Managing Expectations…

Managing expectations is a good thing to practice. If a team starts off training camp with the coach and/or the star QB telling everyone in the world that this is a Super Bowl participant at the very least, anything short of that will be disappointing to fans of that team. On the other hand, if the coach and/or the star QB recognizes that this is likely to be a very good team but tells everyone that the goal for the year is to win their division to get a good slot in the playoffs, every misstep along the way will not be cataclysmic to the fanbase.

Today’s example of managing expectations comes from NY Knicks’ guard, José Calderon who had his season cut short last year by a couple of leg injuries. The Knicks were a tire fire last year posting a record of 17-65. Calderon has rehabbed his injuries and is looking forward to the start of training camp; moreover, he demonstrated a fundamental understanding of managing expectations with this comment:

“We’ll win more than 17 games and we’ll try to win every game. I’m real excited we can do great things, but talking about the playoffs, it’s too early. You don’t talk playoffs a few weeks before training camp.”

Saying the Knicks will win more than 17 games this year does not exactly set the bar in the stratosphere, but it might prevent the Knicks’ fans from going ‘round the bend as the euphoria of training camp starts to pervade the airspace.

In MLB, they will celebrate the 20th anniversary of interleague play next year. I am not alone in thinking that interleague play has lost a lot of its luster and attractiveness from 20 years ago. There are two factors at work here:

    1. The novelty has worn off.

    2. With the advent of two leagues each with an odd number of teams, interleague play is a necessity from Opening Day until the final game of the season in October. What used to be an “event” has now become merely an “occurrence”.

There is nothing to be done about #1 above. The only way to reverse the trend of having at least one interleague game every day of the season is to put an even number of teams in each league. That is not impossible – but it is not something to be done just by snapping one’s fingers.

I said before I wanted Toronto in the World Series in November so that there might be a snow-out for one of the games. (Yes, I know; I said there would have to be a roof malfunction in Toronto to make this happen.) Baseball should be over before November. Now that I look at the standings, I think I want to see the Mets play the Blue Jays in the World Series. Here is why:

    This would feature both Yeonis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.

    Both of these players were deemed to be expendable/replaceable by the Moneyball guru who runs the Oakland A’s.

    Any bets he will not be one of the studio guest commentators on MLB Network if that happens?

Here is a stat I ran across over the weekend:

    From the time the Mets acquired Cespedes, their average scoring has increased by 2.6 runs per game.

I have not gone back and tried to verify that number; I accept it as true and I recognize that is a huge increase. That acquisition by the Mets near the trade deadline may be one of the great deadline trade moves ever.

Having said that, I do wonder about Cespedes in the following sense:

    Cespedes will be 30 years old next month. He has been in MLB for 3 full seasons plus this current partial season and is clearly a good offensive player. His career batting average is .272 and he has a career OPS of .810. He has hit 105 HRs and driven in 365 runs in just under 4 full seasons. Moreover, he is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three positions if need be.

    Nonetheless, in less than 4 full seasons in MLB, Cespedes has been traded 3 times. He went from Oakland to Boston for 51 games in 2014. Boston sent him to Detroit over the winter and he started 2015 with the Tigers before the Mets acquired him in August.

    Why has a player who is good on the field been traded so often?

Speaking of baseball personnel moves, when the Marlins fire manager Dan Jennings at the end of this season and replace him with Joe Flabeetz, good ol’ Joe will be the 8th manager of the Marlins since 2010. Jeffrey Loria down in Miami has moved himself squarely into Danny Boy Snyder territory.

    Memo to Jeffrey Loria: That is not a place you want to be…

Speaking of Snyder, you should be glad you do not live in the DC area so that you will not have to watch all of the Skins’ games on TV this year. Their home opener was on last weekend and here is what I saw:

    Remember the totally fictional season ticket waiting list of 100,000 fans that Snyder and his minions claimed to have? Well Sunday you could see clearly that the upper rows all around FedEx field were blocked off; they did not use tarps as they do in Jax, but they did have highly colored barricades to close off and conceal large areas of the seats. My guess is that about 15,000 seats are “under wraps”.

    Attendance was announced as tad over 76,000. Two points about that:

      1. At least 15,000 and maybe 20,000 of those folks were wearing Miami colors and not Washington colors. Even the announcers commented that the Dolphins fans had “traveled well”.

      2. Lots of those fans must have been at the concession stands for much of the game because there were plenty of empty seats visible from start to finish.

    The folks in charge of the CBS telecast of the game showed close-up shots of RG3 at least 25 times. RG3 was not only the #3 QB on the depth chart that day but he was INACTVE and not wearing a uniform. The third string QBs on all of the other 31 teams combined will not get that many close-up shots over the entire season. The Skins’ QB mess is a goat rodeo at best; the guys in the TV trucks are going to milk that QB situation for all it is worth all season long.

Finally, here is what I hope is the final commentary on Deflategate for a while from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A Dunkin’ Donuts in Maine has offered Richard Berman, the judge in the Tom Brady case, free coffee for life.

If he accepts it, of course, that’s grounds for appeal.”

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

Sports Media Stuff Today…

I really like college football so please do not take what I am about to say as a knock on the game because it is not. The fact is that attendance at college football games is dropping. On the opening week of this college football season, consider that UNC took on South Carolina in a game in Charlotte. Yes, it was a neutral field but it was not a huge schlep for fans of either school. I have made the drive from the Research Triangle area to Charlotte several times and it can easily be done in 2.5 hours. I have not made the drive from Columbia SC to Charlotte but a glance at a map tells me that it ought to take about 3.5 hours – give or take a few moments. In that circumstance, there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium.

Similarly on opening day, Alabama played Wisconsin in Arlington, TX. In that situation, I can understand the argument that the site of the game is a major travel event for both schools. Nonetheless, there were lots of tix available for that game up until the day of the game on the ticket resale sites and watching the game had to tell you that more than a few of those tix on the resale sites did not make it to the hands of consumers.

Last year – at the end of the college season – reported that attendance at college football games dropped to the lowest average in 14 years. Their report came before the bowl games happened so they were not including the bowl games where stands struggled to be 30% full. Division 1-A teams averaged about 43.5K fans per game representing a 4% drop from 2013. If you want all the data that went into that report, you can find it here.

I think there are two forces at work driving down attendance:

    Television deals: Perhaps UNC and South Carolina would have chosen to play in Charlotte on their own but TV networks want games in signature places and there was big TV money if the game happened in Charlotte. There is no way Alabama and Wisconsin choose to play in “North Texas” to start their seasons without TV money as the lure.

    On top of those two games, every conference now has its own TV deal – and some conferences have their own networks. That means a fan can find just about any major college football game on a TV channel somewhere. Put that fact alongside another fact – tickets to college football games are not “ten or twenty bucks” – and you have a formula to get some fans to choose to stay home instead of going to the stadium.

    Millennials: This is not going to be an old-guy rant about young whippersnappers who do not enjoy what I used to enjoy. This is an observation that is made by people across the age spectrum. Millennials do not like to sit still and do one thing exclusively for about 3 hours. If you are in a stadium full of rabid fans and boosters, it might be difficult – or at least distracting – to texting or posting shots on Facebook or listening to some tunes or playing Angry Birds. All of those ancillary activities are much more easily done away from a stadium packed cheek to jowl with screaming football fans.

    If you think I am exaggerating here, consider that more than a couple of schools are investing a lot of money to upgrade the capacity and the speed of the Wi-Fi system/cell phone coverage in their stadiums. They are not doing that for the comfort and convenience of the guys in the press box; they are doing that to accommodate people who come to the games and are not interested merely in watching what is going on down on the field.

In last week’s Sports Illustrated, here is an item from the Scorecard section:

“Attendance at college football games has remained relatively flat since 2009 but the average has dropped 7.1% among students according to a 2014 WSJ study. So many students show up late or leave early – or both – that in 2013 one coach publically prodded ticket holders to arrive on time and stay for the duration. That coach? Nick Saban at Alabama.”

So long as TV networks can sell ads for college football, the system in place can stabilize. But there are economic threats to TV networks too and if advertisers ever get the idea that too many folks are watching games on TV but skipping through the commercials, the amount they will be willing to pay for ad space will go down. That will be an economic blow to college football that will be seismic – because major programs have become addicted to TV money.

So, later this year when you see that two MAC teams will be playing a game on a Tuesday nite in cold weather at one of the MAC venues, tune in and check the stands. If they are 25% full, consider that it must be a big game in the MAC. At the same time, file away in the back of your head that the sponsors of that telecast are worrying about the fundamental interest in that game. They do not see “interest” in the number of fannies in the seats.

When ESPN and Colin Cowherd parted company, it left ESPN Radio with a 3-hour hole to fill in the late-morning/noontime slot. Cowherd took over that time slot from Tony Kornheiser back when TK went to do MNF and while Cowherd can be repetitious at times and definitely trolls listeners to generate controversies, he was a solid presence in that time slot. The new inhabitant will be Dan LeBetard whose program used to be in drive time and that is not a good time for national network programming. [Aside: If you have not heard, you can pick up Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio these days.]

Generally, I like LeBetard but he has the same proclivity that Tony Kornheiser had for doing/saying things on the air that can run crosswise with the suits at ESPN HQs in Bristol. I will tune in to hear if he has “toned down” his act any now that he is in a bigger time slot.

Finally, there have been reports that the NBA is considering putting small sponsor logos on the fronts of team uniforms in the future to add new revenue streams to the teams and the league. Estimates of the size of the new revenue streams vary widely but any increase is better than no increase. Here is what I want to see:

    I want to see the logo for Oscar Meyer Hot Dogs on a team jersey worn by Nick Young.

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

RIP Moses Malone And Darryl Dawkins

Moses Malone died over the weekend. A couple of weeks ago, Darryl Dawkins died. The last couple of weeks have not been kind to former centers for the Philadelphia 76ers. If I were Harvey Catchings, I would schedule an appointment for a check-up.

Rest in peace Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

When Serena Williams lost in the semi-finals of the US Open to Roberta Vinci, it was a huge upset. I did some checking and the money line for Serena that day was minus- 2450. Let me remind some of you what that means:

    If you were to bet on Serena to have won that match, you would need to wager $2450 in order to win $100.

    Since she lost, you would have been “out” $2450.

My mind started thinking of comparable longshots in various sports and came up with this list:

    Arcangue winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 133 to 1.

    Dark Star beating Native Dancer in the Kentucky Derby in 1953.

    Buster Douglas knocking Mike Tyson out.

    NC State beating “Phi Slamma Jamma” in the NCAA Finals.

    Villanova beating Georgetown in the NCAA Finals


I am sure that other sporting events will come to your mind now that I have you thinking of things like that.

The NBA announced that it will seed teams in the playoffs from now on based on the team’s season long record. No longer will Division Winners get the top three seedings in the playoffs; in fact, the Division Winners are not guaranteed any place in the playoffs should it be the case that one of the division winners had the ninth best record in its conference. That is hardly a likely outcome but it is surely a mathematical possibility and one must heed the old adage:

    Low probability events happen every day.

Some argue that this renders the NBA Divisions meaningless other than the fact that a few teams will be float banners in their arenas pronouncing division championships that no longer mean anything. Point taken… So, if I were to “tweak” the new NBA system slightly I would populate the playoffs in this way:

    All Division Champions in each Conference will be in the playoffs provided that the Division Champions have a record of more than .500. If a Division winner has a record of 41-41 or worse and if there are 8 teams in that conference with superior records, that Division winner will not be in the playoffs.

    Seeding of teams in the playoffs will be done on the basis of regular season records and nothing else.

Please note that if the NFL would adopt either the new NBA system or my “tweak” on the new NBA system, there would not have been a team in the playoffs last year with a record of 7-8-1. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot is clearly in the camp that wants the NFL to change its playoff seedings:

“Streamlined: By seeding its conference playoff teams solely by record, the NBA has reduced – possibly obliterated – the relevancy of divisions. Is the NFL next? It should be.”

Last Thursday night, the coaches’ headsets malfunctioned in Foxboro and Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin was none too pleased. He stopped short of accusing specific Patriots’ employees of causing the malfunction but he did not stop far short of that mark. Well, the NFL took the Pats off the hook for the moment pointing out that it is the league and not the home team that manages the coaches’ communications at the games. That would seem to put this to rest – except:

    The NFL will investigate the problem and their equipment to find the cause and to remedy the situation.

Sounds like a good idea until you think for a moment about the efficiency and effectiveness of NFL investigations.

    Think about the Ray Rice investigation when the NFL could not figure a way to get hold of the elevator video tape.

    Think about The Wells Report which cost between $3M and $5M depending on the report you read and would have gotten a D+ in Criminology 101.

The conclusion you might draw here is that this investigation will discover that the technology in use is inadequate and needs to be upgraded beyond the level of two tin cans and a taut string. Then it will assess why the current situations obtains and will find that there is a dark hand involved here – perhaps the Elders of Zion or the Trilateral Commission?

