Friday Football Look-Ahead

Since Friday rolled around again, I guess the thing to do is to look ahead to a weekend of football.  As is the custom in these parts, that means starting with college football.  There are several important games on the card for this weekend and a few others that might be interesting.

  1. Notre Dame is squarely in the picture for the CFP; and last week, they handled a good NC State team and won by 3 TDs.  The Irish need to avoid a let-down at home this week against Wake Forest; the oddsmaker seems to have factored in that concern making Notre Dame only a 13-point favorite in the game.
  2. Ohio St. has a similar concern.  After their fantastic comeback win over Penn St. last week, the Buckeyes go on the road to play a solid-but-not-great Iowa team.  The oddsmakers have Ohio St. as an 18-point favorite this morning.
  3. Penn St. has the opposite challenge this week.  They lost a heartbreaker to Ohio St. last week and have to go on the road again this week to play Michigan St.  The Nittany Lions are favored by 8.5 points here but if they come out flat …
  4. TCU is in the same boat as Penn St.; they suffered their first loss of the year last week in a defensive struggle with Iowa St.  This week they play a middling Texas team at home and TCU is only a 7-point favorite.
  5. Auburn is a 2 TD favorite over Texas A&M and they had a BYE Week to prepare for this game.  At the same time, this is a classic “trap game” for Auburn having been idle last week and knowing that after this opponent they are supposed to beat they play Georgia – – merely ranked #1 in the country in the CFP poll.
  6. Alabama hosts LSU this week and that is always an interesting game.
  7. Wisconsin continues its quest to arrive at the Big 10 Championship Game undefeated with a visit to Indiana.
  8. Miami also seeks to arrive at an ACC Championship Game undefeated.  This week there may be a small speed bump in the road as VA Tech pays a visit.  Tech is a very quiet 7-1 for this season and is a 2.5-point favorite despite the venue.
  9. Arizona goes to USC for an important PAC-12 South game; both teams have only one loss in conference this year; the winner will have the inside track to the PAC-12 Championship Game.  This game has the potential to be very high scoring.  Arizona has scored 45 points or more in each of its last 4 games; USC can score, and they also give up points.  The Total Line for this game is 73.5 points.
  10. Oklahoma St. hosts Oklahoma in an important Big 12 game that is almost guaranteed to be a scoring fest.  The game features two excellent QBs – Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph.  Oklahoma St. scored 50 points last week; Oklahoma scored 49 points last week; the Total Line for this game is 76 points; that seems low.
  11. In another Big 12 game of importance, Iowa St. goes on the road to W. Virginia seeking to continue in its role of “giant killer” once again.  The Cyclones are 3-point underdogs in this game; I know that the Mountaineers are tough at home, but Iowa St. has already beaten an undefeated-at-the-time TCU squad and they beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma.  I think I have this right; if Iowa St. wins out, they will be in the Big 12 Championship Game.  Why is that a big deal?  Iowa St. has only won a division title once in its history; that was in 2004.  In the conferences that led up to the big 12, the last time Iowa St. was conference champion the name of the conference was the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the year was 1912.  To put that date in perspective, that was the year the Titanic sank.
  12. Winless Baylor is on the road at Kansas this week and they are a 7.5-point favorite to win their first game of the year.
  13. Appalachian St. is a 9-point favorite over La-Monroe this week.  That game is of no interest except for the implication for next week.  La-Monroe is not considered to be close to Appalachian St. this week and La-Monroe is scheduled to play Auburn next week.  That game should be in doubt for about 12 minutes…
  14. Florida goes to Missouri this week.  Florida was stomped last week and fired their coach; Missouri has 3 wins this year over 3 embarrassingly weak teams.  Mizzou is a field-goal-favorite here.
  15. Stanford visits Washington St. this week and the Cougars are 2-point favorites at home.  The thing a=bout Washington St. is that you never know what to expect.  Sometimes they come out and score a ton of points; other times their defense shuts down an opponent; sometimes, both the offense and the defense are no-shows…

Let me close out the college football commentary with an observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Utah has lost four straight football games.

“ ‘Miserable,’ coach Kyle Whittingham said. ‘Miserable month. I guess it was 0-for-October.’

“With a bowl invitation in question, they’re already looking at 0-for-December.”

Before talking about weekend NFL action, there has been big QB news this week.  The worse news is that Deshaun Watson suffered an ACL injury in practice on a non-contact play and will be out for the rest of the year.  Tom Savage was the only other QB on the Texans’ roster so that put the Texans in the market for a backup QB where pickings are slim.  The Texans signed Matt McGloin who played for Texans’ coach, Bill O’Brien at Penn State.  We saw Savage in last year’s playoff situation; he will need to have made major improvements in his game to get the Texans over the hump and into the playoffs again this year.

The other QB news from this week emanates from the team that will travel to Houston to play the Texans on Sunday – – the Indy Colts.  The Colts announced that they have put QB Andrew Luck on IR and that he will not play this year.  You may recall that I suggested this would be a good move for them lest they be tempted to put a less-than-100% Andrew Luck out on the field and in harm’s way.  No, I will not be charging the Colts a consulting fee for that advice.  The reason this is a good move by the Colts is that the team management has competing motivations this season:

  • The Colts have a new GM who inherited a hugely flawed roster and is in the process of trying to turn it over.  That will take time and the Colts are going to lose plenty of games while it is in progress.  However, this must be done; particularly, the team needs a huge upgrade to the OL in order to protect whoever is playing QB for the team.  Remember, the Colts have Andrew Luck signed for a total of $140M.
  • The Colts have a coach who is on a VERY hot seat.  Chuck Pagano had 3 successful seasons when he took over going 11-5 in all three seasons and making the playoffs too.  In the last two years, the Colts have gone 8-8 and missed the playoffs in a division that was not nearly the toughest in the league.  This year the Colts are 2-6 and Pagano is a holdover coach – not hired by the new GM.  He is motivated to win some games this year more than he is motivated to worry about next year when someone else might be the coach.

