Monday, September 03, 2018

Rob's Fearless (And Always Wrong) 2018 NFL Predictions!!

It's becoming a Labor Day tradition, and I need one, since my old tradition is no longer with us. Time for me to completely embarrass myself and try to predict the NFL season which begins Thursday night, apparently.

See, I'm so wrapped up with both high school football and now Randolph-Macon football that, frankly, I've had little time to really focus on the NFL. I see headlines (and I didn't have to go to Redskins Training Camp this year), read a bit, follow the local kids, and that's about it.

Which will probably be proven by what you're about to read. At some point, the balance of power in the league has to change, right? Are the Eagles a one-year wonder? Will Tom Brady and Drew Brees ever be proven to be human? And what in the world is going on with my beloved Raiders?

Let's answer these questions and more! Likely, the answers will be wrong.  :)

THE NFC (should be on CBS, is on Fox for the, gulp, 25TH SEASON, with an occasional appearance on CBS...)

NFC EAST:

1) Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): The champs win their division by default because, let's face it, who else is actually going to challenge them? The quarterback situation is dicey, their defense will be relied upon to do a lot of the work, but they'll get to the playoffs, and that's about it.

2) Dallas Cowboys (8-8): I'm a huge fun of running the football. Chew the clock, earn the first downs, keep the other offense pensively waiting on their sideline. Everything in Dallas is predicated on their offensive line giving Ezekiel Elliott opportunity. It'll happen enough to where the Cowboys will be achingly close to a playoff spot until Christmas, and most of the talk in December as that run falls short will be, "is this it for Jason Garrett"? The answer is, likely, yes.

3) New York Giants (6-10): Um, hold on fellow Giants fans. It's Saquon Barkley, not Charles. What I mean is, let's give the new guy some time to get used to NFL defenses, and not expect him to race 80 yards to paydirt every week. He's going to be good, but as is the case in football, he's also one play away from turning into another Penn State running back that was once the top pick in the draft. I love the Giants, but Eli will not replicate Peyton circa 2013, I've never been high on Beckham, and now that he's been paid, I'm skeptical of his production. And our defense still stinks.

4) Washington Redskins (3-13): I like Jay Gruden. I really do. But I think it's been exposed that he's a good offensive coordinator. When everyone panics because your rookie running back tears his knee up, how good was your offense to begin with? And, why trade your best defensive player for a quarterback who can get you through the fall, but withers when January rolls around? I like Alex Smith, too. But he's not a playoff quarterback at this point. A long, long year in our Nation's Capital. Bring on the Caps.

NFC NORTH:

1) Green Bay Packers (12-4): They're back. We learned (duh!) last year that a healthy Aaron Rodgers means everything in Cheesehead Country. I think Mike McCarthy actually has a patent on the first cloning device in the world, it's just hidden in a bunker underneath Lambeau Field. Which unnamed receivers we don't know will become All-Pro candidates by Thanksgiving? I'm sure they'll be one. I think the bigger story this season will be the return of the Packers defense. They'll have to improve to stop the Vikings, and, I believe, the Lions. This division will be lots of fun to watch.

2) Minnesota Vikings (9-7): I am not a Kirk Cousins fan. I am a fan of his ability to make excellent financial decisions for himself, however. When all is said and done, he may go down in athletic history as the richest man never to win a playoff game. As for the rest of the team, I was very impressed with how they handled losing Darwin Cook so early. By December, Viking fans forgot he was on IR. And, I like Mike Zimmer. He's a throwback coach like Bruce Arians was. But this year I think the defense finds out how different it is to play Green Bay with #12. Fighting for a wild card bid.

3) Detroit Lions (7-9): It's hard to believe this is Matthew Stafford's tenth season. And, despite a lot of good numerical seasons, still no solid results for a team still cursing Bobby Layne. Again, he'll lead a few comeback wins, likely lose to the Rams the first Sunday of December to end playoff hopes, again, and the never-ending cycle of Detroit Lions football rolls on towards a new decade of futility. That town deserves better.

4) Chicago Bears (5-11): Yes, they got Mack from my Raiders. We'll see if giving up two first round picks was worth it. I'm nowhere near sold on Mitchell, er, ah, Mitch Trubisky. I do like their running game, but unless they keep time of possession 40+ minutes against Rodgers and Stafford (and maybe even Cousins), I don't think they can score enough.

NFC SOUTH:

1) New Orleans Saints (13-3): Hopes are sky high in New Orleans, and rightfully so. They were one poor defensive decision away from the NFC Championship last year (the one time a prevent defense would be useful!), and there's a lot to like about this team's Super Bowl possibilities. I'm surprised at the lack of coverage of the trade for Teddy Bridgewater (a good article on it is here), as, three years from now, it will likely be a more important event than the Mack trade. Add in Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, and my first pick in my fantasy draft, Alvin Kamara, and what's not to like?

2) Atlanta Falcons (10-6): Good team, great receiver, another team with high expectations. It's also hard to believe it's Matt Ryan's eleventh season at quarterback. The Falcons never go a decade with one guy. Sadly, it won't result in a Super Bowl title. This season, the Falcons are good, but not good enough. Sounds like last year, and 2016.

3) Carolina Panthers (7-9): Tough losses in the division doom Carolina's playoff hopes, and age will begin to show on the defensive side.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14): This team is an absolute mess. And they don't have a leader at quarterback. Their September is nightmarish, and with perhaps the best division in football to deal with, they'll never get any traction. Who takes over as head coach next year? Who becomes the GM? Why did they get rid of Tony Dungy again?

NFC WEST:

1) Seattle Seahawks (9-7): I can't vote against Russell Wilson. He's got moxie, and will provide the will for a team in definite transition. Of all eight divisions this season, I think this is the one that will not turn out the way most people think it will.

2) Los Angeles Rams (9-7): This team has so much talent, I wonder if it became a team of "too much, too soon". Gathering talent, and names, doesn't necessarily mean chemistry, the ability to overcome adversity, etc. I'm intrigued by year three for Goff, and I like Kupp. Aaron Donald is signed, so no distraction there. But this won't be the 14-win team some people think they'll be.

