Chase Thomas is joined by WWE writer Mike Pielluci to talk about big guys in WCW, Christopher Daniels' workout regiment to stay in shape at his age, Ricochet's longevity in WWE with his style, best pro wrestling entrance music, the problems with Monday Night Raw over the years, the Becky Lynch character on Raw, Charlotte getting added to the WrestleMania match against Lynch and Ronda Rousey by Vince McMahon, why Dean Ambrose should go to Impact Wrestling, the Brock Lesnar versus Seth Rollins feud, Vince not liking the optics of guys leaving WWE in droves, and Kofi Kingston finally having his moment on Smackdown Live.
Chase Thomas is joined by NBA writer and podcaster James Holas to catch up on their preseason NBA predictions, why the Bucks and Raptors are the two teams to beat in the Eastern Conference, Kawhi versus Giannis in the playoffs, the Sixers sacrificing depth for more top-level talent at the NBA trade deadline, what is ailing the Celtics, the Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown conundrum, why the Knicks and Clippers clearing a bunch of cap space is a bad strategy and will continue to destroy teams for years, and the winners and losers from the trade deadline.
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Chase Thomas is joined by SI's Jon Tayler to talk about, yes, you guessed it, more depressing Bryce Harper and Manny Machado free agency rumors, why the Giants have gotten involved, if Harper should take a short-term deal, the possibility of either superstar choosing San Diego, the NL finally adding the DH, why we should all be cheering for the Twins in 2019, what makes the Indians' offseason so awful, and much more.
Chase Thomas is joined by Montreal Canadiens beat writer Stu Cowan to talk about the team's surprising season in the NHL, the rationale behind the Nate Thompson trade, their stellar play of late, their depth issues on the fourth line, the improved play of Carey Price, and the job Marc Bergevin has done putting together this roster.
Then, the New Orleans Advocate's Rod Walker jumps on the pod to talk about the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans, who is running the team with Dell Demps, Danny Ferry and Mickey Loomis in the fold, who Davis is as a person, the future of Jrue Holliday in New Orleans, when the trade will finally happen, and the future of the Pelicans after Davis is gone (26:00).
Lastly, Anaheim Calling's Felix Sicard hops on the pod to talk about the dumpster fire that is the 2018-19 Anaheim Ducks, the firing of Randy Carlyle, Bob Murray's job as GM, the contract situation for John Gibson, the veterans who need to be moved, how this team can change course this offseason, and why Jack Hughes could be the guy for the Ducks in the NHL Draft (60:00).
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Chase Thomas is joined by WWE insider Brad Shepard to talk about why Velveteen Dream is the most important member of the WWE NXT roster, the long-term outlook of Ricochet, why Roderick Strong and Elias should jump to AEW, the possibility of Charlotte Flair and Brock Lesnar winning at WrestleMania, the issues with Vince McMahon's booking, and why Smackdown Live is screwed with Daniel Bryan and Asuka on the Road to WrestleMania.
Chase Thomas is joined by Early Bird Rights' Jeff Siegel to talk about the crazy NBA trade deadline drama, the sendoff Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are getting in Memphis, which teams might follow the Grizzlies' path in the future, how Gasol fits on Charlotte, the hilarity of Mitch Kupchak and Chris Wallace making another Gasol trade, the Sixers trading for Tobias Harris, how this may affect Markelle Fultz's future in Philly, the Hawks' successful road trip, Trae Young's big month, and much more.
Chase Thomas talks with MLB.com's Indians beat writer Mandy Bell about the weird offseason in Cleveland, if the team will trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, Chris Antonetti's weird comments regarding Francisco Lindor, Bobby Bradley hype heading into the 2019 season, and the outfield depth issues with Michael Brantley gone to Houston.
Then, The Athletic's Levi Weaver hops on the pod to talk about the horrid MLB offseason, the weird arbitration approach teams take with their star players, awesome Adrian Beltre stories from Texas, JT Realmuto in Philadelphia, Tommy Pham sticking it to the Rays, and why the Braves won't sign Bryce Harper (30:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm to talk about how the Patriots stifled the Rams in Super Bowl 53, what New England did to frustrate Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp's value compared to Todd Gurley, the Rams' offensive line woes against the Pats' defensive line, why Peyton Manning may be the league's shadow commissioner and how outgoing DC Brian Flores will fair in Miami.
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And just like that, we are on the road to WrestleMania.
More importantly, we now know the two big matches. We now know the focus of WrestleMania 35 will be over the two biggest titles on Monday Night Raw -- the WWE Universal title and the Raw Women’s title. (If you would like to talk to yourself into Daniel Bryan and his new hemp belt facing Rey Mysterio for the WWE World title being one of the top programs heading into the event, be my guest, but that will not be the case. Should be a fun, irrelevant match, though!) WrestleMania 35 will be about two of the biggest MMA superstars of all-time trying to keep their titles from two of the hottest pro-wrestling characters of the last year.
As of this writing, the WWE Raw Women’s title match at ‘Mania is a singles match between Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see Charlotte Flair is getting added to this match. There is a reason the women’s Royal Rumble ended with Charlotte being the last wrestler eliminated by Lynch. There is a reason the opening segment on Smackdown Live this week ended with a stiff shot from Lynch to Charlotte. Flair is still very much a part of this story.
Also, what if her story...is the story?
