Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/22/16

The best word I can think of to describe last week’s NCAA Mythical Picks is “Meh!” I made 16 picks; the record for the week was 8-8-0. Meh! That brings the season record to 63-49-0.

The Best Picks of the week were:

    Arkansas +7.5 against Ole Miss. Arkansas won outright by 4 points
    UNC + 7 against Miami (FL). UNC won outright by 7 points.

The Worst Picks of the week were:

    Iowa St./Texas OVER 69. The Total Score was only 33.
    Stanford/Notre Dame OVER 54. The Total Score was only 27.

Last week’s results ought not to entice anyone to be confident that this week’s picks will be anything special. However, in case anyone is new to the party here, let me offer this disclaimer. No one should use anything written here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real college football game this weekend – or any other weekend for that matter. How dumb would you have to be to do such a thing?

    Let’s just say you will never be in danger of throwing your back out because it is forced to carry the weight of your brain.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their season record to 4-1 last week with a 40-0 shutout win over Willamette. That means Linfield is one more victory away from having its 61st consecutive winning season in football. In Division III, Linfield plays a 9-game regular season schedule.

This week, the Wildcats will travel east to take on the Pirates of Whitworth University. The Pirates bring a 5-1 record to the field – including a 5-game winning streak. Only once this year has Whitworth failed to score 45 points in a game. Meanwhile, Linfield has only given up 11.6 points per game this year. Go Wildcats!

Eastern Washington had last week off, so there are no Cooper Kupp exploits to document here. This week, the Eagles go to Bozeman, MT to take on the Montana St. Bobcats. Go Eagles!

North Dakota St. had gotten a lot of attention recently given its status as a Division 1-AA team. Carson Wentz went overall #2 in the NFL Draft a few months ago and North Dakota St. began this season with an upset win over Iowa. However, last weekend, North Dakota State fell to South Dakota St. by a score of 19-17 on the final play of the game. If I counted correctly, that is only the 5th loss for N. Dakota St. in the last 6 seasons.

In non-conference action last week, Stanford rallied to beat Notre Dame 17-10 after the Irish led 10-0 at the half. It was not an offensive explosion by Stanford that won the game; they scored their 17 points on a Pick Six, a safety, a fumble recovered in the end zone and a 2-point conversion.

    The good news for Notre Dame is that the defense finally played a good game.

    The bad news for Notre Dame is that their record now stands at 2-5.

BYU prevailed over Mississippi St. 28-21 in double overtime. The game was about as even as the score – and duration – would indicate:

    Total offense BYU = 314 yards
    Total offense Miss St. = 392 yards
    Turnovers BYU = 2
    Turnovers Miss St. = 2
    Third down conversions BYU = 9 for 17
    Third down conversions Miss St. = 8 for 19

Down in SEC country, Vandy upset Georgia 17-16. This does not happen all that often; Georgia leads this rivalry 55-20-2. Since 2000, the Bulldogs record in this series is 14-3. I mention those stats to set up this rhetorical question:

    Might we add Georgia to the list of schools that fired a pretty good coach simply because the alums and boosters have a higher expectation for the football program than is deserved?

Alabama beat Tennessee 49-10. Tennessee is improved over last year and was better last year than the year before that. Having said that, the score of this game fairly represents the difference between these two teams. Tennessee was simply out-classed…

Florida handled Missouri 40-14. The Gators have 1 loss this year – to Tennessee. However, if Florida can “run the table” they will finish first in the SEC East because Tennessee has 2 conference losses. Let me just say that Florida does not have an easy row to hoe:

    Oct 29: vs. Georgia (in Jax for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party)
    Nov 5: at Arkansas
    Nov 12: vs S. Carolina
    Nov 19: at LSU (make-up of game postponed by Hurricane Matthew)
    Nov 26: at Florida State (not a conference game)

Arkansas beat Ole Miss 34-30. Ole Miss trailed 17-6 in the first half but rallied to take the lead at 30-27 with about 9 minutes to play in the game. Arkansas iced the game with a TD around the 2-minute mark.

In Big 10 action, let me start at the bottom. Illinois beat Rutgers at Rutgers by 17 points. Unequivocally, Illinois is not a good team; that statement tells you something important about the Rutgers team. Let me do a bit of foreshadowing here:

    You will encounter Rutgers later on when I present the first look at candidates for the SHOE Tournament.

Iowa beat Purdue 49-35. Iowa dominated the first half and led 35-7 at halftime. Then they went to sleep in the second half but Purdue could not make up the 28-point hole they had dug for themselves. This game was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Purdue; they fired their head coach the day after the game.

Nebraska beat Indiana 27-22. Nebraska dominated the game early on and then seemed to take its foot off the gas. Nebraska is now 6-0 for the year and it has been 15 years since the Huskers have opened a season with 6 straight wins.

Northwestern beat Michigan St. 54-40. Who saw that coming? I certainly did not. In fact, it might be one of the most surprising scores of the year. Earlier this year, Northwestern lost to W. Michigan (from the MAC) and also to Illinois St. (Division 1-AA). Moreover, in the loss to Illinois St., Northwestern only scored 7 points. Now in the last two games, Northwestern has beaten Iowa and Michigan St and scored a total of 92 points in those 2 games. This was the 4th loss in a row for Michigan St.; the last time that happened was back in 2006.

Ohio State needed OT to beat Wisconsin 30-23. This was a heavyweight game and it lived up to its advance billing. Wisconsin led 16-6 at the half but Ohio State rallied in the second half to force overtime. The two QBs had almost identical stats:

    JT Barrett was 17 for 29 for 226 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT
    Alex Hornibrook was 16 for 28 for 214 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT

The running game for the two QBs was a different story. Barrett ran for 92 yards and 2 TDs while Hornibrook ran for minus-34 yards for the game. Wisconsin has now lost two games this year both by 7 points to Ohio State and to Michigan. Recall that Wisconsin also played LSU earlier this year and beat LSU. The Badgers are probably the best 2-loss team in the country.

In ACC action, Louisville beat Duke 24-14. Frankly, it was a lackluster performance by Louisville with far less “excitement” provided from Lamar Jackson than anticipated. Yes, he produced a tad over 300 yards in the game which is laudable indeed; however, he has been producing 400+ yards in games almost routinely this year. The Duke defense kept him well below that sort of output.

Meanwhile, Clemson beat North Carolina St. 24-17 in OT. If you want to see a lackluster performance by an entire team, go check out the replay and watch Clemson. This is not what a “Top 5” team is supposed to look like. Both teams had the same average yards per offensive play (5.6 yards per snap). NC State does not have a “Top 5” offense or defense. Clemson turned the ball over 4 times in the game.

Florida St. beat Wake Forest 17-6. I am not all that surprised that the Seminoles held Wake Forest to less than 10 points; I am surprised that the Seminoles only scored 17 points.

UNC beat Miami (FL) 20-13. UNC is 5-2 and it would not be shocking to see them win 9 games this year. Their losses have been to Georgia and to Va Tech – in a Hurricane Matthew game that should never have been played. I do not know if the Tar Heels will win out, but all of the remaining 5 games are winnable:

    At Virginia
    Home against Georgia Tech
    At Duke
    Home against The Citadel
    Home against NC State.

Out there in Big 12 country, Oklahoma beat K-State 38-17. I did not expect K-state to win this game but I also did not expect them to lose by 3 TDs. Oklahoma racked up 510 yards on offense for the day as compared to only 353 for K-State.

West Virginia beat Texas Tech 48-17. So where did West Virginia find a defense all of a sudden? The Mountaineers held Texas Tech to 1.3 yards per rushing attempt for this game.

Baylor beat Kansas 49-7. The score was 42-0 at the half and then Baylor called off the dogs. If Art Briles were still at Baylor, he would not have stopped until Baylor was in the mid-70s…

Texas beat Iowa St. 27-6. Someone must have found a way to take the Ambien out of the drinking water in the Longhorns’ defensive meeting room; the defense actually showed up and played well here. The Iowa St. offense has been decent this year and they had averaged 39 points per game over the 3-game stretch leading up to this one. Iowa St. led 6-3 at the half and Texas had lost 14 straight game when they trailed at halftime. However, this time Texas scored 21 points in the 3rd quarter and the defense pitched a shutout for the 2nd half and the Longhorns won the game. As a measure of the quality of the Texas defensive play here, consider that they held Iowa St. to 280 yards’ offense on 77 offensive plays. That is a meager 3.6 yards per play.

In PAC-12 action last week, USC clobbered Arizona by a score of 48-14. It was 34-0 at the half. This game was no contest…

Colorado beat Arizona St. 40-16 last week. It was not a joyous weekend of college football for fans in Arizona. The rushing stats and the total offense stats tell the story of this game:

    Ariz St. ran 28 times for 50 yards
    Colorado ran 52 times for 315 yards

    Ariz St had total offense of 199 yards
    Colorado had total offense of 580 yards.

I believe Colorado is 7-0 against the spread this year meaning there are some happy alums and boosters in and around Boulder CO…

Utah beat Oregon St. 19-14. This game should be held up as a monument to offensive ineptitude. Consider:

    Oregon St. had 7 first downs
    Utah had 12 first downs

    Oregon St. was 0 for 9 on third downs
    Utah was 4 for 10 on third downs

    Oregon St had total offense of 155 yards
    Utah had total offense of 239 yards

    Oregon St. ran 36 offensive plays
    Utah ran 48 offensive plays

      [Aside: Lots of teams run 75 plays in a game routinely and some run as many as 90 plays in a game.]

    Oregon State passing offense was 1 for 14 for a total of 1 yard for the game.

Washington St. beat UCLA 27-21. The stats for the game were pretty much even; the only discrepancy was that UCLA turned the ball over 4 times and Washington St. turned it over only twice. Washington St. is 3-0 in PAC-12 games; their 2 losses for the season came in Weeks 1 and 2 when they lost to E. Washington (Division 1-AA) and Boise St. Since then, they have been perfect.

Washington St. kicked a field goal in the first quarter of this game. Why is that interesting? Well, this is the 6th game of the year for Washington St. and this is their first field goal of the year.

UCLA simply cannot run the ball. In this game, they had 25 rushing attempts that gained 43 yards. For the season, UCLA ranks 126th (out of 128 teams) in the country in rushing offense; they average 91.1 yards per game and a mere 2.81 yards per attempt.

Va Tech has a freshman WR named Divine Deablo. Anyone hear old enough to remember The Clovers’ song from the 1950s, Devil or Angel? Just wondering …

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 5 Ponderosa Games. The record for favorites covering in those games was 2-3-0 bringing the cumulative record for favorites covering to 28-23-0.

Baylor and LSU covered.

Boise St., Louisville and Toledo did not cover.

This week we have 5 Ponderosa Games:

E. Michigan at W. Michigan – 24 (58.8): The Total Line opened at 64.5 and has been dropping steadily all week. I presume that this game is a big deal in Michigan and that this is some sort of a rivalry about which I know nothing. To me this is a Ho-Hum Hoedown.

Purdue at Nebraska – 24 (62): Purdue changed coaches; that changes everything. Unless it doesn’t…

Oklahoma St. – 24 at Kansas (61): The student body at Kansas ought to “storm the field” if Kansas loses by only a TD…

Illinois at Michigan – 39 (57): Remember what I said about Illinois above. They are not a good team and Jim Harbaugh has no history of easing up in the midst of a blowout.

Oregon St. at Washington – 36.5 (53): The Total Line opened here at 60 and has dropped a full touchdown’s worth of points in 4 days. Wow!

The SHOE Teams:

The college football season is half over. I believe we now have sufficient evidence to begin the winnowing process to identify the 8 worst teams in the country that would play in my SHOE Tournament if the SHOE Tournament were a real thing. Recall, the idea is to put really bad teams on the field and the losers have to continue to play until there is a single loser identified as the SHOE Team for 2016. I will present 16 teams on my radar at the moment in alphabetical order lest anyone think there is some sort of hierarchy going on here.

    Bowling Green: They have 1 win on the year over North Dakota (Division 1-AA) and a 75-point loss to Memphis on the books.

    Buffalo: They have 1 win on the year but they also have a loss to Albany (Division 1-AA) and 4 double-digit losses.

    Florida Atlantic: They have 1 win on the year over S. Illinois (Division 1-AA). They have losses to FIU and UNC-Charlotte

    Florida Int’l: They have 3 wins on the year but all have come over teams that are on this list.

    Georgia St.: They have 1 win on the year and it was over Texas St. – a team on this list.

    Kansas: They have 1 win on the year and are a Ponderosa underdog again this week.

    Kent St.: They have 2 wins on the year but they lost to Miami (Oh) and to North Carolina A&T (Division 1-AA).

    Miami (Oh): They have 1 win on the year and they have a game upcoming against Bowling Green. What a stinker that one will be.

    New Mexico St: They have 2 wins on the year; the one against New Mexico might take them off this list. However, that loss to UTEP, on the other hand…

    Northern Illinois: They have 1 win on the year and it was against Ball St. Buffalo and Bowling Green are their next two opponents.

    Rice: They are the only team without a win; they have to be on this list now. They play a Div. 1-AA team this week. A loss there may cement them on this list.

    Rutgers: Yes, they have a win. They also have two losses this year each by more than 70 points.

    Texas St.: They have 2 wins on the year – over Ohio U and Incarnate Word (Division 1-AA). They have a date with N. Mex St. down the road.

    UMass: They have 1 win on the year over Florida International. In all the other games the closest they have been was 12 points.

    UTEP: They have 1 win on the year over New Mexico St. They lost to FIU by 2 TDs.

    UNC-Charlotte: They have 2 wins on the season – one over Florida Atlantic and the other over Elon Phoenix (Division 1-AA).

This is a fluid list; it will change from week to week and will be pared down as we get into November.

Stay tuned…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Oregon at Cal – 3 (89): The Total Line opened in rarefied air at 83.5 points and has gone up from there; two sportsbooks have the number at 89.5 points. Defensive coordinators all around the country weep when they think about this sort of game. No pick here – but the game is interesting and it has a counterpart on Saturday afternoon… Just to give you an idea how b ad these defenses are:

    Cal is 121st in the country in total defense allowing 494.7 yards per game
    Oregon is 127th in the country allowing 522.3 yards per game.

    Cal is 123rd in the country in scoring defense allowing 40.0 points per game
    Oregon is 125th allowing 41.8 points per game.

    Remember, there are only 128 Division 1-A schools …

Syracuse at BC – 4 (50): The preferred styles could not be more different here. Syracuse wants to play faster than up-tempo and wants to throw the ball all over the place. BC would be happy to slug it out on the ground, play defense and win the game 10-7. The team that is able to play in its preferred mode should win. The contrast makes the game interesting – but not so much that I would want to bet on it.

Rutgers at Minnesota – 18.5 (44.5): The spread for this game opened at 21 points and has dropped to this level. That means that there are folks out there betting real money on Rutgers. I know that Minnesota is a plodding team but why would anyone want to bet on Rutgers?

TCU at West Virginia – 6 (65): West Virginia shut down the Texas Tech offense last week (see above). I wonder if they can do that again to an offense ranked 9th in the country that is far more balanced than Texas Tech. This year did not produce a vintage TCU defense; it gives up- 434 yards per game. I expect a lot of scoring here so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Indiana at Northwestern – 2.5 (52.5): Indiana has lost 3 games this year; the ones to Ohio State and Nebraska were to be expected but Ohio State did not cover against them and Nebraska only won by 5 points last week. Their earlier loss to Wake Forest was not nearly as noble an effort. Northwestern’s offense exploded in the last two games after meager out puts in the first 4 games this season. I think both teams will score here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

Wisconsin – 4 at Iowa (42): This game will resemble a heavyweight boxing match confined to a coat closet. When I saw this was the matchup on this week’s card, I immediately thought that I would take the UNDER – – until I saw how low the Total Line is. I like the way Wisconsin has fought in its two losses to Michigan and Ohio State; I like the way Iowa rebounded from what had to be an embarrassing loss to North Dakota State. Make this a venue call for the underdog at home. I’ll take Iowa plus the points.

UNC – 9 at Virginia (69): I do not understand this line at all. I think UNC is a much better team than Virginia and I am not aware that playing games in Charlottesville is a rip-roaring home field advantage. UNC has 3 conference wins over Pitt, Florida State and Miami (FL); it has 1 conference loss to Va Tech in a monsoon. I do not think Virginia can keep pace here. I’ll take UNC to win and cover.

NC State at Louisville – 19.5 (65): Will the real NC State football team please stand up? Last week, NC State lost to Clemson by a TD; earlier this year, NC State lost to E. Carolina. I choose to believe that NC State has figured out how to put its pieces together so they work well together. That means I think they can stay close to Louisville – as they did with Clemson last week – and that their defense can keep Louisville from running wild. I’ll take NC State plus the points and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Washington St. – 7 at Arizona St. (64): The Total Line for this game opened at 70 points and plummeted to this level. Arizona St. ranks dead last in Division 1-A football in pass defense; they allow 384.4 yards per game. Just to be clear; that is a lot of yards given up. Washington State gives up 278.2 yards per game in the air. That is not great by any means, but it is 106 fewer yards than Arizona St. Both teams are statistically better against the run – but perhaps that is because it is so easy to throw the ball against them. I think Washington State is the better team so I’ll take them to win and cover – even on the road.

Oklahoma – 13.5 at Texas Tech (84): The Total Line opened at 87 and has dropped to this level – – sort of the mirror-image of the Oregon/Cal line move noted above. Tech struggled to score last week against a West Virginia defense that was “suspect” going into the game. Oklahoma’s defense is statistically what West Virginia’s is:

    West Virginia is 70th in the country giving up 410.6 yards per game.
    Oklahoma is 73rd in the country giving up 412.8 yards per game.

If Texas Tech struggles to score again this week, they will be trounced because I cannot see the Tech defense rising up to win the game on its own. I like Oklahoma to win and cover here.

Memphis – 2.5 at Navy (57): Navy had a BYE Week last week after beating Houston 2 weeks ago. If they can perform at that level, they will squash Memphis. The oddsmakers do not think that is a likely event – and neither do I. The game is interesting because all 3 of the Service Academies have 4 wins on the year and all could be bowl eligible this year; that is not a common occurrence. I have no pick in this game but it is a game of interest.

Texas at K-State – 2.5 (54): The Total Line here opened at 60 points. The K-State QB was injured in the game against Oklahoma last week; the drop in the Total Line suggests that if he does play here it will not be at “peak efficiency”. The real question mark in this game is the Texas defense. It actually played well last week, but that was the first time it did that against a team not on the SHOE Tournament watch list above. Has the Texas defense finally gotten its act together? Purely a hunch here, I’ll take Texas plus the points.

Colorado at Stanford – 2 (49.5): I do not understand this line at all. Colorado has the 14th ranked defense in the country giving up only 314.1 yards per game. The Stanford defense gives up 50 more yards per game. Stanford has not shown much on offense all season. Their highest point output was 27 points back in Week 2. I realize this game is in Northern California, but I think Colorado is the better team and I think they will win the game. I’ll take Colorado plus the points.

Michigan St. – 3 at Maryland (51.5): Michigan St. is on a 4-game losing streak and it has soiled itself in 3 of those losses. Maryland won its first 4 games – against a marshmallow-soft schedule – and has lost its last 2 games by 3 TDs each to Penn State and Minnesota neither of which is to be confused with any of the “Top 25”. Neither team here is the “dregs of the Big 10” so long as Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois are around. However, one of these teams will leave this game with its tail between its legs. No wagering here; just interesting to see which team steps up and which team steps down…

Utah at UCLA – 7 (46.5): Short and sweet here. I think the oddsmaker has it right with that Total Line; this will be a defensive game. Therefore, I’ll take Utah plus the points.

Ole Miss at LSU – 6.5 (60.5): Since the departure of Les Miles, LSU seemingly has cast off whatever shackles there were on its offense. Ole Miss has not had anything resembling shackles on its offense. I think the last team with the ball could be the winner here. I’ll take Ole Miss plus the points.

Arkansas at Auburn – 10 (56): I like Auburn but I really wonder if they are 2-scores better than Arkansas. I’ll take Arkansas plus the points.

Ohio St. – 19 at Penn St. (57): Penn St. had a BYE Week to prep for this game. I just do not think they have the horses to hang with Ohio St. – even at home in front of 100,000+ partisans. It is a big spread – not quite a “Ponderosa” – but I think Ohio St will win and cover.

