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………

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 10/18/14

Let me begin with a review of last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Oklahoma -14 over Texas. Oklahoma won by 5. Boo!

    I liked Mich St. -20.5 over Purdue. Mich St. won by 14. Boo!

    I liked Florida St. -22.5 over Syracuse. FSU won by 18. Boo!

    I liked FSU/Syracuse OVER 53. Total was 58. Yea!

    I liked Ga Tech -3 over Duke. Tech lost the game. Boo!

    I liked W Va/Tex Tech OVER 74. Total was 71. Boo!

    I liked TCU/Baylor UNDER 68. Total was 119. Boo!

    I liked Miss. St. +3 against Auburn. Miss St. won by 15. Yea!

    I liked Alabama -8.5 over Arkansas. Bama won by 1. Boo!

    I liked LSU/Florida UNDER 47.5. Total was 57. Boo!

    I liked USC/Arizona OVER 67.5. Total was 54. Boo!

    I liked UNC/Notre Dame OVER 64. Total was 93. Yea!

    I liked Ole Miss/Tex A&M OVER 64. Total was 55. Boo!

    I liked Penn State “pick ‘em” over Michigan. State lost. Boo!

Well, those picks were even less useful than a third nostril. To save you the trouble of counting, last week’s picks were 3-11-0 dropping the season total for NCAA Mythical Picks to 45-54-0. Demonstrating that these are indeed mythical picks and not real ones, I have not had the need to withdraw any funds from my IRA this week to buy groceries.

Obviously, no one would look at those results and even consider using information here as even a partial basis for selecting a side in a real wager involving real money and a college football game this week. However, if anyone is indeed dense enough to do that, let me give you an idea of how stupid that would be:

    You also think a transistor is a nun who had a sex change operation.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats extended their record to 4-0 last week by trouncing George Fox University 59-0. The game was as lopsided as the score would indicate. George Fox only had 5 first downs in the game and 82 yards of total offense. With one more win, Linfield will have a winning season (Division III schools play a 9-game schedule and then a set of playoffs) for the 59th consecutive year. This week, Linfield hosts the Whitworth University Pirates for Homecoming Weekend in McMinnville, OR. Whitworth is 4-2 on the season (2-1 in the Northwest conference) and comes off a 61-45 victory over Willamette last week. Go Wildcats!

Jameis Winston is in the news again; this time there are allegations that he too has been involved in signing memorabilia and receiving money for doing so. Supposedly, there are more than 900 “authenticated” items floating around in the memorabilia world with Winston’s signature on them. Florida State is “investigating” this and if history is any indicator, they will do so with the efficacy of Inspector Clouseau. Like many people, I do not understand why this practice is subject to such draconian punishment by the NCAA, but indeed those are the rules at least for now.

The sportsbooks in Las Vegas took this story very seriously and they took this week’s Florida State/Notre Dame game off the board once the story broke. Interestingly, the sportsbooks did not do that a week ago when Georgia running back, Todd Gurley was suspended by the university for similar allegations. As of this morning, Winston is slated to play on Saturday and Gurley’s status with the Georgia team “will be updated” later today.

Last weekend produced the first crop of bowl-eligible teams. Baylor, Florida State, Marshall, Mississippi St. and Notre Dame all won their 6th game of the year making them bowl-eligible. It is actually important for the NCAA to get teams to that level of “success” because there will be 39 college football bowl games this year meaning there will need to be 78 bowl eligible participants.

    [Aside: Remember all those folks who worried that the existence of a college football playoff would ruin the “bowl system”? Well, we now have a playoff and the bowl games keep expanding. How might they explain all of that?]

There are only 128 teams playing Division 1-A football so getting 78 of them to a .500 level or higher requires a bunch of teams to be well below that winning percentage. Indeed, we do have a few teams that appear to be taking that “responsibility seriously. There are 3 teams that have yet to win a game:

    Idaho – has longest current losing streak in the country (13)
    Kent State
    SMU – losing by an average of 42.4 points per game this year.

There are other bad teams out there who have a win or two but show no indication whatsoever that they might approach bowl eligibility such as:

    Appalachian St.: 1 win over Campbell College. Lost to Liberty!
    Georgia St.: 1 win over Abilene Christian by 1 point
    Troy: 1 win and they lost to Abilene Christian
    UConn: 1 win over Stony Brook

Look at that list of 1-win teams and realize that one of them will win its second game of the year this week. Appalachian St. and Troy play each other. Talk about a game that does not matter…

UMass won a football game last week beating Kent State (see listing above) 40-17. This was the first time this year that UMass held an opponent under 30 points.

At the beginning of the college football season, Mississippi St. was unranked; this week they are ranked #1 in the country – for whatever that means in mid-October. In the last 3 weeks, the Bulldogs beat LSU (ranked 8th at the time), Texas A&M (ranked 6th at the time) and Auburn (ranked 2nd at the time). The SEC West is loaded with good football teams this year. To give you an idea how good they are, the teams from the SEC West have played 21 games against teams outside the SEC West and their cumulative record is 21-0. Yes, there were a couple of cupcakes in there, but there have also been games against teams from the SEC East and other Power 5 conferences too.

The SEC West has two traditional rivalry games that take place late in the schedule every year. For the last 30 years, the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn) has been the dominant game; the Egg Bowl (Ole Miss vs. Mississippi St.) has been the afterthought. Perhaps this year, the Egg Bowl will be more important than the Iron Bowl. I would certainly never have predicted that back in August…

In SEC West action last week, Mississippi St beat Auburn 38-23. The Bulldogs got an early 21-0 lead capitalizing on Auburn miscues and that lead held up through the game.

Meanwhile, Alabama squeaked by Arkansas 14-13 last week. The difference here was a blocked extra point; Arkansas won the statistical battle. Alabama only gained 227 yards on offense and only had 10 first downs in the game. Arkansas converted 9 of 19 third down situations and had 26 more offensive plays in the game. That was Arkansas’ 15 consecutive loss in SEC games.

Ole Miss took care of business beating Texas A&M 35-20 in College Station, TX. Actually, the game was not that close; Ole Miss led 35-7 in the fourth quarter before the Aggies scored two meaningless TDs.

Georgia needed Missouri to lose another SEC game for Georgia to have a shot at the SEC East title. The two teams met last week; Georgia was without its star RB, Todd Gurley (see above); it did not matter even a little bit. Georgia ran away with the game 34-0 at Missouri. Georgia intercepted 4 passes in the game and completely dominated time of possession.

Baylor beat TCU 61-58 last week. TCU led this game by 21 points with 5 minutes to go in the third quarter and gave it up. Both teams were ranked in the Top 10 last week and so this was the highest scoring game involving two Top 10 teams since the Associated Press started publishing its rankings in 1936 (previous record was 105 points in 1988 in the Nebraska/Oklahoma St game). There are tons of stats to cite from the game so let me just put two of them here:

    Baylor QB, Bryce Petty, threw for 510 yards and 6 TDs
    Three Baylor WRs each had more than 100 yards receiving.

Oklahoma beat Texas 31-26 despite the fact that Texas dominated the stat sheet:

    Texas’ offense more than doubled Oklahoma’s offense
    Oklahoma only converted 1 of 11 third down situations
    Texas ran 34 more plays than Oklahoma
    Texas had the ball for just over 37 minutes in the game.

Two of Oklahoma’s TDs came on a kickoff return and a Pick Six. Texas is 2-4 and I read somewhere that this is the worst start for Texas since 1956 which is the year before Texas hired some guy named Darrell Royal to be their coach.

Out west, Oregon beat UCLA 42-30. Oregon ran the ball for 258 yards on 41 attempts scoring 4 rushing TDs. Oregon squeaked by Washington St. two weeks ago and then lost last week to Arizona. The Ducks returned to form here.

Speaking obliquely of Arizona, their undefeated status came to a screeching halt last week with a 28-26 loss to USC. The Trojans led 28-13 in the 4th quarter but Arizona scored a TD to close the gap to 8 points. Arizona then scored a TD with about a minute to play making the score 28-26 and here is a rough reconstruction of the game from that point:

    Two-point conversion failed
    Pass Interference called on conversion attempt.
    Two-point conversion failed again.
    Onside kick recovered by Arizona
    36-yard field goal attempt by Arizona is good – but USC iced the kicker
    36-yard field goal attempt by Arizona goes wide right
    USC holds on to win…

Miami beat Cincy (college game not NFL game) 55-34. Miami gained 6321 yards of offense in the game and dominated the line of scrimmage. Statement game by Miami…?

Duke beat Georgia Tech 31-25 last week. Three turnovers in the second half by Georgia Tech did not help their cause even a smidgen.

Boston College beat NC State 30-14. NC State is now 4-3 after starting out 4-0 against a schedule that ought to have embarrassed everyone in the Athletic Department.

Notre Dame rallied in the 4th quarter to beat UNC 50-43 last week. UNC gained 510 yards of offense in the game despite losing the game. Notre Dame has to hope that the defense plays better this week against Florida State or the Irish will be run out of Tallahassee.

Iowa extended its record to 5-1 beating Indiana 45-29 last week. Iowa took control early and led 28-7 after one quarter.

Don’t look now, but Temple is 4-1 with at least two more winnable games on its schedule. That would put Temple in a bowl game in December.

Minnesota beat Northwestern 24-17 last week and its record now stands at 5-1 making them almost bowl eligible. Try to curb your enthusiasm here…

Michigan State beat Purdue 45-31 and the surprising thing here is that the Michigan St defense gave up 31 points to a team like Purdue.

Speaking of Purdue, they have three interesting entries on their football roster:

    Freshman linebacker named Danny Ezechukwu
    Freshman O-lineman named Bearooz Yacoobi
    Junior O-lineman Corey Clements – listed at 6’8” and 400 lbs

The Ponderosa Spread Games

Last week we had 3 Ponderosa spread Games. The favorites covered in only 1 of the games for a record of 1-2-0.

Marshall covered.

Georgia Southern and Wisconsin failed to cover.

The cumulative record for favorites covering Ponderosa Spreads this year now stands at 27-23-1.

This week, there are ZERO Ponderosa Spread Games. The biggest spread I can find this week is only 22 points (Ohio State favored over Rutgers) so no games qualify as Ponderosa Spread Games. I have been following this for about 20 years and this is the first week – with a full slate of games – that I can recall with no Ponderosa Spread Games.

C’est la vie…

Games of Interest:

Marshall – 21.5 at Florida Int’l (55.5): Marshall is undefeated at 6-0 and aspires to be the outsider in the big-boy bowl games this year. They have yet to score fewer than 42 points in a game. Florida Int’l is 3-3 and hopes to attain bowl eligibility; the Golden Panthers have an erratic offense and defense. I think this will be a scoring-fest. I like the game to go OVER.

Syracuse – 5 at Wake Forest (42.5): Syracuse is a bad team on the road; Wake Forest is a bad team at home. This is not the worst game of the week by a long shot, but there is no reason to watch it or bet on it either.

Iowa at Maryland – 5 (48.5): Maryland can score; Maryland has trouble stopping other teams from scoring. I have no idea why this Total Line is so low but I think this game will go OVER.

Baylor – 8 at W. Virginia (80): Last year, these teams put 115 points on the board in their game against each other. The first question that comes to mind here is:

    Will they remember to bring their defensive units this year?

