Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 11/2/14

First, a look back at last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Chargers +9 against Broncos. Broncos won by 14. No!

    I liked Lions -3.5 over Falcons. Lions won by only 1. No!

    I liked Vikes +2.5 against Bucs. Vikes won by 6. Yes!

    I liked Pats -6 over Bears. Pats won by 28. Yes!

    I liked Rams/Chiefs UNDER 45. Total score was 41. Yes!

    I liked Rams +7 against Chiefs. Chiefs won by 27. No!

    I liked Seahawks -5 over Panthers. Seahawks won by 4. No!

    I liked Seahawks/Panthers OVER 44.5. Total was 22. Double No!

    I liked Jets -2.5 over Bills. Bills won by 20. No!

    I liked Jags +6 against Dolphins. Dolphins won by 14. No!

    I liked Ravens over Bengals “pick ‘em”. Bengals won the game. No!

    I liked Eagles/Cards OVER 48. Total was 44. No!

    I liked Steelers +3 against Colts. Steelers won by 17. Yes!

    I liked Raiders/Browns OVER 43. Total was 36. No!

    I liked Packers/Saints OVER 55.5. Total was 67. Yes!

    I liked Cowboys -9.5 over Skins. Skins won by 3. No!

Last week was another disastrously bad week of mythical picking. The tally for the week was 5-11-0 dragging the season record down to 49-75-2. The idea that these picks will be “mythically profitable” at the end of the season is clearly a pipe dream; the quest to get back to the .500 level looks like an expedition to scale Mount Everest. Nevertheless, proving that I am immune to embarrassment, I shall soldier on…

Even the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games are going south. A coin flip ought to be right half the time. Last week the Coin Flip Games were 0-2-0 taking the record for those games down to 7-13-0. If this trend continues, I may have to call them Coin Flop Games…

In any event, nothing in the past performance from last week – or since the beginning of this season – should tempt anyone to use information herein as the basis for a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend or any other weekend. Nonetheless, to be sure, I want to say this to anyone who might consider such a stupid act:

    You are so dumb that blondes tell jokes about you!

General Comments:

Given how badly the Bears played in New England last week, I am not sure that they would have been able to go poo in the woods on that day. The Pats won the game 51-23 and everyone wanted to point to Tom Brady’s stat line for the day:

    30/35 for 354 yards and 5 TDs with 0 INTs

Five TDs and five incomplete passes for the day… A noble performance. I think there is another stat line from the game that is more interesting and perhaps more revealing:

    7 targets, 7 receptions for 61 yards and 1 TD.

That was the stat line for TE, Tim Wright. If you recall, he is the guy the Pats got from the Bucs (plus a 4th round draft pick) in the Logan Mankins trade back in late August. As I recall, the majority opinion at the time was that Bill Belichick must have taken leave of his senses. Well, if the Pats’ O-line can protect Brady sufficiently to allow him to play as he did last week and if Wright continues to catch everything thrown at him, the Pats will come out well ahead on that deal.

The other little vignette from the game that bears mentioning is the sack dance done by Bears’ DE, Lamarr Houston. Demonstrating that he has not had sufficient ballet training, he leaped into the air, landed on his feet, promptly tore his ACL, and is out for the year. [Aside: Perhaps he was merely channeling his inner Stephen Tulloch…?] The reason this injury is noteworthy is that the sack dance happened when the Bears trailed by 4 TDs in the 4th quarter when the Pats had already pulled Tom Brady from the game. This was one of the most meaningless sacks in the history of NFL sacks and worthy of exactly no celebration at all. I wonder if Lamarr Houston can spell ASSHAT

The Bills trounced the Jets 43-23 last week. Geno Smith did not make it out of the first quarter of the game; he went to the bench as a “coach’s decision”. Rex Ryan had no choice; Smith was 2/8 for 5 yards with 3 INTs at the time he grabbed some pine for the rest of the day – and for the beginning of the Jets’ game this week. That is not the salient point here.

Consider what the Jets’ offense accomplished with Michael Vick running the show. Vick’s stat line was:

    18/36 for 153 yards and 0 TDs with 1 INT.

I have been skeptical about Geno Smith’s ability to become a quality NFL QB ever since the Draft that brought him to the Jets. I am even more skeptical about that proposition today than I was then. Nevertheless, the bigger problem here is that the entire Jets’ offense is below mediocre. That kind of performance by Michael Vick is indicative of an offense that just does not work. Yes, the Jets can run the football; but the Woody Hayes era of 3 yards and a cloud of dust is over.

Oh, by the way, Percy Harvin was targeted 11 times in the game and he caught 3 balls for a total of 22 yards.

The Jets’ offensive problems has only a little to do with the “offensive scheme” and a whole lot more to do with the fact that the team lacks sufficient talent to execute any meaningful offensive scheme. The blame for that resides in the lap of the Jets’ GM who has assembled this team and who has a bunch of cap money left unspent this year. Moreover, the GM was instrumental in the selection of Geno Smith as the new “franchise QB” once the Jets realized that their previous “franchise QB” (Mark Sanchez) failed to live up to expectations.

The Chiefs beat the Rams handily last week. Here is an interesting stat for the Chiefs:

    They have not allowed a rushing TD yet this year.

    They are the only team in the league that can say that.

The Dolphins beat the Jags by 14 points last week. In that game, Blake Bortles threw 2 Pick Sixes. Do the math, folks… Oh, by the way, he lost a fumble too. Bortles has raw talent and is on a learning curve but he is hardly an average QB yet. For the season, he has thrown 13 INTs and 4 of those have been returned for TDs.

The Steelers beat the Colts 51-34; that game was one week after the Colts’ defense shut out the Bengals. No, that does not make any sense to me either. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and 6 TDs in the game. Part of the reason he could do so was that he was rarely pressured – let alone sacked or even hit.

The Saints beat the Packers handily last week. That win keeps the Saints in the NFC South race but there were two other things that came from the game that are more interesting to me:

    1. Neither team punted in the game.

    2. Aaron Rodgers “tweaked a hammy” in the game and was “less than fully mobile” for much of the game. Rodgers’ condition going forward is most important to the Packers.

The Texans beat the Titans by 2 TDs and Arian Foster ran for 151 yards. Foster is back in form; that is his fourth consecutive game with 100+ yards rushing.

In the Eagles/Cards game, the two teams combined to throw 104 passes in the game. Those passes produced a total of 740 yards of combined passing offense. What is more interesting to me is that in this game there were ZERO sacks.

The Saints beat the Panthers on a late TD pass by Russell Wilson. That outcome led to:

    1. The Panthers held onto the NFC South lead by the slimmest of margins

    2. The Seahawks stayed only 2 games behind the Cards in the NFC West race.

The Lions trailed the Falcons 21-0 at the half and won the game 22-21 on a last second field goal. I do not want to be abstruse about this next point, so let me be blunt:

    When you lead by 3 TDs at the half, you damned well ought to win that game.

The Bengals beat the Ravens by 3 points last week. The Bengals lead the AFC North for now but interestingly, all four teams in that division are over .500.

The Browns beat the Raiders last week; that is their 4th win for the season and it matches the number of wins the Browns had all of last year. The Browns hardly dominated the game; the Raiders’ defense held the Browns to 39 yards rushing and only allowed the Browns to convert 2 of 12 third down situations. Three turnovers by the Raiders were instrumental in continuing their winless ways. By the way, the last time the Raiders won a game was last November 17 when they beat the Texans. Check the calendar; they are coming up on a full year of losses pretty quickly.

The Bucs lost again last week in OT to the Vikings. The Bucs’ offense was anemic; they gained 159 yards passing (28 attempts) and 66 yards rushing (23 attempts); they converted 1 of 12 third down situations. Looking at those numbers more closely, the Bucs’ offense was worse than merely anemic…

The Games:

Here are the teams on their Bye Week:

    Falcons will try to figure out how to hold a 3 TD halftime lead in case they have one against the Bucs next week.

    Bills will be rooting for the Pats and Dolphins to lose this week as they prep for the Chiefs to come calling next week.

    Bears will try to get either their offense or their defense to play decently by the time they take the field in Green Bay next week.

    Lions will get some R&R, bask in the knowledge that they lead their division at the halfway mark and prep for a visit by the Dolphins next week.

    Packers will hope that the week off will give Aaron Rodgers’ leg time to heal so that he is ready for a game with the Bears next week.

    Titans will try not to focus on the fact that they are only one game ahead of Jax in the standings as they prep for a trip to play the Ravens next week.

(Thurs Nite) New Orleans – 3 at Carolina (49): The Panthers lead the division with a 3-4-1 record; the Saints are ever-so-slightly behind the Panthers at 3-4-0. The winner of this game will be the division leader and the other two teams in the NFC South (Falcons and Bucs) can be considered irrelevant. It is too early in the season to call the game “critical” for either team, but it an important game. The Saints defense played well against the Packers last week. There are two possibilities here:

    1. The defense has begun to “get it” and is coming together now
    2. The defense took advantage of a hobbled Aaron Rodgers

I think it is a bit more of #2 than #1 here. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ defense played the way it was projected to play all year long against the Seahawks last week but the Panthers’ offense was pathetic generating all of 266 yards in the game. The Saints lead the NFC in total offense while the Panthers are 13th in the conference in total offense. The difference between the two teams is a meaningful 113 yards per game. Even discounting the Saints’ road woes, I think their offensive advantage is worth a field goal. I’ll take the Saints to win and cover.

San Diego at Miami – 1.5 (44.5): Statistically, these teams are pretty evenly matched.

    Chargers are 8th in total offense in the AFC
    Dolphins are 7th in total offense in the AFC.
    The difference is 1.7 yards per game

    Chargers are 6th in total defense in the AFC
    Dolphins are 4th in total defense in the AFC.
    The difference is 7.3 yards per game.

Make this purely a venue call. I’ll take Miami at home and lay the points.

Jax at Cincy – 11 (43.5): This is a sandwich game for the Bengals. They beat a division rival (Ravens) last week and have another division rival (Browns) on tap for next week. Here in the middle are the visiting Jags who have begun to play decent defense but who cannot seem to generate any consistency on offense. Believe it or not, the Bengals’ defense ranks dead last in the AFC; you could win a bar bet or two on that proposition this week. Last week, the Jags shot themselves in the foot multiple times and lost a game they could have won. Are they on the brink of a turnaround – or are they going to revert to “customary Jaguars ineptitude”? I do not have an answer there but I do notice a double-digit spread on the game. I’ll take the Jags plus the points.

Tampa at Cleveland – 6.5 (43.5): The Bucs are 1-6 for the year and here is a glimpse into the foundation of that incompetence:

    Bucs are 16th in the NFC in total offense.
    Bucs are 16th in the NFC in total defense.

That is a recipe for STINK. The Browns do not win prettily; that is for sure. Nonetheless, the Browns are 4-3 on the year; a win here followed by a win next week over the Bengals could actually put the Browns in contention for a playoff slot. I believe that is what former Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, would call irrational exuberance. I think the poor defense of the Bucs combined with the poor defense of the Browns (15th in the AFC) will allow for some scoring to happen. I like the game to go OVER.

