 and the Texans are #2. The various scenarios to the right of the red asterisk only apply to breaking the tie between the Texans and the Chiefs.

I’m starting with the most complicated situation since that is what seemed like it may require a chart the most. Also, it covers the Patriots’ and Texans’ potential routes to #1 seeds. Also, if the Chargers win, they would be #1 under the scenario above where it says “#5 wild card”.

As a supplement to that, these are the potential results if the Texans win and the Patriots lose. If the Texans and the Patriots both win, the Texans lose the tiebreaker and stay at the #3 spot.

It’s also pretty simple if the Patriots win. They’re #2 unless the Chiefs and the Chargers both lose, in which case they would be #1. But it gets a little more confusing if they lose, so here is the chart to cover that situation. The Patriots win the tiebreaker against the Colts but not against the Titans. If either the Patriots win or the Texans win, that game doesn’t really matter to anyone except the teams involved though.

The Ravens would win a tiebreaker against either the Titans or the Colts, so that game wouldn’t matter to them even if the Texans lose. They do want the Texans to lose though, because that will move them up a spot, either from fourth to third or from third to second.

Rivalries and Coaching Carousels

In College Football, General LSU, History, Rivalry on November 22, 2018 at 5:06 PM

I planned to write something Wednesday, my first day off work for Thanksgiving,but I woke up sick and ended up sleeping most of the day.

There are a lot of great rivalries this week (see my blog about the battle of the A&Ms [Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and Texas A&M] ,and see last week’s blog for mention of some rivalries I’ve enjoyed over the years), but there are plenty of stories about them and previews of the big games by other outlets, so I wanted to write something a little different (although also in the theme of this week’s games as many coaches will be coaching their last games at their current schools). If you ever play six degrees of Will Muschamp (or whatever you would call a game that involves who coached with whom), this could be useful. 

For more about a somewhat unappreciated rivalry though, former LSU beat writer Ross Dellenger wrote good article for the Sports Illustrated about the Egg Bowl and especially some of the coaches.  The only thing I disagreed with was his characterization of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke as mild-mannered just because he’s respectful of other teams and coaches.  He’s extremely animated during games though. 

I’ve given more attention to the Mississippi schools than most people do, even people who write extensively about the SEC, but I haven’t talked that much about Ole Miss playing Mississippi St.  I did write about former Mississippi St. head coaches Sylvester Croom and Jackie Sherill (first sub-section under the heading A&M coaches), both of whom are mentioned in the article (and both of whom played for and coached with Bear Bryant, another former Texas A&M coach, at Alabama).  Of course I wrote about Ole Miss’s series with their second and third rivals, LSU and Vanderbilt (third section), and Mississippi St.’s series with their second rival LSU (there isn’t much worth writing about the series with their #3 Alabama).

Anyway, that article about the Egg Bowl got me thinking about a lot of coaches from the 1990s and early 2000s, partly because of stories like that and partly from things that have come up during Ed Orgeron press conferences in the last few weeks. 

Ed Orgeron walks off the field for the last time as Ole Miss head coach after losing in the Egg Bowl on November 23, 2007.

Orgeron coached Ole Miss for a few Egg Bowls (winning only one), but before that he was the strength coach at Arkansas under Ken Hatfield, who also happened to be the coach of Rice the last time LSU played them before this season (1995).

Orgeron was asked about the Saints on Monday, and he seemed very excited about their performance this year.  I had forgotten that he was a Saints assistant for a season before joining Lane Kiffin’s staff at Tennessee.  Not that he wasn’t a fan long before that having grown up in Cajun country and having been a close personal friend to (and high school and college teammate of) former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. 

Orgeron also mentioned his affinity for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was the secondary coach the year Orgeron spent in New Orleans.  After returning to the Saints in 2015, Allen became defensive coordinator when Rob Ryan was fired.

Rob Ryan as Oklahoma St. offensive coordinator in the 1990s.

