Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 14 Edition

Green Bay finally decided to move on from Mike McCarthy and Browns fans should be very nervous!

Welcome back to Tuesday Morning Tilt here at The Combine! There’s no new Dwight Howard developments, so I guess we’ll have to make due with what we’ve got. As we head into Week 14 of the NFL season, some coaches seats are getting hot and one cat that was long overdue got stone-cold ejected after a brutal loss. No point in beating around the bush…away we go!

Mike McCarthy Fired in Green Bay

Congratulations Packers fans, you are minus one huge asshole on the Frozen Tundra this week! I lost my cool about Mike McCarthy in this column a few weeks ago and now here we are. After losing to the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Fucking Field, Green Bay decided enough was enough and sent McCarthy packing. The fans have known this guy was an idiot for years and management finally woke up after losing at home to the Josh Rosen-led juggernaut that is the Cardinals offense.

How do you have a losing record with Aaron Rodgers at QB?!? Serious question…when was the last time you watched a Packers game and came away saying, “Boy, that Rodgers really sucked today. He blew that one for the Pack!” The answer is…almost never, because Rodgers is awesome. Another question… when was the last time you watched a Packers game and came away saying, “Jesus, McCarthy is fucking terrible! Aaron Jones gained 70 yards on five damn carries, why the hell are they playing Jamal Williams?” The answer is…almost every week for the last two seasons.

I don’t give a damn what coach Green Bay hires, they will win 10 games next year if Rodgers is healthy. Ok…maybe not with Jeff Fisher, but any other coach they could possibly hire wins 10 games. Ok…maybe not John Fox, he fucking sucks too. Ok…any coach other than Jeff Fisher or John Fox will auto-win 10 games with Green Bay next year. Since Fisher and Fox probably won’t get the job (although more idiotic things have happened in the NFL), let’s take a look at the five guys that would be the most awesome choices:

#1. Jon Gruden: How amazing would it be for Gruden to just totally troll the Raiders in this spot? Oakland gave him a 10-year, $100 million contract with almost total control of the organization less than a year ago and Gruden has spent his every waking hour since taking the job blowing up the Raiders roster by trading every decent player Oakland had. He has put once-promising QB Derek Carr through psychological torture that would break the most hardened CIA operative and has been in full-blown tank mode since Week 4. What if he left Oakland with this huge dumpster fire that he created, in order to go coach Aaron Rodgers in his old Green Bay stomping grounds? Raiders owner Mark Davis might commit suicide if this happened.

#2. Kliff Kingbury: The recently fired Texas Tech coach is an offensive genius. He’s also perhaps the best looking football coach in history. I need this to happen just to see how many chicks Kingsbury and Rodgers could nail in the great state of Wisconsin. These two bros would be snapping necks and cashing checks in the NFC North, until Kingsbury gets caught banging Danica Patrick and the whole operation goes off the rails.

#3. Bruce Arians: I always mention Bruce Arians for every head coaching job, just because I think he’s an awesome dude.

#4. Jim Harbaugh: This is the only potential candidate on this list that could legitimately get the job. Things haven’t worked out for the Michigan man at his alma matter and Harbaugh might be better suited to the NFL game. It seems like an eternity ago, but he did take the lowly Niners to three conference championship games in four years. Would there ever be a better opportunity to come back to the NFL than the Green Bay Packers with Rodgers at QB? I would love to see what kind of crazy shit this milk-drinking bastard would come up with in the cheese capital of the world.

#5. Matt Nagy: What better way to give the ultimate middle finger to your oldest rival than to steal the best coach they’ve had in decades? The Bears are a storied franchise that has had some terrible head coaches over the last several years. I think it was pretty much universally agreed upon by Bears fans that even though Lovie Smith took them to a Super Bowl, he still sucked. The guy that was coaching in the CFL before getting the job? John Fox? Give me a break! It seems like Chicago has finally found a keeper in first-year coach Matt Nagy, who has made great strides with the Bears QB of the future Mitch Trubisky. The Packers could rip the heart out of an entire city by luring Nagy to Lambeau.

I’m not sure who will end up coaching the Green Bay Packers next year, but it sure as hell won’t be Mike McCarthy…and for that Packer fans can be thankful this holiday season. Unfortunately, Cleveland Browns fans should start getting really, really, nervous. I’m afraid that if McCarthy comes to town, you will have years of Baker Mayfield being completely wasted. Here’s my advice to the Browns organization: DON’T HIRE THIS FUCKING IDIOT! There you go Cleveland, I tried to help. In my opinion, the perfect job for McCarthy would be the L.A. Chargers. The Chargers are so used to underachieving with a great quarterback that McCarthy could get in a nice five or six years on the job before anybody even noticed that he was there.

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Top Five Surprises of the Young NBA Season

Joe Nicely takes a look at the five biggest surprises of the young NBA season.

The NBA season is underway and with most teams having around 20 games under their belts, we can kinda, sorta see some things taking shape through the first quarter of the season. The huge offseason news was LeBron James joining the Lakers and after all the hype we’ve heard about it, it’s honestly been…kinda boring. Though LeBron in L.A. has been a snoozefest, we’ve seen some other things happen around the league that have been very interesting. In the words of my friend and Combine colleague Spencer Aguiar, “Dwight Howard should’ve had a 99 rating in ball handling on NBA 2K this whole time!” Let’s take a look at the five biggest other surprises of the NBA season…so far.

#5. Kawhi Leonard’s Impact

We all thought that Kawhi Leonard was capable of being a true superstar, but damn!  Leonard has announced his presence with authority in Toronto. After all the drama that went down in San Antonio last year, NBA fans were left with a lot of questions about Leonard, who seemed at best mercurical and at worst a legit head case, after feuding with legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich last season (the feud has spilled over into this season, through the media). While we don’t yet have a definitive answer to some of the off-the-court questions, Leonard’s play on the court is speaking for itself.

