Friday, February 9, 2018

Slant Pattern Mailbag

By Kevin Beane

It's time for another edition of Slant Pattern mailbag. As always, I don't get any letters myself, but I'm more than happy to poach the letters received by other sports outfits.

We'll start with the Dallas Cowboys mailbag, where one Donald Lewis asks:

"Since there can't be a Super Bowl rematch on opening day, I'm saying that the Eagles are going to host the Cowboys in the first game of the season. Your thoughts?"

It's a distinct possibility. I've lived in the Dallas media market for the better part of 10 years, and it's always stunning to me how often the Cowboys are on prime time. They truly are, as far as the networks are concerned, America's team.

Looking at the Eagles schedule next year, I see that outside of their division they play the Vikings, Rams, NFC South, and AFC South.

The AFC South is probably the least popular division in football, so we can rule those teams out (sorry Jacksonville). The other two division winners they play (Vikings and Rams) are also not teams one associates with big fanbases and ratings.

The opening opponent may well come from the NFC South, however. I'd rank the likelihood or Eagles' opening night opponents this way if Drew Brees keeps playing:

1. Saints
2. Cowboys
3. Falcons
4. Vikings

If Brees retires, the Saints fall off the list and every team moves up one, with the Giants as the new No. 4.

From Bill Simmons' mailbag, we get this pre-Super Bowl question from "Charlie":

"Let's pretend [Nick] Foles wins the Super Bowl ... isn't that a worst-case situation for [Carson] Wentz? Has a backup QB ever won a Super Bowl after the starter was injured, then the starter maintained his status as a top-tier QB?"

How 'bout that, we don't have to pretend!

But I really do not think Wentz has to worry a bit. He's still the future, and Foles is still basically Jeff Hostetler to Wentz's Phil Simms.

Foles was fire in the playoffs, but managed to complete more than half of his passes in just one of the three regular season games he started. Wentz's stats (talking about percentage stats and per-game/throw/completion etc, not totals) are significantly better than Foles', across the board. Everything points to Foles run being a fluke rather something from a player who has Figured It Out. But someone will give him the chance to start and have me eating my words.

Mike Davis asks this in Stewart Mandel's college football mailbag:

"Do you think Lane Kiffin has further upside with his program at FAU? I noticed the Owls have non-conference games at Oklahoma and UCF next year."

I think you answered your own question there, Mike. If Kiffin can get FAU to be 2018's UCF, but with wins over UCF and Oklahoma, then they ought to be in the playoffs unless Oklahoma just absolutely craters in 2018. Otherwise, no non-P5 school is ever going to make the four-team playoff.

I wouldn't put it past Kiffin to accomplish this, either — he's a very good coach and he's not going to be stopped by, ahem, legal or ethical restrictions that he thinks are outdated, unnecessary, or that he thinks everyone else is abrogating.

Either way, FAU fans better savor this run, because Kiffin will be back to a P5 school in no time.

Let's close it out with a tennis question to L.Jon Wertheim in Sports Illustrated from a reader in Washington DC:

"What's the current thinking on extended final sets by the folks who run the majors? Did the recent women's final change any minds? It was painful to watch Simona Halep struggle, she had played measurably more than Caroline Wozniacki including a 15-13 and a 9-7 in the semis. I was almost hoping for an extended set and for one of them to be unable to finish so that the officials might be forced to address the issue. As it is there are pics all over the press of Halep on an IV in hospital after the match? It's just not fair to the winners of these marathons, what will it take?"

I certainly hope officials don't need much more coaxing. While I railed against many of the rules the ATP trialled last year at one tournament, most of which were meant to speed up the game, having no final-set tiebreaker is just insane to me.

As you said, it's literally sending players to the hospital with exhaustion. But also, I think it's worth pointing out that this is going to be happening more, not less, as the years go on unless the rules change. This is because servers become more and more dominant with each generation.

Indeed, have we learned nothing from the John Isner/Nicolas Mahut match of 2010, where Isner won the fifth set 70-68? A big reason that monstrosity was able to happen is because Isner's serve is so powerful and Mahut's is so accurate.

Someone's career being curbed by a marathon match is going to happen sooner rather than later if the organizers of the slams don't follow the lead of the U.S. Open (which does use tiebreakers in final sets), and I also question the public's appetite for six-hour matches. Give us final set tiebreakers in all grand slams.

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