Washington at Minnesota “pick ‘em” (43.5): The word this morning is that RG3 will start at QB for the Skins. That announcement moved the line exactly one point; the Vikes opened as a 1-point favorite. Both teams bring losing records to this contest but the Skins’ offense is simply better than the Vikes’ offense. I like the Skins to win this game and I like the game to go OVER.

Philly – 2 at Houston (48.5): There is no history between these two teams; they have only met three times. The Eagles are in the midst of a stretch of games that do not involve division foes; after the Cards last week and the Texans this week, their next 3 games are:

    Panthers at home
    At the Packers
    Titans at home

The key here is the ability of the Eagles’ defense to keep Arian Foster from running wild. Oh, it might also be a good idea for them to block JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on passing downs so that they do not break Nick Foles like a match stick. I’ll take the Eagles and lay the points on the road.

Jets at KC – 9.5 (41.5): As noted above, the Jets’ offense is a mess – to be polite about it. Nonetheless, this is the kind of game that Andy Reid’s teams tend to struggle with. I like the Jets plus the points here and I like the game to go OVER.

Arizona at Dallas – 4 (48): I can find this line at only one Internet sportsbook; all the others have the game off the board as of today because of the uncertainty of Tony Romo’s ability to play this weekend. Just a hunch, I’ll take the Cards plus the points.

St. Louis at SF – 10 (43.5): The Niners need a win to stay within striking distance of the Cards in the NFC West. The Rams are not going to be in playoff contention but the Rams will play hard in every game. The Niners had last week off after the Broncos waxed them by 25 points two weeks ago. I do not want to lay that double-digit spread so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Denver – 3 at New England (54.5): Clearly, this is the Game of the Week. These are two very good teams and no one can complain about the quarterbacking in this contest. I see this as a points-a-palooza game. I like the game to go OVER. I recognize the advantage the Pats get when they play at home. I also like the Pats plus the points.

Oakland at Seattle – 15 (43): After contemplating the Broncos/Pats game, looking at the woebegone Raiders and the underachieving Seahawks is about as appealing as a fart in an oxygen tent. The Raiders are last in the AFC in offense; if the Seahawks defense decides to play to the level it showed last year, the Raiders might not get to double digits; remember, the Seahawks held the Packers to 16 points and the Broncos to 20 points this year. That defensive effort seems to be the key to the game because the seemingly moribund Seahawks’ offense ought to wake up quickly here once it encounters the mild resistance of the Raiders’ defense. I hate double-digit spreads; I really do. However, the match-ups plus the venue plus the fact that the Seahawks need a win here to stay relevant in the NFC West and/or the NFC wildcard races points to a lopsided score. With no enthusiasm at all, I’ll take the Seahawks and lay the points.

(Sun Nite) Baltimore at Pittsburgh “pick ‘em” (48): Were it not for the Broncos/Pats game, this would be the Game of the Week. The Steelers have a slight offensive advantage; the Ravens have a slight defensive advantage. It would not be any surprise at all if this game were decided by a field goal with 5 seconds left on the game clock; that seems to be the script for AFC North games almost as if a pro ‘rassling script writer were calling the shots. Both teams are 5-3 and chasing the Bengals in the division. Purely a venue call, I’ll take the Steelers to win the game.

(Mon Nite) Indy -3 at Giants (51): The Colts rank first in the entire NFL in total offense and in passing offense; they average 452.3 yards per game. The Colts have a 120 yards per game advantage on offense. On defense, the Colts also hold an advantage of 32 yards per game – and that includes the monstrous game the Colts allowed last week against the Steelers. The Colts’ disadvantage here is the venue; it is not Indy and it is outdoors. I still think the Colts are the better team here so I’ll take them and lay the points even on the road.

Oh, in case you didn’t notice, there are no Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games this week. Whatever…

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 11/1/14

First a review of last week’s selections:

    I liked Oregon -17 over Cal. Oregon won by 18. Yea!

    I liked S.Carolina/Auburn UNDER 66. Total score was 77. Boo!

    I liked Miss. St/Kentucky UNDER 59.5. Total was 76. Boo!

    I liked Ga Tech/Pitt UNDER 55.5. Total was 84. Boo!

    I liked Wisconsin -10.5 over Maryland. Wisconsin won by 45. Yea!

    I liked Nebraska -19 over Rutgers. Nebraska won by 18. Boo!

    I liked Alabama/Tennessee UNDER 47. Total was 54. Boo!

    I liked Mich/Mich St. UNDER 48.5. Total was 46. Yea!

    I liked LSU +3.5 against Ole Miss. LSU won outright. Yea!

    I liked Utah +1 against USC. Utah won outright. Yea!

    I liked K-State -9.5 over Texas. K-State won by 23. Yea!

    I liked Ohio St/Penn St OVER 52. Total was 55. Yea!

    I liked Arizona St -3 over Washington. State won by 14. Yea!

    I liked Ariz St/Wash UNDER 62.5. Total was 34. Double Yea!

That makes it two weeks in a row for mythically profitable NCAA picks. Last week’s record was 9-5-0 bringing the season record to 66-64-0. Since I will be heading to Las Vegas this weekend for the Annual Autumnal Pilgrimage with friends, I surely hope to continue on this recent vector heading.

Notwithstanding two mythically profitable weeks in a row and a cumulative record that has crept above the .500 level, no one should use any information here as the basis for picking a side in a real wager involving real money and an actual college football game this weekend. Here is what I would have to say to anyone stupid enough to do that:

    You probably watched Beavis and Butthead to learn your vocabulary after you flunked out of Sesame Street.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats ran their season record to 6-0 last week with a dominating win over Lewis and Clark by a score of 59-7. Let me just say that the outcome of this game was not in doubt for long. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 42-0 and Linfield only had one defensive score in that total. This week, Linfield hosts Willamette; the Bearcats bring a 4-2 record to the game having lost last week to Pacific Lutheran 56-14. Go Wildcats!

The reason I follow Linfield football is their amazing streak of winning seasons that began in 1956. Since the first game of 1956 – if I have added correctly – Linfield’s record in football is 454-116-11. Ignoring the tie games, Linfield has won 79.6% of its games between September 1956 and today. For perspective, here are comparable streaks in “major” college football:

    Longest current streak of winning seasons is 37 held by Florida State.
    Longest streaks of winning seasons is 42 held jointly by:

      Harvard from 1881 – 1923
      Notre Dame from 1889 – 1932

At the other end of the “football glory spectrum”, Columbia has the longest losing streak in football working at the moment. The Lions record this year is 0-6; last year the Lions were 0-10; in 2012 they were 3-7 and won their next to last game against Cornell. This year, the Lions have scored in double digits only once; they got 28 points against Monmouth; unfortunately, they gave up 61 points in that game. The current losing streak stands at 17 games and counting.

Notwithstanding the length of Columbia’s current losing streak, they are nowhere near the NCAA record losing streak. That record is 44 consecutive losses and it is held by – wait for it – Columbia back in the mid-1980s.

Last week, Mississippi State beat Kentucky by 2 TDs – but the game was closer than the score might indicate. State QB, Dak Prescott, had another excellent game accounting for 304 yards of offense. I was watching that game with a friend who said that Prescott is a poor man’s Cam Newton. Interesting perspective…

Alabama beat Tennessee by 2 TDs. Tennessee ran 14 more plays than Alabama in the game but Alabama’s total offense was 86 yards more than Tennessee’s. This game was not as close as the score might indicate.

Missouri beat Vandy 24-14 last week. Missouri is 6-2 on the season but they are the worst 6-2 team I have seen by a lot. Vandy is not a good football team by any measurement and Mizzou failed to gain 400 yards in the game. Vandy started a freshman QB in his first start at the college level making him the 4th starting QB for the Commodores this season. This season cannot end soon enough for Vandy.

Auburn and South Carolina played an even game; Auburn won by a TD. Auburn gained 551 yards in the game; S. Carolina gained 531.

Michigan State handled Michgan 35-11. It could have been much worse; Michigan’s offense was held to 178 yards in the game.

Ohio State needed double overtime to beat Penn State 31-24. This was clearly a defensive game. Ohio State offense totaled 293 yards; Penn State offense totaled only 240 yards.

Wisconsin pummeled Maryland 52-7. I watched the first couple of possessions in the game and tuned away because the outcome was not mysterious to me. I happened to graze back through that channel later on and the score was 45-0 at the time. Maryland did not belong on the same field with Wisconsin.

Minnesota must have suffered “Bowl Eligibility Hangover” last week. After winning their 6th game of the year two weeks ago, they biffed on this game against a mediocre-at-the-very-best Illinois team last week losing 28-24.

Kansas State shut out Texas last week running the Wildcats’ record to 6-1 for the season. K-State is the only Big 12 team without a loss in conference – but their upcoming schedule is not exactly a stroll in the park. In their 5 remaining games, they have to go on the road 3 times to play:

    TCU (Nov 8)
    W. Virginia (Nov 20)
    Baylor (Dec 6)

Last week, TCU beat Texas Tech 82-27. TCU has a loss on its record this year to Baylor a couple of weeks ago by a score of 61-58. [No, that is not a basketball score…] I suspect that TCU was interested in getting some “style points” out of the game last week to impress the selection committee for the college football playoff; who knows, it might work. Problem is that Texas Tech is a horrible defensive team. There are 128 teams playing Division 1-A college football this year; Texas Tech ranks 126th in points allowed. The Red Raiders give up an average of 42.5 points per game. Yowza!!

Pitt literally gave away their game against Georgia Tech last week. The Panthers lost 5 fumbles on their first 5 possessions (running only 13 plays in that span). [Aside: That is a Division 1-A record for most fumbles lost in a quarter.] The score was 28-0 at the end of the first quarter; from that point forward, the teams played to a 28-28 tie. From the Pitt perspective, that is about all you can say that is positive about the game.

In the ACC, it surely looks as if Florida State will win the Atlantic Division and play in the conference championship game. In the Coastal Division, however, the best way to describe the situation there is “messy”. Duke leads the Coastal Division with 1 loss in the conference. However, there are five teams in the Coastal Division with only 2 losses in the conference. Handicapping the ACC Coastal Division this year would take a Ouija Board…

On the Illinois football team, there is a junior WR named Geronimo Allison. I assume he knew when he chose to play for the Illini that Geronimo was an Apache who lived about a thousand miles from Urbana-Champaign Illinois…

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week we had 4 Ponderosa Spread Games. The favorites covered in 2 of those 4 games.

Arkansas and Memphis covered.

Marshall and Missouri did not cover.

The 2-2-0 record last week brings the season record for favorites covering in Ponderosa Spread Games to 29-25-1.

This week we have 6 Ponderosa Spread Games:

(Thurs Nite) Troy at Ga. Southern – 26 (63): Troy is 1-7 this season and has given up 306 points in those 8 games.

(Fri Nite) Tulsa at Memphis – 24 (61.5): There just has to be something better to do on a Friday night in Memphis than to go to this game. No?

Purdue at Nebraska – 24 (62): There probably is not anything more interesting to do on a Saturday afternoon in Lincoln than to pay attention to this game.

