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………

News Flash; Stop The Presses…

It is not often that I get to break news in one of these rants; that is not their intent. However, here in Curmudgeon Central, I have breaking news. Derek Jeter had decided to retire and he played his last game in MLB over the weekend. Who saw that coming?

Seriously, last year we had Mariano Rivera take a yearlong “victory lap” around MLB and this year we had Derek Jeter do the same. Unless someone reconnects Ted Williams’ head with a torso over the winter, I really do not want another year of ceremonial goodbyes. Enough already…

Two comments regarding Ray Rice, the NFL, domestic violence and the like and then I want to move on:

    1. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot seems to agree with me that at least some of the anger directed at Roger Goodell is misplaced:

    “Maybe you noticed that some NFL players expressed more anger at Goodell over fallout from the Rice case than they have over what Rice did to his wife. Feel free to be disgusted.”

    2. I have heard all that I need to hear from ex-jocks on TV regarding the issue of domestic violence. I realize that the Presidential Campaign for 2016 is just about to begin and that means that athletes and celebrities will feel compelled to tell me what their political views are. My earpans will be under assault for the next two years. Can I get just a brief respite now?

It is never news to report that someone in the US Congress is grandstanding but one such Congressional event falls into the category of “grandstanding that will actually work”. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will introduce legislation that would revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status specifically because the league continues to have a team with a nickname that is racist. I do not care which side of that argument you wish to take; that is not the point here.

I have said for years – actually for more than two decades – that the only way the team would change its name or that the NFL would force them to change its name would be to apply economic pressure to the team and/or the league. Senator Cantwell’s bill would begin to do just that. Her legislation is based on whatever moral position she and others may have with regard to the team name “Redskins” but her legislation would take their morality and move it into operational mode. While I agree completely that the South Park satire of the NFL is brilliant, the NFL and the Redskins can shrug it off and wait for the next satirical commentary from Jon Stewart and/or Keith Olbermann and then they can ignore those also. But removing the tax exemption? What might be next? Legislation to outlaw the Redskins’ trademark? How about mandating an anti-trust investigation into the NFL itself?

Economics is the battlefield the NFL does not want to have to defend. Senator Cantwell’s legislation would not resolve this problem even if it passed tomorrow – and it will not pass tomorrow because Congress is in recess until after the mid-term elections and will then reconvene in a lame-duck session where no one will want to do anything resembling “controversy”. In the new session of the Congress, this bill will languish in whatever committee it goes to until and unless other members push for it to go to the floor for debate. I think the odds of this bill ever seeing the light of day are long – but it focuses on the only meaningful aspect of this controversy that has a chance to result in change.

In the backdrop for all of that, Danny Boy Snyder announced that he has begun to explore options for a new stadium in Washington – or maybe in Maryland or perhaps in Virginia. Obviously, he hopes to start a bidding war among the jurisdictions so that he does not have to pay for the stadium out of his pocket. If you live in area, you would recognize immediately that the local pols would fall for that gambit faster than a prom dress hits the floor around midnight. In order to separate the idea of a “new stadium” from the “nickname controversy”, Danny Boy might attempt to form what I will call the AUC – the Abjectly Unholy Confederation. The AUC would have two major players:

    1. Danny Boy Snyder whose dual objectives are to keep his team name and also to get a brand new playpen for his team at minimal or no cost to him.

    2. The well-meaning – but addle headed – folks in this area who want Washington DC to be the US city nominated by the US Olympic Committee to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Yes; those folks exist and they have already begun their “communications operations” to convince the people and the pols in this area that they have a good idea as opposed to the dumbest idea since the screen door on a submarine.

In case you have not put two and two together properly, the common ground between Danny Boy and the “Olympics” is that the stadium used for the Opening and closing Ceremonies could also be Danny Boy’s new playpen. As this all moves forward, I suggest that someone in the Washington Post will come to the realization that this is the vector for the AUC sometime in the next 12 months. They will then trumpet their new insight and use it to bolster whatever side of the argument they happen to be on at the time. Trust me; this will happen…

    [Aside: Danny Boy and the Olympics would have been a great name for a “doo-wop” group back in the early 60s…]

Finally, let me close today with some more words of wisdom from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Weather or not: The excuses some NFL people have used to explain why it took so long to suspend players for domestic violence incidents generally fall under the heading of ‘the climate has changed.’ I never realized there were so many meteorologists running NFL teams. But no one who respects the difference between right and wrong waits to see which way the wind is blowing before doing the decent thing.”

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

Learning from experience…?

People – and institutions – learn things in different ways. The norm for most institutions is that they learn by experience and not from some kind of group-cognition that reveals some kind of understanding of smart things to do as opposed to dumb things to do. One of the adversaries to “learning by experience” is stubbornness; some folks – and some institutions – seem impervious to taking advice or considering protest. Often, such folks/institutions rightfully become public piñatas for their actions flavored with their stubbornness.