Texas A&M at Alabama – 18 (58.5): This is the Game of the Week. I do not think Texas A&M is going to beat Alabama in Alabama but I think that line is fatter than Sally Struthers after a week in an all-you-can-eat buffet. I’ll take the Aggies plus the points.

La-Lafayette – 6 at Texas St. (66): This game has SHOE Tournament implications for both teams…

Ohio – 3.5 at Kent (46): This game has SHOE Tournament implications for both teams…

Miami (Oh) at Bowling Green – 4.5 (50): Both of these teams are on the SHOE Tournament “watchlist” above.

Prairie View A&M at Rice (no lines): Prairie View A&M is a Division 1-AA team with a 4-2 record. Rice is a Division 1-A team with no wins for the year. The SHOE Tournament Selection Committee (me) will check this one out carefully…

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/23/16

To appropriate the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann line from SportsCenter many years ago, last week’s NFL Mythical Picks were en fuego. I made 16 picks; the record for the week was 12-3-1. That brings the season record for NFL Mythical Picks to 57-35-2.

I was not assisted in the least last week by the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol. The coin went 0-2-0 dropping the coin below the 50% mark for the season at 4-6-0.

The Best Picks of the week were:

    Dolphins +8.5 against Steelers. Dolphins won outright by 15 points.
    Cowboys +4 against Packers. Cowboys won outright by 14 points.

The Worst Picks of the week were:

    Jags/Bears OVER 46.5. Total Score was 33 points.
    Panthers/Saints UNDER 53. Total Score was 79 points.

Notwithstanding the success from last week, no one should take anything written here as sufficiently insightful or authoritative as to be worthy of being the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think jumping to conclusions and pushing your luck is a great aerobic workout.

General Comments:

Last week was not a good week to be a fan of AFC North teams. Every one of them lost and two of the four teams – Steelers and Bengals – lost by 2 TDs or more. The division as a whole has a losing record and for those fans who say that the feckless Cleveland Browns are the reason for that bad division record, take a look at the standings. The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are a combined 9-9 for the season.

The Steelers got some really bad news last Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger had to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee. Reports say he will be out 4-6 weeks. That seems like an awfully short rehab period based on what I have seen after various friends of mine underwent the same sort of surgery. Then again, those friends are not in their 30s and are not professional athletes…

In any event, even if Roethlisberger can be back to play at something near his normal level of proficiency in 4 weeks, that will leave the Steelers to face this schedule with Landry Jones and/or Zach Mettenberger at the wheel:

    Oct 23: Patriots in Pittsburgh
    Oct 30: BYE Week
    Nov 6: Ravens at Baltimore
    Nov 13: Cowboys in Pittsburgh

Remember, that assumes Roethlisberger is back at the early end of the estimate …

Another team with a “Quarterback Situation” – a team that seems always to have a “Quarterback Situation” – is the NY Jets. Just after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Cards, coach Todd Bowles said that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starter this week even though he had been pulled from the game in favor of Geno Smith in the late stages of that debacle. About 24 hours later he waffled on that statement and less than 48 hours later, the word is that Geno Smith will be the QB for the Jets this weekend at home against the Ravens.

Let me say 2 things about that change of heart with regard to the Jets’ “Quarterback Situation”:

    1. This is not going to set the Jets on a path to go 9-1 for the rest of the season and put them in the playoff picture.

    2. Notwithstanding that outlook, this is something the Jets have to do now.

Let me explain … The Jets’ 1-5 record is only partially due to poor play from Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB. His play has gotten the preponderance of attention and commentary because of the protracted negotiations that it took to get him back on the Jets’ roster this year and because his game with 6 INTs produced an eye-popping statistic. Trust me; I am not going to try to concoct a case that Fitzpatrick has played anywhere near “well” in 2016; he has been bad. Consider these offensive stats for the Jets as a team:

    Jets averaging just under 16 points per game. As a benchmark, the Jags – not an offensive powerhouse by any measure – are averaging just over 20 points per game.

    Jets are 13th in the AFC in total offense. As a benchmark, the Browns – not an offensive juggernaut by any measure – rank 9th in the AFC.

Ryan Fitzpatrick had a “career year” in 2015 and has regressed to the mean. He is not the resolution of the Jets’ longstanding “Quarterback Situation”; that does not make him a bad person. However, it does present the Jets with a problem because Geno Smith – not a man with an impressive NFL résumé to be sure – is currently playing out his rookie contract. Soon after the Super Bowl is contested – without the Jets’ participation let me say – the team has to make a couple of decisions with regard to its “Quarterback Situation” looking ahead:

    If they even deign to make Ryan Fitzpatrick a contract offer, it will be for the kind of money teams pay for backups.

    They need to decide if they want to make Geno Smith any kind of an offer. The only way to make that decision with any degree of confidence greater than having a seer read the entrails of a goat is to play him this year and find out if there is any hope of him playing at a journeyman level or higher in the near future.

That is why Geno Smith has to be the Jets’ QB for at least a month unless he is so abjectly awful that the next question for the Jets’ braintrust is this one:

    Do you dare go into the 2017 season with either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg as your starting QB?

The only way to answer that question – absent sacrificing another goat to read its entrails – is to play whichever one looks better in practice in 2016. If they start Smith as of now, they can – if they have to – make an early decision that Geno Smith is not in their long-range plans and still have time to get a look at one of the QBs on the roster who has never seen the field in an NFL game.

I cannot construct in my mind the thought processes that got the Jets into this situation but that is where they are. And because of where they are, they really have little choice but to sit Ryan Fitzpatrick starting now and getting a good look at Geno Smith in real-game situations. Unless he can show the Jets that he is “the guy” for them at QB in the near future, look for the Jets’ “Quarterback Situation” to continue for a while…

I said earlier that the Jets 1-5 record is only partially due to poor play at QB so far this year. In case you had not noticed, the Jets’ defense has not lived up to its billing as an elite unit.

    Jets’ defense gives up 375.5 yards per game – 23rd in the NFL
    Jets’ defense gives up 290 yards per game
    Jets’ defense allows 27.3 points per game.

There are 4 teams in the league with 1-5 records as of now. The Niners and the Bears figured to be bottom-feeders this year; their standing here is not very surprising. The other two teams are the Panthers and the Jets. Both of them were seen as “playoff contenders”; their standing here is a monument to underachievement.

Last week, the Chargers beat the Broncos 21-13 making it two losses in a row for the defending Super Bowl champs. The Chargers won the game because they found ways to keep the Broncos out of the end-zone. The Chargers only had 265 yards on offense for the game; they had to hold down the Broncos’ scoring just to have a chance to win. The Chargers’ game plan seemed to be one that other teams will adopt facing the Broncos – – attack and stop the Broncos’ run game and make Trevor Siemian beat them with his arm. The Broncos had only 84 yards rushing in this game. I understand that QBs can be very successful with a “dink-and-dunk passing attack” but usually there is at least a hint that he might try a deep ball more than once a month. In Trevor Siemian’s case, he seems to be on a “once a month regimen”. The Broncos only got to the Red Zone twice in this game. The Chargers got there 5 times scoring 1 TD and 4 field goals.

The Texans beat the Colts 26-23 in OT. The Colts led all the way in this game until the 4th quarter when one of two things happened:

    Brock Osweiler returned to a conscious state in the 4th quarter. He had only thrown for 102 yards (and 1 INT) in the first 55 minutes of that game.

    The Colts’ defense returned to a conscious state and saw that it had been holding down an opponent and that shocked them back to their normal state of incompetence.

Or perhaps these two things happened simultaneously…

In any event, the Colts led by 14 points with about 3 minutes to go in the game and then the team coughed it up and gave up 2 TDs in the final 3 minutes to send the game to OT. A field goal in OT by the Texans won the game. The only bright spot for the Colts is that Frank Gore ran for more than 100 yards in this game and that was the first time since 2012 that any Colts’ RB had passed that milestone in a single game; it had been 55 games since Vic Ballard ran for 100+ in a game for the Colts. The Texans are 4-2 so far this year despite having been outscored 127-107 for the year.

    I know that the typical format here is for me to do a short capsule summary of each game from last week but I have to deviate slightly here to give you a strong entry in the contest for “Self-Delusional Moment of the Year”. And no; I am not talking about Bobby Jindal thinking he could be President of the United States.

    According to a report on this week, Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, said that the Colts could be 6-0 at this point of this season had it not been for a few balls bouncing the wrong way. This guy goes to every game and he has a really good seat at every game. So, I have to wonder what he is doing up there in that skybox because no one else on Planet Earth – or any other planet in this solar system – thinks the Colts are a couple of unlucky bounces away from being undefeated thorough the first 6 games.

      The Colts’ offense gains 364.2 yards per game – 19th in the NFL
      The Colts’ defense gives up 411.2 yards per game – 30th in the NFL

    Someone will need to explain how those performances on either side of the ball lead to the conclusion that the Colts might have a .500 record at this point in the season let alone be undefeated.

The Cowboys beat the Packers 30-16 last week. Yes, the Cowboys were that much better in the game. Dak Prescott threw for 247 yards and 3 TDs in the game; he also lost a fumble and threw the first INT in his career but he was the better QB on the field on Sunday. Ezekiel Elliott continued his great play running the ball 28 times for 157 yards against what is the best run defense in the NFL. The Packers fumbled 5 times in the game and lost 3 of them.

The Seahawks beat the Falcons 26-24. In the 3rd quarter, the Falcons were dominant; they won that quarter 21-0; Matt Ryan was 13 for 17 for 220 yards and 3 TDEs in the 3rd quarter; for the rest of the game, the Falcons were “Meh!” Nonetheless, they had a TD lead as the 4th quarter began but then Russell Wilson took over. He engineered a TD drive that would have tied the game had the Seahawks prevented a blocked PAT. Not to worry, though; the Seahawks got the ball back on an INT with a little under 4 minutes to play and turned that into a field goal. At that point the game took one of two paths depending on your point of view:

    Path A: The Seahawks defense came up large and held the Falcons to 4 consecutive incomplete passes to ice the win 26-24.

    Path B: The zebras hosed the Falcons on a non-call with regard to defensive pass interference by Richard Sherman on Julio Jones that would have put the Falcons in position to try a game winning field goal of their own.

Recently, I wrote here that I do not understand the difference between pass interference, offensive pass interference and no-call on a pass play where there is contact between the receiver and the defender. The play in question here surely looks like pass interference to me…

The Chiefs beat the Raiders 26-10 meaning that Andy Reid’s teams are 16-2 in the week after their BYE Weeks. Let me interrupt the narrative here to give you the gist of a “conversation” I had with some guy in the Westgate Sportsbook last Sunday waiting in line to make a wager at the window:

    Guy: How can the Chiefs be favored over the Raiders? The Raiders are in first place and the Chiefs aren’t. These guys [meaning the guys who run the sportsbook] must hate the Raiders.

    Me: Well, people may be betting the Chiefs because Andy Reid’s teams are 15-2 after their BYE weeks and the Chiefs were off last week.

    Guy: Really, how do you know that?

    Me: I read it in a couple of places.

    Guy: Wow. None of the guys I heard on the radio this morning making picks said anything about that.

    Me: Well, they have time constraints; they can’t say everything about every game.

    Guy: Uh … do you know who the teams are that beat the Chiefs after Bye Weeks.

    Me: Not even close – – and by the way Andy Reid used to coach the Eagles and most of that record comes from his 14 years in Philly.

    Guy: Really? … Boy you know a lot about football.

This guy has probably already procreated and will probably vote on November 8th. How is that for a downer of a thought…

Alex Smith had a typical Alex Smith day but the porous Raiders’ defense enhanced it a bit. Smith was 19 for 22 for 224 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. Smith always has a good completion percentage but on Sunday he completed an astronomic 86.4% of his throws. The Chiefs also ran the ball for 189 yards in the game including 9 carries for 33 yards and 1 TD from Jamaal Charles who saw his most significant action since his ACL injury and surgery last year.

The game was 13-10 at the half but the Raiders did nothing in the second half. When they were not punting, they were losing fumbles or giving the ball over on downs. The weather was ugly in Oakland and the Raiders were even uglier.

I called the Raiders’ defense porous; that might be a generous description. In 6 games:

    Raiders give up 27.2 points per game
    Raiders give up 444.8 yards per game
    Raiders allow 132.2 yards per game rushing.

The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15. Somehow the 2016 iteration of the Steelers can find a way to:

    Beat the Skins by 22 points
    Beat the Chiefs by 29 points
    Lost to the Eagles by 28 points
    Lose to the Dolphins by 15 points

Really? I said here last week that the Steelers generally do not play well on the road and they have had difficulties in Miami in the past. Boy, was all of that on display last week… I realize the Ben Roethlisberger played part of the game on a knee that required surgery soon after the game; nevertheless, passing for 189 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs is a pretty miserable performance. The bright light for the Dolphins here was RB, Jay Ajayi who ran 25 times for 204 yards and 2 TDs.

The Jags beat the Bears 17-16. The Bears led 13-0 at the start of the 4th quarter and blew the game to Blake Bortles and the Jags. The Bears dominated the Jags for the first half holding the Jags to only 98 yards of offense for the first 2 quarters. Brian Hoyer became the first QB in the history of the Chicago Bears – a team that was a charter member of the NFL back in 1920 – to throw for 300+ yards in 4 consecutive games. Considering that the Bears have played about 1500 games since then, that is an amazing statistic. The bad news for the Bears last week was that they got into the Red Zone 4 times and only came away with 1 TD.

The Lions beat the Rams 31-28. Case Keenum was 27 for 32 for 321 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT for the Rams. If he continues to do that, Jared Goff may never see the field this season. Unfortunately for Keenum, that INT came in the final minute with the Rams in possession of the ball down a field goal. That interception ended the game…

The Pats beat the Bengals 35-17. They were clearly the better team on the field; the Bengals are in disarray. The old Bengals’ tendency to go off the rails was evident once again late in the game when Vontaze Burfict – – SURPRISE – – went after Rob Gronkowski with a cheap shot that got the two of them going at one another and then Burfict went after Martellus Bennett when Bennett was nowhere near the play and then he stomped on LeGarrette Blount’s leg. Blount has his own history of a short fuse so that was a situation that could well have gotten out of hand. Thankfully, it did not. The league has fined Burfict $75K for this nonsense but that is not going to change his dirty play. Call it what it really is; Burfict is a dirty player and has been ever since his time in college. If the NFL waits to suspend him indefinitely, they will wait to do so after he takes out an opposing player for a year or more. Vontaze Burfict is not a “hard-hitter”; he is a “dirty player” and a “hot-head”.

Tom Brady threw for a mere 376 yards and 3 TDs against the Bengals’ defense; Rob Gronkowski caught 7 of Brady’s passes for 162 yards and 1 TD; the Pats’ offense was firing on all cylinders.

The Bengals are now 2-4 and they have the Browns coming to Cincy this week. That is a division game and a rivalry game; it is also a critical game for the Bengals to win.

The Giants beat the Ravens 27-23. Both teams are 3-3; this win snapped a 3-game losing streak for the Giants; this loss extended a Ravens’ losing streak to 3 games. Odell Beckham, Jr. had 8 catches for 222 yards (204 of them in the second half) and 2 TDs. There was another “pass interference call” in this game that was mystifying on replay. This call in the 4th quarter went against Dominque Rogers-Cromartie and it sure looked like perfect defense to me each time I saw the replay – at least four times.

For the most part, this was an ugly game. Consider:

    Ravens had 1st and goal at the 3 yardline and turned the ball over on downs
    Ravens failed to stop the Giants on three different 4th-down conversions
    Ravens were penalized 15 times for 111 yards
    Giants turned the ball over 3 times
    Giants were penalized 7 times for 119 yards
    Giants were in the Red Zone twice and never got in the end-zone.

The bright spots in the game belonged mainly to Eli Manning:

    Manning threw for 403 yards in the game.
    Manning threw his 300th TD pass in his career
    Manning won his 100th game as a starting QB.

In a freak scheduling happenstance, the Ravens played an away game in MetLife stadium last week and will go to the same place to play another road game this week when they take on the Jets.

The Saints beat the Panthers 41-38. I want to be clear here; I have pointed out defensive insufficiencies for various teams above; please do not let any of those comments make you think that either of these two defenses earned their paychecks last weekend.

    The Saints led 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter; they were on pace to score 75 points and the Panthers’ defense gave no indication that was out of the question.

    The Saints defense showed its true nature when the score was 24-10 at the half and then was cut to 31-30 (thanks to a missed PAT by the Panthers). That 1-point lead happened with about 10 minutes left to play in the game. At that point the Saints’ defense had given up 30 points in about 30 minutes of football. Oh swell …

    The Saints went up 38-30 with 6 minutes to play. When the Panthers really needed a stop, they could not produce one.

    The Saints now needed a stop but they could not get one either. They gave up a TD AND a 2-point conversion at about the 3-minute mark to tie the score at 38-38.

    Now the Panthers’ defense needed to hold – and of course it did not. The Saints maneuvered into field goal range and hit the game winner.

    The Saints gave up 406 yards to the Panthers; the Panthers gave up 523 yards to the Saints.

    The Saints were 8-16 on third down conversions.

Are you convinced that both defenses stunk out the joint last Sunday?

The Titans beat the Browns 28-26. The only positive thing to say about this insignificantly trivial game is that it was a close game. The Browns ran the ball 15 times in the game for a total of 40 yards. If that sounds bad, it is. Here is another bad rushing stat:

    Isiah Crowell ran the ball 9 times for 16 yards. That is not good but a quick glance at the stat sheet says it is even worse than it looks …

    One of his runs was for 11 yards.

    That means he ran the other 8 times and gained a total of 5 yards. YUCK!

The Skins beat the Eagles 27-20 extending the Skins’ win streak to 4 games. The Skins ran the ball here for 231 yards including a 57-yard run by Matt Jones and a 45-yard gallop by Robert Kelly. Carson Wentz had an off day; he was 11 for 22 for 179 yards. Eagles’ RB, Wendell Smallwood returned a kickoff for a TD in the game. That is noteworthy because it was the first kickoff return for a TD in the NFL for the season and last week was Week 6.

The Bills simply shellacked the Niners 45-16 and the score reflects the lopsided nature of that game. Starting Colin Kaepernick at QB did nothing to make the Niners competitive here. I do not mean to say that he was the reason the Niners were humiliated the way they were, but his stat line was pretty bleak:

    13 for 29 for 187 yards and 1 TD with 0 INTs.

After the game, Chip Kelly said that Kaepernick was “OK”. Does that mean that Kelly has already given up on this season because that stat line is anything but “OK”? Given the way the Niners have played for most of the season – and the way that Kaepernick played last week, I certainly hope that Kaepernick has been genuflecting during the anthem as a sincere form of protest and not as a way to execute the “Victory Formation” – – because he is not going to get to do that in very many real NFL games for the rest of the 2016 season.

The Niners’ defense allowed 312 yards rushing last week. That is the most yards rushing given up by any Niners’ team since 1958. I went and looked up the roster for that 1958 Niners’ squad and I recognized plenty of offensive names such as YA Tittle, John Brodie, Hugh McElhenney, R.C. Owens, Joe Perry and Bob St, Clair. As to the defense, I recognized exactly one name, Leo Nomellini. No wonder they gave up 312+ yards rushing in a game…

The Cards beat the Jets 28-3. Given the way that game unfolded, I really think that Bruce Arians took it easy on his former defensive coordinator and friend Todd Bowles. As the first half progressed I wrote a note to myself saying that the Cards could win by whatever margin they wanted so long as it fit into the time constraints of an NFL game. Let us look momentarily at just how bad this game was:

    Jets gained only 230 yards total offense
    Jets gained only 33 yards rushing
    Jets were 2 for 13 on third down.

This game broke an amazing losing streak. The last time the Cardinals beat the Jets was in 1975 – – 41 years ago.

The Games:

Two teams have BYE Weeks this week:

    The Cowboys get to relax in first place in the NFC East and prepare to play the Eagles next week.

    The Panthers will hopefully not relax given their 1-5 record; they need to get their act together. They are officially mired in the “Super Bowl Loser’s slump”. They probably need to go 9-1 from here out to make the playoffs; and with a defense giving up 29.3 points per game, that has about as much chance of happening as Bernie Sanders getting an invitation to be on the Board of Directors of Citicorp.