Kansas at Baylor – 36 (61.5): I normally do not make Mythical Picks in Ponderosa Spread Games, but Baylor just might score 62 points in the game all by itself. I like this game to go OVER.

La-Monroe at Texas A&M – 32.5 (58.5): The Aggies had last week off after playing Mississippi St, Ole Miss and Alabama (all losses) in three straight weeks. Watch out La-Monroe…

Illinois at Ohio State – 28.5 (65): Ohio State needs “style points” in a win here to try to distract the Selection Committee from focusing on their loss at home to a mediocre Va Tech team and a double OT win over Penn State. Watch out Illinois…

The SHOE Tournament:

I am not yet ready to announce seedings for my mythical SHOE Tournament at the end of the year. Maybe next week…? However, I would like to offer up something for you to think about…

Lots of fans like to argue which conference is the best/toughest conference in the country. Well, consider here the possibilities for the worst conference in the country. There has to be one, don’t you know…

    The MAC: There are 6 teams in this conference that are either “really bad” or “sub-standard”. Ball State, Buffalo, E. Michigan, Kent St., Miami (Oh), UMass.

    The Sun Belt Conference: There are 5 teams here that are “pretty miserable”. Appalachian St., Georgia St., Idaho, New Mexico St., Troy.

    The All American Conference: There are 4 teams here that are just plain “bad”. SMU, Tulane, Tulsa and UConn. [Aside: Mark this on your calendar. UConn hosts SMU on 6 December. That would be a good day to schedule for rearranging your sock drawer.]

It is hard to tell which of those conferences is the worst, but you may be sure that plenty of SHOE Tournament candidates will come from these three entities.

Games of Interest:

(Thurs Nite) Florida State – 4.5 at Louisville (50.5): Louisville has a very good defense; they rank 4th in the country in points allowed; they only give up an average of 14.6 points per game. They use that defense to set up the offense to score because Louisville’s offense is below average ranking 72nd in the country in passing and 90th in the country in rushing. The spread opened the week at 7 points and has dropped steadily to this level. Florida State has not played a defense like this one so far this year. I’ll take Louisville plus the points.

Notre Dame – 14 vs. Navy (55.5) (Landover, MD): I recognize that Navy gets up for its annual game against Notre Dame – they have played each other every year since 1927. However, Notre Dame is the better team and Notre Dame needs to impress the selection committee to improve its ranking related to the playoffs. I like Notre Dame to win and cover.

Duke at Pitt – 3.5 (51): Duke cannot expect the same degree of largesse that Pitt showed to Ga Tech last week in terms of fumbles lost. However, Duke is in a position to win the ACC Coastal Division should it win out and that ought to be sufficient motivation here. This should be a low scoring game and so, I’ll take Duke plus the points.

Wisconsin – 11 at Rutgers (no line): Wisconsin demolished Maryland last week; Rutgers and Maryland are comparable. Rutgers has been dominated by Ohio State and by Nebraska in Big 10 play; Wisconsin is of the same caliber as those two teams. I like Wisconsin to win and cover here.

UNC at Miami – 15 (70): I have no faith in the UNC defense at all; I have only marginal faith in the Miami defense. I like this game to go OVER.

Georgia State at Appalachian State – 10.5 (69.5): Two really bad teams here…

Air Force – 2.5 at Army (55.5): Count on every player hustling on every play in this game. You can also count on a lot of rushing offense and little if any passing offense here. Since Air Force beat Navy 4 weeks ago, the Fly Boys can claim the Commander in Chief Trophy with a win here. I’ll take Air Force to win and cover on the road.

Auburn at Ole Miss – 2.5 (50): This is an “Elimination Game”; the loser here would need a miraculous turn of events to make it into the four-team bracket for the College Football Playoff. Both teams play solid defense. I think Auburn’s offense is the better of the two. I’ll take Auburn with the points – but not with a lot of conviction.

Kentucky at Missouri – 6.5 (47.5): That frighteningly low Total Line is not a result of two awesome defensive units poised to take over this game. Rather it is recognition that Missouri has a good defense and a “miserable” offense that has sometimes been as bad as “putrid”. Kentucky needs a win to be bowl-eligible; that should be sufficient motivation. I’ll take Kentucky plus the points.

Arkansas at Mississippi St. – 10 (64): Mississippi St. took care of business last week and showed up in the #1 slot for the first College Football Playoff seeding this week. The Arkansas offense plays to the strength of the Miss St. defense; the Bulldogs are not fast and athletic on defense but they are big and tough inside where Arkansas prefers to attack. I cannot see Arksansas beating Mississippi St. in Starkville given State’s motivation to play and keep its top seeding in the playoffs. I’ll take Mississippi State to win and cover.

Florida vs. Georgia – 13 (51) (Jacksonville): Here is Florida’s problem in a nutshell:

    The Gators’ offense stinks; they do not score.

Here is Florida’s good point:

    The Gators’ defense is good.

The problem is that Georgia is a much more complete team. I like Georgia to win and cover in the game known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

USC – 6.5 at Washington St. (64.5): USC is inconsistent; Washington St. is inconsistent. There are better games on the card this weekend to watch and to wager on.

Stanford at Oregon – 7.5 (54.5): Oregon is slotted 5th in the rankings to find the top 4 teams for the playoffs this year. They can take heart that two of the teams above them this week have to play one another later this year meaning they need to take care of their business here. Stanford does not enjoy the same lofty ranking, but if they win the game, they would be in a position to win the Pac-12 North Division and play in the PAC-12 Championship Game. There is plenty at stake here. Purely a hunch, I like the game to go OVER.

Oklahoma St. at Kansas St – 14.5 (51.5): Oklahoma St. can play well or play poorly. The one thing you can pretty much count on K-state to do is to play smart and not beat itself. I like K-State to win this game but I do not like that half-point hook on the spread. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Indiana at Michigan – 7 (53): Two inconsistent teams here means you should not bet on the game. However, it might be interesting to check out because if Michigan gets blown out at home by Indiana, Brady Hoke might need to hire a food taster…

UVa at Ga. Tech – 3.5 (55): The loser here is pretty much behind the 8-ball in terms of winning the ACC Coastal Division; the loss will be the third for the loser here. A former colleague – and a UVa alum – says that the Cavaliers are going to shut down the Ga. Tech triple option here. I think he is looking at the world through “Orange and Navy Blue” glasses. I like Tech to win and cover at home.

Arkansas St. – 14 at Idaho (66): Two bad teams here… Here is a prop bet to think about:

    Which will be greater?

      Total yards of offense by both teams
      Number of cars in the parking lot at the stadium

Cal at Oregon St. – 3 (66): Oregon St. does not have a dominant defense; Cal should be able to score here. Cal’s defense is more of a rumor than a reality; Oregon St. should be able to score here. I like the game to go OVER.

Utah at Arizona St. – 6 (58): I think Utah has a legit shot to win this game outright so I’ll take Utah plus the points here.

TCU – 5.5 at W. Va (73.5): TCU is 7th this week in the playoff rankings; they have an outside chance to sneak into the top 4 if teams above them “screw the pooch”. However, West Virginia is a tough out in Morgantown. Just a hunch, but I like this game to go OVER.

Utah St. – 3 at Hawaii (41): The only reason this game is interesting is because of the Total Line. A college game with a Total Line this low is equivalent to an NFL game with a Total Line of 30 or 31. Utah St. will start its 4th different QB in this game; Hawaii just does not score; they have been held under 20 points 5 times this year. Do not bet on the game – but it would be fun to watch in the second half if the half time score was 3-3.

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

Tidying up…

Today, I will clean up a couple of items on my clipboard and then get to work on the two flavors of Mythical Picks for tomorrow. I will be off the air on Friday and at least Monday of next week. This weekend is my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas with friends. Barring unusual flight situations, I should have another rant ready to go on Tuesday 4 November…

Last week, I suggested that Frank White belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame as much as Bill Mazeroski given their career stats. One comment on that rant said that Willie Randolph’s career stats were similar to Maz and he too deserved consideration but never made it. An e-mail from my sports stat guru in Houston suggested two more middle infield candidates with stats comparable to Maz:

    Alan Trammel
    Lou Whittaker

Let me point everyone to this site. Here you can find the statistics for just about every player who ever set foot on a baseball field from Henry Aaron to Dutch Zwilling. Go there and compare Maz and Frank White and Alan Trammel and Lou Whittaker and Willie Randolph for yourselves. While on the site, notice that it also gives you a way to find out about teams, managers, minor league performances and a whole bunch of other stats.

Earlier this week, the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays denied reports that he had been chatting with folks in Montreal about the possibility of moving the Rays there. There was a time when Montreal supported the Expos and then there was the period of time when the crowds in Montreal rattled around in Olympic Stadium like a BB in a boxcar. My inclination is to believe that this is all posturing by the Rays’ owner to get some leverage in dealing with the local pols in Tampa/St. Pete with regard to either a new stadium or significant changes to the current stadium. The reason is pretty obvious from the numbers:

    Seating capacity in Tampa = 40,473
    Average attendance in Tampa 2013 = 18,646 (46% full)
    Average attendance in Tampa 2014 = 17,858 (44.1 % full)

The Rays were not very good in 2014 but they have been a good team – they went to the World Series once – more often than not for the last 5-7 years and they do not get support commensurate with that kind of on-field performance. For the record, the Rays were next to last in attendance in 2014 drawing 1.44 million fans; only 6 teams in MLB failed to draw 2 million last year. In a perverse way, those attendance figures are an “improvement” over 2013 where the Rays were last in MLB in total attendance at 1.5 million fans.

I have heard that Tropicana Field is not an attractive stadium and that it is poorly located. I have never been inside but I have driven past the stadium on my way to a Yankees’ spring training game and on my way to Raymond James Stadium. Tropicana Field is not located in any setting that one might call a “metropolitan area” but it does have good road access and parking areas. I mention that because my gut tells me that the Rays would like a new facility or a significantly upgraded one and might just be flirting with a city like Montreal to “get some attention” from the city fathers in the area. Stay tuned…

The NFL’s two biggest markets – NYC and Chicago – have a tad of ongoing agita with regard to the teams that play there.

The Jets are 1-7 and that win came on opening day over the Raiders. If this were college football, I might suggest that the Jets are a bad Division 1-A team that happened to beat a Division 1-AA team back in September. You get the idea… The Jets’ GM, John Idzik, held a news conference earlier this week; here is what the NY Post had to say about it:

“Somehow Jets general manager John Idzik spoke for 38 minutes Monday and created more questions.

The biggest one: Is this the right guy to lead the Jets?

Meanwhile, here is what Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News thinks about the Jets:

“The organization looks like a butt fumble now. That is where the Jets are, looking like some kind of software program that has crashed. This is rock bottom for the owner, Woody Johnson; the only thing keeping the Jets from being called the worst team in pro football is the win they got against the worst team, the Oakland Raiders, two months ago.”

The Bears’ record is a lot better than the Jets’ record but the mood in Chicago is hardly one of quiet contemplation of the joy and peace in the valley. Steve Rosenbloom’s Rosenblog on the Chicago Tribune website had this headline regarding last week’s game:

    If this disaster doesn’t cost people their jobs, then fold the team

He followed that joyful sentiment with this comment:

“The Bears were outclassed, outplayed and outcoached. They had no business being on that field. They offered the most compelling argument favoring a mercy rule.”