Orgeron also said he was very happy for Les Miles after his hiring by Kansas.  I found out that in 1997 Miles was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma St. at the same time that Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma St. (I usually would say the Cowboys; but that could be confusing since both Miles and Ryan also coached for the Dallas Cowboys, though at different times). Those two characters on the same coaching staff must have been interesting.  The combination worked though: that was the one year between 1988 and Miles’s tenure as head coach in Stillwater (2001-04, during which the team made three bowl games) that Oklahoma St. reached a bowl game.  When Miles went to Dallas, Ryan stayed; but the college Cowboys’ fortunes declined (not that the NFL Cowboys improved either).

When Miles returned to Oklahoma St. as head coach, his offensive coordinator was Mike Gundy, who would take Les’s place as head coach and remains in that position today.  Les’s next offensive coordinator(when he got to LSU) was a guy named Jimbo Fisher, whom Miles inherited from Saban. 

When Miles won the Houston Bowl in 2002, he became the fourth head coach in 40 year sto coach Oklahoma St. to a bowl win.  The second of those coaches was Jimmy Johnson, who played at Arkansas with Hatfield and who hired Orgeron at the University of Miami.  Johnson also coached some other Cowboys to “Bowl”wins. 

Jimmy Johnson as head coach of Oklahoma St. in 1983. After the year he lost out to Ken Hatfield when Arkansas needed a replacement for Lou Holtz as head coach.

To go back to Fisher, of course it so happens that he’ll be the head coach of LSU’s opponent this weekend.  He also happens to be the head coach of fullback Ben Miles, Les’s son. 

I remember Fisher’s last season at LSU very well. LSU’s 7-3 loss to Auburn still stands out in my mind.  Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with all of his calls in that game; but some credit goes to Auburn’s defensive coordinator Muschamp ( later head coach at Florida and now head coach at South Carolina).  Auburn’s head coach for that game was Tommy Tuberville, who came up in that Egg Bowl story because he was head coach at Ole Miss before going to Auburn, so that takes us full circle in this story. 

I wanted to mention a couple other items of interest from the 2006 season.  That season marked current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s first foray into college football, as offensive coordinator for later-Ole-Miss-head-coach Houston Nutt at Arkansas.  Arkansas won the SEC West that year but lostin the regular-season finale to LSU before losing to Florida (the eventual national champions who helped prevent LSU from winning the West). 

Future Kansas head coaches Charlie Weis and Les Miles converse after the (January) 2007 Sugar Bowl.

Since the Tigers’ only losses all year were Florida and that Auburn game I mentioned,this allowed LSU to represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.  LSU’s opponent was Notre Dame, then coached by Charlie Weis.  Weis has something elsein common with Miles: both were later hired as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks. I hope, unlike Weis, Miles can win 22% or more of his games as head coach with the Jayhawks though.

This is the first game between LSU and Texas A&M in four years where there will not be some major drama about either respective coaching staff. Last year, the game was the last of Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in College Station.  News of his firing had been leaked earlier in the week.  In the previous year, Ed Orgeron was just an interim coach; the interim tag was only removed after deals could not be reached with Tom Herman or (coincidentally enough) Fisher.    

The year prior, news had leaked of Miles being fired, but as with many Miles stories, that turned out not to be the case. In slight defense of the media, there had not been a decision to keep Miles before the game either.  But again after a lack of desirable candidates at suitable terms emerged, a decision was made to keep him (though his reprieve turned out to only be until the following September).  Fisher was also mentioned at that time. 

Despite all the drama and mixed emotions of those three games, LSU’s physicality was able to overcome Texas A&M’s finesse on each occasion LSU has played Texas A&M since and including the 2010 Cotton Bowl, which was the first meeting between the two schools this century and which pre-dated by about 20 months the Aggies’ participation as an SEC program (and Kevin Sumlin’s first game).  The character of Texas A&M has changed since Fisher replaced Sumlin.  The Aggies have become a team that runs really well (on conventional running plays, not just option pitches and quarterback runs) and also stops the run really well, so this will be a different challenge for the Tigers. If LSU wins, it will set the record for longest winning streak in the series.

In another tie to the Kansas hiring of Miles, the man Miles is replacing in Lawrence, David Beaty, was an assistant of Sumlin at Texas A&M from 2012 to 2014.  So he was an assistant during the last game in which there was not major drama around either coaching staff (although there was some disquiet since each team entered the game with four losses). 

