Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 11/28/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were – to put it politely – less than satisfactory. The record for last week was 6-8-0 bringing the season record to 93-89-5.

The “Best Picks” last week were taking Temple +2 (They beat Memphis straight up.) and taking Michigan State +14 (They beat Ohio State straight up.).

The “Worst Pick” last week involved the Cal/Stanford game. I took Cal +11 and they did not cover and I took the game to go OVER 64 and it did not.

As evidenced by last week’s record, no one should take any information herein and use it as the basis for making a real wager on a real college football game involving real money on this weekend or any other weekend. If you are dumb enough to do this:

    You probably think khakis are what you need to start a car in Boston.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats won their first round game in the NCAA Division III football tournament last week beating Whitworth 48-10. That puts the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 and their next opponent will be Cortland State this Saturday in McMinnville, OR. The wildcats are 10-0 for the season; Cortland State will travel cross country from New York for the game and they bring a 9-2 record with them. Go Wildcats!

If someone wrote back in August that we would arrive at Thanksgiving week with 2 undefeated teams and that those teams would be Clemson and Iowa, can you please provide me with a link to that essay. I most certainly would never have predicted that. Yet, that is the case…

Before I get to my personal view of where we stand vis a vis the CFP tournament field, here is what I think about the announcements by Ezekiel Elliot and Cardale Jones that they will not be back at Ohio State next year and that they will declare for the NFL Draft:

    Duh !

    No one expected either of you to be back at Ohio State next year.

Here is how I see the CFP tournament field shaking out:

    Clemson: They have been ranked #1 in all the CFP Weekly Polls but they can ill-afford to lose to S. Carolina (who lost to The Citadel last week) or to UNC in the ACC Championship Game. Dabo Sweeney gets rather exercised when someone refers to “Clemsoning” – the art of losing a game to a team that one ought to beat handily. If they lose either of their next games, Sweeney will hear a bunch of questions about ‘Clemsoning”.

    UNC: They already have a loss to S. Carolina on their record and it stands out like a giant zit on a bride walking down the aisle. If they beat Clemson, they might be in the playoff; otherwise…

    Notre Dame: This is a “quasi-ACC team” given that they play 6 games against ACC opponents. They must beat Stanford this weekend to remain in consideration; if they do, their “claim to fame” is that their only loss came at the hands of Clemson (#1 in the polls) at Clemson by only 2 points in a monsoon.

    Michigan State: This is pretty simple; they need to beat Penn State this weekend because that will put them in the Big 10 Championship Game and then they need to beat Iowa in that game. If they do that, they are in the CFP. Their only loss (to Nebraska) came courtesy of a horribly blown call by the officials in the final moments of that game.

    Iowa: Their status is pretty simple too; they need to beat Nebraska this weekend and then win the Big 10 Championship Game. If they do that, they are in the CFP.

    Ohio State: They can still get in but it is going to take a lot of things to fall just right:

      1. Beat Michigan this weekend

      2. Watch Penn State beat Michigan State. That will put Ohio State into the Big 10 Championship Game.

      3. Beat Iowa in that game handily – similar to the way they beat Wisconsin in that game last year. The reason they need a big win is that the loss to Michigan State is a bad loss.

        They lost at home.
        They lost to a backup QB
        They had 5 first downs in the game.
        They generated 124 yards of offense in the game.

    Oklahoma: They have to beat Oklahoma State this weekend and – if I were on the Selection Committee – I would want to know a lot about the availability of QB Baker Mayfield. He had to come out of the game after taking a head shot in the first half of the game. In the second half, the Sooners were one-dimensional; they could not throw the ball and they looked very mediocre.

    Oklahoma State: They have to beat OU this weekend; one of those teams will be eliminated from CFP consideration by Sunday morning. State did not look good in their loss to Baylor at home last weekend.

    Baylor: They need to beat TCU this weekend; if they lose that game, they are toast. They also need Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma because if Baylor winds up tied with Oklahoma, they will stay home because Baylor lost to Oklahoma at Baylor by 10 points. On the other hand, they beat Oklahoma State by 10 points at Oklahoma State.

    TCU: I do not think there is any way for TCU with its two losses to get into the CFP since there has to be at least one and possibly two Big 12 teams that will end the season with only one loss. However, they can spoil any chances Baylor has of getting in…

    Stanford: They are a longshot – even if they win out because they already have 2 losses on their record (Oregon and Northwestern). However, if they finish the season beating Notre Dame and then winning the PAC-12 Championship game over either UCLA or USC …

    Alabama: This is simple and straightforward. Bama needs to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl and then beat Florida in the SEC Championship Game. If they do that, they are in.

    Florida: They need to beat Florida State this weekend and then beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. That is a tall order; those are two quality opponents. The “nightmare scenario” for the SEC fanboys would be:

      Florida loses to Florida State giving Florida its second loss

      Florida then beats Alabama meaning no team in the SEC has less than 2 losses on the record.

    Imagine the screeching if the Committee looks at the SEC teams having 2 losses and decides to invite neither of them.

Here are the four teams I think belong in the CFP – in alphabetical order:

    Michigan State

Now, all those four teams need to do is to take care of business…

The other thing I want to talk about this week is the story that folks at LSU want to fire Les Miles because – according to reports:

    He does not develop quarterbacks
    He has not beaten Alabama in 5 years
    He has not had LSU competing for national championships since 2011.

Look, all of those things are true and yet, I would like to offer a cautionary note to LSU folks. Please understand, I have no ties or allegiances to LSU or to any of its rival schools and I do not know Les Miles from Les Brown and his Band of Renown and/or 40 Miles of Bad Road [/Duane Eddy]. Recall in a moment of reflection what happened in these two circumstances:

    Michigan fired Lloyd Carr in 2007. He had won a national championship there; he had won the Big 10 Championship 5 times and his record there was 122-40. That is very comparable to Les Miles’ achievements at LSU. And what happened to Michigan after Carr was run out of Ann Arbor:

      3 years with Rich Rodriguez and an overall losing record.

      The “Brady Hoke Era” emblazoned with mediocrity.

      Then – – Jim Harbaugh 7 years later and a ray of hope.

    Tennessee fired Phil Fulmer in 2008. He had won a national championship there and compiled an overall record of 152-52. That is very comparable to Les Miles’ achievements at LSU. Here is what happened to Tennessee after Fulmer was run out of Knoxville:

      Lane Kiffin lasted a year and went 7-6

      Derek Dooley was there for 3 years and went 15-21 overall

      Butch Jones took over in 2013 and was 11-13 going into this year.

Les Miles will finish his 11th season at LSU this year. He has won a national championship there; he has been in the BCS championship game one other time and lost. In those 11 seasons he will have amassed 7 seasons with 10 or more wins. As of this morning, his overall record at LSU is 110-32. Perhaps he is “the problem” standing in the way of LSU achieving football glory; perhaps not. If the boosters succeed in running him out of Baton Rouge, they had best be right.

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 8 Ponderosa Games and the favorite covered in 5 of them. That brings the cumulative record for favorites covering in Ponderosa Games to 38-46-1.

Auburn, BYU, La Tech, Middle Tennessee St and West Virginia covered.

Clemson, Florida and Kentucky did not cover.

This week we have 3 Ponderosa Games.

E. Michigan at C. Michigan – 24 (56.5): Nothing like a MAC game with a huge spread to convince me to look elsewhere for my football viewing enjoyment.

Oregon St at Oregon – 35 (68.5): This is a huge spread in a huge rivalry game – a game that actually has a name of its own. They call it “The Civil War” and the last time Oregon State won the game was in 2007.

La-Laf at Appalachian St – 24 (60): This spread opened at 21 points; to go up by 3 points would indicate that a lot of money came in early on Appalachian St. Why? I have no idea…

The SHOE Teams:

Barring an unexpected set of circumstances this week, these 6 teams will be in the SHOE Tournament to determine the SHOE Team for 2015 – the Steaming Heap Of Excrement. Final seeding will have to wait another week…

    E. Michigan 1-10
    Kansas 0-11
    La – Monroe 1-10
    N. Texas 1-10
    UCF 0-11
    Wyoming 1-10

That means I believe I will need 2 more teams to round out the field – and then I need to have a couple of other possibilities in the event that one of these teams pulls a big upset this week. So, waiting in the wings will be:

    Hawaii 2-10
    Oregon St 2-9
    Purdue 2-9
    SMU 2-9
    UMass 2-9

Games of Interest:

There are lots of interesting games this week because some games are important in conference standings and/or CFP rankings while others are simply big rivalry games. So, let me get to them…

(Thurs Evening) Texas Tech at Texas – 1 (72): When I was young, Texas always ended its season on thanksgiving weekend with a game against Texas A&M – before the Aggies joined the SEC. This is a “replacement rivalry game” in my mind but it is interesting this year because Texas Tech averages 221 yards per game more on offense than Texas does and Texas is the favorite in the game. That is because while Tech is 3rd in the country in total offense, they are also 126th in the country (3rd for the bottom) in total defense. You can check out this game during the Bears/Packers game or instead of that game if you want to see a points explosion. I like this game to go OVER.

Iowa – 2 at Nebraska (58): Iowa must win here to maintain position in the CFP rankings; losing this late in the season to a 5-6 Nebraska team that has already lost to Purdue and Illinois (shudder), might make Iowa unpalatable to the Selection Committee. It is not often that you see a team with an 11-0 record as only a 2-point favorite over a team that is 5-6. I like this game to go OVER.

Missouri at Arkansas – 14 (46): If Missouri loses this game, it will be Gary Pinkel’s last game on the sidelines. He is retiring to spend time with his family as he fights non-Hodgkins lymphoma. That should provide the team with some motivation but the real need for Mizzou is for the offense to come to life in the game if they are to win it – or even keep it close. The offense has not scored as many as 20 points in a game since October 3rd. The defense for Mizzou is fine; it ranks 11th in the country. I’ll take Missouri plus the points here with the hope that the offense will show up in something other than a semi-conscious state.

Navy at Houston (no lines): The winner here will play in the AAC Championship game. That is why this game is interesting. Houston was undefeated until last week when they lost to UConn. Why there are no lines is a mystery to me…

Washington St. at Washington (no lines): This is a huge rivalry game in the Pacific Northwest. Washington St. leads the nation in passing yardage (407 yards per game). Washington only gives up 209 yards per game passing. Just those stats make this game interesting.

Baylor – 1.5 at TCU (no Total Line): I have no idea why there is a spread but no Total Line for this game but that is the way it is at the moment. Baylor must win to stay relevant for the CFP rankings (see above). Both teams have “injury issues” at the quarterback position so there is no reason to make a pick on this game.

Ohio State at Michigan – 1 (45.5): If you do not realize that this is one of the biggest rivalry games of the year every year, then I wonder why you have been reading this stuff long enough to get to this sentence. Oh, and the winner of this game will be in the Big 10 Championship Game if Michigan State loses to Penn State. I think this will be a defensive game. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Penn State at Michigan State – 11 (46.5): Did Michigan State leave everything they have on the field last week against Ohio State? If so, they could spit the bit here. Otherwise, Michigan State is the better team and should win this game and move forward to the Big 10 Championship Game. Having said all that, given the fact that Michigan State QB, Connor Cook, is still recovering from an injury and that Michigan State has only played close games all year long, that spread looks awfully fat. I’ll take Penn State plus the points – even though I expect Michigan State to win the game straight up.

Duke – 4 at Wake Forest (46.5): This game is interesting simply because I think it will be low scoring. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Va Tech – 3.5 at UVa (51): This is a big rivalry game between two decidedly mediocre squads. A win for Tech will put them in a bowl game; the best UVa can hope for is to finish the season with a win and a 5-7 record. I see this as an offensive game; I’ll take the game to go OVER.

