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Madden NFL: Geriatric Checkers Edition

For the upcoming Texans at Redskins game on Nov. 18, our editors assigned us a challenge: use Madden NFL to simulate the game and attempt to correctly predict the outcome.

It’s a great idea; the game has an excellent record of predicting winners, with correct calls in ten of the last 15 Super Bowls. We leapt at the opportunity, but our XBox is currently having difficulty running Madden, thanks to a minor equipment malfunction.

A new kind of sports science

But we hate to disappoint our editors! We knew it was up to us to devise a different, but equally accurate, simulation. To make it happen, we consulted two good friends of ours, Helen Hopkins and Louise Thomas. Helen and Louise are residents of an assisted living community in Daytona Beach, Florida, aged 68 and 72. They also don’t have an XBox, and they don’t know much about football, but they play a mean game of checkers, and they agreed to be our gladiators in a simulation of the coming confrontation between the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins.

We took Helen and Louise on a field trip to One Daytona, a shopping center in Daytona Beach. One Daytona is a lovely shopping mall, located across the street from Daytona International Speedway, and they have a checkers set so large it’s visible from outer space. Helen agreed to represent the Redskins, and therefore played white (because this is a home game for Washington, and because we enjoy irony). Louise played black, symbolizing opposition quarterbacks’ bruises after spending a day with the Texans’ defense.

Drama at the weigh-in

Tension was heavy in the air. Both women recognized the burden of their responsibility, and it showed on their faces.

The trash talk began before the opening move. “I hope you got your game plan from someone smarter than your idiot grandkids, bitch,” Louise snarled. “I hope you wore your best adult diapers, because you’re about to need them, whore,” Helen answered through clenched teeth.

The battle

Louise played 11-15, a popular opening move; Helen then responded with 22-18, forming the traditional “Single Corner” opening. The two traded jumps, then plunged into a campaign of brutal ferocity that will be spoken of in hushed tones in their senior community for years to come.

Louise gained the initiative early, forcing Helen into a complex defense after one of her men was caught in an exposed position. Onlookers pointed to this as an allegory on the Redskins’ offensive line, and furious debate ensued.

Louise was the first to king one of her men, and soon had two kings to Helen’s one. In hindsight, Helen admits, it was probably a bad idea to nickname her king “Theismann.” Like the QB of the same name, Helen struggled bravely to escape, but it only took a few moves before Theismann was cornered and fell.

Analysis

After the dust settled, Helen and Louise shook hands and congratulated one another for a hard-fought match. They agreed that their game of checkers proves that the Redskins really have no business opposing a team like the Texans. “They’re outmatched; we can see that now,” Louise said, as onlookers nodded in agreement. “They’re gonna look like a squad of Pop Warner children on the field, and I feel bad about how badly the Texans are about to embarrass them. They should schedule opponents who are more at their level of football, like the Raiders, or maybe that team from Switzerland that I saw on the TV.”

One Fight Hangover: Korean Zombie vs. Rodriguez

Have you ever witnessed something great and special, but with an ending that was even better?

Off the top of my head, I can count six times I’ve had this feeling. In music, it was Tupac’s Hit em up, where the expletive-ridden outro elevated the song from great diss track to all-time memorable art. Kanye’s 2010 Blame game, off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, has the same effect: the song is great, but the Chris Rock skit at the end puts it into the upper echelon of music-comedy genius. In movies, it’s The Sixth Sense: the movie on its own is a classic, but the twist at the end makes it an all-time great. In television, Breaking Bad had a very memorable five-year run that ended with one of the greatest episodes ever written.

In combat sports, two fights sit atop my memory of great fights with greater endings. The first one is 1990’s Julio Cesar Chavez’s Hail Mary knockout of Meldrick Taylor in the waning seconds of the twelfth round (justified stoppage, don’t @ me). The second is 2005’s Griffin vs. Bonnar I, where the two battled for the full fifteen minutes before Griffin was selected the winner by judges. The great and unexpected part was when Dana White eagerly announced that both fighters had earned a six-figure UFC contract instead of just one of them.