Yesterday, Dwight Perry wrote the 3500th iteration of Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times. That is a whole lot of puns and plays on words. He began writing these columns in December 1999 – 189 months ago. That averages out to about 18 columns a month; that kind of output is prodigious by itself. When you add the quality of the humor and snark to the sheer number of columns, this is a noteworthy milestone indeed. Onward to 4000 columns, good sir…

Finally, to commemorate Dwight Perry’s milestone, here are two items from yesterday’s column and one from “a while ago”…

“Chin up, football widows and widowers: The next Sunday without NFL football falls on Valentine’s Day.”

And …

“If Mariners ace pitcher Felix Hernandez is The King, what does that make their best outfielder — Lord of the Flies?”

And …

“A former corrections officer was arrested after throwing two footballs stuffed with drugs and contraband into the prison yard at the Richland (Ohio) Correctional Institution, the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum reported.

Prosecutors can’t decide whether to charge her with drug trafficking or detentional grounding.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 9/12/15

The Mythical Picks for the season showed a mythical profit for Week 1. The picks were 7-5-0. The best pick of the week was the Northwestern/Stanford game where I took Northwestern +12 and they won outright plus I took the game to stay UNDER 47.5 and the total score was only 22 points. Naturally, if I were one of those touts selling my selection services, I would scream ex post facto that I had given you a perfect parlay on the game. It will not take you long to go back and see that I did no such thing; I never suggested that would be a good parlay wager.

Notwithstanding early success with Mythical Picking this season, no one should consider even for a moment using any information here as the basis for making a real wager on an actual college football game this weekend. If you do that, you are probably dumb enough to avoid playing Candy Crush because you think it might give you diabetes.

General Comments:

Notre Dame chewed up and spit out Texas last week. The Longhorns managed to generate only 163 yards of offense in the game. Texas Coach Charlie Strong made a move to have someone else call offensive plays from now on. What he actually needs to do is to find some offensive linemen who can block effectively. Absent significant improvement on the OL, it will be a looong season in Austin.

There was good news and bad news for BYU after last week’s game at Nebraska:

    BYU won the game 33-28 on a Hail Mary pass with no time left on the clock.

    The receiver caught the ball with 5 defenders around him watching him jump up and catch the ball.

    BYU lost its starting QB to a foot injury earlier in the game and he will be out for the rest of the season.

Obviously, all of the news coming out of that game was bad for Nebraska but here is a statistical tidbit that I ran across that makes the loss seem even worse:

    Nebraska had won its last 30 home openers until last Saturday.

Northwestern not only beat Stanford last week as a double-digit underdog, Northwestern pushed Stanford around for much of the game running the ball for 225 yards against the Stanford defense. On the other side, Stanford’s offense only accounted for 240 yards of total offense.

Penn State lost to Temple for the first time since about 2 months before Pearl Harbor. Penn State led 10-0 in the first half and then Temple’s defense took over the game. Christian Hackenberg is not a nimble QB and the State OL got him sacked 8 times in the game. Penn State had “offensive line issues” last year and they seem not to have been resolved this year. That is not a good omen for Nittany Lion fans…

Utah State beat Southern Utah 14-9. In fact, it took a long punt return for a TD late in the 4th quarter to give Utah State the win. For Utah State fans, they have to hope this was merely a case of “first game jitters” because Southern Utah is not exactly a perennial Division 1-AA powerhouse. To give you an idea how discombobulated the game was, there were 29 punts in the game by both teams. By comparison, both teams only attempted 33 passes in the game. The punt coverage teams got themselves a workout here…

Georgia beat La-Monroe 51-14 covering a 36-point spread by a single point. I think that is interesting because the game was stopped with almost 10 minutes left on the clock in the 4th quarter when the teams had to leave the field for a second lightening delay. Both coaches agreed to have the refs call the game and send everyone home.

    I wonder if the Georgia coaches would have agreed to that if they had not covered at that point. Hmmm…

Of course, if you bet on that game in Las Vegas it would have been a “Push” because the terms of the wager on football games there is that the games must go a minimum of 55 minutes to be considered official. Nevertheless, I wonder if that factor went into the decision.

Michigan State beat W. Michigan by 13 points last week but State gave up 365 yards passing that game. W. Michigan is a MAC team and the kind of defense one has come to expect from Michigan State does not do that. Next up for the Spartans is Oregon. Folks in E. Lansing had better hope that defensive performance last week was an aberration or the result of “looking ahead” to Oregon. If it was not, it will be a looong day against the Ducks.

Tennessee beat Bowling Green 59-30 last week. The fact that Tennessee prevailed here is not surprising but what is surprising is that Tennessee gave up 30 points and 424 yards passing to Bowling Green. Just as Michigan State fans have to hope their defense did not bring its best game to the field on opening night, the same goes for Tennessee. They have Oklahoma on tap this week.

Texas A&M beat Arizona St. 38-17. (I took Arizona St +3.5 points in last week’s Mythical Picks so I was not even close on that game.) Christian Kirk scored 2 TDs on a long run and a long punt return and the Aggies offense was typically efficient. Nevertheless, I think the important factor in the game was the Aggies’ front-seven. They were in the backfield all game long on pass plays and on run plays. That was against a significant opponent too; perhaps Texas A&M is a team to watch this year? It is not a good idea to draw firm conclusions on the basis of a single game, but that was an impressive win.

Florida has had offensive woes for the past couple of seasons. However, early indications are that the new coaching staff has lit a fire under the offensive unit. The Gators had 606 yards of total offense last week (379 yards passing). Granted, the opponent was New Mexico State – a perennial contender for my mythical end-of-season SHOE Tournament to determine the worst team in the country. Nonetheless…

I said last week that Wisconsin was a team that liked to run the ball and that Alabama was a team that could stop opponents from running. Consider the stats from that game:

    Wisconsin ran the ball 21 times for a total of 40 yards.

No other opponent is going to do that to Wisconsin for the rest of this season.

I mentioned some tough losses for teams in the commentary above, but here are two other losses that have to be gut-wrenching:

    Kansas lost at home to Division 1-AA South Dakota State. Kansas trailed in the game at halftime 31-7 then fought back to make a game of it in the second half. But still… This was the first game of the David Beaty Era at Kansas. It looks as if it might just be a short era.

    Washington State lost at home to Division 1-AA Portland State. The magic that Mike Leach seemed to be able to work in Texas does not seem to translate to southeastern Washington; Leach is now 12-26 at Washington State. The Cougars only have two more games (a transcontinental trip to play Maryland this week and Wyoming) before starting PAC-12 games. It could be another looong season in Pullman…

Here is an unusual football stat:

    Maryland return man, William Likely, ran back 8 punts against Richmond last week for 233 yards and a TD. Yes, he averaged 29 yards per punt return. But that is not all…

    Likely also ran back two kickoffs for 63 yards.

    So, on 10 special teams’ plays Likely gained 296 yards and scored a TD.

    That is what you would call an un-Likely performance.

Altee Tenpenny was a running back at Alabama who transferred to UNLV but was kicked off the team there for unspecified “rules violations”. Too bad. I was hoping to be able to refer you to an image of him getting nailed on a running play. You know someone somewhere will find a way to describe him as “tough as nails”…

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week there were 8 Ponderosa Games and the favorite covered in 7 of them. In all the time I have been tracking these sorts of games, I do not recall a week where the favorites did so well against the spreads.

Baylor, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, NC State, Oklahoma and USC covered.

Arizona did not cover.

This week, we have 10 Ponderosa Games:

USF at Florida State – 28.5 (54): Probably the best you can say about this game is that it involves “in-state rivals”.

Fresno St. at Ole Miss – 30 (55): This spread opened the week at 26.5 and has climbed steadily all week long.

Miami (Oh) at Wisconsin – 32.5 (52): Wisconsin is not going to be in a good mood after the thrashing it took from Alabama. I would be tempted to take the game to go OVER only because Wisconsin might run it up and score 53 all by themselves. But I shall resist that temptation…

Hawaii at Ohio State – 41 (65): The outcome of this game ceases to be in doubt as soon as the grounds crew is finished lining the field.

Tulane at Georgia Tech – 29 (55): This spread makes sense when you realize Tulane lost to Duke by 30 last week.

Middle Tenn. St at Alabama – 35.5 (56): See comment for the Hawaii/Ohio State game above… Oh by the way, Alabama is 0-5 against the spread in its last 5 games against C-USA teams. Do you care?

Ball St. at Texas A&M – 30 (63.5): Ball St. beat VMI 48-36 last week. They are not going to score anywhere near 48 points this week. Oh by the way, Texas A&M did not cover against the spread any of its home games last year. Do you care?

South Alabama at Nebraska – 27.5 (54): Will Nebraska suffer a hangover from its final second loss last week to BYU or will they come onto the field spring-loaded into the pissed-off position? My guess is the latter…

Idaho at USC – 43.5 (66): How would you like to be the coach at Idaho and have to come up with a pre-game motivational speech for this game that does not make you sound like a total bonehead?

UCLA – 30 at UNLV (65): Even on the road, UCLA is a 30-point favorite here…

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Utah State at Utah – 12 (44.5): Utah looked good on defense beating Michigan last week while Utah State’s offense could not do any business against Divisinon1-AA Southern Utah. So what we have here is an in-state rivalry game where it appears defenses will dominate. In that case I love the idea of getting 12 points if points are going to be scarce. I’ll take Utah St. plus the points.

Buffalo at Penn State – 19.5 (52.5): This game is interesting because it may shed light on future games involving Penn State. The offensive performance last week against Temple was pathetic. Is that an endemic problem? If so, you can look to play against Penn State down the line in Big 10 games. For this week, I do not see where 53 points will come from given the Penn State offense from last week and the still competent Penn State defense. I like the game to stay UNDER.

E. Carolina at Florida – 20.5 (53): This spread opened the week at 15, then jumped to 18 and has climbed from there. Florida trounced New Mexico St. last week; E. Carolina beat a Division 1-AA opponent by 8 points. Those two opponents are not that much different in terms of capabilities. Make this a venue call. I like Florida to win and cover.

Temple at Cincy – 7 (55): This is purely a “go-to-school game”. Is Temple for real after manhandling Penn State last week? I have no idea but this game might provide more info…

LSU – 5 at Mississippi St. (50): LSU had to cancel its game last week due to weather so this is their first time in the barrel. Mississippi State handled S. Mississippi easily even though it did not cover a 21-point spread. The spread here has slowly been getting bigger all week long and since I think this is a venue call, I’ll take Mississippi State plus the points here.

Marshall – 3 at Ohio (60): Marshall looked good on defense against Purdue in the opener last week. I know Purdue is not a good team, but Ohio opened against Idaho and Idaho is indeed a bad team. This is C-USA versus the MAC. This game ought to be on a Tuesday night on ESPN-7. Purely a hunch, I’ll take Marshall and lay the points.

Minnesota – 5 at Colorado State (54): Minnesota acquitted itself very nicely against a good TCU team; its defense played very well against a high-powered offense. Colorado State is not TCU. State warmed up for this by sparring with perennial punching bag Savannah State. I think Minnesota is the better team but I do not like the fact that they have to play at altitude here. This could be an interesting game, but I’ll pass…

Oregon St. at Michigan – 15 (45.5): This is Michigan’s second straight PAC-12 opponent and last week’s encounter with Utah did not end well for Coach Harbaugh in his Michigan debut. That game was on the road and this one is back in Ann Arbor where things might be more friendly to the Wolverines – – unless of course they fall behind by 2 TDs. Oregon State opened with a tune-up against Weber State and held Weber State to 7 points. I did not see enough from Michigan’s offense to have great confidence in their ability to score so I see this as a low-scoring game. I’ll take Oregon State plus the points.

Georgia – 20 at Vandy (50): Vandy lost its opener by 2 points to W. Kentucky; Georgia is a lot better than W. Kentucky. However, what Vandy has going for it is a decent defensive unit. If the Vandy offense can score 10 points, that means Georgia needs 5 scores to cover. That’s a lot. I’ll take Vandy plus the points at home.

Boise St. – 2.5 at BYU (54.5): BYU should be buoyed by that “Hail Mary win” at Nebraska last week and their home crowd should fire them up too. However, they have to go with their backup QB here. Meanwhile, Boise St. beat Washington – not a top-shelf team from the PAC-12 – by a field goal at home. Oh, and Washington had a chance to tie the game with a late FG that was off the mark. I like BYU at home plus the points.

Notre Dame – 11.5 at UVa (48.5): UVa showed some defense against UCLA last week and I do not expect Notre Dame to complete 80% of its passes again this week. I see a much lower scoring game than the ones that both teams played last week. Therefore, I’ll take UVa plus the points here.

Bowling Green at Maryland – 7.5 (70): Maryland got almost 300 yards and a TD from one return man last week (see above). Bowling Green threw for 365 yards against Michigan State last week (see above) and gave up 59 points. AYKM…? I’ll take this game to go OVER.