If these rants followed a path of political commentary, that introductory paragraph might fill up a week’s worth of verbiage for folks to read. Fortunately for everyone here, I try to concentrate on sports. Today, I would like to suggest that two sports institutions that I have bashed more than once in the past may have shed a tad of stubbornness and may have learned from experience. That does not make them perfect – they have a LONG way to go just to become something more than a waste of space – but it is a start.

The first organization that may have figured out that obstinance is not next to Godliness is – hold your breath – FIFA. According to a Reuters story earlier this week, the 2022 World Cup Tournament will not happen in Qatar. The report quotes a FIFA Executive Committee member, Theo Zwanzeiger, focusing on something other than the social/political/diplomatic/economic aspects of the FIFA decision to put the games there:

“Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions…”

It would be a lot easier for the FIFA foofs to be stubborn about their previous decision – and avoid all gas they will take from Qatar and whatever allies Qatar can gather in a debate to change the decision made in 2010 – when the arguments did not focus on player safety and fan safety. More from Theo Zwanzeiger:

“They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there.

“Fans from around the world will be coming and traveling in this heat and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor.

“That is not something that FIFA Exco members want to answer for.”

Other FIFA officials quickly pointed out that Zwanzeiger was not expressing an official FIFA position and that he was merely expressing his opinion. Nonetheless, it appears as if concerns for athlete safety have caught the attention of at least some FIFA officials and that is a significant change.

Learning from experience…?

The second organization that seems to have learned from experience and had decided to change its current behavior is – hold your breath again – the NCAA. Mark Emmert said that the NCAA will stay away from involvement concerned with domestic violence or investigations of domestic violence on college campuses. He told the AP that domestic violence is a school issue and not an NCAA issue and that colleges should handle these matters – even if they involve student-athletes.

Mark Emmert is absolutely on the right side of that issue – and that is not a sentence I am wont to type. Not only does the NCAA have no organizational interest in such matters, the NCAA has no expertise or insight to add to anything the colleges might choose to do or not to do. If he can hold to that position, he got it right. However, he is more than likely to take a whole lot of gas for that position. Let me frame the argument for you:

    In the sordid Jerry Sandusky situation, Mark Emmert and the NCAA dove in headfirst to punish Penn State to the point where it tried to get $60M from the school to use as it saw fit at other member schools. [A court said that was not going to happen, but that was the NCAA intention.]

    So if that is the NCAA established precedent for handling outrageous criminal behavior that has nothing to do with on-field athletics, why the change?

      A. Does the NCAA think that victims of domestic violence – the vast majority of whom are women – do not matter enough to warrant draconian sanctions?

      B. Does “date-rape” on campuses not sink to the same level of sleaze as “shower-rape”?

Sadly, the best answer for why the change will probably not get much play in headlines because it is too straightforward. The reason is that the NCAA had no business sticking its nose into the Jerry Sandusky matter in the first place and that the NCAA has learned something from that experience. Date-rape and domestic violence on campus is a matter for criminal investigation and the criminal justice system. The NCAA has nothing whatsoever to do with that and it needs to avoid becoming involved with it.

The issue of domestic violence as it relates to athletes – particularly football players in recent weeks – has come into focus recently with the names Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Jameis Winston as part of the headlines. Obviously, the half-game suspension for Winston that turned into a full-game suspension for Winston had to be part of Mark Emmert’s thinking and commentary on this matter. He did have one comment that seems to indicate that the NCAA realizes that this is a “school-matter” as opposed to an “NCAA-matter”:

“Most universities understand [student behavior and student punishment] is a reflection on the university. Universities have a lot more at stake in holding students accountable for their behavior. I wouldn’t say it’s done right all the time, but it is done right most of the time.”

Learning from experience…?

Finally, here is Greg Cote of the Miami Herald on the PGA’s FedEx Cup:

“The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs were won by somebody named ‘Billy Horschel,’ a strong indicator that whatever the FedEx Cup playoffs are, they stink.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend of 9/27/14

Lots of picks from last week … so how did they turn out?

    I liked Oregon -24 over Wash St. Oregon won by only 7. Boo!

    I liked K-State +9 against Auburn. Auburn won by 6. Yea!

    I liked Marshall -9 over Akron. Marshall won by 31. Yea!

    I liked Iowa +7 against Pitt. Iowa won straight up. Yea!

    I liked Iowa/Pitt UNDER 47. Total score was 44. Yea!

    I liked Syracuse “pick ‘em” over Maryland. Wrong! Boo!

    I liked Army/Wake Forest UNDER 48.5. Total was 45. Yea!

    I liked Michigan -4.5 over Utah. Michigan lost by 16. Boo!

    I liked Wyoming -3.5 over Fla Atl. Wyoming won by only 1. Boo!

    I liked So Miss -2.5 over Appal St. So Miss won by only 1. Boo!

    I liked Navy +6 against Rutgers. Navy lost by 7. Boo!

    I liked Fla/Alabama UNDER 52.5. Total was 63. Boo!

    I liked Va Tech -8 over Ga Tech. Va Tech lost the game. Boo!

    I liked VaTech/GaTech UNDER 52.5. Total was 51. Yea!

