RIP Bob Connolly

I am back from a week without my computer and with only periodic Internet access. I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year celebration. I learned some sad news last night when I checked my e-mails; Bob Connolly – one of the folks listed under “Columnists I Read” on the right margin of the website – passed away just before Christmas. I never met Bob in person but we were in frequent contact over the Internet. When I visited Ireland several years ago, we took a train from Dublin to Belfast and passed through Connolly Station; I took a picture and sent it to him asking if it was named for a relative of his. That led us into a lengthy exchange with regard to Irish/British history and Irish/British politics. Bob was an avid follower of boxing although as a polio survivor he could never participate in anything like boxing as an activity; he explained many things related to boxing to me over the years.

I will leave the link to his Dreams Blog on the website for a while in case any of you might want to check out his final writings.

Rest in peace, Bob Connolly…

There are 6 NFL coaching vacancies at the moment. Only one of them is really surprising to me and that is the Eagles. Jeffrey Lurie had shown great patience during the Andy Reid years as the team built itself up from the worst team in the league in 1999 to a Super Bowl participant in 2005 and a frequent playoff participant up through 2010. Given his enthusiastic verbal support for Chip Kelly, I did not think he would fire Kelly; but he did and the Eagles are looking for a new coach and a new personnel guy since Kelly wore both hats in Philly. Howie Roseman is in charge of personnel for the moment and he has been in Philly for several years now; that is good news and bad news at the same time.

    Good News: He knows the roster’s strengths and weaknesses and he has been doing this job for a while. He is not a novice.

    Bad News: He has butted heads with both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly. I do not know if that has led to a reputation around the league that might scare off top-shelf coaching candidates – but it might…

If you subscribe to the theory that a franchise QB is the single most important factor in a team’s and a coach’s success, then the six openings fall into two categories. Two teams have what appear to be “good QB situations”:

    Giants: The defense may be horrid and the running game shows up only once in a while, but the QB is a 2-time Super Bowl winner. Moreover, Eli Manning has talent to throw to at WR and at TE.

    Titans: Marcus Mariota is not an established star in the NFL yet but his rookie season indicates that he has the potential to become one. The Titans need help in plenty of other places on the roster, but barring injury, they would seem to be set at QB for a while.

The other four teams have what appear to be “not so good QB situations”:

    Eagles: Is Sam Bradford – who is a free agent and will need to be resigned – the long term answer? Yes, he was the overall #1 pick in the draft a few years ago, but still… Certainly, Mark Sanchez is not the long term answer. This is an “iffy situation” at best.

    Dolphins: Is Ryan Tannehill the long term answer? He plays well in stretches and then seems to regress for other stretches. Personally, I think the Dolphins need a huge upgrade in the offensive line in front of him more than they need to go on a QB search.

    Niners: The have an injured/rehabbing Colin Kaepernick – who seemingly regressed to “raw rookie status” last season – and Blaine Gabbert on the roster. Counting on either of those guys is pretty much a crap-shoot…

    Browns: Josh McCown will be 36 next season and finished the year with a shoulder injury. Nonetheless, he is the best QB on the roster. Enough said…

Of those four teams with “not so good QB situations”, I would have to say that the Eagles’ job should be the most attractive because the ownership situations with the other 3 clubs have shown themselves to be mercurial in some cases and downright incompetent in others. The next several weeks will be interesting…

Since I mentioned the Eagles above, let me switch here to another Philly team, the Sixers. Last month, the team hired Jerry Colangelo – rumor has it that the Commissioner pressured the Sixers’ owner to do so in order to bring some level of credibility to the team – and then they hired Mike D’Antoni as an assistant coach. Obviously, these two moves could not hurt a team that was 1-26 at one point in this season; in fact, the Sixers are 3-7 over their last 10 games but let us put that in perspective here.

    Because of their horrid start to the season the Sixers are still – after 37 games – on pace to win only 8 or 9 games this season. Eight wins would set a new record for the worst season record ever; nine wins would tie that record.

    D’Antoni is an offensive minded coach; the head coach, Brett Brown, is a defensive minded coach. If they blend their “basketball gestalt”, they might make the Sixers into a real team. Remember, a team with a 1-26 record projects to have a final NBA record of 3-79.

    The Sixers have played only 14 home games so far this year and have been on the road for 23 games. That means they have a preponderance of home games left on their schedule. They have not been fearsome at home with a 2-12 record but that is surely better than their road record of 2-21…

I am sure you remember Stephon Marbury and some of his antics in his NBA career. Marbury has been playing in China for the last several years and according to this report, a museum dedicated to him opened in Beijing late last month. He already has a statue in that city and is pictured on a Chinese postage stamp. Let me just say that he has obviously found his milieu in the Far East…

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this retrospective on 2015 in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Looking back: Because we’re accustomed to media losing perspective about everything, it wasn’t surprising that in 2015 the relentless fallout over the alleged PSI of a few Patriots footballs created far more outrage than the conviction of New England tight end Aaron Hernandez for the very real crime of first-degree murder.”

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

Off The Air…

I will be off-the-air until January 6 or 7 in 2016. Please check in around then for more sports commentaries.

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2016 is a healthy and prosperous year for all.

Stay well…

Bad Ads – 2015

The Earth has journeyed around the Sun yet one more time. As it proceeded on its way, I passed plenty of time watching sports on TV. The beauty of retirement is doing what you want to do when you want to do it – – and I am retired. What I often want to do is to watch a sporting event and so that is what I do.

The downside is that I have to watch/pass through loads of commercials on TV that are the funding source for my ability to watch those sporting events. I recognize their necessity; that does not mean that I have to like them. And, I most certainly do not like lots of them. As a Boy Scout one learns that one must take the bitter with the sweet. However, there is nothing in the scouting experience that precludes one from trying to make the bitter into something marginally sweet – or at least less bitter. That is what I try to do here.

I keep a set of notes on particularly annoying or stupid ads that I see on TV and compile them here as the final rant of the year. They may be annoying to watch, but at least I get some writing material from them. Before I start in on my list, I do want to take note of two dates:

    I saw my first “Christmas shopping ad” on October 20th. It was an ad for K-Mart touting their lay-away program for purchase of Christmas gifts.

    I saw my first two “Christmas automobile sales ads” on November 5th. Audi showed a car with a bow on the hood in a driveway and VW had an ad for leasing a car where the couple took the car and went hunting for a Christmas tree during the test drive.

    Ho, Ho, Ho…

Anyhow, here are some of the bad ads you and I were subjected to last year…

Beer companies sponsor lots of sporting events and that means I saw loads of beer ads making it rather probable that I would see some bad ones. The folks at the beer companies and their ad agencies did not disappoint:

    Budweiser told me, “We don’t brew halfway.” Well thank goodness for that. I do not claim to be a master brewer – or even an accomplished amateur. However, I do recall brewing some beer years ago and halfway through the process, the wort is not pleasantly aromatic and has a nasty flavor. Come to think of it, maybe the folks at Budweiser are indeed only brewing their beer halfway…

    Bud Light maintained their ad campaign saying that you should drink Bud Light if you are “up for whatever”.

      Memo for Bud Light: Here is what I would be “up for”. I would love for you folks to make a new set of ads that are not immensely stupid. I would also appreciate a beer that did not taste as if I were drinking it for the second time. Thank you in advance…

    Miller Lite would not be outdone in the quest for annoying TV ads this year. Recently they have paid good money for TV time to inform me that their swill now comes in the original short necked bottle that it came in when it was first introduced. And I should care about the packaging for what reason…?

There are categories of ads that put fine print on the bottom of the screen. These are disclaimers that seek to indemnify the sponsors for saying things in the ad that are not the whole truth and nothing but the truth and/or for showing something that might be deceptive in some way. As a rule of thumb, look at the amount of fine print at the bottom of the screen and recognize that the length of the message there is directly proportional to the degree of fibbing or exaggeration that you have been subjected to in the ad. Basically, there are two categories of here:

    Ads – usually for automobiles – that show something outrageous to the point where they would be dangerous if any viewer were stupid enough to try to duplicate it in real life. The message at the bottom of the screen translates to:

      Don’t be an ass! Don’t even think of doing this yourself.

    Ads where there are restrictions on the offers/claims made in the ad you are watching/listening to.

      Some car rebates are for only the 10% of dealer inventory that has been on the lot the longest. You do realize that means they are cutting the price a little more than normal for those cars they have not come close to selling yet. Such a deal…

      Websites that can get you “cash in your checking account tomorrow” are not lenders or brokers and do not make lending or credit decisions. And they are often illegal in a string of states. No wonder the print is so small; anyone who read that stuff would be really leery of contacting those folks.

      Law firms who want you to call them if you – or a loved one – has taken some medicine and suffered one of a series of dire consequences including death. That firm will probably not represent you but will refer you to a law firm in your area – which you could find for yourself if you tried.

A T-Mobile ad had a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad that negated much of the benefit that was touted in the ad. T-Mobile claimed that other cell phone companies “steal your unused data” at the end of the month after you paid for it but T-Mobile will roll it over into the next month. Sounds good, no? The problem is that you only get to use that rolled over data after you run out of the allotted data in the next month – and if you did not use it all in January, why is it a certainty that you might use all of it and then some of the roll-over data in February? But even more problematic is that after one year of rolling over all that data, you lose it if you do not use it. Here is the bottom line:

    T-Mobile will “steal your data” just like the other cell phone companies but they will do it a year later than the other companies.

    Somehow, that does not sound like such a great deal anymore…

Zaxby’s Chicken had a bunch of ads on during March Madness last year. They had one of the goofs from Duck Dynasty in the ads. In a particularly stupid and annoying one, the “Duck Dynast” could only place his order for the chicken in a series of grunts exchanged with the genius at the cash register. In another, he dressed in “chicken camo” so no one could see him eating his chicken. On the stupidity scale from 1 to 10, those rate a 12.5. I do not recall ever seeing a Zaxby’s Chicken here in the Northern Virginia area but I will say without reservation that those ads would keep me from trying the food there rather than enticing me into the place.

DirecTV tried to convince me to use their satellite TV service with a series of ads showing Hannah and her talking horse. Their pitch was that DirecTV rated higher than Cable TV in each of the last however-many years. Wonderful! DirecTV also probably rated higher than used car salesmen, cops setting up speed traps, child abusers and people who rarely bathe. If you say that my comparisons are irrelevant, my response is that they are as relevant as a woman and a talking horse are as spokes-creatures for a satellite TV company. And for the record, the idea of a talking equine specimen is not novel; anyone besides me recall Francis the Talking Mule from the 1950s?

KFC ads feature the reincarnation of “The Real Col. Sanders”. Here is the message that I get from those ads:

    The folks in “creative” at the ad agency simply have no good ideas at the moment.

I heard an ad on the local sports radio station for one of the online universities. I do not know if that is a national ad or just one put on the air here to annoy the inhabitants of the DC metro area. The ad is based on the premise that some industrial leader once said:

“If you don’t control your own destiny, someone else will.”

The message of the ad is that you should take control and call this school and enroll immediately or suffer the consequences of someone else controlling your destiny. Sorry, but either the industrial leader got it wrong or the enlightened folks who will be instructing you at the online university have it wrong.

    Neither you nor anyone else can control your destiny or any other destiny. If it were controllable, it would not be destiny.

Should you call the number and think about paying those people to instruct you in courses leading to a college degree, recall that they got your attention by trying to convince you to control something that cannot be controlled. So, how smart must they be…?