My guess is that they brought the defensive units last year too and the “issue” is that neither team has much of a defense when exposed to a high-octane opponent. Once again, I like the game to go OVER.

UVa at Duke – 3 (51): There is no way I would have predicted that this could be an important ACC game back in August. Duke is 5-1 with its loss in conference; Virginia is 4-2 but they are undefeated in ACC games. Duke runs the ball for 228 yards per game; Virginia ranks 6th in the country in rush defense allowing only 91.5 yards per game. I think the game will turn on Duke’s ability to run the ball here. Make it a venue call; I like Duke to win and cover.

Ga Tech at UNC “pick ‘em” (70.5): To be polite, UNC has had defensive “issues” all year; recall they gave up 70 points to E. Carolina. Tech will show them an offense that is different from anything else they have seen meaning they will not have had a lot of time to practice for it. I like Tech to win this game.

E. Michigan at UMass – 14 (63): That is not a typo; I checked it twice. UMass is a 2 TD favorite over another Division 1-A football team. Do not wager on this game – – please.

Georgia – 3.5 at Arkansas (54.5): Somebody has a fantastic “middle opportunity” in this game. The Total Line opened the week at 61.5 and now sits a full 7 points under that number. Anyone who bet the Under at 61.5 can now bet the Over at 54.5 and potentially hit both wagers if the total falls in that “middle”. Georgia controls its fate in the SEC East; they do not want to lose here and get into a scramble once again. I like Georgia to win and cover on the road.

Appalachian St. at Troy – 6 (64.5): This is probably the worst game of the week; see above for the reason why.

Army – 3.5 at Kent St. (51): This game is interesting only because this is the middle of a very soft spot in the Kent St. schedule. They lost last week to UMass; now they have Army at home; next week they visit Miami (Oh). If they do not find a win in that mix, they might not win a game all season. Army is not very good but they do have 2 wins this year and both were over MAC teams. Do not bet on this game…

Stanford – 3.5 at Arizona St (54.5): Stanford already has one conference loss (to USC); it does not need another one. Arizona St. already has one conference loss (to UCLA); it does not need another one. I think this will be a defensive game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Washington at Oregon – 21 (64.5): Washington beat Cal 31-7 last week which is unusual in the sense that Washington only scored 31 points on a Cal defense that had given up 49 points or more 3 times this year. Was this a big win for Washington or was Cal simply awful? Oregon – on the other hand – returned to form last week handling UCLA on the road. I think Oregon is much the better team but I am not about to lay 3 full TDs worth of points in a rivalry game. I like this game to go OVER.

UCLA – 7 at Cal (74.5): I think UCLA has been over-rated all season long; it would be difficult to under-rate Cal in the PAC-12. They are 2-2 in conference play but the wins have come over Colorado and Washington St. That is not impressive. I think UCLA will run away and hide in this game. I’ll take UCLA to win and cover.

Texas A&M at Alabama – 13.5 (64): Here is another game with “middle opportunity”. The Total Line here opened at 58.5 and has been at this level for the last 24 hours. I do not think the Aggies can score a lot on the Bama defense; I do not think the Bama offense will score a lot because that is not what they do. I like the game to stay UNDER and I like Texas A&M plus the points.

Clemson – 5 at BC (45): Yet another middle opportunity game; the Total Line started out at 51.5. If you can figure out which BC team will show up tomorrow, you are better than I am; here is what BC has done this year:

    Beat UMass (big deal)
    Lost to Pitt (Pitt is not that good)
    Beat USC (yes, the USC in Los Angeles)
    Beat Maine (whoop-de-damn-doo)
    Lost to Colorado St. (excuse me)
    Beat NC State (State is not a good team)

Clemson will have to play without its freshman phenom at QB here – and for the rest of the season. Purely a venue call, I’ll take BC plus the points.

Kansas St. at Oklahoma – 7 (55): K-State took last week off and presumably prepped for this game. The Wildcats are 4-1 on the year with their only loss coming at the hands of Auburn a month ago. Oklahoma beat Texas last week but did not look good doing so. I think that line is fat; I’ll take K-State plus the points.

New Mexico St. at Idaho – 5 (68.5): Once again, that is not a typo; I checked it twice. Idaho is winless this year; Idaho has given up 34 points or more in all 6 losses; Idaho is a 5-point favorite in this game. New Mexico St. is 2-5 on the year with wins over Cal-Poly and Georgia State and big losses to UTEP and Troy. This game fits the acronym AWGARAG – A Who Gives A Rat’s Ass Game.

Tennessee at Ole Miss – 16 (46.5): Florida beat Tennessee 10-9 earlier this year; Florida’s defense is the strength of the team. Ole Miss has a defense that is at least as good as Florida’s and probably a bit better. Oh, and Ole Miss has an offense that is significantly better than Florida’s offense. I like Ole Miss to win and cover here.

Missouri at Florida – 5.5 (46.5): Let me be brief… This should be a low-scoring affair so I’ll take Missouri plus the points.

Nebraska – 6.5 at Northwestern (52): Nebraska averages 303.5 yards per game on the ground (6th in the nation). I think Ameer Abdullah will have a huge day here. I like Nebraska to win and cover.

Kentucky at LSU – 11 (53): Kentucky has been surprisingly good this year and LSU has been uncharacteristically mediocre this year. I think the trend continues here. I’ll take Kentucky plus the points.

Notre Dame/Florida State is indeed off the board. Early in the week, FSU was a 10.5 point favorite with the spread having dropped from an opening line of 12.5 points. I think the game will be closer than that – just saying…

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 10/19/14

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

    I liked Colts -3 over Texans. Colts won by 5. Yes!

    I liked Broncos -8 over Jets. Broncos won by 14. Yes!

    I liked Steelers +2 against Browns. Steelers lost by 21. No!

    I liked Falcons -3 over Bears. Falcons lost by 14. No!

    I liked Packers -3 over Dolphins. The game was a PUSH!

    I liked Bengals -7 over Panthers. Game was a tie after OT. No!

    I liked Bills +3 against Pats. Bills lost by 15. No!

    I liked Ravens/Bucs UNDER 43. Ravens scored 48 alone. No!

    I liked Raiders +7.5 against Chargers. Raiders lost by 3. Yes!

    I liked Cowboys +8 against Seahawks. Dallas won outright. Yes!

    I liked Giants +3 against Eagles. Giants were shut out. No!

    I liked Niners -3 over Rams. Niners won by 14. Yes!

The record for last week was 5-6-1 bringing the season record to 38-54-2. Getting back to an overall .500 record is not looking good…

Meanwhile the Coin Flip Games were 0-3 last week bringing the record for Coin Flip Games this season to 6-9-1. OK, there is a ray of sunshine I can latch onto; were it not for the coin coming up wrong all the time last week, I would have been mythically “in the black” for the week. While I am holding onto that ray of hope, it would be most unkind if anyone pointed out that it is not the curmudgeonly coin that has put me so far under .500 for the season…

Obviously, these picks this year have not been worth the electrons it has taken to transmit them to the Internet. No one should expect any of the picks this week to be worth any more than previous ones. Therefore, no one should use anything here to influence any decision one might make regarding a real wager on an actual NFL game this weekend should that wager involve real money. Anyone doing so would have an intellectual level rivaled only by farm implements.

General Comments:

This Sunday, 19 October 2014, is National Evaluate Your Life Day. Presumably, if one devotes himself to that task, one may come up with areas for improvement and/or re-direction by the time the sun goes down on Sunday. I think the folks who run the draft rooms for NFL teams might want to use Sunday to look back on their performances. For example…

It is almost that time when you can look back at the 2011 NFL draft and determine with some certainty which players were taken too early and which were bargains because they went later than they should have. I think the jury is in on the QB position:

    Overall #1 Cam Newton. Excellent player/franchise QB

    Overall #8 Jake Locker. Always injured/taken too high

    Overall #10 Blaine Gabbert. Just awful with Jax/taken too high

    Overall #12 Christian Ponder. Career emergency QB/ taken too high

    Overall #35 Andy Dalton. Been to the Pro Bowl/a blue-ribbon bargain

    Overall 36 Colin Kaepernick. Been to NFC playoffs twice/ a blue-ribbon bargain.

    Ryan Mallet (74) and Ricky Stanzi (135) have not seen the field significantly

    Overall 152 TJ Yates. Highly unimpressive/what to expect in 5th round.

    Nathan Enderle (159), Tyrod Taylor (180), Greg McElroy (208) and Terrelle Pryor (supplemental 3rd round pick) have not shown anything interesting.

My assessment is that the Panthers got what they thought they were getting at the top of the draft. There were two bargain selections in the second round. Other than those three guys, the other ten selections were gambles that came up short. If a team lost out on a 5th or 7th round pick, so be it. If a team wastes a first round pick…

While it is too early to make anything near a final judgment on the QBs taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, might I suggest that the rookies who have had some starting opportunities show a bit of promise.

    Blake Bortles (Jax) was 32-46 for 336 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT last week against the Titans.

    Terry Bridgewater (Minnesota) has won a game as a starter this year.

    Derek Carr (Oakland) threw 4 TDs against the Chargers last week and had the Raiders within a field goal of the 5-1 Chargers.

Johnny Manziel (Cleveland) has been Johnny Clipboard and not Johnny Football so far. None of the other QBs taken has played any significant minutes so far.

When the Bucs hired Lovie Smith, the idea was that he would bring order and calm to a team in turmoil and that as a defensive coach, he would solidify that unit. In Chicago, he put tough, fundamentally sound defenses on the field one of which got the team as far as the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman running the offense. So, what happened?

    The Bucs signed free agents Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner on defense. They did not come cheap, but both have shown they can play.

    The Bucs signed Josh McCown to be their QB since he had played in Lovie’s offensive system in Chicago.

    The Bucs are 1-5. Two of those losses have been by scores one normally associates with college homecoming games. The Bucs lost to the Falcons 56-14 earlier this year “rallying” from a 56-09 deficit; last week, they lost to the Ravens 48-17 and the score was 35-0 early in the 2nd quarter.

The Bucs trailed 38-0 at halftime last week; that is the largest halftime deficit for an NFL team since World War II was ongoing and it is the largest halftime deficit for a home team in NFL history. You might try to dismiss all of that by saying that they were playing against Joe Flacco and he was “in a zone” on that day and could not do anything wrong. You would be wrong to do that because Flacco was hitting receivers in the first quarter who were open by 5 yards on their patterns; Joe Flabeetz would have completed 90% of those throws.

Moreover, two of the Bucs’ losses this year have come when the team played “B-List quarterbacks” such as Austin Davis and Derek Anderson. Simply using the Eyeball Test should convince you neither of those guys is a star in this league at the moment…

After last week’s debacle, Lovie Smith had this to say. If he ever wants the job as White House Communications Director, here would be part of his audition tape:

“We have been very disappointed in two football games that we’ve played, where we just haven’t looked like ourselves. Besides that, there still are good things looking at the overall picture.”

This qualifies as a White House Communications Director’s comment because your immediate reaction to it would be:

    Yeah, right!

For the first time this year, there was a Thursday night game that was actually worth watching all the way to the end. It did not look as if that would be the case after the 1st quarter when Indy led Houston 24-0 and the Texans managed to wedge out the grand total of 2 yards of total offense in that quarter. Notwithstanding that sorry start and losing two turnovers in the 4th quarter, the Texans made it a game losing 33-28.