    I liked Clemson/Fla St OVER 60.5. Not even close. Boo!

    I liked BYU -14 over UVa. BYU won by only 8. Boo!

    I liked LSU -9.5 over Miss St. LSU lost outright. Boo!

    I liked Oklahoma -7 over W. Va. OU won by 12. Yea!

    I liked Okla/W. Va OVER 61.5. Total score was 88. Double Yea!!

    I liked Cal/Arizona OVER 69. Total score was 94. Yea!

    I liked Boise St. – 16 over La-Laf. Boise covered easily. Yea!

That was a lot of sound and fury that signified very little. The record for last week was 10-11-0 bringing the season cumulative record to 25-26-0. I guess the best I can say here is that it could have been worse.

Last week’s performance taken in conjunction with the season record to date ought to be sufficient to convince anyone with an IQ larger than his or her belt size not to rely on any information here when deciding if to bet on a college football game or which side to take in any such bet – assuming said bet would involve real money. If you are dumb enough not to reach that conclusion on your own, I think this might be a common daily happenstance in your life:

    You can wake up in the morning with nothing to do and still go to bed with half of it undone.

General Comments:

Linfield College completed their two-week road trip against out of conference foes last week with a 36-3 win at Redlands University. Linfield held Redlands to 25 yards rushing in the game and 153 yards total offense while they amassed total offense of 559 yards. The Wildcats get this week off before starting their conference play against Pacific Lutheran in Puyallup WA on 4 October. They are 2-0 for the season and need 5 wins to have a winning season in 2014. Go Wildcats!

This week, Texas coach, Charlie Strong, kicked a player off the team for unspecified violation of team rules. That was the 9th player dismissed by Strong this year – his first year at Texas where he has set out to rebuild and reorient the football program. What Strong has done is to put up his “Five Core Values” and to make sure that everyone on the team lives up to those values – or else they are no longer part of the team. Here are those values:

    Honesty
    Treat women with respect
    No drugs
    No stealing
    No guns

That is a simple list where there is not a lot of room for “interpretation” or “nuance”. It is not something Strong put up in haste as the NFL discipline mess has unfolded; these are his team rules. Look at the list and imagine the NFL where the NFL coaches enforced player behaviors that did not comply with that list. Yeah, I know; there would be an owner somewhere who would not want to lose one of his highly paid players just because he violated one of those “niceties of life”.

I spent time in previous commentaries on college football pointing out the mediocrity of the Big 10 as a conference this year. In order to try to demonstrate that I am not a ‘hater”, consider that the Big 10 has some statistically impressive rushing defenses so far this year:

    Penn State: 1st in the country @ 49.6 yards per game
    Michigan St.: 5th in the country @ 71.7 yards per game
    Michigan: 9th in the country @ 80.2 yards per game
    Wisconsin: 14th in the country @ 91 yards per game
    Iowa: 17th in the country @ 95.5 yards per game

I put those stats there in order to juxtapose them with stats for Minnesota. The Gophers depend on running the ball this year; in last week’s 24-7 win over San Jose St., Minnesota gained a total of 7 yards passing (on 1 completion mind you). Minnesota will face 3 of those 5 defenses listed above including Michigan this Saturday. If they cannot throw the ball even a little bit against a top-shelf rushing defense, the Gophers might be in deep yogurt.

It is still far too early to begin to worry about which teams are bad enough to get into my mythical end-of-season SHOE Tournament. However, there are a couple of teams that have used the first month of the 2014 season the put themselves on my radar:

    Tulsa – average margin of losing is 22.4 points per game
    Tulane – they lost to Tulsa
    E. Michigan – average margin of losing is 33.75 points per game
    Troy – average margin of losing is 31 points per game
    Kent State – they score an average of 9 points per game
    SMU – they score an average of 3 points per game.

Having noted Troy on the list above, I did point out last week that Troy was unfortunate enough to be Georgia’s opponent the week after Georgia lost a close conference game to S. Carolina that Georgia could have won. Well, I think my label of “unfortunate” was a bit too mild; the score was Georgia 66 Troy 0.

Having noted E. Michigan on the list above, the Eagles took on Michigan State last week and lost a “squeaker” by the score of 73-14. It was 56-0 midway through the third quarter. Here is a snapshot of the dominance by Michigan State in that game:

    E. Mich time of possession was 17 minutes 19 seconds
    E. Mich total offense was 135 yards
    E. Mich total offensive plays was 48

With 5 minutes to play in the third quarter, E. Michigan’s total offense to that point was 1 yard.

Wisconsin demolished Bowling Green 68-17 and it was not that close. Badgers’ RB, Melvin Gordon, gained 253 yards rushing on only 13 carries. As a team, Wisconsin gained 644 yards rushing on 60 carries (not quite 11 yards per rush attempt). I got to see some of that game; and indeed, Bowling Green was outmanned; there was no way they were going to win that game. Having said that, Bowling Green compounded their misery with a simple fact; the team cannot tackle. I have no idea what kind of practices the coaching staff ran this week, but if they look at the film for that game and do not run some tackling drills, they are deluding themselves.