TD Ameritrade touted its investment tools in an ad featuring Andrew Luck. He offered folks a “piece of Luck” by plucking a few hairs from his beard and dousing the people with it. Some of the folks said that TD Ameritrade had given them those investment tools so they were confident in their planning for retirement. Finally, they tell you don’t need luck when you have confidence.


    So, if I am confident that I am going to win the $300M Powerball Lottery this week, I don’t need luck?

    I don’t think so…

This year seemed to be one where the auto companies all got together and decided that they would bombard viewers of TV sporting events with stupid ads. There were so many that it strains credulity it could have happened totally randomly.

    Scion ads for their little cars used the slogan:

    “Scion; what moves you?”

    On one hand, it might be considered an interesting play on words. Scion is a car; cars move you from Point A to Point B. Clever? Not really. The first time I heard the ad pose the question here was my answer:

      “Prune Juice”

    The Ford Edge ads tell you to “Be Unstoppable”. Well, if I am in my Ford Edge I am not sure that I want to be unstoppable. I think I would prefer that the brakes worked properly.

    Lincoln had to have decided to creep out a minimum of 75% of the viewers with those ads with Matthew McConaughey driving along on a dark night with not another car on the Interstate. I can imagine the meeting between the folks at Lincoln and the folks at the ad agency:

      Ok, no other car maker has gone after the very-rich, the very-aloof and the clearly-creepier-than-Hell demographic. So, here is what we came up with for you…

    For Volkswagen, harken back to the days when they touted Fahrvernugen – the joy of driving one nominally got from a Volkswagen. Well, in 2015 we learned that some of the “pep” in the engines of some of those VWs came from software that allowed the cars to pass emissions inspections but then drive in higher pollution mode to improve performance. Sure, I’ll believe the next round of VW ads…

    Oh, and Audi had some “software shenanigans” too. For several years now, Audi has been flogging us with the slogan “Truth in Engineering”. I wondered if they might amend that this year to be “Truth in Engineering Plus Emissions Software Hijinks”. No, they did not…

People who buy cars also need to buy auto insurance so the demographics of sporting events tells insurance companies that they should spend some ad dollars there. Sadly, they do so and put bad ads in front of us.

    Progressive Insurance still has Flo involved. Let me say this simply:

      If Flo were drowning in a swimming pool, I would throw her a bowling ball.

    Liberty Mutual seems intent on capturing the naïve segment of the insurance market. Several of their “spokesfolks” opine into the camera that they are outraged when they “use their insurance” [file a claim] and then learn that their rates increase. That is how insurance works. That is why you will pay more for life insurance if you smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day or are 500 lbs overweight.

    There is another Liberty Mutual genius who is shocked to learn that if he totals his new car, he only gets the depreciated value of it from the insurance company. Obviously, he lived in a cave until the moment he went to the car dealership to buy that car that he immediately wrecked.

      Memo to Liberty Mutual spokesthings: If you get the company’s accident forgiveness and/or new car replacement coverage, your monthly premiums will be higher. That is how it works. It is like the old ads for Fram oil filters:

        You can pay me now or you can pay me later.

    Allstate has a particularly annoying ad featuring a couple sitting in a restaurant. The woman asks if the man recalls saying that women are not as good at driving as men; he acknowledges that he remembers that. At that point the woman gets out her “safe driving reward check from Allstate” and proceeds to flaunt it at him for the rest of the ad. The only way to save that ad would be for the man – who is obviously a chauvinistic idiot in the first place for making the broad generalization that started all of this – to take his plate of food and smash it into the face of the preening schmoo of a woman he is with.

    Geico has had some good ad campaigns over the years and a few that have surely outlived their utility. I did not think I would ever be in this position but indeed I am:

      Every time I see “Peter Pan” fly into the reunion hall with his classmates who have aged while he has not, I say to myself, “Why can’t Geico bring back the cavemen?”

Cialis now comes in a low-dosage form that men can take every day. Cialis likes to say that it allows men with Erectile Dysfunction to be ready anytime. If they left it at that, I would think that the ad campaign was sensibly directed at the aging male demographic and move on. However, Cialis also tells us that it is sometimes effective in treating the symptoms of BPH – Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia – or an enlarged prostate that is not caused by prostate cancer one of which is frequent need to urinate both day and night. And so to cover all the bases, the ads begin by saying:

    When a moment turns romantic, why stop to take a pill?

      OK, I guess. Spontaneity is a good thing… Unless of course it happens in a crowded restaurant or a movie theater or a church service…

    And why stop to look for a bathroom?

      Uh … hold on there. If the moment is turning romantic and either party needs to go to the bathroom, it is probably a good idea for that person to find one and use it because it might become a significant reason why said moment ceased to be romantic.

      Another important reason to “stop and look for a bathroom” is that we spend time and energy teaching children that it is not socially acceptable to wet themselves whenever they feel like it wherever they are. When an adult “stops to look for a bathroom” he is behaving like a socially adjusted adult instead of an annoying rug-rat in need of potty training.

    These ads are even dumber than the vintage Cialis ads where couples in parallel bathtubs held hands while staring off into the horizon.

Napoleon Grills had an ad last year that showed a neighbor sneaking into a guy’s backyard to use the neighbor’s Napoleon Grill to cook a bunch of food. Even when confronted in the act and reminded that he could get his own grill, the guy keeps cooking. What is the message I am supposed to take from this?

    Buy a Napoleon Grill and then install a perimeter security system around your home so that potentially psychopathic neighbors do not sneak in and use your grill.

    I don’t think that is the message they want…

Until there were some legal issues with some state regulatory authorities and/or attorneys general, we were bombarded with ads for daily fantasy sports websites, Draft Kings and FanDuel. Mercifully, those seem to have abated in the past several weeks. I have 2 questions for the folks who are in charge of marketing those sites – leaving aside the questions of legality that will be settled in a totally different realm:

    1. If you are going to buy up 50 ad slots for a Sunday’s worth of NFL games, why not invest enough money to make more than two different ads that you will run in those 50 slots?

    2. If I did not respond to the two ads you did make the first 1569 times I saw those ads, what makes you think I will respond to the 1570th time?

One of the fantasy draft sites had an ad where Victor Cruz asked Odell Beckham, Jr. if he (Cruz) should start Beckham or Julio Jones that week. The catchy part of the ad is obviously supposed to be that Cruz and Beckham are teammates in real life and that is nominally an awkward moment. There is another message there and it paints Cruz as someone who is dumber than a paper clip.

    Beckham and Jones are two of the best WRs in the NFL.

    Fantasy football teams start 2 WRs.

    If Cruz were lucky to have both on his team, why would he even think of only playing one of them?

When the ad bombardment for Daily Fantasy Sports sites was at its crest, there was a potential danger facing our country and our civilization. Look at all of those ads; they all said the same thing. Sign up, put up some money and you – Joe Flintwhistle sitting there at home – can win big money and we will take video of your celebrations there in your home and put it on the air. What is the potential danger in that?

    It is not a giant leap for some guy in creative to look at those videos and pitch the idea of creating another “Reality Program” where the content is video of groups of fantasy sports players watching games and hyper-reacting to various plays throughout the day. Splice those together with a few interspersed narrative interviews of the participants and you have a new Reality TV Show.

    1. If anyone ever made such a monstrosity of a show, might I suggest they call it “Survivor: Insufferability”.

    2. We need another Reality TV show like we need an outbreak of rectal boils.

Blue Buffalo Dog Food shows an ad where a pet owner is sitting in a chair and is presented with the ingredient list from three different dog food brands. He says that he would select the brand of food for his pet based on the ingredient list. OK, that makes sense; if they stopped there, this ad would not be stupid. Here is what comes next:

    The pet owner says “If you can understand what is in the (dog) food, it’s good food.”


    Suppose the first ingredient listed – the one in the greatest quantity in the dog food – is “Mule Snot”. You understand what that is if you have an IQ greater than a hunk of cheese, but that does not make the product good dog food.

The folks at Fairfield Hotels tell me that their guests include marathon jugglers, Olympic gymnasts, a “balancing wizard” and an American Ninja. Moreover, these folks do their act in the lobbies and halls in the Fairfield hotels. This does not make me want to stay there for fear I might encounter one of more of these goofs.

Wells Fargo Bank has a Christmas ad showing a stage coach traveling through a snow-covered terrain when it stops so that the horses can eat carrots offered to them by snowmen by the side of the trail. Then the stagecoach goes on to deliver presents to a child.

    Question: What in the name of Figgie Pudding does any of that have to do with banking?

Way too many ads tell us at the outset that these are “real people” and “not actors”. Given that the majority of those “real people” are being compensated for doing what they do, the distinction is sort of “blurry”. In any event, here are two messages for the folks who make those commercials and give us that disclaimer:

    1. It never occurred to me that those were holograms on my screen. Of course they are “real people”; they are not animations.

    2. Since when are actors not “real people”?

I do not know if hhgregg is a national company or a local one here in the DC area; they sell kitchen appliances and some electronics and things like that. Yesterday on the NFL early game shown here, they ran an ad for a one-day sale on the Saturday after Christmas. They paid to run an ad on Sunday for a one-day sale on the day before. I never took the course, Marketing 101, but somehow, that does not seem like a good idea to me.

Finally, dumb ads are not restricted to television. As I was browsing on one Internet site looking for stuff to use in my website rants, I ran across an ad along the right side of the screen with this “headline”:

    An overlooked method to pay off your credit card balance.

No, I did not go and read what that ‘overlooked method might be simply because I have a foolproof method for doing that which works every time:

    Step 1: Do not carry any credit card balances in the first place.

    Step 2: If that fails and you find yourself with a balance carried forward, then pay more each month than you spent on that credit card in the last month.

    Step 3: In short order, the balance will go to zero and then you can stay there by following Step 1.

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

Administrative Note

There will be no rant tomorrow on Christmas Day. I will return to the air on Monday 28 December with the final rant of the year – the annual “Bad Ads” rant reviewing some of the bad TV commercials of the previous year.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate Christmas. Happy Holidays to those who celebrate some other holiday at this time of the year.

For everyone, stay well…

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 12/27/15

Allow me just moment of gloating here. Last week’s Mythical Picks were outstanding; the record for the week was 12-4-0. If I were one of those touts on TV, I would scream at the top of my lungs that I have a “documented” 75% win rate picking NFL games and that everyone should call my toll-free hotline and buy my picks for the rest of the season at a greatly reduced rate because I am so smart and so magnanimous and so – – phony. Indeed, last week was a great week of Mythical Picking; the reality is that the inclusion of that great week into the season record makes the season record 115-113-5.

    The season record is above .500.

    Nonetheless, the season record is mythically unprofitable playing against a 10% vig.

The Coin Flip Games were in the black too with a 2-1-0 record. That bring’s the coin’s season record to 16-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week were the picks in the Eagles/Cards game. I liked the Cards minus 3 points and the Cards covered easily; I also liked the game to go OVER 51 and it did so.

The “Worst Pick” was taking the Niners + 6 points against the Bengals. The Niners lost by only 10 points but it took two garbage-time TDs for them to get that close.

Please notice that I was being completely sarcastic above when I said people should call to subscribe to my Mythical Picks for the rest of the season. No one should even think of doing that; in fact, no one can do that because there is no way to subscribe to my Mythical Picking service other than to read on from here. It would be the height of folly for anyone to use any information here as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb one would have to be to do that:

    You think “Instagram” is having your grandmother on speed-dial.

