Will Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts be able to navigate the defense of the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl?
When outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict pursued a career in the National Football League in 2012, there were not too many people who were ready to dispute his play making ability. In 2010, Burfict was named as the Pac-12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and he became the first player at Arizona State to be named a first-team All-American since Terrell Suggs in 2002. But that resume could not prevent Burfict from going undrafted by the NFL in 2012.
When Burfict’s junior season at Arizona State began in 2011, some scouts had him pegged as a potential top-five pick, but several off-the-field issues which included a positive test for marijuana at the National Football League’s Scouting Combine as well as poor interviews with teams turned many people off. Burfict went undrafted, but he would soon find a home with the Cincinnati Bengals who were willing to take a chance on him.
The Bengals were the worst possible team that Burfict could have agreed to play for due to their recent checkered history. Since the mid-2000’s, the Bengals organization have seen some of their players in the news for the wrong reasons due to their numerous run-ins with law enforcement. The situation had gotten so bad that at one point National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell personally visited the entire team to speak to them. Bringing in Burfict has not changed the image for the Bengals as the player who was dubbed by some scouts as a loose cannon is consistently making the teams that passed on him look very smart.
In 2013, Burfict made the first and only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. But since Burfict came to the National Football League, he has become the league’s poster boy for on-the-field misconduct. Since 2012, Burfict has been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, or unnecessary roughness a combined 19 times. Burfict has been fined by the NFL on several occasions with his fines total now close to the $1 million mark. One of Burfict’s most notable incidents occurred during the AFC Wild Card Game in January 2016 when he was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for the cheap shot that he delivered on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The foul occurred at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, and that along with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul by Bengals cornerback Adam “PacMan” Jones put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal as Cincy was denied an opportunity to win their first playoff game since January 1991.
Burfict began this season in street clothes as he was suspended by the National Football League for the first three games due to a hit that he delivered on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the preseason. The time off didn’t see Burfict change his ways as in his first game back he was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty versus the Cleveland Browns. In Week 10, Burfict was ejected from the Bengals game versus the Tennessee Titans after making contact with an official. Burfict was attempting to state his case with the official after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and even though that he had a reason to gripe, he can’t make contact with the official. Burfict didn’t help his case as upon his exit from the field in Nashville, he made gestures towards the crowd which included the Johnny Manziel “money” symbol.
But what is equally as disturbing as Burfict’s antics on the field is that the Bengals are still giving him a paycheck. On two separate occasions the Bengals have given Burfict contract extensions with the most recent instance coming this past September where he was given a three-year extension for $38.68 million. And by the Bengals giving Burfict an extension show that this organization is not committed to winning.
Former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs was adamant about being unable to win with guys who lacked character. And it is hard to argue with Gibbs as he’s the only head coach in National Football League history to win three Super Bowl Championships with three different starting quarterbacks. And this is something that the Bengals have not learned as their organization has become a refuge for undisciplined players such as Burfict.
The perfect time for the Bengals to have cut ties with Burfict was following the playoff loss to the Steelers. The Bengals had the game won, but Burfict went out of his way to see that this would not be the case as issues with a player’s character always seem to rise to the surface at the most inopportune time.
Instead the Bengals have given Burfict a platform to exude his disruptive behavior, while they’ve also let him know that his antics are accepted. Burfict’s continuous missteps also show that there is not any accountability within the Bengals organization as his actions as well as the consistent losing along with the lack of playoff victories illustrates that this franchise is not committed to winning.
With a record of 4-6, the Bengals still find themselves in the mix for one of the wild card spots in the AFC as they along with five other teams are just one game behind for the final postseason berth in the conference. But just like Burfict’s antics showed up in the playoffs versus the Steelers, and led to him being suspended for the first three games of this season, as well as being disqualified against the Titans, he will cost the Bengals again. And that date and time will be sooner rather than later as a leopard never changes its spots, or in this case, a Bengal never changes his stripes.
When former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became part of the ownership group that purchased the Miami Marlins earlier this year, you expected changes to be coming to South Florida. Jeter is now the Marlins CEO as well as having a 20% ownership stake in the franchise. Jeter won five World Series Championships with the Yankees as he was the greatest winner of his era in baseball. And as Jeter is seeking to change the culture for the Marlins and mold them into the Yankees of the South, he is evaluating each and every player on the roster that he inherited.