When Lynch turned on Flair at SummerSlam, the plan was not for Lynch to become The Man and the hottest babyface act in the business. No, it was it to give Flair more juice and sympathy as a character. There is a reason Flair is already a six-time champion and held the Smackdown Live Women’s title for the longest amount of time in the company’s history. There is a reason that Flair was chosen as the wrestler to end Asuka’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania. There is a reason the WrestleMania main event that we spent most of the 2018 talking about was Charlotte Flair versus Ronda Rousey and how this company was going to get there.
Then Lynch caught fire and plans changed.
Or did they?
Has Vince McMahon ever been the type of showrunner to drop his long-term plans for the flavor of the month? Did this guy not put Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania year after year when nobody was clamoring for it? Did this guy not do John Cena versus Randy Orton 930034 times when nobody was clamoring for it? Did this guy not upend the Summer of Punk with Kevin Nash and Triple? Did this guy not upend the Yes Movement with the Wyatt Family?
Why would Vince change who he is now? Why would Vince give Lynch her moment in the sun over two characters he has clearly shown to be much, much higher on in the past? Has that ever sounded like something Vince would do? Give in to an organic rise of a wrestler he never really believed in? Vince spent years building to Reigns finally slaying the Beast at WrestleMania and still didn’t pull the trigger on His Guy.
I just can’t see it.
It feels too NXT-y for WrestleMania 35 to end with Rollins and Lynch winning the belts and Making Raw Great Again in the following months. The idea that Charlotte, Rousey and Lesnar all come out on the losing end of WrestleMania 35 is too much. It’s too much EWR and not enough Vince McMahon Still Runs This Shit, My Guy.
So I like Charlotte to win.
So I like Lesnar to win.
I’m more confident in Charlotte over Lesnar, but I’m confident in both. I’m confident that Vince McMahon doesn’t want to see Lesnar face Chris Jericho in All Elite Wrestling anytime soon, and that means keeping the title on Lesnar for a longer amount of time. If he is not going to allow Lesnar to lose to Reigns clean, do we really think he is going to allow Seth Freaking Rollins to curbstomp Lesnar to close a WrestleMania with no shenanigans? Are we watching the same company?
Charlotte feels inevitable, as she has seemed and felt her whole existence on the main roster, in this kind of match. Why would you give her the rub against Asuka the year prior, pencil her in for the biggest match of her career against Rousey, only to have her tapout to The Man? It just doesn’t add up. Charlotte is not getting added to this match just to be the fall woman. No, Charlotte is getting added to this match to win. For a seventh time.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Vince will adjust. Maybe Vince will throw the fans a bone and give them, checks notes, what they actually want -- Rollins and Lynch. Or maybe Vince will stay Vince. I’ll bet on Vince staying Vince.
Bill Belichick versus Sean McVay. Tom Brady versus Jared Goff. Stephon Gilmore versus Aqib Talib. Andrew Whitworth versus Trent Brown. There are so many interesting parallels and matchups worth talking about leading up to tomorrow’s big game in Atlanta, but here I am being a weirdo spending the weekend talking myself into Chris Hogan as a realistic candidate to win a mostly meaningless Super Bowl MVP. (If you knew Malcolm Smith and Dexter Jackson were Super Bowl MVPS this decade, more power to you, but we don’t remember this award after the confetti settles, no, we remember the moment.
We remember David Tyree catching a football off his helmet. We remember James Harrison returning a fumble 100 yards for a score. We remember Tracey Porter returning an errant Peyton Manning pass for six. We even remember Devin Hester returning the opening kick for a score.
(Note: We do not remember the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead. Who could?)
The problem with going down this rabbit hole of previous Super Bowl moments is that none of these guys ended up being awarded Super Bowl MVP. Instead, it was Drew Brees or Manning or Brady or Aaron Rodgers who won the award. The quarterback position is the most important position in football, so it should come as no surprise they typically win this award. Since the 2000 Super Bowl, the winning-team’s QB has won MVP 12 times.
But sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes Von Miller ruins Cam Newton’s life and carries a completely washed Manning to another Super Bowl victory. Sometimes a player like Hines Ward gets an opportunity to go wild on a ballsy reverse call that leads to an Antwaan Randle El bomb to the former UGA wideout to ice a Super Bowl victory against the league’s best offense. Sometimes you win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer and it’s clear you just have to give MVP to the best defensive player in the game in Ray Lewis.
But sometimes it’s Deion Branch, baby.
Coming into the 2004 NFL season, the Pats made a commitment to invest in their running game. Sound familiar? Yes, the club signed Corey Dillon and he rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards. This season, the Pats invested in the running game by drafting Sony Michel in the first round, while also drafting his former teammate Isaiah Wynn in the first round, too. They even went out and traded for Very Large Human Trent Brown, for good measure. The 2019 Patriot playoff run is eerily similar to that 2004 Patriot playoff run.
Would you like to guess which two teams that 2004 team lost to in the regular season that year? That’s right, folks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins. That team even had their own James White in Kevin Faulk. (Two dudes who went to big-name schools but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t hop on Pro Football Reference.) The eerie similarities between these two teams don’t stop there. No, Mr. Branch was New England’s primary deep threat, or Inverse Troy Brown, if you will, but he missed a lot of time due to injury and had a very forgettable season. Hogan, although he did appear in all 16 games for the Pats, had a very forgettable season -- only one game where he was targeted double-digits by Brady -- and did injure his leg at one point. With Josh Gordon away from the team, Hogan is once again the team’s only real deep threat.
This is Hogan’s moment.