General Comments:

In the battle for “supremacy” in the AFC South, the Texans beat the Colts 16-10. The Texans won in Indy for the first time in franchise history – and remember, since these teams are in the same division, the Texans have played the Colts in Indy every year of their existence. It was not that long ago when the Colts were on a winning streak and people were asking – in a serious tone of voice – if the Colts should keep playing Matt Hasselbeck at QB even if Andrew Luck were healthy enough to return to action. Look, Matt Hasselbeck is a warrior and he has earned every dime of whatever his contract calls for him to make. However, behind that marginal OL, he has taken a beating – as did Andrew Luck – and Hasselbeck’s 40-year old body is just not ready to take much more of the same.

The Texans’ defense dominated the game. The Colts managed only 190 yards total offense in the game and a truly meager 68 yards of offense in the second half of the game. The Texans started TJ Yates at QB but he went down with an ACL injury; their starter, Brian Hoyer, is still in the concussion protocol – the second time this year he has been part of that convention. Coming off the bench to “save the day” was none other than Brandon Weeden. There is some delicious irony here:

    On the same weekend that Brandon Weeden “guided” the Texans to a win that puts the Texans in position to make the AFC Playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys were eliminated from the NFC Playoffs.

    Dallas had to replace its starting QB for reasons of inadequacy and turned to Kellen Moore. Weeden was no longer available to them.

    Now, if Hoyer is still not cleared to play and if the Texans make the playoffs, Weeden will be the QB for a team from Texas in the playoffs. Simultaneously, the Cowboys will be sitting at home watching the games.

Please do not misinterpret what I just said. Brandon Weeden still has a long way to go if he is to be labeled as a journeyman back-up QB. But, he took the fall in Dallas for the Cowboys’ demise in the middle of the season and none of the QB play for the Cowboys since his departure has been even as good as mediocre. Nice move by the folks in Dallas who do “roster building”…

The Jets needed a field goal with about 30 seconds left in the game to beat the Cowboys 19-16 last week. The Cowboys lifted Ryan Mallet and inserted Kellen Moore for his first extended action in an actual NFL game. He threw a TD pass in the first half to give the Cowboys a halftime lead; unfortunately, he also threw 3 INTs as rookie QBs are wont to do.

    With this win, the Jets remain in the midst of the AFC wild card picture with the same record as the Chiefs and the Steelers.

    With this loss, the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Even Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother cannot help them now.

The Cardinals easily handled the Eagles by a score of 40-17. Rookie RB, David Johnson from Northern Iowa, had himself a game. He ran for 187 yards and 3 TDs leading a Cardinals’ running game that gained 230 yards on the ground. The win was the 12th one for the Cardinals and it marks the first time in franchise history that a Cards’ team has won 12 games.

    I mentioned above that the Texans beat the Colts in Indy for the first time in franchise history; that history only goes back to 2002.

    The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been around for a while with incarnations as the Chicago Cardinals (1920 – 1960) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1961 – 1987) before becoming the Arizona Cardinals.

The Eagles did nothing to help their cause by turning the ball over 4 times in the second half of a game where they only trailed 17-10 at halftime.

The Panthers remained undefeated last week beating the Giants 38-35. The Panthers led 35-7 late in the 3rd quarter and had the game on cruise control thereby letting the Giants score 28 straight points to tie the game. At that point, Cam Newton put it back in “serious mode” and led the Panthers to the game-winning field goal. For the game, Cam Newton became the first QB in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and throw for 5 TDs in the same game.

Here is something I said in last week’s Mythical Picks:

“For the ‘game within a game’ think about seeing Odell Beckham, Jr. being covered all day long by Josh Norman. That alone could be worth the price of admission.”

I wish that confrontation had limited itself to straight football. The antics by both players was unattractive at best and closer to disgusting on the spectrum of behaviors. Without rehashing here is my reaction to what happened:

    Odell Beckham Jr. deserved a suspension. His targeted head shot to Norman was despicable. Frankly, I think he deserves a suspension much longer than a single game.

    Josh Norman did not distinguish himself with his actions in the game. He is a defensive back and not a ju-jitsu competitor. He was flagged for 2 penalties and could easily have been flagged for a half-dozen.

    Where was the “leadership” on the sidelines from players and/or coaches to put a stop to the nonsense on the field?

    How did the officials allow that kind of thing to escalate? Yes, they called penalties on some of the confrontations; when that did not work, why did they allow the combatants to remain in the game?

The Skins took over the lead in the NFC East beating the Bills 35-25 in a game that was not that close; the Skins led 28-3 and controlled every phase of the game. The Bills’ season was on the precipice; if they lost, they were done; even if they won, they needed some other things to break in their favor, but a loss was going to be catastrophic. In that milieu, they came out as flat as Kansas. The Bills are now out of the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. I guess you can hang some of the blame on the coaching staff for the team coming out flat; I know you can hand some of the blame on the coaching staff for these two events in the game:

    In the first half, the Bills used a timeout with 13:13 left to play in the first quarter. No one had worked up a sweat after only 1:47 of action and the Bills had to burn a timeout.

    In the second half, the Bills used a timeout with 11:02 left to play in the third quarter. After 20 minutes of halftime to get organized and to get things straight about what had to be done in the second half to salvage the game, the team was sufficiently discombobulated that it had to burn a timeout after only 3:58 of action.

The Pats beat the Titans 33-16 last week. Just as the Cardinals unleashed a new RB on the Eagles, the Pats put Joey Iosefa into NFL action for the first time. Iosefa played at Hawaii in college; he was drafted by the Bucs this year and played for the Brooklyn Bolts in the FXFL (the Fall Experimental Football League) this year. Last week, he carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards playing the role vacated by LeGarrette Blount due to Blount’s hip injury. Iosefa is listed as 6’0” and 247 lbs.

Marcus Mariota had to leave the game in the second quarter with a knee injury; frankly, I do not think that changed the outcome of the game at all.

The Chargers beat the Dolphins 30-14. If that was indeed the last game for the Chargers in San Diego, at least they go out with a win. On the other hand, it was a contest that sought to identify the least worst team in town that day. The Dolphins were indeed the worse of the two pounding out all of 77 yards of offense in the first half. Danny Woodhead caught 3 TD passes in the game.

The Lions beat the Saints 35-27 in a meaningless game that was not particularly entertaining to watch. Here is how bad it was:

    During a timeout, I went grazing through the cable channels on my system and I discovered that there was a pro ‘rassling exhibition on the air on another channel.

    I went back to the football game – – but I wondered how many other fans would have done that if they had made the same discovery that I did. The game was indeed, that bad…

The Saints’ pass defense is poised to be the labeled the worst pass defense in NFL history. The record for most passing TDs allowed is 40 and it was set by the Denver Broncos back in the wild-and-wooly days of the AFL in the early 1960s. With two games left to play, the Saints have given up 39 passing TDs – – almost 3 per game. The next two opponents for the Saints will be the Jags and the Falcons. The question is this:

    What will be the passing combination that scores the 41st passing TD this season hanging that level of humiliation on this Saints’ defense?

One of the Saints’ defenders has already set an NFL record with two games still to play. Brandon Browner has now committed the most penalties called on an individual player in NFL history. The previous record was 22; Browner has already taken the flag 24 times in 2015 and 21 of those penalties have been accepted. As a DB, Browner’s penalties have been very serious in that they give the opposition a first down. Here is a breakdown:

    Defensive holding: This is always a first down; there have been 11 of those.

    Pass interference: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Face mask: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Unnecessary roughness: This is always a first down; there have been 3 of those.

    Illegal contact: This is always a first down; there has been 1 of those.

The Steelers beat the Broncos 34-27 last week rallying from a 27-13 deficit at halftime. When asked how the team did that, Mike Tomlin had a simple explanation:

“We stopped kicking our own butts.”

Indeed, the Steelers shut out the Broncos in the second half but it was more than just keeping them out of the end zone; the Steelers dominated the second half. The Broncos had the ball 9 times in the second half and here are the results of those ‘drives”;

    Punt – one more time
    Punt – yet again
    Ball goes over on downs
    Ball goes over on downs

If I have read the game chart correctly, the most productive drive for the Broncos in the second half was a 4-play drive that gained 29 yards before ending in a punt. The total yardage amassed by the Broncos in the second half was 72 yards. Brock Osweiler has done some really nice things in his first starting QB opportunities this year; the second half of this game was not one of those really nice things.

The Bengals survived their first week having to start back up QB, AJ McCarron; the Bengals beat the Niners 24-14. The game was 24-0 in the second half and the Niners scored twice in what amounted to “extended garbage time”; this was not a close game at all. Blaine Gabbert threw the ball 50 times in this game; 3 of those were INTs. The only real bright spot for the Niners was that it held the Bengals’ running game in check; the Bengals ran the ball 36 times for 68 yards – less than 2 yards per attempt.

The Chiefs beat the Ravens 34-14; it was the 8th straight win for the Chiefs after a 5-game losing streak that had the team record at 1-5 back in October. The Chiefs scored twice on defense; one was a long “scoop and score” after a fumble; the other was a “Pick Six”. The Ravens scored one of their TDs on the final play of the first half with a Hail Mary pass from 50 yards out.

The Seahawks beat the Browns 30-13. Russell Wilson had another highly efficient day gong 21-30 for 249 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Doug Baldwin caught 2 of those TD passes. Johnny Manziel played QB for the Browns and he played well enough to demonstrate that the Browns need to consider him as their QB for next year if they do not stumble across a better candidate between now and the start of training camp in 2016. The Seahawks’ defense is really playing well; against that unit, Manziel was 19-32 for 161 yards plus 1 TD and 1 INT. Those are not eye-popping numbers, but they are not “throw-up all over your shoes numbers” either. The Browns only managed to run 52 plays in this game.

The Vikings beat the Bears 38-17 and maintained their position in the NFC wild card picture. The Bears’ OL seemingly took the day off because the Vikes sacked Jay Cutler 5 times in this game. Terry Bridgewater threw 4 TDs in the game and ran for the other score himself. The outcome of this game was not in doubt for long…

The Packers beat the Raiders 30-20 holding onto their 1-game lead in the NFC North. The Raiders defense played well here; they held Aaron Rodgers to 204 yards passing and the Packers offense to a total of only 293 yards. Often, that is enough to win a game but last week Derek Carr had a really bad game. He threw 2 INTs; one of them was a “Pick Six”; the other gave the Packers the ball in the Raiders’ red zone; those two throws basically handed 14 points over to the Packers. Amari Cooper continued to show that he is going to be an elite WR in this league; he caught 6 passes last week for 120 yards and 2 TDs.

The Falcons beat the Jags 23-17. This win brings the Falcons back to .500 and the loss shows that the Jags are not yet ready for prime-time despite being only one game out of first place in the AFC South at kickoff time. The win snapped a 5-game losing streak for the Falcons and may have lowered owner Arthur Blank’s blood pressure to manageable levels. Julio Jones caught 9 passes for 119 yards and a TD; not a bad performance. The game was tied at 17-17 after 3 quarters; the Falcons got 2 field goals in the 4th quarter, but the story was the performance of the Falcons’ defense in the 4th quarter to seal the win:

    1st Jax possession: 3-and-out, minus-5 yards, 1 minute 25 seconds.

    2nd Jax possession: 3-and-out, 6 yards, 1 minute 49 seconds.

    3rd Jax possession: 6 plays, 30 yards, 39 seconds, ball goes over on downs.