Leonard and the revamped Raptors have come out of the gate firing with a league-best 20-4 record. The combination of Leonard’s arrival and Nick Nurse’s promotion have been a shot in the arm for an organization that has continuously banged its head into the Eastern Conference playoff glass ceiling. We knew that LeBron’s departure would create a power vacuum in the East, but most of us assumed the Boston Celtics would take control of the conference in short order. Instead, the new-look Raptors have leaped to the top of the heap. It’s extremely early and Toronto has a long way to go. We’ve seen them dominate in the regular season, only to falter in the playoffs before. They need to keep Leonard healthy (he’s missed six games for precautionary reasons) and secure home court advantage.

The elephant in the room for Toronto is what happens with Leonard after this season when he becomes a free agent. Though the Raptors currently appear to be a better team with Leonard, they did take a huge risk when they traded for him. Toronto gave up an excellent player in DeMar DeRozan to acquire Leonard. The Raptors have no guarantee that Leonard will stay north of the border past this season. It will be interesting to see what Toronto can pull off in what amounts to a “do or die” season.

 

#4. The Sacramento Kings

There isn’t going to be a championship parade in Cow Town anytime soon, but the Kings actually look…talented. DeMarcus Cousins ain’t walking through that door, but that might not be a bad thing. For the first time, it looks as though the Kings side of the Cousins trade might not be completely horrible.

Buddy Hield, the much-maligned player at the center of the Cousins deal, has come out firing this season. Hield is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes in 2018 and is starting to resemble the electrifying player we saw at Oklahoma. De’Aaron Fox, whom the Kings selected behind Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, has looked superior to both so far. Fox is averaging over 17 points and seven assists per game, and is an absolute blur with the ball in his hands. The Kings selected Marvin Bagley with the number two overall pick in this year’s draft. While passing on Luca Doncic seems to be a big mistake at the moment, Bagley has played very well when he’s seen the court and should be a key part of the Kings core moving forward. Sacremento’s other big man, Willie Cauley-Stein, is another King that’s posting career-best stats this season.

A .500 record won’t get you anywhere in the Western Conference, but it’s refreshing to see an organization at least attempt to build a young core through the draft in this era of “super teams” that are stocked with free-agent mercenaries that are trying to check “winning a championship ring” off their to-do lists.

 

#3. Boston Stumbles Out of the Gate, While The Clippers Start Hot

When I talked above about the Toronto Raptors strong start, I mentioned that the Boston Celtics were the team everyone assumed would grab the top spot in the East. That may very well end up being the case, but the Celts have gotten off to a very rocky .500 start. You can read an amazing in-depth breakdown about Boston’s struggles here, but the Cliffs Notes version is that Brad Stevens, a coach that has made a career out of exceeding expectations with limited talent, is struggling with the most talented roster he’s ever had.

The Celtics have a lot of talented parts that haven’t added up to a great whole…yet. Stevens is one of the sharpest coaches in basketball and will get things figured out by the time the playoffs roll around, but the emergence of teams like the Raptors, Bucks, and Sixers are going to make a Boston coronation, that once seemed like a foregone conclusion, much more difficult than anticipated just a couple of months ago.

Even after all these years, Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics still seem to be linked. After his amazing run with the Celtics, Doc headed west to coach a talented Clippers roster. Now in his sixth season with the Clippers, Rivers has seen stars like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Deandre Jordan leave town.

In sort of an inverse situation as Boston’s Stevens, Rivers has the least talented roster of his Clippers tenure. Doc has surprisingly led this group to a 15-7 start, good for second in the Western Conference. Talented players like Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, and Montrezl Harrell that have bounced around the league, have found a home in L.A. Rivers has veterans Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly, along with human meme Boban Marjanovic, anchoring a surprisingly effective second unit. It’s not likely that this collection of misfits can keep pace in the high-octane West, but it will be fun to watch Rivers and this group of NBA castaways try to keep up with the big boys.

 

#2. Golden State Might Be Human

You know the part in Rocky IV when Rocky finally connects with a punch and cuts Drago? When he comes back to the corner Duke says, “You see? He’s not a machine, he’s a man!”

I kind of feel like the Warriors are Ivan Drago. They’ve been destroying people for years, but they’ve been cut above the eye in this young season. Injuries and in-fighting have been the biggest culprit of Golden State’s lackluster month and like Drago, the Warriors are still awesome, but I think the other teams in the NBA are seeing they are at least human.

It’s probably not fair to even suggest that the Warriors are anything other than phenomenal. Five of their seven losses have come with Steph Curry out of the lineup, while Draymond Green has been in street clothes for four of the Warriors losses.

Chances are, the Warriors will be just fine and win yet another championship this season, but it is interesting to see a chink in their armor. It feels like this might be the last season that we see this team as it’s currently constructed, with Kevin Durant almost certain to sign a long-term deal elsewhere. This team has been historically good and it will be fun to see them make one last run in the postseason.

 

#1. Jimmy Buckets To Philly

After a much-heralded reunion with Tom Thibodeou, his former coach in Chicago, things imploded in Minnesota over the summer. Butler held up his end of the bargain last season, taking the Timberwolves to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The four-time All-Star led Minnesota in scoring and attempted to light a competitive fire under the talented duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Despite the talented nucleus that Minnesota possessed, the ultra-competitive Butler began to feel that neither Towns nor Wiggins had what it would take to win a championship. Butler’s unhappiness became public in mid-September when it was publicized that he had requested a trade. This was punctuated by the now-legendary practice in October, when Butler showed up to the Wolves facility and went scorched earth on everyone in attendance.

