Practice – We’re Talking About Practice

Over the last year or so, one of the staples for sports commentary has been the declining TV ratings for NFL games.  Some folks have called the drop “precipitous” or worse; that is a bit overblown because even though they are indeed down, NFL games remain the highest rated programming for NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN.  It just might be a tad too early to say we are watching an extinction event.

There have been lots of root causes for the declining popularity of NFL games offered by commentators in the past year, such as:

  1. The 2016 Presidential Campaigns/Debates:  These may have had a small effect because NFL ratings did rise a bit after the November elections.
  2. CTE/Brain injuries:  Moms do not want their kids to play football and so they encourage them not to watch it either.
  3. Colin Kaepernick and the “Anthem Protests”:  While I have indeed said that I would have preferred a different vehicle for those protests, I have not come close to tuning out NFL games because of it.
  4. Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”:  Frankly, this one seems to me to be an answer in search of a question.  But that’s just me…
  5. Sociopathic players:  There are indeed a lot of NFL players who are drug abusers and sexual abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence; so, maybe…
  6. Roger Goodell’s dealing with sociopathic players:  Let’s just call his performance here “spotty” and leave it at that.  OK?
  7. Sensory saturation:  In many markets, fans can see 2 teams on Thursday night, 8 teams on Sunday and 2 more teams on Monday night.  That is almost 40% of the teams each and every week.

I think the first six of those thematic hypotheses are stretched thin in terms of causing the league’s fall in popularity.  I think there is much more meat on the bone for the seventh one on that list – – but I would like to add a bit more sinew to the structure.

Because of the “sensory saturation” mentioned above, I think fans have become – over the years – more sophisticated about the game of football.  With so many viewing opportunities, lots of folks see lots of games not involving the hometown heroes so they can watch more dispassionately and learn more about the games.  And as fans become a bit more “knowledgeable”, I think some of them achieve this status:

  • “Hold Your Nose Watching”

There are too many games on TV under any circumstances; but in addition, there are too many games on TV where one or both teams is playing what knowledgeable fans have come to recognize as bad/incompetent football.  If you were to tune into Comedy Central and saw a standup comic performing who was not funny, you would change the channel or hit the off-button.  If you were to tune into a show like American Idol and heard a singer who sounded like a cat being given a bath, you would change the channel or hit the off-button.  So, if you tune into and NFL game and see the Browns or the Niners or the Giants or the …

If my hypothesis here has validity for you, I want now to suggest two causes for this spread of bad play around the league:

  1. Lack of Practice:  Football is a game that is learned by repetitive acts; a player is shown “proper technique” and then proceeds to master that technique through practice.  The problem is that practice has been limited at the high school and college level for a variety of reasons; players arrive at the pro level with less practice time in their hip pockets.  Then, the current CBA kicks in and NFL teams have limited off-season practice sessions and limited numbers of times when practices can be “physical”.  The reason many games appear to be less competent than they used to be is – – the players have not been practicing as often and are tutored to a lesser degree.
  2. The NFL Salary Cap:  The Law of Conservation of Mass applies directly to money.  You cannot spend the same dollar twice.  When teams pay their best players tens of millions of dollars per year – as they should – that means they need to have more than a few players making the league minimum to assure the total stays below the cap.  Those “league minimum players” are not only less competent than the star players, they are the ones with the least practice time in their lifetime.

Some try to say there are in insufficient number of quality QBs these days.  [Aside: many of those people make this argument in conjunction with the Colin Kaepernick and the “Blackballing Issue”.]  I suggest that the problem here is more wide ranging.  Indeed, there are an insufficient number of quality QBs in the NFL today; there are also an insufficient number of offensive linemen and defensive backs.  One common denominator among those three positions is that all of them demand skills learned through lots of practice.

Switching gears …  I saw a headline for an article at that said:

“What is Tiger’s biggest hurdle in latest comeback?”

In the article under that banner, about a half-dozen golf writers/commentators offered their opinions and analysis.  My answer had thought to ask me would have been short and to the point:

  • Biggest hurdle?  Making the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Finally, let me leave you with these words from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Grill guru George Foreman (68) has dared actor Steven Seagal (65) to meet him in the ring.

“After which the pair plans to star in a movie titled ‘Jurassic Park: Mueslix’.”

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



The Hatfields And The McCoys

When it comes to the blood-feud that seems to have erupted between Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell, I am living in the great state of confusion.   I understand that Jones may be mightily angry about the 6-game suspension for Ezekiel Elliott but Jones and Elliott and the NFLPA all fought that issue out in court and it appears to be over.  Moreover, I cannot imagine that Jones would be that upset about having a player suspended since a season rarely goes by without at least one member of the Dallas Cowboys sitting out a stretch.

For a while I thought that Jones had designs on letting Goodell’s contract lapse and then maneuvering himself into the commissioner’s slot.  It happened in MLB when Bud Selig did that; it happened in the old NFL when Bert Bell transitioned from owner of the Eagles to NFL Commissioner.  That was an “interesting theory” but I have to discard it now because naming a new commissioner requires a super-majority vote of the 32 owners and for the last several months, Jones has been pissing off his fellow owners on a pretty regular basis.

Specifically, he has criticized the committee of owners who were tasked with negotiating Goodell’s contract renewal and the member ship of that Compensation Committee contains a lot of “NFL blue blood”:

  • Arthur Blank
  • Clark Hunt
  • Robert Kraft
  • John Mara
  • Bob McNair
  • Art Rooney

ESPN’s Outside the Lines has a report in ESPN the Magazine that goes over the events leading up to this blood feud and some of the events that have gone on in the midst of that blood feud.  It is a long piece, but I commend it to your reading.  In that report, the authors, Dale Van Atta and Seth Wickersham, quote Jones in a phone conversation with Goodell at the point when Goodell informed Jones of the suspension decision for Ezekiel Elliott.  Here is that quote:

“I’m gonna come after you with everything I have,” Jones said. Then he mentioned Deflategate. “If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p—y compared to what I’m going to do.”

I recall hearing a song with the lyrics “…haters gonna hate”.  Maybe this is a case of a billionaire owner just being a billionaire owner who just does not allow anyone to tell him something he does not want to hear.  I am not a mind reader or trained in any of the mental health disciplines, but I cannot get over the fact that I sense that there is an “antecedent event or events” that set the stage for all of this.  I wonder if we will ever know what it was…

Greg Cote had this observation about the feud in the Miami Herald over the weekend:

“The Jerry Jones-Roger Goodell feud is getting nasty. On the bright side, it’s a diversion from counting players who took a knee during the anthem.”

There is an owners’ meeting scheduled for December 13th in Dallas – Jones’ home turf no less – and since the contract has been in negotiation for about 5 or 6 months, one might imagine that the Compensation Committee might present the details to the assembled owners there.  Based on a report today, Jones asked Arthur Blank – Chairman of the Compensation Committee – if the new contract for the commissioner would go before the owners for a vote.  Blank reportedly said it would not because there has been a unanimous vote of the owners designating the Compensation Committee as the entity to negotiate this new contract and – importantly it would seem – has delegated to the committee the responsibility to get a deal done in the name of the NFL.

This is not over.  Somewhere in the cosmos, Al Davis has a smirk on his face…

There are about 90 days until the Winter Olympic Games begin in PyeongChang, South Korea.  The Olympic torch has already left Greece and will make its way to Korea via the moon – or something nearly as relevant.  The games will be telecast here in the US by NBC and its family of networks and platforms and whatevers.  Today I read that they plan to live stream 1,800 hours of stuff from those Winter Games.  Those presentations are in addition to all the programming that NBC will be delivering over the airwaves and cable providers in prime time and on weekends.

