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………

Thursday Night Football…

A headline at CBSSports.com this morning says:

    Arian Foster rips ‘Thursday Night Football:’ No one likes it

Recently, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: If the string of lopsided scores from the NFL Thursday night games is any indication, the mystical forces that control the football cosmos strongly disapprove of the new prime-time CBS package. Through five games, the average margin of victory has been 29 points, with no result closer than 20 points.”

I do not have a direct line to the inner sanctum of the football gods, but Arian Foster and Bob Molinaro are both onto something here. The Thursday Night Games so far this year have been laughers; the “tightest game” was the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game where the score was deceptively close at 26-6. Here are a couple of Arian Foster’s comments about Thursday Night Football:

“Thursday Night Football is pretty annoying for players. I don’t know one player that likes it. I really don’t know a fan that likes it, either. I think it’s just the league’s way to try to generate more revenue, but that’s what they are here for.”

And…

“Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game but you have to go out there and do it.”

I guess the reason Arian Foster thinks fans do not like Thursday Night Football is because he has never met the ten million or so fans who tune in to watch those games on CBS and/or NFLN. However, I can certainly believe his two points that players do not like Thursday games and that many players are not physically recovered from the previous Sunday games when Thursday rolls around. The NFL itself provides some evidence for that last point.

More than a few times during the season, a player cannot practice during the week but recovers sufficiently to play on Sunday. Most – if not all – of them would not be able to play on Thursday night without putting their well-being at greater risk than normal. The NFL injury reports and the media coverage of teams and their practices tell us this.

Foster was asked why he did not voice his complaint to the NFLPA and his response was interesting:

“The union and the league is kind of the same thing.”

Well, I am not the same as the union or the league and so let me offer a possible path toward resolving this issue:

    Every team that plays a Thursday game will have a Bye Week the week before that game. Therefore, every player will have 10 days to recover/prepare for a Thursday game.

    That means every team will need 2 Bye Weeks during the season and to accommodate that, the regular season would be extended to 18 weeks (but would stay at 16 games).

Players and coaches should like the extra time to prepare; the league and the union should like the extra revenue that another week of NFL games on TV will generate; the networks should like another week of highly rated programming; the fans should like being able to see more regular season games over a longer period of time. Only the folks in the scheduling department might dislike this idea because it would complicate their job ever so slightly.

Foster’s comments are timely because the Texans and the Colts are the Thursday Night Game this week…

While I am on the subject of making changes for the NFL, may I suggest a different way for the league to keep track of return yards? Consider the following scenario:

    Team A kicks off to Team B. The ball goes five yards deep into the end zone and Team B’s returner does not take a knee; he returns the kickoff.

    Team A covers the kick well and the returner is tackled at the 12-yardline.

The current return stat would credit the returner with a 17-yard return. In reality, what he did was to cost Team B 8 yards of field position. Had he just refused to run the ball, Team B would have had the ball at the 20-yardline. Somewhere, the league should account for that kind of hidden yardage within a game and report it. If the returner gets the ball out to the 27-yardline, he should get credit for a 32 yard return and get a “plus 7” for field position as a result of his return. In my original example, the returner would get a “minus 8″ for field position.

It would be a new stat and it would be one that cannot be applied retroactively to previous games for at least 2 reasons:

    1. It would be more work than it is worth to go through NFL video archives and do the calculations for previous games.

    2. There are too many NFL games for which there is no video or film record and so the calculation for those games would be impossible.

Nevertheless, I would like to see the league begin to record this stat.

Finally, Bob Molinaro writes for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot but is a Baltimorean by heritage. It should please him to realize that one of his recent items proves a point made by the Bard of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken:

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public.” [Mencken]

And…

“Dollar signs: Derek Jeter’s career may be over, but the marketing of his image continues, right down to the selling of Jeter game-used dirt. Steiner Sports, the Yankees and Jeter are making available plaques that include a capsule of infield dirt from Yankee Stadium that Jeter allegedly walked on. But if that doesn’t intrigue you, you might be interested in Jeter game-used socks – only $409.99 per sock.” [Molinaro]

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

Good Intentions…

As the NFL continues to try to get itself on a positive side of the issue of domestic violence, the league announced recently that it will offer educational programs for players that center around socially acceptable behaviors and socially unacceptable behaviors. Good for the NFL; such programs cannot hurt. Nonetheless, count me as cynical on this one…

The fact of the matter is that every NFL player is an adult and adults arrive at a workplace with a set of life experiences. Every employer offers “training courses”/”indoctrination courses” that seek to focus new employees on the behaviors that are appropriate for the specific workplaces. With regard to most of those kinds of training endeavors, the idea of trying to mold “off-the-job behavior” is pretty far out in left field. And that is what the NFL is going to try to do here.

Look, those adults who play in the NFL – and the ones who coach and the ones who work in front offices and the ones who own teams and etc. – ought not to need an educational program to tell them the following:

    It is not socially acceptable to beat your wife/girlfriend/kids.
    It is not socially acceptable to drive drunk.
    It is not socially acceptable to [fill in the blanks here]

In addition to the expectation that none of those adults ought to need such programs, I wonder just how effective a “short course” along the lines of “Behaving Properly 101” will be in overriding the years of life experience for many of these athletes who have been conditioned to believe that their athletic prowess inoculates them from any consequences of their behaviors. The danger here is that these programs will provide a patina of security that the league and the teams are taking effective steps to deal with these image problems. I doubt that will be the case…

Moreover, even if these programs are designed and executed such that they have universally positive effects, the league needs to be sure to do two other things in conjunction with these programs:

    1. The programs must not be limited to players. Coaches have been known to behave badly; owners have been known to drive while impaired. Any programs that are mandatory for players must be mandatory for everyone else in the NFL including the Commish.

    2. The league needs to look at its “bureaucracy” and at the front office staffing for all 32 teams with an eye to this question:

      Do we have in place the right mix of professionals (psychology folks, security folks, counseling folks) to work with all employees to head off at the pass future incidents of gross anti-social behavior? It is not good enough to be wealthy enough to hire some smarmy “crisis communication consultants” after the fact. Are the organizations staffed properly to act proactively on this front?

Teams in the NFL are constructed and run with the idea that the single most important thing in the world is to win the next game and then to win the one after that… If the teams are expected to police themselves on anti-social behavior issues, that activity will almost immediately collide head-on with the “win now and win again” mindset. The conflict in terms of objectives here could not be more stark; teams just cannot be asked or expected to police themselves effectively.

In the last paragraph, I used the phrase “collide head-on” and that leads me to another problem the NFL faces. The concussion issue – in all of its ramifications – is another big problem for the league. Again, I think that the NFL has put in place “concussion protocols” that serve to provide a patina of “concern” and “activism” around the problem – but it is no more than a patina. Here is what a “dinged player” has to do to get back on the field:

    He must not show any of the overt symptoms of a concussion. If he can do that to the satisfaction of medical personnel on the sidelines, he can go back into the game. And, make no mistake here; the player prefers to go back into the game at least 99% of the time.

Once again, you have things working at cross-purposes only this time there are time constraints. After all, if the league protocols for a “dinged player” were to take 4 hours to complete, the player would de facto be barred from returning to any game where he had a problem. Aye, there is the rub…

    Forget the case where the player was out cold on the field for 5 whole minutes before being revived to a blurry state of consciousness. That is the obvious case and it can be handled by someone whose only medical expertise comes from studying for the MCATs.

    Since there is no rapid “litmus test” for a concussion that can be administered on the sideline where the results are comparable to litmus paper in a chemistry lab with regard to accurately detecting acids or alkalis, the protocol is subject to Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Some concussed players will be sent back onto the field; some non-concussed players will be misdiagnosed and prevented from playing again on that day.

    Moreover, part of the protocol is to communicate with the player. If the player is motivated to be “uncooperative” or to be “less than candid” in his communication with the medics, the protocol itself is weakened even further than the real presence of Type 1 and Type 2 errors would suggest.

