Last week’s Mythical Picks would have been ever so slightly mythically profitable. The record last week was 9-8-0 bringing the season total to 16-16-1. The best pick last week was Tampa Bay plus 10.5 points when the Bucs won the game outright. The worst pick last week was Indy minus 7 when the Colts lost outright and it was not close. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games worked out exactly the way one might expect coin flip games to work out. The record last week was 1-1-0; for the season the coin is 3-1-0.
Clearly, the performance to date is not inspiring in any way. No one should look at those results and think that they have stumbled upon a path to wagering nirvana. No one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend. Here is how stupid one would have to be to do that:
If someone offered you a penny for your thoughts, you would have to give them some change back.
Before I get to the details of what happened last week and what that might portend for the season, I want to share with you a great question posed by Gregg Drinnan in a recent iteration of Keeping Score:
“When an NFL team calls timeout, someone runs around the field squirting water into the mouths of the players. Just wondering, but what does that person put on their income tax return under Occupation?”
I guess the same question would apply to the “ball boys” because that occupation designation might be ambiguous…
OK, enough high school humor. Last week was a bad week for a good friend who is in several fantasy leagues – about which I do not care – and also 3 different survival pools/knockout pools. I spoke with him on Tuesday and he was not a happy camper. In his three survival pools he took:
The Ravens to beat the Raiders
The Dolphins to beat the Jags
The Saints to beat the Bucs
His survival pool action for the year is finito. I wonder what the “knockout rate” was last week for those sorts of pools all over the country…
The season is two weeks old; if we equate that to a baseball season, it is about May 1st. Recall last year about this time, fans were thinking that Tom Brady was washed up and were speculating about his benching in favor of Jimmy Garoppolo. Also about this time last year, the Packers were not doing well and Aaron Rodgers felt is necessary to go on the radio to tell the fans in Green Bay to R-E-L-A-X.
That is where we are today. I am not pushing any panic buttons here; I am pointing out some teams that have played surprisingly well and others that have been surprisingly bad in the first two games. The fact that this happens every year does not mean we should ignore it; however, it does mean we should not afford it more credence than it deserves.
I think there are 5 surprisingly good teams:
Arizona Cardinals: I said I was not sold on the Cards and predicted they would win only 7 games for the season. They are 2-0 and they have played really well averaging 39.5 points per game in those 2 wins. Buried way down in the Cards’ stats is the fact that they have yet to give up a sack this year.
Atlanta Falcons: They are also 2-0. Their defense last year was miserable and so far this year they are only giving up 22 points per game. Oh, and they have Julio Jones on the roster and he is healthy…
Carolina Panthers: In their two wins so far this year, the Panthers have only yielded a total of 26 points. Granted, they have only scored a total of 44 points in those two wins, but still…
Cincinnati Bengals: I thought they would only win 8 games this year taking a step back from 4 consecutive years in the playoffs. They have played very well so far this year especially on defense.
New York Jets: I projected them to win 4 games this year and they have half of that number already. In their two wins, their defense has created 10 takeaways. They are not going to keep up that pace, but it has been impressive indeed.
Here in Curmudgeon Central, the focus is generally not on the surprisingly good teams; rather, it is on the teams that seem to be on a path to the bottom or on teams that are asking themselves if things can possibly get any worse. Falling into that category are 7 teams:
Baltimore Ravens: I guess it is OK to lose to a good Broncos’ team in Denver if you do not give up an offensive TD in the loss. It is not OK to lose to the Raiders when you score 33 points. I know that Terrell Suggs is out for the year, but still…
Chicago Bears: They have simply been dreadful. I did not have lofty expectations for the team this year (5 projected wins) but they are giving up 39.5 points per game in their 2 losses…
Detroit Lions: Yes, both losses have come on the road but this was nominally a team that would win on offense this year. Now it could be that Matthew Stafford is “hurting” and that would mean the field presence of Dan Orlovsky. How long until someone gives him the name “Oy-oy Orlovsky”?
Indianapolis Colts: Put simply, their OL is substandard. They cannot run the ball and they are not protecting Andrew Luck well. The Colts’ defense is not good enough to carry the team.