One thing that the Marlins can hang their hats on is that they have one of the game’s best power hitters on their roster in outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. For eight years Stanton has morphed into the best power hitter that the Marlins have had in their 25 years as a Major League Baseball franchise. Stanton has 267 career home runs which was paced by his record setting 2017 campaign.
This past season Stanton led Major League Baseball in home runs with 59 and in the process he became the first player in Marlins franchise history to be named as the National League’s MVP. On the surface Stanton appears to be the quintessential player for the Marlins to build their team around. At 6’5″, 245 lbs., Stanton is an imposing figure as a power hitter, and when he is hot at the plate, there is nobody like him in baseball. But those attributes have not guaranteed Stanton a spot on the Marlins roster for 2018.
In 2014, Stanton signed a lucrative 13-year, $325 million extension from the Marlins. Stanton’s extension was the largest in North American sports history and it was also back loaded. In each of Stanton’s first two years of his deal, he only received $6.5 million, while this past season he earned $14.5 million. But things will change at the start of next season as he is set to earn at least $25 million in base salary per season for the remainder of the contract. Stanton also has an opt-out clause in his deal following the 2020 Major League Baseball season when he’ll be 30-years of age. And as Stanton will still be in the prime of his career, it would be prudent for him to opt-out in order to secure another big pay day. Stanton’s production as well as his hefty salary have made Jeter think twice in regards to trading him which has made things rather interesting this off-season in Miami.
If the Marlins were to trade Stanton, it would free up salary, while also putting some prospects into their system, but be careful what you ask for. In order to trade Stanton, it means that the Marlins would need a big market team to deal with. The Yankees don’t need the services of Stanton as they have their own slugger who plays right field that is chiseled out of granite in Aaron Judge who last week was named as the American League’s Rookie of the Year. And if the Marlins are completely intent on trading Stanton, he has already let it be known that he won’t accept a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals or Boston Red Sox which changes things as far as him being traded to a big market team.
But there is always the possibility of the Los Angeles Dodgers being a landing spot for Stanton. For the past few years the Dodgers have not paid attention to Major League Baseball’s luxury tax as their team payroll is consistently north of $200 million. However the Dodgers already have a right fielder in the form of Yasiel Puig. Puig is coming off of his best season as he batted .263 to go along with 28 home runs and 74 runs batted in. Unfortunately for Puig he has been an enigma during his time with the Dodgers as he has been known to lose focus at times which has led to him being suspended as well as getting into confrontations with his teammates. Puig is set to enter the final year of his contract, and the Dodgers could be looking to move on from him, while also getting a bigger power bat in their lineup.
The Dodgers were able to win 104 games this past season, while also winning the National League Pennant for the first time since 1988. However in the World Series, the Dodgers would lose to the Houston Astros in the seven games. The Dodgers hit 10 home runs during the World Series compared to 15 by the Astros. And unfortunately for the Dodgers , many of their homers during the series were of the solo variety which don’t do that much damage as they are missing that feared power hitter like Stanton in the middle of their lineup.
Acquiring Stanton would be a match made in heaven for the Dodgers. Stanton grew up in the Los Angeles area as he was born in Panorama City. Stanton is a star and his arrival in Los Angeles would be welcomed with open arms.
The Los Angeles Angels just re-signed outfielder Justin Upton, while the New York Mets have a litany of injury issues that they must address before they can think about adding any pieces. The Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Philadelphia Phillies are in full rebuilding mode, while the Chicago Cubs and Astros who have won the last two World Series Titles will each soon have to focus on re-signing their young stars. And this leaves the San Francisco Giants along with the Seattle Mariners as the only other big market clubs that could be in line to potentially acquire Stanton.
The Giants were only able to win 64 games this past season as they were tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in Major League Baseball. But the Giants have displayed a winning pedigree as they have been able to win three World Series Championships this decade. The Giants have lacked a consistent power hitter since the days of Barry Bonds. But are the Giants ready to contend again?
