Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 9/7/14

College Mythical Picks debuted last week; this is the other flavor that is available here. That’s right; they are both on sale here for the unbelievably low price of:

    Two for nothing.

Moreover, since the picks are free, you know immediately what they are worth.

For new readers, what I will do here is to make a wagering selection for “every” NFL game. I put “every” in quotation marks because that will not literally be the case. For example:

    On weeks when I do not have the chance to write this stuff until Friday morning, I will not be making any “predictions” on the Thursday night game that happened the night before.

    I have my annual Fall pilgrimage to Las Vegas booked. Sometimes I do not have time to make picks that week prior to departure and I do not take anything that resembles a computer with me on that trip.

    Potentially, I might spend some time in Ireland this Fall/Winter visiting #1 son, daughter-in-law and grandson. I will not make picks that week if indeed that visit materializes.

    In our retirement years, my long-suffering wife and I consider that we “travel for a living”. Therefore, there could be trips that intervene in such a way that there is no time to make picks and write one of these things. There is nothing “on the books” at the moment, but that does not mean something will not materialize on short notice.

Other than events of that type, my plan is to take the week’s slate of games, present the spread and the totals line and make some kind of wagering prediction for every game every week. Having said that, I must now say this:

    It is foolhardy for anyone to try to beat the spread by betting on every game every week. That is one of the money management “strategies” that will send you to the poorhouse more often than not. Please, do not do this with real money!

Each week will begin with a rundown of the previous week’s picks keeping a running total for the year. Last year’s result was a humiliating and disastrous 114-159-8. That was my worst year ever; it followed on the heels of two other surprisingly good seasons where for 2011 and 2012 I not only came out above .500 but also would have shown a profit against the “Vegas vig.” Such mythical profitability has only happened 3 times in the 14 years I have been doing this, so I surely do not expect it to happen this year. I do expect to do better than last year’s level of suckitude…

I want to make something crystal clear at the outset. There is no inside information involved in any of these selections; I do not have access to coaches, players or staff for any NFL teams; I do not have a network of “spies’ and “informers” that have their fingers on the pulses of the various teams and who send me coded “intell reports” via carrier pigeon so that I can make these selections. I do this because I enjoy doing it and for no other purpose; I do not make real wagers on all the games that I talk about here. Ergo:

    Please do not use anything written in any of these pieces as the basis for making a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game.

    Anyone doing that would be dumb enough to think that a thesaurus is a well-spoken dinosaur.

General Comments:

Since this week marks the opening games of the 2014 NFL season, allow me to recount for you the exploits of an NFL Hall of Fame QB in the opening game of the 1951 NFL season. The Los Angeles Rams played the New York Yankees on that day; Norm Van Brocklin was the Rams’ QB on that day. All Van Brocklin did in the opening game of the 1951 season was to pass for 554 yards and 5 TDs.

Those 554 yards still stand as the single-game passing record for the NFL despite decades of rule changes designed to increase the offense – and specifically the passing offense – throughout the league. It has been a rather durable record.

One of those 5 TD passes went to a guy with one of the great names in NFL history, Vitamin Smith. Vitamin was what they used to call a “scatback”; he was listed at 5’ 8” and 179 lbs – and he played halfback. He also ran back kicks and punts. You just know that if he played today, he would have an endorsement deal with a company like GNC or One-A-Day…

In my NFL predictions earlier this week, I did not see 2014 as a banner year for the Buffalo Bills. A friend, who is a relocated Buffalonian, asked me why I always had to “put the Bills down”. I said that I had no intention to do so but that I also had no reason to believe that they were going to be any good this year. My friend said that “their coach will find a way to make them a playoff contender”. So, that sent me to the stats…

Doug Marrone in the Bills’ coach; he has worked his way up the coaching ranks starting in 1992 from position coach to offensive coordinator to college head coach to this gig where he is in his second year with the Bills. His head coaching record comes down to this:

    Syracuse University: 4 years with a cumulative record of 25-25. Pardon me, but that record is not exactly what I would call “The Wow Factor! ” Moreover, playing in the less-than-awesome Big East Conference for those 4 years, his in-conference record was a meager 11-17. The majority of his wins came against out-of-conference cupcakes.

    Buffalo Bills: Last year the Bills finished 6-10 putting them in last place in the AFC East, which is where they have finished for each of the last 6 seasons. In four of those 6 seasons in the basement of the AFC East, the Bills finished 6-10.

    I do not intend to “put Doug Marrone down”. Nevertheless, until the Bills achieve something better than 6-10 and finishing last in the AFC East, I am not ready to accept as an article of faith that he will “find a way” to make the Bills into a playoff contender.

While speaking of teams mired in sub-mediocrity, let me talk for a moment about the Cleveland Browns. Since coming back into the league as an expansion franchise in 1999, the Browns have been over .500 exactly twice – in 2002 and again in 2007. Their cumulative record since returning to the NFL is 77-163. Moreover, the Browns as a franchise have an overall losing record against the Jax Jaguars; think about that…

While you are thinking about the Jaguars, the bottom line is that they are not very good. In the last 3 seasons, the Jags combined record was 11-37. It is no wonder that they have those tarps covering up the seats in Jax that the team cannot give away.

Why are teams becoming more focused on the position of “back-up quarterback”? Consider the 2013 season. Thirteen teams (40% of the league) had two QBs who started three games or more; back-up QBs see the field a lot more now than they did 30 years ago. Of those 13 teams who had to use two guys for at least 3 games last year, only 2 of those teams were playoff teams (Eagles and Packers) and the Packers squeezed into the playoffs with a most un-Lombardi-like record of 8-7-1. Keeping the starter on the field for more than 13 games is not a given in the league and unless you have a back-up that can keep you in the playoff chase, that can ruin a season.

They say it can take up to 5 years to evaluate a draft in the NFL and that is particularly true for the quarterback position. So, I went back to the 2009 draft and unless I missed a QB somewhere in the draft, here is the “Success Story” of that draft:

    Matthew Stafford

Here is the “Survivor”:

    Mark Sanchez

Here are the ones in hot pursuit of “Future Endeavors”:

    Rhett Bomar
    Tom Brandstater
    Nate Davis (Lone Star Football League – an Indoor League)
    Josh Freeman
    Stephen McGee (CFL)
    Keith Null
    Curtis Painter
    Pat White (CFL)

I guess you would have to say that the 2009 NFL Draft was low-grade ore with regard to the QB position…

The Games:

(Thurs) Green Bay at Seattle – 5.5 (46.5): This is the opening game of the weekend and the Best Game of the Weekend. Over the last 20 seasons, the Super Bowl champion is 18-2 straight up in the opening game of the next season. The last time these two teams met, it was in 2012 in the infamous “Fail Mary Game” where the replacement refs blew the final call of the game so badly that the league and the referees’ union had to find a way to resolve the work stoppage to preserve the image of the league itself. The “real refs” will be on hand this week so the chances of such a monumental gaffe are significantly reduced – but not eliminated. I do not know that the Packers’ defense has been improved sufficiently to buck that winning trend for Super bowl champions on opening day. Having said that, any team with a healthy Aaron Rodgers playing QB is a dangerous opponent. I think there will be plenty of scoring in the game. I like the game to go OVER and I’ll take the Seahawks to win and cover at home.

New Orleans – 3 at Atlanta (52): This game opened with the Falcons favored by 1.5 points and flipped very quickly to this level. I think the Saints are the better team on offense – despite the return of Julio Jones to the Falcons line-up – and I think the Saints are the better team on defense. I cannot understand why this line might have opened with the Falcons as the favorite other than the fact that last year the Saints were only 1-7 as a road team ATS (against the spread). I am not much of a trend bettor so I’ll go with my assessment of the “better team” and take the Saints to win and cover.

Minnesota at St. Louis – 4 (44): I do not think either team is going to throw the ball effectively in this game. The Vikes’ passing game will be thwarted by a heavy and relentless pass rush; the Rams’ passing game will be delivered by Shaun Hill and received by Joe Flabeetz & Co. I think this is going to be an old-school game with lots of running back participation. George Halas and Vince Lombardi will be watching and nodding approvingly. I would not wager on this game with your money but I said I would make a pick in every game and so I shall use the standard Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Protocol here:

    Flip #1: Heads = Bet the Spread; Tails = Bet the Total Line

    Flip #2: Heads = Take the favorite or the Over; Tails = figure it out…

The magic coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh – 6.5 (41.5): In the last 28 times these teams have met, the Steelers have won 25 times. If you want to check out an obscure trend, consider this:

    In the last 15 games where the Steelers were favored at home, the game has stayed UNDER in 13 of those games.