An artist’s rendition of Kevin Sumlin (left) and John Chavis as Texas A&M coaches.

There was some drama involving the assistant coaches after the 2014 game, but not until later.  About five weeks after the Tigers held the Aggies to just 17 points in that contest, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis was hired by the Aggies to the same position (he was fired along with Sumlin after the LSU game last year).  Chavis now occupies that position at Arkansas. 

Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, and Jimbo Fisher pose for the picture of the 2004 LSU coaching staff.  Later Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was on staff, as was current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

There are no hard feelings if you ask me though. LSU is better off with Dave Aranda, who has been in the position since a year after Chavis left.  LSU’s defensive coordinator for the intervening year (hired along with Orgeron) was Kevin Steele, who, as DC for Auburn, will face Alabama (another former employer of his) during the Iron Bowl.  He replaced the aforementioned Will Muschamp, who was on LSU’s staff at the same time as Jimbo Fisher.

Updated NFL Relocation Proposals

In History, NFL, Realignment on January 30, 2016 at 7:33 PM

I don’t want to get right into it, because when you talk about this subject, it provokes a lot of gut reaction, so I’ll start with a little background.

Post-merger to 2002 Realignment

Beginning with the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, there was a division known as the NFC West that included the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Atlanta Falcons.

Apart from the Saints, these teams had been in the Coastal Division with the Baltimore Colts, who I suppose were theoretically potential rivals to the Falcons, while the Saints were supposed to be potential rivals to the Cowboys.

Anyway, that all got scrambled with the merger, but it was decided Saints-Falcons was a better rivalry, partly because they joined the league only a year apart. The Cowboys were also a fairly new team but had already accelerated into a top team with one of the best hires ever, Tom Landry.

Of course, logically, one team was in the central United States and another was in the East. I guess it would have been more correct to call it the NFC West and South, but that would have been too wordy.

These four teams remained in this division until 2001, although tin 1995 it got even more ridiculous as the Rams moved to St. Louis and the expansion Panthers were added.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

The 2001 NFL divisional alignment with 6 divisions.

In the 2002 realignment, the Rams and 49ers only retained one divisional opponent apiece, and the Cardinals and the Bucs retained none.

A couple notes on the last two. After playing in the AFC for its inaugural year, Tampa Bay had joined the NFC Central in 1977. Arizona had started in the NFC East when that franchise was in St. Louis, moving in 1988.

In 2002, the Seahawks changed conferences and of course didn’t retain any divisional opponents either.

In the AFC, the Titans and Jaguars retained only one divisional opponent apiece, and the Colts retained none.

Changes in 2002.  Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted.  The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

Changes in 2002. Same key as 2001 with the two new divisions noted. The North in both conferences was exclusively comprised of former Central teams.

The point of all of this is to disabuse people of the notion that new rivalries can’t be formed fairly quickly and that we should not place teams into logical divisions.

The Effect of the Rams and Relocation

My primary proposal last time had the Rams in kind of a mid-South division with the Titans, Panthers, and Chiefs, so of course that idea is now obsolete.

I had thought since there were exactly four West coast teams, it made sense to put them all together, but there is a problem with that in the TV markets since the 49ers and Raiders are in the same market.

So when you have more than four teams, I think it makes sense to respect the idea that there should only be one CBS team and one Fox team in a given market. I didn’t see any reporting about this, but I suspect TV might have been one of the factors many owners switched from the Raiders-Chargers proposal to the Rams one.

Had the Raiders-Chargers proposal gone through, there would have been about six weeks where one of the two would have had to play a night game because every other week, CBS is restricted to one game on Sunday during the day. (You can get it down to six given that each team has a bye week, the two teams would play each other twice, and both networks have a doubleheader in Week 17.)

Accordingly, I have one proposal for the Chargers staying in San Diego and another in the event they move to Los Angeles.

The West

I know it was ancient history to some younger fans; but before realignment (as indicated above), the Seahawks played in the AFC against the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs. I would preferably bring that back.

Why? The two closest locations to San Diego are going to be Inglewood, CA, and Glendale, AZ. I don’t agree with the idea that the Chargers shouldn’t be in a conference with either of those just because before 1970, they were in the AFL instead of the NFL.

