WWE Smackdown Live: The Miz as the Middle Man

I wanted to lead this piece with the Smackdown Women’s championship match between Becky Lynch (c.) vs. Charlotte Flair, but what more is there to say about this feud right now? Lynch and Charlotte kicked off this week’s episode with a twenty-minute gauntlet, featured multiple heelish stunts from Lynch, and ended with a brutal spear from Charlotte that pushed both her and her former best friend through the LED wall. It was all well done, it was a very fun match, this feud still has some sizzle, but we’re at the point in this story where a definitive conclusion should take place sooner rather than later. After WWE Evolution, there will be more to say, like, you know, why it was always inevitable that this was ending with Charlotte as 46-time champion.

Instead, I’m leading with The Miz, more specifically, his Miz TV segment that featured the WWE champion AJ Styles and the No. 1 contender Daniel Bryan. This was everything it needed to be, and on a two-hour show where it felt like only two things happened, it shined. Yes, Charlotte taking out Lynch in frustration post-match was cool, but Styles telling Bryan that he isn’t moving was awesome.

After the personal, highly contentious feuds that Styles and Bryan have worked through over the last few months, it was refreshing to have a back-and-forth like the one Bryan and Styles had. Still, as Miz rightly pointed out, there is nothing inherently interesting about Styles and Bryan respecting each other as two of the best professional wrestlers in the world -- except in this case. Sometimes you just want to have a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sometimes you just want to see two of the best professional wrestlers in the world have a five-star match on a WWE Network special. When you throw the Miz into the mix, which, I guess makes him the chocolate syrup in this never-ending metaphor -- it makes everything sweeter. Daniel Bryan, the astute man that he is, even admitted on commentary that the Miz is better than everybody at talking. Bryan isn’t wrong here, as there may not be anyone better in the company right now at working a microphone than Mr. Professional.

But he still the biggest match of his career against Bryan in embarrassing fashion. A few days removed from the Australian event, that looks to have been the right call by the WWE brass. An embarrassed and enraged Miz is the best version of the Miz. Whenever the Miz finds himself in a situation where he isn’t being taken seriously, that’s when he hits the hardest. There may be no better example than towards the end of this segment the Miz roared at both Bryan and Styles that he’s got next.

***
Here are my two other takeaways from the two-hour program.

  1. What makes this a World Cup? Are we sure Vince McMahon has ever watched the FIFA World Cup? Are we sure if we were to ask him to explain what exactly the WWE’s version of the World Cup was, would Vince be able to piece together a coherent explanation? I have my doubts, as this week’s episode of Smackdown Live featured two more qualifying matches that featured four wrestlers from the United States. After this week’s episode, the four wrestlers who have qualified for the tournament are from the United States. Yes, Rey Mysterio vs. Shinsuke Nakamura is happening next week, but I’m fairly confident the WWE has no idea what the World Cup actually is. (Also, could they really have not given the winner a WWE or Universal title shot on an episode of Raw or Smackdown?)

  2. Speaking of the World Cup qualifying matches, why did Randy Orton not viciously assault the Big Show after his victory? Are we done with Crazy Randy Orton, or was this just a one-week blip for the Viper on his quest to destroy fan-favorites? It just felt...odd. I found myself just waiting to write down “Orton punts the Big Show into retirement” on my Legal Pad, but that moment never came. Instead, Orton hit the fan-favorite RKO, his first use of the finisher since the heel turn, and that was that. I’d also like to mention that the fans chanting “You still got it” at the Big Show was one of the most baffling things I’ve seen in professional wrestling this year. If we are subjected to more Big Show matches in 2018 or 2019, I am blaming the city of Indianapolis.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Did anyone else laugh at the barrage of chops from Charlotte to Becky? Seemed very cartoony.

  • Becky rolling out immediately after the Natural Selection was just great in-ring psychology.

  • Last time we see Samoa Joe on television in 2018? Maybe he and Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn can start their own YouTube show or something.

  • “How’s the family?” - The Miz

  • “If he goes to you house, he’s going to tend to your garden.” - The Miz, with the line of the night.

  • Shelton Benjamin Is Back Alert. That high knee of the ropes was tremendous. More Shelton, please.

  • Rusev and Aiden should get more time to see this feud through, but I suspect a WWE Network match isn’t in the cards and this feud is done.

  • “Cause you got hacked!” - Rusev, always funny.

WWE Raw: D-Generation X Is Back For The Last Time Ever?

If you smartly elected to enjoy a bit more shuteye Saturday morning and skipped WWE Super Show-Down, skimmed the results later on in the afternoon only to then tune into this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw, you might be under the impression that Triple H and The Undertaker’s “Seriously, this is the last time we’re doing this, we promise” match on the WWE Network special delivered in historic fashion. While it is very easy to pile on the WWE for their decision-making -- still waiting on my pyro or television-show intros to return -- it is also very to praise the company for their video packages. No matter how poorly a feud unfolded or how underwhelming a big-time match turned out, the WWE has always excelled at creating a video package that never fails to give the impression that this particular story they’re pushing is the hottest thing in the professional wrestling world. The video package that aired in the middle of Triple H and Shawn Michaels’ opening promo was all of that and more.

Mission accomplished?

Not quite. Yes, the Chicago crowd was hot for this opening segment, they rejoiced when it became crystal clear that the Heartbreak Kid was coming out of retirement, and, you know, it was just kind of nice to open an episode of Raw that did not include the likes of Baron Corbin, an in-over-his-head Kurt Angle, Michael Cole obnoxiously shouting about the “Big Dog”, and the list goes on and on. Most weeks, it feels like the red brand is dead-set on not giving the paying customers what they want, but, on Monday evening, Vince McMahon threw the rowdy crowd a bone and gave thousands of people the opportunity to scream “Suck it!” at the top of their longs as the member berries the WWE fed each fan on their way into the arena had finally taken effect.

But should Triple H and Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker and Kane be the main program on the biggest show in the promotion in 2018? If the choice is simply: DX or more Roman Reigns’ solo work, you always go with the latter. The fans in attendance and the fans at home still love HBK and the fans at home still love to see the legends they grew up with pop up on their television screens from time to time. However, it seems highly unlikely that those same fans are also pumped about the Crown Jewel co-main event of DX vs. Brothers of Destruction in 2018. After watching that painful match in Australia -- or just the Undertaker’s last two WrestleMania appearances -- why would anyone *really* want to see Kane and the Undertaker wrestle anymore? They were really good and really fun for 67 years, but it is time to turn the page. If you are going to bring Michaels out of retirement, great, but it should be to elevate somebody like Adam Cole or Aleister Black or Seth Rollins or Tommaso Ciampa or even Daniel Bryan.

***

Here are three other takeaways I had from this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

  1. According to my calculations, after tonight’s episode of Raw every single member of the Raw roster is now a heel. No, there is still Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, ugh, well, there have to be more, right? But the post-match beatdowns from Bobby Lashley on Kevin Owens and the Bella Twins on Ronda Rousey clicked. If there was ever a night to try turn heel, last night in front of this Chicago crowd was the night to do it. Lashley obviously wasn’t working as a babyface, and if you’re going to pair him with somebody like Lio Rush, who was jawing throughout an awkwardly long Lashley vs. Owens match, you had to turn him heel. Rush, through no fault of his own, has a voice that only works as a heel. The Bellas’ turn, however, was more interesting as Nikki has always seemed more naturally suited as a heel, while Brie will now have to navigate awkward waters with this character development as she is married to the biggest babyface in the company. (Granted, her botched kicks to Liv Morgan on a previous Raw made this heel transformation less awkward and far more realistic.)

  2. Trish Stratus and Alexa Bliss must be protected at all costs. When it first became clear this match was happening at WWE Evolution, it felt more thrown together, less thought out. For as great as Miss Bliss is, she has never felt like this generation’s Trish Stratus. There was always something naturally likable about Trish Stratus, while there is always something naturally hatable -- shoutout to Sasha Banks -- about Alexa Bliss. But maybe that’s why this feud has clicked, as Stratus has been turned out to be a better foil to Bliss than Rousey or even Nia Jax ever were. Now you throw Lita into the mix and this tag-team match -- Mickie James included -- has all the ingredients for an enjoyable match.

  3. So we’re doing this with Dean Ambrose, huh? Are we really doing this? At one point in the main event, the crowd was beside themselves calling for the Lunatic Fringe to get inserted into the match. Outside of Rollins, who was just as universally over, Ambrose was the biggest ticket item in Chicago Monday night. So why is the WWE teasing an Ambrose heel turn or at the very least a split from The Shield? Is it really a good idea to turn one of the few over babyfaces in the company that isn’t 58-years-old? We have seen the Wrestler Gets Fed Up With Losing And Turns movie countless times before, but with Ambrose it seems riskier. There is a difference between Alleged Babyface Bobby Roode turning on Chad Gable after losing to the Ascension every week on Raw for a decade-plus than Ambrose walking out on his brothers and going into the Me-First Business. Sure, it could work out as well as has for Becky Lynch on Smackdown Live -- the two do have a lot in common after all -- but the biggest reason Lynch is better off for her pseudo-turn is the person she walked out on has never clicked as a babyface -- Charlotte Flair -- while an Ambrose vs. Rollins feud, at this point in 2018, won’t have the same effect because people actually like the Burn It Down Guy. Now, if this leads to an Ambrose vs. Reigns feud for the Universal title, that is something that could work because Ambrose would thrive as the anti-hero in that scenario. Really, that’s where this story should go, with Ambrose going after the biggest prize in the company and setting his sights on the guy in the group that isn’t universally beloved by the WWE Universe. Unfortunately, we know this is leading to Ambrose vs. Rollins and that doesn’t do anybody any good.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Triple H just tossed his water bottle early on in his ramp-walking endeavor to kick off Monday Night Raw.

  • Speaking of Hunter, the man was dead-set on telling the longest mountain-climbing metaphor ever recorded. Mission accomplished.

  • “More of the same,” Corey Graves said, unironically on this episode of Raw.

  • Owens took flight again and got the crowd completely in his corner. His place on this show is an atrocity.

  • Week 93 of me complaining that Elias needs something else to do. ANYTHING.

  • That Liv vs. Brie opener to start the six-woman tag was super smart. It felt genuine and came across super well.

  • Michael Cole saying that Brie’s kick “sent Liv flying” was very strange and just a bold-face lie.

  • Is Natalya the worst best friend of all-time?

  • “You suck” chants for the Bellas after their beatdown of Rousey. This worked.

  • Hard to believe B ‘N B vs. Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox happened on television, but it did.

  • Are we getting Babyface Drew McIntyre soon?

  • “You’re just not any good.” - Baron Corbin with the line of the night on Heath Slater.

  • I wonder if the WWE thought out this World Cup thing. (I kid, of course they haven’t.)

  • That Kurt Angle moment was delightful and Corbin makes the best faces.

  • Who even are Nia Jax and Ember Moon as a television characters?

  • Shield vs. Evil Guys definitely had a big-fight feel to start the match. This was fun.

  • Roman Reigns flying outside the ring may be the best thing he does.

Atlanta Falcons 17, Pittsburgh Steelers 41: Just How Good Is James Conner?

The Atlanta Falcons won the opening coin toss in Pittsburgh on Sunday and deferred. What followed was a pass completion to Jesse James from Ben Roethlisberger, a James Conner third-down conversion, a Conner big-time reception, a Conner big-time carry, a Conner five-yard scamper up the middle for six, another Conner touchdown in leaping fashion after his first score was overturned. If you didn’t watch a second of excruciating beatdown of the Falcons and just looked at the opening drive for the Steelers you’d know everything you really needed to know about this game: James Conner ended the Atlanta Falcons’ 2018 season today.

Sure, you could dive deeper and see that after the Falcons elected not to send Matt Bryant out for a 56-yard field goal attempt, instead opting to trust a defense that is now relying on the Jordan Richards and Duke Rileys of the world to not be atrocious *all* of the time, which resulted in the Steelers piecing together another drive that ended in six and started at the Steelers’ four-yard line. You knew the Falcons were going to regret not at least trying the field goal in that spot, or even just outright going for it on 4th-and-long because the Falcons no longer have the personnel to get the stops necessary against an above-average offense. It didn’t matter that the Steelers didn’t have LeVeon Bell here, Conner was at 17 carries for 104 yards early in the third quarter. With the kind of drive the Steelers had to open the game, the Falcons had to score points to keep themselves from falling into a inescapable hole early in the first quarter. Instead, the Steelers were up 13-0 faster than the time it takes Tevin Coleman to rush for two yards up the middle before falling to the ground.  

Once it was clear that the Steelers could always pitch it outside to Conner whenever they wanted for another back-breaking run, or utilize Conner in the check-down game, or just run a basic halfback dive up the middle for six yards a pop, you knew this was a recipe for the disaster for the Falcons. With a defense this depleted, their best chance at survival for the rest of this season is to play teams that have no interest or don’t have the bodies to control the clock and keep the Falcons’ wideout group off the field. The best way to ensure Mohammed “Mr. Yards After The Catch” Sanu doesn’t rack up the yards after a catch is to not allow Mr. Yards After The Catch to ever be on the field. Pittsburgh may not have a superstar in Bell at the moment, but what they do have is a do-it-all workhorse in Conner that is perfectly fine and capable of grinding teams to death in excruciatingly effective fashion. It didn’t matter that Big Ben overshot Antonio Brown on multiple passing downs early on this game, or that Pittsburgh committed all kinds of dumb penalties in this game because Mike Tomlin and the Steelers knew all they had to do was utilize their 6.7 YPC Assassin early-and-often and this Atlanta defense would crumble.

No Grady Jarrett? No chance at stopping James Conner and this Pittsburgh running attack.

***

Here are three other major takeaways I had after today’s loss to the Steelers.

  1. Maybe making Austin Hooper a priority in the passing game again isn’t the best thing? Look, I like Hooper, but maybe it was no coincidence that the Falcons’ offense only registered 17 points on the afternoon and Matt Ryan targeted Hooper -- checks notes -- 63 times in this game. Hooper is a quality safety net for Ryan when the offensive line plays as poorly as it did today. Ryan was under pressure early and often and was even gifted with a dirty shot from Jon Bostic at one point in this game. (On another occasion in the second quarter, Ryan was sacked on back-to-back plays and the Falcons had to settle for a 55-yard field goal from Ole Reliable Matt Bryant.) When Julio Jones doesn’t reel in his first reception until the fourth quarter after only registering four targets before then, that’s a problem. I’m not saying there is a direct correlation between a bad day for the Falcons’ offense and a good day for Hooper, but can we rule it out?

  2. Without Sanu, how much uglier would this game have gotten for the Falcons? One of the best things about Sanu whenever it becomes clear that Sark has called his number for a quick screen or short curl route is that you know the play isn’t ending where Sanu first catches the pass -- he’s getting more yards. The highlight of the day was Sanu’s 43-yard slant route that went for six, and it was really the last time you felt the Falcons had a chance of winning a shootout here, as it cut the lead to six and it looked like the Falcons’ superstar trio was just too much for the anemic Steelers’ secondary. (Important to note that Julio had not been targeted at this point in the game. Once he bobbled and almost gave away a Very 2017 Matt Ryan Bullsh*t Interception ball, all that optimism shifted back to panic.)