Washington St at Rutgers – 3.5 (63): This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game and probably went up because people saw that Rutgers pounded a Division 1-AA foe last week while Washington St. lost to a Division 1-AA foe last week. Plus there is that transcontinental flight … Fortunately for the Cougars, the kickoff time is not until late afternoon. I have no reason to believe that Rutgers is an offensive juggernaut and Washington St. ought to be sluggish from the long flight. I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Oklahoma – 2 at Tennessee (62.5): This is the kind of game we need to see more of in terms of non-conference scheduling. Tennessee can score; they got 59 last week. Tennessee did not stop much of anything last week giving up lots of yards and 30 points to a MAC team. Oklahoma is not a MAC team. I like the game to go OVER and I like Oklahoma to win and cover on the road.

Rice at Texas – 15 (48.5): This is not a betting game; this is a “pay attention game”. Texas was manhandled last week by a good Notre Dame team but this is Rice and not Notre Dame and the game is in Austin. If Texas loses straight up, things will be ugly in Austin by midnite Saturday night…

Oregon at Michigan St. – 4 (65): I am going to choose to ignore last week’s results for both of these teams because I believe that both teams were looking ahead to this game. Both of these teams are good; neither one faced a good opponent last week. Someone with too much time on his hands generated these trend stats:

    Since 2000, Oregon is 4-1 against the spread (ATS) as a road underdog
    Since 2000, Oregon is 10-3 ATS in nonconference road games.

Here is a fact; not a single player on any of the Oregon teams from 2000 – 2010 that helped to generate those trend stats will be on the field for the game on Saturday. Make this a venue call; I’ll take Michigan State to win and cover at home.

UCF at Stanford – 19 (46): The Total Line here opened the week at 43 and has been going up all week long. Both teams suffered embarrassing losses in their opening game last week. UCF lost to FIU and Stanford lost to Northwestern. Comparing the opponents, Stanford lost to the better squad and Stanford was on the road in that loss. If UCF could not score on FIU last week, how are they going to do that against Stanford this week? And if Stanford could not score on Northwestern… I think this has the makings of a game where neither team gets out of the teens and UCF may struggle to get to double digits. I like the game to stay UNDER.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 9/13/15

The 2015/2016 NFL season commences tonight. What I intend to do here on a weekly basis is to make a pick for “every NFL game” against the spread – or using the total line or the money line. I do this for my amusement – and hopefully yours too. This is not how I make a living; these picks represent no “inside information”; I do not make real wagers on all of these picks and neither should you.

Betting on “every NFL game” is a sure-fire way to make the bookmakers even wealthier than they are. When I go to Las Vegas for my annual pilgrimage, I try to limit bets to games where I think the line is off by 3 or 4 points and I do not subscribe to the idea that you have to have a bet on any game that you are going to watch on TV. If you think betting on all 256 NFL games is a good money management strategy, you probably also play the lottery.

I put “every NFL game” in quotes here because while that is my intent, I am not likely going to be able to make good on that if it were a promise. There will be weeks when I do not get to compose and post these predictions until Friday; obviously that will eliminate some Thursday night games from set of “every NFL game”. In addition, there could be some family travel plans later this season that could obviate some picks. Therefore, I will set “every NFL game” as a goal but not as a guarantee.

Just to be sure everyone understands that these are “Mythical Picks” and are not “20-Star Mortal Locks of the Decade”, no one should use anything here as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game this weekend should said wager involve real money. If you are stupid enough to that, you are also probably stupid enough to spend a half-hour pondering whether Beavis or Butthead was the smart one.

General Comments:

Since this feature has gambling on NFL games as its raison d’etre, it seems appropriate to acknowledge a recent report on the extent to which Americans bet on football. Gambling Compliance is a company that provides “independent business intelligence to the global gambling industry, specializing in legal, regulatory, political and market data.” Recognizing that such a company has a stake in the outcome of any studies or projections with regard to gambling, they recently said that a mature and legal gambling marketplace in the US would generate $12.4B in annual revenue. That is a lot of money; that is even more money than the NFL projects to take in in 2015.

The American Gaming Association – another organization with “skin in the game” – estimates that $95B will be wagered on college and pro football this year in America and the vast majority of that will be done illegally. Just for a moment, take that $95B estimate for the current year as correct. In Nevada – the only state with legal sports wagering on a large scale – the State of Nevada keeps close track on the money flows through the sportsbooks. According the State of Nevada data, the total amount of money bet on football in Nevada since 1982 is only $24.9B.

    The cumulative total wagering on football in Nevada over the past 33 years comes to only 26.2% of what is estimated to be wagered in 2015 alone.

If the estimate is even close to correct, this ought to demonstrate that all of the extant laws on the Federal books and in States and localities everywhere forbidding bookmaking fall into the category of “feckless”. And indeed, more money is bet on football than any other sport according to Nevada data. In 2014 here are the amounts bet on various sports in Nevada:

    Football $1.75B
    Basketball 1.11B
    Baseball 0.72B
    “Other” 0.27B
    Parlays 0.58B

Football provides a handle for the legal sportsbooks that is almost equivalent to baseball and basketball combined. When you consider how many more basketball and baseball games there are as compared to football, you can see that football games attract a disproportionate betting interest.

I am not trying to convince anyone here to go out to Nevada to bet on games or to contact your old high school buddy who now lives in Las Vegas to run bets for you. Even more, I am not suggesting that anyone go out and find a local bookie to deal with or to go to one of the offshore sportsbooks to bet on football games. My point is simply that football and wagering are inextricably linked.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite) Pittsburgh at New England – 7 (52): It will be an emotional might in Foxboro as the Pats raise their Super Bowl championship banner and welcome Tom Brady to the 2015 season that once looked as if his season would be 25% shorter than the actual season. Even the stoic presence of Bill Belichick – sometimes referred to as “Darth Hoodie” – will not put a lid on the adrenaline here. Sometimes, excessive adrenaline leads to lack of concentration which leads to mistakes; I think that is a real possibility here. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ running attack should be severely limited with LeVeon Bell sitting out a suspension and an injury to Maurkice Pouncey. However, Antonio Brown will indeed be there tonight. I think the line is fat. I’ll take the Steelers plus the points.

Green Bay – 6.5 at Chicago (49.5): The Packers have beaten the Bears in Soldier Field the last 5 times they played there; moreover, the Packers have covered the spread in each of those five games. I am not big on trend betting; but nominally, home teams are supposed to enjoy an advantage. Despite the lack of Jordy Nelson to seemingly get open at will against the Bears’ secondary, I do not think the Bears will be able to contain the Packers’ offense. When the Bears have the ball, I think the key will be the ability of the Bears’ OL to give Jay Cutler a little bit of time. If he is harassed and throwing off his back foot – as he was/did much of last year – this game will be over quickly. I like the Packers to win and cover even on the road.

KC at Houston – 1 (41): I see this game as a defensive struggle because neither team has an offense – or a QB – that screams “COMPETENCE”. Both teams have above average defenses. So this is the first example of something I will be doing now and in the future in these Mythical Picks; this is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. Here is the deal:

    I use a standard US quarter as my flipping coin and I flip it twice.

    Flip #1: Heads means I play the spread; Tails means I play the Total Line

    Flip #2: Heads I play the favorite ATS; Heads I play the OVER.

    The result of the first Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip is to take the game to go OVER.

Cleveland at Jets – 3 (39.5): The dogs are barking over this game between two sub-par teams. Nonetheless, it is not the worst game of the week by a longshot. A major problem with predicting games between two sub-par teams is that one reason any team is sub-par is their tendency to make mistakes at critical times during games. When both can do that – and both of these teams will over the course of the season – you are trying to predict which one will make the last critical error so you can be on the other guys. Like the Chiefs/Texans game above, both defenses should dominate the other team’s offense and QB.

    Seriously, picking the better QB from Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick is sort of like picking the kinder/gentler Menendez brother.

In games I think will be low-scoring, I prefer to take points instead of laying them. Therefore, I will hold my nose here and take the Browns plus the points.

Indy – 2.5 at Buffalo (45): This is a match-up game and the line reflects that. If you compare the QBs here – the “most important position on any football team” – you would have to make the Colts a prohibitive favorite. Andrew Luck vs. Tyrod Taylor is not a fair fight. But the Bills are going to be stingy on pass defense this year and the Colts are not a good running team – even with the addition of Frank Gore from the Niners. That is not a knock on Gore; it is a recognition that the Colts’ OL is merely mediocre. The Bills’ fans will be raucous as they welcome the shy and retiring Rex Ryan to Bills’ football. I’ll take the Bills at home plus the points.

Miami – 3.5 at Washington (43): The Dolphins’ DL should dominate this game and look like the old Rams’ Fearsome Foursome or the old Steelers’ Steel Curtain. On any snap when the Skins double-team Ndamukong Suh, he is a 3-5 favorite to beat that double team. The “issue” in this game is the Dolphins’ offense which is going to be the cross the team will have to bear all season long. They will not face a fearsome defense this week so all they have to do is to get out of their own way. I like the Dolphins to win and cover on the road.

Carolina – 3.5 at Jax (41.5): I said in my pre-season predictions that the Jags were a team that was improving. Carolina was mediocre this year and they have injury problems to deal with. Purely a hunch, I like the Jags as a home dog here; I’ll take them with the points.

Seattle – 4 at St. Louis (41): This is the best game on Sunday this week if the Baltimore/Denver game isn’t. The Rams beat the Seahawks straight up by 2 points at home last year so the team knows that it can be done. As the Super Bowl “loser”, the Seahawks are supposed to suffer a “hangover” from that game; here is the trend on that:

    Super Bowl losers are 5-21 against the spread (ATS) in the first game of the season following the loss in the Super Bowl.

The Total Line opened at 44 and dropped to 41. I agree with the bettors there that this will be a low-scoring contest. Therefore, I will take the Rams plus the points as a solid home underdog.

New Orleans at Arizona – 2.5 (48): The return of Carson Palmer at QB has to improve the Cards’ offense but by the same token, the Saints’ defense has to be better than they showed last year too. I said in my pre-season predictions that I am not sold on the Cards and I really do not want to lay points with them against an opponent who can score. I’ll take the Saints plus the points here.

Detroit at San Diego – 3 (46): Historically, the Lions are not a good road team and they are certainly better indoors than outdoors. The problem here is that the Chargers have to play without Antonio Gates this week – and the next three weeks too – and Eddie Royal is now plying his trade in Chicago. That means the Chargers will have to find other targets in their passing game and/or get lots of production from rookie RB, Melvin Gordon. With four good defenders no longer in the Lions’ front-seven, I think Gordon will do just that. I’ll take the Chargers at home and lay the points.

Tennessee at Tampa – 3 (41): Those are not dogs you hear barking that is the world’s largest wolf pack all howling at one time. You can watch this game if you want just to see the two nominal QB phenoms from last year’s draft play their first “real game” in the NFL. You can even draw conclusions from watching that game if you want despite the fact that it is rare that one game will tell you much about a rookie’s long term value or burden. However do not bet on this game. Out comes the coin for another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER. Why not?

Cincy – 3 at Oakland (43): This is an interesting game. I think the Raiders are an improved team from last year – and the year before that. I think the Bengals are not going to be as good as they were last year. Nonetheless, I am not confident that the Raiders have ascended to heights that exceed the Bengals stature. However, the Raiders are at home and they are getting points… I am tempted by the spread but will resist the temptation. I think this will be a defensive game and I like the game to stay UNDER.

Baltimore at Denver – 4.5 (49): The Total Line here opened at 52; the current line represents a significant drop. I must confess that I have no idea why that should be the case. I understand why the Broncos are favored here; they went undefeated at home last year and this is a long trip for the visiting Ravens. Nevertheless, I do not think this is a defensive game; I think both teams will score a lot of points. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Ravens on the road plus the points.

(Sun Nite) Giants at Dallas – 6 (51): This is one of only 3 division games on the card for the weekend. Teams always seem to get themselves up for division games so I expect both teams to come out and play well here. If that is the case, the Cowboys should prevail handily because they are better on offense and they are at least as good if not better on defense. Oh, and they are at home too. I like the Cowboys to win and cover at home.

(Mon Nite Early) Philly – 2.5 at Atlanta (55): If you like tight defensive struggles where field position is an important strategic aspect of the game from start to finish, this is not the game for you. Both teams will go only as far as their offenses will take them because neither defense is going to be a top-shelf unit. This is the highest Total Line for the week reflecting the fact that the high octane Eagles offense is going up against a defense that was miserable last year and the Falcons’ pass-oriented offense (Julio Jones and Roddy White) will go up against an Eagles’ defense that gave up loads of big plays last year. I think the final score here will look like the halftime score for a WNBA game. I like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite Late) Minnesota – 2.5 at SF (41): The spread opened with the Niners favored by 3.5 points; the swing here represents a 6-point move and that is a HUGE line move. I had the Vikes winning 10 games in my pre-season predictions and this was one of them. Even though the Vikes’ defense is not one of the league’s best units, I think it will be able to contain a Niners’ offense that projects to be “average at best”. I think Adrian Peterson uses this MNF game to announce his return to the NFL very forcefully. I like the Vikings to win and cover here even on the road.

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

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle At Work…?