UNC – 5.5 at NC State (65): The spread opened at 7 and the Total Line opened at 61.5. That is a lot of line movement. UNC will be in the ACC Championship Game no matter what. As outlined above, they might catch the eye of the CFP Selection Committee with a win here and win over Clemson in that Championship Game so the game is somewhat meaningful to them. NC State is 7-4 on the season and already knows it will be in a bowl game; the meaningfulness of this game to the Wolfpack is that it is against “those guys” in “that school” about 25 miles from here. I think UNC is significantly the better team. UNC is 7-0 in ACC games; NC State is 3-4 in ACC games. I like UNC to win and cover.

Maryland – 1 at Rutgers (56): This game is interesting because it pits the two newest members of the Big 10 in a game that should remind everyone that neither team belongs in the same football conference with the rest of the Big 10. Neither team is any good; the game is most likely to be lost by one team as opposed to being won by one team. Avert your eyes…

Florida State – 2 at Florida (43.5): Florida had to go to OT to beat a sorry-assed Florida Atlantic team last week. My guess is that they were looking past that game to this one. A former colleague is a Florida alum. He said that he gave $500 to the school alumni fund every year – except in the years when Florida beat Florida State. In those years his contribution was $1000. This game is a big deal to a lot of people. Florida only gives up 14.5 points per game and Florida State only gives up 17 points per game. Since neither team is an offensive juggernaut, I do not know where that 44th point is going to come from. I like the game to stay UNDER.

Georgia – 5 at Georgia Tech (48): Neither team has performed this year up to the standards that fans have come to expect from them in the recent past. I do think that Georgia is the better team here so I’ll take them to win and cover even on the road.

K-State – 20 at Kansas (55): This has been a down year for K-State. However, they are averaging just under 30 points scored per game. This week, K-State goes against the worst scoring defense in the country; Kansas gives up an average of 46.2 points per game. With a win here and a win next week over West Virginia, K-State can still become bowl eligible. Kansas on the other hand will be in the SHOE Tournament. I like K-State to win and cover here.

Texas A&M at LSU – 5 (53.5): The Total Line opened at 50.5 and jumped up to this level in less than 24 hours. This is a “Les Miles Coaching For His Job Game” (see above). The Aggies give up 202.5 yards per game on the ground; LSU will run the ball with Leonard Fournette. I think that is the fulcrum for the game. I like LSU to win and cover.

Alabama – 14 at Auburn (48.5): Auburn’s offense is 377 yards per game and on average 201 of those yards come on the ground. Good luck running the ball for 200 yards on the Alabama Front-7. Meanwhile, Auburn’s defense gives up 181 yards per game on the ground and Derrick Henry will be running at them in this game. I like Alabama to win and cover here.

Clemson – 17 at S. Carolina (55): I know this is a rivalry game that energizes the whole state of South Carolina every year. Nevertheless, Clemson is the far better team and they do have a conference championship game to play next week. I think they are going to use this game as a scrimmage. I’ll take Clemson and lay the points.

Oklahoma – 6.5 at Oklahoma St (69): The lines seem to say that OU QB, Baker Mayfield, is fine and will play his normal game this week. If he does not, these lines are way out of whack. Since I have no idea as to his status, I’ll refrain from a pick here…

Mississippi – 1 at Mississippi St (64): The total Line opened at 60 and jumped quickly to this level. Ole Miss is the faster team and State is the bigger team. Speed kills. I’ll take Mississippi and lay the point.

Notre Dame at Stanford – 4 (55): Notre Dame has a realistic shot at the CFP without direct and obvious Divine intervention; Stanford can get in also but that would require direct and obvious Divine intervention. Notre Dame has a ton of injuries and they seem to have taken their toll. The Irish are 10-1 for the season but they needed a late TD to beat Temple by 4 points and they beat a woebegone BC team last week by only 3 points – and seemingly turned the ball over every other possession. Make this a venue call; I like Stanford to win and cover.

UCLA at USC – 3.5 (63): The winner here plays Stanford in the PAC-12 Championship game. UCLA lost to Stanford by 3 TDs in mid-October; USC lost to Stanford by 10 at the end of September. Overall, USC has played the tougher schedule. I’ll take USC and lay the points.

La-Monroe at Hawaii (no lines): Here is a game between a SHOE team and one of the teams on the watch list to fill out the SHOE Tournament field. Of course it is a game of interest – albeit not wagering-interest…

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 11/29/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks did quite well. The record for the week was 10-5-0 which was good enough to get the season record all the way back to .500 at 82-82-5. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip games were also en fuego last week going 4-0-0. That performance actually put the coin back over .500 for the year at 12-11-1.

The “Best Pick” of the week was taking Indy + 6 points. The Colts won the game straight up.

The “Worst Pick” of the week was taking the Jets and laying 2.5 points. The Jets lost the game straight up.

Do not allow the success of the last two weeks’ worth of Mythical Picks to dull your senses. The fact that it took two weeks with a combined record of 19-11-0 to get back to .500 – which is not profitable should you be playing with a vig – should be sufficiently cautionary to prevent you from using any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real game involving real money. You would have to be mighty dumb to make such a mistake; in fact, here is what I would say to someone so dumb:

    Enjoy your day job – alphabetizing that bag of M&Ms.

General Comments:

Last Thursday night, the Jags beat the Titans 17-13 in a game that was hard to watch. It was so full of mistakes and bungled plays it made my teeth itch. I actually found myself tuning into the Texas State/La-Monroe game on another channel during the timeouts/commercial breaks. That game was even more miserable – but at least those guys are not drawing down NFL level salaries to go out there and play football poorly. Let me give you a couple of “highlights” from the Jags/Titans event:

    Blake Bortles fumbled on a QB sneak.

    Delanie Walker caught 8 passes for 109 yards. On some of the patterns over the middle he was so open that it looked as if he had not showered for a month and the defenders were trying to stay away from him.

    The Titans got 5 first downs on pass interference/defensive holding calls.

The Bucs went into Philly and simply torched the Eagles last week. Jameis Winston threw 5 TD passes in the game without throwing an INT. In so doing, he became only the second rookie QB in the history of the NFL to do that. If you refrain from a Google search, you will never guess the other QB to do that so I’ll share that tidbit with you. It was Ray Buivid of the Chicago Bears back in 1937.

    Buivid had a 2-year career in the NFL (1937 and 38).

    In his career, he threw a total of 11 TD passes; 5 of them came in a single game.

Winston was not the only Buc to have a monster day on offense. Doug Martin ran the ball 27 times for 235 yards. In case the batteries in your calculator are dead, that is just a tad shy of 9 yards per carry. The Bucs generated 521 yards of offense for the day – a franchise record.

Those Eagles’ fans who had clamored for the team to bench Sam Bradford since about the third week of the season got a taste of what it is like to have Mark Sanchez under center for your squad. This was one of his “bad days”; he threw 2 TDs – – but he also threw 3 INTs. Look, when your defense gives up 521 yards and 45 points, the odds are that you are going to lose no matter what your QB does; no one can put the blame for this loss on the offense or the QB or the special teams or… This was simply a bad day for the Eagles’ defense.

In another rout, the Panthers extended their record to 10-0 with a 44-16 spanking of the Skins. Two weeks ago, the Skins and Saints were tied at 14 early in the second quarter; then the Skins ran off 33 straight points to win 47-14. Last week the Panthers and the Skins were tied at 14 as the second quarter began. This time, it was the Panthers who ran off 30 straight points before conceding a safety in the final seconds of the game.

Cam Newton threw 5 TD passes to 5 different receivers; Jonathan Stewart ran for 102 yards and the Panthers’ defense shut down the Skins’ offense like the lid on a coffin. Let me give you just a few numbers from the game:

    Total rushing yardage for the Skins was 14 yards
    Kirk Cousins was sacked 5 times
    Skins lost 4 fumbles
    Skins were 2-9 on 3rd down conversions
    Skins’ time of possession was under 22 minutes
    Skins’ total offense was 186 yards

Notwithstanding any of the data above, Skins’ DL, Jason Hatcher, said after the game that the league officials are against the Skins because of the team name. One penalty call that nullified a Skins’ TD seemingly engendered this eruption of stupidity. The charge of bias in officialdom here would seem also to be contradicted by the fact that 5 of the penalties called on the Skins last week were for having a defensive lineman jump offsides. Oh, and none of those calls was even remotely “borderline”.

    Memo to Jason Hatcher: Even if the call that infuriated you and potentially some of your teammates was incorrect, that is not evidence of a conspiracy against you and the team. Moreover, if you are going to level such a charge, you need to find a more credible context for it. Try doing that in the hours after you just beat a team by 33 points – as you did the week before. In that event, people might listen to your charge and not feel embarrassed for you immediately after they process what you said.

In San Diego, there was another rout last week. The Chiefs traveled west and beat the Chargers 33-3. Other than for dedicated fans of the KC Chiefs, this was a difficult game to watch; the outcome was not in doubt for very long despite the fact that the score was only 12-3 at halftime. The Chiefs have won 4 straight games putting their record at 5-5 for the season and putting them squarely in the morass of teams seeking a wild-card slot in the AFC playoffs. Meanwhile, if the Chargers continue to play like this, there will not be a tsunami of tears shed in San Diego should the team get to move to LA.

The Packers beat the Vikes handily last week 30-13 and the game featured the reappearance of Eddie Lacy as an effective running back. The Packers gained 124 yards on the ground and Lacy had 100 of them. Aaron Rodgers did not have to throw the ball 61 times as he did the week before; in this game the Packers ran the ball 34 times and threw the ball 34 times. Defensively, the Packers recorded 5 sacks and held Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 13 carries.

The Seahawks beat the Niners handily 29-13. Russell Wilson threw 3 TD passes and RB, Thomas Rawls, subbing for Marshawn Lynch ran for 209 yards; the Seahawks offense generated 505 yards of offense for the day. If there was a point of light for the Niners in the game it was this:

    Blaine Gabbert played QB and he did not stink out the joint. He was 22-34 for 264 yards and 1 TD.

With Colin Kaepernick gone for the year on IR – and perhaps gone for good from SF – the fact that Gabbert did not stink in spades has to be a plus.

The rest of the games last week were much closer contests to the ones above. The Cowboys beat the Dolphins 24-14 with Tony Romo back at QB. That was not the only change in the script for the Cowboys last week. In this game they took a lead into the 4th quarter of the game and did not cough it up. They had seemingly turned that sort of game behavior into an art form this year. The Dolphins totaled 210 yards of offense for the game. The week after Dan Campbell debuted on the sidelines with his gung-ho team message I said it would be a challenge for him to keep that up with his team. I think we can say that the emotional hype has pretty much dissipated by now and that it is safe for the wives of the players on the 4-6 Dolphins (0-4 in the division and 2-5 in the conference) to book warm weather cruises for January 2016.

The Lions beat the Raiders 18-13. The Raiders had a meaningful playoff run on their racket and will likely look back on this loss as the game that killed off that goal. The Raiders are not out of the playoff chase but they do have 6 teams ahead of them in the AFC vying for 2 wild-card slots and they have now lost 3 games in a row. The Raiders forgot to pack their offensive playbook for their trip to Detroit; they only gained 214 yards in the game. The Lions have now won 2 in a row; not to worry, they too will miss the playoffs this year.