The fundamental idea here is a good one; I simply doubt how effective it is going to be.

Finally, since I am on the subject of the NFL, here is an observation from David Letterman the week after the Pats lost on national television to the Chiefs:

“The New England Patriots got routed 41-14, and a Kansas City Chiefs player was fined because he was in the end zone praying. That’s different than the New York Jets. They pray to get INTO the end zone.”

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

One Step At A Time…

Back in September, I wrote that one of the major difficulties with the job that Roger Goodell has developed for himself was that he had to be “The Disciplinarian”. In that piece, I argued that the role of disciplinarian does not mesh well at all with the more fundamental responsibilities of a commissioner:

    A. Grow the league revenues
    B. Maintain labor peace
    C. Maintain and enhance the league’s public image and standing

I also suggested there that the best way to deal with discipline would be to “outsource it” to an arbitration staff paid for by both the NFL and the NFLPA such that there would be no suspicion of pulling fiscal strings behind the scenes. Well, last week, the NFL and the NFLPA took a first step exactly that path. They agreed to hire an outside arbitrator to handle the appeal that Ray Rice and his attorneys have filed. This is a big deal. The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed on a single person to handle this matter and both sides have agreed to live with the consequences of that person’s decision here. That may seem very normal – even mundane – for us “ordinary citizens” but that has never been the case for the league and the union.

Former US District Court judge, Barbara Jones, will be the arbitrator. For one, I hope that her handling of this matter is so exemplary that both sides come to the decision that hiring a small outside staff that will do nothing except handle disciplinary matters is a positive direction for both organizations.

Greg Cote posed an interesting rhetorical question in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Question: How does A’s general manager Billy “Moneyball” Beane get to keep being a genius when this was the 17th consecutive season his team failed to reach the World Series, let alone win?

I think the answer to that question is that the baseball poets and Michael Lewis have anointed him as a genius and no one wants to be the fart in church to suggest otherwise. I never believed Moneyball to be a faithful rendition of history from the time I read it. I am not one who resists new analytical stats – although I do believe some of the “advanced metrics” are a tad arcane – but I also believe firmly in the “Eyeball Test”.

Now for a retrospective view of why the Oakland A’s were so successful around the turn of the millennium that you would not get just from reading/seeing Moneyball:

    The A’s had three young pitchers (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito) who all blossomed around the same time. No analytical process predicted that would be the case nor did any such process make it happen.

    The A’s at that time had a roster with more than a couple of players who have since been associated with PED use.

Now, that leads to a retrospective on this year’s big trades for Jeff Samardzija and John Lester near the trade deadline. For whatever reason, the A’s cratered after that trade; the team was 66-41 when the trade went down; the A’s went 22-23 after the trade. It is difficult to look at those numbers and say the trade was a “success” for the A’s but that is exactly what Billy Beane keeps trying to say. In fact, the SF Chronicle reported that he said the A’s might not have made the playoffs had he not made that deal.

There is no advanced analytical stat that measures “team chemistry” or whatever you want to call that concept. However, if the SF Chronicle report is accurate and I have no reason to doubt it, how might the 20 or so players in the A’s clubhouse feel about the way team management views their value. They were 25 games over .500; they had the best record in MLB at the time; management says they would have missed the playoffs without a couple of additions to the roster. Billy Beane likes to dismiss any discussion of things like “team chemistry” and the “Eyeball Test” as irrelevant. In this case, he had better be correct…

    [Aside: Every time someone asks me what I mean by the “Eyeball Test”, I use this example if the person is more than 35 years old. In football, the career quarterback ratings say that Chad Pennington, Duante Culpepper and Jeff Garcia were all better quarterbacks than John Elway. That does not pass the “Eyeball Test”.]

Here is another item from Greg Cote’s column in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Saw a headline that LeBron already has mastered new Cavs coach David Blatt’s offense. Figures. The offense may be summarized as, ‘Give the ball to LeBron!’ “

That snarky remark got me thinking about the Miami Heat for the upcoming season and leads me to ask:

    How long will it be until folks begin to question if Erik Spoelstra is actually a good NBA coach or is he just a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time to be on the bench with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh?

    The Heat will not be nearly as dominant this year as they have been for the last four years. The reason for that will be that LeBron James is in Cleveland and not in Miami. Nonetheless, Spoelstra will take some heat.

Finally, since I have used two of Greg Cote’s items from yesterday’s Miami Herald, let me close by using a third. It needs no amplification:

“Johnny Manziel says he might offer to counsel Jameis Winston. No, seriously.”

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

Recommended Reading

Ever wonder whether or not a coaching change makes a big difference for a team? Ever wonder what factors influence the success of a new coach? Ever wonder whatever happened to …?

Dan Daly in his new blog, Pro Football Daly, had done the research on the more than 100 new coaching hires in the NFL since 2000 and he has sliced and diced the numbers every which way. If you are curious about any of this sort of “stuff”, he has done the heavy lifting for you.

Check it out here.

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 10/5/14

Let me begin with a post-mortem on last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked Giants +4 against Skins. Giants won by 31. Yes!

    I liked Raiders +4 against Dolphins. Raiders lost by 24. No!

    I liked Bears +1.5 against Packers. Bears lost by 21. No!

    I liked Texans -3 over Bills. Texans won by 6. Yes!

    I liked Titans/Colts OVER 45. Total score was 58. Yes!

    I liked Ravens -3 over Panthers. Ravens won by 28. Yes!

    I liked Jets +1.5 against Lions. Jets lost by 7. No!

    I liked Steelers -7.5 over Bucs. Steelers lost outright. No!

    I liked Jags +13.5 against Chargers. Jags lost by 19. No!

    I liked Eagles/Niners OVER 50.5. Total score was 47. No!

    I liked Falcons -3 over Vikes. Falcons lost big. No!

    I liked Saints/Cowboys OVER 52.5. Total score was 55. Yes!

    I liked Pats/Chiefs OVER 45. Total score was 55. Yes!

My hope of stringing together a pair of mythically profitable weeks crashed and burned with that set of picks. Last week’s record was 6-8-0 bringing the season cumulative record to 27-38-1. The long climb back to a .500 record – which must be attained before thinking about getting into “Profit Land” – continues…

There were 3 “coin flip games” last week and the coin’s record was 2-1-0. That edged the coin closer to .500, which is what one would expect from a coin; the season record for the coin stands at 4-6-1.

Clearly, no one should take anything here as inside information on what the “smart money” is doing with regard to this week’s games. In fact, no one should give anything here even an iota’s weight of importance if one is deciding what side to take in a real wager involving real money on an actual NFL game this weekend. Anyone dumb enough to do that would probably see nothing wrong with a stripper pole as a wedding gift.

General Comments:

Dennis Allen is no longer the coach of the Oakland Raiders. After the team arrived back in the States from their London game, Allen was relieved of his duties. Allen’s contract runs through the 2015 season so he can sit home for the rest of this year knowing that his finances are not going to be a problem for at least another 15 months.

Allen’s first two years with the Raiders produced 4-12 records; the roster – and the entire situation – that he and GM Reggie McKenzie inherited in Oakland was the football equivalent of the Love Canal. The roster was old and dispirited; the team has spent a ton of assets to acquire quarterbacks including Carson Palmer, Matt Flynn and Matt Schaub with no success at all. When coaches get fired with teams this bad, I normally suggest that the GM and the team President and even the owner are equally culpable. In this case, I believe the culpability resides mainly in ownership’s lap. It is not as if the Raiders were anything more than a ghost of the team that dominated the NFL from the late 60s to the mid-80s. That is on Al Davis and no one else – because Al Davis and no one else had any say in major team decisions with regard to the Raiders until Davis checked into the Eternal Skybox in October 2011.