  3. Well, it was nice to have Devonta Freeman back for a few quarters of action. There were some moments where Freeman did his best James Conner Impersonation where he would bounce off one Pittsburgh defender and maybe up a couple more as he looked poise to have a big day. Just like the Steelers wanted to keep the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hands all day, the Falcons wanted to establish the run with Freeman early on in an admirable attempt to keep Richards and Riley and Foye Oluokon and Robert Alford and Vic Beasley Jr. and everybody else on that Atlanta defense that does not include Takk McKinnley, Damontae Kazee and Desmond Trufant off the field, too. It didn’t work out that way as the Falcons’ offensive line imploded, the team fell behind, Freeman exited the game and Coleman continued his impressive streak of 55-straight carries up the middle for a gain of exactly two yards.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Is Bostic the Pittsburgh version of Duke Riley? He was atrocious in this game.

  • Speaking of Riley, I don’t know which was worse his 38-yard pass interference penalty that set-up the Steelers’ second touchdown, or the brutal stiff arm he received later on.

  • That Damontae Kazee interception in the end zone was wild, wasn’t it? Still baffled Big Ben chucked that one up at the end of the second quarter.

  • Hooper had eight receptions in the first half and the Falcons had seven points.

  • It was nice of Matt Bosher to have another punt blocked today to add more credence to my “Never Punt” opinion with this team.

  • Danny Smith of the Steelers chews the biggest piece of gum I have ever seen in my life and it was favorite visual of the afternoon. Insane.

  • Poor Isaiah Oliver. Just after an impressive pass breakup when he was matched up with Brown on the outside, Brown would later beat him on a touchdown. Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

  • Ryan really didn’t start force-feeding it to Julio until the fourth quarter. Big Ben was pushing it to Brown early and often. The latter scored 41 points.

  • Seemed like Ryan overthrew a lot of dudes today. Not Jarrett Stidham-level awfulness, but it did seem like a lot.

  • 1-4 sucks, but facing the Giants and the Bucs next definitely does not suck.

NFL Week 5 Picks: Jalen Ramsey Must Be Protected At All Costs

On this week’s Dan Patrick Show, Dan and his Danettes had an interesting conversation about the “talk about” cliche sports reporters are known to send out into the world during post-game press conferences. From Mr. Patrick’s perspective, it’s a lazy crutch that deserves a lazy response. Not that you asked, but I agree with the sports broadcasting legend on this front: it is lazy. Sure, post-game pressers less interesting than the Michigan State offense most Saturdays, but if you’re a reporter and you have the opportunity to mine for some interesting material from a world-famous athlete, you should seize.

Unless you’re talking to Jalen Ramsey.

The Jacksonville Jaguars star cornerback is going to give you gold whether or not you ask him a bullshit question. Ramsey is going to give you something to print even if you ask him to talk about what he had for breakfast that morning. Some people are just wired this way, where every single time they speak you can’t help but turn your attention to what it is that they’re saying, even if it’s ninety-three percent trolling. If you asked Ramsey whether he liked his eggs scrambled or over easy, he would probably find a way to sneak in a shot on Patrick Mahomes as a scrambling quarterback and not a *real* quarterback who spends most of his time standing the pocket like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

We already know how Ramsey feels about basically every quarterback in the National Football League, but until this week the public was not aware of how Ramsey felt about Kansas City Chiefs’ do-it-all guy Tyreek Hill. The former All-Pro corner referred to Hill as a “return specialist”, which had he stopped there would have been enough for me. Instead, the delightful Ramsey made it a point to refer to him as a “return specialist” on multiple occasions, and wanted to ensure that the media present knew that Sunday’s contest against the undefeated Chiefs was not a wide receiver versus cornerback match-up.

Obviously, this is not true. Obviously, Ramsey knows that Hill still very much qualifies as a wide receiver, that Hill dips his toes in the return game but that his role in the slot for Kansas City is where he makes his money. Obviously, this is the kind of statement that will piss Hill off heading into Sunday. It is just Ramsey being a dick, yes, but it is Ramsey being a delightful dick, which can’t be ignored. Ramsey clearly respects Hill and knows the Jags face their biggest test of the season with Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Hill, Travis Kelce, and more on the docket.

This kind of trolling would only get old if Jalen Ramsey stopped being at good at football. Jalen Ramsey is 23-years-old, hasn’t even entered his prime yet, and plays on one of the most stacked defensive units in the NFL. If Ramsey started to falter, if AJ Bouyei became the clear no. 1 cornerback in Jacksonville, if the Jaguars imploded from within, then this sort of thing becomes a problem. However, it is October 6, 2018, and Jalen Ramsey is one of the best cornerbacks in football who is just having fun being Jalen Ramsey. It’s not just the fact that Ramsey is saying hyperbolic things to invoke the kind of reaction he craves, it’s that he knows none of this really matters. If Ramsey is dominant on Sundays and quarterbacks continue to not look his way, what he says on random Tuesday morning pressers will continue to be irrelevant.

So talk about whatever you’d like, Jalen Ramsey. I’ll be listening and laughing and appreciating you for being Jalen Ramsey, Guy Who Doesn’t Give A Shit.

Point is, talk about more things, Jalen Ramsey. We’re all better off for it.

***

Alright, let’s get into this week’s picks. (Holy shit, Week 5, already?! Time flies. It feels like just yesterday Ryan Fitzpatrick was strolling up to post-game pressers in Desean Jackson’s wardrobe. Simpler times.)

Broncos vs. Jets (+1)

Case Keenum may not actually be very good. It hurts me to write this, but I can’t shake the feeling that Denver is heading stormier times. The Broncos sit at 2-2 now, but traveling to New York -- Jersey, excuse me -- to face a desperate Jets team just after suffering a back-breaking loss against the Chiefs seems like a recipe for disaster. The Jets get back on track here and beat the Broncos at home.

Packers vs. Lions (+1.5)

Maybe Aaron Rodgers is fine? Maybe Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are all together fine after shutting out a disastrous Buffalo Bills team? This secondary is for real, headlined by rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and as pissed off as Aaron Rodgers may be about the state of the Green Bay offense, this is still a team trending in the right direction. Packers win and cover here.

Falcons vs. Steelers (-3)

You’re not going to believe this, but Jalen Richards may not have been a better option than Eric Reid for the Falcons next to Damontae Kazee. It’s funny, though, that the “Falcons really suck in the red zone” conversation feels like years ago now. Calvin Ridley is just a firecracker and the Atlanta offense is fine. Now, the defense lost Grady Jarrett, Duke Riley is not embarrassing himself in coverage, and Takk McKinley is Actually Good, but this secondary is a dumpster fire and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best wideout group not including the Falcons. Damn it.

Ravens vs. Browns (+3)

Ravens are only favored by three points after beating the Steelers on the road in a huge game just a few days prior? Cleveland is back! (Well, they are not back, but they may be good? OK? Decent? I don’t know, but they are not the 2017 Cleveland Browns, that is for sure.) The Ravens are going to win this game and it is because Baker Mayfield is a rookie quarterback going up against the second-best secondary in the NFL with Jimmy Smith now back in the fold. Ravens win and cover.

Jaguars vs. Chiefs (-3)

Jacksonville is not favored in this game and when I first saw this line I was perplexed. If there was ever a team, outside of the Patriots, that should be expected to neutralize an Andy Reid Offensive Juggernaut, it is the Jaguars of Jacksonville. Mahomes should have surrendered his first turnover last week in Denver, are we sure he doesn’t surrender a pair to Ramsey and Bouye this week? Give me the Jags and the points here.

Dolphins vs. Bengals (-6)

Holy overreaction, Batman! The Fighting Adam Gases get trounced in New England and suddenly this team is giving six on the road to a Cincy team that just lost Tyler Eifert for the season. This smells fishy -- I will not apologize for that -- and I still believe this Miami team is playoff-bound. It’s important to remember this Cincinnati defense is not the defense of a few years ago, and the group of Devante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jakeem Grant, and Albert Wilson should be too much too handle for this Bengals’ secondary. Give me Dolphins and the points here.

Giants vs. Panthers (-6)

Are we sure the Panthers shouldn’t be favored by 23 here? The Giants may be the worst team in the NFL, or, at the very least, the most unwatchable when Saquon Barkley does not have the football. The Norv Turner Resurrection is for real, Christian McCaffrey is going to gash this defense and the Panthers are going to score too much to keep this close. Give me the Panthers and the points.

Titans vs. Bills (5.5)

What I am about to do here is not for the faint of heart: the Buffalo Bills are going to ruin somebody else’s Survivor Pool here. The Titans are not as good as their record and the Bills are every bit as Jekyll and Hide as advertised. Josh Allen just a few weeks ago shredded a once vaunted Minnesota defense, fell flat on his face in Green Bay, and will now shred a Currently Vaunted Tennessee Titans defense. Give me the Bills and the points.

Chargers vs. Raiders (+5.5)

This has all the makings of another inexcusable stink bomb for the Los Angeles Chargers. This franchise made their bones on losing games like this, and the Raiders needed “outside” help to beat the Browns last week to avoid an 0-4 hole, a black hole if you will. I am not selling my stock on the Chargers Are Going To Be Fine island, as the talent disparity between the two clubs should be the difference for the Chargers. Give me the Chargers, but the Raiders cover.

Cardinals vs. 49ers (-3.5)

The San Francisco 49ers are favored against the Arizona Cardinals without their starting quarterback, without their starting running back, without really any offensive weapons outside of their tight end, and Kyle Shanahan’s group is favored by 3.5 against the Cardinals. If this isn’t rock bottom for Arizona, I don’t know what is. Still, Josh Rosen posted the best rookie QB debut grade since PFF has been tracking players last week. The Niners win here but I like the Cardinals to cover and keep it close.

Vikings vs. Eagles (-3)

Who knows here? The Eagles choked away a win against the Tennessee Titans last week, and the Vikings are in desperation mode. This Philly offensive line isn’t the same as last year, but Carson Wentz should be able to out duel Kirk Cousins at home, right? The Vikings are 1-2-1, their secondary is getting lit up, and their offensive line is once again a mess. Point is, I’m really worried about my preseason Steelers vs. Vikings Super Bowl pick. Give me the Eagles and the points here.

Rams vs. Seahawks (+7.5)

Can I make this my Lock of the Week? The Seattle Seahawks are not winning a shootout with the Los Angeles Rams. Chris Carson is dinged up, Earl Thomas is out for the season, Brian Schottenheimer is their offensive coordinator, and really everything about this Seattle group stinks. It turns out Jared Goff may not be a system quarterback after all? (Author’s note: I’ve watched that bomb to Cooper Kupp in the back of the endzone at least fifteen times since Thursday Night Football. Going Goff, anyone?!

Cowboys vs. Texans (-3)

I will not be watching this game. The Cowboys defensive line should feast on the Texans’ offensive line, but they probably won’t. The Texans should score 35 on the Cowboys, but they probably won’t. The Cowboys should control the clock and win this game 17-13, but they probably won’t. These two teams are going to be frustrating to watch all year. Give me the Texans and the points.

Redskins vs. Saints (-6)

The Redskins are the best team that casual NFL fans all think suck. I have no data to back this assertion, but I think it’s true. The Redskins have Jim Tomsula coaching one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, Alex Smith just wins regular season games, and Washington is good not great from top to bottom. They’re not real Super Bowl contenders, but they’re also not the New York Giants. Drew Brees won’t have his best day here, and Josh Norman will likely get flustered in this game. Give me the Saints but the ‘Skins cover.

Falcons vs. Bengals: The Tyler Boyd Game

It feels like we’ve been talking about when Tyler Boyd was going to break out for thirteen years now. Without looking it up, I would guess the Bengals drafted him out of Pittsburgh around the same time Dion Lewis was on campus. I’d probably be wrong, no, I am sure of it, but I am also sure that Tyler Boyd has arrived and killed the Falcons in the process. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve loved Theoretical Tyler Boyd ever since he came into the NFL -- another Julian Edelman, Cole Beasley, etc. kind of wideout who just had a knack for crushing teams when their quarterback checks down and finds them just in the right spot for a back-breaking first down.

In Boyd’s case, this did not happen until the second half, when the Bengals lost their superstar tight end to injury once again in brutal fashion. (This is not me trying to tease you to go watch the video. Please do not watch the video. It is *that* bad.) The Bengals lost their unicorn wide-receiver-tight-end-or-whatever-he-is hybrid early in the third, so Boyd decided it was time for the guy who was two years away from being two years away to ensure the Falcons were 1-3 through four weeks of action.

Mission accomplished, asshole.

For the rest of the afternoon, the Bengals’ human safety valve reeled in one huge third-down catch after another to keep the Bengals’ offense on the field. Rarely, if ever, did you hear or see AJ Green’s name on the broadcast. (Yes, the former UGA star nabbed the game-winning touchdown, but outside of that, his impact didn’t feel as demoralizing as the sound of “Dalton finds Boyd for a thirteen-yard reception and another Cincy first down.) While Mohamed Sanu Sr. pulverized the Bengals’ secondary on big third downs, Boyd destroyed the Falcons’ secondary whenever Dalton was getting pressured and needed to find his reliable safety net. Granted, Dalton wasn’t running for his life on every down like Deshaun Watson is accustomed to in Houston -- this is where I mention Takk McKinley in the column because his impact was felt as the former UCLA star added a big-time sack on third down in the 3rd quarter, another sack that almost resulted in a fumble, and, for the most part, made Falcon fans forget about the other edge rusher on the team for the majority of the afternoon -- but when he was and after he lost Eifert, he made damn sure he was going to find Tyler effing Boyd.

This is the new normal for the Atlanta Falcons, though. If they don’t have the ball last, they’re probably going to lose. (Serious question: Did you notice the existence of Jalen Richards in this game? Damontae Kazee had the huge interception, Bryan Poole had the awful targeting play, Robert Alford had a stellar pass breakup in the endzone against Green, and Desmond Trufant looked tired, man, but did you ever see Richards? Outside of Duke Riley’s hit-stick moment late in third quarter, did you notice him? You didn’t notice a lot of guys because you noticed Tyler Boyd and Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert and AJ Green and everybody on that Cincinnati offense lighting Dan Quinn’s defense on fire. This will continue because it has to continue. The Falcons figured out how to score in the red zone again -- 10 for their last 10 at one point in this game -- but they also figured out just how screwed this team is on defense. Andy Dalton is a good quarterback. Andy Dalton is not *this* good of a quarterback. Hello, Nick Bosa!

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • That third quarter was wild. After a blazing first half with zero punts, the third had 93 penalties, a blocked punt, a Kazee interception and so much more.

  • Big Takk McKinley game. Beasley Jr. did have a nice strip sack, too. Progress?

  • Ryan hitting Paulsen for that touchdown in the first half was discombobulating.

  • Calvin Ridley really likes posing as close as possible to the on-field videographers on his touchdown-grabs. I’ll allow it.

  • No Joe Mixon, no Eifert, no pass-protection issues, no problem.

  • Another big Julio day.

  • Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith are perfectly fine as a one-two punch. Are we sure the team needs Devonta Freeman?

  • Was that Christian effing Hackenberg on the sidelines for the Bengals?

  • Bill Lazor or Steve Sarkisian for Biggest Surprise OC Work of the year?

  • Bengals were averaging 10.3 yards per play at one point this game. Eric Reid, Eric Schmeid, right? RIGHT?

  • Big what-if on that missed touchdown in the back of the endzone for Hooper. Ryan places that ball better and the game is over.

  • Boyd had two fourth-down conversions on that game-winning drive. Man.

WWE Monday Night Raw: The Crown Jewel Is Revealed

Roman Reigns is still the WWE Universal champion; Ronda Rousey is still the WWE Raw women’s champion; Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler are still the Raw Tag Team champions; Braun Strowman is still a loser; Baron Corbin is still the best general manager on Raw in years; Brock Lesnar is still the crown jewel of the WWE.

