Chase Thomas is joined by YouTube star interviewer Chris Van Vliet to talk about his career, interviewing guys like John Cena and The Rock, the status of Dolph Ziggler, who he wants to interview in the future, the AEW TNT deal, what Tony Khan is like and how involved he'll be with AEW creatively, Money In The Bank questions, Alexa Bliss's career status, the terrible Wild Card rule in WWE, Vince sticking with Becky Lynch long-term, what Dean Ambrose will do and whether or not CM Punk is really done with pro wrestling.
Chase Thomas is joined by Boston Sports Journal's Conor Ryan to talk about the Boston Bruins' magical postseason run, how it happened, how so many guys are scoring for the team, the lack of depth on the Carolina Hurricanes, who the Bruins would rather face in the Stanley Cup final between St. Louis and San Jose, Seattle NHL team names and colors, the Edmonton Oilers hiring Ken Holland, and the return of Steve Yzerman to Detroit.
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Chase Thomas is joined by 680 The Fan's Nick Cellini to talk about the poor start for the Braves to start 2019, his beloved Indians suddenly no longer the favorites in the AL Central, how the Twins are similar to the 2018 Braves, the awful Francisco Lindor situation in Cleveland, where Austin Riley fits on the Braves, what the Braves can do this summer, the Falcons' 2019 Draft choices, the importance of having a healthy Deion Jones, and trading back into the first round for another offensive lineman.
Then, RBR Wrestling's Paul Griffin returns to the pod to talk about the WWE 'Wild Card' Rule, why the company can't handle a brand split, treating talent differently than AEW, the greatness of Impact Wrestling and much more.
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Chase Thomas is joined by Zone Coverage's Dane Moore to talk about the Timberwolves hiring Gersson Rosas as President of Basketball Operations, what the team can do with Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns future with the team, Ryan Saunders continuing as head coach, how the team will approach the draft this summer, the Lakers fumbling the Ty Lue hire, Lakers vs. Clippers stability, and why everybody should get on board with Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors winning the title in 2019.
Chase Thomas is joined by Sports Illustrated's Jon Tayler to talk about the fall of MLB attendance in 2019, why fans are going to the games less, what can be done about it in the future, a Fangraphs' piece on certain stars lowering their strikeout rate, the Reds misusing their closer Raisel Iglesias, the White Sox's bad luck with young starting pitching, and the Dodgers getting weird with Travis D'Arnaud and AJ Pollock.
Then, Locked On Bucs and Bucs Nation's James Yarcho jumps on the pod to talk about Tampa's big offseason changes, the unfortunate JPP news, what's going on with Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston's future with Bruce Arians, why Bruce was the guy for Tampa Bay, the issues with the team's o-line and running game, and what to expect in 2019.
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Chase Thomas is joined by Newsday's NFL Columnist Bob Glauber to talk about covering the NFL for years, what made Bill Parcells so interesting to cover, similarities between him and Tom Coughlin, the Giants taking Daniel Jones in the top-10 of the 2019 NFL Draft, what Dave Gettleman is doing in New York, NFC East Power Rankings, why Jerry Jones might not be right about the Cowboys in 2019, paying Dak Prescott, Josh Rosen's chances for success in Miami, and the XFL's gigantic television deal.
One of the best things about sports is that you can always talk and discuss and argue about sports. Each week, I talk about them, I read about them, I watch them and then I try and often fail to make sense of it all. All of that is OK, but, man, can it be frustrating when you disagree about a topic that involves your own team. Part of what makes being emotionally invested in a sports team worth it is relationships and interactions you have with other people who like what you like. Humans like to pretend they enjoy hearing both sides of an issue, but the same people who watch Fox News night in and night out are not also flipping over to catch the latest Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, too. People like listening and hanging out with people who share their worldview. That’s why you tailgate before football games, that’s why you join meet up groups only for fans of the team you like, etc. We would prefer not to be challenged and will reflexively choose comfortability.