Every hundredth blue moon or so, the planets align, the temperature is at its optimum, the setting is primed and we fans are treated to what can only be described as the essence of a sport. In this instance, we saw the essence of MMA, the soul of mixed martial arts. Saturday’s fight between Chan Sung “Korean Zombie” Jung and Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez was a war of attrition. Minute after minute, round by devastating round, these two men showed the world their heart. Every punch was answered with an equally destructive counterpunch, every crashing kick answered with a thudding one. These two put on a fight of the year through the first 24 minutes and 55 seconds, and then the earth stopped for a second.

To get the full understanding of this fight, you have to understand the mindset of both of these fighters. Chan Sung Jung’s Korean Zombie moniker was earned through several fights that showcased his style of walking through an opponent’s best offense to earn a victory. He is a fan favorite who does not shy away from a fight.

In Yair Rodriguez’ recent MMA career, he has entertained fans with dynamic striking and two electrifying finishes. Before his recent loss to Frankie Edgar, his fighting heart would not have been questioned. He always came forward and looked for a finish.

This was supposed to be a good fight on paper: two action fighters who love to strike, one coming off a bad loss and one coming off an injury. What we were treated to far outweighed the pre-fight hype.

After four rounds, the Korean Zombie was ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards by two rounds. Jung controlled the fight, for the most part, stalking forward, delivering overhand rights and leg kicks. Not to be outdone, Rodriguez used his length and counterstriking to keep Jung on the outside of his comfort zone. Both men dealt damage over the four frames. The fight was tight, but Jung was probably edging out a win. The fifth round would be crucial to both sides.

The fifth round was copy and paste of the first four, except that it was interspersed with hugs, handshakes, and nods to the other’s willingness to throw caution to the wind. It looked like, at worst, a split decision for one of them and at best a draw. A draw would have been a cruel joke from the MMA gods: five rounds of beating each other senseless, only to come away without a win or a loss.

The time judge signaled to the entire arena that there were 10 seconds left in the war by clapping two wood blocks together. The men looked at each other, knowing that the only recourse was to fight until the bell.

Jung and Rodriguez could have eased up, like 95% of the fighters would do, their work already done. Instead, both men came forward. Both men threw with reckless abandon, trying to get a knockout finish to leave the judges out of the equation. The ten seconds of engagement looked like the rest of the fight until you blinked and saw Chan Sung Jung face down on the mat in a heap.

The ref called the fight with only one second remaining. The producers scrambled to get a replay up so everyone could see the masterstroke. In the interim, one announcer alluded to a potential head-butt, but this was wrong. Upon the replay, you could see a master at work. In this split second, Jung crashed forward, swinging a left and loading up a right. Rodriguez bent forward at the waist to avoid the blows; at the same time, he swung his right elbow up and behind his body. The elbow, perfectly placed, melted the Korean Zombie to the floor, putting his lights out and defining this war with a clear winner and loser.

Make no mistake; there is no shame in losing like Jung did. He had a decision in the bag. Maybe he didn’t know that, but even if he did, the fight would have ended the same way. He does not know any other way to fight. Rodriguez painted his Mona Lisa on Saturday. He will forever be remembered for this fight, just like Griffin, Bonnar, Chavez and Taylor were remembered for theirs. Don’t get me wrong, he will have more fights and more highlight reel knockouts, but none will get within arm’s length of November 10th, 2018.

After the fight, the two shared a picture of both of them in the hospital shaking hands, Jung there for concussion tests and Rodriguez there for a broken foot he suffered in the first round. If you look closely, you can see MMA’s beautiful soul.

Houston Astros Offseason Checklist

Reflecting back on the 2018 season for the Houston Astros, I still feel some disbelief in the way the season ended. Following the news of Lance McCullers out for the 2019 season, following Tommy John surgery, along with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa on the mend. Key free agent decisions are looming. What should the Astros offseason checklist be?

