All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday, time to help you pretend you’re working and dive into the mailbag.

Justin writes:

“Another matchup of Bama & Clemson in the CFB playoff. Ticket prices are way down and the excitement for a National Championship seems more reserved than years past. 

With the lack of parity in CFB, will fans begin to get apathetic and begin to tune out? Why watch a movie that is exhilarating and unpredictable in the beginning and the middle if you already know how it ends?”

I think the talk of people being tired of Alabama vs. Clemson is overrated and that this game will end up highly rated so long as its competitive. After all, Georgia against Alabama was supposed to be an awful national draw since it featured two teams from the SEC playing in Atlanta and instead it turned into the second highest rated title game of the playoff era.

That’s partly the SEC’s brand value, but it’s also because the game went to overtime.

The ticket price angle is an interesting story, but I think that’s more a function of the difficulty and expense of getting to the Bay Area from much of the South than it is a lack of interest in this game.

I live in Nashville, for instance, and there’s only one non-stop to the Bay Area from here and even that requires I fly into Oakland as opposed to San Francisco or San Jose. So come tomorrow morning I’m flying to Oakland and then will Uber out to Santa Clara where my hotel is.

Given the title game is played on a Monday and school or work will be back in session, this is a tough trip for most people. You have to take off work on Monday and Tuesday in order to attend this game and that doesn’t even factor in the hotel and flight costs.

Coming back it’s impossible for me to do both radio and TV in the same day and fly back in time for both so I’ll have to miss TV on Tuesday to fly back to Nashville.

So I think this is just an example of a challenging location that ended up hosting two teams that are about as far as possible from the San Francisco area. In fact, there isn’t a single non-stop flight to the Bay Area from the entire states of Alabama and South Carolina, regardless of the cost situations.

If Bama and Clemson were playing in Atlanta this would be one of the hottest college football tickets of all time.

Instead, it’s a challenge for many.

As for the game itself, we’ve got the first ever match up of 14-0 teams, which guarantees us the first ever 15-0 college team.

How could a college football fan not be excited to watch? Especially considering all the talent on both sides of the field.

To me, this should be a fantastic game and I can’t wait to watch.

Jordan writes:

“With the boring/unevenly matched semifinal playoff games, and with the seemingly less interested bowl games this year there has been so much talk about playoff expansion/playoff reform but a lot of ideas I have seen revolved around eliminating conference championship games, which if I believe you are a fan of as well. But with the SEC Championship game having such great ratings…would the SEC give that up? I know the Pac 12 and their utter disaster of a conf championship game would for sure. It just seems that bowl season/CFP is going in the wrong direction lately.” 

The SEC title game this year outrated the Clemson-Notre Dame national title game, the Rose Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl.

I’m going to write a big article on this, maybe tomorrow while I’m flying all the way to Oakland, but your easy answer to this is — no way!

Think about it, if the SEC title game can outrate a college football playoff game — which costs ESPN $200 million per game — and the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl — which cost ESPN $80 million each to air, why in the world would the SEC walk away from a game that’s probably worth $100 million right now on the open market?

Again, I’m writing a full article on this tomorrow, but there’s no way I’d give this game given the value it’s likely to unlock on the open market.

Essentially the SEC title game is a playoff game except the SEC doesn’t have to share revenue with anyone else. In fact, honestly, if I were being really proactive, I’d consider expanding the SEC to 16 teams and playing a four team SEC title game playoff before I’d consider giving up my title game.

Several of you:

“How could you go from so pro Marcus Mariota to not believing in him based on sitting out a game for an injury?” 

I’m a big believer in adjusting my opinions as evidence changes. And the pro-Mariota evidence changed in a big way last week.

Let’s review the facts.

Coming into the final week of the season Marcus Mariota was set up to lead his team into the playoffs for the second straight season if the Titans could beat the Colts something that only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Jared Goff would have done.

The Titans were set up to play their biggest home game in ten years and Mariota, significantly, practiced on Thursday and Friday and was listed as questionable to play in the game against the Colts. Then Sunday morning, boom, suddenly news drops via Chris Mortensen that Mariota isn’t going to play because he faced permanent injury if he took a bad hit due to his existing nerve injury.

These are all the public facts that we have.

One of the things you learn as a lawyer is to consider the public facts and analyze them in a way that can, hopefully, lead you down the path that is most likely to be true even if you lack all of the information to make a 100% decision.

Mariota’s decision not to play landed like a bombshell to me because it made no sense given the existing facts we’d been provided so far.

This is where intelligent speculation begins in my analysis.

One of two things had to be at play: either the Titans had lied all week about Mariota’s game status in an effort to gain a competitive advantage against the Colts or Mariota had chosen not to take the risk to play in a default playoff play in game.