If there is any evidence that Mark Davis has any significant background in terms of running a football team or assembling one, that evidence is a bigger secret than where the US Government is hiding the remains of the extra-terrestrials whose ship crashed and burned in Roswell NM more than 65 years ago. On many occasions here, I have pointed out the complete naïveté and total ignorance that Danny Boy Snyder brought to that task; frankly, I cannot discern any more expertise in Mark Davis given his background.

Mark Davis hired Reggie McKenzie to be the GM and the story at the time was that McKenzie was the only guy Davis interviewed. OK, McKenzie had developed an aura of expertise from his climb up the football ladder after his playing career to the point where he had been head of player personnel for the Packers’ organization – an organization by the way that most folks think is a good one. McKenzie hired Allen.

The problem in Oakland has many dimensions; Dennis Allen was not one of them; Reggie McKenzie is not one of them – yet; Mark Davis is not one of them – yet. Let me try to outline some of the problems:

    The team is old and slow.
    The offensive line is awful.
    They still do not have a QB.
    The defense gives up points like a hooker gives up …
    Veteran players seem to go there only to get one more payday.
    The organization is dispirited.

Those last two points are important. On most weekends, the Raiders are not just underdogs; they are overmatched. Much of the time, the team looks as if it is going through the motions with the sole intent of getting to the end of the game so that they can get out of those uncomfortable pads. Do not listen to all of the platitudes or make any judgments based on the staged pre-game psych-up noise. Watch the players on the field and on the sidelines and compare the way they carry themselves and comport themselves with merely an average NFL team. If I can use an analogy to the US Congress, the Raiders just show up and vote “Present” on just about every issue and collect their paychecks.

If McKenzie can find a good coach that can work with him in Oakland, the turn-around process there will be at least 3 more years. To think that this ship will turn around in less time that than will require a miracle and the best way to see that something miraculous is going on there would be to reincarnate Vince Lombardi and have him take over starting in February. Good luck with that.

The Raiders have basically stunk for the last 20 years. Yes, they had that short run of “goodness” early in the aughts when they went to the Super Bowl once. However, here is the bigger picture:

    No winning record since 2002. (They were 8-8 in 2010 and 2011.)
    Three winning records since 1993.
    Five winning records since 1986.
    Current losing streak is 10 games.
    Defense has given up 30+ points in 6 of those 10 losses.

If the Oakland Raiders were a fancy cocktail, you would call them Stink on the Rocks. Here is just one of the embarrassing moments from last week’s loss to the Dolphins that the Raiders inflicted on their fans:

    Derek Carr suffered an injury and limped off the field. Since Matt Schaub did not even travel with the team to London, that put Matt McGloin at QB with the ball around the Dolphins 35-yardline.

    In the shotgun formation, the center snaps is such that McGloin cannot even reach to deflect the backward momentum of the ball, which rolls free. The Dolphins had a corner blitz called to rattle the fresh-off-the-bench QB and that guy picked up the loose ball and ran it in for a TD. The stats say it was a 50-yard fumble recovery for a TD; it was a botched snap from center.

Having used the word “stink “above, I have to mention now the Giants/Skins game from last week. The Skins would have had to play about 5 times better than they did merely to stink. Anyone who watched that game had to feel a tad of embarrassment for the players and the coaches because it was on national TV and there was nowhere for them to hide.

After that debacle – or was it devastation? – two of the Skins’ DL, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker, were interviewed coming out of the locker room. All they had to say was the classic football mantra; both said they had to get back to work to eliminate mistakes in order for the team to become as excellent as they know it will be. Folks, anyone on the Skins’ team that harbors even a smidgen of hope that the team is excellent lives in the State of Delusion.

    Memo for Jarvis Jenkins/Chris Baker: Excellent defensive teams do not allow opponents to convert 11 of 16 third down attempts. Ka-beeesh?

The Jets lost to the Lions; Geno Smith turned the ball over; Jets’ fans booed and chanted for Michael Vick; Geno Smith “F-bombed” a fan on his way to the locker room; Rex Ryan said that Geno Smith will continue as the Jets’ QB. In other words, it was a typical day at a Jets’ game.

It may have been a typical day at a Jets’ game, but so far this season there is something atypical about the Detroit Lions. As of today, the Lions lead the NFL in defense – as measured by yards allowed. Moreover, of the teams that have played 4 games this year, the Lions have allowed the fewest points. Really? Did Alex Karras and Night Train Lane make comebacks?

The Falcons went to Minnesota and lost a game. That means the Falcons are 1-9 in their last 10 road games. The defense in Atlanta is a joke; that unit allowed a rookie QB to put 41 points on the board against it. Terry Bridgewater may someday be an NFL star, but the Falcons made him look like the second coming of Joe Montana in his first outing. Moreover, the Falcons caught the Vikes without the services of Adrian Peterson. No problem there; the Falcons front seven rolled over and played dead so the Vikes could run the ball for 241 yards. Labeling what the Falcons did on defense would cause you to reach for a word like reprehensible.

Speaking of reprehensible reminds me of the word ignominious – and that word describes the Steelers performance losing at home to the Bucs. In the long term, Mike Glennon is a better QB option for the Bucs than Josh McCown simply because McCown is in his mid-30s. However, I think Glennon is the better choice right now just because he makes things happen, even though he looks like anything but a prototypical NFL QB. Also, recall this tidbit within Mike Glennon’s “pedigree”:

    When a new coach arrived at NC State, that coach named Glennon the starting QB causing the incumbent upperclassman to transfer to Wisconsin for a final year of eligibility. That ousted incumbent was Russell Wilson.

    At least one coach thought Mike Glennon was a better option at QB than Russell Wilson. I doubt there is anything like that in Josh McCown’s background…

In any event, the Steelers defense made Glennon look like a hero last week with a last second rally to win the game while throwing for 300+ yards in the game.

    [Aside: Pitt lost badly to Akron at home last Saturday and then the Steelers were awful losing to the Bucs on Sunday. It is going to take a tank car full of Lysol Air Spray to cover up that level of stench in Pittsburgh…]

The Bears and Packers played evenly through the first half. Then, in the second half, “Bad Jay Cutler” came out of the locker room and the game turned into a laugher for Green Bay. Cutler was not solely responsible for the loss; there was some poor play at WR too. Moreover, the Bears committed a penalty that I cannot remember ever seeing before.

    The Bears were called for holding on a field goal attempt.

    The unusual part of that is that the Packers were attempting the field goal; the Bears were on defense and were holding. No, there was no fake on the play. Yes, the replay showed that the holding call was correct.

    Naturally, the Packers got a first down out of that call and proceeded to score a TD instead of merely a field goal on the drive.

There was one other unusual aspect in that game. Neither team punted the ball for the entire 60 minutes. I suspect that has happened before in some NFL game but I surely do not recall it happening. Should the punters have to give back their game paychecks for last week?

The Ravens ran the ball at will against the Panthers leaving me to wonder what happened to the Carolina defense; that unit has given up 75 points in the last two weeks. The problems there are much more than just the absence of Greg Hardy. Steve Smith had a big day against his former team catching 7 passes for 139 yards and 2 TDs.

The Jags were only down 3 points to the Chargers at halftime. Once again, the Jags were scoreless in the second half and the Chargers eased away to a 33-14 win. That was the Jags’ best defensive performance so far this year and therein lies the tale of how bad this team has been:

    The Jags have yet to score more than 17 points in a game.
    The Jags have yet to allow fewer than 33 points in a game.

I have exactly no idea what happened to the Eagles’ offense in their loss to the Niners last week. All 21 points scored by Philly came from the defense and the special teams. Perhaps that game holds the key to toning down the Chip Kelly Hyperactive Offense – or maybe they just had a bad game. Two other observations from that game:

    Someone has to tutor Colin Kaepernick to increase his “Football IQ”. He made some time management choices last week that would have been embarrassing even for Andy Reid.

    The playing field looked like a field of dandelions. Each team committed 10 penalties – and there were penalties that were declined and at least one offsetting penalty situation.