Interestingly, JJ Watt scored another TD in this game returning a fumble. He has now scored on a fumble recovery, an interception and a pass reception. If the Texans put him back to return a punt, watch out!

The Falcons lost at home last week. The Falcons have been miserable on the road losing 10 of their last 11 road games; the contagion seems to have come home with them now. The Bears are not a great team but they picked the Falcons apart in Atlanta winning comfortably. The Falcons’ defense has been suspect for a while but even the Falcons’ offense sputtered in that game. The Falcons’ OL is – to put it bluntly – awful; they cannot block for the run very well and they do not protect Matt Ryan very well; other than that…

The Bengals and Panthers played to a tie after 15 minutes of overtime last week. In the OT, both teams marched down the field to kick field goals leaving only about 4 minutes on the clock. The Bengals got the ball on a kickoff and marched down the field to set up a chip shot field goal from directly in front of the uprights. The kicker biffed; he shanked the kick badly; the game ended as a tie. Cam Newton had a spectacular game running for 107 yards and throwing for 284 yards. However, here is the thing I will remember from that game:

    After time expired in regulation and the teams were sending the captains out to midfield for the OT coin toss, the TV crew showed a shot from the upper deck in the corner of one end zone. What you saw were lots of fans streaming for the exits in just about every set of stairs that were in view.

    Excuse me. Why go to a game if you are not willing to stay to see OT? This was not a night game; it was the early afternoon game in Cincy; it was a little after 4:00 PM.

The Cardinals beat the Skins 30-20. Instead of the Skins’ defense coughing up the game, put this one on the offense and more specifically Kirk Cousins who tossed 3 INTs in the 4th quarter when the Skins still had a shot at winning the game. The Skins are 1-5 and Coach Jay Gruden acknowledges that the team is not very good. There is a man who has evaluated his team – and therefore a significant part of his life – a week in advance of National Evaluate Your Life Day. Moreover, he has got it right…

Contrast that with Coach Rex Ryan of the Jets who are also 1-5. Ryan says:

“We are not dead.”

While he is literally correct – the Jets’ players, coaches, trainers and front office personnel are all alive and exchanging oxygen in the biosphere – he is not being candid in his evaluation of his team or his life as we approach National Evaluate Your Life Day. Last week, the Jets lost to the Broncos by 14 points and Geno Smith played his best game of the year with multiple TD passes and a completion rate higher than 50%. What was missing for the Jets is what has been the strength of the team to date; they could not run the ball worth a damn. Geno Smith was also the leading rusher for the Jets with 11 yards on the ground. Meanwhile the Jets’ defense surrendered 3 TD passes to Peyton Manning, 100 yards receiving to Demaryius Thomas and 100 yards rushing to Ronnie Hillman.

    Memo to Rex Ryan: The Jets are not dead – but the EMTs are beginning to have difficulty detecting a pulse…

The Packers trailed the Dolphins with 2:04 to play and no timeouts with possession of the ball at their own 40-yardline. Thanks to Aaron Rodgers at QB, two timeouts called by the Dolphins on defense – seriously, they actually did that – and a fake spike of the ball, the Packers rallied to win the game as time expired.

It was not so long ago that some fans in New England were suggesting that Tom Brady had reached his “Sell-by Date” and that the Pats should turn the season over to rookie Jimmy Garappolo from E. Illinois taken in the second round of this year’s draft. Garappolo has an interesting entry on his résumé; he broke Tony Romo’s school records for passing at E. Illinois and Romo has had some measure of success at the NFL level. Nonetheless, the panic in New England seems to have been a tad premature.

Last week, Brady had another big day throwing for 361 yards and 4 TDs against the Bills in Buffalo. That increased Brady’s dominance over the Bills to 23-2 in his career. Leading up to that game, lots of folks were extolling the virtue and the prowess of the Bills’ “three pronged running attack” featuring Anthony Dixon, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Those three gentlemen carried the ball 23 times for 68 yards last week so the Pats’ defense also showed up for the game.

Going onto last week’s game, Ben Roethlisberger had dominated the Browns even more than Brady has dominated the Bills; his record against Cleveland was 18-1. Now it is 18-2. The Steelers played well in the first quarter; they seemed to be in control of the game at that point. However, for the final 45 minutes, it was a totally different story. The Steelers simply could not stop the Browns from running the ball – Crowell and Tate combined for 155 yards in the game – and when they over-committed to stopping the run, Brian Hoyer looked like the reincarnation of Joe Montana. Hoyer only threw the ball 17 times but managed to accumulate 217 yards and 1 TD on those 17 tosses. That makes Hoyer 6-3 as a starter for the Browns.

The bad news for the Browns coming out of that game was that Pro Bowl center, Alex Mack, has a broken leg and is out for the rest of the year. That will hurt the team as much as it hurt Mack…

The Lions played the Vikings without Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush last week and the defense must have decided that it was on them to control things. They did just that. The Lions sacked Terry Bridgewater 8 times and intercepted 3 of this throws. Good thing they played that way because the Lions’ offense managed a measly 255 yards for the day. The Lions missed three field goals in a game two weeks ago and changed kickers; it did not help last week. Newly signed Matt Prater missed 2 field goals last week after missing only 1 field goal in all of 2013. The football gods seem to be having fun torturing kickers in Lions’ uniforms this year.

The Cowboys beat the Seahawks 30-23 and did it in Seattle no less. This was not a fluke; the Cowboys dominated here. Consider these stats:

    Cowboys had 401 yards offense.
    Seahawks had 206 yards offense.
    Seahawks had only 126 yards passing.
    Russell Wilson completed less than 50% of his throws.

The Eagles hung a bagel on the Giants beating them 27-0 on national TV; that is the first time the Eagles have recorded a shutout since 1996. The surprising thing here was the dominance of the Eagles’ defense as they recorded 8 sacks (6 against Eli Manning and 2 more on Ryan Nassib during “garbage time”). LeSean McCoy looked like his old self gaining 149 yards on 22 carries and the Eagles blocked their third punt of the season. It was an old-fashioned butt stomping; that is all there is to it.

Down in the nether regions of the NFL, the Jags (0-6) lost to the Titans last week 16-14. Even a 300+ yard output from Blake Bortles was not enough to get a win over a less-than-formidable opponent. The Jags scored on their first possession in the first 5 minutes of the game; their next score was in the final minute of the game. In the intervening 54 minutes or so, the Jags punted 6 times and turned the ball over 2 other times. Looking at the Jags’ schedule, they MIGHT be favored at home against the Titans in mid-December in a meaningless game. Other than that, they will be underdogs in all the others…

The Raiders are also 0-6 after a come-from-ahead loss to the Chargers last week. You can look at that two ways:

    Optimism: With a new coach, the team played well and was not completely over-matched on the field against a 5-1 opponent. Rookie QB, Derek Carr threw 4 TDs against a pass defense that had been ranked second in the NFL. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…

    Pessimism: Even Derek Carr’s best performance ever was not enough to compensate for the defense yielding 429 yards and the team committing 11 penalties in the game.

Looking ahead at the Raiders’ schedule, they might be favored at the Rams in late November and at home against the Bills in mid-December if the Bills’ crash and burn between now and then. Other than that, they will be underdogs in all the other games…

The Games:

    The Eagles have a bye this week to prep for a trip to Arizona next week.

    The Bucs have a bye this week and are 3-point underdogs to a day off.

(Thurs Nite) Jets at New England – 10 (44.5): The Pats spotted the Bills from running last week; the Jets could not run even a little bit against the Broncos last week. If that trend continues tonight, this game could be very ugly very quickly. The Jets must run the ball – not to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands (remember, Dee Milliner is out meaning the Jets will have many, Moe and Jack playing CB in this game) but to keep the ball out of Geno Smith’s hands. I think the Jets will find a way to do that. I do not think the Jets are going to win this game but I do think that double-digit spread is fat. I’ll take the Jets plus the points. This is a leap of faith; the Jets are 0-5 against the spread (ATS) in their last 5 games.

Cincy at Indy – 3 (49.5): Here we have two good teams playing each other. The Bengals’ defense started the season like gangbusters but it has been somnambulant for the last two weeks; the Colts’ defense has been better this year than I expected them to be. The Colts have the #1 ranked offense in the AFC; the Bengals have the #2 ranked offense in the AFC. Both teams lead their division but the game means more to Cincy here because no one in the AFC South is really going to threaten the Colts in another 3 or 4 weeks. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Colts and lay the points. I also like the game to go OVER.

Tennessee at Washington – 5.5 (45.5): The spread opened at 4 points and moved steadily up to this level as the week progressed. These are two bad teams playing one another making this The Meadow Muffin Game of the Week. The Skins have lost 13 of their last 14 games; the Titans held on to beat the Jags last week by 2 points. The Skins’ lone win this year was a 31-point shellacking of the Jags; notwithstanding that win, the Skins have been outscored by 34 points to this point of the season. The Titans have won 2 games; notwithstanding those wins, the Titans have been outscored by 49 points to this point of the season. The Titans’ defense is not impressive; I think that plays to Kirk Cousins’ strength – getting the ball deep. The Skins’ defense has the ability to make even Charlie Whitehurst look good. I’ll take the game to go OVER for Mythical Purposes ONLY. I will watch this game because it will be the game on the air here in DC. If I were elsewhere…

Miami at Chicago – 3 (48): For those of you who remember phonograph records, I know I sound like a broken record when I say that Chicago’s fate depends on which version of Jay Cutler plays on any given Sunday. The reason I keep saying that is that it is true. Last week, he did not turn the ball over and the Bears dominated the Falcons. Miami is a mediocre team with a coach that has yet to show that he brings anything special to the sidelines other than a stoic facial expression. The Bears have just finished a stretch of 3 games on the road; consider this a homecoming for them. Now if the Bears’ OL can only find a way to play even against the Dolphins’ front seven… I like “Good Jay” to find a parking spot at the stadium this week and so I’ll take the Bears and lay the points.

Cleveland – 6 at Jax (45): The spread opened here at 4 points and jumped to this level in about 24 hours. The Browns won a division game last week and lost a Pro Bowl lineman in the process (see above). This week they go on the road to play a bad football team; actually it is the start of a run of “easy games” for the Browns as they face Jax, Oakland and Tampa for the rest of this month. I would not be surprised to see the Browns stumble somewhere along this garden path. Remembering that these are Mythical Picks, I’ll take the Jags plus the points at home here. Were I in Las Vegas this weekend I would not have even a farthing on this game…

Seattle – 7 at St. Louis (44): Let me make this quick. The Seahawks are the better team; the Seahawks should be fired up after losing at home last week; the Seahawks are in third place in their division and cannot afford another loss here. I’ll take the Seahawks and lay the points even on the road.

Carolina at Green Bay – 7 (49): The Panthers lead their division; the Packers are tied with the Lions atop their division. This is the best of the early games on Sunday afternoon. I saw the Panthers/Bengals game last week and it sure looked to me as if Cam Newton’s injury problems are minimized about now. I think both teams will score here so I’ll take the game to go OVER. I also think that the last team to have the ball will win the game and so I’ll take the Panthers plus the points. By the way, the Packers have the worst rush defense in the NFL allowing 154 yards per game.