(Thurs Nite) Chicago at Green Bay – 7.5 (45.5): The spread opened at 9 points and has edged its way down to this level as the week progressed. The Bears are a hot mess of a team; the Packers are not doing nearly as well as most people – me included – thought they would do as the season began. The Packers have tons of injuries in their defensive backfield; their 3 top DBs will miss this game and, if last weekend’s game against the Cowboys is any indicator, the replacement DBs are replacements for a good reason. Meanwhile, the Bears present a prognosticator with some very conflicting evidence:

    The Bears rank 8th in the NFL in total offense (375.2 yards per game)
    The Bears rank 31st in the NFL in scoring (16.8 points per game)

The Packers’ offense – like their defense – is running on fumes. RB, Eddie Lacy, has a sore ankle that might take a couple of weeks to “get right; RB, James Starks, underwent knee surgery last week. In order to have someone in at RB for some of the plays this week, the Packers traded for Knile Davis (from the Chiefs) and could promote Jon Crockett from the practice squad to spell Davis. Aaron Rodgers has not played like the Aaron Rodgers I have come to expect when I turn on my TV set but I think he can put up points on this defense. I also think that the Bears will score on the Packers’ depleted defense. I like this game to go OVER.

(Early Sun Morning) Giants – 3 at LA (44) Game is in London: Allow me to get two rather conflicting trends out of the way at the beginning:

    Giants are 10-4 to go OVER in their last 14 games on fieldturf
    Rams are 10-4 to go UNDER in their last 14 games against NFC teams.

This game is on fieldturf and the Rams are playing an NFC opponent. Oh my…! These teams are up one week and down the next and the venue for this game may or may not be an advantage for either team. I shall turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. Given the performance of “the coin” over the past two weeks (0-4-0), maybe I ought to go exactly the other way …? No, I’ll stick to the protocol.

Minnesota – 3 at Philly (40): I think the oddsmakers have this game pegged correctly; it should be a low-scoring affair. That being the case, I prefer to take the points – particularly when I get the points with the home team. I’ll take the Eagles plus the points at home.

New Orleans at KC – 6.5 (50.5): The Total Line for this game opened the week at 49 and has been inching up as the week advanced. Each team comes to this game off a win last week. The Saints bring their typical offensive firepower to this game – 413.4 yards per game – 2nd in the NFL. The Chiefs’ offense is good – – but not nearly that good at 352 yards per game. On the other side of the ball the advantage is reversed. Chiefs only give up 353.2 yards per game but the Saints yield 419.4 yards per game. That line looks fat to me; I’ll take the Saints plus the points.

Washington at Detroit – 1 (50): Let me make this one short. I think the Skins are the better team here and I think they will win this game outright. Therefore, I’ll take the Skins plus the point.

Cleveland at Cincy – 10 (45.5): OK, I get it. This is a divisional game and this is a rivalry game (sort of). Other than that, I am not sure why anyone might give a fig about this game; I surely do not. I know that the Browns stink but the Bengals are not an awe inspiring squad either. Purely a hunch, but I’ll take the Browns plus the points here. After I have made my pick here, I went looking for a trend to boost my confidence in that pick. I found two such trends:

    In the last 18 game between these teams, the underdog is 13-4-1.
    Browns are 7-3 in their last 10 games as an underdog against the spread

Trends may not have much of a predictive value, but they provide me with a bit of comfort here – – until the game kicks off and then everything is new again.

Buffalo – 3 at Miami (44): The Bills take their 4-game win streak south this week – to the venue where the Steelers laid an egg last week. If you believe in trends, making a pick in this game is not even a challenge:

    Favorite in the last 10 Bills/Dolphins games is 8-2
    Dolphins are 1-9 against the spread in their last 10 games against the AFC East.

I, however, am not a trend bettor. I wonder if the Bills can maintain their edge; after all they have won 4 in a row and that is heady territory for this squad. I think there is a greater chance that the Dolphins’ big home win over the Steelers last week (see above) will have a carryover effect to this game. I like the Dolphins at home plus the points.

Oakland at Jax – 1 (48.5): The Total Line here opened at 50 points; it dropped to this level quickly and has stabilized here. The Raiders are the visiting team for the 4th time this year; they ought not to mind that since the Raiders have yet to lose a game on the road. The Raiders’ defense is the worst in the NFL and it gives up 25 yards per game more than does the next-to-worst defense in the league. This is another long flight for the Raiders to take just to be at the right spot when the referee whistles and signals for the kickoff. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Raiders plus the point.

Indy at Tennessee -3 (48): The Titans are one game ahead of the Colts in the AFC South and the Titans are riding a 2-game win streak. Last year the Titans won 3 games; here we are in October of this year and the Titans have already won 3 games. The Colts have a good young QB; the Titans have a good younger QB. The Colts’ division record stands at 0-2; a loss here would mean that they would have to win the division based on record alone because division record is an early tie-breaker. Presumably, the team and the coach are not buying into the self-delusional tomfoolery spouted by the club owner about being a 6-0 team that got a few bad bounces (see above). The Titans bring the 4th best run defense in the AFC to a game against a team that does not run the ball well; they could make the Colts’ one-dimensional here. The real problem for the Colts however is their defense; they give up 411.2 yards per game (30th in the NFL) and they are vulnerable to the run – which is what the Titans do preferentially. I think the game sets up right for the home team. I’ll take the Titans to win and cover.

Baltimore at Jets – 1 (40.5): The Jets made the right move at the right time inserting Geno Smith into the starting QB role (see above). Joe Flacco has a sore shoulder and did not practice on Wednesday but expects to play on Sunday. If Flacco cannot play, the Ravens will turn to Ryan Mallett and if that happens you can look for a major line move leading up to kickoff. The Ravens have the 3rd best defense in the NFL – behind only Seattle and Minnesota – and their run defense is the best in the NFL. They should be able to make Geno Smith try to beat them through the air which is good news for the Jets’ braintrust because the next few games are really an extended audition for Smith to see if the Jets want him back next year. I will turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Jets to win and cover.

San Diego at Atlanta – 6.5 (53.5): The Total Line opened at 51.5 and jumped to this level almost immediately and you can find the line at 54 at a couple of sportsbooks this morning. The “character” of the Falcons will be on display here; they feel they were robbed by a bad officiating call at the end of last week’s game in Seattle (see above). The fact is that whatever anyone thinks of that call – I think it was pass interference by the way – the Falcons are no longer an undefeated team. So the “character test” for this week is how they show up to play. The Falcons have the best offense in the NFL – a full 28 yards per game better than the Saints in 2nd place there. At the same time, the Falcons have a “lower-tier defense” and the Chargers have a QB capable of exploiting it. Purely a hunch, I’ll take the Chargers plus the points here.

Tampa – 2.5 at SF (46.5): The dogs, they are a-barking. This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Bucs are winless at home and are 2-1 on the road. If you can explain how a bad team does something like that, please do; I cannot. The Niners just stink; their defense gives up 389.8 yards per game and an astonishing 174.3 yards per game rushing. The next worst run defense in the league – Miami – gives up 27 fewer yards per game. It is simple here; I cannot take the Niners without a basketful of points and the spread here is more like a snack-bag full of points. I like the Bucs to win and cover on the road.

New England – 7 at Pittsburgh (46): This was going to be the Game of the Week. I was anticipating a great shootout between Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown and Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski. That is not going to happen now that Roethlisberger had knee surgery early in the week (see above). I was anticipating a Total Line for the shootout to be in the mid-50s; you can see that the oddsmakers also recognize that we will see a different game this Sunday. I like the Patriots to win and cover here.

(Sun Nite) Seattle at Arizona – 2 (43.5): Since the Pats/Steelers game had to be “downgraded” due to injury, this game becomes the Game of the Week. The Cards beat the Seahawks in Seattle already this year; that puts the onus on the Seahawks to win here to avoid giving the Cards the head-to-head tiebreaker at the end of the season. Each team has 1 loss in the division; a win here for the Seahawks would give them a tiebreaker lead halfway through the season. I think the Seahawks are starting to put the pieces together for a late run. I like the Seahawks plus the points on the road.

(Mon Nite) Houston at Denver – 7.5 (40.5): The spread opened at 6 points but it did not stay there long. You can find the spread as high as 9 points at one sportsbook this morning – and I do not have any explanation as to why. Brock Osweiler’s late game heroics last week (see above) came at the expense of the Colts’ defense; this week Brock Osweiler will see a defense that is several levels above the level of the Colts’ defense; do not expect miracles. In fact, I think Texans’ fans should expect a debacle; the Broncos present the stingiest pass defense in the NFL (182.3 yards per game). I do not like that half-point hook on top of the full TDs worth of points but I smell the potential for the Broncos to hold the Texans to 10-12 points here. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points – and hope that Trevor Siemian makes the Texans’ defense play back just a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NFL TV Ratings Are Down …

Just in case you live in a dark cave somewhere or have just emerged from a coma, the NFL’s TV ratings are down this year – and not insignificantly. Various folks have offered hypotheses to explain the data; these hypotheses are difficult to verify; therefore, a cacophony of views is out there offering “explanation”. I have no idea why this is the case, but I do have some observations to proffer:

    1. I do not think reduced TV viewing is a response to the national anthem protests. I think that people offering that up as the reason are simply finding a way to connect their personal view of those protests with something that might make sense as a plot element in a novel.

    2. I do not think reduced TV viewing is a response to the various allegations of violence against women involving NFL players. Let me be polite and just say that reasoning is a stretch.

    3. I do not think reduced TV viewing is due to the violence of the game and the long-term health consequences incurred by the players. That too is a stretch.

    4. I do not think reduced TV viewing has anything at all to do with the NFL’s crackdown on end-zone celebrations after a TD. That is a stretch even Reed Richards cannot make.

Some within the NFL have “suggested” that people may be distracted from football because of the intensive media coverage of the Presidential Campaigns. With regard to that explanation, I guess I could entertain it for a while because of the emotion that so many folks have poured into this election cycle; they may be more “emotionally drained” than they are “distracted”, but this could be a factor in the equation. The good part of this hypothesis is that it presents a rather clear way to test itself. Starting on Thursday November 10, the NFL will be televising games with the election cycle in the rear view mirror. If the election cycle is what is holding down ratings, they should start to climb back to their levels from last year between then and Christmas.

    [Aside: If I were an NFL spokesthing, I would not be suggesting that there is more excitement and attention-grabbing value in political name-calling and poll analysis than there is in “my games”. There is a long-term negative message there.]

Personally, I think there are two factors internal to the NFL telecasts that are contributing factors to the decline in ratings:

    1. The NFL has long sought “parity”; and so far this season, they seem to have achieved “parity” to a degree not seen in recent years. We are through Week 6 on the schedule; if you count the teams with “middling records” – say between 2 and 4 losses – you will find that 23 of the 32 teams fall in that category. For years, the NFL trumpeted “parity” as an ideal where every team has a real chance to win every game and every year. That was never true and real fans knew it was marketing hype, but the TV audience is more than just “real fans”. Perhaps the casual fans are tiring of watching mediocrity on their screens. What the NFL does not want to hear – let alone admit – is that there is an outbreak of mediocrity in the hinterlands and it is not welcome.

    2. The games are poorly officiated with some of the officiating errors – pointedly admitted 48 hours ex post facto – changing the outcome of the games themselves. Even more importantly, some of the errors change the outcome of the games with regard to the spread or the Total Line. The NFL has never even given a nod toward the “gambling factor” as a component of its growth but the fact is that a great deal of the NFL’s popularity rests on a bedrock foundation of wagering on various games and tuning in to watch how one’s side of the wager comes out.

Speaking of wagering and NFL football, the path to partial public funding for a stadium in Las Vegas to house the now-Oakland Raiders is clear. In a special session of the Nevada Legislature, an increase in the hotel tax was approved and the Governor signed the bill. There are 3 major hurdles here and one of them has been crossed. The two remaining hurdles are:

    They have to find a site for the stadium. No site proposal will please everyone; there will likely be protests and lawsuits and various “stalling tactics”. Nevertheless, there has to be a site somewhere that will emerge as “the one”. This will take time, but this is not a show-stopper.

    The other 31 NFL owners will have to “bless” the move to Las Vegas. Last year, they made Stan Kroenke cough up $500M for the right to move to LA; that put approximately $16M in each of the other owners’ pockets simply by voting “YES”. I can see a motivation for them to repeat that process again soon. There are some potential “nefarious conspiracy theories” out there regarding what some owners may demand in exchange for their “YES” votes. I will not dignify them here – until and unless there is some evidence that things other than monetary gain motivates some of the owners.

The NFL owners are meeting in Houston this week but they will not be voting on this move then. In fact, the league has already said that this issue may not make it to the agenda for the owners’ meeting in January 2017 but may need to wait until the Spring of 2017 before it is considered.

In one other NFL note, Dolphins’ rookie tackle Laremy Tunsil missed a game due to an injury he incurred getting out of the shower. You may recall that proximal to the NFL Draft a video appeared on one of the social media sites of Tunsil wearing and using a bong mask. So, that makes the question here obvious:

    Was he using the bong mask in the shower?

To be fair, Tunsil claims that his social media account was hacked and that is how the video appeared there. Obviously, I have no idea if that is the case or not. But putting the video in juxtaposition with the “shower injury” is not all that difficult…

Finally, here is an NFL item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Corpulent Chiefs coach Andy Reid, to reporters, on 346-pound nose tackle Dontari Poe’s 1-yard TD run vs. the Raiders: ‘I’m taking credit for that one for all the chubby guys out there.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

MLB Playoff Thoughts …

Having been off the air for a few days, I realize that some of this commentary is a tad late, but I want to make a few points about the MLB playoffs. The Washington Nationals lost in the final game of their series with the LA Dodgers after leading the best of five series two games to one. Lost in the heroics of Clayton Kershaw winning Game 4 and then coming in to pitch in the 9th inning of Game 5, is the fact that Nats’ manager Dusty Baker so over-managed that game that it was laughable.

Many of the folks who commented on that series were reluctant to indict Baker for many of his “strategeries”. I get that; Dusty Baker is a baseball-lifer; he is obviously a likeable person; he is accommodating with regard to the access he gives to the commentators. Notwithstanding any or all of the above, he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a turd last week:

    Max Scherzer has been and remains the stud pitcher on the Nats’ staff. He had thrown a shut out until a leadoff home run – to the opposite field and just over the wall – on the first pitch of the 7th inning. That tied the game. That was Scherzer’s 99th pitch but it is not as if he never threw that many pitches in a game in the past. As Baker came to the mound, I figured he was going to tell Scherzer to shake it off and the team would get him another run to win this thing. But Baker took him out and went to the Nats’ bullpen.

    If there was a weak link in the Nats’ season in 2016, it would have to have been the bullpen. It had been good in the series against the Dodgers but it was not the strength of the team. So “strategery #1” was to take out the best pitcher on the team and to rely on the weakest link of the team.

    What followed was a parade of pitchers to the mound in the 7th inning giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. What was even worse was the start of a series of double switches that used up position players when new pitchers went to the mound. After the Nats closed the game to 4-3 in the 9th inning, there were no more pinch hitters in the dugout and many of the better offensive players on the team were out of the game. Second-rate hitters had to face Clayton Kershaw and – as you might expect – they were over-matched. The reason they were over-matched is because Dusty Baker over-managed.

One other observation about that series… It was likely the final curtain call for the core of the Phillies teams of 2008 – 2012. Let me cite the following:

    In Game 4, Chase Utley had the game winning hit.

    In Game 5, Carlos Ruiz – batting for Chase Utley – in that fateful 7th inning drove in a run and scored the winning run.

    In Game 5, Joe Blanton came in for the Dodgers and threw one-and-a third innings of perfect baseball.

    In Game 5, Jayson Werth was thrown out at home plate – by about 10 yards – when the Nats’ third-base coach did not hold him at third base on a double down the left field line. I could have made that relay throw from shallow left field to get Werth at the plate on that play. The coach clearly had a brain-lock there.

In other MLB playoff commentary, may I ask where the phone booth is that Andrew Miller uses to put on his Indians’ uniform and cover up the big red “S” on his chest? It is not that opposing players are not hitting the ball hard; they are not hitting the ball at all. It looks as if he is throwing to high school players on many of his pitches.

The Indians acquired Miller at the trade deadline. This was not a “rent-a-player” sort of deal because Miller is signed through the 2018 season at $9M per year. If he continues to pitch like this, he is an ever-loving bargain.

Should the World Series come down to a face-off between the Indians (leading 3-0 over the Jays at the moment) and the Cubs (tied 1-1 with the Dodgers at the moment), MLB could market this as the Exorcism World Series. Both teams have demons and one of them will rid themselves of said demons in that Series:

    Cubs’ last World Series victory was in 1908. The “Billy Goat Curse” was put on the team in 1945 which is the last time the Cubs were in the World Series – they lost to the Tigers that year.

    Indians’ last World Series victory was in 1948. The went back to the World Series in 1954 having won 111 games in that 154-game season. [Aside: the Yankees won 103 games that season and finished 8 games out of first place.] Nonetheless, in the 1954 series, the Indians lost to the Giants 4-0; that was the series where Willie Mays made the famous over-the-head catch of the deep shot to center field by Vic Wertz.

Linda Blair should throw out the first pitch if the Series comes down to the Cubs/Indians…

Rich Hill is starting playoff games for the Dodgers and getting people out. That is a bit strange. He has been in MLB for 11 years – but not pitching at this level. In fact, after shoulder and Tommy John surgery, he was in the Nats’ minor league system just last year until they released him. From there he went to the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball as a stepping stone to signing with the Red Sox. The Dodgers acquired Hill at the trading deadline from the Oakland A’s; he is playing on a 1-year contract worth $6M and will be a free agent in less than a month. Given the way he has been pitching for the Dodgers in the last couple of months, he will likely make more than that starting next year.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Barry Bonds, fired as Marlins hitting coach after one season, thanked the club for what he called ‘one of the most rewarding experiences of my baseball career.’ Which I think officially lowers the bar on rewarding experiences.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/15/16

As I mentioned yesterday in the NFL flavor of Mythical Picks, this is my week to join friends and family for the Annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas for a football/baseball/horse racing weekend. All I can say is that I hope my “Actual Picking” this week is about as good as the Mythical Picking was last week.

I made 18 NCAA Mythical Picks last week and the record was 14-4-0. Since that outcome is so rare, allow me a moment to preen and to posture and to pretend that I knew that would be the outcome all along … OK, back to reality. That weekly performance brings the season cumulative record to 55-41-0.

The Best Picks of the Week were:

    Wyoming +11 against Air Force. Wyoming won outright by 9 points.
    Washington – 9 against Oregon. Washington won by 49 points
    Washington St + 7.5 against Stanford. State won outright by 26 points

The Worst Picks of the Week were:

    UCLA -10 against Arizona St. UCLA lost outright by 3 points.
    Oklahoma/Texas UNDER 73.5. Total score was 85.

I shall not get caught up in the euphoria of last week’s 77.8% picking; I urge anyone reading these words to do the same. Let me remind everyone that it would be a stupid mistake for anyone to use anything written here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NCAA football game this weekend should that real wager involve real money. How stupid would that be?

    If stupid could fly, that behavior would be the Concorde.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats came home from their game with Pacific College victorious. The score was 48-10 giving Linfield a 3-1 record for the season as they pursue their 61st consecutive winning season in football. Next up for the Wildcats is a home game against Willamette University. The Bearcats bring a 2-3 record to the game averaging 27 points per game. Go Wildcats!

The Eagles of E. Washington beat Northern Colorado 49-31 last week in Yakima, WA bringing their season record to 5-1. Cooper Kupp had 5 receptions for 59 yards in this game. The Eagles get a week off this weekend before heading off to Bozeman MT to take on Montana St. next week. Go Eagles!

Ohio State started selling beer inside the stadium for their football games this year. You can get a cup of domestic beer for $8 or you can get a cup of Ohio craft beer for $9. Ohio St. has played 3 home games so far this year and the total revenue from beer sales is reportedly $412K. Since Ohio St has 7 home games on the schedule for 2016, that means they will fall about $40K short of the $1M mark set by Texas when they instituted beer sales in their stadium in Austin a couple years ago. I am loath to egg people on here but I suspect that the Ohioans in attendance can belly up and get past that mark. Get chugging, Ohio!