Charlie Whitehurst was the Titans’ QB last week against the Colts. Here is all you need to know about how competitive that game was:

    Whitehurst threw for only 177 yards in the game
    Whitehurst was the Titans’ leading rusher with 40 yards.
    Colts had almost 500 yards of offense and had the ball 42 minutes.

Before the calendar turned to October, the Texans had won 3 games; compared to last year’s total of 2 wins, this year has to be an improvement. The Texans’ 6-point margin of victory over the Bills last week came from an 80-yard Pick Six by JJ Watt. Once again, the Texans had no running game (Ryan Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher with 14 yards) and the offense produced only 16 points. However, that was enough because the Bills were even worse. EJ Manuel played poorly enough that he has been benched for this week as the team turns its fate over to – wait for it – Kyle Orton. When Orton retired from the Cowboys and then signed a $5M deal to be the Bills’ backup, I thought he figured this was a final payday for him – sort of like manna from Heaven. If I was right, then he has to think the team reneged on the deal because Manual is not injured; yet, Orton has to go and put himself in harm’s way.

How bad was Manuel last week that the Bills will bench him?

    The stats overall say 21-44 for 225 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. To be sure, that is not a good stat line. HOW EVAH…

    One of the TD passes was an 80-yard play. So for the 59 minutes and 47 seconds of the game other than that one play, the stat line reads:

      20-43 for 145 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. That is pretty bad.

    Oh, by the way, one of those INTs was a Pick Six…

Anyone remember back when the Bills were 2-0?

The Cowboys rolled over the Saints last week. It is now official; the Saints’ defense is awful. In fact, the Saints’ defense in 2014 might be as bad as the Cowboys’ defense was in 2013. I have seen the Saints play twice how and so far this year I have not seen them tackle anyone effectively or cover anyone effectively or get off blocks quickly. Other than that, the defense is just fine. Given the way the Saints have played this year, I might be tempted to say that you can write them out of any playoff scenario you may want to concoct. Forget that; look at the NFC South:

    Which team there looks any more like a “division winner” than the Saints?

    The Falcons’ defense may be worse than the Saints; it certainly is not significantly better.

    Hell, the Bucs are only 1 game out of first place in that division.

No, I will not write off the Saints, but I would like to point out a smear of tarnish on Sean Payton’s reputation as a creative coach who takes advantage of the gullibility of other teams and coaches. If he continues to take accolades for his gutsy onside kick call in the Super Bowl – and the accolades only come in hindsight because it worked – then someone needs to call him an asshat for his fake punt call in his own territory when the game was still marginally within reach. Watching Thomas Moorstead attempt first to throw a pass and then to run for it on 4th and 9 was stupefying. That play had as much chance of working as Steven Segall has of winning an Oscar.

The Chiefs win over the Pats was a ritual disembowelment. The Pats’ receivers were blanketed all night; the Pats’ offensive line leaked like a colander; Tom Brady had to try to throw passes into “windows” that were the size of Cheerios.

The Games:

There are 15 games on the NFL card for this weekend; 14 of the games will be the subject of Mythical Picks. I will not pretend to have written this yesterday prior to seeing the Packers blow out the Vikes last night thereby assuring at least one correct selection for this week. In addition:

    Miami has a bye having returned from London to prepare for the Packers
    Oakland has a bye awaiting a visit from the Chargers next week.

Chicago at Carolina – 3 (46): Do you remember the old TV show, To Tell the Truth? At the end of each “round”, they would ask “the real Joe Flabeetz to please stand up”. Call this game the NFL version of that program and say, “Will the real NFL-caliber defense please stand up.” Statistically, the game looks pretty even but the “eyeball test” says that Cam Newton is not fully healthy right now. The Bears run the ball better than the Panthers do and the Panthers were gashed on the ground last week. I’ll take the Bears plus the points here.

Cleveland at Tennessee – 2 (44): The Titans’ offense has been AWOL for most of this season. The Browns led by Brian Hoyer have better passing and rushing stats for the year than do the Titans. The Browns have had each game come down to the final play; and despite their 1-2 record, opponents have outscored them by a total of 3 points. Charlie Whitehurst was not good last week and Jake Locker is listed as “probable” for this week’s game. I like the road dog again here. I’ll take the Browns plus the points.

St. Louis at Philly – 7 (47.5): When Sam Bradford went down in an exhibition game, the Eagles probably circled this game as an “easy win” coming home after a long trip to the West Coast. However, the Eagles’ offense looked so discombobulated last week against the Niners that one has to wonder if there is an endemic problem there and that concern is magnified by the fact that the Rams had last week off and should be completely prepared for this game. I must not be the only one who is concerned about the outcome here because this line opened the week at 8.5 points and is as low as 6.5 points at one sportsbook this morning. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game; the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Atlanta at Giants – 4 (50.5): Fans of both teams should consider this “put up or shut up time”. Statistically, the offensive edge belongs to the Falcons and the defensive edge belongs to the Giants. So far this year, the Falcons gain 440 yards per game and give up 430 yards per game. Yowza! A key question about the Giants following their pantsing of the Skins last week is this:

    Is their new West Coast offense starting to click or was that just an outburst against a morbidly awful defense?

I think there will be a lot of scoring in this one so I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Tampa at New Orleans – 10 (48): The loser of this game will be in last place in the NFC South – and just might find themselves 1 game behind the rest of the division. Based on what I have seen on the field from both teams this season, there is no way I would trust either one with a real wager on them. The big thing in this game is that the Saints are at home where they are a much better team than they are on the road. So, with that edge, I’ll take the Saints to win and cover. With less confidence, I’ll also take the game to go OVER.

Houston at Dallas – 6.5 (46.5): This game happens only once every 4 years; and when it does, it is the Battle for Texas. It will remain such unless Mark Davis decides to move the Raiders to San Antonio. The key to this game is how Ryan Fitzpatrick handles the pressure once the Cowboys realize that they have throttled what the Texans call a running game. I do not think Fitzpatrick can carry the team. I like the Cowboys at home to win and cover.

Buffalo at Detroit – 7 (43.5): Kyle Orton’s first start this year is behind a marginal offensive line on the road against the statistically best defense in the league who has a dominant pass rush. Good luck with that. The Lions’ defensive weakness would be its secondary but the Bills are not likely to create a sufficient long game here to prevent that secondary from just playing everything tight. I like the Lions to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER.

Baltimore at Indy – 3 (48): Here is one of the most meaningless trends I have ever run across:

    Ravens are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games in Weeks 5-9 of a season.

I had to get that out of the way…The Colts rank 1st in total offense in the NFL gaining an average of 444 yards per game. That figure is inflated a bit by the offensive output from the last two games (529 yards against the Jags and 498 yards against the Titans). I doubt they will do anything like that to the Ravens’ defense. The Ravens have lost their last 5 games in Indy. And in the last two visits there, they only scored 3 points in those games. Despite those meager offensive showings by the Ravens in their last two games here, I like this game to go OVER.

Pittsburgh – 6 at Jax (47): This game emits the greatest level of fetor for the week. The Steelers have not played well this year; last week they let the Bucs convert 7 of 13 third down situations. That should have been humiliating by itself. In addition, they are undisciplined; last week they committed 13 penalties for 125 yards. That is the team that takes the field against the 0-4 Jags who rank 15th in the AFC in total offense and 16th in the AFC in total defense. In other words, the Jags are Equal Opportunity Stinkers. Here is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.

Arizona at Denver – 7.5 (48): This is either the best game of the weekend or the second best. Both teams come to this game off a Bye Week. These teams have not met since 2010 so this is not exactly a “heated rivalry”. The Cards are 3-0 and have won their last two games under the direction of Drew Stanton; with Carson Palmer listed as “Doubtful” as of this morning, it would appear they will hand the ball to Stanton once again. The Broncos have some guy named Manning who will be at QB for them on Sunday. There are two statistical situations to consider here – even recognizing that 3 games is a small sample size:

    1. Broncos are only 11th in the AFC in total offense at 339.3 yards per game.

    2. Cards are 3rd in the NFC in total defense (316.3 yards per game) while the Broncos are 14th in total defense in the AFC (390.7 yards per game)

What has happened to Demaryius Thomas this year? When I have watched, he seems to be playing in a hypnotic trance. The line looks fat to me given the Arizona defensive performance so far this year. I’ll take the Cards on the road plus the points.