Before anyone asks, let me make two things clear:

  1. I have no idea what the content of 1,800 hours of live stream coverage will be.  I suspect that much of the time will be even less riveting and less meaningful than the televising of the NFL Combine.
  2. I will not be watching much of the action in those games because I will be traveling during the festivities.

Scott Ostler had this report and comment in the SF Chronicle a while back:

“Sales are sluggish for tickets to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Factors include high prices, a sagging world economy, and a reluctance to buy front-row seats for a nuclear holocaust.”

Finally, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Browns fan Chris McNeil has secured a Cleveland parade permit for Jan. 6 just in case the team completes a ‘perfect’ 0-16 season.

“Now comes the tough part: Convincing Roger Goodell to show up and hand out the participation trophies.”

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



Football Happenings …

Not a lot of important stuff in the world of college football happened last weekend other than UCLA firing head coach Jim Mora meaning that there will be more than a couple of “name programs” out there looking for new leadership.  So, I won’t dwell on college football today because there were lots of strange doings in the NFL.  I want to start with the utter collapse of the Skins against the Saints.

  • With less than six minutes to play, the Skins led the Saints 31-16 and they had the Saints pinned deep in their own territory.  The Skins’ defense had been pressuring Drew Brees all day long and there were few if any receivers running wide open all day long.
  • And then it happened…  There was no pressure on Brees; receivers ran routes that confounded defenders and the Saints marched the field to score making it 31-23.
  • The Skins went 3-and-out and punted the ball away – only to watch the Saints parade down the field with no timeouts eating up large chunks of real estate on every play.  The touchdown came, and the 2-point conversion came, and the game was tied.
  • The Skins got to the edge of field goal range only to get an intentional grounding penalty that sent the game to overtime.
  • The Saints kicked off and held.  The Saints got the ball and ran off tackle twice for about 60 yards and kicked the game winning field goal.

This loss belongs squarely on the shoulders of the defense and/or the defensive play caller in the final 5 minutes of the game.  It should never have gone to OT; that game was in the bag until the Skins’ defense decided to cough up the game.  Consider these defensive stats

Last Friday, I said that I did not understand why the Bills’ braintrust had decided to bench Tyrod Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman.  The Bills have made some strange personnel decisions during the last off-season and near the trade deadline this year but this one was really out of left field.  Peterman proceeded to throw 5 INTs – – in the first half before he was benched.  I only saw the highlights here, but I have no idea what he might have shown in practice that would have convinced the coaching staff that he was ready to see the field on a Sunday.  He would have had to have shown a lot more “savvy” just to reach the level of “bewildered”.  The Bills lost to the Chargers 54-24

It is important to learn new things every day.  Here is what I learned from yesterday:

  • I learned why there were 7 college QBs taken ahead of Peterman in the NFL Draft last Spring.

Speaking of less-than-competent quarterbacking, the Green Bay Packers are up against it.  Brett Hundley was simply overmatched playing the Ravens’ defense and that defensive unit pitched its 3rd shutout for the season.  Hundley threw 3 INTs and lost a fumble in this debacle.

And speaking of good defensive units, the Vikings took on the NFL’s most prolific scoring offense last week and beat the Rams 24-7.  Case Keenum led the Vikes to 451 yards of total offense while the Rams were limited to 254 yards.  The Vikes are going to the playoffs – either as the NFC North champ or as a wild-card.

The Lions stayed 2 games behind the Vikes in the NFC North beating the Bears despite giving up 222 yards of rushing to the Bears. On Thanksgiving Day, the Vikes visit the Lions for the traditional “early game”.  Usually, the “early game” has little if any meaning regarding playoff races; this year the “early game” is a critical matchup; the Lions must win if they think they can win the NFC North.

Recall last Friday that I said the Browns needed for Blake Bortles to throw the game away if they were going to have a chance to get their first win of the season.  It almost happened – until the Browns remembered that they are the one-and-only laughingstock of a team in the league and proceeded to prove it.  Here is how it went:

  • The Jags led only 13-7, the Browns got the ball with about a minute-and-a-half left at their own 20 yardline.  The Browns’ defense had done its job; it had held the Jags to 3.7 yards per play and less than 200 yards of total offense.
  • So, how did the Browns’ offense respond?  DeShone Kizer fumbled the ball; and in a mad scramble for the fumble that looked like NFL Films was doing an homage to the Keystone Kops, the Jags recovered it in the end zone to win the game 19-7.
  • Just for the record, that lost fumble was Kizer’s 4th turnover of the game…
  • I did not watch this game, but I read one report that said the Browns total offense in the first quarter was all of 4 yards.  Yowza!

The Broncos’ defense had been missing in action for the past several games, but they made a significant reappearance yesterday.  The Broncos’ defense held the Bengals’ offense to 12 first downs and only 190 yards total offense.  Unfortunately, the Broncos lost the game anyway by a score of 20-17.  The turning point had the Broncos ready to score a TD when Brock Osweiler threw the ball to a Bengals’ defender who returned it about 100 yards to the Bronco’s 1-yardline.  When the Bengals scored on that 1-yard drive, that was a 14-point swing in a game decided by a field goal.

Somehow, the Chiefs held the Giants to 9 points in regulation time but still managed to lose the game in OT.  That makes 4 games in a row where the Chiefs have been on the short end of the stick, but they still lead the AFC West by 2 full games.

The Raiders did not take advantage of the Chief’s loss against the Pats in Mexico City.  It was plain and clear from the first possession that the Pats’ offense was going to have its way with the Raiders’ defense.  Let me give you just a few numbers here:

  • Tom Brady was 30-37 for 331 yards.
  • Pats averaged 7.2 yards per offensive play.
  • Pats’ TD drives were 73 yards, 80 yards and 85 yards.

The Eagles/Cowboys game was a night and day event.  In the first half, the Cowboys led 9-7 and Carson Wentz looked very much the part of a young QB who had gone to a Division 1-AA school and who was still learning what pro football was all about.  I have no idea what the Eagles’ coaches said at halftime but by the end of the 3rd quarter, the game had changed 180 degrees to the point where it looked as if the Eagles’ offense was playing against a group of guys who had never played defense together before that game.  The Eagles ran the ball for 215 yards and their shortest TD drive was 75 yards.

Do not make the mistake of looking at the final score here (Eagles 37 Cowboys 9) and attribute that to Ezekiel Elliott’s absence.  Yes, the Cowboys missed Elliott, but it is not as if they did not have a running game.  Alfred Morris – who once ran for 1500 yards in a season – gained 95 yards on 17 carries.  The Cowboys were undone by an uncharacteristic performance from Dak Prescott last night; he threw 3 INTs and lost a fumble that turned into a “scoop-and-score” for the Eagles.

Finally, a news item/prediction from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Think this guy just might have an ink-cartridge endorsement in his future?

“Introducing Stanford placekicker Jet Toner.”

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



Football Friday …

The calendar says it is Friday. That means this needs to be a Football Friday and as custom prevails here, I shall begin with college football.