Arizona also is in a situation that doesn’t make any sense, as can be seen on the current map.

I’ll admit that in recent years, the best intra-state rivalry in California has been the Raiders and the Chargers. However, a big reason for that is the large group of Raiders fans extending from the Bay Area to Southern California. I think the Rams moving and the Raiders staying (or perhaps moving to another state) will completely change that dynamic anyway.

If the Chargers move, I would just keep the current alignment as is. Besides, I think I have enough ideas that will challenge the status quo.

There could be an all-California division and everyone else if the Chargers move, but two reasons I don’t think that’s a good idea: (1) it would require two pairs of teams switching conferences, and (2) even if one shared market can be accommodated, two is probably pushing it.

So this is my proposal for the Western teams if either the teams stay put or it’s decided that to allow two Los Angeles teams in the same conference.

West 1

Messing with Texas

The Cowboys’ and Texans’ divisions don’t make a bit of sense, and I have no qualms about removing them from those divisions.

When the Houston Oilers still existed, they played the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals. The Texans playing the Jags, Colts, and Titans is better, but not that much better. It was really a collection of mismatches. The cities that were least appropriate for the central were removed, and the city that was least appropriate for the East was removed, and they were all put together.

The Colts are close to enough other teams that there is no reason to share a division with anyone south of Nashville for sure.

The Jaguars’ closest divisional opponent is 600 miles away even though 5 non-divisional teams are closer.

I get that Tennessee and Indianapolis worked because they were both kind of leftover mismatches and aren’t that far from one another, but the triangular divisional configuration is ridiculous.
As for the Cowboys, I have yet to see a real argument as to why that’s not a misfit that needs to be corrected. Why is it better than the Oilers in the AFC Central, the Falcons in the NFC West, the Cardinals in the NFC East, or the Bucs in the NFC Central? They were all used to it as well.

The NFL was correct in the late 1960s when it saw two teams in bordering states, the Cowboys and the Saints, and put them in the same division. Adding in a Houston team in somewhat comfortable driving distance or sub-60-minute flying distance from both only makes more sense. The Falcons would be a bit more removed, but Falcons-Saints was one thing the NFL got right in 1970. It would make no sense to undo it. Texas isn’t as close to Atlanta as Carolina of course, but it’s better than San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even St. Louis.

Given the Rams’ move back to Los Angeles, I can’t think of one alignment where I wouldn’t want this division.

Two Obvious Divisions

The first keeps together four teams that have been in the same division (which they shared with Tampa Bay years ago) since the merger: the NFC North (previously the NFC Central, or as Chris Berman calls it, the Norris Division), made up of Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit.

The second one is the current NFC East minus the Cowboys. Their replacement is perfectly obvious on the map, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is about 40 miles from Washington and about 100 miles from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is less than 100 miles from New York. I don’t think you can get a more ideal division than that.

It would mean Baltimore changing from the AFC to the NFC, but Baltimore was never an AFL city. Apart from some overlap with Steelers fans in rural Maryland, I think Baltimore fans encounter would-be rival NFC East fans a bit more often as well. This would also make it so that the rural Maryland/Northern West Virginia/Southern Pennsylvania/inland Northern Virginia area could have the Ravens on one network and the Steelers on another.

The More Traditional Approach

I used a different color scheme for these.

I used a different color scheme for these.

Obviously, the most traditional thing to do would be to leave everything the way it is, but one of the things I’m not in favor of is radical realignment. This would be blowing up all the existing divisions and conferences as if they never existed. When I talked about the western teams, I even talked about trying to limit the number of teams who change conferences.

I call it radical realignment because that was the name for the proposals in baseball after the strike when it was suggested that teams like the Mets and Yankees should be in the same league and no attention be paid to which franchises were traditionally in which league.

But anyway, I’ve said how I feel about the 8 western teams, the 4 teams of the current NFC North, the 4 teams of my proposed NFC South, and the 4 teams of my proposed NFC East.

I have mixed feelings about the other. The more traditional approach would start by leaving the current AFC East (Buffalo, New England, Jets, Miami) in tact.

