Football Friday 10/19/18

Friday has rolled around once again – as it always does – and I have my seat-belt fastened as I head into another Football Friday.  As usual, I shall begin with college football and an update on the Linfield Wildcats.

Over the last two weeks, Linfield has played at home and has dominated two opponents by a combined score of 102-26.  That puts the Wildcats’ season record at 3-2 as they pursue another winning season in football.  This week, Linfield goes on the road – – albeit not more than about 30 miles – – to play the George Fox University Bruins.  George Fox brings a 3-3 record to the field; this is a Northwest Conference game for both teams.  Go Wildcats!

It seems as if every college football season has one weekend on the schedule where the results seem to come from Bizarro World and we are living on the cube-shaped planet htraE – – that is Earth spelled backwards don’t you know…  Last week was that weekend.

Alabama and Ohio State survived the strangeness of the weekend and Notre Dame remains undefeated – although it took a 4th quarter comeback to beat a mediocre-at-best Pitt team by 5 points.  Cincy also remains undefeated at 6-0 for the season.  In Las Vegas back in August, the win-total proposition bet for Cincy was either 5.5 or 6 wins depending on the sportsbook.  I think the OVER is looking good there…

West Virginia had been unbeaten and was sitting atop the Big 12 hoping that it just might slip into CFP consideration – – and then it lost to Iowa State by 16 points.  There may indeed be a need for the Selection Committee to evaluate teams with a single loss when it comes CFP time.  Having that sort of stain on one’s record will not go down well with the Committee…

Michigan dominated Wisconsin from start to finish.  The Wolverines won the game 38-13 and did not allow a Wisconsin completed pass in the entire second and third quarters of the game.  Both teams were ranked at kickoff, but this is the second loss of the season for Wisconsin and it could be that they win the Big-10 West and then the Big-10 Championship and still find themselves on the fringe of the CFP selection process.  Remember, I said “could be” …

Penn State also lost for the second time this year and both losses have been at home in “Happy Valley”.  I don’t think State College, PA is as happy today as it might be…

Nebraska lost to Northwestern in OT last week.  The Cornhuskers are 0-6 for the season and that is the first time in Nebraska history that the football team has lost its first 6 games.  For the record, Nebraska began playing football in 1890.  [Aside:  Benjamin Harrison was President in 1890 and he signed the legislation that established Oklahoma as a Territory in that year.]

LSU beat Georgia last week by 20 points giving both SEC teams a 6-1 record for the year.  There are several significant outcomes here:

  • The Georgia/Florida game was a big game to begin with and it is now very important as both teams have an in-conference loss.  This game happens on 27 October.
  • The SEC East race is complicated by the success of Kentucky this year.  The Wildcats also have one in-conference loss AND they have a win over Florida to their credit.  Kentucky hosts Georgia on 3 November…
  • LSU has one loss in-conference (to Florida) and has Mississippi St and then Alabama (both in Baton Rouge) as the next two opponents.

[Aside:  One other outcome from last week’s LSU/Georgia game is that the hot seat under LSU coach, Ed Orgeron, cooled significantly – – for the moment.]

Vandy led Florida at the start of the 4th quarter last week but the Gators dominated the 4th quarter to win the game by 10 points.  In doing so, Florida seems to have dodged the Bizarro Bullet from last weekend…

UVa beat Miami 16-13.  How did that happen?

Tennessee beat Auburn at Auburn.  I did not see that one coming…

Washington lost to Oregon in OT and that is the second loss of the year for the Huskies; their CFP aspirations just vaporized into the World Ether…

Meanwhile, Colorado lost for the first time this year to USC.  If Colorado were to be the PAC-12 Champ, they would not find a lot of favor from the CFP Selection Committee for their strength of schedule.  Here are the Colorado out-of-conference opponents and the records for those opponents as of this morning:

  1. Colorado State  3-4
  2. Nebraska  0-6
  3. New Hampshire (a Division 1-AA team)  1-4

USC has 2 losses on its record, but both are to decent teams (Texas and Stanford) and USC has a game at home against Notre Dame down the road.  The Trojans may be the team to watch in the PAC-12 this year.

UCLA won its first game of the year last week blowing out Cal 37-3.  Here are two questions that arise from that result:

  1. The UCLA defense had been giving up 36.4 points per game prior to the Cal game.  How did they hold Cal to 3 points?
  2. Cal started the season 3-0.  They have now lost three games in a row and the last two have been to Arizona and UCLA neither of which have had a lot of good fortune this season.  What happened to Cal?

One final note from last weekend before I move on…  Maryland crushed Rutgers 34-7 in the game that should be labeled The Dregs of the Big-10 Bowl.  Rutgers is 1-6 and it has already seen the “easier part” of its schedule.  Consider:

  • The single victory came at the expense of football powerhouse, Morgan State.
  • Rutgers lost to Kansas at home by 41 points.
  • Rutgers lost to Texas State and Buffalo by 4 TDs each
  • The remaining schedule for Rutgers is Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State.  Yowza!

Since I mentioned Maryland above, recall that the Terps have their head coach, DJ Durkin on admin leave as the school awaits yet more reports about how Jordan McNair died at a practice and if Coach Durkin has culpability there.  If my reading of Durkin’s deal with Maryland is accurate and if he gets paid on a “per game basis”, I believe Durkin has been paid a little over $600K not to coach the team since being put on admin leave.  Just saying…

Enough of last week’s strangeness and on to what appears to be an interesting week ahead.

Cincy at Temple – 3 (48.5):  Cincy is undefeated at 6-0 for the season and is a road dog here.  The reason probably is that Temple is 4-0 at home.

UNC at Syracuse – 10 (66):  UNC is 1-4 for the season and its coach, Larry Fedora, will be hard-pressed to survive a 3-win season.  He needs this game as much as the team needs this game.

Penn St. – 14.5 at Indiana (61):  I would not be surprised to see the Nittany Lions hit the field with a hangover from last week’s home loss to Michigan state.

Illinois at Wisconsin – 24.5 (56.5):  Wisconsin can run the football effectively with Jonathan Taylor and Illinois gives up 199.5 yards per game on the ground…

Colorado at Washington – 17 (51):  Both teams lost last week; both teams have one loss in conference.

NC State at Clemson – 18 (56):  Both teams are ranked and both teams had a BYE Week last week.  This is a big game in the ACC and recent meetings between these teams have been close.

Virginia at Duke – 7 (44.5):  Very quietly, Duke has produced a quality season; they have only lost once…

Michigan – 7 at Michigan State (41):  The Total Line opened the week at 47 points and has plummeted to this level.  This is one of the rivalry games the folks at Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh to win.

UConn at USF – 34 (69):  The game is of interest to me because UConn could be one of my SHOE Teams at the end of the season.  UConn is dead last in defense in the country giving up – hold your breath here – 658.2 yards per game and 9.21 yards per play.

Cal – 7.5 at Oregon St. (58.5):  Cal has been an enigma this season (see above).  They must not lose this game to this less-than-mediocre opponent even on the road.

USC at Utah – 7 (47.5):  Utah is tough at home to be sure…

NFL Comments:

Last week was not quite as hectic at the pro level as it was at the collegiate level – – but there were about 5 surprises.

  1. The Dolphins win over the Bears with Brock Osweiler at the helm was a big surprise.
  2. The Skins win over the Panthers was a moderate surprise.
  3. The Rams winning by only 3 points over the Broncos was a surprise.
  4. The Cowboys beating the Jags was a surprise.
  5. The Cowboys scoring 40 points on the Jags was a big surprise.

The final 3 minutes of the Niners/Packers game and the final 3 minutes of the Patriots/Chiefs game last week ought to demonstrate the Hall of Fame certainty for Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.  I cannot imagine anyone not being enough of a football fan to sit back and be amazed at the comebacks they each managed here.

Will someone please file a Missing Persons Report for the Tennessee Titans’ offense?  The Titans surrendered 11 sacks to the Ravens last week; they managed all of 117 yards passing; they never really threatened to score points in the game.  What a stinker…

Here is an example of how stats can be misleading until you look at all of them for a game with some degree of care:

  • Eli Manning and Carson Wentz each threw for the same amount of yardage
  • Saquon Barkley rushed for more than twice as many yards as the Eagles’ leading rusher.
  • The Giants’ leading receiver had a couple more yards than the Eagles’ leading receiver.

One would think it was a close game and it was not.  The Eagles won 34-13 and had it on cruise control for much of the second half.

Here we are in Week 7 of the 17-Week NFL season; Halloween is still in the future; nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that the 2018 season is “OVER” for 6 teams and is “ALL BUT OVER” for 6 more teams.

Here is my breakdown of the six teams whose season is All But Over:

  1. Broncos:  The team plays very well at home.  The problem is that the NFL requires teams to play away from home 8 times in a season…
  2. Browns:  They are much-improved; they are competitive.  The problem is that they are – truth be told – the 4th best team in the AFC North.
  3. Colts:  The only thing that elevates them to the level of “All But Over” is the miserable division they play in and the inconsistency of the other 3 teams there.
  4. Jets:  They are only 2 games out of the AFC East lead, but we know that the Pats are going to prevail there, and the Jets are not making it as a wild card team.  Sorry about that…
  5. Lions:  They are not nearly as bad as recent Lions’ teams have been but to me they are the 4th best team in the NFC North and teams that finish 4th in their division are unimportant.
  6. Niners:  CJ Beathard played really well against the Packers, but I just do not see him doing that week after week after week.  The Niners season took a severe blow when RB, Jerrick McKinnon, was lost for the season; it is really circling the drain now that Jimmy G. is out.