  • In terms of the biggest game of the weekend in terms of the CFP selection folks, the most important game of the week has to be Wisconsin/Michigan.  I have been critical of the schedule Wisconsin has played to date this year, but I am a bit put off by Michigan folks who have been ridiculing that schedule this week.  Michigan is on a three-game win streak where all of the wins have been impressive – – until you realize that the opponent have been Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland.  Those three opponents in succession qualify as Cupcake City…
  • Navy/Notre Dame looked to be a lot more interesting before Notre Dame got itself ass-kicked by Miami last weekend.  Now, the question is how badly will the Irish come out as a reaction to the game against Miami.  Will the Irish come out breathing fire after their national exposure de-pantsing by Miami or will they come out as cuddly bunnies waiting to be run over?  We should see early on…  If I were forced to make a pick on this game in order to save the life of my long-suffering wife I would play the Over.
  • Auburn/La-Monroe is a classic example of a “trap game”.  The only problem is that Auburn set the trap for itself.  Auburn is a 37.5-point favorite in this game and that is probably about right – – except for the fact that Auburn plays Alabama next week and Auburn destroyed Georgia just last week.
  • Speaking of trap games, undefeated UCF travels to Philly to play Temple this weekend.  Temple does not have the résumé that UCF has but the fact is that UCF will be looking ahead to their next opponent – – USF is coming to Orlando to play UCF.  The folks at UCF believe that they should be part of the CFP discussion, but the upcoming UCF/USF game has conference championship written all over it.
  • The UCLA/USC game is a huge rivalry contest; if one claims to be a “football fan” this game has to be interesting to you even if both top-shelf quarterbacks were taking the game off.
  • Cal/Stanford is a rivalry game equal to or bigger than the UCLA/USC game.  Folks here in the East might not recognize the import of this matchup but it is a HUGE deal.  Cal has lost the last 8 games in this rivalry, but this year’s Cal team is a lot more competitive than the ones over the past 2-3 years.  The spread here is 17.5 points; my suggestion is to watch this game and not put any money down on any of the proposed outcomes.

Three games on the card for this weekend have significant importance regarding the final CFP.  They do not look like nail-biters, but it is important for the favorites here to show well:

  • Virginia at Miami:  I fully expect Miami to win this game and continue its march to an ACC Championship game in early December.
  • Oklahoma at Kansas:  The Sooners are favored by 35 points.  Given the prolific Oklahoma offense and the porous Kansas defense, that may not be nearly enough for a Kansas cover.
  • Kentucky at Georgia:  After laying an egg last week against Auburn, Georgia can take out its frustrations on a much lesser opponent here.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment about last week’s Minnesota/Nebraska game:

“There was a pretty good crowd at Minnesota — considering this is the beginning of ice fishing season.”

The four nfl teams on a BYE Week this week will not be sorely missed:

  1. Colts:  Currently last in the mediocre-at-best AFC South.
  2. Niners:  Riding a 1-game win streak throughout this BYE Week.  Hi-ho!
  3. Panthers:  Riding a 3-game winning streak and playing very well recently.
  4. Jets:  After some irrational exuberance over their strong start, the Jets have settled into last place in the AFC East.

The Steelers laid waste to the Titans last night.  The game was not particularly interesting in terms of worrying about who would be the winner, but it was a game that gave me some indications of how the NFL season might shake out.

  • The Titans had been riding a 4-game win streak and looked as if they might be the best of a sorry lot in the AFC South.  After last night, I am not so sure about that any more.  Looking back over that 4-game win streak, the opponents were the Colts, Browns Ravens and Bengals – – and the last 3 of those wins were by a total of 10 points.  I cannot imagine two teams from the AFC South making the playoffs so the better of the Titans and the Jags will be there while the other stays home.  It just might be the Jags.  On New Year’s Eve in the final regular season weekend, the Titans and the Jags will square off in Tennessee…
  • At the same time, the Steelers seem to be putting the pieces together and maybe they should begin to aspire to home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Given how much better they play at Heinz Field as compared to anywhere else, that might be a very worthy pursuit on their part.

The way the Steelers played last night convinces me that the AFC North divisional race is over, and the Steelers are the Division Champions.  Come to think of it, this weekend could very well see a couple other division races become foregone conclusions.

  • After a bit of early-season overreaction to a couple of losses, the Patriots are firmly in control of the AFC East – – as has become the custom over the last decade or so.  In addition to those two home losses in September, the Bills and the Dolphins began the season pretending to be good enough to mount a challenge to the Pats’ hegemony.  AS we approach Thanksgiving, I believe all of that was a mirage at best.
  • The Chiefs are firmly in control of the AFC West.  They lead the Raiders by 2 games in the loss column and the Chiefs have a VERY favorable schedule from here to the playoffs – – at Giants, vs. Bills, at Jets, vs. Raiders, vs. Chargers, vs. Dolphins, at Broncos.  Perhaps the Chiefs will not be favored in the final game of the year because it is on the road and perhaps they will have their berth in the playoffs nailed down before kickoff.
  • The Eagles control the NFC East and if they beat the Cowboys this weekend I believe you can consider that race to be over.

By my reckoning, half of the division races are over now.  In the other four, there are two-team races.

  1. Jags/Titans in the AFC South (see above)
  2. Rams/Seahawks in the NFC West.  Based on “pedigree” and experience, you would have to favor the Seahawks to outlast the upstart Rams at this point in the season.  The teams meet one more time in Seattle on December 17th.
  3. Vikes/Lions in the NFC North.  The Vikes have a 2-game lead at the moment but the Lions schedule from here to New Year’s Eve is soft once the Lions and Vikes play each other on Thanksgiving Day.  Other than the Vikes, the Lions have to contend with the Bears. Ravens, Bucs, Bears again and the Bengals.
  4. Panthers/Saints:  Probably the most interesting race because both teams are playing very well now.  These two teams meet on December 3rd in what will be a pivotal game for both sides.

Regarding games this weekend:

  • Lions/Bears:  This game means a lot more to the Lions than it does to the Bears, but the Lions have to avoid looking ahead to the visit by the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day.  The Lions are favored by 3 points; they ought to cover that.
  • Chiefs/Giants:  Andy Reid “always wins” after a BYE Week and the Giants are in disarray.  The spread is 10 points here – and even 10.5 points in a couple of places – and that is a big number…
  • Bucs Dolphins:  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Both teams fit the description, “all hat and no cattle” …
  • Ravens/Packers:  Not a riveting game by any stretch of the imagination, but if the Ravens still aspire to sneak into the AFC playoffs as a wild-card, they pretty much need to beat teams hampered by quarterback injuries.
  • Rams/Vikes:  This game means a lot to both teams in terms of their divisional races (see above).  It will be interesting to see if a very good Vikes’ defense can stymie a very good Rams’ offense.  The game is in Minnesota and the Vikes are 2.5-point favorites.  The Total Line is 45.5 and I like the OVER in that game.
  • Cards/Texans:  This was the runner-up in the Dog-Breath Game of the Week competition.  Tom Savage versus Drew Stanton …  I think I’ll be changing the channel.
  • Jags/Browns:  The Browns have to hope that Blake Bortles throws the game away – – as he has been known to do in the past.  Otherwise …  The Total Line for this game is 37; I think that reflects the perceived offensive ineptness by both teams and not the defensive prowess of both teams.
  • Skins/Saints:  Both teams need this game.  The Saints need it because they are in a close race with the Panthers in the NFC South.  The Skins need it because they might see their playoff chances disappear with a loss here.  The game is in New Orleans and the oddsmakers have the Saints as 7.5-point favorites.
  • Bills/Chargers:  The Bills have seemingly tossed it in; I am no Tyrod Taylor acolyte, but sitting Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman…  Really?  On the other side, Philip Rivers is listed as “Probable” for the Chargers after going through concussion protocol all week.  If Rivers cannot play, add this game to the Dog-Breath Game of the Week category.
  • Bengals/Broncos:  Here are two teams on a downslope.  Whatever happened to the Broncos’ defense?  That unit has given up 121 points in its last 3 games.
  • Pats/Raiders (Mexico City):  The only reason to play this game in this venue is that there will probably be 20,000 more fans in the stadium than there would be if the game were played in Oakland.  I doubt that the Raiders’ defense is going to put the kibosh on the Pats’ offense here.  The oddsmaker thinks this will be a high scoring affair setting the Total Line at 55.5.
  • Eagles/Cowboys (Sunday Nite):  If Tyron Smith is still out, Dak Prescott will need eyes in the back of his head as a protective measure.  The Eagles are coming off a BYE Week and can all but wrap up the NFC East race with a win here.  The Eagles opened as a 3-point favorite but that spread has opened to 4.5 points as of this morning.
  • Falcons/Seahawks (Monday Nite):  Richard Sherman is out for the season; Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are both hurting.  This could be an interesting game and it is very important to both teams.  The Seahawks are favored by a field goal at home.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot this morning:

“Wunderkind: By turning around the Rams (a surprising 7-2) so quickly, Sean McVay has made life harder for head-coaching hires who hope to get two or three years to make an impact. McVay’s rookie success will result in more owners exhibiting less patience.”

