– Bill Annechino
If you want a quick recap of what’s happened in sports since my last column, there are really only three things you need to know:
The first thing is that the Thursday night game was yet another non-competitive game, this time by way of a Falcons blowout. It has to be considered troubling for Tampa Bay that Jameis Winston’s development has largely plateaued. This is only his second season in the league, so it’s possible for him to take a big step forward between this year and next year (think Derek Carr), but you have to think that the Buccaneers were expecting to be getting more out of their franchise quarterback by now.
The second thing is that Golden State vs. Oklahoma City was everything I wanted it to be, and then some. Can you put a price on Russell Westbrook pushing KD out of town by playing selfish hero ball to the point that Durant felt like he could never win a title playing with Westbrook, then Westbrook spending all summer and the early part of this season acting like a petty child (culminating before the game, when he poked fun at Durant’s photography hobby by showing up to the game wearing an official photographer vest), then Durant coming out, not acknowledging any of his former teammates, and going off for 29 points in the first half? I really enjoyed that.
The third, and most important thing that happened is that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in a game that I consider to be the greatest baseball game ever played. In my lifetime, I believe that there are 5 contenders for the greatest baseball game ever played. Since this is my column, and I love baseball, would you be so kind as to indulge me if I want to rank them now? Thanks! As a side note, the MLB is awesome and has full game footage of all of these games on YouTube. I’ve included the links.
Honorable mention: 2004 American League Championship Series: Game 5 (Yankees Vs. Red Sox)
It’s a tough pick between Games 4, 5 and 6 from this series. Game 4 was the Dave Roberts game, where Roberts stole on Mariano Rivera, the game went into extras and David Ortiz walked off in the 12th. Game 6 was the Bloody Sock game, where Curt Schilling went out and pitched 7 innings of one run baseball with a surgically repaired ankle that started leaking blood during the game. But Game 5 was the most memorable game in probably the most famous series ever played. This was the 14-inning marathon that featured the second straight David Ortiz walk off hit. This game lasted 5 hours and 49 minutes, and was probably the tensest baseball game I can ever remember watching that wasn’t a World Series game. The Red Sox had clawed their way back into this series after letting the Yankees get out to a 3-0 lead in the series. You know the rest. Add in that it was Mike Mussina vs. Pedro Martinez, and you can see why this classic came so close to making my list. I do believe that World Series games carry infinitely more pressure and prestige, though, so I didn’t feel right picking an ALCS game to go on my top 5.
This is the Madison Bumgarner game. Bumgarner had already pitched twice in this series, putting an inferior Giants team in position to win the World Series for the third time since 2010. After what we saw with Corey Kluber on Wednesday night, most people understand that asking a pitcher to go 3 times in a 7 game series is a lot. For that pitcher to deliver all 3 times is unheard of, unless that pitcher is Madison Bumgarner. If you remember this Giants team, they were really doing it with smoke and mirrors. The Royals were clearly the better team in this series; they had better hitting, fielding, and pitching. What they didn’t have was Madison Bumgarner. After throwing a complete game shutout in Game 5, there were questions about what Bumgarner’s availability would be on only 2 days of rest. The answer was 5 innings of shutout baseball. I will never forget watching this game and seeing Bumgarner come out of the bullpen. As soon as he walked onto the field, you knew the game was over and the Royals were finished. Add in the fact that a fielding blunder caused the tying run to end up on 3rd base with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, and you have one of the all-time great endings to the greatest postseason pitching performance of all time.
This was the World Series where Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson put the Diamondbacks on their backs. Schilling and Roger Clemens were the starters in this game, and both pitched brilliantly. Randy Johnson came in for the save in the 8th inning, and Joe Torre brought in Mariano Rivera, only the greatest postseason pitcher in baseball history. There’s no suspense in writing this now, but Luis Gonzalez walking off against Mariano Rivera was one of the biggest upsets in sports history, and this game is one of the greatest ever played.