The Games:

(Thurs Nite 12/24) San Diego at Oakland – 6 (46.5): Last week, the Chargers played what may have been their last game in San Diego and they used that as a momentum builder in a game against a less-than-mediocre Dolphins squad. Flip the script here. The Raiders are playing what may be their last game in Oakland (the Raiders go on the road next week to KC) against a less-than-mediocre opponent. In terms of anything else that might give meaning to this contest, the only thing I can come up with is this:

    If the Raiders win, they will avoid another double-digit losing season – something they seem to have specialized in over the last decade or so.

That is not exactly a rousing locker room speech… Nonetheless, I’ll take the Raiders and lay the points.

(Sat Nite 12/26) Washington at Philly – 3 (47): If the Skins win, they are the NFC East champion and go to the playoffs; if the Skins lose, it is still a 3-way race in the NFC East. On defense, the Skins give up 370 yards per game putting them 25th in the NFL; the Eagles give up 393.3 yards per game putting them 29th. I see points happening in this game so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite 12/27) Giants at Minnesota – 5.5 (45.5): This is the “flex game” for the week. The Giants have to win if they want to stay in the NFC East 3-way race – assuming the Eagles beat the Skins on Saturday night. If that incentive is gone, the Giants have nothing to play for and with Odell Beckham Jr. suspended they have a seriously diminished squad to play with. The Vikes can cement themselves in the NFC playoffs with win. The availability/effectiveness of Adrian Peterson is up in the air; he left last week’s game with an ankle injury and did not practice on Wednesday this week. Still, I do like the Vikes ability to throw the ball against the Giants’ meager pass defense. I’ll take the Vikes at home and lay the points.

Chicago at Tampa – 3 (45.5): So far, I have been able to impute some sort of value to the games on the menu for the week. For this one, it is a stretch indeed. The Bucs still have a shot at finishing at .500 for the season if they win out; the Bears – – well, they are sure to show up for the rest of their scheduled games. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game; the coin says to take the Bears plus the points. Remember folks, these are Mythical Picks done for fun…

Carolina – 7 at Atlanta (47): The Panthers continue their quest for an undefeated season; the Falcons continue their quest for time off in January. Last time these teams met in Charlotte, the final score was 38-0; presumably that will give the Falcons some reason to play with a tad of emotion. Maybe the way the Falcons’ defense showed up in the 4th quarter last week (see above) was a portent of their effort this week? Purely a hunch, make this a venue call; I’ll take the Falcons plus the points.

Dallas at Buffalo – 6 (42.5): The Total Line opened the week at 44 and has been sagging all week long. You can find it at 42 at one Internet sportsbook this morning. Kellen Moore gets his first NFL start against the Bills’ defense. I am not a Rex Ryan acolyte, but he does present a defense that has a variety of ways to play; a first time starter might have some difficulty with that. Moore has been in the NFL for 4 seasons but last week was his first action in a real game; I think he might just be faked out with some of the wrinkles the Bills will show him here. One would think the venue would be part of the selection here but the Bills are only 3-3 at home while the Cowboys are much better on the road than they are at home. This year the Cowboys are 3-4 on the road and 1-6 at home. I like the Bills to win and cover.

Jax at New Orleans – 3.5 (51.5): This game got lots of consideration from the Selection Committee for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Both teams are 5-9; it is an inter-conference game so there is no sort of natural rivalry involved between teams that meet – on balance – once every 4 years. The only thing here that might be interesting would be a shoot-out. Both teams can score; the Saints are 9th in the NFL in points per game and the Jags are 12th; given their records you should expect that both defenses leave something to be desired. Because I said there would be a pick for e very game, I’ll take this game to go OVER.

SF at Detroit – 9.5 (43): The spread opened at 7.5 and has been climbing all week; you can find it as high as 10 points at 2 sportsbooks this morning. Here we have the winner for the title of Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Look, the Niners are a bad team and they are on the road where their record this year is 1-6. However, I am not sanguine about taking the Lions and laying more than a TD against another team consisting of guys who collect paychecks for playing football. I will hold my nose and avert my eyes as I take the Niners plus the points here.

Cleveland at KC – 12 (43): The Chiefs have won 8 in a row; if they win out, they are guaranteed a wild-card slot in the playoffs and they could still be the AFC West champions and host a playoff game. The Browns – – are the Browns. However, that is an awfully fat line – almost as fat as Andy Reid. I’ll take the Browns plus the points even though I have no inkling that they might win the game outright.

Indy at Miami – 2.5 (44): The spread opened at 1 point and has moved up as the week progressed. The Dolphins are 5-9; they are out of the playoffs; at home this year they are only 2-4. And they are favored here over a Colts’ team that is 6-8 (better overall record) and 3-4 on the road (better record than the Dolphins at home). The Colts can still win the AFC South but that depends on them winning out. I do not understand this line. Therefore, I will go with my gut and take the Colts plus the points.

New England – 3.5 at Jets (46): The Pats are guaranteed a Bye Week in the playoffs; as of this morning, they hold a 1-game lead over the Bengals and a 2-game lead over the Broncos for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That sounds like lots of incentive for this game until you consider what the Jets are looking at. The only way into the playoffs for the Jets is as a wild card; as of this morning, the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers have identical records at 9-5. However, if all three wind up with the same record at the end of the season, the Jets will lose out on tie-breakers. Therefore, the Jets have to win out AND have either the Steelers or Chiefs lose one of their final 2 games. This week, the Steelers play the Ravens and the Chiefs play the Browns and both are double-digit favorites. The Jets have to win this game. The Jets normally play the Pats well and they are at home. I like that hook on top of a field-goal’s worth of points in the spread. I’ll take the Jets plus the points.

Houston at Tennessee (no lines): The starting QB for both teams remains up in the air as of this morning so the lack of any lines is no surprise. In terms of motivation, the Texans lead their division by a game; if they win out, they make the playoffs. The Titans sport the worst record in the NFL as of this morning; enough said. Bottom Line:

    I can’t make a pick if there are no lines.

Green Bay at Arizona – 4 (49.5): Both of these teams are going to be in the NFC playoffs. The Packers currently lead the Vikes in the NFC North and the division winner hosts a game so there is incentive there. The Cards can still get home field advantage by winning out so long as the Panthers lose out too. Hey, it could happen. While it might seem as if the Packers have the motivational edge, I think that will not be enough to overcome the edge the Cards have on offense against the Packers’ defense. I like the Cards at home to win and cover.

St Louis at Seattle – 13 (40.5): The Total Line opened at 42 and dropped to this level very quickly. I like both defenses in this game and you could convince me that the Rams will struggle to score more than 13 points. However, even in that scenario, covering 13 pints is a challenge. Last week, the Seahawks covered 15 points against the Browns; the Rams are hardly a top-shelf team, but they are better than the Browns. I’ll take the Rams plus the points.

Pittsburgh – 10 at Baltimore (47): The Steelers are on a roll; they have won 3 in a row and 5 of their last 6 games. Even in their most recent loss, they scored 30 points on the Seahawks’ defense. In the last 6 games the Steelers are scoring an average of 35 points per game. The Ravens are reduced to playing their JV squad. As mentioned above relative to the Jets’ playoff situation, the Steelers will make the playoffs with a three-way tie for the wild card but the only way for the Steelers to assure that sort of thing is to win out. They play an out-manned Ravens’ squad this week and the Browns next week. If they lose a game there, it will be a self-inflicted wound. I do not think the Ravens can keep this one close. I’ll take the Steelers and lay all of those points even on the road.

(Mon Nite 12/28) Cincy at Denver – 3.5 (40.5): The Total Line opened at 42, dropped to this level right away and has stayed here for the balance of the week. This is the Game of the Week – and ESPN deserves a good game for MNF after last week’s Saints/Lions hot mess. The Broncos are 10-4; the Bengals are 11-3; both of them are looking up at the Pats who are 12-2. Two of those three teams will have a Bye Week in the Playoffs and one of them will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Broncos win keeps their hopes alive for a Bye Week; a loss dooms those hopes. Both defenses are top-shelf; the Broncos lead the NFL in yards allowed per game and the Bengals are 9th in the league. Both teams will start inexperienced QBs meaning that offensive stats for the entire season are not really applicable here. I see this game going down to the final possession in a game were points will be scarce. Therefore, I will take the Bengals plus the points.

This is the last offering of Mythical Picks for the calendar year and for the NFL regular season. Family events will preclude Mythical Picks for Week 17 but absent some sort of cataclysm, I will be back in the Mythical Picking arena for the start of the NFL playoffs in January.

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

NFL Housecleanings … ?

We are at the point in the NFL season where speculation heats up with regard to coaches who are likely to be replaced in the upcoming off-season. To be sure, those sorts of discussions have begun but there seem to be other sorts of musings this year in addition to coaches on the hot seat. This year, there are reports/fantasies regarding NFL owners who are going to “clean house” in the front office or at least make significant changes in that part of their organization. Here is a sampling of what I have been reading/hearing and some of my thoughts on those musings.

In the AFC:

    Browns: Jimmy Haslem bought the team in 2012. In 3 seasons he has had 2 head coaches and the current head coach is not on the firmest ground you can imagine. He has also gotten rid of 1 Team President and 2 GMs since buying the team. Reports say he might be ready for another shake-up. Why not? The current regime is not exactly setting the world on fire. On the other hand, this sort of turmoil and instability cannot be attractive to the top-shelf candidates in the coaching/exec world. As miserable as this season has been, it might behoove Haslem to leave things alone – if he can.

    Titans: The coach is already gone and the interim replacement has not distinguished himself. Reports that ownership may be looking to sell the team is not particularly attractive but there are persistent reports that Peyton Manning and Bill Polian might be looking to join forces to run a football operation together and that Polian has his eye on Tennessee – where Peyton Manning happened to go to college. Polian is in the Hall of Fame as an exec; Manning surely knows something about the game. The current roster needs an overhaul and the Titans will have a top pick this year after grabbing their supposed franchise QB last year. This could be an interesting job situation.

    Colts: Given Jim Irsay’s comments about the team and the coach before and during the season, I doubt Chuck Pagano will be back unless the Colts win the Super Bowl – which they will not. The problem with the Colts job is the mirror-image of the problem with the Browns’ job. The Browns have instability; the Colts have stability – but that stability is named Jim Irsay. These jobs seem to me to be a “pick your poison situation”. Reports are that Irsay wants to trade draft picks to get Sean Payton as the coach; if that happens, you may be sure that Payton will demand to come with his own hand-picked GM or to be the coach/GM himself. Remember, Irsay is the guy who fired Bill Polian…

    Bills: The team is a mess and they are playing worse as the season wears on. Rex Ryan is still the new kid on the block so I guess he is safe but the roster is simply not strong enough or balanced enough to be a playoff team. If there are any changes in store here, I would look for the GM to take the fall.

    Dolphins: They have fired the coach and some coordinators and the team is still mediocre on its best days. Owner Stephen Ross is impulsive and is one given to “splashy hires”. If the Saints are serious about letting Sean Payton walk in exchange for draft picks, it would not be surprising to see the Dolphins in the midst of the bidding. On the other hand, Payton might look at the roster and wonder what he is supposed to do with it if he does not have draft picks… The head of football operations is Mike Tannenbaum who used to be the Jets’ GM and he is new enough that he might survive a purge, but the GM himself…??? The key question here might be, how do Mike Tannenbaum and Sean Payton get along?