Atlanta at Baltimore – 7 (49): The Falcons on the road are not a good bet; the Falcons outdoors on grass are not a good bet; the Ravens are not reliably good or bad from week to week. The Falcons are still in the running in the NFC South because every team in that division has had problems this year; a loss will hurt them a lot though. The Ravens are half a game behind the Bengals in the AFC North. This might be a trap game for the Ravens with road games at Cincy and at Pittsburgh up next. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Minnesota at Buffalo – 6 (42.5): Lots of line movements here. The spread opened at 4.5 points and one sportsbook this morning has the line at 7 points. The Total Line opened at 44.5 and has dropped 2 full points during the week. Notwithstanding all that movement, these two teams aspire to mediocrity. Both teams lost badly last week and now the Vikes go on the road with a rookie QB in his first road start. I think Bridgewater is over-matched against a good defense (best in the NFL against the run) here. I’ll take the Bills to win and cover at home.

New Orleans at Detroit – 2.5 (48): The Lions are playing surprisingly well so far this year; the Saints are playing surprisingly poorly this year. This game means something to both teams; the Saints are 2-3 (they had a bye week last week) and could still win the NFC South because no team there has looked very good to this point – although the Panthers are starting to look better. The Lions still have to contend with the Packers in the NFC North; the Packers are not going to dry up and blow away. Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham may both miss the game. This is a venue call; the Saints are not all that good on the road; the Lions are better at home than they are on the road. Even though this is still a dome game for the Saints, I’ll take the Lions at home to win and cover.

KC at San Diego – 4 (45): The Chiefs arrive at this game off a bye week and needing the game desperately if they still hope to be relevant in the AFC West in December. They have 3 losses this year while both the Broncos and the Chargers only have 1 loss; the Chiefs already have a loss in the division; neither the Broncos nor the chargers have a loss in the division. Everyone is heaping praise on Philip Rivers for the year he is having and the praise is well deserved. However, consider that the Chargers defense has something to do with their 5-1 record too; it ranks 1st in the AFC. I like the Chargers at home to win and cover.

Giants at Dallas – 7 (48): The spread opened here at 4.5 points and has moved to this level steadily during the week. One sportsbook this morning has the line at 7 points but 6.5 is the most common number. These teams could not possibly arrive at this game from places that are more different. The Giants were awful last week against the Eagles losing 27-0 (see above). The Cowboys beat the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks in Seattle (see above). Is this a vintage letdown game/decompression game for the Cowboys? A loss for the Giants would put them a full 3 games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. Purely a hunch but I’ll take the Giants plus the points here and hope they can find a way to limit the Cowboys’ running game.

Arizona – 3.5 at Oakland (44.5): Carson Palmer returned to action last week and the Cardinals offense discovered Larry Fitzgerald once again. Presumably, Palmer’s appearance last week was not a cameo and he will be there again this week. This is not a particularly interesting game and when you look at the stats, it looks even more boring. The Cards rank 15th in total offense in the NFC; the Raiders rank 15th in total offense in the AFC. The Cards rank 13th in total defense in the NFC; the Raiders rank 12th in total defense in the AFC. Translation:

    Neither team has lit it up on offense this year.
    Neither team has stopped the other guys very often this year.

Was last week’s 28-point production by the Raiders a sign of progress or an anomaly? I think anomaly. I’ll take the Cards to win and cover even in The Black Hole.

(Sun Nite) SF at Denver – 7 (49.5): This will be a good game and a fitting way to end a good Sunday of NFL football. The Niners played Monday night and now have a road game on a short week; the schedule maker did them no favors here. The Broncos absolutely shut down the Jets’ running game last week; if they can do that to the Niners, they will probably win easily. I do not think they will do that. If the Niners can reliably collapse the pocket on Peyton Manning, they will win easily. I do not think they will do that. This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER – – once again.

(Mon Nite) Houston at Pittsburgh – 4 (44): The Texans’ offense simply cannot be trusted. Maybe Arian Foster can have a big night here against a Steelers’ defense that was gashed by the Browns last week; maybe he cannot. Maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick can manage the game without a crushing turnover or a boneheaded decision on a critical play; maybe he cannot. Meanwhile the Steelers are not playing well at all. They are 3-3 for the year but one of those losses came against the woebegone Bucs (see above) at home no less! This is a third Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Texans plus the points. Whatever…

Finally, here are words of wisdom from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle regarding NFL players:

“The NFL players have agreed to testing for human growth hormone, but that seems pointless. There appears to be little if any human growth taking place at any level in that league.”

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

Washington’s Sports Fans

If you do not live in the DC area, it is probably difficult for you to understand the degree to which Washington sports fans – and the Washington sports media – is devoted to front-running. Every team and every player – particularly a new player – is absolutely the greatest thing since foie gras until that team or player demonstrates one of two things:

    1. The player makes is obvious that he is not the best thing since foie gras and in fact is not even the best thing since whatever you had for lunch yesterday.

    2. The team or player becomes boring enough that it is no longer socially important in Washington to be seen as connected to or interested in that team of player.

There are a couple of cases in point floating around out there right now. Kirk Cousins was the Washington media darling when he came into the Jax game in an emergency role and led the Skins to a 41-point offensive output in the game. I still believe that Cousins can become a good – not great but good – QB in the NFL; however, his game with 4 INTs by the Giants coupled with his 3 INTs last Sunday against the Cards has fans and some Washington media calling for Colt McCoy to take over at QB. Colt McCoy!! The Skins are a bad football team that is going nowhere this year – and probably going nowhere next year either – despite the QB under center. Nonetheless, the drumbeat has begun; Kirk Cousins is no longer a “golden boy”; he is now a “pariah”.

While you might expect that kind of silliness and whimsy from fans, I used to expect that the media folks would be a bit more dispassionate and analytical in their utterances. In Washington, they are not. Over this summer, there was a perfect example of this:

    Last year, the Skins’ defense was epically awful. Even with maelstrom swirling around the Shanahans and their shenanigans, people heaped scorn on the defensive coaches and players because that defense was so bad. As soon as the season was over, Danny Boy fired the Shanahans and eventually hired Jay Gruden as the head coach and Gruden kept Jim Haslett as the defensive coordinator.

    So, Haslett would stay in charge of the defense and the player changes on the defense were few and hardly “impactful” meaning no one should have expected a major change in the Skins’ defense this year. But “the inside word” was that it was Mike Shanahan’s meddling with the defense and the roster and his mania for “control” that hamstrung poor Jim Haslett and the noble warriors on the defense. Seriously, that was the mantra for much of the summer; the defense this year was going to be really good – or so the “insiders” whispered.

The season is three-eighths over; the Skins’ defense stinks. The scheme is the same as last year; many of the players are the same as last year; the “new players” are not significantly better than the “old players”. And folks expected great things. I believe psychologists call this “magical thinking”; that is what kids do in order to believe that Santa Claus can actually visit every house in the world in one night.

The Skins have given up 27 or more points in 4 straight games. They lost all of them simply because they were not playing the Jaguars with a defense that allowed the Skins to score 41 points.

Now, after I told you about how the Washington fans and media have reacted to the Skins failure to live up to bizarre levels of expectation, you might suspect that the Washington area baseball fans should have gone gaga over the Nationals – the team with the best record in the NL. Not so…

Remember how the Washington media beat the drums for baseball to come to Washington. There were fans there who were “starved for baseball” after suffering for decades of not having a team. Well, those starved fans had the best team in the league in front of them this year and here is what happened to attendance:

    The Nats drew 902 fewer fans per game in 2014 than they did in 2013.

    Across MLB, all attendance was down 82 fans per game in 2014 as compared to 2013; the best team in the NL dropped 11 times that average.

What is the problem there? Well there are two things:

    1. The Nats stadium is new but it is not a “destination” stadium. By now, the stadium was supposed to have spurred development of a vibrant neighborhood around it; that is what the planners told the city when the city committed more than $600M to build that puppy. Let me be polite and say that the stadium has not taken the slum that was there and made it worse. End of message…

    2. The Nats are passé. The team wins – but its “stars” do not perform as “stars”. Their hero pitcher – Stephen Strassburg – is not nearly the best pitcher on the roster; their “young phenom” who was compared to Mickey Mantle as a rookie – Bryce Harper – is not nearly the best position player on the roster.

Those “baseball starved fans” do not go out to see “baseball”; they go out to see stars doing what stars do. When those stars do not do that, the fans turn away and look for something else to do. I have said for years that Washington is a pro ‘rassling town; losers have to leave town. Well, that carries over into what one might be interested in; better to be associated with winners and hot items than losers or passé teams.

Here is a prediction about Washington baseball fans for next year:

    The home opener will be a sell-out – or within a few hundred seats of a sell-out.

    The second home game will have at least 10,000 – and probably 15,000 – empty seats.

After all, the 2014 Nats did not fulfill their promise – or the fans’ expectations – and so why should anyone want to commit to supporting the team until they do something “special” in 2015.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald explains – sort of – the NASCAR Chase for the Cup:

“NASCAR’s new Chase for the Cup rules call for a reduction from 16 drivers to 12 after the third of 10 races, to eight after the sixth race and to four after the ninth race. If the formula were any more confusing, it would be the NFL passer rating.”

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

A Step In The Right Direction

The NFL and NFLPA agreed on a testing regimen/protocol for human growth hormone (HGH) testing and finally implemented it. Testing began the week of October 6 and here is the rough outline of how the testing will go:

    Every week, five players on 8 teams will be selected for testing.

    No testing will be done on game days.

    Appeals of positive results will be handled by a third-party neutral and appeals will be handled “expeditiously”.

    Punishments will be:

      Use of masking agents is a 2-game suspension

      Steroids/stimulants/HGH is a 4-game suspension

      “Manipulating a test” is a 6-game suspension

      Second violation is a 10-game suspension

      Third violation is a 2-year suspension.

Is this a perfect solution? Of course not. Is it a step in the right direction? I think it is a big step in the right direction because it does several things:

    It acknowledges that HGH is a substance that can be abused and it includes HGH as part of the “banned substances” and/or PED menu.

    It provides random testing.

    It takes the adjudication/sentencing aspects of “failed tests” out of the hands of the Commissioner.

The league and the union have been working on this for at least a couple of years. Kudos to both sides for coming up with an improvement in this aspect of NFL football. I hope they seize on this success to arrive at a more effective and efficient means of handling other kinds of disciplinary measures involving players/coaches/front office folks/owners.

Speaking of those “other disciplinary matters”, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, which seems to indicate that some NFL players have not gotten the memo:

“On the NFL and harassment of women: Dolphins suspended defensive end Derrick Shelby after his nightclub arrest for allegedly harassing women. Cops did not buy his excuse that he mistook the women for quarterbacks.”

In another disciplinary matter that is ongoing, Adrian Peterson – charged with felony child abuse for beating his young son with a switch – is out on bail but admitted to smoking a little weed just prior to a urinalysis test. Yes, he lit up the test tube; no, courts do not look upon failing a drug test while out on bond as a laughing matter; yes, Peterson got himself another warrant and another charge to answer. What was it Joe Theismann said about NFL players?

    Geniuses do not play football.

    Geniuses are people like Norman Einstein.

It was something like that…

Here is something else that the league and the union can work on. This is the kind of juxtaposition that makes people wonder if there is adult supervision at work.

    Julius Thomas was fined $8,268 for an illegal chop block that injured another player. That fine is based on the current CBA between the league and the union; it is not just a number pulled out of a bodily orifice.

