Top Ten Things I Like About New Year’s Day

1. (Technically, this happens just before midnight, but still…) That the last song played in Times Square before the ball drops is “Imagine” by John Lennon.

2. Removing the Christmas decorations – I know I really enjoyed putting them up, but that was five weeks ago. I’m ready to have my living room back now.

3. The NHL Winter Classic – Hockey played outdoors in an open-air stadium (with snow if we’re lucky), and usually between two good teams.

4. College bowl games that don’t make me want to throw up. Instead of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, we get the Rose Bowl. Finally.

5. Knowing that the NFL playoffs are only days away – No more “49ers vs. Chiefs on this week’s Monday Night Football!”

6. Changing the calendars in the house. As cool as I thought that calendar was last January, I want it gone now.

7. Back to single digit months – Starting today, I can write 1/1/10, rather than 12/31/09.

8. It’s ridiculous, but now that we’ve turned the corner, so to speak, it seems like spring is much closer than it was yesterday. It also helps that the next big holiday is Valentine’s Day, which is in mid-February, by which time it could be 65° (or 20°).

9. The illogical, yet undeniable optimism that coincides with an arbitrary change in the numbering system that we use to mark the passage of time. For no real reason, everything seems new, and anything seems possible.

10. The satisfaction of having pulled off one more successful holiday season. (“Put Christmas 2009 in the can, that’s a wrap!”)

The Ravens Don’t Lack Discipline

This morning there’s a lot of talk about how undisciplined the Ravens are, and how John Harbaugh’s coaching should be scrutinized for having allowed this state of affairs to go uncorrected. To all of this, I say:

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

The Ravens’ love affair with aggression goes all the way back to 2000 – our beloved Super Bowl season. The team was encouraged to be nasty, to be angry, to be mouthy. The Ravens were the team that would kick down your door and shout “Where is the son of a bitch?” The organization wanted its players to be intimidators; the result was spectacular and we loved it. But, there was a price to be paid, because the NFL was paying attention, too. Soon, it became clear that the crews officiating the Ravens games were looking at the team a little more closely than its opponents. No matter, as long as the Ravens were winning games, the penalties could be tolerated.

This mindset has been passed on genetically ever since, and the result has been a team that we have grown to love for its intensity and its passion; we have also learned to expect them to take penalties that seem unnecessary and at times, ridiculous. And yes, every now and then, they have a collective meltdown (21 penalties against Detroit in October, 2005, 13 penalties for 100 yards against New England in December 2007). Still, winning solves everything.

(The Oakland Raiders were the most penalized team of the 1970s, and no one criticized them for being undisciplined. Instead they were hated and feared. Being a consistently winning organization will do that for you.)

Harbaugh accepted this position knowing the culture – a culture that has been cultivated for a decade; to expect him to eradicate that in a year or two is unreasonable and more to the point, not a good idea. Most of these same “undisciplined” players took this team to the AFC Championship game last year, and no one called them to task for over-aggression. (Remember? The big complaint last year was that the offense was one dimensional.) What’s different this year? New faces in prominent places are committing the penalties now; not because they’re undisciplined, but because they’re not as good as the individuals they’ve replaced.

The ugly fact is that offensive linemen hold when they get beat; so do defensive backs. Would you rather that the offensive lineman let young Joe Flacco get hit rather than risk a holding penalty? (For the answer to this question, ask David Carr.) Would you rather the burned defensive back just give up the big play, rather than risk an illegal contact penalty? If you want to eliminate penalties in the offensive line and defensive secondary, don’t preach discipline – get better players.

One big problem with the whole “coaching discipline” idea is that you don’t want players on the field thinking – you want them reacting. When Terrell Suggs got flagged for a block in the back on Domonique Foxworth’s interception yesterday, he was doing what he should have been doing – trying to block downfield for his teammate. The problem isn’t that Sugg is undisciplined, it’s that he isn’t a very good blocker. How much time do you want Suggs spending in practice learning how to avoid blocking-in-the-back penalties?

Yes, the Ravens are a heavily penalized team, but they’re in good company. In fact, 5 of the top 6 most-penalized teams in 2009 would make the playoffs if the season ended today. On the other hand, the Browns have committed over 30 fewer penalties than the Ravens. Do you still want the Ravens to make “discipline” a focal point of its team philosophy?