So not much has changed on the red brand following Hell In A Cell on Sunday night. Perhaps that’s why this week’s episode of Raw felt like a rerun. One member of the Shield faced one member of the Evil Heels; Elias found himself sparring with Bobby Lashley again; Ronda Rousey was in the building but didn’t have an actual match; Dana Brooke lost a singles match; the show even kicked off with Michael Cole awkwardly welcoming us all to the show followed by the sound of Roman Reigns’ entrance music.

There was Lio Rush, though, which was very different. On a show that dragged, featured a Chad Gable vs. Viktor match, and just didn’t have a lot to offer outside of playing the classic hits, Rush stood out. He was given time, he was comfortable on the mic, he had the best interaction on the show with Elias, and may actually be the best thing that has happened to Lashley since returning to the WWE. The company has something with Rush, but they also have to be careful. As fun as it was to see the 23-year-old phenom navigate traffic in the form of Kevin Owens and Elias, Rush is too talented in the ring and on the mic to fall into the comedy-act zone. As should be the case for all young, talented wrestlers coming up from NXT or 205 Live, there has to be effective quality control to protect these guys long-term.

Outside of the Rush revelation, it was clear what this show was about: promote some more WWE Network specials. Less than 24 hours prior, the WWE put on a co-branded special, but within the first thirty minutes of last night’s episode, the company was already pushing both the Crown Jewel special in Saudi Arabia, headlined by Roman Reigns (c) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal title, along with the Superstar Show-Down special, headlined by Triple H vs. The Undertaker, as the WWE content machine keeps on churning. Lesnar returned in the main event of the previous night’s show, spoiling Strowman’s cash-in, and it just didn’t feel like a big deal because of all the different things going on. (It didn’t help Lesnar didn’t make an appearance, as a Strowman and Lesnar brawl to open this show would have made a lot of sense and served both men well. Paul Heyman is great, sure, but Strowman just ending the opening promo by angrily walking after Heyman with no follow-up was an abject failure.)

***

Here are three other takeaways I had from this week’s episode.

  1. Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler were able to get the fans into another Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler match in 2018. This was no easy feat, but in ten minutes or so, the two superb wrestlers were able to galvanize a crowd that had fallen asleep after being treated with a Bayley vs. Dana Brooke match and an Authors of Pain squash. Fans really did get out of their chairs for a match that has happened at least 63 times since June 1. At least. To be clear, this is neither of the two’s fault, but the finish was solid, outside of Michael Cole yelling “Stomp!”, and now we can finally, please, for the love of God, move on from Ziggler vs. Rollins singles matches. Actually, what if they were to do a 90-minute Iron Man match at Survivor Series? Just picture it. I’m so sorry.

  2. Why do I care about The Undertaker vs. Triple H in 2018 in a non-WrestleMania capacity? The Undertaker was fine here, his shots at Corporate Hunter were fine, but this felt like watching Undertaker dance with John Cena at WrestleMania 34 for eight minutes. This entire feud, from Taker to Shawn Michaels to Triple H all feels like the creative team stumbled onto some member berries and decided to build a special around it. (Member The Undertaker?) Kind of like Jerry Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You For The Last Time” special in the late ‘90s, we know this is not the last time fans are going to see Triple H and the Undertaker nothing is permanent and the marketing doesn’t matter. “Last time ever!” Sure.

  3. Well, Ronda Rousey almost competed in a match on Monday Night Raw. Sure, Rousey’s character not understanding the complexities involved in an open-challenge match wasn’t great, but this was still a step in the right direction. Fans want to see Rousey more often. They want to see her sling people over her shoulder and try and snap people’s arms. It’s never not entertaining, and if Rousey is going to be at every episode of Raw, you have to use her more. We may not have gotten to see a full Ruby Riott versus Rousey match, but the spear from the former alone showed this is definitely that should happen sooner rather than later. (Sidebar: It was nice of the Riott Squad to progress from graffiti and paper-tossing to attacking a member of the roster this week.)

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • “Went through hell, excuse the pun,” - Michael Cole, Embarrassing Dad.

  • Dean Ambrose going after McIntyre’s leg all match was a nice touch.

  • “How do open challenges work?” - Ronda Rousey.

  • Chad Gable entrance-bombing Bobby Roode is Actually Good.

  • The Ascension’s Viktor was rocking some very baggy tights this week. Somebody get this man a tailor!

  • Not a good start for Dana Brooke’s Post-Titus Worldwide run.

  • “He owns 26 Toyota Camrys.” - Corey Graves on Titus O’Neil.

  • “This is still Monday Night Rollins.” - Seth Rollins, confused quasi-main eventer.

  • Why hasn’t Drake Maverick cut a promo for AOP yet?

  • “I don’t know why you booked yourself in a Universal title match tonight?” asked Braun Strowman.

  • “Whose kid is this?” - Elias.

  • Somebody please save Kevin Owens.

WWE Hell In A Cell Stock Report: The Cash-In Is Near

Has it already been two weeks since the last WWE Network special? No, it’s been a smidge longer than two weeks since the last weekend professional wrestling fans had to spend ten-plus hours consuming the WWE product. Fear not, humans who would rather spend their Sunday evenings not trying to juggle watching Sunday Night Football on NBC and the latest WWE Network special as the next standard special is Survivor Series, which isn’t happening until November 18. Rejoice!

Still, there is a special happening on Sunday evening, one of the three specials the network is putting out over a month-ish span. (The other specials being Evolution and Superstar Show-Down, of course. Serious question: Has there been a special with as cringe-worthy of a name as “Superstar Show-Down” in the WWE? Oh, right, Fastlane. What I’m saying is let’s bring back No Mercy and Unforgiven. Please?) The card is light on the number of matches, but it is heavy on the number of blood-feud matches. Very Much A Heel Braun Strowman challenges Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal championship; Very Much A I Don’t Really Know Becky Lynch challenges Charlotte Flair for the WWE Smackdown Women’s championship; Best Heel Samoa Joe challenges AJ Styles for the WWE championship; Brie Bella also tries to wrestle again. Outside of Strowman vs. Reigns and Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Alexa Bliss, the build-up to the vast majority of these matches have clicked. Mission accomplished?

Now, let’s get into some stock reports ahead of tomorrow night’s show.

***

Trending Up or Down: Braun Strowman

So this is it for Strowman, right? Or, at the very least, the beginning of the end for Strowman as a character who the company could still theoretically build around. It’s not that I don’t like Strowman, per se, but I have never bought into the “Braun Strowman could definitely be The Guy” argument that fans and analysts have been making for the last year or so. He lost his last blood feud with Reigns a summer ago, he lost a title match to Brock Lesnar that ended after the former delivered just one F-5 to Mr. Get These Hands, and spent this past summer in Character Rehabilitation camp, running roughshod through the main-event scene on Monday Night Raw -- Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, etc. -- only for the company to throw it all away by saddling him with the dredded “you people” rhetoric and an uninspiring heel turn. All signs point to a loss to the Big Dog here and a boxing match against Conor McGregor at WrestleMania 35.

Final Verdict: Down.

Trending Up or Down: Becky Lynch

If you’ve been reading the wrestling news this week, you may have seen that there is talk of a double-turn taking place in the Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair Smackdown Women’s championship match at Hell In A Cell -- this would be a very good idea. There will always be something naturally appealing about Lynch, so long as she’s not doing the “Becky Balboa” thing, and there will be always be something naturally about Flair. The latter, as my friend Maxwell Baumbach pointed out on this week’s episode of RBR Wrestling, there is a Triple H-ness to Flair, which maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise considering who her father associated with. Yes, she is a very talented wrestler, but she also feels like an inevitable champion, someone who the fans know will always be in the title picture and who will always be in the company’s good graces -- is that not who Triple H was to a tee? That’s what makes this blood feud over the championship work between these two -- fans know Lynch is just as talented if not more so than Flair, yet has never and may never get her opportunity to carry the brand for reasons out of her control. The underutilized will always have the support of the fans, while the overexposed will never have the support of the fans.

Final Verdict: Up.

Trending Up or Down: Samoa Joe

The Samoan Submission Machine really, really wants to put WWE champion AJ Styles to sleep on Sunday night. Since the non-finish in their WWE championship match at SummerSlam, Joe has unearthed a new passion project: Homewrecking. Joe may never get his own reality show on HGTV, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown over the past month that you just can’t look away when the man is doing what he loves, which, remember, is homewrecking. At this point in his feud with Styles, it’s less about the championship and more about ruining the champ’s life. But, he needs to win. Since moving to Smackdown Live, Joe has done more talking than winning. He lost to Reigns in a snoozefest of a main event to close out Backlash, and if he comes up short against Styles again here, he’ll be right where Shinsuke Nakamura was just a year ago -- all the promise and intrigue in the world, but just another guy who lost when it mattered. Did I mention Joe really needs to be Styles? Because he does and I can’t stress that enough. (See: Ciampa, NXT Champion.)

Trending Up or Down: Ronda Rousey

Does it feel like the WWE Raw Women’s Champion is a big part of Monday Night Raw? It doesn’t, right? Sure, she’s around, but does her rematch with Bliss feel like a big deal? It doesn’t, right? This is a problem, as Rousey is too good and too entertaining to head into WWE Network specials with this little momentum. Part of it, of course, is that nobody believes she is dropping the championship to Bliss here, but that’s not everything at play here. Right now, Raw is built around The Shield vs. Generic Heel Faction, which is fine, but the company could easily find ways to build it more around Rousey. If the Baddest Woman On The Planet is not working the Brock Lesnar schedule, why would you not go above-and-beyond in utilizing one of the three actual “superstars” on the roster? (The other two being John Cena and Lesnar. The rest are professional wrestlers, an important distinction.) People really enjoy watching Rousey toss other wrestlers around like ragdolls. Do that more. Let Rousey interact with other members of the Raw roster on-screen besides Natalya. Let Rousey devour Bliss on Sunday, and, for all that is holy, inject her into a compelling program ahead of Evolution.

Final Verdict: Even


Chase Thomas is a sportswriter based out of Atlanta and the host of “The Chase Thomas Podcast”. You can email him at chasethomas0418[at]gmail.com.

WWE Raw: Two #Heels and a Monster

Braun Strowman is mad; Braun Strowman is annoyed; Braun Strowman wants revenge; Braun Strowman wants the WWE Universal title. In the Monster Among Men’s mind, that means finding capable reinforcements to combat the newly reformed Shield with. After his Money in the Bank cash-in moment was thwarted on Monday Night Raw just a few weeks prior by Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, Strowman turned heel. To explain his head-scratching decision to join forces with McIntyre and Ziggler, Strowman went with the played-out “You People” promo that is as lazy as it is boring. In Strowman’s mind, he had no choice but to enlist the two goons, or goofs if you recall how they fared in that No. 1 contender battle royal for the Raw Tag Team titles a few months back, to quiet the hounds until he, again, claims what’s rightfully his -- the Universal title.

In this opening promo, fans cheered at certain moments during Strowman’s monologue and booed at others. In a way, you could make the case that the story they’re trying to tell with Strowman is similar to the story they’re trying to tell with Becky Lynch on Smackdown Live. The general manager on Smackdown Live didn’t like the champion at the time, Carmella, just like the general manager on Raw didn’t like the champion at the time, Brock Lesnar, and welcomed a change. Lynch went on an unexpected winning streak, she was universally adored by the WWE Universe, and it seemed for much of the summer that the wind was blowing in the direction of a Lynch title run and an opportunity to prove she can be The Girl. Strowman, too, mauled his way through Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Jinder Mahal and more over the summer and, like Lynch, had the support of the WWE Universe and with a victory at the Money in the Bank WWE Network special, looked primed for a Universal title run and an opportunity to prove he can be The Guy. Of course, Charlotte Flair and the Shield got in the way, so neither got what they wanted and reacted accordingly.

The problem?

Lynch didn’t follow-up her “turn” at SummerSlam by saddling up with whatever is left of Absolution on Smackdown Live. Sure, she did have her “you people” promo because we can’t have nice things, but the feud is still strictly between Lynch and Flair. Had Strowman hadn’t aligned himself with anyone and focused strictly on beating up the supposed-babyface champion Roman Reigns, this could story could still mirror the one on Smackdown Live. When Strowman talks about beating up the Big Dog, eschews his tired catchphrases, or says anything other than lazy heel-speak, the crowd still cheers. Now, the crowd doesn’t what to do because they still care about Strowman but couldn’t care less about McIntyre and Ziggler.

The Shield vs. Strowman alone is compelling, especially when you consider how Strowman has been booked over the summer, that the only way to defeat this gigantic figure is to play the numbers game, which the trio did a few weeks ago on Raw. Strowman is right in his assertion that the reason Reigns is still champion because of outside interference, but Strowman also cashed in his contract prior to enlisting the help of Ziggler and McIntyre, which would have, checks notes, evened the odds if Strowman were to try and cash-in on Reigns after, say, a tag-team match in the main event on an episode of Raw. Instead of Strowman vs. the Shield, we’re getting Three Heels vs. The Shield, which doesn’t work.

It’s not even McIntyre or Ziggler’s fault, as we know both can bring it on the mic and bring it in the ring -- fans just don’t care. Pairing Strowman with them hasn’t elevated Ziggler and McIntyre, it has dragged Strowman down with Ziggler and McIntyre. This episode was strictly about making fans give a shit about McIntyre and Ziggler and doing their best to have you believe there is any chance in -- I’m very sorry about this -- hell that Strowman is beating Reigns at the upcoming WWE Network special. Neither happened. Sure, the trio looked good in the opening promo, the trio emasculating Acting GM Baron Corbin was fine, and their attack on the Revival clicked -- but then they had a competitive, long match with the B-Team. If you want to build this fall’s program on Raw around the Shield and Three Heels, that’s fine, but you can’t also have the Not Ambrose Or Rollins guys have 15-minute matches with two Matt Saracen’s on Raw. If McIntyre and Ziggler had been running roughshod over the Raw tag-team division similar to the way Strowman was running roughshod over the Raw main-event scene for the last few months, this would be a hot feud. Instead, it’s as cold as Alexa Bliss’s words for her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

***

Here are three other major takeaways I had for this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

  1. What is there to say about the Bella Twins return? Obviously, Brie Bella was, well, a tad rusty in the in-ring department. Although, the less athletic Bella always seemed to wrestle like Blake Bortles plays like quarterback -- you just have to hold your breath, cover your eyes, and hope for the best. Thankfully, Nikki Bella was also in this match with the Riott Squad, who hasn’t missed a beat. Nikki picked up the win for the Bella Twins via a Rack Attack 2.0. Later in the night, the Bella Twins were seen backstage offering their services to the still underutilized WWE Raw Women’s champion Ronda Rousey in what came across as very disingenuous and heelish. The highlight of the Bella Twins’ return, though, was in-ring announcer JoJo’s 1,500-word opus on the Bellas before their match with the Riott Squad. Yes, the latter was given the “already in the ring” treatment, but it was for a good cause -- a very long ad read for the Bella Twins.

  2. Is this the best they could come up with for Kevin Owens? On one hand, it’s nice that the WWE has finally figured out what most fans have known for a long time -- Jinder Mahal should always be a comedy jobber and Bobby Lashley is low-key funny. On the other hand, inserting Kevin Owens into this experiment is not a good thing. Last week, we saw Toronto lose their shit for Owens in a fantastic Intercontinental title match with Seth Rollins, only for the former to lose, even after delivering a beautiful stunner, no less, and then just quit. I’ve already written extensively on why it made sense for his character to be this frustrated and to just say “fuck it” and walk away. It doesn’t make sense for Owens to return a week later, attack Lashley and Mahal and that be the end of that. It wasn’t treated as a big deal, and it certainly looks as though Owens is now being used as the latest heel to try and get fans to muster up some feels for Bobby Lashley. The Kevin Owens “I Quit” storyline wasn’t about Kevin Owens at all, it was about Bobby Lashley. Shame.