Speaking of Ohio St. football, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“A poll by Public Policy Polling found 62 percent of those surveyed thought the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes could beat the winless Cleveland Browns. An unrelated poll found that 62 percent of people are idiots.”

Or … perhaps … the poll had an inordinate number of respondents who had over-indulged at the last Ohio St. game. I have been called by pollsters more than a few times in my life and never once have they asked me to take a breathalyzer before answering their questions.

A fan at the Arkansas/Alabama game evidently had over-indulged just a bit in some adult beverages and crossed a line. He was shouting profanities at Arkansas coach, Bret Bielema; what he said was not so awful except for the fact that it was horribly inane. According to reports here is an excerpt from the fan’s remarks:

“If I had your record, I’d be [bleeping] fired. [Bleep] you!

Why is that sort of behavior – sober or not – even remotely interesting in the context of fandom at college football games? Well, in this case the inebriated fan who announced these great thoughts to the universe was – – wait for it – – an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas. He teaches courses in agricultural economics and agribusiness. Perhaps he should take Decorum 101…

Last week, Navy beat Houston 46-40. I had been rooting for Houston to go undefeated for the year so that it would test the judgement of the CFP Selection Committee when it comes to which teams would be allowed in the 4-team playoff system; I had been very transparent about that rooting interest. Well, you can flush those hopes down into the septic tank of the American Athletic Conference. Here was the deal from Day One:

    Houston had – and still has – a good team this year.

    They had 2 – and only 2 – games on their schedule that were ones that would make people sit up and take notice.

      Houston opened with a win over Oklahoma. Good show!

      Houston has an upcoming game against Louisville in mid-November.

    The other 10 games on their dance card pale in comparison to those two games. If Houston were to be taken seriously in December by the CFP Selection Committee, they needed to win all 10 of those “other games” in a convincing fashion.

That came to a screeching halt last week with a loss to Navy. That loss spells “Not Involved in the CFP in any way.”

I was hoping for Houston to be a Cinderella this year – – sort of like a fusion of Marilyn Monroe, Farah Fawcett and Jennifer Anniston. After the Navy game, I am afraid that Houston is more like Zelda Gilroy. [Google is your friend …]

In Big 10 action, Michigan demolished Rutgers 78-0. As bad as that looks, the domination here may have been even worse. Consider:

    Rutgers got 2 first-downs for the entire game.
    Rutgers’ first first-down came with about 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
    Rutgers’ passing offense was 2 for 18 for a total of 5 yards
    Rutgers’ total offense for the game was 39 yards.
    Rutgers punted 16 times.
    Rutgers was 0 for 17 on 3rd down conversions.
    Michigan ran the ball 56 times for 481 yards and 9 TDs.

I understand that Michigan has a really good team and that Jim Harbaugh plays the game to the hilt. Nevertheless, that sort of domination is what you might expect if Michigan were playing a sacrificial lamb brought in for a Homecoming Game. Rutgers is – nominally – a Big 10 conference opponent. It has always been transparent that the “value added” brought to the Big10 by Rutgers is the exposure of the conference in the NY/Philly TV market. On that note, I wonder how many TV sets lingered on that game in that broadcast area when the score was 43-0 at the half.

By the way, I have not cherry-picked this rout as a reason to pick on Rutgers – – although now that I look at it, one could make an interesting play on words by referring to the team as “Routgers”. Rutgers has played 3 Big 10 Conference games so far this year:

    The cumulative score for those 3 games has been 150 – 7.

    Only Cumberland College thinks that is a respectable score.

Dwight Perry took note of this game and Rutgers’ ineptitude on the field this year in the Seattle Times last week:

“Rutgers has already played Ohio State, Michigan and Washington — the 2-4-5 teams in the AP football poll — and lost by an average score of 61-4.

“What, the New England Patriots weren’t available?”

Meanwhile, Ohio State cruised to another easy win last week over Indiana by a score of 38-17. The Ohio State defense dominated here holding Indiana to only 281 yards on offense and just a tad over 4 yards per offensive play. Michigan and Ohio state rank #1 and #2 in the country in total defense at this point in the season. Maybe I should look forward to taking the UNDER when those squads play each other…?

Iowa beat Minnesota 14-7. This was a truly ugly game; I got to see part of it and actually opted to change over to watch Notre Dame/NC State play in the midst of Hurricane Matthew (see below). Minnesota QB, Mitch Leidner, completed on 13 passes on 33 attempts. The score of this game is interesting in the context of the Michigan/Rutgers game.

    Iowa beat Rutgers 14-7
    Iowa beat Minnesota 14-7.
    Minnesota takes on Rutgers on 22 October …

BYU beat Michigan St. – in E. Lansing no less – by a score of 31-14. This season is an ebb tide for the Spartans; recall that they have been a Top Ten team for the last two years. This puts Michigan St. on a 3-game losing streak.

Penn St. beat Maryland 38-14. The Nittany Lions ran the ball down Maryland’s throat gaining 372 yards on the ground. Saquon Barkley gained more than 200 of those rushing yards.

Purdue beat Illinois 34-31. Purdue – sometimes referred to as Pur-don’t or Pur-can’t – has a record of 3-26 in their last 29 Big 10 Conference games. Two of those three wins came at the expense of Illinois AT ILLINOIS. Lovie Smith took over the Illinois program after the Tampa Bay Bucs showed him the door at the end of the NFL season. As of this morning, Lovie Smith’s Fightin’ Illini are 1-4 with the victory coming in Week 1 over Murray State.

    A bit of foreshadowing here … this week, Illinois travels east to take on Rutgers in Piscataway NJ.

    The number of interested observers for this game could fit in a corner booth at your local Waffle House.

In ACC action, NC State beat Notre Dame 10-3 in the midst of a rain band associated with Hurricane Matthew. TV contracts notwithstanding, this game should not have happened at that time and at that place. The game was a travesty. Attendance for the game was reported as 58,200.

    1. Given how many empty seats there were, if 58,200 people were in the stands, then the stadium probably seats at least 150,000.

    2. Can there really be that many numbskulls in the State of North Carolina who cannot recognize the need to come in out of the rain?

Clemson beat BC 56-10. This game had an angle to it that failed to materialize. Two weeks ago, Clemson played a tough game against Louisville that went down to the wire. One might imagine that the Tigers might be at something less than “peak emotion” for this game – particularly at the start – and BC does have a good defense. Well, that sort of speculation went down the drain when Clemson ran off to a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter…

Pitt beat Georgia Tech 37-34. In the closing minute, Pitt got into field goal territory and – as time expired – kicked a field goal that hit the upright and bounced through the uprights for the winning score. The Pitt kicker is named Chris Blewit. In this case, Chris did not blow it…

Florida State beat Miami 20-19. The margin of victory in this game was a blocked PAT attempt by the Seminoles. Back in the Bobby Bowden Era at Florida State, games between these school were often decided by the kicking game success and failure; Florida State was usually on the short side of those scores back then.

Over in the Big 12, TCU escaped what would have been a huge upset beating Kansas 24-23. TCU was a Ponderosa favorite at 28.5 points. Moreover, it took a 10-point rally in the 4th quarter for the Horned Frogs to eke out this win. As is often the case with bad football teams, they invent ways to prevent themselves from winning. In this contest, Kansas missed 3 field goals in the 4th quarter any one of which would have provided a winning margin.

Oklahoma beat Texas 45-40. That continues the Longhorns’ defensive woes despite the fact that Charlie Strong demoted his defensive coordinator prior to this game and took over the defensive play-calling. If you want to try to put a shine on this, those 45 points allowed by Texas is the lowest total for the year save for a squash-game against UTEP in early September. Look at these offensive stats for 3 Oklahoma players:

    QB, Baker Mayfield was 22-31 for 390 yards and 3 TDs
    RB, Samaje Perine carried 35 times for 214 yards and 2 TDs
    WR, Dede Westbrook caught 10 passes for 232 yards and 3 TDs

Texas ranks 110th in the country in yards allowed per offensive play; they give up 6.38 yards per snap. Here is some perspective for you with regard to that stat:

    The team ranked just below Texas in that category gives up 6.40 yards per snap.

    The team ranked just below Texas is … Rutgers.

I do not want to let Oklahoma’s win here pass without mentioning that the Sooners’ defense has not been sterling recently. In Oklahoma’s last three games, they have given up 45 points, 46 points and 40 points. The good news is they still managed to win 2 of those 3 games…

K-State beat Texas Tech 44-38. For these two teams, that is a low-scoring game. If someone had told me that was the score with 5 minutes left to play in the 3rd quarter, I would have believed it. K-State had a Pick Six and a kick return for a TD in this game.

Oklahoma St. beat Iowa St. 38-31. [Aside: I just knew that “State” would win this one.] The Iowa St. offense is showing signs of life this year; they led Oklahoma St. by 17 points in the 3rd quarter – as they had against Baylor the week before. Then they found a way to lose the game. However, at least they were still “within shouting distance” as time expired.

In the SEC, Tennessee finally dug themselves a hole they did not crawl out of. They fell behind Texas A&M by 21 points in the 3rd quarter and scrambled back to force the game into double OT. However, the Aggies won 45-38 as the beneficiaries of 5 lost fumbles by the Vols plus 2 INTs thrown. Life does not get any easier for Tennessee this week; Alabama comes calling on Saturday afternoon (see below).

Alabama beat Arkansas 49-30 prompting the Arkansas professor to demonstrate his level of maturity as noted above. Arkansas gained 400 yards in the air for the game; since the Razorbacks are normally a power running offense, you might look at that and think that they were in a good position to win the game. Not so; Alabama was in control here. Alabama averaged 10.1 yards per play in this game.

This year, the Alabama offense is something more than it was last year. In 2015, Bama ranked 49th in the country in yards per play; in 2016 they rank 14th. Now before you think there has been a seismic shift at Alabama, the typical defense you have come to expect there is still on the map. Against Arkansas last week the defense did its part:

    Alabama scored 28 points off turnovers.

    Fourteen of those points came on a Pick Six and a Scoop-and-Score.

Auburn beat Mississippi St. 38-14. The game was in Starkeville, MS and the score at halftime was 35-0. Kamryn Petway ran 39 times in this game for 169 yards and 3 TDs. Auburn is 4-2 for the year and they have 1 loss in conference play. They have a BYE Week this week and then 4 SEC games before their “scrimmage game” prior to the Iron Bowl Game.

In the PAC-12, Washington made it clear that its big win over Stanford 2 weeks ago was not an aberration; Washington is here to stay. Last week, the Huskies went to Eugene OR and beat Oregon 70-21. Washington amassed 682 yards of offense, 378 yards on the ground and gained 9.4 yards per offensive play; that is a butt-stomping win. After beating Stanford by 38 points last week, this win has to get the attention of the CFP Selection Committee. Even after you acknowledge that Stanford and Oregon may not be as good as they have been for the last couple of years, the Huskies are 6-0 on the season and have outscored their opponents 297-92.

Meanwhile, in the southeast corner of the State of Washington, the Washington State Cougars are attracting attention too. Last week, they beat Stanford 42-16 and they led all the way. As noted above in the “Best Picks” from last week, Stanford was a 7.5-point favorite here. Washington St. controlled the line of scrimmage in the game; in prior years, that was Stanford’s territory. Just as Washington had done the week before, the defensive game plan clearly focused on containing Christian McCaffrey – and it worked again. McCaffrey had only 8 rushes for 35 yards and Stanford had no other productive options to turn to. The blueprint for how to beat Stanford is out there for teams to try to follow.

    Circle “25 November” on the calendar. That is the date of The Apple Cup Game between Washington and Washington St. It could be an excellent – and an important – game this year.

USC beat Colorado 21-17 despite turning the ball over 4 times. It would appear as if the power in the PAC-12 resides in the North Division this year and not the South.

Arizona St. beat UCLA 23-20. There is a horribly embarrassing stat for UCLA coming out of this game:

    Total yards rushing for the game = minus-1 yard.


Lest you think that Arizona St. conjured up a defense for this game, the Sun Devils gave up 444 yards passing here. Meanwhile the UCLA defense did its job holding Arizona St to 275 yards of offense on 54 offensive plays. There were 7 turnovers in the game – 4 of them by UCLA.

There is a junior WR at Western Kentucky named Necarius Fant. If he had a brother, I wonder if they might have named him Nefarious Fant…?

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 3 Ponderosa games. The favorites covered in only 1 of those games; the weekly record was 1-2-0 bringing the season record for favorites covering in Ponderosa games to 26-20-0.

Michigan covered.

Ohio St. and TCU did not cover.

This week we have 5 Ponderosa Games:

(Fri Nite) Duke at Louisville – 35 (72): The spread here opened the week at 31 points and it has risen steadily all week. You can find it at 35.5 points at 2 sportsbooks this morning.

Bowling Green at Toledo – 31.5 (71): The spread opened at 24 points and the total Line opened at 67. Just what I want to see on my weekend in Las Vegas – – a Ponderosa Game in the MAC.

So. Mississippi at LSU – 25 (57.5): The Ed Orgeron Era marches on in Baton Rouge.

Kansas at Baylor – 35 (67): Two weeks in a row for Kansas as the dog in a Ponderosa Game. Last week they only lost to TCU by 1-point. This week …?

Colorado St. at Boise St – 31 (60): Colorado State’s green and white uniforms will definitely clash with the blue turf on the field in Boise.

The SHOE Teams:

I got an e-mail from the reader – and sports stat guru – in Houston telling me that had its own version of the SHOE Tournament. Actually, what has is a listing of the Top 25 teams each week and another listing of the Bottom 25 teams. The author, Tom Fornelli, has his own math to do the rankings but he does not propose an on-field tournament the way I do where the only way to advance is to keep on losing.

You can find this week’s ranking of the Bottom 25 here.

The SHOE Tournament Selection Committee (Me) is keeping an eye on several games this week and one of them is the Idaho/New Mexico St. game. Yes, I know that Idaho has 3 wins this year but this is a game between two perennial bottom-feeders. Moreover, these are the 2 teams that the Sun Belt is kicking out of that bottom-feeding conference as a step toward upgrading that miserable conference. Tom Fornelli and I may be the only people paying attention to that game…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Memphis – 11 at Tulane (53.5): If you only look at scores, you would think that Tulane has a good defense; they have given up only 114 points in 5 games. Even more interesting is that Tulane ranks 13th in the country in total defense – one notch below Alabama. However, they have played a pillow-soft schedule – with the exception of Navy. Memphis is 4-1 for the season and while they have not exactly played a string of Top Ten teams, they have played much better opposition. Moreover, they scored 28 points against SEC contender Ole Miss. I think Tulane is over its head here. I’ll take Memphis and lay the points.

(Fri Nite) Mississippi St. at BYU – 7 (58): I do not see where the 59th point will come from in this game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Western Michigan – 11 at Akron 72): W. Michigan is 6-0 for the season and have beaten 2 teams from the Big 10 (Illinois and Northwestern). Akron is 4-2 but those 4 wins have not come at the expense of any recognizable names. Just as my reasoning in the Memphis/Tulane game above, I think the road team here is on a higher plateau than the home team. Akron gives up 467 yards per game; W. Michigan gives up 346.7 yards per game. I’ll take W. Michigan and lay the points.

Iowa – 12.5 at Purdue (50.5): This is a test for Iowa. Purdue is not any good. Iowa has been more than merely disappointing so far this year. After this game, Iowa is looking at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in a tandem. They need a big win here to give them some confidence down the road. I’ll take Iowa and lay the points.

Illinois – 6 at Rutgers (53.5): The SHOE Committee has interest in this game. No one else ought to…

Iowa St. at Texas – 13.5 (69): Let me review the Texas defensive stats for a moment:

    Texas gives up 477.2 yards per game – – 115th in the country
    Texas ranks 99th in the country in pass defense
    Texas ranks 64th in the country in rush defense
    Texas gives up 39.6 points per game – – 118th in the country.

I am not trying to say that Iowa St. is a great team or that it can go down to Texas and win this game. However, I wonder how Texas is going to slow down the Iowa St. offense and keep them off the scoreboard. I’ll take this game to go OVER.

UNC at Miami (FL) – 7 (64.5): Carolina laid an egg last week against Va Tech on a soggy field. I think the Tar Heels get back to playing their normal football this week which is to say score a bunch and give up a bunch. I like UNC plus the points here.

Northwestern at Michigan St. – 4 (42): Both teams are having disappointing seasons. This game has no wagering interest, but it will be interesting to see which team has fallen the most.

K-State at Oklahoma – 11 (59): I cannot lay that many points because Oklahoma’s defense gives up too many points – but I do think Oklahoma will win the game. So, I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Nebraska – 3 at Indiana (56): The spread opened the week at 7 points and dropped quickly to this level. Indiana is 3-2 with a “surprise win” over Michigan St. and a “dismal loss” to Wake Forest. Nebraska is undefeated (5-0); they have won 4 of those 5 games by double digits. Nebraska gives up 17.6 points per game – 15th best in the country; Indiana gives up 25 points per game – 51st in the country. I like Nebraska to win and cover here.

Missouri at Florida – 13.5 (50.5): I do not think Missouri can score much against a very good Florida defense (11.6 points per game and #3 in the country). By the same token, I do not think Florida will score a whole lot here either; the Gators rank 67th in the country in points per game. I like this game to stay UNDER.

W. Virginia at Texas Tech – 1 (83): Check out a few stats here:

    Tech averages 55.2 points per game – – 2nd in the country
    WVU averages 29 points per game – – 66th in the country.

Looks like a rout is about to happen … until you look here:

    Texas Tech gives up 38.6 points per game – – 116th in the country
    WVU gives up 20 points per game – – 27th in the country.

I expect a lot of points in this game – – but I am not going to play a Total Line that high. The game will be interesting to watch but not to wager on.

Florida Atlantic at Marshall – 11 (64): The SHOE Committee is watching …

Texas-San Antonio – 3.5 at Rice (57): The SHOE Committee is focused like laser on this baby …

Alabama – 12.5 at Tennessee (58): The script for a Tennessee game this season has been for the Vols to fall behind by 3 scores in the first half and then rally furiously to win at the end – except for the Texas A&M game last week where it went to OT but the Vols lost. If they fall behind to Alabama by 3 scores, I think they are toast. Tennessee has 1 conference loss so far. Despite being undefeated in SEC games at 3-0, Alabama has to deal with Texas A&M in the SEC West and the Aggies are 4-0 in conference. I will take this game to stay UNDER.

Ole Miss – 7.5 at Arkansas (67): Arkansas rushes for 176.3 yards per game. Ole Miss gives up 215.4 yards per game. That seems to me to be a recipe for the home team to control the clock and the game. I’ll take Arkansas plus the points here.

Arizona St. at Colorado – 13 (60): Arizona St. shut down any semblance of a rushing attack by UCLA last week (see above). As of today, Arizona St. has the 3rd best rushing defense in the country. Colorado is a middling team running the football. If Colorado is to cover here, they will have to do it in the air. The Buffaloes gain 306 yards per game in the air ranking 21st in the country. Arizona State’s pass defense is the worst in the country giving up an average of 404.3 yards per game. I like this game to go OVER.

Florida International – 5 at Charlotte (56): A SHOE Committee game of interest …

Stanford at Notre Dame – 3 (54): Back in August, I thought this might be the Game of the Week. Not even close … Yes, Notre Dame held NC State to only 10 points last week, but please recall that the game was played on a field with standing water and in a driving rain (see above). The Irish defense is still very suspect. Meanwhile, Stanford has lost two in a row and both have been decisive losses. I like this game to go OVER.

Ohio State – 10.5 at Wisconsin (44.5): This is an important game – and it should be a good game. Wisconsin gives up only 12.2 points per game – 4th in the country. Ohio State sees that and raises because the Buckeyes only give up 10.8 points per game – 2nd in the country. Wisconsin is 7th in the country in rush defense; Ohio State is 9th. Passing defense is where there is a discrepancy; Ohio State gives up 148.6 yards per game (5th in the country) while Wisconsin gives up 201 yards per game (35th in the country). Wisconsin always enjoys a home field advantage and that is where the game will take place. Purely a venue call, I’ll take Wisconsin plus the points.