The Ravens beat the Rams 16-13 on a last second field goal after trailing 13-3 with about 10 minutes left in the game. You have seen the video of Case Keenum getting tossed to the ground and suffering a concussion a play or two before fumbling to set up that last second field goal try. It has to be clear from those events that the NFL’s “concussion protocols” and “player safety initiatives” still need work. The Rams are now 4-6 for the season and have lost 3 games in a row – just like the Raiders. The difference here is that the Rams are not looking up at 6 teams ahead of them in the playoff chase. The Rams’ problem is that even with a healthy Nick Foles and a healthy Case Keenum, they do not have a good QB.

Meanwhile, it is apparent that someone in the Ravens’ organization has pissed off the football gods. I have no idea what that someone did or said, but this year the Ravens have not only lost a lot of players to injuries but they have lost their best players at various positions to season ending injuries.

    Terrell Suggs – out for the year week 1
    Steve Smith Sr. – out for the year a couple of weeks ago
    Justin Forsett – out for the year last week
    Joe Flacco – out for the year last week.

The Texans beat the Jets 24-17. It sure looks as if the Jets are imploding; they have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Not to put too fine a point on it, they lost this game to a team with a QB that was not on an NFL roster a month ago who threw for 229 yards and 2 TDs. The Texans recorded 3 sacks in the game and this is their third win in a row.

Brock Osweiler “led” the Broncos to a 17-15 win over the Bears last week. I use the quotation marks there because:

    Osweiler did not make any costly mistakes in the game – no turnovers

That performance combined with the Broncos’ defense returning to form (5 sacks of Jay Cutler in the game) produced this win.

The Colts beat the Falcons 24-21 in a game that was anything but artistic. The Colts were outgained by 99 yards in the game AND the Colts turned the ball over 3 times AND they won despite all of that. The Falcons led 21-7 in the 3rd quarter and then coughed up a giant hairball; this is their 4th loss in 5 games like the Jets. The fact that the Falcons lost Devonta Freeman to a concussion did not help in this game and will not help them this week if he cannot play then. The Texans and the Colts are both at 5-5 and sit atop the AFC South. The Colts and Texans meet on December 20 in Indy; that could well be a play-in game for the AFC playoffs.

The Cards beat the Bengals 34-31 on Sunday night. This was NOT a case of Andy Dalton choking in prime time; ignore anyone who tries to sell you that nonsense. These are two good teams and when they meet, one of them is going to lose. If you must assess blame here, lay it on the Bengals defense that gave up 282 yards passing in the second half of the game.

On Monday night, the Pats continued their mastery over the Bills despite Rex Ryan’s best emotional efforts. The Patriots injury situation is different from the one befalling the Ravens. The Patriots seem to have a propensity to have WRs get hurt this year:

    Julian Edelman
    Danny Amendola
    Aaron Dobson
    Keshawn Martin

Nonetheless, the Pats are 10-0 and if they win this week, either the Jets or the Bills will have to win out to tie the Pats for the AFC East lead. Not only is it a real longshot that either team can win out, the likelihood that the Pats will win only one more game this season is also slim. There are not a ton of tough games left for the Pats:

    At Denver
    Vs Philly
    At Houston
    Vs Tennessee
    At Jets
    At Miami

The Games:

The Bye Weeks are over. It is time to separate the sheep from the goats…

Due to the compressed time this week to get this and the NCAA Mythical Picks written, these picks will tend to be short and sweet.

(Thurs Early Afternoon) Philly at Detroit “pick ‘em” (45): The Total Line here opened the week at 47 and dropped to this level almost immediately. Statistically, the Eagles are the better team (offense, defense, scoring, scoring defense). Nevertheless, they have played some bad football in recent weeks. This is purely a hunch. I am going to try to exploit “The Mark Sanchez Factor” here. I have no idea if he will go nuts and throw 4 TDs in this game of if he will turn the ball over 3 times and give the Lions a short field. Either way, I’ll take the game to go OVER figuring that scores can be at either end of the field and that is a plus.

(Thurs Late Afternoon) Carolina at Dallas “pick ‘em” (46): One of the people on sports Radio here in Washington said there are three undefeated teams left in the NFL:

    The Pats
    The Panthers
    The Cowboys with Tony Romo at QB.

One of the three will cease to be undefeated when the clock hits zero at the end of the fourth quarter here. I think the Panthers will prevail; I’ll take them to win the game.

(Thurs Nite) Chicago at Green Bay – 9 (46.5): The Packers will retire Brett Favre’s #4 at halftime of this game and Bart Starr will be in attendance too. That means that all 3 QBs who won Super Bowls for the Packers will be in the same stadium at the same time. That is a feelgood fact that has nothing to do with the game on the field. The Total Line here opened at 48 and has been dropping slowly. The last time these teams met, the total score was 54. I see no reason why it should drop by almost 10 points here. I like the game to go OVER.

New Orleans at Houston – 3 (48): The Saints had two weeks to try to mend their woeful defense and turn it into a unit that is merely sub-standard. The Saints have given up an average of 31.5 points per game; that is the worst in the NFL; moreover, it is 3.3 points per game worse than the Chargers who rank 31st in the league on that scale. The Texans are not an offensive juggernaut so there may be a “defensive mirage” after this game. This game means a whole lot more to the Texans than it does to the Saints. The Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol is in effect here and the coin says to take the Saints plus the points.

Minnesota at Atlanta – 2 (46): Very simple here. I think the Vikings are the better team and I think they are playing better football these days. I like the Vikes to win the game so I’ll take them plus the points here.

St Louis at Cincy – 9 (42): The Bengals need to win just to reverse the team momentum after two losses in a row. Who knows what level of mediocrity the Rams will get out of their QB situation? Even The Shadow doesn’t know… Make this a venue call; I’ll take the Bengals to win and cover.

Tampa at Indy – 3 (46.5): The Colts are tied with the Texans atop the AFC South. This is a game they need to win. The Bucs are 5-5 meaning they will not win their division (Carolina has that sewn up) but they are in the thick of the wild card race. They too need to win this game. I like the Bucs plus the points here.

Giants – 2.5 at Washington (47): This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game and the spread went to this number in less than 24 hours. This game is important to the NFC East standings. If the Skins win, they will be tied (essentially) with the Giants; they will have split the head-to-head games and they will have the same record. If the Giants win, their lead over the Skins will be 2.5 games because they will hold the tie-breaker having swept the head-to-head games. The Skins are a much better team at home than they are on the road; on the other hand, the Giants seem to have the Skins’ number over the past several seasons; the Giants have won and covered the last 5 times these teams have met. Statistically, the Giants have the edge in this game. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip game and the coin says to take the Skins plus the points.

Oakland – 1.5 at Tennessee (44): Here is the basic question for this game. Can the Raiders shake themselves out of the funk they have been in over recent weeks? If so, they should stomp a bad Titans’ team. It is another long trip for the Raiders to make it to kickoff; I do not like that at all. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Buffalo at KC (no lines): Tyrod Taylor was clearly hurting in the final minutes of the Monday night game. Can he play here or will the Bills have to go to EJ Manuel? Until there is clarity around Taylor’s shoulder injury, there will be no lines here. Whenever the lines go up, do not be surprised if the Total Line is 41 or less…

Miami at Jets – 3 (42.5): It is awfully early in the season to say that the Jets face a “must win” situation. Rather what they face here is a “must wake up situation”. Venue call here; I’ll take the Jets and lay the points.

San Diego at Jax – 3.5 (46): The Committee of One that analyzes the worst games of the week could not make a unique choice this week and so this game is the co-Dog Breath Game of the Week. The Chargers are awful and out of it; the Jags are awful but are still theoretically in the running for the AFC South division lead. If you are forced to watch this game, do not focus on the players; nothing important is going to happen there. Instead, use your time and energy to try to count the house in Jax whenever there is a shot of the stands. Counting people is probably going to be easier than counting empty seats. Only because I said I would make a pick in every game where there were lines, I’ll take the Jags to win and cover.

Arizona – 10 at SF (45.5): I hate laying double-digit spreads. I also think the Cards are one of the really good teams this year and that the Niners are one of the really bad teams this year. I’ll take the Cards to win and cover even on the road.

Pittsburgh at Seattle – 4 (45): This is one of the best games on the slate for the week. Both teams need this game to stay in striking position in the wild card races in their respective conferences. I think the game will be higher scoring than the Total Line here would suggest. I like the game to go OVER.

(Sun Nite) New England – 3 at Denver (44): Lost in the discussion of the QBs for this game (Brady vs Osweiler) is the fact that the Patriots lead the NFL in scoring defense (18.1 points per game) and the Broncos are second in the NFL in that category (18.2 points per game). Assuming that the Pats do not have to resort to playing a defensive tackle at wide receiver because they have simply run out of bodies at that position, I like the Pats to win and cover here. I also like the game to stay UNDER.

(Mon Nite) Baltimore at Cleveland – 2.5 (41): The Browns demoted Johnny Manziel to 3rd string – behind Josh McCown and Austin Davis – for this game and for who knows how long. Is that a football team or a second-rate circus in Cleveland? This is the co-Dog Breath Game of the Week featuring one team wracked with injury such that it is playing its JV team against another team that has not figured out how to get out of its own way. I will turn this game over to the Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip protocol and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Happy Thanksgiving all…

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

Admin Note…

My intention is to have both flavors of Mythical Picks on the street on Wednesday this week so as not to do any writing on Thanksgiving Day. Then again the road to perdition is paved with good intentions…

Nevertheless, the priority this week will be to get the Mythical Picks out early and put off until Friday any decision about posting something then.

In any event, Happy Thanksgiving, all…

Let’s Do Some Math Today…

The world is full of bad jobs. I would like to add one to the list today. Even though this job probably pays well and is related to a high-profile event, this is a bad job because it is highly stressful, and the only recognition one may get from it would be if one fails miserably. I am referring to:

    Head Honcho in charge of Security for the Super Bowl in Santa Clara

With no intention whatsoever of starting a political discussion relative to terrorism and terrorist events, it seems rather clear to me that there are folks out and about who would if they could do something to disrupt the Super Bowl in a violent way. I believe it was former CIA Director James Woolsey who said that the terrorist objective in one of their raids was to kill hundreds of people, injure thousands and frighten millions. If that is close to accurate, then the stadium in Santa Clara plus the iconic landmarks of San Francisco would be inviting targets for the first week of February 2016.

Someone with lots of help has the job to make sure nothing of that sort goes down then. (S)he will make a lot of money in that position and will likely spend some of that money on the Giant Economy Size bottle of Rolaids. If successful, no one will know who did the job; if unsuccessful …

Last week, I mentioned that there is going to be a professional rugby league starting up in the Spring of 2016 and that there will be yet another attempt to start a Professional Spring Football League to start around the same time. I hope both of the new leagues succeed even though I am not going to invest my life savings in a franchise for either league. I mention those new enterprises because it seems as if 2016 is going to be The Year of the Sports Start-Up. In addition to those two newcomers, get ready to welcome The Champions League next Summer.

The Champions League – as currently envisioned – will consist of 16 basketball teams whose rosters have “a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years.” According to reports, the team that will represent New York in the new league is already taking shape and some of the names on the roster are Al Harrington and Rasheed Wallace. Other former players who are reportedly on board with The Champions League are Rip Hamilton, Josh Howard and Brandon Roy. I mention these players only to give you a sense of what sort of competition you may expect from The Champions League.

According to reports, each team in the news league will have two former NBA All-Stars on its roster in addition to a Hall of Fame member in the team’s Front Office. For the 16 teams the league says it will employ a total of 250 folks and that the players will make about $200K each for the year. The season will consist of 30 games to be played in July and August when the NBA is dark. So, let me do a bit of math here…

    Each of the 16 teams should have 12 – 15 players on the roster. Let me assume the number is 14 per team meaning there will be 224 players in the league.