He’s right, you know…

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



College Basketball – The Appetizer Course

The college basketball season is upon us – or at least the appetizer course is here.  I love college basketball; in terms of what I like to watch, college basketball is at the top of the list.  There is a small asterisk on that last pronouncement, however.  In the early part of the season – the appetizer course if you will – too many of the big-time programs schedule glorified scrimmages and call then college basketball games.  The Chief Logistics Officer for our annual Las Vegas trips calls these glorified scrimmages, “bully games”.

I am going to use Georgetown as an example here; believe me, there are similar circumstances out there for dozens of other programs that are among the “big boys” of college basketball:

  • The first six games this year are against Maryland Eastern Shore, Richmond, Maine, Coppin State, Howard and North Carolina A&T.  If you are a Georgetown alum, you might be interested in watching parts of those games; otherwise…
  • On December 16, Georgetown will finally pick on someone its own size when it hosts Syracuse.
  • Then come two more “tune up” games against North Texas and Arkansas A&M before Big East Conference play commences on 27 December.
  • Oh, by the way, of the 8 “little guys” on the schedule, all of them come to DC to play Georgetown except for Richmond.

It is important to recognize that every one of those potential “bully games” got on the schedule because Georgetown wanted them to be on the schedule.  None are conference games; none are historical rivals spanning 100 years of “tradition”.  This is résumé padding and nothing else.  And, this sort of scheduling malfeasance detracts significantly from college basketball.  I can understand a “bully game” or two in the early going so that coaches can continue their coaching agendas in the context of an actual game against folks who are not teammates.  That is, in fact, the only justification for things like the NFL Exhibition Games.

The good thing about the early portion of the college basketball season is that television networks arrange to pair good teams one against the other to fill programming slots.  There are several of these sorts of things sprinkled onto the calendar to spark interest and one of those events happened this week.  Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State came together to play one another in a double-header; that is a pairing that would be worth seeing in mid-late March.  I understand that you cannot have that sort of TV fare every week, but think of the chasm that lies between a Kansas/Kentucky matchup and a Georgetown/North Carolina A&T “showdown”.

My takeaway from the Duke/Michigan St. game is that both teams are very good and I will be checking both of them out several times over the course of the season.  Duke won the game and played most of the game without Marvin Bagley III because he was poked in the eye early in the first half.  Kansas beat Kentucky in another interesting and exciting game.  Kentucky did not shoot well form the outside (3 for 13 on 3-point attempts); their offense was to go inside, shoot the ball and then hit the offensive boards hard.

Completing my “appetizer course” analogy, games like Duke/Michigan St. and Kansas/Kentucky are the slices of pâtè di foie gras on my plate while games like Georgetown/Arkansas A&M are the lettuce leaves under the pâté de foie gras.

Switching gears …  GQ Magazine has named Colin Kaepernick as its Man of the Year.  For reference, this award has only been around for about 20 years and some previous recipients have been”

  • Mel Gibson
  • Michael Jordan
  • David Duchovny (I could not tell you a single thing this man has done in his life.)
  • Tom Cruise
  • Chris Rock
  • George Clooney – – you get the idea…

Looking back over previous recipients, there is an interesting pairing.  Michael Sam was a GQ Person of the Year recipient just a few years ago.  Michael Sam was the first openly gay player taken in an NFL Draft and to be on the roster of an NFL team – actually, he was on the rosters of two teams before retiring from football.  Like Sam, Colin Kaepernick is not actively involved with football at the moment.  Also, like Sam, Kaepernick was the first player to choose to use the national anthem as the vehicle for a social protest and that action got him crosswise with some fans and some coaches/GMs/owners etc.

What Michael Sam did a couple of years ago was important to him and perhaps it was important to younger gay athletes.  Not intending to diminish that action or its import in any way, the fact is that the number of young gay athletes who might be in a position to turn pro in a major revenue sport is not numbered in the millions.  What Colin Kaepernick seeks to call attention to is social injustice that befalls millions of citizens simply because of their race and/or ethnicity and/or religious beliefs.  The “phobia” or the “ism” Kaepernick is trying to improve affects the lives of far more people and it has resonance with many foundation pieces of US society.

I have said from the time when Kaepernick first “took a knee” that I agreed with the objectives of his protest but that I did not appreciate the way he chose to make his protest.  His quest continues, and he has attracted the efforts and the representation of several active NFL players seeking goals common with his.  He has not achieved all of the goals he has set for himself – sadly, they may never all be met – but he has to be applauded/recognized for his role in making progress toward those goals.  This award is one such recognition.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The University of Louisville was implicated in the latest college basketball scandal. In a related story, Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.”

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



Here And There Today …

The Miami Dolphins like to live in the past and remind everyone of their perfect season.  I wonder how the organization will recognize the latest franchise first-and-only:

  • When the Dolphins got their doors blown off by the Panthers this Monday night, they became the first and only NFL team to lose three consecutive “prime time games” in three consecutive weeks.  A week and a half ago, they lost on Thursday night to the Ravens; a week ago on Sunday night, they lost to the Raiders; and now the Panthers.
  • Celebrate it…

The three UCLA basketball players who were arrested and who had been detained in China for shoplifting have been released and are home.  Now come the reactions to a teachable moment:

  1. We will never know what Lavar Ball says to LiAngelo Ball about any of this and what LiAngelo may have done to the “Ball Brand”.  Too bad; that would give us more than a little insight into the “Ball Brand”.
  2. UCLA as an institution of higher learning had better use this “teachable moment” to do some teaching.  UCLA has its “brand” stamped all over an international incident involving shoplifting that required the involvement of the President of the United States and the US Department of State to make things right.  If these three players are reinstated to the basketball team immediately with nothing more than a severe talking-to, then UCLA as a school is nothing but an adjunct to its Athletic Department.
  3. Even if UCLA allows these three players to play immediately, I would hope that Steve Alford learned some lessons about right versus wrong in his time with bob Knight at Indiana.  If the school says they are eligible tomorrow and I am the UCLA coach, none of them see a practice session or a uniform until at least New Year’s Day.

Greg Cote had this comment on the UCLA/Chinese shoplifting incident in the Miami Herald:

“Lonzo Ball’s younger brother was among UCLA players arrested for shoplifting in China. Does the Bruins defense get statistical credit for those steals? “

After a slew of Seahawks’ players sustained injuries in last Thursday’s game, Richard Sherman – one of the injured players – renewed his statements about the absurdity of playing Thursday night games on short rest.  His teammate Doug Baldwin went rhetorically even further and said that Thursday night games “should be illegal”.  Baldwin is an intelligent and rational man; I am certain he used that phraseology as hyperbole and I do not believe that he was calling on legislatures at any level of government to pass laws to make it a crime to play NFL games on Thursday nights.

