Friday
January 15
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 15

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two more cities lose their team and we're partly to blame

Unless you've been buried in Powerball tickets this week, you've no doubt seen the big news from the world of the National Football League.

St. Louis has lost their football team -- again -- and it now appears San Diego is jumping ship and headed to Los Angeles in time for the 2016 campaign.

Perhaps this one hits home to those of us in Baltimore more than it would if we were in, say, Dallas, Chicago or Pittsburgh. They've never lost their team and they never will, either. Anyone who was in Baltimore back in the mid 1980's knows all too well what it's going to be like next September in St. Louis and San Diego. Dreadful might be too strong of a word...but it's something in that neighborhood.

What role have all of us played in this latest example of NFL extortion-gone-wild?

Plenty. In fact, nearly everything we (you) do as fans of the league contributes to Stan Kroenke and Alex Spanos having the leverage to pack up their stuff and leave.

I know, it's weird to think that folks here in Baltimore can impact the Rams being able to move to Los Angeles, but it's true. It's true in the same way that folks in Cleveland, Seattle and Denver also affected both the Rams and Chargers taking advantage of the opportunity to flee St. Louis and San Diego.

We're not the only ones to blame, of course. The 32 owners who voted for the move(s) are the ones ultimately responsible. They were the true power players in the whole thing. But the rest of us are worthy of blame, too.

Our role as consumers of the NFL product is what the league used to develop a portfolio to wave in front of the decision makers in Los Angeles. Does anyone REALLY believe the city of Los Angeles is desperate to have a NFL team in their sun-soaked community? After all, the Rams left L.A. after the 1979 season, played a few years in Anaheim, and then headed off for St. Louis in 1995. The Raiders played a dozen seasons in L.A. from 1982 through 1994 while Al Davis waited for the league to make its games pay-per-view, but when that never materialized and the antiquated Oakland Coliseum was refurbished, he hustled back to Oakland.

Los Angeles -- the city itself -- hasn't truly had a team of its own since 1979.

And now, suddenly, they're so starved for pro football there that they're going to build this mega-mother-sports-complex and have not one, but two teams calling L.A. home?

We all know that's not true. Los Angeles isn't interested in the NFL or they wouldn't have gone 20 years without having a franchise there.

It's the NFL that wants Los Angeles, not the other way around. Admittedly, it's mind boggling to think that L.A. hasn't had a team in roughly 20 seasons. I mean, in our great country there are really three landmark cities: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. New York has two of everything in every sport and so, too, does Los Angeles. But they don't have ONE team in the NFL. It's weird.

But it also speaks to just how little the community in L.A. actually cares about the league and the game itself.

And yet, there go the Rams and the Chargers, packing up and leaving their fan base behind. Just like Bob Irsay did to us back in 1984 and just like Art Modell did to Cleveland in 1995.

It's all about greed, of course. Nothing more. Every team has to make more money. Every owner wants his investment to increase with each passing year. And no one wants to be the franchise at the bottom of the ladder. For a while, San Diego and St. Louis got the stink-eye at the annual owner's meetings. Some other franchise gets that distinction now. Buffalo, maybe? Jacksonville? I see a lot of empty seats eight times a year in Miami. Are they next?

So, while we continue to buy the PSL's, watch the games on TV, eat the pizza, drink the beer and buy the jersey, NFL owners are pondering their next move. No city is safe, as we learned in 1984 and the people in St. Louis and San Diego just found out. Sure, both of those cities lost out because of the two biggest buzzwords in the league today: stadium funding. St. Louis has a huge stadium that evidently no longer is good enough while San Diego has a terrible facility that wasn't good enough a decade ago, let alone in 2016.

But in ten years or more, Ravens Stadium will start to be outdated. So, too, will facilities in Kansas City and Chicago. What happens then? Could Baltimore be used as leverage again if our political powers reject the idea of building a new stadium in, say, 2025?

One thing we've learned this week: There isn't an owner in the league -- including our guy in Baltimore -- who isn't afraid to vote "yes" to a city losing its team. This year, it's St. Louis and San Diego. Next week, it could be Oakland heading to San Antonio. In 2018, it might be Jacksonville moving to London.

As long as we all keep going to the games, keep watching on TV and keep spending money on the NFL, the owners will always have the leverage to do whatever they want to better the deal for themselves. They don't want to get rich. They want to get MORE rich. And they can only do that with our help.

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today's guest contributor: chuck boemmel

The Orioles ended their 2015 season on Oct. 4 with a 9-4 win over the New York Yankees. After the game, Chris Davis was interviewed in front of a raucous group of fans chanting for him to return. Everyone said all the right things; Chris would like to come back, the Orioles would like to bring him back and the fans wanted him back. Free agency was set to begin upon completion of the World Series.

The World Series ended and the qualifying offers were submitted. All during the time leading up to this point the fans were quite vocal in their desire to keep ALL of our free agents. Social media was alive with #PayTheMan and #WeLikeOurGuys and other such comments including the expected "if they don't bring Chris back I am never going to another game again". There was even an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun by a fan who relocated to South Carolina lamenting how the Orioles were failing the fans.

Many words were written about the team, their needs, the cost to keep all the free agents, the expected costs of arbitration and what could be done in future seasons. Many fans took exception to the logical and inteligent writings about the team and just demanded that all our free agents be resigned. Many felt the Orioles would make a big splash in free agency.

Matt Wieters accepted his qualifying offer at a guaranteed contract of $15.8M and everything changed. I sensed the wind went out of the fans sails. In a case of "be careful what you wish for as it might just come true" some fans went quiet. Social media quieted down and a lot of the talk about the team died down. Wieters was wanted back but I don't think at that price. It seems reality may have set in that his salary would affect other signings although a few fans think Peter Angelos has a vault in his law office that is full of money.

The signing of Darren O'Day perked the fan base up a bit but there were still the sounds of crickets present in my opinion. We now have a bullpen to back up what rotation. Who is playing the corner outfield positions?

The annual Fan Fest was held in early December for whatever reason and even that didn't seem to excite a large part of the fan base. This was not your typical Orioles off season.

Regardless of what you believe about the negotiations with Scott Boras (on behalf of Chris Davis), a number of $150 million was leaked out. The rejection of this offer has turned the momentum of #PayTheMan into #LetHimWalk. Now we are in a huge waiting game that has paralyzed the Warehouse; ticket prices not set, only season ticket deposits being accepted, single game tickets not on sale and the acquisition of Mark Trumbo and a few lesser players not withstanding, there's been no action on improving the team.

Chen and Parra have signed with other teams and Buck has even opined that Chris Davis may not sign anywhere until March. As fans we now sit and wait; nervous, anxious and disappointed. Will someone please make a move and save the off season?! Is anyone in the Warehouse listening?

This is not how we saw any of this taking place once the season ended last October 4, that's for sure.


#DMD'S HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SPOTLIGHT

Marsh
Insurance & Financial
410-426-2282

brought to you by
Greg Marsh

mount saint joseph sweeps rare wrestling doubleheader

Gilman and John Carroll visited the Smith Center on the campus of Mount St. Joseph on Wednesday night to participate in a rare wrestling doubleheader. Typically, when three teams come together, they wrestle a tri-meet. On this day, the visitors wrestled the host Gaels, but not each other.

The Gaels downed Gilman on their Senior Night, 59-12, then faced off with John Carroll, coming out ahead, 47-24.

Highlights from the first match were St. Joe’s Cody Trybus (No. 2, 120) grinding out a 10-4 win over Gilman’s Matt Siems (No. 20). Siems never opened up, seemingly content to try and keep the score close, but Trybus kept pressing the action and showed he was by far, the superior wrestler.

No. 4 Shawn Orem closed the Gaels’ win over the Greyhounds with an impressive victory over No. 2 Braeden Alevizatos, 8-3. Orem pushed the pace and excelled on his feet tallying three takedowns in the first period.

“I knew it was going to be tough coming in,” Orem said. “I wanted to try to wrestle my match and keep up with a tough pace. Just keep being able to wrestle on my feet. I thought I wrestled really well. I wrestled really well on my feet and went after him.”

In the nightcap No. 2 Neil Schuster (MSJ, 152) notched a major decision over John Carroll’s No. 10 Andy Milner, 9-1. The Patriot’s Isaac Myers (No. 15 at 145) won a battle of freshmen standouts, 8-4, over Seth Fillers at 138lbs.

No. 10 Keagan Rill (MSJ) won the rubber match over MIAA rival Adam Berg (No. 7) with a fall at the 3:03 mark of the second period. Berg won their first meeting this year at the John Carroll Early Bird tournament in November. Rill has now won the last two meetings, with the first win coming at Mount Mat Madness.

The upset of the night took place at 113lbs when John Carroll’s Luke Strappelli (No. 10) won a tight decision over No. 9 Patrick Langeluttig, 4-2. It was Strappelli’s first win over Langeluttig in six tries. Langelutting was 4-0 versus Strappelli last season at 106, and he won their first meeting this year at Mount Mat Madness, 9-1.

#DMD's high school sports coverage is provided in part by Varsity Sports Network, the community leader in covering local high school sports. Visit their website -- www.varsitysportsnetwork.com -- for daily schedules, results and special interviews of all Baltimore-area high school sports. #DMD's high school sports coverage is presented each week by Greg Marsh Insurance and Financial. You can reach Greg at 410-426-2282 to discuss all of your financial needs.

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THIS WEEKEND IN ENGLISH SOCCER
Contributed by #DMD's EPL Reporter

MATTHEW CARROLL

So much for the league standings starting to take shape as we moved past the halfway point of the season a few weeks ago, with the results of Matchweek 21 leaving five teams within five points of fourth place and the top three sides all within three points of each other. With six of the top eight sides facing off this week in Matchweek 22, be sure to tune in and catch all of the action live on the NBC family of networks or online at NBC Live Extra.

Saturday, January 16 (all times eastern)

10am – West Ham United @ Newcastle United – St. James’ Park, NBC Live Extra

Without a win in their last four (L3 D1) and in an early 2-0 hole at home to Manchester United on Tuesday, Newcastle United battled back with defender Paul Dummett's 90th minute volley earning the Magpies a 3-3 draw and a crucial point as they continue to flirt dangerously close with the relegation zone. They will welcome West Ham United to St. James' Park on Saturday with the Hammers enjoying a three game winning streak and an eight game unbeaten run that has propelled them back to fifth place in the league table, only a point behind fourth place Tottenham.

Their great run of form combined with only two defeats on the road this season (W5 D4 L2) and the return of midfielder Dimitri Payet, who has scored or assisted more goals for West Ham this season across all competitions than any other player (six goals, five assists), West Ham may have their sights set on breaking further into the top four and will be confident of overcoming their recent slump at St. James’ Park, where they have managed to win just one of their last twelve league matches (W1 D5 L6), failing to score in three of their last four visits.

Sunday, January 17 (all times eastern)

9:05am – Manchester United @ Liverpool – Anfield, NBC Sports Network

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Rumors continue to swirl that Manchester United's Louis van Gaal could be in the unemployment line next week if United don't beat Liverpool on Sunday.

In a rivalry that dates back to 1895, two of the most storied clubs in the Barclays Premier League will meet for the 165th time at one of the cathedrals of world soccer when Manchester United squares off with Liverpool at Anfield. While both sides are coming off 3-3 draws, the prevailing mood surround the clubs couldn’t be more different, with Jurgen Klopp’s injury riddled Liverpool side looking to build off of their resilient performance against league leaders Arsenal while Louis van Gaal and United will be trying to forget about the points dropped in their loss to bottom of the table Newcastle.

With only one win in their last eight (W1 L3 D4) and the growing dissatisfaction of the United board and their fans for the product on the field each week, it is hard to believe that van Gaal is still in a job. We believed only weeks ago that his sacking was a mere formality and while we were incorrect at the time, a loss on Sunday following United’s recent dominance over their bitter rivals, which has seen the Red Devils win eighteen of the past twenty-seven meetings including six of the last eight and two of the last four at Anfield, might just be the final straw to finally bring about the much needed change at the top.

11:15am – Arsenal @ Stoke City – Britannia Stadium, NBC Sports Network

Despite second place Leicester City taking all three points against Tottenham on Wednesday, Arsenal's 3-3 draw with Liverpool was enough to keep the Gunners at the top of the league standings with the edge in goal differential. They will face a difficult road test when they travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City on Sunday afternoon, with Stoke flying high after their red card aided triumph over Norwich City on Wednesday, a victory that has the Potters up to seventh place in the table on thirty-two points, four points back of Tottenham, three behind West Ham, and two behind United.

While most clubs may fear a visit from the league’s top sides Stoke seems to relish the idea, with wins already under their belts at the Britannia this season over both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and a draw with Leicester. That run of good form extends to the league leaders, with Stoke having lost just one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W4 D2 L) and manager Mark Hughes unbeaten on home soil in his last seven league matches against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (W5 D2), and only two losses in his ten all time meetings with his French counterpart (W6 D2 L2).

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ever been to fenway park? we're going next next june
-- and so can you!

If you're a regular reader of #DMD, you know by now one of the spokes in our wheel has become bucket list sports trips. In fact, we'll be launching www.bucketlistsportstrips.com in January and doing trips-specific marketing in 2016 designed to capture sports enthusiasts around town who want to see places like Augusta National Golf Club, the Army-Navy game and other iconic events/venues. By the way, if you're interested in going to the Masters next April 5, we only have 8 seats left on our trip (click here for details).

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Join us in Boston, June 14-16, and experience Fenway Park!

I'm very excited about the newest addition to our sports trips menu. We have an outstanding trip planned for next June that many of you will no doubt be interested in...particularly if you've never been to Fenway Park in Boston. Even if you've been there, this is a great summer trip, but for those longing for the experience of Fenway Park, we're taking in a 3-game Orioles-Red Sox series June 14-16, 2016.

Here's how we're doing it: We'll be flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Boston on Tuesday morning, June 14. We'll be staying at a downtown Boston hotel and seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then we'll fly back to Baltimore on Friday morning, June 17. Your package includes round-trip airfare, game tickets for all three games (with the rest of the group, not seats scattered all over the park) and hotel accommodations two blocks from Fenway Park for three nights. Pricing varies depending on the number of people in your hotel room, but it ranges from $599 to $799 per-person.

Yes, you read that right. You can fly to Boston, stay in a downtown hotel, go to three games and have an amazing trip to see Fenway Park -- for less than $800.

This trip is limited to only 30 people, so if you're interested in seeing Fenway Park and the Orioles next June, please reach out to me right away via e-mail (18inarow@gmail.com). You can also click here to see the details and payment options there. A $150 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and the rest isn't due until May, 2016.


Thursday
January 14
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 14

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it's simply time to move on from chris davis

For a variety of reasons, some legitimate, some merely because it "feels like it's for the best", the Orioles should tell Chris Davis they're moving on -- for good.

Yes, I'm saying the Orioles should tell Davis, today, "We're no longer interested."

I know, I know...I'm the guy always bellyaching about getting better players, spending more money, trying to win games, etc. And telling greedy Davis and his agent to take a hike flies directly in the face of that rhetoric. I get it, trust me.

But it's time to move on.

This has nothing at all to do with the commentary I offered yesterday regarding the team's failure to publish ticket prices for the upcoming season. In fact, shoving Davis away might actually keep prices at the same level as they were a year ago, which I'd personally love to see since I'm one of the people in town who bought/buy tickets from the club. But just to clarify, my position on Davis today has nothing at all to do with what I wrote or thought yesterday, the day before, last week, etc.

It's time to move on from Davis because it's pretty clear by now that playing in Baltimore isn't a #1 priority for him. I get it, he's a free agent and with that come all of the cliches and buzz words associated with being availble to the highest bidder: "This is his one chance to land that big contract", "He hired an agent for a reason" and, the best one of all, "He's just doing what's best for his family."

At some point, though, enough is enough. Even Buck Showalter appeared agitated last month when asked about the decision facing Davis. "I asked him, 'Chris, when you walk into a Target store, can you buy anything you want? Well, how much is enough?'" OK, perhaps we all aspire to have enough money someday that shopping at Target isn't the barometer for whether or not we've made it big, but Showalter's point was clear. Enough is enough. And those three words have a variety of meanings.

Davis has said all along he'd like to return to Baltimore, which, at face value, I believe. If you can get $150 million here or $150 million in Detroit, what's the difference? Stay here, keep your house here, and make the big bucks in Baltimore. But that's a matter of convenience -- not priority. If Davis really wanted to be here -- and the emphasis is on the word "really", there -- he would have signed by now. And that's a fact.

Now, perhaps there are things going on that we don't know. In fact, it's likely there ARE things happening behind the scenes that we know nothing about. I still contend to this day that I don't believe the Orioles actually offered Davis $154 million over 7 years. That was my contention the day that supposed-offer was leaked and that's still what I believe today. Maybe that's it. Or maybe the club offered $90 million with $60 of it deferred (another popular rumor floating around) and those numbers aren't acceptable to Davis and Boras.

And here's where I should mention that parting company with Davis leaves a gaping hole at first base. Yes, I'm aware of that. It likely means Steve Pearce, Mark Trumbo and/or someone else not as good as Davis will be there this summer. I get it. We need a first baseman. A decent one, too. But at this point, it shouldn't be Davis.

The bottom line, now, is this: Davis -- who has already made $26 million in his career (chump change, I know) -- has sung the song about how great Baltimore is and, assuming that offer was legit in December, was presented with a proposal that would give him the freedom to just buy the entire Target store, building included. He hasn't taken it yet. That tells me he's not REALLY all that interested in playing in Baltimore. It tells me he just wants the most money. And I get that, too. There's pressure on him to sign a huge deal. But $154 million IS huge.

Brien Jackson has contributed a piece today about the departure of Wei-Yin Chen and how it can potentially help the O's with the Davis signing. One thought Brien has is that by gaining a draft pick for the now-departed Chen, the O's are perhaps now less worried about losing a draft pick if they sign free-agent Justin Upton. If the Birds do indeed ink Upton to a contract, that would likely mean the club is no longer able to afford Chris Davis. I suppose that all makes sense when you weave it together nicely, but I can't imagine Scott Boras gets that granular with his thinking when it comes to where Chris Davis is eventually going to wind up. Someone's going to pay his client $23 million a year, he assumes. It's just a question of when it happens.

But Brien's piece tells part of the story about why now is the time to tell Davis "thanks, but we're moving on". Everyone and everything is centered on Chris Davis. The O's can't sign a starting pitcher until they know how much they're spending on Davis. The O's can't sign a left-handed DH/bat until they know how much they're spending on Davis. The O's can't sign Justin Upton until they know whether or not they're signing Chris Davis. The O's can't sell a ticket for 2016 until they know what the ticket prices are going to be -- and they can't determine their ticket prices until they know if they're signing Chris Davis. The O's can't take a leak or powder their nose until they know if they're signing Chris Davis.

Not only is the waiting frustrating and, potentially, damaging to the team's chances for winning in 2016, it's also likely a precursor to Davis signing a mega-deal here and then stinking worse than your Aunt Betty's feet when she takes off her shoes at the family picnic next August. Some of these Brinks Truck deals have worked out over the years, but a great number of them haven't. And while I'm all for the team adding quality players, I'm not all for having one guy hold the club up for ransom when he doesn't really have the kid in the basement in the first place.

You can just feel it coming, right? Davis stalls the O's all winter, finally signs for $150 million, and then only hits 26 HR's next season and strikes out 213 times. In 2017, a bug flies in his eye in an early April game in Chicago and he winds up on the disabled list with some bizarre infection, only playing in 113 games that season with 21 homers and a .221 batting average. By 2018, he's getting booed more than David Lee Roth at an American Idol audition in Reno, Nevada.

This is all setting up to result in a bad situation, trust me. Some guys are built to sign up for $150 million and then play their butt off to justify it. I'm not sure Chris Davis is that guy, sorry.

So, for a bunch of reasons, most of which I hopefully have articulated in a concise way above, I'd call Boras today and tell him the Chris Davis chase is officially over. And that wouldn't be a game or a ploy or a "negotiating tactic". It would be the right thing to do, now. It's best for everyone, Davis included, actually, if he plays elsewhere in 2016 and beyond. Trust me, the chances of Davis signing for $150 million and living up to that contract aren't nearly as great as Davis signing for $150 million and flaming out.

You can just feel it.

Bye-bye Chris.

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from the desk of: brien jackson

Two more baseball free agents came off the board on Tuesday, as the MLB offseason finally begins to flicker back to life after weeks of dormancy. And while many in Baltimore wait anxiously for some happy news out of the warehouse, Tuesday brought a very different vibe, as both of the players headed to new teams are leaving Charm City.

I'm talking about Gerardo Parra and Wei-Yin Chen of course, who leave the Orioles for Colorado and Miami, respectively. Frankly, I don't think either loss really hurts the Orioles that much in context. Acquiring Parra in the first place was always a sucker's bet for the Orioles, and sure enough the clock struck midnight on his improbably productive year at the plate as he hit just .237/.268/.357 in his time in Baltimore. His defense will play up some in the spacious outfield of Coors Field, but $27.5 million guaranteed for three years seems like an overpay for a role player to me, and the Orioles aren't likely to miss his production at all.

Chen, admittedly, hurts at the margins. He was a solid starter, the Orioles best last year honestly, and his departure leaves a clear hole in the roster that won't easily be filled (though the Orioles are still being linked to Yovani Gallardo). Still, Chen's deal is much larger than I anticipated at 5 years and $80 million, with a sixth year option to boot, even in a super hot pitching market. I've always been a big believer that knowing when not to get in too deep with a player, especially one of your own, is one of the biggest factors in achieving long term success at building a roster, and to me that's simply too much to commit to a pitcher who's yet to eclipse the 200 innings pitched mark in four MLB seasons.

Ironically though, both of the moves may actually go a long way towards helping the Orioles retain Chris Davis. In Parra's case this is pretty straightforward: Colorado's signing of Parra leaves them with a surplus of outfielders, and there are already reports swirling of multiple teams (including the Orioles for what it's worth) checking in on the price of doing business. The biggest name in that bunch, however, is Detroit, who covets a left-handed hitting outfielder (this is why Boras has reportedly been pitching teams on the idea of Davis as an everyday outfielder), desperately wants to turn their bad fortune from 2015 around in one offseason, and stockpiled some attractive prospects at the deadline last year.

The obvious conclusion to jump to here is that a trade sending Carlos Gonzalez to Detroit in exchange for some quality pitching prospects would be a natural fit for both teams, and that would pretty much take the Tigers, the only team other than the Orioles who have ever seemed like a likely landing spot for Crush to me, out of the list of teams that might be able to find room in their lineup/budget for Davis.

Now how Chen factors into this is a little bit more abstract, but it involves the MLB draft compensation rules. As (mostly) everyone knows, for anyone other than the 10 worst teams in baseball the prior season to sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer, they must forfeit their first round draft pick (or highest remaining if they've already signed such a player). That's proven to be a big burden to some free agents, as teams are much more reluctant to give up these picks than they were under the old compensation system. Is that because they suddenly place a much higher value on high round picks? Not really, the MLB draft is still a huge crapshoot and even high picks aren't worth a whole lot on their own. No, the real reason for this is the rules limiting how much teams can spend on the draft.

Gone are the days when teams were free to offer as much as they wanted in signing bonuses to drafted players. Now, each team gets a “pool” of money to spend on their draftees, with the total amount being based on the “slot” value of each of their picks.

And therein lies the hidden cost to giving away draft picks: losing your first rounder also means losing the money associated with that pick. And the slot values are heavily weighted towards the early picks. In 2015 the value of the 14th pick, held by Atlanta, was $2.842 million. The Braves total slot value for 13 picks in the first ten rounds (the rules for selections after this are different) was $10.684 million. That's 26% of their total pool, but the Braves also had another first round pick they earned for failing to sign their first round selection in 2014, which accounted for $1.9 million of their slot money. If we look instead at the Rays, who's 13th ovreall selection was one of just ten picks they owned in the first ten rounds, the slot value of the pick ($2.962 million) made up a whopping 45% of their total available pool. This is important, because if you sign a pick for less than the slot value of that selection, you can take the leftover money and apply it to the rest of your picks as well, making it potentially easier to sign some higher upside prospects in later rounds (for what it's worth, if you fail to sign your selection you lose the slot money and can't devote it to the rest of your draft).

And therein lies the problem for any team considering signing a player who turned down a qualifying offer, which applies to Justin Upton, the Orioles' stated “fallback option” to signing Davis. Signing Upton requires a substantial hit to the team's ability to draft and sign a deep draft class in 2016, a fact that gives Scott Boras some extra leverage in negotiations. However, because the Orioles will get a supplemental round pick in return for Chen that should be valued somewhere around $1.5 million, the draft related hit to signing Upton is lessened somewhat, and that's even more true if the Orioles are planning on doing a deal with Gallardo regardless, meaning that the real cost is only a second round pick, which carries considerably less value than the first rounder.

So while Orioles fans may be feeling sour about Tuesday's departures, if the primary goal of the offseason is to retain Davis, this may well represent the moment Dan Duquette gained the upper hand on Scott Boras and created the leverage needed to keep the slugger in town at the team's preferred price point.

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lyles has another big night, but umbc falls at stony brook

Don't look now, but UMBC basketball coach Aki Thomas might have a game-changing player on his hands on Wilkens Avenue.

Sophomore guard Jairus Lyles led all scorers with 24 points last night at Stony Brook, but the Retrievers couldn't turn a second half rally into an upset roadwin as UMBC fell to the America East pre-season favorite, 86-74.

His 24-point output last night marked the sixth time in seven games this season that Lyles scored 24 or more points. That's a pretty impressive statistic at the D-1 level of college basketball.

UMBC (5-12, 1-2 America East) trailed, 45-33 at the half and were behind by a dozen at 60-48 with 13:33 remaining. But senior post Cody Joyce scored four points in an 8-0 run and Lyles capped a 13-4 surge with a trey to bring the Retrievers to within 64-61 with 9:18 remaining. But 2014-15 America East Player of the Year, SBU center Jameel Warney converted a traditional 3-point play on the next possession. After UMBC committed one of just their four turnovers on the night, Stony Brook guard Ahmad Walker hit a pair of free throws to restore an eight-point lead.

For the game, Lyles hit 9-of-18 from the floor and 4-of-7 from behind the arc. He added six rebounds and three assists. Freshman Joe Sherburne also hit 50 percent of his field goals, converting 5-of-10 inside the arc and 3-of-6 from long distance. He and Joyce also added six rebounds each.

Sherburne and fellow freshman Will Darley (Dulaney HS) scored 13 and 11 points respectively for the visitors.

#DMD is heading over to the RAC this Saturday to see Lyles and the Retrievers up close and personal. UMBC will host UMass-Lowell at 12 noon at the RAC and we'll be giving away a few tickets to the game via Twitter later today and on Friday. If you're not a lucky winner, come on out to the RAC, buy a ticket, and let's check out Lyles and the rest of the Retrievers on Saturday.


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.

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my new wine winner is available at the wine merchant

When you're looking for a good bottle of wine, there are times to be adventurous and times to simply pick a good, reliable bottle. People who enjoy wine generally fit into one of those two categories; you're either someone who bounces around and tries a variety of wines or you're someone who goes "tried and true" a lot. I'm in the latter category, for sure.

And that's why this week's featured wine at The Wine Merchant is from Josh Cellars. You'll just never go wrong.

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10741 Falls Road, Lutherville, MD 21093

For starters, the Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon that is this week's "Wine Winner" at The Wine Merchant in Lutherville is easy on the wallet. It's a $15 bottle of wine, which just about always fits everyone's budget. It's an easy bottle, too, meaning it's not going to clash with your food choice in almost every circumstance, and is especially great with simple things like burgers, chicken and a casual Saturday evening meal where you're just looking to have a good wine accompany a good, quiet meal. It's not explosive, so don't think you're all going to sit around the table and say, "Holy cow!!! This wine is unreal!". It's just not that type of wine. Instead, when you're cleaning the dishes and you take that last drink from the glass, you'll say, "You know what, that was a nice bottle of wine for the price."

Here's what the people who know far more about wine than I do say about it: "Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon has aromas of rich, dark fruits and baking spices on the nose, which yield fresh plum and blackberry fruit, violet, dried fig, vanilla bean and Chinese Five-Spice. The wine is juicy with plum and blackberry flavors prominent, layered with smoky and sappy maple wood, roasted almonds and hazelnuts that finishes long with fine, firm tannins."

And it might also be important to know a little about Joseph Carr, the guy who started Josh Cellars. It's an interesting story and will tell you a lot about why his wines are so good.

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Available at The Wine Merchant in Lutherville, this bottle of Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect for just about any occasion.

Joseph Carr was an award winning Sommelier and international wine industry executive who set out on his own in 2005 and founded Joseph Carr Winery in Carneros, California. It was, as Mr. Carr says, a chance to follow a dream. "We're a family owned company dedicated to making world class, handcrafted wines. We work with small growers, coopers and winemakers producing elegant, sophisticated, yet approachable wines from Napa Valley, Carneros, and the North Coast of California."

Joseph Carr now works with well known wine maker Tom Larson to produce his second label, named "Josh Cellars."

"After we're done producing our portfolio of Joseph Carr wines, we like to sit around "the garage" we call a wine cellar, and tinker with a few things. Growers we call friends come by and lend a hand. We laugh, tell stories and produce a winemaker's wine that we make just for ourselves; handcrafted wines that we jokingly refer to as a "vin de garage." These wines are named after my father, as they are expressive, but unassuming and approachable – just like him."