  3. What even is this Shawn Michaels and Undertaker and Triple H stuff? What year are we in? Why is this happening again? Why are they teasing one more match for the Heartbreak Kid? Sure, this promo between Michaels and Taker was far better than it had any business being, but didn’t we already do this? Didn’t Michaels already stick up for his friend in front of the Deadman? Wasn’t there an end of an era a few years back? Didn’t these three WWE legends dominate WrestleMania storylines for almost half a decade? The WWE trying to juggle the promotion of both the Hell In A Cell special and the Super Show-Down simultaneously was always going to end this way, but they were always going to make a lot of money either way. It’s like the old adage goes, “content over quality.”

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • “Pretty Humorous,” from Michael Cole is a new cringe-worthy line from Raw’s play-by-play announcer.

  • “Just look at us” - Drew McIntyre. If only it were that simple, Drew.

  • Liv Morgan doing the “You Can’t See Me” gesture at Nikki was a nice touch. She’s not technically sound, but she’s got something.

  • My final verdict on the Brie Bella Suicide Dive Conundrum: Sarah Logan was late on the first one, but it was all Brie the second time.

  • “Have you seen the night I’ve been having?” - Baron Corbin, Good GM.

  • Why was Finn Balor smiling at Corbin backstage? He should have been pissed at what transpired last week.

  • Are we sure Jason Jordan is ever getting cleared?

  • Release Bobby Roode.

  • Giving promo time before matches is a good thing. The Ascension was better off for it.

  • “Hi, Zombies.” - Alexa Bliss.

  • Would a Bliss and Elias romance angle be the worst thing? Asking for a friend.

  • Rousey should be throwing someone around every single week.

  • Drake Maverick in Authors of Pain gear is wild and I think I’m here for it. Does this make Maverick the Eric Young of AOP?

  • They’re trying to get the “my man” line over for Lashley. Not great, Bob.

  • Dana Brooke and Ember Moon took on Sasha Banks and Bayley.

Nobody Asked Mailbag: Teddy Bridgewater Finally Got Traded

Teddy Bridgewater is once again on the move, and I couldn’t be happier. My adoration for the former Louisville star goes back years now, and I have the receipts to prove it, and it almost feels like we’re still not talking enough about how insane it is that this guy is playing football again after the kind of injury he suffered prior to the 2016 NFL season. He literally tore everything in his knee, and as his doctor, Dan Cooper, pointed out in an ESPN piece, “You’ve torn every single thing in your knee and it’s hanging on by one ligament like a hinge.” In conclusion: shit was bad.

Teddy Bridgewater should probably not be playing football right now. It’s insane that Teddy Bridgewater is playing football right now. It’s even more insane that Teddy Bridgewater is playing football at an above-average level and a team, in 2018, gave up a third-round pick to maybe or possibly or definitely bring him in as their quarterback of the future. The New Orleans Saints’ brass of Sean Payton, Jeff Ireland and Mickey Loomis surrendered a valuable future pick to hitch their wagon to Teddy Bridgewater in 2018. Sometimes, things are good.

So what do I make of the Jets trading Bridgewater and throwing the No. 3 overall pick and youngest starting quarterback to start an NFL game since 1970 into the fire right away? Outside of it being a very bold strategy, Cotton, it felt weirdly inevitable. Since the Jets’ front office brought back Josh McCown, signed Teddy Bridgewater and drafted Sam Darnold this felt like their plan. Play a lot of Bridgewater in the preseason, pray to the Football Gods he looks good and can fetch a good pick, and go into Week 1 with the rookie under-center and the 37-year veteran in his ear. If Darnold turns out to be a franchise quarterback, this was a homerun offseason for the Jets, if not, well, the Jets are still the Jets, I suppose.

But it should be noted they did Bridgewater a solid here. Sure, they didn’t trade him to a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he would probably start right away, but they did trade him to a team with a top-5 head coach, a future Hall-Of-Famer in Drew Brees to sit and learn from, and an offensive situation where, if all goes well, he could be lighting up the Superdome with Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara and probably Ben Watson because if this guy hasn’t retired yet, are we really sure he’s ever actually going to? I wouldn’t rule out Payton convincing him to play for another 13 years.

As clairvoyant as I like to think I am at times, I don’t know how it is going to work out for Bridgewater in New Orleans. Maybe Brees plays another couple of seasons and Teddy is moved again. Maybe Father Time strikes this season for Brees and we see Bridgewater in action in Week 7 to save the Saints’ season. I don’t know how this is going to unfold, but I do know it’s still one of the best sports stories of the year and, man, we really need stuff like this these days.

***

Now, let’s get into this week’s Nobody Asked Mailbag where, as always, nobody emailed me these questions, I just wrote them myself. If you’d like to email me, though, you can at chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com. Talk soon.

Mailbag Question No. 1: “What do you make of the Suns and Rockets trade?”

CT: Initially, it felt like a steal for the Rockets. For months and months, the conversation surrounding Ryan Anderson and his contract was that it was immovable. Well, nobody factored in taking on Marquese Chriss into the equation. I could say I watched a lot of Phoenix Suns games over the past two seasons, but that would be a lie. ( As the president of the Josh Jackson Could Be A Two-Way Star Fan Club, I did keep up with the former Kansas star down the stretch last season for the hopeless Suns.) Still, could Chriss be that bad that GM Ryan McDonough was willing to take on Anderson’s contract just to have a competent, score-first power forward to play next to DeAndre Ayton for a season or two while the team scores 114 every night but surrenders 162? (Seriously, this team doesn’t have a point guard right now, and, outside of Jackson, it looks as though Anderson, Ayton, and Devin Booker will all play major minutes for the Suns this season. NBA League Pass Must-Watch team? Fuck yeah. A team that has any chance to be better than 29th in defensive efficiency this season? Absolutely not. Strap in, Phoenix fans!)

After losing Trevor Ariza, to the Suns no less, and Luc Richard Mbah Moute in the same offseason, GM Daryl Morey has elected to go back to his throw darts at the dartboard strategy. He has taken a flier on Carmelo Anthony, he signed Michael Carter-Williams in 2018, he signed Bruno Caboclo, and now he has brought in Brandon Knight and Chriss as his latest Who Fucking Knows guys. Chriss and Knight probably won’t work out, but Houston moved Anderson’s contract and that is enough for me to give Houston the nod here as the winners of the deal.

Mailbag Question No. 2: Any thoughts on David West retiring?

CT: Ring-chasing works, folks.

Mailbag Question No. 3: The Yankees acquired Andrew McCutchen -- does this matter?

CT: Hmmm. Do we know if Aaron Judge is going to be 100 percent again this season? If not, then it’s certainly possible he moves the needle a tad. As an insane sports person, my first reaction when I saw this trade was official was, “How will this effect Aaron Hicks’ role on the team?” and I’m not proud of it. Hicks has been huge for the Yankees this season, though, posting a 4.1 WAR and a WRC+ just a few points down from Giancarlo Stanton. My biggest questions is this: can McCutchen play first? Can Brandon Belt transfer to the Yankees for the rest of the season? McCutchen has played in 128 games this season, so, at the very least, the Yankees are getting another guy who has been able to stay healthy this season.

Last point: The Yankees are locked into the AL Wild Card game, right? Is it the best idea to bring on a guy who has lost his last two wild-card games? Who’s to say?

Mailbag Question No. 4: Jeff Janis got cut by the Browns. Pour one out?

CT: Absofuckinglutely. I still remember exactly where I was when Jeff Janis was on the receiving end of two insane Aaron Rodgers Is About To Do This Shit Himself moments in Arizona. I was in my parents’ living room, watching the game with my mom, and remember feeling as though Rodgers could pull off a 4th-and-20 situation late in the fourth quarter from the back of his own end zone. He scrambled, rolled out to the left side, and found Janis near the fifty-yard line to save the Packers’ season. Then, Rodgers found Janis again, this time, in the end zone to send the NFC Playoff game into overtime where the Packers would ultimately win. Jordy Nelson 2.0 Jeff Janis was not. He’ll always have Glendale, though.

Throwback Thursday: 1999 Lakers vs. Rockets Recap

Was this the night where the Kobe and Shaq era really took flight? If you watched game 1 of the 1998-99 NBA season between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets, you might think so. Coming into this game, the Lakers were without Robert Horry, his wife was giving birth, and Rick Fox, who was dealing with bone spurs in his foot, so Kobe Bryant got the start at the small-forward spot next to Eddie Jones with Corie Blount next to Shaquille O’Neal at the power-forward spot. The star power in this game was kind of insane with Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Kobe, Shaq and the rookie sensation Michael Dickerson! Look, if you were watching this game live at the time, listened to the way Hubie Brown and Not Kevin Harlan talk about the first-round pick out of Arizona you would have thought the Rockets had a Big 4 plus Matt Maloney. If you were wondering how Dickerson’s career played out, hop on over to his Basketball-Reference page. (Spoiler alert: He did not become Scottie Pippen 2.0.) Still, this game was highlighted by the surprise Kobe start and how Shaq dropped 31 and it felt like he could have easily dropped 50 if necessary.

One of my favorite moments watching this game was a nugget from Hubie on something Kobe did during the game: “Kobe was yelling for the extra pass Harper just gave him a look.” The sequence that Hubie is referring to is a play where, yes, Kobe was open, but Harper was open in his sweet spot again -- top of the key, behind the three-point line -- and had the audacity to not swing it to the kid making his first start. Kobe was Kobe from the start. It should be noted that Harper was on fire here, posting an offensive rating of 194 per 100 possessions. In a game where three-pointers were few and far between, Derek F’ing Harper was locked in from deep. Still, Kobe wasn’t wrong to be annoyed not to be getting the ball as much as possible in this game as he and Shaq were doing everything to keep Barkley and the Rockets from offensive-rebounding them into submission. Kobe’s usage rating was 27.9 with Shaq’s at 33.4 and the next closest was backup center Elden Campbell at 20.1. Eddie Jones, prior to rolling his ankle in brutal fashion, was a non-factor and it seemed like even he recognized in Game 1 that it was Kobe Time in Los Angeles. It started early, too, as Kobe drained fadeaway long two from the left side and would you like to guess who the announcers immediately compared it to? Prime Eddie Jones? No, they compared him to Michael Jordan. Hubie even knew right away. Kobe posted a double-double, but, you’re not going to believe this, but it was a points-and-rebounds version along with several very mean blocks on Pippen. There were several possessions where Kobe dribbled the ball up, looked around a little bit, realized he was a better scorer than everyone around him not named Shaquille O’Neal and threw up a long two. At one point in this game the Lakers’ starting backcourt was 0-for-10 from the floor -- Derek Fisher and Eddie Jones -- and I think I’ve decided it’s their fault for not destroying Maloney and Dickerson in this game that pushed Kobe to take the same amount of shots as Prime Shaq in a game where the latter posted a quiet 31/14/6 line.

The Kobe and Shaq combination worked. We know what happened after this season, after the coach from Space Jam moved on, after Corie Blount wasn’t starting any more games for the Lakers, after the geometrically-friendly offense was instituted, after Derek Fisher stopped wearing high socks, the Lakers won back-to-back-to-back championships and it was because of Kobe and Shaq. But if you watched this game, and Hakeem doesn’t go scoreless for almost an entire half of basketball, and Pippen doesn’t go 1-for-1000 from the field, and the Rockets win, the story, in a negative sense, is that Kobe took the same amount of shots as the guy went 13-for-21 from the field, drew consistent double-teams, and was doing whatever he wanted inside all night long. Kobe, for his part, went 8-21, which seems like a ration for the rest of his career, but you had to watch all 48 minutes to see why it wasn’t so bad. There was some Your Turn My Turn action, sure, but Kobe had it going for stretches, he needed to get a lot of shots off because he was only getting major minutes because of Fox’s injury, and because he was filling up the stat sheet in other ways like swiping the ball away from Pippen and Friends on multiple occasions, along with getting a block and finding the right time to cut on the weak side when all the attention was on Shaq or, checks notes, Sean Rooks, inside.

This was also not Eddie Jones best game of his career. He couldn’t hit a shot from deep and eight minutes would go by without hearing the announcers call his name. He was on the floor, he played 42 minutes, but you might have missed it if you weren’t paying close attention. I was seven-years-old when this game took place, and I was too young to really have a good feel for who Eddie Jones was as a basketball player, but from this game alone, he was Joe Johnson before Joe Johnson. You could tell he could shoot, you could tell he was at least a b-plus player offensively, but he just didn’t seem to have the fire to be like a Kobe or any other all-time great 2-guard. He blended in far too often, but if he’s your No. 3 or No. 4 guy, that’s OK. The same has been true for Johnson throughout his career. He was overmatched as the No. 1 option in Atlanta, but when the pressure wasn’t on him to be The Guy in Phoenix he thrived. I imagine Laker fans during this time were as annoyed with Jones as Hawks fans were with Johnson or Celtics fans were with Jeff Green. There are so many of these kinds of players, it’s kind of crazy.

 

Did you know Scottie Pippen was no fan of Matt Maloney or Bryce Drew -- yes, that Bryce Drew -- bringing the ball up for Rudy T’s team? If you watched this game you knew. It was fun to watch Pippen working as a point forward, although, in Year 11, and his first game with Houston, he looked less like Bulls Pippen and a lot more like Orlando Magic Hedo Turkoglu. He was still posting up a ton, but his vision was incredible in this game, and he had a feel for how to beat the Lakers and it wasn’t with their backcourt. It was with finding the rookie on some cuts, it was with Hakeem early-and-often, and it was with Barkley late when it was clear the man was on a mission to steal one in Los Angeles. It didn’t work, the Rockets lost by 8, but Pippen still contributed even though he couldn’t shoot for shit all night. He got blocked by Kobe in this game, had him his pick his pocket on multiple occasions, and didn’t let any of that stop him from slinging some dimes to Othella Harrington when necessary.

But the Rockets should have won this game. The Lakers, without Horry, couldn’t handle the combination of Barkley and Hakeem inside, just look at the offensive-rebounding disparity, but they went away from Hakeem for way too much time and tried way too hard to get Dickerson involved in everything they were doing. Still, it was interesting to watch Year 14 Barkley body guys inside similar to the way Julius Randle does it in today’s NBA. He could have had 30 and 10 and it still wouldn’t have been enough because Pippen was insanely off and Hakeem stopped getting the ball after the first quarter where he swished a mid-range jumper from just about every spot around the key. The other team had Kobe and Shaq. You'll get used to it.

WWE Smackdown Live: Tag-Team Wrestling Lives Here

Smackdown Live play-by-play commentator Tom Phillips may not have done the best job explaining what should be the simplistic intricacies of Smackdown Live general manager Paige’s No. 1 contenders tournament for the WWE Smackdown Live Tag Team Championships early on in this week’s episode of the show, but that’s not what was important here. No, what was important was Smackdown Live showcasing the depth in their tag-team division and the ability to utilize the depth in their tag-team division.

To kick things off this week on the blue brand, we were treated with a New Day championship celebration to start things off on a high note. Then, a man very familiar with winning a championship five times, Booker T, returned as King Booker to make the moment even more special. This opening segment had it all, it gave each member of the New Day the opportunity to showcase what makes them unique and genuinely likeable, it threw the hardcore wrestling fans who love the King Booker character a bone, it even had the perfect callback to Big E’s “Three ain’t enough, man, I need five more” character. Yes, Big E is at the point in his career where he shines the most in this trio, and yes, he should be doing more than still headlining the tag-team division. Still, this kind of stuff is still OK, too.

