Monday Morning Update: December 5, 2016


The top four is set, the Islanders shows signs of (somewhat) intelligent life and Landon Collins finds himself on the nice list

1. Heard it from the Grapevine committee


So, now we know. The four teams still vying for the top prize in the NCAA will be (1.) Alabama (2.) Clemson (3.) Ohio State and (4.) Washington. That means the Huskies will travel to Atlanta, Georgia for the Peach Bowl against the Crimson Tide, while the Tigers and the Buckeyes will meet in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

For my money, the teams still playing for the top prize should be (1.) Alabama (2.) Clemson (3.) Washington and (4.) Penn State. (Three out of four is ok, I guess?)

Do I think these are necessarily the best four teams in college football? Probably not. Michigan and Ohio State gave us the best college football game of the year and are probably the best two teams in their conference, champions be damned.

But that’s the thing. They aren’t the champions. When you’re doing this kind of ranking, there has to be a set of standards, a set of objectively observable requirements, to get in. Otherwise, with such a small field, it descends into homerism and bias and all sorts of no-good outcomes.

So we have to default to the conference champions. We can’t let Ohio State and Michigan keep playing, while Penn State, who will wear Big 10 championship rings fair and square, goes home empty handed. There’s just no way to defend that.

My personal top four isn’t a slight on Michigan and Ohio State, but it’s what happens in the four-team system we have now.

That’s why….

2. Go for six!


Even in spite of all the agonizing over whom is and isn’t going to the college football playoff, and who should and shouldn’t be, it’s important to keep something in mind.

The college football playoff works.

Now, there are plenty of different ways to measure that, and mine is just as subjective as the next guy. But from my chair, the playoff is a success. It frames the discussion around NCAA football from the opening kickoff, it injects extra drama into the conference championship game, it delivers a satisfying end to the season, and more often than not, it should provide a strong and representative champion when its all said and done.

Note the word should at the end of that paragraph. This year has provided the perfect example that even though this format should allow the best four teams into the dance—sometimes it doesn’t. As of now, there are five power conferences and four spots, so someone is going to be left out.

So expand it to six, already! I feel like I’ve been banging this drum for weeks, dating back to even before the logjam became apparent. It gives a spot to each of the power five conference champs, with a wildcard for a midmajor or an obvious contender who did not win their league.

There will always be debates over the last in and first out, no matter how big the tournament is. The basketball version of this, with its nearly 70 qualifiers, has proved as much.

But six is a good number. It keeps the tournament from getting too wide open or lengthy by limiting the number of teams, keeps the regular season in a position of importance by rewarding conference champions, and even allows for byes for the first two finishers, adding another wrinkle to the debate.

Time to go for six.

3. Alabama shows its been here before


One more word on the college football playoff, before we get to the rest of the wide world of sports

How much swagger do Alabama and head coach Nick Saban have? The team is truly the picture of consistency and preparedness.

As ESPN opened its playoff selection show, we saw clips of “watch parties” happening at many of the schools waiting to learn whether they would find themselves in the dance. Only two teams seemed to be absent: Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes and Saban’s Crimson Tide.

Now, Meyer’s squad was given the weekend off while Meyer welcomed a grandchild, and good for him and his family. But what about Saban?

He, his staff and his ballclub could rest assured of their spot in the playoff as the consensus best team in the nation. It’s nothing new for the Crimson Tide, who are almost always in the final games of the year.

Business as usual. So Alabama decided to go about their day as they typically would, barely even acknowledging that the results would be announced. Sure enough, they were given the #1 ranking entering the postseason and went on preparing for what’s next.

Saban and his team know how to act like they’ve been there before—probably because they have.

4. Draymond should have played hockey

Draymond Green should have played hockey. His height and here-to-fore unknown skating abilities aside, he would make a brilliant agitator.

He added a pair of singles to his greatest hits this weekend, kicking Marquees Chris of the Suns in the hand after the pair made contact on the play before entering a war of words with Imam Shumpert of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe Draymond doesn’t do these things on purpose, but he does seem to have a knack for finding himself in these situations. So much so, I’m beginning to think he should invest in some skates.

It’s not that basketball doesn’t have its own proud history of world-class pains in the ass and instigators (both Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Ron Artest, everyone else in the Malice at the Palace, Charles Oakley, Lance Stephenson and Dennis Rodman would all like a word with me.)

But something about Draymond’s brand of tactics makes it seems as though he would be quite at home on the ice.

