It’s Friday and that means football. Unfortunately, I have to begin this morning on a somber note. Paul Zimmerman – or Dr. Z as he was known – passed away yesterday. They say that the New York Times is the US newspaper of record; well, by analogy, Dr. Z’s commentaries on the NFL in Sports Illustrated used to be afforded the same stature. There was a time before the Internet when Sports Illustrated was the most important and the most comprehensive site covering the entirety of the sports cosmos. Dr. Z was Sports Illustrated’s NFL maven at that time and he was doing football analytics before the days of personal computers and video tape and multiple camera angles for every play.
Paul Zimmerman was a great writer and journalist. I looked forward to reading his comments and analyses of NFL games and teams. Ten years ago, Dr. Z suffered a series of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and unable to speak. Yesterday, he passed away.
The folks at Sports Illustrated compiled some of Dr. Z’s most memorable writings. This link will take you to that compendium.
Rest in peace, Dr. Z.
On a much brighter note, the Linfield College Wildcats notched their 5th win of the season last week securing another winning season for the Division III football program. That extends the streak of winning seasons to 63 consecutive seasons dating back to 19956. Linfield defeated Pacific Lutheran by a score of 41-7. This week the Wildcats are on the road in Tacoma Washington to take on the Puget Sound Loggers who are 5-3 on the season. Go Wildcats!
The first rankings by the CFP Selection Committee came out this week. Meaning no disrespect to any of the other folks who promulgate rankings, these are the only rankings that count. Moreover, the only part of their rankings that mean anything are the Top 8 or at most the Top 10. The Committee ranks teams all the way down to 25th for a reason that escapes me. When you get to where the rubber meets the road in early December, it will be the Top 4 that matter and everyone else will be scrambling for other things to do besides taking part in the CFP.
As I have mentioned, last week was my annual weekend in Las Vegas so I do not have nearly as extensive a set of notes to work from this week regarding last week’s happenings in football. I was far too busy watching and wagering and engaging in the general conviviality of the weekend to take extensive notes. But the show must go on and so I’ll have to make do.
Northwestern handed Wisconsin the Badgers’ third loss of the season. The victory puts Northwestern squarely in position to be the Big-10 West champions. Northwestern will host Iowa next weekend and a win for Northwestern there will all but guarantee that outcome. Northwestern beat Wisconsin because of turnovers; every time I checked a play in that game that drew cheers from folks in the sportsbook, it was some sort of play where Wisconsin turned the ball over.
Michigan State rebounded from its horrible showing against Michigan two weeks ago to throttle Purdue 23-13. The Spartans’ offense is nothing to write home about, but their defense really showed up last Saturday.
Nebraska won its second game of the season beating Bethune-Cookman 45-9. This game was added to the Nebraska schedule in September of this year after the Huskers’ first game of the season against Akron had to be canceled. Bethune-Cookman plays in the Mid-East Athletic conference against the likes of Florida A&M and Morgan State. This was one of those games where they go to Nebraska to take a pounding and cash a big payday check. Nebraska did not turn this into the slaughter it could have been by putting it on cruise control in the second half; bettors who took Nebraska were not happy with that because the Huskers did not cover the spread which got up to 49 points near kickoff. Several days before the game, Brad Dickson had this insight about the scheduling:
“Bethune-Cookman game is a no win situation. Win by only two touchdowns or God forbid lose & it’s ‘What’s wrong with this team?’ Win 60-3 and it’s ‘Nebraska had no business playing the game’.”
Wake Forest beat Louisville 56-35. This is only interesting because back in August, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino, told reporters that his team was going to beat Alabama in the opening game. Of course, they did not come close to doing that and now it is obvious they never had a prayer of doing that. Louisville is now 2-6 on the season and just gave up 56 points to a Wake Forest team that is not an offensive juggernaut.
Clemson manhandled Florida State 59-10. Late in the 3rd quarter and trailing 45-0, Florida St. kicked a field goal. Why? This was as big a beatdown as the score indicates. Consider:
- Clemson held FSU to minus-21 yards rushing for the game.
- Clemson outgained FSU by 313 yards.