During the 2013 NFL season, there was an abundance of reporting on the bullying that went on inside the Miami Dolphins’ locker room; trust me, I am not going to reprise any of that reporting here. Last year, before and during the NFL season there was a similar abundance of reporting on Michael Sam’s quest to be an openly gay player in the NFL; trust me, I am not going to go there either. If you fast-forward from the times when Jonathan Martin and Michael Sam were at the center of media attention until today, there is a common factor. Both Martin and Sam are out of football; both are taking different vector headings in their lives.

Martin played last year with the Niners; in the offseason, he had signed on with the Panthers but back in August, he announced his retirement. Subsequently, he revealed that he had attempted suicide several times saying that it was “his job” that had led to those suicide attempts. From his statements, Martin had not found joy or fulfillment in football all the way back to high school where he felt that he did not fit in with others. He said those feelings of exclusion led him to drinking and smoking pot “constantly” (his word). The locker room was evidently not a place of camaraderie for him; it was a source of tension and stress in his life.

Sam failed to make the Rams’ team after training camp last year and then spent a month or two on the Cowboys’ practice squad. When he did not receive any viable offers from NFL teams in the offseason, he signed to play in the CFL. Just before the first of his exhibition games, he took a leave of absence to attend to “personal matters” in Texas. He returned to the team in about a month and eventually played in a CFL game. A week later he left the team again saying he was concerned for his “mental health”; and by all appearances, his professional football aspirations are on hold.

It seems to me that there are some parallel lines in those two narratives. Michael Sam has no obligation to reveal why he was/is concerned for his mental health, but it would be presumptuous for anyone to dismiss those concerns as trivial; Jonathan Martin clearly has some mental health concerns to deal with unless one dismisses multiple attempted suicides as normal behavior. Both of these men found themselves under microscopic inspection because they played football and because they did not fit the norm of a “football player” that had been built up in everyone’s mind over the decades.

I wonder if a fundamental scientific principle is at work here. In the world of quantum mechanics there is something known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; in non-mathematical terms, it means that by observing a system, the act of observation perturbs the system thereby making it impossible to know everything about that system at the same time. Might it be that the intense scrutiny directed at these two men affected them in a way that made their “mental health” situations worse? Maybe if we begin to examine that question our act of observation will cloud our ability to reach a definitive answer…

One of the things I look for when sitting here in the darkness of Curmudgeon Central is hypocrisy in public figures. Even ignoring the political world and the 20+ active candidates for the Presidency in 2016, there are plenty of examples that present themselves. Consider the now mercifully dormant situation involving Deflategate:

    One of the foundation pieces that the NFL based its 4-game suspension of Tom Brady on was his failure to cooperate fully with the NFL’s investigation. The most glaring failure was his refusal to turn over his cell phone to the folks conducting the Wells Report subsequently buying a new phone and destroying the old one.

    One of the reasons Judge Berman gave for overturning that 4-game suspension was that in the appeal process, the NFL refused to allow Brady and his lawyers to question NFL VP Jeff Pash who was the “co-lead investigator” in the production of the Wells Report.

    So, it appears here that the suspension the NFL imposed based partially on Tom Brady “withholding evidence and not cooperating” was overturned based partially on the NFL “withholding evidence and not cooperating”.

Seriously, the only thing missing from the entire Deflategate hoot-doodle is a white rabbit in a waistcoat hopping by saying that he is late for a very important date…

Here is how Brad Dickson of the Omaha-World Herald reacted to Judge Berman overturning the 4-game suspension:

“Thursday a judge overturned Tom Brady’s suspension. I’m just happy to see a handsome multimillionaire with four Super Bowl rings who’s married to a supermodel finally catch a break in life.”

I am not a big fan of MMA. I may watch a few minutes of a bout if I happen to pass through it while grazing channels but under no circumstances am I a fan or a connoisseur. The sport seems to me to be very much like pro ‘rassling with its hype and feuding but with undetermined bout outcomes and real blood/injuries. Like I said, I am not a connoisseur…

With that as background, I have to admit that I do not understand the media fascination with Ronda Rousey. I understand that she is an undefeated MMA fighter and that she has dominated all of her opponents there. Somehow, that has translated into her becoming the focus of paparazzi and gossip mongers. If I paid more attention to MMA, I might understand why that is. In any event, Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald recently:

“UFC star Ronda Rousey accepted an invitation to the Marine Corps Ball as the date of a Philadelphia soldier. He’ll be a perfect gentleman, or she’ll beat the [email protected]#$ out of him.”

Finally, in cutting down to the 53-man roster, the Jacksonville Jaguars released DE, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, much to the delight of every copy editor at the Florida Times-Union.

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

Predicting The 2015 NFL Season

For new readers, this is another of the annual features where I purposely – and purposefully – embarrass myself in public. What will follow here is my forecast for the NFL team-by-team where I predict the final standings in all of the NFL Divisions and the team records for each team. I will try to explain/justify/rationalize my selections knowing full well that many of them will be off target by astronomical distances. I do want to make something clear before launching into this essay:

    I do not hate any team in the NFL. I can say confidently that I did not inflate any team’s projected record because I “love them” or deflate another team’s record because I “hate them”. Looking at rosters and schedules, I think some teams are going to do better than other teams and that is all that is reflected here.

    Therefore, when it happens – as it always does – that a team that I have picked to have a 3-13 record winds up with a 9-7 record and perhaps sneaks into the playoffs, please do not tell me that I owe that team and its fans an apology for disrespecting them. That is not what happened and I will not apologize for something that did not happen.

    What did happen was that I made a huge mistake in terms of analysis and forecasting and I will indeed admit that I was wrong.

Before getting to the individual teams and their records for the season, let me begin by identifying 5 coaches who are – or ought to be – on a hot seat already. I will list them alphabetically lest anyone try to derive some priority order from the list that is not there.

    Gus Bradley (Jax): After a handful of successful years in Seattle as the defensive coordinator, Bradley got the job in Jax two years ago. Granted, he has been saddled with poor quarterbacking down there and the rest of the roster is not populated with Pro Bowl players either. Nonetheless, his record going into this season is 7-25. Let me just say that record is not sufficiently inspiring to induce the folks down there to take the tarps off the seats that the Jags cannot give away let alone sell.

    Jay Gruden (Washington): I know, he has only been in the job for one year but in Washington under Danny Boy Snyder’s regime, two years is long time in the job. Gruden’s “calling card” as a coach is that he is a “quarterback-whisperer” and he came to DC in hopes that he might bring RG3’s performance to mythic levels. RG3 will be the clipboard-holding #3 QB as the season begins… Now, if the two QBs ahead of RG3 also play poorly, Gruden’s “calling card” may decline significantly in value.

    Joe Philbin (Miami): Expectations are high in Miami this year; Greg Cote of the Miami Herald ranks the Dolphins as the 6th best team in the NFL. I do not agree with that assessment but that is some of what Philbin needs to deliver against in South Florida. Philbin has been in Miami for 3 seasons and has posted a cumulative record of 23-25. A repeat of that kind of record is not commensurate with the “6th best team in the NFL”.

    Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay): Like Jay Gruden, this is only his second year on the job. Nonetheless, the Bucs were as bad last year as they had been under Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris. Like in Jax, there are plenty of empty seats in Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs need not win their division for Smith to stay on the job, but another year near last year’s 2-14 record and he may be collecting on whatever remains in his contract starting in January 2016.

    Ken Whisenhunt (Tennessee): He took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl after the 2008 seson and to the playoffs after the 2009 season. Since then, his teams have not been above .500. Like Lovie Smith above, the Titans went 2-14 in Whisenhunt’s inaugural year there. The team has to do better than that.

There are two other coaches in the league who might endure fan pressure or media pressure should their teams “under-perform” this year. I do not think either coach ought to be on a hot seat – let alone fired for a bad season in 2015 – but I will mention them here just because…

    Tom Coughlin (Giants): The reasons he should not be on a hot seat are myriad:

      Two Super Bowl rings
      A 96-80 record with the Giants
      Nine playoff appearances in his coaching career.

    Nonetheless, the Giants have missed the playoffs for 3 straight years and in those 3 seasons the team record has been 22-26. In the last 2 seasons the Giants have been 13-19 but that less-than-stellar record is inflated to a degree with a 4-0 record against the Skins – meaning against real competition, the Giants are only 9-19. The Giants’ fans and the NYC tabloids may not take kindly to another slightly less than mediocre season.

    Chip Kelly (Philly): He has been with the Eagles for two years and has won 10 games in both of those seasons. So why might he be on a hot seat? Well, in those two years, he has released or traded or lost to free agency some of the team’s best and best liked players. If the 2015 season craters, the fans in Philly will be in full throat…

Enough preamble… Getting down to business here, I shall begin with the AFC East. I believe the Pats will win the division again this year and that the Jets will finish last. I think both the Dolphins and the Bills will do well and that this will be one of the strongest divisions in the league as measured by the total wins by the teams there.

    Patriots 12-4: The sturm und drang of Deflategate is behind us and it will not be necessary to analyze how the Pats might do in 4 games with Jimmy Garoppolo under center and what – if any – lingering effects that might have on the team. The question for the Pats’ fans and coaches ought to be this:

      Did the Pats’ defense take a big step back from last year in losing Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork to free agency?

    Losing two really good CBs from the defense puts the pressure on the front 7 to generate pressure. It is difficult to imagine that Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have not already figured that out and have been working on ways to do just that. The Pats get an early Bye Week (October 4) and return from that Bye Week to play Dallas and Indy both on the road. That is a speed-bump in any schedule.

    Dolphins 10-6: If I am correct, Joe Philbin will keep his job in Miami and the Dolphins will be an AFC Wild Card team. The centers of attention for the Dolphins will be QB Ryan Tannehill, DE Cameron Wake and free agent signee DT, Ndamukong Suh. The Dolphins’ OL allowed 46 sacks last year; that was the worst in the league. Like the Patriots above, this is another case where a DL needs to generate pressure to prevent its DBs from being exploited. That defense – and particularly those DBs have time to work on their game because here is the schedule for the Dolphins from the start of the season until October 29. No matter how hard you look there are no great QBs the defense will have to contain:

      At Washington (Kirk Cousins)
      At Jax (Blake Bortles)
      Vs. Buffalo (Tyrod Taylor)
      Vs. Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick)
      BYE (Probably the toughest QB on the list so far…)
      At Tennessee (Marcus Mariota)
      Vs. Houston (Brian Hoyer)

    The defense needs to use those games as learning experiences because in its last 3 games it will face:

      At San Diego (Philip Rivers)
      Vs. Indiana (Andrew Luck
      Vs. New England (Tom Brady).

    Despite his prediction that the Dolphins would be the 6th best team in the NFL, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald did have this cautionary note for fans in Miami:

    “An AFC East study by StubHub of fans who bought tickets to both NFL games and concerts reveals that Jets and Patriots fans tend to like Billy Joel, Bills fans go for Garth Brooks and Dolphins fans prefer Ariana Grande. Based on that, Miami clearly is going to finish last in the division.”

    Bills 9-7: Rex Ryan will indeed keep it interesting and the presence of Richie Incognito and Percy Harvin on the roster portends interesting storylines in Buffalo. Ryan takes his “ground and pound” offense about 350 miles northwest from East Rutherford, NJ to Buffalo NY. It’s a good thing he likes to run the ball because after a training camp competition, he settled on Tyrod Taylor as his QB with EJ Manuel as the only backup on the squad. The Bills acquired LeSean McCoy from Philly last winter and they are going to need McCoy to gain at least the 1300 yards he did in Philly last year so that Taylor is not in the position of having to win games on his own. The Bills had an excellent defense last year; Ryan is a good fit to coach a team with that kind of defense. The schedule in not all that kind to the Bills in September; here is how the start the season:

      Vs. Indy
      Vs. New England
      At Miami

    It gets a lot lighter in October and November.

    NY Jets 4-12: New head coach Todd Bowles earned his stripes as a defensive coordinator and he takes over a team that is strong on defense. In addition to a solid DL, the Jets have reunited CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. You might be tempted to wonder if this pair who were in NY together from 2010 – 2012 can still play; after all, CBs have a shelf life in the NFL. Absent injury, both of these guys can still play… The Jets’ problems are on offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a journeyman QB at best; when Geno Smith’s jaw heals, the Jets can only pray that this is the year when Smith rises up from being a miserable NFL QB all the way to being a slightly-below-average NFL QB. When Geno Smith was coming out of college into the draft, there were questions about his throwing accuracy and his leadership. His first years in the NFL seem to have confirmed that he is not the most accurate thrower ever and the fact that his coach and his teammates have not rallied behind him in the aftermath of “the sucker punch” sort of says he is living down to his “lack of leadership” expectations. Look for the Jets to continue to be a “run-first team” again this year.

Moving along to the AFC North, I do not think this division will be as strong as the AFC East but I do believe it will be a closely contested division race with the Ravens as the class of the division.