New Mexico St. at Idaho – 5 (67.5): SHOE Committee game between teams not good enough to be part of the Sun Belt Conference …

UCLA at Washington St. – 7 (No Total Line): There is no Total Line – and there are no spreads at several sportsbooks – for this game because the status of UCLA starting QB, Josh Rosen is unknown. He left the Arizona St. game last week and – like Charlie on the MTA – he did not return. If Rosen cannot play, I think Washington St. would be a good play here but we will not know that until sometime on Saturday.

USC – 8 at Arizona (64): This game means something to USC; they are still in the running for the PAC-12 South Division title even with 2 losses in conference. Arizona has little to play for; they are 2-4 for the season and those two wins are over Hawaii and Grambling St. This is not one of the great USC teams but it is a better team than Arizona. I’ll take USC to win and cover here.

Utah – 9 at Oregon St. (43): The Oregon St. offense ranks 104th in the country. Utah’s defense ranks 32nd in the country. Looks like a mismatch there. Compound the problem here with the fact that the Oregon St. defense is similarly inept ranking 92nd in the country. Utah is also in contention in the PAC-12 South Division and they have already beaten USC head-to-head. I like Utah here to win and cover.

Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald about the Nebraska Homecoming festivities:

The 2016 homecoming theme? “There’s no place like Nebraska.” On the originality scale, this may be slightly lacking. Second choice for a theme was “Go Big Red!” Also in contention? “Football! Red! Yeaaaaa!”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/16/16

I realize that these picks are a day earlier than has been the schedule so far this year. The reason is simple. This weekend is my Annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas and I will need to leave at zero-dark-thirty on Friday morning necessitating an early bedtime on Thursday night.

A few – and I do mean A FEW – of these Mythical Picks will morph themselves into actual wagers on actual NFL games depending on line movements and vibrations that I get from the world ether once I am in the sportsbook itself.

Last week was a positive week for NFL Mythical Picks. I made 13 selections and the record for the week was 7-5-1. That brings the record for the season to 45-32-1.

The Best Picks of the Week were:

    Falcons +6 against Broncos. Falcons won straight up by a TD.
    Cowboys +1.5 against Bengals. Cowboys won straight up by 2 TDs.

The Worst Picks of the Week were:

    Rams -2 against Bills. Bills won by 11 points.
    Cards/Niners UNDER 43. Total score was 55 points.

The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol did not have a productive week. Last week, the coin went 0-2-0 making its cumulative record 4-4-0. That is pretty much what one ought to expect from flipping a coin…

Notwithstanding the positive results from last week, no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this weekend. Here is how stupid you would have to be to do something like that:

    You think a Milk Dud is a cow that gives no milk.

General Comments:

Last week, Frank Gore passed Jim Brown on the list of all-time rushers in the NFL. Gore has had a career that is very unusual. While he was at the University of Miami, he had to sit out two full seasons as he had reconstructive surgery on both knees. Running backs get injured in the NFL and it surely appeared as if he were coming to the league “pre-injured” and so he fell in the draft to the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft; the Niners were the team that took him then. During his pro career, he has “had work done” on both of his shoulders; but his knees have held up just fine.

In his 11 seasons, here are some of Frank Gore’s stats:

    2780 rushing attempts
    12,368 yards gained
    41 fumbles

Gore is now in 9th place on the list of all-time NFL rushers; in the last year he has passed the likes of Jim Brown, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James and Marcus Allen on that list. At the moment he stands 372 yards behind Tony Dorsett for 8th place on the list; his career average is 73.2 yards per game meaning we can expect him to reach that milestone early in the Colts’ game against the Steelers on 24 November.

One other thing I like about Frank Gore is his nickname. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that he is not former Vice President, Al Gore’s sibling, Frank Gore’s nickname is:

    The Inconvenient Truth.

The NFL week began with a Thursday Night game that was painful to watch. The Cards beat the Niners 33-21; but as I watched the game, it never really crossed my mind as to which team would be the winner. To a large extent, the Niners could hang this loss on the play of QB, Blaine Gabbert; he threw 2 INTs and both gave the Cards a very short field to work with. Gabbert’s stat line was:

    18 for 31 for 164 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs

Let me be clear here; those INTs were an important part of this game because the Cards’ offense with Drew Stanton in the pilot’s seat was not exactly fearsome. What Stanton did was to avoid the big mistake. That was what he needed to do and his stat line got the job done despite not being eye-popping:

    11 for 28 for 124 yards

[Aside: Gabbert was not the only cause for defeat however. The Niners “pass-catchers” morphed into “pass-droppers” on more than a couple of occasions in the game.]

I mention this situation and those stats because the Niners are going to switch QBs this week and put Colin Kaepernick in the game against the Bills in Buffalo. A lot of fans think it is high time this change was made and conspiracy theorists have come up with their own “explanation” for why Kaepernick has yet to see the field. No, it has nothing to do with his “anthem protest” …

Evidently, there is a clause in Kaepernick’s contract (total value = $114M) that guarantees his 2017 salary at $14.3M if he sustains an injury this year that carries on past April 1, 2017. This is similar to the situation the Skins faced last year with RG3 where an injury would have put them on the hook to play RG3 something north of $16M this year had he been injured last year. To assure that he did not get injured, he only dressed for 1 game last year and did not come close to playing in that game.

Those conspiracy theorists will have their concept bolstered by reports early this week that Colin Kaepernick has agreed to “restructure” his contract and subsequent to those reports came the announcement that he would start on Sunday. Who knows? The conspiracy theorists might be right…

I think there are two very pragmatic – and less nefarious – ways to view the confluence of events that led to Chip Kelly’s decision this week given the sub-standard performance(s) of Blaine Gabbert in the past couple of games:

    1. Lots of people think Kaepernick is the sort of player who would be a great fit for Kelly’s helter-skelter offense. Perhaps Kelly thinks he might be “the guy” for “the system” but is not sufficiently convinced that he wants to take a $14.3M gamble on him. So the conversion of some of that guaranteed money into readily attainable incentives might be a part of the decision. Injuries are a fact of life for NFL QBs. In Kelly’s system, they are a clear and present danger.

    2. Perhaps Kelly is convinced that Kaepernick is NOT “the guy” for “the system”; perhaps he has seen enough to have made that decision. Naturally, he would not broadcast that because he would prefer to trade Kaepernick and get something in return in lieu of just releasing him. However, that “injury clause” might be making Kaepernick “untradeable” so the removal of that clause does two things for Kelly:

      a. He can play Kaepernick and “showcase him” to the league

      b. He can play Kaepernick and let Kaepernick try to prove that he can really be “the guy” for “the system” – – without that Sword of Damocles hanging over the team’s salary cap.

Moving on … The Falcons beat the Broncos 23-16 in Denver. The Falcons are 4-1 and have now beaten the two teams that played in the Super Bowl last February on successive weekends. Two weeks ago, Matt Ryan threw for 500+ yards in a game and Julio Jones caught and ran for 300 of those passing yards. Last week, Jones and Ryan connected only twice in the game for a total of 29 yards; last week, it was the Falcons’ RBs that put the hurt on the Broncos:

    Devonta Freeman ran for 88 yards (and a TD) and added another 35 yards receiving.

    Tevin Colman ran for 31 yards and added another 132 yards (and a TD) receiving.

Given the way the Falcons have played in the last two weeks, I have to wonder how they possibly lost to the Bucs in Week 1 of the year… The Broncos started rookie Paxton Lynch in this game and the Falcons’ defensive game plan was to shut down the Broncos’ run game and make Lynch beat them. The Broncos only gained 84 yards rushing (18 of which were from Lynch himself) and Lynch could not generate anything near enough in the passing game to make up for the lack of a rushing attack. The Broncos had a total of 78 yards of offense in the first half and only 267 yards on offense for the game.

The Packers beat the Giants by the same 23-16 score last week. The Giants total offense in this game was only 219 yards. Please recall that when the Giants parted company with Tom Coughlin last year, they promoted their offensive coordinator – Ben McAdoo – to the head chair to keep continuity on offense while the team sought to reinforce the defense in the offseason. Imagine if they had promoted the defensive coordinator… Aaron Rodgers was not his other-worldly self in this game; he threw 2 INTs and missed open receivers on about 3 occasions. But his performance was enough to win the game given a strong defensive showing by the Packers.

The Vikings dominated the Texans 31-13. The Vikings are the only remaining undefeated team in the league and their recipe for success is simple and straightforward:

    Field a smothering defense
    Do not turn the ball over. (Vikes have lost 1 fumble in 5 games and have thrown 0 INTs!)

Last week, the Vikes held Brock Osweiler to 19-42 for 184 yards. Osweiler did throw a TD pass but it came in “garbage time” when the Vikes led 31-6. A key stat for the game was that the Texans were 1 for 13 on 3rd down conversions.

The Texans sit atop the AFC South but all is not well in Houston. In 5 games, the Texans have scored 81 points. That may look bad on the surface, but here is how bad it really is:

    Only the Seahawks have scored fewer points this year. The Seahawks have scored 79 points – – but they did that if 4 games not 5 games.

    The Jags – hardly an offensive juggernaut – have scored 84 points in 4 games.

    The sorry-assed Browns have scored 87 points in 5 games.

With JJ Watt on the shelf, the Texans’ defense is not the dominant force it was last year. So this anemic offense is not a good omen for Houston fans.

Another game last week had the same 31-13 outcome. The Steelers trounced the Jets 31-13. The return of Le’Veon Bell over the last two games had been a big deal for the team. His running and his ability to catch short passes has opened up even more the downfield game for Ben Roethlisberger and the WRs. Roethlisberger’s stat line was 34 for 47 for 380 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Rookie Sammy Coates dropped 3 long bombs in this game; all of them hit him in both hands. Nevertheless, the Steelers coasted to a win.

Ryan Fitzpatrick played really well for the Jets in 2015; he has regressed to the mean so far this year. Is that because he and the Jets could not reach a contract agreement until late in the offseason or is that because he is merely a journeyman who had a career year in 2015 or perhaps – – both? The Jets need to find a way to figure out what they are going to do at the QB position in the future. They have 4 QBs on their roster. The question they need to answer is simple:

    Can any of them lead the Jets’ team to a playoff slot sometime in the near future?

    Geno Smith has never been very good.

    Can either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg play at a level even close to “NFL journeyman”?

The Pats beat the Browns 33-13 in the “Tom Brady Comeback Game”. Yes, it was an ass-kicking just as the score would indicate. In fact, the Browns were just as effective in this ass-kicking contest as a one-legged man. Tom Brady said he felt “rusty” out there; nonsense! Here was his stat line and I’ll just leave it at that:

    28 for 40 for 408 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs

By the way, this was the 227th career win for Bill Belichick as a head coach and that win allowed him to pass Curly Lambeau – yes THAT Lambeau – and puts Belichick in 4th place on the all-time win list for coaches.

The Browns started 3rd string QB, Cody Kessler in the game but he got hurt so Charlie Whitehurst took over. Then Whitehurst got hurt later in the game to the point that the Browns have released him and paid him an “injury settlement”. Perhaps Kessler can play this week, but if he cannot the Browns have elevated Kevin Hogan from their practice squad to the main roster. Hogan was a 5th round pick in the NFL Draft this year; he was the QB at Stanford last year.

The Titans spanked the Dolphins 30-17 last week – but it really wasn’t that close. The Titans focus their offense on running the ball; they have run the ball 148 times in 5 games. Moreover, they average 5 yards per rushing attempt. Meanwhile, the Dolphins rank 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense. The Dolphins give up 150.8 yards per game and 754 total yards rushing. Added to the obvious ability to control the game and the pace of the game, Titans’ QB Marcus Mariota threw for 3 TDs last week. The Dolphins scored 17 points, but one TD came on a punt return so their offense was nothing to crow about. One reason the offense was stifled is that Ryan Tannehill was sacked 6 times…

The Skins beat the Ravens in Baltimore 16-10. The last time the Skins won a game in Baltimore was a win over the Baltimore Colts in 1955. Skins’ QB, Eddie LeBaron, had 2 TD runs of 1 yard each in that game. George Shaw was the QB for the Colts then – John Unitas had not yet arrived in Baltimore – and two of the RBs for the Colts then were Alan Ameche and Buddy Young. It had been a while …

Last week was the second week in a row where the Skins were the beneficiaries of “strangeness”. Two weeks ago against the Browns, the Skins allegedly recovered aa fumble despite the fact that a Cleveland Brown’s player was standing up and holding the ball as the referees sorted out the pile up to find who in the pile had the ball that wasn’t there. Last week, Kirk Cousins threw an INT from his own 3 yardline but the Raven defender seeking to reach the ball over the pylon fumbled it out of the end zone giving the ball back to the Skins on a touchback at their 20 yardline. In essence, the Skins gained 17 yards by throwing an INT and not recovering the ensuing fumble. If the Skins continue to get those sorts of breaks for the rest of the year, they are going to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman this week and elevated Marty Morninwheg to the job. Joe Flacco was 30 for 46 in this game – – but for only 210 yards. That is not typical; Flacco normally throws the ball down the field.

There was one other goofy play in the game. The Ravens decided to try a fake field goal. That is not goofy; teams try that on more than one occasion. However, this play was designed such that the Ravens right-footed kicker, Justin Tucker, had to line up in a left-footed stance. That sort of took the “element of surprise” out of the equation…

The Lions beat the Eagles 24-23 despite the fact that the Eagles held the Lions to less than 250 yards offense in the game. The problem for the Eagles is that they turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes and you do not win games playing that way…

The Cowboys beat the Bengals 28-14 and it was a thrashing. The Bengals’ defensive line and linebackers were pushed around for most of the day. Ezekiel Elliott ran wild (15 attempts for 134 yards and 2 TDs) and the Cowboys’ defense – not the team’s long suit to be sure – held the Bengals scoreless for 3 quarters.

The Bills beat the Rams 30-19. LeSean McCoy ran for 150 yards on 18 carries against a good Rams’ defensive line. The fact that Rams’ QB, Case Keenum threw 2 INTs helped seal the deal here…

The Raiders beat the Chargers 34-31 last week. Before mentioning anything about this game specifically, please consider this unusual stat regarding the Chargers:

    The Chargers have outscored their opponents in their 5 games 152-142 and yet, their record is 1-4.

    No other team in the league with a 1-4 record is even close to breaking even on “points for” versus “points allowed.”

Once again last week, the Chargers had a chance to tie the game with a late field goal but the snap sailed through the holder’s hands and … oh well. The Raiders are winning close games with positive plays late in games this year; the Chargers are losing close games with dismal plays late in games this year. It is as simple as that… Philip Rivers had 359 yards passing and 4 TDs here – – but he also threw 2 INTs. Add to those turnovers, two lost fumbles – one from Antonio Gates and another from Melvyn Gordon – and you see how the Chargers’ season has been unfolding.

[Aside: After the game, Melvyn Gordon attributed his lost fumble to “lack of focus”. In a close game, I wonder how a player “loses focus”. After all, an NFL offensive player is on the field for less than 30 minutes per week. It would seem to me that “maintaining focus” for that amount of time should be a piece of cake.]

The Colts beat the Bears 29-23 last week. I know I have been harping on how bad the Colts’ defense is but last week they almost outdid themselves. They allowed Brian Hoyer to throw for 397 yards and 2 TDs and they gave up a total of 552 yards of total offense. We are talking about Brian Hoyer here and not Dan Marino. The Colts survived that no-show by the defense with 2 TDs from Andrew Luck and 5 FGs by Adam Vinitieri who may have learned how to kick from Pete Gogolak.

In an abjectly horrid MNF game, the Bucs beat the Panthers 17-14. Normally, close games are interesting because each possession can represent a lead change. Not this one; each possession portended a new way for the offense to find a way to do nothing meaningful or interesting with the possession. The Panthers turned the ball over 4 times; Bucs’ kicker Roberto Aguayo missed 2 easy FGs – before making the game winner as time expired. The Panthers’ defensive line looked dominant for most of last season; on Monday night they looked extremely ordinary.

There was no line on this game when I posted last week’s Mythical Picks so I could not make a selection; however, I did say that I thought Derek Anderson would start at QB for the Panthers and that it would be a low-scoring game. That does not count as a successful Mythical Pick, but I do believe I had this game pegged.

Before getting to this week’s games, let me point out that both NFL teams from NYC have lost 3 games in a row. Forget for a moment the angst and the frustration of the fans. Put yourself in the position of the guys at the two NYC tabloids who have to decide which team to insult on the back page of those tabloids. That has to be a tough call …

The Games:

There are 2 teams with BYE Weeks:

    The Vikes get a week off and will be toasts of the town in the Twin Cities.

    The Bucs get a week off and a few folks in Tampa may even notice.

(Thurs Nite) Denver – 3 at San Diego (45): We know one thing for sure about this game:

    Gary Kubiak will not be the head coach for the game; he is suffering from a “migraine condition” and will miss this game. The Broncos’ special teams’ coordinator will act as the head coach on Thursday night.

Here is a key thing we do not yet know about this game:

    Can Trevor Siemian play here or is this another start for Paxton Lynch?

My interpretation of the 3-point spread here is that the oddsmakers believe that Siemian will not be ready to go in the game and/or if he can go in the game he will not be anywhere near peak efficiency. I do not think that the Chargers can shut down the Broncos’ running game the way the Falcons did last week; therefore, no matter who the QB for the Broncos may be, the team will not be one-dimensional on offense. I like the Broncos to rebound here. I’ll take the Broncos to win and cover – even on the road.

Cincy at New England – 8.5 (47): When I looked at the list of games, I thought this might be the Game of the Week. It should be a good one, but not the best one. The Bengals are up against it; they are 2-3 for the season putting them in 3rd place in the AFC North. Moreover, they have lost their only division game and that record is an early tie-breaker; they need this game badly. The Pats are in first place in the AFC East and seem to be making do with a “rusty” Tom Brady at QB (see above). Last week, Brady had some “extra motivation” coming off his suspension; this week the entire Pats’ squad should have some “extra motivation” because their last game at home was a loss to the Bills in a shutout. I think the Bengals are overmatched and in a bad spot here. I’ll take the Pats and lay the points.

Baltimore at Giants – 3 (43.5): Purely a hunch, but I think both offenses can wake up here against these defenses. I like this game to go OVER.

Carolina – 3 at New Orleans (53): Speaking of waking up, if the Panthers’ offense cannot wake up against this defense, they will return to their status in these rants as the “Pantloads”. Given that I have no idea who will play QB for the Panthers in this game, I will turn the proceedings over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol. The coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. Why not?

Pittsburgh – 8.5 at Miami (47): At first glance, this looks like an easy pick. The Steelers with Le’Veon Bell should run the ball down the throat of the Dolphins bad run defense (see above). Add Ben Roethlisberger versus Ryan Tannehill to the equation and the matchup looks even more lopsided. So, how come the spread is only 8.5 points? The reason the line started at 7.5 points and has only inched up a tad is this:

    The Steelers are much better at home than they are on the road.

This is a trap game for the Steelers; next week they can prepare to host the Patriots in Heinz Field. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Dolphins plus the points.

Jax at Chicago – 2.5 (46.5): Such a bad game – – but still not the Dog-Breath Game of the Week… There is a whiff of a QB controversy in Chicago between Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler. The Bears are not a good enough team to deal with controversy and an opposing team. Unless, of course, that opposing team is the erratic Jags. Key question for the Jags’ offense:

    How many times will Blake Bortles throw the ball to a guy in the wrong colored jersey?

Do not watch this game and do not bet on this game. I am turning it over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol, and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

SF at Buffalo – 8 (44): The Ryan Brothers can be counted on to do one thing in every game they coach and that is to get after the opposing QB. Colin Kaepernick will be the target this week; he had better be in good sprinting shape and prepared to get the ball out of his hands quickly because the Bills will be coming after him. I think he will make a couple of big plays in the game meaning that the Niners will score a few points. That makes me uncomfortable taking the Bills with the spread so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

LA at Detroit – 3 (43): The Rams’ strength is their defense – particularly the front 7. The Rams have some injuries this week in the front 7. Therefore, how reliable can the Rams be on the road even against a team that is mediocre. Make this a venue call; I like the Lions to win and cover.

Cleveland at Tennessee – 7 (43.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the YEAR. I will be in a sportsbook in Las Vegas this weekend and I still will pay no attention to this howler. The Browns’ run defense is better than the Dolphins’ run defense – – but it is still not good. There is no way I want to take the Browns here but I also do not want to lay a full TD with a Titans’ team that will not be favored by this much again this year unless they schedule a Sun Belt team during their BYE Week. I’ll take the game to go OVER only because I said I would make a pick in every game.