    If each player makes $200K, the player salary cost will be just under $45M.

    Each team will have to pay the Front Office folks something and will have to pay things like travel costs and rents for their game venues. Just for giggles, let me lowball that number at something like $500K per team or $15M for the league.

    Ignoring all other costs, the league needs to generate something in the vicinity of $60M during their 2-month season to break even.

One other featured item in the league’s announcement of itself is that they will offer “family-friendly and affordable entertainment during the NBA’s downtime.” Focus on the word “affordable” there as we do some more math:

    If there are 16 teams playing a 30 game schedule, that means there will be 240 games. Absent a TV deal, those 240 games would have to generate $250K per game to get to the $60M level.

    Most of the teams in the D-League play to average crowds of 2500 fans. A few teams average 4500; some teams average less than 1000 fans per game.

    For the Champions League averaging 2500 fans per game would mean that each fan would need to cough up $100 per game in total revenue for the team.

I admit these are ballpark numbers and average attendance for this product may exceed the average attendance in the D-League. Nonetheless, this does not make sense to me at all. I can see fans turning out for “Old-timers Games” – but not a dozen times in a two month span. Moreover, if each team is going to play 30 games in July and August as announced, that means they will play every other day; there are 62 days in July and August combined. That does not sound like scheduling that recognizes that many of the roster players – and particularly the ones that fans might know and recognize and want to see on the court – are in their late 30s/early 40s.

For basketball junkies, The Champions League will fill in the times of the year when there is no basketball competition other than the WNBA. However, the league will have to compete with the start of NFL training camp and the NFL Exhibition Season along with the jockeying for position among baseball teams as their season gets down to the sprint to the finish. The numbers for The Champions League as presented just do not add up in my mind unless there is a TV deal somewhere in the mix.

Finally, hers is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“And from the Sometimes These Items Just Write Themselves file comes word that organizers in Hawaii canceled the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim, citing high surf and … rough water conditions.”

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

Some Prop Bets…

You may not realize it. The NBA regular season has not only begun; it is almost 20% over. The Golden State Warriors have yet to lose a game and sport a 15-0 record. At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia 76ers have yet to win a game and sport a 0-14 record. This has led some folks to suggest a prop bet:

    What will happen first?

      The Warriors lose a game or the Sixers win a game.

You should not be surprised to learn that there is one statistical category in which the Sixers lead the entire NBA. That would be turnovers per game. The Sixers – on average – turn the ball over 18.9 times per game; only one other team – the miserable Sacramento Kings – turn it over more than 17 times per game. Basically, the Sixers lead the rest of the NBA by almost 2 turnovers per game. To give you a perspective, the Lakers, Pelicans and Nets are also off to miserable starts this year. Compare the turnover per game stats here:

    Sixers 18.9
    Lakers 15.0
    Nets 14.7
    Pelicans 13.8

I would like to propose two other prop bets:

    What will happen first?

      The Sixers win a game or the Carolina Panthers lose a game.

      The Sixers win 12 games or the Phillies win 12 games.

Back in 1973 when the Sixers set the NBA record for futility with a 9-73 record, I happened to see them play a handful of games because a good friend of mine was working for a newspaper in Philly and covered that miserable excuse for a basketball team. I know that I will be spending a week in Philly in January/February 2016 and I am going to be sure to watch this year’s version of the Sixers just because they may pose a challenge to that 1973 team in terms of futility.

Some sportswriters have suggested that American Pharaoh should be the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Listing American Pharaoh’s accomplishments that support such a “nomination” is pretty simple:

    He won the Triple Crown – a feat that had not been accomplished since 1978

    He also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Since the Breeders’ Cup races did not begin until 1984, no horse has ever won this race and the Triple Crown in the same year.

Having now presented you with the reasons why American Pharaoh will – not should but WILL – be named Horse of the Year, let me say that I would not consider for even a moment naming him the Sportsman of the Year. The reason is contained in the name of the award; it is the SportsMAN of the year; that is easily extended to SportsHUMAN of the Year. It is not the SportsMAMMAL of the year or the SportsLIFEFORM of the Year.

Moreover, I do not need to hear any arguments about Secretariat and any “precedents” he may or may not have set with any awards he may have won years ago. Making a dumb decision in the past is not justification for making another dumb decision in the present. The Supreme Court of the United States made a dumb decision in the Dred Scott Case; that is not a reason for them to make another dumb decision in the current session of the Court.

Naming American Pharaoh the Sportsman of the Year makes as much sense as naming Kermit the Frog the Horse of the Year.

I have spent some time in previous rants on the subject of Daily Fantasy Sports and their relation to gambling. I will not bore you again with my views there. However, if you have not seen/heard John Oliver’s commentary from his HBO program Last Week Tonight on this subject, here is a link that will get you there. It is a long segment but it is worth your time.

    [Aside: Some of the language used here – remember, this is late night cable TV – is absolutely inappropriate for the workplace or for children. Please use discretion and volume control whenever and wherever you check this out.]

Finally, here is a brilliant observation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding fantasy football:

“Idle thought: Before believing the next NFL player who credits God for his success, I’ll need to know the lineup of the Deity’s fantasy team.”

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

Mythical Picks – NCAA – Weekend Of 11/21/15

Last week’s Mythical Picks were a whole lot better than they have been in previous weeks. The record for last week was 11-4-0 bringing the season record to 87-81-5. One of the successful picks from last week demonstrates the dynamic nature of sports wagering.

    I made my picks late Thursday night and Friday morning last week. I took Oklahoma State/Iowa State to go OVER 61. That was the line at the time.

    About an hour before kickoff, I checked the picks against the current lines because they often move a half-point or sometimes a full point. It does not change any of the Mythical Picks but I often check just for curiosity.

    The Total Line for Ok St/Iowa St had dropped to 56.5 at many sportsbooks and to 57 at the other sportsbooks that I routinely scan.

    The total score for the game was 66 points so the line change made no difference. If you took OVER you won; if you took UNDER you lost. However, it is interesting to note that large line changes can happen in short periods of time – particularly if your wagering is Real and not Mythical.

The “Best Pick” from last week was taking Kansas St/Texas Tech to go OVER 71.5. The total score was 103.

The “Worst Picks” last week were taking Temple/USF UNDER 44.5 (total was 67) and taking LSU and giving 7.5 points (they lost the game straight up).

Notwithstanding last week’s 73% success rate, no one should use any information here as the basis for making a real wager on a real college football game involving real money this weekend. You would have to be mighty stupid to do so. Here is how stupid you would need to be:

    You would need two weeks training to learn the route to be an elevator operator.

General Comments:

The Linfield College Wildcats completed their regular season last week with a 38-10 victory over Pacific Lutheran. Linfield’s record was 9-0 and they have a place in the NCAA Division III football tournament which begins this weekend. A Selection Committee seeds the teams in this tournament and Linfield’s first opponent is Whitworth. Those two teams – both in the Northwest Conference – met back on October 24 and Linfield won that game 52-10. Go Wildcats!

I received an e-mail from an old friend telling me that I should check out the football record for Division II Cheyney University. He said it was a “curmudgeon’s dream”; of course, that sent me directly to Google.

    This year, Cheyney was 0-11. Oh, but there is more…

    The cumulative scoring for those 11 games was:

      Opponents: 553
      Cheyney: 94

    Cheyney lost 2 games by 62 points and another 2 games by 63 points.

    Last year, Cheyney was also 0-11.

    In 2013, Cheyney was 0-11.

    In 2012, Cheyney was 1-10. Their last win was September 1, 2012 over Lincoln University. Cheyney has lost 43 consecutive games since then.


Last week, we had four of the teams ranked in the Top Ten by the CFP Selection Committee lose their games outright. Last week saw the Big 12 almost lose its last undefeated team and also saw the PAC-12 play its way out of any slot in the CFP barring a huge number of improbable events. I mention that only because it appears as if this week will be the best week of college football for the season. There are lots of important games on the menu.

I said last week that I was interested to see the rushing stats for Georgia Southern against Troy. Georgia Southern is the top rushing team in the country; Troy’s rush defense was not so good. As you might imagine, Georgia Southern won the game handily 45-10 despite spotting Troy a 10-0 lead in the first quarter; they ran the ball for 325 yards (slightly below their average for the season) and held the ball for 43 minutes in the game.

Baylor was ranked #6 going into last week’s game against Oklahoma and lost by 10 points to the Sooners. Truth be told, they had not played any top-shelf teams in their first 8 games of the year; they played the weaker teams in the Big 12 and an out of conference schedule that might only be weaker if they had scheduled Cheyney University. Given that super-weak out of conference schedule, I suspect that a 1-loss Baylor team will not be part of the CFP Tournament field.

Oklahoma State – ranked #8 last week – had to rally from way behind to beat a mediocre Iowa State team by 4 slim points. The Cowboys are now 10-0 and have their final two games at home in Stillwater albeit against two real opponents. This week, Baylor comes to town; next week, Oklahoma is the opponent. If the Cowboys can win out, they stand a very good chance to make the CFP tournament. The “playoff question” for the Big 12 as a conference is pretty simple:

    Suppose the best record for a Big 12 team is 11-1. Can the conference still have a team in the CFP?

Let us look at the possibilities here:

    TCU: The injuries to QB Trevone Boykin and WR Josh Doctson renders TCU a lesser team than they were early this year. Consider that last week they were a 45-point favorite over Kansas and only won by 6 points.

    Baylor: Their schedule includes only a few quality opponents.

    Oklahoma: They lost to Texas and that is a bad loss because Texas will have to win out “just to be bowl-eligible”, which is a positive way to say “just to be a .500 team.” However, recall that Ohio State had a “bad loss” on its record last year …

    Oklahoma State: Their out of conference schedule is marginally better than Baylor’s but still embarrassing.

Utah was ranked #10 going into last week’s game against Arizona and proceeded to lose in double OT. That is Utah’s second loss for the year and it pretty much eliminates them from the CFP.

Stanford was ranked #7 last week and proceeded to lose at home to Oregon. That is Stanford’s second loss for the year too.

Looking at the PAC-12 standings, you can quickly see that Utah and Stanford are the only teams in the conference with only 2 losses. Those two teams could meet in the PAC-12 championship game meaning one of them would have to come out with 3 losses. I do not think there will be any teams from the PAC-12 in the CFP this year.

LSU was ranked #9 last week. They laid an egg at home against Arkansas losing by 17 points. At one point this season, Arkansas lost 4 out of 5 games including two out of conference games to Texas Tech and Toledo. [Aside: Perhaps the Razorbacks are allergic to the letter “T”…] With that win over LSU, Arkansas has a chance to finish 2nd in the SEC West. Is it fair to say that the SEC West – good as it has been for the last 5 years – may not be as good as it has been recently?

Alabama took care of business last week handling Mississippi State with ease. I said last week that the Front-7 for Alabama was REALLY good. Two weeks ago, they held Leonard Fournette to 31 yards rushing in a game; last week they sacked Dak Prescott – the best QB in the SEC – nine times.

Florida will be the SEC East team in the SEC Championship Game. Last week, the Gators beat South Carolina by 10 points to extend their record to 9-1. You cannot rule Florida out of the CFP completely. If Alabama is their opponent in the SEC Championship Game and the Gators win that game convincingly, it would be difficult to keep them out of the conversation especially since their only loss would be to LSU in Baton Rouge. That is not what one would call a “bad loss”…

Speaking of Florida, this is the first year on the job for Coach Jim McElwain. Last year, Florida finished the regular season at 6-5 and went to the Birmingham Bowl; this year, even with a loss in the SEC Championship Game, Florida will be in a major bowl game. By the way, 4 of those 6 regular season wins last year were against less-than-fearsome opponents such as E. Michigan, Kentucky, E. Kentucky and Vandy. You have to tip your hat to Jim McElwain and the job he has done this year.