Utah went into Ann Arbor and beat Michigan 26-10. Here is some of what Michigan coach, Brady Hoke, said when questioned about the “crisis in Michigan football”:

“The frustration level people may have, don’t think those kids have the same frustration. Don’t think that is part of it. What they do have is a great belief in each other. They have a great belief in the program. They come out and compete and challenge each other every day, and this will be a good football team.”

Now, just suppose Michigan loses to Minnesota at home this weekend by 3 TDs. In that case, I am not so sure Hoke’s “verbal cha-cha” will work again next week…

Indiana beat Missouri 31-27 last week at Missouri. The Tigers were ranked 18th going into that game; not surprisingly, you will not find Missouri in the Top 25 this week.

Alabama dominated Florida last week 42-21. It was not just the score; it was the fact that Alabama ran up 645 yards on offense including 449 yards passing. Florida had only 200 yards on offense, 11 first downs and the Gators were2-13 on third down conversions. Just as I suspect Brady Hoke is beginning to feel the heat at Michigan, Will Muschamp might be squirming a bit too…

Arkansas beat N. Illinois 52-14. The game started with the Razorbacks returning the opening kickoff for a TD and that was an omen. Arkansas ran the ball for 212 yards and threw for 215 yards; the Razorbacks were 10-14 on third down conversions; it was a dominating performance and it was N. Illinois’ first loss of the year.

The shocker in the SEC last week had to be Mississippi State going to Baton Rouge and beating LSU. It is not that they covered the 9.5-point spread; the Bulldogs won the game outright by a score of 34-29. Mississippi State had 540 yards of offense (compared to 430 for LSU). It was 31-10 at the end of the third quarter; LSU rallied but could not get the lead. It has probably been a while since 7 other teams from the SEC were ranked higher than LSU…

East Carolina administered a humongous beat-down to UNC last week winning by a score of 70-41. E. Carolina scored on a 55-yard pass in the first minute of the game and that proved to be a harbinger of things to come. E. Carolina went on to run up 789 yards total offense (343 yards on the ground). However, the beat down seems not to have ended when the final whistle blew…

Here is a link to an article where you can see a picture of a billboard put up by an ECU fan (obviously) this week after that game and the article explains the background for the sign. Things are “getting’ real” in the Greenville/Chapel Hill corridor of North Carolina…

Florida State – sans Jameis Winston – beat Clemson 23-17 in OT. Clemson outgained the Seminoles by 89 yards in the game; Clemson won the time of possession; Clemson won the turnover battle; Clemson had fewer penalties and the third down conversion rates were virtually identical. But the only stat that matters is the final score and Florida State won that one…

Old Dominion University is the “new kid on the block” in C-USA; Rice is the defending champion of C-USA. So last week the score was Old Dominion 45 Rice 42. Not much respect shown for the reigning champ …

Arizona beat Cal 49-45 last week. Before you conclude that this was just another of those crazy PAC-12 games where you get to the point that you are glad they changed the rules and eliminated the center jump after every score, this was even wilder and crazier than the score might suggest:

    At the end of the 3rd quarter, Cal led 31-13
    Cal scored 2 TDs in the 4th quarter

    Nonetheless, Cal lost the game on a Hail Mary pass with no time left.
    Arizona scored 36 points in the 4th quarter.

The University of Miami has two players on the roster with unusual names:

    Gray Crow is a sophomore QB from Clearwater FL. I suspect he is not really the unacknowledged love child of Jim Gray and Cheryl Crow.

    Corn Elder is a sophomore DB from Nashville, TN. How great would it be if he had a cousin named Corn Younger?

The Ponderosa Spread Games:

Last week we had 9 Ponderosa Spread Games. The favorites covered in 6 of those games.

Georgia, Louisville, Michigan St., Penn St., Texas A&M and Wisconsin covered.

Cincinnati, Oregon and Washington did not cover.

Last week’s record for favorites covering was 6-3-0 and that brings the season cumulative record to 21-14-1.

This week we have 7 Ponderosa Spread Games:

Wyoming at Michigan St. – 28 (48): Wyoming has a new coach this year. He has to be wondering who thought scheduling Michigan State was a good idea…

S. Florida at Wisconsin – 34.5 (51): This line opened at 33 and has moved up slowly as the week progressed. S. Florida struggled to beat UConn last week; this could get ugly.

Kent St. at UVa – 27.5 (44.5): Recall that Kent State is averaging 9 points per game this year. However, recognize that UVA is not much of a team either.

UTEP at K-State – 27 (52.5): This line opened at 30 points, dropped to this level almost immediately and has stayed at 27 points for the rest of the week. No, I have no idea why that happened…

La Tech at Auburn – 33 (61): This game could be “Avert-your eyes awful”…

TCU – 32 at SMU (46.5): Recall that SMU averages 3 points per game this year. Making that worse, TCU is a local rival (Fort Worth versus Dallas) and TCU features defense as its calling card.

New Mexico St. at LSU – 43 (55.5): Not an opportune time for a bad team to be going to play a game at LSU after the Tigers lost at home last week.

