Last 2 Weeks in Review
What a month of sports September has been. The return of the NFL, ridiculous NBA playoff games, Hockey playoffs, baseball’s season reaching its final quarter, soccer starting up in Europe, and College Sports news. This week’s State of Sports details it all.
This was the first week of NFL football, and as much as it would have shocked me from a month ago, it went surprisingly well. While I would love to take the time to summarize all the games, Mishal already did a great job of this in his article this past Wednesday titled “The Return of Football.” Instead I would like to talk a little about the state of COVID-19 and the NFL. So far there have been shockingly little cases. This is shocking because like the MLB the NFL decided not to form a bubble allowing the players to live at home. While the NFL has put in place the possibility of sharp fines if players are participating in events they shouldn’t be, it’s still shocking to see how well such a large player base is doing at isolating and focusing on the goal of playing football each Sunday. Here’s to the hope that the players will keep it up and we can have a relatively smooth season this year.
While the players are doing well, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the fans, or at least the chiefs fans. One Chiefs fan tested positive and as a result, the Chiefs organization has now requested that 10 other fans self-quarantine as well. While I think it was ridiculous that some NFL teams were allowed to have fans while others could not, I wonder how many cases of fans getting COVID-19 it would take for the NFL to institute a league-wide ban on in-person fan attendance at games.
Denver Nuggets. That’s it, that’s the tweet. No, but seriously, this Nuggets team is fearless and is one of the best young teams I have seen in a while. They were able to overcome not one, but two, 3-1 series deficits. The first one against the Utah Jazz was impressive, but most people had Denver winning the series. The Nuggets were not playing up to their potential until they fell down 3-1. Then comes the series against title favorite L.A. Clippers. Going down 3-1 against a team with Kawhi, PG13, Sweet Lou and his baby back ribs, Trez Harrel, and Marcus Morris should be the end. However, the Clippers got complacent and were more focused on the Lakers, when they weren’t finished with the business in front of them and surrendered three double digit lead games to fall 4-3 in the series. The Nuggets run has been incredible, but I predict it will be over for them in 5 games against the Lakers. Their first game will be tonight!
In other news, Giannis unfollowed all of his Bucks teammates on social media, but he met with the Bucks owner to discuss their future together. Co-owner Marc Larsy said that the team would pay the luxury tax in order to give Giannis the supporting cast he needs to make it to the Finals. Just a reminder for everyone, Giannis is still under contract for the 2020-21 season and is eligible to sign a supermax deal right now. What will Giannis end up doing before the start of next season? Will he demand a trade? Will he sign a supermax deal? Will he play the season out and decide after the 2021 playoffs? Only time will tell.
Sticking to the Eastern Conference, Game 1 of the ECF went into OT where a Bam Adeyabo block on Jayson Tatum helped seal the victory for the Heat. In Game 2, the Heat overcame a double digit deficit to win. That means the series is 2-0 Heat. Heat in 6!
The 2nd no hitter of the shortened season has been thrown, this time by an extremely unheralded pitcher. Alec Mills is 28 years old and has only earned 10 total decisions in his career. In fact the only reason he’s in the bigs is because of an injury to Jose Quintana. Baseball has always been full of guys making the best of even the smallest opportunities. In the AL the three division leaders and likely division winners are all unique from last years. The A’s and Rays were our two wild card teams in 2019 so that hasn’t been too unexpected, but the White Sox have surprised everyone with the American League’s best overall record. The top of the NL has been less surprising; the Braves and Cubs had two of the best records in baseball last year and appear to have their divisions under wraps in 2020. The Cubs lead the central but that has some to do with the Cardinals and Brewers losing pieces due to injury or free agency. The races for the many wildcard spots in the new 16 team playoff format are starting to wrap up as well, as the distance between each league’s 8 seed and 9 seed is growing. The Cardinals, Brewers, and Mets both have outside shots at a playoff spot, but could easily slip in with a little luck and a hot streak. The AL race is a bit more grim for those outside of the playoffs as the Blue Jays hold a 4.5 game lead over the 9th place Mariners, essentially locking in the playoff teams in the AL. Teams in the thick of the playoff race will play for seeding as being the home team an extra time is a small advantage that other sports don’t get without fans. With the regular season almost over, this huge playoff bracket will be extremely exciting, possibly leading to really interesting teams making deep runs, and with less off days between games, teams will have to go much deeper into their bullpens and rotations throughout the playoffs. Last year the champion Nationals relied on just 6 pitchers almost exclusively throughout the playoffs. Teams certainly will not be able to do that this year, so back ends of staffs being strong will be much more important. The playoffs start on September 29th and we anxiously await their arrival.
