Dick Enberg died yesterday. His broadcasting career spanned 6 decades and had him at the mic for a variety of sports including the NFL, Wimbledon, March Madness and MLB. At the Pearly Gates, I can see St. Peter looking down at the list of new arrivals and exclaiming, “Oh my!”
Rest in peace, Dick Enberg.
Before I get to the NFL games for the weekend, I want to comment on the “punishment” the NFL handed down to the Seattle Seahawks for its flagrant disregard for the existing concussion protocol a couple of weeks ago. Russell Wilson was sent off for “examination”; he went into the blue tent for about 2 seconds; he burst out refusing to talk to anyone in the tent, grabbed his helmet and went back into the game. The “punishment” is that the Seattle Seahawks as a team was fined $100K.
Forget for a moment if the protocol is a good idea; forget if it works; forget if it would work with minor tweaking of the elements within the protocol. None of that matters now; the fact is that there is a protocol in place and a protocol in this case is a rule. For flagrantly violating that rule, the team is fined $100K.
Punishment is nominally supposed to serve as a warning to others not to repeat such offending behavior. Let me analyze that for just a moment.
- Forbes estimates that the Seahawks franchise is worth $2.45B.
- Forbes estimates that the Seahawks operating income last year was $85M
- Paul Allen owns the Seahawks; Forbes estimates his total worth at $20.7B
Fining the team or the owner $100K is meaningless. There is no deterrent value there; this fine is pure nonsense. If the league wants this protocol enforced, they need the cooperation of the coaches and the team staff. So, maybe the punishment should have been the loss of a first-round draft pick for the first offense with the announcement that any future offense by the Seahawks would result in loss of all draft picks for a year. Even that would not guarantee that a team would obey the protocol completely, but it would be a lot more of a deterrent than a fine of $100K.
As I look at the NFL games for the weekend, there are still a few enticing matchups on the card even though the number of teams with playoff aspirations continues to dwindle. There was no Thursday Night Football this week but there are two games on Saturday.
- The Colts visit the Ravens and the Ravens are 13.5-point favorites in this game. If the Ravens win out, they make the playoffs – – if my calculations are correct. The Colts just plain stink. The Ravens’ offense has had a sort of renaissance in the past couple of weeks emerging from a dormant period. Against the Colts’ defense, that renaissance ought to flourish.
- The Vikes are 9-point favorites on the road at Green Bay. The Packers were eliminated from the playoffs last week when they lost to the Panthers and the team – smartly – put Aaron Rodgers on IR so that he cannot play in this season’s final two meaningless games. The Vikes can still have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs; that would require them to win out. The Vikes can still miss out on a BYE Week in the NFC playoffs; that would require them to lose out. The fundamental difference between the Vikes and the Packers is this. The Vikes have a very good defense. The Packers have players who purport to play defense.
Moving on to the Sunday games…
- The Lions are 4-point favorites on the road against the Bengals. That spread tells me that the oddsmaker believes the Bengals will put forth substantial effort in this game; I am not sure I agree. The Lions can still make the playoffs, but it will require them to win out and to find some pixie dust to sprinkle on a few other games this weekend and next. For that reason, this game is worth the time it takes to follow the score as you are doing something else.
- The Chargers are 7-point favorites on the road at the Jets. The Chargers’ loss last week to the Chiefs makes the Chargers a playoff longshot; the Jets are out of it. This is a long trip for the Chargers and an early time slot game. The Jets have a winning record at home and are getting a TD’s worth of points. The Jets are a tempting home dog…
- The Bucs visit the Panthers and the Panthers are 10-point favorites at home. The Panthers, Saints and Falcons are all in contention in the NFC South so none of those teams can afford to lose. The fact is that either the Saints or the Falcons are going to lose this week because they play one another (see the next game on the list). The Panthers must avoid/minimize those dreaded “distractions” caused by the revelations about their skeezy team owner; the Bucs are huge disappointments and have no real reason to play hard.
- The Falcons visit the Saints and the Saints are 6-point favorites at home. This game is the most meaningful game of the week – unless you live in Seattle or Dallas and think the Seahawks/Cowboys game deserves that label. The Saints lead the NFC South this morning based on tie-breakers with the Panthers; if the Falcons win out, they will be the NFC South champions – – if my schedule calculations are correct. For me, this is the Game of the Week.
- The Broncos visit the Skins and the Skins are 3.5-point favorites at home. There are two games that are strong contenders for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week and this is clearly one of them. Neither team has anything to play for; neither team is any good. The Skins’ home stadium will be about half empty at kickoff and will be 75% empty at the end of the game; no one cares about this game on Christmas Eve. I will confer the Dog-Breath label on this game and attach another label to the other stinkeroo game later.