The other paper in Chicago – the Sun-Times – was no more generous in its assessment of the State of the Bears. Here is a sampling of Rick Morrissey’s perspective:

“For all of you who want someone fired for this mess, understand that the McCaskeys aren’t really an ownership group. They’re an ice age. They don’t move, and they don’t fire anybody, especially themselves.”

And…

“[Head coach, Marc] Trestman is supposed to be the Quarterback Whisperer. He’s more like the Quarterback Dog Whistle That No One Can Hear.”

And…

[Re GM Phil Emery] “A 3-5 record should have him on high alert for his job, but when no one in the organization knows enough football to realize the general manager is over his head, why should he be concerned.”

Somehow, I do not think there will be choruses of Kumbaya sung at Jets or Bears games any time soon…

Finally, as usual, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times gets to the bottom line of the matter directly:

“According to Lifespan.com, lack of exercise, improper diet, poor sleeping habits and stress are among the leading causes of depression.

“Somehow not making the list: being a Cubs fan.”

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

Puzzling Times At Sayreville High…

I am sure that you have heard and/or read about the high school in New Jersey that canceled its football season after allegations of outrageous hazing activities on the football team came to light. The alleged activities are not like taping the new players to a goal post and pouring honey on their heads. Suffice it to say that some of the alleged activities were of a sexual nature that involved bodily penetration and the allegations are serious enough to have brought criminal charges in a half-dozen cases. This is not going to be any kind of rant about morality or the imminent demise of Western Civilization; there have been plenty of those presented already.

What caught my attention was a recent action taken by the school board in Sayreville, NJ. About a week ago, the school board had a public meeting and announced that the coaches of the football team would be suspended indefinitely – with pay – not as a punishment but as a means to uncover the truth in all of this.

No one should be opposed to finding the truth in all of this to determine if in fact punishments are in order. I certainly have no problem with that. Nonetheless, I have to pose a couple of questions here:

    The season is canceled; there will be no football games. What exactly is the difference between a suspended football coach and a football coach whose team will play no games?

    Perhaps I am just being obtuse here, but how does the act of suspending any or all of the coaches further the quest for “the truth” here?

Please do not read into those questions any sort of hint that I think the coaches are blameless here. Even if the legal processes determine that there were no criminal actions involved, there certainly existed an environment where upperclassmen bullied freshmen brazenly. Since the football coaches are employees of the School Board – or whatever that governing body happens to be called in New Jersey – they are de facto adults involved in educating the students in that community. Creating an environment where bullying is acceptable – or just as bad – being so out of touch that one does not know that bullying of this type is ongoing do not fit well in the job description of “educator”. In this case, malfeasance and nonfeasance should carry the same degree of opprobrium; the total mass of the opprobrium to be borne by the adults in charge here depend entirely on the revelation of truth that the police and the School Board seek.

    [Aside: I read one report that said the head coach at this school had 12 assistant coaches. Thirteen sets of eyes and ears had no clue… What are some of the adjectives that come to your mind to describe this situation?]

Taken as a whole, the situation in Sayreville is simply a mess. According to reports, one of the victims has met with an attorney and that attorney has characterized the events as “rape”. I am not an attorney but I am confident that introducing the word “rape” into the dialog here is not going to make the revelation of truth any easier that it might have been before.

Controversy is not associated only with high school football these days. Florida State’s football program has the various issues involving Jameis Winston floating around it and yesterday, reports said that the Tallahassee Police Department has an ongoing investigation regarding domestic abuse involving RB Karlos Williams. Here is what the school had to say about that:

“The athletics department is aware of an investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department involving football student-athlete Karlos Williams. Until we receive more information regarding the alleged incident his status with the team will be under review.”

Karlos Williams is the leading rusher on the #2 ranked college football team. Pardon me for being a cynic here but I just have a feeling that Williams’ status with the team will continue to be “under review” until at least 48 hours after Florida State plays its final game of the season. The pace at which the school and the authorities there are pursuing the various incidents in Jameis Winston’s life off the football field point me in that direction.

For those who are spring-loaded to chastise me for jumping to a conclusion here, let me offer the words of H. L. Mencken on the subject of cynics:

“The cynics are right nine times out of ten.”

That is a batting average that would get one into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot…

An old adage of the newspaper business says that it is not news if a dog bites a man but it is indeed news if a man bites a dog. That adage came to mind when I read a headline on the Baltimore Sun website recently:

    “NFLPA investigator Richard Craig Smith complains about lack of cooperation from NFL, Ravens”

Back when the NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to do an independent investigation of the way the NFL handled the Ray Rice matter, the NFLPA reacted by hiring their own independent investigator. That would be Mr. Smith referenced in the headline above. So, is anyone surprised that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens are cooperating with the guy they hired and not cooperating with the guy that the other guys hired? More importantly:

    Is Richard Craig Smith surprised?

    I certainly hope not…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald related to a “minor error” in a TV sports report:

“Seattle TV station KOMO, airing a report on Peyton Manning breaking the TD-pass record, mistakenly showed a photo of Gary Payton. Other than the football/basketball, black/white, first name/last name and spelling differences, the report was accurate.”

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

Academic Fraud At UNC – A Sordid Mess

The academic scandal at UNC continues to unfold and with every new investigation and revelation, the squalor of the situation gets worse. Obviously, I have no idea which if any of the members of the coaching staffs for any of the UNC teams had direct knowledge of the “shadow courses” and the ongoing fraud. Having said that, let me make a few observations from afar based on what has been reported:

    This business went on for about two decades. How this all managed to “stay under the radar” when students were obviously putting one over on “the system” is miraculous. Or maybe, people in the system actually knew it was going on and pretended not to notice…

    Those athletes who were on scholarship for 4 years and who took these shadow courses to major in a subject where they learned less than what might be reasonable were defrauded by the University of North Carolina. Their opportunity for an education was reduced almost to nothing.

    Where is the faculty outrage here? The stature of the university where their lot in academic life is cast has been tarnished.

    Where is the alumni outrage here? The value of UNC degrees has to be diminished given that thousands of students took these non-existent courses.

Now, we have something akin to a litmus test for the NCAA. For at least the last 50 years, the NCAA has presented itself as an organization dedicated to the concept of the “student athlete”. Recall all the self-congratulatory promos that the NCAA has done about its athletes who will be “going pro” in something other than sports. Here is a situation where one of its member schools – and one of its very successful athletic schools – has systematically undermined the concept of the “student athlete” for two decades. That situation is far more subversive to the concept of the “student athlete” than a booster hiring an athlete for a summer job and paying the kid more than he is worth. What UNC has been doing is to perpetuate a system that incentivizes athletes not to be students.

Please notice how quiet and private Mark Emmert has been over the last week or so as more information regarding the academic scandal hits the press. I doubt that he is in a coma so I wonder where he is and what he thinks about this and what the hell he is going to do about it.

On the assumption that what I have read about the investigative report is true – I have not read the investigative report itself – here is a baseline punishment:

    No UNC team in any sport will be allowed to participate in any game with any other NCAA school for a period of one year. Any athlete on any UNC team who chooses to transfer during that period can immediately be eligible at the school to which he/she transfers.

    That is the baseline; preferably, the period of time where UNC athletics would be “dark” would be two years and not just one year.

If the NCAA limits punishment to “bowl bans” and “reductions in scholarships” for this 20-year violation of the rules, I will have to conclude two things:

    1. The NCAA is even more hypocritical than the IOC.

    2. The entire concept of a “student athlete” is a sham and no one in the NCAA can even pretend to believe it is real.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot made a cogent point related to this mess:

“No-brainer: Could you find academic corruption like the kind that was uncovered at North Carolina going on at other football and basketball factories? Sure, if anyone looked hard enough. But following big-time college athletics has always required fans – fans in the media included – to resist the temptation to look behind the curtain.”

I agree that academic frauds exist in places other than UNC. My position is, however, that existence elsewhere does not exonerate UNC even a little bit. Moreover, my agreement points one more accusatory finger at the NCAA and prods me to ask the institution:

    Will you reveal to the public the extent of the NCAA’s efforts to root out academic fraud at member institutions beyond waiting for the next whistleblower to nail a set of theses on your door – so to speak?

I have been enjoying the World Series games despite the “in your face” nature of the FOX telecasts. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this plea in a recent column and I would like to join him in his entreaty:

“World Series Telecasts: Dear Fox: On those in-game dugout interviews, pleeease put the interviewee in a box in the corner of the screen, for the benefit of those of us who want to watch the freaking baseball game!

“The dugout interview: Greatest innovation since the $12 beer.”

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Warner Bros. television is planning to release a Mike Tyson-inspired adult cartoon series.

“That’s kind of been the theme all along, hasn’t it?”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 10/25/14

First, a check to see how last week’s picks came out:

    I liked Marshall/Fla Int’l OVER 55.5. Total score was 58. Yea!

    I liked Iowa/Maryland OVER 48.5. Total was 69. Yea!

    I liked Baylor/W. Va OVER 80. Total was 69. Boo!

    I liked Duke -3 over UVa. Duke won by 7. Yea!

    I liked Ga Tech “pick” over UNC. Tech lost. Boo!

    I liked Georgia -3.5 over Arkansas. Georgia won by 13. Yea!

    I liked Stanford/Ariz UNDER 54.5. Total was 36. Yea!

    I liked Wash/Oregon OVER 64.5. Total was 65. Yea!

    I liked UCLA -7 over Cal. UCLA won by 2. Boo!

    I liked Texas A&M/Alabama UNDER 64. Total was 59. Yea!

    I liked Tex A&M +13.5 against Bama. Aggies lost by 59. Boo!

    I liked BC +5 against Clemson. BC lost by only 4. Yea!

    I liked K-State +7 against Oklahoma. K-State won the game. Yea!

    I liked Ole Miss -16 over Tennessee. Ole Miss won by 31. Yea!

    I liked Mizzou +5.5 against Florida. Mizzou won by 29. Yea!

    I liked Nebraska -6.5 over N’western. Nebraska won by 21. Yea!

    I liked Kentucky +11 against LSU. Ky lost by 38. Boo!

Last week turned out to be an outstanding week for Mythical Picks with a record of 12-5-0. That brings the cumulative record to 57-59-0. The season is not at a mythically profitable level, but at least a .500 record is within grasping distance.

Notwithstanding last week’s banner results, no one should use any information here as the basis for deciding which side to back in a real wager on an actual college football game this weekend should such a wager involve actual money. Here is what I would have to say to anyone stupid enough even to contemplate such action:

    People say you’re nobody’s fool – – but not to worry. One of these days, someone will adopt you.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats assured themselves of their 59th consecutive winning season in football last Saturday with a shellacking of Whitworth University by a score of 65-13. Whitworth brought a potent offense to this game averaging 478.5 yards per game; last week they gained only 264 yards. This week, Linfield goes back on the road to play Lewis and Clark. The Pioneers are having a miserable season to date; their record is 0-6; they have been outscored 249 – 55. Go Wildcats!