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

After What I Saw Last Night, Monday Night in Green Bay is Now Critical

Yes, it was ugly, and it was far closer than it should have been, considering who didn’t play. Yes, at times the Ravens looked like a team that has no business having playoff aspirations. And yet, there the Ravens sit at 6-5, in the thick of the Wild Card chase.

But after what I saw last night, just don’t expect them to do it again on December 27th at Heinz Field.

Still, with five games to play, there is at least a reasonable chance that the Ravens will qualify for the postseason, and isn’t that why we play the games? And remember, every year a team sneaks into the playoffs and makes a surprising run. Why not the Ravens?

So, even though we’ve had to endure (fill in the blank with: Mark Clayton’s drop, Ray Lewis’ penalty, Steve Hauschka’s miss,  Joe Flacco’s interception), the dream lives on.

Here’s how the dream breaks out now:

The NY Jets, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee and Denver are all still mathematically alive. The Titans, Jets, Dolphins and Texans already have six losses and thus must finish 5-0 to have a chance of making the playoffs. I don’t see any of those teams having a 5-0 finish in them, and so can be safely dismissed.

That leaves Jacksonville at 6-5 and facing games against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis and New England. I think there’s at least one loss in there somewhere, probably two. Look for them to finish no better than 10-6, but more likely 9-7.

Denver, at 7-4, still must travel to Kansas City, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. They also will probably finish no better than 10-6 and the Ravens, having beaten them, will have the first tiebreaker.

The 6-5 Steelers, locker room dissension notwithstanding, are still in the best position of all, with few real difficult games ahead. The only challenges for Pittsburgh are at home to Green Bay and Baltimore and at Miami. Expect the Steelers to finish at least 10-6, maybe 11-5. (All of this presumes Ben Roethlisberger returns to the lineup Sunday and finishes the year.)

The Ravens, another 6-5 team, should be able to win against Chicago, Detroit and Oakland. If they can steal one at 7-4 Green Bay on Monday night, 10-6 becomes very possible. If they lose, the game at Pittsburgh becomes a must-win, which, after watching Dennis Dixon move the ball effectively last night, seems like a bridge too far. If the Ravens lose both games, they’ll need lots of help to make the playoffs, and are likely left on the outside looking in.

But again, if they beat the Packers Monday Night, the Ravens can lose to Pittsburgh on the 27th and probably still make the playoffs. While taking one from Green Bay at Lambeau on national television seems, at first glance, to be an impossible task, it’s not. Aaron Rodgers is inconsistent, and the Packers have really only beaten one quality team this season (Dallas at home); the rest of their schedule has been filled up with the likes of Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis. In any event, this challenge seems to me to be far simpler than being in a must-win situation in Pittsburgh. Bring on the Packers, baby.

(This is going to be a long, long week.)

High School Hitman, Sexy Sarah Palin and Poor Steve Hauschka

Each of us can probably remember having to deal with a particularly difficult teacher in high school. Perhaps we didn’t like the subject (for me this would be math or science), or maybe we found the workload excessive. Sometimes there were just personality conflicts with individuals whom we found to be harsh or overbearing.

If provoked, we might, in a fit of pique, get worked up enough to say the wrong thing to our nemesis, which, if we weren’t careful, might land us in detention, or cause the teacher to have us killed. What’s that? You can’t recall any instances of teachers in your high school putting out a contract on students that angered them? Well then, you were just in the wrong high school.

At Mundy’s Mill High School in Clayton County, Georgia this fall, it seems as if 10th-grade teacher Randolph Forde had a problem student on his hands. On September 29th, he called the 16-year old out of class, demanding to know if he was gay. The next day, Forde argued with the student, and threatened “to hit him in his ‘effin mouth.” (Come on now, doesn’t that bring back memories of ol’ Mrs. Lardbottom from your school?) The student reported Forde to his school’s administration, but nothing was done. On October 9, Forde approached another student and offered to pay him for killing his classmate. Given the choice between earning some after-school money or destroying a teacher’s life, the assassin opted for the latter, and ratted out Forde. (Note to conspirators: It’s a bad idea to let the outcome of your plot to kill someone rest with the a teenage boy. Trust me on this.)

Incensed, the boy’s mother removed her son from the school and then filed a police report on October 12, resulting in Forde’s subsequent arrest and release on $10,000 bond. This, in turn, forced the school to remove Mr. Forde from the classroom (I guess being arraigned for conspiracy to commit murder is the triggering mechanism for intervention in Georgia public schools). Forde’s attorney now says it was all a joke. Funny guy, that Mr. Forde. Funny guy.

