Since there was a great Thursday Night Football game on the telly last night, that must mean today is Friday. And if it’s Friday, it’s Football Friday. [Apologies to NBC and Meet the Press.]
And by the way, if you did not see last night’s game between the Chiefs and the Chargers, check your cable listings to find out when a replay is on and record it. Other than a few questionable calls by the officials – calls that went both ways I may add – this was a most enjoyable game from a fan’s perspective. With the Chargers pulling the game out 29-28 with 4 seconds left to play, both teams are now 11-3 in the AFC West, but the Chiefs currently hold the tiebreaker based on a better division record. Both teams are guaranteed a slot in the playoffs; one as the AFC West champion and the other as the first wild card team as the #5 seed in the AFC bracket. Here are the schedules going forward:
NCAA Football Comments:
I refrain from commenting upon or paying close attention to most of the meaningless bowl games that will commence tomorrow with 5 such meaningless games. They are meaningless to general college football fans; they do have significance to a few categories of individuals:
- The bowl games are meaningful to students and alums of the participating schools if those students/alums are rabid followers of the teams’ fortunes. If some of those folks want to use the team’s participation as the basis for a winter weekend vacation somewhere, then the game is meaningful.
- The bowl games are meaningful to the players and their families. Anyone who commits the time and energy to be a college football player likes playing football. For some this will be the last game of their football career; for others it is one more audition to be selected to play at the pro level – and there are now more pro leagues than ever – and for some, it is just one more game to get the adrenaline flowing.
- The bowl games are most meaningful to the coaches. When a team is invited to a bowl game, that team can continue its practice schedule. For teams that are playing tomorrow, there was no conference championship game; Arizona St. – for example – has not played since Nov. 24. However, they have been allowed to practice since then and that gives the coaching staff an extra 3 weeks of practice time.
The college bowl game system is set up to increase the disparity between successful teams and unsuccessful teams. The teams that were more successful in 2018 get to go to bowl games and get an extra 3-5 weeks of practice while the less successful ones simply “go to class” and hit the weight room as part of an off-season program. If that sounds a tad perverse to you, remember that this system is set up and sanctioned by the NCAA…
Before I conclude my remarks on college football for the week, let me share two comments from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:
“Sarcasm ahead: ‘I feel I will not coach again,’ Urban Meyer said. And, as we’ve learned, his word is gold.”
“Tougher challenge: When judging the prospects of new Maryland coach Mike Locksley turning around the program, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to his success as Alabama offensive coordinator. Coordinators from the strongest programs look good for a reason — they’re working with the very best athletes. It’s a luxury Locksley won’t have with the Terps.”
The Packers beat the Falcons last week 34-20. The Falcons scored on their first possession and then the offense went AWOL. After that first score, here are the results of the Falcons’ next 6 possessions:’
- Missed FG
- Threw a Pick-Six
By the time their next possession rolled around, it was garbage time…
If you are reading this, you must have a sufficient interest in football to have already seen the so-called “Miami Miracle” ending to the Pats/Dolphins game last week. There has been so much focus on that one play – and who was to blame on the Pats’ side of the ball for its success – that the following has received insufficient attention:
- Tom Brady threw for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs – – AND – – the Pats blocked 2 punts – – AND – – the Pats lost the game on that final “Miami Miracle” play.
- A screenwriter for a Disney film on the football version of the Bad News Bears would not have come up with something that outrageous.
The Lions beat the Cards 17-3 last week notwithstanding the fact that the Lions’ total offense in the game was 218 yards. Let me just say that ineptitude was on display throughout this game and leave it at that. [Aside: I did label this game as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week last Friday.]
Also, last week, I said that the Steelers as 9.5-point favorites tended to play down to the level of their opponents. Well, the Steelers did just that; they not only failed to cover that spread; they lost the game straight up by 3 points and they missed two very makeable field goals from inside 40 yards in the process. And of course, with any Steelers’ game there had to be some drama…
- Ben Roethlisberger took a hit and hurt his ribs. He went for X-rays then returned to the sidelines but did not enter the game until the end when the Steelers needed to come from behind.