Let me analyze this situation from the pragmatist point of view:

  • A couple of years ago, CBS and NBC bid to get a shared contract with the NFL to simulcast Thursday Night Football along with the NFL Network.  That contract put a reported $900M in the revenue stream for the NFL.
  • The current CBA is complicated, but it seems to me that the salary cap is based on about 47% of total revenue and 50% of TV revenue that accrues to the league.  If I am correct in that interpretation, then canceling Thursday Night Football will remove $900M from the revenue stream which means that about $450M will be removed from the salary cap calculations.
  • So, the real question boils down to something rather simple.  If the players had to vote on a single issue – by secret ballot – to cancel Thursday Night Football and knowingly forego that extra salary cap room, would they as a body choose to do so?  I do not know the answer here and I suspect that the NFLPA does not know either and that the NFLPA would prefer not to know…

I have said this before and will bore you to death by saying it again.  This “Thursday Night Football conundrum” is really not that hard to resolve.  In fact, my proposed solution here will kill two birds with one stone:

  1. Almost everyone agrees that there are too many damned Exhibition Games.  So as part of the solution to the “Thursday Night Problem”, cancel the 4th Exhibition Game.
  2. Then, start the season a week earlier than now and make the season 18 weeks long instead of 17 weeks long.  Do NOT add a 17th regular season game.  Instead, use the added week of the season to build a schedule where each team gets two BYE Weeks.
  3. Now, here is the scheduling mandate.  Whenever a team is scheduled to play on a Thursday night, that team will get one of its BYE Weeks on the weekend before that game.
  4. Voila!  Do this and the NFL can rid itself of a meaningless Exhibition Game and it can keep the revenue from Thursday Night Football and the players in Thursday Night games can have extra time to heal before playing and …

You want to know what is sad about this simple solution that gets most people what they want at little to no cost?  If the NFL were to propose it, the NFLPA would immediately oppose it; if the NFLPA were to propose it, the NFL would immediately oppose it.  Both sides would rather bitch and moan at each other than sit down and find a path to solving the problem.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding a “wardrobe malfunction” unrelated to Super Bowl halftime shows:

“PGA golfer Jason Dufner’s pants split in the seat when he bent over during the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship.

“Or as golfers prefer to call it, a bad slice.”

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



Football Here And Football There

To say that it was an interesting week in college football would be a monumental understatement.  Plenty of teams ranked very highly were crushed this week.  One of those teams – Georgia – added insult to injury for me.  Every year when we go to Las Vegas, I pick a 10-team teaser card.  Yes, I know it is a sucker bet; but I do it for fun.  I also pick a 10-team parlay card.  I had seen Georgia earlier this year twice and I liked them against Auburn; so, I put the Bulldogs on both cards.  Here is the result:

  • 10-Team Teaser Card:  I got nine games right and missed out with a selection of Georgia +6.5
  • 10-Team Parlay Card:  I had 7 college games for Saturday and missed out with a selection of Georgia – 2.  [Aside:  I have to admit that I would have lost anyway because I missed two of the three NFL games I had on that card for Sunday.]

Other big surprises from last Saturday – at least for me – were:

  1. How dominant Miami was over Notre Dame.  I expected a close game.
  2. How the Oklahoma defense stopped the TCU offense.
  3. How good the Clemson defense looked.
  4. How bad Michigan State looked.

I’ll summarize reactions to Sunday’s NFL action this way:

  • Forget Ezekiel Elliott’s absence; the real missing piece for the Cowboys was LT Tyron Smith; his replacements were horrible allowing 6 sacks of Dak Prescott.  [Aside:  The play caller(s) for the Cowboys seemed not to recognize the need for a back or a TE to that side of the formation on passing downs; those replacements were left alone out there long after it was clear neither could block the opponent’s defensive end.]
  • The Skins scored 30 points on the Vikes’ defense – – and managed to lose the game.  No excuses; this loss must be hung around the necks of the defense.
  • The Niners beat the Giants.  Do you remember less than 2 years ago when the Giants’ Front Office was being praised for “winning the Ben McAdoo sweepstakes”?  They fired a two-time Super Bowl winning coach to get this guy?
  • The Saints are for real.  They went to Buffalo and played outdoors and pushed the Bills around on offense and defense.  They scored 47 points and Drew Brees threw for less than 200 yards and zero TDs.
  • The Browns are not only monumentally inept, but they are equally dumb regarding “football smarts”.
  • If Tom Savage is the answer at QB, I cannot think of the question.

The contretemps between Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell escalated when Jones hired David Boies to represent him as he threatened to sue the league over Goodell’s contract extension.  You can read the details of all that fury in a dozen places.  I find it interesting that other owners are taking clear stances against Jones in a public way here; that is not the typical behavior within the “Billionaires’ Club”/NFL Owners Club.  As in all disputes of this type, there is merit on both sides of the argument.  However, I wonder if …:

  • Is Jerry Jones really angry about the amount of money that is likely to be deposited into Roger Goodell’s exchequer or does Jerry Jones see himself as the 2017 version of Bud Selig?
  • Might Jones be angling to turn over control of the Cowboys to his kids and assume the rule of NFL Commissioner for himself?
  • Just a thought …

Let me throw out another “against the grain” thought regarding an NFL team:

  • Who was it in the Raiders’ Front Office who thought it was a great idea to sign Marshawn Lynch?
  • So far, “Beat Mode” has looked more like “Cuddly Bunny Mode”.  In 8 games this year – remember he was suspended for one game – Lynch has rushed for all of 323 yards on 86 carries.
  • The offensive coaches are not using him very much (10.75 rushes per game) and he is not delivering big returns (3.75 yards per carry).
  • Yes, Marshawn Lynch’s stats are better than the guy he replaced – Latavius Murray (317 yards on 95 carries for the Vikes) – but that is damning by faint praise.

In the CFL, they are down to the “Final Four” in the quest for the Grey Cup.  This weekend, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will take on the Toronto Argonauts in Toronto and then the Edmonton Eskimos will travel to Calgary to take on the Stampeders.  The Grey Cup game will be held in Ottawa on November 26th; the Ottawa RedBlacks were eliminated from the CFL playoffs last weekend by the Roughriders.  This being Canada’s sesquicentennial, it is fitting that the game be held in the Canadian capitol city.

The game is officially sold out; temporary stands were put in either end-zone to accommodate ticket demand for the game and those were sold out more than a month before kickoff.  The tradition in Canada is to hold a weeklong festival prior to the Grey Cup game in the host city.  [Aside:  That has to be a better idea than what the NFL does in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.]  Like the NFL, the Grey Cup Game has a halftime show; this year, Shania Twain will be the headliner.  The Grey Cup game will be telecast in the US on ESPN2 on Sunday night 26 November starting at 6:30PM EST.  The NFL game that night will be Green Bay at Pittsburgh and that game may not be all that interesting.  Keep this in mind …

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

“Ex-pitcher Livan Hernandez has filed for bankruptcy, claiming he has less than $50,000 to show for the $53 million he earned in a 17-year career.

“Alert statisticians immediately credited him with a blown savings.”

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



Lots To Say Today …

I have lots to cover today because I will be off the air until next Tuesday or Wednesday.  This weekend is my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas; I hope to return in a glorious financial condition; I also hope to return in a physical state that will allow me to recover quickly from the sensory overload of watching about ten football games and various hose races simultaneously.