While Butler is a highly desirable player, his contract situation made dealing him difficult. A player option to become a free-agent after this season spooked possible trade suitors. The two teams that we kept hearing about as likely destinations for Butler were Houston and Miami. The one team that we never heard about, until the trade was complete, was the Philadelphia 76ers.

Sometimes the most obvious solutions to problems don’t dawn on us until after the problem is solved. This was the case with the Butler-to-Philly deal. The young, up-and-coming Sixers were reportedly looking to add another star to their dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but no one had connected the dots to Butler. Philly thought they added this third piece through the draft with their selection of Markelle Fultz with the number one pick in 2017, but Fultz’s stay in Philly has been a bizarre disaster.

With LeBron James’ departure from the East, the Sixers front office is looking to seize control of the conference now. Their willingness to gamble on Butler signals their belief that they can compete for the Eastern Conference title this year. It’s also a sign that Philly believes in the mental makeup of both Embiid and Simmons, and their ability to withstand Butler’s Jordan-esque competitiveness and demanding personality.

I’m not sure if it has yet dawned on Butler that this might be his last chance to play the part of savior for a team. If he can’t make things work both off and on the court with this talented young Sixers roster, then we might start believing that he’s the real problem. Both Embiid and Simmons are legitimate MVP-caliber talents, the question now is whether they will wilt under Butler’s pressure or be driven to championship heights by it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 13

Joe Nicely digs into the Cleveland Browns, Dwight Howard, and Thanksgiving in an all-new Tuesday Morning Tilt.

What’s up guys? Welcome to Tuesday Morning Tilt here at The Combine, where I talk about some interesting things that happened over the weekend, both in life and sports. Couple of real cool topics this week, let’s dive in!

No Pressure Cleveland

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I think the Cleveland Browns have finally found their “Franchise Quarterback” in Baker Mayfield. The brash rookie was dealing Sunday against the Bengals, destroying Cincy and giving the Browns their first road win in like 27 years or something. There are a couple of things I want to dive into here, but the most important message I want to get across is…DON’T FUCK THIS UP CLEVELAND!

The Browns have drafted and drafted and traded and drafted and signed free agents, pretty much everything you can think of in their seemingly eternal search for a QB to build around. Mayfield looks the part and appears to be a legit long-term solution. The question now is what to do once you’ve found your savior QB?

It gives me some hope for the future of the Browns that they were willing to fire Hue Jackson mid-season. It seems that Cleveland GM John Dorsey and the front office realize what they have in Mayfield and decided they didn’t want Jackson screwing him up, not even for the rest of this season, and sent him packing. Smart decision.

The decision on who to hire as Jackson’s replacement will be the most important one the Browns organization makes in the next decade. They have “their guy” at the QB position, but as we’ve seen with players like Jared Goff and Mitch Trubisky, the right coach can make all the difference in the world. Do the Browns go with a young, offensive wizard that’s never been a head coach? Do they go with a veteran coach that knows the ropes and can provide a steady presence?

The thing that makes this coaching search different than the many the Browns have went through in the past, is that this time the Cleveland job is actually desirable. Coaches that are available or even unavailable, have to look at the Browns job as a great opportunity. Cleveland not only has Mayfield, but they have surprisingly drafted really well the past couple of years. Players like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb are legitimate talents that a new coach can build around. Assuming the Browns don’t keep interim HC Gregg Williams (they shouldn’t), let’s take a look at five possible Cleveland coaching candidates.

1. Lincoln Riley – Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way. Riley is currently the head coach at the University of Oklahoma and mentored Mayfield to the Heisman Trophy and becoming the number one overall pick. It makes sense. Sean McVay’s success with the Rams has NFL teams willing to take a chance on younger coaches. Riley is 35-years-old and would certainly be an exciting hire that’s familiar with offensive concepts that should allow Mayfield to flourish.

2. Freddie Kitchens – Kitchens was brought in as a running backs coach for Cleveland this past offseason and was promoted to interim Offensive Coordinator when Jackson and Todd Haley were fired. He has done well with the Cleveland offense and Mayfield. The Browns have averaged 28 points per game since Kitchens was promoted and Mayfield has looked unrestrained and confident with the playcalling. It’s a small sample size and Kitchens has no head coaching experience. He comes from the Bruce Arians coaching tree, which brings us to our next possibility…

3. Bruce Arians – Man, I love Bruce Arians. He’s one of the few NFL head coaches that actually seems like a good dude that you could hang out with. Arians loves Cleveland and has already publicly stated that it’s the only job he would come out of retirement for. He’s had tremendous success with QB’s throughout his career, including Big Ben, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer’s renaissance in Arizona. Arians is 66, so it would limit the window for success to possibly 3-4 years.

4. The “Hot” Coordinator At The End Of The Season – These are the guys that pop-up every year and fill a ton of coaching vacancies in the NFL. They are coordinators who really stand out and perhaps help their team make a deep run in the playoffs. You’ll here names like Josh McDaniels and John DeFilippo talked about. You will also probably here about coaches that are connected to both the Chiefs and Rams. Keep in mind that Browns GM John Dorsey came from Kansas City.

5. A Coach That Is Currently Coaching An NFL Team – We all know that the NFL is the ultimate recycling bin. Once you’ve been a head coach, it makes it easier to get another gig. While Cleveland fans probably don’t want an also-ran, this offseason could see some long-tenured coaches part ways with their teams. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh has stayed successful, but appears to be close to ending his run with the Ravens. Ditto for Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, though I don’t know why you’d hire a guy that can’t win it all with Aaron Rodgers.

6. Bob Wylie – Because Bob Wylie RULES! If the next coach Cleveland hires doesn’t keep this national treasure on the staff, it’s instant bad mojo for them. SET HUT!