            Here is my breakdown of the six teams whose season is Over:

  1. Bills:  Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman are in the driver’s seat as long as Josh Allen is sidelined.
  2. Bucs:  The defense is even worse than the Falcons defense and that is saying something.
  3. Cards:  The only thing they are competing for is the overall #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
  4. Falcons:  That defense is a traveshamockery.
  5. Giants:  The offense still stinks even after adding Saquon Barkley and upgrading – a little bit – the offensive line.
  6. Raiders:  Khalil Mack is gone; rumors say that Amari Cooper and Derek Carr could be on the trading block.  Jon Gruden 2.0 has been a disaster to date.

So here are the games for this week.  The Steelers, Raiders, Seahawks and Packers take this week off.

  • Maybe the Steelers reunite with LeVeon Bell this week?
  • Maybe the Raiders find a pass rush this week?
  • Maybe the Seahawks avoid any more “roster drama” this week?
  • Maybe the Packers find a running game this week?

Tennessee vs Chargers – 6.5 (45): [Game is in London]:  The Titans’ offense was awful last week and the team has not played well in the last two weeks.  The Chargers, on the other hand have played very well for several weeks now.

New England – 2.5 at Chicago (48.5):  Best game of the week?  Maybe the Bears were looking past the Dolphins last week to focus on this game?  If not, the Pats will roll here even though they have not played well on the road yet this year (at Jax and at Detroit).  The Pats have scored 38 or more in their last three wins; can Michell Trubisky keep up with that sort of pace?  I see a close game.

Detroit – 3 at Miami (46.5):  My reaction to seeing this game on the card was a resounding, “Meh!”  The only question of interest here is seeing if Brock Osweiler can play well two weeks in a row.

Carolina at Philly – 5 (45):  The Panthers played sluggishly and poorly on the road last week; this could be an even worse match-up for them.  Meanwhile, the Eagles appeared to start to put the pieces together on offense last week – – but those were the Giants and these are the Panthers.

Minnesota – 3.5 at Jets (46):  Both teams have won their last two games.  Sam Darnold feasted on the Colts’ defense last week; the Vikes’ defense is a whole lot better…  Jets’ running game will have to help out Darnold or this will become a long day for him.

Houston at Jax – 5 (41.5):  Texans have won 3 in a row – – all of them squeakers.  The Jags have lost 2 in a row and have looked pathetic doing so.  And if Bad Blake Bortles shows up one more time …  Meanwhile, the Texans’ offense has been dreadful; other than an explosion against the Colts’ defense, they score about 20 points per game.   I think the Jags defense comes alive here against a putrid Texans’ OL.  The winner will be the leader – for the moment – in the AFC South.

New Orleans at Baltimore – 2.5 (50):  Best game of the week?  It certainly pits a very good offense against a very good defense.  I think the key to this game is Joe Flacco and his ability to keep the Ravens’ defense rested.  Ravens recorded 11 sacks last week and 10 came on blitzes.  Unlikely they will have that level of success against Drew Brees this week.

Rams – 9.5 at SF (52):  The Rams are the last undefeated team in the NFL.  They are better than the Niners and the Niners are coming off a short week.  Niners’ defense gave up a bunch of big plays to Aaron Rodgers last week and look to give up a few more to Jared Goff & Co. here.

(Sun Nite) Cincy at KC – 6 (58):  KC’s offense is rolling and the Bengals’ defense is nothing more than OK; they gave up almost 500 yards on offense last week to the Steelers.  The Bengals will run Joe Mixon at the porous Chiefs’ defense as a way to hold the Chefs’ offense in check.  By the way, the Chiefs are 6-0 straight up this year AND 6-0 against the spread this year…

(Mon Nite) Giants at Atlanta – 4.5 (54):  This is the Dog Breath Game of the Week.  It takes a lot for me to ignore a Monday Night Football game …  The only interesting question here is if the Falcons miserable defense is bad enough to make the Giant’s offense appear to be relevant.  Other than that…

Here is your Six-Pack for the week.  We have 3 college games and 3 NFL games once again in the Six-Pack:

Mississippi St. at LSU – 6 (45):  Perhaps the biggest college game of the week, LSU cannot afford a letdown in this “sandwich game” after a big win over Georgia last week and with an upcoming battle with Alabama next on the docket.  Mississippi St. beat LSU by 30 points last year; there is a revenge factor at work here too.  The Bulldogs problem is that they cannot throw the ball against quality defenses and LSU has a quality defense.  I like LSU at home to win and cover.

Oregon at Washington St – 3 (68):  Oregon is 5-1 with the loss coming in conference; Oregon scores 44 points per game.  Washington St. is 5-1 with the loss coming in conference; Washington St scores 42 points per game.  This is an important PAC-12 game that should light up the scoreboard.  Washington State has not lost at home in two years.  I like the game to go OVER.

Vandy at Kentucky – 11 (48):  Kentucky is well-positioned to play for the SEC Championship, but it must not stumble against weaker opponents such as Vandy.  Kentucky RB, Benny Snell should have a big game here; Vandy allows 4.5 yards per carry and 184 yards per game on the ground.  I like Kentucky to win and cover.

Buffalo at Indy – 9 (43):  This will be a low scoring game because the Bills’ defense is solid and because the Bills’ offense is a steaming mess.  In a low-scoring game, I like the idea of getting 9 points, so I’ll take the Bills on the road here.  Please let Derek Anderson start and finish this game; if Nathan Peterman plays, this could get out of hand quickly.

Cleveland at Tampa Bay – 3.5 (50):  Here are two teams going nowhere in 2018.  Baker Mayfield gets to show his stuff against a bad Bucs’ defense with a new defensive coordinator calling the shots.  If Mayfield is indeed the future in Cleveland, he should play well here.  I like the Browns on the road plus the points.  By the way, the last road win straight up for the Browns came in Week 5 of 2015 in case you were wondering…

Dallas at Washington – 1.5 (41.5):  The Cowboys are 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road.  This game is on the road.  Kabeesh?  I like the Skins to win and cover at home.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Patriots fans were incensed upon discovering that some Dunkin’ Donuts outlets in Massachusetts were serving drinks in cups featuring a huge Eagles logo and the words ‘World Champions’ on them.

“Which makes one wonder: What are the odds of buying a set of Eagle tires in New England that are fully inflated?”

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

 

 

Two Not-So-Good NFL QB Situations

When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he began by comparing and contrasting.  It was the best of times and the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness; it was the spring of hope and the winter of despair.  His comparisons were always “the good” with “the bad”.  Today I want to present a tale of two quarterback situations in the NFL.  However, since these words emanate from Curmudgeon Central and not the pen of Charles Dickens, the comparison will be between “The Bad” and “More of the Bad”.

Let me start with the QB situation in Buffalo.  When the 2018 training camp began, the Bills were coming off a playoff appearance in 2017; notwithstanding that fact, they let their starting QB, Tyrod Taylor, mosey off to Cleveland and they seemed to be planning to replace him with AJ McCarron (signed as a free agent) on an interim basis plus rookie Josh Allen whom they drafted early in the first round of this year’s draft.  Nathan Peterman – the human interception machine – was also on the roster but there was no way that I thought he might be part of the picture there.

At the close of training camp, the Bills shipped off McCarron to the Raiders for a 5th round pick in 2019.  That left Allen and Peterman as the QBs for a team that made the playoffs the year before.  That was strange enough; Peterman started and demonstrated that if he is “the answer”, the question has to be “what the Hell were you thinking?”  Allen took over and looked like a raw rookie with tons of God-given physical ability.  So, you would figure that the team would soldier on and try to prop up the wunderkind.

And then, Josh Allen hurt his elbow on this throwing arm.  The team has not announced the extent of the injury but there are some reports out there saying that Allen needs Tommy John surgery – something that works very well for baseball pitchers but something that does not have a long track record of success for NFL QBs.  Let me stress here that Allen may not need this surgery; the injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm may right itself without surgery.  Nonetheless, there are reports that are dire…

The Bills took out some insurance – – a tad late if you ask me – – by signing Derek Anderson as a free agent.  If Allen cannot play, the Bills surely need a backup QB; so, a free agent signing is not surprising in the least.  Moreover, the Bills must be just a little concerned that the guy now at the top of their QB depth chart seems to be Nathan Peterman.  I referred to him as the human interception machine above.  Here is why:

  • In his brief career in the NFL, Peterman has thrown 82 passes and had 10 of them intercepted.  [These numbers include part of a playoff game last season.]
  • Nathan Peterman throws INTs at the rate of 12.2%.