Resign Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Martin Maldonado

Despite the struggles Dallas Keuchel had this season, the Houston Astros have extended a one year $17.9 million qualifying offer which Keuchel rejected today. After the news regarding McCullers and the current outlook of Houston's pitching staff being so right-handed dominant, keeping Dallas whether on a short 2 to 3-year deal or a long-term deal depending on how long Keuchel wants to pitch; retaining him is a must. Keuchel in the past has shown the ability to rebound following a down season, he struggled in 2016 going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA but rebounded nicely in 2017 going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA via ESPN.

Keuchel brings much more than just his pitching. He is also the best defensive pitcher in the game, winning four gold gloves. It is understandable that Keuchel rejected Houston's qualifying offer. He appears to want more than just one more season, good pitching can be hard to find, and as long as the price is right, the Astros should not hesitate to resign Dallas.

Much like Keuchel, Gonzalez grew with the organization through the rebuilding years, to help hoist the franchise's first world championship. Honestly, every team needs a Gonzalez, he can play every position and do it comfortably, and though he does not put up huge numbers at the plate, Marwin brings a switch-hitting bat capable of getting on base as well as hit for some power. For everything Marwin has brought the Astros, Houston would be wise not to let Gonzalez walk without a fight.

Retaining Maldonado would be pretty interesting, but a move the Astros should make. Despite being linked to possibly trading for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Houston currently has no catcher outside Max Stassi on the roster. Maldonado does not bring a consistent bat, though he showed he could build a great rapport with pitchers and handle a pitching staff. Despite having a disastrous performance behind the plate in the ALCS, Maldonado is more well known for being great behind the plate. Should the Astros strike out trading for Realmuto, bringing back, Maldonado would give Houston continuity at that position, as well as they will not have to scramble for anyone.

Contact Cleveland and Seattle about possible trades

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted the Cleveland Indians, are open to listening to trade offers for Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, via ESPN. MLB.com Executive reporter also tweeted the Seattle Mariners, have made everyone available for trades, via Feinstein. Regardless of whether Houston can bring back their free agents, or not, the Astros should at least kick the tires with both teams. The big question with Seattle is, would they consider trading inside the division? Houston would also have to be careful trading with the Mariners because the last thing Houston wants is to help a division foe improve.

Cleveland even entertaining the thought of selling is a bit head-scratching. While they weren't as good as Boston, Houston, and New York right now, the Indians are a team a trade and a possible big free agent signing, boom they are back in the mix.

Bolster the bullpen

Collin McHugh figures to slot back into Lance McCullers’ spot in the rotation, which leaves an opening in the bullpen. Relievers Tony Sipp and Will Harris are both free agents, and both may not return which would leave three spots in the pen open. Josh James who was electric in 2018 figures to get at least one of those spots, if he is not in the rotation next year.

Final Take

2018 ended before the Astros wanted it to, and the roster figures to look a little different next year. Health did play a part in Houston falling short, so regardless of how this team looks on paper going into next season, health will be the biggest key to a return trip to the fall classic in 2019.

Texans vs Redskins Preview

The Houston Texans, winners of six straight, look to keep things rolling when they travel to Washington to take on the Redskins. Meanwhile, the Redskins look to continue their push in the NFC East following their 16-3 victory over the Buccaneers. Despite being hit hard with injuries, Washington found a way to win, but to beat this Texans team, they will need a lot more punch from their offense.

The Texans’ side of things starts and ends with the play of the offensive line. In the last three games, Houston's front seven has allowed just 10 quarterback hits and five sacks. The improved play up front has empowered quarterback Deshaun Watson, who now looks as healthy as he did when he burst onto the NFL scene a year ago. The run game took a step back against the Broncos, mustering only three yards per rush and 98 yards total against a Denver team ranked 23rd in the league against the run. Facing Washington's fifth-ranked run defense poses a formidable challenge.