The first thing I want to comment on is the arrest of LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA basketball players in China on charges of shoplifting sunglasses.  The three players were released on bail but are supposed to remain confined to their hotel while the legal process in China – not nearly identical to the legal process here in the US may I say – moves forward.  Some people have speculated that it may be months before the case is resolved; I suspect that the fact that it involves the UCLA basketball team and the fact that President Trump is visiting China will move the process along as fast as possible.  Having no intention of predicting the final outcome, I do have a two observations to make:

  1. LiAngelo Ball has been seen in videos produced/promulgated by his father Lavar driving a Ferrari.  If one can own a Ferrari as a teenager, why might one even think about boosting a pair of sunglasses?
  2. I do not have any formal association/connection with UCLA, so I do not know its academic schedule in detail.  However, most US universities are in the middle of a term in early November; so, I wonder why the school and its student-athletes are away from campus for a couple of weeks at this time.  It might cause one to wonder if the concept of “sham courses” or “ghost classes” migrated westward from UNC…

The second thing I want to comment on relates tangentially to UCLA.  In an interview with Joe Buck, the World Class Curmudgeon, Bob Knight, criticized former UCLA legend John Wooden and threw shade on Wooden’s record and accomplishments.  Knight said that he liked Wooden and admired what he did as a coach; however, he pointed out that Wooden and UCLA allowed – maybe even abetted – booster Sam Gilbert to make a mockery of NCAA recruiting rules to assemble the college equivalent of “super-teams” back in the 60s and 70s.  Based on Wooden’s beatific image and Knight’s demonic image, most folks have jumped all over Bob Knight for saying this sort of thing.  I’ll wager that some of those critics wonder how he might even think such blasphemy.

Here is the problem:

  • Bob Knight is correct.
  • John Wooden was a great coach; he taught his players how to play basketball; he taught his players important life skills; he conducted himself in a way that made him a role model for lots of people who did not play for him or work with him.  His players internalized his teachings and performed superbly on the court.
  • John Wooden was also the beneficiary of a shadow recruiting mechanism ongoing on behalf of UCLA operated by boosters such as Sam Gilbert.  Wooden received more talent than any other school at the time and then produced great results with the talent that he received.
  • The issue here is that both things are true and what Bob Knight said is correct.  I believe that this is a case where the message and the messenger are in conflict.

Having made two negative comments here related to UCLA, I suppose I should try to make amends by saying something nice about UCLA football and how I am going to bet on them in Las Vegas this weekend.  The problem is that I am probably going to pass on that game – unless one of my fellow pilgrims who lives in Arizona convinces me that Arizona State is overmatched by the Bruins this weekend.

There are a whole bunch of very good matchups this weekend; I would like to tell you that we moved the date from mid-October when we usually go to this date because we looked at the college football card for this week and knew it would be a great weekend.  That did not happen.  So, I will not pretend that it did.  To the games…

  1. Iowa visits Wisconsin.  Iowa is fresh off its domination of Ohio St.; Wisconsin is undefeated in 2017.  The Badgers are favored by 12 at home.  I ran across a report that said the last time Iowa beat two consecutive opponents who were ranked in the Top 10 at the time was back in 1958.  The Total Line for the game is 46; I think the oddsmaker is right that this will be a low-scoring affair and 12 points is a lot to lay in a low scoring game…
  2. TCU is at Oklahoma and the Sooners are 6.5-point favorites.  This is one of the three best games of the weekend; these teams are tied for the lead in the Big 12 with 5-1 conference records.  The TCU defense will make Baker Mayfield and company work to move the ball down the field.  Can the Oklahoma defense hold up its end of the bargain when TCU has the ball?
  3. Notre Dame is a 3-point favorite over Miami; the game is in Miami.  This is the second of the three best games of the weekend and it has serious CFP implications.  Notre Dame is currently ranked in the Top 4 and Miami is undefeated in 2017.  A loss for Notre Dame would probably end their shot at the CFP; it would be their second loss of the year.  A loss for Miami would reinforce the narrative that the team has been more lucky than good in achieving its undefeated record to date.
  4. Georgia goes to Auburn as a 2.5-point favorite.  This is also one of the three best games of the weekend.  Georgia is ranked 1st in the country with a 9-0 record; they will win the SEC East and play in the SEC Championship game.  Auburn has two losses – one in conference play – and still must play Alabama in two weeks.  They will likely need to win both games to make it to the SEC Championship game.
  5. Speaking of Alabama, they go to Starkville, MS this week to play Mississippi St.  As of this morning, Bama is a 14.5-point favorite.  If you look at the Mississippi St. schedule, you will see that the Bulldogs have only lost to Georgia and Auburn this year; even though both of those losses were by large margins, this is a good team playing at home.  Alabama is the better team but that is a fat line…
  6. The schedule maker also has Oklahoma St. on the road at Iowa St. this weekend; the Cowboys are 6.5-point favorites.  Both teams are 4-2 in conference play.
  7. W. Virginia visits K-State this week and K-State is favored by 2.5 points. I find that game interesting because if the game were in Morgantown WV, I think the line would be very different.
  8. Texas Tech is at Baylor this week and Tech is a 7.5-point favorite.  I know Baylor has only on win this year over a miserable Kansas team; however, I do not understand this line.  Tech has lost 5 of its last 6 games and the only win in that stretch was over that same miserable Kansas team.  Am I really going to be tempted to take a 1-8 Baylor team here?
  9. Since I mentioned Kansas as a miserable team twice already, the Jayhawks are on the road this week to play Texas.  The Longhorns are a middling team with a 4-5 record.  Nonetheless, they are a 34-point favorite over Kansas this weekend.
  10. NC State is on the road at Boston College and NC State is a 3-point favorite here.  State has lost 2 games in a row (to Notre Dame and Clemson) and Boston College is improved over the last several years.  I sorta like NC State to win and cover here…
  11. VA Tech is on the road at Georgia Tech and VA Tech is a 3-point favorite.  The Hokies only two losses this year have been to Clemson and to undefeated Miami.
  12. Michigan St. is on the road to play Ohio St.  Make no mistake, the Buckeyes ranking this year has as much to do with reputation and past glory as it does with on-field performance this year.  Ohio St. lost badly at home to Oklahoma; it needed a furious rally at home to beat Penn St. by 1 point; it got its doors blown off last week at Iowa by 30 points.  This week, the oddsmaker has Ohio St. favored by anywhere from 15 points to 16.5 points.  The Spartans may not be the best team in the country, but they are 7-2 so far…
  13. USC is a 13-point favorite over Colorado despite being on the road.  USC is the better team here but sometimes they play sloppily and almost passively.
  14. In what is probably the worst game of the weekend, San Jose St. travels to Nevada.  San Jose St. is 1-9 and the win was over a Division 1-AA school.  Seeing them as a 19-point underdog should not be a surprise.  How-evah, if you look at Nevada’s record you will see that the Wolfpack is 1-8 and one of the losses came at the hands of a Division 1-AA school.

Brad Rock of the Deseret News had this comment about a less-than-wonderful college football team earlier this week:

“ says Illinoisans’ favorite candy is Sour Patch Kids.

“This also happens to be the unofficial nickname of the 2-7 University of Illinois football team.”

Looking at the NFL schedule, the Seahawks go to play the Cards in Arizona tonight as a 6-point favorite.  The Cards’ best hope here is to run Adrian Peterson 25-30 times to shorten the game and keep it close; the Seahawks’ defense ought to be just a bit angry over its collapse last week on a final drive by the Skins.  The last time these two teams met on this field, the result was one of the uglier games in recent NFL history; it ended in a 6-6 tie.  I like the Seahawks to win and cover tonight.

The Vikes are a 1-point favorite over the Skins in Washington this weekend.  The Total Line here is 42.5 and I am not sure I understand either line.  If I play this game at all, I will probably look to take the Skins on the Money Line where they are at +105 this morning.

The Bears host the Packers and the Bears are 5-point favorites.  Consider this; Mitchell Trubisky will be the more experienced starting QB in this game.  After what I saw from Brett Hundley last week and what I saw from the Packers’ defensive unit, I think Green Bay’s season is over.  I like the Bears to win and cover here.

The Steelers are 10-point favorites on the road against the Colts.  I hate double-digit spreads in NFL games and I hate the Steelers on the road.  Oh, and I hate the Colts too.  I’ll pass on this game.

