The Detroit Lions and the 2022-23 NFL playoffs

The 2022 Detroit Lions came pretty close to securing the team’s first playoff berth in six years and, had they made it in, seemed as primed as ever to claim a playoff win for the first time in over thirty years. In coming up short of those benchmarks, they nevertheless delivered the most exciting Lions season in quite some time.

The Lions played eight of the fourteen playoff teams during the regular season, including two games against the Minnesota Vikings. Detroit lost more of those games than they won, but, in the aggregate, they outscored those teams:

What seems to be the actual good news this week is that the team avoided what could have been a Kyle Shanahan-Atlanta Falcons scenario by ponying up to keep offensive coordinator Ben Johnson in that position rather than lose him to a head-coaching opportunity elsewhere. I was critical of Johnson when the Lions surrendered what should have been a Thanksgiving-Day win against the Buffalo Bills, but Detroit’s overall high offensive production and 8-2 record to finish the season counsel maintaining the status quo in that regard.

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Today in ALDLAND History: Two football coaches reveal the sports industry’s inner workings; the NFL media probes regional stereotypes; and a blockbuster MLB free-agent signing

Now that ALDLAND has been up and running for more than a decade, we’ve amassed a meaty body of sports stories, data, and observations we can mine for memories and reengagement.

And speaking of meaty bodies, eleven years ago today, we brought you the stories of Steve Spurrier, then coaching at South Carolina, who volunteered that he did not want to hire “fat, sloppy guys” as assistant coaches, among other preferences, and Todd Haley, who believed the Kansas City Chiefs still were tapping his cell phone a month after he’d been fired from the head coaching job there. Read more in The sports profession: Where not everybody’s working for the weekend.

Spurrier spent four more seasons in Columbia before resigning in the middle of the 2015 season. His next head-coaching job came in 2019 with the Alliance of American Football’s Orlando Apollos.

Haley next worked as an offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Riverview (Sarasota) High School before returning as a head coach for the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits and Memphis Showboats.

Continuing the football time traveling, ten years ago today, we already knew the matchups for the NFL playoff conference championships, and the coverage of the NFC’s pairing of Atlanta and San Francisco was anything but imaginative. Read more in Stereotyping the NFC Championship Game.

The Falcons would fall to the 49ers, helping set up the Harbowl.

From postseason to offseason, eight years ago today we brought you the breaking story of Max Scherzer’s departure from the Detroit Tigers and signing with the Washington Nationals for $210 million over seven years. Read more in Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington.

During those seven seasons in Washington, Scherzer was a six-time All-Star, a two-time Cy-Young winner, and a World-Series champion. I, on the other hand, did not win any awards during those seven years for my conclusion at the time of Scherzer’s Nationals deal that “it wouldn’t be prudent to commit the amount of money he’s due to another long-term contract for another player on the old side of thirty.”

Thanks for re-reading.

Officially Confirmed: The 2022 Monday Night Football season was the worst ever

Well, it is finally official: The 2022 Monday Night Football season was the worst season of Monday Night Football in the recorded history of Monday Night Football. We here at ALDLAND were on this early, and, in a report published on December 6, 2022, disclosed the preliminary and then-conclusive findings derived from our proprietary MNF Index: “This has been the worst slate of Monday-night games in NFL history….Monday Night Football never has been less worthy of its billing than in 2022.” Today, ALDLAND updates and confirms that conclusive conclusion conclusively for the now-completed 2022 NFL season.

As a reminder:

Unlike Monday Night Football’s ascendant sibling, Sunday Night Football, or its soon-to-be-terminated cousin, SEC on CBS, all MNF matchups must be chosen well before the season starts. This means that the NFL and its media partners have to make significant, long-range predictions based on minimal data when they are setting all of the pairings for their premier weekly showcase. How well do they do this?

To answer this question, the MNF Index evaluates the quality of Monday Night Football games immediately prior to kickoff to present a quality score illustrating the schedule-makers’ degree of success at presenting enticing games likely to live up to the expectations of a nationally televised, Monday-night event. The MNF Index therefore does not consider any in-game performance data.

Looking ahead from that early December vantage point, we wondered whether the three remaining Monday-night games– Rams at Packers, Chargers at Colts, and Bills at Bengals– might offer a meaningful chance at redemption. They did not. Indeed, Rams-Packers (Week 15) was, according to the ALDLAND MNF Index, the worst MNF game of the season. And although the no-doubt quality matchup between the Bills and Bengals (Week 17) would have been the best MNF game ever, the game (a) correctly was canceled due to Damar Hamlin’s frightening, serious injury and (b) would not remotely have altered the ultimate conclusion that there has been no worse season of Monday Night Football than the just-completed 2022 season of Monday Night Football had it been played.