    Chargers: With the team nominally poised to move to LA, they will need to kickstart interest in a team with a 4-10 record as of this morning. After two seasons with 9-7 records, the Chargers fell way short of expectations this year. However, they gave the GM, Tom Telesco, a 3-year contract extension back in the Spring of 2015 so it will cost them money to move him out. The coach, Mike McCoy, on the other hand…

In the NFC:

    Lions: You can always count on the Lions to do something off-center. This year they have fired their GM and other front office folks and their offensive coordinator and – – you get the idea. The guy they retained is head coach, Jim Caldwell. Given how poorly the Lions have played – after winning 11 games and making the playoffs last year – Caldwell’s presence means one of two things:

      He will be fired within 48 hours of the Lions’ final game – or –
      He will be the Lions’ coach for life.

    My money is on the former putting the Lions in the position of replacing just about everyone from the ticket sales manager on up. Former GM Ernie Accorsi has been hired by the Lions to consult with them as they look for a new GM but at age 75, Accorsi is probably not interested in doing the job himself.

    Niners: They are in medias res with regard to changing the management structure. It began with last year’s power struggle wherein Jim Harbaugh “opted to leave” and take the job at Michigan. The new folks in charge could not land a top-shelf coaching candidate and handed the job to Jim Tomsula who had never been a coordinator. Tomsula is a nice guy by every report but is also someone considered to be significantly over his head in his job. Now, if the Niners fire Tomsula after only one year, what sort of message might that send to front office and coaching candidates? The problem in SF is squarely one of ownership.

    Rams: This has been a disappointing season for the Rams and various rumors have owner Stan Kroenke starting over from scratch. I do not think that is likely to happen because I think Kroenke has much bigger issues to take up his time and attention than the coach and GM for his football team. According to reports, Rams’ GM, Les Snead’s contract is over at the end of this year, so if Kroenke wants to make a change, that makes it relatively easy. I believe that Fisher has one more year to go on his contract and that it would take something slightly north of $7M to buy him out.

    Falcons: There are plenty of reports that Arthur Blank is poised to make sweeping changes in the football organization. Remember, Coach Dan Quinn only arrived on the scene last February and he signed a 5-year deal which also gives him control over the 53-man roster for the team. “Sweeping changes” would likely have to include getting rid of the relatively new coach and paying off 4 years out of a 5-year deal is not going to sit well with any owner no matter how much his net worth might be.

    Giants: Ownership cannot be happy with the way this season has unfolded given that the Giants are in the hugely mediocre NFC East and are sitting in 3rd place in that pile of mediocrity as of this morning. The roster has a couple of star players and a bunch of journeymen; the coach has two Super Bowl wins on his ledger in the past 8 seasons. Tom Coughlin will be 70 years old when the NFL season starts next year; he may choose to retire but if he chooses not to retire, it might be a tough call for the owners to fire him. Ergo, if they feel they have to make changes, it might be only in the front office where change is easily accomplished.

    Eagles: Chip Kelly now does it all in Philly and while it is still possible for the Eagles to make the playoffs, the season has to be considered “unsatisfactory”. A large – and very vocal – segment of the Eagles’ fanbase would welcome Kelly’s departure from either or both jobs that he now holds down. In fact, some would be more than willing to provide transportation for him and his family to the airport. I do not see Jeffrey Lurie firing Coach Kelly; I doubt he will fire GM Kelly, but if he feels he has to make a change, it will be in the GM position.

As mentioned a couple of times above, the New Orleans Saints are a wildcard in all of this because they might be willing to “trade” coach Sean Payton at the end of this year. I think several of the teams mentioned here could be interested in acquiring Payton but there is another team that could be “in the mix”. The Dallas Cowboys might lust after Payton; Jerry Jones has praised him publicly in the past and the Cowboys hardly performed well on the field this year. However, one thing is for certain; Jerry Jones is not going to fire the Cowboys’ GM because the Cowboys’ GM is the same Jerry Jones who owns the team. So, if the Cowboys are seriously part of the expected “Sean Payton Sweepstakes”, it will be a simple coaching transaction and Payton will have to accept the GM in place – who is actually the GM for life.

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

College Football Bowl Games

A whole bunch of the college football bowl games have already happened. I have not been glued to my TV set for fear of missing some important event for most of the games. I did watch most of the Utah/BYU game because of the rivalry angle involved and what looked like a blowout early – 35-0 in the first half – turned out to be a 35-28 game with some excitement at the end. I do not want to harp on the fact that there are too many bowl games; you already know my position on that. Rather I want to talk about some of the economics of bowl games as they apply to the schools involved.

When schools accept bowl invitations, one of the strings attached to the invitation is that each bowl game will require the schools to sell an allotment of tickets to the game. If they do not meet the allotment, the school then owes the bowl committee the value of the unsold tickets. That is one of the reasons that I check in on many of the bowl games for enough time to get a couple of broad crowd shots on my TV. I want to see how full the stands are and – if possible – how big the cheering sections for both schools may be.

As you may expect, schools in the “prestigious bowl games” – and the ones played on “advantageous dates” – tend to sell out their ticket allotments entirely. For example, Michigan State announced that it has already sold out its allotment of 13,000 tickets for the Cotton Bowl game against Alabama on 31 December. In fact, Michigan State said that it had more than 16,000 requests for tickets and could easily have sold more. The Athletic Department at Michigan State has some sort of relationship with Stub Hub in the ticket reselling business and is directing alumni and other fans to Stub Hub to acquire tickets for the Cotton Bowl game.

Michigan State was in the Cotton Bowl last year playing Baylor but did not sell out its allotment for that game. This year, the Cotton Bowl is a stepping stone to the CFP Championship Game; last year it was merely a bowl game against Baylor. That should give you an indication that fan interest in bowl games – even ones with a long history – is marginal.

At the other end of the spectrum, consider the plight of Washington State as they prepare for the Sun Bowl game against Miami in El Paso, TX on 26 December. Washington State’s allotment is 6,000 tickets and based on a report late last week, they had only sold 1,900 of them. Let me try to figure out why:

    El Paso is a couple thousand miles from Pullman WA. Attending the game is going to cost a lot more than the cost of the tickets plus parking.

    The game is the day after Christmas. Fans will either spend Christmas away from home or will have to make a long journey with flight connections on game day.

    Miami is not a “big rivalry game”.

    El Paso is not exactly a tourist mecca or a “destination city”.

Washington State is probably going to eat the cost of at least half of their ticket allotment in addition to whatever costs it incurs in shipping the team and the coaching staff and the band and the cheerleaders to the venue; it is part of the cost of doing business in college football.

I am not picking on Washington State; their situation is mirrored at loads of other schools who are playing in games at inconvenient times against opponents with little meaning to their fans in inconvenient places at inconvenient times. So, why do teams accept bids to play in these minor bowl games in the first place? The reason is that coaches love them for the following reason:

    Teams not in bowl games had their last practices in late November or the first week of December. Teams in bowl games get to practice up until the time of the game. That gives “bowl teams” an extra 2 – 4 weeks of practice before the players show up for spring practices when the weather is nicer.

    Coaches love the extra practice time that non-bowl teams are not allowed to have.

That is correct; the college football system is set up to take the better teams this year – the ones nominally at or over .500 – and give them a greater advantage over the teams that were not-so-good this year. It is sort of the NFL Draft system with the logic inverted; it would be as if the team that won the Super Bowl would get the overall #1 pick…

The whole business of getting fans to travel long distances over the Holidays to go and see a meaningless football game is going on in the face of data saying that overall attendance at college football games is in decline. According to a report at, average attendance at a college football game this year was 43,288 fans. That is down from last year; it continues a slow 5-year decline and it is down 7% from the peak average attendance of 45,456 in 2008.

The “major conferences” were well above this average but the “minor conferences were not. To fill all of the minor bowl games, they need lots of schools from the “minor conferences” where fans do not show up when the games are conveniently on campus. In 2015, 29 schools had average attendance at home games below 20,000 fans.

    10 schools in the MAC were under 20,000; 5 averaged less than 15,000; 2 MAC schools averaged less than 8,000 fans per game.

    7 schools in the Sun Belt were under 20,000; 3 averaged less than 15,000 fans per game.

      [Aside: Idaho is in the Sun Belt Conference. Do they teach geography at Idaho?]

    6 schools in Conference USA were under 20,000; 2 averaged less than 15,000 fans per game.

    3 schools in the Mountain West were under 20,000 fans per game.

I understand that watching many of these teams play football is a lot more comfortable when done on TV. I also understand that football is not a big tradition at many of these schools. Nonetheless, it does point out that it is not going to be easy to get fans from those schools to undertake the expense and the inconvenience of Holiday travel just to see another football game that might well be ignored if it were played across the street.

Finally, there are these facts from one of the 2015 college bowl games that is already in the books:

    San José St (average attendance 15,312) beat Georgia St (average attendance 10,347) 27-16 in the Cure Bowl game held at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL.

    With that win, San José St. ended its season with a record of 6-7.

    With that loss, Georgia St. ended its season with a record of 6-7.

    The Citrus Bowl seats 70,000 fans; the announced attendance for the game was 18,000 souls. Even with that obviously inflated report of the attendance, the Citrus Bowl was 75% empty.

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

The Dark Side Of Money And Sports…

In the Super Bowl of corruption, the two favorites are always the IOC and FIFA. Because of recent headlines, FIFA is the current favorite in that despicable contest. This morning there are reports that “the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee” – let the fact of the existence of such a body wash over you for just a moment here – had issued 8-year bans from any and all soccer related activities to Sepp Blatter and Michael Platini. Blatter was the guy who ran FIFA for the last umpty-squat years; Platini was the guy in charge of UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations. Adding just a pinch of irony here, Platini and Blatter were rivals in the soccer world; in the last FIFA election, Platini was one of the people who campaigned against Blatter citing the bad reputation FIFA had with Blatter in the driver’s seat. Now, both of them will be “off the pitch” so to speak. Platini was also one of the candidates angling to replace Blatter in the new FIFA election that will happen next year to replace Blatter after Blatter resigned several months ago.

This matter stems from an investigation that has roots in the Swiss Attorney General’s office and in the US Department of Justice. One of the matters at hand is an alleged “disloyal payment” involving millions of dollars made by FIFA to Platini for services nominally rendered by Platini about 15 years ago. The Swiss Attorney General alleges that Blatter knew of said “disloyal payment”. The FIFA Ethics Committee dusted off the FIFA Code of Ethics and discovered that there are sections within said Code dealing with Bribery and Corruption. To the surprise of many folks, those sections of the Code actually had negative things to say about bribery and corruption. Blatter and Platini were obviously surprised to learn of the negative aspects of the Code of Ethics with regard to bribery and corruption.

    Blatter is 87 years old. He has the right to appeal his banishment but let me assume for a moment that he chooses not to do that or that the ban is upheld. An 8-year ban for him is a lifetime ban for all practical purposes.

    Platini is 60 years old. He too can appeal this ruling. In any event, he will be able to return to the sport in whatever capacity he might carve out for himself at age 68. We may not have heard the last from or about him.

I mentioned above that the US Department of Justice was involved in an investigation of FIFA regarding an alleged bribe paid to FIFA of $100M by a now-defunct sports marketing organization called ISL. According to reports, a former FIFA official/employee/whistleblower/whatever told the FBI about the payment itself and that Blatter specifically knew of the payment/bribe.

We will rehash some if not much of this matter down the line when/if either Blatter or Platini appeals this banishment and/or when FIFA holds is new elections for a new major domo early in 2016. Until then, recall that the alleged bribes and payments involved in these investigations involve millions of dollars to Platini and $100M to FIFA and then consider that the Ethics Committee also fined these men the following amounts:

    Blatter was fined $50,000
    Platini was fined $80,000.