- Original explanation from Mike Tomlin was that he (Tomlin) did not want to change the flow of the game and so he kept Big Ben on the sidelines.
- Then it morphed into the fact that the X-Rays were taken on antiquated equipment and took a while to be read out.
- After that, Roethlisberger took a pain-killing shot for the injury and that shot took time to take effect.
- And in the end, the dog ate my homework…
The Steelers lead the AFC North by a half game; they have lost 3 games in a row; they face the Patriots this week and the Saints next week. They need to change the vector heading for their season immediately because it is not pointed squarely in the direction of Dysfunction Junction.
The Niners beat the Broncos 24-20 last week dealing the Broncos’ playoff aspirations a near-fatal blow. Remember the scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knight has his arm cut off and claims it is merely a flesh wound? Well, the Broncos may look at last week’s loss as merely a “stumbling block” but in fact it made their ability to sneak into that second wildcard slot VERY tenuous. With this loss, the Broncos are in 10th place in the AFC combined standings and only the top 6 make the playoffs. This was a bad loss.
The Niners’ got an outstanding performance from George Kittle in that game; he caught 7 passes for 210 yards and 1 TD. In case that name is not front and center in your football memory, Kittle is a tight end from Iowa drafted in the 5th round in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Colts stayed alive in the AFC playoff race beating the Texans 24-20 last week and snapping the Texans’ 9-game winning streak. This game was close all the way even though the Colts put up these stats for the game:
- Colts sacked Deshaun Watson 5 times in the game
- Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and 2 TDs
- T.Y. Hilton had 199 receiving yards
The Bears beat the Rams 15-6. They did that by stifling – even dominating – the Rams’ offense. The Rams could not run the ball and the Rams’ screen pass attack was marginal at best. The Rams’ defense kept the team in the game for most of the way with 3 INTs of Mitchell Trubisky, but the offense never did get into the end zone.
NFL Games This Week:
There is a full slate of 16 games this weekend; the home team is favored in 14 of those 16 games. The Chiefs were a home favorite last night and lost straight up. Is that an omen for what is to come…?
(Sat Afternoon NFL Network) Houston – 7 at Jets (41.5): The Texans lost at home last week; the Jets won on the road. Those situations are reversed this week. This game is important to the Texans with regard to the playoffs and the seeding in the playoffs; they can still get a BYE Week there. The Jets are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the fact is that they are not going to make it there. In last week’s win over the Bills, the Jets were outgained on the field; they won the game by creating turnovers. If they are going to win here, they should probably plan to repeat that formula. Considering that the Jets are not going to the playoffs, last week’s effort was commendable for a game so late in the season; too bad the coaching staff will get no credit in the NY tabloids for having the team motivated for that performance. I think the Texans will win the game here, but I am leery about laying that many points with the Texans simply because they have not been a high scoring team all season long. Only 4 of their 9 wins have been by more than a TD.
(Sat Evening NFL Network) Cleveland at Denver – 2.5 (45.5): The Browns looked aroused and attentive last week in beating the Panthers – – or was that merely by comparison to the cratering Panthers? The Broncos looked lethargic losing last week to the Niners. Were those simply one-week situations or are the Browns on an upswing while the Broncos are fading? We should see here… I know it is mid-December but take a deep breath and consider this:
- The Browns are still mathematically alive for the AFC playoffs.
Imagine if the Browns win out and finish the year 8-7-1. If other dominoes fall right, they could make the playoffs as the second wildcard team. The last time the Browns did that was in 2002; Butch Davis was the coach then; the Browns have had 8 head coaches since Davis was canned. Neither of these teams is particularly reliable but here are some trends in case you are interested:
- Broncos are 10-0 straight up in their last 10 games against the Browns
- Broncos are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games against the Browns
- Broncos are 3-7-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games
- Browns are 5-12-1 against the spread in their last 18 road games
- Browns are 4-11 against the spread in their last 15 games against teams with a losing record.