Head into The Wine Merchant on Falls Road and Lutherville and ask for the Josh Cellars Cabernet. You'll see my "Wine Winner" card right there on the box, telling you it's this week's wine of choice at #DMD.

Wednesday
January 13
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 13

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memo to duquette and company: spring training starts six weeks from today

I assume the Orioles have a calendar on hand at the Warehouse that highlights the various reporting and start dates for Spring Training, 2016.

In the midst of losing two more players yesterday, I took a quick look to see when everyone was scheduled to report to Sarasota next month. Pitchers and catchers check in on February 18, position players are due on February 23 and the first real, full workout is Wednesday, February 24.

February 24 is precisely six weeks from today.

Six weeks from now the Orioles will assemble in Sarasota to begin preparations for 2016 and here's the current state-of-affairs with the ballclub. They have no one at first base, a guy in right field (Trumbo) they'll probably regret putting there, and a starting rotation that's already a notch below the composition of last season's starting five -- which wasn't all that productive in 2015.

Yesterday's news that Wei-Yen Chen had signed in Miami wasn't all that surprising. Mostly because Buck laid down the law and said, "I don't want a guy who pulls himself out of 4-3 games in the 5th inning", the Orioles were never interested in trying to re-sign Chen. That's all well and good, of course. Teams, managers, GMs, etc. are certainly allowed to make hard-and-fast personnel decisions about players, even those that on the outside look like they could help the club. Chen looks the part and his statistics over the years indicate he's a worthy employee, but Showalter didn't like his lack of toughness. So...off he goes to Miami.

But now what? Say what you will about Chen, but he was a 32-start, 190-inning guy who posted identical 3.54 ERA totals the last two seasons. And that was in the American League, remember. Flinging him aside is one thing, but where are you going to find someone to replace those numbers? As Ted Knight said in "Caddyshack" -- "Well......I'm waiting."

There are names out there who have been linked to the Orioles in the wake of Chen's departure, but none of them are Chen's equal and none of them would be reasonable candidates for surprisingly-good seasons in the American League. Guys like Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy and Gavin Floyd might show up in Sarasota next March, but they won't do for the O's what Chen did for them. The only guy still lingering who enough of a track record to warrant excitement would be Yovani Gallardo, but it would be fair to wonder if his first (solid) season in the American League (2015) was more about beginner's luck and less about quality performance coupled with the potential for duplicating those numbers in 2016, 2017, etc. One thing for sure: Gallardo is better than Latos, Kennedy and Floyd. But not better than Chen.

The Orioles also lost outfielder Gerardo Parra yesterday, but that's not really an issue. As I noted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon when word started to spread that Parra had signed with the Rockies: "Losing Parra is like having someone steal the newspaper out of your driveway. You forget about it the next day." Other than the fact that right now it's Trumbo replacing Parra in right field (and, yes, that's a downgrade defensively, admittedly), nothing at all about Parra's move to Colorado concerns me. He's just a guy. Well, he's "just a guy" making $26 million over the next three years, but he's nothing special on the field.

But while I poo-poo the loss of Parra in general, I still have to ask, again this week, "What are the Orioles doing?"

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The Orioles are now without a left-handed starting pitcher with Tuesday's official departure of Wei-Yen Chen.

They've clearly hitched their wagon to the pursuit of Chris Davis, which wouldn't be all that dangerous if they had back-up plans in place in the event Davis takes the money from Detroit or Houston or one of the other teams rumored to have interest in him this week. I don't know that they do, unless you consider Steve Pearce a quality "back up plan". Most people don't.

The Orioles are so tied-to-the-cinder-block with Davis that they haven't even sent out season ticket information for 2016. I'm a 29-game plan holder, myself, and I haven't heard a peep from the O's since October, other than a letter offering me a free pair of tickets to FanFest last month. I understand how the Davis signing connects with other things, particularly the cost for tickets in 2016. If, in fact, the O's have to cough up somewhere around $150 million for Davis, they aren't taking that hit on their own. The fans are going to contribute -- heavily -- to the new $23 million man's salary.

However, as they wait around for Davis and Scott Boras to decide which city will be graced with the power hitter's presence in 2016, the fan base sits around and tries really hard not to spend their discretionary income elsewhere. (On a side note, if you're of that ilk and you're itching to spend your $900 of Orioles ticket money on something, I have an awesome trip to The Masters in April and a wild 3-game trip to Boston to see the Orioles and Red Sox in June. Check out the menu at the top of today's #DMD and you'll be taken to the information pages.)

Look, I get it. In today's world of push-a-button-and-everything-gets-done-before-lunch, the Orioles could decide on ticket prices this morning at 9:30 am and you'd have the information and the order form in your e-mail inbox by 12:30 this afternoon. It's not like the old days, when you had to print the brochure, make sure you had enough envelopes in the storage room, proof read all the materials and get four or five interns to stay late and mail the ticket info to all 5,000 accounts.

But, it's January 13 and the Orioles haven't sent out one piece of ticket information for 2016. Spring training starts in six weeks. The season opens in two and a half months. We're all being held up by the demands of a greedy baseball player and his working-on-my-second-300-foot-yacht agent.

Oh, and the O's are holding themselves up, too. Who's replacing Chen in the rotation? Who's playing right field? Who's the right handed DH? I know the words "Let's take a look at Nolan Reimold again" come to mind, but that's not what I was hoping to see in 2016. I was hoping to see some quality additions.

So far, I haven't seen much of anything. Not even a season ticket invoice.

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


terps fall at michigan, 70-67

In college basketball it’s often said, especially around NCAA tournament time, that good guard play wins games. Last night at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor Michigan, Michigan’s guards largely outplayed Maryland’s backcourt and the result, despite a stellar performance from the Terp “bigs”, was a 70-67 Wolverine win.

Maryland trailed nearly all of the second half and could never overcome the absence of productivity from their star point guard, Melo Trimble. Michigan was led by Zac Irvin’s 22 points, 10 rebounds from point guard Derrick Walton Jr., and a twelve to six advantage in made three point shots. Trimble, who had two points on a jumper only 1:20 into the game and then wouldn't score again, never got to the foul line once all night and committed 4 turnovers. Diamond Stone had 22 points to pace all Maryland scorers. Jake Layman added 18 and Robert Carter Jr. had 15. Maryland guards combined to shot 4-23 from the field with seven turnovers.

From the start, things looked bad for the Terps. Michigan knocked down their first three 3-point shots they took while Maryland scored three times off of second chance points. At the 11:54 mark of the first half, Michigan had an 18-12 lead and Maryland had turned the ball over six times. Trimble picked up his second foul at 9:30 and watched the remainder of most of the half from the Terp bench. He was hardly missed. The lead was still six until Michigan’s Mark Donnell tipped one in at the buzzer to make the Wolverine advantage 37-29 going into the halftime break. For the half, Michigan hit 8 of 15 three pointers while Maryland knocked down only three of ten while committing nine turnovers.

Michigan extended their lead to 13 points a little over three minutes into the second half after Walton Jr. made a four point play when he was fouled making another 3 point shot. The Terps were able to chip away, and eventually tie the game at 54 all on a Jake Layman jumper with 7:37 remaining in the game. They took a brief one point lead after a Diamond Stone three point play when he was fouled while making a layup. There was 6:48 left and the Terps would never lead again.

A Donnal three point play, followed by a layup by Michigan forward Duncan Robinson (17 points, 5-9 on threes) gave Michigan a four point lead. When Walton Jr and Irvin sandwiched 3 pointers around a missed jumper by Layman, the Michigan lead looked comfortable at seven points. Rasheed Sulaimon and Walton traded threes, and Sulaimon knocked down another three pointer giving Maryland some hope being down only four with 1:23 left. Sulaimon’s first three pointer was the first Maryland shot made by a Terp guard in the second half.

The game would get more interesting and a bit tighter in the final minute, as a couple of missed shots by Michigan from the foul line eventually put the ball in Sulaimon’s hands with 14 seconds left and the Terps down 70-67 with a chance to tie. However, after dribbling on the perimeter looking for an opening, Sulaimon’s long range shot missed the mark and Michigan secured the rebound and the win.

Early in the game, the story was the Michigan efficiency from beyond the three point line. As the game progressed, the story became the futility of the Terp guards. At one point, before Sulaimon hit his back to back threes, the Terp guards were a combined two for twenty from the field with seven turnovers against only six assists. Terp guard Jared Nickens missed all of his shots (all from beyond the arc) and has quietly gone into a severe shooting funk hitting just 5 of his last 30 three point shots.

A case surely could be made for fatigue playing a role in last night’s loss. After playing a tough road game on Saturday, the Terps had to quickly turn around and fly to Michigan for their contest with the Wolverines. Meanwhile, Michigan last played on Thursday and certainly seemed to have the fresher legs. Regardless of the outstanding efforts by Layman, Carter Jr, and Stone, the Terps won’t win road games against talented teams in the Big 10 when their guards play as poorly as they did last night. Maryland should have plenty of time to recharge for their next game, a home contest at noon on Saturday against Ohio State.

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bo's eye view

BO SMOLKA is a longtime member of the Baltimore-Washington media. He covers the Ravens for #DMD and ComcastSportsNet. Bo's insights and analyses are presented by Advanced Heating & Cooling, which offers a variety of energy saving, high-efficiency equipment for heating, air conditioning, and geothermal systems.


flacco's desire to win could factor in new deal going through

Conventional wisdom says that Joe Flacco has all the leverage as the Ravens look to restructure his contract. After all, what are the Ravens options if Flacco says, “Nah, thanks, I’m good”? And surely Flacco could do that. He could take his $18 million salary, which carries a whopping $28.5 million cap hit when you do all that math, and get ready for the 2016 season. But here’s the flaw with that plan, which Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta, must know: If the Ravens commit roughly one-fifth of their salary cap to Flacco, they simply won’t have the resources to go out and improve the roster the way they need to if they want to field a competitive team.

The gamesmanship from both sides has already begun.

Last week, Linta went on the Glenn Clark Radio show and said Flacco’s huge contract and cap hit “is what it is,” and said that, essentially, a $28.5 million cap hit is just the price of an elite (dare we use that word?) quarterback in the NFL these days.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said at the “State of the Ravens” news conference last week that the Ravens would like to rework the contract, but they will have a strategy in place in case they can’t do it.

That strategy might include bargain-basement receivers such as Daniel Brown and Chris Matthews once again because the Ravens didn’t have the money to go out and sign anyone better. Or it could include James Hurst at left tackle because Eugene Monroe was too expensive and Kelechi Osemele left in free agency.

You want your nice $28.5 million cap hit, Joe? Fine, but get ready to get clobbered from the blind side, and trudge off the field a loser a whole lot more often than you did early in your career. That’s essentially the leverage – the only leverage – that the Ravens have: Appeal to Flacco’s competitive nature. If Flacco really wants to be part of a competitive, successful team, he knows his cap figure must come down.

And it will. But don’t think Flacco will give the Ravens any hometown discount, or will agree to any pay cut. More likely, Flacco will end up getting extra years tacked onto his deal, which will put even more money in his pocket. But that will lower the cap figure over the next few years.

Tom Brady got all sorts of good publicity when his deal was reworked, and it was painted as if Brady took a pay cut to help the team. That’s not what happened at all; creative accounting made it look that way, but Brady made out even better in the end. Expect that Linta and Flacco will come up with a similar deal that helps Flacco, Flacco’s PR image, and the Ravens. That would be a win-win for both sides.


drew's fantasy golf preview: sony open

Like a lot of people this time of year not named Jordan Spieth, my game had some rust on it last week when I started off the 2016 fantasy golf campaign by picking Graeme McDowell to win the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. McDowell stunk it up. So did I.

But here I am, back for week #2 of the season, and poised to give you all some better information for the various fantasy golf leagues you're involved with in 2016. This is a "full field" event as opposed to last week's limited, invitation-only tournament, so there will be "off the radar screen" and no names guys on the leaderboard this week at the Sony Open, you can bet on that. I just hope I give a couple of them to you.

I like a couple of promising young players who had quality 2015 seasons to shine at Waialae CC and factor in the Sunday chase for the title. Let's go with Tony Finau and Harris English, both of whom were cut-making-machines last year. Finau made 22 of 31 cuts and had a whopping 16 finishes in the Top 25. English is the better of the two, overall, with 24 of 28 cuts made last season and a remarkable record since turning pro in 2012: he's made 90 cuts in 114 PGA Tour events in the last four plus seasons on TOUR.

Jimmy Walker is a solid, safe pick this week. He routinely plays well on the West Coast and early in the season in general, plus he won the event at Waialae CC in 2014 and 2015. It's awfully hard to win anywhere three years in a row, but Walker figures to be right there this Sunday afternoon. You'd be foolish to ignore his track record at the course. I'm also throwing in Russell Henley and Justin Thomas this week in Hawaii. This is just the type of tournament one of those guys wins. They're each solid ball strikers and birdie-makers when their putter cooperates and they'll need to average 5-6 birdies a day at this venue to keep up with everyone.

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Momentum from last week's top 5 finish at Kapalua might extend Brandt Snedeker into the winner's circle this week.

I'm going with Brandt Snedeker to win this week's TOUR event at Waialae. He played well at Kapalua last week (T-3 with Koepka) and has a history of high finishes early in the season, plus he's typically a player who gets hot for a week, extends that streak for a couple of more weeks, and then goes away for a while. Coming off of his outstanding play at The Plantation Course a week ago, I'll go with Snedeker to triumph at the Sony Open.

Drew's Fantasy Golf coverage in 2016 is brought to you by Glory Days Grill. If you and your golfing friends are looking for a place to watch this week's PGA Tour event, Glory Days Grill offers the perfect setting. Lots of big-screen TVs for your multiple-sports-viewing-pleasure, plus food and drink specials all weekend long.

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we still have seats left on our caps-flyers bus trip, jan. 27

A number of people have reached out to me recently asking if I'm putting together a Caps bus trip in 2016. I love the Caps, of course, so it's certainly "in my blood" to get a trip organized and take a bunch of folks down to the Verizon Center to see Alex Ovechkin and Company live and in person. If you've never been to a Caps game, it should be on your "must do" list. It's a wild two-and-a-half-hours of sports fun and entertainment.

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Giroux vs. Ovechkin on January 27. Join #DMD for our Caps bus trip and see it in person!

So...the #DMD Caps trip is happening. And who better to see the Capitals bury than the worst franchise in all of sports -- the Philadelphia Flyers. So, we're heading to DC on Wednesday, January 27 to see the Caps host the Flyers at 8:00 pm.

Here's what you get as part of our trip: Round-trip bus transportation from the Towson area, a pre-game "Happy Hour" at Glory Days in Towson, dinner on the bus ride to DC from Chick fil-A at Nottingham Square, snacks and drinks on the ride to DC, plus a LOWER LEVEL TICKET to the Caps-Flyers game. The per-person cost is $175, with a $75 deposit due at the time of your reservation and the remaining $100 due no later than Jan. 15, 2016.

If you're interested in getting seats on the Caps-Flyers bus, e-mail me today: 18inarow at gmail.com


Tuesday
January 12
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 12

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alabama beats clemson in something that looked a lot like a football game

Here's your morning slice of full disclosure: Last night's NCAA title game was the first FULL college football game I watched on TV all season. I went to the Army-Navy game back on December 12 with a busload full of other local college football enthusiasts and watched that game live, in person, but last night's game from Glendale, Arizona was literally the first college game I watched on TV from start to finish.

Let me get some of the housekeeping out of the way. I watched plenty of college football in 2015, but mainly in bits and pieces. I don't "dislike" college sports. In fact, I'll watch hours of college hoops and be thoroughly entertained. But there's something about college football over the years that has drained me of that glued-to-the-TV-every-Saturday kind of feeling. I can't put my finger on it, but it's there.

That said, I watched last night from opening whistle to closing whistle (Alabama won, by the way, 45-40) and, if nothing else, I was entertained. I'm not sure the football itself was all that technically sound, but a few players really stood out on the big stage. I have no idea what Clemson's compensation package is for quarterback Deshaun Watson, but they better double it this morning or he'll be one unhappy camper. Watson was magnificent last night, throwing for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns while picking apart the Alabama defense the way you and I go through steamed crabs at a family picnic. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard put on his Rob Gronkowski costume and stepped up his game to the tune of 5 catches for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those two players alone were worth the price of admission, as the reigning SEC and ACC champs slugged it out like a pair of heavyweight fighters.

The game moved at an incredibly rapid pace, the flow heightened by a grand total of six penalties on the night. I'm no fool -- my guess is there were actually far more than six penalties committed during that sixty minutes of football -- but the refs tried a novel concept last night...they just let the kids play. There were far fewer stoppages throughout the game for coaching challenges, referee huddles, shoving matches between players, and so on. It's as if the actual game itself mattered to the guys on the field. Those kids last night wanted to play football, not showcase themselves, which is the exact opposite of a NFL game these days. Oh, and I don't remember seeing any bone-jarring or wildly reckless hits, tackles, etc. last night. I saw collisions and contact and impact, yes indeed, but the whole game was played fairly and above board.

All that said, I don't know how capitivated I really was with the whole thing. Maybe it was just such a shock to my system to see good, honest football again that I wasn't able to take it all in its proper context. That definitely could be true. Perhaps I needed a dog-in-the-hunt to fully immerse myelf in the whole game. I couldn't have cared less about the outcome because I'm not a fan of either team. But something was missing. Neither team played any real defense in the 4th quarter, turning what was a 24-24 barnburner with about 11 minutes remaining in the game into a 45-40 track meet by the time the confetti fell. It got almost predictably boring in the those final 11 minutes, akin to a Stanley Cup Finals game going from 2-2 in the 3rd period to 7-6 at the end of the third period. Fun? Sure. But dripping with drama and great theater? I didn't think so. But I'm more than willing to admit that it could just be me. In fact, maybe that's the way football should be played. As I noted on Twitter during the 4th last night, "It looks like a polished version of arena football".


While Nick Saban wakes up this morning celebrating his 5th national title, #DMD is doing a little celebrating of its own today. We're welcoming a new corporate partner to the family and introducing our first-ever line of #DMD apparel, with a special twist to help my friend Van Brooks. First, we're pleased to have Maryland Home Sellers on board here at Drew's Morning Dish. They're a local company that specializes in obtaining foreclosed properties for home buyers and delivering them to you at deeply discounted prices. They do ALL of the work. They'll research what homes are on the foreclosure market, they'll match those properties up with your needs (zip code, size of the home, your budget, etc.) and you'll get that new home at a fraction of the cost you might have otherwise paid had you not used the services of Maryland Home Sellers.

Best of all, the only thing you need to do to be in the Maryland Home Sellers family is sign up for their e-mail list. There's no "hard sell approach" or anything of that nature. On a regular basis they'll e-mail you a list of the latest foreclosure properties and if you're interested in one of them, all you have to do is get in touch and they'll guide you through the next steps. Their website -- which can be reached by clicking on their ad on the right hand side of #DMD -- is www.mdhomesellers.com.


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Your purchase of #DMD apparel also supports Van Brooks' S.A.F.E. Foundation

If you check out the menu listing in the #DMD header above, you'll see our brand new #DMD Apparel link, where you can now purchase three items to show your support for Drew's Morning Dish. We're offering a 100% cotton t-shirt, a durable, heavy gray sweatshirt and a gray baseball cap, all with the #DMD logo. I'm also trying to drum up support for my friend Van Brooks and his S.A.F.E. Foundation, so for each shirt or hat purchased, I'll donate $5.00 to Van's Foundation. If you'd like to know more about the great work he's doing in our community, Van's website is www.safealternative.org.

The #DMD Apparel page has a full offering of various sizes for the t-shirt and sweatshirt and you can pay for it all using our convenient PayPal link. If you'd rather buy the items directly and pay with a check, that's fine, too. Just e-mail me -- drew@drewsmorningdish.com -- and specify your order and I'll get back to you with payment details and an address to mail your check.

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i love ya harbs, but think "more pass", not "more run"

I saw an interesting piece yesterday at www.baltimoreravens.com in which John Harbaugh talks about the need for an improved Ravens running game in 2016. Everyone knows I'm a Harbaugh fan through and through, but I can't help but think that's not a great approach given what we see every Sunday these days in the NFL. What you need to do in the NFL now is very simple: 1. Throw the football. 2. Stop the other team from throwing the football.

Harbaugh, though, wants to see the Ravens more genuinely reflect the old "ground and pound" style they've employed in recent years. “Running the football, it’s our identity,” he said on the team's website. “So, to the extent that we didn’t run the ball well (in 2015), yes, we lost our identity a little bit and we have to be able to do that. We’re going to find our way back that way, and we’re going to work on that right now.”

No, Coach. No, no, no.

Now, let's all realize that just saying "we're going to work on that right now" isn't necessarily indicating the team is going to run the ball 45 times a game next season and throw it 15 or 20 times. I'm not trying to overreact here. The coach is merely saying the team needs to run the ball better and there's a lot of truth to that, although I think most of the improvement could simply come by virtue of running the ball better on 3rd and short situations.

But please, Coach, don't devote a lot of time to figuring out to how go from 92 yards per-game (which ranked the Ravens 26th) to the 152 yards per-game gained by NFL leader Buffalo in 2015. The stats for run vs. pass are somewhat murky, because both categories reveal odd tendencies. Six of the top ten rushing teams didn't make the playoffs this past season while seven of the top ten passing teams didn't make the post-season. But those are just raw numbers and a closer look at an offense's ability to run well or throw well will likely show that a team that can throw the ball effectively will pick up far more first downs than will a team who runs the ball with a high degree of success.

I get it. You do need to run the football to win games in the NFL. Third down success is a critical element of the game, both on offense and defense. But the game these days is "in the air" and it's far more important to have an elite quarterback, a solid left tackle and four or five pass catching threats than it is to have a great offensive line and a running game that can churn out 140 yards or more every Sunday.

This is 2016, not 1976.

Pay the running backs peanuts, I say, and give Flacco a few more quality wide receivers who can get separation and catch the ball. Get more effective in the red zone while you're at it. And, yes, have a running game at your disposal that can pick up 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 2 with some degree of regularity. In the end, though, I hope the Ravens -- from Ozzie and Eric on down to Harbs and his coaches -- put greater emphasis on the passing game than the running game this off-season.


today's guest contributor:
brien jackson

It was certainly a surprise when the Ravens announced that no one would be getting fired as a result of a 5-11 season at last Thursday's press conference. With the lone exception of Ted Monachino leaving for a promotion, all of the Ravens assistant coaches will return for the 2016 season. I certainly didn't expect that the Ravens would be moving on from Dean Pees or Marc Trestman, but I certainly thought at least a few assistants would be scapegoated for the team's worst season, by far, of the John Harbaugh era. Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti, however, decided to move forward in a more measured fashion.

As Drew noted over the weekend, that decision was met with various degrees of anger from fans, and like Drew I can only wonder if some of these people are actually listening to themselves. You want a grandstanding, showboating, visibly angry owner making guarantees and issuing ultimatums? How are Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder doing these days anyway? You think someone needs to be fired just because to “send a message?” What message is that, exactly? We're talking about professionals here, I'm guessing they know that going 5-11 ism't acceptable in the long run, but it's also a staff and an organization that's had a ton of success recently, and making changes to that just because is the sort of reactionary machinations that make teams like the Cowboys and Redskins perpetual laughingstocks.

Now, if they had wanted to make some changes, I don't think it would have hurt anything, but I'm not sure it would have helped either. Yes, there were some issues with fundamentals and communication amongst various position groups, most notable the secondary. And yes, you can blame the coaching for that to a big extent. But you can also blame players for just not being good enough. After all, if it was as simple as just getting new coaches, anyone could be a Pro Bowl player. The areas of the team that looked the sloppiest were, not coincidentally, also the ones with the most serious lack of overall talent.

Now you might counter that if the problem is a lack of talent on the roster, then a critical eye ought to be cast on Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, and the scouting department charged with assembling the roster. Frankly, there's some merit to that, and the team has had some philosophical problems in recent years that haven't helped the present situation at all. They're far to focused on the running game, on both sides of the ball, in a league where running is becoming less and less relevant every year, and running backs are worth less than a dime a dozen. They've not been good at evaluating safeties since drafting Ed Reed, and they're seemingly just getting around to recognizing that you really do need bona fide playmakers at the wide receiver position who can put pressure on the edges of opposing defenses.

And yet, they've continued to put a perennial playoff contender on the field, and to the extent the current outlook looks a bit bleak, it's because of that omnipresent bane of the Ravens' organization right now: bad luck. Put simply, no one thought the contracts handed out to Eugene Monroe, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb were bad signings, and it's not anyone in Owings Mills fault that injuries have derailed each of those guys careers to various extents, and that they aren't playing up to their present and future cap numbers. And yet, that's $25 million of next year's available cap space, and roughly $15-20 million in potential dead money against the 2017 cap.

All of which is to say that the popular narrative around the Ravens really is the correct one: they're a competent and well run organization that have hit an unusually large patch of bad luck, and have had a lot of things blow up on them for reasons beyond their control. It's highly unlikely that anyone else would have avoided these missteps in real time, so given the track records of the guys running this team, there's very little reason to think anyone else is better suited to be entrusted with turning things around.

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check out #dmd live tonight via section336.com

I'm excited to be joining Josh Sroka, Matt Sroka and Bert Rode tonight at 7:30 pm for their weekly podcast that is also available via live video stream at their outstanding website, www.section336.com.

We'll be discussing the Orioles off-season, the recently completed Ravens campaign and anything else the guys come up with that we can argue about. I'm hearing a rumor there's even going to be some kind of quiz associated with tonight's event, which doesn't bode real well for me. Quizes and tests were never my thing in school. But I'll do my best tonight.

So, visit their website at 7:30 pm and check out the live video stream or just listen in if you'd rather not see four handsome guys sitting in a well appointed room talking about sports. Either way, we'd love to have you.


Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


maryland at michigan hoops preview

I’m sure that the Maryland basketball coaching staff has done their homework for tonight’s road game against the Michigan Wolverines (12-4, 2-1), and I’m sure they know that guarding the perimeter is going to be essential if they hope to contain the Wolverines and exit the Crisler Center with a “W”. Michigan is fourth in the nation in 3-point shots made per game (10.9) and sixth in percentage (42.6%). Despite the potential absence of their top scorer, Caris LeVert, (doubtful with a leg injury) they can still hurt the opposing defense with long range bombs.

In what may be the best 3-point shooting group in the BIG 10, the Wolverines boast seven players that shoot 38% or better from behind the line. Two players, Duncan Robinson (55.7%) and point guard Derrick Walton Jr (52.2%) connect on more than 50% of their 3 point attempts. The 6’8” Robinson may have the best stroke in college basketball and cannot be left alone for uncontested triples. While collectively the Wolverines frequently knock down 3s, when they miss them their lack of size restricts their ability to corral rebounds on the offensive end, and the same issue persists on the defensive end. If LaVert is out, the leading rebounder playing for Michigan will be their point guard, Walton Jr.

Look for Maryland to attack inside with all of their big men. I can easily see Robert Carter Jr coming up with a big night as his combination of size, quick moves with the ball, and ability to make short shots should present big problems for Michigan. Jake Layman may even see a few more opportunities posting up and could be effective there if given the chance. If the Wolverines score with their big men, it’s usually with good movement that frees up either Mark Donnal or sometimes Moritz Wagner to catch balls above their head and quickly release a short shot around the basket.

This Michigan team is very quick, scrappy, and likes to run the floor, but have been known to give up points. In three of their four loses they gave up more than 80 points with their most recent loss being their last game, 87-70 to Purdue on Thursday. The loss of Lavert will definitely be felt and the lack of an inside game will be an issue too. Michigan should be a bit fresher than the Terps, who are coming off of a hard fought game on Saturday while the Wolverines last played on Thursday. The linesmakers have the Terps favored by only one. If Michigan hits 50% or more from the three point line, and puts up at least 25 of them, I could see them pulling off this slight upset. If they don’t, then Maryland will move to 5-0 in the Big 10. Let’s go with an entertaining and high scoring game with Maryland pulling out an 84-80 win.

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THIS WEEKEND IN ENGLISH SOCCER
Contributed by #DMD's EPL Reporter

MATTHEW CARROLL

There will be little rest for the weary after a full weekend of FA Cup action, as Matchweek 21 of the Barclays Premier League kicks off with a full slate of mid-week games, highlighted by a Wednesday card full of marquee matchups. As usual, you can watch every game live on the NBC family of networks or if you are stuck at the office you can catch every game live online at NBC Live Extra.

Wednesday, January 13 (all times Eastern)

2:45pm – Everton @ Manchester City – Etihad Stadium, NBC Live Extra

Manchester City won for the first time in their last six road games (L3 D3), a run of fixtures dating back to the beginning of September, with a Yaya Toure volley and a Sergio Aguero looping header in a two minute and thirty-five second span in the game’s final ten minutes enough to earn a come from behind victory over Watford to hold on to third place in the league standings. They will welcome a middle of the table Everton side to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday looking for revenge following a 2-1 defeat to the Toffees only a week ago in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final clash.