- The Dolphins visit the Chiefs and the Chiefs are 10-point favorites at home. I believe that the Chiefs will clinch the AFC West with a win here; the Dolphins are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs – – but I think we all know they will not make it there. I have no idea what put the Chiefs to sleep for abut a month in the middle of this season or what woke them up about 2 weeks ago, but the Chiefs are the better team here.
- The Bills visit the Pats and the Pats are 12-point favorites at home. The Pats need to win to maintain home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs; the Bills need a win to continue to have a shot at the playoffs; you can see where the oddsmaker is leaning here. Tom Brady’s record against the Bills for his career is 27-3. That is the most wins by a starting QB over any opposing team in NFL history. There is an interesting matchup here. The Bills are 6th in the NFL in pass yards allowed per attempt; meanwhile, the Pats lead the NFL in pass yards gained per pass attempt.
- There is one other early time slot game this weekend, but I will save it for the end today. I have my reasons…
- The Jags are 4-point favorites on the road against the Niners. The Jags are 10-4 while the Niners are 4-10; and the spread is only 4 points…? Call this “the Jimmy G Effect” or call it “Garoppolomania”. Back in August if you scanned this week’s schedule, you would likely have thought this was a dog-breath game; , it is one of the intriguing games for the week even though it is not a life and death game for either team.
- The Giants visit the Cards and the Cards are 3.5-point favorites at home. Since I put the Dog-Breath label on the Broncos/Skins game above, let me call this one a WAGARA Game where “WAGARA” is an acronym for Who Gives A Rat’s Ass? The only thing marginally interesting here will be if the Cards score a TD. In their last two games, the Cards have kicked 10 field goals and scored no TDs. Other than that, these are two teams going through the motions…
- The Seahawks visit the Cowboys and the Cowboys are 5-point favorites at home. Both teams can still make the playoffs but both teams must win out and both teams need other cards to fall correctly to make that happen. The loser here will stay home in January. Ezekiel Elliott is back; he announced that he intends to gain 200 yards in his first game back; the Seahawks were gashed by Todd Gurley last week to the point that a 200-yard game from Elliott is not unimaginable. The question for this game is simple; does Russell Wilson have yet one more unworldly performance in him for Sunday afternoon?
- The Steelers visit the Texans and the Steelers are 9.5-point favorites on the road. If this game were in Pittsburgh, this would be a “squash-game”; the Steelers are the better team and they are far and away the healthier team. The fact is that the Steelers are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home.
There is no Sunday Night Football this week. Even the NFL makes way for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve…
- On Monday Night – Christmas Night – the Raiders visit the Eagles and the Eagles are 9-point favorites at home. The Eagles can clinch home field advantage in the NFC playoffs with a win here – or with a loss by the Vikes on Saturday to the Packers (not likely). The Raiders’ playoff chances come down to them winning out AND having a bunch of other games turning out in a way that only a Disney screenwriter might imagine.
I left out an “early game” on Sunday because it needs special mention this week. The game has no bearing on the playoffs or the standings; both teams are awful. Absent “special considerations” this would be the worst game of the week without a doubt. This game requires the Cleveland Browns to pay a visit to the Chicago Bears and on Christmas Eve no less. The Bears are 6.5-point favorites in the game.
The Browns are 1-29 in their last 30 games; the Bears are 7-23 in their last 30 games. How can this game have any “special considerations”? Well, here goes:
- The Browns are 0-14 this year. Last year their victory came in their 15th game of the season.
- Browns’ coach, Hue Jackson, is 2-0 in games played on Christmas Eve. Last year his Browns beat the Chargers; in 2011, his Oakland Raiders team beat the Chiefs on Christmas Eve.
- The Bears are favored in this game; the Bears are 0-7 straight up as favorites in the John Fox Era.
- Speaking of John Fox, he has a record of 0-2 on Christmas Eve.
- These “trends” point to the Browns getting off the schneid and winning their first game of the year. However, there is one strong countervailing trend at work here. The last time the Browns won a game in Chicago was in 1969. The Bears were 1-13 that year and they started 3 QBs over the season. Those three stalwarts were Jack Concannon, Bobby Douglass and Virgil Carter.
I believe the Browns can win this game and not based on any of the “trends” listed above. The Bears win by running the football and controlling the tempo and field position. The Browns’ run defense is the team’s strong suit; the Browns only give up 3.3 yards per carry. As of this morning, the Money Line odds on the Browns is +240. If I were in Las Vegas…
Finally, this is a season of celebration for people of different religions and different cultures and different ethnicities. Here in Curmudgeon Central, the celebration is Christmas but that does not mean that other holidays or festivals are denigrated in any way. I am looking forward to a holiday focused on family and good friends; I hope that everyone has the same sort of happy time with whatever their celebration may be. Stay well, everyone…
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………