- Clemson forced FSU to punt the ball 12 times.
Virginia stayed atop the ACC Coastal Division with a win over UNC. If they stay there, Virginia would face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
Two weeks ago, Clemson dismantled previously unbeaten NC State. Well, that loss must have damaged the psyche of the Wolfpack team significantly because they lost again last week to Syracuse by a score of 51-41. NC State allowed 24 points in the first quarter alone.
Kansas beat TCU 27-26. That game has no meaning at all regarding the Big 12 but it is noteworthy for this reason:
- In the last 3 seasons, Kansas won a total of 3 games with records of 0-12, 2-10 and 1-11.
- The victory of last week gives Kansas 3 wins in the 2018 season alone.
- Not many schools find themselves in that situation.
Georgia beat Florida handily setting up this week’s game against Kentucky as a big deal for the SEC East crown.
Kentucky ran its overall record to 7-1 for the season beating Missouri 15-14 in a squeaker.
The Total Line for the Pitt/Duke game was 45 points. The final score was 54-45 in favor of Pitt. Anyone taking the UNDER in that game could have torn up their tickets by the early moments of the 3rd quarter.
San Jose St. won its first game of the year beating UNLV 50-37. My interest in that game will become apparent later in this rant.
It was underdog week in the PAC-12. On Friday night, Utah was the favorite and they covered easily beating UCLA 41-10. However, on Saturday:
- Underdog Cal beat Washington straight up by a score of 12-10.
- Underdog Washington St. beat Stanford straight up by a score of 41-38.
- Underdog Arizona walloped Oregon by a score of 44-15.
- Underdog Oregon St. beat Colorado straight up by a score of 41-34.
- Underdog Arizona St. beat USC straight up by a score of 38-35.
Rankings for SHOE Teams:
For those readers who are new to this corner of the Internet, I like to imagine a second college football tournament at the end of the season. The CFP identifies the best team of the year; I want my imaginary tournament to identify the worst team of the year. I call that team the SHOE Team where “SHOE” is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement. Here is how it would work – – if anyone ever dared to make it happen.
Since I find pre-season and early-season rankings of the Top-25 to be meaningless, I wait until November to begin my winnowing process. Here are the teams on my radar at the moment. I list them here alphabetically so that there is no sense of ranking; there is still too much football left to play to project seedings for the Final Eight:
- Bowling Green 1-8 They beat a Division 1-AA team by a TD in September.
- C. Michigan 1-8 They beat a Division 1-AA team by 12 points.
- Kent St. 2-7 They beat Bowling Green and Howard.
- New Mex St. 2-7 The wins were over UTEP and Liberty.
- Rice 1-7 The win was by 3 points over a Division 1-AA team.
- Rutgers 1-7 They beat Morgan St; they have lost 5 games by 27 or more points.
- San Jose St. 1-7 They beat UNLV last week.
- Tulsa 1-7 They beat a Division 1-AA team by 11 points.
- UConn 1-7 Worst defense in the country as of this week.
- UNLV 2-6 They lost to San Jose St. last week
- UTEP 0-8 The only winless team in Division 1-A
- W. Kentucky 1-7 They beat a MAC team but lost to a Division 1-AA team.
There are a few other teams under consideration, but we shall see what happens on the field before putting them on this list. Interestingly, this week we have games between UConn and Tulsa and between Rice and UTEP.
NCAA Games of Interest This Week:
(Fri Nite) Pitt at Virginia – 7.5 (47): Virginia needs the game to stay on course for the ACC Coastal Division title. Pitt is one of the least predictable teams in the country. I would not bet on this game with your money.
Iowa at Purdue – 2.5 (51): Iowa can still win the Big-10 West but will be in deep yogurt if they lose here. Same goes for Purdue.
Georgia – 8.5 at Kentucky (44.5): This is a statement game for Kentucky and its football program. A win here puts Kentucky in the driver’s seat for the SEC East title; it would mean that they had beaten both Georgia and Florida in the same year. It has been a while since they did that.