The Giants were 14th in the National League in batting last season (.249), on-base percentage (.309), and runs scored (639), while they were dead last in home runs with just 128. The Giants pitching staff didn’t help things either as their team earned run average of 4.50 was eighth in the N.L. Acquiring Stanton would be one piece for the Giants, but it would not be enough to instantly make them contenders once again.
As far as things go for the Mariners, they have the longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball. You have to go back to 2001 to find the last time in which the Mariners were postseason bound. The Mariners have come close to getting back to the playoffs on several occasions, but they’ve always found a way to come up short. The Mariners have talent in the middle of their lineup with designated hitter Nelson Cruz and second baseman Robinson Cano, But as Cruz is 37-years of age, while Cano is 35, Seattle needs a younger player that can carry this team and ultimately get them to the playoffs.
It’s not a guarantee that the Marlins will trade Stanton as Jeter is only going to make a deal which is in the best interest of his club. And with the Yankees and Red Sox not expected to be involved in attempting to acquire Stanton, that bidding war won’t be as substantial. Stanton is still owed $310 million on his deal which means this if his new potential team were to take on the bulk of his salary, they would not be parting with that many prospects. And the cherry on top is that Stanton also has the ability to opt out of his current deal following the conclusion of the 2020 Major League Baseball season which is something else that teams must also account for.
This situation is far from resolved, but if Stanton is not traded by the start of spring training, expect him to spend the entirety of the upcoming Major League Baseball season in a Marlins uniform. And even if Jeter does not deal Stanton, it won’t effect the sluggers play as he understands the business side of things.
The 2017 Major League Baseball season came to an end earlier this month with the Houston Astros crowned as World Series Champions. The Astros along with the Los Angeles Dodgers were the two participants in this year’s Fall Classic as they each one 100 games. But the modern version of MLB’s Playoff format is different from your father’s version as parity is now the king which has seen teams who were not overwhelmingly dominant like the Astros and Dodgers were in the regular season qualify and win it all. More than ever it is a free-for-all to qualify for the playoffs as of the ten teams that made the postseason here in 2017, five of those clubs failed to qualify last year. This group was highlighted by the Minnesota Twins who lost 103 games in 2016, and became the first team in MLB history to make the playoffs immediately following a 100-loss campaign. The additional wild card spot as well as the luxury tax are two features that MLB has recently implemented in order to even the playing field. And since 2008, all but three MLB teams have failed to make the postseason with the Seattle Mariners at the top of this very short list.
You have to go back to 2001 to find the last time in which the Mariners were able to make the playoffs. That year Seattle tied the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most single-season wins in Major League Baseball history with 116. However things would not work out for the M’s in the postseason as they were eliminated by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series in six games. Each of the next two years would see Seattle win 93 games, but fall short of qualifying for the playoffs. And since then the opportunities have been few and far between in regards to the Mariners ending their streak.
The Mariners were consistently inconsistent this year as they finished 78-84. Injuries in the starting rotation as well as an overall lack of pitching did them in. The Mariners team earned run average of 4.46 was eighth in the American League, while their 62 quality starts were 13th. No Mariners starting pitcher made at least 30 starts this season, while starting pitcher James Paxton led the club in victories with just 12. Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings are right around the corner and for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, he’ll head to Orlando knowing that he must bolster the team’s pitching staff going forward, while also coming to grips with certain things.
At the age of 31, starting pitcher Felix Hernandez is not the dominant force that he once was as he is beginning to break down. In 2014, Hernandez led the American in earned run average (2.14) for the second time in his career. But after Hernandez won 18 games for Seattle in 2015, his career begun to spiral downwards. Over the last two years Hernandez has only combined to make 41 starts compared to the 31 that he made in 2015. Hernandez is the Mariners all-time leader in strikeouts with 2,243, but he can no longer be counted on to be a front line starter.
There will be quality pitchers on the free agent market during the winter which includes Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta as well as Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish, but will Dipoto have the flexibility to spend the money?
The Mariners already have more than $113 million committed to salary next season, but they need another arm in their starting rotation as well as another bat for their lineup.