I hope you find that figure as stunning as I did when I went to pro-football-reference.com for the numbers.  Just to put this in perspective, let me compare that interception percentage to some other QBs:

  • Tyrod Taylor – the guy the Bills did not want after last year – is at 1.5%.
  • AJ McCarron – the guy the Bills traded away in August – is at 1.9%
  • Brett Favre – a “gunslinger” who took a lot of chances – is at 3.3%
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick – like Peterman a late-round draft pick – is at 3.4%

The Bills’ QB situation is a bad one – and it sure looks as if it is a self-inflicted wound…

And then, there is another NFL QB situation that is also bad.  Last year, the Jags were in the AFC Championship Game; they led the Patriots by 10 points early in the 4th quarter and then lost the game.  Losing to the Pats in the playoffs is not outrageous; what is outrageous is not recognizing the weak link on a team built around the defense and that weak link is QB, Blake Bortles.  Since I railed on Nathan Peterman above about interception percentage, let me just put Blake Bortles’ comparable info here to start:

  • Blake Bortles – picked #3 overall in the draft back in 2014 – is at 2.9%.

Bortles does not suffer from the same ailment as Nathan Peterman, but he is problematic as the starting QB for a team whose defense was good enough to get the team to within 15 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance last January.  QB rating systems are not probative when it comes to identifying excellence in QBs; however, QB rating systems can give relative performance ratings in the broadest sense.  Now consider these ratings for these QBs all of whom are playing or played in the current gestalt of NFL football:

  • Blake Bortles QB rating is 80.2.  Comparable ratings belong to Brian Hoyer and Trevor Siemien.
  • If you were running the Jags, would you entrust your team – – and commit $18M in salary cap space – – to either Hoyer or Siemien?  I doubt it…

Blake Bortles is durable; he has not missed a start since his rookie year in 2014.  [Aside: It is left as an exercise for the reader to determine if that is a blessing or a curse.]  That seems like a good thing on balance when you consider who the backup is in Jax.  No Googling, can you name the #2 QB on the Jags’ depth chart?  I had to go and look to determine that it is Cody Kessler and while I was looking I found out that in his 8 career starts at QB, his team has never won the game.

So, there you have it.  Two of the six teams that made the AFC playoffs last year have maneuvered themselves into QB situations that are best labeled as “bad” and “also bad”.  Circle November 25, 2018 on your calendars for this reason:

  • At 1:00 PM (EST) the Jacksonville Jaguars will play the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo.  Notwithstanding the fact that this will be a game between two playoff teams from a year ago, there is about a ZERO probability that this game will be flexed to the late afternoon “Game of the Week” slot.  It is almost as if the schedule maker saw these QB messes coming…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times recently about two other QBs neither of whom is embarrassing to their respective franchises:

“Steelers star pass-catcher Antonio Brown says he and QB Ben Roethlisberger operate like Wi-Fi: ‘Sometimes the connection is poor. Sometimes the connection is great. But it’s always connected.’

“Can’t wait to hear what Cooper Kupp has to say about Jared Goff and gigabytes of Ram.”

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

 

 

A Shot In the Foot…

We all know someone who fits the description, “He can’t get out of his own way.”  Maybe the person is an artist who is so self-critical that his work is never finished or displayed; maybe the person is an engineer who is so absorbed by career goals and getting credit for his contributions that no one will work with him; maybe the person is so risk-averse that he ignores great opportunities in his life.  The person who can’t get out of his own way comes in many forms and in many fields.

The NCAA is an organization that seems not be able to get out of its own way these days.  The NCAA is under pressure to pay its athletes in the revenue sports; it faces health and safety issues; it has coaches and assistant coaches who run programs that abuse athletes to the point where the athletes suffer sexual assault and/or death; it faces the critical reality that its recruiting rules invite abuse by the “member institutions” and that the NCAA is feckless in its ability to enforce its own rules.  And in that quagmire, the NCAA was presented with a golden opportunity to do good and do well at the same time – – and it blew the opportunity.

Hurricane Florence did a lot of damage in the Carolinas last month; people suffered catastrophic losses; all the “rescue work” is over but the reconstruction of homes, facilities and lives has only begun.  The basketball coaches at UNC and South Carolina came up with the idea of playing a pre-season basketball game between the schools where all the proceeds would go to Hurricane Florence recovery activities.  The teams were going to pay their own way; there would be no facilities costs; it was a way to funnel money to the recovery.  These teams used to be rivals in the same conference but have not played one another for years now; the game would have drawn a good crowd.  Kudos to Roy Williams and Frank Martin for the idea.

That game will not happen – – thanks to the NCAA and its amazing ability not to be able to get out of its own way.

You see; the NCAA has a rule about college basketball exhibition games …  Once I tell you that, you can easily see how the NCAA can manage to tie its shoelaces together to immobilize itself.  Here is “the problem”:

  • The rule says that schools may play no more than 2 exhibition games and/or joint practices/scrimmages prior to its regular season.
  • Both UNC and South Carolina have contractually committed to two such “events” prior to the birth of Florence let alone its devastation.  Ergo, the schools need a waiver from the NCAA to raise money for Hurricane Florence relief in this way.
  • The NCAA said, “No!”.

[Sigh…]

The Tampa Bay Bucs fired defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, earlier this week.  The Bucs’ defense was bad last year, and it has not been any the better this year.  That is a recipe for firing a defensive coordinator if ever there was one.  However, I think there is something else bubbling below the surface here.  Head coach, Dirk Koetter is an “offensive guy”.  Supposedly, he got the job when as the Bucs’ offensive coordinator, he made Jameis Winston look like a future star QB in Winston’s first season and was high on everyone’s list to become a head coach somewhere else.  The Bucs fired head coach, Lovie Smith, and elevated Koetter to the position.

The Bucs improved to 9-7 in Koetter’s first season at the helm; then, things went south in season two; the Bucs struggled home with a 5-11 record last year.  In 2017, the Bucs’ defense ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per game allowed (378.1) and in yards allowed per play (6.0).  Mike Smith’s defense certainly did not distinguish itself there.

This year, the Bucs record is 2-3 and the defense has been statistically worse.  In 5 games this season, the Bucs have yielded 439.8 yards per game and 6.9 yards per play.  If the defense hit rock bottom last year, they seem to have continued to dig this year.  And so, Mike Smith is gone, and linebackers’ coach Mark Duffner takes over the defensive coordinator job.

The Bucs have 11 games left in the 2018 season and the defensive coordinator has already been jettisoned.  Jameis Winston continues to show physical skills on the field that are enticing but his mental errors and his off-field behaviors could give one pause about his future status as a franchise QB.  If the Bucs do not rebound and play competitively, the Bucs owner – Malcom Glazer – may just feel the need to make major changes and “major change” would not stop merely at changing the team’s coordinators.  With the move to fire Mike Smith, I think Dirk Koetter is coaching for his job now.

Oh, by the way, the Bucs GM is in the final year – a team option year – of his contract too.  If the Bucs stumble home in 2018, the front office and the coaching staff may be looking for work in 2019…

At the other end of the NFL coaching spectrum from Dirk Koetter this morning, we find Sean McVay doing something else innovative besides his offense and his play calling.  McVay has hired an assistant to be on the sidelines with him during games whose job it is to advise McVay on clock management.  Jedd Fisch had been the offensive coordinator at UCLA under Jim Mora, Jr. and at Michigan.  Let me just say that there are other NFL head coaches who could use a clock management assistant too…

Finally, here is an observation by Brad Rock in the Deseret News with which I totally agree:

“A poll conducted for calm.com says the dullest sport to watch is golf.

“Cricket ranks the second-best cure for insomnia, followed by soccer and baseball in a tie for third.

“Synchronized swimming officials are demanding a recount.”

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

 

 

Bouncing Around …

The NFL has put Mychal Kendricks on indefinite suspension after he entered a guilty plea to chargers of insider trading.  To put a perspective on this, insider trading is what put Martha Stewart in the slammer for a short period of time about 10 years ago.  From that perspective, I can see why the NFL would not want Kendricks on the field as part of their TV product; he just admitted that he did something that put another widely known TV celebrity on the shelf.  In addition, it is important to recognize that despite all of the coach-speak and player-platitudes that you hear, at its core, the NFL is television programming.

The irony here is that Kendricks’ suspension by the NFL has already exceeded the suspension handed down to Ray Rice.  While not trying in any way to condone insider trading, I sorta think that what Ray Rice did – on video tape so there is no real debate about it – is worse than what Mychal Kendricks did.  Oh well …

The thing about this indefinite suspension is that it may become a de facto lifetime suspension.  Kendricks will be sentenced to a prison term in January 2019; the length of that sentence is obviously unknown.  However, if he remains “indefinitely suspended” for the balance of 2018 and is then sentenced to 24 months in prison in January 2019, it may be the end of his career.  That would make him 30 years old when he finished such a sentence (remember, this is hypothetical) and making a comeback as an NFL linebacker at that age would not be trivial.

Since Kendricks was a member of the Seattle Seahawks prior to this suspension, it is not surprising that Dwight Perry had an observation about the situation in the Seattle Times:

“Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been suspended indefinitely after pleading guilty to illegal stock-market moves.

“Coincidence?  ESPN’s NFL Insiders got the scoop.”

WNBA President, Lisa Borders, resigned that position to take the job as the CEO of a new organization called Time’s Up.  This entity seeks to represent women and advocate for women who face discrimination and harassment in the workplace and in their careers.  Time’s Up is pretty clearly an outgrowth/extension of the Me-Too Movement.