The Jack Morris game. Morris vs. John Smoltz, another one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever. Morris threw 10 innings of shutout baseball, in what is the single greatest pitching performance ever. Honestly, this game would rank higher if it had been more back and forth. As it stands, it has the greatest individual World Series performance ever, and the third-greatest game of all time is not a bad consolation prize. But these next two games truly had it all.
I can’t tell if this is the David Freese game or the Josh Hamilton game. Actually, it’s probably the David Freese game. The Cardinals were down to their last strike of the series; first in the bottom of the 9th, when Freese hit a game-tying triple. In the bottom of the 10th, they were also down to their final strike after Josh Hamilton hit a massive 2-run home run in the top of the tenth. However, Lance Berkman would come through in the bottom of the tenth, driving in the tying run on a 2 strike pitch. In the bottom of the 11th, Freese hit a walk off home run and sent the series to a seventh game. Up until Wednesday night, this was the greatest game I had ever seen, and if all things were equal, this may still be the greatest game ever. However, all things are not equal, which brings us to…
- 2016 World Series: Game 7 (Indians vs. Cubs)
Ok, so I lied about the full games being available for all of these games, since this one isn’t uploaded yet. This also happened earlier in the week, so you really don’t need to relive it already. How many amazing moments did this game have? How about Kris Bryant playing the game of his life? Or Joe Maddon pulling Kyle Hendricks too soon, Jon Lester and David Ross giving up 2 runs, and Ross immediately getting one of those runs back with a home run in his final MLB game? What about Rajai Davis smashing a game-tying home run in the 8th inning off of Aroldis Chapman? Or then when Chapman came out in the bottom of the 9th and shut down the Indians? That’s an underrated gutsy moment, by the way: After giving up a huge, momentum-shifting home run, Chapman had no right to come back out and fire a scoreless inning, but that’s exactly what he did. I’m not a big Chapman fan due to his unfortunate habit of bringing guns into his fistfights with his girlfriends, but that was a huge moment. And then the rain delay! You guys remember the rain delay, right? And Anthony Rizzo visibly saying “Oh my God” on the bases in the tenth? When the Cubs finally won the World Series, of course they did it in the greatest baseball game ever played. A lot of people talk a lot of smack about baseball. Growing up in New York, I was around a lot of Yankees fans as a kid, and a lot of them seem to have stopped following the sport as intensely, but last night provided vindication for those of us who never left. Baseball truly is America’s Pastime, and when it’s really working (like it was last night) there’s nothing else like it.
Oh yeah, there are some NFL games this week, aren’t there? Let’s run em down.
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: Remember when this was the NFL’s marquee matchup? That was back when these two teams represented the hardest hitting defenses in the league, and there was genuine bad blood. Ben Roethlisberger is also rumored to be playing in this one, so there is a chance that the high-flying Pittsburgh offense will be on full display in this one. Baltimore is also 1 game out of first place, so there’s some intrigue here in that they could win this game and move into first place, I think. Pittsburgh and Baltimore would both be 4-4, with the Bengals at 3-4-1, so I believe that 4-4 takes precedent.
Why you probably don’t: Ok, so you do remember when this was the NFL’s marquee matchup, right? That wasn’t just a rhetorical question. Unfortunately, those days have come and gone. Baltimore still plays tough defense, but there’s nothing exciting about their brand of football. Pittsburgh’s defense, meanwhile, is a sieve. I guess you could do worse for watching an early game, though. Hey, speaking of doing worse, check this out.
Dallas @ Cleveland (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: You’re Jerry Jones.
Why you probably don’t: The worst team in football against the best team in the NFC. Not interested.
Jacksonville @ Kansas City (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: Another shitty game that I wouldn’t watch a second of if I could help it. But, I watch Red Zone on Sundays, so I will invariably catch some of this matchup of the King of Garbage time vs. Nick Foles. Is anyone curious about whether or not the Jaguars’ offense will look better after they fired their offensive coordinator? Yeah, me neither.
Why you probably don’t: Lots of reasons; really, there’s no wrong reason not to care about this game.