Games of Interest:

(Fri Nite) Middle Tenn St. at Old Dominion – 3.5 (67.5): ODU can and will score; ODU’s defense can and will allow other teams to score. I like this game to go OVER.

(Fri Nite) Fresno St – 5 at New Mexico (71.5): New Mexico is 3rd in the nation in rushing offense (349.7 yards per game). Meanwhile, Fresno St’s rushing defense ranks 100th in the country (219.3 yards per game). Flipping that coin over, the Fresno St rushing offense is a middle-of-the-pack level at 176.5 yards per game. However, New Mexico’s rushing defense is 119th in the country giving up a staggering 302.7 yards per game. Purely a venue call, I’ll take New Mexico at home plus the points and hope that defense decides to tackle a few runners here.

Minnesota at Michigan – 12.5 (43.5): This line opened at 8 points and has been climbing all week. The Total Line opened at 46.5 and has dropped to this level as the week wore on. This game could be “make-or-break” for Michigan; their schedule gets tougher as the season wears on. I am intrigued by the line movement, but not enough to entice me to wager on the game for real. However, if this turns into a run-the-ball slog-fest with a touch of bad weather… Hey, it is only a mythical pick so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Tulane at Rutgers – 11.5 (55): Tulane lost to Tulsa (see above) and Tulsa is not a good team at all. If Rutgers has any pretense of being something other than a doormat for Big 10 teams, they should win in a walk here. I’ll take Rutgers at home and lay the points.

Vandy at Kentucky – 17 (50): I cannot recall the last time Kentucky was a 17-point favorite over another SEC team. That is what makes this a game of interest; there is no reason to wager on this game.

Miami (Oh) at Buffalo – 6 (57.5): Two bad teams – potentially bad enough to be SHOE Teams. Interesting? Yes. Wagering? Are you nuts?

Wake Forest at Louisville – 21.5 (41): Wake Forest is not a good team and Louisville is better than average. I do not want to lay more than 3 TDs here but I do think that Louisville will score and that Wake will be able to get 10-17 points. Therefore, I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Bowling Green – 5 at UMass (68.5): UMass is a bad team; Bowling Green’s defense cannot tackle (see above). Obviously, this is interesting because the teams are so bad. However, there is another angle here. Neither offense will scare any defensive coordinator, so I have no idea where 69 points might come from. I’ll hold my nose and take the game to stay UNDER.

Missouri at S. Carolina – 4.5 (62): Very interesting game here. A loss for S. Carolina would be 2 losses in the SEC; that is tough to overcome. A loss for Missouri would give it two losses in a row but only one in conference. Venue call here; I like S. Carolina to win and cover.

Notre Dame – 9.5 vs Syracuse (51) (Meadowlands, NJ): Syracuse beat Division 1-AA Villanova by 1 point and lost to Maryland last week by 2 TDs. Notre Dame is a big step up from either of those teams. I like Notre Dame to win and cover.

Arkansas vs Texas A&M – 10 (71.5) (Arlington, TX): Perhaps this is the best game of the weekend…? Granted, these teams have generated these stats against some less-than-awesome out of conference opponents. However, consider:

    Arkansas averages 48.4 points per game
    Texas A&M averages 55.3 points per game

    Arkansas converts 54.8% of its third down situations
    Texas A&M converts 60% of its third down situations

Even on defense, the Aggies hold a slight edge in the stats. Even though this is technically a “neutral site game” in the “Jerry-Dome”, I think the Aggies have an edge in terms of the “neutrality”. I like the Aggies to win and cover.

UNC at Clemson – 14.5 (67.5): How will these teams react to losses last week. Clemson lost to the reigning national champ – minus its QB – in OT; UNC took it in the shorts at the hands of E. Carolina (see above). If the UNC coaching staff cannot get the team up for this game, one of two situations obtain:

    The coaching staff is way over its head – or –
    The team has already packed it in for the season.

I think UNC comes out with energy and that line is fat. I’ll take UNC plus the points.

Stanford – 7.5 at Washington (47.5): Maybe not the best game of the weekend, but a fine game indeed… Washington has not faced an opponent even remotely as capable as Stanford this season and remember that Washington gave up 52 points to Division 1-AA E. Washington just 3 weeks ago. Stanford already had one tough opponent (USC) 3 weeks ago and Stanford had a bye week last week. I like Stanford to win and cover here.

Texas – 12 at Kansas (41): Assuming that Charlie Strong has enough players left on the roster to suit up and take the field, Kansas should not provide stern opposition. Call it the Charlie Bowl with Charlie Strong going up against Charlie Weis. Even at home, I just cannot take Kansas here so I’ll take Texas to win and cover.

Tennessee at Georgia – 17 (57): I must be missing something here because that Total Line looks awfully low to me. I like this game to go OVER.

Florida State – 18.5 at NC State (58.5): Opening line for this game had the Seminoles as a 23-point favorite. The question here is how much emotional energy did the Seminoles expend last week winning an OT game without their star QB. Yes, he is back this week but if they are emotionally drained… It is a fat line so I’ll take NC State plus the points here and hope Florida State is sleepwalking for the first quarter or two.