The Mariners offense was a middle of the road unit this year in the American League. Second baseman Robinson Cano is still a quality hitter, while designated hitter Nelson Cruz continues to defy the odds at the age of 37 as he led the team in home runs (39), and runs batted (119) which also led the American League. The M’s also have some additional pop in their lineup in the form of third baseman Corey Seager who belted 27 homers, while driving in 88 runs this past season. But this pop didn’t prevent the Mariners from being seventh in the A.L. this is past season in runs scored (750), while they were 10th in home runs with 200.
With an ownership change by the Miami Marlins, it has become common knowledge that they are open to trading outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton led the National League in home runs this past season with 59 as well as runs batted in with 132 en route to being named as the N.L. MVP yesterday. But with Stanton set to earn $25 million in base salary for next season, the Marlins could be ready to shop him instead of keeping a star player on a team that is a perennial loser.
The Mariners and Dipoto need to make a splash in order to show the rest of the American League West that they are serious about contending in 2018, as well as reigniting their fan base. The City of Seattle has rallied around the Seahawks of the National Football League in recent years as well as the Sounders of Major League Soccer. Both the Sounders and Seahawks have won league championships during this decade and the M’s cannot afford to fall any further behind them.
Pulling out all of the stops to acquire Stanton would be huge for the Mariners, but will all parties be open to it as Stanton has already let it be known that he won’t accept a trade to the Boston Red Sox or St. Louis Cardinals.
The Mariners can also go the route of signing Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani who has starred in recent years in The Land of the Rising Sun as both a pitcher and hitter. And the Mariners organization once had success in signing a Japanese player as outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was one of the best players in the franchise’s history.
But anyway that you slice it the Winter Meetings next month will kick start a very important stretch for the Mariners. By far the M’s have the longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball, while they along with the Washington Nationals are the only franchises to have never appeared in the World Series. Parity and the luxury tax have made it easier for clubs to get to the postseason, but that party has yet to reach the Pacific Northwest.
For years the Los Angeles Rams were among the elite teams in the National Football League. During the 1970’s, the Rams won seven consecutive NFC West Championships, while earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearances in 1979. The Rams would continue to be competitive throughout the 1980’s as they made a pair of appearances in the NFC Championship Game. But by the 1990’s, the Rams had fallen on hard times as from 1990-1994, they lost at least 10 games in each season. And if the losing wasn’t bad enough, former Rams owner Georgia Frontiere decided to move her team to St. Louis, Missouri in 1995 when she was unable to secure a new stadium for her the club in Orange County. And with the Rams in a new city with a brand new state-of-the-art facility in the Trans World Dome, they would win their first and only Super Bowl Title in 1999.
In St. Louis, the Rams were paced by “The Greatest Show on Turf” which consisted of quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, as well as wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. From 1999-2001, the Rams would win 37 games as they were one of the most popular teams in the National Football League.
But as quick as the Rams ascended to being one of the best teams in the National Football League, their decline was as rapid. The 2004 NFL season would mark the last time that the Rams made the playoffs as the rest of their stay in St. Louis was marred by an ownership change, poor attendance, wasted draft picks, and consistent futility on the football field.
In 2010, businessman Stan Kroenke purchased controlling interest in the Rams from the estate of Frontiere who had passed away in 2008. And from the moment that Kroenke began running the show for the Rams, it was all about him attempting to find a way to get his team out of Dodge.
Kroenke wanted a new stadium for the Rams, and although that the City of St. Louis had good deals on the table, he along with the majority of the other National Football League team owners wanted to put the team back in Los Angeles. And in early 2016, that became the new reality as the Rams announced that they were heading back to Los Angeles.
There was excitement for the Rams returning to Los Angeles after their 22-year hiatus from Southern California. But this excitement would soon be tapered as the Rams went 4-12 during their first season back in Los Angeles and it appeared to be another dose of the same old Rams.
In 2016, the Rams would mortgae their future to move up to the first overall slot in the National Football League Draft in order to select quarterback Jared Goff. Goff came into the NFL with some hype attached to him, but his first go round in the NFL had all of the symptoms of him being a bust. Goff would go winless in seven starts for the Rams which included him throwing 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and completing 54.6% of his passes.