Well, there is not going to be an undefeated champion coming out of the Big 12 this year. Baylor went to West Virginia last week and laid a giant egg losing by 2 TDs. Making things even worse, the Bears threw for 224 yards in the game and they were penalized 215 yards in the game. Can you spell “lack of discipline”?

    Before you ask, no that is not an NCAA record. The ignominy of being the most heavily penalized team ever in a single game belongs to Arizona State in 1961 when they surrendered 238 yards to penalty flags in a game.

The game officials were more than busy in this game because West Virginia managed to draw 14 penalty flags themselves for a total of 138 yards. You just know that game had to be fun to watch…

There are only three major undefeated teams in the country as of today – Florida State, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Since Mississippi State and Ole Miss play each other in the Egg Bowl later this year, one of them will have at least one loss on their record come time for the College Football Playoff brackets to come out.

Before someone chastises me for slighting Marshall University, I do know that they too are undefeated. Nevertheless, given their schedule, they are not going to be in the College Football Playoff bracket of four teams unless they are undefeated and every other contending team has 3 losses. Picking the toughest opponent on the Marshall schedule is like trying to pick the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs.

    [Aside: Marshall QB, Rakeem Cato, broke an NCAA record last week when he threw a TD pass in his 39th consecutive game. The previous record holder was Russell Wilson. Consider that as Fact #278643 Not Worth Remembering…]

Strength of schedule – or lack thereof – could wind up hurting Baylor a lot come bracket selection time. Their out of conference schedule might be embarrassing for a mediocre program. One that aspires to play at the top of the national rankings should play someone out of conference a bit more notable than SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo.

Kansas State beat Oklahoma 31-30 and did it by making few if any mistakes while the Sooners kept shooting themselves in the foot until finally they could not just “walk it off”. Here is a sampling of Oklahoma ineptitude last week:

    Threw a Pick Six
    Had a PAT blocked
    Missed 2 field goals from inside 25 yards
    Had one of its passes intercepted in the K-state end zone.

K-State has only one loss this year but has a difficult schedule ahead. They still have road games at Baylor, TCU and West Virginia.

TCU is another Big 12 team with only 1 loss; they took care of business last week against Oklahoma State 42-9. TCU’s out of conference schedule is nothing to crow about either with the likes of SMU, Minnesota and Samford on it. No, that is not Stanford; that is Samford

Speaking indirectly of Minnesota, the Golden Gophers are bowl-eligible after a win over Purdue last week. Purdue led 31-20 at the half but Minnesota rallied to win 39-38.

Michigan State shut out Indiana in the first half and breezed to a 56-17 victory.

Ohio State also won by a 56-17 score over Rutgers. Ohio State and Michigan State will square off on Nov 8 in East Lansing.

Nebraska (6-1 just like Ohio State and Michigan State) beat Northwestern handily 38-17 last week. However, their one loss came at the hands of Michigan State a couple of weeks ago.

Duke is bowl-eligible. The Blue Devils won their 6th game of the year last week with a 20-13 win over Virginia. UVa won the stat sheet competition gaining 465 yards to Duke’s 334 yards. However, the standings only reflect wins and losses and not stat sheet entries.

Clemson beat BC 17-13. If you look at the stats for that game, you might wonder how it stayed that close:

    Clemson had 22 first downs; BC had 11
    Clemson was 10 for 21 converting 3rd downs; BC was 2 for 14
    Clemson ran 81 offensive plays; BC ran 56.

Louisville beat NC State 30-18. The Louisville defense is very fast and very good; they do not just hit hard; they tackle well. The team speed even extends to the interior defensive linemen who screen graphics said weigh 315 lbs. In addition to size, those guys can really move!

UNC beat Georgia Tech 48-43. Even when the Tar Heels win a game, they give up a whole bunch of points…

Florida State retained its undefeated status and a place at or near the top of the college football rankings by beating Notre Dame 31-27. If you saw the game, you realize that these are two very good teams who played a full 60 minutes of quality football. It does not help matters at all to try to demean either team for anything they did in that game; it was all good…

Alabama spanked Texas A&M 59-0. That is the first time a Kevin Sumlin coached team has ever been shut out in a game. I saw much of the game and it was clear to me that the Aggies’ defense is simply not very good; Alabama did whatever it needed to do whenever it needed to do it. Here are some metrics:

    Alabama 30 had first downs; A&M had 8
    Alabama was 9 for 15 converting 3rd downs; A&M was 2-13
    Alabama had 602 yards offense; A&M had 172
    Alabama rushed for 298 yards; A&M rushed for 31.

Both teams played disciplined football; there were only 2 penalties in the entire game. Both were called on A&M for a total of 6 yards. Alabama was “penalty-free”.

Missouri shut out Florida in the first half; the score was 42-0 in the 3rd quarter; Florida scored 2 meaningless TDs late in the game to make the final score 42-13. The Gators turned the ball over 6 times in the game; how miserable is that? If you look at the stat sheet and then at the scoreboard, you will do a double take:

    Mizzou QB, Matty Mauk was 6-18 for 20 yards for 0 TDs and 1 INT

    He was the winning QB.

    Mizzou gained only 119 yards on offense for the game.

    Per espn.com, in the last 10 years teams that held opponents to less than 120 yards in a game are 147-2.

    Last week, Florida became one of that “2”.

The Ole Miss defense is really good. Last week they throttled Tennessee and the Rebels won the game handily 34-3.

LSU squashed Kentucky 41-3. I said last week that I thought Kentucky was the team on the upswing while LSU was on a downswing; that is why I took Kentucky plus 11 points. Boy, was I ever wrong on that game…

Georgia led Arkansas 38-6 at the half; no one would have blamed Arkansas if they had just mailed it in during the second half. But the Razorbacks rallied to make the final score a respectable 45-32. That deficit was just too much to overcome against a good Georgia team.

If I have counted correctly, PAC-12 road teams are 16-7 this year. No, I do not have an explanation for that. UCLA helped that stat along beating Cal 36-34. Those are two teams that I cannot figure out from week to week.

Oregon led Washington 28-6 at halftime and breezed to a 45-20 victory. The Ducks gained 554 yards while the Huskies only managed 317. Royce Freeman scored 4 TDs in the game.

The surprise of the PAC-12 this year has to be Utah; the Utes are 5-1 now coming off a win over Oregon State last week, but they are entering a difficult 5 game stretch in the schedule:

    Vs. USC (this week)
    At Arizona State
    Vs. Oregon
    At Stanford
    Vs. Arizona

The Utes lost a 1-point game to Washington State a few weeks ago. That loss looks curiouser and curiouser. Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News about the Utes:

“The Utes moved above .500 in the Pac-12 for the first time in history with their win against Oregon State, despite getting only 315 total yards.”

Some of the bad teams played last week too and here are a few “highlight scores”:

    UMass 36 E. Michigan 14 (two in a row for UMass!)
    Appalachian St. 56 Troy 14 (call it The Bottom Feeder Bowl?)
    Kent St. 39 Army 17 (Kent St won its first game of the year)
    Idaho 29 New Mexico St 17 (Idaho won its first game of the year)
    Cincy 41 SMU 3 (SMU is now the only winless team in Division 1-A)

Rhetorical question of the week:

    Where else but in intercollegiate athletics could Idaho be in the Sun Belt Conference?

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week, there were no Ponderosa Spread Games.

Therefore, the record for favorites covering in such games remains at 27-23-1.

This week, we have 4 Ponderosa spread Games

Vandy at Missouri – 24 (42): Vandy is not a good team. Missouri was shut out two weeks ago and then stomped Florida last week (see above). If you can find a pattern to handicap this game with a 24-point spread, you are a better person than I am.

UAB at Arkansas – 26.5 (66): Arkansas has lost 16 straight SEC games; UAB is not an SEC team – by a longshot…

Memphis – 24 at SMU (49): This game will be ugly at best…

Fla Atlantic at Marshall – 28 (69): Here is another mediocre opponent on the Marshall schedule that will not help Marshall get serious consideration for the playoff bracket at the end of the season even if they are undefeated. (see above)

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Oregon – 17 at Cal (79.5): I just cannot put any faith in the Cal defense against a team that emphasizes offense like Oregon. That is a lot of points to lay, but I think Oregon is simply the better team by a lot. I like Oregon to win and cover – even on the road.

South Carolina at Auburn – 18.5 (66): The spread opened here at 16 points and jumped to this level in less than 24 hours. South Carolina is all but eliminated in the SEC East race; Auburn is not in the driver’s seat in the SEC West but they are a lot more “involved” than is South Carolina. Purely a hunch, but I like this game to stay UNDER because I am not sure S. Carolina is going to score a lot.

Mississippi St. – 15 at Kentucky (59.5): This is a national game on CBS this weekend. I doubt that these two schools ever played in a featured national telecast for a college football game since national coverage for college games debuted in the 1950s. Kentucky is an improved team and is 5-0 at home this year; nonetheless, I cannot see Kentucky’s offense doing a lot of business here. So once again, I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

UNC at UVa – 7 (47): Given what we have learned about academic shenanigans at UNC for the last couple of decades, one has to wonder why this game is sanctioned by the NCAA. After all, academic pursuits are at the core of the mythical “student-athlete”. Is Mark Emmert in a coma?

Ga Tech at Pitt – 3 (55.5): Pitt is likely to run the ball at Ga Tech and Tech is likely to run the ball outside against Pitt. That means the clock should keep running and that is why I like the game to stay UNDER.

Maryland at Wisconsin – 10.5 (56.5): Based on what I have seen of the Maryland defense this year, I do not see them stopping Wisconsin’s running game routinely. I like Wisconsin to win and cover at home.

Rutgers at Nebraska – 19 (60.5): Rutgers gives up 261.6 yards per game on the ground (97th in the country). Nebraska likes to run the ball and produces 293.6 yards rushing per game (7th in the country). I do not see any way out of the box for Rutgers here; I like Nebraska at home to win and cover.

Kent St. at Miami (Oh) – 7 (53): Just making sure you are paying attention. Please do not watch this game or wager on this game.

Alabama – 17 at Tennessee (47): Call this the Lane Kiffin “Homecoming” Game if you actually think that Lane Kiffin could buy a house and settle down peacefully anywhere in greater Knoxville. Tennessee managed only 3 points against Ole Miss last week; this year’s Alabama defense is not as good as the Alabama defenses of the past couple of seasons, but it is still awfully good. If Tennessee can manage to get into double digits, the game might go OVER. I do not think that is likely to happen this week, so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Michigan at Michigan St. – 17 (48.5): This game is not nearly as big a game as it has been in previous seasons – – that is unless you are Brady Hoke and realize:

    A. A win at Michigan St. would probably take the heat off sufficiently that you will get another season in Ann Arbor before the axe falls.

    B. A blowout loss to Michigan St. this week is a good signal to your wife to start packing the china and the glassware.

Michigan had last week off; if there is any fire left in the boiler, it ought to show us what Michigan has to offer in this game. I think there are only embers in that boiler and that Michigan will be stopped cold. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Ole Miss – 3.5 at LSU (45.5): I like Ole Miss; I really do. Nevertheless, playing LSU in Baton Rouge is tough sledding; the newly expanded stadium there seats 102,000 rabid fans who do know how to make noise. I’ll take LSU plus the points.

