The calendar says it is Friday. It is football season. Hence, it is time for a Football Friday rant. The commentary on college football for the weekend will be brief; there is only one Division 1-A game this week; it is the Army/Navy game. That game does not showcase the best collegiate players in the country; that game does not have any gravitas regarding the national championship; none of that matters because I always consider the Army/Navy game as one not to be missed. Every player on each team will play all out on every play; there will be no “look at me celebrations”; this is a game that will be contested at the highest level of intensity but without any rancor. My advice to you is simple:
- Take the time to watch this game just for the enjoyment of college football.
There may be a paucity of big-time college football activity this weekend, but the NFL schedule mavens have provided fans with a really good set of matchups. Last night the Falcons beat the Saints in an AFC South division game that allowed the Falcons to pull within a game of the Saints in the standings. That game had playoff implications written all over it. There are 15 other games scheduled for the weekend and way more than half of them have playoff implications. Savor this weekend’s card; in a couple of weeks, I suspect the number of games that are important for the playoffs will be significantly reduced.
Let me offer a short prelude here. Favorites have been covering spreads at an unusual rate so far this year in the NFL; and since the public tends to play favorites and lay points, the books have been taking a beating. On this week’s card, there are lots of attractive underdogs; I think the trend may not hold for this weekend.
Here are the games for Sunday and Monday:
- Lions at Bucs: This is a game with playoff implications. There are no lines posted for these games yet simply because we do not know the condition of Matthew Stafford’s throwing hand after it was stomped on – accidentally – in last week’s contest. If Stafford cannot play and the Lions have to turn to Jake Rudock as the QB, the Lions’ playoff aspirations are probably destroyed; the Lions have 6 losses already; I doubt that a 9-7 team will make the playoffs in the NFC this season. Meanwhile, the great unknown in this game is Jameis Winston; will he make a great play out of nothing or will he throw a disastrous INT? He tends to one or the other in every game…
- Bears at Bengals: Neither of these teams will be participating in this year’s playoffs and neither of these teams is any good. The Bengals are 6.5-point favorites at home. I will not be watching this game and I would not wager even a farthing on this game.
- Colts at Bills: I guess the Bills are still mathematically alive for a playoff slot in the AFC; but in reality, this is a second game without playoff impact. There are no lines posted for this game yet because the availability of Bills’ QB, Tyrod Taylor, is still up in the air; as of this morning, reports say that Taylor is a “game time decision”. Nathan Peterman finished out last week’s game for the Bills when Taylor left with an injury; Peterman managed not to throw another five INTs, but let me be polite and say that he does need to work on his accuracy a bit.
Let me interrupt the listing of weekend games to mention something about Nathan Peterman and his debut as a starting QB in the NFL. You remember; that was the game where he threw 5 INTs in the first half of the game and was yanked at halftime. Five INTs in a half is a whole lot and it would have put Peterman on pace to shatter the all-time NFL record for most INTs in a single game. That record has stood since 1950 when Chicago Cardinals’ QB, Jim Hardy, threw 8 INTs in a game against the Eagles. Hardy had a 7-year career in the NFL as a QB and as a DB. For his career, he threw 54 TDs and 73 INTs. In the 1950 season – the one where he threw those 8 INTs in a single game – he led the league in INTs throwing 24 of them. So, now you know – – and back to the games for this weekend:
- Seahawks at Jags: This game is important to both teams regarding the playoffs. The Seahawks can still see their way to the NFC West title; the Jags have the same record as the Titans in the AFC South but currently trail the Titans based on tie-breakers. The Jags are 2.5-point favorites at home and I think a lot of that spread reflects the fact that the Seahawks are much better at home than they are on the road and the fact that his is an early starting game for a Seahawks’ team that will fly across 3 time zones to get to the venue. There are two wildly competing trends at work in this game. Seahawks’ games have gone UNDER in 14 of the last 19 games in December; Jaguars’ games have gone OVER in 7 of the last 10 games in December. You make the call …
- Raiders at Chiefs: Both teams are 6-6 in the AFC West – as are the Chargers. The Raiders beat the Chiefs by a point in Oakland 7 weeks ago, so a win for the Raiders would give them the edge over the Chiefs in a tie-breaker situation. The Chiefs are in a free-fall after starting the season with 5 straight wins. The Chiefs – not the NFL – suspended CB, Marcus Peters, for this game for his behavior at the end of last week’s loss to the Jets. Two weeks ago, the Chiefs signed Darrelle Revis off the scrap heap; I guess he will be seeing a lot of action in this game. This game ought to feature offensive output; both teams yield 5.7 yards per play; only 4 teams in the NFL give up more than 5.7 yards per play. The Chiefs are 4-point favorites in this game.
