Ranting And Raving About Monday Night Raw: The Bar Is Still Set

Sasha Banks vs. Paige  photos   WWE.png

Earlier this week, I was listening to one of my favorite wrestling podcasts in the car, which is known as “Going In Raw”, and as Steve and Larson were previewing this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw, it seemed obvious to them that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose would be winning back the Raw tag team titles in Los Angeles. There logic was sound, as Roman Reigns had won the Intercontinental title a few weeks prior, and the creative team seemed to be going in the The Shield Wins All The Titles direction on the Road To WrestleMania. With Reigns likely to not get pinned before his Universal title match against Brock Lesnar, ending next year’s granddaddy of them all with the visual of The Shield carrying all the titles makes sense. (It may also be the only way the show doesn’t end on a dud.)

That’s not what happened last night.

Instead, The Bar survived in what was a wild finish that included not only Rollins and Ambrose but Reigns and Samoa Joe as well. The Shield can’t seem to shake heel trios -- last week it was Elias and The Miztourage, this week it was Joe and The Bar. At one point, Raw general manager Kurt Angle came out and restarted the match after Sheamus intentionally got himself disqualified after ten-plus minutes of in-ring action. (Logically, this didn't make a lot of sense.) Chaos ensued, similar to the way The New Day cost Rollins and Ambrose before Survivor Series to close out an episode of Raw, as The Bar escaped with the tag team titles in stunning fashion.

Still, it was surreal to see just how invested the crowd was in a feud that I’d previously thought hadn’t had any meat left on the bone for months. The near falls were electric, the match reset idea clicked, and the show ended with Joe, Cesaro and Sheamus celebrating in the crowd just like we all predicted.

Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the smaller things that caught my attention this week:

  1. I’m very much over Authority Figure Opens The Show routine on both shows, but this week was an exception. Jason Jordan attacking Reigns from behind was the right call, and the creative team has clearly changed gears with his character that’s now registering real heat with the crowd. The kid just needs a mouthpiece. What’s Wade Barrett up to?
  2. The Reigns and John Cena comparisons, for the most part, have never really coincided with reality -- just read Triple H’s quotes about the Big Dog he gave to The National this week -- but what does seem to be happening that was also true for Cena is elevating other talent by just feuding with the WWE’s top guy. By attacking Reigns, by staring bullets from the top of the ramp during his match with Jordan, by costing his brothers the tag team titles it made Joe look not only really cool, but, perhaps more importantly, made him look important. Elias seemed to still be glowing from his match with Reigns last week on Raw. Joe isn’t winning this feud with Reigns, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t helping him.
  3. Absolution is working, and it certainly looks like the crowd is definitely here for a Paige vs. Asuka pay-per-view match down the road, but tonight’s match that pitted Sasha Banks against Mandy Rose and Sonya Daville’s leader didn’t work. In a lot of ways, this match came off the same way Dolph Ziggler matches against Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura unfolded. The same sort of problems reappeared: far too long, too many rest holds, and an ending everyone expected. Banks and Ziggler have a lot in common right now.
  4. “Woken” Matt Hardy is here and the company isn’t wasting any time introducing the WWE audience to Hardy’s new persona. In a week’s time, his personality has drastically changed, his attire, his accent, just about everything about the nostalgia act that was the Hardy Boyz is gone. It was a risky play by WWE’s creative team to not slowly introduce fans to this niche character, but it looks as though Vince and company hit 21. While fans, myself included, groaned and grew droopy-eyed as Bray Wyatt spouted more nonsense and incoherent dribble, the Woken One flashed on the screen in delightful fashion. Wrestling fans’ appetite for this character’s return hasn’t subsided, and they’re going to get it in full for a while.

From The Digital Notepad:

  • “I have been woken.”

  • I think more people watched the Broken Matt Hardy Impact Wrestling shows than NXT.

  • Where does Alexa Bliss come into focus?

  • Nia Jax and Enzo is going to deliver some very memorable segments.

  • Can Alicia Fox finally get new theme music?

  • I don’t love Drew Gulak vs. Rich Swann next week.

  • That Mustafa Ali springboard spanish fly was nuts.

  • “Oh God.” - Kurt Angle to Elias.

  • Booker T and Corey Graves is never going to work.

  • Jason Jordan is three years younger than Roman Reigns.

  • I miss The Miz.

Wolves and Thunder Problems, DeAndre Jordan and Pacers With Dan Favale (Ep. 98)

Chase Thomas is joined by NBA Math and Bleacher Report's Dan Favale to catch up on who should be tanking (3:00), what's going on with the Thunder and Timberwolves (18:00), Anthony Davis still being awesome (25:00), the Clippers having to trade DeAndre Jordan (33:00), and how the Indiana Pacers are staying afloat (56:00).

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Why Am I Watching This Shit? SNF Seahawks vs. Eagles Edition

You’re not going to believe this, but I’m adding another column into my ever-growing list of Cool Shit That I Want To Write About.

The latest?