Coming into Sunday, Hogan has been relegated to an afterthought role in an offense that now prides itself on imposing its will at the line of scrimmage along with Brady getting rid of the ball faster than he ever has in his entire career. (You can check PFF’s stats if you don’t believe me, of course.) The Pats aren’t going deep because they haven’t needed to go deep. When the Pats can beat you by just nickel-and-diming you to death with Julian Edelman and White over 30 times a game, why use Hogan as anything other than a decoy?
Thankfully, Nickell Robey-Coleman exists. Bless him. The Rams were already coming into Sunday’s game as underdogs, but the Rams’ cornerback made it worse by, checks notes, talking shit about Tom Brady. Bold strategy, Cotton, indeed. It wasn’t that long ago that Anthony Smith said some things about the GOAT and we know how that played out. We know how it played out for Freddie Mitchell. We know how it is going to play out for Robey-Coleman.
For Brady to really embarrass the corner, he will need to go deep. He will need to release The Hogan. For reference, think of the Nick Foles bomb from mid-December against the Rams in LA. This is what Brady will need to do. It doesn’t hurt that among corners who Brady has targeted 20-plus times in his career, Robey-Coleman has been buried by Brady to the tune of a 130.9 passer rating when targeted, per PFF. Only Ike Taylor and Jabari Greer have fared worse against Tom The Terrific.
Would you like to know what else doesn’t hurt? It doesn’t hurt that Brady has accomplished basically everything there is to accomplish in the NFL -- except tossing a touchdown in the first quarter of the Super Bowl. This is Brady’s ninth Super Bowl, and it still hasn’t happened. But prior to last season’s Super Bowl against the Eagles, the Pats hadn’t even scored in the first quarter of a Super Bowl. Then the second-longest tenured Patriot kicked a field goal to end that streak. Only the touchdown pass remains.
Let’s say it happens. Let’s say Josh McDaniels calls a fleaflicker bomb to Hogan and it goes for six. That’s the moment. But it will take more for Hogan to secure the bag, here. Branch reeled in 11 catches, which tied for the most in Super Bowl history. He had a drive in the third quarter where he reeled in 4 catches for over 70 yards. This is feasible for Hogan, though. McDaniels and Brady haven’t shied away from over-targeting a matchup they like whether it’s with Rob Gronkowski or Edelman or White or whoever, as long as it results in first downs and touchdowns.
I think it can be Hogan. I think we could see Brady break the weird touchdown-blemish with the Hulkster. I think we could see Hogan win Super Bowl 53 MVP. No, I know we could see Hogan win Super Bowl 53 MVP.
Now let's play the game.
Man, it sucks to be Dell Demps right now.
The atrocious New Orleans Pelicans general manager was just a few, short summer months away from going Full Billy King. With how smart the league has gotten on the general-manager front, it was hard to believe that a team would mortgage their future the way King and the Brooklyn Nets did in the infamous trade with the Boston Celtics. The Nets were desperate to make a splash, desperate to hit the ground running in a new arena under new ownership even if that meant potentially setting your franchise back a decade if it all doesn’t unfold the way you need it to.
The Pelicans are right there. Sure, the five-man lineup with Elfrid Payton, E’twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle is one of the league’s best -- check NBA.com/stats if you are not convinced, I wouldn’t be either on first glance -- but that is all this team has. One good lineup and a roster where three of the team’s five best players can’t be on the floor at the same time -- Nikola Mirotic, Randle and Davis. This team is stuck with Holliday's contract, with Solomon Hill’s contract, with Elf masquerading as a Kind-Of Rajon Rondo. Point is, this team sucks and they need to win now.
It seems in today’s NBA every team is too smart for their own good. Like in Major League Baseball, where team’s are actively avoiding signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper because they’ve all lost their effing minds. Rarely do you see teams do what the Los Angeles Rams did and just decide to go all-in for a few seasons and try and win it all. For the Rams, it worked out. For the Nets, it bombed.
The Pelicans are in that sweet spot, though, when it comes to contending and starting over. Not only are they a middle-of-the-road team in the tougher conference, they employ a top-5 basketball player in his prime. Instead of making the playoffs or making any moves after a slow start to the season, Double D has been silent. The Pelicans have done nothing and Davis officially wants out. Had the Pels been hovering around the eighth spot in mid-January, Davis probably doesn’t pick now to ask for a trade, right? We needed the Pelicans to sneak into that No. 8 seed in the West, Boogie Cousins and Davis to go at it in Round 1, and an offseason where the Pelicans are now faced with the reality that they have one season left to convince The Brow that Mickey Loomis running both the New Orleans Saints and the Pelicans is totally normal and the New Orleans environment is totally fine.
That’s when we get Demps on the phone with the Orlando Magic offering three future first-round picks for Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. That’s when we get Demps on the phone with the Miami Heat offering two first-round picks, a second-round pick and Mirotic for the Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. That’s when we get Demps, you guessed it, on the phone with the New York Knicks offering two firsts, Mirotic and portions of Bourbon Street to the New York Knicks for Tim Hardaway Jr and Frank Ntilikina. Rarely do we, as NBA fans, find ourselves in a moment in time where a bad, desperate general manager working under a bad, desperate franchise is presented with the opportunity to make the bad, desperate move we all desire.
But Demps blew it.
He didn’t do enough to keep this team a few games over .500 for the first half of the 2018-19 NBA season. He didn’t make a tiny win-now move for somebody like Kent Bazemore to carry this team to a first-round sweep at the hands of the Dubs. I’m sick. Instead, we are saddled with more lame, boring NBA tampering stories. The story, if the Basketball Gods loved us, would have been the Pels have turned Jahlil Okafor into a competent, interesting NBA big *and* they now have just enough wings to qualify for the postseason. How fun!