Miami at Minnesota – 7.5 (44.5): OK, was the “Miami Miracle” last week the lighting of a fuse that will cause the Dolphins to go soaring into the playoffs? The oddsmakers don’t think so because they like the Vikes here by more than a TD even though the Vikes only scored 7 points total last week against the Seahawks. This game has playoff implications for both teams; neither team is “in with a win” but both teams are significantly disadvantaged by a loss. Here is a truly oddball trend I ran across this week:
- Vikes are 4-1-1 straight up this year when the game kicks off at 1:00 PM ET.
This is an early game on Sunday… Here are a couple other trends to consider – – or not:
- Dolphins are 2-9 against the spread in their last 11 road games.
- Dolphins are 7-3 against the spread in their last 10 games in December
The Dolphins are on the road here and it is December…
Oakland at Cincy – 3 (46): There were several contenders involved – and I shall point them out later – but this is The Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Did the Raiders show some vital signs last week in beating the Steelers or was that just a continuation of a Steelers’ decline for the season? I think it was a combination of the Steelers decline plus the Steelers looking ahead to two big games down the road more than a Raiders’ emergence. Did the Bengals show spunk staying close to the Chargers last week or was that just the Chargers looking past the Bengals to last night’s showdown with the Chiefs? I think it was the “look-ahead factor” there. This game could go down in a variety of ways:
- It could be a high scoring affair because neither defense is any good.
- It could wind up with a final score of 13-9 if indeed last week was a mirage for both teams.
You must have something better to do than to watch this hot mess…
Tampa at Baltimore – 7 (46): Lamar Jackson will start at QB even though Joe Flacco has been cleared to return to the field. The Ravens are 3-1 with Jackson as the starter and they are in the midst of a close race for the playoffs either as AFC North champs or as the second wildcard team in the AFC. The Bucs’ defense has improved as the season unfolded but that improvement has not manifested itself on the road. In 6 road games this year, the Bucs’ defense has surrendered 34 points or more in every one of them; the Bucs give up an average of 39.8 points per game on the road. If that stat scares you, here is one that is even more ominous:
- The Bucs have gained 500 yards or more in 5 games this year.
- The Bucs record in those 5 games is 1-4.
I like this game to go OVER. The Bucs can score – even on the Ravens excellent defense – and I think the Ravens will have a good offensive game here. There are trends that favor the OVER here – but they are not the reason I like playing the Total Line here:
- Ravens have gone OVER in 8 of their last 11 games in December
- Bucs have gone OVER in 8 of their last 10 games as an underdog
- OVER is 18-7-1 for the last 26 Bucs’ road games
Your mileage may vary…
Dallas at Indy – 3 (47): The longest winning streak in the NFL belongs to the Dallas Cowboys. They can clinch the NFC East title with a 6th straight win here. Meanwhile the Colts are 7th in the AFC – leading the Dolphins and Titans on tiebreakers – meaning that they need a win here even more than do the Cowboys. The importance of the game made it a contender for Game of the Week. I think the game comes down to two defensive questions:
- Can the Cowboys’ defense keep Andrew Luck from running wild?
- Can the Colts’ defense keep Ezekiel Elliott from running wild?
I think this game will be in doubt through the final possession. In that case, I always prefer to take the underdog and the points, so I’ll take the Cowboys here even on the road against a desperate team.