    Ravens 11-5: The Ravens’ defense was very good last year and should be just as good this year. Yes, they lost Haloti Ngata to free agency but they had some depth behind Ngata last year and things should be just fine on that side of the ball. On offense, the Ravens will have a new offensive coordinator yet again; I believe that makes three years in a row. The incumbent is former Bears’ coach Marc Trestman and he does like the throw the ball and often to throw it deep. Last year, Justin Forsett was the #5 rusher in the NFL with more than 1200 yards. Was he a “1-year wonder” or can he do something like that again in 2015? In Week’s 3-5, the Ravens face each of their division opponents with the middle game against the Steelers on Thursday night. That is not a fun schedule. And the last five games in December and January are not a cake-wale either.

    Steelers 8-8: Yes, James Harrison is still playing LB for the Steelers but truth be told the Steelers’ defense had gotten old as a unit and needed help. In that sense, the Steelers added by subtracting Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu during the off-season; they both had very good careers but both had gone past their sell-by date. Football-lifer, Dick LeBeau also left town to take up the head defensive chores in Tennessee. The Steelers will have to win on offense this year until the defense rebuilds itself. To that end, the 2-game suspension for LeVeon Bell and the loss of center, Maurkice Pouncey are not a good things but the presence of Antonio Brown to haul in passes from Ben Roethlisberger is indeed a good thing for the Steelers. In games outside the division, the Steelers will face top QBs who will test that defense:

      Sept 10 Tom Brady
      Oct 12 Philip Rivers
      Nov 29 Russell Wilson
      Dec 8 Andrew Luck
      Dec 20 Peyton Manning

    Given that scheduling fact, the Steelers had best be prepared to outscore their division rivals quarterbacked by Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and whomever the Browns feel like playing whenever.

    Bengals 8-8: The good news in Cincy is that the Bengals have made the playoffs for the last 4 seasons and no other team in the AFC North can make that statement. The bad news is that in all four of those years, the Bengals have been one-and-done in those playoffs. I think this year will break the cycle because I think the Bengals will be watching the playoffs on TV this year. Last year, the Bengals’ defense was more porous than it had been in prior years. If that was due to the aging process, that is not a good omen for 2015. On the other hand, maybe the decline in the defense last year was merely due to the loss of LB Vontaze Burfict who should be back this season.

    Browns 5-11: The Browns open the season:

      At Jets
      Vs. Tennessee
      Vs. Oakland

    Those may be the “Barking Dog Games of the Week” three weeks in a row. Josh McCown arrives in Cleveland in his mid-30s to serve as a placeholder at QB until the Browns can either decide that Johnny Manziel is their guy or they go out and acquire their guy. Somehow, the Browns never seem to be able to find “their guy” at QB no matter how hard they try. Here is their history of high QB draft picks since the re-launch of the franchise in 1999:

      Tim Couch 1999
      Brady Quinn 2007
      Brandon Weedon 2012
      Johnny Manziel 2014

    The Browns won 7 games last year; I just do not think it was skill and cunning that achieved that record. It still seems to me like “smoke and mirrors”. Hence, my prediction of a regression for 2015. Realize that the Browns were the worst team in the NFL in rushing defense last year giving up 142 yards per game. The Browns may have something going for them on offense for at least the early part of the season. New offensive coordinator, John DiFilippo, has never been an offensive coordinator before so his opposing defensive coordinators will have no “book” on him. The schedule is a difficult one notwithstanding those opening 3 games and they will have 6 difficult in-division games. I think the Browns will take two steps back this year.

The AFC South is a division of “Haves” and “Have Nots”. It is not the only division like that but it is the one where the distinctions are the starkest. The AFC South is also the weakest division in the NFL this year counting the number of predicted wins by teams in that division. I believe the four teams will only win a total of 28 games.

    Colts: 11-5: The Colts offense was very good last year so all they did in the offseason was to acquire some more talent on that side of the ball. Andre Johnson is not the player he was 5 years ago; so what, he can still play. Frank Gore is not the runner he was three years ago; so what, he can still play. Rookie WR, Phillip Dorsett is another addition to a receiving corps that can haul in deep balls from Andrew Luck. The Colts are loaded with skill position players but they seem not to have addressed two weaknesses:

      Offensive Line: Andrew Luck gets hit too often and the Colts’ running attack has not been threatening let alone fearsome.

      Defensive Line: The Colts do not get nearly enough pass rush without blitzing a couple of linebackers.

    Those issues may haunt the Colts when they face top-shelf competition/playoff teams but make no mistake, the Colts are one of the AFC South’s “Haves”. Look for them to get off to a fast start with the first month of the season looking like this:

      At Buffalo
      Vs. Jets
      At Tennessee
      Vs. Jax

    There is a tough patch in the middle of the season but just in case the Colts need a win in the final weekend of the year to secure a Bye Week in the playoffs, they can close out against the Titans at home.

    Texans 9-7: I think Bill O’Brien has the makings of a good coach in the NFL meaning he may have what it takes to get his teams to overachieve. There is little doubt that he a no-nonsense fundamental-football guy. He has a team in Houston that has a very good defense and an offense that desperately needs a QB. The Texans had a training camp competition and Brian Hoyer beat out Ryan Mallett for the job. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the most positive thing on both of their résumés is this:

      Both QBs were in New England as understudies to Tom Brady and under the tutelage of Bill Belichick.

    An injury to RB, Arian Foster in training camp will not help the Texans’ offense at all. The Texans get to play the Colts twice; if they are going to win, the defense – stronger this year with the addition of Vince Wilfork and a potentially healthy Jadeveon Clowney – will have to keep Andrew Luck and company under control. I mentioned how the Colts have a soft landing in the final weekend of the season should they need it; well, the Texans have soft games for the last two weeks facing the Titans on the road and then the Jags at home. Like the Colts, the Texans are one of the AFC’s “Haves”.

    Jaguars 5-11: That prediction may not look like much but it is significantly improved over last year’s 3-13 mark. The Jags signed former Broncos’ TE Julius Thomas as a main target for QB, Blake Bortles. In the buzzard-luck tradition of this franchise, Thomas broke his index finger and needed surgery about a week ago meaning he will not be available for the first 4 or 5 games. Bortles can use a reliable pass catcher; this is his second year in the league and that is a key developmental season for guys who ultimately develop into something other than long-term straphangers in the league. None of the Jags’ WRs will cause defensive coordinators sleepless nights so it falls to the other TEs on the team to carry the load for a month. Those TEs are not superstars but they are capable enough to fill in:

      Clay Harbor
      Marcedes Lewis
      Nic Jacobs

    The Jags running attack will need to up its game too; they have decent if not eye-catching talent there. Defensively, the Jags are pretty good and they added Jared Odrick from the Dolphins to a D-Line that has Ziggy Hood and Sen’Derrick Marks. I see improvement in the Jags for the season but they still remain one of the AFC South’s “Have Nots”.

    Titans: 3-13: The Titans were 2-14 last year so it is not surprising that there were few if any bright spots on the roster. The defense was terrible; the offense seemed lost at sea. The Titans bright in 77-year old Dick LeBeau from the Steelers to try to get the defense up to slightly-below-average – which is all that one might really expect in one year. LeBeau has been around the block a few times; he came into the NFL as a defensive back in 1959; Dwight D. Eisenhower was President at that time. To goose the offense, the Titans drafted Marcus Mariotta virtually assuring that whatever play they get at QB this year it will not be consistent from game to game; such is the way of rookie NFL QBs with very few exceptions. They signed a couple of WRs in free agency and drafted Dorial Green-Beckham one round after Mariotta. Green-Beckham is one of those guys with lots of talent and an equal amount of off-field baggage. Since the season has not started and everyone still sees the glass as half-full, let me point out that my prediction of 3-13 is a 50% improvement over last year. Big deal; the Titans are definitely one of the AFC South’s “Have Nots”.

The AFC West has three good teams and an improving fourth team. Measured by the yardstick of total wins by the 4 teams, I have it ranked as one of the top three divisions this year. I like the Broncos to win the division but it will not be easy.

    Broncos 11-5: For a team that went 12-4 last year, the Broncos sure did a lot of personnel shuffling. Coach John Fox is gone and replaced by Gary Kubiak; Terrance Knighton and Rahim Moore moved on too. The team lost TE Julius Thomas to free agency but it still has Owen Daniels to man that position – assuming that Daniels can stay healthy. The offensive line undergoes big changes this year after trading away the center, losing a guard to free agency and then watching the starting left tackle go down for the year with a knee injury. That could be very important because Peyton Manning was never a nimble QB and he is in his 18th season. He can probably still outrun an oak tree – but it might be close. A key thing to watch with the Broncos this year is their running game. They may need it to keep pressure off Manning. The defense was top-notch last year and should stay that way again; Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware form a formidable pass rush tandem and the Broncos drafted another pass rusher in Shane Ray. I think the Broncos will win the division.

    Chiefs 10-6: People like to chirp at Chiefs’ QB, Alex Smith, because he never throws any TD passes to WRs. Make no mistake, I am not going to try to convince you that Smith is a top-flight QB; he is not. However, the Chiefs have not had a great corps of WRs recently either. This year, in free agency, they picked up Jeremy Maclin from Philly and he should make a difference in KC. Recall that Maclin was in Philly with Andy Reid so he does not have a steep learning curve when it comes to his “new offense”. As long as Jamaal Charles is healthy and running the football, the Chiefs will not need to win games solely through the air. For the last two years, the Chiefs’ defense has been really good and there seems to be plenty of rubber left on the tires of that unit. Last year, the Chiefs lost LB Derrick Johnson and DL Mike Devito in the first game of the year. Surely the injury bug will find another team to bite this year, right? The schedule for the Chiefs is very tough especially at the beginning:

      Week 1: At Houston
      Week 2: Vs. Denver
      Week 3: At Green Bay

    I see the Chiefs as a wild card team in the AFC.

    Chargers 8-8: The injury bug bit the Chargers in the offensive backfield last year to the point that the team saw their 3 top RBs miss a total of 25 games. Presumably that will not happen again this year. Early on, the Chargers may need to rely on running the ball more than usual because TE Antonio Gates will serve a 4-game suspension through 4 October and drafting Melvyn Gordon last May gives the Chargers a featured back. Fortunately for the Chargers, that portion of their schedule is not as tough as other parts:

      Week 1: Vs. Detroit
      Week 2: At Cincy
      Week 3: At Minnesota
      Week 4: Vs. Cleveland

    Even with Gates in civvies in the stands, the Chargers could be 3-1 when he makes his way in to the locker room for Game 5 at home against the Steelers. Actually, the offense is not what concerns me about the Chargers. Last year they only had 7 INTs as a team and only sacked opponents 26 times. Unless the ball always bounces in your favor, that kind of defense is going to lose games for you. I like the Chargers this year – it is just that I like the Chiefs and the Broncos more…

    Raiders 6-10: Since the Raiders lost to the Bucs in the Super Bowl back in 2003, the team has been a hot mess. Twice they finished 8-8; in all the other seasons they never won more than 5 games. In the last 3 seasons, the Raiders are 11-37. Nonetheless, I see the Raiders as a team on an uptick; 6 wins this year would double their total from last year. They are not going to contend in the division; they are not going to the playoffs; however, they are better than they were and they are not going to be walkover opponents this year. The additions of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper to play with Derek Carr were good moves. The additions of Curtis Lofton and Nate Allen will improve the defense where the presence of Khalil Mack should start to get some national attention. Putting a no-nonsense guy like Jack Del Rio in the head coaching slot has to help too. Most importantly, the Raiders OL seems to be improving to the point where QB Derek Carr is not in mortal danger every time the offensive coordinator calls a pass play. The Raiders’ schedule is brutal especially at the end of the year; here are their last 5 opponents:

      Vs. Kansas City
      At Denver
      Vs. Green Bay
      Vs. San Diego (Thursday night)
      At Kansas City

    One other miserable feature of the Raiders schedule is the distance they have to travel for their road games. They have 4 road games in the Eastern Time Zone and none look to be “national games” meaning they will begin at 1:00 PM EST which is 10:00 AM on the Raiders’ biological clocks.

So, to recap the AFC I see the Playoff Structure looking like this:

    Patriots (Home field advantage)
    Ravens (Bye Week)
    Miami (Wild Card)
    KC (Wild Card)

Moving over to the NFC, I will take the divisions in the reverse order from the AFC for no particular reason than that is how I listed my notes on my clipboard. If anyone reads something of cosmic importance into that choice, please let me know because I think it is unintentional.

I think the NFC West joins the AFC East and the AFC West as the three best divisions in the NFL for this year. If I am correct, all three divisions will house teams that win a total of 35 games for the year.