As I said, I am not a trend bettor, but I do think this will be a low-scoring game because the Browns’ offense should be meager and the Browns defense should be strong. In fact, the last time these teams played and the total went OVER 41 was in January 2011. I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Jax at Philly – 10 (53): I mentioned above that the Jags are not a good team and have not been a good team for a while. However, bettors tend to overestimate how bad they are in season openers because in the last 15 years, the Jags are 12-3 ATS in opening games – and they have not been dominant favorites in those games. They find themselves in the same situation here. The Jags were equal opportunity stinkers last year; they had the 16th rated offense in the AFC and they had the 16th rated defense in the AFC. The Eagles play “breakneck speed offense”. Even though I am not enamored with the Eagles’ defense even a little bit, I find it difficult to see where 54 points will come from in this game. I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Oakland at Jets – 5.5 (39.5): Derek Carr will start at QB for the Raiders; he played well against scrubs in the exhibition games; here he will face the “varsity” in terms of a pass rush and linebackers. However, the Jets’ secondary might well be a prodigious pile of puke back there. So, how might Derek Carr fare in this game? And on that point turns the outcome of the game and the outcome of any wagering propositions – unless of course Jets’ QB, Geno Smith, demonstrates his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and throw a bunch of INTs. Here comes another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip… I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Cincy at Baltimore – 1.5 (43): This game opened with the Ravens favored by 3 points and the line has dropped steadily to this level. Based on last year’s stats, the Bengals are the better team on offense and on defense, in the air and on the ground. However, last year the Ravens were 6-2 at home while the Bengals were only 3-5 on the road. But this is this year and not last year… The Ravens will be without Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, had a concussion and is listed as “Probable” which likely means that he can tell lightening from thunder. I like the Bengals plus the points here.

Buffalo at Chicago – 7.5 (47): I told you above what I think about the Bills so I cannot turn around here and take them to win outright on the road against a team that can legitimately consider itself a playoff squad. However, that hook on top of a full touchdown’s worth of points makes the Bills attractive. I’ll take the Bills plus the points.

Washington at Houston – 3 (45.5): This line opened with the Texans favored by only 1.5 points and it has crept up to this level as the week moved on. What a hot mess this game looks to be. Last year, the Texans cruised in with a 2-14 record to stink just ever so much more than the Skins with their 3-13 record. Both teams have new coaches – no surprise there – and both should improve over last year’s performance. Nevertheless, this game is the Turd in the Punchbowl Game of the Week. I know how I want to play this game so I went looking for some trends that would “justify my pick”. Here they are:

    Skins are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games versus the AFC South.
    Texans are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games at home.
    Texans are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games as a favorite.

With no conviction at all, I’ll take the Skins plus the points. By the way, I will have no choice in the matter; I will have to watch this steaming pile of offal on TV on Sunday here in the DC area. Those of you in other parts of the world can enjoy another – better – game.

Tennessee at KC – 3.5 (43.5): Here is another game where the line has moved; it opened with the Chiefs favored by 6 points. I would love to see the number drop to an even “3 points” but I would also love to see a winning Powerball lottery ticket in my hands. Simple and straightforward here; I think the Chiefs are the better team. I’ll take the Chiefs at home and lay the points.

New England – 5 at Miami (47): The Pats have won 10 consecutive opening day games. They have new parts to incorporate into their game – like two new CBs – but that is nothing compared to what Miami has to patch together in terms of an OL and a defensive secondary. I like the Pats to win and cover – even on the road.

Carolina at Tampa Bay – 1.5 (39.5): This line opened with the Panthers as 2.5-point favorites and has flipped to put the Bucs in the role of the favorite. I think the Bucs will be much improved this year over last; I think the Panthers will have a hard time to duplicate their good fortune – and their good record – from last year. Cam Newton has a hairline fracture on a rib; he says he will play. The Bucs feature two WRs who are 6’ 5” tall and that will challenge the Panthers’ secondary. Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Bucs at home to win and cover.

SF – 4.5 at Dallas (51): The Niners opened as a 3-point favorite and the spread has grown as the week went on. The Niners have injuries, suspensions and distractions to deal with; the Cowboys merely have to deal with a lack of talent on defense. I prefer the Niners’ talent edge here. I’ll take the Niners to win and cover and I’ll take the game to go OVER as both defensive units yield points here.

(Sun Nite) Indy at Denver – 7.5 (55.5): This game is a very good one and it has the best QB-matchup on the card this week. The Broncos have Wes Welker on the “suspended list” and the Colts have Robert Mathis on the “suspended list”. Point and counterpoint… I see lots of offense and loads of points in this game. I’ll take the Broncos to win and cover and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite Early) Giants at Detroit – 5.5 (47): Which team will be less able to get out its own way? I think that is the key to the outcome here; the team that makes the final blunder will lose. This game could end up 17-13 if the offenses stink it up here; or, this game could end up 38-35 if the defenses stink it up here. I have exactly no idea what is going to happen here. The Lions have a new coach and a new system; the Giants have their old coach and a new system. The Curmudgeon Coin Flip protocol is in effect and the coin says to take the Giants plus the points.

(Mon Nite Late) San Diego at Arizona – 3 (45): These may not be the two best teams in the league, but this ought to be a very good game. I think the Chargers can score points here but I am not confident that the Chargers’ secondary can deal with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn. Brew a pot of coffee to stay up for the late finish here because this should be a game that goes down to the wire. I like the Cards to win and cover and I like the game to go OVER.

Finally, it is never a good idea to look at a “losing streak” as something that is “due to end”. Each wager is an independent action; when on a “losing streak”, try to examine your methodology for making selections instead of raising the stakes to “get even”. Here is an item from a previous column by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about trying to “get even”:

“Actor Mickey Rooney, who died this week at age 93, on the perils of gambling on the horses: ‘I lost a $2 bet 65 years ago and have spent about $3 million trying to get it back.’ ”

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

Keth Olbermann On Pete Rose Banned From Baseball

On Monday night, I tuned in to see Keith Olbermann’s program “celebrating” the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball. I enjoyed the program and it made me think again about the issue of Pete Rose’s continued estrangement from the game. I am on record saying that he should be reinstated and that he belongs in the Hall of Fame; I doubt that I am going to change my mind on those issues. I do not suspect that I will change the mind of anyone reading here who thinks that Pete Rose’s banishment for life was a proper outcome for actions that Pete Rose himself took voluntarily. Moreover, I acknowledge that his 15-year campaign of fabrication on the issue does not buttress my case at all.

In one of the discussions last night, Olbermann and – I believe – Bob Ley were discussing why it would not be any harm to reinstate Pete Rose to baseball. Part of that discussion was that there was no major league team that would hire him for anything and that as a minor league manager he would not harm baseball very much. I have to disagree with the first part of that conclusion:

    If I owned a major league baseball team – I checked my IRA and I am only about $700M short – I would hire Pete Rose in an instant as a roving minor league hitting instructor.

    Put your moral outrage aside for a moment; the guy played all or part of 24 seasons and collected 4256 hits. He came to the plate in MLB 15,890 times. Might he help a kid in the Florida State League or the South Atlantic League or the NY-Penn League?

    No one ever accused Rose of “dogging it” in a game. The name “Charlie Hustle” was not bestowed on him because Mickey Mantle admired Rose; Mantle thought Rose was a hot-dog and a show-off. Nonetheless, if I owned a team, I would love to have a few players who put the same energy into every game that Rose did.

In any event, last night’s program reminded me that Keith Olbermann has been doing his five-nights-a-week program on ESPN for about a year now. I have certainly not watched every episode; I probably tune in two nights a week on average. ESPN puts on some mindless programming that drives me nuts; First Take and the late but never lamented Cold Pizza are but two examples. Have you noticed how conveniently ESPN studio analysts almost always disagree with one another when discussing an upcoming game or a recent event? You do not think that is contrived in any way, do you?

However, Olbermann is a program that makes ESPN safe viewing for people who live under the right end of the bell curve. When Keith Olbermann was doing his political commentaries on MSNBC, he would often make me want to throw a shoe at the TV; doing sports makes him entertaining and informative. There was some mention a while ago that his program would be moving to an earlier time slot. If that makes it more convenient for you and you have not seen him yet, let me suggest that you give it a try.

The arrest of Niners’ DE, Ray McDonald, over the weekend is an example of horrendous timing. The ink was barely dry on all the reports of the NFL’s new “get tough policy” issued last Thursday with regard to domestic violence incidents when police arrested McDonald on Sunday and held him in jail “pending filing of felony domestic violence charges”. One of the TV stations in the Bay Area reported that the woman involved in the alleged incident is pregnant. That is bad news for two reasons:

    1. There is no prenatal care regimen that I ever heard of which says that a fetus/developing child derives any benefit from its mother being beaten/abused.

    2. In that new “get tough policy”, there is specific language that would up the ante on the 6-game suspension for a first time offense. Here is part of that policy:

    “Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”

Remember, these remain allegations at this point; McDonald’s first court hearing is set for 15 September. It is hard to see how all of this will end well for everyone involved in the matter. Stay tuned…

Last week, I got an e-mail from a reader that made me stop and think before I got the point:

“Suspect you saw that the Dodgers traded two players to be named for Roberto Hernandez. Expected one of the columnists you quote to point out that they may be the first team to trade two players to be named later for a player who already was named later.”

Yes, it took me a moment too… He is referring to the Phillies trading Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers and Hernandez spent the first six years of his major league career toiling under the assumed name, Fausto Carmona.

Finally, Greg Cote noted in the Miami Herald the limitation of confidentiality agreements:

“Sometimes reality is its own punch line. Guests attending Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union’s wedding Saturday had to sign a confidentiality agreement assuring nothing gets in the media. And how do we know? Somebody leaked the confidentiality agreement to TMZ!”

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

NFL Predictions 2014

Demonstrating my immunity to embarrassment, it is time again for my NFL analysis and predictions. The season is about to get underway and I will try to forecast how the regular season will end. I will leave these words on the website; they will not mysteriously disappear – unless the whole website crashes and burns – and then sometime in January/February 2015, I will go back and give myself grades on how well the predictions matched to reality. I am certain to offend the fans of some of the teams I think will do poorly this year. However, if I am wrong and those teams do well, I want to make the following very clear:

    I do not owe those fans or the team or the coaching staff or the mayor of that city an apology. All I owe them – and anyone else who may be interested – is an admission that I was wrong.