The Chargers go all the way to Jax to play the Jags and the Jags ore 3.5-point favorites.  The Chargers can probably afford only 1 more loss if they are going to be contenders for a wild card slot in the playoffs; the Jags are tied with the Titans atop the AFC South for now.  I’ll just watch this one…

The Jets are 2.5-point favorites over the Bucs in Tampa.  Back in August, I thought the Jets would be packing it in for the year about now and that the Bucs would be contending if h=not leading the NFC South.  So much for prognostication…  Mike Evans is out of the game for the Bucs on suspension; Jameis Winston has a shoulder injury and did not practice this week; I suspect he will not play.  That leaves you with a QB matchup of Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Whoop-di-damned-doo…  The Bucs defense is awful.  If I play this game, I will take the Jets to win and cover.  Or, maybe I’ll take the game to stay UNDER 43.5.  Really…

The Bengals visit the Titans and the Titans are 4.5- point favorites.  The Bengals stink; the Titans are totally unreliable from week to week.  I’ll pass…

The Saints are 3-point favorites on the road and outdoors in Buffalo against the Bills this weekend.  The Bills looked awful last Thursday night against the Jets; they are now 5-3 and they need this game.  The Saints are on a 6-game winning streak, but they only lead the Panthers by a half-game in their division.  Both teams need the game and it could be the best early game to watch this Sunday.

The Browns are on the road to play the Lions this week and the Lions are 12-point favorites.  I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL.  I think the Browns are a JV team; I think the Lions have a real shot to win the NFC North outright and to make the playoffs as a wildcard team should they fall short in their division.  The Browns had a BYE Week last week and the Lions had a short week coming off a road game last Monday night.  Still, there is a double-digit spread on the game…

The Texans visit the Rams on Sunday and the Rams are 12-point favorites.  Have I mentioned that I hate double-digit spreads in the NFL?  The Rams average almost 33 points per game; the Texans will start Tom Savage at QB.  What else is there to say…?

The Cowboys will play the Falcons in Atlanta and the Falcons are 3-point favorites.  If Ezekiel Elliott can play – and dodge suspension yet one more time – I think the Cowboys will win outright and if that is announced as the case tomorrow, that line will change dramatically.  The Falcons have lost 4 of their last 5 games and the one win was over the Jets.  In those 4 losses, the Falcons never scored more than 17 points.  And yet, the Total Line for this game stands at 50.5.  No, I do not get it…

The Giants (1-7) fly across the country to play the Niners (0-9).  The Giants are 2.5-point favorites here in a game where one team (the Giants) is rumored to be on the verge of a mutiny and the other team (the Niners) is dreadful.  I wish the game were “Pick ‘em” so that I could say that I would rather pick my nose than pick this game.  I would not bet on this game with your money…

The Sunday Nite game has the Pats visiting the Broncos.  The Pats are 7.5-point favorites here but remember that Tom Brady actually has a losing record for his career in this stadium.  The Pats had a BYE Week last week while the Broncos stunk out the joint against the Eagles in Philly.  I know that the Pats’ defense is statistically awful this year but remember that the Broncos will be starting Brock Osweiler at QB.

The Monday Night game has the Dolphins in Carolina to play the Panthers and the oddsmakers have the Panthers as a 9-point favorite.  The game is meaningful to the Panthers in terms of the NFC South race; but, for me, this game has all the appeal of cold chicken soup.  The only good news I can see here is that it is not a double-digit spread.

There are 4 teams with BYE Weeks:

  1. The Chiefs have lost 3 of their last 4 games but they still lead the AFC West by 2 games.  Their run defense has been miserable of late; they need to fix that.
  2. The Eagles’ coaching staff has a problem.  Coaches like to point out mistakes and harp on them as a way to improve performance and motivate practice effort.  Based on last week’s 51-point outburst and dominance of the Broncos, I wonder how many mistakes the coaches will be able to find…
  3. The Raiders trail the Chiefs by 2 games in the AFC West.  The Raiders need to shore up their defense over this BYE Week and also to goose the running game a bit.
  4. The Ravens are down 3 games in the loss column to the Steelers in the AFC North race.  If there is any post-season hope in Baltimore it has to be as a wildcard team.  The Ravens schedule going forward has some very winnable games on it against teams such as the Packers, Texans, Browns, Colts and Bengals.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“How important are academics at Northwestern? The football team doesn’t call it a huddle, it’s a ‘study group’.”

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



RIP Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay died yesterday in an airplane accident.  He had a pilot’s license and his two-passenger aircraft crashed in the Gulf of Mexico.  He was only 40 years old.  Halladay won the Cy Young Award in both the AL and the NL and he threw a perfect game in his career.  When he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, he should be enshrined.

Rest in peace, Roy Halladay…

Back in August of this year, I offered up a categorization of the of the NFL Backup QBs for all 32 NFL teams.NFL .  In August 2015, I wrote about how the Law of Supply and Demand applied to NFL teams and available QBs to play for those teams.  The names may have changed somewhat, but the situation remains the same; the absence of 32 very good QBs forces teams to pursue and pay competent QBs handsomely and the weakness of the “backup QB cadre” puts teams in a severe bind should they have to resort to using a backup.  Plus ça change ; plus ça même chose …

Because professional football is played by human beings and not automatons, there is necessarily a difference in the capabilities and the performance of the quarterbacks among the 32 teams in the league.  Moreover, NFL fans must have recognized over the years that the difference in performance from the best QB to the worst QB is starkly evident.  It is that “performance disparity” that entices NFL Front Offices to look for “franchise QBs” almost over anything else a team may need; and then, when they find a player they consider to be a “franchise QB”, they inundate him with money.

This is the “new normal” in the NFL economy and it is not necessarily rational.  Consider:

  • The highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Matthew Stafford.  He is 29 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” certainly indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  At the same time, the stats also indicate that Stafford has a losing record as a starting QB (55-62) and that halfway through his 9th season, he has led the team to the playoffs only 3 times and has yet to win a playoff game.  He is the highest paid player because he is the most recent QB to sign a long-term “franchise deal”.
  • The second highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Derek Carr.  He is 26 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” also indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  Like Matthew Stafford, Carr has a losing record as a starting QB (26-29) and while he did lead the Raiders to the playoffs last year, he was injured for that playoff game.  He is the second highest paid player because he signed his long-term “franchise deal” a bit before Stafford signed his.
  • The third highest paid player in the league in 2017 is Kirk Cousins.  He is 29 years old and his stats and the “eyeball test” also indicate that he is in the upper echelon of QBs plying the trade today.  He too has a career losing record as a starter (23-25-1) and he too has never won a playoff game.  He is being paid at this level because the Skins’ Front Office/ownership has used the franchise tag on him two years in a row.  He will be “franchised” again at the end of this year or become a free agent looking for more money than Matthew Stafford got in his most recent “franchise deal”.  He just might be the highest paid player in the NFL in 2018…

I cite these situations not to demean the players in any way nor to suggest that the teams involved should not have signed them when they had the chance to do so.  What I am trying to point out here is that the marketplace for competent NFL QBs is so thin that teams are paying very large sums for “potential” instead of for “performance”.  No one who watches/follows NFL football even casually would suggest that the troika of Stafford/Carr/Cousins is more accomplished than the threesome of Brady/Roethlisberger/Rodgers.  Nevertheless, the compensation rankings might suggest that were the case…

The reason teams fall all over themselves to overpay good QBs can be seen when you look at the folks who are backup QBs on teams that have not needed them to play and then looking at what has happened to teams forced to go to the bullpen – so to speak – recently.