Sarah Palin, who, I’m led to believe, wants to be the leader of the free world, is using her endless, unmerited press coverage to attack Newsweek for their choice of cover photo. Palin said, “The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant,” Palin wrote. “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist, and oh-so-expected by now.”

"The Next President of the United States..."

Apparently, Palin posed in a skimpy running outfit for Runner’s World magazine, from where it was lifted by Newsweek. While it’s true that Newsweek was looking to make a statement by their choice of this photo, I’ve grown way past tired of hearing Sarah Palin disingenuously complain about being dealt with less than seriously by the media.  A year ago Palin could be granted an ignorance pass, but no more. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should appear on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, not Oprah. And when discussing economic policy differences with the President, she should stay away from silly-sounding comments such as:  Obama has a  “…backassward ways of trying to fix the economy.” Before you can sit at the grownup table, Sarah, you’ve got to be able to act like a grownup.

I know that just about every Ravens fan was relieved yesterday to learn that Steve “Wide Left” Hauschka had been released, but I feel terrible for him. As angry as I was when I saw his kicks sail outside the uprights, watching him walk back to the bench alone and then sit there staring at the ground, knowing that his dream was falling apart in front of his eyes… well, for me that was just heartbreaking. I suppose Hauschka knew that he was finished in Cleveland Monday night; I just can’t imagine having to continue playing, showering and dressing (without having the heart to celebrate a win) in the locker room, and then the long trip home – all the while knowing that you’re about to be fired. And then, to add insult to injury, the team’s fans dance on your grave. Good luck to you, Steve Hauschka.

Steve, we hardly knew ye

It’s Not Going To Be Easy, But Here’s How The Ravens Make The Playoffs

After watching the Bengals sweep Pittsburgh yesterday, it occurred to me that the Ravens losses have been to Cincinnati, and at New England and Minnesota. Maybe they’re not really that bad, they’re just not elite. And we’ve all seen teams that were not considered elite sneaking into the playoffs and then going deep into January (actually, that would include last season’s Ravens). Having given it due consideration, the Ravens still have a path to the postseason, but it’s a narrow path. Here’s the way I see it:

These things are a given: The Patriots will win the AFC East, the Bengals will win the AFC North  and the Colts will win the AFC South. Either the Broncos or the Chargers will win the AFC West.

What’s still fuzzy are the two Wild Cards. Here are the teams still in the picture: NY Jets, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Houston and the loser of the AFC West race. Of those seven, I’m going to dismiss the Jets and the Dolphins out of hand. [Rex Ryan & Tony Sparano quietly leave through the door in the back of the room.]

Jacksonville and Houston, both 5-3, are facing games against San Francisco, New England, Indianapolis and each other. Both are unexpectedly in contention, and I suspect that at least one of them will succumb under the weight of late-season pressure. However, I also expect the AFC South survivor to earn one of the two Wild Card berths.

The loser of the AFC West race, either Denver or San Diego, each now with three losses, will very probably finish with six or seven. The Ravens have beaten both of these teams, and so have the first tiebreaker, effectively eliminating a threat from the AFC West.

This leaves the real threat to the Ravens’ Wild Card chances, the detested Steelers. The two haven’t met yet, and if one team sweeps the other, that will likely be enough to get that team into the playoffs. This is obviously true of Pittsburgh, which only has three losses, but it is also true of the Ravens, and here’s why:

If the Ravens win the games they’ll be expected to (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland) that’s eight wins. That leaves two games against Pittsburgh, plus Indy and a visit to Green Bay. Baltimore needs to win at least two of these games, in addition to the others. Of these four, because of the power of the tiebreaker, the two games against the Steelers mean more than matchups with the Colts and the Packers. In other words, beating the Colts and Packers will not mean as much to the playoff math as will the Steelers’ games.

(Of course, if the Ravens lose to the Browns tonight, I will quickly and politely escort them to that door in the back of the room.)