    Seahawks 12-4: The Seahawks have had a balanced offensive attack for the last several years and managed to add TE Jimmy Graham from the Saints in a draft day trade. My guess is that deal made Russell Wilson break out into a happy dance; Graham is that good. I also think the Seahawks got a steal in the draft with Tyler Lockett who is a WR that always seems to find an open spot to catch a pass and who also returns punts and kicks. Unless Marshawn Lynch breaks a leg, the Seahawks will be able to run effectively. Oh, and the defense is pretty good too even with Kam Chancellor holding out for a new contract. If my math is correct, missing a game costs Chancellor approximately $275K. He wants a new and larger contract and it will be interesting to see just how many $275K game checks he is willing to forego to put pressure on the team. The schedule is not all that kind to the Seahawks; in addition to their 6 tough in-division games here are some other tough games:

      Sept 20: At Green Bay
      Nov 1: At Dallas
      Dec 13: At Baltimore

    Rams 10-6: I think this is a big step forward year for the Rams. The Rams’ defense is keyed by its defensive line where there are 5 first round picks on the roster and the oldest one is only 30 years old. Nick Foles is 14-4 as a starter and Jeff Fisher obviously does not think he was a “system guy” in Philly. A big plus for the Rams will be a healthy Todd Gurley at running back. He comes off a knee injury last year at Georgia but he is a horse at 225 lbs and he can break big runs too. Second year back Tre Mason will provide an interesting change of pace from Gurley. What the Rams need is for a WR – say Tavon Austin – to develop this year into a reliable lead receiver. The Rams have experience and stability on the sidelines; Jeff Fisher is an excellent coach and this year could put him into the playoffs. A game on November 8 may decide the Rams’ playoff chances; more on that later.

    Niners 7-9: The changes on this team are too numerous to mention so let me just name a couple:

      Coach Jim Harbaugh – gone
      Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio – gone
      RB Frank Gore – gone
      LB Patrick Willis – gone
      DE Aldon Smith – gone
      DB Perish Cox – gone

    You get the idea; this year’s iteration of the Niners will bear little resemblance to the teams in recent years. Moreover, I do not see the replacements for the missing players as upgrades. Yes, the return of NaVorro Bowman from injury is a plus and an upgrade; the same goes for the return from injury of Glenn Dorsey but the numbers just do not add up in favor of the Niners. The first nine games of the season – leading up to their Bye Week – are difficult. If they are 4-5 at that point in the season, it will be a good thing. What they must avoid is being 2-7 at that point.

    Cards 7-9: I am just not a believer in the Cards this year. I know they played well last year before Carson Palmer got hurt and that Palmer is back now and says his leg is better than before the injury. Here is my problem in a nutshell:

      The Cards won 11 games last year but only outscored opponents by 11 points. That is called getting a whole lot of lucky bounces of the ball – and footballs are of a shape where the results of bounces can be very random.

      So, I have to decide if the cards are going to win 13 games this year because they have their #1 QB back and that will lead to more points and more wins – OR – will the Cards regress to the mean in terms of having the ball bounce their way.

      I choose the latter outcome here.

    Todd Bowles no longer runs the Cards’ defense; he is now the head-guy for the Jets. His replacement is a promotion from within meaning that new coordinator James Bettcher is familiar with the talent and what it can and cannot do. There is one other inescapable fact; Bettcher has never been a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Like the Raiders, the Cards have 4 games in the Eastern Time Zone presenting “biological clock challenges” and the Cards’ schedule has 5 tough games to end the season:

      At St. Louis
      Vs Minnesota (Thursday Night)
      At Philly
      Vs. Green Bay
      Vs. Seattle

The NFC South was an embarrassment to the NFL last year. Carolina made the playoffs with a record of 7-8-1. Three teams will be bunched together in this division again this year and the Bucs will be looking up at them all.

    Saints 9-7: The addition of CJ Spiller at RB gives the Saints a “lightening option” at RB to go with the “thunder option’ of Mark Ingram. That will be good for the Saints because with Jimmy Graham now playing in Seattle, the Saints will probably run the ball a bit more. Another area of improvement for this year would seem to be the defensive secondary where Brandon Browner comes in from New England to man one corner position and Jarius Byrd returns to the safety position from Injured Reserve last year. I do not think the Saints are a very good team but they are playing in a division bereft of very good teams. As Carolina proved last year, someone has to win the damned division. The schedule provides me the feather I will put on the scale to make the Saints the division winners. The Saints are an indoor team; they have been that way for years and years. Every year they get 8 indoor games at home as they will this year. In addition they will get road games with:

      Sept 13: Arizona (indoors)
      Oct 25: Indy (indoors)
      Nov 29: Houston (perhaps indoors – retractable roof)
      Jan 3: Atlanta (indoors)

    That adds up to 11 indoor games plus a possible 12th one if the weather in Houston demands.

    Carolina 9-7: The Panthers reupped Cam Newton to a long term deal worth something north of $100M in the offseason. He is not a bad QB but he is not one of the Top 10 in the league either. The loss of WR, Kelvin Benjamin, for the season is not a positive portent for the Panthers. The current stable of WRs headed up by Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and Jerricho Cotchery is something less than “inspirational”. Jonathan Stewart is the feature back but he has been in the league for 7 years now and has about 1100 carries; if Father Time catches up with him, there is not much else to turn to. Luke Kuechly is an outstanding defender and – put simply – is not replaceable by anyone on this roster. Like the Saints, I do not think much of the Panthers as compared to some other squads but they do have some easy division games and someone has to win those games. The Panthers have a very tough run in the middle of the season:

      Oct 18: At Seattle
      Oct 25: Vs. Philly
      Nov 2: Vs. Indy
      Nov 9: Vs. Green Bay

    Note that three of those games against good opponents are in Carolina. The Panthers need to win at least two of them…

    Atlanta 7-9: The good news for the Falcons is that their defense this year just cannot be worse than the defense was last year. New coach Dan Quinn has the reputation as a defensive guru having been the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks for the past couple of seasons. Before getting too carried away here, Falcons’ fans need to recall that before Quinn had that job in Seattle, it belonged to Gus Bradley who has been toiling in Jax for the last two seasons without sterling results. The best of the DBs on the Falcons last year was Desmond Trufant; he will turn 25 early in the season and the questions about him are very simple and very direct:

      Is he capable of becoming a reliable shut-down corner?

      If he has that capability, is this the year he might demonstrate it?

    The Falcons offense last year was pass-dominated; it featured Matt Ryan and Julio Jones so that is not such a big surprise. On the other hand, the running game stunk to be blunt about it. That will have to improve for this year; how much it improves will determine if the Falcons can still harbor non-miraculous playoff thoughts past Thanksgiving. The schedule is not all that fearsome for the Falcons and so I will propose a modest one-game improvement for this year.

    Bucs 4-12: There is no way to sugar-coat this; the Bucs were downright awful last year and they took Jameis Winston with the top pick in the draft with the idea that he is the cornerstone of their rebuilding effort. Winston’s physical skills are not now – and never have been – in question. The uncertainty about Winston remains:

      How is he between the ears?

      Is he 21 going on 25?

      Or is he 21 going on 13?

    NFL fans will observe and derive the answers to those questions from afar; the Bucs and their coaches will live through the answers. The Bucs start the season at home against the Titans with their new rookie QB who is supposed to turn the franchise around. If the Titans lose, they can say it was a road game and postpone their dealings with reality. If the Bucs lose at home to the Titans, it will be the mirror image of a moral victory; it will be a gut-wrenching defeat. The schedule for the Bucs is not horrendous; at one point in the midst of the season they look at the following:

      Vs. Jax
      BYE WEEK
      At Washington

    That is not like facing “Murderers’ Row”… I am predicting a 100% improvement for the Bucs this year based on a gentle schedule and the fact that even as a rookie, Jameis Winston will have games where he outshines what Josh McCown and Mike Glennon did last year.

      [Aside: Do you realize that in the recent past the Bucs have had Josh Johnson, Josh McNown and Josh Freeman all start at QB? Seriously, I am not joshing…]

Moving on to the NFC North, I see a two-team race there but it may surprise you to know which two teams they are.

    Packers 11-5: The loss of Jordy Nelson for the season is a big deal; Nelson was the target for more passes from Aaron Rodgers over the last three seasons than anyone else – and it was by a large margin. It is also a big deal in this sense:

      If the Packers lose another WR or two to serious injury, Aaron Rodgers will be throwing to “JV players”; that would be like asking the best NASCAR driver ever to win the Daytona 500 driving a Dodge Minivan.

    Nevertheless, do not forget that absent a brickheaded play on an onside kick in the NFC Championship game against Seattle, the Packers would have been in the Super Bowl. Absent a calamity of injuries to the offense, the Packers will score points; the question is how many points will the defense give up? Dom Capers is the defensive coordinator in Green Bay and his reputation is that he comes up with creative ways to use the personnel on hand. Fans in Wisconsin have to hope that reputation has a basis in fact for the 2015 season. I have gotten all the way into this team analysis and have not yet mentioned Eddie Lacy who is a quality running back that adds a run dimension to the Packers’ offense. The schedule for the Packers is interesting right out of the gate:

      Sept 13: At Chicago (huge rivalry game0
      Sept 20: Vs. Seattle (grudge match from last year)
      Sept 28: Vs KC (MNF game against a good team)

    Later in the season, the Packers play 2 Thursday games which is not quite as bad as it sounds. On Thanksgiving night, the Packers play the Bears for the second time in the season and then on the next Thursday night they take on the Lions.

    Vikings 10-6: The Vikes are my team to take a big step forward in the NFC this year. Last year the Vikes were 7-9 but it sure did not seem as if they were that close to being a “break-even team”. My optimism here is based on the fact that Teddy Bridgewater will take a; significant step forward this year on his path to becoming a good NFL QB; his play at the end of last year was significantly better than it was earlier in the year; I like to think of that as a positive omen. Moreover, the addition of Adrian Peterson to the backfield – even with a year of “football rust” on his chassis – can only be a plus for the offense. Here is a Vikings’ question with potentially negative implications:

      Will Cordarelle Patterson show this year that he is something more than a fast guy who is a return man?

    The Vikings lost a stud on the OL – tackle Phil Loadholt – to a season-ending injury in training camp; somehow, they need to find a way to replace him with someone more skilled than a guy who was a piano-mover two weeks ago. The schedule is relatively kind to the Vikings but I foresee that their key game is on November 8. More on that later…

    Lions 6-10: The Lions had a fearsome defense last year that kept them in games until the offense could figure out what the offense was there to do. Then in free agency the Lions lost Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley and replaced the two of them with Haloti Ngata and a rookie. With no offense to Ngata who is a quality player, he cannot fill in for two guys who were standouts as DTs. And that is not all that is missing from last year’s Lions’ defense that ranked second in total defense in the league. Also gone are George Johnson and LB, CJ Mosley. The Lions were 11-5 last year; my prediction for this year represents a precipitous if not calamitous drop. Yes, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are still in Detroit but with Reggie Bush having moved on to SF, can you name any Lions’ RBs without peeking? You are correct, the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah last May and he may need to be a key part of that offense this year. The schedule is not a killer but there are two small segments that might prove challenging:

      Sept 27: Vs. Denver
      Oct 5: At Seattle (Monday nite)


      Nov 15: At Green Bay
      Nov 22: At Oakland
      Nov 26: Vs. Philly (Thanksgiving Day)
      Dec 3: Vs. Green Bay (Thursday night)

    Bears 4-12: The collapse of the Bears in 2014 cost the coach and the GM their jobs. Last year the team went 5-11; I think this year is going to be worse. One of the offensive “improvements” the Bears are touting is the reuniting of Jay Cutler with WR Eddie Royal; they had a grand old time of it when they were teammates in Denver. The problem is that grand old time happened in 2008; in NFL terms, that is Paleolithic. The good news is that new coach John Fox has been successful in Carolina and again in Denver. He showed that he was adaptable in Denver when he took a Tim Tebow-quarterbacked team to the playoffs and won a game there. He will indeed need that kind of magic touch in Chicago this year just to aspire to a .500 record. Let me explain why I say that. If Jay Cutler falters or gets injured, the #2 guy on the Bears’ depth chart is Jimmy Claussen. There are currently two guys behind him on that chart which is a frightening thought. Vic Fangio was cut loose by the Niners in their housecleaning at the end of the year and he found a landing spot with the Bears as defensive coordinator. He may provide a spark – but he does not have the ability to rush the passer or provide tight pass coverage. An important element in Fangio’s success with the Bears’ defense will be how much gas Jared Allen has left in his tank. In the first three weeks, the Bears have to face the Packers and the Seahawks; later in the season they have this scheduling stretch:

      Nov 9: At San Diego (Monday night)
      Nov 15: At St. Louis
      Nov 22: Vs. Denver
      Nov 26: At Green Bay (Thanksgiving night)

Finally, we arrive in the NFC East as our circumnavigation of the NFL world completes itself. This division will have a highly contested two-team race at the top which the Cowboys will win and a pretty-much guaranteed bottom feeder down the line.

    Cowboys 12-4: The Cowboys have an injury problem they will have to resolve quickly; Orlando Scandrick was their best DB last year and he tore both his ACL and his MCL in a practice about 2 weeks ago. Obviously, he is done for the year. Lots of folks have said that the Cowboys’ loss of RB DeMarco Murray from last year’s team was the thing it would miss the most; while I agree that Murray is a quality RB, the loss of Scandrick is to me significantly more important. The front seven for the Cowboys is solid and the addition of Randy Gregory seems to be a big plus – assuming that he can continue to steer clear of the substance abuse policy and testing by the league. The schedule gives the Cowboys a soft landing at the end of the year if they need one. Their last 3 games are:

      Vs. NY Jets
      At Buffalo
      Vs. Washington.