Instead, the Okafor breakout story is kind of sad because it is colliding head-on with the Anthony Davis Is Done With This Shit story. I want to enjoy Okafor like I enjoy Kenneth Faried thriving as Mike D’Antoni’s latest rim-running five ace. Had Demps traded for Bazemore or Jeremy Lamb or Jeremy Lin or whoever a few weeks ago, we would be able to enjoy this Pelican mediocrity similar to the way we enjoyed last season’s Pelican mediocrity with Cousins and Davis.What gives, Basketball Gods?
I mean, shit. We are less than five years away from every sports franchise being run by Daryl Morey Ajace, so we have to capitalize on these moments when they fortunately come about. We are only three years away, if we’re lucky, from getting to the point where guys like Kyrie Irving spend weeks on the free-agent market when teams start to lose their minds like MLB GMs already have. We all needed to see one last bad general manager make a disastrous, franchise-changing decision just to try to make the Western Conference Semifinals. Did you not know you needed a DeMar DeRozan trade with the Spurs that would one day leave the Pelicans with no picks and a backcourt combination that reminded you of the 2009 Philadelphia 76ers? Now you know.
Damn it, Demps. We were so close to you having your moment in the sun. We were so close to having our phones vibrate with an alert from Woj that informs us you traded four future first-round picks for CJ McCollum. We were close to having a new trade to marvel at for the next decade-plus. We were so close to wondering if this was it for Bad GM Makes Catastrophic Trade moments. Now we know. This was it. I’m not mad, Dell Demps. I’m just disappointed. We’re all disappointed.
Chase Thomas is joined by SB Nation NFL reporter Jeanna Thomas to talk about Super Bowl 53 Media Day in Atlanta, Wade Phillips' natural likability, the point of Dan Quinn as head coach of the Falcons, what Dirk Koetter's offense will look like in Atlanta, the addition of Bruce Arians into the NFC South, and what the Falcons will do about their offensive line and secondary through the NFL Draft and free agency.
Then, The Rich Eisen Show's Chris Brockman returns to talk about Chilis and Waffle House back-to-back in Atlanta, what makes this Patriots run so special, how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are short-passing teams to death in the postseason, if the Rams' offensive line can hold up against the New England pass rush, and who will win Super 53 MVP (40:00).
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What a month for Finn Balor.
It seems like it was just yesterday the Demon was stuck in mid-card purgatory with Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.
It kind of was.
On a November 5 episode of Monday Night Raw, Balor took on Lashley in a singles match and lost. In a November 12 episode of Raw, Balor took on Ziggler in a singles match and won. On a November 26 episode of Raw, Balor took on both Ziggler and Corbin in a handicap match and lost. Spending a month in the Corbin-Lashley-Ziggler rotation of death and despair is something I’d wish on no professional wrestler. At least for The Revival, there is no question how Vince McMahon views them. With Balor, it is more complicated.
That is what makes Balor’s sudden and surprising elevation to the WWE Universal title picture so interesting. On one hand, if Vince wasn’t a believer in Balor, would he have really pulled the trigger on him over Seth Rollins at SummerSlam years ago to become the first Universal champion? On the other hand, that was almost three years ago and Balor hasn’t been champion since.
So how does Vince view Balor? We know he views Rollins as a top guy; we know he views AJ Styles as a top guy; we know he views Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, obviously, as top guys. If Vince were a real believer in Balor, would he really allow Balor to spend months at a time messing around with Jinder Mahal’s and the Baron Corbin’s of the world? When Vince likes a wrestler, you know, because it’s obvious. Do you remember the last time Braun Strowman was pinned on an episode of Raw?
This kind of booking is intentional. Outside of a few chinks in his armor -- the Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar feuds and that ill-timed heel turn -- Strowman has been protected. His issue is simply Vince doesn’t like him *as* much as two other active competitors -- Lesnar and Strowman. For Vince, Strowman has been protected just enough to step into the Lesnar role, if necessary, but as long as he is able to have both, he is going to stick with Lesnar. (As he should, as Lesnar is a better worker, a better draw, and a better decision every day of the week and twice on Sundays.) At least for Strowman, he knows he’s the next man up once Lesnar finally exits the company for good.
The kind of booking for Balor has never been intentional. Balor has found himself in the same zone Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho and more all found themselves in before him. It is the “This Is Fine For Now” zone, where Vince is OK with pushing you for a few months as a pseudo, top-of-the-mountain guy, but once he can go back to one of His Guys, Vince McMahon is going back to one of His Guys. There are the Roman Reigns’s, John Cena’s, The Rock’s of the world, and then there are the Balor’s of the world.
If you are going to watch Raw and Smackdown Live every week, if you are going to get emotionally invested in the characters on the main roster, you have to keep Vince McMahon’s preferences in the back of your mind. Of course the Summer of Punk was going to end with Kevin Nash and Triple H. Of course Bryan kicked off his insane return to the ring with Big Cass. Of course Roman Reigns was on pace to break Hulk Hogan’s WrestleMania main-event streak. Vince is inconsistent with most characters on his television shows, but Vince is never inconsistent with His Guys.
Balor is not one of His Guys.