3) Arizona Cardinals (6-10): Maybe in the biggest surprise of the season, Sam Bradford won't get hurt until around Thanksgiving. Sadly, it will mean that, after a 6-4 start, Arizona loses six straight, and Larry Fitzgerald's final season, I hate to say, will end in very disappointing fashion. He deserved better. One of the classiest acts in sports history.

4) San Francisco 49ers (5-11): Yes, Jimmy Garappolo will lose his first NFL game. And then some. This team is too hyped, and not ready, especially on the defensive side. But there is a foundation for a bright future. It's just not now.

********
AFC EAST:

1) New England Patriots (14-2): The Patriots have been handed such an easy schedule. Not strength of schedule, but the fact that so many big encounters just happen to be at Gillette Stadium. The Colts, Chiefs, Vikings, Packers, they all go to New England. By the time the Patriots have to go to Heinz Field in mid-December, it won't matter. They'll have the top seed, again, in the AFC. This is all predicated by having Tom Brady all season. If, for some reason, 2018 becomes 2008, this all goes off the rails. But expect the Patriots to wrap up the division by just after Thanksgiving.

2) New York Jets (7-9): Sam Darnold for Rookie of The Year? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but if Todd Bowles and company felt comfortable enough to trade off Teddy Bridgewater either A) he's good, or B) they're stupid and will be unemployed on New Year's Day. I'm leaning to A), and they might even challenge the Patriots in their first meeting November 25th. Not win, but challenge.

3) Buffalo Bills (5-11): Who's the quarterback? What week will LeSean McCoy get the usual nagging injury? When does a town deserving, like Detroit, finally have some real hope?

4) Miami Dolphins (3-13): It's time for Miami to completely reboot. There's really nothing more to say.

AFC NORTH:

1) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): Another season, another Steeler division title. This time, however, it isn't their dominance, it's their residency in a down division. Baltimore is beginning a transition which started when they inexplicably lost to Cincinnati in the final minute New Year's Eve, the Bengals are sliding, and, and, and then there's Cleveland. The one major plus? JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to be a stud. With Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, I think I could throw for nine touchdowns.  :)

2) Baltimore Ravens (7-9): This will likely be Joe Flacco's last hurrah (from the "hard to believe department", it's his eleventh season, too), but I think the Ravens are better served by him actually failing than say, him getting injured and Lamar Jackson hitting the field too soon. He needs to watch for awhile. I think he can be a good NFL quarterback, but needs some nurturing. Collins is key to their team's hopes in the backfield. And Justin Tucker is always worth a win or two.

3) Cleveland Browns (5-11): Yes, they take a step forward, no, they shouldn't throw Baker Mayfield to the wolves. Yes, he has a future, no, he's not "the next Drew Brees" right now. Remember Brees in 2005 when San Diego was pushing him out the door? His best days were ahead of him. If any fan base can be told to hang on a bit for, finally, a franchise quarterback, it shouldn't have to be Cleveland, but they can handle it. They had to live in "LeBron exile" for four years, too. Go with Tyrod Taylor for now to pave through the heavy brush. Now, if Josh Gordon makes it through 16 games, and I pray he does, this could be 6-10.

4) Cincinnati Bengals (4-12): I hate to say this about Rachel's team, but their window of opportunity slammed shut when they prematurely ran off the field in the playoffs three years ago. I still have Week 17 of NFL RedZone on DVR. I turn it on nightly when I go to sleep because our dog, Harry J., has to have light in the room when he sleeps in our bedroom while Rachel is in school. Near the end is the crazy final drive against Baltimore that made Andy Dalton a celebrity in Buffalo. The Bengals may want to trade him there before the end of this year. Of all fan bases in the NFL, I think the one most robbed is Cincinnati's. Mike Brown is a terrible owner. Oh, and that RedZone? It had, on the bottom ticker, all day, the reports that Marvin Lewis would be let go. And he's still there. Good Lord.

AFC SOUTH:

1) Houston Texans (12-4): How 2017 would have been so, so different had the injury bug not decimated Houston. If everyone is back and back to normal, this team has the best chance at knocking off the Patriots. Their #2 seed in the postseason is in spite of the depth in their division. They may even start 0-2, but win the division. Watson is for real, there's no doubt. And Hopkins hasn't really had the chance to have a full season with a fully-prepared franchise quarterback. Their numbers this year may be insane.

2) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6): Again, the Jaguars will be in the mix. Again, their defense will be handling the heavy work. Again, they'll have success despite their quarterback. Leonard Fournette needs to lead the league in rushing, and the Jags need to lead the league in time of possession.

3) Tennessee Titans (7-9): I think the Titans overachieved last year. I also don't think they handled their head coaching situation very well. Yes, we're behind you! Oh, you lost in New England? You're fired! Now Mike Vrabel takes over. Derrick Henry needs to lead the league in rushing.

4) Indianapolis Colts (5-11): Ever seen Andrew Luck's Twitter feed? It's interesting. He talks like an old school war general writing letters back home about the latest battles. This year, his 280 character limit will be tested as he goes to battle with guys whose first names he doesn't even know. A lot has changed in three years.

AFC WEST:

1) Los Angeles Chargers (10-6): The comeback is complete. The injury bug finally flies away as the season begins and Philip Rivers doesn't have to come back from records like 3-6 and 4-7. Keenan Allen looms large, and watch the just-resigned Antonio Gates. Why not a renaissance season to head into the sunset with?

2) Kansas City Chiefs (9-7): Lots of talent here. Lots of youth, too. Patrick Mahomes is a huge question mark. He will either be lightning terrific, or a huge bust. But it will take two or more seasons to truly find out, and that won't be enough for Andy Reid should it be the latter, and not the former.

3) Denver Broncos (7-9): Case Keenum had a great moment in the sun last year in a perfect situation. But it didn't include John Elway looking over his shoulder. Minnesota didn't expect 13-3. Now the focus is squarely on him to return the Broncos to their usual glory. The defense, again, is great. The offense, however, won't be.