Philly – 2.5 at Washington (44.5): The spread opened with the Skins as 1.5-point favorites; it flipped to the Eagles’ side almost immediately and as of now you can actually find the Eagles as 3-point favorites at one Internet sportsbook. In addition, the Total Line opened at 46.6 and dropped to this level very quickly. The absence of Lane Johnson on the Eagles’ OL is important; he is suspended until Week 16 this year. I like the Skins at home plus the points here. I also like this game to go OVER.

KC at Oakland “pick ‘em” (47): The Chiefs and the Raiders as a “pick ‘em game” harkens back to the 1970s. I like the Chiefs – under Andy Reid – after a BYE Week; I also like the Raiders this year and the way they are winning close games with big plays. I cannot use the Coin Flip Protocol in a “pick ‘em game” so I’ll take the Chiefs to win on the road coming off a BYE Week.

Atlanta at Seattle – 6 (46): Here we have the Best Game of the Week. The Falcons have to cross the country to get to this venue after a satisfying – but hard-fought – win in Denver last week. Meanwhile Seattle had a BYE Week which can’t do anything but help Russell Wilson’s recuperating knee and ankle. Here is a stat about Russell Wilson and the Seahawks at home:

    Since his rookie year, Wilson and the Seahawks are 29-5 at home in the regular season.

I think both teams will score in this game. I like the game to go OVER.

Dallas at Green Bay – 4 (47.5): The spread opened at 7 points and dropped quickly to this level. The Cowboys can and do run the football; Green Bay has the top run defense in the NFL as of the moment. Who wins that confrontation? I think it is the Cowboys because the Green Bay run defense has not faced a top running team with its top personnel. Adrian Peterson went out in the first half; Ameer Abdullah did not play; the Giants had to go with both of their top runners on the sidelines. The Cowboys have not enjoyed much success in Cheese Country over the past few years, but I think they have a shot here. I like the Cowboys plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Indy at Houston – 3 (46): If Brock Osweiler cannot light up the Colts’ defense, then the Texans’ braintrust should commence a multi-year feeling of buyer’s remorse at a pro-rated $18M per year. Give the kid a pass for failing against the Vikes last week, but now we are more than a quarter of the way through the season and he gets a divisional foe at home who cannot play defense. That is his wake-up call. I will be watching this game simultaneously with the NLCS game on Sunday night from Wrigley Field. I think Osweiler plays well and I think Andrew Luck plays well so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Jets at Arizona – 7.5 (46.5): The Cards are 2-3 but have outscored opponents by 24 points so far this year. I assume Carson Palmer will be back for this game meaning that the Cards’ OL will have to be on its best performance behavior to keep him from taking any more shots from a good Jets’ DL. However, the Jets’ DL is the only thing on the team that is any good this year. I like the Cards to win big here. I’ll take the Cards at home to win and cover.

Finally, former NFL aspiring QB, Tim Tebow, was the subject of a comment by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald recently:

“Tim Tebow hit a home run on the first pitch of his pro baseball career. He thanked his offensive line for making it possible.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Baseball Attendance

I read a report about the ongoing actions to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg and/or to find them a new stadium site somewhere in that part of Florida. Underlying all of the various activities – and arm-waving to try to disguise the lack of any real activity – is a bleak set of stats:

    In 2016, the Rays had the lowest attendance in MLB – and by a sizeable deficit from the next-lowest attendance. The Rays drew 1,286,163 fans this year; that is 15,879 fans per game. The next lowest attendance was the Oakland A’s (no real surprise there) but the A’s drew 18.3% more fans than did the Rays. Oh, but it gets worse …

    In 2015, the Rays were also the worst draw in MLB and they drew even fewer fans in 2015 than they did in 2016.

    The Rays have finished last in MLB in attendance for 5 consecutive seasons.

One might be tempted to conclude that the Rays did not contend this year or last year in any meaningful way and therefore attendance ebbed naturally. Well, when the Rays played away games this year, they played to crowds that averaged just under 30,000 fans; they were enough of a draw on the road to attract fans of other teams to head on out to the ballpark.

St. Petersburg is in Pinellas County in Florida. A group called Baseball Forever is seeking ways to keep the team in St. Petersburg near where it is currently located. Other entities/individuals have put forth ideas for 10 other locations in Pinellas County where a new stadium might be sited. Will any of these plans provide the Rays with a larger and more reliable fanbase? I have no idea, but the lack of businesses and population centers within a 30-minute drive of Tropicana Field is quite often cited as a basis for the poor attendance over the years.

The various groups who think they have the “right place” for a new stadium cite these figures:

    816,000 people live within a 30-minute drive of Tropicana Field.

    Every other site mentioned in Pinellas County has more than 1,000,000 people living within a 30-minute drive of the proposed site.

I’m sorry, but that sort of argumentation leaves me cold. The Rays drew less than 16,000 fans per game last year. If 816,000 folks live within a 30-minute drive of the stadium, my interpretation is not that there are insufficient numbers of potential fans; my interpretation is that the people who live there are not baseball fans and would rather do something else with their time and discretionary expense money. Even if you assume that no one EVER drives more than 30 minutes to see a Rays’ game – clearly nonsensical – that means less than 2% of the “nearby folks” care enough to go see the games.

In the past, the Rays’ owners expressed an interest in having a downtown stadium in Tampa – which is not in Pinellas County. That suggestion/overture got some folks there looking into possibilities and that got a flurry of activity going on that side of Tampa Bay to include one suggestion to put a stadium out near Plant City which is along the Interstate east of Tampa. I have not heard or read anything about those sorts of activities/ideas for about a year now so maybe the “only game in town” is the “Pinellas County Lottery”. This is a situation that needs a solution…

Baseball attendance was basically flat this year; overall, MLB attendance was down 184 fans per game; total attendance in 2016 was 73,159,044. Seven teams drew more than 3 million fans for the season; the Red Sox almost did that drawing 2,955,434 which is a tad over 96% capacity at Fenway Park. Bad teams this year like the Braves and the Twins drew 700,000 more fans than did the Rays.

However, looking at the attendance figures for MLB this year, there were a couple of numbers that stood out:

    The Orioles only drew 2.17M fans (26,819 per game). The Orioles were in contention all year long and made the second wild card slot in the AL. Nevertheless, the Orioles attendance was DOWN an average of 2,427 fans per game as compared to 2015. What is going on there?

    The Tigers drew just under 2.5M fans (31.173 per game). They did not make the wild card slot bur were in contention for one of the slots until the final days of the season. Nevertheless, the Tigers’ attendance was DOWN an average of 2,483 per game. Say what?

    The Nationals drew 2.48M fans (30,641 per game). The Nats ran away and hid in the NL East; it was pretty obvious they would be in the playoffs in early August. Nevertheless, Nats’ attendance was DOWN 1,703 fans per game. Oh, by the way, living in the DC area I know that all season long there were promotional games and series where fans could buy-one-get-one free ticket deals and other series where seats were available for $10. And attendance was DOWN?

The Washington Business Journal also took note of the attendance slump for the Nats in this article. Local business journals/publications are very good sources of data although they rarely if ever paint any sort of bleak picture in their reporting. So I found it interesting – because it was unusual – for the lead paragraph to be:

“The Washington Nationals might be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence, but the 95-win regular season wasn’t necessarily a winner at the gate.”

Finally, earlier this season, Dwight Perry took note of a foul ball that landed in a funnel cake deep fryer during a game at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Here was his comment in the Seattle Times:

“In other words, it was a deep fry ball to left.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………

Origins Of On-Field “Jackassery”?

In a column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had this item:

“Curmudgeonly rant: With penalties for taunting up 220 percent compared to the first four weeks of last season, the NFL is taking steps to clarify the rules of deportment for the benefit of the obstreperous players. So this is how far we’ve sunk. There was a time when the primary rule governing on-field conduct was an obvious and unwritten one: don’t act like a jackass. Those days are long gone.”

I agree completely that the meaning of and the limits imposed by that simple unwritten rule are long gone – and perhaps even long forgotten. So I sent this e-mail message to Professor Molinaro:

“When did NFL on-field ‘jackassery’ begin?

    “Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson dancing in the end-zone?

    “Harold Carmichael spiking the ball in the end-zone after a D catch?

    “Mark Gastineau doing his sack dance’?

“I totally agree that it is getting out of hand but trying to define what is ‘excessive’ celebration and what is ‘taunting’ as opposed to ‘talking smack’ is a fool’s errand. Maybe that is a good thing because who better to set out on a fool’s errand than Roger Goodell and Dean Blandino and the rest of the suits in the NFL Front Office?”

I think the question as to the origins of excessive celebration is sufficiently interesting to pose it to the general audience here. My personal opinion is that Billy Johnson doing his end zone dance after returning a punt or a kickoff for a TD was the impetus for today’s ubiquitous end-zone celebrations. I think it was Mark Gastineau’s “sack dance” that set things on the course for “excessive celebration” because in many cases the sack that set the celebration in motion was not immediately impactful on the game. For example, he would celebrate a sack in the 4th quarter when the Jets were behind by 2 scores. Big deal…

I know others here will have cogent opinions/observations on this matter – – so have at it.

Having led off today with the issue of on-field jackassery, let me point to a recent NFL example of off-field jackassery. During the BYE Week prior to yesterday’s game in Detroit, the Eagles’ linebacker, Nigel Bradham, was arrested in Miami for carrying a loaded gun in his backpack in Miami airport. Earlier this year, Bradham was also arrested in South Florida for allegedly punching a hotel employee; his trial for assault and battery in that case is scheduled for January 2017.The Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, had coached Bradham in other stops in the NFL and had recommended that the Eagles bring Bradham to the team. However, Schwartz did get right down to the heart of this matter with this comment:

“You do enough dumb-ass things, pretty soon, you’re going to be labeled a dumb ass.”

I think coach Schwartz’ comment there has myriad application and it explains many of my sentiments with regard to people and institutions. For example, that explains pretty much the way I feel about the folks at the NCAA who write the silly eligibility rules and then enforce them stupidly. That pretty much explains how and why I think so poorly of the 535 members of the US Congress. I think this may be an important “principle” that will need invocation in the future and so I will declare that statement to be:

    The Schwartz Conjecture. reported last week that Johnny Manziel has now served his 4-game suspension and can therefore be signed by any NFL team and put on the field next Sunday should that team choose to do something that dumb. Somehow, the fact that Manziel was not under contract to any team in the league had nothing to do with starting the clock on his 4-game suspension. In fact, his “suspension” coincided with a stretch of 4 NFL games where no team wanted him to play in the first place. Not a lot of “deterrent value” in that there punishment, I would say…

Roger Goodell could suspend me for 4 games just the way Manziel was suspended for 4 games and the effect on me and the NFL would be exactly the same. Neither of us would care; none of you would care.

The Atlanta Falcons will have to give up 3 days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in 2017 because the team violated the work rules spelled out in the current CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Falcons let players “engage in excessive levels of on-field physical contact” back in May 2016. This provision of the rules was put there with the idea of promoting player safety in practice settings. You can read the rest of the account of this matter here.

Finally, since I began today talking about on-field jackassery and excessive celebrations, let me close with this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald on that subject:

“The NFL is cracking down on touchdown celebrations. I think it was the guy who did the 11-minute naked Lambada atop the goal post crossbar that pushed the commissioner over the edge.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/8/16

Last week was a not-so-good week of Mythical Picking; indeed, it could have been worse; most assuredly, it could have been better. The record for the week was 6-7-1 and that brings the record for the year to 41-37-1.

The Best Picks from last week were:

    Washington – 3 against Stanford. Washington won 44-6.
    Memphis/Ole Miss OVER 67.5. Total score was 76.

The Worst Picks from last week were:

    Duke – 3.5 against UVa. Duke lost straight up.
    Texas +2.5 against Ok. St. Texas lost by 18 points.

Despite the fact that I know it can be worse this week than last, I choose to keep a positive outlook and press on making these Mythical Picks. Obviously, the results over the past 3 weeks should not entice anyone to put a lot of faith in any of these selections. Nonetheless, I must remind everyone that nothing here is authoritative with regard to NCAA intercollegiate football games. No one should use anything here as the basis for making an actual wager on an actual college football game involving actual money this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do that:

    You think matricide involves pumping a couple of rounds into a mattress.

General Comments:

After losing the second game of their season to even their record at 1-1, the Linfield College Wildcats used a “bye week” to prepare for a game against Lewis and Clark. Whatever they did in that week off must have worked because Linfield prevailed in the game by a comfortable 59-7 margin. That is the first conference game for the Wildcats for this year.

This week, the Wildcats go on the road to Forest Grove, OR to take on the Boxers of Pacific University Oregon. The Boxers bring a 1-3 record to this Northwest Conference game. Go Wildcats!

At Dwight Perry’s suggestion, I am now also following the achievements of WR, Cooper Kupp at Division 1-AA Eastern Washington. The Eagles of Eastern Washington ran their record to 4-1 last week with a comfortable 63-30 victory over UC-Davis. E. Washington trailed at the half 23-14 but found a way to score 35 points in the 3rd quarter to put this game away. Cooper Kupp caught 12 passes for 274 yards and 2 TDs in the game. He also returned 2 punts for 32 yards. Sounds like a productive day to me …

This week the Eagles host Northern Colorado in Yakima, WA. Go Eagles!

I know it is only 4 games into the season, but Ohio State has yet to give up a rushing TD. In the past, you could accuse Ohio State of playing only cupcake opponents as they prepped for Big 10 play, but this year they played Oklahoma in Oklahoma. Moreover, Ohio State has only given up 37 points in 4 games this year. That is the sign of a tough defense…

Take a look at the college football teams that are undefeated and among that list you will find:

    Miami (FL)

When I look at that list, I have to wonder if perhaps Mr. Peabody set the Wayback Machine for some time in the mid-90s… As we head into mid-October, those 5 programs appear to be poised to re-establish themselves as top-shelf football programs in the US. It has been a while since all of them were “on top”.

I will have something else to say about the winless teams in college football as we head toward mid-October later on …

Houston did what it had to do last week; it beat a clearly inferior opponent soundly to maintain its credibility with the CFP Selection Committee. Houston and Louisville have a game later this year that will send one of the teams “Up” in the rankings and the other one “Down”. Last week, Houston handled UConn 42-14. Yes, it was that lop-sided…

BC beat Buffalo 35-3 last week. Neither the score nor the game is particularly interesting; what is interesting is this stat:

    Total offense for Buffalo for the entire game was 67 yards!

In SEC action last week, Tennessee rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Georgia 34-31. That makes 2 weeks in a row that Tennessee has rallied from big deficits to win an SEC game; two weeks ago, they trailed Florida by 21 points and still won the game.

Even more exciting than that comeback is the fact that both Tennessee and Georgia threw TD passes of more than 40 yards in the final 10 seconds of the game. That is the stuff of Hollywood scriptwriters not actual college football games. Tennessee is – for now – in the driver’s seat within the SEC East having wins over both Florida and Georgia. However, the Vols still have Texas A&M and Alabama on their dance card; neither of those games is what you would call a “gimmee” …

LSU beat Missouri 42-7. This is the first game for LSU in the “Ed Orgeron Era”. They did this without the services of Leonard Fournette who has a foot injury; not to worry, RB, Derrious Guice, filled in admirably running for 163 yards and 3 TDs in this game. Not to put too fine a point on it here, but beating Missouri is “expected” by the folks who give the money that determines the direction of the athletic program at LSU. What Ed Orgeron needs to do to establish a real “Ed Orgeron Era” in Baton Rouge is to beat Alabama by something akin to 42-7. Alabama will visit LSU on November 5. If you do not have that game circled on your calendar, let me suggest that Ed Orgeron and the LSU boosters do indeed have that game circled on their calendars.

Florida beat Vandy 13-6 last week. The Gators are a very good defensive team but they just are not balanced.

Texas A&M beat S. Carolina 24-13 last week. The Gamecocks – like the Florida Gators – have major issues on the offensive side of the ball. In this game, the starting QB for the Gamecocks had a total of 34 yards passing before he got yanked. Just to put some perspective on that number, the South Carolina punter had 36 yards passing in the game.

In the Big 10, Indiana beat Michigan State 24-21. This is the second loss of the season for Michigan State and both losses are conference losses. The Spartans lost to Wisconsin two weeks ago; there is surely no shame in that. Losing to Indiana is a slightly different story. In the history of the Big 10 Conference, Indiana has been the conference champion exactly twice. The first time was in 1945; the last time was in 1967.

Iowa lost to Northwestern last week 38-31. Like Michigan St., you have to mark this as a “down year” for Iowa too. Going into this game, Northwestern had already lost to Illinois St., Western Michigan and Nebraska. Two of those losses are in the “should not happen” category. Now Iowa has lost to Northwestern and to N. Dakota St (Division 1-AA) and equally embarrassing they only beat Rutgers 14-7.

Having mentioned Rutgers here, you may have heard that they lost to Ohio State last week 58-0. I said in last week’s NCAA Mythical Picks that this Ponderosa Game would be ugly; I think I got that one right. Oh, by the way, this week Rutgers gets to play Michigan – the week after they had to play Ohio State. Here is the message to the Rutgers football team from the schedule mavens in the Big 10:

    Sucks to be you …

Penn State beat Minnesota 29-26 in OT. Minnesota had contained the Penn State offense well for all of regulation time. The Nittany Lions only managed 14 first downs and about 23 minutes’ time of possession. However, in OT, Penn St. held Minnesota to a field goal and in the subsequent Penn St. possession, RB, Saquon Barkley took a handoff up the middle of the Minnesota defense for a 25-yard TD gallop to end the game.

The ACC game that clearly got the most national attention last week was Clemson beating Louisville 42-36. I have to think that this puts Clemson on a clear path to the ACC Championship Game in early December because it would take 2 conference losses for them to fall behind Louisville. I know that anything can happen in college football, but I just do not see that sort of lightening striking twice this year.

Louisville trailed 28-10 at the half but rallied to take the lead in this game; a long kickoff return by Clemson set up the winning score here. Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson threw for 306 yards and 5 TDs; he also threw 3 INTs but not all of them were his fault. Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson threw for 295 yards and 1 TD and also ran for 162 yards and 2 TDs. Do not count out the possibility of Louisville making it into the CFP if they run the table; it could happen. In any event, this is the kind of Clemson performance folks had been expecting since Week 1 but had not seen until Week 5.

In another ACC game that deserves attention, Notre Dame beat Syracuse 50-33. It may not be nice to rain on a victory parade, but that is sort of the stock and trade for a Sports Curmudgeon. The score at the half of this game was 33-27 in favor of Notre Dame; that means the Irish gave up 27 points in 30 minutes to Syracuse; that means the Notre Dame defense continues to be “sub-standard”. And before any Notre Dame fans point to the 50 points the offense scored in this game as “light at the end of the tunnel”, consider the following:

    Syracuse has played 4 Division 1-A opponents this year and has given up an average of 45.25 points per game to those opponents.

    The Notre Dame scoring output was a mere 5 points better than USF three weeks ago against this same Syracuse defense…

    [Aside: Syracuse takes on Wake Forest this week. If Wake Forest scores 50 points in the game, every player on the Syracuse defense should consider his scholarship in jeopardy.]

Virginia beat Duke 34-20. What is interesting about this game is that it was the first road win for Virginia in the last 17 road games. Wah-hoo-wah…

NC State beat Wake Forest 33-16. I know this is hard to fathom, but trust me on this:

    Wake Forest was 4-0 going into this game.

UNC rallied to beat Florida State 37-35 on a 54-yard field goal as time expired. This would be a storybook ending all by itself but it is magnified by the fact that UNC had had a PAT blocked earlier in the game. UNC brought a 41 point-per-game scoring average to the contest and Florida State has shown some “defensive issues” earlier this year. The Seminoles moved the ball but were not efficient on third down (4 for 11). Florida State also racked up 120 yards in penalties in the game; that sort of disorganization/lack of discipline costs teams games.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times picked this up from the interwebs and put it in his column, Sideline Chatter:

“At ‘UNC earns respect (and probably 3 credits) by beating FSU.’”