Like so many of you, I’m sure, you constantly find yourself wondering either aloud or in your Google search bar: “Why am I watching this?” With Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Video, and probably more streaming services that I’m forgetting, but only forgetting because there are just too many of these damn things popping up, there are more things to watch than ever. (I’m pretty sure I have the bonus Showtime add-on subscription on my Amazon Prime account? How does that happen? Could I love The Affair and Twin Peaks that much that I blacked out one night and rather than order a bunch of clothes I don’t need or make sports bets I shouldn’t go through with, I got real crazy and upped my subscription because I needed to see how the Bookhouse Boys were doing right now?) Point is, there is a lot of good television and sporting events and movies out there for all of us to consume, and I’ll be honest: I devour my fair share.

So why not write about what I’m watching while also thinking to myself more often than not: “Why am I watching this shit?”

It’s a fair question to ask, but it’s one that I’ll never really be able to answer because does anyone really know why we watch what we watch? Does it matter? I don’t know, but I watch a lot of things, so I’m going to write about the comical misuse of time that I exhibit on a daily basis.

Enjoy. Or don’t. I’m still writing this damn column.

***

Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles took their 10-1 record to Seattle in a game I was looking forward to all week. Yes, the Saints facing the Panthers at home was intriguing, the Falcons getting the opportunity to buy back the trust of its fans after a rocky start against the Vikings was interesting, but the Eagles are the favorites to come out of the NFC this year and the Seahawks were my preseason Super Bowl pick. In a year where it seems like so many teams are a quarterback away from contending, and, you know, actually being a fun watch, both of these two teams boast quarterbacks who are very much in the running for MVP this season.

Barring other unexpected commitments, I make time to watch Russell Wilson play quarterback. There aren’t many in the NFL like him. The guy is leading his team in rushing, just got a competent left tackle for the first time in 14 years Tom Cable has been the offensive line coach in Seattle, and is being asked to, really, do everything for the Pete Carroll’s team as the Legion Of Boom continues to evolve into more of a Legion Of Gloom. With the kind of injury luck the Seahawks have had this year, along with their revolving door at the running back position, your gut would tell you write this team off because the Football Injury Gods just didn’t like them this year. Instead, Wilson, in similar fashion to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, finds a way each week to keep his crippled team afloat with his arms and his legs. Too often in sports we take careers like Wilson’s for granted.

I will never take watching Russell Wilson on Sundays for granted.

Carson Wentz is already inching closer and closer to joining Wilson and Rodgers in the As Long As They’re Healthy And Playing They Can Win Any Game category. What works against the former North Dakota State star is something that’s entirely out of his control: experience. He’s still in just the second year of his NFL career, but he’s already rightfully in the MVP conversation, which is really all you want as an NFL fan -- to have a quarterback who at least belongs in the conversation. I think Wentz will get there, but Sunday night was a reminder that Wilson has been there for a while and isn’t going away anytime soon.

What’s better than debating whether or not Wentz or Wilson is the MVP favorite for quarterbacks not named Tom Brady right now?

An entertaining primetime Sunday Night Football with my favorite announcing duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

The Seahawks were up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, and my prediction that they’d beat The Visor Guy's team on Sunday night that I'd made on my podcast earlier in the week was looking good. Wilson was moving around a fierce Philly pass rush, and finding Doug Baldwin for first downs on the sidelines seemingly every time the Seahawks needed to a big conversion. There is something different about this Seattle team, at least offensively, with Mike Davis -- who is somehow only 24-years-old and did not play at South Carolina with Stephen Garcia in 2008 -- backing up Wilson. It’s remarkable how much scarier the Seahawks look when Eddie Lacy or Thomas Rawls aren’t back there.

But the Seahawks never appeared to be phased by the Eagles. Wentz was forced to play from behind from the outset, after a Blair Walsh field goal on the opening drive for the Seahawks made it 3-0, and he had a tough time. The Seahawks secondary survived without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor this week against the best team in the NFC. Wentz had 45 attempts in this game, but it felt like attempted far less.

Still, it was interesting to see Wentz in a high-pressure environment, even if it was a regular season affair. In a lot of ways, his rise reminds me a lot of what happened with Dak Prescott in Dallas last year. Like Prescott, No. 11 has established himself as a franchise quarterback that you want come playoff time, but, considering the rash of injuries in Seattle, the Eagles should have lit up a Seattle defense that had already been roasted at home earlier in the year to both Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson. On the plus side, Nelson Agholor’s transformation into a consistent, terrifying deep threat in Philadelphia is something I don’t think anybody saw coming.

This game didn't feature Wentz and Wilson throwing bomb after bomb to a final score of 45-38 that I had envisioned prior to the contest, but it was fun to see a Seattle team look like the Seattle team of old. While Arizona and San Francisco have fallen, the Seahawks have been more stubborn than Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. It was interesting to see how the Eagles responded when they were down 17-3 on the road against a potential playoff team -- they didn’t fold and we were treated with Wentz going no-huddle and throwing Four Verticals into the end zone until the clock hit 0:00. Like Wilson, the Eagles' quarterback is a leader who is just not going to crumble in big moments, no matter how clear it is that it’s just not his team’s day.

I’m glad I watched this one.

Introducing the Nobody Asked Mailbag

Could I already be out of writing ideas for the week?

Is that why I’m introducing a new, weekly column idea in which I answer emails from people who don’t actually exist each week?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have answers to questions I’m asking myself that delve into the often insane world of sports and pop culture. Perhaps one day I’ll add a splash of politics into these mailbag-from-people-who-do-not-exist columns one day, but it’s Friday, and it’s been a peculiarly good week for me. Why get reckless in Week 1 and give my brief thoughts on things that will potentially alienate you, the reader, this early in the process? There is plenty of time for that later.