For now.

The New Day are the WWE Smackdown Live Tag Team Champions; the B-Team are the WWE Raw Tag Team Champions. At the moment, the two comedy-focused champions’ biggest rivals are tag-teams who are Very Serious Teams that are on a mission to make things less fun. The difference, of course, is the balance that the New Day has a team versus the B-Team. There is nothing wrong with a comedic identity in professional wrestling, but it’s tricky. If you’re too goofy, things can go south for you fast -- shoutout to No Way Jose, wherever he is. Well, we know where he’s not -- on Monday Night Raw. The B-Team are too goofy, but if they could work like the New Day once it came time to be serious in the ring, it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, the B-Team can’t do what The New Day and the Bar did on Smackdown Live a few weeks ago. The New Day has found the perfect, rare balance between comedy and in-ring excellence. While the B-Team versus the Revival feels stale, the possibility of another Bar vs. New Day feud over the titles feels nothing of the sort.

It’s not just the New Day and the Bar on Smackdown Live that proves their dominance over the Raw tag-team division. No, it’s the fact that right after that opening segment, the creative team put on a triple threat tag-team match that included the return of the Colons -- with no entrance or anything -- and the match clicked. There was a spinning uppercut from Cesaro, there was some domination from Luke Gallows, there was even a double-backstabber spot that earned a pop from the crowd. This match got time, the right team won, and fans are somehow hyped for another New Day vs. The Bar feud.

***

Here are two other takeaways from this week’s episode of Smackdown Live.

  1. The Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton promo was fascinating. I don’t know the number, but I think if you added up the years that Hardy and Orton have been wrestling the number is high. They both feel like they’ve been around forever, they both feel like they should be part-timers at this point, guys who are there strictly to put the young guys over. Instead, they’re feuding with each other, and it feels genuine. Hardy’s confusion for Orton’s obsession comes across as authentic, while Orton’s contempt for everything Jeff Hardy comes across just as authentic. Orton is just having fun out there, as the kids say, getting back to his roots that made him popular in the first place -- zeroing in on a fan-favorite and making their life a living hell. Whether it was Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, Stacy Keibler, etc., Orton is at his best when he can just be the character he is most comfortable with -- an asshole who just likes to attack the good guys because he can.

  2. What a showing by Andrade “Cien” Almas against Daniel Bryan. Once it was clear this match was happening, I found myself to be a little nervous. Almas vs. Bryan is something that needs to happen, but it didn’t need to happen here. It may seem lazy and a reboot by building to an Almas vs. Bryan WWE title match at WrestleMania, similar to the Almas vs. Johnny Gargano in NXT a few months ago, but sometimes it can be that simple in wrestling. The slap from Almas alone in this match had me sold on a big-time title match at WrestleMania next year between these two. Thankfully, the Miz and Maryse got involved and saved this match from having a proper ending. There is a lot more meat on this bone, and that is a very good thing.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Pardon me, my liege.” - Big E.

  • Never go Full Saxon is a very good phrase.

  • The laziness of the “Triple Header” gimmick being used on both shows in the same week on back-to-back nights was embarrassing.

  • The Colons are back! Primo is at least fifty-three.

  • Rusev’s “C’mon” line had me cracking up. The man has comedic timing.

  • There is something there with R-Truth and Tye Dillinger.

  • “This is my life” from Dillinger was both sad and very true for the former NXT fan-favorite. Not great, Bob.

  • Billie Kay vs. Naomi was...not good. The IIconics looked to be a little in over their heads when the crowd erupted with the Raptors’ chant.

  • Almas should not lose a match for at least a year. Zelina Vega’s “he’ll out-wrestle you” line made that clear. He’s just too damn good.

  • Brie Mode music is back!

  • Brie Bella is still an unfathomably bad professional wrestler and seller.

  • I think Charlotte Flair has a Republican senate run in her future based on that backstage promo.

  • AJ Styles needs to wrestle on Smackdown Live more and run around the parking lot less.

  • The WWE creative team *really* loves it when they get the OK from management to use the b-word. It’s like when a parent gives in and lets the kid stay up an extra hour on a school night.

  • “Let’s go Becky!” roaring chants as she blindsides the babyface champion is probably not what the WWE wants, but it’s what they’re going to continue to get. The crowd was literally booing Flair as the credits rolled following her sneak-attack beatdown from Lynch. The crowd is hot for this, which is cool, but man, this is strange.

WWE Raw: The Top of the Mountain

Down goes another one. Braun Strowman, the gigantic babyface that just a few months ago was seen as A Guy who could be The Guy by professional wrestling fans and critics, turned heel on Monday Night Raw this week to close out the show. Earlier in the night, Strowman announced he would be cashing in his Money In The Bank contract at the Hell In A Cell WWE Network special in a hell in a cell match. Later in the night, Strowman showed the WWE Universe his true colors. First, he refused to enter the main-event match after Reigns tagged him in, he looked on as Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler kicked the Big Dog enough times to get themselves disqualified and then the Monster Among Men took his shot. First went Reigns, then went Dean Ambrose, then went Seth Rollins. The problem, of course, is that after decimating The Shield in brutal fashion Strowman couldn’t cash-in his contract and easily become the next Universal champion to end Monday Night Raw. The Raw commentary team tried to push home the point that Strowman was cerebral in his approach to dealing with The Shield, but had Strowman not challenged Reigns for the title at the next WWE Network special and instead jumped Reigns in that opening promo with the help of Ziggler and McIntyre, he would be the Universal champion.

Instead, Strowman finds himself in a familiar situation. Monday night was likely the first of many more heel turns and face turns for the Monster Among Men in his career. It happened with Kane, it happened with the Big Show, and it will happen with Strowman. For some, this feels different because a number of smart professional wrestling fans and critics thought he was an over enough babyface that might be good enough to make Vince reconsider establishing Roman Reigns as The Guy for this era. If you’ve been reading my work or listening to my podcast over the last year, you know that I never subscribed to this line of thinking. Strowman is talented, that is for sure, but he never looked like Roman Reigns, he never defeated the Undertaker at WrestleMania, he wasn’t on pace to break Hulk Hogan’s streak of consecutive WrestleMania main-event matches, he even lost both of his big-time 2017 programs with two of Vince’s favorite guys: Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Strowman has always had a ceiling, and, on my podcast earlier this year, I predicted that Strowman wouldn’t capture the Universal title in 2018 as much as the company might want you to think otherwise.

With Lesnar now out of the equation for the foreseeable future, it really is Roman Reigns’ yard now. The company spent half a decade to get Reigns to the point that he is at now, and they were never going to shift gears to a character like Strowman. Reigns moves the most merchandise, Reigns has the right look, and Reigns has the right people in his corner. He was the guy who finally took down the Beast, he was not also going to be the guy who was then immediately taken down by the Monster. It never added up.

Fans were despondent to close this episode of Raw, as the company boldly decided to turn one of the very few over -- seriously, this list includes AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Daniel Bryan -- and beloved babyfaces on the main roster right now in an effort to prop up Roman Reigns anymore. Ultimately, the choice was made to sacrifice Strowman for the greater Roman, and, although it will likely prove to be the wrong one, it was one the company was always going to make. You could see it after the Strowman vs. Reigns blood feud last summer or the short, terrible Universal title match between Strowman and Lesnar or even when Strowman won a match typically reserved for heels to kick their career up a notch. It was, as it always was, always about Roman and never about Strowman.

***

Here are three other takeaways I had from this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.

  1. Kevin Owens said, “I quit.” Prior to this stunning announcement, Owens cut one of the best promos of his career as he answered Intercontinental champion Seth Rollins’ open challenge midway through Monday Night Raw. Owens is one of a handful of guys in the WWE these days that can deliver a hell of a promo and follow it up with a hell of a match. Owens was so entertaining in the match that he actually turned the Toronto crowd on Rollins late in the bout hoping for a surprising KO win. Whether it was the stunner that Rollins sold masterfully, or Owens smartly targeting the injured shoulder, or just the poignant slap fight the two top dogs engaged in during the match, it all clicked and it all felt like it should be Owens’ night. Instead, he ate some curb and that was that. All his friends are gone, Jimmy Jacobs, Neville, and even his best friend Sami Zayn, he didn’t steal away the Money in the Bank briefcase from Strowman, and Owens hit rock bottom. On a show where almost no character feels genuine, Owens stands alone. Come back soon, KO. This show needs you.

  2. Ronda Rousey was in the building, and this how you decided to use her? Getting through three hours of this show is hard enough, even on DVR, but, you know, something that might help in this department is including the show’s biggest draw in more than one throwaway portion of the show. Ronda Rousey is the WWE Raw Women’s champion and fans really like watching her do cool stuff every week. The decision to not involve the superstar in more segments, even if that means scrapping Finn Balor vs. Baron F’Ing Corbin for the 19th time, is mind-boggling. (Sidenote: How good was Alexa Bliss on the mic this week? Wow.)

  3. The Revival finally got the promo time they needed. I can’t believe I wrote that, either. The Revival are no longer drowning on the main roster, but the waters are still rocky. The B-Team run should have ended at SummerSlam, and their rematch on this show was the quietest the crowd was all night. Another Shatter Machine was hit, and the A-Team won, but then Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder grabbed a couple mics. They said what everybody already knew to be true: The Raw tag-team division has been an absolute joke and the B-Team are the biggest reasons why. Like Heath Slater and Rhyno from a few years back, their moment in the sun should have been brief. The Revival soared here, and, now that we know they’re getting yet another shot at the Raw tag-team titles next week, maybe this nightmare run will be finished once and for all.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Michael Cole’s “And here comes the BIG DOG!” to kick-off this week’s episode was especially bad. All of the cringe, none of the fun.

  • I don’t think the “top of the mountain” analogy was used enough on this episode.

  • It’s weird to see the Universal title just around consistently. It is nice, though.

  • Speaking of the Universal title, wouldn’t the best thing the company could do for Roman Reigns be having him dump the obnoxious belt for a new one?

  • Serious Dean Ambrose is so much better than Joke-y WWE Champion Dean Ambrose.

  • “I forgot it was a No DQ match.” - Baron Corbin.

  • How out of place does this Triple H vs. Undertaker stuff feel? It’s like when 205 Live would pop up on Raw earlier this year.

  • Dana Brooke is still a very bad professional wrestler. (She does a killer cartwheel, though.)

  • Saddest Triple Header Ever: “The Revival vs. B-Team, Brooke vs. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox vs. Natalya”

  • Jeff Jarrett was phenomenal in those clips. Can somebody tell me again why he’s not Raw GM and Kurt Angle is?

  • “Bit of a strange move by Kevin Owens.” - Renee Young

  • Finn Balor could really use consistent promo time. What is his character now?

  • Release Jinder Mahal.

  • Really nice of The Ascension’s Konnor to get in shape.

  • Elias was phenomenal in that segment with Trish. Also, did Trish sound different to anybody else?

  • “Top Guys out.” - Dash Wilder

  • The only person who could love Alicia Fox’s hat more than me is Damon Lindelof.

Allow Me To Talk Myself Into Bruno Caboclo On The Rockets

Did you know that Carmelo Anthony signed with the Houston Rockets this summer? Did you know that Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Trevor Ariza did not re-sign with the Rockets this summer? Did you know that the Rockets, after being up three-games-to-two on the Golden State Warriors, may have missed their shot to win an NBA championship with the Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela core? If you’re reading this article, chances are, you knew all of these things. You knew that depth may be an issue next season; you knew that Anthony may not agree to come on the bench and a plus-player for the Rockets; you knew that the Ryan Anderson contract is something hoop heads will be talking about years from now. Did you know, though, that the Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo, excuse me, Brazilian Kevin Durant, this week?

Unless you’re an insane person, like myself, who refreshes RealGM multiple times a day, you may have missed this. Thankfully, here I am.

The Houston Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo to a contract that I one-hundred percent believe was made up by general manager Daryl Morey. The deal has been reported as an “Exhibit 10” deal, which sounds significantly cooler than it actually is. It may have a fun name, but, in reality, it’s a very, very brief, risk-free flyer on the guy who two years away from being two years away. Great news, though! Caboclo was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Raptors four years ago.

The Raptors were a team when they drafted him years ago that could afford to take a chance on a unknown player with an extremely high ceiling and an extremely low floor. It obviously didn’t work out, but Caboclo was drafted to a team that sat atop the conference year after year while he dabbled in the G-League with brief stints on the main roster. Young NBA players need to play NBA games to become better NBA players --the importance of the trial-and-error idea really can’t be understated in sports. At some point, somebody has to toss you in the pool.  If Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri could have signed him to a ten-year contract in 2014, would it really be all that surprising that he would have? What if Caboclo got to play extended G-League minutes under the tutelage of Jerry Stackhouse for years and years with the Toronto brass not having to make a decision on him when they did? Ujiri rarely misses on this kind of thing dating back to Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and the list goes on. When Ujiri drafted Caboclo, it was really the only time during his tenure in Toronto where the collective response was, “Are you sure about this, Masai?” Still, for every Bruno Caboclo there is a Giannis Antetokounmpo. Outside of the top-10, you take those kinds of chances.

Like Ujiri, Morey has had to find a way to build a serious contender from the middle. When you never have a high lottery pick, it’s almost impossible to piece together a roster that can win a championship. The Indiana Pacers have been this team, the Miami Heat have become this team, and even if you find yourself picking in the top of the lottery for a couple of seasons you could still end up being the Orlando Magic or Charlotte Hornets. Winning in the NBA is hard, but that’s what makes what Ujiri and Morey have done over the last few years so impressive -- they have found a way to not hand out multiple bad free-agent deals, draft extremely well late, develop the role players they have and maximize their B-plus players to the point where they can flip them for A-plus players when the opportunity presents itself. Somehow and someway the Rockets and Raptors have found themselves with three top-10 players, when healthy, in the NBA.

Gathering superstars is the name of the game in the NBA, if you don’t have them you can’t win an NBA title. But you also need depth, you need guys you can trust to not kill you in five-minute stretches in the playoffs when your superstar is resting. You need your Trevor Ariza's, your Mbah A Moute’s, your VanVleet’s, your Siakim’s, you need those guys. Caboclo is not going to be a superstar at this point in his NBA career, but what if we could be a corner-three shooting, stretch-five playing pest for a couple of minutes a night for Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets this season?

Before he got traded to the Sacramento Kings for Malachi Richardson, Caboclo was on the floor for 107 minutes for the Raptors, which, checks notes, was 107 more minutes than Zhou Qi played for the Rockets last year, and he came away a plus/minus of plus-5.4 per 100 possessions. The best part? He was averaging 10.4 threes a game per 36 minutes in that very limited sample. The Rockets shoot a lot of threes, in case you didn’t know. Is it really crazy to think Caboclo could spend half the season with the Vipers in the G-League, launch a bunch of 3s, play 38 minutes a night, and be a fun, fringe wing in D’Antoni’s rotation come January? It’s not like Gerald Green, who just re-upped with the team, was expected to become a big-time contributor for his hometown team last season. Morey excels in finding guys like this. Joe Johnson is still on this roster, Michael Carter-Williams is somehow on this roster, a player named Markel Brown is on this roster, and if this Exhibit 10 deal works out Bruno Caboclo will be on this roster.

For the number of minutes spent watching those Caboclo highlights those years ago, to the Toronto fans chanting “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno” when he would get some time in garbage time every now and then on the main roster, for just the simple fact that Ujiri had to trade him to the Kings, I want Caboclo to stick on a team like Houston. If the Brazilian Kevin Durant isn’t going to ever actually become the Brazilian Kevin Durant, I’d settle for Brazilian Wesley Johnson. Keep him around, Morey. It could be fun. I have the very short YouTube clips to prove it.