This will be the second of three meetings between the sides over the coming weeks, with the second leg of the League Cup to come at the end of the month, and Everton will have to hope their recent success against City carries over to league play, having failed to take all three points from the Citizens in their last five meeting (L4 D1). With only one win in their last seven and a weekend trip to Stamford Bridge to face an all of sudden in form Chelsea side pending, a setback at the mid-week could begin to edge the Toffees dangerously close to the relegation zone.

3pm – Arsenal @ Liverpool – Anfield, NBC Sports Network

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Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp will need a premium effort from his patchwork lineup on Wednesday vs. Arsenal.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be looking for a response from his side following some uninspiring performances as of late, which included a 2-0 defeat to West Ham United their last time out in the league where the Reds held a decisive advantage in possession (65% to 35%) but could only muster a measly total of two shots on goal throughout. Their current tally of twenty-two goals in the league is the lowest total in their history and they will need to find their scoring touch if they hope to keep pace with the free flowing Arsenal when the league leaders visit Anfield on Wednesday.

With a total of thirty-five goals scored between the clubs in their last nine league meetings at Anfield they are likely to find the going tough as Klopp, who was forced into naming an entirely changed starting eleven for their 2-2 draw in the FA Cup against League Two side Exeter City on Friday, faces a similar selection dilemma with a total of ten first team players set to miss the clash through injury, including three quarters of his first choice defense (Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, and Mamadou Sakho), midfield maestro Phillipe Coutinho, and strikers Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi.

3pm – Leicester City @ Tottenham – White Hart Lane, NBC Live Extra

After meeting only three days ago in the third round of the FA Cup, the outcome of which now means that the two sides will meet a total of three times over a nine-day span, Leicester City and Tottenham are set to renew acquaintances at White Hart Lane on Wednesday in the headlining fixture of Matchweek 21. A ten game unbeaten run earlier this season propelled Leicester into unlikely title candidates but a recent dip in form, where the Foxes have failed to win in their last three league outings and four overall (L1 D3), has Tottenham nipping at their heels just four points behind.

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last five league meetings with Leicester City (W3 D2) but if they are to make it six they will need to slow down an attack that has scored at least one goal in eighteen of their last twenty-one league matches and at least two goals in ten of their last thirteen road contests across all competitions. There is a chance that the Spurs may catch a bit of a break as Jamie Vardy, whose fifteen goals is tied for tops in the league with Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, is a doubt following minor surgery on a nagging groin injury that he has played through for the last month.


Monday
January 11
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 11

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hill, walsh provide prime teaching moments

In the wake of two crushing defeats over the weekend, a pair of players stood out.

No, I'm not talking about Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones, although they both actually do factor in this conversation -- eventually.

The two subjects are Jeremy Hill of the Bengals and Blair Walsh of the Vikings. Different teams, different positions, different mistakes, but we saw the identical display of character from both of them after their own individual miscues contributed to the downfall of their team.

Hill, you'll recall, fumbled the ball inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line on Saturday night with the Bengals seemingly just a mistake-free 90 seconds away from disposing of the Steelers and advancing in the AFC playoffs. A lot transpired AFTER Hill's fumble, of course, so it's not like his mistake directly cost Cincinnati the game, but there he was afterwards, facing the music in front of a throng of media members gathered at his locker. “That’s very difficult because you know you put them in that situation and our defense played their butts off all day today, especially against that offense,” said Hill, who rushed 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. “It’s very unfortunate for me to put them back out there after they played their butts off. Especially after getting the interception. Words don’t really do anything at this point. It’s all about production and what you did out there. I really don’t care what anyone has to say at this point. It’s on me. I take the full blame for it.”

Walsh, meanwhile, had far more reason to shoulder the blame after somehow missing a 27-yard field goal that would have likely given Minnesota a 12-10 win over Seattle. It's akin to missing a 27-inch putt to win a golf tournament (which has been done, too, it should be noted), which is to say it's made 9.5 out of 10 times. Professional kickers simply don't miss 27-yard attempts. But Walsh did, and yet there he was afterwards, much like Hill, standing in front of his locker, explaining how it happened and why he was willing to take the blame (see below).


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Walsh's post-game availability reminded me of the way Billy Cundiff handled his miss in the AFC Championship Game in New England back in January of 2012. I was there, in the locker room at Gillette Stadium, watching it all unfold in front of me. I remember walking up to Sam Koch, his locker stationed directly next to Cundiff's, and saying, "Tough one there, pal..." Koch responded with, "We'll be OK. I just feel terrible for Billy. No one deserves to have the kind of attention on them that he's about to get."

Minutes later, Cundiff appeared from the shower and said, "Just let me get dressed guys and I'll be right with you." The kicker put on his suit, neatly tied his necktie, and then turned around to face 25 or so media members and said, without provocation, "I know you all are looking for answers and I don't have any yet. I just know I missed it, that's all. It's the worst feeling in the world, but I have to deal with it." He then stood at his locker for the next ten minutes and answered every question thrown his way.

Blair Walsh did the same thing on Sunday in Minnesota. "I want you guys here at my locker when I make the game-winning kick and I know you have to be here when I miss them," he said. That's the mark of a true professional...a guy you'd want playing for you or working for you. It's called accountability. Walsh took the blame and faced the criticism he not only knew he'd get, but criticism that was warranted, as well.

Jeremy Hill also took the heat on Saturday night in Cincinnati. In fact, both Hill and Walsh essentially took ALL of the blame, even though anyone who knows sports would quickly point out the end result wasn't simply "their fault". Cincinnati allowed Pittsburgh to go down the field and kick the eventual game-winning field goal after Hill's fumble and the Vikings had a 9-0 lead and couldn't put the game away in the 4th quarter, with Adrian Peterson's late fumble leading to Seattle's go-ahead field goal.

Contrast the post-game behavior of Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones with that of Jeremy Hill and Blair Walsh and you have an incredible teaching moment for those of you with children who play youth sports. You can take it a step or two deeper if you want and use the words "life lesson", too, if you please. I'd show the two videos associated with Burfict and Jones in their respective post-game "moments", but doing so would only serve to heighten the awareness of their unprofessionalism even more. The videos, of course, are out there on the internet and easily found if you really want to see them for yourself.

Burfict was at least at his locker after the game. Let's give him a morsel of credit for changing clothes there and not hustling off to some dark room to wait it all out. But that's all the credit he gets. As media members asked him about the penalty involving Antonio Brown that helped set up Pittsburgh's game-winning field goal, Burfict simply repeated after each question, "I don't know". A series of questions got the same answer -- "I don't know" -- until the 3rd year linebacker finally spouted off about Joey Porter being on the field (which, of course, had NOTHING at all to do with his penalty). Burfict then grabbed his bag and said, "Y'all sure do ask some dumb f**king questions" and high-tailed it out of the stadium.

Someone, somewhere, will likely respond to the whole Burfict situation with this: "Well, what did you want him to say?". I'd start off by saying, "anything but 'I don't know' six or eight times", but the reality is there were plenty of (better) ways to handle that situation afterwards. How about this one? "I tried my best to get out of his way once I saw he didn't catch the ball (that could have been true) but it all happened too quickly (that could have been true). I wasn't trying to take his head off or hurt him (that could have been true). I obviously know in that situation the last thing I want to do is get a penalty and move the ball down the field (that could have been true). It's a shame it all happened like that. It doesn't matter if I think it was a penalty. The refs thought it was a penalty and they threw the flag."

Burfict -- with his wits about him (if that's possible) -- could have really become a sympathetic figure had he simply fallen on the sword and said, right away, "I wasn't trying to hurt that guy. I really wasn't. It all happened in a split second and it was like a car wreck. It was over before I knew what was going on." Some people wouldn't have believed him but others, frankly, might have. It certainly was a bang-bang play, no two ways about it. History and a bunch of penalties for wreckless play aren't working in Burfict's favor, but he could have done much more for himself afterwards by being even a smidgen more human.

Honestly, a "fall on the sword" response doesn't even take a whole lot of processing. Burfict could have still avoided shouldering the blame and the cryptic "they thought it was a penalty and they threw the flag" comment would have been his way of saying, "I can't stop them from throwing a penalty flag, even if it's the wrong call." Instead, he made a horse's ass out of himself by standing there and simply repeating "I don't know" to every question asked, even those in which the answer "I don't know" couldn't have applied. Mind you, what happened at the end of the game involving the hit on Antonio Brown was a penalty in every game, in every city, on every Sunday. I can't imagine there's anyone -- other than goofy Deion Sanders afterwards -- who thought the hit on Brown wasn't a penalty. Burfict could have simply said, "You saw the game. They threw a flag. I'm sick about it. I cost my team." That would have been an easy, true response afterwards. Case closed. Alas, he couldn't even do that.

But at least Burfict stayed IN the building after the game. Pacman Jones got out of his uniform, put on his clothes, and just 27 minutes after the game's conclusion, posted a f-bomb laden tirade on Instagram from his car, crushing the officials for their role in the Pittsburgh victory. It was only 12 seconds in duration, but that was plenty long enough to give everyone a snapshot of what kind of guy Jones really is.

Hill and Walsh both apologized to their team and the fans in the wake of their respective blunders. Simply put, they handled it with class and dignity, both knowing full well their Wikipedia pages will forever mention the fumble (Hill) and the miss (Walsh). They didn't run and hide. They didn't f-bomb their way through it all. They didn't blame the officials. They didn't blame, anyone, in fact. They both stood tall and said, simply, "It was my fault." And the amazing part of it all was, of course, that it wasn't all their fault. But they took the brunt of it anyway.

But if Hill and Walsh showed us all what's truly RIGHT about sports today, Burfict and Jones showed what's WRONG with sports. Given the opportunity to accept responsbility, the two Bengals refused. Given the opportunity to be accountable for their own actions, they simply couldn't do it. Given the opportunity to shine, they instead dirtied themselves even more.

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nfl's "final eight" offers intriguing weekend

If nothing else, next weekend's slate of games gives Baltimore plenty of reasons to watch, which I guess is somewhat of a blessing-in-disguise after the Ravens bottomed out at 5-11 in the 2015 campaign.

We'll all become Kansas City Chiefs fans for a day, I suppose, as they head to Foxborough next Saturday to take on the Patriots. Having seen the Ravens extinguish Tom Brady and Company on his own home playoff turf once, we can all attest to how wonderful it is to see the masses leaving Gillette Stadium with frowns on their faces. And Kansas City enters the game as the league's hottest team, winning 11 consecutive games including a 30-0 rout of Houston on Saturday in their playoff opener. I love Kansas City's chances next Saturday, although New England will be getting a healthy dose of returning players on offense.

In a distinctly odd scenario next Sunday, Baltimore will be forced to root for Peyton Manning when the Broncos face the Steelers. None of us want to see Pittsburgh advance, even at the expense of having to hope Manning pulls through with a rare playoff triumph. The Steelers, of course, can only win if Roethlisberger and Brown are able to play. If those two are out, the Steelers should just save the expense of the charter flight, hotel and per-diem and tell the league they're unable to make it out there. With Big Ben and Brown available, it's a 50-50 game. Without them, it's a blowout win for Denver. My official prediction is Roethlisberger starts but can't finish the game due to his shoulder injury. Brown will play, but it won't matter.

Green Bay suddenly looked a little like the Packers we've come to know and respect with their 35-18 win over the Redskins yesterday. But did that game tell us more about the Packers or more about Washington? I'd say it told us that the Redskins were barely a good team during the regular season who were better fit to run six furlongs than a mile and a quarter. Aaron Rodgers looked the part yesterday -- for the first time in a month or more -- and the Packers advanced, yes, but their season has one week remaining. They're not going to Arizona and winning next weekend. Sorry.

Seattle's improbable win over Minnesota truly gives the Seahawks "new life". Despite the fact that Carolina beat the Seahawks in Seattle earlier this season, you'd be right to assume that the Panthers would have preferred anyone BUT Russell Wilson and Company next Sunday in Charlotte. I'm not dismissing the fact that Carolina was terrific in the regular season, but those games were the appetizer. The playoffs are the main course. My money would be on the Seahawks if I chose to gamble on the game's outcome.

I finished this past weekend at 2-2 in my "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" segment, although it's at least worth noting that I did pick all four game winners correctly. Yesterday, I had the Seahawks covering against Minnesota (they didn't) and Green Bay covering against Washington (they did). That brings my season record to 42-45-2.

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ovechkin nets career goal #500 in caps win

The stellar career of Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin took center stage last night at the Verizon Center when he notched career goal #500 (and later, #501) in a 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. Only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Brett Hull took fewer games to record their 500th than Ovechkin, who reached the milestone last night in his 801st career game. The Capitals have the most points in the NHL (67) and are currently 32-7-3 on the season. That's quite a run to start the 2015-2016 campaign. The Caps have but SEVEN regulation losses in 42 games thus far.

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Only four players in NHL history reached the 500-goal mark faster than Alex Ovechkin reached it.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, is now legitimately a reasonable threat to pursue the NHL's all-time goal scoring record. He's only 30 years old, and while there's been lots of wear and tear on his body throughout an 11-year career, it's safe to say he has at least six more high quality years ahead of him. Can he get to the record of 894 career goals held by Wayne Gretzky? That's 393 goals to go, and if he only has six years left, he can't hit that 894 number. But if Ovechkin can score 45-50 goals for the next six years or so, he might get up near the 800 mark by the time he's 36-37. He could then plod along at 20-25 goals per-season for a few years and inch his way closer by the time he nears 40.

The goal-scoring record is secondary to any Caps fan, though. I couldn't care less if he scores 725, 825 or 925. I just want to see the Caps win a Stanley Cup in Ovechkin's playing career. And, yes, it COULD be this year, although those of us who have watched the team since 1974 know there's always a playoff-collapse lurking just around the corner. I want to believe in this year's squad, but I've been burned far too many times to do so. I'll just watch the games and hope, which is all any Caps fan who has been around for a while knows to do.


spieth cruises to 8-shot win at kapalua, ties tiger's mark

Don't look now, but they're starting to mention 22-year old Jordan Spieth in the same sentence as Tiger Woods.

Spieth made birdie at the final hole on Sunday in Hawaii to finish at 30-under par and win the Tournament of Champions event at Kapalua by eight shots, earning his 7th career victory in the process. That win ties him with Woods, who also won 7 tournaments before he turned 23 years of age.

The kid from Dallas has a long, long, long, long way to go to even remotely rival Tiger's career, but he's showing the same kind of early dominance that Woods put on display in his 20's. Two of Spieth's seven wins are majors (Masters, U.S. Open) and he also has a FedEx Cup championship under his belt already. The win at Kapalua was especially impressive given that he grabbed the lead early in Friday's second round and was never threatened from there. He's become a terrific front-runner in his career (which Woods was as well) but has also come from off the pace to win a couple of events, including last June's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. At Kapalua, he distanced himself from the field with his scorching-hot putter and sublime short game, both necessary tools for success at the Plantation Course.

Lost in Spieth's torrid run to the title was outstanding play from Patrick Reed (2nd) and Brooks Koepka (T-3), both of whom will be strong candidates to join Spieth on this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team.

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ever been to fenway park? we're going next next june
-- and so can you!

If you're a regular reader of #DMD, you know by now one of the spokes in our wheel has become bucket list sports trips. In fact, we'll be launching www.bucketlistsportstrips.com in January and doing trips-specific marketing in 2016 designed to capture sports enthusiasts around town who want to see places like Augusta National Golf Club, the Army-Navy game and other iconic events/venues. By the way, if you're interested in going to the Masters next April 5, we only have 8 seats left on our trip (click here for details).

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Join us in Boston, June 14-16, and experience Fenway Park!

I'm very excited about the newest addition to our sports trips menu. We have an outstanding trip planned for next June that many of you will no doubt be interested in...particularly if you've never been to Fenway Park in Boston. Even if you've been there, this is a great summer trip, but for those longing for the experience of Fenway Park, we're taking in a 3-game Orioles-Red Sox series June 14-16, 2016.

Here's how we're doing it: We'll be flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Boston on Tuesday morning, June 14. We'll be staying at a downtown Boston hotel and seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then we'll fly back to Baltimore on Friday morning, June 17. Your package includes round-trip airfare, game tickets for all three games (with the rest of the group, not seats scattered all over the park) and hotel accommodations two blocks from Fenway Park for three nights. Pricing varies depending on the number of people in your hotel room, but it ranges from $599 to $799 per-person.

Yes, you read that right. You can fly to Boston, stay in a downtown hotel, go to three games and have an amazing trip to see Fenway Park -- for less than $800.

This trip is limited to only 30 people, so if you're interested in seeing Fenway Park and the Orioles next June, please reach out to me right away via e-mail (18inarow@gmail.com). You can also click here to see the details and payment options there. A $150 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and the rest isn't due until May, 2016.


we still have seats left on our caps-flyers bus trip, jan. 27

A number of people have reached out to me recently asking if I'm putting together a Caps bus trip in 2016. I love the Caps, of course, so it's certainly "in my blood" to get a trip organized and take a bunch of folks down to the Verizon Center to see Alex Ovechkin and Company live and in person. If you've never been to a Caps game, it should be on your "must do" list. It's a wild two-and-a-half-hours of sports fun and entertainment.

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Giroux vs. Ovechkin on January 27. Join #DMD for our Caps bus trip and see it in person!

So...the #DMD Caps trip is happening. And who better to see the Capitals bury than the worst franchise in all of sports -- the Philadelphia Flyers. So, we're heading to DC on Wednesday, January 27 to see the Caps host the Flyers at 8:00 pm.

Here's what you get as part of our trip: Round-trip bus transportation from the Towson area, a pre-game "Happy Hour" at Glory Days in Towson, dinner on the bus ride to DC from Chick fil-A at Nottingham Square, snacks and drinks on the ride to DC, plus a LOWER LEVEL TICKET to the Caps-Flyers game. The per-person cost is $175, with a $75 deposit due at the time of your reservation and the remaining $100 due no later than Jan. 15, 2016.

If you're interested in getting seats on the Caps-Flyers bus, e-mail me today: 18inarow at gmail.com


Sunday
January 10
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 10

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"what we've got here...is failure to communicate"

If only Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones would have just kept on going when they both ran off the field and into the tunnel following Burfict's late-game interception last night in Cincinnati.

Had the two continued their celebratory run into the Bengals' locker room, Marvin Lewis would finally have a playoff win -- and a job -- and the Steelers would have been extinguished from the post-season by their bitter AFC North rivals.

But it didn't work out that way and the NFL will now have to deal with the aftermath of one of the strangest and most controversial final ninety seconds in league history. I'd get right to the good stuff and start with the obvious bashing of Burfict and Jones, but doing that so quickly wouldn't do justice to the way the whole thing played out. So, let's at least re-cap the meat of the game, which was basically the moment Cincinnati took the lead late in the 4th quarter. It's all part of the build-up for what will go down as one of the great melt-downs in league history.

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A wobbly Antonio Brown is helped off the field in Cincinnati after a hit to the head from Vontaze Burfict.

With Pittsburgh ahead 15-10 in the 4th, the Bengals finally got something representing a professional throw from much-maligned quarterback A.J. McCarron, as he found A.J. Green for a touchdown that put the Bengals up 16-15 with 1:50 remaining in the game. Cincinnati then went for two and called one of the most bizarre offensive plays in recent memory, a short dump off pass to the left -- behind the line of scrimmage, actually -- that the Steelers sniffed out like an airport drug dog and the score remained 16-15. Lost in the madness of what transpired later was that high-school play call on the 2-point conversion. It would come back to haunt the Bengals moments later.

Pittsburgh quarterback Landry Jones, subbing for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, who left the game in the 3rd quarter with a shoulder injury, promptly threw an interception on the first play after the Cincy go-ahead score to apparently seal the deal for the Bengals. Burfict picked off the ball at the Pittsburgh 26 yard line, then got up (after being tackled) and ran -- along with Jones and several other teammates -- all the way down the field, some 75 yards or more, through the opposite end zone, off the playing surface, and into the tunnel that leads to the Bengals locker room. It's just a shame they didn't stay there.

Because only Marvin Lewis and the Bengals could figure out a plan to put themselves in harm's way with 1:43 remaining AND the ball in their hands (with a one-point lead), Cincinnati tried running the ball on the ensuing series in an attempt to salt the game away with another TD or field goal. And wouldn't you know it, Murphy showed up and laid down his famous law to create one of the strangest 90 seconds of playoff football you'll ever see. Jeremy Hill fumbled on the very first play from scrimmage following the interception and the ball was recovered by Pittsburgh at their own 14 yard line. Knowing it was now or never, Mike Tomlin inserted an obviously-ailing Roethlisberger, who literally couldn't throw the ball more than 15 or 20 yards (ironically, the only throw of distance he made at all on the final series set up the game-winning field goal, but more on that in a second).

Roethlisberger threw as many dump offs and short passes as he could before the Steelers were finally faced with a 4th and 3 situation on their own 41 yard line with 28 seconds left in the game. One play was all that remained for the Bengals to finally dump that playoff monkey off their back. One play.

Cincinnati couldn't do it.

Big Ben found Antonio Brown for 12 yards on a short throw across the middle of the field and the Steelers lived on. It would be Brown's last catch of the night -- and perhaps of his season -- but it set the stage for a wild last 22 seconds. After Pittsburgh used their final time-out, Roethlisberger went for the big play and laid a ball in the direction of Brown, who was unable to come up with it near the Cincinnati 32 yard line. As you've presumably now seen fifty times if you've watched any television today, Burfict steamed into Brown after he failed to corral the pass and nearly took the kid's head off. Brown hit the ground in a terrifying, limp-rag-doll-look, and he was obviously out on his feet -- or back as it were. The penalty flags flew and Burfict was nailed for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball (temporarily) at the Bengals' 32 yard line.

Somehow, while the Pittsburgh training staff was attending to Brown on the field, Steelers' linebackers coach Joey Porter made his way out onto the field and got into a shouting match with Pacman Jones. Another flag flew, 15 more yards were tacked on against the Bengals, and on the next play, Chris Boswell smashed a 35-yard field goal through the uprights and Pittsburgh won the game.

I'm still shaking my head as I write this and re-live the final 90 seconds.

It was "so Bengals" that you literally just had to sit there and say, "Yep, I knew something like this was gonna happen...". Because it always does with the Bengals.

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So, Pittsburgh lives on to fight another day, heading to Denver next Sunday afternoon to take on the #1 seed Broncos. Whether the Steelers are able to use Roethlisberger and Brown is still unknown, although every time his shoulder injury was brought up in the post-game press conference, Roethlisberger coyly replied with, "We won the game today, that's all I know right now." Brown was concussed after the monster hit from Burfict and is now officially in the league's "concussion protocol", so there's no telling if he'll be able suit up against Denver. With those two reasonably healthy, Pittsburgh has more than a puncher's chance. Without them, the Steelers season will come to an end.

Back to the Bengals. In the aftermath of last night's collapse, both Burfict and Jones refused to accept the blame for their costly mistakes. While Jeremy Hill calmly stood at his locker and answered questions about his game-changing fumble, Burfict continually replied with "I don't know" when he was asked questions about the big hit on Brown and Jones left the stadium within minutes of the game and promptly took to Instagram to publish a 12-second, f-bomb laden tirade against the officials. NFL Network commentator Deion Sanders said on the air he immediately texted Jones and told him to delete the message, which he did, but as we all know in 2016, anything you post on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook is never actually "deleted" as long as just one person saw it and copied it or took a screenshot of it.

I watched the post-game press conference involving Marvin Lewis and he was, of course, completely downtrodden in the wake of his 7th consecutive playoff loss. It should be noted that this one came with a JV quarterback at the helm for the Bengals, but it will always be remembered as the game his team had in their back pocket if not for the Burfict hit on Brown and the Jones penalty. It's also worth remembering that the Bengals might have lived to throw-up another day had someone with a brain called a better play on the 2-point conversion attempt when they went ahead 16-15. Not only was the play call dumb, but if Pittsburgh picks off that dangerous throw and runs it back, THEY wind up with two points and a 17-16 lead. Every point matters. And when the Bengals didn't convert on their 2-point effort, it gave the Steelers just a smidgen of life.

It's hard to feel bad for Marvin Lewis when you see those two guys -- Burfict and Jones -- squarely in the middle of some sort of wild meltdown that results in yet another miserable playoff loss for the Bengals. Jones is a former league bad boy who has done his best to re-store his image over the last few years while Burfict has been a talented player with a hot head who just can't seem to understand that doing stupid stuff in the heat of the moment eventually gets you unemployed. Marvin Lewis has been ultra-patient with both of them, but he might not get that opportunity now.

There will be widespread calls for the Bengals to make a coaching change after this latest fiasco and those demands should probably be met. While it wasn't Lewis doing the damage on the field in the game's final thirty seconds, he was likely involved in the play calling when Cincinnati got the ball back with ninety seconds remaining. And, yes, while he didn't fumble that ball and give the Steelers one final drive, Lewis wasn't savvy enough to understand that the most important thing at that moment was to A) hold on to the ball and B) make Pittsburgh use all three of their time-outs. Approaching that drive like "it would be really nice to score here" was the wrong tactic. Cincinnati didn't need to score again, they were ahead 16-15. They needed to hold the ball, make Pittsburgh use their time-outs, and take whatever they could get.

It's hard to blame Lewis for the behavior of Burfict and Jones. Their adults. They know the rules. Blaming Lewis for their stupidity is akin to blaming John Harbaugh for Timmy Jernigan hitting the quarterback out of bounds (again). But at some point, the coach has to take the blame for allowing those players to be in those positions in the first place. Jernigan is a second year player still trying to figure out the NFL game. Burfict and Jones have been around. They know the drill. They just can't control themselves.

Oh, and the NFL needs to address the issue of Joey Porter being out on the field and getting into a tiff with Jones. That was a huge, game-changing moment, as it moved the ball from the Bengals 32 yard line all the way down to the 17. It literally changed the course of that final drive, in addition to Burfict's head-hunting infraction. But why was Joey Porter out there in the first place and why was he allowed to interact with anyone from Cincy? In fairness, the officiating crew did a pretty decent job on Saturday night in Cincinnati. The final thirty seconds wasn't their fault. Not at all. But the league needs to look at the situation and come up with a remedy for coaches who make their way onto the field and then create a stir with opposing players.

In the end, though, it was just the Bengals being the Bengals. Again. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and sent the Steelers on to Denver, all because they couldn't play by the rules and keep their cool.

If only Burfict and Pacman would have just kept running into that tunnel...

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


melo's three beats wisconsin

Melo Trimble’s dramatic three-point shot with the score tied at 60 found the bottom of the net and provided the margin of victory for Maryland as they escaped Wisconsin with a nail biting 63-60 win at the Kohl Center on Saturday afternoon. It was a shot the Badgers were probably happy to see him take, and one that likely didn’t satisfy Terp coach Mark Turgeon until it found the bottom of the net. But Trimble was able to hit it with just 2 seconds remaining allowing Maryland to win a game that they almost gave away. It capped a questionable closing 4:44 seconds for Maryland and was their only made field goal during that span. It made a winner of a Maryland team that led by eight, 58-50, with 1:44 left. Trimble led all scorers with 21 while Nigel Hayes paced the Badgers with 17.

In the first half, Wisconsin managed to stay close behind 14 points by Hayes, who was a hot 5 for 7 from the field including two for two from the three point line. Damonte Dodd was the offensive story for Maryland in the first half as he led the Terps with 9 points and 6 rebounds. Melo Trimble had 8, and Robert Carter Jr added 7 as the Terps shot 59% for the half but failed to convert either one of their two 3-point attempts. The Badgers hit four of nine from the beyond the arc to help keep them close during most of the half. After an even start where neither team was able to gain much of an advantage, Maryland finally was able to grab a seven point lead, 26-19, after a Jake Layman layup with 5:26 left in the half. Ethan Happ then made three consecutive layups to cut the lead to one. Dodd and Rasheed Sulaimon provided the rest of the scoring for Maryland as they took a 36-32 lead into halftime.

The Terps went a little more than six minutes before making their first field goal of the second half. When Carter Jr knocked down a three at the 13:51 mark, the Terps re-took the lead at 42-40. Bronson Koenig would hit a three at 10:03 to give Wisconsin its final lead of the day at 47-46. From there, it was pretty much all Melo Trimble as he tallied ten straight points for Maryland, who now had a 56-48 advantage. The score was 58-50 after Diamond Stone and Hayes traded baskets, but the tide would shortly turn in favor of the Badgers. The decision was made by the Maryland staff to take the air out of the ball and stop attacking the basket. It was a questionable decision and played a major role in allowing Wisconsin back into the game. Trimble has his pocket picked for a steal and a layup, cutting the lead to six. The next three Terp possessions were near carbon copies as Maryland ran down the shot clock and then jacked bad three pointers. All of those shots missed their mark, but Wisconsin wasn’t hitting their shots either and the Terps lead was still six at 60-54.

The Badgers fouled Carter Jr with 1:19 left and Carter went to the foul line for a one and one. He missed, and 15 seconds later, Wisconsin’s Zac Showalter was hitting a three that made the score 60-57 with 1:04 remaining. On the next Maryland possession, Wisconsin played straight up defense, electing not to intentionally foul and put Maryland back to the line. However, Sulaimon was fouled driving to the basket and went to the line with another one and one try. Again, Sulaimon missed the front end and when Wisconsin grabbed the rebound, they had a chance to tie. The ball never left Koenig’s hands as he worked Jake Layman on the outside. After a jab step and quick step back, he launched a three from just right of the top of the key that found the bottom and tied the score at 60 all. Turgeon elected not to call time out and the ball was inbounded to Trimble virtually uncontested. He dribbled the clock down to about 5 seconds before launching the game winning deep three off the bounce. It was highly contested and probably ill advised, but it went in and Maryland had the win. A desperation three quarter court shot at the buzzer by Hayes never had a chance.