Anyway, this is another thing I’m going to try. I’m trying it because I want to experiment on my site because, well, why not? Like my podcast, all I can do is keep going and learning and hoping that, throughout the process, I’m getting better.

We’ll see.

So let’s get into your very made-up emails that you certainly did not submit to chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com.

***

Q: Will there ever come a time where Thursday Night Football in the NFL becomes etched in sports fans’ minds as appointment viewing?

- John, Dacula, Georgia

CT: Growing up, I watched a lot of college football on Thursday nights and I’d swear before the courts that I’ve seen Louisville and Wake Forest play a Thursday night game on ESPN thirty-six times in my life -- and I’m only 26-years-old! That is to say that it just organically became appointment viewing growing up. (Shoutout to random nights watching Riley Skinner and Brian Brohm!) So, do I think grown NFL fans will ever be sure to tune into a Jags vs. Titans mid-week affair on the NFL Network? No, I don’t. The kids who are staying up late on a school night to watch it right now, though? That’s certainly possible.

Q: What do you think of Tennessee reportedly hiring Phillip Fulmer as their next athletic director?

- Jeff, Troy, Alabama

CT: What a time to be alive. I’m not a texter, phone calls are better, I promise, but I am in a group text with multiple of family members who are big Tennessee fans and/or alums. Without looking at my phone to see how they’re reacting to the news as I’m typing this, I imagine that they’ll be pleased. They hated the last AD who self-destructed this week after trying to replace Butch Jones with Greg Schiano. Fulmer is 67-years-old, has no experience in this kind of role, but he’s beloved by Volunteer fans, so his hiring will probably be celebrated. Not looking good for Lane Kiffin’s return to Knoxville, though, which I was definitely here for. Thankfully, he still tweets.

Q: Will you be seeing the latest Pixar hit COCO in theaters?

- Jessica, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

CT: I think I might be done with animated movies. It may have finally happened. Growing up, I was never really into cartoons, as I was more focused on Thomas The Tank Engine and Power Rangers, and less on Pokemon, Rugrats, Duck Tales, etc. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a huge comic-book person, either? Give me Drake & Josh over Rocket Power every day of the week.

Wait, what was the question again? Right, COCO. To be honest, the last Pixar movie I saw in theaters was INSIDE OUT, and that will probably be the last. (Sorry possible, future kids, I’m out!) I’ll be skipping COCO and watching too much football this weekend. Who knows, I may get crazy and start Season 2 of GILMORE GIRLS at some point? (I’ve been hooked ever since that episode where Emily Gilmore fixes Lorelai that foul banana sandwich. Seriously, what the hell was that?)

Q: Eli Manning got benched in favor Geno Smith this week. I don’t actually have a question, I just can’t get over that being a real sentence in 2017.

- Tim, Long Island, New York

CT: I can’t either, Tim. I’ve watched entirely too much of the Giants this season, and if you’re watching the games, it’s hard to come away thinking that Manning is responsible for this shit sandwich. Per Football Outsiders, his DYAR currently sits ahead of Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. It’s also hard to really rip Manning for all of his wide receivers dissipating early in the season. The G-Men won 11 games just one season ago with Manning at the helm, and it’s not like everyone saw this disaster movie coming in 2017. Manning can’t carry a team anymore, but I feel pretty confident the Ravens, Cardinals, Bucs, Jaguars, Texans, Browns and Dolphins would gladly take the future Hall-of-Famer right now. McAdoo can take his starting job, but he can’t take his two rings.

Q: Will a Roman Reigns Intercontinental Championship Open Challenge shift fans’ feelings on the Big Dog?

- Jack, Naples, Florida

CT: Week 1 of the Reigns Reset on Monday Night Raw wasn’t bad. His match versus Elias went over well, and they both came off looking better because of it. The John Cena United States Championship Open Challenge was extremely successful, but it didn’t change fans’ perspective of him. In a vacuum, the Reigns’ open challenge should be better because Reigns, especially at this point in his career, is a much better wrestler than Cena. His character and storylines may be not be all that compelling, but the guy can work. I’ll enjoy these matches as Brock Lesnar continues to hide away in the woods of Minnesota, but it’s not going to get him over as a babyface.

That’s it for this week. Could this be a staple on the site every Friday? Sure. We’ll see, though. Thanks to all the readers who didn’t write in and send me these emails because I wrote the questions and answered them.

Two Things from Smackdown Live: Randy Orton Needs a Direction

What is the end game for Smackdown Live’s biggest storyline involving Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan? After this storyline was placed on the backburner so that both Smackdown Live and Raw could focus on brand supremacy for a few weeks, the blue brand has changed gears and the complicated storyline is back at the forefront on Tuesday nights. But where are they going? How does this end? Who ultimately benefits from this?

I don’t have the answers, but I’m inching closer and closer to falling into the Nobody Is Winning This Feud camp.

For Bryan, it can only hurt. A few weeks ago he was verbally extinguished by the Best Friends, but now in the interest of the brand’s limited main event talent depth, has come to their defense. Bryan is trying to play both sides right now, and if he’s not getting cleared to compete anytime soon, I’m not sure why they’re going down this road.