Detroit at Buffalo – 2 (40): The spread opened the week as a “pick ‘em” game and it has inched up to this level as the week progressed. This game got serious consideration for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Neither team is particularly relevant or interesting this year; both can make family-oriented plans for January 2019; they will not have any league-mandated commitments. The Lions have been practicing outdoors in the Detroit weather for several weeks now; have they – for some deeply guarded reason – been pointing to this game? If so, why? Bills rookie QB, Josh Allen, is averaging 55 yards per game rushing in his 9 games this year. For perspective, Bills RB, LeSean McCoy is averaging 40 yards per game in 12 games this year.
Green Bay at Chicago – 5.5 (45): This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL; it goes back to the days when professional football was more of a curiosity than a staple in the sports world in the US. The Packers’ offense looked more focused and engaged last week under interim coach Joe Philbin. However, it must be noted that last week’s opposing defense was the Falcons’ defense and this week the Packers face the Bears. I’ll be generous here and merely say that the Bears’ defense is better than the Falcons’ defense. I believe the Bears clinch the NFC North title with a win here; the Packers playoff hopes are alive – – on life support – – in an ICU – – having received the last rites. The Packers have won 15 of the last 17 games between these two teams and the Packers have covered the spread in 16 of their last 20 encounters with the Bears. I think both of those trends will be reversed here. I like the Bears to win and cover at home where they are 6-1 against the spread this year.
Tennessee at Giants – 2 (43.5): The Titans need this game the same way the Colts and the Titans need their games to stay within hailing distance of that second wildcard slot in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Giants have looked good over the last month begging the question:
- Where was this sort of performance in September or October?
The Titans have not been good on the road this year with a 2-5 record. Not to worry, though; the Giants at home are merely 2-4. In their 7 road games this year, the Titans only average 16.5 points per game. On a neutral field, I would like the Titans but given it is a road game and the Giants are playing much better than they did early on …
Washington at Jax – 7.5 (36.5): This was the runner-up – losing by a nose – for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. If you live anywhere other than the Jax area or the DC area, count your selves fortunate this week. If you do, you will not have to watch this abomination on your cable system because no local station outside those viewing areas is going to choose to put this game on their channel. If you think it is difficult to find Bigfoot, think about how hard it might be to find a football fan in “Peoria” who does the following on Sunday:
- He lets his fingers do the walking to call every sports bar within a 50-mile radius to see if any of them would be willing to put this game on one of their big screens because he cannot bear the thought of missing a QB throwdown between Cody Kessler and Josh Johnson.
Here is a hint:
- You are more likely to find DB Cooper than you are to find that football fan.
The Jags do not score points; they average 16.3 points per game this year. How can they be more than a TD favorite over anyone? The Skins’ offense has been leaking oil from the start of the season and they are now on their 4th starting QB for the season. The Jags defense won a game by pitching a shutout against Andrew Luck and the Colts; if they show up and play like that, the Jags could hold the Skins to single digits even accounting for some Jags’ offensive blunders. Here is the key to the game:
- The Skins have had trouble stopping the run in the last 5 or 6 games. Can Leonard Fournette keep his head in the game and not somewhere out in the Xygork Nebula and pound the ball at the Skins defense 25 or 30 times? If so, the Jags will win this game.
The Total Line here is extremely low for an NFL game in 2018. Nevertheless, there are plenty of scenarios I can imagine where the final score is 9-6 or something close to that. Ignore this game – – if you are fortunate enough to be able to do that.
Arizona at Atlanta – 10 (44): This game too received serious consideration at the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Both teams stink; let’s get that out of the way. One difference is that most folks expected the Cards to stink this year, but more than a few folks thought that the Falcons were going to be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl in February 2019. That ain’t happening. The Falcons’ defense has been awful this year; there is no way to sugar-coat that. However, the Cards are the lowest scoring team in the NFL averaging a meager 13.7 points per game. If the Falcons’ defense gets punked this week, the team hierarchy should arrange for an organized ass kicking for that side of the ball. With that out of the way, I have to say that I do not understand how the Falcons that everyone has seen in 2018 can possibly be a double-digit favorite over another professional football team. Let me do some math here:
- Assume the Falcons hold the Cards to their season average of 14 points.