While Houston looks for a bounce-back game on the ground, Houston's offense is getting relatively healthier. Barring any setbacks, wide receiver Keke Coutee, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, could return. (Coutee is currently listed as questionable.) Running back D'Onta Foreman could start practicing this week, as he continues to make his way back from an Achilles injury. Foreman's return date is still up in the air. Statistically, Houston's offense is in the middle of the pack in passing and rushing yards as well as scoring. Getting Foreman and Coutee back will be just what the doctor ordered to complement a healthy Watson and an improving offensive line.

Washington's offense, on the other hand, laid a turd against Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked scoring defense. Granted, the Redskins were depleted on the offensive line, but still: only two field goals and one touchdown? Now the challenge gets even tougher as Houston's ninth-ranked scoring defense, led by the resurgent JJ Watt, pays a visit. The Redskins played mistake-free against Tampa Bay and will have to play mistake-free again in order to beat Houston.

Final Take

Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has history against the Texans, going 4-2 with 10 TDs and three INTs. This time around, Smith does not have Andy Reid, nor is Washington's offensive line healthy. On Sunday, Washington was dominated in every area except the red zone and turnovers. While their effort was good enough against Tampa, it will take more than two field goals and a touchdown to end Houston's streak.

While Houston was enjoying their bye, the Colts and Titans won, keeping pressure on the Texans to maintain their division lead. But if Houston's offensive line can continue to play well, establish the run, and continue to play great defensively, then I like Houston's chances of notching their seventh straight win, setting up a huge contest with the Titans in Week 12.

All stats and rankings provided by ESPN

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Astros: On to the Next One

“Kimbrel deals, in the air, deep left field, hit well, Benintendi on the run, he’s got it! The Boston Red Sox are moving on to the 2018 World Series!” BOOM! The Houston Astros season came to an early end, and they were not able to repeat as World Series Champions! A quiet Minute Maid Park crowd in complete shock and in despair to see their Astros lose on their home turf, to the Boston Red Sox. Carlos Correa is looking from the dugout, disgusted, while his teammates hit the locker room. Looking at the Red Sox jump up and down, celebrating on the mound, knowing they beat the defending champs, and are moving on to the World Series. Now, what’s next for the Houston Astros?

Well, injuries during the postseason were killing the Astros, such as a one-legged Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa dealing with an aching back, and Lance McCullers Jr. bothered by his pitching arm. Now, we see Jose Altuve having surgery on his bad right knee, repairing a patella fracture, however, he will be ready for Spring Training in 2019. Just after the last game of the season, rumors were going around saying Lance McCullers might need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL ligament in his elbow. Carlos has told us throughout the whole postseason, saying “I know every time I swing and miss it’s going to hurt.” He’s been dealing with a bad back since the All-Star Break. With an unhealthy Astros roster, it was hard for the ‘Stros to repeat as World Series champs, however, they never gave up and kept playing every game.

The season is over, and have players becoming free agents. Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, and Tony Sipp. Keuchel and Gonzalez spent seven years in the Astros organization from going back-to-back 100 loss seasons, to becoming World Series Champions in 2017. I believe these guys will test free agency and see if they will get a well-qualifying offer. I respect any decision they make and very thankful for their time as a Houston Astro. Charlie Morton has had thoughts on considering retiring from baseball to spend time with his family, but a part of him still wants to play this game. He would like to stay in Houston if he decides not to retire. Brian McCann is an All-Star catcher, but he’s missed almost half the season with an injury and has dealt with some injuries in the past years with Houston. I don’t see the Astros resigning Evan Gattis back since Tyler White has shown the organization that he can replace his role, by having a strong second half of the season.