4) Oakland Raiders (3-13): Welcome back, Chucky!! I didn't like the hire, the way we kicked Jack Del Rio to the curb (though I never saw him as a Super Bowl head coach), and now Gruden, I believe, is more on a power trip to prove Oakland was wrong to trade him away. Gee, I thought he proved that in Super Bowl XXXVII. Amari Cooper can't catch every pass, Lynch can't have much left in the tank, and if Jordy Nelson was still Jordy Nelson, he'd still be in Green Bay. Then, there's the Mack debacle, which was nothing more than a staring match. So, what was proven? Bruce Irvin's obscene tweet following the trade announcement said everything. And I actually had high hopes of our possible trajectory just 21 months ago. At least we have an upgrade at backup quarterback! When he's healthy, of course......geez.

********
2019 NFL DRAFT TOP 5:

1) Tampa Bay
2) Oakland
3) Miami
4) Washington
5) Cincinnati

********
NFC DIVISION WINNERS: Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle
NFC WILD CARDS: Atlanta, Los Angeles Rams

NFC PLAYOFFS:

WILD CARD ROUND:
Los Angeles over Philadelphia
Atlanta over Seattle

DIVISIONAL ROUND:
New Orleans over Los Angeles
Green Bay over Atlanta

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: New Orleans 33, Green Bay 27 (OT)

********
AFC DIVISION WINNERS: New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, Los Angeles Chargers
AFC WILD CARDS: Jacksonville, Kansas City

AFC PLAYOFFS:

WILD CARD ROUND:
Pittsburgh over Kansas City
Los Angeles Chargers over Jacksonville

DIVISIONAL ROUND:
New England over Los Angeles Chargers
Houston over Pittsburgh

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Houston 20, New England 17


SUPER BOWL LIII: New Orleans 37, Houston 31 (OT): The Saints become the first team in the Super Bowl era to win both their conference championship and the Super Bowl in overtime, Drew Brees brings his son, now 10, back on the dais to accept Lombardi, and joins Elway and Peyton Manning as historic quarterbacks to ride off into the sunset. All the while, Deshaun Watson takes notes, and so does Teddy Bridgewater.

Now that most of this won't happen, happy football season everyone! See you on the radio!  :)





Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Summer Songs, Memories, And 102.9 The Mater

It's been too long since I've had a blog entry, so I'm carving out time on this day after reading a very interesting article from Sean Ross on the music found in the unforgettable summer of 1979.

To read it, CLICK HERE.

In doing my planning for my Top 500 Favorite Songs Countdown to mark my 50th birthday in 2016 and 2017, I found certain years produced way more "memories" than others for me. 1979 is near, or at, the top of that list, along with 1975, 1983 and 1985.

Having spent hours upon hours building up our music library on WHAN, 102.9 The Mater, I've found these years popping up over and over again. More on that later.

First, I wanted to commend Ross on his article, and on his great taste of going to Busch Gardens in the late 1970's! I have to wonder if, when he drove through Richmond, he navigated briefly away from Q94 to the superior AOR of the day, the incredible XL102. It would be another six months before, growing up in Beaverdam, I would discover what I believe to still be the best CHR radio station ever created, at least for a short period of time, the great WRQX, Q107 of late 1979 to late 1980.

Future Paul Harvey stand-in Doug Limerick did news for Dude Walker in morning drive, whose voice you've heard in commercials and voiceovers for decades, then the voice of comedy promos for Fox for decades, Joe Cipriano in afternoon drive, Uncle Johnny from 6-10pm, and Sandy Weaver from 10pm-2am with the Top 5 At 10, which at the turn of the 1980's, was still fresh stuff. Their music mix was superior, personalities jumped out of the radio, and their imaging was insane (including the Q107 Girl used in their television commercials.....)

Now, back to my main point. :)

The Summer of 1979 was a watershed summer for music. Disco was (finally!) dying, and there was an incredible mix of songs on Top 40 radio. I took my first long, long road trip that June, going from Beaverdam, Virginia to Overland Park, Kansas. Two days going, three days coming back. That's a lot of time to listen to music I had taped on cassette off the radio in my "state of the art" earpiece.

Just off the top of my head, there was John Stewart's "Gold" (with Stevie Nicks assisting), Abba's "Does Your Mother Know" from Voulez-Vous, the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" (did your station play the "son of a gun" version?), "Chuck E's In Love" from Rickie Lee Jones, and "When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman" from Dr. Hook. There's Donna Summer, Anita Ward, Chic, and even Barbra Streisand repping the disco department as it moved from serious to critical condition, even Paul McCartney and Wings with Getting Closer (who else could call someone a salamander and be taken seriously?)

That summer, more than anything, reminds me of three songs:

"Shine A Little Love"--Electric Light Orchestra: An absolute classic from Jeff Lynne and company, long, though, overshadowed on Classic Hits radio by "Don't Bring Me Down"....

"People Of The Southwind"--Kansas: Easily their most overlooked single. No one plays it on radio, but 102.9 The Mater will one day.  :)

And then there's the big one......

*****
A couple of weeks ago, Rachel and I were in the car, and this song came on. We sat outside our house while I shared with her the story of this song and why, today, it's my #2 favorite of all time.

If you grew up in Richmond, and got the evening newspaper, the Richmond News Leader, your favorite days of the week to get the paper were Saturday, for The Green Section, which gave you all the TV listings for the following week, and Friday, for the Young Virginians section.

Young Virginians would have stories catered to teens, included the classic "Ask Beth" column where teens filled with angst would write to a lady named Beth, in the vein of Dear Abby, for advice on a variety of issues from pimples to sex. It also printed the Billboard Top 10 Songs of the previous week.

I can only think of one time, ever, where a song appeared in the Top 10 in my youth that, at the time it debuted in that part of the chart, I had never heard it.

So, when it appeared for the first time in the Young Virginians section, I read it and thought, "Who's The Knack? And what is My Sharona?". I pronounced the name Sharon-ah, as in the ladies' name "Sharon", not "Sha-row-nah". I hadn't heard it yet!