So when the Luka Doncic Trade happened on draft night in 2018, you immediately knew it would splinter the Atlanta Hawks fan base into two subgroups: 1) Those who thought the Hawks traded away a future Hall Of Famer and 2) Those who thought Trae Young could be a star. Had the Hawks just taken Doncic, still the right move, the option to splinter the fanbase wouldn’t have existed. Now, fans of the Hawks will be arguing for or against Trae for the next 10 years. Everybody loves Ronald Acuna. Everybody loves Julio Jones. Every loves Josef Martinez. Not everybody loves Trae Young.
This conversation will not go away anytime soon, especially with NBA league executives, both current and former, collectively salivating over the Dallas Mavericks’ future in an interview with The Athletic a few weeks back. If you’re a member of subgroup No. 1 mentioned above, you read this quote and pondered about walking into oncoming traffic during rush hour on 285.
“I feel like they have two pieces in Doncic and Porzingis that you can possibly build a championship team around. Most of the other non-playoff teams have some good players, but I’m not sure anyone has two with that kind of potential. Plus, it’s not the worst free-agent destination.” - Former General Manager.
It got worse.
When asked about the Hawks’ future, one former NBA executive said:
“They have a decent amount of young talent and I think Lloyd has done a great job with them, but they need to find that No. 1 guy or they’re gonna get stuck.”
My subgroup No. 1 family saw this and nodded their head into oblivion. This was the biggest fear for those of us on Don’t You Dare Trade Luka Doncic island. He had the potential to be the best player on a championship contender, while Young had the potential to be the best player on a pretty good team. We have seen this movie before. It happened with the 60-win Hawks team from a few years ago, it happened with the Joe Johnson-y Hawks. It will happen again with a Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins core.
On the flipside, I feel guilty about being so cynical towards this team. Lloyd Pierce is awesome and I want him to thrive. Young started hitting floaters late last year that were absolutely bonkers and just incredible to watch. Huerter is going to hit 40 percent of his threes for 17 years, and when Collins is motivated on the offensive glass you wonder if there will be a night he winds up with 40 boards. Pierce got this team to buy-in, he took it slow with Young and Huerter, and he even managed reducing Kent Bazemore’s role on the team flawlessly. The Hawks are in a great spot, have a great coach, have a lot of fun pieces, but they have nobody on this roster who has top-10 player in the NBA upside.
Can a team still have a bright future and also have no shot at winning an NBA title? If you ask Portland fans, the answer is probably yes. The Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum duo is fun, but it isn’t enough to win 16 playoff games. There is a ceiling to that group, but if you remove yourself from the championship-or-bust mindset, you look at this team fondly and glowingly. It is fun as hell to watch McCollum make circus shots where is almost always falling over. It is fun as hell to watch Dame pull up from 37-feet and end Russell Westbrook’s season while waving to the bench right after. Not everybody can win a title, there are only a handful of players that are good enough to carry a team there in the NBA: Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and maybe James Harden or Giannis Antetokounmpo. (If you want to throw these two in this group, too, that’s fine. I just need to see them in the Finals. Is that OK?)
So that is what Atlanta fans will have to collectively decide to do. You have to acknowledge -- Zion Williamson, permitting -- this core is going to be both fun as hell to watch and DOA come playoff time. This is a team that will probably make the playoffs next season. They will make the playoffs several more times. They will probably finish the regular season atop the conference a time or two. You have to adjust your expectations, you have to look away when the Mavericks are rolling with Luka and Porzingis, you have to just enjoy the fact that you have a great coach, a team that fights hard night after night, and that you could have just kept Doncic and we don’t have to hash this out.
Damn it, Travis Schlenk.