The Houston Astros have two starting pitchers in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Now, we’re looking for three more starters to fill in the 5-man starting rotation. During the 2018 season, the Astros brought up prospects: Josh James and Framber Valdez, who did not disappoint this year. Collin McHugh was a former starting pitcher in the 2015 season, who was 2nd in Wins in the AL with 19, and behind Keuchel with 20 wins. He could be a strong candidate to get back on the starting rotation.

The Astros have a lot of great pitching prospects, such as Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, and Corbin Martin, but we could maybe see Whitley come up in the 2019 season. Although, we need one more power, hard-throwing starting, and relief pitcher. It could be very interesting if Clayton Kershaw opts out of his 2-year remaining contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and become a free agent. If this happens, Coshark has the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros as co-favorites to sign him. Why the Rangers you may ask? Well, Kershaw is from Texas for one, the other point is he’s from Dallas, which is close to Arlington where the Rangers play. Since he’s a Texas native, he would like to play in his home state and be closer back home with his family. Nathan Eovaldi would also be a good acquisition for the Astros. With his hard-throwing fastball and nasty slider, the Alvin native could help the Astros by being a powerful 3rd starter in the rotation. Think about it Verlander, Cole, Eovaldi… that’s a scary hard-throwing rotation going into the postseason. Relief pitchers, we need a big-time lefty reliever! Zach Britton would probably be the Astros top target since Tony Sipp is gone, the Astros would need to get a left-handed pitcher for the lefty on lefty matchup in the bullpen.

We all know Max Stassi helped us this 2018 season with Brian McCann being hurt half the season, but he’s not worthy of being a starting catcher. Free agent players like Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos would be great acquisitions because they are excellent defenders behind the plate and could provide a big bat in that deadly lineup they have right now. On the other hand, the Astros could trade for J.T. Realmuto. However, Derek Jeter is not easy to negotiate with. He wants our top prospects, like Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, but that won’t happen with Jeff Luhnow in office. Some trade bait could be Corbin Martin, Josh James, Yordan Alvarez, or even Derek Fisher. Don’t be surprised though if we give away good top prospects for J.T.

Nelson Cruz is a big name on that free agent list. Even though the veteran is 40 years old, he’s missing one thing: A World Series Ring! He had multiple chances with the Texas Rangers in 2011 and 2012, when they faced the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but came up short. Coming into his 14th year in the big leagues, I believe he would be looking for a championship contending team. Houston is in need of a big stick in that 4-6 hole in the lineup, with Minute Maid Park being 315 ft. in left field and 326 ft. in right field, the “Boomstick” could make a big boom at Minute Maid Park.

Can Kyle Tucker come back in 2019 and show the Astros he has potential to become their next superstar? Before the 2018 Spring Training Season, all eyes weren’t on Bregman, Springer, or Altuve; it was on the #1 top prospect in the Houston Astros Farm System: Kyle Tucker! The 21-year-old showed much talent coming into the 2018 Spring Training. Everyone on the team called him “Ted,” because they compared him to the great Ted Williams. The whole Astros organization has big expectations for Kyle Tucker, that he would become the missing piece in that deep, high flying outfield.

When he made his MLB debut against the Chicago White Sox, he had gone 1-4 with a single and three strikeouts. That was just the start for Kyle. Ending the season with 64 at-bats, he batted with a whopping .141 batting average, nine hits, and 4 Runs Batted In. Not a great start, but he’s a rookie and got his feet wet in the Big Leagues. When the season ended, the Astros held a press conference with Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch.

There was a question about Kyle Tucker progress, and Luhnow stated “We’re going to give him a shot, but we're just not going to hand it to him. We’re hoping he takes it.” It’s understandable though that Tucker didn’t look great in 2018, but he would look to bounce back in 2019 with a chance to be on the Houston Astros 2019 Regular Season Roster.

The 2018 Houston Astros is one of the best teams in Franchise History. They had the best starting rotation and bullpen in the MLB. They have the most wins in franchise history and won back-to-back AL West Division Champs. So now what? Well, let’s strap up for the 2019 season, and move on to the next one!