Can’t you just see him now, taking a page out of Sean Avery’s playbook as he looks to annoy Jonathan Quick or Carey Price?  Finding ways to force other players into spending time in the penalty by always being the guy to strike first, before the refs are looking, and give his opponent just enough time to return the favor as the official skates over and hands out the punishment?

Put him on the Flyers, let Radko Gudas show him the ropes, and he’ll be on the Department of Player Saftey’s “most wanted list” in no time.

5. The flight of the bumble bee teddy bears

If there is one thing hockey fans love to do more than anything else, even more than drinking, it’s throwing shit on the ice.

We throw Octopi to get hyped for playoff games. We throw hats to celebrate individual achievement. We throw jerseys to express disgust.

But my favorite thing to see thrown at a game has got to be a whole bunch of teddy bears. We got the latest episode of the annual tradition this week as the Calgary Hitmen started it off, and the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL will host a sellout crowd for their Teddy Bear Toss event in the coming weeks.

What is a teddy bear toss, you ask? Just watch the video above, but suffice to say, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Sure, you’ve likely seen this before, as this is far from the first time this has happened, and it’s become a tad cliched, but it’s still heartwarming. It’s all the goodwill of a toy drive, which is what the event truly is, with the beauty of a mass event and people coming together to throw some stuffed bears at a patch of ice.

It’s weird, it’s corny, and it’s kind of dumb. But that’s my favorite combination of traits in the world.

6. Are the Islanders back?


Things are starting to get a little better in Brooklyn. The Islanders have won 3 of their last 4 and earned points in each of those four contests, including an impressive back-to-back pair of victories over divisional powerhouses and Cup contenders the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

After the recent sprint through the schedule found some wins, the Islanders find themselves just six points south of a playoff spot, believe it or not, which translates to about a three or four game deficit in the modern NHL. I’m not naive enough to think the points streak will last forever, but if they can minimize the consecutive losses while stringing together wins? There’s still plenty of time for a surge, despite what the blog posts about the league’s schedule might have you believe.

What’s more, there mat be some improvements, or at least changes, coming to the front office. Friend of the program Arthur Staple reported this weekend the team is on the hunt for a new head of hockey operations, and a big name at that, to work alongside or replace Garth Snow (click the link above for more.)

Now, the word is the search had started before the season did, and it’s borne no fruit yet, so there’s still a way to go before any of this comes to an end. And, given that this started before the blunders did, this hire would likely work with and alongside current head Garth Snow, rather than replacing him, as many fans (including this blogger) would like.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s nice to see the new owners trying to make some improvements to a struggling club. Between that and the new winning ways, however, short-lived they may be, I’ll take what I can get.

7. The AFC picture is getting a little fuzzy


If you thought the college football finish was confusing, I’d like to introduce you to the AFC. The conference seems on the surface as if it should be inevitably filled with contenders, but I’m not so sure it is.

Its representative, the Broncos, won the Super Bowl last year! But, they’re cycling through a rotation of not-so-good QBs, and I’m not sure they can get by on Von Miller this year.

The Patriots have looked great since Brady came back! But Gronk is hurt, and the defense seems shaky, to say the least.

The Raiders are back! But, David Carr’s hand is injured, and outside of human missile Khalil Mack, their defense isn’t any better than New England’s.

The Steelers have Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’veon Bell! But, Big Ben is prone to big injuries, and a penalty-plagued and low scoring win against the Giants at Heinz Field isn’t something to get too excited about.

I’m not sure who the best team in the American Football Conference is, and anyone who tells you they are confident is either a liar or has a horse in the race.

If you put a gun to my head, I’ll always take Brady and Belichick over the field, especially considering Brady will spend the rest of his career padding his status as the most winning QB in the history of the NFL. But I’m going to hope you’ve got a blank in the chamber.

8. Nice List: Landon Collins/ Naughty List: Ereck Flowers

Editor’s note: It’s December, so we’re going to introduce a seasonal feature to the Update: the Nice and Naughty list. We’ll take a look at different teams over the next few weeks and see who’s getting a big box under the tree, and who’s just finding coal. We’ll start with a pair of Giants’ first two picks from the 2015 draft, Ereck Flowers, and Landon Collins.

Nice List: Landon Collins


If there is any Giant guaranteed to get the #1 item on his Christmas List this year, it’s the second round product of Saban’s Alabama program.