For McMahon, he’s already gone to Hell with Owens only to be foiled by Zayn in a stunning finish at Hell In A Cell a few weeks back. Does anyone really want to see Shane go to war with Owens or Zayn again? If the goal is to eventually turn Shane-O-Mac, the Smackdown writers are doing a fantastic job doing it organically with these opening promos every week. (They’re awful and need to stop.)

For Owens and Zayn, it feels like they’re losing steam as the weeks go by. At some point, the WWE creative team has to decide what they’re going to do with these two going forward -- and it can’t be moving them to Raw. The red brand is too loaded to be able to absorb both Zayn and Owens, but with the duo being at severe odds with the blue brand’s figure heads the WWE has booked themselves into a corner. Oddly enough, an ending where Owens and Zayn somehow take control of Smackdown Live, at least for a time, from McMahon and Bryan may just be their best course of action.

With that, let’s jump into my two major takeaways from this week’s Smackdown Live:

  1. “Byron that is disgusting,” Corey Graves said in the best line of the show. As much as I fantacize hopping into a lion pit while listenting to Raw’s commentary team each week, the Graves and Byron Saxton dynamic will never cease to entertain me. But that’s not one of my major things I took away from this show -- I just needed to put that out into the world. (Stay strong, Byron.) Instead, I was mesmorized by Randy Orton’s sudden hair growth, for one, but Orton’s current place in the company is a mystery. His main event match with Owens was enjoyable, but it reminded me how irrelevant Orton is right now within the company, and that stinks. Orton, like John Cena, is moving into a new role in the company, but that new, minor role should still have a plan. For all of Orton’s shortcomings, one thing has always been true -- the guy is dependable. If you place him in the right situation -- ala in a blood feud against Brock Lesnar -- Orton can still be a very fun, interesting character. Who knows how much longer we have of Orton in the WWE, and for Smackdown Live’s creative team to not put him into a compelling storyline right now -- perhaps with Baron Corbin and/or Bobby Roode -- is insanely frustrating.

  2. Is it too late to pull the plug on the Riott Squad vs. Smackdown Live women’s division? Maybe it was just a bad week, but from a painful backstage promo between Charlotte Flair and Naomi, to Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan not getting disqualified for destroying Naomi, to Natalya’s insufferable over-acting, this is just not working. For the most part, though, it’s not the wrestlers’ fault, as they’re all talented, but they’ve been fed bad dialogue and a program that is eliciting crickets from the audience. It doesn’t help that Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan just come off as natural babyfaces, but, man, next week has to be better. Let's hope it is.

NFL Week 13 With Ethan Hammerman and Vikings With Eric Thompson (Ep. 97)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to recap Week 12 in the NFL (3:00), the Chargers surging at the right time (7:00), the Aqib Talib vs. Michael Crabtree drama (16:00), how the Lions can still make the playoffs (21:00), why people should chill on the Dak Prescott hate (28:00), and preview Week 13 in the NFL (30:00). Then, The Daily Norseman's Eric Thompson returns to talk Vikings (63:00), the Teddy Bridgewater vs. Case Keenum issue (70:00), and preview the Falcons vs. Vikings game on Sunday (78:00).

Three Things: Monday Night Raw

Goodbye, The Miz. Hello, Roman Reigns.

For the past several months, Monday Night Raw has been carried by one man in particular, and it wasn’t Raw General Manager Kurt Angle, or Braun Strowman, or Finn Balor or even Roman Reigns, no, it was The Miz.

The Miz has been the MVP of Raw since claiming the Intercontinental title, as the former WWE champion has carried the load both in the promo and in-ring department while the brand’s Universal champion enjoys his part-time schedule, appearing just often enough so that fans don’t forget about his existence. When Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman are away, The Miz’s IC title has become the default main championship on the show, and, if you didn’t know the Universal title existed and just tuned into a random episode of Raw this fall, you would assume that The Miz was the main champion.

However, The Miz dropped his title to Reigns last week and as he is away filming The Marine 6 -- I hope these never end, honestly. Adam Cole is going to make The Marine 13 in 2023 the best yet. -- so the Big Dog has taken his place. Reigns opened this week’s show, alone, and was met with a mild version of what John Cena has experienced from most crowds for the better part of a decade. With no pay-per-view for Raw until the Royal Rumble, Lesnar isn’t needed and the Intercontinental champion is once again being the main focus of the weekly program. This time, it really is his yard.

Here are three things that I took away from this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw:

  1. Elias just might be a potential Guy on the red brand. Filling in for The Miztourage’s absent leader, the trio didn’t miss a beat. After weeks of bad segments and feuds -- remember when Jason Jordan was throwing celery at the Drifter a few weeks ago, and he was supposed to be the babyface? I love this company. -- the wanderer finally found a direction. At least temporarily, as Samoa Joe made it very clear later on in the night that he’s got his sights set on Reigns, and, perhaps, that shiny, white belt. Elias was given time in the ring against a serious opponent and it just worked. Elias looked like he belonged in the ring with the company’s biggest star, and that matters. The match itself wasn’t all that memorable, but I came away thinking that Elias’ ceiling may not be a mid-card act, but, in actuality, a potential top heel in a few years. For a roster littered with older talent, Elias is just 29-years-old, and he showed that he could be more if given the opportunity. I just wish he was two inches taller where he’d be kind of like Jinder Mahal but good.