Any conference road win is a good win but it shouldn’t have been so difficult for Maryland. The decision to stop attacking and sit on an eight point lead with almost five minutes remaining nearly cost them the game. Perhaps there was some fatigue involved in that decision. Even Melo’s game winner was hardly one where he worked to get the best look possible. Instead, he was content with creating just enough space to get the shot away without it being blocked. That may have been fatigue related.

In the paint, it was concerning to see Happ from Wisconsin push the Terp interior guys around to the tune of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Many of his points resulted from sheer determination as he continually battled the taller Terps for position and for balls. On a positive note, it was refreshing to see Damonte Dodd carry the team for a half and it was nice to see Michael Cekovsky grab four rebounds in only eight minutes of playing time. Layman had some real nice defensive moments, and key blocks, despite giving up the game tying three near the end of the game. Jake needs to get more involved in the offense as he did not attempt a single shot in the second half.

There is little time for the Terps to rest as they travel to Ann Arbor Michigan on Tuesday for a 9:00 pm date with the Michigan Wolverines in what promises to be another tough road game for Maryland.

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put you money where your mouth is -- playoff style

Call it a Saturday morning brain-fart, but I forgot to post my two NFL predictions yesterday morning here at #DMD. Thankfully, the permanent bulletin board called Twitter has my two game predictions in print, for the record, and I went 1-1 on Saturday, as I took the Chiefs minus 4.5 points (17-7 was my predicted final) and the Steelers minus 2.5 points (26-13).

That brings my 2015-2016 record to 41-44-2.

Here's how I see today's two playoff games.

SEAHAWKS (-4.5) AT VIKINGS -- I don't know that anyone likes playing football when the wind chill is minus-15 degrees, so all of this talk that Russell Wilson has only played one game in his NFL career when the game time temperature was below 30 degrees might not matter at all. Or, it might matter. I know the Seahawks pounded the Vikings out there a month ago and I saw the Minnesota-Green Bay game last Sunday night. Minnesota's just not that impressive, although their defense held up well against Aaron Rodgers and Company in winning the NFC North at Lambeau Field one week ago. I think Seattle wins this one, but it will be close. Or, much closer than their previous trip to Minnesota. Seahawks hold on late to win 23-17.

PACKERS AT REDSKINS (-1.0) -- I've seen the stats. Washington has been really good at home and so, too, has Kirk Cousins. Green Bay's not very good, as evidenced by their late season fall from grace that saw them lose 6 of their last 10 games. The Redskins have beat a lot of bottom feeder types, but the Packers haven't been scary enough offensively in recent weeks to be of much concern come playoff time. This is a strange match-up. You'd think this should be a semi-walk-in-the-park for the Redskins. Green Bay looks like they're more than willing to mail it in and get the off-season started. I don't know...for some reason, I think Green Bay mans up today and wins, somehow. Give me the Packers on a last second field goal, 20-17.


umbc hoops: lyles scores 27 as retrievers beat maine

UMBC sophomore guard Jairus Lyles dazzled the home crowd with 27 points and added seven rebounds and four steals, leading the host Retrievers to an 89-76 victory over Maine in an America East Conference contest at the RAC Arena on Saturday. Red-shirt sophomore guard Rodney Ellilott (John Carroll H.S.) added 21 points and eight assists as the Retrievers (5-12 overall) evened their conference record at 1-1 on the campaign. A game Maine squad slipped to 4-11, 0-2.

Lyles hit 10-of-14 shots from the floor, 3-of-5 from behind the arc and 4-of-5 from behind the charity stripe, scoring more than 24 points for the fifth time in his six appearances this season.

Maine's Troy Reid-Knight knocked down his fourth and final trey of the game to knot the score at 59-all with 9:33 to play. But Lyles countered with a pair of free throws for UMBC, then buried a trey after a Jourdan Grant (Archbishop Spalding H.S.) steal. Junior Will Darley (Dulaney H.S.) capped the 7-0 run on a reverse layup after a deft pass from Elliott to put the Retrievers ahead, 66-59 with 7:36 remaining.

The Black Bears stayed within touch, as a layup by freshman guard Lavar Harewood trimmed a ten-point deficit to 75-67 at the 4-minute mark. But UMBC broke Maine's press and Grant fed Lyles for a layup and subsequent free throw to restore the double-digit lead. After a Maine field goal, UMBC scored on the other end and took advantage of back-to-back Bear turnovers to tally the next seven points and put the game out of reach.

UMBC shot 64 percent from the floor in the second half, hitting 16-of-25 attempts and finished the game at 58.8 percent (30-of-51). Seventy of UMBC's 89 points came from inside the paint or at the free throw line. The Retrievers posted a season-high 20 assists and also converted 24-of-29 free throw tries. UMBC has now won three consecutive home games and surpassed last year's win total with their fifth victory.

The Retrievers continue league play when they head to New York to face pre-season league favorite Stony Brook on Wednesday, Jan. 13.


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.


Saturday
January 9
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 9

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fans want tears, anger and promises

I spent a lot of time in my car on Friday, running around to appointments and meetings, which gave me plenty of time to check on the pulse of the Baltimore sports community via the one station in town that still takes phone calls from their listeners. As is usually the case, there were some folks of sound mind chiming in and there were others who bordered on the fringe of lunacy. Frankly, some of the on-air hosts were kind of borderline with some of their silly "takes" as well, but I was in the seat a lifetime ago and I remember what it was like to have to make a stance and protect it for four hours...so I might give those guys a pass today. Then again, maybe I won't.

I completely understand the premium content on Friday was always going to be the aftermath of the Ravens press conference on Thursday. There's no sense in trying to steer listeners in any other direction, because that's simply not a wise choice to make given how amped up folks were (and still are) about what was said -- and wasn't said -- in Owings Mills. Friday was time to give people permission to "let it all out" and many of them did. But what they were saying made no sense in a lot of cases. And what some of the on-air yakkers said wasn't much better.

The one prevailing thought I heard over and over on Friday was this one: "I wanted to see and hear anger in (their) voices," said John in Harford County. "That team sucked this year and they made us go out there and sit through that garbage and then they sat up there on Thursday and acted like it was no big deal. I wanted to hear Bisciotti say, "We are NOT going to lose again next year, I promise you that right now."

Well, if you want a rehearsed, choreographed "skit" from everyone at the podium, you're now hoping the whole press conference takes on a professional wrestling theme rather than four wise, intelligent men sitting up there trying to rationally explain what happened, why it happened and how they intend to fix it. But none of that is going to be better or worse because Steve Bisciotti pounds his fist on the table and says, "Damn it! Let me tell all of you in here right now that I'm so mad I could eat a handful of steel nails." You can think that would make a difference because it's what YOU want to see the owner -- or the others -- do, but the practical point is that how those guys react on January 7 in a press conference isn't going to help their salary cap issues and it won't help Joe Flacco's knee mend more quickly and it won't help them draft a better play in late April.

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Looks like Harbaugh's getting ready to throw his headset. Must be mad.

The idea of "showing anger" was repeated a lot throughout the day on Friday and supported by more than one talk show host in town, including some who were formerly employed in the actual football business and should know better. Does anyone really think John Harbaugh was happy with the club going 5-11? Do you know how Harbaugh dealt with losing a game? Fans dealt it with by having one more beer and watching the Sunday night game on NBC until they fell asleep. Harbaugh dealt with it by going back to the team's facility at 10:30 pm -- after he had an early evening meal with his wife and daughter and gave them two hours of quality time -- and watched game film until 3:00 am and then caught three hours of sleep -- maybe -- before starting his work week on Monday morning at 6:00 am. He probably rinsed and repeated that scene eleven times in the 2015 season. He was so mad about losing he couldn't sleep. But he certainly wasn't going to get up there on Thursday and tell anyone that because that's just what coaches in all sports do and he definitely wasn't going to throw anyone under the bus or scream and shout about how angry he was about losing.

All the screaming and shouting associated with losing comes AFTER games. That's when the heat-of-the-moment takes over and coaches yell, players throw things and words are said that probably shouldn't be said. I remember standing outside the Ravens' locker room in Washington DC a few years back when they lost to the Redskins (Cam Cameron's last game) and it sounded like a freakin' war zone inside that room. Bernard Pollard was saying things about Josh Bynes that I couldn't believe. Well, he wasn't "saying" anything. He was shouting it. And throwing helmets. It was ugly. But if you put Pollard in front of the media a month later and asked him about that game, he'd calmly and carefully navigate his way around that post-game situation where he lost his mind. Cooler heads always prevail when there's been time for reflection.

But asking four men to sit up there and feign anger and outrage for the benefit of putting on a show is really dumb. They were all angry in September when Steve Smith couldn't catch that game-winning throw from Flacco in Denver. They were pissed off beyond belief when A.J. Green torched Jimmy Smith (again) in the waning moments of the home loss to Cincinnati in week three. I'm sure none of them were pleased at the Baltimore defense getting riddled by Josh-freakin'-McCown of all people when the Browns came to town in early October and beat the Ravens. That was then. This is now. Sitting up there and putting on a show? That's not what the press conference is for, frankly. It's intention is simple: You ask us questions and we'll answer them to the best of our ability.

"Steve, were you angry about being 5-11 this season?"

"I don't like losing, that's for sure. We're not in the business of losing here, we're in the business of winning. That's what we've always tried to do and that's what we're going to try and do in the future. No one in the building likes losing."

Is that an acceptable answer or did the owner need to pound his fist on the table to drive home the point that he doesn't like his organization losing football games?

Someone from Reisterstown called in (I heard the name, but it didn't register quickly enough to remember it...) and said, "I can't believe we didn't get some kind of promise from Bisciotti (pronounced by the caller "Biss-cotti") that the team was going to win next year. I mean, that's all we want to hear as fans. Just promise us we'll never have to sit throught a season like that again."

I almost spit out my hot, delicious cup of Royal Farms coffee right there at the corner of York and Timonium Roads. Really? Really? You want the owner -- on January 7, 2016 -- to promise you the team is going to win next year? That's a good one. He has ZERO control over that, of course, because if he did, the team would win EVERY year. In fact, if every owner in sports delivered a pre-season promise to their fan base that they promised them a winning season and then could deliver it...well, I don't think any team would have a losing season, ever. And I'm not sure if that's possible given that someone has to lose in order for someone to win. When I heard that caller from Reisterstown on Friday morning, I was stunned that one or both of the hosts with a microphone at their disposal didn't sack that guy for a 15 yard loss. They didn't, though. In fact, one of them essentially supported his claim by saying, "Yeah, I hear you. Just hearing Bisciotti tell everyone in that room that he would personally take it upon himself to make sure things get turned around would have done wonders for everyone."

How on earth is the owner supposed to promise that "the team is going turn things around next season"? Answer: He can't. I get that people say dumb things when their moment of truth arrives, but is there anyone reading this right now that honestly in their heart of hearts thinks Steve Bisciotti has the power to "guarantee" anything about the 2016 season? I mean, he can guarantee there will be a team in Baltimore and he can guarantee that 10 home games will be played and he can also guarantee that he will continue to monitor the situation and push his employees to work to their fullest potential, but he can't guarantee anything at all about the team's performance on the field.

And finally, Chester in Baltimore had the clinching line of the day when he said, "Sometimes I think they're just playing with our emotions. They got their $5 million for coaching and their $5 million for being the GM and Bisciott don't need no money because he has millions too." (It's actually billions, but that doesn't matter...or maybe it does). "Winning might be important to them but it's more important to us because we ain't making that $5 million like they are. They have to realize that."

I did the smart thing at that point and changed over to the Bruce Springsteen channel on Sirius/XM, where they were playing a concert of Springsteen's from 1981. In a fitting twist of irony, the very first song I heard was "The Promised Land".

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


terps face tough road test
today at wisconsin

Head coach Mark Turgeon and his Maryland Terrapins will put their #3 ranking on the line today at 1:00 pm when they face the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Badgers (9-6,1-2) have dropped two of their first three Big 10 games by a total of six points including a one point loss on the road against Indiana. Their lone conference win came against lowly Rutgers.

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Nigel Hayes is a player worth watching today as Maryland travels to Wisconsin for a key Big 10 match-up.

This Badger team has some talent, but in no way does it resemble the Wisconsin team that played in lasts year’s NCAA finals, eventually finishing as the runner up to Duke. The team leaders from last year, Sam Decker and Big 10 player of the year Frank Kaminski, are both playing in the NBA this year. Iconic head coach Bo Ryan decided to retire only a few games into Wisconsin’s current season leaving interim coach Greg Gard to handle a very young team that features only one senior and numerous freshmen. Nigel Hayes is the featured player for the Badgers. He possesses a combination of speed, strength, size, and athleticism that make him real tough to defend. Jake Layman will have his hands full if Turgeon gives him the assignment. At 6’8” and a solid 235 lbs., Hayes can beat you posting up, or off the dribble. If he were a more accurate shooter, Hayes would surely be mentioned among the best that the Big 10 has to offer but today he will have to improve upon his 37% from the field and 28 from the 3 point line for Wisconsin to have any shot at beating the Terps.

Others from Wisconsin could pose trouble for Maryland today as well. 6’4” guard, Bronson Koenig, can be dangerous creating his own shot and uses his size to get shots off. He is perhaps Wisconsin’s biggest deep ball threat, but still only connects on 37% of his 3’s. Ethan Happ is the Badger’s top rebounder with over 8 a game and will battle you for both offensive and defensive boards. He plays much tougher than you might expect when you see how his 230 pounds are distributed on his 6’9” body. More on that later. Zac Showalter logs 33.6 minutes per game and while he gives Wisconsin another threat from the outside, he really excels when putting his head down, going to the basket, and making athletic moves around the rim.

What you get when you play this Wisconsin team is movement, energy, and banging. They will fight you for every position on the court. Keep your eye on the post play when the taller Terp big men try to set up for an entry pass. There will be plenty of pushing, all game long. Happ has shown an ability to use his body to push players out of the places where they most prefer to get the ball. He’ll reach out to bat away those passes, and just never seems to stop leaning and fighting for position. In fact, the entire team seems to adopt a similar philosophy and it can make baskets difficult to come by. It’s perhaps the biggest reason why Wisconsin is currently the Big 10 leader in scoring defense, giving up only 59 points per game.

On offense, the Badgers' most effective weapon might be frequently allowing Hayes to work one on one. They do lack a true point guard who can set up other players and run sets. Koenig and Showalter are not true ball handling point guards and I don’t see that type of player on a Wisconsin bench that is not that deep. Badger points come from good one on one moves and banging the boards, with an occasional three thrown in the mix. The Badgers are tied with Rutgers for last place in BIG 10 scoring offense at 64 per game. When you are tied with Rutgers, you know you have issues.

What does all of this mean for Maryland? It means that they can expect a physical 40 minutes of basketball by a team led by guys that remember what it takes to win and in a gym (Kohl Center) that should be very loud and energizing for the home five. The Terps must respond with equal energy and play smart basketball. When the Terps are on offense, although the Badgers play tough, they still give away a bundle of size and Diamond Stone could take advantage of that. So could…wait for it…Michael Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd. Dodd hasn’t scored more than three points in a game in over a month and Cekovsky hasn’t made a field goal in almost a month. I say both will make contributions today as Turgeon keeps fresh bodies on the Badger bigs, leading to some fatigue and Wisconsin foul trouble. Outside of the paint, I’m not sure Wisconsin has the speed or quickness to defend either Rasheed Sulaimon or Melo Trimble (assuming he’s 100%). Wisconsin will hit the offensive boards, but when the Terps manage to grab the rebound, the out-of-position Badgers might be vulnerable to Maryland pushing the ball up court.

Despite their league leading 59.0 ppg defense, Wisconsin won’t be able to contain the Maryland offense. The Terps will score, and in doing so, put pressure on the Badger shooters. Unless Wisconsin goes lights out from beyond the three point line, even the bump they get from their home fans won’t be enough. We all know that anything can happen when a decent team gets fired up at home for a conference game against a nationally ranked foe, but an upset today would be shocking. If Melo Trimble is healthy and able to go at 100%, Maryland pulls away for a 69-58 win. Without him, I think the Terps can still get it done, but the 3.5 points the odds makers want to give the home team is start looking a little better.

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spieth on cruise control at the halfway point in hawaii

Don't look now, but Jordan Spieth is on pace to shoot -- you ready for this? -- 32-under par for 72 holes of golf. A second round 64 coupled with his opening round 66 has last year's Masters and U.S. Open champion at a whopping -16 through two rounds (par is 73 at Kapalua). The weather is perfect, the wind working in the right direction, and the greens are rolling favorably, all of which works perfectly for Spieth, who simply smashes his drive down the middle, fetches it and hits it to 15 feet, and then rolls a birdie putt in the hole about once every 26 minutes or so. If you caught any of the golf on Friday night, it was almost laughably too easy for Spieth, and the others in the field as well, with seven players currently at 10-under or better.

Spieth is well aware that a 16-under par score at the event's halfway point can at least kick-start the talk of whether or not he can establish a new tournament record (currently at -31, held by Ernie Els since 2003). “Well, sure -- 16 (under) through two, I guess we're capable of doing 32, right? Carry the one, yeah, that's right,” Spieth said. “I don't know what the forecast calls for. If it's similar, then I guess it's possible. But that's asking a lot.”

It might NOT be asking a lot, though. The guy is a birdie machine when everything is working in his favor and this week, the Plantation Course at Kapalua is certainly "favorable". Depending on how the others do behind him, Spieth might have to continue to press the gas pedal or he might be able to "just" shoot 67-67 on the weekend and win by a handful.

Kapalua Leaderboard (through 2 rounds)

1. Jordan Spieth, -16

2. Kevin Kisner, -12

2. Fabian Gomez, -12

2. Patrick Reed, -12

5. Danny Lee, -11

6. Rickie Fowler, -10

6. Steven Bowditch, -10


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

X
You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.

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Friday
January 8
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 8

subscribe to the #dmd rss feed

bisciotti's "continuity comment" wins thursday's press conference

Much like the Ravens did in 2015, I whiffed in yesterday's edition of #DMD when I made four casual predictions about things we might hear in Thursday's annual "State of the Ravens" press conference.

If you're willing to throw me a bone, it's fair to say I got #4 right on my list. Ozzie did make a (not so) cryptic comment about Joe Flacco's contract, saying the club is prepared to honor his current deal and pay him $28.5 million dollars in 2016. Yeah, and I'm winning PowerBall next week, too.

Other than that, though, nothing that I hinted might happen actually happened. Ticket prices are NOT increasing, Ozzie's not leaving anytime soon and John Harbaugh didn't really address the officials, although Bisciotti did. So, I hit .250 on Thursday, which means if I could just produce 45 home runs, 110 RBI and play a good first base that I'd be worth upwards of $20 million per-year to this website.

Without going back and watching the archives of yesterday's event, I'd say Thursday's annual press conference was the least "news worthy" of any I've ever seen. And that's not a criticism, by the way. The Ravens are a football organization, not a tabloid magazine. They're in the business of grooming football players and trying to win football games. That they sit out there once a year and take questions as a group for 90 minutes is part of their job, yes, but it's not incumbent upon them to create news for folks to opine on and publish. The biggest "news", honestly, was the ticket price story. That's the one piece of information from yesterday that directly affects the fans, or at least the 18,000 or so "accounts" they have, representing nearly 70,000 season tickets.

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Let the record reflect the Ravens are 1-0 in 2016. Steve Bisciotti earned the club a win at yesterday's press conference.

By far, the quote of the day came from Steve Bisciotti, who said "Continuity is a strength...it does not stem from laziness. It comes from confidence." While many in town were hoping for changes to John Harbaugh's coaching staff -- mainly Dean Pees, the team's defensive coordinator -- nothing of the sort is apparently happening at 1 Winning Drive. Other than losing Ted Monachino (linebackers coach) to the Colts, Harbaugh intends to retain his entire staff moving forward, which shouldn't shock anyone. That's been Harbaugh's profile since he showed up in 2008 and the continuity angle picked up steam yesterday when Bisciotti chimed in with "Continuity is a strength...it does not stem from laziness. It comes from confidence." That's a theme that connects with any board room in America, not just a football organization in Baltimore, and the last time I checked, Bisciotti's boat is bigger than my house and your house -- perhaps combined. Whether it's Bisciotti preaching continuity to Harbaugh or Harbaugh learning about the concept of continiuty from the owner, it's quite evident that turmoil and disruption are NOT things they find productive in Owings Mills.

As I watched the replay of yesterday's press conference, it stood out to me once again just how fortunate the Ravens are to have Steve Bisciotti as their owner. With time to reflect, and leaving the emotional connection to wins and losses behind, I think it's safe to say that Bisciotti is the most important person in the team's 20-year history to date. Yes, Ray Lewis was a baller and Jon Ogden was a rock and Harbaugh and Flacco showed up in 2008 and delivered a Super Bowl five years later, but the Ravens -- as a business, an organization and a family -- are what they are because of Steve Bisciotti. His wisdom, insight, and savvy have trickled down to virtually every high-ranking employee the team has and, while there might be times that he's a "tough guy to work for", he's able to juggle those moments with a remarkable calmness and calculated, strategic approach to things.

That reminds me, I did get one other thing right yesterday. I said Bisciotti would handle Thursday's presser with ease, the way he always does. I hit that one on the nose.

And I missed the prediction on Ozzie's "watch checking time". I said it would be 2:27 pm. It was actually 2:23 pm. He must have a lot of college game film to watch.

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so...about flacco and that $28.5 million

Ozzie's comment on Thursday about the club looking at not re-structuring Joe's contract was just negotiating babble, nothing more and nothing less. Newsome knows that Flacco and his agent, Joe Linta, are well aware of the potential ramifications of having a $28.5 million quarterback on the books in 2016. In other words, Ozzie knows, that they know, that Ozzie knows it's a recipe for failure. And you can take that one step further, because Ozzie knows, that they know, that Ozzie knows, that they know. Confused? It's easier if I just say this: Both parties know Flacco's contract is a wreck and both parties are keenly aware something needs to be done about it. And both the Ravens and Flacco know there's a chance it might get sticky.

That said, Joe's contract status is much like what a lot of America goes through every January 1st. Millions and millions of people step on a scale on New Year's Day and on January 2nd, they're in a local gym vowing to fulfill the promise they've made to themselves about losing weight. You KNOW you have to lose weight. Your doctor has told you, your family has told you and, perhaps, your body has even told you. It's very evident. You must lose weight. But it doesn't just fall off on its own. You have to make it fall off. And the same goes for Flacco's contract. Everyone knows its an albatross. Everyone knows $28.5 million on a $153 million salary cap could potentially be crushing. Everyone knows something has to be done about it. But, it's a contract. It's binding. If Flacco simply says "no way", the Ravens have to make the next move.

X
Worst case scenario, he works for $28.5 million in 2016. You'd be smiling too, right?

Newsome hinting that the club might be willing to pay Flacco $28.5 million was just his way of trying to make it appear like re-structuring isn't as critical as it might otherwise appear. This is a tactic aimed at softening the leverage owned by the Flacco camp. It's as if Ozzie is saying, "Hey, look, we'd like to give you a couple of extra years on your deal and get you an additional $30 million or so at the same time, but we don't have to do that if you don't want us to." To that, you would expect Joe Linta to reply with, "Well, sure, we'd be interested in another $30 million. How are you going to do that?" And so it begins. If Ozzie calls Linta today and says, "We're in dire straits. We have to re-structure, Joe, right now", that puts Linta-Flacco in a prime position of power from a negotiating standpoint.

Then again, though, Newsome knows that Linta knows -- and so on and so on.

No one's fooling anyone, trust me. And there's still the subject of the quarterback himself, whom I have said time and time again is not going to be an easy mark in these proceedings. If you think Flacco is going to just roll over and re-do his current deal "just because", you're in for a rude awakening over the next month or so. I still contend it's going to work out (I'm sticking with my 80% figure) but Flacco will get one or two additional years and at least an additional $30 million for being a nice guy and bailing the Ravens out of a sticky salary cap situation. And if Newsome or Pat Moriarty or anyone connected with the Ravens says or publishes something about Flacco during the negotiations that rankles him, it could make for a messy marriage. That's why Newsome started off yesterday by treading lightly. He knows what he's getting into with Flacco.


and a note on players as free agency begins soon

I looked through the Ravens' roster yesterday to check out who is a free agent, who is a restricted free agent, etc. There are some important names on both lists, starting, of course, with Kelechi Osemele, Courtney Upshaw and Justin Tucker, just to name three. There are several situations -- salary cap wise -- that will need to be addressed quickly by the Ravens before they can start really diving into the free agency world. The aforementioned Joe Flacco contract is number one with a bullet, obviously. Dennis Pitta's situation is another. It's likely he'll cost the club $6 million in dead money if he can't play/retires. You can't make deals with new guys (or returning players) until you know what your salary cap is going to look like.

As I looked down yesterday's list, though, something stuck out to me. And this next comment will fly in opposition to Bisciotti's "continuity comment" from Thursday's press conference, but here goes. When you look at the Ravens' roster from 2015 (let's assume NO ONE got hurt and what they started with in Denver is what they finished with in Cincinnati), how many players on that 53-man squad are absolute, 110% must-friggin'-have on the team kind of guys? I'm not talking about good players you'd really like to have around in 2016. I'm talking about players that if AREN'T on the team next season, the team could be worse off for it. I'm talking about guys you'd label, simply, irreplaceable.

I have two on my list.

Flacco and Yanda.

And that's it, honestly. The rest of the guys on the team can be replaced. Now, replacing them isn't like playing a game of checkers. It's harder than it appears. But if the Ravens lose Courtney Upshaw, for example, I think they'll be OK. You know how I know that? Because they lost Ellerbe, Kruger and (Art) Jones, just to name three, and I don't think the club has been any worse off for it. There are players you'd LOVE to have back (Steve Smith Sr. would fit in that category, for me) but you have to differentiate between "love to have back" and "irreplaceable". Steve Smith, at age 36, coming off of an achilles injury, is absolutely replaceable, as Kamar Aiken sorta-kinda showed in the final eight games of the season. Aiken might not have the same fire, he doesn't spin the ball after first downs quite like Smith and, for sure, doesn't instigate as many shoving matches as #89 does, but when it comes to running around and catching the football, he made progress with each passing Sunday (no pun intended). If Matt Elam is healthy heading into 2016, what's to say he can't step back into a starting role and the Ravens then have the flexibility to send Lardarius Webb and his $10 million contract down the road?

All I'm saying about the 2016 roster composition is this: Unless you're a future, potential Hall of Famer and you're in the prime years of your career (and, honestly, Flacco and Yanda are the only two I'd put in that category as even remote possibilities, with a nod in the direction of C.J. Mosley and, perhaps, Brandon Williams), you're just a guy wearing a helmet. That's not to say the club shouldn't try to keep as many good players as they can. I'm not saying "fire 45 of the 53 players." I'm merely saying to please keep in mind that 85% of nearly every team's roster is filled with guys who are just guys. Ozzie indicated yesterday the Ravens are prepared to franchise Justin Tucker. If you want to give your kicker $4.5 million, go ahead and do it. At least you know you have one of the best three kickers in the league, right? But even then, it's worth wondering if there's not an unsigned kicker or soon-to-be-graduating college kicker who could largely do the same job as Tucker in '16 for $600,000.

One or two players CAN make a difference...just ask the the Packers and Aaron Rodgers how it's going these days without Jordy Nelson. But that's sort of the point. Pick out the small number of guys who really DO make a difference and keep them around. In Baltimore, specifically, I think that list is very small. This might be my long-winded way of saying, "tear the roster apart and start all over and get your salary cap back in shape", but it wasn't intended to send that message. Ultimately, though, that really IS the issue with the Ravens. It's the white elephant in the corner of the room that no one wants to recognize. The team's salary cap has become a problem...an impediment...and a reason why they're losing. Now they have to fix it. And one of the only ways to fix it is by making tough decisions.

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2016 fantasy golf preview
my #1 player to watch

The second part of the 2015-2016 started this week with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we’re just about ready to resume fantasy golf discourse here at DMD. For the ten days, I've been offering my own list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the fantasy golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey, #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka, #6 - Patrick Rodgers, #5 - Jason Day, #4 - Dustin Johnson, #3 - Justin Rose, #2 Jordan Spieth.

Today, we move to the guy in the #1 spot.

#1 - Rory McIlroy

This will be "The Year of Rory".

X
He'll complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta this April and win plenty more in 2016.

While it's likely he won't make as many PGA Tour starts as guys like Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Watson, Fowler, etc., one thing is for certain about Rory McIlroy. When he does tee it up, he's going to be right in the thick of things nearly every single week. In a season cut in a half due to an ankle injury last July, McIlroy played in 12 TOUR events, made 11 cuts, had 7 Top 10 finishes and won two times. And that was a "decent" season for him, nothing more. Expect the 4-time major champion to bounce back in a big way in 2016. His personal life is back on track (engaged, now, for a 2nd time), his ankle injury is all cleared up, and he's ready to go head-to-head with Spieth, Day, etc. Oddly enough, before Spieth burst on to the scene in 2014-2015, McIlroy didn't have many challengers to his position at the top of the world rankings. Tiger was on his way to being finished, Mickelson wasn't hitting on all cylinders any more, Bubba wasn't consistent enough and none of the European guys (Westwood, Poulter, Donald, Casey) were able to hold a candle to Rory when he was at the top of his game.