New Orleans Saints: In a nutshell, the Saints’ defense is offensive. That is not a good thing. Oh, and Drew Brees has a sore shoulder. Shudder…
New York Giants: They have blown a 10-point lead in both losses this year with blockheaded plays at the end of both games. On the bright side, they have a short week game tonight meaning they have had less time to think up ways to screw up the next one.
Philadelphia Eagles: Where is the vaunted Chip Kelly offense? The OL is MIA; the Eagles cannot run the ball even a little bit. Dwight Perry found this “headline” and had it in the Seattle Times earlier this week:
“Sam Bradford defeats deer in headlights in staring competition.”
It is not that far off target…
There is plenty of time for all of these teams to change the vector heading for their seasons. All I am saying here is that the 7 surprisingly bad teams need to throw it into gear pretty soon and the 5 surprisingly good teams need to avoid believing all their press clippings.
Last week, I saw the Broncos/Chiefs game and I saw enough to convince myself that Peyton Manning is not “finished”. He is clearly on the downward arc of his career, but he can still play QB with no embarrassment. I think the issue in Denver is their OL. On passing plays, the offensive line is supposed to get in the way of the pass rushers in order to slow them down on their trek to get to the QB. The Broncos’ OL is doing that in the most nominal fashion. Quarterbacks and receivers have to have a little time to get their plays to work…
With regard to the Pats win over the Bills last week, I think it is time for media to stop taking the easy way out during the week prior to any game where a team coached by Rex Ryan is playing the Pats. The braggadocio act has become hackneyed for one simple reason:
The Pats win those confrontations too often to make the pontifications interesting.
Against the Bills in his career, Tom Brady is 24-3 in 27 starts and has thrown 61 TD passes. No player on the Bills nor any fan in Buffalo needs to say a word about what they are going to do to Brady in any game. After they do something positive – like beat the Pats on a Pick Six from Brady – they may be allowed a few hours to crow. Until them, please go the bar and get a free mug of Shut The Hell Up…
There were several Bills’ players who felt emboldened by Ryan’s bluster to denigrate the Pats as a team and specific players on that team. Well, the Pats had 466 yards passing against the defense that was doing most of the posturing and preening. In the end, the Bills’ defensive players look like primary standard asshats. Demonstrating their high degree of professionalism, the Bills amassed a total of 140 yards in penalties during the game. Make that asshats-squared…
After the game, here is what Rex Ryan had to say:
“I have to do a better job at controlling my emotions. And it starts with me.”
And with that statement alone, Rex Ryan earns is Masters’ Degree in The Obvious from Curmudgeon College. Congrats…
Last year, people in Dallas were referring to Tony Romo/Dez Bryant/DeMarco Murray as the reincarnation of “The Triplets”. Murray is gone in free agency, Bryant is out 10-12 weeks with a broken foot; Romo is out 8 weeks with a broken clavicle. The objective now is for the Cowboys to try to hold serve and break even while those guys heal. Brandon Weeden will be at the helm with Matt Cassel behind him. There will be a lot of reliance on the defense – and it is a good defense. The return of Sean Lee from ACL surgery has been a big plus for the Cowboys. Against the Eagles last week, he had an INT and at one point in the 4th quarter the announcers said he had made 11 solo tackles. I did not count any of his tackles from that point forward so I do not know the total, but he was all over the field.
