The Los Angeles Rams, SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Baseball Hall of Fame and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Rams got a quarterback worthy of their approach
The Los Angeles Rams had the NFL’s best defense and one of its brightest offensive minds yet lost to the New York Jets and were clearly outclassed by the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. They have compromised their future on several occasions to maintain a roster capable of winning the Super Bowl. The approach worked well when Jared Goff was an average (or slightly above average) quarterback playing on a rookie contract. It doesn’t work so well when Goff is owed $134 million over the next four years.
With the “talented team, cheap quarterback” plan no longer an option, upgrading at the most important position in sports was the only way to get the Rams from good to great. Matthew Stafford may not be an elite signal caller, but he is more than capable of winning a championship on a team as loaded as the one he is now on. The hefty price Los Angeles paid for him was what it cost to get Goff’s massive contract off the books. General manager Les Snead has been trading away first round picks for so long, what’s another two years without one? There’s no point keeping the Super Bowl window open if it’s so small it’s impossible to get through.
2. The SEC was one win away from a very successful Big 12/SEC Challenge
The Jan. 29 version of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s NCAA Tournament field included seven Big 12 teams, all of which were a No. 7 seed or better. Just two of the SEC’s six teams — Alabama and Missouri — were top four seeds. The discrepancy between the two conferences and lack of quality wins available to SEC teams made its nine games against Big 12 opponents on Jan. 30 vitally important. While the results weren’t disappointing, they weren’t entirely satisfying either.
Alabama’s 10-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of an Oklahoma team playing without leading scorer Austin Reaves. Missouri needed a late rally and overtime to defeat TCU. But Florida went on the road and knocked off West Virginia and Tennessee trounced Kansas. However, the other two games with tournament implications went the way of the Big 12. Arkansas came up short against Oklahoma State and LSU allowed Texas Tech to score 12 unanswered points in the final minute. Had one of those games had a different outcome, the SEC would be feeling much better about how it fared in its final opportunity to make a conference-wide statement.
3. The Baseball Hall of Fame can’t change course now
The failure of every Baseball Hall of Fame nominee to reach the 75% threshold required for induction is not noteworthy in itself. What makes this year’s results such a big deal is that even without any obvious choices to take votes away from them, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did not get in again. If it wasn’t going to happen in 2021, it’s highly unlikely it happens in 2022. However, the dilemma regarding how to balance a player’s performance and character will continue to persist.
Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz enter the equation next year, further complicating matters. What justification is there to vote for Rodriguez but not Bonds? While the argument for inducting both is certainly valid, there’s also a strong case for keeping controversial figures out based on the instructions given to voters. At the end of the day, it comes down to how literally the instructions are taken and personal views on what a hall of fame should be. Right or wrong, the voters have made their choice. If they’re going to keep steroid users out, they better do so for the entire era.
4. It’s been an awful season for college basketball’s bluebloods
Seven teams — North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State — have reached the Final Four at least 10 times. In the past five seasons, those programs combined for a 903-328 record, 24 NCAA Tournament appearances (out of a possible 28), four Final Fours and a national championship. Five NCAA Tournaments ago, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State reached the Final Four and the Blue Devils won it all. This season, those seven teams are a collective 69-39.
Only the Bruins and Buckeyes are currently ranked. The Wildcats are posting their worst winning percentage since the 1926-27 season. Michigan State just managed to lose a game in which it held Rutgers to 67 points by 30. Kansas lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2013 and is not a factor in the Big 12 title race. There is a real chance March Madness commences without John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. Calipari is the only one of that trio to miss an NCAA Tournament following his arrival in Lexington in 2009. He missed one.
5. Chelsea set Frank Lampard up for failure
If Chelsea’s plan was always to demand immediate success once their transfer ban ended, they should have never given the impression a club legend with one year of managerial experience was anything more than a short-term solution. Firing Frank Lampard was entirely justifiable considering the team’s underwhelming performance and internal chaos, but that is a reflection of the club’s unrealistic expectations rather than Lampard’s coaching ability. Owner Roman Abramovic and director Marina Granovskaia were fooling themselves if they thought this would go any other way.
Contrast Lampard’s rapid ascension with Steven Gerrard, whose incredible work at Rangers has led to increasing speculation about the possibility of being Jürgen Klopp’s eventual replacement at his beloved Liverpool. By the time that would happen, Gerrard would actually have a body of work to justify the hiring. Chelsea’s situation is made worse by the fact that this season’s Premier League title was there for the taking had an experienced manager been in place. One bad run of form and the 14-game unbeaten run at the end of 2020 as well as last season’s top-four finish were completely forgotten.
The refusal of NL Central teams to do anything to improve their rosters meant one big move could create a clear frontrunner in the division. Nolan Arenado’s arrival in St. Louis is exactly the kind of addition that can swing the balance of power. Here’s to hoping the Cardinals run away with the division and make the other four teams look bad in doing so.
Photo by Mike Morbeck / Flickr