 

Dwight Howard…

Ok, what the actual fuck??? Let me be clear in saying that I don’t care what Dwight Howard or anyone else does in their private relationships, but this is some wild shit! I honestly had to Google what cisgender means and I’m still not sure I understand.

What I find interesting about this whole thing is, what kind of effect has Howard’s private life has had on his playing career? It seems like forever ago that Howard was thought to be a once-in-a-generation talent. This guy was the Defensive Player of the Year for three consecutive years and took the freaking Orlando Magic to The Finals! Howard was a defensive beast and posted roughly 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game in his last season in Orlando.

The Magic traded Howard to the Lakers in 2012 and his career was never the same. In what should have been a dream pairing, he clashed badly with Kobe Bryant and never flourished in L.A. Howard headed to Houston after just one season with the Lakers. He has since played for FOUR OTHER TEAMS, for one season each!

What happened? Has Howard kept moving from city to city in order to limit the chances of him being outed or exposed? Did Kobe know what was up all those years ago in L.A.? Has the emotional weight of this secret crippled Howard’s play on the court? I have so many questions! Mostly because I’ve always been curious how a player that was that great and dominant in Orlando, became just another “good” NBA center.

This is just another reminder that we really don’t know these people. From MJ’s massive gambling habits to Tiger’s serial womanizing, we have no idea what these guys are doing off the playing field. It kind of makes you appreciate Charles Barkley’s honesty years ago when he came out and said, “I am not a role model.”

 

The Giving of Thanks & The Not Giving of Fucks

Of course, last week was Thanksgiving, which means the holidays are upon us. Is there a more stressful time of the year? It’s crunch time fellas. Remember when you used to look forward to the holidays? Nowadays it’s just an impending sense of absolute dread.

We went to my wife’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving this year. It’s about a three-hour drive. Traffic was, of course, ridiculous. So we get there and everything is great. We have a six-year old daughter and my wife has two sisters that also both have small children, so it really is cool when they all can get together and play. We eat, turn on the football game, the kids are having an amazing time, and then…I hear those fateful words from one of the women… “So, what are we gonna do about Christmas?” The mood immediately changes on a dime. My wife, her mom, and sisters all instantly morph into fucking high-priced litigators. Everyone has an idea about what should happen for Christmas, but we never know what will happen for Christmas until roughly 11:42pm on December 23rd. I used to chime in with my thoughts, but I’ve evolved into knowing better and not giving a fuck. I’ve accepted the situation and try to make the best of it. I try to keep my cool, but I always know deep-down inside that I have a Christmas Vacation-level holiday meltdown coming.

 

 

Tuesday Morning Tilt – Week 12

Joe Nicely gets some things off his chest in an all-new edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt

Welcome back to Tuesday Morning Tilt here at The Combine! To those of you that are joining me for the second or third time…some people never learn. If you are checking out Tuesday Morning Tilt for the first time…I apologize in advance.

The Saints Are Marching As The NFC South Crumbles

Holy hell! Are the Saints awesome or what? Everybody on offense is a threat to score at any time. Drew Brees looks like he’s been sipping from that Tom Brady fountain of youth, Alvin Kamara is the most explosive player in the NFL, Michael Thomas might be the second-coming of Jerry Rice, and Mark Ingram is a sidekick that has a Heisman Trophy at home. I think a ton of NFL coaches are horrible, but Sean Payton is a dude that has compiled a Hall of Fame-type resume while coaching the NEW ORLEANS FREAKIN’ SAINTS. I guess there are kids now who only know the Saints as being an excellent franchise, but those of us above a certain age remember the “Aints” days and the paper bags. It’s been an amazing turnaround for the franchise and the city of New Orleans. It certainly looks like they will be a handful in the postseason this year.

Speaking of coaching…did anyone catch the Panthers game? Fresh off receiving a Week 10 ass-kicking at Pittsburgh, the Panthers traveled to Detroit and lost to the lowly Lions in Week 11. Carolina scored with just over a minute to go to pull within one, but instead of kicking the extra point, “Riverboat” Ron Rivera tried to live up to his nickname and went for two. It actually should have worked, but Cam Newton missed a wide-open receiver in the end zone. Cam catches tons of shit from people (lots of it unwarranted) and I’m not trying to pile on, but man…it’s year eight and you’re Cam Fucking Newton, smart as hell and probably the most athletically gifted QB to ever play the position, what’s the problem? Maybe it’s not fair to always expect more from Cam Newton, but it feels like his greatness should be unquestioned by now and instead he still makes a lot of head-scratching mistakes.

Atlanta continues to struggle despite an all-star team on offense. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has his backers…I’m not one of them. The Falcons have had as many injuries on the defensive side of the ball as any team in recent memory. With a Thanksgiving Day showdown against New Orleans looming, it looks as though Atlanta will once again enter the offseason saying, “Wait ’till next year.”

Just when Tampa Bay thinks it’s out, Jameis Winston pulls them back in. The former number one pick came off the bench to spark the Bucs in a failed comeback bid against New York. Winston has already been announced the starter for Week 12. Every time it seems that the Bucs are finally ready to close the book on Winston, he flashes enough tantalizing ability to keep the team on the hook. With a huge team-option year on his contract coming up this offseason, it appears that Winston will be playing for his future in Tampa for the rest of the year.

 

The Future is Now & Monday Night in…Mexico City?

Last night’s Kansas City vs LA Rams game was everything. It lived up to the hype in every way imaginable, breaking the record for the most points ever scored on Monday Night Football. Before you “Defense is dead!” assholes even start…JUST DON’T! Yeah, I have tons of problems with penalties that are being called on defensive players. I think you should be able to actually hit the quarterback and a little contact won’t kill wide receivers. What we saw last night wasn’t a product of horrible defense (we saw some great defensive plays), but instead was a master class in offensive play-calling and execution. For those of you that think offense is getting out of hand, let me present Exhibit A: The New York Jets.