KC at SF – 6 (44): Both teams come to this game off impressive – and important – wins last week. Moreover, both teams showed strong defenses in last week’s games. Much will be made of this as an “Alex Smith Revenge Game”; I will choose to ignore that… Purely a hunch, I’ll take the Niners at home to win and cover.

Jets at San Diego – 6.5 (43.5): Philip Rivers is having an outstanding season and Antonio Gates seems to have found the Fountain of Youth in the off-season. Any comparison you might try to make between Rivers and Geno Smith would be unfair to Smith unless the criterion was lesser number of letters in the last name.

    Rivers has thrown 9 TDs and 1 INT this year.
    Smith throws 1 INT per game and may not have 9 TDs by Halloween.

The Jets’ defensive weakness is their secondary; the Jets’ defensive strength is their front seven. Interestingly, the Chargers come to the game banged up at the running back position with Ryan Matthews “Out” and Danny Woodhead on IR. The depth chart reads:

    Donald Brown
    Branden Oliver
    Shaun Draughn

    For the record, that is not three quarters of The Four Horsemen…

Can the Jets shut down the Chargers’ running game so much that it can simply rush the Hell out of Philip Rivers to prevent him from carving up the Jets’ secondary? That is the essence of this game. I do not think they can do that so I’ll take the Chargers and lay the points.

(Sun Nite) Cincy – 1 at New England (46): This game will get lots of scrutiny – even beyond what is normal for a national game on Sunday night. There are more than a few folks out there who think that the Pats are toast and that Tom Brady will imminently morph into the latter day JaMarcus Russell. Added to those opinions, the Bengals have become the sexy pick as the best team in the NFL. Check out this stat:

    Andy Dalton leads all QBs in yards per pass attempt.

    Raise your hand if you had that back in August…

I think the advantage the Bengals have at the line of scrimmage – the one involving what Keith Jackson used to call “The Big Uglies” – is the difference here. I’ll take the Bengals and lay the point.

(Mon Nite) Seattle – 7 at Washington (46): I have to admit that I do not understand this line at all. This is the second prime time home game in a row for the Skins and they lost the last one 45-14 to a team that is not as good as the Seahawks. I guess folks think that the Seahawks have a long travel regimen to get to the game (correct) and that they may have become complacent over their Bye Week looking ahead to a meager opponent (possible but not certain) and that they come out and try to mail it in against the Skins (unlikely on MNF). Without those kinds of factors, I do not see why this game is not a double-digit spread. I’ll take the Seahawks on the road to win and cover.

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 10/4/14

Reviewing last week’s Mythical Picks:

    I liked MidTenn St./Old Dom OVER 67.5. Total was 69. Yea!

    I liked New Mexico +5 against Fresno St. Not enough points. Boo!

    I liked Minnesota/Michigan UNDER 43.5. Total was 44. Boo!

    I liked Rutgers -11.5 over Tulane. Rutgers covered easily. Yea!

    I liked Wake Forest/L’ville OVER 41. Total was only 30. Boo!

    I liked Bowl. Green/UMass UNDER 68.5. Total was 89. Boo!

    I liked S. Carolina -4.5 over Mizzou. Mizzou won the game. Boo!

    I liked Notre Dame -9.5 over Syracuse. Irish won by 16. Yea!

    I liked Texas A&M -10 over Arkansas. Too many points. Boo!

    I liked UNC +14.5 against Clemson. Clemson won by 15. Boo!

    I liked Stanford -7.5 over Washington. Stanford won by 7. Boo!

    I liked Texas -12 over Kansas. Easy win and cover here. Yea!

    I liked Tenn/Georgia Over 57. Total was 67. Yea!

    I liked NC St. +18.5 against Fla St. NC St. covered. Yea!

That was a most frustrating week for Mythical Picks. The results were 6-8-0 bringing the cumulative record for the year to 31-34-0. That is not what made the week frustrating; what made it frustrating is that three of the “losses” last week were by half a point. I cannot remember which sage opined:

    The best thing is winning.
    The second best thing is losing.
    The worst thing is not playing.

I shall keep that as a good thought for this week. Moreover, last week’s results combined with a sub-.500 record for the year should be sufficient evidence for anyone reading this to recognize that these Mythical Picks are hardly authoritative. No one should consider even a single syllable contained herein when deciding whether to wager on a college football game this weekend or which side to back in said wager – if the wager were to involve real money. Anyone stupid enough to do that would probably go looking for a ladder if he heard that drinks were on the house.

General Comments:

Linfield College had last week off but resume action this week in Puyallup WA hoping to extend their record to 3-0 against Pacific Lutheran. The Lutes also bring a 2-0 record to the game having outscored opponents 73-42 in their two wins. This is the first conference game for both teams. Go Wildcats!

I read a report that Watson Brown – head coach at Tennessee Tech – set a record last week for most games lost by a college coach in a career. I have not found a database that will verify that statement, but the fact that Brown lost his 200th game last week gives me an idea that the report is spot-on. Here is a summary of his career coaching stops (as a head coach):

    Austin Peay 1978-79 Record was 14-8
    Cincinnati 1983 Record was 4-6-1
    Rice 1984-85 Record was 4-18
    Vandy 1986-1990 Record was 10-45
    UAB 1996-2005 Record was 62-74
    Tennessee Tech 2007 – present Record is 35-52.

    Career record as of today is 128-200-1.

Arkansas had Texas A&M down for the count last week. They led 28-14 and had the ball first and goal at the Aggies’ 1-yardline early in the fourth quarter. Penalties pushed them back far enough they had to punt the ball and two plays later A&M scored on an 86-yard completion. That was the turning point; Arkansas would not score again – even in OT – extending their losing streak to conference opponents to 14 games. Arkansas has this week off to prepare for Alabama next week. After that soul-sucking kind of loss, a week off cannot hurt.

Minnesota beat Michigan 30-14 and only the plodding nature of the Gophers’ offense kept the game this close. Michigan was beaten badly at the line of scrimmage on both offense and on defense. Of course, the focus after the game was the Michigan QB who suffered a concussion but was sent back into the game due to miscommunication on the sidelines. Brady Hoke said after the game that he still thinks the team can win a championship this year. He did not say which championship he had in mind and no one thought to ask for more specifics. If he is thinking “Big 10 Championship” or “Playoff Championship”, then he is either higher than a spy plane or dumber than doggy dooty.

Fans are restless in Ann Arbor. It looked to me as if The Big House was 30% empty midway through the 3rd quarter and was at least half-empty with about 10 minutes to play in the game. Student petitions this week called for the firing of the coach and the Athletic Director. I wonder how many of those agitators recall when Michigan fired Lloyd Carr because he was bland and did not win the national championship every third year. How’s that working out, Wolverines?

By the way, unless I counted incorrectly, this is only the 4th win for Minnesota over Michigan since 1967. For perspective, that was the year the American Basketball Association went into business, the year the NHL expanded from 6 teams to 12 teams and the year Alice B. Toklas ceased to exchange oxygen with the biosphere.

Wisconsin beat USF 27-10 last week and the game was much closer than anticipated. The halftime score was 3-3.

Northwestern pounded Penn State 29-6 and the game was in State College PA. This is the biggest home loss for Penn State since they lost to Miami 33-7 back in 2001.