  • It took the Colts’ braintrust about no time at all to realize that Scott Tolzein would not cut it as a starter for an extended period of time this year and they rushed to trade for Jacoby Brisset.  Make no mistake, however, Brisset does not perform at the level that the “franchise QB” – Andrew Luck – did before he suffered his shoulder injury.
  • We have only seen about 6 quarters of play by Brett Hundley in relief of the injured Aaron Rodgers.  Nonetheless, I will go out on a limb and say that the results on the field to date assure me that the Packers are in deep doo-doo until Rodgers’ injury is healed.
  • The only time “Tom Savage” and “Deshaun Watson” might belong in the same sentence would be in the answer to a Jeopardy category – “Houston Texans Quarterbacks in 2017” …
  • When the Ravens had to turn to Ryan Mallett for part of a game when Joe Flacco was concussed, the Ravens’ offense was immobilized.

The entry of Luck/Tolzien/Brisset on the list above raises an interesting point in light of comments earlier this week.  Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, evidently told Tony Dungy privately that Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury/rehab is now “in his head” and not in the shoulder.  Jim Irsay is not the most “buttoned-up” owner in the NFL Owners’ Club by any stretch of the imagination but I cannot imagine any scenario that would motivate him to speculate on something like that regarding his franchise QB.  After all, he actually has one – and all of the evidence points to the fact that there are not enough of them to go around.

Finally, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“JJ Redick is commuting from Brooklyn to Philadelphia.  An interesting statistic, he could run that far with the ball and not be whistled for traveling.”

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




Tuesday Football Roundup …

Mitch Albom wrote the book, Tuesdays With Morrie.  Around here, Tuesdays are usually devoted to reviewing football happenings from the previous weekend – – and so to begin with college football.

  1. Ohio St. suffered more than a letdown after a miraculous come-from-behind win over Penn St. two weeks ago.  The Buckeyes went to Iowa and lost by 31 points.
  2. Penn St. – meanwhile – suffered a hangover from their loss to Ohio St. and lost again last week to Michigan St.
  3. Wisconsin beat Indiana and is now the only team in the Big 10 with fewer than 2 losses.  In fact, if Wisconsin stumbles badly and drops out of consideration for CFP participation, then the big 10 is going to be shut out of the playoff this year.  By the way, Wisconsin’s defense is allowing an average of 10 points per game this season.
  4. Notre Dame continued its winning ways with an 11-point win over Wake Forest last week.
  5. Iowa St. stubbed its toe losing on the road to West VirginiaOklahoma beat Oklahoma St. in a game with no apparent defense at all.  TCU took care of business beating Texas.  That leaves Oklahoma and TCU atop the Big 12 with 1 conference loss each; close behind with 2 losses in conference are Iowa St., Oklahoma St., and W. Virginia.  These guys all play one another down the stretch…
  6. Baylor won its first game of the season beating Kansas handily at Kansas.  Both teams are a miserable 1-8 for the season but point differentials here are very different.  Baylor’s point differential of minus-92 is not good by any means but it looks downright laudable compared to Kansas’ point differential of minus-203.
  7. Clemson beat NC State by a TD, but it was a struggle.  Also in the ACC, Miami beat VA Tech in what seems like a “signature win” for Miami.
  8. Georgia and Alabama remained undefeated in the SEC; both have conference records of 6-0.  The only team in the SEC with only 1 conference loss is Auburn and their two remaining conference games are against Georgia (this week) and Alabama (in two weeks).
  9. Out west, USC grabbed control of the PAC-12 South race with a 2 TD win over Arizona last week.  In the North Division race, Washington maintained its 1-game lead over Washington St. and Stanford aided and abetted by Stanford losing to Washington St. last week.  Washington is the only PAC-12 team with only one loss overall.
  10. UCF remained unbeaten for the year with a win over SMU last week.  The next two weeks do not look to be severe hurdles for UCF leading up to a season-ending game against USF – a conference rival with only 1 loss so far this year.
  11. Army beat Air Force 21-0 last week.  The amazing stat from that game is that Army did not attempt a pass for the entire game.  Shades of 1917 …
  12. Linfield College ran its record to 7-1 with a shutout win over Pacific Lutheran last week.  The Wildcats close out their regular season this weekend hosting Pacific (OR).  Linfield has clinched the Northwest Conference title and a likely spot in the Division III playoffs.

Because this is Curmudgeon Central, I do not subscribe to the idea that every team is a winner because every player tries his hardest.  Here is my Bottom 10 for now:

  • Georgia Southern and UTEP have not won a game so far this year.
  • Coastal Carolina, Kansas, Rice and UNC-Charlotte have only won one game so far this year – – and all have suffered some big defeats.  [Aside:  Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern close out the season against one another.  What a hot mess that game will be.]
  • Ball St. (MAC) has 2 wins this year but has given up 55 points or more in 4 of its last 5 games.
  • Kent St. (MAC) has 2 wins this year but a couple of horrific losses too.
  • Bowling Green (MAC) has 2 wins this year – one over Kent St.
  • E. Carolina has 2 wins this year – – and one loss to a Division 1-AA team.

Moving up to the NFL, I asked last week how much “coaching up” the Packers’ staff had been able to impart to Brett Hundley.  The answer is “not nearly enough” – – particularly if the Packers’ defense goes into “sieve-mode”.  In the loss to the Lions last night, the Packers’ defense did not force the Lions to punt even one time.

The Bucs lost to the Saints; but more importantly, it looked as if the Bucs imploded as a team.  Jameis Winston demonstrated the maturity of a 5th grader instigating a brawl once he had been removed from the game and the Saints dominated the Bucs in just about every aspect.  The Saints lead the NFC South this week and the Bucs’ season is in the dumpster.

The other two NFC South teams squared off last week and the Panthers beat the Falcons by a field goal.  The Falcons are in the midst of one of the worst Super Bowl Hangovers ever; they rode to the game last year on the foundation of a high scoring offense; just about everyone is back this year but the Falcons have been held under 20 points in 4 of their last 5 games.  The Panthers are not fun to watch, but they are effective and win games.

Scoring 50 points in an NFL game is unusual.  Last week, the Eagles and the Rams both reached that plateau scoring 51 points against their opponents, the Broncos and the Giants.  The Broncos defense had been #1 against the run going into Sunday’s contest; the Eagles ran for more than 200 yards in the game.  The Giant’s defense was thought to be one of the best in the league; some say that unit quit during the game; I don’t know if that is the case, but they surely played listlessly and gave up some huge TD plays.  [Aside:  One more loss like this and the Giant’s coach will be known as Ben McAdon’t.]

By the way, in Brock Osweiler’s first start for the Broncos this year, he stunk out the joint…

The Texans lost to the Colts last week with Tom Savage at the helm.  The Colts’ defense is anything but formidable, but they throttled the Texans’ offense allowing one offensive TD all day long.  I do not care how big a distraction anyone thinks Colin Kaepernick may be in a locker room; Kaepernick must be better than any of the QBs currently on the active roster in Houston.

AJ Green got himself ejected from the Bengals’ game against the Jags for starting a fight and throwing punches.  The Bengals season formally ended last week; I won’t say the team quit, but they surely did not seem particularly interested in playing hard.

The Skins pulled out a last-minute win over the Seahawks in Seattle keeping their playoff hopes alive.  It is very possible that the NFC East will put 3 teams in the NFC playoffs this year.

The Raiders beat the Dolphins on Sunday Night Football in a game that was anything but “artistic”.  If the Raiders are going to tease fans with a “playoff push”, someone on the coaching staff needs to take the initiative over the BYE Week and teach defenders how to tackle.  Some of the attempts to do that on Sunday night were embarrassingly bad.  [For the record, the Raiders have played 9 games this year and have not intercepted a pass yet.]

Finally, here is a football commentary from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

“A new national survey shows that Major League Baseball has surpassed the NFL as America’s favorite professional sport. I have a name for the people who voted on this survey: Liars!!! NFL TV ratings may be down, but they still dwarf MLB ratings. And, besides, everybody knows America’s favorite professional sport is college football.”

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