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend of 9/28/14

Reviewing last weekend’s selections:

    I liked Bills -2 over Chargers. Bills lost outright. No!

    I liked Cowboys/Rams UNDER 44.5. Total was 65. No!

    I liked Skins/Eagles OVER 50.5. Total was 71. Yes!

    I liked Skins +7 against Eagles. Eagles won by only 3. Double Yes!!

    I liked Texans -2 over Giants. Giants won outright. No!

    I liked Saints -10 over Vikes. Saints won by 11. Yes!

    I liked Titans/Bengals UNDER 43. Total was 40. Yes!

    I liked Browns +2 against Ravens. The game was a PUSH.

    I liked Packers/Lions OVER 52.5. Total was 26. No!

    I liked Colts -6.5 over Jags. Colts won by 27. Yes!

    I liked Raiders/Pats OVER 46. Total was 25. No!

    I liked Cards +3 against Niners. Cards won outright. Yes!

    I liked Seahawks -4.5 over Broncos. Seahawks won by 6. Yes!

    I liked Chiefs +4 against Dolphins. Chiefs won outright. Yes!

    I liked Panthers -3 over Steelers. Not even close. No!

    I liked Bears +3 against Jets. Bears won outright. Yes!

Last week was by far the best set of picks for this season. The final tally was 9-6-1, which is over .500 and would have been mythically profitable. Lest you think that I am about to dislocate my shoulder patting myself on the back, the cumulative record for the season still stands at a miserable 21-30-1.

The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Games had about as perfect a record for three games as one might expect. This week’s record was 1-1-1. The cumulative record for coin flip games stands at 2-5-1.

Just in case anyone might think that last week’s record is a harbinger of continued profitability, I need to remind everyone that no one should use anything here as authoritative when it comes to making a real bet on a real NFL game involving real money this week or any other week. Here is how dumb one would have to be to do so:

    You think the reason you have not seen the movie, Constipation, is that it hasn’t come out yet.

General Comments:

Last week on the FOX studio program, Jimmy Johnson opined that the Jags need to play Blake Bortles at QB because “he gives them the best chance to win” and because “he is the QB of the future” in Jax. I know that is standard reasoning and fundamentally, I agree with “The Jimster” as Randy Galloway always calls him that Bortles has the potential to become a much better QB than Chad Henne is now or will become. However, speaking about who plays QB for the Jags in terms of “giving them the best chance to win” misses the point:

    Game 1: Jags gave up 34 points.
    Game 2: Jags gave up 41 points
    Game 3: Jags gave up 44 points.

I do not care who the QB is for the Jags; if the opponent scores like that, the Jags are going to lose. Last week, the Jags gave up 30 points in the first half; the second half of the game was fundamentally irrelevant because the outcome was never in doubt.

This week, the Jags go on the road to play the Chargers. They are giving up an average of 39.7 points per game. I will go out on a limb here and say that the Jags will not score 40 against the Chargers with any QB on their roster. To have a chance to win, the defense/special teams need to do a whole lot better.

I said last week that if DeSean Jackson played against the Eagles, he would play with gusto. Indeed, he caught 5 passes for 117 yards and a TD and he initiated a pushing/shoving incident early in the game. He is not responsible for the Skins’ loss; that responsibility belongs to the Skins’ special teams that look awful again this year – as they have for the past two years. The special teams gave up a 102-yard kickoff return and the Skins missed a chip shot field goal in the second half. That is a 10-point swing in a game that went to the Eagles by a field goal.

Here is another observation from the Skins/Eagles game:

    Kirk Cousins is now and is going to continue to be a better QB in Jay Gruden’s offensive system than RG3 will be.

Please note that I qualified that assessment with the words “in Jay Gruden’s offensive system”. I am not ready to declare that RG3 was not worth the huge price in terms of draft picks that he cost the Skins; I am not saying in any way that RG3 cannot be a good QB in the NFL. What I am saying is that the way Jay Gruden’s offense works plays to one of Kirk Cousin’s strengths (quick reads and quick delivery of the ball) and plays to one of RG3’s weaknesses (quick reads and quick delivery of the ball).

Trust me on this; my view is definitely a minority view amongst the Washington fanboys who call in to the various sports radio programs here…

More stuff from the Skins/Eagles game – guess what the featured game in my area was last week…:

    The two QBs combined to try 90 passes. Neither defense recorded a sack in the game.

    Skins defensive secondary was horrid. They made Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews look like Jerry Rice and John Taylor out there.

    Skins clearly focused on shutting down LeSean McCoy and held him to 22 yards rushing on 20 carries.

The Falcons disemboweled the Bucs last Thursday night by a score of 56-14. Moreover, those 14 points by the Bucs were meaningless ones coming late in game that had been decided before halftime. The story line of the summer was that Lovie Smith was going to bring a brand of toughness to the Bucs defense and that by bringing in Josh McCown who had played for Smith in Chicago, the Bucs would use tough defense and game management to win. The two operative words here would be:

    Not … Happening!