USC – 1 at Utah (52.5): This is the PAC-12 “upstart” against the PAC-12 “establishment”. Make this a venue call; I’ll take Utah plus the point.

Texas at K-State – 9.5 (48.5): K-State looked awfully efficient against Oklahoma last week while Texas eked out a 48-45 win over Iowa State. I like K-State to win and cover here.

Ohio St. – 14 at Penn St. (52): I see a lot of offense in this game and lots of scoring. Penn State gave up 29 points to Northwestern in State College, PA; Ohio State should go north of that number. I like this game to go OVER.

Arizona St. – 3 at Washington (62.5): On average, Arizona St produces 165 yards per game more offense than Washington does. The two defenses are comparable. I think that 165-yard offensive advantage can propel the Sun Devils to cover here. I like Arizona St. to win and cover and I like the game to stay UNDER.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 10/26/14

First, a quick review of last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Jets +10 against Pats. Jets lost by only 2. Yes!

    I liked Colts -3 over Bengals. Colts won by 27. Yes!

    I liked Colts/Bengals OVER 49.5. Total score was 27. No!

    I liked Titans/Skins OVER 45.5. Total score was 36. No!

    I liked Bears -3 over Dolphins. Bears lost outright. No!

    I liked Jags +6 against Browns. Jags won straight up. Yes!

    I liked Seahawks -7 over Rams. Rams won the game. No!

    I liked Panthers +7 against Packers. Not nearly enough points. No!

    I liked Panthers/Packers OVER 49. Total score was 55. Yes!

    I liked Falcons/Ravens Over 49. Total score was 36. No!

    I liked Bills -6 over Vikes. Bills won by only 1 point. No!

    I liked Lions -2.5 over Saints. Lions won by a single point. No!

    I liked Chargers -4 over Chiefs. Chiefs won the game. No!

    I liked Giants +7 against Cowboys. Giants lost by 10. No!

    I liked Cards -3.5 over Raiders. Cards won by 11. Yes!

    I liked Niners/Broncos OVER 49.5. Total score was 59. Yes!

    I liked Texans +4 against Steelers. Texans lost by 7. No!

Last week’s Mythical Picks went 6-11-0 which is pathetic all by itself. Moreover, that performance brings the cumulative season record to a horrendous 44-65-2. Recognize that record for what it is; there are 15 NFL games this weekend. If I were to pick every game correctly, my season record would still remain 6 games below .500.

Clearly, no one with the intellect of a plumbing fixture would think of using any information here as the basis for backing a specific side in a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend. Anyone stupid enough to do that also thinks:

    An archaeologist is a guy who will date any old thing.

General Comments:

There are players who have “break-out seasons” where they go 16 – or more – games far exceeding any of their previous statistical accomplishments. There are far more players who improve on past performances early in a season only to spend the latter part of the season sinking back to their more normal/appropriate level of production. It would seem as if Brian Hoyer might be falling into the second category here. After starting out like a Top-10 QB in the first month of the season, here are Hoyer’s stats combined for the last two games:

    24-58 for 432 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT

I will politely say that stat line is hugely unimpressive. Yes, the Browns split those last two games; however, the split did not come from the highly impressive play they got from their starting QB.

Last week, the Browns lost badly to the Jags despite the fact that Jags’ QB, Blake Bortles, threw 3 INTs. Denard Robinson – formerly a QB at Michigan – ran the ball for 127 yards in this game. More impressive was the Jags’ defense which gave up an average of 38 points per game in the first four games of the year and have now given up only 13 points per game in their last 3 outings.

The Bengals started out looking as if they would be a team playing games late in January 2015; then came the games after their early Bye Week. Since the bye, the Bengals record is 0-2-1; they have scored 54 points and they have given up 117 points in those 3 games. In the last several games, the defense has been porous; there is a big difference between “bad tackling” and “missing tackles completely”. The Bengals have been doing the latter. Then, last week, the offense decided to be a “no show” for the game too and the result was a 27-0 whitewashing by the Colts. Let me give you a flavor of what a “no show offense” looks like in the NFL:

    Bengals had 8 consecutive possessions of “3-and-out” in the game
    Bengals had 8 first downs and punted 11 times
    Bengals converted 1 of 13 third-down situations’
    Bengals total offense in 1st half was 27 yards
    Bengals total offense for the game was 135 yards
    Bengals scored ZERO points.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck threw for 344 yards against the Bengals surpassing the 300-yard mark in a game for the 5th game in a row. For the moment, the Bengals do not look anything like team that will play any games at all in January 2015 let alone any in the latter part of that month.

On the other side of the coin, people looked at the early-season success of the Cowboys and expected them to crash and burn sometime before they amassed a 6-game winning streak and an overall record of 6-1 in mid-October. Last week, the Cowboys beat the Giants by 10 points and made it look “routine”. Cowboys’ offensive lineman, Tyrone Smith, gets most of the attention for the dominance of the Cowboys’ OL; notwithstanding that gushing praise, I think this is what you should do this Monday night when the Cowboys are on MNF:

    Keep your eye on #70, Zach Martin, for the Cowboys. He is the right guard and he is VERY good. It sure seemed to me that when the Cowboys needed some tough yards last weekend, they ran the ball to the right side behind Martin…

By the way, running behind that excellent OL, Demarco Murray is on pace to gain 2087 yards for the season. Only 2 players in NFL history ever gained more yards rushing in a single season than that:

    Eric Dickerson – 2,105 yards in 1984
    Adrian Peterson – 2,097 yards in 2012.

The Broncos easily handled the Niners 42-17 on Sunday Night Football last week. All of the falderal surrounding Peyton Manning’s 509th TD pass in his career seemed to overshadow the fact that the Broncos totally dominated this game. Two questions here:

    What happened to the Niners’ running game?
    Since when does Colin Kaeparnick get sacked 6 times in one game?

The Chiefs beat the Chargers last week 23-20; a loss for KC in that game might have put them out of the chase in the AFC West and in a tough spot relative to the playoffs. Alex Smith led a 62-yard drive (9 plays) in the final 2 minutes to win the game. The Chiefs ran the ball well (154 yards on 39 attempts) and won time of possession 39 minutes to 21 minutes. Given the way they played last week, I really do not understand how the Chiefs lost to the Titans in Week 1.

Speaking of the Titans, they lost to the Skins last week in an ugly game. The score was 19-17; it was close all day long; it was still painful to have to watch it. The Titans had no consistent running attack meaning their offense had to ride on the back of Charlie Whitehurst. The Skins turned to Colt McCoy as the QB in the second half and the stats say he completed a 70-yard TD pass on his first attempt. What happened was he threw a hitch pattern to Pierre Garcon about 6 yards down the field; Garcon faked the CB into the tenth row of the stands and then outran the safety to the end zone. This was a game between 2 bad teams; one was ever so slightly worse than the other one on that particular day.

The Bills beat the Vikes 17-16. The game winning drive consisted of 15 plays covering 80 yards and culminated in a 2-yard TD pass from Kyle Orton to Sammy Watkins. That is called “earning it”. The victory cane at a cost to the Bills; they lost two RBs to injury in the game. CJ Spiller is out for the year; Fred Jackson will be out 4-6 weeks. The Vikes sacked Orton 6 times and created 4 turnovers and still the Vikes lost the game because they only put 16 points on the scoreboard.

The Jets lost to the Pats last Thursday night 27-25. Here is a statistical nugget from the Elias Sports Bureau courtesy of espn.com:

    The Jets are the first team in NFL history to lose a game with 40 minutes of time of possession (40:54), 200 rushing yards (218) and no giveaways. (Time of possession was not kept as a stat until 1977.)

Let me put this in perspective:

    Geno Smith played big-boy quarterback.
    Chris Ivory ran over and around the Pats defense
    The Jets’ defense negated anything resembling a Pats’ rushing offense

    And still … the Jets lost the game.

You know, it was only a couple of years ago when the every team in the NFC West was mediocre to bad. That is not the case today by any means but the mantle of “NFL Stinko Division” has been picked up by the NFC South for 2014. Here is how that division fared last week:

    Saints lost to Lions 24-23. That looks like a tough loss but it is more than that. With 4 minutes left in the game the Saints led by 13 – then they coughed up a hairball. Saints’ defense is 23rd in the league. Normally reliable Drew Brees biffed at the end of the game. In the final two Saints’ drives, Brees was 2-11 with an INT that led to the Lions’ game winning TD.

    Falcons lost to Ravens 29-7; it was almost a shutout; the Falcons TD came in garbage time. Falcons’ defense is 31st in the league; Falcons’ offense is painful to watch; their OL is over-matched. Steven Jackson was the leading rusher here with 22 yards. Here is a stat that ought to embarrass the Falcons as an organization:

      In the first half, the Falcons had 61 yards of offense and 61 yards of penalties. Can you spell futility…?

    Panthers lost to Packers 38-17. The game was indeed that lopsided; the Panthers scored 2 meaningless TDs in the 4th quarter. Panthers’ defense is 26th in the league. Remember when Aaron Rodgers told Packers’ fans to relax about the way the team played early in the season? Check these stats from last week for Rodgers:

      19 for 22 for 255 yards and 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

      That is correct; he had as many TD passes as he had incomplete passes against the Panthers’ defense.

    The Bucs mercifully had a Bye Week last week. Nonetheless, with a record of 1-6 and a point differential standing at minus 84 points in those 7 games, you could say the Bucs season is about as appealing as a tire fire. Oh by the way, keeping with the NFC South commitment to bad defenses, the Bucs are showing the way; they have the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL.

The Dolphins beat the Bears – in Chicago – 27-14. Some might say the Bears beat themselves. In the first half of the game, here is what the Bears did on offense:

    Jay Cutler was 8-12 for 50 yards and 1 INT.
    Matt Forte ran the ball 2 times for 11 yards.
    Total offense in the first half was 54 yards.

The Bears’ defense has some responsibility for this loss too. Ryan Tannehill was 25-32 for 277 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs; the Dolphins added 137 yards rushing to those numbers and held the ball over 37 minutes in the game. The Bears are now 3-4 for the season and they trail the Lions and Packers by 2 full games. Moreover – and perhaps more concerning – is that the Bears are 0-3 at home.

The Rams beat the Seahawks 28-26 in a shocker last week. Yes, the Rams scored on a trick punt return; yes, the Rams pulled off a fake punt late in the game deep in their territory; yes, there was a “non-fumble recovery” by the Seahawks that passed the rule test but not the eyeball test late in the game. Nonetheless, the Seahawks’ record now stands at 3-3 and they trail the NFC West division leading Arizona Cardinals by 2 full games. Sadly, all of that drama in the game overshadowed the monster performance by Russell Wilson. All Wilson did last week was:

    Threw for 313 yards
    Ran for 106 yards

    He is the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 yards in the same game.