In the Big 10 last week, Ohio State cruised to a 28-3 win over Illinois and Michigan State handled Maryland 24-7. It would be hard for you to convince me that both of those teams were looking over under around and through their second-tier opponents last week to their meeting this week.

Meanwhile, Nebraska went east to play Rutgers and won 31-14. That was Nebraska’s 5th win for the year meaning that they will need to win their final game of the season in order to be bowl-eligible. It will not be an easy undertaking; in their final game, the Cornhuskers have to play currently undefeated and fifth-ranked Iowa. Here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha-World Herald to give you some perspective on what a 5-win season for the Huskers means out there in the Heartland:

“There is an apple pie fundraiser in Fremont on Saturday the same time as the Husker game. Remember when there was so much interest in Husker football no one would dare do this? Now, Nebraskans have to make the most difficult choice of their lives: Pie or football?”

Oh, and speaking of Iowa as Nebraska’s opponent next week, here is a cogent observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Easy street: Here’s an example of what I love – and by that, I mean hate – about power conferences with division races. Iowa, which somehow appeared at No. 5 in the football playoff rankings this week, can reach the Big Ten title game without playing Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan.”

Michigan beat Indiana in double OT. Going into the game, Michigan’s rush defense was the third best in the country. Somehow, Indiana RB, Jordan Howard managed to run for 239 yards in that game. You tell me how that happened. That is not a good omen for the Wolverines considering that they still have to face Ohio State and Ezekiel Elliot later this year.

In the ACC, Clemson beat Syracuse 37-27 but there might be some concerns for the Tigers after that game. Syracuse had a backup QB for the game – he was fifth on the depth chart back in July/August – and they had no passing game at all. However, Syracuse ran the ball for 242 yards and 7 yards per carry in the game.

    By the way, in 10 games this year, Syracuse has gone OVER in 9 of them. Just saying…

UNC beat Miami 59-21. That result is interesting from two perspectives:

    1. UNC is 9-1 for the year with the loss coming in the opening game against South Carolina – not a particularly good team this year.

    2. Remember when Clemson beat Miami 58-0? That caused the school to fire Al Golden “on the spot”. Maybe the Miami defense just isn’t good enough to play top-shelf schools this year; maybe it wasn’t the coach…

In the American Athletic Conference, Houston handed Memphis its second consecutive loss despite trailing 34-14 in the 2nd half and having to go with a 2nd string QB. That sets up a game on the day after Thanksgiving when Navy goes to Houston as the one that will determine the West Division champion in the AAC. The winner of the West will play either Temple or USF for the conference championship and that winner will probably be in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

There were more than a few game last week that had impact on my SHOE Tournament teams but one of them bears mentioning by itself. La-Monroe lost at home to Arkansas St. 59-21; that was not the worst loss of the year for the Warhawks; twice they have lost by 37 points. Nonetheless, that was the last straw for the Athletic Director and the powers that be in Warhawk-land; they fired the coach “effective immediately”. The logical consequence of that decisive action is that the team needs an interim coach to finish out the season. To whom did that responsibility fall? Why of course, they gave the job to the defensive coordinator who has been doing such a great job with the defense that the team is 1-10 for the season.

    Ignoring the shutout win over Division 1-AA Nicholls State, the best performance by the La-Monroe defense was giving up 27 points to a miserable Idaho team.

    Five times this year, La-Monroe has given up scores north of 50 points.

    So, the defensive coordinator gets the “promotion”?

The Ponderosa Games:

Last week we had 6 Ponderosa Games and the favorites covered in only 1 of them.

San Diego St. covered.

Boise St, Clemson, Notre Dame, TCU and Tennessee did not cover.

    Boise St lost outright as a 30.5-point favorite.

    TCU was a 45-point favorite over Kansas and won by only 6.

Last week’s 1-5-0 record brings the season total for favorites covering in Ponderosa Games to 33-43-1. This is shaping up to be one of the more lopsided seasons for Ponderosa Games; usually, the season record is within 3 or 4 games of .500 either way.

This week we have 8 Ponderosa Games:

UNC-Charlotte at Kentucky – 24.5 (56): It is not often that you see Kentucky as a Ponderosa favorite.

W. Virginia – 28 at Kansas (58.5): The Total Line opened the week at 64 and has been dropping all week long.

Wake Forest at Clemson – 29 (48): Clemson had a defensive hiccup last week against Syracuse (see above). They could hold Wake Forest to single digits this week.

N. Texas at Middle Tenn. St. – 24 (64): I cannot tell you how little I care about this game…

Fresno St. at BYU – 26 (56): This is BYU’s first appearance of the year as a Ponderosa favorite.

Florida Atlantic at Florida – 31 (46.5): Yes, both schools are in the State of Florida but this is hardly an intrastate rivalry…

Idaho at Auburn – 34 (64): This is a scrimmage for Auburn as they prepare for the Iron Bowl game against Alabama next week.

La-Tech – 25 at UTEP (55): I care about this game ever so slightly more than the N. Texas/Middle Tennessee St game above…

The SHOE Tournament:

There were games last week that had impact on the SHOE Team Selection Committee – that would be me.

    I already mentioned the situation as of last week with La-Monroe. Well, the Warhawks have already played this week; they lost last night to Texas St. That is 3 wins for Texas St probably knocking them out of consideration for the SHOE Tournament.

    Army lost to Tulane by 3 points. Like Texas St. that gives Tulane 3 wins and probably takes them off the SHOE Tournament invitation list.

    Florida Atlantic lost again last week leaving them with a 2-8 record and a game against Florida this week. They are still under consideration.

    N Texas lost to Tennessee 24-0. After the game the coach and some players complained about the condition of the field at Tennessee. If that is their excuse for getting shut out, I would have to say “Shut up!”

    Miami (OH) lost to Akron dropping their record to 2-9.

    UNC-Charlotte lost to UT-San Antonio by 3 points. Both teams have 2-8 records now but UNC-Charlotte is not eligible for the SHOE Tournament because this is their first year playing Division 1-A football. Why is that? It’s my tournament and I make the rules.

    E. Michigan lost to UMass 28-7. That is the 2nd win of the year for UMass and E. Michigan is 1-10. I am pretty sure that E. Michigan is IN the SHOE Tournament.

    SMU lost to Navy 55-14. That makes SMU 1-9 on the year; I am pretty sure that SMU is IN the SHOE Tournament.

    Wyoming lost to San Diego St 38-3. Wyoming is 1-10 for the year; I am pretty sure Wyoming is IN the SHOE Tournament.

I mentioned 3 teams above who are likely participants in the SHOE Tournament and it is highly likely that winless UCF and Kansas will join those three teams. So as of this week I am looking to fill 3 slots from this menu of bad teams:

    Florida Atlantic
    Miami (OH)
    New Mexico State
    N Texas
    UT-San Antonio

Games of Interest:

Rutgers – 4.5 at Army (54.5): That is a surprisingly low spread for a “Big 10 team” taking on a potential SHOE Tournament team. That is the only reason this is a Game of Interest…

Miami (OH) at UMass – 9.5 (55): Winner here is likely eliminated from SHOE Tournament consideration…

LSU at Ole Miss – 6.5 (56.5): Reports this week said that Les Miles is “coaching for his job” in this game and the game next week at home against Texas A&M. I am not sure it would be a great idea to fire him unless the LSU braintrust already has a top-shelf replacement signed sealed and delivered. In any event, if LSU loses here and looks bad doing so, you can count on the long-knives coming out well honed. I think this will be more of a defensive game than the Total Line suggests so I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Memphis – 2 at Temple (58): Temple can ill-afford another loss if they want to be part of the AAC Championship picture. Memphis has lost 2 games in a row. This is probably the best offense that Temple’s very good defense has had to deal with all year long. This is also probably the best defense that Memphis’ very good offense has had to deal with all year long. Make this strictly a venue call; I’ll take Temple plus the points.

UNC – 5.5 at Va Tech (61): This will be Frank Beamer’s final game in Blacksburg after about 3 decades of building the Va Tech football program from abject obscurity to respectability. The Hokies should be sky-high for this game. UNC has gone north of 50 points 3 times this year including each of the last two weeks. Opponents have been able to run on UNC this year (206.1 yards per game) but UNC only gives up 18.8 points per game. Va Tech is not a great running team and I do not think the emotion of the game will turn them into one. I like UNC to win and cover even in this energized road environment.

Northwestern at Wisconsin – 10 (40): Northwestern is ranked #20 and Wisconsin is ranked #25 which might make you think this was an important game. It may be interesting, but it is not important. Northwestern’s last two wins have been unimpressive (by 2 points over Penn St at home and by 7 points over Purdue at home). Wisconsin took last week off to prep for this game and it is in Madison. I like Wisconsin to win and cover here.

Mississippi St at Arkansas – 4.5 (58): Arkansas is the “hot team” after beating LSU on the road last week and they are at home. Ergo, I’ll take Arkansas to win and cover.

Baylor at Oklahoma St. – 1 (77): This game is interesting AND important. Since Baylor lost its starting QB to a neck injury that required surgery, they have not been the sort of team that is always on the verge of scoring 70 points in a game. That is how Baylor tended to beat people because the Baylor defense was not the premier unit on the team. Oklahoma State can play decent defense for a Big 12 team – a conference in which “defense” is considered a dirty word. I think State’s defense will be able to keep Baylor’s offense from going nuts. I like Oklahoma St to win and cover.

Michigan St. at Ohio St. – 14 (53): This game is interesting AND important. Simply put, I think that line is fat. I’ll take Michigan St. plus the points.

TCU at Oklahoma (no lines): There is still some question regarding Trevon Boykin’s availability at QB for TCU. Until that is known, there will be no lines on this game. If Boykin cannot play, I think Oklahoma will win comfortably – say by 15 points. If Boykin can play – and play at something near his normal capability – this game might be in doubt until the final possession… If you look at the Total Line once one is posted, I would count on Oklahoma scoring in the “high-40s”.

Michigan – 3.5 at Penn State (41.5): This is a classic “trap game” for Michigan; they are on the road and they know that they play Ohio State next week. Penn St has had 2 weeks to get ready for the game. I expect a low scoring game so I’ll take Penn St. plus the points here.

Cal at Stanford – 11 (64): In terms of “Rivalry Games” this is the biggest one on the card this weekend. I expect an offensive outburst here so I like the game to go OVER. I also want to take Cal plus the points here; that is a fat line for such a rivalry game.

UCLA at Utah – 2 (55): UCLA averages 498 yards per game and 35.2 points per game. Utah averages 389 yards per game and 33.2 points per game. Why is Utah so much more efficient at points per yard of offense? The Utah defense is stingier giving the offense better field position. I think the Utah defense will prevail here; I like the game to stay UNDER.

Notre Dame – 15 vs BC (42.5) Game is in Fenway Park: The BC defense is the best in the country in terms of yards per game; they give up only 237 yards per game; the next best defense (Michigan) gives up 269 yards per game. BC is particularly strong against the run allowing only 71.7 yards per game. Looking at those stats, one has to wonder how that team can be a 15-point underdog. Well … The BC offense is the worst in the country in terms of yards per game; they only gain 277 yards per game and they score only 17.3 points per game. Moreover, those scoring stats are distorted by an early-season win over Howard by a score of 77-0. In the other 9 games this year, BC has only scored 96 points. Notre Dame does not have a great defense but it has one good enough to hold BC to somewhere between 7 and 14 points. With that as my estimate, I’ll take Notre Dame and lay the points.