So far, McCown has demonstrated why he has been a back-up QB for his career and the Bucs defense has given up 95 points in 3 straight losses. I am certain that there are no Tampa Bay fans who would want to hear this, but:

    The Bucs never looked this overmatched and lackadaisical in the Greg Schiano Era.

    Another game like last Thursday’s game will harken back to the Bucs’ teams during the John McKay Era.

Here is how Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel felt about the Bucs’ performance last week:

“Did you see the Yucks get absolutely humiliated 56-14 on Thursday Night Football? It was the most embarrassing TV I’ve seen since ‘Joanie Loves Chachi.’ The Bucs look like one of those directional schools that college powerhouses schedule for homecoming.”

The Rams sprinted out to a 21-0 lead against the Cowboys and proceeded to lose the game 34-31. The Cowboys ran the ball 29 times and threw the ball only 23 times in this game.

There is only one word to describe the Bengals’ win over the Titans last week:

    Domination.

The Lions beat the Packers last week 19-7. The events of that game lead to these two questions:

    1. How in this part of the known universe did the Packers’ offense produce only 7 points against that Lions’ secondary?

    2. When Lions LB, Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL in the middle of a sack celebration, did Bill Gramatica nod knowingly?

      [Aside: Possibly the dumbest self-inflicted injury in NFL history was Gus Frerotte when he head-butted the stadium wall after running for a 1-yard TD and sprained his neck in the process.]

The Giants won a game over the Texans. Arian Foster did not play reducing the Texans’ running game significantly. With that threat diminished, the Giants’ defense focused on Ryan Fitzpatrick and intercepted him 3 times. A blocked punt by the Giants also set up a short TD drive.

For the third week in a row, the Browns’ game was decided on the final play of the game. This time the Browns lost by 2 points when the Ravens kicked a short field goal at the end. The Browns are playing much better than I thought there were going to play.

The Chargers went to Buffalo and dominated the Bills holding them to 87 yards rushing and recording 3 sacks on defense plus a safety.

The Cards beat the Niners 23-14 and shut out the Niners in the second half of the game. This makes two wins in a row for the Cards with Drew Stanton playing QB. Here is a stat that tells you the level at which Stanton was playing in crunch time last week:

    The Cards had 5 third down situations in the second half of the game.
    The Cards converted all 5 of those situations.

Lots of Vikings’ fans had been calling for the start of the Terry Bridgewater Era. Last week may have been the first game of said era and Bridgewater went 12-20 for 150 yards and no TDs. Well, at least it is a start…

The Pats beat the Raiders 16-9 in Foxboro last week. If you ever want to know what the phrase “winning ugly” means, check out that game. I know that Pats’ fans do not want to hear this but:

    Tom Brady has not been playing like “Tom Brady” this year and there is an old NFL adage that says Father Time has never missed a tackle…

By the way, if you are still unclear as to the fundamental concept of “winning ugly”, you can then turn to the replay of the Bears/Jets game from Monday night. Yowza!

The Games:

The Bye Weeks start now. Six teams will have the week off:

    Arizona can prepare for a trip to Denver next week
    Cincy gets a week off before going to New England.
    Cleveland will travel to Tennessee next week.
    Denver can prepare to host Arizona next week
    St. Louis has a week off before going to Philly
    Seattle gets to prepare for a trip to Washington.

(Thurs Nite) Giants at Washington – 4 (45.5): Did the Giants wake up last week and realize that the exhibition season is over and that these games count? How many INTs will Eli Manning throw in this game? Can the Skins’ special teams find a way not to give away points in this game? Can the Skins find a crew of DBs to put on the field who can cover a corpse? Here are two mediocre teams playing on a short week where there are more questions about the game than there are rational answers. This is a classic Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game. The coin says to take the Giants plus the points. That leads to one final question:

    Why not?

Miami – 4 vs. Oakland (41) (London Game): Last week, the Raiders played in New England; this week they will play in Olde England. The Dolphins are not a good team; the Raiders are not nearly a good team. This is clearly going to be nothing more than Fetid Football. The Dolphins rebuilding project along the OL still has a way to go before it is “good”; the Raiders demonstrated some pass rushing skill last week against the Pats. This looks to be a low-scoring game because neither offense is very good. My preference in such games is to take the points. Therefore, I will hold my nose and take the Raiders plus the points.

Green Bay – 1.5 at Chicago (49.5): I shall make this short and sweet. Given the sorry-assed offensive production last week against the Lions’ secondary, there is no way on this planet I am going to take the Packers this week as a road favorite. I’ll take the Bears plus the points.

Buffalo at Houston – 3 (41): Both teams have 2-1 records this year; neither team inspires a great deal of confidence despite those 2-1 records. Last week showed that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not going to “carry” the Texans without a running game that will threaten the defense; ergo, can Arian Foster go this week? As of this morning, Foster is “questionable” for the game. Fortunately, these are mythical picks and do not have any relation to reality so I can guess about Foster’s availability without decimating my wallet. I’ll make this a venue call and take the Texans to win and cover at home.