The Raiders lost to the Cardinals 24-13. The Raiders cannot or will not run the football. Against the Cards, the Raiders ran the ball 19 times for 56 yards (2.9 yards per carry). The Raiders compensate for that lack of a running attack with an anemic passing game. Against the Cards, the Raiders passed for 164 yards on 28 pass attempts. The Cards held the ball for almost 37 minutes in the game and converted 9 of 15 third down situations. Therefore, you can add the Raiders’ defense to the list of team shortcomings. The Raiders are the only winless team in the NFL now because Jax won last week.

Looking at the Raiders’ schedule, I can only see one game where they might be favored. On 21 December – the next to last game of the year – they host the Buffalo Bills. If the Bills are out of the playoff race then and have nothing to play for, the Raiders might be favored in that game. Other than that one…

The Games:

The Niners have a bye this week prepping for a visit by the Rams next week.

The Giants have a bye this week prepping for a visit by the Colts next week.

There are a few very interesting and important games this week; there are some dog games this week and there are some games with unexpected/strange betting lines this week…

(Thurs Nite) San Diego at Denver – 9 (51.5): This is definitely an interesting and important game; it may also be the best game of the weekend. The Broncos are 5-1; the Chargers are 5-2. The winner here will be in first place in the AFC West. The Chargers’ CB, Brandon Flowers, is listed as “Out” for the game due to a concussion last week. With Peyton Manning as the opposing QB, injuries to the defensive backfield are not a good thing. The Broncos’ CB, Omar Bolden, is listed as “Out” for the game due to a concussion last week. With Philip Rivers as the opposing QB, injuries to the defensive backfield are not a good thing. The two defenses are about as equal as possible at this point in the season:

    Broncos allow 316.8 yards per game
    Chargers allow 316.4 yards per game

I think the line is fat so I’ll take the Chargers plus the points. I have a social engagement this evening that was scheduled about 6 months ago; so you may be certain that my DVR will be activated for this game…

Detroit – 3.5 vs Atlanta (46.5) (London Game): Technically, this is a “home game” for the Falcons. That is not a good thing because it is actually a road game for both teams and the Falcons are awful on the road. Actually, the Falcons have been awful just about everywhere and in every phase of the game this year so you look at that spread and ask why the division leading Lions – with the top-ranked defense in the NFL – is only a 3.5-point favorite. Perhaps it is because the Lions are historically not good on the road and not nearly as good outdoors as they are in a dome. Also, the Lions have Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and three of their tight ends listed as “Questionable” for this game. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Lions to win and cover.

Minnesota at Tampa – 2.5 (42.5): Yes, I checked to be sure; the 1-6 Bucs are indeed the favorite in this game. Yes, that makes this The Essence of Putrescence Game of the Week. The Bucs – remember, they are the favorite here – rank 16th in the NFC in total offense and 32nd in the NFL in total defense. Nonetheless, the Bucs’ defense may not be over-matched here because the Vikes rank 15th in the NFC in total offense. The running game edge belongs to the Vikings; the defensive edge belongs to the Vikings. If Terry Bridgewater can stay upright, – the Vikes’ OL is not particularly protective of the kid – and if he can avoid a multiple turnover game, I think the Vikes should win this straight up. I’ll take the Vikings plus the points here.

Chicago at New England – 6 (50.5): The Bears are probably happy to be on the road; they are 3-1 on the road and 0-3 at home. A loss here for the Bears would put them in deep yogurt with regard to the playoffs at the halfway mark of the season; they need a win here badly. The Pats are undefeated at home this year and have a 1-game lead over the Bills in the AFC East at the moment. The Bears’ offense relies on throwing the ball a lot; the Pats have the #1 pass defense in the NFL for now. I like the Pats to win and cover.

St Louis at KC – 7 (45): The Rams – while not mathematically eliminated – are out of the playoff picture for all practical purposes. The Chiefs are 3-3 in the AFC West and one of the two teams above them (Broncos or Chargers) is going to lose tonight. This game has meaning for the Chiefs to a degree that it does not for the Rams. I think this will be a defensive game. I like the game to stay UNDER and I like the Rams plus the points.

Seattle – 5 at Carolina (44.5): The Seahawks are on a 2-game losing streak and have an early game three time zones away this week. The Panthers’ defense was solid for them last year; not so this year; the Panthers give up 388.3 yards per game. Worse than that, only 2 teams in the NFC have given up more points this year than the Panthers:

    The defensively challenged Falcons (2-5)
    The defensively challenged Bucs (1-6)

Both teams “need” this game. The Panthers lead the miserable NFC South by half a game at 3-3-1; the Seahawks are 2 games behind the Cardinals and 1 game behind the Niners in the NFC West. I like the Seahawks to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

Buffalo at Jets – 2.5 (40.5): Yes, I checked to be sure; the 1-6 Jets are favored in this game. Statistically, these teams are very close to one another:

    Bills are 12th in total offense in the AFC
    Jets are 13th in total offense in the AFC

    Bills are 7th in total defense in the AFC
    Jets are 5th in total defense in the AFC

However, the Bills are banged up. They lost two of their “three-pronged running game” to injuries last week (see above); if that allows the Jets to focus on rushing Kyle Orton that could turn the tide for the Jets. Purely a hunch, I’ll take the Jets and lay the points here.

Miami – 6 at Jax (43): Both teams won last week; that is not something I get to say very often about a game involving the Jags. Before the season, I thought the Jags would be a team with significant improvement this year based on a strong defense. That defense was purely miserable for the first 4 games giving up 152 points in those 4 games. Now, in the last 3 games, the Jags defense has given up a total of only 37 points. I was surprised to see that the Jags have had the ball an average of 3 minutes longer than the Dolphins in games this year and that the Jags average 1.7 yards per pass attempt more than the Dolphins. Here is another hunch game; I’ll take the Jags plus the points. And I’ll light a candle in church praying that Blake Bortles does not throw 4 INTs in the game…

Houston at Tennessee (no lines): The game was “on the board” for a short time on Tuesday and then came down. The Texans are a marginal team; the Titans are a bad team. It would have been a coin flip game if there were lines so no big loss here…

Baltimore at Cincy “pick ‘em” (45.5): This is an important game for both teams. The Ravens at 5-2 hold a 1.5-game lead over the Bengals at 3-3-1. In addition to the standings, the Bengals need a win here to get their mojo back. The Ravens need a win here because they have already lost to the Bengals and a second loss would give the Bengals the first tie-breaker should it come down to that. A loss for the Ravens would also be their second in the division and that is not good for them either. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game – but I had to modify the protocol. The first flip came up “heads” meaning I was to play the spread. This is a “pick-em” game so there is no spread. Therefore, I modified it such that the second flip would be “Heads for Home team” and “Tails for Traveling team”. The coin says to take the Ravens to win the game.

Philly at Arizona – 2.5 (48): This is another important game. The Eagles at 5-1 trail the 6-1 Cowboys in the NFC East by half a game; the Cardinals at 5-1 lead the NFC West. The Eagles come to the game off a Bye Week; the Cardinals had a scrimmage last week against the Raiders. The Eagles historically do not play well in Arizona; their last win in the desert was in 2001. I know the pick I want to make in this game and so I went looking for a trend that would support that pick – psychologists call this “confirmation bias”:

    Eagles are 8-3 in their last 11 road games to go OVER
    Cards are 7-3 in their last 10 at home against Eagles to go OVER
    Cards are 9-5 in their last 14 games against winning teams to go OVER

I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Indy – 3 at Pittsburgh (49): The Colts are cruising in the AFC South; the Steelers trail the Ravens by a game in the AFC North. The game means a whole lot more to the Steelers than to the Colts. The Colts’ offense produces 67 yards per game more than does the Steelers’ offense; that is not surprising. Here is what is surprising:

    The Colts’ defense allows 311.1 yards per game
    The Steelers’ defense allows 345 yards per game.

If motivation counts for anything, the Steelers should win this game at home. Therefore, I’ll take the Steelers plus the points.

Oakland at Cleveland – 7 (43): I mentioned Brian Hoyer’s awful stats over the last 2 games above; they are worth repeating here:

    24-58 for 432 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT

Notwithstanding those awful numbers over 2 games, the Browns rank 5th in the AFC in total offense; that is the reason for their 3-3 record because the defense has been miserable ranking 15th in the AFC in total defense. Last week when the offense was beyond miserable, the Jags got off the schneid and won their first game against the Browns. Now the Raiders come to town at 0-6 with the following credentials:

    Raiders are 16th in total offense in the AFC.
    Raiders are 12th in total defense in the AFC.

If the Browns lose a second consecutive game to a winless team in October, the bloom will be off the rose for the rest of this year. I’ll take this game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) Green Bay at New Orleans – 1 (55.5): That spread reflects the public perception of the Saints’ abilities at home as opposed to on the road. The Saints are 2-4 but they are 2-0 at home. Granted, those two wins at home have come at the expense of the Bucs and the Vikings the teams meeting in this week’s Essence of Putrescence Game. One other interesting note is that the Saints are 0-6 against the spread this season. Here is the stat matchup worth considering:

    Saints are 1st in the NFC in passing offense
    Packers are 1st in the NFC in passing defense.

I do not think the Packers will retain that status after playing the Saints at home. I also do not think that the Saints’ defense will stymie Aaron Rodgers and Company. I like this game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Washington at Dallas – 9.5 (49.5): Cowboys and Indians; long-term division rivalry; two teams that draw big TV ratings; the folks at ESPN must have drooled when they got this game for this weekend when the schedule solidified. Cowboys are a big surprise at 6-1; Skins are not surprising in that they play up to or down to the level of their opponent – as they have done for the last decade or so. Colt McCoy returns to the state of Texas where he was a college football hero; if he leaves with a win on Monday night, he will have damaged his “hero status” in North Texas. I think the Cowboys will run the ball effectively here and I doubt that the Skins will put meaningful pressure on Tony Romo meaning the Skins secondary will have to cover a good set of receivers for a long time. That is a mismatch. I like the Cowboys to win and cover here.

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

City Of The Big Shoulders…

After the Chicago Bears stunk out the joint at home – again – last week against the Dolphins, there was not a lot of peace and harmony in the Bears’ locker room. People heard loud voices through the door and they were not trying to organize a team clambake for their day off. Brandon Marshall in particular was heard saying more than a few provocative things.

Marshall says that he does not regret what he said; he only regrets that people outside the team heard him say what he said. Marshall says the Bears have all the players and all the coaches they need to be a great team [He and I will have to disagree on that point.] and the only thing the team needs to do is to come together and play to its ability. If indeed that is all there is to the matter, the whole story about yelling and discord in the locker room is a tempest in a spittoon.

However, I believe that Brandon Marshall needs to take a deep breath and do just a tad of introspection lest he get himself sucked into a wormhole. Brandon Marshall is a highly talented WR; he is 30 years old; he is in his ninth year in the NFL; he is on his third team in the NFL. Brandon Marshall has some prodigious stats including an NFL record 21 receptions in a single game. Brandon Marshall also carries more than just a little baggage with him to include this fact:

    To date, no team with Brandon Marshall on the roster has ever participated in a playoff game.