Big Ten College football is back. The University presidents voted unanimously to have football return, and it is set to begin again on October 23rd. There will be eight games played in conference, with a championship game on December 19th. The conference is adopting “significant medical protocols” to make sure this shortened season doesn’t end early.3 There have been multiple reports of student athletes with COVID-19 at Big Ten schools, but the worst school, by far, has been LSU where “most” of their players contract the virus.4 This doesn’t give me hope that the season will go as planned, but we’ll have to see. An argument can be made that these schools are putting children at risk for the financial gain of the institution only, but people seem to care more about sports returning.
Division I college hoops will begin the season on November 25th. This is only 15 days after the originally planned start date. There is a lot of uncertainty with multiple conferences not committed to playing yet and smaller schools not able to play bigger opponents. These uncertainties will have to be dealt with in the next two months. There are options for bubble-like tournaments in Florida, but it is to be seen if there are enough teams to attend. The number of questions far exceeds the answers at this point, but we will be watching to provide the most accurate information for you.
The most exciting time of year for hockey fans is here – the Stanley Cup Finals. In a unique, COVID-19-shortened season, we are finally down to the last two teams. Over the past few years we have seen many of the usual suspects reach the finals. Teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins have been consistently dominant over the last decade. Two of these teams were able to finish the job and others at least appeared, and the first team in this preview is no different. One of the teams to reach the finals this year, The Tampa Bay Lightning, have also been among the best teams of this decade, but they have not been able to get the job done. Over the course of their short lifetime as a franchise (first season in the 1992-1993 season) they have reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice. They won in their first appearance in 2004, and they lost in 2015. Their opponent, the Dallas Stars, may be seen as more of an underdog in this series. Their team this season really looks like the classic comeback story. They got off to a rough start, firing their coach in the process, and looked unlikely to make the playoffs early on. Interim Head Coach Rick Bowness had different ideas though. Dallas was able to surge toward the latter half of the shortened season to have a chance to qualify for one of the top four seeds. After securing the third seed, the Stars have quickly worked their way through their Western Conference opponents to reach their first Stanley Cup Finals this millennium. Over the life of their franchise they have appeared in the finals four times (1981, 1991, 1999, and 2000) and they won the franchise’s only Stanley cup in 1999. We are expecting this to be a great series with both teams seeking their first title in over a decade.
Many international soccer leagues have started or are scheduled to start the season in the coming week. There was one incident that is worth looking at in a Ligue 1 game. Olympique Marseille beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in a game that saw 5 people sent off. Yes, 5. The only time I have seen 5 people get sent off is when I play the Red Card game in Fifa where you initially try to forfeit because of a lack of players on the pitch. However, this was not like Fifa. Neymar struck the back of Gonzalez’s head, which initiated a brawl. Neymar insisted that a Marseille player said something racist – which after the game Neymar said he was called a “Monkey S.O.B.” This is the latest chapter of racism within soccer, but one of the few instances where racism is directly on the field rather than a fan in the stands. UEFA needs to investigate what happened and make the correct call to ensure players will not engage in racist abuse towards anyone and when fans are allowed back, to ensure they will not be racist either. It’s a long process, but it is one that needs to happen now more than ever.
What we showed the lights on
The “Enter Your Week With Eli” blog posts were about the ascendance of black quarterbacks in the NFL and the new Jerseys of NFL teams. We had two “What’s the Midweek Matter?” blog posts about American Football/International Futbol and the situation with Lionel Messi. We also had a special post where the When The Lights Go Out team gave our predictions on the 2020 NFL schedule! Last week’s podcast w, entitled “Are Sports Teams Worth the Cost?” chronicles the unique phenomenon of American sports teams changing cities. The podcast summary details this and adds some thoughts by Eli.
What’s coming up?
“Enter Your Week With Eli,” our Monday blog post, will look at the MVP race of the NFL. “What’s the Midweek Matter?” the Wednesday post, will dive into the opt-ins and opt-outs of the 2020 College Football season. The upcoming podcast will feature a look into the ever-tumultuous journey of Spring Football Leagues. We’ve got more interesting stories coming for you so stay tuned!