Those seem like an awfully small “cost of doing business” to me…

Dwight Perry had this comment in a recent column in the Seattle Times:

“Swiss government agents swept into a Zurich luxury hotel and hauled off 16 more FIFA officials on corruption charges.

“In lieu of arrest warrants, the feds stormed in holding up red cards.”

Let me switch gears here and talk about another sports-related situation involving money, a court proceeding and a former athlete. Clinton Portis was a running back for the Broncos and the Skins over a 9-year period. According to reports, he made over $40M in his career and he is now in bankruptcy court. Those proceedings reveal some details of his personal financial situation that would normally be hidden from sight and those details are strange indeed.

He owes creditors a tad over $4.8M; his income now consists of $3500 a month from the NFL in disability payments plus $1000 a month as a sideline reporter for Skins’ games on local broadcasts. That comes to $54K per year; even if every dime of that income went to pay the creditors, it would take almost 90 years to cover the debt – at 0% interest. That is not the strange aspect of this situation; bankruptcy always involves a huge imbalance of debts to assets. What is unusual in this case is the nature of the debts; this is a partial list:

    Portis owes a bit over $400K in domestic support payments to 4 different women.

    He owes about $400K in back taxes.

    He owes $1.2M in “mortgage deficiencies”.

    He owes $170K to the Borgata in Atlantic City

    He owes $287K to MGM Grand

    He owes $500K to a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and CNN.

    He owes $500K to his mother.

The first five entries above are surprising in the sense that they are awfully large amounts of money in those “debt categories”; the last two entries above are simply unusual. As part of this filing there is another strange assertion for the court. Portis claims to have lost – and is trying to recover – $8M from a company that took his money and invested it in a casino venture that went belly-up. I know nothing about the details of that “investment” or anything about the company or the nature of the relationship between Portis and that company. Here is what I do know:

    It is really difficult to go broke running a casino.

Finally, sticking with matters involving sports and money, here is a comment from bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Loose change: Just in case Nick Saban’s $6.9 million yearly salary from Alabama isn’t enough to, you know, tide him over, he receives a $125,000 bonus for capturing the SEC title.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 12/20/15

Regarding last week’s Mythical Picks, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the picks last week were better than the embarrassingly bad picks from two weeks ago (5-11-0). The bad news is that last week’s picks were not sufficiently better to enable them to reach the .500 level. Last week’s record was 7-9-0 bringing the overall season record to 103-109-5. The only Coin Flip Game last week was a loser; that drops the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game record to 14-17-1.

The “Best Picks” from last week involved the Broncos/Raiders’ game. I took the game to stay Under 43 and it did; I also took the Raiders plus 7 points and the Raiders won straight up.

The “Worst Picks” from last week were taking the Falcons plus 8 points against the Panthers and watching them lose 38-0. Also, I took the Chiefs/Chargers game to go OVER 45 and the total score was a meager 13 points.

Nevertheless, a new weekend and a fresh menu of games stands in front of me for picking this week. Naturally, no one should read anything here and take it to be sufficiently informative that one would use said information as the basis for making a real wager on a real NFL game involving real money. One would have to be pretty stupid to do such a thing; here is how stupid:

    You could be tripped up by the cord on a cell phone.

General Comments:

The Dallas Cowboys are not mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoffs despite their 4-9 record because they happen to reside in the NFC East were the other three teams are either miserable or inconsistent or both. The Cowboys actually have a path to become the division winner – and thereby claim a spot in the playoffs – should they win out and every other game involving the other three NFC East teams goes according to a Cowboy-friendly script.

The three upcoming opponents for the Cowboys are the Jets, the Bills (in Buffalo) and the Skins. That is not necessarily a “Trifecta of Doom” although every one of those opponents has a better record than do the Cowboys. Let me just say that while the Cowboys have a path to the playoffs, it is not a path without significant obstacles.

Perhaps one of the Cowboys’ positive assets as they aim to win their final three games is that owner/GM Jerry Jones seems to have begun to confront the reality that the Cowboys are not a very good team. No longer is it “Tony Romo’s injuries” that are to blame; perhaps, he is beginning to see that the roster has holes. In the aftermath of last week’s loss to the Packers by 3 TDs, someone asked Jones if Tony Romo’s availability over the course of the season was what stood between the Cowboys and the Panthers or the Cardinals as the elite teams of the NFC. Jones showed a smidgen of awareness and analysis with his answer:

“I don’t have the heart to put us in with those clubs right now, because I don’t want to — we’ve got more work to do than just get Romo healthy.”

With those words, it would seem as if this is one of those rare moments where Jerry Jones’ mind trumps Jerry Jones’ heart. The Cowboys are not an elite team and it would have taken more than a healthy Tony Romo to make them one in 2015. I will posit three areas where the Cowboys needed to be a whole lot better this year to aspire to top-shelf status:

    Run defense: The Cowboys give up 114 yards per game. The elite teams – Panthers and Cardinals – only give up 85 to 87 yards per game.

    Offense: The Cowboys are 28th in the NFL in total offense.

    Pass rush: The Cowboys have 25 sacks this season; just as a reference, the Lions have 34 sacks and the Titans have 35 sacks and no one is confusing either the Lions or the Titans with an elite defense.

One very specific weakness for the Cowboys this season would be painful for Jerry Jones to acknowledge after all that has gone before. Dez Bryant has been awful this year; last week he dropped 3 passes that hit him in both hands; his total production for the game was 1 reception for a grand total of 9 yards. Back in the summer after a holdout that kept Bryant away from all the offseason team activities, GM Jerry Jones signed Bryant to a 5-year contract worth up to $70M with $45M of that contract guaranteed. For that kind of money, it is reasonable to expect a receiver to catch any ball that hits both of his hands and to catch more than one ball in a game.

The other three teams in the NFC East all sport 6-7 records this morning; clearly, each of those teams has a more realistic shot at the division championship and the playoffs than do the Cowboys but none of the three are exactly “reliable”.

    Skins: They are in first place now based on tie-breakers. Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 16-23. However, 2 of the final 3 games are on the road and Skins are 1-5 on the road so far this year.

    Eagles: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 23-16. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

    Giants: Upcoming opponents have a combined record of 27-12. However, 2 of the final 3 games are at home.

Fans of all the NFC East teams will focus on the division race over the next several weeks but I would like to take a moment here to step back and look further down the road. The NFC East winner will almost certainly have to be the #4 seed in the NFC playoffs. That means the NFC East winner – whoever it is – will host the #5 seed and right now, that looks to be the Seattle Seahawks. Given the way the Seahawks have played in their past several games, that is not going to be a walk in the park.

I am not alone in that thinking. In Las Vegas, you can wager on what team will win the NFC Championship in late January. There is no spread involved; you just need to name the winner. The Seahawks are not in first place in their division and have only the slimmest of chances of winning the NFC West. Nonetheless, the odds on the Seahawks being the NFC Champions and playing in the Super Bowl in February are only 3-1 as of this morning. By comparison, here are the odds for all of the NFC East teams to win the NFC Championship:

    Giants: 25-1
    Eagles: 25-1
    Skins: 55-1
    Cowboys: 135-1

I like the Seahawks at 3-1 much better than any of those NFC East teams at those elevated odds.

The AFC South has a similar race going on. The Colts and Texans meet this week to break their tie on top of the division. Both teams bring 6-7 records to the game. Just one game back with 3 left to play are the Jags at 5-8. Here is how Las Vegas assesses the AFC South teams winning the AFC Championship:

    Colts: 20-1
    Texans: 50-1
    Jags: 100-1

Personally, I think the odds for the Colts and the Jags are way too low; those look like sucker bets to me. I do not think the Texans can win the AFC Championship but of the three odds above, I guess the Texans at 50-1 looks like the best one to me.

In last week’s action, the Packers beat the Cowboys 28-7; it was a beat-down. The Packers ran the ball for 231 yards. It would appear as if Aaron Rodgers had an “off game” with only 218 yards but in reality the passing total was low because there was no good reason for the Packers to throw the ball very often. The Cowboys’ pass offense continued to be anemic accounting for only 114 yards and a 455 completion rate.

In that game, it appeared as if the Cowboys were afraid even to try to throw the ball downfield to any of their receivers. I can only recall two “long passes” in the entire game; of the other 27 pass attempts, I would estimate that 22 of those were thrown to receivers less than 10 yards downfield. I understand that there is a backup QB in the game for the Cowboys, but if the offense NEVER takes a shot down the field, the defense can play tight and thwart the short passing game and the running game. The Cowboys had 5 “three-and-outs” in the game and were a miserable 1 for 11 on third down conversions.

The Eagles beat the Bills 23-20 to remain in contention for the NFC East title. The Bills had more total offense and won the “time of possession battle” but they lost the game. Here is why the Bills lost:

    The Bills committed 15 penalties in the game for 101 yards
    The Bills were only 6-16 in third down conversions (38%)
    The Eagles were 9-18 in third down conversions (50%)

The loss dropped the Bills below .500 for the season and dealt a significant blow to any playoff hopes they may have continued to harbor…

The Skins beat the Bears 23-20. For the second week in a row, Robbie Gould missed a field goal that was critical to the game. Two weeks ago, he had a shot at along field goal to win the game; last week he had a medium field goal to tie the game; he missed both of them. That is unusual because for his career, Gould is a very high percentage kicker; his career percentage for field goals made is 85.1%. The Skins were led by TE Jordan Reed who caught 9 passes in the game including one for a TD.

The Giants kept pace in the NFC East beating the Dolphins on Monday night in hot/humid Miami. A screen graphic during the game said it was 74 degrees with 90% humidity; interestingly, as the game wore on, it seemed as if the Dolphins who live and work in that climate were the ones to wilt; the Giants looked fresher and stronger at the end by a significant margin. So much for the Dan Campbell Tough Guy Mode… Eli Manning picked the Dolphins apart all night long. He completed 27 out of 31 pass attempts; that is hard to do in a practice session; on some pass plays, the Giants’ receivers were so wide open that you might have thought they had not showered in a month.

The Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20 last week but the Bengals losses were far more important than this single game. On the same drive, the Bengals lost TE Tyler Eifert and QB Andy Dalton. People have jumped all over backup QB AJ McCarron for saying that he wants to be the second coming of Tom Brady. Of course he hopes to be that; he is a low-round draft pick who has to step in for a successful starting QB who is out with an injury just like Tom Brady. Now, what Brady did with that opportunity was to win 4 Super Bowls and forge a Hall of Fame career; is it shocking to think that McCarron might not want the same thing to happen to him?

Having said that, the odds are against the Bengals right about now and it is possible if they lose all of their remaining games that they may not even make it to the playoffs. The Bengals had dodged the injury bug for the first part of the season but they were severely stung last week. Less visible than the loss of Eifert and Dalton is an injury to Adam Jones in the Bengals secondary. Once Jones got his life under control, he became a very good defensive back; with him out of action here is what Ben Roethlisberger did last week:

    30 for 39 for 282 yards.

Equally important, the Steelers were 8-14 on third down conversions. If the Seahawks are the team in the NFC that one should not aspire to meet in the playoffs, the Steelers are the analogous team in the AFC.

    [Aside: This was not a kinder and gentler year for starting QBs in the AFC North. Roethlisberger, Dalton, Joe Flacco and Josh McCown all spent time on the sidelines recovering from injuries.]