In addition to the unbelievable play on the field, the game was made even better by an electric, Super Bowl-type atmosphere in one of America’s greatest football stadiums, the LA Coliseum. The game was originally supposed to be played in Mexico City, but was canceled due to horrible field conditions. Can you imagine last night’s game being played in Mexico?Perhaps the solution to this problem would’ve been…don’t schedule games in fucking Mexico City?!? That’s not a knock on Mexico, I don’t think there should be games in London either. Give it a rest Goodell. The NFL has tried this “taking the game international” bullshit for years, to no avail. There was an NFL Europe league that failed miserably years ago and now the NFL is probably handing out a free pair of Jags tickets with every fish & chips purchase on the streets of London…it’s just not gonna work, Roger.

I’m not one of these assholes that thinks life doesn’t exist outside of America. There’s a huge international market for basketball and I think that’s great! They should put NBA teams all over the world. Have a U.S. conference and a world conference with the winners of each playing in The Finals every year. However, football is a different animal. It’s a uniquely American sport that our citizens grow up with and develop an emotional attachment to. Let home teams play in front of their hometown fans and if those hometown fans aren’t buying enough tickets, then let the team move, but don’t outsource the sport in an attempt to find yet another revenue stream. Our BILLIONS of dollars aren’t enough for the NFL? Give me a break.

 

Weekend Mood Swings

Well…I didn’t get to travel first-class to go talk to an NFL GM or be the guest of honor at some cool brewery, but it was actually a pretty damn good Friday night. I got a chance to go see golf personality David Feherty live in my hometown of Knoxville at the beautiful Bijou Theatre. His show is called “Off Tour” and it’s basically just Feherty bullshitting for a couple of hours, telling jokes and great stories about life and golf. It was an amazing show and if you ever get a chance to see Feherty live, go check him out.

My beloved Vols suffered a beatdown Saturday at the hands of the Missouri Tigers. It’s our third straight loss to Mizzou. Yes…I died a little inside when I typed that last sentence. We play Vandy in our final regular season game this Saturday and must win to become bowl eligible. I’ll be placing a large emotional hedge bet this week and will be either financially or psychologically bankrupt after this game.

Some weekends, by the time Sunday rolls around, I just don’t even want to leave the house. The Red Zone Channel and DFS have made it increasingly difficult to for me to even walk outside after 1:00 pm on Sunday afternoon. I guess I’m old-school, but I still pay for things with cash quite often. That’s about to change for one specific type of purchase. I get pissed off every time I order a pizza and pay the delivery guy with cash. How do they always forget how to count all of a sudden? It’s always the same bullshit routine when you pay, no matter the delivery person. You hand them the cash and they turn into Forrest Gump…unable to do basic math…fingering through wads of one-dollar bills completely mystified, like they’ve never seen American money before. I know your game pizza guys! You motherfuckers can count just fine and you’ve definitely got a five tucked away somewhere in that stack of ones and twenties. Just give me my change and I’ll take care of you, there’s no need in trying to slow-roll a tip out of me…I’m just trying to get back to the couch!

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day NFL DFS Picks

Nice Guy Joe gives his top NFL DFS picks for the Thanksgiving Day slate

What’s up guys? We’re bringing you a special Thanksgiving Day edition of our DFS picks, because here at The Combine we’re all about helping you ignore your families on national holidays! Jokes aside, the NFL Thanksgiving slate has become extremely popular with DFS fans and we want to help you get a (turkey) leg up on the competition this year. See what I did there? Let’s get to the picks…

Quarterback

Mitchell Trubisky, Chi @ Det (FD-$7,900 & DK-$5,900)

Man, I’m slowly but surely becoming a Mitch Trubisky truther. The guy obviously has tons of physical talent and new Bears head coach Matt Nagy appears to be the perfect play caller to utilize Trubisky’s skill set. The second-year QB’s improved play this season is very similar to the type of  jump that Jared Goff made when Sean McVay replaced Jeff Fisher. While there are similarities to Goff, Trubisky has yet to find that level of consistency.

Obviously, we are on a short slate with just three games to choose from. Trubisky’s lack of consistency brings a scary-low floor into play, but he does possess tournament-winning upside. He has cleared 30 DraftKings points an impressive four times this season, including a 39 point outing against this Lions defense just two weeks ago. It’s tough scrolling past the likes of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, but Trubisky has a ceiling that rivals either of those QBs and should have much lower ownership. On this type of slate, we’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle and while the Chicago signal caller is volatile, he has slate-breaking potential.

 

Running Back

Alvin Kamara, Atl @ NO (FD-$8,900 & DK-$8,300)

As mentioned above, we have to be willing to embrace volatility on this type of slate, but I’m penciling Alvin Kamara into every single one of my lineups on Turkey Day. I’ve targeted RBs against this Atlanta defense throughout the season with tremendous success and don’t plan on getting fancy here.

This is the perfect storm of matchup and talent. The Falcons struggle to stop exactly what Kamara does so well. The Atlanta defense is 31st in yards allowed per carry and has allowed the most receptions to RBs in the league. We all know how explosive Kamara is with the ball in his hands and he appears to only be limited by Sean Payton’s instinct to preserve him for the playoffs. He excels at catching passes out of the backfield and will present matchup nightmares for this Falcons defense that has been absolutely destroyed by opposing RBs. There are definitely some spots that we will want to gamble on this slate, but this isn’t one of them.