WWE SummerSlam Preview: Put The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan On Last, You Cowards

The last time I checked, there were 13 matches on the SummerSlam card in Brooklyn. (As of right now, that doesn’t include another Bobby Roode vs. Mojo Rawley barnburner, but you never know.) If you watched Raw this week, you might think Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal title is the biggest storyline heading into the WWE Network special -- I lost count of the advertisements hyping the matchup while tuning in this week -- but if you watched Smackdown Live this week, you might think The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan is the biggest storyline heading into the WWE Network special. The latter is the correct answer, while the former is being dishonestly presented as the most highly anticipated match of the summer. Nobody asked for another go-around of Reigns vs. Lesnar; everybody has asked, for months and months, for Daniel Bryan to finally get his hands on The Miz.

This company just can’t seem to get out of its own way, though. They really, really want you to want Reigns to be the one who finally dethrones the never-present WWE Universal champion. You can understand the company’s perspective here -- they have invested years and years into making this rivalry one of the biggest in the company’s history. (They both beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania!) They don’t want Seth Rollins, they don’t want AJ Styles, they don’t want Dean Ambrose, they don’t want Braun Strowman, no, this company wants you to want Roman Reigns. Instead, on the go-home show for Raw this week, Lesnar made a surprise return, the fans popped, and, much to the dismay of those in the back, made it known they wanted Lesnar to take out Reigns one more time. It was a disaster.

They don’t have to Reigns vs. Lesnar last, and they shouldn’t. They have options. Unlike past years, the hottest feud in the company isn’t a title match. It’s not Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss, or Styles vs. Samoa Joe, or Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler, no, it’s Bryan vs. The Miz. On the go-home show for Smackdown Live this week, the company went above-and-beyond in showcasing just how personal and important this match is for both competitors. Their animosity towards one another feels genuine, and they both need this win. Reigns doesn’t need to beat Lesnar because nothing changes if Reigns beats Lesnar. If The Miz beats Bryan, everything changes. He’ll have that forever. He’ll move up a level on the WWE totem pole. Beating Bryan means everything for The Miz, it also means everything for Bryan.

Bryan, since his return, has feuded with Big Cass, and, umm, The Bludgeon Brothers? Sure, he’s had matches with Styles, Jeff Hardy, Shelton Benjamin, etc., but nobody is going to remember that. Nobody is going to remember that brief Team Hell No return. Nobody is going to remember that the company paired him with Big Cass in his return program after not wrestling for three years. No, what they’ll remember is how this Sunday goes for Bryan. If Bryan takes down The Miz, he’s back, he can move on to bigger and better things, he can finally say he shut up The Miz. As important as this match is for The Miz, it’s just as important for Bryan.

Put it on last, you cowards.

***

Here are some other things I’m interested in for this Sunday’s nine-and-a-half-hour show.

  1. Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship has been good, but nobody really cares. You can make the case the crowd is more interested in the Lana and Rusev vs. Zelina Vega and Andrade “Cien” Almas feud heading into Sunday. To be clear, it’s through no fault of their own. Joe, to his credit, has been sensational on the mic since this feud began. Everything the company has asked, he has delivered. You know this match is going to be good, but you also know Joe isn’t winning the belt. Maybe this indifference comes from Styles’ infrequent appearances on Smackdown Live, or maybe it’s just that there are bigger things going on right now -- like The Miz vs. Bryan. Either way, this feud has been solid. Sometimes, though, fans just don’t connect. It happens.

  2. I have no idea how Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Live Women’s title is going to go. You can sell me on all three deserving the victory and title here. For Carmella, she has tapped out to both already, sure, but she’s been exemplary on the mic in recent months, this week being no exception, and if you weren’t going to have her drop it to the best wrestler on the brand in Asuka, is it really a good idea to have her drop it to Flair or Lynch? Still, it may take another year or more for Lynch to get back into the title fold, do you waste this opportunity? If you put it on Flair, then what? Another heel turn and a long blood feud with Lynch? This match should excel in the psychology department, at the very least. It does feel like Flair is winning, though, right?

  3. Finn Balor is facing Baron Corbin, again, and it’s time for my guy to consider heading back to Japan. How did we get here?

  4. Braun Strowman should lose the Money in the Bank briefcase to Kevin Owens. Strowman, from an on-screen perspective, is a very stupid character. He lied about cashing on Lesnar the first time he had the chance, he doesn’t understand that even if Owens runs away with the briefcase he’s still Mr. MITB, and the list goes on. He’s still over, though, which makes this match so interesting. For Owens, he spent the early part of the summer being tormented by the Hands Guy, but now, he’s had the upper hand. In a match like this, doesn’t it make more sense for this feud to end with Owens outsmarting Strowman once and for all because the character of Kevin Owens *should* outsmart the character of Strowman? Owens has it all -- he can talk, he can wrestle, he can sell, he can do everything required of a top guy in professional wrestling. If the plan is still for Reigns and Lesnar to go on last, the company has options. They could have Strowman cash-in on Lesnar after another stunning victory, or they could have Owens steal Reigns’ moment after defeating Lesnar to the cheers of everyone in attendance and watching it at home. How this match goes is important and it should be interesting to see if the winner plays a role in the main event. Let’s hope so.

The Auburn Football Scheduling Conundrum

First it was the Georgia Bulldogs, then it was the Alabama Crimson Tide, then it was the Bulldogs again, then it was the UCF Knights and in a few weeks it will be the Washington Huskies for the Auburn Tigers. The first two games, the Tigers took care of business and earned their way into the SEC Championship game in Atlanta to face --- the Georgia Bulldogs. Beating Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in succession was impressive, but to then take down the former again on a neutral site to guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff? It was hard to imagine in the moment that even a team as talented as Auburn on both sides of the ball could survive that sort of murder’s row. We know how the rest of this story goes, the Tigers lose and the College Football National Championship pitted two teams the Tigers beat earlier in the year. Unlike the Kick Six season, another year where Auburn defeated a good Georgia and Alabama team late in the season, the Tigers played the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Title game, dropped 59 on them, and lost to the Florida State Seminoles in heartbreaking fashion. Would Auburn have taken down Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl like the Bulldogs? Would Auburn have survived Tua Time in the College Football National Championship? Who knows? What we do know is that the Tigers’ schedule remains their biggest enemy.

Just by playing in the SEC West, not the L(East), the mountain is steeper for Gus Malzahn’s team. The SEC West is a bloodbath, and this fall will be no different. Mississippi State hired an offensive genius to pick up where Dan Mullen left on, Jimbo Fisher arrived at College Station, LSU may have their first competent quarterback since Zach Mettenberger, Arkansas remains a wild card, and Ole Miss has too much talent on both sides of the ball to not be win at least six games. In the West, there are no Commodores or Tigers -- of the Missouri variety -- or Wildcats. The schedule will always be difficult for teams in the SEC West, so the need or interest in scheduling a team CFB Playoff contender like the Washington Huskies in Week 1 is indefensible. If Auburn wins the SEC West without playing anyone of note in the out-of-conference schedule, Malzahn’s team is still going to make it into the playoff. They don’t need to play Washington in Atlanta like the Boise State Broncos needed to play Georgia in Atlanta. The Tigers recruit, Kevin Steele will churn out top-5 defenses until he retires, and whenever the team has competent quarterback play they belong in the conversation. They don’t need to go to visit a juggernaut like Clemson to start the season to strut their stuff. They should schedule Liberty -- twice in the same season if they can.

Just look the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs’ schedule. Anything short of 11-1 would be an objective disaster for the team. There is no Notre Dame or Clemson or Washington or Oregon or Boise or whoever on their schedule this year. You could argue the toughest game on their schedule is World’s Largest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville against the Florida Gators who have a new head coach and serious questions at the quarterback position. This isn’t a critique, it’s a compliment. Schools obviously craft their schedules years and years in advance, but if the goal is to win national championships and you already play in the toughest conference in the country, why would you not schedule as many Patriot League schools as possible? Georgia can sleepwalk their way to the SEC championship game against Alabama in December, Auburn will be lucky to only have two losses under their belt by that point.

It starts, of course, with a reshuffling for when and where the Tigers play the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide. In March, Malzahn didn’t shy away from ending this disastrous gauntlet for Auburn of seasons ending in Athens and Tuscaloosa. Malzahn remembers the 2010 championship season where the Georgia and Alabama games were split. Sure, playing both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide at home worked out for the Tigers in 2017 and 2014, but is it worth the dark cloud that hovers over the following season? Last year, the Tigers had a realistic shot at a national title, this year that is no longer the case.

It’s a sad ending to what should be Jarrett Stidham’s last year at Auburn. Like his rival Jake Fromm at Georgia, Stidham has come into his own as the leader of a SEC behemoth. Fromm’s Bulldogs average 35.4 points per game in 2017 with Stidham’s Tigers right there at 33.9 points per game. Stidham will find himself in the Heisman conversation this fall -- he even opens the season against another potential Heisman hopeful in Jake Browning -- but Stidham is in a brutal spot. Auburn has to travel Mississippi State, Georgia, Alabama, Atlanta for Washington, and dance with Jimbo’s Aggies and Oregon’s pesky Tigers at home. Auburn is too talented and too well-coached to go 7-5, but 8-4 isn’t out of the question. (It’s easy to forget this team did finish 9-4 last year.) They have to replace four starters on the offensive line, the dynamic backfield combination of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, and pray Stidham can survive the full season.

The best-case scenario for the Tigers is 9-3, maybe 10-2, and it will be fine. With the kind of schedule in front of them, that’s perfectly acceptable. Everything is about perspective, though, as the Tigers would be favored in every single game this fall were they playing Georgia’s schedule. Then 9-3 or 10-2 looks like a disaster. Georgia is replacing essentially their entire secondary, one of the best running back combos in the school’s history, and it won’t be an issue for Kirby and the Bulldogs. If Georgia were opening with Washington and playing out Auburn’s schedule would the expectation still be 11-1 or 12-0? Maybe, but a record similar to what Auburn will likely finish with in 2018 wouldn’t be surprising. So it goes. 11-1 or 12-0, with Auburn’s schedule, and you just have to give Gus Malzahn a lifetime contract and the opportunity for Mrs. Malzahn to have a 45-minute spot on the Paul Finebaum Show the Monday after they stun Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Maybe that will happen. Probably not. I’d happily settle for a Mizzou-for-Auburn divisional trade. Who says no? Hey, Mizzou, where are you going?

WWE Monday Night Raw: Everybody Is Blaming Brock Lesnar

A few days ago I was listening to Colin Cowherd on his radio show talk about former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s comments about his former teammate Cam Newton. Benjamin is on the Buffalo Bills now, and the former first-round pick probably hasn’t had quite the career he envisioned for himself when he decided to leave the Florida State Seminoles and enter the NFL Draft. His comments were harsh, but you can understand where Benjamin is coming from -- it certainly seems like it would be easier and more fun to have Andrew Luck or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers throwing you the football each week than Newton. The former Auburn Tiger is an incredible athlete, won an MVP award, guided his team to the Super Bowl and is clearly a top-10 QB in the NFL. ( It’s easy to overlook how impressive it was for Newton to drag that 2017 Panthers team to the playoffs last considering the rash of injuries and the severe lack of talent around Newton to make it all work. He then almost beat the New Orleans Saints in their stadium in the Wild Card round.) Cowherd compared Newton to Russell Westbrook, which I don’t agree with, but his larger point can be attributed to the WWE and their handling of Brock Lesnar: You can’t be the soft parent first and then try and play tough later. It never works. It never will.

Lesnar has been treated like royalty ever since his return to the WWE. It started with an F-5 to John Cena and it may end with a sixteenth spear from Roman Reigns. No matter how Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar ends at SummerSlam, the storyline the WWE creative team and Vince McMahon have elected to follow doesn’t hold up. Vince gave Lesnar this unnecessarily long WWE Universal title reign; Vince gave Lesnar the contract that doesn’t require him to ever actually appear or wrestle on Monday Night Raw; Vince gave the go-ahead to Lesnar being the guy to end The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. Lesnar defeated Cena; Lesnar defeated; Lesnar defeated CM Punk; Lesnar defeated Braun Strowman; Lesnar defeated Goldberg; Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns. Lesnar, outside of Ronda Rousey and Cena, is the only actual superstar in the WWE. When he or Rousey or Cena are in the building, everything feels more important because while the rest of the roster aren’t actual superstars the Big 3 are.

Now, fans and Angle -- kayfabe-wise, of course -- are fed up with Lesnar’s indifference towards the fans, professional wrestling, Paul Heyman and anything that doesn’t involve an outdoorsman magazine. This could have all ended months ago, as expected, when Reigns took on Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 34. Instead, Vince enabled Lesnar’s reign of terror to continue because Lesnar has that sort of negotiating pull. Since his return, the WWE has enabled Brock Lesnar to operate in a manner that is just now starting to really rub Angle and Reigns and everybody else in the back the wrong way. It doesn’t fly because this has been the case for half a decade now, and the powers that be gave Lesnar this kind of power, not the other way around. Lesnar has played this perfectly, and if/when he returns to UFC to face Daniel Cormier, he’ll be surrounded by enablers once again where he’ll get what he wants because he’s earned it.

Brock Lesnar isn’t the villain in the biggest storyline of the summer in the WWE, it’s the WWE themselves.

***

So what else happened on this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw?

Let’s dig in.

Ronda Rousey vs. Alicia Fox was everything it needed to be and more.

Before the actual Raw debut match for Rousey, we had a promo with Alicia Fox and Alexa Bliss that hit every note it needed to. There were only a handful of promos on this episode of Raw, but I’m glad we were gifted with this one. Fox’s quirkiness is both endearing and genuine, but she can talk -- really talk. Bliss, outside of Smackdown Live Women’s champion Carmella, is the best talker in the division, but maybe that isn’t the case after listening to Fox have her moment in her town of Jacksonville, Florida. Fox hasn’t been in the limelight in what feels like a decade, so it was always going to be tough to present her as a worthy first opponent for Rousey on Raw. This could have gone the other way, quite easily, but Fox was perfect from her talking points to her mannerisms to her actual match with Rousey. Yes, Rousey had another spectacular, entertaining match, but Fox was on fire and showed she not only still belongs in the division, but that she should be treated as one of the best talents in the division as a whole.

Kevin Owens is always a step ahead of the game.

Kevin Owens is a very good professional wrestler. Unlike Braun Strowman, he checks every box for what you want in a top guy -- he can talk, he can wrestle, he can work as a face or a heel, but, perhaps most importantly, he can generate something out of just about anything.

Strowman’s on-screen character isn’t the brightest one, as he’s lost to the Actually Bad Jinder Mahal in back-to-back weeks in embarrassing fashion because Owens has run off with a briefcase that doesn’t actually hold any value. It’s not a situation like the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia episode where Mac eats Dee’s contract making it null and void because she didn’t make copies. Strowman is the Monster In The Bank with or without the physical briefcase -- somebody should explain that to him. (Not to mention Strowman failed to deliver on his promise to cash-in on Lesnar the next time the latter was around. Lesnar sat on a sofa for almost three hours reading every outdoorsman magazine available and Strowman never confronted him. Shame.) The MITB briefcase was meant for a wrestler like Owens, a heel who is always five steps ahead of the competition.

Owens vs. Strowman for the MITB briefcase shouldn’t be as interesting as it has been, but Owens finding unique ways to outsmart Strowman to get what he wants and become Universal champion again his way has worked. I could see either man walking out of Brooklyn with the briefcase, and while I hope it’s Owens, the fact that I’m this emotionally invested in this feud is a testament to just how good Owens is at his job.