Nebraska at Ohio St. – 18.5 (73): Nebraska has won 2 games in a row but this ain’t Bethune Cookman they are facing this week…
Georgia Tech – 5 at UNC (64): I do not understand this line at all. UNC almost made my list of 12 SHOE Teams above…
Michigan St. – 2.5 at Maryland (46): Interesting to see how Maryland plays this week afte3r all the drama of last week regarding the reinstatement of their coach and then his firing 24 hours later.
Oklahoma – 18 at Texas Tech (77): Plenty of fireworks in this game…
W. Virginia at Texas – 1.5 (58): Both teams have only one loss in the Big 12; important game for both.
Notre Dame – 10 at Northwestern (53): Even though this is not a conference game, this is important for both teams. Notre Dame is in the Top 4 of the CFP this week; they will need a win to stay there. Northwestern has plenty of Big-10 games ahead and could use whatever lift a win here would provide.
Cal at Washington St. – 10 (50): Washington St. seems to be the PAC-12’s best shot at a slot in the CFP. An upset by Cal would put the kibosh on that hope.
Texas A&M at Auburn – 3.5 (48.5): Both teams are 5-3 but the vibe around the teams is different. The Aggies are playing hard and losing close games; Auburn just seems to be underachieving and going through the motions. Interesting betting angle here for trend bettors. Auburn had a BYE week last week; Gus Malzahn’s teams are 7-0 after a BYE week.
Three more NCAA football games will be mentioned below in this week’s Six-Pack.
Lots of “stuff” went down this week related to the NFL and it all began on Monday when the Browns fired head coach, Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. According to reports, the two coaches had been “feuding” since the start of training camp and if those reports are accurate, you have to ask the question why it took so long for ownership to stop that sort of nonsense. Owner Jimmy Haslam characterized the situation as an irreparable divide between the two men. And, it took you two months to realize that and do something about it?
Jackson’s record in Cleveland is indefensible; his record there is 3-36-1. This is yet another time when Haley’s departure from a team has not caused many tears to be shed. I think he puts the “offensive” into the job title “offensive coordinator”. Nonetheless, the situation in Cleveland remains a mess.
Taking over for the rest of the season is Gregg Williams who – you may recall – was banned from the NFL for his part in the “Bountygate” scandal and was subsequently reinstated. Williams has been a decent defensive coordinator in several stops around the NFL but his one shot at a head coaching job was less than spectacular. He spent 3 years as the head coach in Buffalo posting a 17-31 record. Meh!
The Browns will have a head start in the coaching search department this time around, but the question is who would want the job – – absent someone who is only looking for a big payday? There is some talent on the team; it looks as if they have the best QB they have had since Bernie Kosar hung up his cleats. But if the ownership is as clueless as they have shown themselves to be over the last several years, I’m not sure “talent on the field” is sufficient to win there.
If the Browns want more drama with their coaching staff, maybe they can hire Lane Kiffin as their head coach who will also run the offense and bring in DJ Durkin to be the defensive coordinator. Don’t put it past that ownership…
Here is another thing to think about regarding coaches in Cleveland:
- The Browns axed a coach named Hue
- The Cavs axed a coach named Lue
- This is not a good omen for anyone in Cleveland who has a dog named Blue.
The dumpster fire in Cleveland is almost matched by the happenings in Tampa Bay. Last week, Jameis Winston channeled Nathan Peterman and started throwing the ball almost exclusively to the other team. Winston was benched in the second half and Ryan Fitzpatrick came in to spark a huge rally that almost pulled the game out. Koetter had to announce that Fitzpatrick would again be the starting QB for the Bucs. And this is a mess because:
- The Bucs hired Koetter in the first place because they thought his mentorship of Jameis Winston was critical to Winston’s good first year in the league and his continued development.
- Winston has regressed on the field and has been less-than-steadfast as a citizen off the field.
- Koetter already fired his defensive coordinator this year so it is on him and the offense to “get it right”.