- That means to cover this spread, the Falcons need to score 25 points.
- The Falcons have only reached that level 5 times in 13 outings this year.
- The last time the Falcons score 25 or more points was on November 4th against the Skins.
Seattle – 3.5 at SF (44): The spread here opened the week at 6 points and has eroded steadily as the week went on. I think that is because folks recognize that this is a sandwich game for the Seahawks. They won a tough game over the Vikes last week; they have the lowly Niners here; they just might be looking ahead to next week’s game at home against the Chiefs. The Niners beat the Broncos last week; the Seahawks are higher on the food chain than the Broncos. The danger for the Seahawks here – who have not yet guaranteed themselves a playoff berth – is that the Niners are not playing like roadkill as most 3-10 teams do in December. Here are two trends that point in a similar direction:
- Seahawks are 8-3-2 against the spread this year – 2nd best in the NFL
- Seahawks are 11-2-1 against the spread versus the Niners in their last 14 games.
I like Pete Carroll to rally the troops here and for the Seahawks to win and cover even on the road in this sandwich game.
New England – 3 at Pittsburgh (52): The Pats are one of only two road favorites this week. This is also the only game on the card this week matching two division leaders. For those reasons, this is The Game of the Week. Both teams lost last week, and the Steelers have lost 3 in a row. That loss last week to the Raiders must be the nadir of the season in Pittsburgh, right? Earlier this year, the Steelers had a 6-game winning streak but the way they have played in these 3 losses makes that win streak seem as if it happened in the Stone Age. The Pats have won 5 in a row over the Steelers. The Pats are fighting for seeding in the AFC playoffs; they have not yet wrapped up the AFC East title, but that is foregone conclusion. The Steelers could find themselves out of the playoffs if they do not win here – – because next week they play the Saints in New Orleans and that will not be a gimmee. If you are inclined to take the Pats in this game, here are some trends that will reinforce your belief:
- Pats are 9-2 against the spread in their last 11 games in December.
- Pats are 11-4 against the spread in their last 15 games on grass.
- Steelers are 1-7 against the spread in their last 8 games in December
- Steelers are 3-8 against the spread in their last 11 games at home.
I’ll pass on this game and just watch it to enjoy it.
(Sun Nite) Philly at Rams – 11 (52): Let me jump to the bottom line here.
- If Nick Foles comes off the bench and leads the Eagles to a win here that would mathematically keep the Eagles’ playoff hopes alive and then goes on to get them into the playoffs, I am going to suspect that there is some sort of “tripartite Dr. Faustus arrangement” among Nick Foles, Doug Pederson and Lucifer.
If you think the Eagles are going to win this one, you can find them on the Money Line at +500 or greater at various sportsbooks. I think the Rams are going to truck the Eagles here…
(Mon Nite) New Orleans – 6.5 at Carolina (51): The Saints are the other road favorite on the card this week and it should be noted at the outset that the Saints have the best record against the spread in the NFL this year at 10-3. A month ago, this looked to be a major showdown game that could possibly determine the NFC South champion. The problem is that the Panthers have not won a game since November 4th and will need help to make the playoffs now that the division title is impossible. I have no inside knowledge here, but it sure looks to me as if Cam Newton is playing hurt. On the other side, Drew Brees is playing at his normal level of efficiency and effectiveness. An interesting thing to watch in this game will be the ability – or inability – of the Panthers to run the football. The Panthers average a very respectable 5.4 yards per rush attempt. At the same time, the Saints defense allows a mere 3.6 yards per rush attempt.
Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times relevant to an earlier college football game:
“ ‘Unsportsmanlike conduct … on all players … from both teams,’ announced the referee following a brawl in the Mississippi State-Ole Miss game that resulted in four players getting ejected.
“And if that didn’t stem the mayhem, officials admitted later, then it would have been … double-secret probation!”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………