Before we get too serious about all of this, let me give you an item from Greg Cote’s column last weekend in the Miami Herald:

“By the way my NFL fantasy draft is going on even as I write this. My first two picks are Josh Gordon and Sam Bradford. How am I doing so far?”

And here are some prop bets from Las Vegas for the upcoming season – plus one that Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times thought ought to be on the list:

“Among the hundreds of prop-bet odds available at Vegas sportsbooks:

    200-1: That Seahawks or Broncos will finish with the league’s worst record.
    7-2: That Peyton Manning repeats as league MVP.
    3-1: That Dallas’ Jason Garrett is the first coach fired.

“Somehow not making the list:

    1-2: That Johnny Manziel becomes the first QB to throw a TD pass with a lampshade on his head.”

I will start with the AFC West. Last year, this division put three teams into the playoffs. The Chiefs were expected to improve – but not to the degree they actually did – and the Chargers came on late to get the second wildcard slot. I think it is going to be very hard for the Chiefs to match last season’s record this year. All of the coaches and most of the staffs from last year are still in place for the 2014 campaign.

    Denver Broncos: Assuming that Wes Welker can play, the Broncos will be the class of this division once again. They will have defensive issues – again – despite the addition of Demarcus Ware and Aquib Talib as a free agents; but with Peyton Manning running the show on offense, they should go wire-to-wire in the AFC West. The Broncos will welcome the return of Ryan Clady. I put the Broncos at 12-4.

    San Diego Chargers: They finished strong in 2013 and played well in the playoffs beating the Bengals and playing the Broncos tough. It looks as if Philip Rivers has found the spark he lacked for a couple of seasons. The Chargers’ secondary was a weak link last year (29th in the league in yards allowed) and the team needs 1st round pick Jason Verrett to live up to his press clippings. I think the Chargers will finish second in the AFC West at 11-5.

    KC Chiefs: Unlike the Chargers, the Chiefs started out like gangbusters and then went to the playoffs where they gagged is if they swallowed an avocado pit. Yes, it was only a loss by a single point; but, the reason it happened was that the Chiefs surrendered 35 points to the Colts in the second half. The Chiefs were +18 in turnovers last year; that will hard to duplicate this year. I put the Chiefs third in the division at 9-7.

    Oakland Raiders: They were also-rans last year; they made a ton of changes in the off-season; they are going to be also-rans again this year. The Raiders need significant help on the OL and a big step forward at QB. The acquisition of Matt Schaub may improve their QB situation a lot – or it might just bite the team in the butt the way the acquisition of Carson Palmer did a couple of seasons ago. Schaub did not look good in the exhibition games. The Raiders have 5 games in November and the first four are:

      at Seattle,
      Denver,
      at Chargers,
      Chiefs.

    Read that as “OUCH!!” I put the Raiders at 5-11; that is better than last year but not nearly competitive in the division.

Moving on to the AFC South… This division looks like a tire fire to me. The Colts are good – but that is all they are. The other three teams are simply not good at all. Unless Blake Bortles channels the rookie year of Andrew Luck for the Jags this year, Andrew Luck is the only NFL caliber QB anywhere in the division.

    Indy Colts: Even if I figure that one of their divisional rivals can take a game from them, that starts the team off with 5 wins on the schedule. The team plays the AFC North (tough games) and the NFC East (a division living on past glory). Trent Richardson running like a high first round pick would surely help the Colts – although they will not need any help to win the division. They might have that wrapped up in the second week of December. I put the Colts at 10-6.

    Jax Jaguars: I have not lost my marbles; I think the Jags are moving up the NFL pecking order. Yes, I know that from where they have been, there was no real room for them to move down. However, the Jags won four of their last five games in 2013 – those were all of their wins for the season. Blake Bortles might be the answer at QB when he gets the starting job over Chad Henne who is not the answer at QB. I give the Jaguars a record of 6-10.

    Houston Texans: Calling their 2013 season a “disaster” does a disservice to disasters worldwide. It was apocalyptic. After starting 2-0 and having Super Bowl aspirations, the Texans proceeded to “lose out”. Their defense might be very good with Jadeveon Clowney on one side and JJ Watt on the other side. Houston’s problem will be at QB; Ryan Fitzpatrick is listed as the starter; newly acquired Ryan Mallett will back him up with rookie Tom Savage (Pitt) holding the clipboard. Houston will improve from 2-14; I put the Texans at 6-10.

    Tennessee Titans: The Titans were mediocre last year and proceeded to lose RB, Chris Johnson, and their best CB, Alteraun Verner, in the off-season. Jake Locker is a decent QB but he never stays healthy. Behind him are Charlie Whitehurst (who knows coach Whizenhunt’s system) and rookie Zach Mettenberger who played well in exhibition games. Is that QB tandem better or worse than the one in Houston? I give the Titans a 5-11 record.

Next up shall be the AFC North. The teams in this division play the AFC South and the NFC South. That should give the top teams here plenty of opportunities to stack wins on their records. The difficulty is that the top teams (Cincy, Pittsburgh and Baltimore) all have to play each other twice; no picnics there. And then, there are the Browns…

    Baltimore Ravens: I like the Ravens to return to the playoffs and the top of this division. Their new offensive coordinator is Gary Kubiak who has had plenty of success doing that in the NFL. The defense will also have had a year to adjust to the absence of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. They will need to find a replacement for Michael Oher on the OL. The Ravens kept 7 WRs on their roster for opening day; that led Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun to observe:

    “Since defensive linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban suffered season-ending injuries in training camp, the Ravens appeared to have just kept the best players instead of being too concerned by the position they played.

    “I just hope one of those reserve receivers like Kamar Aiken, Deonte Thompson or Michael Campanaro can play defensive line.”

    I like the Ravens to finish 10-6.

    Cincy Bengals: They must really love Andy Dalton as their QB because they gave him a $115M contract in the offseason. I think Dalton is a good QB, but not nearly THAT good. If he plays like a $115M QB, the Bengals will be tough to beat. The loss of DC Mike Zimmer to a head-coaching job cannot help this team. I put the Bengals record at 10-6.

    Pittsburgh Steelers: They have retooled the defense and the effectiveness of those changes will decide how the season unfolds. The Steelers have enough offensive weapons to compete; they have to be able to find ways to stop other teams. Ike Taylor is still listed as the #1 guy at CB; he sure looked as if there was no gas left in the tank last year. The Steelers need a fast start; their early schedule is a lot softer than their late schedule. I give the Steelers a 9-7 record.

    Cleveland Browns: Brian Hoyer will start at QB speaking volumes about the performance of Johnny Manziel at the Browns training camp. Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this question about one of Manziel’s less-than-successful actions in the exhibition season:

    “Since Johnny Manziel’s obscene gesture came in a preseason game, shouldn’t any resulting fines qualify for an early-bird discount?”

    On the other end of the passing game, the Browns’ best WR by a wide margin, Josh Gordon, is out for the season for violating the NFL substance abuse policy for the umpteenth time. The defense is young but has a couple of emerging impact players such as Joe Haden and Barkevious Mingo. Add that young squad and a first-time head coach to the mix and fans in Cleveland can look forward to another high draft pick next year. I give the Browns a 4-12 record.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot put the Browns’ “QB Competition” into perspective here:

“I make a point not to watch NFL preseason games, only the highlights. But in the case of Browns quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, there have been no highlights to see unless you’re a fan of dumpster fires.”

The last division in this conference is the AFC East. Notwithstanding the bombastic remarks of Rex Ryan, this division has one very good team, one mediocre team and two bad teams. P.S. The Jets are not the one very good team…

    New England Patriots: At least at the start of the season, Tom Brady will have “Gronk” and Danny Amendola on the field together at the same time to catch his passes. Both of them are excellent receivers; both of them have a history of injuries. If they stay healthy all season, the Pats will lock up the division title here in early December. The Pats traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs about a week ago for what seems to be a paltry return given Mankins’ Pro-Bowl status. Then they traded backup QB Ryan Mallett to the Texans for a conditional 7th round pick which is next-to-nothing. However, I am not about to argue with Bill Belichick on matters of this kind; he must see something promising in Josh Kline as a replacement for Mankins and obviously did not see a future need for Mallett. On defense, the Pats lost Aquib Talib to free agency; so they went out and signed Darrelle Revisand Brandon Browner. Oh, and they get Vince Wilfork back healthy too. I put the Pats at 12-4.

    NY Jets: On offense, the Jets added Chris Johnson and Eric Decker. Assuming Johnson returns to form, that will help an offense that had to rely on Geno Smith to make plays last year. The problem was that Smith made far too many plays in favor of the opponents. On defense, the Jets listed Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson as their starting CBs. Milliner will miss several games due to an ankle injury according to the NY papers; the Jets suspended Patterson “indefinitely” after Patterson allegedly went “AWOL” and skipped an exhibition game. The “indefinite suspension” was better defined when the Jets cut Patterson to get down to the 53-man squad limit. What the Jets might lack in DB excellence, they make up in quantity; as of this morning, the Jets’ depth chart lists 10 defensive backs our of 53 men on the roster. I think the Jets will be 8-8 once again this year.