That leaves Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. I would just make the teams north of the Ohio River the AFC North and those to the south the AFC South.

The More Geographic Approach

East 2

You can figure out which one of the AFC East is not like the others. Miami isn’t so close to New York, and it’s even farther from Buffalo and New England.

So why not start by putting all the Florida teams into one division instead? None of them currently have rivalries that make sense anyway.

But they need another team. While the Falcons would be ideal, I’ve put them in the NFC South already to keep their rivalry with the Saints.

The Panthers are the logical choice here. They would maintain their series with the Bucs, but it would add a team in between in Jacksonville. I know the Jags haven’t had a good season in a while, but it could evolve into something like the Saints-Falcons rivalry with two franchises of a similar age in the same general part of the football landscape. This arrangement would have the added bonus of making it so the Florida television map doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock painting (see below).

florida pollock

This would require the AFC East to add a fourth team, and the remaining team closest to the coast is the Steelers, who seemingly could develop a natural rivalry with Buffalo and already have had a competitive rivalry with the Patriots, although not in the same division of course.

This would leave sort of a Ohio River division centered around Cincinnati, with the Titans to the South, the Browns to the Northeast, and the Colts to the Northwest.

Appendix

I’m done. I just wanted to post some television maps of Florida from last season if you didn’t get my Pollock remark and picture. They’re not even consistent. Sometimes West Palm Beach goes with Miami, sometimes it goes with the panhandle or the rest of the country. Sometimes Ft. Myers goes with Tampa, sometimes it goes with Miami.

florida tv 2

florida tv 3

florida tv 4

florida tv 5

florida tv 6

florida tv

Reaction to the Los Angeles NFL Announcement

In NFL on January 16, 2016 at 2:19 PM

Since I weighed in before the decision was made, I felt it was right to respond now.

Again, I’m going to talk about my personal reaction and the reasons why (in the first two sections below) as well as the implications for football fans more generally.

Saints vs. Rams

I don’t like the Rams. I never have liked the Rams. I don’t feel as negatively toward them as I did between 1988 and 2001 though. 1988 was the first full football season I remember watching, and 2001 was the Saints’ last year in the NFC West, which used to comprise the Saints, Falcons, 49ers, and Rams.

2000 was an especially big year in the rivalry. The Rams and Saints played three times from November 26 to December 30. They split the regular-season matchups, with the road team winning each game. Then the Saints narrowly won in the wild card round of the playoffs, New Orleans’ first playoff win as a franchise.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Brian Milne of the New Orleans Saints recovers a muffed punt to secure the Saints win over the St. Louis Rams in the Wild Card Round in 2000.

Even though realignment took place after the following season, there were a lot of feelings that carried over. Cultural and geographic factors also helped intensify the rivalry with the Rams being in St. Louis instead of Los Angeles. New Orleans is the one large primarily Catholic city in the Deep South; but of course Missouri was a border state in Civil War times, and St. Louis has a long Catholic tradition as well. It’s not uncommon for people to travel from one to the other for college, work, and family reasons.

Many Saints fans also have a feeling of rivalry with the Cowboys even though (except for a couple of seasons in the 1960s) the Saints and Cowboys have not been in the same division, so it’s not like realignment necessarily changes everyone’s feelings.

I will say that I disliked the Rams the least among the four NFC West teams before they moved to St. Louis and also in their first couple of years there. The Saints’ #1 enemy has been and still is the Falcons, but the team that kept winning the division in the late 80s and early 90s was the 49ers.

That’s not to say there was no animosity though. The Rams and Saints often vied for a wild card spot in the same seasons. In 1988, for instance, the Saints, Rams, and 49ers all finished 10-6. Due to tie-breakers, the 49ers won the division, the Rams got a wild card spot (of only two that were available), and the Saints stayed home. (San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl over Cincinnati.)

In 1989, a loss to the 49ers dropped the Saints to 1-4. They would rally to finish 9-7, but again, this was not good enough to get one of the two wild card spots. An overtime loss to the Rams in late November ultimately cost the Saints a playoff spot. The 49ers would return to the Super Bowl as NFC champions after beating the Rams in the championship game.