From the outside, it appears to me that the owners of the Bucs – the Glazers – are in a position where they blow up the whole thing and ditch Koetter, the rest of the coaching staff, the GM and Jameis Winston. Can you spell scorched earth? Yes, that would put them down at the same level as the Browns and the Bills; nevertheless, the Bucs are closer to that level than they are to anything resembling a contender in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Broncos have a BYE Week upcoming; that is a typical time for teams to fire coaches in mid-season and Vance Joseph may not want to get a call from the GM or the owner on Monday morning leading into that BYE Week…
The Broncos have been disappointing on the field but the situation with 3rd string QB, Chad Kelly, must sting too. He is Jim Kelly’s nephew and he has had a checkered past off the field. The Broncos – and John Elway – took Chad Kelly as Mr. Irrelevant in the draft this year after Elway heard from Jim Kelly (Chad’s uncle) that the kid was basically a good kid who has learned from his mistakes. Chad Kelly was arrested after a team Halloween party under bizarre circumstances.
Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding Chad Kelly’s football situation:
“Yet more to do: With his release from the Denver Broncos, quarterback Chad Kelly has been kicked off his high school, college and pro teams. The question now is whether he’ll settle for the ‘bad teammate’ Triple Crown or join the Canadian Football League and shoot for the Grand Slam.”
And just to put a cap on coaches-on-the-move this week, the Cowboys fired their offensive line coach. I guess he is the one responsible for the various injuries along the line and surely for center, Travis Fredericks’ Guillain-Barre Syndrome which has sidelined him for the entire season.
Last night, the Niners disemboweled the Raiders 34-3. Niners’ QB, Nick Mullens, started his first game ever and threw 3 TDs against a Raiders’ defense that was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. The Raiders are just awful this year; they were manhandled in the trenches on offense and on defense. After the game, Jon Gruden stated the obvious; he said the team has to play better. Based on what I saw last night, I wonder if they can play worse.
NFL Games of Interest:
KC – 8 at Cleveland (51.5): Baker Mayfield has played well for the Browns, but no one should get carried away and say that he is playing anywhere near Patrick Mahomes’ level. Consider:
- Mayfield has 8 TDs and 6 INTs. Mahomes has 26 TDs and 6 INTs
- Mayfield has completed 58.3% of his passes. Mahomes has completed 65.6%
- Mayfield gains 6.6 yards per attempt. Mahomes gains 8.9.
The Chiefs’ pass defense is not very good; the Browns’ defense has yielded 400 yards or more in each of the last 5 games.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore – 2.5 (47): The Steelers lead the AFC North and have won 3 games in a row. The Ravens trail by 1.5 games and have lost 2 in a row. The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this year in Pittsburgh. This is a big game for the Steelers and a must game for the Ravens.
Tampa at Carolina – 6 (55): Ryan Fitzmagic takes over at QB again for the Bucs as noted above. The Panthers have won their last 2 games and are only one game behind the Saints in the NFC South. The Bucs are also in that division but hardly look like a team that will be a factor later in the season. The Bucs will move the ball in the game; their passing attack is very good. The Bucs’ giant flaw is their defense which gives up lots of yards and lots of “chunk plays”.
Jets at Miami – 3 (43.5): Here are two bad offenses going up against one another. The Dolphins are 27th in the NFL in total offense and the Jets are 29th. The QBs in the game are rookie Sam Darnold and Brock Osweiler. The Jets have the better defense of the two teams. This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
Atlanta at Washington – 1.5 (48): The Falcons have won 3 in a row but are still 3 games behind the Saints in the NFC South; this is a critical game for them. The Skins have also won 3 in a row and they are perched atop the NFC East by a game-and-a-half. Julio Jones has averaged 116 yards per game receiving but has yet to score a TD. Very strange … The Skins’ run game depends on Adrian Peterson who is running the way he did about 4 years ago. He has a picture in his attic that is aging fast…
Chicago – 10 at Buffalo (37): The Bills are terrible on offense and solid on defense. The Bears have a good defense and an inconsistent offense. With a double-digit spread on this game, I would avoid it like 7-Eleven sushi. Word is that Nathan Peterman will be the starter for the Bills. What could possibly go wrong?
Chargers at Seattle – 1 (47.5): The Chargers are on a 4-game win streak and the Seahawks have won their last 2 games. The venue clearly favors the Seahawks here. As a side event, this will be Philip Rivers’ 200th consecutive start at QB; only 3 other QBs in NFL history have ever done that.