In Big 12 action, the most impactful game was probably Oklahoma beating TCU 52-46. TCU as the Big 12 Champion with only 1 loss may have gotten some attention by the CFP Selection Committee. Now TCU has 2 losses and one of them was to the Sooners who also have 2 losses. I suspect that this leaves the Big 12 pinning its hopes on Baylor if they hope to be part of the CFP.

Baylor stayed undefeated beating Iowa St. 45-42. I know a win is a win; but beating a less-than-mediocre team like Iowa St. is not eye-catching in any positive way. Even worse, Baylor needed to score 17 points in the final quarter just to eke out this win.

Before I get nasty commentary from West Virginia fans, I do realize that the Mountaineers are in the Big 12 and that the Mountaineers are undefeated this year too. However, all of the games have been in Morgantown or against BYU in Landover Md. Basically, all of these were home games. Oh and two of their 4 wins came over a truly mediocre Missouri team and then the Mighty Penguins of Youngstown State. Their win over K-State last week by a score of 17-16 goes in the books as a “W” but it is not something that makes me stand up and take notice.

Texas Tech beat Kansas 55-19. Tech QB, Pat Mahomes had to leave the game in the third quarter after throwing 4 TDs in the game. Not to worry; Nic Shimonek took over the reins and threw for 271 yards and 4 more TDs. Tech ran 79 plays in the game and amassed a total of 621 yards on offense – a respectable 7.9 yards per snap.

The Big 12 game that may have the most repercussions down the road was the Oklahoma St win over Texas by a score of 49-31. Texas coach, Charlie Strong is clearly on a hot seat and that hot seat got hot enough to sear his buns last week. He took his defensive coordinator and told him that he needed the former defensive coordinator to go and coach the DBs and that he – Coach Strong – would take over the defense in addition to being the head coach. [Translation: Desperation.] Charlie Strong is known as a “defensive guy” but the Longhorns’ defense this year had been atrocious. Consider:

    In 4 games, the only team Texas held under 40 points in a game was UTEP.

Last week, Oklahoma St had almost 400 yards on offense in the first half. Compounding the problems, Oklahoma St, averaged 14 yards per pass play. Charlie Strong needs to take this team on a 180-degree vector change and he needs to do it now if he hopes to evade the wrath of the Texas money folks who pull the strings in the Athletic Department there.

The PAC-12 game that made lots of folks shake their heads last week was Washington demolishing Stanford 44-6. Stanford had been a “big dog” in the PAC-12 North for a while now along with Oregon. This sort of a drubbing announces that there is another big dog in the neighborhood – – the Washington Huskies. Washington appeared to be a full step faster than Stanford at just about every position on the field; the Huskies’ defense recorded 8 sacks in the game and had pressure on the QB on every dropback.

The other “big dog” in the PAC-12 North over the past several years has been Oregon and that program seems heading downhill rapidly. Last week, Oregon lost to Washington St. 51-33. Consider these facts:

    Washington State opened the season losing to a Division 1-AA team
    Oregon has now lost 3 in a row (Nebraska, Colorado, Washington St.)

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to declare that the Chip Kelly Era at Oregon is completely history as of now. The Oregon defense was never the focus of the team even in its glory days, but last week the defense gave up 280 yards and 6 TDs rushing to a Mike Leach team. To say that a Mike Leach offense has only rudimentary running plays – and probably not a lot of them – is not an exaggeration. That defensive performance is beyond unacceptable…

Cal beat Utah 28-23. Utah’s defense deserves kudos for holding Cal to only 28 points. Cal’s defense deserves kudos for holding a team in the 20s. Prior to this game, Cal was giving up 42.5 points per game. Late in the 4th quarter, Utah had 7 shots at the end zone from inside the Cal 10-yardline and Cal held on to win the game.

USC beat Arizona St. 41-20 last week. My takeaway here is that USC Coach, Clay Helton can breathe easy – – for a week.

Colorado beat Oregon St. 47-6. Colorado has been a doormat ever since getting into the PAC-12 but they seem to be turning a corner this year. In simple terms, this game was an organized ass-kicking but maybe it indicates a turnaround in Boulder:

    Colorado’s last bowl game was in 2007. It only takes 6 wins in a season to go to a bowl game.

    Colorado led Michigan 21-7 this year in Ann Arbor before Michigan rallied to win the game by a TD. Michigan is a good team; losing to them in Ann Arbor is not embarrassing at all.

    Colorado has now beaten Oregon – on the road – and Oregon St. in successive weeks. That never happened before.

    The rest of the schedule is very challenging for Colorado, but after 5 weeks of the season, they are not completely overmatched in any of the upcoming games.

Michigan St. has a freshman QB named Messiah deWeaver. He was a highly rated recruit last year from Wayne High School in Huber Heights, OH. All I can say is that he has a tough road ahead of him just living up to his name…

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week, we had 4 Ponderosa Games. The record for the favorites covering in those games was 2-2-0 bringing the season record for favorites covering 25-18-0.

Auburn and Ohio State covered

Alabama and So. Mississippi did not cover.

This week, we have only 3 Ponderosa Games:

TCU – 28.5 at Kansas (64): After a loss last week, the Frogs go on the road to play a miserable opponent and look a “4TD-plus-a-hook” spread in the eye…

Indiana at Ohio State – 29 (59): Indiana beat Michigan State last week; I think they have a tougher assignment this week.

Michigan – 28 at Rutgers (53): Hurricane Matthew could have an impact on this game depending on the storm track. I doubt that Rutgers will have any impact on the game other than showing up to take a pounding.

The SHOE Teams:

It is still too early in the season to start ranking/categorizing the SHOE Tournament teams because there has not been sufficient time for the worst-of-the-worst to identify themselves. However, I can comment on the teams that are winless to this point in the season with regard to how they may project into the SHOE Tournament.

If I have counted correctly, there are 3 Division 1-A teams – out of 128 such teams – that have not yet won a game this season. Arkansas State would have been a fourth team on this list but they beat Georgia Southern Wednesday night by a score of 27-26.

    Georgia State: The team is 0-4. Their losses to Wisconsin on the road and to Air Force on the road are excusable. I think this team is better than their record indicates. La-Monroe and Idaho later this year would appear to be winnable games.

    Miami (OH): The team is 0-5. Other than a loss in Week 1 at Iowa by 24 points, the Redhawks have been close in their other games. They have Kent St. and Buffalo still on the schedule as potential ways for them to get off the schneid.

    Rice: The team is 0-5 and they have a bad loss on the books already. They lost to North Texas two weeks ago in double OT. The Owls have games ahead that are perfectly winnable such as Prairie View, Florida Atlantic, UNC-Charlotte and UTEP. We shall see …

Last week the SHOE Tournament Selection Committee (Me) took note of the Florida International win over Florida Atlantic by a score of 33-31. Both teams are now 1-4; neither one is any good. There is a wrinkle here that is interesting:

    FAU is 0-5 against the spread in its 5 games this year.

In a sense, that is just as good as going 5-0 ATS – depending on which side of bet you are on…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Clemson – 17 at BC (43): This game is almost like a bowl game; I have no idea what sort of mindset will accompany the Clemson team to the field. BC has a good defense; it could actually keep the Eagles in the game if the Clemson offense lets down after last week’s big showing against Louisville. Or that offense could have used the Louisville game to put themselves in gear for the rest of the year. I am confident that the Clemson defense can and will put the clamps on what masquerades as an offense for BC. Watch the game if you have the opportunity to see how Clemson reacts to their big win last week – – but I would not bet on a game like this.

Kent St – 2 at Buffalo (42): This game is interesting to the SHOE Tournament Selection Committee and should not be interesting to anyone else.

BYU at Michigan St. – 6 (49.5): The spread opened at 4 points and has been expanding slowly all week long. Michigan St. is not nearly as good this year as they have been in recent years; BYU – as an independent – has been all over the map taking on opponents on the West Coast and in suburban Washington DC. The “Cougars Around America Tour” stops in E. Lansing this week. All 5 of BYU’s games this year have been decided by 3 points or less. I think this will be a defensive game; I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Ga Tech at Pitt – 6 (50): There have been significant line moves here. The spread opened at 8 points and has dropped to 6 just about everywhere. It takes a significant imbalance of wagers for sportsbooks to leave 7 points out there as a potential middle bet, but that is what has happened here. Also, the Total Line opened at 56 points and can actually be found as low as 49.5 at two Internet sportsbooks. I think the oddsmaker had it right with the original Total Line; I like this game to go OVER because I am not confident that either defense can contain the opposing offense.

Iowa St at Oklahoma St – 17 (66.5): This Total Line opened at 63 and jumped to this level quickly. I do not think Iowa State is going to hold the Oklahoma St. offense very well with the game in Stillwater and I do recognize that Iowa State’s offense this year is far more productive than it was last year. I like this game to go OVER.

Army at Duke – 4.5 (47): I think this game comes down to one fundamental question:

    Can the Duke defense contain the Army option-run offense that depends a lot on “trickeration”? Duke sees something similar when it plays Georgia Tech but that will not happen until October 29.

This is the softest spot on the schedule left for the Blue Devils. After this, their lineup is Louisville, Ga Tech, Va Tech, UNC, Pitt, Miami (FL). I’ll make this a venue call; I’ll take Duke to win and cover.

Syracuse at Wake Forest – 2.5 (53): This game is interesting only as a way to measure the Syracuse defense (see above). Wake Forest is anything but an offensive juggernaut; they scored a measly 7 points against Tulane in the opener this year. So far this year, Syracuse has held only 1 Division 1-A team under 45 points. Keep an eye on this game but do not bet on it.

Va Tech at UNC – 1.5 (58): I really do not understand these lines at all. Both of these teams score points and neither team is a defensive force. I like the game to go OVER. I also like UNC at home to win and cover.

Notre Dame at NC State – 1.5 (64.5): Notre Dame opened as a 1.5-point favorite in this game and the line has flipped during the week. These teams average 500 yards per game on offense. NC State gives up 322 yards per game on defense while Notre Dame yields 461 yards of offense. That is a big enough difference for me to take NC State at home to win and cover.

Oklahoma – 11.5 vs Texas (73.5) Game played in the Cotton Bowl: This is a big rivalry game and it is an even bigger game for Charlie Strong with regard to his continued tenure as the Head Coach at Texas. A blowout loss here and his agent can begin to figure out the best buyout package for his client come the end of the season. They say that the players at Texas really like Charlie Strong; if that is true, they will show up here and play well – particularly the underachieving defensive players. I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Florida State at Miami – 3 (64.5): This is a put-up or shut-up game for Florida State. After opening the season with an impressive win over Ole Miss, the Seminoles have beaten up on lame opponents (Charleston Southern and USF) while losing badly to Louisville and on the final play to UNC last week (see above). Miami is undefeated – albeit not against the toughest schedule you could imagine – and they should be motivated to beat an in-state rival that has owned this series for the past decade or so. I think Florida State shows up to play for real here. I’ll take Florida State plus the points here and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

UNC-Charlotte at Florida Atlantic – 13.5 (62): The SHOE Committee is watching this one carefully – – very carefully. Well, at least the Committee would have watched the game carefully if it were being played. The game was cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew. The 2500 or so folks who might have attended the game will have to find something else to do…

UCLA – 10 at Arizona St. (59): The Total Line here was so shocking when I saw it that I had to look into the matter closely. Arizona St. plays racehorse offensive football; they throw it a lot, score a lot and do not prevent the “other guys” from scoring a lot.

    Arizona St gives up 504 yards per game (121st in the country)
    Arizona St. gives up 35.6 points per game (107th in the country)
    Arizona St. scores 43.0 points per game (17th in the country)
    Arizona St. gains 467 yards per game (40th in the country)

So, how could the Total Line be so low – and stay at that level? A little reading about last week’s Arizona State/USC game provided a clue. Starting QB, Manny Wilkins was injured in that game and while ASU Coach, Todd Graham, says he will not miss “extended time”, Wilkins is doubtful for the game this week. I cannot like Arizona St. in a game where the defense has to “keep them in it” so that a back-up QB can try to win it. I’ll take UCLA and lay the points.

Air Force – 11 at Wyoming (52): This Total Line opened at 57 and dropped to this level very quickly. Air Force is undefeated this year and comes to this game off a win over Navy which is always an emotional game for the Falcons. Wyoming brings an efficient offense to the game. The Cowboys rank 79th in the country in yards per game (405) but they still score an average of 32.8 points per game which is 57th in the country and one slot below Tennessee. I’ll take Wyoming at home plus the points here.

Tennessee at Texas A&M – 6.5 (57): This is one of the marquee games of the week. As mentioned above, this game – and next week’s game at home against Alabama – are the only real stumbling blocks for Tennessee if they are to get to the SEC Championship game. The Vols have mastered the art of the comeback this year but this is the best team they have played so far this year. If they fall behind by 17 or 21 points as they have in the past two weeks, I am not sure that they can shut Texas A&M down sufficiently to catch up. Totally a venue call here, I’ll take Texas A&M to win and cover.

Vandy at Kentucky – 3 (52): Short and sweet here … I have no idea where 53 points will come from in this game. Therefore, I will take the game to stay UNDER.

Auburn – 3 at Mississippi St. (54.5): This is another game that should be dominated by defense and field position. I like this game to stay UNDER.

Washington – 9 at Oregon (69): People like to refer to the Washington/Washington St. rivalry (The Apple Cup Game) as a huge deal – – and it is. People like to refer to the Oregon/Oregon St. rivalry (The Civil War) as a huge deal – – and it is. In addition, the Washington/Oregon game is a huge rivalry game too; Oregon has had the top hand in that rivalry in recent years but I think the times, they are a changin’ in the Great Northwest. The Washington defense was outstanding against Stanford last week; that defense is both quick and fast and that is what one needs to contain the Oregon offense. However, it is on the other side of the ball where I think things could get out of hand:

    Oregon gives up 36.2 points per game (109th in the country)
    Oregon gives up 490 yards per game (117th in the country)

      Oregon is tied with Florida Atlantic in this category!

    Oregon gives up 280.4 yards per game passing (109th in the country.
    Washington gains 441 yards per game with a balanced attack

      Washington gains 242 yards passing
      Washington gains 199 yards rushing

I think Washington will get the lead and then stand on the gas pedal until the final whistle. I like Washington to win and cover on the road. I think this is a statement game for the Huskies.

Colorado at USC – 4.5 (64): The Total Line opened at 58 and has been climbing steadily all week. This game is a test for Colorado. Are they good enough to on the road and hang with one of the blue-blood football programs? Well, they did that in Ann Arbor earlier this year and Michigan is a better team than USC this year. There has not been a lot of national attention focused on Boulder CO recently; this is a “Hey! Look Over Here Game!!” for the Buffaloes. I’ll take Colorado plus the points.

Idaho at La-Monroe – 5 (60): This is an important match-up for the SHOE Tournament Committee. Even the winner could wind up in the SHOE Tournament…

Fla International at UTEP – 4.5 (48.5): This is an important match-up for the SHOE Tournament Committee. Even the winner could wind up in the SHOE Tournament… Is there an echo in here?

Alabama – 14 at Arkansas (49): The Arkansas style of offense relies on power running to control the game. I just do not think that is the best way to attack Alabama. I do not feel comfortable with the spread or the Total Line here so I’ll pass on making a pick. But the game is of interest because of the CFP implications …

Washington St. at Stanford – 7.5 (58): This spread opened at 9.5 points. Stanford was humbled last week; it will be important to see how they attack this game. Washington St. beat Oregon last week by 18 points; as that a fluke or can the Cougars sustain that sort of performance level? A win for Washington St. here would go a long way to remove the bitter taste left by their opening losses to E. Washington (Division 1-AA and Cooper Kupp’s team) and to Boise St. in Week 2. Purely a hunch, I’ll take Washington St. plus the points on the road.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/9/16

Last week was slightly “profitable” for Mythical Picks; I made 16 picks and the record for the week was 9-7-0. That makes the cumulative season record 38-27-0. That is certainly a better outcome for the first four weeks than many of the NFL teams have experienced.

There were 2 Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games on the card last weekend and the coin did what you would expect a coin to do. The record for the week was 1-1-0 making the season record for the coin 4-2-0.

The Best Picks of the Week were:

    Panthers/Falcons OVER 50. Total Score was 81.
    Bears +3 against Lions. Bears won the game straight up.

The Worst Picks of the Week were:

    Pats – 4.5 against Bills. Bills won and pitched a shutout.
    Cards – 8 against Rams. Rams won the game straight up.

As I get myself psyched to present another menu of potentially awesome Mythical Picks, I must remind everyone that no one should use anything contained herein as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money this weekend – or any other weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do so something like that:

    You think “13 Shades of Grey” is the edited-for-TV version of the movie.

General Comments:

To start with, I want to pose a couple of general/philosophical questions here:

    1. Exactly what is pass interference in the NFL in 2016? As I look at isolated replays, I cannot tell what is offensive pass interference, what is defensive pass interference and what is a “no-call” on at least two-thirds of the plays I watch. It seems as if this is almost a random call these days.

    2. At what point do Giants’ fans – and the coaches in NY – start to worry about Odell Beckham’s ability to focus on football as opposed to whatever it is that gets under his skin during a game? Beckham lost his focus – and his self-control – once again on Monday nite against the Vikings. It does not help the Giants when the defensive coordinator for the other team cobbles together a defensive strategy that minimizes Beckham’s impact on the game. It is a whole other thing when Beckham minimizes his potential impact on the game all by himself.

The San Diego Chargers are 1-3 this year. In all of their losses, they have had the lead in the 4th quarter and then have coughed up a hairball. Twice that 4th quarter lead was 13 points – as it was last week against the Saints. Here is how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in that game in a home game in San Diego:

    Leading 34-21 with 6:39 remaining in the game, Melvin Gordon fumbled on the Chargers’ own 13 and the Saints recovered the ball on the first play of a Chargers’ drive. That took no time off the clock and gave the Saints a very short field from which they scored a TD.

    Now leading 34-28 points with 4:50 remaining in the game, after a five-yard gain, wideout Travis Benjamin fumbled on the Chargers’ own 31 and the Saints recovered once again. The Saints scored another TD to take the lead 35-34

    San Diego never reclaimed any momentum and lost the game 35-34.

I guess you can find a way to attribute fumbling to poor coaching if you want to do so. In the case of Mike McCoy whose record in San Diego now stands at 23-29 coming off a season of 4-12, my guess is that lots of folks will be amenable to that sort of reasoning and “accountability”.

There is a small bit of irony in that 35-34 final score in the Saints/Chargers game. In Week 1, the Saints lost to the Raiders by a score of 35-34; that was the game where Raiders coach, Jack Del Rio, went for 2 points instead of a tie in the final minutes of the game and the Raiders made the conversion. Then last week, the Saints came out on the winning end of a 35-34 game with a dramatic score in the final minute or so.

Last week’s game between the Broncos and the Bucs was delayed for a little more than an hour due to lightning strikes to the land surface in the vicinity of the stadium in Tampa. This is the second week in a row where there has been a “severe weather delay” in Tampa. Two weeks ago, fans returned to see a down-to-the-wire game where the Rams prevailed 37-32. Last week, fans in Tampa pretty much realized what the game outcome was going to be and the vast majority took the opportunity of the “weather-delay” to find their cars in the parking areas and hightail it on home. The Broncos beat the Bucs 27-7; the game was not in doubt as the players, officials and fans waited out the lightning bolts…

Let me add a third general/philosophical question here:

    3. Am I the only one who does not understand what is “taunting” and what is “unsportsmanlike conduct” for “excessive celebration” in 2016? Look, I am not a fan of any sort of celebration on the field by players for doing what they are paid to do – such as score TDs or tackle an opposing player for a loss. I would not care if the league outlawed them with ultra-severe penalties to include suspensions and the like. That will not happen and so we have the situation that obtains today. I believe that if I showed you the “excessive celebrations” that have drawn flags this year intermingled with the “acceptable celebrations” that have not drawn penalties, you would be hard-pressed to identify each celebration in its proper category.

Here are data I ran across related to taunting/excessive celebration/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 2016:

    Taunting penalties are up 220% this year compared to the first 4 weeks in 2015.
    Unsportsmanlike penalties not related to taunting are up 56%.

Dean Blandino – director for the NFL officials – had this explanation with regard to the interpretation of these sorts of rules in 2016:

“ … the key is that if it’s a gesture that either mimics a violent act – that’s something with a firearm or a bow-and-arrow – or a sexually suggestive act, those are unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s … something officials will flag. That’s direct from the Competition Committee and something we are going to try to be as consistent as possible.”