USC at Oregon – 4 (71.5): This is nothing more than a hunch but it seems to me as if Oregon has put their offensive house in order over the past 3 games scoring a total of 143 points in those games. The defense continues to allow opponents to find the end zone but now the offense is alive and well. I like this game to go OVER.

Purdue at Iowa – 22.5 (57): Look, Iowa needs to impress the Selection Committee and Purdue is not a good football team. Purdue’s 2 wins have come over Indiana St and Nebraska; in 5 of their 10 games, they have scored 14 points or less. Nonetheless, that spread is too big to ignore. I’ll take Purdue plus the points.

Finally, here is comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News on the subject of college football:

“A Tempe, Arizona city councilman is suing Arizona State University, saying he injured his back when the team’s mascot leaped on him during a stunt.

“In related news, Bronco Mendenhall is expected to sue BYU for making him carry a monkey on his back ever since the Cougars went independent.”

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

Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 11/22/15

Last week was a mythically profitable week of mythical picking. The record was 9-6-0 bringing the cumulative record to 72-77-5. While it is by no means certain to obtain, at least the .500 level is within sight. The Coin Flip Games did well too last week with a record of 2-1-0 bringing the coin’s record for the season to 8-11-1.

The “Best Pick” from last week was the Skins/Saints game. I took the Skins plus a point and they won by 33 points; I also took the game to go OVER 50 and the total was 61.

The “Worst Picks” from last week were taking the Packers giving 11.5 point (they lost straight up) and taking the Bengals giving 10.5 points (they too lost straight up).

Instead of a disclaimer this week, let me say this directly. Do not use any information here as the basis for deciding which side to take in a real bet involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. There is no “inside information” here; these are done for fun. If you choose to ignore the directions above, here is all I have to say:

    If stupidity were an Olympic event, you would be Mark Spitz.

General Comments:

In last week’s games, Kirk Cousins had a QB Rating of 158.3 which is the highest rating allowed on the scale that purports to measure “Quarterbacking”. On the same weekend, Peyton Manning had a QB Rating of 0.0 which is the lowest rating allowed on the scale that purports to measure “Quarterbacking”. Please raise your hand if you had that back in August…

There are reports out there that the Saints will allow Sean Payton to entertain offers to ply his coaching trade elsewhere once the season is over. Last week, Payton and the Saints parted company with defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. Many commentators have interpreted that move as a natural reaction to the sorry-assed Saints defense this year. I think there is another potential message in that firing:

    Perhaps, Sean Payton did that because he anticipates contact from other teams once the season is over; and he wants all of those other teams to understand clearly that if he takes their job, it is not a “package deal”. He can be their coach without having Rob Ryan tag along as the defensive coordinator.

In action from last week, the Dolphins beat the Eagles 20-19 and Eagles’ QB, Sam Bradford separated his left shoulder in the game and also suffered a concussion. At the time of his departure, he was 19-25 for 236 yards and 1 TD. His injury ushered in Mark Sanchez. Trailing by a point late in the 4th quarter, the Eagles had the ball deep in Dolphin territory; a field goal would probably win the game. It was at that instant that Mark Sanchez threw an interception in the end zone and the game ended.

Eagles’ fans – particularly the ones who have been screeching for Bradford to be benched in favor of Sanchez – need to recognize what they have in a backup QB. Sanchez has shown himself over the course of his career to be unpredictably inconsistent. There will be games – and large stretches of other games – where Sanchez is efficient and effective to the point where a viewer might say to himself,

    “Hey, maybe this is the turning point for him; maybe the light just went on for him; he looks like a real NFL QB.”

And then there will be the games when he throws a deadly interception in the end zone when there is no reason on the planet to have thrown the ball to any receiver who was not open by 5 yards. Or worse yet, a butt-fumble… From here to the end of the season, Eagles’ games are going to be impossible to “handicap” because it is a flip of the coin as to what sort of quarterback play the team will get from week to week and even quarter to quarter. Back in August, I had the Eagles winning 10 games this season; they will be fortunate to win 8.

Elsewhere in the NFC East, the Cowboys lost to the Bucs last week 10-6. Matt Cassel had another mediocre game at QB and Dez Bryant caught 5 passes for a grand total of 45 yards. The Cowboys’ defense kept them in the game; they led 6-3 until the final moments when Jameis Winston ran a bootleg from the 1-yardline for a TD to win the game. Tony Romo returns this week. Unless he is so rusty that his performance is no better than throwing up on his shoes, he has to represent an advance for the Cowboys’ offense. Having lost 7 games in a row with Romo on the sidelines, the best the Cowboys can do is to go 9-7 for the season. Looking at their remaining schedule, I guess you can imagine them running the table; but it is not nearly an easy path:

    At Miami
    Vs Carolina
    At Washington
    At Green Bay
    Vs Jets
    At Buffalo
    Vs Washington

Staying in the NFC East for the moment, the Giants lost to the Pats 27-26 on a last second field goal. This was an entertaining game to watch from start to finish. The Giants led by 2 points with about 1:45 left on the clock and the Pats with no timeouts and the ball on the Pats’ 20 yardline. That was just too much time to leave Tom Brady who took the ball down to field goal range and a 1-point win.

The only team in the NFC East to win last week was the Skins and they did so in the most emphatic win of the week. The Skins beat the Saints 47-14; at one point in the middle of the second quarter the score was 14-14 and it looked as if this game might resemble the game the Saints and Giants put on a couple of weeks ago where the final score was 52-49. The Saints stopped scoring but the Skins did not. I mentioned above that Kirk Cousins had a “perfect QB Rating” for the game. Cousins has been in the NFL since 2012, but he has not yet started 20 games; he is – in terms of experience – a rookie QB. If you watch him run the offense that Jay Gruden wants to run in Washington and look at him as a “rookie QB” and not a “4-year veteran”, you should be impressed. He can run that offense; and fortunately for him, his contract is up at the end of this season. He is in line for a significant payday…

Rather than extend the discussion of Cousins’ prowess at the QB position to outrageous levels, please recognize that last week he played against an inordinately inept Saints’ defense. The Saints do not merely lack “playmakers” on defense; they lack “competent players”. As mentioned above, the Saints did fire Rob Ryan after the game last week and I think this is a case where a firing or two on the defensive staff might be justified. The Saints’ defenders do not tackle people; they do not “wrap up”. Even when one or two of them are in position to stop a play, the offensive player gains plenty of yards after contact because the offensive player is bumped and not tackled. Some of that goes directly to coaching shortcomings.

Just to give you a flavor of how bad the Saints defense has been abused this year, consider how these QBs performed against that unit:

    Sam Bradford: 333 yards – 2 TDs – 2 INTs
    Kirk Cousins: 324 yards – 4 TDs – 0 INTs
    Eli Manning: 350 yards – 6 TDs – 0 INTs
    Marcus Mariota: 371 yards – 4 TDs – 0 INTs
    Cam Newton: 312 yards – 2 TDs – 0 INTs (plus a rushing TD)
    Carson Palmer: 307 yards – 3 TDs – 0 INTs

As you might imagine from those numbers, here is how the Saints’ defense stacks up as they head into their Bye Week “under new management” so to speak:

    They rank 29th in the NFL in run defense.
    They rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense.
    They rank 32nd in the NFL in total defense.
    They rank 32nd in the NFL in scoring defense.

Don’t look now, but the Bears are on a 2-game winning streak and both wins were on the road. Last week, the Bears went to St. Louis and beat the Rams by 24 points. The Rams will bench Nick Foles this week and turn the QB duties over to Case Keenum. Foles was unimpressive last week going 17-36 for only 200 yards.

The Chiefs beat the Broncos 29-13 and led 19-0 at halftime. Peyton Manning threw 4 INTs in the first half and was benched for the second half; he will not start this week; Brock Osweiler will be under center for the Broncos. The report is that Manning has a partially torn plantar fascia; how long it might take for that to heal is a mystery to me. I have the idea that if Brock Osweiler lights it up this week and throws for 350 yards and 4 TDs, the injury will not be healed by next week…

The Bills beat the Jets 22-17 in a game that did not come close to living up to the hype that it generated. It did have one very annoying feature; neither team wore its usual uniforms; the Bills were all in red and the Jets were all in green. Unless you were color blind, it was easy to tell one team from the other but the numbers on the red jerseys did not stand out nearly as well as they should and it was difficult at times to identify Bills’ players. The NFL is going to have “special uniforms” for Thursday Night Games down the road; that is not welcome news.

My long-suffering wife happened to glance at the TV at one point during the game and asked about the Bills’ all-red uniforms. After I explained that this was a new idea from some marketing troll at the NFL, she had this observation:

    They should put snowflakes on the pants. That way they will look like the Starbucks’ coffee cups that some people want for the Christmas season.

    Memo to the NFL Marketing Trolls: Do not take that suggestion seriously. Do not put snowflakes on red pants for future games.

The Bills won by 5 points in a game where they took the ball away from the Jets 4 times (2 INTs and 2 recovered fumbles). Le Sean McCoy ran very well; it appears as if he is recovered from whatever injury he sustained in training camp that carried over into the early parts of the season.

The Jags beat the Ravens on the final play of the game. Actually, it was on the play after the final play and it should not have happened because on the final play there was an offensive penalty that should have negated the final play – on which there was a defensive penalty. If that is confusing, it ought to be. The game should have been over with the Ravens in the lead; the officials botched the call; there was no booth review; the Ravens were jobbed. For the Ravens, it really does not matter; their record now stands at 2-7; it is not as if they would be Super Bowl contenders if their record was 3-6.

For the Jags, it might be a big deal. The AFC South is such a mess that it makes a tire fire look like a luau. The Colts and Texans lead the way in the division with 4-5 records; the Jags are one game behind at 3-6. The Jags are not any good, but if you look at their schedule, they do not face any top-shelf teams from here on out. If the cards fall their way, they might actually win that sorry-assed division. Here is the rest of the Jags schedule:

    Vs Tennessee (currently 2-7)
    Vs San Diego (currently 2-7)
    At Tennessee (currently 2-7)
    Vs Indy (currently 4-5)
    Vs Atlanta (currently 6-3 but seemingly falling apart)
    At New Orleans (currently 4-6)
    At Houston (currently 4-5)

By the way, if the Jags were to win the AFC South, that would mean they would host a playoff game…

The Bengals played a listless MNF game and lost to the Texans 10-6. After suffering their first loss of the year, the Bengals travel to Arizona this week to play a good Cardinals’ team. That will be an interesting test for the resiliency of this Bengals’ squad.

The Steelers beat the Browns handily even though an injured Ben Roethlisberger had to play most of the game on a bad foot after Landry Jones left the sidelines on a cart. All Roethlisberger did was to go 22-33 for 379 yards and 3 TDs. That win maintains the Steelers stature in the AFC wild card race. They are 3 games behind the Bengals on the loss column so it will take a significant unraveling by the Bengals for the Steelers to win the division; their focus needs to be on a wild card slot.

The Browns say they will go with Johnny Manziel at QB for the rest of the season. Who knows if that will actually be the case? However, it is the logical thing for the Browns to do. At the moment, they are in line to have the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft; it would be nice for them to know if they are comfortable with Manziel as their QB for the next few years.

The Browns are a mess. In the game against the Steelers they committed 12 penalties for 188 yards and giving the Steelers 5 first downs; they ran the ball 14 times gaining 15 yards; they had the ball in “goal to go situations” 3 times and scored 0 TDs in those situations.