  2. I had forgotten how good Paige is on the mic. Something that has plagued the Raw women’s division has been poor mic skills of its top workers outside of Alexa Bliss. She’s been in a league of her own since moving to Raw, but she finally has somebody on the roster who she can actually have an entertaining back-and-forth segment with. Paige’s explanation for her actions made sense, and her line about erasing the term “diva” from the WWE dictionary was a home run. There’s depth to the Paige character, and it’s only going to get better as time goes on. I’m not sure what I’m more excited for: her inevitable match against Asuka or her first Raw promo opposite of Alexa Bliss.

  3. Certain wrestlers have a natural aura of “cool” surrounding them. It’s natural and can’t be learned or developed much to the chagrin of Triple H who has tried to be a Cool Guy for close to two decades now. The Cerebral Assassin may never have had it, but Samoa Joe does. It may be the way he speedwalks to the ring, or it may be his natural look, or it may just be his propensity to put anyone and everyone into a coquina clutch whenever he feels like it. I’m not sure what it is, but the crowd wants to like him similar to the way they like Strowman -- except with Joe it just doesn’t feel quite as forced. Or maybe it’s just that Michael Cole hasn’t referred to him with his nickname thirteen times over the course of one episode of Raw yet. So why put him against Reigns now? This week’s Raw was about Vince McMahon’s crown jewel, but his decision to pit him against another wrestler that the crowd is going to get behind is a puzzling one. It isn’t cool to Actually Like Elias yet, but that is the case for the Samoan Submission Machine. We know how this story ends -- Reigns is going to get panned and Joe is going to get showered with cheers. This company, man.

Chase Thomas is freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the host of “The Chase Thomas Podcast” and has written for VICE Sports, The Cauldron, Hardwood Paroxysm, and more. Email him: chasethomas0418@gmail.com.

NBA Trade Machine Update With Jovan Buha of ESPN (Ep. 96)

Chase Thomas is joined by ESPN's Jovan Buha to talk about the Clippers falling off a cliff due to injuries (3:00), whether or not they should trade DeAndre Jordan (10:00), a potential Brook-For-Jordan swap in Los Angeles (28:00), a potential Nerlens Noel trade in Dallas (35:00), potential Marc Gasol trades in Memphis (47:00), Gasol in Toronto (53:00), and a Lonzo Ball shoe update (60:00).

Twitter: @chase__thomas

Facebook:www.facebook.com/chasethomaswriter/

Email: chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com

Show Page: www.chasethomaspodcast.com

Why UGA Fans Shouldn't Take This Season for Granted

I’m old enough to remember when Brian Schottenheimer was the offensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs. It was two years ago. Two. That’s how long ago it was that Georgia found themselves eighty-fifth in the country in points per game. It was also the year the Bulldogs almost fell at home to a less-than-stellar Georgia Southern program only to barely scrape by with a 31-24 victory. I’ll probably never forget that season because I remember arguing with family members who had a rooting interest in Georgia that the hiring of the son of the legendary NFL head coach was going to go as well as a 21 Savage halftime show at Phillips Arena. By Thanksgiving, when all the family was gathered together, I remember my uncle Derek somberly admitting that maybe Georgia kind of sucked and their record wasn’t truly indicative as to how things were going. (In his defense, having to watch a full season of Greyson Lambert under-center can do crazy things to a person. Speaking of, are we sure Lambert isn’t playing his fourteenth collegiate season at Louisiana Tech this year? I wouldn’t rule it out.) And that team still went 10-3 and still pulled the plug on the Mark Richt Coached Team That Comes So Close experience that had kept UGA fan message boards lit for over a decade.

That unwatchable 2015-16 Georgia team finished the season with ten wins -- the 2017 incarnation could finish this year with just one more win victory. The differences between that last Mark Richt team and Kirby Smart’s team in Year 2 of the We Can Build Alabama 2.0, We Promise experiment is night and day. There were no nail biters against inferior competition, but there were a lot of curb-stomps. Nine of the eleven victories for the Dawgs this year have been by twenty or more points. Again, this team very well may end up winning just one more game than that 2015 team.

Sports are dumb.

But don’t let the fact that Tennessee won just as many SEC games as Georgia Tech this season distract you from what has been an entirely unexpected, successful season if you’re a fan of the Bulldogs. Nobody saw this team opening up at No. 1 in the first CFB Playoff rankings before the season started, but they got there. Nobody saw true freshman Jake Fromm channeling his inner Matt Saracen and keeping the offense going after former five-star QB Jacob Eason got knocked out against Appalachian State. (Tough year for people who bought a lot of Eason stock, but he’ll probably get the last laugh once he transfers to Washington and plays for Chris Peterson, wins one or two Pac-12 titles, and gets drafted in the first round of 2021 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.)  After finishing 8-5 a year ago, this kind of jump in play and execution was a surprise. That doesn't usually happen.