He showed fits and spurts of both high and low caliber play during his rookie year with the Giants, but his maturing quickly in his second year. He’s got interceptions in four of the team’s last five games and a total of five on the season, including a few that ended in six points. Those starts are no accident, either, but the product of some top notch coverage work from the young safety.

As I wrote last week, there’s one list Collins should already be on, and that’s the watch list for the Defensive Player of the Year award. I won’t restate his case here (although his interception tally above is a large part of it), but I will reiterate what, to me, is the most important bullet on his resume:

  • Has won multiple games almost singlehandedly.

Even in the loss, even without a pick, Collins still powered a stringent defensive effort that deserved better than what Eli, the offensive line and the rest of the attack unit brought (more on that in a moment.) He was instrumental in limiting the Steelers to the 21 points they did tally.

If McAdoo finds himself in the playoffs in his first season in the league, he’s largely got Collins to thank for that. He’ll probably have even more to thank Collins for if the Giants find success in the postseason.

Naughty List: Ereck Flowers

Jaguars Giants Football

If there is any Giant guaranteed to make me scream at my television at some point on a Sunday, it’s the Giants’ first pick in the 2015 draft, o-lineman Ereck Flowers.

When Flowers was drafted, it was cheered as an intelligent pick, and I was hopeful that the Giants might finally help protect Eli with the addition of the Miami guard. I was very wrong.

If Flowers’ name is called or his picture shown on your television screen, it’s almost certainly for a bad reason. Typically, he’s either getting beaten by a defensive lineman, committing a penalty to keep himself from getting beaten, or committing a penalty in an unsuccessful attempt to keep from getting beaten. His misdeeds reached a height this week, when he surrendered the game’s first two points via a holding penalty turned safety.

The Giants’ biggest problem this year has probably been the play of the offensive line, and Flowers is surely a chief culprit. The Giants surely shared my hopes for a stonewalled future led by Flowers, and instead, the running game is nonexistent, and Eli has been under attack throughout the Hurricane’s second season in New York/New Jersey.

If the Giants falter through the rest of the campaign, as they did in a loss to the Steelers today, and miss the playoffs, look for Flowers and the offensive line to be at fault when the season concludes.

9. The Giants’ offense takes a big (blue) step backward

Earlier this season, I said the Giants stink. Last week, I said I was still unsure about just how good they were, but I was reserving judgment, and we’d know more about this year’s iteration of the Giants.

Well, here we are, and now we know at least a little more. Are the Giants for real? I’m not ready to say they stink again, given the resurgence of the defense under Steve Spagnuolo, but the offense has serious flaws, flaws deep enough to cost them a season.

I love when Eli Manning and Ben Rothelsburger face off because it serves as a reminder of just how good that 2004 draft class was, with Eli and Ben’s two rings each serving as the peak. But Rothlesburger has the edge as the pair enters the twilight of their career, and it was on display last night.

I have Eli a full-throated defense this summer, and will still defend his career as a whole, but there is no doubting his regression this year. He’s throwing interceptions at the worst times, with two more near the end zone this week, and looks shaky at best. The offensive line is certainly not helping #10, but he’s the franchise QB, and the buck stops with him.

If the Giants hope to not just make the playoffs, but make a run at the Lombardi, Eli needs to pick his play up.

10. One more victory lap for Rob Manfred and the MLB 


It’s the return of the fabled 10th spot!

I was a little nervous a few Saturdays ago when I published my ranking of the big four sports commissioners.

I put baseball chief Rob Manfred in the second spot, ahead of Roger Goodell and Gary Bettman, respectively, been though so much remained unknown about his tenure. I was nervous because we were about to learn more about Manfred, with his first test looming.

Turns out, I need not worry because Manfred had it all under control. He settled the CBA with the MLBPA just as the deadline expired, and baseball not only missed no practice or game hours, but managed to avoid canceling even the annual Winter Meetings between team executives. He oversaw some common sense moves like the end of the All-Star Game/HFA disaster and generally handled the whole thing with reason, calmness, and the knowledge the sport was coming off its highest point in perhaps a decade.

This certainly bodes well for my rankings, and for baseball as a whole. The American sports and sports media landscapes are shifting rapidly. We’ve seen what frequent game stoppages can do to a league like the NHL, and the MLB seems to have done a good job of avoiding its past mistakes.

Baseball is positioning itself well of whatever brave new world sports is headed for with Manfred at the helm.



3 thoughts on “Monday Morning Update: December 5, 2016

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