The Vikings beat the Raiders 30-14 last week to run the Vikes record to 7-2 and to put the Vikes in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Adrian Peterson ran for 203 yards in the game including an 80-yard TD run late in the game to seal the win. [Aside: That was Peterson’s 6th game with more than 200 yards rushing. The only other back to have done that in NFL history was OJ Simpson.] The Vikes’ defense held Latavius Murray to 48 yards rushing and Terry Bridgewater to 140 yards passing in the game. The Vikes’ schedule is almost the antithesis of the Jags’ schedule listed above; the Vikes have a bunch of tough games ahead – but as of now they lead the division. Here is what is in front of them:

    Vs Green Bay
    At Atlanta
    Vs Seattle
    At Arizona
    Vs Chicago
    Vs Giants
    At Green Bay

The Vikings have won 5 games in a row; they are undefeated at home and are 3-2 on the road. Yes they have a tough schedule ahead but when you consider the current state of the Packers, things might not look as bleak. The Packers lost their third game in a row last week; they have not won a game since they had their Bye Week on October 25. The first two losses in that streak are “explainable”; they lost on the road to then-undefeated Denver and then they lost on the road to still-undefeated Carolina. Last week’s loss is much more difficult to explain – let alone understand. The Packers lost at home to the Lions; that is the first time the Lions have won a game in Lambeau Field since 1991.

Coming into the game, the Lions’ defense ranked 31st in the NFL in terms of yards per pass attempt. The Packers threw the ball 61 times in the game and only scored 16 points; at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Packers had only 3 points on the board. It seems as if the loss of Jordy Nelson as the lead receiver for the team has had its impact; Devonta Adams was the main target last week and while he may someday develop into a good receiver, he is not at Jordy Nelson’s level. James Jones was a major part of the pass offense earlier this year; last week he caught exactly 0 passes. Eddie Lacy was inactive for last week’s game and – truth be told – it looks as if Lacy is not nearly the reliable runner that he has been in the past. The Packers ran the ball 18 times against the Lions for only 47 yards. Here is a current assessment of the Packers:

    They are not protecting the QB well; Aaron Rodgers is under duress too often.

    They cannot run the ball.

    The defense is good one week and horrid the next. (Recall that Philip Rivers threw for 500+ yards in a losing effort against the Packers.)

The Packers’ situation may best be described by recalling the way Michael Ray Richardson famously described the state of the NY Knicks back in the early 1980s:

“The ship be sinking…”

The Games:

Four teams will take this week off:

    Browns: They will take a week to settle Manziel in as the starting QB on a “permanent basis” and figure out how to avoid 188 yards in penalties in future games.

    Giants: They lead the NFC East by half a game as of now; so they will be prepping for a stretch run – and rooting against the Skins and the Eagles this week.

    Saints: They will try to adjust to a new defensive “philosophy” and maintain the fiction that they can still make the playoffs if they make a few “adjustments”.

    Steelers: They will use the week off to let Ben Roethlisberger’s foot heal some more and to find out if Landry Jones will be available as his backup down the line this year.

(Thurs Nite) Tennessee at Jax – 3 (41.5): I know this is a “division game” and I know that I said above that the Jags had an easy schedule in front of them that could put them in contention to win that division. Nonetheless, neither team is any good; and so, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week despite its being a national game. The Titans have a propensity to play down to the level of bad opponents – like the Jags:

    Titans are 2-12-2 ATS versus opponents with losing records.
    Titans are 1-6-1 ATS on the road versus opponents with losing records.

I am not a “trend bettor”. I do think the Titans are not as good as the Jags – unless of course this is one of those games where Marcus Mariota is at the top of his biorhythm cycles. Jags are 22 yards per game better on offense and 36 yards per game better on defense. I will hold my nose and take the Jags to win and cover at home.

Washington at Carolina – 7 (45.5): While I have said for the last two seasons that Kirk Cousins is well-suited to Jay Gruden’s offense and said above that he looks now as if he is really “getting it”, I have no confidence that he can earn a “perfect QB Rating” this week against the Panthers’ defense. I think the Panthers’ power running game and their defense will dominate the game. One other thing here; the Skins are 4-5 overall but they are 0-4 on the road. I like the Panthers to win and cover.

Oakland – 1 at Detroit (48): I do not like taking the Raiders on a long road trip particularly if I have to lay points. I also do not like taking the Lions without getting a sackful of points. Therefore, I will look at the Total Line here… The Oakland defense is “suspect”; it yields 408.6 yards per game. The Lions’ offense has been mediocre this season but this is the defense that ought to give it a shot in the arm. The Raiders have not had too much difficulty scoring and the Lions’ defense is hardly “elite”. I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Dallas at Miami “pick ‘em” (47): Even if Tony Romo suffers a bit of “ring rust”, he ought to put some bounce into the step of the Cowboys’ offense. Just his presence in the huddle in place of Brandon Weeden and/or Matt Cassel and/or whomever might make Dez Bryant start to play like Dez Bryant and make Jason Witten start to look like the Jason Witten fans have come to expect. The oddsmaker wants me to pick the winner; OK, I’ll take the Cowboys to win the game.

Indy at Atlanta – 6 (47): The Colts are not very good and the Falcons have lost 3 of their last 4 games. This game got fleeting consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week but the Falcons record of 6-3 made that label inappropriate. Statistically, this game is a mismatch. The Falcons are 49 yards per game better on offense and 52 yards per game better on defense. However, lots of those stats are left over from the hot 5-0 start the Falcons got this year; in the last 4 games the Falcons have scored 67 points (17 points per game). This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the Colts plus the points. OK, then…

St Louis at Baltimore – 2.5 (41.5): This game also got serious consideration as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week given the Ravens’ ugly season and the Rams’ inconsistency. However, the overall ineptitude of the Jags and Titans tilted the balance in that direction. This game has an interesting angle:

    The Ravens’ pass defense is awful; they give up 7.3 yards per pass attempt.

    The Rams’ pass offense produces a measly 6.2 yards per attempt.

    The Rams will start Case Keenum at QB.

So, will the inept Rams’ offense be able to flourish against the inept Ravens defense – – or vice versa? This is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER.

Jets – 2.5 at Houston (no Total Line): You have to go looking for a line on this game; most sportsbooks have it off the board for now until there is some clarity regarding who will be the Texans’ QB in the game. As of this morning, Brian Hoyer has not been cleared through the NFL concussion protocol putting TJ Yates under center. That could change by Sunday but… I am not thrilled by having to take the Jets here but I do not want the Texans if Yates has to play. Therefore, I will take the Jets – and an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick – and lay the points.

Green Bay at Minnesota – 1 (45): This may be the most important game of the week if not the best game of the week. A Vikes’ win here would give them a 2 game lead and a tiebreaker advantage over the Packers with 6 games to go. It would also mean that the Packers would be on a 4-game losing streak. The Vikings defense is good; they only give up 17 points per game. I like the Vikings here to win and cover.

Tampa at Philly – 5.5 (45): The line here opened the week at 4 points and has climbed steadily to this level. In fact, you can find it at 6 points at 2 Internet sportsbooks this morning. Both teams bring 4-5 records to the game. The difference is this:

    The Bucs have no prayer of winning their division with the Panthers at 9-0 at the top of the division.

    The Eagles have a SLIM chance to win their division with the Giants atop the division at 5-5.

Give the motivation edge to the Eagles; give the venue edge to the Eagles. Now, which version of “Mark Sanchez the Quarterback” will show up? It is another Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to go OVER.

Denver at Chicago – 1 (41): The Broncos cannot expect Brock Osweiler to light up the scoreboard here even against a mediocre Bears’ defense. The Broncos’ defense will have to return to its “domination mode” from early this season for the Broncos to win this game. They get Aquib Talib back from his one game suspension for doing a credible imitation of a pro rassler poking his opponent in the eye. That will help. What would help even more would be for Demarcus Ware’s back injury to heal sufficiently that he could see action here; as of this morning, that looks unlikely. I think that Total Line is short; I’ll take the game to go OVER.

SF at Seattle – 12.5 (40): I hate laying double-digit spreads in NFL games. If I expect a low-scoring game, I prefer to take the points – particularly double-digit points. I will violate those principles here and take the Seahawks to win and cover. Here’s why:

    While the Seahawks’ defense has been less fearsome this year than in past years, it is still a good unit.

    The Niners did not have Anquan Boldin at practice on Wednesday (hamstring).

    The Niners did not have Carlos Hyde at practice on Wednesday (foot).

    The Niners did not have NaVorro Bowman at practice on Wednesday (shoulder).

    The Niners will start Blaine Gabbert at QB.


KC – 3 at San Diego (44): The Chargers are not very good and they were battered and bruised going into their Bye Week last week. I do not trust the Chargers and I do not trust the Chiefs on the road as a favorite. This is a Curmudgeon Central Coin Flip Game and the coin says to take the game to stay UNDER. That is good enough for me…

(Sun Nite) Cincy at Arizona – 5 (48): This is the best game of the week; these are two good teams. The spread opened the week at 3 points; it jumped to 3.5 points almost immediately and has climbed steadily to this level as the week progressed. The Total Line opened at 47 points and has been steady at this level for several days now. Both teams need this game as both eye the potential for a Bye Week in the playoffs. I like the Cards to win and cover here and I like the game to go OVER.

(Mon Nite) Buffalo at New England – 7.5 (48.5): This is the second best game of the week and one that will have more hype tied to it than any other. The loss of Julian Edleman for 6-8 weeks is a significant loss. This is the 3rd straight division game for the Bills (they won the first two) and a win here puts them solidly in the AFC wild card picture. I think the line is fat; I’ll take the Bills plus the points.

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

A CFL Playoff Game…

I happened to be grazing through my cable channels on Monday and happened upon what was a replay of the Calgary Stampeders/BC Lions CFL playoff game from last weekend. Calgary won the game 35-9. Once again I saw Calgary QB, Bo Levi Mitchell throw the ball really well and he demonstrated plenty of mobility. I said this before and I will say it again here:

    An NFL team with an owner who is focused on marketing the team in addition to putting a good team on the field ought to give this kid a close look in training camp. If he can play NFL football, he is a marketing gold mine.

One of the revenue streams or NFL teams is jersey sales and logo-festooned tchotchkes. If this kid can become your QB imagine this kind of marketing campaign:

    Shirts, coffee cups, hats etc. with the slogan “I Bo-Lieve in Bo Levi”.

    A section in the stadium for “The Bo-Lievers”.

    A message on the Jumbotron during a 4th quarter drive, “You Gotta Bo-Levi”.

Mitchell has some gaudy stats in the CFL. In 2015, he completed 65.5% of his passes for 4551 yards (8.2 yards per attempt and 12.5 yards per completion). He threw 26 TDs and 13 INTs and had a QB rating of 96.8. He is only 25 years old so if he can actually play at the NFL level he might do so for quite a while. There are plenty of NFL teams that can use an upgrade at QB so I wonder why no one seems to have taken interest in Mitchell.

While on the subject of football, I spent some time last night going through NCAA conference records and keeping tabs on a notepad. If I counted correctly – and I only did this once so there is a real possibility of an error here – I believe that there are only 62 bowl-eligible teams as of today. Did I hear someone ask why that is interesting?

    There will be 40 Bowl Games this year. Since it is unlikely that one team will play in more than one bowl game – save the CFP Championship Game – that means the NCAA and ESPN need 80 bowl-eligible teams.