Speaking of the Eagles – and I am reminded here of my mother’s admonition never to speak evil of the dead – they have stunk in spades in their first two games. The offense has been virtually non-existent; on the rare occasions where Sam Bradford actually hits Jordan Matthews in both hands, Matthews drops the ball. There is no rhythm or pace to the offense. Adding to that ineptitude, the defense has played well – except for when it matters. At the end of the first half against the Cowboys last week, the Cowboys drove the field helped along by 5 defensive penalties all of which resulted in 1st downs. Maybe that is something that just happens to a pee-wee football team; that is not acceptable for an NFL team. If the Eagles are not the most disappointing team in the league so far, then the Colts are…
The Colts have to find ways to protect Andrew Luck because that is the only hope they have to win games. They cannot depend on the running game and they cannot depend on the defense. Luck was not sacked last week by the Jets, but he was hurried and hit and had to scramble on about 75% of his dropbacks. The Colts are in a bad division; as of this morning, Jax and Tennessee are tied for the division lead. I suspect that will not be the outcome at the end of the season but the Colts are a flawed team. Make no mistake about that…
The Steelers beat the Niners last week and I think that Antonio Brown may be the best WR in the NFL if Julio Jones and/or Odell Beckham Jr. are not. Against the Niners, Brown caught 9 passes for 195 yards and a TD; not a bad day at work… Back in training camp, Ben Roethlisberger said that his goal for the year was to have the Steelers average 30 points per game. Indeed, the season is young but the Steelers have scored 64 points in 2 games; last week against the Niners, Roethlisberger threw for 369 yards and 3 TDs. Oh, by the way, the Steelers get RB, LeVeon Bell back from his suspension starting this week. Here is a capsule of how the Steelers dominated that game:
On 2 long drives, the Niners ran17 plays in each one and came away with a total of 3 points. 34 plays = 3 points…
At one point in the 3rd quarter, the Steelers had run a total of 36 offensive plays and had produced 29 points…
This was to be the “Year of the Dolphin”. Ryan Tannehill was going to take a big step forward and the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh to that DL was going to produce a lockdown unit there. Not so fast Sparky; the Dolphins lost to the Jags last week with another lackluster offensive performance. Moreover, there were reports that Suh was freelancing on defense and ignoring the calls made by the defensive coordinator. Obviously, I have no idea if that is true or not but there is a cautionary tale here for Messr. Suh:
You got the largest contract and the largest guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the NFL. You are a defensive tackle and there have been instances in your career when fans, commentators and other players have thought you were a dirty player. Now IF these stories about your “freelancing” are correct and you are ignoring your coaches, you are entering into dangerous NFL historical territory.
That profile fits beautifully with the career arc of one Albert Haynesworth.
Memo for Ndamukong Suh: You really, REALLY, do not want your name mentioned in the same paragraph with his.
The Raiders scored 40 points on the Ravens’ defense to earn a win last week; recall that the Broncos were unable to score an offensive TD on that defense just a week prior to this game. They looked like the “old-time Raiders” in the first half amassing 10 penalties in the first 30 minutes of the game. However, the present Raiders’ defense is nothing like the “old-time Raiders”; last week they gave up 493 yards of offense and still won the game. Al Davis would be happy that they won; somehow I think that Ted Hendricks, Jack Tatum and “The Tooz” would not be so happy with that performance. In two games, the Raiders have yielded 889 yards or 6.5 yards per offensive play by the opponents. This week the Raiders go on the road to Cleveland. There is good news and bad news:
Bad news: Raiders are 3-24 in their last 27 road games.
Good news: Raiders will play the Browns this week.
Meanwhile, the Ravens’ defense was a real no-show last week. They exerted little if any pressure on Derek Carr and put the Raiders in “third-and-long” situations only on rare occasions. That has to change if the Ravens are going to get things turned in a positive direction…
The Titans lost to the Browns last week and Marcus Mariota looked as bad in that game as he looked good in the opening week win over the Bucs. Such is the story of rookie NFL QBs… In that same game, Johnny Manziel threw two long TD passes to Travis Benjamin (50 yards and 60 yards) and Benjamin had a long punt return for a TD too. Please do not extrapolate this to conclude that Manziel-to-Benjamin is the reincarnation of “Montana-to-Rice”. Remember, those were the Titans playing defense out there last week…
The Bucs beat the Saints in N’awlins last week making it 6 games in arrow that the Saints have lost at home in their dome. That site used to be one of the great home-field advantages but not recently. The Saints are a mess; their defense could not stop a faucet drip. So far this year they have lost to the Bucs and the Titans; last year, the Bucs and the Titans were the two worst teams in the NFL.