That changed within a few days. And when I did, the love affair began. Only two radio stations in Richmond would play it: Q94 and WLEE-AM. So, I spent summer days flipping, CONSTANTLY, back and forth hoping and praying to hear the song. I remember it coming on the radio one day in my brother's car heading to visit Mama in Louisa, cranking it as loud as a Chevy Monza's sound system would allow.  :)

Obsession only begins to describe my feelings then towards My Sharona. And this has only happened one other time in my life, two years later, with a group named Diesel. But that's a story for a day when we trip over 1981.

Today's all about 1979. And just last night I was thinking how blessed I was to grow up when I did. In adding over 750 songs to our music library for 102.9 The Mater over the past month, I've been reminded of the incredible music created and produced in the formative period for me, which was 1975-1985. And I'm very, very thankful.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: I've been doing 6pm to 10pm weeknights on 102.9 The Mater for a few weeks now. It's SO much fun to be back on the air doing music for the first time in 21 years, and trying to tell the stories of the vast (and I do mean vast) variety of music we play. Last night I segued from "A Little Less Conversation" from Elvis Presley to "Sherry Darling" from Bruce Springsteen. You won't hear that on Sirius/XM.  :)

In an age where radio is being pronounced dead left and right, we're still holding true to live and local, listen to the listener, and their requests, and be different. There's so much more great music than the tight playlists of corporate radio. I'm proud to be sharing at least a portion of them now.

In 2018, we get to enjoy the music of great eras, from the Big Band/Standards era, to the 1960's, the variety of the 1970's, the genius of the 1980's, and more. Music fans, be grateful!




Wednesday, March 28, 2018

On To The Next Window.....

The old saying goes that when God closes a door, He opens a window.

I'm currently checking for open windows around or near me, or, maybe you know of one I haven't seen yet.  :)

Late Tuesday night, after coming home from a wonderful premarital counseling session, I received the news I've been expecting for, frankly, close to two years.

The Herald-Progress, the community newspaper of Hanover County since 1881, and the home of my sportswriting since 2011, is no more. The parent company, Lakeway Publishers, is pulling the plug on it, along with The Caroline Progress. Two weekly newspapers with a combined 236 years of service are gone in an instant.

Such is life in the very fragile world of print journalism. That era of reporting and relating such reporting is dying. Realists like me know this, and this is why the news, while sudden last night, was in no way surprising. Advertising was always fighting an uphill battle, and, our primary competition produced a newspaper they were willing to give away in order to dwarf our circulation numbers, then start another free weekly to blanket the rest of the county. Add Google and Facebook sucking up digital dollars to the expense of many, thus, print and other legacy money shifting to digital, and you get the idea.

I have several people to thank, beginning with Greg Glassner, who asked me to write weekly on the football games I broadcast back in the 2011 season, which became a regular gig when football ended, which later prompted an idea about starting a Twitter, which, in turn, has completely changed my life.

My ability to help the RVA Sports Network grow has been thanks to the (meager) existence I earned while at the H-P. That's not a cut against them. If I didn't like it at any time, I could have left. But, especially after my 2013 heart attack, I've gained a sense of purpose and responsibility to chronicle the achievements of an army of student-athletes who will never get on "SportsCenter", but whose stories deserved to be known.

Thus, as I pivot to my next chapter, I plan to continue to do this for as long as possible. It could be six months or twenty-six years. We'll see how that goes.

My second thank you has to go to former editor Bec Metcalf, whose idea to "sponsor" the sports section saved my job, honestly, two years ago. Thus, big thanks to my dear friend Judy Gerber for getting Massey, Wood, and West to be our sponsor from July, 2016 to the very end. I so enjoyed working with Greg, Bec, Judy, Lee, Emily, Natalie, Julia, Janice, and everyone else. Last, but not least by far, thanks be to God for my long-time reunion with high school teacher, and friend, Nick Liberante, as we spent five years together, me Robin to his Caped Crusader. :

********

Now, I look forward. I'll take a few days to digest things. Certainly, I'm open to anyone who may want a middle-aged sportswriter and broadcaster who probably knows more about high school sports in Richmond than anyone else (and I say that with the greatest of humility, and with no chip on my shoulder). It's been my beat for years now, 24/7/365, football to field hockey and everything in between.

RVA Sports Network will continue, in fact, we're working on some things behind the scenes which I cannot discuss right now that will, hopefully, have us emerge stronger than ever this year and much, much closer to the original goal of this endeavor. The Game of The Week broadcast continues, as does our podcast, and we'll get to as many games as possible as usual.

Where we go and how much will depend on how is next for me when it comes to making sure my wife and I can do things like eat and buy medicine. :)

To all the AD's, coaches, parents, trainers, and especially student-athletes who have helped me in my time at the Herald-Progress, a big THANK YOU.

My flame burns bright and I look to the future now, excited as God unfolds the next chapter. I'm almost 51, and he hasn't dropped me yet. I don't expect Him to start now.

Onward and Forward!  :)

Rob 

(Doing my thing, Atlee High School, November 1, 2017. Thanks Joel Klein!)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Future Of Media: The Revolution Continues.....

Radio shot itself in the foot with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. We've suffered through 21 years of Clear Channel/iHeart and others laying off countless talented radio professionals so one could pretend to be a local jock in numerous markets. Now you can be cold called into buying airtime from a faceless account executive you may never meet in person. One bookkeeper works 80 hours for a salary to balance the books for multiple markets. I could go on.

It's not just my former employer. Star 100.9 here in Richmond? Yes, they have and promote Bill and Shelly, two friends of mine, in the morning, and as usual, they're terrific. After that? It's a jukebox with no personality, no local content, and the same tired, overplayed songs from the 1970's and 1980's.

My wife's car came with six free months of Sirius/XM, my first opportunity to really listen to the satellite radio service. While I've heard music on there I haven't heard on terrestrial radio in decades, I wouldn't buy it. I already can tell the patterns of how they play music. In a category so vast as "Classic Rewind", with all the great rock songs of "the cassette era", I shouldn't hear "Abacab" by Genesis twice in under 24 hours. The terrestrial way of thinking hurts satellite.