    Eagles 10-6: Chip Kelly has had his Eagles teams go 10-6 in each of his first two years with the club. I do not see any reason this year should be different. In the offseason, Kelly seemed to be morphing into the NFL version of Dr. Frankenstein by trading quarterbacks with the Rams, trading away his most productive RB, losing his top WR to free agency and letting a Pro Bowl guard become a cap casualty. Nevertheless, it looks as if the team is not crippled by any/all of that. Sam Bradford takes over the controls here; the Eagles’ offense involves lots of quick throws and lots of speed; will that game fit Bradford’s style? It sure was not what he was asked to do in St. Louis. Moreover, can he stay healthy? In those first two 10-6 seasons, Kelly has won games with Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles at QB. Not to be too snarky here, but no one in Canton is taking measurements for either player so they can get a head start on casting a bronze bust. What the Eagles need to do to improve their record is to improve their defense. The Eagles gave up more plays of 20+ yards than any other team in the league. Adding Byron Maxwell and rookie Eric Rowe to the secondary will hopefully reduce that number; adding Kiki Alonzo to the linebacking corps should help too.

    NY Giants: 6-10: The Giants were 6-10 last year and I do not think they are going to be any better or worse this year. Here is an unabashed bottom line analysis for the Giants:

      Last year their defense was horrible – which is pretty much what their defense was two years ago.

      If it doesn’t get a LOT better this year, the Giants will be mired in this level of mediocrity.

    One way to address that needed improvement is to change defensive coordinators and the Giants went back to Steve Spagnuolo who had held that job with the team back in 2007. That may have been a big addition for the team but the hand injury to Jason Pierre-Paul was a big subtraction for that defense. In the secondary, the Giants had to go out and sign Brandon Merriweather as a safety; Merriweather could not make it on the Skins’ roster so you sort of have an idea what his level of productivity might be. The Giants will win games where they get into shootouts with other bad defensive teams who cannot also keep up with the likes of Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Jr. and Victor Cruz. The schedule is not that bad for the Giants but the prediction of 6-12 assumes that the team breaks even at home and wins two road games – against Washington and Tampa Bay.

    Skins 3-13: It will be a long and winding road to rebuild this roster. New GM, Scott McCloughan, began the process last year but the amount of “has-beens” and “never-weres” on the roster means it will take multiple seasons to get to a competitive state. The Skins have 3 QBs and all of them have flaws. Kirk Cousins will start the year and he has the best chance of developing into a serviceable QB in the Jay Gruden offensive system. Behind him are Colt McCoy who is a career backup and RG3 who could not be a poorer match for the Gruden offensive system without undergoing at least one amputation. In the event that Cousins shows well this year, the Skins will have an interesting dilemma at the end of the year; Cousins’ rookie contract is up then. What to do…? On offense, the Skins will employ a power running game with two big backs; Alfred Morris is also in his walk-year and Matt Jones is a running back who seems to like contact so much that he goes looking for it whenever he has the ball. On defense, the Skins will give up big pass plays with receivers running in broad open spaces in their secondary. The Skins have a 3-week stretch in October where they may be able to catch their breath;

      Oct 18: At NY Jets
      Oct 25: Vs Tampa Bay
      Nov 1: BYE Week.

    When the Skins get that Bye Week they will have played 7 games. I think their best scenario is a 2-5 record but 1-6 is more likely. That home game against the Bucs might be a win going into the Bye Week which might engender talk of momentum and all that stuff. Well, just look past the Bye Week and you will see that after stewing for 2 weeks on their lousy record, the Skins get to travel north to pay a visit to the Patriots in Foxboro. Hello, momentum…

In order to make my prediction for the NFC Playoff structure, I need to explain the significance of “the November 8 game”. On that day the Vikings will play the Rams in Minnesota. That game will provide the tie-breaker between those two teams each with 10 wins. Only because the Eagles are not going to play either team will I concede them a wild card spot and declare that the other wild card spot will go to – – the St. Louis Rams.

Therefore the NFC Playoff Structure is:

    Seahawks (Home field advantage)
    Cowboys (Bye week in the playoffs)
    Saints (Via a tie-breaker0

So, let it be written; so, let it be done…

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 9/5/15

Let me do a reset here to introduce new readers to this recurring “feature” – and it is unseemly for long-term readers to point out that it is sometimes a recurring nightmare. For most weeks, I will put out a summary of the upcoming college football weekend and make some picks in what I call “Games of Interest”. I specifically say “most weeks” because while my intent is to do it “every week”, travel schedules and family events may make it impossible to do this “every week”.

These picks are NOT based on inside information; they are NOT intended to be wagering advice; under absolutely NO circumstances should anyone wager real money on any or all of the games I pick here with an expectation of a profit. I am doing this because I enjoy doing it – the same reason that I write the daily rants that populate most of the rest of this website.

Within these weekly NCAA Mythical Picks, there will be a structure:

    1. I will present the results of last week’s picks – good or bad.

    2. I will then make some general comments about NCAA football.

    3. I will track what I call “Ponderosa Spread Games”. Let me explain that. About 20 years ago, I wondered how accurately oddsmakers could set a point spread for blowout games. So I defined these blowout games as ones with a point spread of 24 points or more and I tracked them for an entire season. Amazingly, the favorite covered in just about 50% of the games. So I did it again the year after that… Here I call them “Ponderosa Spread games” after the Ponderosa which was the ranch on the old TV show Bonanza. The Ponderosa was a “really big spread”; get it?

    4. I will eschew any attempt to rank the top teams or to predict the College Football Playoff. However, starting in mid or late October, I will begin to identify what I call the SHOE Tournament teams. The SHOE Tournament is an imaginary concoction of mine where I seed the 8 worst teams of the year in a single elimination tournament to determine THE SHOE Team of the year – where SHOE is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement. In the imaginary tournament, the losing team in each round has to play on and the winner can go home knowing they are not THE SHOE Team for the year.

    5. Finally, I will make some game picks against the spread and/or the Total Line. Rarely, I might also make a pick based on the Money Line because after all, these are Mythical Picks.

Remember, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a wager involving real money – or anything else of value – on a college football game this weekend. Anyone dumb enough to do that would probably buy land in Antarctica in order to grow chili beans.

General Comments:

As few as 10 years ago, the first week of college football season was a mishmash of blowout games. As the sport grew in popularity and expanded its footprint on TV, the folks who pay for TV rights started demanding more attractive matchups prior to conference games that generally do not start until October. And so this weekend, there are some games between two good teams. Ten years ago, close games would have been opening games between two bad teams who did not find a big-time school willing to pay them to come and get their brains beaten in.

Back in March, the Columbia Tribune got hold of documents from the Missouri Athletic Department detailing what it takes to get some cupcake teams to come to play Mizzou before the SEC schedule kicks in. I do not cite this here to denigrate Missouri; many – in fact all – of the powerhouse football programs schedule powder-puff games. Here is the data from the Columbia Tribune:

    Division 1-AA teams like Missouri State and Southeast Missouri State get $400K each to come and take a shellacking.

    Division 1-A schools like Idaho and E. Michigan demand $1M to serve as cannon fodder.

These arrangements make sense for everyone concerned. Missouri is in the SEC and gets a boatload of TV money; it needs a gaudy record at the end of the season to put itself in a position to play in profitable bowl games at the end of the year. The “sacrificial lamb schools” need dollars to keep their athletic budgets from drowning in red ink; they know they are not going to play in any lucrative end-of-season games so these early season clobberings are “fund raisers” and “budget balancers”. Only the fans get something they would prefer not to get. Even the most ardent alum/booster for a football program cannot enjoy a game where their heroes are ahead 62-3 at the end of the 3rd quarter. [Aside: Georgia Tech led Alcorn St. at the half last night by a score of 48-0.]

Back in April of this year, Bob Molinaro had a comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the expansion of bowl games yet again this year. Interestingly, he used a metaphor that would take on a more controversial hue later in the year thanks to James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers:

“As the college football bowl field grows – possibly to 43 games by next season – so does ODU’s potential postseason opportunity. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In any case, bowl invitations shrink in significance – don’t you think? – when they’re handed out to two-thirds of the FBS schools, opening the door to even more 6-6 teams. Then they become like youth participation trophies.”

As the Art Briles/Chris Petersen volley of words continues regarding who knew what and when with regard to Sam Ukwuachu’s transfer to Baylor – now that Ukwuachu has been sentenced to 18 months in jail and 10 years’ probation for sexual assault – it seems to me that there is something to root for this season:

    Petersen is the coach at Washington; Briles is the coach at Baylor. Washington is unlikely to make it to the College Football Playoff so what we need to root for is that Baylor does not go there either and then some bowl committee convinces the two schools to play one another in the Whatever Bowl. I’d watch that one…

Greg Cote had two items in columns in the Miami Herald that pertain to college football in that part of the world:

“FIU football must average 15,000 fans per game this season or risk losing its top-tier FBS standing. I say this in case you notice crowds seem bigger than usual because of what appears to be thousands of rented homeless people.”


“Florida State is now requiring all of it athletes to take a personal-responsibility course. Probably would-a been cheaper just posting a memo to football players: QUIT HITTING WOMEN!

I think pre-season polls are meaningless and the ones that come out every week in September and early October are just about as meaningless. That does not stop them from polluting the airwaves and the Internet but let me remind you of how silly they are:

    Last year, Ohio State lost early and dropped out of the Top 10 in the early polls. I think I recall they were ranked 20th in the country then.

    Last year, Oregon lost early and dropped out of the Top 10 in the early polls. I cannot recall how far they dropped but I think it was around 15th in the country.

    Now, which two teams played for the College Football Championship at the end of the season?

    The prosecution rests, Your Honor…

I said above that I do not pay strict attention to the Bottom Feeders who will end up in my imaginary SHOE Tournament until much later in the season. Having said that, there are some teams I will be watching early on just because…:

    “The Regulars”: I can usually count on these teams to be part of my considerations late in the year such as Army, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico St. and SMU.

    “The Newbies”: These teams are just recently part of Division 1-A football and are still having growing pains such as Georgia St., UNC/Charlotte and UT San Antonio.

    “The Gravities”: These teams have been “up” recently and so it is possible they will come “down” this year such as FIU, North Texas and UMass.

Army has a junior WR this year named Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder if he will get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens…

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Because lines are difficult to find in games between Davison 1-A schools and teams from lower divisions, there are going to be a lot more “blowout” games this weekend than will be referenced here. For example, I cannot find lines anywhere for Alcorn St./Georgia Tech or Grambling/Cal or McNeese St./LSU. Were I to locate such lines, I suspect all would qualify as Ponderosa Spread Games.

This week we have 8 Ponderosa Spread Games:

(Thurs Nite) UTSA at Arizona – 32 (54): Clearly a budget balancer game for UTSA.

(Fri Nite) Baylor – 34 at SMU (73.5): Baylor is aiming to be in the College Football Playoff this year; SMU is a potential SHOE Tournament team. ‘Nuff said…?

New Mexico St. at Florida – 37 (54.5): Florida has a new coach and he will want to get things off on the right foot…

Troy at NC State – 26 (62): This impending road loss for Troy will not be as bad as their home loss to Greece a while back…

Akron at Oklahoma – 31.5 (56.5): Not exactly what I would call a long-standing back-yard rivalry…

La-Monroe at Georgia – 36 (54): This game should be out-of-hand by halftime…

Texas St. at Florida St. – 29.5 (64): The Total Line here opened the week at 59 and shot up to this level very quickly. I do not think that is because bettors expect Texas St. to put 35 points on the board…

Arkansas St. at USC – 27.5 (70): If I were the Arkansas State coach, I would have my team stand on the sidelines during the coin toss holding up champagne glasses filled with Gatorade to toast USC coach Steve Sarkisian. You know that will get Arkansas St. more ESPN highlight time than anything else they will do this year…

Games of Interest:

I am not going to “pad my stats” by picking last night’s games. Anyone can pick winners after the results of the games hit the wires. However, perhaps we might learn something from last night’s games…

    TCU 23 Minnesota 17: Normally, Minnesota starts out with 4 pillow-soft games; this year they scheduled TCU and lots of folks think TCU is going to be really good. That tells me that the Minnesota defense is pretty good -–and probably better than most of the Big-12 opponents TCU will face. Minnesota’s offense on the other hand did not look sharp against TCU.

    S. Carolina 17 UNC 13: Last year, these teams finished in the bottom 10% of Division 1-A teams in defensive stats; UNC allowed about 40 points per game. This game looked like a defensive struggle instead of a pair of inept offenses. S. Carolina intercepted 2 passes in their end zone last night.

    Utah 24 Michigan 17: The Jim Harbaugh Era started off as a linear extrapolation of the Brady Hoke Era. Actually, in the parts of this game that I saw, Michigan did not look bad; it’s just that Utah looked better. The PAC-12 South has USC, UCLA, Arizona St., Arizona and Utah in it. That looks like a tough Division.