The Browns beat the Niners 24-10. Most folks have focused on the positive aspects of Johnny Manziel’s performance in the game and that is as it should be. The Browns need to see him play real football against NFL defenses in order to assess if he is going to be their “QB Going Forward”. Last week was a positive showing even considering that the opponent was a bottom-feeder; any time a QB leads an offense to 481 yards of total offense in an NFL game, it is a plus. The Niners’ defense ranks 30th in the league; only the Saints and Giants are worse; the Niners yield 402 yards per game.

As marginal as the Niners are on defense, there is a much more serious question that needs asking as a result of last week’s game:

    How on Earth did the Niners give up 9 sacks in a game against the Browns?

    The Browns recorded only 17 sacks in the first 12 games of this season and they got 9 sacks in this one game. Incredible…

Oh, just to complete the reporting on the Niners’ performance last week, they generated all of 48 yards on offense in the first half of the game.

The Seahawks manhandled the Ravens last week 35-6. I do not want to put too fine a point on it, but when a team has to have Jimmy Claussen throw the ball 40 times in a game, that team is not is a good position to win. That is what happened to the Ravens last week – and indeed they did not win. The Seahawks lost RB Thomas Rawls for the rest of the year with a broken bone in his ankle; that will not help the Seahawks but given the way Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockette are lighting it up in the passing game, the Seahawks look to have sufficient offense to stay hot. Also, there is reason to believe that Marshawn Lynch will be back for a playoff run…

The Jags beat the Colts 51-16 last week. In the past two weeks, the Jags have scored 90 points in their two games and their record is 1-1 in those two games. It appears that the offense has come to life in Jax but the defense has gone into hibernation. Actually, the Jags scored on offense and on defense (scoop-and-score on a fumble) and on special teams (punt return). The Colts had won 16 consecutive games over AFC South opponents going into this game; that streak came to a crashing halt here.

There were reports that Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, was so irate at the team performance two weeks ago at Pittsburgh that he left the stadium early, went to his private jet and split; he was not around to see the final score of 45-10 I have not confirmed that with the pilot, but let me assume the reports are accurate. If he was pissed at the team for losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, imagine how he must have felt seeing the Colts dominated by the Jaguars by the same 35-point margin of victory. The Colts squeezed 4 wins out of backup QB, Matt Hasselbeck, in the wake of Andrew Luck suffering a lacerated kidney; it would appear that Hasselbeck’s good fortune has gone the way of Cinderella’s carriage.

Hasselbeck is still #1 on the depth chart despite appearing to injure his throwing shoulder in last week’s game; Charlie Whitehurst is listed as #2 with Andrew Luck at #3 and yet to be healed lacerated kidney. The only other QB on the roster is on the practice squad; Alex Tanney has been in the NFL since 2012 and has been on the practice squads for 6 other teams before signing on with the Colts. If Matt Hasselbeck is indeed injured, the Colts’ QB situation looks rather bleak…

The Texans could not capitalize on the Colt’s misfortunes last week because the Texans had to play the Patriots and the Texans lost 27-6. The focus here was on the return of Rob Gronkowski who had 4 catches and a TD in the game. However, the biggest deal in the game from my perspective was the Pats’ defense which recorded 6 sacks in the game and gave up no TDs. The Texans could only muster 189 yards of offense for the game.

The Pats took advantage of the fact that the Bengals and the Broncos both lost last weekend. The Pats had been the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs last Sunday morning; today they are the #1 overall seed …

The Panthers beat the Falcons 38-0. I saw a bit of the replay of this game and the parts that I saw were pure domination by the Panthers. Falcons’ fans and commentators have been highly critical of Matt Ryan over the past month or so. Ryan did not have anything near a good game here but you cannot pin this loss on his behind. Consider these stats and tell me how the loss could possibly be the fault of the Falcons’ QB:

    Falcons’ defense allowed 3 TDs and 260 yards of offense – – – in the first quarter of the game!

The Saints beat the Bucs 24-17 last week leaving the Bucs 2 games behind the Vikes and the Seahawks for the two wild card slots with only 3 games left to play. Drew Brees threw for 300+ yards and 2 TDs in the game and ended a 4-game losing streak for the Saints. Going into this game, the Saints had the worst defense in the league; the Bucs offense did not exploit that and this week the Saints’ defense ranks 31st in the league. The Giants have taken over the “worst defense” label…

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 10-3. Philip Rivers played the game with a case of the flu and got exactly no support from the Chargers’ running game; they ran the ball 18 times for 44 yards. Rivers also did not get much support from the Chargers’ OL; they allowed the Chiefs to sack Rivers 5 times in the game. Notwithstanding all of that, the Chargers had a chance to tie the game at the end; the final play was an incomplete pass with the ball at the Chiefs’ 1-yardline. The play selection says a lot about the Chargers’ confidence in the run game…

The Raiders beat the Broncos in Denver 15-12 in a strange game indeed. For the entire first half, the Raiders amasses a total of minus-12 yards on offense. They trailed 12-0 because every time the Broncos threatened the end zone, the Raiders’ defense made them kick a field goal. In fact, the Broncos were in the red zone 3 times last week and never crossed the goal line. It is not as if the Raiders’ offense became a force majeure in the second half because the Raiders’ total offense for the day was only 126 yards; teams do not win with that offensive output very often…

There was an incredibly strange call by the Raiders’ coaching staff in this game. Leading 15-12 in the fourth quarter as the result of a Raider’s TD, they decided to go for a 2-point conversion. At that point in the game, leading by 5 points is the same as leading by 4 points; the opposition has to score a TD to get ahead of you. The 2-point conversion try failed and the Raiders then had to defend against a Broncos’ field goal as well as a Broncos’ TD for the balance of the game. Not a good choice there…

Defense dominated in Denver; neither the Broncos nor the Raiders were able to run the ball at all in this game; consider these stats:

    Raiders ran 23 times for 27 yards (1.2 yards per carry)
    Broncos ran the ball 21 times for 34 yards (1.6 yards per carry)
    Raiders sacked Osweiler 5 times for 32 yards
    Broncos sacked Carr 3 times for 36 yards
    Raiders averaged 3.1 yards per pass attempt
    Broncos averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt.

The Rams beat the Lions last week in a meaningless game. In the first half, the Lions were sleepwalking; here is the outcome of their first half possessions:

    Punt, punt, punt again, throw a Pick-Six, punt, time expires.

The Rams did not exactly exploit that largesse; the Rams led 7-0 at the half thanks to that Pick-Six in the middle of those possessions. The Rams did run the ball effectively in the game. Todd Gurley carried 16 times for 140 yards and 2 TDs and the Rams ran for a total of 203 yards in the game.

The Jets beat the Titans 30-8 last week to hold onto the second wild card position in the AFC. I have read this in 3 different places so I believe it to be correct even though I could not prove this to you if pressed:

    If the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers all win out and wind up in a 3-way tie for the 2 AFC wild card slots, the Jets will be the odd-team out.

Jets’ DT, Muhammad Wilkerson had 3 sacks in the game giving him 12 sacks for the year; that is an impressive performance for a defensive tackle – particularly a defensive tackle that will be a free agent in this offseason. Wilkerson and his defensive colleagues held the Titans to 24 yards rushing for the day; they recorded a total of 5 sacks; the Jets’ defense simply dominated the game. On offense, the Jets were in sync too; they racked up 439 yards of offense.

The Cards beat the Vikes 23-20 last week. [Aside: Three games finished with the same 23-20 score last week. That is not a common occurrence nor is that a common final score.] Teddy Bridgewater threw for 317 yards in the game and what became apparent as the game went on was that the Cards had more than a bit of difficulty getting any sort of pass rush on him without bringing at least one and often multiple blitzers.

The Games:

Last night the Rams beat the Bucs 31-23 in a game that was of marginal importance and was of marginal interest. The Rams scooted off to a 14-0 lead early and the game sort of coasted along after that. The loss eliminates the Bucs from the NFC playoffs but they do have 6 wins to this point in the season and considering that they only had 2 wins last year, the improvement has been significant

(Sat Nite) Jets – 3.5 at Dallas (41.5): The spread opened the week at 2.5 points and has been creeping up all week long. This game does not carry a lot of marquee value but there is something positive to day about the matchup. The Jets need a win to stay in the wild card race and the Cowboys need a win if you believe they still have a shot at the NFC East Championship (see above). Interestingly, both teams have a Top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed but no in points allowed. The Jets like to run the football; they average 29 rushes per game and 117 yards per game. The Cowboys give up 113 yards per game so I expect the Jets to be able to do what they like to do in this game. I’ll take the Jets to win and cover on the road.

Chicago at Minnesota – 6.5 (42.5): The spread opened at 5 points and has risen all week; this morning you can find it as high as 7 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks. The Vikes needs the game much more than the Bears do; the Vikes are solidly in the wild card race and are only 1 game behind the Packers in the NFC North. The Bears cannot croon Bing Crosby’s carol, I’ll Be Home for Christmas because the regular season goes until 3 January, but they will be home right after that. However, the Bears are not just going through the motions; they lost last week to the Skins but they played hard and played well. Just a hunch here; I like the Bears plus the points.

Atlanta at Jax – 3 (49): On Oct 11th, the Falcons were 5-0. If you had told owner Arthur Blank on Oct 12th that his team would be 3-point dogs to the Jags in this spot and/or that his team would be on a 6-game losing streak going into this game, he might have had you tested for recreational drug use. The Falcons’ defense has not been good for a good stretch of this season, but they still give up 5 points per game less than the Jags’ defense does. For whatever “momentum” means, it is heading in opposite directions for these teams. The Falcons have lost 6 in row and lost last week 38-0. The Jags are only a game behind in their division – somewhere no one would have predicted for this team even a month ago – and they won last week by 5 TDs. However, I cannot play “momentum” with teams that have losing records and inconsistent performances. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Falcons plus the points. Wow! Remember, these are Mythical Picks; in the real world I would not wager 11 cents to win a dime on this game…

Houston at Indy – 1 (41): The lines on this game did not go up until late on Thursday because there was uncertainty about who would play QB for both sides. Even though both teams show up here with losing records – and losses last week – this is as important a game as any on the card for the week. The winner will have a 1 game lead in the AFC South race; moreover, the winner here will be the only team in that division with only 1 loss within the division. I will not call this the Game of the Week because there are better ones below, but this is a game to watch. Think about these two facts in juxtaposition:

    Over the last two weeks, the Colts have lost by a combined score of 96-26.
    Since 2002, the Texans are 0-13 playing in Indy.

This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

KC – 7 at Baltimore (41): The Chiefs need to keep winning; they have won 7 in a row and right now have the top wild card position in the AFC. This is their last road game; a win here and two good showings at home will put the Chiefs in the first wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. That did not look possible back in mid-October when the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost 5 in a row. The Ravens have nothing to gain or to lose based on the outcome of this game. On defense, the Ravens give up 7 points per game more than the Chiefs do; look at that spread. On offense, the Chiefs score 4 points per game more than the Ravens do; look at that spread. Normally with two teams that play defense better than offense and a full TD as the spread, I would take the points. The problem I have here is that the Chiefs very good defense (4th in scoring defense and 8th in total defense) is going up against Jimmy Claussen at QB. I do not see the Chiefs lighting up the scoreboard in Baltimore, but I think the Ravens will be bottled up sufficiently for the Chiefs to cover here. I’ll take the Chiefs and lay the points.