Newspaper continues to be a victim of the digital age and the fatal mistake of allowing news and journalism to be digested online for free at the turn of the century, making millennials wonder why people in my generation love their paper with their morning coffee. I fully believe that one day, the generation behind me will regret not having a physical newspaper, when they start asking how they get a copy of the photo and article on their child's high school basketball game from "A" media outlet, not being able to just run to the convenience store and grab four newspapers for grandparents and friends.

Now, as I've said for years, local TV is next. We all know there simply isn't enough news in Richmond to fill six hours a day. That's why you see lots of stories recycled, and sometimes, you see "stories" that aren't stories, that have absolutely no business inside a newscast, presented to you as "alleged news". With all the controversy lately over fake news, I think the term "alleged news" is right on the mark, describing such things as, "...coming up, a preview of tonight's Dancing With The Stars that you'll see right here on ABC27....". That's a station promo masked as packaged "news" content.

Now, for your assignment.

The article below explains how recent changes and proposed changes are going to make us have to reinvent how we cover local news across all platforms. Not just with what's covered in this story, but due to other changing events, I'm changing how RVA Sports Network covers sports, even within the digital realm. If you were a popular digital platform in 2004, chances are you won't be in my arsenal soon, or, if you are, you'll serve a much different purpose.

All of my colleagues in these various industries, this is a good read. Be ready. Click here.


Thursday, September 07, 2017

Rob's Fearless (And Usually Wrong) 2017 NFL Predictions!

Life's been different lately. Having no bedroom for over a month has thrown the whole house, and the whole routine, out of kilter. So, for the first time in 21 years, I don't have a fantasy football team, much less running a league. Maybe a year off will be good. We're about to find out.

I watched as many Rams games as possible trying to see how they'd utilize Sam Rogers (the answer was not much, and the practice squad), covered the Redskins in Richmond, and that's about it. I've got field hockey and volleyball to cover!  :)

So, with a pitiful handful of information and a lot of opinion (one of the rare times I give a few "hot takes"), here are my predictions on the road to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. Now, if this were Little League, the Vikings would already be guaranteed a playoff berth, but we digress....


NFC:

NFC EAST:

1) Dallas Cowboys (9-7): I don't see another team doing better in this division than Dallas, even without Ezekiel Elliott (maybe) for six games. I actually think Dak Prescott is good. He won't replicate last year, but they'll win enough in the division to take it, somewhat by default (note the final record). A first place schedule hurts, so does a rebuilt secondary, but they have enough offense to have a winning season.

2) New York Giants (8-8): The G-Men will be in the race until they lose in Arizona at Christmas. It gives the Cowboys the division, and they'll rest their starters, again, in another loss to Philadelphia. I don't get all the hype about Brandon Marshall. He's made some beast plays. I applaud his public stance on his dealings with mental illness (trust me, I REALLY understand that), but there aren't enough footballs to satisfy him and Odell Beckham, who I still think is overrated. Top ten wideout, yes. Top five? No. And, does anyone know who will run the football? And we haven't even touched the lines, which are always the key to a Giants Super Bowl run.

3) Philadelphia Eagles (6-10): New shiny wide receivers to try to throw to, but I'm not sold on Carson Wentz. Alshon Jeffrey is known to check out on occasion, too. Their defense is improved, so 20-17 and 17-9 final scores not in the favor of Philly won't be a surprise.

4) Washington Redskins (5-11): Suddenly, Kirk Cousins is available for 2018, but, after this season, teams might rather trade for a high draft pick and grab their future savior from the college ranks. This will be Cousins' last payday, because, I don't think he returns after a subpar season, I think injuries play a role in the season. This team, to me, looked like a group of players practicing when here in Richmond. Not a team. This plays out over the season. Christmas Eve might see more Denver fans in FedEx Field than Redskins fans.

NFC NORTH:

1) Green Bay Packers (12-4): Of course, there's Aaron Rodgers But give me Ty Montgomery, who looks like a beast almost every time he touches the football. He could finish in the top five in the league in rushing, which would be a godsend for the Packers, who better not rely on 34-for-51, 364 yards and two touchdowns from #12 every week. They downgraded at tight end, losing Jared Cook to my Raiders. The defense is still suspect, but the Packers get two over the Bears, likely sweep the Lions, and maybe split with the Vikings, and they get the AFC North in a down year.

2) Minnesota Vikings (8-8): Can Dalvin Cook supply the rushing yards they need? Can Sam Bradford replicate (or improve on) his performance of last year, and, if he does, what do you do when Teddy Bridgewater is finally ready? How good (or bad) is the Viking secondary? They face Rodgers twice, Matthew Stafford twice, Big Ben, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton.....now, they have to go to Green Bay December 23, no help in a playoff race. The defensive front seven, and consistent work from their offensive line, they are the keys for Minnesota. Oh, and nice new stadium!

3) Detroit Lions (6-10): Matthew Stafford has his big payday, and zero playoff wins. This will continue in 2017. No one has discussed how big a loss Anquan Boldin is. He came up big for this team last year when they needed a Calvin Johnson play, on many occasions. It felt like every week I watched him score a touchdown on NFL Red Zone (I know he didn't, but it felt that way). For the 20th straight year, we have no idea who really leads the running game in Detroit. The mediocrity continues....

4) Chicago Bears (4-12): I don't think this year is a complete disaster for Chicago. They can split with Detroit, maybe get a home win over Minnesota, and they play San Francisco and Cleveland. I can see four wins. I can also see a coaching change, which isn't fair to John Fox, considering what little he's had to work with since arriving in the Windy City

NFC SOUTH:

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5): In making predictions, you need to step on the ledge a few times. Now, I know this ledge is crowded as Tampa Bay is a "trendy" pick, but I really like what I see here, even with Desean Jackson only available for say, five games due to hamstring issues. Mike Evans is ready to become a Top 5 receiver, Jameis Winston is ready to take a huge step forward, and the defense, while it won't look like 2002, should be really good. In their division is an Atlanta team that will step up, a Saints team about to collapse, and a Carolina team in flux. This is the year for them to get it done.