The Saints again had a rough start in 1990, with Bobby Hebert off of the team. They were only 5-7 going into the last four games, two of which were against the Rams and the other against the 49ers. They won all three of those divisional games, including beating the Rams with a Morten Andersen field goal in the final game. Even though this was the worst New Orleans season since 1986, it was the first year of the six-team playoff, and the Saints made it in as the third wild card.

So when you’re competitive with teams that are playing for and winning conference championships and Super Bowls while you don’t even make the playoffs (partly because you had to play those teams multiple times), that can build up a dislike of those other teams.

Even though the Rams would not make the playoffs again until 1999 (when they won the Super Bowl over Tennessee), it wasn’t like there was no history before that. I remember trying to boycott the Saints when Jim Everett played for them. I could not stand him when he played for the Rams, and I refused to change my mind about him.

More Personal Feelings on the Move

I do feel a little bit bad for the St. Louis area, which has now lost two teams in my memory. I guess the NFL thinks the fans can just distribute themselves to other teams. Of course Los Angeles went as a largely untapped market for over 20 years, so I guess the NFL doesn’t see it as a huge problem.

Maybe one day there can be a gigantic new stadium somewhere between St. Louis and Memphis and everyone in that middle region can have a team to share. Maybe there will be some advance in transportation that allows people to get there at 100 miles per hour. Here is a map of where St. Louis is (the clear star in the middle) relative to the interstate highway system and other NFL teams.

St. Louis

If it had to be one team (although the Chargers may still come later), I was hoping it was going to be an AFC team.

Even though (as I explained in the last blog on this issue) it’s better to be in a secondary market than a primary market, I would have gotten to see the Chiefs, my favorite AFC team, more. I would have seen them play the Chargers or Raiders twice. I may see some of those games still, but if they’re on in the afternoon and the Rams are on in the afternoon, NFL rules prevent another game from being on television at that time.

Also, if the Saints are playing at the same time as the Rams, I won’t see them. If the Saints are playing a day game and Fox doesn’t have a doubleheader, I also will be almost guaranteed not to see the Saints. The only possible exceptions to the latter item are the two times per year that the Saints will host an AFC team (which makes it a CBS game).

As I said last time, the Chargers are the only one of the three applicants I have ever cheered for even a little bit. So not only are the Chargers not the home team now (at least not for the time being), Los Angeles is also no longer a secondary market for them.

Television tends to favor games involving a team’s divisional rivals. I have no interest in seeing the Seahawks or 49ers more often. I’ve never minded the Cardinals (another team that was previously in St. Louis) and actually am hoping they win the NFC in these playoffs, but that’s not much of a comfort. But if they stay good and Patrick Peterson and Tyran Mathieu keep playing for them, maybe they’ll solidify their spot as my #4 team (I also like the Dolphins, not that I’d see them much regardless).

The main positive is I am more likely to see the Saints when they actually play the Rams. You play teams in your conference more than you play the teams from outside of your conference (an average of once every two years vs. an average of once every four years). I might even try to save up and go to a game if the Saints come to town.

Fan Bases and History

The Rams do have a lot more history in Los Angeles than the other two options. The Raiders were only in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994, although they did get a lot of followers from that time. The Chargers were only in Los Angeles in 1960, but still being in Southern California resulted in them still having a lot of fans that aren’t too far away.

I mentioned last time that a lot of the support for the Rams has dried up, but I also mentioned fans around here can be kind of fickle. I’m sure many of the people who only recently became Chargers fans can now easily become Rams fans. Even longstanding Raiders fans may cheer for the Rams at least when it doesn’t hurt or distract from the Raiders.

I’m not sure about all the people who claim to be fans of the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, etc.; but it probably depends on whether those teams are any good in a given season. It also helps fans to move away from those teams the more removed they get from their last Super Bowl. (I know the Cowboys were a long time ago, but not as long ago as the last time Los Angeles had an NFL team.)

The NFL left the door open to a second team with the Chargers. With the elimination of the Raiders from consideration though, that avoids the huge headache of sorting out two teams of the same conference in one market, which has never been done before.