Last week, the Bears gave up 48 points to the Cardinals and they lost Jay Cutler to a hamstring injury. For all those Bears’ fans who have been clamoring for the team to get rid of Cutler, you now have Jimmy Claussen under center for the next several weeks. Should he be unable to play, you will get to see David Fales. In that circumstance, two things should become clear to Bears’ fans quickly:
1. Jay Cutler ain’t all that horrible as a QB or as a human being.
2. David Fales is a person with a name that is a complete sentence.
As they used to say on the old TV show, To Tell The Truth, will the real St. Louis Rams please stand up? After an opening week win over the Seahawks, the Rams’ defense was gashed repeatedly by the Skins running game last week and the Rams’ offense was meek as a lamb. The biggest improvement in the Skins so far this year has nothing at all to do with the drama that surrounds their QB situation; the biggest improvement has been in the OL which is opening good holes in the running game and giving Kirk Cousins time to set up his passing attack.
The NFC East is a division in flux. The Cowboys have bad karma with the football gods so far this year; the Giants are intent on giving games away; the Eagles just have stunk out the joint and the Skins have played the best football in the division to date. Can those situations continue to obtain?
(Thurs Nite) Washington at Giants – 3.5 (44): The Giants have lost two games by a total of 5 points after leading by double digits in both games. The offense has moved the ball but has not scored a lot. The question here is whether the Giants defense can slow down the power running attack of the Skins sufficiently to allow that same defense to try to put some pressure on Kirk Cousins. I think this will be a low scoring game and so I will take the Skins plus the points here – with very little conviction.
Pittsburgh – 1 at St. Louis (48): Ben Roethlisberger said he wanted the Steelers to average 30 points per game this year (see above). They will have a fast track on Sunday to chase that goal. The Rams did not play well last week particularly on defense so that unit might be highly motivated here. I think the Steelers will prevail here mainly because they have the better QB and the better RBs. I’ll take the Steelers and lay the point on the road.
San Diego at Minnesota – 2 (44.5): The Vikings featured Adrian Peterson last week in their win over the Lions so I expect they will do the same here. The Vikings’ defense also harassed Matthew Stafford all game long and I expect they will do the same here. I like the Vikes at home to win and cover.
Tampa Bay at Houston – 6.5 (40): Jameis Winston has faced the Titans’ defense and the Saints’ defense so far. This week he gets to see the Texans’ defense and that is a more competent unit. The Texans’ have a different sort of QB issue to deal with. The Bucs have a young QB who will be up and down all year long; the Texans have two QBs neither of which is very good. The Texans really do need a healthy Arian Foster to run the ball because that will mean it spends less time in the hands of whichever QB happens to be in the game at the moment. I think points will be at a premium in this game so I will take the Bucs plus the points here and hold my breath…
Philly at Jets – 3 (46.5): The Eagles have two things going for them in this game:
1. The Jets played on Monday night last week and have a short week to prepare.
2. The game is at the Jets where the Eagles will be booed much less than they would had the game been in Philly.
It is put up or shut up time for the Eagles’ offense here – but the problem is that the Jets’ defense is very good even if they do not get 5 takeaways again this week. If Sam Bradford stinks it up in the first half again this week, and the Eagles go to Mark Sanchez in the second half, think of the pre-cooked storyline comments the announcers will have. I like this game to stay UNDER.
New Orleans at Carolina – 3 (45): The Saints may have lost 6 straight home games (see above) but that does not mean I like them on the road outdoors. If the team is not spoofing about Drew Brees’ shoulder issues, the Saints will be in big trouble here; they are not likely to run the ball well against the Panthers’ defense. I like the Panthers to win and cover at home.
Jax at New England – 14 (48): After feeling the adrenaline of playing Rex Ryan’s Bills last week, the Pats may have difficulty getting themselves into a fiery state of mind with the Jags coming to visit. Moreover, the Pats get their BYE Week in the first available slot next week so they may be looking through this game to the week off. I think that line is fat; I’ll take the Jags plus the points.