Elias has a documentary crew now and other stuff.

They really are walking a fine line with Elias, aren’t they? The “Walk With Elias” catchphrase is over, he gets consistent promo time on Raw each week, but at some point, and some point soon, doesn’t he have to do something? Sure, Elias unsuccessfully tried to take the Intercontinental title from Seth Rollins a few months back, but, outside of that, Elias has been drifting. He now has an album that you can apparently listen to on Spotify, he had a documentary crew follow him around this week, and he’s not Mojo Rawley. All of these things work to Elias’s favor, but the company stumbled onto something real and potentially lasting in Elias. The Drifter is comfortable on the mic, has the look and has shown flashes in the ring. He needs a real feud or title run or something; he doesn’t need to be working trying to help Bobby Lashley get over in 2018.

Lifted from the Legal Pad:

  • Kurt Angle remains the worst general manager imaginable.
  • Baron Corbin was the best talker in the opening segment with Reigns and Angle. His match with the Big Dog was fun, the crowd was into it, and he’s fine.
  • “I came to see Roman Reigns” sign appeared and I can’t believe that’s a decision people are making in 2018.
  • Roode defeating Mojo Rawley clean was...odd.
  • Why doesn’t Lashley care about the Reigns and Lesnar stuff?
  • Poor Authors of Pain, but at least Rezar got the win here.
  • Also, Titus O’Neil should not be wrestling ever. Just about everybody on the roster can wrestle in the WWE nowadays, but man, O’Neil cannot and should not.
  • Kevin Owens Show should be a weekly staple.
  • I lost track of how many times Owens cut off Mahal in that segment, but it was the best. Turning Mahal back into a comedy jobber is the right move. It just took too long.
  • “We want Ambrose” chant was delightful. Raw needs him.
  • Finn Balor got added to the SummerSlam card in the form of a WWE.com blip. Yikes.
  • The Ziggler and Drew McIntyre vs. Rollins feud was running on empty a month ago. This should not be happening again at SummerSlam.
  • B-Team’s new theme is...delightful? (The Revival should win the titles next week on Raw.)
  • Everything about Ronda Rousey, Professional Wrestler is perfect, except for the constant hugging of her friend Natalya. The hugs have got to stop, especially after delivering the kind of quick, heated promo Rousey did after Bliss tried to blindside her after her victory over Fox.

Nobody Asked Mailbag: The Pirates Remain A Mystery

The Pittsburgh Pirates were active at the trade deadline this year. General manager Neal Huntington found himself in a weird spot: It would have been defensible to sell, to stand pat or buy. Not many general managers find themselves in that kind of grey area where there is no right answer. In Washington, the answer was clear: You buy. General manager Mike Rizzo and ownership stood pat in what looks to be the last year of the Bryce Harper era in D.C. If there was ever a more obvious buyer at the trade deadline than the Washington Nationals in 2018 I’d love to know. The Pirates traded for Chris Archer less than a year after moving ace Gerrit Cole in an obvious attempt to rebuild and reset after several seasons of pseudo contention. Huntington found a way to not only to be a buyer at the trade deadline but be a buyer in a controlled, prudent way. That rarely happens.

On my podcast this week, SI’s Jon Tayler and I spent twenty-plus minutes debating the subject as to whether or not what the Pirates did at the deadline was smart, and, you’re not going to believe this, but we didn’t come to a consensus on the matter. The haul Huntington and the Pirates got for Cole was a disappointing one, especially when you consider just how thin the starting-pitcher market is at the moment. There is a premium on quality relievers, but starters like Cole aren’t available for contenders to acquire every season. As it stands now, the Rays got more intriguing talent for Archer than the Pirates got for Cole from the Astros. Had the Pirates kept him on the roster for the first half of this season, and he pitched closely to how he has in 2018 for the Astros, it’s fair to assume that the Pirates could have received a far more exciting haul from a contender than what they received months ago.

But what about this season?

The Pirates shouldn’t be here and Huntington shouldn’t be having to make these difficult choices. By trading Cole and Pirate legend Andrew McCutchen, it was clear the team had no interest in trying to make another postseason run after the way the previous two seasons had played out. Instead, the team clicked everywhere like the death of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals season kicked them into gear, their lineup had the No. 1 WRC+ from July 11-24, their starters and relievers forgot they were Pirates and suddenly this team was only three games back of a Wild Card spot in the NL.

Huntington didn’t want to cannonball his way into the deep end of the pool, but he did want to get his feet wet. He wanted to touch the rim, not dunk the basketball. When you don’t expect to be contending for a playoff spot, and you suddenly find yourself contending for a playoff spot it’s easy to go overboard and give up too much for a rental when you’re not really a contender to begin with. So Huntington traded for a starter he’s loved for a decade now, a guy on a great contract wants to be there and can help them make a serious Wild Card push. The needle has been moved slightly in Pittsburgh through Huntington’s moves, but not enough to contend and not enough for fans to revolt at ownership being unfathomably cheap once again.

Point is: I like what Pittsburgh did, I like that they acquired a starter who makes sense for them right now and for the future and I like that they added more bullpen help while also moving guys like Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow into a new location where they’ll have the chance to flip the script on their disappointing starts to their MLB careers.

Now, let’s get to this week’s Nobody Asked Mailbag, which is, of course, a column where I answer my own questions that I’ve been thinking about this week. I talk to myself a lot, I get it from my dad, so how I could I not turn this into a weekly column?

Let’s do this.

***

Chase’s mind asks, “Am I crazy for thinking Florida is winning the SEC East this year?”

It’s plausible. Georgia is stacked, their schedule is an absolute joke -- Football Outsiders recently declared that Auburn has the toughest 2018 schedule, which, damn it! -- and it’s very silly to say that this team is not going to win the East. Kirby Smart is 8-0 against Dan Mullen-coached teams after all. Maybe I just can’t shake the feeling that losing the National Championship the way Georgia did to Alabama, how right everything went for the Bulldogs in 2017-18, that there has to be a regression to the mean coming in 2018-19. That they’re going to drop a game or two they shouldn’t -- I’m looking at you, South Carolina -- that the team that was heading towards disaster against Appalachian State to start the season rears its ugly head again now that teams are more prepared for Jake Fromm.

Then again, Mullen did joke earlier this year about a blind squirrel finding a nut every once in a while. That’s the kind of motivation a team coming off a one-of-a-kind season that ended in disaster needs -- there is nothing more powerful in sports than a team with the “nobody believes in us” attitude.

Crap. Georgia is winning back-to-back SEC East titles, aren’t they?

Chase’s mind asks, “ Did that crowd at Monday Night Raw this week really chant, “We want Roman!” as Brock Lesnar attacked fan-favorite Paul Heyman to close the show?”

I think they did and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. ( And yes, I do find myself thinking about professional wrestling far too much on a daily and even hourly basis. It’s the dumbest thing in the world, but I love it and want it to be good. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if there is ever a point in time where both Smackdown Live and Raw are good at the same time. Do I retire? Do I just retire my exhausting cynicism? Who knows. Actually, we do know that will never ever happen. Phew.)

Back to Reigns and this mind-boggling crowd. Earlier in the night, they chant for CM Punk, but their closing act calls for Reigns saving the day? What? How does this happen? Are there really wrestling fans out there that chant “CM Punk” at wrestling shows but also really like Roman Reigns?

To be fair to this crowd, Reigns had a good week when you compare it to most episodes of Raw. He got to utter his favorite big-boy word, he got escorted out of the arena because ostensibly Stephanie McMahon is no fan of the Big Dog, and Braun Strowman, the World’s Biggest Liar, didn’t cash-in on Lesnar when he had the chance. (Seriously, Lesnar spent three hours in the back reading hunting magazines, alone, and Strowman didn’t surprise him with an attack and subsequent cash-in? Weak move, Hands Man.)

This was the kind of reaction Triple H, Vince McMahon and the rest of the authority figures in the WWE have craved for years now. To end this week’s Raw, the crowd threw them a bone. They actually wanted Reigns. That happened.

Unfortunately, SummerSlam is in Brooklyn. Instead of cheering Reigns, the main event will feature two professional wrestlers who fans in attendance do not want to be Universal champion. WWE’s attempt to turn the fans against the Beast has worked, although Lesnar scoffing at the mere thought of watching this wretched three-hour program was maybe the best babyface line of the year, but the idea that this betrayal from Lesnar would lead to overarching support for Reigns was a foolish one. It’s not happening. Sorry, Vince.

Chase’s mind asks, “ Can we appreciate how good of a football coach Paul Johnson is while also admitting how awful it is to watch his teams play football?”

Georgia Tech might be good again in 2018, or they might not. Vegas pegged the Yellow Jackets over/under at 6 wins in 2018.

I hope it’s less. It’s not that I want the Yellow Jackets to fail, I just don’t want to watch the triple-option anymore. Actually, I’ve never wanted to watch it.

Let me explain. Sometimes, I make bad decisions. Like in 2017, where I sat on my couch with one of my roommates at the time and watched the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee game in its entirety. It was truly awful. Tech had the ball for what felt like 34 hours in the first half, were in total control while Tennessee was trying to beat the Jackets with a quarterback who may have been worse than Rick Clausen. Still, the Jackets did what they do -- hold the ball, have ninety-three play drives, and run the clock. It’s a sound strategy for a team struggling in the talent department. It wins Georgia Tech some games they shouldn’t. They won the ACC once upon a time with it!

It still sucks. It’s easy to forget sports exist to give us all an escape. Watching Georgia Tech makes you long for those hours hunched over in your cubicle. I’m sure there are Georgia Tech fans who watch every game, and I’ll never fathom as to how that’s possible. Give me the North Texas air raid, give me the Auburn spread, or give me the Stanford pro-style, but don’t you dare give me the Georgia Tech triple-option.

So, yes, I’m rooting for an eleven-loss season in Atlanta this year. I don’t want George Godsey back roaming the sidelines at Bobby Dodd, but Blake Anderson from Arkansas State or Rhett Lashlee from SMU or whoever is willing to come to Atlanta and Make The Jackets Fun Again. This will be Year 11 for Johnson at Georgia Tech and I just need this to stop. They dropped Russell Athletics, now drop the triple-option. Please?

Back And Forth With Scott Rafferty: Should The Miami Heat Go For The Playoffs?

Editor's note: Welcome to Back And Forth, a weekly NBA email back-and-forth discussion with Chase Thomas and one of his favorite NBA writers and thinkers, Scott Rafferty, who is a writer at The Step Back, Rolling Stone and the Sporting News. This week, the duo tackled the question: Should the Miami Heat go for the playoffs?

***

CT: Hey Scott,

It's been a few weeks, and I hope you've had a fulfilling, relaxing holiday break. But I'm excited to talk about another NBA question that I've been thinking a lot about over the break. 

As of this writing, the Miami Heat would qualify for the NBA playoffs, and I have to ask, should the Heat want to make the playoffs in 2018?

SR: Yes, they should. 

The Heat are in a tough position when it comes to their future. Their six highest paid players — Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson — are all under contract until 2019-20 and the two first-round picks they traded to the Suns for Dragic still haven't conveyed. If this core doesn't make the playoffs this season, it's hard to see how it gets much better before 2020 considering how little cap room they'll have and how they won't have many opportunities to add talent in the NBA Draft. 

Plus, this team is good enough to make the playoffs. They proved it in the second half of last season and they are proving it again this season (although it helps that the 76ers, Knicks and Pacers have hit a rough patch).

CT: I can't stop thinking about the Tyler Johnson contract. Seeing $18 million next to his name on ESPN's Trade Machine next season is going to take some getting used to. I do wonder, though, do you think the Nets would still be interested in trading for him before the deadline this season? 

I think their other five highest-paid players are defensible, though. Olynyk makes sense both next to Whiteside and without him, especially when you consider how many threes Miami takes as a team; Whiteside is awesome and what they've gotten out of him is pretty remarkable; Johnson just works in Spo's system; Dragic is so much more valuable to them without Dwyane Wade; Waiters' issues this season should have been expected with his ankle issues that we all knew couldn't be resolved over the summer. Miami clearly doesn't have a star, but if they were able to pair this group with the right, above-average wing they'd be scary.

I think that's why I'm so annoyed with this team. As you point out, they're locked in with this group for the next couple of years with no real cap relief coming anytime soon. That's not ideal, but if they were able to land Gordon Hayward this summer wouldn't you love a five-man lineup of Dragic, Waiters, Hayward, Johnson and Whiteside? I don't think that'd be enough to win the East, but considering how well coached this group is, they'd be incredibly dangerous and just a thorn in the side of so many teams.

This roster would look *right* if they had a star wing, and that's why I'm hoping Paul George winds up here this summer, or the team tries to trade for Andrew Wiggins, or whoever, I just want Spo and Riley to add the right wing to pair with this core that'd look so much better with the right wing playmaker. 

SR: I'm not sure about the Nets trading for Johnson anymore. Signing him to the offer sheet they did was a smart move at the time because it would've given them a young player with two-way potential until 2019-20. Quite a lot has changed since then. They have some good young talent on their roster (D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen) as well as some veterans who fit in with their system (Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll). Unless they can get a draft pick in the same deal — which they probably wouldn't given how similar of a situation the Heat are in pick-wise — I'm not sure there's as much of a need for him anymore. 

I think you're right about the Heat being the best of the four, mainly because we sort of know what they are. The 76ers have a much higher potential, but they are still in their infancy. The Knicks started out the season strong, but they've hit a rough patch. It's a similar case with the Pacers, although I think they are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs when Victor Oladipo returns.

I'm not sure about the Nets trading for Johnson anymore. Signing him to the offer sheet they did was a smart move at the time because it would've given them a young player with two-way potential until 2019-20. Quite a lot has changed since then. They have some good young talent on their roster (D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen) as well as some veterans who fit in with their system (Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll). Unless they can get a draft pick in the same deal — which they probably wouldn't given how similar of a situation the Heat are in pick-wise — I'm not sure there's as much of a need for him anymore. 

I think you're right about the Heat being the best of the four, mainly because we sort of know what they are. The 76ers have a much higher potential, but they are still in their infancy. The Knicks started out the season strong, but they've hit a rough patch. It's a similar case with the Pacers, although I think they are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs when Victor Oladipo returns.

Maybe we should be asking if the Heat have the potential to upset anyone in the first round if they do make the playoffs. I have a hard time seeing them (or anyone else in the Eastern Conference) beating the Cavaliers, so who do they have a better chance of taking down out of the Celtics, Raptors and Wizards?

CT: Yeah, that's certainly true. It's fascinating how much is different about that Brooklyn team now. I suppose I floated the Johnson idea in response to the team's unfortunate injury luck with Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell this season. I love what Spencer Dinwiddie is doing with his opportunity now, but adding another guard to ease his burden along with Caris LeVert and Russell wouldn't hurt, I don't think. What do they do with Dinwiddie, Lin and Russell this summer, by the way? 

There's a very real argument to be made that the Pacers are still a better team, especially with a healthy Oladipo in the fold. They've obviously surprised, and although I don't totally understand how Nate McMillan is pulling this off, I should place this team ahead of Miami at this point. I'm just not there with Philadelphia and New York right now, though, and am leaning towards things getting worse for both clubs in January. 

I agree. I wouldn't bet on them over Cleveland or Washington, but they match-up so well with Boston and you never know with Toronto. I'm personally rooting for a first-round affair that includes Dragic going at Kyrie and Horford trying to deal with Whiteside. And I'd never say no to a playoff series that pits Spoelestra against Brad Stevens. This is not meant to be a hot take, but I think it'd go seven.

Who would you like to see them matched up with?