I think the Raiders are settled in Northern California, and the Chargers are settled in Southern California. So if the Chargers move, I think their San Diego fans are less likely to give up on them. If they don’t move, they’ll likely still have some fans in the outlying areas of Los Angeles who will support them.

I will be interested to see if support for the Raiders dissipates in Southern California. I think some of the Northern and Eastern parts of the Bay Area would have felt really abandoned by the NFL since the 49ers moved to the suburbs south of San Francisco.

Back To the Future: High-School Championship

In High School, History, Me on December 12, 2014 at 3:30 PM

This isn't the classification in question, but it was the best picture I could find of the trophy.

This isn’t the classification in question, but it was the best picture I could find of the trophy.

I haven’t written about high school sports since high school, but I had to comment about the high school I went to winning its first state championship since 1960. Hopefully it’s an interesting story. Some may know or be able to figure out the school, but I’ll avoid mentioning names.

What made it even stranger is that in watching the clips posted online (I subscribed to nola.com’s YouTube channel mostly for LSU content a while back), I saw a familiar face. It was the coach who had left my school in 1996. I honestly thought I was imagining things until I heard his name. He didn’t look much older either.

I’ll just call him Coach M. Since he left for a rival school, he wasn’t exactly my favorite person at the time. He did not do particularly well at that other school and had gone into other lines of work, although he had returned briefly to my school as an assistant at some point between the two stints. I would find out this was his first season back as head coach.

The administrators who were there while I was a student were all gone, so I guess that helped lessen any misgivings as well. Still, I’m sure some were skeptical he could just pick up where he had left off as a head coach. An NFL situation I thought of was Art Shell’s ill-fated return to the Raiders. Unlike Shell, however, it seems that Coach M had really kept up with the game.

I also compared it to Jim Mora (Sr.), who also left the Saints rather suddenly when I was in high school, coming back to the Saints and at least going to the Super Bowl in his first season.

Mora presided over a lot of improvement in New Orleans but was not able to win a playoff game with the Saints (although the Saints did have a first-round bye one season).

Coach M had won playoff games but had come up short on at least a couple of occasions in the semifinals. I mentioned the prior state championship had been in 1960. That was before the Saints even came into existence.

One difference is in recent years, the Saints did better than had ever done before. They won a few playoff games, won the Super Bowl one season, and made the conference championship in yet another season. But I’m pretty sure my junior year (two seasons after Coach M left) was the last time my high school had made the state semifinals. So I guess that all helps you imagine why it was so surreal.

After a bit of an upset in the quarterfinals (#6 over #3 on the road), it looked like it might be another year where they made it to the semifinals and fell short, which happened three times while I was there.

The last two games were remarkable too. In the last few seasons, my high school played really well against a rival school from the same district but ultimately came up short in both the regular season and the playoffs. That school was seeded #2 and had won the previous two state championships, as well as the district championships, and was undefeated. Somehow my school had them on the defensive all right, and my school prevailed,

In the finals, my school played a school that had 26 state titles. That school also did not exist in 1960. To be fair, it is a smaller school, so it wasn’t in the same classification in most of those years.

It was a low-scoring game with a lot of turnovers, but it seemed that the school that was used to state championships would pull it out when that school took a 14-7 lead into halftime (after a long drive to end that half) and still led 14-10 after the third quarter.

A number of second-half drives by both teams had stalled (or ended in turnovers) right outside of field-goal range, and obviously one ended in field-goal range. The other team got as close as the 25-yard line, but apparently that wasn’t quite a comfortable enough distance.

The player of the game was a running back, so the success my school had was mostly on the ground. But somehow with about 9 minutes to play, they drew up and completed a long touchdown pass of 45 yards. The team only had 112 yards of passing the entire game, including that play, against 217 rushing yards.

A combination of running down the clock and good defense took care of the rest of the game.

Normally you get more used to things like this after you find out, but due to the result, it’s only gotten more surreal since seeing that video. What adds to it is I ran (without much success) on the cross-country team in high school, and when I graduated we had never won a state championship in that sport. This was not the cross-country team’s first state title since I graduated; but it still adds to my feeling of disbelief to know my school holds what I consider the two biggest state titles of the fall, both of which seemed so elusive 10-20 years ago.