Ryan Fitzpatrick would have gotten Brian Flores fired. It may not have happened this season, but it would have eventually happened. It’s what happened to Steve Wilks just one season earlier in Arizona. What happened in that Sea of Red last year was ugly on a multitude of levels, as you saw a first-year African American head coach get let go while the team’s general manager Steve Keim -- who hired Wilks for the least-favorable gig in the NFL last year -- stayed on and followed the brilliant Hire Sean McVay’s Friends movement by hiring a coach who owns a sub-.500 career head coaching record in the college ranks. For Keim to fire a coach that had to try and win football games with Andre Smith and Justin Pugh anchoring the offensive line was unequivocally gross. It was wrong.
It also still matters.
It matters because this series of events figures to become the norm in an offense-obsessed in league. If Mike McCoy had not been at his job and had the Cardinals not have spewed out one of the worst offensive seasons of all-time, per Offensive DVOA, Wilks probably keeps his job. It is one thing to be bad, it is another thing to be on offense in 2019. The Cardinals will be bad in 2019, but with Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, a potentially healthy David Johnson and an offensive whiz running things they will at least be entertaining. There is nothing entertaining about watching Josh Rosen getting hit more times than that poor sap who was on the receiving end of a vicious beatdown from a Stephen King-like Easter Bunny from Hell. Nobody wants to see a promising young quarterback getting hit on 43 percent of his dropbacks as a rookie, but that’s what fans saw.
It didn’t matter that Keim was responsible for the defense being depleted, for the weird Patrick Peterson that is still out there long after Wilks left the building, for that joke of an offensive line, for the bright idea to give Sam Bradford $20 million on a roster that has more holes in it than the a John Wick victim. What Keim did to Wilks has to be illegal in at least 23 states. Firing a head coach after one year is already a bad look, but doing it in the way Keim took the cake.
The Dolphins, like the Cardinals, figure to be very bad in 2019. The Tank For Tua tour started in Miami because Miami had been planning to start Fitzpatrick for 16 games in, yes, you guessed it, 2019. Do you remember what happened to the last head coach to start the season with Fitzy under center? That’s right, he was fired. If FitzMagic sizzles more and fizzles less, Dirk Koetter gets another year. Koetter got fired because their quarterback wasn’t good enough to win them enough games. By riding with Fitzpatrick in 2019, or even a Drew Lock or Dwayne Haskins, I would have expected the Dolphins to not employ Flores in 2020.
Flores is a longtime defensive coach, hired an inexperienced offensive mind to run his offense, and even brought on a longtime coach in Jim Caldwell to coach QBs who would probably be coaching the team in 2020 if Fitzpatrick, Starting Dolphins Quarterback happened. We’ve seen this story before, the offense is a disaster, they fire the OC by Week 6, promote Caldwell to OC, they win some games, but the fans are still treated with the worst offense in the league so Flores is fired. It wouldn’t have mattered where the Phins finished in Defensive DVOA because offense is king. If you’re a first-time head coach with a defensive background and take a job with an unsettling QB situation you’re probably going to get fired even though your job was fix the play on the other side of the ball.
But the Dolphins did a nice thing for Flores before the 2019 season gets underway -- they gave a quarterback who could save his job. Who knows with Rosen -- he got hit a lot last year, has some weird shoulder stuff, and hasn’t proven anything in this league. But he’s also not a rookie quarterback, he’s not a late-round flyer, he’s not so damaged where you couldn’t see this Phins’ offense have its moments this fall. That’s what Flores needs from Rosen -- throw TDs, hit Kenny Stills deep from time to time, target Kenyan Drake out of the backfield early and often, and, most of all, be exciting enough that Stephen Ross isn’t vomiting all over himself as the former UCLA kid takes sack after sack and hit after hit. Just do enough to sell those jerseys, get Dan Marino on a studio show talking about great Flores has been for Rosen, and finish ahead of the Bills.