It must be galling to Rex Ryan to have lost to Jacksonville in the way he did. Rex has spent every minute since he arrived in New York talking about a new culture epitomized by defensive toughness. The defensive “genius” imported Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to jump start that new culture, and now, a defense that looked so good early on is costing him games the Jets should have won. I guess getting away from football for a week didn’t solve all of the Jets’ problems, and now the rookie head coach will have to try and get inside the heads of the head cases he encouraged. I suspect Ryan will become less and less mouthy as the season wears him down. Lesson: Don’t make yourself a target until you’re sure you can deflect the arrows. Didn’t Rex learn anything from watching his Dad’s example?

Isn’t it amazing how excellent Ravens’ linebackers fade into obscurity once they leave the team? And we’re talking about players who were supposed to be game-changers with their new teams. Let’s see, there’s Jamie Sharper, Edgerton Hartwell, Adalius Thomas and now Bart Scott. Am I forgetting anyone?

Watching Tom Brady take apart the Colts last night gave me hope for this Sunday; of course, the Ravens aren’t the Patriots. I’m also pretty sure Peyton Manning is going to light up our secondary. The Colts’ defense is so much weaker without Bob Sanders, it’s amazing. It’s kind of the way the Steelers suffer without Troy Polamalu. I’m starting to consider strong safety the most second most important position in the NFL. By the way, I put that loss entirely on Bill Belichek, the new spokesman for Bad Idea Jeans.  His decision to go for the first down on his own 30 yard-line has to be one of the riskiest moves in recent memory, and it rightfully blew up in his face. Think about this – if Mark Clayton catches that pass, the Pats might be sitting at 5-4.

Trying to handicap the NFC makes my head hurt. The Giants and Falcons  are awesome, the Giants and Falcons suck. The Cowboys are a joke, the Cowboys are pretty good, the Cowboys suck. The Cardinals and the Panthers are pathetic, the Cardinals are going to run away with their division and the Panthers are beating some pretty good teams. The Packers are average, good, terrible, beating Dallas. Come to think of it, maybe the Ravens should play in the NFC…

On Sheila Dixon, Freed Killers, College Pornography and More

Finally, after what seems like forever, Sheila Dixon is getting her day in court. Accused of stealing gift cards intended for needy families, Dixon can justifiably say that she has already been convicted in the press, and therefore, the court of public opinion. Of course, to say that is somewhat disingenuous, as politicians rise on the backs of the press and public opinion, and almost certainly fall from there as well. But the press won’t be the ones acquitting or convicting her (which makes her threat not to “allow the media to control this trial” all the more laughable), and public opinion probably won’t be changed by the verdict. For almost all interested observers, she’s already a martyr or a felon, due process be damned. (A quick check of the Sun’s message board is enough to confirm this.) Helping to diffuse potential race and gender issues is the fact that, if convicted and removed, Dixon will be replaced by Baltimore City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, another African-American woman. This is a blessing. Now perhaps we can focus on the fate of just another politician accused of small-time larceny.

When I first heard that alleged killer Dante Parrish had recently been released from prison after having served only ten years for murder, I was incensed. Having read a little more, it seems as if Parrish was the victim of bad counsel at his original trial and that witnesses from that time were now recanting, forcing the state to strike a deal. What I’m thinking about now though, is the role played by the intervention of a well-intentioned (but in this case, horribly wrong)  organization, the Maryland Innocence Project, that provided the legal assistance that caused Parrish to be loosed upon the population. Did Parrish deserve a new trial? It would seem so. Was a new conviction unlikely? The state thought so. Once the trial errors were pointed out, was there really any other choice but to let Carter go? Probably not. So, does this killing lie at the feet of the Innocence Project? Emphatically: No. If individuals wrongly convicted can be exonerated by DNA evidence, then we would be worse than human to not avail them of the chance to be so. If Carter was truly guilty of the 1999 murder, then the state shouldn’t have fouled up the case. If Carter wasn’t guilty in 1999, he shouldn’t have been in jail. It’s natural to blame the liberal do-gooders when something blows up in their faces, but this one’s on the original prosecutor.

The University of Maryland Board of Regents yesterday, in a move that appeared to surprise everyone, stood up to state Delegate Andy Harris and refused to be the first university system to attempt to define and then restrict pornography. Good for them. This courageous stance comes at the threat of legislative action once the new session convenes in January, but I suspect that there’ll be more important matters in the State House than deciding how much exposed breast is too much exposed breast. If I remember correctly, the state has a bit of a financial crisis that should keep our elected officials plenty busy.

When Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California, was denied the Miss USA title because of her belief in traditional marriage, she had my full sympathy. Now, after months of ugly revelations and nasty legal tiffs, it’s become clear that she’s not the poster-child for family values that she made herself out to be. In fact, she’s become quite the media gadfly, crafting inventive ways to stay in the public eye without ever having to accomplish anything. Last night, having accepted Larry King’s invitation to appear live, she abruptly decided that she didn’t like the format and removed her microphone (oddly enough, she didn’t leave; she just sat there like a stunned duck). Frankly, I’m way past tired of these reality show, event driven insta-celebrities who have neither talent nor aspirations beyond staying topical. We should attach a clinical-sounding name to the phenomenon. How about “Gosselinistic Personality Disorder?”

The Ravens tried out a couple of other kickers, but apparently they were even worse than Steve Hauschka. Hauschka says that the players “are backing me up.” Be careful there, Steve. They just might be backing you up against a wall if you miss another clutch kick…

Ravens Post Mortum: Silver Linings and Prioritizing Offseason Needs

Now that we can safely put the lid on any legitimate hopes of the Ravens appearing in the postseason, it’s time to look for silver linings, and to begin thinking about what the Ravens need to address first in the off seson.

This season will be remembered as a time of transition for the team. For the past ten seasons, the Ravens were all about defense. The main job of the offensive unit was to not get in the way while the angry, opportunistic defense annhilated opponents. No more.

Now, in what seems like a “back to the future” turn of events (“back” being the Vinny Testeverde-era Ravens and “future” being the Joe Flacco-era Ravens), the offense needs to score 30+ points if the team is going to win.  The defense can no longer be counted on for key stops, especially when faced with a quality quarterback. This season has been instructive in that it has mercilessly exposed the Ravens’ weaknesses, and has given the front office solid evidence of what needs to be done. I’ll address those needs shortly. But first, there are some silver linings in what is quickly becoming a very disappointing fall:

1. The NFL is a quarterback league. If an organization is to have long term success, it almost always builds its team around a franchise quarterback. For the only time in its short history, the Ravens have that in Joe Flacco.

2. The Ravens have usually done well playing a third or fourth place schedule, coming off of a bad year. Next season should be better.

3. With every loss, the Ravens draft position improves.

4. As expectations fall, the agony of losing winnable games lessens, mainly because we begin to subconsciously redefine what “winnable” is for this team.

5. As it becomes clear that future home games will have no bearing on the playoffs, the chances of buying a reasonably-priced Ravens ticket from a disappointed season ticket holder improves. (This is really the only way I’ve ever been able to see a game since the new stadium opened.)

Now, on to the needs assessment.

1. A quality pass rushing down lineman. It’s no secret that the Ravens secondary can’t cover quality receivers, and they’re not just one player away, either. The fastest, easiest way to paper over a weak secondary is with an effective pass rush, which the Ravens haven’t had in years. They’ve tried to compensate with equally ineffective blitzes, which, when picked up, just results in one-on-one coverage and big plays. With just one monster pass rusher, much of the poor secondary play would fade away.

2. If that monster pass rusher can’t be had, the Ravens must act to upgrade the secondary, because this unit is absolutely killing the Ravens. They don’t cover, tackle or create turnovers very well. Ed Reed, limited by chronic neck and shoulder pain, is so busy trying to compensate for his mates that he’s forever out of position, which just exacerbates the problems. Samari Rolle’s career is over, Domonique Foxworth has proven to be no better than a nickle back and neither Fabian Washington, Frank Walker nor Chris Carr would start anywhere else in the NFL. LaDarius Webb seems promising, but it’s too early in his rookie season to tell. This group needs a major overhaul.

3. A playmaking wide receiver. Now that the Ravens have a franchise quarterback, they need a receiver that can consistently win deep battles to take advantage of his talent. Right now, Mark Clayton is the closet thing the Ravens have to a “burner,” and that by itself is a statement. Derrick Mason will likely retire at the end of the season, which makes this need even more pressing.

4. A dependable placekicker. Oh, Father Time, why did you have to take Matt Stover? For over a decade, this was one position that the Ravens never had to think about. But last year, it became apparent that if the Ravens needed a 44-yard field goal outdoors, Matt Stover couldn’t get it done. Steve Hauschka seemed like the answer, but now it seems as though he develops an ugly case of the “yips” when under pressure. The Ravens need a new answer in a position that delivers points every week. (What are the “yips?” Click here.)