    Colin Kaepernick was fined $10,000 for wearing a brand of earphones other than Bose, which is a league sponsor and “the official earphones of the NFL”.

Fans look at that and ask to what level of stupidity must one sink in order for those two things to make sense. The NFLPA may be upset with the magnitude of Kaepernick’s fine; but before they get their knickers in too tight a knot, they need to consider that they were party to setting the level of the fine that injured one of their union brethren. The NFL might want to look at this kind of publicity and suggest to the NFLPA that until the chop block fine level can be increased, fines are not publicly announced.

As the baseball playoffs move along, recall that I said I was rooting for the Royals to make it to the World Series because they had not been in the playoffs since next to forever. I did not think they would make it this far, but they have a 2-0 lead over the Orioles with 3 games in KC providing the opportunity to close out the ALCS and go to the World Series. I get to see plenty of Orioles’ baseball on TV during the summer and the O’s are a good team to watch. However, in the back of my mind, I simply cannot invest any enthusiasm in rooting for the Orioles to win the World Series simply because I would not want to see Peter Angelos holding the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Finally, this comes from Gregg Drinnan’s weekend blog entry, Keeping Score:

“The best quote out of this week’s 1984 Edmonton Oilers’ reunion came from Mark Messier, who said: ‘I never finished high school, so this is my first actual reunion.’ “

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

A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That…

The NFL announced that Katy Perry will headline the Super Bowl halftime show in February – ignoring my advice and an Internet petition to get “Weird Al” Yankovic to do the show. Not surprisingly, I do not know Katy Perry and could not tell the difference between Katy Perry and Perry Como, Perry Mason, a Mason jar or a Freemason. That really does not matter since I do not watch Super Bowl halftime shows.

Speaking of the NFL, you have to have noticed the ads on games and on pre-game shows for Fan Duel – one of those fantasy football sites where each week is a season unto itself and people reportedly win lots and lots of money. If you look closely early in the ad, there is small print low on the screen that says:

    This is not a gambling site

Let me get this straight… Lots of people pay money into a pool in order to make fantasy football selections and some of the people who do so receive more money than they put in while others receive none of their money back. If that is not gambling, then pari-mutuel wagering on horses is not gambling and poker is not gambling. I do not play fantasy football – or baseball – simply because I do not find them interesting but the idea that fantasy sports is not a form of gambling is not much more than an exercise in parsing the English language.

Please remember the willingness of the NFL to have this advertising associated with programs that feature the NFL the next time the league files a legal brief alleging that gambling would attack the integrity of the game. Think about it folks, players in the NFL are playing fantasy football meaning they have an interest in how players on teams other than theirs perform. I do not believe that has destroyed the integrity of the game, but if you try to make “high moral ground arguments” about gambling and integrity and that kind of stuff, how can you allow fantasy football to be in your league and advertising on your programs?

Here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about 2 weeks ago:

“Four Redskins fans agreed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and were surprised to be confronted by Native Americans. That’s like going on Fox News and being surprised by conservatism.”

I hope those same four fans are not surprised when they go to FedEx Field and see the team lose…

Switching over to baseball, Tony Bosch – the former director of Biogenesis – is in jail because his bail was revoked after he failed two drug tests and did not attend the voluntary treatment sessions that were part of the deal that let him out on bail. Here is what the judge said as he revoked bail:

“I simply have no confidence in his ability to appear as required. I don’t find that he’s a good candidate to remain out on bond.”

Bosch is “required to appear” to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances as part of a plea deal with prosecutors as he is a cooperating witness in other matters related to the whole Biogenesis mess. Bosch was one of the folks who provided evidence against Alex Rodriguez to MLB leading to the season-long suspension of A-Rod.

Here is another baseball-related idea from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Parting thought: Baseball continues to mull ways to speed up games. They already rejected my idea: Relievers getting from bullpen to mound via catapult.”

Man, the folks who run baseball are ossified fuddy-duddies. That is a great idea. You could modernize the concept and make it seem like a cannon with an explosion just as the pitcher is launched from the bullpen. Oh, and it would not be long until one of the DJ geniuses at one of the parks took to playing Johnny Cash doing The Wabash Cannonball as relievers’ entry music…

Pro football has its problems with domestic violence issues and concussions; baseball has its problems with PEDs. In college sports, the nefarious activities remain focused on old-fashioned bad behavior. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sanford Lovingood was the comptroller for an organization known as Seminole Boosters. It does not take a great deal of insight to realize that this organization raised funds to support Florida State athletics. The organization fired him after an audit of the organization’s bank records revealed that Lovingood “took” somewhere between $500 – 700K from Seminole Boosters for himself.

The report in the Tallahassee Democrat says that Lovingood admitted to Booster members that he had taken the money and explained how he did it. Evidently, he had been doing this since 2011.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel put some perspective on misdeeds in Tallahassee with this comment:

“Did you see where Sanford Lovingood, the comptroller of FSU’s athletic booster organization, is accused of misappropriating between $500,000 and $700,000 from the booster fund? And we’re worried about Jameis Winston stealing $20 in crab legs?”

Finally, here is a self-contained description of a minor sports event from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The 60th Columbus Day Regatta wraps up Sunday on Biscayne Bay. That’s the local institution known for drinking, topless women, partying, debauchery and, when time allows, sailing.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 10/11/14

First, how did last week’s selections fare?

    I liked BYU/Utah St. UNDER 52. Total score was 55. Boo!

    I liked Ohio St. -7.5 over Maryland. Ohio State won by 28. Yea!

    I liked Marshall/ODU OVER 72.5. Total was 70. Boo!

    I liked Va Tech -1.5 over UNC. Va Tech won by 17. Yea!

    I liked Wisconsin -7.5 over N’western. Wisconsin lost. Boo!

    I liked Wisc/N’western OVER 47. Total was 34. Double Boo!

    I liked S. Carolina -5 over Kentucky. S. Carolina lost. Boo!

    I liked Notre Dame +2 against Stanford. Notre Dame won. Yea!

    I liked Auburn -7.5 over LSU. Auburn won by 34. Yea!

    I liked Oklahoma/TCU UNDER 56.5. Total was 70. Boo!

    I liked Tennessee -2 over Florida. Tennessee lost the game. Boo!

    I liked Baylor -16 over Texas. Baylor won by 21. Yea!

    I liked Ole Miss +6 against Alabama. Ole Miss won the game. Yea!

    I liked Ole Miss/Alabama UNDER 51. Total score was 40. Double Yea!

    I liked Mississippi St -1.5 over Texas A&M. State won by 17. Yea!

    I liked Cal/Wash. St. OVER 75. Total was 119. Yea!

    I liked Michigan +3 against Rutgers. Mich only lost by 2. Yea!

    I liked NC St./Clemson OVER 67.5. Total was 41. Boo!

    I liked Nebraska +7.5 against Mich.St. Nebraska only lost by 5. Yea!

    I liked Nevada +3.5 against Boise St. Nevada lost by 5. Boo!

Well, last week was mythically profitable with a record of 11-9-0 thereby bringing the season record to 42-43-0. The objective for this week is to come up with a set of picks that will take the season record over .500 such that it nudges up to the level of “Mythical Profit For The Year.”

Notwithstanding my statement of objectives for this week’s picks, no one should consider any information here as authoritative on the subject of wagering on college football. No one should use anything here to make a decision on how to bet real money on a real college football game this weed – or any other week for that matter. Anyone dumb enough to do that probably thinks that Sherlock Holmes is the apartment building at 34th Street and 7th Avenue.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats won their first conference game of the year last week and took their season record to 3-0 as they chase a 59th consecutive winning season in football by beating Pacific Lutheran 41-14. This week, Linfield will play its first home game of the year hosting George Fox University. Fox brings an 0-3 record to the game having allowed an average of 38 points per game in those losing efforts. Go Wildcats!

Sometimes I make picks and get them right for all the wrong reasons; sometimes I make picks and simply get them wrong. Every once in a while, I get them right for the right reason. Consider last week when I said:

Cal at Washington St. – 3 (75): Get IBM Watson on the case; keeping track of the scores here might take a super-computer. Cal plays next to no defense; Washington State just wants to get the ball back so it can run offensive plays. I like the game to go OVER.

At the end of the third quarter, Washington St. led this cavalcade of points by a score of 52-41. In the third quarter alone, these teams scored 56 points (4 TDs each). The fourth quarter produced a meager 26 points. Wash St. QB, Connor Halliday set an NCAA record throwing for 734 yards in the game (breaking the record of 716 yards in a game held by David Klingler). Washington State had a chance to win at the end; they missed a 19-yard field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock.

Even with that lack of defense, Cal is now 4-1 and that loss was to Arizona when Arizona scored 36 points in the 4th quarter and ended the game with a Hail Mary completion. The Bears have given up 115 points in their last 2 games – and they won both games!

The other game I got right last week for the right reason was this:

LSU at Auburn – 7.5 (56.5): Not a bad match-up here… Be forewarned, this will be a match-up pick. LSU had to rally to beat Wisconsin (a good running team) and they rallied but could not catch Mississippi State (a good running team). Auburn runs the ball better than either of those other foes and this game is in Auburn while the ones I mentioned here were on a neutral field or in Baton Rouge. I like Auburn to win and cover.

Indeed, Auburn ran the ball at will against LSU averaging 6.1 yards per rush and totaling 263 yards on the ground. What I did not anticipate was the degree of success Auburn’s defense would have in the game preventing LSU from converting even one of LSU’s thirteen third-down situations.

Every once in a while, college football has one of those “Holy Mackerel Weekends” where upsets abound and good teams go down. Last week teams ranked in the Top Eight lost more often than they won. Moreover, it is not because these top teams were all playing one another such that some had to lose; all of them just lost games to teams ranked lower than they were. It was a wild weekend…

    #2 Oregon lost to Arizona in Oregon. This happened last Thursday night and set the tone for the whole weekend.

    #3 Alabama fell to Ole Miss at Mississippi. Alabama led 17-10 at the end of the third quarter and coughed up a hairball in the 4th quarter. That is not characteristic of Alabama teams but Bo Wallace and Ole Miss earned this win.

    #4 Oklahoma lost to TCU at Fort Worth. This game was tied at the end of the first, second and third quarters; TCU pulled it out in the fourth quarter.

    #6 Texas A&M lost to Mississippi St. at Starkeville. Aggies QB, Kenny Hill threw 3 INTs. State’s QB, Dak Prescott, produced 5 TDs (2 TD passes and 3 rushing TDs). There were 1095 yards of total offense in this game.

    #8 UCLA lost to Utah in LA. Utah dominated with a solid running game and a pressure defense that produced 10 sacks in the game.

I mentioned here that there were 1095 yards of offense in the Texas A&M/Mississippi St. game. Compare that to the Florida/Tennessee game where the final score was 10-9 in favor of Florida. Total offense in that game for both teams was 465 yards on 143 snaps (3.25 yards per offensive play). The total yards punting for the two teams were 626 yards – almost half again as much as the total offense on the field. At least the game was close…

Georgia beat Vandy 44-17. This game was not close and it pretty much cemented the image that Vandy is the worst team in the SEC East and probably the worst team in the whole conference. If Georgia can take care of its business, it needs Missouri to lose another conference game for the Dawgs to be part of the SEC Championship Game; Georgia and Missouri meet this week…

    NEWS FLASH: In breaking news today, Georgia has suspended Todd Gurley indefinitely for a violation of rules. The story on CBSSports.com says that it is alleged that Gurley was paid money for signing autographs and that at least 500 signed pieces have been authenticated with Gurley’s signature. Supposedly, Gurley received between $8 and $25 per signature.