His talent will keep him in the NFL until one of two situations obtains:

    1. The talent erodes to the point where his baggage becomes too burdensome.

    2. His baggage becomes too burdensome even for his significant talent.

Brandon Marshall is never going to ask me for advice – nor should he. Nonetheless, I really think that in one of his reflective moments – perhaps in the Green Room as he prepares for an episode of Inside the NFL – he might want to reflect on the latter stages of the career of Terrell Owens. That is probably not a path on which he would choose to travel but it is also a path on which he may just find himself one of these days…

In the English Premier League, Sunderland played at Southampton last week. For those not immediately familiar with English geography, Sunderland is in the far northeast of England on the coast of the North Sea by the border with Scotland. Southampton is in the southwest of England on the English Channel west of Portsmouth. It is a tossup whether Southampton is the furthest distance from Sunderland in the EPL or if that distinction belongs to Swansea. In any event, it is a long journey.

About 2500 Sunderland supporters made that trip to support the team last week and the final score was:

    Southampton 8
    Sunderland “Nil”

In the aftermath of that debacle, the Sunderland goalkeeper said he would ask his teammates to refund the cost of the tickets to that game to the 2500 fans who made the trip and had to watch that game. Team captain, John O’Shay said of this offer:

“We win and lose as a team, players, staff and fans. However we wanted to acknowledge and thank the supporters who travelled such a long way to give us their backing and despite everything, stayed with us until the final whistle.”

Any money that remains unclaimed by those traveling fans will be donated to a local children’s charity. Sunderland is not off to a good start in the EPL this year; they are ahead of only 3 teams in the table at this early point in the season and in the EPL, the bottom 3 teams are relegated to a lower level of competition for the next year. Sunderland just avoided relegation last year; they are not a “top-shelf side”…

Tickets to this game cost approximately $40 meaning there is “pool” of about $100K available for refunds. Do not expect this concept to make its way to the NFL any time soon…

I want to give you the career stats of two long-term MLB players anonymously at first for a reason that will become clear at the end. Importantly, these two players played the same position for the vast majority of their careers:

    Player A: 17 years in MLB; 7 times an All-Star; career BA .260; career OPS .667; career WAR 36.2

    Player B: 18 years in MLB; 5 times an All-Star; career BA .255; career OPS 675; career WAR 34.7

Considering the length of these two careers, I think it is fair to say these players are pretty much “peas in a pod”. Player A is Bill Mazeroski; he is in the Hall of Fame. Player B is Frank White the long time second baseman of the KC Royals; he never even sniffed election to the Hall of Fame.

I have said this since 2001 when the Veterans’ Committee inducted Mazeroski into the Hall of Fame:

    He is there because of one at-bat in a 17-year career. If his World Series winning home run had been a pop-up to the shortstop, he would never have been considered for the Hall of Fame.

Finally, a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Parting thought: Ron Washington revealed he abruptly resigned as Rangers manager because he admitted infidelity to his wife. He had earlier admitted to using cocaine. One or two more embarrassing off-field incidents and he might be ready for the NFL.”

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

Odds And Ends…

In the middle of last weekend’s Keeping Score blog entry by Gregg Drinnan, I found the following tidbit:

“When the Kamloops Blazers gave goaltender Bolton Pouliot to the Portland Winterhawks the other day — call it an early Christmas present — it brought back memories of Jan. 19, 1983. That was the day the WHL’s Seattle Breakers traded forward Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars for a used bus.”

To say that my knowledge of the comings and goings in the Western Hockey League is an eighth of an inch deep would be most generous; clearly, the memories he refers to here did not leap to mind. So, I asked Gregg Drinnan if indeed a player had actually been traded for a used bus. Here is “the rest of the story”…

    Tom Martin had been drafted by the Winnipeg Jets but in 1983 found himself on the roster of the Seattle Breakers of the WHL. Martin wanted to play some hockey and also to get a college education; he was a native of Victoria. The Breakers needed a new team bus because the engine on their bus had gone to the great grease pit in the sky on a road trip to Kelowna The Victoria Cougars had a spare bus they picked up when the Spokane Flyers’ franchise went belly-up. Martin was not going to play for Seattle; Victoria had a bus in Spokane that would cost them money to transfer and register in Canada. The trade of player for bus was pretty simple.

In that link, there are a couple other references to players who were traded for things other than players:

    Keith Comstock – a relief pitcher who bounced around in MLB for a few years – was once traded for a box of used baseballs whilst he was still in the minor leagues. According to an old Sports Illustrated report, he was actually traded from the A’s to the Tigers for $100 and a box of used baseballs.

    John Odom played for the Calgary Vipers in the Golden Baseball League and was traded to the Laredo Broncos of the United Baseball League for ten maple baseball bats. The reason for the trade was that Odom had a minor criminal offense on his record that prevented him from going to Canada to work/live.

    Fred Roberts was an NBA journeyman who was traded from the Jazz to the Celtics in 1986. The NY Times reported that he was traded for a “future draft choice”. The link here says he was traded in exchange for “two preseason games in which Boston would play Utah.” The report in this link makes for a better story, so I choose to go with that report…

Bob Molinaro had this item in a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: Media accounts of Kansas City’s undying love for its Royals go real easy on the inconvenient truth that the team ranked 25th out of 30 in attendance. The Royals were one of only six MLB clubs that didn’t break the 2 million mark this year. But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.”

Indeed, only 5 teams drew fewer fans than did the Royals in 2014; the Royals averaged 24,154 fans per game at home this year. Kauffman Stadium has a capacity of 37,903 so the Royals played to just under 64% of capacity. Granted, it had been 30 years since the Royals had been a playoff team; but this year’s team was “in the mix” all during the summer. Consider the five teams below the Royals in attendance this year:

    Houston Astros – 21,628 fans per game. The Astros took a big step forward this year losing only 92 games.

    Miami Marlins – 21,386 fans per game. The Marlins never draw well; the fans and the owner are not “best buddies”.

    Chicago White Sox – 20,381 fans per game. The Sox lost 89 games after starting slowly and never contending this year.

    Tampa Bay Rays – 17,858 fans per game. The Rays did not draw in years the team won the AL East; this year the Rays were 19 games out of first place there.

    Cleveland Indians – 17,746 fans per game. This is bad; the Indians were in the playoff picture much of the season.

Over the weekend, Danica Patrick led a NASCAR race – the Geico 500 at Talladega – with only 20 laps to go. She was not involved in a wreck and managed to finish 19th in the race. One report said that a caution flag in the late running took away her momentum and other racers finished ahead of her. I would point out ever so politely here that every driver in the race had to slow down and then restart when that caution flag was out so every driver similarly lost momentum for that time.

I am hardly an expert in searching out NASCAR stats but if I searched correctly, Danica Patrick has been a full-time NASCAR performer for two seasons and her best finish in a NASCAR race was 6th place in September of this year.

Finally, here is an interesting item from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“Olympic wrestler Dremiel Byers was cited for allegedly hunting deer at a Colorado Springs Lexus dealership … He was cited for hunting out of season. How about hunting out of place?”

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

The Percy Harvin Trade…

The Percy Harvin trade from Seattle to the Jets generated a lot of commentary late last week, as it should have. The swap has the potential to generate waves in a variety of dimensions.

    The Jets’ organization is not particularly stable about now. Rumors and intrigues swirl around the head coach and the GM; the team is 1-6 and its “quarterback situation” is not exactly in a tranquil place. With no direct knowledge of Percy Harvin, let me just say that press reports indicate he might not be the easiest person to get along with. If he helps the Jets win a few games, he will be seen as a savior; if not and if he is indeed not the easiest person to get along with, the Jets’ organization may implode around him.

    The NYC media will cut him exactly zero slack after the briefest of honeymoon periods. Unless of course, the Jets go on a 4-game winning streak…

    The Seahawks are suffering Super Bowl Hangover Syndrome. One of their problems has been that teams are loading up to stop their run game and the Seahawks have not been able to make them pay for that with a long passing game. Frankly, that fact alone makes this trade doubly interesting to me. Harvin’s speed makes him a deep threat – but he had only 1 catch of 20+ yards this season. Ergo:

      Did Pete Carroll give up on Harvin because he does not think Harvin provided a deep threat or because he thinks he has a better deep threat on the roster or because Harvin was no longer worth the drama that surrounded him in the locker room? Or, maybe all three reasons…?

The final chapter for this soap opera has yet to be written. There are reports that Marshawn Lynch was close to Harvin and is upset that Harvin is gone from Seattle. The Seahawks need an unhappy Marshawn Lynch like a submarine needs an elevator. The only “sure thing” in this situation is that the Jets acquired a WR with speed and hands – something they sorely lacked until last weekend…

With regard to Cowboys’ RB, Joseph Randle’s arrest for shoplifting some cologne and some underwear because he supposedly did not want to wait in a long line at the cashier to pay for those items, can I please get someone at ESPN or FOX Sports1 to stop calling this a bad decision. That was so far beyond a simple “bad decision” that it is insulting to every person on earth who ever made a bad decision. Buying and holding Enron stock was a bad decision; wasting 2 hours of one’s life to see the movie Ishtar was a bad decision; shoplifting items because the cashier line was too long to wait in is not a bad decision; it is an indicator of a massive case of entitlement. The fact that he is now some kind of spokesthing for the underwear company ought to be embarrassing to the max – but entitled people seem not to understand the concept of embarrassment.

Joseph Randle’s apprehension in this matter demonstrates how the laws of probability work in a perverse sort of way. I took courses in probability and statistics long ago in my academic years; none of the mathematical formulas and theorems captures the Murphy-like attributes of probability in the real world like this simple realization:

    The probability that you are being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of what you are doing at any given moment.

Florida State University – looking into the allegations that there are a couple thousand memorabilia items circulating out there in the memorabilia universe signed by Jameis Winston – said that they have no evidence that Winston received any money for signing any alleged memorabilia items that may or may not exist. Puhleeez:

    If the items do not exist, there is obviously no problem – unless someone just paid Winston money for not doing anything at all because that alone could be an NCAA violation.

    If the items do exist – some “experts” have “authenticated” the signatures on the “alleged memorabilia” – then one of three conditions obtains:

      1. Winston was paid for signing them. That is an NCAA violation.

      2. Winston is too dumb to realize that his signature will enrich other folks; and therefore, he should get paid as part of the deal.

      3. Winston did it out of the goodness of his heart because some nice person asked him to do it.

What the FSU “investigators” need to do is to track down one of these pieces of memorabilia to determine if indeed it has an actual Jameis Winston signature on it. If they cannot find one and say that is the case, they had better hope no one produces such an item 48 hours after their announcement. If they do find one, they have to pick from Options 1-3 above. None of them will be an easy sell.

I have a rhetorical baseball question to pose here:

    Hitters are asked to “hit the ball the other way” to advance runners in game situations and oftentimes the hitters are successful in doing so. So, how come hitters cannot be asked to “hit the ball the other way” to take advantage of an overshifted defense with the same expectation of success?

Finally, words of wisdom from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Excess blather: The NBA is experimenting with shortening games, while some players wish for a shorter season. But when it comes to sports in general on TV, what I want is a lot less pre-game chatter – none would be good – from the overcrowded panels whose analysis amounts to nothing. And I get what I want simply by not watching until the ball is in play.”

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