However all of the Rams faults could not be placed on the shoulders of the young Goff. The Rams were an undisciplined team who took on the look of their head coach Jeff Fisher. But as the Rams appeared to symbolize a classic Hollywood box office flop, things would drastically change during the off-season.
After Fisher was fired, the Rams would hire Sean McVay to be their new head coach. McVay was only 31-years of age, but he commanded respect from his first day on the job which was important for an undisciplined team that has consistently been among the most penalized teams in recent years in the National Football League.
McVay spent the last three years as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins and his top priority upon taking over the Rams was to work with Goff, which he has been able to do.
This season Goff is much more comfortable in the pocket as he is completing more than 61% of his passes, while throwing 16 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions. This improvement included Goff being named as the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week for Week 9 when he was 14-of-22 passing for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Rams cruised to the 51-17 victory over the New York Giants.
A big reason for the improved play of Goff is that Rams general manager Les Snead has done a solid job of putting a good team around the franchise’s starting quarterback. After a down 2016 campaign, running back Todd Gurley is once again showing the ability that made him the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015. Gurley is currently fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 754, while he leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 7. During the off-season the Rams signed veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to give the unit some experience, while also bringing in a pair of former Buffalo Bills wide receivers who were looking new life in Los Angeles.
In 2013, Robert Woods was a second-round pick of the Bills, but he was never able to live up expectations. Woods is a native of Gardena, California, while he played collegiately for the Southern California Trojans. Woods is now back in Southern California and playing on the same field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that saw him be one of the best pass catchers in the nation. Now Woods is enjoying a career year with the Rams as he is on pace to gain 1,000 yards receiving in a season for the first time as a professional.
In 2014, the Bills traded up in the first round of the National Football League Draft to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins never became the impact player that the Bills envisioned him to be: which was not completely his fault due to the fact that the organization has had consistent issues at the quarterback position. In nine games with the Rams, Watkins’ numbers are not eye popping as he only has 21 receptions for 372 yards. However with the Rams, Watkins doesn’t have to be the guy as he can simply focus on being one of the guys due to the fact that he is playing on a team that has depth on offense.
And when you add up all of the adjustments on offense for the Rams, they have gone from having the worst offense in the National Football League last season to the third ranked unit in the league this season.
Even under Fisher, defensive football has long been what the Rams have hung their hats on. The Rams have taken a slight dip in total defense from last season as they were ninth in the National Football League last season in the category compared to 14th this season. But this slight dip won’t prevent the Rams from doing some big things coming down the stretch of the regular season and potentially in the playoffs.
For more than 40 years Wade Phillips has coached in the National Football League; primarily as a defensive coordinator. The past two years saw Phillips serve as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Under Phillips, the Broncos had one of the top defenses in the NFL which led to them winning Super Bowl 50.
With the Rams, Phillips has inherited another strong defense which includes the likes of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, and free safety LaMarcus Joyner. The Rams have given up a combined 51 points in their last five games and by the time that the season finishes, they should once again be ranked in top ten for fewest yards allowed.
Donald is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the National Football League as his ability to rush the passer and take on double teams opens things up for the linebackers playing behind him which is invaluable. A contract dispute saw Donald sit out training camp, but upon his return there is no disputing that he is the leader of the team’s defense.
This sudden uprising by the Rams has given Kroenke and the National Football League what they needed which was support for this team once again in Los Angeles. There were fans who were happy to see the Rams return to Los Angeles last year, but the City of Angels has long been a place that will support a winner, while being lukewarm at best to a team which is not contending. The Rams illustrated this last year when they went 4-12 as following their home opener which was a sellout at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, their home attendance tapered. But now attendance is back on the rise which is important for the Rams who will be moving into a new stadium in Inglewood in a few years as they need fan support from the Greater Los Angeles area.
The Rams have been able to take advantage of having a weak schedule as their first three opponents this season failed to make the playoffs in 2016. But beginning this Sunday things will be changing for the Rams as five of their next six opponents are either division leaders of in second place. However winning cures everything as it has made it easier for the young McVay to get his message across as the wins have been piling up. Barring something unforeseen the Rams are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and one thing that we have learned so far from this team is that these aren’t the same old Rams.