Spieth's emergence last year comes at a great time for McIlroy, as he now truly has someone to play against in all three facets of the professional level; the TOUR, the majors, and the Ryder Cup. He'll win at Augusta in April and his campaign will be off to a blazing start. 2016 will be "The Year of Rory".


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

X
You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.

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Thursday
January 7
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 7

subscribe to the #dmd rss feed

next season begins today at 3:30 pm

The Ravens finished their 2015 campaign last Sunday -- albeit in 2016 -- but unfinished business remains on the table. There are questions that need answered, situations that need explained and personnel moves that need addressed. From this past season, that is. So, today at 2:00 pm in what is commonly known as the "State of the Ravens" press conference, four of the organization's power players will sit at a table in the team's stylish auditorium and face the music, with at least 60 or members of the local and national media on hand to quiz the likes of Steve Bisciotti, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome and Dick Cass. It can be a riveting 90 minutes if you take into consideration it's a once-a-year sort of gathering. This chance comes along every January and that's it.

Bisciotti is always the focal point because he's largely unavailable during the remainder of the year, at least to the media, anyway. He'll confide to everyone again this afternoon that he's "not comfortable doing this" but the factor of the matter is that he IS comfortable doing it -- he's excellent at handling the pop-a-shot-question-and-answer format of today's proceedings -- but he simply would prefer NOT to have this particular event on his agenda. Bisciotti is usually lauded by everyone for his candor and almost always grades out the highest (if such a thing formally existed) after today's gathering.

X
Expect these two to get most of the action from the media at today's press conference.

Harbaugh will have to be on his toes more than Bisciotti. A lot more. Because he faces the media two or three times a week from August through December, there's far more at risk for Harbaugh. He's definitely going to be asked about the Breshad Perriman injury ("Breshad took a little knock to the knee today...he'll probably be out a few days but he'll be back soon") as skeptical media members assume the coach was "hiding something" last August when the team's first round draft pick was slow to recover from a knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp. They'll be armed with notebooks and data and can recall very quickly what Harbaugh said about Perriman in August, September and October. And there's no "clear history" button for the coach on that topic or any other one, for that matter. He'll have to be on his toes today because what he said in September (about anything) needs to be what he says on January 7, too.

Unlike Bisciotti, who says he's not comfortable in the press conference setting but actually is quite good at it, Ozzie Newsome isn't at all comfortable sitting in front of the press corps and fielding questions. He'd rather be meeting with Harbaugh and talking about players, watching game film of pending free agents around the league or sitting in a room with DeCosta and the team's various scouts and mapping out the Ravens' upcoming draft process. Newsome just doesn't like to talk, period, to anyone unaffiliated with the team -- about the team. Still, today, he'll sit up there and do his best to handle the whole thing with ease. When I would sit in the room every January for the event you'll see today, the running joke would be "how long will it take Ozzie to start looking at his watch?" Most of us guessed 20 minutes or so.

Dick Cass will be at the table mostly as a nod to his position as President of the organization. He'll likely not be asked anything directly, as nearly everyone in the room is mostly unaware of what Cass is even does on a daily basis. If he does speak, it will be because Bisciotti pawns a question off on Cass to give him sort of role in today's event.

Today is the day when media members get to say "what the hell happened?" and everyone at the head table better have a good, thorough explanation for that question. The entire event is "on the record", with live mics, TV cameras, NFL Network folks and a throng of local power-players (many of whom only show up for this particular event) poised to strike. Ravens Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne does an outstanding job of organizing who gets to ask a question and when (it's mainly a factor of how much you're seen at Owings Mills from August through December with a favorable nod, naturally, to the national media who are on hand today).

The bad news? It can get a little tingly in there at times, particularly if someone brings up a touchy subject (which today, I think, will be Perriman's status and the Flacco contract re-structure), but all in all the 90 minutes goes off without a hitch.

The good news? As soon as it's over, "next season" begins for the Ravens.

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a few predictions for today's "state of the ravens" presser

It's rare that anything "earth shattering" comes out of the annual "State of the Ravens" press conference, but I'll go ahead and throw a couple of predictions out there and we'll see if any of them stick.

1. Ozzie Newsome announces his "step away" plan -- It wouldn't shock me at all today if Ozzie Newsome announces that he is putting together a plan to retire and that's he now officially grooming Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta to take over the position. It could go something like this: "I've decided that I'll step away following the 2016 (or 2017) season and Eric, of course, is our GM-in-waiting. He'll slowly begin taking on more responsibility over the next 8-10 months and this time next year, he'll be in my seat full-time." DeCosta has been Ozzie's heir apparent for nearly a decade now, and most recently turned down an overture from the Tennessee Titans for their vacant GM position. The job in Baltimore is the one he wants. The organization has been extremely generous to him over the years and he's been extrordinarily faithful in return. Don't be surprised if Newsome makes this announcement today. His days as Ravens GM are slowly starting to dwindle.

2. Bisciotti cites growing salary cap figure when announcing ticket price hike -- With the NFL salary cap expected to increase by roughly $10.4 million dollars in 2016, Bisciotti and the organization are likely to try and recover some of that additional expense by raising ticket prices. It's probably NOT the greatest idea to raise prices on the heels of a horrible 5-11 season, but the way the team played down the stretch makes it much easier to do, in my opinion. Remember, with only 10 "money making events", the team's ability to generate revenue in Baltimore is fairly limited. If the team raises prices by an average of even just $5.00 per-ticket, that's an additional $3.5 million in revenue (based on 70,000 seats sold x 10 games). It doesn't equal the $10 million or so they'll be shelling out additionally in player payroll, so the hike could go to $7.00 or even $10.00 per-ticket, but I think the number by and large will be $5.00 per-seat...if, in fact, it happens.

3. Harbaugh makes a significant comment about officiating -- With Bisciotti's backroom blessing, perhaps, I can see John Harbaugh making a comment about officiating that's aimed at helping explain his team's 5-11 record. And it won't be "excuse making", either. There were three very legitimate examples in the recently completed season of the team getting "jobbed" by the refs in crucial, potentially game-changing/altering situations: the Will Hill interception at Oakland, the fiasco at the end of the Jacksonville game, and the Daniel Brown offensive pass interference flag that negated a TD in Miami. Harbaugh isn't a referee basher, per se, but he knows and isn't afraid to bring up that the referees are far more involved in the outcome of the games than they need to be.

4. Newsome makes a (not so) cryptic remark aimed at Flacco and his agent -- I'm not saying Ozzie's going to say something dumb or inflammatory about Flacco and his pending contract situation just to "put him on notice", but the longtime Ravens' GM is very adept at saying just the right thing to send a subtle (or not so) message. It could come along the lines of, "Look, Joe even said it in the newspaper the other day. His contract is an issue. He knows that. As long as he and his agent are willing to work on that issue with us, we're fine. If they aren't willing to do that, we'll have to look at what the alternatives are down the road." That would be Ozzie's way, publicly, of putting Flacco on notice: We would hate to have to part company with you, but if you aren't willing to re-structure your deal, that might be our only option. It won't come to that, of course, but someone has to throw the first punch in the fight to get it started.

5. Ozzie looks at his watch at 2:27 pm -- That's what I would take in the media pool if I went out there today.

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


terps cruise past rutgers by 25, improve to 14-1

Things went pretty much to script at the XFINITY Center in College Park last night as the #3 ranked Maryland Terrapins easily dismissed the Rutgers Scarlet Knights by a score of 88-63 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score may have indicated. Jake Layman led the way with 18 points, Rasheed Sulaimon and Diamond Stone each had 15, and Robert Carter Jr added 12. The Terps had a huge advantage on the boards against the smaller Scarlet Knights, who have been depleted underneath the basket by a rash of injuries to their big men. Maryland enjoyed a 49-20 rebounding advantage with an 18-6 margin on the offensive glass. Stone and Jerod Nickens shared team highs with ten rebounds each.

The Terps came out and handled business right from the start. After Sulaimon started the scoring with a three, the Terps were able to get easy layups for four of their next five baskets. They controlled the boards 31-12 for the first-half and the offensive rebound totals were 12-1 in favor of the Terps. They played stingy defense while holding Rutgers to a paltry six field goals in the first 20 minutes. The lead gradually increased throughout the half, and by its conclusion, the Scarlet Knights were looking at a 46-18 deficit. Game over.

Terp Coach Mark Turgeon called off the dogs later in the second half (a move for which Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan expressed his appreciation in his post-game presser) and Rutgers actually outscored Maryland 45-42 in the second 20 minutes. With 8:42 left in the game, Maryland held a 42 point lead at 77-35. Rutgers would outscore Maryland from that point on, 28-11, as Turgeon cleared his bench and rested Melo Trimble, who had earlier tweaked a hamstring and didn't play at all in the second half. After the game the Terp coach said, “Melo’s Fine”.

Maryland did exactly what they were supposed to do against an inferior Rutgers team. They jumped on them earlier, out-powered them under the basket, and basically beat them in every phase of the game. It’s what you expect the number three team in the country to do when opposing a lesser opponent. Maryland played to their own strengths, and against Rutgers' weaknesses, and put the game away early. It was a workmanlike effort for the 3-0, 14-1 Terrapins. Perhaps the most exciting moments for the crowd (about 70% full) were the 2 baskets made by fan favorite Varun Ram.

I’m sure coach Turgeon would like to see his team shoot the ball better from beyond the 3 point line than they did last night. They connected on only 8 of 25 (the late game subs were 1 for 4) and have shot a disappointing 30% over the last three games. They may need to shoot a bit better if they are going to win on the road this Saturday against the Badgers of Wisconsin.

Editor's note: He won't brag on himself, so we will. Our faithful Terps reporter called a 25-point Maryland win (81-56) over Rutgers in yesterday's edition of #DMD. Nice work, Dale!


umbc hoops: albany beats both retriever teams

It wasn't a good night to be facing the respective basketball teams of Albany...as both the UMBC men and women found out on Wednesday evening.

In New York, defending America East champion Albany outscored UMBC, 11-1, in the final 2:30 and defeated the Retrievers, 73-59, in the league opener for both squads. UMBC sophomore guard Jairus Lyles led all scorers with 17 points, while red-shirt sophomore back court mate Rodney Elliott (John Carroll HS) added 11. Freshman post Sam Schwietz posted season bests of eight points and six rebounds.

Albany (12-4) won for the fifth consecutive time and the tenth time in the last 11 outings. UMBC slipped to 4-12 on the campaign.

The Retrievers fell behind by ten points on two occasions in the second half, but gamely battled back to cut the deficit to four points each time. Junior wing Will Darley (Dulaney HS) hit his second trey of the night to bring UMBC to within 62-58 with 2:49 to play. Albany countered with a Greg Stire lay-up 19 seconds later, and after the Retrievers could not convert a pair of inside shots on the next possession, UA's Ray Sanders buried a trey with 1:29 remaining to restore their lead to nine points. The Retrievers could not convert from the floor on their final five possessions and dropped their league opener for fourth consecutive year.

UMBC converted over 54 percent from the floor in the first half, but misfired on 17 of 26 attempts after the intermission and finished at 44 percent (22-of-50) for the game. The Retrievers were efficient from behind the arc (6-of-14, 42.9%) and at the stripe (9-of-12, 75.0%), but both total attempts were season lows.

The Retrievers open America East play at home when they entertain Maine on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore at the RAC, Phil Stern's Lady Retrievers fell to Albany, 77-42.

UMBC shot 22.2 percent for the game, while the Great Danes knocked down 46.8 percent of their shots, including 62.5 percent of their threes in the opening 20 minutes of play. Albany's Imani Tate registered a game-high 18 points and added nine rebounds, while Shereesha Richards added 16 points and 12 rebounds.

UMBC's juniors Pandora Wilson and Taylor McCarley recorded nine points apiece, while Chukwuma Chiamaka pulled down a team-best nine rebounds to go with her four points.

The Great Danes improve to 10-3 on the season and 1-0 in America East action, while the Retrievers fall to 10-5 overall and 1-1 in league play.

UMBC's Lady Retrievers hit the road for a matchup at Maine on Saturday, Jan. 9. Game time is set for noon at the Cross Insurance Center.

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fantasy golf line-up for kapalua

The annual "Tournament of Champions" kicks off on Thursday in Hawaii, and it's always one of the coolest events of the year to watch on TV because it's on late at night for us golf junkies here on the East Coast. With only 32 players in the field, this isn't the week to try and find a "sleeper" or someone off the radar screen. This is the week to play your big guns, for it's nearly certain one of the big name guys will come out on top. The course at Kapalua is a bomber's dream. Wide, expansive fairways, little rough to worry about, and huge greens with eye-catching backdrops that give the players wonderful aim points. Most guys who play in the event say their ability to fire at the flagstick is more precise at Kapalua than any other course because there are so many "things" in the background to aim at and align yourself with...it's like throwing darts.

Because your fantasy golf line-up is predicated on creating a roster with "X amount of money", I'll give you two guys from the lower end of the salary scale to play. Let's go with Alex Cjeka and Scott Piercy. Cjeka isn't going to make gobs of birdies, but this is a good place for him to excel because his occasionally-uncooperative driver won't get punished much at Kapalua. Piercy bombs it off the tee and can play with just about anyone if his putter is behaving. A good mid-range guy for this week might be Davis Love III, who has played Kapalua 15 or more times in his career and knows every nook and cranny of the place. It's early in the season, he's injury free, and I think there's a good chance Davis might have a respectable showing in Hawaii.

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Drew's predicted winner at Kapalua: Graeme McDowell

As for the three "big boys" -- if you can fit them all in -- go with Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and my predicted winner, Graeme McDowell. Johnson and Watson are no-brainers given their length off the tee and their ability to eat up the par 5's. Both aren't great putters, but even a sub-par day with the flat stick is made easier when you have six or more approach shots within the flag. As for McDowell, he had a nice finish to the 2015 portion of the '15-16 TOUR season and he recorded a T-3 in his only other appearance at Kapalua a few years back. If his form has returned -- which McDowell says it has -- 2016 could be a nice bounce-back year for McDowell.

Drew's Fantasy Golf Line-Up is brought to you by Glory Days Grill. If you're looking for a great place to watch this weekend's PGA Tour action from Hawaii, visit any of the local Glory Days Grill locations. Great food, a huge selection of draft and bottled beer, plus big screen TV's everywhere you look, with college basketball, NFL football and, of course, PGA Tour for your viewing delight.


2016 fantasy golf preview
my #2 player to watch

The second part of the 2015-2016 starts later this week with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we’re just about ready to resume fantasy golf discourse here at DMD. For the last week, I've been offering my own list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the fantasy golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey, #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka, #6 - Patrick Rodgers, #5 - Jason Day, #4 - Dustin Johnson, #3 - Justin Rose.

On we go to our Top 10 list. Today, we move to the guy in the 2nd spot.

#2 – Jordan Spieth

What's to say? 2015 was NOT a fluke for Jordan Spieth, and he will prove that in 2016...time and time again.

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He's the real deal, folks. When he's in the field, he better be in your lineup.

Depending on what sort of league you play in, Spieth should be a roster consideration nearly every time he tees it up. There are a few courses where he has consistently struggled (Doral, for one) and we'll do our best during the season to catch you up to speed if there's a week when Spieith ISN'T a smart play, but when he's entered in the field, you should look to play him. There's not much raving about him that needs to be done. He's a winner, as he showed in 2015. He's going to win a lot more. He might not win two majors in 2016 -- like he did a year ago -- but he'll be a factor at Augusta, Oakmont, Troon and Baltusrol. Of those four, Augusta seems like his best fit, although Troon's quirky nature might connect well with Spieth and his outstanding wedge/short game.

Play him early and often in 2016. You'll be happy you did.


Wednesday
January 6
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 6

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three years and 500 consecutive days later...

When you're only three years old, milestones are kind of rare, I assume. We've reached one of sorts today here at #DMD and wanted to share it with you, along with some other good news in these parts as we're now into the third year of publishing this daily sports website.

Today's edition marks the 500th consecutive day of #DMD publishing new, fresh content for you and others to enjoy. We're not at Cal Ripken Jr.'s level -- not even close -- but 500 days in a row is 500 days in a row. And we're publishing NEW content every day, not just hitting "refresh" with a quick recap of a couple of games from last night or some other, mindless attempt to garner your attention. We pride ourselves on being different, which we are, in fact. No other website in town does what we do. That's not to say there aren't other excellent websites devoted to sports in Baltimore. There are plenty of them, in fact. But no one does precisely what Drew's Morning Dish does. We're unique. And we intend to stay that way.

With that in mind, we're commemorating today's 500th straight day of publishing with the unveiling of a new logo, which you see above. It replaces the old "skyline photo of Baltimore" and is far more easy to identify as unique to Drew's Morning Dish and will be part of our branding going forward. Fairly soon in 2016, we'll be marketing some #DMD apparel (hats, golf shirts, tee shirts, etc.) and the new logo will be part of everything we produce. Together with several friends and business associates, we've been "testing" new logos for the last two or three weeks. We looked at over 230 different options and iterations before deciding on the one you see now. It's unique to me, personally, in that it features two colors -- red and black -- that have been part of my life for a long time. Red was the primary color of my high school -- Glen Burnie -- and is also a significant part of the color scheme at Calvert Hall, where I currently coach the varsity golf team. Black has been a central part of the color scheme of both the Orioles and the Ravens for the last 20 years. Together, those colors are important to me.

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Slowly but surely, we're chasing after Cal Jr.

In testing the logo with people earlier this week, someone remarked to me, "Wow, I like it. It's different." That was precisely what I wanted to hear: "It's different." It's not the tried and true "sports logo" that includes balls, bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, etc. We got several of those submitted to us and they were all borrrrrrrrring. It doesn't feature a sun or a "yellow burst" or anything connecting us with "morning" because people come here at all hours of the day to read #DMD. Yes, we're "Drew's Morning Dish" because we publish in the morning, but our stats reflect a readership that visits the site at 6am, 1pm, 6pm and 11pm. People come and go all the time. What we are, easily said, is a place that offers Sports -- Insight -- Opinion. We produce sports commentary, hopefully most of it with some high degree of insight, and we ask you to provide your opinion on it if the mood strikes you to do so. We want your engagement. Oh, and we'll give you OUR opinion at times, too.

So, the new logo symbolizes what we are. Something different. We're happy with that and hope to carry that theme moving forward so we're not stale or stagnant. To that end, we're adding new writers in 2016, including one of them you'll read below in today's edition. We will have a regular Orioles contributor in 2016 as well, plus our Ravens coverage (headed up by Bo Smolka) and Terps coverage (Dale Williams) will continue as strong as ever.

I'm excited to announce that Jerry's Toyota-Scion will once again serve as our "Signature Partner" in 2016. Jerry's came on board with us last January and became an integral part of all of our community and charitable endeavors, including our recent winter apparel drive, our annual golf outing which benefitted Kennedy Krieger last October, and the sleeping bag drive that was held by our friend Van Brooks. We'll be adding some new features to our partnership with Jerry's in 2016, including the chance for you and a guest to spend four days in Boston with us when we head north June 14-17 for a 3-game series between the Orioles and Red Sox. Thanks once again to Jerry's Toyota-Scion for their continued support of all that we do here at #DMD. We have a large number of other corporate partners who have renewed their support of #DMD for 2016 and we'll be sharing those announcements with you between now and the end of the month.

This is also a good time to announce the newest addition to our staff here at #DMD. Alex Church has been hired as our new Sales and Marketing associate and will be in charge of securing marketing and advertising partnerships for our product. He's graduating from Towson University this May with a degree in Business Administration and is a former intern with the Orioles in their corporate sponsorship department. Alex is motivated to learn the world of sports sales and I'm excited to have him on board to get his career started. Nothing replaces energy and enthusiasm and the willingness to learn. Alex has all three of those things and he'll be a great fit here. I'm liken him to our first round draft pick. Now I just need to make sure I train him to be our Joe Flacco and not our Kyle Boller. If you're interested in discussing #DMD marketing and advertising with Alex, you can reach him via e-mail: alexchurchdmd@gmail.com

So, there you have it. We're into year three, celebrating 500 straight days of publishing new, daily content, and we're excited about what lies ahead. Some might even say it's the best work of my career, but we have a long way to before I'll accept those sort of accolades. Oh, by the way -- if you're in the area on September 19, 2021, we're hoping to have a big party to commemorate the breaking of Cal Ripken's streak (2632 straight days of showing up for work). Until then, stay with us please. We like having you around.

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today's guest contributor:
brien jackson

In late November, I publicized an announcement that #DMD was looking to hire another writer and a sales-marketing professional as we begin our 2016 planning. Twenty-one people sent in their information and asked to be considered for the writing position, so I thought one way to help sort through them would be to actually SEE their work, here, live. So, I've been posting the writings of some of the candidates here over the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so as they come in. Today's guest contributor will be a "guest" no more. Brien Jackson will be serving the role as a #DMD "columnist" in 2016 and we look forward to reading his work throughout the year.

can a team gain in the long term by going 5-11?

The answer to the question I posed in the headline is - "probably not". The NFL is all about winning, so losing 11 games in a season is really bad and I'm not going to try to write the next great #hottake about how you can really lose by winning. But if any team/organization has ever come out of such a bad season, record wise, looking like a first rate collection of professionals, the 2015 Ravens are definitely at the front of that conversation.

One of the reasons that losing snowballs and perpetuates itself is that, in the cutthroat meat market that is the NFL, losing turns teams against one another as people begin to look out for their own interests. Players want to make sure they look good so as to stay employed in the league. Some guys check out entirely once contention is ought of sight, content to go through the motions just to collect the rest of that year's checks. Coaches and front offices begin pointing fingers and waging turf wars, each office trying to make sure the other takes the brunt of the blame for the failure. Owners start looking for sacrificial lambs to pin the lack of results on to make a deamnded firing at the end of the year.

Absolutely none of that has happened in Baltimore this year.

Some of that is a matter of circumstance. The ridiculous number of injuries the team has had to key starters produced a feeling that the team was simply snakebitten, and there wasn't really anything a coach could do to under the circumstances. Ditto for factors like atrocious refereeing mistakes and a really crappy schedule layout. Further, despite some idle speculation at points during the season, it seems that it's always been the case that the resume of John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome was going to keep them off of the hot seat for at least this year. It might sound a bit glib, but it's still the case that that duo now has as many Superbowl championships as losing seasons during their time together, and Steve Bisciotti strikes me as far too methodical of a manager to make a major upper management change under those circumstances.

But still, rash decisions and the sudden breakdown of professionalism is certainly not uncommon once you start losing a lot in the NFL, so it remains a very real testament to the professionalism of the people running the Ravens that this didn't happen, and that they put a well prepared team that was ready to play as well as they were able each and every week, well after they had any realistic chance at postseason play.

All of which may sound like I'm looking to hand out participation trophies for a bad team, but in fact there's real value to the team's future in this. While most of the teams that are going to pick in the top ten in this year's draft look like total train wrecks (Cleveland, San Francisco) or veritable wastelands (Tennessee) the Ravens can still sell themselves to veteran free agents and available coaches as a promising team with a bunch of returning players and a first rate organization that just had an unusually large amount of bad luck for one season. For as bad as 2015 was, there's plenty of reasons Ravens fans can imagine their team going right back to the ranks of legit Superbowl contenders in 2016 without inspiring side-splitting laughter from the rest of the world.

That's something a Browns fan can't say at their team's best.


drew's primer on how 5-11 happened

I'll be writing more about the Ravens 2015 season throughout this week, particularly once we hear what the powers-that-be have to say about it all at tomorrow's "State of the Ravens" press conference in Owings Mills. I've been giving a lot of thought recently to what exactly went wrong this past season and think there are five critical points to the club's dismal campaign, which saw them miss the playoffs for the 2nd time in three seasons. Let's also not forget that John Harbaugh's team almost didn't make the post-season in 2014. The Ravens needed San Diego to lose their regular season finale in Kansas City (which they did) and the Ravens needed to beat Cleveland in Baltimore (which they did) in order to qualify for the playoffs after missing out in 2013. So, this has been a difficult three-year stretch for the Ravens in the afterglow of that Super Bowl win in February of 2013 in New Orleans.

Here are the key elements of this year's downfall:

1. Losing the first two games the way they did was a death knell -- It's one thing to go to Denver and Oakland and lose 38-13 and 27-14 respectively. It's another to have both games in the palm of your hand in the final minute and have each of them snatchced away. The Ravens were a dropped pass and a horrible pass interference call away from being 2-0 to start the campaign. The ball that clanged off of Steve Smith's facemask in the final 30 seconds of the loss at Denver changed that from a thrilling season-opening win to a sign of things to come. And the awful call on Will Hill that negated his game-ending interception in Oakland got the team off to the worst kind of start they could have.

2. The secondary was woeful in the season's first half -- Tortured by Michael Crabtree, A.J. Green, Malcom Floyd and yes, even Gary Barnidge, the Baltimore secondary was a laughingstock by the season's midway point. Big play after big play, penalty after penalty, bad schemes, bad techniques -- you name it, it afflicted the secondary. One of the biggest reasons why the team started 2-6 in 2015...they couldn't stop the big play in the 4th quarter.

3. Suggs and Smith injuries were critical -- I'm not saying the Ravens would have been 10-6 if Terrell Suggs (one game played) and Steve Smith Sr. (eight games played) would have both played 16 games, but I can tell you this, for sure: The Ravens wouldn't have finished 5-11 if those two could have played the entire season. Both of those guys were just too important to their collective units and to the team as a whole. Losing both of them was crushing.

4. Salary cap woes led to depth issues -- I wrote several times during the pre-season that I felt like the Ravens lack of depth could haunt them in 2016. I don't always throw a bulls-eye, but I did on that note. Once the starters fell by the wayside due to injuries, the back-ups and back-ups-to-back-ups just couldn't do the job at the level required. A lot of those woes can be traced back to the $21 million dollars of "dead money" on the team's 2015 salary cap. Where once were back-up players of quality were now journeyman who just filled a need and offered little in return. If the Ravens want to get back on track in the next couple of years, their salary cap issues need to be cleared up.

5. The away schedule was brutal -- Yes, I know. Everyone has to play the schedule that's laid out in front of them. I get it. But what the schedule makers did to the Ravens in 2015 was just too much to overcome. Four road games in the Western part of the country, a trip to Miami, and the three AFC North battles, including one on a Thursday night. You'll see next season, with the longest flight being to Dallas, just how much difference a favorable travel balance means to a football team. What the Ravens had to do in 2015, travel wise, was a recipe for disaster from the start.

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


Tonight at 7 p.m., when the Rutgers basketball team tips off against the Maryland Terrapins for a Big 10 matchup, the player combinations used by Scarlet Knight coach Eddie Jordan will in no way be what he envisioned before this season started. 6’11” center Shaquille Doorson has a foot injury that has kept his 270 pounds out all season. Then there is red shirt freshman and highly recruited Ibrahima Diallo (6’10” 240), who will miss tonight's game with a broken foot. 6’7” 220 lb forward Deshawn Freeman was the leading scorer for Rutgers before a knee injury forced him to the sidelines. More recently, Johnathon Laurent sustained a head injury that may keep him out versus the Terps on Wednesday. At 6’6”, Rutgers can hardly afford to have another one of their bigger players watching from the bench as his status is “day to day”.

The plethora of injuries leaves the Knights very guard oriented and very vulnerable. Freshman guard Cory Sanders has the flash and attitude to get noticed and be effective as he leads Rutgers in scoring (13.4 ppg), assists (3.6 apg), and steals (1.6 spg). Sanders also leads the team with 43 turnovers. Guard Mike Williams also scores in double figures (11.7 ppg) but has only managed to convert 38% of his field goal attempts and 28% of his 3s. Underneath the basket, Baltimore native and St. Francis grad, Greg Lewis, uses his 6’9” 240lb body effectively, but lacks the touch to finish short range shots. At 34%, his field goal percentage leaves much to be desired considering the point blank range from which he normally shoots. Omari Grier may be the Scarlet Knights’ best shooter, but he hasn’t put many up in the 17.1 minutes per game that he averages.

Rutgers is currently 0-2 in the Big 10 and 6-9 overall. With the Terps coming off of an impressive first half against Northwestern, and then coasting to a 13 point victory, it’s easy to see a similar pattern here. The major difference could be the shot selection for Maryland. Against the Wildcat zone defense, the Terps hoisted a season high 31 three point attempts. With Rutgers so depleted inside, and favoring a man-to-man defense, I would expect Maryland to pound it early into the paint for easy looks and hit the offensive glass hard. Unless Rutgers is able to score consistently off of dribble penetration, and hit an unusual amount of threes, there is no way this team team can hang with Maryland.

In a matchup of the best and worst this conference has to offer, I expect to see Maryland roll to an 81-56 victory and advance to 3-0 in conference in preparation for their 1:00pm road contest against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday.


2016 fantasy golf preview
my #3 player to watch

The second part of the 2015-2016 starts later this week with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we’re just about ready to resume fantasy golf discourse here at DMD. For the last week, I've been offering my own list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the fantasy golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey, #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka, #6 - Patrick Rodgers, #5 - Jason Day, #4 - Dustin Johnson.