In any event, the Texans opened the week as a 13.5-point favorite over the Colts.  Given that this is a division game, that is a big spread indeed.  However, with the news about Deshaun Watson, the spread has dropped to 6.5 points at some sportsbooks and to 7 points at most of the sportsbooks.  Interestingly, the Total Line did not move much; it did drop but only from 50 points to 48 points.

The Ravens visit the Titans on Sunday as a 3.5-point underdog.  The Titans had a BYE Week last week and the Ravens saw Joe Flacco leave the game with the Dolphins and enter the concussion protocol.  Flacco is expected to play but he has been hobbled all season long and it is hard to imagine how that blow to the head helped his game in any way.  The Ravens’ defense played the way you expect Ravens’; defenses to play last week; and if the Titans come to the game determined to use a power running game, this could be a low-scoring slugfest.  This is an important game for both teams.

The Eagles host the Broncos this week and the Eagles are a 7.5-point favorite in the game.  That seems like an awful lot of points to lay against a top-shelf defense like Denver’s.  At the same time, the Broncos made QB news of their own last week; they have benched Trevor Siemian and announced that Brock Osweiler will get the start.  The Eagles’ defense ain’t too shabby and could provide Messr. Osweiler with a significant challenge.  I expect a low-scoring game here and that is an awful lot of points to lay in a low-scoring game.

The Rams travel cross-country to play the Giants on Sunday.  Both teams had a BYE Week last week; I wonder if the Giants managed to find an offense in that time…

The Saints host the Bucs in a division game.  The Bucs are 2-5 and are hanging onto playoff hopes by their fingernails; the Saints, surprisingly, lead the division and are riding a 5-game winning streak.  The Bucs’ defense has underperformed this year; it ranks 29th in the NFL; the Saints’ defense – traditionally a horrid unit – has been a most pleasant surprise this year.

The Bengals visit the Jags this week.  Here we are in early November and this game means more to the Jags than it does to the Bengals; moreover, the Bengals are 5.5-point underdogs in the game.  Who woulda thunk that back in August …?  Not I.

The Falcons visit the Panthers this week in what ought to be a good game and what is definitely an important NFC South game.  The Panthers are 5-3; the Falcons are 4-3.  Both teams have been inconsistent this year, but you have to suspect that each will bring their “A-game” here.  The line opened with the Panthers as a 1.5-point favorite; then the favorite role flipped to the Falcons and then back to the Panthers.  This morning the Falcons are 1-point favorites just about everywhere.

The Cardinals are on the road this week to play the Niners and the Cards are 2.5-point favorites on the road.  If the Niners want bulletin board material, that line ought to provide some; then again, the Niners are 0-8 and can find something nominally insulting to put on the bulletin board in just about any of the papers in the Bay Area.  This is unquestionably the Dog-Breath Game of the Week featuring a QB clash between CJ Beathard and Drew Stanton.  From here on out, there is only one reason to watch any game involving the Niners; that would be to answer this question:

  • Will Jimmy Garoppolo play this week?

The Skins make a transcontinental journey to the Great Northwest this week to play the Seahawks.  Unless the Skins can get a minimum of two of their starting O-linemen healthy enough to play respectably, this will be a long and painful day for Kirk Cousins.

The Chiefs visit the Cowboys this week.  If you and Mr. Peabody take a trip in his Wayback Machine, you will arrive in the early 60s and find that the KC Chiefs were then the Dallas Texans; in a sense, this is a homecoming for the Chiefs.  It appears that Ezekiel Elliott will play in this game based on a late-week court decision.  I don’t know about you but these legal wranglings are getting awfully tiresome.  What do you think the Over/Under is on the legal fees racked up by the attorneys representing all sides in this matter…?

The Raiders are 3-point favorites over the Dolphins in the Eastern Time Zone on Sunday nite.  Both teams are on a downslope at the moment; the Raiders are at the bottom of the AFC West and the Dolphins have lost 3 games by a combined score of 80-6.  Here, they both get prime-time exposure and I guess the story line is this:

  • Which team wants to flip its negative narrative more than the other?

The Packers host the Lions on Monday Night Football.  Historically, a cold-weather game in Green Bay has not been a plus for the Lions; that seems to be what is on tap for this game.  The Lions looked awful against the Steelers last week; then again, they are not playing a defense nearly as good in this game.  The Packers had a BYE Week and this game could provide the answer to a key question for the team going forward:

  • How much “coaching up” did the Packers’ staff impart to Brett Hundley during the week off?

Speaking of the Monday Night Football game, there was a report earlier this week that the Tampa Bay Bucs might make a serious run at Jon Gruden to return and take over the football reins there.  Since Gruden was fired by the Bucs, they have gone through Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith as head coaches.  I have no idea what prompted Gruden’s firing back then; but since he left, his replacements have not been an upgrade.  Since I have made it no secret that I do not like Jon Gruden as a TV analyst, I am rooting for this to happen.

Finally, since I mentioned the obvious cost of the Ezekiel Elliott litigation above, here is a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about the resources expended to track down and recover Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jersey:

“Brady’s jersey is an important American artifact, but it ain’t exactly the Shroud of Turin.”

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