While Georgia had one of its best seasons in decades, the rest of the SEC, outside of Alabama and Auburn, have been losing their minds. LSU lost at home to Troy earlier this year; Florida still is yet to score an offensive touchdown this year (if you saw that happen once this season, the joke is on you for watching enough Florida football this year to see something as rare as Professor Snape smiling); Kevin Sumlin got fired for being pretty good at his job; Arkansas hasn’t been relevant since Ryan Mallett was under-center; Vanderbilt lost to Alabama by 1,000 points; Tennessee can’t even conduct a competent search for their next head coach. Point is, Georgia avoided all of that chaos and finished the regular season with their only loss being to the hottest team in the country. Celebrate that.

In a lot of ways, this year’s Georgia team reminds me a lot of last year’s Atlanta Falcons team that went to the Super Bowl. (I turned the game off after the third quarter, so no spoilers, please.) Coming into the 2016-17 season, I distinctly remember podcasting with a Falcons blogger and making the case that Kyle Shanahan Is Actually Good and it not going well. Then the Falcons went out and had the best offense in football, Matt Ryan won MVP, and the Falcons were up on the Patriots 28-3 at one point in the f*cking Super Bowl. Obviously, the ending sucked for Atlanta fans, but does a miserable finish erase a remarkable run that spanned a much longer amount of time than one bad, seizure-inducing quarter of football? Does one bad showing at Jordan-Hare Stadium invalidate an otherwise magical season that left you at the end of most weekends excited about what lies ahead? Recency bias is a real thing that can only be cured with a long walk, hopping off social media, and just taking a second to remind yourself how much fun you had this season. Did I mention that Florida and Tennessee and Georgia Tech aren’t even going bowling this year? What more could you ask for if you’re a petty Georgia fan? The Volunteers hiring Greg Schiano?

Maybe it’s just that it’s that time of year where we all find ourselves reflecting on the year that was and all that we’re thankful for. But with the kind of year Georgia has had in 2017, what more could you have asked for? (Outside of Hermoine Granger finding Smart the right counter curse against the dark arts that Gus Malzahn employs on Nick Saban and friends when his teams are good, of course.) It could always be worse, just look at 2015 in Athens, but it’s rarely as good as 2017. Brian Schottenheimer could still be calling five-yard curls ninety three times a game. Don’t take this moment for granted.

In Celebration of the Eye On Basketball Podcast

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It’s been eleven weeks since I got my last notification that a new episode of the Eye On Basketball podcast was available for download. We’re several weeks into the NBA season now, and my trips in the car aren’t the same. They’ll never be because new episodes aren’t coming and “Do you want to do games tonight?” isn’t going to be echoed throughout the speakers in my car this season.

The truth is, though, the NBA podcast that hooked me to a level that closely matched my addiction to sparkling water of the raspberry variety has been gone for a while. Zach Harper hasn’t co-hosted the show for over a year now. Matt Moore kept the show going with James Herbert and friends last season, and although I still tuned in, it wasn't the same. Harper and Moore had a dynamic similar to Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe or Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell -- what ostensibly shouldn’t be a good fit just works once you hit record.

That’s how it works in finding the perfect podcasting partner. My episodes with film critic Danny Bowes first alerted me to this fact. We couldn’t be more different in background and style, but we never failed to crack each other up over things like Ethan Hawke’s turtleneck in BEFORE SUNRISE. (Google it, if you must. Just open a new tab.) Harper and Moore thought about basketball differently and the podcast blossomed because of it. It’s same in sports, where there are far more duos that go the way of the Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III marriage than the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick marriage. So when those things dissipate it’s especially unfortunate because it's almost a certainty it will be so hard to replicate with whoever comes in next.

So I still miss it.

And now it’s gone altogether, replaced in my podcast app with other excellent podcasts like The Basketball Friends or SI’s Open Floor podcast or The Hoop Collective or whoever. They’re all great, but I’ll never be as attached to them as much as I was to the Pig Control -- I was never clear what Harper was saying in his intros, but I saw a Redditor mention the former, so I’m going with that because the Internet is never wrong -- podcast. It’s not because they’re not good, it’s because of when I got into them.

I’m not breaking any news here when I say that what we listen to when we’re growing up plays a pivotal role in our musical preferences in adulthood. I was an angsty kid, so my ears will always perk up when a Blink tracks come my Spotify shuffling sessions, or whenever Nas’s voice enters my earbuds to remind us all what life actually is. Podcasts came later, in college, at a time where I was constantly either in my car, sitting in a hallway waiting for a class to start, or in the library trying desperately to prepare for a Statistics exam I was not at all prepared for. I listened to less music and more podcasts and the Eye On Basketball podcast was the first pod that hooked me.

And I never missed an episode. I have distinct memories of riding around my car, as I’m prone to do, and getting excited about seeing there was a new episode available. There were nights where I’d head to a date and I’d be listening to a rare Harper and Ethan Strauss edition of the podcast on the way. Sometimes, I’d be walking the halls at my school knowing that I had an hour gap between my next class and just walk all around campus listening to Harper and Moore do over/unders or the latter rip the Celtics for drafting Terry Rozier in the first round of the NBA Draft.