    Buffalo Bills: Let’s see… They added Sammy Watkins to the roster to stretch the field and catch bombs from EJ Manuel. If this combo turns out to be the latter day equivalent to “Montana-to-Rice”, the Bills might break even for the year. The Bills just signed Kyle Orton to back up Manuel; unless Manuel plays a lot better than he did in exhibition games, Orton may be the starter sometime this year. With Kiko Alonzo missing on defense for at least the first 6 games, the Bills will have to outscore opponents to win games. I do not think that is going to happen very often. I give the Bills a 5-11 record.

    Miami Dolphins: The OL has to be rebuilt; Mike Pouncey may or may not be ready to play even if he is not suspended; Dion Jordan is indeed suspended for 4 games; here’s how bad the QB situation is:

      The Dolphins just signed Brady Quinn away from an announcing booth.

    Here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald reacted to the signing of Quinn:

    “My reaction when told Dolphins had signed Brady Quinn: Did general manager Dennis Hickey lose a bet?”

    I think the Dolphins will wind up 4-12.

To recap, the AFC Playoff Teams will be:

    Pats
    Broncos
    Ravens
    Colts
    Chargers
    Bengals

Moving over to the NFC, let me start in the NFC West. This division presents a bunch of warning flags that are attached to very good teams. Back in March/April, I thought I knew just how this division would play out; now, I am not nearly as sure. For example, I had been thinking that Aldon Smith would get a “minor suspension” – say 2-4 games – based on NFL history and then the Ray Rice “incident”. Now we know he is getting a 9-game suspension [Aside: Where did that number come from? Is there a dartboard in Roger Goodell’s office?] and that removes a very good defensive player from the Niners.

    Seattle Seahawks: This is a young and solid team. They have a tough defense – assuming that their DBs can adjust to the new officiating emphasis on hand checking. There are a few question marks, however. Golden Tate left in free agency and that leaves Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse as two of the top WRs. As of this morning, Justin Britt (rookie from Missouri) is the starter at RT. Remember, every opponent will be prepping to give the Seahawks a tough game; to be the man, you have to beat the man… I think the Seahawks will wind up 12-4.

    SF 49ers: They gave Colin Kaepernick a fat contract in the off-season (not as fat as the one Andy Dalton got but still fat) and he has played like he has “fat-wallet syndrome” in the exhibition games. He has three top-shelf pass catchers to throw to in Michael Crabtree (despite what Richard Sherman says), Anquan Boldin (probably shares DNA with Methuselah) and Vernon Davis. The Ray McDonald situation hangs over the team and if he too gets a long suspension, the rugged Niners’ defense might be pretty porous. Here is how Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle framed the situation the Niners find themselves in with McDonald’s arrest last weekend:

    “The 49ers are already hurting on defense, big time, but how much of your soul will you sell for a win?

    “Isn’t the 49ers’ defense over the criminal cap? You’ve got Ahmad Brooks allegedly beating a teammate over the head with a beer bottle, and threatening to shoot him (the DA opted not to file charges). You’ve got cornerback Chris Culliver allegedly threatening an auto-accident victim with brass knuckles. You’ve got Aldon Smith and his bill of particulars.”

    The Niners have played miserably in the exhibition games. Oh, and their new stadium is already on its third sod covering after the first two were “found wanting”… I give the Niners an 10-6 record.

    Arizona Cardinals: I was going to drop the Cards to last place in this division based on three major losses to their defense – (Darnell Dockett – injury –, Daryl Washington – suspended – and Karlos Dansby – free agency). However, as long as Carson Palmer is throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd the Cards will be competitive. I like the Cards to finish 8-8.

    St. Louis Rams: The season-ending injury to Sam Bradford changed everything for the Rams. I thought their defense was going to push them up into the midst of the playoff hunt. Now the QB depth chart reads:

      Shaun Hill
      Austin Davis
      Garrett Gilbert

    Ooops… they cut Gilbert loose and have only 2 QBs on the roster. You might as well add Joe Flabeetz to the list; he might be competitive.

    Jon Stewart of The Daily Show had this comment on the ESPN story regarding how teammates showered with Michael Sam during training camp:

    “Why would his teammates feel uncomfortable taking a shower with Michael Sam? Does he use Axe Garlic and Rotten Egg Body Wash?”

    I was ready to give the Rams 9 or 10 wins for the year; now I will have to curb my enthusiasm and put the Rams at 6-10.

Next up is the NFC South. Last year, the Falcons cratered; the Panthers played well and the Bucs were sufficiently dysfunctional that they went out and got themselves a new coaching staff. Reading the tea leaves for this division for the upcoming season is not easy but one thing that seems clear to me is that the Saints are the class of this division by a wide mark.

    New Orleans Saints: The Saints ought to be able to put it on cruise control to win this division sometime around Thanksgiving. The Saints were very good last year and look to be at least as good this year. Yes, they lost Darren Sproles to free agency but they added speed at WR – as if Drew Brees needed even more space to throw the ball into – and they signed Jarius Byrd to make a good defense even better. I see the Saints with a 12-4 record this year.

    Tampa Bay Bucs: This is my dark-horse team for the year; last year the Bucs were 4-12 and they looked like a 4-12 team. However, this year they have a new staff and more good players on the defensive side of the ball. The Bucs need to pick a starting QB and stick with him; Josh McCown did well in Chicago in a relief role last season and has been under Lovie Smith before; Mike Glennon is a young QB who will be in the NFL long after McCown is retired. Doug Martin is a serviceable RB; there is not much behind him though. I think the Bucs will double their win total from last year and go 8-8.

    Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton continues to improve but the Panthers’ receiving corps has taken a step backward. Unless Kelvin Benjamin – first round pick out of Fla St. is a stud –, the rest of the receiving corps looks like an assemblage of part-time players and fill-ins. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart provide a quality running game. The defense will be more than good and Ron Rivera is a good coach. I see the Panthers taking a step back from their 12-4 record last year to 8-8 this year.

    Atlanta Falcons: Their 2013 season went off the rails the moment Julio Jones went down for the count. Jones is back but his absence shone the light on another significant problem for the Falcons; their OL is underwhelming. That unit has to improve – and improve a whole lot – in 2014 for the Falcons to do something important. The defense is nothing more than OK. I see the Falcons going 6-10 this year.

Moving on to the NFC North… Here we have one team that ought to be very good, two teams with huge question marks and one team that should be sucking wind by mid-November.

    Green Bay Packers: The Pack were a disappointing 8-7-1 last year and the problems were on the defensive side of the ball. Adding Julius Peppers should make the pass rush a bit better and first round pick, HaHa Clinton-Dix, should make the secondary better. However, the loss of BJ Raji for the season at nose tackle will not make the defense better; as of today, the depth chart for nose tackle consists of two undrafted college free agents. Aaron Rodgers and friends will move the ball and score points; it is on the defense to make the Packers a playoff team this year. I think the Pack will be 10-6.

    Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler is back under center this year after an injury plagued 2013; if he goes down again this year and the Bears have to turn to either Jimmy Clausen or rookie David Fales, you can toss this prediction along with the Bears’ season in the dumpster. The return of Charles Tillman to the defense in a state of good health is a big plus. I see the Bears at 9-7 for the season.

    Detroit Lions: Adding Golden Tate to play opposite Calvin Johnson ought to make Matthew Stafford a fantasy football star. The question marks for the Lions include:

      The running game. (flashy but inconsistent)
      The defensive secondary (could not cover a corpse last year)
      The team’s innate and persistent boneheadedness.

    New coach, Jim Caldwell, had a “smart team” in Indy; he needs to be sure he brought that magic potion with him to Detroit. I have the Lions finishing at 7-9.

    Minnesota Vikings: If you have 3 QBs, you don’t have a QB – or so the saying goes in NFL circles. Well, the Vikes have 3 QBs and none of them can play to the NFL standard yet – the jury is still out on Terry Bridgewater. Adrian Peterson is a stud and he makes watching the Vikings interesting because of his abilities. However, the team is not ready to “make some noise”; in fact, I think they will whimper their way through the season. I see the Vikings with a 5-11 record.

Here is how I see the NFC East. This is a division that has been over-rated in terms of its depth and toughness for several years now. The fact is that there are no excellent teams in the division and there is at least one that could be downright awful.

    Philadelphia Eagles: The offense will be good again this year despite the departure of DeSean Jackson so long as Jeremy Maclin is around to provide opposing defenses with the threat of a deep ball. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles is the most interesting tandem of RBs in the league. The question here is how well the Eagles’ defense can stop the other guys. Last year, the Eagles’ defense gave up lots of yards but staved off points by being +12 in turnover differential. They may need to do that again this year. I see the Eagles finishing 9-7.

    NY Giants: In the first two exhibition games, the Giants’ offense looked like a myth. They have changed systems and it may take time for Eli Manning and his receivers to adjust – but I think they have it in them to do that. The defense should be solid – assuming that the interior DL holds up. I see the Giants with an 8-8 record.

    Washington Redskins: Despite the fact that RG3 was outplayed by his understudies in the early exhibition games, the fact is that the Skins’ season depends on him playing at or near the way he played in 2012 and not the way he played in 2013. The fact is that his performance went from brilliant (2012) to incompetent (2013). The OL was problematic last year and most of the folks from that unit are back again this year; that is hardly good news.. On defense, the team has to be better than last year – unless they simply cannot find anyone to replace London Fletcher as a leader on the defensive unit. I think the Skins will improve under rookie head coach, Jay Gruden, and finish 7-9.

    Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys defense last year was pure misery. For this year, Demarcus Ware is gone via free agency; Jason Hatcher is gone via free agency, Sean Lee is out for the year with an injury; Orlando Scandrick is out for the first four games as a result of a suspension. It is possible the Cowboys’ defense will be worse this year than last year. Tony Romo is recovering from back surgery. If he goes down, the backups are Brandon Weedon and Dustin Vaughn. Bonus points for anyone who can tell the difference between Dustin Vaughn, Vince Vaughn, Mo Vaughn and/or Squirt the Wonder Clam. Come December, the Cowboys will end their three-year streak of 8-8 seasons because their record will be 5-11.

Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News also predicts a 5-11 season for the Cowboys and said this about the outlook from Jerry Jones regarding the upcoming season:

“The Cowboys’ ultimate optimist chose the team’s kickoff luncheon as the proper place to deliver a “this is an uphill climb’’ speech. If Jerry Jones is struggling to see the glass as half-full, how are the rest of us supposed to find it?”

For the NFC, the playoffs will shape up this way:

    Saints (#1 seed or #2 seed)
    Seahawks (the order REALLY matters here)
    Packers
    Eagles
    Niners
    Bears

So let it be written; so let it be done… Or something like that.

Finally, Greg Cote had this in the Miami Herald recently regarding pre-season predictions:

“Predictionmachine.com computers put the Dolphins’ playoff chances at 26.1 percent and the shot at winning Super Bowl at 0.4 percent. Shouldn’t there be a law that you can’t rain on a parade before the parade has even started?”

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

Schizophrenic Month Coming Up

As we begin the month of September, be forewarned that this is going to be a schizophrenic month:

    Sept 5 is “Be Late For Something Day”. I know some people who celebrate this day 365 days a year; they avoid punctuality like poison ivy.

    Sept 6 is “Fight Procrastination Day”. These celebrants need to work with the chronically tardy folks mentioned above to create a weeklong festival.

Ten years ago, if anyone had suggested to me that this was going to happen, I would have said he/she was smoking some really high quality “stuff”. However, consider the reports that say Chung-an University in South Korea will now consider video gamers as student athletes. Professional gaming – evidently – is a big deal in S. Korea so competition at the collegiate level is somewhat analogous to college football and basketball here. I can see it now; there is a Korean analog to Mel Kiper Jr. who is out there gathering information on thumb length, reflex times, lateral eye movement and bladder capacity for Korean collegiate gamers in order to project them into the pro ranks.

A friend of mine – of the female persuasion – who is a basketball fan in general and a women’s basketball fan in particular, took umbrage with my pointing out that 5 of the 8 teams in the WNBA playoffs had sub-.500 records in the regular season. She sent a note last week telling me to check out the Canadian Football League standings for the Eastern Conference there. She pointed out – correctly – that the WNBA is not the only place where a couple of teams dominate the rest of the teams in the league. Standing sufficiently chastised, here are the CFL standings as of today:

    East:

      Toronto Argonauts 3-6
      Montreal Alouettes 2-7
      Hamilton Ti-Cats 1-6
      Ottawa Redblacks 1-8

    West:

      Calgary Stampeders 7-1
      Edmonton Eskimos 7-1
      Sask. Roughriders 7-2
      Winnipeg B-Bombers 6-4
      Brit. Col. Lions 5-4

It would appear as if winning football has been outlawed in Ontario and Quebec for this year…

Last week, before any college football games happened, Bob Molinaro had this column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot on the subject of the excessive “Heisman Chatter” that had begun well before the column appeared which was before any college football games… This is a column you should read in its entirety. Here is a sample paragraph:

“Today it’s hard to differentiate between a school’s publicity campaign on behalf of a player and the relentless speculation and promotion of the candidates by TV and the Internet. They’ve become almost one and the same.”

The NFL kicks off for real this week. There is a new wrinkle in the NFL TV schedule. The Sunday games on FOX and CBS are unchanged; so are the Sunday Night games on NBC; Monday Night Football continues to reside on ESPN. However, there are now Thursday Night games every week but the telecasts are shared.

    Week 1 (4 Sept): The game is on NBC

    Weeks 2-8 (11 Sept – 23 Oct): Games are on CBS

    Week 9-12 (30 Oct – 20 Nov): Games are on NFL Network

    Week 13 (Thanksgiving): Games are on CBS, FOX and NBC

    Week 14-16 (4 Dec – 18 Dec) Games are on NFL Network

    Week 17: No Thursday night game.

Moreover, the NFL will reprise one of its practices from years ago this season. They used to put on Saturday games after the college football season concluded but somehow that disappeared from the scheduling in the past several years. This year in Week 16, there will be 2 games on Saturday afternoon and CBS will televise both of them.

With November being one of the ratings sweeps months, you can be sure that CBS will be flogging the new shows they will put on the air in November once their early season package of NFL games cedes to NFL Network. I suspect the thinking at CBS is that the NFL games will dominate the ratings through September and October preventing shows on other networks from gaining big followings until CBS can debut their new programming. It is an interesting programming gambit.

Finally, I referred you to a Bob Molinaro column above so let me close with another of his observations in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Priorities: It’s the business of athletics departments to worry about moderately declining college football attendance, but when that’s stacked up against rising student fees, exorbitantly priced text books, tuition that grows at 2-1/2 times the national inflation rate and graduates leaving with massive debt, it’s embarrassing to make a fuss over a few empty seats on Saturday.”

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

Recommended Reading

I often quote Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle. He is insightful and entertaining at the same time.

His son just went off to college leaving an “empty nest”. This column in the SF Chronicle demonstrates that Scott Ostler is a wonderful writer in addition to being a sports columnist. I commend it to your reading.

Is the NFL Starting to “Get It”?

I am on record here saying that the 2-game suspension given to Ray Rice after his “domestic violence event” was meager. I said the NFL was tone-deaf sending one of its VPs on ESPN Radio to declare that the NFL had taken a tough stance with regard to domestic violence. I said that Ravens’ fans were out of line cheering for Rice when he first stepped onto a practice field. I mention all of that because I want to be clear where I stand with regard to that issue.

The only reason I need to mention this again is in the wake of the season-long suspension for Cleveland Browns WR, Josh Gordon. Too many people have drawn the simplistic conclusion that the NFL cares more about stopping players from smoking pot than it does about domestic violence. Were that the case, the NFL should be held up to public ridicule and scorn – but those two cases do not prove that point even when juxtaposed.

The first important difference between the two cases is that there are specific penalties for substance abuse that were negotiated into the NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement. These may or may not coincide with what you or I may think is reasonable, but they exist in a definitive form. Josh Gordon ought to know his way around the league’s substance abuse policies because this is not his first intersection with those policies. [Indeed, he experienced substance abuse issues at least once while at Baylor and received an indefinite suspension there. He limited the suspension by transferring to Utah.] The relevant NFL timeline here is:

    June ’13: Suspended 2 games for violation of substance abuse policy. Reportedly, he tested positive for codeine and claimed it was in a cough syrup that he took.

    Date unknown: Tested positive for marijuana.

    July ’14: Arrested and charged with DUI in North Carolina

    August ’14: Appealed his season-long suspension for a repeat drug violation and the appeal was denied.

Notwithstanding the pending DUI charges, nothing Gordon did is as bad as what Ray Rice did. However, it is not necessary for there to be a single consistent yardstick for punishment by the NFL. Remember, there are no collectively bargained standard penalties for domestic violence. The folks drawing the comparisons here are comparing apples to oranges.

Were I the NFL Commish – perish that thought – Ray Rice would have gotten an 8-game suspension simply based on the atrocity of what he did and the embarrassment that it delivered to the league. I would then have gotten together with the NFLPA and tried to work out a deal where Gordon would also get an 8-game suspension with the stipulation that any further violation of the substance abuse policy in the next 5 years would be a lifetime ban from the league. If I could not get that kind of deal with the NFLPA, then Gordon would have to get what the policy says he is in line for…

The events of yesterday would seem to indicate that even the tone-deaf NFL has begun to recognize that they are on the wrong side of the argument with regard to the “Ray Rice Incident”. The league floated an idea saying that a domestic abuse incident would be punishable in the future by:

    6-game suspension for a first offense
    Indefinite suspension for a second offense (perhaps removed after 1 year).

Two points need to be made here:

    1. If this is the new “domestic abuse incident policy”, it indeed is more draconian than the extant substance abuse policy – as it ought to be.

    2. It would treat recidivism very harshly – as it should and as the current drug abuse policy does.

Whilst on the subject of the NFL, there is a new source of information and entertainment regarding the league. Dan Daly, formerly of the Washington Times, is one of the historians of the game and the league. He has just initiated a blog called Pro Football DalyThe Whole 100 Yards And Sometimes The End Zone Too. I recommend that you check it out here and I have added it to the list of “Columnists I Read” on the left hand margin here.

I am not one who tends to believe in bad omens and portents of doom. Nevertheless, I am hard pressed to see how the following report is a sign that all is well with regard to Western Civilization:

    Def Leppard will perform in concert before the Raiders/Dolphins game in London on 28 September.