2) Atlanta Falcons (9-7): Of course, there will be a Super Bowl historic collapse hangover. It's inevitable, no matter what Gatorade tries to tell us in their commercial. There's tons of talent here, but I think the team simply struggles under the weight of "28-3", the weight of wanting to erase that, a brand new stadium, and crazy fan expectations (which they deserve to have). Julio Jones is good for at least four wins right off the bat. Jake Matthews has Matt Ryan protected, so expect another big statistical year for Ryan.

3) Carolina Panthers (7-9): You have Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, a returning GM, and a lot of other questions. This team has inconsistency written all over it: win games you shouldn't, lose games you should win. Allowing Newton to be more like Newton would help. He can't keep standing in the pocket and getting pounded. Trust his ability to run and avoid most hits. Russell Wilson has done it. So can Cam.

4) New Orleans Saints (4-12): The first 21st century quarterback to hit "the cliff" will be Drew Brees. No 5,000 yards this year, in fact, he may not finish the season as he's overdue for some sort of injury issue. Brandin Cooks is gone, Coby Fleener is a disappointment, and I'm not sold on AP being a huge solution in the backfield. It's time to look to the future in New Orleans.

NFC WEST:

1) Seattle Seahawks (13-3): I see people picking Arizona here. I can't see that. Yes, they have some dysfunction, but a Pete Carroll team always has some level of it. Wilson has his best season as a pro, Jimmy Graham finally pays off the dividends the Seahawks have been dying for, and Richard Sherman will play with a serious chip on his shoulder. They'll lead the league in interceptions, and, between Bennett and now Sheldon Richardson, they'll be trouble up front defensively. The Road to Minneapolis/St. Paul runs through the 12th Man.

2) Arizona Cardinals (10-6): I do like Arizona making a final playoff push in their current incarnation. It's nearing the end for both Carson Palmer and the great Larry Fitzgerald, and Arizona is one David Johnson injury away from a lost season. This team, maybe more than any, must avoid the injury bug. If they do, the Cards get back to the postseason and would be a tough out for anybody, the team you "don't want to see" in early January.

3) San Francisco 49ers (4-12): The biggest problem coming out of San Francisco this year is that they actually have enough talent to win some games and take themselves out of the running for a top two draft pick to grab a future quarterback. I think they sweep the Rams and they could grab two road wins in Indianapolis and Washington. Brian Hoyer healthy? History says no, so you better get 1,600 yards from Carlos Hyde and some defensive touchdowns. There are enough playmakers on that side of the ball, though young, where they can keep them in a few games. But the Seahawks/49ers "rivalry" is no more.

4) Los Angeles Rams (2-14): Jared Goff is not the answer. I don't think Todd Gurley is, either. Sean McVay, at 31, will feel like he's 51 by late December after the brutal regular season the Rams are about to endure. Aaron Donald hasn't helped matters, and Greg Zuerlein looks human now that he has to kick outdoors most of the time. This season will not help with needed ticket sales for that new stadium come 2020.

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AFC:

AFC EAST:

1) New England Patriots (13-3): A trip to Tampa Bay could be tricky, to Pittsburgh in mid-December a challenge, and they have to go to Denver. Otherwise, smooth sailing for the defending Super Bowl champions, as Tom Brady is still two years away from "The Cliff", and he welcomes Brandin Cooks to the offense. Hogan is going to take care of the loss of Julian Edelman. Who runs the football? Does it matter? Bill Belichick is historically found someone to do enough. The defense is sold, the secondary filthy. Let the next march to the Super Bowl begin (yes, they sweep the division....)

2) Miami Dolphins (8-8): I actually don't think having Jay Cutler at quarterback at the last minute is a bad thing, considering his positive history with head coach Adam Gase. They must get 14-15 games from Jay Ajayi and improved defense, but the Fins should sweep both Buffalo and the Jets. Enough to sneak in as a sixth seed?

3) Buffalo Bills (4-12): Let's help Tyrod Taylor by trading Sammy Watkins. Now, I know Taylor is used to not having him thanks to injuries, but LeSean McCoy will get injured again, and, after that, how they generate offense is beyond me. I feel so bad for Buffalo fans, they deserve so much better.

4) New York Jets (1-15): Oh. My. Word. Todd Bowles is out, possibly before the game after the regular season. Any quarterback named McCown gets hurt, usually sooner than later. Man, I'm not even sure where they'll grab the win (at home against Buffalo??), but they'll avoid 0-16, and Cleveland will be so happy to know they're no longer the worst team in the NFL.

AFC NORTH:

1) Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4): An inflated record for a very good team in a down division. How much longer does Big Ben want to play? If he can fire for 4,500 yards and tons of connections with Antonio Brown, it could rekindle his fire. The defense is younger, and, I think, a little better. They can go 6-0 in the division. Intangibles are playing in Pittsburgh's favor for this season. They better take advantage of them.

2) Cincinnati Bengals (7-9): Andy and A.J. are there. Joe Mixon may be good enough to contend for Rookie of The Year honors. But the offensive line has to be better than last year and Whitworth is gone. The defense is as suspect as last year. So, a second year outside the playoffs and, maybe, finally, a coaching change? My daughter is a Bengals fan, so I root for them a lot, too (just like my son's 49ers). How long can Cincinnati fans continue to accept a "decent" coach who gets you to the playoffs some, but can never win?

3) Baltimore Ravens (6-10): Joe Flacco will be fine. They can start 3-0 (at Cincinnati, home to Cleveland and Jacksonville). Then they host Pittsburgh, go to Oakland, and host the Bears. 4-2 after six, but tougher work on the back end, especially for a defense that doesn't look impressive. Maybe Danny Woodhead has something left in the tank and can pull off a Justin Forsett surprise like a couple of years ago. Would John Harbaugh be in trouble after this?

4) Cleveland Browns (3-13): The Browns might, MIGHT go 2-4 in their division. Kudos to Cleveland for going ahead and finding out whether DeShone Kizer is actually the answer by playing him. They don't expect to be hunting for a playoff bid in late December, but they do expect to know whether they have a QB for the future, or if they've got to look to the 2018 Draft. Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers will be fun to watch as the defensive rebuild begins.