I guess Ms. Borders is a good choice for this new position given that she has run an organization dominated by women in the recent past.  However, I would pump the brakes before I went so far as to say that this selection is a shortcut to success for Time’s Up.  Consider:

  • Ms. Borders has been with the WNBA as its President for 3 years.  Is it fair to say that the WNBA has not exploded onto the sports scene during her time at the tiller?
  • The WNBA has been in existence for more than 20 years and it is just now beginning to achieve “niche-sports” status.  Is it fair to ask someone to point to two accomplishments identified with Ms. Borders that have put the WNBA on a better footing than it had before her?

Since I would choose to align myself with the goals and objectives of Time’s Up, I hope that this hiring decision bears fruit down the road.  As of now, there has been no indication as to who might replace Ms. Borders at the WNBA.  However, we should know that the WNBA is headed for some dicey negotiations whenever the next CBA is on the table.

  • The maximum salary in the WNBA is $115K.  Minimum salary for a rookie in the NBA is $823K.  That means if a WNBA team started 5 players all making the league maximum, that starting-five would earn less than the rookie NBA players sitting at the end of the bench.  That should be an interesting point of discussion…
  • Recalling that WNBA maximum salary of $115K, the entry level pay for an NBA official is $150K.  As the saying goes, no one buys a ticket or tunes into a game to see the officials.  Draw your own conclusions here.

Obviously, the NBA pays more because it takes in much more revenue.  I do not have the latest figures, but the last time I checked the figures the WNBA revenues were about 1% of the NBA revenues.  But the difference in revenue generation is only the starting point for the wide discrepancy here.  If I read the NBA CBA and the WNBA CBA correctly, the NBA funnels about 50% of the revenue to the players in the form of salaries/benefits while the WNBA allocates about 30% of its revenue to that end.  Whoever takes the WNBA job is going to find some headwinds when it comes to getting a new agreement.

The current CBA will expire in 2021, but the players association can opt out of the agreement this year with the aim of getting a new deal before this one expires.  Looking at that landscape, I think Lisa Borders made a very savvy career move with her decision to change jobs…

Pardon me, but I need to vent here.  We are only about a third of the way through the football season and I have reached my limit on something that TV announcers say far too often.  There is no such thing as a “very unique” offense or defense; in fact, nothing in the universe is “very unique”.  Everything and anything are either “unique”, or they are “not unique”.  There are no gradations there.

  • Memo to TV announcers:  Please replace “very unique” in your vocabulary with something that makes sense such as “highly unusual” or “very different”.

Finally, here is a WNBA related comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Seattle throws a championship parade Sunday to celebrate the Storm’s third WNBA title. It also is the third for star Sue Bird, now established as the second-best Bird ever to play basketball.”

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

 

 

No Fantasy Football Here …

I do not like fantasy football.  I do not play fantasy football – – or fantasy “anything else”.  I tried it once in an NFL fantasy league and lost interest in about the 4th week of the season to the point where I never changed my starting lineup from that point on.  In one week of the season, I “started” four players who were out of action for the week.  Somehow, I did not lose every game of the season and wound up something like 2-12.  I bring this up because I want to point you to a column by Brad Dickson about fantasy football that I really think you should read in its entirety.

Brad Dickson is a humor writer; so, this is not a “serious” exposition on fantasy football.  Nonetheless, I think there are several important issues that he addresses there.  Just to whet your appetite, here are two short paragraphs from that column:

“It hasn’t been easy to resist the siren call of fantasy football. Indeed in 2018 playing fantasy sports has become America’s new pastime, having supplanted the erstwhile, laudable pursuits of Fidget-spinning, dabbing and searching for Pokemon.”

And …

“There’s no doubt that fantasy football, which has grown into a full-fledged pandemic in America, makes you do crazy, off-the-rails stuff. My buddy Vic once sneaked a look at his cellphone during the eulogy at his grandpa’s wake to see how many yards Matt Schaub had passed for during a first half. (He justifies this by asserting it was ‘during a lull’ in the eulogy.)”

With the season-ending injury to Jay Ajayi, there had been an increased focus on the potential for the Eagles to trade for LeVeon Bell – – who has pretty much made it clear that he will not be signing with the Steelers next year.  Forget all of the questions about if Bell is in “football shape” and how he might fit in within an Eagles’ locker room that has stars but not divas.  Focus solely on this question:

  • If the Eagles cannot sign him to a contract as part of the trade process, is it worth it to them to “rent him” for a few months?

My answer to that question is a resounding, “NO!”  If I trade to acquire Bell and I am the Eagles’ GM, I do not want to be part of the focus of a ton of drama once the offseason starts.  So, if I am the GM of the Eagles – which I am not nor am I connected to that position in any way whatsoever – here are the parameters of my deal:

  • I believe the Eagles have 2 second-round picks in next year’s draft.  I would offer one of those to the Steelers on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.  That’s it; that’s all you will get from me for Bell.  If they come back with a “counter-offer” that sweetens the deal, I would reduce my offer to one third-round pick.
  • AND I would demand the right to negotiate with Bell’s agent for a contract extension beyond the end of the 2018 season.  If Bell signs on, the trade goes through; if not, the Steelers still have a disgruntled RB who may show up in another 4 weeks – – or not.

Here is my offer to LeVeon Bell’s agent:

  • Three-year contract … total value of contract is $48M … incentives could increase the value by up to $5M … total guaranteed money is less than $28M.

Again, my offer to Bells’ agent is take-it-or-leave-it; the last thing I would need in the middle of a season is haggling over details.  Granted that Bell is the best running back option out there – – but he also brings more baggage with him than any other guy I might sign off the street to include:

  • Two substance abuse suspensions
  • An injury history
  • Currently evident diva tendencies

And now it should be patently evident why I do not have the temperament or the résumé ever to be considered for the post of GM for an NFL team.

In the aftermath of the melee/brawl that ensued at UFC 229 in Las Vegas over the weekend, humor-writer, Brad Dickson, had this observation on Twitter:

“I watched my first ever UFC match Saturday night & I have tons of questions. For starters, when the winner spits on his vanquished opponent & jumps out of the Octagon to attack the opponent’s manager, how many points is that worth?”

Recall that I said earlier this week that UFC and professional wrestling were converging in terms of the promotional and “storytelling” aspects of the two enterprises.  Brad Dickson’s comment goes to the question of what a first-time viewer of this sport is supposed to make of the after-fight activities.  I do not have a good answer for him other than to say that all of this will be part of a humongous build-up to the rematch that will happen – – and then maybe a third match to be the “rubber match” …

It is time for a Quick Quiz …  Put away all your notes and put all your cell phones out of reach.  There is to be no Googling …

  • There are 3 metro areas who have a pair of NFL franchises attached to them.  The LA region is well served.  The Rams are excellent, and the Chargers are at worst, “above average”.  Take the LA metro area out of the discussion here.
  • The other 2 metro areas with 2 NFL teams located there exist in a bleak landscape.  The Giants and the Jets are both sub-standard teams in the NYC market; the Niners and the Raiders are both sub-standard teams in the Bay Area market.  [I am being polite here; those four teams – Giants, Jets, Niners and Raiders – may not win a total of 25 games this season.]
  • So … which metro region served by 2 NFL teams has the worse prognosis looking forward?  The NYC area or the Bay Area?
  • 100 words or less…

Finally, since I have cribbed from Brad Dickson for much of the content above, let me close with another of his observations about the stadium environment at the University of Wisconsin for a college football game:

“Then there are University of Wisconsin home football games at night which strongly resemble Turkish prison riots if the inmates paused to do the Wave and ‘jump around’.”

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

 

 

More Than I Wanted …

Yesterday, I did not pay heed to the adage:

  • “Be careful what you wish for lest it come true.”

I mentioned that the Yankees/Red Sox game and Monday Night Football would be on at the same time, so I wished that one of the games would turn out to be a blowout so I could focus on the other one.  Well, both of them were blowouts.  There was about as much drama in those two games as there was joy in Mudville back in the day.

CBS Sports had a report yesterday about the ongoing trial of Adidas execs for wire fraud regarding college basketball recruiting.  Here is an important paragraph buried in the middle of that report:’

” ‘We are closely monitoring the trial of three individuals charged with corruption in college basketball,’ the NCAA said in a statement Friday to The Washington Post. ‘If information relevant to potential NCAA violations is uncovered, we will continue to follow-up and investigate all the facts’.”

Why is that important?  Isn’t that what you would expect the NCAA to say?  Indeed it is, and it also demonstrates that the NCAA will – yet again – have to rely on outside efforts to bring to light “information relevant to potential NCAA violations”.  It is an organization that is not capable of monitoring and enforcing its own rules.  Is it any wonder why there might be programs that decide it is OK to act outside the boundaries of those rules?

USA Today did a poll to determine the salaries of college football head coaches in Division 1-A.  There are 129 schools that play football at that level and the poll found that the average salary for head coaches is $2.4M per year.  Doing just a tad of math here, that means head coaches – not all coaches on all staffs at those 129 schools – make a total of $309.6M.  Given that the NCAA and all its member institutions are tax-exempt entities that operate not for profit, that seems like a hefty financial burden, no?

Other information from the USA Today poll that I found interesting:

  • There are 44 head coaches in the country that make $3M per year or more.
  • There are 13 head coaches in the country that make $5M per year or more.