Most college teams have two games left to play. Conferences with playoffs to determine the conference championship have teams with 3 games left, but all of them will already be bowl-eligible. So, to maintain the aura of the “student-athlete” and not the image of a bunch of mercenaries wearing school colored uniforms, the NCAA and ESPN need to have 18 more teams reach the goal of 6 wins for the season. Oh, and most of the schools have already played the cupcakes and the Division 1-AA teams on the schedule.

My count is that there are 17 teams with 5 wins. If – I said IF – every one of those teams won another game to become bowl-eligible, that means there will need to be a 4-win team as of today that wins out to reach bowl-eligibility. I did not count 4 win teams as I went along because it never occurred to me that I would need to and I just do not feel like going back and counting again but if my numbers are correct, the minor bowl games this year are going to match teams that have either 4 or 5 wins as of the week before Thanksgiving. Here are two iron-clad conclusions that I draw from that data:

    1. There are too many damned bowl games.

    2. The only reason to watch the majority of those bowl games is if you are in a hospital bed with an IV-drip and sensors to monitor your vital signs and you cannot reach the remote to change the channel and the nurses are busy.

If you believe the universe is a malevolent place, you probably also believe in the adage that no good deed goes unpunished. If you would like an example to fit that adage, consider what happened to a soccer referee in Northern Italy at a youth soccer game. With the score standing at 31-0, the referee consulted with the two coaches about 60 minutes into the contest and the three adults involved here decided to end the game there. Remember, this was a youth game and not a professional game; remember, the adults in charge all thought this was a good idea.

After the game, the head of the organization, that monitors officials for that particular region of Italy channeled his inner Lee Corso and said in effect – and of course in Italian –

“Not so fast, my friends!”

Rules are rules and the rules must be followed. He acknowledged that the coaches and the referee meant well, but meaning well can only be viewed in a positive light if one simultaneously does well. And, after all, one cannot do well if one is abandoning the rules… Therefore, the proclamation was this:

    The two teams have to replay the game.

    Moreover, it is not good enough for them to resume the game at the point where it was “abandoned”. The two teams have to play the game from the start and they have to finish the game.

    The referee – age 20 – is suspended.

Here is a link to the Italian newspaper that reported these events because I believe that at least some of you will think I am making this up. You can run it through “Google Translate” to put it in English.

Finally, since I mentioned a Canadian Football League game above, here is an item from Gregg Drinnan’s Keeping Score:

“It was B.C. Lions wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux who told TSN the other day that ‘In order to start winning, we have to stop losing.’ ”

    Hard to argue with that! And, the longer it takes, the longer it takes…

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

This Cloud Has A Silver Lining…

The story that has commanded the most attention on sports radio for the last 24 hours is that the Denver Broncos will bench Peyton Manning this week and start Brock Osweiler at QB. Manning has an injury to his plantar fascia; I have had a similar injury in the past. I can say with certainty that walking on such an injury is painful and distracting; I would not even begin to imagine what it might feel like to try to play NFL football on said injury.

Normally, I am the kind of person who will look at a silver lining and imagine the cloud that must surround it. Uncharacteristically, I think this situation might be a good one for the Denver Broncos as a team. Let me explain…

Even if Peyton Manning were to hop a flight to Europe and hustle his body and ailing foot to the Grotto in Lourdes and to return with that injury completely healed, the fact remains that Peyton Manning is 39 years old today and will be 40 years old before the NFL holds is draft next spring. He is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the position; nonetheless, he cannot logically be a foundation piece in any “5-year plan” that the Broncos might conjure up as an organization. Therefore, this injury forces the Broncos to look at what other quarterback assets they may have under their roof. Here is the depth chart:

    Brock Osweiler: Broncos took him in the 2nd round of the draft in 2012 after his career at Arizona State. Next Sunday – when he starts in place of Peyton Manning – is his birthday; he will be 25 years old. He is big (6’ 7” and 235 lbs) and has by any definition a “big arm”. His contract with the Broncos is up at the end of the 2015 season; if the Broncos want to keep him, they will need to negotiate a new deal. Is he worth it?

    Trevor Siemian: Broncos took him in the 7th round of the draft in 2015 after he played at Northwestern. He will turn 24 later this year. Scouting reports say he has a “live arm” which is certainly preferable to the alternative. He also has had an ACL injury in the past. Can he be an NFL QB? I doubt anyone has a clue – even the QB coach in Denver.

So, the Broncos will get a week or three to get a look at Osweiler in real game situations against real defenses and not against the guys who play mix-and-match defense in the Exhibition Games. Moreover, they will get to see Siemian do what the #2 QB on the team is supposed to do in order to prepare for a game. Presumably those observations and the subsequent analysis will assist the Broncos in making some quarterback decisions once their 2015 season comes to a close.

Before the NFL season began, I did a quarterback rating and pointed out that there are at least a dozen teams – and probably 18 teams – that would like to upgrade their rosters at that position. Add to that baseline demand for quarterback talent teams like the Broncos and perhaps the Saints and even the Patriots who have aging veterans at the position who may be contemplating acquiring some QB talent. Every scouting report I have read says – and corroborated by my personal observations from watching lots of college football – this is not a year when there are a lot of quarterbacks in the draft who are nearly ready to play at the NFL level. Put all of this together and this might not be the worst thing ever to happen to the Broncos franchise from a long-range perspective.

The US will have a professional rugby league starting in the spring of 2016. Pro Rugby is a league sanctioned by US Rugby and will begin play with six teams in “major metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the Rocky Mountains and California.” Here is the statement from the Chairman of US Rugby explaining this action:

“As the fastest growing team sport in the USA, it is the time to have a sanctioned professional competition. We are very happy to partner with PRO Rugby in taking this step to popularize the game, to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby, and to show the rugby world what American players can do.”

Many fledgling sports enterprises have a propensity to get ahead of themselves and it seems to me that Pro Rugby might have this affliction. Even before they have announced the venues for the six teams that will play starting in 2016, the organizers are already mentioning expansion plans for 2017 into Canada. Perhaps the organizers are right to think that way after the successful completion of the recent Rugby World Cup and the inclusion of rugby as an Olympic sport starting with the Games in Rio in 2016.

There was a baseball trade made at the GM meetings last week that sort of surprised me. The Braves traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels as part of a multi-player deal. Here is the deal:

    Angels get: Simmons plus minor league catcher Jose Briceno.

    Braves get: Erick Aybar, plus minor league pitchers Chris Ellis and Sean Newcombe plus $2.5M in cash.

Forget the money here; given the revenues generated by MLB clubs, those dollars cannot be a difference maker. The heart of this trade is one shortstop for another. Simmons was arguably the best defensive shortstop in the NL. He is not much offensively but he is only 26 years old and is signed through 2020. Aybar is 31 years old; he is not nearly as good in the field as Simmons; he is a slightly better hitter and he will be a free agent at the end of the 2016 season. The Braves are a team in need of a rebooting; if there were such a thing as momentum that carried over from one season to the next, Braves’ fans would be looking at a bleak time in 2016.

Looking at the minor league prospects involved here, nothing jumps out and screams “sure fire major leaguer”. Briceno is 23 years old and has been in the minor leagues for 6 seasons. Last year he played in “high A” in the Carolina League. Ellis and Newcomb are 22 and both got to AA level baseball last season,

So, what I do not understand here is why the Braves – who need rebuilding – rid themselves of a young shortstop who was signed long term to acquire an older shortstop who will be a free agent at the end of next year.

Finally, since I mentioned the announcement of a new professional rugby league above, I should also mention that a new Spring Football League – Major League Football – exists and plans to start play in the spring of 2016. Here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald put the news of their existence into perspective:

“Major League Football, a proposed new spring league, was formed. The date of its inevitable demise has not yet been set.”

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

College Basketball Begins…

Last week, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald:

“College basketball season begins Friday night. If your office NCAA Tournament bracket is due Monday, you’re probably jumping the gun.”

If the early-season games are any indication, this season could be a wild ride. The “upstarts” took it to the “big programs”:

    Belmont beat Marquette – at Marquette
    W. Illinois beat #17 Wisconsin – at Wisconsin
    Chattanooga beat Georgia
    N. Florida beat Illinois – by 12 points
    William and Mary beat NC State – by 17 points at NC State
    Monmouth beat UCLA

Just in case you are worried that you have gone through a wormhole and wound up in Bizarro World, there is still some stability in college basketball. Duke and UNC both won their openers.

The MLB Hall of Fame ballots are now in the hands of the voters. Rather than go over the entire ballot and worry about who might or might not get in this time around, I want to focus on 4 players who are on the ballot for the first time this year.

    Ken Griffey Jr.: It is hard for me to imagine that “Junior” falls short of the qualifications to be in the Hall of Fame. I think he should go in as a first-year nominee.

    Trevor Hoffman: Relief pitchers – and closers to be more specific – are often not seriously regarded by the voters. However, Hoffman saved 601 games in his career; only Mariano Rivera had more saves (652). It would seem to me that both of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame at some point.

    Billy Wagner: If Hoffman and/or Rivera do not get in, then Wagner has no chance. He is 5thon the all-time list with 422 saves.

    Jim Edmonds: He had a 17-year career hitting .284 with an OPS of .903. In addition, he was an excellent defensive player. He will not get in on his first ballot, but he might be in the Hall one of these days.

Another MLB topic in the news is not nearly as positive as talking about potential inductees into the Hall of Fame. Rockies’ shortstop, José Reyes was arrested a couple of weeks ago and charged with assaulting his wife in a hotel room in Hawaii. MLB announced its new “domestic violence policy” this summer with the agreement of the MLBPA. This is going to be the test case for Commissioner Rob Manfred. The policy gives the Commish wide ranging authority here – although there is an appeals process to an arbitration board – and it will be interesting to see what sort of precedent he sets here.

One aspect of the new domestic violence policy is that Manfred may discipline a player even if the player is not convicted of a crime. Where the MLB policy seems to differ from other sports is in areas other than punishments/suspensions. The MLB policy includes counseling and other sorts of evaluations and interventions in addition to punishments. A Board consisting of 2 representatives from the league, 2 representatives from the union and three “experts in the field of domestic violence” will come to an agreement with regard to a treatment plan for Reyes and will somehow oversee his compliance with that treatment plan. Then there is the punishment…

I have read/heard commentary that tries to put this sort of incident into the existing spectrum of baseball suspensions – 50 games for PED use or 81 games for a repeat offense or a full season if you are a serial offender who lies about everything associated with his offenses. I find that sort of discussion “slimy”. We are not talking about getting an advantage in a game here; we are talking about domestic violence. Any sort of thinking that even hints at the idea of equating the two is offensive.

It is important to note that Reyes has not yet been arraigned in this matter. His wife did require treatment at an emergency room and hotel security folks and the local police were involved in the incident. That is all that we know for sure. Rather than speculating on what Manfred and the “Oversight Board” might do in the matter, I think the proper stance is to sit back and watch how this newly created policy plays out during its maiden voyage. These are not “one-size-fits-all” situations; let us all take a deep breath and watch for progress. Oh and while we are watching for progress, let us also fervently hope that Rob Manfred figures out a way to deal with this case in a far more competent manner than Roger Goodell has handled domestic violence matters for the NFL.

I think this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald should be sufficient to catch you up on happenings related to NASCAR:

“Homestead-Miami Speedway on deck to host season finale: NASCAR’s race Sunday in Phoenix will determine which three drivers join retiring star Jeff Gordon for the championship next Sunday in Homestead. Gordon winning would be a storybook ending. Am picturing Cinderella in a flame-retardant racing suit and earplugs.”

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

“Reader Michael Seese, to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on the city’s 2-7 NFL team: ‘I downloaded the Browns app Saturday, and Sunday my phone began dropping calls.’ ”

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