So why did so many fans get emotionally invested in Balor vs. Lesnar at the Royal Rumble? Even if Balor had pulled it off, then what? A loss to Strowman a few months later at WrestleMania to cement Strowman is Lesnar’s replacement? A loss to Rollins a few months later at WrestleMania to get us closer to Rollins vs. Reigns at SummerSlam? As cool as it would be to see an Eddie Slays The Beast moment again, would it have been worth it with how well we know Vince McMahon? At best, Balor is a transitional champion in the WWE. Why salivate over a Balor moment when it that is exactly all it will be -- a moment? Balor isn’t going to get the AJ Styles treatment on Raw, especially with Strowman, Rollins, Lesnar and Reigns all still being in the picture, so why make things worse for fans dying to see Balor get his chance to be the Top Guy?
Vince pulling the trigger on Balor would have been cool, and, more importantly, fans would have wanted it. But as we saw on the Monday following the Royal Rumble, Balor is back where Vince thinks he belongs -- mid-card hell with his old friend Bobby Lashley. But hey, I heard All Elite Wrestling is hiring
“John Cena as WWE Universal champion.”
“Randy Orton as WWE World champion.”
I can’t shake it. This feels right. How did we get here? In 2019, I’ve thought of countless avenues the WWE could take to get to the two biggest stars of their era back on top. If you would have told 2007 Chase this would be something 2019 Chase would be fascinated by he would have laughed in your face and gone back and listened to the latest Mood Muzik mixtape. No. Way.
The case for Cena is different than the case for Orton.
Cena, with his crazy hair and all, is a part-timer at this stage in his career. From April to December last year, he competed in five matches for the company. Would you like to guess how many matches the WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar competed in during that same stretch of time? Five. The part-timers have a lot in common -- they work matches every now and then, non-wrestling fans know who they are, but most of all, they’re one of three part-timers who still move the needle for the company. ( The Rock being that other part-timer, but even calling him a part-timer at this point seems too generous. Also, if you are one of those of pro wrestling fans who does not think Lesnar is still a needle-mover, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. People like seeing Brock Lesnar do Brock Lesnar things.)
The Finn Balor Character Rehabilitation tour has been fun, and people still like screaming “Burn It Down” for Seth Rollins as he works to scrub those nasty remains of that disastrous Dean Ambrose feud off his tights. Mariah Carey would be quite proud, as these two belong together. Everybody likes Balor; everybody likes Rollins. Everybody thinks Rollins should be handed the keys to Raw; everybody thinks Balor should be handed the keys to Raw. With Balor beating Rollins at SummerSlam years ago to become the first WWE Universal champion they became forever linked. Nobody benefits from Lesnar taking down Rollins or Balor. Everybody benefits from Balor wrestling Rollins on the biggest stage.
Outside of Rollins and Balor, who is else is ready for Lesnar? Kevin Owens is still on the shelf, Elias is three years away from being three years away, and outside of the Demon and the Architect, are there any other over babyfaces on Raw? (If you even thought about Dolph Ziggler or Bray Wyatt here I am not the sportswriter for you, my guy.) To be sure, it is entirely the WWE’s fault for only having three over babyfaces on their flagship program, but that also doesn’t mean you shoehorn somebody who is not ready for this sort of push and create another Roman Reigns-like problem. Your options are Balor, Rollins and Cena. Give me The Beast versus The Prototype.
On Smackdown Live, the Randy Orton For WWE World champion idea is, well, you guessed it, different. The blue brand is already a very good professional wrestling program with a plethora of fun, intriguing options for either Daniel Bryan or AJ Styles -- Rey Mysterio, Andrade, Big E, Samoa Joe, even Mustafa Ali. There are a lot of paths Road Dogg and the fellas can follow, but it comes down to how you perceive the New Daniel Bryan schtick. If you think that it has a short shelf life -- check -- the idea of keeping the world title on him through WrestleMania seems like a dangerous one. If the odds are high fans grow tired of the fickle-shouting on the road to the ‘Mania, you do not have Bryan go over the top babyface at the Royal Rumble on Sunday. You put the title back on Guy Charlotte and reset a bit.
Enter the Viper.
The “o” and “r” in Orton really stand for old reliable. After 36 years on the main roster, Orton has this whole professional-wrestling thing down. He knows who he is. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He is also very entertaining as a psychopathic heel. You could make the argument that the best thing Styles did in 2018 was his feud with another psychopathic heel -- Samoa Joe. With Orton winning the Royal Rumble and Styles knocking off Bryan, you could revisit that feud but on a larger scale. As great as Joe was and still is, it was clear he was not going to win that feud with Styles. With Orton in that spot, you could see it going either way. With Orton going after every child’s favorite babyfaces on Smackdown over the past few months, would the logical conclusion to the Randy Orton Hates Your Hero tour not be setting his sights on the Phenomenal One? In what universe does Orton versus Styles at WrestleMania not sound like a must-see event? Even if you’re not a big fan of Orton once the bell rings -- “there are dozens of us...dozens!” -- you know the lead-in to the match will hit all the right notes. Like some sort of mixture of Lesnar and Orton from a few years ago to Joe and Styles from last fall. It can be sold even easier than that: who would have even thought this kind of match was possible outside of Universe Mode on WWE 2K before 2017? If you are ever going to pull the trigger on Orton versus Styles this is the only chance to do so.
So then Orton wins.
And then Cena wins.