What the world does not need is the rise of concerts before NFL games; should that become commonplace, the world would not be a better place. Moreover, the attachment of a pre-game concert to the NFL’s first London game for 2014 raises an interesting question:

    If London is such a fertile field for the NFL, why would anyone go to the trouble to put on a concert before a game there?

    Just asking…

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

“The Nebraska Supreme Court is reviewing ballot language on a proposal to OK gambling on replayed horse races. I’m thinking, ‘Hey everybody! Let’s Get Rich!’ may be deemed inappropriate.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 8/30/14

It is time to resuscitate my college football Mythical Picks. I closed last year’s set of collegiate mythical picks saying:

“Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise; I’ll do these again next year.”

Well, I am still vertical and taking nourishment; and the last time I looked, the creek remains within its banks. So, away we go…

For new readers, here is what goes on in Mythical Picks. I will start by making a few comments about last week’s games and how the Mythical Picks turned out and/or some general commentary on college football. I will keep everyone abreast of the Linfield College Wildcats in McMinnville, OR – not because I have any ties or association with the school but because they have not had a losing season in football since 1956. If they win 5 games this year, it will be their 59th consecutive winning season; that is amazing…

I will identify games I call “Ponderosa Spread Games”. These games all have spreads of 24-points or more. I picked that number out of the air and since it is a “big spread”, I named them after the “big spread” owned by the Cartwright family in the old TV series, Bonanza. I find it interesting that in most years, neither favorites nor underdogs cover sufficiently regularly to earn a profit over the season. I track this just because I feel like doing so…

Starting around the end of October – after there is some on-field evidence on which to draw conclusions – I will begin to try to identify the 8 worst teams in the country. The reason I do that is that in the final iteration of these weekly “things”, I will place those teams in a mythical tournament to identify the single worst team. That tournament would be single elimination where the loser has to continue to play; the winner can go home and avoid further ignominy. I call it the SHOE Tournament because SHOE is my acronym for the ultimate losing team; they would be:

The Steaming Heap Of Excrement

Then I will identify “Games of Interest” for the week. These might be games involving two top teams; these might be games involving two bottom-feeders or they could be games where the spread makes the game interesting. I will make a wagering prediction for some – but not all – of the “Games of Interest”. The important thing to keep in mind is that these are games that are interesting to me. If I do not have on the list a game that is interesting to you, I apologize in advance.

Let me take a moment to speak to the issue of gambling on college football games. I know that the subject will cause NCAA folks and loads of politicians to lapse into hysteria with regard to how gambling pollutes the purity of amateur athletic endeavors. That is patent buncombe [Hat Tip to H. L. Mencken for that word.]. Here is a simple fact that the NCAA mavens and the politicos can never come to grips with:

    People will always gamble on college football games because people want to do so and there is nothing that the NCAA or the pols can do to stop them.

I am not here to try to convince you to wager real money on actual football games. My selections against the spread and commentary on spreads and “over/unders” merely reflect the reality that I am not opposed to gambling and I am willing to offer my opinion on various games.

Having said that, I assure everyone here that I have exactly no “inside information” or “well-placed sources” inside or near various football programs that serve to funnel information to me for these picks. I do this for fun. No one should assign any weight to my Mythical Picks because they are indeed “Mythical”; I am NOT making wagers on all of the games I mention here.

To drive that point home, no one should take any information here as even a small part of the basis for making a wager on a college football game. For anyone who might do so, I have one question:

    Just how big a bowl of “STUPID” do you eat for breakfast every morning?

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats play their opening game on September 13th. The Wildcats will be on the road for their first three games; the first two games will be in Southern California. I will pick up on their season in a couple of weeks…

    [Aside: When I was on my month-long road-trip this summer, one of the stops we made was at Maxwell Field where Linfield plays its home games. It was only a minor detour from our travel path and we stopped to look and get a few pictures. It is certainly not a big stadium – I would guess it could hold about 3500 folks – but it was interesting to see the place where Linfield has amassed and continued its streak of winning football seasons. If I knew how to post pictures on this platform, I would put one here…]

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is a most insightful person in addition to being an outstanding writer. Recently, he had the following suggestion; and if it were adopted, it would be a step in the right direction for college football:

“How about if we make this adjustment in college stats: Any individual stats are null and void if you ring ‘em up in a game your team wins by more than four touchdowns. You shouldn’t win a Heisman Trophy for throwing seven touchdown passes against Schmidlap State.”

I mention that suggestion because it relates to this next observation. Many folks are worried about how badly the injury to Ohio State QB, Braxton Miller, will hurt the Buckeyes’ chances at getting into the college football playoffs at the end of this year. Remember, only 4 teams will be invited. So, I went to look at the Ohio State schedule for this year and my conclusion is that Ohio State ought to be ashamed of itself. Out of conference, they play:

    Navy (on a neutral field)
    Va Tech (in Columbus)
    Kent State (in Columbus)
    Cincinnati (in Columbus)

Too bad Comatose State dropped football last year or they would surely have been on the Ohio State dance card here. Moreover, it does not get a whole lot better once Ohio State begins Big 10 Conference play. Check out the remaining schedule:

    Maryland (at College Park): The Terps are not a good team.
    Rutgers (in Columbus): The Scarlet Knights are not a good team.
    Penn State (at State College): The Lions are improving, but still…
    Illinois (in Columbus): The Illini are good about once a decade.
    Mich St. (at East Lansing): The Spartans are a good program
    Minnesota (at Minneapolis): The Gophers usually stink.
    Indiana (in Columbus): The Hoosiers always stink.
    Michigan (in Columbus): The Wolverines will be up for the game.

It is difficult to see how Ohio State can do worse than 9-2 for the season and they could run the table against that schedule given the absence of even back-to-back difficult games. And so, even before the kickoff for the college football season here is something I would wish for come December:

    1. I would want Ohio State to have a 12-1 record having won the Big 10 Championship Game.

    2. Then I would want the Playoff Selection Committee to leave them out of the playoff tournament to play in a meaningless bowl game AND for the Committee to say directly that it was “strength of schedule” that left the Buckeyes on the outside looking in.

If anyone involved in the College Football Playoff structure cares about minimizing games against sacrificial lambs, that would be a message immediately received and understood by school athletic directors who might be hearing from alums who would not want to be “left out” sometime in the future because of a cupcake schedule.

It is not going to happen, of course. But I can wish for it…

Now before someone accuses me of “hating on Ohio State”, the same could easily be said of Oklahoma (weak out of conference schedule and a mediocre conference) and of Baylor (pathetic out of conference schedule and a mediocre conference).

Speaking of the College Football Playoff, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com, on the new college football playoff format: ‘I’m going to miss the Bowl Championship Series — much the same way I’d miss second-hand smoke, cellphones at dinner and people who examine their own earwax.’ “

Here is a note from Charlie Walters in the St. Paul Pioneer-Post that will give you an idea of what you should expect from Big 10 football officials this year:

“Big Ten football officials will receive $2,700 per game this season and add an eighth official to the backfield.”

The officials are taking down $21.6K per game; remember that as you watch those games and decide for yourself if you – or the conference – is getting its money’s worth…

Something to keep watch on this season will be the Boise State program. Chris Petersen is gone to the University of Washington and the Broncos’ former OC, Bryan Harsin steps up to the head role. It is not easy following a coach as successful as Petersen had been at a place like Boise St. but at least Harsin has a bunch of Petersen’s recruits on hand to man the starting positions for him. This season – and next year’s recruiting efforts – will set a tone for Harsin’s stint in Boise.

One more thing to look for this season is an evolving debate as to the best conference in the country. The SEC has had that distinction for quite a while now; but this year, do not ignore the teams in the PAC-12. Here on the East Coast, TV viewers who choose to stay up late on Saturday night will get to see some very good games.

Did you know that Western Kentucky has a DB on the roster named Prince Charles Iworah? Maybe W. Kentucky should have found a way to play one of their games in London this year. They could win by “royal decree”… The Hilltoppers also have a DB on the squad named Wonderful Terry; I wonder if he has a brother named Beautiful Bobby?

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

This week we have 10 Ponderosa Spread Games:

(Fri) UNLV at Arizona – 24 (60): UNLV was much improved last year but find themselves in the NCAA penalty box now. They are over their heads here and Arizona’s offense is not one to let up and play ball control late in the game.

Florida Atlantic at Nebraska – 24 (51): I do not think the Owls showed great wisdom putting this game on the schedule…

Marshall – 24 at Miami (Oh) (59): Miami was the #1 seed in last year’s SHOE Tournament; their record was 0-12; the average margin of loss was 26 points. They have to be better this year, right? The Miami defense needs to be a lot better here because one thing Marshall can and will do is score points. I like Marshall to win and cover here.

Idaho at Florida – 36 (51): If Florida merely wins this game by 20 points, there will be calls to boil Will Muschamp in oil…

N. Texas at Texas – 25 (52): If Charlie Strong wants to see how fast a honeymoon can end, all he has to do is lose to N. Texas this weekend…

So. Miss at Miss St. – 31 (56): Last year, So. Mississippi was 1-11. Mississippi State was only 6-6 last year but three of their losses came in successive weeks to So. Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama. Later this season, So. Miss will play Alabama; who thought that would be a good idea?