5. A dominating inside linebacker. This is another position the Ravens haven’t had to think about since, well… ever. But Ray Lewis can’t go on forever, and even now he’s showing signs of advancing age. It was hoped that Jameel McClain or Tavares Gooden would step up this season, but that hasn’t happened. Within the next year or two, the lack of an enforcer in the middle of the defense is going to become glaringly obvious to opposing offensive coordinators. The Ravens need to be proactive to make sure that day never comes.

6. A quality kick returner. Chris Carr has been a major disappointment, and LaDarius Webb seems destined for full time duty in the secondary. The Ravens have tried to use Ed Reed occasionally to provide a spark, but this is a dangerous tactic, considering Reed’s questionable health, his importance to the defense and how thin the secondary is on talent.

What do you think?

This year’s playoffs are a symptom of all that’s wrong with baseball, and a warning to the NFL

First, let me say this: Don’t blame the Yankees. They didn’t create this monstrosity, they’re just taking advantage of it, the way any well-run organization would. Yes, their payroll is almost twice as much as any other team, and is larger than the Nationals, Pirates, Padres and Marlins combined, but they’re only doing what the system rewards them for doing: buying talent. If the Yankees close out the series tomorrow night as expected, it will not be a victory achieved between the baselines, it will be a triumph of the checkbook. And that’s what’s wrong with baseball.

In sports, what we cherish are the values that are reinforced through competition. We revel in the success of the team that overachieves and becomes greater than the mere sum of its parts. We cheer for the athletes who overcome obstacles and reach heights previously thought to be out of their reach.  We expect hard work, perseverance and discipline to be rewarded. We root for the underdog, all the while knowing that he will usually fail.

Major League Baseball, as it exists today, reflects not the value structure of athletic competition, but the value structure of the corporate boardroom. Organizations vie with each other to increase their cash flow through lucrative television deals, palatial stadiums and mass merchandising. Teams with large population bases from which to draw have an inherent advantage in these calculations.  As a result, there is no level playing field in major league baseball; an upcoming season’s results can be quite comfortably predicted by analyzing payroll statistics. (Of this year’s eight playoff teams, six had team salaries in excess of $100 million. The two teams that did not, St. Louis and Minnesota, were both swept from the postseason without having won a single game.)

In years past, we could debate which players would be the difference makers for a team; now that debate must include owners and front office personnel, because that’s where games are won and lost, often before a single pitch is thrown. Today, the game’s true heroes are those who know how to acquire talent well, while the goats are those that squander large sums of money on players who underperform (yes, I’m looking at you Mets and Cubs).  Major League Baseball, as it is now constructed, reflects the crass values of free-market capitalism, disguised as sport. It rewards those who can afford to spend enormous sums of money, and punishes those who cannot.  Even those teams that work hard to develop young talent are denied the fruits of their labor, as often they are unable to keep pace with the exorbitant salary demands of rising stars.

And now, to make matters worse, the Valhalla of modern sports leagues, the NFL, teeters on the edge of experimenting with the same disastrous system. Jerry Jones, the wealthy owner of the wealthy Cowboys, has made little attempt to hide his glee at the prospect of unrestrained spending. Dan Snyder of the Redskins could actually buy his way out of the perennial train-wreck that is his team.  In places like Minnesota, New Orleans and Pittsburgh, however, the outlook is far grimmer. For franchises like this, it will quickly become impossible to keep their star players, and they will soon become the Pirates, Royals and Nationals of the NFL. Always poor, always losing. To be fair, one or perhaps two of these teams won’t stay poor long. Remember, the second largest metropolitan area in the nation, Los Angeles, is just waiting for its chance to get back in the game. While the nicknames Vikings or Saints would have no local connection, oddly enough, with a slight change in spelling, the Los Angeles Stealers would actually be a nice fit.

So, if you want to look into the crystal ball and see what the future of competition in the NFL is like, just replace the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels with Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Jets. If you’re a fan of some other NFL team, this would be the time to change allegiances, before you’re forced to experience the heartbreak of seeing your guys reduced to the role of generic schedule-fillers for teams that matter.

Of course, for those lucky fans of big-market teams, there’s always next year. But for fans from places like Kansas City, Pittsburgh or San Diego, next year promises just more of the same. Their seasons were over before they began. Thanks, Major League Baseball. And welcome aboard, NFL.