Staying with college football for a moment, Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Musical chairs: Clemson’s Kelly Bryant is bailing on the Tigers now, while Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts is expected to change campuses after the season. Both have been dislodged by younger, better passers. Can’t blame them, though, for wondering why they were benched. As starters, their teams were a combined 42-4.”

The NFL has always been about “what have you done for me lately”; that attitude has trickled down to Division 1-A college football now…

As of this morning there are 11 undefeated college football teams in the country.  It is tempting to try to conjure up scenarios whereby all of them end the season undefeated so that the College Football Playoff Committee would have to squirm as they made their announcements of the CFP seedings.  Problem is that it will not happen because it cannot happen.

  • Alabama and Georgia are in the same conference.  One of them must lose a game.
  • Clemson and NC State are in the same conference.
  • Cincy, UCF and USF are all in the same conference.  Two of those teams must lose a game.

Looking at the other unbeaten teams:

  • W. Virginia still must play Texas, TCU and Oklahoma
  • Ohio St. still must play Michigan St. and Michigan
  • Colorado still must play USC, Washington and Utah
  • Notre Dame still must play Florida St., Syracuse and USC.

A reader asked me via e-mail if Notre Dame were to finish the season undefeated and not make it to the CFP, would that be the impetus for Notre Dame to join the ACC in football.  Actually, here is what I think would happen if an undefeated Notre Dame team were left out of the CFP:

  • That would provide the impetus for expanding the CFP to 8 teams.

As is customary here in Curmudgeon Central, one never looks at the undefeated teams in a vacuum; the ethos here is to search out the winless teams too.  If I have counted correctly, there are 4 of them:

  1. Nebraska
  2. San Jose St.
  3. UCLA
  4. UTEP

Nebraska and UCLA are recognizable programs with a history.  Both have new coaches this year.  Nebraska has Bethune-Cookman on its schedule along with visits to Minnesota and Illinois.  There should be a win in that mix, right?  UCLA’s schedule does not have any games that look like layup victories.

[Aside:  The Cards win over the Niners on Sunday assures that no team in the NFL will be winless in 2018.]

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found an intersection of sports and business with this observation:

“J.C. Penney’s portfolio for the past four years boasts a profit in just two quarters.

“In a related story, J.C. Penney has just been named the official retail store of the Cleveland Browns.”

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

 

 

Professional Rassling In A Different Form

Over the weekend, there was a big pay-per-view MMA fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Khabib won the fight but that seems ever so unimportant this morning given two other events that occurred:

  1. Several months ago, McGregor and some of his attendants attacked a bus carrying Khabib and some of his attendants.  They threw object through the windows of the bus and there were some minor injuries.  McGregor was charged in the incident and plead no contest to a minor charge and did community service.
  2. After the fight on this weekend, Khabib climbed out of the ring and attacked one of McGregor’s coaches and several of Khabib’s attendants rushed the ring and attacked McGregor.  It was a melee.

I mention this as prelude to repeat something that I have said about MMA events and UFC and all of those other alphabet-soup fighting enterprises:

  • These entities are, at their core, professional wrestling where the blood is real and the punches actually land.  The outcomes are not pre-determined, but every outcome is exploited to hype the next fight.  Fighters – just like rasslers – are always involved in feuds and revenge and the like.

Today’s Washington Post has a story on the front of the Sports Section with this headline:

Post-match melee has UFC world still reeling

I cannot recall any other time when UFC got such a prominent placement in the Post; I will not be surprised when the “retribution” for Khabib’s post-match attack draws more attention to this matter.  Nor will I be surprised when UFC exploits it to promote the rematch.

The MLB playoffs roll on.  The Brewers swept their first round series shutting out the Rockies twice along the way.  The Astros hold a 2-0 lead over the Indians who will try to avoid elimination this afternoon in Cleveland.  The Dodgers had shut out the Braves twice in LA, but the Braves came back to win the first game in Atlanta last night by a score of 6-5.  The Red Sox and Yankees are tied at 1 game apiece with the series going to NYC this evening.  I will be rooting for a blowout game in either the Sox/Yankees contest or in the Monday Night Football game so that I do not wear out the batteries in my TV remote.

Last week, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summed up the baseball situation in Baltimore very succinctly:

“Idle thought: Was Orioles manager Buck Showalter fired? Or was he granted clemency?”

People who create rankings MLB teams in terms of the strength of the farm system all seem to say that the Orioles’ set of prospects is sub-standard.  Some have attributed that to a supposed edict from owner Peter Angelos to minimize spending on players from Latin America in general and the Dominican Republic specifically.  I have no idea if such an edict exists or when it may have been announced if in fact it does exist.  What seems to be a consensus among the “prospect raters” is that the Orioles are in deep yogurt.

That might not be so bad if the major league roster were a juggernaut.  News flash here; it is not.  The O’s lost 115 games this year; they do not hit well; their pitching is awful and good defense is not their forte.  It may be a while before the Orioles are relevant again and Buck Showalter is in his 60s.  It would not be difficult for you to convince me that he would not be overjoyed with the prospect of rebuilding a roster from scratch when the talent pool in the minor leagues is not very deep.

Looking at the Orioles’ situation, I wonder who would relish the job of manager – – or GM for that matter – – at this time.  Peter Angelos is getting up there in years and just may have lost a lot off his fastball; neither of his sons has had much experience in running the baseball side of the team and there appears to be little delegation of authority on that front.  The Orioles are a bad team today and could well be a bad team for more than a couple more years.  Managing a team that loses 100+ games or being the GM who assembles the roster for a team that loses 100+ games is not a way to build a baseball résumé.

Perhaps the only open job in baseball that might be as bad as the opening in Baltimore would be the GM for the Mets.  The problem there is simple:

  • The GM cannot make any deals without the specific approval of the Wilpons in the owners’ suite.
  • The GM will be [presumably] a baseball guy.  The Wilpons are not.

Good luck with that…

The MLB free-agency meat market will get rolling as soon as the World Series is over.  This is a bountiful crop of free agents led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado who are in their mid-20s and are among the best players in the game.  Often, the big-name free agents are over 30 and are looking for long-term deals even though their prime production years are behind them.  GMs and owners will have to decide how much money they are willing to throw at these folks.  Here are a couple of guidelines I would use:

  1. If I were a GM and were going to be tempted to offer up $350 – 400M to a free agent this year, I would offer it to Manny Machado before I offered it to Bryce Harper.
  2. I would not give a long-term contract (anything longer than 3 years) to Clayton Kershaw if he opts out of his contract with the Dodgers.  Kershaw is a great pitcher, but he also has had 3 consecutive seasons that have been interrupted by “arm problems”.
  3. The same goes for David Price if he opts out of his Red Sox contract.  Price is not as effective as Kershaw, but he too has had “arm problems” in recent years.
  4. Dallas Keuchel is an interesting situation.  He is 30 years old; he has been with the Astros for 7 years – his entire MLB career; he was an Astro when the team was in the NL.  I worry about pitchers in their 30s but somehow when I watch him pitch, I don’t see a guy who has been around long enough to throw almost 1200 innings of MLB.  I do not know what I would offer him as a contract…

Finally, here is some solid career advice from humor-writer, Brad Dickson:

“If both your Twitter and Facebook profiles show you flipping off the camera, try to apply for jobs with companies that don’t check applicants’ social media.”

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

Football Friday 10/5/18

It’s Friday and it’s football season.  Ergo…

            Starting with college football, the Linfield Wildcats are off to the worst start to a football season since I started following them about 10-12 years ago.  Last week, the Wildcats lost on the road to Whitworth by a score of 19-14.  Linfield’s record stands at 1-2 with a conference record of 0-1.  This week, the Wildcats are at home to face the Willamette Bearcats who are also 1-2 on the season.  Linfield needs to win at least 5 games in order to keep their streak of winning seasons alive; that streak began in 1956.  Go Wildcats!

In major college football, there were no blockbuster upsets last week, but there were a few interesting happenings that may have escaped your attention.  Two that caught my eye involve the current societal hyper-sensitivity to language.  I swear there is a secret society out there called People Spring-Loaded To Be Offended By Anything And Everything.  Last week those folks took offense at:

  • Ohio State for tweeting that the team would silence the “white noise” in the game at Penn State.  Supposedly that had racial overtones.  The fact that Penn State’s colors are blue and white and that fans for the game at Penn State had been asked to show up wearing white clothing had nothing whatsoever to do with the content of that tweet.  Sigh…
  • UMass lost to Ohio University 58-42.  There was a controversial call late in the game by the officials and UMass coach, Mark Whipple was most unhappy with it even after the game.  He said that the officials “raped us”.  The school has suspended Whipple for one game for this offense.   I wonder what the school would have done if he had said the officials “f***ed us without our consent”.

[Aside:  I have it on good authority that Coach Whipple will spend his one-week suspension relaxing by squeezing the Charmin.]

Ohio St. beat Penn St. 27-26 with a TD in the final 2 minutes of the game.  It was an exciting game and a well-played game by both teams.  And – – notwithstanding the social sensitivities – – Ohio St. did silence the white noise.

Notre Dame won a game with its offense last week beating Stanford 38-17.  The Irish made a change at starting QB and Ian Book threw 4 TD passes in the game.