Texas beat Kansas 23-0 last week and Kansas closed the curtain on the Charlie Weis Era in Lawrence KS. I was not alone when Kansas announced this hiring when I said it seemed to me as if this was a desperation move. Charlie Weis has not been a huge success as a head coach or even as an offensive coordinator at the college level. He had a mediocre run at Notre Dame; his offense at Florida was similarly mediocre. At Kansas, he replaced Turner Gill who had an unsuccessful time living up to Mark Mangino’s success there. Mangino left under a cloud of controversy in 2009. Gill left with a 5-19 record; Weis’ record was 5-22 and 1-18 in the Big 12 Conference.

Here is the problem Kansas confronts. It is a basketball school in a state without a huge population base. There are not a lot of “home-grown football players” and Kansas has to share them with K-State. Lawrence KS is not a “destination city”; there is a fundamental recruiting problem there and that fundamental problem is magnified by the presence of schools like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and K-State in the same conference. Mark Mangino compiled a 50-48 record at Kansas, which may not sound like much until you consider:

    That is the best record for any Kansas football coach since Jules V. Sykes amassed a record of 35-25 between 1948 and 1953.

    The last time Kansas was “dominant” in football was under A.R. Kennedy whose record there was 52-9-4 between 1904 and 1910.

Good luck to the folks on the coaching search committee there…

Clemson beat UNC 50-35 last weekend; two weeks ago, the Tarheels gave up 70 points to E. Carolina. UNC is giving up 44 points per game this year. The coach says that “cutting down on penalties” is a priority for this week’s game against Va Tech.

    Memo to UNC Coaching Staff: How about tackling drills?

Florida State beat NC State 56-41 last weekend. The Wolfpack led 21-7 at the end of the first quarter and led 34-21 at the half. This was an ugly win for Florida State and an even uglier loss for NC State. Florida State does not look unbeatable this year or even dominant. They sure did last year…

Louisville beat Wake Forest 20-10 and needed a 13-point rally in the 4th quarter to take the game. The story here is the pathetic Wake Forest offense; consider:

    Wake Forest had 7 first downs in the game.
    Wake Forest was 2-16 on third down situations.
    Wake Forest rushed for minus-22 yards on 23 carries. (Sacks included)
    Wake Forest averaged 1.75 yards per offensive play.

Given those stats, how in the name of Speedy Alka-Seltzer was Louisville trailing 10-7 at the start of the 4th quarter?

Akron beat Pitt 21-10 in a shocker. Two weeks ago, Pitt coughed up a 10-point lead against Iowa to lose the game and last week they stunk out the joint against a middling MAC team. The Zips stacked the defense to hold RB, James Conner to 92 yards on 25 carries forcing Pitt to throw the ball – something they do very inconsistently. What looked like a soft schedule for Pitt that could give them a 10-win season now looks like a week-to-week survival schedule.

In other MAC news, Miami (Oh) lost again to run their record to 0-5. Bowling Green and UMass played a game that produced a total of 89 points and 1032 yards of offense. What a defensive embarrassment…

Yale beat Army 49-43 in OT last week. That is the first win by an Ivy League team over a Division 1-A team since 1985 and the last time Yale beat Army was in 1955. In this game, the teams combined for 1,222 yards of offense averaging 7.18 yards per offensive play. Army is giving up 37 points per game this year, which is confusing because nominally, Army is in the Department of Defense…

Speaking of bad defenses, Cal beat Colorado 59-56 in double-OT last week. We know Cal has no defense after giving up 36 points in a fourth quarter loss to Arizona earlier. However, consider this:

    Colorado had 629 yards total offense.
    Colorado completed 46 passes in the game.
    Colorado WR, Nelson Spruce, caught 19 passes for 179 yards and 3 TDs.
    Colorado won the turnover battle.

    And Colorado lost the game!! Connect the dots…

UCLA finally looked like the top-shelf team people had projected last week dominating Arizona St. 62-27. The Bruins have survived some less-than-stellar performances and remain undefeated this year. Was last week a peek at how good the team actually is? UCLA averaged 10 yards per offensive play here; the question mark still is the UCLA defense that gave up 626 yards offense there. Teams will not win by 35 points every time they give up 626 yards to the opponent.

Stanford beat Washington 20-13 and the Stanford defense won the game. On offense, Stanford was decidedly mediocre; they turned the ball over 3 times; they did not finish drives; they only converted 3 of 12 third down situations; they missed a makeable field goal. Oh, and one of the Huskies TDs came on a 32-yard fumble return for a TD. The defense can hardly be to blame for that one…

Kentucky beat Vandy 17-7. The interesting thing about this SEC contest is that neither team scored in the second half. Does not happen often…

Missouri rallied in the 4th quarter on the road to beat S. Carolina 21-20. That gives the Gamecocks 2 losses in the SEC; last week they led 20-7 in the fourth quarter and gave up 2 TDs in the final 7 minutes to come from ahead and lose the game.

Missouri is a mystery despite their 4-1 record. Last week was a “quality win”; the week before was a “quality loss” when they gagged up a game against Indiana in their home stadium. Remember, Indiana has already lost this year to Bowling Green a team that squeaked by UMass last week by 5 points. Mizzou may be pretty good or they may be pretty lucky. Time will tell…

LSU beat N. Mexico St 63-7 last week. I said that the Aggies – as a sub-mediocre team – were unfortunate to be the team that had to go to Baton Rouge the week after LSU lost a tight conference game there. As you can see, it was not pretty.

Air Force beat Boise St. 28-14. Moreover, they shut out Boise St. for the first 3 quarters of the game. Last year, Boise St. showed signs of decline from its exalted status of the previous four or five years; this year the decline continues and is becoming apparent to most observers. This loss was particularly ugly; the Broncos threw 5 INTs and lost 2 fumbles in the game; they compounded that mess by committing 9 penalties in the game. Meanwhile, Air Force is 3-1 this year after slogging through a dreary 2-10 season last year.

TCU clobbered SMU 56-0 in a “rivalry game”; the winning team gets to keep an iron skillet. SMU is simply awful this year. The offense does not exist; in 4 games this year, SMU has scored a total of 12 points. The defense is not much better having given up 202 points in those same 4 games. This loss to TCU was an equal opportunity loss; all facets of the SMU team stunk:

    SMU gave up 614 yards of offense.
    SMU turned the ball over 3 times
    SMU gave up 7 yards per carry.
    SMU gained only 2 yards per carry.

UNC has a couple of players with interesting names:

    Norkeithus Otis is a senior RB. Or is that Otis Norkeithus…?

    Dajuan Drennan is a freshman DE. If he had a twin brother, their mom could have named the twin DaOddaJuan Drennan.

    Bug Howard is a sophomore WR. I wonder if he wears a snug in the wintertime.

    Dante DiMaggio is a freshman WR. If the baseball coach at UNC has any faith in genetics…

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Before tallying up last week’s record, I have to report that I received an e-mail from my reader in Houston who is the font of knowledge when it comes to sports stats and trivia. He said that his preferred name for what I call “Ponderosa Spread Games” was “The Abraham Lincoln Four Score Games”. He asserted that his naming was more precise. On my side of the debate here, some of the spreads are as high as 43 points and that is more than four scores in a football game – detracting a little bit from the “precision argument”.

Take your pick, folks; I like both monikers…

Last week we had 7 Ponderosa Spread Games. The favorites covered in 5 of the games and failed to cover in the other 2 games.

K-State, LSU, Michigan St., TCU and Virginia covered.

Auburn and Wisconsin did not cover.

Last week’s 5-2-0 record brings the season total to 26-16-1 for favorites covering.

This week we have 5 Ponderosa Spread Games.

Vandy at Georgia – 33.5 (55.5): Georgia is back in the SEC East race with S. Carolina’s loss last week and with a schedule that does not include Alabama or LSU. Consider this a tune-up for next week’s game at Mizzou.

Wake Forest at Florida St. – 39 (55): I said above that Florida State does not look unbeatable this year. I stand by that statement. I also stand by the statement that they are unbeatable this week.