Now let’s consider these two options: if the Titans lied then they knowingly put a player who could suffer potentially career ending nerve damage on the field to practice. Even if the practice periods were non-contact, why would you expose one of your players to any football injury risk at all? Remember, players get hurt in non-contact ways all the time. If Mariota’s so fragile, what if he stepped wrong like Teddy Bridgewater did, or what if he strains his arm on a throw, then the decision to allow him to practice could be just as disastrous as letting him play in the game.

To me, it just doesn’t make sense that the Titans would allow Mariota to practice at all if they believed he had zero chance to play and if they knew he faced severe injury. What do they gain by this? A small competitive advantage because the Colts have to prepare for both Mariota and Blaine Gabbert? And for that you set up your quarterback for much greater risk of injury and set fans up to be angry at him when he doesn’t play?

It’s just nonsensical.

I’m not saying it 100% didn’t happen, I’m just saying it’s nonsensical thinking.

Furthermore, if the Titans did this they’d also be violating NFL injury report rules and potentially setting themselves up for severe liability in the event Mariota was injured during a practice when they knew he wasn’t playing.

I think the most likely reason Mariota practiced on Thursday and Friday is because the Titans thought there was a good chance he’d play.

That’s why I believe the second option is more likely here, I think Mariota chose to sit out of the this game and cited the worst prognosis for his health as the reason why. Why would Mariota do this? I think it was a business decision. I suspect his agent told him he was in line for a $100 million payday so why risk that for a game against the Colts when if he won all he’d do is further prolong his risk of serious injury?

I think what happened here is there were multiple doctor reports on Mariota’s condition. The primary Titan doctors probably cleared Mariota to play and believed he did not risk more severe nerve injury — which would have been Mariota’s prognosis prior to the Redskins injury, which honestly looked very similar to the injury he received against the Colts — and I suspect the Titans coaches expected Mariota to play, which is why they had him practice. If Mariota had played this would have been identical to the situation after the last Colts game, when Mariota was knocked out of the game and then played well against the Texans eight days later.

But Mariota, who may have been more skeptical, got the opinion of another doctor, one he’d spoken to before, that was more dangerous. How did Mariota get this opinion? He had that doctor review his MRIs taken after the Redskins game. That doctor told him he risked serious injury if he played and this was the doctor that was cited in the Mortensen report on Sunday.

I think Mariota decided he wasn’t going to play because he didn’t want to risk his future, told the team, and then his agent leaked the news to Chris Mortensen to provide cover for why he wasn’t going to play. In so doing they leaked the worst possible medical prognosis to provide cover for Mariota’s decision.

The Titans, who didn’t want to anger the quarterback who is on track to make over $20 million for them next year, allowed Mariota to make his own health decision and then provided cover for him by claiming they’d been involved in the decision too.

The result?

Mariota has now been unable to finish three of the four seasons he’s played for the Titans.

Not playing on Sunday against the Colts was, to me, a significant red flag in Mariota’s future as the Titans franchise quarterback. Instead of finishing his second straight season either in the playoffs or playing to reach the playoffs, Mariota had yet another season ending injury during the course of a season that saw him throw for the fewest touchdowns and the fewest yards of his career. (If you want to make the bullish case for Mariota, he did have the highest completion percentage of his career by a substantial margin).

I now believe that Mariota will enter his fifth year with the Titans under an uncertain future. I don’t think the team can sign him to a long term deal and I am no longer certain he’s the long term future of the franchise. I like Mariota and I hope he is the answer in the years ahead, but I’m just not sure that he is any longer.

So I felt the need to adjust my opinions accordingly.

You can criticize me for a lot, but one of the things I constantly do is reassess my opinions. Mariota not playing on Sunday in a game of this magnitude, to me, was seismic. I just can’t imagine Steve McNair ever sitting out a game like this.

Now, if he comes out next year and plays incredibly well in the first half of the season, then I’d be happy to readjust my opinions, but even if that occurred I’d still be terrified an injury was lurking just around the corner.

What would it take in 2019 for me to be confident in Mariota as the long term future of the Titans? He’d need to stay healthy and play 16 games, lead the team to the playoffs, and post career highs in many passing categories.

Will that happen?

I’d love to be wrong, but I have serious doubts it will.

James writes:

“Over the holiday I attended a Christmas party which was at the same time as the Titans vs. Redskins Christmas Eve game. The person throwing the party did not have the NFL Network which was required to watch the game on cable. I said to myself, no problem, in this advanced day and age of digital media surely I will be able to stream the game to my mobile device and pay some nominal fee. 

Much to my dismay, I found I would only be able to access the game, if I had the requisite data provider, Verizon, Direct Tv, and others,. but not my provider, So, there I was a willing customer with money ready to spend to watch the game of my choice being played by teams in the biggest US professional sports league unable to access, unless I wanted to switch data providers. Seems like a flawed business model to me.”

I agree with you, the NFL needs to fix its digital distribution issues.