Some good news: Not only does ALDLAND’s MNF Index generate results, but it also gets results. Beginning in the 2023 NFL season, Monday Night Football will be subject to flex scheduling. This option should allow ESPN to buoy the quality of its flagging showcase and, if executed effectively on an ongoing basis, could cement the 2022 MNF season as the worst-ever MNF season ever.

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Is this the worst-ever season for Monday Night Football? Our MNF Index says yes
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Is this the worst-ever season for Monday Night Football? Our MNF Index says yes

Even though Roger Goodell has insisted on watering down the league’s overall product, Monday Night Football still carries a special cachet. It’s been a rough run for MNF this year, though, with some real stinkers for what’s supposed to be the NFL’s special weekly feature. In fact, according to ALDLAND’s proprietary MNF Index, this has been the worst slate of Monday-night games in NFL history.

Unlike Monday Night Football’s ascendant sibling, Sunday Night Football, or its soon-to-be-terminated cousin, SEC on CBS, all MNF matchups must be chosen well before the season starts. This means that the NFL and its media partners have to make significant, long-range predictions based on minimal data when they are setting all of the pairings for their premier weekly showcase. How well do they do this?

To answer this question, the MNF Index evaluates the quality of Monday Night Football games immediately prior to kickoff to present a quality score illustrating the schedule-makers’ degree of success at presenting enticing games likely to live up to the expectations of a nationally televised, Monday-night event. The MNF Index therefore does not consider any in-game performance data.

The results, shown below through the current week, unambiguously support a clear conclusion: Monday Night Football never has been less worthy of its billing than in 2022. While a look into the deep numbers also reveals that the decline began in 2021, MNF’s quality has fallen off a cliff this season.

Continue reading

Halftime Score: Age statements for past Super Bowl halftime show performers

People say age is just a number. Here are some super numbers:

Extra credit awarded to Phil Collins and Shakira for performing at the Super Bowl on their respective birthdays.

From Wayne Train to Crazy Train: Dan Campbell is the Motor City’s new mad man, and also the Lions are going to kick you in the teeth and bite off your kneecap

For the woebegone Detroit Lions, this offseason has offered a fresh take on an old theme. Controlling owner Sheila Firestone Ford Hamp cleaned out most of the front office, something her mother and father had done before. This time, though, Hamp first brought in two Lions legends, Chris Spielman and Barry Sanders, to work on the task of hiring Detroit’s next general manager and head coach.

So far, the results of their work have received widespread praise. GM Brad Holmes, who came up as a scout with the Rams, was their first hire. With the Matt Millen era still fresh in the minds of many fans, and thoughts of suboptimal picks by Bob Quinn due to frictious relationships between players and coach Matt Patricia even fresher, the idea of a general manager with a modern take on scouting and a successful track record to match is quite exciting.

Today, the team formally introduced its new head coach, former Lions tight end Dan Campbell. After a ten-season NFL playing career that finished with three seasons in Detroit (he signed with the New Orleans Saints before the 2008 season but never played due to an injury), he worked as a coach for the Miami Dolphins– rising to interim head coach following the firing of Joe Philbin– and Saints.

Campbell’s approach to football was on full display during an hourlong media conference that peaked right around this moment:

This is not Patricia’s faux tough-guy act, and even if it ends up descending into a WWE-meets-Tom-Thibodeau disaster, we’re playing with house money here. The situation really cannot get worse. From a perspective of pure entertainment, no one loses like the Lions lose, and, whatever the result, Campbell showed today he’ll add much more than a spark to that entertainment value.

If you haven’t already concussed yourself trying to run through the nearest brick wall, you can watch Campbell’s entire appearance here.

InDirecTV: A battle over television access to NFL games continues

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court sat with a full bench for the first time since the passing of the long-tenured Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among other actions on Monday, the Court (Justice Amy Coney Barrett not participating) released an order in the antitrust lawsuit challenging NFL teams’ collective arrangement with DirecTV in which the former permit the latter to be the sole provider of live, out-of-market game telecasts through the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

On its face, the order is good news for those challenging that arrangement, because it allows their lawsuit to continue, letting stand a lower-court order that reversed an even-lower-court order that would have dismissed the challengers’ case.