SMU at E. Carolina – 41 (61): The ECU defense is not likely to hold SMU to only 3 points here but the E. Carolina offense did hang 70 points on UNC recently and should run wild here.

Kansas at West Virginia – 26 (54.5): I do not see Kansas being shut out again this week, but having seen half of that game against Texas last week, Kansas football is a hot mess.

Kent St. at N. Illinois – 24 (59): Oh swell, a potential blowout game in the MAC. I would rather watch a rerun of I Love Lucy

Games of Interest:

On balance, this is an excellent week for college football games. There are not a lot of projected blowouts meaning the good teams are playing one another while the bad teams are matched against each other. That is not to say there are not some stinkers this week; I shall point out a few as we go through the card.

(Fri Nite) Utah St at BYU – 21 (52): Utah St. is 0-2 on the road this year losing at Tennessee (not shameful) and losing at Arkansas State (not laudatory). Its two home wins this year came against Idaho State and Wake Forest – neither of which would be mistaken for a good team. I think the BYU defense is too much for Utah State but I do not want to lay 3 TDs. Therefore, I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Purdue at Illinois – 10 (58): This is one of those games where two bad teams face each other and do not set up two potential blowouts on the weekend card. Just ignore this game…

Ohio State – 7.5 at Maryland (no line): Ohio State has a loss this year that will make any participation in the College Football Playoff problematic. This is a conference game; they cannot afford to lose conference games – particularly to a team like Maryland. The Buckeyes’ defense is suspect having given up 28 points to Cincy and 35 to Va Tech. My guess is that that the Ohio St. coaches will have the team frothing at the mouth for this game. I like Ohio St. to win and cover even on the road.

Pitt at UVa – 6.5 (47.5): Pitt is wildly inconsistent; UVa is consistently mediocre. Knowing that, why would anyone want to wager on this game?

Marshall – 17.5 at Old Dominion (72.5): Here are two scoring machines going against one another. Marshall averages 45.5 points per game; Old Dominion averages a “paltry” 33 points per game. Marshall is 4-0 and aspires to being the “outsider team” that crashes the Power 5 party come bowl time. I like this game to go OVER.

Va Tech – 1.5 at UNC (64): After what has happened to UNC’s defense the last two weeks (see above), I have to take Va Tech here. I do not like taking Va Tech on the road nor do I trust Va Tech’s offense to be anything other than pedestrian. Nonetheless, I will hold my nose and take Va Tech to win and cover.

Wisconsin – 7.5 at Northwestern (47): I understand that the Wisconsin offense sputtered last week against a mediocre USF team and that Northwestern beat Penn State on the road. However, this line opened at 9 points and has continued to drop all week long. I think Wisconsin is simply the better team here. I like Wisconsin to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER.

UMass at Miami (Oh) – 3.5 (56): These are two putrid teams both of whom are in the MAC. Both bring 0-5 records to the table. UMass gives up 40 points per game; that is 120th in the country. Miami’s defense is relatively better yielding a mere 32 points per game. UMass cannot run the football; they average less than 60 yards per game; that is 124th in the country. Having said all that, would you bet even a centavo on Miami (Oh)? If you answered “Yes,” get help.

S. Carolina – 5 at Kentucky (55): This line opened at 7.5 points and has dropped steadily as the week progressed. Kentucky played Florida tough and held Vandy to a single score last week. With a win here, Kentucky would be 4-1 with La-Monroe coming up next week; the schedule gets tougher after that, but bowl eligibility is within view. S. Carolina cannot lose another SEC game lest they be relegated to the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport LA come December. Purely a hunch, I’ll take S. Carolina to win and cover.

Ball St at Army – 2.5 (55.5): Army is not a good team (see above). Ball St. is not a good team in the MAC. Please just let these folks play their game this week and pay them no mind…

Buffalo at Bowling Green – 5.5 (77): Here are two bad MAC teams notwithstanding Buffalo’s 3-2 record. Ignore this game…

Hawaii at Rice – 6.5 (54): Hawaii is in the Mountain West Conference and Rice is in C-USA. Notwithstanding the fact that Rice is the defending conference champion, neither team is any good. Pretend this game is not happening…

Stanford – 2 at Notre Dame (44): This is the best game on the list so far by a wide margin. Stanford gives up 6.5 points per game this year and has pitched 2 shutouts. Notre Dame has scored 30+ points in every game this year. Notre Dame’s defense is not so bad itself yielding only 11.5 points per game and shutting out Michigan. Purely a venue call, I like Notre Dame plus the points.

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.

Navy – 4 at Air Force (55): Military academy games are always fun to watch and rarely make for good wagering opportunities. This is one of those games; watch it; enjoy it; do not bet on it.

Oklahoma – 4.5 at TCU (56.5): This should be a good game – and perhaps an important one for the Big 12. Both teams are undefeated. TCU’s only big-boy opponent was Minnesota and the Horned Frogs crushed the Gophers 30-7. Oklahoma has handled Tennessee at home and West Virginia on the road. Oklahoma cannot afford to look past TCU to next week’s Red River Showdown against Texas; TCU is too good for that. I think this will be a defensive game so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Florida at Tennessee – 2 (55): Florida opened as a 1.5-point favorite here; that did not last long. Consider that Florida is on the road here and is 2-8 in its last 10 games; that is not the pedigree of a road favorite even against a middling team like Tennessee. I think the Florida program is about to crash and burn. Based on that sense, I’ll take Tennessee to win and cover at home setting up the Gators for a tough stretch of schedule on a down note.

Baylor – 16 at Texas (57): This is an important Big 12 game and part of the importance is that it pits Baylor against a decent team away from Waco. The only other away game that Baylor needs to worry about is against Oklahoma in early November. The line opened with Baylor as a 12-point favorite but the number jumped to this level almost immediately. Maybe the opening line reflected the fact that Texas pitched a shutout last week against Kansas? Last week was Baylor’s closest game; they won by only 21 points. Texas is by far the best defense Baylor has seen so far this year, but do not sell the Baylor defense short. I like Baylor to win and cover – even on the road.

Alabama – 6 at Ole Miss (51): This is a good game and an important game. I see this as a low-scoring game and that means I do not like to lay points. I’ll take Ole Miss plus the points and I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Texas A&M as Mississippi St. – 1.5 (68): Here is yet another really good game and an important one. The lines here have moved a lot since opening with A&M as a 1.5-point favorite and a Total Line at 63.5. The Aggies needed OT – and a collapse by Arkansas – to win last week; Mississippi State had the week off. I like Mississippi State to win and cover at home.

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.

Michigan at Rutgers – 3 (47): That is not a typo; Michigan is an underdog against Rutgers. If there is any measure of pride left in the Michigan football program, they will call on it to win this game. I’ll take Michigan plus the points here.

NC State at Clemson – 14 (67.5): Clemson is 2-2; the two losses have been to good teams; the two wins have come over mediocre teams. NC State is 4-1; their loss has been against Florida State last week and their 4 wins have been over sacrificial lambs. Both teams seem able to move the ball better than they seem to be able to stop the other guy from moving the ball. I like this game to go OVER.

Nebraska at Michigan St. – 7.5 (58): Yet another game between two good teams… Nebraska is the faster team and Michigan State is the bigger/stronger team. Abdullah Ameer is REALLY good. I think that line is Sally Struthers fat; I’ll take Nebraska plus the points.

Boise St. – 3.5 at Nevada (50.5): This is an interesting game because it is important in the Mountain West conference. Boise St. is 1-1 in conference and Nevada is 1-0; a second loss for the Broncos might be too much to overcome. Might this game signal a changing of the guard in the Mountain West? I think it will; I’ll take Nevada at home plus the points.

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

More Legal Stuff For The NFL…

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed one of their rules. That rule had been the NFL’s basis for having and enforcing its “Blackout Policy” for local telecasts. The FCC did not order the NFL to do anything; it simply negated the rule. Here is where it gets complicated – too complicated for me to understand based on the various reports I have read/heard.