I’ll continue to profile players until I get to #1 later this week. Oh, and let me tell you now that every Wednesday during the 2016 PGA Tour campaign I’ll be providing you with Fantasy Golf advice, presented by Glory Days Grill. And we’re going to have a fun “fantasy golf contest” of our own that focuses on the majors and four other significant tournaments…and we’ll be announcing those details in another couple of weeks.

On we go to our Top 10 list. Today, we move to the guy in the 3rd spot.

#3 – Justin Rose

OK, you can have every European player NOT named Rory McIlroy and I'll take Justin Rose. And I'll win. Yes, that means you can have Stenson, Westwood, Poulter, Garcia...all of them. I'll take Justin Rose over those guys seven days a week.

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Expect to see lots of this in 2016.

As we saw in 2013 at Merion when he won the U.S. Open and last year at Augusta National when he nearly caught Jordan Spieth with a back-nine birdie barrage, Justin Rose is an elite player who steps up on the big stage. Expect him to do that again in 2016, where the rotation of courses for the majors fits him well. In addition to Augusta and the Masters, he should take to Oakmont, where his plodding, "take what I can get" style dovetails perfectly with the U.S. Open mentality. I suspect he'll be a force at Troon next July, where his length off the tee and accuracy with the driver should help him navigate the wacky links terrain. And Baltusrol will be rolled out to 7600 yards or more, which again favors a guy who bombs it off the tee and can beat anyone in the world when his putter is hot. And that's Justin Rose.

Play him early and often in 2016. You'll be happy you did.

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ever been to fenway park? we're going next next june
-- and so can you!

If you're a regular reader of #DMD, you know by now one of the spokes in our wheel has become bucket list sports trips. In fact, we'll be launching www.bucketlistsportstrips.com in January and doing trips-specific marketing in 2016 designed to capture sports enthusiasts around town who want to see places like Augusta National Golf Club, the Army-Navy game and other iconic events/venues. By the way, if you're interested in going to the Masters next April 5, we only have 8 seats left on our trip (click here for details).

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Join us in Boston, June 14-16, and experience Fenway Park!

I'm very excited about the newest addition to our sports trips menu. We have an outstanding trip planned for next June that many of you will no doubt be interested in...particularly if you've never been to Fenway Park in Boston. Even if you've been there, this is a great summer trip, but for those longing for the experience of Fenway Park, we're taking in a 3-game Orioles-Red Sox series June 14-16, 2016.

Here's how we're doing it: We'll be flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Boston on Tuesday morning, June 14. We'll be staying at a downtown Boston hotel and seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then we'll fly back to Baltimore on Friday morning, June 17. Your package includes round-trip airfare, game tickets for all three games (with the rest of the group, not seats scattered all over the park) and hotel accommodations two blocks from Fenway Park for three nights. Pricing varies depending on the number of people in your hotel room, but it ranges from $599 to $799 per-person.

Yes, you read that right. You can fly to Boston, stay in a downtown hotel, go to three games and have an amazing trip to see Fenway Park -- for less than $800.

This trip is limited to only 30 people, so if you're interested in seeing Fenway Park and the Orioles next June, please reach out to me right away via e-mail (18inarow@gmail.com). You can also click here to see the details and payment options there. A $150 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and the rest isn't due until May, 2016.





Tuesday
January 5
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 5

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no time to waste as ravens look to 2016

You can tell the Ravens are eager to get started with their 2016 planning by the mere fact that the team's annual "State of the Ravens" press conference is scheduled for this Thursday at the team's facility in Owings Mills.

Admittedly much of the scheduling for that event is predicated on the personal schedule of owner Steve Bisciotti, but I can't recall the season-ending presser being held this quickly. It could be that Bisciotti is heading to Florida this weekend and won't return for a few weeks and the club figured better now than later. Or, it could be that the franchise simply wants to get this piece of business out of the way as quickly as possible so they can put 2015 in the rear view mirror and forge ahead with their 2016 plan already in working order. Whatever the case, Bisciotti, team President Dick Cass, GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh will face the media this Thursday at 2 pm in what still remains one of the best things the organization does for its fan base.

Unlike the baseball team in town, who haven't ever had a season-ending public forum of discourse like the one the Ravens annually have, the football organization believes this part of what they owe their paying customers. I attended eight or so of the "State of the Ravens" press conferences and felt like the power-players were as forthright as they could possibly be given that some of the information they were sharing could also be used against them from a competitive standpoint in both on-field and off-field matters. It speaks volumes about the way both franchises value their respective fan bases that the Ravens have this event every January and the Orioles haven't ever had it. But enough on that subject...

Our guest contributors over the next couple of days will dive into the "moving forward" theme for the Ravens, as Ken Greeley addresses the issue of "salary cap purge -- or not?" in today's edition of #DMD and Brien Jackson takes a look at the dynamics of a losing season in Wednesday's edition. Both of those guys follow the Ravens closely and will have interesting viewpoints of what transpires over the next few months as John Harbaugh's team looks to quickly rebound from a dismal 2015 season.

I'll also contribute an "off-season primer" of sorts in today's edition, as I'll tackle my five key points for Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh. No one likes losing, of course, but from failure often comes the greatest of rebirths. If you trust in Newsome, DeCosta et al, you'll rest comfortably over the next few months as they piece together the roster heading into the 2016 campaign. The biggest issue facing the Ravens -- and every team in the league, too -- is the constant navigation of the salary cap, which they'll have to address first and foremost with quarterback Joe Flacco, who admitted on Monday that his daunting $28.5 million cap figure is "going to be an issue". But, as reader "Eric" commented in yesterday's edition of #DMD, Flacco isn't obligated to re-work his deal for the Ravens any more than you're obligated to sit down with your boss today and re-configure your compensation package at work because your boss caved in and gave you a sweetheart deal three years ago when you were thinking about going to work for a rival company.

Yes, it's natural for players in the NFL to re-work their contracts to benefit the club's salary cap situation. I fully expect Flacco to accommodate the Ravens sometime soon and re-do the final three years of his current deal. But he won't be making LESS money because of the re-structure...in fact, he might wind up making more over the long run. It's a dicey situation anytime you take someone's contract -- a deal you shook hands on -- and ask them to change it mid-stream, so the whole process requires careful market analysis coupled with a kid-gloves approach to make sure no one's feelings get hurt in the process of making everyone whole. It's far more challenging than you and I think it is. For us, we say, "Aww, come on. The dude's already made $60 million in three years...what's he care about the other three years?" That's because it's not our $60 million they're tinkering with, most likely.

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Ozzie Newsome's first off-season task? Re-work the mega-deal he struck with Joe Flacco three years ago.

And it also wouldn't surprise me if Flacco's early response to the team's contract re-structure is a "line in the sand" sort of stance, portrayed by his agent, Joe Linta. As we saw with Flacco prior to the 2012 campaign, when he essentially walked away from the team's 5-year offer over a dispute of ONE MILLION DOLLARS (he wanted $95 million, they offered $94 million), the quarterback is more than willing to take a hard-line approach when it comes to matters of his value, perceived or otherwise. That Flacco eschewed a $94 million offer and rolled the dice with owner Steve Bisciotti shows the sort of confidence he has in own ability, not to mention his willingness to simply say "this is how it's going to be" and then take the good or the bad as it comes his way. A Super Bowl MVP award and championship ring following that 2012 campaign turned Flacco's gamble into another $65 million or so after he signed his new deal prior to the 2013 season. So, there's some history working in Flacco's favor as he prepares to hear the Ravens tell him they need to re-work his current contract to better fit in with the club's salary cap moving forward. I can just hear Joe now, saying to his agent: "Look, it's not my fault they gave Haloti a bad contract and strapped themselves to Ray Rice. I did my part. Their salary cap screw-up isn't MY fault."

In the end, I'm 80% sure the "new deal" with Flacco will get done. But there's always a part of me that wonders if Flacco will draw a line in the sand and the Ravens, because they, too, have gambled and won a lot over the years, might simply say, "Gee, Joe, we love you. But we're going to have to miss you." That reminds me: I used that line once when I was negotiating a player contract in my days as a soccer GM and the player responded by saying, "You'll miss me? Where am I going?" He clearly didn't get it. Until he was playing in Tampa Bay a few months later.

I hope you like our analysis of the Ravens this week as we dive right in -- as they're doing in Owings Mills -- and start assessing what went wrong in 2015 and how it can get fixed in 2016. I've made a command decision to not publish season-ending grades for the players because I think we'd all agree that falls under the category of "What's The Sense?". We know who the really good players were (Yanda, Aiken, B. Williams, Koch) and who a few of the surprises were (Jensen, Z. Smith, Wright, Gillmore, M. Williams), plus we know who would get failing grades (Hurst, Arrington, Lewis and, perhaps just because he doesn't listen very well, Jernigan). There's no sense in "grading people". The club went 5-11. They could have easily gone -- and I mean that...EASILY -- 9-7 and played for their playoff lives in Cincinnati last Sunday. But grading guys on the heels of 5-11 just seems like a waste of time. We'll spend this space previewing what needs to be done moving forward.

And lastly, speaking of this week, we have a big day planned for tomorrow, Wednesday. I don't want to give too much away, other than to say January 6, 2016 is a fairly historic day for Drew's Morning Dish, and we have a couple of special treats in store for everyone who cares to visit and explore tomorrow's edition. It's a normal day, tomorrow, but then again, it isn't. Stop by and see what I mean, please.

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today's guest contributor:
ken greeley

In late November, I publicized an announcement that #DMD was looking to hire another writer and a sales-marketing professional as we begin our 2016 planning. Twenty-one people sent in their information and asked to be considered for the writing position, so I thought one way to help sort through them would be to actually SEE their work, here, live. So, I've been posting the writings of some of the candidates here over the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so as they come in. Today's piece is the second contribution from a very astute football follower, Ken Greeley.

salary cap decision will guide ravens' off-season work

The Ravens have won two Super Bowls and have faced salary cap issues subsequent to both titles. After Super Bowl 35, management went “all in” for a second title in 2001, knowing the team’s salary cap issues would decimate the team prior to the 2002 season. I will call this the "SB 35 rebuild approach", covering the years 2001 to 2003. Management decided to take a different approach after winning Super Bowl 47, recollecting the SB 35 rebuild approach as one that was painful for the fans and the team. I will call this the "SB 47 Status Quo approach", covering the 2013 to 2015 seasons. The new approach was to stay competitive, while changing out key components and working around the salary cap, by mostly pushing out significant salary cap impacts to future years. So which approach was better – the SB 35 rebuild or the SB 47 Status Quo?

From a performance perspective, the comparison periods are relatively similar. Over 48 regular season games (three years) the SB 35 rebuild team won 56% of their games, had one season with a losing record (2002) and made the playoffs twice (2001 and 2003). The SB 47 Status Quo has resulted in the team owning a 48% winning percentage with one playoff appearance (2014). The difference though between the two cases is the SB 35 rebuild team exceeded their modest expectations in 2002 and 2003 and set up the team for success for several years to come. I am not confident on where the SB 47 Status Quo goes from here.

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This Hall of Famer hasn't been around for the second "re-build" after a Baltimore Super Bowl title.

The SB 35 rebuild approach was facilitated by the presence of two future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden and the potential of several young players. Already on the roster were the likes of Jamal Lewis, Edwin Mulitalo, Chris McAlister, and Peter Boulware. By continuing their draft success, the team could quickly rebuild by surrounding two great players and their pool of talented young players with five or six quality players. The drafting success during this rebuild, especially on must-hit first rounders, was exceptional with the additions of Todd Heap, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. The big missing piece continued to be a quarterback.

Every year during the SB 35 rebuild had a different quarterback(s) at the helm. First they tried to improve the 2000 team by adding Elvis Grbac to the existing core of players. When the team cleaned house after the 2001 season, they went with Johnny Unitas-endorsed Chris Redman, before turning to Jeff Blake after Redman’s injury. Management tried to fill the last missing piece by drafting Kyle Boller in 2003 in the first round. (Ironically Anthony Wright was able to guide the talented 2003 team to the playoffs after Kyle Boller’s injury and when the Ravens committed to a quality QB in Steve McNair, the team put up its best regular season ever).

After their Super Bowl 47 victory, the Ravens did not need to address the quarterback situation. The team just needed to resign their franchise quarterback, Joe Flacco, as they started into their SB 47 Status Quo process. Resigning Joe Flacco was the easy part though as management had bigger issues to address - replacing over half of its starters in the next few years, finding new leadership with the departure of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, while not having the base of great young talent and being strapped against the salary cap. (Joe Flacco’s contract has not had a significant impact on the salary cap during this period). The question to ask now is did management misdiagnose the team’s talent and salary cap situation when it made its decision on how to proceed in the SB 47 Status Quo? “Draft experts” have long praised Ravens management for their ability to turn first round selections into Pro Bowlers and to find gems later in the selection process, including undrafted free agents. Have the experts looked at the team’s recent success in player selection?

A review of each first pick or draft is not necessary as the ineptitude has been evident, but a couple of points are worth noting: Over the last eight drafts, starting in 2008, the Ravens' first selections have yielded two above average starters (Jimmy Smith and C.J. Mosley), an underperforming part-time starter (Courtney Upshaw) and no other player currently contributing to the Ravens. There has been only one Pro Bowl appearance from this group of eight first picks out of a possible 35 potential appearances (if you exclude their first year in which it is difficult to make the Pro Bowl, there are no appearances since Mosley made it in his rookie year). Compare this stat to the success in the first eight Ravens drafts where all but one first pick (Duane Starks) made the Pro Bowl during his career.

Michael Oher would potentially be a dominant left tackle in his prime now, if he was truly a first round talent. With the Ravens' salary cap issues, they would have not been able to keep all of the star players anyway. But it would have validated the team’s current draft process, plus adding more players via compensatory picks. It is unfair to expect continued success when drafting late in the first round (or even later when the recent trend seems to be trading down in the draft) as the playoff appearances in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons dictated, but the Ravens were able to find great players in Todd Heap and Ed Reed when faced with similar draft-slot situations. Other than Mosley’s number 57, fans are not wearing the jerseys of young Raven players. There are only 2 or 3 young players the fans can be excited about moving forward and if that's not a testament to a team's drafting prowess, I don't know what is.

The best way to succeed in the salary cap era is to draft well. When a team has gaps in their roster, free agency can be a solution. While it is not prudent to spend big in free agency, picking up a quality defensive back or wide receiver could have greatly assisted the Ravens last year and this year, respectively. However, the Ravens have not had that luxury. With no salary cap room for several years, it has been a vicious cycle – release players to get under the salary cap but not enough to make any moves to fill in the roster gaps – every year. And this has been the situation since the confetti fell in the Superdome.

How did the Ravens end up in salary cap purgatory? Part was self inflicted through “dead money” and part was bad luck (paying for players not contributing to the team). The Ravens had a lot of salary cap dollars tied up in veteran players for future years when they entered the SB 47 Status Quo process. When their performance did not justify their salary, the team had to use valuable salary cap room to cut players – a double whammy! The bad luck started almost coincidently a year or two after the Ravens signed a player to a big contract - Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta to name a few. Add in the injuries, and the Ravens have been left with a sub-par roster.

My conclusion - while the performances may be comparable in the three years post-Super Bowl championship, the current team is not set up to succeed in the next three to five years. The playoff appearance in 2014 was greatly influenced by a weak schedule. The Ravens misjudged the young talent on the roster, have not developed new leadership to fill the Lewis / Reed void, and did not understand the salary cap impacts combined with the roster turnover, especially if they had some bad luck. Another “all-in” for one more championship and maybe a few bad years, like the SB 35 rebuild, would have been the best route again.

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time to make some tough calls

As I referenced above in the lede of today's edition of #DMD, I'll start off my preview of 2016 by giving my "Five Key Points" as I see them for the Ravens. Some of these points might not be favorable or easily accepted by the purple faithful, but I'm doing my best to wear Ozzie's hat and make decisions with my head, not my heart. Here goes:

#1 -- Don't spend a lot of money on old players: Yes, this might be known as the "Steve Smith Sr." rule, but it is what it is. It's probably blasphemy in this town to suggest that the club part ways with #89 (it wouldn't go over well in my house...my son got a Steve Smith jersey from Santa Claus), but the reality is he'll be a 36-year old wide receiver coming into camp off of the worst injury an athlete can have. I'm not saying the club should just blindly let him go. I'm saying if the Ravens can add a couple of younger, quality receivers, add fresh tires to the roster and take Smith's money and use it elsewhere. The same goes for other guys on the team who are "long in the tooth", including Daryl Smith, who will be 34 when the campaign starts next September. Choose youth over age. Head over heart...

#2 -- Don't spend a lot of money on the safety position: This might spell doom for Lardarius Webb, who is set to make nearly $10 million next season, but spending a lot of money on a safety is silly. Quick, name the guys who play safety for Carolina, Arizona, Denver and New England. Right. I can't, either. Not without "Google", anyway. Unless you have a Hall of Famer who changes the game, there's no sense in paying big bucks for a safety. Ozzie's credo -- "Spend money on guys who touch the ball or touch the quarterback" -- gets played out here. You might have to eat some money on Webb's departure, but that's better than coughing up $10 million for him to play safety. Head over heart...

#3 -- Don't spend $5 million on a kicker: Stephen Gostkowski was set to make $4.5 million in 2015 until he re-worked his contract to help the New England salary cap situation. But Gostkowski was/is a $4.5 million kicker...which means, Justin Tucker is likely going to be looking for something in that range this off-season. I'm a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE fan of great kickers and I think they are critical to a team's success. And I'm also a HUGE fan of Justin Tucker. But do not, do not, do not pay the kicker $4 million. Ever heard of Chris Boswell? He was the guy Pittsburgh found in mid-October this year after they jettisoned Josh Scobee. Before landing with the Steelers, Boswell was unemployed. He went 29-for-32 this season and makes the equivalent of $25 per-hour with the Steelers. There are kickers on every street corner looking to kick and, as Boswell proved, some of them are quite decent. I'm not saying Boswell is better than Justin Tucker. I'm saying don't pay your kicker $4 million. Head over heart...

#4 -- Don't spend a gazillion dollars on running backs: The same general theme as #3 plays out here. Running backs are like gin joints in Los Angeles; they're everywhere. If following rule #4 means parting company with Justin Forsett, so be it. Remember how we got Forsett in the first place? Right...no other team wanted him. Give the job to some combination of Allen, West and the oft-injured Lorenzo Taliaferro or -- better yet -- draft a running back in the 3rd or 4th round this spring. Whatever you do, don't pay the running back(s) a lot of money. Yes, I know, they "touch the ball", which is part of the Ozzie credo, but the league is about throwing the ball now, not running with it. Head over heart...

#5 -- Spend money on the pass rush: As the Steelers have proven nearly year-after-year, your secondary can stink and you can still win 10 games and make the playoffs. In the pass-happy NFL, teams mistakenly think you have to employ great cornerbacks to offset the plethora of wide receivers who are impacting the game. Wrong. You have to chase the other team's quarterback in order to disrupt that impact, which is precisely why the Ravens should continue to try and bolster their pass rush via free agency and/or the draft. Get better at defensive end. Much better. Go get the other team's quarterback and he won't kill you with his arm. And in the AFC North, where two of the league's best wide receivers reside (Brown and Green), you need to figure out a way to keep those teams from beating you four times a year. Head over heart...

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2016 fantasy golf preview
my #4 player to watch

The second part of the 2015-2016 starts later this week with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we’re just about ready to resume fantasy golf discourse here at DMD. For the last week, I've been offering my own list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the fantasy golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey. #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka, #6 - Patrick Rodgers, #5 - Jason Day.

I’ll continue to profile players until I get to #1 later this week. Oh, and let me tell you now that every Wednesday during the 2016 PGA Tour campaign I’ll be providing you with Fantasy Golf advice, presented by Glory Days Grill. And we’re going to have a fun “fantasy golf contest” of our own that focuses on the majors and four other significant tournaments…and we’ll be announcing those details in another couple of weeks.

On we go to our Top 10 list. Today, we move to the guy in the fourth spot.

#4 – Dustin Johnson

He officially wears the t-shirt no one on TOUR wants to sport...the one that reads, "Best Player That Hasn't Won A Major Championship". Dustin Johnson has the whole package, but when it comes to winning a major, he just can't pull it off. Yet. I think that's going to change in 2016.

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Once this guy wins one major, watch out. 2016 might be the year he finally breaks through.

Look for Johnson to be a threat every time he tees it up this year, which makes him a fantasy player's dream. He's going to get you gobs of points because he makes four or more birdies per-round. In tournaments where the course they're playing has four par 5's on the scoreboard, play him without fail. He chews up par 5's the way Fox News chews up Hillary. And when it comes to the majors, don't be shy about adding him to your roster. He's a logical choice at Augusta given his length, although the one blemish on his game is around the greens and only the best chippers and pitchers of the golf ball flourish at the Masters. Oakmont (U.S. Open) should be a great fit for him, as will both Troon (British Open) and Baltusrol (PGA Championship). Any course with length bodes well for the long-hitting Dustin Johnson.

I think he's going to break through this year and win at Baltusrol after another near miss at the British Open. The time has come for Dustin Johnson to finally win that major title.


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.

Monday
January 4
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 4

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thank you so much, ryan mallett

Never before have I been so happy to see a Ravens quarterback stink it up.

And no, this has nothing at all to do with getting a better drafting slot by virtue of yesterday's 24-16 season ending loss to the Bengals. You should know by now -- if you're a regular reader of DMD -- that I'm not a believer that losing is better than winning. It never is, sorry. I'd much prefer to win ANY game than lose it, no matter what winning the game does for my team's draft position.

I'm thanking Ryan Mallett this morning because he saved us at least seven months of dreadful sports radio talk in town with his Kyle-Boller-replica-game in Cincinnati on Sunday. You could feel a groundswell of support starting to build after last Sunday's improbable win over Pittsburgh and for sure, had the Ravens somehow disposed of the Bengals yesterday, it would have started in earnest as soon as the one sports radio station in town that takes calls opened its doors for business on Monday morning.

Tom in Hunt Valley: "Yeah, look, I like Flacco and all, I mean, I think he's a good quarterback, but we can pay that Mallett guy a fifth of what we pay Flacco and I'm telling you he's just as good, maybe even better."

Paul in Towson: "I've been watching football for 25 years and I know a thing or two and I can just feel it with Mallett. He has "it", ya know? Let's at least give him some strong consideration for the starting job next year."

Steve in Parkville: "Have you seen Mallet's arm? That kid has something special, I'm telling you. Let's at least put Flacco under some pressure in training camp next August and see who wins the job."

You get the idea. Oh, and here's the funny thing. One of the three comments (Steve) above was REAL, lifted right from yesterday's post-game show. The other two were calls that would have come in today, tomorrow, next week and next month if Mallett would have engineered the Ravens to a win yesterday.

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Can you imagine the outcry in town if Ryan Mallett would have finished the season with wins over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati?

There's an old saying that has occasionally fulfilled its destiny right here in Charm City: "The most popular guy in town during football season...is the back-up quarterback." I don't think Baltimore has given up on Joe Flacco, don't get me wrong. I think nearly every sane fan in town realizes the Ravens have themselves a gem of a signal caller in Flacco. He's not Brady or Rodgers. We can all admit that, I think, and still be flag-wavers for the Ravens. But he's comfortably positioned in the "next tier", which is to say, his career numbers stack favorably against most of the guys playing post-season football next weekend, if that means a hill of beans at this point. Baltimore seems satisfied with Flacco, but there's no denying that the vocal minority would have picked up a slew of new members this off-season if Mallett would have overachieved again yesterday in Cincinnati.

Please know this: I'm all for Ryan Mallett hanging around as the back-up heading into 2016. I don't think I need to see any more from Jimmy Clausen or Matt Schaub to know that Mallett is the logical candidate to fill the team's #2 quarterback slot next season. What I'm not all for, though, is an off-season of goofiness from football experts in town who somehow think Mallett's two-game trial at the end of a lost season merits him any consideration to take over the team's primary quarterbacking role from Joe Flacco.

A win over the Bengals yesterday would have kick-started an off-season of murmurs, whispers and quiet skepticism about whether or not the Ravens need to consider a change at quarterback. I know, I know, you think that's crazy too, just like me, but I'm telling you it would have happened. People are strange, as Jim Morrison once sang for The Doors.

Thankfully, though, Sunday's loss to the Bengals will squelch most of the Ryan Mallett-for-President talk in town, even though one loss (or one win) shouldn't make all that much difference between the way you think this morning in comparison with how you felt last Monday morning. But that's just how we are, lathered into a frenzy when a guy comes in off the street and beats the Steelers and ready to puncture all four of his tires when he can't complete a handful of second half passes against the Bengals seven days later.

Oddly, the FM sports radio station in town might have been secretly hoping for another heroic performance from Mallett in Cincinnati. If nothing else, it would have given them months of on-air fodder, even if it most of it were grounded in delirium. And I'm telling you, as sure as you're reading this right here and now, plenty of calls would come in over the next few weeks urging the Ravens to take a long, hard look at Mallett and perhaps even send Flacco on his way, particularly given his lofty contract status for 2016. Heck, those calls came in LAST week after he engineered the Ravens to a win over Pittsburgh...just imagine what a 2-0 record would have done for Mallett's stock in town.

So, thanks Ryan Mallett. Thanks for coming in and giving us two representative performances in our broken-down season of 2015. We'll always remember you here for that late Christmas gift you presented to us on December 27, 2015. And, honestly, I hope to see you hanging around next summer when the team reconvenes for training camp. But, I'll admit, I was kind of glad to see you throw in a clunker yesterday in Cincinnati. No offense, but I just couldn't handle six to eight months of "start Ryan Mallett" talk.

And it was coming, because the most popular guy in town is always the back-up quarterback.

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carolina, denver snag number one seeds

I haven't thought much about the NFL playoff picture yet, so I'm not here to break it down for you game-by-game and give you my "bracket" and the ultimate winner of this year's Super Bowl. I'll do that in Friday's edition of DMD, I suppose. But here's what I will say after looking at the playoff scenario that was finally settled yesterday.

The two top seeds -- Carolina and Denver -- will NOT meet in the Super Bowl. That's my first "call" of January. It will not be the Panthers and Broncos for all the marbles. Why? Because history tells you the two number ones don't ride it out until the end very often. Sure, New England and Seattle pulled it off last year and Denver and Seattle did it the year before, but I'd bet it DOESN'T happen if given the choice of going one way or the other. The playoffs are just too topsy-turvy, too unpredictable and, let's face it, you never which team is going to get the benefit of a good call or a botched-rules-interpretation from the men (and ladies, too, now) in the striped shirts.

I'll give you six random playoff thoughts as we head into the 2015 post-season (in 2016):

Cincinnati isn't beating anyone with A.J. McCarron at quarterback, so they better hope Andy Dalton can play -- and be 100% -- against Pittsburgh next Saturday night. I'm not so sure the Steelers are all that formidable, either, given their injury-issues at running back and a laughly inept defensive backfield, but the Bengals without Dalton are the Ravens without Flacco. They can't win.

Denver really helped themselves by beating San Diego yesterday and snagging the #1 seed from New England. Any team in the league can win two home games, which is now all that Denver needs to do to get back to the Super Bowl. Working against them, though, are a series of home playoff failures in recent years, including losses to the Steelers (pre-Manning), Ravens and Colts. Still, the Broncos' defense is good enough to get them a pair of wins in January and send them to Santa Clara for the Super Bowl. Do I think it's happening? Nope. But getting that #1 seed was HUGE for Denver.

Green Bay might not beat Washington next Sunday. How freakin' funny is that, right? The Packers looked awful for 48 of 60 minutes last night in their stunning home loss to the Vikings and now must head to D.C. for next weekend's post-season opener. Had Green Bay won last night, they would have hosted Minnesota again in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they now have to play the Redskins and then face either Arizona (who thrashed them two weeks ago) or Carolina (who beat them earlier this season as well) in the next round if they should get past Washington. And I wouldn't count on that.

Everyone is hot and bothered about Kansas City and rightfully so, I guess. You don't win ten straight games in the league without your chakras being lined up accordingly. But they'll still have to go to Houston and win a road playoff game before facing either Denver (their hope, I assume) or New England the following weekend. Could this be the year Andy Reid finally gets that elusive championship ring? Kansas City is as well rounded as any team, but it just doesn't seem possible they can win three road playoff games (unless Pittsburgh somehow winds up advancing to the AFC title game, which means K.C. would be the host as the #5 seed) and make it to the Super Bowl.

I don't know how New England can do it with all of their injuries and that horrible offensive line they're employing these days. But if anyone can piece together a couple of wins and get to the Super Bowl again, it's Tom Brady. And Rob Gronkowski. Together, those two can beat just about any team, as long as the New England defense holds up its end of the bargain and their genius head coach doesn't decide to kick the ball away to start overtime.