But while the media coverage of yesterday’s order also noted the portion of the statement included with the order from Justice Brett Kavanaugh that the Supreme Court’s decision “should not necessarily be viewed as agreement with” the lower court’s decision to revive the case, I have not seen any further discussion of the entirety of Justice Kavanaugh’s statement, which goes much farther than what that out-of-context quotation might suggest.

More than a neutral, “we’re not saying one way or the other” comment, Justice Kavanaugh’s statement pours cold water on the hopes of those who saw this lawsuit as a vehicle to break up the NFL’s antiquated, frustrating, and expensive approach to delivering television access to its product. Most fundamentally, the statement suggests the possibility that the challengers may not have a right to bring their lawsuit at all: “This Court’s case law authorizes suits by direct purchasers but bars suits by indirect purchasers. The plaintiffs here did not purchase a product from the NFL or any team, and may therefore be barred from bringing suit against the NFL and its teams.” (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.) And even if the challengers do have a right to sue, their claims may fail in substance if the NFL and its member teams are organized and operate as a cohesive legal unit:

Under the existing contract, the 32 NFL teams have authorized the NFL to sell the television rights for out-of-market games to a single buyer, DirecTV. The plaintiffs argue, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that antitrust law may require each team to negotiate an individualized contract for televising only its own games. But that conclusion appears to be in substantial tension with antitrust principles and precedents. The NFL and its member teams operate as a joint venture. And antitrust law likely does not require that the NFL and its member teams compete against each other with respect to television rights.

(Citations omitted.)

To be sure, these are the preliminary views of one justice on a nine-member court that might never see this case again. If the case does return to the Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh’s expressed concerns might not be relevant to the questions at issue for the Court at that time, or, if they are, they might not be shared by a sufficient number of his fellow justices to be consequential.

As the case heads back to the trial court, however, Justice Kavanaugh’s comments could prove influential and find their way into the analysis of a judge who already has shown some disinclination toward the challengers’ claims and, more certainly, the arguments of the league and teams.

DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package may survive this legal challenge, but the service separately is facing financial difficulties that could render the lawsuit practically moot. Five years after buying it for $49 billion, AT&T has been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell DirecTV as it hemorrhages subscribers, the rate of losses recently slowing only because it’s running out of subscribers to lose. With the NFL’s agreement with DirecTV set to expire in the next year or two, attrition rather than litigation might be the most fruitful course for those seeking more football-viewing options on Sunday afternoons. Stay tuned.

LEAKED: ALDLAND’s list of the most boring professional sports teams

Since the sports world ground to a halt this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the actual world, sports fans have been waiting with great anticipation for the return of sports. Now, the return of sports has arrived, but with it has not come, I don’t think, a full delivery on the anticipation with which sports fans had been waiting. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but sport is spectacle, and without the full-scope resumption of the sporting surround, satisfaction escapes us. It’s one thing to watch a telecast of regular-season baseball in an empty chamber. Quite another for playoff hockey, playoff basketball, or even the circumstance of regular-season NFL or college football, or so I would assume; I haven’t mustered the mustard. Especially meaningful team sports, it turns out, really are team events. It’s difficult to summon the scene in solitude.

It’s particularly difficult to do so when the teams involved are boring. I wasn’t going to release this list of the most boring professional sports teams before it was ready, but then the list leaked out, so you might as well view it, in its current state, here, presented in descending order of boringness.  Continue reading

Rob Gronkowski retired to avoid a trade to the Detroit Lions

We’re trying our best to bring you positive news from the sports world during these times that also are trying, but it’s tough to find the energy to put a positive spin on this one. As penance, the group’s laughter at the end should be the Lions’ new fight song for at least as long as it takes them to win a playoff game.

(HT: Fredi The PizzaMan)

NFL Draft Jam

Yesterday, the NFL held round one of its 2019 draft on Lower Broadway in Nashville, which, predictably, meant the night’s biggest news involved a bachelorette party and a Taylor Swift song premiere.

Realistically, though, when you look back on this night a few years from now, all you’re going to remember is whether the leadership of your favorite pro football team found its generational franchise player of the future or continued to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, only this time the Lions are unduly obsessed with tight ends instead of wide receivers. If you’re at the point where the thought of NFL roster construction makes you sick to your stomach, or maybe you’re seeing visions of Lombardi trophies, or maybe you’re somewhere in between and just thankful you were smart enough to plan your pre-wedding bar crawl for literally any time and place other than last night (a Thursday, I’ll just pause to note here) in Nashville and therefore did not appear on a now-viral piece of local news footage that may or may not send a tremble through the foundations of your anticipated marriage, this week’s Jam is for you:

And, if you just want T-Swift’s new video, I get that. Find it here.