 

Wide Receiver

Bruce Ellington, Chi @ Det (FD-$5,000 & DK-$3,200)

Remember about five seconds ago when I said that we will want to gamble on this slate? Well…I’ve got a longshot for you at the WR spot. We are obviously on a short week, so we will need to keep a close eye on injury news, but if Marvin Jones Jr remains out for the Detroit Lions (it appears that he will be out again) then Bruce Ellington becomes a very legit value option.

Ellington is a veteran that was signed by the Lions just a couple of weeks ago. Despite being new to the team, Ellington received a massive NINE targets in his Week 11 Detroit debut vs Carolina. With injuries to both Marvin Jones Jr and TE Michael Roberts, as well as Golden Tate’s departure to Philly, the Lions are starved for depth in the receiving corps. The Bears aren’t a dream matchup, but Ellington makes tons of sense as a very cheap tournament play that figures to continue to see a steady diet of balls thrown his way for a depleted Detroit offensive unit.

 

Tight End

Jordan Reed, Wash @ Dal (FD-$6,000 & DK-$4,700)

Believe it or not, I was actually on Jordan Reed last week. He came through for me and posted his best game of the year. I watched a lot of the Wash/Hou game and while I hated to see Alex Smith suffer a gruesome injury, it’s possible that Colt McCoy is actually an upgrade over Smith as far as Jordan Reed is concerned. The two hooked up on a late TD and McCoy seems more willing to go to Reed downfield than Smith.

Reed isn’t a far superior option to Austin Hooper or Trey Burton, but I like the combination of his matchup and secure usage at a similar price point. We’ve seen Hooper’s target totals spike in some games and that’s definitely a possibility in his Thanksgiving matchup, but New Orleans has been surprisingly effective against TEs recently. Burton’s usage is uncertain and he is almost TD dependent at this point. We should feel comfortable that Reed will get at least six targets with a possibility of 10-plus looks. A repeat of his Week 11 line of 7-71-1 is well within reach against Dallas.

 

DEF/ST

Washington Redskins, Wash @ Dal (FD-$3,700 & DK-$2,600)

It’s early in the week as I write this, so there are no concrete ownership projections yet available, but I imagine that folks will flock to either Chicago or Dallas. There are arguments that support those options, as Chicago is the “best” defense on the slate and Dallas draws a matchup against a backup QB.

Washington brings a surprisingly steady history of output to the always-volatile DEF/ST position for a middle-of-the-road price. The ‘Skins defensive unit has 10 or more fantasy points in four of their past five outings and are averaging over 3.5 sacks per game during that five game stretch. It’s never fun to square-off against Ezekiel Elliott, but Washington  fared well against Zeke this season, holding him to a season-low 33 rushing yards in their previous meeting with the Cowboys.

 

 

The Curious Case of Le’Veon Bell

Nice Guy Joe gives his thoughts on the curious case of Le’Veon Bell and what it means going forward

It’s official. Le’Veon Bell will not play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, or any other team, this season. No really, it’s officially official this time.

Like every other NFL and fantasy football fan, I’ve kept an eye on the Le’Veon Bell saga since training camp. Yes, if you drafted him number one in your fantasy draft it definitely sucks and will go down as the worst pick ever. We all know that Bell left a shitload of money on the table by choosing not to play and it seems insane to us normal working stiffs. Now that we find ourselves at what seems to be the end of this craziness (at least for this season), I find myself wondering…what actually happened?

Exceeding Expectations

In the interest of time, I’m not going to go through every detail of Bell’s career, but Bell was considered a good, not great player coming out of Michigan State. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. No one saw Bell becoming the generational talent that he would become. Second round money is nice and all, but it’s not “set for life money” in today’s world. Everyone would agree that Bell MASSIVELY outplayed his rookie contract and was worth far more than he was getting paid. Despite his outstanding play on the field, Bell did have some injuries and a suspension for marijuana use. I’m sure those topics came up when contract negotiations started and the two parties couldn’t come to an agreement. Enter…the franchise tag.

The Franchise Tag

You can dive into the minutiae of the NFL’s contract rules and regulations if you’d like, but the Cliffs Notes version goes like this: the franchise tag is a way for a team to keep a really good player that they don’t want to lose for at least one year or, in extreme cases, up to three years. Usually, like in Bell’s case, this is what teams do when they are having a tough time in contract negotiations. The franchise tag is sort of a compromise and pays the player a high, guaranteed salary for the one year, while the two sides try to hammer out a long-term deal. The downside is if the player gets hurt, they are guaranteed nothing past the one year. After reportedly turning down a two-year deal worth $30 million guaranteed in 2016, Bell sat out training camp and played the 2017 season on the franchise tag. He earned $12.1 million during that first tagged year in 2017 and threatened to sit out the following season if tagged again. That is exactly what Bell did when he and the Steelers failed to reach an agreement this past offseason. The Steelers again tagged Bell and he was slated to make $14.1 million in 2018, but he declined to report and play under the tag. For those of you keeping score, if Bell had signed the two-year $30 million offer that was reportedly on the table in 2016, he would have played last year and this year while making around $4 million more than he would have playing the last two years under the franchise tags. Without knowing the specifics of the contract offered, I’m going to assume there was a team and/or player option for more years after the two. Worst case scenario, Bell is playing under the franchise tag in 2019 with $30 million already in his bank account from the 2016 two-year deal. As it stands instead, Bell has only made the $12.1 million from 2017, but he will have the freedom of free agency this offseason.