New York Jets @ Miami (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: Wow, the NFL is really laying it on thick with the bad early games this week, huh? I actually started the Miami defense in one of my fantasy leagues because I don’t have much faith in the Jets’ offense, so I care about that. I guess I could hit you with my patented “you might care about this if you’re a fan of one of these teams” line, but my heart really isn’t in this one. I’m sorry guys.
Why you probably don’t: See my aforementioned apathy.
Philadelphia @ New York Giants (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: NFC East football! True story, I’ve been to a Buffalo Wild Wings once in my life, and it was for the Giants/Eagles game when the Giants punted to DeSean Jackson and it went poorly. Any time there’s an NFC East matchup, sign me up. I rant about the NFL and how the on-field product is terrible this year, but I’m still a sucker for two Northeast teams (or one Northeast team and one Central Texas team) playing each other. Will Odell Beckham light the Eagles’ secondary on fire or will Jim Schwartz figure out a way to keep him under wraps?
Why you probably don’t: Not really sure to be honest. In a schedule filled with garbage, this game is an interesting one.
Detroit @ Minnesota (1:00 EST)
Why you might care: You know what? I do care about this game. Matt Stafford is quietly having an extremely productive stretch of football, and Minnesota desperately needs to get right. In addition, the Vikings fired/forced their offensive coordinator to resign (or he just resigned on his own) this week, and I think that could bode well for them. I have long had respect for Norv Turner, but his game plan is terribly inflexible and cost them a win against the Bears last week. There’s something to be said for having an offensive philosophy, especially one that has led to the success that Turner has had, but the Vikings have been absolutely ravaged by injuries this year, particularly to their offensive line and running backs, and Turner never adjusted the play calling to account for this. If you watched that terrible Monday Night game to the end, you may have noticed that, when the Vikings were in desperation mode, they went with a ton of quick passes designed to shield Bradford from a pass rush that his line couldn’t contain, and they had success moving the ball. Hopefully Pat Shurmur has a more West Coast-style gameplan to help take advantage of the things Bradford does well (throw accurate, quick routes) and shield him from the things he doesn’t do well (get murdered by a pass rush). Also, if the Lions win this game, they will be tied with the Vikings in the win column, so there’s that divisional angle to be watching for.
Why you probably don’t: See, I think this game is intriguing, but you might not because the Vikings have looked dominant at times and the Lions have looked bad. One of us is right, and I think it’s me. Watch this game, if you can.
Carolina @ Los Angeles (4:05 EST)
Why you might care: It’s a good thing that there are more than 2 late games this week, because these games all suck. I don’t care about this game at all. Hopefully Cam Newton’s conversation with Roger Goodell went well. Maybe he’s taking a page out of LeBron’s book and asking the commissioner for help winning is going to lead him to a title this year.
Why you probably don’t: There’s a lot of reasons not to care about this game. The Panthers are having a lost season. The Rams are just terrible, and every week that goes by without Jared Goff getting a chance to play makes me lose more and more respect for Jeff Fisher, which I didn’t have much of to begin with.
New Orleans @ San Francisco (4:05 EST)
Why you might care: I care because I have a lot of Saints across my fantasy teams and I like watching Drew Brees play. Besides that, I have no idea why someone would care about this.
Why you probably don’t: In lieu of me saying something generically stupid like “no sane person would care about this game”, I’d like to point out that this is a rematch of one of my favorite games ever. So, in the spirit of finding a silver lining in a boring game, here are the highlights of that game.
Tennessee @ San Diego (4:25 EST)
Why you might care: I’m actually kind of into this game. Tennessee really hasn’t been the worst team to watch, since they move the football. San Diego is the best bad team in football, with an offense that can look high-powered at times. There’s also a weak slate of late games, so I’ll probably be splitting most of my time between this and the Green Bay game.