    The NFL is appealing the FCC decision. No surprise here. However, I do not understand what if any added “jeopardy” – if any – this might heap upon the NFL. If there is no added jeopardy, of course they will appeal and appeal and appeal.

    Several reports say that even with this ruling, the NFL can continue to have its blackout rule – no telecasts to the local area if the game does not sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. If that is the case, I have to say that I do not understand why or how this is any big deal at all.

    Finally, I do not understand why the NFL does not argue that lifting this rule and permitting even the possibility of local telecasts is blatantly unconstitutional per the Eighth Amendment. That amendment forbids the infliction of “cruel or unusual punishments. If the NFL has to televise Jacksonville Jaguars home games to the home TV market, that would inflict the punishment of watching the Jags stink it up on the road AND at home. How cruel and unusual is that?

I wonder if the scouts and the player development departments around the league are looking at the recent events involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson to the point where they might be changing the ways they will evaluate and interview high-talent collegiate prospects before drafting/signing them. I am specifically thinking of Jameis Winston here.

No questions continue to obtain with regard to Winston’s football skills; he can play. There are loads of questions about his socialization level/maturity/ability to stay out of trouble. Winston is only 20 years old; he has only been at Florida State for 2.5 years; and in that short time, he has been involved in:

    An alleged rape
    A shoplifting escapade
    Standing on a table in the student union shouting obscenities.

That is not a warm and fuzzy trifecta; that does not portray a young man who has self-control and/or a keen sense of what is right/wrong/acceptable/unacceptable in terms of behavior. No matter; he is going to be a high draft pick by an NFL team because he has “that kind of talent”. “That kind of talent” has seemingly immunized him from suffering the consequences of these kinds of actions to date; but in the current environment, that continued immunity is not a sure bet.

I would love to see the scouting reports that come from the “Chief Scout” that go to the “Player Development Guru” and the GM for teams that will be drafting in the Top 10 next year. If I had to write it, I would make sure it was clear that this kid is a special talent on the field – and that he has a special talent for finding troubles off the field. In large font type and in red letters, I would point out to the draft day decision makers that special talents like Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray Rice did not materially help their teams in 2014…

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summed it up this way:

“A message: The consequences of Winston’s actions have stretched beyond Internet ridicule, an all-too-brief half-game suspension and a growing bad reputation. Now Mel Kiper Jr. has weighed in, dropping Winston from third to 25 on his famous Big Board eight months before the next draft. As silly as it sounds, maybe this will get through to the kid whose quarterback skills are eclipsed by his talent for making wrong choices.”

If I were King of the World, here is an immediate change I would make for all sports telecasts:

    There would be no interviews with coaches just before the game or at halftime of the game. The penalty would be caning – probably 50 strokes would do the trick. The coaches clearly do not want to be interrupted from whatever zone they are trying to get themselves into; they never say anything even remotely interesting; the interviewer has to pretend to care about the pabulum answers. Stop this insanity and stop it immediately!

Now that the police, prosecutors and a Grand Jury have decided that Tony Stewart will not face any criminal charges in the events that led up to and resulted in the death of Kevin Ward about a month ago in a dirt-track race, it is time for the people screaming for Stewart to be boiled in oil to – how can I say this politely? – shut the Hell up. Unless one of them can prove conclusively in public that he/she is a mind reader, there is not much that any more theorizing or arm waving can accomplish here. I do not know if Stewart ran over the kid intentionally or because he lost control of his car after “trying to scare the kid”. More importantly, neither does anyone else except Tony Stewart. That includes all the Internet shriekers who have already convicted him of a half-dozen heinous crimes.

Remember the adage used by lawyers for public figures who have been indicted by a Grand Jury that it is easy to indict a ham sandwich. Well, this Grand Jury found it more difficult to indict Tony Stewart so the evidence before them had to be pretty thin. That means he is less likely to have committed a crime than a ham sandwich – even one with mustard and a pickle.

Finally, here is one more cogent observation from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the strange course of events for the NFL in this early part of the 2014 season:

“In passing: Remember when NFL officials thought the biggest distraction this season would be Michael Sam?”

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

The Baseball Playoffs…

I got an e-mail from a former colleague who has retired to live in Pismo Beach and write books. He is also an avid LA Dodgers’ fan who wanted me to make World Series predictions as soon as the baseball playoff picture had been resolved. Well, the games begin today and even though it is not a fundamental part of my nature to please other people, I will honor that request:

    American League: I have to root for the Royals; the last time they were in the playoffs was before Fawn Hall had her 15 minutes of fame. [Google is your friend.] I do not think the Royals – or the A’s – will emerge from the play-in game to make it to the World Series but I would love to see the Royals advance. I think the Angels’ pitching is suspect; I think the Tigers’ defense is beyond suspect. I like the Orioles to win the AL pennant because they are above average in just about every aspect of the game.

    National League: The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball from top to bottom and from side to side. Once they demoted Soriano from the closer’s job, they removed their only real liability. Having said that, I worry about any team getting through a 7-game series against a team that can start Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke twice each. The Nationals are the better team, but I suspect the Dodgers will win the NL pennant.

Notice that I have avoided picking a “cute World Series” such as a Bay Area Series (Giants/A’s) or a Tinseltown World Series (Dodgers/Angels) or an Interstate 70 World Series (Cardinals/Royals). The idea of these “cute World Series” names has been done to death.

Sticking with baseball for a moment, the Twins fired manager, Ron Gardenhire yesterday. The Twins have been awful for a couple of years but that awfulness is far more a product of the roster assembled by the team front office under the budget constraints of the team owners than it is a product of the manager and the coaching staff. As they say, you cannot fire the players – not without having to go out and spend a lot of money on free agents to replace some of them – and so the manager takes the blame.

Yesterday, I think I made it clear that I had had more than enough of the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Around America. Well, I suspect I was not the only one. Consider these two items:

“Speaking of Jeter, I’m not saying his final home game in New York was a baseball lovefest of Biblical proportions, but did you see where the Three Wise Men — Bob Costas, George Will and Peter Gammons — showed up bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?” [Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel]

And…

“Now that the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour is just about a wrap, how’s that Welcome Back, A-Rod campaign for 2015 coming along?” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

The Ryder Cup has come and gone. In case this remains a mystery to any sports fan, golf is not a team sport and just because you dress all of the players in the same outfits – preferably ones that they would not be caught dead wearing at any other moment in their lives – does not turn golf into a team sport. Once again, I seem not to be alone in my marginal interest in the Ryder Cup; here is what Greg Cote had to say about it in the Miami Herald:

“Golf’s Ryder Cup matches between the United States and Europe end Sunday in Scotland. It’s one of sports’ most riveting competitions, according to announcers for the broadcasting network.”

Whilst on the subject of golf, consider these two items found in Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“Golfer Tiger Woods, who parted ways with adviser Sean Foley last month, says he might serve as his own swing coach for a while.

“Tiger to give swinging a try with no adult supervision — what could possibly go wrong?”

And…

“GM is coming out with a self-driving Cadillac.

“ ‘So where were you when I needed you five years ago?’ moaned Tiger Woods.”

I did a double take when I first read a report that the new manager of Leeds United in the Championship League in England would be Darko Milanic. I thought that the draft bust taken by the Detroit Pistons had given up basketball to take up soccer coaching. At that point, I realized that I had no idea where Darko Milicic’s career had taken him now and so I went to Google to find out. Strangely enough, Darko Milicic is indeed giving up basketball for a new career vector in sports. He will not be a soccer coach; he plans to become a kickboxer. Seriously, that report comes from ESPN and not The Onion

Finally, here is Greg Cote’s commentary on the US Open Tennis Tournament from the Miami Herald:

“Marin Cilic beat Kei Nishikori for the men’s U.S. Open crown. But, really, other than it being a star-less, lopsided match won by a guy coming off a doping ban, it was a great men’s final!”

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