Cincy at Baltimore – 2.5 (44): This is the Ravens’ home opener and it is pretty much a “must-win” game for the Ravens’ fans if they want their team to be a factor in the AFC North Division race. The Bengals are 2-0 and have played really well in both games. I like the “desperation factor” here even if it may be just a tad hyperbolic this early in the season. I’ll take the Ravens and lay the points at home.
Oakland at Cleveland – 3.5 (44.5): This will not be a pretty game; it may be the worst game of the week. The Raiders do not travel well (see above); the Browns will go back to Josh McCown at QB if he is cleared to play and that is surely not a warm and fuzzy feeling for anyone looking to back the Browns with some cash on the line. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER. Why not?
Indy – 3 at Tennessee (45): The Colts have a chance here to take their record to 1-2. If they win here, the Titans will also be 1-2 and after the Jags lose in New England they will also be 1-2. The best that the Texans can be on Sunday night is also 1-2. So, the Colts have motivation here… Yes, they are coming off a short week after a Monday night game, but I think they are the better team here. The spread opened the week at 5 points and dropped to 3.5 points almost immediately and is now at 3 points. I like the Colts to win and cover even on the road.
Atlanta – 1.5 at Dallas (45): This game features two undefeated teams; no other game on the card this weekend can make that statement. The oddsmakers set this line and it has stayed pretty much at these numbers for the entire week. That tells you what they and the betting public think about the injuries to the Cowboys; no one looking at this game on Labor Day would have had the Falcons as road favorites. The Falcons play their third consecutive team from the NFC East and their second straight road game. Just a hunch, but I like the Cowboys here plus the points.
SF at Arizona – 6 (44): The Cards are on a roll and the Niners’ defense showed some holes against the Steelers last week. I think Carson Palmer and company will exploit those holes and light up the scoreboard. I like the Cards to win and cover at home.
Chicago at Seattle – 14 (43.5): This is the only game this weekend featuring two teams without a win so far. The Seahawks have an excuse; one of their losses was in OT and the other was to the Packers – a very good team. The Bears have no such excuses and are going to start the game with a sorry excuse for a QB. I will not lay that many points (and in fact, you can find the spread at 14.5 points at two Internet sportsbooks this morning) even with the game in Seattle. I like the game to go OVER because I think the Seahawks are going to score close to 40 points by themselves.
Buffalo at Miami – 3 (43): Absent the hype and bluster of a thousand press conferences, Rex Ryan will likely have the Bills more than ready to play this game. The Dolphins have been sleepwalking in two games against the Skins and the Jags and have split those two games against opponents that are not as good as the Bills. I like the Bills to win outright so I’ll gladly take them plus the points here.
(Sun Nite) Denver – 3 at Detroit (44.5): The Lions are finally at home for a game and the Broncos are on the road for the second week in a row. Often, that is the feather on the balance that would get me to take the home team in a game like this. HOW-EVAH … The Lions have not been running the ball well and Matthew Stafford is hurting – albeit not injured. The longest offensive play for the Lions last week was a 17-yard pass completion even though the Lions threw the ball 53 times in the game. The Broncos defense is the superior defense here and Peyton Manning may not be the same QB he was 5 years ago, but he is still very good. I’ll take the Broncos and lay the points on the road.
(Mon Nite) KC at Green Bay – 6.5 (49): The Chiefs have had a long time to get ready for this game coming off the Thursday night game last week. It is almost like an additional BYE Week. The trip from KC to Green Bay is not transcontinental by any means but it is a road game and the Packers play very well at Lambeau Field. I think this will be an offensive game and I do not think the Chiefs can keep pace. Alex Smith is overmatched here against Aaron Rodgers. I like the Packers to win and cover.
Finally, consider this comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot after the first week of this NFL season:
“Complaints: Four missed extra points in the NFL’s Week 1 are half as many as were missed all of last season. Bengals booter Mike Nugent, whose point-after attempt was blocked, says of the directive that pushed kicks back to 33 yards, ‘I don’t know of any rules that have been changed to make guys fail more.’ After the way the league has changed rules to help the offense, defensive players would take exception to that. But the extra point issue will be with us all season, giving fans one more thing to talk about. Which is always the NFL’s plan.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………