Clemson beat Syracuse 27-23 and had to come from behind to do it.  The Tigers lost their starting QB to a vicious hit in the first half and had to go to the #3 guy on the depth chart because Kelly Bryant decided to leave the team rather than take the demotion to #2.  Clemson resorted to the run game and rushed for 305 yards; Travis Etienne accounted for 200 of those yards.

Texas beat Kansas St. 19-14; it was a tale of two halves.  Texas won the first half 19-0; K-State won the second half 14-0.  This victory was the first one for the Longhorns in Manhattan, KS since 2002.

Alabama beat Louisiana-Lafayette 56-14 but did not cover the spread.  The spread was 49.5 when I wrote about it last week; it rose to 50 points by game time.  Earlier this week, Nick Saban said that he was disappointed that the student section for the game was half-empty.

  • Memo to Nick Saban:  If the non-conference opponent had been a worthy opponent for the team ranked #1 in the country, the stands would have been full, and the joint would have been rocking.

Oklahoma beat Baylor 66-33.  I guess that score is not all that surprising when you consider that Baylor has the 88th ranked defense in the country and Oklahoma has the 91st ranked defense in the country.  Sooners’ QB, Kyler Murray threw for 7 TDs and 477 yards.

In a mirror image game where defense dominated from start to finish, Florida beat Mississippi St. 13-6.  Dan Mullen returned to Starkville for the first time since ditching the job as Mississippi St and came away with a win.

Texas Tech lost to W. Virginia in Lubbock last week.  That is not all that surprising, but this is:

  • Texas Tech has not won a Big-12 game at home in 2 years.  Their last home win in a conference game was on September 29, 2016 when they beat Kansas.
  • The Red Raiders’ next home game is October 20 and the opponent will be Kansas.

Michigan beat Northwestern 20-17 even though Northwestern jumped out to a 17-0 lead.  The Wolverines leaned on their defense – – ranked #1 in the country as of this morning giving up only 232.6 yards per game – – and scored just enough to pull out a win.

Oregon beat Cal 42-24; that was the first loss of the year for Cal and it was a nice rebound win for Oregon after losing to Stanford 2 weeks ago.

Washington dominated BYU 35-7.  A couple of weeks ago, BYU went to Wisconsin and beat the Badgers in Madison.  Talk about a reversal of form…

Arizona St. dominated Oregon St. 52-24.  The Sun Devils ran the ball down the Beavers’ throats all day long; the final stats were 396 yards rushing and 4 rushing TDs.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is what I call an organized ass-kicking.

 

NCAA Games of Interest This Week:

 

LSU – 2 at Florida (44.5):  Both teams rely on defense; points will definitely be at a premium here.  Florida gives up only 311 yards per game; LSU yields 334.

Auburn – 3 at Mississippi St. (43):  This will be another defense-dominated game.  Mississippi St. gives up only 288 yards per game; Auburn yields 305.

Kentucky at Texas A&M – 5.5 (50):  Is this the week where Kentucky’s Cinderella-story season crashes?  That line is most unusual considering that Kentucky is ranked #13 in the country this morning; Texas A&M is unranked, and its 3 wins have come against sorry-assed opponents (Northwestern St., La-Monroe and Arkansas).  Kentucky RB, Benny Snell has been the key to the Kentucky offense; the Aggies rushing defense is the best in the SEC as of this morning.  That matchup should be the key to the game…

Alabama – 35 at Arkansas (57.5):  In the great sportsbook in the sky, a tear comes to the eye of Frank Broyles…

Vandy at Georgia – 26.5 (54):  Georgia is ranked #2 in the country this morning.  Perhaps, Vandy is ranked #2 in the state of Tennessee … maybe not.

Florida St. at Miami – 14 (48.5):  Twenty years ago, the winner here would be odds-on to win the national championship.  Not nearly the case anymore…  The oddsmaker thinks this will be a low scoring game given that Total Line; Miami’s second-ranked defense nationally should throttle the Seminoles’ offense.

Kansas at W. Virginia – 28 (61.5):  Kansas is 2-3 on the season.  If they win one more game this year, they will equal the total number of wins over the last three seasons combined.  W. Virginia is in the top Ten as of this morning.  The Jayhawks third win of 2018 is not going to come here…

Iowa – 7 at Minnesota (42):  With a Total Line that low, both offensive units should be ashamed.

Navy – 3 at Air Force (48):  This Total Line in this game is interesting.  It opened the week at 55.5 and rose at one point to 57 whereupon there must have been a flood of money on the UNDER because the line plummeted to this level.  The public has a propensity to bet OVER and not UNDER in most games; I suspect that pro gamblers saw the potential for a huge win on that bet when the line was in the upper 50s.

Nebraska at Wisconsin – 17 (60):  This game should not be close.  Nebraska will be 0-5 on Sunday morning.

Washington – 21.5 at UCLA (52.5):  This game should not be close.  UCLA will be 0-5 on Sunday morning.  Is there an echo in here…?

Arizona St. at Colorado – 2.5 (64):  Colorado is 4-0 and ranked in the Top 25.  Other than long-term residents of Boulder, CO, who saw that coming back in August?  Arizona St. is 2-2.  I am unimpressed by Colorado’s record; their 4 wins have come at the expense of teams whose combined record is 1-16.  The Sun Devil’s two losses have been to San Diego St. and Washington.

Utah St. at BYU – 2 (55):  I am surprised by that Total Line.  While neither team is a model of consistency this year, both have shown an ability to score points.  Interesting game to watch…

 

NFL Notes:

 

The Bears simply demolished the Bucs 48-10.  Here is what I said in last week’s version of Football Friday:

“The Bears’ defense has been very good this year and if the Ryan Fitzmagic Season is going to hit a speedbump, this could well be the game.”

I think I had that one right.  Mitchell Trubisky threw for 6 TDs in the game and the Bucs pulled Ryan Fitzpatrick and inserted Jameis Winston into the game.  As you might conclude from the final score, that move did not amount to much of anything.

The Pats beat the Dolphins 38-7, but the game was not nearly as close as that score might indicate.  The game was televised into the DC area, but they switched away from it in the middle of the 3rd quarter because it was such a beatdown.  The only Dolphins’ points were produced by Brock Osweiler at a point in the game where the Pats were simply looking to get into the locker room and get showered.  Fun fact:

  • The Patriots are 15-0 at home against the Dolphins when Tom Brady is the starting QB.

The Packers beat the Bills 22-0 and Aaron Rodgers was unhappy with the offense and its game plan.  If there had to be a game with a less-than-satisfactory game plan this would be the one the Packers should have picked.  The Packers recorded 7 sacks in the game and held the Bills to 145 yards total offense.  That is not the typical way the Packers win football games, but that is what happened here…

The Seahawks beat the Cards 20-17.  Earl Thomas left the game against the Cards on a cart with a broken leg; he is on IR for the season.  On the way to the locker room, Thomas flipped the bird to someone and the direction was toward the Seahawks’ bench area.  All has not been hunky-dory between Thomas and the team this year; last week seems to have put a punctuation mark on that relationship.  The Seahawks were 0 for 10 on third down conversions and still won the game; it is not easy to do that.  The Cards missed 2 FG tries and lost by 3 points.

The Cowboys beat the Lions 26-24 on a last-minute drive that produced a winning field goal.  Dak Prescott threw for 255 yards in the game; it is the first time this year he has been north of the 200-yard mark in a game.  Was this the Cowboys’ offense showing signs of life or was this just lifelessness on the part of the Lions’ defense?

The Bengals beat the Falcons 37-36 and the game was fun to watch – – unless you are a Falcons’ fan.  [Aside:  This is the game CBS switched to in the DC area when the Pats/Dolphins game became a laughingstock.]  The only downer in terms of watching was listening to Bruce Arians doing color/analysis.  Arians may be insightful, but behind the mic he is about as exciting as day-old toast.  The Falcons’ defense has been AWOL recently; that unit has given up 104 points in the last 3 games AND all 3 of those games have been at home!  Here is a stat I ran across and did not even begin to try to verify; take it at face value:

  • Since 1940, teams at home who scored 36 points or more and did not turn the ball over at all have a record of 402-4.
  • The Falcons provided 2 of those 4 losses in the last two weeks.

The Jags beat the Jets 31-12.  Just about any rookie QB is going to have problems with the Jags’ top-rated defense and that was indeed the case for Sam Darnold.  It should be noted that a rookie QB going up against that defense would have to have a sound running game to keep the defense honest if that rookie QB was going to look anything but overmatched.  The Jets ran for all of 34 yards in the game…

The Saints beat the Giants 33-18.  The Giants offense has been AWOL for the season; maybe they are off spending time with the Falcons’ defense?  The Saints’ defense had been giving up 34 points per game before this one; the Giants scored on their first possession and then went somnambulant.

The Texans beat the Colts 37-34 in OT.  This was the first win of the year for the Texans despite the fact that DeShaun Watson was sacked 7 times.  Somehow, he still managed to throw for 375 yards in the game.  The Texans need to hold tryouts for offensive linemen.  Maybe an open tryout for anyone in the Houston area currently employed as a piano mover…  Andrew Luck threw 62 passes for the Colts in the game; I think it is safe to say they do not have him on a pitch count.