Kentucky beat South Carolina 45-38. That leaves the Gamecocks’ record at 3-3 (2-3 in the SEC) and it puts Kentucky’s record at 4-1. Who saw all of that coming…?

Florida State beat Wake Forest 43-3 and the game was not nearly that close. Despite the score being tied at 3-3 in the second quarter, it was clear that Wake was totally inept on offense and would be lucky to score a TD on anything other than a Pick Six or a fluke play. The demon Deacons managed to generate a total of 126 yards of offense for the day.

I said last week that North Carolina State’s 4 wins had come against “sacrificial lambs”. Well, Clemson may not be the best team in the country – or even in the ACC – but they are not a sacrificial lamb either. The Tigers manhandled the Wolfpack 41-0 and from the bit of that game I saw, that score represents what was happening on the field. State QB, Jacoby Brisset, was 4-18 passing for a total of 35 yards.

Virginia beat Pitt 24-19. Virginia led at the half 24-3; Pitt rallied in the second half but could not catch up. That is 3 losses in a row for Pitt (Iowa, Akron, Virginia). For the near future, the Pitt schedule looks a lot tougher than the last 3 weeks with games against Va Tech, Ga Tech and Duke on the horizon.

Va Tech beat UNC 34-17 in Chapel Hill. Recalling that East Carolina hung 70 points on UNC earlier this year, you probably need to pay attention to see how hot Coach Larry Fedora’s seat is getting. Remember, some folks thought UNC was a top 25 team back in August. What that really shows is the uselessness of such polling; what it also means is that many UNC fans/boosters will see this season as a big disappointment.

Georgia Tech beat Miami 28 17. Here is how that win came about:

    Tech held the ball for 40:45 in the game.
    Tech ran the ball 65 times for 318 yards.
    Tech converted 9 of 14 third down situations.

Ohio State beat Maryland 52-24. Welcome to the Big 10, Maryland…

Rutgers beat Michigan 26-24. That drops Michigan’s record to 2-4 while Rutgers sports a 5-1 record.

Northwestern beat Wisconsin 20-14 last week notwithstanding Badgers RB, Melvyn Gordon rushing for 259 yards. Apparently, Northwestern’s domination of Penn State in State College two weeks ago was not an accident.

Michigan State led Nebraska 27-3 at the end of the third quarter but Nebraska did not quit; the Huskers got 19 points in the fourth quarter; that made it close – and produced a back-door cover for Mythical Picks above – but it did not get the win.

Baylor beat Texas 28-7. The Texas defense played well here; that unit deserved better support from its offensive brethren.

Arizona St. beat USC 38-34 with a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game. This is becoming a staple in the PAC-12 this year. These teams combined to score 34 points in the 4th quarter. What happened to the defenses?

Speaking of defensive lapses, Boise St. beat Nevada 51-46 last week…

Notre Dame beat Stanford 17-14 in game dominated by defense. The Irish scored the winning TD with a minute to play.

Here is how some bad teams fared last week:

    E. Carolina beat SMU 45-22. That score is sort of an indictment of the E. Carolina defense. In their four previous games, SMU had scored a total of 12 points.

    Northern Illinois beat Kent St. 17-14. N. Illinois is now 4-1 on the season but only managed to beat an 0-5 Kent St. team by a field goal. The Huskies only have a MAC schedule ahead of them meaning they should have a gaudy record by the end of November.

    Miami (Oh) is a really bad team. They trailed UMass 41-14 in the second quarter and 41-21 at halftime. Miami had the longest losing streak in Div. 1-A college football; it would have seemed that the streak would survive… Not to worry, though; UMass would be consistent and allow another 21 points in the second half and that would be enough to give Miami a win because UMass was shut out in the second half. Both teams are awful but consider this game situation:

      In the final seconds of the game, UMass with no time outs – trailing by 1 point – completed a pass to the Miami 6 yardline. Rather than spiking the ball to kick a chip-shot field goal, UMass ran a play for the end zone, which did not get there and time expired. That piles stupidity on top of incompetence.

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week we had 5 Ponderosa Spread Games and the favorites did not cover in any of them.

E. Carolina, Florida State, Georgia, Northern Illinois and West Virginia did not cover.

That 0-5-0 record makes the season record for favorites covering Ponderosa Spreads to 26-21-1.

This week we have only 3 Ponderosa Spread Games:

Illinois at Wisconsin – 26.5 (58): After losing last week, Wisconsin might just be in a bad mood and Illinois is a mediocre team. It could get ugly…

Idaho at Georgia Southern – 24.5 (64.5): Here is a rivalry that goes all the way back to a week before Wednesday…

Middle Tennessee St. at Marshall – 24.5 (69.5): Marshall still hopes to be the outsider who crashes the Big Boy Party come bowl season…

There is a plethora of games with single digit spreads this week meaning good teams face good teams, mediocre teams face mediocre teams and bad teams face bad teams. I can feel the harmony of the universe washing over me…

I did get an e-mail from my friend in Houston who is a follower/keeper of sports stats and trivia. He alerted me to a betting line out there for a game that I did not find.

Houston Baptist University at Central Arkansas – 46:

The amazing thing here is the money line quote. Central Arkansas is at – 235,000 on the money line. That means you would need to place $235,000 in the hands of the guy at the betting window in Vegas to get a ticket that would be worth $235,100 if Central Arkansas wins and would be worth squadoosh if Central Arkansas loses. As my friend said, can’t believe anyone would take Central Ark on the money line.

Games of Interest:

Oklahoma – 14 vs. Texas (47) (neutral site game): Oklahoma’s defensive unit had a bad day last week against TCU and it cost Oklahoma its undefeated status. The Texas offense is hardly the strength of the team so an angry OU defense is not something that offense should wish for. In big rivalry games like this one, I do not like double-digit spreads; but in this case, I think it is justified. I do not think Texas is going to score a lot here; and even though Texas has a stingy defense – remember they held Baylor to 28 points last week – I do not think it can hold OU to only a couple of scores. I’ll take Oklahoma and lay the points.

Michigan St. – 20.5 at Purdue (51): Purdue likes to run the football but I doubt they will have much – if any – success doing that against Michigan St. This looks like a classic mismatch. I’ll take Michigan St. to win and cover.

Northwestern at Minnesota – 4 (43.5): Northwestern has beaten Penn St and Wisconsin in the last two weeks. Meanwhile Minnesota has only faced one solid team all year (TCU) and the Gophers lost that game by 23 points. Minnesota will run the ball all day long unless they are stopped; they rank 124th in the country in passing offense with an average of 113.2 yards per game. That Total Line seems awfully low to me; I like this game to go OVER.

Tulsa at Temple – 17 (58.5): Assuming there are no throngs of Tulsa fans who descend on Philadelphia for this game, you should be able to count the house by the end of the first quarter…

UMass at Kent St. – 2 (no line): Both teams are 0-5. Neither team is any good. The only way this game could be worse would be for there to be a driving rainstorm from start to finish.

Florida St. – 22.5 at Syracuse (53): Florida State is undefeated this year but last week’s shellacking of Wake Forest is the only time the Seminoles have covered a spread this year. They are clearly a better team than Syracuse but are they more than 3 TDs better? Purely a hunch but I think this is where Florida State wakes up and plays the way it should have been playing to date. I like Florida State to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER because I think Florida State’s score will be in the mid-40s.

Duke at Georgia Tech – 3 (57.5): Like Minnesota, Georgia Tech will run the ball all day on the triple option. Duke had a week off to prepare to stop that attack but no one seems to have figured out a good way to do that so far this year. Tech averages 297.2 yards per game rushing (12th in the country) but only 132.6 yards per game passing (122nd in the country). Duke can expect to see running play after running play here. Make this a venue call; I’ll take Tech to win and cover.

Buffalo – 14 at E. Michigan (57.5): Do not be fooled by Buffalo’s 3 wins this year. The vanquished teams have been Duquesne, Norfolk St and Miami (Oh). Buffalo is not a good team. Yet, they are a 2 TD favorite on the road here, which should tell you all you need to know about E. Michigan…

Bowling Green at Ohio “pick ‘em” (66): If you tell me to “pick ‘em” in a game this meaningless, my “pick” will be to ignore the game completely…

W. Virginia – 6 at Texas Tech (74): W. Virginia has a long journey to get to this venue; the team charter flight will be the only Morgantown to Lubbock non-stop flight this month. Will W. Virginia find a defense in time to load it onto this flight? It has not brought much of defense to the field this year giving up 25.8 points per game to teams that include powerhouses such as Towson, Maryland and Kansas. Having said that, Texas Tech’s defense is even worse; the Red Raiders give up 40 points per game (120th in the country) and have only held one opponent under 30 points. I like this game to go OVER.

TCU at Baylor – 8 (68): There have been huge line moves for this game. The spread opened at 11 points; the Total Line opened at 62.5 points. Both teams are undefeated this year. TCU beat Oklahoma last week; Baylor beat Texas last week. TCU’s defense has been stingy this year giving up only 13.5 points per game; with the Total Line at 68, that is a tip of the hat to the Baylor offense. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Auburn – 3 at Mississippi St. (63.5): If I had told you in August that this game would be the biggest game of the day and that it might be one of the more important games of the entire season, you would have laughed. Well, I did not say that so you were spared the laugh; but this is the best game of the weekend and an important game nationally. Both teams can run the ball well; both teams can throw when they need to. Both defenses are competent. Make this a venue call; I like Mississippi State plus the points at home.

Alabama – 8.5 at Arkansas (55.5): Yes, I see that Alabama is the road team here. Nevertheless, Alabama cannot afford to lose another game and they have to be smarting from their loss to Ole Miss last week. I think Bama wins big here. I like Alabama to win and cover.

LSU at Florida – 1 (47.5): Neither team is performing this year the way they have performed in recent years. Florida’s defense should hold LSU’s offense in check. Florida’s offense seems to find ways to hold itself in check. With little conviction, I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Oregon – 2.5 at UCLA (71): Both teams lost last week; neither looked particularly good in doing so. Both QBs have been pummeled by opposing defenses this year. It would be a great prop bet to have an OVER/UNDER line on total sacks in this game. I will be watching this game but not wagering on it…

USC – 3 at Arizona (67.5): Arizona is the undefeated team in this matchup at 5-0. USC has two losses this year including one in conference (last week to Arizona St.). Arizona throws the ball well averaging 350 yards per game and scoring 39.8 points per game. HOW-EVAH, the Wildcats also give up 26.6 points per game meaning they are 75th in the country in scoring defense. I like this game to go OVER.

Georgia – 3 at Missouri (60): With Todd Gurley suspended (see above), I would not bet on this game with your money…

UNC at Notre Dame – 16.5 (64): Given the way UNC has played defense this year, Notre Dame might score in the 60s all by themselves. I like the game to go OVER.

Ole Miss at Texas A&M – 2.5 (64): Here are two more teams that score a lot and neither team brings a shut-down defensive unit to the field. I like this game to go OVER.