Appalachian St. at Michigan – 34.5 (54): It is not going to happen here, but recall that App.St. has gone into “The Big House” and won outright on the opening weekend of the season. This looks like a “payback game”…

Alabama – 26 at West Virginia (55.5): You probably recall the look on Nick Saban’s face as Auburn ran back an unsuccessful field goal attempt for a TD to win their game. You will not see that same look on his face this weekend…

La Tech at Oklahoma – 38 (52): Another shame of a game…

(Sun) SMU at Baylor – 33 (73): Neither team plays a lot of defense but both teams do play offense. Art Briles offense at Baylor has been spectacular the last couple of seasons; SMU plays June Jones’ “Run ‘N Shoot”. Lots action for the scoreboard operator here…

Games of Interest:

(Thurs) Texas A&M at South Carolina – 10.5 (58.5): This game matches the Aggies “new QB” against the “ol’ Ball Coach”. If the Aggies’ offense is tentative and adjusting to someone other than Johnny Football at QB, this could be an easy UNDER because Steve Spurrier teams tend to start slowly and get better as the year goes on. Of course, the Aggies will not have to contend with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney on defense for the Gamecocks this week. I’ll take the UNDER here.

(Thurs) Ole Miss – 10 vs Boise St. (Atlanta GA) (54): An interesting opener for both teams… The Rebels have won bowl games in each of the last two seasons and their offense should be very good this season; as noted above, Boise State has a new coach at the helm. I like Ole Miss to win and cover here initiating a mass case of agita in Boise.

(Thurs) Wake Forest – 2.5 at La-Monroe (45.5): Wake’s teams have fallen on hard times in recent years so there is no way I would take them on the road and giving points. Just for fun, I’ll take La-Monroe plus the points here.

(Fri) BYU – 17 at UConn (50.5): If you like hunch bets – which I do not –, consider that this game will happen on the 137th anniversary of the death of Brigham Young himself. More often than not, such occurrences are more coincidence than omen. I prefer reason to omens… UConn was not very good last year; BYU was not as good as they have been in previous years but not as bad as UConn. This is long journey for the Cougars and they will play without their best RB, Jamaal Williams who is suspended for this game. I think this will be a low scoring affair so taking 17 points is the way I would play it. I’ll take UConn plus the points.

(Fri) Colorado State at Colorado – 3 (60) (Denver, CO): This game is “interesting” because you are not going to see Colorado installed as a favorite very often this year…

(Sat) Penn State vs. Central Florida – 1.5 (48) (Dublin Ireland): Penn State begins the James Franklin Era “across the pond”; UCF’s history is that it plays up or down to the level of its opponent. UCF had Blake Bortles at QB last year; he will be playing on Sundays this year. Christian Hackenberg was a most pleasant surprise for Penn State fans last year; the question now is how much better he can become. The most interesting thing about this game is that it ought to give an indication as to the capabilities of Penn State for other games later in the season.

(Sat) Ohio St. – 13.5 vs. Navy (Baltimore, MD) (55.5): In terms of athletic abilities, this looks to be a mismatch… Navy runs the ball more than just about any other college team and Ohio State’s front 7 on defense is going to be very good. I like Ohio State to win and cover.

(Sat) UCLA – 21.5 at UVa (57.5): The Bruins are a good team. Mike London is a coach on a hot seat in Charlottesville. If UVa gets stomped here, it could set a negative tone for the rest of the season for Virginia; and if that happens, Mike London will be job hunting in December. Watch this game for indications of future performances by these teams…

(Sat) BC – 17 at UMass (48): Last year was a down year for BC. Last year was a disaster for UMass. Their record was 1-11 and that lone win came over Miami (Oh) who was abjectly awful. Watch this game for indications of the future for both teams. My hunch is that neither of them will be very good and that UMass will be terrible. We shall see…

(Sat) Rice at Notre Dame – 21 (51): Given all the suspensions and investigations – talk about the “dreaded distractions” – at Notre Dame you can understand why this line opened at 24.5 and dropped like a rock to this level in no time flat. Notwithstanding all that, Notre Dame is bigger and faster than Rice and should win this game. I’ll take Notre Dame to win and cover.

(Sat) Arkansas at Auburn – 20.5 (57.5): Auburn is not going to be as good this year as they were last year when they played in the BCS Championship Game. They do have QB, Nick Marshall returning and that means they will still be very good. The only thing to say about Arkansas right now comes from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“The University of Arkansas has trademarked ‘Woo Pig Sooie!’ OK, Charlie Rose, no more leading off your show with the phrase.”

(Sat) Clemson at Georgia – 7.5 (58): Purely a hunch here but I cannot see where 58 points will come from in this game. I like the game to stay UNDER.

(Sat) Florida St. – 17.5 at Oklahoma St. (63) (Arlington, TX): Florida State is going to be “real good” this year but OK St. is not a bunch of stumblebums. Perhaps the best game on the card this weekend? I’ll take the Cowboys plus 17.5 points here.

(Sat) LSU – 4.5 at Wisconsin (50): Both of these teams will run the ball at one another until one of the defenses shows it can stop the other guy. If Fla St/OK St is not the best game of the weekend, then this one is. I like Wisconsin at home plus the points here.

(Sun) Utah St at Tennessee – 6 (51.5): The Aggies were very good last year before QB Chuckie Keeton went down. Well, he’s back now and he is a difference-maker. I like the Aggies plus the points here. In addition, I’ll take Utah State on the money line at +200.

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News recently about Utah St. QB Chuckie Keeton:

“Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton on whether he’s bigger than he was last season: ‘Yeah, I am. ‘ I got up to 207 this summer, so seven pounds more. Thanks for noticing.’

“He has a point.

“How come nobody notices when an O-lineman gains seven pounds?”

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

Football Wagering Season Cometh…

Tomorrow will bring the first of many “Mythical Picks” communiques as the college football season is about to happen. Over the last several months – actually one of the inquiries came from last December – several readers have asked for my opinions regarding various issues surrounding gambling on football games. Anyone who reads these missives even irregularly has to know that I favor legalized gambling on college and pro football games throughout the US and that I am certain that such gambling will occur in an illegal marketplace if a legal one is forbidden. The gendarmes will not be able to stop football gambling.

    Q: Do you play parlays on the cards in Las Vegas or other parlays that you design yourself?

    A: Yes, I play both kinds of parlays but never for any sizeable amount of money. Parlays are bad bets – but they are fun. Simple example here … if you hit a 3-team parlay against the spread, you will get either 6-1 odds or perhaps 6.5-1 odds. It should not take an advanced degree in math to realize that the odds payout ought to be 8-1. That is a big vig to have to pay. It gets even worse with more teams in the parlay. A 10-team parlay should pay 1024 to 1; most places will pay out 700-1. Nevertheless, parlays are fun – especially if you do 7 or 9 or 10-team parlays for small amounts. I have never hit a 10-teamer but I did have 9 right on a card once. Just rooting for that tenth game was worth losing a small wager.

    Q: I like to buy half-points if that is offered; do you do that too?

    A: I certainly would not do that for every game because that would mean that I was wagering against a -120 line instead of a -110 line all the time. To beat the -110 line I have to win 52.4% of my picks; to beat the -120 line I have to win 54.6% of my picks. Will the “half-point buy” make a difference 2.2% of the time? Not likely. The only time I am tempted to do this is when I am taking 6.5 points and have the opportunity to round it up to 7 points. Seven is a common differential in a football game and by buying up to that level, I can possibly salvage a push out of a game that would be a loser.

    Q: What do you think of “hunch bets”?

    A: I think they are fun and if you use them the way you use parlay bets you can enjoy them. I once bet – and actually won – a three team parlay that I called the “Dick Enberg theme parlay”. I took the Lions, and the Bengals (Tigers if you please) and the Bears because that leads to “Oh my…” which is Enberg’s signature phrase. As I recall, I had $20 on that card and won $120. It was fun but it is not a way to wager seriously on football games.

This is not a question that I was asked, but since I am on the subject let me throw my response out here.

    No, I do not follow or subscribe to any of the goofs on TV every Saturday morning who offer guaranteed picks or claim that they have a verified 72% success rate with their picks. Let’s do some math here and assume that one of those “gurus” – call him Hyperventilating Harry – could actually pick 72% winners. If he made a call on 3 college and 3 pro games a week – not a big deal considering there are probably at least 60 games per week on which one can bet – he would make calls on about 40 college games and 51 pro games. Just to make the math easier, let me round this up to a total of 100 football games of wagering interest. If Hyperventilating Harry bet 1100 per game on his own picks and won 72% of the time he would collect win $72,000 on successful picks and lose $41,800 on his unsuccessful picks. He would be up $30K. Two questions:

      1. If he has that kind of success rate, why would he tell you what he is doing?

      2. When they hold football handicapping tournaments in Las Vegas as they do every year, how come Hyperventilating Harry or his colleague, Calculating Cal do not win every time? The winners of those tournaments rarely go over 56% in their picks. Last year’s winner took down $557K.

Gambling on football games is fun for me. It is not – and has never been – my livelihood. The mortgage money never went down on a team to cover a spread. But betting on a game gives you a rooting interest sometimes when the winner and loser have already been decided. I absolutely reject the notion that you have to have some action riding on any game you might watch on TV; that kind of thinking nudges up against “addiction”. However, when you have a reasoned opinion on the outcome of a specific game – not a hunch and not wishful thinking – putting down a wager you can afford to lose will make watching the game a more emotional experience.