(Sun Nite) Green Bay at New England – 5 (56.5): This is not a game I want to bet on; this is a game I want to sit back and watch as dispassionately as I can – – since I am not from New England or Green Bay in which case dispassion would be impossible. This game showcases Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers on the same field playing a real game against one another. I may never see that again. The Packers are 0-3 on the road this year and they have lost their last 9 consecutive games against the Pats on the road.
(Mon Nite) Tennessee at Dallas – 5.5 (40.5): Both teams are 3-4 on the season; the loser of this game will have a deep hole to dig out of if they hope to make the playoffs. This will be the Dallas coming out party for Amari Cooper.
Your weekly Six Pack:
I have 3 NCAA games and 3 NFL games in the Six-Pack this week:
Penn St. at Michigan – 12 (53.5): The Michigan defense is outstanding, and they are going to make life miserable for Penn St. all day long. I do not expect Penn St. to win this game, but I do think that the Nittany Lions’ defense can keep the Michigan offense from running wild here. Therefore, that line looks awfully fat to me. I’ll take Penn St. plus the points.
Stanford at Washington – 10.5 (45.5): Neither team has lived up to expectations this year and neither team has shown any consistency from week to week. However, I think that Stanford can control the clock here and keep this to a one-score game – – if they do not turn the ball over too often. I’ll take Stanford plus the points.
Alabama – 14.5 at LSU (53.5): If you believe the CFP Rankings, this is the #1 team in the country against the #3 team in the country. It is clearly the College Football Game of the Week. Alabama has not been tested this year; most of the starters get rested in the 4th quarter. LSU has shown the it can play tough defense to the point that it is always in the game. What will be interesting here is to see if LSU can continue to win by running the football in a power run scheme; the front 7 of the Alabama defense is awfully good. I think that line is fat – – unless Alabama jumps out to a big lead early in which case LSU will play into the Alabama hand trying to catch up. I’ll take LSU plus the points and sit back to watch.
Rams – 2 at New Orleans (58.5): Notwithstanding the Sunday Nite game below, I think this is the NFL Game of the Week. The Rams are a perfect 8-0 for the season; the Saints have won 6 in a row. The ball should be moving up and down the field at a furious pace. I think the key to this game is interior pass rush by the Rams. Drew Brees is at his best when he can maneuver in the pocket and step up to make his throws; when the middle of the pocket is pushed toward him, he is less effective, and he is susceptible to having his passes knocked down. I think Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh will provide that middle pressure sufficiently often to tilt the balance here. I like the Rams to win and cover – – even on the road in the dome in New Orleans.
Houston at Denver – 1.5 (46): That spread must reflect the fact that the Broncos play much better at home than they do on the road. The Texans have won 5 in a row to lead their division; the Broncos continue to have QB issues and just traded away WR, Demaryius Thomas – – to the Texans. I think the wrong team is favored here; I like the Texans to win outright so I’ll take them plus the points here.
Detroit at Minnesota – 5 (49): This is a division game in the tightest division in the league. Minnesota is 4-3-1; Detroit is 3-4. The Vikings need the game to stay near the top of the division – or possibly take the lead if the Bears were to stumble this week. The Lions need the game to remain relevant there. The Lions have the 31st run defense in the NFL allowing 145 yards per game – – but the Vikes’ offense is not based on running the football. There are conflicting trends at work here:
- Lions are 7-2 to go OVER in their last 9 road games
- Lions/Vikes are 7-2 to say UNDER in their last 9 matchups.
- You make the call…
Both teams lost last week; neither looked good in doing so. I do not see how the Lions improved themselves this year by trading away Golden Tate. I do think the Vikes will get the train back on the tracks. I like the Vikes to win and cover here.
Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“Two fires consumed seven cars in the MetLife Stadium parking lot during last Sunday’s Jets-Vikings game — because of late-arriving fans unwittingly parking their cars atop hot coals dumped from tailgaters’ grills.
“ ‘Not the first time we’ve been burned,’ sighed a fan wearing a Vernon Gholston jersey.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………