Then you wait. You wait to give the rub to the right babyface, in Orton’s case, or the right heel, in Cena’s case, at the right time. You use this temporary Cena title reign that gets him to No. 17 to give Adam Cole his Kevin Owens moment on Raw. You use this temporary Orton title reign to give Aleister Black his Undertaker moment by refusing to die as much as Ruthless Randy would prefer him to. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, standing in the ring with Cena or Orton still holds weight. The WWE has a star problem, they have a NXT-to-main-roster problem, and they can kill two birds with one stone by throwing Cena and Orton one last bone to try one last time to create the next iteration of Cena and Orton. This means less movies for Cena, and less Top Golf excursions for Orton, but it is for the best. The year is 2019 and their time is not up, no, their time is now.
Not having a quarterback sucks.
Just ask Jacksonville fans who just suffered through the Good Team Pays Mostly Bad Quarterback To Stay In Contention season and, well, it did not end particularly well for the Jaguars. The Jags won 5 games, but it felt like they won 3. This was a team that was on the verge winning the AFC a season ago with a quarterback not named Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. (That never happens in that conference. Seriously.) Instead of getting out of the Blake Bortles business when they could, the front office doubled-down on Double B and it blew up in their faces.
This kind of team-trajectory seems eerily familiar?
The Denver Broncos.
John Elway’s team won a Super Bowl in 2015 with the corpse of Peyton Manning and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. (Manning threw 17 picks that season to just nine touchdowns and went 7-2 in the regular season. The Broncos won the Super Bowl with the third-best quarterback of all-time tossing just two TDs in the playoffs. Just amazing.) Then, as a hat-tip to Elway, Peyton went out on top and retired. Brock Osweiler signed an outrageous contract with the Houston Texans, the team drafted Paxton Lynch and Definitely Not Matt Saracen Trevor Siemian did his best for a year-and-a-half, man.
Needless to say, the Broncos have not rebounded well following their Super Bowl run built around the league’s top defense. While the team tried address the quarterback issue, the defense started to slip. In 2015 and 2016, the Broncos were first in defensive DVOA, but in 2017, that number fell to 10th. Top defenses don’t stay on top for long, but top quarterbacks stay top quarterbacks for seemingly forever.
Jacksonville found this out the hard way in 2018. Their defense was first in defensive DVOA in 2017, but that number slipped to sixth in 2018. The Minnesota Vikings, like the Jags, found lighting in a bottle with a mid-tier-at-best QB in Case Keenum a year ago, but that top defense slipped and their new mid-tier-at-best QB Kirk Cousins wasn’t able to circumvent a bad offensive line and a slightly worse defense to get the Vikings back to where they were a season ago -- one game away from the Super Bowl. (Creepy how sports works sometimes, right?) The Jags defense wasn’t responsible for the team going 5-11 this season, nor was it Leonard Fournette's body language nor was it Jalen Ramsey’s trash-talking, it was Blake Bortles being really bad at his job. Having an elite defense is nice, but having an elite quarterback is nicer. Unfortunately, there aren’t 32 elite quarterbacks readily available so teams talk themselves into the Andy Dalton's and Kirk Cousins of the world because the rest of the roster is talented and deep enough to make a Super Bowl run. The Jags paid Bortles because the Jags thought they could win despite Bortles. This is bad team-building ideology, and, unsurprisingly, it backfired on Jacksonville in 2018.
You can understand why Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell operated in a similar way to Elway in recent years. For Caldwell, Bortles was his quarterback pick, and he bet on his guy still being good enough when he had a clean pocket and a scheme that didn’t ask him to do too much. For Coughlin and Elway, they just want to win. Now. They’ve won Super Bowls and they would like to win more. That means having a veteran quarterback, not an unproven rookie. They know when you miss on a first-round QB, it takes years to recover. (Usually with a new front office and coaching staff.) It also makes it that much more difficult to take another one. What if you draft Paxton Lynch or Blake Bortles 2.0? What if this defense can carry a QB that PFF grades out in the 20s to at least one Super Bowl run?
Teams do this all the time because drafting and developing and waiting on a young quarterback is hard. The Browns failed miserably by taking Johnny Manziel, but that also led to them performing brilliantly by drafting the next superstar quarterback in Baker Mayfield. You don’t get Mayfield without Manziel. Kyrie Irving doesn’t make The Shot without missing a thousand more. The Browns took another swing in the draft while also trading for a mid-tier quarterback in Tyrod Taylor.
What John Dorsey did in Cleveland is what Coughlin and Elway should do in Jacksonville and Denver. Keep taking that bat off your shoulder. Then, instead of Taven Bryan you have Lamar Jackson. Then, instead of Bradley Chubb you have Josh Rosen. With Bryan and Chubb you have depth, with Jackson and Rosen you have hope. Exactly zero football fans are going to be mad their team for drafting more quarterbacks.
But that was the 2018 NFL Draft, a draft loaded with quality quarterback talent. The 2019 NFL Draft, not so much. So it should come as no surprise that the teams run by two guys dying to win now with top-10 defenses are once again going to try and address their atrocious quarterback situation through free agency.
Nick Foles in Jacksonville.
Joe Flacco in Denver.
It already feels inevitable, doesn’t it? John DeFilippo, Foles’ former QB coach in Philadelphia, is running the offense in Jacksonville. Jacoby Jones, the wide receiver who ripped the hearts out of Denver those years ago, is not in the Mile High City, but Elway was in the press box for the Mile High Miracle.