Out there in Las Vegas, they are going to get an Arena League franchise for the third time. Vince Neil – a rock star with a band called Motley Crue – supposedly bought the Jacksonville Sharks and Robin Leach of the Las Vegas Sun says that Neil told him back in April 2014 that the team would be in Las Vegas within 2 years. Recently the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that the team will play as the Las Vegas Outlaws and that it will be an expansion franchise. No matter what the team lineage may be, the outcome is that Arena League Football will test the waters in Las Vegas for the third time. The LV Sting and the LV Gladiators had stints in Las Vegas and never managed to keep themselves in the black. At issue is where the Outlaws will play their home games.

Finally, Greg Cote had this in his column in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“The Dolphins continue to talk to Dan Marino about a front-office position that would be more than a figurehead role but have little real authority. Suggested title: Senior Vice President of Good Old Days.”

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

Sports Hash…

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Phillies had some “untradeable contracts” and received a note from a fan of the Texas Rangers that said in part:

“ …unless he does a 180, Shin Soo Choo will be stuck on the Rangers like stink on [excrement].”

Choo was injured in a game and the Rangers announced that he will be out for the rest of the season so his stats to date represent his productivity for the 2014 season.

    This was not a banner year for Choo. His slash line is .242/.340/.714

    This year’s OPS is down .122 from his career average.

Now, here are the terms of the free agent contract he signed with the Rangers last winter:

    7-year deal (through 2020) for a total of $130M. He will make $14M next year and then $20 or 21M for each of the next 5 years.

    Limited no-trade clause allowing him to block trades to 10 teams each season.

    Minor bonus structure for MVP All-Star etc.

Looking at those numbers, I would have to agree with my correspondent. If those are the numbers Choo produces – or worse yet if his downward trend in production continues – there is no way a team will take him off the Rangers payroll. Those are not $20M per year numbers. Oh, to make things worse, Choo turned 32 last month so it is not as if he is “a kid with loads of upside…”

In last weekend’s iteration of Keeping Score, Greg Drinnan had this gem:

“On Wednesday night, with the Los Angeles Angels playing the host Boston Red Sox, ESPN’s Dan Shulman tweeted that announcers Dave O’Brien and Aaron Boone were having a good discussion on ‘speeding up the game. (Boston pitcher Clay) Buchholz giving them plenty of time between pitches to discuss.’ “

Last weekend, Greg Cote had this note in the Miami Herald. It sent me to the Internet to verify:

“The WNBA playoffs are under way, surprising analysts who had forgotten the league still existed. I kid. Only wish I were kidding about this: Five of the eight WNBA playoff teams have losing records.”

Indeed, Prof. Cote is correct.

    In the Eastern Conference playoffs, only the Atlanta Dream has a record over .500 (19-15). The other three teams in the East had records of 16-18 or 15-19. That is sad.

    In the Western Conference playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury (29-5) and the Minnesota Lynx (25-9) are well over .500. The other two participants made the playoffs with 16-18 records. That too is sad.

Last weekend, Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“With a twist : Don’t you just love that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin played running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount on Thursday against the Eagles after their arrests for marijuana possession, in part because sitting them down for a preseason game would have been a reward. A different twist on discipline.”

I think this is more than just a “different twist on discipline”. I think this demonstrates the unimportance of NFL exhibition games and the fact that players recognize that degree of unimportance. When “not playing in a game” becomes “not having to play in a game”, that means “the game” has no significance.

The idea of cutting down the number of exhibition games in the NFL schedule has become affixed to the idea of adding more regular season games to the schedule. I would like to suggest that those two ideas can be decoupled; it would not upset the harmony of the universe for the NFL to keep a 16-game schedule and continue to work with the NFLPA and the TV networks on the possibility of extending the regular season schedule AFTER cutting out two of the four meaningless exhibition games. If someone offers that as a motion, I will immediately second it.

As the NFL season approaches, I can anticipate with great certainty that I will see hundreds of camera shots focused on the head coaches of the teams involved. Sometime in the past, I suggested that the network directors put a ceiling on the number of times we would have to look at the coach adjusting his headset or gesticulating wildly at something or someone on the field. I know that will never happen. Therefore, might I make this suggestion to the NFL:

    If a coach wants to wear a coat and tie on the sidelines – consider it a coaching version of a throwback uniform – let him do it. Many coaches do not look all that good in “team gear” and when the coaches and assistants all dress alike they tend to look like a barbershop quartet and not a football braintrust.

A couple seasons ago, the league gave special permission to two coaches – Mike Nolan was one of them and I think Jack Del Rio was the other one – to wear a suit and tie on the sidelines during a game. I can understand a “dress code” for players; all the ones on the same team have to look alike; that is why they call it a “uniform”. However, the idea of a “dress code” for coaches – purportedly “leaders of men” – is inane at best.

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“The Rockies’ Michael Cuddyer became just the third player in MLB history to hit a single, double, triple and home run in a game — in both leagues.

“In other words, he hit for the bicycle.”

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

Dick Bavetta Calls It A Career…

NBA official, Dick Bavetta, is calling it quits after 39 years on the whistle in the league. He began his career in 1975; to put that in perspective for you, the NBA/ABA merger did not happen until 1976. Bavetta is 74 years old; he has earned some peace and quiet in his retirement years.

Sports officials are not always held in the highest esteem. In the World Cup Game between Brazil and Colombia, many people opined that the officials on the field let the game get way out of control. I did not see that game because I was on my road-trip, but I did see a few “highlights” that indicated there was extremely rough play in that game. Now comes news that a Colombia fan, Aurelio Jiminez, has filed suit against FIFA and Sepp Blatter seeking $1B Euros. He claims “moral damages” based on the “sub-standard refereeing” in the match, which “caused him distress and saw him taken to the hospital with heart problems as a result.”

Speaking about his lawsuit, here is what Jiminez told the BBC:

“I decided to sue FIFA in the Colombian judiciary system because in the past world soccer championship in Brazil, there were many wrongdoings related to referees who damaged many countries and their selections, among them the Colombia team.

“Moreover, FIFA’s referees caused big moral damages and distress to Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, England, Uruguay, Mexico and Costa Rica.

“I have testimonies of football stars Pele, Diego Armando Maradona, David Ospina, James Rodriguez and international referees who examined the videos of the game between Brazil and Colombia.”

You can read more about this lawsuit here. I wish that trial would take place near where I live because I think there could be a huge entertainment value to sitting in the courtroom just listening to the testimonies.

Last week, MLB upheld a game protest for the first time in about 30 years. The game was called because the field was unplayable after the Cubs’ grounds crew was unable to get a tarp onto the field to protect it from a monsoon like rain. MLB said that the Cubs could not win a game for that reason and ordered the game to be classified as a suspended game and resumed at the point where play stopped. [Aside: The Cubs eventually won the game but did so after playing a full 9 innings.] That is enough of a story to point a finger at the Cubbies as “loveable losers” and say that even their groundskeepers are inept. However, there may be more to the story…

According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the inability of the grounds crew to get the tarp out effectively stems from a major reorganization that occurred within the Cubs last winter. According to that report, the fundamental reason for the reorganization was to be sure that the seasonal workers on the grounds crew stayed under 130 hours of work per month because if they got to 130 hours per month they would then be classified as “full-time workers” under the Affordable Care Act and … well, you can fill in the blanks here.

Is that really the reason for the failure of the grounds crew to be able to put out the tarp? Obviously, I have no inside information on that but let me assume for moment that the Sun-Times’ report is correct. If that is the case, then the folks who own the Cubs should be put in the stocks and publicly shamed. Please do not interpret that last statement as an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act; the utility or futility of that law will become self-evident sometime around 2017 or 2018; there is no need to worry about it now. What I mean is that the Cubs as an organization is a high revenue operation that operates in something called “Major League Baseball”. That kind of behavior is anything but “Major League”

The Cubs are in last place in the NL Central with a 58-72 record. Over in the NL East, the Phillies also reside in the basement with the same record. The Cubs seem to be pinching pennies with the support staff; the Phillies seem to be squandering lots of dollars on players who once were very good but who are now well on the downside of their careers. On Opening Day, the Phillies’ payroll projected to be $177.7M; that was the third highest in MLB on Opening Day; for that, the Phils are looking at losing about 90 games once this team staggers to the finish line.

Much has been written and reported about the various contracts for Phillies’ players that make them “untradeable”. A friend told me that the Phillies have another “ticking time bomb” (his wording) in their contract mix related to Jonathon Papelbon. His “basic contract” calls for him to make $13M this year and next year. If the Phillies were a contender, having a top-shelf closer would be an asset worth $13M; given the state of the team, having a $13M per year closer is about as appealing as a dinner date with Nancy Grace. However, it could get worse…

Papelbon has a vesting option in his contract that will give him $13M for the 2016 season if:

    A. He finishes 55 games in 2015 – or –
    B. He finishes a total of 100 games in 2014 plus 2015.

Note that these are not “save totals”; these are merely games finished. And as of this morning, he has finished 41 games. Given that Papelbon has made it clear that he would prefer to be on a much better team, the Phillies do not need him to hang around for the 2016 season too. The Phillies brain trust – if that is not an oxymoronic phrase – needs to deal with this issue before it becomes a problem.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment regarding another baseball oxymoron:

“The Marlins lead MLB in walk-off wins, one-run wins and games won on the last at-bat. If it isn’t an oxymoron, they might be The Most Exciting .500 Team In History!”

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