The Chargers beat the Niners 29-27.  CJ Beathard threw for 297 yards and 2 TDs in his first start since Jimmy G went on IR.  Not too shabby…

The Titans beat the Eagles 26-23 in OT.  The Titans trailed by 3 points in OT and had a drive where they converted on 4th down three times to keep the drive alive.  It produced a winning TD at the end.

The Raiders beat the Browns 45-42 in OT.  Browns RB, Nick Chubb ran for 105 yards and 2 TDs; Baker Mayfield threw for 2 TDs – – and threw a Pick Six to the Raiders too.  Derek Carr threw for 437 yards and 4 TDs and Marshawn Lynch averaged 6.5 yards per carry in the game.  Defensive highlights?  There were none.

  • Note:  The Raiders have the worst second-half defense in the NFL.  In the second half of 4 games this year, the Raiders have surrendered 89 points.  To put that in perspective, 8 teams in the NFL have given up fewer than 89 points total after 4 games.

The Ravens beat the Steelers 26-14.  Put simply, the Steelers’ defense is not good, and it has not been good since Ryan Shazier had to be carted off the field with a spinal injury last season.  I do not mean the defense is “not good by Steelers’ standards”; I mean the defense is “just plain not good”.  I suspect that LeVeon Bell and his agent enjoyed this game because the Steelers ground game amassed a total of 19 yards in the game.

  • Note:  The Ravens have allowed a total of 9 points in the second half of their 4 games this season.  See above…

The Chiefs rallied to beat the Broncos 27-23.  An interesting stat for the Chiefs this year is that in 4 games they have only turned the ball over once – – on a lost fumble.

 

NFL This Week

 

I know the season is only 25% over but here is an interesting stat.  If the playoffs were to start today, the Eagles, Steelers and Patriots would not participate.  The last time all three of those teams missed the playoffs was in 2000.

Two teams have their BYE Week this week:

  1. The Bears sit atop the NFC North and will probably use the time here to find even more maddening ways use Khalil Mack as a QB destruction machine.
  2. The Bucs are 2-2 and have announced that Jameis Winston will be their starting QB going forward.  Winston is playing for his contract offers next year; Ryan Fitzpatrick showed the offense can work; Winston now must show he can make it work – – consistently.

Jax at KC – 3 (49):  This could well be the game of the week.  The Jags lead the NFL in points allowed; the Chiefs’ offense scores early and often; the Chiefs average 36 points per game.  The Jags should be able to run the ball against the Chiefs’ mediocre defense even with Leonard Fournette on the shelf.  I think the game comes down to this – – can the Chiefs’ mediocre defense slow down the Jags’ mediocre offense so that Patrick Mahomes has time to work his offensive magic?  Here is a stat that surprised me:

  • The Jags lead the series against the Chiefs all time 6-5-0.

Tennessee – 5.5 at Buffalo (40):  The Titans have won two heart-stopping games in a row and this could be a let-down game since the Bills are not exactly a fearsome opponent.  The Titans are clearly the better team; they should not need a “Music City Miracle” to win this one if they are up for the game.

Denver at Jets “pick ‘em” (42):  The line for this game is all over the map this morning.  You can find it with the Jets as a 1.5-point favorite and you can find it with the Broncos as a 1-point favorite.  The Broncos have a long trip to the East Coast for this game after a short week of practice.  Here are two stats for you:

  1. The last 6 times the Broncos played a 1:00 PM game on the East Coast, they are 0-6 against the spread.
  2. Over their last 11 road games – in any and all time zones – the Broncos are 1-10 against the spread.

Atlanta at Pittsburgh – 3 (58):  This is a desperation game for both teams; each of them has only one win for the season; both aspire to make a run in the playoffs for a shot at the Super Bowl.  Both defenses are bad (see above) and the Total Line here reflects those defensive shortcomings on both sides.  The Steelers and Falcons have met 16 times over the years; the Falcons have never won in Pittsburgh and the Steelers lead the series 13-2-1.

Miami at Cincy – 6 (48.5):  Both teams lead their divisions this morning.  I surely did not see that happening back in August.  I think the Dolphins were exposed by the Pats last week as a mediocre team at best.

Oakland at Chargers – 6 (52.5):  If the Browns and Baker Mayfield can score 42 on the Raiders’ defense, Philip Rivers and company ought to be licking their chops.  At the same time, the Chargers’ defense has not been stellar; they allow 30 points per game.  I must admit, I am tempted by the OVER in this game…

Arizona at SF – 4 (40):  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Even though it is a division game, I cannot imagine that anyone actually cares about the outcome here.  If I look for a reason to pay attention to this game, it would be that this is the first road start for Josh Rosen and he was touted to be the “most NFL-ready QB” in the 2018 draft.  Like I said, who cares about this one…

Minnesota at Philly – 3 (46.5):  This would be the Game of the Week if you do not think the Jags/Chiefs game earns that moniker.  Last year, these teams met for the NFC Championship; as of this morning, neither team would be in the playoffs.  If the Eagles win here, that would put Minnesota at 1-3-1 and that would cause fans in Minnesota to say “Yikes” for the Vikes…

Rams – 7.5 at Seattle (50):  The Rams are clearly the better team, but the Seahawks are clearly better at home than on the road.  The Rams dominated the Vikes last week while the Seahawks eked out a win over the hapless Cards – the only winless team in the NFL.

(Sun Nite) Dallas at Houston – 3 (45.5):  The Cowboys really want to run the football; they average 5.8 yards per rush attempt.  The Texans’ rush defense only allows 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.  This will be a big part of this game.  As noted above, the Texans’ OL has been awful this year.  However, Texans’ defensive tackle JJ Watt has been spectacular:

  • In 4 games, JJ Watt has 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.

(Mon Nite) Washington at New Orleans – 6.5 (53):  The Skins had last week off to prepare for this game.  Drew Brees could reach two milestones in this game:

  1. If he passes for 201 yards, he will pass Peyton Manning as the all-time leader in passing yardage in NFL history.  [Aside: he is third on that list as of this morning; he needs 99 yards passing here to pass Brett Favre.]
  2. Drew Brees and become the 4th QB in NFL history to throw 500 TD passes if he has 4 of them in this game.

 

This Week’s Six-Pack of Games:

 

This week we have 3 NCAA games and 3 NFL games in the Six-Pack:

Northwestern at Michigan St. – 10.5 (43):  I do not think either team here is all that good, but I just do not trust Michigan St. to beat any competent opponent by 11 points.  I’ll take Northwestern on the road plus the points.

Notre Dame – 6.5 at VA Tech (55.5):  This will be a stern test for the Tech defense and it will be a stern test for the Irish as a team.  I think Notre Dame is on a roll.  I like Notre Dame to win and cover on the road.

Oklahoma – 8 vs Texas (60.5) [Game is in Dallas]:  If you like trends, here is one to consider.  The last 5 times these two teams met in the Red River Rivalry, Texas was the underdog.  In those 5 games, Texas covered every time.  I think they will do that again here against a very suspect Oklahoma defense.  I’ll take Texas plus the points.

Green Bay at Detroit “pick ‘em” (51.5):  Do not overthink this one.  The Packers are the better team.  The oddsmaker says to pick the winner; I like the Packers to win the game.

Giants at Carolina – 6 (43.5):  The Giants could not score on a mediocre-at-best Saints defense at home last week; now, they go on the road to face a good Panthers’ defense. The Giants’ defense may keep the game close for a while, but this looks like a comfortable win for the Panthers to me.  I’ll take the Panthers and lay the points.  [Aside:  The Panthers roster was assembled by Dave Gettleman and then the Panthers fired him.  The Giants hired Dave Gettleman to assemble a comparable roster in NYC.  He is still a couple of drafts away from doing that.]

Baltimore – 3 at Cleveland (45.5):  My only worry here is that this might be a let-down game for the Ravens after an emotional and hard-fought win over the Steelers last week.  The spread opened the week at 1.5 points but shot up to 3 points right away and has held steady there.  I see this as a defensive game; just a hunch, I’ll take the game to stay UNDER.

Finally, here is a comment from Omaha humor-writer, Brad Dickson:

“If you’re big on stats Kade Warner is the all-time Husker leader in receptions among sons of guys who used to work at grocery stores in Cedar Falls.”

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

 

 

Laws And Legal Stuff Today …

Once again, Happy Broderick Crawford Day…

It has been about a year since the FBI very conspicuously announced their multi-year investigation into the evils of college basketball recruiting.  A handful of assistant coaches were indicted; some shoe company execs and employees were charged; there were photo-ops of people taking the infamous “perp-walk”.  Many commentators opined that this would open a floodgate of revelations as cooperating witnesses pointed investigators onto new paths where more slime would be found.  Yes, there have been subpoenas sent to a few other schools since the first wave of publicity in this matter; but for the most part, things have been quiet.  Rick Pitino was fired based on allegations related to the case; he has not been charged with anything to date.  Jim Larranaga was also alleged to have been involved in this stuff; he has not been charged with anything to date.