Ego and The Decline of the Running Back

This is where the train leaves the track for most people. Nobody can quite understand why Le’Veon Bell would just leave $14 million laying on the table, especially when he was going to be a free agent at the end of this year either way. It is a hard concept to grasp for the average American football fan and has made Bell one of the most polarizing athletes in recent memory. The answer is complicated and something that we can only speculate about. Let me preface my next sentence my saying that the term ego is not meant to be derogatory. Le’Veon Bell has a huge ego. Do you know who else has a huge ego? Michael Jordan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady…the list goes on and on. You don’t become a great athlete without a huge amount of self-belief and determination. Bell has that, just like tons of other great athletes. The problem is that the NFL is hard on egos, more so than any other professional sport. It is really the last sport that basically employs players on a year-to-year basis. This system has clashed hard with Bell’s ego and his well-earned sense of self-worth. To make matters even worse, the value of the running back position that Bell plays has suffered a precipitous decline in NFL circles over the past several years. Those of you that play fantasy football have become well aware of the dreaded RBBC (Running Back By Committee) that has become the norm recently. This perfect storm of Bell’s unbelievable play on the field, his ego and belief in his value, and the steep decline in what running backs are paid, has created a huge disconnect between the Steelers’ front office and Bell.

The X-Factor 

No one can get inside Le’Veon Bell’s head, but I strongly believe that he thought he could prove to the Steelers how much they needed him by sitting out. It was actually not a bad plan. There was a very good chance that the Pittsburgh offense would sputter without their workhorse. If that happens, maybe the Steelers decide they need to pay Bell his asking price and get back to winning. What no one counted on was a dude by the name of James Conner. Bell’s attempt to prove his worth by being absent backfired in a huge way thanks to the play of Conner. You could make the argument (with statistical analysis to back it up) that the Steelers have actually been better offensively without Bell in the lineup. Conner’s breakout season has been the killshot to Bell’s attempt at a power play. The Steelers will happily pay Conner this season roughly what they were due to pay Bell in a week, while getting the same level of production.

Rage Against The Machine

Through various statements that he has made to the press and on social media, it becomes clear that Bell truly believes he is fighting something bigger than just the Steelers front office. He seems to be trying to set a precedent for the future of the running back position and the type of money that running backs can demand. The scope of this fight might even be bigger than just the running back position in Bell’s mind, he may feel that he is waging war against a league that uses players up and throws them away before they have to pay them any real money. The average career of an NFL football player is 3.3 years…this in a league where rookies sign 4-year contracts that are relatively inexpensive when compared to veterans. The combination of increased importance on passing the ball and fresh-legged running backs on rookie contracts has killed the market for proven backs with mileage on the tires. While Bell and many veteran players are understandably frustrated with billionaire owners taking advantage of NFL contract structures, this problem is a much bigger one than Bell can solve with a symbolic gesture.

Dollars and Sense

Bell has sent mixed messages throughout this ordeal. He has said that it’s not about the money, while also saying that he won’t settle for less money than he’s worth. We can debate whether or not Bell is sitting out this season based on principles or money, but there is no doubt that Bell has left a lucrative amount of money sitting on the table. Let’s go through a couple of scenarios…

Scenario #1: Bell signs the Steelers two-year $30 million offer in 2016. It’s a bit difficult without knowing the contract specifics and language, but it’s something like this…

Result A: Bell plays well and either has a player/team option for third year that makes him extremely well-paid or he gets a Todd Gurley type mega-deal of four-years with $45 million guaranteed. If Steelers decline option he becomes free agent, getting a Gurley-like deal from another team or he gets franchised (because in this scenario he didn’t get franchised in 2017) and makes around $16 million in 2019, bringing his three-year total to at least $46 million, with a possibility for as much as $75 million.

Result B: Bell plays poorly, or in a more likely scenario, gets injured. He’s got $30 million in his bank account, but nothing guaranteed going into 2019 or beyond. If it’s a career-ending injury his football earning power is over (though hopefully he would have a massive insurance policy in place for this scenario). If it’s an injury he can recover from, we have to assume he would still draw tons of interest and probably receive an offer similar to that of Arizona’s David Johnson, who just came off an injury, which was three-years, $30 million guaranteed. With this result, Bell is looking at a minimum of $30 million plus cashing in an insurance policy if his career is over or at worst a David Johnson type deal, which still puts him at around $60 million when things are all said and done.

Scenario #2: Bell declines the Steelers two-year $30 million offer in 2016.

Result A: Bell plays 2017 on a franchise tag making $12 million. He plays 2018 on another franchise tag and earns $14 million, bringing his two-year total to $26 million. After playing extremely well, Bell is now a free agent and gets a Gurley-type deal of $45 million guaranteed from either the Steelers or another team. Bringing his total guaranteed money to roughly $71 million.

Result B: Bell plays 2017 on franchise tag making $12 million. He plays 2018 for another $14 million, but suffers a very serious injury. The injury is career-ending and Bell leaves football with his prior career earnings, the $26 million from the two franchise tag years and what should be a massive insurance settlement. With a serious, but not career-ending injury, Bell commands only Johnson-type numbers on the open market, but is still at $56 million.

Result C: The situation we find ourselves in. Bell plays 2017 on the tag, earning $12 million. He sits out 2018, forfeiting the entire $14 million he would earn on the tag, but is healthy and a free agent entering 2019. Teams are slightly concerned by a year of inactivity, character questions and fear that he is a “system” player due to Conner’s performance. Teams offer Bell guaranteed money in the range between Gurley and Johnson. Let’s split the difference and say $37.5 million, which brings his total to $49.5 million.

The Goal Line

In hindsight, it appears Bell’s best financial move would have been to accept the Steelers offer in 2016. With that ship having already sailed, he has made decisions that have led to less money already in his pocket and less guaranteed money in his future. He did take the possibility of a career-ending injury out of play by sitting this year, but those types of injuries are extremely rare in this era of medical advances. It’s possible that Bell has just received very bad advice from his agent, but it’s hard to fathom that he’s been led that far astray. Whether right or wrong, he has done something that few star athletes have ever done…gave up an entire season in his prime of his own volition. I wish I could tie all this up in a nice little bow for you, but the search for answers in the Le’Veon Bell situation only leads to more questions. Is Bell selfish or selfless? Driven by ego or principle? Obsessed with money or indifferent to it? These are just a few of the questions that we will continue to work through as the Bell saga plays out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Morning Tilt

What’s up guys? I’m back with a second edition of Tuesday Morning Tilt. I’d like to thank all 14 of you that read last week’s debut column! Entering with big goals this week, as we shoot for at least 20 readers! Probably won’t get there…but we’re all about positive thinking here at The Combine.

