Back at it with another version of The Boots. As always, the game is played by giving “Boot Up” and “Boot Down” nods to topics and stats in the sports world.
Boot Up: All Saints Day – Since 1999, the New Orleans Saints have been one of the more successful NFL franchise. Their .525 winning percentage is ninth-best in the league. They have made seven playoff appearances, won one Super Bowl title and have been darn consistent over the last 12 seasons. From 2006-17, they’ve gone no worse than 7-9 every single season.
And yet: The Browns are 4-1 against the Saints since 1999? The New Browns have had more success against the Saints than any other franchise, besting their mark against San Francisco (3-1) and Atlanta (3-1). There are only two other match-ups where the Browns boast a winning record at all: Oakland (6-4) and Miami (4-3).
Of course, some of that is darn luck and small sample sizes colliding: The Hail Mary game in 1999 (when the Saints finished only 3-13). There was a last-second field-goal winner in 2014. But leading into Sunday’s game, it just goes to show that anything could still happen for the Browns. The last New Orleans home victory over the Browns was way back in 1990.
Boot Down: Turnover differentials – What the Browns did on Sunday was truly notable. And no, not terribly so in a positive fashion despite reaching a tie with a Super Bowl contender. The Browns didn’t manage a home victory despite forcing six Pittsburgh turnovers and only coughing up one of their own.
Since 1970, NFL teams are 403-17-3 (.959) overall when finishing with a plus-five turnover differential or greater. Home teams are 212-3-2 (.986) at the same stat. The Browns, unfortunately, have been on the wrong end of those rare circumstances far too often, as noted by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell:
The Browns are +5 in takeaways today. Since the Browns returned to the NFL, teams with a turnover margin of +5 or better in a game are 132-4-1. The Browns are responsible for two of those losses and the tie.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 9, 2018
Boot Up: Playoff unpredictability – One of the most frequent questions I get this time of the year is: “So, what do you think about the Indians postseason chances?!” And every year, my answer is some version of the same thing: “The MLB playoffs are just a dang toss-up.”
Last season, that was predominantly construed negatively due to a 102-60 regular season record and the historic 22-game win streak. This season: The Indians are only 82-64 with 16 games remaining, but hold a convincing 14.5-game division lead, thus guaranteeing themselves a spot in the American League Division Series. And from there, anything can happen.
Now, that same toss-up proposition can be a positive spin. That’s due to the bonkers success of the four-best American League teams this season: Boston (100-46), Houston (92-54), New York (90-56) and Oakland (89-57). Cleveland and the defending World Series Champion Astros seemed all but assured of a division series match-up. New York and Oakland will be stuck in a Wild Card do-or-die. And if the odds are as good as a toss-up for the Tribe, then that’s a fairly decent outlook.
It’s been a tough year at times for the Indians. Or at least a strange one. The bullpen’s 4.65 ERA is certainly one major factor. That bullpen ERA was a polar opposite 2.89 in 2017. Certainly, if the bullpen implodes in the playoffs, that’s one way to lead to an early exit.
But that change in bullpen success has led to this quirky stat: When tied or trailing after seven innings (through Tuesday’s games), the Indians are only 8-54 (.129). The MLB average for all other teams: 17.8-64.7 (.216). During that great 2017 season, the Indians were 15-54 (.217) in this stat. Thus, with a little bullpen reversion, the Indians could have been a lot more successful. But as the underdogs, a quick best-of-five series ain’t too bad of a thing.
Boot Down: Oh wow, basketball again – Caught up in the proximity of the MLB playoffs and the early optimism of an NFL season … oh goodness, the NBA is starting again soon. And quite obviously, it’s the least cheery late summer for the Cavaliers franchise in a while. (One could argue that there was pleasant optimism in the fall of 2013 for a potential up-start playoff appearance.)
The Cavs begin the preseason in less than three weeks, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Boston. Kevin Love remains in town and should likely put up All-Star-worthy numbers reminiscent of his days in Minnesota. But beyond that, the Cavs are merely just an OK team trapped with some high-salary veterans with a current-season ceiling of reaching no better than a quick first-round playoff exit.
It’s easy to expect that the Cavaliers roster will look drastically 12 months from now than it does today. There are certainly free agents and vets that will be gone, perhaps soon (Kyle Korver, George Hill, J.R. Smith). But can the Cavs manage to do anything with the other larger salaries on the books (Tristan Thompson, Jordan Clarkson)? Who are the long-term building blocks (Love, Larry Nance, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic) and will the Cavs have a 2019 draft pick to add to that core?
Without LeBron, the pressure on the Cavs franchise drops tremendously. There should be moments of excitement and natural enjoyment. At times over the last four years, the team’s success felt strained and exhausting. Yet, with a much worse roster, it means there will be much worse basketball and frustrating spells of inconsistency and bad play. The drama of the NBA season is no longer that interesting to Cavs fans. So I’m somewhat interested in zooming along to see how this next franchise iteration pans out.