Why you probably don’t: I just said that I would watch this game, so let me take this opportunity to mention that Marcus Mariota really hasn’t shown the signs of development that you would like to see from a quarterback with his pedigree. He will give you a game where he posts a 90+ QBR one week, then come right back with a single digit QBR the next week. Tough to figure this guy out, but consistency is a skill (it’s an especially valuable skill for quarterbacks, actually) and Mariota does not appear to have it. It’s always tough to cut bait with a high draft pick, but at what point does Tennessee need to admit that Mariota is not their long-term answer at quarterback? I think that they may have been able to recoup a first-round pick for him if they had shopped him at the deadline. As it stands, they still may be able to get a first or second-round pick for him in the offseason, if they were to try to trade him. Combine that extra pick with the treasure trove of extra picks they already have, and this is definitely the best time for the Titans to consider moving on from Mariota. They have drafted well the last few seasons, and now boast possibly the best offensive line in football, as well as offensive playmakers like Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe. It would certainly be unorthodox, but I believe the time is right for them to cut bait on Mariota.
Indianapolis @ Green Bay (4:25 EST)
Why you might care: This would appear to be one of the better matchups of the week. Indianapolis is still clinging to a possible playoff spot, and Minnesota’s recent troubles make it seem as if Green Bay could actually be the best team in the division if Aaron Rodgers continues to play well. Sounds like a fun game, right?
Why you probably don’t: Not so fast. This has all the makings of one of those games that look good on paper and just fail to deliver. I could just as easily see this being a game where the Colts’ offense scores like 13 points or something and the Packers get to 20 and we are robbed of what could have been a shoot-out. I’ll be watching, but I will also be fully aware of the possibility that this game fails to deliver.
Denver @ Oakland (Sunday Night Football)
Why you might care: This is definitely the best matchup of the weekend. You got Oakland playing their best football since 2002, on the strength of Derek Carr taking a mega-leap in his development and establishing himself as one of the game’s elites. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree currently form the league’s best 1-2 combination at receiver. The Oakland defense is starting to come together. And yet, the Raiders still don’t have me convinced. A closer look at their record reveals that they don’t have a win against a single team with a winning record. Their only win of more than 1 touchdown was against the Jaguars, who are the Jaguars. The Cheifs game was their first real test of the season, and they only scored ten points in that game en route to losing. This Broncos game is their second test of the season; if they win, then I will be forced to take them seriously. If they lose, I will consider Oakland more of a pretender than a contender (see what I did there? It rhymes). Meanwhile, Denver is also 6-2, but they’re flying under the radar and maybe they shouldn’t be. They only have one win against a team with a winning record, but that was a dominant win. They are also the defending Super Bowl champions and I can’t remember the last time a defending champ started out this strong and got this little respect. Are we a little too quick to pencil in Oakland as the new kings of the West? Or is Kansas City secretly the best team in that division? There are a lot of questions to be answered, and this game will go a long way towards doing that. If Aqib Talib doesn’t end up playing, this game gets a whole lot more interesting. I would have to assume that, if he is healthy, the gameplan is to stick him on Crabtree and Chris Harris Jr. on Amari Cooper. Talib’s physical style matches up better with Crabtree, who is a legitimate bully. Without Talib, the plan becomes a lot less cut and dry. I will be watching this game, and I am interested.
Why you probably don’t: No idea. This is the best matchup of the week. Watch it.
Buffalo @ Seattle (Monday Night Football)
Why you might care: You’re either a Bills fan or consider yourself to be the 2012th man (get it? Because Seahawks fans didn’t start supporting their team until 2012) if you care about this game. Or maybe you’re returning wide receiver Percy Harvin and you have a chip on your shoulder facing the team that you won a Super Bowl with and later traded you because you’re a locker room cancer.
Why you probably don’t: I knew we couldn’t keep the momentum going from the Sunday Night game. There was no way that both of the primetime games (I don’t consider Thursday games part of the NFL weekend) could be good matchups. Buffalo is a deeply flawed team heading into Seattle, who is also a deeply flawed team but are better than the Bills. The last time the Seahawks were in primetime, the game ended in a 6-6 tie. Hopefully this game goes just as well.
Even with an underwhelming slate of games, I’m still amped up for the NFL weekend. Fantasy football leagues are starting to get towards the playoffs, and I’m still riding the high from that World Series. Enjoy the weekend, everybody!
– Bill Annechino (Twitter)