The first trial to come out of all of this is beginning.  Two Adidas “officials” and a runner for a player agent are charged with wire fraud as they acted to steer prized recruits to “Adidas schools” and ultimately to the runner’s player agency.  I have never understood the “criminality” of the actions alleged here even if every word of the indictments were to be true, so I asked a lawyer who was a Federal prosecutor years ago before going into private practice if he could enlighten me on the matter.  This is his explanation – and he properly added the disclaimer that it is based only on things that have been made public:

  • The under-the-table payments of money to players and players’ families to induce them to go to certain schools put the schools at risk and therefore defrauded the schools.  The risk of accepting the player who had taken the improper payments was not made clear to the universities.  The reasoning here is that if/when the NCAA uncovered the improper payments, those schools would lose lots of money due to the sanctions the NCAA would impose on the schools.
  • The criminality became a Federal crime when it involved the interstate transfer of funds to effect the fraud perpetrated on the schools.

[For the record, my lawyer-friend said that my description above would not be a sufficient answer to a professor in law school but that it captured the essence of his explanation to me.  Also, for the record, if I were in the jury box and the prosecutors used that in their opening argument to the jury, I would have to stifle a giggle.]

The NCAA has adopted new rules that intend to reduce the influence of shoe/apparel companies in the basketball recruiting process including the establishment of an NCAA sponsored summer league for top-shelf basketball prospects.  Time will tell how long it will be until that league too becomes tainted; but for now, let’s keep a good thought and assume that all will be well for a little while.  Other than that, the NCAA has been unusually smart about what it has done and said.  In essence, it has done and said nothing.

The NCAA is in the catbird seat here.  Consider:

  • Its member schools are painted here as the victims of a nefarious cabal to defraud them.  By extension, that makes the NCAA a secondary victim.
  • If the allegations against the Adidas execs are true, the NCAA’s byzantine recruiting rules were clearly violated.  The NCAA is the beneficiary of FBI time and effort to enforce those rules which the NCAA had no idea had been broken.
  • Moreover, the NCAA gets the enforcement and the portrayal as a secondary victim handed to them at taxpayer expense.
  • Such a deal …

I indicated above that I would not be very likely to vote to convict anyone of a Federal crime in these proceedings.  However, that does not mean that I think all the folks named as malefactors in this opera are fine and upstanding citizens.  Quite to the contrary, I think they are bad guys who have despoiled the college basketball recruiting processes.  It would be great if the NCAA and its member institutions could enforce the NCAA’s own rules such that we would not need this outside effort – – but that has never happened in the past and is not likely to happen in the future.  I am not sanguine that convictions in this trial – and future trials that may come after this one – are going to solve the problem.

Now, it does seem to me that a Federal crime has likely been committed here if all the allegations made public to date are true.  There are people out there who received money – allegedly as much as $100K – when certain recruits went to specific schools.  I do not know this for certain, but I think it is a good bet that those people did not report that money as income on their tax returns.  Remember, that is how the Feds got Al Capone…

Changing the subject – but staying in the quagmire of Federal law and legislation – the Congress of the United States is considering action regarding sports wagering in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that the last act by Congress regarding that issue was unconstitutional.  The Court said PASPA was unconstitutional but made it clear that Congress COULD act to control/regulate sports betting if it chose to do so and did so in a constitutional manner.  There were recent hearings held in the House of Representatives.

  • Quick Quiz:  No Googling now …  Which Subcommittee in the House of Representatives has jurisdiction over potential legislation of this kind?
  • Answer:  The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigation.  Why not?

At a recent hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony that was about as shocking as hearing that the sun comes up in the east and/or that brown bears do indeed go poo in the woods.  Witnesses told the subcommittee:

  • Illegal sports betting outlets – – your friendly neighborhood bookies – – offer benefits to bettors that legal sports betting outlets do not.  Some of these benefits include betting on credit and aiding and abetting tax fraud by not withholding and reporting large wins by bettors to the IRS.
  • For the record, any member of that subcommittee who did not know that prior to hearing said testimony should be disqualified from sitting on that subcommittee.  They should also probably be reminded not to run with scissors in hand…

Finally, as the NBA begins its exhibition season silliness, let me close with commentary from two sportswriters on Tristan Thompson’s assertion that the Cleveland Cavaliers are still a force majeure in the Eastern Conference:

“The Cavaliers — despite the departure of LeBron James — are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland center Tristan Thompson told reporters.

“Oddsmakers immediately made Thompson the morning-line favorite for first NBA player to get drug-tested this season.”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

And …

“Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson says the LeBron-less Cavs are still four-time conference champs and ‘until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say.’

“Except maybe this: The Browns aren’t the worst team in Cleveland anymore.”  [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

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

 

 

The MLB Playoffs Are Set…

Well, I did not get my wish; there were ties atop two of the NL divisions but there were no ties involving the wild-card teams.  We were treated to two “extra regular season games” yesterday and the two losing teams will square off today in the NL wild-card elimination playoff game.  Baseball was front and center in the US sports world yesterday and now the ramp to the World Series is open.

Normally, as the MLB playoffs begin, I have a World Series pairing that I prefer over all the other possibilities; sometimes, there are two match-ups that are equally appealing but usually there is only one I would like to see.  This year is different; there are four possible World Series opponents that I would like to see – and I have difficulty figuring out which one is the one I like best.

  • A’s/Brewers:  If one of the “small-market” teams makes the Series, I would like to see both make the Series.  Lots of casual baseball fans have read about players like the A’s Khris Davis and Matt Chapman but have not seen much of them; the same goes for the Brewers’ Christian Yelich and Jesus Aguilar.  These guys are really good, and it would be fun to see a whole new cast of characters vie for stardom in an A’s/Brewers World Series.
  • Yankees/Dodgers:  This match-up is the polar opposite of the A’s/Brewers.  This is a historical rivalry; these are the deep-pocket clubs; these are the players who are already household names.  It has been a while since the Yankees and the Dodgers have met in the World Series but there was a time when it was almost de rigueur at the end of an MLB season.
  • Astros/Dodgers:  Last year’s World Series was plenty interesting; other than for Dodgers’ fans who did not like the outcome, I do not think I would have to have the persuasive skills of Clarence Darrow to win such an argument.  So, I would surely not mind watching an encore performance this year.
  • Red Sox/Cubs:  More than any other sport, baseball is the sport steeped in and tied to its history.  If this were the World Series pairing, there could be as many as seven games played in the two oldest baseball parks.  Oh, and at the same time, the Series would showcase a whole bunch of excellent players on both teams.

As the baseball season progressed, I tried to track the teams on place to lose 100 games or more toward the end of each month.  At one point, there were six teams that projected to lose that many games this year.  In the end, only three teams lost 100 games and all of them were in the AL.

  1. White Sox lost 100 games
  2. Royals lost 104 games
  3. Orioles lost 115 games.

Here are my baseball end-of-season awards.  There is a debate that goes on at the end of every season about whether pitches should be eligible for the MVP Award or if pitchers have their own version of that in the Cy Young Award.  My position is simple.

  • I do not think a starting pitcher can be the MVP simply because he does nothing in 80% of the games in a season except stand in the dugout and spit sunflower seed shells on the dugout floor.
  • I have a different view of relief pitchers given the way MLB is played these days.  Back when Mariano Rivera was closing out just about every opposing team three nights a week, I could consider his worthiness for MVP stature.  There were no Mariano Riveras this year, so I need not be concerned with the possibility.

With that as prelude, here are my end-of-season awards and honorable mention candidates:

  • NL MVP:  Christian Yelich (Brewers)  He hit .326 for the season and had an OPS of 1.000.  He drove in 110 runs and scored 118 runs.  My honorable mention awards go to Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Javier Baez (Cubs).
  • NL Cy Young:  Max Scherzer (Nats)  He is the only player in MLB history to strike out 300 batters in a season while only giving up 150 hits for the season.  MLB has been keeping stats for a long time; no other pitcher has ever done this.  My honorable mention candidate is Jacob deGrom (Mets).
  • NL Rookie of the Year:  Ronald Acuna (Braves)  He is a player that does everything better than well.  He hit .293 with an OPS of .917 in 111 games this year.  My honorable mention award goes to Juan Soto (Nats) who – frighteningly – is only 19 years old.
  • NL Manager of the Year:  Brian Snitker (Braves)  The Braves only won 72 games in 2017 and they won the NL East comfortably this year.  Honorable mention awards go to bud Black (Rockies) and Gabe Kapler (Phillies).
  • AL MVP:  Mookie Betts (Red Sox)  He hit .346 with an OPS of 1.078.  He led the AL with 129 runs scored and drove in 80 more.  Honorable mention goes to Mike Trout (Angels) and Francisco Lindor (Indians).
  • AL Cy Young:  Justin Verlander (Astros)  When the Astros got him from the Tigers late last season, did they leave the trade meetings wearing a mask and carrying a gun?  Honorable mention awards go to Chris Sale (Red Sox) and Blake Treinan (A’s).
  • AL Rookie of the Year:  Miguel Andujar (Yankees)  He hit .297 and produced an OPS of .855 in 149 games this year.  Honorable mention goes to Shohei Ohtani (Angels).
  • AL Manager of the Year:  Bob Melvin (A’s)  Last year, the A’s won 75 games; this year the A’s won 97 games.  Period.  Honorable mention awards to Kevin Cash (Rays) and Alex Cora (Red Sox).

Finally, here is a side issue related to baseball as reported by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“The Milwaukee Brewers have secured new sponsorship with Johnsonville, ensuring that their famous racing sausages will continue beyond this season.

“To appease the kid demographic, how about adding a couple of little brats.”

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