In particular, it needs to let fans buy and watch any game they want to buy and watch from any mobile device across the entire world. The NFL Sunday Ticket should not be exclusive to DirecTV, that’s nonsensical in this day and age.

Having said that, these NFL games — and pretty much every sports game in general — are all streamed on Reddit by users. If you simply type in the game you want to watch followed by Reddit it will be easy to stream directly to your phone.

While we were in London I was able to watch every NFL game in HD just by doing a simple search on reddit forums.

I had no idea this was the case until my ten year old discovered it. (My kids are already better at everything streaming than I am. I can barely get signed into Netflix and they can find every movie or game in like two minutes. It’s uncanny. My wife has our downstairs wired for surround sound and I can’t even figure out how to use the remotes. We have DirecTV in the beach place and I spend like three days trying to figure out how to turn on the TV down there.).

 Scott writes:

“The era of players skipping bowl games seems to be here to stay. I’m not going to get into that whole argument, as it’s been rehashed more than enough already. My question is this: what if coaches started looking toward the future with their bowl games? Remember, in the old days bowl games weren’t even considered part of the season; they were exhibitions only, a reward for a good season. National champions used to be voted on before bowl games were even played (Minnesota was voted national champs in 1960 before losing in the Rose Bowl). Season stats didn’t even used to include bowl games.

So what if a coach that had had a disappointing season (say Washington, or Penn State, or West Virginia) were to say, “Alright, seniors, thank you for your service, but at this point we haven’t achieved our goals so we’re moving on to next year. This bowl game (and the 15 practices that go along with it) will be treated like an extra spring practice. Only players that will be on the team next year will be practicing and playing.”

As a fan, I would be all for this. I’m not saying the seniors should be punished. Let them travel with the team if they want, take part in all the bowl festivities, get the swag, etc.; hell, some of them might even serve as mentors and unofficial assistant coaches. But use the game and the practices as a stepping stone to next year. I suspect, however, that the media would be up in arms about this. They love to play the fake outrage card, and they would no doubt find a way to make this about race or disenfranchising young players or some other such nonsense.”

I agree with this, I don’t think, as a general rule, that seniors should play in bowl games. The only times seniors should play is the college football playoff games. (By the way, wait until a top player decides to skip the college football playoff to get ready for the NFL draft and avoid injury. Why should the logic on avoiding injury be that different for the playoffs as opposed to the bowl games? Someone will do it at some point and the world will come undone).

To me a bowl game should be primarily about getting better for the next season, like an early version of spring practice.

I also think all redshirts should be eligible to play in bowl games with zero impact on their eligibility. That’s a hell of a nice reward to dangle out there for a kid sitting out for the year.

JT writes:

“I agree with you that it is time to trade Antonio Brown, but why aren’t you calling out the real problem?  Mike Tomlin is not a good leader in any way shape or form. 3 playoff wins in 10 years for this franchise is a travesty.  I know that if you (meaning anyone) says anything bad about Tomlin, they’re labeled racist but I would expect you to look past the BS and speak the truth. So I guess my question is would you fire Mike Tomlin if you were the Rooney’s?”

First, Tomlin has never had a losing season in 12 seasons as an NFL head coach. His overall record is 125-66-1, which means he has the winningest record in the NFL for any current coach with four or more years of tenure other than Bill Belichick. (Tomlin has won 65% of his games, which is better than Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher did. Belichick has won 68% of his games. To be fair to Belichick he’s won 74% of his games with New England, which is just insane.)

As if that weren’t enough Tomlin is still only 46 years old.

If the Steelers fired Tomlin he’d immediately be hired by any NFL team with an opening.

Second, I think the bigger issue for the Steelers is that Ben Roethlisberger is going to turn 37 in March. How many more years does Big Ben have? To me, you can really only bank on him having two or three more years of high level football. So why in the world would you bring in a new coach he doesn’t know, when he clearly has a good relationship with Tomlin?

Now I do think Tomlin — and the Steelers — will have to make a decision about his future with the franchise when Big Ben’s tenure is up and they start to rebuild around a new quarterback, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

While I think the Steelers should trade Antonio Brown to send a message to the locker room that his behavior won’t be countenanced, I think the best possible result in terms of contending for a Super Bowl next year is keeping Brown and letting him ride out the next two years with Roethlisberger before you remake the roster.

I think the best analogy here is with Pete Carroll, who had to deal with team unrest over who the leader of his franchise was. Carroll lined up squarely behind Russell Wilson and traded the malcontents on his franchise. I think Tomlin has done the same by aligning himself with Big Ben instead of Antonio Brown. The challenge Tomlin faces that Carroll didn’t is Russell Wilson is still relatively young.

But I think Steelers fans should just take a breath and realize they still have the second best coach, by winning percentage anyway, in the NFL today.

Hope y’all have great weekends.

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