Penn St. at Michigan “pick ‘em” (41.5): I think Penn state is the better team here. Therefore, I’ll take Penn State simply to win this game.

Old Dominion at UTEP – 3 (67): Air traffic controllers will do a double take when the charter flight here files for a non-stop between Norfolk, VA to El Paso, TX. Other than that observation, I got nothing else to say about this game…

UConn at Tulane – 3 (45): Neither team is any good here. Pay attention to other games this week…

Finally, let me close these college mythical picks with a line attributed to former Florida coach Charlie Pell. He had been asked what kind of player he looked for in recruiting…

“I want players to think as positively as the 85-year-old man who married a 25-year-old woman and bought a five-bedroom house next to the elementary school.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 10/12/14

Here is the autopsy on last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Bears +3 against Panthers. Not enough points. No!

    I liked Browns +2 against Titans. Browns won the game. Yes!

    I liked Rams/Eagles OVER 47.5. Total score was 62. Yes!

    I liked Falcons/Giants OVER 50.5. Total score was 50. No!

    I liked Saints -10 over Bucs. Saints won by 6. No!

    I liked Saints/Bucs OVER 48. Total score was 67. Yes!

    I liked Cowboys -6.5 over Texans. Cowboys won by 6. No!

    I liked Lions -7 over Bills. Lions lost the game. No!

    I liked Lions/Bills OVER 48. Total score was 31. Double No!

    I liked Ravens/Colts OVER 48. Total score was 33. No!

    I liked Steelers/Jags UNDER 47. Total score was 26. Yes!

    I liked Cards +7.5 against Broncos. Cards lost by 21. No!

    I liked Niners -6 over Chiefs. Niners won by 5. No!

    I liked Chargers -6.5 over Jets. Chargers won by 31. Yes!

    I liked Bengals -1 over Pats. Pats won outright by 26. No!

    I liked Seahawks -7 over Skins. Seahawks won by 10. Yes!

Well, that set of picks stunk out the joint. Last week was 6-10-0 making the season record sink to 33-48-1. At this point, I could just go sit in the corner and suck my thumb for the rest of the season or I could face up to the real possibility that this year’s record will be even worse than last year’s debacle of a season and keep picking. I choose to keep picking – and I do not mean picking my nose.

The Curmudgeon Coin Flip Games went 2-0-0 last week bringing the season total for the coin flips to 6-6-1. That is what you would expect from a coin flip; maybe I should just flip coins for every game this week? Nah … where is the fun in that?

Obviously, nothing contained herein has any material value when it comes to selecting wagers on NFL games. No one contemplating a real bet on an NFL game this weekend involving real money should use any info here as an aide to their decision making. Anyone dumb enough to do that probably thinks if he gets a flu shot, he will clean out the chimney.

General Comments:

Last week, I mentioned that there had been no punts by either team in the Packers/Bears game two weeks ago. I said in passing that had to be a rare result. At somewhere between the speed of light and the speed of sound, I got an e-mail from my friendly sports stat guru in Houston with the following information:

    There now have only been two NFL games where neither team had a punt during the game:

      Buffalo Bills 34 vs San Francisco 49ers 31 (9/13/92)

      Packers vs Bears (9/28/14).

So, now we all know…

During the telecast of the Giants/Falcons game last week, John Lynch praised Giants rookie WR, Odell Beckham, Jr., for “high pointing the football”. What ever happened to the phrase “jumped and caught the ball”?

The Raiders had the week off giving interim coach Tony Sparano a bit more time to get organized and to get the team headed in a more positive direction. Sparano held a news conference the day after he was named as the interim coach; at that event, he said that the team had “forgotten how to win”, “forgotten what it is like to win” and that they needed “to taste victory”. Those are cute sound bites. Two points here:

    1. The Raiders will win a couple of games this season; those wins will not be the result of the team “remembering how to win”; those victories will happen because the Raiders’ players played better on a given day than their opponents.

    2. With regard to “tasting victory”, it would take a reincarnation of Auguste Escoffier to get the taste of losing out of the mouths of the Raiders who have been there for more than the last month or so.

At practice, Sparano dug a hole in the ground. He then took a football, showed it to the team and said that the football represented the first four games of the season (all losses) and that he wanted to put that behind him. So, he threw the football in the hole and tossed a shovelful of dirt on it. He invited any player who likewise wanted to put the beginning of the season behind him to throw in his own shovelful of dirt. Once again, a cute stunt… However, let me offer another suggestion along those same lines:

    The Raiders used to have a sign on their facility – and they brought it to the stadium too – that read “Commitment to Excellence”. I suggest they find that old sign; clean it up; cross out the word “Excellence” and write in “Winning A Damned Game Sometime Soon”.

    They could hang that sign on the practice field and players would be allowed to tear it down and desecrate it however they please after they win a game this year.

Something else occurred to me as I was watching games last weekend. Football is so obviously a team game that it sometimes becomes annoying when quarterbacks get far too much credit for success and far too little credit for failure. Likewise, coaches receive glory and ignominy in a larger proportion than is proper while GMs and “player personnel guys” do not get their fair share of either. It has become clear to me that in a passing league, quarterbacks needed to be evaluated in the context of other team parameters. The most obvious parameter to me is the quality and capability level of the pass catchers on his team.

    Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Peyton Manning have excellent receivers on the other end of their passes.

    Tom Brady and Andrew Luck have mediocre receivers to throw to.

    Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have mediocre receivers to throw to.

    When you try to draw comparisons or make rankings of quarterbacks like this, you have to consider the other end of the pass attempt.

Conversely, quarterbacks who are considered near the bottom rungs of the profession need evaluation under the same criterion.

    Geno Smith, Jake Locker and any Raiders’ QB have a poor set of pass catchers. I doubt any QB could rack up “super stats” throwing to those guys.

    RG3/Kirk Cousins has an above average corps of pass catchers.

    Ryan Tannehill has an average crew of pass receivers.

Now, since I was speaking about lowly regarded QBs with a bad set of pass catchers, think that represents a segue opportunity to talk about the NY Jets. The Jets/Chargers game was the late afternoon game in the DC area last week; I got to watch the whole thing. By the middle of the third quarter, I began to wonder why I continued watching that game; it seemed almost sadistic to sit there and continue to see one team eviscerate the other. Here are some representative stats to demonstrate that the real Jets players must have missed the flight to San Diego and that those guys out there last week were replacements brought in off the beach somewhere.

    Jets were 1-12 on third down conversions.
    Jets allowed the Chargers to convert 12 of 18 third down situations
    Jets penalized 12 times.
    Chargers committed only 5 penalties.
    Jets had total offense of 151 yards [Yikes!]
    Chargers had total offense of 439 yards.

Jets’ fans got their wish in the second half; Michael Vick quarterbacked the team. Demonstrating that football is a team game, the two QBs had similarly bad stat lines for the day:

    Geno Smith: 4 for 12 for 27 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT
    Mike Vick: 8 for 19 for 47 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INT
    Combined QB stats: 12 for 31 for 74 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT

If you want to split hairs, Vick had a marginally better second half than Smith had in the first half. Nevertheless, Vick only averaged 2.5 yards per pass attempt and that will not win many NFL games. For those of you who do not live in the NYC area, here is how bad those two QBs looked last Sunday:

    The back page headline in the NY Daily News on Monday was:

      Bring Back Tebow

Geno Smith missed a team meeting in San Diego on the Saturday before last week’s game and the team said it was an “honest mistake” because he misread the change of time from NY to CA. To me, that statement says that the team chooses to put that issue aside and does not want to have to discipline the starting QB whose mental state cannot be in the best of places these days. I do not think this was an “honest mistake”; I do not know why Smith missed the meeting but “honest mistake” does not sound right. Here is why…

    I would be shocked if Geno Smith did not have a cell phone. He probably has a smartphone like just about everyone else his age but he may have merely a “dumbphone”.

    I have a “dumbphone”; my long-suffering wife has a smartphone. We travel a lot across time zones and here is something I know for certain:

    Smartphones and “dumbphones” both reset and display the local time all by themselves. No operator involvement is necessary; none at all.

    It is inconceivable to me that Geno Smith did not know what time it was.

Along the lines of credit and blame I mentioned above, the Jets are a poorly constructed team. I have no idea who in the Jets’ organization has what degree of authority or influence over the roster building and selection there. However, someone needs to be accountable or that franchise is in for a long dark spell.

    Unless of course the responsible party is the owner, Woody Johnson. If that is the case, Jets’ fans should call Skins’ fans to find out what sort of depths their team might sink to…

Last week, I wondered what had happened to Demaryius Thomas; I said it looked as if he were playing in a hypnotic trance. Well, someone snapped his fingers and brought him out of that trance last week. Here is Thomas stat line of the game against the Cardinals:

    8 catches for 226 yards and 2 TDs

Peyton Manning needs 5 more touchdown passes to catch Brett Favre for the most career TD passes in NFL history. And the Broncos play the Jets this weekend. It could happen.

Christian Ponder was awful last Thursday night. Of course, he happened to be on the same field with Aaron Rodgers on a day when Rodgers was “on” and that made him look even worse than he was. I think the jury has had sufficient time and observation to declare that Christian Ponder is not now and is not going to become an above average NFL QB.

The Eagles threw the ball 37 times last week against the Rams and their patchwork OL did not give up a sack in the game. That is the good news. The bad news is that the Eagles’ offense is still not coming close to hitting on all cylinders.

The Saints needed a furious 4th quarter comeback to tie the Bucs and send the game to OT in the Superdome in New Orleans. The word for that is “stunning”. The Saints got a TD (with a missed PAT), a safety and a game-tying field goal in the last nine and a half minutes of regulation time.

Brian Hoyer led the Browns to the biggest comeback by a road team in NFL history. The Titans led 28-3 late in the second quarter and led 28-10 at halftime; the Titans did not score a point in the second half but the Browns scored 19 points and won the game with a field goal with a minute left to play. The Titans had 8 first downs in the game and only 3 in the second half. Unless Brian Hoyer gets hurt, here is a suggestion for Johnny Football:

    You and your company like to trademark names for yourself. How about trademarking this one:

      Johnny Baseball Cap

Andrew Luck had a decent day against the Ravens. He threw for 312 yards and a TD and he ran the ball in from the 13-yardline for another TD. I have come to expect to see Luck put on a show like that but here is what was surprising to me in that game. The Colts’ defense held the Ravens in check for the whole game; it was almost like holding the Ravens in a yoke for the whole game. It seemed to me that the Colts dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that is now something I have come to expect to see from the Ravens.

Over the last two weeks, the Chicago Bears have been outscored 34-3 in the second half of those two games. I believe the operative word here is “unacceptable”. Last week, the Bears turned the ball over 3 times – on 3 consecutive possessions – in the 4th quarter. That too is “unacceptable”.

The Lions lost to the Bills last week by 3 points and the Lions missed 3 makeable field goals in that game. Fans in Detroit banged their heads against the wall acknowledging that this is the essence of Lions’ football.

The Skins lost to the Seahawks by 10 points on Monday night; since the spread on the game was 7 points, you might conclude that the Skins played the World Champs tough. Wrong; your conclusion would be incorrect. The Seahawks had 3 TDs nullified by penalties; in all, the Seahawks took 13 penalties in the game compared to only 3 for the Skins.