That’s feasible now. Rosen is intriguing enough as a prospect that maybe Flores won’t get Wilks’d. Chris Grier flirted with the Steve Keim Bullshit playbook, but scribbled some plays out and threw Flores a life vest because Flores was drowning. Without the Rosen trade, 0-16 or 1-15 or 2-14 was feasible. This roster still needs a lot of work. Rosen in Miami is good for Flores in Miami. 6-10 can happen now. Rosen can bury the Pats one week in thrilling fashion. Hard Rock Stadium -- please do not Well, Actually the name of this stadium, I don’t care, and this is actual name -- can be less of a pit of sadness and more of a well of goodness. Flores just needs Rosen to be good enough for local fans to call into the Dan Le Batard Show asking the question “Is Flores the Bill Belichick disciple that isn’t an abject disaster?”
If Rosen can get to that level, Flores will get time. It might not seem like much but what we saw in Arizona would have happened in Miami. Rosen hasn’t played a snap for the Dolphins yet and he may have already saved Flores’ job. This is the NFL now for defensive coaches -- you can be bad but bad and boring is a dubious combination that will get you fired. Unless you’re Steve Keim of course.
One thing Vince McMahon has been exceptionally good at since the end of the Stone Cold era in the WWE has been establishing new, likable and universally adored babyface stars. When Vincent Kennedy McMahon takes an interest you, decides you’re his next Top Guy Project, rarely does it end failure. If that were the case, wouldn’t the John Cena years on top be masked with mixed reactions, or wouldn’t Sheamus be spending years tucked away in the tag-team division after his immediate push to the top, wouldn’t Big Cass not have had a memorable program with the best wrestler in the world, wouldn’t Alberto Del Rio not be around in any capacity after years of trying to make him a compelling and quality babyface, wouldn’t Eva Marie not be the biggest star in the women’s division who isn’t named Ronda Rousey, or, perhaps most notably, wouldn’t Roman Reigns not be universally adored following one of the best sports comeback stories of the last decade?
There may not be a bigger roadblock in being a universally adored babyface in 2019 than fans knowing Vince likes you. That’s what I meant. When that first report leaks out to Pro Wrestling Sheet, PW Insider, whoever, that Vince McMahon likes you, any hope of getting a fair shake from pro wrestling fans is out the door. Fans read the news, or, perhaps more accurately, read the headlines. Fans are also just smarter, they know when a guy gets called up to the main roster whether or not he or she fits what Vince McMahon has been looking for in a top superstar for the last decade-plus.
Take Lacey Evans, for instance. Who really knows how good the Southern Belle can be on the main roster, but she is DOA as a future top babyface act. Evans could have the feud of the year against Becky Lynch, but it wouldn’t matter. Reigns had a memorable, fantastic feud against Braun Strowman, too. That isn’t enough to get past the “Vince Loves This Person, Let’s Shit On This Person” issue.
Veteran pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer showed illuminated the problem perfectly by saying on an episode of Wrestling Observer Radio,
“Lacey Evans — you have no idea how big they want Lacey Evans to be. You know we talked about Asuka and Lacey Evans which I don’t think is going to happen, but that was the idea.”
You. Have. No. Idea. How Big. They. Want. Lacey. Evans. To. Be.
Dead on arrival.
With this kind of quote, heard by wrestling fans all over the world, Evans’ chances of ever getting universally cheered went out the window because she is forever in the “Vince Loves This Person” club. There is a reason fans by and large were most invested in the Kofi Kingston ascent to the top of the Smackdown Live pecking order -- because it didn’t feel like this is something Vince McMahon would ever want. (The company even played into it!) Had Mustafa Ali had never gotten hurt, the best pro wrestling moment of the year doesn’t happen. Kingston got lucky, found a hole, and ran through it like he was Todd Gurley -- he was going to find that end zone. Had Ali not gotten hurt, we probably see Kevin Owens versus Daniel Bryan for the WWE World title, we see Bryan retain, and we see Captain Planet keep the title until Vince decides to place the title on Lars Sullivan at SummerSlam.