Both of these moves would be fine, but only if it means they’re not done. A Keenum/Flacco quarterback room is nice, but a Keenum/Flacco/Haskins room is nicer. A Foles/DeFillipo duo is good, but a Foles/DeFillipo/Grier trio is better. Signing a mid-tier quarterback is fine, but you cannot stop there. Or you end up like Washington who started a guy named Josh Johnson down the stretch this season. Or you end up like Cincy who started Jeff freaking Driskell in 2018. Or you end up like the Dolphins who make the playoffs if Ryan Tannehill doesn’t miss multiple games again. You can never have too many quarterbacks, which is why smart teams like Chris Ballard’s Indianapolis Colts will only give up Jacoby Brissett for a hefty return. It’s why the Pats drafted Jimmy G when they still had Brady. It’s why the Chiefs traded up for Mahomes when they had Alex Smith. Signing one quarterback is cool, but draft a quarterback is cooler.
But that doesn’t seem to be in either team’s DNA.
Missing on Bortles and Lynch while also building a perfect defense hurts. So, instead of trying again, the Jaguars will sign Foles, and hope they can get rekindle their 2017 glory of almost winning the AFC with the worst quarterback in the playoffs. Instead of trying again, the Broncos will sign Flacco, and hope they can rekindle their 2015 glory of winning the Super Bowl with the worst quarterback in the playoffs. Elway and Coughlin know how to go about this -- invest in the defense, invest in your backfield, and invest in literally every other area besides the quarterback position. We have seen this movie before and we know how it ends -- the Jags and the Broncos right back in this position next year. No more magical runs back to the promise land, just more kicking the can down the road. Denver and Jacksonville, they’re one in the same.
Chase Thomas is joined by Philly Voice's Nick Piccone to talk about missing New Year's Revolution, the latest on Ronda Rousey and her future in WWE after WrestleMania, Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch in the women's Royal Rumble match, Sonjay Dutt and Abyss making their to WWE, the Daniel Bryan character versus Ciampa in NXT, why John Cena should be the one to beat Brock Lesnar for the Universal title, and Randy Orton being the dark horse pick to win the Royal Rumble in 2019.
Chase Thomas is joined by Bleacher Report's Dan Favale to talk about the Sixers banking on Jimmy Butler meshing with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the importance of JJ Redick, why Wilson Chandler is the bigger issue at the 4, why the Jazz are back, finding the right guard next to Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr. trade ideas for Dallas, Derrick White coming on for San Antonio, and how the Spurs are surviving in today's NBA.
Things can change.
Things can stay the same.
The Atlanta Braves used to win the NL East every year. From 1991 to 2005, you could count on the sun rising, the sun setting and the Braves winning the NL East. I arrived in this world in 1991 and the Braves’ streak did not end until I was a mere semester away from becoming a Parkview Panther. As a walking sports encyclopedia -- a descriptor I was given years later at a journalism camp from a girl who almost certainly didn’t intend for me to respond positively to the moniker -- a team winning their division fourteen-straight times should have blown my mind.
A decade-and-a-half of playoff baseball -- with no interruptions.
Oh. Right. Money. Why would it not be about the money? Why do the Yankees have so many rings? Why did every playoff team this season fall in the top-15 in spending? Why did Dodgers return to prominence in the last few years? Why do Met fans hate Fred Wilpon with every fiber of their being? Why are Philly fans so enthused about this particular offseason? Why did the Diamondbacks punt on contending after winning 93 games and going for it in 2017?
Why is it always about the money, man?
It just is.
The Boston Red Sox had the highest opening day payroll in baseball in 2018. The Red Sox won the World Series. Again. Since 2002, the first season of the John Henry era in Boston, the Red Sox have been in the top-5 in spending every single season. Most seasons, you’ll find Boston in the top-spending spot, or the third spot, or even the fourth spot. Never outside of the top five, though. Never. The result? A team that averages a championship every four seasons. Pretty, pretty good.
Not everyone can be the Red Sox, or even the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs. Once upon a time, though, the Braves walked among them. In 1998, Atlanta was fourth in spending. In 1999, Atlanta was third. In 2000, Atlanta was, yes, you guessed it, third. The Braves were spending money and winning division titles. In 2007, the Braves were fifteenth. The Braves did not win the NL East in 2007. That difference from spending like Boston and New York to spending like St. Louis and Seattle is obvious. To win in this league, you have to spend money. Often.
So who are the Braves now? The Braves, when they’re not moonlighting as a gross real-estate asset, have the look and feel to a small-market team. Atlanta is not Tampa Bay but they are not Boston, either. They are somewhere in the middle, which is the worst place to be in MLB. If you’re opening day payroll isn’t an eye-popping number it’s better be the 2015 Houston Astros. The Astros were 30th in spending 2015; the Astros were 11th in spending in 2018. This strategy, ethical issues aside, resulted in a championship. Houston increased spending as the team got better and with the amount of talent on the roster, the Astros will have to keep spending to keep a team that was on track to be greatest of all-time in 2018 before injuries befell them together. The Cubs followed a similar path, as did the Washington Nationals and many more. The plan to slash payroll, draft well, develop well, and then spend a bunch of money to preserve it all is a sound won. It has resulted in World Series rings for lots of clubs.
The Braves do not figure to follow that envious path. Other teams within the division, the Phillies and the Nationals, to be sure, do. The Nationals’ ownership group has shown they will spend at an elite-level, consistently, and even if the team loses Bryce Harper to free agency this offseason, it is hard to envision the club slipping out the top-echelon of spenders anytime soon. The Phillies have an owner that is yearning to spend “stupid money” at a point in time where two future HOFers are available in Harper and Manny Machado. The Phils are just a few years removed from being a team that consistently found themselves in that vital top-spending group year after year. We know the Nats and the Phils are going to spending in the 2020s, do we know the Braves are?