You can poke holes in every AFC team, easily. Denver has their quarterback issue and Manning's lack of post-season success at home. New England is as beat up as any playoff team and comes in losing its final two regular season games. The Bengals have as many playoff wins in the last 15 years as Charlie Brown has made successful kicks with Lucy as the holder...and their quarterback's thumb injury is still a huge question mark. Houston somehow won the AFC North with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Or is it someone else, now? Kansas City lost their best offensive player in September and then reeled off 10 straight victories to close out the season. When does their run of luck end? And Pittsburgh only got in because the Jets couldn't beat the Bills on the final day of the season. Their passing game is outstanding, yes, but the Steelers defense is woeful.


put your money
where your mouth is

Well, well, well, look who made up some ground yesterday! If not for Green Bay gagging it at home last night vs. the Vikings, I would have compiled a perfect 5-0 day and would have been within one game of "even money" for the regular season. As it stands now, I ended the campaign three games below the elusive .500 mark at 40-43-2, which gives me plenty of time in the post-season to hoist myself above the even mark.

Here's how I saw yesterday's five games:

PATRIOTS (-9.5) AT DOLPHINS: New England still has something to play for, as a Patriots loss coupled with Denver's expected win over San Diego would actually give the Broncos the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Knowing New England, though, they don't really care all that much about home field...which is why I'm taking the Dolphins and the points in this one. That's not the only reason why, but I just feel like Miami at home, getting 9.5...seems like a reasonable advantage for them. I think New England wins the game, but I'm going with the Dolphins to cover in a 24-20 loss.

RESULT -- This was a double win for me, as I also took the Dolphins as my "Best Bet".


JAGUARS AT TEXANS (-6.5): A bunch of wacky stuff would have to go wrong for the Texans to not win the AFC South today, but they won't bother with tiebreakers and such because they'll beat up on Jacksonville and cap off an improbable regular season with a division title at home, as Houston wins 34-26.

RESULT -- I gave Jacksonville too much credit here. They failed to show up. But it was a win for me, nonetheless.


RAIDERS AT CHIEFS (-7): I can't figure out the Raiders, but I think they're better than we give them credit for and I also think they might be especially dangerous if they have nothing at all to play for, which is precisely the case today in Kansas City. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are just looking to stay healthy, although a KC loss and Jets win today would push the Chiefs to the 6-seed in the AFC playoff picture. I think KC is due for a loss, so I'm taking the Raiders in an upset here, 27-24.

RESULT -- The Raiders didn't win, as I predicted, but they did cover for me, so I started the day 3-0.


SEAHAWKS AT CARDINALS (-6.0): Not that it matters, but I pay attention to things like this -- you rarely see a "6 point spread" in the NFL. I don't know why, but that number hardly ever shows up in wagering lines of NFL games, yet here it is today in Arizona for the finale between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Arizona has pounded people recently and I'm guessing Vegas wants you to jump all over that 6-point number as you assume Arizona will win by at least one touchdown. Well, I'm not biting, so I'll go with the Seahawks to cover here, as Arizona wins 29-24.

RESULT -- Same thing here. I missed the winning team, but got the bet right, as I took the Seahawks to cover and they did, winning outright. 4-0 so far!


VIKINGS AT PACKERS (3-0): Green Bay got drubbed last Sunday in Arizona, setting up this winner take all battle for the NFC North crown. I'm not sure about the Packers, but I'm just as unsure about the Vikings, who could be a tough out in the post-season, particularly if they draw Washington in the first round and get some playoff momentum going. I think this one will be a barnburner, but I'm taking the Packers to win late, and cover, 27-21.

RESULT -- I had a chance late in this one, as Green Bay was driving for the game-tying TD and then an overtime TD would have given me the win, but the Vikings held on and I lost my only game of the day.


BEST BET OF THE DAY: I'll go ahead and violate the credo of "Don't Bet Against Tom Brady" and take the Dolphins plus 9.5 points against the Patriots. I know what you're thinkin...

RESULT -- Betting against Brady worked for once.


RECORD TO DATE: 40-43-2

LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 4-1

BEST BET OF THE DAY (SEASON): 9-7-1

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2016 fantasy golf preview
my #6 player to watch

The second part of the 2015-2016 starts later this week with the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, so we’re just about ready to resume fantasy golf discourse here at DMD. For the last week, I've been offering my own list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the fantasy golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey. #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka, #6 - Patrick Rodgers.

I’ll continue to profile players until I get to #1 later this week. Oh, and let me tell you now that every Wednesday during the 2016 PGA Tour campaign I’ll be providing you with Fantasy Golf advice, presented by Glory Days Grill. And we’re going to have a fun “fantasy golf contest” of our own that focuses on the majors and four other significant tournaments…and we’ll be announcing those details in another couple of weeks.

On we go to our Top 10 list. Today, we move to the guy in the fifth spot.

#5 – Jason Day

Patrick Rodgers
If you're a fantasy golf enthusiast, you better be using this guy a lot in 2016.

I don't think 2015 was a fluke for Jason Day. He's the real deal. And because golf is a funny game where "thinking you're great" is sometimes better than actually being great, I think Day is going to continue his hot run into 2016. Look for him to be a contender at the major championships again this year and don't be at all surprised if he plays well at Augusta (Masters) and Oakmont (U.S. Open) in particular.

In 2015, he made 18 of 20 cuts and won a whopping FIVE times, including the PGA Championship and The Barclays in the FedEx Cup playoffs. When he wasn't winning, he was still making lots of money and getting you plenty of fantasy golf points, with 11 finishes in the Top 10 and 15 finishes in the Top 25.

Barring injury, Jason Day will be a major force on the PGA Tour in 2016.

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another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.


do you have springsteen tickets,
but don't want to drive?

There's probably nothing that takes the steam out of going to a concert more than having to drive yourself to the venue. I guess the same can be said for an athletic event, too, particularly if you like to relax and enjoy an adult beverage or two while you're at the game.

With no disrespect intended for the building itself, driving from Baltimore to the Verizon Center can be particularly tension-filled and aggravating, especially if you're driving in something even close to rush hour traffic.

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Are you going to see The Boss on Jan. 29? We'll drive you there!

That got me to thinking yesterday. How many people in Baltimore have tickets to the Bruce Springsteen show on January 29 at the Verizon Center? The event is already sold out, 19,000 tickets gone in a matter of minutes, and my guess is a significant percentage of those 19,000 seats will be occupied by folks from our neck of the woods. And who, in Baltimore, wants to get in their car at 5:00 pm and drive down to DC on a Friday night to see "The Boss"? Obviously, you have to get there somehow if you have tickets...but who REALLY wants to drive down there, pay the tolls, fight the traffic, park your car and so on? Oh, and if you're driving, you can't have that beer or two before, during or after the concert, either.

Introducing -- the "Bruce Bus". I'm going to provide a full, 56-passenger luxury motor coach on January 29 for anyone who has tickets and wants to ride down to the show in DC. I don't have access to tickets at this point (although I might get my hands on a dozen or so in two weeks -- and if I do, I'll let you all know) so this would be "bus ride only", but you can ride to DC in comfort on January 29 and leave all the driving worries to us. Oh, and we'll feed you on the ride down, provide unlimited beer, soft drinks and water, and I'll even throw on a Springsteen DVD to get everyone pumped up for the show. We'll drive, you relax and enjoy yourself. Dinner, drinks and safe travels on us. You just go and enjoy The Boss.

It's $49 to reserve your seat on our "Bruce Bus". We'll be leaving the Towson area around 5 pm, which gets us into DC in plenty of time for the show. If you want to reserve a seat or seats on the bus, you MUST e-mail me directly -- 18inarow@gmail.com. That's the only way I'm taking reservations.


Sunday
January 3
#DMD GAME DAY
presented by
Volume 18
Issue 3
Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals

1:00 PM EST

Paul Brown Stadium
Cincinnati, OH


No matter what happens today in Cincinnati, there's good news as far as the Ravens are concerned.

They'll never see another season like the one they're finishing today.

Oh, sure, they'll have losing seasons again in the future. Heck, honestly, the 2016 campaign might be another challenge for the Ravens if April's college draft doesn't yield a crop of guys ready to step in and make an impact. But the Ravens will never again experience the roster shuffle of 2015 and that, by itself, promises to make future seasons easier to navigate.

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Yep...finally...we move on to "next season" around 4:15 pm today.

Injuries to just about every player that matters derailed the season, although it's fair to note the season wasn't going so swell through six weeks when the club was 1-5 and the only player of significance to have missed time at that point was Terrell Suggs. So, yes, injuries can't be blamed entirely for the campaign that wraps up today, but when a team loses eight legitimate impact players (Suggs, Smith Sr., Forsett, Flacco, Gilmore, Zuttah, Monroe, Canty) for at least 25% of the games, your chances of putting together anything close to a winning season are severely jeopardized. There's an assumed market correction that will take place next season on a variety of levels, but injuries are primarily the one area where the club can expect to see an upswing "just because" -- meaning, there's simply no way a team can expect to see back-to-back years with the sort of injury situation the Ravens faced in 2015. It just can't happen.

We'll address the season as a whole tomorrow and throughout the upcoming week as we put the 2015 campaign in the files, but, save for two wins over Pittsburgh, nothing about the season ending today has been memorable except the team's willingness to carry on and show up every Sunday ready to fight. And I fully assume they'll do that today against the Bengals, even though nothing about this game tells me the Ravens are primed to leave Paul Brown Stadium with a win. Then again, I thought they'd lose 45-24 to the Steelers last Sunday and look what happened there.

So, no matter how many times A.J. Green torches Jimmy Smith today, just remember this will never happen again. You'll never endure a 16-week regular season schedule where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. You'll never have 20-some players go on the injured reserve list. You'll never again see the ball bounce the way it did, mostly against the Ravens, and you'll never see a call or two go so horribly wrong that they directly influenced the outcome of a game. In short, you'll never experience misery like this -- precisely like what you experienced this season -- again.

Unless you move to Cleveland and root for the Browns, that is. If you do that, settle in for something like this every season.

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today's main storylines:
ravens vs. bengals


*Ryan Mallet's encore -- Never before has one 60 minute game of football thrown supposedly smart people into a frenzy like Ryan Mallet's performance against Pittsburgh did last Sunday. It's as if Joe Montana showed up and started slinging the ball around circa 1988. Sure, Mallet was good, especially in the first half, but let's all remember he was going up against a Steelers defense that was laughly inept throughout the second half of the season. He gets another shot at impressing the local fans today when he faces the Bengals, a team with a much better defense than the one he saw last week and a team that needs a win to keep their hopes alive for a first-round playoff bye. If Mallet stumbles and bumbles his way to a loss this afternoon, that should dampen everyone's enthusiasm a little bit. But, if he leads the Ravens to a win over the Bengals, it will likely lead to a spring and summer full of discourse from Ravens fans who will somehow be misguided into thinking that Mallet should be considered for the team's starting QB gig next season. All that said -- the ball is in his court today. If Ryan Mallet can come out and engineer a victory in Cincinnati, he will have earned enough respect to at least be part of the team's plans moving forward into the 2016 campaign.

*Don't fall behind early -- The Ravens have a history of falling behind early against the Bengals, which is one of the reasons why Cincinnati has carried the edge over Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. More specifically, when Andy Dalton has been at QB (which, of course, he isn't today), the Bengals have done a good job of getting A.J. Green involved early and often, painting a bleak picture for Jimmy Smith or the defensive back assigned to mark the explosive wide receiver. A key to this afternoon's game is to keep it close throughout the first half and let the pressure of losing sink in on back-up QB A.J. McCarron. If the boo birds come out, that bodes well for the Ravens' chances.

*Put pressure on McCarron -- A.J. McCarron isn't as good as Andy Dalton, as we've seen for the last few weeks, but he's capable enough to string together some decent throws, particularly given that he has a high-caliber receiving corps at his disposal. As Denver showed last Sunday night, getting him rattled and pressuring him from the outside is the easiest way to get McCarron off his game. Even though the final play of overtime wasn't caused by a sack or a strip, McCarron admitted afterwards he was busy checking the Denver blitz scheme when the ball was snapped and bounced off of his arm, leading to the game winning fumble recovery by the Broncos. The Ravens need pressure from all angles today to keep McCarron guessing. This is a game where Dean Pees will hopefully be able to balance the need for blitzing with the need for keeping A.J. Green in check. If Green gets one-on-one coverage with Jimmy and McCarron has time to find him, that could spell trouble for Baltimore.

*Tackle, tackle, tackle -- This was a key thought from last Sunday's game with Pittsburgh and it remains an important element of today's season finale with the Bengals. The Ravens are a bad tackling team, particularly in the secondary, and that's exactly the sort of thing Cincinnati's receiving corps feasts on. For the Ravens to be successful today, they have to do a good job of wrapping up their man after the catch. A.J. Green in particular is especially adept at shaking loose from a would be tackler or two and turning a short gain into a huge play.


Here’s how Drew sees today's game:

I'm more optimistic about this game, believe it or not, than I was about last Sunday's battle with Pittsburgh. Why? A.J. McCarron. Even though he was "decent" against Denver last Sunday night, there's no doubt he's notches below Andy Dalton and any other quality QB in the NFL. The Ravens should be able to keep the game close this afternoon as long as they don't let A.J. Green torture them like he has done over the years. But...that was with Dalton throwing to him, not McCarron.

This one starts off favorably for the Ravens with a TD drive on their first offensive possession and Baltimore leads 7-0 after the first quarter. A McCarron-to-Sanu touchdown pass and Cincy field goal gives the AFC North Champs the lead at half, 10-7. A.J. Green then gets involved in the 3rd quarter with a long reception to set up a rushing TD, then catches a throw in the end zone later in the 3rd to make it 24-7. It's "silly season" in the 4th quarter as the Ravens get a TD and field goal countered by one final score from the Bengals as Cincinnati wins 31-17.

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percentage points

Here's a look at a handful of key parts and players in today's game vs. Cincinnati and some percentage-of-success numbers to correlate with all of it.

67% - If you said to me, "Drew, what are the chances the Bengals win today?"

35% - Chances of the Bengals holding the Ravens to under 250 yards passing?

40% - The chances A.J. McCarron throws for over 300 yards?

21% - What are the chances the Ravens rush for over 130 yards?

66% - The chances any Ravens WR catches a TD pass?

3% - Chances Justin Tucker misses an extra point today?

100% -- Chances you say, "Thank God that crappy season is over" as the final whistle blows>


put your money
where your mouth is

Well, I have to make up some serious ground today if I have any hope of finishing .500 by the time the Super Bowl comes and goes next month. I went 2-3 a week ago to lose my grip on the chase for the elusive "even money mark", but a 4-1 or 5-0 today would put me back on pace with the playoffs starting next weekeknd.

Each week here at #DMD Game Day, I give you five NFL selections against the spread, my "best bet" of the bunch, and my official Ravens score prediction as well. This all, of course, is for "entertainment purposes only," although with the NFL officially in bed with both of the major fantasy sports companies in the country, the league is actually far more involved in gambling than any of us are, that's for sure.

Here's how I see today's five games:

PATRIOTS (-9.5) AT DOLPHINS: New England still has something to play for, as a Patriots loss coupled with Denver's expected win over San Diego would actually give the Broncos the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Knowing New England, though, they don't really care all that much about home field...which is why I'm taking the Dolphins and the points in this one. That's not the only reason why, but I just feel like Miami at home, getting 9.5...seems like a reasonable advantage for them. I think New England wins the game, but I'm going with the Dolphins to cover in a 24-20 loss.


JAGUARS AT TEXANS (-6.5): A bunch of wacky stuff would have to go wrong for the Texans to not win the AFC South today, but they won't bother with tiebreakers and such because they'll beat up on Jacksonville and cap off an improbable regular season with a division title at home, as Houston wins 34-26.


RAIDERS AT CHIEFS (-7): I can't figure out the Raiders, but I think they're better than we give them credit for and I also think they might be especially dangerous if they have nothing at all to play for, which is precisely the case today in Kansas City. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are just looking to stay healthy, although a KC loss and Jets win today would push the Chiefs to the 6-seed in the AFC playoff picture. I think KC is due for a loss, so I'm taking the Raiders in an upset here, 27-24.


SEAHAWKS AT CARDINALS (-6.0): Not that it matters, but I pay attention to things like this -- you rarely see a "6 point spread" in the NFL. I don't know why, but that number hardly ever shows up in wagering lines of NFL games, yet here it is today in Arizona for the finale between the Cardinals and Seahawks. Arizona has pounded people recently and I'm guessing Vegas wants you to jump all over that 6-point number as you assume Arizona will win by at least one touchdown. Well, I'm not biting, so I'll go with the Seahawks to cover here, as Arizona wins 29-24.


VIKINGS AT PACKERS (3-0): Green Bay got drubbed last Sunday in Arizona, setting up this winner take all battle for the NFC North crown. I'm not sure about the Packers, but I'm just as unsure about the Vikings, who could be a tough out in the post-season, particularly if they draw Washington in the first round and get some playoff momentum going. I think this one will be a barnburner, but I'm taking the Packers to win late, and cover, 27-21.


BEST BET OF THE DAY: I'll go ahead and violate the credo of "Don't Bet Against Tom Brady" and take the Dolphins plus 9.5 points against the Patriots. I know what you're thinkin...


RECORD TO DATE: 36-42-2

LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 2-3

BEST BET OF THE DAY (SEASON): 8-7-1

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Terps Spotlight

DALE WILLIAMS returns for his second season of covering all things Maryland men's basketball for #DMD. Terps Spotlight will preview and review all games in 2015-2016 and is presented by The Wine Merchant, Baltimore's best source for fine wines and spirits. The Wine Merchant is also a great place to stop for your carry-out lunch and dinner needs. Look for Drew's "Wine Winner" choice when you visit The Wine Merchant!


visiting terps easily handle northwestern

Paced by Melo Trimble’s 24 points, 16 from Rasheed Sulaimon, and a barrage a three point shots, the Maryland Terrapins resumed their Big 10 2015-2016 season on Saturday night at the Welsh-Ryan Arena with a convincing 72-59 win against the Wildcats of Northwestern. Diamond Stone pitched in with 10 points on five for five shooting and Jake Layman added 9 points and 8 rebounds. Maryland shot 11 for 31 from the three point line while Northwestern managed to convert on just 2 of 20. Add in the 9 shots that Maryland blocked, and it adds up to a solid road win for the Terps who now move to 2-0 in the Big 10 and 13-1 overall.

The score was 4-3 early on in favor of Northwestern when Diamond Stone entered the game. Within 50 seconds he had two layups that put Maryland up 7-4. The second layup was a result of Stone running the floor and getting ahead of the Wildcat defense. After a Layman steal and dunk, Maryland then began hitting threes while Northwestern committed a slew of turnovers (6 in the first 7 minutes). A Trimble layup gave Maryland a 10 point lead (21-11) with 8:40 left in the first half and the lead reached 20 at 36-16 with 2:22 left. The halftime score was 40-20 in favor of the Maryland Terrapins. The Wildcats had 8 first half turnovers.

In the second half, Maryland seemed to play just well enough to maintain a comfortable lead of 14 to 19 points until some late foul shots by Northwestern guard Scottie Lindsey provided the final 13 point margin at 72-59. In the second half, Maryland made only four ‘2 point’ shots compared to 6 threes and 6 foul shots. Northwestern held a 24-6 advantage in second half points in the paint but yielded a 3 to Maryland anytime the Wildcats even got close to making a threatening run.

It’s hard to win a college basketball game when you go 2 for 20 from the 3 point line, while your opponent makes 11 from long range. Maryland’s size gave the Wildcats problems (see the 9 blocks), while the Wildcat zone defense (which they played for about 36 of the 40 minutes) gave up too many good looks from behind the three point line. While at times Maryland seemed a bit too content to take the quick three, they did hit enough of them to keep Northwestern at bay. Give Northwestern credit, they played hard throughout, had a strong effort from their leading scorer Bryant McIntosh (17 points, 9 assists) but sorely missed their 7 foot 270 pound senior center Alex Olah who could be out up to three weeks with a foot injury.

All in all, it was a good road win for the Terps, who return home to XFINITY Center on Wednesday for a 7:00pm matchup with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-9, 0-2).

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ever been to fenway park? we're going next next june
-- and so can you!

If you're a regular reader of #DMD, you know by now one of the spokes in our wheel has become bucket list sports trips. In fact, we'll be launching www.bucketlistsportstrips.com in January and doing trips-specific marketing in 2016 designed to capture sports enthusiasts around town who want to see places like Augusta National Golf Club, the Army-Navy game and other iconic events/venues. By the way, if you're interested in going to the Masters next April 5, we only have 8 seats left on our trip (click here for details).

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Join us in Boston, June 14-16, and experience Fenway Park!

I'm very excited about the newest addition to our sports trips menu. We have an outstanding trip planned for next June that many of you will no doubt be interested in...particularly if you've never been to Fenway Park in Boston. Even if you've been there, this is a great summer trip, but for those longing for the experience of Fenway Park, we're taking in a 3-game Orioles-Red Sox series June 14-16, 2016.

Here's how we're doing it: We'll be flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Boston on Tuesday morning, June 14. We'll be staying at a downtown Boston hotel and seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then we'll fly back to Baltimore on Friday morning, June 17. Your package includes round-trip airfare, game tickets for all three games (with the rest of the group, not seats scattered all over the park) and hotel accommodations two blocks from Fenway Park for three nights. Pricing varies depending on the number of people in your hotel room, but it ranges from $599 to $799 per-person.

Yes, you read that right. You can fly to Boston, stay in a downtown hotel, go to three games and have an amazing trip to see Fenway Park -- for less than $800.

This trip is limited to only 30 people, so if you're interested in seeing Fenway Park and the Orioles next June, please reach out to me right away via e-mail (18inarow@gmail.com). You can also click here to see the details and payment options there. A $150 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and the rest isn't due until May, 2016.


we still have seats left on our caps-flyers bus trip, jan. 27

A number of people have reached out to me recently asking if I'm putting together a Caps bus trip in 2016. I love the Caps, of course, so it's certainly "in my blood" to get a trip organized and take a bunch of folks down to the Verizon Center to see Alex Ovechkin and Company live and in person. If you've never been to a Caps game, it should be on your "must do" list. It's a wild two-and-a-half-hours of sports fun and entertainment.

X
Giroux vs. Ovechkin on January 27. Join #DMD for our Caps bus trip and see it in person!

So...the #DMD Caps trip is happening. And who better to see the Capitals bury than the worst franchise in all of sports -- the Philadelphia Flyers. So, we're heading to DC on Wednesday, January 27 to see the Caps host the Flyers at 8:00 pm.

Here's what you get as part of our trip: Round-trip bus transportation from the Towson area, a pre-game "Happy Hour" at Glory Days in Towson, dinner on the bus ride to DC from Chick fil-A at Nottingham Square, snacks and drinks on the ride to DC, plus a LOWER LEVEL TICKET to the Caps-Flyers game. The per-person cost is $175, with a $75 deposit due at the time of your reservation and the remaining $100 due no later than Jan. 15, 2016.

If you're interested in getting seats on the Caps-Flyers bus, e-mail me today: 18inarow at gmail.com


Saturday
January 2
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 2

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the search for new putting magic
begins . . . again

Yesterday was the day a lot of amateur and professional golfers were dreading for roughly three years. January 1, 2016 marked the beginning of the new “anchoring” restriction in the world of golf, and it leaves thousands of people – including the guy writing this – looking for a new way to putt their golf ball.

A little over three years ago, the R&A, the world’s governing golf organization, sought to level the playing field of putting and the act of “making a stroke” and changed Rule 14-1b to clarify once and for all what constitutes a legal stroke in golf. You can ignore the fancy wording, though. The new rule takes dead aim at people who use the long putter.

I went to the long putter in 2004 because I started “flinching” at any putt over ten feet or so. It’s hard to explain, so the video below is going to show you precisely what a “flinch” is in the world of golf. Some people call it the “yips”, but the yips are actually something different. A player with the yips can’t pull the putter back on short putts and then rushes the downstroke once they DO get the putter back. Someone who “flinches” at it can do everything right in the putting stroke until the moment of impact. And then . . . they flinch at it, as you’ll see Ernie Els do in the video below. He has the short putt flinches . . . I had/have the long putt flinches. But they’re all the same. And they’re scary.

Let’s please get one thing straight before I share some insight on the “anchoring rule”. The long putter has NOT been banned. I can’t tell you how many times over the last three years I’ve had that question thrown my way. At the Middle Atlantic Amateur a couple of years back, one of my fellow playing competitors ribbed me non-stop throughout the back nine after I one-putted four straight greens on number 6, 7, 8 and 9 at Kinloch GC in Richmond, VA.

”What are you going to do in a couple of years when they outlaw that thing?” he asked as we rode in a shuttle-cart between the 9th and 10th holes. He clearly didn’t know the specifics of the rule that was set to begin on January 1, 2016.

”They’re not outlawing the putter,” I replied. “I can still use the putter. ”

He laughed. “No you can’t. They’ve outlawed it. The head professional at my club uses the long putter and we’ve been all over him about it because he’ll be a wreck on the greens once he has to go back to the short putter.”

”But he CAN use it,” I countered. “He just won’t be able to anchor the shaft to his sternum if he still uses it.”

He dismissed me with a wave and muttered something about me “catching up with the rule book” or something like that.

Throughout our walk on the back nine, he continued to make dopey, snide remarks about the long putter. When I rolled in an improbable no-brainer from 35-feet for par at the 17th hole (which was precisely a putt that I could ONLY make with a long putter, by the way), he shouted to my caddie, “You better get a picture of that putter, he won’t be using it much longer!”

So, please know what the new rule, which went in effect yesterday, actually states: “In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club, either directly or by using an anchor point.” Nowhere in the rule does it specify or even mention “long putter”, but we all know that rule 14-1b was modified to curb – and eventually eliminate – its use.

And you know what? I’m a guy who has relied on the long putter for the better part of a decade and I completely agree with the rule change. It could potentially wreck my ability to play competitive golf in the future, but I’m one of the rare people who believes the modification of Rule 14-1b is the right thing to do.

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So, your first question, I’m sure, is “Why don’t you just keep using the long putter? It’s OK as long as you’re not anchoring it, as you pointed out to your friend at Kinloch a few years back.”

The key terminology in Rule 14-1b is “anchoring point”, which not only means you can’t connect the shaft of the club to your sternum (or any part of your torso), but you also can’t connect the area between the upper part of your arm to the inner portion of your chest (just think of it like this . . . there has to be space in your armpit area when you’re making the stroke with a long putter . . . if you “clamp” your arms to the side of your body, the R&A says you’ve created “an anchoring point”).

Therein lies my biggest personal issue. I can easily make a stroke with the long putter without anchoring the shaft of the putter to my sternum. In fact, in my decade or so love affair with the long putter, I rarely, if ever, actually “anchored the putter” to my body. But I definitely was a “clamper”, meaning, I connected the area near my left and right armpits in an effort to keep my hands out of the stroke and rely more on the swinging of my shoulders to get the putter back and through. Even though I could try and putt with my arms NOT connected to my body – thus being in compliance with Rule 14-1b – I’m afraid I’d too easily fall back into my old habit of “clamping”, which would subject me to a penalty and/or disqualification.

So . . . the R&A won. I’m one of those folks whom they targeted back in mid-2012 when they announced the new rule that would go into effect on January 1, 2016. And, now, they’ve won.

For the last six months or so, I’ve tampered with my putting in competition to try and get a bead on what might work best for me once 2015 left and 2016 arrived. I putted left-handed at last July’s Maryland Open at Columbia CC and as my poor caddie Nick Smearman often reminds me, it was pretty much a disaster. A few weeks later at my new club, Eagle’s Nest, I shot 67 and 68—two weeks apart from one another—putting left-handed. So, there’s that.

I putted with a right-handed short putter in late August at a tournament at Mount Pleasant and Pine Ridge. The first day I hit 14 of 18 greens and shot 76 because I flinched at nearly every putt of any length on the back nine. The next day at Pine Ridge, I finished the tournament putting with my sand wedge over the final eight holes after flinching at putts throughout the front nine. And I made birdie “putts”, if you will, on #12 and #17, much to the dismay of my playing competitors . . . and rightfully so. Seeing a guy putt with his sand wedge when he has a putter in his bag is unsettling for everyone, including the guy doing it and the guy(s) watching it, especially if he makes a 15-footer with the flange of his sand wedge and you miss a 6-footer with your trusted Scotty Cameron.

I went back to the long putter for a significant 3-day Labor Day weekend member-member event at Eagle’s Nest and made seven birdies in 17 holes on the final day of the competition. Three weeks later, I was putting left-handed again, remembering that January 1 was coming around and I needed to really start working on which putting “style” I was going to use when Rule 14-1b kicked into gear.

And here I am, now, ready to start another golfing season, knowing that the time has arrived to “start all over” with my search for the best way to putt. Without question, the long putter saved my amateur golf career. The best rounds of my life occurred with the long putter in tow. I won tournaments, club championships and lots of money (well, you know, “loose change,” from the guys in my group) wielding the long putter. There were times when people questioned my use of it and I would always reply with the same basic theme: “If they ever ban this thing, I’m done . . . .”

Well, here we are. It hasn’t been banned, of course, but the anchoring rule has definitely made it almost impossible for me to use the long putter anymore. I’m hoping I’m not done, and yet, I completely understand why the R&A modified the rule. It’s their contention—even though it’s not spelled out this way in the rules—that eliminating one’s “nerves” from making a stroke (of any kind, not just putting) greatly enhances the odds of that player performing at a level they wouldn’t be able to reach if they weren’t able to anchor the club. And by anchoring the long putter, your nerves are taken out of the stroke. Anyone who says they use the long putter—and anchor it—and their nerves don’t improve as a result is just not telling the truth.