Tennessee at Indy – 7.5 (45): The Colts’ offense is 78 yards per game better than the Titans’ offense. The Titans’ defense is 84 yards per game better than the Colts’ defense. Not much to choose from in those stats… How about some trends:

    Titans are 6-3-1 ATS in their last 10 road games
    Colts are 6-3-1 ATS in their last 10 games against the Titans

Not much to choose from in those trends… It is another classic Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Carolina at Baltimore – 3 (40.5): If you like defense, you will probably love this game; if you like to see the scoreboard light up like a pinball machine, you will probably hate this game. Last week, I said DeSean Jackson would play with gusto against the Eagles – the team that released him. This week, Steve Smith will have reason to demonstrate to the Panthers that they should not have gotten rid of him. Joe Flacco plays better at home than on the road; that is his history. Cam Newton looked as if he was not completely healed and ready to play like Cam Newton last week. I’ll take the Ravens at home and lay the points.

Detroit – 1.5 at Jets (45): Just so there is no misunderstanding, I would not wager on this game with found money. The Lions on the road as a favorite? Seriously? The Jets secondary against the Lions’ pass attack? Who knows? “Bad Geno” Smith or “Good Geno” Smith? Does even Geno know? Yes, here is a third Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game, and the coin says to take the Jets plus the points.

Tampa at Pittsburgh – 7.5 (45): After watching last Thursday’s debacle against the Falcons, there is no way I am taking the Bucs on the road this week. That was embarrassingly bad football. I’ll take the Steelers and lay the points.

Jax at San Diego – 13.5 (44.5): After saying what I did about the Jags above and how their defense has put victory out of reach for the team in every game this year, it would be difficult for me to say here that I like the Jags on the road against a good team that is three time zones away from the Jags’ home base. At the same time, the Chargers can easily suffer a letdown from last week’s road win in Buffalo and may just try to mail it in for this one. Even if they mail it in, the Chargers should win the game but that spread is not minuscule. The Chargers have a cluster of injuries to their running backs. Ryan Matthews will be out for this game; Danny Woodhead went on IR after last week’s game; as of this morning, here is the depth chart for the Chargers at RB:

    Donald Brown – journeyman
    Brandon Oliver – undrafted free agent from Buffalo U.
    Shaun Draughn – on his fifth team in four seasons

I have a feeling in my gut – and I hope it is not agita – that this game is going to be closer than that fat spread. With trepidation, I’ll take the Jags plus the points.

Philly at SF – 5.5 (50.5): The Eagles’ defense is not going to hold the Niners scoreless for a half this week and the Eagles’ defense will have difficulty containing the Niners’ running game. Meanwhile, it does not seem as if the Niners will be able to clamp down the Eagles’ offense either. I like this game to go OVER.

Atlanta – 3 at Minnesota (47): Given last week’s rout over the Bucs, my first reaction to this line was that it was awfully low. Then I looked to see that the game would be on the road – not a Falcons’ strong suit – and that the game would be outdoors – the Vikings’ “dome” was imploded several months ago – and that is also not a plus for the Falcons. As I began to lean to the Vikings here, I also realized that this would be Terry Bridgewater’s first NFL start and that he will not have a meaningful running game to provide him with a “comfy place” on the field. I have to go with my original impression here; the line is lower than it ought to be. I’ll take the Falcons to win and cover even on the road.

(Sun Nite) New Orleans – 3 at Dallas (52.5): Speaking of teams with a “home dome” that do not fare nearly as well on the road and outdoors, here is the Saints’ game for the week. The Saints have already lost 2 road games this year; interestingly, the Cowboys only loss came at home in the “Jerry-Dome”. I think there will be points galore in this game as neither defense showers itself in glory. I like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) New England – 3.5 at KC (45): The Chiefs got a win last week without the services of RB, Jamaal Charles. He is listed as “questionable” for Monday’s game. Of course, that was a road win over a less-than-scary Dolphins’ squad. Oops, that is the same team that beat the Patriots in the season opener… The Pats seem to be a mirror image of themselves so far this year. As of this morning:

    The Pats rank 14th in total offense in the AFC.
    The Pats rank 2nd in total defense in the AFC.
    The Pats rank 1st in pass defense in the AFC.

    Say what?

The Total Line in this game intrigues me because I do not think it represents how the game will unfold. My problem is that I am not sure which scenario will be in evidence:

    Scenario 1: The Pats solid defense shuts down the Chiefs’ offense while the Pats continue to stink on offense and the total score in the game winds up in the low-30s.

    Scenario 2: Both offenses wake up and play the way both offenses are capable of playing and the total score in the game winds up in the high 50s.

Purely a hunch, I’ll favor Scenario 2 and take the game to go OVER.

Finally, since the last game of the week involves the Pats, let me close with some words of wisdom attributed to Tom Brady:

“Every quarterback can throw a ball; every running back can run; every receiver is fast; but that mental toughness that you talk about translates into competitiveness.”

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