What happened on the field was more of the same that one should expect from the Skins’ defense. Early in the 4th quarter, the Seahawks got the ball on a punt leading by 7 points. It was a one-score game; what the Skins’ defense had to do was to get a turnover or de minimis come up with a stop to give the offense a chance to tie the game. Instead, what the defense gave up was a soul-sucking 8-minute drive by Seattle resulting in a TD making it a 14-point game with six and a half minutes left to play.

After the game, Richard Sherman said that Pierre Garcon was irrelevant in the NFL. During the game, Garcon had tried to pull Sherman’s hair to get to a pass where Sherman was the defender; as you might imagine, Sherman did not take kindly to that sort of pro ‘rassling tactic. I think Sherman was partly right and partly wrong in his assessment of Garcon:

    Garcon is relevant in the NFL. He caught 100+ passes last year for a 4-12 team meaning he did not get a lot of help from others on offense.

    Garcon was completely irrelevant Monday night. He caught 2 passes for 23 yards – and one of those catches for 18 of those 23 yards came in the final 15 seconds when the Seahawks were giving the Skins’ receivers anything they wanted short and over the middle. Garcon’s meaningless 4th quarter catch resulted in a first down and the clock expiring.

Another report from after this game said that Skins’ players were laughing and joking in the locker room after the defeat and Coach Jay Gruden wanted to know who on the team thought it was funny to lose a game. Of course, this became a topic of discussion on ESPN and on sports radio. I think most of the coverage/consideration of this issue – assuming that it happened in the first place – is completely overblown.

    1. Losing a football game is not a good thing; losing a football game in the context of life – where one might lose a loved one to a disease for example – is beyond trivial. If you want to take the other side of that argument, I think you are a moron.

    2. From 2000 until today, the Skins’ cumulative record is 95-134. That is a decade and a half of being a loser. So, now the new coach is shocked – Shocked I Say – to learn that some players who have been with this “country-club-franchise” for the last several years do not take losing a game as a high order tragedy? Give me a [brapp]-ing break…

The Games:

Two teams have Bye Weeks:

    Chiefs prepare for a road trip to San Diego next week
    Saints prepare for a road trip to Detroit next week

Where would you prefer to travel – San Diego or Detroit? It might take me 11 nanoseconds to make that decision…

As of this morning, there are three games with no lines posted. I firmly believe that this is an international conspiracy to prevent me from running the table on the games this week, which would put me back at .500 for the season with Mythical Picks. When these books get you down, they want to keep you down… For those three games, I will simply try to forecast an outcome with no relationship to a Mythical Pick.

In the 12 games where the books have dared to post lines, 7 of those games have the road team as the favorite. Anyone who likes to bet the “dog at home” will have ample opportunity this weekend.

(Thurs Nite) Indy – 3 at Houston (46): Both teams bring 3-2 records to this game; the winner will be in sole possession of first place in the AFC South on Sunday night. If the Colts play defense this week the way they played defense against the Ravens last week, they will win and cover this spread easily. Statistically, the only big difference here is the Indy offense (439.6 yards per game) over the Texans offense (338 yards per game). So, if the Colts can throttle the Texans offense and hold it to something below that average, the Colts should roll. I’ll take the Colts as a road favorite to win and cover here.

Denver – 8 at Jets (47.5): As of this morning, this line is all over the place. The spread opened at 7 points and immediately went to 8; one sportsbook has the game at 10 points; another sportsbook has the line at 9.5 points; most sportsbooks have the game at 8 points. Presumably, this will settle itself down by kickoff on Sunday. See the comments above regarding how awful the Jets were last week and how impressive the Broncos and Demaryius Thomas were last week. The Jets will face an enthusiastic home crowd that could turn ugly if the Jets stink out the joint on Sunday. I really do not think it matters at all who the Jets play at QB; the best QB on the field next week will be wearing Denver’s colors. I’ll take another road favorite, the Broncos, to win and cover here.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland – 2 (47): The Steelers dominated the Panthers 3 weeks ago by 18 points. In their other 4 games this year, the Steelers have been underwhelming even when they won. The first three Browns’ games were decided on the final play of the game; last week’s game was decided on a field goal with a minute left to play. This is an important game in the tight AFC North race and I guess it comes down to whether or not the Browns will fall off the tightrope or make it to the platform on the other side. This is classic Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Steelers plus the points.

Jax at Tennessee (No lines): Call this game the Stench Du Jour; these are two bad teams and the Titans may or may not have to start Charlie Whitehurst once again. For a team that needs buoyancy after collapsing against the Browns last week (see above), I am hard pressed to see how Charlie Whitehurst is going to provide said buoyancy. The Jags are 0-5 and are losing by an average of 20 points per game so far. Last week was their best showing of the year; they only lost by 8 to the Steelers; might this game provide the Jags’ first win of the year? I think both defenses will take gas this weekend; I expect a high scoring game with the total somewhere in the low 50s.

Chicago at Atlanta – 3 (53.5): This game is no prize but it looks good compared to the Jags/Titans affair. Call the Falcons, A Tale of Two Units; consider…

    Falcons are 2nd in the NFC in total offense
    Falcons are 1st in the NFC in passing offense
    Falcons are 15th in the NFC in defense.

The Bears stats are middling; 9th in the conference in offense and 7th in the conference in defense. Maybe there is a trend that will be useful here:

    Bears are 11-2 to go OVER in their last 13 against teams with losing records
    Falcons are 9-3 to go OVER in their last 12 home games

    HOW-EVAH…

    Bears/Falcons went UNDER the last 5 times they played in Atlanta

So much for trends. This game will turn on how badly or how well the Bears offense plays in the second half of the game (see above). The Bears seem to want to give games away; the Falcons’ defense has no inkling as to how to take a game away from an opponent. Yin and Yang… This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game; the coin says to take the Falcons and lay the points. Why not?

Green Bay – 3 at Miami (49): If the Dolphins’ defense can keep Aaron Rodgers from continuing his hot hand from last week, the Dolphins can keep this game close. In a shoot-out, the Dolphins have a revolver and the Packers carry an AK-47. The Dolphins have had 2 weeks to come up with a game plan; they will need a good one. The Packers and Lions are tied atop the NFC North; the Dolphins trail the Bills and Pats by half a game and one of those rival teams is going to lose this week (see below). This game is meaningful for both teams. I think the Packers bring enough to the party to handle the Dolphins even in balmy Miami. I’ll take the Packers to win and cover.

Detroit at Minnesota (No lines): Here are the unknowns at the moment:

    Can/will Calvin Johnson play?
    Who will be the Vikes’ QB?

Other than those minor points, the outcome of this game is easily discernable. However, when you factor those things in… I think the Lions will be a road favorite here but I do not like the Lions as a road team let alone a road favorite. If the Vikes get a bunch of points, I would take them.

Carolina at Cincy – 7 (45): Both teams are alone in first place in their divisions as of last week. In the Panthers’ case, I would have to say that they are the least sorry team in the NFC South so far this year. In the Bengals’ case, I would say that the team looked super-good until the Pats torched them last Sunday nite. I suspect that Marvin Lewis kicked ass and took names this week in Cincy; the team played like the Jaguars in New England last week. I like the Bengals at home to win and cover.

New England – 3 at Buffalo (45): The winner here will have sole possession of first place in the AFC East. I doubt that the Pats can play as well as they did last week in this game just as I doubt that the Bills can play as marginally and get as many breaks as they did last week. It is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Bills plus the points.

Baltimore – 3 at Tampa (43): The Bucs have played two good games in a row – beating the Steelers with a rally and then taking the Saints to OT last week. The Ravens’ loss to the Colts last week was worse than a 7-point result might indicate. On one hand, you could look here and see these teams as going in opposite directions. On the other hand, you could just think a couple of recent games were mere aberrations. Joe Flacco and company are not nearly as good on the road as they are at home; then again, the Bucs home field advantage is about as marginal as there is in the NFL. I see a defensive struggle; I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

San Diego – 7.5 at Oakland (42.5): For the Chargers, this game starts a series of 3 straight divisional games. Since they are ahead in the AFC West, the last thing they need would be a loss to the bottom-feeding mess that is the Oakland Raiders. Meanwhile, those bottom-feeding and winless Raiders are entering a very difficult stretch in their schedule:

    Vs San Diego
    Vs Arizona
    At Cleveland (softest spot until after Thanksgiving)
    At Seattle
    Vs Denver
    At San Diego (again)
    Vs KC

I do not think any of Tony Sparano’s gimmicks/antics (see above) are going to have much of an effect on the Raiders other than to make players recognize that he is not going to tolerate them rolling over and playing dead. The Raiders are clearly out-gunned in terms of talent but they are at home and they do have a new capo di tutti capi. Just a hunch, I’ll take the Raiders plus the points.

Dallas at Seattle – 8 (47): This is the best game of the weekend. The Cowboys are a surprising – but completely deserving – 4-1 this year; the Seahawks are 3-1 and they are at home. The Cowboys have rebuilt their OL through the draft and now can run the ball very effectively; Seattle leads the NFL in rushing defense. This will be an interesting game to watch. I think that line is fat; I like the Cowboys plus the points.

Washington at Arizona (no lines): Can Carson Palmer play; he has a “dead nerve” in his shoulder. Can Drew Stanton play; he may have suffered a concussion last week. If Logan Thomas has to play the entire game, the Cards are in that classic situation where they brought a knife to a gunfight. Thomas threw an 81-yard TD pass last week in relief of Stanton; that is the good news. Here is the rest of the story – that was his only completion of the day and he attempted 8 passes. Logan Thomas is not ready for prime time – or even for the middle of the morning. Meanwhile the Cards’ opponent is the sorry-assed, no-account, mangy-dog, shiftless Skins. A clairvoyant peeking into his/her crystal ball regarding this game would see it unfolding and need to suppress a gag reflex. If Stanton or Palmer play, the Cards win as the Skins defense does its soul-sucking thing (see above). If Thomas plays, the Cards will be fortunate to score 13 points.

(Sun Nite) Giants at Philly – 3 (50): Both teams will know the outcome of the Cowboys/Seahawks game by kickoff and should the Cowboys lose this game would take on even greater importance. The Eagles have one loss; the Cowboys have one loss; the Giants have two losses. The NFC East could have a 3-way tie at the top on Monday morning. I think that is how the weekend will unfold and the culprit in this game will be the Eagles’ offense inability to score. I like the Giants to win the game straight up so I’ll take them with the points here.

    By the way, the Giants’ defense gives up 364 yards per game and the Eagles’ offense produces 364.4 yards per game. How neat would it be if the Eagles’ offense on Sunday night totaled 364 or 365 yards?

(Mon Nite) SF – 3 at St. Louis (43.5): Austin Davis led a comeback against the Eagles last weekend that fell short. The Niners’ defense is a better unit than the Eagles’ defense; that stratagem will not work here; the Rams cannot fall behind by 20 points here and hope to win. Maybe Davis will not need to play because starter Shaun Hill will be healthy. It says a lot about your team when you need to look forward to Shaun Hill returning from an injury for inspiration and hope. I think the Rams are overmatched here despite the long-term rivalry contained in this game. I like the Niners on the road to win and cover.

Finally, Brad Rock posed an interesting rhetorical question in the Deseret News recently:

“Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL celebrating a sack of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Just wondering, exactly how do guys like that keep from injuring themselves on New Year’s Eve?

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