For those of you that are checking out TMT for the first time, I take Peter King’s beloved Monday Morning QB format and turn it into something that is completely unprofessional and nowhere near as good. Let’s go.

Fantasy Football Gave Me A Chubb-y This Week

I told you guys how I got lucky and won in my fantasy league last week due to a late Gronk scratch. Well…that win streak came to an end real quick. I was playing the youngest guy in our fantasy league this week and of course he’s always got a stacked team, because he’s the only guy in the league without kids and actually has free time to research this shit. I never beat this dude, but I’ve got Nick Chubb on my team and was holding my own when Chubb broke a 92-yard TD run. I WAS LOSING MY FUCKING MIND at this point! As any self-respecting fantasy football veteran would do, I immediately started talking shit via our league group text. Then, of course…Alvin Kamara, Devante Adams, and Zach Ertz absolutely destroy my ass and I lose, which drops my record to a warm and cozy 3-7. By the way, when did Cleveland start celebrating every Browns victory like it’s the fucking Super Bowl? I’ll give them a pass on the win that broke the long losing streak, but we’re past that point now. Your supposed to win some games Cleveland, you don’t get a damn parade for beating the Falcons at home.

Emotional Hedge Bets and Shopping With The Girls

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a long-suffering Tennessee Volunteer football fan. There hasn’t been much to cheer about the last few years, so I’ve developed the habit of making “emotional hedge bets” when my Vols are playing. It’s a pretty simple concept…I put a small amount on the team that Tennessee is playing, if the Vols lose, I get a little monetary reward to soften the blow of the loss and if Tennessee wins I’m happy to pay. It’s a system that works well for me in my warped, football-fan mind. Those of you that follow college football probably know that it’s been another down year for my Vols, which has led to a pretty decent little nest egg this season. Well…this past Saturday, Tennessee was hosting the Kentucky Wildcats, one of our hated rivals that also happened to be ranked #17 nationally. Kentucky was a 4.5 point favorite over Tennessee…a lock if I’ve ever seen one. So, I decide to put my entire season’s worth of emotional hedge winnings on the Wildcats. It was a 3:30 kickoff and I put my bet in fairly early in the day. After I get the bet down, my wife tells me that our daughter desperately needs “winter clothes” and that we’re going shopping. Those of you that are fathers know that clothes shopping with your wife and daughter is it’s own special kind of torture, but as an added bonus this little excursion would be taking place during the game that I had tons of money on. Of course…the Vols play inspired football and win straight up, costing me my entire “emotional hedge” bankroll. This crushing loss/uplifting victory is going on while my wife and daughter are feverishly spending my hard-earned money on ridiculous items my daughter apparently “needs”, like shoes and a jacket. Don’t they know I could put that money in action for the Vols’ last two games of the season? I could practically guarantee that we win out by losing the right amount of money!

Keeping Up With The Kowboys

I’m not sure exactly why, but I’m utterly fascinated by the Dallas Cowboys. I think it’s kind of similar to those horrible reality shows that my wife watches on E! and Bravo. The Cowboys are my Kardashians. I would legitimately pay a large sum of money to watch an uncensored, no-holds-barred reality series that focused on Jerry Jones and the behind-the-scenes operations of the Cowboys year round, like Hard Knocks but dialed up to 20. I’m convinced that Jason Garrett has video of Jerry Jones killing puppies or something. Every time this entitled prick seems on the verge of losing his job, he somehow miraculously pulls out a win, like he did against Philly Sunday night. I sympathize with Jerry Jones, because I think I would probably act the same way Jones does. If I were an old, out of touch billionaire, I’d totally build awesome stadiums with bars and dancers everywhere and give huge, salary-cap crippling contracts to players that were “my guys”. I also really appreciate that he was the one owner that called Roger Goodell out for being a total fucking failure at his job when the commissioner’s contract came up for renewal. Jerry’s heart is in the right place and he’s willing to do anything to help his team win, but he’s always waaaay off base with his attempts to help the franchise. The Patriots got Josh Gordon in a trade for peanuts, the Eagles gave a third-round pick for Golden Tate. Jerry knows that the Cowboys need a wide receiver, so he gives up a first-round draft pick for…Amari Cooper?!? I bet Jerry’s the type of grandpa that would buy his grandson a gold Rolex watch for his eighth birthday. It’s a nice gesture and shows you he really cares…but what the fuck does an eight-year old do with a Rolex?

Put Another (Bologna) Log On The Smoker

I didn’t get to try any fancy beer or take any trips this weekend. I did get the chance to go over to a buddy’s house Sunday afternoon to watch football. Several of my friends are into the bbq thing. They have fancy smokers and Green Eggs. They perfect recipes and processes for smoking ribs and other things. I am totally cool with this, as I do none of the work and don’t invest any time or money, but still get to eat some awesome food from time to time. This Sunday my buddy smoked ribs, but he also smoked something called a bologna roll. I’m not sure how popular this stuff is outside of the South, but basically it’s a huge slab of bologna that’s about the size of a football. My friend injected this thing with jalapenos and smoked it for hours with hickory wood. It was amazing! It was also something that my cardiologist could build a vacation home on. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a heart attack coming any day now. If I somehow survive, I’ll see you here next Tuesday morning.