We certainly shouldn’t expect it. The Braves, coming off a division-winning season, have been disturbingly quiet. Atlanta won 90 games a season ago, but they are operating like a team that won 73 and are a few years away from being a few years away. This is some Cleveland Indians-like behavior. Maybe even more Pittsburgh Pirates-like behavior. The Pirates, like the Braves, drafted well for a stretch of time, developed well for a stretch of time, but never dove into the deep end with the other real contenders. No, they were pseudo-contenders, choosing sustainability of five years over a potential championship in two years. It should have come as no surprise to see both the Braves and Pirates linked to Chris Archer before the latter traded for him. He was a bargain. Multiple seasons of team-control, young, and, most importantly, cheap.
The Indians, after coming one game short of a World Series victory, stayed the course. The American League, already dominated by teams with big budgets and big stars, is not for Dave Ramsey apologists. It’s a spend-and-you’re-in league. To match the firepower of the Red Sox and Yankees, you have be in a once-and-a-lifetime spot of having a roster littered with cheap, young superstar talent reaching their potential all at the same time. Not everyone can be the Astros. Most won’t. The Indians, instead, have become Houston Ajace. Stocked with multiple MVP-level players, but still cutting corners wherever possible -- trading Yan Gomes, letting Carlos Santana walk, not paying Michael Brantley, etc. This should be an exciting time to be a fans of the Tribe, but it can’t be, right? Not when you see the team let Andrew Miller walk, let Brantley walk, or just that the team has considered trading both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. The Indians won 91 games and are focused on “cheap roster fillers”. The Braves won 90 games and re-signed Adam Duvall.
For Liberty Media, this is probably of no concern. If I was a betting man, I would bet 2018 was exactly the kind of season this ownership group longed for. A team that wins 90 games with the 21st-cheapest payroll? In today’s cold and calculated MLB, what team doesn’t prefer 90-win seasons and small budgets? Why pay Bryce Harper whatever he wants to be your right-fielder for the next 10 years next to another budding superstar when you can platoon Adam Jones and A.J. Pollock for a year and get eliminated in the NLDS again? Why pay really good baseball players to be on your team when you can pseudo-contend without them? Manny Machado? JOHAN CAMARGO! Yan Gomes? KEVIN PAWLECKI! JT Realmuto? BRIAN MCCANN!
Maybe you can have a Kansas City Royal-esque run. You probably won’t. They were an outlier, a blip, and those are inevitable. Per a user on Reddit, “On average, the team with sixth-highest payroll has won the World Series each of the last 25 years.” It’s cute to be the lovable underdog, the team that tries to win a championship with a bunch of cheap, young and budding superstars, but it’s not realistic. For every Mookie Betts you develop, you need a J.D. Martinez to keep it going. For every Ronald Acuna you develop, you need a Bryce Harper to keep it going. The Nats learned this difficult lesson after their disastrous 2018 season, but they responded how you want your contending team to respond. By offering Harper a very lucrative contact, by signing Patrick Corbin, by signing Brian Dozier, by signing Kurt Suzuki, by signing Anibal Sanchez, and they are probably not done yet. If they can find a way to re-sign Harper, would there not be a case to be made that this team could win the pennant in 2019?
There is a sense of urgency in Washington, there is no sense of urgency in Atlanta. The Braves have doubled in value in the last few years. Per an AJC article from 2018, “The $1.625 billion valuation, if accurate, means the Braves are worth more than 3-1/2 times as much as when Liberty Media acquired the franchise in a complicated tax-driven transaction in 2007. That deal valued the Braves at $450 million.” The Braves have been quite the investment for Liberty Media. The company’s CEO, Greg Maffei was quoted in 2016 saying, “The Braves have been a great asset, great for Liberty, and we are happy owners.” We know the team’s revenue is up, the group will one day sell the team for an obscene fortune, and if the Braves win a title before then, well, cool, but have you visited the Battery?
Chase Thomas is joined by Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle to talk about how the Chiefs blew out the Colts, the problems with Indy's offense early in that game, Kansas City force-feeding Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce the football, the Patriots force-feeding James White and Julian Edelman the football against the Chargers, the pass-rush brilliance of Tre Flowers, how Tom Brady can sit and never take deep-shots in 2019, the Saints surviving the Eagles through Michael Thomas, the Cowboys' offensive line not holding up against the Rams' dangerous front, and preview the AFC and NFC championship games this weekend.
Chase Thomas is joined by Hogs Haven, SB Nation's Washington Redskins blog, writer Ken Meringolo to talk about what happened to the Redskins in 2018, why the Derrius Guice injury hurt the team so much, why this team was so injured, the weird coaching rumors under Jay Gruden, the QB situation without Alex Smith and the troubling leadership of Bruce Allen.
Then, Chase is joined by Wick Terrell of SB Nation's Cincinnati Reds blog, Red Reporter, to talk about the Reds' activity this offseason, where Scooter Gannett will play baseball in 2019, Dallas Kuechel vs. Corey Kluber, what to make of Cincy's improved farm system, and what makes David Bell intriguing as the new manager of the club (32:00).
Lastly, Rob Soria of The Hockey Writers wraps up the show with an update as to why the Edmonton Oilers are playing .500 hockey this season, what to make of the midseason coaching change, the issues within the front office, if the team can still take advantage of Connor McDavid being an Oiler, and what to expect from the team the rest of the season (63:00).