The Bengals beat the Dolphins 22-7 last week. The game was not really that close; the Bengals defense was dominant. The Dolphins gained a total of 222 yards on offense; the Dolphins were 2-11 on third down conversions; the Dolphins amassed a measly 8 first downs in the game; the Dolphins surrendered 5 QB sacks in the game; the Dolphins possessed the ball for just under 22 minutes in the game. The Dolphins’ lone score came on a first quarter pass that covered 73 yards; after that, their total offense was 149 yards. Here is the Dolphins drive chart for this game:

    TD (73-yard pass)
    Loss of ball on downs

Bengals’ QB, Andy Dalton, was efficient but not spectacular in the game going 22-31 for 296 yards and 1 TD with O INTs. The fact that the Bengals had to settle for 5 field goals in the game was not a huge plus for the Bengals’ offense…

The Jags beat the Colts in the first NFL London Game last week; that win allows Jags’ coach, Gus Bradley, to keep his job at least for now. A glance at the AFC South standings will give you a clue as to how bad that division is.

    The Jags, Titans and Colts are all 1-3
    The Texans lead the division at 3-1 but have been outscored for the season.

The Jags sacked Andrew Luck 5 times in the game and were in his face on the vast majority of pass plays; the Colts’ OL is awful.

    Memo to Colts’ Front Office: Hold an open tryout camp for underemployed piano movers in the Indy area. You might find a starting offensive lineman under those circumstances.

If Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, were fully sentient and engaged at this point, he might start to wonder how it can be that his $140M investment in a franchise QB can be left alone out there to be pummeled around like a speed bag. Too bad the Colts’ Front Office still seems to be patting itself on the back for hanging deflated footballs around Tom Brady’s neck…

The crowd in Wembley Stadium for the Colts/Jags game was a sellout of more than 83,000 souls. Since the NFL can sell out games of this caliber, there is no need for the league to consider sending two good teams to London to play – or to send a major rivalry game there.

The Bills beat the Pats 16-0. It is impossible to find a phase of the game where the Pats played well; they played as if they were sleepwalking. Just as it was an over-reaction after 2 opening season losses to think that Rex Ryan should be fired at that point of the season, it is also an over-reaction to think that he and the Bills have turned the corner now and are on their way to Super Bowl contention if not outright victory.

The Seahawks beat the Jets 27-17 last week. Russell Wilson played on a bad ankle and on a sprained MCL and he played very well indeed. At the end of the first half he was 10 for 11 for 192 yards and 2 TDs. That is a good half of football on two good appendages below the waist. Jets’ QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick, struggled again last week finding the opponents with his passes on 3 occasions – all in the second half of the game. Over the last two games, Fitzpatrick has thrown 9 INTs; the Jets are 1-3 including 2 losses at home and the Jets are in danger of falling into oblivion when you look at their upcoming schedule:

    Oct 9 at Steelers
    Oct 16 at Cardinals
    Oct 23 vs Ravens

I am not saying they are going to do this, but the Jets could be 1-6 as of October 24 with two games against the Patriots still on the schedule. Ouch!

The Falcons beat the Panthers 48-33 last week. With one-quarter of the season behind them, the Falcons are 3-1 and the Panthers are 1-3. Raise your hand if you predicted that back in August; I did not! Matt Ryan is coming off a passing game for 504 yards (300 of them to Julio Jones) and if you extrapolate from these 4 games through 16 games, Ryan will pass for just under 5900 yards this season. As a point of reference, that would break the all-time NFL record for passing yards in a season by about 500 yards.

Here is why I doubt that such an extrapolation is a good idea:

    5900 yards passing for a season is about 370 yards per game.
    Ryan has done that against the Saints and Raiders in 2 of his first 4 games
    His next two games are on the road against the Broncos and the Seahawks.
    I doubt he will keep up that pace against those defenses…

I am not throwing shade on Matt Ryan here. After all, he went to high school about 10 miles as the crow flies from where my parents once lived. I just think it is a tad early to make such projections…

Julio Jones had 300 yards receiving in that game. Only 6 players in the history of the NFL have reached that milestone and only 4 have done it since the merger. Here is a Trivia Question:

    Q: What receiver holds the record for most yards receiving in single game?

    A: Flipper Anderson with the LA Rams in the 1980s with 336 yards.

In the game against the Panthers, Jones had catches of 32, 43, 53 and 75 yards. I wonder if the Panthers’ braintrust wished they still had Josh Norman playing DB for them? Even more concerning to the Panthers’ braintrust has to be the fact that Cam Newton is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and that LB Thomas Davis left the game with the Falcons with a “hamstring injury” and could not return to the field. The Panthers cannot afford to lose those two guys for any significant period of time.

The Rams beat the Cards 17-13 last week dropping the Cards to 1-3 – the same record as the Panthers; those were the two teams that faced each other last year in the NFC Championship Game. The Rams improved to 3-1 for the season after a Week 1 loss to the Niners that can best be described as throwing up on their shoes. Unlike the Panthers who have lost only 1 home game, this loss was the second for the Cards at home. For the season, Carson Palmer now has thrown 6 TDs and 5 INTs; that is not the way the Cards’ vertical offense succeeds. The Cards’ offense is not hitting the deep ball at all this year; for the last 2 seasons, that has been the explosive element of the entire offense. Carson Palmer is in the NFL’s concussion protocol as a result of a hit in the second half of this game; the Cards cannot afford to have him out of action or performing at 70% of capacity for very long this year if they intend to play meaningful games in January 2017.

The Rams won this game despite the fact that the Cards’ defense held Todd Gurley to a pedestrian 33 yards rushing. Clearly, the Cards’ game plan was to make the Rams throw the ball to win the game; were I devising a game plan against the Rams, I would probably do the same thing. The problem for the Cards is that Case Keenum threw for 2 TDs – one late in the 4th quarter – and that was enough to win the game.

The Rams have not been a factor in the NFC West for a while now. However, it is interesting to note that the Rams have been competitive within their division in the Jeff Fisher Era. Since Fisher took over the Rams – in St. Louis – the team has gone 13-13-1 against NFC West opponents. The Rams do not do nearly as well outside the division…

The Texans beat the Titans 27-20. Brock Osweiler threw 2 TDs and 2 INTs for the Texans in this game. The 2 TD passes were things of beauty; the 2 INTs were head-slapping, what-in-the -world-were-you-thinking throws. The other young QB on the field in this game, Marcus Mariota, was an unimpressive 13 for 29 for 202 yards and 1 INT. Pretty soon, I may be forced to conclude that Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smashmouth offense” is not compatible with the development of a young NFL QB…

The Broncos beat the Bucs 27-7 last week. For the second week in a row, the game in Tampa was delayed for an extended period of time due to air-to-ground lightning strikes in the stadium area. Not surprisingly, the Broncos won on defense:

    Bucs had only 215 yards offense
    Bucs 17-35 passing for 143 yards passing (3.6 yards per attempt)
    Bucs intercepted 2 times
    Bucs lost 1 fumble

Broncos’ QB Trevor Siemian had to leave the game with an injured shoulder in the first half. Paxton Lynch came in and played error-free football to seal the victory. Perhaps the fans in Tampa have learned already what to do in weather-delays. Looking at the replays, I would guess that only about 10,000 fans waited it out and came back to watch the end of this game. The vast majority used the delay to go and find their cars in the parking lots and headed on home.

There was an “interesting” coaching decision in the fourth quarter of this game. Trailing 27-7 with 7:30 to go in the game, the Bucs had the ball 4th and 5 at the Broncos’ 45 yardline. They were down three TDs at that point – – and they punted the football. Seemed to me as I watched the replay that this decision was tantamount to “throwing in the towel”. Even if the Bucs could have forced a 3-and-out, what they could look forward to was to get the ball back with about 6:00 left to play. That would have meant they would have had to score a TD and then get the ball back two more times in order to have a chance to win the game. At 4th and 5 on the other guys’ side of the field with that score, I am going for the first down. If I don’t get it, I will lose the game; if I make it, I will still probably lose the game. But, I am not punting…

The Bears beat the Lions 17-14. This was the 3rd loss in a row for the Lions; this was the Bears’ first win of the year. Neither team is any good. Brian Hoyer threw for 302 yards and 2 TDs; that speaks to the Lions’ defense. All of the Lions’ points here came on special teams (2 field goals, a punt return and a 2-point conversion); that speaks to the Lions’ offense.

The Skins beat the Browns 31-20. Surely, you have seen the “phantom fumble recovery” awarded to the Skins in the second half of this game. It was the officiating blunder of the year and here is how the NFL sought to explain it to Mary Kay Cabot of

“The on-field ruling was a fumble, recovered by Washington. It was confirmed as a fumble in instant replay without the need to stop the game. As to the recovery, several different angles were looked at, but with nothing definitive shown, there was no need to stop the game because the on-field ruling that awarded possession to Washington would have stood.”

The fact that a Cleveland Brown was holding the ball aloft in his hand as the officials peered into the pile – where there was no football – and decided that it was “Washington ball” had no impact or standing in the decision on the field or in the decision to describe how such a blunder might have occurred. Let me summarize it for you without any spin-doctoring:

    The officials blew this call. They should all be named “Monica” after this game.

[Aside: I am not positive about this, but I believe that the referee in charge of this crew is the same one who got the coin toss call wrong in an overtime game involving the Steelers 6 or 7 years ago.]

The NFL – protecting the integrity of the game no doubt – chose not to censure those officials because the game relative to the spread was still well in doubt at the time of the botched call.

The Skins took a 14-0 lead here. The Browns rallied and led 20-17 in the second half and then the Browns morphed into THE BROWNS. They turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions in the second half leading to 14 points and the 11-point margin of defeat.

The Raiders traveled across 3 time zones and beat the Ravens 28-27 in Baltimore. The game was sort of slow early on; at the end of 3 quarters the score was 14-12 in favor of the Raiders. Then the 4th quarter exploded. Michael Crabtree and Derek Carr hooked up for 3 TDs in the game including the game winner. Here are some observations from that game:

    Ravens were undefeated going into the game but they are not a great team.
    Raiders’ defense played well in this game as opposed to previous games.
    Kahlil Mack (DE/OLB for the Ravens) is a certified monster.
    Raiders are 3-1 and all of their wins are on the road.
    Joe Flacco threw the ball 52 times here; that is not a good game plan.

The Cowboys beat the Niners 24-17; it really wasn’t that close. The Niners scored TDs on both of their first two possessions; after that the offense was pretty much AWOL. The Cowboys’ rookies won this game for them. Dak Prescott threw for 245 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs while Ezekiel Elliott ran for 138 yards and another TD.

I told you how the Saints rallied to beat the Chargers 35-34 above. Moving on …

The Steelers beat the Chiefs 43-14 and it was not a game that was in doubt after the first 10 minutes of the first quarter. This was an old-fashioned butt-stomping. The Steelers did just about everything right from the start and the Chiefs did little if anything right from the start. At the end of the first quarter, the Steelers were in command 22-0. I may appear as if the Chiefs played more competitively after the first quarter if all you look at is the score; when you saw the game on TV, that was not the case. Le’Veon Bell returned from his suspension and ran for 144 yards; there was little evidence of any “rust” there.

A significant difference in the offensive philosophies of the Steelers and Chiefs was starkly evident in this game. The Chiefs run a “dink-and-dunk”/rely on run after the catch West Coast offense. That system works; I am not saying it does not. The Steelers run a vertical/throw the ball 35-yards down the field on a routine basis offense. That system also works; I am not saying it does not. On Sunday night, the Steelers’ offense was hitting on all 8 cylinders; the Chiefs’ offense was misfiring much of the time.

The Vikings dominated the Giants 24-10 on MNF last week. I mentioned above how Odell Beckham. Jr. virtually took himself out of the game with his loss of focus/poise during the game. His inability to get open had something to do with Eli Manning’s sub-standard performance of 25-43 for 261 yards in the game. Meanwhile, Sam Bradford gave a workmanlike performance and completed his 3rd full game at QB for the Vikings without committing any sort of turnover. Given the Vikes’ defense, that lack of turnovers is a huge plus for Bradford. Let me put the Vikes’ defense in 2016 in some sort of perspective here. Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014; he inherited a team with a defense that ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and 32nd in the NFL in points allowed during the 2013 season. Just to clarify; those stats STINK. Here we are in 2016 and the Vikes’ defense is allowing 12.5 points per game and looks good enough to carry the team into the playoffs where anything can happen.

The Giants spent a lot of money on their defense in this off-season and for the first two games is certainly seemed as if those investments were going to pay off. Then the Giants gave 31 points to the Skins two weeks ago and gave 24 to the Vikes here. Perhaps, the Giants’ defense remains a work-in-progress…

The Games:

There are 4 teams on BYE Weeks this time around:

    Jax gets an extra week to celebrate beating the Colts in London.

    KC gets an extra week to forget about the drubbing they took last week.

    New Orleans gets an extra week to practice on defense.

    Seattle gets an extra week to get Russell Wilson healthy.

(Thurs Nite) Arizona – 3.5 at SF (43): Carson Palmer left Sunday’s game to enter the concussion protocol; this game will start 4 days after that event. He could not be cleared by the meidics and the team announced on Twitter that Palmer will not make the trip to SF. That means the Cards will have a QB tandem of Drew Stanton and Zac Dysert. As noted above, Palmer has not played well so far this season; nonetheless, he is the starting QB on that team for a reason and that reason is that he is a better QB in 2016 than Drew Stanton or Zac Dysert. The Niners also had a potential injury issue from last weekend. Linebacker, NaVarro Bowman, left the field with a leg injury and did not return. The line here tells me that the oddsmakers foresaw that Palmer would not play. That means a Drew Stanton/Blaine Gabbert game and that looks like a hot mess to me. I will turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.

Houston at Minnesota – 6 (40): Brock Osweiler is still a work-in-progress and he is still prone to throwing the ball to the other team. The Vikes defense is most adept at taking the ball away from the other side and this is potentially an Achilles’ Heel for the Texans. The Vikes are giving up 12.5 points per game; Houston’s offense is certainly not scary good. I like the Vikes to win and cover here at home.

Tennessee at Miami – 3.5 (44): It was another close call this week, but this one here is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Neither team is any good. Both teams have offenses that scare no one. Let me give you some trends that will demonstrate that these teams are not very good:

    Titans are 6-19-3 against the spread (ATS) playing a team with a losing record
    Dolphins are 2-12-0 ATS playing a team with a losing record
    Titans are 12-36-5 ATS versus AFC teams
    Dolphins are 2-10-0 ATS in their last 12 home games

I will prognosticate that neither offense will do much of anything in this game and so I will take the game to stay UNDER.

New England – 10 at Cleveland (47): I do not expect Tom Brady to be at peak form here – but I do not expect him to trip over his shoelaces either. The Pats stunk it up last week against the Bills and there are too many vets on that team to allow that sort of performance to show up 2 weeks in a row. I like the Pats to win and cover here – even on the road and laying double-digit points.

Jets at Pittsburgh – 7 (48): The Jets are up against it (see above); last week, the Steelers demonstrated that they laid an egg against the Eagles two weeks ago but that they were not going to lay eggs every week. Against the Seahawks last week, the Jets saw lots of free-running Seattle WRs in the secondary. The Seahawks’ WRs are good, but none of them are at the level of Antonio Brown. I think the Steelers will win and cover at home.

Washington at Baltimore – 3.5 (44.5): The Total Line opened at 47; it dropped quickly to 45 and has inched down from there. The Ravens are 3-1 but they are not blowing people out; their biggest margin of victory is 5 points (over the hapless Browns) and their loss last week was by a point. The Ravens played the Browns, Jags and Raiders in the last 3 games and could not demonstrate a consistent offense against that sort of opposition. The Skins’ defense is not great by any means, but it is not stumblebum awful either. I think the oddsmaker was closer to correct setting the Total Line at 47 to begin with; I like this game to go OVER.

Philly – 3 at Detroit (46): Is this the week that Carson Wentz demonstrates his “rookieness”? Is this the week that Matthew Stafford starts to play like a QB that has thrown for more than 5000 yards in a season? Is this the week the Eagles’ defense gives up more than 14 points in a game? Is this the week the Lions’ defense holds a winning opponent under 30 points? If you knew the answer to just about any one of those questions, this game would be an easy pick. The last time the Eagles played in Detroit was on a Thanksgiving Day and they simply stunk out the joint. I smell upset potential here so I’ll take the Lions plus the points.

Chicago at Indy – 4.5 (48): This game was briefly considered for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but it finished third in that sweepstakes. The NFL Schedule Maven needs to explain why the Colts do not have a BYE week here having just played a game in London. Whatever… Neither team is any good but Andrew Luck is going to be the better QB on the field playing against a not-so-great defense. I’ll take the Colts – ignoring the jet-lag factor – to win and cover at home. Here is a trend that makes me feel comfy with that Mythical Pick:

    Colts are 26-11-1 ATS in their last 38 home games.

    So there …!

Atlanta at Denver – 6 (47): This is the best game of the week. The Falcons offense has been unreal for the last 3 games scoring 128 points in those 3 wins. Granted, two of the defenses they lit up – Raiders and Saints – are not among the elite defensive units. However, last week they torched the Panthers (see above) and the Panthers’ defense is pretty good. The Broncos’ defense is even better. In no way do I see the Falcons putting 40 points on the board here nor do I see Julio Jones catching 150 yards of passes – half of his output last week – against Aqib Talib in the secondary. However, Matt Ryan is hot and he is a veteran. The Broncos’ QB situation is in doubt until game time when we will find out if Trevor Siemian can go at all in the game. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Falcons on the road plus the points.

Buffalo at LA – 2 (40): The key question here is a simple one:

    After an emotional win against a division rival on the road last week, can the Bills fly 2500 miles or so and play a game without a big letdown?

Last week the Bills were clearly up to play the Pats. This is a non-conference road game after a long flight. So, how will they react? I think the Bills are human and will not play nearly as hard this week. Meanwhile, the Rams won a division game too last week and as noted above, the Rams play much better inside the NFC West than they do outside the division. Will Case Keenum be an efficient game manager here or will he implode? I will turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol and the coin says to take the Rams and lay the points. Remember, these are Mythical Picks …

San Diego at Oakland – 3.5 (50): I think the Raiders are a much-improved team this year and that the Chargers are – – the Chargers. Before the year started when I was looking at the Raiders’ schedule with 3 “Eastern Games” (Saints, Titans, Ravens) in September, I thought that a 2-2 split was a reach for the team. Well, they came out of that at 3-1 and now can go home to take on the bottom-feeder in the AFC West. Yes, the Chargers have led in the 4th quarter of every game this year – including the three losses on their schedule (see above). But this is not a heavy line for the Raiders to carry. I like the Raiders at home to win and cover. By the way, here is an interesting stat for the Raiders in 2016:

    In all 4 games despite their 3-1 record, the Raiders have been the team with less offense than their opponent. Last week for example, the Raiders won the game by 1 point but lost the “Total Offense battle” by 151 yards.

Cincy – 1.5 at Dallas (45): The spread for this game opened with Dallas as a 1-point favorite but it has flipped favorites as the week progressed. The Bengals’ defense is better than what the Cowboys have faced so far this year (Giants, Skins, Bears, Niners). By the same token, the Cowboys can run the ball and control the pace of the game better than teams the Bengals have faced so far this year – the Dolphins for example last week. I expect Ezekiel Elliott to have a good game and I expect AJ Green to give the Cowboys’ secondary fits. I’ll take the Cowboys at home plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Giants at Green Bay – 7 (48): I think the Packers are the better team. The Packers are at home. The Giants are playing on a short week (Monday to Sunday) and had to travel to this game. The Packers had their BYE Week last week. I’ll take the Packers to win and cover at home.

(Mon Nite) Tampa at Carolina (no lines): This game was the runner-up for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. There are no lines here because we do not yet know who will play QB for the Panthers or if Thomas Davis can play. Jameis Winston can be brilliant and/or he can be an interception waiting to happen. This will not be an artistic game. I obviously cannot make a pick on a game where there are no lines but here is what I think will happen:

    Derek Anderson will be the Panthers’ QB
    The game will be low-scoring.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………