As a loner and a person who spends entirely too much time in their own head, this podcast served as the ideal escape for an NBA-obsessive and provided me a consistent out when I needed it. My college experience was different than most peoples, as I transferred several times and commuted to campus for the majority of it. I had a few friends here and there, but mostly, I was on my own, either in my car listening to podcasts or walking around campus waiting for my next class with my earbuds firmly in-place the majority of the time. Those walks and commutes were what largely inspired me to take a chance and start my own podcast. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Because I love doing my podcast, and I love listening to others. None of that happens without the Eye On Basketball podcast. Maybe one day Harper and Moore will reunite on a future podcast, or maybe they won’t. Either way, I’ll always be a fan because I don’t know what I’d be doing today without that damn basketball podcast.

2018 Should Be the Year of The Miz

I can’t speak for every other professional wrestling fan out there, but it’s my belief that years from now, when we’re talking to other wrestling fans about things that happened in 2017, specifically in the WWE, former WWE champion Jinder Mahal’s name will come up. For most, his reign at the top of the 9:00 hour on Smackdown Live every week for almost half of the year -- I’ll never forgive you, Road Dogg and Ryan Ward -- will be remembered negatively. I’m certain I’ll utter the words, “Remember that insane Jinder Mahal Experiment on Smackdown?” or “Remember when he always seemed to lose his voice mid-promo?” or maybe even “Remember that one, fantastic match he had with…?” That last one won’t end with an actual name because Mahal has never had a fantastic match with anyone. Ever. It doesn’t exist. Watching a Jinder Mahal match in 2017 every week is like choosing to watch the Cleveland Browns game every Sunday knowing full well you’re not going to enjoy yourself, but also, you know how this story ends. After six months on top of the brand that prides itself on being the Land of Opportunity, I’m starting to wonder if Modern Day Maharaja may not have earned that opportunity. (Seriously, what the hell, Road Dogg?)

Still, as much of a disaster as the Mahal era was on Smackdown Live, the company deserves credit for doing everything in its power to turn one of their own into a major star. That should happen more, but it often doesn’t. The persistence and relentless by the company to ensure that Mahal got over, was booked and presented as a big deal, and never once pulled the plug, which, again, they so often do, was a good thing.

The company just backed the wrong horse.

Fortunately, the WWE roster has never been deeper. AJ Styles, the best wrestler in the world, is WWE champion again. The Shield is back together. Adam Cole is in NXT bay-bay. The roster is so stacked that talents like Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor are getting lost in the shuffle. With a roster so well established, the company should be investing in these talents the way they invested in Mahal.

In two months or so, the Royal Rumble, my favorite wrestling pay-per-view of the year, will happen. And with it, the Road to WrestleMania will begin, although, this time, there won’t be any roadblocks on the way. We know Roman Reigns will be challenging Brock Lesnar for the Raw Universal title at WrestleMania the same way we know that the Golden State Warriors will be winning the 2018 NBA Finals -- these things are just going to happen. (However, something tells me the reception to another Warriors’ title win won’t be met with the same, collective groan that Reigns’ fourth WWE title victory will create. But I suppose the Warriors could clinch on the road in Boston.)

But there is a brand-split once again, and somebody has to challenge the Face That Runs The Place on the blue brand for the WWE title. The natural inclination is to fantasy book Nakamura against Styles in what would obviously be a dream match for wrestling diehards. But there’s another option, and it’s the better one: The Miz. It’s easy to forget sometimes that professional wrestling is still a soap opera, and that’s what makes The Miz awesome. Putting together a compelling Nakamura vs. Styles feud on WWE television would be far more difficult and risky than pitting the best heel in the company today against the company’s best babyface.

In case you missed it, The Miz has had quite the 2017. At 37-years-old, Ohio’s own has figured out how to be the best heel in professional wrestling. When his hand goes up, you pay close attention. Moving him from Smackdown Live, away from his perfect foil, Daniel Bryan, was a risky play and it could have easily backfired. It didn’t. Instead, he got Curtis Axel over in 2017 and revitalized the careers of two social outcasts. His better half was written off television, and he didn't miss a beat. The summer’s hottest feud, John Cena vs. Roman Reigns, won’t be remembered for their lackluster back-and-forth nonsense, no, it will be remembered for that one week on Raw where The Miz eviscerated two of the company’s biggest stars of the last decade.

Yes, how many moments do Cena and Reigns get? How many does Mahal get? Brock Lesnar? Bray Wyatt? Triple H? The Miz, when he’s at his best, is landing truthful jabs at his opponent in devastating fashion. What more does The Miz have to do for the company to give him a run like the company gave the inferior Mahal? The Miz has put in the work, he’s evolved as a character, he’s evolved as an in-ring worker and whenever you put him on the same screen as a top babyface, like Daniel Bryan, magic happens.

So let’s pretend the world is a meritocracy, and give The Miz his moment in 2018. Once he’s finished filming thirty-seventh installment in The Marine series, the company should finally reward The Miz because, as so many good heels are, he’s right. He’s earned it. He’s been the glue that has held Monday Night Raw together when Brock Lesnar disappears for weeks at a time. But he’s reached his ceiling on Raw through no fault his of his own -- it will always be that rather large guy’s yard.

Smackdown Live is different. It’s less defined. There’s more room to grow and less barriers to fight through. The best heels on the Tuesday night program may not even be long for it -- Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn -- and the top of the card is as open as it has ever been. The fans love to cheer Styles, and they love to hate The Miz. That’s not going to change.