- Vikes at Panthers: The Vikes are 2.5-point favorites on the road. The Panthers can tie the Saints for the lead in the NFC South with a win; the Vikes can clinch the NFC North title with a win. This is the 3rd road game in a row for the Vikes; historically, teams do not do well under those circumstances. I expect a low-scoring game that will be in doubt until late in the 4th quarter and I expect it to be a defensive game. The oddsmakers set the Total Line at 42 at the beginning of the week; this morning it is 40.5 just about everywhere – – and as low as 40 at two of the offshore sportsbooks. The Vikes’ defense gets plenty of well-deserved props; the Panthers’ defense does not get nearly the recognition it deserves.
- Packers at Browns: The Packers opened as 6-point favorites, but this line has been bet down to 3 points. That’s right; there must have been an influx of money on the Browns to effect that movement. The Packers really need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs and they can probably get Aaron Rodgers back if they get past this game. To say that Brett Hundley has been erratic as a starting QB would be accurate; so, which Brett Hundley will show up for this game? Is this where the Browns find their first win of the year?
- Niners at Texans: This is the third game on Sunday where neither team is going to the playoffs no matter the outcome here. The Texans are 3-point favorites at home and the Niners are looking to put together a 2-game winning streak to start the “Jimmy G. Era” in the Bay Area. I actually like the Niners to win outright here – not that it matters a whit…
- Skins at Chargers: The Chargers are 6-point favorites at home. The Skins are still mathematically alive for the playoffs; but in reality, they are not going to participate. The Chargers, on the other hand, are tied with the Chiefs and the Raiders atop the AFC West. If the Chargers win here it will be their fourth win in a row and will guarantee that they remain tied for the lead in the division. Both Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers are playing top-flight football this year; a big advantage for the Chargers is that they have a superior cast of receivers to work with Rivers. Historically, this is the kind of game that the Chargers blow. If the team hopes to capture the minds of the fans in LA, they better not do that here. The Total Line for the game is 46.5. Consider that the Skins are 20-6 to go OVER in their last 26 games on grass; the Skins are 25-8 to go OVER in their last 33 games overall, and the Skins are 19-7 to go OVER in their last 25 games on the road. Hmmm…
- Jets at Broncos: The Jets are 1-point favorites in this game on the road. Yes, you read that correctly; no, I would never have guessed that would be the case back in August. This is the fourth and final game on the Sunday card with no importance regarding the playoffs. If you care about trends, the Broncos are 0-7 against the spread in their last 7 games this year.
- Titans at Cards: The Titans are 3-point favorites on the road and they need this game because they are tied with the Jags for the lead in the AFC South. The Titans give up 242 yards per game passing and the thing the Cards like to do is throw the ball. I’m not sure the right team is favored here – – even though the Cards will be starting Blaine Gabbert at QB.
- Eagles at Rams: The Rams are 2-point favorites at home; the Eagles spent the week in the Pacific Time Zone rather than flying home and back out to LA after playing last Sunday nite in Seattle. The Eagles lead the NFC East; they can clinch the division title with a win here or with a Cowboys loss this weekend. The Rams cannot clinch but they do hold a 1-game lead over the Seahawks as of today and would like to maintain that status because they have to face the Seahawks down the road. Everyone has been raving about Carson Wentz and the year he is having; meanwhile the Eagles’ defense ranks 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed and ranks 1st in the NFL in rushing defense. This is the best game of the afternoon.
- Cowboys at Giants: The Cowboys are 3.5-point favorites on the road and the Cowboys need to win this game to stay playoff-relevant. The Giants will re-insert Eli Manning as the starting QB and he will not be burdened with any of Ben McAdoo’s nonsense for the game. The coaching change, however, will not change the basic fact that the Giants’ OL stinks; they have no running game to speak of and their WR corps is Huey, Dewey and Louie. I think the key to this game is whether the Cowboys can run the b all effectively; the Giants’ D-line has played well this year. The Total Line for this game is 41.5. I just have a hunch that this will be a higher scoring affair than most folks anticipate…
- Ravens at Steelers: The Steelers are currently the top-seeded team in the AFC playoff race; the Ravens are currently a wild-card team but cannot afford a loss here. The Steelers are 5-point favorites at home. Expect this game to be an old-fashioned slobber-knocker [ / Keith Jackson]. If the Eagles/Rams is not the best game of the weekend, then this one is. The Steelers defense is the 4th best in the NFL; the Ravens defense is the 7th best; however, the loss of Ryan Shazier is a big blow to the Steelers.
- Pats at Dolphins: The Pats are 11-point favorites on the road. The Pats have the same record as the Steelers – and the two teams meet head to head in the game that ought to determine the playoff home field advantage in the AFC. The challenge for the Pats here is to avoid complacency and looking beyond this game to the game against the Steelers. This does not look like the most exciting Monday Night Football game of the season.
Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in his Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times recently:
“On the readerboard at Pike Creek Automotive in Wilmington, Del.:
‘We fix suspensions, unless you are Ezekiel Elliott’.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………