For years, I would look ahead to January 1, 2016 and think “Eh, I’ll worry about that rule change when the day finally arrives.” Well, it’s here. And even though I haven’t yet played in 2016, I’m ready to tackle Rule 14-1b and figure out a way to putt well again AND still conform with the rules.

One thing for sure: You won’t hear me complain about the anchoring rule. Even though it greatly affects me, golf is better off with Rule 14-1b in place.

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bo's eye view

BO SMOLKA is a longtime member of the Baltimore-Washington media. He covers the Ravens for #DMD and ComcastSportsNet. Bo's insights and analyses are presented by Advanced Heating & Cooling, which offers a variety of energy saving, high-efficiency equipment for heating, air conditioning, and geothermal systems.


Give the Ravens credit: They haven’t quit on the season, they haven’t quit on their coach, and they haven’t quit on each other. That’s one of the takeaways from Sunday’s 20-17 upset of the Steelers that threw a huge monkey wrench into the Steelers postseason plans, much to the Ravens delight.

Can the Ravens repeat that feat again this week, at Cincinnati, in a game that the Bengals need to win if they want the chance of a first-round playoff bye? Beating the Bengals won’t be easy, but it seems a whole lot more plausible than it did a week ago.

Here are five things that need to happen if the Ravens want to end their very disappointing season with back-to-back highly satisfying wins:

*Contain A.J. Green

The Ravens have done a much better job lately of not yielding the big play. But Green has killed them with the big play time and again. In the first matchup this year, there was an 80-yard touchdown pass. Last year, there was a 77-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner. Then there was the 51-yard, Hail Mary throw that forced overtime in 2013 (a game ultimately won by the Ravens). Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was despondent after the Week 3 game this year, in which Green had 10 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens can’t let him put up those kinds of numbers again.

*Have Ryan Mallett again show his potential

Mallett’s performance against Pittsburgh in his Ravens debut was the story of the game. He was solid, confident and in command. The Ravens crafted a game plan that took advantage of his abilities as well as his limited knowledge of the offense after just 10 days in uniform. Mallett, booted out of Houston two months ago, knows he has a great chance to resurrect his career with the Ravens and is highly motivated to make good on that chance.

*Give Mallett time to throw

This will be a huge test for the Ravens reconfigured line, as guard Ryan Jensen and center John Urschel will have to deal with Geno Atkins (10 sacks) coming right up the gut. Neither were in the lineup the last time the Ravens faced the Bengals. Carlos Dunlap (13.5 sacks) coming off the end also presents a huge challenge. The Ravens held the Bengals without a sack in the Week 3 meeting, but the line looks a lot different now than it did then.

*Get receivers involved

Here’s a starting statistic: The Ravens had 32 catches in the Week 3 matchup with the Bengals, and 27 of them were made by players either on injured reserve or suspended. (Steve Smith had 13 catches for 186 yards, and 14 other catches were spread among Justin Forsett, Crockett Gillmore, Marlon Brown, Nick Boyle, Michael Campanaro and Lorenzo Talifaferro. Kamar Aiken, who had zero catches against the Bengals in Week 3, needs a big game. Other receivers need to step up, too.

*Create more turnovers

The Ravens got two interceptions last week, improving what has been a dreadful lack of opportunity this year. They still rank 30th in the league in turnover differential at minus-12, and coach John Harbaugh has said more than once that the lack of turnovers is one of the key factors in the Ravens record. A.J. McCarron has thrown just two interceptions in 92 passes, and the Bengals rank fourth in the league in turnover ratio at plus-9, but the Ravens must force some mistakes. They had a fumble return for a touchdown in the Week 3 game.

*Prediction

The Ravens put together perhaps their best effort of the season in beating the Steelers last week. But the Bengals have had the Ravens number lately, with three straight wins in the series and three straight wins in Cincinnati. The Ravens will hang tough but won’t have enough. Bengals 27-Ravens 17.


just who is the ravens’ mvp?

The 2015 Ravens season comes to a close tomorrow in Cincinnati and perhaps the only issue left to conclude is the team’s MVP award. We haven’t had to do this in a long time, but just who IS the Most Valuable Player on a team that goes either 5-11 (with a loss) or 6-10 (with a win)? It’s not an easy choice, mainly because no one has really stood out as the most VALUABLE player on the team.

Some who cover and follow the team regularly are trumpeting the case for Sam Koch to win the award, but there’s simply no way the Ravens would allow their “official” MVP award to go to the Pro Bowl punter. He’s had a whopper of a year, yes, but there has to be a better candidate for the team’s “best player” than the punter, right? And I’m a Sam Koch fan, by the way…but he simply can’t be the MVP of the 2015 team.

Well, then, who wins the award? Kamar Aiken has enjoyed a remarkable last ten weeks or so after getting off to a slow start – like the rest of the offense. Marshal Yanda has once again dominated at his position and will return to the Pro Bowl later this month – but can the right guard on your team really be the MVP? Heck, if Ryan Mallet beats the Bengals tomorrow, he’d finish the year 2-0 beating Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the process. Maybe he sho – no, never mind, I’m not even going to joke about that.

Brandon Williams
Disciplined, hard working and coachable, Brandon Williams has emerged as one of the NFL's best run stoppers, as Rams' RB Todd Gurley found out in November in Baltimore.

So…who is it?

If I had a vote, I’d go with Brandon Williams. Absent looking at the statistics (which, honestly, I didn’t do for this exercise), my eyes tell me he’s been the team’s best player week in and week out in 2015. That’s not to say he’s been flawless. The team can’t finish 5-11 and have a player perform without a blemish or two along the way, Williams included. But throughout the regular season, I found myself marveling at his ability to cast aside would-be blockers, fill up the middle of a gap, and take down a running back . . . all often within the same step or two. When the Ravens traded Haloti Ngata to the Lions last summer, folks were concerned that #92’s departure would severely damage the Ravens’ ability to stop the run. Brandon Williams stepped in nicely, I’d say, and put together a year that most certainly helped ease the pain of Ngata’s move to Detroit.

There you have it. It’s not the perfect choice, admittedly, because their really isn’t anyone who stands out head and shoulders above anyone else – which is one of the reasons why the club is likely going to finish 5-11. But pound for pound, game after game, Brandon Williams was the best player on the Ravens in 2015.

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2016 fantasy golf preview
my #6 player to watch

OK, so we’re starting to narrow down my list of PGA Tour players who are going to dominate the professional golf scene in 2016. In case you weren’t around earlier this week when I started my “Top 10”, let’s go through the profiled players thus far: #10 was Justin Thomas, #9 – Paul Casey. #8 – Louis Oosthuizen, #7 – Brooks Koepka.

I’ll continue to profile players until I get to #1 next week. Oh, and let me tell you now that every Wednesday during the 2016 PGA Tour campaign I’ll be providing you with Fantasy Golf advice, presented by Glory Days Grill. And we’re going to have a fun “fantasy golf contest” of our own that focuses on the majors and four other significant tournaments…and we’ll be announcing those details in another couple of weeks.

On we go to our Top 10 list. Today, we move to the guy in the sixth spot.

#6 – Patrick Rodgers

Patrick Rodgers
Patrick Rodgers is another one of the strong young American players who will be heard from on TOUR for a long time to come.

This is probably NOT the guy you thought I’d have here, but this kid is going to be a big-time player on the PGA Tour and it might just happen in 2016. He made 12 of 17 cuts in 2014-2015 and is already 5-for-5 in cuts made (and 13th in FedEx Cup points) in the early stages of the ’15-16 TOUR season.

Use him often in your fantasy golf plays. He makes a lot of cuts and always seems to work his way into the Top 25 (4 of 5 events thus far in ’15-16 have him in the Top 25). He’ll make a lot of birdies, too, which always bodes well for the fantasy golf enthusiast.

He’s decently long off the tee (297 yard average, 57th on the TOUR) and hits a lot of greens in regulation (24th in ’14-15). While his putting is still a work-in progress, it was good enough in college to earn Rodgers 11 wins at Stanford before turning professional.

There are lots of good, young players sprouting on the TOUR these days. John Peterson, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and this guy, Patrick Rodgers, who will be a strong consideration for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the future, including perhaps even later this year at Hazeltine.


we still have seats left on our caps-flyers bus trip, jan. 27

A number of people have reached out to me recently asking if I'm putting together a Caps bus trip in 2016. I love the Caps, of course, so it's certainly "in my blood" to get a trip organized and take a bunch of folks down to the Verizon Center to see Alex Ovechkin and Company live and in person. If you've never been to a Caps game, it should be on your "must do" list. It's a wild two-and-a-half-hours of sports fun and entertainment.

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Giroux vs. Ovechkin on January 27. Join #DMD for our Caps bus trip and see it in person!

So...the #DMD Caps trip is happening. And who better to see the Capitals bury than the worst franchise in all of sports -- the Philadelphia Flyers. So, we're heading to DC on Wednesday, January 27 to see the Caps host the Flyers at 8:00 pm.

Here's what you get as part of our trip: Round-trip bus transportation from the Towson area, a pre-game "Happy Hour" at Glory Days in Towson, dinner on the bus ride to DC from Chick fil-A at Nottingham Square, snacks and drinks on the ride to DC, plus a LOWER LEVEL TICKET to the Caps-Flyers game. The per-person cost is $175, with a $75 deposit due at the time of your reservation and the remaining $100 due no later than Jan. 15, 2016.

If you're interested in getting seats on the Caps-Flyers bus, e-mail me today: 18inarow at gmail.com


another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.


do you have springsteen tickets,
but don't want to drive?

There's probably nothing that takes the steam out of going to a concert more than having to drive yourself to the venue. I guess the same can be said for an athletic event, too, particularly if you like to relax and enjoy an adult beverage or two while you're at the game.

With no disrespect intended for the building itself, driving from Baltimore to the Verizon Center can be particularly tension-filled and aggravating, especially if you're driving in something even close to rush hour traffic.

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Are you going to see The Boss on Jan. 29? We'll drive you there!

That got me to thinking yesterday. How many people in Baltimore have tickets to the Bruce Springsteen show on January 29 at the Verizon Center? The event is already sold out, 19,000 tickets gone in a matter of minutes, and my guess is a significant percentage of those 19,000 seats will be occupied by folks from our neck of the woods. And who, in Baltimore, wants to get in their car at 5:00 pm and drive down to DC on a Friday night to see "The Boss"? Obviously, you have to get there somehow if you have tickets...but who REALLY wants to drive down there, pay the tolls, fight the traffic, park your car and so on? Oh, and if you're driving, you can't have that beer or two before, during or after the concert, either.

Introducing -- the "Bruce Bus". I'm going to provide a full, 56-passenger luxury motor coach on January 29 for anyone who has tickets and wants to ride down to the show in DC. I don't have access to tickets at this point (although I might get my hands on a dozen or so in two weeks -- and if I do, I'll let you all know) so this would be "bus ride only", but you can ride to DC in comfort on January 29 and leave all the driving worries to us. Oh, and we'll feed you on the ride down, provide unlimited beer, soft drinks and water, and I'll even throw on a Springsteen DVD to get everyone pumped up for the show. We'll drive, you relax and enjoy yourself. Dinner, drinks and safe travels on us. You just go and enjoy The Boss.

It's $49 to reserve your seat on our "Bruce Bus". We'll be leaving the Towson area around 5 pm, which gets us into DC in plenty of time for the show. If you want to reserve a seat or seats on the bus, you MUST e-mail me directly -- 18inarow@gmail.com. That's the only way I'm taking reservations.


Friday
January 1
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XVIII
Issue 1

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big things in store –
for all of us, hopefully –
in 2016!

Welcome to year number three of Drew’s Morning Dish and Happy New Year to everyone! I hope your New Year’s Eve celebration was fun, safe and filled with plenty of enthusiasm for the start of 2016.

I won’t go into great detail today about what we have in store for the upcoming year other than to say it’s all going to get kicked off in earnest on Wednesday, January 6th when we celebrate the 500th consecutive day of #DMD publishing with the unveiling of our new logo.

I’ll also announce some other exciting plans for the website and a partnership or two that we’re going to be involved in throughout 2016. By mid-month or so, we’ll have everything in place and you’ll be able to enjoy the journey with us, as many of you have since #DMD’s inception on August 22, 2014.

If you’ve been visiting #DMD frequently over the last month, you’ve seen an increase in trips and special events that we’re organizing and promoting. That’s basically just been “luck of the schedule”, but in some cases, we like to get the word out early enough so you can make plans for vacation days and such. One of those trips is our summer get-away to Fenway Park next June 14-17. You’ll see full details below in today’s edition of #DMD, but if you’ve never been to Fenway, we have an awesome trip planned for next summer that includes three games between the Orioles and Red Sox. Please try to join us, I promise you’ll have a blast.

Our trip to The Palestra is also one of those “can’t miss” events that we hope – no pun intended – you don’t miss. We’re heading to The Cathedral of College Basketball on February 20 to see Penn and Yale in an Ivy League battle in downtown Philadelphia. Please try to join us for that event. You’ll be happy you saw The Palestra in person, particularly when you see our seats – two rows from courtside!

In today’s edition, we welcome back guest contributor Brien Jackson, who takes a look at baseball’s hot-stove season, and our English Premier League reporter Matthew Carroll, who takes us through a big weekend in soccer across the pond. And we have details on our “Bruce Bus” as well as the aforementioned Palestra and Fenway Park trips.

Thanks for all your support in 2015 and welcome to 2016! We’re excited to be moving onward and upward and we’ll have plenty of exciting details to share with everyone starting next week!

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today's guest contributor:
brien jackson

In late November, I publicized an announcement that #DMD was looking to hire another writer and a sales-marketing professional as we begin our 2016 planning. Twenty-one people sent in their information and asked to be considered for the writing position, so I thought one way to help sort through them would be to actually SEE their work, here, live. So, I've been posting the writings of some of the candidates here over the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so as they come in. Today's piece is from Brien Jackson.

hot stove still searing in january

On Wednesday of this week, Drew asked in #DMD: “If [Yoenis] Cespedes is so good, how come he's unemployed?”

The simple answer might be; for the same reason (seemingly) everyone else is.

The 2015-16 offseason always promised to be a much different type of MLB offseason than we've seen recently, with a larger supply of free agents and superstars hitting the market than in any other year in recent memory. Nearly two months after the World Series ended and heading into the month that generally represents the worst time of the entire year for baseball obsessives like me, the offseason remains wide open, with plenty of potential landscape altering moves in play.

The biggest reason for this is a simple game of chicken over the laws of supply and demand between teams and agents. The teams are betting that the larger than usual supply of free agents, coupled with a very robust trade market fueled by multiple teams executing fire sales, will drive down the price of acquiring players (further, teams have generally been getting better at evaluating free agent value over the past two or three years). The players and agents, on the other hand, are betting that the influx of cash from regional sports networks and new national cable deals will continue the pace of inflation in free agent deals, with teams ultimately deciding that they have nothing better to do with all of that extra cash than go ahead and say “yes” to that name brand free agents' salary demands, convincing themselves that playoff glory and increased season ticket sales will make it worth it in the end.

But what really throws a wrench into things is that the teams you would generally expect to be jumping all over this crop of outfielders and power hitters are, for a variety of reasons, more or less sitting things out. The Yankees aren't making any major payroll additions this year from the look of things. The Dodgers have a glut of outfielders, and would have to trade someone for pennies on the dollar just to make roster space. The Red Sox are focused on pitching and reportedly want to dump Hanley Ramirez before making any major offensive additions.

The Mets, the team that should clearly be the most aggressive in adding a ton of offense and payroll, are devoting virtually all of their available revenues to paying off ownership's Bernie Madoff related debts. And while the Tigers make a lot of noise about desperately wanting to win a World Series before their owner dies and money being no object, they weren't seriously connected to David Price, Zack Greinke, or Jason Heyward at any point, and seem likely to come into 2016 with a payroll number below the luxury tax threshold once again.

Plus, there are things to like about all of the top remaining available hitters, giving any team looking for an outfielder or a power hitter reason to believe that this may be a buyer's market. Laughing at Scott Boras' demands for Chris Davis? Justin Upton is only 28 and could easily be a consistent 30-40 home run player in the next few years. The price of 30 home runs too rich for your blood? Alex Gordon is an elite defender, good base-runner, and gets on base more than any of the other guys while offering a good amount of power himself. There are simply a bunch of options in play for any team interested in one of these guys until someone finally pulls the trigger on a deal and really starts the dominoes falling.

The Orioles exemplify this dynamic as much as any other team in baseball right now: They have openings at first base and in right field, with Mark Trumbo a fallback option in either spot if need be. They can be content to sign any one of Davis/Upton/Cespedes/Gordon and fit them into the proper spot, with the biggest value any of those guys can provide in the immediate term being providing a solid enough bargain to leave enough budget space to sign another starting pitcher for this season. To meet any of the agents' demands without significant market pressure to do so would be a clear folly with such an abnormally high number of alternatives available, but eventually the market is going to move, and all of these guys will almost certainly end up with nine-figure deals.

And that's what has made this offseason so fascinating and exciting for baseball fans. While there are already some clear winners (the Cubs and Giants), and losers (the Mets and Dodgers), there's still so much that changes, and so many plausible deals in play, that the landscape of the 2016 season is entirely unknown, even at the time we're usually reduced to having the same arguments about the Hall of Fame we had the previous year, just to entertain ourselves.

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THIS WEEKEND IN ENGLISH SOCCER
Contributed by #DMD's EPL Reporter

MATTHEW CARROLL

With the halfway point of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season now behind us, and the festive period coming to a close with the conclusion of Matchweek 20, we are starting to get a good idea of which teams will be challenging for the league title until the end of May.  The current top four – Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City, and Tottenham – look to be a cut above the rest of the league and with a solid first half of the season, have each positioned themselves to make a legitimate title run.  As usual, you can catch all of this week’s action live on the NBC family of networks or online at NBC Live Extra.

Saturday, Jan. 2 (all times Eastern)

10am – Aston Villa @ Sunderland – Stadium of Light, NBC Live Extra

With college football bowl season in full swing it’s only fitting that Aston Villa and Sunderland, two teams that have been floundering in the relegation zone all season long, would meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday in what would probably be described as the Toilet Bowl if the game was being played on this side of the Atlantic.  The last four years, the magic point total to survive relegation has been thirty-seven points, and while each side has some ways to go to get to that point total, they will both believe that a win this weekend will go a long way to ensuring their safety in England’s top flight.

Without a win since the opening day of the season (D5 L13) and stuck on eight points at the bottom of the table, this is a must win game for Aston Villa if they want to have any hopes of avoiding relegation by season's end.  The same could be said for Sunderland, who have lost five in a row and are only a spot above Villa in the table, seven points adrift of safety.  The time is now, and head to head the Villains have not lost in their last nine league meetings with Sunderland (W4 D5) and have won in their last three trips to the Stadium of Light, failing to concede a goal to the Black Cats in six of the last eight.

10am – Newcastle United @ Arsenal – Emirates Stadium, NBC Sports Network

Arsenal bounced back from a 4-0 drubbing they received from Southampton on Boxing Day for a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in Matchweek 19 to once again take over the top spot in the league, tied on points with Leicester City but ahead on goal differential.  They will welcome Newcastle United to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday with the Magpies once again back in the relegation zone, just above Aston Villa and Sunderland, following losses in two of their last three (D1 L2) after they had managed to climb out for the first time this season after back to back wins over Liverpool and Tottenham.

They are likely to find the going tough this weekend against an Arsenal side who, having won four of their last six (W4 L1 D1), head in to 2016 having won the most points (81) and matches (25) in 2015, finally resembling a side that looks set to make a run for the title through to the end of the year.  The Gunners have dropped just two points in their last seven league matches, taking nineteen of a possible twenty-one points, and have enjoyed a recent dominance over the Magpies, winning eleven of the last fourteen (W11 L1 D2) including the last eight in a row.

Sunday, Jan. 3 (all times Eastern)

11am – Tottenham @ Everton – Goodison Park, NBC Sports Network

Barkley and Lukaku
Barkley (left) and Lukaku (right) are as good of a duo as you can find these days in the EPL.

Tottenham solidified their hold on fourth place in the league table, four points ahead of the closest challenger, following their third straight win on Monday over the in-form Watford.  They will look to make it four in a row, and close the gap on the top three, when they visit Goodison Park to face off with Everton on Sunday, who will be hoping to put in a more complete performance in front of their home fans after falling to Stoke City 4-3 on Monday in a game where they conceded two goals in the final ten minutes to suffer another heartbreaking setback in the campaign.

They look to have a tall task in front of them against a Tottenham side who have won their opening league match of the calendar year for six consecutive seasons, and whom the Toffees have not beaten in their last six league meetings (D3 L3), failing to find the back of the net in four of the last five encounters.  Everton young guns Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley will be hoping to turn that goal less drought around, with Lukaku scoring eleven goals in his last ten appearances and Barkley registering more goals (6) and assists (7) this season than in his previous four combined.


2016 fantasy golf preview --
my #7 player to watch

With the PGA Tour season about to continue next week (but it feels like the start of the season, I know...it's weird) and the "real season" set to commence in Hawaii, I thought this would be a good time to start my fantasy golf contributions here at #DMD. Each Wednesday during tournament week, I'll give you four players to watch plus a couple of sleepers that you can use (or not) in your various fantasy golf opportunities. We'll be having our own fantasy golf contests throughout the upcoming year thanks to our friends at Glory Days Grill, so be on the lookout for those later on this winter and into next spring.

For the next ten days, though, I'll give you my own personal list of the Top 10 players to watch for the remainder of the 2015-2016 TOUR season. You will know most of these guys and a couple you might not, but if you pay attention to the PGA Tour, you'll hear from all of them at some point over the next ten months or so.

Number 7 -- Brooks Koepka

Yes, it’s a small man-crush that I have on Brooks Koepka. I mean, I don’t have any posters of him up in my den or anything – but if you find one on-line somewhere and you want to send it my way, I won’t object. Koepka is ready to ignite on TOUR and 2016 is the year it happens. What’s he do well, you ask? He drives the ball like a beast, finishing in the Top 5 in virtually every length-related category on TOUR. His iron play isn’t all that great, but it’s hard to miss the green when you have 125 yards in on eight or nine holes every round. His putter is inconsistent, though, which is what has held him back thus far.

Brooks Koepka
Averaging 315 yards off the tee last year, Brooks Koepka finished 4th on the TOUR in driving distance.

He won in Phoenix last season and at one point made 17 of 18 cuts through the spring and summer before tailing off a bit after the PGA Championship. I thought he should have been added to the President’s Cup team instead of Bill Haas and I fully expect Koepka to be on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Like all long-ball hitters, when Koepka finds the magic with his putter, low scores usually follow. He’s not as well-rounded as Dustin Johnson, but he’s in the same neighborhood, and I really think he’s on the verge of breaking through in a big way in 2016. Look for Koepka to win one of the early-season events and get the new year off to a rousing start.

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another "bucket list" trip coming up -- we're heading to The Palestra

This trip, I'll admit, is close to my heart.

Sure, our bus trip to see the Caps and Flyers on January 27 and Golden State Warriors-Washington Wizards on February 3 will be fun. Our April 5 pilgrimage to Augusta National and the Masters practice round will be memorable for everyone. And our summer baseball trip to Boston and Fenway Park will be an absolute blast. I'm not downplaying any of those trips at all when I brag heavily about what we're going to be doing on February 20.

We're going to "The Cathedral of College Basketball", otherwise known as "The Palestra" on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. What's there, you ask? Only the greatest college basketball venue on the east coast, that's what. And it's 90 minutes away. Penn will be taking on Yale that night (7 pm) and #DMD is packing a bus full of people to take it all in. Best of all, we're just about as close to courtside as you can get, just a few rows up from the floor, packed in there on a Saturday night to witness not only a game, but to experience the building that still, today, is on every high school and college basketball player's personal "bucket list". If you play in The Palestra, you've made it.

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You have to see a game in there at least once: The Palestra on the campus of UPenn.

Officially, here's The Palestra:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men's and women's basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927. The Palestra has been called "the most important building in the history of college basketball" and "changed the entire history of the sport for which it was built."

The arena originally seated about 10,000, but now seats 8,722 for basketball. The Palestra is famed for its close-to-the-court seating with the bleachers ending at the floor with no barrier to separate the fans from the game.

Since its inception, the Palestra has hosted more games, more visiting teams, and more NCAA tournaments than any other facility in college basketball.

I've been to The Palestra twice. If you haven't yet been, make this trip with us. I promise, you'll leave the building with goosebumps.

We're doing the whole trip for $69 per-person. Here's what you get: Round-trip motor coach transportation from Towson to Philadelphia. A delicious Palmisano's sub and other snacks, along with beer, soft drinks and water on the ride up to Philadelphia. A lower level, near-courtside seat for the Penn-Yale game. And a commemorative, limited-edition "I saw The Palestra!" tee-shirt.

All of that for $69 per-person. I was only able to get 30 tickets, so at this point, that's all we're taking. I'm working on more tickets in the event demand warrants it, but if you want to be one of the first 30 to get on the bus and go to Philly, we'd love to have you.

Just click right here to reach The Palestra page, make your payment and secure your spot on the trip.


ever been to fenway park? we're going next next june
-- and so can you!

If you're a regular reader of #DMD, you know by now one of the spokes in our wheel has become bucket-list sports trips. In fact, we'll be launching www.bucketlistsportstrips.com in January and doing trips-specific marketing in 2016 designed to capture sports enthusiasts around town who want to see places like Augusta National Golf Club, the Army-Navy game and other iconic events/venues. By the way, if you're interested in going to the Masters next April 5, we only have 8 seats left on our trip (click here for details).

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Join us in Boston, June 14-16, and experience Fenway Park!

I'm very excited about the newest addition to our sports trips menu. We have an outstanding trip planned for next June that many of you will no doubt be interested in...particularly if you've never been to Fenway Park in Boston. Even if you've been there, this is a great summer trip, but for those longing for the experience of Fenway Park, we're taking in a 3-game Orioles-Red Sox series June 14-16, 2016.

Here's how we're doing it: We'll be flying from Baltimore (BWI) to Boston on Tuesday morning, June 14. We'll be staying at a downtown Boston hotel and seeing the Orioles play the Red Sox on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then we'll fly back to Baltimore on Friday morning, June 17. Your package includes round-trip airfare, game tickets for all three games (with the rest of the group, not seats scattered all over the park) and hotel accommodations two blocks from Fenway Park for three nights. Pricing varies depending on the number of people in your hotel room, but it ranges from $599 to $799 per-person.

Yes, you read that right. You can fly to Boston, stay in a downtown hotel, go to three games and have an amazing trip to see Fenway Park -- for less than $800.

This trip is limited to only 30 people, so if you're interested in seeing Fenway Park and the Orioles next June, please reach out to me right away via e-mail (18inarow at gmail.com). You can also click here to see the details and payment options there. A $150 deposit is required at the time of your reservation and the rest isn't due until May, 2016.


do you have springsteen tickets,
but don't want to drive?

There's probably nothing that takes the steam out of going to a concert more than having to drive yourself to the venue. I guess the same can be said for an athletic event, too, particularly if you like to relax and enjoy an adult beverage or two while you're at the game.

With no disrespect intended for the building itself, driving from Baltimore to the Verizon Center can be particularly tension-filled and aggravating, especially if you're driving in something even close to rush hour traffic.

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Are you going to see The Boss on Jan. 29? We'll drive you there!

That got me to thinking yesterday. How many people in Baltimore have tickets to the Bruce Springsteen show on January 29 at the Verizon Center? The event is already sold out, 19,000 tickets gone in a matter of minutes, and my guess is a significant percentage of those 19,000 seats will be occupied by folks from our neck of the woods. And who, in Baltimore, wants to get in their car at 5:00 pm and drive down to DC on a Friday night to see "The Boss"? Obviously, you have to get there somehow if you have tickets...but who REALLY wants to drive down there, pay the tolls, fight the traffic, park your car and so on? Oh, and if you're driving, you can't have that beer or two before, during or after the concert, either.

Introducing -- the "Bruce Bus". I'm going to provide a full, 56-passenger luxury motor coach on January 29 for anyone who has tickets and wants to ride down to the show in DC. I don't have access to tickets at this point (although I might get my hands on a dozen or so in two weeks -- and if I do, I'll let you all know) so this would be "bus ride only", but you can ride to DC in comfort on January 29 and leave all the driving worries to us. Oh, and we'll feed you on the ride down, provide unlimited beer, soft drinks and water, and I'll even throw on a Springsteen DVD to get everyone pumped up for the show. We'll drive, you relax and enjoy yourself. Dinner, drinks and safe travels on us. You just go and enjoy The Boss.

It's $49 to reserve your seat on our "Bruce Bus". We'll be leaving the Towson area around 5 pm, which gets us into DC in plenty of time for the show. If you want to reserve a seat or seats on the bus, you MUST e-mail me directly -- 18inarow@gmail.com. That's the only way I'm taking reservations.


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RETRIEVER ROUND-UP

UMBC baseball fell to in-state rival Maryland, 6-2 on Tuesday afternoon in College Park. The Retrievers fell behind early, but got a two-run home run from Hunter Dolshun to take the lead. However the Terps scored four runs in the sixth to take the victory.

The Retrievers fall to 18-20 on the year while Maryland improves to 32-15 in 2017.