AFC SOUTH:

1) Tennessee Titans (11-5): This is the year for Tennessee to seize this normally mediocre division since the departure of Peyton Manning from Indy. Marcus Mariota will be fine, they hope Derrick Henry is ready to be the man in the backfield, and they might have some wide receiver production. The defense is key here, could be the most underrated in football. It's time for the Titans to take over the South.

2) Houston Texans (9-7): Most of Houston's wins come defensively (Pick Six or game-ending sack, and a few safeties). They'll have to win ugly until either Watson emerges at QB, or they finally find one. The team will also have to deal with the emotions of representing a region rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey. At least they have their home to return to. The Saints, in 2005, after Katrina, spent the season on the road and it was a disaster. But Drew Brees arrived a year later, and the Lombardi Trophy followed in 2009. Imagine Houston's trajectory with a Brees, or Winston, or Mariota under center.....

3) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): It makes perfect sense, for Jacksonville at least, after being a darling pick for the playoffs last year, to be no one's darling this year. No playoff pick here, but I think Leonard Fournette is the other candidate for Rookie of The Year, this team will realize ball control and savvy defense is their current formula. No Jacksonville quarterback, whether a Bortles or Henne, should pass more than 30 times per game. If they're winging it 50 times, chalk up more "L's".

4) Indianapolis Colts (5-11): This team is in trouble. When does Andrew Luck return? Will he be the same when he does? How old is Frank Gore now? Who helps T.Y. Hilton? Who mans the defense? Remember 2012 when Luck was drafted and Manning was expendable? Remember the Colts a step away from the Super Bowl three seasons ago? The mighty have fallen. Chuck Pagano may fall, too.

AFC WEST:

1) Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Sweeping the Raiders will give the Chiefs the division crown. They start 0-1 tonight, which won't bother them (remember the 11 straight wins two years ago?). Alex Smith has to prove himself all over again, and will. They need 16 starts from Travis Kelce, and there are a few holes defensively for the first time in a few years. They can go 5-1 in the division. In fact, they need to.

2) Oakland Raiders (11-5): Well, my Raiders finally turned the corner last season. I thought we'd be one and done in the postseason even with Derek Carr, so this year, it's time to get that win, and more. We always lose at Arrowhead, the Tennessee opener is tricky. We need to win in Denver, and we can. Marshawn Lynch won't produce a whole lot, but he's there to keep Oakland fans engaged in the first season of "lame duck" status before the move to Las Vegas. The secondary should be a little better, but it's not improved enough to be a Super Bowl contender this year.

3) Denver Broncos (7-9): Denver could beat New England at home and still finish under .500. No real quarterback to speak of, the beginning of a change on the defense with T.J. Ward's departure, and I'm not seeing a lot of points scored out of this offense. This will be the NFL definition of an "average team" this season.

4) Los Angeles Chargers (5-11): Will the back end of Philip Rivers' career, and Hall of Fame potential, be negatively affected by the team's recent performance? It shouldn't be, if anything, it should show just how impressive he is when he has to learn his wide receiver's name on Tuesday before throwing to him on Sunday. Injuries must not drown the Chargers again like they have in recent seasons, and we're not even sure if Mike Williams will make an impact this season.

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NFC Division Winners: Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Seattle
NFC Wild Cards: Arizona, Atlanta
NFC Byes: Seattle, Green Bay

Wild Card Weekend: Tampa Bay d. Atlanta, Arizona d. Dallas
Divisional Round: Seattle d. Arizona, Tampa Bay d. Green Bay
NFC Championship: Seattle d. Tampa Bay

AFC Division Winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Kansas City
AFC Wild Cards: Oakland, Houston
AFC Byes: New England, Pittsburgh

Wild Card Weekend: Oakland d. Tennessee, Houston d. Kansas City
Divisional Round: New England d. Houston, Pittsburgh d. Oakland
AFC Championship: New England d. Pittsburgh

SUPER BOWL LII: Seattle 23, New England 17: Richard Sherman gets a late interception of Tom Brady, and doesn't yell at him on the field post-game. Russell Wilson grabs his second Lombardi and Brady's Super Bowl record falls to 5-3.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Look And Thoughts, Regarding Publix

Yeah, I did it.

But, in actuality, the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Today, I took my first trip to Publix in Virginia on the first day anyone could walk into a Publix in Virginia. But about two weeks ago, I visited the Publix that recently opened near my brother's house in New Bern, North Carolina.

Now, admittedly, both were quick trips, the first cut short by weather, the second by the desire to get just what we needed and get out of the sea of humanity that, of course, was drawn to the new store because, if you want to get Richmonders riled up about something that isn't politics or The Civil War, just mention a grocery store.

The Lukhards, Siegel's, A&P's, Safeways, Farm Fresh's, Big Star's, Food Fair's and, yes, Ukrop's, of the past are just that, in the past. With Lidl on the horizon in just days, Aldi continuing to expand, Food Lion remodeling everywhere and Martin's bidding adieu, just what will Publix do in a market now headed up by, of all places, (ugh) Walmart?

A few thoughts from a guy fascinated by the grocery business from the outside.....

1) Publix is going after Wegmans. Now, I expect their Staples Mill location, which opens July 29 replacing a Martin's (which replaced a Ukrop's), to have to go after Kroger just down the road, thus, I expect to see some lower regular prices on some items. I expect Publix to have the same price, especially sale prices seen in circulars, at all locations like everybody else. But a cursory look at some regular prices at Publix, at both stores, tell me they will struggle with getting people like me who shop almost completely with sales and have no problem going to four stores to do so. Publix will rely a lot on building loyalty. That can take a generation in Richmond.

2) Publix is the closest thing you'll see to a Ukrop's. When Martin's arrived, they painted the walls, hung signs with their font, put on green shirts, and moved the shopping carts outside. It all went downhill from there. At Publix, they're happy to carry your groceries to your car, their prepared area reminds you of Ukrop's (only it is bigger), but the back of the store is surprisingly crowded. The back aisle is small. I'm sure it'll be easier to navigate in a few weeks when half of the 23060 zip code isn't there trying to buy dinner.