SR: Dinwiddie playing the way he has this season certainly makes things interesting because the Nets basically now have three starting-calibre point guards on their roster (although Lin has played plenty of shooting guard in his career and Russell has the skill set to do so). Fortunately for them, they still have a year to figure it out since they're all under contract for one more season. I think they'll need that season to determine who they want to keep as they take the next step in their rebuild, whether it's two of them (Dinwiddie and Lin?) or just one of them (Russell?).

I'm leaning towards that being the most entertaining matchup as well. If we got Celtics-Heat and Cavaliers-Bucks in the first round, I would be an extremely happy man. Celtics-Heat would be a hard-fought series and Cavaliers-Bucks would give us at least four games of LeBron vs. Giannis. It's a win-win for everyone.

CT: So do you think the plan would be to keep all three going into next season? If I'm Sean Marks, I'd be very tempted to sell high on a guy getting 'MVP' chants in Brooklyn right now. I'm not sure what is value is, or what you could get for him, but I'd probably aim to move him prior to the deadline. Either way, it should be interesting to see how Atkinson handles this trio if they're ever all healthy at the same time again.

Oh man.

Cavs-Bucks in Round 1 has to happen and I hadn't even really considered it to this point. I suppose seventh seed is still a possibility, but, if that's where they ultimately finish in a few months, that should be the end of Jason Kidd's tenure in Milwaukee, right? They might have an interim roaming the sidelines in that series, I'd suspect. 

But yes, a seven-game series with Giannis and LeBron that takes place in the first round would feel like basketball fans are getting away with something. That's a match-up, at this point, shouldn't possibly take place early in the postseason, but it would be a hard-fought series between two anxiety-riddled teams, which would be a delight.

Back to the Heat, though, now that we're in agreement that it'd be good for them to qualify for the postseason, that they'd be a thorn in the side of President Stevens and LeBron James in the opening round, what else can they do to ensure they make the playoffs? What would you like to see them do or what statistics would you like to see shift for this club in the next few months?

SR: Probably? There's just a lot of uncertainty given the injuries to Lin and Russell. Plus, are you certain you'd want one of them over Dinwiddie moving forward? It might have been a crazy question to ask three months ago, but Dinwiddie has been fantastic this season and he's only 24-years-old. Who's to say he isn't their point guard of the future?

I think it ultimately comes down to health for the Heat. They're not a team that relies on one player to get the job done, so health from top to bottom is a bigger deal to them than some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference. If they're healthier in the second half of the season, they should be in good shape to make the playoffs.

CT: I love that we've somehow allocated a significant portion of this conversation to discuss the Nets and their intriguing backcourt dynamics. 

In regards to your question, I'm comfortable with my belief that Dinwiddie is the right person to move if it comes to that. I think with the team trading for Russell and being without another Lottery pick this year, you have to do everything in your organization's power to propel the former Laker to stardom, and I think it's going to be difficult if they keep all three for the foreseeable future. 

If Whiteside and Dragic and James Johnson remain healthy, I think you're right. This might be a take of the hot variety, but I think Dragic is their player of most importance, especially when you take a gander at the other playmakers behind him on the depth chart along with his USG%. The Dragon hasn't missed a game this season, and if he can reach the 73-plus threshold like he has the last few seasons I suspect this team will reach the playoffs, and, hopefully, match up with Boston in the first round. 

Any final thoughts on this well-coached, prickly team?

SR: That's fair. I'm interested to see how the Nets look when Dinwiddie and Russell are on the floor together. Maybe that changes things if they complement each other well.

I'm just excited to see how the Heat do in the second half of the season. This is about when they went on their crazy win streak last season and they're starting to get healthy again. It's time to see how good this team really is.

WWE Clash Of Champions 2017: Who Is Going to Turn?

Tomorrow night at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, a wrestling pay-per-view will take place, Clash Of Champions, but, in classic WWE fashion, the biggest storyline heading into this event features exactly zero champions. I’m referring to the Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn with special guest referees Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. If the Best Friends come up short against two of the top three babyfaces on Smackdown Live, they’re fired from WWE all together. It’s simple and compelling and, perhaps, most importantly, very hard to predict with so many moving parts. One might call this high-profile, December match armageddon for Owens and Zayn with their careers on the line.

Come to think of it, there might be something to this “Armageddon” word and dubbing an end-of-the-year PPV after it. It’d just make more sense, wouldn’t it?

Now, let’s dive into what makes this blue brand PPV interesting.

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Where are they going with Mojo Rawley

On the pre-show -- something you should never, ever watch -- Rawley will face off against his former tag team partner and hype bro, Zack Ryder. Both wrestlers are in an odd spot in the company and both could really use a win here. But Ryder can’t go over here, and it’s time for him to do something else somewhere else. Rawley should win, but does it matter? If you win a pre-show match, did you really win anything at all?

This really could be it for Ryder in the WWE. I don’t know how much time is left on his current contract, but if he can’t even go over Rawley here, why stick around? He already tried going back to NXT, he had his nice, brief WrestleMania moment and he’s in all likelihood never winning another WWE title in his career. Ryder is talented and he could be more in other companies -- I’m looking at you, Impact Wrestling, or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.

Wait, is there anyway they both can go?

Baron Corbin has to retain his US Title, right?

Corbin is just kind of there right now. For the most part, 2017 has been very kind to the Lone Wolf. He could have easily fallen into Chuck Palumbo 2.0 purgatory, but it’s clear somebody higher up likes him, as he’s gotten a new entrance, new music and is treated as a top guy on Smackdown Live. In a lot of ways, he’s like an unlikeable version of Braun Strowman; they both don’t seem to be prudent characters, they just want to destroy whoever gets in their way -- Strowman just does it in more impressive, hilarious fashion.

But his feud with Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler doesn’t have the same attractiveness his earlier U.S. title feud with AJ Styles and Tye Dillinger had. With Roode cleaning house on the go-show show Tuesday night, it seems likely that Corbin is retaining and he should. Corbin’s a strong enough heel where when the right babyface comes along to take his title, it could be a big moment. Roode and Ziggler don’t work here.

No matter what, Roode really needs a big showing here. (Perhaps a post-match beatdown and heel turn after Corbin steals it in clever, heel-like fashion?)

Is this the end of Jinder vs. AJ Styles?

I have to give the WWE credit here, as this feud ran out of juice weeks ago, but Road Dogg totally redeemed himself Tuesday night by putting together a fantastic opening segment with Styles, the Singh Brothers and Mahal. Adding more layers to the Singh Brothers and how it affects both Mahal and Styles is intriguing and has me now thinking: Will Randy Orton’s favorite punching bags turn on Mahal Sunday night?

This feud needed some sort of spice sprinkled in somewhere, anywhere, really, because the result has always seemed clear: Styles is the No. 1 babyface on the Smackdown Live and should be holding the title heading into WrestleMania next year. (And the match itself is almost certainly going to mirror 2017 as a whole -- trash.)

Who turns between Bryan and Shane?

Zayn and Owens aren’t going anywhere, so how are they leaving Boston with their jobs? Who is eating a pin between Orton and Nakamura? Who is going to be the one that ultimately counts 1-2-3 for either Zayn or Owens? These are the kinds of questions that make this match a must-see because we just don’t know.

Ultimately, I think a Shane turn would be the tougher sell, so I’d bet on Bryan being the one to give Owens and Zayn the victory. The Smackdown commissioner siding with the guy who viciously assaulted his father just a few months ago, which led to the former trying to kill the latter by jumping off a steel cage only to be foiled by another indie darling.

Either way, this match has all the makings of a memorable one with a finish that has all the potential in the world to be one of the best of the year.

Back And Forth With Scott Rafferty: What Does The Right Team Around Devin Booker Look Like

Editor's note: Welcome to the first edition of what will in all likelihood become a weekly email back-and-forth discussion with Chase Thomas and one of his favorite NBA writers and thinkers, Scott Rafferty, who is a writer at The Step Back, Rolling Stone and the Sporting News. This week, the duo tackled one of basketball's most interesting questions surrounding one of its most electric scorers: What does the right team around Devin Booker look like?

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CT: OK, Scott, Devin Booker may have just strained his left adductor, which is apparently a real thing, so he's going to miss some time, but he did drop 46 in Philadelphia a few nights ago. The conversation surrounding the 21-year-old has always been polarizing. On one hand, he seems like he's playing in the wrong era, on the other, it's hard to find guys in today's game who can do what he does. Right now, his team is 9-17 -- 9-14 since Jay Triano took over for Earl Watson -- and he figures to be a cornerstone piece in Phoenix for a long time. If that's the case, what does Phoenix do going forward? What does the right team around Booker look like?

SR: The thing I keep coming back to with Devin Booker is that he was seen as a pure shooter entering the 2015 NBA Draft. He was basically expected to do one of two things as a freshman at Kentucky — either catch-and-shoot the ball or take a couple of dribbles into a pull-up. Outside of that, he didn't do much offensively.

So the fact that he's now averaging 24.3 points per game as a go-to scorer in the NBA as a 21-year-old is super impressive. He's developed much quicker than anyone expected, and he is making noticeable improvements to his game each season. While he does still have some flaws, I think it's easy to forget just how much his game has changed in such a short period of time.

Still, like you said, he's built differently from other shooting guards in today's NBA, which doesn't necessarily make him the easiest person to project. Is he best suited as some point guard's Bradley Beal? Is he on pace to become a more modern version of DeMar DeRozan? Or is he capable of being a primary scorer and facilitator on a competitive team? The problem is I don't think we'll get a clear answer until the Suns surround with him the right talent or trade him. The first option could take a while and the second is unlikely to happen considering Booker is the closest thing they have to a franchise player.

CT: You're right, which I think hurt his draft stock in a way. His role on that Kentucky team was just catch-and-shoot at an elite level, and he did that. I'm not looking at his collegiate numbers right now, but I'm pretty sure he shot 93 percent from deep in Lexington. So we only saw him as a shooter, not a playmaker, because that just wasn't his role on Coach Cal's team. Part of me wonders if he would have gone higher had he gone to Florida and had a Bradley Beal-type role where he was asked to do more and was seen as more of a well-rounded guard who could be a franchise guy rather than a complimentary player on a good team. 

I feel like we don't talk about his 24.3 PPG numbers enough. Like you said, he's getting better every season in an organization that can hardly be described as a functional one. (Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver would be a tad more harsh, I suspect.) He's shooting 38 percent from deep, has a 39.7 USG%, and you can almost guarantee he's going to get to at least twenty points with several treys every night. Just look at his game logs, where it's littered with thirty-plus-points nights. Just don't look at his DRPM. 

I love the Beal comparison, as I mentioned above, because I think there are a lot more similarities there. Even saying he's kind of like DeMar DeRozan if he shot threes would be fair -- super efficient, just from different spots on the floor. Beal is fortunate enough to play next to an All-Star, elite defender in John Wall, while Booker is, correct me if I'm wrong, playing next to Not Mike James most nights? Booker has already played with a lot of point guards, and Phoenix hasn't found him the right backcourt partner. Who is that? With Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender in the fold, you'd think the right guy for Booker at this point in his career is a long, defensive-minded lead guard with a pass-first instinct. With Eric Bledsoe in Milwaukee, I'd look at somebody like Malcolm Brogdon, or, perhaps more feasible, Dejounte Murray. It's just got to be somebody who can lower the Suns' defensive rating from 30th in the League.

SR: But I think that number is also the reason he is so polarizing. On one hand, Booker is a 21-year-old who is a threat to go off for 30 points on any given night, doing so as effortlessly as anyone in the league when he's rolling. On the other, he's an obviously talented scorer whose big numbers in the scoring column aren't overly impressive given his situation and the fact the Suns can't win games.

That's sort of what Golliver is getting at here:

"While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad."

All of that is true. Booker is super talented, but he does have the ultra-green light in Phoenix and he hasn't yet played in a meaningful game, which may or may not be an indictment on him. (It isn't). So how do you evaluate someone like that? Does it matter as much that he continues to improve as a scorer if the rest of his game isn't progressing at a similar rate? Because, as Golliver also explained, he isn't the most complete player yet.

The reason I'm more optimistic than pessimistic about his potential is because nobody expected Booker to be as good as he is already this quickly. If he can go from spot-up shooter at Kentucky to being a three-level scorer in the NBA within three years, maybe he figures the rest out sooner rather than later as well. The question for me is if he develops more into the Beal-type of DeRozan-type in the coming years. Because as much as I love DeRozan and feel as though he gets more criticism than he deserves, he's not necessarily the easiest player to build around. The difference with Beal is he could fit into most teams because of how comfortable he is operating with and without the ball in his hands.

CT: So who do you think is the real Devin Booker? Or perhaps a better question: What will Booker have to change in his game for him to become less problematic and more appreciated?

The meaningful game point from Golliver is fair, although, I'm not going to hold that against the former Wildcat. Denver's unicorn NIkola Jokic may never play in a meaningful playoff game -- I should note, meaningful in the context of at least a Conference Finals appearance -- but basketball fans, for the most part, have rallied around him in spite of the cast of characters he's been surrounded with in Mile High City. Sidenote: By going down this rabbit hole, I'd like to pose a different question: Who would you rather have for the next decade leading your backcourt: Booker or Jamal Murray?

I completely agree on the Beal and DeRozan fronts, but what scares me for Phoenix is that neither of those players can be the best player on a contender. They're elite complimentary players on a contender, and, if that's where Booker ultimately gets to, that's still a huge win for Phoenix considering where they drafted him in the lottery. Perhaps for Booker to take his game to the next level he'll need McDonough to find his own Jokic or some other wing or big that can scale that 30 percent USG% down so that, maybe, just maybe, Booker can use decreased burden offensively on the defensive end of the floor.

Final thoughts on one of the most confident basketball players I've ever seen?

SR: To be honest, I still don't know the answer to that question because I think his game will continue to be nitpicked until he's in a situation where his team is competitive. Because as explosive as he has been this season, the Suns are still being outscored by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. And they're only scoring at a rate of 103.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, which puts them between the Trail Blazers and Hornets in offensive efficiency.

Is that a cop-out answer? It probably is. I just feel like we won't know how good Booker really is until he's in a position where he can either complement an equally talented player or elevate slightly more capable teammates. (I'm not saying the Suns should trade Booker by the way. He was a fantastic pick by them and he's the closest thing they have to a star. I just hope they can surround him with the right talent sooner rather than later).

The Booker vs. Murray question is interesting to me because it's almost a discussion about uncertainty vs. certainty. We've seen more from Booker overall, but I think it's clearer what type of player Murray could develop in to, at least when it comes to how they fit into a given system. Still, I think I'd go with Booker because I like his long-term potential more. 

Who would you prefer to have?

CT: Yeah, that seems to be the inescapable conundrum for so many young, promising players drafted into subpar situations. (We're, like, three months away from just calling this The Victor Oladipo Theory, by the way.) 

We probably won't, and with the way the Suns have operated since drafting the kid, it wouldn't be wise to assume that he's going to experience that in Phoenix sooner rather than later. Remember, Phoenix hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season. Booker on a playoff team would be fun, but it's so hard to forecast the future of this team with an interim coach in place, an odd cap situation, and a plethora of young players who just haven't hit the way Booker has thus far. 

To wrap this up, my brain says Murray, but my heart says Booker. I trust Murray more as a shooter, his ability to finish at the rim, and see him as a better bet to be a solid No. 2 Guy on a really good playoff team. Booker may never reach the playoffs in Phoenix, and I could totally see him excelling as a No. 3 or No. 4 option in his late 20s playing next to somebody like Giannis in Milwaukee. 

I will say, though, I'd prefer to watch both play basketball for the next decade.