    FIU 15 UCF 14: This is a shocker. UCF led 14-3 at halftime and was shut out for the second half. This win takes FIU off of my “SHOE Tournament radar for the time being.

    W. Kentucky 14 Vandy 12: This is a bad omen for Vandy; W. Ky is not at the level of the SEC opponents on Vandy’s schedule down the road.

(Friday) UNC/Charlotte at Georgia St. – 7.5 (73.5): Note that these are two teams on my radar as potential SHOE Tournament Teams come December. Moreover, one of them is favored by more than a TD here and the Total Line says that the winner should score 40 or more points. This will be UNC/Charlotte’s first game as a Division-1A team; Georgia St. has been in Division 1-A for a couple of years now but has yet to win a game against another Division 1-A school. If you want to bet on a game like that, you probably need to consider a 12-step program…

(Friday) Washington at Boise St. – 12 (56): The story line here is that Chris Petersen now coaches the Huskies but spent 8 years as the very successful coach at Boise St; it is his first return to Boise. I think Petersen has played that card with his team for several weeks now and that Washington will keep it closer than that. I like Washington plus the points – even on the road.

Penn State – 6.5 at Temple (42): The last time Temple beat Penn State was in 1941. It happened before Pearl Harbor and that was the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games. It has been a while… I cannot cite specific evidence, but I strongly suspect that it has also been a while since Penn State was favored by less than a TD over Temple. I like Penn state to win and cover here.

UVa at UCLA – 19.5 (52): If Virginia is going to do any business here, it ought to be on defense against a freshman QB for UCLA. Moreover, Virginia’s offense does not seem to be anything close to a scoring machine. I do not see where 53 points will come from so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Stanford – 12 at Northwestern (47.5): Clearly, this is the SAT Bowl Game… This is another game where points ought to be at a premium so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER and I’ll take Northwestern with the points.

Louisville vs. Auburn – 10.5 (57): This game is being played in Atlanta. Unlike the last two Games of Interest, I think I can see plenty of scoring in this one. I like the game to go OVER.

Arizona St. vs. Texas A&M – 3.5 (70): This game is being played in Houston. Some folks have conceded the PAC-12 South to the winner of the USC/UCLA game later this year. I think Arizona St could be a sleeper there but they need to be sure to bring their defense with them for this game because Texas A&M will run and gun all day long – except that the game does not start until 7:00 PM. Purely a hunch here but I’ll take Arizona State plus the points.

BYU at Nebraska – 7 (60): BYU is a good team with a good defense; Nebraska will likely be a good team but it will be playing its first game under a new coach with a new system. Even on the road, I think BYU has a legitimate shot at winning the game outright which means I will be happy to take them here plus the points. I also think both defenses are good enough to keep the score UNDER.

Texas at Notre Dame – 9 (51.5): Notre Dame aspires to the College Football Playoffs – or to a major bowl game at a minimum. Beating Texas is important to them in their quest. Texas is not the powerhouse it once was, but it is still “Texas”. Charlie Strong wants his team to be tough on defense; the Irish defense has been a team strength for several years now. I think the game will be a defensive game and that it will stay UNDER.

Wisconsin vs. Alabama – 12 (49): This game is being played in Arlington. Perhaps the best game of the weekend – unless you like Ohio State/Va Tech on Monday night. Wisconsin is a “ground and pound” team with a big offensive line and big backs. Alabama has a front seven that can deal with that. So, unless Wisconsin has found a way to add a deep passing threat to their arsenal from last year, I think Alabama has the advantage. I’ll take Alabama to win and cover here.

Mississippi St. – 21 at So. Miss (61): People have Miss. St. QB, Dak Prescott as a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. You may be certain that no one on the So. Miss roster enjoys similar accolades. So. Miss has been a bad team for a couple of years now and this is not the way a team in that situation needs to open a season. Even on the road, I’ll take Miss St. to win and cover.

(Sunday) Purdue at Marshall – 7.5 (63): This is a Game of Interest for reasons other than wagering. Note that Purdue – a Big-10 school – opens on the road at Marshall – a CUSA school. Moreover, Purdue is an underdog by more than a TD. If indeed they do not cover here, remember that for later games involving the Boilermakers this year…

(Monday) Ohio State – 13.5 at Va Tech (53): It is not often that Ohio State goes into a game with the revenge factor on its side. Tech was the only team to beat Ohio State last year and they did it in Columbus. I suspect Urban Meyer may have reminded this team of that happenstance once or twice in the practices leading up to this game. I expect Ohio State to get a lead and to keep its foot on the gas until the final play of the game. I am not a trend bettor and I have not verified this stat, but here is what I ran across:

    Since 2011, Va Tech is only 8-16-1 against the spread at home.

I like Ohio State to win and cover on the road.

There are some other games of interest for which I cannot find spreads so I will just list them and tell you why I find them interesting:

    Savannah St./Colorado St.: Savannah St has been a punching bag for Division 1-A schools for the last several years. Then they got hit by the NCAA with practice time limitations because the players were not meeting APR standards. Oh swell…

    Fordham/Army: There was a time long ago when Army was a powerhouse team in the same way that Notre Dame was a powerhouse team then and the way Alabama is a powerhouse team now. This year, they host Fordham in their opener. Sic transit gloria mundi…

    S. Dakota St./Kansas: If there is a line on this game somewhere, Kansas is likely favored – and that may be the only time this year that circumstance will obtain.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times a while back with regard to UAB killing off its football program only to change its mind and reinstate the program a few months later:

“Alabama-Birmingham reinstated its football program for play in 2016 — just six months after announcing it was scrapping it.

If anyone has any sense of fortuitous timing, the season opener’s very first play call will be a reverse.”

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

Judge Berman Has Spoken…

Today, Judge Berman overturned the NFL-imposed 4-game suspension for Tom Brady. I have not gone online to read any opinion pieces about that decision yet. The reason is that I am confident that the people who had opinions on the matter before Judge Berman’s decision will not have changed their minds before their fingers hit their keyboards.

For the record:

    For me, there has never been sufficient evidence that the balls in question were purposely deflated – let alone evidence that Tom Brady was involved in that activity even it actually happened. Judge Berman evidently thought that was important too because he reportedly kept asking the NFL attorneys what evidence they could present to show that Tom Brady had anything to do with tampering with game balls on January 18, 2015. And they could present no such evidence.

    For me, there were procedural inadequacies from start to finish in the case that should have rendered it moot. Most important in those inadequacies was the fact that The Wells Report – paid for by the NFL with the intent of showing wrongdoing in the matter and costing somewhere between $3M and $5M – could only come to the conclusion that Tom Brady might have been generally aware of something that it had to use pseudo-science to determine had happened. Ted Wells is an attorney and has to consider his reputation and the reputation of his firm even in light of the $3-5M he was getting in billable hours for this report. He could not/would not put his name on the line to say “this guy did that thing because here is the evidence.”

    With regard to the refusal to turn over the phone to the investigators, let me point out that if you are charged with something, you do not have to turn your phone over to the police just because they ask for it. They can get a warrant to confiscate if from you, but you are not required to just hand it over because they said “pretty please”. Somehow, the NFL seemed to think that they had a right to ask for Brady’s phone and that conferred some obligation on his part to give it to them. Obviously, Judge Berman disagreed.

I know that there will be some folks out there calling for Roger Goodell’s head on a stick. While I believe he was way out of line here, I am not going to be one of those people. Back in September of last year – more than 4 months before anyone ever heard of deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game – I wrote this piece on this website. I believe then and continue to believe that the NFL and the NFLPA set up an untenable situation in their last CBA with regard to the way discipline would be meted out. Because all of this is in the CBA, that means that both parties are to blame; there has never been a CBA without at least two parties as signatories.

My argument is that a sports commissioner needs to do two things to be successful:

    1. Grow the league revenues/profits
    2. Maintain labor peace to keep the product on the field/growing.

Roger Goodell has been hugely successful at those two things; the NFL will bring in about $11B in revenue this year and projects to more than $12B by 2017. His “problem” is that he is also “The Disciplinarian” and that “other duty” puts him in a position to do things that make the league look stupid (does not grow revenue) and makes the union go berserk (does not maintain labor peace).

In my rant 4 months ago, I said the solution here would be for both parties to the CBA to admit they have an internal flaw here and for both sides to amend the CBA to create a Disciplinarian who is not part of the league or the union. Both parties should fund the Disciplinarian and whatever staff is needed; both parties should define what degree of cooperation all parties to the matter would owe to the Disciplinarian. If mature adults could put their egos in another room for 4 hours, this kind of agreement should be forthcoming. The problem here is that will not happen – and that means that there will be some “scandal” will come up in the future to which someone will attach the suffix “-gate” and it will turn into a glorious mess.

Why do I predict that? Because the NFL is going to appeal Judge Berman’s decision and that is nothing more than an ego-driven reflex. And because the NFLPA is already gloating about their winning streak in courts to overturn/reduce the discipline decisions of the Commissioner and that is nothing more than ego-driven posturing.

So, Tom Brady will be on the field for Game 1 next Thursday night – as he should be. Just as certainly, there will be some other brouhaha in the next year or so that will spin out of control – and likely it will be founded in the same CBA-driven morass as was Deflategate. However for the moment, we can take solace in the words of former President Gerald R. Ford spoken just after he was sworn in as President in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation:

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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

Pounding Down The Calories

With the baseball season on the wane, you have precious little time left to head out to the ballpark to stuff your face with these culinary monstrosities:

    In Cleveland, if you go to see the Indians play at Progressive Field, you can get yourself a Thomenator – named after former Indians’ slugger Jim Thome. This is a hot dog with sauerkraut – – topped with three pierogis. Basically, a pierogi is a dough ball filled with potatoes that is boiled in salt water like dumpling. Normally, two pierogis for a serving; in this thing you have three of those bad boys plus a dog with kraut.

    Ever so slightly east of Cleveland in Pittsburgh, the Pirates offer up a specialty at PNC Park. They serve the Cuban pretzel dog there which is a hot dog (no surprise) with slices of ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese and pickles, wrapped in a pretzel bun. I guess that is “Cuban” because after eating one you are tempted to light up a large cigar…

    In Milwaukee – at Miller Park – the Brewers tempt their fans with a series of gut bombs:

      Inside the Park Nachos: This is ground beef with taco seasoning on a stick covered with doritos, nacho cheese and sour cream. It is basically nachos that you can eat while walking around. Oh, and of course it comes with a salsa dipping sauce.

      Pulled Pork Parfait: This is alternating layers of pulled pork – duh! – and mashed potatoes covered with chives and gravy. You eat this bad boy with a Spork.

      The Beast: This is a bratwurst that has been stuffed with a hot dog then wrapped in bacon and topped with sauerkraut and onions on a pretzel roll. I don’t know if you can get a side order of Crestor with this puppy.

    It is too late this season to go and see the Fresno Grizzlies so you will have to hope they bring back “The Frankenslice” next year. This concoction is a slice of pepperoni pizza with a full sized hot dog baked into the rolled over crust. If the creator of this dish did not win a James Beard Award, I have no idea what the judges could have been thinking.

As I said, the baseball season is on the wane but for those of you who want to challenge your arteries over the winter, the Baltimore Ravens have heard your cries and have produced a football concoction they call The Tailgater Burger:

    For $18, you get a beef patty topped with cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, kielbasa, Maryland crab dip and 2 beer battered onion rings, on a pretzel roll. Oh, but there is more, that sandwich is topped with 2 Buffalo wings.

Looking over all of these culinary creations – and being mindful of the deep-fried varieties of things one can purchase at State Fairs all over the Mid-west – I think investing in the company that makes Rolaids is a good long term strategy…

Next season, the Charlotte Hornets will have a “three-man booth” for all of their locally televised games. I put “three-man booth” inside quotation marks because it is really a “three-person booth”; one of the color analysts will be Stephanie Ready and she will join Dell Curry as color commentators for the games. Ms. Ready was the volleyball coach at Coppin State and also an assistant coach for the men’s team there under Coach Fang Mitchell. She has been the sideline reporter for the Hornets’ TV programs for the past several years but has moved up the food chain for the coming year. Good fortune to her…

You have probably read about the quip/counter-quip situation that exists between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ronda Rousey. This whole thing sounds almost as scripted as one of the fire-breathing feuds that are concocted in pro ‘rassling. Unless these two individuals decide to fight one another – which is something neither should want to allow to happen – then all of this semi-lucid banter is pointless. Do you really care to know any more about this “feud” – or about either of the combatants – than you do at this moment? I do not…

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is becoming the master of the rhetorical question. Here is one that seems rather obvious:

“If something is off the charts — like a player’s work ethic or a team’s performance — shouldn’t the charts be expanded?”

Well, of course it should…

Finally, since I mentioned Floyd Mayweather, Jr. above, let me close with this observation regarding Messr. Mayweather by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his final fight before retiring would be Sept. 12, with no date set yet for his final fight after that one.”

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