3) Wegmans isn't Ukrop's. To me, Wegmans is a strange combination, now that I've seen two, of Publix and Sam's Club. Huge, wooden, meant for families of six or more. Need 48 rolls of toilet paper or five pounds of ground beef at a place where you'll get status points in your neighborhood by being seen there? Wegmans is your jam. They won't make a huge dent in Richmond market share until they build at least two more locations. They need to be in Hanover (301 makes sense, 360 is, sadly, more likely) and they'd be smart to build somewhere along 295 where they'd get weekly shoppers from the Tri-Cities, Sandston, Varina, and Chester. They'll probably end up somewhere way west on Hull Street instead.

I plan to get back to Publix and really comparison shop one day before the month ends, and I found a few good deals, and didn't mind the fact that I wasn't asked for a Valued Customer Card (I had to explain to Rachel today that we have Ukrop's to thank for that phenomenon). The bagger in our lane is actually from South Carolina, up for awhile to help with the opening. That was impressive. Publix seems very committed to the area.

So, in closing, my thoughts about who stays and who goes in Richmond?  We will have way too many grocery stores for a market this size to support.....

Well, we won't know for probably three years. That gives Publix and Lidl time to be sampled and settled and Food World time to give us a couple of annual reports on market share to see if they make a splash, and whether anyone established (aka Wegmans) can really challenge the top three.

Currently, the market share looks like this (according to Food World in its 2017 report in June):

1) Walmart (16.06%, 21 stores, including Neighborhood Markets)
2) Kroger (15.71%, 18 stores)
3) Food Lion (14.21%, 49 stores)
4) CVS (7.04%, 65 stores)
5) Martin's (6.61%, 12 stores)
6) Wawa (5.80%, 28 stores)
7) Target (4.19%, 12 stores)
8) Walgreens (3.94%, 27 stores)
9) 7-Eleven (3.30%, 83 stores)
10) Sam's Club (3.10%, 4 stores)
11) Wegmans (2.94%, 2 stores)

Aldi is currently 15th, 1.65% with ten locations. Fresh Market is 17th.

The total amount of food sales in the last 12 month period measured by the publication? $3.71 billion dollars.

That's a lot of plastic bags. BTW, PSA, I like taking bags to the store. :)

Drugs, general merchandise, tobacco sales are all included.

Martin's lost over half its market share (13.92% in 2016's report) as they get ready to leave RVA. CVS jumped .65% in part due to entering Target stores. Walmart actually sold $700,000 less in groceries, yet gained market share by .23%, while Kroger sold $48.4 million more and gained 1.54% share.

I'm excited about our Lidl opening soon (I bet August) down Staples Mill at Hermitage and may venture to the (ugh) Short Pump store when it opens, just to get a peek.

Right now, though, for me, it's still, show me the sales, and I'll be there, with Kroger getting most of my grocery business, followed up by Aldi, then Food Lion if I have to.



Friday, June 23, 2017

Song #1: "Fire On High"--Electric Light Orchestra (1975)

My first recollection of this song (which, in its edited form contains all of three words, the title, sung during the build-up to the finish) is when it was used by CBS Sports as the theme to "CBS Sports Spectacular" from 1976 to 1978. That show was their answer to ABC's more popular "Wide World of Sports".

Then, in 1978, ELO places the song as the B-side of the 45 to 'Sweet Talkin' Woman", and suddenly, I had my own copy, and it grew on me. I played it quite a bit, in fact, much more than the "A" side. :)

Then, early in the 1980's, my second favorite radio station ever, K-94 from Tidewater, used it for the most awesome Legal ID, in my view, in radio history, back in the day when you did a longer ID, usually around midnight, if you were on-air 24 hours, otherwise it was used as a sign-off or sign-on. You can listen to the K-94 package below.


"Fire On High" continued to be a staple on AOR radio stations, and my love continued to grow for the song over the years.

But it wouldn't overtake "My Sharona" by The Knack as my all-time favorite song until an unforgettable day in January, 2007. I took the day off from work, got up early, and headed down to North Carolina to attend my niece's wedding. That seems simple enough, right?

Except that I had not been out of the Commonwealth of Virginia by that point in three and one half years. It was, on many Sundays, everything I could do to travel the 45 miles down to the church I pastored at the time in Prince George County. As part of my severe depression, and severe grieving over the passing of my Mama late in 2002, I developed an outrageous, and unhealthy desire to be as close to home as humanly possible.

I was taking a huge chance that day, going by myself and out of state all at the same time. Heading through the final miles of Southern Virginia, today's song came on the radio. Moments later when I passed the state line, I called my wife, crying, to give her the good news that I had made it into The Tar Heel State.

Later that day, the song was played again. Now, catching this song once on a random day in 2007 on the radio was a treat, but twice? It was a sign from God. That part of my depression began to fade away after that day, and the song took on a much deeper meaning.

And, after discovering years later it had an "opening" edited off of the radio/record version, I believe that, while listening to the entire piece, it pretty much explains my first fifty years.

--The opening to the song (which some of you may never have heard) is an opera of the battle for the mind. In one moment, someone speaks backwards while music plays backwards, and, moments later, the heavenly choir sings "Hallelujah!" from Handel's Messiah. It's the perfect microcosm of my life as a sufferer and survivor of sudden onset obsessive compulsive disorder. Some days, that's how my mind sounds on the inside. I think I hide that very well.

--The song has two great "build-ups" in lieu of verses to get to the chorus, and I look at one with all the milestones of childhood, the second with the milestones of adulthood.

In the end, all of it crescendos together for a final build-up, including the aforementioned three-word lyrics of the song, before ending with a finish like no other.

It's totally fitting that I've chosen, essentially, an instrumental, as my favorite song. They've always been a big part of my musical life. So has ELO. If the Moody Blues couldn't occupy the top slot, I'm glad it's ELO.

My deepest thanks to everyone who have put up with this journey over the past 500 days. I will post a full list of the Top 500 as soon as possible. Now, my question for you: What's your number one song?