What a crazy week of football!

The good, bad, and ugly from NFL Week 14

Miami pulled off the improbable. Miami Dolphins Team Website

Wow! What a week of football! We had upsets, blowouts, and some of the most exciting plays to date! Here's how I saw it go down:

THE GOOD

-The Dolphins pulled off a dramatic 34-33 upset of the Patriots on the final play of the game. They completed a 69-yard hook and ladder play using two laterals to score a touchdown. If you haven't seen the play by now, I question whether or not you are connected to society. Belichek took responsibility for the play, as he should've.

-Chief's quarterback Pat Mahomes Jr. is the league MVP. Not only is he on pace for 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards passing, but he has highlight reel plays damn near every game. Case in point: his no-look pass for a first down, and his unbelievable 4th down completion to Tyreek Hill that goes against all conventional wisdom.

-The Bears stifled the Rams in an old school, hard-nosed football game. Final score was 15-6. It was the first time the Rams had been held under 23 all season, much less under 10. Whoever said the league is more flag football should watch this Bears team, or the Ravens, the Cowboys play defense.

THE BAD

-The Steelers inexplicably lost, again. This time, it was to the lowly Raiders by a 24-21 margin. The Steelers came into the game 7-4-1 and in control of the two seed via the Pats loss. They left with their third straight one score loss. A play here or there and they could easily be the one seed in the AFC.

-Speaking of the Raiders, they decided to fire general manager Reggie McKenzie. This appears to have been the end of the McKenzie/Jon Gruden power struggle. Ever since the team rehired Gruden as its head coach, he's been in a constant pissing match with those in the front office. Game over. He's won. Here's to hoping the Raiders spent that $100 million dollars on Gruden wisely.

- The Lions won 17-3 over the Cardinals. Your fifth win in the thirteenth game of the season over a three-win team is bad enough, but to do so with only 96 yards passing? That's reason to make your fanbase wear bags over their heads, even in a win.

THE UGLY

-The Skins benched recently acquired quarterback Mark "Butt Fumbler" Sanchez in their 40-16 blowout loss to the Giants. Josh Johnson, also recently acquired, will now be the starter for a team that's down to its fourth option at quarterback. I wonder if they'll call…Tony Romo. Gotcha!

-The Panthers were once 6-2 and being talked about as an NFC contender. Then the Steelers blew them out 52-21 on Thursday Night Football and that started their five game slide. Now 6-7, they'll most likely miss the playoffs and head coach Ron Rivera should be on the hot seat. This team is more up and down in recent years than teenage girl's emotions during prom season.

-Cowboys running back Ezekial Elliott was flagged for lowering his helmet and initiating contact in their 29-23 wild win over the Eagles. He was running towards the sideline and did what comes natural to every running back: lowering himself to brace for contact. However, the refs decided to flag him on the play and negate a would-be first down. Excuse my language, but this s*%# is pissing me off!

Some teams have clinched their playoff spot and/or division already. Others are struggling to the finish line. Then there are the ones who once looked promising and now look like life came at them fast, similar to the former beauty queens/kings in high school that look like life whipped their ass with an ugly stick. Sure is going to be a great finish and playoff run!

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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