Buffalo at Washington “pick ‘em” (44): This is a really even game; you can find the Bills as a 1-point favorite at a couple sportsbooks and you can find the skins as a 1-point favorite at a couple of other sportsbooks. Most places have it as a “pick ‘em” game. Neither team can afford to lose here but a loss for the Bills would be a disaster. The scoring defenses for these teams are the same; total defense differs by only 5 yards per game; the Bills about 20 yards per game better on offense; the Bills score 3 points per game more. As I said, this is a really even game. For folks who like the Bills, here is a cautionary note:

    The Bills have shown a tendency – no, make that a propensity – to self-destruct with penalties. They had 15 penalties last week and lost a game that they won on the stat sheets. The Bills have committed 124 penalties this year in 13 games – almost 10 per game. Those penalties have cost the Bills 1086 yards.

    The Bucs and Rams have played 14 games this year (including last night’s game). The Bucs have committed more penalties than the Bills given that extra game but even those added penalties have cost the Bucs fewer yards than the Bills’ penalties have cost the Bills.

I think this game boils down to a simple question. Will the Bills self-destruct again or will they exploit their stat advantage to take away a win from this game? I think they will self-destruct one more time; I like the Skins to win the game.

Tennessee at New England – 14 (46.5): On Thursday morning, I checked the money line for this game and the highest one I could find was +960; this morning I checked again and that line had dropped to +875. The only reason I can think of for that large a move is that someone put a significant wager down on the Titans to win this game straight up. For the record, I am not the person who did that… I could think about taking the Titans with 2 TDs worth of points in a late-season game against the Pats except that the Pats still need wins to secure home field advantage throughout the playoff. The spread is not interesting here so I’ll take this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Arizona – 3 at Philly (51): This is the “flexed game” for Sunday Night Football; it is an important game for both teams and it should be a good game. The Eagles will know how the Giants and Skins fared in their 1:00 PM games by kickoff time; if both the Giants and Skins win those games, this becomes all the more critical for the Eagles. Statistically, the Cards score 8 points per game more than the Eagles and allow 5 points per game fewer than the Eagles. That would make the spread here look awfully cheap – except that the Cards have a long trip to the East Coast for the game and that often provides a large advantage for the home squad. Since this game is a night game, that advantage should be minimized; the Cards will not be playing at a time when their bodies think is “before lunchtime”. The Cards sport a 6-1 road record this year so travel is not so deleterious to them. I like the game to go OVER and I like the Cards to win and cover here.

Carolina – 5 at Giants (48): This is a game to watch for multiple reasons. The Panthers have a reason to play hard in this game over and above their undefeated status. They have not yet wrapped up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Two team stats point to a big Panthers’ win here:

    Panthers lead the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game.
    Giants’ defense is worst in the league in yards per game at 418.6.

However, the Giants will be playing “desperately” because they have a road game at Minnesota next week which will not be a walk in the park. A loss for the Giants will be most debilitating for their playoff hopes. For the “game within a game” think about seeing Odell Beckham, Jr. being covered all day long by Josh Norman. That alone could be worth the price of admission. A lot of pundits say this is where the Panthers’ win streak ends; I have to admit that with Jonathan Stewart probably out and Greg Olsen probably out, the Giants look attractive. What I cannot get past is the total lack of a pass rush by the Giants and that means Cam Newton should still have a big day. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Cleveland at Seattle – 15 (43): The Seahawks are rolling; the Browns are – well, they are the Browns. After starting the season at 4-5, the Seahawks can guaranteed themselves a playoff spot with a win here. Yesterday the money line for the Browns was between +950 and +975 depending on which sportsbook you were looking at. Today, those numbers are as high as +995. I think the Seahawks’ defense will throttle the Browns here. On the other hand, the Browns’ defense has not throttled anyone this year; the Browns give up 27.5 points per game; only the Saints give up more. I do not like to do this, but I will take the Seahawks and lay that huge basket of points.

Green Bay – 3 at Oakland (47): This should be a good game and it is certainly an important game. The Packers have a 1-game lead in the NFC North and will know the outcome of the Vikes/Bears game earlier in the day. The Raiders are in deep yogurt with regard to the playoffs; their record is 6-7 and they can see 3 teams ahead of them with 8-5 records and only 3 games left to play. I think this will be the end of the line for the Raiders. I like the Packers to win and cover – even on the road in The Black Hole.

Miami at San Diego – 1.5 (45.5): This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The TV listings for this game should carry a notice that viewers are advised to avert their eyes. Both teams are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and they bring a combined record of 8-18 to the stadium. The temperature in San Diego at game time will only be in the low-60s so maybe some fans will actually show up to see this game and not go surfing. Bottom Line: I like Philip Rivers a lot better than I like Ryan Tannehill; I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points.

Denver at Pittsburgh – 6.5 (44.5): I think this is the Game of the Week because these are good teams playing well and the game is important. Here is the matchup that will be great to watch:

    Broncos have the best scoring defense in the NFL – 17.3 points per game.

    Steelers have not been held under 30 points in a game since Nov 1.

I think the Steelers can and will score here – maybe not the 36 points per game they have averaged since Nov 1, but they will score. I do think that the Steelers’ defense will be able to keep the Broncos offense under control simply because the Broncos offense is not that good no matter who plays QB for them. The Broncos score the same number of points per game as the Skins and no one thinks the Skins are an offensive juggernaut. The game means more to the Steelers than it does to the Broncos; I’ll take the Steelers at home to win and cover.

Cincy – 6 at SF (40.5): The spread for this game opened at 4 points and has been climbing slowly all week. If AJ McCarron is going to emulate Tom Brady’s career arc (see above), this is a great way for him to start his trek and gain some confidence. The Niners stink on offense and their defense is just as bad. The Niners give up 24.2 points per game and a whopping 401.7 yards per game. Even so, the Bengals under Marvin Lewis have tended to play very conservatively in big games and in games like this where they are not in their comfort zone. This is purely a hunch but I’ll take the Niners plus the points at home because I think this will be a low-scoring affair.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at New Orleans – 3 (50): This game was the clear runner-up in the minds of the Selection Committee for the Dog Breath Game of the Week. These teams bring a combined 9-17 record to the stadium and – quite frankly – outside of Detroit and New Orleans, no one gives a rat’s ass about either of these teams. ESPN pays a big price for MNF and you wonder why after you look at yet another “Monday Night Stinker”. I am one of those who do not care about either team here so let me turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol for the pick. The coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Finally, here is an NFL related item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Steelers Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw has put his 12-acre Hawaiian estate on the market for $2.7 million.

“If you can just overlook the steel curtains on the home’s windows and the terrible towels in the bathroom, real-estate agents say, it’s the perfect site for an immaculate reception.”

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

Not Coachspeak – Coach-Misspeak…

Yesterday, I said that I did not know enough about what happened in the reported Aroldis Chapman domestic violence event and I would defer judgment/comment on it until I knew more. Washington Nationals’ manager, Dusty Baker, did not defer comment and many folks considered his defense of Chapman insensitive at best and atavistic at worst. The brouhaha over those comments seems to have allowed another of Baker’s recent utterings to slide gently off into the world ether with much less commentary than I think it deserves.

These words have been attributed to Dusty Baker. I did not hear him say them but I have also heard no denials from him or the Nats regarding them.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s missing in the game is speed. You know, with the need for minorities, you can help yourself — you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is.”

If I take those words as presented here on the page, I agree that “speed” is not a dominant element of baseball in 2015 and adding speed to a team a plus. I also agree that – on average – a scout is more likely to identify a speedy player when he is scouting Latin or African-American players then when he scouting Asian or Caucasian players. Indeed, that is not racist; that is just how it is…

Having said that, if you read Baker’s remarks and recall the words of Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder, you may find a small parallel. What Snyder said was that Blacks “were bred” to be better athletes than Whites. Granted, Snyder’s use of “bred” reduces Blacks to the category of animals at worst or chattel property at best, but if you are talking about “speed” as an athletic attribute, what Snyder said was pretty much the same thing Baker said.

Now compare the reaction of the people in the media who reported both sets of remarks. Snyder was excoriated and even with an apology he was fired by CBS – or maybe it was NBC, I really do not recall. In the words of George Orwell’s 1984, Snyder was made into an unperson.

In no way am I defending what Snyder said. However, in no way can I accept what Dusty Baker just said as a mere slip of the tongue. Snyder was hired by one of the networks as a commentator, a person who was supposed to communicate with the public using words. His misuse of words was a firing offense. Baker is hired by a baseball team to help the team win games; he is not paid to be an orator or a communicator. Therefore, his words should not be even close to a firing offense. However, his words should bring him a healthy serving of public opprobrium and that has not yet been delivered.

While on the subject of managers/coaches whose public utterances may be just a tad off center, let me focus on recent comments by José Mourinho, the coach/manager of Chelsea in the English Premier League. Chelsea is not doing well at all this year; as of this morning, they stand 16th (out of 20 teams) in the EPL Table and they are exactly one point above the “relegation line”. Granted, the season is only near the halfway point, but this is indeed an unusual position for the Chelsea squad. Just last year, Chelsea finished 3rd in the EPL and only allowed 27 goals in 38 league games. This year, they have already allowed 26 goals in 16 games.

As you may imagine, the Chelsea fans and the football commentators are not pleased with Chelsea’s performance this year and as happens here too, much of the criticism is focused on Mourinho as the manager/coach. In the US, one might expect a coach under serious scrutiny and having this kind of a season to resort to coachspeak about working harder and correcting the “little things” that have been going wrong and etc. Not José Mourinho:

“One of my best qualities is to read the game for my players and I feel like my work was betrayed. I think [Leicester City] deserved to win because they were better than us during a long period of time. We conceded two goals that were unacceptable.”

And …

“All last season I did phenomenal work and brought [the Chelsea players] to a level that is not their level and more than they really are.”

The argot of the times would say that Mourinho just threw the entire Chelsea roster under the bus. Actually, if I look at what other coaches have said where those words were defined as “throwing someone under the bus”, I would characterize Mourinho’s remarks as “throwing the team under the bus, circling the bus around and running over their bodies a few more times and then pissing all over the huddled mass on the pavement”. This almost makes Stalin’s scorched earth policy seem humane.

I will not pretend to know how effective José Mourinho is/has been as a football manager/coach for his career. In US football terms, I am confident that he is somewhere on the spectrum between Vince Lombardi and Richie Kotite. In terms of being a coach who creates a warm and fuzzy environment in the locker room, I think I am on safe ground suggesting that he either has a lot to learn or that he just does not care about said warm and fuzzy environment.

For the next item, I need to set the stage for a moment. A maiden filly named Ruby Queen was supposed to run in a race at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio; her form must have been awful because she went off in a race for fillies and mares at 110-1. Accidentally, the horse that entered the starting gate and ran in the race and blew away the field was a male horse named Leathers Slappin. Here are two paragraphs from the AP report on how this happened:

“An investigation found that a stable worker went into the wrong stall on Nov. 4 and brought out a male horse named Leathers Slappin instead of Ruby Queen, who was in a neighboring stall, said William Crawford, executive director of the Ohio State Racing Commission.

“A track employee, known as an identifier, then failed to properly check the horse before what was supposed to be an all-female race, he said. The identifier’s job is to verify each horse by looking at the numbers on its lip tattoo.”

I understand that “process” is important and that the identifier here may not have been nearly as alert as one might have expected. However, may I suggest ever so gently that there might have been yet another way to determine that the animal he was “identifying” was not a female of the species…?

Finally, here is another horse racing item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“American Pharoah will command a $200,000 stud fee and, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, could easily do 200 bookings in five months.

“Pass the Neighagra.”

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