So why not give The Miz a Royal Rumble victory, and, as a result, challenging the best wrestler in the world for his belt at the biggest show of the year? Some feuds are more difficult to garner interest than others, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where a Miz vs. Styles program doesn’t lead to memorable promos, heavy crowd involvement, and multiple “This Is Awesome” chants as the Miz goes above-and-beyond in his heelish antics to finally have his moment.

Putting the WWE title on Styles was the right decision by the company a few weeks ago, but that should just be the start. Styles, as we saw in his match against Lesnar at Survivor Series, can make anyone look like a million bucks. It’s time to for The Miz to cash-in.

MLB Offseason Storylines With Kenny Ducey of Sports Illustrated (Ep. 95)

Chase Thomas is joined by Sports Illustrated's Kenny Ducey to talk about who the next manager of the Yankees will be (3:00), Shohei Otani's free agency (7:00), what the Twins should do this winter (15:00), Giancarlo Stanton's trade rumors and potential destinations (23:00), J.D. Martinez ending up on the Nationals (34:00), Manny Machado in Baltimore (41:00), and how the Cubs and Astros can get even better (50:00).

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World Series, Joe Girardi and Red Sox With Nick Stellini and Brett Cowett (Ep. 89)

Chase Thomas is joined by Sporting News' Nick Stellini to talk about Game 5 of the World Series (3:00), early MVP favorites (10:00), the Yankees' decision to move on from Joe Girardi (14:00), the Nationals moving on Dusty Baker (24:00), and early Winter Meetings thoughts (30:00). Then, Baseball Prospectus Boston's Brett Cowett jumps on the pod to talk about the Red Sox's 2017 campaign (37:00), John Farrell getting ousted for Alex Cora (43:00), and how the Red Sox can improve in 2018 (50:00).

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WWE With Derek Montilla and Ravens With Kyle Andrews (Ep. 88)

Chase Thomas is joined by Arizona Sports' Derek Montilla to talk about TLC (3:00), if the Shield reunion is working (15:00), the problem with Roman Reigns (20:00), Asuka's debut on Raw (30:00), and Andrade "Cien" Almas getting a NXT Title Shot (45:00). Then, Kyle Andrews of Fox Sports jumps on the pod to talk everything Baltimore Ravens (58:00). 

NFL Week 8 Picks With Ethan Hammerman (Ep. 87)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to talk about the Falcons' struggles in New England (5:00), the NFL Playoff Picture at the midway point (10:00), if the Houston Texans can make a Super Bowl run (20:00), which is the better job: Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts (22:00), the Arizona Cardinals quarterback situation (28:00), and preview Week 8 in the NFL (34:00).

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Lonzo Ball, Suns and Braves With Jovan Buha and Cory McCartney (Ep. 86)

Chase Thomas is joined by ESPN's Jovan Buha to talk about Lonzo Ball's debut for the Lakers (3:00), Markelle Fultz struggling for the Sixers (15:00), the Suns' situation with Eric Bledsoe (25:00), and preview Monday's games (50:00). Then, Fox Sports South's Cory McCartney jumps on the pod to talk Braves (61:00), offseason expectations (70:00), Dansby Swanson's future (72:00), and the Dayton Moore rumors in Atlanta (80:00).

NFL Week 7 Picks With Ethan Hammerman (Ep. 85)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to talk about Luke Kuechly's latest injury issues (3:00), Aaron Rodgers getting knocked out for the season (10:00), the Saints surprising (15:00), which two teams should sign Colin Kaepernick (18:00), Andrew Luck's situation in Indianapolis (27:00), and preview Week 7 in the NFL (35:00).

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NBA Over/Under - Western Conference With Dan Favale (Ep. 84)

Chase Thomas is joined by Bleacher Report and NBA Math's Dan Favale to preview the Western Conference, if the Dallas Mavericks can make the playoffs (3:00), why Chase believes in the Nuggets (10:00), why the Warriors will win 70+ games (20:00), if the Rockets can win 60 with Paul and Harden (27:00), why both Los Angeles teams will hit the under (35:00), the Grizzlies' depth issues (45:00), how long it will take for Oklahoma City to gel (67:00), the Blazers' mediocre roster (78:00), and if the Spurs are going to surprise everyone again (83:00).

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NBA Over/Under -- Eastern Conference With Tom Westerholm (Ep. 83)

Chase Thomas is joined by MassLive's Tom Westerholm to talk about how terrible the Atlanta Hawks are going to be this season (3:00), if the Celtics win the most regular season games again this season (15:00), if the Hornets are screwed with Nic Batum (28:00), what the Cavs will do without Isaiah Thomas (35:00), why the Pistons will be so unwatchable (45:00), the Knicks being terrible (55:00), why the Sixers are so interesting (65:00), and the battle between the Raptors and the Wizards (70:00).

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Hell In A Cell Recap, Neville and The Shield With Connor Casey (Ep. 82)

Chase Thomas is joined by Sporting News' Connor Casey to talk about the state of the cruiserweight division (3:00), the Usos and The New Day stealing the show at Hell In A Cell (5:00), Baron Corbin winning the US Title (13:00), Jinder Mahal retaining against Shinsuke Nakamura (24:00), Sami Zayn saving Kevin Owens (30:00), the Shield officially getting back together (35:00), and Neville reportedly leaving the WWE (45:00).

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