Fans wanted Kofi because it was clear after a decade Vince did not. Fans wanted Daniel Bryan because Vince did not. Fans wanted Rob Van Dam because Vince did not. Fans wanted CM Punk because Vince did not. It is a theme in the WWE that the most memorable moments for the most vocal fans involve superstars who weren’t picked by the boss. (Note: If you’re expecting Kona Reeves’ first world title win on the main roster to go over universally well, you are mistaken.)
This is why fans shouldn’t have expected Vince and the decision-makers to change course with Reigns following his amazing return for another bout with cancer. Had Reigns not getting sick, he was in line to main event the most consecutive WrestleMania’s since Hulk Hogan. Hulk. Freaking. Hogan. Vince may adjust and have Bryan drop the title for Kingston. Vince may even adjust have Rousey drop the title for Lynch. Vince will never adjust and drop the bad Roman Reigns character.
Reigns has been Vince’s Guy.
Reigns is still Vince’s Guy.
Reigns will continue to be Vince’s Guy.
The WWE missed a huge opportunity in his triumphant return to the ring by not making one simple adjustment -- change his entrance music. Pro wrestling fans are easily conditioned. They hear John Cena’s music, they boo. They Kurt Angle’s music, they chant “You Suck!”. They hear Jinder Mahal’s music, they head to the concession stand. With Reigns’ music, they groan. They are conditioned to boo, or, even worse, sigh once the slightly altered Shield music blasts throughout the arena. For example, TNA Impact made the mistake of changing AJ Styles’ music years ago in a convoluted and very bad feud with Aces & Eights, but all of that character damage was undone by simply reverting back to the “Get Ready To Fly” music that had fans fall in love with him in the first place. The WWE messed up here. (Seriously, could they not have called Migos, or Wale, or whoever, to record a new theme for the Big Dog? Really?)
They didn’t change anything because they don’t have a reason to change anything. Reigns is still selling a bunch of merchandise. The WWE is more profitable than ever. The company could have changed and learned from past Reigns mistakes, but why change and adapt when you’re still going to make an insane amount of money regardless of how terrible of the Roman Reigns on-screen character continues to be. You can do another iteration of Reigns vs. Vince and the Corporate Suits because the ratings won’t change, because those same fans who roll their eyes into the back of their head are going to keep watching, and, perhaps most importantly, are going to log on to Twitter, Facebook, wherever and complain about how insane it is that the WWE is still trying to trying to make you think the most important people in the company don’t love him.
None of it matters.
If this sounds nihilistic, it’s because it kind of is. Vince McMahon can afford to be stubborn and bad at creative -- shoutout to the Viking Experience! -- because Vince McMahon made a lot of money in 2018. What he does character-wise with Roman Reigns doesn’t matter because the WWE is going to make a lot of money in 2019 and a better or worse Roman Reigns character isn’t going to change that. Nobody moves the needle in that company anymore. They don’t have any competition. If they’re not satisfied with their monopoly, they can go to Saudi Arabia.
The WWE is a machine. The WWE will be fine even if Kofi gets a raw deal in his title run on Smackdown Live. The WWE will be fine if Ricochet and Aleister Black never develop any actual on-screen characters. The WWE will be fine Johnny Gargano gets sentenced to a two-year stay on 205 Live. Vince McMahon won a long time ago, so why change?
Chase Thomas is an independent sportswriter and podcaster. You can email him at chasethomaspodcast[gmail].com and follow him on Twitter at @chase__thomas.
Chase Thomas is joined by ESPN's Cameron Wolfe to talk about the Dolphins' new head coach Brian Flores, the front office with Chris Grier now in charge, the additions of Marty Allen and Reggie McKenzie, the QB situation without Ryan Tannehill, the Kyler Murray rumors surrounding Miami, what changes the team needs to make on offense and defense, the Antonio Brown situation in Pittsburgh, if the Steelers should actually trade him, the awkward locker room dynamics with Brown and Big Ben and Mike Tomlin, and the scary injury situation with Cam Newton in Carolina.
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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.
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).
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.